Magic The Gathering Oracle Deck by Adam Lee & Fred Gissubel

It was one of the nicest surprises of my reviewer life to receive this package, unsolicited, in the mail! Back when the American Library Association’s Annual Conference was held in DC two years ago, I was subcontracted by Wizards Of The Coast to run D&D games for librarians. As part of my experience, I got to ooh and aah over the Dungeons And Dragons Tarot Deck that had just come out. It wasn’t quite in my budget then, but I 100% still think about it with longing.

So when I received the Magic The Gathering Oracle Deck from the same creative team unsolicited, you bet I squealed with joy. While I’m certainly far more active in D&D than I am in Magic nowadays, I’ve been a player since the glory days of Urza, and still use Arena to scratch that occasional card flopping itch. Gideon Jura stan for life, baby! And while I’ve always been a white weenie fan, I do have a fondness for a black and white Innistrad deck, because who doesn’t love gaining life with every point of damage I make? That said, I never really got to play in Theros, Magic’s Ancient Greece-inspired plane, so the setting of this Oracle Deck was both intriguing to me as someone new to it, as well as distinctly apropos given the origin of the word oracle. Plus, I super love retellings of the Ancient Greek myths, and definitely wanted to know Magic’s take on them, as well as the authors’ officially licensed take on a divination deck altogether (especially since reading some of James D’Amato’s fascinating theories on creating those for gameplay in his excellent The Ultimate RPG Game Master’s Guide.)

But before I could do any of the reading, I first had to evaluate this as a physical object. Oracle decks are meant to be held and handled and used, after all. Frankly, the presentation of this deck is unparalleled. It comes in a sturdy case which flips open smoothly, revealing first a glossy guidebook, then the deck itself nestled in a hollow beneath the book, with a ribbon to help lift out the cards. All of the adornment excepting the card art is in black and vermilion with gold accents. I did think it a bit odd that the backs of the decks aren’t possessed of biradial symmetry: while this is in keeping with your standard Magic cards, it seems weird in a divination deck, where that lack of uniformity seems to discourage reversals or at the very least signal them. Before you say something dumb like “just buy sleeves like ppl do for competitive Magic”, these oracle cards are way bigger than even your standard Tarot deck, much less your typical collectible card game.

And that’s pretty much my only complaint about the physical aspect of this deck! The cards have a beautiful linen finish and, despite their oversized nature, shuffle nicely. I suspect that this may be due to keeping the size proportionate to the standard Tarot dimensions, but don’t quote me on that, as I haven’t properly measured or researched it.

Fred Gissubel created 52 original works of art for this deck, one for each card. Each piece is both gorgeous and in keeping with the setting, from what little I know of it. I love the diversity he showcases, as well as the way he incorporates so much meaning into each card. This, ofc, must come from close cooperation with Adam Lee, who wrote the deck and its accompanying guidebook. But even without an explanation, with just the title of each card and a working grasp of both the Planeswalkers of Magic and Greek mythology, it’s easy to understand what each card is meant to convey and to explore the art for even greater nuance.

The deck itself is written very much with the idea that the power of belief can structure reality, as it does on the plane of Theros. In keeping with the canon storyline to date, Elspeth gets two whole cards to herself, tho Jace, Chandra and my beloved Gideon also show up in their own cards. I don’t know as Gideon and Elspeth ever crossed paths, but I do appreciate how Gideon gets to be the face of Hero’s Journey (even if I’m still meditating on what advice it’s giving me in my ongoing obsession with an entirely unsuitable man.) In fact, any Planeswalker with a connection to Theros gets a card here, regardless of their relevance to Elspeth’s story. It’s an interesting choice that definitely lends itself well to the theme, even if the storyteller in me keeps itching to “well, actually” some of the choices. Tho in fairness, I’ve had the “well, actually” reaction to much of the canon story to date, so wholly understand Mr Lee’s inclination to just pull from Theros-related archetypes for this deck and not just Elspeth’s tale.

The guidebook on its own doesn’t make for the most exciting reading, at least in the card-meaning text. It all feels very behavioral psychology-based, which is not at all a bad thing, but certainly gets a little textbook meets self-help manual at points. I did enjoy the bit explaining Oracle Decks in general, and in particular their uses and the different spreads. It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the design of the deck itself.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the application of the deck. I did the included 5 Card Reading for myself (pictured above, about aforementioned unsuitable man, lolsob,) then also did single card pulls for friends. I’m still trying to figure out the message this oracle deck has for me regarding my walking red flag, but felt it gave quite good, if somewhat cerebral, advice to my friends. I also really liked integrating it into a combined Oracle Tarot reading with the South East Asian Myths deck I’m using this month, and felt it worked well in that more traditional structure.

Overall, if you love Magic the Gathering, new spins on Greek myths, and absolutely gorgeous Oracle Decks that lean towards cognitive advice, then you cannot pass up this deck.

Magic The Gathering Oracle Deck by Adam Lee & Fred Gissubel was published yesterday May 21 2024 by Clarkson Potter Publishers and is available from all good booksellers, including

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