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Interview with 'Magic: The Gathering' creative team member Doug Beyer

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Today Feb. 25, 2013 Examiner.com's David Leavitt caught up with "Magic: The Gathering" R&D creative team member Doug Beyer to discuss his three part e-book series "The Secretist." Beyer has worked at Wizards of the Coast for over a decade and began writing flavor text during "Odyssey." He's written "Alara Unbroken" and co-authored "A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara" with Jenna Helland. You can check out his "Magic" articles here.

In "The Secretist: Part 1" readers:

Follow Planewalker Jace Beleren as he returns to his adoptive home of Ravnica to find all of the guilds preparing for battle. In his journey, he discovers evidence of disturbing gaps in his memory and a series of assassins on his trail. He also tries to reconnect with an old friend, but when she turns up dead, he ends up embroiled in a mystery that implicates all ten guilds and an ancient secret. While battle rages on across Ravnica, Jace finds himself fighting his own battle, with his own challenges and obstacles.

"Just how free were you to write the new "Magic" canon in "The Secretist?" Did the creative team as a whole sit down to make an outline with plot points that needed to happen and you got to fill in the blanks or did you have complete control?
"I had a lot of freedom. But I also had help. Since I work on Magic R&D’s Creative Team, I had tons of support from my colleagues on exactly how "The Secretist" would fit into the vision of Ravnica we were creating. As a team we had already developed some of the broad, overarching plot points that would play out across the year, as we always do for all of Magic’s worlds. But I got so excited by the skeleton of what we came up with, I felt I had to find a way to tell the whole story. That eventually led to "The Secretist." Of course my story had to be sure to fulfill those couple of overarching plot points, because the card art, flavor text, trailer videos, and other expressions of Magic depended on those things being true. But as long as I made sure to stay consistent with those plot points—and again, I wanted them to be true, because they were what got me excited about the story—I was free to come up with the vast majority of details on my own.

Magic is a huge property with expressions across several media, and it can be tricky to ensure that all the parts agree, especially when you’re working with such high-profile characters like Jace and the famous plane of Ravnica. But since my desk is literally a few feet away from the other people who would need to approve issues of continuity, and since we meet as a team for hours every week to discuss the flow of Magic’s story, I was in a great position to not just tell a cool story, but also build something that could cohere satisfyingly with the game."

"What was your greatest challenge when writing the novella?"
"Certainly carving out time to write, on top of my full-time writing gig, was a challenge. But I think the biggest challenge was a consequence of what excites me about Ravnica in the first place. Ravnica’s guilds provide this perfect bridge between Magic’s flavor and mechanics, and their ten unique sets of values and perspectives create a rich world that’s primed for tales of intrigue and strife. But that richness also has the potential to create an unwieldy story.

Every guild is somebody’s favorite, and you want to do justice to all of them. The variety of the guild identities is the foundation of Ravnica. But as the writer, if you go in assuming you’re going to build some kind of balanced ten-way conflict—not to mention throwing in Planeswalkers like Jace—you’re not really telling a story anymore; you’re box-checking. So for "The Secretist" I had to figure out a way to involve key members of all of Ravnica’s guilds while prioritizing those characters who drove the story forward. It was tempting to give tons of screen time to every guild, because they all have their idiosyncrasies and internal contradictions. But in the end, I focused on Jace’s story and on those characters whose lives were affected by his mission."

"Aside from Jace, which character in "The Secretist" was your favorite to develop and build backstory for? Why?"
"Oh man, tough question! Part of the fun of being a writer is that you don’t have to write what’s boring to you—if there was someone in the manuscript I didn’t enjoy, then they were cut during revisions! But I do have some particular favorites.

I enjoy Emmara’s fierce independence, coupled with her devotion to the unity-obsessed, individuality-suppressing Selesnya Conclave. I love Ruric Thar’s pronoun-defying two-headedness—are they two “he”s or one “they”?—and their amusing brute-force approach to everything. I love Ral Zarek’s frustrated ambition—his obvious talent combined with his short fuse and his lip service to the draconic Izzet guildmaster. There’s a character in Part Two called Calomir who was a lot of fun to develop, as well, but you have to check out Part Two for that."

"If you were in charge of the screenplay for a "Magic" movie, would it follow an existing planeswalker or new character(s)? Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner has said “there’s so many elements in the mythology of 'Magic: The Gathering' that could be amazing for movie storytelling" and if Hasbro can turn a board game like "Battleship" into a movie then I can't begin to fathom what the talented people at Wizards of the Coast could come up with for "Magic.""
"I would love to see a Magic movie happen, as long as it’s done right. Film could be an amazing venue for telling Magic’s style of stories, and a great way to bring Magic to a wide audience. Sign me up! But there are pitfalls, obviously, and we’d want to make sure we watched out for them.

At Wizards we’ve worked on expressions of Magic’s IP that span across cards, novels, short stories, video games, comics, and other media, all while doing the tricky work of keeping Magic’s ethos consistent. One thing we’ve learned is that every medium has its own requirements, and its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to expressing what Magic is about.

The cards do a great job of highlighting the planes of the Multiverse and their inhabitants, for example, and at revealing Magic’s depth and detail. Novels aren’t as visually impactful as cards, but they may be better at communicating plot, chronology, and character development. Every time Magic moves into a new medium, we have to figure out how best to translate Magic’s essence to that medium, by understanding the strengths and challenges of that medium.

The best way a movie could happen is if we could find great partners who understood the ways a movie could play to Magic’s strengths, and how the essence of Magic could play out via the strengths of movies."

"What's the hardest obstacle you've had to overcome in your position on the creative team?"
"I thought I was supposed to be a philosophy professor once. Overcoming that obstacle was pretty key. My life actually got a lot less obstacle-y once I got to Wizards and got to work with these amazing people. Seriously, I mean, it’s probably pretty bad karma to talk about how hard my life’s been since then, right?"

"Is there anything else that you'd like add?"
"I just hope everyone enjoys "Gatecrash: The Secretist Part Two" as much as I loved working on it. Thanks for the great questions."

"Thanks so much!"

"The Secretist" part two comes out Feb. 26, 2013 and is currently available for preorder for $1.99 from Amazon.com. You can pick up part one now for $1.99.

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