Monday, November 18, 2013

Suvnica Week 16 Review: Show Your Work (Illustrate Designs)

Illustrate was one of my favorite Suiroza mechanics to come out of this project so far. It does present us with a lot of problems, not all of which I'm convinced are surmountable, but I think of the exemplar family of mechanic designs, it had the most going for it - it was unique, memorable, fit nicely in both the {W}{U} color pie and Suiroza's creative vision.

However, it doesn't mesh too well with NWO (both in terms of mechanical and board complexity), it is very hard to create interesting cards that are useful as an aura that don't become bah-roken once they're global bonuses, and finally, the mechanic sits on auras, with all the baggage that comes with it - two-for-one removal, dead cards if you don't have an enchantable creature, etc.

Still, I think that the mechanic is worthwhile to playtest. Maybe some of our concerns are unfounded. Maybe a test or two will show us a way to tweak the mechanic to overcome some of the other problems. But there are definitely seven or eight designs for this mechanic available for us to see whether or not we're barking up the right tree.

Let's kick things off with the hardest rarity to design for -- the commons:


Out of the gate we see one of the bigger issues plaguing Illustrate - the length of the reminder text. Every Illustrate card with reminder text automatically has five lines dedicated to it. On top of that, auras have to announce what it is their targeting on their first line. That's six lines lost before we can even start announcing what bonuses the aura is giving to its creature.

On commons, reminder text isn't optional. On rares you can skip it, but if it fits on uncommons, it should be kept if possible. But since we're committed to six lines on our commons before we even have a chance to make the illustrate card interesting, we can't realistically have the actual enchantment bonus be more than one line long.

Of course, the other major problem we encounter at the common level is keeping the card interesting. Tough Teachings illustrates why this is an issue. One point of toughness is very unexciting on a single creature, and not really exciting enough for your team so as to justify the loops you'll have to jump through to give them the bonus.

Let's start off by saying, this is not a common, no matter how you cut it. As an uncommon, I like the design a lot more, although it's still very wordy with all that reminder text. It could work as a rare, and then we could get rid of the counter cap. The numbers would obviously need to be played with, but TDP. I'm not 100% sure that {W} is the best color for this effect - it seems much more red or green to me.

Another thing that we have to take into account when crafting commons is that they have to feel common. This card isn't grossly powerful, but indestrucibility is just not something that is going to exist at common. The very concept appeals too much to the Timmy part of our brains to make sense at the lowest of rarities.

On another note, the sacrifice route may make for more balanced effects between aura and global modes, but it's still too much complexity at common.

Normally an enchantment like this would read "{W}: Enchanted creature gets +0/+1 UEoT," but with the text replacement shenanigans that Illustrate requires, that wouldn't work the way we want the mechanic to. Instead, enchantments that do things like this have to give the enchanted creature the activated ability instead of housing the ability itself. Still too complex for common, although slightly more exciting than the Steelform Sliver enchantment. Not sure that it would be a strong contender in an uncommon slot any better though.

A pattern is starting to emerge. This would be a perfectly good uncommon. It's not overly complex (even though it spills over onto an eighth line), and would make sense as a common enchantment if Illustrate wasn't in the picture. Once it goes global though, it does become a power level concern. As an aura, there are a lot of ways to deal with this card, but as a global enchantment, fewer colors and limited card pools can deal with it, and repeated lifegain can be downright oppressive. It's not the kind of thing we want players having access to in multiples while drafting. 

Here's the winner of the slot, as far as I'm concerned. Unlike flying, which I'll discuss below, vigilance on all of your creatures is not so powerful that it can't be done at common (see Gate Hound). It's a common keyword, so most of the complexity disappears, and it uses the minimum number of lines. Illustrate isn't a particularly NWO-friendly mechanic, but this is the simplest and easiest design we can do for it in White. The bigger issue is whether or not this card will excite players to the point that they'll want to play with the mechanic. Unfortunately, I don't think it will, nor will whatever other Illustrate cards we give the Suiroza at common. But common isn't where every mechanic needs to shine -- mechanics like overload and cipher were pretty tame at common. Common cards don't need to be flashy - they just need to overall make limited a relatively interesting format.

When we start trying to force simple, interesting, and more appealing boxes, we end up with none of the above.

Strangely enough, there wasn't a straight "flying" submission for blue. I honestly would pick one of those over this for a common slot, as with Advanced Vigilance Lesson and Lesson in Alertness above. The +0/+1 bonus doesn't make it more interesting or a higher pick in the pack -- it only makes it more complex.

The question is, if we drop the +0/+1 bonus, is this still OK at common? Levitation is uncommon, but is that due to power level, complexity, or something else? I suspect that, if Illustrate ends up being viable as a mechanic, it wouldn't be pushing it too much to put this at common. It's the simplest implementation of a complex, jump-through-hoops mechanic. I'm going to allow it at common for now, and as we further develop the set, we'll have to discuss again whether this is crossing the common/uncommon line in a way we don't want it to.

