Monday, December 8, 2014

Weekend Design Challenge Review 120214—Unfulfilled Promise

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

This design fixes Pin to the Earth so that the target loses flying, which makes a ton of flavor sense given the name. Usually you see that effect in green or red, though blue does get it to assert itself as the superior color of flying. With this art, you could alternately give the creature defender, or tap it down. You could do all those things, but then you'd be over-expressing the flavor.

Ultimately, -6/-0 is enough to neutralize almost anything and we don't need anything more, but removing flying costs us just 3 words, barely impacts the card's power, and only doubles the flavor expression, which isn't terrible. I'm not entirely convinced this version is a better design, but it's certainly not a bad design and I think we gain more in flavor than we lose in elegance.

Unlike the original Puresight Merrow which lets you mill away suboptimal cards from your library as often as you can tap it, this design lets you look at the top of your library instead, and lets you draw a card—other than that card—and lets you recur your merfolk. Excuse me while I read the comments to help understand how we got from A to B…

No luck. I guess Pasteur just wanted a stronger card for this art? While he did preserve both looking at and exiling the top card card of the library, as well as the use of {Q}, the end result is a different beast entirely. I would expect Merrow's promise to have been card selection and the failure to have been either this utility effect's vulnerability in combat, or the cost of milling one's self, or perhaps that it can't impact your draws until 2 turns after you cast it.

Being able to put Merrow on top of your library as a manaless cost does make it less vulnerable since you can save it in response to anything. Actually, that portion of that ability warrants an entire card to it's own since it's completely unkillable and makes you immune to being decked. But ignoring that, I'm vexed why the other part of the second ability—the one that draws you a card, but not the top card—makes the first ability irrelevant.

The original Search the City has great promise: Drawing you five cards and scoring an extra turn all for just five mana and one herculean task. The improbability of that task turned a lot of players off. Search was always aimed squarely at Johnny, but did the challenge prove just too much? This version trades the extra turn for winning the game, which is obviously a huge upside and something well worth striving for.

I like Search the City, but I admit I never played it (it really doesn't work in Limited). I do wonder how many players who did play it to completion and got the extra turn still managed to lose the game. It's certainly possible, because it's so clunky and slow, but that's so much card advantage (6:1) that I wonder how much of a boost that upgrade really is.

The other change was to reduce Search's cost by 1. That goes a long way in making Search more competitive, but it's a gain that only Spike can get excited about. Costs matter to Timmy and Johnny, of course, and no one will decline shaving a mana off their favorite card, but the challenge Search presents to Johnny is in building a deck that can survive long enough to cast and complete Search, that can more reliably find duplicate cards, and that benefits sufficiently from drawing so many duplicates. Whether the card costs 4 or 5 is beside the point. Yes, a Johnny-Spike who wants to find combos and bring them to tournaments and smash unsuspecting opponents will absolutely love that change, and I'm all for giving Spikes with the curse of also being Johnnies a little more gas to fuel their improbable engines with. The change doesn't detract from Johnny's appreciation of the card at all, and so it's fine, I just want to make sure we understand that it's not serving the card's primary audience.

Wintermoon Mesa was a really bad Rishadan Port. It could do twice as much to disrupt an opponent but at twice the cost, not the first turn you played it, and only once. So our promise is a 'fair' but playable Rishadan Port. How does the new design fare?

Actually, R saw an entirely different promise than I did. He loves the art and flavor text, and so made a new "land that cares about tapped lands." It's worth stating that a card isn't necessarily limited to a single promise, and part of what makes design teams so valuable is that we don't all see the same promise in a single thing.

The new Wintermoon Mesa joins the ranks of powerful double-lands like City of Traitors. The condition is that all other lands are tapped; it's fairly easy to tap all your own lands first*, but your opponent can choose to keep Mesa turned off simply by leaving a land untapped. Wait a second... Your Mesa keeps your opponent from using one of her land's each round? Holy crap, it is a Rishadan Port! Okay, so it's a tribue-port, because your opponent can choose to keep their land and give you an extra mana, but that's still pretty cool (and crazy powerful).

*Note that there's some rules awkwardness when you've got two of these (which could be solved by making it legendary, something we probably want a land this powerful anyhow): Because this is a mana ability you can't respond to it, so you'll never get {2} out of more than one Mesa at a time. I think. If not, you still know players will wonder and argue.

Other than the reminder text, this design looks identical to the original Nova Chaser, so let's look at what Mike felt could have been better about champion. The original has you choose a creature to champion after your hero hits the field, and makes you sacrifice it if you no longer have one. By moving that choice to the casting of the spell, no one can respond to your champion in a way that will make it 'fizzle.' I approve. The problem is that if Nova Chaser gets Cancelled, you'll never get back the creature it championed, which I'm okay with balance-wise, but that might be a deal-breaker flavor-wise. Maybe we can re-word the last part to handle countering? "Exile that card until ~ LTB or is countered."

