Welcome to Magic: The Gathering® – Assassin's Creed® previews. Today, I'm going to walk you through the set's design and show off a new card.

Our story begins before the design even starts. As I explained in an article last year on the making of Universes Beyond sets, the first thing we have to do with a potential property is investigative work to check how well it blends with Magic (nod to Ken Nagle who did the lion's share of the work in the early stages proving Assassin's Creed had the components to make a good Magic set). The four things we look for are:

  1. Does it have components that fit all the card types?
  2. Does it have elements to hit different mana values and sizes?
  3. Does it have content that fits all five colors?
  4. Does it have aspects that Magic requires as a game?

Below are the answers to each of these.

Does it have components that fit all the card types?

Assassin's Creed is a historical stealth action-adventure video game series. The games mostly take place in the past and intertwine fictional characters with real historical figures. The main characters, as the name would imply, are assassins. There are plenty of characters in the game, both named and unnamed, to create creature cards from. The assassins use weapons, which can be artifacts. There are a lot of locations for lands. And there are plenty of game actions for instants, sorceries, and enchantments. The games have plenty to hit all the card types.

Does it have elements to hit different mana values and sizes?

The Assassin's Creed games are almost exclusively focused on humans. Magic has a few creatures with subtype Human and larger stats, but their predominance in Assassin's Creed means that most creatures could only be 3/3 or smaller. We can give creatures effects to allow them to have higher mana costs, but the size chart is more centered around the lower half of the scale.

Does it have content that fits all five colors?

Assassins in Magic are primary in black, secondary in red. Assassin's Creed's focus on cities and civilization will help in finding concepts for white and blue cards but makes green a bit more difficult to fill. The core conflicts of the games fit in red-white, with the Brotherhood seeking freedom and the Templar Order focusing on order.

Does it have aspects that Magic requires as a game?

The games have combat and resource acquisition. Most of the core effects of the games have equivalents. The series has most of what we need. Assassin's Creed, like many properties, doesn't have a lot of flying creatures, although the property does have a lot of sneaky characters to create other types of evasion.

I should also note it was the plan from the very beginning to reference as many Assassin's Creed games as we could. One of the great things about the property is its long and prosperous lifespan. Fans of Assassin's Creed would have their favorite game(s), and we wanted to make sure that everyone's favorite had representation. Because of the necessary lead-time of making games, we had to make a cut-off for what games we referenced as of the making of the set, which means it won't have new characters from Assassin's Creed: Shadows.

The result of this exploration is that, yes, the game has the elements we needed to make a Magic set but would have some issues with color balance and hitting the top end of the size chart for creatures. The next question: what type of product would be the best fit for the property?

The property was big enough that a Secret Lair or two, in isolation, wouldn't be enough. Commander decks were considered with the Brotherhood and Templar Order being the two main factions of the set, but data showed that the audience wanted to see a lot more of the Brotherhood than the Templar Order, as those are the characters you play in the game.

It was clear the product wanted to have a randomized booster, but with the color imbalance, we were dubious we could build a robust Limited environment. In the end, we decided to try something new: a randomized booster without Limited play. This would allow us the freedom to pick and choose which components we wanted to put on cards without having to worry about things like color and curve balance.

Assassin's Creed would end up having a lead designer but not a whole design team. The lead was Corey Bowen. Corey, interestingly, started in R&D as an intern as part of our college intern program. He did such a good job that we hired him when he graduated from college. Corey has led a lot of Commander-focused products (sometimes vision design, sometimes set design), including Commander (2020 Edition), Commander (2021 Edition), Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate, and Commander decks for Zendikar Rising, Kaldheim, Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, Innistrad: Crimson Vow, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, Wilds of Eldraine, and Outlaws of Thunder Junction. Other key members of the team: Matt Cavotta and Stephanie Cheung were the art directors, Lauren Bond was the creative lead, and Zakeel Gordon was the product architect.

As this was a new kind of product, Corey decided to try a different approach. First, as the set wasn't designed for Limited and he only had 100 cards to work with, he removed the commons from it. (Not including basic lands, the set has 80 new cards and 20 reprints.) Corey wanted to prioritize capturing the cards that Assassin's Creed fans would most want to see, and the higher rarity would allow for the extra complexity to match the flavor.

Corey also came up with a vision for how players would feel when they opened a booster. He wanted the booster to tell a story. First, you would get an Assassin. Then, he wanted you to see different components from the game—a location, a target for your Assassin, an action, an Equipment, etc. He wanted the opening of the booster to feel like playing the game. (Note that none of the above components are guaranteed to be in any one particular booster, but the as-fan is high enough that many, especially the Assassins, should appear in most boosters.)

