This has always been in the back of my head, but I think it’s time to talk about how much is going on with cards.

Magic has a long history of cards across all different kinds of viability and playability in competitive, casual, and everything in between. What may be considered “good” in one aspect of the game, may not be a factor at all in another. What may have a huge fun factor in your friend’s table, may be miserable in a different context. This should go without saying, but what makes Magic so wonderful is how the same text of a card can be interpreted so differently in different contexts.

But how much text is too much text?

Well, it’s complicated.

Now, I want to preface this by saying that I do not design cards, nor have I ever. I don’t claim to know much about the design process, and I don’t necessarily blame the designers either. It’s not really a problem, but more of an observation and a concern.

The text on a card is pretty much how anything functions in the game, even if the card has no text at all. All of Magic’s history is centered around text. A rather major problem I feel recent cards have had is the excess of text on cards. I don’t mean cards that operationally tell you to do one thing, because regardless of text, most cards that tell you to do one thing aren’t too tough to follow in a vacuum. Many cards can tell you to do things, tell you to keep track of things, or tell you to stop doing a thing. The problem lies when multiple instances of either of those three happen in an interwoven manner.

Now be honest with me. Did you know that Questing Beast unpreventable combat damage is for all creatures you control the first time you read or played it? Did you know that it’s the only ability it has that affects all creatures you control? The funny part is that this isn’t the only thing I’ve heard or seen players at any level complain about losing track of. I firmly believe that this was the progenitor of the problem I’m talking about. There have been a few examples of this since Questing Beast, but March of the Machines reignited this for me in a vehemently tilting way. I actually like and enjoy a lot of the set, but there’s one card which really made me want to rip my hair out.

I don’t particularly care much for tacked on things, so things like the black Phyrexian mana don’t bother me. My problem lies with this text:

“…add three mana in any combination of its colors and put it into your hand”

Now first of all, why am I adding mana in any combination of colors if I’m going to potentially lose the opportunity to utilize the colors in my next phase? Is this a design choice to limit the decks it can go in; sort of a way to not abuse the Phyrexian mana cost in decks and make you use the black mana or relegate it to effectively colorless? I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad choice, as adding inherent limitations to a card’s potential is pretty crucial to design spaces. My issue comes with having to keep track of both the colored mana in the precombat main phase this ability triggered, and the black mana in every other phase, which directly goes against keeping track of mana in the first place in decks where black mana isn’t used. It’s not that it’s hard to keep track of mana fundamentally, it’s the unintuitiveness of it all, especially in decks which are using so many colors.

It’s telling me to keep track of two different things, at different spots, while also telling me to do something that affects one of the things I’m keeping track of but not the other. I think the card is powerful, and good in a lot of formats, and I personally won’t have too much of a problem with it. It feels like a mess to achieve a deckbuilding “penalty” for not utilizing all of its colors, at the right place and time, which doesn’t feel necessary.

It’s not often a card gets me excited for the wrong reasons, but Omnath, Locus of all definitely did that for me this time around. Card design is really tough, and I don’t think it’s a failure of the game or anything, but sometimes there’s a little too much convolution.

Anthony Lowry (they/he) is a seasoned TCG, MMORPG, and FPS veteran. They are extensively knowledgeable on the intricacies of many competitive outlets, and are always looking for a new challenge in the gaming sphere.

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