Social Play Opportunities in D&D and Magic: The Gathering

Posted in Feature on June 17, 2022

By Wizards of the Coast

We're back, following our third and final Office Hours for the Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate set. We recently welcomed our final set of guests, Game Designer Ellie Rice, Senior Communications Manager Greg Tito, and Community Lead Brandy Camel to talk all things D&D, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate, and social play. If you consider yourself a D&D fan and are curious what Magic and this set have to offer (or vice versa!), but missed the conversation, you're in the right place. We've got the recap below:

Brandy: Welcome, everyone, to our very first Office Hours Q&A! I'm joined today by a whole lot of very cool people—but the first person I want to toss it over to is @Wotc_Athena to introduce what Office Hours is and to help us kick off our first questions!

Athena (WoTC Moderator): Thank you for the kind introduction, Brandy! Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining us. I am one of the Community Managers for Magic: The Gathering and will be moderating this very exciting panel. We are joined today by Greg Tito, Brandy Camel, and Ellie Rice—welcome, and thank you for being here!

  • Ellie: Hi, everyone! My name is Ellie, and I am a game designer for Magic: The Gathering on the Casual Play Design team! I am also a member of the Commander Advisory Group (which some of you have asked about) and a former content creator. I just started playing D&D a couple months ago, too, so I am excited to be here.
  • Greg: Hi, all! I'm Greg Tito, senior communications manager for D&D, co-host of Dragon Talk, the official D&D podcast with Shelly Mazzanoble, and I've been playing Magic since 1994. This is going to be fun connecting D&D and Magic fans!
  • Brandy: I think most of everyone here knows me already, but for posterity's sake—I'm Brandy Camel, the community lead for Dungeons & Dragons! One of my main tasks is overseeing this server, but I do a lot of other cool behind-the-scenes stuff for the community like writing articles, working with our social media team, and creating cool content around upcoming releases with our partners. I've been playing D&D since I could read and Magic: The Gathering since Revised Edition.

Athena: Alright. To kick us off, what is Magic: The Gathering?

  • Ellie: Big question! To put it simply, it's a strategy card game that started way back in the dinosaur age of the '90s and has thousands of unique cards. Players get these cards, build decks, and compete against their friends. As the game has developed, there have been a variety of different ways to play, from very competitive two-player formats to more social group games. If you want to learn a little more on how to play Magic, you can check out this [video]:

Athena: Thank you! This weekend, we are releasing our newest Magic: The Gathering set, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate. How does this relate to D&D?

  • Brandy: So, the cool thing about Magic sets is that they typically take place on a specific plane of existence. And what's cool about this set for D&D players is that it's the second D&D crossover set and takes place in Faerun! Battle for Baldur's Gate has its events and inspirations drawn from the city of Baldur's Gate, which most Forgotten Realms adventurers are very well acquainted with! The different cards you'll find will reference people, monsters, magic items, spells, and all kinds of other things from the Baldur's Gate video games as well as many of the adventures that have taken place in Faerun, like Descent into Avernus.

Athena: D&D and Magic at face value seem like really different games. What's the social play crossover?

  • Greg: All tabletop gaming is social almost by definition. You have to communicate with the people you're playing ANY game with in some form or another, but most of us build strong friendships around a gaming table. Magic does that in a more competitive way similar to games such as chess or bridge have for centuries. D&D does it in a more cooperative way, which is what sets it apart, but they both share that connection of people gathering together as friends. Those same groups of friends can play board games one night, D&D the next, and maybe Commander the following week, depending on the mood and what's of interest to the group! I think that's what connects all tabletop gaming together into "social play."
  • Ellie: Exactly! While tournaments and competitive settings have been a hallmark of MTG for a long time, it's actually casual players who make up the majority of our audience. Just like D&D, most of our players are just friends who get together at their kitchen table and just have fun.
  • Brandy: I played pretty casually just last weekend with the Prerelease, actually! We picked up our Prerelease Packs and headed home with a friend and did some Sealed together as a group. It wasn't the "intended, structured" way to play a Prerelease, but we really just couldn't wait to dig into the cards and start getting to know them before we begin our major deck building. It was a great night with friends!

Athena: The upcoming set is named Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate, which begs the question—what is "Commander"?

  • Ellie: Commander is one of the most popular ways to play Magic. It usually involves at least four people who have built a deck around a legendary creature—think like choosing your character for a D&D game—that is their "commander" and battle in a turn-based, free-for-all showdown. Every game is different, and a lot of the times the goals shift depending on the players. Sometimes it's an all-out brawl, sometimes it's more a cooperative experience where players are getting to show off something cool their deck can do!

