I’m certain that you’ve seen the new design of Magic cards right now – truly, it’s been abuzz in Magic circles since the announcement of the new look. Certainly Magic players have varying opinions – as is evident on StarCity’s forum on the subject. Personally, I was intimidated by the change when I first saw the pictures. Now, I feel more ready to examine what I believe to be the pros and cons of the new card design.
There’s no doubt that the new cards are sleek, futuristic… And different.
The first question to ask is why Wizards allowed this change to happen. In my opinion, the change was made to attract business – mainly in the form of new, younger players. This design obviously wasn’t made for the older players, for hanging onto nostalgia is a characteristic found in the stalwarts of the game that you just can’t get in newer players. I dare say that the new cards look "cooler," and if nothing else, this is likely to attract younger players to the game.
Additionally, newer players starting their collections around Eighth Edition will be starting on the same level as older players in the field of owning the new design. For example, I remember a day when foils weren’t around in Magic, and when Legacy premiered, I was definitely anxious to get my hands on some. Never having the opportunity to get them beforehand, I was on the same foil level as players who started with Urza’s Saga. Similarly, the twelve-year-old who gets a box of Eighth Edition for his birthday will have the same number of new cards as the owner of the Power Nine who buys his own. This will convince said twelve-year-old that he’s not as "behind the times" as he might be otherwise, and will therefore make him feel less intimidated about trying to build his own collection.
So it’s obvious that Wizards is targeting new players with the new cards, and it’s also fairly obvious that since Magic is a game, Wizards is risking a minute number of its current players with the change. That answers the why of the question, and it does so fairly easily with a why not answer. Couple that with the celebratory tenth anniversary of the game, and we have a fairly simple case that validates the purposes of the new cards coming now.
But Magic players have never been very good at keeping their opinions to themselves, and Wizards would be foolish to believe that there wouldn’t be a great deal of both positive and negative feedback to this decision. It stands to reason that since most of the logic behind the redesign in the first place is for new players, older players are going to be much more apt to complain about the change. And the biggest complaints seem not to be about the aesthetics of the cards (though some people think they’re just gaudy and ugly), but rather about the aforementioned nostalgia and the interaction of these cards with their predecessors.
Complaints about new cards next to old are certainly valid ones, though it may turn out to be beneficial for Wizards. Some say (and I agree) that these new cards are going to clash terribly with old ones. I’m fine with having two Ice Age Counterspells in my hand, along with two Circular Logics – they look basically the same. But when those Counterspells are held with the new counterspell from Bacon, it’s going to look mighty odd.
So I have three options: One, I can not play with one or the other card (a very bad idea if they’re both good choices). Two, I can just "deal" with it (what most players are probably going to do). Or three, I can play with Eighth Edition Counterspells.
The only one of these avenues that affects Wizards directly is the third, in which I buy Eighth Edition cards, thus making them more money. Now, the flip side of this is when I decide to put Rewind in my deck. If I’m just going to "deal" with the problem, then I’m going to use Urza’s Saga Rewinds, thereby keeping most of my deck "old school." In this way, Wizards will be losing my Eighth Edition money; however, there’s no real impact here because most players with cards from older sets tend to use those rather than their non-foily white-bordered editions. So the money Wizards "loses" from me wouldn’t actually be theirs anyway.
So basically, there’s going to be a design clash, but there’s no much we can do about it. In two years, Standard will be Eight-washed with the new design, and only older versions of legal cards will break the trend (though by then, I figure Standard players will probably be prepared to make their deck all of the same card design). And although it may sound difficult to imagine to Extended players, we’ll all probably be used to the new cards soon enough… At least, used enough to them to tolerate their placement in our decks.
Yet there still remains the other main complaint, and this is the true heart of the matter: Many players believe that the new card design betrays the integrity of Magic and what it’s stood for ten years. As I’ve mentioned before, I feel that Magic cards are windows into the world of Dominia, showing us glimpses of planes like Dominaria, Ulgrotha, and Rath. The main change seems to be that now, each Magic card contains a window into these worlds. Some players see the extension of the art box as an increase of the window; I see the raping of the border to be a constriction of it.
Wizards has made no secret that its main purpose in creating boxes on the cards is to isolate and separate parts of the card for easier piecemeal recognition. In the past, the entire card embodied the creature, enchantment, etc. Before, when you picked up a Phyrexian Colossus from Urza’s Saga (which, actually being in Phyrexia, makes it a much more Phyrexian Colossus than the Seventh Edition impostor), you picked up a Phyrexian Colossus. Now, when you pick up a Phyrexian Colossus from Eighth Edition, you’re picking up a status report. No longer are you a planeswalker wielding a mighty avatar; now, you’re a planeswalker preparing to bring forth the creature. You may open your portal to see what the creature looks like (the art on the card), but for the most part, the cardboard representation in your hand is a list of stats about the creature instead of actually being the creature itself.
When I countered spells in the past, it was with a Counterspell. Now, when I counter spells, it’s going to be by casting a spell with the name of Counterspell that counters spells. The difference may be subtle, but to me it’s important. The partitioning of the card has also split up the essence of it – the separate fields are now truly and entirely separate from one another, and I think that’s terrible.
See, what Wizards has done is made Magic into a card game, no questions asked. Sure, it’s always been a card game… But since the beginning, Magic’s been more than that. Just look at the novels. Before, when you looked at the board, you surveyed battle position. Now, when you look at the board, you’re going to see a representation of battle position. This is the biggest loss with the new card design.
But even though I believe that Magic is losing a lot with the sleeker look, there’s a silver (or grey, or whatever the new artifact color is) lining to every cloud. See, I intend to keep right on playing Magic so long as nothing terrible happens. I’ve been in it for over five years now, and I can easily see myself in it for at least another five. So in five years, when there are a lot of players who own only cards with the new design, the cards I own now are going to be even more of a rarity. They won’t be Beta-worthy, but they will be members of the "first generation" of Magic cards. This is the biggest shakeup of Magic since the Stack (perhaps even bigger than the Extended rotation), and it’s bound to make an impact.
And the strongest impact that can be made was mentioned by Mark Rosewater himself when he was discussing the reasoning behind making Legions an all-creature set. On this, he says: "Super themes let us break rules on a higher level. Rather than just focusing on things individual cards can’t do, we get to do things expansions don’t do." Well, Wizards has just proven its ability to do things that games don’t do – at least, not ours. This redesign was in the works for a while, but now we’ve finally seen the backbone necessary to complete it. I’m now convinced that Wizards is willing to shake things up a lot, especially conjoining this announcement with the official release of Legions all-creatures composition. It’s only a matter of time before we get:
Creature – Wizard
T: Once this phase is over, instead of going to the next phase, proceed as if you’ve just begun the current phase.
Rules were meant to be broken.
If one positive, nonfinancial consequence is to be had from this redesign, it’s the assurance that Magic is alive and thriving in the real world and that many years of exciting mechanics remain. Even if we’ve lost a part of the magic of Magic, the game of Magic is here to stay for a long time.