A Magical Diversion

James says:

I love Magic: the Gathering.

I have since I first played in on the playground at my elementary school, when I got destroyed by grown-ups at Ory-Con in the mid-90s, and when I joined a bar-based back-room league a few years ago with some old friends. In a nutshell, I love playing Magic and thinking about the way it's designed - really, a series of interlocking games and formats that changed over-time.

So, when Wizards of the Coast launched a third iteration of the Great Designer Search (a reality show-like competition on their website to search for a new designer), I jumped at the chance. I didn't know that I wanted to move to Renton and work in a cubicle (actually, I was sure that I didn't want to), but it was a fun thing to think about.

So I spent a month and a half softly researching Magic, listening to podcasts, and trying to decrypt the sort of design elements that they would test entrants to the Great Designer Search with.

To fast-forward a bit, I submitted a series of essays along with 8,000 other people. That got me into the great cull - a fiendishly difficult 75-question multiple choice test that was designed to weed the field down to 100. The competition was so fierce that you had to score a 73, 74, or 75 of 75 to advance. I think I got a 62 or something. So I was out!

But I can still follow along, and I was moved to enter my own submission for the most recent challenge, Design Challenge #3. To be clear, this is for nothing but fun and because I was inspired to a good idea, but why run a blog for game design if you can't post off-the-cuff game design stuff?

So, here's the challenge - scroll down past Challenge #2 and go to Challenge #3. (I'll post the text in the first comment, too, in case the page goes down or gets changed.)

My submission:

  • DESIGN ONE (Common)
    • Branch Worker - 1G - Creature - Elf Crafter - 1/1
    • When this card enters the battlefield, craft an Emerald gem (create a green enchantment gem Emerald token with "Enchanted creature gets Tap: Add 1 mana of any color" and attach it to this creature)
  • DESIGN TWO (Common)
    • Gem Trick - B - Instant - Create a black enchantment gem Jet token with "Enchanted creature gains deathtouch" and attach it to target creature you control.
  • DESIGN THREE (Common)
    • Stone-Break Gang - 2R - Creature - Dwarf Warrior - 3/2
    • If a gem is attached to this card, it gets +1/+1.
  • DESIGN FOUR (Uncommon)
    • Honest Broker - 3W - Creature - Human Crafter - 2/3
    • 1, Tap: Attach a gem you control to target creature.
  • DESIGN FIVE (Uncommon)
    • Altar of Greed - 2 - Artifact
    • Sacrifice a gem and lose 1 life: add C.
  • DESIGN SIX (Rare)
    • Raid the Treasury - 3WB - Enchantment
    • At the beginning of your end step, target opponent loses X life, where X is the number of enchantments you control.
    • W, sacrifice a gem: gain 3 life.
    • Windrider Thief - 4UU - Creature - Elf Rogue Crafter
    • 4: Craft a Sapphire Gem (create a blue enchantment gem Sapphire token with "Enchanted creature gets flying" and attach it to this creature)
    • When this card deals combat damage to an opponent, you may gain control of a gem they control and attach it to target creature.
  • DESIGN EIGHT (Mythic Rare) 
    • Radios, the Gem-Lord - WUBRG - Legendary Creature - Azra Tyrant - 5/5
      • Vigilance
      • 1, Tap: Attach a gem you control to this creature.
      • If this card is enchanted by cards named Pearl, Sapphire, Jet, Ruby, and Emerald, then enchantments and creatures you control have indestructible.


I've been wanting to play around in the space of token enchantments / equipment for a while with Magic. I think this execution works because the gems can be easily represented by dice, punch-outs, or paper, and the gems themselves are easily grokked. None of the gems stack with the same color, and none of them require math (well, menace maybe, but not power/toughness math).

Each gem provides an evergreen keyword ability (white and red aren't listed in my examples, they provide first strike and menace respectively) except for green. I wanted the gems to split between combat winning abilities (first strike and deathtouch) and evasion (flying and menace), which leaves a fifth. Vigilance, trample, and hexproof were all problematic, so I leaned into Green's mana-making part of the color pie. Since this set hints at multicolor with its legendary and the synergy decks that want you collect crafters, easy fixing seemed fun.

I settled on token enchantments so that players wouldn't have to track equip costs on the tokens, because it's relatively untouched territory, and because it was more suggestive of a magical power-up than something you use to hit people. It also opened up abilities to move the gems around and steal them from other players. Generally, they would use the existing rules for Auras, with one important exception: they stay on the battlefield if they become unattached. I believe it would work, rules-wise, and would be an exciting mechanic to base a set around.