Monday, March 23, 2015

Weekend Art Challenge Review 032015—xiaobotong

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

Hidden Loyalty allows you to hide which commander you've chosen for your EDH deck until you play it. Unfortunately, your opponent has to take your word that one of the cards in your deck has hidden loyalty. Perhaps if it exiled itself from your library at the start of each game, or only triggered from your starting hand? That's a tough nut.

Arrival of the King lets you play your commander for {4}{R} and with haste, which is pretty nutty all by itself when combined with any legend that costs 7 or more. Or, y'know, {15}. When you Arrival the first time you cast your commander, obscured by Arrival's own hidden loyalty, you also get a Trumpet Blast. Commander wants splashy effects, but I think this card might be splashing spectators in the back of the bleachers. If it didn't skip 2-10 mana, it could be lovely… provided hidden loyalty can be made to work.

Interesting to see a mystery that works once per deck per group.

Cheap Strike lets you deal 2 extra damage (perhaps on an undermatch or first striking creature) for, effectively, {1}. You might use the mana rebate immediately to chain into another combat trick, but you might also leave it until your second main phase, making your opponent wonder what you intend to cast with it. Not a huge mystery, but this is a common, after all.

'Lingering mana pool' is a neat idea. It formalizes the idea of mana you can use until EOT. Given how often we'll need to include the reminder text, how much copy does it save us? I've been looking for a chance to gush about Hardened Berserker: What an eloquent way to add {1} to your lingering mana pool!

I can't imagine Creative using 'fox' both literally and figuratively on the same card (or double-literally), but I'll give it a pass for Fox Rogue.

I quite like Edo's I'll-do-something-for-{2}{R} ability. Does the fact that it's random make it red (in contrast with Simian Pugilist)? Will it really be all that random? Even in Limited, the average red deck probably runs 0.7 cards that would qualify for this effect (Theros being an obvious exception). The mystery works regardless, because your opponent doesn't know what Edo will do, but I'm only 60% convinced it's mono-red.

While Tail Slash and Kindled Fury work pretty well here, many qualifying cards are more like Titan's Strength which isn't so much elusive as brutal. My big concern with Edo is how badly he plays with burn. If you're running any Shocks, you'll sometimes spend {2}{R} just to show your opponent and reorder your deck.

Erratic Warlord gets a random power boost each turn. Cool. He also sorts your deck from the bottom-up a few cards at a time. Sure.

A few years ago, this activated ability would've been templated with a {0} as the only thing left of the column. This template technically works, but for what it gains in elegance, it loses in clarity. We can clarify and simplify this ability by making it a triggered ability. That does mean it has to always trigger before you attack with him, or after blockers are declared—whichever proves better—but the choice of when to look is not what makes Warlord mysterious.

Checking P's intention, I'd do "After blockers are declared each turn, [if ~ is attacking or blocking,] reveal…"

I could be mistaken, but I believe that you can't look at cards you've exiled face-down by default. Players will wonder, though, particularly since the second ability would be much better if you could. "You can't look at it" would be easy to add to stockpile's reminder text.

Note that any of your cards can dip into your stockpile, regardless which card put them there, so we're building a communal resource—one your opponent can't interfere with. Development will have to watch that, but it's a good idea worth exploring.

Frontline Raider has fire-breathing? That's not a question, the punctuation describes the ability. For each {R} you spend, you'll get +1/+0 until EOT. Or +3/+0 or nothing at all. Who knows? Not you. Being activated, though, you have the choice to find out before you risk your Raider or after your opponent has made her ill-informed blocks. Mysterious.

Note that having several mana up and cards in your stockpile helps you mitigate the probabilities drastically.

Zoiks. Ghost Raider manifests your entire hand tapped and attacking, and then bounces it all back at end of turn. That's fair for a five-mana 3/3 rare, but I really want to call it Alpha Raider or Ghost Alpha since you really don't want to use this before your last turn.

If you didn't have any mana open when you swing, there'd be no mystery; just a bunch of 2/2s your opponent gets to see at EOT. But with mana open, who knows which 2/2 is can be turned face-up after blockers are declared? You do. (And you'd have to be the worst bluff in the world to give it away.)

When your Herald of the Mists connects with your opponent's face, you can exchange it for the card behind door #2.  Neither of you knows what that card is. Probably a land?

Kudos for thinking to put the can't-look reminder text in, but this would be a better card if you could look. Not just stronger, but more fun: When I know whether the exiled card is worth sacrificing a guy who's doing 4 damage each turn, you try to read me and the sublimity of bluff happens. Also, there are very few things in my Limited deck I'd rather have than a 4/2 that's not getting blocked.

