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.

Our theme for January is Dogs. Dogs weren’t chosen as a specific, deep theme for the set because they represent something exceptional or vital for the themes I’d already started on, but because dogs are tied to human behaviours and relate to their owners, making sure there were a bunch of dog or dog related cards got me thinking about how the people of Achresis related to man’s best friend.

Weirdly, I didn’t wind up putting in any sea dogs, which surprises me in hindsight, and I didn’t wind up using the gimmick of too many dog tricks. Here’s the gallery!

Now of course, there’s a ton of stuff introduced here that may or may not be important to the greater lore of a setting. There’s a bunch of characters referenced on cards’ flavour text, and a few cards to represent some characters. Rather than exhaustively explain each one, one at a time, let me just introduce the four legendaries you see here in Dog Month.

First up, Ole Doorscar and Psoglav! If you’re familiar with your Irish and Slavic myth, these names should stand out to you. Ole Doorscar is a reference to Black Shuck, and Psoglav is a name of a Slavic dog-headed monster that ate people! Should you expect some sort of reference to these characters in the set at large? Quotes from them or about them? No! They’re mythical monsters in-setting.

And while we’re at it, there’s Nugai! Nugai is a good dog. Nugai is such a good dog that Nugai will come back and find you again even if he dies. Nugai doesn’t show up on other flavour text, either! Nugai is a planeswalker who is here, because there’s something bringing in planeswalkers from all over the multiverse, and who is absolutely fine coming back from the Palace of the dead.

Swiftpaw is also a minor character, and doesn’t talk; not a lot of room for flavour explanation there. And that means yes, this month, the legendary characters that are showing up for the first time are a bunch of very quiet people, an incomplete cycle, and some details about ‘Outlanders,’ the ‘Vampire Crown,’ an enchantment creature, some Snow creatures, and a reference to how something used to hunt dragons.

If you’re looking for names to look for? The names Abhil, Quynn, Jhara and Cadoc show up, and there’s a reference to Masques.

Here’s the first thing I want to discuss that I removed from the set. Originally it had, and Rebel Masqueless was built around the mechanic Evolve. Evolve is a mechanic from Gatecrash, which presents thus:

Evolve (Whenever a creature enters the battlefield under your control, if that creature has greater power or toughness than this creature, put a +1/+1 counter on this creature.)

Originally there were some cards that had Evolve, odd shaped bodies, and did things based on when they evolved, or which checked their power. I liked this mechanic as a way to represent a commonality in the green-blue faction, with a host of weirdo creatures that don’t ‘fit’ together except that they get better at surviving as they gather together. This was useful for my original vision of The Vast.

I cut it because evolve eats a lot of space.

I had a bunch of mechanics in this set, and some of them were very deep on reminder text. The most notable is Manifest. Manifest is an absolute horse of a mechanic, and it’s never been printed without reminder text. The issue isn’t having a wordy mechanic in your set, but when you’re making commons, you look for ways to make mechanics permeate meaningfully. Basically, you try and jam any of your keywords together and see what you get.

And Evolve did not fit with anything else.

I wound up having to see what I was using Manifest for, what I was using Evolve for, and how many Evolve cards were in the set, and how little I could with Evolve as a repeating effect, and figured it had to go. It is a bummer, but the one card that got the best use out of evolve was in this month:

This was originally a card with evolve rather than dethrone. It’s super interesting when you work on cards en masse like this, though, how sometimes you can reduce the lines of text on a card by adding words to it – when the text gets small enough, you lose dangling chunks of reminder text like the ‘type’ on changeling.

The Rebel Masqueless, a Masqued that decided it wanted to just be a dog and ran off into the woods, went from being an Evolve creature and became a Dethrone creature. Guess that works well with the rebel theme!

The Usurper’s Palace (USP) is a collection of Custom Magic cards made with the general structure of a commander draft set. The cards are posted, one per day with different themes every month, to the Custom Magic subreddit, on my Mastodon and Cohost. Follow along for more!

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