During the previous weekend, creators and designers of the most popular fantasy card game in the world, Magic, opened the preview of its upcoming expansion in big style. Instead of just announcing the new story and previewing a couple of new cards, the story was taken to the players. Everyone had the chance to participate in solving clues that would lead to unveiling the upcoming story and previewing some of the new cards: those at home from their computers, and those attending three Magic Grand Prix events (in Melbourne, Bologna and Detroit) could try their luck in escape rooms.
The upcoming expansion is thematically returning to the world of Innistrad, which was a gothic horror-themed setting, featuring vampires, werewolves, spirits (called “geists” to keep with the Van Helsing-esque and sometimes dark-brothers-Grimm-esque feel), zombies and mad scientists. Last time we visited it, the balance between humans and the creatures of the night that had been disturbed by the disappearance of the archangel Avacyn, had been restored by Avacyn’s release from prison in the Helvault.
In Shadows Over Innistrad, some of Magic’s protagonists are returning to Innistrad to find that despite the last happy ending, something seems off. That is, even not including the “normal” zombies and werewolves skulking around. The mind mage Jace Beleren enters the world searching for answers from the vampire Planeswalker Sorin Markov. Sorin himself had apparently found his family manor wrecked by his old associate, the Lithomancer Nahiri. Even the archangel Avacyn and her angels seem suddenly bent on destruction rather than the protection they were made for. And as Jace proceeds to unveil the clues, madness seems to start taking hold of him as well. After the classic horror-themed Innistrad, Shadows Over Innistrad leans a bit more in the direction of the Lovecraftian horror (any similarity to The Shadow Over Innsmouth is surely coincidental).
The thematic connection of “madness mystery-solving horror” and the activities planned by the designers was spot on. On site, teams of players could visit escape rooms in the forms of the Stitcher’s Lab (Melbourne), Markov Manor (Bologna) and Thraben Cathedral (Detroit). They were rewarded by the preview of some cards that will appear in the upcoming expansion, such as Brain in a Jar or Declaration In Stone – appropriate to the setting. There were also clues and puzzles given to player groups, which were revealed on the internet one by one during the weekend. Anyone who solved the puzzle could then send an e-mail to Wizards and receive the card spoiled in return, and when enough people did it, a new card (featuring some important part of the story) was revealed.
I must say it was an amazing way to make the players take part in the preview, and I hope it wasn’t the last time. To make people feel involved, while also making them pay more attention to the story, is a great move from the creators. Wizards has been shifting the focus more towards story and flavour lately, and Magic is definitely getting more dimension from this. And that’s why I personally love it, because it is more than “just” a game; it is story, it is art. That way, it can appeal to many different groups of people, and it is wonderful that Wizards keeps them in mind and offers something to all of them.
The preview has only just started with this and the rest of the cards will be shown in due time, because the expansion itself will come out only about a month from now. Shadows Over Innistrad gets released on 8th April, with prerelease events taking place the weekend before.