Tezzeret's Reckoning
7, Mar, 23

MTG Players Surprisingly Accepting of Unplayable Story Cards

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Despite being a fundamental part of Magic: the Gathering, each set’s story often takes a back seat to the gameplay. As fun as MTG’s gameplay is, in any of the game’s many formats, for some players, this is a travesty. Only visible through a handful of story chapters and Story Spotlight cards, MTG players are practically starved for story content. Due to this perceived injustice, it’s common to see MTG players repeatedly asking for more story content across social media. Thankfully for these story-hungry players, throughout 2022, Wizards of the Coast delivered just that, offering additional story-rich cards to enjoy. Unfortunately, however, these cards didn’t exactly arrive in the way that MTG players wanted.

Why Is It, When Something Happens, It Is Always You, Alchemy

Racketeer Boss
Racketeer Boss | Alchemy: New Capenna

Since launching in December of 2021, the MTG Arena exclusive Alchemy format has been the bane of many players’ existence. Featuring many bizarre, almost Un-Set-esque mechanics, Alchemy is an easy target for ridicule. So much so, in fact, that the fledgling digital format can’t seem to get anything right. When Alchemy cards introduce wacky six-sided cards through mechanics such as Specialize, players obviously aren’t happy. On the other end of the spectrum, when Wizards create sensible and competitive Alchemy cards, players still aren’t happy. 

As usual, following the release of Alchemy: Phyrexia last month, the complaints about the format flared up once again. This time, players were accusing Alchemy of stealing cards due to the inclusion of Phyrexian Harvester. Supposedly pinching one of the cards from the new Phyrexian supercycle, many players lamented not having access to this card. This is despite the fact that Phyrexian Harvester is not actually very good now that it has been released. Despite this minor detail, however, the complaints around the latest Alchemy release haven’t ended there. 

An Unusual Response

Guttural Response
Guttural Response | Duel Decks: Mind vs. Might

Taking to Reddit, user u/SillyRookie recently bemoaned Alchemy how Alchemy: Phyrexia appeared to feature brand new Story Spotlight cards. Typically only found within the main set, Story Spotlight cards do exactly as the name suggests; spotlight essential story moments. While these ten or so cards in each set aren’t always competitive, they’re nevertheless important to many players. Story Spotlight cards have been a core part of MTG since 1997’s Tempest, providing more depth to a set’s story. Subsequently, when u/SillyRookie spotted Tezzeret’s Reckoning, they were understandably miffed that it was an Alchemy exclusive card.

Somewhat remarkably, despite many players love to hate all things Alchemy, on Reddit, numerous players were surprisingly accepting toward Tezzeret’s Reckoning. The main reason for this is that Tezzeret’s Reckoning makes use of leftover art that otherwise wouldn’t have a home. Initially created and used for the story chapter “A Man of Parts,” this artwork by Camille Alquier never made it into the main set. Subsequently, it was free to be repurposed by the Alchemy team, with nothing from the main set being lost. As Reddit user u/CaptainMarcia points out, this is only possible thanks to the development strategy of Alchemy, which happens after the main set is finished. 

“To clarify the process involved: it’s pretty common for them to make some art for stories that show up in the articles but don’t end up on actual cards. Alchemy cards are made after the main set is complete, so it seems they took this piece of unused art and repurposed it for one of them. That’s all.”

u/CaptainMarcia

Considering this isn’t the first time that art from one of MTG’s story chapters has been reused, this response from players is fairly unsurprising. After all, Alchemy: The Brothers’ War featured cards such as Crucias, Titan of the Waves. Just like Tezzeret’s Reckoning and Phyrexian Harvester, this story-rich card wouldn’t exist without Alchemy, as it would have just been left on the cutting room floor. This was explained to us by Gavin Verhery during a recent interview on all things The Brother’s War.

“With a story as large-scale as The Brothers’ War, it’s difficult to fit everything we want into a single card set. One of the great ways we get to help show off as much as we can though is with other pieces of the set, like Alchemy which has Crucias – a character who would go on to become Bo Levar, one of Urza’s nine titans! I led the design of the Brothers’ War Commander Decks and getting side characters like Sanwell and Farid into them helped bring some cards that didn’t have a position in the main set to life. It’s all one story, and we’re trying to show off as much of it as we can.”

Gavin Verhey | Wizards of the Coast

Story Solutions

Birgi, God of Storytelling
Birgi, God of Storytelling | Kaldheim

Admittedly, as much as I may be a fan of the format, players accepting Alchemy’s art in this instant hardly means the format will suddenly overtake Commander. For now, the format may be played more than Explorer, however, it’s still tremendously unpopular with fans. Once Arena launches on Steam with a refactored new player experience, this may be subject to change.

Thankfully, as cards like Tezzeret’s Reckoning highlight, Alchemy isn’t all bad. In fact, it can be a useful tool to expand upon a set’s story beyond the scope of the main set. This is something that players have long been requesting, as while enjoyable, MTG’s story chapters are far from perfect. This was recently highlighted in the lead-up to Phyrexia: All Will Be One, which felt frustratingly rushed to many players. Despite being comprised of ten roughly 5,000-word story chapters, Phyrexia: All Will Be One’s story still had a surprising amount happening off-screen. 

Combatting this rushed cadence, MTG players fervently requested more and better spaced-out story chapters for each set. Thankfully, in March of the Machine, at least, it appears that wish is coming true. During the recent First Look at the set, MTG’s Story Lead, Roy Graham, revealed the set will have 18 story chapters. 

“We’ve been talking about this as the epic conclusion of a story years in the making and we thought it wouldn’t be appropriate if we didn’t go all out. So there are going to be ten main story episodes, instead of just five, and eight side stories to accompany this. It’s going to be awesome, there’s going to be so much. You’re going to get to see your favorite authors from many years of Magic story now, it’s going to be great.”

Roy Graham | Magic: the Gathering Story Lead 

While these added story chapters should make March of the Machine an appropriately climactic end to the Phyrexia Arc, it may exacerbate Story Spotlight problems. After all, with even more story beats going on, it’s likely even more will have to be left out. Thankfully, with Alchemy picking up the pieces alongside March of the Machine: The Aftermath, this may be one of the most story-complete sets in years.

Read More: Fan-Favorite MTG Card Styles May Be Returning

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