Today, WotC announced that Emrakul is the huge threat on Innistrad. This came as a complete non-shock to many and received a “Ho Hum” from the internet. All of the clues were laid out for those that wanted to follow them and it was pretty spelled out. Sure, I was on team Marit Lage (The Planeswalker/Cosmic Horror from Dark Depths), but I mean I knew it was the Great Spaghetti Goddess.
But players, like they always do, complain that this wasn’t some great twist. As if we were expecting something like a Sixth Sense ending (or to play off this title’s connection, Fight Club (Explanation of the other part of the title can be found here in the story)). Instead we get something that everyone was expecting; Mike Linnemann (@VorthosMike) had been going on this for a while. But, it makes sense storywise. Let’s all calm down breathe deeply and take a look at why this was an okay move for WotC.
No, WotC was not going to tell us who/what was causing all the madness on Innistrad before today even though it had been guessed by a majority of players. They said, “Wait and see…” It would be a dumb business move to show their hand. It got people talking about it and waiting in anticipation for the reveal. Let me give you an example (SPOILERS AHEAD FOR STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. The whole rest of the article I’ll be talking about it.):
When Star Trek Into Darkness was announced, everyone guessed the main villain would be Khan because he was in the original second movie and everyone compares Star Trek movies to Wrath of Khan. The Producers said it wasn’t Khan. When Benidict Cumberbatch was cast and characters names were announced, his “John Harrison” name stuck out as non-Star Treky and fans said, “Hey, that’s Khan, right?” The Producers said, “No, it’s not Khan.” Movie comes out. Hey, guess what, It’s Khan. Fans were upset. They were lied to that the villain wasn’t Khan when it totally was and everyone had figured it out. Now, JJ Abrams has come out later and said “Maybe we shouldn’t have done that,” but he’s got a great reason about why he, and the studio lied:
“The goal was to not ruin it for anyone who went to go see it. The fact is, it ended up, I think, coming off like we were being coy… All it really was it was an attempt not to ruin the thing… The idea was for the first hour of the movie the characters in the film don’t know. And it felt like if we go out with it, and we have articles where it’s like, you know, “KHAN” and we make it all about him, does it take away from the story?”… It was only trying to preserve the fun of it.”
Apart from the Studio’s involvement on trying to more open to non-Trekkies by not saying it was Khan, trying to keep the fun and the surprise for the story element are all fantastic reasons not to divulge something. There clear difference here is WotC saying, “Hey, better wait and see,” versus the studio’s lying about who the reveal was supposed to be. Both of them were trying to hide the fun of the reveal.
But there’s another different here: story. WotC had just spend the past year in Zendikar battling out the two other Eldrazi titans. We kinda expected the third one here. You didn’t have to be a player for a long time to hear about a third Eldrazi Titan and no one knows where it went to. We know what the Eldrazi can do with messing everything up on Zendikar so when Emrakul comes out as the main baddie for Eldritch Moon, we have that “Oh no, Innistrad’s doomed” feeling of dread. We’ve established that emotional connection and are invested rather than an unknown entity. There are times to introduce new characters and for this point in time WotC wanted to stick with the familiar.
With Khan, if you haven’t seen “Space Seed” or “Wrath of Khan” you don’t get why he could be dangerous. Even though we’re in an alternate timeline, nothing’s been established about why we should be afraid of Khan. We don’t get that payoff: it’s for the enfranchised fans of the series. I felt like that moment of reveal wasn’t earned in any way if you don’t know about Khan (though in this timeline, it still might not have earned that moment as well). For that timeline, he was just a name that could be a threat, not the entity that the other timeline has dealt with.
But we’ve got two known villains making their comeback. Here’s the thing: it is really a twist?
I’ve seen in comics before where they build up something only to reveal it to be a twist. If you knew about Emrakul, you could see the signs here, you could tell that it was her causing everything to go mad on the plane. There was no twist. WotC was not selling it as a twist. They were telling a story of a plane going Mad, but its citizens and the Planeswalkers didn’t know by who. We had an idea, but the audience tends to have more information than the main characters. Mike Linnemann said it best:
As Eldritch Moon is the next set in our mini-block, we should expect a Lovecraftian influence more manifested. Though, worth noting is that H.P. Lovecraft’s writings aren’t about monsters and constant madness. That is often how the stories ended. What made them great was the buildup, the suspense, and the dread he built up in mere short stories. We were given the dread the previous time.
It was only the reveal of her, and the set symbol, that was kept a secret. It kept us players guessing and trying to find evidence of who it was. We were playing detective along with Jace about what was happening. This was a slow burn noir in a collectible card game where players experience the story at a different rate and order than a normal story. You have to hold your hand more in non-linear story telling mediums than you would in a linear story (books, movies, TV shows). There was nothing done by WotC to try and trick us. Getting a “Wait and see,” leaves everything open.
Sure, you can be mad it wasn’t something else, or that WotC took “the easy choice,” but I think they made the smart story choice. For enfranchised players, some of the lessor known possibilities were more exciting, but that wouldn’t be the best course of action for the multi-million dollar IP to focus on. It needs to be reintroduced before we see it again (which hopefully we’ll see where From the Vault: Lore will reintroduce old characters that we could see once again). This is what the Duel Decks used to do, especially with Phyrexia vs The Coalition reintroducing us to the Phyrexians months before Scars of Mirrodin. Having it be Marit Lage, while fun, would’ve been a complete left-field introduction that most players wouldn’t get that reference.
It’s the enfranchised players who complained (maybe some confirmation bias), not the new ones because to them a new baddie is a new baddie. There’s no emotional connection much like with Khan in the new timeline.
WotC did a great job of keeping the secret all the way to the reveal. This is the type of fun stuff that can happen when people don’t spoil cards early. It “wraps up” the Eldrazi Titan story from earlier in the year while all three Titans are in Standard again. We don’t know what will happen yet, if Innistrad can be saved, if Emrakul will be defeated, or what. I don’t think WotC would throw away one of their huge villain threats after only two appearances, but I doubt they could’ve left one Eldrazi with whereabouts unknown for too long otherwise “Is the big baddie Emrakul?” would replace “Will this set have Damnation/Fetchlands?” as the common question when a new set gets introduced.
By the way, Nicol Bolas is still out there somewhere.