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CasualNation #59 – The Core Set Challenge


Hello, Nation! Several times in the past, I’ve built a core set and played it just for fun. After doing these major projects, I brought the results to the public in the form of a few fun articles. I thought it would be a blast to do the same thing today, with you making the core sets. Have you ever looked at a card in a core set and wondered why it was included? What were they thinking? Surely you have a better way of making a core set, right? So, let’s do it!

Today, we are going to talk about the Core Set Challenge as we make the Nth Edition. I’ll go over the contest, give you the rules, and provide a few hints. We have several opportunities for winners! Alons-y!

What is a core set? How do core sets work? We want Nth Edition to be the best and most realistic it possibly can while published in a vacuum. In reality, no set is actually in a vacuum. Magic 2012 has cards designed to work well with Innistrad block (such as Call to the Grave), and we’ve seen a lot of plants (Vampire Nocturnus, Phylactery Lich, and more).

For this challenge, the goal is simple. At the end, I will judge individually each color, then the colorless artifacts and the lands. There will be seven winners (though a person can win in more than one category)—one for each of the colors, one for the colorless cards, and one best overall set.

Now, if the idea of making your own core set is a bit daunting, don’t worry. You can make your own color. If you just want to submit the commons, uncommon, rares, and mythics for a single color, rather than making a full set, you can. In fact, you can submit just two or three colors instead of a full set. However, you cannot win the big prize—best overall set—without actually submitting a full set.

If you submit a full set, and I like your Green the best, you might win best Green and still be eligible for things like best Blue and best overall set. Sets are automatically entered in every contest.

In order to participate, you need to submit an Excel spreadsheet. That spreadsheet must break down each color by rarity. I expect artifacts and nonbasic lands to be separated. After that, you may arrange them as you wish (such as alphabetically, by card type, or whatever).

Colors and Commonality

Every core set has a different number of artifacts and nonbasics compared to colored cards in the uncommons, rares, and mythics. For example, in Magic 2011, fifteen uncommons were artifacts. There were no nonbasic lands at all. In Magic 2012, there were fourteen artifacts and one nonbasic land. In Magic 2010, we saw ten uncommon artifacts and no nonbasic lands. In Magic 2010, we had two colorless mythics, just one in M11, and none in M12. As long as your cards are balanced, a set can play with those numbers as much as it wants.

If I was just looking at your set as a whole, I wouldn’t care about these numbers. If you wanted twenty colorless uncommons and you took one card from each color to do it, I’d be okay as long as it made sense.

This contest is mostly judging your color selections. Therefore, we must keep all of the numbers the same across the board. In order to do this, I will be using Magic 2012 as our guide.

We must have exactly:

Commons – Twenty of each color, one colorless

Uncommons – Nine of each color, fifteen colorless

Rares – Eight of each color, thirteen colorless

Mythic – Three of each color, zero colorless

Add twenty basic lands, and you have the two hundred forty-nine cards in a set.

Remember, we will be judging by color and colorless. If you want, all you have to do is something like this (in an Excel spreadsheet):










And that’s it—you have a full submission for one color. I’m not expecting play-testing. You could do a colorless submission in twenty-nine cards and a color in forty.

The Judging

I will be choosing the awards in a future article. Let’s talk about the substance of the core set.

Unlike recent core sets, you cannot create cards for it. All cards must have seen print. To be specific, all cards included in this set must be in Gatherer, so you cannot include Rainbow Knights or Shichifukujin Dragon. You can, technically, include cards that are not legal in Vintage, such as silver-bordered cards. See the judging principles below for more info on what is and is not allowed.

Since you cannot create new cards, this challenge is really about making a fun core set. It should look and feel and play like a real core set. This will be judged on the following principles:

