Magic: The Gathering and Movies

Some of you may remember that I used to write for Starcity Games, a site whose title becomes less exciting the more clarified it is. The second largest collectable card-gaming website in the world, yeah. It’s like Governor of Alaska. There’s something impressive in that title, but it’s really not when you put it in the proper context. Anyway, Magic: The Gathering is a game close to my heart, and I was one of the writers who chose to talk about things like the games’ lore and its characterisation.

It was announced today that there’s a Magic: The Gathering Movie in the works. This is like hearing that there’s going to be a movie about sausage casings.

There are those of you who don’t actually follow the universe at all, and the people who care about Magic lore are to the Magic nerds what Magic nerds are to normal humans, so here’s all you really need to know about the universe. I speak as a person who read novels and reviewed flavour text and followed the ‘plot’ of each universe while actively seeking things to say nice things about: Magic The Gathering has basically no good core elements to drive a story.

The single best thing about Magic: The Gathering narratively is that in order to give each card a distinct but related visual style – which is part of the mechanics of card play – the story moves to a new setting, a brand new location, with new sets of fantasy tropes. It goes from storybook to grim-dark halloween to fantasy interdimensional collapse to Indiana Jones on floating continents to a plane of metal being corroded by black oil, to an infinitely large city full of warring political guilds to now, Greek myth. Each of these settings is designed to fit the cycles and patterns of Magic: The Gathering, with its colour wheel and interactions, and to have familiar, easily referenced tropes even as all the greater aspects of the setting change.

This may sound interesting, but it’s not. Because each setting has to fit the needs of Magic: The Gathering‘s pre-existing mechanical aspects, all those decisions are made by people who fill out check-lists, and the stories wind up being written by people who are thrown a list of stuff. Characters are therefore broad, generic archetypes, discarded in a few months, and given to boilerplate authors who churn out generic, awful fantasy that tries to inconsistently breathe life into these vague skeletons of narrative. Their attempt to create a story overarcing these sets lately resulted in the use of Planeswalkers, characters who are powerful, but not so powerful that they can’t just overcome the problems of the worlds they come to until after an appropriate amount of time has passed.

With my prognosticating powers, I can tell you what you’re going to see out of this is a generic CGI-Fest of Direct-to-DVD magepunk bullshit that will tell you more about the scriptwriter than anything to do with the setting. It may go to multiple worlds (if the budget is enough), or it may just try to make a franchise set by going to one world and indulging in it. Predicting that a Hasbro game franchise movie will be crap doesn’t demonstrate any kind of exceptional insight, I know, but in this case, I really am sure that the best-intentioned and very nice people involved in this work are not going to make anything worth seeing unless we get a rare miracle.

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