John-Michael Gariepy

Archive for the category “Magic: the Magic”

Isamaru in Commander – Hounding the Opposition

In Elder Dragon Higlander, there are few Commanders as consistent as Isamaru, Hound of Konda, and few that, pound for pound, outshine their casting cost.  In a format where you’re guaranteed one Legendary Creature from the Command Zone as soon as you have the mana to cast it, Isamaru gets the party started, leaping on the battlefield on round one, ready to lunge for two next turn.

Isamaru supplies you with an impressive round one every game you play him, assuming your land base isn’t flooded with non-basic lands.  But Commander, as a format, is designed to harsh on strategies that make Isamaru pant.   A quick Google search for Isamaru Commander Decks spits back lots of poor choices and deck building mistakes.  Too much theory and not enough practice.  It took me a long time to get my Isamaru deck strong enough to compete at local kitchen tables, and, along the way, I’ve learned a few things about what not to do with the dog.

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New Mirrodin: Set Back and Giving Players What They Want

New Mirrodin is a custom Magic: the Gathering set I’ve been working on at  It follows a clutch of pilgrims who siphoned a fraction of Karn’s spark and slammed through The Blind Eternities, crashing into  another plane before The Phyrexians absorbed their home world.  Mirrodin meets Lost in Space, perhaps.  In that set, I designed this card:

I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s ever designed this spell.  Unsummon has been around since Alpha, Annul was first printed in Urza’s Saga, and this card fits somewhere between those two.  The surprising thing is that out of sixty-seven expansions,  none of them printed Set Back.  I guess there were always other needs.  In my set, I need this card because it allows players to exploit a design flaw in one of my keyword mechanics.

Originally, I didn’t want New Mirrodin to have an ‘artifact matters’ theme, since the set revolves around a family of explorers discovering an alien, often hostile, new environment.  It wouldn’t feel right, however, if the Mirrans didn’t bring artifacts with them to their strange new home.  And those artifacts would be best expressed through homages to cards that appeared in Mirrodin and Scars of Mirrodin block.  After a while, a number of artifacts piled up, and I began to ask “What are this stuff doing?”  It was nice, in theory, to say “I just have some artifacts, and there’s no overarching theme,” but then I’d have to explain myself to every player who expected an artifact theme, since, you know, this set is called New Mirrodin.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to give the players what they expected?

So I designed the keyword mechanic ‘Resourceful’.  It reads like this:

Resourceful (When this artifact enters the battlefield, if it is not a token, put a token copy of it onto the battlefield under your control.)

Resourceful is a nice magic bullet.  It allows me to double the number of certain artifacts in the set, and gives me breathing room so Read more…

The Top Ten Most Desirable Magic: the Gathering Cards, According to Gatherer, Part Two

In The Top Ten Most Desirable Magic Cards, According to Gatherer, Part One, we witnessed six of the finest pieces of cardboard ever to grace the game of Magic.  Those cards were powerful, flexible, open-ended and fun.  Well… fun at least for the person who cast them.  It takes a certain caliber of cards to get a consistent five star rating on Gatherer.  Card number eight, for example, Gaea’s Cradle, ranked in at a 4.842 community rating out of 219 votes.  That means if seven people gave this the worst possible score (one-half a star), then the other 212 voters gave it a full five star rating (which is not how it went down, since the math is an approximation).  These cards have a higher density of stars than the Messier 80 Globular Cluster in the constellation Scorpio (Oh snap!  I went there!).

Despite that, there are seven cards that have garnered even more respect from the Magic playing community than that.  Among them is:

~ Read more…

The Top Ten Most Desirable Magic: the Gathering Cards, According to Gatherer, Part One


Magic: the Gathering is a collectible card game, where players spellsling against opponents by crafting a customized deck out of 12,758 possible cards.  This article is about ten cards that will steal victory on the verge of  disaster.  These ten cards are deck hacks.  Even in the slowest theme deck, they will super-turbo charge your way to victory.

“Oh!”  many readers are saying to themselves right now, “I’m not sure how you’ll paint your list, but I already know which card will take number one.  It’s Black Lotus, right?”

