Wednesday, May 30, 2018

GDS3 Reflections: Scott Wilson, Challenge 4

After the previous challenge where my Ancestry mechanic got a (deserved) lukewarm reception, I wanted to step it up for this challenge. Mark Rosewater had these words for me that I essentially used as my guiding light this time around:

"You have to step up your innovation and try some designs that make us sit up and notice."

With that in mind, for this challenge I aimed to make EACH card do something that hasn't been done before. In doing that, I think I made some cool cards, but I also ended up creating some monsters that I shouldn't have.

First, the things that went well. My favorite card that I submitted was Blobification.

We were supposed to make a quirky green aura, and this art seemed to fit the bill for that. It started off as an enchantment that turned anything into a blob, but if it was an equipment, it gained the abilities of that equipment. It looked something like this:

I had no idea if this worked in the rules, but playtesting it, I really liked turning things into blobs. So I took that fun part, cut the weird equipment clause, and added the color-based abilities, so that you could get a different blob each game. Enchanting multicolored permanents felt both awesome and hilarious.

Another card I liked was Secret of the Vines.

Originally this was just a modal card that either let you search for a land or create two 0/1 Plant tokens. It played really nicely with another card I submitted, Palace Sanctuary.

But just ramping/color fixing or making tokens didn't feel special enough. With Mark Rosewater's words nagging in the back of my head, I kept tweaking it until I got to the final version. It still played well with Palace Sanctuary, and searching up a land or Plant was something never done before. Giggles were had every time myself or a playtester searched their library for a Gatekeeper Vine or Wall of Blossoms and put it into play tapped like a land.

Now for the not-so-great stuff. To start, Wizened Arbiter was the card I went through the most different designs with. If you can name something that Magic has done (or hasn't done), chances are I created a version of him that did it at one point.

Here's the version I submitted:

Let's just get it out of the way: this card is heinous. Is it a Spike-friendly rare creature, like the challenge wanted? Yes. Does it also completely destroy Constructed Magic? Probably. Being able to exchange any card in your hand for literally any white card from you sideboard (and get a 2/1 body) is just insane.

Even though I ended up submitting this abomination, my heart started in a good place. I thought about one of the Spike-iest cards of all time: Snapcaster Mage. I brainstormed what a white equivalent of it could be, and since white has such good sideboard cards, I thought that a two-mana 2/1 that could get a card out of your sideboard would work.

I used Glittering Wish as inspiration for the next step. Since it was a multicolor card that could get any multicolor card, why not experiment with having a white card that could grab any white card?

Of course there's a reason white can't just search up any white card: it'd be too good. White can only search up artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers, because otherwise it'd have access to too many answers. Being able to get a removal spell, a large creature, a small creature, whatever you needed at just the right time would be a huge hit against Magic's necessary variance.

Snapcaster Mage works because you can't always control what cards will be in your graveyard, and it only cares about two card types. But your sideboard is static and easily controlled, making this card too repetitive and annoying for the opponent.

If I could resubmit the card, but had to keep it similar to the original design, then I might change it to something like this:

It still does what I wanted it to do, but in a slightly less destroy-all-of-Magic way.

My other heinous card was Wisps Between World.

The challenge called for a "super-exciting mythic Blue enchantment." So in keeping with the try-new-things spirit, I decided to try something Magic hasn't done yet: letting you get ANY card from exile.

Again, similar to Wizened Arbiter, this one just kind of breaks Magic in a non-fun way. Slowly eroding the exile zone into a second graveyard isn't a great idea, and this puts a pretty big chink in that division.

Originally I had the card as something completely different. It looked like this:

I liked this as an enchantment that turned your instants and sorceries into creatures that then cast themselves each time they hit an opponent. But there were two issues: (1) it was a lot of text, and my playtesters didn't find it very exciting. I wanted a super-exciting enchantment, not a novel. And (2), Magic has done stuff like that before with cards like Living Lore. I wanted to try and do new things all around.

I believe that was my biggest mistake this challenge. I was so blinded by trying to do new things that I didn't stop and think the consequences fully through. The dangerous cards may have been fun in our few playtests, but when designing REAL Magic cards, you have to keep in mind that they'll be released to the world… permanently. They become a part of the game forever. They'll be played thousands and thousands of times.

Creating cards that break things might be cool for a few games, but would not lead Magic in an overall healthy direction, and that's something that's super important to keep in mind when designing.

-Scott Wilson (Twitter/@scottdoesstuff)


  1. Secret of the vines may read cute and fun now, but the moment its printed you basically put R+d in a straight jacket to make sure every cheap plant doesnt break with it.

    And given you already showed a plant tribal theme, you've created a self defeating scenario.

    1. Paying 3 mana to tutor a 2 mana plant to the battlefield isn't THAT breakable. The most powerful thing you can do with this in Modern/Legacy is put a Sylvan Caryatid or Wall of Roots into play. The plant itself would have to be really really good for this to be actually problematic, or there'd have to be a wide variety of quality plants with multiple purposes.
      Plant creatures of CMC 2 or lower don't appear that often, and they don't tend to be gamebreakingly powerful, so I think Secret of the Vines is perfectly safe, and is in fact an awesome card.

  2. I dig the multi-tribal the Palace Sanctuary hints at. That it rewards GWU tribes is nice.