Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Weekend Art Challenge Review 062615—artofjustaman

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Design a common green creature for this art to help mitigate an imbalanced Limited environment that otherwise favors black over green.

Defer Kavu Climber's card draw to its death, and add Wandering Wolf's evasion (which could totally be the next menace), and you get Ancient Shellback. That's a strong common, but no better than Messenger Drake. Hard to block and annoying to kill, this should be strong for the situation described, without necessarily being a first-pick. Seems random that it's a turtle, but I'm guessing most every submission will feel that way. Nice work.

Monogreen Rendclaw Trow will do good work in any format featuring both those keywords. +2 turtley toughness is a flavor hit, but also makes the wither much stronger, and this card relatively terrifying. Compare to Harvest Gwyllion. I'd be happy to play this at {4}{G}.

Charging Colossodon is a green Lava Axe with the potential to kill your opponent all by itself, as well as the potential to die to Last Gasp. It dodges the living hell of Catacomb Slug but dies to Giant Scorpion, where it would prefer trample. Neither weak nor strong generally, but definitely swingy.

It's not a creature, but Awaken the Bear plus Ranger's Guile can do a lot of work for you, saving a creature from removal, helping you defeat a Slug (and live to tell the tale), or making you feel better about trading your Rumbling Baloth with a Scorpion by trampling 4 damage through. Just be careful not to Gift of the Mossback your creature only to lose both cards to Doom Blade.

Granite Greenshell is stopped by the Slug and trades with the Scorpion. Its scavenge ability, however, gives it value after death (or discard): A free +4/+4 for seven mana; enough to make another Greenshell trump every common creature. This is a real upgrade over Stampeding Rhino, but far from inconceivable. If the set already has scavenge, is a fatty the thing it needed to overcome black's answers? (Maybe?)

Heh. I don't think we'll be seeing protection at common anymore, but I've got to admit this solution hits the nail on the head: Hardshell Rumbler can't be Doom Blade'd and it can't be blocked by any of black's creatures. Slick.

Hardshell Turtle Beast has a sort of auto-scavenge. I wouldn't pay six mana for this, since it still loses to Slug and Mind Rot, but Dev can tweak the numbers. Inanimate wonders about five mana for a 3/3 and that does appeal a good bit more without losing anything at all in our scenario. Matching the p/t to the bonus also makes the story much clearer, and it's a good story. This solution is simpler and more applicable than Granite Greenshell.

Sacred does nothing inherently, but will always be paired with an ability that's relevant to some type of removal. Hoary Shellback responds to Murder with Regrowth, which is a nice conditional rattlesnake: sometimes more than enough to ward off removal and and sometimes not. You could also make sacred triggers that respond to bounce or auras. It's definitely too late to add a new keyword to our theoretical set, but sacred really doesn't need to be a keyword anyhow: "When ~ dies, if it was the target of a spell or ability an opponent controls this turn, Regrowth." Note that this isn't common (but mainly just for power reasons), and shouldn't exist alongside Rumbling Baloth, but it was designed before I added that scenario.

Lichenous Troglydon is a green Hill Giant that gets really mad when your team takes a beating. A 5/5 with menace is very nice for four mana, and shouldn't be hard to reach while you're losing honestly, which is a great time to power up. If we were to see a new subset of threshold, 3+ creatures seems like a solid way to go. Boosted Troglydon can't be blocked by a long Scorpion or lone Slug and is boosted by trading other creatures with the Scorpion as early as possible.

Luring Armadon is a partial basilisk, luring a subset of creatures. Specifically, those that can't kill Armadon on their own. It can force a Scorpion to trade with it, and it can distract a Slug, letting your other creatures sneak through. That's a great spot in terms of power level (though it's fighting with Rumbling Baloth on the mana curve), but it does push complexity a bit. A neat solution I've not seen elsewhere.

Marauding Toughshell is a Nessian Courser that can kill a small creature every round once you've got a bunch of spare mana. Given how dangerous repeatable removal is, I'm glad it's so expensive, though it's still an amazing deal given how efficient the initial body is. I'd happily draft this with a mana cost of {3}{G}. Even then, common is a push. Toughshell doesn't have any advantages against discard (actually, being cheap helps), removal (except keeping 6 mana open to respond to some), or Scorpions, but it does trade with Slug when you get to six land.

Non Durdle Turtle is a big green rare for Timmy. To that end, it's cool. It evades removal, but is particularly vulnerable to discard. It can trade with a Giant Scorpion (but would be sad to) and it can't get past a Catacomb Slug. For this challenge, not a great fit.

Resilient Mosshusk also uses hexproof to avoid removal, but can trade with a Slug. You're still sad to swap it for a Scorpion, but it can brutalize a defenseless opponent, and an aura or combat trick could make it a huge threat. I wouldn't print such an efficient attacker in a set that had, say, Flight, but in many sets it should be fine. Mosshusk is our simplest solution yet.

