Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Custom Generals: How to make your own

This is, by far, the topic I get the most mail and comments about.  People want their own version for their decks.

I can understand why people love these, I fell hard myself about a year ago.

I'm going to do my best to show you how to make these.  It's intimidating, I know, but bear with me.  I'm going to give you the best start I can, and the rest will be up to you.  It'll take time and practice and some things gone wrong before you start getting your work to where you want it.

Before I get into the details, I have to give thanks to Zeerbe, HolyProxyBatman, Happy Gilmore, and all the rest of the denizens and contributors of the Digital Rendering Thread on MTGSalvation. This is where I learned, I posted cards that in retrospect, need to be redone, and where anyone can ask for specific advice.

I would strongly recommend that you read through that thread.  There's a lot of different art styles, more than the 'super-art' I prefer, and maybe you'll be inspired in your own way.  The thread is also the place to go if you have questions--the people there taught me what I know, and while I'm happy to answer questions as best I can, they have a lot more experience and skill than I do.

Also in the interests of full disclosure: This method will produce cards that are noticeably thicker and stiffer tha normal cards.  These are not tournament legal, and to be honest, fall under the definition of counterfeit cards.  Attempting to buy, sell, or trade these is a crime.

Once you get the hang of this, it's really not hard to do.  I promise. 

For the purposes of this post, I'm going with a reader request.  Simon62 of the MTGSalvation boards contacted me a while ago and asked for help making a custom Doran, the Siege Tower.  He just had a new addition to his family (yay and congrats!) so here's a present from me.

You know your card, but now to find the art.  Maybe you have an image in mind.  Maybe you've used your Photoshop skills to make an image.  But if you need to find an image, I strongly suggest DeviantArt, CGHub, or Shadowness as places to start.  It's true that Google Images can work, but you need to find high-resolution images, and Google isn't always good at that.  My preference is DA, but I've used the others as well.

Pay attention to the color--nothing too dark or too bright!  We can alter the image's properties some, but unless you're good at what you're doing (I'm really not) you can wash out the card and make it look not-as-good-as-it-should.  Avoid watermarked images, and remember that a Magic card is a vertical rectangle, so that's all you will be able to see.  No grand battlescapes!

In many ways, this is the hardest, most time-consuming part.  You'll scroll through a lot of images that aren't what you want, trying lots of keywords, and 

These are images that aren't quite good enough for me, and your impression may be different:

Not menacing enough for me.

Too CGI-looking for my taste.

I love it, but it'll be tough to put into a card frame without ruining the scale.

For this piece, we're going to use "What Is It That Thou Desireth" by Elthenstorm.
I like this piece because it's menacing, fits a card rectangle well, and I think it'll look good with some spill.

To start with, fire up Zeerbe's Modern GIMP template in your program.  (I've got his permission, don't sweat it.)  The Super-Art is what we'll be using, and I also suggest you look through this file. This template allows you to create a digital replica of any style of card, from double-faced to level up to planeswalkers.

The active area is automatically 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches, which happens to be the size of a Magic card.  But it never hurts to make sure!

You're also going to need these fonts installed, and they are all free from a number of websites:

Matrix Bold = Title, Card Type, Artist's Name
MPlantin = Text Box, Copyright Notice, Collection Number
Matrix Bold Smallcaps = P/T Box
MagicSymbols = Mana Symbols

As for the font sizes, I am a little inconsistent on that.  I like to eyeball cards, adjusting the font size until they 'look right'.  It's unscientific, I know.  I also tend to make the ability text small, because I want to focus on the art.

What I do when I open a template is I go through and I make each layer invisible.  This does two things: it tells me what is in each layer, or group of layers, and it gives me a blank slate to work with.

Save a copy of the template as your new card.  In this case, it's Doran, the Siege Tower, so I'm saving it as Doran.  SAVE FREQUENTLY.

Now that everything is blank, I add the image as a layer, and put it on the bottom.  The rest of the image is going to be on top of this layer, even though we're eventually going to make it look otherwise.
Next, I have to stretch the image to fit the frame--this means some things won't be visible, and that's ok--I get to choose what the focus of the card is. I reserve the right to alter the placement or scale later on, and i likely will.

