Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Weekend Art Challenge Review 050218 — Skizoh

Golden Guardian by Svetlin Velinov

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Here's the challenge we're reviewing today!

So, first off, Jay - I'm sorry I had to rename your card. But this oddity was the result of the name 'Relentless Wraith'. A beauty to some, an abomination to others. Anyway.

Whatever this card's name is, it's quite nice. While sacrificing lands is a dangerous cost, this has two benefits to it: one, it requires that you already control two Swamps, minimizing the chance of color-screw; and two, it is likely not dying before turn 5, so you probably have enough Swamps already. If I'm going to include a card that sacrifices lands as a cost in a set, this is how I'd do it.

This is also a nice space for Wraiths. I chose to task people with designing Wraiths because, well... you see, every single Wraith has swampwalk, and for two out of five of them, that's their entire rules text. So, with swampwalk gone, what's the future for Wraiths? Given that we haven't seen them in a while, and rarely saw them in the first place... likely, they don't have a future in the eyes of Wizards of the Coast. But that's what custom magic is for.

Many people immediately latched onto the idea of "Swamps matters". This is a natural evolution of the color-hate from old Magic. While it used to care about enemy Swamps, it's not a large leap to care about your Swamps. That's a big aspect of black without a creature type centered around it mechanically; why not wraiths for it?

Another element that people latched onto was evasion. As we see in Eerie Wraith, by R Stech, both aspects have been faithfully translated into this current design. Swampwalk, by its nature, made wraiths feel immaterial when in their natural territory. This captures that same feel.

My worry with Eerie Wraith is... well, it's pretty bad, isn't it? Sweatworks Brawler was a 3/3 with menace for 3M with upside. Of course, different sets have different needs, and the existence of Prakhata Club Security indicates a possible squeeze in power level here. Club Security wasn't the greatest, but it wasn't terrible either. Tough call, here. I'd be inclined to up the power level to really reward people for going monocolor - not easy to do in Limited - but that's me.
Larcent explored more of the evasive aspects of Wraiths with Murkwhisper Wraith, alongside adding an element of "madness vampirism" to Wraiths, which is interesting. In D&D, wraiths apparently drain strength and levels and such. While Wizards tries not to 'cross the streams', that could be a fun way to differentiate them, though it also makes them bump up against Vampires and Spectres.

I'm a fan of this card. Me and Larcent discussed whether this was better at rare or uncommon. My precedent, Abyssal Nocturnus, felt about right to me. Cards like Raiders' Wake include a way to get discard in them. Yet, Larcent's argument that getting a rare dead in Limited feels bad, while this one can appear often enough to appear early enough that you build around it, holds true. I do like that Larcent understands that at rare, it needs to be playable even without the combo, as Abyssal Nocturnus was. (If only barely.)
It was very fun watching Owen iterate on Otherworldly Vizier. I think ti's ended up in a solid place, though that text is a teensy bit squished. I still think it's important to have a sense of continuity with previous Wraiths (or else players inevitably ask, "Why is this a Wraith?"), but this is a solid card in itself, even if it doesn't signal a "Wraith" identity to me. Is their identity stealing? Presenting hard choices? I like either.
Boundary Wraith is a great design, rkohn1357. In the classic tradition of "big black beaters with downsides", this is a very unique and compelling downside. We have a touch of Menace here for that evasive continuity, but then some neat innovation, dragging Wraiths into the future. I like it. This is a fun minigame you're presenting to opponents who block, and you're guaranteeing the minigame happens at least twice (usually). Very nice.
Jack, Presager of Death is an interesting implementation of "walking over Swamps"; bogging the opponent down with them. The taxing doesn't feel super black to me, but it's not a break by any means. Could this have them pay life and still be interesting, I wonder?

The second ability is where I think this design gets a bit scattered. I get the idea here - evasion encourages attacks, which 'opens up' the ability to trigger - and it also prevents your opponents from fretting over attackers on their turn, unlike other cards with this kind of mechanic. But though the abilities work together, it doesn't necessarily feel like they feel right together. I see the flavor here, but it doesn't quite hit its mark. I think it's on the right track, though; with some iteration, this could work. The flavor of a Wraith that strides into the battlefield, with the swamp holding defenders at bay, as it gains strength from those who die drowning in mud... that's flavorful as heck. But this mechanical implementation doesn't quite do it for me.
Wow, what a cool design Isao. Deathmoor Wraith really does it for me. In many cases, this is similar to evasion, but still chumpable if needed. But at instant speed, this becomes a potent trick. I love it. A set without any instant-speed way to bring in Swamps would undermine the potential of this card substantially, but it's still fine without them. (Though it probably needn't be uncommon at that point. In fact, I'm not sure it needs to be uncommon now.)
Bradley did some great iterative work on Insomnia Wraith that I'd encourage everyone to check out. Being willing to abandon the recursion aspects in favor of the other aspects was a bold move, but I agree that it worked out wonderfully. This serves many functions, with a lot of fun decisions at play. It can self-mill every turn as long as it mills another Swamp; it can mill opponents if you already had Swamps in your yard; and you can even alternate, trying to hit two or more Swamps, so that you can then power out a few mills in that one hit. 

