Monday, March 10, 2014

Weekend Art Challenge 030714 Review—Toru-meow

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

It's a wordy one, so get comfy.

Build a tribal deck, then get a free creature of your choice—provided the opponent doesn't guess which creature that is. Like Pack Hunt, it's a bit awkward that you have to have a creature to use this and get more, but that also helps us get the effect at a better cost. In this case, it's important that we limit the set of potential prizes to keep our opponent's guess in the realm of relevance. Despite being wordy and conditional, I like A Horse of Another Color because it looks playable (in tribal decks), the mini-game is fairly impactful, and combined with the name it actually works pretty well with the art.

Reminder, you can click on a card image to see it at full-size.
Charity is unprintably wordy (by modern standards) but if you ignore that, it's a pretty neat update to Balance and the like. It's certainly abuseable, but I think much less than its predecessor: Changing it from losing resources to gaining them means even when you get more from it than your opponent, you're not actively shutting down their game. I like that idea and the name fits it well. Many Spikes would love this (if it weren't a short story).

Chosen Destiny is also 9 brutal lines, and asks you to shape the game state meticulously for great profit, but the similarities end there. Basically, for {3}{W}{W} and an extra card, you predict what turn you will lose the game, and if that happens, you win instead. If you're wrong, then you're right, but in the dark self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way.

There's a fuzzy line between Spike and Johnny that several cards today walk, and I'd argue that this one falls more on the Johnny side, but it's massively debatable. And it's a debate I'd love to hear more opinions about.

If you completely ignore the combo potential, there is still a card here (and it's a very Spikey one): I hold this in my hand as insurance along with a land and a one-drop. The turn before I expect to lose (this won't help me win naturally, but that's not as important since I can win by losing) I play this and exile one of those cards. My opponent has to guess whether to kill me this turn or next (and probably doesn't want to let me live for two extra turns at all).

And I've convinced myself that this isn't half-Johnny or half-Spike, it's fully both. (And probably too good.)

Delicate Dealings does a few things and it's not entirely clear what it's main purpose is, but that's a very Spikey thing and the name is fair warning. I can make you discard and then make you either lose life or let me stack my deck. I can also discard myself so that I can stack my entire deck (which is crazy broken). I can also make Bob discard, then make Jane pay life or let me stack my deck, which is weird.

Even if you replace both "target player"s with a single opponent, this is still a potentially big upside for a one-mana spell that's already cardboard-neutral. With that change and at {1}{B} or so, this could be fun as a rare.

Enticing Offer asks you to wager how many random cards a Mind Control would be worth right now. The further off you are, the easier your opponent's decision (and the less EV you can thus expect). If you've got a Grizzly Bear and we're both at 10-20 life, you'll probably get the bear if you name 2 or higher (remember, lands are whiffs) (so naming 3 or more would just give value away). That same bear might be worth another flip if you're both at 2 life, and another still if it's a Wind Drake instead. How much do you bet for a Griselbrand? Tricky. Interesting. Spikey.

Feign Generosity will turn off most players who read it. You and your opponent each get the best permanent from your deck, but she gets to choose first? At face-value, that's not worth a card, much less four mana. But if you build your deck to be full of cards that are great for you but worthless for your opponent—something black knows a thing or two about—this could basically be a two-for-one.

I think this is more Johnny than Spike, but it's definitely on the Spikey side of Johnny. Could arguably be blue like Bribery, but I like it in black both mechanically and thematically.

I couldn't help but share this other solution, since it had a decent name. Similar, but simpler.

Greener Pastures is a good name for this art and this effect. I can't be sure how well it plays, but I imagine it combos pretty well with Spectral Procession or Acorn Harvest. Would be happy to try it out in the right Limited deck. Spikey. With—once again—a hint of Johnny.

Horse Fair is often Concentrate, at least Sign in Blood, and occasionally better. The life:cards ratio is closer to 2:1 in a vacuum, so this life payment (which makes the card want to be at least part black) isn't too bad. Basically, if they want you to keep what they see, they choose 2, and if they don't, they choose 3 or 4.

Removing the life payment entirely makes the card mono-blue and focuses the choice on "these 3 or those N" which is pretty interesting. Nice and Spikey.

