I first met Sheldon Menery when I was thirteen years old. His presence filled the room: welcoming, powerful, and truly larger than life.

Over the next 20 years, I was fortunate to grow with and get to know him personally. Whether gathered around the dinner table, talking about favorite films, or of course, during games of Commander, he touched my life and helped develop my life philosophy on so many occasions. He has permanently changed the trajectory of my life—and so many others.

Sheldon did so many things for Magic and the Magic community. A pioneer for the judge program. The Godfather of Commander. Even a Magic card designer when we brought him in to do some work on the Strixhaven: School of Mages Commander decks. Whether you're a tournament player or someone who plays at the kitchen table, you've likely experienced something in Magic that can be traced back to him.

We wanted to memorialize and immortalize Sheldon in Magic. So, we collectively decided to do something extremely special: work with him to create a Secret Lair drop dedicated to him and benefitting the American Cancer Society®. And fittingly, as a longtime friend of Sheldon and a Magic designer, I was put in charge of the design side of the project.

When I reached out to him, he accepted enthusiastically, and we began working on the project together.

I cannot describe something that felt more special than getting to work with my friend on a project to commemorate his incredible life and benefit a charity that is doing incredible work to try and someday end the very thing that ailed him.

We worked on card selection together. Along with Ari Zirulnik, Magic Worldbuilding team member and another of Sheldon's friends, we worked on the art descriptions and figured out which artists to use. It was a collaborative process between all of us to ensure this Secret Lair really reflected Sheldon's life. We had it all figured out. I couldn't wait to see Sheldon someday play a game of Commander with cards he had chosen, and to his theming. It was going to be incredible.

Then, one night, I got the call. Sheldon Menery had passed away.

I was stunned. I had talked with him as recently as the night prior. And one thing was clear: we needed to finish the vision we had and bring this product to life in the best possible way. While it was going to take some more time because of our timelines, the entire team unified behind putting the final touches on what he started.

Ruhan of the Fomori as 'Sheldon, the Commander'

All the cards in this product were chosen by Sheldon. The planning and direction were his. Before the end of his life, he saw some of the early art sketches. I'm so glad we got to work on this together.

And today, I want to show it to you.

The way this is going to work is, I'm going to write a bit about the card-selection process, then I'm going to hand it over to Ari Zirulnik to talk about the creative direction. I'll let Ari introduce himself as well.

Hey, all. Ari here. I'm currently a creative lead on Magic and former writer on Secret Lair. Sheldon started at Wizards just a couple months after I did, and I had no idea who he was. I barely knew what Commander was (I have since learned). But what I immediately knew was that Sheldon was a thoughtful individual with a finely tuned moral compass and a strong sense of justice. We were both in a weekly board game group after work, and we became friends over many games of Terraforming Mars.

When we first started talking about a Sheldon Secret Lair, I immediately volunteered to write it. Sheldon wrote up a list of his favorite artists, and my super-powered partner, world-class art director Jacob Covey, wrangled up a stable of A+ artists to see Sheldon's vision through.

The process was simple. For each card, Sheldon wrote up a few lines about why he loves the card so much, a philosophy he wanted to share, or even just creature types he enjoyed. Gavin and I aligned on vision, I turned those write-ups into art descriptions, and Jacob worked with the artists to turn those art descriptions into card art. In the following article, I'll share write-ups, anecdotes, and tidbits about the creation of the cards.

Thanks, Ari. There are so many stories and memories to share here. Let's kick it off with none other than the man himself.

Ruhan of the Fomori

Ruhan of the Fomori
Ruhan of the Fomori as
"Sheldon, the Commander"

Perhaps Sheldon's most iconic deck was one he called You Did This to Yourself. Full of all manner of cards that punished people for attacking or messing with you, it was helmed by Ruhan of the Fomori—a big creature who attacks people at random.

Sheldon immediately knew this is a card he wanted. It was on his list from the very start. We all thought it would be great to put Sheldon in the command zone, something he was also excited about. And the commander of his most famous deck? There was no other choice.

So, how did we bring that to life? I'll let Ari fill you in.

For each card, I asked Sheldon to write a line about which feelings he wanted it to evoke. For Ruhan, he said, "Champion. Leader. Avatar. Power, steadfastness, and drive." Our goal for Sheldon, the Commander was to show Sheldon as THE commander of Commander. He stands on the battlefield, pointing the way forward for those who would follow him. His weapon of choice (chosen by Sheldon) is a mighty Colossus Hammer—an Equipment that makes Ruhan quite formidable. Sheldon requested the blue armor himself, and Livia Prima brought it to life in a wonderful way. Ruhan kind of makes his own decisions, so Sheldon can be part of your games for years to come.

The flavor text on this card is, to me, Sheldon's most iconic quote. He loved the people he surrounded himself with, and now, as Ruhan, you can surround yourself with him. With this card in your command zone, you really feel like Sheldon has your back. He may be larger than life here, but that's exactly how I remember him.



