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PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2020 5:18 pm 
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I feel like a lot of the topics that keep coming up around here (and elsewhere) when it comes to Magic are all related to this elusive concept that is often invoked by WotC: "Magic's IP". I think it's safe to say that nobody inside or outside of the company would deny that Magic as an intellectual property has undergone some changes over the years, i.e. new elements have been introduced, and their selection of which elements and concepts that potentially exist in their universe they want to highlight has changed. I thought it would be interesting to break down the most important differences between the old/classic/traditional incarnation of Magic's IP and the new/modern/recent one as objectively and neutrally as possible. Of course, some might argue that such a division into two parts doesn't really make sense, but personally, I feel that it works pretty well, at least as a working hypothesis to base a discussion on, even though it might be difficult to draw a clear line where one ends and the other begins.

Lets's start with the aspects of Magic that used to be recurring features in the stories and other expressions of Magic's creative side:

The Past - What Magic Was

Spoiler



Again, it's hard to say when Magic's "modern" IP really starts, especially since not all aspects of it changed from what they were simultaneously. Personally, I'd probably draw the strongest line after the Mending, but the Gatewatch Era in the wake of Magic Origins was certainly another big step in a different direction, and the early plane hopping era that started after Scourge feels extremely relevant to this as well. I also found it quite difficult to think about the main characteristics of the modern IP in a vacuum, but they are probably rather easily pinned down ex negativo by looking at how they differ from the older IP:

The Present - What Magic Is

Spoiler


Do you agree with my analysis? Would you like to add anything? Where do you see the dividing line(s) between different incarnatios of Magic's IP?

The Future - What You Want Magic to Be

So, with all dem long-winded words outta the way, which elements from different eras of Magic do you prefer? What are the strenghts and weaknesses of each era? How would you mix them going forward? Or maybe you would like Magic to do things completely differently from either era? Are there corners in the current IP where some of the old stuff lives on, or seeds in the old lore that have blossomed into something more relevant in modern stories? I'm excited to hear what you all have to say.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2020 5:23 pm 
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i think there are at least a few distinct eras. Pre-weatherlight, weatherlight saga, post-mending, gatewatch-saga are probably what i would consider somewhat natural dividing lines that possibly represent major shifts in how wizards decided to approach magic's IP.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2020 6:13 pm 
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What I'd like to see

Card Game Connection: Moderate
I like the stories that reflect some of what you build, rather than being presented as a template to build to. In a sense, I could go for some less plot-centric outings, and kind of consider Eldraine and Ikoria, in their set forms, to be a success on that score, showing worlds that are much bigger and broader than the events taking place. Really, that's something I've always appreciated about the old era in magic. Even in the Weatherlight Saga, which told a very solid story on the cards, there was generally a sense of a world that existed outside of it. Particularly of note is the Rath cycle. The Weatherlight's passage through Rath is shown in great detail, but so are parts of Rath they never necessarily interact with, details and breadth being added in the cards. I'd like to see more summoning, and mana burn back in both the rules and story,

Worldbuilding and Aesthetics: More Oldschool
In my opinion, counterpart culture worldbuilding should be a "Sometimes food" at best. That is, Innistrad is kind of okay. It takes an obvious theme and milieu but builds outward from it to create something unique that's trying to evoke not imitate. Theros and Amonkhet, however, are pretty clearly going for imitation, and once the novelty of catching the reference has worn off are kind of creative gutterballs for me, in lesser or greater degree. Kamigawa and Eldraine feel on the edge to me. Kamigawa is actually weirdly faithful to its source material, probably more than is entirely healthy, but it was given a deep enough exploration on its own to develop as an independent thing and used a source that was esoteric enough to most western audiences to be more novel than derivative in impact. Eldraine has references by the truckload, almost as many and as bad as Theros, but the connective tissue was very foreign to the references on a core level, and the places where the facets of the world were forced to blend around inventions like the Great Henge have promise so I think if it had gotten a block, rather than a set, it would have turned out more like Kamigawa

I really miss the "high concept" planes that defined Magic's Aesthetic in the 90's, where they cut loose to create the sort of bizarre look and feel you'd get out of an 80's fantasy movie like Krull or The Dark Crystal, layered with some of the weight you'd expect of a fantasy or science fiction novel instead, something like The Silmarilion or Foundation. Some, like Rath, leaned more towards the wild and cinematic while other planes/regions/sets, like Fallen Empires or Ice Age, leaned more towards the grandly mythic, but there was generally a moving sense of weight to them, like they were supposed to mean something or be something, or the sets were our window onto an alien vista. There's an artificiality that's crept in. Otaria had it, so it's not wholly new, but it's been a more constant after the shift in story focus to the personal journey.

Story Focus: Step away from the Weatherlight Saga/Gatewatch Saga
Honestly, I think both the "Gods and Monsters" stories and the "Unlikely Hero out for an Adventure" stories have their place, as do stories focused on travelers alongside stories focused on natives. My work in the M:EM has taught me that the Multiverse concept is very versatile. I've even softened a lot towards the Mending, as it was pitched, letting more human stories be told more easily with the figures that, even before they were a card type, were Magic's main characters.

But I want Magic to be more than that. After the Weatherlight Saga, there was a push back against how much the "main characters" appeared on the cards, shoving the story forward front and center. For a while, it died back, with things like Mirrodin, Ravnica, and Kamigawa possibly telling us what the story was, but not showing us every movement. There is no "Arrest of Lazav" or "Clash of Rakdos and Kraj" card, and I think that's for the best. The Gatewatch Saga from Origins on brought the Weatherlight-style storytelling back, and I think reminded me why it might not have been that great to begin with. Honestly this is another place where Eldraine and Ikoria, despite their faults, kind of hit the nail on the head for me.

