Monday, February 10, 2014

Weekend [Art] Challenge Review 020714—Lords A'Leapin

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Here's the challenge we're reviewing today. Note that blogger had some technical difficulties, partially inhibiting our usual back-and-forth.

Dragons don't see Standard play outside of Thundermaw Hellkite. Ultimately, they're too slow and expensive. Dracomorpher can fix that by pushing them out faster, and that's a much bigger boon to the race than +2/+2.

Dracomorpher's text box could be replaced with "Dragon cards you own have Creature Offering" and work 90% the same which is a trade I'd make in a heartbeat. "Sacrifice a Goblin: Add {R} to your mana pool. Spend this mana only to cast Dragon spells. Dragon creatures cast this way gain haste until end of turn." is more restrictive but also shorter and cleaner while giving even better flavor.

Dryad Rootbinder is a clever way to make a lord for a small tribe: It focuses on something most of them care about mechanically, and all of them care about thematically. The first ability makes your forestwalking Dryads unblockable and the second ability gives you a wacky but in-flavor win condition that could give an otherwise aimless Dryad deck something fun and unique to aim for.

As a fan of Oozes, I would personally prefer to see something that grows my team actively, but Goopscoop is quite good for the race (arguably better), and in a thematic way, so I'll take it.

Goopscoop isn't a 2/2 for the same reason Scourge of Skola Vale isn't, a reason I would argue against if I didn't trust that R&D tested and found that sticking purely to counters was best.

Honeyden Bees is an adorable way to make a Bear lord, in a way that I think the game needs a bit more of (though not too much). Running a white lord is a bit awkward for an almost-exclusively green tribe, but the bees make up for that by growing them potentially quite a bit (and the flying doesn't hurt). Plus, flavor!

What happens when a bunch of Advisors get together? They form an Imperial Council! And start telling creatures who they can and can't attack, or doling out details. Apart from wanting to simplify the first awkward ability to "target creature can't attack this turn", which is admittedly less good in Commander and/or Emperor, I like this a lot.

Masataka considered adding another ability to Kalam like "1B Tap: Destroy target creature with converted mana cost less than X where X is the number of assassin creatures you control." but I wasn't sure if that was an official change or not. I defaulted to 'not' because that makes it so easy to wrath your opponent's board every turn that it's not even fun anymore. You're paying 6 for a 2/2 that does nothing on its own, but if you have two other Assassins and a Doom Blade, you get to kill three creatures, and you can do that every round, so it's fair to say this is high-risk-high-reward.

I just wish the word "other" were removed so that Kalam had the same amazing ability he teaches his minions.

Kavek is an Assassin lord of another stripe. In a duel, he's just a 1/3 with hexproof for 3 (totally playable in the right deck), but he really shines in multiplayer where your opponents can pay to have each other's creatures killed, provided you approve the mark. That sounds like a lot of fun (though I'm sure some groups could make it miserable) and highly thematic too.

King Chungus Mungus appears to be representing scariness in two different ways: First, Haunter of Nightveil style, and then Intimidation Bolt style. In order to feel resonant, a card need evoke only one aspect of the thing it represents, and evoking the same aspect twice is even more wasteful: I'd much rather see this abilities on two different cards for maximum value.

Leaping Frog-Captain takes a small page from the Ally book and triggers when you play it or another member of its tribe. It's an interesting choice that only one Frog jumps when it triggers, but for me that works better visually, and it's a lot easier to balance. Fun.

It's always awkward when a lord grants its tribe an ability that many of its members already have. Like Kalam, it's also strange when a lord grants an ability he doesn't himself have. Shapeshifters are a particularly tricky tribe to make a lord for, since so many of them lose the shapeshifter creature type while doing what they do best. I like the core idea that you make your shifters even shiftier, but there are issues with this implementation.

Lord of the Nameless is a lord for morph creatures, which is fun, though I don't think we gain much by including Nameless Race when we could just say "face-down creatures" and be more direct about what this lord is doing.

Lord of Webs takes a page from Doran and a nod to the big butts of Spiders through time and I'm pleased with the result. Eating flying things is another nice way to be a Spider-lord. I'm not sure we need both on one card, though.

