Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Weekend Art Challenge 061915 Review—Ruslayer

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Design a black common for Spike.

A 2/1 for two isn't exciting anyone, and I know players who will scoff at a six-mana Last Gasp, but experienced Spikes will recognize Amateur Necromancer as a versatile common, capable of putting pressure on her opponents early, and acting as removal late. Nice. I recently wrote flavor text for a foolish necromancer, so I can dig this, though it seems to explain why Caadavus is sacrificing himself, rather than why he's injuring someone rather than reanimating someone.

Bone Dust Poison is an 'upgrade' to Bone Splinters, allowing you to skip paying mana to cast the creature you sacrifice, and also gaining instant speed. What's cool here is when discarding a card isn't better than sacking a creature: When your hand is empty or when you're making creature tokens. My concern is that this is far cheaper to cast in total (again, since you're not paying to summon the creature) while also facilitating an Entomb effect that would be hugely powerful in Reanimator. I think this is printable, but probably at rare (or {B}{B} or sorcery, etc).

Fleeting Shade is clearly a Spike/Melvin card. In the short term, it's a Looming Shade for {1} less, but every time you use its ability, it shrinks. Shades can be powerful deterrents in the mid- and late-game, and this one should come around to Spike in draft more often than most as Timmy avoids it like the plague. As a 1/1, it will kill itself the first turn you use it, which is a bit disappointing. This could surely cost just {B}. I mentioned Melvin because of the extra work of calculating +2-1=+1, which is not terribly elegant, but it is cute from a rules perspective. (It'd probably be templated "~ gets +1/+1 until EOT. At EOT, put a -1/-1 counter on it.")

Foretell Doom is fixing or removal, depending on which you need more. If you're desperate to kill and X/2, you'll put both scryed cards on top even if they're dead to you (which won't feel good). More often, you'll scry to improve your draws, with a back-up plan of shrinking something if your draws already look good. While cards with unknown effects tend to turn Spike off, this one will often be useful and rewards efficient, adaptive play. If it's not too expensive (and I suspect it is by {1}), many Spikes would enjoy this.

Forsake is a Brain Pry made cheaper by removing the cantrip safety net. It also adds a trinket in potentially milling the top card of their library in case they were just about to draw the card you named, which will rarely matter, but avoids feel-bads when it would. Note that we'd have to clarify that by "all cards" we mean "all cards revealed this way". Hmm. Brain Pry was uncommon and this can hit more than one card like Cabal Therapy. Probably needs to be rarer just for power level?

Spike loves converting resources where there's any Expected Value at all, and drawing what you need when you need it is clearly of value. Goetian Scholar will turn off a lot of players with its Squire stats and life payment, but there are numerous situations you'd happily trade 2 life for the certainty of your next turn being relevant. A 1:1 ratio would have been more appealing (and more aesthetic), but I think it was right to up the cost, making it a real decision when to use it and when not to.

There's a part of me that wants to replace "Pay 2 life" with the black Phyrexian mana symbol. That part of me is not a good designer.

Grim Musings is a bit reminiscent of Compulsive Research, but since you will get the card sooner or later, it's closest heritage is actually Sylvan Library. Of course, most of the time you'll pay the life, because Sign in Blood, but the option to leave one on top (either to shuffle it away, or to protect it from discard until your next draw) is a nice bonus alongside instant speed to justify the extra {1}.

Diabolic Edict + a highly thematic 2/2. It wouldn't see Constructed play, but I'd run Grim Transformation in Limited as long as my five slot isn't full or I'm desperate for removal. This common Syphon Flesh is stronger in a duel and weaker in multiplayer (which isn't Spike's favorite playground anyhow). Note that the Zombie ETB tapped, so that you can't cast this after attackers are declared, kill an attacker, and block with your 2/2; good call.

Iocaine Poison looks like a nice twist on reveal-discard. Effectively, you get to knock out the second-best card in your opponent's hand. When all they've got is a bomb and a grip full of land, that'll be frustrating, and it probably doesn't rank a cardset in Standard, but that's hardly a bad effect for {B}.

Fun to compare with Blackmail, which nabs the third-worst card in your opponent's hand. They'll have the same effect on a four-card hand, but Blackmail's better later where this is better earlier.

What concerns me, though, it its ability to remove land from a land-shy hand. If you're on the play and cast this turn 1, you can knock me down from 2 land to 1 or from 3 to 2. Seems dangerous.

Last Wail of the Damned looks like a card that should have been printed already. I might change 'died' to 'dies' so that you cast it after blockers, but before the board's been cleared, to prevent memory issues.

Black hasn't done both discard and draw in a single card since Syphon Mind. (Dark Deal clearly doesn't count.) I believe the only reason for that is to leave it for blue-black cards in gold sets, because any effect can gain a cantrip, and black is no exception. Malice Seer would look mighty strange if we removed the discard, though: ETB-creature effects don't match up 1:1 with a color's spell effects, particularly since the cantrip version of a creature is the creature. Still, Malice Seer is clearly not far off and could be justified in mono-black.

A 3:1 for less than 6 mana, though, without any significant conditions, is always uncommon or rarer. Compare to Archaeomancer.

Note that while we can weaken a card so it only appeals to Timmy or Johnny, strengthening a card only widens its audience.

