Thursday, May 31, 2018

GDS3 Reflections: Jeremy Geist, Challenge #5: Fleshy Humans of Tarkir

Ah, the “design a bunch of commons” challenge. Truly the Restaurant Wars of GDS.

Khans of Tarkir is the first set I drafted, and by coincidence it also happened to be the best draft set since Innistrad. Despite being stuffed full of mechanics and strategies, it had an almost beautiful elegance to the way everything worked together. Morph and Raid created a complex, thoughtful attack step, while the Abzan’s +1/+1 counter theme worked naturally with Ferocious. I enjoyed it so much, and I was so familiar with it, it was a natural first pick for my booster pack.

Because my background is mainly in light games, I’ve become good at creating elegant designs, which naturally translates to being able to design appropriate commons. Melissa DeTora’s comment that I had the best set of commons made me really happy. That said, while my commons felt like commons (with the exception of Three-Section Staff), I do feel like I could have pushed them further. Before starting to brainstorm, I should have used more time at the beginning to look over cards from the set and determine if there were new angles I could take the gameplay of Khans, and then design around that.

Looking back, my proudest accomplishment here is actually Vengeful Ancestor, the rare. Because I was so directionless, it was hard to come up with a compelling rare, but I eventually settled on this design late on Sunday because it explored a new angle for outlast. That said, the real reason I’m proud of it is I finally managed to kick my habit of making messy, high-effort, low-payoff cards that kicked off with Human Cannonball in Round 2. The card before Vengeful Ancestor was a Jeskai-themed alt-win enchantment that required you to play eight different noncreature spells. It excited my playtesters, but I realized after taking a walk and cooling my head that I was about to walk into the trap I’ve walked into repeatedly and steered away from it.

My major worry before receiving the results was that I didn’t do that much to innovate. That said, my final designs weren’t conservative because I wanted to play it safe to make it to Renton, or even because I particularly focused on making cards that felt like the set they came from. It was mostly because Khans had so many interlocking strategies that it was hard to find a new way to fit into it, and I had to settle for cards that used the already existing strategies in fun ways. Based on my prior standings, I’m sure it can look like I was trying to squeak into the finals and not try to impress, but that certainly wasn’t a conscious goal of mine.

If I were to pick a different set, I probably would have gone with Hour of Devastation. There’s plenty of things to do with exert and the R/G Deserts strategy, and the concept of brick counters and -1/-1 counters had so much left that it would have been easier to innovate. That said, I don’t regret choosing Khans, partially because one of my playtesters was so excited I was doing Khans, he bought a booster box so we could make test decks. It really helped with the playtesting, especially since you need a critical mass of Morph cards to be able to test in an accurate environment.

14 cards is too many to write card-by-card breakdowns, so I’ll instead end this by giving a big thank you to Goblin Artisans for publishing these essays. It was really fun to chat about design with everyone.

Also, don’t do this challenge in 3 and a half days. I felt like death warmed over for a good week afterwards.


  1. You had an amazing suite of commons, and even where some designs fumbled like Three-Section Staff, they were clearly pioneers into some interesting territory for further iterations or higher rarities.

    I also squealed when I saw you mention the elegant interconnections and synergies of KTK. I think the fact all the mechanics interact with combat and each other in various levels goes criminally undernoticed. So glad to see someone preach the quality of KTK!

  2. More than anything I'm impressed someone who has only been playing Magic since Khans of Tarkir is in the top 3. That makes me feel old, but is incredibly impressive!

    1. Don't feel old, I've been playing since Time Spiral. But for most of that time I either did kitchen table constructed or sealed at prereleases. Khans is when I started getting more serious about Magic.

    2. Oh sorry, I misread that. I guess subconsciously I only consider it Magic if it involves drafting!

      Time Spiral is about the third time I decided to start playing Magic again. I originally started around Fourth Edition/Ice Age. I might just be old.