Magic: The Gathering’s Commanders have featured all kinds of powerful wizards and warriors from across the multiverse, but some of the next ones will be doctors, or specifically, The Doctors, as Doctor Who is part of a crossover that will bring four Commander Decks and boosters to the card game. This means that the people who worked on the set had to deal with adapting a popular franchise that’s approaching its 60th anniversary, one filled with all kinds of strange and beloved characters that fans are expecting to see.
Gamepur spoke to Gavin Verhey, Principal Designer on Magic and the lead designer of the Doctor Who Commander decks, who is also a Doctor Who superfan. We spoke about the decisions that went into creating such an important crossover, the characters that did and didn’t make it in, and the presence of the upcoming iteration of the Doctor in the card game.
Selecting The Doctor Who Characters For Magic: The Gathering
Gamepur: The Doctor Who x MTG crossover set features four Commander Decks (based on the Fourth Doctor, the Tenth Doctor, the Thirteenth Doctor, and a villain deck fronted by Davros). Why were these characters & themes chosen over the many other iconic figures from Doctor Who?
Gavin: It was so very hard to choose! I mean, when a show has been around 60 years there’s so much to pull from. But ultimately, we decided to divvy the decks up by eras: one for the classic era, one for the relaunch, one for the newest era, and then one villains deck to have all the villains across space and time. From there it was a matter of showing off popular doctors from that era – or in the villains case, Davros, the person who made the Daleks!
Gamepur: How involved was the BBC when it came to choosing characters that will appear in the set and how they’re reflected in the game?
Gavin: The BBC were fantastic partners, and really trusted us a lot. I’d occasionally run things by them, or go back and forth on characters, but they ended up being game for pretty close to exactly what I wanted to do when it came to characters. Being a superfan myself, I think that really helped point me in the right direction to make sure I hit all the big notes the BBC would expect.
Gamepur: Unlike most of the previous Magic: The Gathering crossovers, the Doctor Who collaboration includes the likeness of real-life actors, so how was that factored into their depiction in the card game?
Gavin: Previous crossovers like Stranger Things have also done this – but yes, it’s something important to get right. Fortunately, Doctor Who has plenty of great reference: you can just watch episodes! We gave our artist a ton of material to work with, and many actors have likeness approval over the final pieces. It’s quite cool when you get an email that David Tennant has seen these pieces and liked them, you know!
Adapting Doctor Who Concepts To Magic: The Gathering Mechanics
Gamepur: The Doctor Who x Magic: The Gathering crossover introduces new mechanics into the game (Paradox, Villainous Choice, and more). What do these new mechanics bring to the game?
Gavin: Right on: each deck has its own mechanic it’s focused around. Historic is a returning mechanic, but the other three are new!
Time Travel really helps you feel like The Doctor, manipulating the flow of time. No Commander deck has ever done this theme before, so it’s really new and novel – I can’t wait to see what people do with it!
Paradox asks you to be clever – just like The Doctor – to cast spells not from your hand. That sounds difficult, but there are tons of ways to get around it with other mechanics. You really feel like an inventor with this one!
And finally, villainous choice! This mechanic makes one (or sometimes more!) of your opponents choose between two bad things. Villains love doing this, don’t they, the “choose between your friend or the ship of innocent people!” kind of moment. It really makes you feel like a villain in a fun way.
Gamepur: Was there an opportunity to include The Fifteenth Doctor in the set ahead of Ncuti Gatwa’s debut in the role?
Gavin: Not in the set… But we do have a plan for the Fourteenth and Fifteenth doctors. You’ll have to stay tuned to find out what those are!
Gamepur: And finally, do you have any personal favorite card from the set?
Gavin: There are so many I love! But one of my favorites with a neat story is River Song’s Diary. This is a card I actually designed about 14 years ago, before I even worked at Wizards and just made cards for fun. I kept it in my back pocket for the right moment. I never found a spot for it in a set… but then I was working on this set and the flavor was perfect for River Song’s Diary! Perfectly enough, a time travel from the past into the present.
The Doctor Who Commander Decks will be released on October 13, 2023, while the Doctor Who Secret Lair will be released on October 2.