I'm wondering if this could even be cheaper. If it was cheaper, the ability to get Swamps could also make it real nice at smoothing out a late-game. It'd also be a lot stronger, though. Hm! Anyway, it's a fantastic design as-is!
I chose this artwork specifically so that it could support Wraiths in other colors if necessary, and I'm glad a few people pursued multicolor options. However, as I noted to Doug in the comments, Wraith of Demise doesn't feel sufficiently multicolored to me. 

Most gold cards justify their multicolor status by drawing from abilities in each color, producing a card no color individually could have done. In the case of Wraith of Demise, black gets access to flying, haste, fading, and that trigger, so there's nothing that red or blue contribute.

Okay, it's not the end of the world. On the other hand, sometimes a multicolor card doesn't mean adding abilities, but instead adding power and efficiency. In addition, noted by Mark Rosewater, a design like Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain is gold as a 'power limiter', even though blue can get that effect on its own. So, does the {U}{R} get justified by virtue of power level and efficiency? Well, we have the downside as the 'argument' for cheapness. While, sure, maybe you couldn't see this card for {B}{B}{B}, it just doesn't feel like it warrants {U} and {R} to me, because the downside already 'explains away' the cheap cost (even if it doesn't justify it entirely).

Lastly, fading is just an obsolete mechanic, unfortunately. As flavorful as it might be, almost no players played it correctly. Vanishing would be the correct choice. However, vanishing, too, had pretty bad gameplay... my temptation would be to just spell it out, with a counter of your choice that is more flavorful, but with the wording of Vanishing.
I love the color shift here, Wobbles, it's clever! I also love the pun in Guardant Wraith, that's super clever. This is, like, clever on so many levels.

So, is the new identity here for Wraiths "paying life", or something? I can buy that. I still feel a 3/1 2-drop isn't quite black, but it's by no means a break in black either, I think.
Wood Wraith is another sort of color shift, putting Wraiths into green. Interesting. Pasteur preserves quite a bit of what makes Wraiths Wraith-y, by caring about Swamps. I still think the name isn't ideal, but the design is fine enough. I also think this might have a bit too much power to it; a 3/1 for G in a black/green deck is very good, and doesn't feel very {B}{G} to me. It's not the end of the world, but it might need a look in development.
This is a great take by Zachariah on Knight of Malice. Compared to Wasteland Scorpion, it trades Cycling for a conditional power-boost. Given the narrowness of when it gets that power boost, I actually think this might be best at common, especially since most of deathtouch's power comes in defense rather than offense, and this only boosts offense meaningfully. Still, it's fair at uncommon as much at common. Stalking Wraith is a great design, and one with a very nice spin on cards like Glacial Crasher and Knight of Malice that I hope to see when Curses return.
I agree with Moonfolklore's own assessment that this needs a weird environment to feel right - one where being black and/or having Swamps matters even to blue - but for the most part Darktide Wraith's ability is thoroughly black. Nonetheless, the card is quite intriguing with a strong flavor, and invites a buildaround deck. It does some interesting things in preventing opponents from using combat tricks and messing around in your second main-phase, as well as other utilities in making your lands Swamps. Making creatures black has some more niche uses. Overall, quite a puzzler of a card, that sells its weirdness through flavor, and invites continued inspection to see what it works well with. All signs of a great design.
While me and Sage disagreed a bit on what to keep and what to change for Wraiths' identity, I do ultimately think this came out to be a fine card. Emphasizing Wraiths as "very monoblack" is a good direction to take them, while still subtly maintaining the Swamps-matters angle. I did really appreciate the reasoning for each aspect of Barrow Wraith, which came out to be a solid design that felt put-together mechanically as well as flavorfully. The power level is just about right too. Nice work!
So, cosmossexiestmanever - what a username - might notice I didn't include the flavortext. That's because it's too long, even with clever formatting. 
Onto the card. We don't often see mana-doubling like this at uncommon, but we also just don't see it often in general. Nirkana Revenant and Crypt Ghast are both rares, but they also don't have such a big limitation as The Brackenwisp Hazewraith does. On its own, this only doubles your mana starting turn 6, and that's if it wasn't destroyed in the meantime. Turn 6 is pretty early into a Limited game, yes, but this isn't jumping you too significantly. There's not a lot of meaningful difference between 6 drops and 12 drops in the late stages of a Limited game, in my opinion; whatever kind of big dudes you have, we want them to come down by that point to end the game. There's other sources of mana ramp that could even be considered more efficient than this. That 'doubling' only occurs in monoblack, after all; in a typical Limited game, this would more likely give you 9 mana on turn 6. 
In Constructed, it's probably too slow and fragile. There's more ways to get it to untap quickly, so this could get you ten mana on turn 5 hypothetically, which is better... but that also pushes you into other colors.
Overall, it seems like a tricky card developmentally, but it could be tested. The main concern I have is whether this reward is properly positioned with the card itself. Does a 2/2 with deathtouch, that needs to attack (usually), really fit with the kind of deck that wants to ramp with Swamps like this? Both Nirkana Revenant and Crypt Ghast played well with their ramping, by encouraging grindier decks, or acting as a finisher. The Brackenwisp Hazewraith doesn't seem to be as conducive to its reward. That's another thing to keep an eye on in testing.
Lee Owens gives us more Swamp-based ramp! This one is a lot scarier than the previous one. Let's compare this to Magus of the Coffers, or Cabal Stronghold. Being able to produce flat {B} for each Swamp, with no "tax", is frankly way too good. Even for {B}{B}{B}, this is a Thran Dynamo at the very least. Magus of the Coffers is already only at its best in a mono-{B} deck, so that's the kind of deck we need to compare them with. I think being able to churn out three mana, at least, is just too much without a tax. The reason we have that small tax of {2} is precisely to keep this from being an absurd ramping card without extreme devotion to black. With three Swamps, we want it to be 'just a dork', not a Dynamo.
Then, we add in the menace ability! I do really like how that works with the first ability, and that it does make you consider whether to ramp or attack with this, or to ramp and give the menace to your team, or... the problem is, it's just another addition to the power level of Cabal Wraith. 
I think this design is great, but the costing is just too efficient I fear.
Huh, Nightmare Wraith very interesting. I wonder whether this wording is really necessary, given the existence of Squelching Leeches. Squelching Leeches can grow alongside your Swamps, while Nightmare Wraith is locked into its initial size - and it only checks tapped Swamps, too. Now, having +1/+1 counters is useful for a lot of other reasons, definitely - and this gets better if you're losing Swamps for some reason. (Perhaps they were only temporarily Swamps?) In addition, this is - of course - only {3}{B} rather than {2}{B}{B}, so it's easier to cast in a worst-case scenario... but that worst-case scenario really isn't too heartening, is it? There's not a lot of difference in the costs when the cards inherently push for monoblack decks, in my opinion.
In Limited, I'd say you're only running this if you're leaning heavily towards black. So this ranges between a 3/3 and a 5/5. Not too strong, really. It feels more fitting for a common than an uncommon.
Overall, I like the design, but the power level is a touch low. That's fine for some formats. But it leads me to believe this probably wants to be 3CMC, or it wants to be common.

