Monday, September 23, 2013

Weekend Art Challenge Review 092013—ChaoYuanXu

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

Remove either the first or second ability and Ancient Necropolis is an interesting card that skeleton lovers will be happy to have. Using both earns us nothing and is thus a waste of design resources.

I would definitely like to see more skeletons in this setting.

Ascent into Darkness is a little tricky to evaluate. It's kind of a graveyard hoser, but is actually better other graveyard hate. It's kind of a Bitterblossom, but theoretically symmetrical. There's enough room to finagle different advantages out of it and I think it's a fine Johnny card. Flavor's pretty good too.

There's a sorcery version too. Fascinating how similar they read but how different they play.

Bloody Manor feels a little derivative of Lorwyn, which is something the original Innistrad strived to avoid, but it makes good sense that coming back again years later some call backs to prior tribal sets would be nice, and this is certainly a reasonable dual land.

As storage lands go, Castle Markov is fun and flavorful. That said, modern Magic avoids putting counters on lands whenever possible (the last time was Zendikar) because they're just very awkward to deal with when you mostly just want to forget about your lands and focus on everything else.

Axxle proposed this simpler alternative:

Castle of Encroaching Dark is the front side of a double-faced card. Castle of Eternal Night is the other side.

I put in some reminder text that clarifies which is which, but an actual DF land would need an actual rule because unlike all the DFCs from Innistrad, Lands don't need mana costs to be played and so there's nothing intrinsic about which side you put in your deck.

It's a little redundant that a single card has transform and affects transformation, but Eternal Night's ability is very powerful and does need to be hard to achieve. It could be simpler, but there's definitely an appeal to the Boseiju template.

While it's merely very good with werewolves, the existence of an ability that lets you circumvent the standard minigame to transform a card limits the scope of other transform cards and makes something like Ludevic's Abomination unprintable.

The biggest strike against Castle of Endless Dead is that all modern lands produce mana. That's integral to their identity and it's a mistake to omit it. Ultimately, there's no reason this card wants to be a land, as enchantment (or even artifact) would work just fine.

I would change 'permanent' to 'creature' since I don't know how you zombify a Necropotence or Swamp. I'd exchange the last ability with "Whenever a creature ETB under your control, exile it and put a 2/2 black Zombie token OTB" to keep consistent with the first ability. At which points you might as well make what you see to the right.

That's a very different card and less powerful, but much simpler too. Not quite as "Nothing but Zombies for the rest of the game" which is a gain in some ways and a loss in others.

Catacomb of Hallow's Eve is a morbid update of All Hallow's Eve. It's interesting that it could go much faster (popping the same turn) or much slower (never), but I love that the trigger is now intimately tied into the nature of the card. Mike suggested making the activated ability instead part of the triggered ability and I like that better because letting the controller choose when to pop it removes even more of the symmetry than switching to morbid did.

Cathedral of Memories is a Snapcaster Mage that even non-blue decks will be required to play in Standard, and perhaps even Modern and Legacy. It will warp formats and frustrate large swaths of players with its ubiquity until it's banned.

Court of the Vampire King is a very niche card. Not only do you need to be playing dedicated Human+Vampire tribal, but you need at least two creatures on the field beside the enchantment for it to do anything, and a fair bit more than that to really profit from it. Does that put it in the same unplayable-but-dripping-with-flavor camp as Goblin Test Pilot? I think the difference is that Test Pilot's story comes across before you get to the flavor text while Court's takes four lines of flavor to explain the rules text.

I don't think haunt is coming back. If it were too, I think Haunting Chapel is the perfect complexity level to do it.

It bothers me a little that this land grants such a black effect when it haunts, but given the hoop you've got to jump to make that happen, and the flavor, I like it. I would like -1/-1 even better.

Hunger of the Moon is meant to be a callback to morbid in a future Innistrad that doesn't formally include the ability word. It lets you circumvent the normal werewolf trigger with a morbid trigger, which a neat way for black to care about werewolves, but as with Castle of Eternal Night, I don't like that it cheats Ludevic's Test Subject so easily.

The second ability could be separate card. I'm also not sure it needs to specify non-Human, though there is some flavor and gameplay there.

Irekroft Estate is very strong, and that's why it's mythic. It's not hard to imagine an infinite combo here and I'd consider making it only able to untap once per turn or once per phase to stem that tide. Or at least make it ETB tapped or not untap normally.

Great pithy flavor text.

Lunar Apogee is strange and wonderful. A little puzzle for Johnny to ponder. I do have to wonder if "tokens are 1/1 black Bats with flying, etc" wouldn't make more sense.

Peel from Reality's big brother is an interesting trick. It's very white, which is neat. It fits a modern trend for removal to be over-costed but have a side benefit, in this case, saving one of your guys in combat and/or letting you recast someone with a nice ETB trigger.

I wish the two effects had a little more in common, or that the story was a little more obvious, but it is there.

Screeching Infestation is an odd design in modern Magic. It's almost identical to "{3}{B}: Put a 2/2 bat OTB" but references lands, I guess to clarify what is infested. While symmetrical effects happen less in general nowadays, they do still happen, but it's always been rare to hand activated abilities out. I suppose it's neat that your non-black opponent will consider sideboarding in some swamps, though having to side this out against another black player might not be worth that trade.

I originally tried to make this mono-black and I was rightly called out on that. I like the idea that the forces of evil concede the battle to Avacyn, but not the war, stepping away from the battle to dig up more allies for the second wave. Does the flavor come through?

