Designing Doctor Who in the context of Magic set

Well, good morning to all you as well!

First of all, it is important to remember exactly what of this I own: which is unfortunately not much (read: nothing). The only thing I actually did was to piece everything together – an absurd amount of work that does not entitle me to anything. That’s ok though, since I never planned to make money from this set anyway.

I have put up the whole set here: undoctored

This way, if you want to look at it all at once you can, and if you care more about the flavour and would like to see it revealed slowly – you can do that too!

 

So, what are we doing today? Will I just write 4000 words of introduction again and then grab a few random Magic cards to discuss? Or do I have the basic outlines of a plan (oh, that would be a first, wouldn’t it be? SO EXCITING!)?Β  Or might I even plan to write 4000 words of introduction? Because now that I have given the Magic obsessed of you my set to look at, I can write in all the length I choose about the flavour side of things! Muhahaha!

Doctor Who isn’t the biggest, most successful show from the BBC ever, or the longest running science fiction show in the world just out of silliness. Yes, in many ways it is jarring for non-British people to first watch it. Many of the villains feel like they’re straight out of a trashy 60s show (which admittedly they are), Moffats plots can be erratic, the whole deal about them constantly running places a little unusual at first. It’s the story of an unarmed, but incredibly badass human looking alien, running all over with a screwdriver in his phone box. And I think, that was the least ridiculous sounding explanation I ever could have chosen.

When I first watched Doctor Who, I really didn’t get the attraction. I kept watching because I was in puberty and David Tennant is a good-looking guy, but it felt… really weird. Gradually – and especially as I got to know other incarnations of the Doctor – I got pulled in, and started loving the show in its own right. I think what really pulled me in is the character of the Doctor himself. Because yes, he’s a weirdass alien in a phone box, brandishing a screwdriver like a weapon. He is hundreds / thousands of years old and he is such an interesting character to discover. This is taking the concept of replacing an actor once he quits to perfection, because each new incarnation of the Doctor just adds to his character. Each one of them is a new person in a way, but there is an echo of every other one still in there. And that all-encompassing character just kind of pulls all those other weird elements together.

Long story short: We’re going to talk about the Doctor today, and about the challenges of properly portraying him in a Magic set.

 

The Doctor as a Legendary Creature

In a set where almost every single rare creature is legendary, the least special thing you could ever be is exactly that – a legendary creature.

The Doctor isn’t just another character of the show, like Madam Vastra, or Strax, or River, or even an attention-stealing guy like Captain Jack Harkness. He is the show. Making him just one in a sea of creatures, even at mythic rare, was thus something I decided was out of the question from almost the very start.

Or did I? Because I did make this card, didn’t I?

Doctor Whooves

Yes, this is a pony. But it’s also kind of the Doctor – just as a pony. Why did I put a Pony into the set at all you ask? Because Ponies are awesome, that’s why!

And if you judge a fandom by its fanart (which I don’t see why you shouldn’t), then time and time again I get blown away by the community that makes My Little Pony fanstuff. I honestly thought I was going to find more fan art about Doctor Who, than about Doctor Hooves (or Whooves, not sure what the agreed upon way to write it is actually) – a tiny background character referencing the BBC classic. Man was I wrong. I saw hundreds, if not thousands of amazing Doctor Whooves art works.

This guys deviant art page even contains an amazing 141 page (still on-going) comic about an adventure of his. And he’s far from the only one making elaborate fan art of this kind. If you like Ponies or Doctor Who, or ideally both: go check out some of the stuff there is.

I wanted to acknowledge this amazing talent that goes into fan art. And so, I did. This card is as special as a creature card can be – it’s future shifted (fitting for a time- and dimension-travelling Pony Time Lord), it has some rather exotic keywords and a beautiful piece of art. It’s the Doctor and yet it isn’t. It’s crazy powerful, but the set does have ways to deal with it.

And no, I didn’t just make a Pony to give it Horsemanship. I made a Pony, then realized how perfect it would be to give it Horsemanship. It has phasing, because it travels across dimensions. Sure, Horsemanship on this card is just a silly way to write unlockable, but then again, there are clones, so it’s not even exactly the same thing.