I like to get this step out of the way--now I add the artist's brush, artist's name, and the copyright text.  Easy enough.  I tend to add the name of the website, so in this case, it's "Elthenstorm of DeviantArt".  The "Cliff is Awesome!" text is something I put on there for fun, and also as a custom watermark.
Zeerbe's template thoughtfully has the power and toughness box layers atop the text box layers.  I've gone through and turned on the gold power and toughness box, as well as the title bar and the text box.
With that done, I'm going to add the name of the card as one layer, his creature type as another layer, the power and toughness in a third layer, and make visible the DCI expansion symbol.  Zeerbe has put every symbol in there, along with the rarities, so I could put in something else if I wished.  Because Doran's creature type is so long, I have to shrink the DCI symbol a little and center it.  Again, all by eyeball until it looks right to me.  It's worth mentioning that the text is never centered vertically, it's closer to the bottom than the top.  This is something you might not have noticed until you started making these yourself!

Next, we're adding something that Wizards doesn't do--we're going to put a color gradient on the outline of the text box and the title box.  They sometimes put a slight gradient within the box itself, but we're just hitting the outline.  To make a custom gradient, go to the gradient, and select 'New Gradient'.  You'll set up two segments: Black to Green, Green to White.  Play with the endpoints and center points until it looks right to you.  Then use the magic wand and select first the outline of the title, then hold Shift and select the outline of the text box.  With those two regions selected, make sure you're working on the correct layer (always important), go back to the gradient tool and draw a line horizontally across your image.  Should come out like this:

I'm now adding the ability text.  As I said, I like to make these small, and I'm centering the text, so that I have some words at the same level as the power/toughness box.  This is something real cards never do, but I do it so I can make the text box as small as possible, in order to show off the art.

Now the mana cost.  This is going to be in three layers and the special font of Magic Symbols.  First a text layer of ououo, making three black circles  This is where I want to get the size right, and where I tend to look at a real card for comparison's sake.  Now a layer over that of BWG, which is the mana symbols, in the same font size as the three circles we just made.  Finally, copy the original ououo layer, and this will be our drop shadow on the mana costs--move this layer two pixels to the left and two pixels down.  (With that layer selected, just hit the left arrow twice and the down arrow twice.)

Go back to the original layer, and you're going to bucket fill the three circles with the colors of mana.  One of Zeerbe's layers is a color sampler, or just use these values:
W: fffcd5 = 255/252/213
U: aae0fa = 170/224/250
B: cbc2c0 = 203/194/192
R: f9aa8f = 249/170/143
G: 9bd3ae = 155/211/174

Aside from the spill and resizing the text box, we're done, and it's perfectly valid to leave it this size.

Before this next step is a good place to save a copy of this file.  What we do next is make the art (the bottom layer) invisible and merge the visible layers.  We do this so that we can resize the text box and create a spill of the art onto the title and text boxes.  Make the art visible again.

Now, let's chop out a big section of the text box.  Draw a rectangle selection that goes from under the top of the text box to right above the text we typed.  (zooming in to 200%-400% helps get it precise, and you'd be amazed at how good your eye is at noticing when it's off!)  Delete that selection.

Draw another rectangle around the rest of the type bar, and Cut it.  Then move that drawn box down to the top of the text box, and Paste the selection into that layer.  Move the pasted part until it's just right.  GIMP allows you to anchor the selection, I'm not sure about Photoshop.

That's it for making a 'super-art' card.  The last thing we are going to do is have the art 'spill' over the text box.

Before I spill, I copy the layer with all the text and such and hide it, in case I mess up.  (I do, and did, especially at first)

In the art, I look for cool things I want to have be in front of the text box.  In this case, it's the two top branches and the lantern, but the proportions are a little off.  So I Scale my image a bit, until it fits a card frame better.  Usually, I preserve the aspect ratio, but sometimes I need to adjust only one dimension or the other.

Now that I have the art where I want it, I have simply to cut away the part of the text box that are hiding things.  I like the lasso tool for this--but I've seen this done with foreground selections or the magic wand tool.  Those are a little harder to get the hang of (for me) and if you can master those, party on.  The lasso does something obvious to me--it creates a polygon selection, changing direction each time I click.  GIMP lets me adjust where I put those points, too.

Pro tip: Lower the opacity/transparency of the text layer, so you can see through the text to exactly what is underneath.

I've clicked a bunch of points, and when I connect the dots, it's a selection that I want to delete.  Make sure you've got the right layer selected! (If you hit delete and it seems like nothing happens, you might have selected some other layer to delete from--happens all the time)

For this art, I'm just working on the title bar.  I don't feel like I'm missing much, art-wise, and this is text worth preserving.

One more step, and then we're done with the digital images, I swear.  

