Custom Card Game Design

Yes, we really named her Liliana. No, not after the Planeswalker :)

Liliana the Newborn

I’ll be posting more when this one lets me ūüôā


[Story] Khemia – A tale of the gods

Khemia is a top-down design that has been in the making, off and on, for a few years. ¬†As I move deeper into the set and begin to focus on it as my current custom MtG project, I find myself more focused on world-building which, in turn (I hope), will help with design. ¬†I’m no writer, certainly no fiction writer, so be gentle. ¬†Below is the first in a series of posts that should flesh out the plane of Khemia, and provide some insight into the conflict between the Pharaohs, who believe they are anointed by the gods to rule over the ‘lesser folk’, and the Freesand’s Rebellion, who believe all Khemians should be equal and free. ¬†Specifically, this post is a bedtime story told by the Pharaoh Khura to his daughter, Princess Raelia, who will one day grow to be the leader of the Freesands Rebellion, who seek to usurp the Pharaohs. (Art credit to Lee Reex, El Grimlock at, Saad Irfan, Hector Herrera, and Julian Peria.)


“Tell me a story, Father” the princess said. ¬†The Pharaoh, of course already knowing the answer, asked “A story of what, my lotus flower?”. ¬†The girl flashed her father an impish grin. “A story of the gods!”, she replied as she drew her blankets closer, the night¬†breeze¬†from the river, ¬†an-Nil the Great, cooling the young princess’s open-air bedchamber. The Pharaoh smiled down at his daughter, and heir, and begin to recite the tale. “Long ago, the people of Khemia were all the same. ¬†Petty¬†and corrupt, they¬†bickered for cattle, bickered for honey, bickered for water. ¬†A Khemian could kill another and there would be no justice, for there was no law. ¬†Then May’et, goddess of truth and judgment, came to them¬†and showed them¬†a better way. ¬†The greatest were elevated to their rightful place, and these were the first Pharaohs. ¬†They brought law to the lawless, justice to the lesser folk, and proclaimed May’et’s truth to all of Khemia, for they were the Pharaohs.”


Ma’yet, Truth and Judgment (art by Lee Reex)

“Long ago, the people of Khemia were all the same. Dull and slow-minded, they¬†knew not the secrets of Sphinxes, knew not of the secrets of Mana. ¬†The riddles and tricks of the dunes were cruel enigmas that bested them¬†all. ¬†Then Sehtar, the trickster, came to them¬†and showed them¬†a better way. ¬†The greatest were reminded of their great intellect and wit, and these were the first Pharaohs. ¬†They tricked the Sphinx into sharing its secrets of mana, and the desert bloomed. ¬†They tricked the lesser folk, who became their slaves, and the great Pyramids were built for their great glory, for they were the Pharaohs.”


Sehtar, the Trickster (Art by El Grimlock)

“Long ago, the people of Khemia were all the same. ¬†Frail and mortal, life was merely a short breath before they¬†returned to the sand in death. ¬†Short were their¬†lives, and final was the grave. ¬†Then Ossurian, sovereign of life and death, came to them¬†and showed them¬†a better way. ¬†The greatest were shown that they have power over both life and the afterlife, and these were the first Pharaohs. ¬†Death was merely another step in their existence, a place where they would bring the lesser folk to attend them as they supped in Ossurian’s halls, for they were the Pharaohs.”


Ossurian, Caretaker of the Dead (Art by Saad Irfan)

“Long ago, the people of Khemia were all the same. ¬†Cowardly and weak, they were the prey of the crocodile, meat¬†of the harpy. ¬†A Khemian knew not the ways of the spear, or the power of the flame. ¬†Then Amunaht, the sun’s fire, came to them and showed them a better way. ¬†The greatest remembered their strength, and conquered the dunes with fire and iron, and these were the first Pharaohs. ¬†The lesser folk trembled at their might, and hid their eyes from the radiance, for they were the Pharaohs.”


Amunaht, the Sun’s Fire (Art by Hector Herrera)

“Long ago, the people of Khemia were all the same. ¬†Hungry and sick, the hot winds parched their lips and the sands choked them. ¬†The dunes were all they knew, save for the mirages sent by the Sphinxes to toy with them. ¬†Then Tefeneta, mother of Great an-Nil, came ¬†to them and showed them a better way. ¬†The greatest remembered the river, remembered the rains, and found a fertile delta. ¬†The lesser folk sang their glories, and erected great temples upon the water in acknowledgment of their glory, for they were the Pharaohs.”