Great work this weekend, Artisans! I loved seeing our takes on Wraiths. I must admit, I'm very partial to the obscure creature type, and I hope to see them return someday. Perhaps even with one of your takes on it!


  1. Holy moly. Those were some cool designs.

    When I clicked Jay's link to all wraiths and saw there were only 5, I was a little shocked, since I could have sworn there were more. But it just turns out I have like 60 copies of Bog Wraith.

  2. Cool challenge. Good stuff, Artisans.
    Now I really want to see a resurgence of wraiths.

  3. My favorite space was definitely when a swamp etbs under your control. I was a fan. I kind of thought the indestructible + deathtouch reward for that was a little more out of the norm than needed and a simpler reward, like flying, would have been my choice. It wasn't a problem I'd thought of, and I guess it wasn't really a "problem" per se, but an evasion ability like flying or menace also would have had better synergy than the abilities used, which as said feel like they could want you to be able to drop swamps on opponent's turns.

    1. Yeah, good points. I do think that at uncommon it's alright to hint that you want to drop a Swamp on an opponent's turn, because then you're pushing players to investigate some interesting strategies. At common it'd be too weird, though, agreed.

    2. I liked deathtouch and indestructible, though either might have sufficed.

  4. I'm confused, what is the downside on Boundary Wraith? It looks like it has an almost-deathtouch for anything it can't kill normally, which strikes me as straight upside. Did you envision it as discard-exiling things that it kills instead of killing them? Because the current wording doesn't do that, I don't think.

    1. Ah, yeah, I did misread it! Woops! That is completely my mistake.

      As it is currently, I think it's still quite fair. {1}{B}{B} for a 3/3 with menace and deathouch, given the precedent of Kederekt Creeper and Dire Fleet Ravager, seems strong but not impossible. That leads me to believe this card is about right.

  5. A vanilla 3/1 for two is white for sure. But having the "while attacking" condition doesn't feel while at all. Must attack/can't block is RB territory. When combined with the life payment, the Vanguard colorshift seems really easy.

  6. Someday I'll design a card that doesn't turn out to be an iteration on something that was already made. It was not this day, though.