Custom Card Game Design
I want to continue with some interesting cards and card ideas from ‘Iamur.’ However, this time I’ll focus on the second set ‘Grim Tidings.’
If you’ve followed the development of the set, you know that levelers are returning in ‘Iamur.’ I wanted to mix things up a bit and looked at the possibilities of different designs, such as off-color, multicolor, or hybrid levelers. I found that levelers with off-color activations are the most interesting and implemented them in the set. There are two cycles; a common cycle with level up activation costs of the allied color in clockwise direction, and an uncommon cycle with level up costs of the enemy color in counter-clockwise direction. They all follow the same pattern: At the first level they gain an ability belonging to their original color, and at the ultimate level they gain an ability belonging to their off-color. Those two abilities should work together well. Let’s look at an example:
Vigilance is a white ability, and the activated ability is blue. This pattern seemed to me like the most obvious, as you’re making the creature “more and more blue” by leveling it up, so it should feel like a blue-white multicolor creature on the ultimate level, but monowhite on the way up.
For ‘Grim Tidings’, I want to try out different designs. One thing we noticed in playtesting is that ‘Iamur’ lacks artifact creatures to go with the artifact subtheme. So, how about some artifact levelers?
Ships are all common artifact creatures with level up costs of a single color. Their common pattern is that they’re vanilla creatures on the first level and get an attack trigger of their respective color on the ultimate level. My reasoning for choosing this pattern isn’t very strong, though. If we apply the same logic as we did with the off-color levelers, this would mean that being a vanilla creature is considered “artifacty.” I want players to attack with these ships (explore the sea, not stay in harbor all day), so I went with an attack trigger for the ultimate ability.
Now let’s look at hybrid levelers. Unlike off-color levelers, they have to gain an ability that’s justified in either color. They can gain it on the first level and improve it on the ultimate level or only gain the ability on the ultimate level and stay vanilla on the way up:
Looking through “Shadowmoor” and also learning from “Return to Ravnica”, the most simple ability for black/red hybrid creatures is the inability to block. So, can this be applied to a leveler? Deadwater Cutthroat becomes big very fast, but pays for that efficiency by being unable to block. There is nothing wrong with that design, other than that her first level form isn’t “strictly better” than her unleveled form. This is unintuitive, but maybe players can figure out how to use her best quick enough.
There will probably be no enemy-color hybrids, though. The overlap of these colors is very weak and it will be difficult to find a simple effect for every color pair that fits the requirements.
Finally, let’s look at multicolor levelers. These I wouldn’t want to implement at common, maybe even only at rare. There is no need for colored level up costs, as you’ve already covered all colors in the casting cost. They can be structured just like hybrid levelers, but instead use abilities that are representative of the respective color pair:
Indestructible is something that both green and white share (Dauntless Escort). Disciple of Torta could also be a monogreen card, but as a multicolor card you can push its power level further.
Let’s move away from levelers for now.
I wanted to design more ways to ramp for the set. A “Rampant Growth” land came to my mind. This version though, grants you card advantage, acceleration and five-color fixing all at once and is therefore too powerful. Maybe it could be a cycle instead, where each land produces two mana of one color?
Ghostfume Invoker showcases the new “abyssal mana” mechanic. I originally wanted to have an invoker cycle in ‘Iamur’, but I scrapped it when I thought out this mechanic, as it would be a perfect fit for a common implementation. Abyssal mana is very similar to Swallow (swallow allows you to sacrifice creatures to reduce the cost), but it has applications that swallow hasn’t, like this invoker. Of course, swallow won’t be in the set for that reason.
On the card itself: The effect is entirely replaceable, and just something random. I definitely want some kind of voodoo flavor in black and green and I’m looking for a common mechanic for those cards.
Auria, Light’s Champion
Auria is one of the two planeswalkers in ‘Grim Tidings.’ I wanted to explore the design space of Gideon‘s animate ability a bit further. The +1 turns her into a creature until your next turn and she doesn’t get the “Prevent all damage”-clause, but is indestructible. What does that mean? Damage dealt to her actually removes loyalty counters from her and she will be put into your graveyard for having 0 loyalty, but she still can’t die due to taking lethal damage (damage that is greater than her toughness). She can block creatures that are attacking her after getting in for 4 evasive damage.
(Skip this chapter if you want to avoid Gatecrash spoilers!)
I designed this card before the new Gideon was spoiled. I think he is a bit disappointing: His animate ability isn’t very different from the original Gideon. I’d have rather seen a different take on it like I did on Auria. They put indestructible on him, so why stop here? Didn’t they do it because it would be too confusing to players who aren’t 100% familiar with the rules? I don’t think, though, that the original Gideon was much less confusing at the time and this would be the logical next step.
The other plus ability allows you to build up loyalty even when you don’t want to expose her to creature removal (-X/-X or exile). As many of my planeswalkers, she doesn’t have an ultimate. I don’t think every planeswalker has to be structured the same way: Jace, Architect of Thought could have just had two abilities, because the ultimate is almost never relevant. But I learned that every planeswalker has to provide a win condition, and Auria does that. With that in mind, I’ll have to redesign Kayisha, as her indestructibility is not always that scary and facing her at 8 loyalty doesn’t feel much different than her at 3. So, Auria will get the indestructibility granting effect instead. Make your best guy indestructible, then Wrath the board? Good play!
Until now, I’ve only been designing for ‘Grim Tidings’ sporadically, but depending on my time and mood, that may change. So, next time I’ll maybe have some more mechanics or story to talk about.
Thanks for reading!