Monday, February 9, 2015

Weekend Art Challenge Review 020615—TheHereticDivine

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

We've got a bunch of new designers today. Welcome!

I want to say something before we dive in. Critical feedback is crucial to improvement. Congratulations on taking the first step toward growing as a designer. Every designer twists up their own ego with the quality of their work, and it takes effort to escape that. The reason it's a problem is that we all make terrible cards (especially when we're just starting—but great designers still make bad cards) and that doesn't make us bad designers.

A good designer is just a bad designer who keeps designing.

Why do I mention this? I'm going to tell you your card isn't that great. This isn't a personal attack. Don't take it personally. Use it. Grow.

Magic has never put evoke on a non-creature permanent. It's not mind-blowing, but it's a really solid evolution of a nice mechanic. I dig it.

Altar of Sorrows is a good representation of the revisited mechanic, and it illuminates the one big downside. Evoking Altar of Sorrows is not the same as casting Shrivel. When our enchantment resolves, its static ability goes into effect and its sacrifice trigger goes on the stack. Any creatures with 0 toughness die, and then we finally get priority back. The trigger resolves and Altar goes away. Every creature that survived is entirely unaffected by the ordeal. Not as intuitive as I'd like.

Magic has never given you two libraries in the same game (nice try, Shahrazad). Antipode Dreams does just that. I know I've tried to make this work before and I expect others have as well. It's a neat idea. To make it relevant, you need some way differentiate the two decks' contents, or at least gain information about their difference. This one lets you choose exactly which cards will be in your second deck, which is seriously powerful. Exciting.

Even without considering combo decks proper, the ability to guarantee you'll only draw gas for 15 turns seems worth more than {2}{U}, but cost is easy to adjust. The real question is, does this work at all within the rules, and if so, is there any fair cost? I expect the answer to both is 'yes,' but the set FAQ will be completely dominated by interactions throughout Magic with just this one card.

In tournament Magic, this is totally a legendary sorcery. Heh.

'Exactly' is redundant.

Magic has never had a land that caused other lands to ETB tapped or untapped. Pretty sure Amulet of Vigor is the only thing that's done that. With that upside in place, Cathedral of the Contract balances it with a downside that slows down lands that produce anything else. That feels kind of appropriate. And of course, it's a drawback we can build our decks around (Commander or otherwise). That might seem a little easy, but it's a pretty narrow effect on a card you're unlikely to play many of. Neat.

Unearth {B}
I was confused about this entry until I went back and saw Count's Embrace was meant to have unearth. Not unlike evoke above, this is a clever and useful evolution of an existing mechanic. Putting unearth on auras isn't just a random destination for a former creature mechanic, it actively addresses the two-for-one problem the subtype has. I'd happily pay {1}{B} for the initial price or the unearth price here.

The closest I can think Magic has come to making a card more effective in your hand is the Chancellor of the Forge cycle and the two Leyline of Anticipation cycles, but it's really not the same. Those trigger from your opening hand, and you either keep them or play them immediately. Endbringer triggers when you'd lose, and it exiles itself (and, y'know, one or two other things). Obviously, you have to prove you've got an Endbringer to use one, but exiling it does the trick.

Exiling all your nonlands is going to set you back pretty far, and will usually leave you to die the very next turn, but you could build a deck that can kill or recover based purely on the contents of your graveyard.

Each individual ability on Guardian of the End has been done in some form, but I will grant that the sum is relatively unique. Even so, those last three abilities are fairly redundant with the fact that this is a 7-mana finisher. If you're allowed to keep it for three turns, chances are it's killing your opponent anyway. If you lose it, you're down a whopping 7 mana anyway. Not the same, to be sure, but probably not worth six lines of text either.

'Sources' aren't referenced often, outside of damage prevention, and they're granted abilities even less frequently. While there have been effects that could potentially grant a non-creature source of damage lifelink or deathtouch, that's never been done explicitly. While Herald of Uroborus isn't going to blow any minds, giving every damage source you control deathtouch and lifelink feels quite special. I expect this would be templated as "Everything you control has deathtouch and lifelink" since that's functionally identical, sounds awesome, and requires less vocabulary to understand.

