Custom Card Game Design

Category Archives: Crucible

Crucible – Wedges

Following up on my last post introducing Crucible, I wanted to share the initial design and philosophy behind what will be the third set in the Crucible block, featuring the three-color ‘Wedge’ groups.  The playtesting on the Hybrid set that was featured in my last post is going well, and the ‘Shard’ set is still in a rough-draft phase that needs another revision pass before playtesting.  Today marked the first real designing I have done for the wedge set and I am getting pretty excited about the possibilities.  I’ve got a first attempt at mechanics for each wedge that I’d like to share today.

White/Black/Red – Crusade

The WBR Wedge was the first one I tackled, and has the potential to be my favorite.  In the custom card community you tend to see a lot of similar mechanics, however I’ve personally never seen one that messes with the cleanup step.  This is probably for a reason – in a normal format I don’t know that Wizards would want to clutter up the field with a lot of damage counters on creatures.  That being said, one of the goals of this format is to create complex, compelling gameplay even if that sacrifices the tenets of the ‘New World Order’, and so I’m ok with the complexity of this mechanic.

Though there isn’t much of a story for this block, each group does have its own aesthetic theme and this Wedge’s theme is Crusaders.  The wedge is made up of Knight Templar types who are willing to sacrifice even their own well-being in a holy war.

This Wedge plays into Red and White’s military prowess, White and Black’s religious tones, and Black and Red’s Brutality to create a very dangerous double-edged sword.

Blue/Red/Green – Overcharge

The URG shard’s mechanic is overcharge and, as you can probably tell, it will need a lot of playtesting.  One of my favorite mechanics in MtG is Proliferate.  I hated Infect, hated poison in general, but I love the combo potential of being able to manipulate counters on things like levelers and planeswalkers.  Counter manipulation has been a small sub-theme in the hybrid set, and of course planeswalkers are a big thing in all three sets, so a counter manipulation mechanic has the potential to be extremely powerful.

Thematically, this wedge will focus on the manipulation of primal elements, the spellcasters in this wedge acting as mana conductors themselves to overcharge everything around them.  It’s likely that there will be a card in this wedge that produces elemental creature tokens with overcharge.  There will, of course, be many creatures with counters on them within this wedge however I intend to be more creative than simply making everything come in with +1/+1 counters.

Black/Green/White – Resurrect

The BGW wedge is the first of two wedges that have a great connection to the graveyard (together with BGU).  The distinction wasn’t too hard to make, however.  The BGW wedge focuses on creatures who shrug away death in the form of Resurrect (which is, in essence, a Persist/Undying variant).  This mechanic is less flashy than the others, but also very powerful and plays well with other cards in the block, particularly the black/green witch doctors from the hybrid set.

This wedge will feature spirits, both vengeful and benevolent varieties, and will have a subtheme of token creation/augmentation that should go nicely with the token component of Resurrect.

Red/White/Blue – Tribute

To date, Magic: the Gathering has never truly tackled the Wedges.   If you go to gatherer and search for cards with any three colors in a ‘wedge’ combination, you’ll only return 4 or 5 cards per color group.  I firmly believe that the reason for this is the RWU wedge.  Compared to the other wedges, this color group is very difficult to design for.  Ultimately, the keyword I landed on, tribute, draws more from each color’s philosophy rather than their mechanical identity.  White’s love of order, blue’s intellect, and red’s passion combine together to create a very political combination (seen best in Zedruu the Greathearted).

Thematically, this wedge will have a greco-roman republic feel to it, with a heavy control feel.  I’m interested to delve into this wedge but also intimidated – it will be the hardest of the five to design.

Green/Blue/Black – Recycle

As mentioned earlier, this wedge (much like it’s BGW cousin) deals with death and the graveyard.  In this case, however, the creatures in this wedge don’t defeat death – they use it.  This group takes using creatures as fuel for spells to another level entirely, potentially sacrificing creatures to fuel their spells and then recycling mana from those corpses in their graveyards to further fuel spells.  I’m pretty excited about this wedge, not just because of the design possibilities but also because I think I’ve honed in early on to a vital distinction between this and the BGW wedge.

