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By: Evu,
Apr 08 2008 11:30am
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The Contest

Each month, PureMTGO users run a card design contest in this site's forums. This article contains the entries, along with the judges' scores and commentary, for the March 2008 contest.

Before we start, some quick links: PureMTGO's monthly Custom Card Contest takes place in the Custom Cards forum. We use the Magic Set Editor software to bring our cards to life (no Photoshop skills required!). Here are March's threads for submissions (including results) and discussion.

In this contest, designers were presented with a set of six pictures, and tasked with turning one of them into a card. The pictures were:

All of these photos were either in the public domain or available for use under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

To quote myself from the submission thread:

'Sometimes, late in the development process, a card design gets killed after the art has already been comissioned. Designers then have to make a new card for the set that fits the art they already have. This month's contest will test your skills at this design challenge. Convince us that your name, card type, color(s), and mechanic all fit naturally with the picture you choose.'

The Scoring

A panel of three judges graded each card on a scale from 0 to 10 in each of five categories, for a possible total of 50 points per card. The categories were as follows:

  • Originality measured whether the card design was fresh and/or clever. Had it been done before? Was it too obvious?
  • Templating measured whether the card, as submitted, conformed to the rules of Magic card writing and the English language.
  • Balance took stock of whether the card was strong enough to be worth playing, and also whether it was too strong.
  • Flavor examined the card in the context of a fantasy game. Did its name and art match its mechanic? Was it in the right color?
  • Appeal asked the question, would anybody actually want to play this card? Would the set, or any given format, be better for having this card in it?

As usual, this month's judging panel was made up of the winners of the previous month's contest. I (Evu) was ably assisted by DiesIrae and rushmore111. Both of my fellow judges are busy this month, so only my commentary is presented below, but all three judges' scores are included.

The Cards



  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 7 9 5 5 9 35
DI 7 10 9 7 7 40
r111 5 10 8 7 8 38
Avg 6.3 9.7 7.3 6.3 8 37.7


It feels to me like this card has a lot of extra rules text piled on to justify it -- but why? Three damage for three mana is reasonable on its own; look at cards like Yamabushi's FlameGhostfire, which are quite playable in decks that need their effects. The need for all of the mana to be red is significant, but not so challenging a requirement that it demands every bit of 'rider' text ever attached to a burn spell. The damage-splitting ability is pretty great, and would probably be sufficient by itself, especially when you consider what it normally costs to be able to split damage among multiple targets -- Electrolyze does one less and needs two colors; Pyrotechnics is four-for-five and a sorcery. If you want to add something else to it, since this is a rare and red-heavy, my next choice would be the 'can't be countered' bit. On the other hand, maybe the whole point was to create a spell that has all (or most) of the burn-spell rider text. In that case, I'd probably increase the mana cost by 1 -- although it's so cluttered that I'm not sure it's worth doing at all. or

The Art:

I like the outside-the-box thinking behind turning these torches into a rain of fire, but I don't find it entirely convincing -- those are some pretty oddly shaped fireballs, and what's the background supposed to be?


  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 9 8 5 7 7 36
DI 9 8 5 8 7 37
r111 9 4 5 8 6 32
Avg 9 6.7 5 7.7 6.7 35


This one worries me a little. The ability to tutor for an arbitrarily large amount of non-basic land could potentially be very powerful, and worse, might restrict the kind of nonbasic land that could be printed in the future. Searching up, say, a full set of Urza's lands and an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth seems like a pretty powerful play, and four Cloudposts plus any red-producing land gets you pretty close to a lethal Blaze. (I chose to view the omission of the words 'then shuffles his or her library' as a templating error.)

The Art:

This picture actually has several colors in it, thanks to the glow in the sky, so it's a good fit for a card that gives you access to multiple colors of mana. And since water is the focus, it's also a good choice for a card that does that in a blue way -- blue being the color that usually changes the color of mana that lands produce, rather than destroying them.


