Welcome back to Great Designer training! A few days ago, we posted this current’s week’s challenges. Today we’ll be going over several of the designs submitted for last week’s challenges.

First and foremost, I want to thank everyone for submitting their designs. It takes creativity to generate ideas on the spot and courage to submit them for public consumption. These are essential skills of a game designer and I admire everyone for rising to the occasion. People have been asking for anonymized critique in the comments, so I’ll be going over a whole lot more designs this week (and if this is received positively, going forward). I received a few hundred card designs for this week, so I won’t be able to go over every one of them, but I’ll endeavor to do many for each challenge. I’ll generally be brief just so that I can cover as much ground as I can.

This week’s challenge had a common restriction: design five common cards according to different criteria. The vast majority of people of adhered to these restrictions. A few didn’t, and I won’t call anyone out for that—we’re here to improve, after all—but I encourage folks to pay attention to instructions. Here, there’s no penalty, but in GDS3, that’s grounds for elimination. (As a reminder, you’re welcome to edit your submissions at any point. I generally stop looking after Sunday evening, so long as you are done by then, you’re good.)

With that said, on to the designs!

Design Challenge #1: Innistrad

Design a common Innistrad creature with a reprint keyword/ability word never before seen in an Innistrad block.

Zombie-Bit Cathar by Jake
Creature – Human Soldier
Unearth 1B
“I will fight for the cause even after I turn.”

Unearth is an obvious mechanic for Innistrad (and was a popular choice). Zombie-Bit Cathar is my favorite. It’s a twist on Loyal Cathar—your soldier manages to stay faithful even beyond death, but only for a moment. This is a very simple common, serving to introduce a set mechanic and a multicolor, perhaps enemy color theme, without being terribly strong.

Hungry Vampire by Daniel Blees
Creature – Vampire
Bloodthirst 2

Bloodthirst is another home run. We’ve seen it before on vampires in Vampire Outcasts and it makes perfect sense for aggressive Innistradi vampires. Hungry Vampire seems like a neat archetype reward. It’s absolutely atrocious in most decks, but it can give vampire decks the aggressive start they need to win the early game.

Lurking Vampire by Sam Hotchkiss
Creature – Vampire
Prowl RR

I didn’t expect to see Prowl again in Magic. In fact, I did a quick search to see where it was on the Storm Scale (the likelihood of a mechanic returning to Standard, check out Blogatog’s FAQ for more info). Turns out, it’s unrated.

As for the design, I really like Lurking Vampire (which is a fascinating twist on the aforementioned Hungry Vampire). Innistrad has always had a tribal component and it could be conceivably be hit harder on a return. Prowl works well as a vampire mechanic, since vampires are the premier aggro tribe on Innistrad.

Doomed Warrior by Bob
Creature – Human Soldier
When Doomed Warrior or the creature it haunts dies, create a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying.

Haunt is a very poorly regarded mechanic—it is surprisingly complicated (it works differently on creatures and spells), has memory issues, and unfortunately is the loss of a super flavorful keyword. The flavor makes it an obvious choice for Innistrad, despite its unlikely return.

Doomed Warrior is an obvious twist on Doomed Traveler. The creature is so dedicated, it not only lingers on past death, but returns a second time to avenge a second wrong. The flavor (if I’m understanding it correctly) is neat, but has weird consequences. The spirit token Doomed Warrior leaves behind is the warrior’s geist. It’s possible that the creature Doomed Warrior haunts dies before the spirit token, meaning you’ll have two different ghosts of the same person. That feels odd, and Innistrad worked because so many cards told such strong stories.

Salivating Mutt by Alexander Smith
Creature – Hound
Devour 1
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, gain 1 life for each creature it devoured.
“Where did Eric go? I’m sure he’d love to pet this dog.”

love it. I was totally expecting vampires with Devour, but a dog is such a twisted choice. The flavor here is on point. Sure, it’s a very weak common, but design isn’t just about making cards relevant for Constructed and Limited. This card gets to sit in a pack and show everyone just how untrustworthy the plane of Innistrad is.

