Ahhhhhhhh! The sky is falling!
Okay, so maybe it’s not falling, but I am genuinely worried about the future of Magic: the Gathering based on the latest set, Oath of the Gatewatch. Oath represents the end of the first two-set block as part of Wizards’ new age of Magic storytelling. I don’t think the game will die or be any less fun to play, but this may potentially mark the beginning of a big change for how stories are told through the best card game ever made.
Out with a Bang!
Battle for Zendikar had some serious issues, but it was Oath of the Gatewatch that put in the nail in the coffin for my appreciation of the block. To me, the Eldrazi were always the unspeakable horrors of Magic’s multiverse, the unseen and unfathomable, just like the monsters of the Cthulhu mythos from which they draw most of their inspiration. Instead, Wizards decided that the first villains that the justice league-esque Gatewatch would defeat would be the very gods themselves. As far as I understand it (and I am by no means a Vorthos, so take my word with a giant chunk of salt), the Gatewatch have now destroyed two of the three Eldrazi titans, Ulamog and Kozilek, characters that I once thought were untouchable. If Wizards is set on trying to make me care about the heavily market researched superhero team, then why didn’t they give them a foe worthy of a ragtag team of planeswalkers? Surely, anyone would have fit better as their first victim than creatures that are supposedly without form. To make it worse, Ulamog and Kozilek die by Chandra’s fire. That’s right. Two of the fabled Eldrazi titans die by some obnoxious red burn player.
Yup. “Chandra, being Chandra, makes a very risky move at the last minute and just channels a ton of fire into the titans’ physical form now made mortal, now bound to reality. That fire spreads throughout their bodies, both within and without Zendikar, and destroys them utterly.”
All that build up, all the collective excitement over what would happen when the Eldrazi return, culminates in Chandra lighting things on fire.
As Above, So Below
Wizards likes to talk a lot about how specific colors, creature types, and set themes should play in Magic, but Oath makes me wonder whether they listen to their own advice. The Eldrazi are pretty basic thematically: they are giant monsters without form that were created before mana as we know it existed, hence them being colorless creatures with gigantic power and toughness values and crazy rules text. They also have armies of little Eldrazi spawn that follow them around, which can be sacrificed to help summon the colossal gods they worship. Now, Eldrazi in Oath of the Gatewatch are a little different, namely that there is only one titan represented in the set, and a whole lot more Eldrazi spawn to show the fact that they’ve taken over much of Zendikar. The issue here is that instead of playing at both ends of the converted mana cost spectrum, namely zero and anything above ten, the Eldrazi of OTGW come in all shapes and sizes, covering most CMCs, and power and toughness values. This not only takes away from the identity and gameplay of Eldrazi, making them seem very similar to their colorless artifact counterparts, but also creates some serious imbalance issues, as were on display at this weekend’s Pro Tour. Six out of the top eight modern decks were entirely based around the synergy between lands that were meant to help ramp into giant Eldrazi titans and the low to moderately costed aggro-oriented Eldrazi that were released with OTGW. The Eldrazi deck is capable of a turn 2 kill, which has been a ban-able offense for modern decks in the past, and just goes to show how dumb it is to allow lands like Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple to pump out a bunch of 2 and 5 drops way before they were “meant” to be played.
Honestly, the Mimic is the real problem here, because it becomes a zero drop 5/5 in a lot of scenarios, but I’m annoyed by the idea of a 6 drop 5/5 trample, haste, that makes every interaction a two for one just the same.
A Shift in Priority
Magic has had a lot of success going back to popular planes, especially with Ravnica and Mirrodin, but I fear that Wizards has taken this way too far and risks alienating players like me. I don’t care much about the story of Magic, but what I do love is exploring each new world the characters go to. Tarkir is easily my favorite plane, with its beautiful landscapes, interesting factions, and time travel story line, but I fear that Wizards would rather focus on the members of the Gatewatch than the magical worlds they explore. I don’t care about Jace, Nissa, Chandra, or Gideon, but I could deal with their silly super hero fantasy if it meant being able to discover new worlds. The Gatewatch isn’t done on Zendikar, however, which means that I have to pretend to care about Magic’s version of the Avengers while they beat up every villain on every plane that ever made Wizards money in the past.
Where’s the Black Oath?
Ob Nixilis is just your average vengeful demon, so it makes sense that he wouldn’t join the Gatewatch, but I am annoyed that there isn’t a planewalker in the league of extraordinary jerkwads that represents the color black. Wizards has been very vocal in the past about how black does not necessarily equate to evil, and how each color has the potential to explore both ends of the moral spectrum. That philosophy didn’t stop them from creating a guild of the most bland and boring heroes, however. Needless to say, I understand that the creation of the Gatewatch was part of a carefully calculated marketing plan meant to bring in more players, namely those that require a pretty face and a classic hero’s arc to guide their purchases. Little Jimmy and Rachel will know exactly what’s going on when they see the iconic blue, red, green, and white cloaks of the Gatewatch flowing behind their favorite heroes as they save the day from evil.
Shadows over The Best Block Ever
If Oath is foreshadowing anything, it’s that Wizards will ring any of the interest and enthusiasm that I had for Innistrad out of me before the second set in the upcoming block is released. I am interested to see who Garruk murders, but that’s more about my hopes that Jace gets merked than my attachment to the cursed planeswalker’s story arc. I’m just holding onto the chance that Emrakul is hiding out on the horror-themed plane and Akira’s the whole place into oblivion, the Gatewatch included.
Am I overreacting? Absolutely. Magic will go on as we know it forever, but that doesn’t mean Wizards can’t do better. I’m hoping that I’m wrong and that Shadows Over Innistrad is a huge success, but Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch don’t give me much to work with. It’s just a card game, though, right? Yup, but it stings just a little bit more than normal, considering that I launched a new Youtube channel, CasualTCG, dedicated entirely to discussing card games right at the time that Battle for Zendikar was released. I’m only just getting back to making videos, thanks mostly to Hearthstone and my new found interest in Commander. God bless eternal formats.