Elestral is the name of my second Magic: The Gathering custom set project.
Now that Aenyr is practically done, I have started to work on a new plane in the Multiverse where the weather and astronomy are central and intertwined. Nature is omnipotent, and mortal races have no choice but to study it, try to adapt to it or bow before its magnificence. Note that Elestral is not a space fantasy or a cyberpunk set. Rather, it’s a fantasy set that focuses on nature, observation, prophecies, elemental and astral forces, and adaptation to what’s greater than oneself.
This article features an explanation of my design goals for Elestral, previews of three new mechanics that play into the “planning ahead” theme of the set, and my thoughts on how the color pie would be divided among various weather and astronomy tropes. Card examples will be provided throughout the article.
Like I did with Aenyr, this article will be updated as the set progresses to offer a constant and up to date overview of the set and its mechanics.
World building: Weather and astronomy are both phenomena that are greater than mankind. As a species, we have always tried to understand them to predict what the future holds for us. Thus, whether it’s trying to comprehend the celestial and astral world (astronomy) or the actions of the elements in their own world (weather), denizens of Elestral can somehow feel how small they are compared to the immensity of the Multiverse. Natural disasters also occur more frequently on this plane, and despite being predictable, they are inevitable, much like one’s own destiny.
Mechanics: The core mechanical theme of Elestral is “planning ahead.” I hope that the mechanics showcased below will do a good job of creating a limited environment that rewards players for how they set up their plays for future turns. I couldn’t really do “inevitability” as a direct theme, but I think it’s also represented in some of the set’s mechanics. Elestral is also a world torn between celestial and earthly phenomena. Despite being two different things, they are still connected. So, I want to create in this plane a perpetual clash of dualities and a feeling of inter-connectivity between things, as everything is part of the big system that is Nature.
There are three new mechanics in Elestral, and one evergreen mechanic that will be featured more prominently. Each of these mechanics have been chosen and designed with “planning ahead” and inter-connectivity in mind.
Omen [COST] (You may cast this spell from your hand for its omen cost. If you do, exile it when it enters the battlefield and you may cast it from exile. You can’t cast it this turn.)
Omen is a mechanic that goes on permanents, mostly creatures. It embodies everything this set is about: planning ahead, inevitability, apprehending the future, and so on. Mechanically, we could say that it works like Evoke and Rebound had a kid. You can pay a smaller cost to benefit only from the “enter the battlefield” trigger of the permanent you Omen, then it’s exiled until you have enough mana to cast it for its regular mana cost from exile.
You can’t cast an exiled card with Omen the same turn you cast it as an Omen. The card is also revealed to the opponent, which means they are going to anticipate what’s approaching. The next-turn clause is so they have some time to prepare for the second time the permanent shows up, and to avoid double “enters the battlefield” effects in the same turn, which would cause problems at common.
Now, I know evoke had its problems. To begin with, some new players don’t read cards they can’t cast from their hand. Because of that, mechanics that use alternative costs, such as Omen, should usually have higher costs than the card they’re stapled on to avoid this. By putting Omen on top of the card instead of at the bottom of it, I think this fixes part of the problem. It’s also what has been done with Dash for example, which was a very well received mechanic. Another of Evoke’s problems, which is even more apparent with Omen, is that I have to be really careful of the “enters the battlefield” triggers I put on the permanents with Omen to avoid ridiculous 3-for-1 situations on commons. Omen is also a wordy mechanic (four lines) and can only be used on cards with “enters the battlefield” triggers in order to properly work, which adds even more text. However, I believe that the flavor of the mechanic and, more importantly, the gameplay it creates are well worth it.
One last thing about Omen: To avoid confusion about whether a card has been exiled by Omen or by other means, an ‘Omen’ marker will be included in the set, much like the ‘exerted’ and ’embalmed’ markers in Amonkhet. As we’ll see with our next mechanic, cards ending up in exile is a common occurrence.
Omen will appear on permanents of each color, but only on creatures at common.
