Monday, February 18, 2013

Weekend Art Challenge Review 021513—Tsabo6

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Wow. You guys really went all out on this challenge and I couldn't be more pleased. There are 17 entries, not counting my designs. Awesome. This won't be short, so let's jump right in.

Assert Dominance is a little hard to parse. In plain English, every creature gets bigger based on the number of creatures it's already bigger than. If there's a 4/4, two 3/3s and a 2/2 in play, the 4/4 gets +3/+3, the 3/3s get +1/+1 and the 2/2 gets nothing. The effect keys off of power, not toughness, which supports the name of the card and helps simplify the math to one axis. If players execute this from top-to-bottom, there shouldn't be any confusion about which creatures have already been handled, but if they do it any other way things could get sticky fast. Finally, if there are more than, say, 10 creatures of various sizes this effect will halt play for a couple minutes. In multiplayer, if there are ~20 creatures in play, some players might just rather quit than go through the busywork entailed.

Beast Rider's Envoy is definitely a cool card, but while Johnny will squeeze a little more use out of it, it's not hard for Timmy or Spike to see how sweet this is and slam it into their deck. Even so, I want this card and it also hit the bonus of working better in multiplayer.

Beasts for everyone! But these various quadrupeds are wild and hungry, so get ready to be pulled by the leash. Timmy might enjoy Call of the Wild Pack for the experience, but it will take a Johnny to figure out how to play it profitably. Maybe the rest of your deck is full of Carnivorous Plants or Circle of Despair / Martyr's Cause. In retrospect, this shouldn't be a 'may' effect.

Zoiks. In a duel, Backcountry Explorers will reveal 4-5 cards on turn three, usually netting you two cards in hand (on top of the 1/2 body). In a four-player game, you'll reveal 8-9 cards and net ~four lands in hand. Play this after your hand has petered out on turn six or later, and you'll be deciding which cards to discard, having thinned your deck substantially. What do you do with all these lands? Depending on how Johnny you are, the answer could range from Seismic Assault to Last Rites or even Barrel Down Sokenzan. Ignoring balance concerns that Development could address, I would make this a sorcery because the text is long and the effect is worth a card by itself.

Case in point: This version of Call of the Wild Pack was originally a creature with an ETB effect.

It's easier to benefit from creature cards than land cards, but it's also harder to rely on your opponent to play [lots of] creatures.

Exploratory Mission seems to fall right between Backcountry Explorers and Call of the Wild Pack. In this case, the variable isn't lands in play, or creatures menacing you, but how many nasties you sent your opponents' way this turn. Combat is the heart of "normal" Magic and damage is what lets games end, so creating incentives to attack is never a bad thing. I will say that the only thing that makes Exploratory Mission more Johnny than not is answering the double riddle of how to get a lot of creatures to attack with and how to fully capitalize on a large number of land after you do. It's not a trivial riddle.

Notice how this works better in Two-Headed Giant? Nice touch.

Survey the Land is the exact opposite of Exploratory Mission. The same cost, except your creatures can't fight instead of having to fight. (Okay, these lands go to hand instead of OTB, but that's a dial for Development to tweak anyhow.)

Ow, my brain. Community Guidance isn't a Timmy or Spike card. You can tell, because most players failed to process what this card does and moved on to more intuitive pastures. For those willing to slog through (Melvin-Johnnies?), this card wants you to play like exalted. Get a few creatures (all sharing a creature type) to stay back and defend, while your unique guy smacks your opponent about the head and face. If he gets Murdered, your far worse off than if you were just running the exalted plan, but at least you figured out what the card was telling you to do?

An uncommon version of Collective Voyage, Journey to the Horizon definitely reads more cleanly. I'm not sure this is better in multiplayer, but it certainly works in multiplayer. And it certainly begs a Johnny-standard question: How are you going to profit from this symmetrical effect more than your opponents, so as to offset the cost of the cardboard?

A green Demonic Rising. The condition is harder to meet, the cost to use higher and the visible effect worse. If it were worded differently ("Activate this ability only if there are no creatures OTB"), Melvin would realize that you could activate it multiple times once the condition is met. As it stands, this basically asks you to run a deck with just removal, mass removal and Journey's End. Which is a legitimately Johnny thing to do. Miserable for your opponents, sure, but Griefer-Johnny is still a Johnny. I do think the activated cost is unnecessary.

