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How to Make Your Own Magic: The Gathering Set Part 7: Design Skeleton September 27, 2013

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

Making a Magic set doesn’t require you to think of one card at a time. A lot of the cards are going to be predictable reprints (staples), nearly identical to some predictable reprint, or it will be some fairly generic yet vitally important card (such as card similar to Grizzly Bears). The skeleton of a Magic set is a general list of what’s needed (so many creatures, so many nonflying creatures, various other creatures, and certain spell effects). This list can not only tell you what reprints your Magic set can include, but it also gives you a very good idea about what the majority of the cards should be like. However, it is important to keep in mind that the set skeleton is mainly about the commons and uncommons because it is mostly useful as a guide to know what each set needs. The skeleton of every large Magic set is very similar, but it can be important to deviate in various ways.

I have read between the lines in order to examine the skeleton used for Magic 2014, which tells us what Wizards of the Coast roughly thinks the balance and distribution of a large Magic set should be like, and I will discuss some of my findings here. I am only going to discuss the skeleton used for the commons and uncommons.


Total cards – 161

Creatures – 74

Flying creatures – 16

Removal – 16

White Blue Black Red Green
Total cards 29 29 29 29 29
Total creatures 17 14 14 13 16
Flying creatures 6 1 3 1 0
Creature removal 3 1 6 4 2

This list already covers ninety cards. That means you already have a rough estimate about what ninety of the cards should be before you start making yours set. That leaves seventy one other cards in the common and uncommon slots that are a bit more open-ended.


Here’s a list of the staples in (or not in) the set:


  1. Enchant creature (+1/+3)

  2. Enchant creature (Pacifism)

  3. Combat trick (+2/+4)

  4. Combat trick (Your creatures get +2/+0 or +0/+2)

  5. Destroy artifact or enchantment

  6. Oblivion Ring (missing)

  7. Removal (Destroy attacking or blocking creature.)

  8. Life gain

  9. Prevent damage (Pay No Heed/Healing Salve)

  10. Destroy target enchantment (Demystify/missing)

  11. Flicker (Exile a creature, return it to the battlefield/missing)

  12. Deal damage to attacking or blocking (D’Avenant Archer/Righteous Blow)

  13. Tapper (missing)


  1. Return a permanent to owner’s hand.

  2. Divination (draw 2)

  3. Frost breath (tap creatures)

  4. Enchant creature (Doesn’t untap)

  5. Cancel (Counter target spell.)

  6. Mill (Put cards from library into graveyard.)

  7. Enchant creature (Lowers power.)

  8. Ponder (missing)

  9. Mind control (missing)

  10. If deals damage, draw (Scroll Thief)

  11. Unblockable creature

  12. Looter (Draw, discard/missing)

  13. Big creature can’t attack unless opponent has an Island (Sea Serpent)


  1. Enchant creature (+3/+1)

  2. Mind Rot (discard 2)

  3. Card draw (Alter’s Reap/Sign in Blood)

  4. Enchant creature (-X/-X)

  5. Drain Life (Corrupt)

  6. Discard (Duress or Coercion)

  7. Reanimation (Zombify/missing)

  8. Destroy creature (Murder/Doom Blade)

  9. Removal (Ring Flesh/Last Gasp)

  10. Raise Dead (missing)

  11. Search for any card (Diabolic Tutor/Demonic Tutor)

  12. All creatures get -X/-X (Infest/Shrivel)

  13. Shade (Nightwing Shade/Frozen Shade)


  1. Direct damage (Shock)

  2. Land destruction (Stone Rain/Demolish)

  3. Artifact destruction (Shatter/Smelt)

  4. Combat trick (+2/+0 and first strike)

  5. Act of Treason (Gain control of creature until end of turn.)

  6. Lava Axe (damage to player)

  7. Creatures can’t block (Seismic Stomp)

  8. Loot (Wild Guess)

  9. Medium damage (Searing Spear/missing)

  10. Add red mana to your mana pool. (Seething Song/missing)

  11. Pyroclasm (missing)

  12. Prodigal Pyromaster (missing)

  13. Firebreathing (Dragon Hatchling)


  1. Fetch land (Rampant Growth/Lay of the Land)

  2. Destroy noncreature permanent (Bramblecrush/Acidic Slime)

  3. Combat trick (Giant Growth)

  4. Fight (Prey Upon/Hunt the Weak)

  5. Destroy Artifact or Enchantment (Naturalize)

  6. Destroy flying creature (Plummet)

  7. Enchant land (Mana ramp/Lay the Land)

  8. Fog (Prevent all damage)

  9. Get a card from graveyard (Reclaim/Regrowth/missing)

  10. Overrun (missing)

  11. Mana Elf (Llanowar Elves/Elvish Mystic)

  12. Birchlore Rangers (Search for land/missing)

  13. Reach (Giant Spider)

Staples are important cards that are included in some form in nearly every Magic set. I included all sixty five of these staples because they (or some similar card) is included in nearly every Magic set. However, note that Magic 2014 doesn’t include them all. Sixteen of them are not actually included in Magic 2014. This gives us the message that it’s okay not to include all the staples because some of them are less important than others. (Certain staples are “must haves” that will be included in some form in every set, such as Naturalize and Cancel.)

Note that forty four of these staples were included, so I would encourage anyone who makes a Magic set to use around fifty of these staples in your own Magic set. That will make your job much easier because these cards will require very little creativity. You could go ahead and use several reprints or just think of some generic cards that could fill these slots. Of course, there are several other genetic creatures that each Magic set could also include—things like Wind Drake, Grizzly Bears, Hill Giant, etc. So, the number of cards that actually require a great deal of creativity is probably a lot smaller than you might have thought.


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