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Magic design is the act of creating a new set for the game. This is done by several teams within Magic R&D. Vision Design creates the vision for a set, and Set Design (formerly Development) upholds that vision while taking the design from concept to finished product.[1] Meanwhile, the Play Design team focuses on the health of the core formats.


The designers create new cards, mechanics and themes for Magic sets. Every set should do something innovative that hasn't been done before. It also should bring back something from the past and present it in a new light, it should add new elements to old ideas.[2] Every set should make players have to shift their thinking about the game in some way, while creating a moment that is uniquely its own.[3][4] By definition, also some bad cards have to exist, even at rare.[5][6][7] The rules of design provide four major functions: structure, clarity, consistency and focus.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

Design can be bottom-up (mechanics first) or top-down (flavor first).[17][18][19][20][21] It can also be linear or modular.[22]

Exploratory design[]

Also known as pre-design, advanced design or advanced planning, exploratory design was an innovation in 2014 in how Magic sets were designed. Long before design starts, exploratory design begins. The concerns itself with the needs of the block and loops in the development and creative teams. The team can talk about mechanics and how each color plays out, but is not concerned with an actual card file.[23]

Main design[]

Old system[]

Mark Rosewater originally distinguished three distinctly different stages in the main design phase: the vision stage (6 months), the integration stage (3 months), and the refinement stage (3 months).[24][25] Apart from the Head Designer (Rosewater), each design team ideally consisted of a lead designer, a "strong second", a development representative, a creative representative, fresh blood and a filekeeper. Roles were sometimes combined in one person.[26]


"Devign" or "Structural Development" used to be the space in between design and development. Design still had control of the file but was addressing notes from the developers.[27] During these early times, Development tried out cards that felt risky, but could also add something cool and interesting to the game. Early playtesting was for taking the big swings. Many of the cards design handed over in the initial handoff would not make the final version of the set, and many more would get tweaks, such as to casting cost, power and toughness, or activation cost. Still others would get cut from the set entirely to make room for new cards that either filled a specific role that was missing or are just independently cool cards. On the opposite site, some fun cards are made stronger.[28]

Current system[]

Realizing that design and development had been created as a system between two teams that had too little interaction with one another, a new system was created starting with Dominaria.[29] Design now has four component pieces - exploratory design, vision design, set design and play design.[30]

Vision Design[]

Each set starts with three months of exploratory design and then four months of vision design (vision is set up so each of the three large non-core sets has four months).

In 2017, the design team was rebranded as Vision Design, with a shortened and more creative focused task.[29] Vision Design (usually led by Mark Rosewater) is responsible for figuring out what the focus of the set's world is going to be mechanically. Vision Design's job is to be a metaphorical architect, drawing the blueprints for the set to come. Vision Design hands off a file complete with themes and mechanics, and a full set of commons and uncommons plus enough rares and mythic rares to be able to play Booster Draft or Sealed.[31]

Design handoff[]

When the lead Vision designer passes the set off to the Set Design, he also creates a handoff document. This document is the guide the Set Design team (formerly development) can refer back to throughout the further design process. In it, they can see the vision and end product of the Vision Design team; what was important to them, what rules did they set and what they were trying to accomplish? [32]

Set Design[]

The second part of design is led by Erik Lauer. Set Design is responsible for making the set, metaphorically building the house based on Vision Design's blueprints. This team takes the design from concept all the way to finished product. They're the ones who field-test the ideas and mechanics the vision team created to see if they work together, fixing or replacing them if they do not. The Set Design team is then on the hook for designing all the cards (Vision Design creates cards as it iterates, which the Set Design team can use as they see fit).[29]

Set Design has two segments. First, there's a six-month segment where the file is compiled, and then after a three-month hiatus there's a three-month segment where the team works with Play Design to finalize the numbers on the cards. Both teams replace the former development team.

Play Design[]

Main article: Play Design

Play Design lasts three months. The first two months are the last two months of Set Design and the last month is set after Set Design hands off (but when there's still time to tweak numbers if necessary).[29]

Historical stages of design[]

Head designer Mark Rosewater distinguishes six stages of Magic design, and corresponding dynasties of Magic designers.[33][34][35]

First Stage (the Golden Age)[]

Alpha through Alliances. This stage was about the focus on individual card design. Design decisions tended to be made on a card-by-card basis.