Oriss, Samite Guardian's original grandeur ability was a kicked Orim's Chant. For Vorthos, that was pretty cool because Oriss was a relative of Orim's. For everyone else, it seemed like a bit of a non-sequiter from her first ability.

The effect here feels more like an extension of the first ability. "I can do A all day long," Orim says, "but I can also do A+, once." I can dig it.

But the effect isn't all that changed in the second ability. This design uses an ability word other than grandeur because it requires a mana payment and instead of pitching a duplicate in hand, you're exiling your legend from play. That's a very different mechanic. The big upside is that you can do it with a single copy of your legend, and the downside is that it's vastly more expensive, and doesn't so much feel like your legend doing grand things while she's around, as it feels like getting to abuse a sacrifice ability on a card you don't need multiples of.

I'm not sold one way or the other; while I like grandeur's flavor better, grand gesture has real merit.

Camille loves Torment's "mental disorder cycle" but finds Mortiphobia disappointing. I'd not seen this card before, but yeah, even with madness and threshold lurking nearby to benefit from discarding your cards, that is one seriously weak-looking graveyard hoser.

Paranoia does not suffer from poor image. Turning every card into your hand into a Specter's Wail is pretty amazing. I was going to say that having to pay a card up front for the right helps mitigate that, but oh look, the second ability gives you one last Wail at no card cost. It's not nearly as broken as Mind Twist, but this is plenty terrifying. Oh, and it still feeds madness and threshold.

Cheers on the new name. Given how black this effect is, I see no justification to reducing the cost from {1}{B}{B}.

Emmara Tandris was supposed to be a healer, and while they did give her a very Selesnya-centric healing ability, she was also just randomly a 5/7 fatty. This design wants her to remain a fatty, but it does it in a very Selesnyan way, keying off of your token creatures. It's rather mathy, requiring you not just to counter your tokens, but to sum both their power and their toughness. For a green-white rare, though, that's far from beyond the scope of imagination.

I'm a bit sad that she's not a healer at all now (and I could see Magic tacking her old ability onto this new design), but I'm glad that I can at least imagine how she's so powerful now and how that story fits her guild identity.

Hahaha. YES. P has fixed the unnerving asthetic of Griselbrand so that all his numbers match his total cost. I see he's also snuck in a (matching) mana payment for his draw ability. I expect that's to address a concern about his power level in strategies that cheat him into play, and I'm inclined to support that change.

It's worth noting that "draw six cards" doesn't have the same impact as "draw seven cards" and not because it's 6/7 as large. I can't help but wonder if this demon could be all 7's with the addition of the mana payment, though I'll also point out demons sure love 6's.

Green-white has gotten the short end of the legendary stick a few times recently. Born of the Gods' Karametra, God of Harvests let you Rampant Growth whenever you cast a creature. After having paid 5 for the 7-devotion God. How has Even fulfilled this card's promise?

New Karametra has two abilities. One grows your creatures as you gain life, not unlike Ajani's Pridemate. The second gives you 2/2s whenever a pumped creature dies. I like that the first ability is Wg and the second is Gw and they combo together to be very GW. If that's not too good with Master Biomancer, I'm all for it. (Bottomless 4/4s seems pretty good.)

Ben's take on Mitotic Manipulation ensures you always get at least a card. Given how much we save over Clone—not very much—the possibility of getting just a land or even potentially nothing at all is certainly higher than most players would like. I'm fond of how smoothly this consolation prize was built into the existing execution, though I have to say "look at 7, choose 1 to draw" isn't far from being worth {1}{U}{U} all on its own. I kind of wish you could only choose the card if you had no duplication targets, but that would lead us back to getting an extra island and hanging our head like the Phyrexian in this art.

I've seen this Necropotence variant before. Probably when I was culling the YMTC4 submissions. Many of those templates used cumulative upkeep, but it's important you can't just choose to stop. I'm a big fan of this design.

Actually, wait. This doesn't add one deal counter each time, it doubles them. Yowza!
…Sure, why not?

Zach appears to like the idea of a cheap tricksy Merfolk beater, but has no love for the flavorless shuffle trigger. This merfolk effectively has nonbasic landwalk and hits for 2 instead of 1 when it does landwalk. I'd argue Cosi's Trickster was for Johnny and Spike rather than Vorthos, and I'm not sure version has any build-around-me allure, but it's certainly a strong one-drop in the right metagame.