    One of my favorite ways to play is a variation of commander called Sheriff, where each player secretly gets a role. One player is the sheriff, and that's the only role that's known to everyone. Another is the deputy, whose job is to secretly help and protect the sheriff. Then you have some number of outlaws, whose goal is to take out the sheriff, and finally the renegade whose job is to be the last one standing. Its super fun and one of the many different ways to enjoy commander!
  • Brandy: I've never heard of this variation, and now I'm super interested in trying it!

Athena: What are some other Magic formats that might appeal to D&D players?

  • Greg: I think Commander is a great example of the type of play that D&D fans would appreciate. Competitive Commander players are certainly out there, but its draw seems to be more about players who want to experience a "session" of play together with four or more friends, just like in D&D. Strongly identifying with a particular character is also very familiar, so the commander aspect fits in perfectly. Other than Commander, I think Constructed formats in general can be played with a mind toward themes such as dastardly Rogues, or a blue Wizard counter spelling and stopping time. I've had a lot of fun imagining the type of character that would wield the spells in a particular deck. Plus, the amazing art on Magic cards are enough to inspire many a D&D player starting up whole campaigns!

Athena: Why do you like both games?

  • Ellie: I just started playing D&D a couple months ago with some coworkers. The things that I've enjoyed the most so far is that players can really express themselves through the characters they make and the way they participate in the story. To me, Magic is very similar in that the decks I build and play are a way of me saying this is what I enjoy, this is the kind of fun I like to have, and these are the stories I want to tell. This is especially true for Commander, since I am focused on the experience of the game itself and if everyone is having a fun time rather than who ultimately wins.
  • Greg: I like both games because they scratch different itches. I am a strategy gamer at heart—I grew up playing games like Civilization (way too many hours sunk into that whole franchise), Axis & Allies (same), and chess. And while I love the fantasy roleplaying of D&D, I also love delving deep into a strategic system to create fun moves, counter my opponents, and summon big creatures like I can in Magic. And to be honest, I've actually been playing Magic longer than I have D&D—I remember cracking that first beige starter set back in 1994. I fondly remember listening to Green Day's first album while learning to play Magic with my best friend, so it will always have a place in my heart.
  • Brandy: They each offer me a different satisfying form of play. For D&D, I really enjoy the concept of cooperative storytelling and weaving this tale I get to share with my friends. I especially like making "weird" or atypical characters that don't seem to work on the surface but really come to life over a few sessions. Magic is a bit more competitive in nature, but I view deck building very similarly to character building. I like making atypical decks, especially if they have a funny (or punny) theme. When they actually work, it's all the more satisfying, but I also recognize I'm probably not winning any competitive tournaments anytime soon! That's okay by me; I still love getting to tell the tale of my Faerie-themed deck that cast Fireball that one time. The short answer is I can create very memorable moments in both games, and I think that along with my general love of fantasy attracts me to both!

Athena: What are some of your favorite ways or techniques to use Magic cards in your D&D games?

  • Ellie: I wouldn't say I have ever used specific cards in D&D games, but I am currently in a campaign set on Ravnica, one of the many planes in the Magic Multiverse, and all of us use our knowledge of archetypes and strategies within the game to influence our characters and the actions they take within the game. We have also used some known legendary creatures from Magic cards as characters we interact with during our sessions. We just finished our quest to capture the Shattergang Brothers, in fact, and are on our way to solving a bigger mystery.

  • Brandy: I can't say that I've used Magic specifically in D&D before, but now that the crossover is so much more direct, it's got me thinking on how I can use them as visual aids or as inspiration as a writer/designer. Often, in D&D, you're really seeing the world through the words of one another and your own imaginations. But there's just so much great art in Magic that it's a great way to "look, this is what this looks like." There's also super-cool creature types and monsters that exist within the context of Magic, but not D&D, and I like designing new creatures for my parties to encounter or fight. I've thought about building a "deck" of creatures to run my team through a Magic-themed gauntlet. That could be really fun!
  • Greg: I've never done it myself, but I've heard of people using Magic cards as a random element in D&D games. Instead of a sorcerer rolling on the Wild Magic table, for example, you could have them draw a Magic card and interpret what it says to D&D terms. It helps if you do that game design work ahead of time, but it can also be fun to improvise in the moment based on the art, the flavor text, and the mechanics. And with the AFR [Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms] and CLB [Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate] cards available now, you could easily create a deck of cards of only spells that are actually in the Player's Handbook! Ooh, how about a random encounter deck comprised of the D&D monsters in CLB? Now my mind is spinning with possibilities!

Athena: With two D&D flavored Magic sets, what would you like to see next if a third D&D set happens?

