The Magic Show #16 – Designers, Inc

Another episode of the Magic Show, the popular video article series by Evan Erwin. In his own words…

Today I’m going to talk about Magic Design. Specifically, the Great Designer Search contest going on over at MagictheGathering.com. Now you’ve already seen our own Ben Bleiweiss – a cool cat if there ever was one – take a shot at last week’s “Take Five” Challenge. Today I’m going to cover “Picture This,” where severe design constraints are given and the designer must find a way out of it.

Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro have full rights to use any and all ideas in this article.

[The following is a transcript of the show, which you really should check out.]

Hello everybody, and welcome to the Magic Show. I’m your faithful host, Evan Erwin.

Today I’m going to talk about Magic Design. Specifically, the Great Designer Search contest going on over at MagictheGathering.com. Now you’ve already seen our own Ben Bleiweiss – a cool cat if there ever was one – take a shot at last week’s “Take Five” Challenge. Today I’m going to cover “Picture This,” where severe design constraints are given and the designer must find a way out of it.

Before I show my entries, let’s take a look at the search so far.

It all began with an essay contest. I sent in my own and was accepted to the second round. The second round featured a multiple-choice test of which I failed by a few questions. Now I’ve been designing both Magic and collectable cards for years now, and even made my own complete Magic fan set – Fires of Heaven – over a period of two years. The set in full is 603 cards, including basic lands, and features many different, interesting mechanics.

Quite simply, living the dream for me is making games for a living. And for a few years now I have actually supplemented my income via trading card game design and development. Unfortunately on just a contract basis. The problem was this: entering the contest made you promise to move up there if you made it. So getting to live this dream would mean moving to Seattle and take what I’m sure is a much lower pay rate than I’m currently enjoying as a Network Admin. I also have a wonderful wife and two daughters, along with family nearby and a great job here in East Tennessee. Born and raised, I like the place.

So, winning this contest could actually turn out to be financially undoable, and perhaps that’s why I rushed through the multiple-choice test. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that this Apprentice-style show is absolutely fascinating for Magic players like you and I. Certainly one of the most fanboy-friendly productions I’ve seen in quite some time.

This week’s contest gave each person ten different pieces of art and ten different design holes that needed plugged in a finished set. What I’ll do now is simply list the design constraint, along with my finished card. Note I’ve used a program called Magic Set Editor, which is totally free and open source, to create these images. This means I got to look at the picture and my creation in real time. I’d hate to think that the contestants aren’t using such a tool but, based on some of the ridiculous cards that didn’t fit the art, perhaps they aren’t.

Here was the first challenge:

White (uncommon)
We need an answer to all the token making in the environment. Be subtle.

Here is my submission:

Trials of the Wary
Picture #5 (Sword)
Remove all attacking creatures from the game. Return those creatures to play tapped and attacking at the beginning of that player’s next attack step.
Norin’s army had a way of… reassessing the situation.

This card is, as noted by the flavor text, a little nod to Norin the Wary, the “booby prize” card of Time Spiral. Otherwise, the mana cost is probably wrong, something that would need to be worked out in development, and its power level may need to include only creatures controlled by an opponent.

Originally I had a card that destroyed creatures if their controller couldn’t pay its mana cost, but most casual players assume that you can pay the mana cost of tokens, whose converted mana cost is 0, but whose real mana cost is simply absent. Bummer.

White (rare)
We’re looking for a weird Johnny-style enchantment

Here’s what I have for this one:

March of the Many
Picture #8 (Flag)
Creatures you control gain +1/+1 for each creature type of creatures your opponent controls.
1WW: All creatures gain a creature type of your choice until end of turn.

I think this would be an interesting Johnny card with which to break, and as such could fire up the Timmies with their myriad of favorite creature types.

Either way, I think this would be an interesting and cool rare.


Blue (common)
We need a sorcery. No card filtering or drawing. No bounce (a.k.a. returning cards to hand).

Picture #1 (Spear)
Switch the toughness of target creature with the power of another target creature until end of turn.

This is a part of the Blue color pie that’s been referenced more and more recently, and I hope this card wouldn’t be so complex as to be non-“grok”-able at first glance.


Blue (rare)
We need a creature. Something splashy for Timmy.

Brant, Master Clone
Picture #4 (Cauldron)
Legendary Creature — Human Wizard
Whenever another creature comes into play, CARDNAME becomes a copy of that creature until end of turn.
3UUU: Put a token copy of target creature into play under your control.

This is a splashy creature in that it can become any creature on the board, is too fragile for Constructed play, but should be a blast when you’re smashing with double Darksteel Colossi, or by using its copying ability as it comes into play with an interesting combo or other means.

Black (uncommon)
Make an aura you want to put on your own creatures.

Here’s what I got for you:

Terrifying Idol
Picture #3 (Pike)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature gains fear.
Sacrifice CARDNAME: Creatures you control gain fear until end of turn.

With this one I took the absolutely awesome picture and tried to imagine something so scary it would “turn the opposing army into stone.” This would mean scaring them or, in Magic terms, turning on the fear. This is an enchantment that can induce card disadvantage, but can win games thanks to its very presence. This may need an activation cost or a working of its casting cost, but I like it currently.

Black (rare)
Can be anything.

