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Interview: Designing Fallout For Magic: The Gathering, From Mechanics To Card Choice

Jason Fanelli Updated: Posted:
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The Universes Beyond initiative for Magic: The Gathering has introduced franchise like Doctor Who, The Walking Dead, and The Lord Of The Rings into the collectible card game, with Assassin's Creed, Final Fantasy, and Marvel set to join the fold in the near future. The latest Universe Beyond set, however, has exploded onto the scene like Megaton on an evil run: Fallout is here, and there are plenty of cards, mechanics, and decks to talk about. 

We recently spoke to Annie Sardelis, the lead designer of the Fallout set for Wizards Of The Coast, about the new set. We discussed everything from mechanics introduced in this new expansion, to how each particular product is designed, to the specific cards chosen for the set – both original designs and reprints.

This interview was conducted via email and edited for clarity.

MMORPG.com: How involved was Bethesda in the design of the new Fallout cards? Would you bring them ideas that they would approve of, did they provide any fun ideas, etc?

Annie Sardelis: Well, we knew there were a lot of Fallout fans at Wizards of the Coast, and we were pleasantly surprised (but not too surprised) to learn that there are lots of Magic: The Gathering fans at Bethesda. The design team came up with a ton of different ideas and we brought those ideas to Bethesda for approval. It was cool to see them be as excited for the project as we were. The collaboration felt like a partnership.

When deciding on new cards to include, when did the idea to finish the Odyssey "filterland" cycle come into play? What made this set the best place to do it?

We sometimes have a hard time finding a place to finish certain land cycles- it might be a power level reason or a play pattern one. Once we had the colors of the decks picked out, we noticed that it included all the enemy color pairs, so we decided to run an experiment here to see if players would like to own and play with these lands. It seems to have been well received, so we will keep that in mind going forward!

How much did you spend playing the Fallout franchise in the design process? Also, how many Fallout runs have you completed to this point?

Personally, I replayed Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Fallout 4 while working on the set. I also checked out 1, 2, and 76 for the first time. I have a bad habit of not finishing runs, but my playtime looks like any crazy fan's – I'm surprised I had time to make Magic cards.

Mtg Fallout Crossover

How long did it take the team to decide on the themes for the four decks, and were there potential themes that were left on the cutting room floor (that you can speak to)?

I locked them down early (it took less than a month), based on the ideas of Survival, Technology, Military, and Mutants. By keeping them broad, it really meant there wasn’t much to leave on the cutting room floor. As for what these themes meant mechanically, we took time as a team to pitch ideas through legendary creature designs. For example, the “Science!” deck didn’t have energy in it until someone pitched a Liberty Prime card that ran on energy. We decided to double-down on that idea as a main feature, to support its artifact synergies.

Were the new token mechanics (junk, radiation) designed in a way that a future non-Fallout set could incorporate them in some way, or are these considered "one-and-done" ideas?

We always keep fan-favorite mechanics in mind when designing new cards. Like any new mechanic, we’ll keep an eye out if players are enjoying them.

Which of the new cards are your favorites, from a flavor perspective?

I have a soft spot for the Bobbleheads, since I love how an in-game collectible has a literal “collect me” mechanical angle to the Magic card versions of them. And I think Nuka-Cola Vending Machine came out nearly perfect to what Nuka-Cola does in Fallout. The design came about very early in the process, and really cemented to me that we can translate this game in a resonant way to Magic if we put our minds to it.

Walk me through the reprint selection process. Does the internal team dig through the archives for flavor-worthy cards? Did Bethesda recommend any cards for reprint?

You hit the nail on the head about searching for flavor-worthy cards. It’s something we do early on to help identify what kind of new cards we should make to fill in the gaps around the reprints. With Universes Beyond, we give extra scrutiny to the flavor of the reprints. For example, existing energy cards have a lot of plane-specific proper nouns, so we tended to avoid those. This isn’t only because of the names, but also because we figured players would be more excited about new energy designs, as it’s a small pool of cards. The reprint process was all done internally.

Do different design teams consult each other to see which sets will feature which reprints, and if so, does that affect potential reprints? My first thought is a card like Heroic Intervention, which has seen a lot of reprints recently.

Yep, we all talk to one another! When it comes to Universes Beyond, you might have to convince someone that doesn’t know the property that certain reprints are just too perfect not to include for a flavor reason. Heroic Intervention (and creature protection in general) is just super important mechanically for the strategy of the Scrappy Survivors deck, where you invest a lot of resources in a single creature.

How did that process impact selecting reprints for the decks versus Collector Booster exclusive reprints like Tarmagoyf and Walking Ballista?

One impact on the selection process was being able to use the alternate name treatment on the Pip-Boy frame to reprint Magic cards with names that don’t quite fit into Fallout’s world (like Tarmogoyf). Another is taking care not to disrupt the gameplay of the preconstructed decks too much. For example, Farewell’s ability to exile graveyards was a little too much graveyard hate against the strategies of Mutant Menace and Scrappy Survivors. But the concept felt like a fun Fallout fit, so it went into the boosters.

Ravages of War MTG Fallout

In that vein, who can we blame for Ravages of War?

Zakeel, the product architect! He is a ruthless Commander player.

(Author edit: ZAKEEEEEEEEEEL!!!!!!!! *shakes fist at sky*)

Which of the precons do you want to use first? Are you making substitutions, or keeping it as is?

I’m leaning towards Mutant Menace. Some of the most fun we had playtesting was eliminating other players with the rad counter damage, so I’d look to amp up the number of ways to proliferate rad counters and make cards like Feral Ghoul super huge (‘cause when it dies, each opponent gets rad counters equal to its power).

Which legendary creature in the Fallout set will you be building a deck around?

I’ve got a Mr. House, President and CEO dice rolling deck built! But I’m also thinking about a Moira Brown, Guide Author deck with the other Fallout legends that use quest counters (Duchess, Boone, Yes Man, etc.), and quest counter cards from Zendikar. Getting Pyromancer Ascension to work in Commander sounds super fun.


Jason Fanelli

Jason Fanelli is a tried-and-true Philadelphian, having lived in Delaware County for his entire life. He’s a veteran of the games industry, covering it for over a decade with bylines on The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, IGN, and more. He currently hosts the Cheesesteaks and Controllers podcast on iHeartRadio for Fox Sports Radio in Philadelphia.