Tabletop Day is April 28th—the sixth year of the celebration of games/marketing tool for nerds—and, as is the tradition of my people, I’ll be spending it with a stack of games and a couple of growlers. It’s always a fun time—playing games until you can’t keep rules straight, testing out new and buzzy ones (this year we’re trying out Slash 2: Thirst Blood)—but scrolling back through photos from past gatherings, I’m struck by how many of the games we’ve played are games to which we’ve never returned. There’s something so ephemeral about this new breed of Kickstarted, memetic games designed to be played or at least shuffled through by buzzed twenty-X’s, games as distraction rather than operation.

I don’t hold many things sacred, but there is a history behind the human need for games that matches the human need to invent gods that almost hits that threshold. It goes deeper than culture, deeper than experience, to something intrinsic and practically atavistic. Here, for example, is a video of a British Museum curator/cuneiform expert explaining how he translated the rulebook of the oldest known board game. The game itself dates back to 2600 BCE and is essentially a precursor of backgammon—twenty squares that players proceed through based on four-sided dice rolls. It’s not still played, of course, but you can see its DNA in modern games, in the way that the language of games has remained unchanging for thousands of years. It may have been buried in a tomb, but it’s evolved instead of going extinct.

There’s a reason Jurassic Park took off in the nineties—hell, it’s still producing diminishing but sustainable returns twenty-five years later. It makes us a promise, that nothing cool ever leaves us, that if we just advance far enough we can bring back icons from an unimaginable past.

It’s not a coincidence that Ixalan block precedes Dominaria, that we’ve gone from saurian predators in the modern age to studying the bones of the past within a year. Ixalan came off as oddly modern—the bright colors, the current takes on colonialism and equality, the guns-and-sun attitude towards piracy—and Dominaria is a kind of corrective, a return to a world of two diametric groups of plain “good” and “evil” that are in direct conflict. Ixalan’s conflict was territorial, Dominaria’s is moral.

Furthermore, Dominaria, as we’ve discussed, is about history—it’s about past cultures and how they’ve shaped our current world, both in the sense of New Benalia/the new Cabal, and in how we’re driven to think of this latest set of cards versus the historic cards of Magic’s early years. Wizards’ Lightning is meant to remind you of Lightning Bolt, of course, but it suggests that power in the present comes through study of the past. That’s not a new concept, but to see it reflected directly through game mechanics (e.g., allowing you to either employ scholars to avoid reinventing the wheel or just jump straight to overpaying if you don’t want to turn your reflection inward) is elegant.

The time-lapse between modern Dominaria and the disasters of its past mirrors the gap between our time and the invention of games, and so we can map the Dominaria cataclysms to our own world, to the root causes of extinctions: to the meteor landing at Chicxulub, to the Industrial Revolution changing the way we use resources, to the development of agriculture and the cultivation of antibiotics.

Extinction is eternal and ongoing; we’re in the middle of the sixth extinction now, and it’s the latest in a series, only unique because of how human-catalyzed it’s ended up being. It’s hard to think about the scale of time when it comes to the extinction of species, because our imaginations are limited by our cultures and by our senses of self. The Royal Game of Ur was invented yesterday, geologically speaking.

Culture is not existence, no matter how hard we want it to be some days. The K-Pg boundary was last week. The things that accrete in decades and centuries are as fragile and prone to destruction as anything else in this world. Vinegar syndrome and programmed cell death and Malthusian crises are the order of the day. It’s pat to talk about entropy at this point, and if you talk about entropy outside of your twenties and aren’t involved with physics, you’re kind of an asshole, so I’ll just say this: entropy.

“Extinction,” we all know on some level, is the way of all things, whether it’s something as simple as a cell or as complex as an entire culture. Doesn’t mean we should embrace extinction or give up hope, but it does mean that the flow of the world—the entire picture of life itself over millions of years—balances out to nothing. Not the most uplifting way to end an article, perhaps, but sometimes there’s life after death. In fact, join me next time for a determined attempt to break Lich’s Mastery and a deep dive into liches. We will be drawing cards. We will be dying spectacularly.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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