Monday, July 15, 2013

Weekend Art Challenge Review 071213—depingo

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

Since this ability comes up a few times today, it's worth pointing out that "Protection from Dragons" on ground creatures is really just "Can't be blocked by dragons or burnt by their activated abilities" and the only part that's relevant against every dragon is the one that prevents the dragon and the knight from clashing.

I don't see any flavor for Baneslayer Paladin's reach-against-dragons-only.

Credit to those whose designs have nothing to do with Knights or Dragons. Not that the art doesn't beg for it, because it does, but going against the grain is always a good way to stand out.

Battle Tested reads well, but it'll usually just play for your opponent as: "Avoid combat unless you're going to win the fight or you have to chump-block to stay alive."

Defend Your Turf is a defensive version of Lurking Predators. I'm not sure what makes that red, except for the last line that rips the card away from you (and compels you to block since you'll lose your creature anyhow).

I'm also not aware of a lot of red-green decks that are focused on defense. You might play this so that you can all-out attack otherwise, and worry less about losing the race, but it's not reliable enough to give you that confidence and all-out attacks can't really afford that kind of hedge anyhow.

Den Master Dragon is mathy. If I attack with three 2/2s, what happens? What about a 4/4 and a 0/1? Every possible combination requires a new calculation.

Destined Slayer is one of my favorite designs this week. This tiny little dude poses a real threat to this giant monster, and that fits the art perfectly. On its own, this card just prevents the opponent from attacking with the fated creature, and only if it doesn't have evasion. But there are combos you can use to force the fight, like Prey Upon or Soul's Fire.

Pyroclasm into an army of dragons? Don't mind if I do! Dragon Invocation's flavor text bothers me because the effect tells a story (to me) of dragons flying in to eat a bunch of mortals, but the story in italics is one of transformation.

I feel like I've shared this design before, but I couldn't find it anywhere online. Dragon Slayer finds dragons and kills them. Done.

Quite a few submissions this week go after awesome by the avenue of having a lot of abilities. We know that can work because Akroma, Angel of Wrath is indisputably awesome and she's awesome because she has so many abilities. That said, Akroma was unique and making more cards like that makes them all more common and less special. Baneslayer Angel dips her toes into the same water, but she does it in her own way, acting as a paragon of white and sporting all of white's evergreen keywords (unlike Akroma who steals a few). I think in order to make this kitchen sink work in the new context where both those cards already exist, it has to have its own identity, and all the pieces have to support that identity.

Dragonslayer is an anti-dragon card before you even make it to the text box, so you expect everything there to support that concept. Double strike isn't particularly anti-dragon, but it allows us to make a human-sized creature that packs a dragon-sized wallop, so it works for me. Vigilance isn't helping since Dragonslayer isn't blocking any dragons; you could argue it's thematic, but then you could put vigilance on every white creature. Protection from Dragons is perfect, except for my remarks at the top of the article. Protection from red is also not necessary for a dragonslayer, though I'm willing to accept that he's also immune to all of the dragon's allies and their magic.

Remember Hunted Dragon? That cycle was interesting for Johnny because he had to figure out how to make the card worth the drawback / mitigate the drawback. Dragonslayer's second line of text does the same thing, removing any interest Spike and Timmy had in the card to this point (which was plenty). That's fine; Johnny needs cards, but once we've identified him as the sole target, it's worth asking if everything on the card appeals to that audience. Johnny doesn't dislike lots of keywords, but they don't speak to him the way they do to Timmy. I'm suggesting they're wasted on a Johnny card and should be saved for Timmy's card.

The final ability is also very Johnny because, like Destined Slayer, it's something that will never happen on its own. That's a good thing. Except, in this case using your Prey Upon or Soul's Fire wins you the game instead of killing a creature of any size. Seeing as how you don't even have to solve the problem of getting a dragon onto the field to kill, not only is that too easy a combo for tournaments, but we've also solved half the puzzle for Johnny, which is not what he enjoys.

Many of today's cards need more focus, and Dragonslayer is no exception.

Fabled Feud also takes a page from Hunted Dragon, but it lets you choose who gets the dragon and who gets the comically-large, completely unkillable knight. The interesting part is choosing which to take. The knight is better in the abstract, but if your opponent has a bunch of Saprolings, and you have a Wall of Frost, the dragon becomes the obvious choice. Feud probably needs to cost 4 or so, since it will completely dominate the game whenever it happens on turn two.

Final Battle is a twelve mana card that says if your opponent controls a creature, and you control anything bigger, you win the game if they don't have an instant like Giant Growth, Murder or Cancel. That's more interesting than "you win the game" but not just a whole lot else. Like the Dragonslayer who blows up all your lands when he kills your dragon, I don't see the flavor behind this fight killing your opponent. Perhaps "Target creature you control 'fights' another target creature or player." (Maybe the player deals her life in damage to the creature.) Or "All creatures attack or block this turn if able.")

