#9 - "The last one"

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The Lion’s Lair #9

“The last one”

(This article was originally published here.)



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As I explained at the end of the last article, my list of topics is running out. I decided to put it all in one last article (for now), as I don’t think I would be able to get a whole article on each single topic. That’s the reason this article has no subtitle: it’s not about one topic, but four, so it would have been too long.

After this one, new articles will still come out, but without any regularity. This is the last one of the weekly articles and also the last one where I use the MCC Rubric as reference. That’s the reason for its title, even though there are surely a lot of references behind it too (the intended one is to the GTAV side mission, by the way).

I’ve already talked about most of the parts of the MCC Rubric. Here it is again with the parts I’ve already talked about stroked:

Design (X/10)This reflects the work put into the initial concept of the card.
Creativity – How original or innovative is the card? Does it present an old idea with a new twist? Does it employ an entirely new mechanic?
Elegance – Is the concept easily understood at a glance? Does the design just 'click' with the flavor?
Potential – Will different player demographics (Spike/Johnny/Timmy) find a use for this card? Does it stand out as a card to build a deck around?

Development (X/10)This reflects the execution of the idea, fleshing it into a playable card.
ViabilityHow well does this card fit into the color wheel? Does it break or bend the rules of the game? Is it at the appropriate rarity?
BalanceDoes the card's cost match its power? How balanced are its interactions with other cards? Can it be played in constructed, limited, or multiplayer without breaking any of those formats?
Creative Writing – Does the name sound like it fits on a card? Does the flavor text feel natural and professional? Does the combination of name, flavor text, and card concept make Vorthos spout poetry?

PolishThis reflects the finishing touches made to the card, polishing it to an end product that could see print.
Challenge (X/2) – One point awarded per satisfied challenge condition.
Quality (X/3) – Points deducted for incorrect spelling, grammar, and templating.

As you can see, there’s not a lot left. Obviously, I won’t talk about the “Challenge” section, because that is something specific to the MCC and changes every round.

100% Original

Creativity – How original or innovative is the card? Does it present an old idea with a new twist? Does it employ an entirely new mechanic?

Lately there’s been some debate over what this section is meant to represent. Here I’ll give my own point of view. I consider a card “original” (or “innovative”, throughout this section consider these two words synonyms), and I would give it full points here, if its mechanics do something that has never been done on a single Magic card before. That’s hard enough to do, as there are thousands of Magic cards existing, so a lot of effects and variations have already been done. This is the maximum, and under it there is a whole scale (from most original to less original, that also means from the most points in this section to the fewest):

• A card that does something completely new and never done before, not even on a single card (see above).
• A card that does something only done on one high profile card (or one very old card) ever, possibly while also doing some variation on it. An example of this is in a recent round of the MCC, where a card making equipment tokens was posted. That’s a thing that has been seen only on Nahiri, the Lithomancer, which is a high profile mythic from a supplemental set.
• A card that does something that has been seen multiple times but not that often, possibly with a variation here too. An example of this would be if megamorph was posted here on a custom card instead of being a real mechanic in DTK. Morph itself has been seen multiple times, but at least there’s a little variation.
• A card that does something that we see all the time in Magic. This is the case of a card that literally does nothing new. All its effects have already been seen before, even if not in that exact combination. These are the cards that score the lowest here.

Note that flavor does not appear anywhere in this list. We’re only talking mechanics here. For example, I don’t consider a card that is of a new creature type but with mechanics that we see all the time to be very original here in the rubric. At the contrary, a card with a brand new mechanic never done before that is a Goblin, an Elf, or a race that we see all the time, would score highly here. The originality of the flavor of the card will be a factor in creative writing (see later), not here.

Of course, this is only my own opinion and my own way of judging in the MCC, but this is what I consider an original card.

A viable alternative

Viability – (...) Does [the card] break or bend the rules of the game? (...)

Magic is a game that breaks its own rules all the time. In fact, the rules says that whenever a card’s rules text contradicts them, the card’s text prevails. This means that a card can break any Magic rule in theory, and this is one of the factors that make this game so good. But despite this, good design practice tells us there are a few rules that can’t be broken at all. Here are some of these few “don’t”s (these principles are only valid in black border, silver-bordered cards are exempt from them):

• A card can never be in any player’s hand but its owner’s. In reverse, no player can ever have in his or her hand cards whose owner is not him or her. The same is also true for graveyards and libraries.
• Cards that bring back other cards from exile they didn’t put there in the first place should be avoided whenever possible. The exile zone is not meant to be a second graveyard. If you want something to be brought back, put it in the graveyard. If you want something to not be ever brought back, put it in exile. There are a few exceptions to this, but they are very few, narrow, and far between. Cards like Banishing Light that bring back cards they put in exile themselves are fine.
• Cards can’t affect games other than the one they’re being played in.
• Cards can’t care about non-mechanical information or parts of the card, such as rarity, expansion symbol, art, artist, watermark, or anything not about the game.
• Magic only has integer numbers. They can either be positive or negative, but they’re always integer. Fractions are strictly silver border territory.
• Dice are also silver border territory. In black border, you can only flip coins, not roll any dice.

