Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Weekend Art Challenge Review 083013—Theros Speculation

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

I originally tried to make a {G}{G} variant of Wild Growth to really support a devotion strategy, but decided it was too narrow and possibly too effective, so I just made a functional reprint.

Afflicted Cyclops offers a nice conciliation if it dies after you enchant it, although it's going to suck even more when your opponent Shocks it in response to the aura. It's neat that you could put Dead Weight on him to kill a Craw Wurm.

Bounty of the Nexus is clearly bonkers. They could never pr—What's that? Karametra's Acolyte was just spoiled? [slow clap]

In all seriousness, this is a solid rare design and a natural use for devotion to green. This is one of those funny cases where a card is actually better when it costs more.

Yesterday's rundown of Theros mechanics on the mothership indicates that devotion only ever counts colored mana symbols in the mana costs of permanents you control, but none of the cards spoiled ever spelled out that limitation, so zefferal explored other ways to affect one's devotion with Dakra Archipelago. Since the explanation wasn't an official rules FAQ, it's still possible something like this could be allowed, but I doubt it because effects like this make it considerably harder to track your devotion, due to the lack of visual aid. Regardless, a cycle like this is reminiscent of Mirrodin's artifact land cycle but much less breakable and if tracking it weren't an issue, I'd be happy to see this in Theros.

The ability to target a creature more than once with a single spell is more attractive than normal in Theros because it makes your heroic creatures better. If you simplify Dogged Pursuit's method to something like rebound or Molten Birth, I could see a cycle of these doing a lot for Theros.

There's no question that Theros is going to have some interesting tricks (again, because they combo with heroism, beyond the usual reasons of making games interesting) and Feat of Heroism aims to be one of them. While the condition on the cantrip here is clever, it reads to me as the opposite of heroism. Going into battle when you expect to win isn't heroic; I want to be rewarded for risking my life in the face of a seemingly stronger foe.

There was a good amount of disagreement whether a card like Flawless Rhetoric is good for the game or not. I'll let you check it out and come to your own conclusion, but there's definitely something to be said for the flavor of the card and how apropos it is that it spurred philosophical debate.

Using the Squadron Hawk ability on Heroic Vigor begs the question whether it's fair to get four cards for {1}{W} regardless of how weak or narrow the effect on those cards is (because those cards can be used for other purposes, like discarding to pay for other costs). If you change 'three cards' to 'a card' then you have to play the second copy to the get the third and largely avoid that problem, but increase the number of shuffles required, which is something we really do want to minimize. If you change 'three cards' to 'any number of cards' then the effect reads bigger and avoids extra shuffles when you have 5 or 6 in your Limited deck.

Heroic Vigor lets you make a creature indestructible before attacking with it, which is a narrow but potentially very useful effect, and which fits the flavor of Theros perfectly. That you'll get extra copies and can trigger an heroic creature multiple times is gravy.

Because granting indestructibility until EOT is almost always used to save a creature in response to combat or removal, a lot of players will ignore the type line and assume this is an instant (until they learn the hard way). I'd recommend adding something that's clearly only useful before combat, like vigilance.

This card tells the story of Hypatia of the Winged Horse from the planeswalker's guide in card form. That's a resonance home-run. It's possible that six power worth of flying is too good for {2}{W}{W}, but having not playtested heroic, I don't know that yet.

An updated version of Hope and Glory, Joint Glory is more tactical in that first strike can be as good as +1/+1 or better, but only in certain situations. You want to make those situations happen to make this trick shine. Similarly, unexpected lifelink is tactical because you can save it until your opponent plays differently because they think they're close to beating you and then reveal your 'true' life total.

Laggona Diplomat isn't going to drop any jaws, but I had to make this card because it's sounding like most centaurs are monsters and this centaur clearly isn't. Based on the story, the GW city has a truce with this band of centaurs, so I illustrated that with this 'symmetrical' ability. Eh.

Lanathos definitely qualifies as splashy—And how could he be anything but with that art? Imagine double-blocking this, only to have your opponent cast something as mundane as Kindled Fury on it; That could well be a three-for-one. You do have to be careful how you use your Lanathos though, because fighting one of two creatures already blocking it won't get you anywhere most of the time.

Preordain on a stick is suitably exciting. That Perisophia is also quite thematic makes this design a double threat.

Phalanx Formation looks pretty underwhelming at first, but when you use it to target three different heroic creatures, it's going to start looking a whole lot better. I imagine this being a card that a lot of experienced players ignore at the prerelease, only to discover it when the new players happen upon the combo by accident. That'd be swell.

Against a single creature, Prowling Amazons could be pretty sweet. The value of must-be-blocked starts to drop off pretty quickly when your opponent has enough creatures to choose between chump-blocking, double-blocking or blocking with something bigger. Granted, your amazons will be pumped by whatever you used to trigger it, but the inability to surprise your opponent with an instant after blockers and get any use out of the trigger will be a bit of a bummer. Even so, this isn't a card you'll be putting in your unplayable pile often.

