Thursday, May 17, 2018

GDS3 Reflections: Ari Nieh, Challenge #1

When I received this challenge, I immediately sat down with a list of creature types and frantically through Scryfall trying to figure out which was the most fruitful. Aside from Insect, I also considered Advisor, Berserker, Knight, Monk, Ninja, Nomad, Rogue, Samurai, Scout, Shaman, and Unicorn. I settled on Insects fairly quickly- they're extremely rich in tropes and emotional resonance.

Overall, this challenge went pretty smoothly for me. I was happy with the results and agreed with most of the judges' critiques. There were definitely some subtleties I hadn't considered, like not putting graveyard hate on a tribal card. My submission was deliberately quite tame this time around, since my misunderstanding of the previous challenge had led me to design some not-particularly-common commons. I wanted to show them I could also do simple meat and potatoes designs.

I've always loved Unyaro Bee Sting. Don't tell you-know-who.

Here are a few interesting cards that didn't make the cut. I struggled for a while to choose my second mythic rare, because there simply aren't many tribal cards printed at that rarity.

Cloak of the Swarmlord (mythic rare)
Legendary Artifact - Equipment
Equip 1
Equipped creature gets +X/+0, where X is the number of swarm counters on CARDNAME.
Sacrifice an Insect: Put two swarm counters on CARDNAME. Until end of turn, equipped creature becomes an Insect and gains Menace.

I had a specific image and narrative in my head for this card: a cursed artifact whose wearer controls massive swarms of insects, but will eventually be consumed by them. Unfortunately I don't think that trope came across very clearly. Playtesting revealed that, although this is very powerful, sacrificing creatures is a pretty high-variance strategy. I didn't think a high-risk card was an appropriate mythic, so it got revamped into Altar of the Swarmlord.

Metamorphosis Cells (mythic rare)
T, sacrifice an Insect: Put a chrysalis counter on CARDNAME.
XXBG, T, sacrifice CARDNAME: create X 4/4 green and black Insect creature tokens with flying and vigilance. X can be no more than the number of chrysalis counters on CARDNAME.

I wanted so badly to have a card that made 4/4 black and green creatures with flying and vigilance! But ultimately, this wasn't quite interesting enough.

Maggot-Infested Wound (rare)
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
At the beginning of your upkeep, put a -1/-1 counter on enchanted creature and create a 1/1 green Insect token.

I think this card is nicely revolting and would evoke a strong emotional response. Unfortunately, with three other cards in my submission that made 1/1 tokens, there just wasn't room for a fourth.

What direction would you have taken with Insect tribal? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I think your test was clearly the best of the bunch. Insects were the best choice of a tribe that has significant space and resonance that hasn't been explored.

    1. After some consideration, I think I would have gone in a very similar direction. GB is the correct color combo for the first Insect tribal outing, and creating Swarms is definitely the correct decision as well.

      I think what I would have done differently is to make The Swarm more of a specific entity, eg
      the Zerg. I think creating a role for the creatures you submitted would have made the insects feel more eusocial, with each one being a cog in a larger machine.

      For specific cards, I probably would have submitted:
      Skullmoth Larva (uncommon)
      Creature — Insect
      Tap another untapped Insect you control: Transform Skullmoth Larva.
      Skullmoth Reaper
      (B)Creature - Insect(U)

      Also, you could have then slipped in:
      Queenguard Skullmoth 3BG
      Creature - Insect(R)
      Flying, Vigilance

    2. I didn't think of it this way, but giving it some thought you're definitely right that Insects was an amazing choice since they're both extremely rich in trope space to make evocative designs, but they're ALSO completely unexplored. I would have never thought of that angle even though it's definitely the best place to be in.

  2. Oh, interesting. Yes, an insect lord would be the perfect place for a BG flying vigilance creature. Plus spite designing is awesome :)

    Yeah, maggot wound is very evocative. Ugh :)

  3. Maggot-Infested Wound is so evocative!

  4. Interestingly enough, when I tried to take a stab at this challenge, I also ended up with insects, in g/b, with a theme of tapping insects for effects. The main difference that I had was I chose to use wither instead of monstrous to try to convey multiple insects teaming up to take down a big creature, as well as their venomous/corrosive properties.

    Also, Maggot-Infested Wound is awesome! I love those kinds of effects.

  5. For me this was clearly the best of the bunch. If you can produce ideas like this every day, I think you could start at WOTC tomorrow. Great job!

  6. Possibly what I might have done that was even slightly different would have been to emphasize the replenishment need to keep the swarm large by forcing you to sacrifice your insects after they deal combat damage. (Maybe there could be some nice black cards that reward deaths to make it less self-destructive)

    Making that work, though, would require the very sort of tribal creature creation cards that got you your one ding, so that's not actually the right way to approach the challenge.

  7. Maggot-Infested Wound is truly beautiful. But, I'm very glad you didn't go with it! I think Skullmoth Larva is such a nice design, it would be a shame to get dinged for two types of counter in one set. I think I prefer the Larva, especially since Wound apparently wouldn't fit the judges criteria for "cares about Insects."