While at Magic: The Gathering I also led the four-person team that designed Commander Parties. Our responsibility was to provide Magic's first ever official Commander event for stores, while supporting the narrative of each major release. I collaborated closely with a third-party design contractor, Gaby Wiedling, to develop the overarching mechanics of each event, then playtested our systems and made the necessary tweaks, before delivering final copy to our editing team. Throughout the process we coordinated with the packaging and narrative team to make sure we were on the same page about the visual presentation we were aiming for and also that we never missed any key narrative elements. I led the development of seven Commander Parties in total, which released / are releasing between September 2022 and December 2023.
Above are the five faction cards from the Phyrexia: All Will Be One Commander Party. This set was all about putting players in the shoes of the Phyrexians, one of Magic's most famous enemy factions. We built five faction cards, each themed after a different Phyrexian praetor, and rewarded proactive game actions with extremely powerful, appealing abilities that accelerate the game to a climactic finish. This is the base formula we found works best for a commander party. Commander Parties are one-time-only events, so they need to be exciting, but they also need to never upsage "normal" Commander gameplay - which is what our players are showing up for. Whenever possible, Commander Party powerups should be doing the work of accelerating players into the midgame, helping last-place players catch up, and making sure the game never stagnates.
Above are two of the faction cards we produced for the March of Machines Commander Party. This was perhaps our largest Commander Party in scope, because we built seven faction cards that all had different abilities on their fronts and backs. They all followed the same format of incentivizing you to perform a certain thematic action by allowing you to progress closer to a powerful endgame ability on the back. Even though Commander is a competitive format, it was narratively important for us to capture the feeling of banding together to oppose Phyrexian invasion - and the ability to "dip in" to another player's thematic action to help both players out was a fantastic way to feature that. It made sure you always had multiple ways to progress, rewarded you for bringing popular deck archetypes to the event, and made no two games at this Commander Party ever play the same.
As we found our rhythm on Commander Party design, we pushed ourselves to change up the format and keep things interesting. For the Lord of the Rings and the Wilds of Eldraine Commander Parties, we used a central playmat to house a lot of our game rules and helpful reminder text. The Lord of the Rings Commander Party played with the idea of claiming a central pool of rings for the elves, dwarves, and mortal men, while the Wilds of Eldraine Commander Party allowed players to flip through pages of a storybook to access different abilities themed after the ten fairytales central to the Eldraine setting.
I'm incredibly impressed with what we were able to accomplish with Commander Parties, especially considering we were just a small team. We took the event series from an experimental project only released in Wizards Play Network stores to being released worldwide and becoming a required element of all major product releases moving forward!