The card frame or card face is printed onto the front of a Magic card and gives a structural property to the card. The card face includes the illustration; the card frame is literally everything around the illustration. Several components are capable of expressing story elements.
Tool for design
As of 2019, R&D has come to see card frames as a resource for design. They have a couple important elements to them. First, there's a functional aspect. They can allow you to do things that might not normally fit on a card by using design elements to convey something that would take a lot of words to communicate, or they could serve as a means to track information that might be a memory issue on a normal card. Second, they can convey a lot of flavor to the card, helping sell the theme of the set. Third, they can be splashy, making the cards more appealing for the players. All of this means that frames are an important tool allowing the designers to make cards and mechanics that they couldn't have ever made in the past.
Since its inception, the game had a card frame separated into two halves. The top half was dominated by the artwork of the card while the lower half was dominated by the text box. Other features such as name, cost type, rarity, and power/toughness for creatures were printed directly onto the frame, which at times, especially in earlier editions, made it hard to read. Though some changes were made over the years, such as color-coding the expansion symbol to reflect the card's rarity or the introduction of a collector's number (both changes introduced with Exodus), the frame stayed unchanged for a long time.
The Magic brand team was considering a change to the card face as early as 2000.
With Eighth Edition a new card frame was introduced in which the name and cost, types, and expansion symbol, as well as the power/toughness, were given their own boxes to elevate them from the card frame and enhance readability. Card names were printed in a more modern font (Matrix Bold, rather than Goudy Medieval). However, critics noted that some individuality of colors was lost with the card frame, e.g. the textbox of black cards no longer looking like old parchment.
An early problem with the modern frame was that frames of white and artifact cards were hard to tell apart with a quick glance, which leads to the darkening of the frame of artifact cards with Fifth Dawn. Another problem with artifacts was that the symbols for colored mana on artifact cards were gray in the textbox of artifact cards. This was corrected with Ravnica: City of Guilds.
With the exception of Timeshifted cards in Time Spiral, two cards from Unhinged, and some rare promotional cards, the old frame was not reused and older cards that were reissued as reprints in new products or in promotional settings were changed into the new card frame. However, the new Mystery Booster product featured reprints of the card as old as Mirage, in the same frames those cards were originally printed. These are "straight pick-ups", meaning that Wizards of the Coast literally used the original card file to print them. That is a different thing than printing a new card, with updated rules text, which is how they normally reprint cards.
With Magic 2015, another update was made to the card frame. This concerned the introduction of a special Magic font (Beleren), a holofoil stamp, revamped collector info and a decreased border size. The main reason for the change was the facilitation of digitized printing, so that the machine could read the card number and rarity.
The casual format Frontier exists based around this card border, similar to that of Modern and 8th edition.
The name of a card is positioned in the title bar at the top left corner of the card and is the primary method of identification. Each English card name is unique, though some other languages have used the same name for multiple cards. Also, translated cards with super-long names have been typeset using a different font — either the normal font compressed, or an actual smaller point size. Because of language issues, Creative tries not to change the gender when reprinting a card with new art.
The casting cost is in the top right corner of the card and specifies how much and what type of mana needs to be spent to play the card. The types of colored symbols in the cost decide the color of the card.
To the left of the center box of the card is the card type, possibly preceded by a supertype and/or followed by one or more subtypes. This builds the type line. The type specifies when and how a card can be played. The supertype gives additional game rules while the subtype is just a method of categorization with no rules specific to them, though other cards may refer to subtypes or are dependent on subtypes.
To the right of the Type is the expansion symbol, unique to each set, and shows which set that card belongs to. Early core sets used no expansion symbol. Since Exodus this symbol is color-coded to represent what rarity the card is; black for common cards, silver for uncommon cards and gold for rare cards. Shards of Alara introduced the fourth rarity, mythic rare in orange.
