Disclaimer: This is all my opinion. I do not think that this is the only way to make cards, this is just a list of some tips that should help you make better cards. If you think that some of the tips here are false, please tell me, I would like to fine-tune this guide as much as possible.
So, I thought that since I see a lot of cards entered into my contests that have some room for improvement, I thought that I should make a tutorial on helping you fine-tune your cards. Lets get started.
So, hypothetically, let's say that someone enters a card into a contest where you have to make a mermaid tribal card. I'm going to show this card that I made and do a step-by-step process on fixing it. (I'm keeping the card at common rarity just because it changes throughout the steps)Section 1: LooksStep 1: Grammar
For the first step, we will fix the grammar on the card. That includes adding capital letters, periods, commas, etc.Step 2: MTG Language
For the second step, we will correct the MTG language of the card.Step 3: Art
For the third step, we will improve the art of the card, giving it art that looks like something that WOTC would use.Section 2: BalanceStep 4: OP Combos
For the first step, you will look for any sort of abilities that combo with themselves to make the card overpowered and remove them.Step 5: Keep removal in mind
You need to make sure you remember that cards can killed with removal. In this example, Lightning Bolt can kill this creature. This may not be a bad thing, but in this example, I don't want the creature to be killed so easily.Step 6: Tweaks
Now, you just make some tweaks to the balance. I'm not sure how this would apply for your card, but just try to imagine it getting played in a regular game of modern, in commander, standard, and try to make sure it can't be broken. It's fine if you can build a deck around it and it's a lot better than normal, but not fine if you can put it in a deck with a few other cards and you just win the game. Also, just look at the card, see if it is really balanced. This should take you a minute or two, since it is very important that you get it right.Section 3: CreativityStep 7: Abilities
Make sure that the abilities are very creative and original. Something that you don't really see every day. In this case, I want the card to represent more aggressive abilities, since you don't see that too much with Merfolk, and will add another ability to keep it balanced.Step 8: Creative Name
This could also go in looks, but I decided to put it in here since the title tends to change as you change the abilities. The title speaks for itself. Just make sure that the title is creative and original.
Some other tips are:
If the card has a lot of empty space, just fill it with flavor text.
Make sure the card isn't too similar to other real cards.
And there you go! I think that this card has a much better chance of winning that merfolk contest, don't you? I hope that this has helped you with your cardsmithing!