I do think the "Magic's Values" idea could stand to be dropped as a notion of artistic direction. I get it -- the card game itself is always going to be a media product that its creators want to be profitable, and it will always have to be aimed at something of a PG-13 demographic. But the older stuff didn't have to be "mature" or "obscene" to occasionally address rough topics, and its not like half the black cards in M:tG, showing massive amounts of gore and horror and giving the player the privilege to wield the same, are particularly child friendly. Further, I've been frequently roped into grading book reports over the last year thanks to a teacher relative being pressed for time and the books that these high school students read deal with some extremely heavy stuff. I feel, especially if every turn of the plot no longer needs to be depicted on the cards, that the storyline can address anything it wants to address, another advantage of decoupling the books for the book lovers somewhat from the cards for the game players. I feel very strongly that everything can and should be within an artist's scope, even if you don't always choose to use everything. Artificial limits rather than elective restrictions are something that bothers me. But that's an unrelated conversation.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2020 8:31 pm 
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For reference, what is Jarvis's statement about "Magic values"?


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2020 8:46 pm 
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A big part of what worked about Magic prior to this was embracing the classical sense of Pulp Fiction and not being afraid to be rowdy about it. Older magic fiction had a quality to it that was reminiscent of two fisted tales a gritty old school action. The idea of exploring the exotic and fighting the bad guys, even if our protagonists weren't such great guys themselves. Which added a layer of redemption to their struggles.

But unfortunately, the media of what pulp fiction became evolved, and it evolved so far that they became Hollywood blockbusters. Comics used to be pulp fiction, but success sanitized them, stripped out the nuance of characters though it did offer a lot more chance for depth. But imitations rarely have that much depth, and copying blockbuster formulae homogenized a lot of the very character of its distant origin.

In terms of aesthetics, Magic has lost a lot of its independence. This was partly due to focus testing, but also partly by exploratory design reining in artists WAY more strenuously. Nothing emphasizes this better than the departure of the visual motifs in Ravnica. But it's indicative of a larger problem that Magic no longer has a unique style of its own. That's partly due to no longer having central settings, but it means the competition has a huge advantage over Magic as an IP. Riot Games has Runeterra, and despite the nearly dozen settings they have, there's a visual consistency. Blizzard has Warcraft, etc. Magic no longer has a look of its own and that's a real problem.

I'm also with Szat here in just aping cultural worlds. There's a lot less soul to places like Theros and Amonkhet because it feels so much like going through the motions. Somewhere like Zendikar, for all the MANY, many problems it has as a setting, at least feels big, it feels alive because it's so much less homogeneous. It's the kind of thing where Ikoria was ALMOST there, but... well, I could just start a thread all about fixing Ikoria.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2020 9:56 pm 
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Ragnarokio wrote:
i think there are at least a few distinct eras. Pre-weatherlight, weatherlight saga, post-mending, gatewatch-saga are probably what i would consider somewhat natural dividing lines that possibly represent major shifts in how wizards decided to approach magic's IP.


Id agree with this.

For my thoughts:

Cast- I think the idea of having planeswalkers as the main characters who's story we follow as they travel across planes works fine. I would say I would like to see more done with the legendary characters then just as back drops. Hour of Deviation I think did a great job with this as many stories where from the "legendary" characters pov while you had the main through line with the gatewatch killing Lilianas demon and losing to Bolas.

Plot- I think there should be a more of a healthy mix of stuff going on. Having a main storyline and cast helped give a sense of structure and we got more character growths/arcs. Now a lot of this is now due to them having the freedom to spend however long on any plane, but it was rewarding to see Jace and Liliana grow as characters and I grew to like Gideon due to seeing more of his characters. But as been said t he gatewatch kinda ate up the spotlight and the story did feel smaller as we only saw them. My thought would be kinda like what we saw the last two years or so, have the main storyline happening but have a set or two setting up stuff on the side. After the very "main plot" of War of the Spark we got Eldraine, Ikoria and Theros doing their own things. This would also help give some pw some spotlight, like maybe a set that featured Wrenn or Aminatou that are "one-shots".

World building- I rather like top-down magic sets, though I think it works the best when its more of mix of magic and the source material, with Ixalan I think doing the best with mixing the source through magic lens. Again repeating myself, I do think its good to have a good of top down and bottom up planes.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2020 12:38 pm 
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I want to see less of the same characters over and over, and characters with a deeper and more interesting backstory. Bringing in oldwalkers is great because it lets them harken back to old stories and characters in a natural way. I'd also like less focus on the walkers sometimes. Let us have a deeper longer look at the planes and their people, and more looks into the nature of the multiverse itself. Also stop shelving really interesting plots for many many years. We only get story updates a few times a year and it just feels bith less connected and too connected at the same time.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2020 2:38 pm 
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VLW wrote:
For reference, what is Jarvis's statement about "Magic values"?
There isn't much more to it than what I already wrote in the OP, I'm afraid:

probably more of a gradual change that is still ongoing, because at least they were still cool with the idea of Chandra's parents arranging a forced marriage for her when The Purifying Fire was published in 2009, but not when Magic Origins came out in 2015 (Jeremy Jarvis mumbled something about "Magic's values" when asked about the change at a panel, probably the closest we'll ever get to a public admission that any retcons happened in Magic Origins at all)

Now that I'm thinking about it again, it could be that the question was actually about Nissa's elf supremacy rather than Chandra's forced marriage, but I think his answer (i.e. certain details that had been established about those characters pre-Origins clashing with "Magic's values", whatever those may be) was vague enough to apply to both these things. The bottom line is, it's pretty clear from his answer that there were certain things they deemed inappropriate for Magic's IP at the time. I don't know if that panel is still available, though, or more precisely, I have no idea where to look for it.


