Cardsmith Blog

​CCC: Odd Color Out

In all of Magic history, there is an unknown and unkempt beast that stalks the edges of our game. It slinks through the shadows, only showing us glimpses at what it could be and the things it can do. It tempts us, beckoning us to follow it into the dark. It is legion, it is an idea that has only been explored twice within the game. I am of course referring to the five four-color combinations. 
In Magic, we’ve seen every combination of two and three colors represented again and again throughout sets but rarely do R&D tread into the murky territory of the four colors. Today I’d like to give a brief history of the four-color designs we’ve seen as well as discussing what we can learn from them as Cardsmiths. The goal of this article is to inspire you to try your hand at defining these color mixes since they don’t have any real identity of their own at the moment. So, without further ado, let’s get into it.

Part 1 - The First Coming

The first time we saw a four-color combination brought to life was in the shining city of Ravnica during the Guildpact set. A cycle of four primordial beasts simply titled the Nephilim were printed, each featuring a four-color and four CMC cost. Now Mark Rosewater himself actually spoke of their impact and some design notes in an article titled Absence. In this article, he states that the designs of the Nephilim are subpar and goes into the reasons why. What’s relevant for us are the following two notes that he gives.
There were too many colors fighting to do different things.
To design a four-color card, the best thing to do is design around the color that isn’t there. However, this can be difficult. 
Okay sweet, so now we have some pointers on what to do and what not to do when making our four-color cards. We can also take these notes and see how the Nephilim don’t really fit their identities at all. 
  • Yore-Tiller has an effect that is easily Rakdos and doesn’t really represent the lack of Green.
  • Glint-Eye is easily Dimir (and also just weak in general) arguably the lack of White is noticeable.
  • Witch-Maw kind of works but Black isn’t really represented and the loss of Red is negligible
  • Dune-Brood does actually work for the most part but again Black’s presence isn’t felt at all.
  • Ink-Treader is, in my opinion, the best of the group with an ability that makes some kind of sense given that three of its colors like to target its own creatures. But still, it’s certainly clunky.
  • All in all, none in the Nephilim cycle quite feel right as a four-color creature. At worst they’re weak and forced and at best they’re interesting but there was no need for them to be four colors.

Part 2 - If at first, you don’t succeed…

So now that we have the first examples of four-color cards, let’s move on to the second and last time we saw these color combinations. When Commander 2016 was released, each Precon featured a four-color commander at the helm of the deck. Let’s take a look at these five new cards and see how they explore the design space.

Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice 

Already we’re off to a much better start. All of her keyword abilities make sense, one fits for each of her colors and her use of the Proliferate mechanic is perfect. On New Phyrexia we know that red has the least Proliferate cards of any color (It has exactly 1). However, I do think that there is an argument that Blue and possibly even Black or Green aren’t exactly necessary from a mechanical perspective since all the keywords and even Proliferate fit into a White/Green or White/Black identity. Nonetheless, Atraxa works from a flavor perspective perfectly so any complaints that could be leveled can be easily dismissed.

Breya, Etherium Shaper

Breya is arguably the best example of R&D learning from the past. Being that Breya is White/Black/Red/Blue, it makes total sense that she’d be an artifact commander since Green has historically been the only color to not have much artifact synergy. She’s another great example of building around the color that’s missing, using what the other colors have in common that that one doesn’t.

Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis

This one is interesting from a color philosophy perspective. Black is the color least seen to have cards that help all players equally. We see good examples of the group hug philosophy in literally every other color because of their personalities. White believes in helping the little guy, Blue doesn’t always hoard its knowledge, Red is about freedom for all, and Green loves the idea of unity. It makes perfect sense for Kynaios and Tiro to be designed like this!

Saskia the Unyielding

OK, so Saskia is actually a bit weird to me. It is actually a very simple yet effective non-blue design. Its effect certainly makes sense and is incredibly unique but it’s not as great an example as the previous commanders. Saskia’s effect I think would fit comfortably in a few other color combinations but she’s still solid. Showing that blue isn’t great at the combat step is still a valid design point.

