How MTG: Murders at Karlov Manor struck a balance between mystery and mechanics

In conversation with Mike Turian, MTG: Murders at Karlov Manor's Product Architect.
MTG: Murders at Karlov Manor

MTG: Murders at Karlov Manor, the latest set from Wizards of the Coast, is rife with heavy murder-mystery theming, featuring much-loved tropes that are reminiscent of games like Clue and Mysterium. From unexpected mechanics through to stunningly designed cards, it’s a set that has definitely captured a lot of attention.

For Product Architect Mike Turian, who is a self-proclaimed murder-mystery fan, these nods to classic literature and tropes were important to get right. “The team really built off of those well-known tropes and you can see it in the names of the cards, the artwork, and in the card design,” he told GamesHub.

“I still laugh every time I cast a Red Herring, the misdirection is strong with that Clue Fish. Call a Surprise Witness is another great one; having a spirit being the witness is such a fun twist on the iconic moment where the courtroom doors open and in walks the person who will break the case wide open.”

Read: MTG: Murders at Karlov Manor – Exclusive Card Preview

The importance of a strong through-line and theme is huge for a set like this, and the North Star for the team in devising MTG: Murders at Karlov Manor was simple: ensure the blend of new mechanics and mysterious energy with existing MTG sets is seamless.

“We wanted to be true to what Magic players love, while also giving life to what Ravnica’s version of a murder mystery would be,” said Turian. “While murder mystery drama was the focus, the team also worked to bring in elements of theatrical eccentrics and the puzzle experience into the set as well.”

Incorporating new mechanics like Disguise and Collect Evidence makes for interesting gameplay, but it’s also important that they stay true to both the spirit of the genre and the spirit of Magic: The Gathering more widely.

“The vision design team set out early on to find mechanics that captured the essence of the concepts of both Disguise/Cloak and Collect Evidence,” said Turian. “In the case of Disguise, it was fairly early in the design process when the team discovered that adding Ward 2 to Morphs would do a good job of creating both a resonant mechanic and good game play.”

“The game play that took the most iteration in Murders at Karlov Manor was getting Suspected right,” he said. “Finding a way to navigate the design such that you had reasons to give your creatures suspect counters as well as your opponents was quite challenging … In the end, I think the team found a sweet spot that captures Suspected well.”

The Doppelgang’s all here

Here at GamesHub, we had the honour of exclusively revealing the Doppelgang card. Requiring X/X/X/Blue/Green, the card scales in accordance with the mana value you decide to use for X – and that makes it extremely flexible.

Card art for new Sorcery card, Doppelgang, as part of MTG: Murders at Karlov Manor
Image: Wizards of the Coast / Chris Rallis

“From a card perspective, the idea of creating Doppelgangers in Magic started all the way back in the original Magic set with Vesuvan Doppelganger,” said Turian about the card’s origin. “We wanted to tap into the trope of having doppelgangers appear in murder mystery stories as a typical misdirection trope.”

Mark Gottlieb, the lead designer for MTG: Murders at Karlov Manor, spoke to the genesis of this card. “There’s a point during each set’s design where we’ve removed some clunky cards from the file and the design team opens up card submissions to a wide swath of the company,” he said. “At Wizards of the Coast, everyone gets to design Magic cards!”

The following submission was what caught the team’s eye:

Create X token copies of each of up to X target creatures.

“We didn’t simply put Dupli-Duplicate into the set, however,” said Gottlieb. “We wound up swapping an existing green-blue card into a monoblue card, and we turned Dupli-Duplicate into a green-blue card (with the crime-based name Copycat Crime Wave) to fill the newly vacated slot.”

It’s not a straightforward process, and the balancing act is intense. New cards and mechanics have to make sense not only in the set, but in the wider canon as well, which Doppelgang manages to achieve splendidly. As for the name? That incredible pun came much later, courtesy of Fox Allison and the card naming team.

With a set peppered with equally exciting and inventive cards, it’s hard to choose a favourite. While Doppelgang is clearly ours, for Turian, choosing just one is a huge ask.

“I was tempted to pick “Lead Pipe” because growing up I loved playing Clue so bringing to life one of my favourite games growing up with my favourite all-time game is so appealing,” he said.

“In the end though, I will give the nod to Krenko, Baron of Tin Street – I’ve always had a love of Goblins in Magic and to be able to make a new Krenko that is both inspired by the original and is a powerhouse in his own right… That is too awesome.”

Steph Panecasio is the Managing Editor of GamesHub. An award-winning culture and games journalist with an interest in all things spooky, she knows a lot about death but not enough about keeping her plants alive. Find her on all platforms as @StephPanecasio for ramblings about Lord of the Rings and her current WIP novel.