The movie The Raven starts with a classic D&D campaign opener: the hero (a sorcerer named Dr. Craven) is visited by a raven who happens to be a transformed wizard - the result of an unfair duel with the evil wizard Dr. Scarabus.
One of the most interesting scenes in the movie is a magic duel between Dr. Craven and Dr. Scarabus. Taking into account the budget of the movie, and the fact that it was made in 1963, the duel is a wonderful show of a fight between two magicians.
The two ordinary looking men, sit on wooden chairs facing each other, gesturing lightly and pulling foollish pranks on each other, pranks that slowly become more and more sinister.
Here is the (youtube) link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKm7NloL8bA
What's interesting, is that the duel is turn based! One wizard acts, and then the other. Turn by turn. While it does look a little foolish (thus the comedy-horror genere), it is quite entertaining to see the ways they try to go after one another.
Magic in D&D has evolved over the editions.
D&D Basic gave us short spell lists, with very descriptive notes. In terms of creativity, the DM had a lot to work with, and so did the player. But the spells were mostly simple, and accessible only to the cleric, wizard and elf classes.
AD&D brought many more spells that were now semi-codified (into spheres and schools). Some complexity added, and magic became more available due to dual classing and multi-classing.
D&D 3.5e was a haven of magic, but it became much more complex, and a lot of loopwholes were introduced into the game with that magic. Magic was also very accessible due to multiclassing.
In D&D 4e, EVERYTHING is magic. Even the fighter has those "powers" he can use only once per day. And most "real" magic was codified into conditions and damage rolls. Ritual provided some flexibility, but a very limited one.
In my opinion, these transitions mark (Wizard's) realization that magic is a big part of D&D, and that most D&D players out there want at least some magic woven into their characters. If you look at the "classes" that comes with D&d Basic (fighter, wizard, thief, cleric, dwarf, elf, halfling), only three (wizard, cleric, elf) have direct access to magic. The other four have indirect access through magical items, and their selection is minimal compared to the vast array of objects a wizard can use.
If you look at 4e, all characters have access to magic, and some of the "magical" feel of magic drift away.
As I look forward to D&D Next, I also look forward to the return of "magical" magic to the game. Drop that cold, mechanical magic that deals damage and places a condition token on the target! After all, magic is about unexpected creativity, and undefined results.
Sure, magic missile is magic missile, fire and forget (point and click?). But magic should be more then that. Magic should be unique, volatile, unexpected, strange and awe inspiring. It should be flexible, allowing the DM and the player to create situations and effects not strictly defined. It also should be dangerous to use, with powerfull spells requiring some sacrifice, or contain an uncertainty factor that make their usage something to think about.
What do you think? Should magic (and magic users) be unique? Or should magic be just another tool in the toolbox, much like the fighter's sword or the thief's lock-pick?