For the roleplayers out there, who aren’t aware of this yet, Wizards of the Coast has now been trying to find synergy between their two main brands: Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), and Magic: the Gathering (MtG or just Magic). This has now resulted in a set of Magic cards to be released later this month. I’m not a big fan of this development.
Sorry, if you are here for the MtG content and I seem to talk down to you, but I’m trying to explain this to both audiences as best I can. Skip to the first heading below.
This is not the first cross-over. They have previously released materials for D&D based on MtG properties, mostly world guides, and they have also previously printed a card or two (I don’t quite remember) in silver-border, meaning that they are not legal in any kind of tournament play. However, this is easily the biggest excursion of D&D materials into MtG.
Well, sort of. As the game was largely inspired from it’s early stages by D&D (there’s an early set, Legends, which was actually just the campaign of the designers in card form). Since then, Magic has put a lot of work specifically into building it’s own intellectual properties. They have communicated that they want to have control over these worlds and characters, but then someone higher up noticed that there was money to be made. So, they started to venture outside of their pen. First, there were silver-bordered versions of other Hasbro properties, like My Little Pony and Transformers, which lead to black-bordered Walking Dead cards (which caused a bit of ruckus) and now they have announced Universes Beyond, which will include a set based on Lord of the Rings and some decks based on Warhammer 40k.
On the other hand, the competitive scene has been wrecked. While much of this has been announced only fairly recently, this has been in the air for quite some time, but killing all existing programs and cutting the prize support for the World Championships by 75% just drives this home. They have even cut down on draft boosters (which are more for the competitive players), while upping the numbers on set boosters (which are more for the casual crowd. I do understand why, because the competitive players don’t spend money on the game in the same way as the more casual players do. Competitive players often form networks, through which they borrow cards to avoid having to buy them, and when they do buy cards, they do it on the secondary market, which doesn’t really make money for Wizards.
In order to fix that last problem, they have started to make Secret Lairs, which are mostly reprints of old cards in small sets with new and often pretty wild art. The success of these products as well as adding various more collectible versions of cards to the normal sets is a clear sign that Wizards has moved away from a game and is now pushing a collectible, which I hate.
But finally to the Adventures in Forgotten Realms…
D&D is supposedly a game for creative people. It’s supposed to be imaginative. It really, really actually isn’t like that, but that is definitely what how the players want to see it. So, why does Wizards feel the need to make each card in the set a reference to soemthing very specific in D&D in general or Forgotten Realms in particular? I mean, we understood in the mid-90s how the cards in those days related to their sources of inspiration. Now, they need to underline these by having the most stupid names for cards (like “+2 Mace”), additional flavor text within the rules text and adding additional logistics to the game in the form of dungeons and rolling a d20.
All this feels like they have no trust in the players and their imaginations. Like the +2 Mace. Why would they do that? Would anyone within the game world call it a +2 Mace? No. So, calling a card that is just working against immersion. While you do want jokes in cards, they should reveal something about the world, not be jsut purely stupid like that specific card name.
The Extra Logistics
In many ways this could be under the previous heading, but I do have extra gripes. Again, this is largely pandering. Sure, this is based on Dungeons & Dragons, so they felt the need to bring those Dungeons in strong, even though I don’t think they are even a major part of most sessions. Still, they feel the need to pander, so pander they will.
This means that they have now added for this set specifically additional dungeons, which are represented by cards, but those cards are not part of the normal deck. You can traverse (or venture into or deeper into) those dungeons, which will have various effects. The various parts of the dungeons have various effects and finishing a dungeon will have some added benefits with certain cards.
Again, this is a new part of the game, which requires those dungeon cards. They have promised that they are plentiful in the packs, but as far as I know, they haven’t really told us how plentiful. Well, the judge in me knows that they are not going to be plentiful enough, but I don’t think that matters that much, as the competitive scene is gone, anyhow. Still, will there be enough on pre-releases (where they can be held)? Probably not. Unless they’ve actually added them into the pre-release packs.
Then there’s the cards that require rolls of d20. So, people need to be carrying those with them as well. While this adds a new form of variance to the game, which has been struggling with balancing this lately, I just find the fact that they now require these dice another form of pandering to people who don’t want that. Or at least shouldn’t want that. They had been promising us for years that dice won’t be part of the game any time in the future, except in silver-border.
There’s also the discussion about spindown counters versus d20s, which isn’t going anywhere, because of incredulous people, even though it should. You know, trust but verify. While you can pretty safely assume people are not trying to cheat, you should also not make it easier for those who want to do so.
One of the problems here is that their quality assurance has been pretty bad lately. I just don’t see how they could have balanced the dice-rolling or the dungeons meaningfully, so they’ve probably just threw in a bunch of stuff and hope it sticks.
Color Pie Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore
Of course, the color pie is also mutating. Things move around and colors get new things, but it also just seems that they are now forgetting the philosophy behind it. Somehow blue now has the red ability of growing a creature by damaging your opponent with it. Somehow blue also has a spell that pumps power. Apparently pandering won out again. This just doesn’t feel like something blue would do. Again, they used to make sure that while the pie might bend, they won’t break it. Now, they just do it for the lols.
Then, on the other hand, there is a card called Check for Traps. Sure sounds like something a blue rogue would do. Except that it’s a black card. So, in this case they are breaking the pie for flavor, but not mechanically. Could they please at least be consistent?
Forgotten Realms Is Just Too Generic
Do you know how Wizards got hold of D&D? It used to be owned by TSR, but in the late 90s they were in so much trouble that Wizards was able to buy it out. WHy was TSR in such a situation? Because they felt that they needed to push out product at a very fast pace, never mind the quality. It was more important to sell something, anything. So, the products from those days are pretty creatively bankrupt.
Now, while Forgotten Realms existed way before that, it has definitely felt like very unimaginative to me from the very beginning. It wasn’t available to me from the time I started to play D&D, but it was around as a sort of legend, as one of my friends had the map of it in a poster form on his wall for some reason. When I actually got hold of books relating to it, it felt just… boring. What was the point? Dragonlance at least had it’s history with dragons. Why would anyone bother with Forgotten Realms?
MtG already actually has a similar plane, except that it has a much better design: Zendikar. It feels like living, breathing plane, not just a blank slate where people have dropped whatever they’ve wanted without any thinking. Forgotten Realms is just a mix of everything they’ve felt they’ve needed over the years crammed into one world.
As I was writing this, they just previewed Asmodeus and one of the first cards they showed was Tiamat. So, they are copying the lazy parts of the design as well.
Lack of Parties
Again, last autumn, there was a set called Zendikar Rising, which had the mechanic called Party. The point was that having a cleric, a warrior, a rogue and a wizard was beneficial to you. You didn’t usually need all of these, but having them was good. So, obviously, when they announced Adventure in Forgotten Realms, the expectation was that there would be more playable versions of these classes of creatures. Well, they are obviously present, as they are in most sets, at least some of them, but the ones we’ve seen so far don’t have synergies with the decks one might want to build with those Zendikar cards.
I think the set could have been done well, if they just put more thought into than just how to make money with it. This feels like one more attempt to squeeze those pennies out of their IPs. This just feels short-sighted. Instead of cultivating their game, characters and worlds, they just play on nostalgia to make money now. They have forsaken their most loyal player base in the hopes of finding new audiences. Will these new audiences stick around? Well, if they are pushing the collectibility first, gameplay second, there isn’t much of a reason for that D&D player to return after this one set.