a series of interesting choices thoughts on game design from paul sottosanti


great designer search: green in epolith

Taking a quick break from the Tiny Adventures posts to talk about the Great Designer Search 2 again. If you're new to the blog, I worked at Wizards of the Coast for five years, and was heavily involved in Magic design during a portion of that time. Reading through Ethan Fleischer's assignment for this week I felt compelled to blog about my reactions to some of the cards from his set, Epolith. I want to stress that I haven't read any of the article comments or any other thoughts on the topic, so apologies in advance if I'm repeating what's been said elsewhere.


Creature - Horse
Evolve - Whenever a creature with a power greater than CARDNAME's power enters the battlefield under your control, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

This is a sexy one drop. Great card to start the set off with, and I'm loving the Evolve mechanic. Rewards you for playing more and bigger creatures but has a built in cap so that it can't get out of control. This is one of my favorite mechanics from the contest so far. The "a" from "a power" can be removed though, and I'd add "you may" to avoid lots of missed trigger disasters during tournaments.

Wandering Elf

Creature — Elf Nomad
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may search your library for a basic land card, reveal it, put it into your hand, then shuffle your library.

Sure. It's unfortunate that there's no obvious reason for this reprint to be in this set over any other (it's more interesting when the card's value changes in the new set or it feels like it naturally fits in somehow), but it's a fine choice regardless.

Cave Bear

Creature - Bear
Evolve - Whenever a creature with a power greater than CARDNAME's power enters the battlefield under your control, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

This seems reasonable on the surface, but a tad powerful for common. This is a two drop that's going to grow to 4/4 fairly easily. That said, I'm a fan of giving green commons that you're happy to first pick. It's all too easy for red and black to have all the first picks because removal is so obviously a must have.

My other concern is that a plethora of evolve creatures is going to put a huge emphasis on curving out (playing a one mana creature on turn one, a two mana creature on turn two, etc). Missing your four drop could cost you a 4/3 and three +1/+1 counters, which is pretty swingy. One of the worst things about the VS card game was how heavily the design punished players for missing on-curve drops. They ended up having to print a bunch of cheap creatures that let you tutor so that games weren't decided by which player curved out more effectively. But I digress.

Fertility Shaman

Creature - Elf Shaman
Whenever you cast an Enchantment spell, put a 1/1 green Elf creature token onto the battlefield.

Seems like the set has an enchantment subtheme. It's nice that this creature helps recover the potential card disadvantage of auras in a way that's reasonable at common.

Mischievous Monkey

Creature - Ape
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, put target artifact into its owner's library third from the top.

The "third from the top" text is cute, but I like it more in blue or white, since they often focus on dealing with problems temporarily and also on planning for the future. Green's permanent destruction should be more final I think. Wizards did show a willingness to do this in black with Lost Hours, but that was in Future Sight, a set with a focus on time and the future.

Leaping Ornitholestes

Creature - Lizard
G, Sacrifice CARDNAME: CARDNAME deals 3 damage to target creature with flying.

Ornitholestes is a mouthful, but it's an actual dinosaur name, so I appreciate that Ethan put in some research and is tying his world back to ours. I enjoy the flavor of a small, agile lizard sacrificing itself in an epic leap to take down a small flier, and it's elegant to line up the damage with the power of the creature.

Wing-grabber Tree Spirit

Creature - Plant Spirit
Evolve - Whenever a creature with flying enters the battlefield under an opponent's control, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

This is the point where I realized that Evolve didn't always trigger off of greater power, and to be honest, I found it disappointing. There is something nice about the flavor here, where your creature is evolving to keep up with what's going on across the table, but I'm not looking forward to stalled board states where I have to keep track of five different triggers on my variety of Evolve creatures. Honestly, the flavor of my weaker creatures evolving to catch up with my stronger ones is good enough. I would strongly consider focusing this mechanic on that one trigger.

Elven Memory Keeper

Creature - Elf Shaman
When CARDNAME comes into play, you may return an enchantment card from your graveyard to your hand.

Traditionally this line of text belongs on white cards, but it's not unreasonable to put it in green. Rofellos's Gift and Nature's Spiral have paved the way somewhat. I do wonder how White will interact with enchantments in this set however.

Sluggish Sauropod

Creature - Lizard
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, it doesn't untap during its controller's next untap step.

I think this creature should probably be a 6/5. There aren't any other green commons with toughness above 4, and the drawback is quite significant. I do like the combination of high power with an ability that encourages the opponent to not block and just worry about it later.

Velociraptor Pack

Creature - Lizard

VELOCIRAPTOR ENTRY POINT! A fine card. No complaints.


Creature - Lizard
Evolve - Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.
CARDNAME has trample as long as it has a +1/+1 counter on it.

Not a fan of using Evolve as a Landfall retread, and this makes me dislike this implementation even more. It's becoming more clear that Evolve in this set just means "trigger - get a +1/+1 counter", but that's not tight enough to be a compelling mechanic. Also, what is the flavor of this evolving in response to more friendly lands showing up?


Creature - Lizard

I like it. Craw Wurm has been obsolete for years now, so it's fine to print a creature with strictly better stats. This guy is also almost guaranteed to trigger your greater power Evolve creatures, so he'll be better than he looks at first glance.

