Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Weekend Art Challenge Review 082214—Aaron Miller

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

Banding Croc looks to improve upon banding. The good news is, it's a low bar to hurdle. The bad news is, it's not terribly exciting either.

Band is a strictly linear mechanic, because it does absolutely nothing in a deck where it's the lone card with its mechanic. It allows creatures with band to attack as a single unit; the downside is that the opponent can block your entire band with a single creature, but the upside is that they can take out anything big that happens to block and can't be picked off one-by-one. You also get to divide the combat damage dealt to your band, which is very reminiscent of the original mechanic, but a bit contradictory to modern rules of Magic combat, making ordering of creatures irrelevant.

Except for being more linear than the original, I would rather print band than banding, though I don't think it's a massive improvement, or enough to make me want to print it. Especially not with this art depicting a single mount and rider.

Bojuka Hopper Patrol is a "fighter" ally with the added twist that it gains a temporary ability the turn it triggers. Zendikar featured "clerics" like Highland Berserker that granted an ability to all your allies whenever they triggered, and I can see some appeal to making non-common allies that are "dual-classed." I love the choice to use this art for an ally—the name is perfect—but I wish the ability granting part worked for all your allies to keep consistent with their fundamental working-together concept.

Crocodile Guide is a bestow creature that can't be cast as a creature. Effectively, it's an Elephant Guide, but you still get something if your opponent kills the aura target in response. This is technically a devolution since it's strictly worse than existing bestow in the abstract, but it certainly could have worked as the third set twist in place of enemy-bestow auras. Might have been better. I wouldn't use this in another block, though, because bestow was complex enough and null mana can be quite vexing on its own. I do love the flavor here.

Crocolurk Rider iterates on the mercenary-fetch mechanic from Mercadian Masques and Nemesis. Where rebels searched up 'better' rebels, mercenaries searched up 'worse' mercenaries, but both searched your entire library and cost one more to search than the best CMC they could find. Rider seemingly does away entirely with the connection between the creature's cost and what it can find, and lines up the cost to search with how deep you can search.

That eliminates the need for shuffling, introduces the possibility for failure (and thus introduces risk into the cost), and also affords a dream scenario where you stumble upon your biggest mercenary the first (or each) time you try. Players will be disappointed when they miss, but given the potential upside of very real card advantage every turn, this remains a powerful mechanic. That it now costs more to profit from on average is largely invisible, so this "nerfing" won't even feel like a nerfing to a lot of players.

Despite all those little gains, the big win is that mercenary decks won't play out the same way every game. Good flavor. It's a bit awkward having an efficient evasive creature with a tap ability; something all rebel/merc searchers would have to watch for.

Karst Combatant loves hanging out with quadrupeds. And bipeds. Anything but other humans. Which is totally racist. I'm guessing the flavor is meant to be that this guy rides whatever you pair it with, but you can pair it with Elves and Zombies, Germs and Gods.

The shared ability is too fiddly. Just grammatically speaking, "this creature" / "that creature" is mighty awkward, but even conceptually, flanking against everything except other soulbonded creatures is strange. I mean, it's not a coincidence the ability here is effectively flanking, and that flanking was usually flavored to represent mounted creatures back in the day, but I'm having trouble buying soulbond as a strictly mount-rider relationship.

Mire-Bound Militant seems to take a page from Kaijudo and similar games where you can play any spell as a land instead. I've long been enamored with the idea of mixing that mechanic with Magic's explicit lands because the choice of how many of each kind to play is quite interesting.

That said, both sides of this card are too strong for a card that gives you a free choice between them. First strike and deathtouch should be combined on a single card very rarely, not just for power level, but for specialness. Getting a dual-land out of this gold card is awesome, even if having an ETBT dual that cycles into a creature for free is pushing the power level, but giving it both basic lands types is way too much.

There's also an execution concern. It's clear that you can put the spell-side of this in your deck, and choose to play it as a land instead, but it's not clear whether you can put the land-side of this in your deck as front face or, if you do, whether you can still play the creature side. That's important because of effects that look at and/or search up creatures or lands.

