Monday, August 29, 2016

Weekend Art Challenge Review 081916 - A Set In Four Cards

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Apologies for the delay. I forgot that asking for a Set in Four Cards is also asking for four times the reviews. Away we go!

This was the only non-four-card submission, so let's start with that. When looking at non-artifact colorless cards, they typically can be analyzed from two angles - either it has to be something an artifact should be able to do, or it has to be sufficiently weird to fall into Eldrazi-land. Rouse the Ruins falls into the first category, effectively sticking some very restrictive mana filtering onto an instant. It has some nice synergy with awaken as well.

My biggest sticking point is having the X 1 cost. It just looks terrible. If this were a colored card (Green doesn't really fit the art) or the cost was just X I think I would be a lot more ok with this. Being able to cast this for 0 isn't really great, as it either requires a land sacrifice or an existing animated land.


Many tiny worlds float over-head. I'm not sure if mine is small or large among the Flow, but it supported the village since before I was borne. No longer. We've hunted the dara to the last, and are forced to end our isolation in search of more game than we can skyfish.

The red world we've been calling Brike will be within hooking range for less than an hour. We can see their beasts, and though they are strange and terrible, a few will feed our people for a week or more, if they don't kill us.

May the currents guide our arrows.

The main purpose of this exercise is to tell me as much as possible about your world -- its flavor, its mechanics, its story, and its hooks -- as you can from the cards themselves. Archipelago's description hints at color-based factions, but Lunar Enigma, while a cool card, doesn't really tell me anything new about the plane or sell that color-faction concept. Caring about card types could be a mechanical hook for the Blue faction, but I can't be sure.

Landflow is a ramped up version of Landfall, caring about lands whether they're coming or going. This tells me that lands are going to be sacrificed, blinked, or bounced with some frequency in the set, which is a dangerous mechanical space to play in. 2000's Prophesy is considered among the worst-designed sets of all time, and a good part of that is the way that it incentivised interfering with your natural ramping up of mana sources over the course of the game. Blinking lands is the least problematic way of doing this.

Another colorless spell. This makes me question whether the factions are color-based, or if there's an Eldrazi-like divide between colorless and color factions. Imprison in the Moon makes me wonder whether moon tokens should be making colorless mana instead of letting you choose, but gameplay will probably trump consistency here. This is another way to make landflow work a little better without creating un-fun play environments.

The flavor helps explain these otherwise-disparate effects appearing on the same card. A good card for the environment so far, but it doesn't tell me much about the world other than what I already know. Magic moved away from [Mechanic]-Matters as central design with the original Ravnica. Zendikar, for example, started its design as a land-centric design, but the Adventure World flavor gave it a number of land-agnostic mechanics like the allies, the traps, and quests. What other mechanics can be added to this world to show me more than this single facet?


Haves, and have nots. That's all there is to it. If you want to live inside the walls of Kyopolis with the scum who blighted the Great Forest and polluted the skies, be my guest. See if you can sleep with the great factories churning away through the night. I'll keep to the outer realms, where we wait for the promised hero. She will come, and when she walls will be high enough to stop us.

I'm not sure how I feel about Spellshapers sacrificing a permanent instead of discarding a card. You lose the flavor of them, well, shaping a spell into their signature spell, but it creates a different gameplay dynamic. It could be a recurring mechanic while losing the creature type. The flavor text here also hints at a lot of potential mechanical space, particular in regards to that Golem in the background of the picture.

Scavenging seems to be a recurring theme developing here, pitching resources and recycling them in some way from the graveyard. Those can always make for fun sets.

Taking control of your opponent's land without some sort of permanent marker, like an enchantment, is not something I like to see all that often. The odds of it getting shuffled in with your own lands at the end of the game are much higher, since the land pile is thought about a lot more passively during gameplay and cleanup than the rest of the battlefield.