Alignment – If a permanent you control, a card in your graveyard, and a card you own in exile all share a color, [BONUS EFFECT].
Alignment is an ability word that goes on instants and sorceries. It represents the stars coming in position to bring good fortune to those who can decipher them. On a mechanical level, the “alignment” is the one that ties battlefield – graveyard – exile.
I initially toyed with a version of the mechanic that cared about the color of the spell being cast instead of exile. I added the exile condition because of the amazing interaction it has with Omen and the whole “planning ahead” theme of the set. Working to get a card in exile to activate alignment will require some support in the set, similar to what Delirium required in the Shadows over Innistrad block. However, the fact that Alignment is enabled by Omen reduces the outside amount of support it’s going to need. Of course, this doesn’t mean support from other cards isn’t needed to help make the mechanic work in limited.
It’s important to note that I don’t want Elestral to be an “exile matters” set. Omen will use exile as a temporary holding space, and Alignment will care about having a card of a specific color in exile, but beyond that, nothing else should care about exile in any particular way.
Alignment will appear on instants and sorceries of each color.
Day and night : At the beginning of your end step, if no creatures attacked this turn, it’s night during your next turn. (Night affects all players. If it’s not night, it’s day.)
This mechanic, that goes on creatures, comes with an amazing custom frame made by /u/StanggTwin on Reddit.
I’ve considered many, many options for a day/night mechanic and the trigger above is the best way to make it switch from one state to another I could come up with. As things quiet down (creatures don’t attack), dusk approaches, which means that during the next turn of the player who chooses not to attack, it’s going to be night. This way, each player has some control on whether it’s going to be day or night during their next turn.
This specific trigger occurs during your end step but only if you control a card that cares about day/night. This way, there won’t be any need to track the day and night cycles before a player actually controls any card that mentions them. It’s already a mechanic that has some tracking issues, so I want to keep them at a minimum. I plan on doing a Day/Night reminder token in order to help keeping track of the mechanic. If such a token was to be printed, it would be on a “reminder card” like Amonkhet had, alongside the “Omen” marker.
The “skip an attack” trigger means that when it’s night, players have to want to attack with their creatures so that it becomes day again, creating a desirable back and forth. Otherwise, for as long as the player keeps skipping attacks, it will remain night for that player’s next turns. So, the day side will be more defensive and the night side will be more offensive by nature. It’s a nice way to break board stalls: by waiting a turn, you make sure that, during the upcoming night, your creatures with this mechanic are more aggressive.
Note that day/night is a universal state. So, each player has control on whether it’s day or night during their next turn (by making the choice of attacking or not), but when it’s night, it’s night for everyone and vice versa. Putting aggressive abilities on creatures when it’s night is a good way to ensure that when it’s night, even if both players have day/night creatures, the player whose turn is to attack (who is the player who decided that it’s night) will be able to take advantage of their aggressive creatures. This fits perfectly into the “planning ahead” mechanical theme I want for Elestral: each player has to decide one turn in advance whether it will be night or day during their next turn, and when that player makes that choice, there is a nice “night is coming” feeling that hovers over both players.
Day/night will appear mostly on white, black and red creatures, with some blue or green creatures at higher rarities.
Scry N (To scry N, look at the top N cards of your library, then put any number of them on the bottom of your library and the rest on top in any order.)
The scry mechanic is now evergreen, which means it’s considered a “core” Magic mechanic that can appear in any set. However, as we have previously seen in the Theros block, it can sometimes be featured on a more frequent basis. Small “Scry 1” effects can be stapled on various creatures and spells, creating a nice “predict and rearrange the future” feeling that fits right into my themes.
I also plan on making a draft archetype centered around scry, with some cards that have triggers when you scry or that particularly care about what the top card of your library is.
Scry will appear in all colors but primarily in green, blue and black.
What do we find in Elestral?
- Observers, scholars and “Astromancers”
People have always been fascinated by the stars and the other worlds in the sky that the Old Writings talk about. Astromancers are wizards who draw their power from observing and studying the stars. Some others, mostly elves, think that there is no point in trying to understand the cosmos if the world they live in remains full of mysteries.
