Pattern Recognition #96 - Custom Card Critique Finale

Card Design Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


10 January 2019


Hello everyone! Welcome back to Pattern Recognition,'s longest running article series about the bric and brac of Magic: The Gathering, card design, game history and theory as well as being my own personal soap box for when I want to go on and on about things that interest me. Who am I? Well, I am berryjon, self professed Old Fogey and yes, I've been playing this game for longer than some of you have been alive. I've earned that title.

And so, with a slump, I cross the finish line. Today marks the sixth and last Custom Card Critique. It's been interesting. That's all I can really say about it. Mostly because I haven't quite finished yet, and there are still words I want to say. So, let's get started!

lamme10000 gives us our last Planeswalker, and it's...

Skitter, Baron of the Boardwalk

Legendary Planeswalker - Taylor
You may activate up to three loyalty abilities of Skitter, Baron of the Boardwalk each turn.
+1: Look at the top card of target player's library or a card at random from an opponent's hand.
0: Target permanent you control gains hexproof until your next turn.
-X: Target creature gets -X/-1 until your next turn. Its controller loses 1 life.


For those of you not aware, Skitter, also known as Taylor Hebert, is the ... let's call her the primary viewpoint character of the Web Novel "Worm". The story shows a lot of the developing skills of the author, who goes by the nom de plume of Wildblow, and in retrospect, it's horribly paced with badly developed characters, plottwists that make little sense in context and yet, despite all this, is something of a diamond in the rough. I honestly recommend giving it a try, though I have to warn you that it's not for everyone.

Anyway, this card is guilty, Guilty, GUILTY of the most horrible crime I can envision.

It's a Vorthos failure on all levels. The character in question is only those colours when misrepresenting her character, and the card type is wrong. I won't say more for discretion in spoiling the story.

So, rather than rave and rage for pages on end, I'm just going to ignore the name and all the baggage that comes with it, and instead focus on the mechanics.

Now, let's start off with the most horribly broken thing - three abilities per turn? Seriously? Look, The Chain Veil and Oath of Teferi only allow for one additional activation at a time, and those are both ridiculously powerful cards. I suppose that this is supposed to be 'balanced' by only having two initial Loyalty, but let me put it in these terms; for the cost of 0, this Planeswalker can kill any creature with a Toughness of three or less, and cause its controller to lose 3 life.

I'll get to that in a couple paragraphs, but for now, know that this 'Walker is Bah-ROKEN right out the gate.

This card's first ability is, I think a little wonky, or at least underpowered. Looking at the top card of a single player's library, then one card at random from their hand? If I put that onto an Instant, I wouldn't even value that card's utility at in cost. It's just that underwhelming. I mean, heck, Telepathy costs and reveals all opponents hands! Even looking at the top of an opponent's library is redundant when you know that they're going to draw it on their turn.

If this card is going to go with the 'spy' theme associated with the Dimir, then I would have the +1 be either a Fateseal 1, or a temporary Telepathy effect.

Secondly, handing out Hexproof. Now, this isn't a bad deal on the surface. Sure, one creature at a time, but it's not like is shy about making otherwise generic creatures untouchable by the hands of the opponents. In theory this is a fairly reasonable ability, but I would cost it as a -1 as, let's face it, if you're putting Hexproof on something, it's to protect it from a deck that really wants it gone and can't depend on combat damage to do it, such as with all of Blue's creatures that are unblockable.

So there has to be a cost here to even be palpable.

Lastly, this walker's "Ultimate" is bad. Like, really bad. Did you know that if I paid nothing into it, but just activated it three times targeting the same creature, I could give it -0/-3, and makes its controller lose three life?

There's a concept in Magic regarding Planeswalkers. That's if they can 'protect' themselves from an opponent's creatures. The easiest way to look at this would be Elspeth, Knight-Errant, whose first ability creates a creature that can block an attacker directed at her while improving her Loyalty. That's protection.

This is also protection, but in a more proactive way. This last ability allows this 'walker's controller to kill up to three creatures with no real loss to the 'Walker. Which also allows the same player to swing into a now-empty board.

An ability like this needs a cost. You can't depend on the "X" to be a balance factor.

From the top then, broken static ability that just breaks everything else about this 'walker. A +1 that is an afterthought, a 0 that acts as a 'win harder' button and a -X that doesn't actually need to be paid for and can start to clear the board pretty damned quickly.

So, once again, BAH-ROKEN.

Let's move on to something less depressing. cdkime gives us this interesting little callback to the days of yore;

Varken the Wild-tamer

Legendary Creature - Human Druid
Creatures you control have banding.
: Return target creature you control to its owners hand. Create a 0/2 green Plant creature token with defender. Activate this ability only once per turn.
Mist and Plant. Man and Beast. All answered his call.

Hey, you provided your own flavour text! Nice!

