Welcome to Commander Masters card preview season. Today, I'm going to walk you through the set's design, introduce you to all the designers that worked on it, and show off a preview card.

Masters of Masters

As with any design, I'd like to begin by introducing the designers who made the product. As with all my intros, I'm having the lead of the design teams introduce their own people. Gavin was the lead for the vision design of the main set and the Commander decks. Bryan Hawley was the lead for set design of the main set, and Corey Bowen was the lead for set design of the Commander decks.

Click here to meet all the designers who worked on Commander Masters.


The bios below were mostly written by Gavin, as most of the people worked on the vision design. I'll note where bios were written by other people.

Gavin Verhey (lead – vision design, main set and Commander decks)

I've wanted to bring Commander Masters to life for years—so when the project got the green light, I was thrilled to be put on it as the lead vision designer! The only thing that could drag me away was the Magic: The Gathering® – Doctor Who™ Commander decks. After setting the initial stage for the set, I handed off the main set to Bryan Hawley and the Commander decks to Corey Bowen so I could get to work on all the timey-wimey goodness you'll see later this year.

Corey Bowen (lead – set design, Commander decks; also on vision design)

Corey started as one of our interns, and it's been amazing to watch him grow to lead so many Commander preconstructed decks and projects—and some other pretty cool stuff you don't even know about yet! When it was time for me to start winding up to hand off the Commander decks, we brought in Corey to see what was going on before he started leading the team to make the handoff smooth. He did a great job taking them to the finish line—and most importantly, protecting the creation of a Commodore Guff card!

Bryan Hawley (lead – set design for the main set; also on vision design)

Bryan and I have worked together for ages—we both worked on Kaijudo (Duel Masters in the US) together and for a time even carpooled into work together! He is the maestro of Masters sets, having worked on Eternal Masters, Iconic Masters, Double Masters, Double Masters 2022, and Modern Masters 2017! Plus, he's no Commander slouch either, having worked on several past Commander products. And while I have the Commander know-how, I was a bit light on Masters design knowledge, so I was excited to have Bryan on board to guide me on setting the stage there so I could then hand it to him to take home.

Daniel Holt (vision and set design, Commander decks)

Fresh off working with Daniel on The Brothers' War Commander decks, I was thrilled to have him back on my team again! He's a duel-wielding graphic designer and card designer, which is a rare feat, and has been doing more and more on the design side that you can expect to see soon. Though a staunch lover of Kamigawa, this time he set his beloved plane aside to manage the colorless deck! Though I'm sure many will call this the Eldrazi deck, Daniel kept an eye out to make sure it had many other kinds of colorless cards, too.

Melissa DeTora (vision and set design, Commander decks)

I always love working with Melissa: we worked on decks when we were playing professional Magic, we've worked on Commander products, and now she and I are heading up the Commander design group at Wizards! A fun story about Melissa is that, very early on in Game Knights history, Melissa played an enchantress deck on the show that she became known for. So, it worked out perfectly to have her on the Commander deck team, leading the Abzan (white-black-green) enchantress deck.

Jules Robins (set design, main set; vision design, Commander decks)

Peanut butter and chocolate. Bread and butter. Me and Jules Robins. Things that all go well together! Jules and I have been a tag-team duo on everything from Commander (2017 Edition) and Battlebond to Commander Legends, and it was a delight to work by his side again once again—he's always great at coming up with big ideas and wisely reining in others when their ideas get a little too wild. Jules is another person who started as an intern, and now he's a principal game designer—I'll work with Jules on a project any day!

Glenn Jones (vision design and set design)

Glenn and I have spent many days at work mapping out the future of Commander, working on cards, and crafting products. You can always count on Glenn for his design commentary that cuts right to the issue at hand, his solid designs, and his delightfully witty quips. He led design on the blue-red-white planeswalker Commander deck, and it has his fingerprints all over it: a deck that can be quite explosive or grind out your opponents slowly. Glenn has since left Wizards for other opportunities, but the knowledge and philosophies he imparted in me live on.

PJ Rivas (vision design, main set)

If you're out there hoping to be a Magic designer someday, something I recommend doing is creating a cube. Often, the process of creating a cube can teach you a lot about making a Magic set—it just uses all pieces that already exist. PJ was one of our design interns (I even interviewed him for my YouTube show, Good Morning Magic, which you can watch here, and lo and behold, something we had him do was work on a Masters set—which is kind of like Cube design! PJ was great to work with, and I'm happy to report he ended up getting hired to Wizards of the Coast full time on the Dungeons & Dragons side.

