Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Spotlight Challenge 5 Initial Review—Zefferal

Here's the challenge Zefferal is taking 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.

Giantweft Kithkin
Creature - Kithkin Soldier
When ~ enters the battlefield, if you control a Giant, target creature you control gets +2/+2 and gains flying until end of turn.
 A 2/2 for five bombs the vanilla test, so we can bet our ability will be worth 3+ mana… and it's a conditional Mighty Leap. I'd expect a creature like this to cost 3 or 4, but we're concerned with Design not Development. Mighty Leap is similar to Lava Axe in its ability to end games that have stalled out, so that effect is welcome here. This ability would be fine without the 'if' so why is it here?

Clearly we're revisting Lorwyn and this card is rewarding giant-tribal via a non-giant card, ala Kithkin Greatheart. There's also some nice flavor in that giants are known to throw creatures. Where does the Giantweft Kithkin come into that story? Well, it's not getting thrown, since it doesn't have haste. I guess it's telling the giant to throw someone. Hmm.

If we can't make this combo with the giant by itself, or tighten up the story, I'd prefer Battleflight Eagle.
Dreamwalking Merrow {2}{U}
Dreamer — Whenever ~ becomes tapped, you may exile it. If you do, target creature you control can't be blocked this turn. Return ~ to the battlefield at the beginning of your next upkeep.
Flavorwise, Dreamers enter an alternate reality when they try to attack (or after tapping some other way), which grants you some effect—probably all ethereal effects, like making another creature unblockable. They return a full round later (generally) and require another round to properly wake up before they're ready to do it again.

Dreamwalking Merrow is a lot like Distortion Strike, but much slower, albeit more repeatable. That can help end a stalemate, but the sorcery version does it more simply and draws it out less. I'm not sold on dreamer in general—Inspired seems like the more interactive execution.
Bloodcurl Goblin {1}{B}
Creature - Goblin
Whenever a goblin you control dies, each opponent loses 1 life.
Here's a Zulaport Cutthroat that forgets about life gain and only counts goblin deaths. You might play it early, eking out incremental advantage as your goblins rush your opponent, or you might play it onto a stalled board, allowing you to alpha strike with your out-classed goblin army, but kill your opponent either way.

Or you might not have any other goblins, and it'll just be a Mogg Fanatic pointed at your opponent.
Bloodcurling Belch {2}{B}{B}
Target player sacrifices a creature she controls with the greatest toughness among creatures she controls.
This Cruel Edict variant can kill a Darksteel Colossus or even an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Not many removal spells can boast that. That it will sometimes just hit a Siege Mastodon or River Kaijin… well, every removal has to have a weak point. I like that this reads weak but has real potential to save you from a desperate situation.
Dawnglare Incantation {R}
As an additional cost to cast ~, sacrifice up to two elemental creatures you control.
~ deals X damage to target creature or player, where X is the total power among creatures sacrificed this way.
Elementals tend to be 3/1 or enormous. Either way, sacrificing two of them could put an opponent out of their misery. Dawnglare Incantation is even more tribal than Goblin Grenade because it requires two of its kind to be better than Lava Spike. It also can't help you if you're behind or low on elementals.
Caterwauling Giant {6}{R}{R}
Now here's a big common that could end a stalemate. At least, it could with some burn or tricks to lure your opponent into a two-for-one that leaves your giant standing. Even on its own, it requires two blockers and that might be enough of a swing to make an alpha strike possible.
Saproling Mentor {6}{G}
Creature - Treefolk Shaman
Whenever a forest enters the battlefield under your control, ~ gets +2/+2 and gains trample until end of turn.
Saproling Mentor will crash in a 7/7 trampler, and that should be enough to break a fair number of stalemates.
Luring Scarecrow {6}
Artifact Creature - Scarecrow
5G: All creatures able to block ~ this turn do so.
Lure is a great finisher effect, allowing any sizeable strike to finish the game. Scarecrow gives your opponent a turn to do something beforehand, perhaps forcing you to trade your 5/3; either way something dramatic will push the game forward.