I'm reading this as landwalk for six or more lands. That isn't exactly dripping with flavor, but it does have pretty great gameplay ramifications, helping long games to end, without being too aggressive. I think this card is a bit too good for a {2}{U} common (Elf?), and I wouldn't want to see this mechanic on more than five cards ever, but I do want to see it.

Level-up based on a trigger condition rather than mana payments; that's a natural enough evolution of a mechanic that experienced players enjoy. It doesn't make it any less complex, but I still think level up is worth some complexity points. Will all the triggers be the same in Murajunni Mucktrailer's theoretical set? I would hope they're at least all the same at common, or by color, if not across the board. "Whenever you draw a card" is a reasonable trigger, though skewed toward blue as the color best equipped to trigger it more than an upkeep trigger. It would make sense as the blue trigger, or one-off trigger on rarer cards that happen to blue, though I'll say I'm not feeling a strong flavor connection between a mucktrailer and the power of learning, especially with trample as the first prize.

I'm reading hunt as a different direction from landwalk. Rather than making the creature unblockable, you make it bigger. That offers more interactivity, and I can get behind that. I'd want a name that makes it clear the terrain in question is where the hunter is at home, and not the thing that she hunts; maybe 'familiar with forests' or 'swamp tracker.' We may want to add a number so that we can have 'Hunt 2' instead of 'Hunt, Hunt.' Nonbasic land is a distracting choice for the first card of the mechanic, but when you consider it would appear in a set alongside common creatures than hunt in single specific basic land types, it's a cool card.

Slither Scout also turns level-up in a triggered item, this time triggering on untap, which we know works thematically and flavorfully from Theros' inspired, and would likely appear on all the levelers in this card's set. It's odd how a {G}{U} creature is good at attacking {U} and/or {B} players, but there's certainly precedent for those green swampwalkers and blue islandwalkers. I'd personally rather see a mono-green creature here, if not for the final ability. Evasion, it has to be noted, is the "cheatiest" ability to put on an inspired-leveler since it mitigates the challenge of attacking and surviving. Which is not to say Wizards wouldn't make one or two like that.

Strike range is super-first-strike, with a number. That number allows you make designs closer to Ashmouth Hound, but it's so not worth it. I really don't want to see a 3/3 or 1/1 with strike range 2 because there's nothing intuitive about either. There's also the issue that this ability appears to be upside and downside because of the way it works, when it should appear all-upside: It could either be just like first strike but firstier (which would require a third combat damage step, and isn't going to happen), or it could work like Ashmouth Hound.

I was about to suggest a simpler template—"Whenever CARDNAME becomes blocked, it deals its power in damage to target creature blocking it."—when I realized I didn't read this one correctly. I mention that rather than re-writing because a lot of players will do the same because this is two abilities, not one. What I missed is that strike range lets you hit any attacking or blocking creature. If that mechanic were my goal, I'd say "you can assign CARDNAME's combat damage to any attacking or blocking creature." Both of these abilities are interesting. Could we combine them? Sure. Should we? I believe not: the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts, except in board complexity.

The evolution here being that Valley Searcher is merely very good instead of acronym-worthy. I'm pretty sure Bloodbraid Elf would have been this fair if not for JTMS.

There are some really neat cards here, and a lot of impressive improvement over old mechanics. The biggest improvement over an old mechanic is definitely the mercenary mechanic, the most novel is the redirection portion of strike range, the one I'm most confident about is inspiration-leveling, and the one I most want to test is hunt, with DFC land/spells right behind. Nice work, artisans!


  1. Jay, my understanding of DFCs was that the "untransformed" side was the default and thus the only side searchable in your library. I'm not sure how much that would need to be made more explicit were they to do DFC creature//land, but we did have a DFC creature//aura in Dark Ascension. That said, I didn't really intend for the land side to have land-types, I had actually just typed those in because I was trying to remember the arrangement of the mana ability.

    Also, as a general question to the audience, how might we quantify the difference in power of a man//land vs. a manland?

