Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Spotlight Challenge 2 Final Review—lpaulsen

Here's the challenge lpaulsen took lead on:

Come up with a new kind of mana cost or iterate on an existing one, and design 5 commons and 5 non-commons that demonstrate its value.

Here's the initial submission.

Let's take a look at the final submission.

Abyssal Hunter remains unchanged from last week (except the inclusion of reminder text). I'm still not as comfortable with this at five mana as I would be at six, and I don't love how this switches from wall to bigger Rumbling Baloth to Phantasmal Abomination based on your opponent's deck. If the set is pushing everyone to play some Wastes (not just {C}, but Wastes), that makes it (a slightly under-costed) Godhunter Octopus—but if the set always uses hybrid {C} mana then a lot of players won't need Wastes at all.

Desolation Shade got a point of power, and it makes a real difference justifying the card's cost relative to Looming Shade. I'd still only play this in Limited if my landbase was mono-{B} or {B}/{C} (and I probably wouldn't play it in Standard, but it could be mono-{C} there).

Horizon Warder got bigger. It's now a 3/3 flyer for {3}{W}{W} or 4/4 for {3}{C}{C}. 4/4 is huge for a common flier, but requiring two Wastes is a significant challenge; as long as the sets wants that swingy-ness, this seems solid.

Lonesome Elemental's activation cost for it's Demolish ability costs two mana now, and I think that's wise. This is a good looking card, assuming we want colorless mana to help attack colorless cards (which I'm not entirely sold on).

Waste Explorers gained a toughness, helping it compare better against Ondu Giant. I still expect players won't have spare Wastes to use as the token in Limited; that's never a problem for other token makers, and I don't know that it would be for a land token either.

Dust Storm is our uncommon. A red burn spell vaguely like Searing Blaze that deals 6 damage to a creature for {C}{C}, 3 damage to a creature and 2 to its controller for {C}{R}, or 4 damage to a creature's controller for {R}{R}. Even at sorcery-speed, you've got to recognize that's a lot for two mana. Red doesn't often get to deal 6 damage to a creature, and it's not here, either; colorless is.

I'd be very curious to see how the deck plays that runs only colorless lands and all of these hybrid spells. I have to imagine that it's raw power, combined with some of the range that a five-color deck offers, would make up for the limited card choices. Might be hard to develop around.

Fragment of Eternity could almost be mono-blue, but I can sort of buy it as five-color or all-colorless. I expect in practice, it'll usually be cost with four or five colorless sources and one or zero colored sources. It's pretty cool. It might actually be a little under-powered for its cost.

Not sure why Kozilek's Holdout traded devoid for "~ is colorless." Perhaps because it's not part of Battle for Zendikar block and doesn't want to reuse the keyword… but it's clearly an Eldrazi, so I guess it comes from the next plane attacked by the extraplanar scourge.

It has an appropriately weird recursion ability: If it would leave play through any means—or if it gets countered on its way into play—it hides out in exile where you can cast it again. The only way to deal with it is to remove it from exile while it's waiting, like with a processor, or to Arrest / Claustrophobia it (which could both be answered by sacrificing it). That's a nearly unmatched level of resilience, though for a 5cc 4/4 rare, probably fair. Black/Blue/Colorless seems like an appropriate color identity. Cool.

Ulagmog's Spite is a {C}/{G} Blood Moon. I'm not sure why it's green given the massive precedent of Blood Moon, but maybe it's time for a color shift? I'd probably just make this {2}{C}. I definitely like how simple and how colorless it is. Actually makes more thematic sense than Blood Moon.

Since we're using Wastes land tokens at common, I wonder if the set would rather have a {C}/{R} Spreading Seas that destroys a land and replaces it with a Wastes token (probably at un/common). Depends on the set.

This time, Start Anew is only {C}/{U} and doesn't counter itself. Better. This could be mono-blue, but I'm sure the all-colorless deck is happy to have it. I still have no idea why you'd Time Stop yourself (assuming you're Time Walking regardless), but maybe Jenny can figure it out.

I'm still not sure what colorless-hybrid represents in the game's fiction, and the presence of both nearly-devoid Eldrazi and not-at-all-devoid non-Eldrazi doesn't help, though in fairness my challenge didn't require all ten cards to be from the same set. I'm glad the rare cycle was broken up so that we could see more possible uses for colorless-hybrid.

This week did show improvement over last week, and there's an unmistakable baseline of quality present here. I'm still not sold on the mechanic, but Luke knew it would be a push. Ultimately, I'm not sure that making opposites (colored versus colorless) interchangeable is a win for the game. I'd be really curious to see if colorless-twobrid would have legs: {2}/{C}.

I thought this Spotlight Challenge succeeded in letting us watch a designer explore a mechanic in more depth than we usually see, but I was frustrated with how little discussion it generated. Some of that was likely due to Luke being too busy during the second week, but it may also have been a flaw inherent to the challenge.

I'd like to try one more before assuming so. Who's interested in having a go at a Spotlight Challenge starting this Friday and going for the next two weeks?


  1. I'm still available and interested in the project.

    For my part I checked in multiple times. I even wrote a few comments, but I scrapped them because they ended up going nowhere. I really couldn't think of anything original to contribute past an initial comment about alternate costs. I think the last challenge was more open. We hit multiple walls, followed a few ideas and then chucked them and still had room to progress. Not saying that should be the aim of ever challenge, but it will certainly be easier to find a 'hit' if that is the mode.

  2. Yeah, I like what was attempted this week, but I agreed the hybrid colorless maybe ended up as a bit of a dead end.

    Is the designer allowed/encouraged to make extra posts about it midweek? I felt a lot of the criticism on the designs last week was apt, but ideally the conversation would have been restarted with a "here's the position, here's the best available alternatives, any other suggestions" post, not IPaulson trying to solve those all by himself. Or maybe there was more discussion in the comments but it's hard to follow over a longer period of time.

    Would it have been acceptable to choose two or three potential mechanics and ask if anyone else wants to submit an initial design for them, in the first couple of days? And then chosen the best to iterate on?

    1. The lead can solicit any kind of contribution.

  3. Thanks again for putting this challenge on, Jay! I agree, the mechanic I ended up with is not the best, but it was a great learning experience.

    To answer a couple of your questions / concerns: This set is supposed to be located on Zendikar, and there are only a few devoid or true-colorless cards (which is why Devoid is not a mechanic; it doesn't really interact with much) that represent the remnants of the Eldrazi after their defeat at Sea Gate. But the set is mostly about the Zendikari adapting to life on a devastated, semi-post-apocalyptic plane.

    I believe Start Anew could be quite a beating against Draw-Go styles of play: you Dig Through Time at the end of my turn, I respond with Start Anew and it acts like Time Walk plus Counterspell.

    1. And it bears saying that no design exercise is a failure that teaches us something.

  4. I have to admit that I was also frustrated about the lack of discussion. I wonder if the comments of the blog are the easiest place to have a discussion, but this is yet another matter.

    Ipaulsen, good work. I wish you had given us the information on how you imagined the world to be, that would have helped generate discussion, but in general I find the first week's discussion to have been quire interesting.

    I also feel like {2}/{C} could be an interesting space to explore.