Colored artifacts suggest all sorts of thing about this plane, which is an excellent way of telling me a lot simply by type and mana cost. The grind keyword is cool, and I'm always a fan of non P/T counters, but it reads problematic in a setting where artifacts are permitted to be colored. Grind is an A/B mechanic, where it requires a certain volume of colorless cards or else its just trinket text. That deckbuilding tension can be fun sometimes, but when your secondary source of colorless grist after lands (artifacts) may actually not be colorless, you're sending very mixed messages. Since I haven't seen anything in the description or other cards that indicates that the flavor of the world needs the artifact creatures to have color costs, either turn this into a regular non-artifact creature or drop the color.

Yay Llurgoyfs! Boo *+1 stats. Sometimes homages to Magic's past are worth a little extra text, but not this guy. Interestingly, Llurgoyf's have traditionally cared about things being in a graveyard, which appears to be a major theme for Qarka, and yet Exavore only cares about charge counters on the battlefield. If the only way to get charge counters is through Grind, then it kind of makes sense, but maybe simply have it care about colorless cards in all graveyards? Finally, the blurb at the beginning tells me that factories are important, and I can see that in some of the cards here. But the promise of a heroic figure of destiny? That would have been cool to hint at through one of the card slots. Still, an interesting plane I want to see a little more of.

Morphtopia [No Plane Name Submitted]

Excellent subversion of the focus of the art. A few critiques here. First, it's straight-up creature removal for White, which is a pretty serious color pie bend without great justification. Second, the art prominently features a werewolf, which, with a few archaic exceptions, are all cards that are incapable of being turned face down (from the battlefield anyway), so I'm leery about a world that features both morph and werewolves without some intermediary set that tells us werewolves can be something other than DFCs. Take away the art and colorshift it to Black and I'm on board.

As was pointed out in the comments this week, Tarkir very intentionally made sure that common morph cards couldn't unmorph and flat-out win a fight against a 2/2 for less than five mana's worth of morph cost. Six life is a high cost to pay, but a surprise 6/7 on turn 4 should probably be at Uncommon, if not rare. 

These are definitely cool cards to see in a set with Morph as a prominent theme, but they don't tell me any more about the plane's flavor or mechanics than either of the earlier two cards.

Golemsville [No Plane Name Submitted]

Based loosely on eastern europe, a combination of jewish tradtions and soviet-style industrialisation and larger-than-life architecture and statuary.

That is a cool way to build tribal bonuses. It oozes flavor, and hints at vertical and/or horizontal cycles. My biggest concern is balancing issues if the Golems' boosts come from Enchantments, which 40% of the colors have a notoriously difficult time dealing with. This could easily be a white enchantment, especially with that name.

That reminder text might need to include a "from your hand" rider to prevent some degenerate stuff going on. It's a fun delve-like space to play in.

That's a difficult ability word to parse. Also, Industry should probably require the creature itself to be tapped, or else you could just activate this for X=1 as many times as you have creatures and end up with a lot of lands on the battlefield. I wonder if Industry wouldn't be better if it called out a specific number of creatures, rather than allow it to be variable. That way the scale of the effect can better balance with that effect's power independent of how fast you can churn out proletariat to fuel it.

That is at the wrong CMC and rarity, but power concerns aside, I want to see a stronger connection between the name of the ability word and the condition required to turn it on. Cards have always represented knowledge, but if the flavor of this ability is meant to inform me about the plane in general, I think that an ability called learned can be a little tighter on flavor.

The one more thing I wanted to see from the description was larger than life architecture. That sounds like it could be a novel and cool mechanical hook beyond the flavor inspiration, and I'd love to see how it translates onto a card.


There were vast cities here, once. Long ago, this plane was a sprawling cityscape, filled with complex technological innovations. Then the Reckoning came. Nature reclaimed its belongings, by storm, fire, or ice. The few remaining survivors rely on there wits alone to get themselves out of dangerous situations.

The design called for this art, although I think that the Art 4 would probably better fit. 

An ability word that triggers off of sacrificing a land is a rough place to start. As I mentioned above, we don't really want players sacrificing (or destroying) lands in bulk. It just makes for unfun games where no one gets to do much. That Cataclysmic is an ability word indicates that land loss is going to occur at some too-high frequency.

