Thursday, April 14, 2016

Spotlight Challenge 5 Final Review—Zefferal

Here's the challenge Zefferal took lead on:

Design 8 'big' commons that will help break stalemates. Design at least one for each color. They needn't relate to each other, or even belong to the same set.

Here's his initial submission.

Let's take a look at the final submission.

Bloodcurling Belch remains unchanged from last week and that's fine. As a four-mana sorcery that only ever kills one creature, it will never be premium removal, but it's ability to save you from many of Magic's most resilient threats is both significant and unusual. Belch will likely be the card that lets you come back from far behind or that opens your opponent up to be finished off more than it breaks stale mates, but killing an Alpha Tyrranax your opponent can't risk and that you can't attack into could absolutely get a stalled game moving again.

Caterwauling Giant is also unchanged, except that it costs 7 now instead of 8. While it has potential to break through for 6 damage, or to trade with a pair of 5/3s, it can be neutralized just as easily by a pair of 2/2s, so I approve of that change.

Luring Scarecrow was renamed to help people recognize the large activated ability is reminiscent of the Rise of the Eldrazi invoker cycle. The colored cost on this colorless artifact strongly implies a whole cycle of artifact creatures with big colored activation costs. I can dig it.

Luring Invoker is not a bad card—as it can certainly end a stalemate on its own, but I'm eager now to see the cheap members of this cycle because they'll highlight the advantage of a colorless creature with a big colored activation cost: That you can play them early no matter what lands you draw, but you'll most likely have the color you need by the time you can afford to activate them.

One card making people anticipate others? That's a good design.

In contrast with our colorless Invoker, Riverside Trow requires you to be mostly black, green or both. The result is an earth-bound Sengir Vampire, and that's a pretty cool common. Especially since Sengir's evasion tends to undercut his eating ability.

This isn't huge, but it's medium+ at least, and it has the potential to become huge. I'd love to play Trow in a set with cards like Prey Upon, Lure, and Aim High.

Will it break stalemates? Maybe a couple. Chump-blocking it is a bad plan, which gives it implied menace, and tricks + instant removal can always turn a 2:1 into a blow-out, but then if you've got that, you can break almost as many stalemates without Trow.

Sapling Mentor is a hearty 4/6 for five, which is a solid attacker and an excellent defender. Whenever you play a land, you can swing in with 6 points of trample… and you're creature will still likely survive. Compared with Territorial Baloth, I'd guess this 6/8 would be a staple for any Limited deck at least 50% green.

Seeing 8 lines at common tells me that R&D decided to spend their complexity points on faeries. Or on shifting creatures… Whichever group it is that will repeat this mechanic. (Because there's no way that a single card with this mechanic would be a common.) I wonder if there are any mechanics that care about choosing day/night on other cards? If not, I'd template this:
When ~ ETB, you may put a +1/+1 counter on it.
Whenever ~ deals combat damage to an opponent, if there are no +1/+1 counters on it, return target tapped creature that player controls to its owner's hand.
Something between unleash and resourceful. On the other hand, it might be neat to have a dark creature with "Whenever you choose night, target creature gets -1/-1 until EOT" or similar.

Anyhow, flyers that survive long enough often win games over top a stalemate. A 3/4 for four would be quite good at that. Way too good for common, mind you. A mono-blue Blizzard Specter also seems uncommon. A card that lets you choose between the two? Rare. Shifting Faerie is totally rare. We could raise its cost or lower its stats to where it's fair at uncommon, but there's just no way for it to be common.

In fairness, it's not the blue-half of Blizzard Specter because it only bounces creatures and only tapped ones, at that. Which actually punishes your opponent for trying to race on the ground, effectively creating a stalemate in that arena… but it does keep swinging over-head, pushing the game toward a conclusion.

Ghostform +vigilance. When this is your finishing blow, the vigilance does you no good, but the extra mana is irrelevant, so that's okay; What this card allows you to do is get in a couple solid hits without opening yourself up to retribution and so over-costed as this looks, players will gleefully pay 5 for it when they need it. Even so, if this doesn't kill your opponent where Ghostform would have, it also doesn't actually accelerate the game's end unless you already have a clock, so it won't do anything Ghostform wouldn't have in a stalemate. Hmm.

This is an instant so that you can do the vigilance without white, but the only other mode that gives us is a surprise-untap, which we'd almost never do in favor of getting damage in. I suppose you could swing with some big/evasive creatures your opponent doesn't want to block that you've had to hold back to defend against a counter-attack you can't afford, so that when that attack comes, you can block it better than your opponent thought, and kill one or two of their creatures for good.


I really like the first half of Thoughtweft, up to the word 'Kithkin.' It's thrumming with flavor. But then we choose a creature type. Mechanically, it's nice that we're not locked into an all-kithkin deck, but it's largely an irrelevant choice because if I'm playing enough kithkin to get three onto the battlefield at once, I'm nearly always going to choose kithkin. Thematically, it's a fumble. Tribal is so much harder than it looks.

Anyhow, the ability to make at least three creatures unblockable could allow a lethal strike, not unlike Sudden Waterway and Luring Invoker. Unlike those two cards, if the strike it allows isn't lethal, you're pretty likely to forego most or all of it.

Why is this ability on a 1/1? I grant it gives a creature that's normally worthless late real value late in the game, but this 1/1 for one doesn't really have much value early in the game either. In which case we might as well put the ability on something that had more value middle or late, like a 3/4 for five. Even a 2/1 for {1}{W} would be a real step up. Now it may be that this ability is so good that the creature it goes on has to be bad for balance. That's conceivable given how aggressive white weenie can be.