On the other hand, I'm relatively confident that granting activated looting to all of your guys is at the very least uncommon, and probably rare, especially if it doesn't have a mana cost associated with it. We'll relook at these ones again when we're analyzing the uncommon slots.

I wasn't at all sure that taxing unblockability would be a blue thing, but the best precedent for it seems to be Awesome Presence from way back in Alliances. Definitely not a common regardless. Maybe worth reconsidering for a rare slot.

Hee hee. Simple, but way overpowered for common. I'm not sure that a gold Illustrate common is possible (or necessarily desirable)

More complicated vigilance isn't going to be a stronger contender for the common slot either. I could see the multicolor/hybrid Illustrate common granting vigilance straight up, but while {W} makes sense as a mana cost for the aura side of the card, {W}{U}, {W}/{U} or {U} doesn't. Vigilance in blue tends to come at a higher price and rarity. I think it's probably for the best that we skip golds or hybrids at common for this particular mechanic.


More complex than straight up vigilance, but also more limited. Definitely less exciting because of the color requirements, which add a layer of complexity I'm not really sure that the design benefits from.

Now there's a solid uncommon. Curiosity works well as an uncommon, and the addition of Illustrate to the card doesn't really need to push it into rare. The Illustrate cost probably needs to be tweaked, but otherwise this is a solid contender.

This is kind of an oddball card. I'm a Johnny, so I can see some fun stuff to do with this. Timmy is going to scratch his head at it, and Spike won't see a whole ton of value in it - it's really a Johnny design. I don't think that this is going to make it into the playtest deck, but it's worth considering some more quirky cards like this if Illustrate ends up being Suiroza's final mechanic.

I didn't retemplate this card to show one of the stranger things that go on with this text-replacing mechanic. When this card goes global, it stops making sense. It would have to be retemplated to read "Enchanted creature has 'Whenever this creature becomes the target of a spell or ability, you may return it to its owner's hand.'"

With the fixed template it works, and I like the idea. It's a defensive maneuver that makes sense in both white or blue.


Elegant use of the mechanic. Could it work at +1/+2? Less elegant, but more unique design.

That's a powerhouse of a card. I'm not sure what the connection is between the three abilities, but because they're all pretty straightforward, we could swap different abilities in and out without messing with the spirit of the card. It also begs the question, would an Akroma aura with illustrate be too much?

Mythic maybe, but yeah. I love this thing.

Feels a little too much like a Column A/Column B gold card. It also needs to be retemplated so that the trigger in global mode doesn't actually require that your entire team hit your opponent to go off.

If Illustrate were in Sahleen instead of Suiroza, I'd be a lot more comfortable with this. It could work as a monowhite card, but it would be strange to put it on Blue when assorted Enchantresses tell us that this is a {G}/{W} thing.

Support Cards

I can feel our hypothetical Rules Manager's blood pressure rising. Maybe a guild mechanic doesn't really need support cards to call it out by name, especially when that mechanic is showing up infrequently at common.

Simple functional reprint that can serve so many purposes on a design skeleton. No complaints here.

That's an interesting design. Support for both auras and equipment, another mechanical space that {W} likes to play in. It does create tension in a way, sometimes incentivizing you to not use the Illustrate activation to make your aura global. Still, how many environments are so hostile to enchantments that players won't be willing to risk it?

Unkeyworded heroic (almost) makes a ton of sense for a guild focused on auras. Development would have to play with numbers, as untapping lands as part of a spell effect has proven... problematic in the past, but it looks like a cool place to play with our enchantment guild.

Absolutely. It may actually be a little high powered depending on how the auras in the set shape up, but the fact that Suiroza's auras encourage you to deauratize them may balance it out.

Also a solid plan. Activated hexproof is a little less on the nose as Determined Apprentice's requirement that it be enchanted, but it fills the same design space functions.

Another pattern begins to emerge. The fact that this hexproof only serves to prevent you from being 2-for-1ed the turn you drop your aura makes it a lot more balanced. Hexproof left unchecked removes a lot of the interactivity that makes the game tick - I like the approach this card takes in finding the balance between limiting the danger of casting auras and making sure that your opponent won't be completely closed out from answering.

This plays in a similar space as Flickerform and Mark of Eviction from Ravnica, which had its own aura theme. I like the versatility this card has, particularly when it comes to removing enemy equipment during your own turn.

Not as limiting to your opponents as hexproof is. This seems like a 4-of in an Illustrate deck, which is about as much as you want out of support cards for a mechanic.

This guy is awesome. Development would have to decide how aggressive they would want its stats to be, since even as a 1/2 or so it would still be reasonably costed.

I like the idea, but I wonder, given how complex illustrate already is, whether we should be doing things like messing with the costs to activate it on specific creatures, especially at common.