Conditional hexproof is great design space to mine, but I don't think that keyword abilities should be nested this way, or that this should be an ability appearing often enough to even keyword at all. The post-apocalyptic setting described is evocative, and a keyword called survivor belongs in the set. It just needs to be a different ability.

The card to help trigger Cataclysm. Could it (cataclysm, not this reprint) care about non-creature permanents rather than lands specifically?

More synergy with Cataclysm, but there will need to be a lot of these kinds of cards to offset the lost game momentum from regular land sacrifices.

Plane Name Goes Here [No Plane Name Submitted]

Masochism is a different take on Rakdos, Lord of Riots' mana reducing ability. Some great flavor, and a great commander. As a keyword, Masochism probably shouldn't show up on a lot of instants, as we don't want to disincentivize attacking your opponent when they don't have blockers, but if it appears on enough other spells to warrant keyword status, it skews the mechanics of the world towards trading life for other resources (and probably vice-versa) at a relatively high volume.

I like the Flametongue Kavu damage rider as a non-optional for this card, but it probably shouldn't be.

Hooray for Dwarves, but Blue? Off the top of my head the last and only time they were Blue was Homelands, which isn't the set you want to cite to for precedent. Salvage is great, but it's another mechanic that requires a lot of support/outlets in a set. How much room for overlap is there between salvage and Masochism?

That's a fun little design, with another new keyword. Unlike Masochism and Salvage, shapeshift doesn't require a lot of support outside of the card it appears on. But it's not the kind of ability I want to see in a set more frequently than on a cycle of rares, which is what this card implies. It can be spelled out without losing anything. What I'm seeing so far is a lot of fun splashy cards, but very little in the way of a coherent set identity. Dropping shapeshift as a keyword opens up keyword space that has some amount of synergy with the other mechanics in the set.

Undying/Persist for P/T agnostic counters. Good stuff, but it again suggests mechanics surrounding it completely unrelated to anything we've really seen so far. Four cards in, and I really have no idea what this set is about. It's good to diversify themes to give me a better picture of the mechanics and flavor of your plane, but I'm left guessing based on the four cards I saw. 

Search for Bolas

Our Planeswalker heroes are on a search to find and confront Nicol Bolas on four Planes he's visited: Kamigawa (URBG), Takir (WRGB), The Meditation Realm (WUBR) and Alara (WURG). The set features cards from multiple planes ala Magic Origins.

I've seen not-mana come up in a lot of designs, and I've never really been a fan. I get the appeal of four color cards and the challenges in crafting an identity for them, but anti-mana just always strikes me as gimicky without much inherent fun. Playtesting could prove me wrong. I would like Bolas' reflection to have a little more body to go with that effect, probably at a higher rarity. It is a nice matchup for the art.

The return to Alara in this set is listed above as excluding Black, but that might have been a typo. Featuring Grixis and Unearth means it probably excluded White or Green. This is a nice callback to a few different Alara cards and concepts and an elegant design. I do wish we could see something new about how Unearth plays in SfB differently from Alara. I might be wrong about this, but I think I recall Maro saying the cycle of gold/hybrid cards from Alara Reborn wasn't particularly well-received, and the mashup is unlikely to happen again. 

Great design, and in BR would have fit right in nicely in Dragons of Tarkir. When juggling a number of return planes like this, it might be worthwhile to not use up the set's allocation of keywords on an ability word that could be spelled out for the callback on one or two cards, and making a new mechanic or space to play in for the keyword.

For Kamigawa's revisit, we get a Jade Idol analogue with a twist. Another solid design, and kudos to designing to four arts instead of one. That said, four worlds in one set is a) a lot of worlds, even if they're mostly revisits, especially as none of the listed worlds has particular synergy with another, and b) awkward because Magic tends to do these kinds of things in multiples of 5. A search for Bolas is a compelling concept (although, let's be honest, Bolas finds you, not the other way around), but you need a unifying hook to justify the multiple planes beyond just revisiting the places we know he's been.


