USP-12: December’s Custom Cards

The coldest winds blow across the old ocean. The boats turn towards that widening gyre. The spiralling waters underneath the Palace of the dead buck and roil, as the players in place similarly whirl and dance around one another. Ullaine’s curse, the fascination with Planeswalkers, has a reckless cadre of resistant planeswalkers returning to the plane. The Outlanders have brought their war to the docks. The Vast are rising and coming with them are the greatest and oldest things that hate the designs of Gansukh, and all while a small number of heroes run into the Palace, to try and convince the Usurper that it’s time to go – or else.

The centre cannot hold.

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.

It’s December, and the year is ending. All along, with the theme of each month set up, I knew I’d need a month like this, a month where the the theme is miscellaneous. This month has no specific theme, beyond ‘things that didn’t fit any other theme.’

That’s that, that’s the whole set, in aggregate, right? If you’d like to just look at the whole set as its own thing, here’s my mse-set, file. Like, that’s it, that’s the whole set. Mess it up, change cards, look at my notes, see if I revised stuff.

Well, let’s check it out, let’s see who remains from this big project!

This is where we meet our last legendary creature with a voice! Her name is Jerel, and she’s one of the people in Ullaine’s Wake. She’s especially frustrated, in fact, because she finds the puzzle of how this place is the way it is very, very interesting, but she can’t get away from the boats easily. What she wants to investigate is what she’s sure is the source of the problem (the outlands, with their razed forests), but nooo she’s stuck hopping from boat to boat as they circle around and draw closer and closer to that big floating Palace which has already got a very sensible sort of keeper going on.

Jerel has all the energy of a class prefect who doesn’t realise everyone graduated six years ago.

In our other legendary creatures, there’s the last of the Legendary Adventures cards, with Uranchimeg. I designed these cards back in September 2022, which makes it especially funny to see that Wilds of Eldraine took a lot of pages from my spellbook, as it were, and I wound up seeing things like cards with adventures you could cast from other zones, and legendary creatures with Adventures, but also most notably, of course, off-colour Adventures.

It wasn’t like it was a complicated idea to come up with. It’s bordering on the most obvious ideas possible, really.

Anyway, Uranchimeg is an artwork, made out of the ice of the iceberg, and then, once crafted, it became something else. It’s an it/its, and it can’t talk, which is obviously a problem for communicating character, but what it can do is create a strange and unsettling calm, so it’s not like anyone else attacks either. What it is doing is expressing the desire of the thing in the ice to remain asleep.

Then finally, the Big Bant Boy, Ogtbish. I knew when I started this project, I wanted a bunch of commander-capable cards that were AB, with a C cost in their abilities that let them have two or three colour decks under them. In narrative, Ogtbish is one of the things under the palace that has arisen up, here and angry and demanding attention. Also I think it ate someone’s spark, which is why it’s so big by comparison, to represent the white activated ability, too. If you want some Ogtbish math, for 4 mana, Ogtbish is a 4/4, for 5 mana it’s a 6/6, and for 7 mana (ravenous time) it’s a 10/10. You only draw one card though. Boo hoo.

I suppose now is the time to consider what didn’t make it into this set. For a start, I don’t think there was a narrative as much as there was a setting. There’s no procession from story point to story point and what procession there is, it’s hard to trace its origin or how it relates to one another.

There’s a story of Thanabel, for example, who starts out as a devoted angel of the Palace. Then she’s sent to the Outlands to inspect the new Horned King arising, and in the process, dies, possibly while fighting the Faceless. But the experience changes her and when she leaves the Palace again, she’s now on the Horned King’s side, helping bring back from the Palace figures important to the triumph of the Faceless.

There’s a story told by someone meeting Zyru – an Outlander who it turns out has been a prince of the Faceless all along. He’s reckless and fickle goon who loves to hang with the Outlanders because they’re chaotic and fun and they like to party. But also, that’s just him talking to someone, I don’t know what sequence of events he’s doing.

There’s the story of Jhara of the Black Thumb. She’s convinced that she’s patrolling the middle of a nowhereseville and not realising that she’s standing on the border between two major factions as they marshal, but I don’t know what she does or says afterwards.

Similarly, all these characters have stories about what they do or how they do it – but there’s no clear idea of a story happening with a sequence of events.

There’s a whole mechanic I cut. Originally, the set had Totem Armour! And the thing that’s funny is, after I cut it, I decided I just wanted to keep two or three cards with the mechanic, so I just spelled it out. And what made that even more awkward is after I did that, Wizards of the Coast released their own set, March of the Machine in which they describe the idea that they’ve decided to use useful keywords that they would redundantly spell out otherwise as one-of in other sets. That meant that mechanics like Surveil and Landcycling and Flashback can show up in sets that aren’t ‘about them.’ Like, say, Totem Armour.


On a purely material level there’s a lot I would rather I do differently in this year. I think a whole year of 365 cards focusing on the number of mechanics I did meant stretching some cards thin. I think that I didn’t prioritise flavour as much as I should have, or rather, that now I have a better handle on it, I want to make even more cards with flavour. I think that I wanted more mechanics I could explore in more ways rather than just the same small number repeated over the year.

I’m firmly of the opinion that when you make something, it works as practice for the next thing you make. I really did feel that here: The set I made this year informs a lot about what I wanted to try for the next year.

Overall, I am happy with what I made. I like a lot of it. I like the characters and I like the ideas in the setting. I’m most happy with:

  • The Horned King as this pagan figure of menace, the place where life and death worship overlap
  • The Masqued as a culture of identity-shedding magically-made spy people subservient to a greater culture, but once they become what they are, they no longer need to be subservient
  • The Faceless, pagan monster people who are somehow wrong because they don’t use your ideas of ‘normal’ or ‘identity’
  • The palace boats, intrigue-filled places vampires use to somehow cheat the rules of their vampirism?
  • The triplicate of Spirits, Lightlings and Husks! I liked the idea of undead that weren’t necromantic as much as they were just leftover materiel. Lightlings as these really alien forms of life itself felt like a cool addition to a fantasy universe.

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!