M13 Flavor Review

It’s the best day of the week again, Vorthos Wednesday, and we’re back with more flavor than a bag of Skittles.

Apologies out there to all of the English, Aussies, and Kiwis, but you guys and girls just don’t know how to spell.

Flavour? Come now. I want to devour as much flavor as you, but the two do not rhyme. Spelling the two in the same manner is just downright confusing.

It’d make for a great card name, though. FLAY-vour: a very gruesome way for the residents of Jund to eat their prey. I’ll see if I can sneak it past the powers that be next time I submit card names.

All right, enough ribbing of our brethren across the seas. We are all Vorthos.

Magic 2013 previews are in full swing, and I’ve been knocked back a couple times already thanks to a bad habit of standing too close. Today, I’m going to take a very large step back and analyze that darn thing’s entire swing before looking at any more previews.

I tend to wait until everything is out for all to see before doing a set review, but some recent cards have inspired me to think about core set flavor in general. When an idea strikes, you don’t wait around for a “convenient time.” You whip that canvas out right in the middle of a train station if you have to. Get it out!

The Previous Arc

Prior to Magic 2010, Vorthos was left hanging each time a core set came around. They were great in their respective blocks, but having all of these cards from across the multiverse mashed together felt much like a high school teacher deciding to throw the curriculum out the window and just teach what she could remember from any and all subjects. There might be a few gems hidden in there, but it’s just not all that enjoyable to sift through.

Magic 2010 brought about a revolution, and Vorthos rejoiced. Sure, there was no overarching theme or storyline tying it all together, but it was a lot easier to accept a set that made sure each and every card stood on its own without contradicting the one next to it. Like a bud in spring, each card was bursting with unique stories and flavor.

Djinn of Wishes? Awesome.

Burning Inquiry? Great play on words.

Ice Cage? Home run.

Gargoyle Castle? Moar please.

Magic 2011 upped the ante—without actually adding any ante cards—with a number of little upgrades.

Returning mechanics meant we would get to see new cards that really honed in on the mechanics’ flavors without a plane’s agenda butting in. Titans weren’t exactly top-down design, but they succeeded in holding the banner of iconic creatures from a core set. Even the planeswalkers’ pet cards were an improvement, opening up new areas to expand on flavor and individual stories.

Sadly, no story or overarching themes through the entire set meant Vorthos, though quite happy, was still hanging.

Magic 2012 wove the core set more tightly into the fabric of Magic while giving us a few disappointments.

Bringing in new planeswalkers meant we were no longer restricted to the same old five. The position could change and evolve depending on needs. The slogan of “Gather Your Allies” gave players a theme to follow, and it was reinforced with the video preview. In fact, that slogan fit with Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012—released to coincide with it all—better than the core set, thanks to the inclusion of Archenemy and Nicol Bolas.

Unfortunately, we also saw a few steps that weren’t in a direction Vorthos wants to go. The three of the original five planeswalkers that remained were redesigned, ignoring their current positions within Magic’s greater storyline.

Is that horrible? No, but it shows that Wizards is not concerned with keeping continuity through core sets.

The other was the preview video. As a standalone promotional video, it’s everything Vorthos could want—key characters, mini-plot, and quality—but in terms of the overall progression toward a fully integrated core set, it laughs in Vorthos’s face. In fact, it had absolutely zero to do with the paper release.

Finally, we come to this year’s set.

All of the good stuff from previous “M” sets are back once again; planeswalker pets, extra, flavorful mechanic, and yummy standalone cards. We have something new coming as well: legends.

In place of the Titans, we are seeing a cycle of legends full of flavor meant to be the iconic creatures of Magic 2013. They even have their own pet cards as well. They’re also rare, which means we’ll be seeing a lot more of them than we ever did of the Titans.

Will it work? Ask me again in six months.

Once again, we had a preview video for the core set and the new Duels. Once again, Nicol Bolas made an appearance as the big baddie. This time around, Wizards got it right. Bolas is in the core set, ignoring the unwritten rule of having no gold cards in a core set.

What does that tell us? Flavor is more important than the rules. You may rejoice once again, Vorthos.

In some ways, I want the new slogan, “Face a Greater Challenge,” to switch with last year’s. It’s a great piece either way, but it just fits with DotP’s Archenemy format better. Not to mention that exalted would seem to better suited with something mentioning allies.

Either way, it works. (I’m being picky.) Nicol Bolas is a pretty big challenge, and the entire thing tells players they will see something new. New is important if we want people to stay interested in Magic.

One last note before continuing on: Some things that are easily missed during new releases are the set slogans. I mentioned the ones for Magic 2012 and Magic 2013, but they started appearing with Magic 2011.

Don’t remember the slogan for Magic 2011? Don’t worry, most people don’t. “A set everyone can sink their teeth into.” While it’s cute—and definitely pointed toward Vorthos—it does very little to describe what’s coming other than flavor, something everyone was already expecting after Magic 2010.

The additional slogan of “Here I Rule” was being tossed around by Wizards at the time of Magic 2011 as well, and it was even included on the announcement page. You might remember it solely because of its prevalence, but that was worse than the official Magic 2011 tag line.

That’s nice; I’m glad I can control my own game. (I’m being snarky. Sadly, I don’t have time for the deep psychological reasons in this article.)

Magic 2012 and Magic 2013 actually gave players an idea of what was to come even if their slogans didn’t necessarily reference the paper sets being released. I think that, in and of itself, is telling. The fact that Wizards is releasing a slogan meant to cover both the paper release and the newest Duels expansion shows their commitment to entwining the two. Sadly, this means the chances of any storyline being added to the physical set are slim to none.

The Coming Swing

The first four “M” sets have, in a nutshell, added great, classic fantasy flavor and new cards to something that used to be fairly boring and mundane for most Magic players, evolved the position of planeswalkers in the core set so that it won’t always be the “original five,” integrated the set’s release with that of the beginner digital product, Duels of the Planeswalkers, to the point that a beginner could very easily switch between the two without much trouble, and improved their slogan from something general and uninformative to something that reveals a general sense of where Duels and the set will take us.

So what is Wizards planning for next year’s Magic 2014?

Let’s start with my big gripe. There’s no continuity or story, and it’s very unlikely there will be in the foreseeable future.

Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
“Why?” you may ask. The big hint is the handling of planeswalkers. They are WotC’s poster children, often driving the stories and locations of Magic. Yet, there has been absolutely no effort to align the new planeswalker designs with current lore and/or setting.

Honestly, it’s not something I should really complain about. If the core sets received their own story treatment, they’d become just another mini-block of sorts.

How about the inclusion of Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker?

I think this points to two big things. First, Wizards isn’t afraid to break their own rules. They’ve said in the past they’ll do so when it’s right, but to see rules broken for a core set is still a bit surprising. Good for them.

Second, it’s yet another sign of assimilating Duels with the core sets. Bolas is the villain in Duels? Guess we better put him in the core set so new players can find him! A supporting fact for this: The ten deck “identities” in Duels 2013 are the five non-dragon planeswalkers and the five legends.

New players want to see those characters in card form when they buy packs.

How far will all of this go? Actually, I think we are nearing the end. Wizards has done a great job of bringing Duels and the core set in sync, but if they go much further, they risk losing that classic, fantasy flavor.

Could they find a compromise while continuing to move forward? Probably, but I don’t think they want to go down that road. It would mean getting a story to flow across the two, and that would be a giant leap that hasn’t been seen since the block novels.

We know how well that ended.

P.S. Prove me wrong Wizards.