The /tg/ Custom Cards Cube

Spell-Scale Dragon

Factsheet

    • 360 custom cards
    • Over 40 /tg/ contributors
    • Intended to be drafted (a.k.a. a cube)
    • Each card has artwork with artist credit (and occasionally flavour text)
    • Each card has designer credit (designers have a symbol used as watermark)
    • The set symbol is made of three C’s (for Custom Cards Cube)
    • Made in a month of hard work in summer 2013
    • Probably a lot better than you expect

Stonewrought Titan

Where to find it

Direct link to the most recent version, as a Magic Set Editor file.

Every Cube-related file, including what you’ll need to see the watermarks.

A ton of Magic-compatible art for your own projects (warning: may not stay up forever)

Dog of War

Things I did and what you should do differently

It’s a lot of work, most of which isn’t nearly as fun as designing sexy mythic legends. You have been warned.

I spammed /tg/’s custom cards threads asking people for their full MSE set files. Since average card quality is so low, you really need quantity to make up for it. A few people were explicitly called out; they were the set symbols on the most interesting cards I’d saved from /tg/ over the years. Once I had well over a thousand cards, I took my pick and heavily altered them to fix their flaws and make them fit my cube’s needs.

I made a sort of design skeleton based on the commons of Scars of Mirrodin (the latest set without gimmicks like guilds or double-faced cards to mess up the numbers). You can see it here. This made the selection process a lot easier: just fill in the holes. But it turns out that commons distribution doesn’t behave like cube distribution. You’re better off eyeballing it all. Creature mana curves are still important though. It’s very tempting to have a million expensive creatures, which tend to look cooler, but it’s essential to ensure that there’s an early game too and that multiple aggro decks are viable.

Same problem with multicolour cards: they’re really cool and a lot of fun to design, but they’re on the expensive side. They completely ruined all those carefully trimmed mana curves. And since they’re usually very powerful, they strongly reward slow, many-coloured control decks, and discourage efficient aggro. Of those who drafted my cube, few resisted the temptation of playing 3+ colours. 70 is way too much if you’re not trying to remake Ravnica.

This cube has a relatively flat power level. (Cards have a rarity but it’s pretty much meaningless.) That’s the norm for cubes, and to some extent it’s inevitable: nobody likes filler cards. But I now think it’s not such a great idea. Low-power cards make drafts and deck-building easier, lower board complexity (which is already ridiculously high in a set of brand-new cards with wacky abilities and single-use keywords), and make high-power cards sexier in comparison. With flat power level, games tend to be won by the build-up of little bits of tempo and card advantage – which Spike enjoys, but it’s only a small part of the Magic experience. I’m currently working on another (non-custom) cube which has bombs and fillers in similar proportions to boosters from regular sets.

Unfortunately, simple, mono-coloured, low-power cards are both hard and boring to design. I did some hole-filling through “contests” on /tg/, but I still had to do most of the work there.

There are a few mechanical subthemes in the set, like tribes (in colour order: knights, wizards, horrors, berserkers, dryads), tokens, -1/-1 counters, mill… But they don’t work very well. Turns out that to make a theme works, you have to dedicate a lot of cards to it, and in more than one colour. Your tribal theme should easily eat up one-third of two colours’ creatures.

Art is a pain in the ass (though you’ll have it easier than me if you reuse my work). There just aren’t that many quality landscape-oriented western fantasy artwork on the internet. For many of your cards, flavour will be based on the art you have available, not the other way around.

MSE has a “Statistics” tab that’s tremendously helpful. Use it to fix your mana curves. Use it to check the number and cost distribution of your tribes. Sort by text length in words to identify cards with unnecessary complexity and tiny font. It does half of your work for you.

Planeswalkers and lands with special abilities are never going to be balanced. Aim for underpowered-ness, and never stop tweaking them in response to feedback.

This cube was a sandbox of crazy ideas, but in retrospect I wish I’d picked real mechanical themes. Drafting a pile of wacky cards is fun once in a while, but archetypes are essential to bring draft formats alive.

SAMSUNG

For IRL drafting purposes, the whole set has been printed on photo paper, which is durable, looks very good and isn’t that expensive (though you’ll have to add the price of sleeves, including basic lands). Foto.com has good prices if you’re in Belgium. It took some work to get all pictures at the correct size and resolution to print two of them per standard-size photo, and I’m not proud of how I did it.

I found a way to use custom cards on Cockatrice. I’ve since lost the link but it’s google-able. However, I’ve never found a convenient way to draft custom sets online, so I never really used the ability.

Turning MSE set symbols into MSE watermarks, and adding custom watermarks in general, is a bit tricky. I’ll probably make a quick post about it some time in the future.

Colossal Belligerent Crustacean

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3 thoughts on “The /tg/ Custom Cards Cube

    1. Roxolan

      I do not recommend it as the best custom drafting experience you can have. It’s over-complicated, not coherent mechanically, not very well balanced, and more control-oriented than I’d like (it can be hard to draft better than Multicolour Good Stuff). Ask for “the pirate set” on /tg/ and you’ll get a much more WotC-like design.

      That being said, it’s still chock-full of good (or bad but clever) ideas, and it will definitely get smiles out of a group interested in custom cards. Most cards in there could have a place in a set, just not together. It’s the amateur-game-designer’s sandbox cube.

      (And hey, I’ve yet to find better than this one or the pirate one, and I’ve seen many. Second best isn’t too bad.)

      Reply

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