Friday, October 17, 2014

Weekend Art Challenge Review 101014—Nightmares of Somnia

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

Nightmarish is an ability word that triggers only if your opponent's hand is more than half-full. I guess they have to have enough thoughts jostling about in their head for you to get in their unnoticed and wreak havoc. It's up to your opponent whether your nightmares have any effect—making your opponent draw cards isn't exactly common, though maybe it will be in Somnia. Ideally, your conditional abilities turn on when you need them most, and it's possible your opponent has 4+ cards in the mid-game because she's been drawing a lot, or has been playing fewer more impactful spells. It's also entirely possible she's just been mana-screwed. It's also pretty likely she doesn't have that many cards in hand because she's played so many of them already, in which case nightmarish doesn't help you deal with that glut of threats.

By existing in the set—assuming it's any good—nightmarish gives players a general incentive to keep their own hands at 3- cards, playing out their first batch of cards as soon as possible. It's a less demanding hellbent that affects everyone who thinks their opponent might have some nightmares. I'm feeling pretty 'meh' about this ability word.

Agitation Embodied itself might be able to get away with being strictly better than Fire Elemental since it's haste is so conditional.

Now that's what Jalira, Master Polymorphist should have been. Well, closer anyhow. It might be a bit much that it twists every shape every turn. In particular, it's awkward that I put cards back in a random order, but in batches—one per creature. Maybe it can be "Whenever you attack, sacrifice each other creature you attacked with. Reveal cards from your library until you reveal that many creature cards…" Love the name Shapetwister, and this definitely brings the madness, though it sounds more like the red "Continuously changing masses of unfathomably terrifying shapes."

I have to assume Consuming Dragon is meant to have flying (or else is not really a dragon.) Its ability feels not just demon-ish, but Rakdos-ish, which matches up with its colors. Interesting that it can be as much a nightmare for you as for your opponent. I like that. I'm not getting black's fear motif or red's chaos at all.

Why would I sacrifice a creature in order to attack with a copy of it? Wouldn't it just be better to attack with that creature? And I don't get to choose which creature I sack? I might even sack my Crimson Doppleganger? Blech.

Funny thing is, if you ignore that middle ability, the last ability is pretty interesting. A Hissing Iguanar merged with a Prodigal Pyromancer. I wouldn't want to pay 5 for a 2/2 that only triggers on your own creatures dying, but it's not far from a sweet red combo enabler.

Of course the unattractive middle ability helps the last ability (except when it kills itself), so the card is actually better with it but it's one of those things that reads so poorly it detracts from the actual power of the card.

Devourer of Discipline gives you a 50% chance at a free Insurrection on top of a 6/6 resilient body. If that's not enough, you can try again as often as you have the mana and disposable creatures. That should be plenty to give players a reason to build blue-red Standard decks. I'm not entirely sure what the flavor here is, apart from making Limited opponents crap their pants.

If the idea is that this thing is eating sanity, maybe it should always Act of Treason one creature chosen randomly, rather than an entire team or nobody. Given how red the last ability is, I'm not sure the first needs {R} in the cost.

There's a lot of haste and sacrifice going around. Devourer of Forms has a one-time saboteur ability that lets you sack it for your opponent's best creature. Actually, it's not one-time since your new creature gains you the new ability and you can keep hopping bodies until you've murdered all your opponent's creatures. Love how terrifying that is.

I'm not 100% convinced that repeatable, permanent creature-stealing can be non-blue. The sacrifice requirement might justify it in black-red, if anything does. Slave of Bolas both proves and disproves whether this needs blue, awkwardly.

Guessing this is supposed to be 'Encroaching Terror.' This mechanic is usually green or Taurean Mauler. In this context I think we could justify it as madness, fed by your opponent's own actions, which fits the red nightmares in Somnia. I would personally start this at 1/1, but Wizards has started intentionally unsquaring stats even on creatures that earn +1/+1 counters, so maybe that instinct is wrong. I would make this rare unless the set has an alternative to casting spells, like cycling effects.

