Behold, the Power of Kashkaval!

Posted in Feature on May 10, 2006

By Matt Cavotta

Matt has worn many wizard hats in the 18 years he has worked on Magic—art-mage, logomancer, lightning bard, and (of course) Planeswalker.

Kashkaval! What is that? There are two clues that predate this particular hint to the existence of the clues. 1. The flavor text for Dissension's Ratcatcher.

An ogre's poisonous stench is like fine Kashkaval cheese to the noses lowest to the ground.

2. The title of this article. If you've been bombarded with the same dairy industry advertising campaign as I have, or if you guessed it from the flavor text, (or if you happened to know the stuff first hand), then you'll know that the answer, of course, is cheese. Though this is Taste The Magic, and we love dishing out food metaphors here, cheese is actually not going to be the topic of the day. Today we do not behold the power of cheese, we behold the power of words – like Kashkaval. To be specific, we're going to explore what I feel are some dandy words that do handy things in Dissension names and flavor text.

* * *

Sometimes I think words in Magic are not explored beyond their primary purpose of identifying cards and keeping them from stumbling over each other. This is important, but it's only the surface. Words can and do mean a lot more than that. I am not saying that everybody takes the words they see on cards for just their surface value, but I am willing to bet an evening's work that there are some words in Dissension whose depth and meaning are not already known to Alex P. Cardplayer- like Kashkaval; -A Bulgarian cheese similar in character and color to Caciocavallo or Provolone, firming as it ages into a fine grating cheese. This Bulgarian cheese is a fine fit into the Eastern European flavor of Ravnica. That's the sort of flavor that I, as a Magic fan, really appreciate, and I don't mean the warm and subtle flavor of cheese.

Skeins. What are they, and do they have anything to do with food? Well, this depends on who you are asking. If you ask me, “Skeins” are mysterious, arcane spells that only the most dedicated tome-delvers truly understand. But, ask a Prahvian scrollwarden and she'll tell you they're magical strands that connect various brain lobes of one wizard to those of another. Ask an old maid from Boise and she'll tell you they're balls of yarn. Ask a pastaphile with a huge vocabulary and he'll tell you it's spaghetti. In some way, we're all correct.

Magic has adapted the English word for a length of thread or a complex tangle and given it meaning of its own. Check out the art for Vision Skeins and Delirium Skeins:

You can see ‘em, the magical strands weaving and intertwining the two mages' minds. Now take that to your PSAT, or to impress the old bags at Granny's knitting klatch.

* * *

Just when I promised this article was not going to be about food, the power of words is exercised to thwart me. Let's have another gander at Protean Hulk. I explained the whole “meat and eggs” gag in last week's article. Well, apparently there's a little more to it. When this card was concepted by Brady Dommermuth, it was meant to be a bizarre, egg-bearing behemoth. That it is. “Protean Behemoth” was the placeholder name. “Protean”, meaning “readily taking on varied shapes, forms, or meanings” seemed to be a good fit to the mystery menagerie mechanic of the card. And so there it is. What was not planned, however, was its conjunction with the clincher to the Borborygmos flavor text triad. This paired the word that is often mispronounced as “Protein” with flavor text mentioning “meat and eggs” – the best sources of dietary protein. Ha!

To make sure that we're all on the right page, however, “Protean” is pronounced PRO•tee•an. However you end up saying it, your dinner meat and eggs will always be followed by a wonderful smorgasbord of tasty desserts.

* * *

Okay, I just got an earful from TTM's resident pronunciation specialist, Sekki. He scolded me for two reasons. 1) Dealing with pronunciation is his domain, and 2) I should not have suggested that you can pronounce Protean however you wish. (He's a stickler about that stuff.) In order to appease him, I have agreed to turn things over to him for a little bit. There are plenty of tricky words in Dissension, so this is not such a bad idea anyway.

Sekki, Pronunciation's Guide

Skeins – Matt failed to give the proper pronunciation of this word. We can know all there is to know about words, but if we butcher them while speaking, we are no better than a Tin Street Hooligan. Anyway, Skeins is pronounced SKAYNZ, as if the “e” were an “a.”

