Putting Your Eggs in Your Basket: A Follow-Up



Just over a week ago, my first article, Putting Your Eggs In Your Basket: Designing a Custom Set was published. The reaction was mostly positive, with as many questions raised and suggestions made as there were compliments and positive remarks. I decided to write this follow-up to touch on the subjects of and beyond the process of actually making a custom set. As soon as finished writing the article, I realized that there was more than one article's worth of content to cover.

This article serves as an addendum to the previous one, with a variety of questions and topics being addressed.

Let's get started.

Look at Me! I'm Making Cards!
In theory, anyone and everyone has the potential to make a custom set for Magic. But unless you know what you're doing, it's difficult. The best way to learn how to design cards for a set's worth of content is to practice. The Custom Sets & Cards section of our forums is always abuzz with activity. Here are some pointers:
  • Please use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. No one will bother with your cards if they can't read them. Magic has some unique methods of templating abilities. If you're not sure about how a card ability is worded, ask for assistance.
  • Numbers in card names are to be spelled out except for life and damage.
  • If it looks like your card can't fit flavor text, or the render's text looks too small, don't put flavor text in. Keep in mind that the usual card render is larger than the size of a card itself.
  • When doing research on how a mechanic works, check the Comprehensive Rulebook. Make sure the ability works properly.
  • Look at previous keywords. If your keyword seems awfully similar to one that's already present, consider either altering your keyword or re-using that one.
  • Study, study, study. Look over the cards in print. See how they're done. This will help you figure out how to word an ability yourself.
ReprintsIn Academy alone, there are 4 reprinted cards:
Spirit Link, which was finally keyworded.
Congregate, to emphasize the lifegain aspect of white.
Time Ebb, which is blue's best creature removal and is solid in draft.
Crown of Flames, which served as the impetus of the 5-color Crown cycle.

One should ideally try to have zero actual reprints in their set, as they're trying to convey something new or better. If you do find a good reason to reprint a card, make it your own. Use new art or flavor text. DON'T reprint a card that is set- or world-specific. You can reprint Curiosity with new art and flavor, but you can't reprint Niv-Mizzet.

As you can see, each reprinted card had a specific purpose. Otherwise, Academy is riddled with functional reprints:
Wrath of God, Ethereal Haze, Disenchant, Hisoka's Defiance, Capsize, Upheaval, Control Magic, Merfolk Looter, Counterspell, Swallowing Plague, Terror, Demonic Tutor, Angelic Page, Serra Advocate, Voice of All, Shatter, Furnace of Rath, Ball Lightning, Pyroclasm, Blood Lust, Planar Chaos, Overrun, Naturalize, Verduran Enchantress, Tranquility, Exploration, Watchwolf, Stone Rain, Urza's Glasses, Arena, City of Brass, and even a Mox.
(Click on the card links to see the functional reprint.)

I touched on this concept in the article, but the reason behind a functional reprint is to allow Block Constructed a lot of the same staple cards that core sets provide, such as Counterspell and Lightning Bolt. Seeing that Academy was primarily played with Block Constructed, I kept that in mind when designing the cards for it.

Too Much of a Good Thing
Sometimes when you're making a set, you think you've struck design gold. An aspect of the game that is so totally unique and innovative that you're able to churn out designs for dozens and dozens of cards for a particular color or with a particular mechanic. The question is, how much should you design for a set?

Ideally, you can never design too many cards. Look at Mark Rosewater. But, being actual conventional people who aren't paid to make cards, the limit is only what you put on yourself. The real hard part comes when you need to pick what cards go into the set. This is best accomplished by your judgment of what the set needs from the mechanic you've been designing for. Don't feel bad if a card got cut; store it away. You never know when you'll need it.

I've Never Seen a Power Level So High/Low!
The 'power level' of a set is best described how much and how quickly cards from the set sway games. Urza block was powerful because decks with cards from it won so quickly. Mirrodin block was powerful because of the same reason. Ravager Affinity was lethal.

How do you figure out the power level of your block? Play with it. Use cards from Vintage, Legacy, Extended, and Standard. Find ways to break the cards in the set. If there are a lot of ways, or one particular way swings the game too quickly, then it is powerful. If it fits in snug with the speed of the format, then it's fine. If you barely use any cards from your set, then it needs a little work.

A set's power level is not just measured by how it relates to the formats, but also the ratio of cards that are used versus the cards that aren't. If you see a variety of deck types from the block, then it's healthy. If everyone is playing Green/White/Blue, then you've got to figure out why.

Hey! I've Got an Idea!
So, you're all set on making cards. You've read up on templating, practiced by making functional reprints, and are all set on initial research. But what do you do for a set?

