Category Archives: Magic: The Gathering

Weekly, I write a column about Magic: The Gathering. Either a deck I’m playing or a mechanic I like or a lesson I learned from it. This game has been part of my life now for going on fifteen years and I’d like to share the way the game has impacted me.

MTG: Wife Guy Decks

There are 43 legendary creature cards in Magic: The Gathering that use the word ‘And’ in their name, which is used to represent a pair of creatures. For a number of them, like Firesong and Sunspeaker, or Tibor and Lumia, these cards represent relatives, and I have done my best to check for these, and also the pairing with actual children in them. Here then presented are ten different decks where your commander represents some measure of Wife Guyness.

 Anax and Cymede {1}{R}{W}Legendary Creature — Human SoldierFirst strike, vigilanceHeroic — Whenever you cast a spell that targets Anax and Cymede, creatures you control get +1/+1 and gain trample until end of turn.Akros’s greatest heroes are also its royalty.
3/2
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Vox Maxima Story Spotlight 1 — All The Emperor’s Daughters

What follows here is a discussion of what, if I had the means and writer tools to make my Custom Magic set have proper story spotlight material, it’d look like this, it’d be built out of this. This is basically about story mechanics underlying a game system, and I want to present it to you so you can have a handle on what it looks like when I’m trying to explain game narratives for the presentation of conventional narratives.

This first section is going to be the establishing shot; it discusses the characters that are going to be introduced, the goals of this story section, and then the beats of the story that the writer can then take as their subsequent storytelling. This helps inform character dynamics for flavour text and the later appearances of characters on cards.

Vox Maxima is a custom magic set created by Talen Lee. It’s composed of 187 cards, with 71 commons, 60 uncommons, 41 rares, and 15 mythic rares. Vox Decima is a custom Magic: The Gathering set, with at least one card spoiled a day, on Cohost, Kind.Social, and the r/custommagic subreddit.

WOTC Employees: This post in full presents unsolicited custom Magic: The Gathering card designs, which I understand current employee practices forbid you from looking at unsolicited. You shouldn’t be here!

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Vox Maxima Gallery 1: The Emperor’s World

Ten years, ten long years of life, disappeared from the collective memory of all citizens of the world. People blink and wake up, seeing about themselves a world defined by new factions, new ideas, and new technologies, many of which they may have even had their hand in inventing.

Where am I? What’s going on? This isn’t the body I remembered, people don’t call me the name I remember – what has happened to us.

This is the new world of the Vox Maxima – waking up the moment after, all the anxieties of before confronting a new world, and a new life. What is this world, and what is present here? What is strange and what is it that your damaged memory can manage as being somehow normal?

Vox Maxima is a custom magic set created by Talen Lee. It’s composed of 187 cards, with 71 commons, 60 uncommons, 41 rares, and 15 mythic rares. Vox Decima is a custom Magic: The Gathering set, with at least one card spoiled a day, on Cohost, Kind.Social, and the r/custommagic subreddit.

WOTC Employees: This post in full presents unsolicited custom Magic: The Gathering card designs, which I understand current employee practices forbid you from looking at unsolicited. You shouldn’t be here!

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MTG: The New Mechanics of 2023

2023 saw a lot of new Magic product, and of it, a lot of it I disliked. Since I don’t like the Phyrexians as a villain type, and I don’t like the implementation of D&D in Magic: The Gathering and I don’t like Urza, and I don’t like Lord of the Rings and I don’t like Dr Who, that meant that the release of Wilds of Eldraine marked a point where I finally had seen a release I didn’t actively hate for over a year. After getting Kamigawa Neon Dynasty and Streets of New Capenna I was so happy for how Wizards were handling new and old places, so you can imagine how irritated I was to watch them drive the flavour bus into the ditch of ‘eugenics grandpa’s sad feels’ again and park there.

But that doesn’t mean these sets with their terrible stories and annoying characters and embarrassing fandom sycophancy are necessarily bad. After all, they have individual cards I can appreciate and they can also have mechanics that I can poach and play with like legos. Setting aside my personal antipathy though, what about those sets yielded toys for me?

