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By: CheshirePlaysGames, Albert Caynes
Apr 24 2019 12:00pm
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Recently, thanks to Wizards of the Coast, I got to chat with Gavin Verhey about War of the Spark and Commander. I’m so ecstatic that content creators and the public get so much access to game designers of our favourite games and this is certainly NO exception. Gavin is one of the coolest people I have ever met and it’s ALWAYS great when I get to officially pick his brain on subjects that matter to me about design and internal processes.

 
Chesh- When making a new set, obviously Standard is the first consideration, what was the biggest challenge the design team faced for War of the Spark in terms of making cards that would be super exciting for commander?
 
GAVIN - Well, before anything, there are all the normal challenges when designing for Commander! It can be hard to make an impact in a format where nearly everything is legal. However, we can address this by looking at commonly cited holes in the format. For example, we have known for a while that Boros could really use a non-attack focused commander… So now there’s Feather!  
 
But when it comes to War of the Spark specifically, it really all comes back to these planeswalkers. Planeswalkers have always been tricky in Commander, because with so many opponents in a multiplayer game, they tend to get attacked and die quickly.
 
Fortunately, War of the Spark introduces these static abilities on planeswalkers. So, we were able to make some that are especially good in Commander, in new ways that planeswalkers haven’t been able to do before. For example, Ashiok, Dream Render has an effect on everyone else for as long as it’s in play after casting it – and shutting down your opponent’s search effects is huge… Not to mentioning exiling all of their graveyards! That’s a card which will likely impact many formats, but will definitely see some play in Commander.
 
 
Chesh- When it comes to commander, how much tweaking went into cards like (Ilharg, the Raze-Boar) to ensure they were powerful, but not super broke? And just to put it out there, thank the team for not making it a pre-combat thing…..that would have been MUCH grosser than it already is.
 
GAVIN - A lot! Commander is one of our most popular formats, and so we try and think about how cards – and especially legendary cards – are going to be played in Commander. We actively make modifications to cards in our sets to be more appropriate for Commander.
 
With legendary creatures in particular, often we’ll put them through their paces and build Commander decks around them to try them out. It’s not possible for us to try every possible deck and build for Commander, of course, but we do try and make sure the legendary creatures we print for Commander are reasonable. Ilharg, the Raze-Boar is definitely a fun one, and I hope it opens up new kinds of Commander decks!   
 
 
Chesh- Speaking of Commanders, we know now that we won’t have all planeswalkers as commanders despite a whopping 36 planeswalkers available in War of the Spark, was it a point of too many issues from some of the new and old planeswalkers such as the new Jace ”lab maniac” or the Innistrad Lilliana?
 
GAVIN - First of all, I’ve received a lot of questions about planeswalker legality in Commander recently. The external Commander Rules Committee manages the rules for Commander, so that’s not a decision I work on. We are good partners with them, and want to abide by what they believe is correct with the format. 
 
So let’s talk about the option. The text “This planeswalker can be your Commander” can be confusing. For example, many players who read that for the first time think that it can be your Commander in Limited or Standard. That’s not what we’re going for at all! (For example, this happened with Will Kenrith and Rowan Kenrith in Battlebond Limited.)
 
Additionally, these planeswalkers already have a lot going on. They’re planeswalkers, with static abilities for the first time. That not only confuses the above issue, but also means many of them are running out of space in the text box. Writing that on every card would limit what the cards can do.
 
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we don’t want to just undermine the Rules Committee. Sure, we could theoretically write these words on the cards if we wanted to – but doing that is just us using our power to circumvent the gameplay and format that the Rules Committee has worked so hard to maintain.

When we’ve done planeswalkers as Commanders in Commander products, for example, we’ve looped the Rules Committee in on them to provide feedback, and they’ve worked hard and delicately to make sure that they would be the right thing for the format. In a set like War of the Spark, where Standard and Limited are big considerations, doing that would be a lot more difficult. (It would potentially limit some designs as you mention, like with the Jace.)

You will certainly see more planeswalkers in the future that say they can be your Commander on them. But at least for now, we’re going to be careful with how and when we release them, and you can expect them in multiplayer and Commander focused products.
 
 
Chesh- Bolas's Citadel is an amazing new combo artifact that will slot into MANY decks, I for one, will try and break it in Standard and EDH for sure. Who initially designed the card and do they realise how grossly powerful it is? I mean this is for sure going to be an engine in an eggs deck, even at six CMC!
 
GAVIN - The Citadel is a pretty wild card! It was made by Dave Humpherys, lead designer of War of the Spark. We’ve tried plenty of combo decks with it. And all I can say is… I can’t wait for you to try it.
 
 
Chesh- Can you share some of the design nicknames for cards we have seen previewed so far?
 
GAVIN - Unusually, this set actually had fewer goofy playtest names than normal because so much was known! All the planeswalkers were determined early, they had associated cards, there were story moments we needed to hit, and so on. That said, I’ll always enjoy Commence the Endgame as "(Conscript the Scholars).” I just imagine a ton of scholars showing up and starting to lay the smackdown on my opponent! 
 
Two other good ones: Pollenbright Druid was Helpful Elf, and Forced Landing was Definitely Not Plummet. Hey. Look. Seriously. It’s not Plummet
 
 
Chesh- What is your favourite card from War of the Spark that’s been previewed so far? Any cool combos you can tell us about?
 
GAVIN - Some of my favorite cards are Fblthp, the Lost, Bolas's Citadel, Deliver Unto Evil, Finale of Promise, and Feather, the Redeemed.
 
Oh, and The Wanderer. But that’s all I’ll say about that.
 
As far as combos, one of my favorites is to play a bunch of cheaper planeswalkers, then cast Nicol Bolas, Dragon God followed by The Elderspell to ultimate Nicol Bolas (or some other planeswalker) right away. Harvest those sparks!

I hope you have a great time with War of the Spark. It really is a set unlike any other, with a very unique Limited environment and some pretty wild constructed applications. Commander is no exception to any of this! I can’t wait to see what people do.
 
Well that’s it, Gavin is pretty excited for War of the Spark, I’m REALLY excited to jam all those planeswalkers into my deck and I hope you are too. Though I may just as soon combo out and kill you with Bola’s Citadel……. Yup. Gross :D
Prelease events are being held 27th and 28th of April 2019 for War of the Spark, for more information and to locate your nearest FLGS click HERE