Developing Commander 2015

Posted in Feature on November 2, 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, game designer in Magic R&D and lead for the Commander (2015 Edition) development team. I've been at Wizards of the Coast for about two and a half years, working on the development teams for Fate Reforged, Modern Masters 2015 Edition, and Battle for Zendikar, and leading the Magic Duels: Origins team. Even though Magic Duels: Origins was released earlier this year, Commander (2015 Edition) was actually my first time serving as a team lead, so I'm extremely excited to finally be able to share it with you all.

As the lead on the development team for Commander (2015 Edition), it was my responsibility to take the vision handed off to me by the design team and find the most fun and interesting ways to execute on it. Before coming to Wizards of the Coast, I worked as a game designer for many years on a wide variety of digital games, and I've also played Magic since the mid-90s at every level from the kitchen table to the Pro Tour—so working on Magic is a dream come true and a labor of love for me.

And now, please welcome the teams.

Design Team

Dan Emmons (Lead)

Dan left Wizards last year, but while he was leading the design of Commander (2015 Edition) he was one of the core Magic designers. This was also Dan's first lead, and he was wonderful to work with throughout the process. Dan was in charge of the red-white deck.

Ethan Fleischer

Ethan was the winner of The Great Designer Search 2, lead designer of Journey into Nyx, Commander 2014, and the upcoming Oath of the Gatewatch, and he also has an all-white-bordered Dakkon Blackblade deck. Ethan was in charge of the green-blue deck.

Chris Tulach

Chris is an Organized Play program manager for Wizards of the Coast, responsible for creating in-store and convention play programs, such as D&D Encounters and the current D&D Adventurers League system for the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. He was also a developer on Scoundrels of Skullport and has contributed to design and development on several D&D tabletop roleplaying products. Chris was in charge of the white-black deck.

James Hata

James is a designer for Duel Masters, another Wizards trading card game, and was also part of the Commander 2014 design team. Many members of Duel Masters R&D play Commander, and it's always valuable to have new perspective from teams outside Magic R&D. James was in charge of the black-green deck.

Kelly Digges

Kelly has been with Wizards for over a decade and has worn many hats, from editing (both the website and Magic sets), design, and development, all the way over to the creative team, where he now works on the story of Magic. Kelly was also the holdover from the Commander (2015 Edition) design team to the development team, as well as the creative coordinator for Commander (2015 Edition), and was a pleasure to work with in all of those capacities. Kelly was in charge of the blue-red deck during design (which I inherited from him) and the green-blue deck during development.

Development Team

Mark Globus

Mark is a principal game designer in Magic R&D. One of his many roles is to think about the entire suite of Magic products we make—from Intro Packs to the Magic Online Cube—and make sure they're serving the Magic audience as well as possible. He led the development of the original Magic: The Gathering Commander release, and his experience and expertise were invaluable to the team and to me as a first-time lead. Mark was in charge of the black-green deck during development.

Shawn Main

Shawn is a Senior Game Designer in Magic R&D. He has served on many design and development teams, and was the lead designer for Conspiracy and Magic Origins. Shawn was in charge of the red-white deck during development.

James Sooy

James has worked as a designer in the game industry since 2007, with a focus on user-experience, and joined Wizards as a UX designer for Magic Online in 2013. Commander (2015 Edition) was his first time on a game design team in Magic R&D, and he impressed me tremendously with the passion he brought to the development of the black-white deck.

Creating Experiences

With each new set of Commander decks, we are always looking for ways to allow the people who love the format to experience it in new and exciting ways. Last year you got to use a planeswalker as your commander for the first time, and the year before that you saw commanders that could impact the game from the command zone. For Commander (2015 Edition), the design team brings you experience counters.

Each deck's primary commander will use the experience counters mechanic, and each uses it in a unique way. As you can see here, Kalemne is all about heavy-hitters, encouraging you to play a deck with lots of large creatures. Kalemne's reward for each experience counter is +1/+1, which has great synergy with both vigilance and double strike.

When Kalemne was originally handed off from design, she actually awarded you experience counters for playing Giant spells. As we iterated on the decks and cards during the development process, we ended up changing her to have the more open-ended condition you see here, so that players could choose how they wanted to build different varieties of Kalemne decks. However, a Giant-tribal theme is still present in the deck.

Speaking of Giants . . .

Design Vision

On a main Magic set, the creative direction is driven heavily by a dedicated worldbuilding team. But the flavor infused in a Commander set can come from many different places. In this case, the design team created the experience counter commanders with specific planes from Magic's history in mind, and then also created a cycle of cards—one for each deck—that would be mechanically tied to that plane as well. The member of that cycle that appears in Kalemne's deck is none other than her captain.

We really wanted this deck to push the theme of large creatures mattering, and what better way to do that than a Giant that both gets bigger and wipes out all those pesky artifacts and enchantments. Monstrosity is also a great fit for Commander, where players tend to have access to plenty of mana. Bane of Progress from Commander 2013 Edition turned out to be a staple in many green decks, and I wouldn't be surprised if Kalemne's Captain filled a similar role in white decks.

Why does it have to be . . .

In Magic R&D, we have regular reviews of all the products we're working on. One of the purposes of those reviews is to ensure that all the various goals of each product are being given the appropriate amount of attention. One of the many goals of each Commander deck is to deliver a fun and engaging experience out of the box, but also be something that a player can tweak and tune to fit their personal play style. One place we try to give people a clear path for customization is with the new alternate commander.

Snakes! While Kaseto is perfectly fine on its own, essentially acting as an unblockable shade (and there are some other Snakes for you to target in the green-blue deck), if you really want to maximize Kaseto's potential, you'll want to find all the Snakes you can to swap into the deck.

Kaseto was a serious developmental challenge, because I wanted the card to be powerful on its own, work with the theme of the deck out of the box, and also act as a signpost to one possible alternative build.

I hope you all have as much fun playing these decks as I had working on them. I can't wait to see all the ways you come up with to play with the new decks and cards in Commander (2015 Edition).

Thanks for reading!

- Ben Hayes

Oh wait . . . remember what I said about those cards with mechanical ties?



Latest Feature Articles


May 17, 2022

Collecting Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate by, Max McCall

Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate is the crossroads of the Forgotten Realms—a place where you can find all manner of exotic goods, including the fanciest Magic cards. Arriving ...

Learn More


May 17, 2022

Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate Product Overview by, Harless Snyder

Well-met, traveler! After a long day of dungeon delving, you head into the nearest town to get some much-needed rest. Although the day started unseasonably warm, about an hour ago the sk...

Learn More



Feature Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All