Jesse T: Hello everyone, and welcome to part 2 of our Fate Reforged flavor review! This is where we let you know what we think are the best and worst cards of the set in various categories such as art, flavor text, and overall design. It’s kind of like our version of the Oscars, except we hopefully won’t spark a nationwide controversy over our racial insensitivity. Before we get into any of that, however, I’d like you to meet my friend and co-host, other Jesse!
Jesse K: Yes, like Jesse said, this week we’re going to be wrapping up our time-hopping adventure to ancient Tarkir. Step into our Way Back Machine as we take a modern critical eye to these primitive cards. Watch your arms and legs, and be careful not to crush any butterflies, as we Ashton Kutcher our way through the Fate Reforged flavor review.
Every giant had to stand on the shoulders of little people to get where they are today. These are some of the role-players and unsung heroes of the set that aren’t quite the best, but they aren’t quite the best either.
T: It took the Abzan clan thousands of years to recover from their devastating defeat at the hands of the infamous hacker group Anonymous.
K: That’s funny, my guess was going to be a crash test dummy.
T: Maybe Buckethead will save them with some killer guitar licks.
K: Who could forget Arashin Cleric’s famous catchphrase of “We’ll have time to put out the fires when those trapped within the ruins are safe”? Classic, definitely Hot Topic T-shirt material. Also, those spooky smoldering eyes and hands are not really evoking ‘healing’ for me.
T: I was thinking that brooding goth/industrial singer on Abzan Advantage could use a t-shirt.
K: If dragons rule the skies, then dragons would rule the skies. Wizards choosing a very interesting place to teach about the form of tautological argumentation here. Don’t do this in your Logic 101 paper (nor in your flavor text writing).
T: Just because something is true, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
K: I would imagine that this is what Magic card names read like in other countries, where they’ve been hastily translated into the native language as an afterthought.
T: If poor translation doesn’t alienate their non-English-speaking audience, maybe cramming a Mesopotamian ziggurat, Hindu mandala, and Chinese dragon into the same artwork will.
K: This is the second time ‘ringing a bell’ has been a stand in for vigilance. I guess there is a modicum of sense to this: as a bell ringer you always have to be at the ready. I like to imagine that creatures with vigilance are just really type A and workaholic, and when other creatures are hitting the bar or relaxing after their long day of attacking, they’re rushing back to their post to get some more hours in.
T: Well, they’d have to be. Detecting dragons is a highly complex collection of specialized skills, such as generally looking in the right direction, and identifying gigantic flying objects that are impossible to miss.
K: Listen up, men, the laser dragon is over there! Everyone but me— charge!
T: This is where Dragon Bell Monk abandons his post in frustration, because apparently nobody else thinks you need years of training and proper qualifications to point at a dragon and yell about it.
T: You have done well, kinsman. I now bestow upon you our highest honor: A swat in the face with the Dignity Stick.
K: Plot Twist— The Abzan clan is actually led by that creepy King from Burger King.
K: I was gonna bring this card up because I like the artwork on it a lot. Questions like “what is it?”, “why does it have flash?”, and “huh?” are completely missing the point, which is that this is a really nice composition.
T: The art is nice, but vague names like this always bother me. What was it called during playtesting? Wall of Literally Anything?
T: Even as he repeatedly shoved and tripped his young companion, Houn insisted that the blindfold was an absolutely necessary part of the firefighting process.
K: “I knew we shouldn’t have stored all these highly flammable dried lotus flowers in the candle room!”
“Every action has a foreseen purpose.”
“Shut up dude, this is NOT the time.”
T: Daghatar is totally one-sixteenth Dragon on his mother’s side, so he can’t be anti-Draconic. In fact, you’re anti-Draconic for suggesting such a thing.
K: You look like you fell down the family ugly-tree and have hit every branch on the way down. –Abzan Sick Burn
K: Behold! The power of the Dewey Decimal System!
T: The Jeskai mastered many fighting styles, but their most powerful weapons of all were books. A nice, heavy dictionary can cave in a human skull, easy.
T: Whenever I see a bird with a nice necklace I immediately assume it was stolen, but that probably says a lot more about my own biases than anything else. There’s no reason to believe there’s any truth to that old “thieving magpie” stereotype. Sorry, Bird Scout. My bad.
K: I don’t always agree with their gender politics, but you’ve got to admit those Bird Scout Cookies are mighty tasty.
T: Enhanced Awareness is so cool and evocative that it’s easy to forget it’s just an overpriced looting spell. How awesome would it be to play a video game based on Shu Yun and his T-1000 super senses? (Disclaimer: Please be aware that practicing martial arts in real life will not actually give you magic powers, a visual HUD, or a basic understanding of any Asian cultures.)