I'm not clear why we choose an opponent and only damage him, but trigger off all spells. I'd expect this to either affect every player whenever she casts a spell, or focus on a chosen opponent but only trigger when that player casts a spell. (You could hurt the chosen opponent when you cast a spell, but that probably combos too well with storm.) I don't get the name either: Seems like this nasty is something the chosen player should be legitimately afraid of. Guessing the name was chosen to mirror True-Name Nemesis. False-Fear hatchling does feel like a very red nightmare.

Feverling was submitted with a cost of {B}{B}.

Holy crap this is terrifying. It starts as a mono-black Tidehollow Sculler, but swings on turn 3 as a 3/3, having taken two cards from your hand, and continues to grow and steal your cards each turn. The very important thing that Sculler does which Feverling does not is choose which card it takes from you. That means this can't steal your removal spell unless you run out of cards before you can cast it, and that's the only reason I think this might be printable below four mana. Even so, I'd make this mythic rare. Very black nightmare.

Another non-flying dragon? What's up with that? I guess people are seeing a wingless dragon in this art, but since we already have an amorphous type like nightmare, I'm really not sure why we'd clarify that it's a dragon if we're not going to give it flying. Note that the long wingless Chinese dragons this most resembles fly anyway.

Apart from that niggle, this is pretty sweet. I mean, it'll be a pain to execute each round, but not as bad as Grip of Chaos, and Fleshgorger Dragon has a lot going for it in terms of being a very red nightmare. And, in fairness, this ability is great for a dragon too. Not sure the exile clause is worth it, but if Standard needs graveyard-hate, it certainly wouldn't be a hard sell.

Inexorable Though is common? That can't be right. Even without an ability to return it to play, black does not get Savannah Lions below rare. This technically isn't strictly better than Reassembling Skeleton, but it is vastly stronger, casting half as much to cast and to recur, doing twice as much damage, and coming back untapped, making it the best chump-blocker the world has ever seen. If this were rare and came back tapped it would still be very good in Limited, in black aggro decks and in sacrifice-combo decks.

An interesting possible nerf: "Whenever ~ dies tapped, pay {B} to return it untapped."

Bam! That's a huge, terrifying, very blue effect—on an appropriately costly, rare, and conditional card. Really interesting that the defender will end up with a grip of relevant spells, though it's unlikely to matter having just taken 7 damage and suffered a grip of even better spells, all cast for free. Oh, wait... the other pile is exiled and the defender is left with no cards? That definitely puts this into black territory and also makes it strong to the point of being miserable.

A lot less powerful but perhaps more fun: If you exile one pile and can then play those cards ala Nightveil Specter. (And the opponent keeps the other pile.)

I've got to say, this red nightmare delivers on its name. This will be a lot of work to execute. Given that even Lord of Hysteria's own control goes to a random player, the only way I can imagine playing this is with Brand/Gruul Charm (but not Brooding Saurian or Zedruu the Greathearted). Or perhaps in an otherwise creatureless deck that can afford to give its opponent a 6/6. Still, this delivers chaos in spades and there are players who will play it without a combo for that reason. And Vorthos might appreciate it from the safety of his binder.

Stealing Keepsake Gorgon's bias toward gorgons isn't a terrible fit for Miasmic Lurker. While this can grow unbounded, it's also conditionally worse than Pharika's Chosen. Making it grow, then, is important to justifying its use. At first glance, that trigger seems out of your control. You just hope to play this before they have creatures to attack with. But a little plotting reveals a few strategies to help it along: You can kill all your opponent's creatures before they attack, or you can play cards that make attacking you unattractive, like Pharika's Chosen, Souls of the Faultless or Blood Reckoning.

Everything has to be something. What is this card when it's not a creature? Mindhaunter Spawn has to be or become some other permanent type. Enchantment works since its got an enchantment-y effect. Apart from that technicality (and the fact that every player who knows Theros will immediately identify this as a god) this is pretty neat. I quite like the existence condition, and the way that the ability which pushes you inexorably closer to it doesn't always cause discard. That it ever causes discard does make me want this to be black, though I agree this flavorfully fits Somnia's blue nightmares better than its black ones.