Inquisitor's Wish lets you Living Wish for free if it's in your opening hand. That's unique. Also strong. Distant Land is powerful just letting you cycle it for free. Being able to snag a particular creature or land from your sideboard (and of course, you planned for that in deck-building) will help you get that perfect draw far more often. I will grant that a {B}{B}{B} Duress will not be great when you draw it later in the game and that helps balance this card's power considerably, but this still gets flagged for close attention from development. I'd be happy with "replace with a card at random from your sideboard."

Okay. Magic has indeed never done this before. Inverted Globe should appeal to players of both the Melviniest and Johnniest order, as long as they're not also Vorthosy.

Dungeon is a new card type. Magic's never had dungeons before. Like a planeswalker, players can attack them, but instead of collecting damage, dungeons offer a wild chance at some effect. And that chance is affected by that creature's CMC. Why CMC and not the amount of damage dealt? Because… unique? There actually is a flavor reason for it—CMC is a better gauge of a creature's competence than its power. But if we were going to stick with that, we'd trigger off of the attack rather than find a way to let a creature to deal damage to something that has no life, loyalty or toughness. And we lose the ability to root for our creature with Giant Growths.

So what's the effect that the game is doing all this work to allow, the deck's player is paying a card and mana for, and her opponents are doing in lieu of attacking her? The first person to survive the dungeon gets a bad-ass piece of equipment named Shroud of Innistrad.

I'm guessing the intention is that you can attack your own dungeon, but that's far from clear. If not, I can't imagine dedicating a slot in my deck to Markov Manor, even in multiplayer Commander. Presumably, you build your deck to be better at defeating dungeons, and better at taking advantage of the reverse side.

There's a very cool story here, to be sure, but this idea needs a lot of work before I can get behind it. That said, this is the kind of far-out brainstorming that leads to big innovation.

Mysteries Unmasked features an ability we discussed as a combo with dig/mine/whatever back when Tesla was just one of many possible Goblin Artisans projects. It takes Panglacial Wurm and gives us something we can put on a bunch of cards and feature prominently in a set. It's not quite the same as the Wurm's ability since searching your library won't let you cast it, so it is unique. A notable limitation of the mechanic is we can't make any of the effects very big, because there are so many things through Magic that let you reveal cards as a cost and it would just be too easy. Mysteries Unlocked is probably fair, though Tranquility has never been exciting.

Orzhov Command adds a little twist to modal spells by leveraging the new action label technology. I can't imagine there's a whole lot of design space here, but probably enough for 2 two-color cycles. This particular member of the cycle seems quite well executed. I doubt they'd all be so easy. Note that both black choices are generally stronger than both white choices; The clever thing is, that doesn't imbalance the card mechanically. You're always getting one strong and one weak effect.

Planeseal banishes planeswalkers, shuts off any on-going influence they might have, and locks the door behind them. Suck it, alien wizards. (Removing emblems is new to Magic.)

Ritual of Binding doesn't do anything Magic hasn't done, but it is really sweet white removal that marries Banisher Priest and Banishing Light in a newish way. I like it.

Stronghold is a new card type and vastly more simple than dungeons. Any damage at all destroys it, and ends its effect. That's pretty cool, but I'm sure we don't need a card type to do this. Just make Sanctuary Basilica an enchantment with "If a source an opponent controls would deal damage to you, she may destroy ~ instead." Okay, so that particular execution doesn't work with Basilica's ability, but it should work with literally every other ability you might put on a stronghold.

Sanctuary of Chronos is half a Ghostly Prison: Instead of charging {2} to attack each turn, it charges {1} to attack at full-pace. Otherwise, Meandering Towershell. Like Ritual of Binding, there's nothing new going on here, though the combination is a new card, and a pretty neat one at that.

Magic has never Flicker'd a graveyard before. Not ground-breaking, but playable. Is it black?

Maybe that dude would be better at sealing tombs if his hood weren't covering his face.

Auras have never had two targets. I discussed the complications of that last week.

