Making_Magic

A View From the Top

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The letter W!elcome to Top-Down Week! This week we're exploring a facet of Magic where form leads function. Most often when I'm creating Magic cards I start with the mechanics and work in the flavor later, but sometimes in design flavor comes first. We call this top-down design as you start with what you want the card to represent and use that as the inspiration for the design. Today I am going to walk you through a top-down design to help you get a better understanding of how top-down design works.

Here's what I'm going to do. I am going to pick a topic to design right now. Literally as I'm writing this, I am going to pick a category and then design some cards. The idea behind this is so that I can walk you through how top-down design works, for me at least. Top-down design will vary from designer to designer so I can't tell you exactly how to do it, but I hope by showing you how I do it, it can give you ideas. I also should point out that having done this a long time, I blend and internalize a lot of the steps I'm spelling out, but for the purposes of today I am going to carefully walk through step by step.

Step #1 – Getting the Idea

The first thing you have to do is get a top-down idea. I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about how to get the idea as this column is much more about execution of design rather than idea generation. The easiest place to look for top-down ideas is in the world around you. Often in Magic, our top-down ideas come from the style guides or completed illustrations.

To capture the experience I wanted—of walking through a top-down design—I felt it was important that I explored the idea as I was writing it. This meant that I needed an idea that I didn't have until I was writing this article. Since I needed it quickly, I decided to make use of my Twitter feed (which I used as my mailbag source last week). I started by posting the following tweet (a.k.a. message) on my Twitter account:

maro254 For my 6/15 top-down design column, I've decided to do a design based on a tweet from one of you. Please give me a cool top-down idea.



I then stopped to have lunch. When I came back I had the following suggestions:

  • a mythological titan or god
  • Victorian astronaut
  • a telemarketer from Imperial China
  • a redeemed demon
  • an evil feline tyrant
  • a moai stone
  • a zombie professor/teacher
  • squirrel lord
  • a swarm creature
  • a pirate
  • a stegosaurus
  • Juggernaut of X-Men fame
  • a giant robot
  • a tribble (from the Star Trek universe)
  • a bureaucratic litigious defense attorney
  • a human lord
  • an engineer
  • character with split personalities
  • chaotic, berserker dwarf
  • Urza, Planeswalker
  • ring that contains an entire miniature planet
  • a swarm of metal/magic-eating insects
  • goblin that steals away naughty children
  • avatar of change
  • "Rasslor" (Randy "Macho Man" Savage from "Dial M for Monkey")
  • humanoid dragon-kin knight
  • mage with power of hypnosis

I was quite impressed with the variety and quality of the suggestions. To knock the list down, I started by eliminating anything that we wouldn't actually do in Magic. This means no references to other people's intellectual property, no references to things outside Magic's genre or time frame and nothing outside the mood and tone established for the game. This leaves the following:

Julie Newmar as evil feline tyrant Cat Woman.
  • a mythological titan or god
  • a redeemed demon
  • an evil feline tyrant
  • a moai stone
  • a squirrel lord
  • a swarm creature
  • a pirate
  • a stegosaurus
  • a giant robot
  • a human lord
  • character with split personalities
  • chaotic, berserker dwarf
  • Urza, Planeswalker
  • ring that contains an entire miniature planet
  • a swarm of metal/magic-eating insects
  • goblin that steals away naughty children
  • avatar of change
  • humanoid dragon-kin knight
  • mage with power of hypnosis


Next I decided to do away with any concept that I believe we had done at least once before in Magic. This left:

  • a moai stone
  • character with split personalities
  • Urza, Planeswalker
  • ring that contains an entire miniature planet
  • a swarm of magic-eating insects (note I dropped the "metal-eating" portion as we've done it before)
  • goblin that steals away naughty children
  • humanoid dragon-kin knight
  • mage with power of hypnosis

Next I eliminated cards that had individual problems:

