Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Whippoorwill: Horrors of the East Coast.

"It is vowed that the birds are psychopomps lying in wait for the souls of the dying, and that they time their eerie cries in unison with the sufferer's struggling breath If they can catch the fleeing soul when it leaves the body"--H. P. Lovecraft. The Dunwich Horror


The Whippoorwill is a medium sized bird native to east coast of North America. It has a natural camouflage that makes it hard to see with the naked eye, and a rather distinct cry in which its named after.

Growing up in the mountains of New York, the bird was no surprise to me, but it was a surprise when I saw one in on a Magic card. Its effect (and the fact it didn't fly) perplexed the younger version of me. I eventually did some research and found that in old Indian legends, the Whippoorwill was a singing warned of imminent death. When the settlers of the New World arrived, they took this legend as something else, that Whippoorwills eat souls while singing. 


This made it into the mythos of H. P. Lovecraft, with them featured into a number of stories, most infamously The Dunwich Horror. A number of other writers use it, either in horror like fashion, such as the Whip-poor-will by James Thurber, in which the distinct song of the whippoorwill drives a man to madness, in which he kills himself and his family, or to establish setting, like in Washington Irving The Legend of Sleepy Hallow.

In Magic, Whippoorwill is a small 1/1 for G with a rather pleasant (and unfortunate) piece of art and a fairly unique ability (especially in green). 



Playability: At a 1/1 for 1, it's already established its baseline credibility. It's a bird which does give it tribal synergy with Soraya. Its unique ability is it exiles a creature, with no possibility of regeneration, damage prevention, or redirection. It literally eats the soul of the creature in question. I sort of wish it worked like Hurr Jackel, and was just a tap ability, but instead costs 2 green. There is a few neat applications to the ability, such as using it while chump blocking a Sengir to keep it from getting a counter, stopping a Ruhk Egg or Su-Chi from having their effects. Still, while neat, it is certainly limited. 3/5.



Art: There is nothing particularly offensive about the piece outside the art showing the bird flying in the air, with the card not having flying. The art, which was drawn by Douglass Shuler, is unlike most of his pieces, but is fine in it's own right. The contrast between light colors of the background with the darker color of the branches and the bird give it a feel as if it's from an old zoology book. It's one of the art pieces that really strive from the Darks unique tone. It's a simple piece, that looks good from a distance and leaves a distinct impression. 3/5.


Flavor: The bird doesn't have flying. Even the old Anthologies player guide makes a reference to this. This being said, the rest of its mechanics work great. Its ability guarantee with almost guaranteed success of giving the soul its reward is amazing, which is also haunting and amazing flavor text. However it doesn't fly, which gives it a 4/5.


10/15= 3/5. An average card. While its special in it's own way, its mediocre outside of some neat applications to it, in a color with many amazing 1 drops.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Sisters of the Flame

 

Witches and Warlocks, men and women in the shadows making dark deals with evil, and seeking forbidden knowledge for their own purpose. 

The word witch or wicca is over a thousand years old, coming from the Old English "wicce", and was originally a masculine, and could be applied to both genders. It differentiated from a wizard or a sorcerer by the means in which the magic was formed, as a wizard would use tools and formulas, a witch would generate magick from within oneself or from another otherworldly presence. 

The concept of witches and sorcerers have persisted throughout written history in some form or another, whether it be advanced civilizations (even into the modern times), or stone age hunter and gatherers, they all seem to fear and revere some evil person lurking in the dark.

The Dark's Sisters of a Flame represent a coven of witches, playing on many contemporary pop cultures sources of the time. I had wrote an article early in this blog about 90's Goth culture and its influence on Magic: the Gathering, as well as Wizards partnership at the time with White Wolf Games. Naturally there is an overabundance of this is The Dark, which I would describe as Magic's experiment in horror. It would make sense for this set to have several cards representing witches and other assorted practitioners of these arts, one of whom is our coven here. 



Playability: At 2/2 for three, she meets the bear minimum of an ogre, which is the rating of playability in limited. Sure she has an ability, to add red, which makes one of the few three drop mana dorks. Sure its two red to cast, but in reality that isn't that hard to do. In reality, she suffers, even when having a unique effect in her colors. A mono-red deck will either want to hit hard and fast, in which case, her ability is almost pointless and she lags behind her competitors. Big Red could use her, but would rather just run artifacts to ramp into. A multicolored deck would rather ramp with an elf or Mana Bird, than play this considerably less splash able creature. In reality, they don't have a home to run it. 2/5

I wonder if this was a goth in Seattle as well.


