This holiday season, I managed to wind up with the best possible problem—I got so many gifts in the mail, I forgot about some of them. That’s how I ended up not realizing I’d received the Wizards of the Coast 2016 Holiday Card until January.
This year, the card was actually a mini-game based on Wizards of the Coast’s hit board game, and one of my personal favorites, Betrayal at House on the Hill. In the actual game, players explore increasingly spooky rooms in a clearly haunted house. In this mini version, called “Winter’s Walk,” two of my friends and I rolled dice to encounter small gifts under the “floorboards,” like a dice bag, a packet of cookies, and two promo cards.
One of the promotional cards was the infamous Magic: The Gathering yearly holiday card. This is my first time ever receiving one, but I already knew how special they are.
Every year since 2006, Wizards of the Coast has distributed a special silver-bordered card to employees and partners (including stores that host Magic: The Gathering tournaments, journalists like me, etc.). Compared to cards that are sought out in tournament play, it’s not a particularly valuable card or especially good in gameplay. What makes it unique is that every year, it’s rife with holiday-themed puns.
The 2016 card was Thopter Pie Network, an obvious pun on Thopter Spy Network. Card text: “At the beginning of your upkeep, if you control an artifact, create a 1/1 colorless Thopter artifact creature token with flying. Use food to represent the token. Whenever a creature token you control dies, if it’s represented by food, eat it.”
You can see a full list of the previous years’ cards here, running the gamut from “Fruitcake Elemental” to “Goblin Sleigh Ride.”
With 20 million estimated players globally and a $250,000 pro tour payout, Magic: The Gathering is undoubtably a serious card game. However, inside jokes like the seasonal holiday cards show that its creators don’t take themselves too seriously. Actually, they’ve toned the jokes down over the years. In 1998, the game designers released an entire comedy card set called Magic: The Gathering Unglued. Another set, “Unhinged,” followed in 2004. The cards use puns, wordplay, and even Pig Latin to crack jokes. Some highlights:
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None of these comedy cards are permitted in tournament-style play, but it doesn’t mean fans don’t use them. One popular way to take advantage of silly Magic: The Gathering cards is with an UnCube, a portmanteau of the “un” in Unglued and Unhinged and cube, which means a thick, cubelike stack of Magic: The Gathering cards that a player selects for a casual deck-building game with friends.
Today, the annual holiday card is an expression of the fantasy game’s sense of humor. No matter how popular Magic: The Gathering gets or how lucrative its collectible cards become, it’s the designers’ reminder to us that it’s still just a game, so why not have fun with it?