The Great Designer Search was a contest by Wizards of the Coast held during the fall of 2006.
Goal, prize, and process
The goal of the contest was to find new talent for Magic design and the grand prize was a design internship and thus was in general a job interview. The Great Designer Search was held in part like a reality TV show like The Apprentice or Survivor, though the elimination of candidates was up to the judgment of Mark Rosewater as opposed to an audience or a panel of judges. Rosewater did however let himself be advised by Aaron Forsythe, Devin Low, Brady Dommermuth (during one challenge) and Gleemax, the alien brain in a Jar that rules Wizards of the Coast.
The initial application drive for The Great Designer Search garnered much attention with more than a thousand people sending in an application. Initial application consisted of an essay test, in which the following ten questions had to be answered with 250 to 350 words:
- Introduce yourself and explain why you are a good fit for this internship.
- Explain three positive ways "mana screw" affects Magic.
- Name a popular, existing mechanic and explain how you would make it better.
- From a design standpoint, what was the best thing about the Champions of Kamigawa block?
- From a design standpoint, what was the worst thing about the Ravnica block?
- We design cards for three player psychographics: Timmy, Johnny and Spike. In the average set, who should the most cards be designed for? Why? Who should the fewest cards be designed for? Why?
- Imagine you must eliminate a card type (artifact, creature, enchantment, instant, land or sorcery) from Magic. Which one would you choose and why?
- You stumble upon a time machine and travel back to the early 90's. What is the one change you would recommend Richard Garfield make with Alpha? (You must recommend a change.)
- You are forced to move counterspelling out of blue. What color do you move it to and why?
- What is Magic design currently doing wrong? How would you do it right?
After the essays, Rosewater gave a 35 question multiple choice test several hundred applicants which was also made available for the public. None had a perfect score. People with 30 correct answers or more advanced, 136 in total. Each of them was tasked with designing six cards, spanning all five colors, all six card types which were used at the time (Creature, Enchantment, Artifact, Land, Sorcery, and Instant) and converted mana costs 0 through 5, two of which had to be common, two uncommon and two rare.
After this initial process, fifteen participants were selected:
Design Challenge #1 – "Gimme Five"
For the first challenge, each participant had to design three five-card cycles, one common, one uncommon and one rare. Each cycle had to be a different card type, and the participants were allotted the card type at each rarity at random. Additionally, each candidate had to design at least one loose and one tight cycle, a tight cycle consisting of five cards with the same converted mana cost and at least one more mechanical tie to each other. No effect of one card should show up on any of the other 14 cards the candidate submitted.
Conrad Corbett, Greg Krajenta and Landon Winkler were eliminated after this challenge.
Design Challenge #2 - "Picture This"
The second challenge required the candidates to design 10 cards, each with a specified description. Additionally, they were given 10 pieces of unused Magic art. The participants had to use each art on their cards, and design the card to fit the art. Brady Dommermuth, temporarily replacing Aaron Forsythe, was a guest judge on this challenge in order to provide an opinion on how well the chosen art fits the card the candidate entered.
The card descriptions were as follows:
- White — uncommon — We need an answer to all the token making in the environment. Be subtle.
- White — rare — We're looking for a weird Johnny-style enchantment
- Blue — common — We need a sorcery. No card filtering or drawing. No bounce (aka returning cards to hand).
- Blue — rare — We need a creature. Something splashy for Timmy.
- Black — uncommon — Make an aura you want to put on your own creatures.
- Black — rare — Can be anything.
- Red — common — Instant or sorcery. No direct damage or destruction (artifact or land).
- Red — uncommon — Creature. Want a build around me for draft (aka 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).
- Green — common — Creature. Something that costs four or more mana.
- Green — rare — Non-creature spell. Green's lacking in "wow" factor (aka something that will impress the player by how different it is).
Christopher Jablonski, Andrew Emmott and Andrew Probasco were eliminated after this challenge.
Design Challenge #3 - "Silver & Gold"
In this challenge the participants were tasked with designing cards for a joke set like Unglued or Unhinged. This required the candidates to design funny and interesting cards that would not work in regular magic, as well as provide descriptions for the unusual artwork and layout of cards in such sets.
Noah Weil and Aaron Weiner were eliminated after this challenge.
Design Challenge #4 - "Once More with Feeling"
The remaining seven candidates were all tasked with designing eight cards, one for each candidate that had been eliminated. The judges provided a sample card submitted by one of the eliminated players as well as a description of the card the candidate was supposed to design based on the sample card, which could be a card completing a cycle, one that would play well with the sample card, or using the same mechanic, etc.
Chris Luhrs and Scott Van Essen were eliminated after this challenge.
Design Challenge #5 - "Game, Set and Match"
For this challenge, the participants had to submit eleven commons of the same color, representing the commons of a small, 180 card set for that color, as well as a splashy rare card appealing to Timmy players which would be the prerelease promo.
Mark Globus and Ryan Sutherland were eliminated after this challenge.
Design Challenge #6 - "And the Winner is..."
For the last challenge the three finalists, Alexis Janson, Ken Nagle and Graeme Hopkins were flown to the Wizards of the Coast Headquarters in Renton, Washington. The candidates were given a tour of the building, had three rounds of interviews, had lunch with Mark Rosewater, Randy Buehler and Bill Rose, and were finally given their last challenge, for which they only had 2 hours to complete.
The three finalists and Mark Rosewaters would play the roles of a design team which has two hours to fill in the hole for a blue rare in Urza's Destiny after Opposition was stricken from the file. The card has to match the art of Opposition and a name that alphabetically fits between Metathran Elite and Private Research. The card could not be too powerful or be too risky to print, as the Development team will not have time to playtest the card before the set goes to print, but still be interesting and novel. Each participant had one hour to come up with three cards each, followed by a second hour in which the team would debate with the Development team over which card should be put in the file.
As a result of this challenge, Alexis Janson was crowned the winner.
The mechanic "Dispersion", presented by Ken Nagle during the first design challenge, would go on to be the basis for Overload, the mechanic of the Izzet League in Return to Ravnica. Nagle led the design team for that set.
- Wizards of the Coast (August 25, 2006). "The Great Designer Search - Exam Round". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (October 09, 2006). "The Great Designer Search: The Test". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (January 26, 2018). "Do you think a perfect score could be the cutoff?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (October 11, 2006). "The Great Designer Search Multiple Choice Test Answers". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (October 09, 2006). "Tests of Endurance". magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (October 26, 2006). "Episode 1 – "In the Beginning"". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (November 02, 2006). "The Great Designer Search Episode 2 – “Gimme Five”". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (November 10, 2006). "The Great Designer Search Episode #3 - "Picture This"". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (November 16, 2006). "The Great Designer Search Episode #4 "Silver & Gold", Part I". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (November 17, 2006). "The Great Designer Search Episode #4 "Silver & Gold", Part II". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (November 30, 2006). "The Great Designer Search Episode #5 “Once More With Feeling”, Part I". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (December 01, 2006). "The Great Designer Search Episode #5 “Once More With Feeling”, Part II". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (December 07, 2006). "The Great Designer Search Episode #6 “Game, Set, Match”, Part I". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (December 08, 2006). "The Great Designer Search Episode #6 “Game, Set, Match”, Part II". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Ken Nagle (September 03, 2012). "On the Origin of Scavenge and Overload". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.