Now, on to the main topic... boy, I don't even know where to start. I agree with a lot of things that have been said so far, so maybe I'll start with some of that.

I do think the "Magic's Values" idea could stand to be dropped as a notion of artistic direction. I get it -- the card game itself is always going to be a media product that its creators want to be profitable, and it will always have to be aimed at something of a PG-13 demographic. But the older stuff didn't have to be "mature" or "obscene" to occasionally address rough topics, and its not like half the black cards in M:tG, showing massive amounts of gore and horror and giving the player the privilege to wield the same, are particularly child friendly. Further, I've been frequently roped into grading book reports over the last year thanks to a teacher relative being pressed for time and the books that these high school students read deal with some extremely heavy stuff. I feel, especially if every turn of the plot no longer needs to be depicted on the cards, that the storyline can address anything it wants to address, another advantage of decoupling the books for the book lovers somewhat from the cards for the game players. I feel very strongly that everything can and should be within an artist's scope, even if you don't always choose to use everything. Artificial limits rather than elective restrictions are something that bothers me. But that's an unrelated conversation.
Pretty much all of this. It's not about making everything gory, disturbing and sexualised, it's about being able to sprinkle in a dose of roughness or uncomfortableness if authors deem it a fitting tool for certain points in the story. Not every story needs it, most probably don't, but the ficitional universe as a whole feels more believable if the harsh truths of real life at least get acknowledged once in a while (not even shown or delved into necessarily). I generally trust authors not to glorify awful things people do to other people, and to portray them in the light that is appropriate for such topics instead (which is completely different from not allowing ambiguous characters in your IP).


I also very much agree about the 80's fantasy vibe Tevish mentioned and with what Barinellos is saying about the Pulp Adventure feel. In fact, I think those could go hand in hand pretty well. The old Armada comics - especially those set in Corondor - capture a lot of that. They basically blend the coolest aspects of 90's comics with something you would see on the cover of a classic 80's Heavy Metal album. If I had to distill the look and feel of Corondor into a single mental image on the spot, it would be a bunch of long-haired, athletic, sword swinging men and women in leather trousers who are ploughing through a band of Drudge Skeletons on a Trovash Engine while the two moons are rising in the sky and outlining the tower of an evil sorcerer in the background.

I think pretty much every story adaptation of the Legends set has elements of what we seem to be looking for here, especially the Jedit comics and Legends I trilogy. I've gone on record several times saying that I want to visit southern Jamuraa and see it treated like a pulp adventure setting. Forget Amonkhet, forget Zendikar, just fold everythign into Jamuraa and call it a day. Legends I is a triogy in which the heroes - a bunch of pirates and mercenaries and a tiger man from a faraway jungle - steal an airship to escape from the evil sorcerer in his stronghold and his barbarian minions, crash-land on a magnetic mountain, meet a bunch of yetis and face a cosmic horror in a sinister vampire's lair. If that doesn't sound like a pulp adventure, I don't know what else does. We also know that Karakas is close by, a city supposedly so exciting and full of adventure that adventurers frequently lose themselves there and end up chasing some other treasure instead. There's also the desert around Vacar Slab that turns people into zombies if they aren't mummified properly (Ethan leans towards putting it into the Great Desert just north of the Blue Mountains apparently). I have some more concrete ideas of how you'd connect all the obscure but potentially cool stuff in various parts of Jamuraa into a cohesive story across several sets, but I kinda want to make a thread about returning to Jamuraa anyway...


As a general rule, though, I strongly feel they really have to fix their continuity and get some of the cancerous characters and settings out of the way in order to move forward and take their IP as a whole to a place that I want to care about again. I used to argue against the artificial separation of old and new lore because I wanted to see the best of both worlds to come together to create something really epic. However, there are so many things these days that would just drag down and ruin everything they come into contact with that I'm absolutely in favour of a strong separation between old and new. About 95% of what I want in Magic simply boils down to seeing old pre-Mending characters and settings return and mostly existing in their own little bubble. That mostly means lots and lots of Dominaria from every possible angle because that's what dominated that era of Magic to begin with (though I'll always take more Innistrad, and I'd totally love a return to Kamigawa as well). I'm almost too afraid to ask for cool things from Magic's past to return, considering what they did to the Elder Dragons in Core 19, or how they used the Blackblade as a cheap throwaway prop in War of the Spark, but then again, Dominaria gives me hope. I don't know, it's a rollercoaster with those guys. For now, I'm looking forward to the return of Zhalfir and (to a lesser extent) New Phyrexia.


I'd probably have some more things to say about it, but "Magic's IP" is a very broad topic and I'll have to order my thoughts for a bit first.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2020 4:45 pm 
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VLW wrote:
For reference, what is Jarvis's statement about "Magic values"?
There isn't much more to it than what I already wrote in the OP, I'm afraid:

probably more of a gradual change that is still ongoing, because at least they were still cool with the idea of Chandra's parents arranging a forced marriage for her when The Purifying Fire was published in 2009, but not when Magic Origins came out in 2015 (Jeremy Jarvis mumbled something about "Magic's values" when asked about the change at a panel, probably the closest we'll ever get to a public admission that any retcons happened in Magic Origins at all)

Now that I'm thinking about it again, it could be that the question was actually about Nissa's elf supremacy rather than Chandra's forced marriage, but I think his answer (i.e. certain details that had been established about those characters pre-Origins clashing with "Magic's values", whatever those may be) was vague enough to apply to both these things. The bottom line is, it's pretty clear from his answer that there were certain things they deemed inappropriate for Magic's IP at the time. I don't know if that panel is still available, though, or more precisely, I have no idea where to look for it.

