Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Weekend Art Design Challenge Review—m_a_t_h_e_s | poibuts | chryssalis

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

Anicia doesn't draw you any cards on her own, but if you can cast one other spell the same turn you cast it, she gives you a free Ancestral Recall. And if you can cast three other spells, perhaps Ponders or Seething Songs, you can draw nine cards extra. That makes her last ability—which seems terrible in a vacuum—actually quite strong. You can recast Anicia every turn, and use the cantrips you drew off her last turn to draw even more cards. It's not terribly hard to imagine Anicia drawing your entire deck over the course of turns 5-10. I suspect you could add a cantrip (draw one card) instead and this would still be strong and exciting.

Discover rewards you for playing singletons. You're not restricted from playing multiple copies of a discover card, but like legendary, the value of duplicates drops quickly. Unlike legendary, discover presents itself as an upside (though you could word it as a downside). That's great for Commander and pretty good for Limited; it's pretty weak for Standard, though maybe decks with more variance in the form of singleton's would actually make tournament play more fun. I wouldn't be on it, but I won't discount the possibility.

Even if your opponent is only playing singleton discover cards, you can still counter the mechanic by bouncing such permanents back to their hand, reducing their value upon re-cast. A 4/4 vigilant lifelinker is a great deal for four mana, but a 2/2 Celestial Unicorn at that cost is anemic. That interaction won't be fun for both players, but it does increase the value of bounce in a lenticular way.

Recoil is a cost reduction mechanic triggered by bounce. You can use it when an opponent bounces one of your permanents, or when you bounce your own. Peel from Reality is recoil's best friend… when your opponent is tapped out. Ancestral Statue and gating cards rise in value considerably with recoil around. That recoil only reduces your costs does limit the shenanigans it enables, though. I wouldn't play Ancestral Statue just to save {1} on Collected Thoughts (and would need {6}{U} to combo that pair). I do see this playing well with bounce-lands (which won't see much print without good reason for balance concerns, but this could be that reason).

What about something like this?
Aetherchange (You may return a blue permanent you control to its owner's hand instead of paying {U} in this card's mana cost.)

I gotta say: If Distant Unicorn were any other creature type, I'd be snarking that it's only distant until you get close, but I can totally buy unicorns just always being distant, unreachable.

Hexproof is perfect here. Lure seems to contradict Distant Unicorn's core identity. Getting free Unicorns by bouncing creatures... I don't get. I could see it on a rare that just phones in the flavor because it is a neat ability, but combined with activated hexproof/lure, I expected there to be a story and it's over my head.

Mechanically, we've got an efficient green rare with resilience to removal, that can punish decks that bounce their opponent's stuff and/or combo with gating effects. I can see that doing work in Standard (and maybe beyond, thanks to that last note, and relevance against Jace, the Mind Sculptor).

"Target green mage loses the game.*" What? Against any other color, this would be a haymaker but not necessarily an auto-win, but green depends so much on its creatures, from card draw to removal. Faerie Infestation is near the power level of Gloom and Boil, and that's too much.

*Unless that player spent a bunch of money on non-basic lands. (Gross.)

When a legend has a title grand enough, it's sometimes more impressive to omit their name. "Lord of the Different Dimension" would be a more impactful cardname than Krasdam. But that's on Creative. Let's talk Design.

Krasdam has 10 lines of text. That's not unheard of for a rare (and we can assume this is at least rare), but is it warranted?

The first ability is flying which this art does not depict.

The second ability flickers your creatures whenever they're targeted by anything. Effectively, your team has shroud, and can abuse ETB abilities and untap. A lot. Seems strong.

The third ability lets you turn each Unsummon and Doom Blade into a Control Magic. One that can't be disenchanted. That's a big effect. Like, put that on a mythic enchantment with nothing else and you'll still have players goggling. (It also needs to be worded as a replacement effect or it won't work.)

The fourth ability is redundant with the third. Whenever you kill an opposing creature, you resurrect and steal it three times (because dying counts as leaving the battlefield and #3 is currently waiting for the creature to hit the yard, causing it to leave the graveyard as well). It's not entirely redundant, though, also letting you resurrect all your creatures for free forever, including Krasdam, and including your second copy of Krasdam killed by the legend rule and doomed to do 20 times or as many death triggers as you need to win.

Krasdam is three crazy mythic rare enchantments stapled to a single creature.

At least your opponent can regain control of their creatures by targeting them and triggering the first ability. Except exiling a creature causes it to leave the battlefield too. So you still get it back.

