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How Are Magic Sets Made?

I've been playing Magic: The Gathering for some time, and today I want to share my tricks.

Each Magic set has its own history and evolution and of course faces different design phases such as seven-year planning where future sets are broadly planned as well as other phases of Vision Design, Set Design and Play Design.
The task of Vision Design is to create the general infrastructure and give the general indications needed in the subsequent phases to develop the main themes of the set in the most correct way.
The task of Set Design is to add structural elements to the set and to better develop the cards by taking the ideas proposed by the Vision Design.
The task of the Play Design is to make sure that the product of the Set Design is as beautiful as possible to play, defining it in detail, and that it is in line with the other expansions released previously and make sure that there is no interference destructive with other formats.

In addition to the people involved in these phases, there are still plenty of figures working in and out of the Wizard of the Coast to make sure that MTG can be played live or online. I am thinking for example of the illustrators, the writers who develop the storylines, the programmers who make sure that MTG Arena and MTG Online can present all the additional cards and animations and that the cards can perform the actions in the correct way, not to mention those who deal with the physical printing of the cards, which have long since exceeded 20 billion physical cards, the logistics that distributes the game in a hundred countries around the world and the translators who make sure that Magic: The gathering is available in over 10 languages.

We as players often do not realize the large amount of people and work that is done behind the scenes to be able to always bring us something new in our favorite hobby.
Of course Wizard of the Coast or Hasbro (which runs WOTC) are rightfully for-profit companies but I think Magic: The Gathering wouldn't be a global phenomenon today if it weren't for the passion of the people who work there and for the people who play it every day.

Going back to how sets are designed, in general, Magic: The Gathering sets are usually designed following two possible alternative paths:
Top-Down or Bottom-Up.

Innistrad

Innistrad

Amonkhet

Amonkhet

The Top-Down design methodology starts from a strong theme or setting usually external to Magic and develops the idea with the aim of being able to convey what is called "Flavor" within the cards.
Very often in order to do this, references in pop culture are used as they are generally widespread and easy to recognize.
The way in which the cards can convey these sensations are, for example, through the illustrations that can be linked at a glance to different themes.
The use of colors or shades can help convey the feeling of open or sunny places as well as convey the idea of ​​closed and gloomy places.
The other characteristics of the cards can also help to give a connotation, the game mechanics are designed precisely to reflect the original ideal and help convey in the correct way. Even the individual cards can be designed in Top-Down to reproduce iconic characters.

The advantage of this design is to be very evocative and to be able to polarize the players who are naturally attracted to the chosen theme while among the possible disadvantages we can find a lower precision of the balance of the game mechanics.

As an example these are some themes that have been developed in sets such as Top-Down designs: Gothic Horror (Innistrad), Ancient Egypt (Amonkhet), fairy tales and Arcturian Fantasy (Eldrane), Norse Mythology (Kaldheim) and many others.

Ravnica

Ravnica

Zendikar

Zendikar

In the Bottom-Up design methodology, we start from known game mechanics or from the exploration of a new area and develop new technologies and new connections.
This is to be able to continue to expand Magic without running out of ideas or to make sure that the same interactions do not repeat too often making the game less interesting and less long-lived.

Since we start from the mechanics to define the Set a lot of time will be used for balancing the mechanics in the colors and how they interact with each other.
Relatively less time is devoted to investigating the settings that take on a secondary role.

This is not to say that the environments do not count or do not lead in turn to additions to the main theme, for example Zendikar was born from the idea of ​​developing new mechanics based on lands, from which the setting of the plan was taken as a adventure world, which in turn brought other mechanics such as trap cards.

The advantage of this design is to generate particularly cohesive sets and usually with excellent gameplay, on the other hand they do not deepen too much the environments that remain more in the background. The greatest risk is the loss of an identity or anonymity.

By way of example these are some mechanics that have been developed in sets such as Bottom-Up designs: Land Matters (Zendikar), Artifact Matters (Mirrodin), Bicolor Guilds (Ravnica), Tricolor (Alara), and many more.
Strixhaven is a Bottom-Up type design focused on Spells

Conclusions

Either option can bring many benefits to the different Magic sets being developed by Wizard of the Coast.
There is no right and wrong way between the methods described in this article, both options are useful to keep Magic: The Gathering fresh and interesting for different types of players.
Personally I think that the alternation of Top-Down and Bottom-Up sets is a great wealth of Magic precisely because it is attractive and interesting for different market segments and at the same time looking for new areas of gameplay expansion and finding new design spaces. By focusing only on one type, in fact, you risk "burning" the available space too quickly, making the sets less coherent with each other or you tend to bore the players too much because the expansions would all be too similar.
Let's imagine a seven-year series of just Egyptian-themed or Artifact-themed sets, even the most loyal would feel bored while everyone else would find no reason to play Magic.
Alternating also gives the Wizard of the Coast time to do market surveys and learn from their mistakes before repeating the same mechanic or game theme again. It also allows them to have the necessary time so that the request is created again by players requesting the return of particularly interesting mechanics or game worlds.
Moving constantly also helps to hide some mistakes as players tend to focus more on the novelty and forget certain other things already acquired.
This way you stimulate the market without getting bored, explore new areas without upsetting the game too much and extend the overall longevity of Magic: The Gathering.

We as players can only be happy!

© 2021 Christian Allasia

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