Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Weekend Art Challenge Review 010915—Fate Reforged

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

You don't see a lot of blocking triggers. There's a good reason for that: Magic wants to reward players for progressing the game. ETB triggers, attack triggers, and even death triggers all help push the game closer to its conclusion. Blocking triggers reward players for not attacking, for stalling the game and trying to grind it out to a long conclusion.

Having said that, I don't think blocking triggers need to be banned from the game entirely, as long as they are printed infrequently and with great care. How does Abzan Defender shake out?

As a 2/3 for four mana, it fails the vanilla test (though not spectacularly). You can be sure that white's other clans don't want Abzan Defender because it'll be a poor attacker to start. You can also be sure non-white decks won't be splashing for it because the commitment to {W}{W} is too much. In an Abzan deck, though, this can really shine. It can block the turn it lands as a 3/4 (or as a 2/3 that makes your morph 3/3, or that gives your Ainok Bond-Kin first strike). It can, but it won't, your opponent simply won't attack into it.

Limited wants a mix of creatures that are only good in one deck and others that are good in multiple decks, so on that axis, Abzan Defender is good. But I'm worried its too good for that deck and will grind games to a screeching halt, or at least until things start unmorphing.

I like the idea of an Abzan card that starts with an efficient body, with a conditional but flavorful outlast-threshold. I also dig the idea of an Abzan card with a potentially powerful outlast-threshold that doesn't have outlast and requires some work to turn on (even if a 1 toughness is easy to bolster). Protection from dragons isn't quite either of those things. If we combo Abzan Dragonslayer with Abzan Falconer then we can potentially block a dragon the opponent might have. This does a lot more work in casual constructed, though the combinations are still limited and so is the reward.

This version of Alesha lets you return any creature and potentially multiple creatures (though {R}{R}{WB}{WB}{WB}{WB} is going to be hard to pull off). It will only resurrect creatures that died this turn (so it's a better regenerate), which is a different way to concede to white's more limited resurrection (ala Second Sunrise and the like). It's kind of ironic that this Alesha costs less but gets back bigger creatures. This ability kinda promotes attacking (and gives your dead creatures vigilance), but since you can use it at literally any time, it works just as well on defense, and in combo. Seems like a good Rwb card, but not as representative of clan Mardu. I recently stumbled upon the phrase, "if this died in combat" and think that would help here. Even better, "Return target creature that attacked and died this turn."

Citadel Guardian is an easier-to-cast Steadfast Guard (which is still fine for common, since Sentinel Sliver) with a conditional upside. Most of the time it won't matter, but you're not unhappy with your french vanilla. In certain rare (Modern and wider) matchups, it could be a game winner. Or at least require your sligh opponent to take a turn off disrupting your mana to burn your "hate bear." Hating against land destruction is nothing R&D would shy away from, so Citadel Guardian seems like a fine card in the big picture. In the context of Tarkir, it's going to make a lot of players wonder. (Development does seed out-of-place cards to act as a safety valve against impending Standard, or to combat problematic Constructed metagames, so I wouldn't be shocked to see this printed at all, but I still wish they'd do a better job integrating their solutions with the set in question.)

Double Rampant Growth for triple the price, but delve to soften the blow. Dredging Ritual looks like a pretty conditional include. I'd really only want it in a Sultai deck with a high end or a five-color deck. I'd rather have Seek the Horizon in the latter case and maybe in the former (and I've cut it in both). It's rare that you'll be casting Dredging Ritual before turn 5, but when you do that boost will get you to your Venerable Lammasu much sooner. If the set needs a weaker green card, this could work. If not, make this delver's Explosive Vegetation {4}{G} where it will be strong, but never too strong, and still not a sure-thing for the average deck.

Karinji's first ability looks like your average sorcery-speed blink at first—which isn't terrible for a +2 ability and limits the decks you want to play it in (but not like Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded)—but then you see that it returns directly to combat on your next turn. That's actually strictly-worse than just returning, since it will lose summoning-sickness by your next turn and could attack or do something else, but it feels like a bonus, and is certainly neat. What does that clause earn this design? It tells you have to be aggro, but that's about it. Maybe the other abilities will explain it…

Aha. Yes. The second ability gives your new creatures haste and makes them indestructible. By itself, that's pretty cool. I really like the idea of securing each of your creatures one turn to attack, but not making them all Zurgo Helmsmashers (because that dude is aggravating). It also explains the first ability. The creature you blinked last turn will get to enjoy the benefit of this ability along with any new creatures you cast. That's a bit more Zurgo than I'd like, but you can only do that every other turn, and I'm okay with that.