Yidris, Maelstrom Wanderer

Finally, we have Yidris, the non-White commander of the bunch is another great hit. Each of the other colors has some element of chaos to them and White would absolutely not fly with the massive amount of Cascade triggers you can get with a Yidris deck. Yet, this one is a little shaky. I genuinely believe that the Black on Yidris is unnecessary for the abilities it has, however I think it is needed to make Yidris a little harder to cast. It’s up to you whether or not you believe that’s enough.
These later five designs are more in line with what a four-color card should look like. We see a unification of the themes of the four represented colors into a card that (for the most part) wouldn’t exist otherwise. However, some are certainly better than others. Breya and Kynaios and Tiro are the best examples of the crop, Atraxa falls right in the middle, and Yidris and Saskia dabble a little too much in three color territory.

Part 3 - The Takeaway

Now that we’ve looked at all the examples we have to pull from, what can we as a designing community do with this information. First off we can start by recognizing that Rosewater was absolutely correct, the right way to design is around the missing color. So the best thing we can do from there is identifying what themes we can fit within each four-color combination. That way we have some basis for what cards in that area should do. Below are my best attempts at identifying these unifying themes. I tried to include three themes per combination
  • R/B/U/G - Land Synergy, Graveyard, Chaos
  • W/G/B/R - +1/+1 Counters, Creature Tokens, Aristocrats
  • R/U/W/G - Group Hug, Aura Synergy, Creature Support
  • U/B/R/W -  Artifacts Synergy, Noncreature Spells, Flying Creatures
  • U/B/W/G - Enchantment Synergy, Snow Synergy, Defender Synergy
I hope this article can help you guys create more amazing cards in the future! If you have any ideas for four-color themes let me know in the comments below. You can find me on twitter @East2Westmtg or email me at East2westmtg@gmail.com. As always this has been East2West with CCC, I'll see you guys on the battlefield.
May 15, 2020 by East2West
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Discord at One Level of Being Is Harmony at Another

Hello again MTG Cardsmith community! We hope everyone, their family and friends are keeping safe and healthy during these times.

We also hope you are enjoying the Vehicle frames we added a short time back. There are more frames coming to the editor in the near future, so be on the lookout for those.

One element we are adding to the community is an official MTG Cardsmith Discord Server. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Discord, it is an app for chatting in text, voice and video similar to Skype or Slack and brings a real-time element to discussions.
Some of you are familiar with Discord and we were happy to hear that some members of the community already participate in an unofficial Discord Server. Aside from its official capacity, our server will be different in that it will adhere to the Terms of Service for MTGCardsmith.com as well as some basic Discord rules.

Think of Discord as a complement to the Discussion forums that are already in use. Contests and Challenges will still be run on the MTGCS forums as well as other events that you have become accustomed to over the last nine years, or for however long the forums have been in operation.

One thing we’d like to stress is that this Discord chat app is a work in progress and an evolving entity. It will not be perfect to start with, nor will it be perfect in the future. We add/subtract channels from time-to-time. Our rules also will grow and hopefully mature over time. Please respect the rules, the Admins and the Moderators at all times.

But most of all, have fun.

Here is the link to the discussion thread on the forums for this post. On that post is the invite link to the Discord Server.

The Team at MTG Cardsmith

 

May 07, 2020 by MTG Cardsmith
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It's Been NINE Years Already!

Happy 9th Birthday MTG Cardsmith!

It All Started

On May 16th, 2011, Hellish Crag was created and that card began the MTG Cardsmith phenomenon that we've all become a part of. Over the past NINE years MTG Cardsmith has grown from it's humble beginnings to what is is today, but none of that would matter without all of you!

