Custom Card Game Design

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An Update long overdue: Siege of Ravnica

First, I couldn’t think of anything to write about. Then I didn’t have the time. And then I didn’t care.

But, new year’s resolve: More content again! (mainly because Doombringer constantly bugs me 😛 )

Let’s start with some updates long overdue. This time, Siege of Ravnica.

The Eldrazi

Siege of Ravnica underwent a lot of conceptual changes since my initial design, and it should be ready now for the next design wave. But, since I started with the set, Battle for Zendikar block happened. The question now becomes, how much should I let Siege of Ravnica be influenced by it? Like many people, I didn’t like Battle for Zendikar very much, and I think the Eldrazi were executed very poorly in the block. So, I’d rather cherry-pick the few good things from that block and ignore all the rest. Where are we at?

  • Devoid is terrible. No devoid in Siege of Ravnica. Never! Devoid didn’t happen! I can’t hear you! Lalalalala!
  • True colorless mana on the other hand is a very cool mechanic, and something that I’m considering using. However, my Eldrazi Spawns (Broods they are called now) actually make mana of any color, to help with the multicolor theme of the set (although it’s against the flavor of the Eldrazi). Introducing colorless mana would have to entail significant restructuring of the set.
  • I planned for all three titans to show up in Ravnica. But in Battle for Zendikar, Ulamog and Kozilek are killed off. Only Emrakul’s whereabouts remain unknown. This could be an opportunity to tie in Siege of Ravnica’s story with the current storyline: Emrakul escapes from Zendikar and goes straight for the main course of a city plane abundant with life. But at some point, we will deal with Emrakul in the official story, and Siege of Ravnica will again be a “parallel universe.” So, I’m only buying maybe two years.
  • While in Rise of the Eldrazi, the three titans just destroyed without reason, in Battle for Zendikar, the three Eldrazi titans were all given a unique identity. Ulamog was born from an insatiable hunger and has to consume endlessly. Kozilek is the master of time and space and reshapes the planes into his twisted vision of what the multiverse should look like. And Emrakul? It is the Titan of Corruption, twisting, corrupting, and consuming only living matter. This concept could be incorporated into Emrakul and his brood, or it could just destroy everything like it did in Rise of the Eldrazi. I actually liked that.

The current version of Emrakul.


The next big topic are the planeswalkers. I planned for planeswalkers to be at common, but due to a lot of negative feedback, and space-issues in the set skeleton, I plan to remove them, or at least change the approach drastically. Currently, I’m toying with the idea of making a set like Zendikar Expeditions called Across the Multiverse that will feature many planeswalkers, old and new, and spells from the home planes of these walkers. One Across the Multiverse card will be inserted into every or every second (or so) Siege of Ravnica booster, replacing the basic land. I want planeswalkers to be a major part of the draft format. I think it’s doable, but it has to be done right.

Two cards that could appear in Across the Multiverse.

New mechanic: Escort

Escort (An escort may protect another creature as both attack unpaired. The pair is blocked as a group and the protector is assigned combat damage first.)

Escort is a mechanic that I’ve been toying around for a while now, and one that I wanted to put into many sets in one form or another. As Duet, it allowed creatures to attack in a pair. In addition, upon attacking, you declare which creature is assigned combat damage first, and which second. With Escort, I simplified the mechanic even further, and made it mandatory that the escort is assigned combat damage first.

Two creatures with escort.

I really like Escort because it takes the good ideas of banding (bear with me) and removes everything that’s so confusing about it, both on a comprehension level and on a board complexity level. It forces the attacking player to declare the combat damage order immediately. This way, it is very easy for the defending player to discern how combat will turn out. It doesn’t do anything on defense, so there’s no risk that the attacking player runs into a chump-attack.

Only the wording is a bit tricky. In four lines or less, the reminder text has to convey that…

  • …you can’t have a creature be escorted by two escorts. This is what the “unpaired” phrase is for.
  • …the characteristic of having to be assigned combat damage first is separate from being an escort. If two escorts attack paired, you choose which one escorts the other. This is what the “protector” phrase is for.
  • …if two escorts attack paired, the protector has to be chosen upon attacking.

Did you think these corner cases were supposed to be handled this way based on the wording?

New mechanic: Deadlock

Deadlock — At the beginning of your upkeep, if no creatures attacked during each player’s last turn, {effect}.

Deadlock replaces Breach, which was an ability word that gave you a bigger pump spell if you cast it during your main phase. Both play into the siege theme of the set, but I think Deadlock is more interesting mechanically.

A “deadlock breaker” and a “true deadlock” card.

Deadlock creatures can break open stalled board states (Siegebreaker Wurm) or entice the opponent to break it open (Vizkopa Aristocrats). Although these cards use the same mechanic, they should play out very differently. While the Orzhov and Azorius guilds are good fits for the “true deadlock” mechanic, Gruul and co. really like attacking, so they should get more of the “deadlock breaker” cards.

On the surface, Deadlock seems like a mechanic that entices board stalls, but that’s only true on a deck-building level. If you play Vizkopa Aristocrats, you’ll want to make sure you can prevent your opponent from attacking favorably. But once the board stalls, the Aristocrats ensure that the game is coming to a conclusion. The opponent has to act.


How would you represent the brood of Emrakul, the titan of corruption? Should Emrakul stay true to its Rise of the Eldrazi depiction or should it get a unique shtick like the two smaller titans?

Next time, an update on Shandalar!


