Four suit icons (sun, crown, fleur-de-lys, and moon) over a colorful background with a geometric pattern.

It was probably a decade ago that I discovered the piecepack. Invented by James Kyle in 2001, the piecepack is a public-domain game system, a standard set of components designed to be combined and used in an infinite array of potential games, much like a standard deck of cards. It’s not a game itself, the same way that a deck of cards isn’t a game. It’s just a set of pieces—you supply the rules for the games you want to play.

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I’ve always been a customizer. As a kid, I actively searched for video games that had level editors, because I was so enamored with the idea of making a game myself. Sometime in college, I discovered Magic Set Editor, and very quickly set to making my own Magic: the Gathering cards for fun.

It’s been a long time now since I’ve played a game of Magic, and probably even longer since I tried to seriously design a card, but the design of Magic is still something I find fiercely interesting. I read Head Designer Mark Rosewater’s weekly columns about design, and subscribe to the /r/custommagic subreddit, where I see a dozen amateur designs a day.

After browsing /r/custommagic for so long, I’ve noticed some trends among newbie designers. Just like everyone falls a couple times as they’re learning to ride a bike, damn near everyone makes these mistakes when they first start designing their own Magic cards. There’s no shame in it, but if you’re actually interested in learning to be a better designer, it’s important to understand what these mistakes are, why they’re mistakes, and how you can avoid them.

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