As Ant detailed, these Warrior Rangers can trade with a creature and net you a land, kill a 1/1 and act like a bigger Viridian Emissary, or be a desperate Nature's Lore. They certainly don't compare badly to Wood Elves. This versatility and utility should appeal to Spike. I like the card, but it's not especially for Johnny.

Take that, Gaea's Balance! Okay, Long Road Home profits from domain rather than enabling it, so they're not the same (and actually work quite well together). I'm a little surprised this card doesn't already exist. Very Johnny and very printable.

Get it? Your beasts are giving your bipeds rides. Or at least fighting alongside them. What makes Mounted Force tricky is that you're being asked to run a deck with a lot of beasts, but not all beasts. In what proportion? Ask Johnny.

Hunting Party has the same trigger as Beast Rider's Envoy, but plays very differently. Instead of making an army that will always outnumber your opponents', you're making one big creature that will eat the enemy …repeatedly. Y'know, provided they don't play a 3/x first. (That's where Johnny comes in with Giant Growth and Ranger's Guile to keep his pretty game winner safe.)

Rampage of the Bizarre is also a little hard to parse, though not too bad. Basically anti-tribal—Play as few creatures of the same type as you can. I love how the reminder text references three wacky creature types. Though you probably want to go with either that or the flavor text. The pair fight each other. I like that it could be better than Overrun, but only if you really work at it.

Scouting Party is bad-ass. It's an uncommon, half-Primeval Titan. I want four. That said, nothing Johnny about it.

Taming Season asks you to play Elves and/or Humans, but not so many that you wouldn't welcome a Beast or two. I imagine this shining in a block where green is mostly Elves and Humans. I think it's fair to classify this as a Johnny card, though if there were a scale, I'd call it Johnny-Lite. Making this trigger off of any Elf or Human rather than just your own is a nice, multiplayer-friendly touch.

Promised Paradise isn't so much multiplayer-friendly as multiplayer-only. It also looks more Timmy than Johnny to me. How do you make good use of Promised Paradise? Only play games with lots of people?

Haha! I said the card had to be green, not that it could only be green. I Johnny'd the task of making a green johnny card. Credit for the clever part of Wildhome goes to, um, someone who contributed to the Ankh-Theb discussion at some point. I can't find that particular idea, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't mine.

The only reason Conspiracy is black is the name. Which was horribly misspent.

At the cost of being able to attack or to use violence in self-defense, you force your opponent to either finish you in one attack, or else attack with just one creature once. Johnnies, I challenge you to demonstrate that Treaty of Taraga isn't unplayable. Something that forces your opponent to attack with all her creatures is a good first step…

Wildsteed Riders isn't a Johnny card at all. It's a Hill Giant that can Spike Feeder your guys some haste. I share it because I think it's a cool card that fits the art, even though it clearly fails the challenge.

Overall, I'm really happy with this challenge. You all did a great job and we've generated some very neat ideas here. Before I leave you, I want to discuss designing for Johnny a bit more using this challenge as context.

I discovered two recurring problems during this challenge. Johnny is hard to design for. Part of that is that Johnny enjoys puzzles and puzzles are harder to make good than splashy effects are for Timmy or efficient effects are for Spike. The other part is problem #1; What makes a card a Johnny card isn't always obvious.

Seven and two-halves of the designs above fetch lands from your deck. I could be wrong, but I'm getting the impression that land fetching is being associated as more of a Johnny effect than a Timmy or Spike effect. I'm guessing that's the case for one of two reasons: Either getting a lot of land is associated with the big-spell pipe-dreams of combo players (aka Johnny—until the combo is so reliable Spike wants it); or getting a land feels like it doesn't have a direct impact on the game (because it's not a creature, or removal, or some other spell effect) and Johnny is the only player who runs "do nothing" cards.

While there's nothing un-Johnny about land fetching, I would argue that it's at least as much a Spike or Timmy effect. Spike likes to get extra cards, whatever they are (and is definitely the only player that cares about thinning her deck by just one or two cards). She also appreciates fixing her mana and gaining a precious turn by accelerating into an aggressive threat. Timmy likes to cast big spells, and for that he needs a lot of mana. Not to mention, Boundless Realms is a big effect in and of itself.

