Magic the Gathering - The movie

Well…this is interesting - Game of thrones writer Bryan Cogman is set to write a script for 20th century Fox, for a movie set in the Magic the Gathering universe.

It was inevitable that the writers and directors of HBO’s staggeringly good Game Of Thrones would begin taking over the fantasy realm in features. 20th Century Fox has set Bryan Cogman, a producer, story editor and writer on the HBO drama, to script a potential franchise movie out of the fantasy card game Magic The Gathering. It will be produced by Hasbro and Fox-based producer Simon Kinberg.

I…really don’t know - The great thing with Game of Thrones is not really the setting or world, but all the characters and the drama surrounding them, thus, in my mind, the success. The success of Magic the Gathering isn’t really about story, but about gameplay - How would that translate to a great movie?

Have you played the iOS versions? They have little character-based campaigns with very expensive cutscenes. I imagine that’s what they’re basing the movie on. Maybe there are licensed novels, too…

Nope - only the card game back in the day, and two of the computer games - no real story in those, but I’ll take your word for there being such in the IOS versions. I’d still argue that stories aren’t the main draw of MtG ;-)

Since its release there has always been a ton of lore in the MtG universe. Over 50 novels, originally general universe material but eventually settling to one per set. As unlikely as it is I would love to see them start with the Urza and Mishra Brothers’ War story I’m familiar with from when I started playing. IIRC, that story spanned a handful of blocks and if the first movie is successful they could easily make a Brothers’ War trilogy before moving onto the newer stuff.

I just noticed I put this topic in pretty much the only catagory where it doesn’t fit - Go me!

Locker - I didn’t know this. Is there a consistent lore that the cards follow then?

There is a bunch of lore and backstories and it’s pretty well thought out at this point. Each release occasionally is a whole new place (dimension basically) with new lore, but generally it’s all tied together. The story of the Weatherlight alone could make for a very watchable movie complete with interpersonal drama and redemption/fall of characters.

My question–and I admit to not being deep in the Magic universe or anything–is whether there’s anything like an established tone or theme to Magic that could power a tv show or film, one that audiences would care about. There are a bajillion fantasy properties out there, but only a handful, it seems to me, could have become a super-successful HBO series like Game of Thrones. And even that, frankly, was a long shot.

So, Magic has evolved a lot over time. Various sets definitely have very set, clear themes, and there have been some lengthy and somewhat interesting arcs developed.

Some of the earliest published “novels” were just a couple of short story collections that relied way too heavily on game mechanics; I recall reading one story that was literally just two dudes in a collesseum duking it out with summoned monsters using little bags of dirt from various different geographical regions to power their spells with “manna.” It was, err, awful.

Meanwhile, however, the cards themselves were telling definitive stories early on. The “core sets” (Alpha/Beta/Revised/Unlimited/5th/6th/etc.) virtually always dealt with Dominaria, and slowly, visible factions and political entities emerged: the angels of Serra, the elves of the Skyshroud forests, the wizards of Tolaria. . .

While some early sets had definitive plot elements (Ice Age was set in–you guessed it!–an ice age), a lot has been retconned and modified to fit a larger arc that really started in earnest with Weatherlight onward. It told the story of Gerrard, a young boy gifted with a collection of powerful magical artifacts called The Legacy, whose life was generally controlled by the machinations of the arch-wizard Urza. Urza foresaw a war against the evil Phyrexians and wanted to prepare the world; several sets and their accompanying novels dealt with his adventures as he slowly got caught up in the lead-up to the war (including an ill-fated trip into the pocket dimension of Rath where the Phyrexians were staging the invasion from) and ended up becoming a key player in the invasion (told in the set, yep, Invasion).

A couple of subsequent sets/novels followed the aftermath of that event (which ran, in various sets, from the mid-90s to the late-90s/early-00s), but since most of the principal cast had died off, the books began “planeshopping” pretty willy-nilly at that point. We were introduced to Mirrodin, a plane of metal where only mechanical creatures thrived at first, then to Ravnica, an entire world dominated by a single massive city. We eventually traveled to Alara, where ancient powerful magic had fractured the land, and met the disastrous fate of the plane of Zendikar.