Crazy Devil by Danny Robles
Creature – Devil

I love Unleash on Devils. If Riot Devils lets you have blocking-duty devils, then of course you can have the choice to never block with these imps. That said, Crazy Devil is a crazy powerful common. Red gets 3/3s for three with a downside and they tend to be quite good. This one costs two. I also don’t love that there’s no real choice here, since the 3/3 is so much better, but the majority of Unleash cards are only good with the +1/+1 counter.

Noisy Skaab
Creature – Zombie
When [CARDNAME] enters the battlefield, target player puts the top two cards of their library into their graveyard.
Unearth U

I made this, though Micriley, Jason Montgomery, and Sidney Parham made very, very similar designs. Turns out, we all want to help the next Spider Spawning/zombie self-mill deck work.

Tibalt’s Temporary Fiends
Creature – Devil
Hellbent – [CARDNAME] has +3/+0.

I also made this and was surprised no one else went for Hellbent. Sure, Amonkhet’s ‘Heckbent’ has substantially better gameplay, but the flavor here is spot on: Devils like hell.

Design Challenge #2: Ravnica

Design a common Izzet instant or sorcery.

Theorize by Carrie O’Hara
Return target nonland permanent to its owner’s hand.
Spell Mastery—Scry 2.

Disperse with potential upside. That’s a solid design, given that Spell Mastery proved to be a reasonable hoop in Origins Limited. I love the idea that the Izzet League needs to try a couple times before getting their spells ‘just right.’

Mind Control Ray by Jeremy Geist
Gain control of target creature until end of turn. Untap that creature. It gains haste and can’t be blocked until end of turn.

Ah! How does this Threaten variant not exist yet? It makes so much sense! You take control of a creature and easily infiltrate your opponent’s defense because no one knows what you’ve done! Great work, Jeremy!

Rifle Through Notes by lpaulsen
Draw a card, then discard a card, then draw a card.

This might be the most Izzet-feeling spell I’ve ever seen. I love ludonarrative consonance and the performing of this spell feels like rifling through notes. I feel like the weird discard in the middle could push this to uncommon. That said, if Overload spells could be at common, this is fine. Excellent work!

Aether Shock by Sidney Parham
Return target creature to its owner’s hand. If you control a mountain, Aether Shock deals 2 damage to that creature’s controller.

This is a solid removal spell for Limited. It doesn’t scream Izzet League to me, but
a) I wasn’t clear that I wanted Izzet League spells, not just blue-red spells.
b) Not every spell is going to exemplify the guild.

It’s simple, clean, and supports a tempo strategy we’ve never seen from the Izzet League, but UR has been doing increasingly since the creation of Prowess.

Rewind the Experiment by Jake
As an additional cost to cast Rewind the Experiment, exile an instant or sorcery card from your graveyard.
Rewind the Experiment deals damage equal to the exiled card’s converted mana cost to target creature.
Flavor: “Even when an experiment is finished, it’s not finished.”
(Maybe this is too complex for common, but Corpse Lunge was a common.)

Jake hit my concern exactly, and I’m on board. I love the idea of repurposing an old, discard spell in some steampunk lightning cannon. This feels like it’d go very well in Izzet. Interestingly, it plays very poorly with the two previous Izzet mechanics, Replicate and Overload (since both went on cheap spells that had more expensive alternate costs), but in the next Ravnica set, that needn’t be the case.

Design Challenge #3: Theros

Select a common reprint for Theros that makes sense on the world.

Jake, lpaulsen, Andrew Sherman, and Kade Goforth selected Tragic Poet. The flavor and ability are both perfectly suited to Theros.

Danny Robles selected Doomed Dissenter, a recent card that also makes great sense. I love it when clean commons can be reprinted in quick succession where they communicate a very different flavor or Limited environment.

Sidney Parham chose Solemn Offering, a great generic core set card that becomes a whole lot better in a world of enchantment creatures that are aligned with some gods, but not others.

Felix picked Raging Minotaur, an unexpected choice, but a perfect fit. It’s a french vanilla creature (if you’re don’t know what that means, look it up) that fits into the minotaur theme and has ample room for flavor text.

Design Challenge #4: Aura

Design a common five-mana aura.

