Of Doctors and Magic (and Doctor Who themed Magic Sets)

Hey guys, guess what? I’m Back!

Pinkie_Pie_blows_party_horn_in_Rainbow's_face_S4E04

Before I write anything about what I’ve been working on lately, let me just quickly disclaim this: I OWN NOTHING! PLEASE DON’T SUE ME! Everything Doctor Who belongs to the BBC, everything Magic, including every symbol, mechanic or idea (except for some minor stupid ones, but they are very welcome to them!) belongs to Hasbro and all the wonderful artworks I have pulled from the Internet belong to their respective artists.

If I used an artwork that belongs to you, and you want me to remove it – or I have for whatever reason credited it incorrectly or even not at all – please contact me, and I will fix / remove it. Know that I love and respect your work and I do not want to use it against your will.

Ok, that out of the way, where do I start? I guess it’s time for:

An awkward (and honestly needlessly long) introduction

A few weeks ago it occurred to me, that the two friends I made from Magic that also regularly follow Doctor Who were due for a birthday. Obviously I decided to quickly throw together two booster boxes of a Doctor Who themed Magic set for them to draft with. Yes, that is how my mind works. No, it wasn’t my brightest idea to date. It was still pretty neat though!

Let me use this opportunity to inject a small piece of advice right here: If this sounds like a logical, wonderful and well-reasoned idea to you and you want to copy it for your friends next birthday, do yourself a favor and give yourself more than three weeks. Seriously.

So, what are my plans now that I have suddenly come back from my year-long sabbatical and started writing again? Well, I’d like to share the whole experience, talk a bit about the design process, talk a bunch about Doctor Who, talk about personal challenges and all the compromising I had to do to get it done at all. I want to talk about individual cards and the general failings of the set as a whole. I’m thinking of posting daily for probably the next two weeks at least, so if you want to follow me again, I’d be happy to discuss things. There’s plenty of fails to make fun of, but hopefully there are also quite a few cool ideas to be found.

Now obviously I realize that most of you don’t care and possibly don’t even know anything about Doctor Who. And yes, I could probably split these posts in a way that gives credit to this fact. I’m not going to do that though. For me personally this project is neither fan art for Doctor Who nor simply a Magic set – the two worlds are so intimately intertwined that I cannot – or at least don’t want to – talk about just one or the other. Of course I will talk about each card both in respect to the flavor, which I always planned to give an equal amount of importance, and the viability as a proper Magic card, but I’m not going to split those into two separate parts of each post to give you an easy way to skip either of them. And that does mean I will at times ramble about things I like or dislike in BBCs most successful show. I’m sorry.

Getting started

One thing that wasn’t terribly difficult to decide on was how many cards I needed my set to be. Since I was always going to make exactly two boxes – or 72 boosters – worth of set, and I wanted each mythic to exist once, everything else fell into place quickly. There are 8 mythics (one of each over two boxes), 32 rares (two of each), 54 uncommona (four of each) and 72 Commons (10 of each). The whole set thus has 166 cards.

Everything else was considerably more difficult.

I am by nature a very arrogant person. That doesn’t mean I am deluded enough to believe I could take the job an experienced team of gifted designers does in months and do the same by my lonesome self in three weeks. That level of hubris transcends even my current level of confidence in my own abilities.

I am, unfortunately, also a deeply perfectionist person. In order to make the project at all possible that side of myself had to be ruthlessly suppressed, which worked out surprisingly well actually. Laying down some ground rules in the very beginning made sure I never envisioned myself doing something I simply had no chance achieving – and made this the first larger fan project of this kind I actually finished. And I think considering everything, it turned out kind of ok. Not great, maybe not even good, but not definitely not terrible either. It was fun, I learned a bunch, and I think I came up with a few cool ideas at the very least. Which is all I ever really wanted. So yay!