Now, the first thing you do here is provide Banding. Which opens up a whole heap and can of worms thanks to being, well, Banding. However, it does work out with the rest of the creature, and its toughness of 4.

The activated ability, however, raises a few questions with me. Why is this a Four-Color creature? Why is in the casting cost, and in the bounce ability?

Is this another way to get a 4 colour General without going all four colours in the casting cost?

I can live with that.

As for said Acitvated ability, however, I do kinda like it. Bouncing a creature you control (including this one!) and getting a Plant into play is a pretty nice deal, especially when you have this guy able to hand out Banding to all those defenders, allowing them to soak up damage when someone makes the mistake of attacking you.

Except that no matter how I parse this, this creature doesn't need to be more than . You see, I don't have a problem with the token making or the Banding. It's the Flicker effect that the activated ability could turn out to be. Bounce and return a creature and bring it back with a Plant. Even if you delayed it until the end of the turn, like with Ghostway, it still works thanks to the inbuilt once-per-turn limit. Although you could, in theory, go deep into Green for some of their very early Haste-granting effects, and utilize this effect multiple times in a turn as each Flicker'd version of this creature has its own unique version of the once-per-turn limit.

In fact, I would just drop the from the casting cost as it adds nothing to the creature, and the in the ability is just superfluous. So let's rephrase that ability as:

: Exile target creature you control, then return it to the battlefield you control during your next End step. Create a 0/2 Plant creature with Defender.

Simpler, keeps to the colours of the creature already (as I want to drop the ) and now I really want to find some way to fix Banding so that it can be added to the Selesnya toolkit, because this would actually be a pretty amazing card if that worked out.

There's really not a lot to say about this guy. It's a good card that needs some tweaking to really gel, but I think it could actually see some play!

Moving on, we have Pervavita and his/her/whatever submission:

Firry Impulse

Each card you exile from the top of your library while casting this spell pays for .
Deal 3 damage to any target.

I think you misspelled Fiery. Which means that you lose one non-existing Vorthos point for using the same name as Fiery Impulse.

Now, normally, I would comment on the Casting cost here, but as the cost is supposed to be stupid, let's get right to the real casting cost. By exiling the top card of your library, you can pay for .

So, a pseudo-Dredge? Or a Delve off the library? I mean, it's not like is adverse to blowing up their own library for an advantage. And stealing from their future like this is right up Red's alley.

This just seems like the kind of ability that should have a Keyword associated with it, but I'll be damned if I can think of one. Now the question then becomes what sort of cost would this be? I mean, let's be honest with ourselves here. for 3 damage is pushing usefulness with Precision Bolt, and you expect the player of this card to Exile SEVEN cards to get the same effect?

Yeah, not going to happen. I would, if this mechanic stays, reduce the cost to . This puts it in range of Precision Bolt or Flame Lash or Lightning Strike.

Uh... Lightning Strike was in M19. Why was Precision Bolt even printed in the next set if it was going to be manifestly worse? Unless of course, it's a way to keep the Izzet down in Limited. Or a plot by Nichol Bolas to prevent his pet Guild from getting good tools to fight him with.

Regardless, this card needs its default casting cost dropped considerably, the name changed, a keyword added, and it'll be workable.

Honestly, this card actually sounds more like a solution waiting for a problem, rather than a problem waiting for a solution. I mean, what if you're playing in a set that has a lot of Exile interaction? What if you want cards there for some reason?

But that's a problem for the future, not the card in front of me.

The last card comes from another site I link back to here, as Aranfan offered this card just under the wire before I closed submissions:


Exile target creature and put 3 Time counters on it, if it doesn't have Suspend it gains Suspend.

OK, you get a no-point for being the only person to appeal directly to my love of Time Spiral.

That being said, I can see this in that block as a callback to Swords to Plowshares by sharing the same cost, but allowing the creature back after a while. This card also hearkens back to the Flicker I just mentioned, but making the return slower, allowing for Suspend shenanigans.

There's something interesting about Suspend that I discovered while playing some casual Commander. First, it counts as casting a spell for the purposes of Arcane Laboratory and other spells that count such things - but it does it during the Upkeep step, not the main phase. Which normally doesn't mean much, but can have some interesting side effects if you dig really deep into the game.

Secondly, because you're actually casting the creature again, you can get all sorts of benefits from creatures that are cast, and not simply those that come from entering the battlefield. Like say, Customs Depot or Karametra, God of Harvests or Oketra's Monument.

So, recasting a creature isn't that bad of a deal, really. As long as you can afford to wait the three turns.

And I must hold back my love of Time Spiral, and suggest the counter be reduced to two. I mean, yeah, I'm wary that a slow timer like that would be, effectively, spot removal for a creature in White assuming the game goes those extra turns. And yes, I've focused on casting this on your own creatures, but you can still target this on someone else's creature. And taking anything out of the game for three turns, forcing it to return without any sort of bonus on it (I'm looking at you, Ajani's Pridemate).