Insignificant Opposition is a red Overrun that punishes blocking rather than requiring it. I can get behind that, except for one thing. It'll be weird when most of your creatures deal more damage blocked than they would have unblocked. (If you block my 1/1 with your 2/2, your creature dies and you take 4 trample.) Removing the +2/+0 would probably do the trick. I love the flavor text.

Fading has changed this to a sorcery. That takes away the bluff factor and makes this more of a "creatures can't block this turn… unless they've got really big butts." Definitely less broken, but perhaps less interesting too.

Instill Courage is clearly rare. Actually, if there's ever a cheap mythic rare boon, this is it. It also probably needs to cost a fair bit more. A Baneslayer Angel version was proposed that I like a lot more because it's uber-white, instead of white with massive color bleed. Also, appointing a creature to defend the realm against demons and dragons sounds more awesome than just "have all the keywords for a while." Cool card.

Lifescourge Dragon is awesome.

It's weird to me that Lightbound Avenger avenges himself, but I like this body+effect for this cost. Maybe the trigger should require a payment of {R}.

Apart from being overly focused on discard, and not really red at all, Nicol Bolas, Savage Mind is a pretty solid pass at planeswalker design with great synergy between the three abilities. Better than Wit's End, but maybe not Sire of Insanity. Then again, Sire doesn't draw you cards.

Dragons are the ultimate predators; Great concept. Flash and the ETB ability are duplicating the same story. Should this dragon really eat two creatures when you cast it? I guess that's what it's doing in combat (assuming you chump-block, or count a chunk of 7 of your life as equivalent to a creature). Printing first strike on Predatory Hellkite will mislead some players to think that counts in a fight.

Somewhat like Predator Ooze, Protector of the Realm starts off underwhelming, but can grow into quite a threat. Unlike Predator Ooze, you're sitting back with Protector and just hoping your opponent attacks. Ironically, it probably plays a lot like Slumbering Dragon. Giving it green for reach was a good solution to the problem of defending against flying dragons.

Rousted Hellkite has slightly simpler rules text than Den Master Dragon, but the math is much simpler. If you attack with creatures whose total power is 5+, you'll kill the hellkite and lose most or all of them. Easy. Here, the must-fight-all-attackers ability is treated as a downside, justifying a larger base size, and that feels just intuitive enough, even though you're all but guaranteed to 2:1 your opponent.

There are a bunch of cool things going on here, but none of them really mesh for me. I love the idea of a dragon that hunts knights specifically, turning the tables on that trope. I love the idea of a dragon that just wants the humans to leave him alone. I even love the idea of a dragon luring heroes into a cave they have to enter single-file. I just don't feel like those three things tie together. In fact, I think they conflict. Mechanically, pro:humans and don't-play-humans will pretty much never come up during a game except perhaps against Champion of the Parish, et al, but do you really want to be blocking with your dragon?

I wanted to find a black take on this art. One was offering a challenge to your minions to kill a dragon, the reward being even more power. The other, Slay Ancients, was the idea of going out to murder the oldest, wisest, most powerful things you can, just to prove how terrible you are and hear the lamentations of your enemies.

Stuff of Legends is Wrath of God, Fabled Feud, and a couple enchantments, stapled together. It's definitely epic, but it's just doing too much. Imagine playing a storytelling game with your friends, where they each give one sentence, and then you give three paragraphs. That's not going to be fun for them, and the same thing is happening here. Let the players tell the story of the game by weaving card-sentences together.

Sudden Dragon is solid. Just not sure why it's a sorcery instead of a creature.

Valiant Stand is Righteousness on crack. Both cards will usually end up killing an attacking creature. The difference is that Righteousness leaves room for interaction, while Valiant Stand leaves almost none. There are tons of interesting differences between Righteousness and Smite. The only significant difference between Smite and Valiant Stand is that one says what it does right on the card.

I feel like I was more critical today than usual. Don't take it personally. I want to give more blunt feedback because that's more conducive to discussion and growth. A flawed design or a failed attempt are not failures for a designer; they are lessons; stepping stones to success.

This challenge was difficult in a new way. It challenged us to explore what makes a card awesome, and it turns out that's a lot trickier concept than we may have realized. Sometimes more (keywords, power/toughness, text, scope, etc) is better, but not always. Focus and resonance proved critical. My favorite designs were the cards that told an interesting story in a simple way.

As always, my opinion is in no way dominant or flawless. Which cards did you like? Where was I over-critical? What flaws did I miss? Do you see any other successful trends or common traps on the path to awesomeness?


  1. Dragonslayer + fight doesn't equal an auto-win because fight doesn't respect double strike.

    1. Good point. Since the dragon is 5/5 and Dragonslayer's only 3/3, you've got to deal 2+ damage elsewhere or Murder it or something. That's definitely better.
      That also means the first strike + fight nonbo confusion applies here.

    2. Well, only if you want to use fight as your means of dealing the damage.

      I think you're right that the design would have been stronger as either a top-down Timmy (remove everything but double-strike, vigilance, protection from Dragons) or as a straight-up Johnny puzzle (ditch the combat keywords.) The direction I'd go with would depend on what the other mythics in the set were.

