Same Time Next Year
So, back in 2011, we put out a product known as Magic: The Gathering Commander . We release a supplemental product each summer and Commander was our release for that year. The Commander format had been rising in popularity so we thought it was worthwhile to put out a product to support it. The product consisted of five preconstructed decks, each a 100-card singleton deck, including one legendary creature that served as the deck's commander. (The decks each also had two other legendary creatures that could serve as a commander for the deck.) The five decks together had fifty-one newly designed cards.
Commander performed beyond our expectations and we realized that we had tapped into something bigger than a single product. We work over a year ahead so we were unable to get new decks out for 2012 (we opted instead to do the Commander's Arsenal box, which took less time to create) but we were able to create a second set of Commander decks for 2013—the ones I am talking about today.
The decision was to shift the decks to the fall as we were continuing to do the summer products that housed the first Commander decks. Which finally gets us back to Commander (2013 Edition).
Before I talk about the design itself, I want to first introduce the design team to you.
Mark Gottlieb (lead)
While Mark has worn numerous hats while at Wizards, he first came to the company many years ago as an editor. Mark then transitioned into the role that he held for the longest time, rules manager for Magic. Mark eventually gave up his rules manager position to become a Magic developer in R&D. All during that time, though, Mark moonlit as a designer working on numerous design teams.
Mark was eventually given a chance to lead his first design with Mirrodin Besieged. He later went on to lead his second design (co-designing with me) with Gatecrash. Commander (2013 Edition) is his third design lead.
Since that time, Mark has gone on to become the design manager. He and I work closely together, with him overseeing the people and scheduling while I oversee the product and technical work. You will next get to see Mark's work on the spring set of 2015, codenamed "Louie." (Yes, preceded by "Huey" and "Dewey.")
For years, we joked around that he was my archnemesis, as I was the head designer and he was the rules manager, but the truth is that the two of us actually work well together and it has been fun working with him to help shape our current talented design team.
I also enjoying working with Mark on design teams because he is a very imaginative designer. In his spare time, he loves doing puzzle hunts (and occasionally making some as well) and this love of puzzle solving comes in handy in set design. I was happy to have Mark leading the design of Commander (2013 Edition) because I knew he would do a great job, and as a fan of the Commander format, I knew he'd design some cards that would, in particular, make the fans of Commander happy.
It seems like just yesterday that Ethan earned a six-month internship as his prize for winning the second Great Designer Search, but, in fact, it's actually been a couple of years. Ethan has numerous design teams under his belt and has now led his very first team—Journey Into Nyx, which you will all get to see next spring.
I chose Ethan as the winner of the GDS2 because I saw a lot of potential in him, potential I've been very happy to see come to fruition. Ethan was put on Commander (2013 Edition) because we were interested in him possibly running a future Commander design team.
Ethan is a fan of the Commander format and embraced being on this team with gusto.
Dan is the youngest member of the design team. While Dan had not made it to the finals of GDS2, he was one of the people very involved in helping out the Top 8 with designs. Shortly after Ethan and Shawn Main started working at Wizards, Dan swung by my desk to introduce himself. He had just gotten a job with game support (what we used to call customer service) and he was very eager to help out design in any way he could.
We invited Dan to some playtests and allowed him to submit cards to fill holes made during development. Dan did such a good job we eventually put him onto a design team. When I realized we had a new spot opening up, I sat Dan down and offered him a job as a fulltime designer.
Dan has a lot of energy (and coming from me, that's saying something) and enthusiasm. From the first day he swung by my desk, Dan has set out to do everything in his power to become a better designer. He is currently my strong second on "Blood" (which means he is in charge of the card file and he and I work extra close).
Having Dan on your design team is always a plus because he is eager to produce cards and solve whatever problem comes his way. He truly enjoys what he does and his excitement is infectious.
By day, Scott Larabee is the tournament director who oversees all the Pro Tours. But, by night, he is one of the members of the Commander Rules Committee, a group outside Wizards that makes all the key decisions about the format. Scott was involved in the first Commander design and he was asked back for the second. The reason is simple. There is probably no one in the entire Wizards building who loves the Commander format more than Scott. It is the format he is passionate about, and if there is one thing you want on a design team, it is someone passionate for the design at hand.
Because of his focus on the Commander format, Scott was a valuable resource for the design team. Also, as the design team dipped its toe in some new design space that directly interacted with the Commander rules (more on this below), it was good to have him as a liaison with the Commander Rules Committee.
I have actually known Scott for a long time. When I lived in Los Angeles, before I joined Wizards, Scott was the man who ran the weekly Magic event I attended (at a place known as the Costa Mesa's Women's Center). Scott just celebrated his fifteenth-year anniversary at Wizards and is one of the people I have spent the longest time working with. One of my biggest regrets of not being on the Commander (2013 Edition) design team is that I have never had the honor of working on a design with Scott. One day I will have to correct this injustice.
I spend a lot of time talking about design and development, but R&D has many more people than just those two roles. Steve is one of our playtesters. It is his job to take the newest cards and do his worst with them. Over the years, Steve has built a lot of crazy, overpowered decks to make sure that you all will never have to play them.
From time to time, we have Steve on development teams. I believe Commander (2013 Edition) is the first time he has been on a Magic design team. One of the things I like about having new blood on design teams is that they bring a unique vantage point. Steve is very familiar with Magic, and the Commander format, and is able to see things in a way that others on the team might not.
On top of that, the Commander design team works as such: Each member of the five-person design team builds one of the Commander decks, which means that Steve is in his wheelhouse.