If that's a thing, Shared Fates is my favorite use of it.
(Though I could argue it in red as a Romeo & Juliet thing.)

Spiritualism Seance is an upside-down Brainstorm. Generally, drawing from the bottom of your library is a trap; it sounds novel and interesting but is actually either the same as drawing from the top or worse. That fact that we're putting two back does make card play differently from Brainstorm: You can't protect cards from discard this way, but you can get rid of useless cards more effectively.

The black-aligned bonus makes Seance feel more like Thirst for Knowledge. So, two card references and a twist the value of which isn't obvious. Perfect for Time Spiral 2.

Only Planeswalkers have ever generated emblems before, but Telekinesis Ritual says, "Hey, the player is a planeswalker too, y'know!" Yeah! Why do cardboard 'walkers get all the glory?

Except why not just make an enchantment? Maybe with shroud if we really don't want the opponent to ever answer this frustrating effect. I think emblems are emblems less because they never go away and more because enchantment tokens have issues. Question mark? Emblems tend to be brutal or frustrating effects, but that's justified by the fact that they're really hard to achieve, no matter how much mana you have.

I'm not sure what extract does. There are couple possibilities. Let's work it out.

If we're searching for a card with the same name as the one we're discarding, then extract allows us to cast any card (that we have more of in our deck) for {3}{B} instead of its mana cost. I suspect that's not the intention.

If we're searching for a card with the same name as Thoughtbind Ritual, then extract allows us to copy the card it's on in our hand over another card in our hand. That feels a lot like retrace (ala Cenn's Enlistment), except it's harder to read and involves shuffling your library. Retrace dangerously skirts the issue of repetitive gameplay itself and while I wouldn't count out a similar mechanic for that reason, I don't want one that slows the game down too.

Time Disjunction lets you change the order of the game turn and that is new to Magic. (A couple spells have omitted phases, but none have reordered them). It's also a pretty esoteric card: There are no obvious uses for it.

There are uses for it. Oh my, there are uses for it. They're just not uses new or casual players will pick up on immediately.

The silliest use, is that I can switch the first main phase with the second main phase, which should mostly never affect anything, except for card's that specify one of the main phases.

The most dangerous and confusing use is to cast Time Disjunction during your opponent's combat step and switch their next post-combat main phase with their next beginning phase. They get to untap, upkeep and draw, but they don't get another chance to cast sorceries or permanents. Then you take your turn. Then their turn begins and they take their main phase twice before combat, getting no beginning phase at all.


That was a huge batch of cards. Thanks for participating, artisans. There were a lot of neat cards. Not all of them really fulfilled the challenge (we make a new card every week, so clearly that alone can't count), but some explored crazy new territory, and there were really cool entries in both categories.

Again, welcome to new folks. Don't be disheartened when people are critical of your design. The regulars are used to it, and so am I; We've all become much better designers by hearing other people's feedback, discussing things, and learning from it all.

Thanks to Evan Jones for rendering the cards.


  1. I think I missed your discussion of auras enchanting two things while I was traveling! I worry, as with many of the designs today, that there are almost no interesting "enchant two creatures" cards, but I really liked Shared Fates (admittedly it has nothing to do with the art).

    Your suggestion of making it Red and giving it a Romeo and Juliet flavor is AWESOME.

    1. I designed one a long, long while back:

      Squire's Bond
      Enchantment - Aura - Uncommon
      Enchant two creatures you control
      Enchanted creatures have "W, T: Put a +1/+1 counter on the other creature enchanted by CARDNAME."

    2. Linked Fate 4BB
      Aura Rare
      Enchant two creatures
      Whenever one of the enchanted creatures dies, the controller of the other one sacrfices it.

  2. Does "While Altar of Sorrows is on the battlefield, all creatures get -1/-1" work? Ideally it's the exact same function (same timing as well, if I'm not missing anything) while being a little more clear for first impressions and kitchen tables.

    1. The -1/-1 effect still disappears as soon as it leaves.

      You could do "When Alter ETB and at the beginning of each upkeep, creatures get -1/-1" but that looks pretty weird for an enchantment.

      Anyone think of a better way?

