Thursday, March 15, 2018

Weekend Art Challenge Review 031418 — Tomas O. Muir

Golden Guardian by Svetlin Velinov

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Here's the challenge we're reviewing today! Apologies for the reviews coming in late.

Zefferal's design will start off the reviews with a bold design, bold in its simplicity. He's going the Future Sight route, referencing the beloved Steamflogger Boss. What does it mean to 'race an opponent'? We simply don't know. While he provided an answer in the comments, we'll preserve the intent and work off the mystery!

Clearly, which card you reveal matters, and there's interaction with an opponent. If you were trying to get the highest CMC or whatever, then you wouldn't need to pick two, you'd just pick your highest, so there's likely some quality we care about that also involves input from the opponent. That leads me to believe it's something like rock-paper-scissors. The real question here is, how much more powerful is is it to reveal two cards than one?

The reason we're starting with Zefferal today is that it's a great example that often, enablers are not seen with their payoffs right next to them. An enabler is a signal to be on the lookout for such payoffs. In a more designer-oriented sense, it's a way to liven up and facilitate deckbuilding, whether in Constructed, or Sealed, or in picking cards in Draft. By signaling players to be on the lookout for payoffs, we also imply to more experienced players that their evaluation of these cards will change as a result of the enabler. These aspects are useful for new players (who need help figuring out where to start building decks) and experienced players (who appreciate wrinkles in card evaluation).

In Racetrack Scouter, we see the essence of an enabler: it signals the presence of a 'racing' archetype, and also further incentivizes players to go for race cards by making it easier to 'win the race' (presumably). Without knowing the mechanic of what a 'race' is, we can emulate what it feels like to be a new player opening a booster pack, card by card... does this make you curious to know what races are? Does this change how you'll see a card that races, when you see it? Does this make you more interested in what it means to race in Magic? If your answer to these questions is 'yes', this card is already fulfilling a lot of the functions of an enabler. The only question left, of course, is whether it gives a big enough bonus in gameplay to really change the evaluation of race cards.

Anyone got their own ideas for what 'racing' might be? Feel free to design some 'racing' cards in the comments!

Ampryn Ranger pushes for an archetype in an interesting way: it demands that you cut off Scouts as hard as you possibly can. While this is intriguing, it's also going to play a bit poorly, as even if you take every Scout you see, an opponent can still end up with Scouts in their deck, and make this card worse. This bonus is, fundamentally, out of your control.

The intent of enablers, remember, is to liven up and facilitate deckbuilding. While this card does change the valuations in Draft (a part of deckbuilding), the bonus just isn't in your control enough to work most of the time. As Jay Treat noted, the parallel with landwalk is a little too strong: the card being good or bad is too reliant on what your opponent brings to the table.

I want to make specific note of the 'tribal strategy' a few cleverly used. Many designers struggled to make enablers for archetypes at common, but tribal is an easy one to rely upon. The linearity and simplicity of 'enabling' (just having the type) makes it perfect for common. I also appreciate the use of a place name from Vryn!

~Genesis was trying to solve a red-flagging issue, and ended up stumbling into another one! Ouch! Still, this design is certainly less wordy than the previous one.

Here, we see a tried-and-true 'archetype': draft lots of this card. Now, is this really an archetype? We don't design decks around these cards, so I hesitate to say it really counts as an entire archetype. However, it is something like a 'sub-archetype', as it does change how you evaluate this one card in a draft, and it does affect a part of your deckbuilding. Sub-archetypes are useful in a set too, but they just can't fulfill the same functions that an archetype can, nor to the same degree for the overlapping functions. Still, this is an intriguing design, and one that naturally helps with the enchantment card advantage issue. While it doesn't quite meet the constraints of the challenge, it's a great design on its own! 

As noted in the comments, a {G}{W} Bird archetype is problematic in that {G} can't get a lot of Birds on monocolor cards. Moving beyond concerns of explosive mana, I want to discuss the signalling of enablers. 

