Street Fighter is Magic: The Gathering of Thoughts

In August of 2021, Wizards of the Coast announced a Magic: The Gathering crossover with Street Fighter for their ongoing Secret Lair series. While a timeframe has not been released as of the publishing of this article, reactions have been mixed to Street Fighter’s inclusion in the card game. Players make the argument that IPs such as Street Fighter, The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, and Fortnite have no real business as being part of Magic’s canon. These same players also make the argument that Magic is more geared for IPs such as Dungeons and Dragons or Lord of the Rings. I’m not able to speak about most of the IPs I’ve listed as I’ve taken little interest in them. However, as an avid player of both Magic and Street Fighter, I can say with certainty that Street Fighter is one of the best IPs to include because it embodies the spirit of Magic: The Gathering better than most IPs ever could. Street Fighter isn’t “Magic-adjacent”. It is Magic: The Gathering.

To understand the argument, we need to look at what Magic: The Gathering, or MTG, is. It is a tabletop and digital collectible card game, with the original concept of the game drawing heavily from the motifs of traditional fantasy role-playing games, the aforementioned Dungeons and Dragons being one of its influences.

Wikipedia describes the fantasy genre as “inspired by real-world myth and folkloreā€¦. Fantasy is distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the respective absence of scientific or macabre themes, though these genres overlap. In popular culture, the fantasy genre predominantly features settings of a medieval nature.” The article continues:

“Most fantasy uses magic or other supernatural elements as a main plot element, theme, or setting. Magic and magical creatures are common in many of these worlds.
“An identifying trait of fantasy is the author’s use of narrative elements that do not have to rely on history or nature to be coherent. This differs from realistic fiction in that realistic fiction has to attend to the history and natural laws of reality, where fantasy does not. In writing fantasy the author creates characters, situations, and settings that are not possible in reality.”

In other words, to establish a work as fantasy, it needs to have:

1) Been inspired by myths and folklore

2) The absence of scientific or macabre themes

3) Typically, be set in a medieval or pastoral world

4) Magical or supernatural elements, including but not limited to magical creatures

5) A non-reliance on history and the natural laws of reality

Street Fighter satisfies three of these requirements: being inspired by myths and folklore, having magical or supernatural elements, and having a non-reliance on history and the natural laws of reality. Without going too deep into the character designs of each character, some of the most important characters in Street Fighter were inspired by myths and folklore, with Akuma and Gill being inspired by Shinto and Christian mythologies, respectively. Street Fighter also contains a form of magic – each fighter’s own ki. Their ki is used to craft physical maneuvers that are impossible or improbable to pull off in real life, like the iconic Hadoken.

The other two requirements are where Street Fighter falters at being considered fantasy. Unlike Dungeons and Dragons or Lord of the Rings, Street Fighter takes place in the modern era, where science and technology runs the world and magic as a concept is imaginary. Everything known in the world of Street Fighter has been researched and studied, from martial arts to battle weaponry. Since it doesn’t take place in a simpler, natural setting and indeed has strong scientific themes, Street Fighter must then be more within the constraints of science fiction than fantasy, correct?

No. This assumption completely ignores the fact that Magic: The Gathering has thematic sets that do not primarily take place in a natural environment as well as thematic sets that do not avoid scientific elements. Examples of these are Kaladesh, which was inspired by steampunk, Ravnica, which was inspired by Slavic folklore, and Innistrad, which introduced a Gothic aesthetic. While magic is still a focus of all three of these sets, it isn’t the only thing that characters in these worlds primarily rely on. Street Fighter would simply be yet another theme that continues Magic’s already present path of having multiple cultures and environments within the game, even if these cultures and environments are considered more realistic and modern than what Magic lorekeepers are used to.

The YouTube channel Tolarian Community College released an excellent video on why having third-party IPs in MTG really isn’t an issue. The host of the channel, Brian “The Professor” Lewis, makes his argument that it doesn’t matter since there will eventually be Magic-themed reprints at some point for all of the cards printed with third-party aesthetics. He is ecstatic about this, and he has every right to be. Most IPs, like Walking Dead, Stranger Things, and Fortnite should indeed have MTG reprints.

However, Street Fighter is different from all of these other IPs in one very particular way: it has been adapted to tabletop games before. Everything from the Milton Bradley board game to White Wolf’s Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game to the Jasco miniatures game created by YouTuber “Angry Joe” Vargas to the Universal Fighting System card game to the digital card games Cardfighters’ Clash and Teppen have been created with Street Fighter as the central focus. In other words, you would be hard-pressed to find another property that is as “Magic-adjacent” as the iconic fighting game series. It is perhaps the most flexible IP on the planet because it can meld into nearly any game’s universe and still have its characters’ presence make sense to that world’s lore (look at Power Rangers).

