Guest judge Alexis Janson
Tribal Choice: Horror
"A Biomancer is a butcher. A Necromancer is a graverobber. Truly harnessing the power of life requires Ichormancy." —Kyrza, Ichormancer Eternal
An Ichormancer is a researcher who modifies the very core of a being, working in the magical space between physical body and psychic essence. But living creatures are complicated, so all too often, the experiments result in twisted nightmarish mistakes—Horrors. Fortunately, any mistake can be broken back down and rebuilt again, in the endless pursuit of perfection.
Horrors in Magic have no pre-existing mechanical identity. Many of them share a flavor of corruption and mutation, a sense of unease, a sense that they are not quite what nature intended. They exist in all five colors, but are mainly blue and black, the colors I chose to work with.
My designs communicate the Horrors' unnatural state, their imperfection, via non-square stats and imbalanced multicolored costs. To that end, I borrowed the 3/2 Horror tokens from Shadows over Innistrad, although mine are black instead of colorless.
Ichormantic Horrors are frightening and unnatural (menace is a perfect fit), but they aren't very large. There is no 7/7 trampling Horror in this block.
The controlling Horror deck grinds out long-term advantage through repeated death triggers and synergies. The more aggressive version uses menace and edict effects to keep an opponent on the back foot while building up a critical mass of Horrors.
Corrupted Research (common)
Draw three cards. Then discard two cards unless you sacrifice a Horror.
Typically, blue does not sacrifice its creatures for card advantage, black does. Occasionally blue might do Vivisection for flavor reasons. Here you are demonstrating that your theme works at common, so this is not appropriate. I might use a discard effect here, similar to the card Thirst for Knowledge.
One issue I see with this card is that this is a synergy card with a restrictive mana cost. There is a deck-building cost to play this card: put a lot of Horrors in your deck. The payoff is only plus one card, which is not that rewarding, yet this costs 1UU. I think this card would be cooler if it were an instant—then you could cast it in response to removal and feel more rewarded. Like Erik, I also don't think this is a mono-blue card because it involves sacrificing.
You've taken Vivisection and made it better in at least two ways. Commons that draw three are not usually where we push boundaries. This common only makes sense if there's a graveyard and a sacrifice theme going on in Horrors—appropriate, but ultimately a bit uninspired, and none of your designs touch the graveyard.
As a general rule of thumb, we tend to restrict card drawing in common to two cards. The only recent exception involved spending eight mana, so it was clearly only usable late game. As is, this card will let you draw cards at a more efficient rate and quicker than we usually do at common. As Erik and Melissa already pointed out, sacrificing other creatures for spells isn't something we really do in blue; you would need the world's flavor to justify it, and even then it would be a serious bend. You did capture the essence of what we like to see in common tribal cards, what R&D calls "threshold 1," which means you only need one of the creature type to be able to function
Congealed Construct (common)
Creature — Horror
When CARDNAME dies, reveal the top card of your library. If it's a Horror, draw two cards. Otherwise, draw a card.
There is something interesting here, with some issues. First, it is nice if commons tend to work fairly often. Imagine if my Limited deck has fourteen Horrors, including one of these. Then thirteen of the other 39 cards are Horrors, and this only rewards me for playing a heavy tribal deck in one out of three games. Second, I am revealing the card and drawing it, even it is not a Horror, reducing the hidden information of my hand. I would change this to "scry 2, then reveal the top card of your library. If it is a Horror, draw a card, otherwise put it into your graveyard."
This is a nice way to do a tribal payoff at common. This is a powerful card that you'll happily play in your deck regardless of how many Horrors you have, but the more you have, the stronger this is. This is not the type of card that will "float" to the Horror player in a draft, which I think is good for a common. One thing I want to point out is that I would not put these first two cards in the same set. They are both Horror rewards where the payoff is draw cards, and both have the same converted mana cost. I think the cards are too similar. (The designers were told to assume all their designs were going to appear in the same set.)
We would probably just print either Exultant Cultist or Youthful Scholar as a Horror, unless there's a library-manipulation theme going on. I didn't see any reason in your other cards to care about the top card of your library, so it probably shouldn't be one of your commons. This seems like a missed opportunity, as Horrors being so weird/scary that they interact across zones would've been a much more novel theme to explore.
My major issue with this card is that you worded it in a way that might cause confusion. I wouldn't reveal it and then separately draw it, as there's some ambiguity as to whether you count the Horror when drawing the cards. I would reveal and draw a card as a single action. Then if it's a Horror, draw an additional card.
Abandoned Laboratory (uncommon)
T: Add C to your mana pool.
B, T: When target non-token Horror you control dies this turn, create a 3/2 black Horror creature token. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.
This is a good design. It both rewards sacrificing, and gives more Horrors to sacrifice, assuming your two-color deck wants to play a colorless land.