Nostalgia rewards you for growing your hand without using the literal text "draw a card." The flavor is, uh, nostalgia? This is the definition of a Melvin card. There has never been a narrative difference between "draw a card" and "put a card into your hand." The difference between them isn't intuitive within the game's narrative, and perhaps not even to all players mechanically.

Nostalgia appears to be design for design's sake. What problem does the card solve? It does make the Ponders and Anticipates of the world stronger, but I don't think we can call that a need. There is something very clever here I wouldn't have picked up on if not for the challenge: Whenever a card is bounced to your hand, Nostalgia will trigger. Often R&D likes to hide solutions for problems like "we need answers to token armies" behind cards with other apparent purposes like "Destroy each non-land permanent with CMC N or less." But when they're trying to support a set's mechanical themes, they like to be more direct. "Whenever a card is returned to your hand from the battlefield…" would do the trick here.

Novice Archaeomancer trades the card advantage of its namesake for a more efficient body. The original played well with Unsummon and—as long as you've got cards to pitch—so does this. The novice is, appropriately, even better suited to common.

At first, you think, well clearly it's easier to return the cards you lost from the graveyard to help track what's what. The awesome thing about Penumbra Reality is that those cards don't have to die. You might bounce them to hand, or even just flicker them, and you still get copies of them all. With a Cloudstone Curio, you can have infinite everything. The less awesome thing is that you get no help tracking what's what. Good luck with that.

Turning the permanents black is just for flavor, but it gives an overt reason for the card being black-blue. It needs to be black-blue, of course, because it raises from the dead your creatures that die this turn, but that's not called out directly. Neat. Could it be cheaper to leave room to cast Peel from Reality? (IDK)

Resolute Unicorn's second ability reads dangerously close to restating a native game rule. It's not the same, of course—it prevents the Unicorn from being killed by anything other than toughness reduction. It also can't be bounced or flickered. Basically, black can Pull Under, blue can Claustrophobia, and white can Pacifism. Sorry, red and green. I'd say this is rare.

Did you know unicorns hate swarms? Insects, rats, nanobots, doesn't matter what it is. They're enochlophobic. Which actually explains a lot. And I can totally imagine their horsey fear in response to swarms. Sweet: New unicorn trope.

How does Rival of Swarms express this distaste? It tries to kill planeswalkers before they can summon more crawlies. That's... surprisingly rational. The part I can't justify is that this ability only counts the creatures that didn't attack.

Shepherd of Boundaries starts whispering delicate poetry to you about how it loves when creatures die, and then suddenly harshes your buzz by revealing that was all a metaphor and that death is icky and you're gross for liking it. Just back off, man.

Shepherd rewards bounce and flicker effects. Starting as a Wind Drake and growing potentially very quickly is pretty appealing, especially when you're bouncing all your opponent's creatures or flickering your ETB sticks. Just don't flicker a Nekrataal, because any death resets the Shepherd entirely. That's an interesting mini-game, and likely a challenging one given how often creatures trade off or get nuked in regular play. Sounds fun.

Spell Jinx is to Meddling Mage as Mana Leak is to Counterspell. Alternately, it's a targeted Defense Grid. I would expect something like this to be white, but blue is defensible too. Based on Meddling Mage, I can't say this is too strong in the abstract, but R&D has avoided making "you can't play your cards" effects efficient for a long time since. Maybe Leaking your cards instead of Countering them entirely is enough to justify it?

Hold on, while I read that again.

So, "exile things that enter your hands except card draw and similar?"

In other words, "bounce effects exile permanently instead." That effect begs to be built around, and will be quite powerful when it is (making Unsummon better than Swords to Plowshares). Not quite Dismiss into Dream, but dangerously similar for a two-drop.

I do wish there were a cleaner way to template Aether Banisher. I have no idea what the word 'spell' is doing in there, partly because I can't parse it grammatically, and partly because a spell targeted by Venser, Shaper Savant would fall under "cards not on the battlefield" already.

Note that this counters Raise Dead but not Rise from the Grave. Flavor?

Aether Mystic is a free Divination when its gets milled from your library. And when you draw it. And when you discard it. Or cast it, bounce it, or exile it. Two Divinations when you flicker it.

It's also a two-mana 2/1 in case you care about bodies despite your flurry of card draw.

Sometimes, opening up a narrow effect to something broader can yield pleasantly surprising results. But if you're not careful, you can also break the game pretty effectively.

