I disagree, Mr. Spock. Beauty . . . beauty survives.
— Captain James T. Kirk, in “That Which Survives,” Star Trek season 3
Have you looked at the video of the Magic panel at the recent Comic-Con? If you haven’t, take a look at it now. At the very least, watch the first couple of minutes and pay attention to how the audience reacts to the land art that they show to open the panel. You are watching exactly what is wrong with Magic’s fanbase and so-called community.
Mark Rosewater asserts that “many players care very much about the art,” which is probably true to at least a certain extent: Magic wouldn’t have the kind of art it has, and they wouldn’t open such a major event as Comic-Con with it, if the statement were entirely false. But you can’t get this sense from much of the so-called community, especially online, many of whose members seem to see the art as a way to identify cards at best and a blank space between the mana cost and game text at worst. I’ve been admonished that “you’re supposed to play the game, not look at the pretty pictures” more than once. You might hear someone complain now and then about bad cards getting good art, which is stupid because if you like the art so much you’ll value the card even if you don’t put it in your decks, but that’s still slightly better. At least it displays some kind of an aesthetic sense, and a rudimentary understanding that Magic is about more than technical play and counting cards.
Far too many of us fail to look beyond the technical elements of the game, to their loss: Magic’s technical play is not unique, and recent competitive formats have been all too solvable, lacking even the depth of the video games that some players deride (for some reason). Further, to put it bluntly, there is nothing in Magic’s technical play that other games don’t do better. If all you want is to manage a group of cards (and make money doing so, as too many of us do), poker lets you do so without a constantly changing card pool and without the potential unbalancing elements of design mistakes. If all you wanted to do was min-max, why pick Magic over all the other opportunities to do so?
Even if you somehow did manage to overcome your dislike of fantasy stuff and become an amazing technical player, you’re not set yet. It is quite possible to be good at one format with certain content, particularly in a rotating setting such as Standard, and have your deck type vanish with a new release and take your ability to make bank with it. This is what happened (mostly) to the completely-reactive blue decks of yesteryear, and although those decks probably deserved it, it’s also a fact that many of their players have failed to adapt to the style of play enabled by new cards. The art, by contrast, is the only part of a Magic card that lasts forever. Some day the game will officially end, as everything comes to an end; there will be no more FNM, no more pro events, and no more self-congratulatory Tumblr blogs. But the art will always remain, a window into a world that exists as long as we are willing to look through it; an opportunity to look beyond the mundane concerns of this crowded, stressed planet and glimpse, for a moment, the eternal.
That’s what art offers. That’s what Magic’s art offers. That’s what we should be thinking of whenever we open a booster pack.