Tefeneta, Who Brings the Rain (Art by Julian Peria)

“So sleep well, my princess,” Pharaoh said to his daughter, “for you are one of the greatest. ¬†The gods have chosen you to rule over the lesser folk, to show them the justice of May’et, the cunning of Sehtar, the life of Ossurian, the boldness of Amunaht, and the abundance of Tefeneta. You are my lotus flower, my Raelia.” Khura, Pharaoh of Khemia, bent down and kissed his daughter’s forehead. ¬†The young princess, however, was already fast asleep.

Khemia – Revisiting Worship

It seems my¬†modus operandi is to do a lot of custom design over the course of a few months, followed by almost nothing on custom design for a few months. ¬†Work, family, all of that keeps me busy sometimes. ¬†That said, I’m back in the saddle for a little while and rather than continue to slog through Dareth block, I’m taking a detour and working on Khemia instead.

I’ve put out a few posts about Khemia and one of my biggest problems is making the worship mechanic work. ¬†I had a few goals with worship –

  • Evoke the flavor of a lesser being worshiping a more powerful one. [OPTIONAL – make it so that inanimate objects can be worshiped as well]
  • Minimize wordiness while keep the mechanic easy to grok
  • The mechanic must place +1/+1 counters on creatures with a higher converted mana cost [OPTIONAL – and loyalty counters on planeswalkers, charge counters on artifacts/]
  • Limit worship so that it can’t happen every turn, ideally once per game, but without memory issues.

I’d previously not been able to accomplish this. ¬†After last night, I have what I believe will be the final version of worship. ¬†Using Soulbound as a template, I’m bypassing memory issues by basically pairing the worshiped with the worshiper. ¬†Behold (as always, the numbers don’t matter and need to be developed upon):

Instead of an “activate this ability only on your turn” clause, I’ve made it be a tap effect, which means it can be used during your opponents turn to befuddle combat math, but I’m ok with that. ¬†Also, while the worship doesn’t last the entire game, it does last as long as you control both the worshiped and the worshiper, so that’s fun.

And like I said, it opens up design space elsewhere.  Such as this card (whose numbers would of course need tweaked before deciding on a final version, but you get the idea):

So, I feel like worship is at a very good place and I’m excited to move forward with Khemia. ¬†I’ll be putting up more posts as the design of the set continues. ¬†If you’re reading this, is there anything during the design process you’d like to see talked about?

Thanks for reading!

Random Card – Avienne Rumare

Just a random card today. ¬†I haven’t posted in awhile and want to, but I can’t seem to find the time to sit down and actually write something more in depth. While¬†Generals of Dareth is in playtesting/development, I’ve been shifting my design focus to¬†Battlefields of Dareth, the second set of the block. ¬†If I’m to be honest, it’s not really where my heart is, designwise. ¬†I keep coming up with ideas for the third set,¬†Into Infinity, that I think are going to be a ton of fun. ¬†However, I don’t want to skip over set #2 and straight into set #3, even if set #3 is a standalone set.

This card (or a version thereof) will appear in¬†Battlefields of Dareth. ¬†Avienne, first seen in¬†Caeia, has traveled to Dareth in search of the Infinity Engine, the fabled Darethan artifact that is said to be able to undo one point in time. ¬†She wishes to use it to undo the destruction of her home plane of Caeia, however she finds that the the great Generals of Dareth are already locked in a struggle for the Infinity Engine. ¬†If the idea of a planeswalker going back in time to change the past sounds familiar, all I’ll say is I began work on this and posted bits of the planned story far before¬†Tarkir block was announced. :p

Avienne coming from Caeia means that she grew up in a world where colors of mana were completely segregated. ¬†Caeia’s inability to unite to fight the Eldrazi being the primary reason the plane fell so quickly, she feels a deep motivation to branch out from her native green mana. ¬†Given that she strives to undo the past, her first forays into non-green magic have been experimenting with blue time-magic. That said, she still has ties to who she was in the past. ¬†Her +1 ability here mirrors Avienne, Greenspeaker‘s +1 ability (which in turn mirrors Aldrean Greenspeaker‘s ability, given that Avienne was a Greenspeaker of Aldrea before her ascension as a planeswalker), while embracing her newfound multicolor identity. ¬†The templating for the +1 ability is, obviously, something not done in printed Magic. ¬†I feel (strongly) that this is a better way of templating this type of effect, as it saves rules text space and is more aesthetically pleasing. So there she is – what do you guys think?

