Wednesday, May 29, 2013

CCDD 052913—Excerebrate

Cool Card Design of the Day
5/29/2013 - Back in Alpha, you could design a top-down card, figure out what color it best evoked and print it. 15,000 cards later, every design exists in the context of everything that came before it.

Excerebrate explores the flavor of removing a creature's brain, rendering it a mindless zombie, devoid of the unique characteristics its mind brought to the table. That feels pretty black, so that's where we start.

As modern designers, though, we have to ask what cards players will compare this to and if it's mechanically within the proposed color pie. Excerebrate evokes Pacifism, as removal in the form of an aura which doesn't entirely neutralize all creatures, and which itself can be answered. At the same time, it's almost exactly a permanent version of Turn to Frog, stripping away the target's abilities and shrinking it down.

Black is neither big on "answers with answers" like white is, nor on transmutation in general, like blue is. It usually just weakens and/or kills. I tried making a sorcery version of Excerebrate, but it didn't jive: If you destroy the creature and give its owner a zombie token, the creature can be reanimated from the graveyard. But how do you reanimate something that's still alive, even if brain dead? I tried exiling it instead, but I actually really like the fact that you can magically heal your creature by disenchanting this magical impairment, or be resetting it with an Unsummon.

Ultimately, I decided that Excerebrate's flavor is fun enough and black enough to make up for questions about how black it is mechanically. It helps that I can justify the mechanics as mostly just a different form of -X/-X.

Excerebrate originally made the target 1/1, so that it only ever shrinks things (you know, other than goats and germs), but I conceded to making it 2/2 so that it would feel more like the standard black zombie and be less comparable in terms of power-level to Pacifism, or in terms of wording to Turn to Frog. You're unlikely to cast this on one of your opponent's 1/1s anyhow, and you'd have to be pretty desperate to cast it as a buff to one of your own. You can also justify that flavor by arguing that a mindless human is more dangerous, as seen by all the 2/2 zombified humans in Magic.


  1. I think this is a very dangerous stance to take on design. The world is ful of experiences to make top-down designs for, but every color-pie violation erodes the barriers that make the color wheel relevant for eternal formats. If the flavor and mechanical slot don't jive, don't print the card until they do. For instance, this could have been mono blue in Dark Ascension without any issues.

  2. Why not just "Enchanted creature is a 2/2 Zombie"?

  3. I like this a lot. Closest analogy is probably Rapid Hybridization, but the sorcery speed, enchantment implementation, and flavor are enough to make it clearly black for me. I suspect that it could even cost just {B}.

  4. On the other hand, I strongly prefer seeing this mechanically in black. If we're removing the brain, it might as well call back to the old-fashioned way of taking out the brain.

    Excerebrate 1B
    When ~ enters the battlefield, name a creature.
    Creatures with the chosen name lose all abilities and become 2/2 Zombies.

  5. I'm getting major Hornet Sting flashbacks. Mentioning a black creature type in the rules text isn't enough to make a card black. "Good creature becomes a crappy creature" is very firmly a blue/green effect (Rapid Hybridization, Turn to Frog, Snakeform, Pongify, Beast Within, Terastodon.)

    1. Make it a black/green effect from here on out! It never should've strayed into blue in the first place.

  6. I like it!

  7. Seems good to me. Green can get Lignify, black can get this. It's quite like Clinging Darkness or Crippling Blight.

    I'm not sure if there's a problem with colour bleed or not. On the one hand, we have to be watchful for even small bleeds. On the other hand, black can do almost all forms of creature removal, so this isn't letting black do something it normally couldn't, even in a small way.

  8. Heheheheheh! Love the picture.