Necromancer will be a new creature type featured in this wedge, and thematically describes the entire wedge – necromancers who use other creatures to fuel their powerful spells.


The work here is still very early stage.  I’m not sure that any of these cards will actually make it into the set – rather they are simply quick mockups to exhibit the design ideas that will be found in this third set of the Crucible block.  I’ll share more as development continues, and will also be sharing info on the playtesting of the Hybrid set and the revisions and eventual playtesting of the Shard set.

Thanks for reading, and your feedback is much appreciated!


Crucible, Realm of Legends

It’s been a long time since my last post, and instead of getting into why, I think I’ll just forego all that and talk about my current project:  Crucible, Realm of Legends!

Looking back on Caeia

My last project, the Caiea block, was some of the most fun I’ve had with MtG ever.  I’m certainly still an amateur designer (and player), but creating the Caeia block helped me understand a ton more about the game, both from a design and gameplay standpoint.  That said, more fun than the design and development was the playtesting.  And not just the playtesting online via MWS or Cockatrice, but the in-person playtesting that was done with printed ‘proxy’ cards.

Playtesting with printed cards had its problems.  First, any time you wanted to test a constructed deck, you had to go print it out, and that took time and money.  Second, there was almost no way to simulate an actual draft or sealed event (short of generating boosters in MSE and printing them – which we did once or twice.).  These problems led me to one solution, however:  the Cube.  A singleton limited format circumvented the limitations of printed custom cards.  All you needed to do was print one of each card, sleeve them up with some land (also printed, to keep the size and weight of each card ‘uniform’), and voila, you have a playable limited environment that doesn’t require you to run to Kinko’s every night.

Of course, this had its problems as well – namely that the set was designed around WotC conventions and not as a cube, so the format didn’t always work smoothly.  However, overall it was an awesome solution that gave Caeia a ton of playability in my playgroup.  It worked so well, in fact, that deciding to make the next set a cube was a no-brainer.

The Modular Cube

When I began outlining my ideas for Crucible, one of the first things I had to consider was how it would work.  As a singleton format, rarity isn’t necessary, and so none of the cards would be assigned a rarity.  Also, ‘junk’ cards or filler for other formats wasn’t needed either, and thus the power level is intentionally higher (much higher) than real MtG sets.  All that considered, though, I still wanted a ‘block’ – three sets that, together, form a cohesive play environment.   Thus, the Modular Cube was born.

The concept of the modular cube is that several smaller “mini-cubes” come together in any combination to form a larger cube.  In this case, there are three 180-card “mini-cubes” that can each be played separately for 2-4 players, combined in any combination of two to provide gameplay for up to 8 players, or expanded to include all three and accommodate up to 12 players.

This is great for my playgroup, because all of my drafts with the Caeia block were with 4 or fewer players – my best friend and I particularly enjoy Winston/Winchester 2-player draft – and so it provides for small drafts such as that yet provides the variety and versatility needed for more players.

This is also the set’s biggest design hurdle – each 180-card set needs to be a viable limited format in and of itself, but also needs to play well with the other sets in any combination.

Realm of Legends

So here we are.   To date, I’ve got the rough design for the first two sets in the Crucible block finished and in playtesting, and design for the 3rd set is beginning to get underway.  The sets each have a multicolor theme (one featuring the 5 ‘shard’ three-color pairs, one featuring the 5 ‘wedge’ three-color pairs, and another featuring 10 ‘guild’ pairs presented as hybrid cards’.) and a legendary creatures/planeswalkers matter theme.

There are a few things to take note of when evaluating any of the cards in the set:

  • The format is intended to have a very high power level, akin to playing with a ‘powered’ cube (featuring power 9, etc.)
  • The multi-color theme is forced, especially in the case of the Hybrid set.  The color pie may be stretched, or possibly broken, if in doing so it provides compelling gameplay.
  • As mentioned, none of the cards are assigned rarity.

The .PDF file for the hybrid set can be found at this link.  Keep in mind that it is a rough draft of the set, and ideas are being developed on almost a daily basis as the set is being playtested.  I welcome any and all feedback on the set and I look forward to sharing more soon!

I’m back!