Angry Mob / Disciplined Soldier

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 7 6 9 6 5 33
DI 8 3 3 7 5 26
r111 9 2 8 5 4 28
Avg 8 3.7 6.7 6 4.7 29


I'm willing to entertain the idea of a split creature card, but I'm not sure this one was entirely thought through. For example: what does it cost to play? Probably better to just have a Sorcery/Sorcery that makes tokens. In terms of power level, though, this is probably okay, offering slightly underpowered (I think) creatures in exchange for flexibility. But don't forget to check your card's name against Gatherer! There already is a card called Angry Mob.

The Art:

The picture with the people holding torches looks more like a ritual than a mob to me, but on the whole this is a fair reading of the art.

Living Memorial

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 6 7 5 9 4 31
DI 9 9 7 9 8 42
r111 8 10 8 10 7 43
Avg 7.7 8.7 6.7 9.3 6.3 38.7


This might be a touch overcosted for a reanimation spell that forces the creature to have defender -- compare Miraculous Recovery or Resurrection. On the other hand, white doesn't even usually get direct reanimation like this nowadays, so maybe it isn't. Also, why doesn't this target? It would take fewer words and be more quickly understood.

The Art:

It took me a minute to figure out what was going on with the flavor here, but I like it a lot: you take a creature from the graveyard and make a statue that has its powers... sort of.



  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 5 9 8 7 8 37
DI 7 9 8 8 9 41
r111 7 6 9 8 8 38
Avg 6.3 8 8.3 7.7 8.3 38.7


This templating doesn't work -- see Ghostway for a similar effect with correct wording. Speaking of Ghostway, is this better than it, or worse? Your opponent's creatures may have CIP abilities, but most of them probably won't... on the other hand, what's the use of removing them from the game at all if your own creatures are gone as well? Maybe this should say something like 'all creatures target player controls'.

The Art:

Migration isn't the first thing that I think of when I look at this picture, but it's one possible interpretation. The art is a good fit for a blue-and-white card, though; the border picks up on the colors in the art very nicely.


Outpost of the Forest     [2nd Place!]

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 8 7 7 9 9 40
DI 8 8 9 8 6 39
r111 6 10 9 8 6 39
Avg 7.3 8.3 8.3 8.3 7 39.3


I like this design a lot. It seems very balanced, and lets you make the most out of the card by being a land when you need it and a creature when you don't. It picks up on the 'treefolk and forests are kind of the same thing' theme in Lorwyn block, which I thought was fun and flavorful. I have two complaints, and they're minor: first, I think this could have been common; other 'creaturecycling' cards like Homing Sliver and Vedalken AEthermage were. Second, I don't think it should have the Treefolk type: WotC specifically decided against giving lands any creature types in Lorwyn block, because they feared a repeat of the Affinity deck (which was powered in large part by Mirrodin block's artifact lands).

The Art:

By making the land an 'outpost', this design picks up on one of the things I had hoped somebody would notice about this picture: that the foreground is forested, while the area in the distance is not.


Migration's End

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 6 9 2 3 4 24
DI 7 10 3 7 7 34
r111 5 10 1 8 7 31
Avg 6 9.7 2 6 6 29.7


The second coming of Flash, no doubt. Granted, it doesn't let you sacrifice Protean Hulk to trigger its leaves-play ability, but name 'Golem' or 'Mutant', and odds are your opponent won't even be able to drop a chump-blocker. Even if you name 'Angel' or Spirit', the odds aren't much better. Even if your opponent were guaranteed to get a creature of their own, there's no getting around the fact that this card lets you drop extremely powerful creatures for much less mana than you're supposed to be able to.

The Art:

A miss, I'm afraid. These birds' migration seems to be beginning, not ending, and they don't look like chickens or dragons.

