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Lisa Yurika

The relation between narrative and player experience in Magic the Gathering

How important is narrative to the gaming experience in Magic the Gathering?

*INTRODUCTION* On December 16, 2019, *Wizards of the Coast* reported in their post “[link](https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/feature/theros-beyond-death-story-cards-2019-12-16)(THE THEROS BEYOND DEATH STORY ON CARDS)” that it did not intend to release an e-book for the recently announced *Theros Beyond Death* collection. On top of that, the post states that some cards will contain some *flavor texts*, worldbuilding details and important narrative points. The card images will be accompanied by informational graphic material added to this post. [image](https://cardsrealm.com/images/uploads/1576902680.jpeg) The year 2019 saw the release of three books, two from the War of the Spark collection and one from the Throne of Eldraine collection - *War of the Spark: Ravnica* and *War of the Spark: Forsaken* by Greg Weisman and *Throne of Eldraine: The Wildered Quest* by Kate Elliot. It is noteworthy that since Throne of Eldraine, the narrative was limited only to Elliot's book, that is, there were no plans for the return of tales on the *Magic Story* site. According to a report also published in December 16, 2019 at the website Hipsters of the Coast, the Theros Beyond Death collection will also feature no stories published via the web. In short, the new collection of Magic the Gathering will not feature stories or books. However, the game has always had some kind of auxiliary media for building its narrative since its first book - 1994's *Arena*, by author William R. Forstchen. [image](https://cardsrealm.com/images/uploads/1576902715.jpeg) It is noticeable the importance of tales and books for Magic the Gathering, as there is an clear interest from players and is what connects many to the game. An example of this would be to find out that our favorite Planeswalker is much more than simply the art and layout on its card - it has a very long history that goes beyond gameplay. Therefore, in this article we will discuss the following question: *How important is narrative to the gaming experience in Magic the Gathering?* *ADDING GAME DESIGN TO THE DISCUSSION * First, let's establish a common language. For this article we will use a little of Negrelli's Framework SAN (2017) designed to establish dialogue between consumers and game developers. The model structures a game by its System, Art and Narrative (SAN), which will be discussed below. *System* refers to the rules of interaction with the game. The rules define what may happen in the game and the conditions for events to occur. This is where the rules and mechanics of Magic the Gathering cards are located. *Art* is defined as the sensory stimuli relevant to the game. It is what accurately communicates to the player what is part of the game and what can be expected from it. This could be valid even for something external to the System behavior, such as advertising pieces. That is, the arts of Magic the Gathering must adequately communicate the function of a card, such as the *Ashiok, Nightmare Muse* card, which in a systematic perspective interacts with the in-game action "Exile", but is complemented by the narrative and its art. They make this mechanic a metaphor for Ashiok manipulating memories and nightmares. [image](https://cardsrealm.com/images/cartas/en/thb-theros:-beyond-death-ashiok-nightmare-muse-208.jpg) *Narrative*, on the other hand, has the function of conveying a notion of change in the state of the game (in Magic the Gathering, this change of state can be easily exemplified by stack and resolving). And it is made up of three subsections: premise, macronarrative and micronarrative. We then define: • Premise: the context of the game. The ambiance or background presented to the player. This premise is reinforced with dialogues and scenes that describe the sequence of events in the narrative and the characters' perceptions of this universe, resulting in a plot. It is noteworthy that even the title of the game can reinforce the premise ("Magic the Gathering" itself being an example). • Macronarrative: this aspect most closely resembles the traditional notion of narrative (chapters in a book, for example). It is the way to organize the game's progression within its own fiction, later providing the existential motivation for Player's actions (in a smaller scale) in the Micronarrative. An interesting example of Macronarrative is seen in the *Saga* cards that will return in the Theros Beyond Death collection. For Magic, each player's turn is like a chapter and these card emphasize this notion with the addition of lore counters that advances the Saga to the next chapter, triggering effects that transform the gaming experience. [image](https://cardsrealm.com/images/cartas/en/thb-theros:-beyond-death-the-akroan-war-124.jpg) • Micronarrative: a description of the events that occur immediately from the Player's action and their reactions. An