Thursday, July 14, 2011

CCDD 071411—Polyneuma Hydra

Cool Card Design of the Day
7/14/2011 - While I was confident when I started Hydra week that there were aspects of the Hydra that hadn't been represented in card form yet, I must say I've been pleasantly surprised how many very cool such aspects there are left to mine. Today we cover the Hydra whose heads each breathe a different deadly substance. You know, fire, acid, lightning, frost, poison, etc. Oh, and you get to watch me stumble a lot before I find something really decent.

This feels like a task that needs differentiation via other colors. As much as I like the idea of off-color activations for x-breathing effects, this execution falls flat. Turns out, it's really hard to find breath-weapons for all the colors, particularly when you set it up so that each breath weapon should be useable more than once per combat (hence the somewhat akward 'or' in the black ability).

I made another version with the same colors and effects, but was able to increase legibility (at the cost of readability, oddly enough) and offer an interesting discount to activating multiple heads/breaths at once. In addition to looking unfun to read, it still has all the same quirky issues as the first rendition, so let's try a different direction.

Each head breathes a deadly something, but they all require different mana (because each type of breath is "so" different) and can only be used once per turn. I don't love that it looks mono-green but acts more like a red Domain card. That last phrase is also too clever for its own good. Needs more differenter.

It's kind of like Polyneuma Hydra is casting various spells in the form of breath weapons, but even with a dramatic reduction in cost, you're still the one casting the spell so it doesn't feel very resonant. One last iteration...

This could have been "Whenever ~ attacks, reveal cards from the top your library until you reveal an instant or sorcery and cast it for free,"
which would feel even more like the hydra is breathing whatever it likes. I decided to give you more control than that cascade-like effect because I think it's close enough in flavor, awesome in function and more fun to play.

Sometimes a top-down design comes out perfect the first time, and sometimes you've got to suss it out by repeatedly trying things and throwing away what doesn't work (kind of like Erik Lauer's #ERCCD today). This guy took more work than normal and I'm sure you'll have critiques and suggestions that refine him even more, but it's all worth it when you get to mime breathing fire, lightning and who-knows-what from your mouth and hands at your hapless opponent.


  1. I think I like the first design best - the later ones don't seem very green. Instead of planning for players to activate each of the Hydra's abilities multiple times, what if you make them abilities more likely to be activated just once?

    3W: +0/+5 until end of turn.
    3U: Tap all creatures blocking or blocked by Polypneuma Hydra. They don't untap during their controller's next untap step.
    3B: Polypneuma Hydra gains lifelink and deathtouch until end of turn.
    3R: +5/+0 until end of turn.

    Obviously the activation costs could be tweaked; 2CC, 4C, and 3CC are all reasonable alternatives.

  2. I also really like the first. I think you can easily fine 4 firebreathing effects if you differrnciate the costs.

    R: +1/+0
    1W: Prevent 2 damage
    2U: Tap target creature.
    3B: Target player discards a card.

    Cleaner templating for card number 2:

    X:~ gets +1/+0 for each differently colored mana spent on this ability. Activate this ability only once each turn.

    Both feel a little to much like abilities for dragons though.

  3. Trample
    ?W: ~ gains lifelink until end of turn.
    ?U: Tap target creature defending player controls. Activate this ability only if ~ is attacking.
    ?B: ~ gains deathtouch until end of turn.
    ?R: ~ gets +N/+0 until end of turn.

    I like this collection of effects because they actually feel like "breath attacks" to me.

  4. I think the reason people seem to like the first version most is that the various deadly breath weapons all retained their own feel and are flavorful. The second card reduces them to damage based effects which is a lot less resonant. The third and fourth cards go back to a focus on the differences in the breath weapons, but its charm is lost when suddenly the Hydra could be breathing out Cruel Ultimatums and Time Warps. Blarg!

    I tinkered with a version with 4-5 different breath abilities, but nothing too different from what’s already been put in the comments already. And then I struck upon the idea of making the concept into a cycle of Auras, similar to the Dragon Auras in Scourge. Bear with me on this.

