USP-07: July’s Custom Cards

While the Outlands rage at all sides, as the Vast’s people slowly gather themselves to respond to the Ice Palace and the open door of death in the Usurper’s Throne, what are the Palace boats doing? What of the culture of Vampires that scourged a whole mountain range and ruined forests of centuries of growth, how have they prepared for the obvious oncoming war?

They haven’t.

They’ve been busy.

They’ve been busy fighting with one another endlessly about who, exactly, is the most royal member of all these Royal bloodlines.

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.

This month was a chance to dig down into the multiplayer mechanic The Monarch. Every card this month has some reference to the word ‘monarch’ on them, or at least did in development (no promise that I haven’t done something since that messed it up a little).

I have a firm opinion that the Monarch should not be being introduced to the game too early, and that introducing it should, for every colour but blue, sit at around four mana. I didn’t put any monarch cards in blue for this set – I mean unless you count the Heir Splitter adventure.

The monarch is a thing for the vampire families to fight over, and this time around I think the flavour text and names help convey that in this case, they’re arguing over royal blood in a very literal way: If you have the most royal blood in you, you’re the monarch, after all.

We have a bunch of characters who have been mentioned before finally showing up on their own cards here!

Ustrulf and Lagan are examples of the Palace boats treating vampirism and Royal Blood as a sort of art form. They’ve made vampires of a dragon (very impressive) and vampires of a mandrill (dear god why). Neither of these characters can talk, and that’s why they don’t show up in flavour text – they’re both people, agents, that have been dehumanised and maligned by the system that supposedly respects them.

Anyway, don’t know how well it’s going to matter, but it seems likely to me that Lagan is going to go eat some faces when things go wrong on the boats. And yes! Lagan’s name was based on an anagram of Ravagan’s.

Kima, Dheru and Xaia form sort of the core of the political archetypes in the Palace boats. Kima is a true believer in the Royal blood; she is, in her heart of hearts, convinced that the boot is necessary, and she is intent on being the best of boots. It’s pretty unfair, all things considered, that she’s the one who has to take the task of an assassin to herself (which is why she has the Royal Assassin ability), but who can also convince people to obey the crown (hence her Preacher ability).

Xaia is the overseer of (some of) the Masqued, and considers it her duty to keep eliminating unworthy monarchs. In her opinion, if the monarch is constantly changing, nobody’s going to clamp down on the movements of people like her. Xaia’s an interesting challenge to me because I don’t see what the card is for, I can’t quite work out what obviously it connects to. Basically, I can’t see what the deck built around her wants to do, but I can see things you might want to try. It’s very easy to build a card to fill an obvious slot, or to force cards to interact with them. It’s a lot harder to ask the question of ‘is this good?’ and have the answer come back ‘maybe?’

And then there’s Dheru. Dheru has been excluded from Royal Blood for good: He cannot become the Monarch, he is forbidden from it…

And therefore, his opinion is that he will test every monarch.

This test usually takes the form of digging up old alliances and finding new reasons to attack everyone who takes the throne. I like Dheru a lot, because Dheru’s adventure is interesting. This kind of bidding mechanic normally takes a lot of words and lines of text, in order to make the card work in a consistent, simple way – but in the case of Dheru’s adventure, to make it less wordy, it instead lets you make strategic choices about who starts the bidding (and therefore, who gets to end the bidding).

We also get a mention of Thanabel (sungoth commander imperium, thanks for the name Jade) and Druan. Notice how we’ve seen Druan already, but her title is different? Thanabel will show up later.

The Monarch is a contentious mechanic for legacy and other competitive formats, which I think should inform thoughtful commander designs. You don’t want to make cards that are priced in a way that they may have an impact on legacy, even if you know that’ll never be a factor. That meant I priced most things higher, and yes, once again I used undaunted to keep some things off the table.

One of my favourite cards in this month, for what it’s doing, is jiggling coagulation. First, there’s the lore points it makes. It’s the source of royal jelly, a blood-synthesising delicacy beloved by the Vampire Royals. But when you actually look into the source of that powerful, pungent treat, you find that it’s synthesised out of the movements of… a


It’s big and it’s gross and it’s dripping, it’s definitely found under the docks, but also, crucially, it’s a vampire. This is something made out of something Royal, otherwise, how else would it be able to make the Royal Jelly?

The Jiggling coagulation itself was modelled on my old favourite card twisted abombination, which is, in my opinion, a value card allstar. It can win the game if the game goes long and slow, and it has a purpose early on. If you can reanimate or get it back out of your yard, same deal. That was the basic thinking on this card.

While I’ve got the opportunity to mention, check out this saga. A thing I did with the sagas this time around is that all the sagas are unified in having names that start with prepositions. These sagas are meant to be read as the titles of stories, in the more penny-dreadful, cheap paperback style stories.

The monarch is a mechanic I like a lot, and part of what I like about it is the way it encourages aggression. I tried to make sure that the cards that introduce it either protect the monarch (and therefore build up time) or encourage people to attack players like Dheru does.

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!