This card sits at the top of most top ten lists, and for good reasons.  It’s the most expensive Magic card ever printed, not including misprints and specialty printings, clocking in at $4,999.99 on  It’s demands that figure for a reason, too.  Black Lotus not only accelerates you faster than any singular Magic card, but it does it as a 0-cost artifact, allowing you to play crazy insane with cards like Auriok Salvagers.

I could spend an article series delving into why Black Lotus is so over-the-top broken, and why Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic, thought this was okay.  But I’m not going to.  Because it didn’t make the top ten.  It isn’t even in the top fifty.

That’s because, like in my previous article The Top Ten Most Reviled Magic: the Gathering Cards According to Gatherer, we’re using Gatherer, Magic: the Gathering’s online card database, to rank these cards.  Gatherer has a lot of features.  One of them is the ability rank the card you’re looking at using a .5 to 5 star rating system, and according to the Magic community’s votes, Black Lotus isn’t worthy enough.

Why?  Well, because Gatherer is a melting pot of ideas of what makes Magic a great game.  It’s not enough for the card to be merely spectacular.  For a card to make it onto the top ten list it has to be so much fun to play, that few people will get mad when you do it, because, damn, they want to do that too.  Gatherer doesn’t tell us what cards are the most powerful, (Though, don’t get me wrong, every one of these cards are utter game breakers), it tells us which cards people love playing and wish they had.  It tells us which ten cards, out of all the cards in Magic, are the most desirable. Read more…

The Top Ten Most Reviled Magic: the Gathering Cards, According to Gatherer – Part 2

Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls!  Step right up and see design so terrible, so strange, so singularly miserable, that I urge those of you with a weak constitution and a penchant for fainting to avert your gaze and engage in a less thrilling amusement, like the roller coasters further into this park.  In part one of this two part series, you were exposed to some of the basest card in Magic the Gathering, as voted upon by the fine folk who glean Gatherer.  Today, however, we step beyond the merely horrible, and launch ourselves into The Design of Darkness.  For those men and women among you who are manly enough to gaze into the maw of madness, I peel back the curtain to reveal…

Number Five: Bog Hoodlums

Community Rating:  .776

Hoju and I are both in the Myriad Games Podcast and participate in the same Magic: the Gathering league.  We open a pack a week and add it to our collection, making decks based on what we opened, and reset every season.  Hoju likes Lorwyn, and has opened a disproportionate number of Bog Hoodlums, opening one in every other pack.  The card makes him furious, and his hatred of it only grows over the years.  Whenever someone attempts to convince him there are worse creatures in Magic, Hoju rejoinders with “Sure, that’s a bad card.  But at least that card can block.”

It turns out that, although you win Magic by attacking, being unable to stop yourself from losing because you can’t block is very frustrating.  The fact that this card pretends to hide it’s terrible power to toughness casting cost ratio behind a fun mechanic only annoys people even more.  When you win the clash, instead of getting a 4/1 that can’t block, you get a 5/2 that can’t block.  Whoop-de-frickin-doo.  That’s like going to a concert, paying twenty bucks for a bottle of water, and getting to play a little side game to win a package of peanuts.  You already insulted me.  Stop making it worse.

Best comment, made by Demonic_Math_Tutor: I think they just dont know how to do anything but zerg rush with other bogarts…

Number Four:  Sorrow’s Path

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The Top Ten Most Reviled Magic: the Gathering Cards, According to Gatherer – Part 1

Magic: the Gathering is a collectible card game, where players spellsling against opponents by crafting a customized deck out of 12,413 possible cards.  This article is about the ten worst choices you can make for your deck.

But it’s more than that, too.  There’s a number of articles on the internet that claim to represent the worst cards in Magic.  Most of those articles are bogged down by personal experience, by conversations with people the author knows, and swayed by popular opinion.  Here’s a card that often pops up on one of those lists:  One with Nothing.

For those of you who don’t know much about it, Magic: the Gathering isn’t a shedding game.  Unlike Uno or Crazy Eights, in Magic, you want as many cards in hand as possible.  More cards means more power and more options.  There are numerous strategy articles dedicated to achieving card advantage.  This card flies against one of the most powerful paths to victory in the game of Magic.  It dumps your hard earned card advantage, and it does it at instant speed.

