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.

April’s theme is hate. A collection of cards, up and down all rarities, and for all different kinds of decks, that serve the purpose of choosing a type of deck or behaviour someone else is taking and making it hard for that to work. Hate cards aren’t the same thing as removal cards, in my mind; usually, they’re things that have some element of anticipation, some presence on the board, and some way to say hey, that thing you want to do? Don’t.

That isn’t quite how it worked out, per se – there are some stock removal effects that showed up here – but I tried to make it so that this is where you’ll find sorcery speed punishment for your misdeeds.

There’s a lot of cards here that I think of as utility effects. Things you’re glad to have to save your bacon but which you’re fully aware aren’t going to solve anything on their own.

We see some characters showing up a second time, so we can talk about them, now we see their cards!

Batuhan is a snowtop monk, from parts of the outlands where the forests were too thin to make many boats. When the iceberg rose up out of the ocean and the ice palace started construction, Batuhan and a number of her fellow disciples went out to look at what was transpiring. Particularly, Batuhan’s presence calms many magics; complicated and confusing things are replaced with just a flow of flowers while she’s around.

Bruen is a planeswalker, but she’s one of the many planeswalkers stuck in the pulse and flow of Ullaine’s reckless love curse. She arrived in this world, spent some time enjoying the water and the boats and the sea, then when she decided she didn’t like the lack of nature, left. And then, a little later, she came back. And then she left. And back. And left. The Planeswalkers caught in this ebb don’t know what it is about Achresis that keeps pulling them back, but it does.

She’s from Ixalan. She turns into a Colossal Dreadmaw.

Trast is another of these planeswalkers. He’s from a Dark Souls inspired plane of the dead, where almost everyone is dead, and most of the people who remain are scraping up the last drops of life and death. Here, there’s a group of Vampires who want to conscript him to be the new heir of the Palace of the dead. Sad and tragic, he doesn’t want anything to do with them, but his hope upon seeing the way the world might have been is all being tainted by seeing people fight over it.

Myrrha is one of the members of the Vampire aristocracy, but also, she’s almost one of the only vampires in the area that isn’t bound by their existing mindsets that bounce between duty, passion and selfishness. She’s the most cunning spymaster of all, which is why she has almost no official power and most people think she’s beneath them. She doesn’t even fly~!

Hulltoo is a Husk from the palace that has been given enough time to rebuild something of a personality. The thing is, the husk they were made out of doesn’t have a voice – so they instead have to make do with communicating in other, signed ways. Because they’re a husk, and they’re built into the palace, they can just hide in the brickwork of it easily.

Druan is a vampire who can hear the voices in the iceberg, and the voice of Gansukh in the Palace of the dead. Based on hearing these voices, and hearing the whims of Royal Blood, she’s convinced she can betray everyone to everyone else, and come out on top.

We also see in the flavour text and names the characters of Erhi, Astar, and the Horned King. All of these will show up later.

A final thing that shows up here are Lightlings, and they’re going to show up more in the rest of the set. I have ruminated on how, when designing this set, I somehow thought I needed about five different ways to represent ‘a person, but dead somehow’, with husks and vampires and spirits, while somehow featuring no classic creatures like goblins. My counterpoint there is that goblins are funny, and I don’t think I’m good at being funny.

What I do have, though, are lightlings. They’re a grouping of spirit creatures, which are meant to represent the energy of life itself; while a ghost is a person that died, and a husk is the meat, deprived of all life energy, lightlings are instead life energy that doesn’t belong to any single thing; if a thousand people thought about something and died, those thoughts about the thing could coalesce around a lightling.

The lightlings are divided broadly into three categories; lightlings, darklings, and glimmerlings; lightlings are built around ideals and tend to look like the things we imagine ideals tend to. They’re a little inhuman and weird. Darklings tend to form with an intention, which means they often pursue a purpose and then dissipate. Glimmerlings on the other hand, are a thing with a want, like a hunger or a desire. This means that lightlings can last a long time as long as people believe in them, and glimmerlings can live as long as their interest is fed, while darklings burn out fast.

Aeon’s end is a Alchemy card. In Alchemy, it starts out as a sorcery called Begin Anew that perpetually boosts the cards in your hand. It did make me reflect on how much I wish I had a keyword that said ‘hey, when this permanent isn’t doing anything any more, get rid of it.’ Sagas are great for cleaning themselves up.

Know who else started out inspired by an Alchemy card? There’s a card called Syndicate Recruiter, which is where this kicked off. In the end, I wound up playing with adventure cards that let themselves be cast from weirdo zones, and that wound up inspiring Myrrha, who worked out great as a snarky, meanspirited voice of power.

Also on a pure aesthetic note, I love that Heap Dreg gets to stitch together sewer dreg and heap doll.

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!