SCG Daily – The Fine Art of Doing It Yourself #5

Home stretch now. You’re only three days away from seeing my face replaced with Tim Aten’s, or Billy Moreno’s, or, you know, someone people who dislike me want to see. Never going to quite grok how this works out. I mean, you can stop my stuff from existing – stuff you “didn’t pay for” – by just waiting a few days and looking again. Who knows, there might be something that you like put up here… though god knows if you’d tell them.

Home stretch now. You’re only three days away from seeing my face replaced with Tim Aten, or Billy Moreno, or, you know, someone people who dislike me want to see. Never going to quite grok how this works out. I mean, you can stop my stuff from existing – stuff you “didn’t pay for” – by just waiting a few days and looking again. Who knows, there might be something that you like put up here… though god knows if you’d tell them.

Also, as of the writing of this article, it appears at least one MTGO user will have killed himself. He informed me that that’s how much he hates my articles. I find this power giddying. If I can get people who I don’t like and who don’t like me to do me the service of removing themselves from the genepool, the process of world domination is going to get to be a lot easier.

Part 5. Development
Now, time for your set to be born in fire. Find someone on the Internet who doesn’t necessarily like you much. No, seriously. Find someone who has no reason to be biased towards your cards. Then, send them the set (with their permission, obviously) and let them rip into it.

Ideally, this person will be less than charitable. Ideally, they will be able to tell you when your ideas are stupid. Best of all, they might, unvarnished by personal relationship and unhindered in their activities by an overwhelming desire to Not Hurt Your Feelings, give you positive feedback on cards they like.

Most of the time, they’re idiots too. People bias towards styles they like. But you can’t keep looking at your set through your own eyes. Open the doors for critical review – be it public, or private.

This will not be a quick process. Snap judgments of cards are easy. Everyone does them, after all. And let’s note that, going by set reviews, everyone who makes snap judgment is no better than a weighted dice when it comes to these assessments. Mike Flores doubted the power of a deck that won Worlds. Jamie Wakefield, a dedicated Green Player, thought Hunted Troll was Top Drawer while Life From The Loam was Ze Poop.

These people bring their own biases to the table. Every person who you can get a serious opinion about your set from will add to what you know, and that added knowledge will help you refine what you have.

But you have to set down, at some point, a place to stop. Once you get these added views of your set, go back, rub your chin, furrow your brow… and look at your set as though you were starting again.

Go back to the start of the process and see how well you handled what you wanted to do. See how close you got.

This kind of process is an eternally evolving one. You can’t really keep pace with Wizards themselves, and you shouldn’t try. Being the kittenish designer I am, I’ve leapt from new mechanic to new mechanic. Cumulative Upkeep is the latest thing to fire my imagination, though, thank god, Time Spiral hasn’t revealed any mechanics that immediately provoke my brain into action.

Some things to bear in mind while developing your set, though:

  • X Spells should never be at the common rarity if you can help it. Limited play can be seriously upset by the presence of an X spell that either removes creatures, pumps creatures, or worse, deals damage to the face. It makes games feel very much about drawing that card.
  • For that matter, more than a few X spells in a whole set is a problem. Try to limit their presence.
  • Try not to clog a spot on the mana curve, unless it’s intentional (such as with morph, or with Coldsnap White’s multitude of bears). This means that you will have to take some cool, cheap, efficient card you like, and possibly rack its price up. That kinda sucks, but there will be other amateur-designed sets.
  • See how many memory issues cards provoke. Do your mechanics require bookkeeping? Do people have to come to the table with a large bag of counters to play Limited, or do they only need a few of them unless they’re playing Constructed?
  • How many commons do you have that really rate as high picks compared to uncommons and rares? Consider that in Coldsnap, there are only a few rares that are chosen high not based on their actual value compared to the best commons.
  • Are your cards making people shuffle a lot? Shuffling is annoying and time-consuming; relying on it overmuch for a mechanic can slow play down a lot.
  • What turns are games ending on consistently? That fast enough for you? Too fast?
  • When approaching a bombtastic rare, what options do other colors have for dealing with it in Limited? Is that removal likely to be regularly on hand – a la Kamigawa block – or rare and elusive – a la Onslaught block?
  • Again, no common X spells. I see this one happen a lot, putting effects like Enrage and Blaze in common slots. There’s a reason they’re not common, and it’s not complexity.
  • Try to not lean on a single creature type overmuch. Even Onslaught, which had a remarkable density of creatures, didn’t actually have whole tribes dominating a color. Red had beasts, wizards, goblins, and even one bird.
  • Whenever you change something, double-check how that affects other things in the set. If a splashy, bombtastic rare prompted you to put in a number of good removal spells to deal with it, consider if they’re necessary if you wind up cutting the rare.
  • If you can’t fit a line of flavor text on your commons, the card’s probably too wordy.
  • If you put a Fireball or Blaze at common and say “it won’t disrupt Limited much,” you need to talk to someone good at Limited.