    Brightbreath Hydra Head (Common)
    Enchantment – Aura
    Enchant creature
    Enchant creature
    Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has “Whenever this creature attacks, tap target creature with power 2 or less.”

    Icebreath Hydra Head (Common)
    Enchantment – Aura
    Enchant creature
    Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has “Whenever this creature deals combat damage to a creature, tap that creature and it doesn’t untap during its controller’s next untap step.”

    Poxbreath Hydra Head (Common)
    Enchantment – Aura
    Enchant creature
    Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has “Whenever this creature deals combat damage to a player, he or she discards a card.”

    Flamebreath Hydra Head (Common)
    Enchantment – Aura
    Enchant creature
    Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has “R: This creature deals 1 damage to target creature blocking it.”

    Acidbreath Hydra Head (Common)
    Enchantment – Aura
    Enchant creature
    Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has “Whenever this creature deals combat damage to a player, you may destroy target artifact or enchantment that player controls.”

    Rather than 2-for-1 protection (like Rancor) or recursion (like the Dragon Auras) these give +1/+1 (like the creature has grown another head.) They're also really cheap, so the investment is low. I’d love to see art for these with five iconic creaturetypes each having a long necked X-breath snake head coming out of their shoulder. A goblin with an extra firebreathing snake head? Sounds cool. Some people my think the names are too obnoxious, but I figure they can be longer and carry more of the flavor load since they aren’t referenced in the card text too.

    Finally, (and this ties in to the recent hexproof conversation that’s been going on,) the same set that had these five Auras could also have a common Hydra version of Deadly Insects for limited.

    Hunting Hydra (Common)
    Creature – Hydra
    Hexproof (Reminder text.)

  5. Breathy Hydra (rare)
    When ~ ETB, search your library for a card named Brightbreath Hydra Head, a card named Icebreath Hydra Head, a card named Poxbreath Hydra Head, a card named Flamebreath Hydra Head and/or a card named Acidbreath Hydra Head. Attach each of them to ~.

    Or perhaps it should grow heads progressively:

    Breathy Hydra (rare)
    2G: Search your library for a card named Brightbreath Hydra Head, Icebreath Hydra Head, Poxbreath Hydra Head, Flamebreath Hydra Head or Acidbreath Hydra Head and attach it to ~.

    If Wizards (and more than a few players) didn't hate Tribal, it could just be "Search for a Hydra Aura."

  6. New enchantment subtype: Head! :P

  7. What would be nice is if there were a cleaner short hand for "use this ability only while attacking". It'd especially be great for green to have utility creatures That still encourages combat. Maybe a symbol that could go along side an abilities costs, like the claw marks used on Future Sight creatures.

  8. Nich - those look like good auras to Incarnate! Interesting both as 1/1 creatures and as buffs to an existing creature. A hydra head also seems like something that could live on its own.

  9. I like Tribal for the Auras. From a story concept, there could be an entire discipline of Magic (like dementia casting in Odyssey block) which would explain why there are so many spells of this type being flung around. It even explains why humanoid casters are using Tribal Aura’s as their spells. The Head subtype would be a good workaround if “Tribal Enchantment – Hydra Aura” is unfeasible. But this obviously would extend beyond just Hydra Auras and become Creature Type Auras of all kinds, so Head isn't ideal.

    And Incarnate works incredibly well with that concept. Good eye, Jonathan! All these spirit animals (for lack of a better term) can boost the Shaman or be summoned into being in full. I like it! What’s the exact Incarnate reminder text and did it end up being allowable at Common as well as Uncommon and Rare? I’d imagine the Hydra Heads would all have Incarnate 1C. So they’re slightly below curve as free standing creatures, but still playable.

  10. I think you could do a thematic "breath" weapon for each color.

    Blue - Negative modifiers to non-fliers (-1/-1 counters might be good too) to represent water

    Red - +1/0 damage adds

    Black - Deathtouch

    White - I'd actually prefer to see tapping here, as it feels more "white" to me especially with the new Gideon helpers

    Green - Targeted artifact destruction perhaps?

  11. Nich - don't forget "Tribal Enchantment - Eldrazi Aura". It's been done before, it could be done again.