Custom Card Creation: I like it Rare

Do you know what the first thing that those new to dabbling in custom card creation make?

Its probably a big splashy rare or mythic. A dragon, an Angel, a giant Phyrexian Dreadnaught or maybe even an overpowered planeswalker. Players understandably love these types of cards so it shouldn’t be surprising that players want to make there own.

For example for my challenge last article I asked for a white card, and nearly all my submission were rares or mythics.

exclusion cleric custom cardangel custom cardangel of purity custom card

So this week I’m going to run through the rare and mythic rarities and how we can design custom cards that follow the rules of these rarities as well as continuing to be good card designs.

Concentrate on a single ability

One of the most important rules when it comes to designing rares is to have the card be a single focused package. If you have two good ideas your second best idea pulls focus from your best idea, lowering the quality of the card overall. So usually this means either just having a single ability OR having your abilities very tightly woven together. You can see this use of highly intertwined abilities on cards like Sisters of Stone Death and a lot of planeswalkers, each ability feeding into the next.

An example on two elements of the design pulling away from each other can be seen above on Exclusion Cleric, the X cost increases the number of uses of the Banisher Priest effect but because it is a 0/0 that enters with X +1/+1 counters the focus gets pulled away from the cool part of the card and towards the fact that we are weakening or even killing our creature as we use the ability. If the card simply had a 3/3 body and used some other form of counter, the design is improved.

In a similar vein while it is often fun to chuck large amounts of keywords on a big creature or legendary design, think carefully about it is actually necessary and if the design can be trimmed down.

Rares can still be simple

Of all the rarities, Rare is were we have the greatest budget of complexity outside of planeswalkers. Mythics non-Planeswalker cards are usually less complex due to needing to focus on being splashy. As I mentioned above, having complexity can interfere with that.

Complexity of your card designs are an important factor to take into consideration when designing. If a player sees a huge wall of text or brain melting effects they will often glance over the card, ignoring it or even worse, not read it properly and then misplay it. The best rares are not only fun to play, but are easy and fun to read.

While you can have some very exciting and complex rare cards like Knowledge Pool or Grimoire of the Dead you also can create fun, powerful and splashy cards with far fewer lines of text. Having the right mix is important, too many super simple cards can make the design feel flat or unimaginative, but the opposite can make your designs look amateur or messy. Soulfire Grand Master is a cool card that is wordy and complex, but don’t forget about cards like Duneblast or Sagu Mauler that achieve so much with so little.

Form of the Dragon artwork

Form of the Dragon, by Daarken

Flavour is really important

Of all the rarities rares are the most exciting for newer players. It thus important that rares be relatable to players just starting the game. Lots of player start playing Magic because it has cards that fit well known tropes that act as a gateway. Cards like Hoarding Dragon or Akroan Horse that player can point at and say “that’s a dragon on a pile of treasure” or “This is the Trojan horse” smooth out the complexity and increase excitement. I’ve seen a player who was about 8 years old read Hoarding Dragon (which you should note is very wordy) and get about half way through and simply say “Oooh I get it.” All the complex rules text suddenly didn’t matter, he knew how it should play. Just be careful that as you’re designing that the card actually does play how they will assume or else you can get backlash.

Now if you’re doing custom card design you don’t need to worry as much about attracting new players, but your gonna have new mechanics and maybe a new world. Therefore you can use these “resonant” designs to easy players into your custom card designs, giving them something that is recognizable as a starting place to learn more about what you have created.

Flavour doesn’t trump gameplay

Now while flavour is an important and powerful tool you mustn’t forget that a fun gameplay experience is your number one concern. Similarly flavour should be used as a justification for color pie breaks as the integrity of the color pie is important for the gameplay, just over a larger time frame.

Your best designs will be when flavour and gameplay intersect while not being needlessly complex.

So go ahead and design some crazy cool cards, just remember to keep in mind complexity and flavour.

About the Author

Reuben Covington is a Melbourne games programmer, game designer and MtG enthusiast. He runs a podcast called Re-Making Magic about MtG custom cards and game design as well as works on projects such as his custom MtG set, Dreamscape.


Twitter: @reubencovington

Further Reading

Nuts & Bolts: Higher Rarities – Mark Rosewater

Rare, but Well Done – Mark Rosewater

A Rare Occurrence – Bravelion83

  • salmonofdoubt12

    Can you give a concrete example of an improved Exclusion Cleric? I designed it to be reminiscent of Parallax Wave, where you get a gradually decreasing number of exile effects. The Cleric is a creature, making it vulnerable enough that it doesn’t need Fading to be balanced. I like the tension in the card where every time you use its power, it gets slightly more vulnerable to removal and less useful in combat, sort of like Triskelion.

    • I mention changes that could be made in the article. Removing the Drawback that makes it weaker (and unsynergistic) makes the card far more appealing. Another route you could use is using something like the new Hixus card from Magic origins and make the creature’s exile effect be more conditionally targeted but look more powerful overall.
      Basically I think the tension you talk about isn’t very interesting because how unlike triskelion’s pinging it immediately undoes the effect of exiling when it dies.

  • salmonofdoubt12

    Here is a card design relating to your article: Thraben Eatery // 2 // Artifact // Rare // Tap, Sacrifice a creature: Draw a card and put a colorless artifact token named Gold onto the battlefield. It has “Sacrifice this artifact: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.” // The art shows a young Liliana tirelessly stuffing severed body parts into a meat grinder in the back of a generic fast food restaurant. She looks miserable, but at least she’s making minimum wage.

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