Monday, July 6, 2015

Weekend Art Challenge Review 070115—shutupandwhisper & markmolchan

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Design a vanilla-matters card ala Muraganda Petroglyphs.

Artisan's Wheel doesn't care what abilities your creature has, only how powerful it is. That's not vanilla-matters, though it does support an environment with vanilla creatures, as they tend to be more efficient in terms of size:cost, as well as more dispensable. We got a bit extra than the challenge asked for, as this design is clearly an option for Tesla: A machine that's powerful to use, but requires a creature to operate and that breaks down if you fail to take advantage of it. Note that you wouldn't play this turn 2 unless you played a creature turn 1. You could play it the same turn you play a creature, though.

Civic Conviction is half a Muraganda Petroglyphs. It shifted to white as +1/+1 across the board is even more white and less green now than it used to be, and the flavor shifted to match. This design isn't clever, but the submission is. Ben has put the good of the hypothetical project ahead of the glory of designing something novel, and that's gold. This is how you get put on design teams. Well done!

Deathkeeper's Rite is a sorcery-speed Trumpet Blast that trades {2} for a sacrifice. Given that warm bodies are your most precious resource when casting a spell like this, the result is not a powerful card. At face-value, you'd much rather pay mana the turn you cast this.

Now let's factor in the pure blood bonus: If you sacrifice a vanilla creature, you get a free Cutthroat Maneuver and that's a significant upgrade. The end result is an uncommon that most players will pass, leaving it to the tokens player to pick up late and have a one-mana conditional Overrun.

Golga turns the Concerted Effort / Cairn Wanderer concept on its head, rewarding you for running creatures without the abilities he cares about. It's not fantastic that one solution is to simply not play other creatures, but as great a deal as Golga is maxed out, he's probably not going to be many decks' sole creature. It's very cool that you can run any number of vanilla creatures without reducing his value. It's a bit unfortunate that you can also run a ton of creatures with abilities, as long as you shy away from first strike and trample.

The types of leaders who don't become nationally-visible politicians tend to be called to service only when they see a need no one else is filling. On a personal level, I have no love for leadership, but often find myself leading lunch missions and family discussions simply out of impatience. While I don't think Golga's condition is something we want to stamp everywhere, I have to call out how neat it is to see this under-represented reality in the game, and how perfect red is for it.

Repeatable abilities on lands are dangerous, but Humble Township requires you to control creatures—vanilla creatures—and limits its use as long as you don't have an army as large as your land pile. I think this hits a sweet spot between unplayable and good-in-the-right-Limited deck as well as between unattractive and Gavony Township (which is such a bonkers card). Design-wise, I'd prefer to remove the {X} in the cost, both because the real cost is controlling vanillas, and because it confuses the matter of what sets the value of X (in fact, I think we have to use the wording "X can't be greater than the number of creatures you control"). Development-wise, this seems better balanced.

Humble Village is an Oran-Rief, the Vastwood with its restriction twisted toward vanilla creatures (or a Novijen, Heart of Progress restricted to vanillas). Like Muraganda Petroglyphs, it enhances vanillas without removing that status. I wouldn't be surprised if Dev added a small cost, or if they left it alone. This is a nice little rare land.

I was thinking hating on creatures with activated abilities was something red did once in a while, but I really couldn't find any precedent to speak of. It does seem fairly reasonable, though. Imagine "Whenever an opponent activates an ability of a creature, ~ deals 2 damage to that player." That's a nice get.

There's a disconnect on Magebane Shaman and it's that we're not punishing the activation, but combat. Certainly that's relevant against firebreathing and the like, but it's meaningless to Abzan Falconer and Royal Assassin. Even if it weren't, it's still a bit of a leap that breaks the card's poetry.

Ignoring that, I like Shaman's positioning as a hate minotaur and appreciate that it does favor vanilla creatures (though it also favors creatures with static or triggered abilities).

Muragandan Waterwheel also focuses on creatures with activated abilities. That's still a small subset of creatures with abilities, so like the Shaman this card can only deliver a tiny part of the set's overall vanilla-matters message. Cursed Totem does feel like a sideboard card that will be impactful in a metagame influenced by important colon-wielders.