Shambling Moss-Shell introduces a new ability to the game: It can't be damaged by less powerful creatures (like Scorpion). That'll often play as "can't be blocked by smaller creatures" but trades some offensive pressure for defensive applications. That alone on a 3/2 for three would be pretty neat. The addition of deathtouch lets this trump Slug, but also pushes us into uncommon, both for power and complexity. Assuming the damage prevention ability is sufficiently green (and I'm not sure it isn't, though it would feel more natural in white), this minus deathtouch would be a nice common.

Snapper Survivor can become indestructible for its mana cost. That makes it safe from removal and Scorpions, and can coerce a Slug into blocking somewhere less effective. That's simple and effective.

It also raises the question, why do we bother with regeneration? Activated indestructibility is largely identical but doesn't sound like it should work very different from how it does.

Sporeback Troll follows a similar route using regeneration. You don't have to leave as much mana up to activate it, but it transfers your loss of cardboard from your creature to a land (which will often be correct, but will sometimes land-screw you). It also allows you to regenerate anything, which suddenly makes it feel uncommon to me. Note it was designed before I added the scenario.

Swamp Crasher loves to be blocked by black creatures, growing tougher and more violent. It trumps Slug and trades with Scorpion +3 trample. For three mana, I'd main-deck this in Limited and be happy as long as it doesn't get Disfigured. Direct. Solid.

I also like the evades-black version: It's even simpler and more direct, but this is more interactive, and further from intimidate/landwalk (which aren't being nixed, btw, just demoted from evergreen).

Thick-Shelled Tortoise gives you a nice sized creature for your mana, and then a Blade of the Sixth Pride when it dies. It won't shine against a Slug or discard, but it fairs well against removal and Scorpions, as well just a whole lot of situations. Too strong for common? Is the flavor that it's having a baby? Or that it loses its shell but comes back to life?

A 2/4 with flash and death touch will do a lot of damage. Should 2:1 a good majority of the time, and then gum the board up good. Sounds uncommon strength to me. You don't want to attack with it, unless the only other creature around is a Slug. Doesn't avoid removal, but I guess you could argue flash saves it from discard. I like how simple and effective it is, but it's not the most effective solution to the challenge.

Trunkshell regenerates for free when attacking. Sorry, when blocked. Nearly the same, but not exactly. I can buy that at common. That's quite good on a 4/3 for five, but not obviously too good for common. It beats Scorpion but is stopped cold by Catacomb Slug. Fully vulnerable to removal, though there is a window where your opponent makes a good block and then you surprise them with a combat trick and their removal can only end the combat. Not bad.

Unbreakable Shell-Beast is a bigger Snapper Survivor. It'll take a lot longer to get online, and you'll have to pay more often to keep it alive, but 6 indestructible power will often be worth it. Sure will suck to have it Geistflamed the turn you play it.

Venomous Turtle takes a similar approach to Shambling Moss-Shell but gets straight to the point preventing Giant Scorpion's deathtouch damage. That difference adds a nice symmetry to its own deathtouch. As a 2/4 with deathtouch, this three-mana creature is effectively a 10/4 in creature combat which is definitely too efficient for common. In fact, the uniqueness of its ability really wants this to be uncommon regardless of size.

Wandering Wolfdad uses the Wandering Wolf ability to attack right past Scorpion and Slug. I'm not buying this art as a wolf, or even a wolf-turtle, but I like this solution mechanically. It has no resistance to removal, but at least it can hit the board before discard becomes an issue.

War Tortoise has the Fog Bank ability, but only when blocked, not when blocking. Because I don't know why.

Ignoring that weird flavor, War Tortoise does a good job addressing the challenge: It's immune to removal and can attack into anything, either killing a Scorpion or distracting a Slug. The neat thing about hexproof here is that you really don't want to boost this creature to opponent-stomping sizes.

It's definitely hard to make a strong common without treading uncommon territory. The trick here was that it we didn't need an abstractly strong common, just one that would adjust a particular matchup favorably.

Anyhow, I'm quite pleased with the number of different approaches the group used. If the challenge were more specific, we'd likely be able to pick one as the best for it, because there are a good number of viable options given the information we established.

This challenge was much more development than design. That's not the primary goal of this site, but it is closely related and with a lot of overlap. Importantly, our design skills inform our dev skills (and vice versa).

I wasn't able to read every comment in the challenge thread, but I saw a lot of good discussion there. That's fantastic: That back-and-forth is where the bulk of our learning should come from. Treasure that and reciprocate. Everyone wins.

Thanks to Fading for rendering the cards. I caught a few errors, so if I missed one, let me know.


  1. I'd like to award some sort of Badge of Constructive Criticism to Tommy for his consistently thoughtful and widespread feedback for damn near everyone.

    Also, I'm a little sad my flavor text keeps getting left of my submissions.

    1. Agreed. It's not just Tommy, but Tommy has definitely been kicking feedback ass and we're grateful.

    2. Aww, thanks! Better than a "Badge of We'd Like Tommy to Shut Up"

  2. "Activated indestructibility is largely identical but doesn't sound like it should work very different from how it does."

    I kept asking this, and people who seemed to have more experience with development than me said it was close, but it mattered that it was removed from combat and tapped (so if it would die, it didn't deal combat damage that turn, and couldn't block next turn).