Exploratory Design – Into Infinity (pt. 2)

Legend- wait for it…

It turns out, I couldn’t wait to write the follow up to my first Into Infinity exploratory design post. ¬†As I mentioned before, it’s an idea I’ve had kicking around for several years, and so the prospect of actually seeing it come to fruition excites me, gets my brain working. ¬†Thus, I’m back at it again today.

As mentioned in the previous post,¬†Into Infinity is a standalone set (ala¬†Rise of the Eldrazi) that finished out the¬†Dareth block. ¬†The theme is ‘legendary creatures and planeswalkers matter’. ¬†Why legendary creatures and Planeswalkers? ¬†Well, the real theme is ‘leadership’, or perhaps ‘leaders and followers’. ¬†The story of¬†Into Infinity will see the Infinite Consortium, an interplanar organization of planeswalkers, come together and summon an army led by some of the most talented generals in the multiverse, in order to combat an enormous threat. ¬†The planeswalkers of the infinite consortium are obviously represented by the planeswalkers in the set; their generals are the legendary creatures.


If your theme is not at common, it isn’t your theme. ¬†One of the biggest problems with having a planeswalker-centric block is that even if you can justify a planeswalker at rare, it’s one hell of a stretch to put one at uncommon, and an almost insurmountable task to justify putting a planeswalker at common. ¬†Stretching the theme to planeswalkers¬†and legendary creatures helps me bridge that gap to common.

“Legendary creatures matter” has been tried in MtG’s history in the past, in the¬†Kamigawa¬†block. ¬†While the block has a bit of a cult following, it was largely considered a failure. ¬†Limited could get very klunky and multiple copies of the same legendary creature clogged up your hand.

Grandeur, a mechanic seen thus far only in¬†Future Sight, helps to relieve that issue. ¬†By having a common cycle of legendary creatures with grandeur abilities, there is no worry about having them as ‘dead cards’ in your hand. ¬†Of course, given that they are common, they’ll need to be carefully balanced. ¬†This isn’t development, so I’m not too worried about numbers and balance at this point, and yet these cards need a bit more consideration in that regard to know if they’ll work at common. ¬†Raising the cost of this card by 1 could be considered, though having it at 3cmc makes the card seem tailor made for a beginner’s Tiny Leaders deck. (EDIT – Apparently I should read more. ¬†Tiny Leaders being a singleton format means that this effect is useless there)

  • Does this type of card have enough design space? ¬†Probably. ¬†There’s some, at least, more than enough for a cycle.
  • Is this type of effect interesting?¬†Definitely. ¬†It makes legendary creatures plausible as a theme, and grandeur could be potent in limited.
  • Does the card¬†work?¬†Is this type of effect playable?¬†¬†I’m not sure. ¬†I tend to think yes, it does work, but it needs to be developed a lot in order to get it right. ¬†It has to feel special enough to warrant legendary status while not broken as a common. ¬†It definitely counts against your complexity budget.
  • Verdict:¬†This will make it past exploratory design, but I’m going into this with eyes open, understanding that it might be hell to develop.

The effects of leadership

Obviously, the set can’t be completely legendary creatures or planeswalkers, but if that’s going to be our theme, how do we enforce it?

Leaders need to have followers, subjects to lead. ¬†And this takes us into territory that will be less controversial. ¬†Embolden is an ability word that you can get a lot of mileage out of, I think. ¬†It works best on creatures, but can go on just about anything, permanents and non-permanents alike. ¬†And the complexity isn’t high, and we need something lightweight on the complexity scale.

  • Does this type of card have enough design space?¬†Almost unlimited.
  • Is this type of effect interesting?¬†Not necessarily, but it’s not uninteresting. ¬†For instance, the card above can be seen as a pseudo goblin guide, in the right deck.
  • Does the card¬†work?¬†Is this type of effect playable?¬†¬†Absolutely. ¬†It’s playable, works well within the theme, and doesn’t bring a lot of complexity related baggage to the table.
  • Verdict:¬†I can’t imagine that Embolden will not make it into the set.

The trappings of office

The last card I’ll work with today is one of a possible two or three card cycle of uncommon equipment that transform a creature into a legendary creature. ¬†Again, the effect itself is what we’re looking at here, not specific numbers.