A white enchantment version was proposed, and that's reasonable since white is the law-making color.

 Orcish Ritual helps you cast more spells when you play vanillas. Note that this is less powerful than "Creatures with no abilities cost you {RG} less to cast" since you still have to find a way to use the mana that remains to benefit. On one hand, I really want this to do more or cost less since it just won't be worthwhile in most decks, but not every card needs to belong in most decks and you could build a deck full of one- and two-mana vanilla creatures and just dump them on the table after casting this. I'm not sure a deck will have enough cards left to enjoy that moment after finally casting this, though.

What about "Whenever a creature you control with no abilities attacks, add {RG} to your mana pool?"

Power of the Masses offers unlimited Civic Convictions over time, conditional upon swarming the board with vanillas. That's fairly exciting but since it has no immediate impact and can only grant +1/+1 your first turn after playing it, it should cost less. I'm not sure red is important to Power's color identity.

"Twice as many or more" is an awfully awkward phrase on a card that's already bearing the burden of differentiating vanilla creatures from others. If we remove "twice as many" and just check for a simple majority, that cleans up the card conceptually while justifying the cost.

You could get "destroy target creature" for {3}{B}, so Primal Extraction isn't breaking the color pie; Even so, it looks pretty strange to see {G} and {W} on a Murder. Extraction goes on to boost your vanilla creatures with abilities that white, green and red share with blue, respectively. So you could argue that's where those colors are coming into play, helping steal the blue creature's potential. The destruction part and the team boost part are quite unrelated except for that flavor (which the card's name helps convey considerably), and that makes me want this at rare. (This is intended for a 4-color set, so we'll certainly see a lot of four-color cards below rare, but I'd hope they're not all this complex.) It's pretty clever that you can cast multiple cards from this cycle and get all the benefits since you choose the vanilla creatures long before they stop being vanilla.

Inspiring Call shows a lot of potential for conditional Shamanic Revelations. Primitive Ritual is an attractive variant giving us a good reason to play with vanillas, reaping the benefits of its condition all in cost-reduction.

I love how simple it is and want to see it printed, though I rather suspect two mana is just too cheap for a card that will draw you four cards following Goblin Rally.

Granting hexproof and indestructible at the same time will save a creature from any fate short of sacrifice or mass exile. Getting your card back when you use it on a vanilla creature is a nice bonus, and I like the way the card is playable without but really exciting with.

Note that if you had to cast a second Refuge of the Innocent in response to an extra Doom Blade, you'd only draw one card.

Simian Ritual also gives you a solid benefit with no strings attached, but a heady upgrade if you use it on a vanilla creature. That will raise some particularly interesting decisions when you've got, say, Boros Swiftblade and Glory Seeker. Cool.

Note that this being a sorcery instead of an aura would be conspicuous unless the set had a counter theme.

Red gets a Blade of the Sixth Pride?! That is most certainly an exciting vanilla creature, but that's because it's too strong for red to get at common. Uncommon could work for Smoldering-Skull Seer, as could maaaybe {R}{R} in the right set.

Bonus points for being the only vanilla submission.

Start a Village is a three-mana Final Judgment, but not really because it Kin-Tree Invocation's each player's creatures too. Village doesn't care about vanilla-ness, but it does cause it, and will often reward tough vanillas more than non-vanillas. I like the flavor that people are putting down their war-like abilities to make a life for themselves, but it's pretty hard to imagine a 4/4 or 6/6 Citizen. There's a logistical issue marking that many creatures of different sizes. I have no idea what a card like this would need to cost, but rare is definitely right and this could do some work for the player who puts work into it first.

Water Cannons contains a lot of elements that suggest a cycle of cards, but I'm not sure that's intended to be the case nor that it should be. As one-off, it offers a neat interaction with poetic text. "At random" looks rather out of place on a card with a blue mana symbol, though you can skip past the painful work of randomizing multiple different sets by just tapping as many creatures as your opponent controls. I wonder if this could be too Glare of Subdual? Dangerous space. Fun flavor.

