Custom Card Game Design

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

First off, hello there.   You’ve either stumbled onto this blog or been referred here by me via MTG Salvation, Twitter, or somewhere else.  Long introductions are boring and, let’s face it, you’re here to see the cards anyway, so I’ll keep this as short as I can.  My name is Russ, for the past year or so I’ve been increasingly interested in designing MTG cards.  At the moment my major project is a block codenamed Soco, Amaretto, and Lime (Soco is in a semi-permanent beta state, and Amaretto is currently in design).  The focus of the block is incentivizing mono-color decks, and it sees the return of the Eldrazi and Fortifications.  This blog will probably talk about the Soco, Amaretto, Lime block a lot.

That being said, the topic for today’s post is something different.   Recently I’ve decided to set a goal for myself: Participate as a finalist in the inevitable Great Designer Search 3.  To prepare for this, I’ve been trying to design more, to think outside the box, and to occasionally visit other settings for my designs.  So, every now and then I’ve been popping away from Amaretto to play in another universe.  I’ve got two hypothetical blocks that I’ve been playing with.  The first is codenamed Blood, Sweat, and Tears and has a focus on enemy color pairs, Legendary Creatures, and Planeswalkers.  The second (and the subject for today’s post) is codenamed The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and is a top-down design based on the Old West.

Trope: a common or overused theme or device

     As I approach The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly I refer a lot to Mark Rosewater’s articles on the design of Innistrad.  I do this because, unlike Blood, Sweat, and Tears (which is an exercise in designing a set around a mechanical theme), The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly will be designed around the flavor, as an exercise in conveying flavor through mechanics.  So, I started out by listing a few tropes (cliches), basically everything that came to my mind when I thought of Westerns.  This is what I came up with:

  • Brutal Justice (Hangings)
  • Bounties and Bounty Hunters
  • Poker
  • Native Americans (Warlike, Stealthy)
  • Native Americans (In touch with Nature)
  • Horses
  • Guns and Gunslingers
  • Trains and other Steam Technology (Steampunk?)
  • Saloon/Bar Fight
  • Cattle/Cattlemen

Now, I’m sure there’s a lot more here, but this list gave me something to work with.  I see a few main ‘tribes’ (though this isn’t meant to be a tribal set).   Gunslingers/Cowboys/etc in black and white.  Black being the outlaws, White being the lawmen.  A tribe of Native-American inspired humans in Green (for being in touch with nature) and Red (Warlike tribes), and Steampunk inspired humans who interact well with steam-powered artifacts (Artifact Creature – Train anyone?  :p) in Blue.  From that, I begin designing mechanics.

Wait, how is this White/Black?

I tackled the idea of a Gunslinging Mercenary first.  I wanted the card to do evoke the flavor of a bounty hunter.  He helps you take out a wanted man, but only so he can collect the bounty.  I hope the mechanics are fairly straightforward, this is merely a rough draft and not indicative of what would be the final product.

The first thing I know a lot of people will think when they see this card is ‘what is a Death Mark?’, and the answer is I’m not 100% sure.  At the time of this writing, I see death marks being special counters that are placed on creatures to indicate that a bounty has been placed on them.  I imagine seeing cards that function something like this in the same set.

The second question people will ask is ‘what makes this card black and/or white?’.  Card Draw typically evokes blue in people’s minds, and Fighting (only recently keyworded) is found primarily in Green and Red.  I’ll explain my reasoning with fighting first.  If this creature read “[Cost]: ~ fights target creature”, then it would have to be red or green in my mind.  However, it doesn’t say that.  By specifying that the target must be a creature marked to die, I’ve given this card reason to be in both colors.  First, white wants to take care of society, wants to enforce the law.  White just isn’t randomly going around fighting things, it’s fighting creatures that have been marked for death for the good of society.  Second, black wants to take care of itself.  If this card only had the fight clause, and not the bounty, it couldn’t be black.  However, because of the bounty, this card sees it’s target as an obstacle in the way of a payday, and black will do whatever it takes to further it’s own gains.  As for the card draw, I wanted a simple bounty that would almost always be advantageous, and card draw in the form of cantrips or mechanic-specific effects is found in all colors.

