Building a custom set part 3: Items

Hello! Last time i laid out the creatures of my Binding of Isaac set. Today i’m going to take you through the several types of items i defined.

Item layouts

Items were defined on a case-by-case basis, but some basic rules applied. Color/mechanics-wise i tried to follow common Magic design as closely as i knew how at the time (i’d change some decisions today, in fact i do still tweak them a little bit now and then), but i did take plenty of liberties for the sake of flavor. Additionally i chose to represent them both as artifacts and enchantments, and within those auras and equipments. The decision for these came mainly from what i felt made more sense, with a single rule: activated items had to involve a tapping ability, and because of that they felt more at home among artifacts. Some are sacrificed upon use because of power issues. You may also notice i love colored artifacts.


The game has five main types of common pickups: hearts, soul hearts, coins, bombs and keys. I chose not to represent these in general, but there are several items that provide or interact with them. This is a broad definition of their function in card form:

  • Hearts increase your life total, and are green and white.
  • Soul Hearts, in the game, are a separate non-refillable health meter. I chose to represent them as +1/+1 counters on creatures. There’s not many, and they’re mostly white (since the items usually represent faith).
  • Coins were tricky. They buy you new items so it made sense to represent them as card draw; however i decided to represent them as colorless mana in some cases as well (putting items in play is sort of like buying them). They’re either blue or colorless.
  • Bombs deal with damage and are mainly found in red.
  • Keys… there’s a single item that provides keys (Skeleton Key). They’re used to open locked chests and doors. I focused on the doors and decided they should interact with lands in some way.

Yum heart gives you a heart upon activation. The Relic drops a soul heart every four cleared rooms.

A Quarter gives you 25 coins. I didn't put draw 25 for obvious reasons. Mr. Boom drops a big bomb on activation. Skeleton Key gives you 99 keys.

You may have noticed subtypes on some of the cards; let’s see what those are about.

Item subtypes

Subtypes should be used sparsely to avoid adding needless complexity to the cards, but they can be very useful when you need to have interaction with specific cards only. The three subtypes that i wanted to represent exist only because the game had “tutors” for them, that is, effects that search them up. Here are those three tutors:

Special rooms were turned into lands.


To understand these types you’ll need a bit of context, if you’re not familiar with the game. Let’s start with the first one. Pacts are all sorts of items, with nothing in common except one thing: they are the only items that may appear in the Devil Room. This special room may spawn after you clear a boss, and within it the Devil offers to trade you items in exchange for your maximum health (that’s why you lose life when you activate the land). Many of the items have a demonic flavor to them but really there’s all kinds of things the Devil offers. There’s no other reasoning behind this type.

Familiars are passive minions that follow you around and usually attack enemies when you do, though there are passive familiars like The Relic i showed above. I felt that enchantments that turned into creatures were the best way to represent them. At this point it might be relevant to add that some familiars are offered by the Devil, as well.

Finally, Tarot cards are a special type of activated item with a single use. They have all kinds of effects, so i took the opportunity to make the lot of them into a pretty little cycle which i will expand upon in another post. Seeing as they are single-use and the set is extremely heavy on permanents, i decided to turn them into instants.

You may have noticed the lack of instants and sorceries as well. It’s not selective spoiling on my part, there really are almost no non-permanent spells in the set. In fact, excluding the Tarot cycle, there are exactly two instants and three sorceries. I might as well spoil the lot already:


Here’s a representation of coins as colorless mana.

The reason for making these as they are, again, changes for each particular card.

  • Lemon Mishap and Shoop da Whoop still need creatures to function and weren’t made into permanents because of too much redundancy in effects.
  • Money = Power also needs a creature to function but, aside from that, this was the best way i found for representing your current (and ever-changing) amount of coins, short of giving it an echo-like effect.
  • Full-Course Meal is my response to items that only boost your stats the one time and then have no effect. Some power-boosting like The Mark were the only ones i could fit in without adding redundancy. Speed and range boosters were pretty much ignored, and life boosters were joined into this single card.
  • Pills are single-use and activated the same way as tarot cards (indeed, they occupy the same slot) so i followed the same reasoning and turned them into an instant.

Note that you should probably never follow my example on this. Removing spell types is an easy way to alienate players and break the balance of the whole thing. As a lover of casual formats it intrigues me to think what kind of games a set like this would provide, though. If nothing else i suppose it at least brute-forces the creature-heavy flavor.

That’s all i have to say about the items. Join me next time when i reveal most of the cycles in the set.