Welcome back to Great Designer Training! Today, we’ll be going over last week’s challenges. If you’re interested in participating, you can check out this week’s design assignments. Yet again, I was completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community. Fortunately, I was on vacation this week, so I had the ability to be unusually comprehensive. What follows is the longest design critique you’ll see at GDT. As ever, I congratulate all of the designers on their ingenuity and bravery to submit everything for public consumption.

This week lacked a cohesive theme. Rather, it pushed players to come up with very different kinds of designs, be they new takes on existing designs or completely new territory. Folks certainly rose to the challenge.

Design Challenge #1: Keyword Remix

Design a card that contains two existing keywords that have not yet been on a card together.

Successful submissions combined abilities in new and interesting ways. These could be mechanically fascinating combos, flavor home runs, or just things that feel like they ought to exist already.

Mirran Martyr 2W by Sidney Parham
Creature – Human Artificer (U)
Fabricate 2 (When this creature enters the battlefield, you may put two +1/+1 counters on it. If you don’t, create two 1/1 colorless Servo artifact creature tokens.)
Battle cry (Whenever this creature attacks, each other attacking creature gets +1/+0 until end of turn.)

Mirran Martyr is a very powerful card. Like most Fabricate creatures (particularly those without additional keywords like flying), the correct answer is usually to make tokens, and this card is no exception. In an aggressive deck, this is five power by itself, reminiscent of other Mirran powerhouses like Blade Splicer, Precursor Golem, and Hero of Bladehold.

I think the power level is a bit high for uncommon. As far as the design goes, I really like Fabricate in the context of Mirrodin. Sure, Servos are a Kaladesh thing, but I can imagine a Mirran resistance adapting a new form of technology (perhaps invented by them, perhaps introduced by a certain good, Planeswalking artificer) to fight off the invaders.

Patrol Armorer by Gabriel Lefton
Forecast W: Target Creature you control gets +1/+1 until end of turn

I love the parallelism here. Both effects give a small, temporary buff and you can combine the two of the them once for +2/+2. I think Forecast is a problematic mechanic to bring back, given that it creates repetitive game states (along with mechanics like Retrace and Buyback), but I like how it works here.

Ironhide Disciple 1RR by James Fitzpatrick
Creature – Minotaur Monk (Uncommon)
Trample, prowess

Simple, clean, and terrifying to block. I love simple designs like this one. Great work, James!

Desperate Sigil-seeker by Matt Corkum
Creature – human soldier
Unearth R

A strictly better Akrasan Squire is a interesting. It feels Abzan that the dead will come back to help the living one last time, though the card’s flavor goes in a different direction and has the warrior so desperate to achieve success that she’ll strike from beyond the grave (a neat and equally valid story). I also like how it combines two Alaran keywords to tell a story of how a fused Alara has changed, but is still the same.

Thorough Investigation by Carrie O’Hara
Detain up to three target creatures an opponent controls.

Carrie is a very competent Limited player and unsurprisingly has crafted a potent finisher for Limited. It’s a Frost Breath that targets three creatures but can change targets after the first turn. I think that this is also high on the power level, but I do quite like both the unusual design and the potential flavor of a massive Azorius crackdown.

Eternal Ronin by kajillion
Zombie Samurai
Bushido 2, Afflict 3

I feel like this design is perhaps a bit too smart for its own good. It’s amusing how Eternal Ronin has these high-numbered keywords that basically make it unblockable, basically a neat take on Vedalken Ghoul. However, this is a 3/3 blocker for B, which seems a bit much. I know that sounds more like a development concern, but as a designer, I don’t feel that this card is clear in what it’s trying to do. Afflict 3 says, “Attack with me!” and Bushido 2 says “I am impossible to profitably kill in combat, also I block GREAT.” I feel like this card wants to be a Tormented Soul rather than a Cinder Wall + Goblin Fireslinger.

Dashing Pirate 2R by lpaulsen
Creature- Human Pirate (Common)
Menace, prowess

Simple and clean. This and Ironhide Discipline are cards which I expect to be printed in the near future. Prowess is a relatively weak ability that has a nice tension to it, and that combines well with Menace’s forcing double blocks. This card can lead to shocking blowouts or mundane trades, but you’ll never be quite sure what’s going to happen when you block (unless your opponent is hellbent).

Fearsome Fightfriend by Thomas Whitney
Creature – Human Shaman Warrior
Menace, Prowess

Great minds think alike. I’ve quite enjoyed Thomas and lpaulsen’s work and was pleased to see them come up with almost identical designs for this assignment.

Viashino Trumpeter 3R by Alexander Smith
Creature – Viashino Warrior (Uncommon)
Battle cry
Dash 2R

Battle Cry and Dash seem unlikely to ever be in the same set, since they accomplish similar goals (being aggressive). Still, I like the combination. This card can do a lot of damage out of nowhere, like Goblin Heelcutter, but it does so in the opposite way (by magnifying damage, rather than eliminating a blocker).

Returning Words of Null by Melvin
counter target spell
cycling (2)

I think if Returning Words had Flashback, it’d be problematic, but neat. It’d be a two-for-one, overcosted counterspell that makes your opponent live in fear while it’s in your graveyard. However, Retrace just pushes things too far. Returning Words of Null is a control win-con almost by itself—it turns excess land drops (which control is normally already good at utilizing) into locking the game up. I think that this card does an excellent job of underscoring how problematic a mechanic like Retrace is. Once you reach the mid-to-late game, you know how the rest of the game is going to play out, and it’s going to be a slog.