interesting example is the "Escape" action introduced in Theros Beyond Death - when we use this mechanic in the *Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis* card, the Planeswalker escapes from the underworld. [image](https://cardsrealm.com/images/cartas/en/thb-theros:-beyond-death-elspeth-suns-nemesis-14.jpg) *THE RELATION BETWEEN NARRATIVE AND PLAYER EXPERIENCE* It is not appropriate for this article that we argue about *fun*, but it is elemental to a good game that it is a fun game. After all, what makes us addicted to Magic the Gathering is the sense of joy and pleasure that is brought to us when we interact with our cards (even though "fun" may not be the main goal at higher levels of play). Within the game design there is agreement that the first step in bringing the player to fun is originated by *immersion*. It is then followed by the consistency of the mechanics (System, or the rules of the game) and finally followed by the quality of the fiction (Art and Narrative), as they generate stimuli, which define what are the sensations that a game element wishes to cause, thus capable of creating a strong degree of empathy between player and game character, for example. In other words, Art and Narrative play an essential role in what is defined as immersion (and consequently in fun), even if this role is not as direct as the System's. There are games that seek to create fun through their mechanics and gameplay, with a higher focus on the System. However, there are those who focus their resources on the Narrative as well as their Art, seeking to establish an affective engagement of the player. That said, it is not uncommon to find games that offer a *balance* between the System, Art and Narrative. These games aim to be universalistic and cover all the possibilities for fun, and this is where Magic the Gathering is located, argument reinforced by *Mark Rosewater* in his [link](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHHg99hwQGY)(2016's Game Developers Conference presentation about Magic) that shows several ways we can connect and have fun with the game. This diversity of ways we can connect and have fun with Magic is what makes storytelling so important. By deciding not to publish an e-book or short stories from Theros Beyond Death, Wizards of the Coast is limiting players' ability to engage with the game. Since in addition to stories being ways that players can locate themselves within a universe by its characters and situations, new stories are new information, news in a universe. In this case, this universe is a game. Here's an example of how we are consistently being introduced to new information by Magic's narrative. We were interested in the watermarks on the cards representing the Guilds of Ravnica to only later find that there is a name for these combination of two colors. Moreover, these names name represent guilds that have vast narratives with plenty of characters, leaders and guild champions with whom we now have some kind of affinity and identification. This constant exposure to new information is a vital part of the player engagement. Therefore, it is essential to bring new information not only through mechanics, but also through narratives, so as to keep the players interested. For beyond System and Art, Narrative is also an essential way for players to engage and bond with the game. In this way, the absence of new books and short stories from our dear Multiverse will cause the immersion to diminish, and gradually Magic the Gathering will lose an important part of its engagement and interest. It may even stop being fun for a lot of players. *CONCLUSION* By analyzing Wizards of the Coast's positioning in relation to Theros Beyond Death's narrative through Framework SAN, we realize that (to date) the new collection is lacking in the Premise element of its Narrative due to their decision not to publish any book or short stories. On the other hand, we can say that the Narrative of Magic the Gathering is essential to evoke player engagement. By opting for a storytelling format that exists only through flavor texts in the cards, Wizards of the Coast is limiting ways for players to connect to the game. Mainly due to the fact that there is *less* information about the narrative present in these flavor texts compared to short stories and books. *REFERENCES* BIBLIOGRAPHY J. Schell. The art of game design: A book of lenses. 2 ed. Pittsburgh: CAC Press, 2015. L. Negrelli. Framework SAN: a avaliação do jogo pelos jogadores, SBGames, 2017. M. Csikszentmihalyi. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. London: Harper Perennial, 1990. T. Sylvester. Designing games: A guide to engineering experiences. Sebastopol: O’Reilly media, 2013 OTHER SOURCES [link](https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/feature/theros-beyond-death-story-cards-2019-12-16)(THE THEROS BEYOND DEATH STORY ON CARDS) [link](https://www.hipstersofthecoast.com/2019/12/wizards-says-it-has-no-plans-for-an-ebook-for-theros-beyond-death/)(Wizards Says it has “No Plans For an Ebook” for Theros Beyond Death)

