As a digital-only set, Alchemy Horizons: Baldur’s Gate allowed Wizards of the Coast to get creative with some of the set’s cards. This has allowed the introduction of new mechanics, Specialize and Double Team. However, it’s not all good news. Alongside tweaks and mechanics that make parsing cards easier, Alchemy Horizons: Baldur’s Gate also makes things much more confusing.
Thanks to Alchemy Horizons: Baldur’s Gate’s exclusivity to MTG Arena, many cards have been dramatically simplified. Soldiers of the Watch, for instance, features two words, “Double Team.” Despite featuring a new mechanic, this is all Solders of the Watch needs to say, as Arena has its built-in keyword explainer. This feature allows digital cards to cut down on excess information and only display what’s needed at a glance.
Cards having too many words isn’t always a bad thing, however. Legion Loyalty from Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, for example, may be an imposing wall of text. However, it’s all there for a good reason. This is thanks to most of the card’s text merely explaining the rules of the mechanic. This allows new players to grips with a unique mechanic without delving into pop-up windows and mechanic guides. Veteran players, however, only have to care about the five words on Legion Loyalty that explain what the card does.
Unfortunately, not all wordy cards explain how to use new mechanics. Recently, we’ve seen a growing trend of cards getting more complex and lengthy. Unfortunately, this issue is only getting worse. Despite the ability to simplify mechanics into just their keywords, Alchemy Horizons: Baldur’s Gate is a key offender in MTG’s rising complexity. One card is even so wordy is requires you to scroll to read it all.
Claim, Djinn Emperor
Featuring 65 words, Claim, Djinn Emperor is a nightmare of a card. Not only is this blue Djinn Noble a powerhouse in discard decks, but they’re also wordy enough that your opponent might concede from having to read this mouthful of a card. Even with Arena’s keyword explaining pop-ups to simplify things, Claim, Djinn Emperor still requires a scroll bar.
Alongside its need for a scroll bar, Claim, Djinn Emperor also features some of the smallest text we’ve seen on a Magic: the Gathering card. As a result Claim, Djinn Emperor is even harder to parse and more incomprehensible to new players. This might not be the most significant issue on a giant tablet or desktop. However, Arena is also on mobile devices. On mobile, text can already be difficult enough to read, so Claim, Djinn Emperor is absolutely going to be a problem.
To make matters worse, WotC already knows this is an issue. Previously, scroll bars have been introduced on several Dominaria cards such as Valduk, Keeper of the Flame, and Weatherlight. While these cards aren’t the most complex, Wizards still saw fit to increase the text size and add a scroll bar to the cards. This decision was widely criticized upon its introduction, so much so that it was swiftly reversed. This should have condemned scroll bars as an unwelcome and bad idea. However, that isn’t the case.
Not Just an Alchemy Problem
While MTG Arena’s designed-for-digital Alchemy cards may be some of the worst offenders, this isn’t just a problem with Alchemy. Cards in Magic: the Gathering has been getting increasingly complex throughout the past few years. This problem has been exemplified in recent sets, so much so that there hasn’t been a vanilla creature in a standard set in over a year.
Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that every card is as bad as Claim, Djinn Emperor. In Streets of New Capenna, for example, Raffine’s Informant and Riveteers Initiate only feature one simple ability each. While not necessarily confusing to a new player, these cards are still a symptom of a larger issue. Power creep.
Power creep is a natural byproduct of Wizards trying to make the mountain of products they’re releasing look enticing. While this often facilitates countless accidental infinite combos, the more significant issue is often the complexity creep. It feels like every new card in Magic: the Gathering must have an ability or keyword nowadays. This makes MTG more unapproachable for new players, as they’re constantly dealing with mechanics and interactions they might not have heard of before.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, mechanics aren’t always worded appropriately on new cards. As we’ve noted previously, Wizards has had to errata several cards from Baldur’s Gate. This was done to minimize bizarre corner case interactions. While this was a necessary change, this errata makes playing these cards much more confusing, as the card’s interactions no longer reflect the exact wording on the printed card.
Hope for the Future
With plenty of past mistakes to learn from, we can only hope that WotC doesn’t get overwhelmed by complexity creep. Verbose cards with interesting effects certainly have their place. However, that shouldn’t be the template for every card. Just because Necromancy managed to fit 89 words on a printed card doesn’t mean that’s the word count to aspire to.
Thankfully, MTG Arena could at least see a fix to Claim, Djinn Emperor. As we mentioned before, Wizards of the Coast has previously adjusted cards to remove scroll bars. Hopefully, this means Claim, Djinn Emperor could receive the same treatment. If that wasn’t enough, WotC could also utilize Alchemy’s greatest ‘strength’ and rebalance Claim, Djinn Emperor to make it simpler.