The Wish List: 8 MTG cards I long to see reprinted

There is a scene at the end of The Return of the King – I’m thinking of the Hollywood interpretation here, so forgive me, purists – wherein, having saved the known world from the menace of Sauron, several of the major characters take to an Elvish ship to begin a voyage to the Undying Lands.

The characters whom they are leaving behind, choked with emotion, wave them off from the jetty; and we understand, misty-eyed ourselves, that those ships can never return. This is not a voyage, but a metaphor for death. Our valiant friends are gone, destined to live on only in our sunlit memories.

I don’t want to diminish the emotional punch of this image, but… it’s pretty much how I feel about rotations in Magic.

I have been… and always shall be… your friend

When (like me) a player tends to adopt pet cards, it can be gut-wrenching to wave them goodbye.

Even when a card is nominally legal in eternal formats, its power level can be such that no realistic chance of successful migration exists. I like to play unusual decks, but not to the extent that I will register something completely unable to compete: I have learned to accept that the hits of standard past will not always find a good home in Modern (and Extended before it).

The last hope that I’ll be able to relive the glory days with some of my old cardboard companions lies down the narrowest of paths: the route to reprinting in a standard-legal set. In  some cases, the likelihood is smaller than in others – but on the off-chance that Wizards of the Coast decides they are prepared to indulge my personal nostalgia, I’m going to lay out my top-8 candidate list below, shut my eyes and cross my fingers.

As Susie (of Calvin and Hobbes) once famously said, as long as I’m dreaming, I might as well have a pony.

#8 – Blazing Specter

This card is a source of constant frustration for me, because it’s eminently reprintable. Each time we’ve visited Ravnica, I have watched the Rakdos spoilers on tenterhooks… but each time, I’m left forlorn.

An additional reason exists for my frustration. If I wanted to, I could play this card in precisely the same environment in which I discovered it: Kitchen Table magic. But, thanks to my awareness of the format system, I can never again happily compete in environments without reasonable shared boundaries.

We had some good times, though. The Ol’ Blazer here was a great mid-game top-deck in every black/red pile I built for years, coinciding with a rich period of deploying resource-denial which Chrome Mox and Stone Rain had lured me into. I can still hear the frustrated grunts of my opponents as their sandbagged, bomb-creatures unexpectedly hit the bin time after time.

Unlike many of the cards from that era in my card-slinging career, I feel that Blazing Specter remains a respectable play in potential Standard landscapes of the future. It’s not overpowered, but it’s solid enough to find a home with anyone who likes their card advantage quick, dirty and unexpected.

#7 – Vindicate

A victim of the contemporary policy which forbids land destruction cards being printed at 3 mana, Vindicate is the iconic utility card.

I’ve used it frequently in cube to eliminate pesky monsters, stop degenerate Academy Ruins loops and un-pacify my game-dominating win conditions. It feels great.

Some may point me toward Maelstrom Pulse, but to those people I say: sometimes it’s good to murder the opponent’s real estate. Land death may be considered un-fun by many, but losing to Urzatron, Karn – or a great big meaty man-land –  is pretty un-fun too.

Is it too much to ask, that one of the great swiss-army-knives in the game’s history be given another roll of the dice?

#6 – Everflowing Chalice

The perfect mana-rock, Everflowing Chalice holds a special place in my heart due to its interaction with Proliferate, a mechanic slated to return by Wizards at some unspecified future date.

With a counter-bearing chalice in play, repeatable proliferate effects quickly spiral into an abundance of colourless mana, which in turn allows the resolution of large, colourless planeswalkers* and ridiculous X-spells.

Of course, the chalice doesn’t need such shenanigans to be good. At 2 mana, it is the picture of efficient acceleration. At 4 mana, it catapults the board position forward and provides something useful to do when conventional 4-drops are posted missing.

The problem, of course, is that this card cannot return without the general reappearance of Multikicker. I don’t know how likely Wizards is to resurrect the mechanic, but I think the chances are slim that it will ever share the standard environment with Proliferate again, thereby limiting the potential fun to be had.

