Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Weekend Design Challenge Review 012315—Dragons of Tarkir mechanic

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

Materialize is a cantrip effect for sorceries and instants that gives you a bear instead of a card. Generally, a bear is better early and a card is better late, but you can compare Ancestral Guidance to Striped Bears. (Actually, AG is a poor signpost for comparing materialize with cantrips because the non-materialize effect is a cantrip. <Shrug>)

Being a spell effect combos with prowess, though it will be much less common in Limited when DTK replace KTK. Materialize doesn't combo with manifest or morph because it can only get spell effects face down and those can never be turned face up. But it does use the same technology and it does work with "colorless/face-down creatures get [effect]"s.

Materialize isn't amazing enough to carry the set the way morph did, but it's not bad at all, given our constraints.

Unlike morph, creatures with mask cost full-price to play and are known to your opponent. You can turn them face down from the battlefield, but you'd only do that if you had more than one masked creature, or else to trigger their turned-face-up effect. But I've got to pay {7}{R}{R}{G}{G} in order to make Atarka's Brute an 8/8 trampler once. Is it even worth making mask creatures without triggers? If they were free to turn face down, maybe. Taking the risk of down-grading your guy seems like cost enough.

Works with face down stuff. Doesn't combo as well with manifest as morph did, but it does combo. Though perhaps not the way players might expect: You can enjoy any turn-face-up triggers on your manifested creatures with mask, but you can't shuffle them up with your other masked creatures because they weren't masked, they were manifested. That confusion seems dangerous.

I would definitely codename this mechanic "shell-game" in playtesting.

A face-down card is defined as a 2/2 creature by the game rules. We can't make any other types of face-down cards that would be indistinguishable from those. Though I'm skeptical, dragonfuse might work for this reason: It never exists on its own, only attached to a creature. If players are careful not to separate their auras from their creatures (easy) and not to stack their creature cards (harder), you could keep it clear which face-down cards are 2/2 creatures and which are +2/+2 auras.

Do we need a mechanic so similar to bestow in the block following Theros? Granted, it's kind of the opposite of bestow, but it's nearly identical mindspace.

Does dragonfuse combo with manifest? Maybe you can turn a manifested card face up for its dragonfuse cost for the same reason you can with morphs? I'm less certain since dragonfuse might only work while it's a face-down aura. Going back to my first concern, imagine playing with face-down auras attached to face-down creatures.

Points for theming this mechanic around dragons, though that connection isn't super-clear, unless dragonfuse only appears on dragons, in which case I don't think it can appear enough.

First reaction: That's a lot of words for an uncommon. Let's dive in.

Coalesce needs some templating help. I try to ignore that kind of issue when judging a card, since I can usually see what was intended anyhow and that's all a designer is responsible for, but I'm not sure how coalesce is supposed to work. Where does the {1}{R}{R} come in? If you're meant to pay that when you exile Coalescing Burst, it should be repeated in that activation cost. Why are we exiling Coalescing Burst at all? If coalesce is just an alternate spell, why not discard like cycling, reinforce, etc?

Following the morph template, we don't need to say "as a Coalesced face down colorless and typeless 2/2 creature card," just "face down as a 2/2 creature." Again, I'd normally ignore that, but going out of our way to specify that it's a "creature card" directly confuses the next line that says you can turn it face up "if it's a creature card."

If I'm on track, then coalesce boils down to {1}{R}{R}, Exile ~ from your hand: Manifest another card from your hand. That wouldn't warrant a keyword (since it mostly already is one)… except then how do we trigger the last ability? It's not a problem that Coalescing Burst is basically a split card; it's modeled after cycling cards that trigger a smaller version of their main effect when you cycle them, and that's okay. (This ability is instant speed, which seems problematic for a five-color mechanic.)

My concern is that it's an evolution on manifest and not its own mechanic. Let me clarify because we use 'evolution' two different ways: Thematically, morph is supposed to be a cultural evolution of manifest in Tarkir, and so too should be the KTK mechanic. But when we talk about an 'evolution' of a mechanic from a design perspective, we only mean that we're doing something new with that mechanic. A little twist, usually. A design evolution is a small iterative development, not a thousand-year biological / cultural / technological transformation, like the difference between manifest and morph. Which is a long-winded way of saying, "needs more oomph."

So. I love spell morph. I've never playtested it and may be miles off, but in theory, this looks like a fun and interesting mechanic, and I don't see why it can't be possible in the rules.