But anyway, I never wanted to write so much about this card. I do sincerely apologize. I think it works from a flavour perspective, and I think it kind of works from a Magic perspective. It probably isn’t too crazy, and has an interesting wannabe Hexproof clause that is certainly more interactive than actual Hexproof. I am content with it.

But let’s get back to the actual Doctor from the actual show.

 

The Doctor as a Planeswalker

Making a planeswalker for this set was by no means an automatism. For most of the design process I actually thought I wouldn’t do it. Somehow, it didn’t feel like the set wanted or needed a planeswalker at all, and usually they aren’t the greatest fun to play against.

Generally, I don’t think that you should just automatically put planeswalkers into any set you make. At the end of the day though, it just felt wrong to have a set with every keyword, a conspiracy, crazy shit… but no planeswalker. Because planeswalkers just are a part of Magic, and in a set that would be showcasing as many aspects of Magics history as I could possibly cram in there (it has a Licid for gods sake!), there just wasn’t a way to ignore a whole card type.

Once I decided to make a planeswalker, it was clear it could never be anyone BUT the Doctor, so which one did I chose? Of course I went with the one we got to see in only one episode:

The Oncoming Storm

This is the Doctor the Daleks are terrified of. He is the one who ended the time war, wiping millions of species from existence, while saving the rest of the universe. From a story telling perspective, this is the most epic Doctor. Perhaps not the most interesting, or the most accessible, or the most likable, or the most “Doctor” – but the most epic. He even has an epic nick name! And so he was the only one who got to be a card by himself.

I’ve gotten complaints about him sacrificing himself if you activate the second ability right away – and I do kind of agree. From a flavour perspective he certainly shouldn’t do that. I wanted him to never die to his ultimate (because living through the calamity was his punishment), but I could have made him not die to either, if the ultimate had been -12, andΒ  he had come into play with 5 loyalty. It would have made him pretty crazy strong though. I guess he might still have been fine for 5 mana? I’m honestly not sure. It’s hard to evaluate planeswalkers like this. He can’t really protect himself (which he doesn’t for flavour reasons. Because this incarnation of the Doctor just wanted to die), and he is in three colors. So I’m thinking for a mythic he would be fine.

Let’s see what he does: he scrys. He scrys a lot. That is more than half of what he does in the one episode we see him in, so it is fitting. Scry 3 is worth a bit more than a card usually, I guess? It is time-delayed advantage though, so if you are in need for something right now, you are out of luck. Still, if you are just looking for fodder to keep him alive and build him to his ultimate, scry 3 is pretty darn powerful.

There are actually quite a few lands you want to be able to destroy in the set, and both to get a red ability on the card, as well as for reasons of flavour, letting him destroy creatures or lands seemed natural. If you could destroy a permanent without losing him as soon as he comes in, I think you would probably use it quite frequently. As things are though, I suspect you will more often than not try to build to that game-ending ultimate. Because after sacrificing 10 permanents, your opponent should probably be pretty finished?

I haven’t really seen him in action unfortunately, so it’s hard to tell for me if I can afford to make him more powerful than he is. Perhaps we will just have to play with him once more before we know.

 

The Doctor referenced on cards throughout the set

Ok, now that those two mythics got way more room than they deserved, let’s focus on the main way the Doctor appears in the set: on non-creature, non-planeswalker cards.

What would the Doctor be without his sonic screwdriver? In Peter Capaldis case: the source for endless complaints by fans, raw hatred directed towards Steven Moffat and blatant refusal to acknowledge him as a real Doctor. So yeah, Whovians love their screwdrivers.

When I first came up with the idea, I was actually thinking about making a common cycle of mana stones. I wanted the fixing to be really really good (though admittedly there was no reason to make it even better than it ended up being), and so I was contemplating how to make a cycle that would feel like real cards and yet bring something new to the table.

I was toying around with various forms of kicker, after dismissing activated abilities as something that would have to be so expensive, it would end up lame. Giving a mana stone kicker does make it a bit less sad to draw later in the game, when you no longer need that mana, so it was a concept I felt had merit.