Still, this is one of the more realistic cards on my list. Here’s hoping…

* Yes, in the last entry I condemned Karn as un-fun. Yes, I’m now touting him as a great thing to do with a lot of mana. Yes, I’m a hypocrite. Move along.

#5 – Wildfire

If the last card on my list ever makes it back, I expect it will end up hanging around on street corners with its dangerous older friend, Wildfire.

When it’s good, Wildfire is literally the most powerful thing you can imagine doing in a Standard Format. Ramping to 6 has been fashionable in recent years, when Titans bestrode the landscape, so we know that it’s a readily achievable threshold – but Wildfire is an even better payoff, if you ask me.

If I throw down an Inferno Titan against an aggressive deck, it’s a favourite to dominate their strategy… unless they have a removal spell, or a couple of burn spells, in which case, I may find myself staring down my likely demise at the hands of several small men.

The great thing about Wildfire is that Doom Blade can’t undo all my good work. In fact, short of a counterspell, I’m going to absolutely ruin the board position of my opponent whilst simultaneously removing their ability to cast spells in a meaningful manner. While they scrabble around to find lands, I’ll typically be recovering at pace with the help of artifact mana, or racing ahead thanks to a Planeswalker I already had in play before the apocalypse arrived.

I’ve tried to make Wildfire work in Modern, with mixed results. My instinct is that, at 6 mana, it’s a natural apex predator for standard; but like Tyrannosaurus Rex, it will inevitably die out in more evolved formats.

Still, the dream of blowing up the world is one I’m not quite ready to let go of yet.

#4 – Rude Awakening

To explain why I love this card so much, I need to tell a story.

Back in Mirrodin/Kamigawa standard, I was getting back into the game and playing in tournaments regularly for the first time. Affinity was the boogeyman and I hated it, like many others.

At one particular FNM I found myself back-to-the-wall, at low life, facing down a tapped, post-combat Ravager wearing a Cranial Plating, accompanied by about three tapped artifact lands. I had stalled my way through the game, blocking earlier creatures with Sakura-Tribe Elder, oxidising threats, witnessing back Elders and Oxidises… but here I was, close to death. I had a mess of lands and one card in my hand.

“Can you play through this?” my insufferably smug opponent asked me, flashing two copies of shrapnel blast.

“Yes,” I told him, untapping, drawing a blank and resolving the Rude Awakening (with entwine) which had been my solitary card. A mixed, 11-strong band of Islands and Forests danced across the table to claim his life total.

As I reached for the poisonous stack of artifact hatred that was my sideboard, smiling sweetly, I watched my opponent’s face. Burned into his features was the legend: BUT YOU DID NOTHING ALL GAME AND SOMEHOW I AM DEAD AAAAARRRGGGHH.

Please, Wizards. I speak for all durdlers everywhere when I say please, please give me back that feeling again.

#3 – Eternal Witness

Oh, my.

I have walked the dark path more than once in my life. I have used this young lady to return a recently resolved Plow Under to my hand, as my opponent rolled their eyes and dropped their hand face down onto the table.

I have held her in my hand, hidden from view, as nervous young men agonised over how to divide my Gifts Ungiven piles.

I have stayed in touch throughout games in which I should rightfully have been steam-rolled, as she helped me to recycle Remand over and over again, until I could draw the action I needed.

I want to do these things and more – and I want to do them in standard again. Come on, Wizards – is my gal-pal here really so overpowered?

#2 – Cruel Ultimatum

There is always a greater power.

It’s pretty appropriate, on the basis of this classic flavour text, that Cruel only makes #2 on my list… even here, there is one card which has a greater pull on my heart-strings.

That card will wait, however. For now, let’s reminisce about all the things which made this card wonderful.

  • Value – I’ve heard this card estimated at a nine-for-one, on the basis that the life swing is equivalent to a consume spirit or similar. Sometimes it’s less, for instance when no creature is available in the caster’s graveyard, or the opponent has less than three cards; sometimes, against a red deck for instance, those five life points are priceless.
  • Power – The power to flip a game completely on its head; to turn a war of attrition into a one-sided thermonuclear combat, or to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
  • Iconic status – Just look at that casting cost. What card could be worth seven mana, all coloured, in such a demanding arrangement? THIS ONE. THIS ONE CAN.