Lyanna of Bogbrew (rare) by Zachary Barash
Legendary Creature – Human Wizard
4BB: Monstrosity 5. (If this creature isn’t monstrous, put five +1/+1 counters on it and it becomes monstrous.)
As long as Lyanna of Bogbrew has monstrous, it has Persist and is a black horror.

A strange witch transforms into a strange horror, is defeated, and then is seemingly back to normal without anyone being the wiser. I tried to keep Lyanna’s play patterns from being too recursive by giving her a six mana cost. Still, after chiding other people for cards that create recursive patterns, I’m not terribly enamored with my crack at this assignment.

Design Challenge #2: Keyword Action Remix

Design a card that contains an existing keyword action and an existing keyword.

This assignment was a twist on the first challenge. Keyword Actions are things we don’t often think about, but they’re not only common and essential to the game (Create, Destroy, Discard), they’re used increasingly in modern design (Explore, Exert, Scry, Investigate). Several folks misunderstood this assignment and created cards that combined two keyword actions (Exert + Fight, for example) or a keyword action and ability word (such as Morbid + Detain). I encourage everyone applying to GDS3 to know the differences between keywords (which work the same way every time and have reminder text), ability words (which are italicized, have rules text, and don’t work the same way every time), and keyword actions (which work the same way every time, have reminder text, and are verbs, unlike keywords [which are nouns]).

Insatiable Monstrosaur (Rare) by Jake
Creature – Dinosaur Soldier
Devour 1 (As this enters the battlefield, you may sacrifice any number of creatures. This creature enters the battlefield with that many +1/+1 counters on it.)
Revolt – When Insatiable Monstrosaur enters the battlefield, if a permanent you controlled left the battlefield this turn, it fights target creature an opponent controls.

I’m envisioning the flavor of this set to involve humanoid dinosaur mutants overthrowing a tyrannical government, or something. Devour works really well with revolt for obvious reasons, but it works especially well with fighting because you are encouraged to make your creature bigger anyway. And if you can trigger revolt some other way, you don’t have to sac a creature if you don’t want to.”

I like the tension of this design—a 4/4 ETB fight creature is already a two-for-one, but you need to jump through a hoop to get that effect. A dinosaur being incensed to fighting another creature is a flavor win, and I can see that a gorged dino could be emboldened to attack something it wouldn’t normally.

This design underscores the major flavor fail of Revolt. Revolt is presumably creatures rising in rebellion after some injustice was done, but it makes no sense when you destroyed your own thing, and even less when this dinosaur is revolting because it ate something. As a Mel, I quite like this card, but as a Vorthos, it feels all over the place. I think I’d like it much better if it had Morbid rather than Revolt (though admittedly, both are ability words, not keywords, which this assignment called for).

I try to avoid showcasing designs that didn’t adhere to the constraints (because I really don’t want to even appear to be shaming anyone for their designs—it takes heart, creativity, and courage to create and post these in a public space). I’ve been impressed by Jake’s previous submissions and like what I had to say about this design, so I showcased it anyway. Also, a lot of people misunderstood this assignment, so Jake is in good company.

Scan the Skies by Evan Shultz
Scry X, where X is the number of creatures with flying you control.
Draw a card.

Oooooh! An Impulse variant! I love that this always draws a card but goes best into an aggro-controlling deck like Faeries or Caw Blade.

Smart Ninja by Daniel Blees
Creature – Ninja
When CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, scry 3, then reveal the top card of your library and put it into your hand. You lose life equal to its converted mana cost.
Ninjutsu UB

This is a sweet uncommon or rare for when ninja return. It’s a neat twist on Ninja of the Deep Hours, where blue provides scry and black gives you Bob-esque painful card advantage.

Very Hungry Spider 4G by Addison Douglas Fox
Creature – Spider
When ~ enters the battlefield, you may have it fight target creature with flying.

A Stingerfling Spider by any other name would still catch fliers with webs? This feels like a great core set power uncommon. Shockingly, my love of clean, simple, elegant designs continues (though the following three assignments intentionally eschew that).

Vizier’s Entourage 2W by lpaulsen
Creature- Human Warrior (Uncommon)
When Vizier’s Entourage enters the battlefield, populate.
Embalm 4W

There are two ways to evaluate Vizier’s Entourage. First, it’s a very smart design. It’s Gray Ogre that might produce extra value when you play it and then embalms into at least a pair of 2/2s. The design intent is really sweet.

However, this card has a big templating problem. The only creature that has an ETB populate is Scion of Vitu-Ghazi and it’s templated so that it can’t go infinite if it somehow becomes a token. Vizier’s Entourage will go infinite with itself as soon as is embalmed (the tokens are also entering the battlefield, so they’ll also populate, and then the game will be a draw because the stack will never clear). This card needs some ugly, inelegant text like “When Vizier’s Entourage enters the battlefield, if no other cards named Vizier’s Entourage entered the battlefield this turn, populate” in order to work properly.

Alarm Sentry 3W by Bek
Creature – Human Soldier
First Strike
When ~ enters the battlefield, create two 1/1 white Soldier creature tokens.
(Above-rate common; might need to push its P/T slightly and be made an uncommon, but that’s a dev call. Could also push P/T and remove one token to be a safer common.)

For one extra mana, Attended Knight loses +1/+1 and creates one more token. For the same cost, Captain`s Call gives one of the tokens first strike. I don’t know whether 3 or more creatures can be created by a single common, but I can see this as a twist on Captain`s Call at common, or an uncommon weaker version of the Captain of the Watch.