I like what this card is doing, but I am not a fan of the execution. Usually you will activate this and it won't do anything (activate, attack, opponent doesn't block, the card did nothing). Ways to get around that are making the activation more expensive and removing the sorcery restriction. I would expect to see a lot of sacrifice effects in this tribe when I see this land in your set. One cool thing about this card is you can utilize this as pseudo-evasion, because it disincentivizes blocking. I dislike lands in Limited that can mess up your color balance, and this does that by tapping for C. You can easily fix that by making this enter tapped and tapping for B. This is the type of card that players will cut from their decks if they are splashing a color or have a lot of CC in their mana costs.
This feels like it's a land because you needed to make a land; this effect would've made more sense to me on pretty much any other card type. Making it a land makes it almost free to include in your deck, which means you'll see this being played all over the place rather than forcing deck builders to commit. I like making this effect sorcery speed and I'm glad to see the nontoken creature restriction.
I agree with Melissa that I would have had this entered tapped and produce black mana. Due to the constraints of the challenge, you're encouraging a two-color Horror deck, so forcing them to play a colorless land is far from ideal. I like what this card is trying to do, but I don't believe it will do a good job of it in its current execution. Saying "If you kill this this turn, I get a reward" is basically a wordy unblockable. I think the crux of the problem is what Alexis was talking about. This card doesn't want to be a land. You want it to be a surprise, meaning it wants to be an instant (or a permanent with flash).
Malevolence Transplant (uncommon)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchanted creature gets +2/+0, has menace, and is a Horror in addition to its other creature types.
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, each player sacrifices a non-Horror creature.
This is my favorite card of your set. It protects your creature from the sacrifice effect, and plays up the feeling of horror.
I don't enjoy creature-buffing Auras in Limited because of the potential to get two-for-oned, but this one looks great because it usually replaces itself. That said, I think this card is doing a little too much. Since the opponent is sacrificing a creature (and you likely aren't), menace means that the opponent can't block this until they play their third creature. I think that is more frustrating than fun. For that reason, I'd remove menace. I think this is an interesting Standard card at 1B.
You've got an obvious sacrifice theme in Horrors, and yet I can't sac my Horror to this effect. I suspect this card would lead to some big swings and surprise blowouts, as most opponents will need at least three creatures to have a chance of stopping my attack. Between those two things I suspect there will be a lot of "Oh . . . right" moments with this card when one player or the other makes a decision based on a misunderstanding of this card, which are some of the least fun moments in Magic. Not a fan of this package of potpourri.
This card is a bit odd in that it's a tribal card that, in order to make use of all its components, wants you to play a non-Horror creature in your Horror-themed deck. Obviously, you could enchant a Horror with this Aura, but the mere fact that it saves a non-Horror creature encourages you to consider pushing outside your tribe. This would make some sense if you were pushing a cross-tribal synergy, but I didn't see any evidence of this on other cards. The other odd thing is that in your set, you want to sacrifice Horrors, so it's strange that you turn a creature into a Horror and grant it extra abilities. That makes you less likely to want to sacrifice it. I might have considered granting an extra ability if the enchanted creature was a Horror instead of turning the creature into a Horror.
Sacrifice any number of Horrors. Then create two 3/2 black Horror creature tokens for every Horror that died under your control this turn.
If your opponent has Rest in Peace or similar, your Horrors don't die, they just get exiled to the happy fun sunshine cake factory in the sky (what a horrible place). Be careful to ensure other cards in your set and in other sets that will work concurrent with your set don't make this a frequently occurring disappointing interaction.
This doubling effect is very interesting. It oozes with flavor! However, it is not telling me "Horror."
Interesting idea to combine Caller of the Claw with a sac outlet. I like the different ways you can play with this. Rebuild post-wrath or upgrade your creatures into more creatures.
This is reminiscent of Hellion Eruption or Devastating Summons but with much lower risk. We'd have to be really careful to make sure that the best use of this card wasn't just tripling my sacrificial resources for some crazy combo. I'm interested in playing the "fair" version of this deck with grindy value trades, but this card isn't telling me what makes that deck new and unique.
Your set design pushes you to go wide with Horrors. This design is one of my favorites because it's the kind of thing you can build a tribal deck around. My biggest issue with this card is more of a global issue. You want a consistent message of whether or not you're allowed to sacrifice Horror creature tokens. That means you need to choose one and be consistent in your set. These cards are all supposed to be from the same set, yet they work differently. You would need to fix that.
Ichormantic Pit (rare)
At the beginning of your end step, you may sacrifice a Horror. If you do, reveal cards from your library until you reveal a Horror card. Put it onto the battlefield, then put all other cards revealed this way on the bottom of your library in a random order.