  • Brandy: I've already alluded to how much I love Faeries as a theme in Magic, but I love them in D&D, too, so I'd love to see some more Feywild stuff! I think there's only been two Pixies/Faeries in the D&D sets so far, and the Feywild is huge and varied and could be a very cool theme to explore, especially with green-blue or blue-black decks. This is also in part my personal desire to see more Faerie commanders that suit my specific color wants, but shhhhhh.
  • Greg: Well, that's a no-brainer. Of course, I'd love to see more D&D in my Magic cards! We've only scratched the surface on the entire multiverse of D&D material available. And I can't wait to see more D&D sourcebooks set on planes of Magic. With the planar travel of Spelljammer coming to D&D in August, there's no reason why your Dungeon Master's head canon can't place worlds like Faerun and Eberron beside Ravnica and Theros!

Athena: Is there a digital way to play the upcoming set, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate? Will this new set be added to Magic: The Gathering Arena?

  • Magic Community Account (Chris Peeler): I'll hop in on this one, actually! I'm Chris Peeler, one of the community managers for Magic (despite what the fancy kinda-generic username here says). MTG Arena is a little out of the purview of some of the folks here, but happy to chat about it. MTG Arena will be releasing a companion product, Alchemy Horizons: Baldur's Gate this July. This set will feature many of the iconic characters and powerful spells featured in Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate, rebalanced for one-on-one digital play. Alchemy Horizons: Baldur's Gate will launch with everything you'd expect from full set releases—hundreds of new cards, a Set Mastery, Draft gameplay modes, and more. Stay tuned for more about how we brought Battle for Baldur's Gate to MTG Arena closer to the release. [Check out the MTG Arena blog for more details on Alchemy Horizons: Baldur's Gate!]

Athena: Circling back to the earlier introductions, @Wotc_Ellie, could you explain what the Rules Committee and Commander Advisory Group (CAG) are, and how you are involved?

  • Ellie: Sure thing! So, unlike other formats, Commander was started by a group of players as a casual way for people to enjoy Magic. The Rules Committee (RC) is the group of people who actually created the format and are responsible for developing the rules, guidelines, and philosophy of the format. The Commander Advisory Group is a separate group of different commander players from the community that were invited by the Rules Committee to give them guidance and share their unique perspectives. The CAG doesn't make any rules or control what gets banned for example, but we do a big part in helping advise the RC on what we feel is the healthiest path moving forward. You can learn more about the RC and the CAG on the official website, mtgcommander.net!

Athena: We are wrapping up our time here, so let's end with a few final community questions! The new card Grell Philosopher is receiving lots of love. Is he a sign of what is to come for Grell in the future D&D lore or just a bit of the past saying hi?

    • Brandy: The Magic team drew inspiration from across all sorts of areas of Faerun—including referencing the older (and upcoming) Baldur's Gate There are references that reach back as far as Gorion (Baldur's Gate 1) and as recent as Astarion (Baldur's Gate 3)! It's also pretty common for the Magic team to home in on a cool or funny concept and then . . . make an artist draw it (like Run Away Together). I think that's what happened here with Grell Philosopher, but you never know—maybe the idea will tickle one of our D&D designers in return! So, not a specific or intentional sign, but we're not saying no.

    Athena: Is there a D&D set for making weapons?

    • Greg: While there are no specific sets or books published for D&D solely devoted to making weapons, there are rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide for how characters can create any magic items, including weapons and armor. It's in Chapter 9 called "Dungeon Master's Workshop," and I honestly wish more DMs used those rules to allow players to have more impact on the world they are adventuring in. Xanathar's Guide to Everything expands on what characters can do in downtime activities, including more on creating items but also researching spells, gambling, going on a heist, or fighting in the arena.

    Athena: And finally, will there be future Q&A events on this server?

    • Brandy: We hope so! I think it's something we'd like to explore, especially if you all enjoyed this one. Please let us know! I can't give a specific time frame of when we might do one, but it's certainly something we're already looking into.

    Athena: Alrighty, everyone! Our time here is coming to an end. I would like to thank everyone who joined us and submitted questions. And a special thank you to Ellie, Greg, and Brandy for taking the time to talk with us all!

    • Ellie: Thanks, everyone, for all your questions! If you have any more questions for me or want to interact with me on social media, you can find me at @ellieoftheveil.
    • Greg: That was really fun answering all these questions with you! Follow me on the Twitters for updates on D&D, Dragon Talk, and other fun stuff: @Gregtito.
    • Brandy: This was a blast, and I hope we can find more ways to do these in the future for both Magic and D&D-centric things. Stay tuned! If you need to find me on the socials, I do have a Twitter (@dayntee ) where I mostly post pictures of my cats and yell into the void of the internet, but otherwise I'm here doing admin things! Feel free to DM me anytime (though it may take me a hot minute to answer).

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