Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Weekend Art Challenge Review 091214—Jim Bizzle

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

Clifftop Cloister makes {1} the first turn, and {RW} thereafter. That's very comparable to Clifftop Retreat. Cloister always makes mana the first turn it comes down, but it's colorless. Very functional, straightforward; looks like a solid rare dual land. Not especially Tarkir, but made to be reprintable elsewhere.

Interesting. Jeskai Enclave only makes two out of the three Jeskai colors—specifically the pair that no other clan uses—but gives you a bonus if you can get that third color on your own. That looks a little odd, but, apart from that aesthetic reaction, I think that model makes sense.

The bonus happens to be turning a non-creature face-down as a 2/2, which Zoetic Cavern proves is legal and shouldn't be a total mystery to players seeing this since its an uncommon and there are common morphs in the boosters. Even so, I'd want to see this in set two and not in set three just because it's not as crystal clear what's happening on the card.

Tapping to turn the Enclave into a creature is an interesting choice. The downside is that it means if you draw this late and just wish you had a Gray Ogre, you'll have to wait two turns after playing it before you can attack or block with it. The upside is that it's not an on-board combat trick and doesn't increase board complexity as directly.

Another concern is that the face-down creature this becomes looks like a morph creature, but isn't. Of course everyone will know that having seen it face-up first, but in an environment where face-down cards are 2/2s that could flip up and do who knows what, it seems likely distracting.

There are a set of characteristics that are understood not to be important to knowing a card: artist, set, rarity, collector's number, and textbox treatments. I very much appreciate the goal here, and the solution is both clever and elegant, but it's not something Wizards will do because its existence forces competitive players to memorize more data they usually don't care about, and it puts players with visual disabilities at a distinct disadvantage.

For the sake of argument, if we could key off of watermarks, would Jeskai put a good design? It's not a bad one, but does a player running enough of the clan in her deck to play this really need the first ability? Probably, actually. I'm not checking how many R/W/U cards are Jeskai and how many aren't but I'm sure it's significant. This clan limitation prevents players from adjacent clans from scooping this card up as a two-color fixer; Is this the best way to achieve that end? For my money, just making the tri-color lands uncommon seems about as effective. Given that this design is pushing on common rarity, I like that solution better.

Lofty Settlement is like a tri-color Graven Cairns. It's a little harder to use since you can't use {W} to produce {W}, and it doesn't make any mana on its own, but the Shadowmoor cycle was too good anyhow, and it's not like this card will be terrible for Jeskai players. I can dig it.

Monastery of the Humble lets you play morphed creatures at instant speed, but more importantly, it lets you play your entire hand as if they were morph creatures. Forget looting away your excess land, just cast some Grey Ogres. That's quite novel for a land—and the flavor's not terrible either—though it runs into my same concerns with face-down non-morphs that I already mentioned, as well as concerns about putting non-permanent cards OTB, where they could potentially be turned face up. (It happens that I think there should be a rule for that, that they are immediately put into the graveyard, but new rules aren't insignificant.)

Monastery Ridge is an uncommon fetch land, swapping the life loss for ETB'ing. It's a Terramorphic Expanse with the delay in a slightly better spot, that can only get Mountains or Islands. What's the math here? Does a cycle of 5 uncommons cause more shuffling on average than 1 common, or less?

Pretty sure the flavor is that your creatures can run downhill to attack quickly, but it takes them a long time to climb back up. And the mountains are misty, so you can't see them. But the hike is invigorating, so they re-trigger their ETB abilities when they get home. And the creatures that didn't attack went down and back up too, because holy crap do they love climbing that misty mountain.

Why is Mountaintop Village black? Why is this double-white? Could the second ability just be "you can't block?"

Dual-land man-lands are fun and powerful. We got an allied cycle from Zendikar, and here we're getting an enemy cycle. Scoured Clifftops can be used by Temur as well as Jeskai. Apart from that, I'd have no guesses why this would be in Tarkir, but that's not a terrible reason.

I like the aim of Secluded Stronghold's second ability, to fix mana in a unique way and get a little clan-flavored bonus for doing so. The peek could be implemented better; just let me look when I tap rather than tying it to mana for the odd times I split the mana to cast separate spells.

Training Monastery is most likely too strong, but monk-tribal, so.

In all seriousness, producing only colorless mana is a significant downside in a three-color block, and that on top of ETB buys a lot of power. If prowess didn't stack, or if there weren't many monks, or if prowess turns out to be weaker than I expect, this might be fair. Love the flavor anyhow.

Tranquil Haven helps you combat reanimation strategies or mechanics that use the graveyard as a resource. In Tarkir, that means delve. Here's the problem I see: Is this a cycle? Are there four more colorless lands that combat the other clans' mechanics? I don't think a three-color block can support that many colorless lands at uncommon, and more importantly I don't think we want to throw that much water on the fire of what makes Tarkir burn bright. If this land is just itself, why do the Sultai need nerfing that the other clans don't, and if it does, is making a land you have to draft and play in order to combat it the best solution?

FWIW, this card could be perfect in a less multicolor set with five-color graveyard mechanic.

Tranquil Watchtower is a tri-color land that you never tap. That's a downside that aims to pay for the benefit of getting mana from it the turn you play it by requiring you to spend the mana at a particular time or lose it otherwise. If I were going to make an exception as huge as "you don't tap this land to get its mana" I'd want it to be for a very splashy effect, or at least something very elegant. Mystic Monastery isn't splashy (it's useful), and the ETB effect that lets you get mana at a different time than the regular time hurts its elegance. I'd rather see "At the beginning of your second main phase, add {R}, {W}, or {U} to your mana pool" or maybe "Spells you cast that are red and white and blue cost you {R}, {W}, or {U} less to cast."

