Zeu's Guide to Fun and Success with Custom Magic is reproduced here with permission of the author.

Deciding What To Do

Magic the Gathering is a diverse game that is packaged into many different kinds of products, and intends to adapt itself to the desires of its players. Even though this is the case, many custom Magic creators only try their hands at the most obvious custom activities, ignoring the options available to them.

The most common Custom Magic activities include:

  • Creating “One-offs”, cards that exist only on their own.
  • Creating preconstructed decks, collections of cards that are intended to be played together as a single deck. Examples include duel decks and commander precons.
  • Creating custom cubes, collections of cards that intended to be cube drafted.
  • Creating custom sets, collections of cards that are intended to be drafted and played with in constructed formats.

Others activities that won’t be covered by this guide:

  • Creating and curating custom constructed formats, large collection of cards made by you or many people, from which many players can create constructed decks and play with those decks.

Which Activity is Best for Me?

This section lists the different things you can do with each of the different activities. It also lists many of the pros and cons of each activity. Using this information, you should be able to decide which of these activities will be the best for you.

One-offs

Things you can do with one-offs:

  • Show off a card
  • Use a card in your casual decks
    • Custom commander

Pros

  • Low commitment. Each card stands on its own merits and doesn’t need any support.
  • Each card has room to make itself as appealing as possible, and appeal to whoever you want.
  • You can create unique designs using mechanics from Magic’s history.
  • You can communicate a poignant flavorful moment or idea.

Cons

  • You can’t communicate any wider thematic or flavorful themes.
  • It can be difficult to find ways to play Magic with one-offs.
  • It’s fun to make new mechanics, but creating new mechanics for singular cards isn’t always satisfying.
    • You also can’t explore the design space of the mechanic very easily.
  • You don’t have supporting material to explain weird cards.

Preconstructed Decks

Things you can do with preconstructed decks:

  • Show off the cards and how the decks stand against each other.
  • Have people play with the decks.

Pros

  • Low-Medium commitment. You will need to create between 10-40 new cards for two duel decks, and 50-200 new cards for preconstructed decks. Each card mostly stands on its own merits.
    • If planning on playing with the decks, you only need to set aside a portion of each deck’s cards to act as support for the more interesting cards.
    • If not planning on playing, you don’t need to focus on making support cards at all.
  • You get to communicate a thematic or flavorful connection between the cards in one deck.
  • You get to communicate a thematic or flavorful conflict between the decks.
  • You have free reign to include fun reprints that fit your theme. The amount of reprints can be any amount you want.
  • It’s not hard to find ways to play the cards against one of your friends, or have your friends play against each other.

Cons

  • The play experience of the decks won’t have tons of depth.
  • You won’t always have enough room to fully explore the design space of a new mechanic.
  • Duel decks are small enough that you will have to sometimes cut cards from them that you don’t want to.
  • It’s hard to get people excited for preconstructed decks as a project because of the singular mode of play.

Custom Cubes

Things you can do with a custom cube:

  • Draft the cube with other people.
  • Have people play with their draft decks.

Pros

  • Medium commitment. Many of the cards can stand on their own merits. You can plan draft archetypes around fun new cards you make.
  • You and others can have fun drafting your cube.
  • You and others can play with draft decks, each time you draft. The play experience will have a lot of depth.
  • You can communicate a consistent flavor with strategic reprints and custom cards.
    • Or you can choose to have no consistent flavor whatsoever!
  • You have room to make lots of different cycles, reprint or custom.
  • You can design new and unique draft archetypes.
  • You can choose to create new mechanics and explore their design space.
  • You can choose to create random one-off cards featuring mechanics from Magic’s history.
  • Cubes appeal to draft aficionados and, depending on your reprints, to enfranchised players.

Cons

  • Medium commitment. You will need to reprint/create enough cards for a full cube (360+ cards). Many of the cards will need to serve a specific draft purpose, and won’t necessarily have room to show off any unique qualities.
  • You will need to learn the difficult skill of balancing making cards appealing and making cards do what you need them to do.
  • You will have to do enough draft testing to know if the custom cards you make actually serve the draft purpose that you intend for them.
  • Cubes don’t always appeal to a very wide audience.

Custom Sets

Things you can do with custom sets:

  • Draft the set with other people.
  • Have people play with their draft decks.
  • Have people build/play with constructed decks using cards from the set.

Pros

  • You have a huge amount of room for world building. Cards in your set can work together to communicate a unique and detailed flavor or thematic identity.
  • The play experience of a set can be very unique and deep, in both limited and constructed.
  • You can explore the unexplored design space of a mechanic from Magic’s history.
  • You can create a new mechanic and explore a moderate to huge amount of its design space.
  • You can design new and unique draft archetypes.
  • Sets have the potential to appeal to a very wide audience.
  • Sets are challenging! Other members of the custom Magic community have lots of respect for a well crafted set because of the large amount of effort and skill required. Good sets will be remembered fondly for a long time.
  • Your set can become part of a custom constructed format.

Cons

  • Large commitment. You will have to create a large number of custom cards (~250). The majority of these cards can’t stand on their own merits and have to serve a draft or flavor purpose, or at least not interfere with other cards in the set.
  • You will need to create at least one new mechanic. Creating new mechanics is hard and requires iteration.
  • Many of the cards you create will need to be individually boring because of their role.
  • You can’t reprint just whatever cards you want.
  • Many of your draft archetypes will need to be fairly “normal”.
  • You will need to learn the difficult skill of balancing making cards appealing and making cards do what you need them to do.
  • You will need to do lots of testing to know if your new mechanics are fun, if your draft archetypes work the way you want them to, and if individual cards are both fun and balanced for limited or constructed.
  • Sets are challenging! Lots of knowledge, skill, and hard work are required to make a quality product. Oftentimes you will need to scrap and redo work you have done.
  • Unlike Cubes, sets require consistent art. Searching for art is time consuming.

Moving Forward

Now that you understand your options, you can now make an informed decision on which activity will best suit you. Depending on which you choose, you will want to read more of this guide or move onto other guides.

Useful to everyone:

Useful to those moving onto duel decks:

Useful to those moving onto making custom sets: