USP-05: May’s Custom Cards

Where life and death no longer hold permanent sway, the question that follows is what matters what you do with your days? The Vampires believe this is why they’re justified to commit genocides; with their overall lifespans so long, any threat to their existence represents a more catastrophic loss of life compared to other cultures. For everyone else, that’s a load of bollocks. Whether cries for revolution, selfish demands for destruction, or a bellow fit to demand the rise of the dead, it ultimately comes down to what you choose to do with the time you have presented in front of you.

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.

The theme this month was choice, where every card (more or less) was a card that gave you the option to make a choice about how the card was used. Sometimes this was simple, with keyword counters on creatures, and sometimes it was on cards that did specific things depending on where you cast them.

Every Magic set has a bunch of cards that fill in the space at the common tier for things that can keep limited games going and make sure that some effects are available in a meaningfully interesting way. There’s an old joke of Bear With Set’s Mechanic, which refers to a template of a simple card where every set, you got some version of a bunch of traditional effects. There’s always a naturalise, there’s always something that knocks fliers out of the sky, that kind of thing.

For me, my set mechanic I had on hand was changeling, and thanks to that, the theme of ‘choose’ could be used to represent changelings that worked in setting in different ways. It was a chance to make a month full of Faceless and Masqued, and see if I could emphasise their differences in their colours and ideas.

The other big thing here is the commands. Yes, Quell, I know you’re right here, but commands! Commands are big and splashy!

The commands list the following names:

  • Altansarnai
  • The Horned King
  • Jerel
  • Khulan
  • Kima
  • Lekan
  • Markhor
  • Myrrha
  • Ogtbish
  • Ullaine

Of that list, we can cross out a few we’ve already met – you know who Ullaine, Khulan and Myrrha are, and we’ve had a mention of Altansarnai and the Horned King. Who do we have else?

  • Jerel
  • Kima
  • Lekan
  • Markhor
  • Ogtbish

I think this is literally the first appearance of Ogtbish — they’re basically a very singular-minded monster, don’t expect to hear much about them again. And that was part of the thinking about this; these spells, these commands, represent moments where these characters are able to somehow divert something important, to have a larger-than-life influence on a moment. Ullaine’s command, I really like because of how it can feel like an enormous moment, almost like you’re swallowing fire and holding your breath in the hopes you can use it later.

It’s tricky of course to say about the ones you don’t know yet; does the character influence the effect of the command? Is it clear how this character’s version of a command differs from this other character’s? What do you learn of Jerel from that very simple command? What about Lekan, what’s obvious from that?

The only actual legendary creature we get here is Quell, a druid who grew up on the coasts of the Vast, away from the docks. Someone had to come to the people of the Palace Boats and tell them that whatever they’d done to the Vast was coming to an end, and they needed to make preparations for the end.

They ignored him.

Quell comes and goes, based on the tides, looking for places to talk to people, to share his strength in building and to defend people who stand apart from the Palaces. But he can’t change anything if nobody listens to him.

Commands are suuuper hard to design. Ten commands is even harder. I had to anchor them around characters, and even then my wording had to get very tight in the attempts to keep the word count down and the lines on each card down. I mean look at them, that’s ten cards with four abilities and five lines at minimum each, then each of those abilities has to be appropriate to the colour combination in question, and then those abilities have to relate to one another and then all those things need to express a type of character that the command is named after. It’s a lot of things to line up and I can’t say, in all honesty, that I think they’re perfect.

My favourite card this month is the Mask-Mauler. I don’t like green getting ‘enter the battlefield fight’ cards like this, but adding red makes it feel more like a split card that pretends to be flame slash instead of being a basic ground-pounder. Neither card is amazing at the cost and for the effect, but I can think of a lot of decks where I’d have wound up running it because I sometimes really needed a 4/4 for 4 that could do something later on in the right tribes.

I also like the flavour text. I don’t think it’s great, I think that a better editor and with more careful word choice, or maybe even changing the style guide itself, that phrase could be done more tightly, and maybe even eat fewer lines on the card. But the actual idea, that Masqued exist in a world of intrigue that the Faceless do not care about, but that the Faceless hate the Masqued anyway tickles me, in the same way that the smartest politicians aren’t somehow bear-proof.

I feel like Riverway Sourcing is probably too strong. I think it’s made up of two pieces that I think are fairly costed, but also if they cost 3, they wouldn’t be worth having. If they cost GG, they’d be bad for their job, too. Wizards have been letting more ‘draw two’ cards show up at 2 mana, and this does have a very specific application, but I suspect this one will be changed in response to feedback from outsiders.

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!