I enjoyed Lorwyn and I'd like to believe they'll return one day. Do you know it's the only plane we visited without humans? It's fun to take a look at what returning there might look like.

It's also very tricky. Lorwyn and Time Spiral are the two blocks that finally revealed the need for New World Order (but apart from dreamer, I have no concerns about this submissions' complexity), and the former has been described as tribal-on-rails. When Wizards returns, it'll have to be more friendly to new players, and we can expect a more flexible spin on tribal mechanics. I'd say Bloodcurl Goblin and Giantweft Kithkin are both defensible (though it would help if they were playable on their own) but that Dawnglare Invocation is just too narrow. (Good job on names and flavor, btw. Very Lorwyn.)

The last 3 cards are fairly big, in cost, in size, and in potential impact on the game. The first 5 are small in cost and/or size, and their impact is either very conditional, or too gradual. I'd like to see some bigger numbers and effects that drafters will value for their ability to close out games. Having said that, credit is due that all the cards presented absolutely could end some kind of stalemate, and for keeping cognizant of the fact that being in a stalemate means neither side is lacking for bodies.

You've got until 4/12 for your final submission, Zefferal and team.


  1. Wave 1 postmortem:
    A) I got into a time crunch I wasn't expecting, so I wasn't able to iterate as much as I wanted. I shouldn't have spent as much time worrying about high-concept concerns in the initial days as I did.
    B) I have a tendency to cost my commons very conservatively. Any time I design a common and cost it aggressively, I instinctually want to bump it to uncommon. Not a great habit to be in.
    C) After I'd locked in five or so designs for the final submission, I realized I could spread the CMCs so they were costed 1-8. I was being clever instead of focusing on improving the commons I had. The challenge called for big commons, and although I knew I could satisfy with small ones, I overdid it, with too many small ones subverting the challenge and not enough of the big ones called for.
    D) I initially wanted to do a Day/Night mechanic in the mix, but backed off not having the chance to fully bake the idea. I'll probably want to revisit this idea this week.
    E) Likewise, I want three of the commons to be in the second set of the block, and to feel somewhat distinctive from the other five in that regard. To make that work, I need to more fully concept the mechanics of the first set. I can't get too bogged down in it though.
    F) Related: None of those commons does much that couldn't have been in Lorwyn the first time around. Some of that is ok, but if I'm going back to Lorwyn, I want the return set to mean more than just revisiting a block I enjoyed. I want to iterate. More BfZ, less RtR. Also, no Shadowmoor was represented in that mix. That has to change next time around.

    1. That makes sense.

      It's natural to have good ideas that don't work out, moving on from then is good. Costing 1-8 was a cute idea, but I agree, probably better just not.

      I think costing a bit conservatively is probably good, especially for commons.

      Day/Night would be a nice idea if you can think of a good mechanic for it, but I wouldn't force it; you have plenty of other good ideas, and that might be a bit of a tough nut to crack. Maybe do like L/S and have the big set be day and the small set be night or vice versa?

  2. B) Yes, I find the commons here too expensive as a whole. I could accept some of them at that cost, but craw wyrm stats at 8 mana was a bit sad...

    I think you should try this week'ends challenge (to be posted tomorow) to find tribal mechanics that are in-line with the way R&D seems to like them at the moment.

    As far as Lorwyn/Shadowmoor dychotomy, I would think that there is a reason it shifts from one to the other and it could be a theme to explore.

    As such I think presenting us with the "warped version" of cards could be interesting.

    Remember also tha Lorwyn/Shadowmoor tried to focus on tribal with species AND classes, but did not deliver that well in that front. Perhaps this is the time to show some interesting ways to use the subtypes?

    Also Lorwyn/Shadowmoor was fairytale world. Top down some more fairy tales! The disney kind have some tropes and the medieval cautionary tales for kids kind also have some tropes (although many of them cannot go on to magic the gathering cards).

    Big bad wolf, trail of breadcrumbs, fairy godmother, nymph of the lake, enchanted spindle, apple, arrow...

