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Custom Card Creation: Dreamscape Overview

A Reddit Occurrence

For those of you who have listened to my podcast or seen me post on the MTGsalvation forums, you may know that I’ve been working on a custom MtG card set called Dreamscape for the last 6-8 months. This is a full 255 card large set designed for limited play and a hypothetical standard environment. I’ve been hosting physical playtest drafts using sleeved proxies to create booster packs as well as doing online sealed events using Cockatrice and Webdrafter.

Last week after my most successful playtest yet I decided I’d upload the full card image spoiler to reddit on r/magicTCG to get some additional feedback and see what kind of interest the wider magic community had. When I posted it I expected maybe 10-15 comments as I’m well aware that custom card creation is still a fairly niche subset of the larger MtG community.

However much to my surprise the thread exploded and I woke up the next morning with over 100 unread replies in my inbox.
So after a frantic few days replying to comments I thought I’d write a follow up article to explain where the project is, answer some of the most frequently asked questions and communicate what I’ll be working on in the near future.

If you haven’t taken a brief look at the Dreamscape Visual Spoiler I’d recommend that so you are at least vaguely familiar with the mechanics.

The Day God Died
The Day God Died by Noah Bradley

A Status Update

Currently I’d rate Dreamscape as approximately 70% complete with the mechanics now fully locked down, well defined two color archetypes for limited and well tuned commons.
However lots of work still needs to be done to a variety of areas including uncommons, world building, flavor text and additional playtesting.

But before I talk about what still needs to be done we should look at what recent changes have been made.

A Memoir to Progress

Dreamscape has been undergoing large scale changes recently with a complete card by card analysis of its commons by my fellow designer Thomas Occhipinti from Goblin Artisans to make sure all the commons are pulling their weight and not being overly complex or confusing.
However during our discussions over skype we had both become unsatisfied with the Memoir mechanic.

Memoir [COST] (When this card is put into your graveyard from anywhere, including after you cast it, you may cast a copy by paying its memoir cost.) 

In fact after showing some of my designs to players at my LGS I finally conceded that the mechanic was overly complex, difficult to develop and wasn’t adding enough to the set.
The mechanic was meant to act as a mana sink and to change the evaluation of self mill in the environment but this meant you wanted the Memoir costs to be cheap while the kicker aspect (when you doubled the spell from you hand) wanted the memoir cost to be expensive to avoid reading really badly to the player base. Memoir I still think is a fine mechanic but isn’t the right fit for Dreamscape.

Memoir has now been completely removed and replaced with the return of Flashback which I had originally avoided due to the focus on the graveyard that I didn’t want. My intention is to make the flashback cards less common than in sets like Innistrad, especially ones that can effect the battlefield at instant speed as I still remember cards like Wild Hunger being very frustrating to newer players when they walked into it.

Overall I think this is a great change to the set and part of what made the most recent playtest stand so much above the previous ones in term of raw fun.
There are still new flashback cards to be added, especially at higher rarities and these will also probably be the cards getting the most developmental attention as I playtest the set.

I’ve even got some exciting reprints that I know players will be happy to see:
Think Twice

Sealed Playtesting

The other recent event for Dreamscape as I mentioned earlier is that I’ve begun doing sealed playtest events both online and most recently with a full printout of the set at my LGS.
I’ve decided to concentrate more on sealed playtesting for the last few weeks in response to a recent Latest Development article as after my addition of flashback and revamp of my commons I no longer know if the color balance is correct.

So as the article suggested I recorded the number of cards of each color being played to see if there where any obvious colors that were far too strong or weak.
Here is my results:

Colors played: White Blue Black Red Green Other
Player 1 9 12 2
Player 2 12 9 2
Player 3 6 8 7 4
Player 4 7 10 5 1
Player 5 9 11 3
Player 6 9 13 1
Player 7 9 10 2
TOTAL: 27 33 30 36 20 15

As you can see Green is slightly less played than the other colors but overall I’m mildly surprised how close a lot of the numbers are though I’m aware that this is a small sample size at the moment.

Some other comments from the playtest:

  • Overall the combination of the Trance and Dreamwalk mechanics makes the format fairly aggressive though Flashback and Premonition rewards players that try and control the game.
  • Two color decks are the norm though the common mill-lands definitely make splashing a 3rd color viable.
  • Rares are definitely on the bomby side which I’ll need to try and cut down a little.
  • The uncommons have very large variations in how powerful they are, with some being nearly useless in limited while others are near bomb status.
  • Some player favourites: AnamnezoaVital RestDestiny Crusher and Mr Grumpy.

Destiny CrusherCreative RevelationWithering Dreamstrider

Reddit FAQ

Overall the responses to the reddit thread where largely positive, with most people being impressed by the quality of the set and the variety of fun designs.
However some points were repeated among the comments so I thought that I’d address them here:

Premonition

Of all the mechanics in Dreamscape Premonition was by far the most controversial, some commenters arguing that it has rules issues while others simply wanted to know in more detail how the mechanic worked in certain scenarios.

For those who haven’t seen the mechanic:
Premonition X—[COST] (Rather than cast this card from your hand, you may pay [COST] and put this card into your library face up just beneath the top X cards. As it reaches the top, cast it without paying its mana cost.)

Premonition was designed with the help of MOON-E from the MTGsalvation custom card creation forums and takes the great gameplay that the Suspend mechanic from Time Spiral block created but removes the huge amount of tracking complexity that fiddling with time counters and upkeep triggers create. It replaces this with additional comprehension complexity as you have to understand how the mechanic works. However if  you listen to my podcast on complexity, its far better to have comprehension complexity than tracking complexity.
Finally because of how the mechanic uses card draw as the “timer” it means the mechanic is more interactive with mill and card drawing which helps contribute to the sense of alieness and reevaluation which is core to the design goal of Dreamscape.

