Monday, August 3, 2020

The Great Redesigner Search: The Design Test

About two years ago, I went on a reality show and my life changed forever.

Since then, I've idly thought about what I would change about my submissions on the GDS if I had the benefit of a) retrospect and b) being able to apply all the feedback I got. Enough time has passed for me to be able to look at my work with a more objective eye, mostly free of the stress of not knowing if I would be surviving after that week, and I thought it would be valuable if I shared my revised cards and thought process here. (Also, I figured out how to get Magic Set Editor to work reliably on my Mac.)

I'm skipping the essay section because I don't know what the judges thought about them and the multiple-choice test because I got a perfect score so I wouldn't change anything about that. So let's go straight into the first round where you actually get to make Magic cards – the initial design test.

You may remember that entrants were expected to sort their 10 design test cards by how much they like them. Mine are now in a different order that reflects how I think about them now.

You can read my original submissions and judge commentary here.

Some of these cards are larger than others because they have smaller text and I can't figure out how to make MSE export something higher resolution.

Select Your Fighter

Pick Your Poison was in the top 5 cards I made for the GDS, maybe the top 3. It even made it into Mystery Booster. So of course the first thing I would do is replace it with a completely different card.

To be more clear, one of my biggest issues with the design test was I painted myself into a corner by the end by having to make an uncommon red and white sorcery. I'm not sure if you've looked at what sorcery effects red and white get, but they're pretty narrow, and I ended up making a terribly designed split card out of desperation on the final day.

Since the important thing about Pick Your Poison was the modal choice as opposed to the actual effects, I would have given myself a lot more options if I had given the cool formatting to the R/W card and given the tough uncommon sorcery slot to B/G, a color combination that has a lot more versatility on sorceries. My very theoretical B/G sorcery is down below.

Additionally, this version addresses a lot of the feedback I got on the original card – the numbers give you many more modal options, and there's no weird targeting/token production issues. It probably could use more balancing (is 5 1/1s for 3RW a good idea?), but I'm not a Play Designer.


Melissa DeTora mentioned that the card was way too aggressively costed in the original version. I liked the penalty at -2/-2, so I focused on tweaking the mana cost. You can get a control magic effect with dubious upside (side-side?) for 5 single-colored mana (Corrupted Conscience) so I thought 4CMC was reasonable.

Mother Bear (Not The One From Modern Horizons)

Besides the name change, I basically just went with Melissa's commentary that the bear should power up the the small creature instead of being a potential 4/3 you can play on curve. (In my defense, I was led astray by Frontier Mastodon.) 

In a set with a 1G mana dork at common, as is frequent, I could easily see this being 3(g/w) and having a better power and toughness, so players can discover the synergy between having something with 1 power that can add a counter to the thing that ramped it out on turn 3.

Remember Your Charlemagne

"It doesn't grant flying?! How could you?!" –Lpaulsen

The big issue with the original was that it was unexciting and not really worth a card. This new version is a fun uncommon draft reward that rewards you for going wide with things like treasure tokens.

Whimsical Djinn

I toned down Whimsical Djinn's random abilities significantly, and also made one of the abilities fire off on ETB because it would feel really bad if you played this fun splashy mythic and your opponent immediately snapped off a removal spell on it before anything cool happened.

I debated a lot about whether the double strike ability should grant haste (as it's the only ability reliant on attacking on the turn it ETBs) or if it should just be inherent; I went with the latter to save a line on an already very crowded card. This also makes it easier to remember whether you can attack with the Djinn on the turn you cast it, as I could see that being a memory issue.

Pam, Final Experiment

I still don't know if this is good or not. There's a reason I never designed a planeswalker after I didn't have to, and that's because you really need to test them a lot to figure them out, and I've lowered both planeswalkers out of an understanding that designing them on my own without testing is inevitably going to lead to something mediocre. That said, I made a version of Pam I'm reasonably happy with that both exploits post-WAR planeswalker static abilities and does a shapeshifter effect that nobody's done before.

If we're pretending that it's 2018, WAR isn't out, and I just got an extra four days to work on my submissions, this probably wouldn't fly, as the judges were justifiably conservative about eating into planeswalker design space, but I wanted to experiment with how a planeswalker could have a copy ability without taking up too much space on the card.

Sorin, The Prequel

This version still tries to do "here's all the cool stuff Sorin did before he appeared in-story" but be a little more exciting. Sorin's a bit tricky to design for because he doesn't have a very coherent mechanical identity, so I tried not to go too far into lifegain-matters stuff (Ajani) or exile stuff (Kaya).

Sign in Someone Else's Blood

This card's flaws are conceptual more than they are due to not tweaking it correctly, so I basically didn't change it besides lowering it on the order. It did end up pushing out the card below, which I felt was better, from the W/U instant slot due to their similarity, but I didn't have any other ideas for a B/R instant so I had to compromise.

Bonus: Geist's Mercy

Get it?

TLC Match

The original card I had here, No Humans Allowed, was almost exactly Ferocity of the Wilds, so there's not that much that can be done to salvage it. This card is close to some ideas I was working on for an R/G enchantment before I decided to run with non-Human tribal. To keep it closer to the idea of "your creatures pick up folding chairs and wallop your opponents' creatures with them," it would be better to have a fight trigger destroying an artifact or enchantment, but then the card would be so narrow it wouldn't fit at uncommon.

Wise Fwom Youw Gwave

This is basically what I was thinking of right before I came up with the idea for Pick Your Poison. It's certainly not great, but who knows if I would have done something better with the time I had remaining? It would be too hard to exactly replicate the conditions of the design test, so I didn't want to go too much into what-ifs.

I'll be publishing Great Redesigner Search articles for every GSD3 round, though I might not do them all in a row depending on my progress on other Goblin Artisans articles. That said, thank you for letting me indulge myself in "what might have been" and I hope you enjoy this journey.


  1. Very cool, going through your old submissions and fixing them. And quite a blast from the past for me, reminding me of reading the GDS as it was going on.

    On the Djin, I think not giving haste makes it feel _really_ bad when you get double-strike. Adding a 'you get nothing' outcome to otherwise always-good randomness is probably not an improvement.

    1. I completely agree with you, which is why haste and double strike were always going to be combined; I was just debating whether the double strike option should grant haste as well or whether the djinn should just have haste as a static ability.

  2. Oh, really interesting to see it in retrospective. I think at the time I didn't appreciate how hard this bit of the test is. It's fine to come up with OK cards, but really hard to come up with cards which are both interesting and reasonable, and really hard to evaluate your own designs objectively.

  3. I think Wicked Guardian is a good comparison point to Sign in Someone Else's Blood. I understand that there are already 2 creatures, and you couldn't have more under the constraints of the test, but putting the effect on a creature solves the targeting issue and the ability to adjust the creatures stats gives some more flexibility in costing. Maybe that's going too far afield from the original card concept though.

    Village Rites also seems relevant for figuring out the rate. To echo Melissa's original comments, paying an extra mana and a second color is maybe not worth the upside.