Tuesday, October 11, 2011

M13 Cycles (2) — Sunblessed Tactician

Metaghost added Sunblessed Tactician to the card file pretty early on as less consistent alternative to Blinding Mage. It originally triggered on white spells, but Wobbles suggested triggering on plains to match the caring-about-land-type theme Lair had already introduced. It's been a bit of a favorite ever since, with the only complaint being that its ability is purely offensive in nature, since you normally can't activate on your opponent's turn.

Nich (or was it Wobbles initially) added a card with a similar trigger in the Blood Seeker slot for black which has settled into Bogcurse Schemer. These two cards are the start of the other soon-to-be cycle that you may have seen some of the designers talking about. Let's talk about it now.

Landfall was a great mechanic because it was simple and versatile while adding significant value to playing lands late in the game, often negating the feel-bad moment of drawing a land when you needed action. This is obviously a twist on that, caring only about a specific type of land. Why?

It actually serves several purposes in M13. Not only does it fit the existing land-types matter theme brought on by Lair (and thus require even less mental space than it would otherwise), but it helps offset the inclination that some players will have (because of Lair) to play more colors by rewarding you for concentrating more on one color. If I want to maximize by Bogcurse Schemers, I'm going to run as many swamps as possible, rather than splash a couple mountains and islands willy-nilly for the one Spitting Asp and Vaportrail Imp I happened to draft.

The rest of these are brand new and haven't been run by anyone else yet. I'm fairly confident they're not terrible, but I'd be surprised if you all couldn't come up with something that trumps a couple of the pentad. So folks, check these out and tell me what you think. Then submit a few of your own. We'll use the best submissions that fit the set.


  1. The second line on Taunting Minotaur more or less does nothing, since you can't productively use it on your opponent's creature (barring fetchlands), and if you didn't want your creature to attack, you may as well just not give it haste.

  2. Haha, yeah. We could make it "attack next turn if able" or something but I was clearly just getting greedy. Let's go the other direction and remove the entire last sentence.
    Simplicity is something something.

  3. 3G - Whenever a forest enters the battlefield under your control, you may reveal a land card from your hand. If you do, you may put it into play.
    OR just
    3G - Whenever a forest enters the battlefield under your control, you may play an additional land this turn.

    I would recommend a Spire Smolderer in red, but it would be effectively identical to Sunblessed Tactician. Maybe just "Mountain ETB under your control, add R to your pool"? (Cyclops Rockspeaker?)

    In all honesty, though, I really think this might be best served as another B/W mirror rather than a five-card cycle.

  4. Did you intend for the forest ability to let you dump all the forests in your hand at once?

    Yeah, the first thing I tried in red was "target creature can't block" but that's almost identical to white's tap effect.

    Why do you say this might be better as a two-color mirror than a five-color cycle? Rewarding specific mono-land drops seems relevant across colors.

  5. The green one is way too powerful. Lotus cobra was a mythic, that is one less mana, for only forests. Really strong.

    T1 that. T2, another one, forest, 2 mana, rampant growth? two more mana, rampant growth, 2 more, etc...

  6. The Red one could be a pinger that deals 1 damage to a creature or player every time a Mountain enters play under your control.

  7. @Jay At four mana, playing only forests, is it too much to play the rest of the forests in your hand? (Maybe? I don't know. Don't know how many decks could really take advantage of it.) The downside here is that it doesn't make "I drew a land super late in the game" suck less the way other landfall might. Also probably not common.

    @Chah Is that too strong? Tim is uncommon these days, right? Sadly, going the Cosi's Ravager route gives you... Bogcurse Schemer.

    @Jay I don't know that we will find suitable abilities in all five colors, or that we want these in common in all five colors. Or that we want what is arguably/effectively five creature cycles at common? (vanilla/vanilla/terrain/terrain/Sunblessed?)

    Firebreathing already seems to somewhat fill this niche for red, with Spitting Earth, Earth Servant, or Koth's Ritual-style effects as other available options that help you want more mountains but don't fit the Sunblessed scheme.

  8. Is this cycle still aimed at Common?

    Regardless, I wonder whether Sunblessed Tactician shouldn't "freeze-tap", considering the diminished defensive capability of the landfall-trigger makes it an inappropriate substitute for Blinding Mage.

  9. Also! Landfall Looter is a BAD idea, a surefire design for winning a face stomp from your favorite players, as forcing them to use their lands to loot means that they then have to discard NONLANDS.

    The horrrrrror!

