Rant of Valakut: Customized for Cube Ben Iverach-Brereton February 1, 2021 Rants of Valakut Warning! This article contains unsolicited card designs. Members of Wizards R&D should stop reading right away. Might I suggest some music to tide you over instead, or perhaps a fun word puzzle? Recently, Dr. Caleb Gannon ran a card design contest on his Discord. He was looking for fan-made cards to add to his Vintage Cube. I dabble in card design myself from time to time, so naturally this piqued my interest. Dr. Gannon limited participants to two submissions each. I keep a file with my designs, so I already had several cards to choose from; it was just a matter of choosing which ones I liked the best. Neither of my submissions got very far in the voting, but I really only submitted them for the fun of entering. Win or lose, taking part in the contest drove me to actually work on these card designs instead of thinking about them in the abstract, and it gave me a hard deadline to get them finished. Seeing the variety of submissions was great, and I enjoyed the different approaches people had. The cards I made were created using an old version of the Magic Set Editor, which I’ll admit is rather out of date. A friend of mine recommended the program for making board game prototypes, and I must admit that even this old version is a good for that; it’s quick and easy to use, and keeps card collections nicely organized. For custom Magic cards, on the other hand, the version I installed really shows its age; it doesn’t have anything more recent than the 8th Edition card frame, so it doesn’t have assets like the colourless mana symbol, energy or any new templates, like Sagas and Adventures. The collector’s information is also a bit difficult to read on the 8th Edition frame, which I found unfortunate. It looks like there’s a new version available, mind you; I may need to take a look. As for the artwork I chose for these cards, I wanted to stick to public domain images. Too often artists’ work is used without their permission, and while I was just making these cards for fun, it still didn’t feel right. Thankfully, there are plenty of searchable databases of public domain works, like the incredible Rijksmuseum collection. If you haven’t taken the opportunity to look through their online gallery, you really should; they have some amazing paintings. Most of my card art is from there, though there are a few pieces from other databases. In either case, you can find a link to where I found each image below the card. Without further ado, here’s what I came up with: My Submissions Unbidden Knowledge Art: The Marriage at Cana, by Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen (1530-1613) I was surprised to learn that there are no Storm spells with “draw a card.” The closest you can get are probably Mind’s Desire, Sprouting Vines or Dragonstorm, but those aren’t exactly the same. I decided to model Unbidden Knowledge after the likes of Sign in Blood and Night’s Whisper, with life loss to balance it. I also really like the idea of a Storm spell that can lose you the game if you aren’t careful…. I’m quite pleased with my choice of artwork for Unbidden Knowledge; the original context has these characters sitting around a table enjoying a meal, but with some creative cropping this looks like it could be a secret meeting. Mox Bloodstone Art: Birds and Nature, ed. William Kerr Higley (1900), page 226 I originally conceived of this as “Mox Soulstone” but it works so much better as heliotrope; being able to use the name of a real stone, yet still convey mechanics and theme is lovely. Realistically, this is just a worse Chrome Mox, but because it exiles a permanent instead of a card from your hand, how you use it is completely different. You need to have a creature in play first, so this Mox doesn’t allow you to power out big spells nearly as quickly. Instead, it presents an interesting choice: is it worth giving up a creature in exchange for more mana? In a format with a lot of Pacifisms and other aura-based removal, Mox Bloodstone goes up in value, and it might encourage the use of more cheap creatures. It seems especially good alongside Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh or Squee, the Immortal. Finding a suitable image of a bloodstone was all but impossible, so I switched to bird eggs. I’ll admit that this image from the 1900s Birds and Nature magazine is a bit plain splotchy, but with the classic Magic card frame it doesn’t look out of place. I initially used an 8th Edition frame for this card, but it just didn’t look quite right; making it a “timeshifted” card looked better. I didn’t specifically call out the Imprint mechanic on the card for a similar reason: this way the card felt older. Additional Designs Civic Mentor Art: Monk Meditating near a Ruin by Moonlight, by Frederik Marinus Kruseman (1862) White decks struggle with card draw, but they excel at flickering and bouncing their own permanents. With the right tools, white can generate virtual card advantage by reusing a creatures’ enter-the-battlefield ability several times. If that happens to be “draw a card,” as is the case with Wall of Omens and Civic Mentor, that can quickly translate into actual card advantage. Let’s be honest, I’m not breaking any new ground here; Civic Mentor is basically just a white Elvish Visionary. The only real difference with my card is that I gave the Mentor an extra point of toughness. I figure that this keeps Civic Mentor in line with the quality of recent creatures; after all, if Thraben Inspector can be a 1/2, why not Civic Mentor? The full piece that this monk is taken from is really lovely, and the figure is only a small part of it. I’ll probably go back to this painting to use another section of it on a future card; for such a serene piece, there’s a lot going on in it. Opine Art: Prince’s Day, by Jan Havicksz. Steen (1660-1679) Flavour text: Star Trek: The Next Generation (season 6, episode 25; “Timescape“) Sometimes you want the instant speed of Opt, but the post-draw scry of Serum Visions. I know my Modern deck would certianly like Opine to help transform its Delver of Secrets, and I imagine any Counterbalance deck would find a backwards Opt equally as useful. Like a lot of my designs, Opine