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Emotional Magic

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Magic The Gathering is a great game—I’ve said so before. What is more, I am lucky to have converted my wife into a casual Magic player. So all those booster packs I buy is for us and not just for me. Or at least that’s the excuse. A few weeks ago, we drafted with a couple of new sets we were unfamiliar with, and Strixhaven’s Go Blank got my attention:

The flavor text says:

The only feeling worse than not knowing the answer is the uncertainty you once did.

When I showed that card to Kristien, she immediately said “Hey, that’s just like me!”. She’s been struggling with the devastating consequences of a major burn-out for almost two years now, and its effects are is still not completely gone. She regularly forgets small things and still has trouble concentrating—complex board states and big combos in Magic are clearly not her thing. But for her, it’s really frustrating, as she is fully aware that before the burn-out, forgetfulness and concentration issues were never a problem.

I started paying more attention to the printed flavor text on Magic cards. The game can call forth a lot of emotions, and not only during play: also when reading texts on cards such as Go Blank. Wizards of the Coast regularly prints alternate—and of course, more expensive—versions of cards so that players can identify with any piece of stunning art present on the card. But it suddenly struck me that the flavor text is also a big part of the game.

And it can trigger a lot of emotions.

When I was poking around in Commander Spellbook’s database this morning, I stumbled upon a combo with Blood Artist:

The flavor text resonated with me, as I struggle to keep my doctoral work—and my motivation for it—on track:

Great art can never be created without great suffering.

It almost feels like reading the daily philosophical quote from a traditional almanac! Not all texts go that deep though. Some are equally funny. Even the rule text of Seven Dwarves is funny:

Seven Dwarves gets +1/+1 for each other creature named Seven Dwarves you control.
A deck can have up to seven cards named Seven Dwarves.

Paul A. Crutcher wrote an interesting piece on Magic The Gathering, calling it A Literary Text. He noted that Magic has been given scholarly attention to study (a) ethereal or fantastic communities and identities, (b) a source for understanding economic principles, and of course (c) mathematically-sorted collecting and deck-building, including a bunch of contemporary neural networking analysis. But the game has never been taken up as a text itself.

Magic’s expansion sets usually revolve around central themes which are further expanded with fantasy fiction. Multi-dimensional worlds called planes connect, so-called planeswalkers regularly make an appearance, and the global story does evolve. Or at least it should: the last few years feel more like milking the cash cow than carefully expanding the universe. Still, the global story in itself also creates some kind of emotional attachment: Gideon died while protecting Liliana, time to shed those tears! Some flavor texts, like the ones above, are disconnected from the central story and simply offer a few moments of contemplation.

Enough for us to think, hey, I should write that down.

Opponent casts Go Blank.

What was I doing again? I knew it was something relevant!

I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a level 36 Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

If you found this article amusing and/or helpful, you can buy me a coffee - although I'm more of a tea fan myself. I also like to hear your feedback via Mastodon or e-mail. Thanks!