Card classification in a customizable card game (CCG) is a pretty big deal, and can mean the difference between playability and … non-playability. Magic: the Gathering claims something like seven card types: lands, sorceries, instants, creatures, artifacts, enchantments, and the newer planeswalkers. In reality, they have about four card types.

Lands are the macguffin resource of the game. Sorceries come in three flavors: standard sorceries, sorceries with Flash (instants), and sorceries-that-stay-in-play (enchantments). Creatures are the mainstay of like, the entire game. Planeswalkers are new cards that are kind of like players with several abilities that work kind of like sorceries. Artifacts are really just a sixth color of magic … colorless.

Now, each of those card types claims some different classifications, which is what I wanted to get at with this writing: creatures have the most support in their classification system, unless you count instants and enchantments which have so much support they’re considered to belong to their own “pretend card types.”

(I’m totally not joking either, they should be classified as “Sorcery — Instant” and “Sorcery — Enchantment.” Then they could attach creature types to them and make them far more interesting, like “Sorcery — Merfolk Enchantment” that works like the bizarre “Tribal” subtype they experimented with a several blocks back.)

So yeah … back to the topic. Card classification can be really important to the game, both from a gameplay and storytelling perspective. In the above case, Magic would really like for you to think that sorceries are actually three different types of cards (sorceries, instants, and enchantments), when they’re really just three flavors of the same card type, vanilla, runny, and frozen solid.

Lands are classified as either Basic or Non-Basic. Both types come with the arbitrary restriction of only being allowed one per turn. All lands also have a casting cost of zero, because apparently the only effort required to tap the PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER inherent in natural landscapes is the blessing of the Random Number God.

Creatures are classified so completely that the game’s system was expanded and revised just to support them. You can get creatures of different “races,” from elves to dwarves and goblins and orcs, to merfolk, humans, giants, trolls and angels and demons … I mean, there are a lot of different creature races.

Then you get some traditional creature “classes,” like knights, warriors, clerics, wizards, and rogues. Finally, you get some really weird “template” stuff, which can be tacked on to just about anything: mutants, spirits, zombies, vampires, horrors, illusions … all kinds of things. Some classifications can also defy normal boundaries — a demon might also be a troll (rare instances of which I have no examples).

I’m of the opinion that Magic is still trying to figure itself out. It’s almost twenty years old, now and it hasn’t really capitalized on its strengths. Who knows, as the industry leader, Wizards of the Coast may eventually come find their niche. Magic is still fairly generic fantasy, and it has a lot of problems that need to be fixed, but I hope they “get it.”