    I wonder as a combination of simple and relevant, would it work to have a meld of activated-indestructible with someone's immortal, say:

    "2G: CARDNAME gains resilient UEOT. (If it would be destroyed, return it to its owner's hand instead.)"

    1. In a sense it matters, yes... in that it's a strike against regeneration, because regeneration has those extra aspects to it that are confusing and normally don't matter.

      (One important difference: activated indestructibility is much better against first striking attackers than activated regeneration is.)

      I think activated indestructibility is much more sensible than regeneration. I think it's moderately likely that eventually Wizards will reach the same conclusion. Maro has certainly mentioned the problems with regeneration a few times.

    2. Removing the creature from combat so it doesn't hit back is the most relevant quirk of regeneration, and something activated indestructibility would have to account for, but it's very likely worth the massive simplification and alignment with player expectations.

    3. "doesn't hit back" only mattering in the case of first or double strike, right?

    4. Or damage spells, but yeah, good point.

    5. What about something like this?

      Immortal G (When this dies, you may pay G. If you do, return it to the battlefield tapped.)

      This way first/double strike still work against it like regen, and the tapped keeps it from being an infinite blocker.

    6. While that's clean, it has a different set of weaknesses from Regeneration/indestructibility. You can use it against -X/-X effects, as well as edicts, and even your own sac effects (which is probably the deal breaker, unless we see very conservatively costed ones for the modern future, which isn't unthinkable.)

      The creature is now open to graveyard hate, though, which might not be a bad thing. A way to combat Immortal bombs, at least.

    7. We could add "if it wasn't sacrificed."


  3. I am sorry for the errors. Many times there were too many versions and I must have missed some cards that were submitted as responses to other submissions.

    1. Mine looks perfect (and you even got the last minute cost change). Thanks very much for doing the renders!

    2. I'm glad you sent the MSE file, Anastase. It was definitely less work for me to edit that than make a new one. Thanks.

    3. Some of the cards I missed were earlier submissions which I thought had been "rejected", like the instant instead of creature. I think that next week if I do it again I will be doing it progressivelly as cards get inputted, to keep me from slipping again. I will also send you some suggestions.

  4. Scavenge wouldn't nesc. have to be in the set for my Granite Greenshell to work; it could go on the card and be spelled out (like how new flip Jace gives not-flashback). It'd eat up some complexity points, sure, but doesn't seem too out-there since what you're getting is just sorcery speed counters. By making it a scavenge trigger rather than a death trigger, you get some power reduction (because dumping 7 mana into a card isn't cheap even if it's a "free" effect, I suspect the 3/3 for 3GG that gives 3 counters on death proposed in a different submission would be stronger), and it's resilient to discard in a apparently discard-heavy environment, where the death trigger wouldn't be.

    It has its problems against dumping 7 into the scavenge then biting a removal spell, but since the game with Slugs is probably stalling out anyway it's likely not as bad as it looks, and with the death trigger you get the feel-bads of that being your only creature when it gets killed by a Doom Blade. I dunno, I feel like a "counters on death" trigger version is less of a good answer in the proposed environment, but maybe that's just me.

    1. I agree with all of that, except bringing back scavenge as-is minus the keyword.

  5. The flavor of Thick-Shelled Tortoise was supposed to imply that the first time you hit it, you only break through the shell, and then you still have to deal with the shell-less tortoise. The token doesn't sell that perfectly, but I wasn't going to put a -0/-3 counter on it, since this isn't Alpha.

    1. Heh. Yeah. Of course we'll need other cards that make 3/1 turtles to justify the token as well.

      Thick-Shelled Tortoise ETB with a shell counter on it. As long as it has a shell counter on it, it gets +0/+3. If it would die, you may remove a shell counter from it instead.

  6. The flavor of the fog ability on War Tortoise? C'mon, Jay. When they get in a fight, to hide in their shell. Why not on the block too? No flavor justification here, but a mechanical need. Because, otherwise new players would never attack with them.

    I came up with this design very late in the process, and didn't have flavor text to explain why they don't like to hide in their shell while blocking. I figured "War" was a good enough name to connote an aggressive attack-focused creature. It's no peaceable blocker type.

    1. If the Tortoise hid when blocking but not when attacking, that would make perfect sense. How does it attack while hiding in its shell? And if it would do that, why wouldn't it do that when it's blocking? This is anti-flavor: We do the exact opposite of the resonant story and actively confuse the audience.

    2. When two creatures engage in combat, they do a whole bunch of stuff to settle who lives and who dies. Knights swing swords, bash with shields. This thing charges toward the enemy planeswalker, and if a knight steps in the way, it ducks into its shell to survive. Both creatures step away unscathed. I don't think it's anti flavor, but it's not as obviously resonant as I thought either.

    3. Mechanicswise, it's basically a Gustcloak. I dig it.

      I agree that the name didn't hit the flavor spot on. I actually read this guy as a Turtle Coward. It only wants to attack when the opponent is defenseless.