Darkness Sharer

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 5 9 4 7 3 28
DI 6 10 9 7 7 39
r111 6 10 8 7 5 36
Avg 5.7 9.7 7 7 5 34.3


Four mana for an evasive 2/1 is a bit of an overpayment for black, and I'm not sure the CIP ability makes up for it. On the other hand, shadow is a very effective form of evasion that black usually has to pay extra for access to. I would probably go down to 1BB for this, certainly not lower, but at 3B it feels like Limited filler -- except that most Limited filler can chump-block.

The Art:

Of all the cards that tried using a small portion of the art in order to get something different out of it, I think this might be the one that succeeds the best, making good use of all the shadowiness in the original picture.



Firewielding Mobster

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 7 2 5 7 8 29
DI 8 9 6 8 8 39
r111 6 7 9 6 5 33
Avg 7 6 6.7 7 7 33.7


The first activated ability feels more green than black -- black has some creatures with shadow, while green has AEther Web. The second, though, is very flavorful, as a red ability, an ability tied to Goblins, and as a fit for the art.

The Art:

The picture is more mob than mobster, but aside from that, this is an interesting and flavorful interpretation of what mechanical effect a bunch of people with torches might have.


  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 6 5 3 10 7 31
DI 7 9 6 7 7 36
r111 7 7 2 8 7 31
Avg 6.7 7 3.7 8.3 7 32.7


Ordered Migration costs five mana in two colors, is a sorcery, and only makes one bird for each of your basic land types. This is way undercosted. I do like the fact that the three birds in the art echo the converted mana cost of 3, but this card needs to count something other than permanents. Creatures in play? Creature cards in graveyard?

The Art:

In addition to picking up on the number of birds as mentioned above, I like that this is an instant card, and that it makes birds appear out of nowhere, because the birds in the art do seem to me to be appearing suddenly and moving quickly.


Philosopher's Memorial

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 9 6 7 10 9 41
DI 9 8 5 7 5 34
r111 8 9 9 7 8 41
Avg 8.7 7.7 7 8 7.3 38.7


A very interesting idea with a Null Profusion kind of flavor; I think this would be a lot of fun to play. Apart from some problems with the templating, my main objection is that this would be a little too easy to combine with land destruction to completely lock an opponent out. Two mana to draw a card is probably about right, but the four mana in the top-right feels low. Six, maybe?

The Art:

An excellent fit; the art-first design is evident here. Meddling with card-drawing is exactly the sort of thing that a weathered statue of a person deep in thought might do in the world of Magic.


Jutting Peak

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 6 7 2 7 8 30
DI 6 10 8 7 7 38
r111 5 10 8 5 8 36
Avg 5.7 9 6 6.3 7.7 34.7


This is an interesting variation on the painlands (e.g. Adarkar Wastes) or shocklands (e.g. Overgrown Tomb), but I think it's too powerful. Because you can go the whole game without using the painful ability if you need to, it's almost strictly better than a basic Island. I say 'almost' becase there are some benefits to having the 'Basic' type, but realistically, this would be an auto-include in most blue/red decks.

The Art:

It takes a little work for me to look at that rock and see a mountain rising up out of the ocean, but it was a clever idea for a picture that I didn't even expect to see made into a land card.

Saproling Reserve

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 6 6 3 8 8 31
DI 8 10 8 7 7 40
r111 5 10 8 4 8 35
Avg 6.3 8.7 6.3 6.3 7.7 35.3


This is practically the same card as Jutting Peak -- they're both members of a very tightly linked cycle, at any rate -- but I gave it an extra point in two categories: flavor, because I think I think the art and name fit the mechanic a little better, and balance, because the colors of mana it provides are allied. On the other hand, it gets one less point for templating because it's missing a period at the end of the first ability, where Jutting Peak is not.

The Art:

This is another card that picks up on the fact that its art shows a forested area in the foreground and a plain in the background, so I appreciate the thought that went into the design.


Flight of the Flock     [3rd Place!]

