My 30-Day Design Challenge: Create an Entire Set

Note: If you don’t care at all what I have to say, there are links at the bottom of this post to my set. You can view the whole set at once, or view it by rarity or colour.

The Challenge

As many of you know, November is National Novel Writing Month. I decided that like Memorial Day, Christmas, or any other special occasion that originally had some sort of meaning, I would twist the celebration to my own purposes. I later found out that there was an offshoot of this called National Game Design Month, but my project doesn’t actually fit well into either category so whatever. My goal was to create an entire set of 229 cards (plus 20 basic land to make it 249), and, time permitting, try to work on the rest of the block.

As it turned out, time was the bottleneck of this project. Thirty days is more than enough time to get a workable draft of a set together to send to development, which was my goal. However, I have a full time job and a part time life, so being able to dedicate the amount of time necessarily to this project proved rather difficult. Were my attention not forced to be divided by so many different things, I’m sure I could have finished this portion of the design in about ten days.

The Design Process

The design process was pretty awesome. I did a design skeleton for the set to start, which took about two hours. Much of that time was spent compulsively making sure I had the proper quantities of each rarity, colour, and card type. From there, obviously I went to designing the cards. Originally I tried to just go in order: CW01, CW02, CW03, etc. That proved to be a fairly restrictive and counterproductive idea, as my mind would either wander from being too pigeonholed, or while brainstorming ideas for one card I would think of ideas that belonged elsewhere in the set. It’s a seemingly small and fairly obvious lesson, but it’s still something I feel was important to experience.

As for designing the cards, obviously it was a ton of fun. If I didn’t think it would be, I would never have attempting something like this. Finding creative uses for my new keyword was a large part of the fun, and it resulted in a couple cycles of cards as well. Cycles are something that players seem to love and I think they’re a great design tool. Interestingly enough, I only came into the set with one cycle in mind, but I wound up with a few of them. A blue common for limited resulted in a cycle of cards that not only seem fun for limited, but helped tie the flavour of the set together. A passing thought to push the power level on a creature resulted in a cycle of legendary creatures, which in turn resulted in a cycle of artifacts I’ll mention later.

Now obvious I realize that this set isn’t being rushed to the printers after two years of development, but I still found this to be a great exercise, a ton of fun, and hopefully something the community enjoys enough to orchestrate drafts of.

What’s In a Name?

Overall, I’m happy with the design of the set. There’s some limited fodder that I’m not entirely sure about, and there are a few cards that I am fully aware are really pushing the power level (But hey, that’s development’s problem!). When all is said and done though, I am proud of the rules text of the 229 cards. I should note now that not all 229 cards are new. As with any set, I chose to reprint some cards to fill necessary roles in limited. I could have made functional reprints, but there was no compelling reason to do it. I also accidentally designed an equipment that had already existed in Darksteel but that I had long since forgotten about. To my credit, I did come up with the exact same casting cost, equip cost, and commonality on my own. So I guess that leaves the question of what am I not happy about? The answer: card names.

I did my best, I really did. Or at least, I did the best job I possibly could given I only had three nights remaining to name almost every card in the set. Some of the names I’m really happy with, some of them are a bit generic, and some are probably just terrible. I freely admit that I find card names to be the hardest part of design, and I absolutely suck at proper names. In fact, while I did finally name the plane Adican, I don’t even know what the name of the set is. I named the other two sets in the block (the next set is Inquisition!), but I can’t find the perfect word for this one.

I mentioned a cycle earlier though, and it resulted from my difficulty with names. I had the cycle of legendary creatures I mentioned, as well as a single multicolour mythic that was designed specifically for EDH. While having trouble naming a rare artifact that was designed for EDH, I decided to name it after the EDH legend. Because why not. At that point I noticed that five of my other rare artifacts actually could be named after the other legends. This was completely unintentional, but the artifacts just happened to line up with abilities most common in the five separate colours. This was, without a doubt, the best moment of naming the cards.

I’m Not Sure That’s My Job

There’s one part of the cards that is largely missing. This was because of time constraints, and I’m not even sure it’s design’s job. You’ll notice, however, that most of the cards are missing flavour text. This is a big deal to me simply because having flavour text (and some better card names) are key to bringing the flavour of the set together. I wish I had more time so I could have taken at least an attempt at this, but self-imposed deadlines exist for a reason.

“How is That Different From Fading/Vanishing?”

