Friday, February 3, 2012

Design Review of Dark Ascension—Green

White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Other

I'm glad they brought back Briarhorn. It's a fun, strong card that deserves to be simplified. It really says a lot about how far the original was pushed that we can remove evoke from Briarpack Alpha and still need to reduce its effect to keep it balanced. It's a bit of a shame that the growth effect doesn't match its power and toughness but sometimes we must sacrifice art for science. Or something.

Clinging Mists is more like Pollen Lullaby than Fog, but I'm happy the effect is in green and the flavor of mists that persist around creatures for a while longer is solid. Not sure why the mists care about the plight of the humans, though.

Crushing Vines is a fresh variation on the requisite Naturalize / Plummet effect. I wonder whether they asked Creative if they could find a decent theme for the novel combination before committing it to the file. This also gives me hope that there yet remain new ways to get staple effects into a set without reprinting the same old cards. Perhaps not for a core set, and maybe not even a large expert set, but even just for a small set it's nice to see something new.

Dawntreader Elk is yet more evidence of the awesome that removing damage from the stack has allowed. The choice to put mana in the activation cost supports the movement to create more shields-down moments and I approve. I strongly suspect this Elk was added to the file more to enable morbid in a natural green way than to support many-color decks.

Deranged Outcast is another impressive Creative feat. How do you make a card that would be a demon-worshipping cultist in black fit in green? Green gets a lot of +1/+1 counters in Dark Ascension. I'm almost surprised they didn't make Briarpack Alpha grant a counter rather than a lesser growth effect.

Unlike some of our other 'bad' cards, Favor of the Woods doesn't have great flavor or support the set's themes. Pass.

Feed the Pack was probably a top-down design. "Wolves eat people, right? Let's make that a card." I like it. Technically, it does nothing on its own. But it's not that hard to get creatures on the field and the ability to double their power, er toughness, is plenty enticing. The 'may' is an interesting choice. There was probably a flavor argument that it shouldn't be optional, and that must have been trumped by "but I don't want to sacrifice my Mayor of Avabruck." Should they have used the Requiem Angel tech and said "nonwolf (non-werewolf)"?

Ghoultree has affinity for creature cards in your graveyard. It's also a 10/10 treefolk. Zombie treefolk, that is. One of these has to go in every green Commander deck, right?

Gravetiller Wurm reminds me of Carnage Wurm. Scratch that, it is Carnage Wurm. I'd be more upset about the lack of innovation here if I weren't a sucker for huge green monsters.

I've heard frustration that the blue zombie deck is at odds with the black zombie deck. They're both happy to fill the yard with Forbidden Alchemy, but one wants to exile them and one wants to recur them. You can focus on one strategy over the other to decent effect, but that conflict is a relevant problem. Grim Flowering (along with Spider Spawning and company) also benefit from filling your yard, but don't want you to exile or recur creature cards out of it. On the one hand, it's nice that there are a variety of graveyard strategies, but it doesn't seem ideal that they're all at odds with each other.

I'm excited to see Hollowhenge Beast, because it confirms my suspicion that a 4/4 for 2GG can be printed at common. It's also fascinating to see how power-toughness thresholds vary at different mana thresholds. For a long time, you could get an X/X for X at three mana or less or at seven mana and above, but not between (rares excepted). I'm not surprised that 5/5 for 5 came before 4/4 for 4 because the jump between reliability of 5cc spells versus 4 is greater than between 4cc and 3. That said, if we can have Hollowhenge Beast and Trained Armodon, we can have Owlbear.

When I first read Hunger of the Howlpack, my jaw dropped. I have yet to seen it played to any less effect. Permanent Giant Growth is a damn impressive thing, and it's just not that hard to pull off in this format. If I'd designed this, I probably would've made it +1/+1 -> +2/+2 or else costed it at 2G. Is it too good? It's hard to tell in a block with so many very good spells.

I hadn't seen the art for Increasing Savagery until it was begoogley'd. I love that they step back from the super serious stuff for a bit of fun every once in a while. Savagery is a huge effect and very Timmy-sexy. It's also the worst of the cycle since it only does anything if you have an evasive creature in play and even then, it's completed negated by Doom Blade. For that reason, you only play it on Invisible Stalker and when you do, you auto-win. Everybody loses.

I spent about five seconds thinking of alternative designs and it made me realize something about this block. Normally green is the best token generating color (with some competition from white). On Innistrad, only red is worse at producing tokens. Does that qualify as nice variety provided by the Great Swinging Pendulum in Seattle or as a failure to satisfy players expectations or the strictures of the Color Pie. I honestly don't know, but it's interesting to think about.