Art: Sisters of the Flame looks as if it came from an old music video. The minimalism and contrasting colors make a certain photogenic look to the piece. The characters herself, looks rather witchy, with what can be assumed to be wearing a black cloak, and a simple necklace of an idol. Hair, which is either faded black or grey, shines an almost unnatural blue in the moonlight. Her body is illuminated by a fire, and the smoke is clearly behind her. The best part about this art is how cold it feels. It reminds me of those late autumn nights without a cloud in the sky, sitting at a fire deep in the woods. She however stands, simply staring at the player. It's an art piece that shows so much, but also so little, thanks to creative coloring and amazing atmosphere. 5/5.



Flavor: So a coven of witches (since the name is plural) is a 2/2. Makes sense. They burn their enemies to give you red mana. I like it. Sure the flavor might be a little boring, but not everything can be as exciting as a Shivan Dragon. I think all things considering, it works ok. It's just boring. Like that 8th nutter butter. 3/5.


10/15= three out of 5. Sure the card is boring as hell. Its mediocre as can be, doesn't have a home in any deck, but that art. Who can deny how good that looks! It sells the card.


Banshee

 Banshee, the creatures that bring insanity to all that hear them, got a simple titled card called Banshee in The Dark. Given the macabre theme of the setting, it only makes sense that this infamous mythical creature from European folklore would appear in the set.

In reality, that description above is more associated with American Pop Culture. In old Irish Folklore, a banshee was a mourning woman who foretold the death of a family member. The idea of them driving people to madness came sometime in United States pop culture in the last hundred years or so.

The result of the card is well, lack luster, and if not for it's outright amazing art, and it's rather potent ability, would be otherwise a an extremely forgettable card. Honestly, when I was much younger, I saw it, and thought "this card sucks" and I honestly don't think I have ever run it in a deck. However, there is always the possibility for this to be good.

Playability: A 0/1 for four mana is a terrible place to start. While it is admittedly in black, a color of short term ramp and protection from terror/banishment. At one toughness however, it isn't going to live long. Even with the lack of pingers in modern old school, it can die to a Holy Light, a Pestilence, and numerous other sources. Because of this, it's shelf life is extremely low, especially at 4 mana. Now for the 'good'. Dealing targeted damage as an activated ability is a great ability, even if it also deals damage to you. Look at Orcish Artillery. The effect "Deal half of x (rounded down) to a single target, and X (rounded up) to you." is risky, but very potent, when built around. The fact the effect isn't restricted to a particular color of mana like many similar effects in black means it can be splashed. This allows it to combo perfectly with white. Two cards in particular exist that work with this, both in white. The first one is the classical Circle of Protection: Black. Each time you activate the ability, just pay an extra one to prevent that damage to you. The other card is the infamous Spirit Link, which would allow to gain a few points of life, as well as negate the damage that was done to you. The ability is still very mana intensive, and would take 6 mana and a second card to just deal 3 damage. However, since direct damage in black is as rare as it is, this isn't actually that bad, still the set up for such a low reward grants it a 2/5.



Art: The best part of the card by a considerable margin, Banshee, like most of Jesper Myrfors art, is amazing in this set. While from a technical standpoint the art is fair, it's the atmosphere that sells the piece. The faceless cloak, the outreached hands, the window in the back. All these things sell the card itself, and make you want to play it. Sure, the card itself might not be good. However the art is amazing. My only issue is, it doesn't depict a woman (as far as we can tell), and the entity looks more like a spectre.  Still, I won't let that detract from the score. 5/5.


Flavor: Since this clearly is depiction a Banshee of the American variety, I will judge the flavor on that. The 0 power can mean the banshee is incorporeal, unable to physically interact with the world around him. I'm not sure why a might stone changes that, but that isn't here nor now. The mechanic also makes sense, since the banshee sits next to you, you will hear it louder than it's supposed target. I guess summoning a banshee could be difficult, but I still don't understand why it costs 4. I think the flavor would be more on point if it could only hit another player. Still, it works. Flavor: 3/5.


