In today’s blog, we explore the history of a community favorite, the Grinning Kolobok!
Grinning Kolobok started life as a Russian/Slavic cultural dive. Folklore was a big target during Green ideation, and this weird equivalent to the more European “Gingerbread Man” fable stuck out like a sore thumb. When researching old stories, you run into a lot of similarities like this, where multiple cultures will have a tale about a mischievous baked good coming to life and harrowing its creators… This could be a case of the singular story spreading and changing in the oral tradition, or some collective subconscious could lead multiple bakers to anthropomorphize food, but it’s fascinating either way.
In theory, enchanted baked goods taking off without permission is LESS weird in a world of actual magic, so somehow this manifested in the direction that it should be visually SUPER weird to compensate? Bit foggy on the details, but here’s a rough description that Xeneth STILL hasn’t gotten around to fleshing out into a facing lore entry:
“What appears to be a sentient rolling ball of yellowish unleavened pancake dough with an attitude problem. Often dismissed as the hallucinations of overworked or starving individuals, enough tasty remnants have been discovered in suspicious locations to suggest they perhaps did exist. Unless someone is deliberately animating desserts as a practical joke, some old magic seems to have found its way into the sugar or flour…”
Near as we can tell, the first pass flavor text of “You can't eat what you can't catch!” just stuck.
Prankster magic can explain just about anything, but the implication that a baker would be unaware they were using magic flour is probably more in the original folklore spirit of surprise.
The initial mechanics actually riffed more on the Skilled Hacktivist pattern of breaching for value, with the ‘consumable’ twist being that it would sap itself (lose maximum health) after delivering some tasty temp mana.
Yes, there was a time when Grinning Kolobok was:
1[G] Common, 1/1 Construct
[Breach], sap 1: Gain (2) temporary mana.
You can probably figure out how abusable this is, but it started out this way and went on to be assigned to the talented Maxim Kostin for illustration!
A snippet from the commission request reveals that it wasn’t always going to be a dog reacting to the freaky pancake:
“This is bound to look weird, so we should just roll with embrace it. A ridiculous grinning yellowish ball of fried dough, like an emoticon brought to life, taunting and rolling away from some angry/surprised person…”
Here were the initial sketches:
Art Director Hoon selected the second one and did a grinning paintover to reinforce the card name. One of the most common things that has to happen with card art early on is the canvas needs to be expanded to make it easier to capture all the different framings:
Hoon also found some references to a Kolobok story featuring a hungry fox, and requested a surprised Husky or Corgi puppy be added…
“...attached reference is not either of those dogs, but I wanted to give you an idea of what I’m thinking...”:
The almost stoner-like absurdity of this piece was really striking people, so when we noticed the oven timer in the source photography, it got changed to read as 16:20 (4:20).
The problems with the initial design revealed themselves pretty quickly. The mana it generated was used to find creative ways to get it back on the board, making Kolobok one of the first infinite combo pieces to rear its disturbing head.
Thematically, the pancake appearing, rushing in, and turning into temp mana was also very abrupt, so subsequent redesign efforts used a combination of Swift and Energy to better capture the feeling of a trickster causing more and more trouble, (and becoming more delicious somehow?) as it eludes capture!