What I'm suggesting is that a better heuristic for "Is this a Johnny card?" than "How much direct effect does this have on the board?" is "How apparent is it how to profit from his card?" Even that has flaws, as many Spike cards are all about incremental resource advantages that aren't obvious. And some Timmy cards exist purely for the experience they generate and really aren't for profit at all. I clearly don't have the best answer. I hope you will lend your thoughts on the subject in the comments below.

The second recurring problem I noticed are designs that seem like they will appeal to Johnny because they have a very small hoop to jump through, but are too blunt. Johnny likes a mystery; he enjoys the challenge of solving puzzles. He doesn't care how small your hoop is, but how many others are jumping through it. If Spike and Timmy can't be bothered, then Johnny is interested. I'm not doing well describing this, but simply telling Johnny to do A, B and C but not D isn't really appealing. If anyone understands what I mean, please rephrase it better. If not, let me know and I'll try again.


  1. A short comment: My entry (Promised Paradise) fetches any land, not just a basic. I think 3G is an appropriate cost for that considering 1G is the right cost for a basic/land with basic subtypes and the power of nonbasic lands in general. I just made it multiplayer-awesome to boot. It's probably broken in commander.

    1. How do you cost something that scales linearly with the number of players?

      I'm guessing your saying that 3G is the fair price in a duel. Could be. 2G or 1GG might work too. It's not that much better (in a duel) than Sylvan Scrying.

  2. Looking back at my card, Scouting Party, I think I wound up trying to design a Johnny-Enabler, instead of a proper Johnny card. If the player's goal was to assemble the Urzatron, or get out Emeria, the Sky Ruin and seven plains, Scouting Party would help them do that, but in that case it's just a tool, and not the build-around card.

    I like Mounted Force and Beast Rider's Envoy-- The latter would be super fun to play with Varchild's War-Riders or Forbidden Orchard.

    1. I had imagined Beast Rider's Envoy to play with Hunted Troll, and to be honest, probably Death by Dragons as well. Forbidden Orchard, though, is cooooool.

  3. A question I'd pose is whether a card like Eternal Witness fulfills the definition of Johnny. Obviously, this probably widely for all cards depends on context - it's a phenomenal value-card, and one that Spike is very happy to play, and it does something that Timmies can often enjoy (getting back their other favorite cards... to cast AGAIN!). But if tomorrow you see a Legacy, or really even a Modern decklist with 4-of Witness, it seems like an awfully Johnny call. Maybe I'm misreading the intentions that make something johnnyriffic, but it seems to me in some ways, glacial or esoteric Gifts control decks can be as Johnny as they are Spike - likewise, since the printing of Splinter Twin, that combo just hasn't felt very Johnny at all.

    This could be missing the point entirely, though, if as designers of Cards rather than Decks, our role is establishing potential within a card itself (engines and hoops and off-the-beaten path ideas) rather than carefully quantifying its context.

    1. Another wrinkle in the task of identifying which psychographic any given card is for: Some cards appeal to multiple psychographics. Eternal Witness is a good example. No matter how much Spike might froth over it, Timmy and Johnny can love it too.

  4. Respond here and let me know if you preferred the review without grades, or if you miss them. Would you have liked me to explicitly call out a winning entry?

    1. I liked it better without grading. I feel that often detracts from my ability to take lessons from what was done well on something with a bad grade or poorly on something with a good grade.

    2. I agree with Jules. I'd rather focus on the feedback itself (which is useful) than on why my card got this grade and another card got that grade.

    3. Cool. That was my thinking. Appreciate the confirmation.


    In the article Maro talks about a small Johnny group that enjoys cards that has a cool but hidden trick. It can't be obvious because then it is not a challenge, yet the trick has to be built into the card such that it works. Like fireman Kavu from time spiral.

    Tho I agree with you. Versatility like this would definitely appeal to spike, the hidden puzzle of "what all can I really do with this card" is a definite nod to Johnny.

  6. Now I'm sad I didn't enter this challenge. The cards are pretty nice. My favorite is Community Guidance. It's the card that most got my spidey-senses tingling. I think there are ways to make it less Exalted feeling, but the overall idea is fun. When I think of what makes a Johnny card, it's exactly the card that people stop reading, or look at and say "what's the point?" But a Johnny stops, thinks about possible card combinations, and then re-reads it with a sly grin.