Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Weekend Art Challenge 022114 Review—Nightsong

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Here's the challenge we're reviewing today. Note that blogger had some technical difficulties, partially inhibiting our usual back-and-forth.

Amesha's Prayer isn't a bad common without soulfilter and at a 1:1 cost, this keyword is a strong mana fixer, together making this a pretty high pick, but then every set needs some high-pick commons. I'd be very curious to test exactly how soulfilter affects a Draft (and Constructed for that matter) since it is both fixing and a card that wants fixing. I expect the player's hope is to run enough of these that they don't need to spend picks/slots on dedicated fixing, and filter their mana so that they don't lose any opportunities while waiting to draw enough of their basic lands. My instinct says this might be a lot of fun to play with, but it might prove too good.

You will likely wonder why Auspicious Augury isn't a simple modal card: It's apparently a coincidence that both modes cost the same here; usually they don't for this mechanic. You might then ask why it's not a split card. I'm not convinced there's a good answer for that. Regardless, this particular card isn't doing a huge amount of smoothing at a price of 4, and where the choice is between a Wind Drake or two mystery cards.

Fun fact: Auspicy is an actual form of divination based on the flight of birds.

Birth of Deity is a bit strange. You can trade each non-creature card you draw for a creature card, of a specific type, and you can choose which creature of that type you get. In contrast, you are stuck with whatever creature cards you naturally draw. I don't get the flavor of that at all, but I can't deny that this will card guarantee you draw nothing but gas from turn 5 on, if you can get that far on your own.

Collect is a variant of dredge that costs mana instead of putting cards into your graveyard, which has the upside of not fueling a graveyard strategy, but the downside of putting no upper limit on the number of times you recur the card. Conveniently, that's irrelevant for Bring New Seeds because you'd never want to recur it. Are there cards where you would want to use the collect ability? Are they broken? The world may never know.

Alternate template
Not unlike soulfilter, pray fixes your mana just by being on a card in your hand. This keyword accelerates you as well, but at the cost of your land drop. Hopefully players will mostly only use it when they're out of land to play, but it's not hard to imagine a player with a grip of Forests who wants to cast his Fleecemane Lion and skips playing a land on-curve in order to play a spell on curve. Note that you can reveal Chapel Garden in order to cast Chapel Garden. I'd want to test if that's okay, as well as what kind of cards pray makes the most sense on.

What if Mind Stone were a land? Church would indeed be an attractive card for any deck that can forego the colored mana. Might be too good or too strange for a common, but if it's meant to smooth out a set, I'd at least try it there.

I fudged what mechanically wants to be mono-green into hybrid because of the art and name, though I'll point out that hexproof is a subset of protection (which white is king of). The real question is whether improvise is any good or not. I wish I'd had time to propose it earlier to iterate with your feedback, because damn, designing smoothing mechanics ain't easy. Also, I feel like I stole this idea from one of your ideas like a month ago, but *shrug*. One thing I know isn't great is putting {X} in a common keyword. Fortunately, that's easy to fix: We can just make it always {2} for two, or so.

Cardshift X lets you trade X+1 cards (where the 1 is the card with cardshift) for X new cards. I'm skeptical that we'd see cardshift 2+ on more than a handful of cards ever, and probably two at common at most. Even so, "cycling: discard a card" has legitimate potential. It doesn't sound great, but it'll feel pretty great when you're sitting on a dead situational card like this and some extra land.

Divine Resanctification's last ability is what really sells me on cardshift. Even though you're really not losing out on the deal because you're trading cards for mana, getting a non-card-advantage effect that mirrors the card's primary function is a nice offset.

Blossom is scry 1 with the added upside that you can keep the card if it's a land. That's a significant power upgrade and so I'd expect to see card+blossom to cost +1.5 or +2 mana in contrast to card+scry's +1. Why isn't Faith's Bounty {1}{W} then? That's how weak gaining 3 life is!

I like this variant and would happily try it out. I would watch out for it being so swingy that it turns off a significant player base. Even though scrying away a spell when you need more land is a positive step, not immediately getting that land might be such a let down that players are unhappy anyhow.

R admits Feed the Birds isn't really a smoothing card, and I agree. I'm not sure I get the flavor of making birds or growing your team (you feed them bird seed with hormones, I guess), but I do like desperation as a Fateful Hour / Entwine hybrid.

