Custom Card Game Design
I recently finished my Beginnings set, and with it the entire Esparand block. It is the first block I completed, which I am very happy about. While I focus mostly on Limited with my sets, in Esparand I also began designing specifically for Constructed. In most of my posts, I focus on Limited, so here is something different: A primer on what Esparand has in store for Block and hypothetically for other Constructed formats. I invite you to test the block on Magic Workstation or Cockatrice. All the files required can be found under Antares’ Projects.
When building decks in an unknown format, one of the most important considerations are the mana bases that can be supported. I like formats with good mana, where powerful three colored decks can be built. On the other hand, many people often criticize formats where mana problems are too trivial and there is no reason to limit yourself to one or two colors. Esparand has a cycle of enemy color manlands, and a cycle of allied color painlands. These form an environment where you can easily play three colors as long as you avoid too many double colored costs, but there is a price for doing so: You take a lot of damage from your lands and you have more enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands.
The enemy color manlands are included in Esparand, simply because manlands are awesome! Some of them would also have an impact on Modern, complementing those that are already played. While Walking Boneyard is probably a lot better in Block than it is in Modern, I cannot see an Izzet deck that does not run Steamrift Bluffs. It provides defense for a low mana investment, but can still smash for four in the lategame.
One of the main themes of Esparand are graveyard interactions. Graveyard based decks proved to be very potent in Limited, but many of the cards also carry over into Constructed very well. “Dredge” decks are always centered around Sultai colors, or rather Simic colors with a varying splash of black to be more precise.
There are many paths you can take when building a Dredge deck. You can go all-in on reanimating giant idiots, or you can play just a good-stuff midrange deck with many graveyard interactions. All of these decks are fueled by Seed Life, the best green card for Constructed in Esparand. Satyr Wayfinder is the best card in the Dredge decks of the current Standard, and this card is even better.
While I spend more time designing cards for control decks than anything else, there is still a viable aggro deck out there. Actually, I had to tone down many of the burn spells in the different sets, because I never thought about them being used in a pure mono-red burn deck in Constructed, and eventually they reached the critical mass where they reliably dealt twenty to the face. But you can also build more creature based aggro decks, most likely including Rakdos colors.
All aggro decks have four copies of Chandra Reignited in their sixty cards. One- and two-drops into turn 3 Temporal Lightning into Chandra is one of the best openings you can have. Temporal Lightning and Chandra Reignited are both cards that could make it into Modern. Many players I have talked to considered Temporal Lightning to be broken, but it would likely not replace Lightning Bolt in most lists. Even burn would not play it, because the risk of having it stuck in your hand on a two land draw is far greater than the advantage of casting it for free. In Storm decks, Temporal Lightning is great, but these decks are not Tier 1 right now. Chandra Reignited could see play in tempo decks or Jund.
Slow, grindy decks are the backbone of a good Constructed format and there are plenty to choose from in Esparand Block. The tools are available in all colors, but you will probably play three colors to not end up with an underpowered deck. There is Sultai control, Grixis control, Esper control, Bant control, Abzan midrange…
One of the best finishers for a control deck is He Who Defies Logic. The god of time protects himself from removal by creating a copy of himself. Because of the new legend rule, you have to sacrifice only the original. The only ways to realistically deal with He Who Defies Logic is a sweeper or pressuring the opponent’s life total to the point where he cannot pay life for the clone. In many regards, it is very similar to AEtherling, but it is not as completely unkillable as the go-to-finisher of last Standard season. In exchange, it stabilizes the board faster and requires no additional mana investment after being cast. He Who Defies Logic would probably be a very powerful card in Standard, but is far too slow for eternal formats.
We have not seen that many white cards yet, and it is true that white is always my weakest color, design-wise. I do not enjoy playing the color too much, and that reflects in my lack of creativity when it comes to designing mechanics and themes for it. But I have tried to be a little less biased recently and pushed some of the white cards. After all, I did not have any problems with pushing cards in the other colors either. Now, white has many tools for building a solid midrange deck, but can also be the supporting color in a control deck.
Into the Stars started at converted mana cost 2, and it was already a very good card. But for the non-Eternal mode to be good in a midrange deck, I had to drop the cost even further. Now it can protect your creatures against your opponent’s removal (even sweepers!) or remove a problematic creature to let you keep attacking. Speaking of attacking, Battlefield Chronomancer is very good at that. She started off at a lower level as well, but I pushed her stats further so that she cannot be removed by Temporal Lightning and other small creature removal. It might seem that the second ability is rarely relevant, but it helps you keep attacking into, for example, Chandra Reignited phoenices: If you have a 2/2 out and a simple 3/4, you cannot attack into the opponent’s Chandra. The phoenix would just eat the 2/2 and Chandra would tank the rest of the damage. Because of the ability, you are good to just run everything in.
The second main theme of Esparand, next to graveyard interactions, are instants and sorceries. Consign is the keyword to support this theme, and appears mainly in Izzet colors. Consign is a mechanic that carries over poorly into Constructed, so there are only a few playable cards with that mechanic out there. The spell must be good on its own for it to hit Constructed.
In Constructed, Izzet decks are trying to generate powerful turns with Ancient Ritual and Ashborn Phoenix, while keeping the card flow going with Stream of Knowledge and other cheap draw spells. All Consign spells go infinite with many cards in older formats, such as Cinder Pyromancer. However, these combos are less resilient than Splinter Twin and just about as fast. There is one exception: With Esparand released, Blistercoil Weird would be banned in Modern, so that not every single Consign spell has to be banned.
Last but not least, the little creature that defines the Block format like no other: Future Thief from Eternity.
Future Thief is arguably the best card in the Block and would have an impact on Modern, and maybe even Vintage. If it were a real card, it would probably be worth way too much money.
When I designed Future Thief, I was looking to fill the slots for the multicolor mythics in Eternity. For the Dimir one, I did not have a legendary character in mind, so coming up with something that feels mythic was a bit difficult. I imagined that the blue part could be a Future Sight effect. Together with the drawback of “Skip your draw step,” that black cards sometimes have, this could make an interesting card. Somehow, I ended up putting it on a creature instead of an enchantment and now it is bonkers good. Very soon, the “skip your draw step” changed to the current effect, so that she cannot lock you out of the game.
But although she is that powerful, I think that it is a good thing that she is the best card in the block and not a card like Sphinx’s Revelation. Future Thief is the best way in Block for a control deck to generate card advantage, and she discourages a noninteractive, snore-fest like the Azorius control deck from Return to Ravnica standard. Instead, she promotes an interactive style of a deck, where card advantage is generated step by step. In addition, Future Thief is very skill-testing, and can create many interesting and dramatic situations. Imagine a bomb is sitting on top of your deck as you end your turn and your opponent elects not to attack this turn, so that she burns it away and with it your future in that game. The drawback can also overshadow the Future Sight effect when the deck is not built correctly. In Limited, she is actually not a very high pick.
All of this makes Future Thief my most favorite card from among all that I designed. And I found it completely by chance.
That is my primer on Esparand Constructed. I hope I made you eager to play with the block yourself on Magic Workstation, or Cockatrice (when I can get Advent’s awesome plugin again).