Vigean – Similar to the “Protean” issue addressed earlier, Vigean has 3 syllables, VIG-ee-an. The soft “g” sound is also acceptable, VIJ-ee-an, though the Blue/Green with Brown noses make sure to nail the hard “g” when in the company of the Momir Vig, Simic Visionary.

Haazda – This one looks more difficult than it is. Just scrap the second “a” and it rhymes with Mazda.

Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace – Follow the same rule as with Haazda, with accent on “Maa.” riks MAH-dee. If you're actually in Rix Maadi, you will likely hear the “Maa” extended in a long, breathy, sometimes gravelly hiss. That's the way the wannabes and hangers-on say it. The real Rakdos wackos say it Michael Buffer style, with all the pomp and production of a circus ringmaster.

Experiment Kraj – The tricky part of this word is the “j.” It's pronounced like the “g” in massage. Actually, take the last syllable of massage and replace the s with a k.

Hussar – The important thing about pronouncing this word correctly is accenting the right syllable. It's not HOO-sar or HUSS-er. It's almost all in the second syllable, like the “h” sound is just a little breath before the –SAR. hu-SAR. It's a Hungarian word for light cavalry. If you want to infuse a little extra Eastern European flair, pronounce the “s” like a “z.” hu-ZAR.

* * *

Having Sekki do his thing reminds me of something we have not seen since his debut in “Snack Time With Vorthos” - a crazy little word wrangle called “Okra, Twinkie, Tofu.” If you have not already noticed, I have given up and gone right back to the food thing. Perhaps the power of cheese is greater than my will to not type the word “Cheese.” Anyway, this seems like the perfect time for round two of “Okra, Twinkie, Tofu”, an exploration of the origin of words.

Okra • Twinkie • Tofu

Okra, Twinkie, Tofu will give you quick blurbs on the following sorts of Magic words:
Words that are actually real but may seem fake (Okra)
Completely fake and not of this world (Twinkie)
Made up of real stuff but seems bizarre and alien (Tofu).

Drekavac - This might seem like another one of many random made-up beastie names like Gruul Nodorog, Rhox, or Lhurgoyf. But it is, in fact, a mythical creature from Slavic mythology. Its Slavic origin and spelling made it a good fit for retooling into a Ravnican monster.
Gobhobbler Rats - Not a word at all. Until now! Gobhobbler is a nifty twist of the word “hobgoblin.” Both are pesky buggers, but the Gobhobblers wear sharp, bladed jewelry that they use to “hobble” people, scurrying about slashing ankles.
Vigean Hydropon - This word whittles away a couple letters from “hydroponic” to yield a word that probably should have existed in the first place. Hydroponic means cultivation of plants in nutrient water rather than soil. A Hydropon is our own word for the plant that is grown that way. Is there a better fit for a Blue/Green tree than a plant grown in water? I think not. Of course, it's not regular water, but I cannot tell you about it because the Simic have gag orders filed to protect their patents.

* * *

“Moloch must die.” This was the context of my first encounter with the word, moloch. It was an episode of CHiPs in which a rock and roll devil worship poseur received death threats backward masked on his records. Of course, this sounds like a job for the Highway Patrol. This has little to do with anything other than the fact that I find that extremely funny (the devil worshipping rocker was none other than Ralph Malph), and that Moloch was a biblical god to which children were sacrificed. But there is another meaning to “moloch” that is more closely related to Magic's two molochs, one lazy and other crazy. A moloch in Ravnica is a huge lizard of extreme temperament (one way or the other.) According to Earth's lizard-lovers, molochs are Australian lizards with spiny scales. Okay, that one is not so arcane, and not terribly interesting, but I am tickled by the opportunity to share my CHiPs story.

There are a lot more wordstuffs in Dissension to dig into. For that matter, there are a lot more in the rest of Ravnica block as well. With cards being as small as they are, and with the small amount of words we can fit on them, we have to use words that give us a lot of bang for the buck. If you take a spin through your binder, you are almost sure to come across a word or two that strike you as odd, arcane, or just “out there.” Don't leave it at that. Crack a dictionary, hunt down word roots, or just Google it. Odds are, you'll find that it's packing a lot of punch. And by “punch,” I mean the sweet fruity mélange ladled into little paper cups. You see, we have a lot of flavor to deliver on cards, so we have to mix it in everywhere we can. Enjoy the tasty beverage.

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