I love picking apart the design of Magic sets, I love perusing custom card boards, and I love making my own custom card and sets. Hell, I’ve designed thousands of cards in my twenty-one years of playing this amazing game (some of which are even good designs!). This week, I’ve prepared a simple exercise in custom card design. I invite any design enthusiasts, amateur or otherwise, to participate.

Here’s how it works:

  • At the end of these instructions, there will be a list of themes/words/concepts.
  • For each word (or as many of the themes as you want), create a card or mechanic that conveys the word (in some way or other).
  • Don’t expect perfection on the first try. You don’t even have to succeed in making something half-decent. It’s more important to make something than nothing.
  • Proper templating is a plus, but not essential; it’s better to make something comprehensible (though still recognizably a Magic card) than to get a headache ensuring that you adhere to the standard template.
  • If you’d like, show your work! You can present your fully-formed finalized project, but it may be even more interesting to show the process leading up to it. (I’ll be showing all of my work. If you want to skip my thought process and only see the finished products, just go to the bolded card names.)
  • I’ve given a go at all of these themes already. If you want to participate, I encourage you to design first, then read my designs later.
  • Have fun!

Here’re the themes:

  • Love
  • Teamwork
  • Experience
  • Egyptian Mythology
  • Norse Mythology
  • Weather
  • Vampires
  • Dolls
  • Gardening
  • Sunlight
  • Outer Space
  • Pollution
  • Gravity
  • Depth

Enthralling Victor


  • Reminds me of Soulbond and banding.
  • We also have [casthaven]Enthralling Victor[/casthaven].
  • How about two enemy creatures that fall in love? How can we make this red?

    Star-crossed Lovers

    When [CARDNAME] enters the battlefield, choose a creature you control and a creature you don’t control.
    The chosen creatures can’t block each other.
    When one of the chosen creatures dies, the controller of the other creature sacrifices it. Then, sacrifice [CARDNAME].



  • I love the idea of someone boosting someone into the air, or over a wall. Like, a Loxodon doing a Fastball Special to a Leonin.

    Leg Up
    As an additional cost to cast [CARDNAME], tap an untapped creature you control.
    Target creature gets +2/+2 and gains flying and first strike until end of turn.

Lighthouse Chronologist


  • Renown does a good job of conveying this.
  • Experience can play into the nature of time.
  • There’s also Level Up, [casthaven]Figure of Destiny[/casthaven], [casthaven]Warden of the First Tree[/casthaven]. They feel more like you’re investing power in them than seeing them grow, however.
  • What about a student? I’m reminded of the Kamigawa flip cards, like Bushi Tenderfoot.

    Student of Narset
    Creature – Human Monk
    Whenever you cast a noncreature spell, put a Lore counter on [CARDNAME].
    UU, remove four Lore counters from [CARDNAME]: Copy target instant or sorcery card in your graveyard.

  • Nah, this is a miss. She’s learning something, then spending that knowledge and it’s gone forever.
  • This really wants to use the transform mechanic. Let’s make something that doesn’t.
  • Fungusaur has definite experiences.

    Battle-Hardened Barbarian
    Creature – Human Barbarian
    Whenever [CARDNAME] deals or is dealt combat damage, put a +1/+1 counter on it.
    3RG: Regenerate [CARDNAME].

Vengeful Pharaoh


  • So many options! I just need to pick something.
  • We’ve seen mummies and a coffin before.
  • I don’t remember enough about Anubis to distinguish him from Athreos or Erebos, and a new god design would be pretty major.
  • How about something simple?

    Cursed Laborer
    Creature – Hound
    When [CARDNAME] dies, put a 2/2 black zombie creature token onto the battlefield.

  • Could be an interesting sacrifice theme. Could even keyword this, assuming I want to use it enough (which I doubt). It’s a simple death trigger, but I might not want every color making black zombies and it probably isn’t deep or interesting enough to use that many times only in black. Perhaps we make an Afterlife ability word that just spells out death triggers?



  • I designed a whole set of this a while ago. Pulling out an old design and checking it out.