Hope's Sanctum is an exciting card for draw-go decks but comes with a significant drawback. Sure, you can cast instants and flash creatures during your opponent's turn, but never playing another land is a significant blow to a control deck. Even so, the ability to draw a card every turn—or even twice ever—is potentially game-winning at one mana. Would be most curious to see how Development responds to this card.

Conjure lets you fetch a land from your sideboard, which means you don't have to search through your deck or shuffle, saving a lot of time. There are logistical issues in making conjured cards readily accessible and remembering to remove them from your deck after each game, but I think this is enough of a step up from plainscycling that it's worth trying.

Humble Offering is a good candidate for a smoothing mechanic since it is both a later game card and conditionally useful. The choice to make the conjuration cost {W} means this will fix land-screw but not color-screw, which might be correct depending entirely on the set.

Olive Branch Accord would be one of a cycle that lets you cast a spell without mana, at the cost of giving your opponent something tangible. I'm impressed with any card that can make giving four power of flying creatures to your opponent feel good, thanks to the Congregate. (Whether the Fog part feels a bit extraneous is another matter.)

You can cast Ornithomancy normally if you're land-poor, or you can upgrade it to a repeatable effect if you've got spare mana and creatures. That's not smoothing in the sense that scry and cycling are, but it is in the sense that kicker is: Basically, there's an awesome card that isn't cheap, but if you need to you can cast it at reduced value for a discount. (And vice versa: If you're land-flooded, you've got something to do with all that mana.)

Critterform seems like a fairly inevitable evolution from cycling and reinforce. We definitely want a generic creature type that can work across the colors it appears in, and we may want some way to vary the size or quantity of creatures we can get. Sanctum of Form is a good example of a card where getting a 1/1 isn't a huge upgrade over getting a land whether you're in the early, mid- or late game.

Evanescent borrows miracle technology to give us free cycling. That technology comes at a cost, but there's a real possibility that using it at common alleviates a great deal of that cost, at least within the block. It's not hard to imagine drawing a Scatter in Sunlight, immediately wishing you had drawn something more relevant to the situation at hand, and then having that wish come true. I'd fight for that.

Shrine of Deliverance is sort of a Diabolic Tutor for the people. Any color can use it, and the price is broken into two easy installments. Instead of getting exactly what you want, you can name creature, or land, or removal (kiiinda) and get something that satisfies your current requirements. What's not to love?

Monetize works a bit like conjure in that you can pay a small fee to trade a card you can't cast for something that will help you cast your other cards. Monetize's gold doesn't stick around as long, but it can make any kind of mana and it can even accelerate you ahead for a turn. At {1} I would be concerned about players ramping too much, and if the card were discarded I would be concerned about graveyard shenanigans, but the power level we see in Song of the Sanctuary seems safe (except there's no way a card that makes 5 power of flying should be common). I do worry that this mechanic reads poorly and players will be turned off by it, but perhaps playing with it will make it all worthwhile?

Requisition is tutor-for-a-card-you-don't-have, which is about as good as tutor-for-a-card. In this case, we've basically got plainscycling. The interesting part is that Sunlit Cathedral doesn't cycle from hand, but from play. So you can use the primary effect for a turn or as long as you like, before cracking it. Of course, the longer you keep it the less you'll want to crack it.

Designing a good, simple smoothing mechanic is quite hard, because it's such an important area of design space that Wizards has gobbled up many of the best / most obvious solutions. There are a lot of parameters to stick to, like avoiding slowing the game down, and avoiding degenerate use. There are a lot of pitfalls like making a mechanic no one would be happy to use or that's so good it overshadows the rest of the card. You could even make smoothing so effective that it removes too much variance from the game, leaving us with Chess Cards.


  1. Now you've got me wondering what a game called "Chess Cards" would play like.

    1. For one thing, it only has two colors.

    2. Magic but:
      Your deck is your hand
      No max hand size
      No losing if you draw the last card in your deck

      Curious what the banlist for that would look like. Maro?

    3. It's different from what you're asking, but relevant: http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/misc/16754-So-Many-Insane-Plays-Zero-Variance-The-Ultimate-Mental-Magic-Format.html

    4. I mean actual Chess Cards; some hybrid of a CCG and chess.

    5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knightmare_Chess

  2. Amesha's Prayer by Evan Jones
    I think in a gold set, soulfilter would work well at common on monocolored cards. It would help in those games where you draw five white spells and two Islands. Save this dual color fixing goodness for Uncommon and above.