While Doug Kent noted that it's possible that this is just for a "{G}{W} ramp" deck, as a player I have to wonder: why does this card make me look for birds, then? Remember, a two-color card is going to be seen as a signal of an archetype, especially when it includes a tribal component. If a new player sees this card in a pack, they're only going to see that this {G}{W} card wants them to have a lot of Birds. That naturally leads to the conclusion that most {G}{W} decks will want Birds. If this is for a {G}{W} ramp deck, I'd push for it to not check for Birds, but instead perhaps just the number of creatures, or something like that. 

I love the core idea of this card - a two-color card that rewards Bird tribal - but I'd push to change to colors that make sense for Birds, and therefore also abandon the idea of 'scaled ramping'.

Pasteur here uses a mechanic I've actually considered before, and that has sort of been done in Ankheret by Ber: caring about the names of lands among your control. This is an elegant expanded form of Domain that also pushes for nonbasics without necessarily needing five-color decks to maximize its output. 

A salient question Doug Kent posed is whether this card is enough to pull players to draft differently named lands. That is actually a great point. Enablers do want to be good enough to actually puzzle players by making them revalue other cards in the draft. If an enabler isn't good even when enabling its archetype, then it's not actually enabling anything, as you never revalue other cards. However, the enabler can still signal the presence of an archetype even if it's not that great. And we also want enablers to need quite the investment to be good, that way they can reach the right decks. If this is good with just two different names, then that's probably good in too many decks. If this is good with three different names, then that's about right. 

The reason this is a 1-drop is so it can 'see' the most number of lands enter the battlefield. A tricky part with this mechanic as-is lies in the fact that costlier cards are going to miss more of these land drops. Ankheret used a mechanic that checked for names constantly or repeatedly rather than only once for this very reason. Identifying this problem, and designing a 1-drop for it, is a good approach. While this effect isn't the strongest, it can add up in the right deck - perhaps reaching 5 life - which is solid for a 1-drop. I'd lean towards making this defensive, like a 0/2, but it's alright as-is. I agree with Doug that it isn't the best, but it doesn't have to be the best - it just has to be good in the right deck.

I will admit I'm very partial to 'storming out' archetypes, and this is strongly pushing one. As Jay Treat noted in his comment, this probably needs some wording adjustments; the render should help illustrate how odd "X {C}" looks on a card, yeah? I also outlined some of the unusual play issues with this card in my comment, and all still stand. As I said, I think this would make an excellent card at uncommon with some minor adjustments, but at common it's very dangerous, and I'm unsure the storage mechanic can be done at common.

This is a cool design! We can see that it's quite wordy, so I do worry about it at common, but the first two lines are honestly pretty easy to gloss over, and I think this would be worth the comprehension complexity in the right format.

The #1 issue is the finickiness of counters on a land. While we've seen counters on tapping permanents at common, the issue is that lands tap a lot more frequently than cards like Sphere of the Suns. Keeping track of the counters on a land that taps every turn might get annoying.

Still, I think this design has a lot of promise and would be great in the right set. It clearly points to charge counters mattering in a set, and looks to be quite useful for those cards as well. It's testable at common and probably solid there, but at the very least it can end up a great uncommon with some tweaks.

Once again, we find an archetype enabler where the actual archetype is only hinted at. We'll start by looking at the card in isolation... Unlike cards like Gatecreeper Vine. Reclaim the Rings doesn't let you find a basic land instead of a Mage-Ring. It also lets you just put it onto the battlefield, untapped, which is unusual for common ramp. This means it really pushes for drafting multiple Mage-Rings. We then see this reinforced in the second line, where it can gain you six life for having three or more Mage-Rings. This second condition is almost a 'payoff' in itself, which is quite interesting. All together, we're signaled very strongly that Mage-Rings are worth getting. Not only can you ramp with significant power, you can gain life to offset early aggression, which is exactly what a ramp deck wants.