Hello all!  After several months of sporadic internet inactivity due to increasingly demanding duties with my job, I’ve found myself with enough time to hop online and work on some custom cards again.  The first thing I did was check here and MTGS, where I got pretty excited about Iamur.  Apoquallyp/Antares has rocked it out with that one, and I can’t wait to get the chance to play with the set.  If you haven’t taken a look at it yet, or if you’re just stumbling onto this blog from a google image search (as my site tracking tells me happens a lot), you should poke around and take a look at it – it’s pretty awesome.

As I’ve mentioned before, shortly after I started work on the Caeia block, I began working sporadically on another project.  I had realized all too late with Caeia that the best limited play (in my mind) for custom sets is the Cube.  Having a singleton format removes much of the logistical complexity of having truly random packs of a custom set that can be difficult to print and play (and there are few electronic mediums that can simulate a draft effectively).  I was already committed to the Caeia block following WotC conventions that made it hard to design specifically to be a cube (although I did determine to only balance for cube limited), specifically the lack of rarity, but with a new project anything goes.  So, I would occasionally open up the set file and play around with my custom cube.

I was both excited and slightly discourage when Justin Parnell and Ali Aintrazi announced their custom cube project.  Excited because, hey, more custom cards and from a high profile source too!  The simple fact that they began that project brought in a lot of interest into the custom card creation world, as many tournament players had never really seen custom cards, or at least had never seen them to this extent.  Disappointed, because I knew since they were a high profile bunch, anything I ever did (like make public my own custom cube project) would be viewed, at least by some, as ripping them off.   Hopefully nobody here thinks that, but there you have it.

Originally, the cube was supposed to be based on Ravnica.  With Caeia being an exercise in mono-color strategies, I wanted to branch out and experience multicolor design.  When Return to Ravnica was announced, I went back and re-designed the cards I had and ended up with ‘shards’ instead of ‘guilds’.  Yes, this project will feature the five 3-color groupings from Alara, with a slight twist.  Instead of having a Primary color and two allied Secondary colors, I’ve opted to change the primary color so that it is paired with an ally and an enemy.  While the color combinations stay the same, their philosophies arein many ways quite different to their Alara cousins, enough so that (I hope) it provides a different gameplay experience.

Thematically, the idea is that legendary creatures and planeswalkers matter.   In the first 180 card ‘mini-block’, for instance, there are 10 planeswalkers and 15 legendary creatures so far – with possibly a few more on the way.  In addition, many cards in the set become more powerful in the presence of legendary creatures or planeswalkers.

As for story – there is none.  At least not right now, and probably not even once it’s done.  There will be flavor, of course.  You’ll see a card and hopefully recognize what it represents.  But there isn’t going to be a cohesive story to any of this, no explanation as to why these guys are fighting.  This set is being built primarily for function, to create a high powered standalone limited environment.

One last note on the set, and then I’ll preview a few cards – it’s a high powered set.  Once this is done and people are playing with it, it should feel similar to playing with a powered cube.  This means that many of the cards featured here are of a very high power level and are likely unprtinable in an actual WotC set.

That being said, here are a few preview cards from Set 1 of 3 in my custom cube (codenamed Duty, Honor, Country)


The Pillage mechanic is found the UBR ‘Pirate’ Shard, and the shard itself is built around using this stolen mana to cast powerful spells and summon an army of ruthless pirates.

The WUB ‘cultists’ shard features a cult of zealots who aim to convert all to their cause -willing or not.

The RGW ‘nomads’ shard is my personal favorite. The shard features very defensive creatures who rarely strike first.

The BGR ‘barbarians’ shard features a focus on creature combat, with ruthless creatures like this guy who come with their own, one-sided pseudo inquisitor’s flail.

The simplest usage of the embolden mechanic, which strengthens the ‘legendary creatures and planeswalkers matter’ theme.

Many cards in the set feature the preparation mechanic, allowing you to pre-cast spells to enhance your tactics (or to simply get a discount).

This card comes from a cycle of enemy-color auras that enchant a legendary creature or planeswalker. Curious to see how this is received. Note: this hasn’t been correctly costed yet, the UR is just a placeholder.

That’s it for now!  I plan on popping up a few more posts in the coming days, including one talking about my thoughts on one of magic’s forgotten tribes – the dwarves!

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