Great Designer Search 2: A Five-Stage Plan – 03

Oh, sod. That actually worked.

It seems as if I made it into Round 2. Was it the Red Flash concept? Or the Kamigawa mechanics? Either way, I did something right.

I’m going to have to take this seriously now, huh?

Well, the thing is, there’s still a 50-point quiz to take in order to qualify. And while I don’t think I’m totally ignorant of Magic design theory (I’ve an obsessive personality – when I first got into Magic, I read every damn thing I could about it), I’m also depressingly aware that the differentiation between viable candidates after round 2’s going to be but a margin of a few, scant points. Miss even one, and it may as well be over.

In fact, in GDS1, I believe the average cut was at roughly 35/50. But GDS1 used a few trick questions to gauge its candidates. With “fairer” and more straightforward questions for GDS2 – purportedly – we can expect two things: A. MUCH tougher questions. No softballs. Even if it’s straightforward, you’re going to have to REALLY know the nuances of design. B. But because it’s also more straightforward, the competition is going to be much tighter. If it was an average of 35 pts last time, I can only imagine that this time around, you need a minimum of 90% correct to be considered amongst the top 100 candidates for the position. Which means I need to get at least 45 questions out of 50 right to even think about qualifying.

…whoo. Tall order. I do test decently – multichoice is never actually hard but for outright ignorance on part of the candidate (just eliminate the least-fitting). But if they’re doing this right, it’s going to be really, really hard to qualify.

I won’t arrogantly say that I’ll do fine. I think I have a shot. Beyond that, I just have to hope I know enough about their design trends The important thing, really, is what comes afterwards:

Design for them a world. An entire world. And the cards and mechanics therein.

…oh, boy.

Um. Alright. A world fitting for Magic: The Gathering. By necessity, there are some innate design constraints: there must be a representation of 5 factions of some sort. Whether by five different sort of locales or five actual factions, representing the philosophies of each of Magic’s five colors. It must be fantastical in theme, trappings and trope – wizards and high (or low) sorcery rather than starships and lasers. There are also a few thematic constraints – no guns (though, aheh, knives and poisons are fine), no overt sexuality (not that big a problem), and watch that PC line. There can be some edginess involved (you’re writing a world embroiled in warfare – you’re going to have war themes), but the market is 13+, and you don’t want to trigger yet another spat of religious protests over satanic rituals and the like.

Actually, that’s the odd thing. Sure, there’s “black” mana involved. There’s also red, blue, green and white. And there’ve been plenty of usages of Judeo-Christian themes in white, usually as a positive force (white gets all the healers). I really, really don’t understand the sort of mindset that deliberately ignores the agreeable things just to have something to protest. I can understand propaganda, of course – useful debate tactic when the purpose is to win, not to be right – but that has ulterior motive, not unthinking hate, as its rhetorical foundation.

But that’s neither here nor there. The thing is, I have to design a five-fold world now. Bring birth to a setting, its mechanics… and its cards.

Welcome to the plane of Longhai.

Longhai, World Within

Block names: Life/Death/Rebirth

The vast plane of Longhai is 95% ocean, its primary landmass an immense archipelago stretching for countless thousands of miles around the inner equator. Inner equator. For the important thing to understand about Longhai is… it technically has no sky. To look up is to see the land itself, and the faint twinkling of the distant city-states, all in orbit around the great, blazing star of mana.

You see, Longhai is a small Dyson sphere – a world built around an immense font of pure, unadulterated power.

The Five Immortal Sages

Once, in a time so distant words have yet to be made to describe it, there was the Old Snake. For in the timeless, endless depths of the Blind Eternities, all things are possible – and so, from the chaotic well of potentialities, the wyrm clawed and bit his way into life. And such life it was, with scales the size of cities and eyes to hold whole seas, and a vast, terrible mind whose weight in thoughts of horror alone could crush entire civilizations with the sanity-rending might of its malice.

Such a vast and terrible being could rightfully be considered a god – but a god without worshippers. For as it was born into the emptiness, it was born into a terrible, relentless hunger – an endless, unquenchable, consuming fire that drove it into a frenetic, perpetual search for satiation. The Old Snake, since birth, was an avatar of utter and absolute destruction, its great, massive maw consuming entire planes, leaving only the horrified, half-mad tales of the few and rare blessed enough with the Spark to run away.

And so, after countless aeons of terror, a plan was hatched: led by five of the greatest planeswalkers of its time, and the toil and sacrifice of all those that have rallied under their banner, survivors of whole civilizations utterly eradicated by the Old Worm’s hunger, a trap was formulated – one that the Old Worm could not deny.

In a move that would exhaust and kill many martyrs, a massive whorl of pure mana was bent by will out of the very fabric of the Blind Eternities – a shining beacon of hope… and a grand temptation to a beast of perpetual and ceaseless greed.

It entwined itself tightly around it, like a twisted caricature of a lover… and bit down once. And with the collective rage, fury and loss of a hundred thousand planeswalkers now running through its veins, it froze forever after.

What was once the Old Snake is now the plane of Longhai – a world inversed, with five mighty spires reaching from the stony body of the ancient horror to the star of coalesced hope and revenge, the Five Immortal Sages of ages past eternally vigilant for the day that their ancient enemy might break free.

Or so they say.

The City-States of Longhai

A few thousand years can change a world. Whole cultures too. Where once the Spires of the Sages were holy temples and monuments to those sacrificed, they now stand as administrative centers of the Five Cities, each a massive crush of urban sprawl and mercantile activity. Though the planeswalker spark is rare, Longhai’s history as the nexus of a thousand refugee civilizations has blessed it with the trade and business of a hundred planes – a haven for those of the Spark, or lucky enough to get a lift from one, seeking their fortune amidst the relentless tide of hopes, dreams, fears and conspiracies.