But then I thought: why not the opposite? Why not have it be bad mana rituals that you can kick to make a mana stone? And while I almost immediately thought: “nah. Wouldn’t work. Much too dangerous. Don’t go there”, I couldn’t really shake the idea for the next couple of days. What made it such an appealing design to me was the fact that this would be the kind of mana stones a hyper aggressive deck might want, just to make them that little bit faster, while at the same time being the fixing / accelerating a 5 color slow-deck might need. There was also already a Storm card available:

Empty the Ark

At the time I contemplated making evoking screwdrivers, Empty the Ark still made dalek tokens with fear. Putting Lotus Petals into the same set as such a potentially powerful storm card felt forbidden, dangerous and enticing at the same time. Did I want there to be a combo deck like this every once in a blue moon? Perhaps. I wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure.

But obviously despite the many resolutions I made of not putting this cycle of screwdrivers into the set, because I just couldn’t accurately gauge what their impact on the set might be – and it felt like it had such an incredible potential to just ruin everything – they obviously made it in as uncommons. I can no longer fathom why I ever wanted a common cycle of mana artefacts, since having just a full cycle on uncommon already feels like it might be way too much.

In the end, I guess they were a success. They didn’t get played very much (I think they should have been played a bit more, but people were wary of using them), but they were present and available for those who wanted them. I even once drafted the Storm deck – with three Empty the Ark and four Screwdrivers – and while I unfortunately never got to put 4 Daleks onto the Battlefield on turn 1 (poor little me!), it was sweet to get to play such a different deck in a limited format. And it wasn’t too powerful either. Sure, sometimes I would have silly starts, but most of the time it didn’t turn out to be more powerful than what everyone else was doing – just different. And a bit more explosive. I think I went 3-1, but most of the matches were close.

It’s the kind of card Wizards could never print, for constructed reasons, and that, perhaps more than any other reason, made me want to give it a chance. Because that is what the set was all about – trying to find cool niches that Wizards couldn’t fill for various reasons. It was a gamble. It felt like maybe the biggest gamble of the set, with a low payout even if I somehow managed to win, and potentially catastrophic results if I lost – but I’m still glad I took it. Generally they were well-received, and a lot of people commented they were a cool design. So yay gambling!

My biggest gripe in the end is with the War Doctors Screwdriver being green. Because that is probably the only color the War Doctor isn’t. And the inconsistent color scheme he has across the set is a really annoying flavour fail. But I couldn’t figure out how to ensure all the doctors being consistent, so one of them had to be bent a bit.

 

Talking of cards Wizards couldn’t make, there is one more I inexplicably fell in love with shortly after coming up with it:

Architectural Reconfiguration System

Transmute 2, if printed on a real magic card, would make a complete mockery of cards like Sylvan Scrying. Sure, there would always be decks that cannot afford to play a land (think Belcher in Vintage for example), but I think most decks would opt for the version that costs no green mana, cannot be easily countered, can produce mana in a pinch and look for stuff like Ancestral Vision. And I’m not even getting started on thinking about the possible applications of a card of this power level.

In limited however, having your land transmute for a dual is just fine. It’s great, powerful, sweet. But fine. Once you factor in the powerful rare lands of the set, this can become perhaps a bit too strong, but I think it is still acceptable. You usually won’t see it late anyway, and once you have to use an early pick for it, it’s still fair.

Architectural Reconfiguration System is so similar to a lot of cards we know, and yet so different, that it’s easy to fall in love with as the person who designed it. It played pretty much exactly as I thought it would, and I loved every second of having it in my decks πŸ™‚

What I didn’t want, was transmute to be just a fancy word for landcycling. So, I needed at least one 0 mana spell. I thought about just making an artifact of some kind, but then I got back into adventurous mood. And this happened:

Self Pity

It was clear to me, that I needed some more cards that were specifically about the various incarnations of the Doctor, without just being the Doctor as a creature. And making a 0 mana cycle of Sorceries and Instants about – what were for me – their defining qualities was an idea I liked very much. From a flavour perspective having this cycle of cards that define each and every doctor is pretty sweet. Just for flavour though, they didn’t need to cost 0 mana with weird kicker abilities.

