Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Weekend Art Challenge Review 102414—Steve Prescott (Un-set)

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

You can click these card images to zoom in.
I'm equally entertained by the idea that eventually you will be too full to pay All-You-Can-Eat Buffet's cumulative upkeep, and that you get more out of the card the more you 'pay.' It's also pretty neat that it rewards more healthy eating and does so pretty thematically. At 10 lines, this is the opposite of simple, and I would definitely ditch both the flavor text and reminder text to make it more readable. My biggest question is what counts as eating a grain? Will one bite of bread do, or do I need a whole slice? If I bite a burger, do I get 2 life, scry 1, lose 1 life, +1/+0, and a couple 1/1s? Can I eat more than the number of age counters the card has accumulated? What happens if I do?

Here's another 10-line monster with flavor text. It's particularly tempting to add a funny line of flavor text to un-cards, but the only way flavor text is appropriate on a card with 9+ lines is when it's an un-card whose primary joke is how tiny the text is.

Barn Burner is a wacky Dovescape, replacing each creature card cast with one or more token creatures based on its colors. I like how most of the colors are all basically of the same power level, though green's is a bit weaker and red's is more than a bit stronger. That would be cool if this were a red card (and I think this could be mono-red), but it's awkward on a WUBRG card. That small imbalance pales in comparison to the power of casting gold cards over single-color cards. Any two-color creature I cast will net more than any single-color creature you do. And my five-color creatures are worth five of your monocolored guys. That contrast takes Barn Burner from being about getting wacky creatures instead of what we expect into being completely focused on casting the goldest creatures possible. And given that's a quality set in stone before you shuffle your deck, this enchantment isn't so much going to make games wacky as it is going to knock players out for what they brought to the table.

I quite like the core idea and would try something like: "That player chooses one of that spell's colors and puts the indicated token(s) OTB."

Barnyard Battle cares about a card's border, something we can't do in black-border. Better yet, it enhances silly un- creatures, so that when you do have occasion to play them alongside black-bordered cards, the silly ones will be a real force to be reckoned with. Though Battle will affect every creature in silver-bordered-only games, that will still benefit some players more than others. Not sure what's red about this, but otherwise I like it.

The melvins at the table will explain that Barnyard Brawl is usually red Damnation. The troublemakers might come up with some wacky exceptions to leave creatures standing afterward, like healing damage from any fight that's not lethal, and setting up standings and brackets to figure out which creatures make it to the finals. Or something.

As a bit of a melvin, I wish the traditional interpretation of how this works were muddier so that arguing about it were more about a silly debate and less about one player insisting that following the clear rules is more fun and another insisting that ignoring the rules is more fun because of how clear they are. Maybe some groups will take this to a vote and/or try to bribe those who disagree, but I'm sure some will just call the game a stalemate. Not a draw, mind you—but a failure of the game to move forward.

I was trying to figure out why a farm needs a boar, but black-bordered Magic uses subtype boar for all its pigs. Heh. This is a very specific set of conditions to meet—and thematic—so I'd expect it to be easier to cast or to have a bigger effect. It would be particularly nice if the reward were also thematic; I'm not sure why stabling a nice variety of farm animals and protecting them from crop-devouring pests would… deal damage to your opponents.

Farmyard Frenzy has "kicker—feed your opponent." For a farmer-themed card, that's decently thematic. I mean, most of us will be giving our opponent a frito from the bag we bought in the vending machine after building our deck, but it's the spirit that counts. Speaking of which, does offering them a sip from your soda count? Ew.

Ironically, you can choose 'pig' for you bacon-related creature here. Also, 'field mouse' or 'barn owl.'

The high fives at the end are what really make Fight Club fun. I wouldn't want to play Fight Club if my opponent had more friends around at the moment, or even when neither of us do (because then it's a Prey Upon for 4x the cost and No High Fives), but I probably wouldn't put it in my deck to begin with unless I knew I'd have buddies close by. That leads into the part I dislike: Imagine opening this, thinking I don't have any friends [here], and putting it into your sideboard with a brick in your heart. Woo, good times!

Food Fight's first effect let's anyone attack on anyone's turn. Presumably, you can attack a player on her own turn. Presumably, she can block on her own turn too. Obviously, that makes the order attacks are declared pretty important, so the card specifies that it happens in counter-clockwise order? Why counter-clockwise? Just to mess with people? As much as un- sets are about messing with expectations, it's not good enough to do so randomly; each card's deviation needs to feed toward that card's joke. Since I've never been a food fight that happened in counter-clockwise order, I'm not convinced that's helping this card.

The second effect lets you play a mini-game to make your attackers invincible or ineffectual. It doesn't seem to tie into the first effect at all. I'm also not sure how it supports the food fight theme, though I'm confident that's why it was included. The positive side of this risk only helps you when the defender has blockers that can kill your attackers, while the negative side hurts you either way, but especially if the defender has blockers that can kill your attackers, so I can't imagine using it unless I'm super-proud of my RPS skills or just love chaos. Maybe there's a cycle of cards that trigger whenever you play RPS?

Food Fight! turns every land and spell card in your hand into a free instant Vindicate, depending on your skill at throwing cards. As strong as that sounds, it's symmetrical, letting any opponent whose been targeted take part in the card-chucking fun. I enjoy throwing cards and kick ass at Maximum Throwdown, so I approve of this action. I do think the symmetrical part should either be simplified (so that anyone can do it whenever) or made conditional on one of their cards actually being hit, though I recognize the current version is arguably more thematic. I would also specify what you need to fling cards 2 feet away from: The target? The edge of the table?

