Magic in the Connected Age

Posted in Savor The Flavor on March 3, 2010

Ever cast a magic mouth spell?

It's a Damp;D thing, so I know I'm reaching into an adjacent circle of my audience's Venn diagram with that reference. The spell (or, more accurately, ritual) creates a magical mouth, often anchored to an object like a door or a statue, that can deliver a short message under certain specified conditions. You could leave a magic mouth on a dungeon wall, for example, to tell the rest of your party, "We went through the east door. Also, you guys suck HA HA HA"—plus however many more HAs it would take to get to the twenty-five word limit. I am here to tell you, this is how powerful wizards do it.

Anyway, to me it's always been an inspiring little spell. Even when it doesn't come in handy (and it often does), its potential spurs my imagination. It's the nexus of magic and communications, and to me it's always had big implications for fantasy worlds.

Think of our networked world today. We have some pretty magical communications buzzing all around us. This article, for example, represents near-instantaneous delivery of many scrolls' worth of scribblings to any place on this world, traveling via lines of finely spun optical glass or by invisible space energies, couriered directly into your silicon computation machine or hand-held touch-screen talking stone. If the Thran could see the scope of what our communications technology can do and the ease with which we use it, they'd fall right out of their mana-powered artifact La-Z-Boys.

All of this is on my mind because I've been thinking about Magic, naturally. Magic was born during the explosion of the early Internet, and has grown as the communications media have grown. You can now play Magic twenty-four hours a day with people all around the world on Magic Online. You can find deck lists, storyline lore, and complete card information whenever you want and in a variety of forms. You can find Magic content in just about every form of creative expression, from strategy articles to fan art to podcasts to comic strips to novels to planeswalker cosplay costumes. You can connect directly with those who make the game, for example by emailing your insights and questions to people such as Mark Rosewater or Tom LaPille or me, and you can read our responses in features like this column's Letter of the Week. You can wade through fifteen years' worth of card history in Gatherer or browse the archives for over (at this writing) eight years' worth of articles, features, and event coverage. You can chat with (or rant at) thousands of Magic players across the globe via any communication sorcery of your choice, from community forums and player blogs to Twitter, YouTube, DeviantArt, Flickr, Facebook, and more.

And yet we've just begun to tear into what's possible for Magic.

As communication options expand, so do the possibilities for what we can do with Magic and how you can enjoy it. We've already seen communications change how people connect with each other and with the game. You only have to watch coverage of a Pro Tour finals match through the eyes of the people in your Twitter feed to get this weird twinge that we're officially living in Not Your Father's Possibility Space.

So, fine. We have an unbounded number of magic mouths ready to deliver our peer-to-peer cheers and jeers to each other. What does that mean for us? What does that mean for Magic? Scry forward one, two, even three years. How will we be communicating about Magic, and what does that tell you about the art of communication today? What opportunities are open to us now that we're already underutilizing? What does all this give us?

What strikes me is that it gives us power. Our technology is tearing down barriers, both physical and cultural. Distance is already not a thing—that planar barrier became meaningless as soon as we could wish an opponent "gl and hf," or join in the thrill of a compatriot's topdeck, from the maximum twelve time zones away.

But disintegrating too are the barriers that keep you from making what you want. You can broadcast your decklist, publish your thoughts on a Sorin Markov theme deck or your review of the latest set, crowdsource a photo essay about your FNM experience or show off your collection of Squee's Toys, shoot a video about your local game store, or hand-craft a special effects-laden trailer for your next Magic bash.

Prometheus has handed over the fire, people. Tools of unprecedented power are in your hands. Go make stuff. And then show the rest of us.

So, a quick note on haters. A corollary of the power of interconnectedness is that you'll be in contact not only with those who share your fascinations and passions, but also those who just want to give you a hard time. Certainly you'll find those with constructive criticism; seek out and cherish these people, because they'll help you to be better and create better, even if they sound at first like haters. But some are just out to throw words at you and stop your progress. Learn to recognize that type and to shut them out of your mind. Use a blocking function or find some other way to wire shut their magic mouth, if available. But even if you can't, don't worry. They're powerless to stop you unless you let 'em.

So I'd like to hear from you. Point me to what Magic-related thing you've made, worked on, or found to be awesome. Show me what's possible. Show me what you're passionate about and proud of. Next week I'll have a special URL-filled Letter of the Week segment where I show off what people have sent in.

But I have a second mission for you, as well. Let me know what new stuff you'd like to see in this column. This is my third year of writing Savor the Flavor, and I'm interested in seeing what other robots it can transform into, as it were. I still intend to deliver fiction, lore about the settings, behind-the-scenes about the creative aspects of making Magic, discussion of names and flavor text, investigation of art and artists, and theoretical free-wheeling about mana, planes, and planeswalkers. But I'm voracious. What else is there? How else can I savor the flavor? Between you and me—and I mean that in the community sense rather than in the secrecy sense—I feel like there's an opportunity to make something great here. An interactive Twitter-based planeswalker epic? A flavor-rigorous, storyline-driven Planechase variant? A microblogged day of work inside Wizards Ramp;D? A poll that determines the fate of ... some ... thing? I don't know. Email me and let your magic mouth be heard.