The next big hurdle was knowing the subject matter. While I do like and watch Doctor Who, I haven’t been the most avid follower in the past few years – actually if I’m being honest since Steven Moffat took over. I love Moffat. I love the two doctors he ushered in – actually I don’t think I’ve ever fangirled this hard over any character in any TV-Show ever in the way I squeal over Peter Capaldis Doctor – but his large story arcs… well, honestly, they kind of tend to be complete train wrecks. And while I do not begrudge him disregarding some of the 50 years worth of lore if it means he will be able to realize some cool ideas, there are limits. There very much are limits. Oh god, Moffat, there. ARE. SIMPLY. LIMITS! And with Moffat it feels like nothing is ever safe, even what he established himself just one year prior could be completely ignored and destroyed by him any second. Frankly, it’s a bit annoying. But please don’t let me draw you into a lengthy discussion of the merits (or lack thereof) of Steven Moffat. Let’s just say that I had to re watch a lot. And it means that many cards that should have been made (no Wilfred, which is honestly hard to excuse) weren’t, simply because I couldn’t remember most of the episodes clearly. It also meant that about half my design time was spent searching for flavor texts and pictures. I hope you appreciate the effort!

 

The Concept

The first thing I rejected, was to make a real, original set with my own mechanics. Making completely new mechanics requires a level of playtesting I obviously wasnt going to get done, considering we were probably going to draft the finished product exactly once. It also requires a great deal of time and effort to fully explore a new mechanic.

When I say first thing though, I really mean: day two. Day one I wasted about 8 hours trying to map out what factions I wanted to have in which colors, what everyone was trying to do, and which kinds of mechanics might fit that philosophy. I didn’t get very far. Laying the groundwork for a real proper set is not the work of a few days or even a couple of weeks. After those initial 8 hours I scrapped everything I had done and almost scrapped the whole idea while I was already at the scrapping board (which seemed like a time-effective way to finish the product. Which it very much would have been, if slightly less satisfying).

But Berlin is not only the self-proclaimed Limited Capital of the World (Hurray!), it is also very much the self-proclaimed Chaos Draft Capital of the World. I currently own about a hundred booster boxes worth of packs from over 40 sets. And I fully expect to crack them all during drafts in the coming years. That is how deeply ingrained chaos drafting is in our limited community. And that also harbors a lazy, but rather convenient solution: because when you don’t have to draft the set over and over the next best thing to making a good set is one that is so crazy, so chaotic, that discovering all there is to discover in individual cards will distract from the overall bad set design. Well, it’s probably not the NEXT best thing – but it is the best I thought I’d be able to pull off. And it is an appealing thought for every avid fan of chaos drafting.

So, I decided that each and every key-word mechanic ever printed on a black-bordered, non-futureshifted Magic card outside of multiplayer product would appear on at least one card in my set. There are over 160 keyword mechanics and keyword actions in this set, and I do like my vanilla creatures, so expect many cards to feature more than one keyword. It’s an insane idea, but I did want to make the experience special and having now drafted this set twice, I can say this: it was more fun than I expected, a little less special or crazy than I thought/hoped it would be, and overall it kind of worked. It was still horribly unbalanced, but surprisingly after two drafts we all were still willing to keep going 🙂

About Card Quality

Over the course of the past weeks I have realized, that I have a strong bias to make small creatures. I did try to force myself to give people access to at least a few fatties, but even after consciously trying to work against my bias there is still a ridiculous density of creatures that have power and toughness in the threes and twos. At the same time I am shying away from making overly efficient card advantage cards, which came as a bit of a surprise, though I guess it really shouldn’t have. Through most of this time I thought I could just go back to tweaking stats, mana cost and effects after finishing the whole set. In the end I just didn’t manage to get it done in time. Thursday was the last opportunity for me to go to the copy shop so I absolutely had to make it. After missing every deadline I ever set myself, I just threw in some random last cards that ended up pretty dismal overall and ran to the copyshop with exactly 0 minutes to spare.

There are some really awkward consequences of my last-minute rush. One, white is pretty screwed. I did realize at all times that I was making too few white creatures, but always pushed fixing that into the future. And while I did try to incorporate creatures in my last desperate 36 hours of design, I didn’t fully realize that I was making almost all of them uncommon. So… oops? I also forgot to make a new white rare after shifting one into green. And incidentally forgot to remove a green one, since I had at a time, shifted it into uncommon. But oh well, I’m not a white mage anyway. Suckers.