A delicate balance

Balance – (...) How balanced are [the card’s] interactions with other cards? Can it be played in constructed, limited, or multiplayer without breaking any of those formats?

To be ok with the first question here, you just need to avoid blatant broken combos. You want synergy to be there, but not to the point that the card is broken.

The last question is about the card’s playability in various formats. Most of the cards are playable in limited: on-curve creatures, combat tricks, and removal are examples of categories of cards that are almost always playable in limited, though that’s not an exhaustive list. You have to ask yourself if you would play the card if you opened it in your sealed pool or if you would draft it, and in the case you would, if it would make your deck or end up in the sideboard.

Constructed playability is much tougher to achieve, as only the best cards in any given constructed format get played, and that’s a little percentage of all available cards in the format. Don’t aim to make a legacy playable card, remember there are only one or two of those in a real set, and they often get banned in smaller formats (Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise are recent examples). Aim to make a strong Standard card, but beware of making your card so powerful, to get it into constructed playability range, that it breaks other formats. Again, you want your card to be strong, but not broken.

Finally, examples of cards that are playable in multiplayer formats are cards that can affect multiple players at once, and generally bigger creatures and spells than those that are usually played in one-vs-one Magic, as you have more time to develop your board. As an MCC judge, I usually consider limited and constructed playability more important than that in multiplayer formats, but that’s my own way of judging and in no way an ultimate rule.

Be creative!

Creative Writing – Does the name sound like it fits on a card? Does the flavor text feel natural and professional? Does the combination of name, flavor text, and card concept make Vorthos spout poetry?

This point in the rubric asks about the creative elements of the cards, mainly name and flavor text. Let’s see some advice about both.

Some advice to make good names (from Doug Beyer’s Tumblr):
• Choose the right phonemes to reproduce the language(s) you’re drawing inspiration from for your design. For example, Ravnica names are inspired by Slavic languages, Theros ones by ancient Greek, and Tarkir ones by various Asian languages.
• Think about the emotional tone the name is supposed to evoke. Doug shows the names of the dragonlords of Tarkir as an example: Atarka sounds rather aggressive, while Ojutai honorific.
• You may want to associate your name with an existing English word, for example Sheoldred with “dread”.
• If you’re not satisfied by the name you’re working on, play with it, trying to add or remove letters, exchange syllables, and so on.
• Take inspiration from any strange names you see in the real world.
• Research if your name is already used for something else. Google helps a lot with this.

As a further example, I can share how I created the name of my new race for my judge card in round 1 of the March MCC. For reference, this is the card I created:

Hungry Serlak 2R
Creature — Serlak (C)
Hunger 1 (When this creature enters the battlefield, if you cast it from your hand, it deals 1 damage to another target creature. If that creature dies this way, put a +1/+1 counter on this creature.)
Half shark and half dinosaur, serlaks are strictly carnivorous and driven by their hunger. They favorite is human meat, both dead and alive.

The challenge asked to create a new race that could be a threat for the multiverse. I started by thinking why my race could be a multi-planar menace. I came up with the idea of some wild beasts that relentless eat all alive beings, especially humans. I liked that for two reasons: first, humans exist in all planes except Lorwyn and maybe some obscure old plane I can’t remember, so if this race discovers a way to planeswalk there will always be food for them. Second, we are humans, so we naturally relate to their victims. The thought of some giant beast ready to eat you alive is scary to us because we actually are humans. We know it’s not real, but our brains tends to perceive this as “oh my, I could be eaten myself!”.
Once I settled on the idea, I started thinking what they could look like. I began thinking of big animals that are classically associated with the idea of carnivorous beings, and I also was looking for something that didn’t remind of races already existing in Magic. That’s how I came up with the idea of half shark-half dinosaur thoughtless beasts. To be precise, these are the notes I wrote while imagining them:

Head, backfin and end of the tail like a shark. Body, scales on back, and tail like a dinosaur. Amphibious, they can live as easily on land as in water. They are driven by hunger, strictly carnivorous, and they feed on every kind of living being except plants, raiding any place for food. They especially appreciate human meat. Their mechanic (definitely named "hunger") should represent their instinctual driving force of hunger for meat.

