Monday, December 14, 2015

Weekend Art Challenge Review 121115--Copia / Seb / Casiopeia

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Choose one of these illustrations and design a card that cares about the cards Act on Impulse exiles or combos with red cards like it in some way. For bonus points, make a mechanic usable for multiple cards (demonstrated on a single card).

Flamebringer of the Beyond was a late entry, but it's worth discussing. Soulfire is like prowess but for exiling creatures instead of casting noncreature spells. In any given core set that would fire a lot less (mostly just off of Act on Impulse and Incinerate)—which makes the upside on this very efficient two-drop reasonable for Limited—but the combo potential with delve or similar mechanics (but not ingest) could push it to Constructed power levels.

Of course, to justify soulfire as a keyword, there would need to be enough of it in the set, and that would require real support, increasing the power level drastically. Even so, Dev wouldn't need to do much to balance Flamebringer for that environment. For the same reason prowess doesn't need a variable, neither does soulfire.

Warmind General is a little rare with a lot of potential, drawing you a card (that can't be discarded) every time it attacks. Cast Dream Pillager or Commune with Lava and it extends red's one-turn only drawing for as long as you can keep your General alive. There might be a memory issue since this doesn't let you cast cards exiled before it's played, or cards exiled by opponents; perhaps you can put eligible cards underneath this one?

That combo's cool. What concerns me is that you don't even have to try to combo with this. Gloom Surgeon, Leveler, Spoils of the Vault and Arc-Slogger are all nuts here. We also get a null trigger with cascade, triggering a bunch of times but leaving us with no cards to actually cast. Exiling cards from your library as a cost, or as a process might be too pervasive to allow this effect.

On the other hand, it is just a 2/2.

Ares avoids memory issues by just grabbing all your creatures from exile, no matter how or when they got there. Attacking with any number of creatures this way, much less bringing them into play at all could very easily be Game Over on the very first attack. In Limited, it'll be harder to exile many creatures (necessarily by design) and in Standard, your opponent has a chance to kill Ares first, but that potential definitely makes this mythic. I would also consider a less swingy version that just borrows one creature from exile each time, still rewarding more exile with better options without becoming a must-kill blow-out so fast.

I can imagine a Rise of Valkyries flavor for this effect.

Firespit appears to be a red-only cycling variant. I'm not sure why it's templated so differently, but that's something Rules/Editing can fix. More interesting is the question of how we'd use a cycling variant that can only appear in one color, and whether red needs more direct damage. While firespit should clearly always have a red activation, we could put it on spells of other colors. Alternately, perhaps the block firespit appears in features one cycling variant for each color; that seems like spending too much of our keyword budget on a mechanic that rarely gets focus at all, but it's conceivable. What would an environment look like that expects tons of Geistflames? Everything has toughness 2+?

How does this combo with Act on Impulse? Ahhh, now we see why the template is funny: So you can firespit cards you exile that you couldn't afford to cast otherwise. Does that combo justify confusing players about the mechanic's main purpose? Could it be cooler to go all-in on the cast-from-library angle?

Boros Battlemage helps you to chain red spells together, and it helps your white weenie army grow, and those two abilities self-combo in a very impressive way for red-white spells. Nice.

Oh, and also it's branded. That last bit definitely nudges us over from strong uncommon up into rare territory. Can we mention 'color identity' in regular Magic, or does this have to be a Commander product?

The combo with Act on Impulse is that it helps you cast more of the red spells you exile via Impulse (or rewards you for casting the white ones).

Banishing rewards you whenever you exile a card—from anywhere, your library, your hand, your opponent's library, either graveyard, opposing permanents. That could happen a lot in Constructed thanks to Bloodbraid Elf and kin. It's not hard to imagine Banished-Steel Flamekin dealing lethal damage in just a couple strikes. Since Limited is unlikely* to enable that, being a common isn't a problem for power level, but I would want to test board complexity when there are a few banishing creatures on board and instant-speed exile effects kicking around. Very good with Act on Impulse.

*Of course, we've got to ask why banishing is in the set if there aren't a good number of exile effects to enable it, whether something conditional like delve or more aggressive like ingest. It might be hard to develop banishing against many effects, particularly at common.

Flamecage Defector is another rare wearing uncommon boots. Cards with the potential to be 4-for-1s tend to be rare (or mythic); that its not obvious how one reaches that potential doesn't make it any more common. As a rare, this is a cool red-white card, though you could remove haste and still have a very cool mono-white card.

Note that Act on Impulse allows you to cast a spell from exile, but the creature that spell produces will still ETB from the stack, where the spell goes after being cast. Rules / Editing can re-template. Once they do, this card rewards us for casting it from exile, something not many effects outside of Impulse's class provide. That's some precision targeting. But is it too precise? Would the set need more such outlets to justify this card's existence? If liberated is an ability word, surely.

Pull of the Deathless is a Resurrect from exile. If we're going to pull whatever we like out of exile—and that's a big if—this is a very simple and natural way to do it. The interaction with Act on Impulse is very real, but we're not hitting players over the head with it, so when they do figure it out, they get to feel clever. Nice.

