The Cards of MTG Prime

Twoweeks ago, I started this series by discussing how I would change Magic’s rules if I were starting the game from scratch. The article generated a lot of interest and inspired me to continue the project by designing a hypothetical first set.

Lastweek, I covered what mechanics and cards I might include in that set, now nicknamed MTG Prime. That one wasn’t as well received—I found it interesting to analyze what aspects of Magic belonged in Prime, but the article boiled down to just a list of cards to include or not include. I think I failed to properly convey my logic and thought processes, and I’ll try to do a better job in the future.

Today, I’ll be tackling some new designs and spins on existing ones for MTG Prime, showing off some themes and expanding on previous ideas. Just to warn you, this article is still more about set design than card design. None of the cards I’m proposing are terribly groundbreaking—they’re about how I would express Magic’s fundamental themes and mechanics.

The card face is copyright Wizards of the Coast, and the art is all owned by WotC or the artist. The card face, art, and game mechanics are all being used for a discussion of the existing property, not for production or sale. The mockups were made using the program Magic Set Editor.

Rare Iconics

If I were to take a stab at the most popular and desired cards when Alpha first game out, I would guess that both Serra Angel and Shivan Dragon were near the top of the list. Huge, iconic creatures are incredibly appealing to new players, and with Prime, our entire hypothetical audience is new players. I want to design a cycle of iconic rare monsters that really shine as the set’s marquee cards.

Some people were confused by last week’s list of designs to tweak. What I really meant is that I would be using the cards I listed as a general mechanical starting point and go from there. In the end, Flameblast Dragon was the only one that made it through unchanged.

As I was developing the five monsters, a theme unintentionally emerged. I liked Griselbrand’s massive life payment for cards, but I wanted to make something that your opponent had time to answer. I quickly dismissed a tap ability, and I eventually settled on an attack trigger. At the same time, I was considering Baneslayer Angel and the fact that I had originally decided not to include lifelink in Prime. I quickly realized that I could easily tweak all five designs to trigger from attacks and give the very loose cycle a bit of a connection.

Daybreak Angel started off as a riff on Baneslayer Angel, but it slowly grew into something closer in many ways to Serra Angel. The attack trigger manages a similar feel to lifelink, and it really embodies a guardian-protector feel. Secluded Sphinx is only slightly changed from Sphinx of Jwar Isle, my favorite blue fatty to date. Flameblast Dragon is basically a perfect Dragon design, and the only thing left to say about the Demon is that Demons can’t ever have too many sixes on them. Burgeoning Hydra is a little pushed compared to most Ivy Elemental variants over the years, but I really wanted green as the creature color to have a scary attacker despite its lack of flying. Unlike Primordial Hydra, you usually want to wait until you can play this guy with 3 to 4 counters since he can’t grow without mixing it up.

If we want to make these cards the faces of the set, though, we should include a few other cards that reference them. First of all, we have everyone’s favorites, the lucky charms.

Angel's Feather
Demon's Horn
Dragon's Claw

I wanted to go a little further, though. I wanted to make some reference cards that make sense on their own but add a cool bit of logical connection when seen in combination with the appropriate rare creature. I ended up with the following uncommon cycle:

Dragon’s Breath really shows what I’m trying to do with these cards. It’s a solid, flavorful name on its own, but when you see it next to Flameblast Dragon, you go, “Hey! The Dragon actually casts Dragon’s Breath when it attacks! Awesome!” The fact that Ponder has now been banned in two formats and was discussed for banning in Standard makes me pretty comfortable bumping it up to uncommon.


I mentioned last week that I wanted to include a cycle of lords, as they are the perfect build-around card for new players. I kicked around a couple of ideas, but I eventually settled on using a cycle of 1CC lords with a flat +1/+1 bonus and tap abilities relating to their tribe. I like the gameplay of tap abilities because lords are often too valuable to run into combat, and it feels good for them to have something else useful to do. Moreover, I like the way that activated abilities can show how different leaders interact with their tribe. Zombies make more Zombies, Merfolk assist with trickery, and Elves benefit from a large community.

Merfolk Sovereign
Cemetery Reaper
Elvish Archdruid

There haven’t been any Goblins with this template, so I got to design a new one that shows exactly how a Goblin leader treats its minions. I also designed a Dwarf lord based on my points last week, though it could just as easily be a Human or Kithkin if you think those tribes are more appropriate to white.


Artifact creatures are great because they show off that a card can have multiple types in a flavorful and grokkable manner. Making a creature an artifact creates new interactions without adding a single line of text. Artifact creatures have had a very technological feel of late, and for Prime, I want to include a single vertical cycle that establishes them as ancient, magical constructs.

The first two provide some solid bodies to help people with smaller collections fill out their decks. A colorless Hill Giant at common is actually pushing the curve a bit, but I feel that vulnerability to both artifact and creature destruction is a sufficient drawback to let it slide. Our rare Golem gets to be the only card in the set with protection from everything, which amounts to indestructibility under the Prime rules. I like the idea of establishing diamond as an evergreen signifier for indestructibility and protection from everything so that we could see cards such as Diamond Armor or Diamondscale Wurm in later sets.

And Now for Something Completely Different

I hope you guys have enjoyed by brief tour through MTG Prime, but next week, I’m going to be moving back to some more traditional deck-building and strategy stuff for a while. I love discussing design, though, and I would be happy to hear your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, or even by e-mail.