Monday, November 24, 2014

Weekend Art Challenge Review 112114—TheFirstAngel

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

Wasteland Sentry uses twobrid so it can be cast for {W}{W}, {2}{W} or {4}, but rewards you explicitly for spending white mana to cast it. Twobrid inherently rewards players for having the right color of mana by halving the cost, which can be a pretty big deal. The other way to look at it is that twobrid lets you cast a colored card without as much of the color(s) as you need. From the first perspective (relative to colorless cards), further rewarding getting the right color(s) makes sense. From the second perspective (relative to color-intensive cards), it's not as clear a win.

On this particular card, gaining 1 life or maybe 2 doesn't seem like enough to really influence how you cast it, and so may not entirely justify the text. But there's a secret mode a lot of players will miss: You can gain 4 life by casting Wasteland Sentry for {4} and paying for it with {W}{W}{W}{W}. Is that hidden mode a good thing or a bad thing? The downside is it's counter-intuitive and that's significant, but the upside allows for both discovery and greater flexibility/value. I'd love to hear people's opinion how those balance out.

Would you ever play this in a deck with no white mana sources? Does that answer affect this design's worth?

Death-Eating Warrior and its older brothers Gravecrawler and Bloodsoaked Champion are all efficient threats that can also fuel a huge number of sacrifices each turn once you meet their conditions. Both Death-Eating Warrior and Bloodsoaked Champion can enable their own recursion, making attacking with them automatic as long as you've got a mana or two to spare. On one hand this feels a bit monotonous, but on the other hand it's clearly a solid design in its own right, and Magic isn't exactly averse to bringing back an old favorite with a tweak for the new set. I wonder if Bloodsoaked Champion's higher cost to return demonstrates learning that would advise Death-Eating Warrior to be more expensive to return as well.

Defender of the Barrens brings back morph, replacing the cost to unmorph it with a condition. I like the idea, but it raises some questions. Does this card have an ability that triggers when your opponent attacks you with everything? If so, do you declare that trigger even if you don't want to unmorph? Or is this more of a "pay {0}; activate only if…" ability? It's an easy ambiguity to address, I just don't know which it's intended to be.

What I like best about the idea of 'trap morphs' isn't that it's a new way to use morphs, but a new way to do traps. Not having direct control of when your creature unmorphs is a big downside (sometimes we play Temur Charger face-up just because we don't have any green cards in hand), and I imagine that's why Defender of the Barrens is more efficient to cast directly than other morphs, as well as having an explicit reward for unmorphing. Players will have to evaluate the current situation and decide whether the trap condition is likely enough,

Establishing our stable of trap conditions may be tricky. If we have any opposites ("if your opponent doesn't attack with all her creatures…") they definitely need to be uncommon+ and in different colors. If the more common conditions can be played around fairly easily (like DotB's) then they'll just happen less as players learn the set, and then players will play them facedown less (particularly if the front side is as efficient as Defender of the Barrens) and the mechanic will self-select out.

Destroyer of Kingdoms seems to be angling for the title of Ultimate Exalted card. It grants +6/+6 to your champion when it hits the board on turn 5, and even more every turn thereafter. That's plenty exciting for our rare, but just too strong. Which raises an interesting question: How much of this is up to Development to balance?

They could make this smaller or more costly or remove the first copy of exalted, but will they be able to produce a card that is both fun and fair? If this requires more drastic measures—perhaps trading 'lands' for 'forests' or only granting your lands exalted the turn Destroyer ETB—is that something Design should have already caught before passing it off? (Certainly Dev is qualified to make such changes, and does, but are there not some power issues Design should be catching before the handoff?)

I had to check the comments thread to confirm the returning mechanic on Gazu isn't that she's a Planeswalker. The first ability lets you 'scavenge' any of your dead to boost Gazu's loyalty. That's really not scavenge, which always puts +1/+1 counters on creatures (and Varolz, the Scar-Striped has already done scavenge-granting). I thought it might also be the only PW ability that adds loyalty counters and does nothing else, but Gideon, Champion of Justice does that too.

The second ability is pretty weird. It makes a Spark Elemental with lifelink that also happens to be green. Certainly, black, red and green can all have N/1s and you can attribute each of the token's three abilities to one of the component colors, but as an X/1 Elemental with haste, this token already reminds us of Ball Lightning and friends, which all have trample. Maybe the green part is in the token not automatically sacrificing itself at EOT?

