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.

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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Decemberween 2022: Magic Documentaries

Okay, Magic: The Gathering content for Decemberween. I know, I know, some of you aren’t into this game and don’t want to watch anything relating to the game made by the company that treated Orion Black terribly. But I do watch content based on this game, I do care about it (even if I feel it’s always appropriate to mention the way the game is made by a company that treated Orion Black terribly), and some of that content is really interesting to me.

Last year I got in the habit of watching a set of daily content creators who just shared videos of them playing the game on camera in a way that I liked. This year I thought I’d highlight some of those video producers that, in my opinion, treat Magic: The Gathering like the sport that it is, and make some really cool game documentaries about it. Liiike this great video by Rhystic Studies on Red Deck Wins, an archetype that kind of taught everyone playing the game early on what math was:

And for a similar long-form, here’s Pretty Deece that I don’t think I’m necessarily always in agreement of, but it’s a good channel for providing this kind of content, more zoomed in on specific periods of time rather than on the history of archetypes and what it means or how it feels.

The BEST MTG Match Ever Played | Pretty Deece

Want to engage with the game but you’re social distancing this Decemberween, not because you have to or anything but because you’ve realised how awful a lot of the people you were successfully avoiding these past few years were? Well, check out these neat channels!

MTG: November 2022’s Custom Cards

Ah, No-Effort November is over. But the cards of the month were made the month earlier, which is why despite it being No Effort November, there was, in fact, effort for these cards! How dreadful! But the theme of the month – I’m sure you’ve already worked it out, right?

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

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MTG: The Force Check

In Magic: The Gathering‘s oldest formats, Legacy and Vintage, one of the most important spells that exists is a card printed originally all the way back in Alliances from 1996, Force Of Will. What the card does is pretty simple; it counters a spell, but it costs one point of life and a blue card out of your hand to do it, and, crucially, no mana.

I’m going to say some nice things about Force of Will here, but I want to make sure you understand I don’t think that the card’s a good thing. It’s more that, like the many diseases of Montgomery Burns, older formats have enough broken nonsense going on in enough broken ways that Force of Will fills an important part in the ecosystem. It’s one of those funny things about big enough games that grow over time; the mistakes sometimes can cancel each other out.

It’s also a namesake for an effect (multiple other cards are called ‘force of’ something to represent they can be cast for free), and the phenomenon known as a Force Check.

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MTG: Traps

There are, in Magic: The Gathering, an absolutely overwhelming number of subtypes. Subtypes are ways for the game to make meaningful mechanical information on the type line of the card, and, if you’re wondering, by volume, most of those subtypes are creature types. It’s how you get Humans and Wizards and Orggs and Kor and Brushwaggs.

But it’s not just creatures with subtypes; artifacts have them as well, with subtypes like blood and clue for the widely available tokens, but equipment is probably the best known. Enchantments similarly have Auras, as their most common subtype representative, but they also have things like Backgrounds, Shards, Sagas and Curses. Lands, well, the subtypes of lands are widely known, what with Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain and Forest.

When you look to the instant and sorcery, subtypes are much less common. There’s Arcane, the Kamigawa era mistake, Adventures, which are from the mistake Eldraine, Lessons from Strixhaven about which I have no hot takes, and finally, the subtype Trap.

Traps are a little orphan subtyle from Zendikar and Worldwake, and that’s it. There are twenty trap cards, distributed almost evenly across the colours, and the mechanic is, to say the least, unsupported. There are two cards that relate to traps, one that tutors one up and one that makes your opponent discard them, and they’re both blue, which seems a foolish thing to me, but whatever.

If you’re not able to intuitively glean it looking at it, traps are a card that do something, and have an alternate, reduced cost, based on your opponent doing something that makes the trap even more effective. One of them, Mindbreak Trap is a legacy sideboard card because it can protect you from storm decks going off on turn one, and storm players will often delay an explosive turn to check for it (or any of a number of other possible explosive solutions). Beyond that they’re a category of card you’re most likely to see as someone’s pet.

Trap is almost what I’d consider a dead subtype; there are only so many applications of the flavour, and the mechanic, while nice, eats a lot of space on the card. Plus, the more complicated the trigger, the less room you have for the effect on the card. They want to be responsive, as well — it’s not like Guerrilla Tactics where the card is a basic burn spell that can also punish an opponent doing something to try and stop you.

Still, there’s a lot of room for flavourful play around the whole question of them: there could be creatures that react to traps, or that can be sacrificed to counter traps. There could be trap cards that recur themselves when their conditions are met, and there could be trap cards with an entirely different structure, and all that needs to link them together is ‘being a trap.’ Consider a Foretell card with rules text like ‘Foretell 4RR. This costs 4R less if an opponent gained life this turn.’ It’s still sitting out there, you did foresee the problem, but the spell itself doesn’t necessarily need to consume a ton of space on its alternate cost because a lot of that rules text is shuffled under Foretell. Then, the only thing that you need to do to make the card work with the other trap cards is to have the subtype.