  • a moai stone – While I could see us doing a Polynesian-inspired Magic set someday, a big Easter Island–like stone head was just a little too open to interpretation. On some level, it could be any artifact with a global effect and feel okay.
  • character with split personalities – Conveying split personalities on a Magic card creatively is very difficult. You only get to show one state in the art, so showing something that is many things is very hard.
  • Urza, Planeswalker – When I do columns like this I'm not supposed to touch cards that we might do someday, the idea being that I should save those for actual designs. While I'm not saying we will do this, I will at least admit that I don't feel comfortable saying we would never do it, so it gets a pass.
  • goblin that steals away naughty children – The idea of childhood, while it does exist within the Magic multiverse, doesn't really mean anything within the context of a game of Magic.

That leaves us:

  • ring that contains an entire miniature planet
  • a swarm of magic-eating insects
  • humanoid dragon-kin knight
  • mage with power of hypnosis

I then eliminated three more for design reasons:

  • ring that contains an entire miniature planet – If we concepted this, I would assume it is a ring with an entire plane inside it (we tend to do planes rather than planets). While this idea is very cool in concept, I felt it would produce a meta-design (a design that understands it's a piece in a game) and thus would be a very untraditional example of top-down.
  • humanoid dragon-kin knight – While we have not mixed and matched these particular items, we have done each part numerous times. I felt like this design would seem overly familiar as the component connections are so well established in Magic.
  • mage with power of hypnosis – This concept was in my mind a little too easy. Magic has a number of concepts we already use for hypnosis, so this design wouldn't be the challenge I was hoping for with this article.

That leaves us with:

  • a swarm of magic-eating insects

I liked this top-down concept for several reasons.

  1. I loved the idea of creatures that eat magic. I have no idea what it means mechanically, but it's evocative.
  2. I liked that insects was specific but open. I had enough to push me in a certain direction (it has to be some kind of insect, but one that exists in a swarm) but not so much that it cut off too many options. Designers like to have restrictions, but a little freedom within those restrictions feels good.
  3. The idea didn't necessarily force a particular color. Yes, certain colors would work better than others, but insects had some freedom.

Okay, we have out top-down design idea. Let's go to work.

Step #2 – Do the Research

A lot of people might think step two is brainstorming, but it's not. Before brainstorming can be useful, you have to have as much knowledge as you can about the subject at hand. In top-down design, knowledge really is power. The more you know about the subject at hand the more ideas you can use for your brainstorming. My one caveat is that you shouldn't let facts get in the way of a cool idea that feels right. You research is for inspirational purposes, not to eliminate possibilities. I'll talk more about this later.

The first thing I did was to investigate what insects gather in swarms. While Googling on the subject, I read a number of different articles on the topic. Eventually, I came upon an article entitled The Five Most Dangerous Swarms. This article caught my eye because I knew it would answer two things: first, what are some iconic insects that swarm, and second, what are some that are dangerous when doing so? As Magic is a combat-themed game, it's always good to push towards having creatures that seem intimidating. So what are the five most dangerous swarms? Counting down:


5. Locusts

The article stresses that locusts don't really attack humans. What they do is attack your food source and starve you to death. But people have heard of locusts and I think psychologically they sound pretty scary. I'm not worried that they don't actually attack humans. They easily can in the Magic multiverse.

4. Fire Ants

Unlike locusts, fire ants will bite humans, and the article claims it hurts (like fire, thus their name). Fire ants swarm their victim. They can kill small animals but tend to have problems actually killing a human. Not a problem conceptually as we can make anything more deadly if it suits our purpose. I do love the image of a swarm of ants taking down a large and vicious iconic Magic creature.

3. Yellow-Jackets

These are actually wasps and not bees, the difference being that wasps can repeatedly sting you. It takes 1500 stings to kill an average adult male but it happens. These creatures are much harder to get away from as they fly and are fast.

2. Army Ants

These are the more vicious form of ants in that army ants can eat just about anything. This is the perfect example of small things working together to kill. As a unit, the army ants are almost unstoppable.