This is the question I was asked most when I previewed cards from my set. I bring back the keyword “affinity”, but I also have a new keyword: instability. Instability works as such:

Instability X (At the beginning of your upkeep, put an instability counter on this. Then, if there are X or more instability counters on it, sacrifice it.)

Yes, it looks like fading or vanishing except that the counters go up. Technically, it is. However, by virtue of the counters increasing instead of decreasing, it opens up a huge array of abilities and flavour. It will become more obvious what I mean when you take a look at the cards, but for the most part the more unstable something becomes the more powerful it is. It’s no longer just a countdown to death anymore! I mean, yeah it’s that too and there are some vanilla guys for whom that’s all it is, but other cards make use of these instability counters as well, and I think by simply inverting the countdown to a “count up”, it opened up a lot of design space. That, or my head is up my ass. Either way.

Oh yeah, and you’ll also note that there are no cards with instability in white. There’s not as much story to the set as there should be without the flavour text (I mean in my mind it’s all there, but you can’t see inside my head), so in short the plane of Adican is reveling in its excess and chaos, but Althalos, the Righteous wants to restore the plan to a place of law, order, and piety. And he doesn’t care what it takes to accomplish that goal.

Where’s the Damn Spoiler, Already?

You don’t wanna hear my story? Fine, fuck you. Here are some links. There’s the whole list of course, but you can also view specific rarities if you don’t want to look at what you might consider “random limited garbage”. If you so choose, you may also view the cards by colour. You racist.

I hope you enjoy looking at the set, and by all means leave me feedback here, via e-mail, or on Twitter. I would love to know what everyone thinks of all my hard work. A special thanks also goes out to Robby (@mtgcolorpie) for taking a look once I had finished and making a few notes. I didn’t agree with all of them, but it’s amazing how helpful a second pair of eyes can be. Anyway, thanks for viewing!

*Remember: This was all designed by me in a single month. That means the only development process was me theorycrafting, so I realize there might be balance issues for limited or that some of the cards with which I tried to push the power level may have gone a little too far. Not saying I don’t want criticism, just keep that in mind. Oh, and there’s no expansion symbol cause I couldn’t figure out the damned utility in MSE.

Note: These pages were generated by Magic Set Editor. If you don’t like the layout, blame them, not me!
Full Set
Mythics
Rares
Uncommons
Commons
White
Blue
Black
Red
Green
Multicolour, Artifacts, and Lands

3 Comments

  1. Jes Golbez says:

    For a lone guy doing this in 30-days, it’s pretty good. I also like the fact there are lots of Oozes 🙂

    Comments:

    Althalos, The Righteous – His second ability does not seem to fit White’s part of the pie, given that this is something that green seems to exclusively do.

    Archon of Rebirth – This is the kind of mythic I’d like, given that it is powerful, flavourful, and not busted.

    Capitation – Rare for a rampant growth? White gets land tax spells, but this seems like the bulkiest of rares. Knight of the White Orchid is miles better, for example.

    Faith’s Fetters – I wish they’d reprint this spell to help deal with Planeswalkers.

    Adicanian Banisher – This is pretty nuts, and I’d expect his P/T to be more of a 2/2 thing, ala Venser.

    Eminent Domain – Seems overpowered in multiplayer, but fun 🙂

    Hypnotic Djinn – Can’t see WOTC ever printing a card like this, given flavour and game play issues.

    Defiler of Death – Overpowered.

    Cunning Gambit – Overpowered, and not quite random enough for red. In EDH/multiplayer, it’s likely to never be a drawback.

    Stoke the Flames – I’d worry about power level, given that you could do 6-8 easy damage to a player for 2 mana. I could see this card targetting just creatures or just getting +1 for each other copy, ala Kindle.

    Uncontrolled Infestation – Howl of the Night Pack gives 2/2s for the same cost. Sure, it doesn’t count creatures, but it’s also an uncommon and a bit easier to cast. Maybe 1/1 for each creature AND land?

    Visionary Ranger – fix “When ug01 enters…”

    Fendrel, the Lunatic – This is plain busted. As a casual player, I can think of many ways this would be broken and unfair. Take away the untap ability, and it would be something more reasonable.

    Rusted Dreadnought – I would hesitate to ever play this card with the way it is worded. I know it needs a big drawback, but…damn..

    Me: Attach with RD
    Opponent: Ok, after you attack, I’ll Naturalize it.
    Me: Great, now I’ve lost all of my cards and taken 12 damage. Scoop!

    Seriph’s Mausoleum – This I like! We need graveyard hosers that simply don’t remove the entire graveyard. As a casual player, Bojuka Bog is annoying (Although I use them often) in simply removing an entire graveyard.