It’s the same for Magic: The Gathering. If Dungeons and Dragons can be implemented into the game’s mechanics, then there’s no reason that Street Fighter can’t. While Street Fighter is certainly more modern than Dungeons and Dragons, just because it’s modern, doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit. More so, Magic itself has at least one card with a modern reference.

The famous scientist Albert Einstein was depicted on the card Presence of the Master, and it’s arguable that he is “Magic-adjacent”. Granted, his card was printed at a time when Magic lore had not yet been constructed. The first set that had anything in the way of lore was Arabian Nights, which used the real-life folk tales as its primary influence. However, even that set was based on stories that exist in the modern world. Yes, Magic tells some amazing stories on its own, from the Brothers’ War to the Gatewatch, and include some of the most iconic characters in gaming, from Nicol Bolas to Liliana Vess. However, to truly understand what Magic is at its core, a complex but fun card game with an entire premise based on multiverses, then it is necessary to branch out to other real world IPs in order for it to expand. For the Universes Beyond label, Wizards of the Coast had a pretty clear vision:

“[I]f we can expand our story beyond the game system to things like comics, novels, and other games, then surely we can expand the game system to let players explore worlds outside of the worlds of Magic.”

This could also be considered a unique way to bring new players into MTG. While new players would not be familiar with Yawgmoth and the Phyrexians, they would be familiar with a character and organization from Street Fighter that have a similar end goal in mind: M. Bison and Shadaloo. Where Yawgmoth transforms and controls others with glistening oil, Bison does the same with his Psycho Power. Once a new player makes lore comparisons like this one, then it’s easier for a new player to understand the lore of MTG and be taken in with its story.

As for the game and mechanics, it takes time to master, but any fighting game fan knows that it takes time to master their respective game(s) as well. No one starts MTG or Street Fighter knowing everything, and it takes anywhere from months to years just to learn the fundamentals. Both are complex entities that require patience, knowledge, and timing to be able to play in a set of matches against someone else (or in Street Fighter’s case, someone else or the CPU). Both MTG and Street Fighter require the full attention of its players to play the game competitively. Both also use similar in-game mechanics to combat opponents; for example, MTG’s mana pool can be compared to Street Fighter’s super gauges. Because they share similar traits like these, it’s easy to say that the games are mechanically adjacent as well.

However, you still may not be convinced that Street Fighter is Magic the Gathering. You may be put off by its, at first glance, lack of traditional fantasy elements that are included in titles like Dungeons and Dragons. Nowhere in Street Fighter are there elves, goblins, dwarves, orcs, or dragons (unless you include Dragon Punches). However, while Street Fighter may not have Tolkien-inspired character types, it does have others that are prevalent within the game, including ninjas, shapeshifters, pilots, soldiers, angels, demons, spirits, avatars, giants, wizards, zombies, and many, many warriors. In Street Fighter, there are elements that can be categorized as artifacts like the Psycho Drive and the Book of Miraha, and there are characters who can be considered artifact creatures like Q and Seth.

In fact, the lore is so deep within Street Fighter that the argument could be made it needs its own set just to cover everything. MTG purists will bristle at the idea, but the truth is that despite their concerns and despite the idea that Street Fighter is non-traditional, it is nonetheless one of the best franchises Wizards of the Coast could have picked for its game. Yes, it’s a fighting game, but it’s a fighting game based on fantasy, and contains many of the same fantasy elements that Magic was built upon.

So, this leads to one last question to chew on: if Street Fighter is Magic: The Gathering, can MTG also be Street Fighter? The answer is yes, but with a caveat. MTG deals with multiverses on a regular basis, so having MTG characters in Street Fighter would not be at all out of the ordinary. Yes, Jace could conceivably fight Ryu and have it make sense for Magic: The Gathering. However, this could only take place within a crossover title, say Magic vs Street Fighter. The key here is narrative. Magic tells of multiple stories on multiple planes of existence whereas Street Fighter’s story takes place on one plane: the “real world”. Unless Street Fighter incorporates planeswalking in its narrative (which would actually be very easy to do since it appears that Rose and Bison have the ability to traverse other planes), then MTG characters would be a bit too out there even for Street Fighter’s over-the-top atmosphere.

Street Fighter may be modern and may not rely on magical elements, but these don’t mean that it’s not a suitable property to incorporate into Magic: The Gathering. On the contrary, its fantasy elements make it not just Magic-adjacent, but as a fully-fleshed out universe with characters that have parallel abilities to those in Magic, it could conceivably have an entire set of its own. The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, and Fortnite just do not have the narrative depth that Street Fighter does.

That alone makes Street Fighter a perfect fit for Magic: The Gathering.

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