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Magic: The Gathering's Assassin's Creed Set Captures The Essence Of Being In The Brotherhood

Jason Fanelli Updated: Posted:
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The next major crossover between the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering and the video game industry is upon us, as a new Assassin's Creed-themed set made its debut today. 

A few notable cards from the reveal include creature cards for multiple Assassins throughout the game's history, including Ezio Auditore da Firenze, Altair Ibn-La'Ahad, and Edward Kenway. A few names from the present-day storyline of the games, including Shaun and Rebecca from the Assassins, appear as well. 

Here are some notable cards revealed during the official WeeklyMTG livestream today:

  • Bayek of Siwa, Legendary Creature - Human Assassin
      • Three generic, one red, and one white mana to cast
      • Double Strike
      • As long as it's your turn, all of your historic creatures have double strike.
      • Disguise for one generic, one red, and one white mana
  • Sokrates, Athenian Teacher, Legendary Creature - Human Advisor
      • One generic, one blue, and one white mana to cast
      • Defender
      • Sokrates, Athenian Teacher has hexproof as long as it's untapped
    • Sokratic Dialogue - Tap: Until end of turn, target creature gains "If this creature would deal combat damage to a player, prevent that damage. This creature's controller and that player draw half that many cards, rounded down.
  • Edward Kenway - Legendary Creature - Human Assassin Pirate
    • Two generic, one black, one blue, and one red mana to cast
    • At the beginning of your end step, create a Treasure token for each tapped Assassin, Pirate, and/or Vehicle you control.
    • Whenever a Vehicle you control deals damage to a player, look at the top card of that player's library, then exile it face down. You may play that card for as long as it remains exiled.

Last week at Summer Game Fest, we had the chance to take the two Assassin's Creed Starter Kit decks for a spin. The blue/black Assassins deck featuring Ezio from Assassin's Creed 2 packed a punch, while the red/white equipment-focused deck starring Eivor from AC: Valhalla got scary in a hurry.

The decks also gave us a look at the new Freerunning mechanic present on some cards in the Assassin's Creed Set. Freerunning allows you to cast spells at a lower cost if an Assassin you control has dealt damage to a player before you try to cast it;  Achilles Davenport and Brotherhood Ambushers are too such cards from the Ezio starter deck.

After our session, we spoke to Corey Bowen, senior game designer at Wizards Of The Coast and the lead designer for the Assassin's Creed set, about the challenges of adapting this long-standing video game franchise into the world of Magic in a way that's fun and interesting to both MTG and AC players. He also mentions a few one-off references that should delight fans of the cards, which launch July 5 in both Beyond Booster and Collector Booster packs.

Is this the first Universes Beyond project you've worked on?

Bowen: Actually, this is kind of a tricky question, as I worked on Battle for Baldur's Gate and other D&D sets. So whether or not you consider those "Universes Beyond," while they are a different universe than Magic, they don't have the official label. So while I have worked on other "Universes Beyond" Magic, this is my first time leading a project.

What do you find most interesting in the implementation process of the Universes Beyond line? Is it the development of new mechanics, or is it trying to implement mechanics that already exist in Magic into the context of that world?

Bowen: What I love most is that all of the universes we work with for this are completely different. Some of those adapt to Magic completely differently – think about the Doctor Who decks and all of their time and suspend mechanics – but also like character selection, what mana colors those characters would be, etc. With Assassin's Creed, we played every game we could and read every piece of narrative we could to figure out what the most important things are to bring to the game. 

I guess my favorite part is that every new universe has its own problem to solve, its own unique approach on how to come into Magic. Figuring out how we want to bring that universe into the game is really exciting to me. 

Is there a particular card that, when you look at it, you think "yeah, we really nailed this one?"

Bowen: Yes, this is the answer I give a lot, as I think it's very funny. So we have a card called Haystack, and if you've ever played Assassin's Creed, you're jumping off buildings and hiding in a haystack, if some guards are pursuing you will jump into a haystack. It's almost absurd how easily these assassins can jump in and out of haystacks. 

So we made a card that's just called "Haystack," and you can tap it and pay some mana to phase one creature out. Essentially, you just tap it to hide your creature for a turn. It's really fun, and when you have a mundane concept like a haystack, while people know what a haystack is, do they know that in Assassin's Creed, you hide in haystacks? A fan of the game is going to look at that card and immediately connect with the joke, and that's cool. 

Do you find there's a limit to your creativity when you're creating a set that implements another universe, as opposed to creating an original set? Or, do you just think it's a different type of creativity all together??