Spiritcaller Jozan by Sidney Parham
Legendary Creature – Human Cleric (R)
Whenever you gain life, create a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying.

Simple, powerful, and a solid commander. This is a neat twist on Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle where it works well on its own and excellently in a dedicated deck.

Design Challenge #3: Enemy Alternate

Suppose Dragons of Tarkir’s story went a little bit differently. Design a mythic rare enemy-colored Dragonlord.

This assignment was very different than pretty much all that came before. These designs want to be splashy, exciting mythic rares. All five of the Dragonlords saw Constructed play (yes, even Kolaghan), so these cards have license to be powerful.

Dragonlord Simicgar 4GU by Ryan Sainio
Legendary Creature – Elder Dragon (M)
Flying Trample
Other creatures you control have base power 4/4 and gain flying and trample.


Dragonlord Ojutai 3UR by Jeremy Geist
Legendary Creature – Elder Dragon
Flying, prowess
Other creatures you control have base power and toughness 4/4, gain flying, and are Dragons in addition to their other creature types.

I love these two designs. Not only are they beautifully convergent, but their differences make perfect sense for their colors; green is a bit more expensive but makes better dragons, whereas red makes literal dragons. Blue and red are the color of polymorphing, but green also dabbles in it with cards like Essence of the Wild (though I’m not sure how much that’s still in green’s color pie).

Dragonlord Kieveas 4WB by Kyle Bryson
Legendary Creature- Elder Dragon (M)
Flying, vigilance, deathtouch
Whenever Kieveas attacks, you may pay X. If you do, return target creature with converted mana cost X from your graveyard to the battlefield, tapped.

Dragonlord Mamnot (Mythic) by Felix

Flying, Vigilance
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, return target creature card from a graveyard to the battlefield under your control tapped and attacking.

Hooray for more convergent design! I love the Yore-Tiller Nephilim ability in white/black (it really makes no sense on a WUBR card). I like the different directions these took (Dragonlord Mamnot is more pushed and has simpler templating, whereas Dragonlord Kievas is less abusable). Playtesting would tell which plays better.

Izzit-Lord Atarka by Daniel Blees
Elder Dragon
Flying, prowess.
Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell, CARDNAME deals damage to target creature or player equal to that spell’s converted mana cost.

I sort of expected every UR dragonlord to be an Ojutai variant and I’m pleased that this isn’t. I love how a spell-focused Atarka turns them into breath weapons (which the RG dragonlord version launches when she ETBs).

Dragonlord Suvalaq 5GU by Alexander Smith
Legendary Creature – Elder Dragon (Mythic)
Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery card, you may search your library for a creature card with the same converted mana cost, reveal it, and put it into your hand, then shuffle your library.

(Temur gets taken over by a dragon less interested in feeding the body, and more into mysticism and shamanic magic.)

Wild Pair on a spell-dragonlord is weeeeird. I like it. Given the mana cost, I think it might even be possible to put the creature onto the battlefield, but that’s a development question. This seems like a sweet alternative to Momir Vig, Simic Visionary in EDH, where you can construct a completely different kind of toolbox deck.

Dragonlord Dromoka 4GU by Bek
Legendary Creature – Elder Dragon
Flying, Hexproof
~ Enters the battlefield with three +1/+1 counters on it.
Creatures you control get +1/+1 for each +1/+1 counter on them.
When ~ attacks, put a +1/+1 counter on target creature.
[0/0] (MR)
Yes, high comp. complexity, but it’s a splashy MR. Pushes going wide slightly more than traditional dragonlords but in a way that I think plays to Dromoka’s flavor.

It took me a moment to realize what this card does: turn +1/+1 counters into +2/+2 counters. That’s a super cool ability. I have absolutely no idea how well it plays and would love to see how comprehensible it is. I really appreciate how this bends the rules in a seemingly simple way and runs the risk of hurting peoples’ brains a bit too much.

In other words, I both like and am scared of this concept and want to see it in action to determine how it is. A brief aside: I’ve found this attitude to be incredibly helpful in game design. Bek created something I might never have conceived. I’m uncertain of how viable the design is, but it’s better to give it a chance and see: either I’m wrong and something new and beautiful is now possible, or my skepticism is validated and we’ve both learned something about design. Great work, Bek! (Even though it intimidates me a little.)

Dragonlord Temoko 4WB by Justin Kane
Legendary Creature – Elder Dragon
Flying, Lifelink
Whenever you gain 6 or more life, you may destroy target creature.

This is beautiful. It’s totally WB. It follows in the vein of cards like Vona, Butcher of Magan and Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter. Yes, it basically reads, “When this deals combat damage, Murder something,” but it does so in a flavorful and mechanically coherent manner, as well as allowing you to build a deck to further maximize Temoko’s abilities.

Dragonlord Ojutai 4UR by Sidney Parham
Legendary Creature – Elder Dragon (M)
Flying, haste
When Dragonlord Ojutai attacks, you may cast target instant or sorcery card from your graveyard without paying its mana cost. If that card would be put into your graveyard this turn, exile it instead.

Ojutai, the Torrential Gearhulk (that can’t counter things). I love the clean but insanely powerful design. Sidney Parham really knocked it out of the park this week (though I wouldn’t be surprised if Development bumps the CMC of this up to 7 or 8).

Dragonlord Kolagahn by Levi Daniel Byrne
Creature: Elder Dragon M
Flying, first strike, haste
Whenever a spell or ability an opponent controls targets CARDNAME, CARDNAME deals 3 damage to target creature or player and you gain 3 life.

