Thursday, October 31, 2013

Weekend Art Challenge 102513 Review—tamerr

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

Amorous Letter is more appealing to casual players than Infernal Plunge since it only requires tapping one of your creatures, rather than sacrificing it. I love the flavor here and I think this is one of the best renderings of red's positive emotions I've seen. On the other hand, producing variable mana might be a mistake here:

The upside is that you've got to work up to a 4cc creature before Amorous Letter is netting you as much mana as Plunge, but the downside is that it's unbounded. Should I really be able to generate +{R}{R}{R}{R}{R}{R}{R}{R} by tapping my Darksteel Colossus? And if so, wouldn't that kind of epic mana generation by more appropriate with a sacrifice effect?

Bad News is trying to tell its story two different ways. Not only do they conflict, but they come with some strange side effects. The biggest is that players need to track every turn a creature dies and put another despair counter on the enchanted creature each time, even though only the first one matters. Not only is that distracting busywork, but it's actively confusing to players who assume that everything has a purpose. They'll keep wondering what happens when you get a lot of despair counters.

Ultimately, morbid is hurting this design despite having a flavor-appropriate name. I would either make a functional reprint of Pacifism or something like: "Enchanted creature can't attack or block if another creature you control died since your last turn."

Without syphon, Banishment is a fine design. The removal is only slightly less permanent than exile and is costed about right for Limited. Syphon is a mechanic I can't support. If the rules clarify that an opponent can't tap their lands in response to you trying to, how many players will know that? It's largely moot since the existence of the mechanic will just lead players to tap all their lands at the end of their own turn. Which means less instants, less bluffing, and less interaction.

Busy Work deals with a creature for a few turns and when it's done, you get some cards. I was tempted to give the cards to the creature's controller, and that would be interesting too. In either case, it definitely needs some playtesting to balance it out. It probably needs to remove its target for less time, or cost more, or only draw one card, or some combination.

20 is a lot of life to gain, but skipping a turn is a big deal too. Contemplate should appeal to Johnny and maybe to a few Timmies as well.

It's a little bit shocking that Contemplation of Nature has never actually been printed. The closest thing is Krosan Tusker's cycling ability. That makes me think this could be just {2}{G}; It's really not much better than Cultivate (which is Very Good, if you're not clear). I would definitely put the draw before the search, to keep playing moving along better.

Contractual Obligation is pretty brutal. Compare it with "Skip every other draw step for the rest of the game." You get much better card selection this way (choosing which cards to cast and which to discard), but it also affects the hand you've already drawn and combos more directly with additional discard spells. Imagine being out of cards, top-decking the one you need to save yourself, having to wait a turn to cast it, and being Raven's Crime'd before then. Or worse, Bottomless Pit.

That said, if you were to add an escape clause for a player to get out of this (perhaps going hellbent), or just increased its mana cost, it might work. This will appeal to trolls and that's worth something.

Crack the Code is a cleaner and cleverer implementation of the same basic concept as Busy Work. It replaces simple book-keeping with a risk/challenge and that's an excellent improvement.

I do think a spell that's sometimes Claustrophobia and sometimes Concentrate should cost more than just {U}, even if you run the risk of giving your opponent a Concentrate when you use it as Claustrophobia.

Dying of Boredom pushes players to be attacking instead of blocking. That's very red philosophically, and it plays into the RDW strategy nicely. Good flavor for a fun card that will change how a game plays out.

Engima Charm is a meta-design; that is, it's not meant to be a real card, but to entertain us in the context of this challenge. In that way, I am entertained. If it were a serious proposal, I'd point out that even in a set with contraptions, Enigma Charm would be used as half a Frost Breath at least 80% of the time.

Flavia is the "exalted planeswalker." Wizards has been leaning toward more and more focused planeswalkers to avoid the problem of omnipresence that flattens out tournament decks so I'm good with that plan. Mono-green is an interesting choice for a character from Bant, but mono-white was taken already.

Flavia's first ability is very good, simultaneously defending her and immediately buffing your champion attacker. The second ability is much more conditional: Sometimes it wouldn't be worth activating even at +1, and sometimes it'll all but win you the game. Hopefully somewhere in between most of the time. The last ability is certainly strong and exciting. Interesting that it still draws you cards even if that creature is killed before any of your exalted triggers resolve (equal to its base power).

As with all planeswalkers, this would require extensive playtesting and would surely change as a result, but as a first draft I think it's well-conceived, attractive, and cohesive.

You can cast Inward Self on your worst creature to make something that can block anything without trample all day long, or on an opponent's creature so that it can't attack you. Hmm, actually that second mode is pretty good by itself. Strictly better than "enchanted creature has defender" is probably worth at least {G}{G}, if green is even the right color for it.

Cards that say one thing but do two things are lenticular and awesome, btw.

Letter from the Front is better at maximizing your 187 creatures than Otherworldly Journey, but worse at saving them from most removal. It's also the cheapest way to get multiple +1/+1 counters on a creature without killing something (Hunger of the Howlpack, Unstable Mutation). Perhaps too cheap.

Because it doesn't return until EOT, it can also be used to save your best monster from Wrath of God. At {W}, this is definitely Standard playable if not Modern or better.

It's fair to assume you would never cast Letter of the Law on a turn when you only control one creature, but an opponent might respond by killing everything else, so the card needs to specify exactly what happens in that case.

Most of the time, I'm guessing you'll redirect all the damage to one poor chump (and his damage to one guy who can take it). Despite that predictability, that seems like an interesting Fog variant, and perhaps inevitable given all of white's damage redirection effects. That flavor (that some law is defining who you can hurt—and it's anyone but the person you tried to hurt) is a miss for me.