In isolation, then, we already are given strong implications about the archetype. It's likely slower, grindier, more controlling. Hopefully the payoffs in the Mage-Rings will be like the Deserts in Hour of Devastation, helping close games out themselves, as HOU did with mill, direct damage, removal, pumping, etc. The challenge, of course, is that a land-based archetype means taking picks that aren't spells. This means the lands themselves have gotta replicate the important functions of spells, that is, winning the game. 

I won't go into reviewing the Mage-Ring designs themselves here, but I'd love to hear fellow designer feedback on them in the comments.

 Zachariah pursued a subtle archetype that I thought was quite clever: monocolor! This is something commons can do quite simply, but often don't, as most sets can't support monocolor. Going for this is bold, but indeed a great way to approach the constraints!

The question I have to ask is, will Ring Protector incentivize monocolor enough to truly enable it? Remember, the goal for an enabler is to cause players to reevaluate cards during deckbuilding and drafting. If this card doesn't push players strongly enough to monocolor, it doesn't cause such reevaluation. Monocolor, being a big risk, also therefore requires big rewards.

Monocolor is a clever choice because of its subtlety, but it's also its downside: for players to realize monocolor is being pushed, they need to really want to cast this card on turn 2. The 2-drops you most often want to play turn 2 are aggressive two drops, because then they slip under blockers.

Let's look at a few examples: Mardu ScoutAjani's Sunstriker and Leonin Skyhunter. You'll notice that most of these are aggressive, for the reason stated above, as well as another: the best monocolor decks gain power from their consistency, and that consistency likewise grants power to aggressive strategies that can beat multicolor decks before they can even get going.

Ring Protector isn't aggressive, nor do I want to cast it turn 2 that badly; the vigilance works best when the opponent has creatures I'm worried about attacking, which isn't likely on turn 2. To be frank, while it's a strong, good design, it's not quite exciting enough to truly incentivize monocolor.

rkohn1357 made a lot of improvements and adjustments to their initial designs, before switching gears, which is a choice I want to commend. Knowing when you're pouring too much effort into a mechanic and when to sideline it for something safer is a valuable skill among designers. Design is about artistry and dedication, but also about efficiency and practicality. We are producing products, after all!

Ruins Excavator has a clear, resounding signal; artifacts are a {W}{U} thing, they're going to be in your 'yard, and you're gonna want to get them back. Are we talkin' Spellbombs? Artifact creatures? Who knows, but the intent is clear: pick up artifacts. We're off to a great start.

The problem lies in playability. While Scroll Thief is common, this isn't. The issue is in, as Reuben Covington said, repetitive gameplay. "Redrawing" cards is a lot more repetitive than drawing new cards, especially if you keep redrawing the same card, which this can do quite easily. The issue isn't card advantage, in fact, but simply the stale gameplay. Imagine this card alongside a Spellbomb - which its almost designed for - and you can see how the gameplay could get quite repetitive.

This is a clever design, but not quite suited for common due to this repetitiveness issue. I'd push for it to be made uncommon with some tweaks! What kind of tweaks might we make? Feel free to suggest some in the comments.

This design was excellently cleaned up by Wobbles, and though it wasn't quite able to squeak under four lines of text, it basically did, so let's basically give him the kudos for doing so! :)

As I said, I thought the issues with this were bound up in complexity. Not only is this a lot going on for a common land, it's also two separate abilities to mentally track, and a lot of cumulative actions taken each turn to use this land. Moving cards back and forth between zones every turn to use your land eats into time, adds up in your considerations, and gets annoying.

Beyond that, though, Reuben Covington brought up to me another issue: this card might just be too strong! Many decks would happily play just the first ability. While we both stand by my comments that just the first ability would be too weird for common, he pushed that even adding a second ability was going too far; that it'd be best as an uncommon with just the first line. I still think it'd be ideal to find a way for it to end up in player's decks, but at uncommon, it being just a 'weird card' is a lot more justifiable.

