Throne of Eldraine spoilers are about to hit critical mass as the release quickly approaches. While only a handful of cards are revealed, there are already several poised to make an impact on their respective formats:
4/4 for four mana with six great abilities.
1 mana 2/2 for Stompy/Elves in Pauper.
I’ve identified several cards I look forward to adding to my Danger Room:
Only a small fraction of the set has been revealed, but we’re already deep in gems. The cards feel powerful and regardless of what the Constructed impact ends up being I’m likely to remain a huge fan of the set for two reasons:
- I love the flavor and themes.
- I love the creative designs.
Today’s article is all about what I enjoy and don’t enjoy when it comes to flavor, and why I love what I’m seeing from Throne of Eldraine so far.
The Ever-Changing Flavor is Hit or Miss
Magic was my first exposure to classic literature way back in the mid-90s.
As a kid, I was an avid reader but mostly stuck within a comfort zone of kid’s horror (R.L. Stein’s Fear Street), comics, and fantasy series by writers such as Tolkien and Donaldson. As silly as it sounds, the flavor texts on Magic cards are the reason I checked out writers like Poe, Coleridge and the Bard (Shakespeare) from the library.
In the past 15 years, Wizards has moved away from direct literary quotes on cards and has focused on using space to build its own worlds and characters. I can’t deny it makes sense to use that space to worldbuild their multiverse, but I miss seeing real quotes on cards:
Even if you’ve never read a Modernist poem, it’s hard to deny this quote nails what the card is all about. While I haven’t seen any Brothers Grimm quote on a card yet, I’m always a big fan of blocks that draw inspiration from literature. The Gothic horror of Innistrad and fairytale influence of Lorwyn come immediately to mind, and Amonkhet was packed with Egyptian-inspired themes.
Flavor Doesn’t Always Reflect Gameplay
On the other hand, I tend to strongly dislike cards like Conspiracy Mortify from a flavor standpoint:
The flavor has little to do with what the card is, or what it does. The verb “mortify” has several definitions:
- To humiliate, embarrass, or horrify.
- To subdue by self-denial.
- To destroy the vitality or strength.
- To be affected by gangrene or necrosis.
The flavor fails to directly invoke any of these and it’s a stretch to say it hits them indirectly. Also, why is only “many” who cross Sorin? Is the thousand-year-old Vampire lacking in time to track down some double-crossers? What does being in the way have to do with mortification?
I can pile on more. What does the artwork have to do with the name or the flavor text? We see a warrior whose head is smoking and possibly exploding while his elbow is inexplicably blowing away in a fashion that reminds me of Thanos’s finger snap in Endgame.
Off the top of my head:
“If you cross Sorin be prepared to suffer the humiliation that nothing you can do, no protection charm, or incantation will outlast or escape the thousand-year-old vampire’s retribution. Then, prepare to suffer the indignity of just plain suffering.”
Then, I’d round out the card with an image depicting a person who is mortified to be in the presence of Sorin. Not “horrified,” (stricken with horror or fear), but mortified (stricken/weakened by humiliation).
When I was an 11-year-old experiencing cards for the first time I learned a lot from them. I learned new vocabulary, mythology, encountered different styles of artwork, and was even prompted to read the classics. If an 11-year-old saw this card, there is no context to figure out what the word even means. In fact, a savvy reader of context might assume it means to get in a Vampire’s way and have your head explode and elbow blown away.
Let’s work backwards. Imagine you see the image and flavor text. What would you assume the name of the card was? I wouldn’t guess Mortify.
I actually get Mortify from this:
Are tears of bloody shame too dark for MTG’s current direction? Maybe, but there’s no arguing the flavor, artwork, and function work together.
The most recent version is also improved. Most of the time when I hear the word mortify used properly, it relates to social embarrassment (an obvious association to the elitism of the Orzhova). “I was mortified to be underdressed for the function,” or, “I was mortified when the Orzhova publicly exposed my debts.”
Flavor is Sometimes Confusing and Inconsistent
Here’s an example:
“Loam” is a sandy, silty, clay-based soil. Now, I’m not an expert on the nuances of soil, but these cards all do dramatically different things and are all green creatures.
The flavor of THIS card is off the charts. Any astute 11-year-old can infer that Loam means soil. From the moment this card was printed it seems absolutely silly to me that new card with “loam” in the name that don’t feature graveyard + land interactions would ever see print. There is nothing loamy about the Shaman or the Dryad.
The worst offender that doesn’t deliver on expectations:
Everything about the card feels phoned in. It seriously feels like less than five total minutes were spent combined on the name and flavor text, which is a real shame because Jason Engle’s illustration is quite nice.
