Everytime you buy a Core Set product, God kills a kitten.
Master Shake: "What?! No bacon?!"
Voice: "BACON IS EXTRA! There are no swine EVIL enough to be sacrificed upon a bed of lettuce! EVIL AND LETTUCE!"
The last couple years, Magic players such as you and I have been taken on a whirlwind tour of the multiverse, from the end of Otaria to Karn's creation gone wrong, Mirrodin, to a war in a plane that makes R&D look like they've relocated to Japan. With each new block and each new set comes a plethora of mechanics and creature types explored in different ways that represent the plane we as Magic players are exploring through playing and reading the cards or reading the novels that accompany each new set. But one question remains...
Where has the flavor gone?
That is my question. Where is the flavor in the cards? Where has it disappeared to?
When I ask this question, I know what people are thinking. They think of the artwork, the world which the art is based off of, or the flavor text and card names. No, what I'm talking about is what the cards themselves do. What I'm talking about are cards like this, that we will probably never see again:
This card was brought to my attention a couple weeks ago by my good friend, Lance. We had a discussion about flavor, and how disappointing the flavor is in cards now. Used to be that you could put an image in your head or see the flavor behind the card without the entire set it's in making it easier for you to do so. I look at this card, and I play it imagining two hordes of creatures on two cliffs separated by the raging river, unable to reach each other to do battle.
Wizards or R&D would surely argue that they sacrifice cards and flavor such as this for functionality. To a point, I understand this. But I look at myself opening packs labeled as "Expert Expanions" and reading cards that I could understand when I was just learning how to play. Could Raging River be done in a simpler way with quite a bit of text left off? Sure it could, but the flavor of the card's ability and the life of it would be drained out as R&D stuck a needle into its jugular and began to draw it out, leaving it plain and boring. Another wacky red enchantment Anthony Alongi can get it on with, oh joy.
Back in the 50s, as you probably have heard or if you haven't yet will learn in American History is that there was a long period of conformity. When you go into the suburbs of cities you can still see it today in the cookie-cutter housing that all looks the same. Families all wore the same things, everyone had the picket-fences and the same cars. Card text has become this way. If any of you have a really old Hurricane from before Ice Age, pick it up and read it. If not, look to the right, I'll provide you an image. Do you see something different about the text? Now all cards that do damage to anything say "deals damage." Not on the old Hurricane. The old Hurricane actually says "Each creature with flying and each player suffers X damage." Isn't that cool? It's such a minor difference, but it's different and it didn't follow the rules of the cookie cutter design that has become the card text. Also, essentially, the cookie cutter has also victimized cards in each color because of the strictness of The Color Pie and the simplicity they try to forcefully put upon us in the way Magic cards are done.
Because of all of this abstraction of flavor from cards, in the end we suffer from a lack of variation. Everyone expects colors to do certain things and not do certain things, but that's not necessarily a good thing. You would never see a card such as this:
Gigantic Uber Tidal Wave - 2UUU
Destroy all creatures and lands. They can't be regenerated.
Because of the color pie, Blue can't destroy creatures. Would it be in Blue's flavor to produce a gigantic uber tidal wave? Yes, it would. If you had a battlefield of creatures and a gigantic uber tidal wave hit, would they survive or poof up into the air? I'm pretty sure they'd all drown, but in Magic, a gigantic uber tidal wave would merely bounce all the creatures back to their opponent's hands. The idea behind the color pie is good in theory, but because of it, we end up lacking and starving for creativity and variation. Alas, this is only one of several problems with creativity and flavor in Magic and card design.
Now we're going to explore another area where Magic is lacking: the card power in the abilities and cards themselves. When you stick the label "Expert Level" on a booster pack, what do you expect to see when you open it? My personal expectations, if I didn't know better, would be that I would be opening a pack of cards that would be challenging to use, that would make me use my mind and think about what I was doing with the cards in that pack. That'd be nice, but in reality, that's not the way it is. Magic suffers from the serious problem of having sets with 80% junk that no one but new players or rogue deckers desparate for something new will use. When was the last time you actually had to think and use your mind when you were building a deck, and weren't able to type out a decklist in Wordpad card after card; only thinking if you needed to fill a few missing slots?