    Duel lands – A good compromise, and something I’d like to see WOTC actually do.

  2. Affinity

    Almost everwhere is done correctly. This is what Affinity should have been the first time around. Good job.

    Instability

    There’s an obvious comparison to Fading/anishing (which are really the same ability). Yes, there is a lot of increase in design space from having counter increment rather than decrement. However, I’m unsure that the design space opened up just by that is worth revisiting something so close to a previous mechanic.
    Also, the mechanic will cause a lot of mental effort for players, as they’ll be force to read each card each upkeep to check the numbers and triggers.
    After looking through the first iteration of the cards, I would devote some time and consideration to revamping Instability to have creatures enter play with a variable number of counters, and all die at the same number of counters. For example, a common creature might enter play with 2 counters, and all creatures would die with their fifth counter. This is a flavorful implementation; creatures are unstable even when they’re not fighting for you, and some have already started to decay when you summon them. This is a implementation with less congitive effort; add counters to everything, then just check once for any creature with 5 counters on it. It would require some revamping of the card text in the set, but I suspect it would be worth it.
    Another option would be removing the incrementation from an automatic upkeep trigger to a specified trigger in the card text. At common, the trigger would always be during the upkeep. At rare, however, a card could have a counter added whenever a creature dies, or whenever a permanent entered the battlefield, or whenever oit attacked or blocked. the death clause would still only trigger during the upkeep, letting cards like the unstable ooze shed extra counters in time to live.
    (For reference:
    Option 1
    Instability 3 (This creature enters the battlefield with 3 instability counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, add an instability counter to it. Then, if it has five or more instability counters, sacrifice it.)

    Option 2
    Instability 3 (This creature enters the battlefield with 3 instability counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, if it has five or more instability counters on it, sacrifice it)
    At the begining of your upkeep, put an Instability counter on CARDNAME.)

    Baazar of Fortunes, Plague Marsh, Saproling Garden, Shrine of Adican, Well of Lost Memories

    Lands that have some use later in the game are a wonderful thing to do; they naturally encourage players to run more land, resulting in less mana issues and less negative experiences with the game. The two ways to do this are with lands that become creatures and lands that have spell-like effects. The concept for these spell effects is fine, but the costs are wildly off balance. Saproling Garden has a direct comparison in Vitu-Ghazi; you’ve upgraded it to make colored mana, and require hald the mana in only one color to make a dude. Plague Marsh is in many case a removal spell each turn, and at a rough estimation is worth half of a card. Baazar of Fortunes is ridiculously good; the late game ability to cycle lands through for spells is amazing, even without the added benefit of utilizing cards in the graveyard. Shrine of Adican is closer to a proper power level; two life a turn can get out of hand, but the cost is correct or close to it. And then we reach the Well of Lost Memories, which gives you a third of the effect of Nephalia Drownyard for one less mana. These lands need to have their costs raised across the board.

    Barren Sea, Cliffside Tomb, Fertile Crag, Flooded Prairie, Overgrown Meadow

    A natural idea, but good nonetheless.

    Tower of Adican

    An enabler for Instability. The cost should likely be increased, as it plays too well with some other set effects (including but not limited to Persist, Infect, Planeswalkers, Cumulative Upkeep…)

    Alchemist’s Stone
    Much too good. This is a card that makes as much mana as it costs the turn it comes into play. It lets make a turn 2 play, and then ramp directly into a five (or even seven) drop of turn 3. Later, when the life gain eventually becomes a potential issue, it still provides functionality by making one colorless mana. Removing the first mana ability makes this closer to balanced, but still likely too strong. I’m move it to a 3 cmc and drop the first ability before testing it for power.

    Chaos Engine
    Obviously designed to play well with Instability, but has some unfortunate unintended side effects from Infect, Planeswalkers, and more. I’m unsure if the cool facotr is worth the potential confusion and rules issues.

    Fendrel’s Spellbook
    Nifty effect, but I’d be careful to test this, and potentially increases the CMC to 5 or 6. An opener of a mulligan, land, Spirit Guide, and the ritual from this set to play this leaves you with two cards in your hand, and plays very close to Balance in practice. Or perhaps something like a T1 outlet (such as Putrid Imp), followed by this on turn 2?

    Varos’s Pendant
    There are some awkward rules interactions here. For example, if I unsummon your Juggernaut, you can choose instead to return a Mox to your hand, still as part of the Unsummon’s effect. I’d look into ways to further restrict what other cards can be chosen to prevent something unforseen from breaking the game.

