Evil Sparks

Hello everybody, today I welcome you to an episode of Ominous Designs nice and divisible by 5: here comes number 145! Our big 150 is approaching fast. I set out for quite the topic this week and might even have bitten more than I could chew, though looking at the results I am not too ashamed with what we ended up with. What topic, you might ask? Sparker Villains! Starting with the one who inspired me with that theme, and Magic’s biggest archenemy, Nicol Bolas.

bolas-rising-menace

Bolas, Rising Menace // Nicol Bolas, Planar Tyrant

A tall order, isn’t it. Bolas is quite the legendary foe. I almost immediately decided that he needed to flip based on controlling an opponent’s permanent, to refer to the elder dragon’s favourite hobby: manipulating people. This allowed me to pack a little bit more power in the card since the condition is quite narrow and that was a good thing since I didn’t want to have the card cost a million, or be more powerful that the previous incarnation of the planeswalker.
I wanted Bolas to be big, somewhat impactful, but not a 6 drop either since the card was only his origin story. This lead me to create a 4 drop flyer with upside, which seemed reasonable. For the planeswalker abilities I figured that doing something with stolen permanents could be fun and this would demonstrate the black aspect of Bolas, as well as his contempt for the tools – people – he uses to his own means. The abilities need more work but I like the direction I took, if only as a base.
I doubled down on the controlling aspect with an ultimate allowing you to steal something every turn. I think it is realistic, yet obviously quite powerful.

xenagos-satyr-hedonist

Xenagos, Satyr Hedonist // Xenagos, Multiverse Explorer

Xenagos is our second evil sparker! I figured he would keep his “thirst for mana” style. This was achieved my making him a fairly reasonable mana maker, and requiring 6 mana to transform.
His first ability also is that of old school Orcish Lumberjack fame, still in the mindset of abundance without a thought for the consequences. Xenagos 0 ability was not the most inspired, but I figured it would be nice if he could still bring more people – satyrs – to his party. I switched haste for trample to change something from the original incarnation, as well as make the card slightly less powerful.
I am happy with the ultimate, a one sided Heartbeat of Spring which sounds fun, and hopefully had not been made before. I now realize that plays with Xenagos might sequence a little too well, landing on turn 3, making 2 mana on his own AND using his + ability the turn he flips, allowing to -5 on the next one. Then again, the ultimate isn’t all that powerful so maybe we are fine.

Like I said earlier I didn’t get as much time as I wanted to balance those but honestly for planeswalker we are probably talking hours of work and as many of play testing, so I think for a concept piece the two are pretty fine and fun looking Do let me know your ideas about modifying and balancing them.

That will be it for today’s article, looking forward to seeing you all again next week for numero 14. Until then, play responsibly!

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From Above Part. 2

Hello everybody and welcome to episode 144 of Ominous Designs, inaugurating a series for which I have been publishing entries for a while now, and is titled From Above. As you might have guessed this is top-down designs we are talking about. Top-down design is when I think of a character or object, mostly independently Magic, and then make the concept fit the game.

Every now and then I don’t have a particular idea for a theme and I will browse through my vault of ar, pick a couple nice ones and make cards out of them. To illustrate this, let’s now have a look at a big creature, a big enchantment and a big artifact, all of those in only 3 cards! Isn’t that exciting.

Sea TyrantSea Tyrant.
Doesn’t he look amazing? I couldn’t resist making a card for what seemed to be an obvious Titan. This second ever blue giant is also an elemental though, and his power is mostly inferior to that of Frost Titan. Pretty high bar that was, though; I’m quite certain Tyrant still do quite the job at finishing games, with his large body and good ability.

Tapping three creatures when attacking is no small feat, even though you aren’t likely to do that more than once. His interaction with Master of Waves is pretty amazing but I would venture still acceptable. Tell me if you think so as well.

Gateway to NyxGateway to Nyx.
Talk about a top-down design, right here! What I saw in this illustration was the combination of the starfield of Nyx and some more earthly human construct which inspired me with a design turning artifacts into enchantments.

The end result is pretty wordy but in a nutshell, at the beginning of your upkeep you can recycle an artifact into an enchantment and at the end you can do the opposite. You can even trade Gateway for say a Duplicant in the same turn you played it! I tried to keep the power level in check but this is still some potent piece of Magic technology.