White doesn't reanimate large creatures anymore, but you could argue it's the expert at getting things back from exile (after first trapping them there, sure, but hey, experience is experience).

Is it worth the can of worms that opening up exile is? Probably not on its own, but maybe there's a time and place for it.

Lavashaper Flamekin is very similar to Banished-Steel Flamekin, but only triggers when you play a card from exile rather than putting one there, which will happen quite a lot less. I would still want to see support for this in Limited, and that would look rather different from the support banished needs. Depending how common those are, and how many are instant-speed, Lavashaper could potentially even +2/+0 (though Goblin Piker isn't completely unplayable).

Neat exploration. It's a tricky design space, for sure, and I think we did a good job of finding some of its boundaries.

The fact that no one chose the land art is telling: A land in this space kind of begs to use exiled cards as resources, but ingest exists because plumbing your own exile zone is too all-or-nothing, and thus impossible to develop. I suppose we could make a rare land with "{T}: Add {2} to your mana pool. Use this mana only to cast spells from exile" but two wrongs don't make a right.

Almost none of these effects were flavorful. That wasn't part of the challenge, of course, but any design is improved when the mechanics resonate thematically. This is another ding against this design space: There isn't much mechanical space, nor thematic space, and the overlap between the two is even tinier.

Thanks to AlexC for rendering the cards.


  1. FWIW, I agree with the downsides of Firespit, I don't know if it's printable. But the intention was:

    * You compare it to geistflame, but remember, it can only hit players, not creatures, and I think that's a significant difference. I aimed for a small utility effect that would be useful sometimes (red always wants more reach) and make the card not-blank if the normal effect isn't playable, but not take up "how does this affect the board" mental attention, and not overshadow the normal use of the card.

    * To have a simple cycling variant in each colour (which is more complex than one mechanic, but I think less complex than five mechanics).

    * It doesn't have to ONLY go on red. A white card with R cycling can be in W or R deck, but better in a RW deck, and players can figure that out at whatever pace suits them.

    * I agree, the template is unfortunate, but I don't think it's a pure negative: players aren't born knowing that "2, discard" doesn't count as casting, and I think people often get confused which effects they can use when they can't cast spells, or which effects don't trigger "when you cast" etc. Having a cycling variant that IS casting needs to be developed differently, but if the reminder text can be found, might have upsides as well.

    1. Only hitting players does make a big difference, requiring almost no movement in the environment to compensate; sorry I misread that.

    2. No worries! I did consider geistflame, "player only" was my best guess, but I appreciated someone else's opinion: I was not at all sure if that was too strong or too weak.

      I like it more if someone else thinks its about right for a cycling variant. Though I agree the template differences and need for five different mechanics are still a problem.

      R: 1 dmg
      W: Gain 1 (or 2)
      U: Scry 1??
      B: ?? (Of course, B and R can swap, but then I need red)
      G: untap land??

  2. Ugh, it bums me out that paired triggers and a block keyword would bump the cycle I imagined for Boros Battlemage up to rare. It seems like such a natural Build-Around me Uncommon for Limited. Jay, you didn't actually say whether any of the keywords people suggested would be fitting for multiple cards. What do you think about Brand in a Guild or Shard set? Does it have legs in your opinion?

    1. I think there's a set where brand could work, but it might actually be a mostly non-gold set where the average deck is two-colors; Ravnica is about two-color guilds but promotes three-color decks, limiting how often brand will trigger. Then again, maybe we need that limit to allow brand to be cheap/powerful. Anyhow, I'd guess a mechanic like this would live on 5-10 cards in its block.

  3. Maybe they could be different cycles? Battlegate Mimic and tribe were common and had "when you cast a spell that's both red and white". That's not quite the same as Brand, but it seems like, in a set that wants brand on two-colour creatures at all, there may not be any three-colour spells in the set anyway.

    If it was JUST the paired abilities it might squeak in at uncommon. Though I think I find "you may pay" abilities a bit more complicated than other ones too.

  4. I am quite impressed with the work done! When I suggested this I was thinking about cards I would design and was quite literally stumped at reasonable yet flavorful NWO effects. Some of these effects could go on to live in other cards too, like the random choices cards do.

  5. I think the elemental on fire was maybe a tad too obvious for an art challenge involving synergy with red cards. If I wasn't deliberately going for the gimmick of "rework Debt to the Deathless to fit the challenge", I would have chosen it too.

  6. In retrospect I wish I'd made my Flamekin an uncommon that gets a much larger a bonus from casting things from exile. It's the kind of effect I'd like to build a casual deck around, like my Boros Battleshaper deck :) There are a bunch of mechanics that synergise with "whenever you cast a spell from exile": suspend, rebound, madness, hideaway, cascade... (sadly not cipher or ingest) as well as oneoffs like Bring to Light, Colfenor's Plans, Elite Arcanist, *Eye of the Storm* haha!, Jeleva, Kaho, Mizzix's Mastery, Narset, Possibility Storm, and so on and so on.

    Just getting +1/+0 and first strike isn't really enough reward, like why my casual Flamespeaker Adept deck has never been built. Something more like Burning Vengeance would have been more sensible (though harder to suit to the art).