Alot of this has to do with what R&D assumes Magic players can understand. It affects much of the game, and I find it disappointing. It's like a parent and a child: Mom always knows best, right? Maybe some of the time, but I think every kid growing up realized when they got old enough that it was extremely untrue. Thing is, though, is that when Mom says she knows best, she always thinks she knows best, and she won't give that up. Becuase of this, R&D doesn't learn as well as they think they do, and they don't take opportunities to learn from their mistakes as often as they would lead us to believe.
The recent 9th Edition "Power 9th" poster hoax was an example of a time when R&D should learn something. In the two days that the poster was contained on our forum, MTG Salvation broke its old record user online count of 510 and replaced it with 753. That's a rather large margin and jump from the previous count. People wanted 9th Edition. They wanted these powerful cards that R&D continuously denies us from seeing again. I for one don't believe new players are as dumb as R&D treats them. I was a new player once, and I didn't need reminder text on every ability and space on the card to tell me what something does. That is what rulebooks are for, and that's why there are other more experienced players to answer your questions.
Regardless of what R&D tries to pass off as true, there will always, by common sense, be twice or thrice as many old players needing cards reprinted than there will new players getting treated like 5 year olds. Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars once said the following while aboard the Death Star: "Evacuate? In out moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances!" I think we all know what happened next...
With the Extended rotation coming up as well as Mirrodin rolling out of T2, there's no doubt in my mind how slow both of these formats are going to be. T2 loses all the tools it had for Tooth and Nail leaving it in a pile of rubble. Mono-Blue loses Vedalken Shackles as well as other Blue cards that helped make it as powerful as it is, and the format will have lost its entire colorless-mana base that was found in Chrome Mox, Solemn Simulacrum, Wayfarer's Bauble, and even the Talismans. As for Extended, I don't have to say much about it, except that without certain cards like Brainstorm, several decks won't stand a chance against Affinity running rampant with Goblin Bidding following closely behind.
The main question is, what can we do about R&D and their lack of faith in our ability? What can you do about R&D taking fun out of the game? The answer is: not much. There are a few options, such as running a petition saying "We want X and Y in the Core Set, our reasoning being Z," or perhaps boycotting their Core Sets and expansions. The thing that speaks loudest to Wizards is obviously money.
Hasbro's 1st quarter report says "Games segment net revenues for 1Q05 decreased 22% primarily due to decreased sales volume of trading card games, mainly Duel Masters and Magic: The Gathering products." I would imagine a money-spinner like Magic needs to generate some revenue. Interestingly, the review of the Q1 report also states "This year's first release of Magic: The Gathering was not well-received and faced difficult comparisons with last year."
Also, take into consideration how important 8th Edition cards are to T2 decks. Oh wait, they're not. Perhaps if we can't do anything, really low sales will. If R&D won't do something, perhaps Hasbro will pull them into the closet by the ear and say "Get with the program and make people happy." Forcing them to do something about the disappointment they keep inflicting on us is the best way to go; All in all, to Wizards, we're all just bricks in a wall (or money in the bank, if you want to look at it that way).
Here's hoping 9th Edition will be an improvement over 8th Edition, and that Saviors of Kamigawa will rock our worlds, and that Ravnica will be a change for the better after the last two blocks. However, until then, if you really want an improvement in the product that you spend your money on, remember to kick them where it counts (in the wallet, you turd). Also, may you enjoy revisiting the days of old when flavor was rich and not the 1% fat kind.
(carnivorous.death.parrot AT gmail DOT com)
Note: Credit goes to StarCityGames.com for the pictures of Raging River and Hurricane, as that's where I found them at.