Magic: The Gathering's Terrifying Innistrad ARG Story Experience

Wizards of the Coast, creators of the premier trading card game Magic: The Gathering, have always been quite detail-oriented in their worldbuilding. The stories they tell through the cards they design, develop, and print have always been remarkably in-depth and immersive. But stories all have a different sort of perspective to them. For example, New Phyrexia, the game's take on science-fiction-derived horror, has players serve as fly-meets-wall spectators to the atrocities committed by the grotesque and diabolical Phyrexians as they singlehandedly remake the plane of Mirrodin into their own twisted image.

But there's another perspective that has, arguably, served Wizards of the Coast even better than the helpless spectator perspective of New Phyrexia. The Innistrad set and all associated sets tied thematically to that plane of existence have immersed players more than any other set that has come before them, by using art to put players firmly into the gothic-horror action of the scenes and aesthetic of the gruesome and deranged world of Innistrad itself. This article will serve to try and chronicle a very specific, and oft-overlooked, piece of art that Wizards had put out into the world: These are the chronicles of Josh Brauer, a person who, if we're being entirely frank, we don't know actually exists.

Magic: The Gathering's Terrifying Innistrad ARG Story Experience
The full art for the original copies of Sengir Vampire, an iconic card from Magic: The Gathering and the profile picture for one Josh Brauer on Twitter (@BrauerJosh), used to promote the Innistrad expansion set from 2011. Illustrated by Anson Maddocks.

Ten years ago, nearly to the day, hot on the heels of New Phyrexia, the tragic yet thrilling cliffhanger conclusion to a story set in the world of Magic: The Gathering, Wizards of the Coast enacted a plot worthy of the plane of existence it heralded. They created a story-driven ARG (short for Alternate Reality Game) based on Innistrad, their take on the gothic-horror genre within the realms of Magic.

However, Wizards needed a few things in order to get the ball rolling on what would soon become one of the most iconic and beloved settings in the game. Wizards needed a compelling story, and for these ends, they utilized the talents of Jenna HellandMatt TabakTim Miller, and Dungeons & Dragons writer Bruce Cordell to create a chilling story that would wholly compel players of the game into reading along as bits and bobs were "leaked". But who would leak them? Miller and the rest of the team decided upon creating a Twitter profile that can still be read from today, alongside journal entries on Blogspot and a couple of minimalistic, yet effective, video snippets on YouTube.

A photo from the Blogspot entry "Writing has appeared in the book." by Wizards of the Coast creation Josh Brauer to promote Magic: The Gathering's first Innistrad set via ARG.
A photo from the Blogspot entry "Writing has appeared in the book." by Wizards of the Coast creation Josh Brauer to promote Magic: The Gathering's first Innistrad set via ARG.

We obviously cannot presume one way or another, but it is quite possible that without this horror story semi-set in the mundane trappings of the real world we all know, Innistrad would not have been quite as well-received as it ended up. The story of Raben and his experiences with a cursed blade will forever be indelibly wrenched into our minds like a worm, wriggling and writhing its way into our brains, immoral and endless pangs of hunger unsatiated forever, and forever burrowing into our skulls, until the madness takes over once and for all…

Sorry, got carried away there.

But you, too, can, on this eve of the Harvesttide Festival (or the start of the spoiler reveal season for Midnight Hunt, a Magic: The Gathering set also taking place within the setting of Innistrad), read the story detailed in Josh Brauer's own (albeit fabricated) experiences by clicking here. Alternatively, you can read the forward on how the inner workings of the ARG came about by clicking here.

What do you think about the promotional campaign that Wizards of the Coast created for Magic: The Gathering's original Innistrad set? Should they do more of these alternate-reality experiences for more settings in the future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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About Joshua Nelson

Josh Nelson is a Magic: The Gathering deckbuilding savant, a self-proclaimed scholar of all things Sweeney Todd, and, of course, a writer for Bleeding Cool. In their downtime, Josh can be found painting models, playing Magic, or possibly preaching about the horrors and merits of anthropophagy. You can find them on Twitter at @Burning_Inquiry for all your burning inquiries.
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