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 8 8 9 7 7 39
DI 9 10 6 9 8 42
r111 8 8 8 7 5 36
Avg 8.3 8.7 7.7 7.7 6.7 39


I think the complexity level could have been brought down a notch by having the tokens be sacrificed at end of turn, instead of involving the 'vanishing' keyword. That's my major quibble with the card. Otherwise, I think it's good: it charges a fair price for an effect that's powerful, but hardly game-breaking, and is flavorful and fun besides.

The Art:

Appropriate. It bothers me a little that the art depicts birds flying away; if they were arriving, it would be a better fit for the mechanic. I usually don't pay much attention to the designer's choice of card borders, but in this case, I'm a little unclear on what benefit the new borders add. I would point out a few design flaws: the set number is where a creature's power and toughness would usually be, which could cause some confusion, the color of the rarity symbol is hard to discern, and the text on the type line is a little too small. On the other hand, having the artist credit appear so close to the art itself is a definite improvement.

Crashing Waves

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 6 6 1 9 2 24
DI 9 9 5 7 7 37
r111 7 9 4 7 6 33
Avg 7.3 8 3.3 7.7 5 31.3


Way too strong. Imagine playing this in a mono-blue deck against an opponent who just happens not to be playing red: on turn 5, you could create five 5/5 Elementals with this. Change 'Mountains' to 'non-Island lands' and you might be on to something. Constantly re-calculating the tokens' power and toughness might be a little too much trouble; I'd rather have seen them set at the time the spell is cast.

The Art:

I like the idea of a crashing wave turning itself into a group of Elemental creatures; very evocative. Unfortunately, the art is also a liability here: this is really a green effect that ended up on a blue card because the art depicts a wave. However, a tweak to make the effect more like Tidal Wave or Thunderheads could save the design. Despite this weakness, I'm giving high marks for Flavor because of how well I think the art and concept fit.


Sacred Ritual

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 4 6 5 9 3 27
DI 9 10 8 8 9 44
r111 5 10 9 7 7 38
Avg 6 8.7 7.3 8 6.3 36.3


It's Tarmo-Ritual! While generating an extra red mana is probably not as compelling a reason to fill your graveyard as making your creatures bigger, it's still potentially very useful in, say, some kind of storm combo deck. Even though 'ritual' cards are often common, I might be inclined to go up to uncommon for this one, just because of how useless it would be in Limited.

The Art:

A good call -- in fact, since the card shows fire and a bunch of people performing some sort of ritual, a red ritual card may be the ideal match for this art.

Night Watchmen     [1st Place!]

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 7 9 7 7 7 37
DI 8 10 9 9 8 44
r111 4 10 8 9 8 39
Avg 6.3 9.7 8 8.3 7.7 40


A cool concept -- this is kind of like a miniature Pristine Angel. Easier to untap, but less protection on a less impressive body. As long as black has a couple of ways in the format to get around it at common or uncommon, I think this is probably fair and fun.

The Art:

I like that the color of the card reflects the colors in the painting, and that the name makes use of the fact that the scene is dark.


Timus, Protector of Aysen

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 9 8 7 10 7 41
DI 9 7 8 9 8 41
r111 7 6 8 7 6 34
Avg 8.3 7 7.7 8.7 7 38.7


Very interesting! A great defensive creature for white; I would expect this to see play in tournament Constructed decks. My main concern is that it should probably cost a little more. Blocking two creatures per turn could be a major setback for aggressive decks, and I think giving them another turn to play out enough creatures to overwhelm Timus would be fairer. Also, as worded, removing Timus from combat is mandatory, which means that he can block even large attackers with impunity, but can't be left in combat with the same four-toughness creature to kill it -- that seems like it's probably unintentional.

The Art:

A good match. This painting depicts not just a stalwart knight, but one in a stationary position -- very appropriate for a primarily defensive creature.

