MTG Duskmourn is like if Cabin in the Woods was a card game: "We were very inspired by horror media from the last 30 or 40 years."

'Reluctant Role Model' card art showing a young man with dark hair and glasses holding a weapon, he looks off the the left. In the distance, to his right, a shadowy figure hangs from the ceiling, its eyes glow green and it has pointed teeth.
(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast / Chris Rallis)

I’ll admit that when I attended the MagicCon Amsterdam preview panel, MTG Duskmourn wasn’t my top priority. At the time, I was far more interested in seeing the newest cuddly creature from Bloomburrow or learning about unrevealed sets like MTG Foundations. After all, horror is pretty well-tread ground in Magic: The Gathering. The plane of Innistrad has given us plenty of exposure to vampires, werewolves, zombies, and ghosts – and Eldrazi have the cosmic horror angle totally covered. 

So, what could Duskmourn offer that previous horror-themed sets didn’t? It turns out that the answer lies in one small but important distinction. Duskmourn isn't just a horror set, it’s a set about horror movies – one that entirely wears its cinematic influences on its sleeve. From its VHS-tape-styled set packaging to its crystal-clear references to classic flicks like Ghostbusters, Saw, and The Shining, Duskmourn takes a committedly meta approach to its scares. You can already imagine this slightly tongue-in-cheek, referential concept sending chills down the spine of Magic purists – but I for one think it’s genius. 

Many of the points of inspiration for the set are fairly self-evident, but they were brought into sharper focus when I sat down to discuss the set with Senior Art Director, Ovidio Cartagena. As he puts it, “We were very inspired by horror media from the last 30 or 40 years. Those who will remember back in the eighties, movies had a lot of practical effects: we wanted to kind of replicate that feel. [...] I watched a lot of American cinema but I watched lots of other things: B-movies, whatever strange films I could find. I got a Shudder account and watched horror months for months on end”

Face your fears. All of them. #MTGDuskmourn - YouTube Face your fears. All of them. #MTGDuskmourn - YouTube
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Despite Cartagena’s nostalgia and admiration for classic horror cinema, he does recognize that there have been a number of welcome shifts in audience palettes. True to the “Magic is for everyone” credo, he and his team made a careful effort to deliver scares without actively disturbing or alienating players. Achieving this goal required them to exorcize some of the particularly unsavory demons of the horror genre: “There were certain forms of body horror that I wanted to avoid. There are many negative tropes in 80s horror that I wanted to avoid as well. The team was very cognizant of that. We had consultants on both horror and its tropes so we could do the best version, filled with all the things we love about classic horror.”

That said, one area where Duskmourn is eager to dive into tropey fun is with its band of survivors. Rather than creating a random rag-tag band of tubular teens with questionable perms, Cartagena and his team set to work deciding which existing MTG characters would fit within classic slasher film archetypes: “Who is the burnout? Who is the jock? Who is the nerd who comes up with some machine to help everyone? From there, we matched them to several characters. Some came very late into the process, and some came quite fast. You know, Zimone came like this [snaps fingers] Of course, she is our genius. Tyvar took a few meetings, a few heated discussions but finally, we're like, you know what, we need him as the jock.”

Tyvar Kell, a muscular young elf swings a bat a hoard of zombies

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast / Oliver Bernard)

Of course, Duskmourn isn’t entering uncharted waters with its nostalgia-leaden, glitchy horror aesthetic. Retro and faux-retro media have become fertile ground for scares as of late and are something that have especially captured the imagination of independent online creators in the past decade. I saved myself the indignity of querying Cartagena about his takes on the Backrooms and Five Nights at Freddy’s, but I did ask him if he was aware of the current Analog Horror trend and where it fit into his team’s creative process.

In some ways, it seems as though Analog Horror (and modern audiences' relationships to it) forms the thematic backbone of Duskmourn as a set. The obsolescence of things like cassette tapes and CRT televisions only intensifies the feeling of being lost in time deep within the unending maze of Duskmourn’s mansion. In Cartagena’s words, “We're definitely responding to the audience's excitement for Analog Horror. That feeling of being disconnected, being not in sync with the world. Like you are using, for some reason, a TV that is completely obsolete that nobody ever would use anymore. [The anachronisms] are thematic and very resonant with modern tastes.”

Screaming Nemesis card beside a screengrab from Suspiria 1977

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast / Produzioni Atlas Consorziate)

Blockbusters and creepypastas aside, some deeper cuts from Cartagena’s filmic mood board for Duskmourn include a number of picks from the Italian horror subgenre of Giallo. However, the place of Giallo cinema in Duskmourn’s development offers more than a hipster, cooler-than-thou reference. Cartagena describes how he was particularly interested in emulating the genre’s high-contrast cinematography, owing to how well it lends itself to being printed at a small scale. 

As he puts it, “when the art is going to scale down to the size of a card, there's a very serious risk of losing shapes, having it print too dark, or just having it look drab and boring.” For example, Giallo’s visual influence is especially clear in cards like Screaming Nemesis. By using a combination of vibrant, highly saturated light and inky black shadow, its art creates a bold, surreal look that’s just as impactful on a 2.5 x 3.5-inch piece of cardboard as it would be on the silver screen.

Or at least I’m hoping it will be. If you too are keen to see more MTG Duskmourn: House of Horror, be sure to keep an eye out for when previews start August 31. If you’re already sold on this spooky set, why not pre-order your precon deck or boosters now? They’ll arrive just in time for October (which sounds like a perfect excuse for an MTG Halloween party to me). 

Looking to keep up with other upcoming Magic releases? Why not swap out monsters for mice and check out everything we know about Bloomburrow. Or, if you're looking to expand beyond MTG, give another one of the best card games a try.

Abigail Shannon
Tabletop & Merch Writer

Abigail is a Tabletop & Merch writer at Gamesradar+. She carries at least one Magic: The Gathering deck in her backpack at all times and always spends far too long writing her D&D character backstory. She’s a lover of all things cute, creepy, and creepy-cute.