Simple, brutally efficient, and with a Lightning Helix-punisher effect to boot. This is a crazy powerful, sleek card that will terrorize people in Limited, Commander, and Standard, if it existed. I wasn’t expecting to appreciate simple designs for this challenge, but I really enjoy the combination of abilities, particularly in this color pair.

Dragonlord Gaspergo by Carrie O’Hara
Legendary Creature—Elder Dragon
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may search your library for any number of land cards and exile them. If you do, create an X/X green Elemental creature token, where X is the number of cards exiled this way.

Sacrifice an Elemental: CARDNAME gains hexproof until end of turn. 5/4

Dragonlord Gaspergo is a 5/4 flying that comes with a Mana Severance and a 7/7 or bigger token. After that point, Gaspergo is almost a french vanilla (it’s a 5/4 Flying that effectively has Hexproof). This is a really Mel-friendly, super Spikey Dragonlord. It’s not what I expected to see for this assignment, given how the Dragonlords all have strong Tammy appeal, but it’s a surprisingly nuanced design. It combines a rare blue effect (Mana Severance) with a rare green effect (massive token generation) in a new way and manages to have low complexity once cast.

Atarka, Seer of the Unwritten (mythic rare) by Zachary Barash
Legendary Creature – Elder Dragon
Flying, vigilance
Whenever another nontoken creature enters the battlefield under your control, create a token that’s a copy of that creature except it’s a blue dragon with flying in addition to its other colors and types.

Ryan Sainio and Jeremy Geist weren’t the only folks who wanted to make extra dragons. I approached it a bit differently, since blue and green let you make copies of your creatures (at least, they used to be—the Mechanical Color Pie suggests that green has lost this ability. If so, this card is still doable in GU, but is only getting Vigilance from green). I know that this card invites memory issues, so just like Bek’s Dragonlord Dromoka, this will need to be tested to see if it’s a headache or delight.

Design Challenge #4: Planeswalker’s Ally

Design an uncommon creature that references or interacts with an existing planeswalker to appear in an upcoming Core Set.

We’ve seen cards such as Ajani’s Pridemate and Gideon’s Avenger reference planeswalkers in Core Sets. The advent of Planeswalker Decks and temporary loss of Core Sets has shifted where these cards appear, but I expect to see more of them in the future. Successful submissions were cool references to their associated planeswalkers or played well with them.

Designs were also allowed to directly reference planeswalkers by name, but these all carry a cost: you’ll almost never get to use that line of text, which is both a feel-bad when you don’t own the appropriate card/open it in Limited and tamps the power level ceiling down when considering Constructed. That’s not a damning criticism, but it meant that I held such cards up to a higher standard.

Jace’s Temporary Copy by Kenny Wong
Put a token into play that’s a copy of target creature you control. Sacrifice it at the beginning of the next end step.

I love the flavor here: Jace is constantly creating mental duplicates but we rarely see them in practice. This is an emergency Clone that you’re probably using to block. I think that this card is kind of weak (because it can’t copy your opponent’s stuff), has high complexity (we really don’t see copy effects below rare), and needs modern templating, but I like it. There’s a lot of potential and a lot going in a card that doesn’t have a wall of text. Nice work!

Liliana’s Retainer by Sidney Parham

Creature – Zombie (U)
When Liliana’s Retainer enters the battlefield, you lose 2 life unless you control a Liliana planeswalker.
At the beginning of your upkeep, you may return Liliana’s Retainer from your graveyard to your hand.

A Gray Ogre that keeps coming back isn’t spicy, but it is card advantage. I like the idea that you need a very talented necromancer to resummon this thing without hurting yourself each time. I think that the Squee, Goblin Nabob ability is a bit much for an uncommon, but I really like what this card is doing.

Vraska’s Mate by Bek

Creature – Human Pirate
Menace, Deathtouch
2/1 (Uncommon)
“I’m assuming this means flavor interaction, not PW deck mechanical interaction, since no PW decks aligned with core sets. (Yes, Nissa’s chosen has mechanical interaction but only on the walker side, and also not in a core set.)
These two abilities aren’t normally combined but I think it can work if the rate is low enough. This plays like a card Vraska would want around. First, because Vraska needs protection when spamming her powerful minuses, and deathtouch is the best a blocker can really be. Second, Vraska is ruthless and menace this card can chip in through damage even through the most stalled boards.
The card needs at least 2 power to make its abilities matter, and it can’t cost 5+ because it can’t be the same drop as the Vraska it’s there to protect.”

I’m of two minds on this card. I really like the combination of abilities, creature types, and flavor at this cost. It doesn’t feel like a Vraska card, except for the Deathtouch. It doesn’t really combine with any of the Vraskas in a synergistic way (yes, it’s an evasive attacker if Vraska, Relic Seeker ultimates) the way that Chandra’s Spitfire and Liliana’s Caress do. This fits best with Jace’s Ingenuity feels like a spell Jace would cast. This satisfies the requirements of the assignment by referencing the planeswalker, but I guess I was hoping for a bit more (and that’s on me, not our wonderful submitters).

Domri’s Thug by kajillion
Creature – Human Warrior
When ~ fights, it gets +2/+2 until end of turn.

love it. It’s simple, it has the minor feel-bad of doing nothing on its own, but it’s a Spike card with a bit of Jenny and Timmy. This tells you what Domri is about, gives you direction in Limited, and does so with a tiny amount of text.

