Custom Card Game Design

Brewing a “Sands of Time” set, Part II


since my “Sands of Time”-set was well received, I’ll continue to post some more ideas.

More timeshifted cards

What is the perfect card to timeshift?  Most are either too much of a color pie stretch or just seem too random. They should also be iconic enough so that people will actually remember the original card. How are these?

Ankhal, the Chthonic CryptVeiled Ascension

These are the timeshifted versions of Emeria, the Sky Ruin and Armored Ascension, respectively.

Time Reversal

I tried to come up with a mechanic that dealt with time reversal. Something that allowed you to turn back time, or if that’s not possible (and it most likely isn’t), something that evokes the flavor of reversing time. Initially, I had spells in mind where the cost and effect are reversed to what you’re used to. Make some cards have the most absurd costs, such as “As an additional cost to cast CARDNAME, draw two cards?” How about no.

However, this reversed sequencing lead me to another idea. Spells that could be returned to your hand by paying the inverse of its effect. You undo whatever the spell did and end up in the same spot as before. Well, that sounds nice, but it’s kinda pointless, isn’t it? Not if the “inverse” of the effect can be manipulated so that it’s actually not the inverse completely.

Time Reversal became an ability word without a precise meaning. It just signals an activated ability that’s the inverse of another ability on the card. Here are two sorcery cards that can return themselves from the graveyard, but the mechanic isn’t limited to that:

Borrowed TimeFlame of the Sands

Borrowed Time is the first card I designed with this mechanic. It’s an engine and it’s very powerful, but I do like the flavor. I’m not sure about Flame of the Sands: It’s obvious that you want to time reversal it when you have no creatures on board, and cast it when you have many, but will it actually be relevant that often? Ultimately, this mechanic doesn’t seem to have much design space, so it’s probably limited to a few cards at higher rarities.

Sequencing cards

Time Reversal still got me thinking of other ways to evoke the same flavor. I remembered a mechanic a friend once made, called Sequence. It allowed you to choose in which order the effects on the card are executed. I won’t make this into the keyword, because the design space is again really limited, but I like underlying idea. Here are two sequencing cards:

Mad MachinationsGraveyard Haul

What other clever effects can you put onto a sequencing spell? I’ve been trying, but there’s not much else you can do with it. I don’t want players to look at these cards and say “Why is this card so weird?

Oasis lands

In a desert themed set, there should be a mechanic having to do with oases. Water is scarce on this plane, and so controlling the very few sources of it is vital to your survival. I thought that having an “Oasis lands matter” mechanic, similar to the Gate mechanic in RTR block, would be very fitting. But what would Oasis lands do? First, they have the relevant “Oasis” subtype. Ok, what else? Like Gates, they should be printed as commons, so they can’t be powerful dual lands. But making them bad dual lands would imitate Gates far too much. They could be colorless lands, but a format that tries to encourage you to play those feels very awkward. Bad spell lands? There’s already enough complexity in the set, so that’s a no. “Enter the battlefield”-lands is the only option left:

Barren PoolsSeed Life


I also thought about using Delve as a returning mechanic, but I’m not sure right now. It definitely fits the mechanics of the set, as well as the flavor, but I’m already using one returning mechanic from Time Spiral.


In this phase of the design process, you should think about what archetypes you want to see in limited. This helps in fleshing out the colors, their flavor, and their mechanical interactions. Early in the design I decided, that I wanted to focus on enemy-color-pairs:

  • White/Black: A sacrifice and token based strategy should be available in these colors.
  • Blue/Red: Consign is an instant- and sorcery-based mechanic, so it should be strongest in Blue and Red. So, let’s try to design some commons that enable a “Consign Aggro” deck.
  • Black/Green: An epitaph self-mill deck fits best into these colors. Blue should also be part of it.
  • Red/White: A beatdown deck, I guess?
  • Green/Blue: Same as Black/Green. Blue can also provide winning options for a dedicated mill deck.

Psychic BladesMemorial Druid

Many of these have already been explored in Innistrad, and that worked out quite well. This set definitely has a paragon in Innistrad, but it doesn’t take it quite as far as Iamur did with Rise of the Eldrazi. What I also want to add is a dedicated reanimator deck, with giant sand wurms à la Dune as the reanimation target.

Card spoilers

Keeping the tradition of naming my sets after planets from “Conquest of Orion”, this set will be called “Esparand.” You can find the current card spoiler here. Of course, these cards are far from final.

Thanks for reading!


4 responses to “Brewing a “Sands of Time” set, Part II

  1. EmberMage June 2, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Your time reversal mechanic is very similar to this one someone posted in reddit:

    • antaresmtg June 4, 2013 at 6:16 am

      Yeah, those are very similar. I was experimenting with a trigger as well at some point. The ritual is really great, the blue one is a bit easy to abuse :).

  2. adventmtg June 4, 2013 at 1:10 am

    Love it all. Of all of your projects (all which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed), this is the most exciting to me so far. Time Spiral, with all of it’s faults, is one of my favorite blocks because it deals with time itself. On top of the time theme, you’re doing a desert/egyptian theme which has always been interesting to me (as mentioned, I’ve got some ideas for an Egyptian tribe, but in a completely different way)

    One thing I’d recommend – the Oasis land doesn’t seem very resonant. I think something that would fit the flavor would be an ability that triggered only if the oasis was the only land you controlled, or if it was the only oasis you controlled, or something to emphasize that Oases are lone ‘islands’ of life in a sea of desert.

    • antaresmtg June 4, 2013 at 8:48 am

      Thanks :). I’ve been moving away a bit from the egyptian theme and more into a persian flavor with this set recently. Originally, I intended to do something about Egyptian gods, but I didn’t feel it, and then Theros was spoiled, which is also about gods.

      The oases lands will most likely still change. If there’s a way to get the ‘lone island of life’ flavor into a common land, I’ll do it, but I think your suggestion sacrifices too much on the mechanics part to do it. Maybe this oasis subtheme also isn’t really necessary.

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