Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Weekend Art Challenge Review 050815—cj_productions

Weekend Art Challenge Review
The Eldrazi annihilate Zendikar. Having failed to save the plane, several planeswalkers regroup on Alara, and the Eldrazi follow their trail, ready to claim their next planar victim. There's a plan to catch the Eldrazi in the maelstrom, or to re-fracture the plane in an attempt to trap or fracture this menace to the multiverse.

Design a card with this art for this theoretical set that demonstrates something unique to the set or to the plane. Bonus points for lower rarity.

I'm guessing the Floatplane subtype is meant to have implicit rules like the five basic land types have (that a Floatplane can be tapped to add {2} to your mana pool). Otherwise, its reminder text would be rules text. We wouldn't want to use the Floatplane subtype on more than 6 or 7 lands in the block, and never outside the block, so rather than give it a page in the core rulebook next to the five basic lands, I'd rather remove the parenthesis and just make the an explicit ability of Canopy Drifter's cycle.

Lands that can add multiple mana to your mana pool are very dangerous and not something they've done outside of rare since, I think, the karoos of the first Ravnica, and infrequently even then. Canopy Drifter is strictly better than "ETB tapped. {T}: Add {2}" and that card is very very strong.

We also want to be careful what kind of nonbasic lands we put the basic land types on, as there are a great many effects that can search them up or count them in other ways that might not be so balanced.

Canopy Skyruins is a lesser Temple Garden, which is a good power level for uncommon fixing. Losing life is much better for aggressive decks than control decks, but we've already seen the favor go the other way in ETBT lands like Blossoming Sands. This is very printable. Nice.

I'm not sure I see anything unique to Alara or Eldrazi mechanically, though I have to say the flavor text is pretty enticing. (You could argue the land hurting you is the connection, but this is Alara not Zendikar where the land was alive because the Eldrazi were trapped within, and how do you explain the original shocklands damage?)

Drifting Forest won't increase your mana the turn you play it, but it can fix it. Curiously, it can give convert one mana to any color you have available, not just {G}. It can also do that every time you play a land. That won't help much when all the lands you've drawn are Forests or Drifting Forests, but it can be a big deal if you've got any other basics, or duals, or multi-lands.

This might be okay at uncommon, though it's a push. I think we could make it a good bit simpler at just a small power cost, and still be solidly uncommon. (Like only converting {1} to {G}.)

Should Alara inherit Zendikar's landfall when the Eldrazi come knocking? Is landfall an ability caused by the existence of Eldrazi on a plane?

Dwarf the Past is two Raise Deads, but limits your choices. It's faster to execute than Make a Wish (which seems like a mis-named card to me now) and that's nice. I'm not sure how much it limits your choice: You might often have three 2/Ns, a 3/N, and a couple 4/Ns, and the only one you can't choose is the 3/N. It would be more intuitive and shorter if it made you choose two creatures each with the highest power. And more interesting (at least to Johnny) if it chose the two lowest, though that doesn't serve the flavor as well.

Whoa. Wha? How? Huh. Uhhh.

Very cool to see how much impact a card with just one word in the rules box can have. Is Etherium-Ore Hulk too strong or too weak? I honestly don't know. Is it fun? Definitely the initial player reaction is worth something (and makes me think it should be rare, just for specialness. Probably not mythic, though it's arguable). Do we want players to block 15/15 titans with 3/17 walls, though? Seems anti-climactic.

Hedron of Bant offers another take on the banners and obelisks of the world, this time offering a hedron-specific ability (I presume). That takes five times as much brainpower to absorb than the banners of DTK, but at uncommon, that's not inherently unreasonable. It might well add good spice to Limited if they fall in the right spot on the power curve. It would be hard to find five effects of roughly equal power level that are all appropriate to their three-color pairing. For instance, is "tap target creature" green-able?

Jund Cleaving gets you three specific basic lands, like Ranger's Path's two Forests, but doesn't put them onto the battlefield unless you pay {1}{B}{R}{G}. In essence, it can fix your mana, or it can accelerate you, but not both. (Not as fully both.) That's fairly clever, and I still think the Plaxmanta "if you paid this other color" mechanic has potential. This will also definitely help you accelerate toward casting Eldrazi. I'm not sure it should be common though.

Kitesail Excursion can be played on turn 2 to draw a card off your opponent's land drop, on turn 3 to the same end (unless they're land-screwed) as well as drawing a card off your land drop, or later to turn an extra land in your hand into a new card. In Constructed, it could be relevant in a control mirror where ever land drop matters. In multiplayer, it becomes much stronger, potentially drawing a card for each player at the table.

White doesn't do a lot of card draw, but can it lean on its history of Land Tax effects to justify this card? Kitesail Excursion would fit comfortably in green if it only counted your own lands. Land->card could potentially be white too, in small doses, especially where you're monitoring other players. {G}{W} seems like a safe bet when we're looking both ways. I probably wouldn't do this exact effect for 1C at common in any color, though, as it could draw 3+ cards with the addition of a Terramorphic Expanse, Bant Panorama, Rampant Growth, or Harrow.

