Custom Card Game Design
Sometimes during design you run into a dead-end. I wanted my “Grim Tidings” set was to play mostly above water, with the precursor set “Iamur” taking place entirely underwater. I made this decision for several reasons. When I finished designing Iamur, I was tired of the underwater theme for a while; designing cards for the last slots of the set was a chore. However, I still wanted to continue the story of the block since it wasn’t finished. From a story perspective, the shift to the other world of Iamur was reasonable: While the two worlds were separate for millenia, now the barrier between them begins to wane, and the evil forces lurking in the depths of the sea rise to reclaim the landworld and so on… bottom line: Pirates getting eaten by giant kraken!
However, Grim Tidings is also intended to be drafted in conjunction with Iamur (GRT IAM IAM Draft) and not as a separate set. Therefore, it shouldn’t have too much new stuff. Moreover, players were already complaining that Iamur is too complex and can use some more simple cards, even experienced players, ones you would expect to get bored very fast from drafting a core set like set. So, I again tried to tone down the new stuff I wanted to add in Grim Tidings and focus more on the already established mechanics.
But at some point I just thought: “This doesn’t feel right.” and at first I couldn’t point my finger at it, but soon I realized what it was. This is neither meat nor fish; it doesn’t have the magic of an underwater setting, but the caribbean flavor was half-hearted too. Frustrated, knowing that I don’t want to continue this route, I put the set on ice until I decided what way to go with it.
Meanwhile, I’ve recharged my creative batteries and now I’m actually eager to design more underwater stuff. So, here is the new approach: The set is again mostly underwater, but the collision of the two worlds is still a major theme. However, it’s told from the perspective of the sea-dwellers instead of the land-dwellers which I think makes much more sense. There won’t be any elves, pirates and everything else that doesn’t have anything to do with the first set, but merfolk walking on land, naga ambushing human divers and so on.
Themes & Mechanics Part 1391
Ok, I’ve finally decided: Grim Tidings will have one new keyword and it’s called “Abyssal.” Basically swallow for activated abilities, abyssal enables invokers that have a reasonable chance to get activated.
Abyssal (Each creature you sacrifice while activating an ability of this reduces its cost by 1 or by one mana of that creature’s color.)
If you want to sacrifice a creature just for the sake of sacrificing it, you must still be able to activate the ability. Therefore, activation costs of abilities of permanents with abyssal should either be very high or only a single mana, otherwise it might be confusing to players.
Levelers for dinner again? BUT MOM!
The next important decision was which levelers should be implemented. Originally, I intended to not repeat the off-color activation levelers from ‘Iamur’, but to make a cycle of hybrid levelers. Again, trying to tone down the amount of new stuff, I changed that cycle to one of off-color levelers in reverse direction. Dark Ascension did it with the off-color flashback cards and that turned out awesome.
I still have a few hybrid levelers planned, but they won’t be part of a cycle, just “Here’s the black/red card for the hybrid slot, oh btw it’s also a leveler.” Somehow this feels much more natural to me now.
You hear a beautiful melody: You gain +1 strength!
Melody was very well received, so melodying (!?) mermaids should be plentiful in this set too, but there are only that many combinations of mana cost and melody value you can come up with. Adding a small twist can’t hurt: While in ‘Iamur’, some of the melody cards had the text “At the beginning of your upkeep, if CARDNAME is tapped, do X”, basically triggering only as long as the melody ability is active, melody cards in this set grant an additional bonus to the creature the melody ability is used on.
The wording is a bit weird and I hope it’s obvious what it’s supposed to do. As long as Lamenting Mermaid doesn’t untap, the creatures you cast using the melody ability are “beguiled” by it. Most likely, this will only be one creature at a time, but it’s possible to untap it and use the melody ability again, hence the wording I used. Unfortunately, I’ve never melodied someone and I’m pretty sure that’s not something you can do, so I have to use another word, although that’s always awkward (*cough* Cipher *cough*).
For the rest of the cards, check out the Grim Tidings preview-pdf.