As for templating, I’m not sure how to ensure that this works correctly. I think that this is a triggered ability, meaning that Domri’s Thug will get the benefit after fighting (so it won’t get +2/+2 until the fight is over and only if it survived the fight). However, we can’t judge everything just by the execution. The intent here is spot on.

Jace’s Informant 1U by lpaulsen
Creature- Human Rogue (Uncommon)
Whenever Jace’s Informant deals combat damage to a player, you may draw a card. If you do, discard a card.
Jace planeswalker spells you cast cost 1 less to cast.

This is a very powerful twist on Scroll Thief and Merfolk Looter and a solid uncommon. I love that the power is in the card’s effect and less in its planeswalker interaction (which is almost trinket text, but could be quite potent in Constructed). The flavor here is even nice—why wouldn’t Jace conduct business with spies on Ravnica, if only to not make his telepathy too apparent?

Garruk’s Pet Boar by Addison Douglas Fox
Creature – Boar
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, if you control a Garruk Planeswalker, CARDNAME gains trample until end of turn.

Kalonian Tusker with marginal, but upside? Sign me up. Addison Douglas Fox and lpaulsen were the two designers to create cards that directly referenced planeswalker cards, but did so in a manner less likely to frustrate players not fortunate enough to open them. These designs were specifically for cards in a core set, so their goal would be to be a suitable introduction to these characters if they’re in someone’s very first pack, rather than a feel-bad that these can’t be played unless you also crack a Planeswalker.


Chandra’s Firemonkey by Addison Douglas Fox
Creature – Monkey

Whenever an opponent is dealt damage, ~ gets +2/+0 and gains trample until end of turn.

“The “”Planeswalker’s Friend”” cycles, common in core sets, are designed to be synergistic with multiple versions of the planeswalker they reference – for instance, Garruk’s Packleader cares about 3-power creatures, conveniently the size of the beast token many versions of Garruk create.
The many Chandras of the multiverse have two common threads – dealing damage, and casting additional spells (either by “”impulsive draw”” or by looting/rummaging), and either of these makes a good build-around:

This is a simpler, alternate take on Chandra’s Spitfire. It’s simple, feels like a Chandra card, and can reference Chandra’s home plane. It’s a little weird that this is a monkey Hill Giant rather than an elemental monkey, but overall I quite like this design.

Vraska’s Poisonblade by Alexander Smith
Creature – Human Rogue
Deathtouch, trample
Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, that player sacrifices a creature.

I’m not sure how to feel about Vraska’s Poisonblade. It definitely feels like a Vraska card (the type should totally be Assassin, by the way—though I guess it doesn’t kill exactly what you want each time). I’m not sure if this card is miserable to play against (because it snowballs) or if it’s totally fair (because it’s expensive and has underwhelming stats. Playtesting will tell.

Tamiyo’s Scrollkeeper by Michael
3UU 2/3 (uncommon)
Creature – Human Wizard
Tamiyo’s Scrollkeeper costs (1) less to cast for each tapped creature your opponents control.
When Tamiyo’s Scrollkeeper enters the battlefield, return target instant or sorcery card from your graveyard to your hand.

Tamiyo isn’t likely to see a core set printing any time soon but hey, I can dream. The first ability synergizes with Tamiyo, the Moon Sage’s +1 ability, and the second ability plays into the controlling style that she best supports. Side note: I really wanted to make this a Moonfolk Wizard, but with the “”rule”” that all soratami have flying and the fact that they haven’t shown up outside a Masters set in twelve years makes that not worth the headache.”

Tamiyo is without a doubt my favorite Planeswalker. I didn’t expect to see her referenced and yet Michael came up with a sweet card. This hits the nail on the head in terms of association with Tamiyo: it cares about creatures, being tapped, and recurs cards from the graveyard. This feels pretty strong, but not overpowered (it’s an Archaeomancer with +1/+1, a one mana increase, and a rarity increase, or an Izzet Chronarch with one extra toughness.

The play pattern here is interesting. The cost reduction is completely out of your control, which is unusual and weird. But it means that Tamiyo’s Scrollkeeper is at its best when you’re under pressure: she’ll be cheap enough for you to recur a spell and possibly cast it, too. I agree with not making this card a Moonfolk, both because they’re unlikely to be printed in a core set and that flying would force this card to probably cost 1-2 more.

Ajani’s Harvester guy thing by Glen W Vaughn

Creature – Cat Warrior UNC
If one or more +1/+1 counters would be put on a creature you control, that many plus one of those counters are put on that permanent instead.

This follows the design of most of the Core set planeswalker spells. It enables their planeswalkers, but also allows synergies with other cards. It’s similar to Ajani’s Pridemate or Garruk’s Packleader, it works very well with the planeswalker cards of the set but can be put into decks without that card just as well.

My first thought upon seeing this was, “this is freakin’ ridiculous! This is too good at two mana!” And then I remembered that Winding Constrictor exists. This is such a smart design. It plays with Ajani well, but in a new way. It’s crazy powerful, but not without precedent. Splendidly done, Glen.

Chandra’s Apprentice (uncommon) by Zachary Barash
Creature – Human Shaman
Whenever an opponent is dealt noncombat damage, create a 2/1 red elemental creature token with haste.
“Step one is creating fire. Step two is spreading fire. Step three… I haven’t gotten that far yet.”

Like Addison Douglas Fox, I also made something reminiscent of Chandra’s Spitfire. I liked the idea of combining it with Young Pyromancer to create a sort of Intermediate Pyromancer.

Design Challenge #5: A Guildmage for a New Age

Design an uncommon guildmage for a new Ravnica set.

