Magic's Gavin Verhey on 'Battlebond', 'Dominaria', and things to come

'Magic: The Gathering' Senior Designer Gavin Verhey. 'Magic: The Gathering' Senior Designer Gavin Verhey. GEEKNIFTY / BARRY WHITE

If you're a player of Magic: The Gathering, odds are you've played with cards from sets that Gavin Verhey has worked on.  Since joining Wizards of the Coast after a career as a professional Magic player, he's worked on both Conspiracy sets, three From the Vault collections, Modern Masters 2017Commander 2017Ixalan, the Kaladesh blockand a bunch more.  Most recently, the Magic Senior Designer was part of the team that created Dominaria and led the development team for Battlebond.

"It was a lot of fun to work on, but also a big challenge because we've never made a Two-Headed Giant set before," Verhey says about Battlebond.

Part of that challenge was finding gameplay mechanics that would work well in the four-player Two-Headed Giant format.  Assist, one of the set's new mechanics, was a fairly straight-forward one to include as it allows teammates to co-pay for spells.  The other, a spin on the Commander 2016 Partner mechanic, wasn't quite so simple to develop.  In its purest form, it simply didn't work well in a limited format structure such as draft.  Thankfully for Verhey and his team, Wizards of the Coast's new card collation technology had the solution by allowing paired Partner cards to be in the same booster pack together.

"In Two-Headed Dragon draft you draft two cards at a time, so it was a perfect fit," he explains.  "Basically, we made a riff on Partner so that I can put one in my deck and you can put one in your deck.  And then when I play mine, you get to go find yours."

Slightly more than a month before Battlebond's release earlier this June, Wizards of the Coast released Dominaria and returned the game back to the setting of many of its early sets.  Verhey worked on the design team alongside some of Magic: The Gathering's most respected designers including Aaron Forsythe, Mark Rosewater, and Magic creator Richard Garfield

"I was just ecstatic," says Verhey.  "Going into those meeting rooms... and being in a room with Richard working on a game together -- the person that I grew up wanting to be like as a game designer -- it meant so much to me and I learned so much throughout that process."

As for the Magic's next set, Core Set 2019, Verhey says it's a "breath of fresh air."

"We get to reprint a number of really cool cards -- you get your staples in for the format for Standard -- and if you're maybe returning to the game... it helps you pick up a lot of the staples you'll really want to play for standard," he says.  "But also something we started doing in Magic Origins -- the last core set -- is tell a little bit of story in it and focus on something."

Core Set 2019 focuses on the story of game antagonist Nicol Bolas and his ascension to being a Planeswalker.  The set includes new versions all five of the original Elder Dragon Legends from 1994's Legends set as well as a mix of reprints and "a hardy supply of really new and exciting cards."

After Core Set 2019, Magic: The Gathering's story will take players back to the plane of Ravnica for a three-set period.  Verhey says a large reason why WotC decided to return to Ravnica for a third time is due to the plane's overall popularity with Magic fans.  He further says the first two of the new trio of Ravnica sets will follow a formula similar to those of previous sets on the plane with a focus on its ten two-colored guilds.  The third set, however, will be a horse of a different color.

"I can't say too much about it yet," confesses Verhey.  "But it is something different.  Different that what we've seen in the past with Ravnica.  You're going to want to stay tuned, because that set is pretty wild."

In addition to all that, Verhey is also the Design Lead for Commander 2018.  The set will be comprised of four pre-constructed 100-card decks and Verhey says part of what players can expect are cards that are designed to fill some holes in players' decks, a bunch of new Legendary cards, and one specific card he's very excited about.

"There are many cards I'm very excited about, but there's one in particular that I think you guys will really, really go crazy about," teases Verhey.

Commander 2018 is expected to release Aug. 10, 2018.

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