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MTG: Introducing — Vox Maxima

It is 917. You are anxious about the news. You knew things were going to go badly, but you didn’t know they’d be this bad. You run through the streets of the city, trying to get the feelings out of your heart, feeling your fingertips numb, the swell in your throat and the agony of knowing, of knowing this.

The world is going to end. Sometime in the next few years. Sometime soon.

It’s called the Necrocalypse. The actual specifics are confusing – there’s a confluence of so many magical factors, and it seems to be directly tied to activities of spellcasters. The same people who made the world you live in, with the towering, safe, well-cared for and healthy hallmarks of the life you lived were all at the expense of something… coming. Something eventual. Something inevitable.

You take in a deep, helpless breath.

You close your eyes.

You open your eyes. It is 927.

You stand in the bazaar, surrounded by the noise and sound of the clink of coins and the lowing of the camels and the other animals here for trade. Everyone around you hesitates too – you can see it, the moment that happened to everyone else. You know where you are – a Kraivh Cremains Bazaar, here to trade with the bone dust that drives the heart of the Kraivh Assembly’s great industrial and military engine…

… but you have no idea what you did yesterday.

Or the day before that.

Ten years of your life, disappeared, and ten years of everyone’s life.

Ten years missing.

What happened?

A DECADE LOST

You blinked, and ten years disappeared. The world is changed, with five factions grappling to contend with this new reality and its new crusades, rebuilding the missing time and what it means, in the great empire of the Kraivh Assembly.

A BILLION DEAD

One person in nine is gone. A whole Empire, spread across what were a host of countries, holds the world together, handling the tragedy. But as instantly as the Empire appeared, so to do its enemies – beset from without and within by threats to its tenuous stability. The machinery of war has been set in motion as everyone contends with the sudden, widespread loss of their time.

Planeswalkers are stranded, unable to Planeswalk away. The Emperor holds the Assembly together with both hands, turning to his daughters to quest to save the Empire. They travel the land, meeting its people, and trying to understand the words that destroyed a decade. They seek to express the Vox Maxima – the greatest voice.


Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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USP-12: December’s Custom Cards

The coldest winds blow across the old ocean. The boats turn towards that widening gyre. The spiralling waters underneath the Palace of the dead buck and roil, as the players in place similarly whirl and dance around one another. Ullaine’s curse, the fascination with Planeswalkers, has a reckless cadre of resistant planeswalkers returning to the plane. The Outlanders have brought their war to the docks. The Vast are rising and coming with them are the greatest and oldest things that hate the designs of Gansukh, and all while a small number of heroes run into the Palace, to try and convince the Usurper that it’s time to go – or else.

The centre cannot hold.

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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USP-11: November’s Custom Cards

In a world of adventures and conspiracies, with competing factions of shape-shifting identity thieves, there is always a chance that something can go wrong, that even the best and most elaborate plan can be thrown into disarray. There is no magic you can lay out that’s so reliable it won’t have someone finding a way to pick at it, to undo it, to render all your own planning, your own strategy for nothing.

Sometimes it’s for the subtlest of reasons, the positioning of a Masqued knife in the right dinner meeting that means a careful machination simply fails to happen. Sometimes, a goon from another world can show up, and out of sheer pique, decide to punch you in the face.

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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MtG: How To Un-Who The Rings

I really like Universes Within. Not Universes Beyond, the system whereby Wizards of the Coast make cards using other people’s IPs, I’m very conflicted about that. Like the idea of it doesn’t bother me, I don’t think there’s a ‘purity’ of Magic to defend, Magic is a corporate product and anyone who wants you to think that it somehow is above these things thinks differently of the game than I do. It’s a game about faeries and elves and ripping off fantasy licenses, using licenses for real isn’t that big a deal.

Uh, but Universes Within is when they do that kind of thing and then come back to make a version of the card with their own specific Magic: The Gathering flavour that’s meant to fit on a Magic: The Gathering set world. I think that rules, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it.

I also have come to think that I might never see another Universes Within product ever again.

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MTG: TransMoremers, Part 1

In my ongoing war on Universes Beyond I Personally Find Tedious, nobody has spoken to me. I have faced no backlash and contend with no enemies of my opinions. I am in no way called upon to defend myself because people, largely, seem to be okay with just, you know, having their own opinions on things and not being particularly bothered if they don’t agree with my opinions. Nonetheless, if I wanted to imagine some kind of straw opposition for this behaviour of mine, this bold and daring take that the huge pile of Dr Who cards make Dr Who look bad, then I might imagine them to say:

Well, what about the Transformers cards? You like those.

It’s true! I do! And I think they also have a real challenge to get made into Universes Within. Not that I don’t really look forward to it – I’m imagining haunted Kaladeshi machinery with a ghost inside them, because wouldn’t they look sick? Or maybe things like ghost trains from Innistrad? I suppose if you were into complete over used hack material, they could be from New Phyrexia, the rebirthing of a new life out of the remnants of a metal world.

The transformers logo

Point is, there’s a lot of interesting ways to make ‘vehicles with personalities that change shape.’ Could be really cool!

Anyway, these cards all excite me and invite me to make things that feel like they’re interesting game entities in the context of Magic: The Gathering and not just evocation of childhood nostalgia. Now part of that is that the cards are complicated and I don’t know if they’re actually good at what they do.  I intended to actually make deck article for each of them that struck me as interesting, but that’s a lot of time spent between articles about each deck. Instead of a full rundown for each one then, I want to provide a sort of first impression for how these cards work and what I think I’d use them for.

There are fifteen of these cards, and I’ve already talked about two – Starscream and Soundwave. Let’s talk about some of the rest, then!

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USP-10: October’s Custom Cards

The Usurper’s Palace’s doors hang open. The gates of death are but another place that determined souls and desperate damned can find their own way out. A soul extracted from its husk can struggle over the threshold. The very nature of death, with the Usurper holding the Palace as they do, leads to the sloshing life and the unnatural growth around the world. The Outcasts’ lands have hydras erupting from the ground, as death itself fails to take hold.

It is a world where death struggles to last.

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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USP-09: September’s Custom Cards

Do you remember?

Do you remember those ancient stirrings, things in the vast, the great shadows cast along us?

Do you remember what it was like to look at the rolling ocean, and recognise your own smallness? The way that the strongest person you knew was probably still nothing compared to the ferocious power of storms and nature and the horrors of our own fears?

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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USP-08: August’s Custom Cards

The Masqued shed their old identities to become anyone; known mostly for masks they wear that distinguish them from normal partygoers on the Palace Boats. The Faceless have masks of wood, bone, and dirt, or create faces that look like animals just because they know it is hard, otherwise, to tell where to look when you talk to them. Some take on forms designed to express an identity that demonstrates their skill, their aesthetic sense. But then there are those, in these same magics, who have their identities shriven from them – people who need magical aid to restore themselves to being a person again, people who somehow are there, but not, manifested to the world but done so without an identity. It is a strange thing to have every name, and stranger still to have none.

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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MtG: Oh How It Pains Me To Do This

I’m really liking the Transformers cards as commanders. I know, since I hate the Lord of the Rings so much what am I doing being okay with transformers? Well, I mean, for one, nobody pretends the Transformers aren’t dumb as shit, and also the central narrative of Transformers is bunches of idiots smashing their toy collections together, which makes a great fit for Magic: The Gathering commander games. But wait, you may wonder, what – what’s with this elaborate trap? You weren’t paying attention for a moment and now, I have seized power! It is time for a transgender icon, STARSCREAM to command!

Now, let’s you and them fight.

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USP-07: July’s Custom Cards

While the Outlands rage at all sides, as the Vast’s people slowly gather themselves to respond to the Ice Palace and the open door of death in the Usurper’s Throne, what are the Palace boats doing? What of the culture of Vampires that scourged a whole mountain range and ruined forests of centuries of growth, how have they prepared for the obvious oncoming war?

