From The Vault: Twenty – Q&A with Lead Designer Gavin Verhey

FTV20Magic: The Gathering, as many of you may already know, is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year.  Unlike other ‘static’ products (like soft drink for example) Wizards of the Coast not only need to keep their marketing fresh but they are constantly having to develop, refine and add too an ongoing and evolving product.  That’s an incredible feat when you really consider the amount of work, effort and ultimately love that’s gone into Magic to no only keep it alive but keep it firmly in the #1 spot for trading card games.

As such Wizards of the Coast are celebrating the event with the release a special version of their annual ‘From the Vault’ series with From the Vault: Twenty.  The name references not only the celebratory year but also the fact that there are twenty cards in the box and not just the usual fifteen.  And what an amazing collection of cards Wizards of the Coast has put together!

Will Chan (Brand Manager for Wizards of the Coast Australia) very kindly helped us get in touch with the think tank back in the USA, specifically Gavin Verhey (Lead Designer for FTV:20) and together answer a few questions for us regarding FTV:20.

Please bare in mind these questions where asked prior to the entire contents of the box being revealed.  We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did –

BTGN: Firstly, a big thank you for taking the time to speak with BTGN today, much appreciated.

GAVIN: It’s my pleasure! From the Vault: 20 was a big project of mine, and after a year of waiting to talk about it I’m excited it’s finally releasing.

BTGN: From the Vault: Dragons came out August, 2008 and was the first From the Vault.  How did the idea for that come about and was the plan to create a series of these products from the outset?

GAVIN: From the Vault was mostly the brainchild of Magic Brand Director Mark Purvis, who is also a major Magic collector. Mark wanted to make a unique product that provided an opportunity to reprint some exciting older cards for collectors and players who wanted to add some splash to their decks. It released to much fanfare, and, after seeing the success, we’ve continued releasing it yearly ever since.

BTGN:  What is the design process for something like a From the Vault?  From the initial idea, card selection, organising artists to the final product.

GAVIN: Great question! Every From the Vault starts with an idea, and then is built upward from there. FtV: Dragons featured, well… dragons! FtV: Exiled featured some of Magic’s most famous banned cards. This time around, the idea was to showcase Magic’s history. No small task!

For a card to appear in this FtV it needed to meet two criteria:

1)     Every block had to be represented.

2)     Each card had to be from a Pro Tour or Worlds winning decklist from that year.

After that, it was a matter of combing through decklists and finding the coolest and most appropriate card for each year. It took a long time and much debating, but I finally reached something I am very happy with.

As far as artists goes, I worked on that with our art director, Jeremy Jarvis. Jeremy is phenomenal when it comes to art, and between my knowledge of which cards players would appreciate new art on and his knowledge of composition and style (as well as what could be improved on old art pieces) we really nailed some great new pieces in this set.

If you’re interested in an in-depth look at the selection process, you can feel free to check out my entire article on From the Vault: 20 here.

BTGN: The From the Vault series uses a different process to foil the cards.  Can you tell us how it differs and the process used to obtain these results?

GAVIN: Aha – good eye! From the Vault cards do use a slightly different foiling process that really make the cards pop like no other foil. It’s all part of the special Wizards magic we put into this box set.  I can’t tell you exactly how it works, but I can share this: it’s a very shiny process.

BTGN: From the Vault: Twenty is obviously being released to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Magic: The Gathering, which is also the reason for the box having 20 cards and not 15.  Aside from the extra five cards, can you tell us if there is anything else different with this FtV over others?

GAVIN: Something unusual from a design standpoint is that the theme is so wide. With Dragons, you just had to look at all of the available dragons. With Legends, you just had to look at Legendary cards. But here, you have such a wide range of cards from decks scattered throughout Magic’s 20 years. There was also lot of consideration made to tournament history – for example, there are cards from decks of both Jon Finkel and Kai Budde, considered by many to be the two greatest Magic players of all time, in FtV: 20. It was a FtV design experience like none other.

WILL: Absolutely!  Each year of Magic™ history is represented by a card used that year in a tournament winning deck – 20 years, 20 cards! As with other FTV releases, some cards appear in the current card frame for the first time and 7 cards feature new artwork.

BTGN: A lot of the talk for FtV:20 is centred around the inclusion of Jace the Mind Sculptor.  Was there a lot of deliberation when deciding to include this card in the box?

GAVIN:  Oh yes – absolutely. Whenever you start talking about reprinting one of the most iconic, sought after cards printed in the modern era of Magic you’re going to have some eyebrows (and voices) raised in your direction.

The short version is that I thought it was a crazy idea at first. Then, slowly, I thought it might be possible. I pitched it to some others, and people seemed pretty receptive to it. In all my time in Magic R&D, I have seen little cause as much personal excitement than whenever I handed somebody my sample list and their eyes reached Jace. It was a joy to watch people show visceral excitement about something that wouldn’t even release for a year and a half.

While we certainly wouldn’t do something like this for every From the Vault, for Magic’s 20th anniversary we did want to do something special. Jace was part of that something special.

BTGN: Previous FtV releases have occasionally included a pre-release card from the upcoming set.  Is there a chance we might see a ‘Theros’ card in the box?

GAVIN: This time around, no. The focus is on celebrating Magic’s anniversary. Plus, as good as the R&D crystal ball is, it wouldn’t tell me what was going to win Pro Tour Theros. Curses!

However, as the lead on From the Vault – and as a Magic fan – I’ll certainly openly say that I am a fan of the preview cards. I wouldn’t expect them every year, but there’s a very good chance you can expect some in a future From the Vault.

WILL: As mentioned above, each card in FTV: Twenty were key cards from tournament winning decks over the past twenty years, no surprise Theros previews I’m afraid.  For those keen to preview Theros, the upcoming release of MTG Duel Decks: ‘Heroes vs. Monsters’ features SIX new cards from Theros including the legendary hydra Poulkranos, World Eater!

BTGN:  Aside from the fantastic From the Vault: Twenty, are there any other birthday celebrations we can look forward to?

GAVIN: From the Vault: 20 is the big part of Magic’s anniversary this year. It’s one item that celebrates Magic’s entire history. There will be a few small promotions here and there worldwide, but this is the big one.

BTGN:  Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions, August 23rd is going to be an amazing day!

GAVIN: You’re very welcome! It’s my pleasure. I can’t wait to start seeing these cards pop up in local Cubes and Commander decks.

Of course, with that said, right now I’m just finishing up the From the Vault for next year, and you certainly won’t want to miss that one either. I hope to talk with you again then!


We’d love to read your comments and feedback.  What are your thoughts on From the Vault: Twenty?


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