Cruel can’t win from every position, but supported with the right friends it can create a mountain for opposing players to climb.

  • It can’t win through a board full of creatures – but if you damnation away the opponent’s team, it will handily dispose of their follow up threat.
  • It can’t stop an opponent from Cruel-ing you straight back if they had more than 4 cards in hand – but if you run pinpoint discard, you can guard against such situations.
  • It can’t hold the early game to stop you from dying before you hit 7 mana – but that’s why you should design your deck around keeping parity (or better) and drawing the game out until it becomes the ultimate stall-breaker.

Sadly, I fear we are never likely to see Cruel grace a standard table again. It is, by its very nature, part of a very unique cycle – and I question the willingness of Wizards either to reprint that whole cycle or to give us Cruel as a standalone. Perhaps I will simply have to make it work in Modern… wish me luck.

#1 – Etched Oracle

Oh, Etchy.  Will we ever again shuffle up together, my faithful companion?

There are so many things right with the Oracle.

  • He has a respectably-sized body, provided one can meet his multi-coloured conditions; I am already predisposed to playing decks with four or more colours, so that sounds just fine to me.
  • In addition, he has a magnificent upside once in play: a colourless Ancestral Recall, which I like to think is represented by the beautiful poly-chromatic orb he clutches in his filigree fingers.
  • Finally, he has the most gorgeous artwork I have ever seen on a Magic card. Gaun Yersel’, Matt Cavotta.

But there are also things which count against the Oracle, from a reprinting perspective.

  • He is only viable in an environment with plentiful colour fixing… and despite visiting such places several times, Wizards have historically chosen to overlook him.
  • He carries the Sunburst mechanic, which is thematically linked to Fifth Dawn, the specific set in which he was first printed. To create a world where Sunburst felt appropriate would take slightly more bending-over-backward than I expect Wizards to indulge in.

All of this is more painful, because I feel that he missed out (if you’ll pardon the pun) on his time in the sun.

When the Oracle first arrived, standard was a mess. Affinity reigned supreme and all organised play twitched helplessly in its iron grip; in such an environment, if a card wasn’t Oxidise at one end of the cost spectrum or Molder Slug at the other, it probably wasn’t getting played in any decks lining up against the artifact menace.

Eventually, bannings fixed standard slightly. For a brief period, I was able to play actual games with the paragon of good, fair creatures – and lo, he was glorious.

In the days of ‘damage-on-the-stack’, Etchy was the absolute stones. He was a house against attacking weenie creatures, a solid man to trade with larger animals… and if played correctly, he always came with an ancestral absolutely free.

  • Block your X/4 guy
  • Damage on the stack?
  • Pay 1, sac the Oracle, draw 3 cards
  • Damage resolves, your guy dies
  • Set off the party poppers, rig up a piñata, etc

If getting a 4-for-1 with my creature felt amazing, the 5-for-1s were even better. Sometimes, my fire-slinging opponents would swing their weenie team into my Oracle… I would block a small man… and they would hurl in a burn spell to finish him off. Naturally, I would cash him in, untap and go bananas – not difficult when the other guy is hurling good resources after bad, while I’m drawing into sweet spells and Eternal Witnesses by the boatload.

Ah, Etchy. Our time was so short, but so sweet. I struggle to fully express my feelings on this matter, but Whitney can pick up the slack.

It’s not all about me

That was my list, but different opinions provide life with a lot of its wondrous variety.

If you ran Wizards for a day, what would you throw back onto the printing presses?

1

They do say, young man, that leopards don’t change their spots; but they talk rubbish and we all know it. How long has it taken (with your help) to change every part of my life?

You’ve changed so much I barely even recognise some of your baby pictures; I’ve changed completely, because now I’m someone who likes to look at baby pictures.

Let me show you:

Less than a week old

Less than a week before your birthday

The same guy? If I hadn’t seen you grow with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it.

When I sat down to write this little note, I had only the haziest idea of what it would look like; I knew I wanted to leave you another little milestone for the future, so that the time around your first birthday would be as accessible for you as the time of your birth, but beyond that I had a blank page.