Speaking of doing it to yourself, while not in Ruhan's color identity, this was one of Sheldon's favorite cards of all time for that kind of strategy. Not just because he loved it, but because he helped create it.

The Silverquill Commander deck was a major design project Sheldon got to work on, and Inkshield was a card Sheldon created. In an email to me, he said that it had "become not just a signature card, but an emotional favorite."

This was an absolute no-brainer for the set of cards. It was pretty much the first card either of us, and everybody surrounding the project, knew would be there.

Now I'll let Ari talk about the creative process here.

The Godfather meets the Master in this breathtaking piece by Donato Giancola. From the start, we knew this card had to feature Sheldon. Inkshield was his baby, and we were here to make the Sheldon-est Inkshield of all time. Sheldon's mood line: "Defiance along the lines of rejecting norms/choosing one's own path (for good)." As a Silverquill mage, he defies all who would thwart him with a churning mass of inklings, carving his own way forward. Sheldon's most famous deck was full of own-petard-hoisting effects like this one. He called it You Did This to Yourself. The flavor immortalizes that deck name and play style on one of his favorite cards.

Teferi's Protection

Teferi's Protection
Teferi's Protection

Sheldon loved protective spells, and as a Commander staple, Teferi's Protection has made it into plenty of decks. That alone would be reason enough to include it here.

But it's more than that: Sheldon was a man who gave protection. He built communities and made sure the people in them felt safe, welcome, and, well, protected.

We grabbed quotes from throughout Sheldon's life for many of these cards, and this quote is one he said repeatedly. Building up the people around him—that was the core of what he was.

I'll let Ari get into the creative.

Sheldon's mood line for Teferi's Protection said, "Resolve. Duty. Purpose." Steve Argyle channeled those feelings perfectly in a piece that exemplifies Teferi's willpower in this moment. The children behind Teferi are both counting on him and lending him strength. As in the quote on this card, Teferi isn't doing it alone.

I want to shout out Scott Larabee for his help on the flavor text in this drop. He knew all the great Sheldon soundbites, and we wouldn't have cards like this one without his help. Thanks, Scott.

Greater Good

Bene Supremo
Bene Supremo

I could say a lot to introduce Greater Good. But instead, I'll let Sheldon do it. He wrote this to me about it:

"Not just a spicy card that I have trouble leaving out of green decks, Greater Good is also a philosophical underpinning of my life. I strive to work for the greater good, to do what I can to enrich peoples' lives and leave this world a little better than I found it."

This philosophy is something he certainly carried—and succeeded in.

But you might notice something else about this card. It's in Italian.

Bene Supremo is the version of this card Sheldon preferred to play and was something he would say from time to time. It pays homage to his Italian heritage. Sheldon identified Greater Good as a card to include, and when I had the idea that we could do it in Italian, he was thrilled. Truly, the kind of thing you only get when two friends who know each other for a long time get to work on something together. Now you, too, can enjoy Bene Supremo.

And that art—absolutely stunning. Let's let Ari talk a bit about this.

This card took a couple tries for me to get the art description right. Sheldon asked for "life's abundance … put on display" with the mood line, "Life can be beautiful and bountiful, most especially when shared with others." I wrote a rather elaborate and lavish description set in a glamorous ballroom, but it turned out too complicated. Once I found out Voss was assigned this card, I realized I could just ask for a ton of flowers, and it would turn out amazingly.

The dragon giving its life for the children matches both the sacrifice mechanic of the card and the idea that life can be bountiful and beautiful—even when it ends. When I wrote the description, it was just a dragon and some kids. It wasn't until he passed that I realized the dragon was Sheldon.

Johannes Voss had the following to say about the piece:

"I remember sending in the sketches to Jacob on a Thursday and then heading off for a long weekend with my wife. I didn't check social media because of spotty service, until I got an email from Jacob on Friday night (would've been Friday morning in the US), informing me of Sheldon's passing. It took me a long time after this to get started on the colors. The vision I had for it had completely changed, and it took a while to find the mood to translate these changed emotions. It was going to be a bright, sunlit summer scene, which now transformed into abstract, colorful, iridescent lighting. I wanted to do the very best I could to honor Sheldon's legacy and felt paralyzed because it was so important to hit the right tone. I don't think I've ever done a painting that held so much emotion and responsibility, and I really hope I was able to do Sheldon justice and give his family and the community a piece with meaning."

And the flavor text? I took it right from Sheldon's very write-up about what he wanted from the card: "la vita è bella mood."

Eladamri's Vineyard

Eladamri's Vineyard
Eladamri's Vineyard

I've talked a lot today about protection. Philosophies. Changing the world. But you know something else Sheldon loved? Food and wine with friends. And that's where this comes from.

Plus, it's a group hug card that has never been reprinted before. What a perfect place to do it.

