Tetzimoc, Primal Death; illustrated by Zack Stella

There is a lot we can learn from design by looking at the design of other games. For example, today we’ll be using this article on designing a boss for a video game to design a card. I’ll be adapting the beats from that article to make sense for Magic card design. Your challenge this week is to design a card that fits those beats.


Bosses serve an important role in video games, testing skills, challenging players, and providing excitement. They can serve a similar role in Magic, testing the opponent to see if they built their deck correctly to deal with them and being an exciting focal point of a game. To make sure that these bosses act as actual bosses and not just strong creatures, we’ll be following a series of beats in a classic pattern for bosses.


This phase lets the opponent know just how doomed they are by giving them a sneak peek of the boss.


The simplest option here is an ability which reveals the cad from your hand. This includes directly revealing the card, as well as discarding the card for an effect to let the opponent know that you’re playing with at least one of them, presumably more.

Not only does this help give a feeling of impending doom to the opponent, it also lets players get some use out of their boss even if they never get enough mana to cast it normally, and also adds some extra options to how to play the card.

Status Quo

This phase sets up the typical expectations for the boss.


The boss should be a legitimate threat on its own, either due to its power and toughness or its abilities.


This phase makes things worse for the opponent the longer they wait, and helps make sure that the opponent has to deal with the boss rather than just ignore it.


Anything that accumulates works well here. For example

  • +1/+1 counters
  • Token creatures
  • Cards in hand
  • Charge counters
  • Life gain or loss

This could be direct, or it could be a measure of time which indirectly controls the strength of an ability, like the lore counters on Mind Unbound.


This phase is the height of the story. For Magic, that means that this is either where the boss kills the opponent or the opponent kills the boss. You might want to add something here like the triggered ability of Blood Tyrant that makes the creature larger when a player loses the game, or a death trigger for the creature, but the climax is already part of how the system works so this would mostly just be trinket text.


That’s just one example of how to adapt game design from another game to fit Magic. I’m excited to see how all of you design your boss cards. Then going beyond boss design, what else do you think Magic can learn from other games?

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.