Design Cheat Sheet #1 – Zones and Parts of the Card

Magic is a complicated game.

I really don’t have to tell you guys that. One of the hardest barrier to entries to this game is overcoming all of the language and all of the rules. But once you get past that, Magic’s still really complicated. With all of the timing issues and layers upon layers, there has to be an intricate judge program to make sure the high levels are adjudicated properly. And that’s not always the case.

So when you’re designing a card for a game that’s so complicated, sometimes you forget what goes where or if it all works. That’s why people playtest their works (I hope you’ve been doing that). Sometimes you need a little help. And that’s what I intend to do.

I’ve designed a cheat sheet (one of many, hopefully), that will help you guide yourself in the process. This isn’t intended to be an end all type of thing, but it’s here to help you when you’re breaking down the parts of the game. Even though the game has a huge amount of rules, luckily they can be dissected down to the common language building blocks to make the game work.

For this first part, I’ve tacked two of the very basic concepts of Magic: zones and parts of the card. Now, this isn’t a replacement for if you have a question about the rules, this is a cheat sheet that will help you make sure you’re on the right track. It covers:

  • The different zones in the game
  • Language used for when cards transfer between zones
  • Parts of the card
  • Card types
  • Card supertypes
  • Card subtypes
  • And notes between the interaction between Zones and parts of the card
  • Examples of what it this looks like on two cards

Like I said, it’s a cheat sheet. It doesn’t explain everything, nor do I believe it doesn’t have to. This was created that the reader has the basic knowledge about the game, but it’s a nice refresher as well.

You’re free to save it to your computer, link back to it, print it out, etc. But please don’t claim it as your own; not that I have any copyright issues with it since I’m using Magic cards, it’s just a jerk thing to do. If you have any questions, ideas, or feedback, please let me know. My contact info is on the page itself.

Click for full size

This represents version 1.1, as suggested by some of the changes by alextfish in the comments below. Added Artifact subtypes and lowercased all of the zones.


5 thoughts on “Design Cheat Sheet #1 – Zones and Parts of the Card”

  1. Who is this intended for? Surely not new players, because it goes into too much detail on templating and not enough on gameplay. Card designers? But surely there are more important lessons in design than the details of “on” vs “in” in templating. Card designers as a templating quick reference? But then why the random details of timing of playing lands?

    And there are a number of inaccuracies:
    * The words “battlefield”, “stack”, “instant”, “permanent” etc are *never* capitalised in card text (unless they’re the first word of a sentence).
    * Why include subtypes Curse and Shrine but not Equipment?
    * The notes imply that the phrase “In the” is used of graveyards and hands, but it never is. “hand” is always preceded by a mention of a player (e.g. “to its owner’s hand”) and “graveyard” is usually preceded by a pronoun or “a” (e.g. Rise from the Grave).
    * Why would you highlight the words “draw” and “discard” as “Zone Transfers”, but not “put… into your hand”?
    * “If no zone is given, it is assumed to be the [b]attlefield” – Only when an object is referred to by a type or subtype (such as “target creature” or “sacrifice a Human”). In phrases such as “discard a creature card”, you don’t need to specify “from your hand” because that’s implicit. This is a common templating error.

    All in all, I don’t quite get what this is for.

    1. Yes, this is intended for card designers. It’s meant to help them help them look over their cards or if they’re coming up with new mechanics and see that they’re getting the wording right for what they intended. I was wondering if it fit right there between the two areas. As for that land note: I’ve seen player designed cards that have to do with casting lands, or if it they design something that works with landfall.
      – I know they aren’t. I was debating if I was going to capitalize them in the wording as well, but was addressing them as proper nouns might be a bad thing.
      – I embarrassingly forgot about equipment, and fortification. Will be changed. (I know, no love for the artifacts)
      – The “In/On” was mostly for targeting and action purposes. I just wanted to match up the proper preposition to it’s zone in the game. “Put the card INto your hand.” “Select a permanent ON the battlefield.”
      – I highlight them because they carry rules text that only apply to transfer of certain zones. “Put into your hand” is easy to know what to do with. “Search your library for a card and put it in your graveyard” is one that’s easy to know what to do with. If “Mill” was templated for putting cards from the top of your library into your graveyard, I’d put that in there as well. I just wanted to highlight that to get in the exile zone a card must be exiled, which is common language.
      – That’s why I had the zone transferring language there. Discarding only applies the transfer from the hand to the graveyard. “Return target creature to its owner’s hand” means from the battlefield, not the graveyard. Again, I’ve seen mistakes like that.

      Thanks for the feedback. I know I was going to miss something and it needs to be changed slightly.

  2. Command is usually public. Only the planar and scheme decks aren’t. But the current plane or ongoing scheme, all emblems, and the commander are public. (Really, don’t those two decks go to their own place?) The hand is also public to the player who owns cards in it. (Another thing you can’t do: Exchange control of cards off the battlefield or stack.) Exile is sometimes on a need-to-know basis. (Necropotence, Intet)

    1. Command Zone is public, yes. I’ll make a change of that in the next draft. But for the exiled zone, it’s public unless otherwise said it’s not, like Necro. The hand is not public because to be public, it’s revealed to everyone, not just one person.

      1. Yeah, now that I think about it, the battlefield’s sometimes private (albiet only with morph cards).

        You might need a list of pairs of common abilities and rank them as synergistic, independent, or antagonistic. For instance:

        Synergistic: Vigilance and evasion abilities (and trample and deathtouch)
        Independent: “Strike” and high toughness
        Antagonistic: Undying and all other +1/+1 counter abilities

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