isn’t doing anything new, but it does fit nicely into the suite of worse-Brainstorms we’ve seen over the years. Opine probably isn’t good enough for Legacy or Pauper lists, but it could give Modern Delver decks a much-needed leg up. I came up with the name of this card fairly quickly; I wanted a word that was reminiscent of the word “opt,” while still feeling like it could be a blue card. I went through several images before finally settling on the figure from Prince’s Day. Clay Village Art: Mill Along a River, by Jonas Zeuner (1770-1814) I was fiddling around with the design for Clay Village shortly before the reveal of the Thriving cycle of lands in Jump/Start; the idea of a land that taps for a single colour of your choice is appealing, and I’m obviously not the only one who thought so. I imagined Clay Village as being akin to City of Brass or a Shockland, but less painful. I wanted the land to be useable right away, so it would come into play untapped. This meant it would need a drawback of some sort, so I added a small bit of life loss. This makes Clay Village about on par with Prismatic Vista, though obviously a deck that can benefit from landfall or additional shuffling would still prefer the Vista. The name and flavour text were inspired by the art by Jonas Zeuner; the gray figures obviously weren’t meant to be simulacra, but I started to imagine an adventuring party exploring an ever-shifting city, and everything came together. Rampant Grove Art: Italian Gardens, by George Samuel Elgood (1907), page 272 Any land that acts as its own Rampant Growth needs to be treated with care. Blighted Woodland costs a fair bit of mana to get an extra land, while Myriad Landscape takes several turns before you can benefit from its acceleration. Even Terrain Generator and Drownyard Temple are a bit inefficient mana-wise. I didn’t want Rampant Grove to be overpowered, so I tried to model it as closely to these other self-ramping lands as I could, while still making it playable. The hardest part was trying to phrase its activated ability so that it worked in-game; unlike a spell, Rampant Grove never leaves your hand before its ability resolves, so I needed a way for your opponent to know what you were doing, hence revealing the card. I’m not sure if it’s the best solution, but I think it works. I’m not sure which came first, the name of this card or its mechanics. In either case, I liked the idea of a land that could put itself into play, and the pun was too good to pass up. The image I used is from an old book about old villas; the gardens and statues depicted in it are all quite lovely. Depictions of Violence Last year I briefly mentioned that I had some custom card designs I was hoping to share, but was concerned they might be insensitive. At the time, the news was filled with photos of protests and acts of police brutality, and some of the images I had chosen form my cards looked all to familiar, even if they were painted hundreds of years old. So I put the project aside and focused on other things. The issues that caused me to hold off sharing these cards still persist. The violence might not be on the news as much these days, but it’s still going on. I chose to use these paintings because the scenes they portrayed fit with the mechanics of the cards I designed; they were never intended to be a reflection of current affairs. Just like running a copy of Murder in your deck doesn’t mean you condone the act in the real world, these cards aren’t meant to glorify or condone acts of assault and police brutality. I recognize that images have a weight, and these ones may feel too close to home for some people. You can find the cards below, if you’re interested. It’s my sincere hope that both the cards and paintings can spark a positive discussion as we try to move forward together. Stryish Prison Guard Art: Valentinus Taken Prisoner, by Otto van Veen (1600-1613) Ikoria introduced us to the idea of keyword counters, but noticeably absent from them was a Defender counter. Obviously it’s not the sort of thing you’d normally want on a creature, but it makes for an interesting extension of white’s various Fiend Hunter creatures. The defender counter will of course stick around after the Stryish Prison Guard leaves play, which makes it in some ways better than Banisher Priest, but because the Guard’s target never leaves the battlefield, it’s less effective against utility creatures. The image I used is tightly cropped intentionally. The idea was to keep the focus entirely on the helmeted man. He’s fairly prominent in the foreground of the full painting, which has an added benefit of not needing to zoom in as much and potentially lose detail; the Rijksmuseum images are very detailed, but trying to pick out small characters in the background still has its limitations. I tried to include just enough of this painting to make it clear that the helmeted man had someone in custody, but not so much that someone else would become the focus of the image. This is one of the reasons the face on the right is partially cropped out. Twist the Knife Art: Massacre of the Innocents, by Alessandro Magnasco (1715-1740) We’ve seen “destroy target creature or planeswalker that was dealt damage this turn” on a few creatures, but never on an instant. This is effectively an updated Fatal Blow, so not all that groundbreaking. I’ve put it at two mana to be conservative, but I could easily see it dropping down to a single black mana, much like its predecessor. As it is, Twist the Knife is the sort of card that would probably never see play outside of a Draft format, but would play a significant role in that environment. Several artists have painted a version of the Massacre of the Innocents, and each painting is always a chaotic, brutal scene. Magic cards aren’t without their own violent imagery, and the flavour text on removal spells in particular can be quite grim. When making Twist the Knife I tried to emulate the style of real Magic cards, including their sometimes macabre flavour text. The overall effect is a dark and vicious scene, which is fitting for the card, but is still uncomfortable to see. Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName Email Website Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.