I mean, this is a very good card. It's simple, effective, and still technically in White's slice of the color pie, so as Rosewater would put it, it's a Bend, not a Break.

But once again, a simple card doesn't get a lot of discussion from me as there's not really a lot to talk about. Besides, I've already gone over length, and want to wrap this up shortly.

I might do this again in the future, but not for a while now. If I do, keep an ear out!

Join me next week when I talk more about my Slow Grow League! And the results of my constant plotting there-in.

Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #95 - Slow Grow, Part 1 The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #97 - Slow Grow 2

Caerwyn says... #1

Whoops. The in the casting cost is a result of a typo, and using the letter B, rather than U for Blue.

That is a fairly significant typo, and does indeed render the card nonsensical.

I do think the inclusion of U is necessary. While many people see Banding as offensive (if they see it as anything other than a hassle), it is arguably a better defensive ability. The inclusion of Blue ensures both possible iterations of Banding can be explicitly built around.

Anyway, thanks for the review - apologise for the lack of proofreading!

I will try to get to the other cards when I have some time.

January 10, 2019 12:57 p.m.

Iamme10000 says... #2

...yeah looking at it I can see why the 'walker is bah-roken. So, so broken.

I am fascinated with the idea of a multiple-activation 'walker, however. I tried (and failed, as I can now see) to make it balanced: you get information, but no major with the plus, you can get some forms of protection, albeit at a cost. I think it could be made workable, and interesting. You get a 'walker that's very flexible, and gives a lot of options, even if the individual options aren't very powerful. The "ult" isn't designed as an ult: she's more like a Karn, Scion of Urza in that way: she has three abilities that are always available. It just so happens that the last one can scale.

As is, broken. But in your opinion, could a multi-activation 'walker ever be balanced?

As to Vorthos concerns, yeah I can see that. I was just curious as to what I could do to represent her in the 'walker frame, especially with the multi-activation trick. It seemed to me to fit her better than a creature frame, though it's doable either way.

And I will argue until the end of days that Taylor, at least Skitter, is a black character. Fight me.

(Also how people fit various characters into color pie and alignment charts is an interesting discussion with sufficiently complex/nonstandard characters, so that's always fun.)

On another point, I would argue that "Firry Impulse" is actually extremely powerful. If you're playing it, you're playing it in Burn. If you're playing it in Burn, it's copies 5-8 of Lightning Bolt. I, personally, see "deck-delve" as a better Delve. At least with Delve, you have to put cards into the 'yard to make it work. With this, you're expending a resource that, like life, only makes an appreciable impact on the game when it's all gone. And running 4 of those...won't do it.

Just my two cents.

Thanks for taking the time to do this. It was really interesting seeing both all the designs put out and what you thought of them as a seasoned vet. I've always enjoyed reading your articles.

January 10, 2019 1 p.m.

Pervavita says... #3

First off thank you for looking over my card.

on Firry Impulse (ok Burning impulse due to miss spelling and the dipping into another card name. opps); it is inspired by Delve and ya it could be keyworded but it felt like such a red ability more then any other color (maybe Black too) that I can't see a full keyword for it. The 11 CMC was to make it not broken by design. Treasure Cruise for example is banned in Modern and restricted in Legacy as it's just too efficient for 8 CMC. now we know 3 damage is not equal to draw 3 cards but I figured a sorcery speed lightning bolt for would be too good for standard and may give Red too much of a push in older formats. Effectively it's another copy of Lightning Bolt in those formats; 4 CMC I think dips too low and has no real risk in any format outside limited where you probably are fine paying the full price.

Not saying my cost was right, just the justification for the vary high CMC.

oh and "him" for the record ;)

January 10, 2019 1:10 p.m.

Flooremoji says... #4

Hey berryjon! Although wizards did print strictly worse cards from set to set, they also just did Price of Fame and Deadly Visit in the same set. They even printed functionally the same card (: Draw 3 cards and lose 3 life) at different rarities in a commander set. Nice article!

January 10, 2019 1:56 p.m.

wallisface says... #5

< removed nonsense >

Edit - sorry i'm an idiot, I didn't read the word exile

January 11, 2019 12:18 a.m. Edited.

Boza says... #6

May I just say that Banishment is probably one of the best custom cards I have seen? Powerful, flavorful, Time-spirally, all the goodies.

Additionally, I play ProcEspers which leverage the eldrazi processors, so this would be the perfect card to accompany Delay.

January 11, 2019 5:44 a.m.

Great article, one gripe: Precision Bolt was a Planeswalker Deck exclusive, NOT in draft, solely to trap noobs.

January 11, 2019 6:05 p.m.

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