Monday, January 18, 2016

Spotlight Challenge 2 Initial Review—lpaulsen

Here's the challenge lpaulsen is taking 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.

Let's take a look at the initial submission.

I'm going to guess that 1/U means {C}/{U}. So Abyssal Hunter can be cast with {3}{U}{U}, {3}{C}{U}, or {3}{C}{C}. That's weird and I don't love it, but it closely fits what we've seen of {C} so far (which I also don't fully love), and I'm going to take Wizards' opinion over my own.

Abyssal Hunter is a 5/5 blue common for five with a well-simplified islandhome / wasteshome. Blue gets 6/6 serpents for six at common with attacking restrictions, and I'm not particularly offended to see an octopus in that slot. Trading six for five rubs me slightly wrong, but it's certainly not a power problem, and the intentional weirdness of it being partially colorless sort of justifies that.

"Can't attack unless defending player controls" has only been used twice since M10; on Godhunter Octopus, which gives us precedent for a 5/5 common Octopus in the serpent slot, but reinforces the six-mana cost; and Sealock Monster, which is 5/5 Octopus for five, but at uncommon. Both of which tackle the problem with this condition in a new way. Godhunter isn't binary based on the colors your opponent has to be running, but on whether they're playing enchantments or not, and almost every Limited deck in Theros was running some number, making our condition more of a probability gradient than an on-off switch for the entire game. Sealock lets you give your opponent an Island, so the colors your opponent are running only determine how soon it can attack.

For the same reason intimidate and landwalk are no longer used, islandhome really isn't ideal. Wasteshome is defensible for the same reason Godhunter is. The combination therefore must be okay?

Red can destroy lands and artifacts, which accounts for all colorless permanents except Eldrazi. Ruins of Oran-Rief and Forerunner of Slaughter suggest colorless can target colorless, though the precedent is positive interaction not negative. 3/2 is safe for {1}{R}{R} and {1}{C}{C}, even with Reckless Reveler's ability. Except for not being sure we want colorless to hate itself, Bereaved Elemental is a solid common… maybe a hair too good at killing land.

Here, we've got confirmation that I interpreted the symbol correctly. Cool. I'd expect this reminder text on all colorless-hybrid cards—all the commons for absolute certain.

Desolation Shade is strictly worse than Looming Shade for a mono-black deck (and than a colorless Looming Shade for a mono-colorless deck), which means its only purpose is in a black-colorless deck, where it… well it doesn't really shine there, it just is playable there.

I'm underwhelmed. Maybe instead:
{B}: ~ gets +1/+1 until EOT.
{C}: ~ gets +2/+2 until EOT.
Or something?

Horizon Warder is 2/2 flyer for {2}{W}{W} or a 3/3 flyer for {2}{C}{C}. Why would I play this in a white deck with no colorless mana sources?

I'd rather see {2}{W} 2/2 flying with this ability. Happy to dissect why if anyone asks.

If land tokens are ever going to be a thing, a Wastes land token seems most likely. It's neat that without the context of {C} costs, this is worse than "search your library for a basic land card" or even a "forest." With that context, it's better, of course, though Ondu Giant is strictly better except for being slower to execute (and not being castable in a non-green deck, but Solemn Simulacrum).

Note that players would use actual Wastes as their Wastes token, except that they'll be running all their Wastes main in Limited (because this cycle tells them to), so they'll end up using a tips-and-tricks card anyhow.

This cycle's pretty loose for common, matching just card type, double hybrid cost, and something to do with Wastes or other colorless permanents.

How many colorless lands does this set intend to have to support a common cycle with double {C}/C costs? I get that you need 0 to play these, but clearly we're expected to be able to pay {C}{C} on turns 3 or 4 some of the time, or these wouldn't be costed as they are.

If I replace each instance of {C}/C with C on Gatewatch Captain, does the card lose anything? That would make it always {R}{W}, where now it can be {C}{R} or {C}{W} or even just {C}, so it would go into fewer decks. What if it cost {2}{RW}{RW}{RW}{RW} instead? I guess my biggest complaint about this cycle is that it emphasizes strongly what I personally like least about {C}—which is that it should not be a 1:1 substitute for colored mana because that erodes the color pie significantly.

As good as Captain's second {T} ability is, there's less value protecting this creature if you can't use its first {T} ability.

Now this feels colorless. And {C}/{U} works here too. Not sure what the {R} is bringing.

Very white+black. Decently white/black. Arguably colorless.

Start Anew is almost "Choose Time Stop or Time Walk" but a little more complicated. And sometimes green for some reason?

Ulamog's Spite is an Engineered Blood Moon. It also boosts your creatures keying off of your opponent's new Wastes as well as your own.

