Every time we open a fresh Magic booster pack, there's something that none of us understand. No - I'm not talking about that basic land Wizards throws in there (although I don't get that, either). I'm talking about the BACK of each Magic card - a design which provokes a lot of questions.
What's with the 'Deckmasters' logo?
What's with the blue Magic font, when the logo is now orange/red on marketing materials?
What's with the corner studs, brown oval design thing?
These are just some of the mysteries presented to us by one of the most ubiquitous images in Magic, and it's one that deserves some attention. Here's what you need to know.
Three Facts That Explain The Back of a Magic Card
Mark Rosewater, head designer of Magic, wrote a great article back in 2009 titled 25 Random Things About Magic. It's a fun read chock-full of obscure facts, and buried within it are the answers to the mysteries printed on the back of each Magic card. Here are the big ones.
1. Deckmasters was supposed to be a big deal... but it wasn't
When Wizards of the Coast first started, they had no way of knowing that MTG would blow up to be the gaming behemoth it is today. They planned to launch other successful games as well and needed an umbrella brand to put them all under... and that's how Deckmaster was born.
"The original idea when Wizards created Magic was that they would produce a whole bunch of different trading card games (TCGs). To identify Wizards of the Coast TCGs they came up with a brand they planned to put on the back of each Wizards TCG. Deckmaster was that brand." - Mark Rosewater
Unfortunately, Deckmaster never really flourished, and Wizards eventually dropped it. Afterall, Magic blew up - showing that they clearly didn't need the brand name in the first place.
You might be wondering, then, why it still remains on the back of the card when it makes more sense to get rid of it. As it turns out, playability is the culprit. If newer Magic cards had backs that looked different, you'd know what sorts of cards were in your opponents deck just from the back. Nowadays everyone plays with sleeves, but it's still better safe than sorry. Consistency, as they say, is king.
2. Cards Look Like Books - Because Your Deck is a Library!
I've always thought the back of Magic cards look pretty cool. They've got that old-school, warlock artifact look. Apparently this was quite intentional, as the creators of Magic meant for it to quite literally represent a spell book.
"The answer is that the card back was designed to look like a magic tome. Your deck is your "library" of magic spells, obviously kept in some kind of magical book... This was a little more obvious when the starter deck box itself (back in the days of Alpha) was also designed to look like a tome complete with pages on the side and a bookmark." - Mark Rosewater
Though deck boxes are no longer designed to give the illusion of pages, we still refer to the deck as a library - so clearly the metaphor is still going strong! (Nonetheless, you can get the spell tome looking deck boxes here at Wizardry Foundry)
3. 'Magic' Started Off Blue - Until The Marketers Got Their Way
It's nice to think that the game of Magic remains safe from the realities of business - that the look and feel of the cards is loftily separate from concerns over sales and profits. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case - and a great example of it is the coloring of 'Magic'.
"In the beginning the logo was blue as seen on the back of the card. Many years back though, the brand team realized that blue was a poor choice for packaging and advertising. It didn't "pop"—that is, it didn't draw your eye to it. As this is important for a logo, the decision was made to change the color from blue to yellow. You'll notice that everywhere else the logo is used it is now yellow." - Mark Rosewater
To be honest, this is a pretty minor discrepancy and I never really noticed it - and the yellow font does look good on packaging. Maybe the marketers got this one right, afterall. Either way - the blue text remains on the card back as a token of Magic's history.
1/11/2015 Update: Reader Edits
Some of our readers had some great additions to the original article - check them out below for some additional facts and commentary concerning the back-of-a-Magic-card mystery.
From Reddit user Thesaurii:
"There is exactly one interesting thing about magic card backs, and it wasn't brought up. The "t" in Deckmaster has that weird mark on it. That is in fact an accidental mark with a pen, immortalized forever."
From Reddit user Wampastompah:
"In addition to the pen mark that wasn't mentioned, there's a small fact that should be added to this article. Everywhere that Wizards could change the card backs, they did. Image here. This includes sleeves, all digital cards, and oversized promo cards. Anywhere that's not a tournament legal physical printed card, they've gone with the new design. But they will never change the design of the tournament legal cards, for the sake of cheatery."
From Reddit user Seanmac2:
"The article asks if they should/would ever change the back. In one sense, they already have (with double faced cards) and in another sense it's clear that the that they never will (by releasing the checklist cards to go along with the double faced cards. )"
Can The Card Back Make a Come-Back?
Hopefully this helped shed some light on why the backs of Magic cards look the way they do. But the answers to that question beg yet another question: should the card back ever change? Thus far, Wizards has been meticulous about keeping it consistent through set after set (UPDATE - tournament legal sets) - but progress is not always a bad thing. What do you think: should Wizards mix up the design of the back of future Magic cards, or keep the tradition alive?