K: A scene inside WotC’s marketing department:
“We’re losing too many kids to first-person shooters! They want to spend all their time playing the Call of Duties and the Bioshocks and the Quake 2s, and as a card game, we just can’t compete with the sense of immersion in a fantasy world these games can create. It’s time to pack it in gang, Magic cards is over.”
“Wait! I have an idea. And it’s so crazy, it just might work.” 6 months later, these cards.
K: Frost Walker, for when you need an ally with a more obvious weak point than a glowy chest-gem. At least the mechanics in art are in agreement, and this thing dies to a stiff breeze.
T: Yasova Dragonclaw, high atop a snowy cliff, begins to sing (To the tune of “Paint with All the Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas): “The Islands and the Forests are my allies / The obstacles and hazards are my friends / Can you tap for all the mana of the Mountains? / Can you play with all the colors of the clans? / Can you pay for all the gold cards in your hand?”
T: If you see a dangerous, flammable lotus flower like this inside the temple, stop what you’re doing and put on your fire safety blindfold immediately.
K: Isn’t all this lotus blossom stuff someone’s actual religion or something? I mean, I know I’m egregiously ignorant of it, but I can’t help imagining that Americans might get somewhat offended if Christian symbology made it onto dumb Magic cards. Oh, wait, never mind, that totally happened already. Carry on, Lotus Path Djinn, I hope your wings take dream or whatever.
T: I’m pretty sure this entire block only exists because of the working assumption that tokenizing 2/3 of the global population based on half-remembered scenes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is just 100% ok.
T: If that were me, at least part of me would be a little bit excited by the idea of possibly transforming into a celebrity millionaire. I could become a khan! …or a dragon!
K: Reality Shift is a new paradigm in business media entertainment. Capitalize your brand presence. Leverage your social marketing resources. Push the envelope. Manifest the top card of your library.
T: Bonus points for referencing a card that doesn’t exist yet! This card is so specific and clunky that it feels like a top-down design, but someone who can only make Heart-Piercer Bows does not in any way deserve to be called a Renowned Weaponsmith.
K: I sincerely hope that Vial of Dragonfire never gets printed. We could be looking at the next Steamflogger Boss here, and that is a rare and magical thing.
T: “Who touched my skulls?! I was keeping those for later! Do I need to start labeling them?”
K: Look, Sultai Skullkeeper, we need to have a talk. We try to make this a pleasant workplace environment for everyone, so we clean the office fridge out every weekend, there’s a sign and everything. Frankly, I think it’s kind of rude of you to fill it up with those skulls. People can’t fit their lunches, and it’s unfair that our janitorial staff has to mess around with human skulls.
T: A skullkeeper is the first to arrive when Cheryl brings in homemade cookies, probing them for choice bits of chocolate, and leaving behind only the oatmeal raisin ones.
T: Illiteracy among the Mardu reached epidemic heights during this period in the history of Tarkir. If not for Shu Yun’s community involvement in the wind-scarred crags of Goldengrave, most of Tarkir’s books would have been completely devoured by Orcish Librarians.
K: Fairly sick art here, but that doesn’t do anything to help the creature type confusion that has plagued this block. Can someone please tell me the difference between orcs, goblins, yetis, and ogres in this world?
T: People need to stop going on these fad diets where you replace all your carbohydrates with sand. Yes, you lose weight, but you end up getting -1/-1, and is that really worth it?
K: So… two creatures, huh? And it’s called Archfiend of Depravity… Are we sure this game is ok for kids as young as 13? This card is talking about ‘doin it’, is what I’m saying.
T: That is a disgusting, completely inappropriate thing to bring up. This is a family-friendly game about killing people in cold blood and making a pile of their dismembered limbs, not smut.
K: Dude, you’ve got 2 toughness. If you’re getting scathed even a little bit in battle you’re probably not coming back at all. Unless this flavor text is meant to be Battle Brawler’s cry for help. Get Alesha’s Vanguard on the phone, we’re staging an intervention.
T: He’s been abusing rakshasa magic lately too. Really overdoing it. His speech is so slurred he just keeps calling himself “Bubble Bobble.”
K: I feel like there are a lot of unique or rarely seen effects on cards in this set, and I approve. There’re plenty of things that we can do with Magic cards besides the basics, and it’s nice to see some of that appearing at lower rarities.
T: I agree. I don’t mind this kind of thing from time to time. We need to stop focusing on low-level deathdealers like this and start addressing the community issues that cause creatures to turn to rakshasa magic in the first place.