    2. Flipping it a bit:
      Altar of Sorrows 3WB
      Enchantment (R)
      When Altar ETB, all creatures get -1/-1 until end of turn.
      Creatures you control get +1/+1.
      Evoke BB

      You still end up with your opponent's creatures being smaller than yours.

    3. If the problem with the original was a lack of transparency, this is not an improvement.

      I think I trust people to understand the original at least mostly. Completely if we changed it to -0/-1.

      My bigger concern is that I think there are almost no reasonable evoke enchantments. This one is super cool, but it may be unique, and the same effect could easily be accomplished with the Armor of Thorns template.

    4. Tommy, your last point is definitely the issue. What might work (and I'm sure has been designed before) is halfway between Dash and Evoke - basically a keyworded Armor of Thorns, but "you can pay a cheaper cost" rather than "you can play it as an instant." Unearth from the hand.

      It'd be better to just make a new keyword, but if you wanted it to work with Evoke, this is a way to cast a Shrivel:

      Altar of Less Clean Sorrows 2BB
      All creatures get -1/-1.
      When this leaves the battlefield, creatures get -1/-1 until end of turn.
      Evoke BB

    5. That works.

      It's not clever, but the simplest solution:

      Altar of Less Clever Sorrows 2BB
      All creatures get -1/-1.
      Evoke BB
      When you evoke this, creatures get -1/-1 until end of turn.

    6. Nope. I'm wrong, because that kills 2/2s.

      And so I agree the best solution is to make a new named mechanic.

    7. Upon further reflection, Altar of Less Clever Sorrows doesn't kill 2/2s, but it's definitely confusing.

    8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    9. Another try:

      Bounded in a Nutshell 2G
      Enchantment - Aura (c)
      Enchant creature
      Enchanted creature gets +3/+3.
      Daydream G (You may cast this spell for its daydream cost. If you do, sacrifice it at end of turn.)

      Infinite Space 3U
      Enchantment (u)
      ~ enters the battlefield as a copy of target noncreature permanent.
      Daydream U (You may cast this spell for its daydream cost. If you do, sacrifice it at end of turn.)

      Have Bad Dreams 2BB
      Enchantment (r)
      All creatures get -1/-1.
      Daydream BB (You may cast this spell for its daydream cost. If you do, sacrifice it at end of turn.)

    10. Are players going to correctly intuit what happens if Have Bad Dreams gets Daydreamt after an Eager Cadet gets Giant Growthed?

    11. Don't tell me the Eager Cadet dies during the cleanup phase. Really? is that really what happens?

    12. Hm? No, during the "end step" (which comes before the "cleanup step") the "at end of turn" trigger from Daydream happens, and the enchantment goes away. Then later on there's a cleanup step when Giant Growth wears off. So the Eager Cadet lives. Seems the natural expectation to me.

    13. This is where it helps that "at end of turn" has been replaced by "at the beginning of the end step."

    14. Right, but if we take that approach then Bounded in a Nutshell lets my guy die after getting into combat. We really want these to go away during the cleanup step along with Giant Growth.

    15. Ew. That's going to be really tricky. You want a permanent to cease being on the battlefield at the *precise same time* that damage *and* Giant Growth effects wear off. That's going to require "substance"-level fiddliness of wording.

      The alternative would be to only have Daydream toughness-increasing spells, no toughness-reducing effects, at which point you can just say "sacrifice it at the beginning of the next cleanup step". Which still isn't really printable on modern cards, admittedly, but is at least way more succinct than the alternative would be.

    16. Good point.

      Bounded in a Nutshell {2}{G}
      Enchantment - Aura (cmn)
      Enchant creature
      Enchanted creature gets +3/+3.
      Daydream — ⌛ {G}, Discard ~: Target creature gets +3/+3 until EOT.

    17. We've effectively re-designed Channel. As I want to refer to "the cleanup step" in designing about as much as I do "the stack", I'd be curious about this:

      Daydream G (You may cast this spell for its daydream cost. If you do, sacrifice it during thr next upkeep.)

      This keeps the design tighter, avoids an ability word, and keeps the effect an enchantment and a spell, both of which can play into a set's themes.

