Ahoy planeswalkers! Last week saw the end of Magic Story for Dominaria. It has become a rather polarizing journey, to judge by the reactions I see floating around on Vorthos Twitter. Jay Annelli also released an interview with Nic Kelman, the new Senior Narrative Designer for Wizards of the Coast, which has been taken up by both critics and defenders of Dominaria’s story. Vorthos content creator relevancy asks, nay, demands that I weigh in on this subject.

So, my hottest of hot takes? We wouldn’t be having this debate if Alison Luhrs and Kelly Digges hadn’t given us a Magic Story for Ixalan that was, if you’ll forgive the pun, unrivaled. On the heels of a block like Amonkhet or Battle for Zendikar—both of whose stories I quite enjoyed, but found a bit uneven—I could easily see the community hailing the Dominaria story as a promising step forward.

One of the refrains I’ve seen repeatedly on Vorthos Twitter is that character depth and character development went by the wayside in Dominaria’s story. (Michelle Rapp of the Loregoyfs provided a particularly articulate thread on this subject.) I tend to think of character in a different way, however; rather than something immutable and internal that everything outward proceeds from, I take character as a sum of a character’s actions. I suspect this stems from my deep background in theatre and my admittedly rather less extensive knowledge of written fiction. In the script for a two-hour play, an author generally can’t lay everything out (although Lord knows George Bernard Shaw tried), so developing a character is a matter of an actor cobbling together the choices a character makes and attempting to arrive at a performative interpretation that makes the pieces fit together. I am accustomed to thinking of two actors’ takes on a character as separate works of art where one is not necessarily objectively more correct than the other, no matter how wildly their choices may diverge. I think this extends to how I experience different writers’ takes on the same characters.

This approach has its plusses and its minuses. On one hand, it can make it too easy to let the author off the hook if a character’s choices begin to strain against each other too much. On the other, it helps facilitate an openness on the reader’s part to a wider range of choices characters might make.

It’s also important to recognize that every reader who approaches Magic Story will ultimately have a different vision of what it should be—what should happen, who the characters should be, how all the pieces should fit together. By way of laying bare my own biases, my ideal Magic Story most nearly resembles “Homesick” from the start of Kaladesh: something that has space for serious themes and interactions, but also leans heavily upon the sitcom rhythm of a group of people with different (color-pie-based) philosophies simply trying to exist alongside one another.

Overall, I really enjoyed most of Wells’s writing. I loved meeting Tiana and following her unlikely friendship with Arvad. I loved the stories about Teferi fighting with Urza’s puzzles and moving on with his life following Time Spiral. I loved seeing the Weatherlight through Slimefoot’s, er, spores(?). If Wells started to write a serialized story about the ongoing adventures of the Weatherlight’s crew, I would read the hell out of it—the characters have archetypal elements, but they have become a fun and delightful family, and Jhoira’s moment with Tiana at the end of the story feels earned to me.

There seems to be a general consensus that not everything worked, though, although there is debate about what precisely did and did not work. My fellow Hipster Levi Byrne has put forth a good critique of the Cabal’s efficacy as the block’s main villain. Much more debate within the Vorthos community has focused on Jace’s brief appearances in the story. From Luhrs’s conclusion to the Ixalan story to Wells’s writing of Dominaria, we went from this:

To this:

One passage from Annelli’s interview with Kelman in particular has attracted a lot of comment with regard to the shift in Jace:

As Rapp quickly pointed out after this interview’s publication, comic books’ track record of frequent retcons risks radically transforming characters to the point where they become unrecognizable. Yesterday, Sam Keeper of Gathering Magic also released a thorough critique of Kelman’s use of comic books as a model for Magic Story’s storytelling. I have seen many a tweet saying Jace’s first appearance in Dominaria seems like a full-on backslide into his old, pre-Ixalan character.

At the same time, I think there is real value in what Kelman is trying to do here, which is giving professional writers room to work. Magic’s canon is immense, and if Wizards develops a reputation as a company that nitpicks the hell out of authors’ writing, it is likely to drive a lot of prospective authors away, potentially resulting in a weaker Magic Story. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think there was something kind of exciting about to opportunity to see how different professional authors handle these characters.

So, what should we make of this Jace shift? Personally, I really dislike it, but it’s not necessarily because Jace’s actions are unreasonable (and I think Annelli has made a good case that they fit the new Jace character). He’s just left the best three months of his life behind (including an intimate friend and maybe more in Vraska) and gained perspective on how abusive Liliana has been towards him. So, distracted, rushed, and ready to lash out at Liliana? All reasonable. What’s missing, really, is the joy of the Ixalan Jace—that’s what I’ve truly missed in both of his Dominaria appearances. And I missed that for two reasons: because of the expectation set up by Luhrs’s Rivals finale, and because that joy in his Ixalan version (“Gideon! I’m not dead!”) brings him closer to the Jace I want him to be, as detailed above.

Kelman has gotten a lot of flak for his comments on being willing to bend details in the story, so I’d like to close with a quote from the Annelli-Kelman interview that has attracted much less comment:

Many critics of Dominaria’s story may be apt to roll their eyes at this, given the debates surrounding Dominaria’s inconsistencies, but Kelman argues that bringing consistency to the multiverse’s world-building is one of his biggest strengths as the overseer of the narrative. Dominaria certainly had its growing pains, but I’m optimistic that this isn’t mere self-deception on Kelman’s part. I’m not sure if we’re going to see a Ravnica story that compares favorably with Ixalan—that’s a high bar to clear!—but I still think on the whole this was a reasonably promising start; and that we’re going to get to enjoy stories that, on average, compare favorably with most of the Magic Stories of the last few years.

Beck is a financial aid counselor and theatre history Ph.D. student who lives in the greater Boston area. He believes in playing standard like a Johnny, drafting like a Spike, and only playing modern decks that involve the number eight.

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