Here’s what prompted this week’s column: A friend of my wife was heading down to Dragon*Con this past week, and they got around to discussing my Magic habits and the stereotype of the Magic player.
He said: "Magic players deserve whatever stereotype they get."
This coming from a comic book fan who was going to spend a week in a comic book convention, dressing in full makeup and drag for at least one event. And so I thought – exactly what stereotype do we deserve?
Obviously it’s not a collectible card game thing; otherwise kids playing Pokemon would be ostracized in school, and the phenomenon that is Pokemon would never have gotten off the ground. It’s definitely a Magic thing. Magic gets the same ‘connotation’ that Dungeons and Dragons had when I was in grade school – that it’s not a ‘normal’ game kids play (and maybe it’s even a bit Satanic!) 😉
There are two halves to the Magic-playing community. There’s the half that proudly wears their Magic like a badge, and probably was already getting weird looks at school, so it doesn’t matter if there’s one more thing to make them different. Without being malicious to that half, that’s the half that gives us the stereotype, and we’ve all seen them at tournaments. The other half has fit into mainstream society somehow, like I have, by dressing up nice and covering up the fact that they’re big geeks. I’ll even admit now that when my co-workers ask what I’m doing over a tournament weekend, I mumble something about cards and then move into a work-related topic. It’s probably a subliminal desire to not be associated with the stereotype.
I’d be much happier if everyone knew Magic, loved Magic. Pokemon has that quality now (although people still look at adults without kids who play Pokemon as a little weird). So how can we open up Magic and make it available to the 1.2 million people who AREN’T playing it?
Funny you should ask.
First of all, Starter has to go. There were so many things right with Portal that I was amazed when they did away with it. The original boxed set, which I learned Magic on, brought out enough of the core rules of Magic in such a simple, straightforward way that even moderate game-players can pick up (and -remember-) the game. The cards matched their "real-Magic" equivalents, and even offered some second-market value to regular players who wanted the black borders or alternate art. I personally used two Portal Natural Orders in my Secret Force deck.
Everyone was happy when Portal: Second Age came out. They made preconstructed decks, made a whole storyline behind the cards, and fleshed out what I thought was going to be the first step towards mainstreaming Magic. Newcomers could still get into the game easily enough, and players who hadn’t stepped up to "advanced" Magic could still put a goodly amount of strategy into deckbuilding.
Then Wizards shifts gears and gives us the incredibly watered-down Starter set. With white borders, which just look horrible – and then the DCI goes even further and makes it so regular players can’t play their Starter cards in sanctioned tournaments. What this essentially does is splits Starter and Magic into two separate entities, instead of having one flow into the other.
There needs to be a return to the flowing nature of Portal. Some restructuring of the old logo will need to be done, so you have the brand identification linked between the two products. Since Wizards is already doing a yearly cycle (for release of main set storylines, and for release of Portal updates), they could be uniting the two storylines into one broad, sweeping storyline. They can cross cards between the annual Expert set and the Portal set for the year – maybe with alternate art to reestablish that ‘chase’ quality of the original Portal cards.
THE CARD REDESIGN
The new look is, in a word, guh. Rearranging the layout of the card so that the casting cost is visible in the corner like the three of hearts is not going to make anyone run out and buy Magic cards. It’s also not going to bring any new players to Magic. It would be nice to update the layout a little, maybe with new typefaces and a bigger area for the card name and the casting cost. I wouldn’t want to infringe on the art space, however. =)
One possible card change that would bring the whole thing back a little mainstream would be Omeed’s cause: Famous text as flavor text. That would make individual cards identifiable to even the casual player. We already know that the reserve of this flavor text is practically endless thanks to Omeed’s dedication and hours of research. =)
And now for the coup de grace:
With the recent influx of Japanese animation (and its current state of popularity), it makes complete sense to turn Magic into an animated series. Fox and the WB are currently searching for the next animated series to spark a purchasing frenzy – why not give them something with an already-established line of products?