    1. I was almost thinking the opposite, that 6/4 menace was too good for common even at 8-cost, especially outside green. But if it was a slightly smaller and cheaper, I guess that would answer both reservations. But not too much more efficient, there should be a bit of a trade-off in "is this worth playing", not just automatically make each card the best in the set.

      Right, top-down ideas would be good.

    2. Even though I think Lorwyn is a good candidate for fairy tale world, Maro has been pretty clear that R&D doesn't consider it that.

    3. @Fading: I actually don't know too much about Lorwyn's lore, but because I have a tendency to overthink design puzzles, I came up with a planeswalker-centric backstory as to why we're watching a return to lorwyn:

      Sarkan Vol's paradoxical existence is catching up with him, causing time and reality distortions to haunt him. He travels to Lorwyn to see if the aurora holds answers to the conflicting versions of reality on tarkir that are plaguing him.

      I'm not sure how much this backstory plays into the design of our eight commons, but it might create a mechanical hook to separate set 1 from 2.

  3. Oh, and I know I suggested this before when we were talking about challenges, but I'd reiterating the idea of defaulting to an extra post midweek to continue the discussion, so there's more people to offer advice on the first iteration, before it's submitted to the first official review.

    1. And I forgot you pinned the challenge, yes, that does a lot of the same job, oops.

    2. I hadn't pinned it until this morning, thanks to your reminder.

  4. Day/Night Mechanics Discussion Subthread of Doom:

    ETB Triggers:
    Goblin Warrior
    Night (When this etb, it becomes night)
    As long as it's Night, ~ gets +1/+0 and has menace.

    Flamekin Shaman
    Day (When ~ etb, it becomes day)
    When it's night, sacrifice ~.

    It can be a very parasitic mechanic.

    Similar labeling, but instead of spelling out particular bonuses based on mode, whenever a night card drops all dfc's day-face-up get transformed.

    Werewolf analogues:
    Noggle Rogue
    At the beginning of your upkeep, if no spells were cast last turn, you may draw a card, If you do, discard a card.

    Elemental Warrior
    At the beginning of your upkeep, if a player cast two or more spells last turn, ~ gets +2/+0 and gains first strike until end of turn.

    Modal Spells:
    When ~ enters the battlefield, choose day or night.
    Day - creatures you control get +1/+1.
    Night - creatures your opponents control get -1/-1.

    1. Of these, I think the Modal version is both most appealing and easiest for us to create under our time conditions.

    2. Sounds good to me.
      As ~ enters the battlefield, choose Day or Night.
      Day-- Trample
      Night -- Deathtouch

    3. Starlight Insurgent 3U
      Faerie Rogue
      At the beginning of your upkeep, choose Day or Night.
      Day — Put a +1/+1 counter on ~. It gains defender until end of turn.
      Night — ~ gains skulk until end of turn.

      Is there a way to better imply "you make this choice once, it applies to all your creatures this turn"? Is that repetitive upkeep-decision-making something tolerable at common under NWO (even if it's a really simple decision?)

      For your 2GG Elf, I feel like we need some sort of marker, or which state was chosen will be confusing quickly. Maybe if one of the sides always was accompanied by a +1/+1 counter? Is there something we could do spun off of Unleash?

      Alternatively, it could be like "When this ETB, choose. Day - draw a card. Night - draw two cards and lose two life" where there's no memory issues.

    4. Memory issues could definitely be a problem. We lose a little bit if the creatures are locked into a state - I liked that they were different but similar depending on whether it was day or night.

    5. Gloam (You may have this creature enter the battlefield with a -1/-1 counter on it. It has skulk as long as it has a -1/-1 counter on it.)

      Vectis-Agent as an Unleash-style keyword. Like Unleash, you could pair it with "Creatures with a -1/-1 counter have hexproof" et al. Could be replaced with "menace" or similar set of evasion.

      The flavor here would be that Lorwyn is the dominant setting (with a good dose of newly-redesigned tribal) but Shadowmoor's native nightfall/spookiness carries over in pockets/creatures on the plane.

