Friday, October 19, 2012

Set Design: Last-Minute Inspiration

There are less than two days left to submit pitches!  If you haven't come up with a set idea yet, now is the time to do it.  For your entertainment and edification, here are some suggestions for generating ideas from nothing.  

NB: the raw material generated by these ideas may, in fact, be terrible.  That's fine.  The goal is to exile your inner editor long enough to start with something.  Once the wretched first draft is down on paper, you can begin the process of refinement.  Starting with something already brilliant is a much less realistic goal.

Think of the most memorable game of Magic you've played.  Ask yourself, "What kind of cards would make that sort of experience more likely?"

Think of one of the first few decks you ever built.  Ask yourself, "What kind of cards would have made me excited as a new player?"

Think of a real-world genre of fiction.  Design cards that make sense in a fantastic version of that genre.

Think of an existing mechanic.  Find a way to change it that makes it work differently in a compelling manner.

Hit the "random" button on Gatherer.  Then ask yourself one of the following questions:
"What if every card worked like that card?"
"What would I need to beat cards like that?"
"How would I change that card to make it more fun?"
"What cards would work well in a deck with that one?"

Think of your friends who play Magic.  Ask yourself, "If I could design one card to make FRIEND_NAME happy, what would it be?"

Think of your friends who don't play Magic.  Ask yourself, "If I could show FRIEND_NAME one card in an attempt to get them interested in Magic, what would it be?"

Think of a rule that R&D has never broken.  Break it.  (Carefully.  The rule probably exists for a reason.)

Think of a person or event that has had a strong impact on your life.  Design a card about it.

Imagine what Magic will be like in twenty years.  Create cards that will fit into those sets.

Think of one of your favorite non-Magic games.  Design cards which will make Magic feel more like that game.


  1. These are great. In the future, it would be interesting to see an article with examples of each method.

    Two more ways to get inspiration:

    - Mash an element from an existing set with an element from another set, such as Mirrans vs. Phyrexians.

    - Use a random word generator to produce a noun (like "Plant" or "Music") and imagine a world where that thing is very important.

    1. I support the desire for a stand-alone article that helps you in finding fresh new Magic: The Gathering set themes. =) This would be beneficial to all those budding amateur set designers.

    2. I'll put that on my to-write list.

  2. For people who are thinking about making a submission but are not sure, I'd like to emphasize you don't need to worry about the quality of the card designs; my understanding is that they just have to show that the set theme is an actual theme that can be translated into cards and they don't need to be home run cards for the theme to be chosen.