This was by far the trickiest of the questions. Auras tend to be either very, very weak (Lightning Diadem) or crazy good (One With the Wind). We don’t see very many CMC 5+ auras at common anymore, but we see plenty of quite solid CMC 4 auras (Malfunction, Mark of the Vampire, Pious Interdiction). People had the instinct to either offset this card advantage or just make a relatively straightforward pump spell. A substantial number of designs (mine included) did the following:

  • Gave +2/+2 or +3/+3
  • Gave trample OR drew a card when it entered the battlefield
  • Cost 4G or 3GG

There’s nothing wrong with convergent design. It’s fascinating how so many of us came to the same (or very similar) answer(s) to a thorny problem. I’m going to focus on a few designs that bucked this trend and also still made sense at common.

Necronmatic Cyst by Joe
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets +2/+2

When enchanted creature dies, each opponent loses life equal to its power.

Ooh, essence of Mortis Dogs. This feels like a fantastic introduction to black for a new player. Black plays dirty and even if you kill it, it still hurts you in the end. I can see this as a very late pick that people will be frustrated to lose to in Limited while still being a weak, fair, and neat design.

Goose and Gander by Felix
3UU Enchantment — Aura
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, create a 2/2 blue bird creature token with flying.
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has flying.

I love this. It’s five mana for more than three flying power. It circumvents the card disadvantage of auras (assuming your opponent doesn’t have a removal spell as this is cast), gives you a flying army immediately, and is very much blue without saying draw a card. I could see this as a powerhouse card in a core set or telling a nifty story in Theros with an enchantment bird token. There’s a lot going on here in not a ton of text, and that’s some solid design.

Design Challenge #5: Kaladesh

Design a common artifact with a colored activation cost for Kaladesh.

Volatile Aether Canister by Tom Whitney
[R],[T]: You gain [E]. Then, if you have 3 or more [E], sacrifice [CARDNAME].
When [CARDNAME] is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, it deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

It’s a delayed Shock, but it makes energy. When you’ve got 2+ energy already, it’s Pyrite Spellbomb. The flavor’s even on point—you know that this thing can only handle so much energy before it explodes. Great work, Tom! Thanks for submitting!

Arcing Steamroller by Dave Meeson
Artifact – Vehicle, 4/4
Crew 2
G: Target Vehicle gains trample until end of turn.

I’m no fan of vehicles, but I accept that they’re an integral part of Kaladesh and likely a deciduous mechanic going forwards. I like that this is much weaker than Renegade Freighter, yet is still probably a fairly strong card. These days we don’t normally see repeatable activated abilities to grant keywords at common, but trample doesn’t mess with combat math and only targeting vehicles is a real restriction. Smart design, Dave!

Loyal Clockhound by Levi D Byrne
Artifact Creature-Hound Construct
W: CARDNAME gains first strike until end of turn.

It’s Titanium Golem, but better and with a Kaladesh feel (but harkens back to clockwork beasts of yore). I can see this in a return to Kaladesh as an alternative to Bastion Mastodon. It’s crazy how hard it can be good to come up with a simple, unsophisticated design like this that fits the world and New World Order. Well done, Levi.

Self Driving Car by Danny Robles
Artifact – Vehicle
Crew 2
2W: CARDNAME becomes an artifact creature until end of turn.

Yup, this is a self-driving car alright. This makes me chuckle every time I see it. I love the flavor on this weak vehicle (that could certainly be given a boost in power to be playable).

Phew! That’s all for this week, friends! Thank you so much to all our designers who submitted this past week. Here’s looking to seeing even more of your work in this week’s challenge. And please feel free to leave feedback in the challenge, too. This is a new format and we welcome your comments and critique.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer. He works for Kingdom Death: Monster, has an MFA in Game Design from NYU, and does freelance game design. Also, when the stars align, he streams.

His favorite card of the month is Explore, his favorite Magic card design ever. It’s so beautifully efficient. It imparts a knowledge and perhaps introduces you to a new land, just like exploration does. It’s powerful, but fair, and yet it’s also kind of Time Walk for the exact same mana cost.

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