Here's the problem. They released a rules update with FRF that made it explicitly clear that they are not doing spell morph anytime soon:
701.31e A face-down permanent represented by an instant or sorcery card can't be turned face up. If an effect instructs a player to turn one face up, its controller reveals it and leaves it face down. Abilities that trigger whenever a permanent is turned face up won't trigger.
I don't believe for a moment that they would add such a clarification to the rulebook in one set with the intention of completely reversing it in the very next set. Bummer. Would have played great with manifest.

I can practically guarantee they did test this possibility for DTK. Either it turned out not to be that fun, not to be what the set needed, or the rules team found an unavoidable rules complication that made it impossible. I'd love to hear everyone's speculation about what killed spell morph.

At first, it might look like incarnate is as disallowed as spell morph, but it doesn't reveal the spell on the battlefield. When any face-down creature dies, it goes to its owner's graveyard and then if it had incarnate, a trigger goes on the stack that will let you cast it then and there.

While I suspect incarnate is intended as a keyword for sorceries and instants, it could actually go on anything. It shouldn't, at least not the first time out, but it could.

There are two potential technical pitfalls. I'm not sure incarnate combos with manifest as worded, since the ability to death-cast it is tied to turning it face down initially (though so is the ability to turn a morph face up, so maybe that's fine). The larger complication is that you can cast it face down when it dies. Probably. That's obviously not the intended purpose, so most players won't even consider it an option. As long as the rulebook and FAQ are clear, it's okay if the reminder text doesn't completely disambiguate an counter-intuitive possibility. But we don't want people casting infinite 2/2s, even for {2}{R}{G}.

Incarnate is a clever solution to the many parameters of this challenge. I have no idea why Fury of the Dragon Tempests is green at all, much less multicolor when they've hinted so strongly against that, but incarnate is awesome.

Conjure is identical to spell morph, but reading it another way helped me to see that neither is forbidden by the rules, technically. That's because they both exile the face-down creature before turning it face up. Whoa.

Okay, so this is possible. That's exciting. But is it likely? Would they add rule 701.31e just to follow it up with a mechanic that skirts that very rule? It's far from inconceivable. 31e could exist purely to handle corner cases like Ixidron shenanigans or to set a tournament baseline for when players accidentally turn a spell face-up. Iiinteresting.

Also worth noting is the use of colorlessness. I'd bet a tidy sum DTK will make notable use of colorlessness (at least a vertical cycle) and there's a strong chance that will tie into manifest's descendant mechanic. Maybe a card like Ghostflare could cost {2}{R}{R} up-front and {3} to cast after it's been 'morphed' for {3}?

At 7 lines, stunt-double is going to eat up a lot of space and complexity points at common. Like coalesce, it's basically manifest wrapped in a trigger: Whenever ~ attacks, return it to your hand, then manifest a card from your hand tapped and attacking. I'd make that an ability word instead.

It's also quite swingy: On the one hand, you could turn dead cards in your hand into bears cheaply and reliably with just a couple stunt doubles, but on the other hand, they all have to attack and sometimes that'll just be suicide. That's not inherently good or bad, but it would have a big impact on the set and its gameplay. I am skeptical, though, that we want a set with this much bouncing of your own creatures.

Something totally different. I'm going to say, based on some pretty strong cues, that reap is being proposed as the mechanic to replace delve. Thematically, it's a good fit for the Sultai. Mechanically, it plays well with delve (not massively, but positively) as well as with manifest (letting you cycle away your 2/2 lands). It's simple too. Sacrificing your own stuff doesn't appeal to new players, but delve wasn't aimed at that segment either. I don't think we could see a huge amount of reap without a good amount of token-making as well (or some efficient manifest effects). Nice.

Another Sultai mechanic, mindswipe follows the Dimir path to milling as an alternate win mechanic. That combos very well with delve and we're looking pretty good so far. The trouble is: What does a mono-green mindswipe card look like? Green does get "mill N of your own cards to keep some," so half of the keyword will work swimmingly there. The other half is a definite color bleed, but perhaps not a deal-breaker.

Note that because mindswipe is symmetrical, it won't kill your opponent for you without a little extra work. Either you need one or two more directed milling effects, or you've got to run a bigger deck (or merely be on the play if you've got zero card drawing effects and are confident your opponent isn't running 41).

Rusigar might be well-balanced for duels, but is completely broken in multiplayer. The problem being that both what it counts and what it affects scale up with the number of players. With four, we'll reveal a total of 8 cards, and my opponents will discard ~3 cards each. Every round.

