Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Weekend Art Challenge Review 052215—kelsm

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Design a card with this art addressing the sea creature trope. Don't use islandhome. Bonus points if your mechanic can be reused across blocks and at common. Does it warrant a keyword?

We've got some bold choices here. Abyssal Serpent finds its watery connection in the oceanic keyword, and neither the card nor the mechanic require islands or blue mana. It doesn't come up often, but there is a long-standing debate whether all sea creatures are inherently blue. Ipaulsen appears to believe not and I tend to agree: The theoretical water world set is one argument, aided by the color pie philosophies that distinguish land creatures from each other and air creatures from each other.

Oceanic is curious mix of defender + unblockable. {1} isn't a lot to ask, but can be all the difference when mana's tight or you've simply forgotten there were oceanic creatures in play. I would honestly love to try this mechanic out. If it's fun enough, I could certainly see it used sparingly across blocks for years and/or heavily in water world.

Abyssal Serpent also has a mono-black saboteur ability to reinforce that the card is black, not blue; something we'd have to do the first year or so as players adjust to the idea of sea creatures in all colors. Neat!

Benthic Leviathan allows you to throw cold water on a fight, slowing everybody down with a few hundred gallons of brine. Or maybe the leviathan is diving and bringing its combatants with it, though I'd think that more lethal. This ability is notably stronger when your creature is more powerful, or double-blocked (which tends to happen to more powerful creatures). But it's also useful on small creatures, provided you've got the mana to spare. Despite its simplicity, 'sloshing' is a bit mathy and will reward a clever player; so it's very blue. Maybe after a year or so of using it at uncommon and rare, players will be familiar enough to have a single common with it.

I totally buy that a submerged sea creature won't have as much impact on land, but it's mighty odd that Darkwater Chaser is weaker in its home environment. Mechanically, this works for a set with -1/-1 counters, but I see it getting completely different flavor, like undercover in a spy world, or something.

Bonus points for potentially explaining Segovian Leviathan.

Deep-Sea Leviathan is a bit like Meandering Towershell, but impressively simpler. I'm not sure whether he's swimming under me or leaping over me, but attacking unblockable every other turn sounds interesting. It's not as big a drawback as for the turtle, since I can still block with my leviathan the turn before I attack. I don't think it's too strong this way, but I do think the flavor would be better otherwise.

Deepwater Recluse is shy and only comes out to play for one friend at a time. I like that ability on a creature with 'recluse' in the name, and I think this eel is close to printable, but I'm not reading anything fishy about the ability and don't expect to use it more than once or twice. Might like the flavor even more if it only blocked when there was one attacking creature too, but that's probably too hard to use.

Fathom Swallower is a 7cc unblockable 5/5 as long as you control other attackers your opponent is worried about. That doesn't seem common, but in practice if you've got a seven-mana creature in addition to an already dangerous force, you're probably winning anyhow. I have no idea what the flavor behind tapping all your permanents is, but apart from the amount of text here, I think this could be a common along the lines of Boulderfall, in the right set.

Gulping Trencher doesn't have a taste for planeswalker, but it does have a taste for creatures. It excitedly charges into combat as a... 6/4, making it a red/blue Craw Wurm. (That math was not easy enough.) Not sure what's sea-creature-y about that, but Trencher could be fun to play with and does seem like a good red-blue hybrid.

Highwater Serpent continues the tradition of islandwalk for sea creatures, but offers a more landfall-y version of islandhome. (Like Shoal Serpent) At least it doesn't die if you lose your islands somehow.

Using twobrid guarantees we won't see deepsea in more than one block (unless we return to the original plane later). It's keyworded, so we must see it on 10+ cards. Hookjaw Prowler demonstrates those cards needn't be blue, so I guess the set it belongs to features blue sort of how Torment featured black. Probably water world.

Deepsea is symmetrical, limiting everyone's ability to target it (as shroud did before hexproof) as well interacting with it in combat. Except it's not symmetrical, because it's free to attack with and your opponent has to pay to block it, whereas they pay nothing when you defend while you pay to block, so effectively it's a limited combination of unblockable and "can't block." Very interesting to compare to oceanic.