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Lisa Yurika

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Ari Ferreira

Creature types in Magic - Eldrazi lore


Hey, guys! o/ This is Ari and today I will continue this series about creature types featured in Magic.[link](https://cardsrealm.com/artigos/the-creature-types-of-magic---vampires)(In the first article I told how vampires), a race well known in our pop culture, originated in the plans of Innistrad, Zendikar and Ixalan. This time I will address the *Eldrazi*, creatures that exist only in the worlds of our favorite card game. Eldrazi are giant and powerful monsters that live to devour energy wherever they go. Talking about their origin turned out to be a little more complicated than I thought, because the information about the emergence of the Eldrazi is simply unknown. What we do know is that they originally do not belong to any specific world, they are native to the *Blind Eternities*, which is actually the name given to the space between the planes of the Multiverse. As I said, the Eldrazi are a race that exist only in Magic, a fact that has always made me question what was their creative process. Something very curious that I didn't know until recently is that the Eldrazi were inspired by Cthulhu and Galactus. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, a quick Google search gives a brief description of these characters: • *Cthulhu* is a cosmic entity created by the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft in 1926. Cthulhu is a gigantic-sized ancestral creature often used in science fiction and fantasy circles as a synonym for horror, magic, or extreme evil. • *Galactus*, also known as The Devourer of Worlds, is a comic book character, a cosmic entity within the Marvel universe. [image](https://cardsrealm.com/images/uploads/1561855122.png) We can really find several traits of these two characters in the Eldrazi, right? The first Eldrazi-type creatures were introduced to Magic in April 2010 in the *Rise of the Eldrazi* expansion, but the *Eye of Ugin* card, released in the previous collection (Worldwake), already mentioned the Eldrazi, leaving players curious and even confused, as Wizards had not yet given any details about this new type that was about to emerge. [image](https://cardsrealm.com/images/cartas/en/wwk-worldwake-eye-of-ugin-136.jpg) After all the mystery, the players finally met the mighty Eldrazi titans: *Kozilek, Emrakul and Ulamog.* [image](https://cardsrealm.com/images/uploads/1561855323.png) An interesting fact about the titans is that they each have their own lineage of subordinates who form true armies. Each lineage reflects the image of its parent, that is, we can visually identify the origin of an Eldrazi offspring. [image](https://cardsrealm.com/images/uploads/1561855377.png) (Translation: "Linhagem" means "lineage") *Plot* My goal here is not to tell you about the entire Eldrazi lore, because it has so many details that it could easily be published in a book :P . For this first article I would like to briefly tell you about the Eldrazi's passage through *Zendikar*. *Eldrazi Imprisonment* The history of the Eldrazi began thousands of years ago when three Planeswalkers (*Sorin Markov, Ugin and Nahiri*) became aware of their existence and decided to destroy them. However, the Planeswalkers' plan failed and they were unable to destroy the elder Eldrazi. So they decided to imprison them in Zendikar to avoid the damage they could do to the Multiverse. Sorin lured the titans to Zendikar, Ugin used his knowledge of colorless magic to create a containment energy field and Nahiri built a complex network of mountains and stones (called hedrons) that would act in sync with the energy field created by Ugin to confine the Eldrazi. After imprisoning the Eldrazi, Sorin and Ugin left Zendikar and Nahiri became the guardian of that plane. [image](https://cardsrealm.com/images/uploads/1561855433.jpeg) Hundreds of years passed while the existence of the Eldrazi remained unknown to the rest of Zendikar, but even though imprisoned, the titans wielded some kind of power over the plane. Such power was so great that some of the inhabitants of Zendikar worshiped the titans as gods. The merfolk, for example, believed in three deities they called *Ula, Cosi, and Emeria*, but they did not know that they were actually worshiping the world-destroying beings who were trapped in the plane. It is important to mention that at a certain point in this timeline, Nahiri realized the great danger the Eldrazi still posed and left the plane seeking for Sorin's help, and since then we have had no further news from the stoneforger. *Rise of the Eldrazi* The "magic" used by Sorin, Ugin and Nahiri to imprison the Eldrazi could only be "broken" by 3 Planeswalkers. Knowing this and interested in the power of the Eldrazi, the planeswalker dragon *Nicol Bolas* devised a plan for *Chandra, Jace, and Sarkhan* to go to Zendikar and begin the Eldrazi's liberation without even knowing what they were really doing. [image](https://cardsrealm.com/images/uploads/1561855495.png) The lore for the original Zendikar block ends about at this point, full of suspense and many unanswered questions. Players would have to wait another five long years to know what happened after the Eldrazi titans were released. *Battle for Zendikar* In 2015, we return to Zendikar to finally witness the great battle between the Eldrazi and the *Zendikari* (as the inhabitants of Zendikar are called). Let me start telling you about *Gideon Jura*, who arrives at Zendikar in order to prevent Ulamog from further destroying this plane. The story has several battles and twists, and the participation of several Planeswalkers. [image](https://cardsrealm.com/images/uploads/1561855557.jpeg) Ob Nixilis, for example, is responsible for awakening Kozilek, allowing the second titan to join Ulamog to devour the plane of Zendikar. Gideon teamed up with *Nissa* (another Planeswalker), Chandra and Jace and, after defeating Ob Nixilis, they face Ulamog and Kozilek in an epic battle that ended in a massive explosion, finally destroying the gigantic cosmic entities. *Oath of the Gatewatch* Exhausted, the four Planeswalkers (now forming a team known as the *Gatewatch*) stood on top of a rock and looked down at the land they had saved. [image](https://cardsrealm.com/images/uploads/1561855730.jpeg) And as everything that involves Eldrazi comes with a hint of mystery, the lore of this block also ends with an unanswered question: Where was the third Eldrazi titan? Was Emrakul on another plane? Although the Battle for Zendikar was won, the "Gatewatchers" knew the war was far from over. They needed to find the third titan and prevent other worlds from being devastated... Emrakul's fate was later revealed in the *Shadows over Innistrad* block, but to prevent this article from getting tiresome, I will tell this story another time, okay? I hope you enjoyed this article!! Let's talk more about the misterious Eldrazi in the comments? Thank you very much for reading and until the next time!

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Ari Ferreira

Analista de Sistemas em São Paulo. Jogador e produtor de conteúdo sobre MTG. Criador e apresentador do Canal e Podcast Mana Delver. Apesar de ser apaixonado pelo Pauper, também joga e aprecia todos os outros formatos.

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