Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Weekend Art Challenge Review 082914—sc0pe

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

Bam. Tap all your creatures. You lose a bunch of life. And you'll lose a bunch more if you attack later. That's a big up-front effect and a potential game-changer of an enchantment. And all of that feels, somewhat, like being bogged down. I will suggest that it could feel more so by tweaking the last ability to trigger on untap, or for more even more moody flavor/play, "If a creature would untap, it doesn't unless its controller pays 1 life."

Took me a couple passes, but now I get it. Cryostasis is a Johnny card that offers you damage prevention, but at the cost of your untap step, and with a limit equal to the number of untapped permanents you still have. This falls into the category of cards that are most difficult to profit from, offering the greatest challenge to those Johnnies who aren't satisfied with merely weak cards.

There's no way to play Cryostasis at face-value. You tap at least 5 permanents to cast it and because it exists solely to prevent damage, we expect that you're not playing many creatures or removal (or else you'd just play Malakir Bloodwitch or Damnation over this.) and that it might prevent 10 or so damage if you've played a bunch of permanents. No, you'd need to have built up a combo that gives you large numbers of permanents and/or untaps. Assuming you want to cast more spells, just making lots of permanents won't help you untap your lands to make mana, so I imagine you're only playing Cryostasis with some serious untapping mojo. But if you're playing Prophet of Kruphix or Murkfiend Liege, wouldn't you rather prevent damage by blocking?

Curse of Melancholy shows grief consuming your team at the loss of their friends. Nice.

It also turns any removal spell into a Plague Wind, provided your opponent is unfortunate enough to have a ladder of creature toughness. Give me a "sacrifice when I control no creatures" escape clause so that you can only do that once per Curse, and I'm in.

Clearly, the Final Fantasy II and its many successors broke the word 'final.' That's what I immediately thought of when I got to "and at your upkeep." Of course what makes this resurrection final is the exile clause, but that happens to creatures that haven't been resurrected too, and is a byproduct of keeping the card from breaking, rather than an important feature of the card. Assuming Creative finds a name that better explains Final Resurrection's effects—something we assume for almost all playtest card names—this is a big, symmetrical-but-very-exploitable effect. With some imagination the flavor is pretty creepy, and with no imagination, the effect on the game could be rather depressing.

Hopeless Struggle would be a lot of fun to build a deck around. All my opponent's bombs are replaced with 2/2s, and I can focus on trading cheap creatures (Goblin Rally) for Zombies, and/or ETB creatures (Thragtusk!) for value. On the other hand, this card often turns off my opponent's deck entirely for just {2}{B}. That's a deal-breaker for me.

I'm also not clear why this affects summoning, but leaves existing creatures alone. If it instead hit one living creature per turn, that would solve both problems by making it something inexorable yet potentially raceable.

Mare Mire is potentially quite powerful (white and black are best at life gain) but also just worse than Caves of Koilos, depending how the games goes. That's a mighty fine target to hit. I love that it chips away at your life total, making you really have to earn your army on turn 9 (in Magical Christmas Land).

Mire of Despair seems pretty well balanced. Removal is an amazing effect to get off of land, but at this price you really need to be either desperate for it, or have nothing better to do with your mana, so it shouldn't be oppressive. Could be uncommon, depending on the number of X/1s in the block. Mire could add {B} and ETBT, but this works too.

Haha. Opening this card sure would make you feel sad.

Guessing it's not also meant to be uncastable. Let's call it {0}. Why not?

I like the double-black on a card as grim as this, though for power level I could see {1}{B} or maybe even {B}. Muck's Embrace gives your opponent an unpleasant choice, though it probably won't be terribly inobvious most of the time.

For a downpayment equal to the cost of a Nightmare, you can trade your Swamps for several copies of this classic black creature. Of course, each one will be smaller, so you'll hit a ceiling of diminishing returns, but Nightmare Stables isn't so much an army-maker as it is an unlimited source of Nightmares, which is pretty cool. Probably wants to be sorcery-speed, and could likely cost {2}{B}.

Reemergence of Nightmares also offers multiple flying creatures of some size, and also is constrained by diminishing returns. In this case, you might exile your entire graveyard the first time and have nothing to fuel future turns, or you might exile one card each turn for a potentially unending supply of 1/1s. This version creates fewer variable-sized creatures and is harder to screw yourself with, but is also under-priced (it's not even hard to get two 5/5s and a few 1/1s out of this one card), still requires book-keeping, and doesn't do homage to Alpha's Nightmare quite as precisely (which is good and bad).

Remission is part Ghostly Flicker and part Rescue from the Underworld. White and black is definitely right here, and the number of possible uses is pretty high. Does it work much different from "exile until EOT?" It mostly just triggers death effects (which is not to be underestimated), but it also combos with graveyard hosers. Neat.

The flavor's decent, though Remission doesn't tell quite the story or invoke quite the mood many of the submissions did.

