Custom Card Game Design

Underwater Plane? Challenge accepted!


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:

  • White: Mermaids, Whales, Seahorses, Atlanteans
  • Blue: Merfolk, Siren, Serpents, Turtles, Fish, Crabs
  • Black: Naga, Siren, Kraken, Horrors
  • Red: Lobster-people, ‘Murlocs’, Sharks, Elementals
  • Green: Mermaids, Turtles, Wurms, Fish, Jellyfish

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.

Tokens everywhere

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:

Head of BotanyArmageddon

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:

Head of Botany

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.

Red fish

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):

Head of BotanyArmageddon

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.”

Mana sinks

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.

Head of BotanyArmageddon

Tasty mermaids

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:

Head of Botany

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.


4 responses to “Underwater Plane? Challenge accepted!

  1. M September 21, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Some possible mana sinks: Buyback, Cumulative Upkeep, Flashback, Forecast, Retrace, Splice, Unearth? Unearth, Flashback, Retrace want to return for graveyard sets; of the others, my intuition is that Forecast and Splice have the most remaining design space.

    White seems to want to pump its Fish rather than feed them to monsters: Swallow on almost any big White creature looks really awkward; you can flavorfully justify it if the big creature is like a giant school of fish or whatever that “swallows” the others by incorporating them, and I imagine you can make a Wrath effect, but. A lot depends I think on how big a drawback off-color monsters are; if it’s little you can just give White little/no Swallow and it’s NBD because they’re all effectively colorless anyway; if it’s a lot then letting White go the pump route is acceptable; somewhere in-between and White may be forced to have big gulpmonsters. There’s also Hymn, if you can make it less awkward.

    Here’s one way you could go: give Green and Black Unearth, which works with all the sacrificing going on (especially with Black wanting more sacrifice outlets,) and Red and Blue Splice Onto, like, Wizard or something (fixing rules text as necessary.) Create some sort of mechanic that involves bouncing creatures to create synergy with both, allow more of a disincentive to off-color swallowers, and create more mana sink options. Let White be the best at fishmaking but the worst at fisheating. I’m not sure what else that would dictate.

    • M September 21, 2012 at 1:30 pm

      Alternative approach:

      Tidal pull – (, return ~ to your hand: )

      This provides 1) chump blockers and 2) mana sinks. With sufficient density and an alternative ramping source maybe you can get rid of fish. Which changes everything, obviously, but might make things more interesting, as you’re then dealing with a different design space than Rise’s even as you attack the same problem. OTOH the Fish are cute and I don’t think the Eldrazi Spawn design space was at all fully explored.

      Combining this with the Forecast/Splice-variant mana sink, you could maybe give Red, White, and Blue “Splice” onto Shamans, Clerics, and Wizards, respectively, while giving Green Shamans and Black Clerics and Wizards. But I might just be suggesting this because I like exploiting Tribal tags, Idunno.

      • antaresmtg September 21, 2012 at 3:39 pm

        From the mechanics you suggested, I liked unearth the most, though it has a bit of a flavor issue with the name. Cumulative Upkeep is also a possibility. Flashback and retrace are also good mechanics should the set move more into a graveyard based set (most likely not). I don’t like Buyback, Forecast and Splice. They lead to repeated game states instead of closing the game like levelers.

        You are right that white shouldn’t get swallow. I was thinking about having Swallow in Grixis colors and fish tokens in RUG. Hymn or something similar would appear in Green and white and white getting a small untapping theme. I agree that pumping fish would be great in white. I don’t think you can just play off-color monsters with swallow without being punished. Yes, you can play one or two if its power level justifies it but there are also draws where you don’t have enough fish but you would be able to cast it if it was the right color – so each color needs its Ulamog’s Crusher.

        I should definitely emphasize on the sacrificing theme and unearth would be a possibility. But I think the set still needs a closer like levelers. It shouldn’t be a slow and grindy format, but a format where you have enough time to do awesome things. For that reason I don’t like Tidal Pull that much.

        Thanks for your comment đŸ™‚

  2. Pingback: More on Iamur « Adventares – Custom Card Game Design

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