Monday, November 25, 2013

Weekend [Art] Design Challenge Review 112213—New P/T

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

The idea behind Critical Mass is that the first time you cast it, you net one Saproling. The second time, you net two, and eventually, you've got 7+ Saprolings and get to keep your 7/1 or larger haste trampler. Apart from there being no escape clause to prevent all this recursion, if you can jumpstart with just 3 Saprolings, you only have to recast it once to stick it and you still get unbounded armies if your opponent blocks or kills it (which they have to—it's huge).

This version really wants to ditch either the keywords at the top (which aren't integral to the already impressive idea) or the last line (which arguably makes Critical Mass 'too easy' for the Johnnies it would otherwise appeal to).

Engulfing Slime is also built to die the first time you cast it, but do something immediately and come back bigger and to do it again. This one you don't have to recast, but you are limited to reanimating once per round, which is important since you could Consume the Meek as often as you like by pairing Slime with a sac outlet.

Both of these spells are clever, but end up feeling awkward in their non-broken final forms and probably just want to be sorceries with retrace or something instead.

Eternity lets you cast any creature that died while it was in play whenever it attacks, which is every turn after you cast it since it'll basically never die to combat.

The exile clause means that you don't particularly want to have two of these at once and since the last ability implies all the incarnations in this cycle will be exiling cards, you may not want any two incarnations at once.

The original incarnations worked from the graveyard. The Lorywn set went back into your deck when they died. This one permanently exiles itself. Though, it's theoretically possible another Incarnation in this cycle could bring back a self-exiled Eternity.

It's fun comparing Fire Tyrant to Shivan Dragon. If I cast Fire Tyrant on turn 7, it deals 20 damage by turn 9. If I cast Shivan Dragon on turn 6, I need to spend 5 {R} over three turns to deal the same amount of damage. Or I can spend 10 {R} over two turns to win a turn earlier. Many players, including myself hate two-turn evasive clocks and yet Fire Tyrant is arguably worse than Shivan Dragon, which has never been particularly Constructed-viable. Both Dragons, though, are clearly huge threats in Limited.

I would've liked Godthresher to be 12/6 both for aesthetic reasons and to help support the vanillas-can-be-mythic-if-they're-efficient-enough argument, but I still think it's pretty splashy.

Justiciar of Retribution has aggressive but vulnerable stats and it's sweet ability helps keep it alive. I do suspect the card would be better focused if we removed either "attacks" or "or blocks" from its trigger. (Leaving just "attacks" would be stronger flavor and promote racing, while leaving just "blocks" would promote a more aggressive strategy.)

I love the idea of finding a mechanic that naturally limits Kozilek's size to mitigate reanimation. Counting both players' hands every turn would likely prove annoying.

Absorb is strong, like Annihilator, and it's even better on something with a big toughness, so it's not a bad replacement, although it makes Eldrazi much less threatening or inevitable. Both of those changes do make them more vulnerable to removal (in that the game will go longer, giving your opponent more chances to Doom Blade them, and then you don't get them back via reshuffle).

The last ability is awesome, but shouldn't go on a creature it will shrink/kill; thematically, the Eldrazi aren't martyrs; in game play, there are easier ways to draw lots of cards—the player that casts this wants to keep their fatty.

While 7/8 is an unusual size for common, it's at least conceivable given Axebane Stag and Ulamog's Crusher. Blue gets big serpents with Island-shy, but not this big normally, which I guess is where the green part comes in. I'm not convinced +2/+2 is a good reason to make a gold card green.

Narod is the anti-Doran, the Siege Tower, which is neat in theory. In addition to being very hard to template decently, this direction also raises the issue that it will automatically kill all 0/Ns, including Vegr (below).

Two Regathan Firecats. What's not to love?

Radkar Shade is almost as good as Nantuko Shade in a mono-black deck, but much better in a red-black deck. (It's terrible in a mono-red deck.) Works for me.