The world of Tlön features five distinct factions in a world pulled from the existential fantasy of Borges and the Argentine tradition.

Hello Damnation on a stick. This is great. I wasn't convinced about Harden initially, but I honestly want to see it in action. It's useful as a countermeasure to removal and as temporary removal itself, which is very interesting.

This is an interesting card, but probably not the best choice to introduce the concept of Strike to us. What does this show us about the set that, say, a shock with bonus damage doesn't? If you want to show off a more complex card, use it to show us more about the mechanics or flavor of the set.

Blue is not a color commonly associated with Druids, and Druids as a tribe are primarily concerned with boosting mana, which makes the name and creature type a distraction. Its purpose may be to sell flavor, but Wizard could be flavored the same way without losing much. This is a remarkably deep card and fully printable at common, so no critique over the card itself, just the concepting.

I'm getting hung up on creature types here when it's clear they're being used to push flavor, but sometimes that's just how my mind works. Nomad hasn't appeared on a creature in a decade, so for all intents and purposes, it's retired. If it's going to be brought back, it should have some mechanical relevance, and that's what I would like to really see here. The exile as one-time effect is a cool way to handle that, although in this particular instance it's pushing against color pie. White doesn't typically return things from GY to library, and only on occasion does it for small creatures into hand or battlefield. It is somewhat unexplored space, and it could be hinting at a top-card matters kind of element to the set, so context might make the bend a little more palatable.

Overall I'd like to see a little more focus on the mechanical interplay of the set, and less on the novel exploration of creature types.


Muraganda, the prehistoric plane. A plane full of dinosaurs and caveman. Savagery and survival are the only ways of life for Muragandas inhabitants. The mana is raw and plentiful for those planeswalkers that come here. If they survive more than five minutes that is.

Riffing off of Muraganda Petroglyphs (one of my favorite cards, incidentally), Prehistoric creatures boost their vanilla brethren when activated. The wording has to be precise here or else we end up in layersville, and may require some parsing gymnastics (G: you may have CARDNAME and creatures you control with no abilities assign damage as though they had trample this turn) but it is a good step into developing the plane Future-Seen way back when.

Not going to deny that the flavor and design are solid, and this is definitely a card I would want to see when we go to Muraganda. However, both the fact that we're on Muraganada and the Prehistoric ability word already told me that we're going to be seeing some vanilla creatures here. The only new thing this tells me is that Narset will be present. How else could you use this slot to give me more information about the plane? Morph is an obvious choice for Muraganda, but maybe a Morph alternative that makes face-down cards in a novel way?

More Dinosaurs! Keywording the Sengir Vampire ability has proven problematic, as it so rarely triggers. I suspect that Alpha Rex in practice is going to be treated as though it's mostly unblockable. An alternative to Predator was floated rewarding counters for merely doing combat damage and not caring about the rest of it. Renown is in the set currently (see next card), and that competes for space with it. It also requires a lot more balancing, as the trigger condition is almost always going to happen. Another alternative - could a creature care about whether something died at the end of combat, regardless of whose creature it was or whether it engaged with the predator? Predator (At the end of combat, if this creature attacked and a creature died during this combat phase, counter). A little more finicky, and not so NWO-friendly, but a kind of happy middle ground.

This guy rocks. Are barbarians the default soldier/warrior class in Muraganda? This probably needs to be an uncommon, since if I don't have an early answer he can pretty much lock down the game for you.

Arcadia [Unnamed Plane]

This unnamed plane adapts a lot of video game concepts into Magic-ese, which an interesting conceit. Respawning is a video game staple, although I'm not sure how well the mechanic will translate in gameplay. If it's showing up frequently enough to be keyworded, I could see this leading to a lot of stalemates and repetitive games. I kind of want to see it work similarly to Epochrasite. Maybe even require a mana payment each turn to remove the time counter, so it's not an inevitable respawn, but requires a lot of investment of time and mana to bring back.

Level counters are a perfect mechanic for video game world (as would be experience counters for players). switching to a triggered level up instead of activated is great. I might want to limit it to triggering once per turn at the end of your turn, so he can't grind out the levels too fast.

