One card which I want in my sea-oriented set, is the orca or killer whale. If you know anything about them, you know why. In our world, they are easily the second most efficient hunters in the world (after humans, if you’re wandering for some reason). The problem: Orcas are obviously blue, but blue has a very limited design space for creatures.
Granted, there already is a card called [scryfall]Killer Whale[/scryfall], but it sucks. Well, it doesn’t actually suck. Its very payable in a limited deck, but it doesn’t capture the brute killer intelligence of the orca. Some of the things killer whales have been observed to do in nature:
- Making waves by swimming side by side to knock prey into water from safe places
- Regurgitating to use the contents of their stomach as bait for birds.
- Understanding tides
- Using live seals to teach their offspring to hunt – they drag the seal out into the water and throw it away, then let their offspring catch it and then do this again, until the seal is dead
- Drowning small whales by forcing them to remain under water for extended periods of time by swimming on top of it one at a time
They hunt in packs, which makes them even more dangerous. Dolphins are considered very intelligent (and killer whales are actually dolphins) and are faster and more agile than killer whales. That doesn’t help them. The killer whales are able to confuse the dolphin just long enough for one of them to catch it. They can plan this beforehand, because during the hunt, they are completely silent.
They also learn culturally, meaning they can teach each other these techniques. For example, the regurgitating trick. Once one of them had learned it, the whole pack was doing it. I don’t think they are the only animals to learn culturally, but they are the only ones who have been show to do it this extensively.
Now, obviously most people aren’t expecting this and would be very happy with the old Killer Whale card, but I’d like to bring the real killer whales into the game. Make them unique by giving them an ability, which lets them learn.
Now, blues keywords aren’t going to help. They have Flash, Flying, Hexproof and Islandwalk. None of them seem good for this purpose. Not to worry, blue also has the following, nonkeyworded abilities (as listed by Salvation’s wiki): Card drawing and variants, Counterspells, Change-of-control effects (Stealing), Library destruction, Mimicry, Power reduction, Returning permanents to hand, Tapping and untapping permanents, and Time manipulation. Do any of these work?
We can forget about countering, stealing, milling, bouncing and time manipulation. This leaves as with card advantage, mimicry, power reduction and twiddling. Any of these could work.
Card drawing is the usual way to portray learning, but since its used so much, I’d rather do something more appropriate.
Mimicry would be cool, if the rules had a nice way to do this. Think [scryfall]Cairn Wanderer[/scryfall]. Seems nice, but at the same time, its very limited, as it can’t copy any newer keywords, because it can only those listed, and you can’t do it in any other way without huge rewrites to the rules. Also, there’s a flavor problem. The creatures that copy, are shapeshifters, not animals.
Power reduction might work, because one of the newer flavor approaches has been putting the creature into disadvantage ([scryfall]Lost in a Labyrinth[/scryfall]), not necessarily just draining its power. Maybe this is the approach.
Twiddling (tapping or untapping) is problematic flavorwise as well, as mostly using cunning to tap is a white thing. But only mostly. Blue mostly taps through weather, distractions, or ice. Maybe this is the right way to go. After all, [scryfall]Lorthos, the Tidemaker[/scryfall] can tap. Its probably so big it goes under the weather category.
So, here’s a go:
Transient Orca 3UU
Creature – Whale
Whenever Transient Orca blocks or is blocked by a creature, that creature gets -X/+0 until end of turn, where X is the number of Transient Orcas you control.
Sadly, the Killer Whale name has been taken, so we can’t use that. Also, that Killer Whale is of the creature type whale, which it actually isn’t in real life, but close enough. A marine mammal, which could easily be mistaken for a whale. Aven aren’t really birds either.
Not as powerful as I’d like, but that’s the nature of blue. They aren’t the best fighters. I’m actually pretty happy with this design. Hopefully the idea of their cunning and ability to work in pods shines though. To make their ability count, they’d probably have to be common, or maybe uncommon. Since blue usually gets one big creature at common, I’ll go with common.
Is 4/4 the right size? Not sure. They’ve never had very good guidelines on this. Paraphrasing Brad Nelson, I wouldn’t stand a chance against Grizzly Bear, let alone [scryfall]Grizzly Bears[/scryfall], but I could kick the ass of a [scryfall]Traveling Philosopher[/scryfall]. Still they have the same power and toughness… and of course about 20 years between them. I’m guessing 4/4 is right, because making them bigger would mean higher casting cost, which would mean they wouldn’t be as playable and the ability would become meaningless, as they can’t really be blocked beneficially anyhow. In any case, they’d only be playable in limited.
And that’s almost 900 words on one card…