As a rare, this can be more efficient. As a card we want to want to sacrifice, making it a 2/3 uncommon for {1}{R}{R}, for instance, would drastically increase the number of times we're happy to trade it for a random card. Maybe give it trample and make the trigger mandatory?

Morph {2}{U}{R}
Impulsive Captain gives you total control over which morphs you have on the field during combat, and what they're being blocked by. That's thematically mysterious, though the gameplay won't be (which is fine). It feels blue and not red, to me. Also unusual that Captain doesn't have morph himself—there's a reason Secret Plans and friends are all enchantments instead of creatures—but at least that makes it clear its ability doesn't work face-down.

Inscrutable Warlord's first ability (which should come second: nitpick) challenges your opponent to block it. Its second ability punishes her for blocking ("After blockers are declared"). And in the middle is our binary bluffing game. Did you choose good, expecting her to let it through? Did you choose evil because she thought it was a double-bluff? Do you just need to guarantee your Warlord's survival? Good times. And on a 2/2 for three? Fair for a white-black mythic.

I'm not convinced this warlord is choosing between good and evil, though. Maybe strategy and tactics? Bravery and cowardice?

Masked Leader is a reverse-reverse ninja. It only triggers when blocked, and gets replaced by another creature rather than doing the replacing. Also, it can only 'become' a legendary human; taking its mask off and revealing itself to have been Konda, Lord of Eiganjo all along. Or Dakkon Blackblade. Probably Dakkon. So do you block Masked Leader in the hopes that its controller doesn't have a legendary human in her hand bigger than your defender, or do you let a 4/2 beat you up every round? This little mystery is probabilistic skewed, but the beauty of hidden information is that kind of skewing balances itself by making an upset all the more dramatic. Cool.

Mist-Covered General draws you four cards you can't be made to discard or reveal, and lets you cast any creatures among them with flash. It's also a 4/4 with vigilance. That's a solid smack upside the head. While facing this beast down, you might idly wonder just what kind of creatures you're going to get hammered by, though it doesn't really matter, since tempo and card advantage are tempo and ard advantage. The flash part sounds rough, but it's really not that relevant; you're not attacking into Mist-Covered General anyhow. Remove vigilance and it makes the flash relevant. Well, more relevant: Draw-Go is always strong.

Mistrider Mercenary harkens back to Chaos Lord and other red creatures that defect. Here, everyone rummages, but there's a game to the choice of what to rummage. Whoever discards the biggest spell gets to keep and attack with your 5/5. It's definitely nice that Mistrider only defects at the end of your turn, letting you get one good swing in with it. In fact, your opponent might not kill it when she could in hopes of taking it at EOT. But maybe you're bagging an Eldrazi. Less ideal is the fact that players will choose their discards in turn order, starting with the active player, so you might discard a 5cc card trying to keep this, and your opponent can then choose to discard a 6 if she has it, or give up and discard a land. At least, that unenviable position passes to whoever's lucky enough to hold Mistrider's reigns.

Mistweave Charger can net you as many 2/2s as Whisperwood Elemental, but if you have to keep your 3/2 alive despite attacking and that's a fun challenge. There's no more mystery behind the cards you manifest this way than others, but that is more mystery than Champion of Arashin.

Not sure why Nameless Legion doesn't tell you to manifest those cards. I'm also not sure what the mystery is, since it's public which cards get manifested. Maybe we're meant to shuffle, like Ghastly Conscription. For 5, you get to attack with 7 power of creatures. More if your opponent fails to kill the Legion, but even if she does, you've still netted two creatures. One of which you can likely turn face-up. Maybe the tokens should auto-exile at EOT? That would also eliminate the memory issue this creates.

Order of the Phoenix should come back some number of times. Will you lose cards you would rather have kept in the process? Probably. It's not mysterious—well, thematically it is—but this is a pretty neat creature. Its value can fluctuate considerably throughout the game, trending towards better-than-the-mountains-its-nuking but still just a 3/2 that can't chump-block in the late game. We could add a 'may' to its trigger to make it stronger, but I'm not sure I like that better. Uncommon seems right. 4/1 would be a decent rare.

Otherworld Harbinger is also a reverse, reverse ninja, this time swapping with the top of your deck rather than a human legend. There's no bluff there, since you don't know what's coming before your opponent does, but is a mystery. Being able to choose not to swap with the top even if it's a creature gives you a little extra control (and that may or may not be good). Harbinger could become any creature on turn 3, and that seems like an issue Dev would have to address. I'd put a limit on its targets. Maybe CMC 5-, power 5-, or else match creature type.