10/15: 3/5. An average, mediocre card. The game needs draw back effects like this, that have the potential to be great however. After all, cards like this, that make the mind think and force the imagination are what drove players to buy packs, and keep us playing today.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Pentagrams and Magic: the Gathering

Its kind of funny actually, that a symbol so common in pop culture (even more so in the 80's and 90's) would appear so little in a game about Magic. However, much like so recent actions by WotC, in the early 90's they decided to be moral judges, and not only ban future depictions of demons and satanic elements in the game, they edited two pieces of card art.

The Pentagram, as a symbol, is either a symbol of protection, or a symbol of demons, depending on who you ask. Between metal aesthetics of the 70's, and the moral panic of the 80's and 90's, pentagrams (and with it inverted crosses) became a fairly fashionable accessory among a number of alternative subcultures. I once already wrote about how goth subcultures influence early Magic, mainly The Dark, but it would make sense for Pentagrams to appear on the cards. 

As far as I can tell, three cards openly depict pentagrams, and while I admit I'm not certain of this (and there may be more), these cards are Demonic Tutor, Unholy Strength, and Pentagram of the Ages. 

When Jesper Myrfors took over the reigns as art director before the launch of the game, he had a great deal of integrity when it came to the art. As far as I know, he edited one piece of art, Living Wall, though what was edited off of it, I'm not certain. Duelist #3 refers to Myrfors as the former art director, and assuming that it takes a month to go to print and be distributed, I will assume the first time he quit was sometime in the Summer of 94. Again though, this is just an assumption based on observations. The revised prints of Demonic Tutor and Unholy Strength both had the infamous pentagrams intact, but the summer print run (called Edgar) had the pentagram on the forehead of the demon in Demonic Tutor, had these images removed. As well as the much more famous print of Unholy Strength in 95's fourth edition. According to an interview with Hipsters of the Coast, Sandra Evingham, who would be Magic's second art director, edited the print of Unholy Strength "unfortunately leaving Doug's character with no context." It can be assumed she removed the Pentagram from the head of the Tutor as well. 

 



However another pentagram was featured in the early days of Magic. Ice Age contained the artifact 'Pentagram of the Ages'. Pentagram of the Ages takes a more protection stance on the idea of a pentagram, and it shows in its ability, being able to prevent all damage from a source. Now Ice Age came out right after these decisions, and if Pentagram had only been in Ice Age I wouldn't be writing about it. 



Yet Pentagram was available in standard through out the 90's, being reprinted in 5th edition, and well as Classic 6th. It almost shared standard with Grinning Demon, the first demon printed after the lifting of the no demons policy.  I'm not saying something isn't hypocritical about this, since Pentagram of the Ages both saw little tournament play, unlike Unholy Strength and Demonic Tutor, as well as it wasn't associated with demons/Satanism like the other two. However a blanket ban on the image should apply to all uses of the symbol. Regardless, I doubt we will be seeing Pentagram of the Ages reprinted anytime soon.

Fun Fact: All three pieces were drawn by Douglas Shuler.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Banned 7: Cleanse

"Fight my enemies LORD! Attack my attackers! Shield me and help me."  

--The Bible, Pslams 35


"Suprise them with disaster"


Cleanse is paradoxically one of the easiest ones to understand why it's banned, as well as one of the strangest. After all, assuming Teferi doesn't count as a black creature, race and the color of a creature are entirely different aspects. Colors in Magic are more of a philosophical aspect of ones self then anything to do with race, with a few fantastical exceptions.


Cleanse as a card represents the destruction of evil, a common and long standing fantasy trope. However some have the argument for the card it represents 'racial cleansing'. Then I ask, will Cleanse kill Teferi without Deathlace? Does Northern Paladin represent the evil of Klansmen? Does Extiction represent Genocide?

What about Virtue's Ruin, or Cleansing, or fucking Mass Calcify. What about the Burning of Xinye, isn't that equally culturally insensitive? The answer is obviously no.



What I'm saying this is obviously a non-issue thats being used as a scapegoat, even more so then other cards on the list. It's harmless, and the fact I'm writing this article is ridiculous. It also sets up a dangerous precedent. What is keeping the card above from being banned? Or the ones listed? I could fill out an entire list of cards that could fall under these guidelines.  


Playability: Cleanse, like most color hosier destroy effects is a pure sideboard card. A potentially one sided Wrath of God is good in certain situations, and given how popular black decks were (and are) in the format, it certainly has it's niche. It can also be run in a Chess deck along side Touch of Evil to destroy numerous of your opponents creatures. While its a nice sideboard card, and in certain types of decks, an interesting card in others, that is it. Playability 3/5.