I think I wanted to say a little more, with this lead-in, about why I feel so strongly about writing to "Values", even if they are good values, being a problem.

The big thing is, when you put Values first, you sacrifice fiction on the altar of message, specifically offering up the ability to have gray morality or the ability to explore a culture different than our own on a deep level, just so no one will be "confused". And I don't think that's a worthwhile exchange at all.

Let me take Nissa as the first example. Nissa, when she was introduced, was a racist. No mincing words about it. And this is Not A Good Thing. It was never a good thing or something the artists that created her, I feel, would want to support. But she also had noble traits (in theory); she cared for her world, and had every reason to work with the forces of "good" to attempt to ya know, not have the Eldrazi eat her entire plane. The result is a character who's at least a little complex and challenging. Some viewers are probably not going to be able to get over the fact that she's racist in order to like her, while others may be willing to overlook her less savory attitudes in the face of global ruin as much as she does. And, in a big way, this makes her more human: most people, I'm going to go out on a limb to say, are not all good or all bad. And there's probably a Moral Event Horizon, after crossing which it doesn't matter that someone who did a Bad Thing is nice to puppies or loves their mom, but I'd say the bar for "truly unforgivable" should probably be set pretty high. There are people in this world who I will never be friends with, who I have irreconcilable ideological differences with, but who I can respect for the ways and places in which they've done good as I'd reckon it. and I'm sure there are those who would think the same of me.

But if you're writing for values, your protagonist MUST support your values. They're a reflection of you. Nissa can't be Nissa, who is both a racist and a powerful asset in the fight against an eldritch threat, about whom people could have conflicting and conflicted opinions. Because the writers stand on their Values, and put her in the protagonist seat, she has to uphold the "party platform". She can't be a racist, because that would be against values, even though it's the character and not the artist who would be holding the opinion. In conflating the two, you become myopic towards the human experience. There is no more room for flawed nobility, or the understanding of how a basically good person can uphold something dark. This is because the focus of the writing shifts from "Depict a scenario" to "Promote values"

If you couldn't tell, I'm really not a fan of activist fiction in general, even the stuff that has amazing authors like CS Lewis or Robert A. Heinlein. Soapboxing pretty much always hurts IME.

Think of Tevye, from Fiddler on the Roof. He's mostly a good guy, the sympathetic protagonist of his work, but he can't accept his daughter Chava's desire to marry a non-Jew. It's a moving scene where he fights with himself, torn between his desire to be a good and loving father and his desire to be a good and faithful member of his people. And the latter drive, which I don't think it's odd to say that most of the progressive-minded modern "Value" judgments would be against, is the one that wins out. It breaks his heart, and it breaks the audience's heart, and you can walk away uncertain of whether or not the right thing has been done or if it could have been done differently. If Fiddler were being written to the same "Values" as we're talking about now, Tevye wouldn't be allowed to have that deep conflict within himself, depriving us of both a dynamite scene and a deep study of a character, internal conflict, and the sorrowful clash between traditional necessity and romance that we get.

And in this you can somehow see how it messes on the plot as well as the characters and setting: A character can't make a hard choice of the choices they make are determined by and to express and espouse the Values of the author. They have to "Do The Right Thing", and since its the Right Thing, they have to be happy with it. If a hard choice comes up, they're always forced to be given or find an option C that provides a golden out where everything is good, or else lose. They can't live with their mistakes, because they're not allowed to make mistakes of a certain magnitude

And this would be a particular shame for Magic because Magic's history is full of colorful, gray characters. Hell, Teferi, a character who has returned in the modern era is one. In Invasion he chooses to abandon the fight against Phyrexia, abandon Dominaria in its time of need, with a myopic scheme to save only his people. In Time Spiral he experienced a heavy growth from his experience with Zhalfir the first time, as he's once again presented a choice to save Dominia, and this time the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Since his reintroduction in Dominaria, he's been focused on atoning for what he did, which is nice, but fairly little attention has been paid to why he did it. I wish one of our fellow oldwalkers (maybe Karn, though I suppose he'd be one to talk) would call Teferi out on having been a coward who didn't just damn Zhalfir with his phasing scheme, but abandoned Dominaria when it needed him the most.

But I'm not sure, these days, if that can be said and still have him be a proper protagonist.

As an aside, this kind of brings me to some of the talk around Urza, and how he seems to get called out these days as though he was a straight-out villain. Urza is a character who was practically defined by doing the wrong things for the right reasons. Like most Oldwalkers but moreso, he was insane, and didn't have a good sense of right and wrong. Instead, the study of Urza the Planeswalker was the tale of a man who isn't necessarily a good shiny hero, but rather a man who is absolutely dedicated to a necessary cause. Why reframe the collapse of Serra's (already dying, post-evacuation) sanctum as an act of chauvinist repression? Like most things Urza did, it was a terrible act undertaken with the goal of stopping the more terrible victory of Phyrexia.