So… ¬†there are a few problems here. ¬†First off, it doesn’t quite feel elegant. ¬†Not exactly brute force design, but not very smooth either. ¬†Second, the legend rule not applying is necessary for this kind of card to work, yet inadvertently has the unintended effect of allowing you to have two of the same legendary creature out. ¬†Maybe not game breaking, depending on the cost, but something that will have complexity and balance considerations.

A cycle like this is great for our theme, because it turns all of your creatures into potential embolden enablers, but the complexity it brings to the table is a hefty price to pay.

  • Does this type of card have enough design space? ¬†Probably.
  • Is this type of effect interesting?¬†Certainly. ¬†The Johnny in me immediately wants to turn it into a combo piece in some wonky deck, and Spike potentially wants to draft it for his embolden deck.
  • Does the card¬†work?¬†Is this type of effect playable?¬†¬†It’s certainly playable, but whether or not it works is something else. ¬†It’s a tad unelegant, and it brings a lot of complexity to the table.
  • Verdict:¬†I’m torn on this one. ¬†It’ll probably be toyed with in design, but I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t make the final cut.

Last Thoughts

Of course, a set with legendary creatures and planeswalkers as your theme will feature other cards that play with the mechanic. ¬†“Counter target planeswalker spell”, “Destroy target legendary creature or planeswalker”, etc. are things I would expect to be considered during design.

I’m trying to contemplate what the as-fan of legendary creatures/planeswalkers would need to be in order to make this theme work – I’d love some feedback, not just on that but on all the designs here and the theme in general.

The above concepts, and the ones from the previous post, all just serve to illustrate some of the ways that this theme can be pulled off, and all said I’m pretty confident about it. ¬†In fact, it’s got me excited enough that I’m really tempted to just go with it and work on this set in earnest, and come back and finish sets 1 and 2 at a later time.

Exploratory Design – Into Infinity

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:

  • [Generals of Dareth] ‚Äď The plane of Dareth is caught in an ongoing war, but this is not a brutal and chaotic melee, but rather a coldly tactical and calculated chess game played between the Great Generals of Dareth ‚Äď the brightest tactical minds of the plane.¬† The prize is an artifact, The Infinity¬†Engine, rumored to hold the power to turn back time, allowing its controller to change the past.
  • [Battlefields of Dareth] ‚Äď The war on Dareth is turned on its head when two new powers enter the fray.¬† Avienne Rumare has come to Dareth in search of the Eternity Engine, believing it to be a way to bring back her home plane by preventing the invasion of the Eldrazi in the past.¬† The two clash as the Infinity¬†Engine is found, and during the confrontation it is learned that Nicol Bolas is trying to enhance his planeswalker‚Äôs spark, seeking to reacquire the godlike power he held prior to the Mending.¬† Avienne emerges victorious, and takes the Infinity¬†Engine and the news of Nicol Bolas‚Äô schemes to the the Infinite Consortium.
  • [Into Infinity] ‚Äď Avienne arrives on Aranzhur, home of the Infinite Consortium‚Äôs Iron Tower.¬† The Consortium, having been disbanded by Jace Beleren, has spent time rebuilding itself and rebranding itself as a coalition of planeswalkers free from the manipulative touch of Nicol Bolas.¬† Avienne presents her story, and calls for the Consortium to aid her in fighting the Eldrazi in the past, but the Consortium is not eager to jump into a campaign against the Eldrazi.¬† Avienne decides to act on her own, activating the Infinity¬†Engine shortly after the Iron Tower is besieged by forces loyal to Nicol Bolas.

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:

  • Does this type of card have enough design space? ¬†I would say that it does. ¬†At the last, a cycle of these spark cards could be very interesting in augmenting existing planeswalkers, and in a planeswalker-centric set also provide more opportunities for players to play with ‘planeswalkers’ in limited, making it that much easier to make cards at lower rarities that play with planeswalkers.
  • Is this type of effect interesting? Well… ¬†I imagine that if WotC announced this type of card today, the MTGS forums would be on fire for at least a week and, once released, every format from the pro tour modern tables to the kitchen table would never be the same. ¬†I’d say it’s interesting.
  • Does the card¬†work?¬†Is this type of effect playable? ¬†It’s not so complicated, on its face, that it’s unplayable for casuals, and since everyone has creatures, this card isn’t something I’d consider very limited or parasitic. ¬†I would say yes, this card works.