    In what ways would:

    Serra Apostle
    Creature - Angel (R)
    Flying, vigilance
    One with Nature (Blah Blah Blah)
    Serra Outpost
    ~ enters the battlefield tapped.
    T: Add {W} or {U} to your mana pool.

    be preferred over Celestial Colonnade?

    In the abstract, I'm not sure there's a clear answer; but I've never really played with Colonnade, so someone may have a better understanding.

    1. I'm not sure there is an "untransformed" side. They are double-faced cards, and most DFCs can transform both ways. The existing cards make it clear by having one side unplayable, thanks to the lack of a mana cost. Lands can be played without a mana cost, so we lose that cue.

      Serra Apostle is very comparable with Celestial Colonnade. It would be better when you don't have six mana to spare every turn, and worse when you played it as a land but later want a creature, or when your opponent has Damnation.

      BUT, Celestial Colonnade is over the power level by a considerable margin, and so not something we want to make much more of.

    2. I would have no problem with One With Nature explicitly stating you could only put that side face-up in your deck.

    3. I suppose something else to recognize regarding "face-upness" is that the face-up side was whichever side was named on the Checklist card, right? But yeah, it wouldn't be that difficult to make the card itself make such a quality clear to players at home playing sans checklists.

      And how overpowered is Colonnade? My impression of manlands is that Mutavault is the only truly "what were they thinking?" card, as it's untapped source of mana AND a very scaleable, efficient creature that easily outclasses every bear in existence.

      Regardless, my presumption is that if man//lands were to be developed, the ideal would be for them to have creature forms that are not broadly desirable and to be costed at points along a curve such that the question of "do I want a man or a land?" is not excessively burdensome. In essence, they SHOULD be worse Celestial Colonnade (etc...), but would hopefully exist as "role" players somehow.

    4. Agreed.
      MaRo talks about the Worldwake manlands at 27:30 in this podcast.

    5. Hmm. I thought he talked about it more than that. Maybe he re-addressed it in one of the following episodes.
      The thing that stood out to me was something like:
      "We can give a little extra an ETBT dual land. Gain 1 life. Subtype gate. Making at a man-land, and a Serra Angel for that matter, is huge."

    6. Yeah, that little blurb doesn't really describe it as inappropriately powerful, more that they knew they were making something very powerful based on awareness that the Refuges were constrained by a certain power-level rubric.

      I can't seem to find out if Sam Stoddard ever wrote anything regarding Mutavault's reprint.

    7. I play Celestial Colonnade in my Modern WU Gifts deck and I can attest that being able to tutor a land that becomes a creature when I need it is very powerful. Vigilance means it can attack and still present the mana needed to cast Path to Exile. It's a win condition. The card would lose a tremendous amount of power if I have to choose land or creature up front.

  2. Czynski didn't mention it, but I'm guessing the design started with Hunts Nonbasics as a throwback to the creature with Nonbasic Landwalk Dryad from the original Ravnica (I think that's what it was from).

    1. Slightly a throwback to Dryad Sophisticate, but mostly the landtype depicted seemed very unclear, and the big stone head was very clear. So I went with the ruins as the mechanical tie rather than the swamp/forest/waterfall/valley background.

  3. Glad you liked the look of Hunt! I thought about putting a number on it, or making it bigger (it could be base +2/+2, like the standard Landfall trigger), but if it was going to be a landwalk replacement (and MaRo's mentioned landwalk is considered to need replacing), it would have to be simple enough to evergreen. And I really doubt they'd ever have a numeric evergreen. And I don't think that something landwalky like this would make a good set mechanic; it might work for Zendikar 2, but unless the boost is big it's pretty unexciting.

    tracker is definitely a better name than hunts, wish I'd thought of it. 'familiar with ' seems too clunky.

    1. That was meant to say <Foo> tracker and 'familiar with < foo>

  4. @Jay I never thought of Strike Range as two distinct abilities (super-first-strike and redirection). I don’t care about the damage happening first, so it’s just a matter of making the redirection manageable. LPaulsen suggested the same ability as you in the original thread, “You may have this creature deal its combat damage to any attacking or blocking creature.” But, I still want a version that’s conditional on the creature blocking or blocked to give the opponent outs. And I still want to use a number so that Giant Growth effects don’t need to be removed from a set with Strike Range for balancing purposes. So how about:

    Strike range 2 (As long as this creature is blocking or blocked, you can assign 2 of its combat damage to any attacking or blocking creature.)

