The Ever Expanding Multiverse
No collectable card game rivals the depth and diversity of artistic expression of Magic: the Gathering, and perhaps that’s why so many players keep expanding the Multiverse. While other games go for a hyper-stylized, consistent look that is closer to branding than art, Magic offers us a vast and ever-growing land, filled with fantastical stories as well as reflections of the real world. Though, there is something to be said for the cleverness of MtG gameplay, we might wonder if the success and popularity of Magic is also due to its art and lore. Its reverence and room for fantasy, storytelling, and roleplaying may sustain our interest more than a game of sheer logic would.
The broad range of themes and personalities allows individuals to curate unique decks that resonate with them. Theme or tribal decks showcase a player’s devotion to his or her favorite archetypes and characters. Other times, players try out roles opposed to those of their day to day lives. Quiet, sweet people are given a chance to be ruthlessly competitive. Guys may identify with a powerful female Commander. With an almost infinite source of inspiration, players are constantly reshaping the contours of the Multiverse as they build their decks.
Of course, not all players prioritize the art and flavor when it comes to deck building, especially when they’re playing to win. But even the most competitive players can have soft spots and a sense of humor. Casual tier decks are perfect for exploring the majestic planes, and you can always be packing your cutthroat deck alongside your tribal bird army (or flock, as it were).
The art of the cards is even informative of the strategy and content of the rules. Black’s strategy of risk taking, sacrifice, and manipulation is deeply entrenched in its visions of murder, power, and sublime, supernatural monsters. The rampant growth of any Green deck taps into the trees of the forest to nourish the big animals and sentient beings who inhabit the land. Doug Beyer, writer and creative designer for the Magic R&D creative team, writes that if you want to add to the Magic Multiverse, you must “…Weave a story that can serve as a backdrop for a fantasy game and share your ideas on how mechanics and flavor can interrelate. Think about what kinds of nomenclature you would use on those worlds and how the tone of the world will come across in flavor text. Think about how you would make each world feel different from the last, yet still deliver the hard-edged swords and sorcery (heavy on the sorcery) that makes Magic so magical.” The interrelation of mechanics and flavor is so important, perhaps because we are what we do. Just as in life, a disjunction between one’s idea of oneself and one’s actions may result in personal failure or existential angst, so too does a disjunction between art and strategy result in a failed Magic card. Braids, Cabal Minion simply can’t stand the pristine forests of the sweet Azusa, who, in turn, could never survive in the contaminated mass graves that Braids leaves in her wake.
If you truly want synergy in a deck, you almost have to make sure that the art and mechanics interrelate. Cards which target only certain creature types or which play off of the abilities of an archetype aren’t powerful or versatile on their own, yet integrated into their respective community of cards they can be some of the most powerful pieces in a deck.
The perfect combination of art and strategy yields a fierce deck that can’t even be hated off the board. Whole decks can be appreciated as works of art, as manifestations of the entirety of Multiverse. The sheer volume of possible permutations, as well as their depth and quality of content, keeps players interested in Magic on a long term basis, and even as adults.
The art may also be what draws some new players to the game. Wherever Magic is being played in public you usually can spot onlookers trying to get a glimpse of the pictures. People who don’t habitually play card games see that there is something more to Magic than just a game.
Children, especially, find their imaginations piqued by the epic sweep of possible worlds, even if they don’t yet know how to play. Soon they will find their favorite stories and strategies as they carry Magic through the next generation.