Monday, April 1, 2013

Weekend Art Challenge Review 032913—Maze Champion

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Here's the challenge we're reviewing today.

Emmara can't be killed in normal combat. So she can block your opponent's biggest attacker and negate the damage from her second biggest attacker by gaining life from the first. That she can do that while swinging for two makes this a very appealing card for a GW player looking to race or to hold off a ground assault. Does she feel Selesnyan?

Emmara doesn't interact with her guild's mechanic or focus at all, but she is very zen and Evan explains that she is a healer in the fiction, so that's what she's doing here. I'm not sure why she doesn't heal your other creatures, but it's hard to argue that she's not doing an amazing job keeping you well.

Jules originally had the only Melek design, but no one was messing with Lavinia at the time, so he designed this. She is very Azorius. You can tell, because it's not terribly clear what the final result of executing all this procedure will be. Basically, every creature your opponent doesn't attack with (or tap for some effect) is tapped down for the next turn. They'll untap the turn after though.

What concerns me most is that we're penalizing our opponent for not attacking us. Both in terms of flavor and in-game strategy for Azorius, it's odd that we're making peace illegal and violence against us lawful. I'm also not sure how relevant that'll be, since the opponent will be attacking us with the creatures they want to attack us with and won't mind not having the creatures that aren't good to enough attack unable to attack. Where this does make perfect sense for Azorius, though, is that then your opponent has no blockers which lines up with the WU tempo plan detain enables on its own.

It's also noteworthy that despite this ability acting like detain, it's not detain. And that lets it combo with detain. If you use an Azorius Arrester to subdue one of your opponent's creatures, he won't be able to attack with it on his turn, which means it'll be untapped on your turn, letting Lavinia tap it down for an extra round.

For any other guild, I'd say this is entirely too sideways but for Azorius, it might just be perfect. I'd love to hear what you all think.

Remember, you can click these images to see them at full-size. Devin's Melek gives you an alternate Izzet Charm for each sorcery or instant you cast. The modes of that spell are Act of Treason, About Face and Meddle all for . If you can't get value out of that, you just aren't trying.

You may have noticed this is a lot of text. Very tiny text. We would definitely need to cut something from this to make it printable. Flash seems like an easy candidate, eating an entire line by itself and only offering the benefit of a draw-go play style (and blocking a titan out of nowhere, for some reason). Next, I would consider removing the counters and making the player use his free charm as soon as he casts the spell that earns it.

Is it Izzet? Let's see, tricky, versatile and tricky? I'd say that passes.

I was aiming for three main goals with Exava: That she interacts positively with unleash, that she calls back to Lyzolda, the Blood Witch, and that she feel dangerously sadistic. Flinging a creature every turn without option fits the latter two goals, and getting bigger when you sacrifice unleashed creatures satisfies the first, especially since making her bigger also makes her Fling better.

It's a little odd in terms of flavor that she actually combos better with Golgari's and Simic's keywords, but I can't imagine throwing away a card that feels and helps Rakdos as much as this does just because it's not insular

Zefferal's Dimir champion gives you free Mind Knives whenever you use cast a spell without using your hands. Flashback was last block, you say? True, but cipher also casts cards from outside your hand, so Mirko upgrades all your cipher spells with a better-than-Mental Vapors.

Next up, for each card you successfully rob from your opponent this way, you can draw a card and pump Mirko whenever you like. You may (should) have been wondering why the first effect exiled the card instead of just discarding it. Now you know why. This Dimir champion had a nefarious plan all along.

Mirko Vosk has too much text. What would I get rid of? Removing flash doesn't buy us anything since we have to have flying, but I still don't feel like it's holding its weight. Maybe we keep it just to parallel Ruric-Thar. The +2/+2 bonus can help Mirko connect (by making it beat or scare away smaller fliers in combat) and thus makes him a good cipher target (unless you'd rather not put so many eggs in one basket), but it still feels a little out of place in blue-black. If we nix that, then there's no point using discarded cards as counters and we can consolidate his text so much that we've got room for a tiny splash of multiplayer love:
Whenever you cast a spell from anywhere other than your hand, each opponent discards a card at random. Draw a card for each card discarded this way.