Bryan Hawley wrote the next two bios:

Jacob Mooney (set design, main set)

Right off the bat after joining our newly formed Casual Play Design team, Jacob dove right into helping wade through the whole of Magic's history to find cards and ideas to refine and iterate on our Limited design. As a deep Commander aficionado, Jacob is well known on the team for quirky ideas and unusual takes, and that helped a lot here! Alongside his cool, offbeat suggestions, he has a good eye for structure with things like a particularly deep exploration he did into how to make the green themes synergize more fluidly with the rest of the set.

Michelle Roberson (set design, main set)

Another casual play designer, Michelle was one of only two designers who (alongside Melissa DeTora) can claim the honor of being on Casual Play Design before the team officially launched! Michelle's background was in event management and marketing (think large tournaments and esports), but she spent a few years on a "swapportunity" to R&D: a sort of sabbatical where we were able to borrow her from the Events team for a while. A lot of the time, it felt like Michelle was the engine that drove the team. When the rest of us started going cross-eyed trying to keep the massive file straight, she'd get us fired up again and find the next 27 cards that'd improve the set.

Corey Bowen wrote the next bio:

Jeremy Geist (set design, Commander decks)

After being a runner-up in Great Designer Search 3 and working externally on Throne of Eldraine's Brawl Decks, Jeremy made his way into Studio X! I was lucky enough to work with Jeremy on two separate Commander teams during his first months, and it was quickly apparent how strong his intuitive sense of card design was. Jeremy took over the Abzan (white-black-green) Enchantments deck later in the set design process and was a very reliable source of new card designs and novel ideas. He has a formidable understanding of what makes a card both charming and functional.

Master the Possibilities

A Commander Masters set is not a new idea. When we first came up with the idea of Modern Masters over a decade ago, it only took a minute to apply it to other formats. The real challenge was getting it on the schedule. I interviewed Gavin Verhey as part of writing this article (as I said above, he was the vision design lead for the set), and he told me he'd been trying to get this product made for many years. He originally pitched it as a "Multiplayer Masters" set that would reprint cards from past multiplayer products, things like Conspiracy and Conspiracy: Take the Crown, in addition to cards from premier sets that played well in multiplayer.

What finally got the ball rolling was the popularity of the Commander format and the need for reprints specifically for it. Generally, powerful cards tend to be popular in multiple formats and are much easier to get into reprint products. However, some of Commander's needs are very focused and can't easily find slots in the places we most often do reprints. By making a Commander Masters set, we'd have a home for those cards.

The two big things you have to do in a Masters product is pick reprints that players want and make for a fun Limited environment. The latter is the harder task. Commander Masters had an additional hoop—it had to be a Commander Draft product, something we've done twice before with Commander Legends and Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate.

Here are the lessons we've learned from doing it twice:

Lesson #1 – You need a lot of cards.

Commander Draft allows you to have multiples of cards, but to feel like Commander, you don't want the format dictated by playing lots of the same card. The nature of a Commander Draft set is that it needs a lot of variety to allow players to draft around all the different legendary creatures. Finally, there are a lot of cards to reprint, so you want a lot of slots. In Commander Legends, there were 451 cards (130 commons, 135 uncommons, 135 rares, 35 mythic rares, 15 basic lands, and The Prismatic Piper). This is significantly bigger than an average draft set. March of the Machine, in contrast, had 281 cards in the main set. It has an additional 106 cards on the bonus sheet (something most sets don't have). That comes out to 387 cards total, more than 60 cards less than the total number of cards in Commander Masters.

Lesson #2 – You need a lot of legendary creatures.

To play Commander, you must have a commander. We can tweak some of the rules in Limited, but the commander rule is so core to the experience of Commander that we felt it was mandatory. To do this in a draft, you must give players a lot of commander options. If players only ever get one or two choices for their commander, that'd remove their sense of agency. The key to solving this is to have a lot of legendary creatures. Of the 451 cards in the set, 119 of them are legendary creatures (55 uncommon, 48 rare, 15 mythic rare, and The Prismatic Piper). The as-fan is close to three (meaning on average, you will open three legendary creatures in a Commander Masters booster). There are three colorless legendary creatures (although one has a five-color color identity), 83 monocolor legendary creatures, and 32 multicolor (two-, three-, and five-color) legendary creatures.

