Wizards of the Coast, creators of the premier trading card game Magic: The Gathering, have come up with some really inventive ways to spice up events for their card game's prereleases. Some that come to mind are the Hero's Path event, which went ongoing for the prereleases of the entire Theros block, the "minigame" for Dragons of Tarkir called "Tarkir Dragonfury," a dexterity-based game not unlike skeeball, and the iconic event for Mirrodin Besieged where players had to pick between the Mirrans and Phyrexians. But can a theme go too far?
Today, we have learned from the Wizards Play Network that in their attempts to entice and attract more players to the Streets of New Capenna prerelease, which goes live in April, Wizard's has come up with a rather heavy-handed fantasy analog for the illicit substance use of the 1920s. The substance, called "Halo" in their suggestion article, allegedly enhances the magical abilities of anyone who uses it and is highly sought after.
Make Your Own Halo
Halo is the magical substance that rules the criminal underworld in New Capenna, sought after by all for its magic-enhancing qualities. It comes in many forms, such as crystals, liquids, and vapors, and you may consider adding your own to your in-store events.
You might present this ethereal substance by adding stones or crystals as part of your decorations—but if you'd rather serve it as a snack or beverage, you can get creative by using treats like rock candy or a fruity punch.
Remember, please do not serve in beverageware commonly associated with alcoholic beverages (i.e., martini glasses). Remember, Magic is for all ages and everyone should feel welcome!
While there is no denying that Prohibition had a great impact on the American landscape of the time, marketing a fantasy substance analogous to mind-altering things such as drugs and alcohol (even if alcohol is perfectly legal today) in a game environment advertised to people as young as 13 years old seems like a poorly-devised plan. It surely will not go well in execution, at least not without major pushback from parents and guardians (many of whom will not know enough about the game to see that there is a major difference if there is).
So our question to Wizards of the Coast is this: Do you see how this all sounds? Yes, this is a fantasy game. But some themes are far too much to handle for those just coming into their own. The fact of the matter is that this is too real of a subject, especially with – among far too many other issues in America – an opiate crisis going on.
It may be fine if this wasn't their intention, and if we go by the statement made below, it wasn't, but Wizards of the Coast will regardless need to clarify many times over to the public that Halo isn't an illicit substance, a drug, or something bad.
There may not be a viable fix for this situation on the part of Wizards of the Coast and the WPN. The best thing for Wizards to do may be to simply strike that suggestion from the article and let Halo be an afterthought, or at best only used in some of the fantasy stories on their website. This idea may still be on Magic: The Gathering cards, which honestly may pose itself to be a tough scenario for the company.
Upon reaching out to Wizards of the Coast for a statement, they told us the following:
Halo is a magical substance much the same way Aether or even mana is. It's not a drug, but it is powerful. And like anything powerful, criminal elements seek to control it, no matter how pure and good the thing is. We'll share more about Halo, it's origins, and the world of New Capenna in the coming weeks.
If we want to take that idea and run with it in theory, it could be said that some parallels can be made between Halo and the somewhat-surprising black market that is baby formula sales. The latter topic, while a rabbit hole in its own right, shows that illegal sales of a product can be made even if the product is not necessarily "bad" or "malicious." However, the key difference here between Halo smuggling (if we are to believe that is what is going on in the underworld dealings of New Capenna) and that of baby formula is that Halo draws some parallels to the black market narcotics industry if the WPN mention of Halo's various forms is anything to shout about.
We don't so much take umbrage with the fact that it feels like it runs analogous to drug racketeering as the idea that WPN has encouraged vendors to use "rock candy" and "fruity punch" to represent something like this at all. A rudimentary trip to a store like Hot Topic or FYE will yield the fact that they market blue rock candy licensed under the television show Breaking Bad's name. If you're familiar with that show, you'll understand what I am concerned about. Furthermore, in an age of relevant pandemic safety, the suggestion to offer punch in what would inevitably often be in open containers seems like a tough pitch (especially at local gaming stores, where clean tables are vital and one spill could ruin many peoples' day).
At the end of the day, the other ideas in the article are fine. Streets of New Capenna is probably going to be an even bigger hit than Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty was if aesthetics and reception thereof have anything to say about it, but if Wizards of the Coast keeps this particular idea up (or worse still, doubles down on it), continued ambiguity on the subject isn't likely to be pretty. But what do you think about this news? Does Magic: The Gathering have room for the harsh realism of substance use, and if not, what should they do? Let us know what you think in the comments below.