There's a strong urge among many Magic players to design their own cards, combining converted mana costs, French vanilla abilities, and other effects to craft new and preferably fun creations. Others, like me in high school and college, spend time on the fiction side, imagining new worlds or new adventures in old worlds through stories, art, and other media.
The "new worlds" side still holds my interest, though as I've grown older and wiser I've come to appreciate how many possible Magic planes will go unrealized because they're too hot for Wizards to handle. To demonstrate how seemingly innocuous popular entertainment can get into a total kerfuffle, I'll use my favorite medium: Katy Perry music videos.
"Dark Horse" - Was digitally edited to remove a piece of jewelry from one of Katy's suitors.
"Roar" - Not popular with PETA.
...and I haven't even gotten to the Sesame Street clip that never aired.
Of course, any creative work, no matter how popular or generally respected, is subject to criticism. Citizen Kane was a target of noted film critic Pauline Kael's ire . The Internet even managed to dig up this guy who really, really, really doesn't like Frozen . Magic itself isn't immune either, and I for one am glad, because otherwise I'd be out of a column!
Not all criticisms need be accommodated, nor should they, but sometimes using an idea, no matter how clever or well-intentioned, means asking for trouble. Here are a few Magic plane ideas I've seen that seem cool at first, but on closer inspection prove too hot to handle.
Plane #1: Stories of Native America
Let's start with two things that flat-out wouldn't happen because a) the Creative team is too smart for it, b) the Marketing and Brand teams are too on-the-ball, and c) there are too many outside professionals, including writers and artists, who'd be willing to call Wizards out on their horsehockey if they tried them.
- "Cowboys and Indians." This probably wouldn't even have happened in 1994, much less 2014. Remember,Dances with Wolves came out in 1990, and we've seen the reception, the backlash, and the backlash to the backlash. That doesn't mean a big production can't have a serious facepalm moment, even in the 21st century ( Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger says hello ), but from what I know of the people who are at Wizards, it's not happening.
- "All Native Americans have the same beliefs." Again, from what I know of the people at Wizards, they wouldn't make this elementary mistake.Raven of the Tlingit is not theGreen Corn Ceremony of the Seminole Tribe of Florida is not theGhost Dance movement of the late 19th century inspired by the Paiute prophet Wovoka. Different times, different groups, different places.
What would be a more likely theoretical path if Wizards chose to make a plane inspired by Native American stories? Deep-dive research into the lore that members of various cultural groups have chosen to share with the rest of the world. Recognition of places within the United States corresponding roughly to various land types (e.g. Great Plains) and development of lore around those areas (such as blue and Islands corresponding to the stories of a coastal people). Multiple consultants and focus groups.
Repeated mutterings of "We will not repeat the mistakes of Kamigawa and Kiora."
I've referenced Brady Dommermuth's article on Kamigawa world design before, but here it is again. Remember, Wizards changed canon so that the Planeswalker Kiora, the Crashing Wave has no last name because her original last name accidentally matched a sacred concept in Maori religion . The two big points from Doug Beyer:
"[I]t's never our intent to misappropriate or misapply terms or concepts that are foundational to people's real-world spiritual beliefs."
"...if we learn that any of our worlds, terms, or characters disrespectfully tread on the sincere beliefs of our fellow humans in contemporary, living cultures, we feel it's important to take steps to correct that as best we can."
Greek myth? Theros block says hello. Roman setting? Maybe in the future. Norse lore? I'm begging for it.
Stories of the Cherokee, rendered by outsiders through a prism of MTG "magepunk?" No thanks.
Plane #2 - Old Testament Throwdown
See Plane #1 above. As many block ideas as might be mined out of the Old Testament (plane just being repopulated after aworld-spanning catastrophe caused by an angry deity, plane where priests of various deities hold contests against one another, plane where humanity or a subset thereof goes through continual cycles of enslavement and liberation, etc.) and as fertile a ground as it has been for creators in various media (see Cecil B. DeMille's apocryphal quote, "Give me any two pages of the Bible and I'll give you a picture,") Wizards isn't going to go down that road.
Plane #3 - Maya / Inca / Aztec Myth
Here's a fun conundrum. The three best-known "strands" of pre-Columbian culture and myth in what is now called Latin America might seem ideal settings for a Magic set. Not only are they unlikely to offend individuals' deeply held religious beliefs (Tlaloc doesn't exactly bring in the worshippers these days), they're also superficially familiar through pop culture. ThinkIndiana Jones in that South American temple, or Legends of the Hidden Temple.
There's a hook for the plane, it's gotten a bit of a tryout with the Naya shard of Alara (though Naya had a few more elves than are usually seen in Mesoamerican-themed entertainment), and there's vocal demand for the setting. So what's the problem?
Most of what people think they know about the Maya, Inca, and Aztec is hokum.
Quiz one: Match each civilization to the modern-day country around which it was centered.
Have a picture of Wild Nacatl while you solve.
Answers: A - 1, B - 3, C - 1. Yes, I played a bit of dirty pool by putting Panama in there.
Quiz two: Match these deities with functions in Aztec myth and then pronounce them all, without cheating on Wikipedia or elsewhere on the 'Net.
3) The night
4) Human sacrifice
Answers: A -4, B - 1, C - 3, D - 2
Quiz three: Which of the three civilizations was most tolerant of the divinities of conquered peoples?
Answer: The Inca.
Now, unless you cheated or were really into myths of the Americas, there's no way in heck you got a perfect score. Unlike Greek mythology, which is pretty well-saturated in Western pop culture to the extent that "Zeus = king of the gods" is a $200 question on Jeopardy!, the intricacies of Aztec deities are far more obscure. What little most folks know is a confused jumble of movies, TV shows, a couple of trivia questions, and maybe a handout from compulsory education. (On Legends of the Hidden Temple, that giant talking stone head was Olmec...as in the Olmec civilization.)
Quiz two also highlighted one of the big problems with an Aztec-themed set: "pronunciation, pronunciation, pronunciation!" We can't even get people to agree on how to pronounce Wild Nacatl. What hope would we have in a block with hundreds of cards, many of them begging for some Nahuatl phonemes?
Further, Wizards wouldn't take the lazy route and go the "little clothing, lots of human sacrifice Mayincatec world" route for an entire block and its corresponding plane. They'd do the research, stick to one civilization (probably Aztec), and then realize they'd trapped themselves in a hard-to-pronounce, tough-to-truly-understand creative plane with few roads out that would leave their sensibilities undamaged.
Unless Wizards figures out a way to do the "light" version of one of these civilizations' myths without getting into cheesetastic misinformation territory, Aztec World isn't going to happen.
Plane #4: Your Favorite Super-Obscure Real-World Mythos
Every block has to have a hook, something to draw in players. For Theros it was "Greek myth-themed world of heroes and monsters and gods;" for Innistrad it was "classic horror through another lens with magepunk to spare." A gorgeously drawn feathered snake deity might stop a potential player in her or his tracks, but few would recognize any liberties taken with Magic creating its own Aztec gods.
Of course, maybe your preferred mythos isn't that obscure anymore. (Anything written about in Neil Gaiman's American Gods or hisSandman series no longer counts.) In that case, hop on Tumblr and let Doug Beyer know what you think!