Special Bonus: Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is
See, here’s a problem. When I started writing this… leviathanic series… I determined to myself that I wouldn’t use this position as a place to talk about my set. GFA gets mentioned a few times, but it has no practical application to any other designers reading this. Telling you about it wouldn’t serve my greater purpose – and that is making sure fan designed sets don’t suck.

On the other hand, I’m just telling you my design process. How I think things should be done. An ordered, practical system that talks about issues you may or may not want to address in your own set. Shouldn’t I show you how successful it is, or it isn’t?

I’m still not sure. Talking about my Magic Set is tantamount, in my mind, to that odd-smelling guy who hangs around the Gaming Store that Wants To Tell You About His Paladin. I am perfectly willing to tell you about my gaming habits, and I’m even happy to talk to you about my Paladin, and that’s not a metaphor for anything. I’m not ashamed of this information.

But I am strongly convinced, after years and years of watching, that nerds like me make other nerds like me uncomfortable by volunteering information that nobody cares about. I’m still hardly comfortable with the idea of standing up and talking about my casual decks like people give a rat’s testicle… but to do so about amateur design?


So what do I do? Do I put my best foot forward and show an example of cards I think are “finished?” Do I post some funny, Yawgatog-style cards along with this final part of the article, and try and palm it off? Or how about walking down the middle of the road, providing cards that are obviously safe, neither pushing a limit nor being too safe as to be boring?

No matter how I do it, it’s all the charm of a set review with none of the fun that is pissing off Jon Becker. Added bonus – there are people who might actually say nasty things about me, and giving them more things to rip on? It’s not just asking for a kick in the nadgers in the forums. It’s pulling down my pants, bending over, and setting up a velvet rope so people can get into a queue.

Well, that’s just crazy talk, that is.

But still… I’ve produced twenty-eight pages of my thoughts on card design. And I’ve just produced two pages on whether or not I tell you about my card design or not. Consider this the awkward period where you can just tell that if anyone uses the word “Paladin,” “Sword,” “Mount,” or “Orc,” that everyone is going to be stranded in a conversation that’s just not fun for anyone except the teller. That’s when you bail, running to the forums and ignoring what comes next.

For this reason, I’m sparing you GFA cards. This is StarCityGames.com – a site about Magic, and this is an article about getting better at a part of the Magic fandom that is sorely neglected by almost every writer on the web. Indeed, it’s remarkably unimportant right now. But if even one amateur designer, one great-ideas man reads this article and approaches his amateur design with a little more forethought and thoroughness, and then goes on to become a real designer and enrich the game, I’ll call the whole exercise a win.

Hell, even if it just helps me focus on my little project, then it’s a bit of a win. But not as big a one.

StarCityGames.com is not my place to put up My Cards and Talk About Them. That ultimately strikes me as being almost onanistic, and really, almost an abuse of my position as a Featured Writer – no other amateur card designer gets to thump his crappy set up on the interwebs, then get paid for it, then have a ready-made forum for commentary and a ready-made audience to read it. It’s the process I was writing about here. Not the product.

If you want to know more, sure, send me an email or drop me a line in the forums. I’m always interested.

Hugs and Kisses
Talen Lee
Talen at dodo dot com dot au.