Limit break spells!

Hey friends! Boy it’s hard to keep up with all of the things. On top of working a lot I have a board game side project that I’m having the hardest time making progress on, and I’m also trying to spruce up a life counter app that I made, so that I can proudly present it to the world, after having left it in the same state for a couple of months… Anyways, I’ll keep trying to bring you my updated designs in a timely fashion, and this week we’re going to see a couple more instant and sorceries! If you know final fantasy VII, you’ll understand why I called them limit break.


The first of the two is Omega Psyclone. As you can see, the spell is connected to Aika. If you haven’t seen her yet, take a look at one of my first articles here to see what she looks like! Omega Psyclone is one of her attacks in the game (a limit break in FFVII). So the idea is that it will be more efficient when she is on the battlefield, rather than only playable then. That being said, Omega Psyclone is a little overpowered. Turns out there is very few spellsย that deal damage to all creatures, and most are not very recent. At best they have big requirements before they can take full effect, like with the best in recent memory, Bonfire of the Damned.

1379394949What’s the fix? Well for one thing this kind of effect is most of the time given only as a sorcery. Quite often it doesn’t kill flyers but we might not have to go that far. Did you figure out the point of making the caster of the spell pay life in the initial design?Since it’s related to the cost of the spell, when Aika is in play you would have to pay less! Pay 3 life, have all opponents and creatures take 5. This is neat, but life loss is just never printed in red, so let’s give that up. What I figured is, since I’m tuning the card down a lot, I could make its cost even higher, and get to the Flame Wave territory. It might still be a little powerful as a versatile flame wave, but it’s more expensive, so we should be ok. There we go, done!

1379394202Now Lunar Cleansing. One of the weakest spells I designed back then. Regenerate all your creatures isn’t something unheard of, as in most recent memory with Golgari Charm. 1 life on top is hardly anything at all though, compared to the versatility of the charm. We all know that there were never any colorless instants and sorceries outside of Rise of the Eldrazi. This is very conscious for us though, as “silver” is a color in our Skies of Arcadia Magic edition, as you can see with the design of Fina, Silver Princess, my first design on this blog, which Lunar Cleansing is related to. The last weirdness is trying to keep track of the creatures you did regenerate, as win only as much life. Let’s get rid of that.

1379395156 (1)So how did we fix Lunar Cleansing? I’m ok keeping those spells that are related to character as rares, even though it made me design way too many rares so far… What I’m happy with, is to make it a bad rare for a change. I toyed with the idea of making the creatures indestructible, but that didn’t fit the flavor of the cleansing. As of now, if you don’t control Fina, Lunar Cleansing is still a spell that regenerates all your creatures for 3. Which is meh, a little better since it’s colorless. And when you do own a Fina, you can gain 3 life per creature you control, which is still good but not crazy, and totally conditional. All in all I won’t particularly advise you play that card in limited, but we need those kind of cards!

That’s it for this week! In the future I’ll consider making only one card a week, and I will also think about talking about other subjects, more designs that are not from Skies of Arcadia, as I’ve done before, and others about rulings, and other various news maybe. Plus I might give you a peak at my Android app, so stay tuned!


Yes, today we’re making lands! Lands are fun. The design space on those is quite different from creatures. You need to make a repeatable effect that’s most of the time easy to activate, and is both interesting and not over powered. So far, I find designing instant and sorceries to be the hardest, especially common and uncommon ones. One of the greatest challenges no matter which card type is to make something that is balanced and doesn’t look like anything but is well designed and will play nicely with other cards in the format. Ask Zach Hill about it, he was the lead designer on Dragon Maze, but also M13, one of the most popular core edition in limited, and the idea of core sets is to be more or less simple and classic.

It seems I lied last week saying I would make non-legendary cards this week, because these lands are unique landmarks of Skies of Arcadia, and they have powerful effects. They will be legendary. Let’s get to it; today we are getting three cards! I’m going to drop them all here in their original design and discuss them all together, for a change.

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My first remark is that creating lands is terrible online! My favorite websites either don’t have a correct background for lands, or don’t have the correct icons for making mana, or show passive abilities bellow active ones… Annoying. Anyways! Maramba is our first land and it’s fairly straight forward. The design of it if simple and the development will be the most important part. If you have ever followed one of Mark Rosewater’s many media outlets (podcasts, blogs, etc.), you might know the difference. Basically development is in charge of balancing the designs. This is pretty technical and definitely harder than design, as far as I’m concerned, the science to back up the creativity. To put it much simpler than it actually is, making sure all numbers on the cards are right. Developers will check cards mana cost, power/toughness, damage non-creature cards can make, life or card advantage they can create, among other things.