And the ultimate ability also combos with all this safe attacking, giving you a Soulblast that untaps your team instead of eating it. The untap seems uncessary, but it actually makes the ability make more sense than if it just said "your tapped creatures fight target player," and it helps the ability feel white.

This is a very red-white planeswalker, and it has nice internal synergy. It's a pretty good fit for Mardu, since it pushes aggro and kind of supports raid and dash. If Fate Reforged wanted a planeswalker beyond Ugin—because how could it not feature Ugin—would it want a 1200 year old local who disappears in the mists of time after we return to the present, or another ancient planeswalker? Given that this is when Nicol Bolas fought Ugin, I have to wonder where he's at.

Bam. Mardu Pyreblade is pretty straight-forward, but strong and appealing. A 2/2 double-striker for {1}{R}{R} is fair outside of common, and the ability to deal 4 damage the turn before puts it squarely into rare. That this can play around mass destruction and surprise opponents who think they've stabilized, I imagine a card like this becoming a significant player in the right Standard.

Mardu Frontrunner costs more to dash than to cast, but it does so to grant it evasion when you do. While this card is less appealing than Pyreblade for Standard, it might be even stronger in Limited.

If you consider this card without dash, the second line is quite odd. It's only relevant when you can give it haste (or if you flash it in response to your opponent's small flying attacker). Dash is here, though, and makes it clear the idea is to use dash to give Frontrunner flying. My question to the artisans is this: Would this design be better or worse if the trigger were "When Mardu Frontrunner dashes, it gains flying until EOT?" For whom?

I had to check the comments to make sure Mausoleum Sentry was really supposed to be a three-mana hate-bear. Generally, sideboard cards like this are efficient for their cost so that players who want to combat an oppressive strategy don't have to feel bad about the answer they're running. Traditionally they're all two-mana 2/2 or 2/1s, but that's less important. It does stand to reason, that a card that serves this role in a particularly applicable or devastating way needn't be so efficient on the front-end. I definitely wouldn't play this {W}{W} card to protect my delve deck, but maybe it would make the cut in an Unburial Rites deck? Oops, it's symmetrical. Against the Unburial Rites deck.

Awkwardly, Mausoleum Sentry still doesn't protect from Extirpate and other cards that target one or a subset of cards in your graveyard. We could add "Cards in graveyards can't be the target of spells or abilities," but it's also not the original intent of the card that players can't be Lava Axe'd. That change was made to combat spells that empty a player's graveyard by targeting that player. Sometimes, it's best to just get to the point: "Cards can't leave graveyards."

I like the flavor, but beyond that, I have no idea what makes this Fate Reforged.

Hahaha. Get it? You can Overcome All Odds, as long as one creature's toughness isn't even with the rest of your team.

There's a cool idea here. You can keep bolstering your defenses as long as you're weak.

But there are some issues with the execution. First is that at one mana, this is basically an X-spell. When I cast it, I can probably cast it for X, where X is my mana. If you compare this to replicate and multi-kicker spells, many of them want to cost more to break up that binding.

Second, Overcome All Odds will never leave your hand. Okay, if you'll lose the game next turn unless you play it to make your last creature even with the rest, it'll go away. But in all other situations, you just play it as much as possible and then hold it until the board changes. It's like a free Chorus of the Conclave.

Sweet. Discard meets manifest. I'm glad this isn't {2}{B} or common, because the former would be arguably better than Tidehollow Sculler, and players hate to have their own cards used against them so the latter would be too frustrating.

The downside of manifesting a card your opponent has seen, is that there's no question what it is that's face down and when/if it can turn face up. That limits this card's awesomeness as a manifest card, but I don't think it ruins it. After all, if you get their Sagu Mauler, there's still dread whether you'll be able to unmorph it.

We're learning that it's harder to design bolster cards than it looks. Stand Apart is a permanent Giant Growth in white.

Two-for-ones need to be tricky or expensive at common, so this Eternal Witness eschews the card advantage and Reclaims instead of a full Regrowth. I love Swamp Ritualist. I don't think Fate Reforged needs this card, but it's not a misfit thanks to clan Sultai and their proclivity for filling the graveyard for fun and profit.