Lesson #3 – You need a way to shift colors.

This was the big lesson from the Commander Legends sets. If you make the players choose their commander early and then just spend the rest of the draft picking colors from that card's color identity, you can get "on rails" quick. That is, you can get in a position where you don't have many options. One of the cool things about Booster Draft is that you can adjust on the fly as you start seeing what's coming to you. For Commander Draft to draft well, there must be some mechanism that allows some amount of shifting.

In Commander Legends, that something was the partner mechanic. While it worked great in Draft, it caused some issues in Constructed Commander. When we were designing Battle for Baldur's Gate, we knew that we had to find a different answer. That answer ended up being Backgrounds, enchantments that you could pair with certain monocolor legendary creatures to have a more nuanced color identity and mechanical theme.

We didn't have the luxury of designing new cards for Commander Masters Draft Boosters. All the cards in a Masters set are reprints. The team investigated reprinting partner and Background cards, but it made the set feel too much like the previous Commander Draft sets. Next, the Vision Design team tried upping the volume of legendary creatures. You could be a bit pickier with which ones you wanted to be your commander because there were so many. Playtesting showed that players still picked their commander early and drafted around it.

The solution to the problem didn't lie with the cards but rather the rules. Commander Limited works a bit differently than regular Limited. Above, for example, I talked about how Commander Draft doesn't have a Singleton rule, but it also changes how cards are picked. This was inspired by how Double Masters solved its draft problems by allowing players to draft two cards for their first pick out of each booster.

Here's the rule they came up with, similar to an existing mechanic popular among Commander Cube players. In Commander Masters, all cards that could normally be your commander with one or less colors in their color identity are treated as if they have partner in Limited. This one rule made a world of difference. It allowed players to draft a commander early but adapt their draft as they see what colors are open. As with Commander Legends, The Prismatic Piper was added in case you don't find a legendary creature in your second color. It's a legendary creature you're allowed to add to any deck. As you will see when we get to set design, this was key to making everything work.

Gavin also oversaw choosing the four Commander decks for Commander Masters. Normally, Commander decks tied to a product release have themes that are extensions of the product. Gavin and his Vision Design team had a different idea. What if they used this as an opportunity to make some decks that the players have been clamoring for but haven't had a place in the release schedule?

Two other decisions I should address before getting to the decks. It was decided that these decks would have ten new card designs each. While Masters sets are generally reprint-only sets, they felt the Commander decks needed the tool of new card designs to push the themes in new directions. Also, having decks tied to specific products can often limit what characters the decks have access to. Commander Masters would allow the design teams access to whatever characters they wanted.

Deck 1: Colorless Eldrazi

One of the decks that players have been wanting for a long time is a deck with a colorless color identity. In fact, it was one of the runner-up themes for Commander (2017 Edition). Commander Masters has two legendary Eldrazi, but there simply weren't enough colorless cards to make drafting such a deck viable; however, Gavin and the design team wanted such a dream to exist somewhere. There are a lot of challenges with designing a colorless deck due to less card options. In addition, there aren't a lot of colorless instants, so it's tricky giving the deck enough ways to be reactive. In the end, they chose to make the deck more about playing giant colorless spells rather than specifically referencing Eldrazi.

Deck 2: Five-Color Sliver

This was another long-requested theme by the players and another runner-up theme for Commander (2017 Edition). The challenge with making a Sliver deck is that there are several five-color legendary Slivers that already exist, some of which are quite powerful. This deck needed to be something that didn't just do what Sliver decks could already do. The design team had to find ways to make the deck push in different directions and give Sliver players tools to venture down new paths. The deck has a cycle of monocolor Slivers with new designs and some other cards that play well in any typal deck. (Typal meaning "a theme caring about a particular creature type.")

Deck 3: White-Black-Green Enchantress Deck

Enchantments is another popular theme in Commander, but most of the decks are green-white. This was an opportunity to add another color, black, which is the third color in interacting with enchantments. The goal of designing this deck was to make a deck that played with enchantments in a different way. Adding in black allowed the deck to interact more with the graveyard. The key to differentiating this deck from the various green-white ones was to make it more about playing bigger, more expensive enchantments rather than a lot of cheap ones.

