[Something To Ponder] Magic: the Gathering is not immersive

Hi everybody! Welcome back to Strictly Average MTG. I hope you all have had a great weekend, and are enjoying the new cards made available in Throne of Eldraine. Today I want to step away from the usual deck techs, and talk about something else that makes Magic: the Gathering great, and my concern that it doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

Magic: the Gathering has many different parts to each of the cards in the game. When looking at the front of a card you will notice many different things immediately before reading the whole card. This will range from the name, the cost to play the card, and any effects the card has (up to and including its power and toughness if applicable). However there is one thing that takes up a large portion of the card. The art.

Oh so pretty

If you ask Magic: the Gathering players what their favorite part of a card is many of them will say it’s the art. It often times is tied to a specific set, or expansion, and is also part of a larger story.

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…but how large is that story? …why is it important? …is it important?

Art, more often than not, is what draws us in to the story.

Some of my earliest childhood memories have been about comic books. I used to read a lot (perhaps too much as I got swept up by the special cover hype of the 90’s), and in many ways miss it. Before society had the internet, Netflix, and blu-ray players this was how we continued to consume fiction from our favorite characters, and intellectual properties. Along with cartoons and toys (a lot of toys) kids my age always engaged with fiction. Look at these covers above?

  • Why is Princess Leia hiding from that dude by the computer console?
  • Wait. It’s issue 5 of The Transformers, and they are all dead? How? Why?
  • X-Men? What’s that? Who are they?

These are questions I asked myself when seeing these covers, and immediately made the purchase  during my childhood. I wanted to know what was going on in the story. I wanted to be immersed in the story.

Can a Magic: the Gathering card do the same thing? Sure it can.

Forget the card mechanics for a moment. Look at the art!

What do you see?

  • An angel descending from the sky into the middle of battle?
  • A powerful being ready to fight?
  • An armored warrior wielding two weapons?
  • All of these things?

…or none of them?

If all we look at is everything besides the art, then why is the art so important?

Why is the story so important? Should the story be important if the non-art portions of the card are the only thing that players care about?

Story time

Great stories are ones that we remember, and tell our family and friends until everyone has heard them (or we forget the story). This could be something that happened to you that you feel someone would find interesting, a television show, or the last novel you read. There are many ways to tell a story. However, the great stories are the ones that draw us in. By getting us invested in the characters we learn about through the story we become immersed in the story being told.

Shouldn’t we get the same feeling in Magic: the Gathering?

Let me ask it another way: Do you remember the storyline when we first arrived in Zendikar? Jace Beleren arrived at the Eye of Ugin where Chandra Nalaar was battling Sarkhan Vol. Wouldn’t it have been great if we could have had decks to play out that battle? What if we could have recreated that story in some measure?

What about Nissa Revane fighting Ob Nixilis Reignited? Sure there’s a Duel Deck for that, but I’m talking about in Standard. If the story matters as much as we are lead to believe then why not recreate story moments in Standard? I’m not suggesting we bring back the Block format, but we hear a lot about the story with each set being released. Shouldn’t we want to be immersed in it when building our decks?

Throne of Eldraine was released a few weeks ago, and while there’s a lot of themes in that set which promote immersing oneself into the story of Eldraine it’s not something that happens once the cards are available.

Imagine seeing this on the battlefield. How is this helping add immersion to the game? Gingerbrute is from the whimsical world of Eldraine, yet Steel Overseer has a grim battleground behind it, and Mystic Forge looks like something dwarves would use to make Warforged in the Dungeons and Dragons world of Eberron.

With Throne of Eldraine being the new set then how can we embrace it, as well as it’s story, if all of these other cards that don’t fit appear (like the above example)? Why put time, and money, into a story that does not matter once the packs are available to open?

Playing with your toys

Does anyone remember the Masters of the Universe toys? He-Man, and the Masters of the Universe was the cartoon that promoted the toys, and the toys promoted the cartoon. As much as I love Transformers I believe that Masters of the Universe (or MotU) had the best toys to become engaged with the fiction. Not only did you have all of the figures, but you even had Castle Grayskull. With these toys you could recreate the battle between He-Man, and Skeletor, as the latter tries to take over Castle Grayskull. What if through your play he does that? Then you can create a counter-attack by He-Man and his allies.

That sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it?

In a way Magic: the Gathering can be looked at the same way. Perhaps you have a deck that has members of The Gatewatch in Gideon Jura, Jace Beleren, and Chandra Nalaar in them. Those characters have had many different cards made, and let’s say you have the most optimal choices. Now let’s say your opponent has a deck that has Dovin Baan, and Tezzeret the Schemer in it. You not only have to play the game as normal, but you also have to thwart the plans of the villains. This is something that not only should we have in Magic, but sets should be designed to replicate.

For instance did you know that Vraska is hunting down Dovin, and Ral Zarek is hunting Tezzert? The only way you might know that is if you read the novel. That’s not learned through the cards, or playing the game, or even watching others play.

Don’t get me wrong, Herm Edwards. I understand those on the tournament grind are looking at the mechanics of the cards to give them the best chance at winning matches during a tournament, but can’t we make things better? No one is saying these people shouldn’t play competitively, as many who watch them play at tournaments may want to take a crack at tournaments themselves. However what’s happening now is that card design is even being pushed further and further away from the story.

Urza, Lord High Artificer is a card seeing a lot of play at many tables across the world, but why aren’t his lands in that same deck? Why isn’t his greatest creation, Karn, also in the deck?

The Jund deck when Shards of Alara (and its expansions) were in Standard is an example of what I am trying to describe. You have powerful cards, all from the same plane, and as the expansions were released the story unfolded adding more cards to your deck. From the flavor text on the cards, to the cards themselves as a player you were a mage from Alara channeling the powers of the shard Jund. Why can’t we have that now?

Look at how pushed the cards are now.

What kind of story do these tell? Sure the story behind Golos, Tireless Pilgrim is that it travels the planes, but how many of you knew that? How many cared? Was there care behind its story when the card was designed?

These cards are showing up at a lot of Standard tables, and is currently the boogeyman of the format. Yes there is little interaction with Field of the Dead currently, but this deck is hated like a bad story. The more that cards are pushed like these (or maybe not Circuitous Route, but it’s still part of this engine), and the less they focus on the story, the more problems that we can potentially have. The more calling for bans there will be, and the less fun some will have. For a game that’s supposed to be for everybody that doesn’t seem like a path that should be taken, especially when there are people in place to make sure everything fits before a card is released for print.

In conclusion

I know this is a lot to take in, but I have been seeing Magic: the Gathering become less immersive since players started playing members of The Gatewatch with Emrakul, the Promised End. One could say this topic has been brewing for a long time. However what do you think?

  • Do you think the story still matters?
  • Do you think that once packs are available the story doesn’t matter anymore?
  • Should Standard decks be designed to where we can recreate the stories told with that expansion?

Please leave a comment below, and follow me on both Facebook as well as Twitter.

Next time

It’s time to revisit Jund, and update you all on the types of articles you will see from me in the future.

Until then…

TAP MORE MANA!!!

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