So on to the most commonly asked questions about it:

 What’s the interaction with Premonition and milling/card draw?

Milling and card draw both work in slightly different ways due to both gameplay concerns and how both of these work in the MtG rules system.
Basically if a face-up card in your library would be milled it goes to the graveyard while drawing cards will never put that face-up card in your hand, instead you will cast it for free between the separate draw events.
Firstly this is because I don’t want players to feel bad for playing Divination when a face-up card is 2nd from the top.
Secondly the following rule is already in the MtG comprehensive rules:
120.2. Cards may only be drawn one at a time. If a player is instructed to draw multiple cards, that player performs that many individual card draws.
This means that a card like Divination actually says “Draw a card. Draw a card.” which leaves a gap for the premonition card to be cast mid action.

As I mentioned before milling cards nearly always is done as one action (except in rare cases like Sphinx’s Tutelage) so milling can be used as a weapon against players getting greedy with Premonition while also being used to speed it up as long as your careful.

Nimbus GuideShredded Fate

What’s the interaction with Premonition and shuffling?

Premonition puts face up cards in your library which is very weird and something that magic hasn’t done before. So another common question I received was how do these cards get handled when you are instructed to shuffle your library? Isn’t it rife to allow cheating?
This is a very good question but one with a very simple answer, which can be found in the FAQ section of the Dreamwalk thread.

702.PRMd If a one-shot effect causes a player to reveal, shuffle, or randomize the order of a card or cards in a library, at least one of which is face up, each such card is turned face down, and then the cards are revealed, shuffled, or randomized.

The reasoning behind this is that shuffling has to be random, if you have cards that you know the location or relative location of in your library then you are simply not fulfilling that criteria.
Now its unfortunate that we currently live in a standard environment with fetch lands as this suddenly makes the mechanic far less appealing to some players but in the Dreamscape limited environment I had tried to keep all shuffling to a minimum and to provide reminder text where able.
Now this adds again to the comprehension complexity but in an environment without fetch lands this interaction should be far more uncommon though I plan to keep an eye on this issue to see if I need to deliberately add some more shuffle effects with reminder text to teach players the interaction.

Face up cards inside decks just open the door for too many rules mishaps

Of all the concerns and questions that the reddit thread brought up the insight of StakerSen where by far the most valuable. His argument wasn’t that any of my rulings or interactions for Premonition didn’t work but rather that the mechanic wasn’t printable due to a number of judge and competitive REL issues such as how to reveal face-up cards in the deck when drawing a line on concealing public information, how cards that are accidentally flipped over during shuffling become ambiguous and issues of physical dexterity.

I’m not a competitive MtG player so these where issue that I have often only briefly considered.
I just didn’t have an answer to some of them.

So after talking to my fellow designer Dan Felder and questioning StalkerSen on the specifics of his arguments I’ve come to the conclusion that Premonition is a mechanic that WotC are unlikely to ever be able to print in a normal expert level expansion. One of Dreamscape’s secondary design goals was to be fit within the complexity limitations and design principals of a normal magic set but the primary design goal was to create a set that was like MtG but slightly alien and different, making you reevaluate mechanics and gameplay mechanics.
So I’ll be keeping Premonition in the set as I feel its providing a lot to to the primary design goal of the project (as well as just being plain fun) that its worth abandoning a strict 100% compliance to WotC practices. Also who knows, R&D are constantly pushing into new areas and remaking the game, maybe their is a chance that face-up cards somehow become more acceptable in the future as the game continues to evolve.

Spelling & Grammar Errors

After Premonition the next point most brought up was a huge host of tiny grammer, spelling and rules wording errors that some members in the community helpfully found and listed.
Because of my custom card creation I have to keep good knowledge on MtG rules templating but it is by no means my strong suit so I was very thankful to all those that helped me find these errors so that the next iteration can be even better.
question elemental art
Question Elemental by Edward P. Beard, Jr.

Future Sight

So after all this feedback what will I be working on next? What makes up the other 30% of the work before this set is considered “finished”?

Polish the uncommons for some of the weaker archetypes:

I have recently been doing extensive reviews of both the commons and rares of Dreamscape, putting a lot of attention into making sure that each is a fun design that is fulfilling its roles. However I feel that there are probably about 5-10 uncommons that need changing or removal as they are not up to the design quality I put myself under.

Storylines and World Building:

Currently I have a very rough idea of who my characters are and some of the important locations and events of this plane. However this area still needs a very large amount of attention with dozens of cards still needing flavor text.
More importantly I haven’t done a good job currently of setting a sense of location to these events as characters, what landmarks are important on Noctus and in the Dreamscape? What happens at these locations? These questions still need more work and I’ll be asking for help from friends of mine who have greater writing experience than I do.

More Playtesting:

Simply put while I’ve done maybe a dozen drafts and another dozen online sealed events I still feel that a lot more playtesting is required as the set is really only just hitting its stride developmentally now that I feel the last of the high level design is done with the replacement of Memoir with Flashback.
If anyone is every interested in playing the set you can usually find me on the /custommagic IRC channel where we playtesting using Cockatrice and Webdrafter.

Overall I’m happy with my progress so far and excited to have so much attention on a project that started as a simple hobby and test of my design skills.

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

Remaking Magic Episode 08: Dreamscape Design Goals – Reuben Covington & Dan Felder
http://remakingmagic.libsyn.com/re-making-magic-episode-08

  • Anonymous

    Maybe it would be interesting to redesign premonition as a flip card. Put the card flipped in your library, with a casting cost 0 and when you cast it you draw a card? Would be better for fetch shuffling.

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