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MTG Assassin’s Creed feels like a set made for no one

With Magic: The Gathering Assassin's Creed, WotC has made a lot of strange choices, which ultimately leave it not quite fitting in anywhere.

MTG Assassins Creed art showing a viking main character

Magic: The Gathering’s Assassin’s Creed set releases tomorrow, and I find myself distinctly lacking in hype. Perhaps my excitement reserves have been fully depleted by all the recent Bloomburrow and Duskmourn news, but if that’s not it, it could be that this set feels a bit underbaked.

The main problem is that I’m not sure who MTG Assassin’s Creed is actually for. Well, it’s for Assassin’s Creed fans, obviously. But while the games have continued to sell pretty well, Assassin’s Creed just doesn’t feel like a part of the zeitgeist anymore. This franchise was at its zenith in 2013 or 2009 with Assassins Creed 2 or Black Flag.

Now, there’s nothing strictly wrong with that – it just means Wizards of the Coast can bank on nostalgia, marketing towards 30-somethings who are more likely to have disposable income. Afterall, the late 2000s was also pretty much when Doctor Who was at its peak, and that worked out fine.

MTG Assassins Creed art showing an animus

But I’m not sure the approach that worked for MTG Warhammer 40k and Doctor Who quite works for Assassin’s Creed. All the Universes Beyond sets have been very legendary heavy, banking on folks’ recognition and enjoyment of their characters to shift packs, and AC is no different. But that doesn’t work so well when most of the characters’ most recognisable feature is a slight variation on exactly the same white-robed, hooded uniform.

Was anyone paying that much attention to Assassin’s Creed’s story? Obviously, saying this invites angry fans to crawl out of the walls and prove me wrong with their encyclopedic knowledge – but most people, I suspect, enjoyed the titles mainly for their gameplay, parkour, and awesome settings. My understanding is people’s reaction to all the modern day stuff ranged from indifference to annoyance, and that the story was often treated as window-dressing.

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At the MTG Assassin’s Creed debut a fortnight ago, Wizards’ senior narrative game designer Lauren Bond stressed that the ‘conspiracy theory’ plot of AC was minimalized in the set, in favor of bringing history to the forefront. (Around the 5 minute mark, if you want a rough timestamp.)

Now this would have been a smart plan. Make AC the history set, and make up for the blandness of some of its characters with the novelty of real world historical figures – appealing to both diehard and less established fans. This would have seemed a step too far a decade ago, but in a Universes Beyond product anything goes.

But this promise isn’t really realized. There are only three historical figures in the set in total – no Blackbeard, no Karl Marx, no Alfred the Great, no Dickens, Benjamin Franklin, Pythagoras, or Machiavelli.

So the flavor probably isn’t going to win over anyone who isn’t a diehard Assassin’s Creed fan, but Magic fans are a practical bunch, and if the card quality was good enough, that wouldn’t matter.

MTG Assassins Creed art showing a person climbing a cliff beside an epic vista

But that brings us to the next problem. MTG Assassin’s Creed seems stretched in two different directions. Ostensibly, it’s a Modern set. It’s Modern legal, and it’s marketed at Modern players.

But there are almost zero cards Modern players are excited for, and we’re coming hot off the heels of the much more impactful Modern Horizons 3, which is now going to completely overshadow it.

And it doesn’t feel like it was designed to be a Modern set, either. Instead, Assassin’s Creed feels like a Commander set. It has lots of new legendary creatures, and everything from the reprints like Black Market Connections, Propaganda, and the Swords, to the more exciting new cards like Cover of Darkness and The Capitoline Triad, seems built for the EDH format.

There are even mechanics like Partner on the AC cards, and the new mechanic, Freerunning is Commander-specific

MTG Assassins Creed product roster

So that said, why on earth doesn’t this set have Commander precon decks like practically everything else in Universes Beyond? It seems like a strange omission, like perhaps EDH decks were on the cards for a while, and then the set changed direction half way through development.

When we see how Assassin’s Creed is being sold, it feels like the final nail in the coffin. I don’t need to go into much detail here. It’s clear now that players don’t like miniature packs. Aftermath was an enormous flop, so bad that Wizards had to hurriedly shelve future products, and no one is fooled by the ‘Beyond’ booster. Most players aren’t going to pay for a seven card pack unless it’s literally half the price, which doesn’t seem likely.

Ultimately, there are a lot of strange decisions surrounding this set, which add up to make it feel like a swing and a miss. I’d love to know the logic behind some of them.

I could be wrong; there may be enough overlap between Assassin’s Creed lovers and casual Magic fans for this set to do just fine. But I wouldn’t put money on it.

And mean as it sounds, I wouldn’t be too sad to see this MTG set struggle, either. As much as I’ve enjoyed recent UB releases, I don’t want it to be an automatic money-maker. I’d prefer it if Wizards had to be a bit tactical about what kinds of brands to pair with, so that Magic’s own IP doesn’t get too diluted too quickly.