Gavin Verhey broke down how the codenames for Magic sets in development are created on today’s episode of Good Morning Magic.
The history of Magic codenames goes all the way back to Alliances, the first expansion to use a codename in design. The idea of using codenames was so that the name of the set didn’t influence the design of the set, leaving it open for a new name or a better name after the set was completed. The first codenames were named after sound files from Macintosh computers, because a sound file would play when you opened a folder a set was in. This is how “Quack” was used as the first codename for Alliances. Mirage was named Sosumi and they immediately had to change things as Mirage became two sets. The design team would use one-off names for sets until Mercadian Masques.
With Mercadian Masques, the codenames were switched to three names that went together. Mercadian Masques, Nemesis, and Prophecy were codenamed with the Greek names Archimedes, Euripedes, and Dionysius while Invasion, Planeshift, and Apocalypse were codenamed Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.
Starting with Odyssey block, the codenames moved toward sets of names that went in a memorable order to help designers keep sets in order easier. This change led to Odyssey block using Argon, Boron, and Carbon; Mirrodin block using Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato; while Kamigawa block used Earth, Wind, and Fire. Khans of Tarkir block was the last to use this style, ending with Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
With expansions moving to two-set blocks, codenames changed as well. Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch became Blood and Sweat, while Shadows Over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon turned into Tears and Fears.
From there, set names got changed around and dropped as certain sets became Core Sets and the vision eventually became individual standalone sets. Mark Rosewater came up with the idea to use sports names, starting in alphabetical order, for the future expansions. This has played out with the following:
- Throne of Eldraine – Archery
- Theros: Beyond Death – Baseball
- Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths – Cricket
- Zendikar Rising – Diving
- Kaldheim – Equestrian
- Strixhaven: School of Mages – Fencing
Verhey wrapped up the video with a game where the viewer gets to look at a list of codenames and a list of sets and tries to match them.