I was pretty excited the first time I saw a double Raise Dead because it's like a Divination that always hits creatures, and creatures your opponent saw fit to kill, no less. But it's so true that the real Dutiful Return sees very little play because it eats up so much time. It's rare that you can afford to cast it for {3}{B} and play a creature that was worth recurring in the same turn. When you do, it's usually a morph, and you usually need the next round's mana to unmorph it, leaving the second creature card sitting in your hand.

I recently played against Urborg Uprising and found it quite brutal (since I wasn't applying enough pressure to my opponent in that game), and this take on Dutiful Return is arguably better. Getting a Dark Ritual instead of a free card means you've only spent a net of {2} to get your two cards (!) and you can almost certainly cast one of them immediately. Is Dark Ritual still in black's color pie? As a rider? Liturgy of Blood says it is. On the other hand—and it pains me to say this—core sets haven't been the best place to learn about the color pie for several years.

Nice work, artisans. This challenge took more initiative than most, but most of you came through anyhow. I'm a fan of several of these designs, and in favor of almost every goal you all set for yourselves.

Thanks to P for Pizza for rendering the cards.


  1. Jay, did you notice my extremely defensive Legend is able to deal Commander Damage with its grand gesture ability, and that exiling as a cost puts her back in the command zone ready to be recast. That's what I meant when I said it plays well with the Commander format.

    1. I didn't notice either of those things. Neat. That explains why you felt it the mana activation was necessary.

    2. Obligatory casual group question: Does using her ability count as Commander damage? I don't see how that works. Judge?

    3. Only combat damage counts as commander damage.

    4. Oops, you're right. Well, my intentions were good.

  2. I like Wobbles' pin to earth.

    I didn't realise Emmara was a healer. I did it based off her flavour text.

  3. I felt like Cosi's Trickster was basically a development design that was trying to hate on fetch lands and encourage mono blue (same set with Spreading Seas). But it made basically no impact on Standard or eternal, where a more obvious non-basic land hate merfolk could have.

  4. Reposting a comment Paranoia: We generally avoid instant speed discard to avoid the terrible feeling of drawing just what you wanted only to have it ripped away right before you cast it. Occasionally there's an exception made for a card like Mardu Charm that needs to be an instant for other reasons, but a repeatable effect like this one could do that every turn. That's simply too far.

    And Dutiful Return:

    1. I don't consider this a response to Dutiful Return, for the record. I know Dark Ritual and other rituals aren't in the color pie of Black.

    2. To elaborate, a lot of design is about carving out fine lines, like the distinction between "Can't block" and "attacks each turn if able" and "deals 5 damage to a player" and "that player loses 5 life".

      A ritual is something that gains you mana, this isn't that. This is a partial refund, and there is almost no precedent for what color that goes in, because very few cards have been printed that do it. Mardu Warshrieker does, but it also has the Manamorphose ability wrapped up in it, which, I think, makes it Red. Provided the refund comes entirely in Black mana, I think it is a fine ability to consider in Black, although I think it is a fairly niche ability that won't come up too often.

    3. Paranoia doesn't use instant speed discard.

    4. Wow, I managed to misread it twice in a row...Carry on then.

      @Tommy: I could see drawing a line here, but that's certainly not what WotC has done. We saw Carnival of Souls and Priest of Gix back when we had Dark Ritual, and Coal Stoker/Priest of Urabrask/Mana Echoes since then.

    5. But there was also Dismantle and Turn to Dust, in *green* which has never been the colour of mana rituals. I can go along with the argument that this isn't a ritual, it's a partial refund, and any colour can do those. It's fairly similar to being a 2-mana spell saying "Cast ~ only if you control 5 or more lands", and that's not an effect that's restricted to any colour.

    6. Historical precedence:
      The untap mechanic from rewind exists on 9 old blue cards.
      Mardu Warshrieker, Coal Stoker, Priest of Urabrask, Seismic Spike and Akki Rockspeaker are red.
      Liturgy of Blood and (old) Priest of Gix are black.
      (Old) Quirion Sentinel, (old) Turn to Dust and Deconstruct are green.
      Burning Tree Emissary is red/green.

      It's definitely red and definitely not white. I'd argue refunds are not blue (anymore) and are secondary in green and tertiary in black, but that's all debatable.

      What colors should it be? Even more debatable. I'm pretty okay with Rgb, actually.

  5. Regarding the Champion redux: I'm not sure the chosen card would be exiled if the champion is countered. The additional cost is choosing. The exiling is, admittedly, vague.

    How about:

    Champion a Blah (As an additional cost to cast ~, choose a Blah you control. When ~ enters the BF, the chosen card is exiled for as long as ~ remains on the BF.)

  6. To be honest, I forgot that Search the City cost five mana. Oops.

  7. Will we ever have something like this again? I really hoped to be able to rectify the giant promise of the art of Fires of Undeath and how unbelievably bad that card was in actuality.

    1. Probably, though I disagree that Fires was terrible.