This points me toward a deck that only has a couple of copies of the most powerful Horror, and other ways of generating Horrors (such as token creatures). That deck would play the same way game after game. While it is reasonable to use an existing solution to this problem (such as only looking at a fixed number of cards, or a converted mana cost restriction based on the sacrificed creature), this is a design contest. This was a terrific opportunity to design a flavorful limitation.
This looks too strong and easily abusable. Your set already has Horror tokens at a high density, so there's no stopping me from building a deck with the strongest, most expensive Horrors as a one- or two-of, then cast this and get my one creature immediately (Think Oath of Druids with only one creature in your deck, or the old Standard Polymorph decks with only Emrakul to find). I also don't like that it happens every turn. It will lead to repetitive gameplay. You could instead reveal five cards from the top of your library and get one Horror from among them into play; that will make your deck building more creative and interesting and not make the games play out the same every time. It would also ask you to put a lot of Horrors into your deck, which seems like what you wanted this card to do.
I would be excited to try and build a deck to abuse this. This card was obviously intended to scratch my Jenny itch, but it's setting off my Spike warnings as well. Cards that put things onto the battlefield for free are one of the biggest red flags for constructed balance. That's solvable in a number of ways, but I'm a little concerned that you didn't address that proactively. Good catch on the random ordering.
I have the same basic note as the other judges, but I want to present it from a different vantage point. One of the early lessons of design is the difference between what someone having fun will do with the card and what someone trying to win will do with the card. If you're having fun, you fill your deck with Horrors and every sacrifice brings a new surprise. If you're trying to win, you put just one potent Horror in your deck (with cards that make Horror tokens) so that when your Horror dies, you know exactly what you're going to get. That's where this design fails for me. You want to design your tribal cards so that the correct way to play them to win encourages being tribal and not anti-tribal.
Kyrza, Ichormancer Eternal (mythic rare)
Legendary Planeswalker — Kyrza
You may play CARDNAME's loyalty abilities twice each turn instead of once.
+1: Create a 3/2 black Horror creature token.
-3: This turn, whenever a Horror enters the battlefield under your control, you may return target creature to its owner's hand.
-13: You get an emblem with "Whenever a Horror enters the battlefield under your control, return target permanent to its owner's hand. That player discards a card."
The best part about this design is that you can activate the second ability, then activate the first and feel rewarded. However, this points toward even better design possibilities. To give the player more pleasing choices, instead of just following instructions, the abilities should be designed so you get rewarded another way if you activate the first ability before the second. For example, if the second ability also had "Each opponent loses 1 life for each creature you control," you would sometimes activate the abilities in a different order.
I think the package here is interesting, but I dislike the play pattern. Getting two 3/2's will kill more quickly than getting the emblem, so there is little reason to use the ultimate. Planeswalker ultimates should win the game eventually, especially when asked to keep a planeswalker in play for five turns uncontested. This planeswalker ultimate will set you back, and you'll have to rebuild. The loyalty cost on the ultimate is too high and not rewarding enough (keeping this in play for five turns is a huge ask, and I'd rather just continue to make 3/2s and/or use the -3 to control the board). Sequencing is unsatisfying for a seven-mana planeswalker.
Planeswalkers have very restrictive design space, and yet we need them to be in almost every set. As such, we try to use that design space up very deliberately. I doubt we would put a unique mana cost, a static ability, and a niche tribal planeswalker all on one card. For seven mana, I would expect a planeswalker that immediately takes over the game, and this certainly delivers. The static ability on this planeswalker begs for simple abilities that create four or more interesting permutations, but this card lacks that elegance, with only two realistic permutations the first turn. After five turns, I would generally expect an ultimate with more immediate impact. I've probably already won the game in practice, and the ultimate should help close the game out quickly rather than simply make it more dismal for my opponent to keep playing.
I like the static ability (with the caveat that we've hypothetically decided to start doing static abilities on planeswalkers— something we haven't done yet, but hey, this is a challenge to show off design chops). My issue is that the design doesn't maximize the ability. I like the first ability. It plays into your larger theme, and token making has proven to be a good means for a planeswalker to protect itself. The second ability being bounce seems wrong for a few reasons. One, it's strong enough to require a -3 loyalty cost, limiting how many times you could do both the first two abilities together. Two, repeatable bounce has proven to be a bit oppressive and not particularly fun. The third ability has multiple issues. It repeats much of the second ability making you not want to use it once you have the emblem. It's also a traditional ultimate requiring a high cost that also lessens your ability to combo with it. I would have made a third ability that was less of an ultimate but cheaper so that you set up more interesting combinations. What this planeswalker should have been was the static ability with three different cheaper loyalty abilities that all mixed and matched with each other to create cool interactions. If you could have designed it so each interaction was different based on the order that you used them, that would have been a great design.
Kyrza's Lost Paragon (mythic rare)
(no casting cost, color indicator shows blue and black)
Legendary Creature — Horror Lord
Other Horrors you control have menace.
