Published on October 25th, 2013 | by Luke Turpeinen
So You Want To Host A Custom Magic Night
Over the summer one of our friends that we play board games with had a great idea: get together a group of like-minded oddballs and do a Magic the Gathering draft night made entirely of custom made Magic cards. There has been a lot of interest in the cards that were made for these events so I’ve decided to write up the things we did to plan for and execute a Custom Magic Night at our friendly local game café, the Raygun Lounge.
What you want to start with, ideally, are five or more people willing to help make and play these sets. You can go as low as three people, but to set up a draft things really don’t start to get interesting until you have around five people. We have found that having a group-meeting to talk about the sessions is a good idea as it gets every one on the same page as to what is expected out of the cards. Our group decided that we wanted to keep things PG-13, not include any memes or internet joke references, or anything anime or My Little Pony themed. Adding some light restrictions like this is in the nature of the event, and it makes sure that people are happy with the kinds of cards they are playing with. This also prevents things from getting uncomfortable if one person thought it was okay to include something a little more risqué, because you will have already established what crosses the line for your particular group.
After you’ve set up some basic rules and guidelines, it’s time to actually make the cards. The program I find most useful in making custom/joke cards is Magic Set Editor. It’s intuitive, simple and has great advanced features for people who like to put the time into learning them. Download the free program, then it’s usually a good idea to go into the additional template section and download a couple that you might want. Don’t get too crazy, or it’ll be hard to remember why you got each thing or if you have them all installed. The ones from the website are usually bundled in their own installers, though you can usually get the zipped files too. If they’re just zipped, take the *folders* that end in “.mse-game” and “.mse-style” and any other ones that go with that set (there might be a font folder or symbol folder) and drop them into the /program files/magic set editor/data/ folder on your HDD to have them appear in your program.
Each person should come to the table with 45 themed cards, in some reasonable distribution of creatures and spells, and between all colors and artifacts. No basic lands are needed at this point, though if any cards you create generate tokens, they should also be specially made, though they don’t count towards the 45 card total. I try to make my sets in batches of five cards, one of each color, that are about the same cost and power level and card type. A batch of cards like this is called a “cycle” (specifically, a horizontal cycle) and designing in sets of cycles to make sure you have all your bases covered.
When designing my cards I use the website magiccards.info to get a better idea of the kinds of cards that Wizards of the Coast already produces. WotC also has their Gatherer website, but I find its search and filter options buggy and difficult to use properly. Magiccards.info is much easier to use and has more filtering options available in it. The only advantage to the Gatherer site is that there are community ratings for each card, so if you were looking for black enchantments and wanted to see what’s popular among Magic players, the Gatherer is the best place to check that. While I try not to make things that are functionally identical cards with different art and card names, I do try to hew pretty close to established balance. That said, Magic mechanics are extremely complicated to balance unless you’re a tournament judge so try not to worry about it too much.
The other issue you might run into while designing has to do with rarity. Magic packs usually have only one rare card, three uncommons and the rest are commons. Mana efficiency or power level of the cards tends to go up with rarity, making rare cards objectively better in most cases. That means that if people are getting excited and balancing everything off of rare cards, you might end up with an over powered set of drafts. This is not inherently a problem, as long as you’re okay playing with high powered cards, and it’s certainly a valid way to set up an event like this. “Rare block draft” is a not-uncommon draft style that uses all powerful rares, so it’s not unprecedented. On the other hand, “pauper draft” is also a fairly common format that utilizes only common cards. Really, the choice is up to your group whether to try to balance packs, to go high powered, low powered or just not even worry about it. Our group chose not to make any explicit rules regarding power level and while things ended up on the high side, everything balanced out with each other for the most part.
After you’ve designed your cards, you can print them out onto normal printer paper if you wish, directly from MSE. You can also export the images and use a program such as Adobe Bridge to put them all into a .PDF so that you can get them printed out professionally. If using Bridge, make sure that the images are not auto-scaling down. It’s also good to check what the spacing between the images is like, as Adobe likes to use too much space which will also result in smaller than average cards, which is no fun. Even if professionally printing, I recommend using a non-gloss fairly standard paper. Even thicker paper that they use at Kinko’s or Office Max is not as thick as a Magic card, but using the thicker paper means that using a land, common, or token later to reinforce it will result in a thicker card. Get everyone to throw in some cash for some nondescript black matte sleeves, put everything in there and you’re ready to start!
Mix all the cards that everyone brought (except the tokens) together into a large pile and then divide them into piles of 15 cards. Each player should have three of these piles, which should be kept distinct. Each player then looks at the first pile, chooses one card, and passes that pile left. Continue this process until everyone has chosen 15 cards. Repeat this with the second stack, passing right this time, then do it again with the last pack, passing left again. At the end of it all, each player should have 45 cards again, chosen from various hands. Then players should make decks of 40 cards (minimum) out of the cards they drafted, plus any basic lands that they would like to use. The usual distribution is 23 spells and 17 lands to make exactly 40 cards in the deck. In a draft it’s almost assured you’ll be wanting to draft two colors, and more experienced players are going to be comfortable going with a three color draft. You can then play each other in whatever manner you’d like: drafts are usually Swiss style tournaments, but we tend to play each other casually, with much beer drinking and yelling at each other.
So that’s it! Using this information you can now organize and host your very own Custom Magic Draft Night at your house using cards of your creation. If you have any questions about this process, feel free to ask in the comments or tweet @board_crossing or @turp206. Also, if you click on the images above, they will take you to galleries with samples of some of the parody cards we made using this process.