Creating Customs

This time around I wanted to write something up that was a little more about the creative side of things for the WoWtcg. Although we mentioned it briefly on a previously podcast, there didn’t seem to be a huge custom card community while our beloved game was still “alive”. That being said there were certainly attempts and even now there are custom raids that are produced. You can even make custom cards at (!/custom=true) and naturally there are a lot of other resources out there as Magic related custom card creators can be reskinned into WoW ones given enough time and effort.

For my part, I tend to create things around holes. Holes being places where I think game mechanics or other ideas could be fleshed out more. Typically, this means neutral heroes or allies, but it isn’t exclusively that. Warcraft has a huge amount of lore that wasn’t touched upon (or was barely touched upon) even before you get anywhere near Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor, or Legion. You don’t need to even look at monks, demon hunters, or any of the locales, characters, and upgrades and you could probably still make a dozen sets!

Overall my focus as mentioned is on the neutral “side” of things, but the primary factions need some attention too. We discussed arena allies which were a fun but very minor cycle in Blood of Gladiators during the podcast, but those aren’t the only tools that can be added to the Horde and Alliance. One of the primary complains when bans are discussed in the competitive environment is the idea of “staples” Basically the idea is that a staple card is one that when you sit down to construct a deck gets a slot no matter what right off the bat. This is a double-edged sword as it helps structure the meta and also coalesces power levels. If every deck is running a similar structure you know what you’re getting into and can plan ahead to address those things. The counter argument should be obvious, if everyone is running a similar structure then the lack of diversity can be stifling in both deck construction and gameplay. As with everything a healthy balance is important.

To that end custom cards can allow someone to create answers to meta specific problems. Creators aren’t beholden to directives about how the game should play or how a character should be used. Clearly another double-edged sword with clear dangers. I’d love to believe that the cards I have thought of are perfect but without testing in a larger environment it isn’t really a certainty. Over time wife and I will definitely discuss some or all of the ideas we have on the podcast as well as on this website. For now though, I’d like to detail some of the areas that are worth investigating. Keep in mind that I am talking about these from the competitive side of things which influences how the cards are designed.

Racial Bonuses

This doesn’t just mean extra health for Tauren, or Night Elves having shadowmeld. There are specific cards that require or reward you for playing specific hero races. In fact, the War of the Ancients block tried to revive this idea after the Drums of War block tried it out. In those sets there were a number of cards that pushed you to play a specific hero to complement your allies. While the game has always had things such as Escape Artist or Arance Torrent these sets pushed the envelope farther. Personally I love tribal builds in every game I play, but there were some missteps. Can you really compare Kray’zin Firetusk and Dethvir the Malignant? I mean you could but our tusked friend isn’t going to come out looking very good, at least not from a competitive perspective. For the most part if you are going to play red, you kinda need to start with Undead as your hero unless you have a very compelling reason not to play with access to Undercity and Dethvir. Usually it’s because you can’t play that race (such as a paladin or druid) and that’s probably it. Mage builds are generally, but not always, better with access to those cards. Same goes for priest, warlock, death knight, hunter…well you get the idea. Dethvir is arguably best in slot at the 4 drop spot. In all honesty, I don’t inherently have a problem with that. However, his “undead hero required line” is a little more irksome. I’m not suggesting errata to allow any horde hero to run the fiery warlock. Instead this is where we get creative. Trolls, Tauren, Orcs, Blood Elves, Goblins, and later on Pandaren should also have something of comparable power level but maybe not in the same strategic vein. The point is to offer meaningful choice to deckbuilders and players.

There are tons of characters, items, and even spells that could be designed as cards to reward players for playing a Draenei deck, or a Worgen deck, or a Goblin deck, or even a Murloc deck that isn’t centered around Unleash the Swarm. Some creative muscles can be flexed to some both a meta issue (potential stagnation in deck lists) and allow for some really fun ideas to see the table.

Class Bonuses

The keyword empower, in my opinion, was a great one. Similarly, the bottle cycle was a great success in my eyes. As opposed to simply taking the best ally or other card at a specific drop and sleeving it up it may be worth looking at a slightly weaker card in order to fulfill the dual function of activating another card. Even back in the Wrathgate set the “Lessons of” cycle brought this idea to the forefront. Similar to the racial bonus cards, there are plenty of items that could be buffed or debuffed based on the class of your hero or allies. In my case I’d shy away from being contingent on opposing cards as it lets the hypothetical custom have more consistency but that is also a potential route to go down. Since Legion, the most recent WoW expansion, focuses on classes in the form of class order halls and quests there are certainly sources of inspiration to draw from.

The pitfall here is not simply making say a “warrior Broderick”. As with racial bonuses you don’t want to buff something that is already super strong and make it take over. In the warrior Broderick case, you now potentially have a deck with 8 Broderick Langforth’s which could get ugly fast. A quick “X hero required” may not be enough and so it becomes a delicate balancing act.

Everyone is Unique

One of the rules that was modified in the Upper Deck to Cryptozoic changeover was uniqueness. Gone was the actual “unique” tag and instead it was replaced with a restriction tag (1). While this was overall a positive it unfortunately left much of the Wrathgate set in the dust. Most of the Argent Crusade cards were focused on cards literally having the word unique printed on them. The natural reaction is to try to errata them, or make rules exceptions so that Tirion could recur Cairne, Earthmother’s Chosen. This is a little clunky despite the good intentions. Instead, maybe a custom card steps in that is worded more along the lines of Doomhammer from Reign of Fire. That particular weapon only cares if there is a restriction tag and then buffs your allies that have them. This allows for the old cards to still play with the new cards and you don’t have awkward moments of realizing that certain things don’t work.

Or at least not as many awkward moments.

This idea isn’t unlike how Reign of Fire introduced additional scourge allies that are backwards compatible with the Icecrown scourge heroes. Something about these elegant solutions tickles me and I love finding them, which is really what drives me to try and create them.

The Possibilities Are Endless

One quick note about other ideas that weren’t fully fleshed out, unlimited allies seem to almost universally be in need of help. Zombie-go, my personal favorite deck, made great use of Phylactery of the Nameless Lich and vrykul who replace themselves. Unleash the Swarm is the other major player here, but that’s about it. There have to be ways in which this mechanic can be used more.

Workshop Open For Business

To close up I want to say open up and let your creative gears turn. Both the game and the source material provide a wealth of opportunities to create great experiences. Just to leave you with something here is a cycle of locations (or possibly equipment) I have been mulling over.

In Warcraft 3 you have access to a hero unit. You can control up to 3, and the number you can have is determined by your tech level. Each hero had a strong impact on what strategies were available to the player. In Frozen Throne the tavern was added so you could access neutral heroes such as the Naga Sea Witch or Dark Ranger to supplement the 4 heroes you could choose from your race’s altar. The altar was a key building because not only did it give you the ability to recruit your hero, if your hero fell in battle you could revive them at the altar (or at the tavern for a substantial additional fee). Each faction had a specific altar.

Undead: Altar of Darkness
Alliance: Altar of Kings
Horde: Altar of Storms
Night Elves: Alter of Elders

To that end here is the rough idea for the cycle:

Scourge or Demon hero required. (depends on the altar)
Discard 2 cards ->You may play target ally from your graveyard this turn (paying costs as normal).
Stash: If you played an ally this turn, you may search you deck for an Ally or Master hero. Reveal it and put it into your hand. Shuffle your deck afterwards.

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