- The Sun
The cycle of day and night is one of the most obvious things we can witness that ties astronomy and weather together. On Elestral, both the Sun and the Moon hold magical powers. The Sun, being the closest star to the plane, is the one that most Astromancers draw their power from. Both the sun and its absence from the sky have meanings for the Penumbralis cultists, who worship duality.
- The Moon
Elestral’s Moon is mysterious, and its power poorly understood. It’s not every night that the moon shines in the sky, and its presence is still a mystery for even for the most literate scholars. While some believe that the Moon brings death and madness, some others see in it a manifestation of Nature’s powers.
Elestral is a plane of dualities. Sun and Moon, day and night, summer and winter, the earthly realm and the astral realm, and so on. The number two has a special place in Elestral, much like the number thirteen in Innistrad.
Even though there is a definite and unavoidable cycle of seasons on Elestral, through some magical and unexplained phenomenon, sometimes a seasons lasts far longer than it should. Seasons are kind of a secondary theme in the set but are important nonetheless.
- The Void
The vast infinity of space is called the Void on Elestral. Some planeswalkers believe that the sky of Elestral is in reality a lens through which one can see the Blind Eternities and the entire Multiverse, but those are only stories, legends… in reality, the only known thing about the Void is that it holds unimaginable and unfathomable power.
Far, far away in the immensity of the Void, there are stars. The energy of the stars can reach the earthly realm and crystallize, forming a substance that can be harvested and studied. That substance is called Starflux.
- “Starborn” beings – Spirits
Spirits come from the stars. Nobody truly knows what their purpose is or why they choose to walk on the plane, but they’ve been seen among the denizens of Elestral for centuries. They use celestial gateways and secret passages to join the mortal world.
- “Earthborn” beings – Elementals and other creatures
Unlike Spirits, Elementals are formed of the plane itself. Earth, wind, water and fire: Elementals of Elestral embody the plane’s earthly forces of nature. Those natural energies also causes various living beings to develop incredible abilities to adapt to their surroundings. Those cards will often have the Omen ability, representing the weather of their living environments.
The Djinn study and master the winds. There are four winds known to mankind on Elestral, one for each season, and for each cardinal point. They founded the Zyphar college, which studies the four winds. It is even rumored they have discovered a mysterious fifth wind…
- The five Winds
Djinns and the Zyphar college study the winds, but their significance goes way past that and they represent a very important elemental force in Elestral. The precise role and importance of the winds, especially the fifth one, is yet unknown to outsiders.
Elestral holds its share of mysteries. Some brave adventurers have even discovered some of the Spirits’ secret passages and can use them in order to walk among the stars. Whether it’s on the ground or in the firmament, Scouts will never stop exploring the plane and its secrets. Scouts will be a fully draftable and playable tribe in Elestral.
- The Namzu and the desert
Speaking of scouts, there is a very small group of people who live in the desert and recruit travelers in their militia, called the Sandwatch, in exchange for information, supplies or simply a place to live among them.
- Falling celestial bodies
Spirits can join the mortal world with their gateways, but sometimes stars fall from the sky and cause great worry to the inhabitants of Elestral. Such stars are harvested by greedy miners and scouts that hope to find more and more Starflux.
The stars are an incredible source of power in Elestral, and when they align, they become even more powerful.
I want to make Elestral into a fully playable Magic: The Gathering large (249 cards) set for both limited and constructed purposes. The set is still early in its design, but the mechanics have been playtested a little so far in sealed and draft and they all play pretty well together.
You can join me over at the Custom Magic Discord channel to discuss my cards, submit ideas and find people to playtest with. I also post cards on reddit/r/custommagic on a regular basis to get more specific feedback and constructive criticism.
Let me know what you think of Elestral so far in the comments, the Discord channel or on Reddit via PM (/u/Zervintz)!
Featured image art by Tom Ivaisanen.