Time to Play

Once Corey understood the larger feel he was going for, the next task was to figure out the essence of the game so he could translate it into game mechanics. Corey had played the game before but threw himself into research mode when he was assigned the project. After a lot of playing and studying of the property, Corey decided there were three core principles he needed to capture:

Principle #1 – It's a stealth action game about assassins.

The core game action involves players getting assigned missions where they either commit assassinations, usually of public figureheads, or go on a covert mission. The gameplay needed to lean into the flavor of assassins and stealth action.

Principle #2 – You visit historical settings.

In the game, you mostly play a person from the present who uses a device called the Animus to explore memories of an ancestor, almost always an assassin. The setting you're running around in as you play is a famous location of the past (some examples—Renaissance Italy, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution).

Principle #3 – The game has a lot of fluid movement.

As you go on your missions, you use every part of the city, doing a lot of climbing and parkour. This flow of movement and/or parkour has become a central part of how players think about the game.

Corey condensed Assassin's Creed down to assassins, history, and parkour. How could he capture each of these concepts mechanically?


When your category happens to be a creature type, that's a good place to start. Assassin first appeared as a creature subtype in Limited Edition (Alpha) on the card Royal Assassin.

Royal Assassin Suq'Ata Assassin

The card was popular, but the Assassin creature type wouldn't be printed on another card for three years, Suq'Ata Assassin in Visions. (There were a handful of cards between the two that would retroactively become Assassins.) From that point forward, the Assassin creature type started seeing more use, although seldom more than once or twice per set. Including updates, at the time of me writing this article (before Magic: The Gathering® – Assassin's Creed® is released), there are 89 Assassins in the game. That's not a lot. Goblin, in contrast, has 470 cards. But it's enough to have some backwards compatibility.

Corey worked to get as many of the main Assassins from the game onto cards as he could. Almost all the protagonists from the various games exist as a legendary creature card in the set. (All but a handful of the creature cards are legendary.) To accompany this high as-fan of Assassins, Corey made numerous typal cards that care about Assassins (including making an Assassin-centric mechanic that I'll get to in a minute). In addition to Assassin typal, Corey found as many card concepts as he could, some new, some reprints, that would allow him to show off many of the cool Assassin moves from the game.

Outlaws of Thunder Junction's "outlaw" batch happened to be a happy accident. Universes Beyond sets have a longer design time because there's a lot of back and forth with the licensor, so we started design on the Assassin's Creed set before Outlaws of Thunder Junction. The Outlaws of Thunder Junction design team tried to capture the concept of criminals using a subtype batch, and Assassin was a perfect inclusion. Once Corey realized that the outlaw batch existed, creating a second reason in this year's releases for Assassins to mechanically matter, he used it in his quest to turn more creatures in other sets into Assassins. Several of the Assassins in Murders at Karlov Manor, for example, got the creature type because of Corey's meddling.

Speaking of Murders at Karlov Manor, when Corey saw the disguise and cloak mechanics, he realized they were a good fit for the set, and for Assassins in particular. Three cards in the set use disguise, and one uses cloak. Because the set wasn't designed for Limited, it was a bit easier to splash more named mechanics.


Luckily for Corey, we already had a set that tackled the issue of capturing the theme of history. In Dominaria, we returned to Magic's original home plane Dominaria after a thirteen-year absence. We wanted to upgrade it to our modern approach to worldbuilding, but that required the plane to have a connective theme. After much exploration, we settled on the idea of history. The big question: how do we mechanically capture the feel of history?

Jhoira's Familiar Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle

The graveyard was off-limits to us based on the sets around us, so we made of list of other things that felt like history. The top three on our list were artifacts (objects of the past), legends (characters and things with famous pasts), and Sagas (a new enchantment subtype in the set that was about capturing stories and tales of the past). We tried a lot of iterations of templates where we listed the three items together, but the flavor just wasn't coming through. Bill Rose, the vice president of R&D, didn't like the mechanic and gave me a month to fix the problem or he was going to remove it from the set.

The key to solving the problem (which happened a mere week before the deadline was up) was to try a new templating approach, what we now refer to as batching, where we invent a new vocabulary word and then define what grouping of things make up that new term in the reminder text. This use of a word worked well to help sell the flavor. People started getting the flavor and enjoying mechanic, enough so that Bill was happy. This batch would be called "historic."

Corey wanted to capture the feel of history, so what better choice was there than historic? It turns out that Assassin's Creed has a lot of objects (artifacts), famous things (legendary stuff), and stories (Sagas), so it seemed like a good fit. The artifacts would represent the many weapons and tools of the Assassins, many of which were legendary and/or well-known components of the game. Most of the creatures would be legendary, as they were capturing popular characters from the game. Corey put in a cycle of Sagas that tell stories from various Assassin's Creed games (the property has a rich series of storylines woven through the games).