Wobbles take on the Mind Drinker rewards you for milling your opponent as well as attacking their hand. That's both black-blue and very Dimir. Whether you're comfortable with +1/+1 counters being the prize or not, I have to say trample is a mighty odd choice. It's true that every color has access to trample for creatures of grand enough scale, and it's also true that Mirvos Vosk is just one Mind Sculpt away from being bigger than Lord of the Pit (And how awesome is that? [Very]), and yet the word trample on this 1UB 2/2 just feels so wrong. Is it so terrible to have a 9/9 flyer attacking on turn four without trample? I hate to say it, but hexproof almost seems like a better fit.

Regardless, I love the flavor and huge potential of this Mind Drinker.

Lobster's Teysa gives you Spirits whenever you cast a spell like extort, but free. She also gains power from your Spirit hordes and can race with the best of them. This is definitely an exciting card (as any update to Teysa, Orzhov Scion would have to be) and very black-white in nature. Personally, I wish you had to pay to get your Spirits increasing the parity with extort.

Bam! R Stech comes in swinging with this bad-ass 3/3 for two. It doesn't have Battalion, but good luck blocking (or racing against) Tajic before turn four. Did you know Razorgrass Screen is the only card that naturally has to block each turn if able? A few of us amateurs might have tooled with Vigilance and the last two abilities before, but I'm ecstatic to see it here. Yes, both the final abilities are drawbacks, but they're fun drawbacks and ones Boros is happy to work with given the sheer efficiency here. Follow with a Frontline Medic and you're cooking with some serious gas.

Varolz was the most popular champion and has three entries for your consideration. First up, George's Fungus Beast. He grows whenever a card dies or is discarded or is milled. While it's not terrible that the Golgari champion combos with Dimir's methods, I feel like if one of Varolz and Mirko is going to key off any cards from all zones, it would be Mirko. Varolz could key just off of hand and battlefield. Of course, this Varolz and that Mirko would never be printed next to each other, so that argument is academic.

Next up, you can turn +1/+1 counters on any of your creatures into removal. Awesome. How do you get extra value out of your scavenge creatures even after their exiled? Turn extra boosts into steaming lazer death beams! It's a bit odd you can activate that with green mana, but I guess it worked for extort.

Death to Life and vice-versa? Check, Golgari.

Ben goes for the Fungusaur call-back, which I can't not respect. It also better explains his nom de guerre. His second ability gives all your dead creatures scavenge and for super cheap. It's not hard to imagine Varolz outclassing Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (in terms of size) pretty quickly. All that balanced by the lack of trample or other evasion. As such, Varolz is aimed squarely at Timmy.

Is it Golgari? Death to Life and then again. Ehhh, close enough.

Finally, we've got Bradley's Varolz with a very familiar first trigger, though this one is direct: We care about creatures dying and that's that. Clean and Golgari. His second ability gives you some protection for your huge soon-to-be huge creature. I might suggest an activation cost for the regeneration, but since this Varolz also doesn't have any evasion, it's probably fine that he's almost unkillable.

My main concern is that there a few ways players could get confused trying to figure out if they can regenerate Varolz when a bunch of creatures die but he didn't already have counters on him. How Golgari is this version? Death to Life is still present, with some Life to Life (or however you want to classify trading size for not dying) added in. Works for me.

This is a pretty sweet design from Antny223. The first ability rewards you for making your other creatures evolve (perhaps in the same action of putting Vorel into play). I love it. The second ability doubly rewards you for having a bunch of evolved creatures. In this case, it makes your team almost completely unblockable and that might make Vorel a green-blue take on Teleportal, by which I mean it's a finishing move like Overrun. And for a six-mana rare, that might be fine.

I'm less a fan of haymakers personally because the end the joy that it playing the game. I would have gone with something like this, but that's just me:
Spells that target creatures you control cost more to cast for each +1/+1 counter among them.

This Vorel is drastically different, but also pretty sweet. Chah's version is a bit more cerebral which I think is appropriate for Simic. You pick a creature back up (hopefully one with an ETB effect or a very efficient body), embiggen the rest of your team and then, presumably, recast your creature unless you've got something better to do this turn. Starting at three mana, I can imagine this doing a lot of work in Limited or Casual formats.

Lots of interesting designs here. If you figure what Wizards will deliver is going to be at least this awesome, then Dragon's Maze promises to be an exciting set indeed.

I talked inline about general design quality, flavor and guild-appropriateness, but I didn't address how much cards look like they were designed to be part of the same cycle. I wanted to do that in one place, and we need the context of the one champion card we have seen to get started.

