Planewide Celebration (Inside A Starbuck’s).

Maybe Cap needs to go to a different Starbucks on Ravnica…

Cap is stunned, because at one point, she though Ral was into her.

So, I really want to point out, AGAIN, that “War of the Spark” was a good Magic expansion, but a truly terrible book. And I mean an awful book by fantasy literature standards, which is a very low literature standard. Just so that we are clear.

With that said, it’s hard to decide what to think about one of the more interesting story points introduced in the game. It doesn’t really affect game play, but instead is about representation of diversity in the game’s character base. I’m going to get into that right now, with a brief history lesson, and then explaining both the artwork for the day, and what I’m talking about.

I’ll keep it short.

Ral Zarek made his debut in the Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 expansion. He is often used in the promotional materials and art to drive the sets related to Ravnica, having been on Dragon’s Maze pack are, box art, and even having his own Planeswalker Deck. Those are like introductory, preconstructed decks. They are a big part of the marketing for the game.

Obviously, Ral is handsome, in a kind of fraternity brother kind of way. In fact fan reception of the character has pretty much had that impression of the guy, as a sort of bro-type. Good looking, charming, cocky. Got it?

In “War of the Spark,” he HAD to be a key player. Obviously.

That set also introduced a card called “Tomik, Distinguished Advokist.” Spelled with a K, that’s not a typo. Tomik is a pretty good card, but it didn’t really break out, and there aren’t many builds around it. He’s in theory an important character in the plotline, but absolutely none of the cards make that clear at all. In terms of the set, he’s just another guy that comes out of nowhere to fight in War of the Spark.

When I got my cards, I wound up with a copy of Tomik. He didn’t really fit any build that I was after, and there wasn’t any fun “theme” reason for me to build a deck around him. Said like that, I almost feel bad for the card. Sitting in some box, all lonely.

After THAT, I got the “War of the Spark” novel. Which was BAD.

However, during “Act One” (the first half of the book), Ral Zarek runs off to go make sure that Tomik is okay. It is suddenly revealed, without any kind of preamble or set up at all, that Ral is gay, and that the two characters have been in a committed, although secretive, relationship.

So first…points for representation here. Heck…bonus points for taking an extremely popular character in your licensed product line, and have that character be gay. It’s a bold choice of inclusion. I’m on board with ALL of that.

Except…it is only actually brought up in a novel. Meaning…a vast number of the players are never going to know, one way or the other, of this representation. It seems a little….less bold in that context. Like, you would have to stumble on it in a Ravnican Starbucks, like Cap just did. It’s not like “War of the Spark” was a bestseller, or that every Magic player HAD to read it. I haven’t found any statistics on the sales volume of the novel, but it was very poorly reviewed by pretty much all the major game commentators, such as the Professor from Tolarian Community College, and another site called the Aether Hub.

In short…if anyone held out to see if the book was good…then they probably DIDN’T buy it. Greatly reducing any kind of awareness on the change in the character’s perceived status.

Now…you might be asking…how was that supposed to be depicted on a card, anyway? That’s a ton of story for a tiny illustration on a small piece of cardboard. That’s actually a really good question.

See…in the novel (again, which like…no one read) after the whole “War of the Spark” is over, there is a Planewide Celebration. That’s actually a card. It’s like the Ewok celebration at the end of “Return of the Jedi,” but for the whole @#$%ing dimension. According to the novel, Ral survived the armageddon like battle and was present during the Planewide Celebration that followed, where he and Tomik reunited and shared a private kiss.

You could have had the KISS be the card art! Instead of a bunch of randos having a really derivative Ewok celebration. Then the entirety of the current Magic playing population would be aware of the inclusiveness of the game.

Instead, we hid it in a poorly written novel, which very few players read.

In all honesty, I feel like Wizards didn’t really mean to “fumble to ball,” or put Ral Zarek’s sexuality in a closet that was really a bad novel. I think that they believed the novel would sell, and the “lore” of the story would become a part of the game because of the good sales. As in a transmedia effort. They DID try to give subtle…very subtle…too subtle…hints on the cards.

What do I mean?

The art for Ral, Izzet Viceroy shows him holding a piece of white fabric, and he’s wearing it on his wrist in the Mythic Edition and in various art throughout the Guilds of Ravnica block. This is probably a piece of Tomik’s robe. In turn, Tomik, Distinguished Advokist is wearing a piece of Ral’s red robe on his wrist.

I even put one of those (Ral’s) in today’s artwork.

It also begs the question, “If the storyline of Magic is inclusive, why are Ral and Tomik in the closet about their relationship?”

Weirdly, that’s an “in game” political issue.

Let’s look at it “in game.” Ral, the leader of the Izzet Guild as of the beginning of “War of the Spark,” is the lover of Tomik Vrona, a famous and wealthy Orzhov property lawyer who serves as Teysa’s (don’t worry too much about her) right hand man. The two of them have a committed romantic relationship and share an apartment together. That’s established in the novel (again). However, due to the fact that they’re high-ranking officials in rival guilds, they have to keep their relationship hidden from the public eye.

So it’s not that their hiding the relationship because they are gay…to be clear. They are hiding it because an alliance between the two guilds would be seen as politically unbalancing. A straight relationship of the same kind would be JUST as bad, apparently.

I do like that Wizards of the Coast has made one of their A-list characters clearly gay. They turned away from having Chandra and Nissa be in a lesbian relationship, and that was not very well received. Even that relationship was only going to be revealed in an online story block, so it’s not like they were putting the text of the story on the main thrust of the game, as it were. They have stuck to that strategy here, which seems a little…”cautious.”

Out of the two hundred and sixty four cards in the set, it just seems to me that the art for “Planewide Celebration,” could have been much more like today’s artwork. Maybe I’ll color it, and make my own proxy card.

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