Through the Twinning Glass

Posted in Feature on May 28, 2008

By Evil Doug Beyer

It's Evil Twin Week, so I'd like to tell you a little about my evil twin, Doug Beyer: hack, spoilsport, and all-around anti-me propagandist.

As the classic evil twin, Doug enjoys undermining all my plans. I'd like to introduce you to three of these plans today—all of which Doug takes great pleasure in ruining on a daily basis.

1. Inject Real-World Humor into Magic

What is the Fourth Wall?The term "fourth wall" stems from the absence of a fourth wall on a three-walled set where the audience is viewing the production. The audience is supposed to assume there is a "fourth wall" present, even though it physically is not there. This is widely noticeable on various television programs, such as situational comedies, but the term originated in theatre, where conventional three-walled stage sets provide a more obvious "fourth wall."The meaning of the term "fourth wall" has been adapted to refer to the boundary between the fiction and the audience. "Fourth wall" is part of the suspension of disbelief between a fictional work and an audience. The audience will usually passively accept the presence of the fourth wall without giving it any direct thought, allowing them to enjoy the fiction as if they were observing real events. It is the invisible barrier between realities.Source: WikipediaThe funniest jokes are winking references to real-world humor. Magic has toyed with this a little bit, particularly in Un-sets, but Doug and the rest of the creative team are generally dead-set against it in non-silver-bordered sets. They're truly missing out, and they're denying you, the player, the opportunity to enjoy a healthy amount of fourth-wall-breaking on Magic cards. Magic flavor text should be making light of Obama, Hillary, and McCain, giving power and toughness to faildogs and lolwalruses, and slyly alluding to the scandaltastrophes of the latest Britney clone. On Clone if possible.

I mean, come on, "Jester's Sombrero"? That stuff is gold, I'm telling you.

Doug thinks that fourth-wall-breaking humor undermines Magic's sense of a living, breathing, independently-existing fantasy world. And let me tell you, he's kind of hyper about it. He worries about naming cards after Gatling guns and Zeppelins because those terms are historical Earth inventions named after their creators. Sure, he lets through the occasional card name reference like Valleymaker and Flight of Fancy, but why stop there? What's the harm in inserting a little Magic slang now and again? What's the harm in a little pun on the Second Amendment?

Deep Analysis

I mean, sure. It doesn't make any sense for Urza or Liliana Vess to go around making cracks like this. They wouldn't know about any of these Earthling things. But that's what makes it so funny. Wouldn't it be hilarious if Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind had read the works of Machiavelli, or if Jaya Ballard quoted Kanye West lyrics? Shouldn't Magic relax, and not take itself so seriously? You should see Doug at his computer, squinting over reams and reams of submitted names and pieces of flavor text. He's like a tyrant up in his balcony, giving the Sideways Thumb of Death to anything that might be trying to have a little fun with itself. Well, that's why he's my evil twin. He's always out to torpedo anything I think is smirk-worthy, and make Magic a world of, you know, planeswalkers and mages and spells and mana.

2. Return to Persistent Storylines in Magic

Seat_of_the_SynodSo I think to myself, if Doug is so jazzed about the Magic multiverse being this enduring, fully fleshed-out world with planeswalkers zipping to and fro, why does he have such a problem with story in flavor text, and why do we never stick with any given set of characters for more than a year? Brady Dommermuth has already espoused his belief that the overarching story of Magic belongs in novels, whereas flavor text is the venue for exploring setting. The non-sequential nature of cards make them a bad medium for plot, blah blah. And sure, the Weatherlight saga already came to its natural end, and some players weren't big fans of Gerrard and company.

But isn't it time for Magic to have a well-wrought, epic story again? Isn't the whole point of the planeswalker card type to bring the spotlight on planeswalker characters again, so that we can have a story build for a while without the October set coming around to rip the continuity rug out from under it? And wasn't this new emphasis on planeswalkers designed to provide a set of landmark heroes who would stick around, even as the settings change around them? For example, we've seen Lorwyn change into Shadowmoor. Where is my persistent set of characters? Why haven't we seen anything else done with these five new planeswalkers, and why aren't they in the novels? See what I'm talking about? He destroys my plans. He's evil.

Now, he did let slip recently that planeswalkers were on his mind. He was asleep at the time, and—what? So I eavesdrop on his somniloquy, big deal. I have to sneak into his house at night and tape record his ramblings, because he won't tell me anything! It's not something I relish doing, but he forces me to pry, with all his "NDA" and his "liking his job." So anyway, yeah, there is definitely movement on the planeswalker front. You probably saw the planeswalker standees from the Pro Tour–Hollywood coverage, but if Doug's Totoro-esque snore-babble is any indication, that kind of thing is just window dressing compared to what's coming. As intolerable as the waiting is for us right now, there will be much more Vorthosian commitment to the storyline expansion of certain planeswalker characters. The idea has apparently inspired Pro Tour mainstay Gabriel Nassif to breakdance with flavor-soaked joy.