Necrospection is a black Sudden Reclamation. It's also nearly identical but strictly better than Bitter Revelation. Because of the A-then-B awkwardness, I wouldn't put this in a core set, but I could see it in a set like Khans or Innistrad no problem. Well, one problem: Black doesn't recur anything but creatures. (Revelation gets away with it because you're drawing from the deck, not the yard.)

I love the effect here, and I'll grant that the second part is more relevant the earlier you cast it, but a 3:1 for three mana isn't common. I'm not entirely sure this would be fair as a {2}{B}{B} uncommon.

There's something special going on here, and I want to love it, but there's something gnawing at me about Poisoner's Draught. I can't quite put my finger on it. I guess I'm worried it would confuse some players. "Destroy target creature with no +1/+1 counters" would be cleaner, but that's very different since this also accounts for auras, equipment, Giant Growth, & Glorious Anthem, as well as having a discernible impact on creatures with any of those toughness boosts. Would feel safe at uncommon, where I'd love it without reservation.

In theory, sacrificing a creature should pay for the extra card Potion of Dark Knowledge draws you relative to Sign in Blood. As with Bone Dust Potion, a creature is sometimes worth less than a card but usually worth more; the trick with situations like that is players will craft the situations where the situation at hand is the better one. If that crafting took some time and skill, it's a nice way to reward the player's cleverness. Is this a black Thirst for Knowledge? Compulsive Research? Would either of those be common today?

Reckless Alchemy can hit anything but land, but gives your opponent one round in which to cast it. You're hoping of course they can't pay the cost at all, making this much weaker late in the game (but still relevant against Cancel and Divine Verdict). Is it worth that chance for an easier casting cost than Distress? (Could be.) I feel like there's a hint of red at work here, but {B}{R} and {1}{R} are clearly both wrong. [shrug]

Ritual of the Dead is a more environmentally friendly Harvest Pyre. More equal opportunity than Ghastly Demise. I kind of wish it looked for creature cards, or for sorceries and instants (in either case it could then be instant), but this is solid.

Vampire Interloper for 4 isn't great, but the option to make it a Bloodhunter Bat is nice. I might suggest shaving {1} off the face price, but I'd rather remove "can't block" since it muddies this common with a fourth ability, and a downside that neither mode deserves. (Also this art isn't flying.)

The trick with self-recurring cards is always that if they're too strong, players will always recur them (and make the game boring), but if they're too weak, the recursion will remain unused. Weakness Potion's effect is too inefficient for me to want to cast it multiple times, much less once. As a sideboard card, though, this Potion could wreck a player with a ton of X/1s since the cost to recur it is so cheap. Spike does like sideboard cards…

Welcoming Gift is the black Prison Term. A Seal of Doom that can only be used to 'counter' a creature. For most out-of-color imitations, I'd be hesitant, but blue's stranglehold on countermagic is problematic, so I'm fine with this Gift. I particularly like the unpleasant choice it gives your opponent, knowing it's going to happen, and trying to bait it out before playing your best creatures.

Every submission was very well targeted to Spike. Too many of them weren't common (which is very much to be expected, but nonetheless something to strive to learn to do better), but they're all appealing, interesting, or both. A few very neat innovations on old ideas. Go go goblin artisans!

"Draw three cards" and 3:1 card advantage seemed like a recurring theme. It certainly can be done at common, but it needs to cost a lot or have a condition so that players don't always have a full grip, and particularly not players of certain colors where others are weak in card advantage. (Imagine how fast white and red would have to be to balance out black and blue's draw.)

Thanks to Czynski for rendering the cards.


  1. I'm happy for development to tell me Bone Dust Potion should be a Sorcery. I think you really overestimate how good this effect is. Discarding a creature card is a huge and awkward cost. Compare, for example, to Lightning Axe.

    1. That's true. I was comparing Potion to Splinters, but two cards is a lot to pay for most anything. So it's bad in most decks but still amazing in Reanimator.

    2. I'm with Tommy here. The bulk of the power in Entomb is getting to tutor out the best fatty in the deck, not getting to discard it from your hand. Reanimator does want *some* discard outlets and BDP would be a fine one, but I doubt it's broken.

    3. If development pushed this out of common, I would guess it would not be for being too powerful, but rather for being too tempting to new players when it is actually bad. I think development has been pushing as hard as it can away from commons that newer players will first pick but experienced players won't play.

      (That said, I don't think newer players would even want to play either Bone Splinters or Bone Dust Potion.)

    4. At best, I'd play this in the sideboard of a Reanimator deck. Requiring a non-shrouded creature in play to even cast it is a pretty big speedbump in a deck that wants to be as fast as possible.

    5. I'm convinced I over-estimated its power.
      I don't think it should be common, regardless, unless the set actively rewards discarding creatures.

    6. Oh yes, I definitely want this in a set that has something this synergizes with. I wouldn't put it in a core set or something. But with Scavenge, Madness, a re animation theme, etc etc.

    7. Remember that both sets that had bone splinters at common (ALA and AVR) had mechanics and themes that rewarded death. The context of the set is very important to how attractive the card is to new players.
      Seeing a new players reaction of using bone splinters on a Undying creature is far different to sacrificing something else out of necessity.

      It is far too easy to forget the context when looking at a design but I also agree that it would take a very warped format to make Bone Dust Potion appealing.

    8. I tend to aim my designs at about a C- on the LR scale unless I have a particular reason to do otherwise. I think, barring something special about the format, that's about where BDP lands.

      As such, I think it is probably right to play it about 50% of the time in a generic format, so it doesn't take too much warping to make it appealing to the right drafter.