You know what I am the most glad about? Not having to pick a different title for every top-down article! It’s the little things that count… A series is a good thing to have, so everybody should be happy now. I do like the cards as well, so I hope you will have good things to say about them.

I will leave it as that for now, see you next week and until then: play responsibly!

 

New Legends

Hello everybody, and welcome to episode 137 of Ominous Designs. The topic for today came to me while browsing /r/custommagic. What we are going to do is create legendary creatures for subtypes that never had one. Spoiler alert: it’s going to be a pegasus and a wurm.

Pelianos Mount of the GodsPelianos, Mount of the Gods. Didn’t think how close the name was from Paliano – main city in Conspiracy – at the time…
It seemed pretty obvious that the pegasus should serve as a mount to other legendary creatures.
I toyed with the idea of implementing this myself but in the end nothing serves this purpose as well as bestow does.
I based the design on the better version of limited all star Nimbus Naiad. I needed to make the legendary creature better so costed it more aggressively, seeing that its extra ability was a fringe one: the faithful companion is ready sacrifice himself to save his legendary friends.

Talath Volarian SovereinTalath, Volarian Soverein.
This one was harder to come up with. Wurms are not your typical sentient and charismatic legendary creatures! I also hoped to make it a Naya creature so it could serve as a commander for a deck containing most existing wurms. After playing around with the idea of a big creature with activated abilities granting keywords from various colors, I discovered I could afford up to 6 of them as long as I picked them well.

So this guy does have a ton but I don’t even think he is more threatening then Soul of Theros or Akroma. In the end he looks like a Naya Cromat.

Those are your – legendary – creatures for the day. Let me know if you think of some other types that need a hero to represent them.
I hope you all have a great time, and I’ll see you next Wednesday!

American Gods

…Because 4th of July just happened? I couldn’t even get my cards to be red white and blue today, so nevermind. We are going to look at Gods though, that is exciting. I don’t have too much to say to introduce those, so we might as well just jump into it!

Lokuros the FiercewoodLokuros, the Fiercewood is our green god. As you can see he borrows from the gods in Theros by being an enchantment that turns into a creature, but it also differs in the sense that it isn’t indestructible and isn’t triggered by devotion. Close enough though, Lokuros cares about how many forests you control.

As a self-feeding mechanic, he will allow you to fetch one a turn. In my mind, for 4 manas that isn’t completely out of question, especially when restricted to basic forests. In the best case without other fetches, Lokuros turns into a god two turns after being cast. Might still be a little fast…

Vorok the RagemountVorok, the Ragemount is the red cousin to Lokuros. He functions a very similar way but is extra special. I tried to design him to work with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.

Once Valakut is on, so is Vorok and you could be attacking as soon as turn 5 with your 5/5 god. From there on, you can sac a land for 3 damage, and retrieve it next turn for another 2 Valakut damage, rinse and repeat.
At best, when you have 4 moutains and a Valakut, you can drop your 5th land for 3 damage, attack with Vorok and sac your 5 moutains for 10 damage. Is that worth considering mono-red?

I am quite satisfied with the direction those cards are taking, but I do think they need a bunch a adjustments. As such I am particularly excited to see what comments they are going to raise and what feedback I will be getting from the prolific /r/custommagic.

Swing by there and tell me what you think, or see you next week! Have a good one.

Colorshifted!

Hey all! I think we’re getting to a good place with the new article size, themes, and the use of Magic Set Editor. This week we will revisit a plane we are going to say goodbye to very soon: Ravnica. By now you probably know that Khans or Tarkir is just around the corner, and will make it in standard along with Theros. Today let’s celebrate our departure from Ravnica, with staples from the block, re-mastered in different colors. Because we can – and because someone gave me the idea.

PPack Oozeack Ooze is quite obviously the green version of Pack Rat.
Now you might want to discuss the likelihood for such card to exist. Slow incremental gain doesn’t sound like a very green thing to do. Black is much better suited to protect its rats with surgical removal, and turn after turn, make them into a huge army.

Green play style doesn’t favor that, and also rarely brings any type of card advantage to the table in order to motor it, but I can’t say the existence of Pack Ooze couldn’t be, since obviously it wouldn’t be overpowered.

Bramble WeirdBramble Weird.

I could have only color-shifter Frostburn Weird. I felt like making the card a bit more white-green feeling though. As I made it, it’s still mostly balanced, and would trade with a Frostburn, though Frostburn would have to pay twice before Bramble started caring.

