Ahoy planeswalkers! It’s the last Scry Five of 2017! I’d like to look back across the year and highlight some of my favorite characters and cards this year. So, to make this more fun, may I present the first annual Scry Five Awards!

So, a little explanation: I have confined myself to the four standard-legal sets for my own sanity, and to characters with cards printed this year. Hence, although Ajani showed up during Kaladesh’s story, he’s in here because his card was in Aether Revolt; while Angrath, although wonderful, will have to wait until next year to be considered in any categories. My final category, Total Flavor, may also seem a bit nebulous. What I mean by that is, the category is to celebrate cards where the flavor of the art, card name, rules text, and flavor text seems to interact especially well.

In case this needs saying, these awards reflect only my own personal taste. If you’d like to share some of your favorites of the year that I have overlooked, I’d love to hear about them on Twitter!

And now, the first Scry Five Award:

Best New Planeswalker

Angrath the murder-dad minotaur is a fantastic character who I’m excited to see more of—brace yourselves for a tear-jerking Magic Story with multiple flashbacks to Angrath bringing his adorable daughters gifts! But his card hasn’t been printed yet, so he’s not actually under consideration. We still have two excellent contenders, however, in Huatli, Warrior Poet and Samut, the Tested.

While I love Huatli and her similarities to a certain playwriting nun, I have to give the edge to Samut. I’m just excited to see her again, whenever that might be. She is a god-saving badass, she has reason to mix it up with Bolas (which could bring her into the Gatewatch’s orbit again sooner rather than later), and I’m also excited to see how her relationship with Djeru might progress. (After all, she did beg him to grow old with her!)

Best Flavor Text

Honorable Mentions

Sram’s Expertise is a fun one. I always enjoy a bit of humorous flavor text, and in this case, the text also goes a long ways towards creating the character. This instantly tells us that Sram is a very methodical worker, but also someone who has his quirks and does things his own way (because there is no way that wrench in his mouth was designed expressly for picking teeth).

If you follow me, you saw Wasteland Scorpion card blow my mind a couple days ago. The flavor text looks totally innocuous, but it’s a brilliant piece of foreshadowing for the gods’ own destruction. The Scorpion God would go on to claim the lives of Rhonas, Kefnet, and Oketra, plus one of Hazoret’s arms. Looking for these subtle seeds of what’s to come in future sets is one of my favorite parts of looking at flavor text, and this is an example of how it can change a card when it’s done well.

Carnage Tyrant is another funny one. Its flavor text does a nice job of balancing the world-building—Wizards clearly prioritized making sure that the Aztec-inspired Sun Empire did not play into primitivist tropes—and a dry humor. It’s made all the more effective by the fact that, during previews, this card was one of the most expensive in the set and expected to be a standard powerhouse.

This flavor text of Lurking Chupacabra, more than any other, drove my article about Huatli and her possible real-life counterpart, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. The text really suggests to me that one of the flavor text writers knows a bit about Spanish Golden Age poetry. It’s effective on its own, and I really like how it both helps to create Huatli’s character and creates the real-world parallel with Sor Juana.

And the award goes to…

Djeru’s Resolve was at the core of my conviction that Djeru would be Amonkhet’s native planeswalker. I was, of course, wrong; but this card did so much to create his character and suggest his importance during Amonkhet’s first set. It expresses the plane’s zeitgeist while also positioning Djeru as one of the truest of the true believers, one of the denizens most thoroughly devoted to the Trials and the quest to become Worthy. And, considering that we knew that worldview would probably be shattered with Bolas’s return, it made him a highly compelling character to watch as the story began to develop.

Best New Legend

It’s been a great year for new characters! My beloved Djure couldn’t even make this list.

Honorable Mentions

Alison Luhrs’s Yahenni, Undying Partisan stories made them an instantly compelling character (and a superb narrator), quite capable of stealing scenes amidst Chandra’s quest to save her mother (and then Kaladesh).

Kari Zev, Skyship Raider is as cool as can be, and the story featuring her taking on Jace as her sidekick is a whole lot of fun.

Bontu, the Glorified brought a nice complexity to the relationships among Amonkhet’s gods as a willing servant of Bolas, while also dropping some hot truth bombs on Gideon).

Although she has not yet shown up in Magic Story, Admiral Beckett Brass is dynamite for both her own swashbuckling and her representational breath of fresh air.

However, one character just edged out Yahenni.

