Custom Card Game Design

Evolution of Mechanics

I have been thinking a lot lately about how I want to evolve the Esparand mechanics throughout the block, but I am not very confident in that regard. I only started drafting regularly during Innistrad block and therefore I did not experience the evolution of many blocks first-hand, only hearing about them from other players. This kind of experience would be very useful in order to understand what works and what does not work.

Evolution of set mechanics

If we look at blocks from the recent past, we see that there are some continuations of the first set that were very successful, and others that were seen as greatly inferior to their preceding set.

  • Lorwyn Block: Morningtide expanded on the tribal theme of Lorwyn by changing the focus from “races matter” to “classes matter.” While I really liked Lorwyn, drafting the complete block, even on Magic Online, which tells you exactly the creature types that are in your deck, was very confusing and frustrating. They tried too much with Morningtide and failed.
  • Shadowmoor Block: The pattern continued with Shadowmoor. Once I got to the Eventide booster, I did not know what I was supposed to do. I did not have a single blue/green card in my deck, nor any of the other color combinations that the set supposedly told me I should have drafted. In a “hybrid to 11” block, it feels natural to do both allied and enemy color, but the execution was lacking.
  • Alara Block: Many criticize Alara for a lot of things. Many of the multicolor designs felt forced, the shard’s identities were not as clear as they could have been (watermarks), and Conflux and Alara Reborn were just too much over the top. I feel that the only thing that evolved throughout the block was the multicolor theme, while the shard mechanics stagnated. In fact, I feel that they had run out of ideas during Alara Reborn, which led to very weird common designs such as Kathari Bomber.

The subsequent blocks did it right. Worldwake did not have anything new except for Multikicker, an expansion on Kicker, and Scars block evolved by spreading Infect into more and more colors, while also adding a few more small, flavorful mechanics. The Innistrad follow-up Dark Ascension only added Undying, which worked great with the rest of the themes.

However, when a mechanic has not sufficient design space, the cards in the later sets feel like the “left-overs” from the first set. I cannot lose the feeling that this will happen with Bestow in Theros. Is it not that everything obvious has been done already? Keyword X and +Y/+Y. There are certainly more cool designs out there, but enough unique designs that can fill the common slots for two sets? I doubt it.

Evolution of Draft Archetypes

With the release Scars of Mirrodin, the draft order has been reversed — we now draft a block starting with the youngest set. The main reason for this change was that this shakes up the draft format more significantly. If we would draft THS THS BNG coming next year, players would just draft exactly like they are drafting triple Theros now and see what they can pick up out of the last pack. Opening a new set with your first booster, you are forced to alter your draft strategy.

However, the downside is that this approach significantly weakens the niche archetypes that can be drafted in the single set draft. The prime example for this would be the DKA INN INN format: Dark Ascension was a great set, but nonetheless, most players felt that this draft format was worse than triple Innistrad. Innistrad had many fun niche archetypes that relied on a single card, such as Burning Vengeance, or Spider Spawning, whereas Dark Ascension offered little for players who loved those archetypes. It tried to imitate Burning Vengeance with Secrets of the Dead, but that card ended up being unplayable and you had to hope you could pick up a Burning Vengeance in pack two or three if you forced that archetype — a dangerous wager. With that said, I feel that INN INN DKA would have been an awesome format.

Going back to Esparand

It sure seems like Eternity could turn out disastrous for the draft format if it is not designed with utter carefulness. I am currently considering that the block is to be drafted in normal order. Esparand has some of those niche archetypes that I talked about, and I do not want to repeat the mistakes of Dark Ascension. Fortunately, save for these niche build-around decks, the major archetypes of Esparand will be supported well in Eternity. Here is how:

A mythic land that will play an important role in the eventual story.

Oases in Eternity

Esparand’s oasis subtheme was only very mild, so I think I will be expanding on it a bit. Oasis lands are all common lands that trigger an effect when they enter the battlefield, similar to Khalni Garden and friends. Eternity will have its own cycle of common oases with new effects, a few cards that care about oases, but also effects that can flicker lands, so you can reuse the enter-the-battlefield effect multiple times. These represent “time displacement,” a subtheme I want to try out.

Epitaph in Eternity

Epitaph will not evolve much with Eternity. The only thing I will be trying out are effects that trigger “when you remember” (When you pay this card’s epitaph cost) a creature. It will unfortunately be the ability where I make cards not because I have not made them yet, but because I have to make something.

Double the consign activations (expect for sorceries… awkward).

Consign in Eternity

Esparand puts a heavy focus on instants and sorceries, which is especially supported by consign. In Eternity, the eternal mechanic further strengthens this focus and the consign deck also gets a few new tools: New aggressive consign spells, value creatures with an irrelevant body to consign on, and cards that care about instants and sorceries.

One expansion of the mechanic I want to try are sorceries with consign. In Esparand, consign appeared solely on instants. But there are some effects, such as Elemental Appeal, that only work on sorceries. While instants with consign can be activated at any time, sorceries can only be activated at any time you could cast a sorcery. I left these out of Esparand for complexity reasons, but this feels like a natural progression (maybe sorceries first would have been even better).

Evolution of the Story?!?

By now, I wanted to have something more than a few lines written on the story of Esparand. But admittedly, I am a better designer than I am a writer. So, if anyone is interested in helping me with some world-building, leave me a note.

  • Oases: Lands with the Oasis subtype, similar to Gates.
  • Epitaph {cost} (When this is put into your graveyard from anywhere, you may pay {cost} and remember it. If you don’t, exile it.) // As long as ~ is remembered, {effect}.
  • Eternal {cost} (You may cast this spell for its eternal cost. If you do, change its text by removing all instances of “until end of turn” and exile it as it resolves.)
  • Consign {cost} (Pay {cost} and exile this card from your hand consigned to target creature you control. That creature gains “T: You may cast a copy of the exiled card without paying its mana cost.” Consign only as a sorcery.)

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