I finally settled on borrowing a tradition from the office of the US President: please consider this the first annual State of the Next Generation Address.

A grand upheaval

I’m not sure it’s possible to convey just how enormous has been the change to my habits, desires and priorities your arrival prompted; but I’m a game guy, I’ll have a bash.

In the very early weeks of your life, your mother and I had to deal with two major tremors in the fabric of our lives.

  • On the Emotional level, we had to get our heads around just how precious you were to us and how big/scary/downright unwelcoming the world was for a little person. That meant many moments of worry, of dizzying responsibility-related panic, of beating ourselves up over small mistakes in your care… it also meant many moments of quiet communion with you during late night feeds, or soppy tears and husky voices as we read you stories. It’s a big, big love to have drop into one’s lap and it took a while to get used to it. Honestly, there was a time in the hospital when I thought I’d never be able to hold you without tears… a granite-jawed, stoic frontiersman your old man is not.
  • On the Practical level, we had an incredibly complex, time-intensive routine to incorporate into our normal functioning. Speaking only for myself: I’m not good with chores and maintenance-type tasks. Getting on top of the feeds, changes, sleeps, sterilisations, baths et al that you brought with you was pretty challenging. There were a lot of actions and they were required very regularly; it was a thorny process, involving many raised voices from all three of us.

The primary factor in achieving comfort with these changes was a simple one: confidence.

A very good friend (and one of your many uncles) expressed it best to me when talking about bringing his second child home: “Well,” he shrugged, “You know they’re not going to blow up… so it’s fine.”

That’s the truth of the matter. As each day passed and nothing awful happened, we started to become less stressed; at the same time, you began to space out your sleeps and feeds as your own rhythms settled down. We became slicker at doing all the maintenance jobs; at the same time, your level of demand for those jobs began subtly dropping off.

In the months leading up to your half-year, my memory becomes a bit of a blur. I know there was a lot of lying around, combined with a fair amount of hilarious fashion decisions into which you had no input. Luckily, you don’t have to rely on my hazy descriptions, as your mother has a host of photographs:

You appear terrified, but that bear suit is nonetheless one of my fondest memories.

This is from a coffee shop in St Andrews, I believe – part of a long tradition of photos in which we’re largely chopped out. You’ll be used to it by now, I suppose.

At the time of writing, this is the closest you’ve ever been to PJ in your life.

I included this one just for laughs. Sorry, mate.

As you can see, these were some good times. You had moved on from being a tiny, largely unresponsive baby to a bubbly wee guy with recognisable features and an interest in the world.

One of my most treasured memories from this stage is of carrying you around in your baby harness:

I will never get tired of these pictures. If you ever feel like shrinking so I can fit you back in that thing, just let me know.

Once we reached the half-year mark, you really started to up the pace. Firsts arrived with the regularity of Scottish raindrops.

  • You started wriggling around a whole lot more – we’d find you in all sorts of bizarre, sprawling positions when we walked into your bedroom in the morning.
  • You began sitting up of your own accord, which seemed a revelation at the time, but was quickly dwarfed by your other spiralling achievements.
  • Your risk-taking nature started to assert itself (or your Mother’s – a matter of interpretation) as you began taking to swings, ballpits and the garden.

As ever, these moments are preserved in glorious technicolour:

Nap? I thought you said ‘gymnastics’.

Move the bottle, son, it’s undignified.

Faster, faster MUHAHAHAHAHAHA

You were always this good-looking; even my DNA couldn’t hold you back.

As we closed in on your first birthday, every day was a surprise. You’ve never been quiet, sunshine, but your chatterbox nature really started to exert itself:

  • You had favourite words and sounds which you would repeat, over and over. At one point, you said ‘Bob’ so frequently that we assumed he must be a close personal friend; later, you would spout ‘sugoi’ in long, gurgling chains. I’m told it means ‘awesome’ in Japanese, which indicates that you were already an optimistic cosmopolitan even at this early stage.
  • A range of ear-piercing shrieks and deafening bellows were deployed, to indicate your impatience with our failure to feed or amuse you sufficiently well or quickly. If you ever complain about someone else being demanding, forgive me when I laugh blackly in your face.

