Cardsmith Blog

Creating MTG Card Art

Let's get stARTed!!

Faiths_Guide has offered to give all of us aspiring artists some advice and inspiration for Artful August, so let's not waste any more time!

Advice and General Good Practice for Creating MtG Card Art

There is no strict set of rules to creating MtG artwork, but a good first step is to decide what kind of card you're making. Most of us are inclined to focus on creature cards because that tends to be the most straight forward, conceptually. My advice would be to follow that inclination as people generally have the strongest connection to creatures (more than lands, enchantments, instants, etc.) and I'm going to proceed under that "creature card" assumption. If you decide to go with another card type most of these steps will still apply, but I recommend researching existing art to see what other artists have done. Landscapes, objects, and scenes require very different approaches than creatures.

Decide what kind of creature (or scene) you are going for: Human, Sliver, Dragon? Make some tiny sketches of your creature to get a good idea of its proportions and maybe play around with some poses that you like. Getting comfortable with your subject will make the actual act of creating the final piece more enjoyable and improve your result.

In general, MtG card art has a 3x4 landscape ratio. This is very important for you to think about when you proceed to placing your creature(s) in a scene. It is generally good practice to make a couple very small practice sketches with the correct ratio to get an idea of what you want to capture and work on composition. MtG art ends up being very small in the end anyway, so it is important for the artwork to read well at very small sizes so that anyone that looks at it will recognize exactly what you created. On creature cards you want to have the creature(s) take up a large portion of the image so that they can be seen easily. Don't worry about details at this stage. Details might separate good art from bad, but no amount of small details will save a piece that wasn't laid out well. Focus on big shapes and forms.

To get the most positive reaction from other's that see your work, it helps to build in some kind of narrative through surrounding scenery, expression, or activity for your creature(s). This is something that could/should be thought about while working on "thumbnail" sketches in the previous step.

Now's the time to take your most refined thumbnails and sketches and turn them into a finished piece. If you've got your own favorite style of art it's a good idea to stick with it even if it doesn't really match MtG's style because you'll be more comfortable with it and your final piece will reflect that. Otherwise, imitate the style of some of your favorite artists from the game to render your piece. Try to make important parts of your image pop from their surroundings with a lot of contrast. Simple lighting and obvious contrast are best for art pieces that will be displayed as small as MtG cards' are.

Don't overwork your art. If working digitally, zoom in and out while you work and flip your canvas often. If working traditionally look from close and far away and also in a mirror. The benefit is that you'll notice mistakes faster when you keep seeing your artwork in different ways.

Remember to have fun because you can usually see if the artist did or didn't.

Special thanks to Faiths_Guide for his ongoing support to Artful August and the Cardsmith Community!

Resources are available!

Not everyone has Photoshop, but there are other resources available to you. If you use DeviantArt, they have a free drawing platform called Muro. To use it, just sign in and then click "Submit". A link below will show up for Muro!

Working on an ipad or an iphone? Procreate is available for a small $10 or $5 fee

In addition to Muro, Deviant Art also has a multitude of professional tutorials available.

Here is one you might enjoy!

We've given you a few resources above, but if you know of some we missed or have any you want to share, make sure to drop by the forums to let everyone in on your secrets!

Check out this month's two featured Cardsmiths... Usaername & SteampunkDragon!

We've been enjoying Usaername's cards since 2016 and if you've spent any time over there, you'll notice that he has recently become a stalwart on the Official MTGCardsmith Discord channel, offering advice and merriment alike! We think you'll enjoy looking at Usaername's cards just as much as we do so go check them out!

SteampunkDragon is one of the Cardsmiths that we think has flown under the radar for too long. Since 2017, SteampunkDragon has been making his own cards, making a few custom mechanics and all that while helping other Cardsmiths fill out their sets! If you haven't favorited a bunch of his stuff yet, go check out his cards and make sure you do!

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!

Jul 02, 2020 by Corwinnn, & Tomigon

CCC:Mechanic's Workshop

Keyword abilities, one of the oldest mechanics in all of magic. Alpha first introduced us to such favorites as flying, trample, first strike, and many more. Most of these would go on to be the basic defining evergreen keywords, the abilities that help define and shape the identity of colors and cards.But evergreen isn’t what I’m here to talk about today. When I sit down to make a set the first thing I do is write up a basic concept of the lore and world. Then, and most important for today, I start brainstorming up mechanics to fit that world and it’s lore. This process is what I want to talk about today. Let’s discuss how to make mechanics for our custom sets and cards.


I’ve chosen five mechanics that I created over the course of my Cardsmithing career and I’ll go into what went right and wrong with each one, hopefully so you don’t have to repeat my mistakes to learn the same lessons. Let’s start with the oldest of the five…


Predator (This creature can’t be blocked by creatures with prey counters on them)


The first card I made with Predator is from 2017, I was still finding my way as a creator and CCC wasn’t even a concept yet. The mechanic as a whole was inspired by Tetzimoc, Primal Death, a mostly forgotten legendary from Rivals of Ixalan. Tetzimoc has a unique ability that allows you to place Prey counters on creatures while in your hand and then destroy them upon entering play. To date Tetzimoc is the only card ever printed to refer to Prey counters. I created Predator as a means of interacting with Prey counters because I found them interesting. Similar to how Bounty counters, first introduced in 1997 have gotten more support in Commander 2019 and Ikoria. I wanted to highlight Predator because it shows one of the best places to draw inspiration for your mechanics, cards that have a unique and underutilized ability. There are hundreds of cards that hint at mechanics or ideas but never follow through. They are the perfect wellsprings of inspiration for us as Cardsmiths. I recommend using Scryfall’s random button to help find some next time you’re in need.