Create a new blank layer on top of the text layer, and call this 'Shadows'.  Make a brush that's got a hardness of 30% or so, and a small-to-medium size.  Around the edges of the spill, add a line or two of fuzzy shadow.  It adds a lot of depth, but don't go too overboard.  Make extra passes or make the shadows bigger as you desire--this step is all about preference.  Don't worry too much about the direction of the light or things like that.  Because of the lantern on this guy's branch, I did change the light directions around, but I'm a stickler and not many people will notice or care.  I also tweaked the art's brightness and contrast a touch.

We are done with the digital part!

What do you do now?  I could try to explain it, but it's easier to just show you the videos that showed me how to do it.

First, from HarderTimes about de-inking a foil. (I have had the best results with M10 and the Alara block, but your results may vary)

Next, a more detailed explanation of how to put it together, after you print onto a transparency.

And really, that's it.  You're done.  Enjoy!

The original place I heard about this was a Cube forum, and I've heard of people making an entire EDH deck from these.  A lot of work, but potentially awesome.  Even more work, but even more awesome, would be making your entire cube and lands from this process, several hundred to a thousand cards!  Not impossible, but not easy.

I hope you got a lot from this--I like teaching people new things, so feel free to ask questions or comment.

See you next time!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Generals of Return to Ravnica

I'll be doing a bigger set review soon, but I felt like I could safely lead off with the five guild leaders, all legends, and all worth talking about.

Right off the bat, we have three legends that are the same characters that we saw the last time Magic went to Ravnica.  In case you're unclear, you can play both legends on the table, as long as they have different names.  Planeswalkers are different--only one "Planeswalker - Jace" may be in play at the same time, but the legend rule refers to the card's name, which has to be exactly the same for them both to be put in the graveyard.  It's perfectly fine to have both Isperia, Supreme Judge and Isperia the Inscurable on the table at the same time.

In (almost) alphabetical order...

Isperia, Supreme Judge

This little lady is many things.  For one, she's more powerful than her first version, Isperia the Inscrutable.  Isperia 1 needed to hit a player, and usually twice, before a creature with flying could be tutored up.  In my experience, her 3 power was the big drawback--it wasn't too hard to block.

The new version is 6 power for 6 mana, and flying.  That alone is a good deal.  The kicker, though, is that you attack without fear, because people won't want to attack you back and have you draw cards.

W/U decks can easily fall into a 'control' role, where they can wipe the board and counter problem spells, and playing this legend means that until she's gone, the other players will likely beat on each other.  Be warned that some players will see her as a challenge, and token decks will be happy to let you draw 50 cards at once.  My verdict is to play this in most W/U decks.

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord

This is an intriguing general in so many ways.  He heads up two popular and powerful tribes, he obviously enjoys decks with lots of creatures, and he also packs a sacrifice effect that can do a lot of damage very quickly.  I can see him being a worthy second-in-command to Savra, Queen of the Golgari sacrifice-based decks.  I think Savra would be the general, and Jarad the first tutor target, because of his built-in recursion.
He's undeniably powerful, and just gets better as the game goes on.  Important to note that he can't sacrifice himself, so you can't slap him down then drain the table for some huge amount.
I think Jarad will get a lot of attention as a general, because of his abilities and because he came in a duel deck as a nice foil.

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius

Our second go-round with the Firemind is another doozy.  For EDH purposes, the original is renowned for combo potential, and hated on for that reason.  This version is a bit more difficult to abuse.  It's possible to combine draw and damage effects (Quicksilver Dagger, Thornbite Staff, Ophidian Eye, etc.) but this is a less powerful version of Niv, make no mistake.

I'm not sure if you want to give him double strike, or focus on his pinging ability.  I'm glad they put both colors of mana into his activation cost, as there's ways to lower a colorless cost.  I do wish that his ability said "Draw that many cards" in order to encourage attacking, but I can see that being overwhelming.

I think he'll see some play, but I suspect that people will gravitate more to his original, overpowered version.

Trostani, Selesnya's Voice

G/W decks have a lot of choices for generals.  There's Captain Sisay for the legend decks, Chorus of the Conclave for +1/+1 counters, Gaddock Teeg for messing with everyone else, the new enchantment king, Krond the Dawn-Clad, Saffi for graveyard combo decks, Sigarda for hexproof decks, Tolsimir Wolfsblood for "Here, Voja!" decks, and Rhys the Redeemed, grand poobah of token decks.

