What We Learned—Theros and the Future of Magic (March 25)


Hello reader! What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. The goal is to take some of the events and articles polluting the Magic world, strip out the chaff (tournament reports, game theory, economics) and give you our superior opinion. Complaints are encouraged.

So people like top-down block design. It feels like Innistrad’s upset victory over Ravnica in the #RosewaterRumble was a heralding of the major announcement that came this weekend at PAX East. The fall block, previously code-named Friends, Romans, and Countrymen, was revealed to actually be named Theros, Born of the Gods, and Journey into Nyx. Ironically, it seems that the set that was named Romans in design is going to have a Greek antiquity-themed top-down design, if the spoiled image is any indication.

The execution of top-down design in Innistrad has paved the way for R&D to continue to explore that space. Where the horror tropes found their way into Innistrad, Dark Ascension and Avacyn Restored was in the creatures  that told the story of that world. I expect that Theros will still have flavorful creatures, we will see more top-down design exploration in the space of artifacts and lands which were central to the lore of the ancient Greek culture. Perhaps they’ll even find a way to work in the philosophy and science of that civilization.

Moving on, the Magic: the Gathering Panel at PAX was hugely popular. I attended with the crew from Twenty Sided Store and we lined up ninety minutes early. The queue was capped with 50 minutes to go before the doors opened. Luckily we had Netrunner and SmashUp to keep us occupied (though most people in line were obviously playing Magic). The reveal of Theros was, unfortunately, an expectation, not a major surprise. Last year, you may recall, Wizards spoiled the name ‘Return to Ravnica’ at PAX East. This year, however, they opened the panel with the reveal, so that they could spend the rest of the time talking about (mostly) Dragon’s Maze and (a little) Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014.

The 2014 DotP announcements were mostly for anyone who had not yet been to Magic’s enormous Chandra display in the main expo hall. The major points are all in the official announcement, but the biggest changes will be support for mobile platforms (more on that in a bit) and the inclusion of multiplayer formats. The latter is a huge point because it’s one step closer to DotP becoming a replacement for Magic Online. This will be especially true of the casual players who use MTGO as a proxy for a local game store if they don’t have access to one, for whatever reason. The more features Duels provides, the less people will feel inclined to pay for MTGO. Gradually, MTGO will shift to being a tool just for competitive players, which is fine, because it pretty much sucks for casual play.

The playable DotP game at PAX also came with some spoilers. These cards may, or may not, find their way into the printed Magic 2014 Core Set.

Dragon’s Maze spoilers took up the bulk of the attention given at the Magic panel. First, the trailer for the set was played and we learned all about the maze itself. Here’s the cliff notes: Niv-Mizzet has discovered an ancient maze that runs throughout all of Ravnica. Initially, he kept this information secret and only the Izzet worked on the maze. However, he’s hit a roadblock and has invited each of the ten guilds to send a champion to attempt to explore the maze. However, a few other interested parties are also hard at work on the maze, including Izzet Planeswalker Ral Zarek and noted sculptor of minds, Jace Beleren.

So what does that mean for us, the mere mortals of this plane of existence? The prerelease will feature a maze map with each of the ten guilds on it. Every time a player in your guild wins a match you progress a bit further in your maze. Win enough matches and you’ll complete the maze! Contributing to the maze and completing it will both award promo token cards with an online code to unlock new achievements for your planeswalkerpoints.com profile. So, you know, make sure you have an account there and pick a guild affiliation. This is easily the most interactive and engaging marketing tool Wizards has used to get players into a prerelease. If the numbers for Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash weren’t staggering enough, Dragon’s Maze will blow them away.

A few other small spoilers came out during the event, such as a 6/6 Gruul Legend who punishes opponents for playing non-creature spells and the land that tutors for gates and wins the game that we swear we had no idea was going to be in the set. Also, the champions for each of the ten guilds were announced (you can find images here) including Teysa of the Orzhov. She is labeled as the Envy of Ghosts, though I wonder if that’s a typo because Envoy would make more sense. Why should ghosts have envy? Who knows. It’s still exciting.

Finally there was the Q&A which was live-blogged over at our Twitter feed, which you should be following. A lot of the questions were very well thought out and had great answers, but one of them, which came from 20SS regular Zach Barash, really stuck out for me:

This was the shorthand I took, but the long version is this: Zach wanted to know how Wizards plans to grow the game, and not just in getting more people to play. Tying back to the DotP announcement, the answer was clear: WotC understands that they need to grow both the brand awareness and the accessibility of the game. They know that despite Magic’s success, it does not have the recognition that Dungeons & Dragons has, and that’s where they want to get it. For accessibility, getting DotP onto mobile platforms is a big part of their future plans.

Overall, things look pretty good. Oh, except they also said there won’t be a lot of Modern Masters printed. Can’t win them all I guess.