Some cards printed from Innistrad forward are printed with a color indicator, which is a small circle inlaid into the frame directly before the type line. This is meant to identify the color of cards that have no printed casting cost. Color indicators have been retroactively added on the Oracle database to past cards without mana costs or mana costs of 0, such as Evermind, Restore Balance, Kobolds of Kher Keep or Intervention Pact, as well as cards previously printed with rules text identifying their color such as Transguild Courier. The Amonkhet Invocations reprints of Slaughter Pact and Pact of Negation use mana symbols in place of a colored circle as a color indicator, as their frames are largely monochrome.
The text box dominates the lower half of the card and contains all relevant rules text as well as all possible flavor text. Flavor text is always the bottom-most and italicized in the text box and has no functionality on the card outside of Unglued and Unhinged. Some sets and blocks such as Ravnica block and Scars of Mirrodin, as well as promotional cards, utilize watermarks and background textures to further distinguish the cards or enhance the flavor of the card or set.
Power/toughness or loyalty
If the card is a creature card the power/toughness of the card is printed on the right side below the text box. It specifies how much damage a creature deals in combat and how much damage is needed to destroy that creature respectively. If the card is a planeswalker card instead a different box denotes the number of loyalty counters the planeswalker enters play with.
Information below the text box
On the left side below the Text box (in some editions centralized below the text box) there is the credit for the illustration of the card. Below this is the copyright information for the card as well as a collector's number.
From Magic 2015 on, series of letters and numbers in the lower left of the card will indicate the card's collector number (e.g. 122/269), rarity (e.g. R), set (e.g. M15), and language (e.g. EN). Between the set and the language is a little dot or a star on premium cards. Promotional cards feature a P. The black background for this updated collector's information makes it machine-readable by recognition software at the production plants. It will help eliminate the rare packaging error.
Background and box borders
The background of each card is dependent on the casting cost and type of card. White, blue, black, red, and green have backgrounds in these respective colors. A golden background represents multicolored cards. Lands and artifacts, usually colorless, have their own background. Starting with 8th Edition, the borders between the boxes are also in a color akin to the casting cost of the card. If the card is multicolored between two colors, the borders in between boxes will blend from one color into the other. However, the background of the card is golden. If the card is of three or more colors the box borders are gold as well. An exception to this is hybrid cards, the background, like the borders of the boxes, fade from one color into the other. It should also be noted that the main card frame was radically changed in 8th Edition, such as the text box becoming wider to align with picture box, mana symbols getting slightly redesigned, and artist and copyright information format being changed. All those traits might be useful in recognizing cards from earlier expansions. Of all the magic cards, non-basic lands will probably have the most widely varied card frames through the years - from striped textbox in Limited edition to differently colored text boxes in early expansions (like brown in Antiquities and snow-like in Ice Age) to color-blended textboxes and borders reflecting the color of mana said land could produce in later editions. In cases when that mana is colorless, the textbox is grey, and when more than 2 colors of mana can be made (e.g. any of the 5), then it is golden. Also, other special frames have been introduced: colorless non-artifact spells and creatures have semi-transparent white frame showing artwork. Colored artifacts appear in frames that have elements of both artifact cards and colored cards. Multicolored artifacts have gold box borders and artifact background.
The borders of a card denote legality to play. All cards prior Aether Revolt have borders in one of four different colors: black, white, silver, or gold. With Magic 2015 going forward, the width of the border was reduced by almost a millimeter all the way around. Originally only black and white bordered were tournament legal. In April 2017 this was changed to “non-silver” due to the introduction of non-regular border cards. Unstable has a small "border-matters" theme.
Black borders were originally restricted to cards that were released for the first time, i.e. cards from the Limited Edition and expert-level expansions. Later, the decision was made to use them also for Core Sets from Tenth Edition onward.
White borders were used for cards in Core Sets between Unlimited and Ninth Edition. This denoted that they were reprint sets. An early advertisement in The Duelist #1 stated that Revised cards would be gray-bordered, but they ultimately became white-bordered like the Unlimited Edition.
In 2002, some card vendors inaccurately claimed that white-bordered versions of regular black-bordered cards were sold as exclusives. It turned out it was possible to “erase” the border off of a card using transparent tape and a good eraser.
It is highly unlikely that white borders will return. They tend to wash out the art and make the cards less aesthetically pleasing.