    Tynig’s Stormhammer
    Legendary Artifact—Equipment
    Equipped creature gets +3/+0
    Whenever equipped creature attacks, you may pay RR. If you do, [CARDNAME] deals 3 damage to target creature or player.

  • This was supposed to go with my Thor analog:

    Tynig the Stormborn
    Legendary Creature—Human Warrior
    Tap: [CARDNAME] deals three damage to target creature or player
    Whenever a single source you control deals three or more damage to an opponent, you may sacrifice two mountains. If you do, return [CARDNAME] from your graveyard to the battlefield.

  • It’s not a particularly accurate translation of the god Thor, but I was designing a mortal Thor (who was very hard to keep down), not a god.
  • I didn’t realize just how much the Stormhammer is like Sunforger. Granted, you don’t have to unequip and the spell you cast is always Lightning Strike.
  • I wonder what a decidedly Norse mechanic would be. After all, Theros’ mechanics all play into Greek mythology but none are uniquely Greek; Heroes (Heroic), Gods (Devotion), and Monsters (Monstrosity) are very common traits.
  • This may be too bold a claim, but I feel like the really unique aspects of myths are not their content, but their aesthetics. You’re going to have a creation myth, a flood myth, and stories of valiant heroes fighting off monsters, as well as disputes between divine beings. I thought about this when considering a cool death mechanic, since Norse mythology revolves heavily around death and the afterlife, but so do Greek and Egyptian.
  • What’s simple and Norse? Valkyries are cool and fit the aesthetic very well. How do I distinguish a Valkyrie from a normal Angel, however? They ferry the spirits of fallen heroes to the afterlife. They show up when people die! Aha!

    Kaldheim Valkyrie
    Whenever a creature you control dies, if [CARDNAME] is in your hand or graveyard, you may reveal it and pay WW. If you do, put [CARDNAME] onto the battlefield.



  • A while back, I made a pretty blah series of weather-controlling enchantments. I don’t intend to repeat them at present.
  • We’ve seen weather fairly often in sorceries ([casthaven]Hurricane[/casthaven], [casthaven]Tsunami[/casthaven], [casthaven]Nighthaze[/casthaven], [casthaven]Unearthly Blizzard[/casthaven], [casthaven]Acid Rain[/casthaven]). We also have non-sorcery cards like [casthaven]Sandstorm[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Blizzard[/casthaven].
  • We have plenty of magical weather cards, like [casthaven]Rain of Blades[/casthaven], [casthaven]Rain of Gore[/casthaven], [casthaven]Rain of Filth[/casthaven], and rain of… you get the idea. Magical rain is abundant and horrible.
  • What about helpful weather? A good breeze to fill your sails and lift your spirits?

    Untap all creatures you control. They get +0/+2 until end of turn.

  • Well, that’s a pretty boring [casthaven]To Arms![/casthaven] It also could be monowhite. I grant that not all cards have to be powerful or good, but this is neither strong nor particularly flavorful. It’s not weather.

    Untap all creatures you control. Those creatures get +1/+1 and gain haste and vigilance until end of turn.

  • Now it’s a flavorless combat trick. “Hey wind, thanks for giving us +1/+1, haste, and vigilance until end of turn.” Can we do better?
  • Perhaps let’s go back to something more destructive?

    DESTROY EVERYTHING. (Destory all creatures, artifacts, enchantments, lands, planeswalkers, and players. Destroy all spells on the stack. Destroy all libraries, graveyards, and exile zones. Destroy all tribal, Vanguard, and ante cards. Destroy the battlefield. Flip over the table. Then, destroy the table.)

  • …sorry, I couldn’t resist.
  • How about rehabilitating [casthaven]Heat Wave[/casthaven]?
  • What does a heat wave do? It makes one thirsty, dizzy, or tired. Thirst is blue in older magic, heat is definitely red. I feel like this has to be a red card, but how can I convey dizziness without tapping creatures or just making it another [casthaven]Falter[/casthaven]? How do you get your own creatures to attack if it’s too damned hot?