There are other color issues. Scavenge was black-green and Gazu's ultimate is mono-black. This could be black-red, mechanically, or perhaps it would make more sense to make it black-green and change the middle ability to feels less red (both black and green can have haste, so it's just a matter of making the token feel less like Spark Trooper).

Hero of the Ruins uses Banisher Priest technology in a way reminiscent of the champion mechanic to produce an intricate card. On an empty field, Hero is a very strong creature at a great price. When you've got to give up a couple creatures to get it out, you gain less attack potential and defense. Hero might be entirely unplayable on a well-developed board. But the clever player can turn that frown upside down by running a lot of creatures with ETB and/or LTB effects to get extra use out of them (and some way to ensure Hero does LTB.)

Krieg Runemaster grows every time you attack with it, kills everything that blocks it, and demands at least one blocker every turn. At three mana, that's a whole lot of upside for a 3/3; enough that this wants to be both mythic and legendary (and might still need a tweak). It feels like the last two abilities are justifying the return of provoke, but if it's to return at all (outside of a Commander product), provoke will have to earn its place on commons without such help.

Phasing?! Bold choice. I like Lone Warrior's "ETB or phases in" trigger because that's both intuitive and answers the question "Why would I want a creature that's absent half the time?" The trouble is that's the only thing intuitive about Lone Warrior because phasing has so many strange wrinkles (like whether phasing in/out counts as ETB/LTB [which the trigger on this uncommon does help answer], whether auras and equipment attached to a phased creature fall off, counters stay, etc).

While I've heard fateful hour isn't marked to return soon, it's a fairly low-cost mechanic in design terms, so I wouldn't be totally shocked to see it return in just the right place. While it's an important distinction that white's weenies are mortal where black's weenies can recur themselves, I can see white getting something like Ragnarok Battle-Maiden when it's desperate.

That said, getting a free chump-blocker each round in the end game isn't a huge swing and players will often forget about this card when it does turn on fifteen minutes after it died in the early game. I'd rather see this ability on a Pillarfield Ox or Siege Mastodon that won't die much before this ability is needed and will make a real difference when it happens. Ragnarok Battle-Maiden definitely has real applications in a Johnny deck built to lose life and sacrifice creatures each round—and it's not a weak card by any means—but it doesn't send clear messages about its purpose.

Rimeblade Scholar bleeds battle cry into blue, which is a bit of a stretch but could be justified in the right set (but it would surely appear on a soldier rather than a wizard, or at least a Battlemage). At common, 1/3 battle cry would be quite a good card for {2}{U}, rarely worrying about dying as it swings early. The second ability owes its lineage to Drelnoch and adds tension to the card, pushing your opponent to let your 1/3 by her 2/2 early, and forcing her to weigh the cost of blocking it as 3/3 or 4/3 later on. Two cards is a big deal and Scholar largely puts Divination to shame at {2}{U}. I'd expect Dev to nerf this slightly.

I would shift the Drelnoch ability from blue to red (or arguably black or green), since blue has enough card drawing, enough evasion, and the saboteur version is better for blue all around. In fact, I think Rimeblade Scholar would pose a more interesting question to the defender if it drew cards when it's not blocked.

There should totally be a Sleep / Duneblast hybrid. That's a very cool design. Putting rebound—which I loved and am eager to see return—on such a huge effect is a little terrifying. Putting rebound on a card that talks about the next untap step feels redundant; Rise Above could basically be "They don't untap during their controllers' next two untap steps." This template is easier to remember, and a little stronger in practice, but do we want a card that stops an entire team from blocking for three turns? Not at 3 mana, we don't.

I was thinking an Evacuation / Duneblast hybrid would be neat too, and delving into the comments I see that was not only the first version submitted, but also the last R Stech submitted, which means the last design was a bonus card in terms of this review. [squints at Alex]

Again, rebound on this effect is just brutal. Not only do you not get to block this turn, but even the creatures you cast and re-cast on your turn won't get to block, and you'll have to recast them again. It is an eight-mana effect, but leaving your 8/8 leviathan out (or even just a 4/4 serpent) makes this double-whammy not-at-all-symmetrical and I wonder if it might be too much.

(And yes, replace "choose target creature" with "choose up to one creature.")

Stoneforge Swordsmen shifts unearth into white, the flavor of which I'm not getting from this card at all, but mechanically it's justifiable via white's occasional Resurrection effects (moreso than it was originally on red). Combining unearth with an ETB effect is fun, and using the Kor Outfitter ability means that when this swordswoman does stagger back up for one last lunge, she'll be doing it well-armed. The unfortunate byproduct of that is that it'll leave any other creatures you have unarmed and the equipment unattached, but if that's an issue, just don't unearth her.

