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Custom Card Game Design

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Breaking Modern with Overworld

Can this card be broken?

Kulmata Flamewaker is a rare from Overworld that doesn’t fit into any of the set’s main themes. It’s not a pirate, a sea monster, or has anything to do with seafaring. It is important that players who don’t really care about those themes can still get excited about a few cards here and there. Other people aren’t interested in Limited and rate sets based mainly on their impact on Constructed formats. Kulmata Flamewaker is supposed to be a card for those players.

With Iamur, I made the mistake of completely ignoring Constructed and designing only with the Limited environment in mind. As a result, the sets needs a major overhaul before it plays well even with the other sets of the block. For Overworld, I don’t want to repeat this mistake.

Kulmata Flamewaker could potentially do some things in Standard, but I think Modern with its cheap and efficient burn spells is where she could find a home most easily. Since when I came up with the card, I had the suspicion that it is quite broken, and here I want to find out whether this suspicion is justified. So, let’s try to break this card in Modern! This is just a theoretical exercise, but I find that thinking about the uses of custom cards in older formats is a lot of fun.

When we look at her applications in Modern, two possibilities come to mind:

  • The fair deck: Here, Kulmata Flamewaker is used as a tempo generator, able to accelerate your board development while dealing with the opponent’s board at the same time.
  • The unfair deck: Here, we combo Kulmata Flamewaker in conjunction with massive burn spells or red sweepers to generate huge amounts of mana and win the game on the spot.

The Fair Deck

The fair deck should consist of an aggressive shell with a lot of cheap burn spells like Lightning Bolt. We want to end the game quickly before the opponent has time to catch up with our accelerated start. We can use the mana generated by the flamewaker to cheat the mana curve, but that isn’t our primary plan. We’re more interested in the tempo we gain by casting multiple spells a turn.

Since we’re planning on using a bunch of cheap burn spells, Young Pyromancer and Snapcaster Mage are obviously included in the deck. With these, we have enough early creatures, but we need something to do with our excess mana. We’re looking for creatures that are powerful enough that the opponent most likely can’t stabilize after we cast them early, but cheap enough that we can reasonably cast them when we don’t draw Kulmata Flamewaker or the combo gets disrupted. Of course, they should be also be castable with only red mana. After contemplating about our options, I arrived at the ragtag team of Goblin Rabblemaster (can be played off a single Lightning Bolt), and Thundermaw Hellkite (can be played after untapping with the Flamewaker). I don’t think we want to go any higher and include things like Inferno Titan, and it’s questionable if we even want Thundermaw Hellkites. They’re too difficult to cast in a land-light aggressive deck.

The base of our deck looks like a standard Izzet Delver of Secrets shell, but given that we play a lot more creatures, I think the spell count would be too low for Delver to be good. Here is a list I put together:

19 Creatures
3 Young Pyromancer
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Kulmata Flamewaker
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
18 Spells
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Flame Slash
2 Roast
4 Electrolyze
4 Serum Visions
23 Lands

The Unfair Deck

Let’s explore the more combo based possibilities. Kulmata Flamewaker turns Lightning Bolt into a ritual, but that’s not exciting enough. We want to generate 20 mana, not just 3. Luckily, red has access to a plethora of sweeper effects that help us do just that. Cast Blasphemous Act with eight creatures out and get 100 red mana? Well, that’s probably far more than we need, considering Emrakul, the Aeons Torn costs only a measly 15, but it’s certainly what Travis Woo would do if he’d get his hands on this card.

Anger of the Gods, and Earthquake should work just fine. The plan of the deck is quite clear then. Cast sweepers to stabilize against aggressive opponents, and use the them also in conjunction with Kulmata Flamewaker to cast giant Eldrazi.

We want a way to search for the Eldrazi and the flamewakers, so Commune with Nature and Chord of Calling get slots in the deck. That means we’re playing green. We also want some early defense and acceleration. Green mana creatures help with our Chord of Callings, but have the problem of being swept up in our board wipes, so we have to get more creative with our picks. Overgrown Battlement and Wall of Roots both survive Anger of the Gods. So does Spellskite, which we use to protect our Flamewaker.