So how could I name such a race? I thought of looking up the scientific names of sharks and dinosaurs. Scientific names are a very useful resource in my opinion. I discovered that sharks belong to the Selachimorpha superorder, and lizards (dinosaur’s closest parents at least in popular culture) to the Lacertilia suborder. I noticed they have the syllable “lac” in common, so I used that as a start. I wrote that in English as “lak”. Then I took the first two syllables of the sharks’ scientific name and added an “r” to try to have a more aggressive sound. So: “Se” + “r” + “lak” = Serlak.

I’m not saying the name I came up with is good or that you should follow the same approach. I’m just bringing that up just as an example of how I created a name myself. How I came up with the hunger mechanic is a story for another day.

There are also things to avoid while creating names (from this article, again by Doug Beyer):
• Make sure the name itself or a similar one is not already used on a real Magic card.
• Make sure the name doesn’t contradict anything in the type line of the card. An artifact can’t have a name that sounds like a creature, and so on. A Soldier creature can’t be named “(something) Scout” or “(something) Knight”.
• Make sure you respect established conventions where some words are associated with a certain mechanic, like “looter” to “draw, then discard” for example.
• Don’t refer in its name to mechanics the card doesn’t actually have.
• If you’re designing a whole set, make sure the card name doesn’t conflict with the feel of the setting.
• Avoid names that can’t be easily pronounced.

Now let’s talk about flavor text. To put flavor text on your custom card, the first thing to check is if there is actually room for it, and how much there is. You can do this by copying and pasting your card’s rules text in a good render program, and then seeing if there is room left in its text box. To know how many lines of flavor text you can fit in your card, type something silly in the place of flavor text and see when the font shrinks below acceptable limits. Usually, the limit is considered to be eight lines in the whole text box, or in particular cases nine. Anyway, it’s the point where the font size gets too small to be easily readable (what’s usually called “microtext”). If you’re wondering which program to use for checks like this or in general to make custom Magic cards, I can tell you I personally use MSE, that’s short for Magic Set Editor, and I like it very much. If you don’t know this program and are in any way interested in custom card design, you should totally check it out! It’s not perfect, but it’s very good, and a lot of custom card designers use it for multiple purposes. It can manage anything from just a few custom cards up to a whole custom set.

Once you know you have room for some lines of flavor text, you can choose among various kinds:
Generic flavor text: some cool text that fits the concept of your card (that is what your card is meant to represent as a whole), but it is none of the following. A recent example is the “Once dragons..., now their bones...” text from the Khans of Tarkir reprint of the allied fetchlands.
The quote: if you’re designing a creature, you can have its flavor text be something that creature says. To do so, simply include your flavor text between quotation marks. A recent example is Daghatar the Adamant.
The attributed quote: you can use this if you’re designing a noncreature card, or if you’re designing a creature card and for some reason you want its flavor text to be something said by another character, not the creature itself. To do this, include the flavor text between quotation mark, then make a break (I’m amazed at how many people forget to make the break!), make a long dash, and right after the dash put the name of the character that says the quote, without any space between the dash and the character’s name. Recent examples are Abzan Advantage and Atarka, World Render.
The humorous flavor text: you can use some humor in your flavor text, whether it’s a quote or not. Just make sure that the humor is family friendly and that you don’t push it too far. My favorite example of this (and one of the very few flavor texts I can distinctly remember as a big Melvin but a little Vorthos) is Canyon Minotaur in its core set printings.
The real world quote: this was done much more in the past, now it’s something you just never see in expansions, and rarely in core sets. Now that we have just one last core set to go (hey, here’s another reference for the title “The last one”!), and on top of that Magic Origins looks to be a very particular set, this will be something we will see even less in the future, if at all. If you’re doing this, just remember to use the same formatting I explained two points above for the attributed quote. One of the few recent examples is Taste of Blood from M12.

Whichever you choose to do, remember to write in proper English and use the right punctuation and grammar.

Signing out

And with this, here it is all of the rubric covered. As I’ve already said in the introduction, this is the last one of the weekly articles, and as I’ve mentioned last week, if you have suggestions for more article topics just let me know here in the thread. For example, the topic of the next article has been suggested by Doombringer in last week’s thread. It won’t necessarily be coming next Saturday though, it may show up at any time. Finally, I’m still pondering the suggestion of a blog from last week’s thread. Should I do it, I’ll mention it in the most recent article’s thread.

Until next time (whenever it will be),