In theory, Spite's main ability is really neat. It's not land destruction but it is color disruption, and it has cool flavor. In practice, its mere existence in a format might well eliminate the existence of mono-colored decks, which seems terrible. Also, it punishes basic lands and ignores (most) nonbasic lands, which favors wealthier players even more than Constructed already does.

The second ability does a nice job of complementing the first mechanically. At first, I thought it was a flavor mismatch, but I guess if I'm playing this it's in a {C}-splash-{BG} deck and I'll have some Eldrazi to benefit from your ruination.

Why are some colorless-hybrid cards devoid and some not? Alternately, why are some Eldrazi-themed and some not? Shouldn't they all be one or the other?

Two-color colorless-hybrid raises a lot of parameters. These cards have to both serve a purpose in a {C}C deck, and a {C}D deck, and a {C} deck, as well as be justifiable within the color pie for all three 'colors.' I think only Mourn the Fallen accomplished that feat satisfactorily.

lpaulsen, unless you can mount a huge amount of iteration I think you're committed to the colorless-hybrid design. I do think it's doable, but it's tricky because what-does-that-really-mean? It's not hard to understand it rules-wise, but it is difficult to grasp the mechanic on a conceptual level—to internalize it for synthesis in deck-building—in major part due to {C}'s poor definition thus far.

I think your common cycle isn't too far off. Tighten it up as I mentioned and that should be fine. Your rare cycle includes some very awesome text, but it's straining to live up to the mana pattern you chose. I hope you open up suggestions to the community and get more feedback before your final submission, which btw, isn't actually required to include any cycles.


  1. Thanks very much for the feedback, Jay!

    Yeah, I goofed by not putting the reminder text on all the commons. That will definitely change. And the power level corrections on the commons are well taken, though I *am* curious as to your reasoning about Horizon Warder (which I was mentally comparing to Limited staple Charging Griffin).

    The rares will likely shift more and become less of a strict cycle as you suggested. Gatewatch Captain in particular doesn't have much justification for its colorlessness-- I was going for "using pseudo-planeswalker powers to guard the Blind Eternities" but that did not come through well at all.

    1. Charging Griffon and Assault Griffon are solid commons because they attack for 3 in the air for {3}{W}. For {2}{W}{W} I'd expect at least that, but in white mode, Horizon Warder is a Shadow Glider for +{W}.

      Granted, you could draw a Wastes later, and benefit from it when you do, but that's just as true as the base Shadow Glider model. We don't need Wastes-mana in the mana cost because the card is already demanding you play Wastes to take full advantage of it anyhow.

      There's room between those two ends within which to play.

    2. I don't think Horizon Warder is supposed to have a "mono white mode" and a "mono waste mode". I am thinking more of the limited situations where you have to evaluate it against your other mediocre cards given the amount of wastes you have. I like it but it doesn't feel like the others in the cycle because of that ability.

  2. Putting some questions out for general discussion: What is the mechanical identity of colorless? Does it have anything to do with the mechanical identity of artifacts? Should we think of it as a full sixth slice of the color pie, or as something different? How does it relate to devoid? Is comparing C mana to colored mana legit, or is C mana meant to be rarer in general?

    And a couple of more specific points of interest:

    1. How do people feel about stuff like Reality Hemorrhage / Slip Through Space / Witness the End in OGW? Is it OK to make that devoid on the strength of flavor alone? (I got the opposite sense from Maro's BfZ discussion.)

    2. The OGW creatures with "off-colorless" activations (e.g. Kozilek's Shrieker) doesn't seem to get much of their mechanical identity from colorless-- they mostly follow the same mechanical identity as the creature's casting cost. Is this an acceptable way to approach colorless? If so, does it imply a general principle of "colorless identity only matters if there are no other colors present"? Or is there something else going on here?

    I don't have good answers on these and I feel like understanding them better will help me improve the rare designs. Thoughts and feedback are much appreciated!

    1. My observation is that <> was used two ways in Oath of the Gatewatch. It was used as a 6th color, and it was used to reduce the cost of on-color effects. I like both uses very much.

      It was only used as a 6th color, when <> was in the casting cost of the spell, and from what I can see it's slice of the pie is "create an effect you wouldn't normally see in any single color. For example, Reality Smasher is a big hasty creature (R and or G) that's also semi-resistant to removal, countering unless the caster discards a card (U and or B). Warping Wail destroys a creature with tiny Power or Toughness (W and or B), counters a sorcery (U) or makes a Scion (U and or B and or G). It works pretty well for me, although the Eldrazi were flavored more UBG, so we didn't see a lot of W or R efffects mixed into <> as a 6th color.

