How do card game creators keep making such balanced cards?


For card games like Magic The Gathering, etc., how do the creators make new cards that are balanced (in terms of cost, strength, abilities)? Is there a set formula, or is it a long testing/tweaking process before the card gets released?

In: 22

I know for Magic, [a lot of the cards aren’t balanced](, and I’d bet that’s true for all of them.

In magic it’s all about what you get for a specific mana cost.

You start out with a 1/1 for 1 mana and a 3/3 for 3 mana, etc. If you add abilities (say flying) you need to take something away. So now your 3/3 for 3 becomes a 2/2 flying for 3.

Same applies for how many cards you can draw, how strong your kill spells are etc.

Magic does a really really good job balancing cards over decades. Cards that are weaker than average don’t get played in formats where the stronger versions are available. But they can be considered playable when all players receive cards that came out at the same time.

However, every so often they push a card too far, and then it gets banned. Some are banned temporarily, and some only in specific environments.

Yes, a number of cards get banned every year, but we’re talking hundreds of new cards coming out each year. And quite often a card gets banned for a game breaking interaction with another card, rather than being overpowered on its own.

The truth is that, over a long period of time, every one of these card games will experience what is known as “power creep” with new releases. This is essentially where each new set of cards contains one or more cards that are *slightly* more powerful than the previously released ones. At first it’s not a big problem, a slight power advantage can still be overcome with adequate skill and experience. However, over an extended period with many releases, each giving slightly more power than the last, the power advantage will be very significant compared to older sets.

There is an aspect of this that is deliberate, because it is a very easy way to encourage people to purchase newer sets of cards.

There is, however, also an aspect of this that isn’t deliberate. Card makers want to make cool cards. That may mean interesting artwork, or even different and creative abilities for them. Not necessarily more powerful abilities, just new ways to play the game that can encourage a different style of play.

When it comes to these abilities, it is very difficult to make sure they don’t cause a huge upset in the balance of the game. During the creation, they’ll consider scenarios in which the card would be used and determine how effective it is at coming out on top during the scenario. But they can’t think of every conceivable situation, and certainly won’t be able to account for the creativity and ingenuity of the playerbase. To find this out, they will often get feedback from the playerbase, and even have a large number of playtesters simply play a lot of games with the card set in question, to see how often they win or lose, and how often that result was impacted by those cards.

Even after all of this, a card may have an effect not discovered or intended that causes it to become significantly more powerful in that scenario. More often than not, cards that do this simply get banned from being used in more “serious” games such as tournaments, particularly ones with prizes.

A bit of both. They’ve made a lot of cards before, so many new cards can be pretty much what they’ve done before. They also have a long design cycle (around 18 months), so they have time to come up with and balance new ideas. And sometimes unbalanced cards still get through, so they have to use the banhammer.