Bowen: I think it's a different type. When I started making Commander decks for Magic sets, I loved the idea that I could just make anything up. I started with Ikoria, a brand new set, and I can just say yeah, why can't a shark have wings? With this set, and with Universes Beyond in general, the question is where are the limits of our creativity? Where can we express ourselves? Some of it is diving deep and asking what I really love about this universe that I want to show, but not everyone would.

When in the design process do you decide whether or not something needs a new mechanic to be implemented properly? For this set it's Freerunning, I also think of Fallout's radiation and time travel in Doctor Who. Is that something that's figured out as soon as you know this franchise is coming to Magic, or is there a preliminary process of sorts?

Bowen: It's an iterative process, and it's different for every set. It starts with delving into the universe and asking what the core pillars are for what we're dealing with. Even with gaming IPs, like radiation for Fallout or freerunning for Assasin's Creed, those are huge parts of the game that don't have a huge influence on the story of the game. For example, when you read a story synopsis of an AC game, how much is parkour part of that narrative? In contrast, when you play the game, parkour is like 80% of the experience; you're running, you're climbing, etc. So, playing these games in the context of Magic, we want to make sure it feels like playing the game as much as possible. 

I'd played some Assassin's Creed when I was younger, but then I played a lot of the games for research on this set. As I played, I realized that there's this huge acrobatic component, and I knew we needed to represent it somewhere. I also knew that while we were going to be able to make creatures and artifacts quite easily, we needed to figure out what our actions – instants and sorceries – were going to represent. So, the freerunning mechanic came from this need to express through Magic cards what movement and parkour is in these games, as well as a desire to have instants and sorceries that felt resonant with the material. Eagle Vision and Chain Assassination are two great examples of game mechanics on freerunning cards. 

On the freerunning mechanic, the basic gist of it is if you attacked with an Assassin creature, the card with freerunning can be cast for its freerunning cost, which is cheaper than its normal CMC. From a design standpoint, how does this mechanic implement the feeling you were speaking about before?

Bowen: Yeah, so it's essentially an alternate cost mechanic that's typically lower. You can pay the freerunning cost if you dealt combat damage with an Assassin or your commander. The idea here, if you think about rogues and ninjas of Magic's past, is trying to draw inspiration from the idea that small and evasive creatures are the real "assassins" in Magic's gameplay. There's also the thought that if I attack with my assassin, if he gets "behind enemy lines" so to speak, he can't be blocked, or he's getting through, that represents movement; he's traveling, he's making moves to connect with my opponent.

In that sense, we want your acrobatic maneuvers to be empowered as  a representation of using movement or parkour – jumping over a rooftop, for example – while hitting an opponent, so now these cards are cheaper. It's promoting that small, evasive style of gameplay. 

And because I'm sure it'll be asked; why is our commander included in this mechanic? When you think about it, how many assassins are in Magic? It's very flavorful in this set, sure, but it would be hard to take these cards and play them with other creatures if the mechanic was made just for assassin creature type cards. In the Commander format, your commander is your main character, and we wanted to reward the idea of the "behind enemy lines" gameplay for your main character as well.

This set fits particularly well with the most recent Standard set, Outlaws at Thunder Junction. Was that timing intentional?

Bowen: When we were deciding the outlaw mechanic in that set, I was so happy to see Assassin make the list, but it was a bit of serendipity. I will say, though, that in Murders at Karlov Manor, which was all about detectives and murder mystery stuff, toward the end of development I gave them a list of cards I thought should be assassins in order to work better with my set, so we did add a few more assassins into MKM with this set in mind. 

Last question: When did the planning for this set begin? You mentioned you had to play a lot of the games for research, and that takes some time. 

Bowen: I can't give the exact timing, but I finished my work on it a little over a year ago, and it had taken about a year to design in its entirety. Even before I started, there was a bit of exploratory work where some people asked if this universe would fit into Magic. All told, it was probably about two years or so. 

I had played the original trilogy as a kid, and I loved the multiplayer gameplay in some of the early games too, I thought those were a ton of fun. When I learned that I was going to be taking over this set, I was given six different games to play, and I realized I cannot finish every game, they are much too long, I cannot get through all six all the way through. So I spent a day on each one, investing a full workday's worth of time in these games, in order to understand the essence of each entry's gameplay and what makes them different from one another, and then I'll move on. I will say my favorite is Black Flag, as I love pirates so much.


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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.