Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Weekend Art Challenge Review 041715—Jason Engle

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

Banish to the Tunnels is not for Limited or Commander, but can prevent targeted sideboarding in a Constructed tournament match, and potentially even blank one or two cards in your main deck. Referencing the sideboard would be new for Magic, but it's something I find entirely reasonable if used well; Affecting games beyond the current one is currently the realm of silver-bordered Magic and would be a significant step for black-bordered Magic to take. While unlikely, Banish to the Tunnels could ban 4+ playsets of cards before the third game of the match. Even just casting this once doesn't sound fun exactly, whether it's strong or not. If I were going to change what black-bordered Magic were capable of, I'd want it to make the game more fun, and significantly. Still, this does raise a fascinating question that might lead to an amazing answer.

Beckon Deeper mills a player ala Ravnica's 'grind' and it also has a dirt-cheap buyback cost (that you can pay after the fact). For every {U}{B}{G} you can produce, you can mill your opponent further, all via a single card. You don't need multiple copies once you get started, but being common does help you find your first copy to get started earlier. It seems like this card could ruin Limited all by itself, but it wouldn't take much tweaking to fix: If the {G} ability were flashback, you could only recur each copy once. If it put the card on top of your library, you could only cast it once per round and it would cost you a lot to do. If any of the mana costs were raised, it would be harder to use multiple times per round as well.

At face-value, Cannibalism can even the playing field: If I'm ahead because my creatures killed yours, I can't play new creatures, but you can. Actually, I can, but first I have to cast one and have it die to Cannibalism and then I can feed it to the next creature I cast. Throttling the player who's lost fewer creatures could turn the game around.

But we all know the point of symmetrical cards is to find a way to make them asymmetrical. The nice way to do that here is to play self-mill so you've always got fodder or to play spells that make creature tokens and ignore the restriction entirely. The mean way is to empty your opponent's graveyard and keep it empty. I'd worry that's pretty easy to do, but this being a five-mana enchantment that does nothing on its own probably means this is a niche strategy and not a dominating one.

Nice flavor text. (Although it points out a thematic wrinkle: I can play a human and exile a boar, and that's not cannibalism.)

Catacomb of Lost Souls collects the essence of everything that dies and if you can find a way to break it, you get them all back—yours and your opponent's. That's potentially a huge effect, Rise of the Dark Realms-big, but it only counts creatures that die while it's in play (and you'll have to take a turn off casting creatures to get it out there), and it stops counting when you crack it. Oh, and you'll need another color to be able to crack your enchantment. That's a lot of hoops and probably enough to justify reducing Rise's cost by {6}, though you never know what testing will show.

Lompe didn't mention what it is about this card that doesn't appeal to him, perhaps he counts himself among players who will dismiss it immediately?

Dangerous Trek combines the downside of both Stitch in Time (that you might get nothing for your effort) and Final Fortune (that you'll lose if you can't win by your extra turn) into a whopper: If you don't get the extra turn, you lose immediately. It's a huge gambit, but when fortune smiles upon you, you just cast a Power-9 card. Players who understand Time Walk should be excited at that prospect, though having such an epic downside narrows our audience from players who enjoy coin-flipping to players who have to live on the edge of their seat. The audience for Dangerous Trek is a subset of the venn diagram overlap between fans of Stitch in Time and fans of Final Fortune and that's not a huge overlap considering how differently those cards play. Still, Krark's Thumb into Time Walk certainly has appeal.

Dig for Answers is a Diabolic Tutor with a green upgrade that prevents it from being countered and prevents the card you get from being discarded* or countered. Green does get "can't be countered" more than other colors, though I feel like we could get the same result by requiring more black mana as well. Still, Diabolic Tutor has never been too strong, so giving it an extra edge seems decent.

*I'm assuming the intent was that you can cast it as long as it remains exiled. As written, you cast it immediately or never. Otherwise, I'd lean toward {1}{B}{R} or something.

Apparently this design is intended for ruthless Commander players. Does Commander benefit from ruthless players? Do we want to enable them more than we do by default?

I have to ask: How many of you understood Down the Rabbit Hole on the first read-through? I got thrown, but looking back through it seems like my speed-bump was pretty small. The if/not logic efficiently handles the loop, but if you're not concentrating you might think you only shuffle if you let your opponent Bribe you. Or maybe I just got distracted, because it makes total sense the second time.