K: Part one of X in our series of Clan leaders being a dick for no reason in unnecessary, lengthy flavor text. Maybe this is supposed to help us feel better about them all being killed by dragons in the next set?
T: I’m not 100% sure, but I think Tasigur is supposed to be evil. I wish they would make it more clear somehow. Maybe they can errata his creature type to Evil Creature — Human Villain, and add reminder text instructing us to boo and hiss.
K: So you’re saying they come from a dragon…storm? Confirmed: Storm mechanic returns in the next set.
T: That’s probably just what parents tell their kids when they don’t want to have to explain what dragon sex is.
K: I’m appalled at the design of this card. This is a 7-mana mythic sorcery, and it can sometimes do nothing for you. It is not a rare case to cast this to get 3 2/2s that you can’t pay to flip up. For 1 more mana I could get 13 zombies (with flashback!). Do I get all the cards in their graveyard manifested? No, just the creatures. What about all the creature cards in all graveyards? No, not that either. Gotta put some limitations on this splashy EDH card, right? I can only assume this card was too good at some point and they just had to change something about it to make it bad and didn’t have much time to think about it. Also, the art looks stupid.
T: At least the art isn’t misleading. Summoning about 5 or 6 manifests sounds like a reasonable best-case scenario. This feels like trying to raise the dead with a Facebook event invitation.
T: Killer artwork like this is a pretty impressive undertaking. It’s buried under a bunch of dead-weight rules text, but passing on it would ultimately end up being a fatal mistake.
K: Rest in peace, the quality of these reviews.
T: I’m sorry. I’m ashamed. Mortified!
K: To be honest, I’m not seeing how anybody is falling for that one. I mean, the giant zombie fish mouth is right there. I will say that I appreciate it when they manage to make me fall in love with a nearly vanilla common through art and concept alone. High marks for this card.
T: Despite the flavor text implying that it is somehow made out of human flesh, this creature still fails to look as horrifying as an actual anglerfish.
K: He “sees” only the worst Abzan criminals? As in “the doctor will see you now?” That’s extremely euphemistic language for “chops the heads off of.” On the other hand, I like that this card is making a statement against capital punishment. We might not know it, but we all “sacrifice” something if we allow our justice system to take another person’s life. Powerful message.
T: Oh man, we’d be in such great shape if the worst part of our prison industrial complex were a giant orc chopping people’s heads off with an axe. It must be tough to design gritty fantasy worlds when real life is already basically an Orwellian cyberpunk nightmare.
K: And Obnoxious Dragons begin to digest their prey even before that, using a deadly combination of unpleasant mannerisms and poor social skills.
T: Sarkhan stepped through the gate, and his senses were immediately accosted by overwhelming body odor and impotent complaints about Sultai tax policy. For the first time, he began to strongly reconsider his lifelong quest to save Tarkir’s dragons.
T: This is kind of like the necromantic equivalent of a roulette wheel. “Hey, Qarsi High Priest, whatcha summoning?” “I dunno. Hopefully something better than the twelve guys I just killed.” [Gestures to ring of human skulls.]
K: I like that you can just keep sacrificing the manifests to get more manifests. For just 1 mana, this guy can get very tricky. Good overall card.
K: I think that’s a dude coming out of a manifest (maybe even Jeskai Infiltrator) and getting immediately headshot’d by this spell. Not only is it cool, but it’s also going to be a scene that you probably will get to experience pretty frequently in Khans block limited.
T: Thanks, Ghelesh. I suppose I do get things done occasionally. ^-^
K: “Group hug!” –Tasigur, the Golden Fang
T: “A gracious host makes sure their guests’ hors d’oeuvres and beverages are always in fresh supply. Sibsig Host devours his guests alive while they scream in agony. Don’t be like Sibsig Host!” –Mme. Tasigur’s Pocket Guide to Etiquette
K: “Check out this cool stick I found!” [Audience begins to ooh and ahh and bow at the stick.]
T: Whatever, man. You just don’t appreciate the stick because you can’t understand it.
K: This art is so bad. Not only does this conform to the tired ‘clutching a head’ school of discard spell art, it also manages to make the incredibly cool Tasigur look like a total chump. It looks like he’s wearing one of those stuffed animal hats.
T: While I’m glad that Tasigur is trying to raise awareness about the serious effects of psychological abuse, I disagree that inflicting it on everyone he encounters is the best way to approach the issue. Clearly this puts me at odds with anyone who’s ever engaged in a “healthy debate” on the Internet.
T: Does the fact that my initial reaction to this card was an overwhelming craving for Papa Zurgo’s Mardu BBQ make me a bad person, or does it just mean their all-you-can-eat pulled pork dinner is really that good?
