Ahoy planeswalkers! Back in July, after I wrote my piece on Hour of Devastation’s sense of humor, Mike Linnemann of Gathering Magic, Snack Time, and Magic Art Show fame suggested I attempt a Vorthos set review. In my seven months as a Vorthos writer for Hipsters, I’ve learned that listening to Mike is generally a good idea, so I’d like to welcome you to my first stab at a set flavor review!

Inspired by the set’s exploration theme, I’ve decided to go with a “flavor gems” format, where I’m going to work my way around the color pie and talk about a few cards in each color that arrested me for one reason or another. And so, like a certain lost mind-mage, let us wander through the plane of Ixalan!

The slumped figure of the Sun Empire warrior in the foreground makes this art for me. The action in the background—burning bodies of the fallen—is quite business-like, and the flavor text clarifies that the Sun Empire soldiers are burning slain vampires. And yet, amidst this apparent post-victory cleanup—the Sun Empire clearly has won control of the field of battle—our focus is on the apparent sadness of this warrior, heightened by Daarken’s sharp contrast between shadow and light.

This could represent a sadness over the Sun Empire soldiers who presumably also perished in the battle. Part of what’s going on might also be that the Sun Empire seems pretty averse to killing: see Huatli’s first Magic Story appearance, where her two victories involve defeating a vampire contingent with no casualties on either side and burning the boats and supplies of a pirate crew. Beyond that, however, I see a thread running through this set (see my comments on Verdant Rebirth below) that highlights the unnaturalness of the unending violence that these four tribes are caught up in. Ashes of the Abhorrent fits this theme.

Now that’s some mythic-worthy art! Bastien L. Deharme’s tilted perspective plays beautifully off of the axis imagery of the card’s title. Its rules function essentially to allow the world to be spun, while the bright red of the rose and the vampire’s bloody hand contrast exquisitely with the rest of the orange, black, and white palette. The misty atmosphere heightens the sense of unreality, giving it a sense of being a divine or fevered vision—which feels fitting, given the nature of the vampires’ blood fasts.

Strange alliances between man and beast for temporary flying is a fantasy-comedy trope that Wizards seems to like a lot. We got this last set, too, in Aerial Guide. The flavor text brings it together really nicely here, and as a general rule of thumb I respect anyone who wields a sword taller than they are.

The Squadron Hawk rules text does some really cool story work here—it highlights the Dusk Legion’s commitment to recovering the Immortal Sun and its willingness to throw wave after wave of vampire soldiers into that quest. The soldiers themselves are a cut below individually—a 2/2 for three mana is not exciting, and many of them are going to die—but their zealotry in having so many who are willing to launch themselves into this quest threatens to overwhelm their rivals.

Oh hey, look at that flavor text! It’s Arguel, of Arguel’s Blood Fast fame! This hadn’t come out yet when I was working on my last article, but it looks like Arguel’s a pretty high-ranking member of the Dusk Legion. Look for him to forge an alliance between the vampires and Aclazotz in Rivals of Ixalan, which I’m sure will work out totally fine for all parties involved. (I also wouldn’t be surprised if we get a story involving Arguel in the next couple weeks.)

The cycle of basic lands featuring lost Jace are a nice touch! On to blue:

Aww, he looks so happy! I love the decision that using the jade amulet makes his eyes glow jade-green—it has a lovely, uncanny effect, and it helps make the rest of the expressive face that Mark Behm has given him pop. Also, I believe we see that same amulet on Chart a Course. It’s a nice touch that slips a mini-story about a search for sunken treasure into the set.

Hang on a second. What’s going on here? I believe we’re in the pirate haven of High and Dry, and it looks like there’s some kind of golem built into the side of a building for the express purpose of collecting bribes? And given the furtive glances, I guess most pirates think it’s just decorative? Or the focal sailor doesn’t want people to know who he’s bribing? I’m pretty confused by the action here, but I’m also intrigued.

Victor Adame Minguez brings us a delightfully literal depiction of the spell’s rules text, as the pirate captain weaves a spell that turns the incoming attack into a shower of gold coins. The vibrant red clouds in the background contrast really pleasantly with the captain’s figure, and I adore the goblin dancing as gold rains down upon him.

Hello, I’m Jace. I wander around in Swamps. Where’s Liliana?

I love Deruchenko Alexander’s use of darkness in this art. We can’t really see if there’s anyone out in that darkness, and that’s the point. It helps us get into the Dire Fleet Hoarder’s headspace as she steals a look at her illicit treasure, which she knows will cause her trouble if the rest of the crew finds out about it. The art jives really well with the card name and rules text, too—the pirates don’t find the hoarder’s secret treasures until they go through her things after her death.

Is this a vampire or a pirate? The skin tone says vampire to me, but I don’t think we’ve seen any vampires with red hair. Regardless, I really like the flavor of this version of Duress. Lucas Graciano’s art evokes the creeping madness of being set adrift at sea alone for a long time, and it fits the flavor of the rules text. Losing a spell from your hand is, in a sense, losing part of your mind.