    Torrid Noon
    [CARDNAME] deals 2 damage to each tapped creature.

  • They’re tired, right, so they can’t fight off the heat? Except punishing tapped creatures is pretty white and I believe secondary black (tertiary in nothing?). This is likely just be a kicked [casthaven]Marsh Casualties[/casthaven] for 3. I could make you have to cast it after combat, but that’s a really inelegant reverse Portal-esque fix.

    Scorching Summer
    Whenever a creature attacks, [CARDNAME] deals 2 damage to it unless its controller pays (2).

  • A red [casthaven]Propaganda[/casthaven]? A persistant [casthaven]Pyroclasm[/casthaven]? This card definitely has some development issues (at 2R, it’s just a substantially worse Propaganda in a color that generally doesn’t need it, but it probably should cost three), but I kinda like it. I hope it gives the flavor of it being too hot to go outside without preparation.



  • We’ve already got the Slith mechanic used in Innistrad. [casthaven]Captivating Vampire[/casthaven] plays the charm card, and [casthaven]Vampire Nocturnus[/casthaven], er, likes when you’re about to have a black memory.
  • What else do Vampires do besides suck blood? We’ve got turning into bats. Turning into wolves and mist aren’t as resonant. They fly, but that mechanic is well established.
  • We could play up the charm and emotion. [casthaven]Enthralling Victor[/casthaven] would be a pretty perfect vampire charmer—get someone weak-toughnessed, er, -willed to do your dirty work for a moment.
  • Oh man. I keep thinking of shiny vampires and “I would die for Riley,” from Inside Out.

    Popular Pretty Vampire
    Flying, Lifelink
    If [CARDNAME] would die, you may sacrifice a creature (or plotline). If you do, regenerate it.

  • So, a 2BB 3/3 flying, lifelink with a less elegant version of Falkenrath Aristocrat’s ability? Sure. Now we just need a plotline-matters mechanic.



  • We’ve got [casthaven]Creepy Doll[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Stuffy Doll[/casthaven]. Dolls are apparently indestructible artifact creatures that cost five. There’s also [casthaven]Heap Doll[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Voodoo Doll[/casthaven].
  • It could stalk people, like Chuckie. I haven’t seen those movies, but I’ve seen previews, and that’s practically the same thing, obviously.

    Stalking Doll
    Artifact Creature – Construct
    When [CARDNAME] enters the battlefield, name a creature card.
    Whenever a creature with that name attacks, if [CARDNAME] is on the battlefield, exile it and [CARDNAME]. At the beginning of your next end step, return [CARDNAME] to the battlefield.

  • Creepy. Let’s make it better.

    Stalking Doll
    Artifact Creature – Construct
    When [CARDNAME] enters the battlefield, name a creature card other than [CARDNAME].
    At the beginning of your end step, exile a creature with the chosen name and [CARDNAME]. Then, return [CARDNAME] to the battlefield under an opponent’s control.
    When there are no creatures on the battlefield, sacrifice [CARDNAME].

  • Sidenote: Salvador Doll-EEEEEEE! A doll mid-surrealist murder. Just think about it.



  • Okay, we’ve got [casthaven]Crop Rotation[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Harrow[/casthaven].
  • Definitely feels like it has to do with lands.
  • Perhaps it feeds creatures? Gains life?

    Harvest Season
    As an additional cost to cast [CARDNAME], tap an untapped creature you control.
    Search your library for a land card and put it onto the battlefield tapped. Then, shuffle your library.



  • We’ve got the night/day werewolf mechanic from Innistrad.
  • We also have Sunburst, but that has much to do with the specific environment of Mirrodin.
  • I’m thinking of Solar Beam and Sunny Day from Pokemon. Perhaps we can work there?

    High Noon
    Each creature you control that’s a plant, fungus, or saproling gets +1/+1.

  • Weird templating, but it’s from [casthaven]Pallid Mycoderm[/casthaven]. That skirts the issue of pluralizing fungi.
  • We could also add the trinket text, 2WG: Transform all Werewolves.

