On Monday June 3, the official MTG Twitter and Entertainment Weekly announced that the granddaddy of all collectible card games is finally coming to life with an animated series exclusive to Netflix. As if this weren’t great enough news, we also learned that the series will be helmed by the red-hot Anthony and Joe Russo, the brothers who directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. You know, movies that have seen a moderate amount of success.
However, we aren’t here to regurgitate days-old news. We’re here to give the hottest of takes and wildly speculate about what we might see from an MTG animated series. No other details are in the wild yet apart from the fact that this show exists, the Russos will direct, and it is on the horizon. As a connoisseur of both Magic: The Gathering and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and thus, the Russos’ work), I feel that I’m in a unique position to make wild speculations that are only slightly-less-than-entirely unreasonable, but that’s okay. It’s not about having an idea; it’s about having all of them.
The promo image that WOTC’s Twitter account released features the planeswalker & pyromancer Chandra Nalaar. She’s a fan-favorite and one of the Lorwyn Five, the very first set of planeswalker cards printed in the game way back in 2007.
Who is Chandra Nalaar? This is a classic “shoot now, questions later” type of character. She’s feisty, passionate, fiercely loyal, and quick to anger. Her hair is also literally made of fire, making her a literal and figurative hothead — all things that you’d expect from a person whose expertise is in pyromancy (i.e. fire magic). She’s an easy character to like, complete with flaws and charisma that keep Chandra compelling.
I expect at least part of the show’s first season to cover her origin story. This seems fairly obvious, considering that the promo image is literally a digital rendering of one of Chandra’s “signature” cards from the set Magic: Origins. Chandra’s parents were Robin Hood-esque types, stealing resources from the rich to give to the poor. While running a courier route to deposit stolen resources, a teenage Chandra was caught by law enforcement and escaped only because her latent fire magic manifested in a time of need. When the law tracked Chandra back to her parents’ secret village in the forest, they burned it all to the ground, murdered her parents, and attempted to execute Chandra. At that point, her ability to planeswalk (move between dimensions) ignited; Chandra accidentally escaped execution, but carried the guilt of feeling responsible for her parents’ deaths.
This, I would argue, is a perfectly fine origin story to start a show. It demonstrates our hero’s powers, gives our show a bit of emotional and dramatic weight, and veers into the tried-and-true “great power, great responsibility” trope that we all know and love. From there, I’m not sure that I can venture a guess, nor am I sure that I particularly care where they go with the show’s first season. An established origin story from the original MTG lore could spawn an entire season, and I think the Russos will build on the prime material they have at their fingertips.
Chandra is from a world called Kaladesh; imagine a steampunk India where instead of steam and coal, the machines and devices are powered by liquid magic. It’s a super cool world and one of my personal favorite sets from the card game. The aesthetic and design from the original cards could translate beautifully to an anime style show. The fact that the show will be animated gives me hope that the illustrators will take liberties and really bump up the fantastical element of Kaladesh world design to new heights.
In addition to the aesthetics, I hope that the MTG series features Kaladesh because it is home to several important tribes with the game: humans, elves, dwarves, and Vedalken, a race unique to MTG. Vedalken are, for lack of a better analogy, the Vulcans of MTG: hyper-logical, focused on science, artifice & discovery, and relatively dispassionate about the spectrum of emotion. The Vedalken appear in many dimensions in MTG lore, but on Kaladesh where science and technology are a centerpiece of the world, this feels like the best place to introduce and flesh out the six-fingered blue people.
The best thing about Magic is that if you don’t like the setting, chances are that the game is going somewhere different in the next set. The central characters of MTG are called planeswalkers: wizards or magical beings with the ability to hop between different dimensions at will. It seems reasonable to assume that we’ll see several different worlds. I know that all MTG fans want the show to feature the two most popular worlds, Ravnica and Dominaria. I feel that Dominaria is more likely.
Dominaria is the original world for MTG since the game’s debut in 1993, and is a classic, high fantasy world with vast continents, multiple civilizations, and diverse ecosystems and landscapes. With a vast and varied world like Dominaria, but it’s easy to slot in new stories while having the option to touch on old lore if they want to; sure, high fantasy realms can get a little generic, but they’re flexible. Ravnica, by comparison, is a worldwide cityscape (think Coruscant from the Star Wars movies) whose government is driven by ten magical guilds that each manage an aspect of the world’s infrastructure. Ravnica has the same problem as a world like Kaladesh: the entire world is based around one central theme, limiting the kinds of stories you can tell there. The other problem is that Ravnica is a well-loved world with well-loved lore. I don’t think they should touch Ravnica until the showrunners have a solid plan to feature all ten Ravnican guilds in a compelling storyline. Ravnica is simply too important to Magic to screw up; I’d rather wait until the show’s second or third season when we can spend multiple episodes there dealing with guild intrigue.
However, what caught my eye in the announcement was the Russos describing the show as touching on the genres of suspense, thriller, and horror. When MTG fans think horror, they think of one world in particular: the immensely popular, HP Lovecraft-inspired world of Innistrad. If the Russos want horror, they need look no further than Innistrad to let their imaginations run wild. This is a perennially dark and bleak world, much like Ravenloft from D&D lore or Sanctuary from the Diablo franchise. Innistrad features classic horror mainstays in vampires, werewolves, and zombies, as well as otherworldly Lovecraftian fiends to torment the world’s inhabitants. It is quite well loved and I think the Russos can really make a great splash bringing Innistrad to life.
Speaking of inhabitants, MTG is a multiverse of worlds and Chandra has many friends within it. Together, they form a team of planeswalkers called
the Avengers the Jace-tice League the Gatewatch who are self-appointed guardians of the multiverse, responsible for responding to large magical threats. Which classic MTG characters will we see in the Netflix series? Here are my most likely picks.
Liliana Vess. Innistrad happens to be the adopted home of an incredibly popular planeswalker named Liliana Vess. She’s a millennia-old necromancer who sold her soul to four different demons in exchange for power, eternal life, and eternal beauty. If this MTG show is going to touch on horror, we know they’ve got to come to Innistrad. And if they come to Innistrad, I can guarantee you that the (arguably) most popular walker in the game will absolutely make an appearance.
Ajani Goldmane. He’s a leonin (a giant, anthropomorphic lion) from a world called Naya. Ajani is another member of the Lorwyn Five, and often appears in the MTG lore as a Ben Kenobi type character, mentoring and training the younger walkers. If the show is to be animated, there’s no reason to not have Ajani show up in a way that CGI effects might not be able to match.
Jaya Ballard. A classic hero from the earliest MTG sets, Jaya is another fire mage and planeswalker. After her adventuring days are behind her, Jaya helps teach Chandra to control her passions and become more than just a glorified flamethrower.
Nissa Revane. Nissa is an elf from a world called Zendikar where she is the self-appointed protector. She’s one of the most powerful animists (wizards who specialize in earth magic) in the multiverse. She and Chandra are also a big “will they/won’t they” pair in MTG lore. I’d love to see a relationship between the two of them become canon in the realms of this new series.
Jace Beleren. Ugh. Jace is the Mickey Mouse of MTG. He’s a psychic who spends most of his time brooding or having a headache, and he’s just the worst with a capital The Worst.
That’s about all I’ve got on my way too early speculations for the MTG Netflix series. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m super jazzed that a game I’ve loved for years finally gets to be on TV. Do you have any way too early predictions? Want me to write more about Magic? Let me know in the comments below! Until next time, burn bright.