1. Africanized Honey Bees (a.k.a. Killer Bees)

A single of these bees are no more dangerous than a normal bee. Their danger lies in their numbers. The article claims that if you anger the hive, it will send all of the bees after you for as far away as a kilometer (for my American readers, a kilometer is around 0.6 miles).

So we can use locusts, ants, wasps or bees. All sound pretty good. Couldn't we make up a fictitious insect type? While we could (and we have), the key to good top-down design is that you are playing into things the audience already knows. Each of the four insects listed above is known as an insect that can attack in a swarm. If we play off of one of those, we will be making something that already has resonance with our audience, meaning that a lot of our flavor work is already done for us.

Remember, design should not fight human nature. (It's not a fight you can win.) Go with the flow. If we're trying to create a dangerous swarm we need to play into something that is easily recognized as such. Especially for top-down design, which has a much higher need to feel flavorfully correct.

Now let's do a little research to see what Magic has done before with insects. With our handy dandy Gatherer, I discover the following:

There are 92 cards in Magic with the creature type Insect (not counting the changelings or Mistform Ultimus), with the following color breakdown:

White – 3 (1 multicolored)
Blue – 1 (it's multicolored)
Black – 26 (6 multicolored)
Red – 14 (5 multicolored)
Green – 49 (3 multicolored)
Colorless artifacts – 10

This means that our card is most likely going to be green, black, red, or some combination of the three. Note that I'm not going to worry about what color it is until after we're well into the design of the card. Sometimes in top-down design, we know up front where the card is going. An iconic vampire, for example, is going to be mono-black or multicolor with black as the central color.

Next I checked to see what we've done with our four insect types:

Locusts


Ants


Wasps


Bees


Our research shows a few interesting things. One, all of five insects from the article show up, four by exact name. Two, Magic has had a few other swarming insects: beetles, cockroaches, maggots and Phyrexian battleflies (an example of a made-up insect—notice how it has less oomph) Three, insects are basically represented in one of three ways: 1) giant insect, 2) swarm of insects, or 3) insect-influenced creature (humanoid or beast).

With our major research under our wing, time to go to the next step.

Step #3 – Brainstorming, Part I (Free Association)

The next thing I do is free associate with the various terms I have been looking at. Note that I'm just trying to come up with ideas that I associate with the items at hand. Note that these associations don't have to be true. They are just what you think of when you think of the item.

Swarm

  • attacks in numbers
  • hard to kill as it's made up of so many small creatures
  • death by having some small thing done to you many, many times
  • things run away from it
  • my first hunch is that it flies (although my research shows that isn't necessarily so)
  • it's angry
  • it chases people
  • it's hungry
  • it cannot be reasoned with
  • it's nature

Locusts

  • it eats things
  • it flies
  • it makes a buzzing sound
  • it travels in great numbers
  • it's a plague
  • it causes starvation

Ants

  • it kills everything in its path
  • it bites
  • it eats things in its way
  • it's red (in color, not Magic color)
  • it picks bones clean
  • it leaves a clean wake behind it

Wasps

  • it flies
  • it stings
  • it's angry
  • it makes buzzing sounds
  • it protects its hive

Bees

  • it flies
  • it stings
  • it's angry
  • it feels much like wasps
  • it buzzes
  • many are allergic to its sting

Now it's time to free-associate the one other aspect of the card.

Magic-Eating

  • scary to magic-users
  • magic is its food
  • magic makes it stronger
  • attracted by magic
  • can tell where magic is
  • resistant to magic

Step #4 – Evaluation and Elimination, Part I

I'm cutting ideas already? I haven't even got to brainstorming mechanics yet. Here's the method behind my madness. You can't explore every idea you have as a designer. If you did, a single idea would paralyze you for the rest of your life. Ideas constantly branch off into other ideas. An important part in any design process is to evaluate what you've done and figure out where the most potential lies. I honestly don't know what the final product is going to look like yet but I have noticed how certain ideas pull me creatively more than others.