As it is, with the first line and with the second, this is probably an uncommon or even rare, not common. Designing common lands that enable archetypes is very difficult, and I commend everyone who tried to do so, but especially you Wobbles, as you set out to do some very bold things with your designs! You've made some great designs here, but still not quite commons I think.

Jack, I took into account your "other creatures" adjustment, but I'll reiterate that as it is, this has a lot of issues with combat math even if you prevent it from hitting opponent's creatures specifically; I agree with Jay Treat that this should be sorcery speed. 

Personally, I believe that we're unlikely to see this effect at common (I've tried, believe me!) because the 'assigns' verbiage just doesn't appear at common. That is even ignoring the issues of messing with combat-math, even at sorcery speed. I think this is an interesting archetype (one of my favorites, in fact), but it's very tough to support at common, and this isn't quite the right approach. Any suggestions on better ways to signal 'toughness matters' at common?

This card is definitely very narrow, and that's a problem at common. The 'archetype' this enables consists of a very small subset of cards in a set, and is going to be a many-color deck that tries to splash activated abilities. The off-color activated abilities of artifacts in this set are going to need to be strongly incentivizing to splash for this to be causing anyone to reevaluate cards, which is tricky to accomplish.

I think there is a very interesting idea here, especially in the earlier iterations where it jumped mana, but I'm not sure it's to be found at common. Making an archetype around the 'useful tools' like Puzzleknots, Spellbombs, and other "colorful abilities" is very difficult indeed, as you noted. Once again, the problem of common lands strikes! I appreciate the ambition among our designers!

I do like your backup plan of a land that sacrifices to become a team pump with white mana was a solid idea, and I'd have loved to see more experimentation along that route! 

Much like Reclaim the Rings above, we have a ramp card that enables an archetype by searching for the members of it. Again, I'll evaluate the card largely on its own merits.

This simple, but effective, design once again strongly signals for Formation cards, but also presents an 'out' in case we don't have enough Formations in our deck. This is a safer effect than Reclaim the Rings above, but also means a smaller power level. The power of this depends largely on how much we really want to be finding Formations over basic lands. For Gates, the reason is multicolor, which is made even more important by the format. For Formations, we just don't know!

As an enabler, in isolation, it seems quite solid, clearly signalling and making me consider Formation cards more highly in future picks, as I can find them more reliably. When paired with the Formation Jay Treat designed, and another proposed idea, we get a more reliable metric. For both ideas, we see the card works quite well. I loved the idea of Formations being the fabled 'lands with mana costs'; I wonder what designs us Artisans can come up with for Formations? Try submitting some in the comments!

I agree with Jay Treat's suggestion that this is currently too weird and complex for common. Your intent is to "reward you for everything you have that can tap outside combat", and I agree that's a lovely idea for an archetype, but this is straying from that core concept in favor of combos that are unintuitive and will surprise players too often.

Drafting "as many tap abilities as possible" is certainly one way to go about it, as Jay suggested, but I also liked Doug Kent's suggestion to have it become once per turn. To enable an archetype, we don't need to ask for as many of a thing as possible, just that you care about that thing. Naturally, the more you have of that thing in your deck, the more likely you trigger the condition. I suggest this because unbounded upward growth each turn is a bit scary at common, especially when this will always get +1/+1 for each attacking creature (without vigilance, of course). 

Unfortunately, this change in wording often makes the card simply care about attacking creatures rather than creatures tapping out of combat. We'd have to do some backflips in wording to care about the latter, which makes the card trickier to design for common. Anyone got suggestions for the comments below on how to achieve that?

Good work, everyone!

I'm happy that my extra-hard challenge was embraced so readily, and that so many people had fun with it. Thanks for working so hard and coming up with such great ideas!


