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: 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: 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: 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: 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.

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

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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MTG: July’s Custom Cards: Echo, Echo, Echo!

With Time Spiral Remastered hitting the shelves this year, I got to think about my earliest custom card designs, from back around Onslaught through Time Spiral era. Back when Time Spiral first landed, it brought with it a change to echo, and at that time, Fox and I designed five different ways for Echo to work across the five colours.  I love Echo as a mechanic, but it is something of a dead mechanic. Wizards doesn’t tend to play with strict drawback mechanics, which is a bummer (to me).

But despite that, I quite like the way those cards worked out, so I dusted the ideas off and tried to make some new cards using those ideas!

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MTG: Not Interested In The Forgotten Realms

Tomorrow Magic: The Gathering – Adventures in the Forgotten Realms will drop on MTG Arena and MTGO. I’m not excited for its release – in fact, at this point when I’m writing this, my initial active resistance to the idea has turned into full-blown antipathy. Simply put: I think this is a bad idea, root and branch.

I don’t mean in that pontificating way of ‘wizards should do this for the good of the game.’ That kind of heavy handed rhetoric involves a vision of the future that feels like climbing mount cleverest. It’s the same mindset that calls for bannings on day one, where your ability to prognosticate about the future of the game is some kind of skill you want to demonstrate. Don’t get me wrong, some people can do that – Pat Chapin was calling Jace overpowered real early, but let’s presume we’re not talking about Hall Of Famer big brain Mike Flores’ Best Friend Pat Chapin.

It’s not like I’m not going to try some of these cards, or even play with them. It’s more that while I may have had interest in trying standard again with the release of a new standard set, that interest dissolved as this set was revealed. I’m more likely to sit things out, because I don’t like this set.

Why don’t I like this set? Especially since I haven’t played with any cards in it?

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MTG: June’s Custom Cards: Gruul Turfs!

You know with a whole six months of daily custom cards under my belt there’s the very real chance that I’m going to wind up doing this daily for the rest of the year. Wild.

Anyway, the theme for this month, based on it being Pride Month! is a full month of red-green cards that include the word land. Why? Because there’s no room for Terfs on Gruul Turf.

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MTG: Pride

Magic: The Gathering, a Wizards of the Coast product, a Hasbro Partner, is doing things for Pride this month. As they do. As they have done. And it’s hard to grapple with Corporate Pride and this game as a material space doing deliberate actions to include more people.

I think it’s important to remember there are three basic layers of ‘Pride’ at work here. And every detail about Wizards of the Coast as it relates to pride, as a deliberately inscrutable internally silent business, is going to have to be filtered through the fact that this is still the company that treated Orion Black Like This.

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MTG: March’s Custom Cards: Boros Blessings!

March is over, and as I’ve been doing so far this year, it’s time for another round of custom cards! Despite what you may think if you’ve dealt with me on the subreddit, I am not against white getting good stuff. In fact, I’m a firm believer in white’s weakness in Commander presenting an exciting area to put new and interesting things rather than just recoloured Concentrate. It goes even moreso for Boros, where I see their flavour space as full of interesting potential, that largely goes untapped as people just try to fix their problems with the same simple tools of ‘but what if blue,’ and ‘what if I make something overpowered?’ Thus, this month, I’m back to the ‘what about white in multiplayer?’ hobby horse, and we’re looking at Boros Cards. Some quick rules on this front:

  • Not overusing mechanics. There are a lot of good mechanics for making colours with mixed colour identities, like infusing spells like Boros Fury Shield, but I didn’t want to overuse anything. Most keywords are used once, some are used twice.
  • No new keywords. I’m rarely a fan of inventing a keyword when existing keywords are here for exploration.
  • No cycles. These are individual cards for adding to commander decks.

The most popular of the cards, at this point is the Crownbreaker Partisan, a card I was worried was a little weak. I think the complain I found the most ridiculous this time was sniping about the Solimancy Forgecrafter, a white card that improves efficiency, and needs red to copy things.

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