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Valduk, Keep of Flame from Magic: The Gathering’s upcoming Dominaria set.
Victor Adame/Wizards of the Coast

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Magic: The Gathering’s head designer reveals exclusive new cards from the Dominaria set

Mark Rosewater looks back on 25 years of playing and making the classic collectible card game

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Magic: The Gathering is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a special set of cards. Called Dominaria, it will allow players to return to Magic’s original setting for the first time in 13 years.

Last month, Polygon sat down to chat with Mark Rosewater, head designer for Magic at Wizards of the Coast, and the man responsible for leading the design of Dominaria. He’s been with Wizards since 1995. It’s not just the game’s 25th anniversary, he explained; it’s also his 25th year playing Magic. Because of that, this new set holds special meaning for him.

Dominaria is a major milestone for the Magic franchise in more ways than one. For the past few years, Magic cards have been released in blocks, with two sets of cards released within each block. Earlier this year, Wizards released Rivals of Ixalan, the second set in the Ixalan block and the last set to be released in the current block format. Dominaria will be a standalone set, followed by a newly revamped core set this summer.

A depiction of a Planeswalker in Magic: The Gathering, shown wielding purple spells in a dimly lit room. An astrolabe moves in the background.
Rona, Disciple of Gix from Magic: The Gathering’s upcoming set, Dominaria.
Image: Tommy Arnold/Wizards of the Coast
Tommy Arnold/Wizards of the Coast

Rosewater and his team thought it was an excellent time to look back on the franchise and give something to its biggest fans. For that reason, Dominaria will be a celebration of all the things that make Magic both a remarkable game and a memorable world.

Before they could get started designing cards, they first needed to figure out what kind of world Dominaria would be. Fans of Magic haven’t been back to that land in 13 years. Since that time, they’ve traveled to many other planes of existence, each of which have given the collectible card game unusual, exciting visual and narrative hooks.

“Most of our worlds now are very defined,” Rosewater said. “Innistrad is a gothic horror world. Theros is the Greek mythology world. Amonkhet is an Egypt-inspired world. Our worlds have a nice, clean, crisp definition. If I show you a card, you know where it comes from.”

Tatyova, Benthic Druid from Magic: The Gathering’s upcoming set, Dominaria.
Mathias Kollros/Wizards of the Coast
Mathias Kollros/Wizards of the Coast

“But I think there were 28, maybe 29 sets that all took place in Dominaria,” he continued. “So how do you go back and revisit Dominaria in a modern sensibility — a world that has a clean, crisp definition to it — when there are literally 10 years worth of different versions? But it gets even harder. Is Dominaria an icy world like it was in Ice Age? A jungle world like it was in Mirage? Is it a world full of mutants like in Onslaught? Is it a post-apocalyptic world? What is it?”

The solution was to recast Magic’s original setting as a living, modern world filled with the people, places and things that represent its history. As Rosewater put it, Dominaria portrays a world in which the present is defined by the past. Scattered throughout the set fans will find familiar heroes and items, some of them coming to the forefront for the first time, but all of them with deep ties to the game’s quarter century of established lore.

For Rosewater himself, that means that he’ll even be able to build a new deck around characters that he personally helped to bring to life.

Victor Adame/Wizards of the Coast

“I haven’t been involved in the creative [side of the house] in a long time,” Rosewater said. “I just make the cards. One of the interesting things is back in the day a friend and I were in charge of part of the story for awhile. It was called the Weatherlight Saga. Three of the characters that I actually co-created are in the Dominaria set, including Karn, which is a golem; Squee, who is a goblin; and Multani, who is kind of a nature elemental. [Once Dominaria comes out,] I’ll probably lean toward making a deck with all of them, so maybe I’ll make a red green deck.”

Of course, fans of the Weatherlight Saga should know that the airship Weatherlight itself will also be making an appearance in the Dominaria set. Rosewater announced its new crew on the official Magic website just yesterday. It’s these kinds of tributes that will help clean the slate and propel the game into its next 25 years.

“If you are somebody who’s been playing Magic for any length of time — especially a longer length of time — there’s a lot of subtle Easter eggs,” Rosewater said. “But at the same time, look, Dominaria’s a cool place [even] if you understand nothing, if you know nothing. We’ve made it so you don’t need to know this really fancy, cool sword once belonged to somebody. It’s a really cool, fancy sword unto itself.”

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