Announcing: Across the Multiverse

Legions was the all-creature set, and Alara Reborn the all-multicolor set, carrying their respective block’s themes to extremes. The Siege of Ravnica block’s focus are planeswalkers, so the logical conclusion of the block is an all-planeswalker set. In Across the Multiverse, the second set of the Siege of Ravnica block, every card is a planeswalker. While the fight against the Eldrazi continues, we explore the multiverse with the help of planeswalkers to find the Ravnicans a new home.

To make the set’s theme work, the basic effects, such as counterspells, and combat tricks, must exist in the form of planeswalkers within the set.

A basic planeswalker design acting as a Divination.

Of course, some planeswalkers will have more than one ability, especially at higher rarities.

Activating your planeswalkers every turn should grant you enough invetitability to close out any game. You can attack with the tokens they produce, or with the direct damage they can inflict. Still, some planeswalkers have to throw themselves into the fray to allow for more complex combat situations.

A white filler planeswalker.

A planeswalker could become a 2/2 creature, a 2/4 creature, or even a 5/5 creature with trample. The design space here is limitless, and I really look forward to exploring it.

The Guilds United

If nothing else can get you to work together, maybe the end of the world can. In Siege of Ravnica, the guilds don’t get their own mechanic each. Instead, the guilds get a shared mechanic called Guildpact and each of the guilds will have a minor theme that can be built around. Guildpact is an ability word that counts the number of colors among permanents you control.

Two creatures with the Guildpact mechanic.

In many multicolor formats, you can try to draft five-color, but the results may vary. In Siege of Ravnica, you are directly incentivized to do so. You pick the best card from each pack, pick up the Guildpact cards when you can, but you are also smart and pick mana fixing over them! The Guildpact cards aren’t as good in two- or three-color decks, so you can pick them up later.

Similar to Khans of Tarkir, ten dual lands at common help with the mana fixing.

There are also some cards in the set that synergize well with Guildpact. For example, the “multi-guild hybrid” cycle. These creatures have a cost similar to the “Shardblade” cycle from Alara Reborn and can increase your color count drastically.

Gold hybrid cards have two guild affiliations.

In addition to the synergy they provide with Guildpact, the hybrid cards tie together the multicolor environment of the set. Each of the two- or three-color combinations should be draftable and having flexible cards goes a long way in supporting that goal. The “guilds working together” theme could be expanded even more with true tri-colored cards at rare that have the watermarks of all three included guilds, but giving these cards a flavor that represents all three guilds reasonably well might prove to be too difficult.

Eldrazi in the Streets

Getting the Eldrazi right was the most difficult task when I started designing Siege of Ravnica. I believe many designers who, before me, brought the Eldrazi back can attest that finding a fitting mechanic is not a trivial task. Do you reuse Annihilator? That’s certainly not optimal, but if you don’t, where do you go from there? The mechanic must satisfy the following main criteria:

  • It must be scalable, so that it can be used on common Eldrazi as well as rare Eldrazi, or even the Titans. For example, Doombringer suggested his Eradicate mechanic “Eradicate X (Whenever this creature becomes blocked, defending player sacrifices X nonblocking permanents.)” I believe that this mechanic disqualifies, because it does not scale very well. That is, unless you intend to use it only for lesser Eldrazi, and have bigger plans for the titans. In that case, it’s perfectly reasonable.
  • It must feel colorless.
  • The flavor as well as the gameplay must fit for the Eldrazi. Basically, it must involve destroying or consuming stuff. I considered a mechanic that gave the Eldrazi +1/+1 counters when the opponent spent mana, representing the Eldrazi’s nature to devour the mana of the plane. Although this fits the Eldrazi flavorfully, it doesn’t fit them mechanically: Eldrazi don’t sit back and wait until they’re strong enough to attack.

The second Eldrazi mechanic from Rise of the Eldrazi were the Spawn tokens, and here I think it’s reasonable to bring them back. But I changed them a bit, so that they better fit into the environment.

An Eldrazi drone from Siege of Ravnica.

Spawn tokens now produce mana of any color. Although this is a bit out of flavor for the mostly colorless Eldrazi, it’s a necessary change to make them fit into the multicolored environment. Maybe the brood lineages mutated after the titans devoured the incredibly rich mana of Zendikar. This upgrade entails that you will see less Eldrazi spawn tokens created per card, and Kozilek’s Chrysalis is as far as they will be pushed — no strictly better Emrakul’s Hatcher!

For the greater Eldrazi, I eventually came up with the ability word Consume. An extremely loosely defined mechanic, Consume signals an ability that inflicts something harmful onto an opponent and grants the inverse beneficial effect for you. The Eldrazi trigger this effect when you cast them, as well as whenever they attack, combining the when-you-cast triggers from the original titans with the whenever-it-attacks trigger from Annihilator.

Two greater Eldrazi from Siege of Ravnica.

Consume fits all the criteria mentioned above: It is scalable, it feels colorless, although most of the effects you can put on it will be associated with a specific color, and it feels Eldrazi-esque in both flavor and gameplay. It has very limited design space, but barely enough so that you can fill in the handful of slots for the Eldrazi in the set, and it reads very weird if you’re unfamiliar with the original Eldrazi. It’s not perfect, but I think the perfect mechanic is a very tiny spot in the room of all possible mechanics, and that spot would be incredibly hard to find. Verdict: Good enough!

Here is the new Emrakul featuring the Consume mechanic. As I mentioned when discussing the Emrakuls of other designers, I believe that there is no design space for a new Emrakul at 15 mana. The original Emrakul reads “I cast this card and you die.” Any other Emrakul that doesn’t just outright kill the opponent will just feel woefully inferior and obsolete, while an Emrakul that does can’t feel different enough to warrant a new card. So, the Emrakul you see here is cheaper and less powerful, so that it can fill a new role.

“Baby Emrakul.”

Thanks for reading!

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