  1. Oh yes, I like that several of the designs did become simpler as they evolved. Particularly "enable monocolour"; I agree with your caveats, but that's a good example of an enabler which *needs* to be at common, rather than something which would work just as well with a slightly stronger card at uncommon.

    Ooh, good point. Yes, "toughness matters" would be a great theme, if I'd thought to recognise I could drop the doran text entirely.

    1. Watching the evolution of the cards was great!

      What was your original intent for the card's archetype if not 'toughness matters'?

    2. It was exactly that. I thought, what commons usually exist but aren't high draft picks. But i just immediately thought of those in connection to Doran and didn't take the next step of considering other enablers for the same idea

  2. I love toughness-matters, so I was a huge fan of Seeker of Doran. Flavor is a little weird of course since it had to match the art, but mechanically i thought the cqrd was very cool.

    Are lands with mana costs a thing people have been wanting? That seems strange to me. I think a lot of people will just look at them and think theyre spells at a glance, and Im certain some people would wonder if you "cast" them. Should something that looks like a cmc and otherwise function as one have this onr psrt not match up? Its not even a niche situation, as counterspells do show up at low rarities. Theres weird things happen if you want to put a mana cost in the top left corner and I dont find it that compelling to make up for it personally.

    The part I do find interesting is the idea of lands with a higher cmc than 0, but I dont think thats worth it. Another issue is it kinda messes with what makes lands lands, and I guess that goes back to people reading them as spells rather than lands if they were to have mana costs. Then theres the question, are you spending mana to "cast" or "play" it as your land drop? The answer i think is obviously not cast, but then should something that looks like a cmc be something youre paying as a cost to NOT "cast" something?

    I think attaching mana costs to lands is fine, but I think itd be best to tie it to rules text rather than putting a mana cost in the top right. Even then, the wording needed to do so to function as intended is very clunky and probably shouldnt show up on commons.

    I guess the big question for me is, what space so lands with mana costs open up to make ir worth it? I suppose you can have stronger utility abilities? Having lands you pay mana for would maybe help push a lands mattering set by letting you fill out a curve with lands, but it wouldnt necssssarily help with the creature count issue if you want people to be playing lots of lands.

    1. I think the intent is cards like Rupture Spire and Transguild Promenade, which are often shorthanded as 'lands with a mana cost'. I agree they'd need an indicator or new treatment or something to help signify they're not spells.

      There are a few land designs that are compelling as lands - in that they have interesting mana abilities, such as some of the ones people worked on for this article - that are also questionable as 'free' land drops. This is where 'paid' lands come into play. And yes, some utility lands also could be designed as 'paid' lands.

      It indeed helps make lands a 'pick' in draft, and makes them a part of the curve.

      I also agree that I'm not sure it's worth it, but it is at least an interesting experiment, and having a unified subtype to flavorfully justify it helps.

    2. It's one of those design spaces that's terribly fraught as you well illustrated, and thus rarely plumbed fully. I think if the costs are cheap or optional, it could enable bigger utility lands, not unlike the DFC lands from Ixalan.

  3. Yeah, I think ultimately I should have gone with Plan B and realized my initial concept just really wasn't working no matter how I tweaked it. It was either too strong or too weak.

    1. Right. As rkohn1357 did, knowing when to change tack is important!

  4. Nice, we get renders for the first time in a while! Thanks for putting in the extra effort, Inanimate, and thanks for the reviews!

    Ampryn Scout was partly inspired by how military cards work in Seven Wonders (a draft-centric game for those who don't know): you're only rewarded for collecting more than other players, which leads to some interesting dynamics. I considered wording the condition as "if you control more Scouts than each opponent", but I decided this version had better flavor.

    1. I'm glad it was appreciated! I figured it was essential to the reviews given that the cropping of the art based on card type was important.

      Seven Wonders is great, but the draft-centric nature of the game does make these kinds of cards play very differently; a little better in Seven Wonders, I think.

