Thursday, October 22, 2015

Weekend Art Challenge Review 101615—Jason Engle

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Design an ally creature card for this art.

Ally of Blossoms has a triggered ability but doesn't care about allies ETB (which is true of some allies in BfZ); instead it has enchantmentfall, rewarding you for playing enchantments. The rewards happens to be an ally, though, so you can play this in an otherwise ally-free enchantment deck or in a deck that balances enchantments with traditional allies. My only hesitation is that BfZ doesn't have an enchantment subtheme, but as a rare, Ally of Blossoms doesn't have to support set themes beyond 'allies' and this might allow players to draft a very different deck every once in a while.

Contested Treetop is a very powerful land for an ally deck, giving you immediate access to {G}, and making potentially several creatures just for doing what you would have anyhow. The defense counters mean that you need to play an average of one ally every round or lose your Treetop. Most particularly, you need to play an ally the same turn you first play Treetop, or it'll disappear before your next draw step. I can't really guess how this will fare in Development, but that hoop does make me believe it can at least make it out of Design. I do wish there were a simpler way to handle this condition. Maybe "at your upkeep, if you haven't cast an ally since your upkeep, sack ~" or, doing away with flash concerns, "at the end of your turn, if an ally didn't ETB this turn, sack ~"?

Crypto-Zoologist cares about one or more creatures with total power 3 or more. Because, uh, two squirrels is of no interest, but three squirrels is a phenomenon. It's neat that this ally takes Garruk's Packleader and lets you count your opponents' creatures too. That really doesn't combo with Amrou Kithkin, but pairing two abilities that care about power≥3 on a single rare is plenty cool. I would definitely just care about a single creature at a time, though.

Is this an ally? As much as Expedition Envoy is. I imagine an ally grade where Runeclaw Bear is 0, Envoy is 1, Cliffside Lookout is 2, Chasm Guide is 3, and Kazuul Warlord is 4. 1s support an ally deck by filling a slot the deck wants and triggering rallies, but don't support the team beyond merely being a playable ally.

Is this {G}{U} instead of {G}{W} for flavor? It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Amrou Kithkin would/could be blue today.

If I play a Crypto-Zoologist with a Tajuru Beastmaster out, do I get to draw a card next turn?

Another Ally-1, Druidic Seer has an off-color activated ability that emulates the way converge works when casting a spell. I'm curious how people feel about activated abilities with converge: It's less consistent, but makes perfect sense within the concept. I'm in favor, for now, though I'd probably save it for uncommon.

Seer's ability largely guarantees you'll scry 2, since you already have the {G}, and I have concerns with scry 2 or scry 3 that can happen every round (ala Crystal Ball)—but this does cost {3} and so you might only use it every 2 or 3 rounds as needed. That's actually a very cool Gu uncommon. In this case, the added complexity of converge isn't worthwhile: This could just be {2}{U}, {T}: Scry 2. (Or scry 3.)

Ally-2: Ecology Scribe is an ally that has an ability that doesn't name allies at all, but is of particular use to an ally deck by virtue of the way they're spread across so many colors. Note that there's a grey area between ally-1 and ally-2, since Druidic Seer's scry ability is also useful to an ally deck (but more applicable to any deck, since smoothing is always useful but not all decks have many colors of creatures—not that all ally decks do either).

If Scribe were mono-blue, I could see playing it in decks other than allies… does it need to be gold here?

How much stronger would this be if it aided all your creature spells instead of one per turn? I'm thinking not that much.

Great flavor text.

Ally-4? Scales are hard. Kazandu Harbinger is Limited playable even if your deck has no other allies, but its ability only matters if you do have other allies. This is a very strong enabler considering how well it passes the vanilla test. We could replace search with reveal-until-first-ally and it would still be a considerable ally. As is, comparable to Legacy-playable Goblin Matron (weaker obv, but comparable).

Ally-3: Kazandu Treesage is an ally, is playable on its own, but works best when you make more allies. If this could only trigger once, common would be fine, but since this could draw you many cards, I'd make it rare. This would definitely get ally fans frothing.

Ally-3: Luca, Wildseeker isn't strong on its own, and needs other allies to do some real damage. One Seek the Wilds is handy in a pinch. Many—particularly when each one enables the next—could let you stack your deck even while it draws you a hand full of gas.

Costing six will reduce their fervor, but players should be happy with the effect Luca has helping them close out games. Could we drop a keyword and a point of toughness or so to achieve a more impressive mana cost? Probably. Do we need to, to satisfy our primary audience? I'm not sure we do.

Ally-3: Murasa Pathfinder has the same rally ability except that it only gets land, but that's still a free card for every ally you play and at three mana could really help you keep pace where you might otherwise stumble. I'd definitely play this in any base-green Limited deck, all the more with allies. Too strong? Elder Pine of Jukai didn't break much.

Add ally to the typeline of Mwonvuli Beast Tracker, and you get an ally-1 who can search up a wide array of creatures for you to draw next, none of them allies. Kazandu Harbinger keeps it in the family, where this seems like it should combo but only after a bit of research do you learn it just doesn't.

A 1/2 for {G} used to be the biggest one mana could get you at common. Add scry 1 to that—or even better, several—and you've got a solid one-drop even today. Ally 3.