Paladin of the Ruby Search is a rummage lord. Well, he doesn't make your rummagers better, but he does make all your team into Rummaging Goblin. In addition to being a card selection engine, he's also a card advantage engine. If you're not discarding an artifact to put back into your hand every turn, you're doing something wrong. Despite all that power, this Paladin is slow and will require quite a bit of setup/support to get and keep going at these rates. I guess the mystery is why a Knight is durdling so hard? It's questing for a holy relic, and how.

If you draft Paliano Mercenaries in pack three, it's just an absurd black creature. In pack two, you'll most likely lose it for an extra first-pick. In pack one, you'll lose it in pack two but could potentially regain it in pack three, evening out on first-picks. It's neat how some players will want this more, and how it being public will help players prepare better against it. It could be clearer that the player who gives you her first-pick isn't giving up her pick from her pack and will pick second.

Ride from the Mists costs 1 less than Ethereal Ambush and trades flash for haste (which would be stronger in this format), but it costs you a total of three cards rather than one. While you can't choose those cards (that would be mighty good), you can craft your hand in anticipation of casting Ride and increase the chance you manifest creature cards. And your opponent will have to wonder how much more likely they are to be flippable. White doesn't feel wrong here, but this could be mono-red.

As a four-mana 2/2, you're counting on getting extra value out of Tai Shu, but you don't know if you're getting it until you've committed to the attack. You definitely need to be protecting Tai Shu so he can swing multiple times. (And you'll be stacking your deck as you do.) As a rare legend, I'd step this up a bit, and either reduce its cost, give it a little evasion, or put the free creature OTB attacking. Note that it's easy to underestimate "creature with power 2 or less"—there are some very good 2/X creatures out there.

I was not expecting so many mystery cards to be red. The connection between random and unknown, though, seems obvious in retrospect. Almost all of these are solid designs, or interesting at the least. Nice work, artisans. Now I wonder what would have happened if I'd limited entries to black and/or white. Hmm.

Thanks to Alex for rendering the cards.


  1. Impulsive Captain was supposed to have morph 2UR, although I think that it missed out on the render.

  2. I mean, obviously you can't cheat Emrakul in with Arrival of the King, because it's banned. Also, Arrival is a Red card, which means it wouldn't match the color identity anyway. The best thing is almost certainly Progenitus, which is obviously horrifying. Maybe the card wants to make the general go away at the end of turn. Or maybe it just wants to be 5R or 6R. I mean, any commander can get expensive after it's been played a few times, so six or seven mana can still represent a discount. That's a problem for development.

    As to the legality of having a card in the deck that just does things, it's awkward. It would need some rules reworking to say the least, but the intention was that it just worked. I though about creating a commander with this ability, but that really seems to defeat the purpose because such a small subsection of cards would have that ability. Some commenters suggested a Conspiracy to have that effect, but those have dubious legality and I'd rather have a card that does things rather than just a card that creates that effect.

    1. Oh, I like this as a way to bypass the commander tax after your commander's died a few times. Yes, that's a great use that completely didn't occur to me at first.

  3. What does "mysterious" mean to the Artisans?

    Cards off the top of your library: 4
    Face-down cards: 5
    Cards off the top of your library, face down: 4
    All other mechanics: 7

    1. Heh. Probably influenced by this challenge being posted during Tarkir block. Two years ago, or three years time, the answer might be different.

    2. Definitely influenced by Tarkir.
      Also by the art / color restriction.
      Still interesting to see how that played out, though.

  4. I was wondering why you restricted the entries to being black, white and/or red. Given that artwork - knights, white horses, red banners, mountains - that's going to be 95% of the entries anyway (someone'll make a colourless card for a misty artwork like that).

    1. Hooray, someone questioned my "okay, but you can only do the things you'd actually want to do anyhow" rule!
      (I'm serious.)

    2. Did you have some secret agenda like you wanted to see what effect it had? It may have encouraged me to make Ride from the Mists multicoloured when it should probably just be mono-red.

    3. Challenges are inherently a fabrication, so I'm always eager to see folks looking beyond the construct for greater opportunities. Sometimes I add bonuses that are intentionally traps to keep people questioning the status quo (and because someone inevitably steps through the trap unharmed in spectacular fashion). This was much more subtle: It's important that I never trend so close to authority that people never question me, because that will limit my own learning.

    4. To me the artwork looked very white-blue, so I assumed the restriction was put in place because you didn't want everyone to make U/x/y cards. For a Tarkir card I could almost see this as Jeskai if not for the presence of the dog guy.

      Another way to create mystery would be to challenge the opponent to sort of guessing game with cards in hand or library, but so far that's been almost solely the domain of mono-blue.

    5. I thought it was interesting. I thought you probably added the restriction just for variety, but I thought that was a probably a nice thing to try.

      Alternatively, I wondered if the art looked illusion-y and wondered if everyone would have designed illusions or "play once then return to hand" creatures without the restriction.