The other problem is, that there are quite a number of rares I thought „this will be fine. It’s SO expensive.“ So yeah, they would be fine in a modern set. They probably wouldn’t be very good at all actually. I didn’t see many of them in action, though in the end I think they did kind of turn out fine. The more frustrating rares were, as always, the cheaper ones. And I must admit that I too designed my fair share of Elite Scaleguards. Sorry for that!

 

But let’s finally talk some cards!

I think I’ll only give you the whole set at the very end of my series. If there are enough well-reasoned protests, I might change my mind, but I kind of like the idea of having you at a disadvantage when I first reveal every individual card. That might just be my selfish desire to prevent you from hating my work too much before I get a chance to make excuses. Because after all is said and done, I do want to be proud of this. I have spent an obscene amount of time working on it, and for all its flaws, all the stupid mistakes I made, all the miserable experiences it has been and probably still will be responsible for – I do think this is the best I was ever going to do in the limited amount of time I had. And I’d like to think I could have done much worse.

Enough rambling of excuses. It’s time to finally take a peek at a few cards.

And first up, why not, a mythic:

Gallifrey Rises

Okay, so I could have started with a less awkward card. Sue me. (On second thought, no! Please don’t sue me BBC, please don’t sue me Hasbro!)
What Gallifrey Rises does exemplify is how much I tended to favor flavour and doing something interesting over designing proper Magic cards at least in the very beginning. Because this is one of my earliest cards and one that from a flavour perspective I really love. So let’s talk flavour first.

When I started contemplating mythics, I couldn’t really imagine having my black mythic be anything but this scene. When The End of Times was aired, we had been hearing the doctor talk on and on for six whole years about how his whole planet had tragically been destroyed by the Daleks in the time war. He’d been crying about the unfairness of the universe and how very alone and sad he is for SO long. While gradually we started getting more and more hints that maybe it wasn’t quite the Daleks who ended up destroying Gallifrey, but rather the Doctor himself, there was always the implication that his primary ambition had been to end the great war threatening the very existence of the universe by killing all the Daleks – and the timelords had become the unfortunate collateral damage of that genocide. In The End of Times then we get told that this isn’t exactly it. Close. But not quite. Rather, it’s the other way around.

What I wanted to convey with this card is that ultimate arrogance of the Time Lords in their final days. Their willingness to sacrifice all of reality, the very existence of the universe, simply because they couldn’t accept losing – or dying. How they decided that a universe without them as the shining winners was worthless from the start. That is a very black concept. And The End of Times is one of the most powerful, darkest episodes of the David Tennant era. Embarrassingly I even considered making some sort of card that would restart the game – long before I ended up with this wording. It just never felt right somehow. Then finally the penny dropped on how that restart would be worded exactly, and I fell in love with the card. So black. So dark. Squeee!!

This love (that honestly probably came from me contemplating how to make a Gallifrey Rises card for many many hours) is what saved the card from being scrapped.

Because, as a Magic card, this is obviously horrible. It’s not that it has an awkward powerlevel for a mythic – I think it’s actually pretty much exactly the powerlevel I’d still feel ok mythics having. It’s also a card that you cannot just jam into any deck and never think about how to utilize. It’s even harder to play against than with (for example, I ended up not-winning to it because I brought my opponent to 2 – and he “killed” himself with a shock. If I’d left him on 4 maybe I could have won), and it’s interesting because we’ve never got to play with an effect of this kind.

After all is said and done though, this is a card that stalls games forever and ever. If it got suspended on turn 7, it will probably make the opponent unable to kill you at the very least until turn 20 – though your own chances at winning get only slimmer from a certain point in time. Still, in the right deck this can make you basically unable to lose, and from a milldeck I expect it to be nigh unbeatable. It is one of the most frustrating cards to play against I can possibly imagine.