If we choose to believe that the champions will be a tight cycle (that is a cycle with as many direct parallels as possible), then each other champion might be a 6/6 for 4CD with two keywords from one color, and two abilities from another, with one drawback thrown in. Mirko Vosk, Teysa, and Taldric come the closest to that. My first stab at Exava also came close, but…

A bunch of us quickly found that model too limiting. It could be done, but it often came at the expense of innovation and/or elegance. I would have jammed haste and "can't block" onto the final version of Exava if I could, but that took her beyond 7 lines and made her text tiny. It just wasn't worth it.

As such, we've got a few champions with no keywords and one or two abilities. Turns out, getting really nitty-gritty classifying which of these could be part of a tight cycle or not isn't really fun or illuminating (though if any of you really wants to, the comments section awaits you). What's perhaps more interesting is the definition of a loose cycle which I would argue all of these cards qualify for. Even though these don't all have the same size, mana cost, number of keywords, or triggered and static abilities, nor even a common identifier like name, they are bound together by being rare legendary creatures with the same role in the story, though I would argue players would intuit their cycle-ness without ever reading or any of the supporting fiction simply because there won't be any other rare two-color legends in the set.


  1. As promised, here are the initial designs I came up with for the other 8 champions:

    Mirko Vask, Mind Drinker 4UB
    Legendary Creature-Vampire Wizard
    Whenever Mirko Vask, Mind Drinker deals combat damage to a player, that player puts that many cards from the top of his or her library into his or her graveyard and you draw that many cards.

    Mind drinking certainly implies that you're making your opponent lose cards while you gain them. I wanted to have the same trigger condition as Cipher since Dimir has enough different game play routes as it is. That left the only options as making them discard one and drawing one, or making them mill and drawing more. The second does a better job of making the champion appeal to more guild players and feels less like Dimir Cutpurse II: Electric Boogaloo.

    Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch 1BR
    Legendary Creature-Human Cleric
    Unleash (You may have this creature enter the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it. It can’t block as long as it has a +1/+1 counter on it.)
    First strike, deathtouch, trample

    I'm not a big fan of this design, but the intent was to preserve the tension in the unleash decision by making her awesome on defense if leashed and awesome on offense if you let her off. Doesn't feel very Bloodwitch-y though...

    Emmara Tandris GW
    Legendary Creature-Elf Cleric
    Whenever Emmara Tandris or another creature you control becomes tapped it gets +0/+1 until end of turn for each tapped creature you control.

    After learning that Emmara is supposed to be a healer I looked for a way to make that play well with tokens. My first instinct was to go the Battletide Alchemist route, but then I found the "everyone who works helps the whole community" route which strikes me as very Selesnyan.

    Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts 1WB
    Legendary Creature-Human Advisor
    Whenever you gain life return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand.

    Lifegain triggers play well with extort, as does putting more castable spells in your hand. All the while playing into the ghostly themes and feeling like she "collects" from your opponent.


    1. Melek, Izzet Paragon 4UR
      Legendary Creature-Weird Wizard
      Instant and sorcery spells you cast have “Gain control of target creature until end of turn. Untap that creature. It gains haste until end of turn.”

      I was looking for abilities that felt somewhat red and blue to tack onto spells that became awesome with Overload and wouldn't stop you from casting spells due to lack of targets. "Target creature" or "target creature you control" were the best options since Melek himself will be in play, but there are fewer abilities in this space than you might hope. See: the difficulty of designing UR Hybrid cards. As is, this card is too swingy.

      Varolz, the Scar-Striped 1BG
      Legendary Creature-Troll Shaman
      Varolz, the Scar-Striped enters the battlefield with three +1/+1 counters on it.
      If Varolz would be destroyed, instead remove a +1/+1 counter from it and regenerate it.

      Varolz plays a bit like Glissa, the Traitor, but also loves to get Scavenged onto. I wanted to make him grow instead of shrinking, but that would lead to nobody ever sending a creature into combat with him. Once he's shrinking, the deathtouch ensures that the smaller forms are still impactful.

      Tajic, Blade of the Legion 2RW
      Legendary Creature-Human Knight
      Double Strike
      Whenever Tajic, Blade of the Legion attacks, it gets +1/+0 until end of turn for each other attacking creature you control.

      Attack with lots of guys, RAWR!

      Vorel of the Hull Clade 1GU
      Legendary Creature-Merfolk Wizard
      Whenever a nontoken creature enters the battlefield under your control, put a 0/* Plant creature token with, defender and “This creature’s toughness is equal to the highest toughness among nontoken creatures you control plus one” onto the battlefield.