  10. I was wondering when someone was going to take a swing at these. I'm not a really big fan of looting or mana acceleration at common. I think the abilities should be creature focused mostly.

    Sunblessed Tactician (C)
    Creature-Human Soldier
    Whenever a Plains enters the battlefield under your control, you may tap target creature.

    Cloudkissed Dreamer (C)
    Creature-Merfolk Wizard
    Whenever an Island enters the battlefield under your control, you may have target creature gain flying until end of turn.

    Bogcurse Schemer (C)
    Creature-Vampire Rogue
    Whenever a Swamp enters the battlefield under your control, you may have target opponent lose 1 life.

    Smokeytop Tracer (C)
    Creature-Goblin Shaman
    Whenever a Mountain enters the battlefield under your control, you may have Smokeytop Tracer deal 1 damage to target creature.

    Copseheart Ranger (C)
    Creature-Elf Warrior
    Whenever a Forest enters the battlefield under your control, you may have target creature get +1/+1 until end of turn.

    I changed the Black one a tiny bit from Human to Vampire, so now they're all different iconic races and representative classes to help sell the color pie for new players. Of course, it should go without saying that the power toughness and mana costs could all be tweaked.

  11. Moonchase Giant 3R
    Creature - Giant Nomad
    Whenever a Mountain ETB under your control, you may switch target creature's power and toughness until end of turn.

    Not sure I've got the numbers just right, but I'm warming to the idea.

  12. Curious to see how the cycle could look at uncommon too. Maybe:

    2W 2/2 Plains = Tap target creature and it doesn't untap next turn.

    2U 1/3 Island = Return target non-land permanent to its owner's hand unless he or she pays 1.

    3B 2/3 Swamp = Target player loses 1 life and you gain 1 life.

    3R 2/2 Mountain = ~ deals 1 damage to target creature.

    3G 3/3 Forest = Target creature gets +1/+1 and gains trample until EOT.

  13. I think that's pretty close to ideal, Jay. Development would certainly want to massage things, but the concepts all strike me as appropriate at a glance.

    Red and Blue appear to be the most in need of some assistance, as the tax rider on the blue effect is an annoying appendage for the sake of balance, and the pinger suffers from a similar lack of utility that the OG Sunblessed Tactician had when compared against legit tappers.

  14. If it's uncommon and you're sure you want pinging, I think the red might be better served with

    3R 2/2 Mountain = ~ deals 1 damage to each creature without flying.

    Call it "something something Rumbler" or something like that.

  15. Jay, the Uncommon versions look really appropriate for Uncommon. Maybe the Red pinger could be "deal 1 damage to target creature and target player" to make up for the fact that it only pings once in a while.

    The blue one could be "tap or untap target creature" or tapdown. The white one could be 3W 1/3 with "creatures you control get +1/+1 until end of turn."

  16. I'd give red "target creature can't block this turn", which has far more utility when it doesn't require tapping.

    The blue taxation rider sucks. Make it scry 1?

  17. How about you use the abilities on some of the Zendikar lands?

    from Kabira Crossroads: whenever a plains comes into play you gain 2 life
    from Piranha Marsh: whenever a swamp comes into play target player loses 1 life
    from Soaring Seacliff: whenever a island comes into play target creature gets flying till end of turn
    from Teetering Peaks: whenever a mountain comes into play target creature gets +2/+0 till end of turn
    from Turntimber Grove: whenever a forest comes into play target creature gets +1/+1 till end of turn

    or the Worldwake lands:
    from Sejiri Steppe: whenever a plains comes into play target creature gets protection from the color of your choice till end of turn
    from Bojuka Bog: whenever a swamp comes into play exile all cards from target players graveyard
    from Halimar Depths: whenever a island comes into play look at the top three cards of your library and put them back in any order
    from Smoldering Spires: whenever a mountain comes into play target creature can't block this turn.
    from Khalni Garden: whenever a forest comes into play put a 0/1 plant into play

  18. I like the poetry, Axxle, of giving your lands ETB abilities like those that have come before, though it may seem strange for those to come from a creature ultimately. Not sure whether the nostalgia of the call-back would outweigh what others would describe as repetition, particularly since it was so recent.

    I like the tiny earthquake idea for the red guy, but I like the can't-block idea too. It seems strictly worse than the blue twiddle / frost ability though.

    Playing with some of the proposed ideas, I realize maybe this cycle should explicitly promote attacking.

    W 1/1 Plains = Creatures you control get +1/+1 until EOT.