Horse Trades is symmetrical Cranial Extraction, sort of. That's a fine card to make symmetrical, because it's not hard to get more value of it than your opponent in the right deck/matchup. The inspiration is very Spikey, and this variant is at least as.

Question: Does making a non-white card symmetrical make it white? White is the king of symmetrical effects, and loves equality, but is all symmetry white?

You're thinking Horse Trading is too similar to Feign Generosity, but bear in mind that Feign used to cast cards instead of putting permanents OTB when this was proposed. What's really neat though, is despite their text being 95% the same, they play very differently and belong in different decks (and are likely two different colors entirely). Horse Trading wants to be in a deck with no big permanents and it cares what its opponent's deck is like. Symmetrical Bribery is a neat way to offset the feel-bad of having your best-card stolen… until you see what's waiting for you in the caster's deck. Spikey/Johnny.

I outlined some scenarios for Horsey's Choice. Basically, it can be good, but it's very conditional. At {B}, I'd be willing to take that chance in certain decks.

Knight Trainee can choose the dark path or the light path, which is neat. It's weird that he doesn't gain first strike if you spend {W}{B}, but not as weird as the fact that he becomes a monster and not a knight. This has a memory issue (though it's only bad when it's played in a black-and-white deck against a black-and-white deck).

Last Minute Charge lets you summon up any creature except the one creature your opponent fears most (at CMC X or less). There's no mind game here when your opponent is familiar with your deck, but putting a limitation in the opponent's hands is interesting. I would vote for striking "or less" to limit the number of potential targets further, making your opponent's vote more important (and justifying the low cost).

Merchant's Offer was since updated to {1}{G}{U}{U}. It's usually worse than a Mind Control, but sometimes you surprise your opponent by getting something amazing out of your deck like a Progenitor Mimic or Hornet Queen. That moment when they wish they'd given you their creature instead will be precious blood for the Spike-vampire.

Righteous or Mighty is pretty Melvin-y, but Spike has no problem with that. Just build a deck with a lot of good one-drops and a few good three-drops. And cast all of what you get the turn after you cast this. Makes no thematic sense, but it's a strong enough card some players will love it.

I'm a fan of this mechanic in white and could see it re-used every couple blocks. Ironic that Squire of the Open Pasture is a Knight while Knight Trainee is a Squire (and never becomes a Knight). There was some talk of squaring the numbers, but if this the only card of its ilk in the set, and it's uncommon, 1/2->3/4 works.

Very few designs really nailed the Vorthos audience, but just about every card hit Spike square on, and several had some bonus Johnny action in there. I want to talk a little bit more about the line between Spike and Johnny. And Melvin too.

If a card is hard to process, either because it just has too much text, or because what it really does is buried under the Magic-ese that makes it go, many players immediately tune it out. Spike and Johnny might not, but mostly because of their overlap with Melvin who actively enjoys making sense of things other can't. If a card is hard to justify putting in your deck, its Johnny who most wants to figure out when you would and make that happen. If a card is hard to play profitably, its Spike who most wants to eek the value out of it. It's not hard to see that a lot of cards qualify in two or three of these realms and can appeal to different kinds of players for different reasons. There's also a spectrum between hard-to-run and hard-to-play that I think is a big source of the fuzziness between Johnny and Spike. And, of course, after Johnny figures something crazy out, if it proves strong enough, Spike will happily learn it and use it.

Do you think I mis-analyzed anything there? Would you add or re-state anything?


  1. Some challenges are hard simply because of the mix of the art and restrictions. The restrictions said to make a card that plays mindgames, which is primarily the domain of blue and black. The art is appropriate for a white or green card.

    Making it harder is the fact that the subject of the art is clearly the relationship between these two individuals and their horses, and that's not a relationship Magic has really explored yet (though countless amateur designers have tried their hands at horses/mounts.)

    The result is that none of the cards in this week's collection (mine included) feel like a cohesive whole, where the mechanics, art, and card name feel like a singular creative & mechanical work. A Horse of Another Color probably comes the closest, but is still a bit awkward because the card only fetches creatures of the same color.

    This isn't a complaint, by any means - just an observation.

    1. I completely agree. That's why the challenge wasn't to do both, but either, with both as a bonus. I want the bonus to be Hard.