Also, while I haven't formally reviewed mechanic ideas, I can't help but think of things as I was doing all of the above. The ideas that draw my attention are the ones I'm much more likely to keep around. Essentially, if I'm starting to get a sense for how to use an idea I'm much more likely to keep it around. What this means if you work backwards is that ideas you are attracted to tend to be ones your mind, and often your subconscious mind, has some ideas what to do with. Thus, eliminating things based our your hunches is just a faster way to get to the more fruitful ideas.

Note that I started with evaluation and not elimination. The first thing I want to do is see what elements struck me the most. Of all my free associating, the thing that stood out was one from "magic-eating":

  • magic is its food

I assume the free-association came about because we called it "magic-eating." I liked the idea of creatures that survived on magic—creatures that not only ate magic, but required it to survive. That was the concept that felt most novel to me and was probably what attracted me to choose the idea in the first place.

Now that I've figured out the nugget that had the greatest instinctual impact, let's assume it to be true and see what follows. The key is that I have to solidify part of my idea because ideas beget ideas. Once I assume something is a given, that will lead me down the path to get a concrete design. Okay, so this creature eats magic. What does that mean?

When I look back at the free association of the creatures, here's all the comments that are food related:

Swarm

  • it's hungry

Locusts

  • it eats things

Ants

  • it eats things in its way

So I felt like swarms ate things, yet it's interesting that neither wasps or bees seemed to me to eat the thing they attacked. So I'm going to eliminate wasps and bees. Now let's explore how we think of locusts and ants and their hunger. Locusts appeared to be driven by hunger, while ants eat as a means to deal with things in their way. To me what this means is that I think of locusts as being things that are driven to eat while ants are creatures that eat when forced to. Tie this into the idea that these creatures must eat magic to survive and the flavor lines the best up with locusts. We are creating locusts that eat magic.

Notice what happened in this step. We took the time to step back and look at what we've done. More importantly we prioritized understanding what elements of our work we're most driving us creatively. This exercise allowed us great focus to take our design to the next level. We started with a lot of vague ideas and walked away with one very specific idea.

Step #5 – Brainstorming, Part II (Mechanics)

So we have magic-eating locusts. Let's go back and see what our research on locusts said:

5. Locusts

The article stresses that locusts don't really attack humans. What they do is attack your food source and starve you to death. But people have heard of locusts and I think psychologically they sound pretty scary. I'm not worried that they don't actually attack humans. They easily can in the Magic multiverse.

With that in mind, let's write up a short description of our locusts:

Magic-Eating Locusts

These are small flying insects that feed off of magic. They always travel in large swarms and can be very deadly.

Next, we need to start brainstorming on what mechanically we can do to represent this.

  • if this is a creature card, it obviously would fly
  • it could eat land as land is a source of mana
  • it could eat spells (in hand, in library, in graveyard)
  • it could be fed by spells being cast
  • it could be a sorcery that eats cards (possibly in any zone)
  • it could be a creature that when it deals damage eats a card (possibly in any zone)
  • perhaps it wants to grow in size as it's eating, perhaps with +1/+1 counters
  • perhaps it's a spell (or enchantment) that makes small flying tokens
  • it could make the opponent discard (because it's eating their spell)
  • maybe you feed it (upkeep) by discarding a spell
  • possibly attack a card in hand rather than a player
  • could eat cards out of the library (yours or opponents)
  • could cap when it deals damage (cap being shorthand for removing a card of your choice from their deck, after Jester's Cap)

The key here is to explore the ideas in as many mechanical means as you can. At this point you needn't worry about whether something or not works. Just come up with good ideas. Often ideas that don't work lead to ones that can.

Step #6 – Evaluation and Elimination, Part II

The first question is an easy one, for this card at least. What type of card should this be? It's pretty clear that the top-down flavor is a creature. It is possible that this card creates tokens, but at this point I'm willing to whittle away anything that isn't a creature, or a spell that makes token creatures. We also know that this creature (or creatures) should fly.