Deck 4: White-Blue-Red Planeswalkers

The first three deck themes came quickly. They were tapping into popular player requests. It took longer to find a theme for this last deck. The Vision Design team tried a white-black-red "give opponents bad stuff" deck, but it ended up feeling more mean than fun. They also explored a green-blue-red energy deck. In the end, they decided to go with a planeswalker theme that would be harder to build elsewhere. Having many Planeswalkers lose their sparks in March of the Machine: The Aftermath would make such a theme trickier thematically in other products. The deck was built with a bunch of planeswalker cards that could be your Commander (which allowed us to make some new planeswalkers playable as commander designs) with a "pillow fort" theme. It also allowed Corey to make use of Commodore Guff, a character he designed a card for in a product that did not see print.

Duel Masters

When Gavin and his team finished the vision for the set, they passed the file along to Bryan Hawley and his Set Design team. (As you can see above in the bios, there was a lot of overlap between the two teams.) Set Design had a bunch of challenges to face.

Challenge #1 – The set is much bigger than a normal draft set.

As I explained above, the needs of Commander Draft pushed up the number of cards in the file. This had a huge impact on the Set Design team as they balanced the set. Where a change would normally require changing one or two cards in a normal draft set, in Commander Legends, it could take four to eight. It also means many of the metrics that we've established don't work as cleanly and cut down on the shortcuts the Set Design team can use to balance a draft.

Challenge #2 – Multiplayer draft gets bogged down easier.

The dynamics of a four-person multiplayer game increase the possibility of the game getting bogged down, as everything isn't zero-sum. This means the design team had to increase the amount of mass removal and cards that could help end the game. This tends to push up the average power level of cards. Luckily, the rule that legendary creatures with a color identity of one or less gained partner ended up helping significantly, as it raised the average power level of decks. Commander draft decks tend to be on a power level higher than the average preconstructed Commander deck. This took a lot of pressure off set design and play design.

Challenge #3 – Players want to draft around their legendary creatures.

Adding commanders to a draft heavily influences how the set is drafted. Players tend to take at least one legendary creature early and then draft around it. This means that there must be a lot of open-ended themes to allow all the different legendary creatures to be viable. We don't want any of the legendary creatures to be "traps," that is, cards that hint at a theme you could draft but simply isn't available in the set. Except for the two Eldrazi, Bryan felt every legendary creature was viable to draft around, although he pointed out some are a lot harder to draft around than others. The impact of this on the draft is huge. It changes how you group colors, how you connect themes, and how you design individual cards. It adds several things you must care about over and above all the other things you need to watch out for when making a draft set.

Challenge #4 – Archetypes don't work as well in multiplayer drafts.

Normally, in a draft set, our default is ten two-color draft archetypes. Each one can have a very focused theme that players can draft around. The desire to draft around legendary creatures and the need to make them all viable pushes the design away from tight archetypes and instead toward looser themes, what Bryan called synergy clusters. Here are the ten two-color synergy clusters for Commander Masters and their play speeds:

White-Blue: Artifacts (medium)
Blue-Black: Reanimator (slow)
Black-Red: Sacrifice/combo (medium)
Red-Green: Power matters (slow)
Green-White: Counters/go wide (fast)
White-Black: Sacrifice tokens (fast)
Blue-Red: Spells (medium)
Black-Green: Tokens (slow)
Red-White: Equipment (medium)
Green-Blue: Ramp (slow)

The result of all this work is a unique drafting experience, one I hope you all get to try.

Before I wrap up for the day, I have a preview card to show you.

Click here to see the return of an old favorite.

Omnath, Locus of Mana
Omnath, Locus of Mana
Foil-Etched Omnath, Locus of Mana
Foil-Etched Omnath, Locus of Mana
Borderless Profile Omnath, Locus of Mana
Borderless Profile Omnath, Locus of Mana
Textured Foil Borderless Profile Omnath, Locus of Mana
Textured Foil Borderless Profile Omnath, Locus of Mana

Yes, it's the very first Omnath, from our original trip to Zendikar (in Worldwake). This card was designed by Ken Nagle and was so popular that it inspired us to make four more, each one with an additional color. Have fun playing with the original Omnath.

That's all the time we have for today. I hope you enjoyed learning about the design of Commander Masters. If you have any questions or comments about this column or the set itself, you can email me or contact me through my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).

Join me next week for some card-by-card design stories from Commander Masters.

Until then, may you partner some monocolor creatures.