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23, Aug, 21

MTG Lead Designer Reveals Internal Design Document for Beloved Magic Set

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Mark Rosewater, Lead Designer for Magic: the Gathering has had a huge influence on the game over his many years at Wizards of the Coast. He is generally responsible for overall design of various Magic Sets. Most recently, he’s been responsible for the design of the upcoming set Innistrad: Midnight Hunt. He was also the mastermind behind the original Innistrad set. Today, Rosewater showed off his “Design Hand Off Document” for the Original Innistrad to give us a look into the set design process of one of Magic‘s most beloved sets.

Set themes

Once Rosewater was finished with the overall design of Innistrad, he passes along this document to the “set design” team to flush out more of the specifics. The team set off on one simple task: create a world of horror in Magic. The team ultimately landed on 4 main pillars or themes of the set.

  • Tribal “Monsters”
  • Graveyard focus
  • “Death Matters”
  • Transformation

Tribal “Monsters”

There were 5 main tribes that the team wanted to focus on, that being Werewolves, Humans, Zombies, Vampires, and Spirits. They had identify what colors would fit into these 5 tribes the best. Werewolves were Green and Red, Humans were primarily White, but branched into all 5 colors in some way, Zombies were Blue and Black, Vampieres were Red and Black, and Spirits were primarily Blue and White. With these colors in mind, abilities could be assigned to the cards and the team could even try to apply the other pillar themes to these creatures.


The next theme to tackle was that of graveyards. The team wanted to have cards in the set that were powerful when they were in the graveyard. The mechanic that the team landed on was Flashback. Giving spells Flashback was a perfect fit for a “horror” themed world, like a human coming back from the dead. Some of Magic’s most iconic Flashback focused spells came from this set.

Death Matters

Coming off the graveyard, the next theme was to figure out ways to make the death of creatures matter. There are plenty of on-death triggered abilities in the set, but the team came up with the Morbid mechanic. This was a condition that would cause an ability to trigger or function differently if a creature had died in the turn.


The last pillar that the team had left to tackle was the “transformation” pillar. This involved the creation of transforming dual-faced cards (TDFC). Unlike the Modal Dual Faced Cards (MDFC), TDFCs had a condition to trigger the card transforming to the other side of the card. This ability was assigned to the werewolves primarily, as that was the most on flavor choice, but there were some other cards such as Garruk Relentless that got this treatment as well.

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Minor themes

Two minor themes that the team wanted to include was that of Curses, a new enchantment subtype that definitely lent itself to being a part of a horror focused world, and Devils. both of these choices were meant meant to be stand alone themes, but didn’t really fit the overall pillars, but still had a place.

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Limited Themes

Once these preliminary pillars were set, the team was able to assign some mechanics and goals for each of the 5 colors and color combinations for limited play. This would help round out each of the colors for the rest of the design process. For example, Green was a primarily focused on having creatures in the graveyard, while Black was best at graveyard recursion. In the 2 color space, Green and white decks should be a human focused deck, while Blue and Red was a mill and graveyards as a resource strategy.

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With Innistrad Midnight Hunt previews coming up next week, this was a really cool treat. I’m sure that there’s another document just like this one, and I’d love to see what the team has come up with for our third trip back to the plane of horror.

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