Nidhogg forces everything to attack all the time, which is awesome bloody chaos. As a 4-power first striker, it's likely to kill a creature during your opponent's next turn (becoming 5/3 or larger), and after that no more blocking will happen except by new or vigilant creatures. Red doesn't usually get wurms, but it is a nightmare wurm. If I were going to tweak this, I'd make its last ability trigger on any attacking creature dying for greater symmetry and scariness (though that might impact the cost).

Night Terror's first ability is cool. Strictly worse than forced discard or forced sacrifice would be alone, but still costing your opponent a card every turn. Night Terror doesn't even have to connect, like annihilator. That's scary. The second ability… seems to bribe the defender toward sacrificing instead of discarding. That's not a terrible goal, giving how much more value a creature in play has over one in hand, but it reads completely differently than if the ability included "or sacrifices a creature" which is where my mind was headed while discovering the card. As good as the first ability is, at 4/4 for {4}{B}{B} in rare, I think it could grow regardless of what your victim chooses (but maybe the combo with Dead Drop is too much better than the one with Mind Rot?).

I was wondering if anyone was going to dig up this old idea. Although it seems like Dreamwalk might have been designed independently. In any case, I still think this mechanic is worth testing out. Despite reading simply, it's pretty weird and could make combat just too strange, but it also switches things up in a very dynamic way, so it might just be worth it.

Meanwhile, Nightwaster's second ability is a pretty big deal. It's nearly a Curse of Death's Hold, affecting any creatures your opponent wants to attack or block with. The total package feels a bit more like a disturbing dream than a nightmare per se, but as thematic translation goes, that's quite good.

Haunt, eh? I enjoyed haunt back in Ravnica, despite the mechanic's awkwardness, but apparently it was unpopular and Wizards has no plans to bring it back. If they were to, using it on nightmares in Somnia would be perfect. Love that flavor. Nyctophobian is quite strong, but compared to Gravecrawler and the like, I don't know that it's too strong.

Pridefall Nightmare is telling an entire story, from beginning to end. First you get the money. No, first you get the women. No, sorry, first you have to attack. Then if you survive, you grow. Then when you attack and survive a second time, you grow again and then die immediately. But only if you are on the other side of the table from this nightmare. I didn't say the story made any sense. (In fairness, this is a dream.)

I'm not keen on two out of three abilities being symmetrical and the third not. I'm also not keen on making creatures bigger just to kill them. If this all added up to something I understood, it might be worth it, but I just don't get it. I guess I'm proud that I had to attack and survived once, but the second time I realize my hubris and blow up?

Zoiks. Every player (starting with you, if you cast this pre-combat) gets Seeder of Indecision and an additional Act of Treason to smash as they see fit. This is a Zealous Conscripts that smashes you back if you don't win with it immediately. Y'know, if you play fair. I would expect players to put this in a deck with either no other creatures, or full of defenders so that your opponent gets less out of it than you. Even if you don't build around it, it's definitely toothy and chaotic, like a red nightmare should be.

"You're Cancelling my spell?" "Nope. Just borrowing your juice."

This is probably a bit too good, but I like the idea a lot. This feels more blue than Illusory Angel. I'd love if instead of having a high cost and a conditionally reduced cost, it just had a single low cost and a restriction more like the angel's "Cast CARDNAME only if an opponent has cast a spell this turn." But, that would suck if it didn't have flash, which—upon closer inspection—Spelllured Kraken does not. And that would be completely different, so that's why it is the way it is, and it's for the best. Is this blue nightmare twisting and hideous? Yyyyes? Not especially, but the art helps.

I do wish this keyed off a particular type of spell, most likely creature, to make your opponent worry whether they should make a guy this turn or do something else, as opposed to wondering if they should do anything at all (they should). Gah. I keep thinking this has flash! This should probably just have flash.

Haha. I didn't even think of calling back to our gargantua discussion. Good call!

Unknowable Terror should end up playing a lot like a Sky Ruin Drake with deathtouch (because while you may not know whether it'll survive being blocked, neither does the defending player) and so likely needs to cost more or be rare.

