Magic: A Gathering of Easter Eggs

Posted in Feature on December 12, 2006

By Doug Beyer

Senior creative designer on Magic's creative team and lover of writing and worldbuilding. Doug blogs about Magic flavor and story at http://dougbeyermtg.tumblr.com/

To the fighting game aficionado, it's the unlockable secret character. In software tech-writer lingo, it's the undocumented feature. Audiophiles know it as the hidden track at the end of the CD. It's the Easter egg, and it's in just about every entertainment medium. Magic is no exception; at its core, the Easter egg is as crucial to the creation of a Magic card as the cardboard. Secrecy yields surprise, which generates fun, which encourages fandom – and that progression is the key to what makes Magic more than a game, and greater than the sum of its parts.

We'll look at some examples of Magic's Easter eggs in action, and then I'll wrap up with why they're so important. But first, let's be sure we're straight on what we mean by “Easter egg” in this context.

What's an Easter Egg?

When I was a philosophy major in college, I was fond of starting every discussion by defining terms. Usually this devolved into a side debate over the semantics of the proposed definition, which in turn devolved into a scrap over the epistemological underpinnings of language, which in turn devolved into a brutal knuckle-bloodying over the reality of the external world and the naiveté of the concept of “efficacy of the senses.” Then cheesecake at a café. Good times. Now I work for a living, and don't have the luxury of answering the threat of a deadline by questioning the metaphysical reality of my boss. But I still like definitions, so hey:

An Easter egg is a secret feature hidden in a piece of media by its author or designer.

It has to be secret. The prize in a box of Cracker Jacks doesn't count—everybody expects a prize in their Cracker Jacks. The prize is advertised right on the box. Not an Easter egg.

And it has to be put there on purpose. A potato chip shaped like Abraham Lincoln in profile doesn't count – nobody at the Frito-Lay Corporation toiled away at creating and hiding such a chip. (But if someone did, awesome.) A series of letters at the beginning of chapters of the French translation of War and Peace that spell your middle name doesn't count – that's just a coincidence. Not an Easter egg.

There are lots of Easter eggs in Magic. I mean lots and lots. There are entire features devoted to them on this very website—Card of the Day and Magic Arcana are workhorses of daily Magic Easter egg documentation. And there are good reasons why there are so many Easter eggs in Magic, and why they're so important to the game. Let's look at some examples first.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Take a look at Liege of the Pit.

It's kind of the love-child of Grinning Demon (a morph fattie with a drawback that you could avoid by playing it face-down) and Lord of the Pit (the more straightforward homage – a 7/7 flying trampling demon with an endless hunger). Time Spiral has all kinds of allusions to past cards this way, and you, as a player and fan of Magic who already knew those past cards, get that little neighborhood picnic on Memory Lane every time you get the allusion. Fine.

But then you take a closer look at the art.

And you see it, and build decks with it, and beat down your friends and random Magic Online strangers-in-the-night with it, and nothing is out of the ordinary.

But then one day you do a double-take and take a closer look at it. You get goose bumps and wonder aloud, “Were those there the whole time?” And you show your friend and he goes, “Whoa,” and you laugh and say, “Jeremy Jarvis, what a sicko! That's great.”

Why?

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