Before its release, Streets of New Capenna was my most anticipated annual release of Magic: The Gathering. I was very disappointed with the sexy Art Deco setting and its five demonic crime families vying for control. It’s a far cry from the high fantasy that magic has long been rooted in, transporting us to a world of filthy, dazzling, urban chaos.
Now that it’s been out for a few months, I’ve tempered my opinion on it. Following Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty’s knockout success was a tough move, but what we got in New Capena felt lacklustre in the end. It has all the glamour and spree we want from a Great Gatsby-esque world, but it’s missing something. It has no police.
Streets Of New Capenna focuses on five families: Art Stealing, Assassination, Aristocratic Masters; Party Madman Cabareti, Sneaky Blackmailer Obscura, Rough Workers Organizing Riveters and Sly Law Firm Brokers. Except brokers aren’t always part of the plan.
According to lead designer Mark Rosewater, the team that became the Brokers went through several iterations. Its first incarnation was the justice system in New Capena – where the police tried to overthrow four other families.Of course, this is New Capenna and they’re police, this group will be full of corruption. It makes perfect sense: it’s a white mana-based group that stands for order, control, and hierarchy in Magic: The Gathering. We can even see it in the broker mechanic that makes it print, shield counters make it easier for you to protect your permanents.
However, we never saw this police faction make it into the final release. During the development of New Capenna, it was decided to turn the police faction into a corrupt law firm, and so the Broker was born. According to Rosewater, the team “is looking at the real world and all the associations with police, [and] Decided to switch from police to lawyers”.
Broker is good. They’re not the funniest of the five factions, the best thing about them is their leader, Falcos Parra the Eagle. They lack the depth of the riveters’ uprising, and the depth of the Cabaletti taking political hostages in their never-ending parties. They’re a cleaner, rawer and more appropriate take on the new Capena high-rise, where sharp suits and grim business take precedence over emotion or revenge.
The problem with Brokers is that they are a connective tissue replacement for this line. As Rosewater later admitted in his “State of Design” column, it’s impossible to have a crime-themed scene without a legal system for them to oppose — and if there’s no law for you to break, this Is it really illegal? The series needed a foil to give the other four families a reason to sneak and stab them in the back, and the Wizards pulled out the heart of the series to avoid any controversial statements to the police.
Part of the whole corrupt police trope in the media is about their clashes with the “good” police they are subverting if they want to be charitable or “neutral” to the police. There could be a healthy split between corrupt, dirty cops happily engaging in crime while having more legitimate cops to help lay the groundwork for New Capena’s legal system and make its world more fulfilling.
Heck, they can even offset the cop stuff with the matching Commander product. After all, “Buddy” is a mechanic of Commander Mode, imagine how much world building could be accomplished with a pair of buddy police commanders?Some corrupt, some straightforward, all of which help make New Capena deeper and richer – if not necessary better one – place.
More than just serving the world of New Capena, mass de-policing is a cowardly way to solve the problem. Murder (a literal card called Murder is one of the less violent descriptions in the series), drugs, smuggling, and underground brawls are all within the scope of the series, but showing the police taking a bribe or stitching someone up is going too far Far? gave.
While Magic isn’t known for its overt political commentary, it would be foolish to deny its existence. We just made Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, a cyberpunk series that explores the conflict between technology and tradition, and the power of those who control technology over those who use it. Innistrad: The noble vampires of the Crimson Oath have finally ruled the plane, openly reveling in their thirst for the blood of peasant humans below. We even have a good understanding of indoctrination and misinformation in Strixhaven: School of Mages. Why is police brutality the one thing the Wizards don’t want to touch on?
The New Capenna is one of the funniest Magic scenes in years, and I really hope we can get back to it someday. But if we do, Wizards needs to be more confident in its vision and face its ugly side.
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