Tuesday, May 29, 2018

GDS3 Reflections: Jeremy Geist, Round 4 - A Tale of Lofty Ambition And Reasonable Execution

The art challenge from GDS1 is my favorite of the challenges, so I was jazzed when my opened up my e-mail and there was a message saying “Twelve Arts for Design Challenge #4”. I opened it up, looked at the challenges, accepted that my submission for Challenge 3 was my worst performance so far, and got to work to redeem myself.

Because I had a decent amount of writing background, I decided to try and unite all of the art and cards with an overarching story. I had decided on using -1/-1 counters with a card that used the art for Cauldron, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories (despite having some deeply uncomfortable elements) are some of my favorite fantasy works, so I decided on creating a story of a “sword and sorcery plane”. I submitted my cards proud that I was able to demonstrate my writing skills.

Well it turned out that my flavor text didn’t do its job of communicating the effect of the card, and I did a mediocre job on the “matching the card to the art” front. I read the instruction telling us to look for creative ways to fill the holes in the assignment and assumed that meant both for the art and the mechanical holes, when the judges were looking more for creativity on a mechanical level. C’est la vie.

(This essay uses the art codenames that were provided to the finalists. If you’re confused about which one I’m referring to, I’d be happy to answer questions in the comments.)

1. Steel Sermon

Some slots were easier to find art for than others. The “uncommon white build-around” was one of the hardest. There isn’t a lot of art in the file that makes sense as a white card, and the one that did make sense was obviously a creature. At the same time, I only had a couple pieces of art left and was reduced to whispering “give me your secrets!!” at several of the cards in a fit of helpless anger. In the end, I realized that the splash of white in the background Elf, plus the pose as if she was giving a sermon, made enough sense to work here, and some flavor text would tie the whole package together.

Mark Rosewater’s criticism that Cleric tribal wasn’t a go-wide tribe was really helpful. I hadn’t thought about that before and it helped me look at build-around design on a new axis.

I’m pretty sure everybody who submitted Elf got dinged for it. It was pretty rough with the slots we were given – if I were able to make any kind of card I wanted for it, some kind of Duress effect would probably work best.

2. Spell-Sigil Quieter

I love card text that really grabs you by the collar.

The fact that this rad dude was obviously wearing sigils from Bant is what inspired the idea of a planeswalker who plagiarizes technology from other planes. The dramatic irony of 99% of people not knowing that other planes exist is my absolute favorite part about the Magic lore, and I was pleased to include part of that in here, even if it was to explain all these different aesthetics being in a single Standard-legal set.

3. Amphin Soothsayer

I was curious to see how many finalists figured out that this was an amphin; it took me a while of looking through all of blue’s humanoid races before I could figure it out.

It’s surprising that there aren’t a whole lot of Magic cards with the text “you may have this creature enter the battlefield tapped”, but it was a fact that I was keen to exploit after I figured it out. This could probably be scry 2 (see Omenspeaker), but that’s just a small numbers tweak.

4. Font of Eternities

Fountain, the art I used for this, seemed almost unusable to me, and I was incredibly relieved when I figured out a way to use it and fill the “exciting blue enchantment” slot.

The original version of this just let you cast cards from outside the game, but I realized without testing that you could easily break it if you had a giant stack of Memnites lying around. I changed it to “you can cast one spell from outside the game per turn”, but when I playtested it in a casual environment, it was a pretty oppressive card. (I lowered the casting cost by 2 during playtests to make sure it would hit the table at all, but big enchantments like this usually get played in slower formats like Commander so I figured the simulation was still reasonable.) The “reveal” clause in the final version is there because it made the ability to grab counterspells and other instant-speed tricks at least slightly less awful for your opponents.

My final opinion on this is split. It’s not that innovative and I agree with Mark Rosewater’s critique that it might make for samey-feeling games, but on the other hand Melissa DeTora’s praise for it made me smile and I can see where she’s coming from as well.

5. Priest of Fear

Much like Amphin Soothsayer, Priest of Fear mines a surprisingly new vein of design space: Activated abilities that put -1/-1 counters on the creature as a cost. The only one I could find on Scryfall was Serrated Biskelion; Devoted Druid and its compatriots from Shadowmoor block used -1/-1 counters to untap and use its activated abilities. Doing it the way I did allowed you to add repeatable effects at common that can only be activated a certain number of times, creating more strategic gameplay.

The original effect for the activated ability was making opponents lose life at instant speed, but this version ended up being confusing so I switched it to something you’d only want to do at sorcery speed. I specifically picked a friend with no Magic experience to playtest so he could catch things like this that the other playtester and I would be blind to, and I’m deeply grateful for his perspective.

6. Fear Tyrant Sireth

I originally had one 10/10 token, but that’s way easier for the opponent to deal with, and it’s not that fun when you bring out a giant 10/10 and your opponent instantly Unsommons it.

In general, Fear Tyrant Sireth is a card that could have used another month or two of iteration before I could make something I was happy with, but it was too late for me to try and do something less ambitious. I was trying to redesign her all the way up to the deadline.

7. Starving Hellion

I don’t have much to say about this except I’m surprised they didn’t do something like this in Amonkhet block.

8. Azazug’s Whim

My pick for “biggest gulf between my opinion of a card and the judges’ opinion of a card” goes to Three Rings from the circus challenge, but this one is a strong second place. I was really happy with it, and my playtesters had a lot of fun even with welcome decks that weren’t built to exploit it. The art felt right – the central figure was a demon, but there was an awful lot of red and a barbarian that draws the eye – and in general I was pretty satisfied with it.

In retrospect, this is definitely more of a Spike card, and the rate is weak. Lesson learned for next time.

9. Ferocious Growth

I couldn’t use +1/+1 counters because I had -1/-1 counters on cards that are supposed to be from the same set, but there definitely could have been better options than sorcery-speed pump. I wanted to keep it sorcery-speed because modal cards are already pushing the common envelope without adding instant-speed fight to the equation, but there was probably a more elegant solution.

10. Scavenger’s Appetite

If I had used +1/+1 counters in this submission, it would have been fun to make this card a “build your own Scavenging Ooze” Aura. Cards like Fallen Ideal and Prophetic Ravings are some of my favorites, flavor-wise.

The green cards were the easiest to find art fits for – the two I used and the one with the Ixalani merfolk on it don’t make sense in any other color – but it was hard to find ways to explain how these cards with big, prominent creatures on them made sense as noncreature cards.

1 comment:

  1. Wait, is that turtle... made of lava on the inside? What is even going on?