Another aspect of history was the use of historical figures as legendary creatures. Interestingly, this was the biggest controversy of the design. It's something we'd mostly avoided in the past, but it was such a strong part of Assassin's Creed that it felt wrong not to include it. There were a lot of back-and-forth discussions, but in the end, Corey (and Lauren Bond, the creative lead for the set) convinced enough people that they got to go into the set. They proved so popular, that the four we included (Leonardo da Vinci, Cleopatra, Socrates, and Mary Read and Anne Bonny) ended up getting serialized alternate-art versions, printed in their native language: Leonardo da Vinci in Italian, Socrates and Cleopatra in Greek (with Cleopatra getting hieroglyphs for flavor text), and Mary Read and Anne Bonney in English.

Finally, the basic lands were used to show off the many historical settings of the various games. The locations are an essential part of Assassin's Creed, and the full-art lands were an excellent venue to show off these landscapes.


Physical movement in the game was the hardest of the three principles to capture as Magic isn't a traditional video game and doesn't have movement as a component of the game. It does have combat though, which is the closest Magic comes to having movement. Corey looked back at all the mechanics dealing with combat and came across one known as prowl.

Notorious Throng Stinkdrinker Bandit Enigma Thief

I designed prowl back when I was on the design team for Morningtide. The set had a typal theme revolving around class creature types, and I was trying to find a mechanical hook for Rogues. I liked the idea of spells that got cheaper if a Rogue managed to sneak by your opponent's defenses and deal combat damage to them. To play into the larger typal theme of the Lorwyn block, all cards with prowl had a creature type (using the tribal, now kindred, supertype to allow us to put creature types on noncreature cards) and cared about any creature that shared a creature type with it. For all the spells, this was just Rogue, but for the creatures, there would be a species creature type in addition to the class creature type, so a Goblin Rogue with prowl could care about Goblins as well as Rogues.

Corey obviously wanted to care about Assassins rather than Rogues, and he also wanted to take off the text about sharing the same creature type as the spell (as we weren't planning to use kindred in the set), so that allowed him to rename it to something referencing an action skill in the game, freerunning. In Assassin's Creed, freerunning is the name of the acrobatic parkour skill used to navigate settings, fluidly climb buildings, and jump from architectural and natural structures, primarily used by the members of the Brotherhood. Freerunning, the mechanic, shows up in every color but is focused in black. To help make it more relevant to Commander, in addition to Assassins, Corey referenced commanders as well.

Once we had the three principles nailed down, the next step entailed figuring out how exactly to design the set to allow players to play with it in Constructed. Corey and the play designers approached this by designing synergy clusters, that is, five to ten cards that revolve around a similar mechanical element that would be synergistic with one another and could be included as a whole group in a deck.

Note that this is a bit different than how we design archetypes when creating a set to be drafted. In an archetype-driven set, we need to have overlap between the archetypes to make sure that no one archetype is the only one drafting too many cards, as this leads to draft repetition where the same archetype keeps getting the same cards. Synergy clusters, in contrast, don't have to overlap and can push harder into its theme.

The set was mostly playtested in Commander (it was this playtesting that convinced Corey of commanders needing to be part of freerunning), but there were Modern consultants who took a pass at the set. When I interviewed Corey for this article, he told me the story of how he convinced the consultants who came in to work on Modern Horizons 3 to look at Assassin's Creed.

There's also a Starter Kit themed to Assassin's Creed that has some original content not found in boosters. We find Universes Beyond to be a good entry point for new players (fans of the property who have their first introduction to Magic) and have been trying to make more beginner-focused products using the Universes Beyond licenses.

And that, in 3,000 words, is how we designed Magic: The Gathering® – Assassin's Creed®.

One last thing before I go. I have a preview card to show you.

Click here to see Senu, Keen-Eyed Protector

0008_MTGACR_Main: Senu, Keen-Eyed Protector 0181_MTGACR_FoilEtch: Senu, Keen-Eyed Protector 0128_MTGACR_MemShowc: Senu, Keen-Eyed Protector

Senu is a female Bonelli's eagle from ancient Egypt. She appears in the game Assassin's Creed: Origins, which takes place in the Ptolemaic Kingdom during the first century BCE. She was a loyal companion of Bayek, one of the characters you play in the game.

Freerun Along

That's all the time I have for today. I hope you enjoyed my peek into the design of Magic: The Gathering® – Assassin's Creed®. If you have any feedback on today's article or on the set itself, you can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (X, Blogatog, Instagram, and TikTok).

Until next time, may you have fun experiencing the settings and characters of Assassin's Creed.