A few thoughts on the mechanics themselves.  The wording might be changed to reference ‘creatures with death mark counters’ rather than ‘creatures with a death mark’.  Also, I’m interested in removing the ‘1 bounty per turn’ in favor of a ‘collect the bounty only if the marked creature was killed by ~’, but that’s a wording and rules nightmare that I don’t feel like tackling just yet.

     First off, I want to apologize if any stereotypes offend anyone.  I’m trying to evoke a world that feels like it’s something straight out of a Western, with an MtG twist, and ‘Cowboys and Indians’ is one of the first things that pop into my head.

So, this card represents the Native American inspired Green/Red tribe.  When I think of this type of character, especially in the movies, I think of a speedy, stealthy person that can hold their own against drastically more advanced weaponry (Bow and Arrow vs. Guns) because of how in-touch with the land they are.

The Stealth ability was a no-brainer for me, and that’s probably why it will have to be revised at some point.  Or maybe not.  One thing I’ve heard Mark Rosewater stress many times is not making something complicated that wants to be simple.  This guy simply can’t be interacted with by the opponent until he moves to strike, because until he moves to strike the opponent doesn’t even know he’s there.  Of course, that’s not quite stealthy when it shows up in an MtG match – your opponent knows that they’re facing even if they can’t do much about it – but I think it still works.

His second ability is fun, I think.  It plays well with stealth, and to me evokes a recognizable flavor.  Right as our guy here pops out for an ambush, the first thing he does is toss his tomahawk into the fray before anyone has a chance to react.  This also, is what makes this card red (the Stealth ability being very green)

Welcome to the Wild, Wild West

I’ll be honest.  When I started thinking about an MtG set based in a Western Setting, one of the first things I thought about was the movie ‘Wild, Wild West’.  While I never watched the TV show it was based on, I found the movie mildly entertaining, and mostly due to the enormous Steam-powered Spider Mech.  Steampunk is pretty popular these days, and while I don’t know much about the genre, I know it fits very well into this setting, and very well in blue.  So far we’ve seen color pairings, both enemy and ally (Black/White and Red/Green).  I see Blue as being paired with Artifacts in this set, which would almost function as a 6th color.

So this guy doesn’t have any new mechanics obviously.  He’s an Artifact Creature lord with the ability to cheat them into play.  Potentially extremely powerful, but I think the cost is right when comparing it to similar effects (especially when you consider that creatures are very susceptible to removal).  This guy, to me, evokes the right flavor.  He enhances the artifacts that share the battlefield with him due to his technical prowess, and by the same prowess can help to assemble them more quickly.

Not that I don’t think there’s not room for new and unique mechanics for Blue/Artifact steampunk cards, but that’s something I can delve into at a later time.

One of my primary purposes of writing this blog is to get my thoughts out there for feedback.  As I said, I’m trying for the Great Designer Search 3 whenever it’s announced, and between now and then I have a lot to learn.  By giving me feedback, you’re helping me in the learning process.  Later this week, I’ll be popping up another post with some examples from Amaretto.

Stay Tuned!


2 responses to “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

  1. Corbin Hosler April 12, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    – I actually didn’t like that the Mercenary didn’t have a way of putting a counter on the creature, though I imagine it would be different if I was cracking a pack and seeing ways to put Death Marks on things, and the flavor seems spot on.
    – Shouldn’t Stealth be “hexproof as long as its untapped” in order to match up with the description you gave for what you want it convey?
    – Awesome post, keep them coming!

    • adventmtg April 13, 2012 at 9:24 am

      Whoops! I can’t believe I let that slip, especially for so long… it should absolutely be stealth as long as untapped.

      With the merc, you’re pretty much right. I imagine the set as having all sorts of ways to put Death Marks on creatures, but the cards I posted are just about as I’ve gotten in that set, as my focus is the mono-color block. Once I get around the western themed set, I’m sure things will change a lot.

      Thanks for the reply, and thanks for the plugs on twitter! I definitely plan on keeping up with this, if only for my own satisfaction, but getting readers in here posting feedback is something I’m looking forward to. Also, looking forward to actually playtesting some of my ‘finished’ stuff.

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