      This one didn't end up as clean as I'd like it to be, but the intent is that he'll give you a bunch of evolve triggers while buying you more time for more evolution. Additional synergies include population and RTR's defender subtheme.

    2. I like that Varolz and Tajic.

      I wonder if you could put something like this on a Teysa: Spells cost you up to {1} less to cast for each point of life you've gained this turn.

    3. I'd never have thought the Orzhov were to type to reduce costs, but that's a spicy reverse Rakdos, Lord of Riots. Unfortunately it may need to be overcosted for normal play to avoid "combo" decks that spit off whatever expensive fatty is around with hyper efficient rituals like Cathedral Sactifier/Heroes' Reunion.

  2. I like how everyone picked up that these should all have mana costs with CD rather than CCDD like the guild leaders. All but two submissions had square stats, too.

    1. Good point, even without a set CMC, the NCD mana cost was another important similarity across the cycle.

  3. Mirko Vask, Mind Drinker 3UB
    Legendary Creature-Vampire
    Flying, Lifelink
    Whenever a card is put into an opponent's graveyard, Mirko Vask, Mind Drinker deals 1 damage to that player.

    Ah, v2.5. Vampire Baneslayer now feels significantly different. Iteration can occasionally lead to better designs. Also, this guy looks way too beefy to only have 3 power.

    Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch 1BR
    Legendary Creature-Human Cleric
    First Strike, Death Touch
    Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch can't block.
    When Exava enters the battlefield move all +1/+1 counters from all creatures onto her.

    Emmara Tandris GW
    Legendary Creature-Elf Cleric
    Tap an untapped creature you control: Add G or W to your mana pool.
    If a source would deal damage to another creature you control, prevent 1 of that damage.

    The tapping ability feels very convoke-esq, while the prevent ability helps you maintain your army.

    Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts 2WB
    Legendary Creature-Human Advisor
    At the beginning of the end step, you may return all creatures that died this turn from your graveyard to your hand. For every three cards returned this way, exile target permanent.

    Raise deading is good for extort, but mostly I wanted this Teysa to feel like the "advanced" version of the previous iteration.

    Melek, Izzet Paragon 2UR
    Legendary Creature-Weird Warrior
    {u/r}: Untap Malek, Izzet Paragon. He gains haste.
    {u/r): Change a target of target spell to Malek.
    {u/r): You may choose new targets for target spell that targets Malek.
    {r}: Malek gets +1/+0 until end of turn.
    {u}: Switch Melek's power and toughness until end of turn.

    This guy doesn't have a whole lot to do with Izzet's abilities, but Morphling always felt way more Izzet to me than Azorius.

    Varolz, the Scar-Striped 3BG
    Legendary Creature-Zombie Troll
    {G}: Exile target card from a graveyard. Put a +1/+1 counter on Varolz, the Scar-Striped.
    {B}: Exile target card from a graveyard. Target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.
    Whenever Varolz is dealt damage, put that many cards into your graveyard instead.

    Varolz continues the tradition of massive, hard to kill B/G fatties. This guy is immune to damage in a way that fuels Golgari strategies.

    Tajic, Blade of the Legion RW
    Legendary Creature-Human Soldier
    Haste, Double Strike
    Tajic can't attack or block alone.
    "A blade is only as good as the army that wields it."
    I like the precedent that Ruric sets that these guys can have "downsides". I also like that this guy is super aggressive in a way that feels very Boros.

    Vorel of the Hull Clade 1GU
    Legendary Creature- Merfolk Warrior
    Flash, Trample
    Vorel’s power and toughness are equal to the highest power among other creatures on the battlefield plus one.
    "The next stage in Evolution"

    This guy requires a bit of bookkeeping, but I think the flavor is enough to make it grok. He's just always the biggest creature around. Trample might be overkill, but that's what this guy is all about.


    1. Varolz's last ability is self mill, correct? "Whenever Varolz is dealt damage, instead put that many cards from the top of your library into your graveyard."
      Just minor editing for clarity/intent :)

    2. That Exava is definitely scary. I love the steal all +1/+1 counters jaunt.

      Your Emmara is closer to what I would have done with the whole Healer shtick.

      Your Teysa starts off really appealing and then just smashes it home. I'm guessing too strong, but definitely an impressive start.

      Melek is pretty cool. At first I was like, why does untap come with haste but they're mutually exclusive and feel like they're doing the same thing—Neat.

      That Vorel looks complicated.