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new version

I feel like Maramba could be ok, as it is a good land (makes two mana) but pretty much forces you entirely into mono-red. Still, we can’t have it be a free double land for red decks, as it was in its first version; that’s still too good. Let’s try and make it come into play tapped. Mono-red doesn’t strike me as the color that will want to ramp the most, pure red decks being aggro ones with lots of cheap creatures most of the time. One shouldn’t be able to make a red deck heavier solely relying on Maramba, because what you want is constant blazing fast plays from the first turn onwards. Yet, it is still possibly broken as is, because it reads “comes into play tapped and makes two mana” in a red deck.


new version

Crescent Isle was a powerful design. I definitely didn’t have a perfect idea of how powerful it is to make a land that regenerates creatures. Still, I did know I just couldn’t give it away for free, so I made the land less effective for mana, and make it regenerate only legendary creatures, the flavor being that Crescent Isle is shelter for our heroes. The card made me think of Eiganjo Castle, which saw modern play with John Finkelย (in the 2012 player championship) but there is actually 3 lands able to regenerate creatures. Two are kinda cute, as they regenerate elephants, or insects and rodents. But the last one is very powerful and similar to my design, and it is Yavimaya Hollow. I’m going to try and not let myself be too influenced by it though, otherwise I’d just end up copying it. My conclusion was that limiting the land to making colorless mana and regenerating legends wasn’t enough yet, so I added the mana cost. It turns out to be slightly less powerful than the hollow, but still very potent.

createcard (7)Dark rift’s ability is a very cool idea. It’s also very prone to be very broken. You have a mana accelerator, which can be very strong in black, which has access to some pretty twisted things for high mana costs. On the other hand, being able to hide creatures away and have them come back, triggering enter the battlefield abilities, could lead to crazy combos as well. So we need to make sure the cost of those abilities makes them a commodity players can’t easily abuse: put a creature away to get a mana boost, and be able to retrieve it later on by paying back. To ensure this and keep it simple, I’ll just bump up the price. It should be expected that borrowing from dark magic sources will cost you in the end! To be honest, I’m not quite sure how crazy it would be if you could exile a creature and return it for twice two manas in two turns, but it would be what we call an outlet (a reliable way of doing it over and over) and that’s powerful. I could have as well bumped the price to return the creature from 2 to 3 instead of 4, but somehow I was happy with the “it’s going to cost you twice as much” thing. Always think twice when you borrow from black! Lastly, the land needed a colorless ability, as black would be too powerful, and you don’t want the land to be useless when not doing creature shenanigans, either.

I’m mostly happy with the land designs. The mechanics are fun and effective, and the power balances weren’t the most complicated to make happen either. I swear next time I’m going to keep off the legendary permanents though, so look forward some great unimpressive stuff! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Assembling the dream team

Today we’re meeting the main character in Skies of Arcadia, young pirate captain Vyze! Sorry ladies, while Aika could qualify as the main character since she’s Vyze childhood friend, she is only a very important secondary character, as the captain makes the calls and generally speaking the game revolves around him a little more. We won’t complain too much though, as Aika is still a very cool gal.

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Version 1


Version 2









So… Version 1 was crazy. Even back then I figured quickly that a 3/3 first strike for 4 with an activated ability and can transform into a 6/4 flying first strike, would be pushing it. The second version was a 4/3 first strike for 5 that turns into a 5/3 flying first strike, but every time it did it it would cost its controller 3 life. One thing that gets my attention right away is that I was trying to push first strike in blue. I knew what I was doing back then, but I guess I really wanted our hero to be a fast swords-master.


Is that a unicorn?

But first strike is VERY rare in blue. In fact there is only two blue creatures that are exclusively blue, aren’t (illusionary) walls, and still have first strike. They are both old, and one is red hate, and the other is a wacky blue hate creature. I don’t count Sejiri Merfolk and Cetavolver, because they are related to red and white and that’s where they got their first strike.

I do like Vyze ability to block two creatures, since he’s got first strike. Version 1 forcing blocking player to throw 2 creatures against a first striker that can get +2/+1 was just silly, and I picked up on this as well back then.

Version 2 might have been a little more reasonable as far as fighting skills are concerned (barely, actually), but it had yet anotherability! Vyze 2.0 can go fetch The Delphinus, his boat, the same way captains Gilder and Drachma from last week do. We have 4 upsides to Vyze, not even pieces of a design but really pretty much 4 separate powerful abilities. We need to do something about it. Am I going to push it and try and keep all of them, as I confess I have been so far? Let’s see.

createcard (3)So! It’s been difficult, again. The original designs are too busy and a power balance in Magic is a delicate thing. I was very tempted to keep first strike, but it combined with the +1/-1 too efficiently. I toyed with the idea of making Vyze 3/3 or even 3/2 hinder it, and also making Vyze lose first strike when he gains flying, which was fun but definitely too far fetched.