      It's unfortunate that most mechanical & flavorful executions of these concepts are either precluded by Innistrad, or by the phyrexians - leaving not a lot of room for the sort of fanciful "nights and nightmares" that Shadowmoor would normally provide.

  5. By the Numbers subthread of lesser doom:
    What I want
    *5 cards from set 1 + 3 cards from set 2
    *5 cards that cost 5 or more and 3 cards that don't
    *at least one card of each color, one hybrid card, and one artifact
    * five or six creatures and two or three noncreatures

  6. More ramblings, more doom

    Cross tribal symbiosis has no place in this exercise. In fact, no more than two or three tribes should mechanically directly care about being tribal. Consider Jay's recent look into Dwarfs: .

    I think elves should probably be one of the real type matters tribes. I'm open to suggestions on others.

    Other tribe possible mechanical hooks:
    Noggles: Instants/Sorceries in GY
    Goblins: Some other GY interactions
    Treefolk: Forestfall
    Kithkin: having three or more kithkin on the battlefield
    Trolls: Surviving combat (variation on sengir ability maybe?)
    Faeries: Day/Night Control

    1. Yep, that is what I was refering too in tribal.

  7. Noggle Skywatcher 5R
    C- Noggle Rogue
    When ~ dies, it deals damage to target player equal to the converted mana cost of target instant or sorcery in your graveyard.

    Shineweft Ceithern W
    C - Kithkin Soldier
    First strike
    At the beginning of your upkeep, if you control three or more Kithkin, choose a creature type. Until end of turn, creatures you control can't be blocked by creatures of that type.

    1. Noggle doesn't do too much to break up a stalemate, but it's a cool design.

      Kithkin is strong for a common - it could lose first strike without hurting the design. I like where it went though.

    2. The idea with the Noggle is that it's half a semi-evasion and half direct-damage-to-the-face. But if you estimate it's average damage, it's probably around 3 - maybe that's not enough reach to break the stall? I'm not sure.

      On-board with the dropping-first-strike. We'll assume Kithkin synergies outweigh the resistance to having an Eager Cadet in your deck.

  8. More things I'm wondering. Is it worth trying to salvage Dreamer as an ability word? I'm leaning on no for the purposes of this exercise, as there are better things to explore and limited space to do it. Maybe one day I'll tweak it again.

  9. Cards I'm relatively happy with
    Bloodcurl Goblin
    Bloodcurling Belch
    Caterwauling Giant

    Cards I like in theory but could use some tweaking
    The treefolk (not just because I confused saproling for sapling) and the scarecrow.

    The rest are better off being replaced than tweaked.

  10. Looking for both noncreature and non-evasion ways to impact a boardstall, what about token-making? We could (with new flavor) reprint Presence of Gond.

    Alternatively, an aura with "whenever it becomes Day, put a 1/1 (type) token OTB"? A Monowhite or Monogreen Selesnya Evangel?

    1. Looking at more noncreature and non-evasion commons.

      Noggle Fog-Brew 2R
      As an additional cost to cast ~, discard a card.
      Each creature attacks this turn if able.
      Draw two cards.

      Immaculate Authority 2G
      Enchantment - Aura
      Enchant creature
      Enchanted creature has “T: Put a 1/1 green Elf Warrior creature token onto the battlefield.”

      Blossombow Clique 2U
      Creature - Faerie Rogue
      At the end of turn, if you cast Blossombow Clique and another spell this turn, return two target creatures to their owner’s hands.

    2. Presence of God was in Shadowmoor, doesn't need to be reskinned (unless there's lore-specific reason why Gond's presence has left the building)

    3. Mostly for new-flavor reasons. Not sure if this-set's-Elves have a relationship re:Gond/whether the players know anything about him.

      It could be that it doesn't fit the definition of "big", though. Would 4GG "tap this and another creature, get two 1/1s" still be common? (I really don't know. If you're comfortable with a PoG reprint, that's great! Just trying to flesh out some options)

  11. Final batch of submissions to be posted soon. I'll also send Jay renders.