Tuesday, May 29, 2018

GDS3 Reflections: Ari Nieh, Challenge #4

When I saw that this week's challenge was an art challenge, I felt rather sheepish. We've been running Weekend Art Challenges here for many years, but I rarely participate in them. My thinking was: "Is is actually useful to practice designing for a given piece of artwork? Sure, they did it one time during the first Great Designer Search, but let's be realistic- it's a niche skill that I'll never need."

So. Yeah.

Anyway, although I'm inexperienced at designing to art, I felt excited about this challenge because its goals and parameters were quite clear: match the arts, match the card specs, show off some skillz. And though I have no formal training in visual arts, I know a bit about color and composition, and have some sense of what sort of art is appropriate for different colors and card types.

The first thing I did was build a matrix of card specs and art. I rated each match on a scale of 0 to 3, with 0 being unusable and 3 being completely reasonable.
Then, as I picked pairs and came up with designs for them, I enlarged the appropriate entries to clarify which things were yet to be chosen.
The judges had kindly provided us with twelve pieces of art for ten cards, meaning we got to throw two of them out. Initially, I was planning not to use E and K. E is dim and low-contrast, and it just doesn't grab the eye at a small print size.
"I am ominous, but difficult to see clearly in this lighting!"
K has a better color palette, but the vertical and horizontal lines give it a static composition. There's no clear focal point, and the dinosaur doesn't fill enough of the frame to be a creature card.

It does look like a lovely place to visit, though.
However, after some experimentation and playtester feedback, I had to swap things around. The most important conclusion I came to is that H is a trap. It's a nice piece: evocative, focused, and vibrant. I'd used it for my black creature, because of the embedded skeleton, but the palette is so strikingly green that it didn't feel right. And since we weren't given a green creature card, there just wasn't a good use for the art. (Though I'm impressed that Scott made it work as an aura!)
The other trap was C. Sure, it seems conveniently flexible- plausibly white, black, or even green. But the lack of specificity is problematic. What does the elf's gesture mean? What are those shadows doing there? It's quite difficult to get a clear flavor from the art, and that meant it wasn't useful.
Looking back, I think C and H were indeed the correct pieces of art to skip. They had the lowest "GPAs" given by Jenna's grades.

That meant I had to use E, which turned out to be very easy- it's so clearly a black creature that does something with damage, sacrifice, or -N/-N.

Finding a use for K was much harder, because the composition is way too chill. The only card type it could plausibly fit was enchantment, but there are few visible cues for what that enchantment might do. In the end, I'm happy with the build-around I came up with, although I was sorely tempted to name it "Dinosaur Day Spa":

Shrine of Serenity (uncommon)
At the beginning of your end step, if you cast an enchantment or sorcery spell this turn, create a 2/3 white Dinosaur creature token.
The eldest races know the wisdom of taking things slow.
A few notes on other cards:

Kalau River Naturalist (common)
Creature - Merfolk Shaman
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control a forest, look at the top card of your library. If it's a creature card, you may reveal it and put it into your hand.
Despite their best efforts, no Kalau has successfully taught a tortoise how to swim.
This art was just a huge pain to work with. Between the animal parts all over the creature's garb and the turtle being actually on fire, it's completely mysterious what is meant to be going on. (Also, the fire on the turtle is too small to notice at printed size.) I think Jeremy handled this best with clever use of flavor text.

Hellfire Oppressor (rare)
Creature - Demon
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, put a -1/-1 counter on each creature defending player controls.
Whenever another creature with a -1/-1 counter on it dies, draw a card.
It feeds on searing pain and terror.
Yes, the challenge requested a mythic rare, but I made a transcription error at some point and designed a rare instead. I guess following all the rules last week was just too much effort for me, and I had to get back to breaking them at the soonest opportunity. Luckily for me, it was a big splashy demon that could plausibly be mythic.

Reckless Bombardment (rare)
Cast target instant or sorcery card from a graveyard without paying its mana cost. If it targets only a single permanent or player, copy that spell for each other permanent or player the spell could target. Each copy targets a different one of those permanents and players.
Here's another example of art that's hard to use at printed size. You have to look very closely to notice that the missiles were in fact fired from closest ship, and it's unclear why some of them are aimed back at the fleet.

The design I had here for a while was a wacky Fact or Fiction multi-target burn spell, but it wasn't really Jenny enough. I thought "Radiate from a graveyard" was a boring and obvious design, but it was a decent fit for the art, and I was out of ideas. But the judges liked it, so... go me?

The original template was also much stranger:

Choose an instant or sorcery card from target player's graveyard that can target a single permanent. Copy that spell for each permanent the spell could target controlled by that player. Each copy targets a different one of those permanents.

This captured the "friendly fire" aspect much better, but it wasn't as versatile a build-around. Also, I doubt that first sentence works in the rules.

Brutal Energy (uncommon)
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature you control
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, enchanted creature must be blocked this turn if able.
Whenever enchanted creature deals damage to a creature, add that much G. Until end of turn, you don’t lose this mana as steps and phases end.
"Let's hug it out!"
Mark asks why I made the "must be blocked" effect an ETB trigger instead of permanent. I had noticed that there are no auras or equipment in recent memory that grant the ability "must be blocked if able". I think I know why this is: it can be an oppressive and repetitive way to lose. If your opponent puts it on a 6/6, you might just get Cruel Edicted every turn for the rest of the game and never have a chance to race or build up enough blockers to take it down.

