Monday, January 11, 2016

Spotlight Challenge 1 Final Review—Zeno Rage

Here's the challenge Zeno Rage is taking lead on:

Design a cycle of mythic rare legendary creatures to be the marquee cards for a new launch of Commander decks.

Here's the initial submission.

Let's take a look at the final submission.

Promote allows your starting commander to appoint additional commanders. Those commanders don't have to be legendary nor do they need the same color identity as you whole deck. They're also tracked seperately from your starting commander, with their own 'tax' to replay from the command zone after they die, as well as their own commander damage. That's a lot to track, but Commander players are already using pen & paper anyhow, right?

The only cost to promote is tapping your commander (from the battlefield, when it's not summoning sick). That means once you're online, you can promote one creature per round just before it would die (or at EOT, because why not). Primarily, promote is a creature-recursion mechanic. It lets you recast creatures that would otherwise be in your graveyard. Secondarily, you could promote a non-legendary creature that's really good at dealing 20 damage in an attempt to commander-kill your opponents faster. Also, all the promoters have an additional effect that makes having multiple commanders more relevant.

Corraich is a 2/5 vigilant creature that likes to juggle equipment around; as long as he's promoted once and you control any equipment, he can give your whole team +2/+5 for {4}. Oh, and I guess he makes Argentum Armor cheap and Whispersilk Cloak fast. Note that you can attack with him, and after blockers are declared, promote one of your other attackers, equip one or both of them at instant speed, and give your team +2/+4. For {4}.

I don't know Commander well enough to know if that's too powerful, but let's assume it's not or that Dev balances it; Getting to attack and block and promote every round is pretty saucy and nearly-free instant-speed equip was exciting enough for Auriok Windwalker. Granting +2/+5 is really weird, despite matching Corraich's P/T. Even just rewarding you for moving gear back and forth a lot is strange without the word "Juggler" in the card's name.

It's slightly forced that he can only throw weapons to his fellow commanders, but it kinda fits the whole promotion shtick. "I'm sorry, lass. I canna lend you my axe less'n you're an officer… Here's your badge, lieutenant."

Flash is secondary in green and tertiary (or less) in black, so that's odder here than vigilance was on our half-red dwarf. Why does Faire have flash? I guess so she can ambush 2/2s? Deathtouch seems like a gimme here.

Faire's unique ability is pretty black-green, though, counting death and cheating creatures into play. It cheats them in from your command zone, so it can only get the creatures you've promoted (that have died), making her promotions unique in that way.

Note that if my promoted Craterhoof Behemoth and my Elvish Mystic die, I can return the Behemoth at the end of the turn. That sounds like a problem in terms of power and repetition, but I'm confident Dev can find a tweak that preserves the concept.

High Monarch Oona can sacrifice herself for one of three very blue abilities, vaguely reminiscent of Cryptic Command. So what makes her black? Well, she can also sacrifice other creatures… provided she anoints them first. Y'know, so they're worth sacrificing. Dunno if it's enough to balance the colors mechanically, but that's very black thematically.

Again, since you can promote at instant speed, Oona effectively has "Sacrifice a creature, {T}: Get 1 or 2 cards. Also you can now recur the creature you sacrificed." Which is crazy good, but she is a seven-mana legend. This is a pretty neat way to iterate on an existing legend.

Tiersa (and btw 'Monster Enrager' is super-literal, but hey, it's just a playtest name) combines promote with haste, so you can promote something immediately. She grants haste to your creatures that have been beefed up (which is normally less relevant), or that have a variable P/T (which is plenty relevant). She also preserves counters on all your commanders as they die or are exiled—ala Skullbriar, the Walking Grave—making her haste-granting ability even more relevant.

Does Phantom Centaur ETB the second time as an 8/6 with haste? I think it does, because it keeps the counters from its first life (bad example, let's say it got exiled) and enters with 3 more. Maybe.

It's funny that the {R}{G} member of this cycle is the smallest, but she makes up for it quickly in the size of creatures she helps you recur.

Saint of Angels is the same as Geist of Saint Traft except that he can promote commanders to also summon angels. At first, it seems frustrating that you have to promote instead of attacking, so you don't get Traft's angel, but you simply keep Traft back where he can never be harmed and keep promoting your other creatures to make more angels, even getting the same number of angels the first turn you would have attacked with him.

One saving grace in the design of the original Geist was the fact that he did have to survive combat to keep making angels, and the commander version isn't remotely as interactive. Is that fair for +{2}? Is it fun at any cost? If killing all his lieutenants kept him check, I'd say so, but the fact that you can recur all of them as benefit of them being commanders means you'll never run out. Definitely needs playtesting to see. If it is beatable, this is another very cool legendary redux.

This is a very solid submission. I'm impressed how far Zeno Rage and his team came exploring this idea.

All five of these cards are exciting and bursting with legendary goodness.

They do a pretty good job selling the promote mechanic, though I do still have reservations about putting what is subtly but primarily a creature recursion mechanic in all these color pairs.

The group is more identifiable now, with the cards all having a vanilla keyword, promote, and a unique keyword that cares about commanders, and all with a NCD cost.

Well done!

I always welcome feedback, but since this was the first of its kind, I'd be particularly grateful for any positive or negative observations or for any ideas you have regarding the Spotlight Challenge.


  1. Nice work Zeno Rage! These look very legit. I love how you solved the problem of strictly-better commander options by requiring both creatures to be on the battlefield.

    I agree with Jay about the balance issue, though. Promote would still be plenty interesting and powerful, and arguably more flavorful, if it was limited to one use per game. What you have now is pretty bonkers-- though that's not always a bad thing in Commander.

    1. Echoing the praise and the concerns.

      But the fact is, that we can count on Dev to pressure this ability in both directions. If the final design was more conservative (with a mana cost, or some targeting restrictions, or weaker bodies on the promoter) then Dev would push it at some point to see how strong it could be. There is nothing wrong with starting with a design that might be too strong in order to emphasize the cool-factor.

  2. I liked this challenge, but I felt that it would be cool to have a "sanctioned" google doc where the cards live and are commented upon in addition to the comments space.

    I also believe that Promote could probably be limited to once per game, or changed to "if you have no creature in the command zone, put target creature card from your hand into the command zone. It becomes a commander." and the rest of tax and commander damage would be in the comprehensive rules.

    By the way, I would still love to also see the WADC come back. I am willing to help, as stated before, if you are interested for that to return, by providing images and challenges, as well as a rendering and judging the submissions.

  3. Thanks for the fantastic feedback! Sorry that I'm responding five days late, but I had finals this week.

    Id'e like to thank everyone who gave me feedback and proposed ideas. I couldn't have gotten this far without you all!

    Corriach was probably the most difficult design, and I'll admit that he's probably not finished. Like you said, vigilance isn't very red, and him adding more defense than offense isn't very red either. Remember that red isn't all fire, it also has the element of earth on its side. It might not justify the vigilance, but I think it does justify the huge toughness

    As you probably noticed, Faire has flash so she could come in on your opponents turn, after they board wiped or such.

    Not sure if you noticed this, but Tiersa affects both sides of the board, because bard flavor.

    I don't have much to say about the rest of them, other than playtesting would help to see where and how far this ability can go. And Devin's right that development can always push this either way.

    1. Thanks for your effort and coordination, Zeno. You made for a solid first Spotlight.

      I didn't notice that Tiersa's haste ability is symmetrical. Not sure the "bard flavor" is strong enough to make that the better choice.