Hey, a human working for the Legion of Dusk! We know that not everyone back on their home continent is a vampire—the pirates’ ancestors, after all, hail from there originally—so I really like this touch. It looks like this might be the same person we see in the new Mark Of The Vampire art, which suggests that humans who enter the Legion of Dusk’s service do so with the aim of social advancement and perhaps becoming vampires, possibly riffing somewhat on the highly stratified society of Golden Age Spain.

I appreciate Magic’s sense of humor, and I’m glad to see this bit of comic pirate greed in the set. Weirdly, I think the pirate’s perfectly-waxed moustache in Eric Deschamps’s art might be what put this over the top for me. I buy that this is someone just vain enough to try protecting his gold over his life.

Jace brings water to his Mountains, apparently.

I can’t help getting a kick out of Zoltan Boros’s art here. The vampires’ startled reactions capture the moment of “holy cow, something came out of it” really nicely. These sorts of shrines and monuments are sprinkled into the basic lands of Ixalan, and I really enjoy the way this card builds upon them. I hope that they are related to Orazca, because they are ancient, forgotten, and gold. And I hope that they have ways of protecting themselves and, presumably, the lost city they guard.

So, here’s an awkward one. Let’s look at that flavor text. Goblins’ small size is cited as one of the reasons that they often operate the cannons, and this has a real-world analogue: the Powder Monkey. During the Age of Sail, children used to serve as gunpowder runners for ships’ cannons because they could run more quickly with low ceilings, and because they made more challenging targets for enemy ships’ snipers. From a certain angle, goblins are a good solution here: we get the children out of harm’s way, and we get a beloved Magic race in league with the pirates. There’s still a bit of uncomfortable history about dangerous child labor here, though.

Now that I’ve talked about the darker side of goblin pirates: I love this card. Simon Dominic’s art and the flavor text both give a really good sense of “overdressed goblin,” and yet his face really sells that he’s one tough goblin.

This clever composition capturies the card’s flavor. The first place my eye goes when I look at this is to the pirate threatening the Sun Empire warrior—the pirate seems to have the advantage. The pirate also looks overextended, however, and it takes another moment to see that the dinosaur is craning its neck and about to leave another pirate in need of a hook. Well played, Izzy.

Nissa looks more natural in these tree-striding shots.

Props to whoever came up with this flavor text. “I see you, shiny soldiers,” on one hand, is a fairly funny taunt. On the other, it makes the conquistadors—one of the more “normal-looking” factions in the set from a Western/Westernized cultural perspective, especially in Igor Kieryluk’s art, which downplays their being vampires—seem strange.

One the dangers of vampire conquistadors is that they arguably make it easy to dismiss the horrors of colonization, writing off the parties responsible as monsters. In reality, we’re about a week away from a holiday named for the man who started the whole process. This combination of art that downplays the vampires, clear historical references in the armor, and mocking flavor text feels like a Brechtian joke that helps create some critical distance. I would argue that the reality beneath the fantasy is more recognizable here than elsewhere, and that this jab at the unnaturalness of the invaders’ presence nods to the real world a little more than most of the set.

Gotta love the nod to Jurassic Park’s “clever girl” line in the flavor text—and, arguably, the art.

Zezhou Chen’s mixing of colors here, interweaving the foliage and the merfolk, has a really nice tromp l’oeil effect. How many merfolk are there? You have to really look to answer that question.

It’s a shame Josu Hernaiz is sitting out GP Providence this year, because I’d love to awkwardly gush at him about how much I love this card. His art captures the micro-story here exquisitely—the merfolk on death’s door, the dryad’s face etched with concern as it heals her, the way the purple of the merfolk’s garment, the purple magic the dryad wields, and the red of the merfolk’s wounds all echo off of each other, the way the fireflies and the surrounding foliage evoke a sense of a magical healing shelter.

It also, however, points to the Soul of Ixalan. We know that the planes have spirits, both through cards like Soul of Theros and through Nissa’s ability to commune with planes. The flavor text on Blossom Dryad explicitly links the dryads with Ixalan’s own desires. The different peoples of Ixalan are locked in these ongoing conflicts, but this isn’t what the plane wants for its people. And there is something beautiful in a depiction of this sort of metaphysics within the set.


I can’t help getting a kick out of the fact that, for her -3 ability, Vraska kills people by turning them into treasure (statues). Inspired!


A gigantic golem made of gold and jade? This is some really nice foreshadowing that Orazca isn’t going to give up its treasures easily. The vampires finding this guardian also points to how all of the factions are starting to circle in on the Immortal Sun’s resting place, which should set up a nice scrum where all of the factions will have a shot during Rivals of Ixalan. Jay Annelli has also pointed out, jade is the River Heralds’ thing, while gold is the Sun Empire’s. The two mixing in the Gilded Sentinel, he suggests, points to the Sun Empire and the River Heralds being close allies during the age of Orazca. It’s certainly a compelling theory.

And that concludes my flavor tour of our latest set! Thank you for wandering Ixalan with me, and come back in two weeks for a deep dive on Huatli and her poetry in story and flavor text! If you’re at Grand Prix Providence on Saturday and want to say hello, I’m going to be binging on side events. Just look for a fellow with a goatee, a Chandra shirt, and maybe an Eight Rack modern deck!

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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