Basically, you get to exile any number of specific cards from your opponent's library until they bite the bullet to stop you, by giving you a 'free' card. This sorcery's mana cost plays a huge role in where players will pull the bandage, and how they'll feel afterward. I will certainly let you exile a playset of Eldrazi from my deck so that you'll only get my next best spell at 6 mana, but I'll stop you immediately if you're grabbing one of only two copies of my win condition... unless I've already drawn my copy, in which case why not gamble my deck-size against your prize? (Because you're thinning my deck of gas, that's why.)

So there's potential for an interesting mini-game here, though more of the griefer variety than the fun-for-all type. At seven mana, we're not worried about this being over-powered or ubiquitous, but if a player is gung-ho about the effect, the cost won't stop them from playing it in casual or Constructed.

You can resurrect one creature per turn, regardless of who owned it, but if you don't, it returns to your hand for free, but only if you own it. Excise the last sentence and Effluence of Vigor becomes an exciting and powerful card with a coherent message. Keep it and the result is more powerful, but less fun and less cohesive. Alternately, have it only ever look at your own graveyard. But having all of the above is weird.

Having to pay four mana each time will likely tie you up, but the value of a free card and the utility of what will often be creatures worth more than four should make it more than worth your while. Being able to do that twice per round doubles your value. You do have to do some work though; you've got to keep creatures dying. Unless everyone's packing Pillarfield Oxes, you should be attacking aggressively and forcing either a lot of casualties or just winning. Alternately, you're low on life and have to be defensive, in which case you keep your opponent from attacking while you rebuild and eventually take control of the game.

Find the Deep End is the worse of Pongify or Polymorph. So why would you ever choose this removal over Pongify? For the same reason "an opponent" makes the choice instead of "that creature's controller:" You can cast this on your own creature. Except you won't get to trade a token creature for an Eldrazi like you would with Polymorph (unless you're a grand master of mind games) because your opponent can just give you the 3/3. So who would ever choose the second mode? Well, your opponent would, when you target one of their creatures. Uhm. I'm thinking this nine-line card isn't pulling its weight. Did I miss something?

Grafdigger's Lantern is free and can recur a land, an Ornithopter, or a Pact of Negation. Or a Lion's Eye Diamond. It can also return an opponent's card to their hand, for some reason. I gather from Mike's post that this is meant to help certain combo decks be more consistent, perhaps to speed up the single-player process of winning the game. Would the game be better for that?

Hide Underground efficiently protects you and most all your stuff from targeted effects for a turn. That's a good defensive counter for a green-white deck, basically Hindering Light. Take that, proactive players?

Into the Deep guarantees you X spell cards, and gives you a bonus of all the land cards you drew in the process. Basically Mind Spring with more complexity and a lot more variance. (For seven mana, Mind Spring draws you 5 cards, Into the Deep draws you 3 spells and an average of two lands.) Being an instant is significant too, as Sphinx's Revelation demonstrates. {X}{X} is a lot trickier to process than {X} and combining that with Treasure Hunt's more involved drawing seems like a bigger win for obfuscation than variety. I'll grant this is better in a control deck running 28+ land, but I'd rather see cards that make blue control decks play faster.

Light of Elbereth gives its wielder a colorless Shade ability, and vigilance & protection via white mana. Two of those abilities can be game-winning in the right situation. I'd happily play this in every Limited deck that isn't four-color-not-white and splash a couple Plains for added value. There's no way we could justify all these abilities on a common or uncommon, but at rare I just assume this quirky gear is an important part of the set's story and that every strange choice is a top-down expression of that story. I'm still skeptical, of course—particularly at the first ability being colorless next to the other white abilities, even though that ability isn't usually white—but if I saw this in a booster, I'd assume it was the next Godsend.

Montresor is a more efficient, color-shifted Stalking Assassin. Royal Assassin can shut games down pretty quickly. Getting to destroy any creature without hexproof for {1}{W}+{1}{B} every two rounds even while preventing your opponent from using his army is clearly a bomb for Limited and relevant for Standard. Hold on to your Shocks, I guess.

