Friday, May 27, 2011

21 Ways to Design a Card Part 5: The "Random Card" Button

A while ago, on one of WotC's forums called You Make the Card, there was a thread where people posted card designs based on mashing together two cards that you got from the Gatherer's random card button.

If you're ever stuck, combining two things is a good way to get an idea, as finding the link between two seemingly unrelated things lets you look at something in a new way.

When you make the mash-up card, you don't have to reference the original cards in their entirety. You could extract just one aspect of each card. You could take the top-down flavor concept of a card and combine it with the mechanic of another card. Or you could just borrow a cost, a size, or a set keyword from each card.

I'd like to try that here, with three different pairs of cards.

I hit the random button twice, and the first two cards I got were Sulfur Vent and Butcher Orgg. My first response upon seeing this combination was: "..."

What the heck do these abilities have to do with each other? I almost wanted to skip this one, and cherry pick my random cards. But I wanted to show that this process can inspire cards. So here's what I made:
» Click to Reveal «

These might be sub-par designs, but I'm writing out these various versions because for me, designing a card is often a process of doodling some card text on Magic Set Editor, staring at it, and thinking what could this become? Then modify it and stare at it again. I've often wound up with cards that I like a lot by making many small changes until it became something different.

Sometimes when I'm in a design contest on one of the Magic forums, I feel I have to come up with something awesome right away. Then I often forget about this process and try to pull awesome designs out of thin air. And then suddenly, I experience designer's block. Idea generation is a process where the lenient, open-minded part of your brain and the critical part have to work in tandem, in a delicate balance. But when there's pressure, sometimes the critical part takes full control, resulting in what feels like a drought of ideas.

At first, I couldn't come up with a satisfactory marriage of Sulfur Vent and Butcher Orgg. But I decided to leave it for a while and went on with the next two random cards. They were:

Moonglove Changeling and Island

I saw this and groaned. A basic Land? But here's what I did:
» Click to Reveal «

The last two random cards are:
Charmed Pendant and Necrosavant.

I like these — I like using printed info on cards in a new way, as well as using cards from other zones to affect the outcome of an ability. (Although I know they're not necessarily good for designing simple, clean Magic cards.)

Here's what I did:
» Click to Reveal «

It's a little wordy, but I think this card could be interesting in a heavy Hybrid set like Shadowmoor.

So, those were my initial cards. But once I started writing this post some new ideas came to me for the first pair of random cards:
» Click to Reveal «


  1. Asshole Rules NaziMay 29, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    Deathsavant reminds me that we really need a blue single-target scaling effect with a power level between "scry X, draw a card" and "draw X cards".

    What's blue about the demon? We're not in Alara any more.

  2. The Grixis-oriented mana costs were derived from Sulfur Vent.

  3. @metaghost: That doesn't make any sense. The connection with the Vent was created by an arbitrary design restriction. And before someone invokes Rosewater, throwing mana into costs randomly is not "creativity".

  4. Did you guys read what Chah wrote? Yes, it's completely arbitrary, but nonetheless that's why the demon costs as such.

  5. There's no reason the Demon can't be from Scars of Alara Besieged. And the colors of creature types are flexible depending on the setting. There's no reason a creature as devious and plotting as a Demon can't be black-blue.

    But I heard that some Vorthosian players during Shards block were bothered that some creatures had tri-color costs without having all colors reflected in their abilities. This exercise doesn't require everything about the original cards to be put on the new card so I guess the Demon could lose the blue color.

    Otherwise, I could hack off its P/T and give it shroud as a blue ability.

  6. This is an awesome exercise, Char. I played along and will be posting my results separately. Thoughts on your designs:

    Sulfuric Shade A has one ability you want to use exactly once and the others you want to use as much as possible. Icky.

    I'd rather see B's red ability on a creature of static size. Too much going on.

    C feels like a needlessly multicolor Crypt Rats.

    D feels fiddly. Of all the shades, I liked A best and it makes want to see more mtuli-shades.

    Temple of Velis Vel is crazy strong but very cool. Do like.

    Mirage Land A is clever and interesting but requires you to guess what you'll want to cast that turn before you draw. Maybe "T: Add 1. T: All lands you control become whatever."

    Mirage Land B isn't so much different than Unstable Frontier as strictly worse.

    I have to agree with ARN that it would be nice to having a scalable effect in blue between draw N and scry N. Apart from that I like Deathsavant, though I wonder if he shouldn't be smaller and cheaper.

    The two abilities on Flaring Butcher don't jive together for me at all. Despite the nature of the exercise, I'd rather see just the second ability.

    I prefer the second Exterminator Demon because it doesn't make me ask what the connection between its abilities is. I'm not sure why. I guess we can see why we'd want to use kincall to get it earlier but we're not sure why the other version is good at getting other demons?

    While my comments were more niggles than praise, they're purely constructive: I really enjoyed this post overall.