Custom Card Game Design

Revisiting Iamur

Iamur has by far been my most popular set. Although I feel like I made many mistakes back then, the unique setting and top-down design must be what people love about Iamur. Well, I guess there are at least some people out there like me that just have a great love for the underwater realm.

I have been asked often if I was still working on the Iamur block and if I will finish it at some point. I always intended to go back to Iamur, but I did not have the inspiration to do so. But now I want to tackle some of the flaws in the set and make Iamur into the best set it can be. So what are the problems?


Duet was an ability word that was used mainly on seahorse creatures. It gave you a bonus if you controlled exactly two creatures. This mechanic originated purely from top-down design, and didn’t fit into the other set’s mechanics at all. It played terribly. White had creatures that forced you to play with only two creatures but also cards that created tokens or heavily relied on them. Surely, there must be ways to design this mechanic with the same flavor, but so that it works better with the rest of the set.

A while ago, I worked on a mechanic called ‘Guardian.’ It gave a creature the ability to protect other creatures while attacking or blocking by forcing your opponent to assign damage to that creature first. Now, that sounds an awful lot like Banding. But I like the basic idea of Banding, and I wanted to make it much more intuitive and less complex. From this mechanic arose the new Duet, which is currently worded as follows:

Duet (You may attack with this paired with another creature. The pair is blocked as a group and you choose which creature is assigned combat damage first.)

This duet creature will be the protector more often than not. Others have more power and rather want to be protected.

Duet only works while attacking. As you declare attackers, you can pair a creature with duet with another creature. If both creatures have duet, they cannot be in multiple pairs. If you do, you also declare which creature is “protected” by the other. Both creatures are blocked as a group. That means, if one is blocked, the other is automatically blocked as well, even if it could not be legally blocked otherwise. The protected creature must be put behind the other when the combat damage assignment order is declared.

One of the improvements over banding is that it works only while attacking and right when you attack, you announce which creature is protected, so it is much easier to process what blocking the pair would result in.  There is no “Oh, you can do that, too…” Also, bands are limited to pairs of two creatures.

I think this new Duet is a bit wordy, but relatively easy to grok. It is awesome in Iamur with all of its giant sea monsters: They blank the smaller creatures very quickly, but now they can still attack protected and get their damage in.

Creature type mess

In Magic, Kraken are… things, but not giant octopuses as you would expect. So, classifying all the kraken monsters in the set as “Kraken” was incorrect. Now, they are correctly classified as octopuses.

A point of debate was the Mermaid creature type. I changed it to “Nixie” to convey the same meaning, but to differentiate it more from “Merfolk.” As you can see above, I intend to change it back to Mermaid. It is just not the same with this weird type “nixie”, and a good portion of the flavor gets lost due to it. It is clear what is meant with each of the types as soon as you see it on the cards: Merfolk are the fish-people from Dungeons & Dragons, and mermaids are the fish-women from classic mythology.

Scry in Iamur?

A ramp card that also digs you to your monsters.

I added Scry in Esparand with the intention of using it in all of my future sets, upgrading it to an evergreen keyword. The question now is if this should be retroactively applied to Iamur? Scry would improve the gameplay experience as the set plays out very swingy, as you would expect from a “ramp into big monsters” set. But the problem then becomes the complexity of the set. With Duet now being a full keyword, alongside Swallow, Melody, Talisman, Bloodlust, and the returning mechanic Level Up, the set has already more keywords than any reasonable Wizards set would ever have. At this point, is the right thing to do to completely forfeit Wizards standards for complexity as the set is beyond redemption anyway? Well, if it means improving the gameplay experience, then yes. Although the set has extremely many keywords, they should all work together nicely once Duet is fixed.

Bloodlust is the first candidate to cut if the complexity has to be reduced. It could also just be unkeyworded, with the cards retaining their functionality.

8/8 Wurms instead of 7/7

This seems like a trivial change, but one that will have great impact on the limited environment. Previously, all wurms in green were 7/7 because wurms are always 7/7, right? I wanted to differentiate them from the blue and black kraken which all have power 8, and therefore trigger the “power 8 or greater matters” cards. But I find these now to be very weak reasons to implement such a weird non-interaction into the set. Now, the green monsters are just as big as their blue and black counterparts, which they really should have been in the first place.

No constructed playable cards

One of the few cards for constructed: A new merfolk lord for Modern and Legacy.

If you were to play a Iamur-Esparand constructed format, you would quickly notice that Iamur basically offers nothing interesting at all. There is a counterspell, a black removal spell, and maybe a few melody creatures. And that is it! Some of the artifacts and of course the dual lands are great, but nothing to write home about. That is something I want to change. Many of the cards are extremely narrow and only make sense in the context of the Iamur mechanics. On top of that, many of the rares just suck.

I designed Iamur as a pure limited set, but I think it is perfectly possible to juice it up a bit without hurting the limited environment at all.


That sums up about everything I want to tackle. I hope that some of the Iamur fans out there read this post and have some thoughts to share on it. Next time I will return to more Esparand and all that stuff. Until then!

  • Swallow (Each creature you sacrifice while casting this spell pays for 1 or one mana of that creature’s color.)
  • Bloodlust X (Whenever this creature deals combat damage, put X +1/+1 counters on it.)
  • Talisman (If equipped creature would be destroyed, instead remove all damage from it and destroy this Equipment.)
  • Melody {mana} (While casting a creature spell, you may tap this to pay for {mana}. This doesn’t untap during your untap steps for as long as you control that creature.)

6 responses to “Revisiting Iamur

  1. Circeus March 24, 2014 at 11:08 am

    There’s always the option to use “Nixie” as the flavor name (cf. Boggarts, Leonin, Rhox, Merrow…).

    “it is perfectly possible to juice it up a bit without hurting the limited environment at all.” Isn’t that what the rare and mythic rare slots are for (and even to a point the uncommons, where some of your better removal will reside)?

  2. antaresmtg March 24, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    But the rares are currently good levelers (good but still not constructed playable, similar to the ROE ones), some build-around-me cards, and then mostly overexpensive, flashy cards that are great for EDH, but not for competitive. That has to be changed.

    With your suggestion for nixie, what would be their creature type? Still mermaid? It’s a good suggestion; for some of the cards I could use it (but not all to avoid being repetitive).

    • Circeus March 25, 2014 at 10:41 am

      I would keep mermaid as the creature type, yes. After all, with Theros, it’s officially supported now. Of course you don’t have to use “Nixie” in all the name. I don’t know just how many of them you have, but it takes a lot before the name feel repetitive IMO. Most satyrs in Theros block have “satyr” in their name, but most centaurs don’t, and yet you don’t really notice, do you?

  3. antaresmtg March 26, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Mermaid is not a type in Theros, you must be thinking of “Nymph.” But that might also be a possible type for them; mermaid in the name and nymph as the creature type.

  4. Pingback: An Update long overdue: Siege of Ravnica | Adventares

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