Monday, August 11, 2014

Weekend Art Challenge Review 080814—jaimeibarra

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

Butterflize is aimed at grindy white-blue control decks and I think it hits that mark well. It will generally gain you less life than Absorb, but seeing your opponent's hand is not to be underestimated for a deck that needs to time its counters and wraths. More importantly, Absorb was designed in Invasion, one year after Counterspell was still a common. Comparing it to Cancel shows that it's actually a huge gain for the deck.

Free spells for everyone! It's really interesting that Butterfly Effect benefits playing more cheap spells (so you get more triggers) and more expensive spells (so your rewards are bigger). It's the wrinkle that it only casts spells of a different type that really lets you capitalize on both by playing a lot of cheap spells of one type (probably creature) and a lot of expensive spells of every other type. That makes this a symmetrical card with a rather open-ended method to capitalize upon. Definitely a chaotic card that might appeal to Random Timmy as well as Let's Break Symmetry Johnny.

Caller of Life interprets the art pretty literally. This would be a very printable card if green normally got flying. Hornet Nest and Hornet Queen are exceptions, justified (debatably) through rarity and flavor. While there's nothing dissonant about the creative concept behind Caller of Life, it doesn't represent any popular tropes so it's not a flavor win. We could make it rare to mitigate the color bleed, though I'd still have to ask why butterflies are more dangerous than goats (or why we'd want another token when we've got bees.)

This design is aimed at mid-range players. In terms of mana cost and card advantage, it's there, and I imagine players would be happy to run this in a mostly-green Limited deck. It really doesn't qualify as a Constructed card where midrange is most distinct (all the archetypes get fuzzy when your card pool is random).

I made a couple cards I'll share later, but they kept falling under audiences I can identify with. My goal was to make a card that people like my wife would enjoy—newer players who spend more time worrying about screwing up than enjoying the game. Hexproof means you can play auras on her and not get punished easily. The second ability means you can attack without knowing how the combat will go, and not lose your creature (in whom you may have invested another card or two). It also means you can block one attacker all day long.

I was quite tempted to give that attacker trample, or have it deal its damage minus 2, or have you pay 2 life to activate the escape ability, but those are all too complex, fiddly, or look-bad for the audience the card is meant for. I costed it at {2}{U} so it wouldn't be too terribly attractive to serious players, though it still has potential. Maybe {3}{U} 2/3 uncommon?

Distract is a much purer Notion Thief. It's also meaner: While "draw a card" and "discard a card" are basically equivalent in terms of card advantage, humans are loss averse and so losing a thing feels worse than an opponent gaining a thing. That said, choosing a card to discard when you're hand is full allows you to discard your worst card (which has less value than a random card from your opponent's deck); and discarding when your hand is empty is free (so save your Divination for hellbent when you're opponent has {U}{B} up); but discarding while your waiting to cast your big spells can be quite demoralizing.

Who would play Distract and when? It's very much a sideboard card, since it does nothing against a deck without multiple or exceptional card draw, which is most decks (at least in Limited and Standard). Even then, you need to have it hand with mana up the turn they cast their Ancestral Recall or Sphinx's Revelation. This is where we learn what's so clever about Notion Thief's design: As a creature, it's never useless.

With a near-functional reprint of Storm Crow, eternal formats could effectively run twice as many. Madness!

Lilah makes big promises, and the only she won't come through is if your opponent(s) run Pyroclasm, Day of Judgment or Cruel Edict. The downside is negligible: You can run a(n otherwise) creatureless deck and get Explore+4 every turn, making Phyrexian Arena look like a turd in a tortilla. You can also build up to a big attack and simply forgo that bonus for that one turn.

Oh, and your opponent(s) can use the effect too, as long as they promise not to smack you. As a legend with an effect multiple players will be tempted to use, Lilah is clearly aimed at Commander (where you can bring her back when your opponents do find a clever way to kill her), but she's plenty abusable in a duel. You don't even card if your opponents are gaining life, because you're planning to kill them otherwise. What's nice is that being good in a duel doesn't make a card any less exciting for Commander, and indeed that's a pretty nice feat for a design. I do wish this was more interactive.

Queen of Paradise would make more sense as an enchantment (not every card aimed for EDH has to be legend).

Gifts Ungiven for creatures. Nothing about this card requires it to be blue. It could be {3}{G}—'strictly' worse than its ancestor—and still very good. Shuffling the lost cards away prevents reanimation, which is safer, though I wonder if this card wants safer. Better than putting them on the bottom: "Shuffle the chosen cards into your library and put the rest into your hand." Same result with less procedure and words.

Lives Unseen is definitely spikey, trying both to capitalize on your opponent's potential inability to choose optimally, as well as playing the card craftily such that they have no good choice.

“To properly prepare the mind for study, one begins by clearing away distractions.”
—Riku of Two Reflections
Mass Diffusion is a huge Timmy effect, with some Johnny potential. This is green so it can hit artifacts, enchantments and planeswalkers, and blue because it draws a lot of cards. I agree with the former, but not the latter (and certainly not the 2:3 color requirement). Green can draw multiple cards just fine, particularly in connection with creatures or—as seen here—killing things it's good at. If it needed to be gold, white also destroys all these things (and is the wrath color anyhow).