So, there was a hidden challenge within this challenge that several folks picked up on. I didn’t expect everyone to adhere to it, nor did I discount designs that didn’t align with it, but I hoped some folks would design accordingly.

We’ve seen two cycles of Ravnica guildmages. In Ravnica: City of Guilds, they cost two hybrid mana and had two abilities (one of each color) that cost the same CMC to activate. In Return to Ravnica, they cost two mana (one of each color) and had two abilities (both required both colors to use). In both sets, they were bears (two mana 2/2s) and all of their abilities could be activated as many times as you could pay the mana. I was hoping to see people follow suit and start changing some of the knobs on guildmages.

Simic Archmage by Travis Froggatt
Creature–Elf Wizard uncommon
GG: Put a +1/+1 counter on target noncreature permanent.
GU: Proliferate.
UU: Return target nonland permanent with no +1/+1 counters on it to its owner’s hand.

I like this direction. Giving Guildmages a third ability increases their utility, further limits the text space of each individual ability (so they have to be simpler) and requires that they not be able to mess up combat too much (Guildmages are tricky enough already when one ability is an on-the-board trick; Korozda Guildmage is the only guildmage to have two abilities that are really relevant in combat)). So, I really like the design idea behind Simic Archmage, but the execution leaves me wanting.

The first ability messes up combat for a very low price (Shapers of Nature is nuts and even it costs four to put a +1/+1 counter on something), the second ability synergizes very well with the first ability, and the third ability basically reads, “UU: Disperse.” It feels like the third ability should let you bounce stuff you’ve beefed up, rather than things your opponent has. Overall, I really like the basic concept, but the abilities are not only very, very, very powerful, but the synergy between the first and second makes the third ability seem very out of place.

Aurelia’s Guildmage (Uncommon) by Jake
Creature – Human Wizard
(R/W)(R/W): Until end of turn, whenever target creature you control attacks, put a +1/+1 counter on it.
4(R/W)(R/W): Creatures you control gain double strike until end of turn.

I don’t believe we have seen a guildmage yet with a standard casting cost of MM and hybrid abilities of those colors. Speaking of hybrid, it’s really hard to find effects that could be used by both colors alone! The costing of these effects might be way too low for limited.

Jake found a neat new direction, and a very difficult one. Hybrid design is hard because it has to be something both colors have access to. Fortunately, Jake hit the nail on the head. Aurelia’s Guildmage plays in a very Boros way, does so without wrecking combat math, and has a sweet expensive ability. As with everything, I can see Development tweaking numbers, but almost everything addressed in this article feels like it’s at least in the right ballpark.

Garrison Guildmage by Glen W Vaughn

Creature – Minotaur Warrior UNC
1(R/W): Target creature gains first strike until end of turn.
1(R/W)(R/W): Create a 1/1 red and white Goblin Soldier creature token with first strike.

Previous guild mages had activated abilities in each color and activated abilities that require both colors. I believe the next step would likely be activated abilities in either color. But while thinking of some cards, I’ve had trouble finding a second ability that’d fit in both colors. I’m hoping it needing both colors to cast levies some of the bleed.

Glen not only had the same idea as Jake, but also the same guild in mind. Both of these abilities have been seen on Boros Guildmages before (though Sunhome Guildmage made hasty tokens for one more mana, which is probably the correct cost). I like that this is innovation by mining past design space, something Rosewater spoke about Magic needing to do more of way back in the 2006 State of Design article that announced GDS1.

Guildmage of the Dimir by Thomas Whitney
Creature – Human Wizard
HH(u/b): Look at the top 2 cards of your library. Put up to one of them into your graveyard and the rest on top of your library in any order.
1HH(u/b): Reveal the top card of your library. You lose life equal to its converted mana cost then put that card into your hand.

Oh, this is a sweet twist on Dimir Guildmage (and yes, several folks came up with the hybrid activated ability innovation, which seems like a logical next step). For two mana, you get card selection that’s a bit better than Scry 1 (which both colors have access to). For three mana, you get a Bob-draw (which is only a black ability, but I think that this card can get away with that because it costs black mana and blue is so good at drawing cards). The two abilities synergize together quite well, and the pain is likely sufficient to allow this to be instant-speed (Dimir Guildmage would have been too strong if either of its abilities worked at instant speed, not to mention inelegant if only one worked at instant speed).

Niv-Mizzet’s Guildmage by Nathan Whalen
Creature – Vedalken Wizard (U)
1U, tap: Untap target creature.
1R, tap: Exile the top card of your library. Until end of turn, you may play that card.

Tap abilities! We’ve not seen those before on Ravnica guildmages, but we have seen them on every other kind of Guildmage, funnily enough. Niv-Mizzet’s Guildmage has one amazing ability (impulsive draw) and narrower abilitiy (untapping creatures). I like the simplicity here, and this seems balanced enough to be made as is.

Zegana’s Guildmage by Evan Shultz
Creature — Merfolk Mutant Wizard
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, gain EE (two energy counters).
1G, E: Put a +1/+1 counter on target creature.
3U: Proliferate.

Energy is an unanticipated direction! This is reminiscent of Travis Froggatt’s Simic Archmage. I think that two mana is still two cheap to be messing up combat. I like that Zegana’s Guildmage theoretically runs out of energy quickly, but as we’ve seen in Kaladesh, energy can be quite plentiful (and putting a +1/+1 counter on any creature probably costs 2-3 energy). I like the synergy where you get to go 1G -> 3U to put two +1/+1 counters on a creature and rebuy your energy. A solid design, even though I think this messes with combat too much for too little mana.

