Bogardan Lancer; illustrated by Jim Murphy

Magic has a lot of keywords, with new ones being added each set. Here’s a list of Magic’s keywords on Wikipedia to show you just how many there are. Unfortunately, due to how sets use keywords, keywords from different sets almost never get to mix together. Your challenge this week is to fix that by taking two existing keywords from different sets, and combining them together on a card.

Mix and Match

Future Sight has a cycle of cards that mixed keywords together from different sets, and which inspired this contest. Some examples of how Magic has handled mixing keywords are

There are two general approaches to combining keywords together. Either combine them to maximize strengths and synergy, or to cover weaknesses and provide options.

Maximize Strengths

Maximizing strengths is the typical way to combine keywords, and is as simple as finding two keywords which work well together. The most helpful way I’ve found to design these cards is to start with a keyword I want to use, and break it down into its component parts, then search for another keyword with overlapping parts. Here's an example.

Endless Exploration

Looking at the two keywords, breaking down explore into basic components gives us

  • Lands
  • Graveyard
  • +1/+1 counters

Doing the same with retrace gives us

  • Casting spells
  • Lands
  • Graveyard

You can see that neither list is exhaustive. I could have gone further, but since I can already see a clear overlap with caring about lands and graveyards I can go ahead and combine the two to make Endless Exploration.

Since it functions from the graveyard, it works well with other exploration cards which can put it into the graveyard for pseudo card draw, and since it helps draw land cards and put other cards into the graveyard it also works well with other retrace cards.

For your own designs, if you want some recommendations cycling and proliferate are two keywords which combine easily with others. One more small note is to avoid mixing different types of counters. For example it can be tempting to combine persist with a mechanic that gives a creature +1/+1 counters, but mixing counter types is something you should avoid in your designs due to the confusion and board complexity it adds to the game.

Minimize Weaknesses

Minimizing weaknesses is a more subtle way to combine keywords, and uses two keywords that make a card useful regardless of the situation. It might be helpful to think of this type of design as an either/or option. Players should always get to use one of the abilities, even if they never get to use both. The most helpful way I’ve found to design these types of cards are to begin with one keyword, and imagine a scenario where that keyword isn’t useful, then find a keyword which would be useful in that situation.

Gruul Companion

Here, bloodthirst is useful when a creature attacks and isn’t blocked, so it would pair well with a mechanic that works when a creature attacks and is blocked. Conveniently, Gruul’s other keyword bloodrush is perfect to help a blocked creature win combat. Combining the two, we get Gruul Companion.

Both of my examples are a little bit unsubtle, but they are effective combinations nonetheless. I am curious though, how subtle do you think is best? The more subtle it is, the cleverer players will feel when they figure it out. Make it too subtle though, and players won’t be able to figure it out at all.

Well, you have the entirety of Magic’s history to work with. I’m expecting great designs for all of you, and I look forward to seeing all the different combinations you can come up with.

A photo of Andrew EvansAndrew Evans

Andrew Evans has been playing Magic since 2000, and designing custom cards since 2007. He's a regular at FNMs, and enjoys dissecting games to figure out how they work.