The Locust God

Posted in Card Preview on June 20, 2017

By Ken Nagle

Ken Nagle was a finalist in the first Great Designer Search and joined Wizards of the Coast as a design intern. He has since gone on to work on twelve Magic expansions, including four of which he led, as well as leading the design of Archenemy and the first Commander decks.

All hail the return of the God-Pharaoh, Nicol Bolas! May we all be judged worthy enough to be sacrificed.

I was on both Hour of Devastation design and development. As the "carryover" team member, I had the additional responsibility of keeping the vision of the design team led by Shawn Main clear to the development team led by Ian Duke. Being on both teams, my ideas are quite deeply rooted into the experience (including my preview card) while gaining the most Hour of Devastation Limited experience than anyone else alive (for now!).

All That Lives Must Die

We wanted Hour of Devastation and Nicol Bolas's big entrance to take a darker turn from the bright, golden Amonkhet with its monuments and the Luxa. One of those turns included a darker take on Gods.

Mark Rosewater wrote about the geometry of "the God line" in his preview of Hazoret the Fervent. To recap, the story begins with Magic wanting its own take on Greek mythology. Mythology, at its core, tries to explain big questions humans have about the world—questions like how did we get here, why do things happen. We wanted such Gods—an entire pantheon—to cover all these questions so there exists a specific god to answer your prayers for food, curing sickness, or what-have-you. Thus Magic's first creature-type-God cards were born—a mythic monocolored cycle in Theros:

  • Heliod, God of the Sun
  • Thassa, God of the Sea
  • Erebos, God of the Dead
  • Purphoros, God of the Forge
  • Nylea, God of the Hunt

Egyptian mythology also demanded gods. Less about worship or answering prayers and more about pushing their citizens to prove their worth. We stayed mechanically close to Theros when we made Amonkhet's five monocolored gods:

  • Oketra the True
  • Kefnet the Mindful
  • Bontu the Glorified
  • Hazoret the Fervent
  • Rhonas the Indomitable

We followed up the Theros gods with the ten "minor" two-color gods in Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx:

  • Ephara, God of the Polis
  • Phenax, God of Deception
  • Mogis, God of Slaughter
  • Xenagos, God of Revels
  • Karametra, God of Harvests

  • Athreos, God of Passage
  • Keranos, God of Storms
  • Pharika, God of Affliction
  • Iroas, God of Victory
  • Kruphix, God of Horizons

Here's where the story takes a turn. There's plenty of cool characters and cool cards here telling an epic story while giving a strong introduction to the "God" creature type. There's parts of Zeus in Keranos, Athena in Ephara, and so on. However, we felt fifteen gods were too many. These are directional cards on indestructible creatures. It has proven difficult to make "net fun" cards that almost never leave the battlefield in this much quantity while each having the expected impact of a mythic rare.

We chose to save ourselves some headache and stray further from the line when following up Amonkhet's monocolor Gods. Also, Hour of Devastation is the only follow-up set, so we only had half the room of Born of the Gods + Journey Into Nyx. Instead of ten more Gods, we settled on just three—the Grixis-colored "Gods of Devastation" (specifically blue-black, black-red, and blue-red). We felt this further conveys Nicol Bolas's complete dominance of the plane. Each of these gods is responsible for their own "Hour" of devastation in Bolas's ultimate plan for Amonkhet. Today I'll present one of them.

Shuffle Off This Mortal Coil

All the shining monuments, vibrant bounty, and lush growth on Amonkhet are protected by a barrier known as the Hekma.

Outside the Hekma, there's vast scorched desert overrun by Zombies and other foul Horrors.

  • Cradle of the Accursed
  • Gravedigger
  • Horror of the Broken Lands
  • Grim Strider

The Hekma is the only thing keeping the Zombies and sandstorms at bay. One of the "Hours" of Devastation—the Hour of Promise—marks the time when the blue-red God destroys the Hekma barrier allowing the sand, sun, and undead to spill onto civilization. Introducing The Locust God:

Click to Reveal

The Locust God is just one of three new Gods in Hour of Devastation (not counting the God-Pharaoh himself, Nicol Bolas). There are many differences between these three new Gods and the Amonkhet monocolored ones. Here is a table:

Amonkhet Five Monocolored Gods Hour of Devastation Three Grixis Gods
Indestructible Dies to your hand
Can't attack or block restriction No restriction
Activation that can bypass restriction Activation that can trigger itself
Three or four mana Five or six mana

Here are some details as to why we made these differences:

We don't want to make too many of the same thing. We plan to make more Gods in the future, and too many dots in a straight line create expectations, after which we'll never satisfyingly move off that line. We moved the God line a little bit here on purpose.

Gods are supposed to be immortal, but indestructible is not very fun to play against all the time. It's great for making sticky threats that cost a lot of resources to cast (Stonehoof Chieftain) or cards that take a long time for payoff (Darksteel Reactor). Combining indestructible with relatively low mana costs of Rhonas and Kefnet that stick to the battlefield early (and often) forces us to change the removal spells so that indestructible matters less, which defeats the purpose of giving them indestructible in the first place.

The Grixis gods aren't about citizen worship or judging worthy or aspirations or the greater good. They are about annihilating the plane for Bolas's greater purpose. They can attack and block with impunity. To that end, we moved them up the mana curve so they could have the impact to take over a game of Magic all by themselves. Also, the "dies to hand" clause wouldn't feel like a reprieve at all if these were just as easy to cast as the monocolored ones. We wanted more back-and-forth gameplay than indestructible gives.

More specifically, The Locust God summons a swarm of locusts because it fits with the storyline. The tokens have flying and haste because they are both blue and red. There's a draw trigger because at the time I noticed that Sphinx's Tutelage was popular in Standard while Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind has always been popular in Commander. Both blue and red get looting effects, so that became the activation (which also not-so-secretly makes an Insect!). Finally, the God itself flies because it's a locust. We settled on 4UR as the mana cost and 4/4 after winning with it over and over in Limited with even stronger numbers—it definitely has a mythic and Godly effect on the game!

If you're thinking of Standard, one of its many combos includes creating an Insect whenever you cycle a card.

If you're brewing a new Commander deck, I'll mention that you get two Insects whenever you Skullclamp an Insect.

And finally, clever players might have noticed that The Locust God can't actually destroy a Protection of the Hekma on the battlefield like the story implies. In fact, Protection of the Hekma is particularly good at stopping The Locust God and all Insect damage! We briefly floated around some ideas, but blue and red at best can "return target nonland permanent to its owner's hand" or a wordy Chaos Warp version (which didn't fit in the rules text box). We settled on this locust-making version, which we hope you find appealing despite this flavor flaw.

As to Peace-parted Souls

That's all I have today. Now that the protective barrier is broken, be sure to wear SPF30 sunscreen and protective clothing to keep the sunburn and Zombies at bay at your local Prerelease on July 8 and 9—use the store locator to find one near you.

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