Set Code: SWR Set Release Date: May 31st, 2021 Set Size: 120 , 120 , 86 , 2 Set Mechanics: Improve, Legend Matters, Embattled (Designed by CanterburyEgg), Melee + Multiple Returning Keywords
Seasons of War is a commander-centric set designed for draft and constructed play. It builds upon previous multiplayer sets such as Conspiracy, Conspiracy: Take the Throne, Battlebond, and Commander Legends. SWR combines dynamic and proactive gameplay to create a faster multiplayer format that still has thematic trappings of classic multiplayer/EDH gameplay.
Beyond Design Articles, you can also scroll down to see all the unlocked legendary lore blurbs, obtained by winners of SWR Events.
SWR's inception was right after MSEM2 started, in late summer of 2017. Coming out of university, my friends and I were playing a lot of Magic and all around having a good time. I'd designed the Vault Cube's newest version a few months prior and we were enjoying the new look, but we were having issues with the 1v1 nature of the format. As a group of IRL friends, we wanted to capture a more board game feel to our game nights, rather than all playing separately. One of my friends brought up Conspiracy and mentioned how fun those two formats had been, allowing everyone to all play together in some wild free for all game nights, and suggested it'd make for an interesting project. I took the idea of Conspiracy and decided to add a new element to the mix that we all also enjoyed: Commander.
Now obviously, it's 4+ years down the line and SWR looks a lot different than the original pitch. My original line up of mechanics used Melee (still in the release version!) but also had Conspiracies, Draft Matters, Monarch, and Promote. While the Conspiracy elements of the set were soon left by the wayside, Monarch stayed in the set for quite a long time. As for Promote, it eventually got the axe, but I'd like to discuss the why of it.
For those who weren't aware or haven't followed SWR's long journey over the years, the set was originally going to have no legendaries. Instead, players would get to pick any one drafted creature and promote the creature to legendary status, giving them a high degree of flexibility. These legends would then become their commanders, but wouldn't require their deck to stick to color identity.
In fact, I even conceptualized a transparent crown frame you'd slide over your chosen card to indicate it's promotion. While I think the promote mechanic could still have worked and is a really splashy and exciting element, I'm glad I opted to leave it out of the finished product. Designing that many potential legendaries began to wear out the set's complexity cap and I faced an issue where either many commons and uncommons didn't feel all that exciting to use, but the ones that did were getting to be too convoluted. For instance, a simple creature with an etb effect is never the most exciting commander (even if could be efficient) and I tried adding mechanics like Spirited from Tales of Old Jidai, but that felt like a band-aid fix at best.
While designs like Wizened Lorekeeper worked well, there was a lot I felt was missing from the promote mechanics. I'd also temporarily tried to stick to color identity to satisfy what I imagined the EDH crowd would expect combined with choosing two cards to promote and give partner. Though I quickly abandoned that concept, it's funny that Commander Legends ended up playing in a very similar space.
I ended up leaving the set behind for quite a while before picking it back over the years in-between releasing two other sets (Path of Shadows and Tales of Old Jidai). Seasons of War became setting agnostic at this point and I was simply designing cards as I wanted to, but it eventually ended up feeling too much like a cube, and I decided to return to the high fantasy setting of the original iteration.
These early iterations were still pretty useful in figuring out designs and concepts and a few survived the transition to the final set. (Don't mind the typos)
Among the aspects of the set that got left behind as we moved over to the final iterations was the concept of "commander" specific cards. I realized that if the set was to be submitted to MSEM2 and seen as part of a larger whole, having cards explicitly stating "commander" or the "command zone" would feel out of place, as much as draft matters and conspiracies. Cards such as the following would have to go:
As we moved out of 2019, I'd put the set back on the shelf once more as I focused on Worlds Away. I'd next touch a SWR-adjacent project in 2020 when I began exploratory work on a set called Vraniveer, which would have been a tribal focused set featuring the Forge an alliance keyword, allowing you to essentially fuse two creature types together as an allied army. While I never finished the set, the battlefield-focused plane felt too good to drop and when I next came back to SWR I chose to commit to setting it on Vraniveer. Funnily enough, another project of mine from 2017 called Enter the Dungeon would also find its way to Vraniveer and is set to be the spiritual sequel to SWR, being set in the same world and continuing the storyline breadcrumbs introduced there.
Not long after, I jumped back into SWR design (about a month or two after) and hammered away an almost finished version of the set. At this stage, we're starting to see a lot of the elements of SWR that would stick with it to the final version of the set. Originally, the set would have been even larger than the completed version with about 360 cards, but would have featured a substantial amount of MSEM2 reprints at common and uncommon to reduce the actual set size. Though I'd abandon the large quantity of reprints and reduce SWR to a more manageable set size, a few key reprints were kept in.
At this stage, I was still not using legendary creatures as you can see. I had introduced the concept of the legendary matters banner however which would stay on until the final set. Of the five cards above, only Storied Harvest remains in the final set. Battlefield Sorcerer would go on to become one of SWR's legendaries and the three other cards would be cut from the file. Already you can see the concept of reusing mechanics from across MTG/MSEM2 for the "legends". Monarch would also be cut because of how terrible it plays in 1v1. Before putting the set away, I made the transition to using legendary creatures, arguing that it would be better to have restrictions on what could be used so that the rest of the pool could be cleaner. It also meant that if SWR got into MSEM2, MSEDH would actually get new legends, an issue I had realized pretty late into designing SWR. I dabbled in a few additional concepts such as making SWR into a rarityless sets (using a steady amount of reprints) to make it more like a Commander Cube for instance, but that didn't last very long.
Still, we had a world, we had a plan, and we were getting close to what I envisioned the final product would be. I ended up shelving SWR one final time and took a few months leave from the Custom Magic communities as well as stepping down from my post as MSEM2 Admin. When I returned, I did so to help make sure some limited events over on MSEM2 were running smoothly, and the urge to complete this monumental project set in.
I gave myself a solid timeframe: I would use the 4 years of set files and designs to complete SWR in a month (April), running as many Commander Legend draft and game events as possible to gather additional data on top of what I had learned while jamming Conspiracy, Battlebond, and EDH matches all these years. Then, in May I'd focus on playtesting and refining SWR until it was submission ready for May 31st, 2021. Suffice to say, for the first time ever, I stuck to the schedule and not only succeeded, but finished the set a whole week early, giving me a full week more to playtest.
It might have taken me 4 years and around two dozen iterations to get to where we are today but I wouldn't have had it any other way. I hope you enjoyed this look into the origins of what I'm happy to call my best set yet.
You can look forward to future parts very soon as I dig into the playtesting, the legends, and more.