MTG: July 2022’s Custom Cards

Hey, you do know I post these cards to both Reddit and Twitter, right? I just realised that you may not be aware that this is a daily thing, with room for discussion on every card.

uh anyway, July’s custom cards!

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

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MTG: Building Grismold

It must suck to be the kind of commander content creator who has to think in terms of focusing on the next most immediate thing. Commander’s really interesting, as a format, and there are cards all over the place that you can wander over and explore in your own time at your own pace. Like me, where I found myself looking at another commander I never bothered to really consider in the past, with a theme of sweeping the board, controlling small creatures, and also reacting to death triggers.

Because I’m definitely branching out.

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MTG: May 2022’s Custom Cards

May is past! 31 cards, of type and style, a card a day designed for the commander format around a theme. What was it? What could it possibly have been? Have you worked out the theme…? Do you even care? Do you want a convenient gallery to peek at? Let’s go!

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

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MTG: New Capenna Overview

Overall, my first impression of New Capenna is that I’m just not particularly into it. I look at the spoilers, which have a lot of word-dense cards, and I don’t have a particularly strong reaction to most of it. I’m sure it’s fine and I’m sure there are cards that can do busted things, but I’m just not that interested in it.

Part of it is that I’m not very interested in these factions, certainly not how they’re expressed. The art deco city is cool, the magepunk tech is cool, the idea of a city founded by angels and run by demons all work, sure, that’s… fine. It’s not like they did a bad job of doing what they’re doing. It’s just not something I personally find very interesting, and part of that, I think, is because to me ‘demon’ has a set of affiliations and tone that makes a white-blue-green one feel ‘wrong.’ Or rather, feel non-demony.

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MTG: April 2022’s Custom Cards

I like making Magic cards. It’s easily my favourite way to engage with the game. In the name of discipline, in the name of getting cards done I will sometimes make cards I’m not wildly happy with, but largely, I like my cards. Since my normal theme of April is to try and focus on me and on being indulgent, it can be challenging to really nail down what makes a me month worth of cards. After all, many of them are my precious babies.

What can the cards be about then, in this context?

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

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MTG: Inflexible

It’s a rare kind of custom magic design that has its own nickname.

There is, at the moment, no single card that on its own, has indestructible, hexproof, and flying. Closest you can get is Angelic Overseer. Two creatures can gain hexproof and indestructible through paying some additional cost, Elusive Tormentor and Fleecemane Lion. This combination of keywords, for making a card resilient, is extremely obvious and absolutely nowhere in the game as presented.

Doesn’t stop the custom crowd from breaking it out on the regular, and that’s where we get the nickname INFLEXIBLEIndestructible, flying and hexproof.

You shouldn’t make these cards.

This article contains no unsolicited card designs.

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MTG: March’s 2022’s Custom Cards

There goes March and all of its forthing, so let’s look at what the custom cards I made last month are. Did you guess the theme? Okay, I guess it’s easier to say: At what point in the month did you guess the theme?

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

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MTG: Neon Nights

I had what I thought was a complex relationship with the Kamigawa block. It was the first block to come out when I had a job, at a point where I literally didn’t have enough basic lands to make multiple decks, and so, Fox and I bought a box of sealed decks, to build a land collection of beautiful, beautiful lands. We broke those boxes open and played some sealed with our friends and had a great time making terrible decks and losing immensely and it was fun and it was exciting and since then I became a person who, for some inexplicable reason once I fell unemployed, read all the Kamigawa novels and became Very Versed on the setting.

I have said a lot about Kamigawa over time, and if you’d asked me say, six years ago, when I was on Twitter talking about it, you’d find me saying something that summarises as ‘Kamigawa was a great idea, failed by development,’ all said with the comforting certaint that I would never come back to Kamigawa, and never have to grapple with the issues of how that dead end would ever be addressed.

I would never have expected Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.

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MTG: February 2022’s Custom Cards

Ah, February, I remember it just like it was last week. Well, what could I possibly have been using as my theme for the custom cards of Smooch Month? What’s that? You already have worked it out? It was so bloody obvious you got it after the literal first card I shared?

Well, if you’re going to be like that,

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

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MTG: Partner Problems

Look, partner as a mechanic is kind of a problem. Setting aside jokes from Melissa Detora about ‘hating the partner mechanic,’ Partner, as presented at first in Commander 2016, is a mechanic that put its foot forward in a bad way. This isn’t unheard of; Devotion’s first appearance was as the mechanic Chroma back in Shadowmoor, and when Wizards returned to that, they managed to absolutely smash it out of the park. Heck, Partner, after its first appearance, has come back twice, and each time it’s been really good.

I like Partner a lot – it’s a way to represent a story between two characters, it’s a way to examine common ground between mechanics, and it’s a way, crucially in smooch month, to represent kinds of relationships that a game about combat and conflict and faeries doesn’t often have room to show.

Let’s talk about Partner, then.

WOTC Employees: This article is entirely about about unsolicited game designs, with example cards.