  2. I think these mostly got wordy because so many involve a minigame. I didn't think that through beforehand, but I guess it was kind of implicit in the Gifts Ungiven example. Anyway, this is certainly an issue I run into often enough, I wonder how many people think it would be worthwhile to brainstorm ways to get to the heart of a piece of gameplay and trim it down as much as possible.

    1. Gift Horse, Last Minute Charge and—to some extent—Squire of the Open Pasture are all pretty succinct mini-games. I absolutely agree these kinds of cards lean heavily toward wordy, but it is possible to make them short.

      There were at least three submissions where I recommended cutting out a phrase or sentence that was entirely peripheral to the heart of the design. That's the easiest method to trim something down. The harder one is to forget the actual text and focus on the gameplay created, and see if you can loosely recreate that gameplay with new wording, which will often be shorter just based on odds.

    2. FWIW, you can't cut the sacrifice clause from Chosen Destiny (as you suggested) because then your opponent doesn't get a chance to Naturalize it in response to its trigger going off, which I kept in the design for power level concerns.

    3. Can't the Naturalize right before you lose the game?

    4. It's unclear. There are no cards right now that allow you to pay a cost to prevent losing the game.

    5. As written, Chosen Destiny's last ability doesn't have a trigger. It just goes off automatically during the state-based action of checking whether a player loses the game. (Well, I suppose you could decline the 'may', but then you're losing the game anyway.)

      When to cast Naturalize: If they put down CD without a kill condition ready, wait for the kill condition, then Naturalize CD in response to it. If they put down CD with a kill condition ready, Naturalize CD in response to its ETB trigger. If you're caught with shields down and they somehow manage to put down CD exiling a land and a way to kill themselves before you untap (e.g. Replenish bringing back CD and Necropotence), you're just hosed.

  3. "Removing the life payment entirely makes the card mono-blue and focuses the choice on "these 3 or those N" which is pretty interesting. Nice and Spikey."

    Thank you. That was supposed to be the focus of the card, but can you see any way of avoiding the life payment? If you just left out that clause the opponent would just always choose "zero". There has to be some sliding scale where choosing a bigger number makes the first choice worse as well as the second choice better (like in gifts ungiven where making one pile bigger makes the second pile smaller), else there's no reason to make the choice. I tried several ways of tying the choices together to make them seem more natural (eg. instead of you draw N, they discard N, and the life payment is keyed to the CMC) but I couldn't think of anything better.

    1. Suppose you reveal three unimportant cards. In that scenario, yeah, I totally say 0 to force you to keep them or 1 to tempt you to take one potentially useful card if I'm worried about your hand-size for some reason.

      But if you reveal three bomb cards, I want to name a number high enough to tempt you away from them. 7, probably.

      As usual, the most interesting case falls between the extremes. Say you reveal a land, a very good creature and ineffecient removal. I don't really want you to have that, but do I name 3 or 4 or 5? What will it take to tempt you away? What are the chances I give you more gas than you lost?

      That's the interesting spikey decision.

    2. Might be more effective if the number you name is removed from the library one way or another (IE, exiled if you don't take them).

    3. But is that actually a good idea against a spike? Suppose the three cards they get are about average (1 good, 2 mediocre). If your opponent plays concentrate ("Draw three cards") Do you say "I wish I could give them "Scry 3, Draw three cards" instead because they might get it wrong?

      I think anyone with even minor spike tendencies would usually be able to see whether their bomb is worth more than four random cards (deciding the amount to offer is a bit harder). So if you're a spike playing a spike, having any reason to offer more than zero cards is so rare it's immediately suspicious.

      I think spike wants cards that gets more interesting, the more you know about magic strategy, not less interesting?

    4. We seem to be discussing different cards.

  4. Wow, Chosen Destiny is awesome and scary.

    Enticing Offer is delightful. And although it is kinda Spikey, I (as a Johnny-Timmy) think it's not my Johnny side finding it delightful, but my Timmy side, for the "hee, fun experience" factor.

    Gift Horse is very evil in a deck with hefty-drawback cards like Lich. I wouldn't be surprised if there were cards you could choose that'd give the opponent an impossible choice even if they knew what the card was.

    Horse Trades looks painfully slow to resolve. Not only does the Spike playing the card get to search an entire library, but so does their hapless opponent.