Another great video game flavor card. Of course Blue is going to use programming errors to game the system. Glitch reads like a better version of Splice onto Arcane, and is a distant cousin of Cipher. The glitch cost may need to be higher or else shenanigans, depending on the card and the effect. 

Not as clean a digital-to-card game translation as the other cards, but still an interesting card in its own right. Equipment subthemes would make sense here, and this sells that.

My big note overall here is that it appears that there are two different types of games being pushed here. The Swordsman and Walk through walls invoke more of a FPS type of vibe, while the Griefer and Arms Merchant make me think more of a RPG. Maybe the game world is a hybrid between the two? They do push in slightly different design directions.


This was a really hard challenge, and you all really stepped up. Designing one card can be tricky, but making four that are each simultaneously solid designs and also representative of a hypothetical set is a lot to ask. It's the kind of thing I fully expect to see in GDS3, and each of you showed me cards, mechanics, and a world that makes me want to see more. Excellent job all around. 

As a follow up exercise, pick a set currently in Standard, and tell me in the comments which four cards from that set collectively tell me the most about the set.


  1. It's not in standard, but your comments got me thinking about Alara. Here's my best pick for A Set in Four Shards:

    Viscera Dragger
    Sphinx's Herald
    Rafiq of the Many
    Caldera Hellion

    We get to display Cycling, Unearth, Exalted, Devour, Colored Artifacts, and allied shards. While it doesn't look like there's much mechanical synergy (since we're representing as diverse a spread of the plane as possible), it's kind of neat that, say, an Akrasan Squire could be really useful to three of the cards.

  2. I actually wanted to figure out a way for Grind to be MORE of an A->B mechanic to prevent a constructed deck with all Grind-based artifacts and lands guaranteeing that every Grind hits, and stumbled on colored artifacts as what I thought was an elegant solution to a big perceived problem with the mechanic!

    My attempt at the challenge for Shadows over Innistrad:

    -Kindly Stranger/Demon-Posessed Witch (introduces Delerium and DFCs, showcases horror/corruption element)
    -Veteran Cathar (introduces GW humans as the good guys and a "let's all work together" archetype)
    -Ongoing Investigation (furthers the graveyard matters theme, introduces the mystery/suspicion theme and Clues and points to blue and green as the prime Clue colors)
    - Olivia, Mobilized for War (introduces red black Vampires and a discard theme supporting the graveyard theme)

    Other cards I considered: Archangel Avacyn/Avacyn the Purifier, Autumnal Gloom/Ancient of the Equinox, Triskaidekaphobia, Pieces of the Puzzle

  3. For Eldritch Moon:

    Bruna, the Fading Light
    Lashweed Lurker
    Collective Brutality
    Soul Separator

    Bruna: Is a storyline character. Has meld. Is Human tribal. References Emrakul in flavor text (which removes the need for actual Emrakul).

    Lashweed Lurker: Has Emerge which is a primarily GU mechanic. Is moar Eldrazi.

    Collective Brutality: Has escalate. Discard cost hints at Madness. Artwork has Liliana on it.

    Soul Separator: References Zombie tribe and Spirit tribe. Is an inelegant, top-down design with altogether too much rules text that doesn't have anything to do with the story.

  4. Thanks for running this XXXL challenge, Zefferal. I didn't put nearly enough thought into my entry. 4 cards is more than 4x the work. Thanks for the follow-up challenge—it's clear we need to exercise our understanding of a-set-in-4-cards.

    Thassa, God of the Sea
    Elspeth, Sun's Champion
    Anax and Cymede
    Polukranos, World Eater

    I cheated and used a Gatherer search set to community rating, but I think this is an excellent representation: Gods, Heroes & Monsters; Enchantments, Chroma, Monstrosity, Heroic; Important or representative story characters; cards guaranteed to excite and compel.

    1. Originally had Gray Merchant of Asphodel in there as a common, but its Devotion lost out to the god's. The heroic card could have been Fabled Hero but that was too similar thematically to Elspeth.