One very subtle detail in this gorgeous piece by Alayna Danner is the M&M logo on the gazebo. Sheldon and his wife called their home M&M Cellars, and that logo is inspired from the one in his very home, bringing his life right into the card.

Here's Ari to talk more about that.

For Eladamri's Vineyard, Sheldon asked for, "In vino veritas. Luxury and high culture/art and most importantly, the sharing of it with others." Sheldon loved a good meal with good wine and good friends. I share his belief that a bit of communal indulgence is one of the finest ways to pass the time. Look at those magical grapes that Alayna Danner drew. I'm furious I can't pluck them off the card and eat them.

This is the only flavor text in the drop that isn't a direct quote. I did my best to ferment Sheldon's thoughts into a vintage I hope you all enjoy.

Sol Ring

Sol Ring
Sol Ring

It's Sol Ring. I mean … we weren't going to leave this one out.

The reason for Sol Ring's inclusion needs little explanation as the most well-known card in all of Commander. But there are some other things here I really want to call out.

Sheldon's love for his wife Gretchyn was incredible. He always talked her up to everybody who would listen—and for good reason. Not only were they truly in love, but she's one of the most incredible people I've ever met. And as things got harder with Sheldon's cancer, she really took up the mantle of taking care of him and everything she needed on top of a very demanding job. She was always there for him.

This art piece depicts a wedding ring, of course, to symbolize that connection to his wife.

It also showcases writing, something he was quite fond of and garnered a degree in. The flavor text is taken from Shakespeare's Henry V, a favorite of Sheldon's—he even wrote his dissertation on it. This is a unique Sol Ring that truly embodies many aspects of Sheldon's life.

I'll let Ari tell you a bit more.

We knew Sol Ring had to be a celebration of Sheldon's marriage. If you ever saw that man post about his wife, you've seen pure love. Lindsey Look added the writing component herself, and it was so perfect for Sheldon that it ended up being the direction for the flavor text. Scott Larabee told me about Sheldon's connection to Henry V (on which he wrote his dissertation) and recommended this quote, which fit perfectly.

Lindsey had the following to say:

"I love illustration, and I love telling stories with paint. But when I have the opportunity to layer the art with a much deeper meaning and an emotional connection to whoever sees it—that's the part that makes my job worthwhile. This piece felt so important—it was clear from the get-go that Sheldon's hands were being depicted, and as he was a scholar of English literature, it seemed fitting that his hands be writing something to the owner of the other ring. There are several nods to Sheldon and his life in the painting … I didn't know that he had so little time left when I took this project on, but a piece of art can outlive us all. I'd like to think that this Sol Ring is part of Sheldon's legacy, forever sending love and light from wherever he is."

Command Tower

Command Tower
Command Tower

Finally, another card that needs no introduction: a Sheldon-themed Command Tower.

Like Sol Ring, this inclusion is probably clear. But there are two things I wanted to mention. The first is the art. On a call with Sheldon, he told us that he wanted a Command Tower that didn't look like anything we had seen before—a more unusual tower. Second, that quote from him in the flavor text is one of his favorites. Something he said often and would reiterate on stream constantly. He created a safe place for all peoples. I like to believe that in-world, this Command Tower is a safe haven.

Ari, tell us about creating this one.

Sheldon's ask for Command Tower was simple: "Do something completely new with something so familiar." His mood line ended with an equally simple "Hope lives here." In my time with Sheldon, I always saw him make sure those around him felt equal and at ease. His tower needed to be the ultimate safe haven for those who need it—a clear sky in the middle of a storm. Titus Lunter delivered on that ask and then some, creating the ultimate beacon of hope in tumultuous times.

For the flavor text, I went with a story Gavin told me. For a time, whenever Sheldon was on a stream, he would have that message (or a similar one) always turned up toward the camera—writ large in marker. My hope is that everyone who picks up this drop, or even just looks at the images, feels Sheldon's comforting presence as they look through the cards.

Video Version

For those interested in a video companion to this article, complete with many photos of Sheldon and his life, you can find that here:

A Legacy of Magic

When I heard of Sheldon's passing, one of my first thoughts was the crushing feeling that Sheldon would never get to hold or play with these cards we worked on together. I was devastated.

But as I reflected on it more, I realized it was never about him playing with the cards. I would have loved to have seen it, of course. But, as was commonly the case in Sheldon's work, it was always about the community. Creating something incredible and special that people around the world could play with, embodying his life and favorite cards, ones that bring people together and impart stories and wisdom through art, mechanics, and flavor text—that's what this was all about. And as an eternal storyteller and community builder, I know that would make him plenty happy.

This is one of the most special projects I've ever had the opportunity to work on, and I'm so glad I got to work on it with my friend Sheldon Menery.

Thank you, Sheldon. For everything.

If you have any questions or additional thoughts, don't hesitate to reach out to me on social media. You can check out the Secret Lair page for more information.

May you always surround yourself with the best people.

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