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Custom Card Creation: Dreamscape Crack-a-Pack Stories

I’m currently in the middle a another round of playtesting my custom card set Dreamscape so I thought I’d share with everyone some of the stories and changes behind certain cards, what lessons I learnt from them, and what I’m keeping an eye on right now as I continue to playtest. However I’m also a big fan of limited formats and card evaluation and I know that not everyone cares about the minor design details behind every card so I’m mixing this with another common MtG article format, The Crack-a-Pack. So strap in for a bit on an experiment as I showcase a Dreamscape booster and dissect each card from both a design and limited standpoint.

But first if you not familiar with the cards in Dreamscape then feel free to take a look through the Dreamscape Visual Spoiler, or if your feeling brave you can try evaluating the cards without context first and then see how the full context may change your opinions.

The Pack

Card1Card2Card3Card4Card5Card6Card7Card8Card9Card10Card11Card12Card13Card14

Begin the Card Dissection

So in my opinion this pack doesn’t have a super obvious first pick in limited so while you look over the cards and think about it lets go into what some of these cards are doing from a design perspective and some of the stories behind them.

Mori’s Chosen

Card8 Old Moris Chosen
The current version of the card (left) and an old aura archetype version (right)

This card is actually one of the most recent commons to get a large re-design when I changed the RW aura’s archetype to a RW prowess based strategy.
This makeover of one of my 10 core archetypes came about due to lots of small problems coming up over a number of playtests eventually requiring a fairly substantial change. The main issue was space in the design skeleton, while 101 commons seems like a huge amount between having 10 different archetypes to support and a certain number of creature to non-creature ratio finding space to fit auras becomes hard.
None of my noncreature mechanics interacted nicely with auras as flashback only goes on instants/sorceries, trance wants you to go wide rather than tall and finally premonition can go on enchantments but it ends up being very wordy due to needing the “enchant X” text.
The final issue is auras are very difficult to make fun, unless you have an environment like Theros with bestow its very easy to either end up with uninteractive games or getting punished too severely for enchanting your creature.
So in the end I scrapped the aura support, realized that I needed a few more Dreamwalk commons and made this current iteration which is a decent aggressive curve filler
I like that this card isn’t actually strictly better or worse than Bloodfire Expert, Dreamwalk is just weird and cool which fits well with Dreamscapes design goals of making a set that felt like MtG but a little alien and unknown again. Forcing you to re-evaluate what you may have taken for granted.

While Dreamwalk is playing well and is a home run on flavor and hitting my design goal it has the issue of sometimes having high tracking complexity. Players are not used to being able to block with tapped creatures, this can lead to feel bad experiences if they don’t take the mechanic into consideration. To help negate this I’ve added the Nyx star background to the card frames but I was still having issues so I’ve also cut down or removed flavor text from many of the common Dreamwalk creatures where possible.

Guardian of Wild Dreams

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You can’t have every green rare creature be a huge fatty or hydra, but creating cheap green creatures at rare is hard. You’re limited to only a few different options such as mana creatures like Sylvan Carytid, utility creatures or other niche options. This was a problem I had been struggling with as too many of my green rares where unexciting for limited, making the color constantly slightly underplayed, especially in sealed. Also I wanted another nice reward card for both the RG elemental tribal and UG self mill archetypes.

So after making a few designs I wan’t very happy with I asked for help from my fellow designer and podcast co-host Dan Felder. Getting a different perspective on a problem you are stuck on is a really good way of both exploring new space but also challenging assumptions you may have had that where not necessary.
So after a small brainstorming session we created this card as a combination of Scute Mob and Jace’s Phantasm.

While this card still needs playtesting my initial impressions is it will make a powerful card in draft that can really be a build-around for the G/U self mill deck in particular.
I’ve had some suggestions that the threshold (the number to turn on the ability) is too high but I’m still in the middle of gauging the power of some of greens new commons so I’d rather start on the safe side and tweak the numbers if it’s not proving as popular as expected.

Noctus Bloodwing

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Part of my design goal of making players re-evaluate aspects of the game was supporting mechanics that people enjoy playing but are usually considered bad by more experienced players. To this end I very early identified Mill and lifegain as two potential archetypes that could be supported to be genuinely powerful strategies that would force this re-evaluation.

This was originally designed as a common with a bonus as an enter the battlefield effect rather than an upkeep trigger. However the issue with conditional enter the battlefield effects is that they become difficult to trigger because you are often spending mana to meet the condition,  meaning you often have to delay casting this to get the full value.

