When I heard that this epic crossover event was ready to redefine what it means to be human, I vandalized the Magic: The Gathering article on Wikipedia so many times that one of the site administrators attempted to get in touch with my parents and notify them what their child was doing. You can only imagine how mad he was when an adult (me) answered the phone and smugly explained how his parents were in jail.
And also note that when I use the word “epic”, I absolutely intended that pun, a clever play on Epic Games, the inventor of Fortnite. These official Magic: The Gathering cards are simply one of many cross-licensed “Secret Lair” promotions that have become central to the intended and stated goal of the current Magic copyright holder Hasbro, to continue mass-producing trading cards on the path to slaughtering every tree on planet Earth.
Though I won’t lie, that when I first heard the news, I began to fidget furiously and violently, wondering out loud what a videogame series built around randomized rewards and artificial scarcity could possibly have in common with a collectible trading card game that was explicitly designed around gambling mechanics, memorable cards spanning multiple rarity levels, but then I realized the possibility of future Fortnite crossover cards depicting not just Peely, but his entire family, I finally Figgy it out, and I began to go Cocoanuts.
So we need to give all the credit to the hard-working bean counters at Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast for making this possible, correctly recognizing that the path to maximum profits is no longer in creating a cohesive product spanning a fictional fantasy world with fantastic characters, because there are now so many characters in Magic: The Gathering, each more rejected from Dungeons and Dragons than the last, that none of them have any chance of being memorable, so we’ll just cross-license with Dungeons and Dragons, instead.
The result is that the hard-working creative minds at the Wizards offices have directed their energies towards Magic: The Gathering as a content wrapper, that Magic is no longer defined by its premise and concepts, a fictional universe spanning powerful wizards and five natural alignments, but by the ability of an unpaid intern to use their six-year engineering degree and a range of computer software to shrink any image of any licensed character for use on a standard Magic trading card.
One reason for this is because we are in the tail end of “hot” market for popular culture collectibles, another way of saying that “lower-middle class people got checks from the government and then proceeded to spend it in a manner where they firmly demonstrate why they are lower-middle class”. It’s the world where dumb parents are going to put their kids through college by purchasing and speculating on multiple copies of Baby Spider-Man #1, which means that if you are the makers of Baby Spider-Man, your goal is to make sure that fools and their money are parted.
But also, in the Current Year™, the goal of most companies is to create the consumer product which features the most products, so to speak, to become the Super Smash Bros. of entertainment media. I am going to speculate that this is because the market for gaming and its various hobbies is filled with two kinds of consumers: Children, and people who act like children. And from what I have heard, children like the idea of seeing all the characters from their favorite cartoons go to battle with each other.
So if the answer is to generate the maximum possible revenue for shareholders on the path to securing the world record high score with my bank account, then the question is whether the heroes from my favorite Magic: The Gathering cards can stand up to my army of robots from The Terminator. Who will win this epic battle between Teferi, Time Raveler and Arnie, Time Traveler?
Which I guess means that The Terminator – not yet, but in the future – is one of the many countless “tributes” that are now officially part of the Magic: The Gathering universe, often legal for use in sanctioned tournaments, a cast of memorable characters spanning everything from The Walking Dead, the blase landscape paintings of Bob Ross, to Street Fighter, on the way to cards with such truly offensive art, they can only be seen as a creative exercise by Wizards of the Coast to see how little effort they can dole out on the path to selling a consumer product.
And on the way there, I am sure some of you will point out how I have no right to complain about Secret Lair – I’m not complaining, YOU’RE complaining – because at some point in the far distant past, Wizards of the Coast once released a set depicting the legends of Arabian folklore, or that Chinese-themed starter set that maybe like five people knew about at the time of its release, and these demonstrations of a tabletop game finding its thematic footing immediately invalidates any opinion I may have on this matter, as I concede defeat and throw my chess board into oncoming traffic.
Or maybe you will even point out that Magic: The Gathering has, in the past, created expansion sets that effectively amounted to parody and subversion of the Magic universe, perhaps even noting that these sets have even been met with modest chuckles and ambivalent side-eye since the release of the “Unglued” expansion set. This would be called a “pastiche”, a humorous parody and commentary most commonly meant to honor and poke good-hearted fun toward the source material.
Some of these Secret Lair drops even work WITHIN the realms of parody and pastiche, whether we are referring to “left-handed cards“, or a series of cards that poke fun at the confusing rules text of yesteryear, or the basic land cards becoming a vehicle for long-winded descriptions, doubtlessly intended as an attack on my writing style, my personal character, and my physical attractiveness, which have all been determined by HotOrNot.com to be average, at-best.