 

One of the main challenges of the set was of course to incorporate all those silly keyword mechanics in a way that resulted in cards that both made sense from a Doctor Who perspective, and at the same time felt like a Magic card that could possibly have existed at some point without being too boring. As I was running more and more out of time this is a goal I did not always achieve, and there are certainly cards that are seriously lacking in one aspect or the other or in some cases even both. But then there are also a few gems, sometimes with unlikely keywords.

Cybertorso

 

Designing a card with Modular in a set that was never going to have many artifact creatures isn’t the most trivial thing in the world. And the revived Doctor Who series is frustratingly short on people / things that churn out little machines that build on each other. It is entirely possible there is another card I could have made that ends up making tokens with modular (and I just didn’t remember the scene like so many others), but I am quite happy with what I came up with in the end.

This card is obviously very powerful, and I did honestly expect it to be on a devastating level. I was pleasantly surprised that it was more or less ok. Having those small creatures become a big one (for often you would rather have one larger creature than 3 small ones) takes time and there aren’t many ways to return creatures from your graveyard, which made it a lot less frustrating to play against than it might have been in a set of Gravediggers. It’s still too powerful for the environment though. If this set is fun to draft after two more drafts with the product we have, I’m definitely going to do some fixes to many cards and swap out others altogether. If I had to fix this, I would probably just add a mana to its cost. The other option would be to make the head only have modular 1. Both options would make the card considerably less powerful, but for a colorless uncommon, I think it would still be really cool, and I doubt many decks would cut it. After having played with it and against it, I’m not sure it HAS to be fixed, but it certainly doesn’t have to stay the way it is either. So I think I will downgrade it.

 

Now, let’s talk about one of the few cool things I did in my last 36-hour-long panic session.

The Beast

 

No, No, not this card. What I meant with “cool” is those two:

While I don’t remember The Impossible Planet / Santan’s Pit being a particularly… good episode (I did not re watch it in full), this guy is actually quite a big baddy and having something bigger or meaner than the actual biblical devil was going to be a challenge. A challenge I did not care to rise to. On the plus side, I kind of like the irony of the creature type devil in Magic usually being annoying little gremlins, rather than, you know, Satan.

When I was frantically searching for anything that I could make into cards and rewatched a few minutes of this episode, I realized that I was underutilizing the flavour chances the episode presented me with. Because while a mythic can “work” (read: feel epic!) simply in itself, by being expensive, by having an epic artwork, by doing something unique or powerful, it is infinitely more mythic if you keep seeing it referenced on cards of a lower rarity. If you keep getting confronted with a way to search out “The Beast”, you will start wondering what the hell the Beast even is. You will want to see it. It will feel like a true mythic rare.

Having such a giant wall of text on a common is kind of lame, and I guess I should have tried to do it the other way around (the uncommon being a card that searches out the Beast, the common being an innocuous creature), but in principle, I think it is worth it to sometimes design such cards just to make a mythic feel that little bit more special. You shouldn’t do it with every single mythic, or sooner or later your whole set will just be promoting a handful of cards, but in this one case I am quite happy with the result.

Satanic Possession could probably have cost 1R, and I didn’t see it played much. I still think red should have a card like this, but maybe it doesn’t need to be common at all. There are always so many more of this effect in a draft than have a chance at being played, and that is a shame. Legion of the Beast on the other hand is a card I love just the way it is. It’s very simple to be an uncommon (especially when you need to find a 160 keywords worth of space in a 166 card set), but I think it’s too powerful to be a common (at least in my set. Though in a normal set it would definitely be fine). It feels a lot like a red Watchwolf, even if it is much weaker, which is exactly what I wanted.

If I had to redo the set, I would still swap it with Satanic Possession in rarity, but maybe change a few numbers. It could be a 2R 2/2 with Surge R for example. That would feel like a common but still be cool for an aggressive red deck.

Now the Beast itself is a card none of us opened in the drafts we did, so I’m still not sure what it turned out like. It is kind of a Hythonia, which is not the powerlevel I like playing with or against, but it does cost 9 to play and there is a lot of unconditional removal running around. If you do go fetch it instant speed with Satanic Possession it shouldn’t be remotely beatable, but oh well. It is a mythic rare.

