Magic: The Gathering

MTG in Great Forks: The Godblood Mechanic

Each new Magic: The Gathering set has one or more new mechanics; these bridge the set’s setting and narrative with gameplay, and help define the set in the minds of the players

Great Forks, the setting of our new Magic block, is a city where spirits and mortals coexist. It is ruled by a trinity of gods; lesser divinities and elementals walk the streets; temples rise on every street corner, while festivals and processions pack its plazas and avenues. (It’s also a city supported by the drug trade, but one thing at a time.)

With spirits and mortals living in such close proximity, it’s no surprise that they occasionally do such things as result in half-mortal, half-divine children. Though mostly mortal, these god-blooded offspring often possess magical talents passed down to them from their spirit bloodline.

Flavorwise, a god-blooded mechanic should express the connection between the mortals and spirits of Great Forks. But the last time we saw a major mechanic related to the Spirit creature subtype, it was in Kamigawa block—a watchword nowadays for underpowered, parasitic mechanics. This is something we want to avoid!

(A “parasitic” mechanic in Magic is one that requires other cards of the same type to do its thing. This means that building a deck around the parasitic mechanic provides a very narrow range of deck design options. The poster child for parasitic mechanics, Splice onto Arcane, also appeared in Kamigawa, and is part of why that block is so maligned today.)

How do we express a creature’s god-blooded nature? Auras are a good mechanism to represent individual magical knacks. If the god-blood has an Aura attached to it as it enters the battlefield, it gives us the feel of a person born with some magical boon.

Let’s look at two existing cards that have provide a similar effect:


Auratouched Mage has a genuinely flavorful and potent ability, allowing us to tutor up an appropriate Aura from our library. However, the mechanic is complex and requires a lot of text on the card. Since we’ll want to add even more text to tie the effect to a Spirit “parent,” the result will be much longer and more complicated than we’d want in a keyword. (Compare this to other keywords. They tend to be 100 characters or less, and modern keywords rarely go over 150. As a keyword, Auratouched Mage’s ability would be well over 200.)


Academy Researchers has a much more limited power. It doesn’t provide card advantage, and it’s only as useful as the selection of Auras you have in your hand right now; you might not have a useful Aura in hand, or indeed any at all. It’s also a bit harder to balance than Auratouched Mage’s tutoring ability, which is costed to account for the fact that you’ll always have a really powerful and expensive Aura in your deck to attach to it.

Despite these issues, the Academy Researchers’ power looks like a good template to start from:

Godblood (When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may put an Aura card from your hand onto the battlefield attached to CARDNAME.)

Now, let’s tweak it to match the flavor of Exalted’s god-bloods:

Godblood (When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control a Spirit creature that shares a color with it, you may put an Aura card of that color from your hand onto the battlefield attached to CARDNAME.)

That’s a little long for a keyword, but not dramatically so. The Spirit restriction provides some linear guidance to deck design without being parasitic; you need a good mix of Spirits, creatures with Godblood, and Auras to make best use of the keyword ability.

The color limitation provides flavor, but it also discourages its use in multicolor decks. There are a few ways around this if it turns out to be a problem for the block metagame; we can explore these later.

And now, let’s see what the mechanic might look like on an actual card:

Wind Dancer

Given the nature of the Magic design process, there’s no guarantee that this mechanic would survive the design process unchanged—or at all; many new mechanics are simply abandoned during design or development. As I lack a design team, a development team, and playtesters, this is kind of moot, but I’m going to stick to the principles as best I can for the purpose of the exercise.

Next time, more new mechanics. Stay tuned!

Homebrew Mashup: Exalted and Magic The Gathering

I’ve been asked to write up some Exalted-themed cards for Magic: The Gathering. This could be fun! But I’m not just going to write up some random cards for random Exalts and call it a day. I’m working to develop my game design skills, and building cards piecemeal does little to hone my abilities.

So! I’m going to build a whole card set, with the intent of making it playable in Limited format if someone felt like printing up the cards and playing with them. This is a useful experiment that should hopefully give some insight into the game design and development process. (It also means there won’t be any actual cards in this post. Design needs time! And I’m heading off to run D&D after dinner, so, priorities.)

To start with, I’m going to set some parameters:

  • Few Exalts. It’s difficult to effectively translate the mechanics of the Celestial Exaltation into M:TG, and the Dragon-Blooded elemental synergies don’t fit neatly into the color pie (40% blue, 40% red, and 20% green), making it difficult to incorporate them into a set. I’ll throw in a couple here or there, but they won’t form the backbone of the set.
  • Focus on a small part of Creation. It’s a huge world full of countless unique societies, and throwing them together like gumbo only serves to muddy all that interesting detail.
  • Set it in an existing 1e/2e location. Picking a location that’s being added in 3e would require breaking my non-disclosure agreement to provide any kind of meaningful detail, while inventing a brand-new locale would miss the point of working with an existing setting.

Given these parameters, I’m going to design the set around Great Forks. Its plethora of gods and other supernatural creatures will provide a range of cool creature cards, its independence from the Realm justifies the absence of large number of Dragon-Blooded, and if I feel like it I can design a few Exigents. (Since I don’t know much more about Exigent design than you do, I can do this without worrying about spoilers.)

Now, there are lots of other parameters that go into an actual M:TG set. I’ll treat this as though I were actually working for Wizards of the Coast and design it as such. (Of course, I’m limited by lack of personnel and funds—I don’t have a playtesting team, for example—but I’ll do what’s within my capabilities as a guy who’s designing stuff in his spare time for no pay.)

These parameters include:

  • Build the set as part of a cohesive block of three sets for drafting purposes, bookended by other blocks and basic sets for purposes of Standard format design. Obviously I’m not going to design all of those too, so I’ll just swap it in for a previous block.
  • Build around a narrative. A real block would come with tie-in novels; I’m not planning on writing any, but a homebrewed block should have a narrative that a fiction writer could work with for this purpose.
  • Planeswalker characters, some old and some new. Yeah, this means we have to have Liliana or Jace or whoever else show up in Creation. Cope.
  • Multiple new mechanics and one recurring mechanic in the first set of the block. Later sets will have a new mechanic or two apiece; we can plan ahead for this if something really exciting pops up, but we can just as easily leave it for later—assuming this homebrew project gets that far.

(I wanted to put in some links to Mark Rosewater’s Magic: The Gathering design articles, but the Wizards of the Coast website is down. I’ll edit the links in later.)

That’s all for now, as I have to finish dinner and head out to D&D. Later I’ll start work on the mechanics and design skeleton for the Great Forks set. Till then!