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I appear to be designing a Magic: the Gathering cardset.

It wasn't entirely deliberate. I want to be writing Mermaid Liaisons. But for the past couple of weeks a large amount of my creative energies have been going into designing my own amateur set of 250 Magic cards. It's just kind of frenetically taken over.

I think there were three factors contributing to why I started. On the one hand, I've seen one or two really good amateur sets, such as the land-themed set Verdia by fallingman, visible here. On the other hand, last autumn I decided to try to make an MtG set around Starcraft, the first draft of which went up here. The missing piece arrived this spring when I read an article by Mark Rosewater in which he mentioned the "set skeleton" to a Magic set: the structure that starts off as a simple count of how many cards you want in the different colours and rarities, and narrows down in successive iterations to the level of doing things like ensuring the balance of keyword abilities across red commons is as desired. As he puts it: "The skeleton isn't there to lock the designer in but to make the designer aware of what things they need to allocate. When something isn't working, the designer then has to re-jigger the skeleton to get what they need."

So my mind found itself dreaming up ideas for a card set's theme, mechanically and flavour-wise; then narrowing down possibilities for the details; and then designing cards at breakneck speed, while another part of my mind just sat and looked on in bewilderment.

Anyway, the theme I settled on is card types: artifacts, enchantments, sorceries, instants and lands. Lots more details follow; feel free to skip to the end if you just want to see some cards I've designed :)

There are five factions, each of whom care about one of the five major card types other than creatures. Each faction also has a major colour and a minor colour. Choosing the colour affiliations was an interesting task itself, because I wanted to have them make sense without feeling done to death. So I've avoided having blue as the major artifacts colour or green as the major lands colour, though in both cases they ended up as the minor colour. I wanted to avoid things like making red-blue the instants colour because the Izzet did that, and so on.

So I ended up with these factions:
  • Artifacts are WHITE-blue. This set's plane has a number of reclusive human and dwarven artificers who sit off in their towers called musearies, crafting artifacts and acquiring reclusive reputations.
  • Instants are BLUE-black. The crime in the setting's towns is ruled by several criminal gangs of rogues who are frequently making, discovering and altering plots against each other.
  • Sorceries are BLACK-red. One major religion is a church to a demon, with elaborate and disturbing rituals. The clerics are often seen accompanied by elementals summoned by their assorted rites and pacts with the demon.
  • Lands are RED-green. The steppes, forests and wild spaces between towns are home to many fierce beasts and hermit shamans, who have their own culture. Establishing a mana bond to an area is staking a claim to it, and the local shamans will contest you for it, or defer to you if you have more power.
  • Enchantments are GREEN-white. The high society of the setting are obsessive about enhancing their experience. They like to set up home in a natural setting but then hire enchanters to layer magical effect upon magical effect to appease their sense of aesthetics, augmenting reality to reveal the way nature wants to be.


Some snippets of the set skeleton, in top-down order:
  • 250 cards: 20 basic land, 10 land, 10 gold, 20 artifacts, 200 coloured cards
  • White: 15 common, 13 uncommons, 12 rares
  • Common creature counts:
    W: 8-9/15; G: 8/15; R: 7/15; B: 6-7/15; U: 6-7/15
  • Common breakup:
    W: 8-9 ctr, 3 ench, 3 oneoff
    U: 6-7 ctr, 7-8 inst, 1 sorcery / ench
    B: 6-7 ctr, 5-6 sorcery, 3 instant
    R: 7 ctr, 6 sorcery, 2 instant / ench
    G: 8 ctr, 5 ench, 2 oneoff
    Uncommon breakup:
    W: 7-8 ctr, 3 ench, 1-2 inst/sorc (1 art)
    G: 7-8 ctr, 4 ench, 1-2 inst/sorc
    R: 6 ctr, 4 sorc, 2 inst/ench (1 land)
    B: 5 ctr, 5 sorc, 3 inst
    U: 5-7 ctr, 5-6 inst, 1-2 sorc/ench

My skeleton for the white commons currently looks like: (Note the letters EA indicating which of the factions the card interacts with mechanically)

     WC01 Ctr A small, gives fs
     WC02 Ctr A small, makes mana
Todo WC03 Ctr E small, flash
     WC04 Ctr AE small flying, double +1cycle
Todo WC05 Ctr small, lifelink 
     WC06 Ctr A medium, +2 cycle 
Todo WC07 Ctr (A) small-medium  
     WC08 Ctr medium, vigilance 
Todo WC09 Ctr medium, flying 
     WC10 Ench EA flying, self-bounce 
     WC11 Ench E prot colour
     WC12 Ench E removal
     WC13 Sorc EA lifegain
     WC14 Inst EA disenchant
Todo WC15 Inst (A)


I'm finding this structured working very interesting and satisfying. (I guess that makes me a Melvin, which we knew anyway.)

I think I'm doing quite well at getting the set's themes across via the commons and uncommons. But I think what I'm missing are the splashy uncommons and rares that don't necessarily tie in to the set's theme, but are just cool cards. I think these are the kind of thing amateur designers gradually accumulate over time, and you can't churn them out. I think it's interesting that fallingman designed a second set in the Verdia block, and it wasn't anywhere near as good; my guess is he used up all his best ideas in Verdia.

If you're interested to see some of the cards I've designed here, I've put a few online here. Twist the Form is pretty mad, but I think the rules can just about handle it. I put some FAQ entries on a separate page just for that card :)

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
pjt33
Apr. 13th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
ETB?
Is ETB new slang for "comes into play"?
alextfish
Apr. 21st, 2010 08:20 am (UTC)
Re: ETB?
Ah, yes. It's shorthand for "enters the battlefield", which is the new wording for "comes into play" with Magic 2010. See the latest printing of Sparkmage Apprentice or many others, or the Oracle wording on any older cards.

M10 brought with it a number of terminology changes. The "removed-from-game zone" is now known as the "exile zone", which is an excellent change; playing spells is now "casting" spells, which is also fine; the "in-play zone" is now "the battlefield", which people are rather more mixed on. Playing abilities is now activating abilities, which means the only remaining use of the word "play" in the rules is for playing a land, or taking the general play-or-cast action on a card that may or may not be a land.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 21st, 2010 03:14 am (UTC)
Twist the Form FAQ
The FAQ entries involving Planeswalkers are incorrect as far as the actual rules. A Planeswalker ability on a non-Planeswalker permanent may be used any number of times per turn.
alextfish
Apr. 21st, 2010 08:12 am (UTC)
Re: Twist the Form FAQ
That used to be the case; but with a fairly recent Comp Rules update, it changed to make more sense. See section 606 on Loyalty Abilities, specifically:
606.2. An activated ability with a loyalty symbol in its cost is a loyalty ability. Normally, only planeswalkers have loyalty abilities.

606.3. A player may activate a loyalty ability of a permanent he or she controls any time he or she has priority and the stack is empty during a main phase of his or her turn, but only if no player has previously activated a loyalty ability of that permanent that turn.

Thanks for the comment, though :)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )