Building a custom set part 4: Cycles
Cycles are basically sets of cards that all follow a specific pattern. I’ve already shown you my cycle of creature lords, a creature for each color with the same converted mana cost and similar function (well, except the blue one). I also started a few other cycles, some more subtly than others. Speaking of which…
This is a classic in Magic sets, most often with duals and/or ability lands. I’ve shown one last time, so you may have guessed these are the latter:
One land for each color, each with a sacrifice ability. They were also all supposed to search up something but, due to the lack of instants and sorceries in the set, the blue one was changed to draw. Simple cycle. Let’s continue.
I jump at the possibility of making cycles whenever i can. When i saw there were five (well, six, but the sixth is a different story) playable characters, i couldn’t resist.
So, there’s something missing. What about a green one? It’s odd, especially since Magdalene would fit the role perfectly. The thing is, at this time in development i’d already heard that the expansion to the game would have an extra character and i felt that his ability could be fit into green, so i preferred to wait it out. Because of that, the cycle is incomplete until the next set comes out and Isaac isn’t actually a true part of it. Incomplete cycles are sometimes even more fun to create than complete ones, but you need to know what’s coming in the future.
There was another neat little cycle of five that i took advantage of (fully, this time) and may have screwed up because i heard there’s another piece of it in the expansion that i’ve not encountered yet. This is the cycle of the Harbingers:
They all share flying and intimidate, all have an extra keyword that fits the color, and a fateful hour mechanic that reflects the change in their attack patterns when they fall below a certain threshold of health.
I mentioned the Avatar creature type before as an unofficial tribe and these are the first of them. The Knight subtype was added not just for flavor but also to take advantage of this:
The rest of the Avatars appear in the Seven Sins cycle. Seven is a bad, bad number to work out off. I had to go multicolor but one of the colors would be underrepresented, showing up in only two cards against the three of the other colors. Naturally white got the short straw again to maintain the theme. Then came the issue of making sure the sin felt at home in that pair of colors and that it had mechanics to match. Needless to say, some tweaking had to be made. Let me go through each of them in detail.
- Gluttony: green and blue, physical and mental gluttony. Shroud is blue and life gain is green, easy one.
- Wrath: red and white, fury and justice. Vigilance is white, damage red. Why vigilance? Because he’s paranoid. All good so far.
- Lust: blue and red, again mental and physical lust. Haste is red. The -1/-1 counter is more black… blue is probably tertiary on it, after green? Ah, the woes of flavor.
- Greed: blue and black, for knowledge and power. Ophidian (the name usually given to the card draw mechanic; i like calling it Curiosity) is blue. Mana would be green but since it’s colorless i think it doesn’t do much harm on black. It’s meant to represent coins, by the way.
- Pride: white and black felt like good fits, they’re both proud of following what they believe in even if they believe in opposites. This one was heavily tweaked since i didn’t have much flavor to work from short of repeating designs.
- Sloth: black and green, mostly out of mechanics since poison fits those colors perfectly. I like these colors on the sin but i don’t really know how to justify them. Red and white seem too fervent to indulge in sloth… perhaps blue? Anyway. The “with no poison counters” clause was added because it felt broken otherwise, especially for a common. Originally it put a -1/-1 counter on a creature but Lust won that one.
- Envy: red and green… at this point i was already struggling. Red seems alright, but the second color should be black. The problem was i had three cards on black already and didn’t find a way to switch colors around. Green is probably the worst color for this sin… as for the mechanics, they’re both at home in green so it evens out i suppose.
In general terms, they all have one keyword or ability, an upon-death effect and are 2/2 for 3.
As fun as these are to create, they can be pretty tough to make coherently and take a lot of planning. With that in mind, imagine what it’d be like to create a 22-card cycle. That’s what’s coming up.
Alright, challenge accepted. Let’s break this down into smaller fragments. 22 cards gives us two 10s and a 2. 10 is a good number since it gives us one of each pair of colors. With that in mind, i made two cards for each pair of colors plus two special ones. The breaking down of these had less to do with flavor (since i don’t know the meaning of the tarot itself) and more with mechanics. A problem i was faced with from the beginning was that a lot of these cards are teleport effects so, as always, some improvisation was in order. I’ll go through all of them like above:
White/Blue is one of my favorite pairs, after White/Black, and it gives me access to my second favorite blue ability, bouncing permanents to their owner’s hand (because there’s nothing better than card draw). I figured a teleport made sense for that. The conditional tutor is a staple of both colors as well. You may notice it’s exactly the same ability as the Item Room’s. Details, details.
Blue/Black have their love for card draw in common, so that was easy to take advantage of. Temperance’s card draw symbolizes coins, whereas Judgement’s represents items. Small disclaimer: though i usually try to write in american english, for the sake of simplicity, “judgment” is just one of those words that bothers the hell out of me. Sorry about that.
Black/Red, blood and death. Questions? (also i just realized that i have two cards named Death in the set; obviously that shouldn’t happen)
Red/Green have creature boosts in common. Permanent boosts aren’t red’s field however, and furthermore i had already defined soul hearts as being white and green, but the following two cards felt more white/green than The Hierophant so i had to compromise.
Green/White, the colors of life. Justice felt clearly white to me, and i tweaked it into dropping creatures so green could have a good slice of the pie. Life is hearts, card draw is coins and lands are keys.
White/Black is my pair of choice (i have a thing for angels and demons) but i’m not sure whether it’s well represented. The Empress is a bit odd, despite being somewhat inspired by Serra’s and Phyrexia’s Boon. The Fool, however, is one of my favorites in the entire cycle, mixing up Balance with discard for an awesome White/Black spell (if i may say so myself). Flavor-wise, The Fool was one of the last cards i designed. I knew it had to represent going back to square zero in some way so discard felt like an interesting choice. Not entirely sure it works, though.
Black/Green… Ugh. The Devil looks really out of place in black, but i suppose it can be seen as a tainted Giant Growth. It should be Red/Green but that was already full, because Green/White was already full… there’s a lot of recursion when dealing with a cycle this big. The Emperor fits well, though.
Green/Blue has the simplest effects and both fit nicely. Now you fly. Now you unlocked the shop and got an item. Good game.
Blue/Red is fun, Wheel of Fortune is exactly what you’d expect (also, using names of spells that already exist is also not good; this one was on purpose though). As for The Magician, it works better flavor-wise… blue/red isn’t much about creatures, though i suppose it has to be in a set like this.
Red/White rightfully gets Strength, though The Tower is stretching it a bit.
Finally, all colors, the two remaining spells. I really like how these turned out. Whether they’re playable is another story completely, however. And yes, you can pay only colorless mana to have spells that do absolutely nothing when cast. Is that even legal? I’m actually not sure.
Why did i decide to go for hybrid mana this time? That’s a good question. Is “because it looked cool” a good answer? I love that gradient thing the card background does. That’s probably not a good answer.
With the spells i defined, i don’t think i could’ve distributed them in any other way. Could i have defined them in any other way? Perhaps, but perhaps i’d have to sacrifice some of the flavor if i did. It’s a game of compromises, and i played it the best way i knew how.
At any rate, there are other, perhaps not so explicit, cycles that i encourage you to discover after i post the set in its entirety. Until then, join me next time when i wrap up the set with an overall analysis.