My name is Sebastian and I work mostly behind the scenes designing graphics, assisting with layout, and working on projects which relate to the publishing house C&G is a part of. (Full disclosure: I am also the brother of the editor-in-chief.) We got into this business around the same time and have been developing our products and services alongside one another ever since. Usually I take a back seat in matters relating to comics & gaming, simply because my gaming days are far away. I am, however, a huge fan of Magic the Gathering, both online and in paper.
The latest set released by the, safe to say, geniuses at Wizards of the Coast is Dark Ascension, a 158 card expansion to the smash hit Innistrad, released September 30th 2011. Dark Ascension was built with over two decades of experience, and it shows. Innistrad was intelligent, it was diverse, it introduced a fascinating new design concept in two-sided cards, it had astounding thematic flavour which drew from gothic horror, and, basically, it was bloody fun. Pros and amateurs alike called it the ‘most fun set to draft ever’ and it blew wide open the doors in the often stale and repetitive standard constructed environment, the competitive level which uses the newest sets. Dark Ascension is a continuation of the success of Innistrad and accents the larger set remarkably well, plain and simple.
I’d like to try and convince you to play the game. If you remember it from when you were a kid, or if you are a complete newbie, now is really the time to dig into the world of Magic. First, let me say that the misconception that magic is played by anti-socialites is entirely false. At my local store where I draft on Thursdays, I meet with a group of artist friends and we battle jovially and passionately. Sure, there’s the smelly guy, there’s the waif, there’s the overbearing know-it-all, but this motley group reinforces the game’s wide appeal. On occasion a girl will even pick up a deck and start slaying foes. In other words, Magic is growing and there is good reason for it.
Since the set Lorwyn, where Wizards really aimed at creating an inclusive experience that was bright and playful, the company has been on a hot streak. I am sure some would disagree, citing Shards of Alara, the set after Lorwyn, as too complicated and responsible for introducing a strategy into the standard environment that was unhealthy, and perhaps some players may chalk Zendikar, a set which left players defeated in 3 minute-long games, as a failure, but overall, the game has only gotten better. Last year the company delved into sensitive territory by revisiting Mirrodin, the set where the most players quit the game out of any period in Magic’s history, and re-built it. Scars of Mirrodin, the new set, proved Wizards knew how to recognize and correct mistakes.
It’s better to focus more on play than on politics, but at the end of 2011 anyone interested in Magic couldn’t ignore the direction Wizards was taking with its competitive points system. Basically, they struck down their old system, utilizing the ELO rating system familiar to chess players, and erected a ‘planeswalker points’ system. Players were on the fence, but when more changes were announced, in a way which surprised players and struck them as inconsiderate, pros and amateurs alike spoke out vehemently against the changes. And you know what? Wizards listened. Magic is a game which is intimately united with its audience, and Wizards wields their power responsibly, consistently delivering a game that is exciting and compulsively playable.
The office received several packs of Dark Ascension along with an intro pack called Monstrous Surprise. I am monstrously surprised at how fun and well-built the intro pack actually is. The good folks over at Wizards are really trying to develop a game that balances long-time fans with new initiates, and they are getting really good at it. This intro pack was downright cool, and for two players attempting to become familiar with the game, there really is no better way to begin. The standard environment at the moment is brimming with innovation and so an intro pack can easily transform into a competitive deck. The pack comes with 60 cards, designed to cohere and synergize with eachother, plus a booster pack of 15 randomly selected cards. This little booster allows players to play the game of chance. If a rare peeks out from the back of the pack worth money, it could be traded for cards to help transform the intro pack into a real deck (Jacob Van Lunen writes about a competitive deck which uses many of the cards in Monstrous Surpise: Click Here) If not, the deck is still of a grade higher than previous intro packs.
The reason why you should really try the game is the satisfaction which comes from maneuvering through card interactions and playing a rigorous mental game with your opponent. I have heard Magic called ‘the most challenging game on Earth’ as well as ‘the best game on the planet.’ There is nothing quite like the feeling which comes when you realize you can defeat your opponent in one turn, just as you thought all hope was lost. Sometimes you just want to crush opponents with sheer brute force, and sometimes you can manipulate a loop-hole and create an unexpected combo, but whatever way you prefer, there is a deck of cards which will fit you. The unlimited variety of the game is truly what marks the product as a worldwide success, and with Dark Ascension and Innistrad, the company has managed to compact the abundance of options available into two sets which offer endless possibilities. There is a reason why Magic the Gathering is the only serious trading card game left standing, and Innistrad and Dark Ascension provide the answer.