      Secondly, <> was used to reduce the cost of on-color effects at Common and Uncommon. In almost every case, you could swap <> for 1 and the cards color and have a similarly balanced card. Prophet of Distortion's card draw ability could cost 3U and Mindmelter's discard ability could cost 3B (as seen on Dimir Guildmage) but you'd be paying a cost elsewhere (P/T, casting cost, etc.) You probably wouldn't bat an eye at 4U and 4B costs. This was a perfect way to use <> for Limited, because shaving mana off a cost is a great way to get players to splash a "color". That's been the basis for three color blocks too, if you look at Shards of Alara and Khans of Tarkir.

  3. I must have missed where in the challenge description it said the cards had to be in cycles. But, yeah, the nonrare cards in particular need to be loosened up. You're tackling color A + color B + colorless + a bunch of complicated abilities on virtually all of them.

  4. Ugh, I've tried multiple times write something about these designs. My goal is to be concise, clear and constructive.

    I don't think colorless/color hybrid is a viable design and I don't think any of these cards demonstrate why it's worth pursuing.

    The Commons: In Limited, paying <> is not as easy as paying W or U or B or R or G. All these commons have Limited designs, so I am thinking of them in a deck where you have to draft your <> mana sources. In a dedicated Blue/Colorless Limited deck, 5 out of ten times, players will cast Abyssal Hunter for 3UU. 4 out of ten times they'll cast it for 3<>U. And 1 out of ten times they will cast it for 3<><>. That's a prediction based on my experience playing BFZ and OGW. Don't imagine players will have more than one <> source at any time unless you pump the "As-Fan" much higher than what WotC did in those sets. Colorless/color hybrids do not provide flexibility in cost unless you are building a constructed deck. In the case of these commons, there isn't a single one where casting it with double <><> nets you anything. It's simpler to take the colorless cost out of the equation.

    The Rares: These are designed for Constructed, based on their effects and power level. Yet, the fact that they're each two colors completely undermines the flexibility colorless/color hybrid can offer. What is the mana base for a deck with Gatewatch Captain? If it's White and Red and Colorless sources, every land that taps for colorless makes it hearder for you to cast your White or Red spells? If the mana base is only White Sources and Colorless Sources to replace the red, (or Red sources with colorless to replace White) you will find casting your White spells, and even Gatewatch Captain tough at times. The best and safest bet is to make a White and Red mana base, where you can play any white or red cards you want, without splashing a third color. Because they each are two colors already, these rares make excellent cases for NOT trying to pay for them with <> mana. There's no benefit at all.

    I would suggest moving away from offering flexibility and towards offering cost reduction. Do 2/<> instead of colorless/color. That will make players excited to add colorless sources to their decks in Constructed, and mixes meaningfully with colored spells for Limited.

    1. From the cards posted I am guessing that there will be enough hybrid that you could draft 3 or 4 colors as long as you stay away from non-hybrid and then use 4 of each of your colored lands and 4 colorless sources. I don't know if that is a fun environment but it is different. (was shadowmoor like that?)

  5. I would agree that <>/2 is much more flexible, but the problem of iteration time remains.

    Ipaulsen do you have a google doc with your designs?

  6. Sorry I've been inactive the past few days! Busy work week.

    There is a lot to recommend 2/C, but I don't have the wherewithal to make it work visually or the guts to redo all of my desgins. I believe C/M can play a valuable role as a mana cost in an environment with enough C support.

    My concept for the set is a Wastes in every pack in the land slot, plus a bit of additional support at common, and colorless hybrid replacing colored mana on 20-30% of the cards, most of them with 2 or more hybrid symbols apiece. I suspect this would be sufficient to make N-color colorless decks a viable Draft strategy and occasionally a good Sealed strategy.

    Constructed decks could use the colorless hybrid to get more flexibility out of certain dual lands; maybe there could even be a cycle of ETBT lands with "T: Add M, N, or C to your mana pool." Or they could run monocolored decks with more utility lands. The overall effect would be to edge colorless somewhat closer to becoming a functional "sixth color".

    Does this sound OK? Any ideas for design tricks I can use to make sure colorless hybrid is relevant?

    I will probably be posting a 1.5 draft early tomorrow. I would love to get more comments on individual card designs, before or after that happens!

  7. Not much changed from 1.5 to 2.0, as it turned out. But at least I found pretty pictures. Here's my final submission.

    I apologize for not engaging more with this week's feedback and making more serious changes to my cardset. The fact is, I was short on time and I wasn't willing to totally re-imagine what I was doing. Thanks to everyone who commented-- your feedback was helpful and much appreciated! And especially thanks to Jay for putting on these challenges and holding to his ambitious schedule.

  8. Idea for future challenges... maybe you could 'pin' the challenge post somehow so it shows up near the top of the page? I think people might be more likely to comment if they don't have to scroll down to find the post.