Thursday, May 24, 2018

GDS3 Reflections: Ari Nieh, Challenge #3

I was pleased to receive this challenge, because it catered directly to my biggest interest in Magic: set design. I had a reasonably large file of mechanics stored up from the last several years, and it was just a matter of picking the best one to show off. Piece of cake, right? As we would all discover, writing down something that sounds plausible as a mechanic is a far cry from adequately demonstrating that it can support a set.

My top choice for a keyword was Teamwork, a simpler Soulbond variant that only functioned while attacking. (An early version appeared here.) In an awkward coincidence, Linus Ulysses Hamilton had designed the same mechanic in Challenge #2. I didn’t think it would make a good impression to show the judges something they’d already seen recently, so that was out.

I experimented with many other mechanics, and eliminated most of them for having too little design space to see print with high as-fan. The wording of the challenge suggested they wanted a mechanic that could go on a large number of cards.

So I picked Revered. The flavor is solid. It feels good to use. Like anything involving +1/+1 counters, it has tons of room for variations and strong reverse compatibility. Unfortunately, the gap in value between tapping a creature and getting a +1/+1 counter is just too large to create meaningful decision points. Introducing more tension would require either giving bonuses for not Revering your creatures or switching to a -1/-1 counter as Melissa recommended. I think the former is too unintuitive, but the latter option has potential.

My biggest mistake was not wanting to let players get frustrated by missing out on Revered, which led me to cut my cheaper creatures. I was working from the premise that people don’t get excited about abstaining from using a mechanic, so they should want to pay the cost if they can. But, as the judges pointed out, this just results in “modal” cards with false choices.
Looking back at these designs, I consider this challenge was my weakest performance so far. I’m unsatisfied with the level of creativity and thoughtfulness that went into this submission. It was a busy weekend of music for me, and I wish I’d had more time and energy for GDS3.

On the other hand, placing in the top three again definitely raised my morale after the disappointment of the previous challenge. And this week, I found myself agreeing entirely with all the judges' feedback. It felt deeply satisfying to feel like I understood exactly what they did and didn't like, and why; that gave me hope that I could improve on future challenges.

This was also a bittersweet week for Team Goblin Artisans. I was excited to see Ryan rallying to the forefront, but really sad to lose Jay.

Next time: The Arts!

P.S. I am mortified to announce that Revered was not, in fact, my original idea. As I was reminded today, it had been proposed as a mechanic on Goblin Artisans five years ago by James Bartolotti, although his version did not limit the number of creatures which could be tapped for the effect. At any rate, my sincere apologies to James for using this idea without appropriate attribution. I had completely forgotten its origin.


  1. James here! What I've enjoyed about GA over the years is the friendly, collaborative community and the way we riff on and improve each other's designs. Seeing an old caterpillar of an idea emerge years later as a beautiful butterfly (with great spirit flavor and gameplay considerations) is really satisfying to see.

    1. And it's people like you, James, who've made it what it is.

  2. Revered seemed pretty solid. I agree with the problem of balancing it so the is more choice-y (although, as Mark said in one of the comments on this challenge, making some choices easy is good for players too), but I thought there were other options that could be added to it. Maybe, tap the new creature too? Or instead of "up to N", require 2 creatures to be tapped (either for 1 counter, or always for 2 counters). Or tap-and-don't-untap-next-turn if there's a way of adding a reminder.

    1. Yeah, I think many of these possible iterations might turn out to be workable. I just wish I'd found one before submitting!

    2. I think this is the sign of a great mechanic Ari, that you found a well of potential evolutions. It's not ideal for the GDS, but it's great design.

  3. Great to see your work and that you're still going! I'm rooting for you!