Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Weekend Art Challenge Review 040513—Dragon's Maze

Here's the challenge we'll be reviewing today.

(It's kind of fun mimicking Jay!)

A giant creature's overgrown muscles (+1/+1 counters) swell so large that they Break the Chains that are binding it and send opposing creatures in its vicinity sprawling. Mechanically, Jay's card unleashes a reverse effect of the +1/+1 counters on your creatures upon your opponent's creatures.

This feels somewhat complex for a common, and part of the reason might be that it has more than one quirk — caring about +1/+1 counters, and targeting two creatures. I had thought those two aspects might be fused together interestingly, but it was probably better to focus on one of those aspects.

It does create an incentive to try to draft all the cards across Return to Ravinca block with different mechanics that produce +1/+1 counters, which would be fun.

The first idea I had looking at this art is "Target creature fights two target creatures" (although that phrasing would need some definition as to how that works) and maybe R Stech started out with the same idea. Dead End copies itself recursively, allowing a creature to go on a rampage and smash more and more opposing creatures until it runs out of toughness.

This current wording needs fixing though, because the game doesn't check whether a damaged creature dies until the entire text on the card has finished processing. I don't know what the cleanest way is. But since R Stech wrote he wanted to show the different guilds temporarily forming alliances during the Maze run, one funky way to make a creature fight multiple times is to give the spell Cypher. Say,

Target creature you control fights another target creature.

This probably isn't the best implementation either; just a fun thought.

As people have pointed out in the comments, 3 mana is undercosted for land destruction these days, with Wrecking Ball being the closest comparison to what this card does. This card would have to cost more, so I dont think it can be in the style of Mortify or Putrefy, but it could try to squeeze in extra utility to compensate. Maybe "Exile target creature and target land" (in the vein of Plague Spores, Fumarole, and Decimate), or "Exile target creature or land. ~ deals 3 damage to its controller?" My examples here aren't particularly inspired, but I just want to point out that it often helps to keep thinking of more variants, changing the card in one direction or another, tweaking the text in some way in Magic Set Editor and looking at what it can become rather than trying to arrive at an awesome design in one step.

Evan's card perfectly matches the art. It's a powerful effect that seems right at home in the slow, multicolor madness enabled by the Gates in Dragon's Maze.

It does seem a bit too powerful since drawing even 3 cards is backbreaking in any Limited format that isn't as fast as Zendikar or Gatecrash. It would be more balanced if it read "Spend only mana from Gates on X. Draw X cards." It would be more elegant as well.

Players who drafted even a few Gate cards can at least cycle this spell off of one Gate. A buildaround card like this doesn't need to be useful in every situation — that's why it's allowed to be powerful!

This is an awesomely powerful and appropriately costed card by Jules. The name is a nice pun as well. The restriction of needing two targets that share a color further justifies such a powerful 4-for-1 effect. That restriction might create interesting choices about what to target with the spell. It might also require you to refrain from killing a minor creature in earlier turns if it shares a color with the largest threat on the board, so that you can steal those two creatures. Finally, there would be fun stealing choices to be had in multiplayer.

This is a very cool effect to put Overload on. While game-winning cards like Insurrection probably don't need to be flexible in addition to being powerful, an Act of Treason is also in itself situational so that's probably fine.

This card can read "You win the game" when it's Overloaded in many situations. At the right cost, it might be dramatic; at the wrong cost, it might bring an anticlimactic end to the strategic interaction that was still unfolding. But it's difficult to gauge the correct overload cost without knowing exactly how slow the Dragon's Maze environment is. It might be correct to cost the Overload mode at least a full mana above Insurrection.

Flood with Anger would be super powerful in multiplayer.

This card was inspired by Bradley Rose's article on Split cards in Dragon's Maze. With the block already chock full with 10 mechanics, it seemed that the only way to have something new in Dragon's Maze in a flashy way is to use some kind of split card.

What, the art doesn't match? Look at that goblin placing that big, fat, red +1/+1 counter on that elephant's back!

While I tried to pack a number of ideas in here, that has made the text somewhat cramped. (You can enlarge these card images by clicking.) The real split cards in Dragon's Maze show me that the best shocking ideas are also simple.

An Equipment that you can attach to opponent's creatures, and an Act of Treason that you can move around — that's an appealing concept.

However, the creature-stealing ability should definitely be at sorcery speed because otherwise it will make combat impossible for the opponent if you manage to leave mana untapped.

Another quirk of this card is that it actually remains on the opponent's creature even after you lose control of it at end of turn. This could be a balancing feature or a bug, depending on how its abilities are going to be adjusted for balance.

This Equipment has a lot of effects — +1/+1, damage-based card draw, haste, and creature stealing, and I'm not sure it needs all of them. Magic cards should each have one unique, clear, unified concept. They can have infinite depth by how they interact with other cards, but there's no need for one card to do everything you want all by itself. Just stealing a creature every turn already gives this equipment its own identity. If I were to cut something, I would cut the card draw ability.

