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MTG Gavin Verhey Interview Part 2: Unknown Events and Doctor Who

What was it like to create a Universe Beyond set, Verhey's favorite Doctor Who? That and more are covered in this final interview!

Welcome to the second part of our interview from MagicCon with Gavin Verhey! We love Commander and Magic: The Gathering at SteelSeries, so a few of us went to the event to enthuse about the card game and see some events. Chris "Clear" Sanchez had a fantastic conversation with Principal Game Designer for Magic: The Gathering, Gavin Verhey, who used to be a pro player.

Read the first part of our MTG interview with Gavin Verhey, and then dive into a few more questions below!

Gavin Verhey interview part 2

Which mechanic do you think you made a mistake in and would want to go back to and change?

lurrus of the dream den

Gavin Verhey: The mechanic I would go back and change how we did it would be Companion. Which is clear to me that we needed to do that, given the fact that we had errata'd it because it was too powerful. Companion was a mechanic that had really good intentions and had some fun space. I think the problem was the cards were designed a little too aggressively, like just the restrictions were not heavy enough. And the fact that they were free out of your board versus having to pay any kind of mana out was a big challenge. People say all the time, “companions are a busted, broken mechanic. There's no way to salvage it!” I entirely disagree. I think if you look at the companions that we made a number of, only get played very seldom. It's only the ones we kind of messed up on power level that ended up being a problem.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den was a huge issue. Lutri, (the Spellchaser), is usually played pretty fairly and I think that there are ways we could have made it work. I think that someday in the future it’d be interesting to investigate companions. But the thing is, companions are on a razor's edge. It's like if you go wrong with companion, you go REALLY WRONG with companion. So we have to be very careful. But one thing that I've noticed is that even though companions I think for 60 card play were more or less as I would call it a disaster, it went pretty badly, for Commander they’re beloved. People really enjoyed them because you want to get an extra card outside of the game anyway. One extra card in a four player game is not that big of a deal, and Commander players love deck building restrictions.

lutri the spellchaser

As the restrictions hit even harder when you're playing 100 cards singleton. I think we could try creating some that are more Commander-focused that would not impact Standard at some point. In fact, when we were working on Doctor Who, we even tried Companion there and the Companions all had if the Doctor is your Commander as the Companion line, which means that it's not an issue at all for constructed formats for competition because you don't have a Commander, but in Commander you could run them. So it didn’t work out there. At some point in the future, I think we could especially investigate some Commander-focused Companions. We have to do them in ways that we feel super hyper sure it will not impact Constructed because they were a huge problem.

Personally love Companion and I wish it would get more love in the future since I love playing with as many Commanders as I can in a single deck. Switching focus to your Unknown Events, they sold out for this MagicCon weekend! What kind of insights do you gather from Unknown Events, from the players, and from the cards?

Gavin Verhey: For anyone out there who isn't familiar with Unknown Events, this event we started last year. What happened is about a year and a half ago, the events team came to me and they're like, “Gavin, we want to have an event called The Unknown Event featuring Gavin. It's different every time and that's all we know. You figure it out!” and I was like, Okay, so they gave me carte blanche to do whatever I want. And basically I came back and pitched the idea of doing these events with these playtest cards with weird rules and play test cards that are different, but you never know what they're going to be and they're like “let’s give it a try!”

And we tried it last year at MagicCon Philadelphia, and it very quickly grew to be the most popular event at MagicCons. Right here at MagicCon Chicago this weekend there are two Unknown events. They're capped at 600 players a piece, and it sold out a month ago; they're super in-demand. I hope we get to add more seats in the future or more events. So for each of these, I design about 60 new playtest cards and for me, these 60 cards that I make can be ranged anywhere from just a totally goofy idea I had to all the way through to something like maybe I'm curious how people react to this. There's been a few times players have come up with playtest cards that they're like, “I really love this one. You should do it someday!” then I go back in my head and I'm like, “okay, I'll keep that in mind!” We then create a version of it that’s a little less wacky or a tweak on it.

Ral's vanguard

A lot of times the cards are just for fun and silly and like “yeah, I'm not going to worry about doing them anyway” but I love pushing Magic's balance. Magic is a game where you can do so many cool things, and the rules are incredible and intricate and very carefully written to make sure everything works. I understand why they're all there, but for these 3 hours, there's some stuff that doesn't work in the Magic rules. You can try out that is written in a way that we couldn’t normally write on a card or otherwise, so I occasionally learn some lessons from there.

But I'd say the biggest thing is just making people happy and having them smile. Have a lot of fun because seeing people come out of all walks of Magic and playing these things and all unified have a fun experience, casual, competitive, and so forth is a real blast.

Awesome! Looping back to Universes Beyond. What was the process behind translating everything from Doctor Who into Magic?

Gavin Verhey: It was definitely a long process! What I'll start with is it took us a long time to kind of crack the code on how to divide the decks up. With Warhammer, we were able to do four factions. That was really straightforward. Warhammer 40k, Four factions, Easy! With Lord of the Rings, same kind of deal, right?

I mean, they’re not the same type of factions as Warhammer, but we kind of split it up pretty easily. Oh, here's the Elves, here's the Humans, here are the forces of evil etc. with Doctor Who there's, there aren’t clean factions like that. We tried things like having a Doctor deck, a companion deck, a dallek deck, and master deck but it didn't really gel or congeal. And so we eventually came up with the idea. Chris Mooney, was one of our designers for Doctor Who. They are huge fan who was on my team and I was like “Hey Chris, we have to figure this out.” So they and I went in a room for about an hour and a half.

MTG Thirteenth doctor

I just worked on it. We just knocked their heads against the wall trying to figure it out and came up with this idea of eras and separating it by four different eras of the show. It worked great! We started putting things into buckets and trying things out, and it really was a clean way to divvy it up. Because when people come in, Doctor Who, the question they like to ask is, who's your doctor? Which one did you start with? And so everyone identifies with a time period of the show. Starting with that is what made a lot of sense here as we kind of figure out how to do that.

Then from there comes the matter of what do we want to do, right? There's so many episodes of Doctor Who, there are more episodes of Doctor Who than there are cards in the in the in the decks. So we had to pick and choose very carefully what we wanted to do and if I was afraid to leave on the sidelines. But ultimately, you know, we got a very wide range of the show there.

Was there anything specific in Doctor Who that you wanted to really bring it to Magic the gathering but you just couldn't?

Gavin Verhey: You know, there's a number of things we had to leave on the cutting room floor. One thing about building Commander decks that is true in any commander deck, has to do with the color identity rules. You can't put cards in your deck that break the color identity. One thing we really wanted to do was create a doctor that could play five color doctor deck with but that doesn't work as none of the decks are five colors. Fortunately, there are two new doctors coming up that have since now premiered on the show and I work with The Secret Lair team on this. We made a Secret Lair that actually had a four color Doctor.

mtg weeping angel

Another thing we had to leave on the cutting room floor is I wanted to make a legendary Weeping Angel Commander based on the division that would have white in its color identity so you could play it in your blink deck. Blink and Weeping Angels are a really fun pairing, but the villain deck didn’t have white in it. So it didn't make sense to actually do in the end. But maybe someday, if we do a second Doctor Who run, I'll blink that in there!

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