Custom Card Game Design

That freakin’ abyssal mana!

Finding the right direction for ‘Grim Tidings’ seems to be more difficult than anticipated. On the one hand, you want to have the set feel connected to ‘Iamur’ mechanically, but on the other hand the different setting requires some different mechanics to work flavor-wise. The main goal seems to be to find out how the mechanics translate to the new setting. But first, let’s define the setting. Here are some bullet points:

  • Giant ocean covered by small islands
  • Tropical paradise
  • Pirates and seafarers
  • Coastal villages, pirate bays, taverns
  • Voodoo
  • Island elves
  • Was cut off from the underwater realm, but now the border has dissolved.
  • Monsters from the depths appear and wreak havoc.
  • The sentient races meet each other (mermaids, merfolk).

Level up: Levelers are pretty easy. They can be pirates, elves ect. I’m still happy with the decision to implement hybrid levelers at common. The artifact leveler cycle I considered in my last post will maybe make it, but they’ll be uncommon for sure. Artifact creatures are a pretty big intimidate hoser and they make all the color-shifting shenanigans useless.

Finding an overlap between two allied colors to make a very simple leveler for a common slot? Here we go:

Ranger of Autumn Isle

Meh, I’d play it.

Bloodlust X (Whenever this creature deals combat damage, put X +1/+1 counters on it.): Bloodlust on pirates? Maybe on one or two. It definitely shouldn’t be their main mechanic. What else? Dinosaurs obv… mosquitoes maybe. And of course the old creature types; keep in mind that we’ll still have plenty of those in this set. They just won’t appear in the same environment. For example, a small theme should be the merfolk exploring the landworld:

Avid Discoverer

Talisman (If equipped creature would be destroyed, instead remove all damage from it and destroy this Equipment.): Easy. Pearls, necklaces and other trinkets all still work in the new setting. And there are plenty of other objects that can be used:

Seafarer's Compass

Melody (You may tap this to reduce the cost of a creature spell you cast by {mana}. This doesn’t untap during your untap steps for as long as you control the creature it becomes.): The mermaid mechanic from ‘Iamur.’ Though it appeared on cards other than mermaids, it was tied to them flavor-wise, and I’m having a hard time figuring out what to with it in ‘Grim Tidings.’ Maybe singing birds? Or elvish bards? Either way, it should be limited to only a few non-mermaid cards or it will just appear to be in here because it was in the first set.

Tavern Singer

Does this feel forced?

Color matters and intimidate: This is a tough one. The all-colored Fish tokens were one of the most favorite mechanics from ‘Iamur’, so I certainly don’t want to get rid of them. Fishermen are a possible way to return them, although it doesn’t make much sense that they’re all colors, in a vacuum, as the flavor explanation in ‘Iamur’ was that they’re luminescent deep-sea fish.

Power 8 or greater matters: The naga mechanic from ‘Iamur.’ This will be pretty easy, as the naga are the main villains of the set. I’m eager to design new variants of the Power 8 mechanic:

Sanctum of Ctaleth

Yes, this card is underwater. But I think it makes sense to be in this set as long as it’s tied to the story.

Duet (As long as you control exactly two creatures…): The seahorse mechanic from ‘Iamur.’ I have one card with that mechanic at the moment and I only need a few. Meh, I’ll make it work.

Romantic Rescue

Swallow (Each creature you sacrifice while casting this spell reduces its cost by 1 or one mana of that creature’s color.): Okay, the heck?? How could I miss this? The original idea was to replace swallow with ‘abyssal mana’; I talked about it here. Abyssal mana can be paid with the respective color or by sacrificing a creature of that color. Now, obviously that’s very similar to swallow and the reason to change it was only because of flavor. For example, ‘Queen of the Depths’ is awesome with abyssal mana:

Queen of the Depths

You don’t sacrifice more than three creatures to cast a creature with swallow anyway, right? So, no difference. But one small difference remains: You can’t sacrifice that stupid red murloc that’s been sitting around doing nothing for the whole game to cast ‘Queen of the Depths’, but you can sacrifice it to cast a creature with swallow. Either way is fine, but that both appear in the same limited environment can get very confusing. So, what are the possible fixes?

  • Swallow stays and abyssal mana only appears on activated abilities. That’s a bit weird – introducing a new mana and then not using it on mana costs?
  • Swallow stays and I’ll add the keyword ‘Abyssal’ instead, which is basically swallow for activated abilities.
  • Abyssal mana stays, but it no longer specifies the color of the creatures you may sacrifice. This still isn’t functionally equivalent to swallow, as now you can ignore the colored cost completely. The color-pie violations are another issue, but they aren’t that bad. ‘Queen of the Depths’ would still be best in a black deck. On top of that, the all-colored Fish tokens allowed for some color-pie violations already anyway.
  • Ignore the problem and hope people don’t get confused.

The second method is most likely the only applicable, but ‘Queen of the Depths’ with swallow just isn’t the same…

A mechanic for Pirates

How many new mechanics should be in ‘Grim Tidings’? I think just adding ‘Abyssal’ and having the set be a continuation of ‘Iamur’ is fine, since it’s already loaded with many mechanics. Still, I have tried Pirates before and I’d like to get it right this time. One mechanic I considered is ‘Treasure X’, a keyword action.

Treasure X  (Put X colorless artifact tokens onto the battlefield. They have “T, Sacrifice this: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.”)

So, basically this mechanic produces Lotus Petal tokens; they represent the treasures the pirates hoard. Treasure should work fine in a set full of expensive spells. However, it takes away the emphasis on sacrificing creatures.

Another, less exciting, route is to just have red looting (Discard, draw) appear on the pirate cards. Here is an example:

Bloodcoast Brigand

This card was inspired by a card I came across on MTGSalvation.

This would give Pirates a clear and easy to grok theme without adding anything new to the mix. However, if Pirates are a major part of the set, maybe it’s a bit too ‘meh.’ Variants of red looting as used on ‘Bloodcoast Brigand’ help though. Also, this fits in red, but what about the black Pirates (Pirates will appear in black and red)? Possibly an artifact matters theme for both colors. Zombie Pirates obviously… much of intimidate also.

Well, enough rambling. I’ll have to make a decision at some point. Until then!


2 responses to “That freakin’ abyssal mana!

  1. Shena'Fu March 22, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    For Pirates, how about a keyword action Steal. Which is basically gain control of something.

    Iron-Pegged Jackie
    Creature – Human Pirate
    Whenever ~ deals combat damage to a player, you may steal an artifact that player controls.

    Bloodcoast Conscripts
    Creature – Human Pirate
    When ~ enters the battlefield, steal target creature and untap it. It gains haste until end of turn.

    High Seas Robbery
    Steal target noncreature spell.

    • antaresmtg March 23, 2013 at 8:30 am


      something like that definitely the way to go for the ultimate Pirate flavor! Advent has a similar mechanic for his Pirates in his set.

      But I have the problem that I have to tie it into the mechanics of the first set. I don’t want to make too much new stuff. I’m currently not sure into which direction I want the second set to go. Maybe there won’t even be any Pirates because I can’t give them enough unique identity and it would be lame.

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