Custom Card Game Design
An old idea
The first custom card I designed was a giant, broken black and white legendary angel that featured grandeur. In that same week, I designed my first non-mythic planeswalker. While the designs were terrible and cringeworthy, I’ve always wanted to make a legendary creature/planeswalker focused set work. A few years later, I began working on my own ‘custom cube’, a project doomed to death by a thousand cuts. I might do a post-mortem on my first attempt at a custom cube at some point, but the takeaway for our purposes today is that a big part of its design was around the theme of ‘legendary creatures an planeswalkers matter’. More recently, when mapping out the overall story of where I was going with my custom sets, I decided to tackle the idea in the third, standalone set, of the Dareth block. A description of the story of the Dareth blog, taken from that post:
So… Into Infinity will be a standalone set. Technically part of the Dareth block, but not even taking place on the same plane. The story is more or less set, but that isn’t the hard part. MtG has already done a legendary creature block (Kamigawa) and it didn’t do too well. Additionally, ever time I’ve talked about non-mythic planeswalkers on various card creation forums, I’ve been practically shouted down for breaking the rules. Knowing how hard the mechanics will be to get right, this is a perfect opportunity to utilize exploratory design to get the initial mechanics and ideas in place before work in earnest begins.
(This article is one in a series of articles I plan on doing about Exploratory Design – the very early, preliminary design that’s done to explore how much design space there is within mechanical and thematic parameters you define, and how well those initial mechanics/themes work together. As such, even more than normal, the designs shown here are not finished, and have not been developed for polish/balance.)
One of the ideas I’ve wanted to play with in regards to planeswalkers, is the spark. From a lore perspective, planeswalkers were born normal sentient beings with a latent ‘spark’ that could awaken at times of great stress, at which point they become a planeswalker. When this happens, the spark is said to be ‘ignited’ (In fact the tagline of the newly announced Origins set is “Ignite your Spark”). I’ve played with the idea of doublefaced cards, but in the end I like the idea of a cycle of auras like the one below:
Now, again, this is all exploratory design. For one thing, before this reached a final form, I’d want an actual loyalty cost box instead of just the -3 text. Additionally, the wording would likely need to change and be refined in order to make the effect more clear, and to make it work better within the rules. Finally, the cost on an effect like this is going to be hard to get right because there isn’t much of a precedent. Still, all that is a developmental issue, or at least an issue for actual design. From an exploratory design perspective, there are a few questions I would ask:
Verdict: Based on those criteria, this effect makes it through exploratory design and will be something considered during the design process.
Not so Special
One of the biggest problems this set will have is that it will be very hard to stand up to the rule “If your theme doesn’t exist at common, it isn’t your theme.” Simply put, planeswalkers have always been Mythic Rare, so long as that rarity has actually existed. Most would say this is an set-in-stone rule that can not and will never be broken. I’m not one of those people – I think planeswalkers at lower rarities can, and will, work – and part of my goal with this set is to prove that. So a cycle of non-unique, non-mythic planeswalkers are one of the starting points of this entire set.
Again, this card is very un-developed. Unlike the card above, this card would not make it out of design. It’s too much like Garruk for one, and too undercosted for its ultimate effect. But, again, these are developmental concerns, and this card does do what we want it to for exploratory design. This card illustrates the idea of a non-unique, non-rare planeswalker with simple mechanics.
Verdict: All the above considered, I think this idea makes it past exploratory design.
Geared for Battle
Planeswalkers are known for the equipment they bring to battle. Liliana is known for her chain veil, Gideon for his sural, Sorin for his Parasite Blade. One thing I wanted to explore was to see if there was a way to represent these items in a different way than WotC has done previously.
Oh, if only… Very obviously, there are a few problems with this card. First, from a realistic standpoint, Equip will never be changed. It would require functional errata on so very many cards, for very little benefit. I toyed with the idea of an equip variant with a different keyword that equips a player or planeswalker, but it’s too convoluted for too little benefit (might be worth exploring another time though). Additionally, this type of card plays too much in the same design space as the spark enchantments, even after trying to differentiate the type of effect it provides.
Verdict: This idea will not move past exploratory design.
Wrapping Up (For Now)
There’s a lot more to explore with Into Infinity. I haven’t even touched on legendary creatures, or cards that care about legendary creatures or planeswalkers, but this post is already lengthy and so that will have to wait for another post.
To those reading, what do you think of this format? Is reading about exploratory design and initial, undeveloped ideas, interesting? As mentioned before, I’m thinking about doing this fairly regularly, and not always on sets that I’m currently working on, or even on sets that I ever plan on working on.