SDCC: MTG’s Mark Rosewater talks new mechanics and surprises

Magic: the Gathering has come a long way, from its humble beginnings back in 1993, to becoming the world’s most played trading card game. Fans from around the world have made this game a staple part of their tabletop game nights, myself included. We got a chance to reconnect with Mark Rosewater, Head Designer for Magic: The Gathering, to talk about what the future holds for the outstanding trading card game!

Nerd Reactor: How are you? Are you having a good (Comic) Con?

Mark Rosewater: I’m doing good! I always have a good Con! San Diego Comic Con is fun!

NR: Obviously, there’s been a lot of change in the last couple of years. 

MR: Yeah.

NR: You went from your most typical mechanics that have been the game’s mainstays, to ramping things up with mechanics like vehicles and ascend. And now there’s pirates and dinosaurs in the game! How do you feel about the shift in the direction Magic (:the Gathering) is going?

MR: Well, I think Magic is always reinventing itself. That’s normal. The biggest change, really, is behind the scenes in how we make the sets. Every set is going to have new things, they’ll do things we’ve never done before. Some of it sticks around, and some of it comes and goes.

As we stretch boundaries, in order for us to do stuff we’ve never done before, we have to go a little further away. So that’s the biggest thing, the game is 25 years old, and we’ve done the obvious things, so now we’re doing the little less obvious things.

NR: Right now, you have the 2018 Core Set coming out, and it has a lot of new and old cards that are everybody’s favorite! Are there any highlights for you of cards that we’re going to see come back into the mix?

MR: The thing that I’ve always liked is that we used to do a thing called “You Make the Card,” where we went to the audience and let them design the card. We ended up with an artifact that let’s you pull a land from the graveyard, called Crucible of Worlds. We gave them the parameters of what color they want, what card type did they want to be. The audience -vote by vote- began to shape the card! They picked who the artist was and what the sketch looked like and what the card did, they did all of it.

And so, the second one we ever did, it was a card called Crucible of Worlds, it was a really neat design, and became a fan favorite. So we’re bringing it back! It’s going to be played in all formats, and people have been asking for it. It’s like a classic coming back to the fold!

NR: Have you had any opportunity to play test the new Core Set?

MR: Well, we have a whole team, called Play Design, whose whole job is to play test everything (laughs). I don’t get to do that, because there is a whole team who does it. But yes, everything we do gets heavily play tested, and we have something the Future Future League. So the Future Future League tests what will be standard a year from now. So we test the future! Because if we find a problem, it’s enough time to change and fix it.

So basically, if you think of the whole process of making Magic cards, Research and Development literally works on them for two years before they hand them off to someone else who physically makes the cards. I do the early part, sitting with a blank piece of paper, figuring out what they’re going to be in the first place? What’s are the mechanics going to be? What’s the mood, the flavor, and the tone?

I work with the creative team to figure out what world we’re going to, and if it’s a brand new world, what does that mean, mechanically? And if it’s an old world, what parts do we want to bring back? I’m in charge of vision design. I’m the architect, I make the blueprints, and then I hand them off to the builder to make the house.

NR: We’ve had everything from Ancient Egypt, Zombies, dragons and monsters, pirates and dinosaurs. So I guess the obvious question is what’s next?

MR: Well, what’s next is Ravnica (laughs)! Basically what’s happened is that we’re going to go back to one of our most popular worlds, which is Ravnica, home of the Guilds! So people who like multi-colored play, that’s what Ravnica is all about. We’re going to go back, you’re going to be able to pick your Guilds.

We’ll have Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance, which the first five Guilds will be Boros, Dimir, Selesnya, Golgari and Izzet. The second set of five will be Simic, Azorius, Rakdos, Orzhov and Gruul. We’ll have two different sets, and they’ll be a lot like Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash in how they’ll work. You’ll draft each set by themselves, and they’ll be five guilds you can play.

And then, we have a big surprise happening at the end of the year that I can’t talk about yet. But if you’ve been following the storyline, it’s going to tie into things, and it is one of the most ambitious sets we’ve ever made!

NR: Really? That’s saying a lot!

MR: Yeah! “Milk” (code name) is going to be pretty cool, but I can’t talk about it right now (laughs).

NR: In terms of this year’s exclusive for Comic Con, what was the thought process behind this year’s Planeswalkers design?

MR: Normally what we do is we take the set that came right before, and so we looked at Dominaria. Dominaria was all about history, and it’s the 25th anniversary of the game, so we said ok. Let’s take the Gatewatch characters and talk about who inspires them. What are the characters from the past that hold an interesting connection to them. And so each of the characters, we got artist Terese Nielsen -awesome artist- to draw characters in front of a stained glass of a past character that is thematically connected in some way.

So they’re characters that either share the same color, that has some connection. And the relationships are different, some of them are adversarial and some are friendly. Some of them are more inspirational. The five Planeswalker cards feature the characters Gideon Jura, Jace Beleren, Liliana Vess, Chandra Nalaar and Nissa Revane.

NR: One last thing. Being here at Comic Con, you get a chance to interact with a lot of fans of the game. What has been one of the biggest highlights for you during your Con experience?

MR: One of the things I really, really like about meeting the fans is that a lot times I’ll meet people, and the game has been a part of their life for a long, long time! And now, I’m able to meet people with their kids, and their kids are getting into it. We’ve crossed a generational barrier where adults -as kids- got into it, and now their teaching their kids to love the game. That’s really cool to me.

That’s one of the things that’s a lot of fun, that I’ve been in this since the beginning: I’ve been playing Magic since ’93, freelancing with Wizards (of the Coast) since ’94, and I’ve been working full-time with Wizards since ’95. So, I’ve been doing this a long time, and just to meet fans who have been in it for almost or as long as me, or to even meet new fans! New fans who have just discovered the game! Anyways, I love meeting the fans.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the latest releases, head over to Wizards of the Coast by clicking here!

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