  2. Thoughts that spring to mind looking over the submissions:

    Battle Tested feels out of pie in {rw}. I could see the effect in white with this flavor, but it's really a green ability at heart.

    I'd prefer if Defend Your Turf just put the creature onto the battlefield blocking the attacker and dropped the exile clause.

    Destined Slayer is really well done. Bravo!

    I agree with Jay about Dragon Invocation's flavor, but if we're switching, I think there's even better rules text. Something like: "Put two 5/5 red Dragon creature tokens with flying onto the battlefield. ~ deals damage to each creature without flying equal to the number of Dragons you control."

    Dragon Slayer is nice and clean except for the sorcery speed restriction, but it's probably necessary.

    Fabled Feud would feel better to me if the creatures might actually fight, but as it is, they almost never will. I'd propose 5/5 Flying Dragon vs. 3/3 Double Strike Knight.

    Now that Chandra's paved the way, I fully expect to see something like Lifescrounge Dragon in the future.

    I really like the Synergy in Nicol Bolas, Savage Mind's abilities, but I'm worried that there's rarely a reason to activate the middle ability. If you don't want to come up with a different ability, I'd recommend making it a +2 and making the current +2 a +1.

    The flavor really didn't come through to me on Slay Ancients, so it felt weird that it hit each opponent. Perhaps all it needs is a more evocative name.

    In addition to being a creature, Sudden Dragon needs to be a rare. I mean, compare it to Flametongue Kavu and Sengir Vampire, which are both high-impact power uncommons.

  3. I also thought this might have been a good art for a famously epic card: death by dragons... but there was only one dragon in the art.

    1. I thought it'd be an interesting reprint of Hunted Dragon, but only one knight.

  4. About insignificant opposition: yes it is true it would be better as an instant without the +2/+0... or without the double strike perhaps.

  5. My thoughts on a few cards:

    Defend Your Turf: Great name for a Red/Green card. My only note is that it keeps your opponent from attacking in a way that doesn't win you the game. Which can slow down the game. Does it trigger for each attacking creature, or only once per combat?

    Den Master Dragon: Another strangely defensive design. This also can severely slow the game down. At least it can still attack while benefiting from its effect. Actually, that is weird and may catch some players off guard.

    Dragon Slayer is cool. As a Rare, I don't see why it needs the "Activate this ability only as a sorcery" clause, unless its not about NWO board complexity.

    Dragonslayer is cooler as a Timmy card, based on name alone. The persistant problem of interacting with a flying Dragon needs a clean solution. That's probably why they made Dragonstalker a Bird Soldier in Scourge.

    Fabled Feud is way cool. But it needs tweaks. It could also create a 4/4 flying dragon and a 2/2 double striking knight for 1(r/w)(r/w).

    Final Battle is a miss for me. Adding a really high mana cost to a easy to achieve win condition doesn't excite me. If I'm going to win by paying 8RRRR I want it to be via BURN.

    Insignificant Opposition: It's too bad none of my creatures will get any of those cool abilities since this card as a sorcery really says, "creatures you control cannot be blocked." Maybe you can try to intice players to block, by giving blocked creatures a bonus and unblocked creatures a different bonus? "Unblocked creatures you control get +2/+0 until end of turn. Blocked creatures you control have double strike and trample until end of turn." Just a thought.

    Instill Courage is a a neat idea. Another reason the Baneslayer Angel version might be better is that it gets full use whether you target an attacker or a blocker. But the Akroma version really only is fully utilized with an attacking target. Also, the vigilance and haste bonuses really want this to be a sorcery, so people have to cast it at the right time, before combat.

    Lifescourge Dragon is a good Mythic Rare dragon design, but does not excite me. It's just too similar to other 6+ mana cost dragon designs we've seen by WotC in the past few years that are bulk Mythics and see zero play. So it's acceptable, but not awesome.

    Lightbound Avenger is a good Common design. It's really strong. The 3 damage should match it's power or something. It's acceptable as mono-white, but mines the overlap in red/white, so I'd save it for a set that needed hybrid designs rather than waste it on a monowhite creature.

    Protector of the Realm is a good fit for the art, and a solid design. but it's not awesome. Maybe if the third ability was just Protection from creatures? That way you can hold it back and add +1/+1 counters, and then alpha swing for the win when it's sufficiently big.

    Rousted Hellkite is awesome. it could be Mythic Rare.

    Skulk, the Knight-Slayer is a miss for me. Although I like the Hulk style flavor text. The "If you control a Human" effect should probably just make you sacrifice Skulk, but even then, these sort of downsides are never going to make a card awesome. That's why WotC doesn't make them anymore.

    Sudden Dragon: In addition to flash, Sudden Dragon really oughta be UR or RG. The surprise factor is not very Red.

    Valiant Stand: Hexproof and indestructible are mostly redundant. I don't think it needs both AND +10 toughness. I like Ready///Willing more for this type of card than Righteousness.