Next we have to figure out what eating magic means mechanically. Our brainstorming led to several options:

  • eat cards in opponent's hand (a.k.a. discard)
  • eat cards in your hand (a.k.a. an upkeep or activated discard cost)
  • eat cards in opponent's library (a.k.a. "cap" them)
  • eat cards in your library (a.k.a. as a milling upkeep cost or activated cost)
  • eat cards in opponent's graveyard (a.k.a. Cremate them)
  • eat cards in your graveyard (a.k.a. as a upkeep cost or activation cost)

As I look these options over, it seems clear that if you provide the spell it wants to be more of an upkeep than an activation cost, as we're trying to get the sense of hunger. I also like the flavor that eating makes them stronger. This can be done by adding +1/+1 counters or putting additional tokens onto the battlefield if the swarm is represented by tokens.

Also looking at the cards, it becomes clear to me that discarding upon damage won't have the feel we want as we've so strongly linked the flavor of that ability to Specters. You discard because the creatures play havoc with your mind; the spells aren't being eaten. Note that it is important when doing top-down design to respect mechanical conventions that already exist. Once again, don't fight expectations. Use them to your benefit.

Similarly, I notice that destroying land, while it makes some disconnected flavor sense (mana is magic) just doesn't read that way when used on a card. If these creatures destroyed lands, I don't think anyone would read that as magic-eating.

Also, I realize that attacking a card in hand is too much of a stretch to be worth the rules aggravation it would cause. I don't mind going to Mark Gottlieb (the rules manager) with a crazy idea, but only if it really resonates. I don't think attacking a card in hand works well enough for me to do that.

Let's look at my brainstorm list again: (I'm crossing everything that's been addressed or eliminated)

  • if this is a creature card, it obviously would fly
  • it could eat land as land is a source of mana
  • it could eat spells (in hand, in library, in graveyard)
  • it could be fed by spells being cast
  • it could be a sorcery that eats cards (possibly in any zone)
  • it could be a creature that when deals damage, eats a card (possibly in any zone)
  • perhaps it wants to grow in size as it's eating, perhaps with +1/+1 counters
  • perhaps it's a spell (or enchantment) that makes small flying tokens
  • it could make the opponent discard (because it's eating their spell)
  • maybe you feed it (upkeep) by discarding a spell
  • possibly attack a card in hand rather than a player
  • could eat cards out of the library (yours or opponents)
  • could cap when it deals damage (cap being shorthand for removing a card of your choice from their deck, after Jester's Cap)

We know have a number of ideas to work with. This takes us to the next step.

Step #7 – Design Some Cards

Now that we have some ideas, it's time to start implementing them. Yes, finally it's time to begin making Magic cards. Note that I'm not worrying about a finished product yet. I'm just trying to get a feel of how different design elements might work. Note that any mana cost is just a random thought, and not reflective of what the cards will actually cost. When I get to that point, I'll bug one of the developers to give me a cost in the ballpark. Also note that as the Magic terminology changes have been made public (click here if you don't know what I'm talking about), I'll be using the new wording. Please also note that I suck at templating, so my self-made templates are far from the real thing. Anyway, here are some cards I brainstormed:

Magic-Eating Locusts #1
2GG
Enchantment
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, put three 1/1 green Insect tokens into play with flying.
At the beginning of your upkeep, discard a nonland card or sacrifice all Insect tokens (with flying?). If you do, put a 1/1 green Insect token with flying onto the battlefield.

Magic-Eating Locusts #2
4B
Creature - Insect
3/3
Flying
Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, you may search that player's library for a nonland card and exile it. If you do, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

Magic-Eating Locusts #3
2UU
Creature – Insect
0/0
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with two +1/+1 counters on it.
Flying
Whenever a spell is cast, you may pay UU to counter it and put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.
At the beginning of the end step, if no spells have been cast this turn, remove a +1/+1 counter from CARDNAME.