My main concern was actually the color pie. Because yeah, this is a black card. Sure. The little circle says so clearly! But it is still a card any deck can just play for 0 mana, and why should a mono white deck get a discard spell? It doesn’t make sense!

It’s also one more card that makes Empty the Ark a dangerous proposition, and once I decided I could no longer let go of my newest pet cycle, the Daleks my storm card made lost fear once and for all.

There are legitimate reasons not to go into this design space. But as you might guess by now, that just made me more determined to try it out. I think they ended up pretty half assed, because I kept removing them, then putting them back in, and removing them again, until I was just simply out of time. Overall, I still like the idea, even if not all of the cards were terribly well thought out. For what it’s worth: this one I do like. It’s a cool, powerful, but not overly powerful version of mind rot.

I know that David Tennant is almost everyone’s favorite Doctor, and that there will be Tennant fanboys and fangirls up in arms over me reducing his contribution to Doctor Who to his constantly feeling sorry for himself. I get it. He’s good-looking, he’s a good actor, and a lot of the stories he is in are pretty good too. But that doesn’t change the fact, that the 10th Doctor is a cold-hearted, cruel psychopath, with a casual disregard for “evil” peoples lives, who manipulates others into sacrificing themselves for him and whose sporadic acts of saving or sparing people always feel like they are purely for self-satisfaction. He doesn’t care about others – he only cares about feeling good about himself. That in itself would make for an interesting character, if not necessarily the ideal hero of a children show – but what really makes him annoying at times (though I will admit it makes his character that much more credible), is how he is also such a whiny little crybaby.

Before we go back to the 0 mana cycle, let’s actually look at the other cards I made around the 10th doctor. Because, while he may not have been my favorite (or even fourth favorite) of the revived show, he was my first doctor. And he was the one, who was with us the longest of all the new incarnations, the one who probably made the strongest impression on me and almost everyone else. In my case it wasn’t a positive impression. But it was an impression nonetheless.

I rewatched quite a number of his episodes making this set, and I literally did not find a single one, where he wasn’t minutes before a complete nervous breakdown, crying about how unfair the universe was to him, and how mean it was, that he wasn’t an all-powerful God who could impose his will on all of creation. Until, of course, he decided that he was.

Timelord Victorious

I barely remembered the episode Waters on Mars. But I did remember his final speech, as he saved the woman he wasn’t allowed to save. The culmination of all those feelings of impotence that he couldn’t deal with. All those lives he would have liked to save (not because he cared about the people, but simply because he wanted to feel like a hero saving them), but couldn’t because of the rules he had to obey for the sake of the integrity of all of existence, and the undeniable truth that if he couldn’t even save some random humans, he certainly couldn’t save himself either… that primal fear of death and irrelevance, and that arrogance to not accept it. For a 15 year old me that was the darkest, and most impressive scene of Doctor Who, and possibly any TV show I’d ever seen.

“Because there are laws. There are laws of time. Once upon a time there were people in charge of those laws but they died. They all died. Do you know who that leaves? *Me!* It’s taken me all these years to realize that the laws of time are *mine* and they will obey me!”

And then, just to make sure everyone realized what a monster he had become:

“Adelaide, I’ve done this sort of thing before. In small ways, saved some little people. But never someone as important as you. Ooh, I’m good! For a long time now, I thought I was just a survivor, but I’m not. I’m the winner. That’s who I am. A Time Lord victorious. “

And then that woman, who he made his tool to prove to himself and the universe, that he could do whatever the hell he wanted, just turns around, goes into her house, and shoots herself. Yes, that is a children’s show. Nice going! (honestly, I do love the scene. It sums up the David Tennant Doctor so well, and it’s so dark and profound. Tennant is also an amazing actor when it comes to playing complete psychological wrecks.)

Apart from Gallifrey Rises this is the only other scene I ever considered making my black mythic rare. I tried playing around with ideas for hours and hours, but I never got a satisfactory card, and in the end it became an unassuming rare.