    Unsustauinable Abomination
    Very undercosted. In eternal formats, this is a better Animate Dead; it gives haste and is not vulnerable to enchantment removal. Sure, the creature dies in two turns, but many reanimation targets don’t need to be around for more than two turns to win the game.
    It also has a poor rules interaction within the set. If this brings back a card that already has Instability, that card will have two instances of the ability, both of which will trigger during your upkeep. If stacked properly, the crature will still last for two turns. If stacked improperly, it will die on the first upkeep. This will lead to gotcha moments, unhappy players, and a situation that cannot be resolved on the current coding of MTGO. A potential fix for this would be “If it doesn’t have Instability…” or “It loses Instability and gains…”

    Fendrel, the Lunatic
    Is there any reason for the untap ability? Cards with coin flips and random elements should avoid pushing towards the high end of the power spectrum, as it leads to swingy games and player frustration. This is a cool card, a fun EDH general, and a gimmick. Stick with just the first ability.

    Abundant Ooze
    Currently it triggers itself. Fine if that’s the intent, but otherwise it should switch to “Whenever another permanent…”

    Determination
    Intended as a U control hoser, I’d expect this to see the most play in combo decks, to protect them as they go off.

    Intermittent Growth
    A Giant Growth that comes back? Sure. How often will this actually come back? Probably often enough that it needs to either cost more mana or give a smaller bonus.
    Same applies to the other cards in the cycle.

    Irregular Boon
    This is probably costed appropraitely. However, the rest of the cycle needs to be looked at, and likely have their costs increased.

    Monsterous Spider
    Giant Spider is a fine card. There’s no need to obsolete it.

    Mutagenic Growth
    Probably ok, but theres a solid chance that this card will cause arguments between players on what choices have been made.

    Seriph, High Priestess
    A strictly better Llanowar Elves? A strictly better Priest of Titania? Sure, it’s legendary, but that deosn’t come close to making up for the cost. Needs to be reworked.

    Symbiotic Hydra
    Hmmm… So, If I go Forest, Forest, this, I have a 1/1 that makes a 1/1 when it dies. If I wait till turn 4, playing nothing but lands, I’ve got a 3/3 that makes 3 1/1s. This is probably too strong at its current cost. However, I’m unsure that it justifies being the first card to cost XXX, and other costs (like GGGGXX) are also awkward.
    This card is also very complicated, and will take a large amount of time and mental effort for players to play correctly.
    It’s a cool Mythic, and I love the concept, but I’m not sure it should see print.

    Toxic Spinner
    Another spider? And this one also feels awkward. Green has gotten Deathtouch spiders before, and hasw Deathtouch show up, but not often on creatures that live through combat. …. Ug….

    Visionary Ranger
    Elvish Visionary is a fine card. There’s really no reason to obsolete it.

    Brackish Fanatic
    A Hill Giant that destroys a land? That’s a five mana cost.

    Chaos Hound
    Like Chaos Engine, this has soem unfortunate interactions with older effects. For example, playing a Gideon Jura gives this guy +8/+0. Probably needs to cost more mana, or otherwise be restricted to only Instability.

    Desecrate
    Probably needs to cost at least 4RR. This is a Stone Rain on turn 3 in constructed, and cheaper after that. Might even need to cost 3RR to ensure that it never drops below costing three.

    Double Ricochet.
    Fork twice costs four mana, right? Well no, not really. For this effect, you mus cionsider that you’re effectively drawing a card that happens to be another fork. I like the effect, but it needs to cost 4RR. (Maybe, maybe 3RR after testing.)

    Erupting Hellhound
    So it has Firebreathing, then double Firebreathing, then triple Firebreathing? Fun card, but I’d start with the ability costing 1R over R for testing.

    Fanatical Pyromancer
    Skirsdag Cultist does the same thing, but requires sacrificing a creature to use. Which is appropriate, because 2 reusable damage just straight up kills creatures in limited. This card would be arguably the strongest first pick in limited in the set; it should not see print.

    Frenzied Assault
    At uncommon, this will piss players off; defenders will be forced to either make bad blocks or risk dying to this. I think changing it to affect only blocked creatures would not be out of line.

    Galvanic Field
    Really? Would this effect on a global enchantment pass muster? I thought not.