Changes Are All Around Us

For those of you who have been around for any length of time over the past NINE years, you'll notice how much the site has changed since you started Smithing your own custom cards. The forums, the ability to edit cards, additional frames, custom set symbols and even the ownership of MTG Cardsmith has changed, but there is one change you may not have noticed, and that is you!

It's All About NINE

It's MTG Cardsmith's 9th Birthday, and the thing that most of us associate with the number 9 is the "Power 9"  Those cards that Wizards of the Coast made before they understood how to make balanced cards. As Wizards of the Coast evolved in their card making, so have each of us evolved in the way we Cardsmith. This month, we'd like to see how each of you has evolved as a cardsmith. Show us some of your cringiest creations, along with the updated versions of them. We'll sift through all of your submissions and pick a handful to feature.

Old vs. New

Is That All?

Of course it isn't! Keep your eyes open for some additional changes this month. @Ian_The_Guru and his amazing team just released our new Vehicle Frames, and we've been told they aren't done yet!

Featured Cardsmiths

This month we picked two fun loving Cardsmiths to feature... ThatOneCat & foxman2!

ThatOneCat came to MTG Cardsmith back in 2017 and has probably amassed the largest collection of cat themed cards on MTG Cardsmith, but don't let the name fool you, because ThatOneCat makes more than just cards about cats! Stop by and check out more of ThatOneCats card creations once you're done checking out our five picks below!

In 2015 foxman2 joined our ranks and has steadily crafted over 500 cards and has mastered the art of centering text on cards. If you're interrested in knowing how he does it, just ask him, then go check out more of foxman2's cards... right after you check out the ones we put here for you to see!

Each month we're excited to highlight a few Cardsmiths that have helped make MTGCardsmith the best interactive online Card Creator. We hope you'll take some time to check out their creations!

May 01, 2020 by Corwinnn, & Tomigon
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You get a Card, you get a Card... You ALL get cards!!!

Vehicle Frames

For a while we've been able to make vehicles just by adding a P/T box to artifacts, but that's about to change!  Sure you could continue to make vehicles the "Old Fashioned" way, but why would you when the NEW VEHICLE FRAMES ARE HERE!!

Don't just take my word for it!

As Oprah might say... You get a Car... You get a Car... You ALL get CARS!!!

Challenge Issued

Not sure what to do with your new found ability to make Vehicle cards with Vehicle frames? Well you can update old vehicles OR you could join in on the new Vehicle Challenge that DrakeGladis is hosting in the Forums! As an extra bonus to celebrate the new frames, Ian_the-Guru and TheMediaShop have added a month of FREE Premium to the winner of the challenge! That's right... if you enter and win, you could find yourself behind the wheel of a month of FREE Premium!

April Showers Bring Mayflowers

Apr 24, 2020 by Corwinnn
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CCC: Paying it Forward

Today you stand a great wizard, a powerful Planeswalker. You have in your collection spells and creatures with power beyond reckoning. But how did you get there? No matter your strength or achievements we all started the same. As blind babies casting Brainstorm during our first main phase. We only grew because we had teachers, people to show us and guide us on our journey through the multiverse. During this time of quarantine, when so many of us are stuck inside with family, I’d like to share with you all how to teach someone to play Magic. This is by no means a definitive guide, but this is what I have done in the past to teach both my sister and friends how to play this game.

Step 1: Preparing 

First things first, make sure they want to learn in the first place. If you force this onto someone they won’t like it. Once you’ve made sure of that, the fun part begins. Prepare five starter decks, each one should be mono-colored and focus on the strengths of the five colors. One by one, I’ll walk you through the decklists I used and the methodology behind them (Of course these are just suggestions, build with what you have!)

The White Deck

The White deck should be low to the ground with a kind of weenie/tokens strategy. Add in some cards that tap your opponent's things and sprinkle with life gain to get a comprehensive and basic White strategy. I chose to add in a small Soldier theme to also show that creature types can matter. Crusade also helps show the communal nature of White on the color wheel.