K: Bathe in Dragonfire? That sounds almost pleasant, luxurious even, like a special bath ball that you can buy at the mall. That man is getting burnt to a crisp. Why wasn’t this card called Burn to a Crisp? I know that good names are a valuable resource, but come on, almost any verb would’ve been better than ‘bathe’.
T: Delicious BBQ and shopping for bath oils? Is that the scent of cooked flesh, or do I smell a boys’ night out in my future?
T: Any time somebody plays this against me, I’m going to pretend I can’t hear them until they’re shouting “I CAST DRAGONRAGE!!!” loud enough for everyone in the vicinity to notice.
K: So you’re going to make your opponents super cool is what you’re saying? This would’ve been a better name for Bathe in Dragonfire. I really do like that they’re printing extremely weird cards like this ritual/trumpet blast combo platter, but good names like, need to be conserved.
K: Ah, the magnificent phoenix. Well known for its grace, wisdom, and tendency to aggressively smash itself against anything that moves in a blind suicidal fervor. Also in line with its Chinese mythological origins, this symbologically important creature can mysteriously rise from the ashes, as long as there’s a giant or a bear or something nearby.
T: No relation to Joaquin Phoenix, who rises from the ashes of his car when Werner Herzog is nearby.
K: The humor in this card could have only been enhanced if the quote had been attributed to ‘William, Mardu hordechief’.
T: Oddly enough, the hordechief did in fact request that his archers have their employment terminated upon his death.
K: This feels like someone was trying to come up with one of those inspirational battle speeches, but then just really had it fall flat. The metaphor is strained to begin with and only gets worse the more thought and effort they put into it. It probably doesn’t help that no one wants very much to be compared to something called a Gore Swine.
T: “The Mardu are like the newspaper. We’re black and white and ‘red’ all over!” –Vallash, Mardu yukster
K: Ooooooh! Wipeout! This card basically cementing my long-held theory that Tarkir goblins are 90’s cereal mascots.
T: Well, he’s definitely riding down that sand dune on what appears to be a giant Golden Graham.
T: This artist, like many mainstream news outlets, apparently has trouble grasping the subtle differences between social upheaval and being hunted down by giant supernatural flesh-eating mandrills.
K: Something was subtly bothering me about this art for a long time, and I think I’ve finally figured out what it is.
K: Boom! Perfect reprint! Well, I guess perfect except for the fact that no one really wanted to see Pyrotechnics again. Still, I appreciate the way the card takes on a different meaning in this new setting, and that some things from actual real world history are making it onto the cards, like the Chinese invention of gunpowder. Who knew that they originally took inspiration from dragons? You have fun with Magic cards, but you also learn.
T: I honestly don’t think I would have done as well as I did on the verbal portion of my SATs if it weren’t for Magic. I also probably wouldn’t have taken so many risks with dangerous explosive devices or joined that ancient demon-worshipping murder cult.
K: So there’s a Dadaist school of martial arts now? I guess having to pay 2 for a 2/2 with a drawback is upending my belief system about what a playable card looks like.
T: Tell me that efreet doesn’t look exactly like Batman Beyond. There’s no way they’re not doing this on purpose.
K: Holy crap, the Temur do not play around! Check out that background. Manages to depict brutality without being overly gross or off-putting (like some other cards I could name). A good art.
T: In case you were wondering how the Temur fought and took down enormous dragons dozens of times their own size, the answer is cat paws.
K: There’s a lot of art of manifests getting wrecked by instant speed removal in this set. I wonder if WotC is trying to teach people a lesson about un-manifesting into open mana? Or maybe it’s a more simple ‘hey, use this card to kill a manifest’ message. Frankly, the mechanic is so complicated that new players need all the help they can get.
T: The flavor text is literally direct advice about how to play with morphs.
K: This is a cool card, and also one of the few successful attempts to depict the hound-people in this set that doesn’t end up looking terrible. We also, however, have the continued design issues with having so many different cards that care about different powers and toughnesses. Usually green seems to care about having 4 or more power in this set, but here we have an incongruous toughness card. In fact here are the things cards in this set ask me to care about: power 2 or less, power 4 or greater, power 3 or less, the least toughness, the greatest toughness, and toughness 4 or greater.
T: It’s tough to keep track of all that.
T: I’m sorry, but I find this card difficult to understand when the two choices aren’t labeled “Khans” and “Dragons” more-or-less randomly.
K: I think every ‘choose one’ card is meant to represent the theme of choice that this set plays up. We’re put in Sarkhan’s shoes every time we cast Ainok Guide. Will you save Ugin? Will you side with the Khans? Will you get a basic land? If you choose incorrectly, unforeseen consequences ripple throughout the multiverse.
