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Magic the Gathering: Arena Book Review

26 Apr, 2022

Wow! My first review! Such excite.

First of all, let me just say how bummed I am that it took me another two weeks to upload. I want to upload weekly, but life seems to be getting in the way this time of year. I was out of town last week which is why I forgot to post. Silly me.

Anyway, enough groveling, now on to the first review!

What Is?

arena book

Magic the Gathering: Arena is the first piece of published fiction written for the fantasy card game Magic: the Gathering, often referred to as MTG. A little history of myself here: I started playing MTG right before Magic Origins released, so at the time the cards I was playing with were Magic 2015 Core Set, Dragons of Tarkir, Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged (otherwise known as Khans Block). Now for you people who don’t know all this jargon I’m throwing around, don’t worry about it too much. Suffice to say I started playing about 7 years ago. Since then I have come to really enjoy playing this game, and have recently (in the past two years or so) really been enjoying diving into the MTG Wiki to learn about all of the lore and whatnot.

I’ll skip the detailed version and simply say that I eventually decided that it would be cool to read the books that were released for MTG, especially since they don’t seem to do that much anymore. They release short stories here and there, but the last official book was like 3 years ago now. Everything now has to be found online, which kinda sucks when you just want to settle down and read a good story. Anyway, so I figured, “why not start at the beginning?" Which is why I decided to start reading it.

Initial Thoughts

I finished this book last Friday (so…. 4/22/2022) while I was out of town. I must say, it’s nice to read an honest-to-goodness book. I feel like it’s a lost pastime since everything is all digital now. Nothing beats the musty smell of yellowed pages in a mass-market paperback while settling down for the night.

What’s intriguing about this book is that this one and the others like it that were printed by Harper Prism for MTG have all now been considered… Well, not necessarily non-canon but basically non-contradictory canon. That is to say, these books are considered canon only as long as they don’t directly contradict newer material. I found this fascinating.

Anywho… So diving into this book I knew there would be differences with how the story may be nowadays. Still, I found this book to be very intriguing. You can tell in the first few chapters that they were trying to wrap the physical concepts of the games into this fantasy world, using the game mechanics to explain the world. It was interesting how they took the old concept of playing a game of MTG for Ante literally, as in the book mages battle typically for spells, the winner taking a random spell of the loser. This was funny to me. They also directly referenced some cards, like Llanowar Elves and the Circles of Protection.

A Little Deeper

Alright, I’ll begin this review in earnest now (or at least attempt to).

First of all, it was cool to read the story of Garth One-Eye, to see where it all began. He’s interesting as a character because both the reader and the people he’s around know so little about him and what his plans are, so it takes you along for a ride. However, that ride sometimes gets a little predictable/samey after a while. Sometimes you wonder how in the heck he gets away with some things, which I won’t spoil, but if it was reality I don’t think things would have happened the way they did. The author does a good job of dropping hints at things, then makes you think you guessed wrong but then later reveals that you were guessing right all along, so that was kinda cool.

What wasn’t cool however is something a few others I’ve noticed have mentioned about the story. The author tends to just lump the entire public into one “mob” and I swear he says the word “mob” at least 124 times in the book. The mob ends up being the punching bag throughout the whole book, and so do some of the female characters. Now look, I’m not some schmuck who whinges on about how women are misrepresented in media or whatever, and I will say that there are times when he does represent them quite well as capable and often powerful fighters. BUT. He also tends to throw a lot of women around in the book as items to be won and fondled by “the bad guys”. This could be seen as understandable given the time they are in in the story, but I felt like it was just a device used to be like “Wow, look what this person is doing to women, look at how bad he is” more often than not.

Parting Shots

Look, I’m not a book reviewer alright? I’m just some schmo on the internet. So this is not intended to be an in-depth review and character analysis or whatever.

However, I’d say I’d give this book a 3/5. Not too bad but not amazing either. I’ve definitely read better books, but for being from 1994 and also being the very first book ever for MTG lore, it’s not too shaby. It shows it’s age at some points, but seeing how the lore for the game was viewed 28 years ago is very entertaining and worth the read for an MTG enthusiast. If you’re not however, I’d choose something else.

I plan on reading the other books for MTG as the years go on, and right now I’m reading one of the first strategy books they published for the game called “The Magic the Gathering Pocket Player’s Guide” written just after Revised came out. Why you may ask? Well because damage goes on the stack dummy!

kenizl86 out!