    18. That lets Have Bad Dreams affect your opponents turn, but why should that be wrong? I like it.

  3. why did this challenge get so many new designers, did someone tweet this blog or something?

    1. I think it is the kind of challenge that draws new designers in, even though it is exactly not the kind of challenge that makes new designers better designers.

      I certainly stalked this site a long time before I started posting. I have no recollection what actually made me start posting.

    2. Maybe some heard about it from Reuben's podcast.

  4. Other Ravnica Commands

    Golari Command 5BG
    Instant (R)
    Choose one from black and one from green:
    Black --
    - Put a 5/5 black Demon token with flying onto the battlefield.
    - This turn creatures you control have first strike and deathtouch.
    Green --
    - Put 5 1/1 green insect tokens onto the battlefield.
    - Draw cards equal to the greatest power among creatures you control.

    Rakdos Command (B/R)
    Choose one from Black and one from Red
    Black --
    - Target player discards a card.
    - Target creature gets +2/-1 until end of turn.
    Red --
    - Rakdos Command deals 1 damage to target creature or player
    - Discard a card. Draw a card.

    Azorius Command WWUU
    Choose one from white and one from blue:
    White --
    - Target player can't attack this turn.
    - Exile target permanent you control, then return it to the battlefield.
    Blue --
    - Counter target spell
    - Draw a card

    Gruul Command RG
    Choose one from green and one from red:
    Green --
    - Search through your library for a basic mountain or forest and put it on the battlefield tapped.
    - Destroy target creature with flying.
    Red --
    - Gruul Charm deals damage to target opponent equal to the number of lands you control.
    - Destroy target artifact.

    1. I like these better when there aren't synergistic modes. The Golgari one feels more like a two mode card than a 4 mode one. Unrelatedly, the looseness of the mana costs is throwing me for a loop. They should at least have the same number of colored symbols across the cycle.

      Finally, looking at the mock-up, these all need to be one line effects for readability's sake.

      These are really tough to design so as to be both aesthetically pleasing and play well. Good job on the Orzhov one!

      After a few minutes failing to come up with more that both fit those criteria, mirrored abilities, and had any splash value at all, I'm not so sure we're going to squeeze a ten card cycle out of these in that form. Maybe we should go full charm and not worry about relating any of the abilities to one another (except for developmental balance).

  5. "If a source an opponent controls would deal damage to you, she may destroy ~ instead."

    I wondered that, but I'm not sure whether or not the decision of "which creatures attack the permanent and which creatures attack the player" is automatically trivial -- does anyone have more experience playing with planeswalkers who can say?

    1. It's not quite trivial. It plays the same more often than not, but it can matter. The reason I lean against it here is there is rules overhead to letting something without a toughness be attacked or damaged, and it affects cards that limit or affect players' ability to attack. "Whenever you attack a player, [or a planeswalker {or a dungeon}]..."

    2. Ah, that makes sense. Thanks.

  6. Dungeons might be very cool as a supplemental deck, similar to planes or schemes.

    1. Oho. Now that's an idea. Yes, the next casual product like Planechase could introduce dungeons. Planechase's predecessor Chaos Magic used d20s (and d100s), and Planechase itself has a (weird) d6, so yes, I could definitely see dungeons happening in a context like that.

    2. I've been tooling around with this version of dungeons for a little while but hadn't found a home for it, so never really put much effort into developing it. There are so many knobs to turn it a bit daunting without the structure of a set around it. I'm all for exploring the supplemental route.

      I envisioned various types of dungeons flipping into specific permanent types.

      Reliquary = artifacts
      Prison = creatures/planeswalkers
      Sanctum = enchantments

      Is response to the review comments about clarity: the intent is that you cast it (sorcery speed) and anyone may choose to attack it. A possible clarification might be to change the reminder text to read (ANY creature may attack dungeons. Any player may block for a dungeon)

      I was delighted that you saw the cmc vs power/damage as a matter of competency. Scornful Egotist FTW!

    3. A trivial point, but I think generally helpful:

      Why allow creatures to attack, but players to block?