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.

  • Does this type of card have enough design space? ¬†Undoubtedly so, in my opinion.
  • Is this type of effect interesting?¬†Much like the previous card, if WotC announced this card or one like it today, MTGS would riot for weeks. Cards like this would be a casual favorite and, if tuned correctly, would be tournament staples as well.
  • Does the card¬†work?¬†Is this type of effect playable?¬† I don’t think there’s much else to say here but yes. ¬†It’ll be a developmental nightmare to get right, but if you think of it as an enchantment that has two abilities, one that says “Do this, then put a charge counter on ~.” and another that says “Remove X charge counters from, then do something even more awesome”, it starts to look more workable. ¬†Especially when you consider that planeswalkers are more vulnerable than enchantments in most environments.

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.

  • Does this type of card have enough design space? ¬†Maybe, but exploring that space in this set would take up far more of the complexity budget than it would be worth.
  • Is this type of effect interesting?¬†Yes.
  • Does the card¬†work?¬†Is this type of effect playable?¬†It doesn’t work. ¬†Functional errata on an evergreen mechanic is a bad idea, and reworking this to be an equip variant on a player or planeswalker is too complex for a set that’s already doing a¬†lot.

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.

Video: Creating a Cockatrice Plugin with MSE2

I had three people ask about an update to this video today, so I decided to stop being lazy and update it! ¬†If you like this kind of thing, please leave feedback so I’ll know whether or not to keep doing it! ¬†I love feedback, suggestions, questions, whatever!

An updated guide on how to add your custom set from MSE into Cockatrice!

MSE Cockatrice exporter:

Curved Apostrophe for use in image filenames: ‘ (it doesn’t look curved when displayed here on youtube, but that still should be the right one)


1) Install the Cockatrice Exporter
2) Run the Cockatrice Exporter, save cards.xml to your Cockatrice Appdata location
3) Export all card images to a folder with your set abbreviate in the downloadedPics folder.
4) Manually edit all apostrophes and commas into the file names of the images (be sure to use the apostrophe mentioned above, and not the apostrophe on your keyboard)
5) Playtest!

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask them, here, on twitter (@AdventMTG), or on my blog (

If you’re interested in seeing the advanced video on how to create the self extracting plugin, please say so!

Designing Khemia – the Freesands Rebellion

Work continues on¬†Generals of Dareth, as I endeavor to improve its limited game. ¬†After¬†Generals of Dareth, I’ll be moving on to¬†Battlefields of Dareth, the conclusion of¬†Dareth story (but not the conclusion of the block, as I have a third set,¬†Into Infinity, planned for the block’s conclusion and my last three-set block. ¬†Ambitious, maybe, but as I’ve lined out in previous posts, I like to plan ahead.)

However,¬†Khemia, my first two-set block, is still being worked on as well, and I’d like to focus on some of the exploratory¬†work being done on the set. (I should note, as with most everything I post, nothing is final – the focus here is on broad themes and feel, to be refined and developed later)

A long time ago, on a plane far, far away…

Khemia is being built around an Ancient Egyptian Mythology theme. ¬†Much like Innistrad and Theros, design of the set is being influenced by pop culture tropes rather than any attempt at a realistic depiction. ¬†As such, the set will have pretty much what you’d expect – mummies, scarabs, ancient gods and goddesses, etc. ¬†However, woven throughout these themes is a deeper story.

Prior to the Planar Mending, five ancient planeswalkers traveled to the plane of Khemia and set themselves up as gods. ¬†Each of these planeswalkers chose a champion, one who embodied their ideals, and these champions were the first Pharaohs. ¬†As time has passed, the ancestors of these original Pharaohs have continue to rule Khemia, but have turned their backs on the ‘gods’ who put them there. ¬†Those they favor, prosper. ¬†Those they disdain are forced into a dismal life of servitude.

Though not all the Pharaohs are cruel, the Freesands Rebellion makes no distinction.  Raelia, daughter of the Pharaoh Khura, founded the rebellion after growing sickened by the atrocities and injustices she witnessed from her father.  With the help of the nomadic clans of Khemia, the rebellion has now truly started to take hold, and the plane of Khemia is quickly plunging into war.

