Tuesday, May 22, 2018

GDS3 Reflections: Jeremy Geist, Challenge #2: CLOWNS!!!!

Jeremy's back with some more reflections on how he approached the second GDS3 challenge. Click here to review his designs, here to see the judge feedback, and click through to see what he had to say about the challenge. 

I was excited when I saw this challenge. Top-down design is one of my strongest skills, and this was a challenge that was explicitly about creating appealing top-down designs.

After doing some groundwork and carefully reading over the assignment, I noticed that, although it looked a lot less restrictive than Challenge 1 (you weren’t locked into six different card types and your cards didn’t need to mechanically care about anything), there were several unspoken requirements hidden within the list of card titles. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but I thought it was very clever.

Secret challenge A: Color imbalance. There are maybe two names on the entire list that feel as if they belong to a black card, which severely constricts your options. Several people went with Knife Thrower and/or Tightrope; Chris Mooney’s Sawdin Half was a really clever way of going about it.

Secret challenge B: Two mythics. A mythic Magician was a pretty easy choice (everyone except Ryan Siegel-Stechler made one) but there aren’t a lot of circus items that feel big and splashy. I was considering making a Ringmaster planeswalker, but I eventually decided against it for several reasons. Planeswalkers have a ton of moving parts, which makes it difficult to express something top-down with them, but they also take much more time to design and balance. Making a planeswalker within the time constraints felt like making side dishes on Cutthroat Kitchen.

Secret challenge C: Separating the wheat from the chaff. Some of the items on the list lent themselves a lot better to cool cards than others, and you have to be able to separate them. This, of course, differs a little bit between designers; I dismissed Circus Peanuts out of hand as being uncardable, but Scott Wilson’s take on it was the best card in the challenge.

I gambled a little by not paying much attention to the “set feel” requirement: Making good cards was difficult enough that I didn’t want to make it even harder on myself by trying to create coherent mechanical archetypes in five colors with only two commons. Instead, I tried to aim my cards to capture the “feel” of going to the circus: The exaggerated theatrics, the excitement, and the surprise.

Finally, I just want to say that Barnum is an underrated musical. It’s corny, but the message is sweet and the songs are catchy.

1. Trapeze Artist

Mark Rosewater was confused about why Trapeze Artist doesn’t itself have flying. The concept was that the trapeze artist can launch off the trapeze, or they can throw another creature off the trapeze while still clinging to it.

A lot of my submissions at higher rarities this round were messy, so Trapeze Artist and maybe Knife Thrower are the cards I’m happiest with here.

2. Traveling Circus

Making a discounted card from Homelands and submitting it for the approval of Aaron Forsythe and Mark Rosewater is truly my finest moment.

I never made a cantrip again after this.

3. Knife Thrower

Knife Thrower went through a number of iterations. The first idea was a Thermo-Alchemist style red “untap pinger”, because those are really fun, but I couldn’t think of anything that would untap it that would be innovative enough for GDS. The core concept of a knife thrower, as translated to Magic, is someone who does repeated tiny attacks, so the Triskelion Lite ™ card I settled on came from that.

Making Knife Thrower a vampire wasn’t originally a reference to this – I just thought there were too many humans – but as Maro says, never deny cool things.

4. Feats of Strength

I wanted to do a Feats of Strength card from the start, because it’s a really evocative name, but it was hard to find the correct execution of it. I must have gone through ten different iterations before I settled on a discount based on your highest-power creature.

This card ended up adding +1/+1 counters because it’s surprisingly hard to find an expensive spell effect in green. I probably should’ve ended up going with a powerful punch effect like Clear Shot. Regardless, the flavor of the card went over well with the judges so it could’ve been worse.

5. Three Rings

In my defense, Mirri’s Guile is from Tempest, hardly ever played, and worded in a way that I could have never found it on Scryfall if I were looking for similar cards to Three Rings. I fully accept the criticism that keeping your draws open information leads to worse gameplay; my goal was a black-border Split Screen but that card didn’t play super well either.

6. Clown Car

I didn’t make Clown Car a Vehicle because I was afraid that it would be counted as essentially being a creature. I think it would have been a better design that way. I also tried making it a R/B creature but Knife Thrower was just much better than the design I had for that.

7. Redundo The Magician
Redundo is named after The Incomparable Redundo, an NPC from a superhero-themed Savage Worlds campaign I ran in college. I don’t want to clog up this article with the full story, so I’ll talk about him in the comments.

It was pretty easy to find effects I wanted for a stage magician, but it was hard to find a package that was both a good top-down execution and innovative. The one I settled on was pretty late in the weekend and definitely could have benefited from more playtesting and fixing.