Ah, this was fun. Here’s what I came up with:

Corrupt Elder
Picture #10 (Child)
Creature — Human Wizard

When CARDNAME goes to the graveyard from play, any opponent may pay 3 life. If they don’t, search your library for a card and put it in your hand. Then shuffle your library.

Now this is what I’d like to imagine a money rare looking like. This is also a pseudo-Browbeat, as it “never gives you what you want.” The key, of course, is getting them into a situation in which it will be beneficial for them to give you the card. Two of them on the field is good times indeed. This is also an efficient beater as it’s still a 2/1 for two mana (a key aspect that made Dark Confidant extremely playable).

Red (common)
Instant or sorcery. No direct damage or destruction (artifact or land).

Okay, let’s take a look:

Meeting of the Masters
Picture #7 (Staff)
Add RR to your mana pool, and an additional R for each Legendary Creature you control.

This creature plays into Red’s fast mana color pie distinction and the various legends present in the picture. While the featured legends may not be from the block in question, this is the art we got, and so that’s what you use.

Red (uncommon)
Creature. Want a build around me for draft (a.k.a. something that will encourage players to go down a path or paths he or she wouldn’t normally had they not drafted this card early; examples of this type of card are Lightning Rift, Mark of Eviction and Momentary Blink).

This was an interesting one, and they gave me some great art for it…

Sulfurous Brazenmage
Picture #6 (Cape)
Creature — Human Wizard
Morph R
When CARDNAME is turned face up, it deals X damage to target creature or player, where X is the number of face down creatures you control.

This plays in perfectly with the un-morphing creature in the image. I originally was trying to more clever than functional by having its unmorph cost be “Turn a face up creature you control face down” but then you’d have to specify its power and toughness or you’d have to further drill it down to turning a morph creature face down. All of this a little too wordy and it’s the morphed creature count the player will build around, not the silly unmorph cost (even if it did play into the ability).

Green (common)
Creature. Something that costs four or more mana.

Here’s what I made out of the Orgg looking thing:

Picture #9 (Monster)
Creature — Orgg
Protection from artifact creatures.
Whenever an artifact is put into the graveyard from play, remove it from the game and put a +1/+1 counter on Slagmar.

In this very top-down design, I show the monster “eating” artifacts that would go to the graveyard, making it bigger in the process. I gave it protection from artifact creatures because I’d still like it to be tapped with Icy Manipulator effects, and also not be chumped so easily. It really depends on the block. This was based on the picture alone, so it was cautiously worded.

Green (rare)
Non-creature spell. Green’s lacking in “wow” factor (a.k.a. something that will impress the player by how different it is).

For this rare, I chose the toughest art:

Fission Blast
Picture #2 (Rings)
Destroy target multicolor permanent. Then destroy another multicolored permanent for each white, blue, black, and red mana used to play Fission Blast.

With this card, I wanted to bring back Desert Twister, an old favorite of mine, and try to tie it in with five colored rings as seen in the picture. Sunburst is done and gone, and counting the mana played for the spell is the new hotness thanks to cards like Court Hussar and Azorius Herald. Destroying multicolored permanents was introduced in green via Pure / Simple, though it needed Red mana. This expands that to all other colors, a green trait, and multicolor hate, another Green trait.

So that’s my test. How do you think I did? Feel free to reply with criticisms, thoughts, and ideas. I’m not too proud for criticism, and I’m sure there are cards that could use some work.

So with that said, let’s take a look at my favorite contestants so far.

First up is our own Kenneth Nagle, who goes by the nick Norrytt. So far he’s made some really interesting cards and, well, he’s an SCG forum rat like myself and I’d love to see him succeed.

Second is Noah Weil. Let’s not hold it against him that he’s currently on Wizards’ payroll with his Limited Information column. Rather, his problem is exactly that – he’s so close to the Wizards system and their intricacies that he has a hard time thinking outside of the box.

We also have Andy Probasco, another SCG alum and a popular vintage player. Unfortunately he seems to be making cards that would work well for Vintage, or cards that are too good for their rarity level, or cards that are just uninspiring. I don’t know what the man can do to breakout of this rut, but we’ll keep an eye out.

Next is Christopher Jablonski. This guy is really, really funny. He’s like the Kelly Digges we never had, except in a very important contest that transposes his comedy to his cards. The problem is that it’s cute for awhile, but by the end of his submissions I’m normally cringing. I definitely think humor has its virtues, but seriousness does as well.

Finally we have what I consider the Top 2. They’ve been the Top 2 and, as Zvi noted, the rich will probably get richer as the contest continues. Those in good standing can make negligible mistakes that won’t be chastised, while the other contestants need to walk on eggshells to continue.

Alexis Janson is my favorite, with her innovative designs and fun ideas. However, Ryan Sutherland looks like he could actually do this day in and day out, surpassing even Alexis in the design category.

However, as a female, Alexis has the “X Factor” going for her, where people may pay more attention to her just because she’s female and give her special consideration where they normally wouldn’t. This is deserved, and I can’t wait to see where these frontrunners go in future contests. They are definitely the ones to watch.

So that’s another show everybody. I’d like to thank you for watching and hope to see you next week.

Evan “misterorange” Erwin
dubya dubya dubya dot misterorange dot com
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com
Written on my new, ass-kicking MacBook Pro
Music Credits:
Title — “Strawberry Fields Forever”, The Beatles