13, Aug, 23

MTG Head Designer Hints at Potential for Alternate Reality Set

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Article at a Glance

MTG as a game and as a story is always expanding its realm of ideas and pushing boundaries. Especially with the increase of Universes Beyond sets, the designers of MTG have made it clear that they are more than willing to showcase unique storylines through their cards. If March of the Machine and March of the Machine: the Aftermath were any indication, many players are enfranchised in the lore of MTG as well. In a world where almost anything seems possible for MTG, there is one boundary that hasn’t been pushed too far, and that is the use of “what if” sets.

These “what if” possibilities are sometimes heavily explored throughout other franchises beyond Magic. For example, “What If” is an entire Marvel comic book anthology series, going over past stories of the Marvel Universe and turning them on their heads. Given MTG’s somewhat strict following of specific lore within card design, this may sound a bit difficult. Yet, this is not as outlandish of an idea as it may seem. To fully understand what creating an entire “what if” set would entail, it’s important to go over exactly what a “what if” set would look like and a brief history of past implementations of “what if” ideas.

What Is: What If

Elesh Norn

The entire idea behind a “what if” scenario is taking a previous story and changing key moments within the plot. This not only would affect the flow of the story moving forward, but it might even have a major impact on the outcomes of specific events, depending on how massively things are altered. For example, a huge part of the storyline leading up to March of the Machine involved an enormous Phyrexian Invasion. While the majority of Planeswalkers did end up losing their sparks as a result of the gruesome battles, the Phyrexians were ultimately defeated.

Well, what if the Phyrexians did succeed? Obviously, this causes a pivotal shift in the story in the moment, but the lore that follows would also be completely different. Given how in-tact MTG lore is and the necessary planning it would take to change specific details without unraveling the entire lore of MTG, it may seem far-fetched to create a “what-if” set. Well, believe it or not, this idea has been used in MTG design before, specifically within Planar Chaos.

Its also important to note that ‘what if’ sets, by their nature, are non-canon. The idea is to explore an alternate ending, but that exploration of that ending is the set itself. It’s not the real storyline.

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Historical Precedence

Mana Tithe

Planar Chaos took a very interesting approach back in 2007, focusing on time rifts within Dominaria. These time rifts both merged past and present and fractured MTG’s timeline into tons of different alternate histories. Not only did these ideas impact the cards from Planar Chaos directly, but they encouraged the creation of 45 “Timeshifted” cards in Planar Chaos, in this case sometimes called “Planeshifted” cards, designed to represent cards from alternate realities. To do so, Wizards of the Coast took pre-existing MTG cards, kept their functionality, but changed their colors.

These color pie breaks provided a unique way to showcase old cards and see “what if” they came from an alternate reality. Still, Timeshifted cards were only a small subset of Planar Chaos, so featuring a whole “what if” set around a specific topic change may be a bit harder. Even still, head designer Mark Rosewater has opened up the floor on his Blogatog to see how players would feel about “what if” sets in the future and what ideas should be used.

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Interesting Ideas

“for sure! I would want kind of oddball mechanical twists, especially color shifting that stays true to the color pie. Like avacyn restored where gristlebrand takes over innistrad. so maybe miracle or a twist on it is centered in black and red.”


In general, most people seem very open to the idea of a “what if” set, and there are some intriguing suggestions from the players. For user pallidpunkprincess, they’d like a set that showcases different storyline alternatives without entirely breaking the color pie, unlike with Planar Chaos and Timeshifted cards. In this case, they suggested using a scenario where Griselbrand takes over Innistrad in order to change existing mechanics, such as Miracle, in a clever way. In addition to twists within the mechanics themselves, having a major takeover like this could present a way for other pre-existing characters to be colorshifted, showing off their new environment and how they fit in.

“Would simply love this! Best case scenario for me would be a “future sight” style set with quirky designs and, above all, color shifted characters (i.e. a version of Serra caring for night creatures, vampires and maybe fallen angels). Also some crazy design frames would be much appreciated”


The idea of colorshifting characters seems to be a theme that multiple players would enjoy. In this case, a variant of Serra, as suggested, that incorporates the color black could be a neat idea, as no variant of Serra has ever featured black. That being said, some players like pallidpunkprincess aren’t interested in complete color pie breaks. Still, there’s a big difference between breaking the color pie without purpose and showcasing unique colorshifts applicable to an alternate storyline.

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Keeping Things Clear

Keen Sense

“Biggest issue for me would be keeping it clear what is non-canonical, like having a special frame (but i doubt you’d do a whole set of nonstandard frames) Maybe it could be the bonus sheet for a “Planar Chaos 2: This time the colour pie is intact””


“The problem is that they did a What If set, it was Planar Chaos, and everyone just said “wow i guess this is just how Magic is now”


While players are interested in a “what if” set for the most part, part of the reason why Planar Chaos had its issues was that it was a bit confusing as far as what was actually taking place in MTG lore. The color pie breaks were also a little all over the place. While many players mentioned that it would be cool to “revisit” Planar Chaos in an alternate realm where the color pie stays intact, there is some concern about doing so in a way that makes it clear what is and isn’t non-canonical.

In this sense, person-of-note’s idea of utilizing special frames, or the idea of showing off a supplemental set, could solve this problem well. With MTG design constantly pushing boundaries and more and more supplemental sets and crossovers being introduced every year, it makes sense that a “what if” set could be on the horizon. After all, Mark Rosewater has made it clear that he listens heavily to feedback regarding potential sets in the future.

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Feedback Inspiration

It’s interesting to look back at how many instances Mark Rosewater has been given feedback, be it via a poll or comment section, and those player requests have come true. One of these primary examples comes from a poll regarding what style of MTG world players would be most interested in. Of the seven options in the poll, the Wild West theme had more than double the votes of any other option. Interestingly, the announcements at Gen Con revealed an upcoming Wild West villain-focused set to be released in 2024.

This does not seem like just a coincidence. After all, players also expressed their desire to go back to Lorwyn and Tarkir, and both of these have also been revealed! Given that these highly requested topics became reality, it’s possible to assume that a “what if” set is, at minimum, under serious consideration. It may be a while before we get anything, but this is certainly hinting at what has potential in the future.

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