This is aimed at EDH, could do a lot of work there, and the cost is certainly prohibitive enough for other formats (though I can't help wonder about a Modern combo deck with mana-accelerating enchantments and Hatching Plans).

If I cast four Monarch Monarchs in succession, I get 24 butterflies. Step 2 ??? Step 3 Rule the World.

This is a really interesting trigger, and a rather curious effect. There are of course numerous ways to benefit from a ton of 0/1s from the mundane chump-blocking, to the obvious Collective Blessing, to more creative things like sacrifice-chains or Epic Struggle. I would call it a Johnny card, but I can see some appeal for Timmy too and the trigger does make it expressly not for Commander, like Search the City (which I would also call more Johnny than Timmy).

Not sure all three colors are needed here.

Paradise Butterflies was made common to give Pauper players a card worth playing. With all these abilities and their interactions, though, the card is much too complex for common. I wouldn't even make this uncommon. For {0} you get a Birds of Paradise for three turns (four if you can use the mana during your fifth upkeep). For most purposes, that's much better than Birds of Paradise.

Possibility Storm had a baby with Knowledge Pool. Another chaos card, Queen of the Aether sets up a wacky little game where you get random spells at the end of combat (almost exclusively, since removal spells can no longer kill at other times). This could set up interesting situations where players avoid fighting with their spirits so no one cast Armageddon or to avoid One with Nothing, as well as situations where players are trying to trade as many spirits as possible for a crack at a Cruel Ultimatum.

I guess Johnny combos this with cheap spells, permanents that draw cards and/or creature buffs?

Half a Dovescape made of Thrulls? There's one too many things going on here. Converting half the spells to bugs is interesting because players will have to account for the possibility that their spell actually happens, or not (depending which seems worse at the moment). Giving the bugs power and flying will turn some games into a bug proliferation race. Letting them trade for mana… um… I guess because butterflies metamorph and are colorful?

As a legendary creature, Ramda will have some Commander appeal, and her chaotic game-warping effect will appeal to part of that crowd. The most obvious cards to combo with this are in the wrong colors, though: Glorious Anthem and Hex / Shrivel. It would let you ramp up to Emrakul and either cast that or get festooned in Lepidoptera.

As always, really interesting stuff. Some rather novel ideas, some fun cards. Surprise bonus points for everyone who didn't make literal butterflies via token creatures.

It's informative to see what kinds of audiences most jumped to mind for the designers. Several aimed at formats they don't play, three at EDH. Four made "global chaos" cards; not surprising given how splashy they are and niche their audience. Some went for certain psychographics. I was secretly hoping to see more non-Magic demographics like gender, race or wealth (pauper maybe counts there), though admittedly that can be tricky territory. What inspired me to make this challenge for this art is that I've seen friends avoid cards based purely on how ugly, creepy, sexist, or scary the art/concept is, and this art is none of those things.

Several of you used rather harsh language to describe the audience you chose. I've never heard of anyone who likes every Magic format, and I know no one likes every Magic card, but we must be careful when addressing/discussing players who like the things we don't. Hyperbole and humor are hard to distinguish from earnest sentiment in general, and three times harder online. People have feelings and feelings matter.

Thanks to Ipaulsen for the renders. If you want to add a card that was missed, or modify one that wasn't, get me the updated image asap.


  1. Non-psychographic appeal seems better addressed by Creative than Design. Once a card's art is already appealing to women, there's not a whole lot you can do to the text box to affect that appeal, with the possible exception of making the card good in high-level tournaments so that people won't think WotC is falling into the stereotype of making all the strong characters men. (On the flip side, I can think of only one instance where my gut reaction to a card was "this is creepy/sexist" but the card text helped me see the design in a different light.)

  2. Sorry for my relative radio silence recently. Getting ready to go back to school.

    Really cool stuff this weekend! Nice job all.

    Also, just want to say, I'm wary that "designing for different races/genders/etc." could rely on stereotypes and not be beneficial to our education as designers. I understand the intent behind it; it's just a dangerous edge to toe.

    1. It's definitely dangerous. That said, game designers will do more harm in the long run by not trying, then by trying, failing, and learning.

    2. I agree that it's vitally important to represent characters other than white straight cis males on cards, but I think that task falls on Creative, not Design.

      The most significant strides WotC has taken with diverse characters have nothing to do with game mechanics. We have Creative to thank for Koth, Ashiok, and Guardians of Meletis; their design doesn't even enter into it. There's nothing particularly homoerotic about an 0/6 Defender. (High on the list of sentences I never expected to type...)

  3. I would start Cloudwalker at 3U 2/2 common, and work up from there.

  4. The art may not be exactly sexist, and it's certainly beautiful, but featuring a scantily-clad female leaves it wide open to accusations of pandering to the base or that kind of similar usual complaint.

    But yes, I've seen multiple people avoid playing cards because their art is gross / creepy / scary, and there are certain cards I'll even avoid playing myself for those reasons.