Art: Foglio does an amazing job with his very distinct art style on this piece. The art clearly shows numerous demons, each one different from the last, being sucked into a righteous  light. His cartoony style works well for the panic in the demons eyes and body language, and the liberal use of washed out colors make for a good show on the light itself. Then you have the leader, his throne of bone, and the flag. All nice little touches. Honestly I think the faded look of English Legends cards did this piece no justice, and I always run my lone Italian one when I throw it in a deck. Art 5/5.

PS. I'm still convinced that is the Disturbed Guy.

Flavor: As a common fantasy trope, Cleanse simply destroys all evil. It's far from the only card like it in the format (thinking of Holy Light), or the game. While I wish it destroyed all Black permanents, fitting the cleansing aspect better, the card actually follows the art well. Destroying all creatures, and only creatures are being destroyed in the process. In this regard, I give the card a solid 4 on flavor, for matching the art with the card in functionality. 4/5.


12/15= 4/5. A solid card that would look good in a pack and has a 'wow' factor at first glance. The art helps leave a mark on the memory, and all around, a solid card. 


Impact on the format if banned: While I personally always run 1 in my mono-white sideboards, it's use is limited. In fact, between WoG, Balance, Moat, and even StP, white just has better options in it's arsenal. The theoretical impact of its ban would be a 2/5. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Banned 7: Pradesh Gypsies

 "See Pat, WotC finally realized the raw power of Pradesh Gypsies and banned it"

--Me, to my twin

"A mysterious people indeed. Their origins are as secret as their traditions"

--Lord Magnus of Llanowar


Out of all the cards that got banned, this one was the most personal. Me and my twin had been making jokes and, ironically as the kids would say it, running Pradesh Gypsies in green decks for almost as long as we've played Magic. His mono-green deck, which is currently in my possession even has a Legends copy I bought for him YEARS ago tucked in their, waiting to give that creature -2/-0. How you might ask? Well, I'll get to that later. 

Now I love strange cards that represent underwhelming or mundane things. Field of Flowers, Slate Street Roughian, Icatian Money Changer. All amazing in their 'huh' ways. Imagine how useful a field of flowers is to a sociopath wizard able to summon dragons.

Pradesh Gypsies is probably one of the strangest green creatures in all of Magic. It's play ability is almost non-existent, its mechanics is open to debate, both from a mechanical and flavorful aspect, and it's printed type 'summon gypsies', has no tribal support. In reality, the banning is the only reason a majority of players even know about the card. The funniest part is, it isn't a Legends exclusive. It instead was printed all the way until Classic 6th edition. Yeah this card was standard legal until 2001, with that glorious Hoover artwork.

It's my understanding that Gypsies/Gypsy is considered by some to be a derogatory term of the Roma/Romanian people, nomads largely based in Europe, but can also be found in the good ol' US of A. Being a traveling people have giving them an mystique involving the super natural, and it's true that the people in question have a long history of various performances, as well as fortune telling and other mysticism to eek out a living. 

I guess, the idea of a real world ethnicity in Magic: the Gathering. However, I've also heard from some, that certain Gypsies, personally the ones that hold that title with some type of badge of honor, that they've been removed from Magic. I can not speak one way or the other on it's banning, but I will say, a Gypsy is a common slang term in the rural US for a vagabond or nomad, with no ethical connotation involved.

Playability: A 1/1 for 3 does not bode well for any card, in any format, ever. Then it has an underwhelming ability to give one creature a -2/-0, at the cost of 1G and tapping it. Even its current creature type has no tribal support in the formats I review. Honestly, it earns a solid 1/5 for playability, which hurts me to say.


Art: Hoover always impresses, and this is no exception. While not his most sophisticated art piece, it's a fine piece none the less. With distinct bold colors. The subjects, three people and a horse, could simply be wandering through the woods, or setting up for a stag film. Whatever it is, it's a fairly unique art piece as far as Magic goes. If there was one complaint, it's the clothing seems a little to contemporary for a fantasy card game. Also there is the old urban legend that the girl is topless, but if you look closely at the piece, in the lower left corner, you can see just a bit of strap, which suggests she's wearing a topless dress. Art 4/5

"You ready for the horse show?"