This dryad is a worthy addition, and might be better than Rhys for your token decks.  She's not very good for non-token decks, because her ability needs the tokens to be worthwhile.  In a big-mana deck, with Gelatinous Genesis, Wurmcalling, and the new Ooze generator, Trostani threatens to overwhelm the board quickly and gain a lot of life.  This is another legend that I think you'll see a lot of, though it's possible that people will go back to Rhys's mega-populate ability quickly enough.

Rakdos, Lord of Riots

Wow.  Just wow.  This is a ridiculously powerful creature, undercosted no matter the drawback.  A 6/6 flying trampling nightmare.  I think this is powerful enough to see Standard play, but the EDH applications are where this card gets really silly (and might be too good!)

First of all, there's the Kaalia decks.  Kaalia attacks, putting Rakdos in as an attacker for free, and dealing 8 damage.  Now your angels, dragons, and demons play for their colored mana costs!  Avacyn for WWW anyone?

If this guy is your general, then the sky is the limit.  There's a lot of black and red cards that will make each player take damage/lose life, and the combo potential is very, VERY high.  My favorite would be Acidic Soil, play Rakdos, then play Ulamog or Blightsteel for free!

The original Rakdos, the Defiler is a winner in Kaalia decks too, getting around his drawback and leveling someone's board.  I don't think I've seen a deck where the Defiler is the general.  Most B/R decks I've seen have been Lyzolda or Kaervek...but the Lord of Riots is going to be popular. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reaction to Sept. 20 Banned List Announcement

I love that this came out on Sept. 18th, we're all so impatient as Magic players!

September 20 Banned/Restricted List Announcement

Primeval Titan is Banned.
Worldfire is Banned.

Kokusho, the Evening Star is legal in the 99, but not as a General.

Sheldon Menery explains: http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/commander/24889-Commander-Official-Banned-List-And-Format-Philosophy.html

To me, this is vindication three months later.  You'll recall (or click a link) that says I predicted KK's unbanning three months ago, for the previous announcement, and it turns out I was just wrong on timing.  Still feel good about my Kokusho buys!

Worldfire isn't really a surprise.  I hadn't played against it, but I can see it being a very unfulfilling ending to a game.  Suspend tricks likely abounded.

Primeval Titan is banned...and this is not a bad thing.  I said in my M13 set review that Mwonvuli Beast Tracker would more often than not go find Primeval, and the thing is, there's very few instances where finding PT was the wrong play, no matter if it's the Tracker, Fauna Shaman, Green Sun's Zenith, etc.  Every time I did something to find the Titan, I'd get super far ahead on mana and win the game.  His effect was overpowered, unique, and repeatable.  Primeval allows you to find any two land and pop them right into play...and really, that's a backbreakingly good effect.

Here's some things that come close to Primeval's power...but really, they aren't close.
Knight of the Reliquary - Exchange a Forest or Plains for any land, and right into play.
Scapeshift - sac everything you have, but get everything you want.
Weathered Wayfarer - One land at a time into hand, but a powerful and repeatable effect. (Not even half of PT, and this guy is the closest on the list)
Land Tax - Can find three lands at a time for your hand, but only basics.
Sylvan ScryingReap and Sow - The cards that gave TwelvePost its name, this can tutor up the land you want.
Crop Rotation - This costs an extra card, but to get that one land you need, might be worth it.
Expedition Map - Three colorless to find that special land.
Seedguide Ash - Says Forests, not basic, so the dual lands and the shocklands are fair game.
Skyshroud Claim - same, but for only two, yet they aren't tapped!
Boundless Realms - EPIC RAMP but basics only.
Explosive Vegetation - Less epic.

I'm on board with Primeval's banning.  I've lost count of the games where I had a Green Sun's Zenith in my hand, dying to get to seven mana, so I could get PT into play.  For such a utility card, GSZ because terribly focused on one creature.

Surprisingly to me, my Kraj deck and my Yeva deck didn't have a PT in either, so only three come out of my 15 decks.

I'd like to take a moment and address the philosophy of the RC, as described by Sheldon.
The Rules Committee's goal for Commander is for it to be different than other Magic games. Where competitive formats seek to balance the playing field for all styles and strategies, we want to encourage a style of game that is more open and directed towards all players having a good time regardless of who wins. This is summarized as: "Create games that you'd love to remember, not the ones others would like to forget."
This is a great summarization of something you may or may not have experienced.  When you do something different, when you create something impossible in other formats, you have a better experience.  Maybe that experience involves Genesis Wave.  Maybe it involves infinite mana.  Maybe you want to assemble all of the Stations and start making factory noises as you chain the whole table away.  Who knows?

