Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Weekend Art Challenge Review 021315—Ben Wooten

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

{1}{R}, cmc 2
Two mana to deal 10 damage and likely kill two creatures seems crazy, right? You'd be happy to get 5 damage to a single creature for that price. Pasteur explains Arcane Pyre is fair in a format where players are building tall rather than wide, so much so that they'd almost never have two creatures out and you'd have to target your own goliath just to hit theirs. Doubts about a format so tall being fun or functional aside, my biggest concern is that if we're making our creatures bigger so much that we're not playing multiples, they're definitely going to have 6+ toughness.

Arcing Flames is an Arc Lightning that can't hit players and hates Lymph Sliver. Is that downside enough to justify the reduced cost? Let's see what environment Jules had in mind… Aaand he was explicitly building around a set full of creatures with absorb. Fair enough.

This text is certainly more awkward than Arc Lightning's, and we haven't seen much like it since the original Ravnica, but at least it's not complicated.

A 3/3 for one mana seems quite good. You know you're not getting it on turn 1 like Wild Nacatl, but you might play two of them on turn 2. So what's the catch? If Blaze Aspirant is only available in a slow format like Commander where players start with 40 life then the quick start will rarely be enough to secure you victory. I do approve of making Commander creatures even more aggressive.

Also, we totally have a wizard with bloodthirst here. Love it.

Uncommon. 'Emblaze' is a word.
Haha. At first, this rules text seems super random. But then you go back to the name and see that we're striking back at some sneaky whelp you took something from us. In one case life, and in another a permanent, but whatever. We're vengeful.

8 is a lot of damage for four mana, but only hitting a player whose stolen something from you means you're either running Emblaze the Thief in your sideboard, or you're more interested in tagging creatures. Targeting an unblocked creature isn't hard—just don't block it—though it's slightly more restrictive than targeting an attacking creature.

Philosophically, red is vengeful and this works. Mechanically, it's odd for red to get such a defensive card. Basically Kill Shot. We must be willing to bleed the mechanical color pie to express the flavor color pie from time to time, though I'd be prefer if we did so more delicately.

Expose Weakness looks like it'll kill most creatures in the set. But like Eyeblight's Ending and Rend Flesh, you can be sure the set it's in will include a significant proportion of creatures with counters. Khans would be a good home for it if it weren't so efficient at killing unmorphed creatures.

I would specify +1/+1 counters. It would be odd not being able to target a creature with -1/-1 counters on it outside the block.

Fiery Interruption is an Essence Scatter + a Shock to the face. While that's quite playable, my initial reaction isn't that it's terribly great (or awful).

I like the flavor, though there's a slight disconnect between specifically targeting a creature card and then hitting the caster. It would click better as a Negate variant. But it still makes more sense than Suffocating Blast.

{R} CMC 1
Flame Slash is a reprint and a good example of a card that's much better than what we're used to seeing, but is just adapting to its environment. One with a larger range of creatures: Some too big for this to kill, and some too small to bother with.

Whaaat? Okay. Evan's all-in on this challenge. Flamewrath looks absurd in any environment. Where does a double Lightning Bolt work at common? Aaand the answer is, Power Lunch: A format where every card is designed to be as strong as the Power Nine. At least Flamewrath doesn't deal 7?

Check out the discussion. It's a good one.

Let's break Flareup down. The first time you cast it, you can Crush, Prey Upon, or Demystify. Flareup is already strictly better Prey Upon. The second time, you can do any two of those (but not one of them twice). The third time, all three. The fourth time? Still all three, but you pay {1} extra. That's an odd reward curve, but how often do you get to cast all 4 copies of a particular card in your deck?

Okay, so Flareup has amazing potential. 6:3 or even 9:4. Where's it fair? Apparently the answer is… in a set that doesn't have 5 three-color shards. Because then it's not as easy to pay all three colors. I will grant Flareup is harder to take advantage of without mana fixing. Maybe this set can also have a lot of enchantment creatures and artifact creatures. And creatures that are bigger when it's not your turn?

Last Slash actually costs {1}{3}{R}. That's not a typo. But it only costs {3}{R} when you're at 10 life. And it only costs a {R} when you're at 7. It's like a scaling desperate hour. So where is the best Lava Axe ever fair? In an environment with a lot of life gain is our answer. Okay. A format with enough life gain could make 7 damage irrelevant, no matter how efficient. I guess all the cards in this format would do damage more efficiently, because otherwise it seems like you could only win with combo or by decking your opponent.

Would it be fun to go to a world where everything's bigger and scarier, but you gain a lot of life so that it all evens out? Not rhetorical.

In most formats, Mana Slash would probably kill 90% of creatures and be slightly better than Doom Blade. But in an environment where everything's tough or efficient, or with a lot of p/t boosting tricks, it's value would drop. The format would have to be badly skewed for it not to be a high draft pick, but it might not have to be a broken format for Mana Slash to be reasonable to print.