The extended-art frame extends the art on a card all the way to the edge of the card on the left and right side. This was the treatment that was used on the box toppers for Ultimate Masters. Starting with Throne of Eldraine, some rares and mythic rares in collector boosters have this extended-art frame, as well. The art on the extended-art frames is the same as on the normal versions of the cards, just with a different aspect ratio. The rules text is identical. Extended-art cards fall under the "non-silver" rule and thus are legal for tournament play.
Borderless cards were seen in selected reprinted cards (including basic land) from Unstable onwards. This treatment was also used the three Mythic Editions of the Guilds of Ravnica block. They feature "extended-art" that extends through the full edge of the cards (including the top). Borderless cards fall under the "non-silver" rule and thus are legal for tournament play.
The Contraptions and some tokens in Unstable were borderless. Starting with Throne of Eldraine, collector booster packs include borderless planeswalkers. The main set will still have the normal planeswalkers. Note, that while the rules text is identical, the borderless planeswalkers have alternate art.
The Un-sets (Unglued, Unhinged, and Unstable) are self-parody sets. They are silver-bordered to denote they are not tournament-legal. Most of them feature mechanics that would be impossible/very difficult to print in a normal expansion. Silver border is also used for certain promos like the Holiday cards and the HASCON promos.
Gold borders are used for commemorative sets. The World Championship Decks, for example, are specially packaged versions of four of the top-ranked decks used during the Magic World Championships. Although the borders are “non-silver”, none of the cards of commemorative sets are legal. This is not because of the gold border, but because they have a “non-standard Magic card back”.
Magic 2015 introduced a small, silver, oval-shaped holofoil sticker in the bottom center of all rares, mythic rares, and promotional cards, regardless of their original rarity. This was done to make those cards feel more special, as well as to guarantee authenticity. As such, it makes counterfeiting more difficult. Normal commons, uncommon cards, and basic lands do not feature this security stamp, except for basic lands from Unstable. Cards from the Amonkhet Invocations set have a gold holofoil stamp, and cards from the Signature Spellbook: Jace set have circle-shaped holofoil stamps.
Special card frames for mechanics
While the text boxes of normal cards have an opaque white background, the text box of planeswalkers are translucent and show additional parts of the artwork. Often the artwork also protrudes outside the borders of the Illustration box and into the box for the name and casting cost. Additionally, small shield-icons on the left side of the text box represent the change in loyalty to activate one of the planeswalker's abilities.
Colorless cards which aren't artifacts or creatures feature a transparent frame, allowing the art to run all the way to the border. The primary cards to feature this frame are Eldrazi and spells related to them. Ghostfire and few non-Eldrazi creatures also feature this frame. Karn and Ugin planeswalkers feature colorless planeswalker frames.
Eldrazi-related cards that are devoid have an additional molding at the top, similar to the carvings on the hedrons. The color from the mana cost fades away downwards. This coloration is intended to aid deckbuilding and gameplay.
Cards with the Miracle mechanic have a standard card frame with some slight alterations. They have radiant spokes on the texture of the frame on the side of the artwork and on top of the name and cost box. Additionally, the name box has an arrow-like outcropping pointing up.
Split cards from Dragon's Maze feature some special design elements in regard to the fuse mechanic. Split cards with Fuse have arrows protruding from the name and type boxes of each half pointing at the other. Additionally, they have one small textbox for the Fuse mechanic including its reminder text at the bottom spanning both halves.
Split cards from Amonkhet feature look quite different to display the aftermath mechanic. The half you can cast from your hand is oriented the same as other cards you'd cast from your hand, while the half you can cast from your graveyard is a traditional split card half.
Kamigawa block introduced so-called flip cards, e.g. Nezumi Graverobber. These cards have an illustration in the middle and a structure consisting of a name/cost box, a text box and a type-box with a box for power/toughness on the right side on either side. Both boxes are oriented inward on the card so the bottom box is upside down. Below the bottom of the box is the artist credit, copyright information and collector's number as well as the expansion symbol.