But for every tenth player, this card reads as potential.  Sure, in most games, the card is terrible.  But there’s a subset of players who enjoy the challenge of finding situations where the card is perfect.  What if you had a creature that ‘turned on’ when you have no cards in hand?  What if your opponent packs four of Lobotomy, a card that not only rips a card out of your hand, but seeks your graveyard and library and pulls all copies of that card out of the game.  What if you just like to be funny, and insist on dumping your hand as a way to taunt people you’re about to crush?  Heck, One with Nothing even popped up in player’s sideboards to fight Ivory Crane Netsuke decks (a deck that jammed extra cards in your hand, then punished you for having extra cards in your hand) when those decks represented half the environment.

This article is not about cards like One with Nothing.  This article is about the cards that are so disgusting that no one is willing to defend them.  How can I be sure of myself?  Because I didn’t make the list.  The Magic: the Gathering community, as a whole, created this list.

You see, Magic has this website by the name of Gatherer, which operates as a database for its cards, but it’s much more than that.  On Gatherer, you can find out individual card rulings, how the card translates into different languages, see other people’s comments on the card, and give a card a rating from one-half a star to five stars.  It’s this last feature we’re focusing on.  I’ve sorted all the Magic cards in existence starting with the “lowest community rating” and worked my way backwards.  What we find is ten harsh lessons in design.  This dump is a direct warning to game designers:  These cards represent design that few, if any, players are willing to defend.  Brace yourself.

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Spambots, and the evolution of modern writing.

We’ve had some… strangeness with the bots on Multiverse. Wait.  Let me step back.

Multiverse is a website where you create Magic cards, and each card is given a discussion thread.  It’s a bit like making a forum out of the custom Magic: the Gathering set you were designing.  I was skeptical at first – I’ve been looking for a way to store my cards ‘in the cloud’, but wasn’t sure about letting other people comment on what I was working on, while I was working on.  Turns out, it rocks.  Immediate reaction to your work lets you understand what is good, and what only you think is good.  Immediately writing about your design allows you to focus on what you are creating, and chisels your theories into a sharp edge.  For Alex Churchill, I give three cheers.  If he didn’t live across the pond from me, I’d take him out for drinks on me.  Excellent stuff.

Enough background.  The thing I wanted to talk about is spambots.  Multiverse gets a fair share of traffic, and a very important part of Multiverse is the discussion threads.  Spambots see this, and the open nature of the message board, and harass us with inappropriate responses.  Someone will design a card, and a spambot will respond with “i lik yur articels.  they really make me think.”  It’s the sort of stuff that would go unnoticed on other message boards, but sticks out in a card design website.  Alex has done a fair job of sweeping up after them, but occasionally leaves funny, oddly prescient ones alone.  Like the spambot responses for the card Euphoric Confidence. The card itself is perfectly fine common filler.  Pay 4W, gain 7 life and draw a card.  Nice artwork, nice flavor, normal common… nothing crazy.  Then this popped up: Read more…

Why I’ll be talking about designing Magic cards in the future (and a promise that I’ll make it interesting for the casual non-crazy readers).

I’ve got a strange hobby.  It’s called ‘designing Magic: the Gathering cards.  When I explain this hobby to other people, the conversation goes like this:

Me:  Well, I design cards for the game Magic: the Gathering.  Of course, one can only entertain oneself for so long making individual cards with no relationship to other cards.  How can a card be perceived as good if it has no peers?  So, I hunker down and sketch out whole sets of cards… somewhere in the range of 300 cards at a time.  It’s a lot of fun, and I…

Confused Person:  Wait, wait… are you saying you work for Wizards of the Coast?

Me:  Oh, no.  Nothing like that.  This is a pastime.

Confused Person:  So, you design whole sets of Magic cards in your spare time?

Me:  Well, in what spare time I have, I suppose.  I keep myself busy.

Confused Person:  So, when you’re done with this set of cards, you what?  You can’t sell it, right.

Me:  Oh, no!  That would be insanely against the law.  If I started making any amount of money doing that, I’d have Wizards lawyers jumping through every opening in my body. Read more…

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