Swamp Ritualist poses a threat that Reclaim didn't, and I'd want Development to keep an eye on that: While the sorcery could lead to repetitive play as a common, the card is weak enough that people are unlike to play that many of them. A 2/1 for two is weak but playable, but with optional card recursion—that doesn't leave you down a card as Reclaim does—Swamp Ritualist will see a lot of play. Possibly enough to cause frustrating repetition in games. At 1/1 or at {2}{G} it should be weak enough to avoid that, while still being largely more appealing than Reclaim. Maybe 1/2? Would certainly be fine at uncommon, maybe even as a 2/2.

Hey, a modal card. Good choice.

Toxic Warfare can kill one big creature or a bunch of small creatures. That's really a nice choice to have. I also like that it's easier to see the connection between the two abilities than a lot of the modal cards in Fate Reforged.

I might make it -4/-4 for the aesthetic, and to narrow the power gap between the two modes, but this is totally fair as an uncommon sorcery.

Twinslice Rider has reverse Prowess. It wants to go in a deck with as many creatures as possible, and few non-creatures. So it's anti-Jeskai. It's not Temur because Temur's looking to make big creatures, not play lots of creatures. So this card is for Mardu. It works quite well with dash, which is nice, but the complete 'nonbo' with raid is a major bummer. It is a nice card in the abstract, and loves Hordeling Outburst and Ponyback Brigade.

Now to go look at the spoiler and see… Runemarks?! Pfft. Team Goblin Artisans wins this round.

Thanks to Sanctaphrax for rendering the cards.


  1. I love the way Swamp Ritualist interacts with all the spells manifest off the top of your library.

    1. That's why I went with the (unusual for me) cheap-dude-you usually-want-to-cast-late-game, instead of putting the ability on, say, a 3GG 5/5 where I would be inclined to put it in an average set.

  2. I'm also curious why protection from Dragons is underwhelming as payoff for +1/+1 counter threshold. Would it have been better if I had called out all the effects?

    Creatures you control with +1/+1 counters on them can't be blocked by Dragons, and can't be targeted by Dragon spells or abilities. Prevent all damage that would be delt to them by Dragon sources.

    I get that the lack of flying means they can't reasonably block Dragons, but is that small loss the only thing player's will see? Perception does account for a lot.

    Another option is to have it grant protection from Dragons and reach. Feels weird for a mono-White card, but could be an excellent GW gold rare.

    1. I should also say that I'm anticipating a lot of Dragons in the format coming up soon...

    2. I definitely think "Protection from Dragons" and "Reach" gets a little closer. (I was going to suggest this before you made your post)

      In most games I expect my opponent to have 0 dragons, and in those games this card just has flavor text. Reach is tertiary in White, so even leaving it White isn't so far off. It is possible that the audience who likes dragons would be more excited by the line of text than Jay and I.

    3. I like Hundred Handed Ones having Reach. But on 1/11/15 Maro posted on Blogatog that colors with access to flying can't also have reach. So I guess that's a new position. I'm not sure, it's a strange line to draw. I think Abzan Dragonslayer could be monowhite with reach. It's art even shows a spear, which is a solid explanation for how the reach would work.

    4. Protection from anything isn't a great mechanic. It's four abilities in one, with multiple counter-intuitive exceptions, that reduces interaction.

      Protection from Dragons is definitely more useful in FRF than usual, and will be at its all-time most useful once we replace Khans with Dragons, but without flying it still mostly just means "can't be blocked by Dragons" and how often are dragons blocking instead of attacking? Particularly dragons with attack triggers?

      Look at the uncommon FRF dragons. Only one of them targets creatures. Look at the rare legendary dragons. Only one of them targets creatures.

      Protection from Dragons looks great, but doesn't do much at all. It's a lie.

      Pairing Dragonslayer with an Abzan Falconer or Longshot Squad in this Limited format gives us the ability to block dragons all day long, which can save the day (but might not against these scaling-attack triggers) and that's really cool. But unless those cards have a mirror in DTK, we'll lose that combo when we need it most.

      Dragonslayer could grant flying or reach. It's justifiable, and maybe it has to do its job, but it does feel pretty hot-glue-gun too.

  3. If we wanted to make Citadel Guardian fit into Khans block, perhaps "Players cannot sacrifice lands" could work? Or would something of the sort be too powerful?

  4. With the Abzan Runemark art, what about this as a throwback:

    Ancestor's Protection 1GW
    Instant (C)
    Bolster 1.
    Bolster 1.