Credit for version 1 of this thread, including the design examples and the original structure goes to the brilliant tyranno6!
If you're new, chances are you're a bit dazed by the array of threads and cards posted all over the forum. This thread is designed to help you get a handle on how cards are designed, what the basic threads are for, and some general "dos and don'ts" of YMtC. If you're a bit more experienced, you might want to have a look at the YMtC Resources thread, which contains in-depth information about everything from costing to templating to flavour. If you're ever stuck for ideas, or not sure how to do something, be sure to check it out!
This primer contains four parts:
Part I: Etiquette and Decorum ►Criticism ►Templating ►Appropriateness ►Fair Play ►Rules and Balance
Part II: Contests and Games ►Games ►Contests ►Creation Threads
Part III: Design and Development ►Individual Card Design ►Development ►Set Design
In YMtC, like most forums, the Code of Conduct governs most of our behaviour. But in addition, the idiosyncratic nature of our forum has given rise to several other expectations. The most basic of these are outlined below:
►Criticism Like most other forums on these boards, YMtC is a place to discuss our ideas, not just to merely post them. Posting a card on this forum - anywhere on this forum - opens it up to criticism of varying degrees. A card posted on its own thread, for example, will attract heavy commentary, while a card posted on a game thread will get much less. You should be confident enough with yourself and your creation that you're okay with hearing reviews - both good and bad. Additional Reading: ● tyranno6 (edited by Imidazoline), YMtC Primer, Part IV: Comment and Criticism
►Templating When you post a card on the forum, you'll generally want others to be able to read it. To further this end, there are commonly used and accepted ways to post your cards. Here's an example:
Whip-Spine Drake | Creature - Drake Flying Morph (You may play this face down as a 2/2 creature for . Turn it face up any time for its morph cost.) “I swear the clouds were created just so the drakes would have a place to lurk." -Kasharri, skyknight 3/3
The bolding and italicising are generally optional, but most formats are similar to this. Some posters move the mana cost to a separate line and some move the power and toughness up by the creature type. To display manacosts, use the [mc][/mc] tags. For example, [mc]1UB[/mc] becomes , and [mc](GR)[/mc] becomes . There's no right way to post a card, as long as it's clear and cohesive. Additional Reading: ● zammm, zammm's Card Format, Wording, and General Syntaxery Guide
►Appropriateness When you're posting a card, make sure it's appropriate for the thread you're in. As a rule of thumb, cards which reference specific posters or (nonfictional) people are generally frowned upon. Remember the rules of the thread you're in - don't post a card in a contest thread you're not a part of, and don't make a card in a game thread which doesn't follow the rules. You shouldn't post your cards in threads dedicated to discussing other people's cards, either! Additional Reading: ● tyranno6 (edited by Imidazoline), YMtC Primer, Part II: Contests and Games
►Fair Play In a lot of ways, card creation in YMtC is like a sport. While WotC are the big-time professionals, we're casual enjoyers of the game. To keep us all here without monetary compensation means that we've got to be nice to each other! While commentary is welcomed, don't be an ass! Don't make fun of people for their lack of skill, and don't laud your greater talent over others. Be modest and gracious. Don't disrupt the conversations of others. Discuss and debate, don't argue. Be nice, and you'll find your time at YMtC much more enjoyable.
►Rules and Balance Generally posters expect the cards they read to at least be passingly familiar with the rules. When you post a card, you should ask yourself two things. First: Does this card work under the rules as printed? Second: Is this reasonably balanced? No-one expects you to have an in-depth knowledge of the comprehensive rules - so to help yourself answer the first question, go have a look at already printed cards. Gatherer is a great resource and should be used by newcomers and YMtC veterans alike. How do they word things? Could you make it more like that? If your card is substantially different from anything that exists, then you might have to check out the rules - or at least know what changes you'd need to make so your card works. (The latest comprehensive rules are here.) The reasonably balanced part you can answer in much the same way: just look at past cards and see how your effect has been costed in the past. Again, no-one's expecting you to have extensive knowledge of the limited and constructed metagame, just to have a decent idea of how things are costed before you post your card. Additional Reading: ● wolf_mage, Multicolour Card Guide ● Mistform Dragon, Costing ● Dream Spinner (as provided by Gardevior), Costing
YMtC is quite unlike other forums in that we have three general categories into which the majority of our threads fall into.
►Games Game threads are arguably the most casual of threads in YMtC. In a game thread, posters make cards which follow on from the card posted before them in some way - for example, in the You Make the Alphabetical Card! thread, each card is the same colour as the card before it, but starts with the next letter in the alphabet. Once we've reached the end, we start again with the next colour. The most important thing to pay attention to in game threads is the first post, which will contain the rules. People are less likely to be upset at a crappily made card than they are at a card which doesn't follow the rules. You should attempt a decent card on game threads nevertheless - it's a great place to practise making cards on a frequent basis.
Azorius Idea | Sorcery At the end of your next turn, draw two cards. It takes a while to get all the paperwork done.
In LHSYMTCF(R), we make cards which have a word in common with the last card in the thread. So anything with the word “Azorius” or the word “Idea” in its card name would be appropriate for the next card. It’s usually a good idea to post a card with two or more words in its name - though not explicitly against the rules, it effectively stalls the game for a post, which can make people annoyed at you. Plurals and other changes to the word are allowed, though sparingly. Examples of card names which would be appropriate:
Rush of Ideas
Azor, First Judge
Additional Reading: ● tyranno6 (edited by Imidazoline), YMtC Primer, Part III: Design and Development
►Contests If the game threads are the meat of YMtC, contest threads would definitely be the sauce. Contests, of all shapes and sizes, are run constantly by members of YMtC. The frequent 24-Hour contests have a strong history going back to The_Ogre and Gardevior. Then there are annual contests like the illustrious YMtC Idol, and random, classic one-offs like Noddegamra's famed Path of the Planeshaper. There is never a shortage of contests to join. Contest threads tend to occupy a large portion of the front page, and are often the most exciting part of YMtC. That said, contests are generally taken quite seriously, so be sure to read the rules outlined in the opening post, and try not to post unless you're directly involved in the contest. Generally, contests will have a sign-up period, and once that's closed, no more contestants will be admitted into the contest. Commenting on cards before the 'round' has closed is frowned upon and is generally considered bad form. You can usually feel free to make observations on cards that have already been judged in the contest, though.
►Creation Threads Individual creation threads are the oldest type of threads in YMtC. These are where you showcase the best of your best cards - it's a great way to get feedback about the creation of your individual cards, a set mechanic, or even some unexplored design space you're unsure about. Some posters post card threads daily, while others save them up and post entire sets of cards at a time. If you're new to the forum, it’s probably a good idea to lurk or restrict yourself to playing the games for a couple of weeks. While it's tempting to show everyone the stuff you've made, it's a good idea to get a feel for the community and how they will regard your cards before you post them. A sloppily thought-out group of cards is going to draw strong criticism and a lot of scorn, so be careful before posting your brainchild. That being said, when you do post your cards, do so with the understanding that you are posting on a forum of your peers who design cards – some a lot! No matter how much thought you put into your creations, it will draw criticism of some kind – don’t take it personally. The community genuinely likes to see good design, but we’re still a community of individuals. There will always be a level of discussion and disagreement. This is indicative of a healthy forum. Embrace it! But don’t get personal, and don’t be offended over genuine criticisms.
►Individual Card Design Making cards is at once both trickier and easier than it seems. Here I'm going to walk through a straightforward way of creating a card. Keep in mind that there is no 'perfect' way to create a card. There's been numerous examples of cards being created in dreams listed on these forums! But if you're stuck, this might give you a leg up.
First, you need to determine your aim for the card. Like anything creative, the best results come from focus, and for that you need to know what your goal is.
Now you need to decide how you're going to translate that aim into a card-friendly form. Depending on what your aim is, that's going to mean different things - you might need to come up with an appropriate mechanic, or a good concept for a spell.
Next, you need to refine your idea. You've come up with a good idea for a card, but will it translate well onto a single card? Will it be easily 'grokkable' by other people?
Now you should have the most basic part of your card. Translate your refined idea into card-appropriate terminology.
If you started with a card concept, now is the time to create the mechanic. If you started with a mechanic, you can go ahead and fiddle with the costs and power/toughness of your card.
Now you need to go and fill in all the things that haven't been done. Cost your card, check the wording, write the flavour text and the card name, and make sure the card type is appropriate. That's all there is to it! Obviously there are other ways to make a card, but if you're stuck, don't hesitate in giving this a try.