The Judging Principles

  1. All cards in your core set must be eligible for the core set. This excludes cards on the Reserved List. While it might be fun to include old and rare cards, such as Moat, you simply cannot. In real life, WotC can’t add City of Traitors to a set, so neither can you. We need to have the same restrictions. If you are interested in looking at the Reserved List, check here. If you have any card on the Reserved List in your submission, that category will not be judged. (So, if you submit a full set, and you accidentally toss in Recurring Nightmare, you will not be eligible to win the best Black award, but you could still win best Blue.)
  2. If you add something crazy, be afraid. There is no way that Wizards would add Tempest Efreet to the Magic 2013 set. They also aren’t going to print Cheatyface. As much fun as you might have with these cards, they aren’t realistic inclusions. If you go crazy, it needs to make sense. I wouldn’t automatically axe a submission with a silver-bordered card, but it would have to be really special in the set to make sense. Otherwise, any card included here is a veto, much like the first principle.
  3. Keep the set playable in Limited. No play-testing is needed, but if all of your Green common creatures are at or above 5 casting cost, there’s an issue. If you don’t have any countermagic at common for Blue or no creature removal for Black at common, or if there’s an obvious imbalance in Limited play, your set has issues.
  4. Make the set marketable. Any core set needs to sell cards. Make sure to include cards that will market the set. There must be banner cards that whet people’s appetites. Remember to include cards that are good for Spikes, Timmies, and Johnnies.
  5. While including cool cards, don’t make the set unrealistic. Remember that in the post-mythic era, any rare in a set will be overprinted and have its price drop significantly unless it’s a major Standard player. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but you can kill the value of many cards through their inclusion. Don’t include a bunch of cards at the top of the price lists. Wizards will not reprint Imperial Seal as a rare in Magic 2013 because the card is pushing $500. This is not Print a Bunch of Super-Valuable Cards Day at the opera.
  6. The winning submissions should feel like a core set. I want mechanics that are simple, cards that are clean, and more. I will not punish you for exotic cards or exotic names as long as they work. Kami of Twisted Reflection will never work in a core set. Kodama of the South Tree could work mechanically, but what about in terms of flavor? The best submissions will feel and look like a core set. Similarly, there shouldn’t be too many mechanics in the set that aren’t evergreen.
  7. I want the winning set to be spicy. If all you do is take cards that were printed in Magic 2010, 2011, or 2012, and smash them together for your set, it might work. It could be playable in Limited with the right balance of cards and more. However, it wouldn’t be spicy. I want some clever choices. I’ll be happy to see clever cards that work for the set and have never been printed in the core set. I want to see that you know the set inside and outside.
  8. Your set shouldn’t include superpowerful cards from the past that would unbalance an environment. Tossing something like Umezawa's Jitte into the list makes me uncomfortable. You’ll find that a lot of cards that make a high mark in one category (such as marketability) will be too powerful. There is a fine balance.

In order to abide by these principles and to let you know what the criteria are ahead of time, here are the scores I will give submissions:

Limited – 1–3, based on the third principle (above)

Marketability – 1–3, based on the fourth principle

Feel – 1–3, based on the sixth principle

Balance – 1–3, based on the eighth principle

Tilt – 1–5, based on the fifth and seventh principles. These are more subjective, and thus I am including them in this score. The cleverer your card choices, the higher the tilt score.

If you include a card that violates the first two principles, that category of your submission is vetoed. If you have Contract from Below, Library of Alexandria, or Aswan Jaguar, we have a veto. It doesn’t matter what your score is—the section is vetoed.


I will be making my own core set, and in a future article, I’ll give you my submission, look at yours, and compare. You will not win points based on how close your set comes to mine, but I think it would be fun to play along!

Recently, one of the writers on the Magic website mentioned that Magic 2012 probably shouldn’t have had the Titans. We become tired of cards more quickly these days. With so many tournaments, articles, websites, Twitter updates, and more and more about Magic, we know formats much more intimately. With this knowledge comes a bit of contempt. Note Baneslayer Angel. The first time around, the Angel was a terror, and the second time, it barely saw play. If Wizards had rotated the Titans out for something else, we might have had a much more interesting format after Magic 2011 rotated out.

That doesn’t mean the Titans should have been replaced with new cards. They could have been replaced with cards that weren’t in Standard anymore. We need to refresh the format. While I have been talking about this as an Nth Edition, I think it may help a bit to imagine that this is Magic 2013. What shakeup would feel right? I think this is a good starting ground for many of you.

As you start to look at the project, you’ll realize that there are far fewer decisions that need to be made than it might appear. Suppose you are starting with Green. You look at the mythics and decide to leave in a planeswalker. What mono-colored Green planeswalker could you chose? You have all of three choices. That’s not really a big decision. You’ll find that a lot of any core set just builds itself. The project is not as big as it might seem.

I will not ding you as much for having set-based flavor on your cards. I think that WotC has been very inconsistent on this. They took out Counsel of the Soratami and other set-themed flavor cards with unusual names, but then added in unusual names (Xathrid Demon) and unusual creature types (Viashino Spearhunter). It’s a policy that’s been quite inconsistent. Feel free to add cards that work but have a bit of a set-based feel. Just watch that you don’t have too many Kodama of the South Trees.

While on the subject of Legendary cards, I’d recommend staying away from them. Wizards had a few in their core set a while ago, and they didn’t like the idea enough to keep Legends around. It’s hard to find good ones that meet the core-set flavor and power level while not having crazy mechanics. It’s not a requirement, but it’s a good recommendation.

I can tell when a set is based on another set. If you take Magic 2012 and replace Runeclaw Bear with Forest Bear, and Giant Spider with Giant Mantis, and Titanic Growth with Giant Growth, and keep Llanowar Elves, and . . . well, you get the point. If the creatures and cards have been replaced with cards that do virtually the same thing for virtually the same mana, it’s very noticeable. Take risks. I have a feeling that the best sets are going to be those that really try to break out of the envelope.

In summation, here are the rules in one neat place:

  1. Submissions are due by Friday, December 9. E-mail me at euplatious at hotmail dot com.
  2. Submissions must be in the form of an Excel spreadsheet, with colors divided by rarity.
  3. You must meet the number requirement for each color and rarity, as listed above.
  4. Only include Vintage-legal cards that aren’t on the Reserved List.
  5. Check out the principles for guidelines on scoring.


Until later,

Abe Sargent

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