Almost all of what I’ve described was fairly typical high fantasy–elves and goblins and zombies and dwarves and humans duking it out, usually from geographically appropriate kingdoms, across various planes. Ravnica had a little bit of “urban fantasy” and politics mixed in, and shades of Lovecraftian horror were present in Zendikar, but for the most part flavor was dictated by the colors of Magic and not by the settings.

I’d say that Innistrad was one of the first extreme departures from that (You could say Arabian Nights, but that’s set in a pre-established universe and probably not a good fit for a Magic: TG movie), insofar as it went hardcore into gothic horror–vampires controlling human livestock, werewolves stalking the foggy woods upon the moor, creepy dolls animated by children’s dead spirits and whatnot–over-the-top, old-school spooky.

So, uh, hmmm. To try to wrap back to your question more directly:

The biggest thrust of plot (Weatherlight saga of Gerrard, Urza, and Phyrexia) was pretty stereotypical high fantasy adventure that slowly darkened and actually had a fairly tragic ending. In-universe, it was predated by the aforementioned Brothers War: Urza fighting his equally magically potent bro Mishra for control of the world, with disastrous (Ice Age) consequences.

Unfortunately, all of this is old news by M:tG standards. Though the core sets still seem to be basically set in Dominaria, they aren’t really advancing the plot. In fact, other than a brief dip back in via the Time Spiral set, we haven’t really been to Dominaria in cards or novels for the better part of a decade. Instead, the game’s been hopping around the various planes mentioned above ever since, each of which has a fairly distinct and self-contained plot. If you wanted to roll a mystery-based fantasy noir, Ravnica would rock, while a horror-fantasy could rule in Innistrad and an “adventure to save the world from untold abominations” fits Zendikar well enough.

Moreover, recent years saw the introduction of “Planeswalker” cards. Now, Planeswalkers were always a part of M:tG lore, and even early on they acknowledged planes other than Dominaria that some characters traveled to. The addition of the cards, however, suddenly meant they needed a whole raft of Planeswalkers who had neither died in the Phyrexian Invasion nor were God-level powerful (e.g., Urza) so that they weren’t imbalanced. To fit this, a couple dozen new characters were drawn up. Since they tended to be introduced with a new card block which would be set in a new plane, their personal plots often seemed to wrap up in the space of 3 sets of cards/3 novels. Since they WERE planeswalkers, they could prance around at will and show up later on, but (and this is purely my opinion), since we never spent very long in any of these places–and since, because of that, the plots tied to each new Plane introduced tended to wrap up pretty neatly–these new Planeswalker “name characters” never really felt like they had anything to defend or care for. They could flit around at will and fight each other or screw each other or whatever, and they could certainly have an impact. . . bit their stories were never as fleshed-out as some of the characters of old.

So, I think that WotC are in a weird spot. They’ve got decades of novels, comics, games, and blocks of cards to lean on, but some of the “best” (or at least deepest/most explored) territory is so old that their current players–their theoretical core audience for the movie–don’t remember them. The newer characters and properties are generally weaker or at least less fleshed-out, and bounce around in tone and theme pretty heavily. If you want to adapt some epic fantasy fiction like the Brothers War or the Phyrexian Invasion, you’re dredging out cards and plots that are fifteen years gone and providing next-to-no marketing benefit for your game (which I’m positive has got to be a concern–why showcase Urza the Almighty if players can’t run out and buy a $4.49 Booster Pack with a 1/512 chance of containing him!!!). Otherwise, you’re gonna dip into comparatively more shallow territory that may not tell as grand a story–but then again, that also means the movie has more room to play around and do its own thing without trodding all over “card canon.”


And that’s more than I ever, ever wanted to write about M:tG in front of you people :-/

Just when you think you know someone they go and write a thousand words on the M:tG fictional universe.

Do I have to keep attending the movie and collect different parts of it until I have a complete movie? And then keep going back until I get all the different limited edition endings…

I got the foil ending!

I didn’t draw enough land to afford a ticket to the whole movie :(

Pretty interesting reading, actually. I vaguely remember feeling like there was a fully-fleshed background hinted by the various flavor texts. Not so much in Mirrodin, but I do remember all the references to Urza.