K: I can see why the Naga Anthropology course at Qal Sisma U is no longer offered a thousand years in the future. 5/2 reach is also some seriously awkward stats and makes me question the premise of them being ‘at home in the trees’ at all. They sure have gotten a lot better at this whole Sagu Archers ‘blocking fliers’ thing over the generations.
T: Even in the present, QSU still hasn’t stepped up to the plate and retired their incredibly offensive “Creepin’ Cutthroats” mascot. Clearly just because Sidisi is a Naga khan doesn’t mean these old-fashioned mindsets have gotten any less pernicious.
K: Nice! This is probably my favorite minor dragon in the set. The art does a great job of creating a sense of scale and menace, and the flavor text hints at what I imagine will be the storyline that dominates the next set (no more khans, just dragons). If I’m catching this card’s implication right, I’m looking forward to artwork of a dragon sitting on an uncomfortably small throne made of Zurgo Helmsmasher.
T: This is my favorite minor dragon too, but mostly because I get to refer to Lightning Shrieker as Self-Destructor Dragon.
T: It’s no secret that our award for worst art is named in “honor” of the original version of Hunt the Weak, so it’s nice to see it get an upgrade. It still looks kind of smudgy and bad, but it deserves special congratulations for not quite being the worst anymore.
K: Let’s not be too hasty, as this card still looks pretty terrible. It’s possible it came in looking better and that someone uglied it up so it would hold up the proud Hunt the Weak tradition of being as stupid looking as possible. Also loses points for “scorn the weak” in the flavor text of a card already called “Hunt the Weak”. At this point, the flavor text might as well be Dragons hunt the weak…. get it? Get it?
T: Just because artwork is bad, that doesn’t mean it isn’t bad.
K: Good flavor text and mechanical integration here. Any card that answers a question that players have (how exactly are people putting up a fight against dragons?) through art and card name alone has done a good job.
T: The answer? Why, the same answer green has to everything: Inexplicable vines!
K: You would think that someone with ruthless instincts would seem more aware of the giant dragon barreling down on them. Looks like someone needs to employ the services of a trained Dragon Bell Monk.
T: Clearly she should have chosen “Khans”.
K: I want to hear more from this character who appears to own a pair of giant underwater zombie snakes.
T: There’s no secret too deep and no mystery too big for Kurtar, Sultai sleuth and his crime-solving serpent pals.
K: So how long ago is this set supposed to have taken place? I’m sure Wizards has put an exact number out there somewhere. The website says “over a thousand years ago”. Wooly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and other Ice Age mammals (presumably this is what a Krushok is) all went extinct around 10,000 years ago. Based on this evidence, I’m going to have to assume that Wizards of the Coast is a crypto-young-earth-creationist organization, ignoring scientific findings and trying to peddle ideas of people living alongside dinosaurs. That also could explain why they’re setting the next block centers around the exploits of a plucky planeswalker named ‘Jace-us Kryst’.
T: Um… Human beings were definitely alive 10,000 years ago, and probably hunted mammoths. Not that your entire theory is bunk based solely on that. Personally, I keep forgetting this set takes place in the past because the technology, clothing, and architecture all look exactly the same.
K: “I don’t always outclass Figure of Destiny, but when I do, I’m a shoe-horned mythic rare.” –The Most Interesting One-Drop in the World
T: Is this one of those cards where someone won a contest and got to have their portrait done? He looks like Adam Goldberg.
K: I’m gonna note here that we’ve had nearly nothing to say about this cycle of hybrid-mana activation mythics (Soulfire Grand Master excluded), because they are garbage designs. There’s not much mythic about them, and they rarely make any kind of sense flavorfully or mechanically. It’s like they finished the set and didn’t have any mythics except Ugin and just decided to take the most powerful card in each color and make it a mythic, adding random bits of rules text until the power level was high enough. That is not supposed to be the way mythics work. This is actually one of the lowest level offenders (Torrent Elemental, with its amazing combination of flying and tap-all-blockers is probably the worst), but I wanted to mention how unimpressed I was with these somewhere.
K: Maybe it’s just something that hasn’t clicked for me yet, but I am not understanding at all what that thing in the background is supposed to be. I mean, I know it’s a mammoth of some kind, cause there’s the tusk, but what on earth is it connecting up to? It doesn’t help that the Whisperer herself appears to have an indeterminate amount of other types of tusks sticking out of/attached to her. Again, I’m fully willing to have this explained to me, but I am at a loss.
T: I’m glad you asked. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid artwork. The object in the background is actually Whisperer’s lower half, protruding from behind her like an insect’s abdomen. Tusks grow from her egg sac as a part of her body’s natural defense mechanisms.