Go build something different, and have a nice day. :D

Friday, September 14, 2012

Always doing work!

I've played lots and lots of EDH games, and there's a certain feeling I get when I have something in play that's tough to deal with.  Maybe it's an Eldrazi, perhaps a Blightsteel Colossus, maybe it's a combination of creatures all protecting each other. (Avacyn/Melira/Sigarda sort of thing)  It's a happy feeling when you have something that's resilient out there, especially because I don't usually play counterspells.  There's only a couple of cards I need to fear.

I started thinking...what mass removal spells always do what you need them to? 

I am not going to talk about counterspells here, you'll learn in your playgroup how many of those you should deal with or expect.  Most blue players are happy to let the board be wiped.

I also am going to avoid targeted spells, as hexproof/shroud is becoming more and more common.

There's not really a shortage of cards that say "Destroy all creatures," and there may or may not be a clause about regenerating tacked on.  I'm skipping those too, because while that's useful, it's not always effective for some reason or another. (Indestructible effects being the main culprit)

Mega-bounce spells, like Evacuation or Devastation Tide are only effective against tokens, but sometimes that's what you need, especially in blue.

Cards like Obliterate or Worldfire are certainly effective, but it's hard to generate a win after one of those resolves without resorting to tricks like Oblivion Ring (to hide something away) or Jhoira, suspending multiple things.

Just like my list of things that protect your general, I'm open to having things suggested to me that need to be added to the list.  I've tried to get them all, but I am fallible!

On to the list!

Bottom of Library (No Defense)

Terminus - The poster child for this list. Counter the spell or flicker your creature until end of turn.
Hallowed Burial - Its older cousin, and costs both less and more.  Tuck some generals!

Mass Exile (No Defense)

Final Judgment - This is a card that doesn't get played enough.  Only Misthollow Griffin laughs at this effect.
False Prophet - In my Cleric deck, this does an amazing amount of work as a 'stay away' card.  I also greatly enjoy making "Don't force me to nuke the world"-style jokes at a table, so feel free to cast this guy with your High Market in play and watch as the creature decks all attack someone else.  Hilarity!

Mass Sacrifice (defended by Sigarda, Host of Herons and Tajuru Preserver)

Living Death - This is removal of the creatures in play, as long as you can handle the graveyard portion.
Living End - You can suspend it, or cast it off of cascade, but it has the same effect as Living Death.
All is Dust - Not too good if someone's got the artifact deck, but this takes care of so many problems.

All creatures get -X/-X until end of turn (No defense)
I'm leaving off Infest and the -2/-2 effects like Massacre Wurm, because inn my experience, the token players are good at getting to 3 toughness.

Mutilate - With enough Swamps, this even takes out a Blightsteel Colossus.
Kagemaro, First to Suffer - This needs cards in hand, but being a creature, you might be able to recur his effect.
Bane of the Living - Requires a lot of mana, but since you control the size, you can craft a game where firing this for the right amount saves some of your creatures.
Ichor Explosion - To play this for enough, you need one huge creature...but one creature wasn't going to save you from the crowd of creatures on the board.
Flowstone Slide - Another expensive effect, but since you can manipulate the X involved, it can save some of your bigger creatures.  Alternatively, use it and then attack, for an Overrun effect.
Havoc Demon - It's a set size, and they might see it coming.  That said, -5/-5 will solve a lot of your problems.

Black Sun's Zenith (defended by Melira, Sylvok Outcast) - It goes back into your deck, and has a permanent effect, even on the things you don't kill.  I've seen this cast for 10 against a Darksteel Colossus, which is a far more amusing solution than just killing it.

Mass Changes (creatures are no longer a problem)

It was pointed out to me that instead of killing creatures, you can just make them more reasonable.  Added to other 'normal' wrath effects,
Humility - Hoo boy.  This card has pages and pages of rulings, plus layer interactions, but yeah, it makes everything just fine.  Doesn't slow a storm of Saprolings, though.
Sudden Spoiling - I've played this in response to someone else's wrath effect, to deal with a player whose board is a problem.  Works like a charm.
Ixidron - This can cause a lot of problems for some decks, but it doesn't affect tokens at all.

If there's other mass removal solutions that don't depend on damage or destruction, let me know!