 

While we’re talking about cards I like, let’s take a look at this sweet sweet uncommon:

 

I’m afraid I never got to see Cyber Upgrade in action, but I suspect it is the kind of weird Wrath like effect that is actually ok on uncommon. In a Blue White tokens deck it can of course be devastating, and it being an improved Reality Shift even if you cannot pay for or utilize the Overload does make one slightly apprehensive about this cards power level. Still, I’ve heard no complaints, so for now I’m going to err on the side of it being fine. If I did have to fix it, my instinct would be to just change the overload cost to UUU3.

And at the end of the day, this card is so Cyberman 🙂 Sometimes they upgrade everyone, sometimes they strategically upgrade someone (though admittedly with the intent of upgrading everyone else in the future).

One more word on art: As I mentioned, you can make a card mythic simply by it having an epic artwork – or at the very least it goes a long way towards that goal. Unfortunately the opposite is true as well. For a long time I thought my green mythic was going to be the dragon hatching out of the moon in “Kill the Moon”. It is huge and mystical and in many ways absolutely perfect as a mythic rare. Unfortunately the clearest picture I could find of it was this:

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And while it works out really well in the episode, feeling mysterious and huge and epic, on a Magic card – a mythic at that – a picture like this just wouldn’t fly. Surprisingly, there seems to be no demand of fan art for this poor little dragon creature, so the first idea for my green mythic died a sad death.

For Cyber Upgrade I was lucky enough to find a truly epic piece of fan art. I will gladly admit, that it is the art more than anything else that is this cards most attractive feature. And it is far from the only artwork I shamelessly stole from this guys deviantart page, which I hope he will forgive me for, because I really don’t want to swap out those pictures for anything else. If you love his art as much as I do, you might want to visit his deviantart page : Pungans Deviantart Page

 

Well then, I’m already at over 4100 words, should really do something for university and make it to a supermarket before closing time. So let’s just take one more card for today, and why not take the very last card I made before my panic rush to the copy shop?

Final Salute

When I left the copy shop, next to an immense sense of relief of it finally being done, the thing I most keenly felt was: “How did that even happen?”, by which I meant several cards that really shouldn’t be the way they are.

This is one of them, though how it happened is easy to understand: I had no more minutes, needed one more card with one more keyword and had already prepared this artwork and flavour text at an earlier time. Like so many other wonderful scenes I didn’t end up coming up with a cool idea on how to make it work. Still, I was out of time, and white had a minor enchantment theme that at the time made me feel “close enough”.

The card is not even so terrible, I guess? I mean, it’s not white. And it’s not common. And it’s a bit awkward to make work. But it is borderline interesting, because it’s not the kind of card we usually get to play with. It makes you jump through a bunch of hoops for an effect that can be quite underwhelming, if you aren’t utilizing it properly. I didn’t really see anyone play it, though I think there can certainly be decks that will want it and the fact that it is just different enough from real cards that I find it difficult to evaluate is certainly its least unattractive feature.

It still absolutely shouldn’t have been a white common. And it was so unnecessary to print it as such. There are so many better options. I could have just printed the other commons a bit more frequently for example. Or barring that, I could at the very least, have swapped this with a random uncommon creature. Then we wouldn’t have seen it quite so many times, and we would have had a few more creatures in white, both of which are desirable effects.

 

Well then, I rambled much and showed you just a few cards. But that just means you will get to read more of my rambling over the coming days and weeks! Ha! Cool, isn’t it? 🙂 Until tomorrow then my faithful friends. And if you have questions, or remarks I might be interested in, please do comment or shoot me a mail or something. I’m writing this mostly for myself and for me it would be very beneficial to get as many opinions and questions as at all possible ❤

 

2 thoughts on “Of Doctors and Magic (and Doctor Who themed Magic Sets)

  1. Really interesting project, and I am extremely impressed by the work you put into it!

    I can’t say much (or even anything) about the creative side of the set, since I am not in the least familiar with the series. I can probably offer a plethora of comments on gameplay, though. However, I need to see the whole set first to understand its context, and especially the commons. Your wordy explanations about each and every card are actually a bit annoying without access to the context of he complete set, since they make me read a lot, but do not allow me to form an opinion yet. I’d strongly prefer to see all cards first – ideally sorted by ascending rarity order – and read any explanations later. (I guess this would also noticeably increase my chances of actually getting to see the whole set, since with a rate of 7 cards per article, one of us could die, or the Zombie Apocalypse could happen, before you’re done.)