Creeepy. Interesting choice to have it trigger off of any creature's death and not just one of yours, but as a sort of Carnophage, that works. For the simplest (complete) submission, Sorrow Kelpie packs a punch. Making this a kelpie was a pretty neat choice.

Whoa. I thought it was a nice touch to use a counter to track which creature Stalking Death was immune to, but when I saw it also steals that creature's identity, that's pretty cool. Obviously, this is competing for mindspace with Evil Twin, but I quite like how this one has to work to kill the other. Deathtouch seems like a distraction from this design.

Swallowing Mire is stronger than Mire of Despair. While it has a lower greatest potential, it's easier to kill a substantial creature with it. That strength makes it more dangerous to print, and I imagine this would be an auto four-of in any black control deck. This definitely has to be rare, as it will catch quite a few players off-guard as single-use, on-board combat trick. That flavor's not quite as depressing (which is bad?).

Swamp of Sorrow is strictly better than Traveling Plague in three ways. We could use a stronger, cleaner Traveling Plague. I'm not sure if this is too much better; I think it's slow enough to be perfectly fine.

Pretty good mood, though the flavor text would be better halved.

Treading Water is neat variant on the never-untap auras usually flavored as ice. I really like that you can pay to keep it afloat, and tying that to Islands is solid. Feels like drowning. It bothers me that the first ability doesn't work like the second. Why not "When ~ ETB, and at upkeep, pay or tap?" If that's too cumbersome, just drop the ETB effect.

Undying Mire allows you to resurrect the same creature (all of them) every turn. Eight is a lot to pay, and so we want an epic effect, but this puts the game into a stasis where nothing much changes. You could exile the creature and put a token OTB so you only get each one back once, or you could return a max of one creature each turn, so that losing all your creatures takes time to recover from.

Good stuff, Artisans. I'm particularly impressed how much variety there was given the nature of the art and the direction to hammer home the mood. I invite each of you to do a quick exercise whenever you 'finish' a card design:

Think how good it would be in a Limited deck, not built around it. Think how good it would be in a Constructed deck built to abuse it. And most importantly, work through a realistic gameplay scenario with the card. Does it really work? How complex is it? How hard is it to use well?

If you're not finding one or more of these questions causing you to redesign most of your initial concepts, you're probably not thinking hard enough. I'd say 2 in 100 of my initial designs survive this test untouched.


  1. On Stalking Death: Fair point. I started with the deathtouch but without the protection, so I kept it, but it probably is cleaner with just the protection. It would feel less creepy that way, though.

    1. Thinking about the Limited/Constructed test.

      Stalking Death can't really be built around in Constructed. It's a very reactive card, and while it would go well in some EDH decks and at multiplayer tables, it's not a powerhouse anywhere. Some Johnny will try to maximize it by blinking it to block anything and/or killing the targets, but it won't actually gain much from that.

      In Limited, it's a good control card. Neutralizes any bomb on the ground with potential upside if you manage to kill that bomb, usually will stop the bleeding if you're behind. Interesting play decisions will happen if there's an evasive beater but also a somewhat worse ground guy, where you have to decide between maximizing the clone effect and putting up a roadblock. Never good on offense until it finishes the hunt.

      Other than stripping the deathtouch and possibly cutting the cost to UB, this doesn't suggest any particular changes to me.

    2. I can build a Constructed deck around Stalking Death. It's a cheaper clone than Clone and I can target my own creatures so it's great redundancy for my big, expensive threats. I can also use cheap temporary cards that get big cards out for just the one turn, like Sneak Attack or Goryo's Vengeance (the later needing a sack outlet). Birthing Pod is insane with this.

      If deathtouch stayed, any kind of ability that lets this creature deal non-combat damage would be Murder.

      For the complexity question, there's minor comprehension complexity where some players wonder if protection from creature X is protection from all creatures with that name (it's not). Also clones always raise questions around other P/T/ability effects.

      For board complexity, the ability to change at instant speed—especially when the method to make that happen isn't an activated ability—will catch players by surprise. Will every player know that ETB abilities of the copied creatures won't trigger when this happens?

      How hard is this to use? Without deathtouch, Stalking Death can only kill an X/1 that it's stalking, often requiring you to kill the target otherwise. Your opponent won't be eager to trade their creature in combat when that means you'll get to keep your copy, so you'll either have to get there with combat tricks, removal, or backing them into a corner.

      None of those seem to demand changes to the card, but I've demonstrated there were things you could have thought about, and you couldn't be sure they weren't problems without.

      In no way is this idea targeted at Czynski. Stalking Death wasn't suffering from undiscovered problems. But by talking through these ideas, we've been able to demonstrate the purpose of the exercise. Thanks, Czynski.

    3. I would hate to play against this in EDH with my Skullbriar deck.

  2. Thanks to Jay Zefferal for mocking up the cards this week.