A New Hope

A classic tribe from the history of MtG, Rebels will be featured prominently in Khemia, albeit with some new twists.  Mechanically, the conflict of Pharaohs versus Rebels will be play out as Converted Mana Cost 5 or more (Pharaohs) versus base power 2 or less (Rebels).

One of the things I want to hit early on is the ‘Rebel’ mechanic. ¬†Although not all rebels feature the mechanic, rebel cards are best known for being able to pay a colorless activation cost to tutor up and put onto the battlefield a rebel card with a converted mana cost greater than theirs by one. ¬†This is not a mechanic I want to revisit in this set, for a few reasons, but I do want to riff on the mechanic, which leads me to cards like Freesands Deathsword. ¬†This card, and others like it, will present a condition that, when met, allows you to tutor up a rebel card with converted mana cost greater than theirs, by one. ¬†However, instead of putting the card into play, it’s put into the hand.

Not all creatures with base power 2 or less will be Rebels. ¬†The Pharaohs need creatures they can drop earlier in the game, and the worship mechanic (which is meant to play well with the Pharaohs) only works on smaller creatures. ¬†This is emblematic of the Rebels struggle – though they fight for all of Khemia’s lower class, not all those they fight for support them, and some even blindly worship the Pharaohs in hope of being granted their favor. ¬†Raelia however, being the founder of the Rebellion,¬†is able to recruit even the worshippers of the Pharaohs to her cause.

The Empire Strikes Back

The rebels may be formidable, but the Pharaohs are worshipped as the chosen of the gods.  They command legions of soldiers they view as disposable, and many possess magic that guarantees that not even death can stop them.

There are those of the lower class in Khemia who serve the Pharaohs, in the hopes of finding a place of favor.  Mechanically, these are repsented in creatures who have abilities that care if you have a creature with converted mana cost 5 or more on the battlefield.  Though some of these cards will be strictly for limited play, there may be some tuned well enough for constructed.  I imagine the black Pharaoh will experiment with sacrificing some of its own worshippers for gain.

And then, there are the Pharaohs themselves.  Imbued with ancient Khemian magic that allows them to transcend death, they are formidable beings in their own right.  The rebellion has a difficult task ahead of it if it plans on succeeding in toppling them.

Return of the Jedi

…I’m sorry. ¬†I just had to go with the Star Wars references. ¬†Because, you know, reasons.

Anyway, the wild call in the Freesands Rebellion is the ‘gods’ themselves. ¬†Their true identity as planeswalkers unknown to the majority of Khemians, these beings are still called upon by many on both sides of the conflict. ¬†Some of the rebels believe the gods can be convinced to come down and smite the Pharaohs, who have turned their back on the gods. ¬†Others among the rebels see the gods as simply another example of oppressive authority.

Worship is a mechanic that works well with the Pharaohs, but is meant to symbolic of the third side to the conflict, the planeswalker/gods of Khemia. ¬†Worship is the first mechanic developed for the set and has, by far, been through the most changes. ¬†It’s a very wordy mechanic, and as such is difficult to justify on commons, and is difficult to find much design space with as the rest of your text box aftr reminder text is very limited. ¬†Still, I’m very happy with how it’s turned out so far and am looking forward to see how it plays.

That’s it for today. ¬†Thanks for reading, and I’m sorry again for the goofy Star Wars reference.

…Actually, you know what, I’m not sorry. ¬†ūüôā

A better limited environment (pt. 1)

Limited Play Matters

Limited magic is far and away my favorite way to play. ¬†Given the popularity of sealed deck, draft, cube draft, and other limited variants, I’m obviously not alone. ¬†I read a statistic ¬†recently that said more than 70% of all new packs are opened during and for limited play. ¬†I have no way to verify this stat, but my assumption is that it is close to accurate. ¬†The popularity of limited has very obvious implications for design, and if you look at just about every set in modern, you can see that many specific design choices were made with limited in mind.

So how do you design a good limited format?

Zac Hill has an excellent (if rambly) article addressing the subject that doesn’t get enough attention in the design community, often overlooked because it isn’t part of the ‘making magic’ series of articles by MaRo (which are, to be fair, far and away the best resourcers a designer could have).