    Qantir, the Rageborn
    So it’s a Ball Lightning that sticks around? and also doesn’t die unless you block it with at least four toughness? Once again, being Legendary does not make up for the the undercosting of this card. It might be fairest at 3RR, not 1RR

    Spark Talons
    The same effect, in two different colors on two different cards? hmmm…

    Bloodsucker Neophyte
    No. Just no. A card can have both First Strike and Deathtouch, as long as there are ‘shield’s down’ moments. Requiring an activation cost to get one of these two abilites would fit here. “CARDNAME cannot block” would probably fit better, and would let you drop the cost to 1B.

    Defile the Cemetary
    This needs to cost way more mana than it does. On average it will return what, three creatures to your hand? I’d start testing this at 3B, but be entirely willing to continue increasing the cost, or even cut it from the set entirely. Anyone who remembers the raise dead effects from Kamigawa block will hate this card.

    Defiler of Death
    So it’s a Prince of Thralls, except that it’s one color, costs less mana, hits your own creatures too, and your opponent can’t prevent it? Wow. Even without the infintie combo potential (with any creature that gains life when it enters play), this is way too good.

    Hymn of Suffering
    Life payments don’t really matter. I would play the shot out of this card in every format. No. Just no.

    Ivolda, Ruthless Assassin
    One less mana, on more toughness that Royal Assassin. Nope, being Legendary does not make up for that.

    Patriach of the Fallen
    Good, probably the right cost. I would however add a clause that removes the reanimated creatures if the Patriarch dies. Might see soem play in a dredge variant.

    Vile Tutor
    Life payments don’t really matter. I would play the shot out of this card in every format. No. Just no.

    Adicanian Banisher
    This is a Hill Giant (4 mana) with flash (+1 mana), that casts a spell (+2 for the “card” draw) that costs one mana (+1). Now eight mana is probably a bit much for this, but five is certainly too much. I’d put this at 4UU, and further consider reducing it to a 2/3.

    Blinding Wings
    Control Magic costs 4.5 mana to be fair. Flight costs less than one. Seems fair.

    Essence of Unmaking
    Hello Distroting Wake! So, this lets me play it and sacrifice four lands to bounce all of my opponent’s blockers for an alpha strike? Or to hold up mana to counter any combat tricks from my opponent or any auras? Or to lock my opponent out of the game by bouncing their one land drop each turn?
    At the very least, this card needs to let these abilities only be played at sorcery speed. But, realistically, it probably just needs to be scrapped.

    Hypnotic Djinn
    There are some serious rules problems with this ability as written. Serious enough that I’m too lazy to spell them all out. There are fizes, but I’m unsure it’s worth shrinking the font size on the card to minimum just to fit it.

    Manic Researchers
    It’s Ancestral Vision, except that it costs 3, except that it can also attack for 4 and block in a pinch? Maybe ok, but worrisome to me.

    Mischeivous Djinn
    It’s supposed to be able to kill an opponent’s creatures with Instability?

    Omnitience
    Telepathy is one of those effects that isn’t worth paying a card for, but is certainly worth at least one mana as an ongiong effect. I’d be happier seeing this at 3U or maybe 1UU.

    Psychic Jab
    Force Void is ok. This is not. You can reprint Force Void. You cannot print this.

    Althos, the Righteous

    +2 Templating is odd. Could just be “Protection from non-white” Also, knocks off both Auras and Equipment, which man be an unintended effect.
    -x nonwhite ability (in green). Also way, way, way too good at it’s current cost/his starting loyalty and a +2 ability.
    -9 nonwhite ability (in black)
    Planeswalkers are very hard to design, so I understand the error. But this needs heavy revision.

    Capitation
    White gets plains, but tends not to get any land. If you’re willing to bleed the effect, sure.

    Cauterize
    Healing Salve may not look like much, but it does solidly cost mana camp. As such, this card should cost at least 2W. However, even there, the card will effectively often read “Destroy target creature, draw a card.” I’ll test heavily, and probably end with this costing 3W.

    Congregation’s Herald
    Congregation was a mistake; it frustrated players, and was too good in multiplayer. adding two mana to it for a 5/5 Angel does not fix the problem.

    Cyril, Eilte Crusader
    This is less overpowered than the other legends, but still…

    Pious Avenger
    Elite Vanguard is a fine card. There’s no need to obsolete it.

    Stabilizing Field
    An infinite engine with Persist? An enchantment that prevents any Planeswalker from getting played? Sure, it plays well with Instability, but I’d likely cut it early in development.

  3. Casey says:

    I’m sure there are other things that could relate, but Instability’s most obvious weakness, aside from just being what it is, is Proliferate.

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