Rise of the Eldrazi introduced the level up mechanic which makes use of a special card face. It is nearly identical to the regular card face, except the textbox is split horizontally into three sections. The topmost section has a regular white background, with the other two an increasingly darker shade of the color of the card. Each of the sections also has a power/toughness box on the right and an arrow-like symbol on the left with the level description in black font inside it.
Double-faced and meld cards
The front of the card is almost identical to a regular card frame, except it features a sun symbol on the top left corner next to the name, and it has the power and toughness of the other card face on the bottom left of the text box above the regular power/toughness box and small notch of the card border next to it. Instead of the sun symbol other symbols like the dawn symbol from Magic Origins and the full moon symbol from Eldritch Moon can be used.
The "back" of the card has a card face similar to the ones of planeshifted cards. The name, type and power/toughness box are all the same color as the border frame, and the text in them is white rather than the regular black. The textbox has a darker shade of background, but no special texture. Additionally, there is a moon symbol next to the name box and the type box has a color indicator. Instead of the moon symbol, other symbols like the planeswalker symbol from Magic Origins and the Emrakul symbol from Eldritch Moon can be used.
Enchantment creatures and enchantment artifacts
Enchantment creatures and enchantment artifacts in the Theros block all have a card frame that shows the starfield of Nyx. The Nyx frame doesn't have any rules associated with it. It's just a reminder that these creatures and artifacts are also enchantments. Other enchantments in Theros use the regular card frame.
Vehicle cards have a bronze and grey blocked pattern.
Host and augment
Host creatures from Unstable have a card name in two parts divided by a fissure, a metal bar running vertically through their art and a text box split into two unequal parts. Creatures with augment can be added to the right part of the host creature (hiding the left part). They, therefore, have a layout without a border on their right. Instead, a vertical metal bar finishes off the art, much like the one that runs through the middle of the host creatures. Creatures with augment lack a mana cost and use a color indicator.
Token and emblems
While not actually functional cards, token and emblem cards have been inserted in boosters and given out as rewards or promotions. These cards usually have a different box for the name centralized on the top, no mana cost and only a smaller text box denoting abilities if the creature has an ability at all. Older token cards had flavor text in text boxes but newer token cards feature no text box at all if the creature token has no abilities, allowing for a larger illustration.
Special card frames for aesthetics
Basic lands from specific sets
The basic lands of the Un-sets (the only tournament-legal cards from those sets) and Zendikar/Battle for Zendikar blocks feature different frames, shuffling parts of the cards around and eliminating the text box for a larger illustration. In Amonkhet, 25% of all the printed basic lands use this frame.
Masterpieces come with a special card frame unique to their respective home plane.
The Showcase frame was introduced in Throne of Eldraine. Showcase is not one treatment but a catch-all term to cover a variety of different treatments that embody the spirit of the relevant sets. On showcase cards, the art and frame will play into the set's theme. Each set will have its own unique showcase cards. Which cards get the treatment (and usually, it will just be cards from that set), and at what rarity, will vary from set to set. Showcase cards replace cards of the same rarity as the non-showcase card in packs. The showcase cards don’t require a mechanic with a new frame. That just happened to be the case for Throne of Eldraine.
The timeshifted cards in Planar Chaos (e.g. Damnation), also known as planeshifted cards, use the same card frame as regular cards but with slight alterations. For planeshifted cards, the type line box and the name/cost box is colored in a hue according to the casting cost and the text in those boxes are white instead of the usual black. Power/toughness, if present, is also printed in white font. Additionally, the background of planeshifted cards is different from regular cards of the same color, and the textbox has a special texture as a background unique to the color.
The timeshifted cards in Future Sight such as Tarmogoyf are significantly different. The artwork is now in a circular frame rather than the usual rectangular. The frame extends behind the name on the top and below the type line box and behind the text box, all of which are now translucent. Starting below the name box on the left side the artwork has a row of semi-circular pockets, six of which are next to the artwork. The casting cost in altered mana symbols is placed inside these pockets. The top left corner of the card has a symbol inside a circle representing the type of the card. The expansion symbol on these cards is housed in a small circle next to the type line box. Additionally the text box on these cards is not rectangular but bends outward on either side and the information below the text box is right-justified.