But then you realize that the pastiche of Unglued and Unhinged and Unmemorable was never intended for use in “serious” play or the serious tournament settings where I seriously question the cascade of human events that allowed for so much body odor to inhabit a single space. To be sure, the mechanics and rules of these parody sets were often designed to be obnoxious for the purposes of good humor and banter, as I repeatedly play Ashnod’s Coupon until I storm out of the venue in a drunken stupor, and then cast Lightning Bolt on the assembled members of law enforcement, who are powerless to stop me from banging on my cell door while I await the trial.
But I later explain to the judge, that once you legitimize the idea of pastiche operating within the confines of a serious property, it assures none of the serious stuff can be taken seriously, as my opponent blocks Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer with the Battle Bus from Fortnite, a hypothetical event in a round of Magic: The Gathering which leads the hardcores to furiously question whether I have even played the game at all, because why would I attack with Ragavan when it was obviously going to get killed by the Battle Bus, and my opponent was now going to get the opportunity to draw a card? Why would I make such a tactical blunder?
The answer to all of this is that you are a fucking nerd, and my argument is that when a character that is…in character with the universe…gets murdered by something called a “Battle Bus”, which flies through the air with the help of a hot air balloon, it’s kind of like that World War II movie where in the middle of the suffering and the chaos, Killstorm the Clown honks his clown nose every time he shoots another Nazi dead and then offends Hitler with a joke about the Holocaust. You didn’t create a movie that appealed to fans of both drama and comedy, you just created something stupid.
So I guess I can summarize the issue with “that one time”, when some dumb child downloaded one of the pieces of free software that allow individuals to make images of fake Magic: The Gathering trading cards, and when he “created” his Super Saiyan Goku card that could kill the other player in a single hit and use a single mana point to destroy all the other cards on the battlefield, we would not only laugh at the person who created it, but take relief that their stupidity and ignorance was self-contained to that tiny portion of the internet.
Little did we know that this would now become the business strategy for the world’s premier collectible card game, and in this moment, I brainstorm some of the other ways that Hasbro can perhaps innovate and improve upon this business strategy. Maybe they can follow in the path of the sports collectible cards that feature pieces of a uniform that was worn in an actual game, or perhaps trading cards autographed by the stars themselves? I would pay a good sum of money for a card autographed by Omnath, Locus of Creation, as he furiously scribbles his name (Omnath) onto another high-end chase card.
But the topic of Omnath’s clinical depression deserves its own article, so we should redirect our energy to the individuals who will claim that Secret Lair will “ruin” Magic: The Gathering forever and ever, that you cannot unsee the Fortnite cards or the Street Fighter cards, or that new Secret Lair sets are being released so often, they threaten to drown the whole game in a tub of commercial goo. The years upon years that individuals spent getting fantastic fun and good times out of Magic will have been a waste.
And in such an instance, I guess the goal is to treat these cards in the same manner that the smart children treat Nintendo when the company releases a game where Mario lectures the player on the dangers of drug use. The smart children do not throw their hands up in the air and scream how this forever ruins Mario, they simply ignore it, and then do the same for the follow-up, where Luigi chides Wario for the deep negative impact that his hoarding has on the people around him.
So as stupid as these Secret Lair cards are, we can use their existence as a learning experience, to realize that Magic: The Gathering is, by its design, a compartmentalized game where one can DECIDE which cards to play with. You don’t HAVE to play the expansion kit in that tabletop wargame where Mickey and all his lovable friends sink your battleship with kindness. There are enough different Magic cards, spread across enough sets, that one can simply decide which cards they feel are personally worth playing with, and lose pretty much nothing in the experience.
In the battle against excess and substandard product, the greatest weapon humanity has in the capitalist era is to simply not give a shit about the Battle Bus, and if you stumble across one, trade it to some other person so you can get cooler and better cards.
Now, to be sure, if you are the kind of person who lives vicariously through officially-sanctioned Magic: The Gathering tournaments, I do not know what to tell you, I do not know too much about the “competitive scene”, but it’s not hard to imagine that every deck will feature sixty Battle Buses and that the only true counter will be the Upper Deck print of the Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. The Donruss version will simply not be powerful enough. So if you enjoy tournament play, you may just have to find some grander calling in life, instead of looking up what is currently the most powerful deck and then spending significant sums of money for the cards that go with it.
Which means that if this is the end of your Magic: The Gathering career, then perhaps I can recommend you a game by the name of Fortnite, where the heroes from my favorite pop culture products come together to fight each other. Maybe they could have a crossover where the characters from Magic: The Gathering invade the world of Fortnite, an epic struggle where Peely, Figgy, and Cocoanuts have to fight Teferi and Urza. Goddamn, the mental image in my head is so powerful, it’s like I am already there, downloading yet another one-hundred-gigabyte software update.
Thank you to both Epic and Hasbro for making this a-Peely-ing moment happen.