Setting a characteristic while in the library seems quite odd, but allows Nissa Revane to search up Nissa's Scout. That's interesting (for designers), as would be "While you're searching your library for a card named Nissa's Chosen, you may cast CARDNAME from your library" ala Panglacial Wurm. I suspect neither is worth their complexity (but yours is much closer).

At first glance, Passage Scout is a really bad Blinking Spirit; it can only blink on defense and it costs mana to do so. But the ally creature type gives that a great deal of meaning. Suddenly you can rally an extra time every round at any time for three mana. Ally players might consider that effect even on an inefficient creature, but bears are quite serviceable.

I'm a bit concerned that it can stall a game by blocking infinitely (regardless of there being other allies), but the {T} means that it can only do that every other round which I think is fair enough for an uncommon. Ally 3.

There's a neat resonance to Ryza's first ability, equating your dominion to superior clarity, but it seems like 98% of the time it'll boil down to Spellbook. I'd be tempted to suggest "Your maximum hand size is equal to the number of lands you control," but that only gets us to down 95% and also introduces a downside.

Ryza's landfall ability isn't as strong as "draw a card for each creature you control" because you'll often need some to attack or block (and could even do nothing when you need them all), but it's likely very good and potentially ridiculous, hence mythic. Being able to do it every turn might not be developable. Neat how the second ability makes me eat my words about the first.

Ally 1. Which is weird for a legendary ally.

It's notable that unlike Chasm Guide's redundant haste or Kor Bladewhirl's redundant first strike, Scriving Scout's Curiosity effect is cumulative. Apart from that potential confusion and the hard-to-balance stack of cards you might draw, this ally-3 looks attractive and interactive.

I think the word is 'scrivening.'

Sylvan Mapreader uses landfall to boost your allies, and borrows the basic-type matters concept from the Oran-Rief Hydra cycle. Ally-3? Not entirely sure where it fits in my scale since it doesn't conform to the pattern established by the rest of the set. Mapreader isn't doing anything BfZ can't do, but it is doing them in a way BfZ doesn't.

Oh. It took me a few re-reads to realize the forest bonus doesn't increase what your allies get, it gives that same bonus to the rest of your crew. It's neat that you can then play Mapreader to full effect in a mono-green deck without allies, but it's a problem how much this card contradicts player expectations created by the rest of the set.

Ally-3. Tajuru Naturalist gives you a chance to draw a card whenever you play an ally. This is a more developable space for ally card drawing, as seen in Zoologist. Yes, you can potentially chain quite a few draws when all your creatures are allies, but you can also miss every time. Nice tension.

Tajuru Strategist is the same as Naturalist, but only draws allies, bumping it up to Ally-4. It would seem this more conditional ability justifies better creature efficiency, but since it's exactly as strong in the all-allies deck, I'm not sure how true that is. I guess it depends on how efficient allies need a card like this to be versus how efficient any green deck anywhere needs Naturalist to be.

Ally-1. Tililil—that's an annoying name to say—is a very efficient green weenie with the unusual green evasion ability seen on Orchard Spirit. That's a great place for a legend. It also lets you draw cards up to twice per round (barring Rampant Growth effects). That's really strong. Stronger than they'd print on a legendary mythic? Probably.

But what really gets me—apart from how little this legendary ally cares about allies—is that she's better at drawing sorceries, instants and artifacts than lands. When green draws specific card types, it draws creatures or lands.

Vastwood Cartographer rallies for a card draw, but you also have to reduce your land count. Of course, that drawback will let you nail landfall until the end of time like Slab Hammer. Even so, it's significant. A {2}{G} 1/3 that draws you a single card would be comparable to Elvish Visionary, but returning a land on turn 3 is never a great idea, so while Cartographer might draw you several cards, it probably won't do so when it ETB, unless that's later in the game. The fact that it's not an automatic choice to draw helps make this ally-3 more feasible.

Note that templating for this effect is "You may return a land… If you do, draw a card" so that it's clear the two parts are related.

Cool to see a range of ally designs from least relevant to most parasitic, and how a card's strength and design quality are largely independent of that factor. I also found it fascinating how the scale I cobbled up doesn't apply in a cut-and-dried way across the board. That's a pretty good demonstration of how dimensional Magic is.

I wasn't surprised by the number of designs that draw cards, but I was shocked by the sheer number being drawn. I didn't expect so many green-blue designs; I guess the book reads as learning, though I'd point out that books can be about history or meditative philosophy as much as they can be about science or engineering.

Nice work, artisans.

Thanks to Pasteur for rendering the cards.


  1. I think you're right about my card. I think it should just cost 3. That way if you don't splash into another colour, it's scry 1. I think that makes it more fun, because as it is, since you're definitely going to have GU, it's basically only going to toggle from Scry 2 to 3 and in which case, you're right, it doesn't need converge at all. At least if it costs (3), it can range from Scry 1 to 3.

  2. Treesage was supposed to be a rare, I just forgot to annotate it.

  3. A couple of notes:

    * My mention of Mwonvuli Beast Tracker was meant to allude to this printing.

    * You criticise the legendary Allies here for not being very Ally-tribal, but I note that of the 4 legendary Allies in BFZ, only one is a 4 (Munda), and the rest are 2 (Drana) or 1 (Noyan Dar; not sure whether Zada is 1 or 2).

    1. Very true. I would argue that Noyan Dar does not do justice to her tribe.