If we reword this "Whenever ~ would leave the battlefield, if it didn't die, [effect]" then it only triggers when we bounce or exile it (and only once per flicker). I suspect that might have been the original intention, but that's not what this card says. We needn't get our templates perfect as designers, but we do need them unambiguously clear.

Here we've got a design that is explicit in its interaction with bounce. Aether Reaper's ability combos well with bounce, potentially 'destroying' any permanent you can bounce while it's watching. I'd worry about the compound effect controlling two or more Recoil monsters would have, but as four-mana 2-toughness uncommons, it's probably not a huge issue. Dinrova Horror agrees.

Oh hey. Warped Devotion is a card. (It and Azorius Æthermage seem to be the only ones made to trigger directly off of bounce effects, so far.)

Aether Tuner has a similar anti-bounce Dodecapod clause to Distant Unicorn, but is otherwise just an efficient red creature. Given how much text the clause takes—and how unusual it is—simplifying elsewhere seems best.

There were a lot of submissions that seemed to miss the challenge entirely this week, or to glance off of it at a tangent. It's possible the challenge was just too difficult or strange*, so kudos to those that did nail it. On the plus side, most of the designs were pretty cool even if they didn't interact much with bounce.

*If so, let me know. How could I have run this challenge better?

Thanks to Jenesis for rendering the cards.


  1. I can't quite put it into words, but I did find this challenge uninspiring. It did eventually make me think of something I might not otherwise have thought of (which at least for me is the point of these) but it didn't excite me in the way most do.

  2. For me, I think it was the double looseness of "an interesting/novel way" and "Boomerang or other bounce effects". If it was "find a way to make the bounce deck more splashy/attractive but unbroken in Limited/Constructed" or the "development says a bounce+tempo archetype is too strong, design a card that helps counteract that", or "consider a card with an interesting interaction with the card Boomerang", then we might see more focused designs. (Focusing on Boomerang in particular, for instance, might yield mechanics based on CMC=2, or a devotion-in-spells, or something in that vein).

    That said, I really appreciate these challenges and the feedback every week.

    1. Absolutely, I look forward to these every Friday!

  3. I actually didn't see a single design that doesn't interact with bounce. Faerie Infestation and Spell Jinx stop something from coming back down after you bounce it.

    As for Rival of Swarms, bounce allows it to get a bonus and still go unblocked or grow big enough to best a single blocker, and then eat it when it's double blocked and you bounce the other. Bouncing an attacker also means that in order to get it back out your opponent will have to let you get a bonus from it for one more turn.

    1. Mine (the Apprentice Archeomancer) has admittedly very poor interactions with bounce spells, but I decided it was okay because it had two poor interactions with bounce spells (you can get them back inefficiently, or you can use the bounce spells to get something else back inefficiently).

    2. Every card interacts with bounce by being bounce-able. Some more than others.

      Spell Jinx will cost a player twice as much to recast her card it's bounced.

      Bounce can help Faerie Infestation lock a player out of the game even more by hitting creatures they'd managed to cast before the three-mana enchantment hit the table.

      Rival of Swarms enjoys the same combat benefits all creatures do, plus an occasional +2/+2 from bouncing a potential blocker after the trigger but before blocks are declared.

      Those all count, for sure. The ones that interact more with bounce than any random card from Magic's history address the challenge better.

  4. I'm pretty sure AEther Mystic doesn't do what you first read it to do. I think the most natural reading of the text is:

    Whenever AEther Mystic is (put [anywhere except into a graveyard] from the battlefield), draw two cards.

    That said, I agree the wording is certainly confusing and perhaps ambiguous.

    I came very close to submitting Azorius AEthermage for the white-blue meditating mage art. I've got a very soft spot for that card, being key as it is to one of my favourite decks built around Imaginary Pet and Spawnbroker.

    1. Yes, I should've put commas: "whenever Aether Mystic is put anywhere, except into a graveyard, from the battlefield..."
      I didn't realize people would interpret it differently. My mistake.

    2. Here's how I parsed it:

      Whenever AEther Mystic is put anywhere [except into a graveyard from the battlefield], draw two cards.

      While we could argue about which interpretations are valid grammatically, or more natural, all that matters is whether it's ambiguous or not. Again, we don't need our templates to be perfect, but if you can ship your card to a playtester and they can read it the opposite of what you intended, you're going to get feedback for a card you've never seen, and you might not even know that's what's happening.