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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The Usurper’s Palace (USP) is a collection of Custom Magic cards made with the general structure of a commander draft set. It features 365 cards, with 141 commons, 112 uncommons, 84 rares, and 28 mythic rares. The cards are designed with casual Commander in mind for play, and importantly, are about me trying to do the things I find the absolute hardest in Magic: The Gathering: Flavour.

I think the things I’m bad at, with my custom magic designs, as in, things that aren’t choices, but are just limits of my skill, in no particular order are:

  • Character voice, expressed in flavour text
  • World-building through game experience
  • Keeping word counts down
  • Designing commons

With these problems in mind I decided that I wanted to dedicate some time this year (and really, I mean the tail end of last year) to doing a long form design that presented me with these problems and then got really familiar with trying to address them. In that regard, I decided the best way to make more commons would be to make a project that required a lot of commons by volume, without making me feel all meh about just making a year of commons or something.

The cards are going to be posted, one at a time, per day, with different themes every month, to the Custom Magic subreddit, on my Mastodon and Cohost. At the start of each month, I’ll be making a post showing you the last month’s cards, some of the mechanics and choices that went into it, while talking to you – at least a little – about the choices I made about the flavour, the characters, and the factions and narrative elements in the space.

This is hard stuff! I am pretty anxious about it, even as, today, there have been a bunch of cards already released!

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USP features no new keyword mechanics. It’s entirely a remix album, as it were, using old mechanics that I like and wanted to use. They are entirely arbitarily chosen, and I’ll talk some more about mechanics that didn’t quite make it over time and why.

For now, the keyword mechanics you’ll see featured in this set, in full are:

  • Manifest
  • Evoke
  • Undaunted
  • Monarch
  • Cycling (a microscopic presence; it’s on five cards in total, don’t get too hung up on it)
  • Escape
  • Adventure
  • Ravenous
  • Skulk
  • Dethrone
  • Changeling

I’ll talk more about what each mechanic is used for, and why, in the coming posts. The set’s big thematic ‘chunks’, based on the colour groupings are:

  • a three-colour faction of RWB vampires on the Palace boats
  • red-blue artisans working on the iceberg
  • a red-green-black diaspora bringing war to the ocean
  • A mostly blue-white force of just ends trying to reconcile the state of living death of the whole plane
  • a whole raft of planeswalkers trying to escape the plane where planeswalkers are considered hot property
  • the rolling, heartless cold of The Vast, the ocean beneath the Palace of the Dead
  • Not one, but two different factions of changelings, between shapeshifting vampire assassins called the Masqued and the fey known as the Faceless

That’s all for now; see you in February for a post explaining some of the threads flavour text have set out, and introduce you to some of the characters in the setting, and what their presence means!

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