I don't think his story could be written fresh today, by WotC. There's not a lead who supports and espouses "Values". Yet it's a powerful story, and one that was very fitting to the setting and feel of Magic: the Gathering.

Mentioning Urza brings me to the last consideration: setting, and living in the setting. Why does Urza bring me here? Because of his marriage, as opposed to the retcon related to Chandra and the possibility of an arranged marriage. Urza, for those who don't remember, won his wife's hand in a public contest. Because he was interested in a tome that was part of her Dowry. And... he wasn't the world's best husband. He was often distant, which annoyed his wife a great deal. However, rather than crying "Outdated backwards tradition!" on the expectations of their culture, Kayla bin-Kroog tries to work within it, and ultimately does find how to capture the absent minded professor's undivided attention (tip: blunter is better). The 90's were not such a distant time that a moderately loveless marriage entered into primarily by the consent of the bride's father was a Good Thing. I think most readers would have been horrified if the scenario was happening between people they knew. But Brothers' War Dominaria is not and was not meant to be 90's America. It was supposed to be a fantasy world of artificers and kings, and the people living in it have a different society than we do with different values. And they live in their society, not live in their society struggling to say that ours is better.

I hate "reformer" or "ahead of their time" characters in period-esque fantasy. Not universally, I suppose, but they're so rarely done well or germane. Instead, the vast majority of them seem to have a list of things that humans did in the past that we find Not Awesome to rail against, no matter how natural those things should be in their own context. Castes, Lords, Corsets, and (arranged or otherwise not pure love match arrived at by chance/fate) Marriage are chief among them.

But when you have a main character who acts like an Isekai'd modern person, it drains life and vibrancy from the culture that we're visiting. Their issues should be their own issues, not our issues, and if they happen to overlap they should do so for their own reasons and flow from the universe itself. I think a good character who's progressive for his home culture would be Tars Tarkas, from the Barsoom series. He has some particular disagreements with the ruthless and brutal way that Green Martians handle romance and family (or rather, don't), but his story is personal to him. While it's one that modern earthlings would empathize with, it's not his sole issue, or the only thing about Martian society that earthlings (even Carter himself) might not be fans of. Because we have other developed characters who clue us in on how things are done, why, and the alien philosophy behind it, we are still allowed to view the Green Martian culture as its own thing that works for most Green Martians. There's an acknowledgement that Tars Tarkas and Sola are the weird ones, even if they're also total badasses who can handle themselves (in one sense or another).

More often, the character ends up just soapboxing against straw men. Soapboxing, because a "Values" driven writing can't allow societal non-niceness to stand unchallenged, and against strawmen because the depicted issues are the ghosts of things that the writer's home society has largely done away with. It's an "easy win" in a fight that didn't have to happen, and it makes us view the society we're supposed to be transported to in an adversarial light, rather than as something we might explore as different than ourselves. I think when you're doing fantasy, especially weirder fantasy, you need to take in a certain level of cultural relativism, to depict the fantasy world as its own thing with its own principles and values, with an acknowledgement of how this society regulates and perpetuates itself. It's both much more immersive and much more interesting than "Regressive thing bad! Ahead of time character smash!".

I think an author that I should have pulled up before when thinking about what the best of M:tG should feel like is Ursula K. LeGuin. LeGuin was always excellent at transporting readers to a fantastic world with an alien culture. As a world-builder she's top-tier. Sometimes these worlds are largely worked with, other times (as in The Tombs of Atuan) characters may chafe against the life they find themselves in. But even when they clash, it's a personal affair flowing from strong desires. Even when we the audience are expected to support their reform or rebellion, it's because it's what a character, fully formed in their own universe and whose journey we follow and empathize with, wants, not because it's a tautologically assumed to be correct, "right" because it lines up with our "right". So, even when we have a rebel or a reformer, when we visit the fantasy world, we leave Earth behind.

Writing with a Values priority doesn't allow that. The Writer's earthly Values are a constant consideration, so Earth always looms behind the facade of fantasy when that's what you choose to promote.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 14, 2020 1:24 am 
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In my opinion, I don't think the issue is the idea of "writing with a values priority", but this may be a matter of interpretation or semantics. I think a lot of great writing is writing with a thesis in mind and with certain values at their core. I also love writing that wants to sit back and show you a world and follows characters and/or plot more so than ideas. Most great writing blends the two. As I Lay Dying is one of my favorite books, and I think it both has a very micro scale toward understanding the different characters and who they are as they move through the minimal plot but also has a strong sense of its ideas and values underneath.

The issue is less that any part of the spectrum is worse for writing, it's that bad writing on the former end is very clear. It's like plastic surgery; you only notice it when it's not good. It's easy to read a piece of fiction and know it reads more like a manifesto than a novel. There is only the core without any of the art. But good writing in this realm is perfectly able to have villain protagonists, to have complexity, to convey its meaning without having a character stand there and give a speech. Parasite, for example, very obviously has a thesis, but the protagonists are not good people. The Max Gladstone Craft Sequence novels would fall here too, and they are obviously very much about magical capitalism, but the worlds and characters are rich and they explore the themes while having underlying values.

I feel like bad writing on the other end of the spectrum is writing without a sense of what the writing is about. It's soap opera writing; there is nothing undergirding the story so it's just about getting to the next plot point. But this still forms a novel and I think a lot of people are more fine with this type of writing because it provides something else they want (thrills, etc.). This is where you find bad romance or mystery novels, where the characters don't matter, it's just about the next reveal or sex scene.