I’ve had two projects, one very recent, be shelved due to poor limited play. ¬†The first, ‘Crucible‘, was meant to be a powered, modular custom-cube. ¬†The second, and more recent, is ‘Generals of Dareth‘, the beginning of a more traditional block that nonetheless¬†began to stall out the minute it began playtesting and played very poorly in limited. ¬†As my previous posts have indicated, I’ve begun working on another project (‘Khemia‘) rather than remain stalled on Generals. ¬†However, in an effort to keep some forward momentum going on¬†Generals, I’ll be working periodically to try and fix how it plays in limited, and I’ll start doing so by applying Zac’s article to the set.

Lesson #1 – All Cards Must Serve a Purpose

A fun card, but one that has no place in the set

From Zac’s article: “One of the most vital skills a developer can cultivate is the discipline to ‘put a card off’‚ÄĒto realize that even though a card is sweet, it doesn’t quite fit in the current environment“. ¬†This is one of the pitfalls I have quite often. ¬†I’ll often come across a very cool piece of art and design a card specifically around that art, or I’ll come up with a very odd-ball idea that I think is cool. ¬†Then I try and stick that concept in whatever project I’m working on. ¬†Case in point, the card seen above (Capacitance Golem).

Capcitance Golem is a card that I designed because I love manipulating counters. ¬†Proliferate is my favorite mechanic of all time, and I’ve had a ‘Planeswalkers matter’ block planned for quite awhile, so I tend to try and toss this kind of effect in just about every project I work on. My thinking at the time was ‘this is a fun, build-around-me card that has large implications in standard’. ¬†The problem is, there isn’t enough support in the set to really build around it. ¬†There are enough cards that give -1/-1 counters to make it seem desirable, and of course it can occasionally be very powerful if you have a planeswalker on the field, but by and large this is a card that looks cool but doesn’t really have a place in the set. ¬†It helps to make the environment un-fun by tempting players with the idea of a fun counter manipulation deck but very rarely, if ever, being able to follow through.

This card will be removed in future iterations of the set, to come back in a project that makes more sense for it.

Lesson 2 – Each color/color-pair needs a dedicated strategy

A strategy defining card from GEN

This point should be simple to understand. ¬†The article suggests having a primary and secondary strategy for each color or color pair supported in the environment. ¬†The lack of a defined strategy for each color is the biggest single problem that Generals has. ¬†Taking each card on its own, I’m pretty happy with how the set looks, but take a look at the big picture and it suddenly becomes disjointed.

Generals has a focus on creature combat and supports enemy color pairs. ¬†One big hindrance to having more clearly defined strategies for each color is the fact that these color pairs are so loosely defined, mechanically speaking. ¬†The new mechanics in Generals are not specific to the different color pairs¬†ala¬†Ravnica. ¬†Instead, of the three new mechanics, each is present in all colors save one, and each has a ‘primary’ color. ¬† The next set is planned to have two new mechanics which will follow the same rule which, when put together, will have all mechanics primary in one color, absent in another color, and present in the remaining three.

This makes for a pretty lop-sided distribution of mechanics, and will possibly need to be changed. ¬†However, the new mechanics aren’t as narrow as guild mechanics from¬†Ravnica, and this is where the saving grace for this set may lie. ¬†I don’t believe each color needs an equitable distribution of new mechanics, they just need defined strategies.

So, applying the articles lessons to Generals,¬†and keeping in mind that these strategies can be anywhere from “narrow” to “robust”, I’ve loosely outlined the following strategies for each supported color pair:

  • White/Black
    • All out attack using efficient creatures supported by vanguard ‘tanks’
    • Control the battlefield by punishing attackers/tapped creatures whilst blighting your opponent with -1/-1 counters
  • Blue/Red
    • Reverberate spells onto stealthy attackers
    • Counterburn behind a wall of defensive creatures
  • Black/Green
    • Using vanguard creatures, force your opponents into blocking creatures with deathtouch or that give -1/-1 counters to blockers.
    • Utilize sac/reanimate effects to abuse the graveyard
  • Red/White
    • Arm your creatures with equipment tokens to overwhelm your opponent
    • Build up an army of medium sized creatures, using unity to use activate their abilities for free to gain the advantage.
  • Green/Blue
    • Use auras with “sacrifice this aura to give target creature _____” to offensively adapt your creatures
    • Utilize unity to control the battlefield and ramp into a win condition

These strategies are loose, but defined enough that it lets me start narrowing down cards that need to change.

Happily, having gone through the set as it stands, it isn’t in as terrible a place as I had previously expected. ¬†Over the next few weeks, I’ll be refining the set based largely on these ideas, and I’ll be posting part two of this article along with, if all goes to plan, a video of GEN limited testing.

