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How to Make Your Own Magic: The Gathering Set Part 4: The Power Level of Instants & Sorceries June 24, 2012

Posted by James in : all, random, design , trackback

When making your own Magic cards or set it could be a good idea to consider how powerful instant and sorcery cards should be. I will describe the range of power levels we should expect each instant or sorcery spell to have, which is based on (a) the mana cost, (b) additional abilities, and (c) drawbacks. We can measure the power level of each card in terms of “points”—each instant and sorcery spell can be expected to have the same number of “points” as a creature would for the same mana cost.

The Mana Cost of Instants

To get a feel for how powerful instants are allowed to be, we can consider what sort of red burn spell we could expect for various mana costs:

mana cost terrible weak strong very strong
0 mana Deals 1 damage to target player. Deals 1 damage to target creature. Deals 1 damage to target creature or player. Deals 2 damage to target creature.
R Deals 2 damage to target creature. Deals 2 damage to target creature or player. Deals 3 damage to target creature. Deals 3 damage to target creature or player.
1R Deals 2 damage to target creature or player Deals 3 damage to target creature. Deals 3 damage to target creature or player. Deals 4 damage to target creature.
RR Deals 3 damage to target creature. Deals 3 damage to target creature or player. Deals 4 damage to target creature. Deals 4 damage to target creature or player.
2R Deals 3 damage to target creature. Deals 3 damage to target creature or player. Deals 4 damage to target creature. Deals 4 damage to target creature or player.
1RR Deals 3 damage to target creature or player. Deals 4 damage to target creature. Deals 4 damage to target creature or player. Deals 6 damage to target creature.
RRR Deals 4 damage to target creature. Deals 4 damage to target creature or player. Deals 6 damage to target creature. Deals 5 damage to target creature or player.

The “very strong” category is unusual. Lighting Bolt is the only instant that has been printed at that power level. “Flame Slash” is also of the “very strong” category, but it was a sorcery.

Power Level Points

It is not as easy to determine how many points spells are worth compared to creatures, which are roughly worth an amount of points equal to the total of their power and toughness. In general, dealing an additional damage is worth 2 points. For example, Shock deals 2 damage to target creature or player for 2 points; and Lightning Bolt deals 3 damage to target creature or player for 4 points. The difference between 1 point determines what is dealt damage (creatures only, or both creatures and players). For example, Lightning Bolt is worth 1 less point than an instant that deals 4 damage to target creature.

However, keep in mind that dealing 2 points of damage to a creature appears to only be worth 1 point.

There are a couple of exceptions to keep in mind:

  1. Damage dealt to creatures becomes negligible at some point. There’s a bigger difference between a spell that deals 3 damage to a creature rather than 2 than there is between a spell that deals 5 damage to target creature than one that deals 8. Therefore, some higher cost spells can deals more damage to creatures than one might otherwise expect.

  2. The spell effects of each color can have different costs. For example, white has some direct damage spells, but they tend to be significantly less powerful then the red counterparts.

  3. The 0 cost instant effects are theoretical because there are no 0 cost instants in the game without some sort of a drawback.

How many points instants are worth:

Spell effects

Now that we know how mana costs relate to the power level of instant spell effects, I propose the following instant spell effects are worth the listed amount of points (which might help you decide how powerful other instants can be at various mana costs):

points
1 Target tapped creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn. Tap target creature. Target creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn.
2 Deal 3 damage to target attacking creature. Target creature gets shroud until end of turn. Return target creature an opponent controls to hand.
3 Put target card from your graveyard on top of your library. Prevent the next 4 damage dealt from a single source this turn. Counter target artifact or enchantment spell.
4 Destroy target attacking creature. Return target creature with a converted mana cost 3 from your graveyard to the battlefield. Add RRR to your mana pool.
5 Counter target spell unless its controller pays 3. Target player sacrifices a creature. Destroy target artifact or enchantment.
6 Change any targets of target spell or ability. Counter target spell. Copy target instant or sorcery spell.
7 Return target card from your graveyard to your hand. Draw 3 cards, then discard 2 cards. Destroy target creature.
8 Destroy target land. Target player discards 2 cards. Look at target player’s hand and choose a card from it. That card is discarded.
9 Return target creature from your graveyard to the battlefield. Put three +1/+1 counters divided as you choose an any number of target creatures. Target player draws 2 cards.
10 Each player sacrifices 2 creatures. Destroy target noncreature permanent. Prevent all damage dealt by a single source and deal that much damage to a single target.

Additional Abilities

Additional abilities make cards worth more points. The most common additoinal abilities include the following.

Weak (worth 1-2 points each):

Strong (3-4 points each):

For example, consider a direct damage instant that says, “Deal 2 damage to target creature or player. Draw 1 card.” That card would be worth 5-6 points (2 pt. for the damage, and 3 or 4 pt. for the card draw). Therefore, it would be very strong if the mana cost was 1R, and it would be weak if its mana cost was 2RR.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks make creatures worse, and instants get extra points (to have stronger effects) when they have drawbacks. For example, sorceries could be treated as instants with a drawback. Lightning Bolt technically has a weaker ability than Flame Slash, but Flame Slash might still be a weaker card because it’s a sorcery.

Drawbacks include the following:

Related:

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