It's a bummer to mention, but here's why I haven't pushed more throwing effects: Asking a player to throw at a card on the table opens up a world of legal liability. What happens when a player misses badly and hits their opponent in the eye? What about players who abuse that ambiguity and target their opponents maliciously? Trolls ruin everything.

I'm not sure why this card is called Food Fight, but getting a land whenever one of your creatures dies is pretty nifty. This card doesn't take away any of your ex-creature's other abilities, so your Merfolk Looter land can still loot, and your Jushi Apprentice land can draw you a bunch of cards. I'm assuming that wasn't intentional, and that's easily fixed by adding "loses all abilities." Of course, with that change, the card gets a whole lot less weird. Still a touch too weird for black-border, I think, but not exactly zany.

You can choose whether Oink Brawler is a 4/2 trample or a 2/4 trample, for {2}{G}. You just have to make a pig sound to do it. And you have to do it when you draft it—so it's just a Horned Sliver in Sealed or Constructed. Here's the thing: while I can imagine plenty of game situations where I'd prefer to play a 2/4 over a 4/2 trampler, it would be very rare indeed to make the same choice while drafting. I'd much rather move this choice to when Oink Brawler ETB, making the card relevant in more formats, the choice more informed, and the pig noises more frequent.

I like the joke here, and I like the way Old McDonald's Farm challenges you to build a deck with more types of creatures. I would definitely swap 'match' for 'game' both to make the card more relevant and to ease the burden of memory on players. Almost silly to point out dev stuff on an un- card, but I expect this could be much cheaper. (And I see no value in making it legendary.)

Neat to see a card that asks you to give not just a 'copy' of it to an opponent, but the card itself. Ownership-changing effects were abandoned long ago, so if we were to do them, they'd definitely be in silver-border. I'm skeptical they'd make the cut here either, but on commons only, I could maybe see it. I like that not every opponent will be able to make use of Poke, since it could lead to a whole lot of annoyance when it keeps getting cast.

As a fun bonus, Poke also fulfills the previous weekend's art challenge by working differently in different multiplayer formats. It's pretty busted in 2HG and Emperor.

As for "annoy that player…" it's an amusing line to read, and most players won't take it too far, but even a little annoyance is more than we need. Being annoyed isn't fun, and there's no point in making a card objectively less fun. Especially when there are the players who will take it too far.

Pork Chop is a simple card featuring a simple keyword mechanic for the set. By itself, that keyword has no value—and that's strike against it—though you could put a bunch of triggers in the set that care about eating and drinking. There's one huge problem: Magic is a game, not a meal. We can't require or even expect players to have food. Fat Ass works because a player can plan to bring food, and if they can't acquire food they can choose not to play it.

"Your banana joke" is an interesting choice of words. How does Poultrykranos know I have a banana joke, and just that one joke? Is it because there's only one banana joke, and everyone knows it?

I see a timing problem here. How can my banana joke be funny before I deliver the punchline? Metaphysics has rules for a reason, Brian: Stop trying to break reality.

For getting into the spirit of the exercise and making some very silly cards, you all get an A+. Good times, artisans.

For designing printable un-cards, well, uh… Hey! Did you all notice there's a jack-o-lantern face on the three-headed chicken? What's up with that?

In all seriousness, designing un-cards is wicked hard. I'm terrible at it. A big part of that is how little practice we all have with it. It's also just hard to make funny cards, and even harder to make funny cards that are also readably elegant, relevant, and fun. All while being too weird to use in black-border? That's a mighty tall order. I'd be skeptical Maro could even pull off a third set if I didn't suspect he's already got half of it ready to roll.

Thanks to Jenesis for rendering the cards.


  1. In reply to why in Armageddon assembling the perfect farm leads to doing damage, I just did it to match the art. The original version was "you win the game." I do agree it is probably a little weak as is, perhaps it should be 10 damage and at the end of your turn instead of 5 damage and at the beginning.

    Also, I went back and forth on including the flavor text "Dang it, they remembered about Changelings!" which amused me but which I worried might be too meta even for an un set.

  2. So, it's Poultrykranos that becomes funny. In Un-printed, it's a supertype for spells and permanents with a meaning somewhere between "monstrous" and "kicked". Might be able to do most of the same tech with just the joke counters, though. ("Funny permanents you control have indestructible" vs. "Permanents you control with a joke counter are indestructible".)

    A joke becomes funny before its punchline when there's a meta-joke about its telling - repeating a joke without giving its resolution is a kind of humor all on its own. Hmm. Resolution.

    "Counter target joke" ? "Counter target punchline."

    Tongue-Tie 1U
    Counter target joke or target punchline. That player can't tell that joke or punchline again until the beginning of his or her next turn.
    I don't get it.

  3. @Jay, maybe you would feel better knowing Barn Burning is designed for a multicolor set. I had toyed with an Un- set before, and when I was looking for a hook, I discovered the previous Un- sets left multicolor design mostly unexplored. Unglued had this awesome group of luck based designs that I really loved (Goblin Tutor, Jack-in-the-Mox, Strategy Schmategy, and Urza's Science Fair Project) and I used them as a jump off point for my multicolor design. What if instead of granting effects based on results of a die roll, it was based on the color of a spell or permanent (or card art)? Scott's peice of art seemed approriately chaotic to support a WUBRG card, so I used the multicolor design hook I thought about before and lined all the tokens up based on what I saw in the art. I didn't have a better solution to the 5/5 red firebreather, but I agree it should have matched the power level of the rest of the tokens. I was just trying to not duplicate p/t's, which is a dumb constraint to put on myself, I know. BTW, I originally had a sixth color option:

    Other - 0/6 colorless Barn creature token with Defender

    1. Making the un-set focused on multicolor would definitely make Barn Burning a lot more appropriate. Cool.