My biggest concern with pursuing a vanilla-matters mechanic is the flavor. It's not something that immediately presents a genre analog or trope. Tokens have a similar difficulty, having significance to players but not in the game world. Not without Creative help and a stretch of the imagination. A meaningful distinction is important to anything we expect players to learn. Two flavor concepts used here were either 'primitive' or 'common' people/magic and I think both have some potential.

Tokens are also relevant to the vanilla discussion because so many token creatures are also vanilla creatures. A set that cares about vanilla creatures would definitely make tokens, but would it also care about tokens, or does that feel like re-translating the same concept? (I'm guessing the latter, but I'd love to hear opinions.) Does the ability to generate a large number of vanilla tokens ruin some of the cards we'd make that care about vanillas but assume you'll only have so many?

Alex mused "Is 'protection from red and blue' one ability or two?" He didn't wait for an answer before promptly avoiding the design that depended on it, which is smart because the answer is irrelevant; what matters is that players will ask and largely have no idea.

Despite some very cool submissions—nice work, Artisans—I remain unconvinced vanilla-matters is a reasonable sub-theme for a set, even though I really want it to be. If you disagree, I'd love to hear more.

Thanks to Pasteur for rendering the cards.


  1. Orcish Ritual was made with the idea that token making would be a common thread of the set with vanilla matters. Tokens trigger the enchantment, so cards like dragon fodder and hordeling outburst become manamorphose. Repeatable token makers like Selesynia Evangel become Elvish Mystic.

    1. For a "vanilla creatures matter" mechanical theme contained within a four-color set I'm doing, I am definitely making use of tokens. =)

    2. A couple tokens wouldn't be enough to justify Orcish Ritual, but a set like RtR with populate most certainly would. Weird how I was aware of tokens' relevance to vanilla but forgot to apply that to Ritual. Thanks for clarifying, Lee.

  2. Mardu Scout argues for 2 mana 3/1's in red.

    This was a pretty tough challenge; the only explicit way to call out abilities seemed to be the "creature with no abilities" wording. Otherwise, lots of rules wonkiness on referencing keywords or card text in general.

    1. Mardu Scout costs {R}{R}. It's also a small set common, which makes it more like an uncommon in Limited, and we can afford Smoldering-Skull Seer the same status, so that helps.

      It was _definitely_ a tough challenge. This group most always rises to the occasion and it's a beautiful thing to see.

  3. In case folks missed the reference, my design was intended to synergize with Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper.

    Also, I realized it's basically Dark Triumph (from Nemesis).

  4. For Humble Township, there is precedent for things costing X that also define X: Soul Foundry, Elite Arcanist, Prototype Portal etc. The idea was that you had to keep the number low enough that you can actually pay it if you want to use it repeatedly, sortof like Myr Prototype. I'm sure there's a much older card that does all three of cost X, use X and define X, like Humble Township does, but I can't find it now, annoyingly.

    Magebane Shaman is following in the mould of Burning-Tree Shaman - might that be the red card you were thinking of?

    And re Refuge of the Innocent, "any fate short of sacrifice or mass exile" - Well, or Hallowed Burial, or Mutilate, or All is Dust... but details :)

  5. I'd expect a vanilla-matters set not to include token-matters, as it usually picks up on them incidentally. Certainly there could be more tokens than usual, but I don't think they need explicit calling out.

    Side note: such a set would have to be really careful about tokens with haste. Could they get it until end of turn? Would players realize when tokens had haste or didn't? Especially given that R&D doesn't currently print them with the word "haste" on them. Just a thought.

    1. Ooh, that's an excellent gotcha regarding haste. Thanks, Ben!

      And, yes, I agree - having cards that care about tokens would take away from also having cards that care about vanillas. The messaging of the theme would be muddled and diminished.

  6. I like the difficulty level of your chalanges. I like to think of cards, but i am still novice. And sometimes am a little put of by the difficulty you propose. May I put a suggestion for your chalanges: Do one week a difficult one, and the other week an easy one.

    1. Every other might be more organization than I care for, but I'll look to make some easier challenges.