It does kind of make sense though. Because epic is a keyword that makes you break all the rules of Magic. Once you resolve an epic spell, you stop playing normal Magic and you start playing by your own set of rules (that aren’t necessarily better than everyone elses). And so, this is an epic spell that just brings back people who should have been dead turn after turn after turn, obsessively, disregarding everything else. I think it is at a powerlevel, where you would be willing to play it, so that’s a plus, and it doesn’t remove all the choices you need to make like some of the Kamigawa epics tended to do.

Now that we have talked about a dark Tenth Doctor scene I adore, let’s talk about one IΒ  passionately despise.

Cruel Revenge

The whole episode was a complete trainwreck. It was so random, made no sense whatsoever and had no redeeming qualities. The villains were lame, the Doctor was stupid, the whole idea was ridiculous. And then in the end, the Doctor just randomly turns around and decides to torture his enemies for eternity FOR NO BLOODY REASON! I mean, sure, they killed some people. But that’s never been a reason for the doctor to TORTURE before.

It felt like he simply felt annoyed that he had had this clever little plan, that he could impress his companion with, and they then got in the way of it. He was showed up by them, and then, because he really doesn’t like being shown up by random nobodies, he just goes full psychopath. Whoever thought that was a good idea to advance his character in a CHILDRENS SHOW, where he is the HERO, and supposed to set a GOOD EXAMPLE is probably a complete psychopath himself. Just what?

Also the scene, where the teenage boy calmly explains how all of his family got made immortal, just so the Doctor could keep torturing them forever, and then lists their “punishments”, where he says in this flat tone of voice “He still visits my sister. Once a year, every year.”, and you see him stand in front of a mirror where the little girl with the balloon got imprisoned, watching her suffer for his own enjoyment – that scene made 15 year old me want to puke my brains out, just so I could forget the whole episode. Bleugh.

Let’s talk about the card.

For pretty much all of design (it was one of my first cards), this cost 5 mana. I only changed it to 6 at the very last minute. It doesn’t make too big a difference – since once you hit two creatures with these torture counters, it should be very difficult still to claw back into the game – but it does make it a bit less crippling in the middlegame.

I’ll admit, that it’s still a bad design, and changing its mana cost doesn’t really do anything about it. It is an effect that can very easily end the game on the spot, which is lame, but requires a certain amount of sacrifice (you will still take damage or have to chump with stuff to torture creatures). It’s too game changing even for a rare, I think. Maybe it could have been 5 (even 4?) mana, and just put a counter on up to two creatures that dealt damage to you or a creature you control? That would make more sense from a game perspective, but would sacrifice some flavour. And this card is very much all about the flavour. Because without my strong emotional attachment to this specific scene, this card would never have existed. Still, we owe it the cards we design, to remove ourselves enough from that attachment to make viable Magic cards. And in this I failed.

Empty Promise

This is thus a perfect card to end my discussion of David Tennants Doctor. My empty promise to find a good balance between flavour and design, and his constant promises to save people who end up mysteriously sacrificing themselves to save him in the end. Having a cruel edict in the set though, that’s completely fine (if unexciting) πŸ˜‰

 

Enough about the Tenth Doctor. Let’s take a look at number 9!

Suppressed Fury

This was the first Doctor, that made me care about the show. And while I am honest enough (as is Christopher Eccleston) to admit that the more awkward and silly of his comedic scenes weren’t planned as being jarring and awkward, but rather due to his lack of experience with less serious roles, it is a testament to the amazing writers who have worked at Doctor Who for the past 11 years, that this weakness in acting a part of the character has actually been transformed into a strength.

Even in the first season we get to see, that he isn’t just this aloof but honest and trusting person with a silly sense of humor and a goofy grin – there is a fury just simmering below the surface that can boil over at a moments notice.

Watching Dalek – where he goes from kind, goofy, trying to help everyone to trying to torture another sentient being to death and screaming at it in glee about how he killed its entire race – without knowledge of the old Doctor Who, that was certainly something.