The Quick Hits

  • Ever wonder what it’s like to get into Vintage and feel the power? Heather Meek walks you through her personal journey. [LegitMTG]
  • Eric Klug altered another Black Lotus and took a ton of images of the process to share this amazing GIF with everyone. [Klug Alters]
  • I normally don’t care for deck list articles, but Travis Woo has a hilarious piece on a standard combo. [Woo Brews]
  • If you have an SCG Premium subscription and didn’t read Jon Finkel’s first article in a decade, you’re wasting your money. [StarCityGames]
  • Guild Cereals. Need I say more? [Gathering Magic]
  • Learn everything you wanted to know about famous Magic artist Terese Nielsen! [StarCityGames]
  • In this week’s Who to Follow, Jason Alt highlights some of the most prominent alteration artists out there. [Who to Follow]
  • Corbin Hosler breaks down the five phases of a good trade. [LegitMTG]
  • Finally we have a solid piece by Craig Wescoe on the appeal of Magic. [TCGPlayer]

Wallpaper of the Week

I’m not a big fan of dark colors and themes for my desktop and Call of the Nightwing contains both. The gradient effect is interesting and I enjoy the moonscape behind my desktop icons, but the focus on the monster in the middle and the darkness on the right-hand-side just don’t make sense to me as a wallpaper.

Grade: B-

The Week Ahead

Next weekend is international Tabletop Day so check out your local store and play some games!

19 Responses to “What We Learned—Theros and the Future of Magic (March 25)”
  1. Matt Jones says:

    Your featured image is amazing.

    • Rich Stein says:

      Dude, how sweet are those space-robes? I hope this art is for an incredible legendary creature and not some silly white removal spell that damages attacking/blocking creatures. That would be a waste of amazing artwork.

      • Tim says:

        Target blocking creature gets +3/+3 and lifelink. And vigilance. Just because white, even though it makes no sense!

    • David McCoy says:

      Why is the spear going BEHIND his head? It doesn’t seem right.

      • Yeah, the spear going behind his head seems just flat-out wrong. I do love the art, though—looks really sweet, and I think it would be cool for a set to be grounded in real-world mythology, a la Arabian Nights. We haven’t had that in quite a while. (Also, Matt Jones, I totally thought of you when I saw this guy’s space robes.)


      • danaflops says:

        I think he’s holding it in a resting/pro-wrestling pose.

      • Rich Stein says:

        Haha I had not even noticed how weird that looks. Clearly this guy does not mess around.

      • Matt Jones says:

        I think it’s just how he’s resting it, man.

      • David McCoy says:

        Now that I see how he’s holding the spear with his left hand, it doesn’t appear he’s preparing to throw it. I suppose it’s likely he’s just resting it on his shoulder.

  2. I wish they did a little bit more on dragon’s maze spoilers, but since it’s a small set and still over a month away, the amount was expected. It seems they focused a bit more on lore and story this year with DGM than they did last year with AVR.

    Theros block art was the most exciting thing in my opinion.

    • Rich Stein says:

      I agree that there were less spoilers, but I think there are a bunch of reasons for that. As you pointed out, it’s a small set, while AVR was a large set. More importantly though, DGM is a linear continuation of RTR/GTC; there won’t be any new mechanics. AVR was chock full of brand new mechanics, most notably Miracle and Soulbond which had a ton of rules around them. Both mechanics were spoiled at PAX East giving the community a month to learn how they worked. Additionaly, the big marketing push for DGM is the cooperative Maze at the prerelease. For AVR, the marketing push was the Miracle mechanic. While the PAX panel is a Q&A panel, it’s also a powerful tool for advertising the game, and they need to focus.

      I think the decisions make more sense if you consider that it’s not a spoiler panel but it’s really a 60-minute long advertisement for Magic.

      • danaflops says:

        Rich, did they confirm that there will be no new mechanics? Even Alara reborn had one new one, and that was in a block that was chock full of them.

      • Rich Stein says:

        I suppose there hasn’t been an official confirmation that there won’t be any new mechanics, but I would be surprised to see any new mechanics. ARB had Cascade, sure, but it didn’t have the sort of linear design that RTR block has. I guess we could see a new mechanic across all ten guilds, but that seems unlikely.

        Oh, they also confirmed that Cipher is in DGM during the Q&A. I guess that’s something.

        On a related note, has Rosewater ever talked about the design of Cascade? Would be interesting to hear about.

  3. Matt Jones says:

    Isn’t it “Friends, Romans, countrymen”?

    • Rich Stein says:

      Yes. That would be the correct code-names. I guess I was bound to make a couple mistakes writing this at 5AM after coming back from PAX. Completely forgot to bring the laptop with us to Boston.

  4. Matt Jones says:

    yeah i just wasn’t sure if i’ve been saying it wrong for, you know, my whole life. Glad to hear it was only sleep deprivation.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Rich Stein rocked Twitter with his PAX East/Theros teaser coverage, while Jess Stirba concluded her stellar rundown […]

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