There is also a cycle of vanilla creatures in Future Sight utilizing the frame which have no text box at all in exchange for a larger illustration spanning the entire card. These cards are Blade of the Sixth Pride, Blind Phantasm, Mass of Ghouls, Fomori Nomad, and Nessian Courser.
Many silver-bordered cards break norms for card frames and artwork that warps the organization of the parts of the card. Examples of this would be Topsy Turvy, Curse of the Fire Penguin, Burning Cinder Fury of Crimson Chaos Fire, B.F.M. (Big Furry Monster) and Greater Morphling. Additionally, the artwork of many un-cards protrudes outside the frame for illustrations.
Since 2005, the Magic Player Rewards program has given out special textless cards which feature no type line, expansion symbol or text box but only a larger illustration in an oval frame. So far only instant and sorcery cards have been given out featuring this frame.
Another rewards program gives out full-art cards that have their card text printed upon a larger, alternate illustration which extends from below the name/cost box to the bottom of the card, occupying the same space as the illustration, type line box and text box of normal cards.
FNM cards (dark frame)
Starting with Dominaria, FNM promos featured a dark text box with a planeswalker symbol watermark. The collector number lines up with its place in the main set, where it's also being printed. After the introduction of the Universal promo pack, the FNM frame was rebranded as the "dark frame".
Special card frames for alternate game formats
Wizards of the Coast have printed a number of cards for specific alternate game formats that do not work like regular Magic cards and for that reason have a vastly different card frame as well as different card backs.
In the Vanguard format, a player plays with an additional card which represents a character from the Magic storyline meant to represent an ally in the battle against the opponent (who also has an ally). These cards are called vanguard cards though they bear the printed type “Character” (not a regular card type). They are also larger than regular Magic cards. On the top is a golden name box with the name centered, followed by artwork representing the character. Below that is a smaller golden Type box with the word “Character”, also centered. Below that is the text box with the ability of the character. The text box bends inward below that ability to give way for two circles inside ovals on either side. The left circle gives the starting and maximum hand size throughout the Vanguard game when playing with that character. The right circle gives the starting life total when playing with that character. Both values are given as a difference from the regular values, 7 and 20 respectively. In between these is the flavor text. The information below the text box is inside a golden ornamental box with a purple circle at the bottom and the text is centered.
Planes and Phenomena
Planes are used in the Planechase format and represent a place in the Multiverse. They are twice the size of a regular Magic card and horizontally oriented. Almost all structural parts of the card face are translucent for the artwork. On top of the card is the name box. On the bottom is a text box that is separated into two halves vertically. On the top is the regular card ability. On the bottom is the chaos ability preceded by a large chaos symbol. The background of the chaos ability is also a slightly darker shade than the regular ability. On top of the text box is a type-line box with the type-line centered and the expansion symbol on the right. The information below the text box is centered. The boxes are all bordered with ornamental copper lines that decorate the rest of the card as well.
Scheme is a card type introduced in Archenemy, representing a large effect that may be a one-time effect or ongoing. Scheme cards are oversized full art cards but overlayed with a rectangular gold and bronze ornament, separating the card in four sections. The topmost has the card name, below it is the actual art frame which is considerably taller than on regular cards, below it is the type box with the textbox underneath. All boxes except the art frame have a translucent white background and black font. Additionally, the art outside the frame appears to be darker than inside the art frame.
Further, the card is decorated with spike-ornaments in the four corners as well as to the left and right of the type box. There is no rarity of Scheme cards so the rarity symbol appears to be black on all of them. The information below the card frame is center-justified. The card back is unique too, featuring the Magic: The Gathering logo and the word "Archenemy" as well as the spike-ornaments also present on the front, connected by a large silver frame.
Conspiracies and draft ability cards
Card frame gallery
Default card frames
Card frames for mechanics
Double-faced card with sun symbol
Double-faced card with dawn symbol
Meld card with full moon symbol
Double-faced card with land symbol
Split card with Fuse
Split card with Aftermath
Card frames for aesthetics
Card frames from silver-bordered set
Card frames for alternate game formats
Scheme from Archenemy: Nicol Bolas
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