Custom Card Game Design

Developing Esparand

I’ve made quite a few changes to my Esparand set after our last draft. As always, you can find the complete image spoiler here. Here are my thoughts behind them:

Steer Fate removed

A few weeks ago, I added a new mechanic to Esparand: Steer fate (Choose land or nonland, then reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a card of the chosen kind. Put it on top and the rest on the bottom in any order.). The motivation to include this as the fourth new mechanic of the set was to reduce the variance and make more games more fun. The choice was between scry and this mechanic.

A basic card with Scry. Most cards have had their steer fate changed to scry 1 or scry 2.

In theory, steer fate should be more effective in filtering lands and nonlands than scry, which was the my main goal with the mechanic. I figured there would be some problems with it, but I was willing to try it out. As it turned out, my concerns were not far-fetched. Steer fate has several issues that make it a clearly worse choice to scry:

  • Your opponent gets to see what you draw. That’s not too big of a concern, and actually goes well with the Foreshadow theme of Esparand, but it’s still a minus.
  • You cannot scry useless lands or spells to the bottom. What do you do if you desperately need a Plains, but an Island is a dead card?
  • The whole operation of steering fate takes quite a lot of time and dexterity. You have to flip cards from the top with one hand, put those cards into your other hand or on the table (which is already full of relevant graveyard and exile cards), then when you flip the correct type, you have to put that card back, then you have to pick up your library and put the rest on the bottom. Compare that to how much less time it takes to scry 1.

These reasons are incentive enough for me to replace the mechanic with scry. Going forward, scry will be an evergreen mechanic in sets I might do in the future, and I would love it if Wizards did the same. As an evergreen mechanic, there is no need to showcase the mechanic on rares or mythics, or have cards that play with that theme, so I am fine with scry being less prevalent than in Theros.

White improved

Worded so that it stops consign spells (Meddling Mage does not).

With only one white drafter at the table, you would expect that deck to be very good. But as it turns out, white is not a particularly deep color. While for the other colors, there is a balanced spectrum of good and bad cards, white has a few very good cards, but also a vast ocean of mediocre ones. To my defense, it is still not nearly as bad as it was in Magic 2014 (what on earth did they do in that set?). I have improved some of the white commons, and revamped two of the uncommons with the following idea behind the changes: White does not take part in any of the broken things the other colors can do in the set, so it should take the role as a hate color. It already had the best graveyard hate in the set, but now it also has hate against consign decks in the form of Nullifier Giant, as well as a hard counter. This unique environment, which is very instant and sorcery focused, cannot be balanced properly with only blue getting access to counterspells.

Scrying over Screw > Screwing over Scry

The cards that can mill the opponent every turn could completely negate steer fate and make it utterly useless. With scry, that will not be any different. To alleviate that, the two worst offenders, Sage of the Sands and Obelisk of the Ages, have been changed to either mill the top or bottom card of a player’s library. The affected player gets to choose. “Top or bottom” is a bit of an awkward wording, and it will not be quite clear to a new player why it is written that way, but the frustration caused by having your scries get screwed over heavily outweighs that confusion.

Thoughts on other colors

All other colors only received minor changes. To view a complete list of changes, see at the bottom of this post. For the most part, I was very happy with how the set played out. Esparand appeared to be exorbitantly graveyard-based, in contrast to the previous draft, where the set appeared to be not graveyard-based enough. So, I think no direct conclusions can be derived from that observation yet. It is worth keeping an eye on red- and/or green-based beatdown strategies, and if they can put up a good fight with the more “unfair” decks, but as of now, I do not see the reason to make any changes. Paradox Cavern obviously still needs to be fixed.

Mana Fixing

I have gradually made changes to Esparand during the last steps of the design process that worsened the mana fixing until the current point, where there is basically none left. I am looking for ways to improve it again so that three color decks are viable.

Eternity Preview Card

But enough of complicated development talk, here is another preview card from Eternity. It is inspired by the Hearthstone card “Mana Tide Totem.” Enjoy!

As it turns out, I like drawing cards…


  • Confess!’s steer fate changed to scry 1.
  • When Daughter of the Living Wind (“1W, 1/1 flying, When it dies, make a 1/1 Spirit token”) dies, you get to scry 1 in addtion to making the token.
  • Plea to the Divine (“1W, indestructible to a creature, Foreshadow 1W, all creatures indestructible”) has had its foreshadow cost reduced to W.
  • Purifier Giant (“4WW, 4/6, Exiles all creatures it kills”) has been removed.
  • Sculptured Seraph (“2W, 2/5 defender, When it enters the battlefield, steer fate”) has been moved from uncommon to common. Now scry 2, instead of steer fate. 1/5 instead of 2/5.
  • New uncommon: Nullifier Giant, 4WW, 4/6, As it enters the battlefield, name an instant or sorcery card, and that card can’t be cast.
  • Sphere of Denial has been revamped. It is now an enchantment for 2W with flash. It exiles a noncreature spell until it leaves the battlefield when it enters the battlefield.
  • Angel of the Sands changed from 3/4 flying for 2WW to 3/5 flying.
  • Epoch Wanderer has been revamped. It is now a 4/7 vigilance for 5WW. It has Foreshadow 2WW. When it enters the battlefield, if it was foreshadowed, your life total becomes your starting life total and you shuffle your graveyard into your library.
  • Archangel of Ascendance no longer grants the ability to resurrect other creatures to the creature it resurrects.