We use Khalni Garden and Forbidden Orchard to produce additional creatures for our sweepers to hit. Khalni Garden tokens also help with casting Chord of Calling.

Here’s my list:

21 Creatures
4 Wall of Roots
2 Overgrown Battlement
4 Kulmata Flamewaker
3 Spellskite
1 Eternal Witness
4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
3 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
15 Spells
4 Anger of the Gods
4 Earthquake
4 Commune with Nature
3 Chord of Calling
24 Lands
3 Fire-Lit Thicket
4 Khalni Garden
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Stomping Ground
3 Forbidden Orchard
4 Temple of Abandon
1 Forest
1 Mountain

Conclusion

The fair deck looks quite alright, but I think that the deck trades off its increase in power disproportionately against consistency. The standard Izzet tempo decks I think are still superior. Sure, the draws where you get to cast Thundermaw Hellkite on turn 3 are great, but how often is that going to happen? In the harsh reality of actual Magic, the combo gets disrupted more often than not, you’ll have the burn spells to trigger the Flamewaker, but nothing to do with the mana, or your expensive creatures strand in your hand.

The unfair deck looks like a Tier 2 combo deck that works great against creature decks, but can’t ever win against control or against combo decks like Scapeshift, or Splinter Twin.

I don’t think I succeeded in breaking Kulmata Flamewaker, but maybe you have some ideas to improve these decklists?

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?

Random Card – Sorin, Hedonist of Blood

Hello all

It’s been awhile since the blog was updated – life unfortunately happens, and as much as I would like to design custom cards all the time (and I’m sure Antares feels this way as well), unfortunately my job has been keeping me fairly busy as of late.  Work on my current project, Generals of Dareth, has stalled but is far from finished (in fact, I’m hoping to have a playtest build of the set, along with an early design skeleton of the second set, by the end of October).  A lot of my design lately has been one-offs of important story pieces that will come up as my overall plan for my custom sets progresses.

Today I want to take a look at one of those story pieces.  My custom sets are moving, from a story perspective, to Zendikar (much as it seems the actual MtG story is).  My return to Zendikar will be in the past, and will detail my own ‘alternate universe’ story of how the Eldrazi came to be imprisoned there.  As such, the story will feature planeswalkers Ugin, Sorin, and the unnamed Lithomancer, who in my alternate universe is the planeswalker Avienne Rumare.

Sorin is a character who has developed quite a bit in MtG since his introduction.  His first version focused on his vampiric abilities – life draining and mind controlling his victims.  His next two iterations showed a different side, bringing in an affinity for white mana and establishing Sorin as having some skill in leading and motivating creatures.  With this version of Sorin, I’ve tried to get back to his roots (as this is a much earlier version of the character).

At this point in Sorin’s life, he is following his own whims, a hedonist bathed in blood.  Additionally, his skills aren’t as honed as his later iterations, due to his neophyte status.  Designing this card was a lot of fun, and unlike many of my planeswalker designs I feel pretty confident about this one (Designing planeswalkers is hard, yo).

Three mana for a three loyalty planeswalker is nothing to write home about, but doesn’t render the card unplayable, however Sorin (intentionally) doesn’t pass the test of “can he protect himself?”.  His +1 doesn’t help you deal with any threats to him, and his -3 kills him outright if used the turn he comes out.  His +1 looks underwhelming at first, but should interact well with cheap, aggressive creatures.  His -3 can be powerful (and if you look at the card as a sorcery that cost 1BB and said “Destroy target creature.  You gain life equal to its toughness.”, it would absolutely be considered playable, and would probably be the best kill spell in the format by a decent margin.), but again it comes at a cost.  His ultimate will scream to the Kitchen Table and will probably lead to a few lifegain decks aimed at using the card.  All told, he’s fun for the right audience, but isn’t powerful in the same way a lot of Planeswalkers are – which is right about where I want him.

Would love to hear some feedback on Sorin – how do you feel about planeswalkers like this?

A Kiora for Overworld

Some planeswalkers do vastly different things on each incarnation, while the abilities of others always stay mostly the same. I suspect that Kiora falls in the latter category, should we see more of her in the future. Based on this premise, I designed a new Kiora for my set ‘Overworld.’ Her goals are the same as they were on Theros: Searching for mighty creatures of the sea to help fight against the Eldrazi.

