Legends – Who’s Got The Sauce?

Posted in Feature on November 16, 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.

Everybody loves lists. Not shopping lists or to-do lists - those stink. But top ten lists and best-to-worst lists get the townsfolk going. Time Spiral has 16 "new" legends (not counting lands). I put the word new in quotes because the cards are new, but the legends themselves have been around for a long time. In many cases, these cards already had an incredible amount of flavor, backstory, and fan appreciation before their names ever hit the upper left corner of a card. Since it's really not possible to fairly judge these "new" comers against the "timeshifted" legends (many tried and true faves of Magic history), we're going to pit these 16 new legends against each other in flavor fisticuffs. Who's got the sauce?

Before we see who has the sauce, there are a couple of criteria I need to clarify. First of all, I am looking at these cards as if their mountains of pre-existing story flavor were not working for them. A card for a novel protagonist is automatically going to feel more flavorful than one that was plucked from a single line of flavor text. What we're really going to be looking at is not the mountain of flavor, but how well the Time Spiral card delivers it. Secondly, we cannot hold it against a card for not having flavor text. We can only judge them based on what they do have. A card with sub-par flavor text is worse off than a card with none at all. So without further ado, let's see who has the sauce, starting with the unsalted pretzels at the bottom.

16. Stonebrow, Krosan Hero
Stonebrow_Krosan_HeroMoments after a fickle rift dropped Stonebrow in the waste of his beloved Krosa, he took up his axe in rage-blind vengeance.

Poor Stonebrow. He had an uphill battle right from the start. This guy had never appeared on a card before. He was mentioned in a novel at some point in Odyssey block. Anyway, his art seems a tad clunky, and the flavor text tells us very little except that he misses the old forest. Yeah, well, so does everyone else.

15. Kaervek the Merciless
Kaervek_the_Merciless"Rats and jackals feast in his swath, but even they will not walk with him."

Kaervek gets points for flavor text that links him to his age-old enemy, Mangara, but it's not enough sugar to make this flavorless teething biscuit worth eating.

rk post is one of my all-time favorite artists, but this one just doesn't work for me. Kaervek the Flavorless.

14. Norin the Wary
Norin_the_Wary"I have a bad feeling about this."

Norin, as a whole, works pretty well. He is creatively and mechanically a coward. But, for some reason, I just feel like his art could have supported that a bit more, and his flavor text could have felt a tad more wary. What is says is 100% Norin, but how it's said is just plain... um, plain.

13. Lim-Dul the Necromancer
Lim_Dul_the_Necromancer Oh it hurts me to put THE necromancer so low on the list, but it has to be done. While I am pretty happy with how creepy the art is, and its subtle allusion to Lim-Dul's horned form, this art has been received with a resounding thud. With so much hype to live up to and no flavor text or awesome art to do it justice, everybody's favorite death mage is busted down to unlucky 13.

12. Dralnu, Lich Lord
Dralnu_Lich_Lord The Lich Lord is as high on the list as he is based solely on the fact that his art is really cool. But other than that, he's not quite hitting on the flavor set forth by his back-story and his flavor text quotes. Cards like Exotic Disease, Sinister Strength, Lord of the Undead, and Dralnu's Crusade all suggest a necromancer whose power is in bringing the dead back to life. Oh, and then there's the part about his name. All of his flavor text quotes show him as Lord Dralnu, but that's not how he is on his card. Similar to Ith, High Arcanist (who was always referred to as Lord Ith), the Dralnu card was not given its proper name. I cannot for the life of me remember why we did this. I remember the talks, but I cannot recall the ultimate reason for this. Whatever it was, it now makes me sad -- and leaves the Lich Lord down near the bottom of the barrel.

11. Mangara of Corondor
Mangara_of_Corondor"I have been brought to this place and I cannot leave. I may be free of the amber, but I am still in prison."

I am now wondering if this guy shouldn't be down at 12 or 13. Something about him just isn't all that inspiring. Yes, he's a peaceful fellow, and his art and mechanic reflect that-but it still just seems a little like Wonder White to me. I do like the lightning bolt in the art, and how the flavor text refers to his "time" in the Amber Prison, but the rest of it is underwhelming.

10. Ith, High Arcanist
Ith_High_Arcanist Ith has a big hurdle to leap, right from the start. It's the fact that he's always been known as "Lord Ith," and yet this is not his name. I can't remember what the exact reason was, but something kept us from naming him that. Now, with hindsight, I regret it. It makes him (like Dralnu) automatically taste less chocolaty. But his art is great (the poster child for Suspend) and his tie to the Maze of Ith is cool. He's still tasty, but his name makes him seem less appetizing-sort of like Pu-pu Platter.

9. Thelon of Havenwood
Thelon_of_Havenwood"The sight of my thallids still thriving is a bittersweet welcome to this cold waste."

I like Thelon of Havenwood quite a bit. His lonely art and somber flavor text befit a man who spent his life in the exclusive company of fungus. The flavor text is also cool because it begs the question, "why bittersweet?" I tend to think it's because his creations have gotten along so well without him. It is a great achievement, and yet they no longer need him. He's like a proud papa who realizes little Junior is all growed up.