I also understand that Bramble Weird can boost its defence as much as it wants, to which I answer: Groot. Personally, I like it!

 

Master of WindsBonus Card: Master of Winds.
This one isn’t from Ravnica, but it’s too fun not to showcase. Devotion has this way of making a card deeply liked to its color, which makes it all the more interesting to shift.

Here I can see a big issue: white can take advantage of token strategies much better than blue. That being said, I don’t imagine it would have been so powerful that the whole meta-game would have shifted. I could be very wrong. I can imagine it would have been played in competitive play but maybe not into a top tier deck as powerful as blue devotion has been recently.

Wasn’t this great? I know Magic colors have a very strong identity, but in the end there is a fair space to work with and around each of the factions. It’s probably for the best, we don’t want design to be overly stiff in that area. The colors of magic, much like people, have several dimensions to them and that makes them all the more interesting!

Hope you had a great time, enjoy your week and see you next time!

Homemade Boros

Hey all. It’s been a long relaxing weekend, and I’m now back on the overly busy saddle. Let’s keep things easy this week and have a look at one of my limited deck designs: red white aggro. Aggro is almost an unneeded qualifier for this color combination, this is what Boros is all about! This deck features a new mechanic I created, play-tested…And will likely need to fix up a bit: Combo. Let’s see what the cards look like!

dolmiraDolmira, Spear of Volaria.

Quick overview of the combo mechanic. Whenever it’s the x’th – second, third, etc. – time a source you control deals damage during a turn, the combo ability on creatures you control trigger. If two of your creatures hit a player, you get combo 2. If you add a direct damage spell, you have combo 3.

Well this legendary angel will give lifelink to a creature you control when you deal damage twice during a turn, and it will untap all your creatures when you deal damage for the third time.
The very tricky aspect of combo, as it showed up during play-testing, is that it is easy to get up to combo 3, 4, or 5 by just attacking with that many creatures. It is also easy to bump the combo meter up by casting a couple direct damage spells, or having direct damage abilities, which don’t even cost you anything. It becomes very fun though, when you can separate combo abilities between the ones mattering all the time, and the ones mattering before combat damage. Lifelink, for example, will matter before combat damage. If you get Lifelink after all your creatures have already done damage, it’s useless. Untapping all of them though, will be used only if you have attacked with some already.

kerathanbarbarianKerathan Barbarian.
This little dude – I’m guessing a barbarian might not like me calling him that – combines the combo mechanic with the heroic one, from Theros.

Heroic dealing 2 damages to a player could actually trigger combo 2. But that’s not relevant, because combo 2 will be easy to activate by simply attacking with two creatures, and it will deal an extra damage. I like that the effect is limited, but it’s still too easy to have for almost free every turn.

I also realized I kept tacking good abilities on solid creatures, which gets too strong in the long run.

preemptive blastPreemptive Blast.
Now for some combo enablers, – even though like we have seen I might have made combo a little too easy to use already – here is a combat trick.

2 direct damage can enable some welcome pre-combat combo triggers, and it also enables heroic, giving one creature first strike. First strike as we’ll discuss later is also good for combo.

All this for same price as a shock! Kerathan Barbarian would love it. It had to be sorcery. Not too sure about the flavor by the way, but it was focused on the pre-combat combo idea.

patientflamePatient-Flame Disciple.

This monk is actually also a combo enabler. It starts as a Gray Ogre,- the legendary name for 2/2 for 3 – but can become a 2/4 vigilance for a turn when you pay a red and a white.

That’s already quite good like this but wait, there’s more: when you activate him, – and you can only once during your turn – Patient-Flame Disciple will deal one damage to a player.
Damages are good, and so are pre-combat combo modifiers.

bazoo
Bazoo, Lightning Blade
.
This one is the first time I make a card representing a friend using a professional illustration.

Bazoo illustrates perfectly the idea that pre-combat combo triggers can be important, and also the fact that first strike will help you get there. With combo 2, he gets double strike.

What this means, is that if you already have combo 1 by the time this soldier strikes, you will get combo 2 and he will strike again!

Combo was too powerful during play-test, which probably came from the fact combo was too easy to trigger. One thing we can do is ask ourselves: how many creatures will likely attack? The Battalion mechanic taught us that we can ask a Boros player to attack with 3 creatures.
Another question is do we really want to let direct damage add to the combo meter? I would have loved to answer this question with the affirmative, but I’m afraid it helps combo get out of control. This is sad, because incrementing the combo meter is a very fun design space for spells and abilities.