Nature's Sacrifice

Destroy target artifact or enchantment. Its controller may put a +1/+1 counter on a creature he or she controls.

Great card. It fits in the environment, it's possibly exciting to some number of Legacy or Vintage players, and in a pinch it can be used as a combat trick by blowing up one of your own permanents.

Selection Pressure

Put two +1/+1 counters on target creature.

Seems like a good spot for the common green pump spell.

Heavy Shell

Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
You may remove a +1/+1 counter from CARDNAME's target rather than pay CARDNAME's mana cost.
Enchanted creature can't be the target of spells and abilities your opponents control.
: Regenerate enchanted creature.

Great use of an alternate casting cost. Fits the set's theme, isn't anything that's going to be broken in constructed, and has an effect that benefits greatly from occasionally being free. My only critique is that it's too bad it's not slightly more expensive up front so that the alternate cost comes up more often. It might have to do more to justify the added cost though.

...Wait a minute, I just realized this card doesn't have Flash and has no way to get it. My brain simply filled it in because it seems like such a clear fit. I would either add Flash to the card straight up or alternatively just give it Flash if you pay the alternate cost.

Primordial Fog

Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt this turn.
Gain 1 life for each +1/+1 counter on creatures you control.

Not loving this card. I'm on board with having a common green Fog, but the clause feels tacked on to me and some inconsistent life gain honestly isn't worth an extra two mana. I'd consider adding a mana and having it put a +1/+1 counter on each of your creatures instead, as I think that would a pretty interesting spell that (unlike most Fogs) would be playable. Some other changes would have to be made to the set to make that work, such as moving the life gain to the card below.


Search your library for a basic land and put it onto the battlefield tapped, then shuffle your library. You may put a +1/+1 counter on a creature you control.

I would try changing the clause here to "Gain a life for each land you control." This ties in the rider to the initial effect and makes for a card that you're happy to draw late game as well as early.

Venom Glands

Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
You may remove two +1/+1 counters from CARDNAME's target rather than pay CARDNAME's mana cost.
Enchanted creature has deathtouch.

In contrast to the other potentially free Aura, this card needs a lot of work. Let me begin:

  1. Deathtouch is mostly useful on creatures that are smaller than the creature they're fighting. So in the best case, I'm putting this on a small creature and fighting a large creature. But even in that best case, I've just 2 for 1'd myself. This card doesn't have a lot of upside.
  2. This card costs four mana to give my creature Deathtouch. That effect is probably worth around one mana. In the past, for four mana, I could both cast a Gorgon Flail and equip it, getting deathtouch, +1/+1, and an equipment.
  3. The alternate cost is unnecessarily steep. Removing two or more counters should likely be saved for uncommons and rares with strong effects.
  4. The alternate cost should specify "creature you control" somehow. I don't think you want this and other auras like it being used as strange combat tricks that shrink your opponent's creature.

There are some definite mistakes, but the Green commons are in a solid place overall. I'll be surprised if Ethan isn't still in the competition after this week. And finally, here are some quick thoughts about the other competitor's entries:

Jonathan Loucks - Living Reflection could use a new name. It's too much of a mouthful for a mechanic that's going to be used often. Also, Illuminate cards tend to read very poorly. There's so much text before you get to the payoff, which is a bad sign for a common.

Shawn Main - I love Blight, it's my other favorite mechanic from this round of assignements. It's flavorful and should add a lot of tension and uncertainty to the gameplay.

Devon Rule - Gold is cute, but it's a name you probably don't want to use (thanks to Gold being commonly used to refer to multicolor), and basing an entire color around life payments makes me nervous even if you have a mechanic to mitigate it.

Jay Treat - "You and your allies" is a lot of extra text for something that will only really help in Two Headed Giant. The cards that have it do things like granting first strike until end of turn, which won't help your friends unless they're sharing your attack step. If you do want to go that route, you can probably cut the "you or" and just define "your allies" as including yourself.

Scott Van Essen - Not a big fan of Countercast at first glance. Cost reduction mechanics generally only appeal to Spike. I do like that it interfaces with previous sets and seems exciting with cards like Vivid Grove though.

Daniel Williams - I like the fixed version of Showdown. I think Howling Coyote needs a once per turn restriction or more likely a mana cost on the ability. Right now it disables blocking for your opponent entirely.

Jonathan Woodward - The mechanics seem solid. It saddens me that Graforman Explorer is just Sakura-Tribe Elder with a tap restriction. Maybe the land should come into play untapped.

Disagree with something I said? Let me know in the comments!

Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Thanks for the feedback, Paul. You certainly pointed out some things that hadn’t occurred to me, and I appreciate it.

  2. That’s an excellent point about the Graforman Explorer, I’ve been thinking that exact thing. Thanks for the feedback! If you find the time to write any more, I know I’d appreciate it, and I bet the others would, too!

  3. See what you’ve started? :)
    Good luck, all! I know it’s serious business, but we’ve been having a lot of fun observing.

  4. I totally disagree with… um… your face!
    Great comments, Paul, I completely agree with what you’ve said.

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