Author Brandon Sanderson is one of fantasy's biggest names, perhaps held in the same regard as George R. R. Martin and Neil Gaiman. Early last year, Sanderson announced a "secret project" he was working on, and as the progress bar on his website ticked closer to completion, it held a greater air of mystery. In December last year, we finally found out that this story would be a free novella called Children of the Nameless, set in the Magic: The Gathering universe.
Nic Kelman, Principal Entertainment Designer at Wizards of the Coast, talked to us about Magic's new approach to its lore, as well as how the whole project with Brandon Sanderson began.
Brandon Sanderson is a huge Magic fan, and so it seemed like a no-brainer to approach him. "I asked about Brandon’s potential interest," said Kelman, "and his response was an enthusiastic, 'Yes!'"
Sanderson's blog also contains a great deal of information on this project. Instead of being paid for this story, Sanderson offered to both write it for free and have any profit from a possible physical release of the novella donated to charity.
In exchange for doing it for free, I wanted to be allowed to write the story my way. That meant me picking one of their settings, then developing my own characters and plot to happen there. (As opposed to writing the story for one of their official releases, as most of the other writers they hired were doing.)
Thus, his original story, Children of the Nameless, was born. This novella represents a new approach to lore in the Magic universe. Wizard's approach has changed over time, according to Kelman. "Primarily we have begun making the shift in 2018 away from story serving as a way to fill out lore for the card game," said Kelman, "and into a space where Magic story can live and breathe on its own in a variety of media." This does not mean that the game itself will stop supporting lore; simply, Wizards is expanding their medium to tell more stories.
There's one dilemma that comes out of this: how does Wizards of the Coast decide what medium to tell stories through and how are they interconnected? "This is a complex process," says Kelman, "but it’s a balance between choosing the right medium for the story based on its scope and looking across all the media offerings of the next few years to ensure all our most important characters are receiving attention somewhere."
He adds that melding the mediums together (card lore, novellas, etc.) has to be balanced carefully by honoring past parts of the lore but also setting up what he calls "sandboxes" in the deep Magic timeline, so that stories can be told without breaking the continuity of previous lore.
Head Designer of Magic, Mark Rosewater, offered an interesting point in his 2017 State of Design: he felt that story was too integrated into the cards. Kelman said:
It was actually its own directive to expand and enrich Magic’s story and characters beyond the card game. You’ll likely see more diverse material like novels and stories as the Franchise Team continues to explore this directive.
Indeed, the brand has grown beyond novels and cards. The Ravnica setting book for Dungeons & Dragons and the board game Arena of the Planeswalkers show the great potential of the brand and how Wizards isn't limiting the potential to tell its stories. Kelman says that they are working on Magic "being an entertainment offering in its own right" and the card game being just one prong of that.
"The core of it won’t change," said Kelman "in that we see that core as our characters and worlds, but we hope to see people become fans of those characters and worlds who don’t necessarily play the card game."
Kelman teases more great content on the way. For fans interested in Magic but haven't dived into its universe yet, he suggests Magic: The Gathering Arena. And if you're interested in Brandon Sanderson's free novella and are unfamiliar with the universe, he says you don't need to know about Magic to enjoy the story, and that it is in fact "very much a Sanderson piece." And although there's nothing set in stone, Brandon Sanderson said you should keep a lookout in upcoming sets: you might find some Children of the Nameless character cards soon.