10 November 2023

The art of transcreation for Magic: The Gathering

Spellbound.<br/> <strong>The art of transcreation for Magic: The Gathering</strong>
Language plays a vital role in shaping the enchanting worlds of Magic: The Gathering, a trading card game with millions of fans from around the world that requires expert localization. Today, we’re going to be taking a look at how Alpha CRC’s linguists worked to produce exciting transcreated cards for their locales. These linguistic wizards didn’t just translate the card names; instead, they reimagined and recreated them, ensuring the essence of each card’s magic was not lost in translation.
This article will take you on a journey through the intricate process of transcreation, highlighting how Alpha CRC’s teams managed to weave their linguistic magic into the game, earning them widespread acclaim from fans across social media platforms. Get ready, as we step into a realm where language and magic intertwine.


What is transcreation?

Transcreation is a creative process that involves adapting a message from one language to another while maintaining its intent, style, tone, and context. Unlike direct translation, which focuses on accurately conveying the literal meaning of the text, transcreation goes a step further. It takes into consideration cultural nuances, idioms, and local customs to ensure the message resonates with the target audience.

The goal of transcreation is to recreate the emotional impact and effect in the target language. This means it’s often more creative than pure translation, and is particularly useful for marketing or consumer-facing content.

Alpha Games began working with Wizards of the Coast, owners of the Magic: The Gathering card game, in 2008. Since then, we’ve built up a close relationship, with dedicated teams of our linguists specializing in localizing Magic: The Gathering cards and media.


A fairy tale adventure in the Wilds of Eldraine

In September 2023, Wizards of the Coast released a new Magic: The Gathering set, Wilds of Eldraine. Set in a fantasy, storybook-like world, these cards referred to several fairy tale characters and motifs, many of which were quite culturally specific. This meant that our linguists needed to dig deep to find new ways of adapting card names and flavour texts.

Jack Simpson, Creative Strategist, sat down with our lead Spanish and Italian linguists, Cristina Guzmán Torres and Fabio Celestini respectively, to find out more about the transcreation process and how they came up with the names for some of their favourite cards.

Cristina and Fabio, thanks for joining me today. We’d love to hear more about this project from the linguists’ perspective. How did you find working on this expansion?

Fabio Celestini, Italian Lead Linguist (FC): Honestly, this was a great one to work on. We’d recently been working with a lot of licensed characters and sets, such as Lord of the Rings, which were also very interesting, but slightly more restricted in terms of translation. Many of these characters and locations already had well-established translations that we had to adhere to. It was great to be part of that world, and our focus was very much on respecting the existing character names and lore that fans love, but it meant we weren’t being as creative.

Cristina Guzmán Torres, Lead Spanish Linguist (CGT): Yes, and then along came the Wilds of Eldraine expansion. It’s a much more fantastical set, full of references to popular fairy tales and card names involving cultural wordplay or puns. It was a challenge to work on, sure, but also an absolute joy.


Before we take a look at some of your favourite cards from the new expansion, could you share a little about the challenges you face when localizing for Magic: The Gathering?

CGT: Sure. As with any translation project, you first need to be careful of specific terminology. Linguists will typically operate with termbases and glossaries to help preserve consistency, and the same goes for our projects with Magic: The Gathering. That said, this is a game with over 30 years of history and a deep ruleset that needs to be carefully preserved in each language. When you’re creating a new term, you’re feeling that responsibility on your shoulders – this will enter the Magic: The Gathering rulebook for years to come.

FC: Definitely – any translation task requires a deep knowledge of the source material and the client, but I’d say that’s even more true for working with Magic: The Gathering. You need to ensure that you preserve the essence of the original card title in your language, but you need to do it carefully.

There might just be one Italian word that is typically used as a translation for two or three similar English words, for example. However, due to the nature of the game, we can’t have any card names repeated. We therefore need to strike a fine balance of ensuring that the name we want to use hasn’t been done before, but will also leave room for other translation possibilities in the future if similar sounding cards appear.

CGT: There’s also the issue of cultural sensitivity. What is acceptable in some regions just isn’t going to fly in others. We do need to walk that fine line as well – ensuring that we stick true to the source while highlighting and working around any potential issues.


I have to say that some of the translations you’ve provided for these new cards amaze me. They’re so creative and very funny – sometimes even for those who don’t speak the language. Reception from the fans in each region has also been very positive. Just take a look at some of the comments we received.


“@traduzmtgita brought this to my attention. The translators really hit the mark this time.”


“I don’t know who was in charge of the Spanish translation of the new Magic set, but whoever it is needs to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.”


“We must find the person who created this wonder and put a statue of them in Tradulandia, like, yesterday.”


“The common blacks such as ‘Omicidio Polposo, Muoritozzo and Bandito Candito have spectacular names.”


It must be very rewarding to receive this kind of feedback – honestly, massive congratulations to all of you. How about we take a look at some of your favourite cards?

CGT: I think the translation for ‘Splashy Spellcaster’ has to be one of my favourites. The splashy in there can be understood in two ways. There’s a clear watery theme – which you can see in the illustration – but there’s also this idea that if someone is splashy, they stand out from the crowd, or ‘make a splash’, so to speak.

The freedom we had for these cards made me want to play around with this title in Spanish and find an option that made the card stand out. It was important to preserve that aquatic theme, as this is one of the major identifying factors of the card, but I also wanted to preserve a kind of double meaning, like the one we find in the English version.

In Spanish, we have this saying that someone is ‘normal y corriente’, which I thought would be fun to include in the title for this card. Firstly, we have ‘corriente’, or current, which I feel stays true to that aquatic lexicon. Then, we have this inversion of the English name, which I think elevates the card: when someone is ‘normal y corriente’, they are anything but ‘splashy’. They’re very much just a standard, run-of-the-mill person. It’s a nod to the original English card, while also carving out a whole new identity in the Spanish. We were in the office and my reviewer, Isaac Álvarez, laughed out loud when we read it. I was delighted to see that so many fans picked up on it.

FC: I’m very proud of the work I did on the Italian version of ‘Candy Grapple’. The original card features this monstrous apple that is biting into a person’s arm. I immediately started thinking of all the different ways to localize the name.

The idea of a candy apple is not super popular in Italy, so I wasn’t sure if an attempt to do a similar pun based on that reference would work with our audience there. That led me to consider alternatives that would be able to preserve the monstrous nature of this apple while staying true to the humorous English title.

That’s when I came up with the idea of a pun using the phrase ‘omicidio colposo’, or ‘involuntary manslaughter’ in Italian. Just by changing the first letter of the second word, I was able to create ‘Omicidio Polposo’, which included a reference to the Italian word ‘polpa’, or ‘pulp’. In effect, the Italian name is now something closer to ‘pulpy murder’, which, to me, fits perfectly with the card.


Those are two fantastic examples. I’d also like to highlight the work you both did on your regional variants of ‘Scream Puff’. I think this one has to be my favourite.

CGT: Ah yes, ‘Profiterror’! I like that one a lot too. It’s a mixture of ‘profiterol’ and ‘terror’.

Funnily enough, it actually works well in English too!

FB: For the Italian, I went with ‘Muoritozzo’, which combines ‘maritozzo’, an Italian cream-filled pastry, and the conjugated forms of the verb ‘morire’, ‘to die’.

These are great. I think you’ve both done a brilliant job – and not just me either, as we’ve already seen, you’ve got some big fans of your work out there in the Magic: The Gathering community.
Once again, thanks for joining us today, and we all look forward to seeing your next set of cards. Congratulations!