Pop Culture
A handful of you out there have made or are making sets based off of pop culture things such as games, movies, and television. While not impossible, there is an extra layer of care required. First of all, do your research on the subject. Be sure you know every aspect of it inside and out. Second, even if it's based on a story, don't re-tell the tale. Try to do something wholly new with the media as it translates into cards. The story was already told in a way much better than you could accomplish here.

Homelands: The Reckoning
Some people will want to, undoubtedly, try to re-do printed sets or expand on them. Homelands is a bad example, but people are tempted to expand on Ravnica, or return to Mirrodin. This is a neat idea, but also take care. Do your research and try to remember that Wizards made their set the way they did for a reason.

9.5th Edition
Still more of you might consider making a Custom Core Set, possibly containing reprints of cards from other custom sets. This is a unique idea, but don't forget the rules of a Core Set's construction:
  • All reprints. No Legends. No multicolor. These last two statements may one day be broken, however. A Core Set is nothing but white-bordered reprints.
  • That brings us to the second point: Although black is cooler, Core Sets have white borders.
  • Even though there might be a better version of a card out there, you should consider its ease of understanding.
  • A Core Set's rarity breakdown is 110 commons, 110 uncommons, 110 rares, 10 fixed (for the starter pack), and 20 basic lands.
  • Cover all your bases. This set is not supposed to take Magic in a new direction but to provide a basis to do so.
Okay...What Now?So, your set is done. You designed it all. Gave it all flavor text and artwork. Tweaked and playtested. Posted the final product on a website. What happens now? When a set is completed, one of two things can happen.
  1. Your set is done. Done and done. You might issue some correction to errors or make some promos, but that's the last time you want to see that card you slaved over.
  2. The set isn't done. You can issue errata and changes, essentially re-releasing the updated set with some adjustments. This shouldn't detract from the original set, but modify it for the better. You can create promos, banners, updates to the card images, and even write a novel for it.
Magic Workstation and ApprenticeThe most important and most fun way to take advantage of a custom set and to playtest it is to play with it online. That's what it's there for, isn't it?

This brings me to a correction on the previous article: It would seem that MTGEditor has been kaput for some time, so now the program I recommend to use is Magic Set Editor 2. Not only can you make rich renders with it, you can easily export the set to be a Magic Workstation or Apprentice spoiler. Upload it just as you would with a regular set.

Since I'm on the topic, let's have the official guide to adding a custom-created set to Magic Workstation.
Quote from Instructions »
First of all, you need Magic Workstation installed, and the spoiler text file of the set in question. If you have a set made and want to make a spoiler text the easy way, Magic Set Editor 2 will let you do that. (File > Export > Magic Workstation..)
  1. Open MWS.
  2. Go to Tools > Analyze/Add/Remove Sets...
  3. Click on 'Add New Edition'
  4. Enter the Edition Name (the same of your set).
  5. Enter the Edition Key (an abbreviation of your set for MWS to ID the set and use images with)
  6. Check 'Get data from text Spoiler'
  7. DO NOT check 'Mark cards as custom created'!
  8. Push the folder button and locate the text spoiler file.
  9. Click Next Page.
  10. Change the Tourney to None, if you feel like it. You can also edit how many cards go in each pack.
  11. You can tell MWS what border color the cards are (black or white), and determine how big the Starter (Tournament) packs are. If there are no tournament packs, check 'No Starter Packs'.
  12. Click Add Edition when done. MWS will analyze the text spoiler file.
  13. Finally, make sure your Master Base (the database with all the cards in it, not just your deck's) is highlighted, then click the blue disk button, or File > Save Deck/Library.
  14. Restart MWS. Voila!
If you want your pretty card images to work with MWS, then be sure to export the card images to .jpg format, then rename them as such:'Card.jpg'
Put all the cards in a folder titled with the Edition Key. Put that folder in your Pics folder under the main Magic Workstation folder (default C:\Program Files\Magic Workstation\Pics)

If you have Apprentice, it's a tad more difficult. I highly recommend using Magic Workstation to easily distribute the set among friends.

Time for a Sequel
Chances are you'll want to make a block out of your set's theme, or you planned on doing that anyways. Sets 2 and 3 are always good for both expanding on your current themes and using ideas that you hadn't had room for or didn't really have enough room to breathe. Keep in mind that the set is smaller, so it'll be a tighter fit.

For example, Academy's main theme was Experience. But I never got to fully expand on how useful those little experience counters were. Gauntlet features a hand full of cards that take advantage of those counters and remove them for an effect. Discord, set 3 in the block, will also further twist on the theme.

Well, that's all I can think of to cover for now. I'm sure dozens more questions, comments, and topics will rise up, and I'll be here to point them out.

I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

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