Crucible of Worlds


  • Magic is medieval fantasy, which is pretty distant from science fiction and space travel. How can I make a card about outer space without violating Magic’s rules?
  • The Blind Eternities are kind of Magic’s space; they’re what exists between worlds. Perhaps we can play with that?
  • The Eldrazi are creatures of the blind eternities, so I could make one of them, but I feel like the focus should be on the location, not the denizens.
  • Why not use a different card type?
  • Whoah, [casthaven]Interplanar Tunnel[/casthaven] already exists.

    The Blind Eternities
    Plane— (intentionally left blank)
    When you planeswalk to [CARDNAME], exile all creatures until you planeswalk away from [CARDNAME] (those creatures return under their owner’s control).
    [CHAOS]: Put a creature exiled by [CARDNAME] onto the battlefield under your control.

  • This… doesn’t say space travel at all.

    Planar Exacuation
    Vanishing 4
    When [CARDNAME] enters the battlefield, exile all creatures until [CARDNAME] leaves the battlefield.

  • Vanishing isn’t a great mechanic, but it’s easier to parse than writing it all out with something like fate counters. Space travel is apparently a temporary [casthaven]Wrath of God[/casthaven].

Polluted Bonds


  • Automatically, my mind thinks of tainted lands.
  • Magic has some precedent for this, particularly in turning lands into swamps.
  • I remember Blight from GDS2.
  • Turning lands colorless seems like an unfun way to attack your opponent and a great way to screw yourself over.
  • Putting counters on lands is kind of annoying.
  • [casthaven]Polluted Delta[/casthaven] isn’t polluted.

    Polluted Fen
    Tap: Add U, B, or R to your mana pool. [CARDNAME] deals 1 damage to you.

  • It’s a (likely uncommon) pain-tri-land cycle. I kinda like it. I thought about giving it 1, Tap: Add 2 to your mana pool to be a weaker version of the Painlands’ painless ability to add colorless mana, but I’m skipping it ’cause it looks inelegant.

Gravity Well


  • What goes up, must come down.
  • Sir Issac Newton as a legendary creature?

    Sir Newton, Lord of Appleheim
    Legendary Creature—Human Wizard
    Whenever [CARDNAME] attacks, you may have target creature with flying lose flying until end of turn. If you do, it deals damage to itself equal to its power.

  • Great, I just made [casthaven]Kinscaer Harpoonist[/casthaven]. What if I include an equal and opposite reaction?

    Sir Newton, Lord of Appleheim
    Legendary Creature—Human Wizard
    Whenever [CARDNAME] attacks, you may have target creature with flying lose flying until end of turn. If you do, [CARDNAME] gets +2/+2 and gains flying until end of turn.

  • Alley oop!
  • He can gain flying, make himself lose it, and then swoop up ever higher! Kinda flavor fail, but oozes can wear boots.

Rootwater Depths


  • We have plenty of deep-water creatures. What feels like it has to be deep down?
  • We could make low-swimming, the awful opposite of high-flying (this creature can block and can only block creatures with islandwalk). But that’s just silly.
  • Why not let the name take some of the mechanical slack?

    Depth Charge
    3, tap, sacrifice [CARDNAME]: [CARDNAME] deals 2 damage to target creature. If that creature is blue, destroy it.

  • Eh, needs more toad.
  • What about something that’s sinking? A sinking ship? A descending predator?
  • How about a blue [casthaven]Slumbering Dragon[/casthaven]?

    Ascending Dandân
    [CARDNAME] enters the battlefield with five depth counters on it.
    At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a counter from [CARDNAME].
    [CARDNAME] can’t attack or block if it has any counters on it.

  • This is Magic’s Jaws.

Second Sunrise

That’s all from me. Here’s looking forward to your designs and responses. If you enjoyed this, great! We can do it again. If not, well, there’s always next week, when I’ll be returning from GP Dallas.

As ever, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner, improviser, and game designer. He has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.