oday I'm here to tell you a story. A story of death and rebirth. A story of failure and redemption. The story of us all. This, my friends, is the story of Commander's Arsenal .
From the Most Humble Beginnings
A few months ago, the vice president and the chief electro-encephalographist from Wizards of the Coast's Advanced PsiOps division came to visit me at my desk. This was a treat, because no one ever visits the solitary wing of Subbasement F, let alone anyone from the lab-coat division. "Patient 327-9," they said, "the Mayans have prophesied that it is time for a new, premium-level product tailor-made for the most dedicated and awesome Commander players out there. Something that's a real treat for them. Something that suits their needs. Something that tells all their friends that they play Commander with who is the mack daddy at their table."
I nodded solemnly. Well, I would have, except for the head restraints. But I blinked once for yes, and I was unleashed on the project.
I knew exactly what to do. It was perfect. I immediately set about designing Magic: The Gathering: Clue. Or, perhaps, Clue: Magic: The Gathering. No, wait...Magic: The Gathering of Clues. Yeah. That's the one.
I love Clue. I love Magic. Merging the two was a no-brainer. Each player is a Planeswalker: Ajani (the white pawn), Chandra (the red pawn), Garruk (the green pawn), Mr. Jace Peacock (the blue pawn), Mustard Bolas (the gold pawn), and Liliana Plum (the purple pawn). The rooms were different planes, the space between was the Blind Eternities, the weapons were Fireball, Swords to Plowshares, Nevinyrral's Disk, and so on. Finally, Magic aficionados would be able to marshal their strategic powers to determine who killed Urza.
Once the game hit development, though, the problems became obvious. For one thing, Jace just kept planeswalking away entirely. Sometimes the Eldrazi showed up and ate the game board. But the biggest issue was that no matter what cards we randomly picked at the beginning, it turned out that the answer was always Nicol Bolas, with Murder, in Wherever He Damn Well Pleases. Kind of anticlimactic. So we shelved that idea and just did a box full of cool Commander stuff instead.
Cool Commander Stuff Instead
What's this cool stuff you keep hearing rumors about from me one sentence ago? Glad I asked that question for you. The Commander decks we released in 2011 went over so well that we're going to make them an annual release. But we came to that conclusion too late to hit 2012. New decks will smack you in the face in 2013, and lucky for you, the powers that be tapped the wackiest, brilliantest, Gottliebiest designer around to lead the design team. But, again, that doesn't help 2012. To fill the gap this year, and let you all know that we're serious about supporting the Commander format, we're putting out a kit of cool cards and accouterments specifically for Commander players.
- 18 premium cards specifically chosen to appeal to Commander players, in a special foil treatment
- 10 premium oversized legendary creatures that have never been oversized before
- A nifty insert about those legends that we made oversized
- A unique life tracker that can go up to 99
- 20 double-sided Battle Marks that work as both +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 counters
- 120 Ultra Pro foil card sleeves with an exclusive design
"Wow," you're thinking, "that's some overview. I only wish there was a more detailed callout of each feature."
My friend, it's your lucky day. Onward to details!
Details About... The Cards!
I was responsible for selecting which cards would appear in the box, although I certainly didn't do it alone. I consulted with just about everyone in R&D, with Commander players in the building, and with the PsiOps division. The primary criterion was that each card had to be appealing in Commander. It sounds obvious, but this is the crux of the product. I wanted an assembly of cards that Commander players truly want.
To make the box as special as possible, I weighted my choices toward cards that have never appeared in a premium treatment before—in fact, twelve of the eighteen cards fit this description. The only place on Earth to get foils of these cards are in the Commander's Arsenal box. Not only that, but five of them have never even appeared in the modern frame before... and there's even some new art among them! In fact, every single card in the box has never been foiled before, has never been in the modern frame before, has some kind of exclusive art on it, or a combination of those three attributes.
Fittingly, a full third of the cards are legendary creatures, none of which have previously been printed in a premium version. The Mimeoplasm; Kaalia of the Vast; and Edric, Spymaster of Trest are from the Commander decks we released last year. Maelstrom Wanderer and Vela the Night-Clad are from the Planechase (2012 Edition) decks we released this year. And Diaochan, Artful Beauty is from Portal Three Kingdoms. I love this find, because I don't think anyone I spoke to (including myself—and yes, I speak to myself quite often, thank me for asking) had ever heard of it before. I enjoyed seeing their eyes widen as they read the card and grasped its true multiplayer implications: Nothing dictates that the opponent who chooses the second target has to be the controller of the first target! For example, if I'm playing a Commander game with Mark Rosewater and Aaron Forsythe, I can target one of Aaron's creatures and decide that MaRo will choose the second target... and Mark can target one of Aaron's creatures too! Of course, the ploy could backfire because MaRo could target one of my creatures, maybe even Diaochan herself (which is sure to happen once she starts getting too killy). What a multiplayer card!