And much money is to be made, regardless of whether you are amongst the city plutocrats, living upon the contained cities and webways of the Apex, palaces suspended by ropes, bridges and magic around the mana star, or a pirate sailing the vast nightless seas, preying upon the intercity trade, or a merchant hawking rare and esoteric goods within the countless nooks and crannies of the cities that lay at the base of the Spires.

Longhai prospers, driven by the ambition and avarice of its countless customers and citizens. The City of Smiths, glowing the dull red of hammered iron and the lusts of warfare across  a thousand planes; the Port of Whispers, shimmering with the blue mana of countless scholars and the resonate harmonies of its glass and crystal towers; the vast Garden Harbor, cultivators of rare floral beauties of devastating toxicity; the Golden Palace, where the laws and customs of the Five Cities are made and enforced with zealous surety; the secretive Obsidian Necropolis,  final rest, where the dead and the waste alike are transported, and the dread Jiang Shi zombie servitors that serve the Golden Palace as law-bearers in all five cities are said to be… made.

Races of Longhai

Due to the plane’s historical nature as the refuge of lost civilizations and center of trade to other realms, there are no “native” races in Longhai. However, the attenuation to mana draws some races to certain cities more than others. Human beings, however, are as dominantly represented as they are elsewhere in the multiverse.

City of Smiths: Ogres dominate the working of the city’s massive forges, aided by quick-witted and short-lived goblin workers. Fire elementals are summoned by pyromancers to stoke the hissing hearts of its multifarious engines.

Garden Harbor: Snakemen work and trade amongst the planned jungles of the Garden Harbor, yoking mighty baloths to till the soils of the city’s many arbors. It is the largest of the five cities by landmass – necessary to run the many farms, and stock the vast array of exotic and esoteric beasts it trades in.

Port of Whispers: The cold and fragile serenity of the crystalline city should’ve been pummeled to sand by the not-uncommon hurricanes that wrack Longhai – but for an army of air elementals harnessed by the city’s mages. The intricacies and sensitivity of their spellwork is legendary – capable of warping the very nature of time, but for the disastrous consequences of the slightest interference, or the merest mispronounced formula.

Golden Palace: Jiang Shi enforcers stand eerily still, guarding the battalions of bureaucrats and magistrates that are stationed the Golden Palace. Smaller – yet still immensely large – copies of the Palace are stationed in each other city, acting as the intermediaries and contract enforcers – but they all answer to the central government here. Avian messengers are regularly seen flying in and out of the Palace, but especially between the Palace and the Port of Whispers.

Obsidian Necropolis: Ghosts of the lost haunt the waterways of this small island port, surrounded by half-submerged temples of light-absorbing black rock. Pirates are said to be stationed amongst the crags and rocks littering the seas around it – but the Necropolis itself is warily free of harassment. The keening cry of Hungry Ghosts echo amongst the tolling bells, marking the dead that pass through its closely-guarded gates, progressions of the eldest and most powerful Jiang Shi zombies, clad in uttermost black, watching with face hidden by paper talismans over the workings of the necromancers and demons lurking within its deathly walls. Of the five cities, the Necropolis remains closest in function to the original shrines.

Mechanics of Longhai

Exchange: Trade is the lifeblood of Longhai. Cards with the Exchange mechanic can be “bought” out of the graveyard by paying the Exchange cost and discarding a card, allowing it to the played again. Leaving the battlefield in any way after being Exchanged, however, causes it to be exiled. Blue/White

Chi: The warrior-monks of the Golden Palace and mercenaries amidst the city sprawls are renowned martial forces, capable of toppling giants with their bare hands and concentration of will. When blocked or blocking, a creature with Chi deals damage equal to its Chi value to blocked or blocking creature. Red/White

Infect: The snakemen of the Garden City and assassins lurking amidst the Obsidian Necropolis share a common martial background – the best opponent is a crippled one.  (recycled from Scars of Mirrodin) Green/Black

Ninjutsu: Whether by stealth or by illusions, the assassin’s trade in Longhai is feared and respected. (recycled from Kamigawa) Blue/Black

Eruption: When power is drawn directly from the mana star, things get… explosive. When spell with Eruption is cast, add 1 mana of the spell’s color for every other permanent you control with Eruption. Green/Red

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~ by Gonzo Mehum on October 12, 2010.

2 Responses to “Great Designer Search 2: A Five-Stage Plan – 03”

  1. Gonzo/James, saw your twitter and came to check it out. First, you really might want to consider getting this on the wiki, if you haven’t already. You’ll get infinitely more eyes on it.

    Another thing to consider is that Maro made a somewhat explicit statement that our design proposals should only contain one old keyword, max. For obvious reasons I would suggest cutting infect and keeping Ninjutsu. Everyone loves Ninjas.

    Lastly, I see no good reason to exclude black from the Exchange mechanic, unless you’re wanted to draw a distinctly new concept of what black is all about. I would even go so far as to suggest each Exchange color should be allowed to exchange for different things. And how do you plan to track “exchanged” permanents? Is it necessary that they be exiled?

  2. So noted. I was actually planning to slap it onto the wiki after I get some tweaking done. I forgot about the design limitations on old keywords too – I’ll go ahead and fix that.

    As for Exchange… hrn. I thought I kept it colorless. Must’ve been an older draft that I appended on. I’ll rethink it before it goes wikiside.

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