I feel like, when you bring back an old planeswalker, you do not have to explain much about the reasons for his or her presence on the plane. When Theros came out, I thought “Sweet! A new Elspeth!” and “Who the hell is Xenagos?” Only after I read about his backstory I began to like him. In the same vein, the nautical theme of Overworld and “Kiora is awesome!” should be reasons enough for her to be in the set.

A new Kiora for Overworld.

Are we at the point where a six mana 9/9 creature with a large upside can be printed? I think we are. Her -4 ability is exactly that. While Baby Kiora needed to reach her ultimate to summon giant Kraken, this incarnation can do it right away. But you can also go a different path and try to reach the ultimate. A challenge with this Kiora was to make this path attractive enough, as a 9/9 Kraken that leaves a planeswalker at one loyalty behind sounds pretty damn attractive. But if you expect the Kraken to just be hit with a cheap removal spell, you would rather plus to protect her, accumulate more card advantage, and threaten her ultimate.

Her plus ability compares very unfavorably with the one of Garruk, Caller of Beasts, both six mana planeswalkers. But this is ok, considering that it is the main ability for Garruk, while it is only secondary for Kiora and her ability does not require a dedicated creature deck to work.

The ultimate can be reached very quickly. It has to be or otherwise it could not compete with the Kraken. And after you have drawn a bunch of cards, what would you rather do than draw even more cards?

Ashiok, Dreamwaker

Hello,

the Esparand block testing revealed that blue-black is slightly inferior to other color combinations and control decks in those colors are struggling. With my yet unnamed Dream set being the next set in my Custom Standard cycle, I want to give Dimir mages a new, exciting toy to make their opponent’s life miserable. And since this will be a set focused on dream and nightmare, and Ashiok is a blue and black aligned planeswalker all about making your opponent’s life miserable, it seemed like a perfect fit. How could it be not in the set, right? So, here is Ashiok, Dreamwaker:

Ashiok, Dreamwaker is built to be used in control mirrors, where the +1 ability can be very devastating. When facing an aggro opponent, Ashiok will have a good chance of facing an empty-handed opponent and be much less effective. The ability lets the opponent draw a card, so it never actually generates straight-up card advantage. But that does not mean much, when the only card you are worried about is Illusions of Finitude. With the second ability, you get to steal the stuff you exiled, which I think is Ashiok’s “thing” (maybe if we see Ashiok again, it will do something entirely different). The ultimate is powerful, given that you can rip your opponent from answers to Ashiok and ultimate very easily.

I have briefly tested it, and on an empty board against another control deck it is not even remotely beatable. Its defensive capabilities are very lackluster, but it’s identical to Jace, Memory Adept in that regard, and he has managed to become a roleplayer in Standard.

What do you guys think?

Amaryllis, Freesands Paragon

While Generals of Dareth is playtesting, I’ve found myself distracted from designing the second set of the Dareth block.  Instead, most of the design I’ve been playing with lately is in regards to an Egyptian-themed block that a friend from work has asked me to work with him to design as his sort of entry point into custom MtG design.

This is one of the random planeswalker designs I’m playing around with, one that may not make the cut when all is said and done, as the set is already heavy on Walkers.  This is the second version of this character that I’ve attempted, the first being rather lackluster and begging for a redesign.  I’m much happier, already, with this iteration of the character, although it isn’t without its problems (the first two abilities are very control-oriented, while the ultimate works better in an aggro deck).   The set this card would theoretically go in has a running theme of low mana cost vs. high mana cost, which should help explain the last two abilities.

What do you guys think?

Random Card – Coalesced Mana

In the spirit of trying to post more regularly, and because I’m nearing the end of the design phase of Veni and I’m fairly excited about it, here is another random example from the set.  Nothing on the card is final, and this one will obviously require some testing for balance purposes.  Thoughts?


EDIT: If any are interested, the full design of Veni has been updated.  The full PDF can be found here.  Flavor, including story, artwork, and the full name of the set, should be coming soon.

Random Card – Until They Yield

Because it just felt too darn good posting the other day, another post!  This is a random card that may or may not appear in the current set I’m working on.  I know it’s hard to judge outside of its intended context, but regardless I’m here to show it off because I like the concept so much, and I’m also hoping for some feedback on the wording.