Early in the spring of 2012, Mark Gottlieb compiled his design team. The parameters were simple. They had twelve weeks to design five 100-card decks with a total resource of fifty-one new cards to be used among them. As with the first batch of Commander decks, each one would have a main commander, which would go on the front of the box, and two other appropriate legendary creatures, which would go into the deck but could be swapped out to be the deck's commander.
The first question the team had to answer was what colors were they going to do? The first Commanderdecks had a wedge theme (three color combinations with each color and its two enemy colors), so that was out. The team examined one-, two-, three-, four-, and five-color options. It decided against two-color decks because the product was going to be coming out shortly after the Return to Ravnica block, which would be hitting the theme strongly.
Five-color didn't seem practical for five decks. Four-color was talked about, as there are currently no four-color legendary creatures. After some investigation, the team realized that it would be a lot of work and it would require some tweaking of the guidelines. For example, it would be very hard to have two other legendary creatures in the decks that could also serve as commanders, as they aren't any reprints that could be used. One-color commanders were viable, but the team was concerned that without some significant twist it would be hard to make the decks compelling.
This left the team to explore three-color options. Wedge was off the table, so that meant looking at shards (three-color combinations with each color and its two allies). As Mark and his team looked into shards, what they discovered was that it was a rather underserved section of design. Yes, Shards of Alara block had done shards, but nothing had been done since then, and very little had been done before it. The Commander community likes three-color commanders, so this would be an opportunity to give the shards options a little more depth.
Once the team signed off on having a shard theme, it was time to answer the next big question: What could they add to the Commander format that was new?
In the Zone
The team spent a lot of time brainstorming, but the big breakthrough actually came from someone outside the team. Aaron Forsythe, the senior director of Magic R&D, is a longtime Commander player. He had been on the original Commanderdesign team and he poked his head in from time to time on Commander (2013 Edition) design. Aaron suggested the idea of commanders that took advantage of the command zone.
For those unfamiliar with the Commander format, let me give you a quick breakdown. Commander is a format with a ninety-nine-card singleton deck (meaning only one of each card) along with a legendary creature that serves as the commander for the deck. The commander's colors dictate what colors can played in the deck. The important part for this discussion, though, is how the commander functions in the game.
The commander starts in what is known as the command zone. The player who owns the commander is allowed to play the commander from the command zone as if it were in his or her hand. If the commander would go to the graveyard, its owner may instead return it to the command zone. Its owner may then cast it again from the command zone, but must spend an additional for each time the commander has returned. For example, let's say you are playing Thassa. The first time you cast her, she costs . The second time, she costs . The third time, she costs . And so on.
Aaron's idea was to make legendary creatures that took advantage of the command zone and this aspect of the Commander format. Let's take a quick look to see how the team chose to execute on Aaron's idea.
Derevi has an activated ability that works in the command zone that allows you to get her onto the battlefield cheaper than any casting beyond the first.
Oloro has a triggered ability that triggers if he's in the command zone during your upkeep.
Jeleva, Prossh, and Marath all have a triggered ability keyed off of how much mana is spent to cast them. This plays into the Commander rule that increases the commander's mana cost with each successive casting.
Whenever we make cards that are designed specifically for a particular format, I always get some responses from players who are unhappy that we've made Magic cards that they cannot use. My response is that every set has cards made for different players and while these cards might be a little more blunt in their intended target than most, it is in Magic's nature to focus different cards on different players. Also note that we purposely put them in a product specifically designed for the Commander format.
Mark and his team also created a new mechanic for the set:
Known as tempting offer, the mechanic allows you to do something. Then each other player can opt to get the same effect, but if a player does you get another copy as well. Tempting offer came about because the team was interesting in making a mechanic that played into the social aspect of Commander. Multiplayer play has some very different dynamics and the design team was interested in making cards that would shine in that type of environment.
The design team also made a cycle of curses. These enchant player Auras previously seen in Innistrad block play beautifully in Commander by allowing a player to entice other players into attacking an opponent of his or her choice. Each curse rewards players for attacking the cursed player.
The design team also made one other Commander-centric card, Opal Palace. The first Commanderintroduced Command Tower, a land designed to specifically be played in the Commander format, as it called out the commander's color identity (the rule that says you can only have cards in your deck the color of your commander) in the rules text. The design team decided to not only bring Command Tower back but to create a brand-new land with a similar Commander-only function.
This product took a little longer than normal to get released but I hope the audience for this product will appreciate all the work that went into its design. Mark and his team worked hard to try and live up to the bar set by the first Commander product.
I am curious what you think of this set and what future things you would like to see in the Commander format, including what kind of new designs are appropriate here. As always, you can email me through the link below, respond in the thread to this column, or contact me through any of my social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+).
Join me next week as I answer many your unanswered questions about Theros.
Until then, may your command zone be your friend.
"Drive to Work #64 – Walking the Planes & #65 – Red"
My first podcast today takes a look at a video series made to show off Magic organized play. I've had the opportunity to work with Nate and Shawn on numerous occasions, so my podcast takes you behind the scenes of this funny and insightful series.
My second podcast is the fourth in my mega-series on color philosophy. Today I talk red.
- Episode 65 : Red (10.7 MB)
- Episode 64 : Walking the Planes (14.3 MB)
- Episode 63 : 1993 (11.6 MB)
- Episode 62 : Completion (10.9 MB)
- Episode 61 : Surprise (10.2 MB)
- Complete Drive To Work Podcast Archive