The last thing I heard during last night's murmurings was that he was preparing some sort of announcement for next week, some product change relevant to the Magic storyline that he was going to describe in detail. I didn't get much intel out of him before he started drooling onto the pillow, and I had to leave out of disgust. Why must he torment us all? I would have spilled the beans today instead of waiting until next week. I would have gathered us all around and handed out juicy news tidbits, and candy, and... and... fivers from my Wizards paycheck. That's the kind of guy I am, or would be if I were the twin in charge! But no. Because of Doug, my evil, evil twin, we have to wait. I should have choked him in the womb. Ahem! Moving on.

3. Spread traditional fantasy roles via Magic

This last one proves how evil Doug is. The plan of mine that Doug loves to foil most is to return to the good old days of fantasy. I've told him again and again that people love the Hero's Journey, the story of the chosen one who rises up against and defeats the powerful evildoer, and rescues the helpless love interest along the way. What's not to like about that story? It's a classic for a reason. The fact that Doug wants to subvert that, to take that proven formula in a "more choice-centered direction." He wants Magic's heroes to be great not because of destiny, but because of their namby-pamby "decisions." Bo-ring. I mean, we make choices all day long. It's dull. Don't you want your fantasy to be escapist? Don't you want to come to your Magic novel, and see the hero walk into a problem, and then have Fate-with-a-capital-F come along and tell him that everything's going to be fine? Does everything have to be drama all the time?

Knight of Meadowgrain, Honor Guard, and Elvish Champion

And Doug's also fond of messing with the traditional race and gender patterns in fantasy. Don't get me started on that. Everyone knows the hero is a Euro dude, and that he has to save a helpless Euro chick. It's tried-and-true, and my evil twin wants to rock the boat and make ego-waves. Does he think he's doing interesting social work there? Why doesn't he just calm down and deliver us the Chosen One story, where we, as the readers, get to fantasize that we're the distant descendent of the ancient king who slew the mighty demon a thousand years ago, and who has been prophesied to rise up against it once more when the stars align and the princess gets captured?

I ask him, and all he says is, "Sorry. In my world, it's not that easy."


Oops, I gotta go. My twin's waking up to finish off this article with his Letter of the Week thingy. Do me a favor—send him a bunch of hate mail at the email link below! Evil jerk.

Letter of the Week


Dear Doug Beyer,

Let me introduce myself. I am Arix Odragc, of the Nigeri dragons, and I dictate this now to express a small concern over the representation of my race in the game right now (yes, dragons can enjoy human activities, deal with it).

It's not about the quantity. Yes, Dragons are quite rare, but that's part of what makes them (in the game) so cool. Nor is it about quality -- the majority of the Dragons put out there in each new set at the very least give me a smile or two. The problem I have with the game's Dragons is how those rare Dragons are represented.

What's with the "smashy ragey burny beast" angle all the time? Aside from one or two exceptions, all the Dragons that seem to come out are depicted as mindless beasts flying around and levelling and/or roasting something or other for no apparent reason. And that's fine every now and then. But we are intelligent creatures. Now I'm not saying you should have every Dragon sitting down flicking casually through a library of ancient texts and sipping tea (Nicol Bolas makes me shudder to this day), but at least a lower level of mindless, wild monster. Even just giving us more classes (Dragon Warrior? Dragon Shaman?) will go some way in helping out, right?

Really I just want one answer: is there any hope of dragons getting a bit of a better rep, or are we destined to remain the basic raging destructive animals throughout the game?

–Arix Odragc (dictated)

In Magic, most iconic dragons are manifestations of red mana. They're born in volcanic heat, reared in the choking fumes of a caldera, and come of age when they express the pure rage inside of them. They're the "sharks of the sky," fury-fueled killers whose wrath is only matched by their destructive potential. They can possess considerable intelligence, but their cunning is generally rendered mute next to the chaotic urges raging inside them.

Now, there are exceptions. We on the creative team think it's fine if there are legendary dragons that buck the red-iconic trend—they're individual one-offs whose personality supersedes the traditional dragon identity. We think it's fine if dragons are multicolored red-and-something-else—they've got a more complex character, but they still retain that core of red's fiery values. And we think it's all right if non-red dragons appear as part of a cycle—cycles are cycles, and dragons are cool enough that sometimes everybody wants a piece of that scaly action.

Vorosh, the Hunter
Bladewing the Risen
Yosei, the Morning Star

What we're not that happy with is one-off, non-cycled, non-legendary, non-red dragons (for example, Quicksilver Dragon, Ebon Dragon—no Mistform Ultimus jokes, please). Other fantasy settings have hyperintelligent, scheming dragons all over the place, but in Magic we try to stay true to the principle that dragons, first and foremost, belong in red—and red doesn't "scheme." Again, exceptions (individuals that play "against type") can be fun on occasion, of course—the good-aligned outcast drow, the intelligent goblin, the smuggler scoundrel with the heart of gold—so exceptions will crop up now and again as legendary dragons, but just as angels belong (exceptions aside) in white and demons belong (exceptions aside) in black, dragons enjoy being red, red, red.

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