Magic 2015 Wrap-Up

Posted in NEWS on July 4, 2014

By Sam Stoddard

Sam Stoddard came to Wizards of the Coast as an intern in May 2012. He is currently a game designer working on final design and development for Magic: The Gathering.

Today on Latest Developments, I don't have a preview card for you. The entire set can be viewed here. Instead, I have a bit of a potpourri of different topics related to Magic 2015 that I hope will provide some insights into the set.

The Development Team

In Aaron's article last week, he talked about the design team, and I wanted to give a similar highlight to the development team of the set.

Billy Moreno

Magic 2015 marked Billy Moreno's first and only lead of a Magic expansion set, although he gained experience working on the development teams for Avacyn Restored, Return to Ravnica, and Born of the Gods, as well as leading the Commander (2013 Edition) development. Billy has since left Wizards to return to his home state of Texas and start a family, but many of his contributions to R&D's thinking (as well as the Billy-rule modification to the R&D role) remain in R&D today.

Tom LaPille

Tom was the senior-most developer on the set, having led Magic 2012, Dark Ascension, and Born of the Gods. When Billy left the company, Tom stepped up to take over the Magic 2015 file for the last few months of its life, making any of the later FFL changes needed, as well as the final Limited tweaks to the set after our two days of intense drafting. Tom brought a wealth of experience to the set and helped things move as smoothly as possible, as well as helping us all learn from mistakes others had run into in the past.

Sam Stoddard

That's a-me! Magic 2015 was my third development team (after Dragon's Maze and Conspiracy), and the only set I was on for the Theros-year. I also worked on the player pool and campaign content for Magic 2015—Duels of the Planeswalkers, using my knowledge of Magic 2015 to best highlight the most fun cards in the set and to adjust to the ever-changing set in development.

Shawn Main

Shawn served two roles on Magic 2015—to act as the design rep on the set, and to act as the carry-over member of the design team on the Magic 2015 development team. Well, actually, Shawn had three-roles—he also was in charge of the fifteen outside-designer cards and keeping in contact with the external designers. He was tasked with facilitating the communication between us and making sure that both sides were happy with the final cards that were printed.

Adam Lee

Adam is a member of the creative team and was responsible for putting the right flavor into Magic 2015. One of the goals of Magic 2015 was to line up with the story the creative team wanted to tell in Magic 2015—Duels of the Planeswalkers, so he was responsible for making sure the characters portrayed in Magic 2015 lined up with what they were expecting—this included the Onakke Shaman, Avacyn, and Ob-Nixilis. He also had a big part in making sure the rest of the cards in the set were as creatively awesome as possible.

Designer Cards

One of the comments I have heard time and time again about Magic 2015 is that it feels very "Alpha-y." In this case, people are using that to mean that the set has a lot of very different things going on, and a lot of individual card designs that are different than people are used to seeing on modern Magic cards. The reason for that is two-fold—M15's lead designer, Aaron Forsythe, is a huge fan of cute cards with strange concepts (see Glacial Crasher and Hornet Nest), but we also had a group of people designing Magic cards that weren't beholden to the current thinking of design and development and came at their designs from a very different spot.

The ideas brought to us from the external designers were incredibly diverse and off the wall, but that also caused some problems—especially since many of their ideas were much more high-concept, and often didn't fit into how we make Magic sets. Many of the designers had very little idea about what the power level of cards are today, so sent in original ideas that were either very weak or far too strong. It took a lot of work between Shawn Main and the rest of the M15 team, as well as the external designers, to come up with happy places to meet in the middle, where the cards were at an appropriate power level but also retained the look and feel of cards designed by non-Magic R&D people.

In the end, I am very happy with how these cards turned out. I think there is a great mix of really fun top-down designs (such as Xathrid Slyblade), mechanically very fun cards (such as Genesis Hydra), and cards that we just wouldn't ever come up with (Goblin Kaboomist). I hope that you all like them just as much.

Nissa, Worldwaker

As you may have seen, Garruk has gone to the evil side, becoming a black-green Planeswalker. Garruk had been our standby green 'walker, but his change meant we needed a new pure-green 'walker to take over Garruk's spot. That meant we would need to use Nissa in similar spots that we would previously use Garruk.

This, in turn, meant Nissa needed to be less Elf-centric than her first incarnation—both to make her more diverse and because we have worlds without Elves that we go to now and then (such as Theros and Innistrad). Nissa needed to do something different from Garruk, who is a Beastmaster and focused on large creatures. The right space that was hit upon was Nissa being a Druid-type Planeswalker, and dealing with lands, which lines up with how Nissa has evolved in the storyline This is a space that green is clearly front and center in, and let us easily use Nissa without the needs of Elf-tribal to work where her Planeswalker card showed up.

This change is a lot different from Liliana of the Dark Realms—a case where a Planeswalker with a good identity was morphed into something that was very off-character. Liliana of the Dark Realms not feeling like Liliana is what led to Dan Emmons becoming the designer in charge of making sure Planeswalkers had identities they stuck to, both to strengthen them as characters and to better let us create new Planeswalkers who do unique kinds of magic. Nissa, Worldwaker is the identity of Nissa going forward, and one we are much happier with.

One of the great things that Dan's work on the Planeswalkers highlighted to design and development is the need to make our Planeswalkers feel different from each other, something that in the past would sometimes fall by the wayside in the desire to make individually interesting cards. As we continue to make new Planeswalkers, we keep finding that we need to find new mechanical spaces to make these 'walkers feel like their own characters, rather than just re-skinned versions of other characters. There will be some time period, I'm sure, where some overlap exists because of us being more cavalier in assigning abilities in the past, but going forward, I think you will also appreciate how each Planeswalker feeling distinct from others improves their presence in the game.


The reaction to the change of the look and feel of Slivers in Magic 2014 was heard loud and clear and was something we wanted to address in Magic 2015. The creative view of the Slivers was that they could appear in a variety of shapes and sizes—and the Slivers in this set run the gamut between the Tempest-era insect-like Slivers (best shown on Sliver Hive and Sliver Overlord) and Magic 2014's more humanoid Slivers, with the majority falling somewhere in the middle.

One of the goals of Magic 2015 was to give Slivers the opportunity to really shine in Constructed, and we chose the abilities of these Slivers in an attempt to do this. Diffusion Sliver was meant to give the deck more resilience against decks with a ton of spot removal, like Mono-Black Devotion; Belligerent and Venom Slivers give the decks a better matchup against green decks with Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid to block; and Leeching Sliver gives the deck another powerful two-drop to help it race other decks.

I don't know if Slivers will make much of an impact at Pro Tour Magic 2015, but I do know that the deck that exists for it in Standard is very close to being competitive, so the real question will come down to whether or not Slivers are able to find their spot in the metagame. The variety of abilities the different Slivers offer should provide the deck the ability to combat almost any deck in the metagame and give the deck the tools to be relevant. Only time will tell how close our vision of the deck and the real world end up being to each other.

Next week, the M Files returns with tales from Magic 2015's development.

Until next week,

Sam (@samstod)