Based on the phrase "noncreature spell" I'm thinking deceit is the Jeskai mechanic to replace prowess (though the name sounds rather un-Jeskai to me—partly an issue with Tarkir's overall flavor). It appears to be an aura-only mechanic (or possibly equipment too) which is quite limiting, but it clearly plays very well with prowess: It rewards balancing creatures with non-creatures the same way, it actually triggers prowess, and it leaves your opponent wondering how your creatures will actually fight in combat. Neat.

I'd cost Soulfire Infusion at {W}.

I'm already sure this is a Jeskai mechanic when I read the name jumpkick. I love that it lets you use creatures to improve your spells, much like prowess let you use spells to improve your creatures. And if you do, you get two prowess triggers. Here's where I get sad: I have to bounce my own creature's off the board? Sometimes my prowess creatures? And I lose a draw step too? That's a hefty cost!

I'd rather see a spell mechanic that cares about your creatures without undoing the tricky, tempo-based aggression Jeskai was already into. Convoke/Conspire doesn't work because those prevent attacking. Maybe "As an additional cost, untap N creatures you control…" so you just have to get enough creatures turned sideways. Or if granting your team vigilance is too much, merely "If you're attacking with at least N creatures…"

Further afield, but maybe we could flip prowess around: "If you cast a creature spell this turn, upgrade/copy this spell."

More tiny text. That's not a deal-breaker for a rare, but most of it is from the keyword and we've got to fit that on commons too. Camouflage is basically Jeskai Infiltrator (and another keyword wrapping manifest into itself). There's a reason Infiltrator is a single rare and not a cycle or a clan- or set-wide mechanic: It's fiddly to execute.

Infiltrator makes it worth your while by netting you a bear. Camouflage doesn't work if you don't have a second creature, and you take a risk making them both smaller. It's pretty good evasion for Tempest Predator since I'm not eager to block your 2/2s with my 4/4 when there's a 50% chance one of them is a 5/5, but there are a lot of situations it won't be, particularly at common.

Temur Meditation's name tells me whose clan mechanic draconic is replacing, though I was guessing Temur anyhow, given draconic's aesthetic similar to ferocious. Assuming that all dragons on Tarkir have 4+ power, draconic is strictly harder to turn on than ferocious, and by a large margin (especially since +1/+1 counters and Giant Growths won't help). Assuming we can justify that, I'd expect a bigger bonus for pulling it off. You might argue how much better Temur Meditation can be than Cultivate, but consider also that if you've got a dragon, it's not unlikely that you're already winning. Draconic effects will often be win-more (even moreso than ferocious effects). Also note that it's hard to make draconic cards that are relevant after you've cast a dragon. Temur Meditation gets you two lands immediately when you've already got a dragon… What are the chances that's better than Cultivate after you've already got six lands? What are the chances Cultivate's even worth casting at that point?

Voidgate is morph++. You can play it exactly like morph, but you can also turn any of your face down creatures into your Ugin's Herald. It's not quite as if that face down creature was the Herald all along, because no status will carry over (tapped, attacking, counters, auras, etc), but thematically it's a lot like that. Here's the bit I didn't catch at first, if you don't have a voidgate creature in your hand, you can't turn any of your face-down voidgate creatures face up (unless they got that way by being manifested).

This. This mechanic is the closest to "alternate timeline morph" that I've seen. I don't think it's perfect as-is, but it's a damn clever solution and I'm impressed.

I love that Ugin's Herald is colorless, though that's diluted by it being a standard artifact. Hexproof on a creature this size is pretty scary, especially since it only costs {5} (and drawing another voidgate card) to play. It's also a little disappointing that I can't save that face-down creature by replacing it with my hexproof creature (voidgate is sorcery-speed by default).

I'm blown away here. You artisans knocked this challenge out cold, out of the park, outer space… err, what was I saying? Nice work, folks.

Thanks to Pasteur for rendering the cards.


  1. Voidgate is really sweet, the only thing I dislike about it is that you have to reveal to card you return, which kind of spoils the flavor of the mechanic... As for Mindswipe not being doable in green, I doubt that matters, since we know DTK won't be a wedge set, and judging from FRF, will likely focus on allied color-pairs.

    1. Thanks Jade, that's what I was thinking with Mindswipe. Also, the trigger would only make opponents discard once per draw - everyone discards one if anyone discarded a creature rather than everyone discarding equal to the number of creatures.
      That said, they've avoided keywording mill up till now so they probably aren't about to start.