    Auspicious Augury by The Sensual Coalition of Men
    This is a fine card, but doesn't fit the criteria for this week's challenge at all. Neither choice helps a mana flooded, or land-light player. I would have rather seen a card with Manifest that did some smoothing work, even if not every card with it was meant to.

    Birth of Deity by Masataka Takayanagi
    This reminds me of Abundance from Urza's Saga or Bloodline Shaman from Onslaught. Except it's much more flexible for deck construction, and tutors rather than grabbing the first card of that type that you reveal. The fact that it tutors and also fills your graveyard with discarded cards makes it feel Black/Green rather than Green/White.

    Bring New Seeds by TehWERR
    Collect could be less wordy if instead of replacing a draw with the collect card, like Dredge, it put the collect card on top of its owner's library, like the card Reclaim. Hmmm, Reclaim might also be a better word for the keyword.

    Chapel Garden by Ant Tessitore
    Pray is a very complex mechanic. The card is revealed forever, but it doesn't say you can't reveal an unrevealed card to reuse Pray next turn. It replaces your land play, but if you have Exploration or Oracle of Mul Daya, you can't use the same Pray card twice in a turn. This sounds like a lot of stuff that would be discovered in playtesting, and I'm not sure what's necessary and what's overkill at this point. So far, it seems like Evan's soulfilter is a cleaner way to implement this type of effect.

    Church by Bass
    the unmaded tuck mechanic on Church is very interesting. I'd like to explore what other cards could have it beyond a colorless land. It's a cool "cycle from play" mechanic for sure.

    1. Reclaim N (When this card goes to your graveyard [from anywhere], you may pay N. If you do, put it on top of your library.)

      Nice tweak, Nich. I like how this version is disruptable via mill, and how a player has to commit to the draw immediately.

  3. Claim Sanctuary by Jay Treat
    I am shocked to see this type of recurring card filtering in White. The fact that you can choose to put Claim Sanctuary back into your hand if the other exiled cards don't suit you is bonkers. I like it, but I know I'm not supposed to get this in White. I think if it had some White feeling component I would be okay though. (In a tribal set, on a Soldier creature: "N, Exile Recruiting Officer from your hand and the top N cards of your library: Put a Soldier card exiled this way into your hand.") It's an awesome mechanic though.

    Divine Resanctification by fading shadows of a memory beloved
    The fact that Cardshift has a manafree cost makes me wonder what cardshift triggers could be used. Recurring an enchantment isn't something Red can do, but this would let me do that with a simple splash. I like that the cost is card advantage rather than mana, but how narrow is the design space?

    Faith's Bounty by Jules
    Blossom seems great. The fact that it adds +1.5 or +2 mana makes me wonder how relavent getting the land will be. Since I have to afford the cards with it, I'm going to probably be set for land anyway. Unless every card that uses Blossom has an effect that costs less than 1 card, like gaining 3 life. Then it the mana costs will always be low.

    Feed the Birds by R Stech
    The flavor would probably connect more if this card were called Bird Feed. Anyway, what a bonkers power level this card has. In the race, a turn after my opponent swings, I get three 2/2 birds and a +1/+1 on each other creature. Desperation seems like it could deliver those kinds of turnarounds multiple times a game. So as your opponent, I would never want to attack unless I either killed you or could survive the Desperation trigger.

    Hope's Sanctum by Devin E Green
    This is a high profile rare. It's not really a smoothing card though, because I can't imagine the mana cost staying at 1. Plus, how many playtest games before Development made it Legendary?

    Olive Branch Accord by Pasteur
    If the free spell mechanic from Mercadian Masques came back, I’d be very happy to see them have bigger, splashier costs like this. The regular effect is also very well executed. I'm not sure this sort of drawback alt costing is a smoothing mechanic. Giving my opponent 4 tokens isn't something I would do without a plan (certainly not if I was land-light).

    1. I was assuming improvise would appear in every color, but if it didn't, white would probably be low on the list. I was torn about whether you should be able to get the original card back. I was leaning toward not, but that required more awkward reminder text.