Let's try to make a card in the You Make the Alphabetical Card! game thread (as described in ‘Games’ above). In this game, I have to post a card of the same colour as the one before it, but its name must start with the next letter in the alphabet. ► In this case we're making a white card that starts with 'C'. The great thing about game threads is that they're so casual - it's a great place for us to try out a card and do pretty much whatever we feel like within these constraints. ► For our first card, let's choose a pretty common 'C' word for white, like 'Celestial'. When you're starting with a name, the best thing to go for is a 'top-down' design (see Additional Reading). Try to get a concept worked out, and iron down features from there. ► Let's go with 'Celestial Champion'. From our card name, we can see it's probably going to be a creature, maybe a Knight of some sort. It doesn't seem to be a normal knight though - possibly something that's divine, or deals with magic in some way. Maybe a Spirit Knight? ► Celestial Champion is a 'Creature - Spirit Knight'. What would a Spirit Knight do? The most classic knights in Magic are 2/2 first strikers for ; that's a good baseline if we're not sure where to start:
► But how to work in the Spirit side of the ability? Kamigawa established the theme of 'Spiritcraft': abilities that triggered off Spirits and Arcane spells being played. Spiritcraft seems like a good idea - remember we wanted this creature to deal with magic somehow?
Celestial Champion | Creature - Spirit Knight First Strike Spiritcraft - Whenever you play a Spirit or Arcane spell... 2/2
► But what sort of abilities would a Spirit Knight grant? One of white's longest-lasting spirits, Angelic Page , grants attacking or blocking creatures +1/+1. It seems relevant that a Knight would grant a combat ability, so that's good. What else does white do in combat? It has 'ranged' abilities, which let it deal damage to attackers or blockers, and it also outright destroys attacking or blocking creatures. Since we're talking about a champion of armed combat, a ranged ability would fit well, I think. Since we're limiting the ability to be centered around combat, it's only going to trigger from instant spells and flash creatures - so we can make it a little powerful, if we want.
Celestial Champion | Creature - Spirit Knight First Strike Spiritcraft - Whenever you play a Spirit or Arcane spell, Celestial Champion deals 2 damage to target attacking or blocking creature. 2/2
► Now it's pretty much ready for posting! Maybe we could add flavour text, if we're feeling particularly imaginative:
Celestial Champion | Creature - Spirit Knight First Strike Spiritcraft - Whenever you play a Spirit or Arcane spell, Celestial Champion deals 2 damage to target attacking or blocking creature. His ghostly steed gallops across the starry heavens as he searches for anyone who dares to challenge his worth in battle. 2/2
(Note: due to the boards change, Idol 5 appears to be lost to the sands of time - Imidazoline).
Now let's make a card for a contest; why not my own contest, YMtC Idol? The Audition criteria for YMtC Idol 5 was "Create a card that changes the costs of spells in some way." When we start with a mechanical focus for our card, we usually follow the same path - brainstorm all the possible ways you could fulfill that task, and choose the one you think you like the most. (Or, if you're in a cynical mood, choose the one which the judges of the contest will like the most.)
► There are two basic ways to change costs - increasing opponents and reducing your own. We could flip it around, and reduce opponent's spells and increase ours. We can also impose non-mana costs like discarding cards and sacrificing creatures, or we can flat out change the cost of a card directly to what we want it to be. We could also go with a mechanic which needs extra mana to work. If you're not sure which to pick, go deeper into this process - don't just look at the broad categories of changing costs, but get an example of each and see which you like best.
► I'm going to go with reducing the mana cost of opponents' spells. Now we want to determine exactly what this is going to do. I normally proceed by working out what colour could get this effect. What sort of philosophy would offer to reduce the cost of other's spells? It seems kinda stupid to help your opponent - green might do it, but green would help everyone at once. Black would also offer the opponent a discount on his or her spells.... for a price.
► Let's try the black view: I'll make your spells cheaper, but you will pay for it. What sort of punishments can we attach to that? Remember if we're reducing the cost of opponents spells they will always have the option of not playing the spell, so we can't make the drawback too heavy. Since it's black, we have a whole range of drawbacks - sacrificing creatures, discarding cards, life payments: pretty much whatever we want.
► I like the life total thing, it's classic black. Okay, so we want some sort of spell or permanent which makes stuff cheaper, but costs life. And we want it to affect opponents. Remember that opponents don't have to play stuff! I can see three options avaliable (you might see more!):
A - We make it an instant which makes the next spell an opponent plays this turn cheaper. If the opponent doesn't want to play the spell, then they've wasted a turn. B - We make it a spell which makes the next spell an opponent plays this turn cheaper - but at end of turn, if they didn't play anything, we impose a penalty anyway. C - We make it a permanent which everyone is able to use in some way - maybe just the first player, or maybe everyone gets to use it once, or maybe it's always in effect.