    2U 2/2 Island = Target creature is unblockable this turn.

    1B 2/1 Swamp = Target creature gains intimidate until EOT.

    3R 3/2 Mountain = Target creature can't block this turn.

    4G 3/3 Forest = Target creature gets +2/+2 and gains trample until EOT.

    That feels eerily similar to the Chasm Drake cycle... Sigh. Okay forget the all-attacky directive.

    2W 2/2 Plains = Creatures you control get +1/+1 until EOT.

    1U 1/1 Island = Tap or untap target creature or artifact.

    B 1/1 Swamp = Target player loses 1 life and you gain 1 life.

    3R 2/2 Mountain = ~ deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

    4G 4/4 Forest = Creatures you control are hexproof until end of turn.

  19. Jay, you should avoid effects that don't interact with multiple land drops (i.e. hexproof, Bojuka Boggin'), because even though you aren't necessarily including Terramorphic Expanse into the set, I think it's important that you let players fantasize about "going big".

  20. I agree that we should bump this cycle to uncommon. And if we're looking for a new common cycle to replace it, I suggest the following. (I also posted this in the Chasm Drake post, but realized no one might see it.)

    Razorfoot Griffin 3W (C) Creature-Griffin 2/2 Flying First strike (Reminder text.)

    Aven Fleetwing 3U (C) Creature-Bird Soldier 2/2 Flying Hexproof (Reminder text.)

    Bloodsucker Harrier 3B (C) Creature-Vampire 2/2 Flying Lifelink (Reminder text.)

    Glider-Clan Scrambler 3R (C) Creature-Goblin Warrior 2/2 Flying Haste (Reminder text.)

    Wasp Drone 3G (C) Creature-Insect Drone 2/2 Flying Deathtouch (Reminder Text.)

  21. Nich, that cycle seems like it sacrifices balance and color-pie-sanctity for elegance. It's neat, and I could see it in a set somewhere.

    It does put a lot of other commons in a weird place and doesn't feel very connected despite the similarities. I don't want to harp on about how Hexproof being an iconic mechanic in Blue is a bad, bad thing for Magic, or about how absolutely horrible the red flyer is in comparison to the other four. (It's really quite bad, but there always has to be a weakest member of the cycle.)

    Whatever happened to green having "can only be blocked by flying" and reach? Both Treetop Scout and Giant Spider are flavorful and work without straying into other parts of the pie.

  22. That cycle is cool, Nich, but we can't put flying on a *green* /common/ creature in a _core_ set. (Good luck vocalizing that sentence in your head.)

    I was going to argue with you, Metaghost, but if there's any color that will be dropping more than one land in a turn, it's green, so *at*least* green's ability should be multi-usable.
    Back to 4G 3/3 Forest = Target creature gets +2/+2 and gains trample until EOT?
    Or maybe 4G 3/3 Forest = Put a 1/1 green Saproling OTB. I like that, actually.

  23. The color pie is bled and bended in almost every set these days, even Core Sets. And even in the common slot. I didn’t think green would ever get unrestricted direct damage at common, but it did when Hornet Sting was printed. So we could print a common green flier. If we wanted to. I feel that lately WotC has been spending “color pie points” when it designs sets. We should consider spending these points too for M13. And since Core Sets rotate every year, they are a safer place to do it then in a Block *cough*Dismember*cough*

    One big issue I see with us bleeding into the color pie is our legitimacy gap. WotC is the Man. It can print a common like Hornet Sting without having to answer to anyone. (Maybe Maro writes a tweet or an article.) But our legitimacy is far lower than theirs. We’re only a collective of amateur designers. Jay you have to accept the fact that no matter what we do, we are going to be heavily scrutinized for design errors. But bleeding into the color pie for resonance or as part of a tight cycle is just another tool Design has and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. The truth is that I could see WotC printing this cycle in M13. We’re going to get called out on our cards no matter what, don’t be afraid of taking risks. WotC does that in almost every set.

    Jay, you have the power as Lead Designer to do whatever you want. You’re an accomplished designer. If you don’t want to spend your “color pie points” on this card that’s fine, but maybe you should consider where you would want to take some design risks.

  24. You're absolutely right, Nich, that the only way to guarantee failure is not to take any risks at all. I intend to. Lair is our first big risk.

    You're also right that our set will be scrutinized like crazy. We signed up for that when we started. If we don't get called out for choosing Lair or for ditching staples, we haven't done our job. That said, I want to be called out for the things we're passionate about and can defend tooth and nail, not for cheeky statements like Hornet Sting and Wasp Drone.