    You already analyzed and excused a lot of shortcomings of your designs yourself, so I’ll just comment on a few things from the top of my head:

    1. Even as a gimmick for a special set designed to be drafted only by expert drafters just a few times, the “every mechanic featured on at least one card” aspect was a bad idea, since it forces you into a lot of self-involved concepts, like Cybertorso for modular. I guess I can expect a lot more of that stuff, for example with infect, or splice onto arcane (and hey, what about bands with other legends?)

    I think I remember you value honesty, so let me say this: Adding this stipulation to your already nearly impossible, absurdly time-rushed project has probably been a kind of cop-out, since you knew you’d feel better failing at an unreasonably high bar, than doing medium well, but not excelling, at a merely very high bar.

    2. Gallifrey Rises is an acceptable design if and only if you can be absolutely sure that everyone who plays your set is fine with a card that draws games. Which might actually be the case here, but still…

    3. Getting a mythic rare from your deck by sacrificing a specific common and a specific uncommon just doesn’t work in limited. This also doesn’t make The Beast feel more mythic at all. The point of Magic cards is to experience them by playing them, not by reading irrelevant trinket text. Also, I’m pretty sure the gameplay isn’t even fun if it works once in a blue moon.

    4. While Final Salute certainly isn’t a common, it could actually be white with not too much bending, but then again it isn’t an enchantment.

    Looking forward to seeing more cards!

    Like

  2. Thanks for your comment 🙂

    I’m sure that if I were in your position I would be extremely angry about not getting to see the whole set at once, so it is a bit difficult for me to make a plausible point about taking this highhanded approach. But revealing them one by one is just so… appealing. Still, I’m guessing you will win, and at any rate 7 cards is very far from enough for one post. Whether or not I cave on the whole set, any future post will definitely entail more cards and less crazy rambling. Promise.

    About the plethora of mechanics: Until Saturday evening, I might have agreed with you tentatively. But now I actually feel a lot better about the concept than I ever thought I would. Even those of us who usually don’t like chaos drafting very much enjoyed all those different cards precisely because there were so many mechanics to be used. Of course a gimmick of this kind does breed some pretty silly / shoddy cards, but it also gives you a few nudges into the direction of some brilliant ones. Without this concept, I think I would never have finished in three weeks. Yes, if I had had more time, it would have been a more convincing set without jamming it full of random mechanics, but having a starting point from which to go actually made it easier to develop new cards I think. And that is the only reason I could finish at all.

    I had a great deal of fun with this set and I think, I will definitely try to make a proper one in the future (over months, not weeks). But for me and the group I designed for, I honestly think this was the correct approach.

    I really think it does make a mythic more mythic if there are other cards that reference it. Sure, you may not need to actually be able to search for it (especially not from a common. This I agree wholeheartedly on), but just having a common called “Legion of the Beast” in the set does make the Beast feel more special. If it isn’t overdone. Maybe I will completely remove the search part, even if I move Satanic Possession to uncommon, because playwise it will probably be horrible when your opponent actually does search for it and if he doesn’t he will have put two cards into the same deck that should never have met on a limited board. But even then I will still be happy about the references and consider my mythic boosted in its mythicness by them. Also, one of my birthday boys reaction to seeing those cards was “Man, I really want to see the Beast”, so I feel vindicated just from that 😉

    Heh, right, it’s not an enchantment either. Completely true! And yeah, the effect could be white… ish. Kind of. The haste is not white at all though, and without it you end up with cards like Seance. Which is not a card at all in limited (or anywhere).

    Like

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