8. Human Cannonball

Human Cannonball almost certainly would have been better as a turbo-Char instead of this weird enchantment. I probably focused a little too hard on the top-down flavor, when it was already incredibly funny and impactful, when I could have kept it simple.

The card originally dealt damage equal to your life total, but after double-checking, I found that red is a color that really wants you to be at a low life total, if it cares at all. Although it worked flavor-wise, a Human Cannonball like that would encourage you to play a slow, conrolling game, which is pretty much the opposite of red’s philosophy.

All in all, Human Cannonball is a card with a great concept marred by my recurring tendency to require the player to jump through too many hoops.


  1. A JoJo reference! Heck yeah!

    Your Trapeze Artist and Knife Thrower were very similar to designs I was considering myself! I also very much liked your Feats of Strength and Three Rings. Nice week, Jeremy!

  2. Surprised how many people went with Magician. I actually thought it was a little too vague, and the idea of a circus magician would be too broad to hone in and capture a certain feel.

    It's an impressive feat to merely get the final note "Just keep doing what you do!" Congrats on that.

    You know... I kept thinking to myself after seeing Jay make use of the different names theme... Wouldn't that be absolutely stone cold perfect for a circus theme? Did it cross your mind?

    1. I imagine one reason seven people picked Magician is because it's one of the scant few names that make perfect sense as a mythic rare. I'm pretty sure the majority of Magician designs were mythic.

      I didn't think about using "different names" here, though if I had I probably wouldn't have gone with it for fear the judges would think I only have one gimmick. It does make sense for a circus theme though.

    2. I guess Magician is flashy enough to let you do something crazy. In a way it's also loose enough that you aren't too constrained so you CAN go big. That makes sense. I just think if I'd been given the name Magician and the theme circus, I'd have floundered for a bit trying to figure out what that means, but all the designers were actually drawn to it!

    3. Magician was a last-minute replacement for a common Lion Tamer for me, so I definitely wasn’t drawn to it and wouldn’t have included it if it weren’t for happening upon the trope of a White Rabbit in a bolt of inspiration. 😃

    4. Ahhh... That is definitely a resonant trope to hit and s good one to build a card around. The one that comes to mind for me is card tricks, so fact or fiction type stuff is where my mind headed, but I don't know the execution for that. I'm still working on reading all the entries.

  3. As promised, the tale of Redundo:

    The Savage Worlds superhero companion has you buy powers from a big list with "power points". One of the powers is Invention, which lets you get any power in the book in the increased cost as a device. (It essentially lets you change your hero's powers between fights.) One of the other powers is Super Sorcery, which lets you get any power in the book as a "spell".

    The Incomparable Redundo's gimmick was casting Super Sorcery to get Invention to get Super Sorcery to get Invention and so on. He was one of a series of incredibly dumb NPCs that included Nineties Internet Man, who had the power to hack into anything that he thinks has a computer in it.

    1. I once proposed a 13th Age character whose One Unique Thing was that he could talk to trees. The trees didn't say anything back, though.

      Disappointingly, my GM shot it down, and I had to settle for World's Greatest Penguin Breeder.

  4. Oh goody, I can finally talk about these cards. Hello! I was one of Jeremy's playtesters. And now I ramble.

    Three Rings is one of my a favorite cards of all time. It's an undeniably blue effect that does a thing blue wants (card choice!) while doing something blue hates (revealing information!) in a way that feels like a stage magician showing that there's nothing up their sleeves. That said, it really sucks once you're choosing between three lands, particularly without having a way to get rid of itself.

    An intersting historical note: strong men would often be used to sell snake oil strength elixirs. I realize that wasn't the intent for Feats of Strength, but that is what the final iteration made me think of. The stronger your strong man, the easier it is to sell your overcosted strength potion.

    1. An interesting anecdote! You could definitely sell that idea on a card with the right art, but it's probably too hard to portray in the abstract, sadly.

      In your experience, did Three Rings slow the game down much at all? Or was it usually pretty obvious/quick since you have a lot of time during turns to evaluate the cards?

    2. I don't think it slowed the game down much at all, no. Like you say, I had plenty of time to evaluate the cards before I had to pick, and only one card was rotating in every time I drew. I could see it potentially being a problem with multi-card draw spells, though.

  5. You'd know about Mirri's Guile if you played Canadian Highlander (a useful format for any designer IMO - will help you avoid cards that ruin other non-rotating competitive formats)

  6. Wow, it was a bit of a trap to include names of vehicles, if you're dinged for not making them vehicles, but also for using 'crew' in addition to another non-evergreen mechanic. I'm guessing it wasn't deliberate. It seems like tripping over the letter of the rules and accepting the admonishment was usually better than trying to work round it, but I'm not sure.