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Magic: The Gathering

Wait I Thought You Were a UX Designer? Yes, and...

As someone who deeply enjoys designing intuitive and welcoming user experiences, Magic showed me a world in which Systems can be taught to players without them even realizing they’re learning. For instance, the color pie Magic bases its design upon already does a huge portion of the work for players (especially new ones). Magic’s system gives players dozens of intuitive ways to interact with complex systems. Whether you rely on color, keywords like “lifelink”, looking for cards that sacrifice and return from your graveyard, or simply taking every card that uses counters, Magic’s design does a lot of heavy lifting for players while still making them feel like a brilliant mastermind combining cards in new and insightful ways. What is that if not UX and Systems working in spectacular harmony?

Set Theme

The Setting: The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson

I didn't want to create Magic cards in a vacuum, so I chose an existing world that would provide a treasure trove of content to pull from. This provided me with a fantastic starting point including:

1. Large number of creature types to contemplate

2. Fleshed out characters that fit beautifully inside MtG's color pie

3. Exciting story points I could convert into interesting mechanics

4. A reference for what archetypes might fit well in this set

Magic is a massive and complicated game; I needed to establish constraints for what my imagined cards would be.

1. I would not make brand new game mechanics such as Collecting Evidence or Discover:

  • While these are fun design spaces, the majority of Magic design involves synergizing mechanics, not creating them.

2. I would not make too many Mythic Rares:

  • These are often cards that get a lot of attention. I wanted to challenge myself to focus on creating the cards that make up the majority of Magic sets, so I limited myself to only one Mythic Rare card.

2. Function over aesthetics:

  • While I deeply adore the stunning art, clever titles, and ingenious flavor texts of Magic cards, the focus of this specific project would be on how the card plays.



After determining the setting and constraints, my next goal was to identify archetypes that fit well inside this set. I used the Magic color pie as a jumping-off point to narrow the design space.


- Maps
- Creature tokens (spren)
- Equipment
- Life gain
- Vigilance


- Artifacts (fabrials)
- Draw/discard
- Control
- Instant/Sorcery synergy


- Sacrifice
- Life drain
- Power/Toughness shrink
- Creature removal


- Counters
- Food
- Life gain
- Creature ramp
- Trample


- Treasure (spheres)
- Time limited card play
- Mana ramp
- Haste

*This is by no means a comprehensive or exclusive list of color mechanics, but was soley meant to help me organize my thoughts around the world and its story interactions with Magic mechanics.



Parshendi are red no matter what other color they are paired with: they value reflecting and communicating emotion through song and value their people's freedom at any cost.

Original Design

I first had Eshonai, Wandering Listener flip into Eshonai, Stormform General for lore reasons. However, from a design standpoint, these two cards create opposing archetypes and supported gameplay better as separate cards.


Wandering Listener represents the original Eshonai, the one who desires to learn more about other cultures, charts Maps on her journey, and quite literally explores the world around her.

This plays perfectly into White's desire to form a community while still honoring the Parshendi's desire to stay alert to the return of their old gods. While she largely ignores her people during this time, she hastens to protect and arm them when necessary. This is the antithesis of the Stormform General she becomes, which requires a reversal of her caring about varied creatures.


Stormform General embodies Eshonai's new disregard for anyone unlike herself. In direct opposition to her old self, she is now readily willing to Sacrifice and replace those she once protected.


While strong, Wandering Listener is a more modest 2/3 creature that largely cares about Map generation. While it's converted mana cost is relatively cheap, this card cares about building up a solid board state and gradually ramping creatures' power/toughness.

Alternatively, Stormform General moves into larger territory as a 4/4. This card provides a possible repeatable combat trick where the player can consistently Sacrifice smaller creatures to a value engine that will pull more expensive, hard hitters from their library.


Stormform Soldier represents the possible synergy in the Parshendi cards. It provides an example of the kind of card Stormform General might pull from a library, triggering enter the battlefield attacks while providing solid attack combos.

As an uncommon, this card requires mana payment to become stronger, but offers the player an exciting opportunity to Lighting Bolt their opponent should they choose to do so.



Tokens/ Spren

Spren (small creatures attracted to certain emotions/environments) are everywhere in The Stromlight Archive and provide the perfect opportunity for new and exciting token interactions.


Lifespren provided a perfect opportunity for life gain with Green and White cards, while also generating tokens.

A common archetype in this set is Food, as it relates to most colors on a story level. This enchantment supports its own archetype as it creates a fun cycle for players to do each turn, and points players towards deck ideas.

I had to be careful to make sure to only trigger the enter the battlefield effect on nontoken creatures, otherwise, it would be a self-contained infinite loop!

Rotspren Balance

Rotspren were tokens that required a lot of balancing to work right. Some iterations were:

1. Power and toughness 1/2 to make them harder to get rid of

  • While this made it harder to get rid of them in chump blocks, it also made them much stronger against opponent's 1/1s

2. Putting -1/-1 counters on other creatures

  • This made the cost of having Rotspren too high for the players to want those cards

3. Being able to -1/-1 themselves

  • The opposite of problem #1, this made Rotspren too easy to remove

Forgotten Bridgeman is an example of making players balance their Rotspren creation. While they don't want too many that may risk killing their own creatures, there are upsides to keeping one around.

Removal Balance

Festering Blade was one of the hardest cards to balance as removal spells tend to be very strong. I went back and forth on the mana cost, type of card, and drawback of this card for a long time. Originally an Instant costing 2B, I had to make the card harder to cast:

1. Adding another black pip would make players need more carefully crafted mana pools
2. Changing it to a sorcery would remove its use as a combat trick
3. Changing it so Rotspren could not target themselves would make players hesitate more before creating one

While balancing, I tried to compare this card closely to cards that already exist. While costing 1 less than Ravenous Chupacabra, it creates a smaller creature with a downside. Similarly, it has the same cost as Murder, but is a sorcery and has the Rotspren draw back.



While Blue has many mechanics and motifs, Artifacts fit very well into this world and are the crux of a lot of the story's technology. I wanted to create some cards that would marry the interesting nature of Stormlight's Fabrials while staying true to Magic's existing themes.


Because it's a common, I didn't want to make Flustered Artifbrian do too many things. It's a modest 2/2 that functions nicely as a blocker, but its main purpose is to help gather more value from stronger Artifacts in your deck.

An example of how this might work is shown in Plateau Run Provisions. Though a fun and powerful loop on its own, Flustered Artifabrian helps players get that extra tap out of the artifact that could put them that much closer to pulling off a satisfying combo.

Plateau Run Provisions also represents a satisfying flavor win as some Fabrials create food and are powered by Stormlight, a resource similar to mana.


The idea behind this card was that when you canonically hit Shardplate, it starts leaking Stormlight (mana). You can infuse the Shardplate with Stormlight to help repair it.
Shardplate was another card that needed careful iteration and balancing to work well.

1. How many charge counters were reasonable for entering the battlefield?
2 Can players keep up will the charge removal?
3. Should the damage only break a charge counter on the controller's turn?

5 mana is a little steep for +3/+3, but I had to consider the repeatability of the card combined with edge cases. The card becomes much stronger if the player has a counter doubler or Artifact cost reducer on the board. Artifact decks also tend to ramp mana very well, and it's not unreasonable for a player to pay 6 in one turn and add 3 counters to Shardplate all at once.



The last couple of cards belong to what I consider the meat and potatoes of Magic sets. They aren't the flashiest cards and you don't usually build a deck around them, but they add value when you're waiting to draw that game-winning combo. My goal was to make sure that they added as much fun to the set as the more complicated value engines while supporting their color's archetypes.

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