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MTG: January 2022’s Custom Cards

January’s gone, and with it a full collection of custom Magic: The Gathering cards. Want to see what got posted to reddit and twitter in January, and what was the theme? Well, here’s the whole set, below the fold!

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

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MTG: The 2021 Mechanic Toybox

2021 was a big year for Magic: The Gathering product. There was a truly stunning amount of new stuff put out there, including the MTG: Alchemy digital-only product.

Largely, I played none.

I played some! I have some commons-only starter decks for playing with my niblings, to teach them how to play the game, but I haven’t bought anything new from the company. I don’t know, it’s not a high priority to me to buy cards, to get the physical things. I think my MTGO collection has swelled a little, a few dollars dropped on a few cheap cards from recent sets to play around with them.

I did, however, also make 365 (and more) custom magic cards, one a day, shared to Reddit, and that was the thing that represented my main engagement with, my main play of Magic: The Gathering. That meant every time a new set dropped, it presented me with a bunch of new mechanics, new ways to format cards, and new card faces, that I could use to play with creatively.

What tools did I get to play like this, in the year of 2021?

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MTG: December’s Custom Cards — No-Effort-November

I’m a firm believer in, as a content creator, No Effort November. Use that month to belt out anything that wasn’t that hard for you, or use it as the catching tray for content that you wanted to get done this year but didn’t have time to make it work in and won’t really fit in the jovial tone of December.

With that in mind, my December cards, the ones I’d be working on in November, are all the cards I came up with through the year, couldn’t find a place for or fit into an existing theme and therefore got dumped unceremoniously in a file labelled ‘2021, misc.’

There’s no theme. No coherence. They’re not colour balanced. I was tempted to post them without art, to really hammer home on No Effort.

Anyway, after the fold, a bunch of cards.

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Decemberween: (Most Of) Eternal Glories

This is kind of a four parter. First of all, the common linking source for this group is The Eternal Glory podcast.

This podcast is hosted by three dudes, Phil Gallagher, Brian Coval, and Bryant Cook, who on the About page are posing in their finest ‘Substitute Teacher Resume Picture’ which it turns out is kinda appropriate since Phil and Brian are teachers. I don’t know if Bryant is or isn’t, sorry Bryant. I guess I know which of the three content creators I’ve been paying the most attention to.

These three dudes have a podcast, where they talk about Legacy as a format, looking at things like what I’d call stratas of the format; not necessarily the ‘up to date let’s have discussions about it immediately, the latest and hottest decks’ but rather sort of long-form conversations about things that decks and families of decks can do in Legacy.

You might have heard me refer to Legacy as ‘a bad format nobody plays.’ I stand by that in general – certainly when we’re talking about Magic in general, Legacy is not a format that we should be trying to promote because it’s inherently limited, and even its most accessable form (Magic: The Gathering Online or heavily proxied play groups) is kinda shaky as hell. Yet despite that, I have watched a lot of Legacy content this year, and it’s all entirely from paying attention to this podcast and two of its hosts.

Phil and Brian are both teachers who have become kind of full-time content creators this year as the lockdowns continue. They make interesting videos based on donations – you pay them some money, and give them a Legacy deck, and they’ll show it in play and talk through changes. It’s a pretty great system and it means that I get to see a lot of cards in Legacy that are some people’s favourites. Sometimes they’re tiered cards, sometimes they’re just things from the random wildness of Legacy in action.

Legacy isn’t a ‘good format’ in that it’s hostile to new players and complicated in a way that even a complicated game like Magic: The Gathering isn’t. You kind of have to love it for its own sake. And these people do, and I can enjoy their love, which they show and communicate honestly and well.

They all have youtube channels; I can’t speak to Bryant’s, but I can speak to Brian’s, which I follow, and Phil’s, which I regularly comment on. Watch a video on the commute to work, or before bed on a night, make a funny comment about something funny in the video, and that’s all.

Galvanic Relay broke pauper... AND LEGACY?! Legacy Ruby Storm with Modern Horizons 2! MTG | MH2

There’s one from Brian I liked, and Phil playing my favourite Legacy deck (which is ridiculous to say):

5-0! UNSTOPABLE 8 Lizard Madness! Legacy Magic: the Gathering isn't ready for this tech!

I have had some sour experiences – Phil’s audience seem to want to negotiate about whether or not I should use words they don’t understand? – but they’re great channels I enjoy watching.

Oh and this isn’t to say anything bad about Bryant’s channel. I just don’t know anything about it.

MTG: October’s Custom Cards — Alternate Horror

Ah, Dread Month, a month of horrors and vileness, a month where there’s terrible things afoot and grim subject matter. Well, time to make some spooky cards, right? Nice and easy.

This is a rare time where I had a bit of a problem with making this month’s cards. I started out with one theme — a set of Innistrad-themed cards that used the regional watermarks of the locations around Innistrad. I then tried an idea of a full set of daily zombies, but I immediately got bored with that.

What I did instead was this month, I revisited a bunch of mechanics based on things that might fit in a horror setting. The idea drifted a little, but I still have a bunch of cards I like and am happy with.

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