Developing and Designing Modern Masters 2015 Edition

Posted in Feature on May 4, 2015

By Ben Hayes

Ben Hayes has been designing games for over a decade and has been part of the Magic R&D development team since 2013. He led the FFL Team for Khans of Tarkir and the development team for Magic Duels: Origins.

Hey there, I'm Ben Hayes, developer in Magic R&D and member of both the Modern Masters 2015 Edition design and development teams. I've been at Wizards of the Coast for just over two years, working on the Modern Event Deck, Fate Reforged, Battle for Zendikar, and Magic Duels Origins; but Modern Masters 2015 Edition was my first opportunity to fill the role of development representative on a design team.

This means that I got to see the set from day one to "pencils down." I worked on the design team to find archetypes and color pairs that would faithfully represent the Modern format while also working well in a Limited environment with plenty of depth and cross-archetype synergy. Then I worked on the development team, tuning and balancing the colors and strategies while providing insight into the reasoning behind the choices design made…because I was there when they happened! The role of a development representative, someone who has the unique opportunity to improve a finished product by making sure that everyone's best work and contributions shows through, is something I am extremely passionate about, so I was naturally excited to get to write an article from that perspective.

Now that you know a bit about me, please allow me to introduce the teams.

Design Team

Erik Lauer (Lead)

Erik is the head developer in Magic R&D. Where the design team has Mark Rosewater, we have Erik Lauer. He oversees the development of each set as well as having led many sets himself, including Innistrad, Return to Ravnica, Theros, Khans of Tarkir, the upcoming Battle for Zendikar, and the original Modern Masters. Because much of the unique challenge associated with the design of a product like Modern Masters 2015 Edition is centered around building a Limited environment that feels right and plays well. Erik is exceptional when it comes to doing those things—it made sense for him to lead this design team.

Ken Nagle

Ken is a senior designer in Magic R&D, most recently leading Return to Ravnica, Born of the Gods, and Fate Reforged. Ken was our design muscle on the team. Because of the natures of the two jobs and all the work associated with them, designers and developers tend to have different ideas and perspectives when it comes to making Magic sets. With myself and Erik coming from the development team, it was crucial to have Ken there with his wealth of design team experience, bringing different perspectives and ideas than what might come more readily to us.

Development Team

Tom LaPille (Lead)

Tom was a senior developer in Magic R&D and has since moved to another game design job with a different company. In his time at Wizards, Tom led the development of many sets including Magic 2012, Dark Ascension, Born of the Gods, Dragons of Tarkir (co-lead), and this set. Tom was also an early pioneer in the advancement of Cube design, which meant he had plenty of experience working on Draft formats outside the norm and was a great fit to lead this team.

Max McCall

Max was a digital game designer in Magic R&D and, like Tom, has also moved on to another game design job. Max was the lead designer of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014, and worked on the development teams for a number of sets including Gatecrash, Magic 2014, and the original Modern Masters. As another member of the team with competitive Magic experience, Max contributed his feedback toward building a fun and balanced Draft environment.

Adam Prosak

Adam is a developer in Magic R&D and former writer of Daily Decks on this website. Adam was the lead designer of Tempest Remastered, and was on the development teams for Vintage Masters, Khans of Tarkir, and this set. Adam joined the team after Max left, to help us close out development, and was a valuable fresh perspective.


One key difference between the original Modern Masters team and our team was that we were not starting from scratch. On Day One, we had the completed Modern Masters set as a blueprint that tons of people had played and given feedback on. We had a lot of data on our hands that helped us figure out what worked from the first time around, and try to deliver on that experience again while also bringing new elements to the table. Another big difference between the two team is what sets they include cards from. Modern Masters used cards from Eighth Edition to Alara Reborn, and we knew we wanted to add more sets to the mix this time. Once we decided to extend the card pool through the Zendikar and Scars of Mirrodin blocks, we knew we wanted to look through those sets for mechanics that the first team didn't have access to.

The white-blue artifacts strategy was a popular archetype from Modern Masters. And with one of the two new blocks added being Scars of Mirrodin, it made sense to revisit this strategy. As it turned out, white-blue ended up being the best place to put this deck again. Where last time this deck tended to be rather aggressive, this time the deck is more measured and plays well at various speeds. With metalcraft giving you a bonuses for controlling multiple artifacts, building a board with things like Equipment and other non-creature artifacts is a viable avenue now. And it wouldn't be the Modern Masters you all expect without a couple of constructed powerhouses to round out the Limited archetype.

Finding the right one

One of the biggest challenges of developing a product like Modern Masters is finding cards that are the correct power level for what you're trying to accomplish. Unlike a regular development team, we weren't able to add a point of toughness or subtract one of power from cards to get things right. If a card wasn't working for us, we could either change the cards around it or find a replacement. In some cases, this led to entire color-pair strategies being replaced because the options available just didn't leave any configurations that would work with the rest of the set. In other, more minor, cases this meant that there were certain cards throughout the development process that we understood were the best option available to make things work; even if they weren't at the rate or design we might go with in a set where we had more control.

Once most elements of the set had been nailed down, I made it my mission to find the cards we weren't totally happy with and suggest replacements.

In modern Limited development, we like to have some rares and uncommons that have strong synergy with what a specific color pair is trying to accomplish. This helps give people more direction during a draft. For instance, the black-green archetype in this set is all about making tokens and sacrificing them for value. For most of development, the rare black card we had in the set for that archetype was this guy:

As it turns out, having your big payoff be killing all of your opponent's creatures for the rest of the game was pretty obnoxious to play against. And honestly, it wasn't even that fun to do more than once. We tried a few alternatives but they all had problems of their own. So we kept coming back to the Plaguelord. During development the black-green deck was one of my favorites to draft, and so I ended up on the right side of quite a few Plaguelords. That made me all the more motivated to find a replacement when I saw the expressions on my opponents' face, match after match; when they had to face down the card. Eventually, thankfully, my search led me to this card:

Endrek Sahr is like the opposite of Phyrexian Plaguelord. Where one is an outlet to use all of the tokens you've produced to break your opponent's stuff, the other is an enabler that ensures you always have enough gas to do your cool things. Cool things like pump this card:

Endrek Sahr makes sure you never run out of tokens for your sacrifice outlets, and your sacrifice outlets make sure you never get too many Thrulls for him to handle. I was overjoyed to finally find the puzzle piece I'd been looking for.

I hope you get a chance to enjoy the set either at your local store or at one of the three Grand Prix being held around the world!

Thanks for reading,

-Ben Hayes

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