Innocuous Visage

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 7 9 5 7 6 34
DI 9 10 7 9 9 44
r111 7 8 9 8 4 36
Avg 7.7 9 7 8 6.3 38


Seems like a decent, fairly priced utility spell for blue in Limited, with perhaps some potential for casual Constructed. I like the fact that the Entwine cost makes the color requirements more stringent, since these abilities are a bit stronger in concert than separately. But I wonder why this spell only targets shapeshifters -- surely, as a one-time effect, it wouldn't be overpowered for this to target any creature?

The Art:

'Visage' means 'face', and there aren't really any faces in this picture. But with a different word choice, the name, flavor, and art here would all be a very good match.


Roust from Cover

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 8 9 7 7 6 37
DI 8 6 7 7 8 36
r111 7 10 7 8 7 39
Avg 7.7 8.3 7 7.3 7 37.3


A pretty cool idea for a card. Would be an enormous blowout against tribal decks, but I'm not sure whether I think that's a bad thing. Rares that counteract the set theme aren't unusual, and help to keep runaway mechanics in check.

The Art:

A great name for the picture, and for a Magic card in general. It's kind of unusual, though, to have a removal spell that doesn't show something unpleasant happening to a creature.


Loss of Identity

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 7 9 5 6 6 33
DI 7 10 7 7 7 38
r111 8 10 9 7 4 38
Avg 7.3 9.7 7 6.7 5.7 36.3


An interesting cross between Ego Erasure and Mind Bend, and a great fit for Blue, as a trick that's very situational but potentially very powerful. I would rather, though, that it took a cue from its predecessors and lost the cantrip text -- I would have rated it much higher for balance if it had. I'm also concerned about the potential memory issues here; it seems like it would be much harder to just remember that a creature had lost all its types -- especially in a tribal environment, where this obviously belongs, and where you're constantly counting and re-counting the number of creatures of each type -- than it would be to remember that Mind Bend had changed a permanent's color. Putting an otherwise meaningless counter on the target, or moving this card up to rare, would have been potential ways to alleviate this problem.

The Art:

I kind of get this and kind of don't. The colors on the ducks are fading into the background, or maybe they represent a creature's sense of self, which takes flight when this spell is cast. Focusing closely on the ducks helps convey this idea.

Mist Cavalier

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 4 10 4 3 4 25
DI 7 10 7 8 8 40
r111 7 10 9 8 9 43
Avg 6 10 6.7 6.3 7 36


Here's a creature with the same cost as Soltari Priest and a very similar body. Is the difference between protection from red and Shroud worth the +0/+1? In the abstract, Shroud is the worse ability, because it limits the creature's controller as well. But in this case, I think shroud might actually be stronger. Because it's so hard to kill a creature with shadow in combat -- think of how many creatures with Shadow there are in any given format, and then think of how early you could expect to cast the ones that could even trade with this in combat -- it's important that opponents be able to resort to spot removal to deal with them. If it only has protection from red, even mono-red players can splash another color or resort to things like Ghostfire or Pyrite Spellbomb. With shroud, there's no such alternative.

The Art:

This was a clever attempt to make something out of the painting that wasn't really intended. Unfortunately, it doesn't succeed as well as I'd like: this is really the background of the painting, and is too uniform and gray to be used as a focus; also, the bit of the foreground horse that couldn't be kept out is distracting.

Barroom Hero

Jurin Pupil

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 6 8 7 4 6 31
DI 8 8 8 8 8 40
r111 7 10 9 8 9 43
Avg 7 8.7 8 6.7 7.7 38


This is difficult to evaluate without playtesting. In terms of mana ratios, it starts life as a Squire and then later becomes a 2/3 (but, you'll note, no bigger) after you've invested at least 4 mana, which by itself is overcosted -- but how much is the ability to save itself from removal worth? Cards like Advanced Hoverguard get the same ability for half the price, but in green it's a bit off-color... the development process would be illuminating, but I think this is as good a starting point as any.