This definitely qualifies as a twisted blue nightmare.

Here's Strangleroot Geist, in case you want to check the reminder text for undying
Let's pretend for a moment that there will ever be another set with both +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters in it. If you cast an instant in response to something that will kill Writhing Enigma, it comes back +2/+2 better than if you didn't. Sure. If it would die again with that +1/+1 counter on it, you hope that you didn't cast any spells that turn because then it comes back, and if you did, it's dead for good. And if it would die while it has a -1/-1 counter on it, then you want to have cast a spell so that undies.

So this card can die and remain any number of times, but whether you cast an instant/sorcery spell each turn depends on what kind of counter is on it, and you have to track what kind of counter is on it very carefully. That definitely qualifies as a twisted blue nightmare and unprintable.

It's my fault this review came so late. Apologies to Ant who worked hard to get me the renders as quickly as he could. Thanks for the renders, Ant, and congratulations on the great participation your world saw.

I'm really impressed with the number of submissions, as well as the amount and quality of feedback you provided, artisans. The variety of ideas, and the ways that they expressed the three different kinds of nightmares was really nothing short of fantastic. Pat yourselves on the back.


  1. The red nightmares stem from the sleeping planeswalkers fear of Chaos / loss of control. I wanted to create an ability where the opponents would feel that fear of losing control of their creatures. so the coin flip creates a scary moment where you might just die. (Its extreme I know but it was fun to play-test) haha. I put it on a 6/6 so that the coin flip didn't seem too feel bad when it didn't happen. It probably densest need to be able to return to your hand on its own.

  2. Also thank you to everyone for participating! Creating Somnia was a ton of really fun work, and I'm not going to lie it's pretty cool to see the nightmares in card form.

    And thank you Jay for agreeing to run the challenge! : )

  3. No mockup for my blue card? Sadface.

    On the dragon, I thought the exile clause would be a neat way to represent "swallowing whole" its victims while having the potential to be mechanically relevant.

    1. Apparently you got two designs in as-is. Crafty!

    2. Lompe Luiten and I both submitted for all three arts. I think some other Artisans submitted for two.

    3. My design didn't get rendered this week!

    4. I'll render your design twice this week to make up for it.

  4. On retrospect, the "exile the rest of their hand" clause in It Swallows Memories really *does* make it a less interesting effect. If the victim gets to keep some of her hand, she may put her answer to the nightmare in one pile and the rest of her good stuff in another - and then you get to decide what's more important, keeping your nightmare or getting a bunch of other good stuff. The other artisans were right, and I should have listened to them before : )

    Jay is also right about the hand exiling being in black. I was thinking Sen Triplets was blue (and if blue can let you play your opponent's spells, it seemed reasonable that it can also let you exile the ones you don't play.) But the Triplets are also black. The only other three cards that let you play from your opponents' hand are two black cards and an artifact.

  5. Oh wow I didn't even realize that the Dreamwalk mechanic had been shown here before. Your correct that this has been developed independently.
    As for how it plays, most often it acts like an evasion ability that is a lot better during board stalls than in races. However if dreamwalk creatures are on each side of the battlefield then gets a little more complex but often just promotes trades which is a good thing in my opinion.
    Finally having the ability at common has a weird effect of making fat butt creatures like Rotting Mastadon better than usual.

    Definitely a keyword I'm looking forward to explore some more. In my custom set Dreamscape of Noctus.

  6. I love devourer of forms! It feels a lot more like that than any previous shapeshifters I've seen.

    I'm sorry about Lord of Hysteria. The "random controller" was not supposed to apply to itself! That was "I forgot the edge cases in templating ETB abilities exactly" not "I deliberately designed an unfun and unplayable 8-mana card" :)

  7. Lord of Hysteria doesn't indeed apply to itself, just like Orb of Dreams doesn't enter the battlefield tapped. ;)

    1. 614.12 specifically uses Orb of Dreams as an example of a card that doesn't affect itself, so you must be right, but I have no idea why, and question that ruling.