Aurelia’s Guildmage by Kyle Bryson
Creature- Human Wizard (U)
2: Target creature you control gets +1/+0 until the end of turn. If RW was spent to activate this ability, that creature gains lifelink and +2/+0 instead.
2RW: Create two 1/1 red and white Soldier creature tokens. If RRWW was spent to activate this ability, instead create four of those tokens.

Kyle took Guildmages in a very different direction, both increasing the mana cost and putting a generic mana-only activated ability. I really like the latter instinct, and the mana-cost matters is really cool. Still, that introduces a new problem: this guildmage effectively has four abilities, and that’s a lot to remember (even though two of them are just doubled effects). Moreover, these abilities don’t feel like they’re in the correct developmental ballpark (yes, I know, designers, not developers, but I’d expect a reasonable amount of thought to card balance, particularly considering how close these abilities are to Sunhome Guildmage‘s). The ability to repeatedly pay four mana to get four tokens, or pay four mana to make a creature trade with anything feels crazy powerful.

Guildmage of the Undergrowth (Uncommon) by Felix

3G: The next time you would draw a card this turn, instead return target card from the graveyard to your hand and put the top three cards from your library into your graveyard.
3B: Each player discards a card. Activate this only any time you could cast a sorcery.

Oh, I like this one. It’s a minor tweak on Guildmage design (it combines RtR costing with R:CoG mirrored-cost abilities). The abilities play together very nicely and the first ability gives any card in your graveyard Dredge 3. The recursive play problems of Dredge hold fast, but this card might just be expensive enough that you can only afford to regrow cards every now and then and you’ll likely be taking a turn off just to be able to redraw it. This could play horribly by letting a player with seven or so mana just Murder (or the format-equivalent removal spell) every turn, but it seems balanceable (particularly since it lacks Dredge’s problem of circumventing mana costs).

Niv-Mizzet’s Guildmage (2/U)(2/R) by lpaulsen
Creature- Goblin Wizard (Uncommon)
(2/M can be paid with any two mana or with M.)
1R, T: Niv-Mizzet’s Guildmage deals 1 damage to target creature or player.
2U, T: Draw a card.

Twobrid, tap-abilities, and assymetric costs?! Well done, lpaulsen (and I love the typing). I initially felt that 3 mana to draw a card is just too much and then I remembered that Jushi Apprentice exists (at rare, and has never been repeated, but still, precedent is precedent). I like how this is a twist on Mercurial Chemister while still being very much a new card. It feels a bit all over the place with all the subtle stuff it’s doing—for an Izzet card, that makes sense, but I wonder how an entire cycle of guildmages would work with this structure.

Obzedat’s Guildmage by Sidney Parham
Creature – Human Wizard (U)
Whenever you gain life, you may pay W. If you do, create a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying.
Whenever an opponent loses life, you may pay B and sacrifice a creature. If you do, target creature gets -2/-2 until end of turn.

Whoah, this was unexpected. A Guildmage with two triggered abilities? Absolute madness! Obzedat’s Guildmage plays perfectly with Extort (as well as Sidney’s earlier design, Spiritcaller Jozan). I love how these two abilities synergize so well with each other (the extra tokens can both cause the life loss and be sacrificed to the trigger). As I write this, I realize that Sidney Parham managed to create cards I wanted to write about in every single category. Absolutely splendid work, Sidney!

Festivities Guildmage by Gabriel Lefton
1RB: Each player discards a card
2RB: Each player sacrifices a creature

Simple, clean, and utterly Rakdos. Having the discard not be restricted to sorcery speed is probably a bit too much, but I really like the direction.

Izzet dude by Melvin
Creature- Vedalken Wizard
2U: The next time you cast an instant this turn, draw 2 cards.
2R: The next time you cast a sorcery this turn, Izzet dude deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

A neat (and powerful) twist on Izzet Guildmage, Melvin’s Izzet dude splices Divination and Shock onto your spells. I’m concerned about the repetitive play patterns that this creates, but I also remember just how lackluster Izzet Guildmage could be. The minor tweak on the card’s mana cost is a simple one, but sometimes folks can be so caught up in crazy innovation that we miss simple twists like this one.

Mizzet Guildmage by Zachary Barash
Creature – Weird Wizard
Tap: Exile the top card of your library. You may play it. If you do, exile a card in your hand.
7UR: Put all cards exiled by Mizzet Guildmage in their owner’s graveyards. Mizzet Guildmage deals that much damage to each opponent.

I tried something different, which could be too far from what Guildmages currently do. Instead of giving mine two abilities that it could switch between, I gave it a normal ability and an ultimate. I can think of plenty of small/large effect combinations for the other guildmages, but I admit I didn’t sit down and try to make them all. I also wonder how well Impulse-Looting like this would work (and yes, I know it’s card advantage if you’re hellbent).

And last, but absolutely not least…

Paul Smith went above and beyond the call of duty, submitting ten of them!  Paul modified the stats as well as introduced a hybrid/multicolor ability pair. These are some nifty changes, and I’ll do my best to quickly address every single one of these cards.

“Alright, you know I couldn’t possibly do just one, right? The basic mold is
M/N hybrid ability
MN double color ability

I went for non-square stats as a balancing tool and it was just less boring. My favorite guildmages are the ones like Zamek or Vizkopa where the abilities synergize with one another, so that’s where I drew inspiration from. The Azorius one might not actually work and it and the Dimir one might not be uncommon, but I had a blast designing the abilities.

new Simic Guildmage
Creature – Merfolk Wizard
1(G/U): Reveal the top card of you library. If it’s a land, you may put it into your hand. Otherwise, Scry 1.
2GU: Put a land from your hand onto the battlefield. Draw a card.