They haven’t.

They’ve been busy.

They’ve been busy fighting with one another endlessly about who, exactly, is the most royal member of all these Royal bloodlines.

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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USP-06: June’s Custom Cards

The Palace boats like to pretend they’re free from the concerns of lands. They like to imagine that the vampire estates are free and fluid and empowered by dangerous ideologies. They’re not subject to things like the weather and the mountains and the demands of forests and birds. But they’re not the only people in the world, and it seems that for all of their exclusion and demands, for all of their superiority and aloofness, there are always going to be people ready to reach out, and with fire and rage, bring them down to earth.

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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USP-05: May’s Custom Cards

Where life and death no longer hold permanent sway, the question that follows is what matters what you do with your days? The Vampires believe this is why they’re justified to commit genocides; with their overall lifespans so long, any threat to their existence represents a more catastrophic loss of life compared to other cultures. For everyone else, that’s a load of bollocks. Whether cries for revolution, selfish demands for destruction, or a bellow fit to demand the rise of the dead, it ultimately comes down to what you choose to do with the time you have presented in front of you.

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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Game Pile: Scourge, the Magic Set

Magic: The Gathering has some really interesting things recently coming into my space. In the past literal full year at this point, Wizards of the Coast have released products that do nothing but personally irritate me, and the horizon shows no abatement on that score. I hate Urza, I hate Mishra, I hate the Phyrexians and the only reason I don’t flat-out hate Dominaria is Kelly Digges’ work on worldbuilding that space being absolutely breathtaking to consider as a form of craft. These are spaces for which I have literally no actual emotional attachment, stories that I want over and gone as soon as possible so that Wizards can maybe pursue the dream of twenty years ago presented by Mirrodin of maybe not just continuing to write the same story in the same generic fantasy plane over and over, badly. But then they went and hired the Pinkertons.

I didn’t want to talk about this article this way. I wanted to reflect on the twenty years I’ve been playing this game and the twenty years I’ve been designing custom cards for it. I wanted to reflect on the importance of a game that maybe, part of me wonders, could have been my life, and which could have connected me even closer to some people who I think of as incredible and amazing and beautiful, but talking about that, and reflecting on that, feels deeply irresponsible because wizards went and hired the Pinkertons.

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USP-04: April’s Custom Cards

Strategies and tactics abound in the many different types of war across the Usurper’s domain. Some are wars, some are politics, some are wars that don’t ever get fought because things are addressed ahead of time. The point is, it’s one thing to establish a powerful offensive, but it’s another, and far more dangerous one, to establish the boundaries of careful hate.

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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MTG: Soundwave Superior

It’s weird given that I write about Magic: The Gathering and Transformers that I missed the official printing of Magic: The Gathering Transformers cards. Oh and they’re all legendary and weird and Commander cares about legendary cards that shape the deck they belong in and are also weird. Oh and they’re all illustrated to look like screenshots from G1 Transformers, except they’re not, because of subtle hints like how Flamewar didn’t exist and Megatron is a tank and also they’re illustrated to look really good, and G1? Did you get this? It looks like ass.

There are fifteen of these cards. I’m not going to run through all of them, because there are fifteen of them and I need to think about how much time I spend talking about a card game full of elves (and now hobbits and cyber squid) especially when it crosses over with broken toys I got from the Salvos up the street from Woolies except I didn’t really, I’m pretty sure a bunch of those were Go-Bots, anyway.

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USP-03: March’s Custom Cards

Whether at the behest of crown or land, there is war afoot. While the dead refuse to stay in their ends, the Palace’s open gates stream with painful memories, old wounds that refuse to close, injuries that have yet to face justice, and the great Palace boats make war on one another as a matter of sport. Weapons, hands, presence and pain, all are being prepared for the great clash that waits to begin anew.