Despite knowing the story of Ugin's part in sealing the Eldrazi on Zendikar, and his love of colorless magic like Ghostfire, I was very surprised to see Ugin-Jo mention the cthulhuesque monsters. Now that I've recovered, I can imagine a plot where Tarkir suffers from their tentacles, and where great dragons war against them, though I'd expect some mention of the Eldrazi in the history books of Tarkir. Assuming the story goes that way, I'm still surprised to see Ghost Castle exiling all the Eldrazi, much less all the dragons. I suppose the implied story is that Ugin had to sacrifice all the dragons from his home plane in order to imprison the Eldrazi, but then denizens of Tarker would talk about how all the dragons disappeared, or at least died in one instant, but the story is that they were hunted down over time.

Ignoring flavor and story concerns, how does Ugin-Jo look mechanically? Reducing the cost of all dragons isn't unreasonable, though reducing it as much as Eye of Ugin discounts Eldrazi seems like comparing very large apples to frickin' enormous apples. Dragons tend to cost 5 or 6 or 7, where most Eldrazi cost 10 or 11 or 12, so that discount is much bigger for the tribe that has hundreds of members instead of a dozen. So the card helps you make dragons. Cool. Then it exiles them all. It also exile a super rare creature type that you're not playing in your all-the-dragons deck. Hard to imagine any deck using this card for just the latter ability* and harder to imagine a dragon tribal deck ever activating it, which makes it functionally useless. Ugin-Jo could be a story card like Deicide, but for a card that will be an auto-include in dragon decks, it seems a shame to mar it with unappealing and random-looking trinket text.

*Since its colorless, I can imagine Commander decks with land tutoring running one just to answer Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

Even without the ability to reset your choice, Village in the Mist is a very strong card, giving you exactly the color you need right now without any delay or other cost. It doesn't ETBT like Vesuva, cost you life like Mana Confluence, it doesn't run out of color like Gemstone Mine, and its not dependent on your other lands like Reflecting Pool, all strong lands in their own right. Being legendary means you'll only play a couple, limiting its impact on Constructed (though it's good enough for Legacy). It's nice that this avoids causing a shuffle, though it could also cause memory issues, particularly when you replay it. I would definitely ditch the last ability.

Jeskaic Convent gives you three colors that you can use immediately, but limits you to non-creature spells. That works slightly better for Jeskai clan than the others since their keyword is based around casting non-creature spells and worse for the Temur whose keyword is all about casting big creatures, though both need a mix of creatures and non-creatures. Do you play a card like this in your Limited deck? If it had a back-up mode to make {1} for any purpose, certainly, but not contributing toward casting your creatures in any way is pretty expensive. Do you play it in Constructed? Only if you've built a creatureless deck or one with cheap and color-flexible creatures.

Shrouded Village lets you splash for morph creatures. Well, it lets you splash for them more since they are inherently fairly splashable just by having an up-front cost of {3}. If that's a good thing for the format—and my intuition is that it's not because it pushes players more toward five-colors than three—then I like it a lot. It serves its clear purpose well, and has a relatively low cost to put in your deck.

Designing lands is hard. I don't think we did as well as a group this week as we often do, running into quite a few different snags that haunt land designs. Scoured Clifftops, Lofty Settlement and Clifftop Cloister were the only submissions that I think both fit Tarkir well and that I'm confident are already positive, clean designs.

Thanks to Jay and Brian for providing renders this week.


  1. Yeah, wow, the additional ETB paragraph destroys any simplicity. That was pretty much the only reason it appealed to me.

    It's probably not right to put both triggers in the same clause, so scrap that one.

  2. Monastery Ridge is an enemy color pair version of the Mirage fetch lands. Your commentary made it sound as if this space has not yet been explored, although the OP's submission acknowledges its forebears.

    1. Yes, there exists an old cycle of ally-colored fetch lands that work just like this. That fact doesn't make this design better or worse for new sets.

    2. No one ever remembers the Mirage fetches. It's criminal, I tell you! Criminal!

    3. My intent was not to pass judgment on the merits of the design, just to offer up the information. Particularly since the comment: "What's the math here? Does a cycle of 5 uncommons cause more shuffling on average than 1 common, or less?" seemed to imply a lack of this information.

    4. Whether there existed cards like this in a set before or not has no impact on how much we want them in a new set. The math I'm talking about is how often we'll see a land that makes us shuffle in our a booster pack. If there are 100 commons, we'll see a Terramorphic Expanse in 1 of 10 boosters, and if there are 54 uncommons, we'll see a member of a 5-card cycle like this in 5 of 18 boosters, almost three times as often. Very roughly. Do we want that much shuffling?

    5. I prefer putting the searched for land onto the battlefield tapped like Terramorphic Expanse rather than the Monastery Ridge entering tapped so that you can do the shuffling on your opponent's turn, whereas this one you will often do the shuffling first thing on your turn, slowing down the game.

  3. Tranquil Haven was designed for the third set in the block which is most likely not going to be multicolored due the Khans being a Wedge set but not a Wedge block.
    I agree though that Sultai probably don't need that much hosing.

    1. Shrouded Village was similarly intended for set 3, which sounds like it will have Morph but not wedges.

  4. I absolutely love Lofty Settlement. I'd also love to see a Secluded Stronghold cycle with no riders, just mana production.

  5. Tying Secluded Stronghold's ability to casting rather than mana tapping was intentional; I didn't want to turn the card into a "skill test" of whether you remembered to activate a mana ability every turn cycle when you had nothing to spend it on.