Second Stage (the Silver Age)[]

Mirage through Prophecy. Richard Garfield left to explore other games, and Joel Mick took over as head designer. This stage was the introduction of the block and the focus of design in thinking of Magic in terms of a year. This was also the era of the psychographics with Timmy, Johnny, and Spike getting defined and a cleaning up of the rules.

Third Stage (the Bronze Age)[]

Invasion through Saviors of Kamigawa. Joel Mick became brand manager, and Bill Rose took over as head designer. This stage was the introduction of block themes. Blocks were no longer just a collection of mechanics, but contained specific things chosen to highlight the block's theme.

Fourth Stage[]

Ravnica through Rise of the Eldrazi. Bill Rose had become Vice-President, thus Mark Rosewater became Head Designer and Brian Schneider became Head Developer. This stage was the introduction of block planning. Instead of picking a theme and continuing it through the block, design now planned out how exactly the block was going to evolve. This planning allowed for themes to be better set up and paid off. Members of the fourth generation includes several participants of The Great Designer Search (GDS) 2006, Wizards of the Coast's historic search for R&D's for a Magic design intern.[39]

Fifth Stage[]

From Scars of Mirrodin through Journey into Nyx. How mechanical themes are looked at and used was radically changed. In the previous two stages, themes had been used as the foundation to build the block on. Starting with Scars of Mirrodin, mechanical themes were thought of as tools used to put a block together and to evoke an emotional resonance. Metaphorically, themes were no longer the canvas, but the paint. The fifth generation included participants of The Great Designer Search 2 (2010).[40]

New members:

Sixth Stage[]

From Khans of Tarkir through Rivals of Ixalan. The Sixth Stage was heralded by the introduction of exploratory design.[41] The elements of a set and block are now mapped out, before the actual design of the cards and mechanics start. This stage also features exploratory world building, which leads to a earlier and more extensive integration of flavor and design.

New members:

Seventh Stage[]

Dominaria (and the start of vision design) was the start of the Seventh Age of Design.[42]

The Council of Colors[]

The sixth age saw the creation of the Council of Colors. Mark Rosewater — who acts as overseer[43] — and six additional members of the design team are responsible for protecting the integrity of the color pie:[44][45]

Creature type[]

Designer is an Unglued creature type which was eliminated from the Comprehensive Rules list during the Grand Creature Type Update (Richard Garfield, Ph.D.).