    2. I'm reading this trend differently. I don't think DTK will be based on allied color pairs, I think that FRF went there as a transition between KTK's three-color cards to DTK's mono-color cards. I believe we know the five clans will continue to exist in the new reality, though they will be different, perhaps based [more] on dragons, somehow.
      I fully expect there to be red cards, white cards and black cards with dash, and so I'd expect all three Sultai colors to use the mechanic that's associated with that clan. (And we know dash will be in DTK because they told us.)
      I could be way off, of course.

    3. I very much doubt it DTK is going to be either mono colored or allie colored. As it would make so much of FRF useless (Runemarks, Hybrid activations, uncommon color matters cycle etc).
      If you take this into account as well as the idea that DTK is an alternate KTK then I think the answer is going to be SHARDS.
      All the clans (now probably dragon broods considering the new watermarks) will shift over one color to become shards, thus the reason they have changed around the order of the mana costs as well. So that abzan cards retain the same ordering as the bant faction it probably becomes.


    4. Core sets include only mono-colored cards, but two-color decks remain the norm and I would expect no less from DTK. All the color-matters cards in FRF will remain as useful as the Kird Ape cycle in M13 was.

      So I disagree with the logic that precludes DTK being a monocolor set. That said, DTK shifting to be a shard set is a really interesting idea, and certainly possible.

  2. I wonder, would Mask/Shell Game be better if it was no cost, but mandatory?

    Mask (At the beginning of your end step, turn all creatures you control with Mask facedown and shuffle them together. You may turn masked creatures faceup by paying their mana cost.)

    I called it "Mask" because I think it would be best aesthetically to have it have an "M" name (like morph and manifest).

  3. Something like "Shuffle any number of non-token creatures you control, then manifest them."

  4. I didn't know that about 701.31e. But I'm not as sure that it rules out spellmorph. Suppose they were doing manifest in block 2 and spellmorph in block 3. (And I'm lumping together anything that's functionally equivalent, like exiling first.)

    What would the requirements for the comprehensive rules be?

    1. When block 2 comes out, there has to be a rule that allows non-permanents facedown on the battlefield, and copes with what happens if they would be turned up.
    2. Even after block 3 comes around, there has to be an answer to "what happens when a non-permanent is turned face up by an effect", which probably isn't "it's cast for free".
    3. Whatever they do in step 1 has to not explicitly mention spellmorph or it gives it away.

    Given that, how would 701.31e have been different when spellmorph is coming? If it would be the same, it doesn't tell us anything either way.

    Also, I'm not sure 701.31e forbids spellmorph. Even with spellmorph, I expect non-permanents to never ever be face up on the battlefield. It says "can't be turned face up". It doesn't say it can't be revealed or cast, and I'd expect spellmorph to be templated as something like "reveal it, cast it for its spellmorph cost" (or maybe exile, cast if that's necessary.)

    If I'm right, the rules update for the next block would simply leave 701.31e as it is, and add a rule for casting things with spellmorph. Am I missing something, why doesn't that work? I'm not convinced this is the answer, but I'm not convinced it isn't either.

    1. Read the next two entries, jack.

    2. I'm sorry I'm being dumb -- you mean the next two review cards or the next two paras of comp rules?

    3. Doh, blogspot ate my reply again.

      Thank you! I read them, but hadn't noticed you were saying spellmorph was technically possible. But I'm not sure having that paragraph for things like Ixidron means introducing spellmorph is a hack or is in some way skirting that rules, it feels like most rules have a rule like this one that rules out unfortunate edge cases, it doesn't seem to make spellmorph any less ok? (Assuming it works in the rules as either cast from the battlefield or exile first then cast, which I assume it can.)

    4. The rule expressly forbids us from turning a face-down permanent face up if it's a sorcery or instant. But both Aura's and Evan's executions first exile the card, which means it's no longer a permanent and that rule doesn't apply. That details takes almost no text space, and so it seems like a reasonable execution. I would personally love to see this mechanic.

    5. Then it sounds like we mostly agree, I'm not sure why it looked like we didn't. (Sorry :))

      Except that, I'm still not clear why "turn face up" is part of casting it.

      The first step in casting a spell is 601.2a says "To cast a spell is to take it from where it is (usually the hand), put it on the stack, and pay its costs," It doesn't say "turn face up" or even "reveal" first, even if you're casting from hand where opponent can't see it.

      Likewise Colfenor's Plans http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=146581 says "exile the top seven cards of your library face down" and then "you may look at and cast them". It doesn't say "turn face up first".

      I agree, if the "exile then cast" is necessary, wizards can do that, but I still don't understand why it WOULD be necessary. Sorceries can't be face up while they're ON the battlefield. But I don't see why that prohibits them being cast FROM the battlefield.

