My first serious interest in Magic coincided with the start of my new job at my local gaming shop. I was (and still am) a D&D lover, apologist, and fanatic. So what was this card game I’d played a bit of on my Xbox? What was this game that took up all the tables on Friday nights and Wednesdays? It’s a big part of the business, I should learn how to play. And so began my induction into this huge, crazed world of Magic. I loved it. I loved the flavor of the cards, the mechanics of the game, the competitive nature of play. But as I began looking at cards, interacting with them, and sorting great bulks of them it started to get me down.

I didn’t understand why I was affected as such. I’d sort a bunch of cards by set and collector’s number. All New Phyrexia cards in a pile, all Worldwake, all M13. And over and over I’d feel this slight, uncomfortable bummer creeping up on me. The work was fine, I could chat with my coworkers about the cards and mechanics and interesting interactions. So what was keeping me down? Then it struck me, as I stared at a particular card…

Such agony! Some of these images are hopeless, depressing, and woeful in design. It’s hard to look at images of people suffering, screaming, and dying in repetition. No matter how illustrated, how impossible the images, I think by this time in my life I’ve gotten past my morbid schoolboy curiosities. I love horror movies, I love horror comics, I love the grisly and ghastly, but sometimes too much of a sour thing will make you pucker, right?

The artwork on these cards are sometimes terrible, sometimes amazing, but I think there’s a reason I like the land artwork the best: no one suffers. I know it’s en vogue to be into fighting and conflict. I know it’s the competitive gamer’s right to want to crush the opponent. But come on! Especially disturbing to me is the concept of someone losing their memories or their selfhood. This, it seems, is a popular subject for Magic cards. It freaks me out.

This is no condemnation on my part. I understand the many reasons we, as a global unit of peoples, flock to visions of pain and death. To quote Whitney Houston, “It’s not right, but it’s okay.” I can’t help but worry what the effect of such ghastly images has on a community like the Magic community. Here we are, fueled with competition, some of us uncouth, and we ingest these images without seeing them anymore. They become statistics, numbers, prices. We look and look upon destruction and devastation without a second glance.

So do me a favor, will you? Next time you cast a particularly nasty-looking card actually look at it. Think about it. You don’t have to revile it, you don’t have to shun it in horror. Just, you know, internalize it for a second. I love a good, gory horror flick, but I don’t let the images flip past me while I glaze over and focus on some aspect of tactics. Magic cards are a unique medium, and their psychological imprint on we, the visual consumer, may have lasting effects.

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