All in all, I was happy with my submission this round. When I got the judges' feedback, I was extremely pleased to finally place first. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Ryan this time, which left me the last Goblin Artisan remaining. Will I get the chance to represent our crew in the finals? Which set will I pick for Challenge #5? Find out on Thursday!


  1. Good eye for noticing the traps.

    The Elf just standing in swirling darkness burned another competitor when he had it make tokens and flavored it as a sermon.

    Issue was there was only one figure in the art! A total art fail for a cool flavor/mechanic idea.

    Also I loved how skill testing the dinosaur sauna art was by having a creature in the art,but clearly showing the creature not in the focus.

    The Ooze trap was clever as well. I liked these art choices.

    1. Agreed, they gave us some good art choices this time! Much better than the GDS1 version.

  2. Congrats on your success in this round!

    When playing along at home I made the exact same art choices as you for every card. And my mythic blue enchantment even makes illusion tokens.

    Blue and white were crazy hard to settle on images for.

  3. Great work this week, Ari. I was a big fan of the Shrine of Serenity design and I thought the flavor came across clear. I also thought pairing sorceries and enchantments made it an even better build-around, as we've never seen those paired before. (Outside of 'noncreature').

    Why'd you design Kalau River Naturalist to care about Forests? It's a bit green-ish of art, but blue can get primal shamans (See: Temur) I was intrigued by a lot of people's choices for that card.

    I think you did a great job with Reckless Bombardment. It's clear your attention to detail and stringent planning this week worked very much to your advantage.

    I immediately saw what you were doing with Brutal Energy, but I think the key is that this kind of design is going to read really weirdly, even if in gameplay it makes sense. Identifying that problem was great design sense, but the solution, I have to agree, felt a little overburdened. I wonder if it could have been an activated ability, or whether that'd just further stall the game out?

    1. Yeah, I tunneled too hard on the art details for Kalau River Naturalist. He's clearly standing in a forest, and most of the creatures on his armor look green. I thought I could make a reasonable "mono-colored" creature in the vein of Court Hussar. My comments mentioned a possible multicolor theme, but I'm not sure how much they cared about the comments.

      Not sure what the right fix is for Brutal Energy. I agree it reads pretty weird as is.

    2. I wonder if the card worked quirky enough as a staboost with straight manalink.

    3. Possibly, but the art seemed to demand fighting.

    4. Maybe an ETB fight instead of a forced block would have worked better then.

    5. That sounds like a good solution!

  4. Dinosaur Day Spa! I want that printed with that name! :)

    1. Not submitting cards with goofy playtest names has been the hardest thing about this whole competition.

  5. For the art's you omitted, I was thinking of:

    Elf: The Black Timmy Mythic as a 1/1 Legendary Elf that summons Demons. Potentially just tap, pay 6 life, sacrifice the elf: search library for a demon and put it into play.

    For ooze: Quirky Aura:
    G, enchant Artifact
    Enchanted Artifact loses all abilities
    At the beginning of your upkeep, put a consumption counter on CARDNAME. Then, if the number of consumption counters is equal or greater than enchanted artifact's converted manna cost, exile that artifact and CARDNAME becomes an Ooze creature with "this creature's power and toughness are equal to the number of consumption counters on it"

    1. I like the quirky aura.

      I think the elf is just unusable though. There are no demons in the art, and the shadows don't particularly appear to be consuming the elf.

  6. A note on H: That's not a skeleton.

  7. On your shaman, I find it odd that the art is clearly the Amphin but you called in a merfolk.

    More notably the art shows the Amphin doing something to/with the turtle, and your notes even make reference to this, but the card has nothing to do with creatures. You could easily change the condition to needing a green creature for example and then it gets across that it is using the turtle to scry. As is, there is just a random turtle glowing in the creatures hands that has nothing to do with anything.

    I also dont get how Enchantments and Sorceries together spell "slow." If it was just sorceries it would sell better but by putting it with enchantments it makes me ask how you are marking slow. Is it anything sorc speed? If so why arent artifacts and creatures in this? How is a sword any faster than an aura? Slow tribal I feel could work but the triggers feel off for this.

  8. 1 Shrine of Serenity
    This is a real solid design. I wonder if 2/3 is big enough for a dino and we shouldn't just color-shift Ixalan's 3/3 tokens.
    Mark is over-interpreting the Dino's coloration.

    2 Hammersworn Paladin
    Not sold on Melissa's concern: I'd happily cast this on turn 2 to get my one-drop in for +2 damage.
    I think the non-Erik judges missed that you can cast this on defense as a 4/∞?

    5 Bloodrite Fanatic
    feels a lot like Cinderhaze Wretch.

    6 Hellfire Oppressor
    What does Jenna need for an A? I wish she'd given more actionable feedback.

    7 Seismic Hellion
    I also struggled with this. This art HAD to go here in red and it HAD to hurt flyers. I think the Mountain-sack was trying to justify it's redness?

    8 Reckless Bombardment
    Very Jenny and pretty unique too. Clever solution to the art. I imagine there'd be a red common in this set that just has one of those missiles in the art.

    10 Brutal Energy
    I'm surprised no one thought this mana effect should be red.

    Great work, overall. This challenge was hard. I'm glad you won it.