You weren’t just getting louder, either: you were becoming mobile.

  • At first there was the rolling; you would stretch yourself into a crude spindle and tumble sideways toward nearby objects. This was hilarious to watch, but heralded the end of that precious period during which we could set you down in  one spot, nip to the loo and expect you to still be there when we returned.
  • Then came the commando crawling. Whenever I was called upon to describe the pained, desperate way you would drag yourself forward an inch at a time, I could only compare it to watching Sean Connery’s grim struggle after taking an abdomen full of lead in action classic, The Untouchables. Watch it and see if it brings back any memories.
  • Latest in the developmental line is your full-throttle crawling. As I type, you are perhaps the fastest thing on four legs in our house – and trust me, the cat is no slouch. It is both exhilirating and terrifying to watch you barrelling around the domestic environment, finding specks of dirt to eat, hinges in which to jam your fingers and cat food to decorate the kitchen with; how close I feel to each end of the spectrum is a function of how likely I am to catch up to you before disaster strikes.

Here are a few of your highlights from the run-up to your first birthday. Please note: you spent a lot of time at the swing park!

With your good pal, Music Bunny

With your good pal, Music Bunny

 

BANANA!

BANANA!

Photogenic doesn't really cover it.

Photogenic doesn’t really cover it.

You were no stranger to the Seven Seas, even at an early age. YA-HAAAAAARRR

You were no stranger to the Seven Seas, even at an early age. YA-HAAAAAARRR

In short, you’ve come a long way from eating, sleeping and involuntary muscle movements. You’re a proper little guy – and watching you grow is proving to be more fun than I could ever have imagined.

Lifelong learning

More eloquent people than I have remarked on the double-life a parent is obliged to lead, as both teacher and student. All I can add to their insight is an extra, assenting voice.

You came into this world knowing almost nothing, David, but you weren’t quite the blank slate I had imagined you would be. It wasn’t so much what you had to learn that surprised me, but what you didn’t – the mannerisms and attitudes which were written into your DNA, but which I had always assumed would have been the product of nurture over nature.

I’ll give you the perfect example: when you are tired, you roll your head from side to side. You do this whether sitting up or lying down, wherever you happen to be. When I first saw you doing it, I presumed that you were irritated and struggling to be free of my interference. Your mother corrected me; when I asked her how she knew, she replied that she did the same thing.

“No you don’t,” I retorted, to which she responded by demonstrating her version of the motion. I was immediately struck by a feeling of having seen, but never recognised a fundamental pattern – it was obvious in that second that I had seen her roll her head a thousand times, but had never connected it with tiredness or, latterly, with your behaviour.

It was a wonderful moment. Your mum was demonstrating for me the unbreakable bond that will always exist between you; without words, she was telling me that on a fundamental level, you were made of the same stuff. I knew intellectually that this was true, as I knew it was true for you and me, but this was the first time I felt it. Every time since, when you exhibit a behaviour of yours which reflects one of ours, I get the same little thrill.

Of course there are many things we do need to teach you – and let me be clear, you are a quick learner. Having seen you explode forward from the start line of total helplessness to your current milestone of exuberant exploration, I know just how quickly you can push back your own horizons. I promise you that I will never underestimate your potential having seen the leaps already made.

I can’t round off a section on learning and teaching without stressing how much you have taught me. Thanks to you, I’ve learned:

  • That even a man who hates domestic chores can change nappies and clean bottles like a pro when your welfare is at stake.
  • That it is possible to have more fun sitting on our living room rug with you than cube drafting.
  • That I could love you more today than the day you were born, an idea I would have laughed off at the time.

Bring on Chapter 2

I’m told that children of two are ‘terrible’ – but I’m quite happy to find out for myself. It’s been great fun hanging around with you this last year, so I can’t believe that your company over the next 12 months won’t be worth swallowing a few tantrums for.

