Netflix has announced that an animated Magic: The Gathering series is in the works, executive produced by Joe and Anthony Russo, hot off their MCU crescendo with Avengers: Endgame. At the same time, Magic, the card game, resolved a decades-long story in May with an all-hands-on-deck epic battle, drawing parallels to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And that’s not where the overlap between these two franchises ends. But first we’ll get into what exactly Magic: The Gathering is, and why creative guidance from the Russo brothers is a match made in mana heaven.
Magic: The Gathering is the original trading card game, released in 1993. Players assume the role of powerful wizards called planeswalkers, and eliminate opponents. This is achieved by drawing mana from natural resources and converting that energy into casting spells, creating creatures who do your bidding, and even summoning other planeswalkers. All of these are represented as individual Magic cards. Players create their own deck of cards, draw one card a time into their hand, and take turns performing actions in a dynamic mix of poker bluffs and RPG tabletop.
Magic is released in sets typically every three months, each introducing hundreds of newly designed cards into the ecosystem. Sets can teleport players to new fantastic worlds: Magic takes place in a multiverse of disconnected planes — you as a planeswalker have the ability to travel to these different realities. And sets can begin a new story, or continue a previous one. Some cards depict the set’s lore and plot directly, often with a regular cast of planeswalkers and characters who drive Magic’s overarching story, along with tie-in novels and short stories.
“If we can’t protect the earth, you can be damn sure we’ll gatewatch it.”
…OK, so that line only worked with The Avengers.
The Gatewatch is an alliance of the mightiest worthy planeswalkers, who jump to different planes and defend those in most need against physical, supernatural, and cosmic threats. Like The Avengers, the Gatewatch frequently clash in personality and method, as their members range from an illusionist to a pyromaniac, a necromancer, and a man cat. The most recent Magic set, May’s War of the Spark, brings the Gatewatch and hundreds more planeswalkers onto the battlefield in a climatic showdown with elder dragon Nicol Bolas, who has been a recurring villain since 2008. Fittingly, the MCU launched that same year with Iron Man, while Thanos has been built up since the end of 2012’s The Avengers. The Russo brothers’ knack for weaving multiple storylines and assembling powerful characters together in meaningful and surprising ways, all into a cohesive whole, is an absolute boon for this franchise.
The Russos have stated that Netflix’s Magic series will be an original story, so it might not even involve the Gatewatch at all. And we’re more interested in where the series will be visiting, as the multiverse is set up to hold an infinite number of planes. This Netflix team might have completely unique worlds in store for viewers. But with Magic: The Gathering‘s past decades of art and lore, those are mountains (and islands and plains and swamps and forests) of material yearning to seen and heard on-screen for the first time.
There are well over 60 known planes in the Magic multiverse, with the majority of the card game action taking place in about a quarter of those. Here’s just a few suggestions of where this series may go.
Ravnica: Set in a metropolis of ornate European architecture that covers an entire planet, where magic entwines directly with Game of Thrones-style politics and civic life. A popular location with Magic designers, who have set the last three sets here, including War of the Spark.
Dominaria: The original plane, whose flora and fauna most resembles our own. Seen in the first 10 years of the game, and re-visited last year for Magic‘s 25th anniversary in the self-titled Dominaria set. Joe and Anthony Russo are OG (“We have been huge fans and players of Magic: The Gathering for as long as it has been around,” they said in a statement), so they might just kick things off here as a tribute to their origins.
Kaladesh: The handsomest place in the multiverse, a sky-conquering world of sun-bright steampunk and intricate metalwork and gold filigree. Kaladesh also has a Middle Eastern and South Asian flavor, something in the zeitgeist right now if the popular success of Aladdin is to go by. The show’s animators would have their work cut out for them, though.
Innistrad: A Gothic tale come to dreadful life, where humans fend off vampires, werewolves, and zombies…not to mention an invasion of Lovecraftian monstrosities called the Eldrazi. Netflix’s press release mentions that the “series will cross the genres of suspenseful thriller, horror, and drama.” Innistrad nets you all three.
Despite being around for 26 years, Magic: The Gathering is the biggest it’s ever been. The multiverse and the Gatewatch were later inventions of this franchise, which has opened up storytelling possibilities and kept players engaged beyond collectible cardboard. Magic: The Gathering Arena, the competitive video game version fans have been desiring for years, is a hit with streamers and poised to take Magic into the eSports Thunderdome in a big way. The amount of new interest in putting a Magic series in front of Netflix’s 139 million subscribers is going to hit like a force of nature.
The Russos have tapped Henry Gilroy (Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and Jose Molina (The Tick, Agent Carter) as lead writers and co-executive producers. A premiere date for Netflix’s Magic: The Gathering has yet to be announced.