Only one of these cards accomplished the goal in a way that I expected. That's not a terrible thing, because we need to surprise and delight our audience, and to give them cards they'll sometimes under-estimate. And it's better than the opposite (only one card accomplishing the goal in an unexpected way). Still, that's a bit more cleverness and novelty than players really appreciate, and I'd recommend taking the "obvious" or "blunt" route maybe 20% more often.

With the exception of one rare, these are all obviously or defensibly common. With the exception of the last card, they're all internally consistent. With the exception of the cards that grant unblockability, they're all very color appropriate. With the exception of our one-drop, they're all big, or big enough. (And that was a really vague parameter.) They're all conditionally playable or better, and mostly eloquent. They're not all as likely to end a given stalemate as, just for a point of reference, the Rise invokers, but they're certainly better at it than the average common.

Zefferal, this is a strong submission overall. It could have been stronger if you'd shared all your designs with the community for feedback. I appreciated the extra effort you put forth in the form of choosing a plane and exploring where that set might go. Well done, and thanks for your time and passion leading this challenge.


  1. I think Thoughtweft Dodger works a little differently - if you have three kithkin, pick a type: that type can't *block*, as opposed to can't-be-blocked. You could still pick Kithkin on occasion, but only if your opponent has a number of them on the battlefield. You may usually pick "whatever creature type your opponent has the most of", but if your opponent has three merfolk, a faerie, and a large elemental, there may be real decision-making as to where you try and Dodge.

    The upside to being a W 1/1, i think, is that it enables other Thoughtweft abilities to come online sooner. It also, a little bit, gives your opponents the forewarning to play a mix of creatures (in the event that their hand gives them that option.)

    1. That's how I understand it, although I think "anti-tribal" cards need to be made in moderation.

    2. That's a significant difference, for sure. Sorry I misread that.

      In that case you're punishing the opponent for being too tribal, which seems dangerous for a tribal set. Flavor-wise, it also means the kithkin's psychic bond is, for lack of a better word, racist.

      And it's still an ability outside of white's color pie.

      What if it tapped all non-kithkin creatures [your opponent controls]? Tapping is white's way of preventing blocking, and hitting everything that's not a kithkin is very tribal.

      Admittedly, probably too tribal. All non-white creatures? IDK, it is a finishing move.

      On a more significant body, it could be "tap target non-Kithkin creature."

      I don't know how often players are sitting on creatures in hand during a stalemate. Granted, thoughtweft as a mechanic needs to serve more purposes, but this card in particular is supposed to be all about breaking stalemates.

    3. Or maybe give all your kithkin/creatures skulk.

    4. I don't disagree with you guys, but I'm curious - I was thinking of Riders of Gavony as a little bit of precedent for this sort of thing. Of course, that's a one-off rare, but if "creatures you control gain protection from [color]" is white, is "creatures you control gain protection from [creature type]" sensibly white?

      If so, is "creatures you control can't be blocked by [creature type]"?

      (Flavor-wise, I do think that kithkin's psychic-bond is explicitly discriminatory in LOR/SHA, but it's hard to say how familial/paranoid New Lorwyn's kithkin are compared to their previous counterparts.)

    5. Ahhh. Because "can't be blocked by" is a subset of protection. I see what you're saying. Protection is a weird weird thing and one can use it as an example of what not to do as often as for precedent.

      Your point about Riders of Gavony choosing a creature type—and in a tribal set, no less—is well made.

    6. My post-mortem is coming later today, but the Kithkin in question is mostly a Pasteur design that hit exactly what I was looking for in a White Common Kithkin. Its design (for the purposes of this challenge) is somewhat defended by context of my vision for the set, Kithkin being one of the highly tribal tribes, mono-white weenie.

    7. Yeah, now I see where that's coming from. I think Riders of Gavony is a bit of a special case, because most of the non-human tribes were "monsters", so maybe Avacyn Restored up'd white's anti-tribal tech a little. But I'm not sure.

      But I think it the great thing about the card is the first bit, if you control 3 kithkin. I think you can change the end without a big effect. I think "can't be blocked by" should probably stay red, but if it was "tap up to two/three creatures opponents control" it would have much the same effect and be safely white.

    8. If you don't want to punish tribal you could have your opponent choose a creature type and tap everything else they control. I like this because if they only have a few creatures it may do nothing, but if both sides have a lot of creatures it will do a lot.

    9. Nice!
      I can even justify that flavor. The Kithkin hive mind hit everything without a hive mind of its own.

  2. Ooh, interesting! I think the final cards fulfilled the challenge only so-so, but I loved a lot of the designs, I'd really enjoy a Lorwyn incorporating some of those ideas.

  3. Finale Post Mortem

    A) First and foremost, thank you very much to Jay for running this exercise (plus, you know, like 99% of the content on this site). I had a blast doing it, and may want to do it again after a few other Artisans have taken a crack at a challenge.

    B) Next up, big thanks to those who provided insight and feedback. Pasteur and cartesiandaemon were ripping up the comments with ideas and critique, and Jenesis, Devin E Green, czynski, and Anaste all added quite a bit to the discussion.

    C) Generally
    I had intended to make more big creatures this go round, but if it's big and has an interesting ability, it probably ought to be uncommon, and multiple simple cards with big stats is boring. White and Blue especially are going to have problems justifying big cards that break a stall at common, rather than create one. Still, a little more thought to stats and casting costs might have given a little more wiggle room in that department.