The Art:

The 'pupil' part captures the fact that the art depicts someone deep in thought, but it doesn't explain why the person is made of rock.

Time for Thought

  Orig Tmpl Blnc Flav Appl Total
Evu 8 7 7 6 8 36
DI 7 5 6 7 7 32
r111 9 10 8 9 10 46
Avg 8 7.3 7 7.3 8.3 38


I find it significant that this has Wrath of God's mana cost, except in blue -- this is exactly the sort of not-really-board-clearing spell that blue should get to buy itself a break from getting beaten down. And who doesn't like re-triggering all of their creatures' comes-into-play abilities? A good concept. This effect is powerful enough, though, that I'd have preferred for the spell to be a sorcery.

The Art:

The name is really what ties the art and the mechanic together here, though there's nothing wrong with that.

That's it for this month's contest, but April's is already underway in the Custom Cards forum. Come join us!



by andymc1 (Unregistered) (not verified) at Sat, 04/12/2008 - 21:39
andymc1 (Unregistered)'s picture

Sagely comments on each entry, top blogging! ;-p

Congrats! by MirrorMage at Thu, 04/10/2008 - 10:45
MirrorMage's picture

Great article, I don't have the creativity and skill needed to create interesting balanced/cards, but I love seeing people who do.

I really did like Jutting Peak, I could see it being printed one day!

by Evu at Wed, 04/09/2008 - 10:14
Evu's picture

Most of the information you want is in the second paragraph of this article.  Then just go to the <a href="http://www.puremtgo.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=29">Custom Cards forum</a>, look for the thread for April 2008 submissions, and read all of the rules in the first post.

My card and phasing... by MechtaK at Wed, 04/09/2008 - 12:52
MechtaK's picture

My intention in Roust from Cover was to make a card in which you chase the prey from cover, then shoot one of them, much like a bird hunt goes.  Unfortunately, I couldn't alter the image to create a dying quail :P.  The card really started from when I saw the card and thought immediately, "Birds of a feather, flock together" and I went from there.  Anyhow, thanks for judging guys, and congrats to the winners and all.

Oh, and I liked phasing.  I just thought phasing was a little to plain.  In today's card pools, phasing would do a lot of other tricks, and would like to see it come back if only for that.  Like CIP effects and leaves play effects, but they would be "when this phases out" and "when this phases in" stuff.  Mostly phasing was cheaper casting cost stuff, but the cost wasn't well offset by the ability to use it only every other turn.  I would take a 5 cast Air Elemental any day over a 4 cast 4/4 flier that phased.  They just needed to do something that made the phasing worthwhile.  Some did, but most didn't.

Jurin Pupil by Stu Benedict at Tue, 04/08/2008 - 12:56
Stu Benedict's picture

I didn't notice that the Pupil doesn't get an extra +1/+1 for each activation

: (

 My Bad ....

by Stu Benedict at Tue, 04/08/2008 - 12:57
Stu Benedict's picture

I am rushmore111 by the way.

by Evu at Tue, 04/08/2008 - 13:15
Evu's picture

Yeah, I was at least two-thirds of the way through reviewing that card before I noticed that and had to start over. I think that the way we assumed it worked (with an ever-increasing number of counters) might be the way it was intended to work, but you'd need some fancy wording tricks to accomplish that.

by hamtastic at Tue, 04/08/2008 - 15:48
hamtastic's picture

For Jurin Pupil, what you want is for it to phase out and back in, and get a +1/+1 counter each time it phases in.  Phasing remembers the counters it had and accomplishes the same task.

Assuming that you'd be allowed to use phasing for the contest.  ;) 

by Pyrosin at Tue, 04/08/2008 - 19:51
Pyrosin's picture

I don't think anyone should ever be able to use phasing for anything ever again :P

contest dates by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Wed, 04/09/2008 - 00:59
Anonymous (Unregistered)'s picture

When does this contest start and how do i enter??