I’ll be back, once the dust has settled on this next stretch of our journey, to document it all for you once again. I hope we’ll read this together one day and share some laughs, when you’re taking your first steps into the big bad world, or perhaps even when you have kids of your own. I also like to think that, even when I’m not around to talk to, your childhood will still be here for you to explore and to wonder at as I did first time around.

I love you, bambino. Until next year…

Connective dissonance

When I was a boy, phones sat on a dark, wooden table in the hall. They were tethered to the bricks and mortar by thick, plasticky cords; if you wished to use them, you were obliged to stand out in the hall to do so, with all the associated anxiety about your (fantastically trivial) secrets being overheard by responsible adults.

In these same halcyon days, modems existed only in hollywood movies – strange, rubbery sockets into which intrepid whizz-kids would plunge clunky bakelite telephone receivers, before conducting improbable feats of computer hacking on a 16k dial-up connection.

When I was a boy, London was very far away.

This morning, my phone was in my top pocket as I boarded an express train to the Capital. Inside my phone was the descendant of those rubbery modems from 80’s cinema: my whizzy new mobile broadband internet connection, the gateway to a world unimagined by Marty Bishop and his contemporaries. Between leaving my taxi and reaching the carriage, I had answered two emails, checked my Facebook account and sampled the zeitgeist through Twitter.

I was connected.

The events which have unfolded since have helped me to realize something very important: the ease with which I access information has distorted my perception of how difficult it is to achieve all the other things in life.

My epiphany began at around 5.30pm, when my return train to Edinburgh was summarily cancelled due to flooding in the north of England.

That’s fine, I thought. I’ll get the next one. After all, I’m a digital-age consumer – if something happens which doesn’t suit me, the world will bend over backward to provide me with other option, with a replacement, with an App for that. These are the expectations of a man who can buy a book from iTunes anywhere in the world, then read it on his phone 60 seconds later, or map any journey in an eyeblink: that things will just be sorted out.

As the featureless voice of the station announcer persisted, however, it became clear that the East Coast mainline did not work like a smartphone. There was no later service; there was no alternative route; nothing which rode the rails would be going north of Newcastle before tomorrow morning; I could go fuck myself; etc.

Ok, I thought, don’t panic. The travel bookers had an out-of-hours number which I could use to get a flight arranged; I would then hop onto the tube and be airborne later in the evening.

As the sympathetic voice of the travel booker relayed bad news about flight availability, I began to fully comprehend my predicament:

  • It was not possible to take a train to Scotland: all tracks were closed.
  • It was not possible to take a plane to Scotland: all the spare capacity had already been absorbed by other train travellers, who had realised earlier than I that the tracks were closed.
  • It was not possible for me to pay for a hotel: on the last day before I was paid, I barely had enough to buy a coffee, never mind a room in London.

My digital-age consumer outlook could not help me now. I was disconnected.

This kind of experience shouldn’t have been so jarring for me. As a teenager, I had lived in a world where:

  • One arranged to meet friends hours or days in advance, at an appointed place. If they didn’t show, one did not text them for an update – one rolled with the punches and traipsed off home.
  • One didn’t leave the house without enough hard cash to get by – cashpoints were scarce and debit cards were but a twinkle in a banker’s eye.
  • One didn’t phone anyone’s out-of-hours number – offices closed at 5pm on Friday and one could bloody well call them back on Monday.

Nonetheless, I was pretty thrown.

I’ll throw a spoiler out here for you: I’m not writing this post from the gutter, or from an increasingly cold floor at King’s Cross station. I did manage, thanks to my tenacious travel booker, to secure the last room in a Premier Inn nearby. But, thanks to a few hours of uncertainty, I find myself in possession of a new and interesting concept.

When a person believes one thing, but then experiences something which does not fit with that belief, they experience what’s known as cognitive dissonance: put simply, it throws them for a loop.

Today, I experienced what I’m calling…

Connective dissonance [kuh-nek-tiv dis-uh-nuhns]

half-baked expression

  1. A discomfort that comes from subconsciously believing life should be as elegant and innately connected as an i-Pad, then being reminded that it’s not.
  2. The state of being a spoiled, smartphone worshipping twat who receives a wake up call.

…and I won’t forget it in a hurry.