Spectral Castle is both a solid tribal dual land and a significant tribal boost for Spirits. Sort of a bad Wanderwine Hub and a Moorland Haunt in one, which is quite an attractive package for the WU Spirits player, even if your only spirits come from Spectral Procession. I wouldn't be surprised if this is too good there, but Development can make that call.

Treacherous Bramble could be really annoying to play against since it kills every attacker without evasion AND lives to tell the tale. It does die to -1/-1, and it can't answer any form of evasion except intimidate, so it's probably okay at uncommon. Makes me wonder about:
CARDNAME loses deathtouch until EOT: Regenerate CARDNAME .

Unhallowed Ground solves its own riddle for you, and that's something Magic cards don't need to do. Give me the first ability and let me figure out how to get enough Spirits to turn it on, or give me the last ability and let me figure out how to profit from it (hint: it's not hard). I like the first ability because it tells the story of a scary haunting. The second is about the gruesome pre-emptive murder of your minions to ensure their useful afterlife, which is also neat (though less fitting for a land).

The two most common design mistakes I saw in this challenge were making a card that should be an enchantment or artifact into a land, and putting too many abilities onto a single card. Those fell into two categories: just giving the players more than they need to be happy, and pre-solved puzzles. Try to ask yourself, "could this be a card without X," where X is every part of the card, "what will players have fun pairing this with" and "is this the best card type for this effect?" In fairness, the art is fairly land-y, but there's a lot more going on than the ground at the bottom and we made all the standard card types work for it.

Finally, I want to share Devin's vision of the next Innistrad block:
"In the years since Avacyn's release much of the lands once seized by darkness have been reclaimed. Old family estates long infested with vampires or other nightmares began to be explored and re-inhabited. But evil lingered on the grounds and now even in the safe places there remain hidden temples to evil, slowly corrupting their populace from the inside out. Safe from the monsters outside, the people of Innistrad never thought to look inward toward the new threat.

"Innistrad Block was about you trapped in a room full of nightmares clutching your last torch as it burned low. Innistrad 2 would be about relighting that torch to find that the nightmares were your neighbors all along. …Infamy would be about exploring the dark mirror of each color's strengths. Blue, some knowledge SHOULDN'T be known, White, sheltering those you love can lead to intolerance and hate etc..."
Good stuff. 


  1. I meant for Irekroft Estate (and the Infamy ability) to be templated as "Whenever a creature dies, X and lose 1 life." I don't know if this makes the card any less powerful in dedicated combo decks, but I suspect it makes the ability more flavorful and will lead to some more unique designs.

  2. Jay, you seldom get feedback on the critiques you provide, so I have one for you. First a caveat, I know you don’t have a great deal of time to think about every card. I get that and I appreciate you. Okay. The challenge didn’t state that I couldn’t make a Johnny card, but it seems like you were disappointed that you got one from me. So my critique for you is not to let your personal psychographic preference bias your critiques. If you don’t set any guidelines, be ready to get Timmy, Johnny AND Spike submissions, and try to evaluate the card based on who it should appeal to. I would much rather be told my card didn’t give Johnny a worthwhile payoff, or asked Timmy to jump through hoops that type doesn’t like. That’s something I can work with. It’s like Maro always says, not every card is for you. Well, not every design is for you. That doesn’t mean you can’t critique designs outside your psychographic, but it may mean you have to acknowledge it’s not for you. I hope that didn’t come off harsh, you should know by now that I love your commitment to improving our Magic Design skills.

    1. This seems really unfair. I've seen Jay praise Johnny designs numerous times on this site.

    2. Thanks for the feedback, Nich. For the same reason it's crazy to be on a solo design team, I absolutely will misread, misevaluate and miscritique cards from now and again. I love it when others offer design feedback because they often see something I don't, or say something in a way I didn't, and even when they don't, getting agreeing points of view helps too.

      You're absolutely right that when I don't specify a target psychographic, all of them are fair game. While I do have my own biases, I've got at least a foot in all three psychographics, but even then, there are quite a few variations within each. For example, I'm a Spike for value, but not obsessed with resource maximization; I'm a Timmy for big creatures but less so store events; I'm a Johnny for inobvious synergy, but not for making the unplayable playable.

      It is entirely possible that Court of the Vampire King appeals to a set of Johnnies of which I am not a part. Perhaps it is the very unlikeliness of it doing positive things in a game that is what makes it special to some. I would love to hear from others if this is the case. For me, Court looks on the face like a Timmy card with a trap, "Play this and a bunch of humans and vampires and you'll see big rewards! …Unless anyone at the table has any removal whatsoever." Again, there are those who love One with Nothing and Court is easier to use than that (but is that a turn-off for those people?) so a card like this might be right up their ally. Of course, that begs the question, "Can we just defend any design as being for that niche?"

      Please do continue to critique my critiques, everyone. It's the only way they'll get better. And never feel like what I've said is either the full story (I often have to be brief just to get it all done) or in any way authoritative. If you disagree, we can only benefit from hearing why.

  3. ^^^ Words we should all consider, as objectively as possible.

    I'm pretty new here, but I can see everyone on these boards is at least as passionate about Magic design as I am. Any feedback may seem harsh. Conversely, our (we the readers/contributors) interpretation of that feedback may be overly sensitive. Design by committee has the potential to be rough on the ego.

    Nick's words should be a reminder: There is much more left for us to learn than we think we bring to the table. That goes for everyone.