Flavor Cards

I put this one in the flavor category, since I didn't really know what else to do with it. It doesn't really match up with any of the working themes in Suiroza, save maybe their focus on education, but even that is only in name - a creature with 2 power that triggers off of an attack doesn't really sound like a teacher (11th grade modern history class notwithstanding).

That's more of a flavor hit. Education plus sharing of skills and knowledge. My Experiment Kraj EDH deck would definitely want to run this.

Rare guildmages pique my interest. They're high profile enough to justify rare, but at the same time, a relatively tight cycle at rare across 10 cards eats up a LOT of space, space that may otherwise be used for even higher profile things like Guild leaders and such.

I like the direction that this guildmage takes, although I don't know that there's enough simple keywordy designs like this to spread around among the other 9. It is an interesting concept though.


That wraps that up. I'll pick out the cards that are going to make it into our eventual test deck. Some will probably need to be tweaked here or there, but I'll try to keep the heart of the design unchanged.

Next up, we'll work on the first of the Radkar mechanics.


  1. I just don't think it can be possible to have enough illistrate cards at common to really work. I quote "if its not at common, its not your theme"
    global buff enchantments are usually entirely out of common.

    also the reason there is no flight card at common is becuase you posted it.

    also imagine you are drafting sunvica, you are playing suiroza and nobody is cutting you. how many cards will you get that are lesson in alertness or lesson in flight? you could easily get 3 or 4 if it is at common. you would not want to play all of them in your deck because they are dead when you illustrate one of them. in fact this is a noobie trap, I don't think that is good.

    1. That was my reason for sticking the +0/+1 bonuses onto my suggestions (Advanced Vigilance / Advanced Flight). Global +0/+1 at common has good precedent (Veteran Armorer, Lumithread Field), doesn't do anything broken, falls squarely in UW, and stacks well.

      Ultimately, all the questions we've been asking come down to whether a (more expensive) Levitation effect can be printed at common. If it can, we're in business and it should be pretty easy to find reasonable playtest designs. If it can't, then this mechanic probably can't be made to work, for the reasons you've stated.

    2. It had been so long since I looked at the mechanic discussion post that I forgot that was the example I used.

      As far as "not at common, not your theme" I have a couple of points. First, guild mechanics aren't themes. The guild structure is the theme, and that will be at common in abundance. Mechanics can and frequently do show up exclusively at uncommon and higher rarities if they warrant it. Aside from that though, Detain, the Azorius mechanic in RtR showed up only three times at common in RtR and once more at common in Dragon's Maze. There is precedent for keeping complex or overly harsh mechanics at lower numbers at common, and that's what we're running with here.

    3. @lpaulsen: you really can't point to commons predating Zendikar for being NWO-friendly. Veteran Armorer would probably be ok under NWO, but lumithread field would never fly (lol). The +0/+1 line does solve the stacking problem, and that is something to further consider, but it's just so damn inelegant.

  2. I'm very interested in testing Lesson in Mercy. I think it's a strong contender for common.

  3. Looking at Illustrate with fresh eyes, the amount of text it requires and the high mana costs mean that it doesn't seem workable at common in it's current form. I like what it's doing-- single buff->global buff, but maybe we can try riffing on that concept some more?

    Guard Lesson {1}{W}
    Enchantment - Aura (C)
    Enchant Creature
    Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has vigilance.
    Illustrate - {3}{W}{W}: Each other creature you control gets +1/+1 and has vigilance until end of turn.

    1. Seems like a good space to investigate. I wish there was a short and clean way of writing a sorcery-speed clause, but we may be able to design effects such that that wouldn't be necessary.

      It's less "whoah!" than getting to make an aura permanent, and can potentially lead to really repetitive turns, but it could be a reasonable alternative.

    2. This was one of the many many alternatives that was originally pitched for the exemplary mechanic, as it was originally named. I ultimately went with this version since it actually reduces a lot of the board complexity involved with having auras that sometimes affect your entire side of the board, mostly by providing a visual cue (either it's attached or it's not) to tell you which mode it's in. I agree that the reminder text is incredibly unweildy, but I think this is the version to run with for our initial tests.

    3. Ah, it's easy to forget all the alternatives that have been proposed so far. I agree that the current version is clear and grokkable, and like you said we really only need 3-4 commons.

  4. Student Transport is a huge trap card. There are going to be a ton of feel-bad moments when player A tries to enchant it, thinking as you did they will avoid getting 2-for-1ed, and player B kills it with its trigger on the stack.

    I don't think there's a standard template that achieves the desired goal. You can maybe have a static ability, "~ has hexproof as long as you have cast an enchantment spell this turn."

    1. You're absolutely right. I missed that.

    2. That was pointed out back then and I entirely agree. In fact in my personal card file, it uses the static ability wording.