Thanks for reading!

Khemia – Playing with mechanics

Per my previous post, I’m shelving Generals of Dareth and working on a different project for awhile – Dunes of Khemia, a top-down set based around Egyptian Mythology.¬† Today, I’m continuing to look at potential mechanics for the set and I’d like to post some up here and get some feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of each mechanic.


A big theme I want to explore in this set is the difference between the lower class, peasants and laborers, and the upper class, pharaohs and the gods.¬† I’m currently playing with two themes here, that aren’t completely symmetrical but may still work well together.¬† Cards that target or affect the ‘upper class’ will seek out converted mana cost 4 or more.¬† Cards that target or affect the ‘lower class’ will be power three of less.¬† One of the first mechanics I’m playing with that explores this is Worship:

No set that features ancient gods and goddesses would be complete without a mechanic symbolizing worship.¬† Theros did it with Devotion, but wisely named the mechanic in a way that it can be used later on, which was a good call.¬† I’ve had this mechanic in the wings for a few years now, and it’s gone through several iterations.¬† It still isn’t perfect, but there are a lot of things I like about.

As previewed last week, as well as below, one big part of the set is going to be a cycle of ‘gods’ that must first be summoned from their temples by placing loyalty counters on them.¬† This mechanic plays into that beautifully, I think.

The mechanic has its downsides, however, mostly regarding its complexity.¬† First off, it’s wordy, and that means less space on the rest of the card for more mechanics.¬† Secondly, it mentions three different types of counters.¬† While +1/+1 and loyalty counters coexist easily, ‘worship’ counters make things more confusing as it’s a second type of counter on creatures with a completely different meaning.¬† Another option would be simply to remove the ‘worship counter’ and instead have it be a transferrable +1/+1 counter, though I’m not a huge fan of that solution.


It’s basically impossible to have an Egyptian Mythology set without mummies.¬† This isn’t necessarily because true Egyptian mythology featured reanimated mummies all over the place, but rather because that’s how Egyptian mythology exists in pop culture.¬† One of the lessons learned by MtG after Kamigawa is that a top-down design needs to address expectations over attempting to stay true to source material.

Given that there are two other cycles in the set that use the double faced template, I felt that representing reanimated mummies was best done in this way.  This card also speaks to the high converted mana cost vs. low power conflict I spoke about previously.

Mummify is almost too simple to be a new keyword, however.  There are only two arguments I can make for making it a keyword РFirst, it makes it easier to drop the reminder text later on to save on space.  Second, it feels better in a sort of intangible way.  Pretty weak arguments in favor of this being a keyword, so that may not make it (as a keyword РI like the mechanic itself) in the final draft.

Sidenote – a change I might make to this card, at least the front side, is to make it care about base power, so you can still pump your weenies without worrying about them being destroyed.¬† Lastly, once flipped these cards have a converted mana cost of 0, which makes the ‘converted mana cost 4 or more’ interactions not apply to them.¬† This could be interesting, or it could be unintuitive.


As previewed last week, this set will have its own take on ‘gods’.¬† There will be five gods in the set, one for each enemy color pair, each based on a different Egyptian god.

A few tweaks to the Temple/God cards have been made since the last post, thanks to the feedback in the comments.¬† First, the artifact’s ability can only be activated at sorcery speed, and second the transfor trigger is not state-based and non-optional.

This card is based on the Egyptian god Osiris, their god of the dead.  The planeswalker itself is absurdly powerful, appropriately (in my opinion) godlike.  However, summoning him will take some doing, requiring 8 loyalty counters before begin able to transform the temple, making summoning the planeswalker require dedication.  Of course, the tap ability itself on the artifact is very powerful, as expected on a 5cmc mythic.

One last thing to mention about the ‘gods’ being Planeswalkers.¬† The Theros gods weren’t Planeswalkers intentionally – planeswalkers and gods are different things.¬† The same is true here – these cards are planeswalkers, intentionally, and planeswalkers and gods are still different things.¬† A big part of the second set of this block is the common people finding out that the ‘gods’ actually aren’t gods at all.¬† But we’ll get into that another time…

Looking for feedback

As always, I very much want your feedback.  Ideas you have to improve these themes, mechanics, and specific cards.  Ideas you have to make this blog more interesting to read.  Really, any discussion is welcome.

Thanks for reading!

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