Timely Avenger puts miracle on a creature card. From a Melvin perspective, it's surprising that didn't happen in Avacyn Restored, but from a Vorthos perspective it makes sense; Miracles are events, one time things: Sorceries and instants. That said, it's not hard to tell a story where a creature is a miracle ("This is my baby. She's our little miracle!") That Timely Avenger is hear to block—and potentially sacrifice herself to save you from a lot of damage—fits that theme well.

Abzan Survivor uses regenerate, which is totally evergreen. How? Via off-color activated abilities—which is also a mechanic, and not evergreen. It also uses hybrid, though it doesn't need it to justify the ability. It's unfortunate that some players will think you get the +1/+1 counter every time you pay {1}{BG}{BG}, but I've already written about the issues with regenerate.

Thanks to Alex for rendering the cards, and to Tommy Occhipinti for the challenge idea.

Was it pure coincidence that I liked the white cards better in this batch? Maybe this art is just whiter.

I'm glad most of you resisted the added challenge to make a green or blue card. It takes strength to prioritize making a better card above challenging yourself to prove what you're capable of. That said, one or two of the green/blue cards did pull it off.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Is hybrid evergreen? I'd call it deciduous.

    2. As of Fate Reforged, hybrid will be the non-evergreen mechanic that has appeared in the highest number of blocks, but that's still only 4 instances (3 if you count RTR as working in the same design space as original Ravnica).

    3. I would classify it as not-evergreen, even expecting to see it more often than any other non-evergreen keyworded mechanics. (As for unnamed mechanics—like OFAs—the list is too long and unsearchable to measure, but there are plenty that are more frequent than hybrid, and even a few that are evergreen—like enchantment removal.)

  2. lol, Death-Eating Warrior are great. I like recursion creature, especially on Aggro.

    Destroyer of Kingdom are too broken, even in 5cc. moreoverly its green lol, u can ramp and cast it earlier. Imagine if u played Silhana Ledgewalker on earlier turn, then drop Destroyer on next turn or two. U got a big Silhana that would be impossible to block.

    Abzan Survivor..... regenerative outlast? like. :)

  3. Guilty as charged: I did sneak Jules's tweak on R Stech's card into this review as well as R Stech's original, because I thought they were both interesting, and different enough from each other that you'd have things to say about both of them. (Even if they are both somewhat overpowered.)

    I guess I'm not quite sure what the expectation is when Artisan A enters a submission and Artisans B and C riff on it. It might not be scalable to review all riffs, especially if they're rather close to each other, but if they end up at pretty different cards that all fit the terms of the challenge, why not include them? :)

    As usual, I was too busy at the weekend to enter the challenge myself, but it was pretty interesting to see what people came up with.

    1. It's a grey area. I always take only the very last submission from each designer (and will ask if it's not clear which that is), but if the person who took the time to render the cards feels one or two extra designs merit discussion, and there aren't a million already, it's really no skin off my back. Could suffer from bias, but it's not like we're doling out cash prizes here.

  4. FWIW, Krieg Runemaster is 2/2, not 3/3. The original version with Sengir Vampire's ability was 3/3, but not the one that just always gets a counter when it attacks. I don't agree that it needs to be Mythic or Legendary. What this card really says is you need to double block it right away or it will get out of hand later. So it's a very green version take on card advantage.

    Sunday night I came up with different implementation I would have liked to submit that wraps up the 2nd and 3rd abilities.

    "Whenever NAME provokes a creature, put a +1/+1 counter on NAME and it gains deathtouch until end of turn."

    I can imagine a whole bunch of "Whenever this provokes" triggers that would be fun.

    1. At 2/2, rare is more reasonable. Will probably win a lot of Limited games where the other player doesn't have two creatures to double-block it on turn 4.

      Do we want it to be worse (aka Not Grow) when the opponent has no creatures? That does limit its runaway potential, so I'd support that. Succinct is good.

    2. I liked the idea that it really only grows by fighting its enemies. It puts a ceiling on the growth, creates interesting play moments, and feels more fighter-y growth than fungus-y growth.

  5. My wasteland sentry should be 3/1, now that I look at it.

    Jay is right to question whether you would ever cast it outside of white. If there are commons for 2/C and 2/C 2/C 2/C that are designed to be played independently of their home colors, I could see a cycle of uncommons or rares that are a little less concerned with this.