Thursday, May 31, 2018

GDS3 Reflections: Ari Nieh, Challenge #5

One last challenge! One last hurdle before Renton! One last chance to follow the rules in their entirety! I felt optimistic about this challenge, because I'm more comfortable with the refining/editing/polishing phase of creative work than generating new ideas whole cloth.

I chose Scars of Mirrodin for two major reasons. First, it had some slam dunk mechanics (Infect, Proliferate) that have not been reprinted in other blocks. Second, it had some of the strongest flavor of any set, in terms of using cards to tell a story. It didn't hurt that Mirrodin was a returning world with clear expectations from the previous iteration.

My alternate choices were Kaladesh and Dragons of Tarkir. I strongly considered Khans as well, but Raid and Prowess have both been reprinted since then.

In retrospect, I think I made the right decision, but for the wrong reason. With only three uncommons and one rare, there wasn't much room to push the boundaries on mechanics. The large untapped design space on Proliferate would remain largely untapped. However, what ended up mattering much more was that I knew Scars very well, which made it easier to find designs that fit.

The design I'm most proud of is probably Blighted Slith, a compleated member of the Slith Predator cycle from the original Mirrodin:

Blighted Slith (uncommon)
Creature — Slith
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with two -1/-1 counters on it.
Infect (This creature deals damage to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters and to players in the form of poison counters.)
Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, remove a -1/-1 counter from it.
Watermark: Phyrexian

At first, I wasn't sure whether this card was a good idea, because one of the clear design rules of Scars was that no card should explicitly remove -1/-1 counters from a creature. This is the creature counterpart to the rule about not removing poison counters. Eventually, I decided it was okay because the counters on this didn't get there from Infect. And showing Phyrexian versions of Mirran stuff was definitely an important theme to hit.
My other favorite design was also a callback to the original Mirrodin:

Isochron Staff (rare)
Imprint — If an instant or sorcery spell would be put into your graveyard as it resolves, instead exile that card.
5, T: Copy a card exiled by CARDNAME twice and cast those copies without paying their mana costs. Put that card into its owner's graveyard.
Watermark: Mirran

With only one rare slot, I desperately wanted to nail it. Imprint is a mechanic that works best at rare, and I tried a number of versions of this card. Ultimately, the "updated Isochron Scepter" seemed clearly correct.

There's a third card in my submission that started life as a flavor callback, although it's not recognizable as such anymore:

Ish Sah Walker (common)
Creature — Horror
Infect (This creature deals damage to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters and to players in the form of poison counters.)
Creatures with -1/-1 counters on them can't block CARDNAME.
Watermark: Phyrexian

Here's how that card started out:

Unnerving Walker (uncommon)
Artifact Creature - Construct
"It has followed us through the Tangle for eight days, watching from a distance. At night, we are awakened by screaming metal. Who made these machines, and why are they tracking us?"
- Sylvok scouting report, final entry
Watermark: Phyrexian

Yes, I wanted to go reeeeeeal deep on old school flavor and make a functional reprint of Phyrexian Walker, complete with flavor text callback. (Note that an actual reprint would have broken an important flavor rule: the word "Phyrexian" could not appear in card names until Mirrodin Besieged.) It would have been a decent fit for the set, but certainly not worth one of only three uncommon slots.

However, the flavor of Phyrexian Walker did inspire the mechanics of Ish Sah Walker: its presence was so traumatizing that, having fought it once, you absolutely couldn't bring yourself to go near it again.

Here are a few other cards that didn't make the cut:

Staff of the Five Suns (rare)
Imprint - Whenever you draw a card, exile the top two cards of your library.
X, T: Copy a sorcery or instant card exiled by CARDNAME five times. You may cast those copies without paying their mana costs. X is the spell's converted mana cost. Exile CARDNAME.
Watermark: Mirran

I can't decide whether this design is cool or just goofy-looking. Rite of Replication showed us that copying something a whole bunch is fun by itself.

Goblin Repair (common)
Destroy target artifact. Up to one target creature you control gets +3/+0 until end of turn.
Watermark: Mirran

This was mostly for the "goblins are bad at their jobs" trope, as seen on Goblin Masons, Goblin Medic, Goblin Settler, Goblin Spy, etc.

As for the judge feedback this round, I found most of it on point. I'd made a few clear errors; the one I'm most embarrassed about is the obvious NWO violation on a sac-to-proliferate common creature. It seemed odd to me that they kept talking about overlaps with existing cards in the set- should I have assumed that every single card would remain unchanged? In any case, they were happy enough, and I was headed to the finals.

I can stop writing in past tense now, because we're finally caught up to the present. Jeremy, Chris, and I will be at WotC next Tuesday for interviews and one last design challenge. This is it, folks! Who will be the Last One Standing?


  1. Picking Scars of Mirrodin was a fantastic move, and clearly worked out great for you. Ari, you've been thinking so tactically about all of these challenges, it's so impressive!

    Congratulations! I believe in you, and I believe all Artisans do too! REPRESENT!

  2. Congrats on top three! I loved the Slith!

  3. I consider Scars of Mirrodin block, despite having some stumbles, the height of the golden age of Magic. You've done great in this competition, and I have every hope that you can usher in the Platinum Age of Magic!

  4. Isochron Staff is great, I really love Staff of the Five Suns as well, both look like the sort of effects I love, but that are plausibly actually printable as well (unlike many imprint attempts).

    Well done and good luck!

  5. Thank you, all, for your kind words! It's great to have Team Goblin Artisans cheering me on.