Maybe I don't have as strong an antipathy for the former end of the spectrum because I also think a lot of fantasy writing is a mediocre form of the other end, where it's just very passable plot points. Epic fantasy tends to fall flat for me. The powerful, morally gray wizard is also very rote to me at this point; your Raistlins just haven't interested me since I was a teenager.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 14, 2020 6:08 am 
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@NIssa- How racist was she in In the Teeth of Akoum?


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 14, 2020 7:41 am 
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@NIssa- How racist was she in In the Teeth of Akoum?
More “supremacist” than racist, and about on par with the elves of Lorwen, who she spent a lot of formative time with.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 15, 2020 7:01 pm 
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I wanted to get back to what I wrote about the IP's connection to the premise of the cardgame in the OP, not least because I feel there's a lot of room for improvement there when it comes to giving Magic a cohesive identity again.

I'd argue that, since we're doing a lot of plane hopping in Magic these days, it's all the more important to keep the subtle elements that should (or at least could) be universal to pretty much all planes in the multiverse in order to make them feel connected. A lot of that could be accomplished simply by putting a little bit more emphasis on, well, magic in the stories. The worldbuilding process already has to flesh out what each colour feels like on every new plane, which also means that virtually every plane is going to have people who are casting the spells we get as cards. So what I'm getting at is, every plane has wizards and I'd love to see them in action in the story more often. I think they missed the opportunity to deliver on this when we still had online stories and there was enough room for some filler stories next to each set's main storyline. How cool would it have been if every new plane came with one short story that portrayed that plane's version of what a game of Magic would look like there? Not super literally, mind you, at least not to a ridiculous degree, but close enough to get the unique gist of the plane across on the one hand and very much ground it in the universe of the cardgame that every other plane exists in on the other hand.

One piece of flavour text in particular has stuck with me ever since it was first printed in Avacyn Restored: Debates between wizards are never purely academic. Yes, even Innistrad has its share of wizards that like to duke it out with fire and lightning when they don't - to quote Poe - "ponder weak and weary over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore" in their big old mansions late at night. Theros has philosopher-wizards, so why shouldn't two bearded old masters in togas try to settle their dispute on metaphysics by both trying to summon a perfect creature fom the Realm of Ideas and have them try and tear the opponent's creation to shreds to see who came closer to perfection? Why shouldn't the arrogant teenage prodigies from Meletis exchange spells in rapid succession in order to see who has a better grasp of anamnesis? Even the actual Kaladesh stories had some stuff that would qualify as this, although I've only read a few select scenes from those. A bunch of people had quicksmithing duels, and IIRC there was an aerial battle that might count as the equivalent of a game of Magic, considering that block was all about vehicles. Stories like that could also be about spellcaster vs environment rather than spellcaster vs spellcaster, no need to get dull and repetitive. All the better if it can be meaningfully integrated into the main plot.

Another thing that's important for this is keeping both the established rules and the general feel of the magic system consistent across stories and across planes. I think Jeff Grubb's MtG material (or at least many select excerpts) should be compulsory reading for anyone who's writing a Magic story, and a good case could be made for, say, Agents of Artifice as well. Agents of Artifice along with The Purifying Fire also gives you a solid impression of how planeswalking is like for post-Mending 'walkers, because boy have they been getting that wrong in the last two or three years or so. The cool and intriguing thing about the portrayal of the magic system in MtG is that it almost always feels remarkably consistent in the stories that explicitly deal with it that were released up to a certain point. Yeah, the earliest Harper Prism novels have some outdated ideas about how you become a planeswalker, and I can think of an obscure short story or two that noticeably sticks out, but on the whole, everything feels like it could be part of the same multiverse with the same set of rules.

The previous paragraph may sound a bit nitpicky and theoretical on the surface, but I think it's important to include references to the way mana is drawn, spells cast, creatures summoned etc. every now and then in order to make the stories immersive. Jeff Grubb in particular is a master of making you believe the magic in his books is real, simply because he describes it so vividly. Grubb really goes out of his way to descibe what drawing mana feels like, what motions wizards have to go through in their minds to construct spells, or what it's like to learn a new spell. And it always feels natural and spot on, like something you've done a million times yourself although you never have and never will. It's only logical then that Jodah, who is my favourite character in Magic's entire IP, seems to really get how awesome and special it is to be a mage, to have the amazing privilege to study magic (especially in The Gathering Dark). Maybe you have to read between the lines in order to really see this, but I think the fact that he secretly keeps up his practice after he is separated from Voska and living in an old woman's garret, or the way he thrives when he's given all the resources to teach himself at the Conclave of Mages demonstrate his eagerness to learn everything he can. Contrast this with, say, Harry Potter, who finds out he is a wizard at 11 but then doesn't even open any of his new schoolbooks during the whole summer. If Hermione can do it, why can't he (and yes, I realise it has to do with Harry being the audience surrogate who is new to everything when he arrives at Hogwarts)?

I'll use what I just wrote about Jodah as the transition to another related aspect, namely to how fun and engaging it was to see him grow as a wizard and do his best to develop his abilities. The same is true for Greensleeves, it's true for Jared Carthalion, it's true for Jace in Agents of Artifice (of course Magic Origins completely destroyed the latter one by giving Jace a greater mastery over his mind-magic before he even ascended in his retconned origin story than he had at the end of AoA...). I want more of that, and I also want some more master-apprentice relationships when it comes to magic. It's kinda sad that they retired the term "spellsquire" (and also the concept itself really), because not only was that concept unique to Magic, it also blended the wizard's apprentice aspect with the duelling aspect that I also miss in more recent stories (you know, the idea of a squire, just for wizards and planeswalkers instead of knights). Would be awesome to see that picked up again.