    Fundamentally, when Mark Rosewater or Aaron Forsythe looks at a design choice like that and asks "this is a pretty bold and unusual choice—why did you make it," the answer has to be better than "because we can" or "because we've seen you do similar."

    What purpose does putting flying on a green common creature serve the set? Does it fill an aching hold in the color pie? Are we highlighting a twist on the color that brings new perspective? Or are we just completing a five-card cycle? One that—while poetically beautiful—isn't strong enough in power level that most players will defend it.

    Are we lampooning Hornet Sting? Wasn't Hornet Sting a mistake? Should we be emulating WotC's mistakes or learning from them?

    I'm happy to hear more opinions on the matter, but I don't see enough motivation to fight this particular battle.

  25. I’ve said my piece about color bleed in Core if anyone else cares to jump in with their opinion.

    Here’s another idea for a common creature cycle: One-drops with an ETB effect. The creature types are meant to help provide MTG specific flavor as one-of’s in the set.

    Kithkin Shepherd W (C) Creature-Kithkin Cleric 1/1 When Kithkin Shepherd enters the battlefield, you may gain 1 life for each creature you control.

    Vedalken Informant U (C) Creature-Vedalken Rouge 1/1 When Vedalken Informant enters the battlefield, you may look at each other player’s hand.

    Maggot Carrier (reprint) B (C) Creature-Zombie 1/1 When Maggot Carrier enters the battlefield, each player loses 1 life.

    Forge Stoker R (C) Creature-Viashino Artificer 1/1 When Forge Stoker enters the battlefield, add 2 to your mana pool. Spend this mana only to cast artifact or creature spells.

    Elvish Pioneer (reprint) G (C) Creature-Elf Druid 1/1 When Elvish Pioneer enters the battlefield, you may put a basic land card from your hand onto the battlefield tapped.

  26. These are pretty sweet, Nich. Would suck up some of our 'quality' points to put them at common, but it may be worth it.

  27. I am sympathetic to Pasteur's inclusion of Zap in Red. I playtested with Leap in Blue and Undying Masses, (which is a renamed Footbottom Feast,) in Black. But Aaron Forsythe says they don’t like printing cantrips in Core Sets because there’s a flavor disconnect. He would ask rhetorically, “Why am I randomly drawing a card for casting Reviving Dose?” With the current focus on resonance, things need to make sense and classic cantrips don’t pass the test.

    One the other side of the coin, mechanically, drawing a card when playing an effect really is rewarding. You feel okay about casting minor effects when you replace the card as an added bonus. So can we tie flavor and mechancic somehow to make cantrips feel appropriate for a Core Set? I think we can.

    My idea is to make a cycle of common one-word instant cantrips. All of them would be action words that capture an important flavor for each color. Next, they would tie to the Planeswalker in each color, through flavor text. The best part is that there are five reprints that I think would make for a nice tight cycle of common cantrips:

    Withstand 2W (C) Instant
    Prevent the next 3 damage that would be dealt to target creature or player this turn.
    Draw a card.
    “Courage can’t be given, it must be learned.” -Gideon

    Exclude 2U (C) Instant
    Counter target creature spell.
    Draw a card.
    “If you wish to learn humility, I will instruct you.” -Jace

    Afflict 2B (C) Instant
    Target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.
    Draw a card.
    “To learn of strength, first know weakness.” – Sorin

    Zap 2R (C) Instant
    Zap deals 1 damage to target creature or player.
    Draw a card.
    “The best lessons come with a little pain.” – Chandra

    Refresh 2G (C) Instant
    Regenerate target creature. (The next time that creature would be destroyed this turn, it isn’t. Instead tap it, remove all damage from it, and remove it from combat.)
    Draw a card.
    “To learn Nature’s lessons you must first survive.” – Nissa

    Notice how each bit of flavor text uses the word “learn?” I am hoping that it helps connect the cantrip aspect of the spell into the flavor of the card for new players. If they felt more like events or quests or trials you go through as you become a more experienced Planeswalker the flavor would a slam dunk.

    Specifically, I like this mix of cantrips and would recommend removing any others at common. And these would replace Pay No Heed, Essence Scatter, Steal Strength, Zap would stay the same, and Withstand Death. Exclude in particular could be a format defining counterspell, which is good and will pump people up for the set.

  28. Cool, Nich. Let's try it out. What does everyone else think?