I often reflect on all the things I could teach my teenage self, were I to have the opportunity. For today at least, I’m forced to admit that in dealing with the rollercoaster of the real world, there’s a fair bit he could probably teach me.

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Dungeons and Dragons: a wonderful experience, but not really a business model

I read something today that, initially, intrigued me; then made me sad; then ultimately made me philosophical.

Wizards of the Coast, the subsidiary of Hasbro that controls the Dungeons and Dragons (henceforth D&D) brand, is to release a new edition developed with substantial input from the game’s fan-base.

On the face of it, this seems an interesting idea. I haven’t played with anything other than the older, “2nd edition AD&D” rules, but I’ve heard things about the later editions. None of the things I’ve heard were particularly positive. On that basis, reverting to the game’s fans and asking them how to fix things would appear a reasonable course of action for a classic game that has lost its way.

As I read on, though, I began to feel more melancholy about the whole idea. The article talked about a perceived decline in sales, a golden age of roleplaying which was now receding into the misty past. It drew comparisons between the financial success of enterprises like World of Warcraft and the comparatively meager numbers put up by D&D’s online equivalent despite the game being free at the point of access. I started to see this effort by Wizards as a publicity stunt, pure and simple, a desperate attempt to drum up interest in yesterday’s product.

Happily, this wasn’t my last stop on the emotional rollercoaster – because it led me to think about why D&D was failing to produce sales and how that related to my own experiences.

When I first started playing D&D, it became the all-consuming hub of my social life. As a member of my high-school’s outsider/geek gang, nothing could have been a more perfect escape from the ‘festival of cack’ that was our contemporaries and their ‘scene’. Every weekend, my friends and I would cluster into the house of some infinitely patient parent, order a stack of over-sized pizzas and tell larger-than-life stories together.

I’d play a character decidedly unlike myself, take part in thrilling escapades, solve baffling puzzles and discover fantastic treasures. Crucially, I’d grow and develop that character over time, becoming richer, more famous, more deadly, or achieve any number of other fantasy milestones. Most importantly of all, I’d be doing all these things in the company of my favourite people.

In theory, of course, the adventures we’d be acting out would be based on scripts sold to us by the developers of D&D. Our Dungeon Master would purchase a generic story, into which we’d then fit our established characters so they could take on the challenges it contained.

In theory.

But in practice, things played out a little differently. Each week, we were improvising the lives of our characters on the hoof, building up relationships and rivalries with the other characters; the more we got into this groove, the less comfortable we felt responding to the awkward prompts of a pre-destined plot. Over time, our adventures became less like the stories being dreamed up by paid D&D writers and more like a heroic-fantasy-soap-opera. By their very nature, the schemes and alliances between our characters drew more emotional investment from the players than the arrival of a random minstrel in town, proclaiming news of a beast to be slain or a Lord’s favour to be won. We were drawn to the stories in which we were central characters, woven right into the fabric of the plot rather than taking the roles of a party of everymen in events someone else had conceived. We wanted to tell our own stories, so we did.

As we got older, this idea progressed. I would run sporadic games throughout our twenties, in which I wrote custom plotlines around the characters players had created, because they were more satisfying by far than having the players become the allies of some 2-dimensional protagonist. Each episode remained unwritten until the previous one had been completed, so that the plot had a chance to grow from the actions of the players, rather than force me to push them down channels into clumsy set pieces. The more the experience was personalised, the more fun it was; the more fun it was, the more we wanted to play.

It’s this truth that, in my opinion, is at the core of D&D’s failure to sell products. The game is brilliant – but it’s at its best when the players are creating it for themselves, not following someone else’s script. Why would I buy your generic adventure, when the personal one I created with my friends is miles better?

Core rules, dice, pens and paper – these are the things gamers need to get started, the things a company might realistically expect to sell for years to come. But the insight I achieved through my nostalgia was simple: unlike other products, D&D won’t die if it stops selling units and making profits for someone. Players will use their old rulebooks and their own narratives to keep the game alive, create new adventures and introduce it to the next generation.

The best and biggest parts of D&D exist in the imagination of the players… and while that’s not a marketable commodity, it is a priceless one.