Magic-Eating Locusts #4
1BB
Creature – Insect
0/0
CARDNAME comes into play with one +1/+1 counter.
Flying
During your upkeep, discard a card. If you do, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

Magic-Eating Locusts #5
2BB
Enchantment
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, put three 1/1 flying black Insect tokens onto the battlefield.
Whenever a flying Insect token deals combat damage to a player, search that player's library for a nonland card and exile it. If you do, put another 1/1 flying black Insect token onto the battlefield.

Magic-Eating Locusts #6
2B
Creature – Insect
1/1
Flying
When CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, choose either hand or library. If you choose hand, randomly select a card from the defending player's hand. If you choose library, look at the top card of that player's library. Either way, exile the chosen card. Then put X +1/+1 counters on CARDNAME, where X is the converted mana cost of the exiled card.

Magic-Eating Locusts #7
2GU
Creature – Insect
3/3
Flying
Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery, put X +1/+1 counters on CARDNAME equal to the converted mana cost of the spell.

Magic-Eating Locusts #8
3B
Enchantment
Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery, put X black 1/1 flying Insect creature tokens onto the battlefield equal to the converted mana cost of the spell.

Magic-Eating Locusts #9
3G
Creature – Insect
2/2
Flying
At the beginning of your upkeep, reveal the top card of your library. If the revealed card is a nonland card, you may exile it to put X +1/+1 counters on CARDNAME where X is the converted mana cost of the revealed card.

Magic-Eating Locusts #10
2BB
Creature – Insect
1/1
Flying
Whenever CARDNAME or any flying Insect token deals combat damage to a player, exile the top card of that player's library. If that card is a nonland card, put X flying black 1/1 Insect creature tokens onto the battlefield, where X is the converted mana cost of the exiled card.

Step #8 – Evaluation, Elimination, and Consolidation

It's time to start winnowing down again. This time though I'm evaluating card mechanics. Notice that I'm not worried yet about having all the pieces together. This pass is for me to figure out which mechanics are the ones I want to focus on. Here are my notes on what I just did:

Magic-Eating Locusts #1
2GG
Enchantment
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, put three 1/1 green Insect tokens into play with flying.
At the beginning of your upkeep, discard a nonland card or sacrifice all Insect tokens (with flying?). If you do, put a 1/1 green Insect token with flying onto the battlefield.

The idea of representing the swarm through numerous counters interests me, and as such I like the idea of it growing by actually increasing the number of creatures in the swarm. The discard as an upkeep cost leaves me cold. Me feeding my locusts does not have the wild feel the concept evoked for me. Also note that I had one section in parentheses with a question mark. I have no problem with that in this point of design, as it is just a way for me to see options for how I could do the design.

Magic-Eating Locusts #2
4B
Creature - Insect
3/3
Flying
Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, you may search that player's library for a nonland card and exile it. If you do, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

Eating cards in my opponent's library (a.k.a. capping) felt good. It makes the locusts seem hungrier when they attack to get the food they need. I also like the idea that eating food makes them stronger as it feels locusty to me.

Magic-Eating Locusts #3
2UU
Creature – Insect
0/0
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with two +1/+1 counters on it.
Flying
Whenever a spell is cast, you may pay UU to counter it and put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.
At the beginning of the end step, if no spells have been cast this turn, remove a +1/+1 counter from CARDNAME.

I decided to experiment with the locusts eating magic in different ways. This "eat magic as it's being cast" vibe didn't feel right to me, so I'm cutting this card.

Magic-Eating Locusts #4
1BB
Creature – Insect
0/0
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with one +1/+1 counter.
Flying
During your upkeep, discard a card. If you do, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

Once again, I don't like the feel of the locusts eating your spells as an upkeep cost. Punt.

Magic-Eating Locusts #5
2BB
Enchantment
When CARDNAME comes into play, put three 1/1 flying black Insect tokens onto the battlefield.
Whenever a flying Insect token deals combat damage to a player, search that player's library for a nonland card and exile it. If you do, put another 1/1 flying black Insect token onto the battlefield.