Beginnings and an Ajani

I posted some cards before from the second set of Esparand block, called ‘Storm of Chaos.’ I was positive that I would use that terrible name only until I could think of a better one, but now I have thrown the entire concept of the set out of the window. The concept was that without its arbiter to control the Storm of Time, chaos on the plane would be unbound. Now I am working on a new concept for the second set and it is currently called ‘Beginnings.’ Here, the two protagonists Telar and Niusha, together with a few allies, travel back in time to an era that was previously deemed inaccessible. The beginning of time, or “zero” as it is called, is an era where not everything is messed up yet. As the plane has not yet been ravaged by the Storm of Time, in this era, Esparand is anything but a lifeless desert.

Just like Esparand, Beginnings has three mechanics. The first mechanic is Foreshadow, as it appeared in its predecessor. Epitaph is replaced by Flashback, and Consign by a yet undecided mechanic, as these two mechanics do not seem to fit the setting I am going for. That will be a lot of mechanics for the entire block, but I hope I can make it work. The different mechanics just have to work well with those from Esparand.

Ajani, Primal Soul

Here is the first preview card from Beginnings. I wanted to have a green planeswalker in the block, as the other four colors are covered already. I started with a green-white version of Ajani, but he evolved into Naya, then into red-green. I already made a green-white planeswalker back in Iamur, so I like it this way better anyway. The only problem is: It does not feel like an Ajani anymore. But Ajani Vengeant did not as well, so is it that big of a problem? Maybe this version of Ajani is closely related to Ajani Vengeant, or an event in the future turned him into this more savage character (time travel explains everything!).

Far too few dragons to be a Sarkhan.

I learned that planeswalkers that just durdle around with their abilities need an ultimate, or they are not very interesting to play with. But this Ajani here just kills people if he lives, so an ultimate would never be activated anyway. Whether this is the best loyalty setup for him has to be tested. On paper, abilities like the zero-ability always look more powerful than they really are: When was the last time you wanted to pay five mana for a planeswalker that did nothing on the turn he entered the battlefield?

Another possible loyalty setup is +1 // +1 // -3 // {4}. Here is the main difference: With the current setup, when you have charges from the 0-ability floating and things go wrong, you may have to waste those charges to +1 on nothing. Should it be this way? That may turn out to be frustrating, but on the other hand, building up loyalty while also building up charges may be too powerful.

Referenced keywords

A random planeswalker

So, I’m stuck – I mean really stuck – on my cube.   I’m certainly not giving up on the project, but re-design has dragged to a crawl on it and I’m preparing myself to shelve the project for awhile in order to move on to other things, with the intention of picking it back up down the road.

All that said, I’ve been toying with some of the ideas that have come up during the design of the cube – ideas that I think may have potential to work in a traditional set – and have a card to share today.

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Ilyria Balmore is a character that I’ve used before.  This is actually the third planeswalker I’ve designed for this same character, though this would likely be the first version of her to be released.  Ilyria is a young but greatly skilled crusader, part of a deeply religious order whose passionate and fierce beliefs often lead to holy wars with non-believers.  Her colors are Red and White, with some Black (though, on this card, the black isn’t represented.)

Mechanically, her identity lies in the -1 ability.  This is yet another version of my ‘Crusade’ mechanic that I’ve toyed with for the Red/White/Black wedge group in my cube.  Though some are very opposed to messing with the cleanup step, I love the idea.  This probably hearkens back to my background with the Star wars TCG and how much fun I used to have manipulating damage counters on my units.  I understand the argument against – MtG isn’t specifically suited for this type of gameplay, and it provides lots of memory issues.  In any set with this type of mechanic, I would provide a rules insert that explained the cleanup step and recommended using damage counters because of the existence of cards like this one.

The +1 is pretty powerful, especially on a 4cmc walker.  My rationale for this is that this planeswalker doesn’t protect itself – a hallmark of all the most powerful walkers – and so having such a powerful plus ability is balanced by the fragility of the card itself.

The ultimate is where I’m least content.  If this card were to be used, this would likely change quite a bit during development.

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