Flavorwise, it's cool that players pay to interact with it (and that blue mages can do so more efficiently). I did eventually figure out why the second half of the ability works the way it does (someone's got to use magic to bring this deepsea creature up to your land creatures or vice-versa), but it's not exactly self-evident.

Hookjaw Prowler itself can attack anything, provided you pay the standard {2U} breathing spell. Very cool.

Fascinating to see the "any color can have sea creatures" design aesthetic on the same card as "blue is better at water" aesthetic. I would expect one or the other, but not both.

Lurking Mosahk is shy like Deepwater Recluse, but is more concerned that the defender has tired creatures rather than having too many ready creatures. I'm not sure I know what this ability is meant to represent. Vengeance for having attacked and survived? If it were attacking the tapped creature, I could see an opportunistic thing. Mosahk is a strong defender. Not only is it very efficient while blocking, but your opponent can avoid being hit by a 6/5 if he doesn't attack you at all.

Monster of Profound Depths counts your hand-size and your opponent's and rewards the player sitting on the most cards. Kamigawa taught us that rewarding players for not casting spells isn't very fun. That said, 'unfathomable' is a clever name for this mechanic (and I enjoy the idea that denizens of the deep are also intellectually deep—creepy and cthulhu-y).

Riptide Hunter proposes a flavor for shadow: marine. I have to say, that does make a lot of sense. Magic has stayed away from shadow for a long while because it's not as interactive as flying (and it's a bit redundant with it too) and that's still true. A 4/1 for four that's usually unblockable seems far too dangerous for common too. But if shadow were to return, and in a new form despite that resetting the parasitic mechanic count, marine would be a great fit thematically.

Scourge of the Traders looks like a completely reasonable uncommon: 3/3 unblockable for {3}{U}{U}? Totally. I'm not sure the last ability is worthwhile, though, since it's impossible to trigger without spending removal. It doesn't help sell the sea creature vibe, either, though I do love the poetry of stealing whatever made the serpent unblockable from its corpse.

Sea Monsters have strong morals you see, and it makes them sick to the stomach to think of hurting others, which is why they do it half-assed.

Or, more likely, jumping out of the water to smack land dwellers leaves them weak and vulnerable. Except not jumping out of the water to smack sea dwellers also does. And they can block whomever. Gotta be the morals.

I love the simplicity here, and this is imminently reusable across blocks and rarities, I just wish it nailed some kind of relevant flavor.

Diving is hexproof only while attacking. The opposite of Tromokratis. All that matters with sometimes-hexproof is that it's not always-hexproof, so either way is fine. Themed as diving, this makes a lot of sense. It also means the defender can't Murder it in response to your Giant Growth (and that if they intend to Murder it at all, they need to do so before you declare attackers). Mechanically, it seems like it should dive while blocking too, but that flavor's weak and this promotes attacking, which is never bad. I definitely don't see Submerged Serpent as a common with these numbers. The downside to naming this nifty hexproof variant diving is that it's harder to use outside of blue (unless we give more colors sea creatures, but even then we can't put it on a sphinx).

Vortex Angler eats everyone's blue mana when it attacks, forcing blue defenders to cast their spells in response to the trigger, as well as forcing its controller to use her blue mana before combat. That's weird, but it's a relief to see something serve a similar purpose to islandwalk without being islandwalk, and weird isn't unreasonable for a single uncommon. I might make this bigger and rarer, though.

There's definitely a trend in this challenge where unblockable equates on some level to "sea creature." If I were looking for the most expected execution—and that's a pretty good design metric—I would definitely go with straight up unblockable. I personally enjoyed some of the more creative solutions, even if that doesn't make them the best answer in the long-run. Not many of the cards showed mechanics I'd repeat once, much less many times, but almost all the cards were awesome sea creatures, or close to it. Nice work, artisans.

