Last week’s official Magic story lined up with the start of spoilers for Eldritch Moon and day one began with the unsurprising revelation that the villain of Eldritch Moon and the source of the madness that has been spreading over Innistrad is Emrakul, the third of the Eldrazi titans. The reveal was meant to be epic but the response of the entrenched portion of the community was lackluster. Is it warranted? Should Wizards have done better?
It was Always Going to be Emrakul
Let’s begin with the most important fact, there was never any chance that the villain was going to be anyone other than Emrakul. The signs were simply too strong. First, there’s the original design for Battle for Zendikar which was a three-set block and featured Ulamog, Kozilek, and Emrakul. When the two-block paradigm changed Zendikar to a two-set block Emrakul was cut from the story and our heroes defeated Ulamog and Kozilek. Second, we already knew that Nahiri was directly involved in the mystery of Innistrad and Nahiri’s only connections in the multiverse are with Sorin (already on Innistrad), Ugin (not on Innistrad), and the Eldrazi. Lastly, there’s the unmistakable fact that Emrakul is the Magic-equivalence of Cthulhu and Shadows Over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon have been creating a fantastic shift from Gothic Horror to Cosmic Horror, a challenge much more appropriate for the Gatewatch.
So it was always going to be Emrakul. It was never going to be some crazy plot twist involving Marit Lage, or Nicol Bolas, or a brand new villain. It was never going to just be Nahiri, because she’s not powerful enough on her own, especially post-mending, to have this level of impact on Innistrad as a world. If it was just Nahiri, Sorin would have confronted her already as he had done in the past. Instead he had to try to assemble an army of vampires to aid him. Simply put, all signs pointed their tentacle appendages toward Emrakul.
It’s Not About the Reveal
Cosmic horror is never about the reveal. If you’ve read any H. P. Lovecraft stories you should already be familiar with this idea. As soon as you start reading any of Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors you already know that the “evil” force is some kind of unknowable cosmic being of great power. Yes, it’s impressive to see Cthulhu or Azathoth rise up from the depths and lay waste to mankind. But you’re not surprised.
Lovecraft was never trying to surprise you, he was trying to terrify you in a way that would make you think twice about every shadow, look away from hooded figures in foggy New England alleyways, question everything you’ve ever known about what’s under the sea. This is the kind of horror that Wizards is trying to bring to us with the Eldritch Moon story and with the arrival of Emrakul.
Are you Terrified Yet?
You’re not, and this is where Wizards has probably made their biggest mistake. While some people are complaining about how obvious it was that Emrakul was going to be the enemy, I actually don’t think it was obvious enough. The story of Shadows Over Innistrad had too much action. Angels slaughtered people. Werewolves slaughtered people. The Gitrog Monster did whatever it did. It was all very exciting but none of it was very terrifying was it?
The thing is, Magic is a game about combat, so the story had to have action. The cards have to have action. But without Emrakul, that action was unfocused. It was spread across all of the denizens of Innistrad that we were already familiar with. Angels, werewolves, vampires, cults, the church, monster hunters, and more were front-and-center. What wasn’t front-and-center was the impending doom.
That’s what always gets you about cosmic horror. Whether it’s Cthulhu, or its Galactus, or its Darkseid (pick your poison) the fact is that there is always impending doom for all of mankind. In Shadows Over Innistrad we didn’t get that feeling, and now in Eldritch Moon the doom is suddenly here and it’s in our face and our heroes need to figure out how to undo it.
Wizards storytelling is improving. There’s no doubt about that. However, I think that where they’ve ultimately failed with the story for Innistrad is that it simply isn’t terrifying enough and that’s obviously seen in the lack of tension. Can you fill a card game about combat with stories about tension? I don’t know if you can, so maybe Wizards was always set up to fail in this respect.
The story is unsatisfying, this is true, but there’s still time to make up for it. If Eldritch Moon becomes a repeat of Oath of the Gatewatch in which our heroes simply battle really, really hard until they defeat the enemy, then it will be a complete failure. But if Wizards can find a way to instill real terror in us by creating real tension about the fate of the characters or the world, they may be able to salvage some of their cosmic horror.
But hey, if they mess things up this time there’s still Nicol Bolas and the Phyrexians waiting to give our heroes a real challenge.
What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.