Are you curious as to what makes a Magic set…magic? Come take a look at the design handoff document for MTG’s Strixhaven.
Designing a Magic: the Gathering set is an arduous but creative process that involves many phases of design, and earlier Mark Rosewater gave players a peek behind the planes, showing off the “vision design handoff document” for Strixhaven. What is a vision design handoff document?
As Rosewater explains, it’s a document that they give the Set Design team which explains the overall vision of the set, walking designers through the themes and mechanics created during the “vision design” phase. Of course no plan survives contact with reality, and things changed during set design, but this is a great look at the intent going into the world of Strixhaven, as well as developer commentary from Rosewater. Let’s dive in.
Strixhaven‘s codename was “Fencing.” Most premier sets (there are some exceptions, such as the upcoming D&D set) are currently following a series of alphabetic sports names. Throne of Eldraine started as “Archery,” and since then we’ve had “Baseball” (Theros Beyond Death), “Cricket” (Ikoria), “Diving” (Zendikar Rising), and “Equestrian” (Kaldheim). Yet to come (of what’s started design) are “Golf,” “Hockey,” “Ice Skating,” “Judo,” “Kayaking,” “Lacrosse,” “Marathon,” and “Netball.” (There aren’t a lot of good choices for N. It’s an English variant of basketball.)
So there are eight more sets to look forward to–and looking at the sets we know are coming out there’s D&D as well as Innistrad Vampires & Werewolves, so that’s a few, but not all, of the sets currently in the works. But for “Fencing” there were four main parameters which defined the set:
It’s a top-down wizard school.
We’re trying to find more worlds with genre-rich trope clusters. While a magic school has plenty of its own tropes, it also lets us tap into school tropes, which are universal and plentiful (especially in pop culture). A lot of the resonance of this set is going to come from hitting as many of these school and/or magic school tropes as we can on cards.
It’s an enemy color gold set.
While we do enemy color gold cards from time to time, the last expansion to have it specifically as a theme was Apocalypse—eighteen years ago! (The last set to even have enemy colors as its main theme was Eventide—eleven years ago.) “Fencing” should make sure to have several desired enemy color cycles (a few are listed later in this document) and legendary creatures (as it’s something Commander players ask for all the time).
It’s a two-color faction set.
One of the biggest experiments of “Fencing” is trying to demonstrate that we can have two-color factions sets that have their own identity apart from Ravnica. As such, one of the main objectives of “Fencing” was to create five unique factions, called schools, that were flavorful and thematic yet still let the colors be true to themselves. The factions having new identities is a feature, not a bug of the design. Also, the fact that the factions are built around their internal conflict rather than their area of overlap is a unique distinction of the schools.
It has a strong instant and sorcery theme.
While we’ve used instants and sorceries as a small subtheme in the past, “Fencing” is making it a major theme of the set, thematically playing into the wizarding school motif. This focus has had a huge impact on what mechanics we’ve chosen and how we’ve executed certain elements of the set. Also, as the following set is returning to Innistrad, having a greater focus on spells will make a good contrast to “Golf,” which will be more focused on creatures.
As you can see, they hit that in spades. For more, take a look at the full document, linked below.
What do you think? Did Strixhaven deliver?