Martyr of Sojourns tells a story of a Nomad wondering off (so suddenly no one could stop her), taking some of your junk with her, and trading it off wherever she went, which is nice flavor for a Nomad. There are some dangerous play implications: It's impossible for the opponent to kill any of your Nomads as long as you keep cards in your hand, and you can red-loot twice per Nomad you control per round.

Bass let me put any price on Momir Vig I felt was appropriate. I'm not remotely sure and testing could easily show 5 or even 4 is enough, but my instinct says that a card your opponents can't target that will draw you one card by itself—or 4 with a small army—every round probably needs to cost a lot. I love the idea of a Diversity Lord. I'm not convinced with the choice to make this all-or-nothing, but that does make the hoop larger (helping mitigate the big reward), and probably makes the player happier when they pull it off.

Mystic Poacher is a dark, dark card, but if you look beyond that, it's a really unique perspective on what a lord is in Magic. Thematically, I say this is the opposite of a Unicorn lord, but in terms of gameplay, this is only at its best in a deck with lots of Unicorns, and a deck full of Unicorns could arguably be improved by this card (though its an uphill argument).

Another interesting question: This double-black card grants a green ability (Lure), but only when you control a specific green creature likely to have that ability, and only when you sacrifice said permanent. Some of us think that doesn't break the color pie, and some do. I'd love to hear more thoughts on the matter.

Noradin is clearly an Eldrazi lord, but I think it was balanced to be printed in a set without other Eldrazi: He's good enough to play all by himself. I'd support that strategy if the boost to Eldrazi were fairly small, but the ability to cast this already playable card for -1 mana the same turn you cast another Eldrazi seems too good to me. Ignore these Dev concerns / imagine different numbers on the card, and I'm happy with the design. Reducing their cost is exactly the bonus Eldrazi need (that or protecting them from Doom Blade, but that issue is reduced when they cost SO much less).

Rambling Goatherd is another adorable (in a good way) lord. (Coincidence that both the cute lords don't share a type with the tribe they care about?) It's not ideal that the two abilities are entirely at odds with each other, but that allows you to play this lord in two very different kinds of goat decks (The one that wants to keep its goats and do awesome things with them and the one that wants to make and eat lots of goats for profit), which is a nice boon, especially for such a small tribe. If this Kithkin could protect itself, I'd say its protection ability was OP even for Goats, but it can't, which is clever.

I waffled on whether Rokholm Volley Captain should be white or red. He mostly wants to be white, but Magic has only just hinted at white or white-red Dwarves, so it's a bold stake to claim. It's cheating, but for your comparison, I've included the mono-red version for comparison. What made the choice for me is that the red one could just as easily be Goblins, whereas the white one feels like the Dwarves are working together to defend their home.

Shadowcaster makes your Shades shadier. We're not making a lot of waves here, but what's not to love? This is simple and beautiful.

Sphinx of Hidden Memories asks your opponent a riddle. "Am I trying to sneak a Sphinx past you, or something else?" That riddle is a lot harder when your deck is full of relevant Sphinxes, hence this is a Sphinx lord. Does it make your other Sphinxes better? Only if you consider casting them for {U} and at any time an improvement. Very thematic.

Stoneforge Idealist isn't trying to hide its relationship to Stoneforge Mystic. He'll make your equipment dirt cheap to cast and to equip, and he also adds a lot of on-board shenanigans by allowing you to shuffle your gear around at instant speed (and in many cases without any mana). The Kor love them some equipment, so this seems like an exciting way to support their addiction. Maybe broken.

You had me at 'boar lord.' Tefyan Rampager makes your boars angry, which is always fun. But did you know that angry boars are tastier than happy boars? No one can resist roasting a boar carcass while this guy's boiling up their blood. Ooh, or maybe they're cooking themselves alive. Either way.

Uniter of Purpose is both a Human lord and a white creatures lord. The +1/+1 fails the challenge's requirements, but I really like the idea that now your Bad Moon and Sunken City can all boost all your humans. Nice we-are-the-world flavor, which is clearly white in nature.

This was a pretty sweet challenge. You all came up with a metric tonne of delightful lords. There are too many cards to call out as my favorites (but if you want to share your faves, please do).