      Understand the rules has LOTS of edge cases and I'm not a judge, so I'm likely to be missing a reason that doesn't work. But what is it?

      (Is there an easier way to link to cards?)

    6. You could write spell-morph "You may cast this from the battlefield while it's face-down."

      One natural way to write it is to mirror morph: "You may turn this face-up at any time for its spellmorph cost. Cast it without paying its mana cost." That's the version that is no longer possible.

      (Sadly, the underline method only works in the body of a post, not in the comments, so apart from adding an HTML anchor tag for clickability, no there's no better way to link cards in comments.)

    7. Thanks for reassuring me about the links, I think that's fine, I just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something and annoying everyone by leaving the links out :)

      For clarity, I suck at exact templating, but I'm proposing reminder text something like "You may cast this face down as a 2/2 creature for 3. You may cast it from the battlefield for its spellmorph cost."

      That's simpler than every other proposed set of rules I've seen. I thought the only problem with that was that prior to Fate Reforged, sorceries couldn't be on the battlefield face down. Now they can. Now it looks to me like that simplest possible rules for spellmorph work intuitively exactly as written.

      I don't see any reason to consider more complicated versions unless you think my simple version doesn't work. But no-one else is proposing that, so I assume I'm missing something. But what? Why doesn't that work?

      I've seen casual designs fo permanents with "this may be cast from the battlefield". Wizards would never print that because it's confusing and misleading. But AFAIK that works under the rules. So I assumed spellmorph would work equally well, but also be intuitive.

    8. I don't know any reason that can't work. If so, it's beautiful.

    9. OK! Well, fingers crossed :) Thanks.

      If I can't see any reason something can't work, I'm right about half the time, which I think is good odds for Dragons, but far from certainty :)

  5. I'm on a Mac now, so annoyingly, I don't have MSE to catch mechanics that are too wordy before submitting them. I'm sure if I had MSE I could've made Camouflage more appealing. That's before we get into the possibility it might be completely undevelopable for constructed as it could kill all strategy in combat. Dang. Next time.

    Also, Voidgate is great. I thought about "how to combine Ninjutsu and Morph", and I felt, in the end, it's not worth it. But I'd really like to see how the "face-down creatures might be something in my hand" could work out.

  6. Thanks for the kind words about Voidgate! I started from Ugin's Construct (thinking about another pair like Pilgrim of the Fires/Witness of the Ages) and twisted it into something like a set mechanic, and it came out way better than expected.

  7. I agree with Jade Phoenix that Mindswipe doesn't need to be in green. I was also surprised to see you say that multicolour has been "hinted strongly against". I think you may have been letting your own assumptions about DTK leak out here. I'm expecting DTK to be allied-focused with a reasonable number of allied-colour gold cards.

    It is pretty hard to come up with a mechanic involving face-down 2/2s that isn't a wrapper around manifest. I tried and couldn't, which was why I didn't submit an entry this week (that and having a very busy weekend).

    1. Why wouldn't I leverage my educated guess? I'm likely a ways off, and maybe a long ways off, but this is an exercise in speculation, so it's got to have some context. Your expectations are as valid as mine, but that doesn't mean I should apologize for having my own (nor you yours).

      It REALLY is hard to make an alternate morph mechanic not wrapped around manifest. Super hard. None sprung to my mind. That's what I was so impressed with the challenge's results.

    2. There will be some multicolour in DTK, but no way is it a theme. MaRo's been really clear to emphasise there may be a wedge card or two, but no theme, so as to avoid the disappointment of Theros' lack of enchantment matters cards. We won't see any at common. Probably a cycle at uncommon as that seems to be the default now. Maybe a couple of rares (I presume Ramaz will appear and be Temur).

    3. That's not true; he's said it's a multicolor block but not a wedge block. He has never said DoK wasn't a multicolor set, and there is every reason to think it will be.

  8. Anybody else prefer many of these designs to what R&D actually came up with (megamorph) ? :/

    1. A few of them, yup.
      I'm sure megamorph will play well, but it's definitely not as new and exciting as I expected.
      I have to assume they tried crazier things and none of them worked out for one reason or another. Would love to hear more about that.

    2. Megamorph should actually be a decent iteration on morph in practice. It's poised to play more like kicker than echo. It should play well with manifest, and in a different way than morph did. I think it'll be fun.

      That doesn't change the deflated-balloon reaction a lot of people are having who hoped for something more novel, a more distinct alternate evolution of the mechanic. But it ought to allay their concerns a bit.