Within the wide world of Magic: The Gathering, there is undoubtedly a lot to love. Between the immense mechanical complexity, amazing art, and rich story, MTG really has it all. Enduring the test of time for 30 years, the majority of these features have been unquestionably brilliant. The storytelling, however, hasn’t always been unquestionably brilliant.
With characters often dying off-screen and story chapters being remarkably limited, it’s common to see MTG players asking for more. Unfortunately, however, while it’s easy to ask, it seems it’s incredibly hard to get, as the lore quota rarely changes. For better or worse, we now know the obvious reason behind why this happens. Curiously, it’s the same reason holding Alchemy back too.
Magic’s Suspiciously Shrinking Story
Continuing the almost neverending trend, once again, MTG players are unhappy with the latest story segments. This follows the release of Wilds of Eldraine, which was lamented for feeling rather rushed at times. Skipping out on interesting moments and important details, the return to Eldraine was undeniably hampered.
Fed up with this issue, Tumblr user Zaxzom recently brought their concerns to MTG’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater. Taking to Blogatog, Zaxzom noted how despite being built around ten fairytale stories, they weren’t given any depth. This ultimately left many holes in the story and unanswered questions about the set’s seemingly flavorful cards.
“I think the biggest problem with WOE is also that you built the set around ten stories which we see in the set, yes, but we don’t have a context. For example, why did Totentanz help Lord Skitter? Is Syr Armont in love with Yeva or another Redtooth Werefox? Is Obyra the child of Talion? Did Ash go to the Grand Ball to party hard or..?”
Even without Rosewater’s proper answer to the above, there’s an obvious reason why this has happened. Wilds of Eldraine only received five story chapters. This is an obvious and immense decline from previous sets, which used to have ten. Out of these, five would be dedicated to the main story, and five would delve into the world.
Ultimately, this mix wasn’t always perfect as it still left details on the cutting room floor. That being said, however, ten chapters are definitely better than having five. Unfortunately, as much as we would like more stories, it seems we’re stuck with what we’ve got. Responding to an earlier question, Rosewater confirmed five story chapters per set is “the current default.”
To return from our tangent, Rosewater did provide an actual reason why story chapters are the way they are. Ultimately, this comes down to Wizards writers having a lot of work to do, meaning they need to prioritize their time. Thanks to this, sometimes they can’t give all the lore that players want, whether that’s through story chapters, flavor text, or Planeswalker’s Guides.
Thankfully, this problem is very much solvable.
Money Money Money
As always, money has the potential to solve a lot of problems. It seems more than capable of solving Magic’s story woes, for instance. Reading Rosewater’s statement, the main takeaway is that the writers are obviously busy. This, however, could be solved by simply using money to hire more writers.
In taking this, admittedly time-consuming, action, Wizards would have more resources to spend, allowing for everything to be written. For lore-loving MTG players, this is obviously a major win, so it begs the question, why hasn’t Wizards done this? Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, Wizards hasn’t told us why themselves. Thankfully, however, it’s not hard to make assumptions.
Thanks to Wizards’ investor presentations last year, it’s no secret that Magic: The Gathering makes a lot of money. After all, the game is now a billion-dollar brand, with immense profit-generating abilities, Initially, you may think this means there’s money to burn, however, business doesn’t exactly work that way.
Rather than constantly adding staff and expanding scope, keeping business lean keeps profits high. Through this, MTG can hope to maintain its billion-dollar valuation year on year, ad infinitum. As a result of this, Wizards likely isn’t going to be hiring hundreds of writers, even if they could afford it.
Beyond the very nature of profit-led businesses, it’s also worth mentioning there’s value to consider. While the lore of MTG is undoubtedly a beloved part of the game, it’s not that way for everyone. Thanks to this, it’ll often make more sense to invest any budget elsewhere, into more reliable revenue streams and people-pleasing features.
This Affects Formats Too
As we mentioned earlier, the story isn’t the only part of MTG that suffers from a lack of budget. To the dismay of some, formats are also held back due to the lack of recourses. Well, one format in particular is; Alchemy.
Despite Alchemy claiming a decent chunk of the MTG Arena player base, the format is definitely not popular. Between the digital-exclusive mechanics, stolen cards, and rebalancing, it’s no surprise this is the case. In theory, however, Alchemy could be an absolutely fantastic format and one of the best on Arena.
In an ideal world, Alchemy could property achieve its dreams of being an incredibly well-balanced format. Like it or not, this would all happen through rebalancing. Hypothetically happening on a weekly basis, Alchemy could become the most balanced format in all MTG.
In the real world, unfortunately, Alchemy has yet to hit that stride. Not only is it hampered by economic woes and Historic, but also an egregious lack of rebalancing. In a recent end-of-year round-up, Magic’s Executive Producer of Digital Magic, Chris Kiritz, revealed Alchemy only had “7 Rebalance passes” in the last year.
Occurring less than once a month, these rebalances often missed the mark, failing to address problematic and powerful cards. Once again, the reason why this happens is simple. Just like the story department, the Alchemy team is always busy.
Speaking during a recent Weekly MTG livestream, Kiritz revealed that the rebalancing team has an immense amount of work to do. Rather than solely working on Alchemy, this team is also responsible for adding cards to Arena. As you can expect, this other duty demands a lot of attention and likely has a higher yield. Subsequently, the core conceit of Alchemy is put on the back burner.
It’s All About Balance
Circling back to Rosewater’s answer to the original question, it’s all about prioritizing what’s important. On the surface, this may seem a rather poor solution as reallocating resources ultimately pulls from somewhere else. While this is true, it does still allow good to be done. In fact, we’ve seen exactly that with Wilds of Eldraine.
For the story chapters in Wilds of Eldraine, MTG players were given full audio readings of each chapter. Unlike past sets, these weren’t cut-down snippets or anything like that. Instead, players got the full half-hour-long audio to enjoy as they wanted.
Having been practically begged for for months, unsurprising, across social media the audio readings have been incredibly well received. Lauded for their vastly improved accessibility, many players understandably hope they continue in the future. Unfortunately, their future hasn’t been explicitly confirmed just yet, however, past precedent does have us hopeful.
Whatever happens to the audio readings, it’s clear that Wizards does care about what players want. This was even stated by Rosewater in their original answer. Replying “I’m just trying to understand people’s preferences are, so the creative team knows what to prioritize,” it’s clear that players’ wants and desires are respected. Hopefully, this will lead to great things for the future of MTG.