The Blue Deck

The Blue deck should be a sort of light tempo/control deck. You want to show off how blue disrupts and reacts, make sure that the deck is creature light so your students realize that blue may not be the best option for that. The goal of the deck should be to stay alive using bounce spells and counters before sticking a massive threat for the win. I’ve found that most new players steer away from the Blue deck but see it as annoying to play against, the list above was the best I could do to make it fun to play and fair to play against.

The Black Deck

The Black deck is a very simple Aristocrats deck that is meant to introduce the ideas of sacrifice to the player. It’s very common for new players to protect their life total and creatures without actually thinking about it. This deck shows them the benefits of exchanging resources as well as the concept that winning at 1 life is the same as winning at 20.

The Red Deck

The Red deck is a pretty traditional RDW/Burn deck meant to teach players how to decide where damage goes. A massive misstep I know I made at the beginning was always shoving burn spells at the opponent and ignoring creatures. This deck should show when that is advantageous and when it’s better to remove a threat. Also, Wizard’s lightning is included to again show how creature types matter with Skyship Stalker included helping them grasp activated abilities.

The Green Deck

The Green deck is a simple ramp deck. It includes a playset of both Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic to show players what a functional reprint is. This deck also includes a lot of single copies of massive creatures, this is done mostly for variety. I would recommend including some uncounterable threats because otherwise, this deck tends to just outright lose to the Blue deck. 

Step 2: Teaching

So once your decks are squared away, how do you start teaching the game? First I would recommend explaining the concept of the game in almost a mythic way. “You play as a powerful wizard, wielding magic so great that it allows you to walk the dimensions themselves!” is usually how I introduce it.

Next, take one of each basic land type and lay them out in front of the players. Explain a bit about each color and what it does that the others can’t. Now take from the decks a card of each type (Instant, sorcery, enchantment, and creature.) Start by explaining how lands work and proceed to casting costs, how a (W) mana symbol can only be paid with a plains but a (C) can be any color. From here explain the other permanents first. Start with creatures and proceed to enchantments. Then explain instants and sorceries. I’ve found describing them as “One-time effects” helps a lot.

Once this is all done and the players understand at least a little, start a game with them. These games should be basic, 7 card hands and 20 life: Kitchen table magic. If you have at least two people learning, have them play against each other while you assist. If you are only teaching one person then do an open hand match and assist them. It’s important to not help them unless they ask; you don’t want to end up playing for them.

Have each person play with whatever deck speaks to them and urge them to try all five decks, the goal is for them to eventually pick one that they like playing the most. At this point you’ve done it, they know the basics. Now all that’s left is to just keep playing and ease them into the more complicated things. This should happen naturally through gameplay.  

Step 3: What Comes Next

After a while, your players will become bored with the same five decks. What I recommend here is introducing Commander, especially if you’re teaching family members or people you’ll see often. Specifically, you have to be okay parting with some of your collections for this next bit. What I did for my friends was I showed them a list of commanders I owned and was willing to part with, then I went home and made each of them a deck featuring that commander and using no cards over $1. For those of you wanting more details: The decks made were Torgaar, Siona, and Grumgully. I then gifted these decks to the players. What this does is it gives them not only a deck of their very own but a framework to improve on. If they go to the game store, they don’t have to buy a box of cards just to have something to play with, they can just sit down and play. Plus if they end up opening a pack they might open something cool for the deck that is now theirs. It’s just a great way to get some investment going as well as generate continuing interest in the game for that player.

If you have any questions on how to teach Magic to people let me know, I’ve been doing it for years and I’m happy to answer any inquiries. If you have any stories about teaching the game or being taught let me know in the comments below. You can find me on twitter @East2Westmtg or email me at East2westmtg@gmail.com. As always this has been East2west with CCC, I'll see you guys on the battlefield.
Apr 16, 2020 by East2West
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