► I like the 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' approach of B, so let's go with that. What sort of effects do we choose from? In monoblack, we can offer your opponent a cheaper spell for a certain amount of life. If he doesn't play a spell, he loses a bit less life in the end. Or we could go back to sacrificing creatures or something instead - maybe force a mage to sacrifice a creature to play his next spell, and if he can't handle that act of evil, we make him lose life? We could dip into other colours, too: black-white gives us the flavour of the Orzhov, who will give a favour but then ask for it back tenfold later. An Orzhov cleric could grant power in the form of cheaper spells for a turn - and then requires payment in blood for any foolish enough to squander that favour. Blue would probably mean we get an benefit at end of turn if they don't pay, and red would probably do the same, but flavoured differently. Green-black wouldn't really work here, I don't think. Let's try the blue-black effect:
[NAME] | [mc][/mc] [TYPE] The next spell an opponent plays this turn costs less and X life more to play. At end of turn, if that player didn't play a spell, draw X cards.
► We need to choose numbers for these effects, too. I'm partial to smaller, more elegant effects, but a lot of posters like to make huge 6 or 7 cc things. Just remember that your cards usefulness is bound to go down a whole lot if you increase its casting cost by a lot, even if you make it more powerful.
[NAME] | [mc][/mc] [TYPE] The next spell an opponent plays this turn costs less and 5 life more to play. At end of turn, if that player didn't play a spell, draw two cards.
►I think this would be fine as an instant - it gives us that flexibility we were talking about with option A before. Then we need to figure out the mana cost - for this effect, since our maximum benefit is either 5 life or two cards, sounds fine.
[NAME] | Instant The next spell an opponent plays this turn costs less and 5 life more to play. At end of turn, if that player didn't play a spell, draw two cards.
►And, finally, we need to figure out the flavour. Remember flavour is a very personal thing - what works for different people is going to vary a lot. I think we're pretty clear that this card is some sort of pact or promise, though. We probably can't use the word 'pact' because of the Pact cycle, so let's use the flavour of a contract. What you have the freedom to do in YMtC is to simply make up a race or faction (or even an entire plane!) just to fit your card. We want some sort of blue-black race (of wizards, maybe?) which thrive on malicious - but entirely legal - contracts. Malicious tricksters, maybe like djinni or faeries or something?
Ashwing Contract | Tribal Instant - Faerie The next spell an opponent plays this turn costs less and 5 life more to play. At end of turn, if that player didn't play a spell, draw two cards.
►I added 'faerie' as a tribal type just to add flavour - remember tribal has very little effect on a card, so you can feel free to add it if you think it makes sense flavour-wise. Now all we need is flavour text:
Ashwing Contract | Tribal Instant - Faerie The next spell an opponent plays this turn costs less and 5 life more to play. At end of turn, if that player didn't play a spell, draw two cards. An idle childhood wish spoke to a soot-winged faerie may just become a deathly promise.
►Development Though it's not card design, designers should always have a sound background in card development. At the very least, it's going to help you avoid embarassment when your peers point out glaring flaws in your card - but more than that, designers who have a good understanding of how metagames and the comprehensive rules work will definitely give you an advantage in card-making. Development is the process of taking inspiration and working into a final piece. You may be a brilliant designer, but your cards won't be impressive at all if you don't have a good understanding of development. When developing a card, the first thing you should always do is take a look at past cards (using Gatherer and here on the forums) with similar mechanics to yours. Does your card effectively make a creature unblockable or hard to block? Then look at effects like Invisibility and Metathran Soldier . Does your card deal damage to a player or cause him or her to lose life? Then look at Shock and Searing Flesh .
Things you should look for: The wording of the other cards. Yours should hopefully be similar to the cards you've searched up, or if it deviates, you should be able to find precedent for the deviation! If you can't find any precedent for wording your effect, choose one that sounds as close to normal Magic wording as possible. If all else fails, go ask for advice in the Wording Clinic. Note that this thread is for wording advice only. You won’t get any advice on costing, colour or balance here. Next you should look at your ability's power level. Compare its effects to cards you've looked up and see how much it costs compared to yours. If you have something that there's no direct analogue to, try a roundabout way of getting there - if you're making Shock a cantrip, then look how much cantripping usually costs for instants, and cost it at about that. If you're making a spellshaper version, look at the relationship between spellshapers and the cards they shape . If you have a novel effect that you can't work out the power level of, you should still be able to get a good idea. Think about what sort of effect it would have on the game - are you bringing an opponent closer to death? By how much? Are you gaining a whole lot of card advantage? Remember things which don't directly have an effect on how many cards you have or an opponent has are generally considered weaker than those which do. If all else fails here, open up a thread of your own to look for specific feedback – just make sure you’ve done your research first!.