Kor? Apparently a contingent of Zendikar natives managed to survive the destruction of their homeworld. Did they then hitch a ride on the very monstrosities that did the job? Or do the Eldrazi carry debris with them when they shift, and the Kor were smuggled in that debris? Or perhaps the planeswalkers looking to trap the Eldrazi on Alara knew they needed the Kor to do it, and found some way to migrate an asylum's worth, or more. I wonder how the Kor like etherium...

So, Kor Asylum might look to the careless like it ETBT, but no, it just doesn't untap... except when you play another land. If you can play a land every turn, that's an excellent dual land. That's a pretty big 'if' though. Would you play this in your green-white Limited deck? I'm not sure I would. Would you play this in Constructed with a bunch of land searching effects? Probably! Would you play the non-green members of the cycle anywhere?

I rate this pun 'successful.' That's an uncommonly high ranking for puns.

Mayael's Area (huh huh) is one of those weird rare lands that doesn't so much help you cast spells, but does do something really awesome in a specific situation. This one lets you keep all your fatties alive No Matter What™ once per round for six mana. I'm really glad it can only be used once per round, because that's quite a strong effect as-is. I'm not convinced the "can't be exiled" and "can't be sacrificed" riders are worth the added complexity. They can still be shuffled into libraries or shrunk to 0 toughness, or just Unsummon'ed, and neither of those riders feels red or green or Nayan to me.

Nice reprint.

Is there still a Nayan panorama after Alara was reborn? Probably, right; it's just smaller? Or maybe the panoramas are restored when Alara is fractured again in the attempt to trap the Eldrazi?

Back on Zendikar, we had Crusher Zendikon and its mono-color buddies to show how the land was alive and ready to fight. It appears the presence of Eldrazi has awoken Alara's land as well, but in wedge form. That's pretty cool. Naya Zendikon gets a keyword from each color and some of them actually work well together. Not bad at all. I wonder if the Jund Zendikon would have reach and trample too. If so, it'll be hard to make all the Zendikons equally interesting, and if not, it'll be hard to find enough keywords for all the Zendikons.

Nayan Refuge is strictly better than Jungle Shrine. I'm not sure that's a hurdle we're desperate to jump. If the added ability were as minor as, say, reducing the damage from an Eldrazi titan by 1, it wouldn't be a significant effect on the card's power level and could be justified the block story. This ability (assuming it works every turn) does mitigate Eldrazi smashes, but it also takes a big chunk out of the damage artifact creatures deal to you. Maybe the availability of these lands in Modern will allow some Affinity cards to be unbanned? More likely this trinket text just does more than intended.

Oh no! Zendikar's infamous roil is now affecting Alara! On the one hand, I'm not convinced 'Roil' deserves to be a subtype, but on the other hand, it's a nice call-out and necessary for this mechanic.

Nayan Roil combos with other roils to make each into a dual or multi-land. That's a pretty cool effect. At common, and with poor value unless you get a handful of them, it's conceivable this could work for one or two players in draft.

It's a trap! The flavor text explains that Nissa has shared the trap-making secrets of her home plane so that Alara can use them against the Eldrazi. Nice in-story homage.

Planar Trap lets you sacrifice N lands to deal 2N damage to any single target (like an Eldrazi), and you can get it for half-price if your opponent cast something big this turn. This reminds of Barrel Down Sokenzan, which sets players back pretty far. Planar Trap can hit players, though, and can in fact kill a player on 12 life when you cast it with six mana.

I'd rather see a spell where the trap reduction isn't made moot by other costs, that is better used to kill giant monsters than end the game by itself, and that doesn't leave you defenseless after you use it.

Rifted Soil is Rampant Growth with splinter. Splinter is… hang on… Ohhhhh. Splinter is retrace that you can only use the turn that you cast the spell, but with a mana discount. I was thrown off because you don't normally cast lands, but in this case, you're casting them as if they were also Rifted Soil. An alternate template:
Splinter {1} (Until end of turn, you may cast this card from your graveyard by paying {1} and discarding a land card.)
Splinter could actually be a worthy combination of retrace and replicate. It's neat that there will sometimes be cards where the splinter cost is greater than the mana cost, like Splinter Shock. I can also see a flavor connection to re-fracturing the world.

Mentioning replicate made me realize both these templates fuel storm too well. Instead:
Splinter {1} (You may copy this spell any number of times by paying {1} and discarding a land card each time.)

Soaring Soil looks like part of a lovely land cycle for a multicolor set with cycling. I'd expect it at uncommon more (particularly with a hybrid cycling cost rather than {G}{W}) but this could certainly be common.

Gaze of Justice gets simplified. I can dig it. Soil-Seal Dirge reminds me of Collateral Damage; harder to enable but better once you do. Uncommon seems right.

Is convoking creatures out of existence what lithomancy does? I still have no idea.

Tajuran Sanctuary boosts a creature fairly frequently, and if you dedicate yourself to green as players sometimes did for Timbermaw Larva and Primal Bellow, quite a lot. That's a build-around, for sure. Dunno if it's perfectly balanced, but it's not far off, and looks fun.

Apparently Tajuran is part of Indonesia. The More You Know.