Here’s the premise for MY Magic animated series: Four kids from the present stumble upon a Magic book, setting up brand recognition by mimicking the cover of the book to the back of current Magic cards. I’d call the series "Magic: The Portal" and further push the crossover with the currently-published work. Three of the kids want to wait, want to show it to the local bookshop owner (or whatever), but the fourth impetuous child opens the latch and the book and the pages start furling and flying and in the end, our four heroes are transported into Dominaria. Where doesn’t matter – just that they’re there. Yes, I know this is very Dungeons and Dragons, and the only thing reminding anyone of that is the fact that Fox just brought that show out from the top shelf of the closet to re-run.
Sure, they start out wanting to get back to our world, but you can shift that over the course of the series so that events transpire to keep our heroes interested in the well-being of Dominaria.
The first season can still be built around trying to return to, for lack of a better term, Earth. Great care will have to be given in coming up with a Dominarian advisor for our heroes – something to increase brand recognition and foster sales of cute plush toys. If anyone’s seen the new series Cardcaptors (not new in Japan, where it went by Card Captor Sakura), there’s a cute winged teddy bear with an attitude that just screams ‘market me!’, and no doubt they will. We’ll need something similar here. Our advisor informs our heroes that return to Earth can no doubt be achieved, but that they’ll need a set of artifacts (again combining in already established terminology) in order to open the gate back through. There are five artifacts to collect, each corresponding to one of the colors (established terminology) and each held by a legend of that color.
In order to collect these artifacts, our heroes will have to play what basically amounts to a spectacularly-animated game of ante. Over the course of the first few episodes we can have the guide teaching aspects of the game, teaching spells (that show up as cards in the spellbook), and prepping for the first battle. We then introduce our first legend, who ultimately wants to help our heroes – the white legend. Pick one – Serra, maybe. Serra also takes an active interest in training our heroes, and she throws a few trial matches at them. You can pick a couple more legends from card sets to throw in here – Mageta the Lion certainly would be an interesting battle. And each time they win, they gain new spells.
The green legend wants to help also. Jolrael, maybe. She has Eladamri to train the kids; the blue legend is disinterested. And we know the black legend is ultimately going to be the villain of the show, with the red legend as his lackey.
I’d have each kid end up using a specific color for their battles – choosing a specific color to duel with. No black. The one who opens the book obviously gets red. =)
The first season ends maybe with a monumental battle with the black legend – or at least the red legend. If it’s the black legend, we can cliffhang into the second season with the ultimate "Do they get back or don’t they?" ending.
The cross-marketing is so easy once you build the foundation. Plush guides. Themed Portal decks for each of the kids that are re-released each year and modified to reflect the new spells each kid has learned (or spells that were focused on in the show). In fact, with proper forethought and planning, you could run the series, the Portal set, and the Expert set to function as one themed unit. Series season starts in September; the set for the first half of the season comes out in October; we hit our half-way point and go into reruns, then start the second set of episodes to coincide with the February release of the first booster set; we end the season in May with a huge bang and our second booster set, and this is also a good time to put out the new Portal decks.
TO QUOTE DENNIS MILLER
Of course, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong. But with people already complaining about the set schedule, and really little interest in the books, these ideas could bring new players into the game, as well as stimulate interest from the considerable amount of casual players that are out there.
I go back weekly! It’s true! Every Monday you’ll get a new column from me! (Assuming this showed up on Monday – if not, then every Tuesday!) Whoo hoo! Next week I tackle the droll topic EVERYONE is talking about: Masques Block Constructed. I was going to have a report from Origins 2000 and the Amateur Championships, but the horrible plague of having a large family rears its ugly head again. =) My brother selects next weekend as his weekend to venture out this way, so I’ll be hanging with him rather than hundreds of other geeks. 😉 I’ll also have something to say about X-Men, I’m sure, and about Wizards hidden attempts to get regular Magic and Pokemon players to buy even more of their product.
Until next week – let your freak flag fly!