  • Crystal Drake (“2U, 1/3 flying”) can now untap itself for 3U, instead of 2U.
  • The Future Undone (“2UU, Counter target spell. Steer fate.”) has been replaced with Dissolve at its common slot.
  • Sage of the Sands (“1U, 2/1, Epitaph U, Mill one on your upkeep”) now mills the top or bottom card of target player’s library, instead of the top card.
  • Architect of Constellations (“5UU, When it enters the battlefield, draw four cards”) is now a 1/3 instead of a 2/3.
  • Chronomancer (“2U, When it enters the battlefield, return an exiled consign card to hand”) is now a 2/3 instead of a 2/2.
  • Fiddle with Fate has been changed from “Bounce target creature, steer fate” to “Bounce target creature, scry 2.” Mana cost increased from 1U to 2U.
  • Slipstream (“Mill 5, Griptide”) mill component has been reduced from 5 to 4. Wording improved.
  • Niusha of the Spires’s -5 ability (“Take an extra turn after this one”) has been changed to -6.


  • Disciple of the False Gods (“1B, 2/1”) no longer sacrifices creatures to steer fate, but to get +1/+1 until end of turn.
  • Preserver’s Touch has been changed from “Drain a creature for 3, steer fate” to “Drain a creature for 3, scry 1.”
  • Shadowland Harpy (“2B, 3/1 flying”) now deals you 2 damage when it enters the battlefield instead of draining you for 1 each turn.
  • Crypt Betrayal has been changed from “Reanimate any creature, steer fate” to “Reanimate any creature, scry 1.”


  • Canyon Maker (4R, 5/3) now has scry 1 when it enters the battlefield.
  • Embermane Fiend has been changed from 4/4 haste for 2RR to 4/3 trample, haste.


  • Resurgence has been changed from “Regrowth, steer fate” to “Regrowth, scry 2.” Rarity has been increased from common to uncommon.
  • Seal with Branches wording changed to “Creatures you control and creature cards in your graveyard can’t be the target of spells or abilities your opponents control this turn.”
  • Mirage Spirit’s (1G, 2/2) enter the battlefield effect has been changed from steer fate to scry 1.
  • Dwell on the Past is now a common instead of an uncommon.

Multicolor & Artifacts & Lands

  • Astronomicum (“Artifact for 1, with 1, sac: Steer fate, draw a card”) has retained its functionality, but the effect is written out instead of keyworded.
  • Empyreal Sword (“Equipment for 3, Equip 2, +3/+0”) has been changed to Cost 2, Equip 3, +2/+1. In addition, when it enters the battlefield, you scry 1.
  • Instead of milling the top card of target player’s library, Obelisk of the Ages (“Artifact for 3, Taps for 1 and mills for one on each activation”) mills the top or bottom card of that player’s library.
  • Barren Pools (white Oasis) now gives all creatures +0/+2 until end of turn instead of vigilance and +0/+2 to one creature.

4 responses to “Developing Esparand

  1. Circeus December 15, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    I say there’s nothing wrong with there being a significant amount of cards that can screw the opponent’s scry. We have at least 2 first picks that do it (Ashiok and Daxos), plus Pyxis of Pandemonium, Thassa’s Bounty and Returned Centaur, not to mention RTR-block playables like Consuming Aberration, Dimir Charm and Nightveil Specter (in fact my current Blue/Black deck is entirely centered on making my opponent’s scry provide diminishing returns)

    • antaresmtg December 15, 2013 at 6:47 pm

      The cards you listed are rares and mythics though, or mill the opponent only once. I agree that such cards don’t need fixing, and there are plenty of them in Esparand still. For example, I didn’t make changes to the uncommon flyer that mills for two each turn. I’ve only fixed two cards that both mill every turn, are both common, and are mostly unanswerable.

      Timing your mill spells to screw your opponent’s scry can be an interesting interaction, and I think it can lead to some fun mindgames, but not with these two.

  2. adventmtg December 28, 2013 at 9:09 am

    This all looks so good. I hate that I haven’t been around – I REALLY want to make a cockatrice plugin for this and play with it. Hopefully soon.

    I’m a bit sad that steer fate is gone. You should do a blue sorcery called steer fate that uses the mechanic – just because 🙂

    • antaresmtg December 28, 2013 at 3:02 pm

      Well, I’m in no hurry. But when you’re making the plugin for realsies, send me a note so you don’t have an outdated file.

      There should definitely be a spell called steer fate: Not sure what it does though.

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