Let’s meet Nautical Dog:
I went through many, many different game systems when making Codex. Some of them you wouldn’t even recognize as the same game. In each case, I started by making a red deck and a green deck to test the system. The red deck was always some form of rushdown and it wanted a 2/1 for 1 gold with some kind of drawback. MtG has Jackal Pup, and we had Nautical Dog.
In Codex, any 1 cost unit in a starting deck is almost automatically good because in the early game you’re so starved for gold that you just want to put down any unit you can, especially if it can block (now called “patrol”). Early on, Nautical Dog was a 2/1 but couldn’t block. This didn’t work out because early game blocking is far more important in Codex than in MtG (where a similar creature would not have been weak). So I made him a 1/1 as a blocker and 2/1 as an attacker. As a blocker, that’s fine. As an attacker, that’s great.
The placeholder art I used for him was a dog with a striped shirt, a pirate hat, and a cigar. This was a big hit with playtesters. Nautical Dog became a favorite, one of our most loved cards actually. Everyone said the real art had to be like the placeholder. They loved the mix of a tough looking bulldog with the anthropomorphic qualities of the cigar and striped shirt and hat.
When we finally started getting real art for Codex, I started with Nautical Dog. Whenever I did any development updates I started with the red faction, and Nautical Dog was the first card in the file for the 10-card starting deck in red, plus everyone loved him. So he was the very first card to have real art and that excited our testers.
When I added flavor text to the cards, I started with Nautical Dog too. I quickly wrote “They found him in a lake” so I could test the font and so on. That then became a meme, I think people liked it because they had to imagine story situations where the (red) Blood Anarch faction found this dog in in a lake and recruited him. He is nautical, after all. (Write some fan fiction about this historic event?) And one of the themes of the red faction is that they use shoddy equipment and recruit or kidnap various misfits to fight for them. I think “They found him in a lake” happened to capture the flavor of the whole faction in just a few words.
At one point, every card in the game said “They found him in a lake” because after Nautical Dog, I made that the default flavor text for all cards. I manually replaced it with each card’s new flavor text so I read “They found him in a lake” hundreds of times.
At Fantasy Strike Expo one year, we were talking about Codex strategies. One player mentioned a certain opening in purple and asked what red can even do against it. There was silence for a moment because everyone thought “oh wow, what DO you do against that?” Then Aphotix said, “You play Nautical Dog.” Everyone laughed but he said “No really, we always joke about this guy, but THIS time he really is what beats this,” and he was right. The rules of the game have changed since then so that specific situation is no longer in the game. It was still a great moment in Nautical Dog history though.
The next time you win with red, remember to appreciate what Nautical Dog did for you.