When you would create a Horror token, you may pay 1UUB to put CARDNAME onto the battlefield from outside the game instead. You may play this ability of a card named CARDNAME only once each game.
"It was so beautiful . . . but how did I do it?" —Kyrza
This adorable little critter's last ability can probably work, but it has a ton of details to discuss. Abilities working from outside the game and affecting the game is new and suspicious. Replacement effects can't ask for a mana payment, but there are plenty of ways around that. Referring to the ability as "this ability" when it can exist on multiple objects isn't really doable, but I'm sure there's a way to catch it. All in all, I'm happy to see this kind of design come up and generate conversation about what the rules can do, even if they get cut for causing too many questions 10 minutes later.
While this is novel, I doubt it is fruitful. I strongly suspect this would take a lot more effort for Magic Online to implement a replacement ability from the sideboard than one card would warrant.
I think the idea of fetching a cool Horror out of your sideboard is good one, but I'm sad I can't even cast this! I think this will confuse many players on a first read, because most players expect to be able to cast the cards they play in their decks. No mana costs makes this card a risk in older formats with ways to cheat it out like Aether Vial and As Foretold. I wish this card had a mana cost, but you still had the option to play one in your sideboard to fetch. I am also not getting the only once per game thing. This is a vulnerable creature, and I would be sad if I pulled this off only to have it die to a removal spell, and never being able to get another one out from my sideboard. I think there is cool space here for once-per-game effects, but I would expect to be able to do something else with my additional copies of this card. This type of design leads to repetitive gameplay, similar to tutoring. When I create a Horror token, I'm always going to do this when I can, and games with this card will play out the same way. This is why we limit tutor effects, or put restrictions on them, especially in Standard. With this card, I'm always going to have access to it, and as long as I have 1UUB, I'm always going to want to get this into play.
This fits well at mythic rare with its awesome, unique ability. Part of the reason it's so novel is that we are very careful with abilities that virtually guarantee you will always have access to a specific card. Tutoring effects tend to cost four or more mana for this reason, or be carefully restricted to a "safer" subset of cards. If we ever did something like this, it would likely be a French vanilla creature. The "Other Horrors . . ." line distracts from the coolest part of the card while making it much riskier to print. As written, I suspect the best deck for this would be a deck that spams cheap Horrors and Horror tokens, and then on the final turn of the game casts this card out of nowhere for an alpha strike. The best thing to do with this card needs to be actually attacking with it for it to see print.
I'm not a big fan of this card just sitting outside the game. It seems like novelty more for the sake of novelty than function. I don't mind having a lord that can evolve out of Horror tokens, but it should probably work out of your hand rather than essentially be a global game rule that applies to all Horror tokens.
Overall Judge Commentary
Your idea of a mechanical identity for Horrors is interesting. A lot of your cards need work. Some have color pie problems, some have play issues. Other than the sacrifice strategy, I don't see any obvious way to make my own cards. If I need to make new cards for Draft or Standard, I am not in a good position. But, because of the cards that already need work, it is very important that I have a clearer idea of what I am supposed to make. Overall, I don't find this to a fruitful basis for progress.
Mechanically, your Horrors feel like the "value" tribe, which sounds like fun space and many players will find appealing. The issue however is that this space is not really innovative and new. I think combining menace with disruption and value can be a little scary, and should be used sparingly. The way this tribe plays out, it's going to be very hard for your opponent to block, and it can be frustrating to feel like you have no blocking decisions (see Design 4). I would not have menace be a main theme for Horrors, and would only use it on a few cards.
You hinted at a variety of possible themes for the Horror deck, but I'm being pulled in a number of competing directions and your cards, especially your most novel concepts, fall short on execution.
I'll admit, when you first picked Horrors, I was skeptical. It didn't seem like a tribe that evoked a natural play pattern nor was something you would expect to band together as a group, but I reserved my judgment until I could see your execution. Sadly, you didn't deliver on either of these two things for me. I'm not quite sure why Horrors want to be sacrificed as a tribe and even then, your execution didn't make sacrificing Horrors easy to do. I get flavorfully wanting to turn other things into Horrors, but then you get a tribal deck that doesn't start as your tribe. I liked some of the mechanical space you played around in with Horror creature tokens, but it just didn't feel like Horrors for me. A big part of this challenge was figuring out how to build a play pattern that was fun and flavorful. I think you had some neat ideas, but they didn't mesh together into a cohesive whole. I would love to see you spend more time using your playtesting to focus on the feel of how your cards play.
Alex, I'm sorry to say, we've chosen to let you go this week. You show a lot of promise with some flashes of true brilliance, but you're up against a strong pool of designers, all of whom have had a stronger composite body of design than you. I think you have some impressive raw design skills and, with more work, have a future in the game design industry.