I wasn't sure how impressive Scorned Villager / Moonscarred Werewolf would be after seeing it in the spoiler. I had the good fortune to open a foil copy at the prerelease and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Worst case, it's Llanowar Elves that doesn't let you cast a three-drop on turn two. Best case, it's a Joraga Treespeaker that's helping you cast a turn three Hollowhenge Beast while swinging for 2. Nice variance. Oh, and did you notice that it's Little Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Wolf? You can't tell me that's not awesome.

Kessig Recluse is the love-child of Giant Spider and Deadly Recluse. Sold. Apparently, this is a Matt Tabak design. He also made Scorned Villager, Soul Seizer (which I love), and Warden of the Wall (which I don't). Three big hits and one ground ball? Pretty damn good for your first time at bat. Wait, did I just make a baseball analogy? Nasty case of the 'fanboy's.

Lambholt Elder is a librarian that flips out... and learns from scratching up its victims (as Silverpelt Werewolf). Cool. I also approve of the movement to make werewolves better by making their human side worse.

I love top-down designs and Lost in the Woods is a slam-dunk. I'm not sure what else to say about it other than, more please.

Predator Ooze is nuts. How do you beat this in Limited? Y'know, apart from Burden of Guilt, Claustrophobia, Tribute to Hunger or a timely Dead Weight. Okay, so there are answers. Still, most of the time you drop this, it'll be worth three or more of your opponent's cards, if not the game.

Oh and this is another card they printed in DKA that might trump one of our M13 designs. Gelatinous Cube is less resilient, but it starts the assault early and grows faster. This is one of our attempts to push a card and I'm still not sure if we pushed too hard to not hard enough. Of course, that's all moot if it feels too similar to Predator Ooze. Your thoughts?

I love Somberwald Dryad. There's such a history of underwhelming forestwalk cards, that it almost makes me giddy to see one that I'm going to play regardless of whether my opponent has forests or not. Better than Grizzly Bears but not a high draft pick is a very good place for a card to be and I have to envy this design for that reason.

You should already know Strangleroot Geist is crazy strong. The only thing I can really add is how interesting the combination of haste and undying is. I've heard some players claim you can't stop it from attacking because it'll come back untapped and still hasty when you off it the first time, but you can kill it after it's been declared as an attacker. Even so, the ability to sacrifice it to, say Deranged Outcast, attack and then add Hunger of the Howlpack is pretty neat.

Tracker's Instincts starts to feel a bit rote after all the similar cards, but it does do it's thing in a technically unique way and it makes the completest in me happy.

What's better than a conditional 4/4 for 2G? Ulvenwald Bear. This is another card people have misread a lot. I can't believe that WotC's playtest groups didn't stumble on this just as we have, so I have to assume they decided the enhanced play value was worth the confusion. I wonder where that line is drawn.

Village Survivors seems to fly in the face of a recent tend to avoid such large vigilance creatures. Maybe they're counting on the fact that it's an uncommon in the small set. Have you noticed how much vigilance is in this set? I think that's more because of flavor than gameplay. Speaking of... Vorapede's crazy, right? My kind of mythic. Wonder how much Constructed play it'll see.

Wild Hunger is exactly what I wanted from the red-green flashback card. Better than, what Demolish with flashback, right?

Wolfbitten Captive is rare? It's nice how its activated ability makes it worth your while not to cast spells, but I have trouble seeing this as a rare, especially when Krallenhorde Killer is only a 2/2. It's also interesting that they doubled the activation cost of the werewolf side and not just the P/T. I guess you cast Captive turn one, pump it and flip it turn two*, cast something else turn three, and then just attack and pump turn four and after. *Here's a werewolf where your opponent might actually want to let it flip immediately, so that it's only 2/2 instead of 3/3. That's interesting. Interesting is good design, right? Right?

I love Young Wolf! It felt so lame that Doomed Traveler was so much better than Tukatongue Thallid. I also love that the only "french vanilla" undying creatures (this and Nearheath Stalker) don't suck. Simpler cards need to not be always worse.

I haven't played as much DKA-INN Limited as I'd like, so this may be inaccurate, but I feel like green's been given more reason to stay green in this block than is often the case, rather than acting as the glue for two or more other colors and that's a good thing.


  1. Jay, I believe the perceived downgrade of Green's token producing power has to do with a desire to emphasize Werewolves within the basic construction of G/x limited decks.

