Ahoy planeswalkers! Last Friday, Wizards treated us to the reveal of the full Hour of Devastation set. Whether you’re a limited specialist looking for bread-and-butter cards for the new format, a constructed aficionado hunting for hidden gems, or a Vorthos eager to enjoy a big pile of art and flavor text, this is always an exciting day.

What I’d like to talk about is the cunning way in which Wizards designed preview season. While the steady trickle of new cards had been dominated by darkness—the gods’ deaths, the revelation of the corrupted gods, the Gatewatch’s defeat, Bolas’s destruction of Naktamun—I came away from the final Friday struck by a sense of uplift and hope. Perhaps the strongest one I’ve felt since I came back to Magic.

The hope didn’t necessarily shock me (I’ve been expecting Amonkhet to somehow survive) and I’m not going to dwell on that here, except to say that I generally really like where Wizards is taking the story of Amonkhet. What did surprise me was the amount of humor.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me; after all, Magic has been a game with a sense of humor for a long time.

From Weatherlight-era fan-favorite Teferi making a fart machine to the giant-decorating contests of Kaladesh featured on [casthaven]Giant Spectacle[/casthaven], Magic is a game that usually features a certain lightheartedness even when the larger story is typically serious in nature. Perhaps it is fitting that there’s more humor in Hour of Devastation. One could argue that laughter is the enemy of despair, and thus the perfect tone for capturing the people of Amonkhet’s tenacious resistance against the apocolypse crashing down upon them. Today, I’d like to take a look at the lighter side of devastation, by highlighting some of the cards that made me laugh or smile (with a side of comedy theory).

Henri Bergson and Naktamun’s Mad Mummies

If I can channel my fellow hipster Rob Bockman for a minute, I’d like to do a deep dive on the cards depicting mummies gone berserk. Earlier in previews, we got a taste of what was coming in cards like [casthaven]Farm // Market[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Dutiful Servants[/casthaven], with their depictions of mummies going about their usual routines as Naktamun collapses around them, but the final Friday gave us some wonderful cards taking this to new extremes.

[casthaven]Unconventional Tactics[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Disposal Mummy[/casthaven] left me cackling in my seat. And I think it’s because these cards offer nearly perfect examples of the French philosopher Henri Bergson’s theories of comedy.

Now, there are a lot of theories about comedy that have held some sway over the years, such as the Superiority Theory (we laugh when we see something or someone in some way inferior to ourselves) and the Subconscious Theory (humor allows us to release aggression that we cannot act upon in our own lives). In practice, no theory satisfactorily explains everything that makes everyone laugh; these broad theories remain useful, however, as ways of getting at the root causes of laughter for large groups of people. The French critic Henri Bergson’s theories might be seen as a subset of the Incongruity Theory (that an unexpected juxtaposition of elements causes laughter). In his influential 1900 essay “Laughter,” Bergson proposed that we laugh when we see “something mechanical inlaid on the living,” the human body being reduced to a machine. He nuances this idea further a few ways (by emphasizing the automatic response in its many forms, by arguing that we laugh only when we are not moved emotionally), but this essential image of man becoming machine remains central to his argument.

The mummies of Naktamun are perfectly suited to explore this sort of storytelling space because, well, they are human bodies reduced to their mechanical functions. They can move and act, but have no sentience, no thought or will of their own. They only carry out the orders given to them via their cartouches. And yet, in the set Amonkhet, Wizards took a quite restrained approach to the comic potential of their nature; there’s a playfulness in places, such as Liliana’s decadent use of the Anointed on [casthaven]Liliana, Death’s Majesty[/casthaven], but by and large the cards show the Anointed as normal, integrated parts of Amonkhetu society.

It makes total sense that this system would fall apart under siege. The city is collapsing and the viziers overseeing the Anointed are dead or fighting for their lives. But the inability to respond to the changing circumstances means we have mummies wrestling each other into fires to keep them burning. [casthaven]Unconventional Tactics[/casthaven] takes it to a higher level, since the card’s name and flavor text implies that someone is using the mummies’ mindlessness to drop them on the city’s invaders.

At the same time, there’s Mummy Paramount.

So, there’s more incongruity here: we’re used to the Anointed serving the living, and it’s strange to see them serving a lordly mummy (very possibly [casthaven]Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun[/casthaven] judging by the headgear). What I love most about Mummy Paramount, however, is it suggests where this can go. The mummies all have functions to fulfill; as the denizens of Naktamun flee, it makes sense that the surviving Anointed would find some way of banding together, using their programming to serve each other in the absence of anyone else to serve. And, remember, we saw that the Anointed do the embalming.

They might not be sentient, but they could very well make a self-sustaining colony, taking stray living creatures or wandering undead and adding them to their number. This may pave the way for them to appear again in a future Amonkhet set, which in turn will help Amonkhet still feel like Amonkhet if and when we do return.

The Cleverness of Blue

Incongruity feeds blue’s sense of humor too.

Wizrads gave us a double-dose of Kefnet’s viziers and initiates turning bizarre circumstances to their advantage in [casthaven]Aerial Guide[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Cunning Survivor[/casthaven]. Grabbing the tail of a drake to escape a falling building? Surfing on a collapsing column to take down some undead marauders from beyond the Hekma? This is some Legolas-surfing-down-an-elephant’s-trunk stuff. It’s awesome fantasy action, and I would argue it has a certain incongruity factor that gives it a little comic kick. The city collapsing around them should be working against the people of Naktamun, but in these specific cases we see it helping one initiate take to the sky—implicitly with some control, due to the rules text of [casthaven]Aerial Guide[/casthaven]—and another using the crumbling city to fell their enemies.

Humor and Vulnerability

And now, presenting my favorite flavor text of the whole set:

Yes, it’s a nice play on Nissa’s tendency to lean on elementals during major battles. It also, however, ties in so nicely with the vulnerability of the Gatewatch, which is a key theme in this block, from their near-defeat by a pack of sandwurms at the start to their impending defeat at Bolas’s hands. Like the art on the blue cards I spotlighted, it makes Granitic Titan feel like a moment from a fantasy-action-comedy movie, where the heroes have to stop what they’re doing, take a moment, and run away from a much larger foe (a decidedly un-heroic act). To my palette this is when the Gatewatch stories are at their best, when they are balanced somewhere between an epic adventure and a sitcom.

I’d like to conclude this column by saying that this set is a great example of what Wizards can do to craft a preview week experience. Part of the effect that these cards had on me stems from the fact that (if I’m not mistaken) they all came out in one wave, as part of a larger wave of previews that show the tenacious resistance and the survival of the people of Amonkhet. We still have three stories to go, but it looks like Wizards did a great job with the storytelling in this set, leaving Bolas, the Gatewatch, and the plane in interesting, dynamic places that create interesting future opportunities.

Now they just need to make sure they don’t keep Samut stuck on Amonkhet. Her people may need her, but the multiverse and the larger story of Magic need her more.

Beck Holden is a Ph.D. student in theater who lives in the greater Boston area. He enjoys drafting, brewing for standard, and playing 8-Rack in modern. He also writes intermittently about actually playing Magic at beholdplaneswalker.wordpress.com.

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