The first ability is basically Explore, and the second ability is basically Explore. This is disgustingly elegant design. I think this might be a bit overpowered at these costs, but I love the design.

new Boros Guildmage
Creature – Minotaur Wizard
2(W/R): Create a 1/1 red and white soldier with first strike
2WR: Creatures you control gain indestructible and menace until end of turn

The first ability we’ve basically seen before and I’m cool with. The second ability seems way too cheap for “you win all the combat,” but I like just giving your team menace. I also appreciate that the hybrid ability is both in red and white while the multicolor ability requires both red and white to work.

new Orzhov Guildmage
Creature – Spirit Wizard
2(W/B): You gain 1 life. Each opponent loses 1 life.
3WB: Exile target creature until end of turn. Each opponent loses life equal to it’s toughness.

I love putting Extort directly onto a guildmage (Scholar of Athreos is a real card). I think the life-loss rider on the second ability is a bit much, as it’s quite strong as is.

new Izzet Guildmage
Creature – Weird Wizard
3(U/R): Change the target of target spell or ability with a single target
2UR: Whenever you draw a card this turn, ~ deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

I really like how the second ability is Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind‘s triggered ability. The first ability is going to be really frustrating, since it basically reads, “Your opponent can’t cast removal spells while you have four mana up” and is in tension with the second ability (which encourages you to spend all of your mana during your upkeep).

new Golgari Guildmage
Creature – Insect Shaman
1(B/G): If target creature would die this turn, return it to it’s owner’s hand at the beginning of the next end step
3BG, Sacrifice a creature: Destroy target non-land permanent

Whoah, Vindicate (almost) on a stick! I think giving a creature the repeatable ability to blow up nonland permanents is a bit too much; even more so when you can pay 7 mana to bounce a creature and play a Spine of Ish Sah as often as possible. I like the synergy here, but I think the second ability is just too much on a guildmage, if not any permanent (at that cost).

new Azorious Guildmage
Creature – Human Wizard
3(W/U): Untap target creature your control and tap target creature an opponent controls.
4WU: Counter target spell. Your opponents can’t cast spells with the same name as that spell.

Azorius Guildmage‘s tap ability is busted-good, and I like that this costs more (thereby balancing the ability) by getting an extra effect. It also doesn’t work super well as an on-the-board trick (which I’ll say is a good thing in this case) because if you’re untapping a blocker, you’ve not tapped an attacker. That said, the second ability is probably way too much. Not only does this take over the game by itself, it has annoying memory issues. You could fix the memory issues by saying “Exile target spell. Your opponent can’t cast spells with the same name as cards exiled by ~” but that doesn’t fix the play pattern problems of this permanent. Still, a super Azorius set of effects.

new Dimir Guildmage
Creature – Vampire Wizard
(U/B): Look at target player’s hand.
2UB: Choose a non-land card name. Target opponent reveals his or her hand. Until end of turn, you may cast cards with the chosen name, and you may spend mana as though it was mana of any color to cast them.

Hah! X as a black bordered card! I think that this works, and because it costs so much mana this ability could be fair. This falls under the, “I’m worried that this is too much, but would need to playtest it to be sure” banner.

new Rakdos Guildmage
Creature – Goblin Shaman
(B/R): Target creature gains haste until end of turn.
1BR, Sacrifice a tapped creature: ~ deals damage to target creature or player equal to the sacrificed creature’s power.

I like me a Crimson Mage. A Crimson Mage that can repeatedly Fling creatures is really powerful. I like the instinct you had to restrict the activation to tapped creatures (which also creates synergy with the first ability). The power level seems too high, but this is a design exercise, not a development one (last time this week, I swear!).

new Gruul Guildmage
Creature – Centaur Shaman
3(R/G): Target creature you control fights another target creature
3RG: Target creature gets +X/+X until end of turn, where X is the number of lands you control

I think that this might actually be the most powerful Guildmage you’ve made. Rubblehulk was a fine creature and player-killing. This card does it every turn. The first ability is already quite strong, but the second makes combat math impossible and staying alive really difficult for your opponent. Gruul Guildmage was already one of the best Guildmages and it cost four mana to give something +2/+2.

new Selesnya Guildmage
Creature – Human Shaman
3(W/G): You gain 1 life for each creature you control
4WG: Create a 1/1 white bird token with flying and a 2/2 green wolf token

I have mixed feelings on new Selesnya Guildmage. It creates three power for six mana (as Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage does), though it splits it among two tokens (which makes sense for Selesnya, but is harder to physically implement). I’d be concerned about how the first ability can make you impossible to kill, but frankly, if you’re gaining more than two life, you’re probably in fine shape, anyway. I like how it’s a recognizable twist on all things Selesnya and how it works well with itself, but feel like cards that make multiple types of tokens concurrently should probably be on single-cast sorceries, not repeatable abilities.


Alright, that was the longest design critique I’m likely to do for Great Designer Training, if not ever in Drawing Live. I appreciate everyone’s patience (I know this one came out a tad late) and apologize that I couldn’t get to everyone’s designs (though I did endeavor to respond to at least one design per designer). I won’t be able to be nearly this comprehensive in future installments—this took longer than a full workday to make and my vacation is almost over.

I’ve already received a bunch of designs for this week’s challenges and if you’re still reading and haven’t submitted yet, well, give it a try!

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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