Custom Card Game Design
for a long time now, I wanted to create a set that plays on an underwater plane. Not just the casual “oh, everything is flooded because of mankind’s errors”-Waterworld kind of plane, but a plane where everything happens underwater and the ocean is infinitely deep. Now, that sounds challenging to design as everything watery is usually associated with blue. But Innistrad had the same problem – all the horror tropes are usually associated with black and the designers had to spread them evenly among the colors. Still, they managed to do it and made a very coherent set.
I discarded the idea previously and instead focused on remaking ‘Conquest of Orion’ and ‘Reign of Elements’, but now I am drawn to the idea again and want to share my first attempts. You need to know that ‘Rise of the Eldrazi’ was my most favorite draft format of all time and I also always wanted to do a set in its spirit. ‘Paiura’ should have been that set and though I like how the set turned out as a whole, it failed at that. But if you think of the oceanic abyss from a fantasy perspective, giant kraken and other colossal monsters come to mind – so the underwater plane would be a great place to return to the “battlecruiser-magic” of Rise of the Eldrazi.
One of the most important things for me is to give each color an identity, so that people wouldn’t say “Why is this red? It’s a fish!” The set needs a humanoid race and some nonsentient creatures representing each color. I brainstormed:
This seems like a good start, but the details still need to be worked out.
It seems to be very difficult to design a set of mechanics that’s equally awesome as that of Rise of the Eldrazi, but still different. You will come to the conclusion that many of the mechanics in Rise of the Eldrazi are essential to that style of gameplay and even the absolute optimal choice. How do you justify changing some mechanics if everything you can come up with is less optimal? Doing things differently for the sake of doing it differently is not good design.
So I reconciled myself to having 0/1 creature tokens as a central focus of the set, just like Rise of the Eldrazi did. They would act as chump blockers as well as mana accelerators. This time, it would be fish tokens.
I realized early that there shouldn’t be any flying creatures in the set, as that wouldn’t make much sense. So I would have to focus on another form of unblockability. But do I really want to add another mechanic to the very parasitic ‘horsemanship’ / ‘shadow’ group? “Seahorsemanship”? That sounds awful, so I decided that unblockability would revolve largely around colors and ‘intimidate’. Many cards would be able to alter the colors of creatures, so they would become unblockable or be able to block creatures with intimidate. It made sense to me from a flavor perspective – a colorless fish is invisible in the depths of the sea and thus can’t be blocked – and the more a fish glows (the more colors it has), the better is its ability to detect other fish and block them.
I decided that the 0/1 Fish tokens should be all colors so that they can block everything. Here is how they will look like:
Big freakin’ fatties
The fish tokens don’t have a mana ability like the Eldrazi Spawn, so another mechanic is needed to facilitate casting the giant leviathans and kraken in the set. I came up with ‘Swallow’ (because ‘Devour’ was already taken). It’s a ‘Convoke’ variant that can turn all your fish tokens into one mana of any color:
The Eldrazi creatures were all colorless, so they could be played in any deck. This isn’t the case here – the fatties will all be colored. However, if you have sufficient fish token generators, you can even play Kraken’s Embrace in a green/white deck, because you can use the fish to pay the colored part.
Another mechanic to generate mana I thought of was ‘Hymn X’. This would be the mechanic for green/white mermaids. You can tap a creature with Hymn X to reduce the cost of the next creature card you cast this turn by X and when that creature enters the battlefield, the creature with Hymn doesn’t untap for as long as you control it. However, wording this seems to be rather difficult.
I knew from the beginning that red would be the hardest color to get right. Sharks fit very well, but can only provide a small number of the cards we need. As a mechanic, I’d like to try ‘Bloodlust X’ (because everything else having to do with being angry was already taken):
A variation of Innistrad’s vampire ability, this ability triggers when the creature deals combat damage to anything. It allows even midrange creatures to remain scary in the face of giant leviathans and it changes combat dynamics quite a bit: “I’ll block your Marinespeaker with two Bloodscent Sharks.”
Like Rise of the Eldrazi, the set needs a lot of mana sinks. Should level up just reappear in the set? Or can we find a mechanic that fits the flavor better but is equally awesome? Again, I don’t want to do anything differently for the sake of it.
The inhabitants of this plane constantly live in the fear of becoming a snack for the next kraken passing by. Obviously, they would need something to protect themselves. The Umbras were the icing on the cake of what made Rise of the Eldrazi an awesome format. They had great flavor and further encouraged the battlecruiser playstyle of the set. But they don’t fit in this set, so how about we’ll explore the design space of ‘Totem Armor’ on equipments? This is the most basic design:
Brainstorm is legal
That’s all I got for now. There is still much design space to explore and many of the mechanics could still change. If you have critique or some good ideas, tell me in the comments.