In the last few days there has been a leak that shows us an early print of the upcoming Magic: the Gathering block Ixalan. This is actually the second leak, but the first was barely a glimpse of the cover art which gives us some idea of the inspirations behind it, and listed with a different name “Atlazan”. Very minor compared to this huge release of info, a sheet of actual cards not due to be released for months. Understandably, Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro are not happy about this, but is a leak all that bad?
For Wizards of the Coast a great deal of money, effort, and time goes into preparing their usual advertising campaign. This isn’t just the regular steady drip feeds of new cards through social media worldwide, but it also includes the short stories on their website written by teams of cannon artists developing the wonderfully deep narratives behind every block, and the normal promo events with Friday Night Magic prereleases.
Read this piece by M;tG web content manger Trick Jarrett from the leaks around the Oath of the Gatewatch block two years ago about how such information leaks can undermine months, even years of work. For him it’s a personal kick in the teeth as it’s his work that’s being undermined. Through various associations with outside companies WotC expose themselves to the possibility of unauthorised leaks on a regular basis, but it’s still important to them to maintain creative control over the advertising process.
It seems like a no-brainer, leaks happen because people want to know stuff! There’d be no need or call for leaked information if people weren’t interested, and there isn’t a company that doesn’t want anyone to be interested in their product. Should a company be keen to know that people are so determined to learn about their product that they’re willing to go around their planned release schedule?
And by all means make a big deal about how you don’t want anyone to know about the information, but in many ways bemoaning the leak helps draw attention to it. You can frequently bring more attention with a leak and you’re own adverse reaction to it, than with your average run of advertising. Does Magic need the extra attention a leak might bring in for them? Not necessarily, but their advertisement can usually be formulaic. It can do some good to shake things up from time to time. Not that I’m accusing them of leaking their own cards, but maybe they needn’t be so downhearted.
Let us not forget that this is not just a game of fun for some people, and that Magic is a game played at a competitive level, and it’s these people watching attentively at the leak sites to get a head start on the maths. That may sound a little over-the-top but there’s actual money in it for some people. And those players less involved who pursue the game’s news less rigorously lose out. In those particularly rare instances where leaks are more physical than just a photograph, some people can get hold of some early copies of cards long before release.
These are the kinds of leaks that can truly damage a game and cause serious issues for the competitions that are integral to the gradual releases.
Just a quick note on one of the finest examples of a film that could have never existed without leaked footage. Plenty of us have speculated on the possibility that Sony, probably Ryan Reynolds himself stole the test footage in an effort to make his little fan project a reality, and if that little flicker of perfection hadn’t hit the internet like an atom bomb we may have lost one of the best superhero films of the decade. Now, there’s no good comparison to make between a film and a CCG with regular releases, but it does go to show that leaks can have their benefits, and while they may wound the pride of the developers, ultimately they may find their efforts rewarded.
Pros and cons aside let’s take a look at some of the content of the Ixalan sheet. It goes without saying that mechanically the cards are a solid mix of the usual chaff that will inevitably prove mildly useful or too specific for regular circulation, and the merciless and glorious horror cards that will have me – I mean, will have people buying booster after booster without a shred of remorse for their poor aching bank balance. I want to talk story and themes here.
There’s a prevailing theme in the art contents, pirates and dinosaurs. There’s more to discuss but I feel that needs to sink in for a moment, pirates and dinosaurs. I’m also rather gratified to see that Ixalan’s giant reptiles are depicted with feathers. Early speculations included strong Atlantean and south American styles in the visual thematics, continuing in the ancient civilization themes, Greece, Mongolia, and Egypt, and with feathered reptiles we may see some Aztec deities or myths, perhaps a coatl like creature somewhere in the block.
Finally we have our pivotal planeswalker, Vraska the Unseen, or whatever nickname she accrues. It’s going to be great to see a minor figure get some air time, although could the gorgon/assassin join the Gatewatch? I doubt it. That said I also doubt she’ll be the main threat to Jace and the Gatewatch.
Whether the leak is for the better or the worse, this is going to be a cool set, and I’m really looking forward to the future of the game.