It's fascinating to get a taste of how much design space exists for lords outside of the old +1/+1 standby. I really wish Wizards could see these because I'm sure it would inspire even them to branch out more than they tend to.

The design mistake I see as most pervasive here is doing too much. It's very tempting to pair up abilities to double down on flavor or gameplay, but it's pretty rare that it's better to put two abilities—no matter how complementary—on one card instead of two, because so much of the joy of Magic is letting players pair those cards up and feel good about doing so. There are absolutely exceptions to that, some of which are here, but it's a design trap we all encounter and would do well to be more aware of.


  1. Ah, man. The lack of the full art eldrazi frame means my Noradin (Norrin Radd) doesn't have the silver surfboard he was supposed to. Oh well Silver Surfer top down design, oh well.

  2. Why two abilities on most of these lords? Because this is a card design challenge, not a set design challenge. I think most designers (myself included) are thinking "what card would be a build-around for these tribes that don't have a lot of individual card support?" You can afford to be more conservative if you're building an Elf lord or a Goblin lord; there are already a lot of tools those decks have and they don't need a swiss army knife in a single card.

    As the designer of the Kor lord above, I would absolutely put those two abilities on different cards if I were designing a set with Kor tribal. But if only one card in a tribe cares about that tribe, the card needs to have some oomph behind it to make that build appealing.

    Lots of very creative designs this week.

  3. my favorite this week was Shadowcaster, I think. I just smacked my head when I read it.

  4. I couldn't assemble any designs that I thought were worth submitting (though the next time you have a black creature/reanimation/something else challenge I totally have one), but this was far and away one of the most entertaining challenges to read.

  5. I really like Kavek for a supplemental product like Commander or Planechase. It's just the right amount of clever, and he makes for a great commander himself.

    The Sphinx lord scares the hell out of me. I have no doubts that it needs to be mythic (mythic should be the default rarity for iconic-lords). Development would need to play with some knobs on that thing to make sure it isn't too broken.

    1. Good point-- yeah, the Sphinx should be mythic. Whether it's overpowered or not is a more interesting question. There exist simple guessing strategies (e.g. guess Sphinx with 50% probability each time, regardless) that limit you to one free spell every 2 activations on average, making this a kind of harder-to-activate Dream Halls on a stick-- and that's in the best case, in a deck with plenty of Sphinxes and other expensive spells.

    2. Reasonable points, but let's not pretend that Dream Halls would be prantable as-is under current design standards.

  6. what happened to brush harvester??? that was my real submission!

    also lord of nameless doesn't just apply to morph, (the morph was a hint to what it would effect though. it also hits animated lands and many other things. along that venue.

    1. You never gave me any art for it.

      But should Lord of the Nameless affect those things?

    2. the point was that lord of the nameless would effect those.
      but regardless brushwagg lord is way better as a tribe.

  7. Aww! I hate that I never read RSS over the weekend so I always miss the weekend design challenges. I really enjoyed this challenge when we did it over at Multiverse. My creation that time was a Shapeshifter lord.

  8. Did you leave out some (mine, at least) on purpose? Did all these people actually provide and I didn't?

    1. I'm pretty sure Jay strives to include as many designs as possible in his review, but he did specify that he would only be posting those that had full art credentials listed somewhere in their design post.

      As far as I can tell, you only posted a design (Fomori Beetle). That said, if there were follow-up posts — which I thought there were — you may have been a victim of whatever comment-thread shenanigans have been plaguing us.

    2. Yes, all these people actually provided art as specified in the challenge introduction, and you did not (as far I could see). Nothing more to it.

  9. Why does Lord of Webs have the same picture as Goopscoop?

  10. Came up with a Vampire Lord:

    Evard, Vampire Overlord 4BR
    Legendary Creature - Vampire Warrior (Mythic Rare)
    Whenever Evard, Vampire Overlord attacks an opponent, that opponent reveals his or her hand. You may put a creature card from it onto the battlefield under your control tapped and attacking that opponent. That creature is a Vampire in addition to its other types. Destroy that creature at end of combat.
    1B: Regenerate another target Vampire.

    1. Oh wow, that's very cool. Very strong effect, suitable for a mythic legend. Only thing is it might feel pretty... violating, in the Phyrexian sense.