When I was redesigning a lot of my uncommons to create additional “build around” cards and generally give them more polish, I realized that the W/B lifegain archetype really needed another card that you could pick early and have as an incentive to draft this style of deck. So I moved this to uncommon and really buffed up its power level with the upkeep trigger, also solving the previous issue of how badly the ETB effect played.
Its 3 power is actually a relic of when if used to have lifelink but after a single playtest with was found to be very oppressive though there are still ways to give this lifelink via other cards which can really make this deadly.

Slumbering Land Cycle

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Card7Card7

Ever since Return to Ravnica and the cycle of common guildgates I have really enjoyed playing formats with nice common fixing. It does a lot of good things like allowing splashes, signalling open color pairs and rewarding a slower format. So when I started designing Dreamscape I knew I wanted to try having a cycle of 5 or 10 common dual lands. The question was what would they do and what colors would they be?

After I had pinned down a lot of the main mechanics in Dreamscape I realized that self mill created really interesting sequencing gameplay with Premonition as it essentially cut the time you had to wait by a full turn, while later in design it also gave you value with Flashback cards when that mechanic was added. So I created this cycle but it originally made you mill for one no matter what, you didn’t get a choice. During early playtests a lot of players didn’t like milling themselves with these despite it nearly always being a good thing. Sometime so much that they didn’t play these lands until as late as possible. While Dreamscape is about challenging our assumptions, having your players mana screw themselves and actively dislike playing their lands is a big no-no, making it less likely they are going to play the format a second time to realize that the self mill is an upside not a downside. After making the single change to have the effect be optional, players enjoyed the cycle far more while also working better with more conditional Premonition cards where timing when it is cast is important.

As for deciding what colors the lands should be it mainly came down to that the enemy color archetypes needed a little more incentive, played better with the self mill and I have a cycle of off color ability commons that are more reliant on fixing than the off color flashback cards that belong to the allied color pairs.

Overall I’m super happy with this cycle and I’m still discovering niche little interactions that they enable.

So What’s the Pick?

The first look at our pack don’t immediately have a standout card like a bomb rare or premium removal spell, this means we will have to consider a few different options. When I’m playing limited I like to make a short list of a few cards and then consider my options more carefully.

The Short list:

  • Guardian of Wild Dreams
  • Celebrant of Passions
  • Resist your Fears
  • Noctus Bloodwing
  • Moan of the Darkscape

A quick look at the pack shows a few potentially powerful cards we can take, however none of the rare/uncommon cards are a slam first pick and we don’t have any removal in the commons slots except Lethargy, which is hardly premium.
Moans of the Darkscape with its Premonition cost and ability to block Dreamwalk creatures makes it one of the more powerful black commons so I’d also put it in consideration. The rest of the commons range from solid playables like Torpor Visitant to Niche cards like Cruel Memories that can be powerful in the right archetype but isn’t a reason to go into that strategy.

However our uncommons have a few interesting options with Celebrant of Passions being an excellent card for the R/B token archetype, especially if you’re ahead or at parity. We could take it and hope to wheel a card like Cruel Memories or Moan of the Darkscape but overall I’m not sure the power level is high enough to be happy first picking this card.
Resist Your Fears on the other hand is extremely powerful in the right situation but its a heavy white commitment and being a combat trick gives it the potential to be a dead card or get blown out.
The final uncommon is Noctus Bloodwing which is linchpin in the W/B lifegain archetype but is still a decent flier even if you are unable to use its ability. Its worth noting that fliers in general are both less common and more powerful in Dreamscape due to Dreamwalk filling some of the evasion slots and enabling trance cards a little too easily.

Our rare like Noctus Bloodwing needs to be built around, working best in either the R/G or U/G archetypes. However while getting a 5/5 every turn is better than the vampire, Guardian of the Wild Dreams worse case scenario is a lot less exciting as a 1/1 compared to a 3/1 flier.

I think that personally these picks are fairly close but that in the end I’d take Noctus Bloodwing from this pack.

Vampire Picture
Vampire by Bao Pham

 

If you disagree with this pick let us know in the comments below.
If you want to ask me a question about Dreamscape or custom card design feel free to ask me a question over at my Blog

In the meantime I’m going to continue playtesting and polishing the set until I’m confident for a “Final” release.

 

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.

Email: reubencovington@gmail.com

Twitter: @reubencovington

Further Reading

Custom Card Creation: Dreamscape Overview
http://thegraymerchants.com/?p=810

Dreamscape Visual Spoiler
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14755602/Hosted%20Files/CMC%20Visual%20Spoiler/DMS%20visual%20Spoiler/dms.html

Some old Dreamscape Crack-a-Packs
Sample Booster #7: http://imgur.com/a/PG1lC
Sample Booster #11: http://imgur.com/a/2TvVI 
Sample Booster #13: http://imgur.com/a/77X0J

 

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