Pyromancer's Duel deals half your starting life total in damage. The bad news is that it might often deal that damage to you as well as your opponent, though red has never really shied away from hurting itself in order to hurt the other guy faster. Duel seems like a legit finisher for red aggro decks. Where's it fair? In Commander, where it only eats a quarter of your life total. Yeah, okay. The hidden thing that really limits Duel's power is that hurting yourself and one opponent equally in a multiplayer game puts you behind relative to your other opponents.

At first, you might think Reckless Immolator lets you mill yourself to nuke creatures. Like a safer Arc-Slogger. But it actually removes the cards from your card pool. You can't play them for the rest of the tournament. That's pretty outside the box. It also doesn't work at REL 2+ since you have to reset your deck between matches and present a deck of legal size for every game. But if you're playing casual Magic, just start your deck with 20 extra cards so you can Immolate for 4 five times that night. Like Cogwork Grinder, Immolator is intended for a casual Limited format like Conspiracy.

Does getting you disqualified if you play it in the wrong place count as looking imbalanced?

Relentless Slash gives you two Shocks, but you have to sacrifice an artifact, if you have one. So, basically, it's two Shocks and you don't play artifacts (at least not ones you're not eager to sack). That's quite good. Whether Mirrodin or its sequel qualify or not is debatable, but if you put enough artifacts into a set, Slash will eventually require you to sacrifice an artifact. Shrapnel Blast was quite good in its day.

I'm curious what the flavor behind sacrificing an artifact is. Are we seeing the wizard destroy something stolen from him to have vengeance on the thief?

Sphere of Fire prevents players from casting creatures with 2- toughness. Once they've got three such creatures stuck in their hand (and the mana to cast them), they can trade two away for the right to cast the rest. Seems fair for {2}{R}{R}. Will sometimes be pretty good, but can also be countered by a single Raise the Alarm.

Terminal Conflagration is a four-mana Shock that lets you trade any number of creatures for additional Shocks. A Soulblast that's better with a lot of cheap creatures. It's also a lot more reasonable to cast before the game ends. Seems quite good.

Twinpyre Mage seems amazing. It attacks for about 9 damage on average and nets you card in the process. Where's this killer creature fair? In an environment with a lot of very efficient creature removal where you never get to attack. Was Rise of the Eldrazi Standard that brutal? In any case, I hope we never see a format with so much cheap removal [again]. I wrote about the removal / broken creatures cycle a few years ago and I've been happy to see R&D agrees.

Devastation for four mana? Okay, I'll bite. Where is Wrath of Heaven and Hell fair? In Eternal formats where Wrath of God and Armageddon don't really see play anyhow? I don't know Legacy well enough to say whether combining the pair would tip the scales on that equation, but I want to share the reasoning for Eternal. Apparently RW is the worst color pair in that format, so Wrath would bring up to par, at the worst. Neat. (I never want to play a format where Wrath of Heaven and Hell might not be good enough, but that's just me.)

Awesome. This was a tricky challenge. While I only saw a couple really inventive/sideways solutions/perspectives, almost all the submissions were cool designs with interesting reasons behind them. Well done, artisans.

Thanks to Ipaulsen for rendering the cards.


  1. Sorry about the mistaken mana costs in the renders!

    The intent with Pyromancers' Duel was to have it go back and forth. Target the opponent, who discards a spell, prevents the damage and gets a copy targeting you, then you discard a spell sending it back at the opponent, etc. I realize now it wasn't clear from the templating. (And that was meant as yet another reason it's bad in Commander: because it's likely to run you out of cards.)

    1. I completely missed that, but it's right there on the card.
      My mistake.
      That's pretty clever, though I'm not sure how fun a game of chicken that might put you down several cards and ten life is. Maybe a lot. Probably depends on the players.

  2. I'm super happy that we got so many different kinds of spells out of this art.

    Selfishly, would my design fit the challenge better if it only hit noncreature spells? Or if it was "counter target spell, 2 to player" for UUR?

    1. I like the "counter anything, 2 to the face" for UUR. In fact, I bet you could get away with 3 to the face, i.e. "Counterspell stapled to Lava Spike", in most formats, since (as you pointed out) it's so rare to see a deck that wants both effects.

    2. I did fail to consider how well the negate version would fit the art. Good point, Ben.

      I like the UUR idea.

    3. You've designed an extremely printable rare (see Undermine for UUB).

  3. Every submission but one correctly identified that art of a mage prominently wielding fire should be red (or have some red component.) In general, we're getting better as a community at properly associating art with color.

    Did anyone else think this art really looked like a Wayne Reynolds piece?

    1. To me, at least, the art is inspiration. Ultimately matching the art is not so important as designing an interesting card that meets the criteria. I am very grateful the art is there as a leaping off point, though, because usually it speeds my design process by quite a bit.

      It was, though, just about impossible for me to see this art and not think burn spell.

    2. Wait, is it not Wayne Reynolds'?

    3. I'd guess everyone identified it as red, but some chose to deviate. Perhaps even because it seemed obviously red.

    4. I had an exhausting weekend so didn't get a design in. But when I saw the art, I thought "Hmm, I wonder if people will submit blue creatures or red spells".