K: A howl on the wind could hide many dangers, but probably it’s just the land you really needed to draw next turn.
T: There’s so much boring artwork of manifests in this set. It feels like looking at someone’s amateur ghost-hunting photography.
K: These guys are reacting to manifests like a normal person reacts to, like, gross giant rats or something. I guess this would be about my level of revulsion every time someone flips up some unbeatable bomb that they randomly slip into play with this.
T: Looks like we’ve got an infest manifestation. I mean, a man in a finessed station. I mean… Ah, forget it.
K: Butt wrestling, grimmest of contests.
T: Confronted at last by the fearsome beast, the invader began to wonder if his original plan of not getting eaten by a zombie alligator wasn’t a better idea after all.
K: And apparently the place to look for it was the desiccated dragon corpse. Yuck, I’m not sure I want to gain life that badly.
T: I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but we’ve already cannibalized everyone we could afford to lose, and it looks like we’re finally going to have to eat that vegan mac-n-cheese we’ve been carrying around.
K: Did they make a Terracotta Warriors card? It’s not exactly a top-down design, but that’s kinda neat use of source material.
T: That would be cool. Their faces look more like demons to me, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not supposed to be some sloppy conflation of the two.
K: So this card is, I think, the best example of what Wizards is trying to do with this block, which is perfect the nostalgia concept that failed so badly for them in Time Spiral Block (still one of my favorites, btw). For nostalgia to be a maximally effective marketing tool, everyone in your audience needs to be able to experience it. In other words, you need to create nostalgia for a thing that just happened. Even people who have only been playing Magic cards for a few months will be able to open this card and make the kind of connection that I made when I looked at Wormwood Dryad: “Oh, it’s Wormwood Treefolk, I remember that guy.” In this case it’s “Oh, Witness of the Ages, I remember that guy.” I think these kind of internal references are very cool and make me anticipate the third set, where hopefully we will find a third version of Pilgrim of the Fires.
T: All of this is overlooking the completely absurd backstory that this is apparently a robot built to learn kung fu.
T: Aside from its utterly uninspiring name (Ugin’s Nondescript Object), this is clearly an Artifact Creature — Dragon.
K: This is just one of Ugin’s many constructs. Some of them look like dragons, sure, but sometimes he makes bowls of fruit, Heart-Piercer Bows, or kung fu robots. Ugin is a much more versatile artist than he gets credit for.
T: It’s a neat little detail that all of the lands have subtly altered artwork in this set (except Scoured Barrens, which is a completely different card for some reason). You can even lay them next to each other to play Photo Hunt! Can you spot ten differences between the past and present versions of Tarkir?
K: Overall this is really cool, and I like it a lot when they give things alternate arts. However, it’s unfortunate that a few of the cards look so similar to their original versions, making it hard not to notice when the artist just drew some extra flags or something and called it a day. This is most noticeable on Wind-Scarred Crag, Rugged Highland, and Tranquil Cove. Like Jesse said, Scoured Barrens looks to have the opposite problem. What even happened there?
Awards and “Awards”
We hope you’re all enjoying yourselves, because it’s not over yet. It’s time for the main event! Ladies and gentlemen, khans and dragons, we now present our superlatives, honorifics, and most wild exaggerations for Fate Reforged.
Best Non-Land Art
T: I won’t deny it. I love the close perspective, bold colors, and funky style of this art. Our first nominee is cool and unique in a way that most Magic cards don’t even attempt to achieve. I want this as my desktop wallpaper. No puns necessary!
K: The only way this card’s art would have been greater, is if the pictured naga had a ‘hi, my name is william’ nametag on.
T: Our second nominee is pretty sweet too, even if it makes Jeskai monks seem like glorified gator wrestlers.
K: Yes! This is some of my favorite of set as well. It really communicates, in a way that not many other pieces have been able to, the way that the humans of this plane have been fighting back against the dragons. Every victory is unlikely, but they’re surviving somehow anyway (at least until Sarkhan screws it all up). This is a moment of supreme badassery captured very well.
K: This kind of wispy impressionistic art is something that I’m always a sucker for, but maybe that’s because there’s always so little of it. Combine that with the very evocative and abstract name, and this card is a winner in my book. It even ties the whole ‘Abzan ghosts help their ancestors thing’ into the flavor text and mechanics. A+
T: I’m not sure if it’s a compliment to say that this looks like cover art for a Nightwish album, but that’s exactly how I intend it.
Best Flavor Text
K: I’m really liking the flavor text on these uncommon dragons for the most part. It’s a great place to do some world-building, and it helps to show the influence the dragons had when they were alive on how the clans turned out in the present, as well as a hint about what their continued dominance might lead to. Again, pumped for the next set.