Twisted Rage

For me, what the Ninth Doctor is all about is trying to move on – and failing pretty dismally. He is putting on a goofy grin to make himself forget all that hatred and anger, and death, and to pretend he’s over it, but once confronted with the old enemy, it all comes bursting out.

He isn’t calculatingly cruel like David Tennant – he is just so very angry and so very much still in the middle of the war. This unchainable anger and hatred, which partially gets fleshed out after he already left the show, is what gives the character such a depth. Without it, he would just be the comedy guy, with sometimes charming, sometimes awkward jokes. Cool, funny, entertaining – but overall not very interesting.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really manage to translate that fascination the character had on me into Magic cards. Twisted Rage is a fine, if unexciting removal spell, that has one of the most iconic dialogues of the Christopher Eccleston era as a flavour text – but it doesn’t really work that well on this card. It’s just a pretentious flavour text on an unassuming Magic card.

And Suppressed Fury has sweep. It was never going to be the most elegant design. I think it would have been possible to make a cool design with sweep as a mechanic, but in the end I just didn’t spend enough time working on it. It doesn’t really convey anything I want it to (ok, sure, he gets provoked very easily and does provoke others quite deftly too… but that’s not really worth much flavourwise), and it is an awkward Magic card to boot.

I guess it’s an acceptable card to play in aggressive red decks or fattie greenΒ  decks that desperately need some form of removal (but that just shows how awkwardly it breaks the color pie), but nobody will be queuing up to congratulate me on a cool or efficient design on this card. It’s just a giant wall of text that isn’t really worth it at all in the end.

And then there is this other iconic scene I totally didn’t do justice:

Software Patch

Empty Child was, I think, the first of a still rather exclusive number of episodes, where nobody died at all, and everybody went home much happier than they’d come. And it was set in the middle of the London Blitz! Steven Moffats first episode for Doctor Who, and he casually decides to put an emotionally uplifting and beautiful episode that starts the Doctors healing process into the middle of World War 2.

My card is… well, it’s simple. That’s something. It’s not much though. Because this is not an interesting card, but it’s also not one the set absolutely needed (as you could argue for Twisted Rage). Plus, the set has way too many types of this effect – and that, after I even removed one of them in the end.

So yeah, this card has no reason to exist. But I still have no idea how to give the Ninth Doctor the card he deserves, so I’m open to suggestions.

 

Amiability

Ah yes, Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor. As much as I dislike some of Steven Moffats work when it comes to overall story telling, I do think he is a genius screenwriter. And if he didn’t constantly try to show everyone how ungodly clever he is, he would be a genius creative boss too. It shows in his selection of Doctor Who actors.

The worst thing a new Doctor can be is a bad copy of the previous one. The second worst thing he can be, is a good copy of the previous one.

The 11th Doctor is the most jarring contrast to the 10th that was at all possible. Where David Tenannt was crying, he was smiling. Where David Tennant was depressed, he was unfalteringly optimistic. Where number 10 was cruel, he was kind, where 10 dished out brutal revenge to those who wronged him, he forgave all offense – mostly. The scenes were he deviated from this pure, kind, smiley guy and became more like number 10 were his worst, because it just felt wrong. Watching Matt Smith, you would forget how cruel and manipulative the Doctor could be, and when someone tried to remind us of that, it never convinced me. It just left me angry and annoyed.

Matt Smiths Doctor was just so charming. And of course Amiability is also partly chosen, because his main companion is Amy, and a few bad puns needed to be in the set. But it also fits without the pun. Which is what makes it a worthwhile effort from the start.

Now you might ask: I get why it has bolster, but

a) why does it have Awaken?

and b) you do realize, when you awaken this card with no creatures on the battlefield, you will still end up with a 2/2 right? That’s just bad design, loser!

Well yeah, the awaken is flavourwise a bit of a grasp. He does touch all of the universe with the light from the Pandorica, thus awakening it back to existence… so… not nill?

