Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Spotlight Challenge 4 Final Review—Czynski

Here's the challenge Czynski took lead on:

Design a cycle of each color's iconic creature—Angel, Sphinx, Demon, Dragon, and Hydra—for a specific plane. You may choose or invent a plane if you like, otherwise design for Tesla/Kaladesh. Also design a sixth card—a common or uncommon—that mentions one or more of these creature types in an organic way.

Here's the initial submission.

Let's take a look at the final submission.

Here's what Czynski has to say about the plane/set these cards represent:
"The world-spanning body of an enormous super-organism, everything is re-used and adapted in Equilor. The skin of the body’s surface hedges out strange energies a short step removed from the Blind Eternities, strange infections materialize and are combated, and the creatures that have grown from the cells and lesser organs of the body pursue their own agendas in the inner cavities of Equilor’s enormous frame."
From this description, I expect to see cards that serve a function in their environment akin to an organ within a body, something analagous to virus/bacteria that endangers those 'organs,' and something like the immune system that targets those threats for neutralization. It's not clear to me why things are re-used or adapted, since that's not a quality native to the inner-workings of most organisms (or not a well-known one—LMK if I'm in the minority on that), and the same goes for 'cells'/'organs' having their own agendas. I don't expect all of this to be demonstrated and answered by one cycle and a sixth card, but what I do see had better nail some of it.

Growth Channel is our set's 3cc mana rock, and it's bonus ability is a tribal connection to the iconic creatures types we're about to see a cycle of. In a vacuum, I'd guess the flavor of that is this plane is particularly reverent to these creatures. Given our background, I'm going to guess that these five creatures types act as Equilor's most vital organs—otherwise, why call them out on a card?

The reward is a mana discount to spells (of a matching color). That's a little disappointing, seeing as how we've just cast a traditionally top-of-curve creature, but the cycle below is 5-6cc—which you could potentially play on turn 4 or 5 thanks to Growth Channel's main ability—and given that you spent two of those turns playing Channel and then your creature, that discount could very well help you catch up by playing two cards each of the next two turns.

But that's best-case. Worst-case is drawing your mana rock late when it's just as useless as a land, and that's the position all the other recent rocks have addressed that this doesn't. I'd rather see an effect that demonstrates Equilor's flavor. Inter-connected-ness of creature-organs, or something.

Evasion and hexproof have been show to be a problem, and putting both on a pretty efficient medium creature doesn't exactly mitigate that problem. If there's an exception to be made, though, mythic is the place. The text adds a static ability to the creatures present when Synapse Sphinx dies. How do remember that they have that ability? With a nerve counter. Hmm. Maybe nerve counters are the only type of counter we put on creatures in this set. In that case, we just treat Synapse Sphinx as a kind of Wonder that only affects creatures with counters on them. Even then, I have to wonder why the body's synapses only work after their destroyed—not to mention how rare that will be given the combination of flying and hexproof.

Sinew Hydra is a 6/6 trampler for five mana, that can block as well thanks to vigilance. That alone could be a mythic creature. When it dies, it creates a static effect that doubles the power of the creatures present at its funeral. Again, I have to wonder why sinew is better for the body after it dies. Also, my fears are confirmed about the counters. How do players differentiate nerve counters from muscle counters? Suppose we fill every pack with these counters so that players can keep them straight, will they be used by a bunch of cards in the block, or just these five?

Cancer Demon has enough power to make double-blocking it a 1:2 trade and skulk which makes it impossible to single-block it and win, so that's a neat combo… although it effectively just gives us 2 unblockable power or a pretty good blocker (very good, really, just not for mythic). This third counter type gives some of your creatures a nasty death trigger of their own. That's pretty cool.

Based on the name, it looks like Cancer Demon isn't a contributing organ in the body, but one of the infectors of it. For that reason, I'm surprised to see it working the same way. I expected infectors to look alien compared to the plane's native inhabitants, like Eldrazi on Zendikar or Phyrexians on Mirrodin.

Marrow Angel isn't more expensive because of its stats and keywords, so it must have a doozy of a death trigger. And it does. Notably, vigilance serves a different purpose on Marrow Angel than it did on Sinew Hydra: You want your angel to die.

Heart Dragon dies into Fervor and a permanent Trumpet Blast. That's strong, as is a big, fast, flying dragon. Plenty mythic.

This is very clearly a cycle and each of the iconic creatures feel sufficiently (if not very) like the kind of creature it is. These cards also do a good job of matching the rarity you chose for them, feeling much more like mythics than last week's.

Rather than a world where important creatures serve vital roles in the environment—like an organ in a body—this cycle illustrates a world where everything is recycled, continuing to benefit its allies in life even after its death. That seemed like the smallest and most tangential aspect of the world that Czynski described, but I can absolutely imagine a world with that central identity.

