Ahoy planeswalkers!

It’s release weekend! It’s the first chance to draft Rivals, and I can’t wait to see what this new format is like. No one’s coming to check out my writing for draft tips, however; this is a Vorthos column, and it’s my first since the full set became available. Which means it’s time to take a tour of the set for flavor gems!

So, what is the flavor here? Did the dinosaur breathe fire onto the pirate, or did the pirate get vaporized somehow, and then a dinosaur just happened to wander through? This might read like a criticism, but I actually kind of love just how, well, baffling Mathias Kollros’s art is here.

The choice to give this flavor text to Vona is inspired; as a 4/4, she survives this spell, and then can kill a creature an opponent chooses to keep. The spell takes out the dinosaur, and Vona can do the rest.

Hey, remember Squire of Dusk? The human fighting in the Legion of Dusk’s service from Ixalan? Looks like she got called up to the big leagues! You go, Squire of Dusk! Congratulations on, uh, becoming a horrible blood-sucking invader! (Watch out for Saint Elenda, though. She doesn’t seem too pleased about how many new vampires the Legion has been making.)

So, The Flood showed us how the Immortal Sun works: there’s a complicated gate to Azor’s inner sanctum, and a stairway to a point from which one may control the Immortal Sun’s power. Kumena got there first, and we’re seeing him wielding the power of the sun here; we also see other major characters doing so, such as Vona in Vona’s Hunger.

Pirate with blue magic and a pink sky is the same formula we saw in Victor Adame Minguez’s Spell Swindle from Ixalan, and while I liked that card, I like this one even more–the composition is really clean, and that allows the contrasts to pop nicely. It has a bit of an iconic feel, and the glider just looks freaking awesome. It also feels like there’s more to the story of that glowing sea monster decoration…

Oh, hey, her weapon looks just like the decorations on War Kite Marauder’s glider! And it’s in more places if you look, like Kitesail Corsair’s harpoon pistol and Dinosaur Hunter’s harpoon gun. Is this sea monster a symbol of the Dire Fleet? Or is this a design that pirates across crews and fleets sometimes use as a matter of personal superstition? Is it meant to evoke Nezahal, Primal Tide? This recurring symbol points to a really interesting element in the world’s mythos, doing a lot to make the world feel alive and vibrant beyond the key story of the block.

Look closely at Jason A. Engle’s art here. There’s the obvious interpretation of what the Dead Man’s Chest is: the golden chest that is shackled to the pirate. However, there’s also something really screwy about the proportions of the room he’s in. Sitting, his head seems to be up to the jade vein that runs around the rim. This room isn’t more than four feet tall–tall enough to sit in, but not to stand in–and the ceiling seems to be curved in a manner that resembles a treasure chest’s lid. It seems like he both clutches the Dead Man’s Chest, and is trapped within it. Engle has delivered a beautiful mind-bending horror story here in a single image.

A nice, spare composition by Greg Opalinski. The stained glass window and dark walls suggest to me that we’re on one of the Dusk Legion’s ships, which makes for a nice contrast with the golden décor of almost every other card in the set; the vampire stepping out of his coffin suits both the rules text and the iconicity of what being a vampire means; and the character has his own interesting individuality (he’s a lefty, and the decision to leave his left arm unarmored–in stark contrast with the symmetrical armor that most vampires of the Dusk Legion seem to favor–draws attention to it).

Hm. I guess this owl-esque phoenix is as close as we’re getting to the Sunbird, alluded to on Sunbird’s Invocation. The card design is nifty, flavorful, and powerful, and I suppose the existence of Sunbird’s Invocation still implies that the Rekindling Phoenix has achieved a sort of mythic demigodhood (perhaps spurred on by it being trapped in Orazca?), but I’m a bit disappointed that this didn’t turn out to be a legendary creature.

With so much of the golden city in this set’s card art, the golden yellow of the leaves surrounding this merfolk really pops, and the flavor text does a wonderful job of slamming home the anti-artifice philosophy of the River Heralds (especially the branch that sides more with Tishana than Kumena).

The perspective from the back of the dinosaur’s throat is fun, and dinosaur versus goblin is just about perfect for a strong Ixalan creature hunting a weak Ixalan creature. What I love most, though, is the throwback to Carnage Tyrant’s flavor text (“death lizard”).

This is up there with Hornswoggle on the short list of my favorite card names for the set. I love how this really is just, “Oops! A huge dinosaur somehow got into Orazca and is wrecking things because the city is mostly not built for dinosaurs!”

So, this is an interesting slate of abilities. I’m very surprised, given that Angrath is a blacksmith, that none of the abilities involve creating equipment tokens, although the first and third ability do jive well with Angrath being ready to burn the whole plane down after 14 years trapped here.

We have cards depicting the power of Orazca and the Immortal Sun wielded by merfolk (Kumena in Kumena’s Awakening), vampires (Vona in Vona’s Hunger), and pirates (Vraska in Golden Demise). I don’t see any cards depicting key characters aligned with the Sun Empire using the Immortal Sun. Eyes glowing strangely does seem to be a side effect of using this power, so that might be a clue (although that is also pretty normal for planeswalkers using their power in general).

This also seems to be showing Huatli controlling Zacama, Primal Calamity, which raises further questions. We know from Zetalpa, Primal Dawn’s cameo in this week’s story that the elder dinosaurs are already free, but do the elder dinosaurs resist the Sun Empire’s powers? Does Huatli need the power of the Immortal Sun in order to bring them to heel, halting their rampage of destruction (or even harnessing them on behalf of the Sun Empire)?


I looked at these and thought, ‘Hey, the slightly tilted perspective reminds me of Axis of Morality from Ixalan.’ Sure enough, it’s Bastien L. Deharme again! That internal reference in his art should be a sign that Elenda’s emergence is going to flip things somehow. The suggestion that she is both savior and conqueror is also interesting; in my last article I read this as further proof that she’s going to be just like the vampires we’ve met so far. This week’s story proved me wrong: Elenda is mighty angry that the Dusk Legion has used her ritual to make an army of invaders. I would look for Elenda to conquer Vona, Butcher of Magan and turn Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle to a less bloodthirsty path. (In a way, this means I was right a few weeks back about Elenda potentially offering a happy ending for the Dusk Legion)

We have a lot of attractive lands in this set, and I like how the flavor texts on the uncommon dual land cycle draw attention to the tribes in those color combinations, but this version of Forsaken Sanctuary takes the cake. Depicting one of the Dusk Legion’s wrecked ships (which, as the flavor text reminds us, double as cathedrals for their religion) as the Forsaken Sanctuary was just an inspired decision, and the flavor text completes the story of its destruction wonderfully.

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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