Vyze now is a 3/4 that can turn into a 4/3 flyer and block two creatures, while also picking cards. I think he is way beefy for a blue creature with a very competitive cost. Actually he’s as good as the two 4 mana sphinxes, which is good to know.

At the end of the day, I think the biggest question for the captains, is how powerful will it be to be able to fetch their ship. If you factor in that those cards are legendary, and keep in mind I’m thinking more in terms of limited play (which is not a good excuse as the cards should be well balanced in all formats), I think we can have some good fun with those.

Next week, I’ll start looking at non legendary cards for a change, and maybe even non-creatures ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for reading!

2-for-1 post: Aika and Enrique

We’re cruising! Let’s see if we can go through card designs a little faster this time.


Here is Aika. She packs some nice punch, doesn’t she? A little too much, I believe. This mini Inferno Titan (not that the card existed at the time) is basically a 3/1, which admittedly isn’t so good for 3, and Flames Of The Firebrandย stapled together, for only a slightly less practical mana cost. Such a nice burn spell coming with a 3 power creature is pushing it, for that price. Let’s see how we can fix her.

We are going to try and take Aika down all the way to uncommon if that’s possible (uncommon legendary creatures only exist in Legendary oriented editions though).

1375316503Pretty simple, right? So is it acceptable now? It’s hard to say. Two damages divided as you want is still better than shock, or it would be if the card wasn’t sorcery speed now. We did mention that the body wasn’t all that fantastic, and at this stage two red manas does get a little annoying. Still, we get 3 power, and two damages that can be either a removal, or sometimes a removal and 1 damage to opponent, and even 2 removals when you’re lucky. Easy 2-for-1 and potential 3-for-1 has to make it a great card.

Quick mention of a rule point now.

Oracle rules (the reference for card rules) always specify “divided between one, two, or three target[s]…” until damages are over 4, but the principle remains the same. The fact is, even when the card says “any number of target[s]” you can’t assign less than 1 damage to every target; it’s not legal. That isn’t the case of Fireball though; since the damages are divided automatically, you can pick any number of targets, and let the division happen. As long as you don’t pick 0; we don’t divide by 0 around here. Now you know how to deal with a board full of Phantasmal Images!


Ok let’s try and fix a second design then!

Skies of Arcadia had a yellow color that was linked to lightning magic. Yellow not existing in Magic I got behind the most obvious thing about yellow folks of the country of Valua: they are the bad guys. Black it is, then! Enrique is different though, he’s a Valuan prince, and he rebels against his people.

This makes a great case for this variation of the infamous black knight.

So is Enrique well designed? This is pretty delicate call, mostly based on his cost. It is obvious enough Magic designers don’t want to be giving first strike to a 2/2 without making it cost two colored mana (and have an extra ability, which Enrique does). It is hard to say whether it is by tradition or by design though. There are tons of crazy 2/2 for one colorless and one colored mana. On the top of my head, Scavenging Ooze, Skylasher. I would venture it is in regards to limited, in which first strike just can skew close-combat games pretty efficiently and frequently on turn two, and also possibly later on, whereas other awesome creatures might have abilities that are more constructed oriented. Still, it’s a stretch to think a 2/2 first strike is as crazy as the previous bomb I mentioned. Other fact that might make my design not that over-powered: I have a feeling, though unexplained, that protection from black when you are black is less powerful. That might very well just be psychological, though.

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The fixed, conservative version of Enrique isn’t quite as good, obviously. This should be acceptable though. I believe Wizards of the Coast really want limited to not have 2 drops that dominate the board easily, so I could imagine that version is still considered too powerful, but it is a rare after all! In recent memory, one-colored-mana two drops with first strike have a downside. By the way, I really was attached to the flavor of having Enrique not being entirely black. Otherwise going for a complete black knight, for two black mana, but protected against black, would have been an easy solution.

Another side note about flavor. There is no “Noble” creature type! For some reason I thought there was, and I’m a little surprised to be honest. I’m not sure why that is exactly. It might mean that unless they want to establish a strong kingdom themed edition, this is too much honor to give a card that’s just passing by in the history of planes, to be a prince of a king. But at least a noble! I think they also like to limit the number of different creature types, because dilution prevents all sorts of cool effects, if not full tribal strategies. I’m going to use it though, because I feel it’s a nice and flavorful creature type. Who knows, Wizards designers might be keeping this creature type for a future awesome use! ๐Ÿ™‚

Let’s restore this 10 year old edition

So I went back home a month ago and I found this old notebook of mines, on which I used to draw manga illustrations.ย At the end of the book, I found magic card designs I made around 10 years ago. Those were based on a game I loved very much at the times, Skies of Arcadia. Skies is a great japanese RPG by Sega’s Sonic Team on the Dreamcast. The universe is all about pirates on flying ships. Sound cool, doesn’t it? Do check it out.


