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MTG Interview Part 2: Rosewater and Rasmussen on Universes Beyond

At MagicCon, we spoke to the head designer of Magic: The Gathering and the Director of Communications! In this part we talk more about Universes Beyond and hints about future ones.

Fellow Steelhead Luke Siuty and I attened MagicCon in Chicago, where we delved into the world of Magic: The Gathering. This is the second part of our interview! Don't forget to read part 1 of our interview with Mark Rosewater and Blake Rasmussen.

Mark Rosewater, the Head Designer for Magic: The Gathering, and Blake Rasmussen, the Director of Communications for Wizards of the Coast on the game, sat down to speak to us at MagicCon. We'll speak more in-depth about Universes Beyond and how they approach creating sets like that.

Read on for this fascinating interview! Please share it amongst Magic: The Gathering communities.

Magic: The Gathering interview with Mark Rosewater and Blake Rasmussen

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What do you consider when it comes to creating or designing cards for various formats, such as Commander, Standard, Highlander, Canadian Highlander? Is it 50/50 every set as it will have something for a format and the rest for another format?

Mark Rosewater: Here's the secret of making Magic: we make a lot of cards. Every card doesn't have to be for every player. A metaphor I like is that Making magic is like making up a buffet. And the way you make a successful buffet is that every player has to really enjoy something at the buffet. They don’t have to like everything. There's actually something at the buffet that they love, you know, and maybe you love seafood, so you're really excited because we have seafood.

So really, the way we do it is every card in the set isn't for the same person. And so the trick is just make sure we make a lot of different kinds of cards for different kinds of players. And part of that is different formats, part of the different style of play. But we have a lot of different ways. We sort of chop up the player base the way we think of them, and we want every set to sort of get as many of those types as we can.

Going back to Universes Beyond. Do you happen to have a “creative banlist" where you say “we're not going to go in this direction or this setting. Magic does not work in this setting” You've worked on cyberpunk and now you’re doing western cowboys, etc.

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Blake Rasmussen: I want to hear what Mark says too, but I think that's just not how we approach Universes Beyond. Right now Universes Beyond is so new that it's more what do we want to do rather than what can't we do. We go out, we look, and we try to meet those partners and see if it's the right fit. It's less of a "we can't" list and more a "what can we do" list.

Mark Rosewater: Yeah, I mean, specifically on Universes Beyond, there's like three things we look at when we want to make a Universes Beyond product. Number one, can we make a good Magic set because if we can't, then does it matter? Number two is do have a partner who wants to work with us because even we can make an amazing Magic cards, that doesn't matter if we have no partner, and then number three is just from a business standpoint, is there a big enough audience that do enough people want to buy this? Because even we can make it a Magic set and we can't sell enough, it just doesn't make sense.

But if those three things are true, that is the thing that drives us. I think Blake is correct. It's not like, what can't we do as much as what makes sense and what works within the parameters of what will make for a good Universes Beyond set.

Let's talk real quick then about Ubisoft and Assassin's Creed. I'm just curious, did they approach you or did you approach them? Were you like, “Oh man, Assassin's Creed, that looks really cool!” or did Ubisoft come to you guys?

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Mark Rosewater: This is an educated guess. The first thing I’ll say is that I don't definitively know because it's early in the Universes Beyond life, odds are that early on we went to people because they didn’t know that it was a thing. Once we started making sets and sets were coming out, something like The Lord of the Rings where people could physically see it. Now, there are companies that are aware of it, and they know. We're now starting to get approached because people are aware that it exists early on. My guess on Assassin's Creed is so early that like, well, they didn't know we were doing anything, so I'm pretty sure we went to them but I'm not 100% sure.

Blake Rasmussen: That said, the people we've worked with on Assassin's Creed are huge Magic fans. There are huge Assassin's Creed Magic fans. Basically every company we've worked with, there’s always someone there that loves Magic it's such an influential game. People who work at game companies especially, you always find Magic fans there. So that's what I was actually saying about the Fallout folks who are here this weekend. Some of the Fallout folks and I were talking, and we basically started playing Magic at the same time, but both of them here, huge Magic fans. On the calls I've been on with folks who are working on Assassin's Creed, they're magic fans. Other IP’s, same thing. It's really cool to just have a bunch of people on the call who are all just kind of fanning over each other.

Mark Rosewater: The way I describe it is, I think Magic is kind of like game designer catnip for a lot of players. One of the cool things about Magic is it really sort of says, “Hey, you, the player, can design your experience!” You can choose what you play and what decks you do, and it really lets you craft a game. Where most games just don't let you do that. So a lot of people play Magic when they're young and then just it inspires them. For example, if I go right now and I walk through this hall, I'll get stopped constantly because people know me. The one other place that was true was out of that GDC, the Game Developers Conference. I couldn't walk because lots of game designers play magic. It's one of the places everyone knew me was at the Game Developers Conference. So, with any game company we work with there’s always passionate Magic players.

Very cool. On the topic of Leonardo Da Vinci. As somebody pointed out on your Tumblr, you guys have done historical figures before like some of the Chinese historical figures.

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Mark Rosewater: We technically have done some in Arabian Nights and have some in Portal Three Kingdoms but I mean, this is kind of new. We didn't talk about it like it came up. We really haven't done it. At least most of those are characters that maybe certain people know, but the average person might not know who they are. I mean, you know, they're the Da Vincis, most people know that. I think what we decided was such a core part of the Assassin's Creed experience.

They were like, “Hey, we shouldn't show those off”. And we said, “Why can't we do that?”, and I think we would much rather not do modern people as there's a lot more baggage with a modern day living person than there is with someone that lived 500, 600, etc years ago.

On IPs such as Fallout and Assassin's Creed. What goes into planning the PR and marketing for major Magic sets and releases?

Blake Rasmussen: A lot of the core functionalities are the same. We still do Preview Seasons. A lot of the back end work is talking to them about how we run our marketing, why we do it that way, and for some of it, we have to explain and bring them along the process a little bit just because our marketing for a set is so unique. We were actually talking the other day with the Fallout folks. What we used for our preview planning is an Excel spreadsheet, but it's got 500 rows and like six tabs on it. We know what we're looking at, but showing other people that and being like, “Yeah, this is, this is what we do. This is how we keep track of it.” Their jaws literally drop.

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It’s a unique experience that is always made better with the great partners that we've had because every step of the way is a partnership from card design up through marketing. There's a lot of back and forth and talking about things and showing each other your work and that sort of deal. So it adds a little bit of extra time to go back and forth but everyone we've worked with has been really great and I'm like, “Oh yeah, absolutely.” Or like, “Hey, actually this person would have said this instead, so maybe try this.” So it's a bit more collaborative than a normal set, but the overall structure is pretty much the same.

Mark Rosewater: The way we tend to word it is we're the experts in Magic and they're the experts in their IP. So it's really important, like to show them in. They get really good notes. They know their IP, you know, and often there's very little tiny details that they'll point out that is like, “Our fans will know this!” and you have to be careful, you know, and they'll point out stuff that we may not have thought of, you know, And so that's great. That's why you want a partner that obviously knows their material, because it really will give you very excellent notes, like, here's how to make the thing the most better on whatever the license is.

Thanks for reading! Please share with your MTG community. We have another interview in the works!

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