I’ve been pretty open about this recently, but a few years ago, there was a time when I was feeling overwhelmingly lonely. My days at work were mostly spent alone in a dark projection booth above a corporate auditorium. To spice up my evenings and force some human interaction on myself, I started playing Magic: The Gathering at a local game shop. I spent multiple days a week there, learning how to draft, build decks, and catch onto the lingo and language of the game. Slowly, I incorporated myself into the small group of regulars, and day by day, I felt less alone.
While shuffling decks and slinging spells against these new acquaintances, I noticed shared mannerisms and social archetypes people took on within my little corner of the Magic community. Let me tell you how pleasantly surprised I was finding similar traits engrained within Inscryption’s pantheon of four Scrybes. Daniel Mullins, the developer of Inscryption, obviously knows card games and their culture. That knowledge is coded in every aspect of his game, and it’s that care and attention to detail I’m most fond of. Before I get into more details, be warned that I will divulge some Inscryption story spoilers from here on out. I’d encourage you to come back after finishing the game or stay if you don’t mind knowing.
In my initial weeks grinding out games in sealed and draft tournaments, I was always happy to meet a player like Inscryption’s initial Scrybe, Leshy. He’s an intimidating veteran who’s welcoming enough to show new players the ropes but won’t hold back from using his advanced knowledge of the game against you. He’s quiet and patient while waiting for a play to be made, sometimes with some finger taps on the table akin to someone killing time as many real-world players would. I could imagine seeing him flick and shuffle his cards in hand if the room was adequately lit. Being a seasoned veteran of the game, Leshy is quick to catch the golden teeth rewarded for overflow damage, already calculating the amount needed before the lethal strike hit. No matter how bad players like Leshy may trounce newcomers, there’s always knowledge to be shared or nuanced strategies to teach after a match.
P03, on the other hand, is the player at the draft table who will let anyone in earshot know what he thinks is wrong with the game. Sitting next to P03 would possibly result in remarks on your plays despite being unwanted nor warranted feedback. We see this trait in the robotic fiend’s card form, introduced early on, trapped within the lowly Stoat card. P03 will make sure to let you know on any given turn whether he’s used correctly, often chiming in to provide verbal jabs at your decisions. Whether he’s right or wrong is irrelevant, but he does make you second guess good moves from time to time.
When P03 gains control of Inscryption and inserts you into his Dark Souls-like cyber adventure, he’s constantly pushing and insisting this version of the game is more impressive than those you’ve experienced before. However, this level of know-it-all attitude is more commonly found online than in a card shop. While he’s annoying and somewhat aggressive in his plight to show you the idyllic version of Inscryption, P03 does have good, valid ideas on how the game can mechanically improve. Like many players, including myself, he just needs to find a better way to communicate those thoughts and ideas, so others are more likely to listen and engage with them in a meaningful way.
After the climactic events of Inscryption are triggered, you’re provided some final moments with three of the Scrybes, sitting across from you to enjoy their last turns of the game they love to play. Leshy, Grimora, and Magnificus continue to play while pieces of the game dissolve away, insisting on continuing even when the scale-keeping score vanishes. Winning doesn’t matter at this point. Instead, the act of playing any semblance of the game is more than enough. In the end, each Scrybe reaches out their hand to show respect and a sign of sportsmanship.
Like them, nearly every card game player I’ve met in person has shown similar respect not just for the game but for the person willing to join them at the table to play. It’s one of the reasons I still enjoy making it to my preferred store and playing in person. The experience of dueling with some digital avatar online pales in comparison to the fun and mutual joy I share with the person sitting in front of me. I’ve sincerely missed those opportunities over the past 18 months. I was lucky enough to play paper Magic a few times over the summer, but those opportunities are once again few and far between. Hopefully, one day soon, we can safely gather regularly to enjoy each other’s company and the games we cherish playing together yet again.