What I Love About Magic: The Story

Posted in Ways to Play on February 13, 2017

By Cassie LaBelle

Cassie LaBelle is a freelance writer. When she's not at her keyboard dreaming up stories, you can find her playing with his cats, listening to records, or building yet another Magic deck.

It's 1996, and I'm playing Magic for the first time. I'm eleven years old, and there are a dozen of us forming a cross-legged circle in my friend Lars's basement. It's his birthday, and we have just spent the last two hours shooting water guns at each other. The basement is a welcome respite from the summer sun, though the air conditioner has started to make my soggy T-shirt feel scratchy and uncomfortable.

Everyone has played this game before except for me. They have piles of cards, their edges white from months of exuberant shuffling. I give my friend Marc a helpless look, and he hands me is duct-taped cardboard box. "What color are you?" he asks.

"I . . . I don't know," I say. "Light green? Orange, maybe?"

He chuckles and tells me to pick one of his many rubber-banded decks. As I paw through that very first stack of spells, I am transported to another world. I have so many burning questions. Where is Yavimaya? Do these cool-looking Cat Warriors live there? Who is Joven, and why does he own so many Ferrets?

Over the next several hours, I am exposed to enticing fragments of a story that will never stop fascinating me. It's the tale of a land populated by Elves and Dragons, of an ancient war fought between brothers, of Yawgmoth and the Phyrexians and Planeswalkers and the Ice Age.

I am hooked.

Back in 1996, I never would have guessed that Magic would still be a light in my life more than 20 years later. But here we are, and the wonderful characters and worlds that evolved from those early stories are a bit part of why Magic means so much to me.

Why do I love the story? Let me tell you:

The story is interactive. There are so many different ways to experience the Magic story that I never feel bored. Some days, I just want to read another digital chapter in the ongoing tale of the Gatewatch and their inter-planar fight against evil. Other times, nothing makes me happier than trying to recreate their epic struggle on the battlefield.

But the interactivity doesn't end there; I can build decks around cool minor characters (Jaya Ballard! Bruse Tarl!) featuring spells from throughout the history of Magic. I can re-write the end of Eldritch Moon by beating everybody with my foil copy of Emrakul, the Promised End. I can even build a deck that tells my own story set in the world of Kaladesh or Innistrad or Zendikar or even pre-Apocalypse Dominaria. Unlike a book or a movie or even most video games, Magic invites you to jump into the story and mess it up in any way you'd like.

The story is inclusive. Diverse representation can be tough to find in mainstream media, and I am grateful that Magic's story continues to create exciting and wonderful characters from all walks of life. Not only does Magic's commitment to diversity help all my friends feel like they belong in the Multiverse, it also allows me to experience the light of other planes through many different viewpoints. Some of my favorites are Elspeth Tirel; Chandra Nalaar; Kaya, Ghost Assassin; and the delightful Yahenni, Undying Partisan.

The story is well-integrated. With all due respect to Joven's Ferrets, the seamless integration of Magic's current story into its gameplay is a major part of why I return to Magic week after week. The story isn't just a piece of fiction that uses some of the characters from the card game, it saturates the flavor text, art, and mechanics of each set's most interesting spells.

On some level, it is impossible for me to separate my love of the story from my love of Magic. To me, Magic is the story, and the story is Magic.

The story is ever-changing. I enjoy a visit to J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth as much as anyone, but I really dig the fact that Magic: The Gathering is always pushing the boundaries of where the story is found and the forms in which it can take. The fact that Magic can give us cosmic horror in one set and technological retro-futurism in the next keeps me from getting bored, and the fact that both worlds are connected by both characters and plot is a heck of a trick to keep pulling off. This steady change keeps the game feeling fresh and fun year after year.

The story is resonant. All too often, the world has made me feel small. Whether it's a childhood injustice or an uncaring boss, there are moments in life when it feels like there is no way to overcome the forces of darkness. And while there are plenty of times when I turn to Magic for a fun escape, as often as not I feel like the game's story provides me with something else: hope.

Magic's greatest heroes have all been through a lot. They have had to show strength and courage through times of planar turmoil and personal loss. As silly as it might sound, reading about the light inside these characters and watching it shine across the battlefield has made me feel like I can fight back against the demons in my own life, too.

The story is exciting. Let's see—in the past few years, Magic's storyline has featured eldritch beings from beyond space and time, a war between ancient gods, an aetherpunk revolution, a plane-wide descent into madness, a time-traveling Dragon, a clan of Bear-punching Warriors, righteous Angels turned into misguided zealots, four-year-old hedonists made from magical energy, and a journey to the underworld. If that doesn't make you feel at least a little bit giddy, I don't know what to tell you.

For more than 20 years now, Magic's storyline has made my life richer, deeper, and a heck of a lot more fun. Eleven-year-old me had no way of knowing that the story inside that little bundle of cards would continue to captivate him well into adulthood, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

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