I woke up early last Saturday to attend an enneagram conference at a local church. I should note that every part of that sentence is something I try to avoid doing whenever possible. Essentially, the enneagram is a Meyers-Briggs test with an added veneer of theological respectability—think of it as the Extreme Teen Bible of masturbatory self-reflective divination. It works by presenting a list of universally-felt truisms (“I find myself monitoring others’ behavior, even if I keep it to myself” or “My past preoccupies my thoughts”) and then assigning you a number between one and nine that conforms to a series of personality traits based on your response to those questions.

I’m feeling curmudgeonly as hell, but I’m not really interested in tearing down the concept of the enneagram—it’s astrology for Anglicans, and about as reputable as a Buzzfeed quiz. But whatever, mystical thinking is a crutch and crutches are useful tools to support ourselves when we need an extra source of stability. But I will say that it’s a hideously unscientific method, based in self-reported data and vague in its line of inquiry. It’s basically just another self-derived and meaningless label to be quoted on curricula vitae and on Tinder profiles. You know: kind of like the Ravnican guilds.

The things within you that allows you to identify with a chosen guild: your commitment to justice, your creativity, your impulsiveness—these are universal human traits. There isn’t someone out there who doesn’t think they’re committed to justice; it’s just a difference in who defines that justice. There isn’t anyone out there who doesn’t feel like they’re a stifled creative, ready to make their mark on the world. The enneagram, like internet quizzes or Ravnica’s Sorting Hat system, doesn’t measure who you are, but how willing you are to prioritize parts of your personality and emphasize aspects of your ego. It basically measures self-image, not anything intrinsic to the person you are.

I’m mistrustful of it for that reason, but also for what it means for the test-taker’s ego. Much like the enneagram, which encourages “conscious living” by prioritizing collectivist thought over individual personality, choosing a guild is an act of subsuming identity into a group. When you join a guild or a political party or a social organization, you purge the multitudes inside you that make up your self-identity and become a representative of a unified group. You become, like a college application, the summation of your activities, instead of the messy ball of pathologies and insecurities and triumphs that you actually are.

Guildthink is useful, of course. Ravnica is always a slam-dunk for Wizards—well, Dragon’s Maze aside. Each time we visit, Wizards’ marketing arm can compose a new, social-media-sharable “Which Guild are You?” quiz, spotlight fan art of the guilds, and build a stronger brand by signal-boosting community excitement. It’s necessary and beneficial to the company, as it reduces the pressure on the marketing side of the corporation by using the labor of independent contractors, even to the extent of building celebrity to do the public-interfacing for the corporation. Look at how more accustomed we are to seeing Saffron Olive and Tolarian Community College as our ambassadors for Wizards, despite the fact that neither collect a paycheck from the corporation that de facto sponsors their careers. All of which is to underline that the end goal of capitalism, like religion before it, is selling you chains and claiming that it’s precious jewelry. One of the easiest ways to do that is by ensuring the consumer has their personal identity tied to the success of the brand; and the easiest way to make that happening is by encouraging conformity.

The kind of marketing Wizards of the Coast relies upon is built on two major human impulses: emotional appeal and seeking familiarity. Emotional appeal is easy for Magic—you identify with a given color or a guild or a clan, and see yourself reflected in the strategy of that color. Honestly, it’s genius. The guild model is so elegant and so effective, regardless of what it serves, that it feels like second nature after three visits to the plane. The Planeswalkers don’t work quite as well, as they’re dramatic characters, with all the flaws and growth that that implies. We don’t see ourselves in Gideon the way we see ourselves in the Azorius, because Gideon has to have a tragic backstory, actionable goal, and personality quirks, where the Azorius just needs a credo and an aesthetic. That vague but defined impression, the credo + aesthetic, is essentially a schema, or the platform of previous interactions and tested assumptions upon which we stack knowledge.

These sorts of schema are useful, as they convey massive amounts of data—real or imaginary—with minimal space. When someone says “Oh, I’m a Capricorn,” if you ascribe to astrology, you know what that means. It becomes a shared language, and it means future conversations can have that shared language built in—it’s a time saver and, again, another way to make emotional connections. The issue here is in predictability. Case in point: Guilds of Ravnica has been out for less than a week, and we already know a huge chunk of the cards from Ravnica Allegiance—not specifically, but we can predict:

  • 5 shock lands
  • 10 guild leaders/planeswalkers/majordomos
  • 10 split cards at uncommon and rare
  • 5 Guild lockets
  • 10 Guildgates
  • 5 Guildmages

None of this is bad. You’ll feel the same surge of creative excitement with each new general. You’ll pore over the updated art for the shocklands. You’ll pump a fist over the handful of reprints. (My personal hope is that Wizards, fearful of an Ixalan-dominated Standard, has tossed in Fulminator Mage as a gift to Rakdos.) But it’ll feel like Guilds again, rather than a new world. You may be excited about the individual cards, but the structure is set and predictable. It’s sequels instead of genres.

Other sets have done this, of course—I wasn’t terrifically excited for another Zendikar set back in 2016—but not to the same replicated cards as Ravnica Allegiance is bound to do. It would be pretty funny if they were to completely invalidate this—print no Kaya planeswalker, no Gruul general, etc.—but I think that’s incredibly unlikely to happen. No, I’ll draft Ravnica Allegiance, refresh the Daily MTG site to see new spoilers, build a new Commander deck based on whatever Rakdos gets; but it’ll be iteration rather than innovation. We have come to expect certain things from Magic sets in the last decade, and it’s because Ravnica has become a prisoner to its own success.

Okay, next article goes beyond theoretical to talking about the game we love—and I do love it—and how to have some of the most fun you can with a decades-long legacy of love.

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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