I'm also firmly in the camp that wants to see mana burn come back in the stories (though at this point I think there's nothing to gain from bringing it back to the game as well). I'd have to hit the books again to be completely certain, but I guess Creative could get away with declaring that mana burn turning people into The Fallen has always been a misconception or an urban legend in-universe. Yeah, they exist (or existed) on Dominaria and have a card depicting them, including flavour text that matches the origin Jeff Grubb gave them. But do we know for sure that creatures like the Fallen weren't just the result of some Dark Ritual gone wrong? Maybe they really did get mana burned too many times, but it could have been mana from the Abyss (aka Hell, and yes, I still intend to make a thread about that place) they were experimenting with and that has more sinister properties than mana from the rest of the multiverse. I think that would be a cool explanation. I used to be in favour of playing the mana burn thing straight and bringing up the Fallen again, but at this point it would simply be weird to suddenly see that referenced again when it has been absent from every other story on every other plane. So, yeah, mana burn should be in, and I'd like to see a lot more summoning, too, if that hasn't been clear from what I wrote above.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 16, 2020 9:21 am 
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Maybe I lost the point in that post but didn't Ursula K. LeGuin purpose set out to write a diverse works and fought to include poc characters and made a world where gender and sexuality where more of a fluid thing? Seems like she as a "SJW" since the 80's and clear she had a "vault" she put in her writing.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 16, 2020 2:05 pm 
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If she did, she had the skill and decency to do so in an organic and germane manner, rather by tokenism, and to establish fantastic worlds apart from our own that felt real and fully formed in their own right, which is the point.

Thinking about it, it's clearly fine to have a "meaning" in fiction. I also love most of Hayao Miyazaki's work and a number of his films have a pretty strong anti-war undercurrent. Forcing the idea, either into an unfit plot or via didactic soapbox speeches is where things get sticky, as is the idea "We can't include X because it doesn't support our values" which is the sort of thing that started me on the whole discussion and I was fairly responding to.

I suppose the biggest problems for Magic emerge when Creative crashes into Brand. Because I'm pretty sure that a lot of the stuff that has annoyed me is dictated by Brand for the (possible?) health of Brand even as it harms Creative.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 16, 2020 3:59 pm 
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If she did, she had the skill and decency to do so in an organic and germane manner, rather by tokenism, and to establish fantastic worlds apart from our own that felt real and fully formed in their own right, which is the point.


"Most of the characters in my fantasy and far-future science fiction books are not white. They’re mixed; they’re rainbow...My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn’t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had “violet eyes”)."-Ursula K. Le Guin https://slate.com/culture/2004/12/ursul ... thsea.html

And looking into her she did seem to write more original culture than making fantastic version of place on earth, but I think that topic is kinda divorced from "value" writing.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2020 1:28 am 
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@"Values"
I think calling it "Values writing" is a bit of a misnomer. Works seriously written to promote a value will almost always portray the opposite of that value. The way to push a value is to compare it favorably to a lack of that value (or to an opposite value). Schindler's List would have fallen flat without the presence of the Nazis. Values aren't factoring in to the sort of writing you're describing here- either in the books or behind the scenes. This is a straight PR slant, made to appeal to a supposed preference by people who work through too many layers of obfuscation to understand how people actually think. I notice it's the approach taken in lots of children's media - people are afraid to confront kids with questions they don't have clear-cut answers to so they just plaster over the issues. It's spiritual cowardice- the act of people too afraid to face the unpleasant facets of reality's.

...Theros has philosopher-wizards, so why shouldn't two bearded old masters in togas try to settle their dispute on metaphysics by both trying to summon a perfect creature fom the Realm of Ideas and have them try and tear the opponent's creation to shreds to see who came closer to perfection? ...

That is the most ancient Greek Philosopher thing anyone could do ever. Does it actually prove anything? Probably not. Would the Greeks have done it anyways? 100% yes. Got to remember that these were the guys who would philosophize about whether or not men had more teeth than women and laugh at the guy who suggested they actually start looking at people's teeth to check.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2020 1:15 pm 
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TPmanW wrote:
...Theros has philosopher-wizards, so why shouldn't two bearded old masters in togas try to settle their dispute on metaphysics by both trying to summon a perfect creature fom the Realm of Ideas and have them try and tear the opponent's creation to shreds to see who came closer to perfection? ...

That is the most ancient Greek Philosopher thing anyone could do ever. Does it actually prove anything? Probably not. Would the Greeks have done it anyways? 100% yes. Got to remember that these were the guys who would philosophize about whether or not men had more teeth than women and laugh at the guy who suggested they actually start looking at people's teeth to check.
:D

What makes it even cooler is that that's basically exactly how the summoning of aether copies works in Magic anyway (as explained in The Eternal Ice). Which is exactly the kind of universal consistency across planes and stories that I'm talking about. (Sidenote: Speaking as someone with a university degree in philosophy, that flavour text on Mnemonic Wall is probably one of my favourite flavour texts of all time :teach:)

___________________________________________________________________

I might as well reiterate my position regarding the two-pillar model of plane hopping by arguing for a three-pillar model instead, that is, a scenario in which we get regular trips to Dominaria again in addition to new planes and other established planes. Completely abandoning Dominaria for so long and not having a homebase anymore has weakened Magic's overall identitiy pretty badly in my opinion, and that used to be one of my biggest gripes between Future Sight and Dominaria. Still is, really, considering we only got a single set there and still don't have the prospect of consistent, regular returns. The biggest problem about returning to Dominaria that Maro used to point out before they settled on the history theme (which turned out great) was that the plane had no cohesive identity. His mantra used to be "when you are everything, you are nothing". Ironically, that's how I would describe the state of the current plane hopping era as a whole. Yeah, each individual plane may have an identity (just as the various places and time periods on Dominaria did and still do), but if you zoom out and look at the bigger picture, all they've done is shift the problem away from Dominaria and into the way in which they handle all of their planes. Magic is trying to be everything (Greek mythology! Fairytales meet Camelot! Digimon world!), but in terms of overall brand identity, to me it more and more looks like it's "nothing", at least nothing cosistent, and nothing that knows what it wants to be.