Ravana kills a player with no humans (and no removal) in two turns. And if you don't stop it, it'll kill most of your team. That's pretty much exactly what I want in a {6}{B}{R} demon. (It's slightly odd that it weakens creatures more than it kills them, but I think that's well worth the aesthetics.)

The next image is imperfectly rendered. Roxith's mana cost is all Phyrexian mana:

Roxith can be an 11/13 vanilla for six black. But it can also be a 1/3 for {B} and 10 life, or a 3/5 for {B}{B} and 8 life, or a 5/7 for {B}{B}{B} and 6 life, etc. All of which can put at least two -1/-1 counters on opposing creatures every turn. That's pretty impressive.

I'm not a fan or "remove a counter, then proliferate." That gag worked better on Snow Mercy.

Shieldmate Volunteers falls somewhere between Blade of the Sixth Pride and Siege Mastodon. It's also simple enough to be common, at least in an expert set. Neat.

Sleeping Vampire looks fairly weak but should grow very quickly. Compare with this cycle from Shards of Alara for power level.

I tweaked the templating of Twinfist Titan's ability to make it more clear that it's all about not wasting your regular combat damage when the blocker is killed from your first strike damage. Previous versions all read like reminder text of the basic rules of combat damage.

That's helps avoid a common feel-bad of high-power double strike creatures, though I can't help but think trample accomplishes the same goal without all the awkward text. It's not functionally identical, but I don't see how the difference invalidates the core design idea.

Inanimate offers up the uber-wall, with way too much flavor text. Vegr will definitely appeal to a certain subset of players. It makes me wonder at what cost this would appeal to Spike; Wall of Denial saw Standard play at {1}{W}{U}. Oh and there might be some crazy Johnny somewhere who makes this her Commander just because.

Vessel of the Mycolord doesn't do any combat until you get enough Saprolings to make it a 9/9 or better. That's a mighty high threshold (you probably don't need a 9/9 if you've got that many creatures), but it's also just one mana to cast; I definitely imagine Saproling lovers playing this. Hexproof keeps your opponent from Doom Blade'ing it right when it turns on, but they're losing mana on that exchange regardless, and you've got an army they clearly don't have an answer for, so I'm not convinced hexproof is needed.

This was a hard challenge. They all are, but this challenge was much more bottom-up / Melvin than our usual fare. It's one thing to make a crazy creature and then give it crazy stats to match, but going the opposite direction proved tricky. A big part of that is that it flies in the face of the wisdom: "Don't do something new just to do it." In that way, the challenge itself was flawed.

Even so, there were a number of very solid entries, and every single entry had a very neat idea. So even if a card isn't ideal as presented above, it remains a fascinating stepping stone to something more holistic down the line. Even if you don't see potential in all these cards, you should at least be able to take a lesson away that will help you avoid similar issues in your future design.

One lesson that stands out to me is that a creature with 6+ lines of custom rules text doesn't necessarily want keywords. They are a very efficient way to add power (both conceptually and in gameplay) to a mythic/exceptional design, but if they don't specifically enable the core idea that makes the card unique, they just distract from it. There are of course times when a certain keyword is crucial to such designs, but I intend to check my lengthy designs going forward to see if they're just as unique without any given ability.


  1. Just a note-- I know this can't currently be rendered well, but the {B}s in Roxith's cost are actually Phyrexian mana.

  2. Ah, I tested the flavor text myself and it looked nicer. That's because I didn't have the "can't be sacrificed" reminder text - whoops! Luckily that story is easy to cut down. (:

    There were a lot of superb entries this time! Good job, all.

  3. Ravana giving each creature -5/-10 will feel a bit better flavor and gameplay wise, I think.

    1. I'm a bit confused as to why humans are the only creatures that can block and kill him though.

    2. only a chosen hero can defeat the demon lord! no common monster will do!

    3. From the Ramayana, only a mortal could kill Ravana.