Inside the Making of Magic: The Gathering’s New Assassin’s Creed Cards

Exclusive: Wizards of the Coast give us a first look at their brand-new Magic: The Gathering Assassin's Creed-themed crossover cards.

Photo: Wizards of the Coast

For over 30 years, Magic: The Gathering has not only continued to thrill players with its genre-defining collectible card game action but crossed over with some of the biggest pop culture properties in the world. After crossing over with The Lord of the Rings, Godzilla, and Doctor Who, the latest Magic: The Gathering – Universes Beyond crossover set adapts Ubisoft’s long-running action-adventure video game series Assassin’s Creed. Available this July, these cards reflect the entire history of the iconic game franchise, drawing from its numerous historical periods and memorable characters.

In an interview with Den of Geek at Summer Game Fest 2024, Magic: The Gathering senior game designer Corey Bowen shares what makes this Universes Beyond crossover unique, explains the joys of working with different properties within the lens of Magic: The Gathering, and teases what kinds of cards players can expect from Assassin’s Creed.

Bringing Assassin’s Creed to Magic: The Gathering

Bowen was a huge fan of Assassin’s Creed growing up, even before joining the Wizards of the Coast team, playing the original trilogy of games in his formative years. After getting the nod to serve as lead for the Universes Beyond: Assassin’s Creed project, Bowen revisited all of the Assassin’s Creed games ahead of workshopping cards for the set with the rest of the creative team. Bowen and the team also found a natural collaborative partner in Ubisoft.

“Ubisoft has been a joy to work with, they’re very easy and fun,” Bowen says. “What I love about this universe is there are so many different historical periods that we get to engage in and different kinds of characters that we get to represent.”

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For Bowen, one of his favorite parts of the process was devising how the familiar faces and tropes from the Assassin’s Creed games would fit within the established visual aesthetics of Magic: The Gathering.

“I worked really closely with the art director and creative designer. We were collaborating on what characters and concepts that we wanted to bring,” Bowen recalls. “With Universes Beyond specifically, we get to work with all these different partners with all these different ideas. What I really love is seeing whatever the style is of Assassin’s Creed and we’re taking that essence and bringing it in Magic’s arthouse style. Every time we do that, especially for The Lord of the Rings, it’s exciting to see those stories and narratives revisualized into Magic’s style.”

The premise of Ubisoft’s perennially popular franchise proved to be a unique and interesting creative challenge. For a franchise that revolves around the never-ending fight for power between the Assassin Brotherhood and Knights Templar, the Black element, which revolves around death, seemed the most natural fit. Bowen and the team decided that, while other colors would still be included with the overall Universes Beyond set, the set wouldn’t be as strictly color-balanced, featuring more Black cards and not designed towards being draftable.

“This is a very interesting case because, in Assassin’s Creed, all of the protagonists are Assassins. By definition, they’re stealthy, back-stabbing, they have a very similar suite of skills. So how do we not make a set that has 30 Black cards in it?” Bowen observes. “Even in that sense, we still want Assassins of different colors. There is going to be a little bit more Black, because Assassins feel really Black, but we also have a lot of Red/White Assassins that represent the historic side of the series; maybe the Valhalla or Odyssey characters feel more towards that identity.”

To offer variety, the Assassin’s Creed set highlights everything from the historical periods included in the games, recognizable items like the Pieces of Eden, and gameplay mechanics like freerunning. For Bowen, his personal favorite card from the set involves the Assassin’s Creed games recurring trope of Assassins in conveniently placed haystacks to either cushion their falls or hide from the authorities.

“My favorite card is called Haystack,” Bowen reveals. “It’s just a haystack and you tap it to hide a creature for a turn and then it phases out. It’s such a simple concept and idea of hiding your creature, but it’s resonant and Assassin’s Creed fans will immediately get the joke.”

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The Ongoing Evolution of Magic: The Gathering

The Assassin’s Creed set speaks to the overall malleability of Magic: The Gathering. The franchise has tackled everything from the cyberpunk to the Wild West genres, while an internal desire to incorporate a murder mystery into the game led to the creation of Murders at Karlov Manor set. These changes in genre and universe offer fun challenges for Bowen and the developers as they continue to play with the overarching Magic: The Gathering experience.

“Every set I work on has different challenges, different themes, and different problems,” Bowen notes. “These different universes are even more fun genre spaces to work in. Getting to sit down and understand the core principles of that genre and gaming universe, to understand what the player experiences while they’re playing that game, and translating that into Magic.”

With Magic: The Gathering maintaining a strong presence in the tabletop community since 1993, Bowen believes it’s this flexibility that has helped the game stay relevant after all this time. With new ways to play, both with physical cards and the online platform Magic: The Gathering Arena, the future of Magic: The Gathering looks bright, even beyond the Assassin’s Creed crossover.

“I really think that Magic is a hundred different games. People come in and can play it in so many different ways,” Bowen explains. “It’s also always constantly evolving—what the colors are doing are evolving, what the standards for cards are evolving. Everything is always changing and the game is always morphing. But what always keeps it fresh after all this time is how many things, mechanics, and aspects there are to hook into, how many interactions there are between all the innate systems, the mana system and the creature system. Everything can bend and change in so many ways, so we can make our sets feel fresh, set-to-set.”

Magic: The Gathering – Universes Beyond: Assassin’s Creed will be released July 5.