There’s only one other Skelton Dragon in the game and it’s way more powerful, exciting, and flavorful:
Have you heard a story or seen a game with a skeleton dragon that was lame? Of course not! It’s fine to have a mediocre, non-Constructed Mythic for Limited play, but don’t make it a unique creature type that doesn’t match the flavor. It doesn’t even do Skeleton stuff like regenerate. If the card was called Grave Durdle Dragon I would have been less offended because at least then the lack of effort is honest and upfront.
The three things I hate to see:
- Art and flavor have nothing to do with the card.
- Confusing and non-descriptive names.
- Cards that should be exciting that disappoint.
With that said, I’d like to highlight what I absolutely LOVE about the flavor designs from Throne of Eldraine so far.
Throne is King of Flavor
So far, I haven’t seen cards that break any of my rules. Even more important, the cards spoiled so far are off the charts in terms of the synergy between name, flavor, art, and gameplay. It’s one of the strongest flavor sets I’ve ever seen. I see a strong correlation between choosing a fun theme for a set, in this case fairytales, and wonderful fluffy designs.
The biggest difference I see between something like Lorwyn and Throne, at least so far, is that Lorwyn feels “tribal theme first, fairytale second,” whereas Throne feels fairytale first. The set leans flavor-forward in the sense that it is the biggest theme guiding the design of the set.
I love this approach. My all-time favorite sets like The Dark, Legends, Time Spiral and Innistrad are extremely influenced by flavor. I’m extremely excited to see a set literally bursting with fairytale flavor.
I took a class on fairytale and folklore when I did my undergraduate degree, so I have some background on the genre. My biggest suggestion for MTG flavor fans is to pick up a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. There’s about 80 in total and most are less than three pages long, so it’s a fast and easy read.
The most interesting element of the collection is how different they are from their Disney adaptations. I wouldn’t, for instance, read anything from Grimm to my three-year-old niece because most of the stories are creepy, scary, and downright violent. No tap-dancing mice!
I’m hoping the set draws from fairytale and folklore material beyond Disney. Specifically, I’m hoping to get a Duck Magic card.
While I hope to see a broader depiction of fairytales than just Disney representation, who doesn’t see this card and smile? Wonderful design right down to the mice. It’s also actively good. I’ll need a foil for Battle Box.
Another card that stood out as extremely flavorful design is:
Most fairytales start off with “Once upon a time…” followed by the name and location and character and this card allows you to start the game by finding a creature or land card. I get the impression a lot of stories will start: “Once upon of time, there lived a Llanowar Elf.”
I’m way higher on the flavor of the card than the thought of a free spell that helps find a one-drop creature on the first turn. Still, great flavor makes the pill easier to swallow. At least it’s not called: “Ancient Elfings.”
Next up is a familiar effect; there are so many boring functional reprints of Falter over the years. I typically don’t even bother to remember the names of these types of cards and just refer to each new one as “Falter.”
I love the flavor and design of this card. It’s basically just Falter version 25.0, but it feels fresh and fun. Who doesn’t want to huff and puff and blow their opponent’s house down? It’s a great example of why flavor matters and increases the enjoyment of gameplay.
Another thing I’m enjoying is that design is taking on making cards for actual literary characters. I don’t mind that this card isn’t named “Robin Hood,” I’m just excited to see what their take on an MTG Robin Hood looks like! Or, their rendering of the Billy Goats Gruff Troll:
This is not new territory:
We’ve seen takes on fictitious characters in the past and I’m extremely happy to see this return to the game after a long, long time.
Even the weakest flavor designs I’ve observed still feel like fun, coherent cards:
I like the idea of the card a lot. An either/or take on a counter/creature. Who wouldn’t want to play with that? I would have preferred a different name, perhaps Somniferous Sprite, if only because Hypnotic makes me think of:
The thing is, the illustration is vibrant and visually stunning and the design of the card itself is so unique that there is no chance anybody will confuse a Hypnotic Sprite with black discard.
I’ll just pretend Hypnotic Siren doesn’t exist.
When the cards are sweet and fun, players are much more willing to overlook the little things, like the fact that a couple of cards in this set that cause me to quizzically raise my eyebrows and think it seems busted. For instance, a free spell that essentially ensures a Standard deck can play eight mana dorks, or a four-mana 4/4 with six fantastic abilities.
But when the cards feel like they’ve got legitimate heart and soul, I notice that first and appreciate it. I find the set really engaging and believe it will hit the mark with not only fans of the game, but also with new players. I’m looking forward to seeing more and more of these terrific new flavor-based designs as we move into the thick of spoiler season.
Two big questions:
- From a fan/player perspective: how do you feel about a set that appears to be legitimately designed with a flavor first approach?
- Is there a specific fairytale character or theme they haven’t spoiled yet that you are hoping to see included in the block? I mentioned I’m a huge fan of ducks and would LOVE to see a duck themed card. A split card “Ugly Duckling/Beautiful Swan,” would be awesome!
Hope you’re appreciating the really innovative and fun designs from this spoiler season so far!