      Good catch on desperation. Now we understand better why Fateful Hour had to work the way it does.

    2. Thanks for all the feedback, Nich!

      As much as I would love to develop the Olive Branch cycle/mechanic for Standard/Eternal play (since free spells can have potential in any format), I imagine its real home is in multiplayer, where the alternate cost allows you some political leverage while still getting an effect for yourself.

  4. Ornithomancy by Taresivon
    Imbue is very interesting. Its wording saves space for more complex effects, which I can imagine are nearly limitless. What would the environment that has this mechanic look like, and how could you incentivize players to actually cost their imbue cards rather than just sit on them? Like Bestow or Kicker, I don't think Imbue smooths as often as it intends to.

    Sanctum of Form by jack
    I don't like Critterform very much. It's instant speed which is problematic in other colors, makes a meaningless 1/1 at a time when I have enough lands that I want something more substantial. And it's an "either or" effect. If I could play Sanctum early and later trade it for a creature, I'd like it more. But it's not an attractive cycling variant. My take: "Critterform 3 (3: Turn this card face down as a 2/2 creature.)"

    Scatter in Sunlight by lpaulsen
    Does a miracle trigger make these attractive to new players or would they not like the pressure to choose? Certainly the free cost won't matter much to them. I think inexperienced players would rather have regular cycling. Why does Evanescent exile anyway? It might as well tuck the card on the bottom of the library. Well, there's something to appeal to new players. Save this card for later is much less stressful than gamble it away forever for a better card.

    Shrine of Deliverance by Wobbles
    Yes, I would like to search for one of my two sorcery speed kill spells this draft. I'd like to see a TYPE matters set that rewards you for playing different types of spells, like White loves enchantment, red loves sorceries, blue loves artifacts, etc.

    Song of Sanctuary by P for Pizza
    Couldn't Monetize cost C rather than 1? Then it's costed more as a filter effect and reads better. Because Monetize wants to either be in a gold set, or one with losts of monocolor specific mana costs (1WW 3WWW etc).

    Sunlit Cathedral by Jenesis
    I don't get how I would get Sunlit Cathedral into play without the Plains I am hoping to requisition for? This is a tutor, not a smoothing effect. It doesn't help if I'm land-light or mana flooded. And why does it make me reveal my hand to confirm I have no lands? When would I sacrifice a card I spent 3 mana to cast to fetch a Plains if I already have a Plains in my hand? There's something to this mechanic, but not in this trying to be a smoother version.

    1. Heh, you'd like to see a "type-matters set"? That was the first full custom cardset I designed, three-and-a-half years ago: Sienira's Facets. I gave each card type an major affiliation with one colour and a minor affiliation with another: Artifacts are WHITE-blue, Instants are BLUE-black, Sorceries are BLACK-red, Lands are RED-green, Enchantments are GREEN-white. (I concluded limited wouldn't really work with creatures being affiliated with one or two colours more than others.)

  5. Amesha's Prayer / Soulfilter, Scatter in Sunlight / Evanescent, and Hope's Sanctum are the most interesting/exciting of the submissions this week, to me. Soulfilter looks like it has a lot of promise, and thanks to the Banisher Priest template reads very smoothly as well. I have a feeling it'd play just fine at common.

    And although I actually saw the contest in time this week, I didn't have any ideas. I completely forgot about the mechanic we designed on Multiverse a couple of years ago, Manacycling, for our "monocoloured versus multicoloured" set:

    Cutwork Knight, {W}{W}{W}
    Enchantment Creature - Knight, 4/3
    Manacycling {3} ({3}, Discard this card: Add {W}{W} to your mana pool. Draw a card.)

    It works differently on monocolour cards from on two-colour cards:

    Senate Jurist, {4}{U}{B}
    Creature - Human Wizard, 3/4
    Manacycling {3} ({3}, Discard this card: Add {U}{B} to your mana pool. Draw a card.)

    It always adds two mana to your pool, of the same colour if the card is monocolour, or one of each of the two different colours if the card is two-colour.
    (And I think it wouldn't make sense on three-or-more-colour cards or colourless cards, but that's fine because we wouldn't put it on them.)

    We got as far as playtesting it, a bit, and it played well. Manacycling {3} is in a sense better than "Cycling {1}", which is perhaps a slight concern, but I think it could still be fine in a set.