Blight is less disruptive than Stone Rain, though only slightly. I can't imagine a modern set wanting enough land destruction to justify keywording it, particularly with the memory issues it introduces. Shaving an entire {R} off Frenzied Tilling seems pretty good, though I don't recall Tilling ever being too strong.

Checking the comments, I see fracture can be used on permanents other than land. Mostly creatures, of course. That definitely allays my concerns about too much LD, but there's still the memory issue: Brink of Disaster is a card for a reason.

Cycling from play lands! Sweet.

Sometimes when extraterrestrial world destroyers come knocking, chunks of the planet just start flying away. It's cool. You can science it.

Seriously, though. How is Terrainfirma not a functional reprint? Wait, is it Terra-infirma or Terrain-firma?

Terralift features a gentler cost than Rogue Elephant's. First, it's optional—you can choose to pay full price to keep your woodland whole. Second, it merely bounces the forest to your hand, setting you back a land drop, rather than a full land.

Of course, this particular card is putting you up a land, so you can totally go, Turn 1: Play a forest, play Terralift, get any land you want, and keep the forest for next turn. Is that too good? I think it's not, but I'm pretty biased by my desire to go do that right now.

Note that even if Alara vs Eldrazi doesn't have landfall—and I'm not personally convinced it should—this mechanic still combos with it in larger Constructed formats. That may sound like a 'duh, all cards do that' but the story connection between the two planes makes mechanical connections really satisfying for some players.

Unmoor Terrain might not be as profitable as Harrow, but it can potentially fix your mana even more, trigger landfall even more, and do it cheaper. I like it at uncommon. Was wondering if it's necessary to restrict your sacrifices to forests, but I see that would be nearly Scapeshift.

Cool name.

On on hand, domineer is more clearly meant for creatures than other permanents. On the other hand, fracture made immediate sense on a land, whereas giving haste here probably nixes Up for Grabs at common. There's also the part where it's not entirely clear where the value lies here. Is it worth 2-4 mana to borrow one land for a turn, even with a 1 damage rider (A rider that comes first and looks like the main effect)?

I do like the reasoning Amuseum gave for using a pair of twobrid symbols in Eldrazi vs Alara. It's gold and/or colorless!

Upturned Ziggurat is a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx for nonbasic lands. So Cabal Coffers. And also for your artifacts. So Tolarian Academy. And also your Eldrazi... If it's not horribly broken—and I'm suspect this is horribly broken—it's certainly mythic rare.

It's a bit odd to talk about non-lands being basic or not, which leads us to a simple fix: Either count just your nonbasic lands (note to self / Jules—That's a pretty sweet card for Tesla), or count only your colorless nonland permanents.

So it turns out "demonstrate something unique about the plane" is too vague. That's just a note for my own reference, though, because this is a really neat lot of cards. They all brought in some element of Zendikar or Alara, and a few gave compelling glimpses into this theoretical set and the ramifications of bringing the Eldrazi to Alara. Nice work, Artisans.

Thanks to Zefferal for rendering the cards.


  1. Something to note about splinter is how unlike replicate you don't need to commit to casting copies of the spell. Thus your 2nd alternate wording is functionally different. (For the worse in my opinion)

    1. It is functionally different, forcing you to play the copies immediately (and as worded, not changing potential targets).
      What's the big benefit to being able to cast the spell at different points over the turn, that trumps not fueling Storm?

  2. Its supposed to be terra-infirma.

  3. My theoretical hope would be that building a monocolor deck in a return to Alara would be a sufficient weakness such that the power of Tajuran Sanctuary is balanced.

  4. Doing a full cycle of shard Zendikons with three keywords each would be pretty tough. I was thinking more in terms of turning lands into thematic creatures from each shard. So (for example) the Grixis Zendikon could have evasion and a saboteur ability, the Esper Zendikon could make some kind of hard-to-kill artifact creature, the Bant Zendikon could have an attacks-alone trigger, and the Jund Zendikon could be an aggressive haste creature.


  5. Huh, I didn't notice at the time, but Terrainfirma is actually stupendously good. It's a cycling land that you can still cycle even if you draw it early! I was always surprised how hard Horizon Canopy was nerfed, but I'm guessing it's because cycling lands from play is really really strong. Terrainfirma ETBs tapped and only makes one colour, but I suspect is still really good.

    Its cycle would be one of those where I immediately go out and buy 20 of each, which has only happened three times in the past ten years (the Ravblock karoos and the Alara and Tarkir trilands).

    1. And it can totally be common.

      Though, I could see them making it uncommon just to sell more boosters for folks like you.

  6. Whoever did the templates did a great job; of the many ideas I had they made a render of the best possible one.

  7. The anti-sacrifice clause on Mayeal's Area is intended to be a call out to Annihilator.

    I imagine the best way to show Shard vs Eldrazi is to have each shard use it's own mechanical identity as it's preferred weapon. Hence the power 5+ matters doing things that specifically thwart Eldrazi. (Lower rarities can handle the spawn and drones, higher rarities are the only place to keep this type of effect)

    As far as the color concerns go, take a look at how many three color cards from Alara read like three color cards. I believe the identity of the shard supersedes the identity if the constituent colors.