Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Weekend Art Challenge Review 050214—Water World

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Here's the challenge we're reviewing today.

Submerge lets your creatures dive underwater for safety when they'd otherwise die. You can bring them back for the price of draw (which, perhaps unintuitively, is worth slightly more than a card), but at no mana cost. I don't have a strong sense of how good of a mechanic this is: It leads to repetitive play, but the cost usually isn't clear because you don't know what card you're not drawing to bring one of these back. Being able to draw a Wind Drake every turn isn't bad, but if you are, it's because your opponent is killing it every turn and you're probably chump-blocking. Since they're developing their board and you're not, this is likely best when you're at parity. Hmm.

Under-flying is a classic concept in the world of amateur Magic design. We can only speculate why it hasn't happened in real Magic yet. Reach shows it's not that this has no meaning without flying. It could be that we don't want to confuse the issue of whether flying is a good thing or not, but Magic does that with Hurricane, Plummet, and Air Servant.

We do know that below isn't as strong as flying. That doesn't make it weak, because flying is quite good. I like the flavor of this 'underwater' interpretation over the hiding or tunneling I'm more familiar with, but it does mean we need enough flying creatures in this block for it to matter, which is funny since you might think this would be a partial replacement for flying.

Disable 'stuns' a creature proportional to the damage dealt. While that sounds worse than potentially permanent damage, stunning a creature for three turns will effectively remove it from a lot of games. Disable probably rivals wither much of the time. A set with disable would need to forego both +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters, which is definitely possible, but also not something we've seen in ages. Better than just tangletouch (see next design)?

Tangletouch is simple and strong, and requires no counters. That said, as a common keyword, it might come up often enough that players have trouble remembering which creatures to untap each round. If testing doesn't show that too cumbersome, this seems very possible. And yes, I like it for an underwater world.

Tidal is a callback to the Homarids of Fallen Empires. It's pretty clunky for a modern keyword, but lightyears better than its crustacean forebears. This execution lines up all your tidal creatures, so you're not removing from some and adding to others each turn, which might add strategy to when you play such creatures (every other turn, usually), or frustration. Would want to test. Could be pretty good if it's not overwhelming.

Lurking Octopus can surprise a big trampler or a little deathtoucher, or quite a few things. I really like this solution for negating creature abilities, because it's just as intuitive (though in a different way) as Turn to Frog, but not as powerful. Will likely require a small tweak to the rules, but I think worth it. I could see this ability on a vertical cycle; not sure that qualifies as a block mechanic, but it can feel watery.

Seaworthy avoids the trap of making a keyword that defines aquatic creatures, since we can't retroactively apply such a keyword to every aquatic creature ever. It also does two things, scales cubically, and will slow combat calculations while players do the math. I'd rather see New Bushido.

The justification for bring provoke back is that many creatures are much faster swimmers than others—particularly when landlubbers go diving—and many sea creatures hide and lay traps, both of which provoke can represent pretty well. (Fight is more modern, but too strong to give many creatures repeatable access to, and they do still print "must block" effects.)

Octangler is a solid tapper, with good flavor, and you can guess from my entry above that I have no problem seeing marine animals in all colors for an underwater set.

Aquatic lands in an interesting mechanical space where it's evasion, but not quite as good as flying. It thematically implies that flying creatures can all swim too, which could work well within this block, but is less defensible for all the flyers that Magic has printed before. I love the underwater-breathing on this Sea Dragon.

With the introduction of this characteristic (technically not a keyword), every creature in Magic would have a depth (of 0). That could be sticky, but we won't miss depth when it's absent, so no worries there. It might prove cumbersome in Magic Online, but in their new contextual philosophy, probably not. You could argue depth does more than it needs to to be interesting, but I can't argue that once you internalize it, "{2} to interact with this creature" seems simple enough. Very watery.

These sharks are a great way to do black underwater creatures. I'm not sure we'd want more than a couple cards in the block with this ability, so it's not a mechanic, but you can't argue with sharks.

To the Death does not satisfy the requirements for the challenge for a couple reasons, but I couldn't help think how fighting underwater is so much more dangerous because of the added risk of drowning. Consider this the CCDD that I skipped to write this review.

Morph could be the perfect mechanic to bring back for an underwater set. There are a lot of creatures down  in the deep wet darkness that hide, transform, or disguise themselves. I wouldn't want to see Triton Spearmaster's ability on more than one card (and it needs some timing clarification), but it's not entirely unreasonable to put somewhere in the block. I kind of want the opposite: A merfolk that pries open the clam shell to see what's inside, turning a creature face up before it's ready.

Turns out, designing for an underwater block is hard. I don't think we proved such a concept is unworkable, but this experience is enough to make me wary of going down that path while there is lower fruit to pluck.


  1. It seems like Waterworld is only a part of a block setting; something else in addition to make it work, maybe?

    1. Third block reveal - it was Mercadia all along. Big disaster flooded the world.

    2. "Denizens of land and sea must set aside their longstanding conflict when creatures from the dark depths arise to attack them."

    3. Disaster strikes when the Phyrexians dump gelatin powder through a portal

    4. Nicol Bolas, after millenia of scheming, takes a few weekends vacation on the soothing beaches of Higaro.

    5. GUR wedge of Bizarralara.

  2. I'm not sure Tidal works as cleanly as you think. For example, if you control two counterless Lurking Octopi, both upkeep triggers will go onto the stack. The first one will resolve and put two counters on the first Octopus, then the second one's trigger will remove those counters right away. (I'm assuming it's not actually worded as an intervening-if ability; in that case, the "if" condition isn't met with only counterless Tidal creatures, so they can't get counters at all.)

    1. I was also going to point this out.

    2. You're right.
      Maybe keep the original, individual Tidal triggers, and just hope players keep one set on the left and the other on the right, or something.
      Or do something like the Werewolves:

      Tidal 2 (At the end of each turn, if a spell was cast this turn, remove all +1/+1 counters from CARDNAME. Otherwise, put 2 on it.)

    3. When MaRo was discussing early renditions of the werewolf mechanic, he mentioned that the werewolves used to generate a "tracker token" that would move between Day and Night.

      You could potentially use a similar technique to track the tides. it could be a simple token where you move a counter bacck and forth between High Tide, Receeding Tide, Low Tide, and Rising Tide.

      Then creatures with tidal could be effected accordingly.

      Blue could get a bonus at high tide. Black could get a bonus at low (swampy) tide. or something.

    4. Tracking Tide as a game state could work. Transitioning between four states sounds like too much though.

      Tidal Octopus 2G
      Creature - Octopus
      Tidal (Your Tide starts Low and alternates between Low and High at the beginning of your upkeep.)
      CARDNAME gets +2/+2 as long as its High Tide.