T: I don’t really have anything to add to that. Instead, I present to you the lyrical abomination that runs through my mind every time I read this card: “Look at my dragon dressed in red / I-ko, i-ko, un-day / I bet’cha five turns he’ll kill you dead / Shock-a-maw fee na-ne.”
T: I can’t think of a better thing to say before kicking your confused enemies to the ground and stomping all over them.
K: I think I’ll give my award for best flavor text to ‘Jeskai’ on the whole this time. They’ve really nailed down a tone that sounds and feels right for the clan of warrior monks on cards like this one, Monastery Mentor, and Refocus. And all they had to do was crib it all from old kung fu movies.
T: This card is so simple and innocuous that it’s easy to overlook how clean and intuitive it is. The artwork is great too. It perfectly captures how I feel looking at the card itself: “Oh yeah, that’s what good design looks like!”
K: I wanted to give this my “best flavor text of set” award, but I’m so cynical after reading Feral Krushok and Aven Skirmisher that I don’t think anyone at Wizards could’ve possibly come up with it themselves.
T: “How does one train the mind, master Houn?” [Is handed a deck of Magic cards.]
K: Cool! I like when they try to carve out additional slices of the color pie for red, since it’s been limited to goblins and lightning bolts for pretty much forever. I guess red’s deal is becoming ‘can do anything, as long as there’s an element of chaos or uncontrollability’, as opposed to blue’s deal of ‘can do anything, full stop’. The card also manages to tell a neat little story about the ways the clans interact with one another.
T: I’ll second all of that. This is one of my personal favorites too. I know R&D is really pushing the boundaries to find new, interesting things for red to do, and I think they’ve been pretty successful.
K: I know I mentioned this card last time, but I just have to talk more about her. This has to be one of my favorite mythics of all time, and I say that as a longtime detractor of the mythic rarity. It has a couple of different abilities that are cool, unique, and work well in tandem. I love that spells can have an ability word now, and it’s hard to imagine a cooler or more “mythic” ability than giving all spells buyback. Plus, it’s all on an unprotected 2/2, so it’s unlikely to get degenerately unfun. This seems like the kind of shenanigans Jeskai was really meant to embody, not this “getting slightly bigger” stuff.
T: It’s a cool card, but completely broken. All you need is 7 mana and 8 attacking creatures, and it’s an infinite 2-card combo with Dragonrage. In Standard! It’s only a matter of time before the ban-hammer comes down.
Best Overall Flavor
T: I almost overlooked this one the first time I saw it, but upon closer inspection, I think this has to be one of the coolest cards in the set. It’s amazing that it hasn’t been printed before when the effect is such a commonly-seen trope, and it’s such a perfect fit for red. Bonus points for the “YOLO!” flavor text from Alesha.
K: Yeah, this is a good one. Because it can target anything, the amount of tricky you can get with it is nearly infinite, and that’s leaving aside the interactions this card has with deathtouch and lifelink. Well done all around, and cheap enough that you can actually play it.
T: Don’t move! Dragons can’t see you if you don’t move.
K: This card is awesome and is, as far as I can tell, the only manifest card that feels flavorfully correct. He’s using ninja magic to make a decoy copy of himself. I like to imagine my opponent’s creature smashing one of the two manifests and, rats! It was just a dummy with a blue robe on! Meanwhile, the real Jeskai Infiltrator has slipped past. The tactile element of this card is also not to be ignored, as shell-gaming it up with this ability feels super fun. Certainly one of my flavor favorites (or flavorites) of the set.
T: I don’t know if “ninja magic” is accurate, since ninjas aren’t actually from China. Then again, neither are genies, and that doesn’t stop the Jeskai clan from being full of them.
T: Red is really doing a lot for me this set. Between Humble Defector, Arcbond, and this, they were really able to find a lot of clever, interesting, and resonant designs. Having your creatures accidentally blow themselves up seems so obvious, yet it’s so satisfying.
K: Here’s an example of really elevating a concept that we’ve seen and enjoyed before on cards like Fling and Artillerize. Of course that goblin wasn’t going to be able to work that Chinese firework machine! Or maybe it’s an orc. Or a kobold. Or a yeti.
K: Hahahaha! Seriously? Most sets I have to struggle to come up with the winner of the Huntie, but this card has just jumped out and embraced me with its ridiculously glowy bear paws. It seems to howl ‘pick me!’ from the humorously askew mouth on its off-centered head. There’s even one of those ridiculous manifests streaking across the desert landscape in the background, evoking nothing more than the Roadrunner getting away from the Coyote or, failing that, Sonic the Hedgehog after collecting some Chaos Emeralds. Arashin War Beast, you spoil me.