While the flavor of a collar that you attach to control a creature is good, it might actually be simpler to make it an artifact that taps to steal something for a turn. Or, it might be more balanced as some crazy red Aura that hops from creature to creature, wresting control of it, eventually getting destroyed when the creature dies.

Wobbles' Izzet Spectator is an excellent fit for the artwork. I was wondering what those mini-gun or camera-like attachments do. The activation cost for flying keeps it acceptable as a Red card of these stats. As it was pointed out in the comments, peeking at the top of the deck can incidentally help Dimir find the best moment to mill the opponent, although it might be difficult to control unless you have a creatures with an activated mill ability like Duskmantle Guildmage.

Oozes often come in varying sizes based on different conditions, but an Ooze that gets its size from a fog effect is very neat and satisfying to resolve. I would love to cast this against an Overrun effect or a Boros Charm. It looks play-around-able at this cost, but at the same time even if the opponent is wary and doesn't go all in, you still get a sizable token off of just a few attackers.

The ability to redirect burn spell damage is quite an interesting ability to pair with the Phytohydra ability. It also fits the artwork perfectly. While it might be frustrating to play against, I suppose it's fine considering it's a 6-drop rare. It would be fun to combo this with an Earthquake effect or a Blasphemous Act.

The combination of 0 power with deathtouch is pretty weird, and it poses a challenge to draft Johnnies. If you put even a +1/+1 counter on it, it becomes a formidable 1/7 deathtouch. It combos well with the many +1/+1 counter effects strewn across the block.

But I'm not sure if the goal of making a defensive creature even more defensive is the kind of challenge that a large enough subset of Johnnies enjoy. Maybe instead of deathtouch, it could have a "This creature must be blocked if able" clause instead? That way, when it's a 0 power creature it's only a decoy that gets one blocker out of the way each turn, but with enough +1/+1 counters on it, it can also become a deadly killing machine. The combo would feel more innocuous, and the players can enjoy the feeling that they discovered it themselves.

Rage Imbalance takes in the Boros vs. Izzet confrontation shown in the art and translates that into an effect that thematically represents the battle between the Red guilds.

Nich made a comment on how there haven't been any cards with mirrored bonuses/penalties based on a theme like color. I'm supposing the reason for that is that the card's role in deck building would become unclear — is it a build-around card or a sideboard card? If a key card for a build-around theme also randomly hates out a category of other decks, matchups would become swingy.

With the suddenness of flash, and the ability to reset itself with each new intruder, Temple Traps does feel like a trap in many ways. The ability to bounce and recast this combos nicely with the Orzhov Extort plan.

However, the Arrest ability doesn't particularly feel synergetic with flash, it merely allows efficient/flexible use of mana most of the time. The flash ability is also crimping the space available for text, so maybe it should be cut.

The art in this challenge wasn't the easiest to work with, maybe because many of them looked like simple staple effects while the challenge asked for a card that combos with multiple guilds. But there were quite a few cool cards regardless. Thanks for participating.


  1. Dead End should actually "work" as worded since it makes a separate copy so there's time for the creature to die, but you get another copy on the iteration that kills your creature which then fizzles, which is not what most people will expect based on the wording. Then again, it won't matter unless your opponent has a Phantasmal Bear or something, so it may not matter.

    Izzet Spectator has cool interactions, but it doesn't actually provide fun gameplay. Oftentimes it will be hitting every turn, taking away all of the mystery of what's in your opponent's hand leading to both analysis paralysis and less excitement.

    Chah already covered the other thoughts I had about these submissions (and then some!), so I'll just go ahead and say Force Gel is awesome. The one change I would make is to make it only prevent damage to players, because otherwise blocking with a bunch of guys will lead to a ridiculously large ooze.

  2. Hah, I'm glad I've inspired some design!

  3. ...Apparently my phone never posted the comment I tried to make. Anyway, here's the gist of it:

    Chah's analyses are spot on and covered most of the things that crossed my mind, here are a few others:

    Dead End should actually work as worded since each copy resolves as a separate spell, but for the reason Chah noted it will make one extra copy which promptly does nothing.

    While Izzet Spectator has lots of cool interactions I doubt that it actually makes for fun gameplay. It simply takes away too much hidden information since it's unlikely to stop hitting players, leading to analysis paralysis and a lack of surprises.

    Force Gel is awesome (probably my favorite of the bunch), but I think it needs one small tweak: it should only prevent damage dealt to players. Otherwise when you get attacked and block with everything it'll make an enormously large Ooze and to balance it the card would have to cost too much to really work as a Fog.

    All in all a great round of submissions. Lots of interesting ideas!

    1. Isn't that what Force Gel is doing?

    2. Apparently I'm unable to read. In that case I love it as is!