I wanted to make a common monstrosity. Nessian Asp is rather more impressive. I tried to find square numbers for Roofshatter Cyclops, but nothing quite worked. Fortunately, the Asp shows that wasn't a terrible sin.

Setessan Phalanx is solid. I hesitate whenever I see indestructible at common, but with the off-color condition, it's hard enough to achieve that I think it works. I would be surprised to see "multicolor" stuff like this in Theros, but it could easily show up in Born of the Gods or Nyx.

I loved Brothers Yamazaki back in Kamigawa. What a quirky pair. I do have to say that a couple 5/5s with hexproof seem quite a bit stronger than a couple 4/3s with bushido 1 and haste.

I don't really believe there will be uncommon legends in Theros, since the supertype has no new mechanical significance there, but I sure wouldn't be sad to Sisters anyhow.

Does the existence of Fleshpulper Giant make Squish red? Probably not.

I like the idea behind Squish, but there's just something nagging at me about it. I think it's aesthetic; I might like this better if it stomped creatures with toughness 2 or less normally, and toughness 4 or less powered up.

To War! is either a Trumpet Blast that triggers heroism or a red Sigil Blessing. Either way, it's a functional and unassuming common that looks perfectly red and fits Theros.

Inanimate made a whole booster pack. I encourage you to check it out. It's not all flawless, but the overall quality is definitely impressive, including the flavor text. My favorite is Trample Underfoot, but Lynx Aspect is entirely believable as a real card, and Lurking Lampad isn't far off from the real thing. Akroan Flamespeaker is an exciting rare that uses devotion to red in a way that I think would knock a few socks off.

Some designs came out better than others, but I don't think a single one was off track. All the designs found some aspect of the set that wants some card support and then fill that hole. It's always funny when the real card for a piece of art gets spoiled before the review goes live, but I don't expect to hear lots of complaints that we got to see so many cards spoiled since Friday. Spending a little time thinking about the possibilities and environment for Theros and its mechanics has only made me more excited to get to the prerelease.


  1. I am really surprised how many takes on Heroic, or triggers for it there were. It is the easiest mechanic to design, so maybe it was that. It could also be the fact that there weren't a lot of monsters in Prt 2 of the Planeswalker's Guide. Part 3 has nothing but monsters, and I can't help but wonder what we would have seen if this challenge was a week later and had that mix of art to choose from.

  2. This looks like a really good challenege, and briefly looking over the cards it seems like everyone did a good job. I really loved Lanathos, Prowling Amazons and Akroan Flamespeaker in particular.

    Heroic obviously has a lot of potential, though I wonder why there wasn't more monstrosity cards.

    1. As Nich commented upon above, part 2 of the Planeswalker's Guide to Theros covered the human city-based cultures of Theros, so none of the art pertained to the monsters.

      This assumes, of course, that there are no humans that can supersize themselves into giants.

    2. I don't know, now you say it super sized humans sounds awesome. :)

  3. Generally I agree with what Jay said, but there are a few other things I'd like to bring up:

    It's okay to have cards that don't make sense in a vacuum, but Dakra Archipelago doesn't click even when you have context. You could make the card less parasitic by giving it an actual mana cost with reminder text telling players not to pay for lands, but unlike Mirrodin's artifact lands players wouldn't grok why they might care.

    Lanathos' fighting capabilities will mean opponents need to leave back even more creatures to block him since otherwise he might fight one of their two untapped creatures and leave them unable to block. I'm not positive that improves gameplay, but it certainly makes the card more dynamic.

    Perisophia is cool for players who recall the heyday of Preordain, but it probably feels pretty hot-glue-gunned to newer players. I, for one, am not convinced that Preordain is a high-profile enough callback to justify the confusion. While it was incredibly powerful, only the uppermost echelon of tournament players ever regarded it as a major component of the decks it inhabited.

    Phalanx Formation is something I don't want to see on heroic enablers. 99.99% of the time you will target all of your creatures and none of your opponents', so barring heroic it makes no sense for it to read differently from Bar the Door. I'd feel differently about a card that gave, say, +1/-1 (though that might be too math-y).

    Squish isn't problematic in and of itself, but given that red-black is the next most similar color pair after green-white, we should work harder to differentiate the colors. -X/-X can be a combat trick, but 90% of the time Squish plays just like a burn spell.

    1. The combination of fighting and the double-block clause felt like the best representation of athleticism in red (as per his story as some sort of Olympic champion), but it may tell a simpler and clearer story to just make it intimidate.

      I don't know that that would improve the gameplay either, though I'm not sure that matters much. Most flashy limited bombs aren't generally known for improving the games they appear in.