I think even if I wasn't still actively upset about 1.) Wizards neglecting pre-Mending lore for so long, 2.) the many ways in which they've systematically destroyed the storyline, 3.) Brand reining in Creative (as far as I can tell), 4.) the abysmal cardstock quality, just to name a few things, the two-pillar model on its own would probably be enough to make me feel burned out and lose interest in Magic, especially now that it's largely one set per plane. It's too much stuff too quickly, it feels too random, it leads to shallower and less interesting planes... I don't know, it's just tiresome to even try and keep track of it, even though I've virtually stopped following the "storyline" and don't see myself as a regular customer anymore. (I used to go to a lot of prereleases and to buy packs of pretty much every set simply because it was there, but these days I only buy stuff on the rare occasion that they give me exactly what I want, in which case I'm prepared to buy a lot.)

Part of the problem might be that at least some new planes feel pretty off in Magic's IP, which might also be another consequence of the increased pressure to create new planes that the current system is putting on Creative. I don't think, for instance, that Grimm's fairytales is a good premise to build a Magic set around. Yeah, the execution was great mechanically, but I feel it shouldn't have been done to begin with (and I'm saying that as a guy from Germany who grew up with those fairytales and has ties to the Black Forest). It's just a completely different flavour of fantasy, and it's not really obvious to me that it mixes well with Arthurian legends. I was kinda excited about the prospect of a vaguely Arthurian/Robin Hood inspired plane when we got Balan, Wandering Knight, Stalking Leonin and Alms Collector, but at least that would have been a more original spin on the material, given that it would have involved leonin as a prominent race (read: more non-humans), and it wouldn't have had the Disneyland aesthetics that a lot of Eldraine has. And whatever I may want Magic's IP to be like, I'm pretty sure Ikoria is the polar opposite of that.

So what I'm getting at is, if you've got to do hyper-derivative planes to pander to the mainstream or whatever, at least balance it out with a regular dose of the one plane that is uniquely Magic's own like no other. Becaue if you are everything, you are nothing.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2020 3:50 am 
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I think there are 3 planes that have done substantial damage in confusing Magic's IP because they represent diametrically opposed identities that cause the rest of the world design to pull between:
Innistrad, Zendikar, and Ravnica

These are all extremely high selling settings, but their fundamental ideas can't coexist as a way to lean into. Zendikar is an untamable wilderness adventure world while Ravnica is a conspiracy ridden urban jungle.
But these two, because of their profitability, have become the primary molds that worlds are cast in. Ikoria? Zendikar mimic. Amonkhet? Ravnica mimic.

Because it largely boils down to WHERE they depict the story taking place. Eldraine kinda tried to strike a balance, but didn't work very well, in my opinion, partly because it attempted to split the difference and that created a weak backdrop for the story. There weren't any meaningful locations attached and the inspiration drowned everything else out. Which I can blame Innistrad for, really, because it succeeded in that balance. You knew the locations, because people stayed in urban environments and the Wild itself was the enemy (mostly). The theme actually complimented that set up, but fell flat as hell in Eldraine when they over corrected into that theme. There's an argument Theros fell into that trap too.

But I've made some wild speculation here that demands an answer of the settings from before. If we're caught on this scale of urban setting vs wilderness scale, what about previous settings, huh? What were the previous ones doing right?

Which is a fair question, but part of two eras that have to addressed.
The Good) During the good years, like the Weatherlight and Mirage years, even all the way back to the Dark... Intrigue happened in locations, but action happened on BATTLEFIELDS, a place whose only distinguishing feature was that there was a clash between titanic forces.
The Bad) but the flipside is what I refer to as the Grand Tour model, where they find an excuse to shoehorn in a quick stopover at every known location. Otaria! Mirrodin! And yeah, Kamigawa as well (though it benefited from multiple viewpoints not stretching credibility that far)

Now, with all that said, I don't think it's bad to have these multiple ways to try to consruct the settings/story. Too much in one direction might make for a more cohesive IP, but there's a good chance it'll get stale. The problem comes in chasing the previous successes and trying to recreate them by adhering to surface level details to mold the world.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2020 7:59 am 
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With the way magic is, the best franchise to look to in order to make a more cohesive franchise is actually final fantasy. The worlds of final fantasy actually have less interaction between themselves than MtG's.

The way they achieve familiarity is primarily through motifs, like recurring monster races or flavored spell systems. And those motifs aren't generic, but recognizably Final Fantasy: Chocobo, Firaga, Cid, Moogle, etc. The "recurring" Cid isn't the same character, but a general archetype. The differences in the incarnations Cids actually helps showcase how the worlds are different while being a familiar face.

The issue with MtG is that most of its flavorful motifs are too generic. It's unique motifs tend to be mechanical. Reusing things like Baloths would do a lot more to help MtG's flavor than reusing Chandra or Jace.


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