The game was strongly based on 6 elements: fire, nature, air, electricity, ice, and a 6th special one, you could call holy, life/death, or just “magic”. I will explain here and there how I adapted flavor so that electricity is black and ice is white, but don’t get too concerned with that right now. Let’s just dive into things instead; I’ll introduce characters and places as I go.

I remembered one thing about those designs: I had created sunburst. If you are not familiar with sunburst, it’s an ability that will count how many colors you used to cast a colorless spell, and have an effect based on that number. For creatures it will generally give them that many +1/+1 counters. Let’s look at the way I designed my take on sunburst with Fina. You’ll see the idea of how many colors is there, but the effect is quite different.


Isn’t Fina cute? She seems like she could be deadly too. I don’t think she’s that well balanced though. An effect similar to Tefeiri’s Moat, for only 1 mana, coming along with a creature with protection?

That’s a lot, even if you only get protection against a color you are playing (or likely do, since you had to pay the colored mana for it). Even worse: In this edition, I created manas that are of several colors! That could potentially make this card busted. Things protected against more than two colors have a tendency to cost 10 or 15 mana!

So what could we do to fix Fina? I am fond of making her a 1/1 for 1, because you will be able to only stop one color, and it will force you to make choices. Protection against a color that already can’t attack isn’t that relevant though; maybe I should drop it?

I thought of restricting the ability to creatures without flying, but then I thought: blue. You see, the fact that fina prevents your own creatures from attacking make her less unreasonable. But if you can still attack with your army of flyers, which blue is well known for doing frequently, red players are going to be furious! (which they are well known for being frequently as well)

I do want to see two abilities related to sunburst though. I thought of making Fina be the colors of mana spent to cast her, but it doesn’t follow the flavor since she is silver, the 6th color of this set. Intimidate would have been fun to add on that, except it would make her worse to be of several colors. Plus a 1/1 intimidate is hardly impressive, and she her ability would prevent her from attacking anyway!

1374807270 (1)So here the new version. The issue with this concept is Fina could pack just about any kind of combination of ability related in any way to colours, and it’s hard to pick a combination of them that bring at the same time power, balance, and fun. After switching a hundred times, I ended up thinking that if I tuned down the “pacifism” ability enough, I could get back protection.

As she is now, the princess will deactivate small creatures of one color and block a big one, thanks to the protection. One important fact remains that you need to be able to cast a mana of the color you are trying to neutralize.

You could want to sandbag Fina in order to see what color your opponent has in common with you, which might tame the effect of locking their early turns. Plus she doesn’t prevent them from blocking, so you will still need to dominate the board to win. She’s still pretty powerful as is though, not sure if she is too much. I wouldn’t say so, I even figure she could be of several colours and still not be broken. In fact she reminds me of Lavinia.

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One fun idea I toyed with was to lock down some type of creatures, corresponding to the colors.

  • White: creatures with vigilance, or creatures with toughness 4 or more.
  • Blue: creatures with flying (in my other split I flying as well, because I wanted to split power and toughness into 4 colors).
  • Black: creatures with lifelink (intimidate?), or creatures with toughness 3 or less.
  • Red: creatures with haste, or creatures with power 3 or less.
  • Green: creatures with trample, or creatures with power 4 or more.

The choice of lifelink and intimidate was interesting. It might be preferable to stop intimidate guys, since their ability is an evasion one, but lifelink would impact some black AND white creatures, and white had only vigilance disabled which was not very impressive. Maybe lifelink for white and intimidate for black could work… For the power/toughness split, the flavor was good for green fatties (power > 3) and white defenders (toughness > 3). On the other side, small red creatures (power < 4), and low toughness (<4) black creatures made only some sort of sense but wasn’t very obvious in flavor.
Image (10)One last thing I’d like to mention is wording. I was going for an effect that does something for each mana color spend, so I wasn’t sure it would fit nicely in the text box if I made 5 sentences like “If you spent white mana to cast Fina, creatures with vigilance can’t attack.” So I looked at the following wording:

After stating “If you spend white mana…”, I would add “The same is true with blue mana for flying, red mana for haste…”. I knew that this is a wording that exists in magic but I was under the impression that it was a little goofy. I checked how many cards have it, and there’s a few! Here’s the list, it’s interesting to see. Apparently the concept dates all the way back to Tempest in 1997 and has been used as recently as Eventide in 2008, but it’s only been printed on 5 cards. About one every two years, which probably shows designers are not very fond of the wording, even though it’s a nice shortcut for fun effects. Seems they mostly used it to grant one creatures the same evergreen ability as another one though.

Voila! So let’s take a final look at my creation before we wrap up; what do you think, does it seem like a fun card to play with? Excited to see more silverfolks like Fina? I think the card is ok, but I could have tried longer to find the proper balance of power and fun. I tried for a while though! I promise I’ll do even better next time ๐Ÿ™‚