Creating Commander Masters – Magic: The Gathering – Max McCall Interview

Max McCall spoke to Gamepur about the creation of the Commander Masters set for Magic: The Gathering.

Image Via. Wizards of the Coast

The Magic: The Gathering Masters sets are all about reprinting older cards, some of which get brand new artwork in the process to make them more available to players for a wider variety of formats. Commander Masters is a set dedicated entirely to reprinting cards for the popular Commander format,

One of the minds behind the Commander Masters set was Architect Max McCall, who helped design the set. Gamepur recently had the chance to speak to Max about the decisions that went into creating the Commander Masters set, especially when it came to the challenges of devoting an entire reprint set devoted to the Commander format.

Why Commander Was Chosen As The Focus For The Next Magic: The Gathering Set

Image Via Wizards of the Coast

Gamepur: Why was the Commander format chosen to be the focus of the new Masters set?

Commander is the most popular Magic format, but hadn’t had a Masters set devoted to it yet – it was about time to bring the focus of Masters to Commander.

Gamepur: What kind of decision process goes into choosing which cards will be reprinted in a Masters set?

Because Commander Masters is drafted with the special rule that all of the mono-colored legends have Partner, most of the commons and uncommons were picked to be versatile in whatever Commander deck you’re drafting. For other cards, we were looking for exciting cards like Jeweled Lotus, or cards that contribute to great story moments like Deflecting Swat.

Gamepur: Commander Masters is the third Magic: The Gathering Commander set with a focus on Draft. How has the experience with the previous sets (Commander Legends and Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate) shape this new set?

The trickiest element of designing Commander draft is making sure folks have access to Commanders that match the colors they drafted. For the original Commander Legends, we used Partner to tie the colors together, and for Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate we used Background. For Commander Masters we went back to Partner, except instead of forcing people to only use Commanders that have Partner, for the purpose of drafting Commander Masters, you’ll be able to use any two mono-colored legends as though they have partner.

Designing The Commander Decks & New Artwork For Commander Masters

Image Via Wizards of the Coast

Gamepur: Commander Masters is receiving four Commander Decks: Eldrazi Unbound (a colorless Eldrazi deck), Enduring Enchantments (Black/Green/White Enchantment deck), Planeswalker Party (Blue/Red/White Planeswalker deck), and Sliver Swarm (all color Sliver deck.) Why did the team go with those specific themes for the set, and what design challenges were faced when building them out of existing cards?

The themes for Commander Masters’ Commander decks were picked because they’re themes that are hard to do outside the context of a Masters set – they’re just too weird. Planeswalker Commander decks are hard to build and play, and zero-color Eldrazi is one of the stranger concoctions folks can try. They’re also deckbuilding themes that could use some new cards, but are hard to make new cards that fit in other sets. Eldrazi and Slivers, for example, pose big worldbuilding challenges if we want to print just a couple of extra. With Commander Masters, though, we got to take advantage of the new decks to give the themes some cards we’re hoping folks will enjoy building around.

Gamepur: The four Commander Decks in Commander Masters will include ten new cards each. What can you tell us about the new cards and how they tie into the themes of their respective Commander Decks?

All of the new cards in the Commander decks help support the themes of the decks in some way. Some, like Composer of Spring in Anikthea’s deck, or Onakke Oathkeeper in Commodore Guff’s deck, are ‘glue’ helping to support the main themes. But every deck also has plenty of cards paying off their themes as well – Darksteel Monolith is great in Zhuludok’s deck because it itself cascades with Zhuludok in play, and lets you do more cascading in future turns. And of course, all of the new Slivers in Sliver Gravemother’s deck are helping bring about her plans of Sliver domination.

Gamepur: Commander Masters will feature gorgeous new artwork & frame variants for some of the cards in the set, including Borderless Profile Legendary Creatures and Borderless Frame Break cards. Seeing as only a limited number of cards are updated in this way, what process is used for deciding which cards receive new artwork?

Deciding on which cards to give new booster fun art to was tricky for Commander Masters. I feel it’s very important for booster fun art to exist at lower rarities – cool borderless cards should be for everyone. So, for Commander Masters I was looking for popular Commander commons and uncommons to make booster fun versions for. We also wanted to make sure we had a great cross-section of legends to create Borderless Profile versions for. The Borderless Frame Break cards were a little trickier – most Magic cards are concepted in such a way that they’re not breaking the frame, and it proved a bit tricky to find cards that could break into the text box in ways that would feel organic and cool, but cards like Balefire Dragon and the Fierce Guardianship cycle proved to be really strong anchors for that style of art. For the rest of the Borderless cards, we largely picked our favorite cool cards – I know a couple of cards got added because folks wanted borderless versions for their decks 

And finally, what’s your personal favorite new artwork from the set?

I am a huge fan of the Borderless Frame Break Balefire Dragon – it perfectly fits my mental image from when I first saw Balefire Dragon in the original Innistrad, flying over and breathing fire on everything while it carried me to victory.