Cardsmith Blog

CCC: Gladiator

I know I don’t have to tell you how difficult it has been to play Magic the Gathering lately. A lot of my close friends have been taking a break from the game until the quarantine lifts where they live. Arena is there of course, but it’s not the savior we all hoped it would be. Sure, it’s fine if you’re into Standard or Brawl, but it’s a limited place to play. Originally, I didn’t think that anything could make me want to use Arena more. Yet, it sort of sits there on my desktop. Then along came Benjamin Wheeler of LRR (LoadingReadyRun) fame. For this month’s topic, I want to talk about a format I’ve personally been having a lot of fun with -- and the only reason I still have Arena downloaded -- Gladiator.

Gladiator is a 100-card MTG Arena singleton format that uses the entire Arena database as it’s card pool. There is a banned list, but it’s literally just Oko, Thief of Crowns. This makes the format super open, a brewer’s paradise. Gladiator also has a very active and friendly community and even a Discord server that I’ll link below. There’s not much else to go over when it comes to rules so I’d like to show off the decks I’ve been playing. They’re perfect examples of how open the format truly is.

Bloody Esper Humans

“Humans” is kind of my pet deck. I try to force it in all 1v1 formats I play (Aside from Canadian Highlander.) I’ll be the first to admit, the deck’s transition to Gladiator isn’t perfect, but it’s far from bad. “Bloody Humans” can hold its own against a lot of the more popular decks (Except for pod, it’s difficult to win that matchup without a Settle the Wreckage). It’s a fun, removal heavy, tribal-themed, mid-range deck that I’ve had a blast with.

Temur Not Enough Wildcards

Temur NEW was birthed from the fact that I didn’t have enough wildcards to finish the 4C Spellslinger deck. I realized I could tweak it, retool it with what I did have, and see what happened. This led to cutting White and adding in cards such as Quirion Dryad and Sprite Dragon. The end result is a very smooth feeling deck that can play both an aggressive creature game and a longterm spell-based plan.

Traditional Green

Traditional Green was made because personally, I hate crafting lands with wildcards. I know it’s necessary but it just feels so wrong to waste valuable Rare wildcards on lands. Traditional Green is a basic, mono-green deck that does all the basic Green things. Play creatures, buff ‘em, and get them in your enemy’s face! It’s simple, it works, and there are hundreds of ways to build the deck, so feel free to tweak and experiment. This list is a little rare heavy, but like I said, there are a bunch of ways to build the deck, this is just the way I like it.

Overall, Gladiator is a format that already is amazing and will only get better with time. It’s the perfect format to take advantage of Arena’s environment and it’s been one of the most fun things I’ve been able to do with Magic over this quarantine. I cannot recommend it enough.

If you have any sweet Gladiator: Arena Singleton decklists flying around your head or you just want to chat, hit me up 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.

Discord Link

Gladiator official website
Jul 15, 2020 by East2West

Jul 15, 2020 by Corwinnn, & Tomigon

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
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