For those of you who don’t know, at the beginning of the year I committed to reading 52 Magic: the Gathering novels this year. I was over-zealous when I heard about the 52-in-52 challenge to read a book every week this year. Regardless of whether or not that was a good decision, we’ve made it this far and with my review this weekend of Moons of Mirrodin I’ve now read 41 Magic novels in the past 41 weeks.

There are a lot of old Magic story novels that are very hard to read. Either the plot is not good, or the characters are poorly developed, or some combination of these things plus the inclusion of sexism just makes things downright painful to get through. Simply put, the new Magic story is loads better than the old Magic story.

Today I want to highlight five key reasons why I think the new Magic story is not only superior to the old Magic story, but simply put it is a superior form of storytelling and Wizards of the Coast has done an incredible job of delivering a creative IP worthy of the world’s premiere competitive collectible card game.

Weekly Releases Create Continuous Engagement

While I personally have the “luxury” of reading a new 300-page Magic story every week, the original releases of the Magic novels were not so frequent. Having to wait three months for the next chapter of the story makes it difficult to keep your audience engaged. Weekly episodic content is a tried and true method of delivering a story. There’s certainly nothing wrong with novel series, but Wizards has a vested interest in keeping the Magic community tuned in on a weekly basis. It’s pretty obvious that if Magic is on your mind on a weekly basis because you’re reading the latest chapter of Gideon and the Gatewatch that you just might be more likely to buy packs of cards and play in Friday Night Magic. It’s a win-win for everyone because the game stays fresh, in a way, and the audience engagement level remains high.

No More Omnipotent Beings

Urza was annoying. I’m just going to come out and say that. I think a lot of readers of the game’s earliest stories idolize Urza but he was an incredibly annoying, boring, and poorly contrived character. Why? Because he was practically omnipotent and omnipotence leads to poor writing. An omnipotent being can’t have normal problems that a reader an relate to like relationship difficulties or personal inner conflict. They can only have massive problems on an interstellar level as Urza did with Phyrexia and Yawgmoth (who had similar problems as an omnipotent being). Making things worse was surrounding them with more omnipotent beings such as Teferi and Freyalise and Lord Windgrace. It was all very difficult to care about. I think the stories of characters such as Gerrard and Barrin who were (mostly) mortal and had to contend with god-like beings was easier to relate to and much more engaging, but they weren’t always the main character. Urza was. I’m glad he’s dead.

Minor Characters Get to Shine

There are a ton of minor characters in the multi-verse. In the modern story, thanks to weekly releases and the shorter form of episodic chapters, we get to see more and more of the minor characters of each plane. On Kaladesh we’ve gotten insight into the lives of characters like Rashmi, Eternities Crafter, and Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter. On Innistrad we learned of the Gitrog Monster. On Zendikar we learned of Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim and Mina and Denn, Wildborn.

In the old Magic story, countless minor characters were around for a few pages and then never heard from again. While their overall screen time may have been similar to today’s minor characters, their story had to fit into the main character’s story. Here’s a short list of minor characters who were never, in my opinion, given a real chance to shine: Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, Alexi, Zephyr Mage, Greel, Mind Raker, and Seton, Krosan Protector. These characters had their time in the story, but it was always in the context of other characters. Rofellos existed only as a foil for Multani or Gerrard. Alexi was similarly conjoined to Barrin. Greel was only important when Latullah was around. Seton only existed as a plot device for Kamahl. In the modern story these characters would get their own shining chapter and that’s a good thing.

There’s Legitimate Character Development from Story to Story

Whether you like them or not, there is serious character development in the characters of the Gatewatch. Gideon learns to be a leader. Jace learns to connect with his friends without hiding behind illusions. Liliana learns to be a team player. Chandra learns self control. Nissa learns outward compassion. This is only the tip of the iceberg for what have become very dynamic characters. In the old story there was rarely any character development, such as with Urza, or the character development was always like a switch was suddenly turned on and the nature of the character changed, like with Kamahl. Today we have nuanced development of characters both emotionally and magically as they learn more about themselves and their role in the multiverse. It’s a real treat.

The Story is Featured in the Game at the Highest Level

Last but certainly not least is the game of Magic itself. Pro Tour Kaladesh is the first Pro Tour of the first Standard environment to feature exclusively expansion blocks that use the two-block paradigm and are well entrenched in the modern form of story-telling that began on Tarkir. The top 8 decks of the Pro Tour are filled with story moments from the current Standard environment. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, appears throughout the lists, representing the leader of the Gatewatch. There are two vehicle decks highlighting Kaladesh. The control decks heavily feature Declaration in Stone, a solid reference to the Innistrad story. The Eldrazi may have never visited Kaladesh, but their presence certainly blends well with Aetherworks Marvel in Matt Nass’s deck. The story has completely permeated the game and when you watch tournament coverage you are watching the story unfold before your eyes and that might be the biggest achievement of the creative team so far.

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.

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