And I will also admit, that I would have preferred this spell to make a 3/3 land, if you had no other creatures to bolster, but I think it’s still a very decent card in an aggressive Green deck. Which I had in mind, when developing it. It’s confusing, and that’s certainly bad, but we had an experienced group of players who can understand how a card works by reading it. So in the end, I felt it was fine. I actually like the card, because it’s so simple, yet so versatile (in the correct deck). It’s not powerful, it’s just… nice. Like the 11th Doctor it means to portray.

Combat Weariness

With this card, the War Doctor has cards in this set in all 5 colors, which is definitely not ideal. But the one thing that defined John Hurts performance in Day of the Doctor, was just how very tired he was. He just wanted it all to end, at any price necessary. And he didn’t want to stick around after to try and fix things either. He just wanted to rest.

This is the card, where the 0 mana effect is perhaps the least relevant – in light of an unconditional removal spell for either a land or a creature – but I still think, it’s a bonus. In a sufficiently aggressive deck, you might just want to tap a creature to step into the red zone.

I felt white deserved an unconditional removal spell, and this was a convenient way to supply it.

Quick Witted Cynicism

And finally, we have our current Doctor. Remember what I said about the worst and second worst kind of new Doctors? Steven Moffat remembered – and replaced our charming, young, nice mister Smiley-Face with a grumpy old man.

And it is glorious!

Unfortunately, this card completely belies that. It’s a testament to how lack of time and pressure to include mechanics did, in fact, end up in some awkward designs. It was the last card in the cycle I was missing – until the very end. The only kickeresque mechanic I had left was Entwine, and I just couldn’t come up with a convincing card.

The idea is, that his witty tongue can be both disarming and supportive. But the card is still a pisspoor way to convey that message. It is boring and way too complicated for what it actually does. The split second barely synergizes with the actual effect it has. It’s not unplayable. But it’s not a card you’d be happy to put into any deck either.

Making a card for 0 mana with entwine – that’s a challenge. It could result in such a cool card, but it’s hard, and it’s much more likely it will end up something like this.

Quell Anger

There is so much I could write about Peter Capaldis Doctor. But I am afraid I will never stop.

But I do want to mention this scene. Because I watched the first Zygon episode and it made me want to quit Doctor Who. It was so bad. It was predictable, it was stupid, and it wasn’t credible in the least. If any of the military people in it had had either 1 brain cell to share between them or maybe 20 minutes of military training – none of it would have happened. Even the Doctor seemed to be braindead in the episode.

I didn’t watch the second part until I heard from a lot of different people, that it was supposed to be much better – and I saw that Steven Moffat had cowritten it. So I gave it a chance, because usually, while his stories might be bullshit, his writing somehow saves episodes into acceptable territory.

I have no idea how Steven Moffat saved this entire train wreck of a story by having the Doctor monologueing for 10 minutes. But he somehow did. Huh. Go figure.

It doesn’t translate well to the card, but I really did think his smile here – the first time we saw this Doctor give us a genuine, warm smile in the two seasons we had him – was absolutely radiant. It was so disarming in its honestly, its forgiveness, the pain it conveyed. I know how dumb that sounds, but Peter Capaldi is a great actor, and in this scene, he was utilized brilliantly. So I made a fancy lifegain spell. I like the card. It does gain a lot of life, has some other possible applications, and is a cantrip to boot. It’s exactly the sort of card I love playing and others tend to undervalue.

 

In the end this whole post has become very much concentrated on the flavour of the set, and on trying to explain what I like or dislike in Doctor Who. I feel justified doing that, because I gave those of you, who don’t care at all, the set to criticize, and if I end up getting anyone interested in watching the show, I will consider that a plus. Or the other way around – someone who loves doctor who, stumbling over this Blog and dusting off his old Magic cards or maybe getting interested in trying it out because of the crossover I’ve worked on. That’d be cool too.

I realize, for many of you, what I think about the various doctors may not be all that interesting though. If it really annoys you, and you’d like to read about just the set in Magic terms (which I’m not sure would be possible for me to do), then I’ll consider it. Just let me know either way πŸ™‚

 

Love you guys ❀

 

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 πŸ™‚

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 β€žthis will be fine. It’s SO expensive.β€œ 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 πŸ™‚ 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? πŸ™‚ 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 ❀