This is a story that is over two decades in the making, so I suppose we could forgive Wizards of the Coast for dragging out the conclusion, but it turns out I’m not in a forgiving mood this week. Before we dive in to my list of grievances when it comes to Wizards’ storytelling, I want to clarify something: I’m very excited for a new chapter of the story to unfold on Ravnica. I’m thrilled that this story is coming to its end. I’m not unhappy, but I am critical of the decisions being made. There’s a difference.

The announcement that we would be returning to Ravnica for three consecutive expansions beginning this fall and concluding this spring felt to me a lot like when it was announced that the seventh Harry Potter novel would be turned into two movies, or that the third Hunger Games novel would be turned into two movies, or that the Hobbit adaptation would take what is essentially a short story and stretch it into three films. Is this necessary?

Here’s a quick timeline of how we got here:

  • 2003: Legends Cycle II Novels tell the story of the “death” of Nicol Bolas
  • 2006: The events of the first Ravnica trilogy tell the story of the destruction of the guildpact and the collapse of law and order on the plane
  • 2007: Nicol Bolas is resurrected by Venser and Radha. The Mending takes place fundamentally changing the nature of planeswalkers by significantly reducing their powers and stopping them from bringing non-planeswalkers with them between planes
  • 2009: Ajani Goldmane stops Nicol Bolas from absorbing the energies from Alara’s Conflux, preventing the dragon from regaining his godlike abilities
  • 2010: The Eldrazi are freed from their imprisonment on Zendikar
  • 2011: With the help of Tezzeret, the Phyrexians compleat their takeover of Mirrodin
  • 2012: Liliana slays Griselbrand, the first of four demons holding the contract on her soul
  • 2013: The events of the second Ravnica trilogy tell the story of Jace Beleren completing the Implicit Maze and becoming the Living Guildpact, restoring order to Ravnica
  • 2015: Sarkhan Vol travels back in time to prevent Nicol Bolas from killing Ugin
  • 2016: The Gatewatch is formed to deal with the Eldrazi threat on Zendikar and Innistrad
  • 2017: Tezzeret steals the Planar Bridge from Kaladesh
  • 2017: Nicol Bolas completes his Eternal army and fights the Gatewatch on Amonkhet
  • 2018: Jace Beleren regains all of his memories, develops a plan with Vraska to defeat Nicol Bolas
  • 2018: The Gatewatch is splintered on Dominaria as Nissa leaves the team, Ajani and Jace go to fight Bolas, and Chandra, Gideon, and Liliana remain on Dominaria to fight Belzenlok
  • 2019: ???

That’s a story with elements 15 years in the making. Even if you only go back so far as the first Ravnica block or the Mending, the amount of time its taken Wizards of the Coast to lay the foundations for this final showdown between Nicol Bolas and his foes is longer than the amount of time between the release of the first Iron Man film (2008) and the latest Avengers film (2018).

The latest Avengers film, of course, is also a two part extravaganza split across two movies, the first of which was released a couple weeks ago and the second of which will be released in one year, more or less. The comparison between the two sagas seems particularly apt and they also help lay the groundwork for my criticisms of how Wizards of the Coast has handled their storytelling.

Firstly, there are simply too many forgotten characters and plot threads left hanging loose. I’m going to use the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a comparison because I think it’s obviously the model Wizards is trying to emulate (and they should be lauded for doing so since the MCU has been incredibly successful).

The MCU has 39 characters who have appeared in two or more of the 19 movies released in the 10 years since Iron Man. Wizards of the Coast has 39 planeswalkers who have appeared at least once in the story since The Mending. However, in those time periods, Wizards seems to have dropped a significant number of stories/plot-lines such as Garruk, Ashiok, Elspeth, Kiora, Narset, and so on.

Second, and relatedly, is that Wizards has sacrificed much of their storytelling in order to keep developing the over-arcing plot-lines. The MCU did an incredible job of setting up the Thanos story through short clips often after the credits. Over the 18 films leading up to Infinity War, how many times did you actually see Thanos or hear about that plot? Probably not as much as we saw Nicol Bolas and/or Tezzeret in the Magic story.

Did Kaladesh need to dedicate so much time to Tezzeret’s past with Jace and Liliana? Did there need to be a preliminary confrontation with Nicol Bolas on Amonkhet? Why couldn’t we get more development for our key characters like Nissa and Chandra?

The upcoming three sets on Ravnica will continue to tell the main story and they’ll likely bring together many of the planeswalkers we’ve seen across the past decade such as Narset, Tamiyo, and Samut but those characters are going to be sorely under-developed. This is because Magic has spent a decade telling half-stories. Each block has gotten half a story that’s the core story on that world and then half a story that furthers the plot against Nicol Bolas.

Where the MCU succeeded to create fantastic standalone properties and character story arcs such as Thor, Iron Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and the Avengers, Wizards has failed to copy that formula.

What makes the MCU successful is that the main characters have distinct and fully fleshed-out stories which sometimes overlap. Magic on the other hand has tried to create an environment where the character stories are always overlapping in different ways making it a challenge to develop any individual character through their own stories.

So even though I’m happy to be returning to Ravnica and I’m looking forward to this story coming to a close, I’m concerned about it being stretched into three sets worth of storytelling. To me it sounds like more half-stories are coming and we’ll get plenty of plot as the guilds choose sides between the Living Guildpact and Nicol Bolas, we won’t get the kind of quality storytelling and character development between Jace and Vraska or Jace and Ral Zarek that we deserve.

As this story finally ends and we move forwards to whatever is beyond (Phyrexia?) I think the creative team at Wizards should sit down to watch all 19 (by then 22 movies) that encompass the MCU and really think about how that story was told, from the first introduction of Iron Man to the final confrontation with Thanos, and how they can improve upon their own storytelling in the future.

Rich Stein is a retired Magic player, an amateur content creator, and a Level 2 Social Justice Sorcerer. He hopes to eventually become a professional content creator and a Level 20 dual class Social Justice Sorcerer/Bard but he’s more than content to remain a retired Magic player. You can follow his musings on Twitter @RichStein13

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