News of Cease-Fire is a multiplayer-friendly "target player can't attack this turn." Of course, you cast this after your own attack on your turn, which hurts the flavor a bit and perhaps makes the card a little too easy to use, but that's just pushing it from Johnny to, um, Spike? I'm going to say Spike.

No other landfall abilities require mana to use, and I don't think Obscuration is so strong it needs an exception; it normally fires at most once per turn (and usually less) and only during your turn which limits it baseline value considerably. (Of course, pairing it with Harrow is fun and different, which is great).

Peace Accord could be a poor Fog in a duel, or a very good one in multiplayer. I love the flavor text.

Retreat to Nature promotes two-color play in its environment and suggests at least a 5-card cycle, if not 10- or even 20-. I just noticed that this requires a white creature on the field to cast; should probably include "up to" so that part's just bonus.

Read the Will is a morbid Divination. I mean English morbid, though this is similar to Innistrad's ability word. I wouldn't expect to see this in just any Magic set, but if there were one focused on death (again), Read the Will would seem like a reasonable addition. The flavor's great.

Ruminate is interesting. As a Gifts Ungiven / Gaea's Blessing hybrid it presents a mini-game where you try and find the ideal pair of cards to get what you need. In the normal course of play, your choice will often give your opponent a challenging decision to make, though that will go out the window either when a game goes long or when you're using self-mill to feed your graveyard. I wonder if this should require the two cards to have different names at least. I suspect this needs to be uncommon, just because having a pair of Ruminates in your deck could cause a lot of extra decisions and shuffling (since they can get each other back, sooner or later).

Silent Contemplation is a clean, simple card that fits the art well. There's an old slow-trip version, but I would be happy to see a modernized version like this today. Would even play it sometimes. Compare to Survival Cache which can net the same life and more cards, but only conditionally. This one could totally be common (in the right environment).

Unmappable Lands is Lost in the Woods' little sister. I like the flavor that it doesn't stop the attack, but it might prevent the invading party from finding their way back home.


  1. I don't know who came up with News of Cease-Fire, but I hear he is handsome and wonderful and it is clearly the best Magic card ever printed because he is so great.

    *cough cough*

  2. Oops... I meant my design for Inward Self to say "enchant creature you control", so it isn't really lenticular at all. Having seen that version and Jay's analysis, though, it might indeed be interesting as "enchant creature" at GG or so.

  3. You forgot about Seer's Sundial, a landfall card with a cost to activate (though not one of the more elegant ones in my opinion).

  4. my card should have been an uncommon but details...
    also the "lenticular" version of inward self was just printed in commander '13 in white.

  5. 20 life might be a bit too much on Contemplate. That'd normally cost 7-9 mana, where Meditate vs Opportunity suggests that skipping a turn gets you a discount of about 3 mana.

    I like Flavia a lot. Mechanically her abilities have great internal synergy. And I really like the idea of making cards for siblings (nieces? aunts? cousins?) of existing characters. (Though technically Elspeth isn't actually from Bant originally, is she? But details.)

    Inward Self is reminiscent of the new Darksteel Mutation, but also of Lignify. What's particularly fun is to put it on a vigilant creature of your own, so it can attack as, say, a vigilant 4/4, then block as an indestructible hexproof 0/1. I think the cost is fine - Guard Duty was a fairly bad card.

    I think I'd normally rather play Reviving Dose than Silent Contemplation, but both are fine for a core set.

    1. I was actually fiddling around with full cycle of Meditates, and if you keep it strict, I think Jay's suggested bonus works better:

      Contemplate 2W
      Your life total becomes 20. Skip your next turn.

      But I do like the story and the gameplay of skipping your turn first before you get the bonus – it's a very real cost on top of skipping a turn in general. On the plus-side, a card that gains you 20 life does seem exciting!

    2. I think there is literally nothing that could be on a card with "Skip your next turn" that would make me have fun playing it. Certainly there are things that could be on it that would make it worth playing, but I can't rationalize exploring such a thoroughly unfun design space.

      That said, it could well be worth exploring if some people out there get excited by the idea of casting it. Are you all really wanting to play this sort of card?

      Okay, I thought of a card with "skip your turn" I might want to play:

      Shields Up
      Put three 4/4 soldier tokens with vigilance into play. Skip your next turn.

    3. I certainly wouldn't want to print a whole cycle of cards with that text.

    4. Not even

      Burninate 2R
      ~ deals six damage to target creature or player. Skip your next turn.


    5. Timesucker G
      Creature-Beast (unc)
      When ETB, skip your next turn.

      How big does this have to be to play? What if it costs 2G or 4G?

    6. With hexproof or some other ability, it'd be easier to cost.
      At 2G, I'd say around 6/6 it starts being potentially playable in Limited? At G, 8/8 makes it at least in the discussion for Constructed playability.

      This card would be most interesting alongside some sort of "Donate a creature card from your hand" spell. Either a straight-up donate, or "as an additional cost to cast this card, put a creature card from your hand onto the battlefield under an opponent's control, EFFECT". There's Johnny potential there, at least.

      As a Rogue Elephant/Scythe Tiger, there's actually a surprising amount of precedent for Timesucker compared to Contemplate/Burninate.

  6. I didn't realise there weren't any other landfall effects with elective mana costs, so I had a look, and it turns out there's just one: Seer's Sundial.

  7. I certainly wouldn't have fun skipping my turn to get a cheap burn spell, no. That's not to say I wouldn't play it, but I would enjoy the game less if it made me do so.

  8. I strongly suspect that Burninate's real text would just be "2R: ~ deals 6 damage to target player with 6 or less life." Which just turns the un-fun of skipping a turn into the un-fun of losing to an undercosted Spike card.