T: Despite Hunt the Weak actually being in this set with new and marginally less terrible artwork, it’s pretty hard to find anything more ludicrous than Arashin War Beast. From the giant octahedron on its back to the tips of its radioactive Hulk hands, there’s nothing I can say about this series of inexplicable creative decisions that it doesn’t already say for itself. Let’s all strap on our bondage harnesses, twist what I assume is our head at some physically impossible angle, and hail to the new king of bad art.
T: Arashin War Beast is silly and all, but this is one of the actual worst things I’ve ever seen on a Magic card. You’ve got some shirtless jungle dude with a necklace made of shrunken skulls “prowling” around with a giant machete. Also, for some reason, he has no nipples. It looks like a poster from one of those pulpy cannibal horror movies they used to make back in the days when it was still socially acceptable to call people “one or more colors.” How is this even remotely okay?
K: Okay, if Mob Rule was pulpy and silly, this is just pulpy and offensive. Surprised this card isn’t called Marang River Savage.
Ancient Grudge Commemorative Worst Flavor Text Award
K: Ice can take any form, except, apparently, the form of good flavor text. You think “a whisper of a memory” is a thing? Like, is that phrase people say? Also someone thought they could sneak a name as bad as “Mytha” onto a magic card without anyone noticing. I’m on to you flavor text writer.
T: Ice can be shaped into the title of anyone’s amateur photography Tumblr. I’d like to congratulate Wizards for really making lemons into lemonade when this artwork came in half-finished.
T: Krushok? Because it crushes things? Why not just call it Smash-Bash Stomp-o-don?
K: Step aside, Ancient Grudge. We have a new contender for most over-explained concept in flavor text. You can tell that the writer just wanted to keep going, but couldn’t get anyone to decrease the font size so they could fit in an even more elaborate explanation of this one-note joke. What percent of these words could I cut out and still be able to tell this story? I guess the flavor department just needed to meet their quota of nonsense fantasy proper nouns and decided to cram it all into this one card. An easy Grudgie winner for me.
K: Ah, the return of the kitchen sink mythic. Many speculate that it was created when lines of text deleted from other cards were accidentally joined together by a freak database error. Others say it’s some kind of in-joke among Magic developers, a oneupsmanship contest where they compete to see who can get the biggest pile of nonsense into print. Where do you think Torrent Elemental came from? Sound off in the comments! (Rude remarks like ‘someone designed it this way on purpose’ will be immediately deleted.)
T: We can probably include all of the other hybrid mythics under this umbrella too. I know it feels weird to call these bad designs, and Soulfire Grand Master a good one, but I assure you that all of our decisions are made based on rigorous, objective metrics that are far too complicated to fully explain here.
Worst Overall Flavor
T: Sandsteppe Mastodons are born in oases, high atop tufted palm trees, where they apparently feed themselves by swiping birds out of the air with their majestic tusks.
K: Reach has definitely been watered down to the point of meaninglessness by now. It was bad enough when Arbor Colossus had it, but at least he had Arbor in his name to imply some kind of connect with the tops of trees. The only thing we are left to assume here is that anything sufficiently tall has reach. What am I left to think of my titans and giants and leviathans who don’t have reach? They just don’t have the will to stop creatures with flying I guess, or the reflexes? Maybe it’s the prehensile trunk? Also, since we’re already on how bad the flavor is here, how does this mastodon give you +5/+5? The other bolster cards at least make a token gesture towards showing you how the bolstering might work. This one? Nah, just a big elephant with a bunch of randomly thrown-together words on it.
T: Green is really cleaning up in this category. I’m not quite sure how you’re supposed to ambush something for 6 mana at sorcery speed, but there you have it. I guess regular Krotiqs must be extra slow.
K: Here I was thinking you were going to single this one out because it clearly depicts a scene from Starcraft, but your complaint is also extremely valid. It makes you return something to your hand, so maybe it only ambushes your own guys.
K: Well, that’s all for Fate Reforged folks, I hope you had as much fun as we did. While Fate Reforged may have just come out, what I’m really excited for is Dragons of Tarkir. This set has the most built-in intra-block hype that I can ever remember seeing, and I think it comes from them doing a good job of integrating the block structure with the narrative. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and spread the good news about Ugin. Rejoice, for He is risen.
T: Thanks, everyone, for reading. If you agree, disagree, or neither agree nor disagree with any of our card evaluations, let us know by commenting with the hashtag #khans or #dragons below. It won’t affect anything, but at least it will make you feel better. Go on, let it out! We’ll be back next time with Ugin only knows what.