When Rules And Flavor Conflict

Now that Magic is all about rules, the idea of the planeswalker casting spells has gone out the window. Shouldn’t you be able to Clone a legend – and isn’t it slightly ridiculous to think that anyone can control Yawgmoth’s will? How can you match the reality of the rules up with the story you’re running in your head?

Soon, Magic is going to celebrate its tenth anniversary. Wow! What a great ten years it’s been. Magic has undergone many changes, ranging from huge (the stack) to huger (card layout). In my opinion, very little about Magic’s original state remains in the game today, and most of the changes have been for the better. Today’s article will deal with some of the more fundamental changes and how much those aspects are similar and different to their original functions.

Let’s first look at what may be called”original intent.” Magic began as a fantasy card game that presented the following scenario: You are a type of powerful wizard known as a planeswalker. Using a catalog (library) to maintain (hand) and use (board) spells, your goal is to defeat the opposing planeswalker with the same abilities – though with different potential spells. Originally, Magic sought to mold itself to the personalities of its players: Much of the target audience of Magic in 1993-94 were players of games like Dungeons and Dragons and other dice-chuckers. People who sought release through the fantasy of D&D were given another outlet for their imagination.”Here, folks,” Wizards was saying.”Here’s another way to release your creativity!”

Now, I’m not trying to say that the mentality of Magic players today is different than that of Magic players of yesteryear. (Why not? – The Ferrett) However, Wizards’ method of providing those players with Magic cards has changed. See, before, Wizards had to sell its unproven product to players who already had a game to play: D&D. In several aspects, Magic had to conform to the expectations of those players. But now after years of developing its player base, Wizards has a firm structure of customers that will buy Magic almost no matter what happens to it. Therefore, Magic has been able to deviate from its original intention of attracting players to a new goal of creating and maintaining a specific identity.

In doing so, Magic has matured. It is no longer just a card game. The word”Magic” represents so much more than the pieces of cardboard. It represents casual and competitive play, collectibility, and an entire back story. Keeping in mind that Magic has to tailor to the proponents of all of these components, the powers that be have given Magic the flexibility needed to create both Goblin Game and Goblin Piledriver, Urza’s Rage and Kaervek’s Torch.

Has Magic lost something? Yes. That nostalgic antiquity that older players remember isn’t quite the same. The days of Library of Alexandria are over and the days of Phage the Untouchable are upon us. Is this loss a negative one? I don’t think so.

Surely there are some Magic players who long for the days when Berserk was the bomb card to get. There are those who take sick pleasure in saying,”I’ll cast a The Wretched.” (Yes, Ferrett, I did just put two articles next to each other – correctly, also!) There are those who wish they could still say that Juzam Djinn is bad because you lose a life each turn… But those people are few and far between these days. And to all of you out there who still appreciate the planeswalker aspect of Magic, I say that you have not completely lost the opportunity to experience that.

Playing with spells like Yawgmoth’s Will is certainly stepping out of the bounds professed by the concept of dueling planeswalkers. I mean, Urza took nine planeswalkers into Phyrexia, and they still couldn’t hurt Yawgmoth. To think that I, a mere planeswalker, can control Yawgmoth’s will is ridiculous – especially since technically, Yawgmoth is”dead.” Therefore, it can be difficult to imagine yourself in that position of power that you once used to inhabit… But that doesn’t mean that all convention has to be thrown out the window.

The complexity of the game has created situations that are difficult to make sense of when seen from the point of view of a planeswalker duel. Take, for example, the inability to Clone a legend. I’ve been corresponding with a reader recently (who actually inspired the writing of this article) who was wondering how such a thing could happen. This was especially confusing for him, as in his mind it makes much more sense for the most recent summoning of a legend to stay in place of the older one. To him, it felt more natural to say that my summoning of Arcanis trumped his, that I effectively”stole” Arcanis from you. Taking both this situation and the clone conundrum into consideration, I drafted the following solution:

Arcanis is sitting at home, eating plankton or whatnot, and he gets summoned away by Jack the Planeswalker. Okay, he’s upset – but he can’t do anything about it, so he fights for Jack the Wizard, just like all good summoned creatures. Now, Jill the Planeswalker doesn’t like Jack getting advice from Arcanis (in the form of three cards each turn), so Jill goes to summon Arcanis herself. As it can be understood under the”older rules,” Jill casts her”summon spell,” which reaches out to Arcanis’ house and tries to grab him. However, since Arcanis is right there on the field, he can’t be grabbed by Jill, and Jill’s spell fizzles. This clarifies why the most recent copy of a legend cannot come into play.

So what if Jill wants to grab Arcanis from the field? That’s when she casts Treachery, Control Magic, or Persuasion to sway him over to her side. But if she wants her Clone to copy Arcanis, we’ve got a problem. See, there’s only one Arcanis with Arcanis’ memories and abilities. There are tons of wizards, so if Jill’s Clone wants to be one of them, it can be a generic wizard. However, as soon as Jill tries to make that Clone gain all the memories and personalities of one wizard, the Clone can’t deliver – it can’t copy memories, just shape. So in trying to do something it can’t possibly do, it kills itself.

As you can see, even with the more complex interactions dealing with more powerful creatures than a planeswalker may be expected to use, Magic can still be adapted to fit the perception of the player. In the end, Magic is a tool of its players, despite what direction the aforementioned powers that be try to steer the game. Keep your own vision strong, and Magic will be what you want it to be… And if you want a window into a broader world where you’re an active participant, the current state of the game is right up your alley!

Here’s to another ten healthy years!

Daniel Crane

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