Flavor: Oh boy, where do I start with this? Well, I guess I'm not stranger to controversial statements, so lets go head long into this. I always assumed, growing up, that the creature you targeted was distracted, to gypsy dances and performances, and got a loss of power. Some European friends have suggested since this cards banning that instead, the gypsies are stealing things. This works, if they are, stealing the sword from your knight (no idea why the Paladin can still punch out tundra wolves though), but not on your opponents Craw Wurm. I assume the two mana is a cost for services rendered regardless of the interpretation. Still, its a strange mechanic, and really doesn't fit into a green creature anyway. 2/5.


Overall 7/15, rounded down, 2/5. While the card is, in its own ways, iconic, and certainly strange, it's also a bad card. Not a card you want from your legends pack, but I'll run it anyway, because I'm bad at this game. 


Finally, impact on the format if banned. Literally none, as no one was running this before hand. 

Next up: Cleanse!


Monday, August 10, 2020

The Banned 7: Jihad



In June 2020, WotC did the unprecedented and banned seven "offensive" cards, after an article from a salty temp came out about WotC hiring practices. The article ended with a small scalding review on the now very infamous "Invoke Prejudice". 

How offensive either of these cards is debatable, with that one obvious exception. 

Jihad has two descriptions, with one being a holy war against the enemies of Islam. Which is probably the definition that got this card banned. However, it's also been used as a personal spiritual struggle against sin. Its obvious which one this card is invoking, but I wasn't aware of the other description until I started writing this, and found it neat.

If I can say anything on this, its that at least WotC was consistent, also banning its brother Crusade. 



Playability: Jihad, at 3 white, has one of the more intensive color requirements for any crusade effect in the format.  However, its effect is rather potent. It gives a whopping +2/+1 to all white creatures.

For an example, White Knight goes from being an impressive 2/2 with Pro. Black and First Strike, to an amazing 4/3 with First Strike, and Serra becomes a 6/5 with flying and vigilance.

It does come with a flavorful drawback that if your opponent doesn't have a card of a color of your choice in play, its sacrificed. 

There's only a few real round about ways to get around this, the most realistic hoping your opponent has an enchantment you can conveniently ignore in play. My older brother use to run it with Laces in Shandalar, changing a basic land into a color. 

I personally run it as a sorcery speed combat trick (my same stance with creature enchantments) that have the possibility of hanging around. I ran it in 'Offensive White' for the Northern Paladin Gauntlet for a few times, and with one exception, it was an asset anytime it landed. 

Still the cost and drawback on this can be fierce, and its global effect can hurt in certain situations.  

Playability 3/5.



Art: Snoddy is great at drawing crowds. His piece for Balduvian Horde might be one of the most iconic of the era. Jihads art, while not as iconic, is certainly just as impressive. The show of numerous Arabian warriors in battle show just exactly what a Jihad is, in all its glory. Small details like patterns, contrasting colors, and even the teeth on the horse, would normally make a piece seem busy, but here it works well.

The washed out colors are a nice touch, and help make the card memorable. If I had any complaints, its there is a bit to much going on in the art, however it's not the worst offender of this by any means. I think the best part of it, is it looks like something drawn in that time period, which is important for establishing the cards as 'tomes' feel Magic wanted in its early days.

The fact he also drew Army of Allah is just a bonus. 

Art 3/5

Flavor: The flavor sells the card. You declare a Jihad on an enemy and a color. As long as that presence is still there, the Jihad is still on. Naturally, when the Jihad is declared, it has a double edged sword, as your opponents creatures get excited as well, and fight just as harder. When victory is achieved, the Jihad is over and the card is destroyed. In reality, its an amazing flavorful card, with the simple issue being why does it get destroyed to disenchant, but that is hardly this cards fault. 

Flavor 4/5. 

10/15. 3: Average card. Sure their are better cards to want out of your Arabian Nights pack, much better cards. However, its the cards like these, with the obvious high risk, high rewards that made magic so great and magical. 


Finally, for the seven, I will be including a part called effect, how, if they were theoretically banned in Old School, how much of an impact it would do to the format.

Jihad Honestly doesn't see a ton of play, and while I'm proud of the one I own, I acknowledge its not a particularly good crusade effect. Sure I'm known for being a bit liberal with my rating on cards I enjoy. However, in a world with Crusade, this card just isn't as effective, or as good. However, it's nice to see, and can honestly turn the tide of any battle when played right. It would be a shame for such a neat card to be reduced to trade binders and collector boxes.

Effect on the format if banned: 2/5.

I had this realistically happen one game, and it was awesome!