Another idea! Be careful about combo abilities that don’t care about when they happen, like dealing damage. If you can just wait until then end of the turn, even let you creatures die, and still have combo 3 or 4 and deal “free” damage that way, it might be too easy.
One last idea could be to get the combo requirement to be higher, but somewhat I feel that inevitability is more the issue here, rather than how easy it is to get combo counters.

quicksilverThis has been a very busy article, but I can’t bring myself to leave you on two paragraphs of deep analysis, so here is Quicksilver Blade.

First strike and a preemptive damage when attacking, that’s combo 2 here for you! This turned out to be very nice in this deck, as you can imagine by now. Great to see an equipment too, those are always very flavorful.

All in all, Boros was my favorite design, albeit quite a bit over-powered. It has some very exciting, aggressive and beautiful cards, I might show you some more in the future!

I hope you enjoyed the lengthy article, I’ll be talking to you again soon. Have a great week!

Recursion is Blue

Hey all! Let’s change things up this week and go back to our mono-colored series. If you haven’t read the previous ones, check out the green, white and black articles! Today we are doing blue, and blue’s specialty is instant and sorceries.
When looking for blue spells of mine, I found extremely few of them. In fact, all of them were part of limited decks I created. Three out of the only four I created where even from of the same Simic deck! That being said I only created 1 limited deck with blue, and barely started a second – Esper. I don’t find blue spells easy to create, so this should be a challenge; let’s see what I came up with.

Kame Drowning TacticsKame Drowning Tactics introduces “Turtle Spellbinding”.
You heard right, the simic deck was constructed around a turtle tribe. Turtles never had their moment of glory in the past, but they should! Turtle spellbinding means that you can play this instant by paying a bigger cost, tapping an untapped turtle, and if you do you will get to keep the instant after casting it!

So, is 4 manas and “tap a creature” too expensive to have recursion on a bounce spell? It’s actually probably still too cheap. Let’s talk more about balancing recursive spells with the next card.

Turn To WaterTurn to water is going to make things even trickier. You see, recursion – using the same card over and over – has existed several times in the past, through for example Splice and Buyback – let’s not complicate things with semi-recursion like Flashback.

It’s pretty simple: if you want to allow recursion on cards, you have to make it very expensive. That’s even more true with countermagic here. If you compare Kame Drowning Tactics with Capsize and Turn to Water to Forbid, you might realize one is extremely powerful, and the other probably even over-powered.

frost waveFrost Wave is showcasing Wizard Spellbinding.

I wouldn’t judge the power of the card based on the fact it imposes you control a wizard to use the spellbinding though, just evaluate the card’s efficiency when you do.

It is probably too good again, as fully locking two creatures for 5 is way powerful, especially when you lock them for two turns, and can redo it each turn!
I love the downside of blue creatures being immune to ice, though.

Kerathan TideKerathan Tide. At last a card with a different mechanic.
Remember Multikicker? It was introduced in Worldwake as an extension to the Kicker mechanic from Invasion.

The card itself was quite obviously based on Griptide, but giving you the ability to send your own creatures to the top of your library to send more of your opponent’s on his/her own, for one more mana and a downgrade to sorcery speed.
Now griptide already being pretty efficient, I don’t think we want to allow its user to pitch small creatures to send 1, 2, or 3 more away on the other side! Maybe paying two creatures against one?

1400596710682734I was frustrated using only cards from my limited decks, and showcasing only two mechanics, so I made Mind Sacrifice. It is largely similar to Kerathan Tide.

What blue mechanic haven’t we tried yet? Milling! It’s not exactly easy to balance mill either; it’s easy to slip from useless to overpowered, since it’s pretty much what milling at large is! I tried to take into consideration Mind Funeral and Traumatize, but that only helped me so much.
I think it’s not too bad as is now, guarantied 14 cards isn’t nothing. Being able to self-mill 21 will also enable to crazy combo decks!

Well, this wasn’t quite as bad as I expected. I’m still not quite comfortable with blue spells, but maybe it’s because I was sticking to the classic themes. You have to keep in mind that even combat tricks and creature spells are available. I was going to ask about other classic blue effects I might have missed, but as I’m editing this article, I realize I haven’t done drawing! This will have to be fixed.

Right now it’s time to say have a great time and see you next week!