  1. Mark Rosewater (January 16, 2017). "I think there is a lot of confusion between the difference in responsibilities of designers and developers. Could you clarify?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  2. Mark Rosewater (April 1, 2002). "Tweak in Review". Wizards of the Coast.
  3. Mark Rosewater (May 03, 2010). "The Ten Principles for Good Design, Part 1". Wizards of the Coast.
  4. Mark Rosewater (May 17, 2010). "The Ten Principles for Good Design, Part 2". Wizards of the Coast.
  5. Mark Rosewater (January 28, 2002). "When Cards Go Bad". Wizards of the Coast.
  6. Tom LaPille (October 14, 2011). "When Cards Go Bad, Part 2". Wizards of the Coast.
  7. Mark Rosewater (July 18, 2005). "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Truth". Wizards of the Coast.
  8. Mark Rosewater (April 07, 2003). "Rules of the Game". Wizards of the Coast.
  9. Mark Rosewater (July 12, 2004). "Design 101". Wizards of the Coast.
  10. Mark Rosewater (April 21, 2003). "Design 102". Wizards of the Coast.
  11. Mark Rosewater (November 06, 2006). "Design 103". Wizards of the Coast.
  12. Mark Rosewater (August 19, 2013). "Design 104". Wizards of the Coast.
  13. Mark Rosewater (June 13, 2005). "Saving Space". Wizards of the Coast.
  14. Mark Rosewater (August 01, 2005). "Once More With Feeling". Wizards of the Coast.
  15. Mark Rosewater (July 24, 2006). "Talking Tech". Wizards of the Coast.
  16. Mark Rosewater (June 15, 2009). "Design Seminar: The 10 Mental Locks". Wizards of the Coast.
  17. Mark Rosewater (June 09, 2003). "Top Down and Goal". Wizards of the Coast.
  18. Mark Rosewater (September 15, 2008). "A View From the Top". Wizards of the Coast.
  19. Ken Nagle (June 15, 2009). "Convertible Design". Wizards of the Coast.
  20. Mark Rosewater (January 28, 2017). "The distinction between top-down and bottom-up design". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  21. Mark Rosewater (March 26, 2018). "Nuts & Bolts #10: Creative Elements". Wizards of the Coast.
  22. Mark Rosewater (October 06, 2003). "Come Together". Wizards of the Coast.
  23. Mark Rosewater (January 06, 2014). "Advanced Planning". Wizards of the Coast.
  24. Mark Rosewater (March 30, 2015). "Nuts & Bolts: The Three Stages of Design". Wizards of the Coast.
  25. Mark Rosewater (September 06, 2015). "Vision phase? What is that?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  26. Mark Rosewater (November 30, 2015). "Team Player". Wizards of the Coast.
  27. Mark Rosewater (January 14, 2013). "Gatecrashing the Party, Part 3". Wizards of the Coast.
  28. Sam Stoddard (March 21, 2014). "Playtesting Constructed". Wizards of the Coast.
  29. a b c d author(s) (Mark Rosewater). "Vision Design, Set Design, and Play Design". Wizards of the Coast.
  30. Mark Rosewater (November 24, 2021). "What is “Vision - Set - Design”?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  31. Mark Rosewater (October 23, 2017). "Can you explain who make which cards a bit further?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  32. Gavin Verhey (August 23, 2017). "Commander (2017 Edition) Design Handoff". Wizards of the Coast.
  33. Mark Rosewater (August 29, 2005). "State of Design 2005". Wizards of the Coast.
  34. Mark Rosewater (August 26, 2011). "State of Design 2011". Wizards of the Coast.
  35. Mark Rosewater (November 28, 2011). "Eighteen Years". Wizards of the Coast.
  36. Mark Rosewater (July 6, 2003). "Of Ice and Men". Wizards of the Coast.
  37. Mark Rosewater (March 22, 2010). "Working Draft". Wizards of the Coast.
  38. Steve Conard (December 24, 2002). "The History of Legends". Wizards of the Coast.
  39. Wizards of the Coast (August 21, 2006). "The Great Designer Search". Wizards of the Coast.
  40. Mark Rosewater (November 03, 2010). "The Great Designer Search 2 – Meet the Finalists". Wizards of the Coast.
  41. Mark Rosewater (September 30, 2016.) "Six Stages of Magic Design", Drive to Work #371
  42. Mark Rosewater (February 17, 2019). "With the advent of vision/set/play design, would you say Magic has entered another great design age?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  43. Mark Rosewater (April 2, 2019). "Wait maro you are not on the council of colors...". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  44. Mark Rosewater (August 22, 2016). "The Council of Colors". Wizards of the Coast.
  45. Mark Rosewater (March 21, 2020). "Here’s a recent picture of the Council.". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  46. a b Mark Rosewater (March 4, 2019). "You Know Who.". Wizards of the Coast.
  47. Ari Nieh (December 20, 2019). "I guess now is a good time to mention that I'm the new White member of the Council of Colors.". Twitter.
  48. a b c Mark Rosewater (January 8, 2022). "Who is currently on the Council of Colors?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  49. a b Who are the current 'color ambassadors' at WotC?. Reddit (November 15, 2019).
  50. Mark Rosewater (November 03, 2017). "With Shawn Main's departure, who is the person monitoring Red?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  51. Mark Rosewater (December 23, 2017). "If Jules Robins is now Red on the Council of Colors, who is colorless?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  52. I'm interested to know, is there a representative for colorless? If not can you specify why?
  53. Mark Rosewater (June 7, 2021). "Is there a council of colors member (or something similar) for colorless?". Blogatog. Tumblr.