    3. This Mirko Vask is really cool! I hadn't considered turning the mind into a more commonly drained resource.

      I'm also a big fan of how your Exava makes the dual nature of Unleash relevant while still feeling fresh.

      As for Vorel, I tried this ability out a while ago, but scrapped it when I realized that nobody would know what to do with two of them on the board. Putting the ability on a legend is an awesome work-around, but given that Lazav, Dimir Mastermind will be in all the same formats, it may not be enough to make the card printable.

  4. Unfortunately, most of my designs feel WAY more mythic than just rare. But then again, so does Ruric.

    1. I think the only reason is ten mythics eats up all their mythic slots. So they gave us some extra awesome rares. Plus that helps Commander players.

  5. Intimidate on this art for Teysa feels wrong. She is sitting reclined in a chair. We're supposed to believe that a giant green wurm, blue leviathan, or red dragon would be frightened into not blocking a person sitting in a chair?

    I really like this Tajic. Great example of "less is more" in design. He has no ability we've never seen before but feels like a completely unique card.

    So many of these cards have way too many words. Way. Too. Many. I would honestly love to see a Weekend Art Challenge where the goal is to design a rare with a low wordcount (maybe, in the spirit of Maro's April Fools article, no more than 11?)

  6. Melek, Izzet Paragon 2UR
    Legendary Creature-Weird Wizard
    Whenever a player casts an instant or sorcery, you may pay {RU}. If you do, choose one - gain control of target creature until end of turn. Untap it, it gains haste until end of turn; or switch target creature's power and toughness until end of turn; or you may choose new targets for target spell that targets only Melek, Izzet Paragon

    The reason Its a 1/7 is because Its a perfected Frostburn Weird! At first I though that might be a shallow design (a lot of my cards are just 'fixed that' or 'that, but with this now!') but then I remembered that the Izzet are crazy engineers. OF COURSE THEY WOULD BUILD A BIGGER BETTER VERSION OF THEIR BEST CREATURE.

  7. They just revealed the real Melek and he/it is Awesome. I instantly realize that an important criteria I should have evaluated all of these cards on is there appeal for Commander. I'm not a Commander expert, but I'll do my best to remedy that oversight now and you can correct me where I err.

    As a two-drop Commander, Emmara Tandris won't appeal to as many players but when she does, it'll be even moreso. While you won't be sacrificing her for an amazing effect and then recasting her often like Ashling the Pilgrim, it's pretty clear that Emmara is an amazing defender and will buy you time to ramp up and cast your Ionas and Krosan Cloudscrapers. She's particularly persuasive in multiplayer where the aggressor can choose a more efficient victim. I am concerned she might be too annoying since she's nearly indestructible and so cheap to bring back when you do manage to off her.

    Lavinia arguably makes a lot more sense in multiplayer, because you're not forcing your opponents to attack you, just to attack. "Let's you and him fight" is a classic multiplayer strategy and I'm sure the blue-white player can find enough walls to help direct all that violence to other players. My flavor concern stands. Pretty weird to make peace illegal.

    Melek gets better in multiplayer since there will be more players casting spells and adding charge counters. The redirect effect also becomes a diplomatic tool instead of just an awkward counterspell.

    Exava gets to steal +1/+1 counters from more dying creatures, but her Lord of the Pit sacrifice requirement also becomes much more dangerous for you.

    Mirko Vosk seems to stay exactly the same in Commander/multiplayer.

    Mirvos Vosk, on the other hand, becomes MUCH better since he's triggering off of everyone's graveyard, and is so re-castable.

    Teysa stays about the same. Having more opponents makes it more likely she'll be able to attack someone without being blocked.

    Tajic gets considerably worse, but I can still imagine a few players running him in a crazy RW aggro deck. I would run that.

    George's Varolz gets better since it triggers off of all graveyards. Yes, someone will probably kill it pretty quickly, but you can at least use your excess mana to kill some things on the way out. Assuming you can keep more land in play than the cost to (re-) cast it.

    Ben's Varolz stays about the same. Yes, someone is more likely to get the removal to deal with it, but if you're careful, only one person will want to remove it.

    Bradley's Varolz gets better since it will earn more counters and the freegeneration will help keep your threat on the board.

    Antny's and Chah's Vorels get a little worse, since they're not scaling up in anyway.

    1. To clarify, Commander-ness was not one of the requirements I laid out in the challenge, so this aspect can't count against your submission, but I was curious to see if anyone deserved more credit for having managed this too.