Past is Prologue is a Commander-only card that can advantage generals that die a lot, like Ashling the Pilgrim. It's also half a Wheel of Fate, advantaging players who empty their hand quickly. Mono-red is the most aggressive color and so it can be hard to make a competitive mono-red Commander deck. This feels a bit like duct tape, but it does seem like it could make a difference there.

Plunder the Catacombs is a double Recollect in black. I love the restriction on tutoring, seriously, but black doesn't recur any card types except creatures. This would be perfect in black-green (and yes, it's curious that black can tutor anything but only recur creatures where green can recur anything but only tutor creature). I'd start this at {2}{B}{G} and go from there.

Plunder the Tombs is Creeping Renaissance for all players (and any card type). Black doesn't recur anything but creatures, and it's less like black to do this symmetrically than green, so I'd expect this to be green or green-black. Exiling the rest is a neat clause. You'll be left with Plunder the Tombs in your graveyard, and you could play another to recur it, but you'll need to play some sorceries first to make it worthwhile (and more than your opponent does)... probably exile this too just to be safe. I wonder how often your choice will be swayed by your opponent's graveyard. I wonder how often you'll wish you could choose creatures because you need them so badly, but can't because your opponent will get even more.

For {1} more, you can Diabolic Tutor with premonition, a suspend variant. Five turns is a lot to wait (will I be alive in five turns?) especially for a card whose purpose is to get you exactly what you need immediately. Still, if I had a couple bombs, I'd happily premonish Prophetic Depths on turn two in Limited, knowing that I'll have some use for it on turn seven. This seems like a tutor Combo decks won't play, but Control decks will. Neat?

Stalward Spelunker gives your ally deck a limited (though far from weak) form of hexproof. Slivers and allies players love to build up their armies and losing specific powerful contributors is probably their biggest concern after mass removal, so I could see Spelunker seeing play there. It's a touch tricky to read, but many allies were, and it is rare. I could totally see this getting printed.

Walking in Circles hates Kor Cartographer. Oh and half the fetch lands. It's okay with green mana ramp, but not with color fixing. It also hates non-basic lands. Lacking flavor or any proactive use, this is clearly a sideboard card laser-targeted against certain kinds of decks. It's a small audience, but the players looking for green answers to those decks should appreciate this enchantment. Except when they draw their second copy.

Lots of cool cards here, and as expected from such an open-ended challenge, a great variety as well. I saw several different approaches with varying degrees of success. I hope some of you were able to takeaway how difficult this kind of design is. I'd love to hear any thoughts you've got on that subject.

Thanks to Zefferal for rendering the cards.


  1. It is often stressed that it is important to design for aesthetics you don't appreciate, but I think the better goal is to appreciate as wide a range of aesthetics as possible.

    When you see someone really likes a card that you don't, talk to them and figure out why. Especially when they like a card you know is bad. Try and share their joy.

  2. My defense of Find the Deep End is to put it in a multiplayer product, where the "target opponent" may have different incentives towards that creature's controller. A loose cycle:

    Deep White W
    Exile target creature. Target opponent chooses one —
    • Return that creature to the battlefield tapped under it’s owner’s control.
    • That creature’s controller gains life equal to that creature’s power.

    Deep Black B
    Destroy target creature. Target opponent chooses one —
    • That creature’s controller draws two cards and loses 2 life.
    • That creature’s controller returns a creature from their graveyard to the battlefield.

    Deep Red R
    Destroy target artifact. Target opponent chooses one —
    • That artifact’s controller adds {R} to their mana pool equal to that artifact’s mana worth.
    • That artifact’s controller discards their hand and draws cards equal to that artifact’s mana worth.

    Deep Green 1G
    Exile target land. Target opponent chooses one —
    • That land’s controller puts it on top of his or her library.
    • That land’s controller searches his or her library for up to two basic land cards and puts them onto the battlefield, then shuffles their library.

  3. Would you believe that Beckon Deeper started out with both a higher mana cost and return cost, but people (who were the target audience) complained it wasn't strong enough? \>o</

    The solution is probably "Commander product". Bigger decks and easier to justify the tri-not-tricolor design without having to cycle it out.

  4. My card was meant to be called Effulgence of Vigor, not Effluence of Vigor, but it doesn't really matter :) Effluence works probably just as well as Effulgence.