Locusts that both cap and grow in number as they do so feels pretty flavorful and scary. This is definitely one of the hits in my opinion.

Magic-Eating Locusts #6
2B
Creature – Insect
1/1
Flying
When CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, choose either hand or library. If you choose hand, randomly select a card from the defending player's hand. If you choose library, look at the top card of that player's library. Either way, exile the chosen card. Then put X +1/+1 counters on CARDNAME, where X is the converted mana cost of the exiled card.

I like what this card is trying to do, but its wordiness is a deal breaker for me. Cut! I should point out that while this card didn't work out, it did get me down the path of exiling the top card of the library rather than capping. Often failures are great stepping stones to successes.

Magic-Eating Locusts #7
2GU
Creature – Insect
3/3
Flying
Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery, put X +1/+1 counters on CARDNAME equal to the converted mana cost of the spell.

This card is trying out the idea that it eats played spells. This card has many of the same issues I had with the upkeep costs. Hand-feeding creatures makes them feel less powerful. The locusts want to eat any magic, not just what scraps you feed them.

Magic-Eating Locusts #8
3B
Enchantment
Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery, put X black 1/1 flying Insect creature tokens onto the battlefield equal to the converted mana cost of the spell.

This version is trying out what the last card did but with tokens instead of +1/+1 counters. I still like the feel of the swarm growing in actual number.

Magic-Eating Locusts #9
3G
Creature – Insect
2/2
Flying
At the beginning of your upkeep, reveal the top card of your library. If the revealed card is a nonland card, you may exile it to put X +1/+1 counters on CARDNAME where X is the converted mana cost of the revealed card.

We're feeding the locusts again. Cut!

Magic-Eating Locusts #10
2BB
Creature – Insect
1/1
Flying
Whenever CARDNAME or any flying Insect token deals combat damage to a player, exile the top card of that player's library. If that card is a nonland card, put X flying black 1/1 Insect creature tokens onto the battlefield, where X is the converted mana cost of the exiled card.

I like that this card is a creature yet still has the token element. Top of library rather than a search has the advantage that it doesn't force constant shuffling.

Now that I've gone through all ten cards, let me examine what I've learned:

  • I like the locusts eating my opponent's magic and not mine.
  • I like the feel of the locusts getting bigger as they eat magic.
  • I like the feel of the tokens increasing as the swarm grows.
  • I don't like the feel of enchantments that make tokens. I want my swarm to be a creature or creatures.
  • Because the card really wants to fly and is most likely taking away resources from the opponent, black is feeling like the right color. Note that part of this also has to do with insect flavor.

As I go back over my list, one thing is clear to me. Magic-Eating Locusts #10 meets all of my criteria. My final version is going to be a variant of it, if not just the card as is. I want to point out that it is not at all odd that the final design is the one closest to what we want, as all these notes I've collected were being absorbed as I worked through the designs. Essentially, I was learning on the go, meaning that knowledge of one design was guiding me on future designs.

Step #9 – Design the Final Card

Here's the version I'm turning over to development:


As you can see, the card is almost identical with just a few small changes:

  1. I changed the name to make it slightly more flavorful than Magic-Eating Locusts #10. I feel it's important for top-down designs to have names that help evoke what you're trying to get across with the overall feel of the card.
  2. I got development to give me a more accurate mana cost.
  3. I changed the trigger for more locust tokens from converted mana cost to mana symbols. I did this for two reasons: one, because I wanted to both slow down the growth of the swarm—it was getting too big too fast; and two, because eating mana symbols felt more flavorful to me than eating a converted mana cost.

... And Scene

So that's all it takes to do a top-down design. As you can see, they're a little harder to do than the average design, but when they click they can make some pretty cool cards. I hope you enjoyed my stroll through an actual design. If you liked this kind of thing, let me know, as this is something I could do again in a column (although probably with something other than a top-down design).

Join me next week when I feel the burn.

Until then, may you try to make some decisions by feeling rather than thinking.

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