Letter of the Week

As you've surmised, I'm feeling interconnected. So: three letters today. The first one is a question from Chris about card names, which ties into our discussion of Magic and media.

Dear Doug Beyer,
I was wondering what the policy was regarding homographs in card names.

A word in a language is a string of sounds, and a written word is a representation of sounds. Sometimes in language, two words are spelled the same but pronounced differently; these are called homographs.

In Magic, there is a card called Recollect. Now, this spelling has two meanings: one means to gather again, while the other means to remember. Each of these meanings is pronounced differently; therefore, they are two different words. Since the card is green, I'm willing to guess that the correct pronunciation is ree-kuh-lekt (to gather again). What if Wizards wanted to print a blue card that had the flavor of its caster remembering something? Could it be called Recollect (pronounced: rek-uh-lekt)? After all, these are two different words. It is merely coincidence that they have the same spelling.

I realize written language requires some context for the reader to differ between homographs, but do you consider flavor to provide enough context?


[card]Erase (Not the Urza's Legacy One)[/card] Pronunciation, flavor, and context would probably be enough to distinguish between identically-spelled card names during gameplay. But Magic card names need to distinguish between cards even when they're not being spoken. You need to be able to tell what card is being referenced in other media, e.g. handwritten tournament decklists, Gatherer searches, Oracle documents, and online spoiler lists. Magic cards don't have special ID numbers printed on them—their name is used as their unique reference key in many, many contexts. Some card names may be close-but-not-quite homographs (Lignify and Liquify, say), but it's our goal to steer clear of the fabled English Name Collision.

Here's a letter from Jon about a card, a concept, and the seed of a flavor-laden deck idea: Death's Shadow.

Death's Shadow, flavor-wise, is as I understand it the incarnation of an individual planeswalker's Death. Well what could be more delightfully ironic than killing an opponent with your death? The "flavor", as it were, of the combo I lay at your feet as an offering, is one of irony and the blank stare of your opponent as they struggle to understand what happened.

Revenge of the Pessimists:
DEATH'S SHADOW - The best way to get this capering, delightful Grim Reaper happy is to be dead. But since that doesn't get you very far, it'll have to settle for dead on your feet, which leads us to ...
ANGEL'S GRACE - Who could have guessed the grace of angels makes evil grow up to have strong teeth and bones? This card should have been called the Devil's Own Calcium Supplements, for all the good it's ever done an actual white deck. But still, our little kipper needs a little more oomph to grow up fast, which gives us...
SPOILS OF THE VAULT, the miracle grow for this unholy growth of a deck. Ad Nauseam is lovely if you are patient, but dismay is a dish best served piping hot. Also, I like to ask my opponents, innocently, their favorite card at the start of a game, so I can name it here and turn the things they love against them.
LIM-DÛL'S VAULT - Such an undervalued tutor, considering it can find two or even three of the cards needed, in addition to being an extra copy of Spoils of the Vault. If an opponent has more health somehow than you do cards to exile with Spoils, just keep looking at five more cards until you have an arbitrarily large amount of negativity to share with your unsuspecting friend.
RITE OF CONSUMPTION – Right... almost forgot. You get to ritually sacrifice your own death to kill somebody else. That's pretty, well... that's frankly awesome. To me anyway.

--Jon K.

To me, too! May your Shadow bring death to all who stand before you. Kudos for every game you win at a lichlike negative life total. (And for another take on Death's Shadow, check out today's Building on a Budget.)

And last but not least, here's an important question from Scott:

Hi. I was listening to an old podcast in which MaRo was discussing Future Sight. In it, he said that some of the futureshifted cards represented ideas that he knew exactly where and when they'd be implemented, some represented ideas that could go either way, and some were just red herrings. I was wondering where the Eye of Ugin (and colorless spells) fit into this when you printed Ghostfire.

PS - If you can't answer this until closer to RoE's release, I understand.


Some mysteries are getting revealed already, Scott, but as you guessed, I can't quite go into this without spoiling some of the surprises we've got coming up. I promise to go into Ghostfire, the Eye of Ugin, and all the secrets of the Eldrazi when we get closer to the launch of Rise of the Eldrazi.

Latest Savor The Flavor Articles

Daily MTG

December 24, 2012

Is This Your Fateful Hour? by, Doug Beyer

Before the city-plane of Ravnica devoured the spotlight, the shadow-lurking forces of Innistrad were the ones doing the devouring. In this interactive article, you play the role of a tr...

Learn More

Daily MTG

March 28, 2012

Thanks and So Long by, Doug Beyer

Today I'm hurling huge explosions of gratitude and appreciation at you. To everyone who has read these articles and shared this enthusiasm for Magic flavor: you are awesome. I've loved ta...

Learn More



Savor The Flavor Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All