    2. I was thinking "If you control another scout" would be the easiest inplementatuon to grt the flavor of having more scouting thsn the opponent would make your guys better, but something like "If you control the most Scouts" might be another option? I like the idea again because of the flavor, but I think a problem with it in general is its not a resource both players are competing for.

      I havent played seven wonders so im not sure how it compares, but I imagine an issue arises that sometimes, maybe even most times, other players arent worried about Scouts in Magic. Sometimes nobody will care about scouts and the tension isnt there at all. Are military cards something all players always have to keep in mind each draft?

    3. It could be based on # of lands. Probably doesn't eliminate the feed bad of it.

  5. Discover Power could also enable an enchantments-matter archetype, a big-hands-matter archetype, or a looting/rummaging archetype.

  6. I like the idea of toughness matter but again how do you do it at common?
    Assuming that just having high toughness creatures that are good at common and higher rarity synergy is an option but not what I am interested in solving here:
    pump spells?

    Shield Bash 1G
    Target creature gets +X/+0 where X is it's toughness

    probably very swingy at common if X>5 but not ridiculous and could be safer at sorcery speed.

    alternatively opposite sorcery would encourage a slower game plan allowing time to draw impactful higher rarity synergy cards and compliments the wall-ish theme.

    Arm The Wall 1W
    Target blocking creature gets +X/+0 where X is its toughness
    [you gain X life]

    scaling direct damage is red and dangerous at common
    life loss is black but again dangerous
    Life gain like half of Arm the wall is fine but is it really an incentive

    Slightly more unusual:
    Intimidating Defenses 2W
    Enchantment Aura
    Enchant Creature
    Enchanted creature can't attack or block as long as you control a creature with higher toughness

    it is a pacifism with synergy effect and not to strong

    1. Perhaps the answer is really simple, if a bit boring. Green gets one-sided fighting at common. How about one sided butt fighting?

      Booty Blast {1}{G}
      Sorcery (C)
      Target creature you control deals damage equal to its toughness to target creature you don't control.

  7. I think Ring Protector compares closely with Sunstriker, trumping bears and all.

    1. Yeah, I might be evaluating it poorly, but it just didn't read as an aggressive enough card to me. It is still a fine 2-drop though, and would attack well in the early game.

    2. You're right that it's not going to enable an archetype all on its own, but in a format that's aggressive like Ixalan, it would sure make a dent.

  8. Yeah, I should have stuck with the vanilla Millikan land. It was the most eligant and common of the designs. If Wastes can be common, so can that.

    1. Yeah, in retrospect, I pushed you in the wrong direction. My apologies!

  9. Yes, counters on lands are finicky. That was an intentional nudge toward the desired play pattern.

    The two things I wanted to avoid are the "Vivid lands problem" - where you're stuck with counters that don't do anything - and the "Dryad Arbor problem" - where you have a land buried in a stack of other lands that unexpectedly becomes relevant to the game state. With the counters on it, you have to stick the land off to the side, which signals to the opponent "Hey, take notice of me - sometimes I can behave like a spell." Once the counters are depleted, you can toss the land back into the land stack where it'll just tap for colorless. It can't put counters on itself. It can't make use of counters directly, so there's not really a reason to use an outside effect to more counters on a depleted one. (In hindsight, I could have eliminated the temptation to bounce counters back and forth between Hubs by just saying "nonland" in the ability.)

    The one time it could get pretty thorny is if you happen to draw and play a bunch of them in a row, since you'll have fewer opportunities to activate them early in the game... but it doesn't make colored mana, so the only way this happens is if you were already color screwed. (Note to future designer Jen: don't make the charge counter theme also an artifact theme.) If you're not running a heavy charge counter theme you probably shouldn't have it in your deck at all.

    Thanks for doing the renders! If you want to do more separate review articles instead of comment threads, I'd be happy to lend a hand.