    Green received 42 total monocolor creatures, 3 more than White and 6 more than either Blue or Black, with obviously a good deal of those creature slots dedicated to Werewolves. If Green were to have received additional token-producing effects beyond what they did (which I believe is isolated to rares, like Kessig Cagebreakers), they would not only be hyper-saturated in creature production, but you would also experience a certain tension in your board development, as sorcery-speed token production doesn't play too well with Werewolves.

    1. I'm not sure why green's theoertical token production would need to be sorcery-speed, or why it would conflict any more than other green cards or even multiple werewolves, but otherwise I think you hit the nail on the head. Makes sense to me anyhow.

    2. I'm assuming the hypothetical token-producing card would be sorcery simply because 7/8 token spells in the set are sorcery-speed.

      As to the conflict described: on a board with one or more unflipped werewolves, if I'm going to cast a spell on my turn I'd prefer that spell to be either another werewolf (because it increases a pressure of YOU BETTER WATCH OUT MY DUDES ARE GONNA FLIP) or some form of removal, like Prey Upon. Obviously that's an ideal line of play that suggests I've successfully drafted the all-werewolf deck that never really happens, but it's something that I think Development would consider when developing how werewolves function in Inn limited.

      Also, consider that tokens are better associated with swarming behaviors that in-block make more sense connected to zombies and spirits than they do werewolves.

  2. Ghoultree is actually pretty bad in Commander most of the time. A vanilla 10/10 isn't so impressive with such large life totals and such an abundance of token chumps and mass removal.

    Wolfbitten Captive is much better than you're giving it credit for. Being a one-drop is important, especially with the potential to be a 2/2 the first turn it attacks while still casting a spell, or attacking with a 3/3 and letting it flip. Being a werewolf with its own mana sink is awesome, too. You can activate a pump ability while the transform trigger is on the stack, giving you a 4/4 or 5/5 for the turn (or pump it twice, once from each side, for a 7/7 or 8/8). And it stays relevant in the later game as well (unlike Reckless Waif), when you have excess mana to pump it and still play spells. It's not flashy, but it does a lot of work for a one-mana creature.

    1. Haha. I was so focused on the Rootwalla ability, I totally missed that it's a 2/2 for G. Add that ability back in and I see exactly what you mean. Funny how the mind works.

  3. I hope your evaluation of Increasing Savagery being "worst of the cycle" is a reference to its design and not its power level, because damn, that card is savage in Limited. In a format where most removal either has restrictions on its usefulness (Bonds of Faith, Rebuke, Tribute to Hunger) or is toughness-based (Dead Weight, Brimstone Volley, Prey Upon), a properly timed Increasing Savagery is a four-mana flashbackable Lava Axe at worst, and will eat one or two chumps before mashing their face in at best.

    For Limited, I'd rank Devotion as the best of the cycle, Vengeance as the worst, and Confusion and Ambition both a little lower than Savagery, because you need a mill theme and bombs, respectively, to make them optimal. Savagery is just fine in any deck with creatures that aren't going to die right away. Hunger of the Howlpack is susceptible to the same "dies to Doom Blade" criticism that you level at Savagery, and you seem to love that card.

    1. You don't really even need a mill theme in your deck to make Increasing Confusion worth playing. It's potent enough to mill someone out all by itself. Even easier with the abundance of decks that are actively milling themselves. It's a better finisher than Devil's Play (though lacks the flexibility of being used as removal).

  4. That's a good point about the Elk helping morbid.

    I think MaRo said somewhere that Crushing Vines was designed function first. If I'm remembering that correctly, Creative did great work because we can't really tell if it was top-down or bottom-up!

    I agree that Favor of the Woods looks so bad as well as unflavorful. I wonder if it was a last minute swap that was designed to fit the art. Maybe they found that they needed to tone down the green cards. (Although then again, in Innistrad green was only good with GW, so having a strong pack here shouldn't be a big problem...)

    As for your comment on Grim Flowering, I think it's great that all the self-mill strategies don't blend together into the same deck. It is a problem if UB Zombies contradict itself, though. That said, I never get an all-Zombie deck so I usually have a random non-Zombie creature to exile to a Stitched Drake.

    We've had a card that's even closer to Predator Ooze! The Troll guy.

    I wish Ulvenwald Bear had more flavor about how it helps other creatures get bigger. It should be some gruesome fruit plant that grows fruit off of the nutrients of corpses.

    1. Oh man, how could they not do morbid plant? That would've been so much better than supportive bear.

      Which Troll guy?