The remaining cards include the first-ever premium versions of old favorites Scroll Rack, Sylvan Library, and Desertion; new favorites Chaos Warp and Dragonlair Spider; and Portal Three Kingdoms card (and your commander's best friend) Loyal Retainers.
As for the other six cards, premium versions do exist, but some of them are quite scarce (such as the foil Command Tower, which was never sold but was given as a promo card to judges this year). I think you'll be excited to get Rhystic Study, Duplicant, Decree of Pain, Mirari's Wake, and Mind's Eye anyway... especially with the new (or hard-to-find) art that appears on all of them except Rhystic Study.
At this point, I'm supposed to tell you some cool behind-the-scenes stories behind why these cards were picked. That's why Trick had me write this article. Unfortunately, I can't really do that, because there aren't any. These cards were picked simply because they are awesome. Look at them: they are awesome cards! (The designer of the product gets a complimentary copy, right, Director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe???) I went for a reasonable color balance, and tried to hit most card types, and paid heed to advice from my peers. For example, Organized Play Programs Director Scott Larabee suggested Loyal Retainers and Desertion, while Judge Community Coordinator Eric Sorensen pled Decree of Pain's case. But there just wasn't a lot of drama here. Sorry, Trick!
Details About... The Oversized Cards!
The oversized premium versions of the Commander boxes' legendary creatures were pretty popular. Who doesn't like dominating a table with their jumbo Riku? So including some more here was a no-brainer. Deciding which ones to include took one or two brains, though. Again, I went for balance—both among colors and number of colors—while researching lists of the most popular commanders.
The biggest story here is that since oversized cards are most definitely not "a functionally identical form" of the cards they represent, and are even more clearly not tournament legal, they are exempt from our Reserved List policy. That allowed massive Sliver Queen and Karn, Silver Golem to come to town.
The remaining cards are a nice representational mix, but with only ten here (out of all legendary creatures ever!), we're going to miss far more of your personal favorites than we're going to hit. It happened to me, too—the Commander deck I play the most is led by Ghost Council of Orzhova, and I would've loved to have included good ol' Ghost Dad in the mix, but that would've thrown off the color balance among the two-colored cards too much, and I objectively believe that Grimgrin, Glissa, and Brion Stoutarm are a better trio. Stupid objectivity. I truly hope you find a card here that you already love, or that inspires you to build a new deck around. They're all worthy of following into battle.
Details About... The Insert!
I know, I know, you never read the insert that comes in any of these boxes. Folded up paper? Bah! You're a jetsetting gadabout on the go! You don't have time to unfold paper, let alone read it! I understand. My heart breaks, but I understand.
Just in case you're curious...
In this insert, wrangled into existence by editor and casual player extraordinaire Kelly Digges, you'll find firsthand accounts from Wizards of the Coast insiders (insofar as they're inside the building; we asked our actual employees) who have Commander decks featuring the ten oversized commander cards. So there's a blurb from the original Great Designer Alexis Janson describing what an Azusa deck can do and what's cool about it, an account from the inimitable Ken Nagle telling you what a Godo deck is all about, Aaron Forsythe advising you about infinite combos with Sliver Queen, and so on.
And yeah, we actually play Magic in our free time.
Details About... The Life Counter! And the Card Sleeves! And the Battle Marks!
This is the part of the story where my involvement diminishes to that of cheerleader. Can I select cards out of a database? Yes! Can I graphic design a thing? No! The work on the life counter, the battle marks counters, the card sleeves, and the box itself fell to an extremely talented team that included Art Director Lisa Hanson, Senior Graphic Designer Jino Choi, Packaging and Product Designers Veronica Vail Ruggenberg and Christine J. Lee, and Manager of Product Engineering David Stevens. The end results are really nifty.
We went through quite a few sketches and prototypes on the life counter, from things that looked like Neptunian clocks to things that... yeah, I'm just gonna stick with my Neptunian clocks metaphor here. Ultimately, we went with something that's relatively simple but highly practical, and very pleasing. This life counter goes from 0 to 99, is easily adjustable, and has nice big numbers everyone can see. Plus (and you'll have to trust me on this), it moves from number to number with a super-satisfying chunky click.
The counters are bold and stylish, with a big "+" on one side, and a big "-" on the reverse. Style really counts here—our goal is for the player equipped with a Commander's Arsenal to be the coolest player at the table.
Similarly, the design on the card sleeves pops, and this product is the only place they're available. Importantly, there are 120 sleeves in each box, just in case any of them break, get lost, or any other calamity befalls them. If we had included exactly 100, and just one breaks, well, you're fine because you probably put your commander in a different sleeve to set it apart. But if a second one broke, the remaining 98 would be useless. We're giving you 120 because we've got your back.
Get a Clue
That's about it for me. I hope you enjoyed reading my satirical (but secretly totally serious ohmygod it'd be so cool I hope someone important is reading this) pitch for Magic: The Cluening as much as I enjoyed putting the pieces of Commander's Arsenal together. Enjoy!