The five different kinds of counters are a non-starter. R&D chooses exactly one type of counter that it will put on creatures for a block and commits to that counter type thoughout the block, and has done so for quite a few years. All of these death triggers could instead be static effects that work from the graveyard—just as Wonder does—and that fact makes it even harder to justify the choice of counters. If we're married to only benefiting the creatures you control at the time your bomb dies (and that choice means none of these mythics can help you come back in a game you're already behind in if they get killed) then we could at least use the same counter for all of them, so that their abilities stack (w/ tweaked templating).

Czynski, this is a decent submission overall. It could have been stronger if you'd been more willing to hear the thoughts and advice of others. Listening isn't as passive a skill as most think; it really helps to ask questions, engage in the exchange of ideas, and thank people for their contribution. Even so, there's a lot to be said for your progress this week, and how mythic, iconic, and cycle-uh-ic these cards are. Well done, and thanks for your time and passion leading this challenge.


  1. "The five different kinds of counters are a non-starter. R&D chooses exactly one type of counter that it will put on creatures for a block and commits to that counter type thoughout the block, and has done so for quite a few years."

    Less common counters are fairly frequently used at high rarities for strange effects. This wouldn't be an outlier.

    1. If anyone cares here are the examples I could remember. Some are more recent than others. Putting 5 different ones in the same set does seem excessive but being mythic rather than rare helps.
      Arbiter of the Ideal
      Azor's Elocutors
      Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer
      That Which Was Taken
      Oblivion Stone

    2. Are you sure?

      I searched gatherer for modern cards that put non-P/T counters on creatures other than themselves, and got:


      There's more cards that put a unique counter type on themselves. And ones that put them on lands. But in terms of what people are worried about, putting counters on creatures which are likely to be confused with +1/+1 counters, in all of modern, I found:

      * A card which puts divinity counters on permanents (Kamigawa)
      * A few cards which put charge counters on artifacts, not excluding artifact creatures (Mirrodin)
      * A couple of a cards which put spore counters on any Fungus (Time Spiral)
      * Seven cards in all modern, none in standard, which are fairly non-splashy rares which use a unique counter type.

      I love the flavour of the different counters, but I don't think that's a good precedent, I think wizards have avoided putting one (let alone five) counter type on creatures from a splashy mythic effect, because that will come up all the time, and will be hard to track. And may not be necessary (see below).

    3. Splashy makes it easier to use, not harder; splashy cards are memorable, and the key problem with multiple counter types is memory issues. I would not have used this implementation if it wasn't going to be splashy.

      Also, several of those cards were pretty splashy. Not strong, but splashy.

  2. Ooh, these are getting interesting. Though they feel like they want a few more iterations.

    I like the "grant a significant bonus to all creatures" idea. But it does feel a shame you *only* get that after it dies. Could it maybe grant a slightly lesser effect when it's alive, and go on granting that when it dies (maybe exiling rather than activating from the graveyard). Maybe to all creatures, or if that's too hard to track, to a fixed number of up to three creatures? Or if it needs to "turn off", it could cancel the effect when the opponent deals damage to you or something.

    Or it could actually use +1/+1 counters. "When this enters the battlefield, put a +1/+1 counter on each of up to three other creatures. For the rest of the game, creatures you control with +1/+1 counters on have XXXX"?

  3. The body does recycle dead tissue automatically, and it's a pretty important fact that it does. It's one of the two types of cell-death. Apoptosis (Type I) is where a cell self-terminates, because it's old or sick, and autophagy (Type II) is where a dying cell is recycled into the body. I guess the mere fact that I am excited to talk about this on the internet implies that it's not common-knowledge.

    That all being said neither is, for example, the ins and outs of Innistrad Werewolf morphology, or the capacity for Kithkin to link telepathically. I would expect a small number of players to understand the reference from the get-go, a few more to learn it from a Mark Rosewater article, and the majority of people to sort of accept it tacitly as planar flavor with a chance of having a clicking moment later on.

    But then again, I'm one of those people who thinks that Man-O-War should be a Creature - Siphonophore...

    1. I think of this as common knowledge (in general if not the specific mechanisms). And I'm no biology or anatomy expert. If it didn't register, then we're probably in the minority.

  4. This concept would make a pretty good set (if refined a bit)

  5. Growth Channel doesn't seem like a card that would ever see print outside of a Tribal set. At Uncommon it should have an impact for Limited, which means you need Angels, Sphinxes, Demons, Dragons and Hydras in lower rarities. Or a lot of them in the Rare slots. Either way, that’s a recipe for a Tribal set. Growth Channel also tells you to care about spell colors. I get the idea behind it, but it's another theme that doesn't mesh with the designs of the 5 iconics.

    The different counters are problematic as noted, but also really unnecessary. Is it important to limit the effect to just the creatures on the field at the time an iconic dies. They could be a variant of the Incarnations from Judgment (Wonder, Anger, etc):

    Marrow Angel 4WW (MR)
    Creature — Angel
    Flying, Vigilance
    When Marrow Angel dies, you may exile it.
    As long as Marrow Angel is in exile, creature you control have indestructible.

    Anyway, my favorite of these designs is Heart Dragon. A 5/5 hasty flier for 6 is great Your opponent wants to destroy it, which boosts your whole team. I like it quite a bit.