And the award goes to…

Baral is arguably a tenuous “new character,” given his major involvement in Chandra’s Origin. This is his first card, however, and his self-hatred—a mage-hunter who is himself a mage—lent him a sympathetic note amidst all his horribleness. His survival at the end of Aether Revolt also suggests that we haven’t seen the last of him. Wouldn’t it be something if the return to Kaladesh brought a threat so great that he and Chandra had to try fighting side by side to save the plane? (For more on Baral, see John Dale Beety’s extended analysis.)

Best Art

Honorable Mentions

There’s a clever subtlety on John Stanko’s art for Conviction. The shadow of the main figure turns the symbol of the Consulate into the Leaking Spire, the symbol of the Renegades seen on cards like Call for Unity. The picture conjured for me the story of a Consulate soldier who is considering joining the Renegades, and the flavor text adds to the sense that this character is on the verge of making that sort of a big, risky decision.

Was a more badass-looking character than Scrapper Champion printed on a card this year? Magali Villaneuve knocked this one out of the park, with her defiant glare, strong stance, and flavorful use of a pair of mechanical arms (to give her Double Strike).

Perhaps no card cuts more closely to the potential beauty of Amonkhet’s Curse of the Wandering than Shreya Shetty’s work on Harvest Season. The mummy tenderly nurturing a tiny seedling in the warm sunlight captures the sense of Amonkhet’s paradise (and the Soul of Amonkhet’s vision of the Wandering as a gift) more fully for me than any other card in the set.

Josu Hernaiz has been on fire this year, and Verdant Rebirth was his best. (His beautifully contemplative Spring // Mind was also on my short list.) I loved this art when I first saw it, and it still holds up as a beautifully-painted expression of Ixalan’s natural resistance to the strife engulfing its inhabitants.

And the award goes to…

This is another on I gushed about in my Ixalan Flavor Tour. Daarken’s exquisite and complex visual storytelling continue to arrest me, through his depiction of a mournful victory for the Sun Empire over the Dusk Legion.

Best Returning Planeswalker

Honorable Mentions

Ajani was the most obvious sixth member of the Gatewatch, and his portrayal in the Kaladesh block delivered. He was a powerful, nurturing force (and the only member of the Gatewatch to take Bolas sufficiently seriously).

Liliana went through some interesting character growth, with her vigorous attack on Tezzeret (apparently spurred on by what Tezzeret did to Jace), and her tearful and shameful retreat from the battle with Bolas.

Speaking of Bolas, he got to give quite a demonstration of his power, clearly establishing himself as the dominant villain of the Magic multiverse.

Jace, meanwhile, has had a heck of a soft reboot thanks to his memory erasure, allowing him to develop into a fun, energetic, and nerdy mage who has proven to be a lot more fun than the neurotic mind-mage he was before.

And the award goes to…

Could there be any other winner here? Following the summer’s one-off story “Pride of the Kraul,” Vraska has had an epic turn from villain to hero. Her return encompasses her own traumatic past, learning to trust her abilities beyond assassination, and building a close friendship (and maybe more) with Jace. Vraska’s portrayal in Ixalan has made it clear she is compelling enough and popular enough to be part of Magic’s flagship team, and here’s hoping that early January will bring us the Oath of Vraska. And speaking of Oaths…

Best Total Flavor

Honorable Mentions

Oath of Ajani beautifully captures what Ajani is about. He is a protector, so he makes your planebound creatures stronger and safer with +1/+1 counters. He is also Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, who helps you to rally planeswalking heroes to your side through cost reduction. The flavor text brings together his tireless service to both those who need protecting and those who can protect.

Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun. It’s possible that I’m overexcited about King Tut, but I just can’t get over how much I love the flavor of Embalm on this card. Due to the Legend Rule being name-driven, you can only ever have either Temmet or his zombie token in play at a given time. Inspired!

Never // Return is a beautiful double-card design. Never is a great name for a removal spell, while Return jives nicely with making a zombie. The art tells a very effective story about a dissenter being removed from Naktamun to die in the desert, where she rises as a zombie under the Curse of Wandering.

The double-faced cards of Ixalan generally succeed as flavorful designs that tell cool stories of exploration, but Treasure Map and Treasure Cove may be the best. It is a simple design, but brilliant. The map inspires you to search and explore (which requires some resources, hence the mana cost on the activated ability); and once you’ve followed the map to its end, you get the treasure (which Treasure Cove allows you to turn into a real in-game advantage).

And the award goes to…

Axis of Mortality wins the big one. Beautiful, off-kilter art (courtesy of Bastien Deharme) that conjures a sense of the world rotating on its axis. The rules text let you, in essence, spin the world by swapping life totals, while the flavor text brings home a philosophy that there is a necessary balance to all things. Every piece of this card works together beautifully, and that’s why it’s my favorite card this year in terms of its flavor design from top to bottom.

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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