►Set Design Now we come to the most difficult part of Magic design. When designing mechanics and sets, not only must cards be designed well individually, but care must be taken that the cards themselves have good design as a group. This is much harder than it seems. The most important thing to keep in mind with set design is that each card in the set needs to have two types of synergy: intraset (it works well with other cards in the set) and interset (it works will with cards in other sets). You should keep the following things in mind when creating a set:
Your set should have an overarching theme.
This theme should link together your 'marquee' cards and your mechanics.
Not every card in your set needs to deal with the theme! Annex and Sea's Claim are cards from Onslaught that have nothing to do with Creatures, Tribal, or Cycling.
Your theme should be apparent from a small selection of cards from your set. If I make a random 'booster pack' of cards, I should be able to determine what you're going for with this set, even if I don't understand the subtleties yet.
Your set needs a cohesive world or flavour setting.
This one is important, and here we have a much harder job than R&D. To keep the set feeling like it's all one thing, it needs to be set in an environment, and that needs to be apparent through most cards. For Wizards, they can show this theme with the artwork in every card. However, we don't have the luxury of hired artists, and so we might need to be a bit more liberal with names or flavour texts to help tie in each card to our world.
You should have overarching mechanics derived from your theme.
Your mechanic, if it's keyworded, needs to be clear, consise, and 'grokkable' - that is, it needs to be readily understandable. Finally, a keyworded mechanic needs to be necessary! There's nothing more telling of a designer's lack of skill than mechanics which are unnecessarily keyworded.
Your mechanic should usually be spread equally around all five colours (though you may have special exceptions in your set) and it should be featured in multiple forms. Think of effects that your mechanic would go well with and make cards that exploit that synergy.
Your set should feature the basics.
You need to remember that cards like Shock and Terror are reprinted often for a reason - they're cards which fulfill a basic need of metagames. You may not wish to tread the same ground as WotC does, and that's great. But you need to remember that there needs to be efficient answers to common threats like creatures, no matter what the set.
Also make sure your set has answers to its own cards. Having a bunch of cards geared around one theme means that you're giving a big advantage to decks with that as their focus, without helping their opponent. You should include at least a couple of cards which work against your theme, if only for the sake of balance.
Like all the boards on this website, YMtC is a discussion board. Which means it's not just a place for creating cards, but for discussing every aspect of card creation - from contests to see who can create the best card, to games where people just create cards for fun, to thread where people analyse why they make cards the way they do. However, since YMtC is a discussion board, whenever you post a card here, you are opening your card up to discussion. If you're new here, this can be tough! A lot of the posters here have been creating cards for a few years now, and they won't hesitate to tell you where you went wrong. You're fully welcome to argue back with them and state your case - no-one is a member of R&D here - but just remember that people will point out flaws in your creation. If you're not comfortable with that, this probably isn't the board for you.
Do post cards!
Do explain why you made particular choices, especially if it's going to be controversial.
Do explain keywords or rule changes you are making.
Do be friendly!
Do comment on others' cards.
Do point out flaws in wording and balance.
Do suggest improvements.
Don't be rude!
Don't take offense if someone criticises your card.
Don't deliberately be vague when people ask you questions - YMtC is a collection of peers, not an audience.
Don't insult the card creator or the criticiser.
Don't deem a card 'broken' or 'bad' without explaining why.
Don't ignore all feedback; people are likely to be annoyed with you if you don't change anything at all when they've spent a lot of time explaining why what you've done is flawed.
If you're unsure about anything, feel free to ask! Everyone here is helpful and willing to lend you a hand if you're still lost. Gardevior, Mono789 and zammm are the Volunteer Community Leads for this forum, and will be willing to help you with anything you have an issue with. Other than that, have fun! Enjoy your stay at YMtC!
Well, short of a few internal links (and given that it would just send you down one or two posts, I'm not sure they're worth it), this is (obviously) an update of ty's primer, fixing links, formatting (kinda) etc. If anyone has any specific feedback, let me know and I'll try to get it in here. Same goes for resources!
I used to have a YMtC Comments and Critique thread for people who didn't want to post ICDs if you wanted to link that. Also, I think "how to design a card" section kind of frowns on bursts of inspiration, which most of my good designs are.
I don't care if the white zombies are off, I just really like this card. Also seems likes its got a backstory I'd like to hear about. Like how I was interested in Anowon, the Ruin Sage before I realized he came from a web comic.