Universes Beyond: Fallout Interview with Senior Game Designer Annie Sardelis at Wizards of the Coast

Rad counters, super mutants, and bobbleheads have been swarming the Friday Night Magic tables since the Universes Beyond: Fallout cards were released a few weeks ago. This new offering for Magic: The Gathering showcases the nuclear wastelands of Bethesda’s Fallout games with four new Commander decks and Collector Booster packs, being the latest in Wizards of The Coasts collaborative Universes Beyond series. This unique line of cards sees another popular nerd property plane-walk into the world of cardboard and Magic. To celebrate its release, RPGSite had the privilege to ask some questions to Annie Sardelis, a Senior Game Designer who helped bring these new cards to life. We got to get a peak behind the curtains on the work that went into Universes Beyond: Fallout and what sort of decks the employees of WotC like to play right now.

RPGSite: How much collaboration was there between Wizards and Microsoft/Bethesda when developing this product?

Annie: Luckily for us, there are a lot of Fallout fans at Wizards of the Coast, and there are lots of Magic: The Gathering fans at Bethesda. The collaboration felt like a partnership the whole way through. For any Universes Beyond product, regardless of who the partner is, we always have subject matter experts contributing ideas so that both fandoms feel represented in the cards. We also have to make sure that what we design still feels like Magic. It’s a delicate balance to strike, and Bethesda was enthusiastic and helpful throughout the whole process.


RPGSite: What's the usual timeline or creative process for developing new Universes Beyond sets? What about Commander decks?

Annie: It’s pretty much a longer version of making Commander decks for our main sets, as we take extra time for checking in with the partner. We spend time brainstorming with internal subject matter experts and the creative lead to figure out what direction to take things in. Then, we go through Vision Design, Set Design, and Play Design just the same.

RPGSite: Was the process in creating a Universes Beyond product based on a video game property much different from those from other mediums (ie, TV w/ Doctor Who, Wargaming w/ 40K, etc) Was it more challenging? Easier? Quicker?

Annie: To properly translate each property to Magic, we approach each a little differently. There are some things easier about translating a game into another game- we can lean on the terminology and similar expressions of mechanics, which is how Rad counters came about. But we also have a game-specific challenge when selecting what content to show, as each Fallout player has their own experiences based on their choices in-game.  Someone’s favorite character, quest, or location might be entirely missed by another player. (Apologies to everyone looking for Joshua Graham, whose design ended up on the cutting room floor!) Mark Rosewater wrote an article that digs into some of the different approaches we take when adapting a gaming property. Check it out here: https://magic.wizards.com/en/news/making-magic/game-on


RPGSite: With so many Universes Beyond and Secret Lair products being released, many featuring brand new and unique mechanics (Rad counters as an example for Fallout), do you worry about keyword bloat inside the game of Magic?

Annie: Making new keywords largely goes hand-in-hand with making new stuff, and working on Universes Beyond often includes making a lot of new cards! Personally, I’m not concerned, and we put a lot of effort into scrutinizing what should and should not be a keyword.


RPGSite: Is there any plan to keep the Rad Counter or Junk Token mechanics going forward in future sets?

Annie: We always keep fan-favorite mechanics in mind when designing new cards. Like any new mechanic, we’ll keep an eye out if players are enjoying them.

RPGSite: What were the biggest takeaways that the team learned from making this set?

Annie: That Magic players really like Fallout! On a serious note, we noticed that with players like keeping Universes Beyond commander decks intact to play against each other within their own “biodome”. We keep this in mind when designing sets of four decks.


RPGSite: What is your favorite card from Universes Beyond: Fallout?

Annie: Mr. House, President and CEO! I wanted to create a dice-rolling commander ever since I worked on Unfinity, and it seemed like the perfect spot. Although there’s very little dice-rolling in the Hail Caesar deck itself, I hope it inspires folks to look for ways throughout Magic’s history to roll some dice.

RPGSite: Tell me about your favorite personal commander deck.

Annie: My personal favorite deck is Queen Marchesa! I got introduced to the Commander format around Conspiracy: Take the Crown, and the Monarch mechanic is just too cool.

RPGSite: What is the most dangerous Commander deck played at the Wizard's office during games?

Annie: Recently, Megan Smith has been playing a lot of a bant doubling deck with Doctor Who cards. The goal is to make as many clone tokens of historic permanents as possible and populate them or double them with token doublers like Doubling Season. I have no words to describe it outside of “excessive”.


RPGSite: What is the deck's commander?

Annie: The Sixth Doctor (from the previous Universes Beyond: Dr. Who set) and Romana II (A Doctor’s companion pair)

RPGSite: What tips or advice would you give to a new player to the game/commander who is trying it out for the first time with these decks?

Annie: Magic is a huge game with decades of content. That can be daunting! But it’s also what’s so cool about it. Start by finding something you’re excited about- be that a character, setting, color, or mechanic- then see if you like playing with it. If so, awesome! There’s a bunch of more cards like it. If not, there’s a thousand other things to try. For example, if you like commanding big armies of creatures, there’s the Hail Caesar deck. But on the total opposite side, there’s Scrappy Survivors deck which has you make one big creature. Figure out what speaks to you!

A big thank you to Annie and Wizards of the Coast for taking the time to answer some questions! Universes Beyond: Fallout is available at your local game store and Amazon. Look forward to WotC’s upcoming Magic set, “Outlaws of Thunder Junction!”

For more Fallout goodness, check out our review of Amazon Prime’s new Fallout live-action TV series and our preview of some of the cards featured in Universes Beyond: Fallout!