Published on June 24th, 2013 | by Luke Turpeinen
Epic Custom Magic Night
Changing the pace of those fantasy cards
Six players, forty-five custom Magic cards each, three-pack draft and one epic tournament of total chaos. This is the scenario that was presented to me when I signed up to be part of my friend Gordie’s “Make Your Own Magic Draft” night, hosted at the illustrious Raygun Lounge, our local game cafe. In my previous Magic re-theme article I talked about changing out the art, names and flavor text to pre-existing Magic cards- ones that were designed by a group of highly trained professionals on a closed course. This time we took off the kid gloves, the training wheels and other make-you-sound-grown-up metaphorical equipment.
The challenge was to come up with 45 unique Magic the Gathering cards in one month’s time. Everyone who contributed would get together and pool the cards into a massive draft session, build decks made from the various players and then pit their decks in a battle to the death. We are an eclectic and somewhat strange bunch and so we ended up with an odd assortment of themes, art and mechanics. Let’s take a look at the offerings that the contributors made to the false Magic idols:
- Gordie: The 14 year old’s D&D game from 1993. This set was made from Dragon Magazine art from the late 90s and early 00s and had card names like Admiral Chillcool. Mechanics hewed fairly close to real card ideas.
- Josh: The world of the stage through the eyes of a theater tech. This set combined irritating divas, cranky producers and jury-rigged safety equipment with Sliver style mechanics that would make any old-school Magic player fearful.
- Nicole: The weird life of food on television. Celebrity chefs, YouTube personalities and bizarre snacks combined forces with some what jokey mechanics that added some much needed levity to the night.
- Andrew: The “Wait, this was supposed to be funny?” set. Using art from the D&D Insider fan page groups and normal Magic creature types made this set more “serious”. The mechanics were attempting to fix perceived flaws to Magic’s system.
- Aric: The world of the bear warriors. By using the traditional Magic the Gathering bear cards as inspiration, everything in the set was tied to a bear “tribal” theme. Mechanics involved having bears in play, restrictions on things unless you had certain numbers of bears, etc.
- Luke: The world of historical economists and politicians. By assigning various real world socio-economic to colors of Magic and adding a healthy dose of snark I tried to dig at everyone equally. I resurrected long dead mechanics in ways I hoped were interesting.
I thought it was cool that we also had a mix of experienced and not-as-experienced Magic players with us. Myself, Gordie and Aric are all familiar with Magic and have played, at least casually for years. Josh, Nicole and Andrew are familiar but don’t have the weight of years or level of intimacy that the others have, but are more than competent people. We all used database sites such as Gatherer and MagicCards.Info to get ideas of power levels and we tried to keep things balanced (though that worked with varying levels of success). In the end I feel like we all created great cards that overall had few mechanical issues outside of a few typos on a couple cards, such as a large green creature accidentally getting a one-green mana cost.
Out of all of the sets I feel like Andrew’s was the most cohesive and successful. His card mechanic was useful to everyone, appeared often, and changed the flow of the game in a very positive way. The mechanic was called Landsoul and it set to fix the problem of getting “mana screwed” while playing. Getting mana screwed is when one draws too many or too few resources to be able to play the game effectively and is a fairly common event even in optimized decks. The keyword appeared on every creature in his set and basically allowed you to play the creature face-down from your hand as a basic land that generates the color of mana that matches the color of the card. Obviously this ability didn’t come on any multi-colored cards, but it was a useful ability and much sought after as even if the card itself wasn’t useful, it could always be played as a land. As a sort of counter, Andrew also included access to many and cheap land destruction spells and effects. This is usually incredibly aggravating to play against, but with such a wealth of creatures that could be lands to choose from it was never an issue.
For theme I think it was generally concluded that Nicole won on account of her bizarre and unexpected foods. Having cards like a very creepy smiling cantaloupe attack you was strange enough, but then Paula Deen started riding in on bears and the Epic Meal Time guys showed up with Giant Food Sombreros while Anthony Bourdain was relegated to the Kiddie Table. Nicole’s mechanics weren’t as refined, but the jokes they made were worth it. Rachael Ray has a special ability if you’ve been playing for less than half an hour (a reference to her TV show) and the Wino card is six less mana to cast if you’re drinking wine while playing. I feel like more of the cards could have been like hers- they were still well costed and effective but they brought a levity that made them some of my favorites of the night.
Aric, Josh and myself all brought unified themes and cohesive mechanics to the table. While I feel like we did really well, I also think we fell into some pitfalls that I’d like to avoid for the next time we do an event like this. First of all, I feel like our themes were of fairly niche interest to the other people playing. I know I got a kick out of making Benito Mussolini, Simon Bolivar and Karl Marx references and making digs at Anarcho-communism and how it interfaces with Capitalist systems in terms of Magic mechanics, but I’m not sure anyone else got it. Aric’s bears were funny (surprisingly no Bear Arms joke!) and the pictures were hilarious, but sometimes the interlocked nature of the bears made them a hard sell to invest in during the draft. If you didn’t grab enough bears then all of those cards might be useless in the deck which meant I didn’t grab them often enough.
Gordie had an amazing set and his cards were the ones I ended up using most often in the end. He literally pasted Dragon Magazine art on the cards, which was a touch of my adolescence that I thought forever lost to the late 90s and it was great to see it back in full force. The mechanics while not innovative were always useful and made me make interesting decisions on a turn-by-turn basis. Josh’s theater set I feel suffered from the same theme problem that mine did. Only Andrew had experience at all with theater in any way so none of the rest of got the jokes beyond the obvious ones, and while the cards seemed to be full of fun nudge-nudges, I never really understood them. His mechanics had a LOT of synergy, being a reference to many of the sliver style mechanics that came about in the MtG of my youth, and it was nice to see more cohesion in a set.
I could talk about set design and the reason I chose the mechanics I did, but this isn’t a Magic the Gathering blog and it isn’t the reason I’m here. Overall I had a really great time and I feel like the project was a huge success. I learned a couple of tricks that I’d implement the next time we do this: 1) Make a theme that every can relate to and 2) make a single mechanics that appears on the majority of your cards but doesn’t require other cards with that mechanic to function. I feel that using those guidelines would make the experience better for everyone.