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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MTG: The Tools Of 2022

2022 saw six new Magic: The Gathering sets introduced, and in that, we saw almost twenty four new mechanics with new reminder text, introduced to the game. As someone who didn’t buy a single product all year, these sets interest me entirely because of how these tools get added to my personal toolbox of ‘things to play with’ as I play around at making custom Magic: The Gathering cards.

Let’s check at them!

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USP-02: February’s Custom Cards

Few things can create stupid decisions like romance. Across the Palace boats, there are so many conflicting relationships, whether they be romantic or pragmatic or both, and the tempestuous manner in which these relationships are set up, secretly or publically. Of course, there may be some reason why the vampires of these Palaces, eternal and timeless, seem so enraptured by an immediate need to court – but perhaps it’s just the fashion for the time?

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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USP-01: January’s Custom Cards

Across Achresis, there are ruins of the great scourge, machines left scattered and broken with the heavy machines of a war made to strip the forests. The refusal of the dead to die seemingly foments ancient mythical spirits that want to punish those that try to live eternally. New forms of life take on famliiar shapes. Wherever you are, it seems, there’s always a reason for everyone to have a Best Friend.

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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MTG: Introducing…

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

The territorial oceans of Achresis, known to the groundlings as ‘the Vast’ are dotted about with islands and estates, each one populated with the landbound lords considered too weak, too poor, too unimportant to command one of the vast, splendid Palace Boats. Great, towering constructs, many storeys tall, liners with whole permanent populations of courts, mages and warriors and spymasters alike carrying the great fist of the Crown of Blood to where it can most exult in its excesses or express its displeasures.

They say vampires can’t cross running water, but it’s another thing entirely when the water moves underneath you. The Crown of Blood, a title inherited by the Vampire who has at the moment, gathered the most of the true royal bloodline, speaks of who gets to wield the authority of the people. Coup after coup after coup, bloody and unreasonable, has set the Vampires of the Palace Boats at each other’s throats for generations, while they gorge themselves on lesser bloods and royal jellies for decadence’ sake. The needs of servants are done by Husks, soulless bodies that work off the debts of the living, and the energies of spirits are put to power great magics. Each Palace has its own character, its own tone, its own rebellions.

There are many things to occupy the royals of the Crown of Blood, of course. There’s a great iceberg burst from the sea but five years ago, and immediately captivated a school of vampiric artisans and researchers, who set to making it a beautiful ice palace, where research into the strange ice’s properties and inhabitants could continue apace. There’s the games of chance at the casinos, or the games of statecraft with the Masqued, the unidentifiable spies of the Crown. There are pursuits on land, exploring the scourged barren lands that were once ‘Outland’ territory, with its scattered barbarians and outcast god, where you could be the first to make a unique kind of Vampire. There’s of course, the fad for romancing planeswalkers in the name of reckless love.

And of course.

In the centre of the ocean, over the vast, dark spiral in the water, there stands on mighty columns, there is the six-sided shape of the Palace of the Dead, whose gates have been held open, and through which spirits struggle to fly, and whose largesse has ensured the steady flow of magic, and the denial of death. The Palace boats do not go near the Palace, knowing it is through respect to its King, their bounty is assured.

Everything is good, if it’s good for you.

And nothing at all is going to change that.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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MTG: 2022’s Custom Cards, by The Numbers

Every day of 2022, I shared a Custom Magic Card — a card for Magic: The Gathering that I designed, using art gathered from the internet — on Reddit’s /custommagic Subreddit, My Talen_MTGee Twitter account, and then eventually, on Mastodon and Cohost. With 2022 behind me, I figure it’s now time to collect all the information I can about all the cards I made, and what I learned about myself and my assumptions.

Art Source 1, 2, 3

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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MTG: December 2022’s Custom Cards

Hey, it’s a new year, but there’s still some business from last year to tidy up. No-Effort November yielded a bunch of cards with no themes, obtained by grabbing everything out of my year’s total collected work that I cut from other lists or other ideas. Simply put, you got a grab bag of ‘huh, why not?’ designs.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains primarily custom magic cards.

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