    Ps – There’s no Design or Development reason that the strike range number would ever be different than the creature’s power. Except, I guess, on a rare or legendary creature. I thought that was obvious, but get 1/1’ and 3/3’s with Straike Range 2 out of your head.

    1. I'd love to hear more why its important to make not blocking a creature with strike range abstractly better. That turns the mechanic into psuedo-evasion (which is totally fine—that's what first strike and trample are), but that feels like a mixed message to me since strike range works on defense as well as offense. Not saying I disagree, just that I'd like to hear your reasoning.

      We'd add the number so that players can't boost their creatures and get bigger strike ranges. Why? That's the opposite of letting players be clever and dream big.

      If I use strike range 2 at all, I have to use all 2, right? Not "up to 2?" What if my creature's been shrunk to 1 power?

    2. Limiting strike range to blocked or blocking seems like a plausible idea, but I think you would then want to limit the possible targets to blocked or blocking creatures. One thing about the ability that feels a little weird right now is that your 2/2 strike range can block a 1/1 to safely take down an attacking 2/2, but would have had to trade if the 1/1 wasn't attacking. So what about:

      As long as this creature is blocked or blocking, you may assign 2 of its combat damage to any blocked or blocking creature.

      You're right that it's probably better this way than the rangestrike I proposed, and I'd be very interested in trying it out as a mechanic.

    3. I played against enough Prodigal Sorcerer decks early on that I recognize how unfun it is to have all your most important creatures gunned down as soon as you play them. Giving an opponent a way to turn off this effect is vital, even if it means letting a creature through unblocked, or not attacking with a creature when a strike range creature could block it. The safety vavle matters on offense and on defense. With that balance built into the mechanic, creatures with strike range can be attractively costed.

      I only wanted a number so that sets with Strike Range didn't need to cost their pump spells higher than normal. The synergy seems warping.

      LPaulsen's idea of having the redirection only hit other blocking or blocked creatures is fantastic. It allows for more design space than before (like a creature with reach and strike range) and also has a much cleaner flavor. I think that if the redirection is limited to other creatures blocking or blocked, I'm be less adverse to setting a number. Pump spells create less of a blowout.

      Strike range (As long as this creature is blocking or blocked, you may assign its combat damage to any other blocking or blocked creature.)

    4. I like your reasoning, and IPaulsen's suggestion.

      This last strike range reads and sounds great. I'd love to try it.

    5. It will create board complexity, but it's interesting enough that I'd try it on one or two commons before assuming it can only exist at uncommon.

      Definitely red. Primary there? White? Anywhere else?

    6. If we saw strike range in a set, I suspect there would be at least a little of it in every color, and you could make the argument for any of them to get the ability. I'd assume white would be primary with its history of "rangestrike" and damage redirection, followed by red and then maybe... black? Or green? Reach plus strike range is pretty compelling from a flavor perspective, but the ability's gameplay feels more black to me.

    7. That raises an interesting question.
      Should a creature with strike range be able to strike a creature it couldn't block? Should a ground creature be able to hit a flyer? Should it need reach to be able to do so?
      The requirement for the target to have be blocked/blocking mitigates the need for this question a lot, but it's still interesting to ask.

    8. The flavor is they have extra range to hit things in combat, so if another creature has engaged a target they should be able to choose that target even if normally, they wouldn't be able to block it. Reach is just a fun, one-off design.

      As for what colors, I was thinking White, Red, and Artifact creatures/equipment.

  5. Green Sun's Zenith for Crocodile Guide seems a bit too strong.

    1. Good point-- I hadn't thought of that. Then again, it's banned in Modern anyway. Chord of Calling might be more problematic, but a 3/2 for GGG with intimidate and convoke doesn't strike me as being broken.