Clause (If [Color] was used to cast this spell then [Effect], if [Color] was used to cast this spell [Effect] instead.)


In contrast to the simple and effective Predator, Clause is a forking mess. The mechanic is based on cards like Batwing Brume from Lorwyn and I am not ashamed to admit I completely failed. Clause is not only extremely confusing but also poorly developed on my part. First off it forces you to make cards that have only one colorless in their mana cost if used on monocolor cards unless you want to face the question of “What if both colors are spent?” Clause as a concept is fine, there’s a way to make it work but as it is it not only forces you as a designer into a corner but confuses your players. This is an example of not thinking through the wording of a mechanic before printing it. A good rule of thumb is to think about whether or not you would have understood it when you first started playing Magic. If the answer is no then you should try and find a way to simplify the wording.


Overlay ([Cost] - You may discard this card and pay it’s overlay cost, when you do exile this spell overlayed onto target creature.)


Only now that I’m writing this do I realize that Overlay is kind of like Mutate’s weird cousin, but that’s neither here nor there. Overlay is an example of a complicated mechanic that requires only minimal explanations. All cards with Overlay include the text “Overlayed creature has ___ “ on them which helps players to understand the mechanic. Overlay was created because I had an idea that was along the lines of “What if bestow didn’t fall of the creature?” Overlays are meant to stay on creatures even when they change zones. And that is actually where the mechanic fails. It’s incredibly difficult to keep track of whether or not two creatures in a graveyard are Overlayed with each other. The takeaway here is that something that needs to be considered in Magic design is ease of memory. Players are not computers are will forget certain things if they are not somehow marked. Mutate solves this problem by separating the creatures once they change zones. Keep this in mind when making your mechanics, the more they require the player to remember without help, the less fun they become.


Tint ([Cost] - This creature becomes [Color of cost])


Tint might be my favorite mechanic I’ve ever made. I’ve always thought the idea of changing somethings color was underutilized in magic so I decided to make a set based on that idea called Palletia. Tint is one of the mechanics featured in that set. Creatures that have Tint have additional abilities that activate when they are certain colors, this is worded that way because other cards that change their color can be used to dodge the Tint cost. Similar to how Keyword counters are included in Ikoria boosters if Tint ever saw print Color markers would be included in boosters to help keep track of the creature's color. Tint is a simple mechanic, just one sentence, but it works. The lesson here is that mechanics should open up design space while blending with the themes of the set. Tint works not only as a mechanic but as an enhancer for the rest of the set.


Greed (Whenever this creature attacks the player who controls the most nonland permanents, put a +1/+1 counter on it.)


Greed is the most recent of the mechanics listed here, having created it only a few days before this article. It’s not particularly creative or unique. It’s not that simple but it’s not exactly complex either. You might be asking why it was included then and the answer for that is the inspiration behind it. One of the easiest ways to create a mechanic is taking an existing mechanic and tweaking a few things. Greed is the Dethrone mechanic from Conspiracy but swapping life for nonland permanents. This is one of the simplest ways to make a good mechanic and I will argue that it’s not in any way cheating. R&D does the same thing all the time actually. Shadow is basically Flying, Intimidate is just a fixed version of Fear, and Flashback, Escape, and Jump-Start are all extremely similar.


One last thing before we wrap up. There is a list of unused mechanics on the MTGwiki and it is genuinely worth your time to check it out, if for nothing more than just a look at what may have been.


I hope this article inspires you to go out and craft mechanics that’ll make R&D weep and throw job offers at your feet. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these mechanics and any of your own custom ones in the comments below! You can find me on twitter @East2Westmtg or email me at As always this has been East2West with CCC, I'll see you guys on the battlefield.

Jun 18, 2020 by East2West

Looking Forward

Art by WillemSvdMerwe on DeviantArt

Need a good activity in your home? Artful August makes it's return in just two short months. Last year it just popped up and not everyone was prepared for it, so this year we felt some advanced notice would be in order. Keep in mind we're looking for original artwork, and we will be looking for both beginner and advanced artwork as well as digital and hand-drawn artwork, so don't feel like you can't enter just because others around you have advanced technique. Just remember to keep your art within the realm of appropriateness.

We're also working on a few surprises that we hope to announce before the start of Artful August so keep your eyes peeled!

Featured Cardsmiths

Check out this month's two featured Cardsmiths... LyndonF & MemoryHead!

LyndonF has been around since 2016 and besides being a great set symbol creator, LyndonF has also been a respected source of constructive input as well as a solid Cardsmith! Check out these five cards and then go look at all the other cards in LyndonF's repertoire! 

MemoryHead, another 2016 Cardsmith, may have recently dropped off the Cardsmith scene, but his outside the box thinking and creative visions have given us all a lot of inspiration to include more thoughtfulness in our designs and look at different ways to do things. Until MemoryHead returns, enjoy these five featured cards and then check out the rest of MemoryHead's collection.

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!

Jun 05, 2020 by Corwinnn, & Tomigon

​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 As always this has been East2West with CCC, I'll see you guys on the battlefield.
May 15, 2020 by East2West

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 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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