Thanks to Pasteur for rendering the cards.


  1. I thought the flavor on Sea Monster (which was intended to be exactly what you said) was better than you gave it credit for, oh well. At a minimum it certainly needs a name that sells the flavor. In the comments I discussed something like making it a 3/3 that got +3/+3 when it was untapped, to instead highlight that it excelled in its home waters, but then it was a 6 mana 3/3 which looked more lethargic (despite being the same).

    Would this sell the flavor better:

    Sea Serpent 5U
    Creature - Serpent (C)

    Whenever ~ attacks, it gets -3/-3 until end of turn unless the defending player controls an Island.


  2. Werewolves DFC taught us that the tension between playing and not playing spells is inherently fun, and not the poor comparison to Kamigawa.

    1. I would not say "inherently fun," I would say "Can be fun in exactly the right conditions."

    2. Werewolves ask players to take a turn off playing spells, but you can still play all your spells next turn. Kamigawa asks players to hold onto cards indefinitely instead of playing them.

  3. Were there no renders/review for the previous week's challenge?

  4. I like the idea of non-blue sea monsters, like moving fear out of solely black.

    And I like the idea of marine as compared to flying -- despite the risk of non-interactivity, I wonder if wizards could do a set with as much marine as there is flying and it would work.

  5. I will be very surprised, with two blocks a year, if hybrid and twobrid aren't used to carve out deisgn space without serving as focal mechanics. For example, an Extort-like mechanic in a non-multicolor , block. You gotta feed the beast. I also see this need using hybrid and twobrid with equal frequency. Very surprised.

    1. You see twobrid being used with equal frequency to hybrid?
      You might be alone on that.

    2. I mangled my sentiment. Hybrid has more design space than twobrid. But it also fills a similar role as traditional multicolor, which has even more design space. So while hybrid has a larger mechanical space than twobrid, much of that space overlaps with the better positioned Multicolor. Hybrid and Twobrid can be used for individual mechanics really well, without needing to be tied to a larger multicolor theme.

    3. I agree with all that. But hybrid is pretty easy to grok and balance, where twobrid is neither.

  6. I liked the flavor behind Lurking Mosahk (looking for chum to eat) and Submerged Serpent (diving like a submarine.)

    The other water mechanic I was working on was a riff on the Green stun ability in Kamigawa Blok, reimagined as the blocking creature taking time to dive down to meet a creature in combat.

    Underwater (This can't be bocked except by creatures that tap as an additional cost to block it. They don't untap during their controller's next untap step.)

    Does tapping as an act to engage in combat feel like diving underwater to anyone else? Maybe I should have saved the idea for our next Water World challenge (which will probably be May 2016).

    1. Is underwater "As an additional cost to block this, players must tap the blocking creature. It doesn't untap..."?
      (It reads as only being blockable by creatures that already require a cost of tapping to block.)
      Why not simply, "Whenever a creature blocks ~, super-tap it?"

      Tapping to block does feel like diving to me.

    2. Nich, I'm curious: Would you sooner change Hookjaw Prowler (and all creatures with deepsea) to blue, or the cost of deepsea to {2}? Meaning, if you had to pick a side on how-blue-is-water/how-water-is-blue, which way would you go?

    3. The side-ways effect of Underwater is that creatures with summoning sickness can't block them. Whatever the proper templating, I want to playtest that version to see if it's fun to play. Super tapping's cool, but puts more control in the blocking player's hands. Tapping first before the block fits the flavor of the action of diving down to the battle, so I'd want to preserve the order of operations if able.

      As for "how-blue-is-water", I feel like I merntion this a lot, but my top 101 GDS Plane was basically Water World (Abissa). It had White shallow water merfolk, Black Leechmen and Inkcloud dwellers, Red Sharks and seafloor Crabs, and Green seaweed jungles, Whales, and water Wurms. it doesn't make sense to me to showhorn all the biodiveristy of underwater into a single color. I still believe in Water World, for what it's worth.

    4. Me too. Seems inevitable, if far off.