8. Scion of the Ur-Dragon
Scion_of_the_Ur_Dragon"I am the blood of the ur-dragon, coursing through all dragonkind."

For a complete run-down of all the nostalgic coolness of the Scion, check out the Time Spiral Magic Museum. It all ties in well with the name and flavor text of this card. The art, in a vacuum, is really cool. But in the context of this card and its historical connections, it lacks a sense of connection to a greater being, the Ur-Dragon. The lightning breath is also cool, but unconnected to the card. If the art had a little more Ur-Flavor, this could have been a contender.

7. Saffi Eriksdotter
Saffi_Eriksdotter"In the blink of an eye, she strode from deep snow to dusty waste. From the crease of light behind her, a voice rang hollow: "Saffi, wait for me . . . ."

I am a big Saffi fan. I think the art is nice and the flavor text is great. I'd get into it with more specifics, except that more Saffi talk is going to happen in an article coming up in the next few weeks. For now, let's just say that this card is just about as good as it could have been with just a one card set-up on Lhurgoyf. A little snow on her shoulders or gusting behind her would have been a subtle touch worth a bump up a notch or two.

6. Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician
Ib_Halfheart_Goblin_Tactician"Everybody but me-CHARGE!"

Ib's a winner all around in my book. The art, mechanic, and flavor text all support the oxymoronic name, "Goblin Tactician." We'll get into more detail on him next week too.

Let me take this moment to say how much I love Wayne Reynolds' art. He kicks ass, and he definitely bruises the glutes with Ib. The big helmet, the tongue, the angry grunts in the background. At this point in the countdown, things are really starting to taste good.

5. Tivadar of Thorn
Tivadar_of_ThornHis blade came down upon the neck of a goblin-but not the one he had charged. When Tivadar looked up, the world he had known was gone.

Sweet flavor text. It really illustrates the randomness and immediacy of the time rifts. I can see it, his sword coming down on the fat neck of a well-fed Goblin Hero, reflecting a sudden burst of blue light, then burying itself in the emaciated neck of a hungry brat from the empty the warrens. The art is just OK, though it, and the rest of the card, match up well to the old Knights of Thorn and Tivadar's Crusade.

4. Mishra, Artificer Prodigy
Mishra_Artificer_ProdigyA sojourn through time gave dark inspiration to one gifted young mind.

Lots and lots of story behind this guy. Does he live up to it? I think he does a pretty good job. This Mishra is the young artificer, before all the rumblings with brother Urza. There he is, in post-apocalyptic Dominaria, ogling a small chunk of Phyrexian stuff. Is this what sets him on his dark path? In some strange, impossible way did this event happen before the Brothers' War? I dig how the flavor text suggests this may be so.

I would have put Mishra higher up on the list if the artwork didn't seem a little off-kilter to me. I like the facial expression and the hands, but the background is competing for attention a bit too much. It's picking nits, but at this point on the list, that's what separates these delicious delights.

3. Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Endrek_Sahr_Master_Breeder It is appropriate that Mark Tedin's art in Time Spiral is probably the best of 'em all. He was a tone-setter for Magic way back in the day, and here he is now, in nostalgia-ville, running for mayor with some awesome artwork. Endrek Sahr is no exception. The scene is composed and painted well, with all the creepy contortedness of the original thrulls. But the sauce on the spaghetti here is the empty stare of Sahr himself. That freak looks right at home with those...um, freaks. The setting and costuming are great, as Tedin's always are. This guy fits perfectly the character set up by so much Fallen Empires flavor text. Saucy, very saucy.

2. Jaya Ballard, Task Mage
Jaya_Ballard_Task_Mage Though I do think Jaya has a legitimate claim to the top spot, I just don't have it in me to give my own work the big nod. There are tons of reasons why her flavor is just dripping with saucy perfection. You can read about them all in my Jaya Ballard preview article. But secretly, secretly there are things about this artwork that irk me a bit. I don't really want to call attention to them, but let's just say that there are anatomical issues that I did not work out as well I as I wish I had. And no, ding dong, it has nothing to do with her feminine assets. Other than the secret quirks of the positioning of her body, I don't see much tortellini here that is not covered in rich, savory sauce -homemade, I might add.

1. Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
Teferi_Mage_of_ZhalfirTo save this plane, he must forsake all others.

So much goodness here, from the art concept to the drawing and painting execution to the card mechanic to the finishing touches of name and flavor text. The T-dog is top notch. With drawing by Doug Gregory, one of my all-time faves, and painting by my criminal cohort Jeremy Jarvis, how can you go wrong? Guess what - you can't. Look at the contrast of the miserable, monotone background against the colorful robes of the Zhalfirins. Check out the broken staff - we've seen it intact on Teferi's Moat and on the cover of the Time Spiral novel. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call symbolism. Hook that up with the flavor text and you have so much sauce on the meat that you might as well chop up that beef and call it chili.

background against the colorful robes of the Zhalfirins. Check out the broken staff - we've seen it intact on Teferi's Moat and on the cover of the Time Spiral novel. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call symbolism. Hook that up with the flavor text and you have so much sauce on the meat that you might as well chop up that beef and call it chili.

That's enough legendary flavor for now. Tune in next week for a sampling of flavor from the opposite of legends. How delightfully vague, I can't wait.

OK, I lied. There's one more legend that needs a little love. It's Legends of Time Spiral Week, but this legend is not from Time Spiral. He is still relevant, however, because here at Taste The Magic, every week is Vorthos Week.

A couple weeks ago, I gave you all the heads-up that there would be an art contest at this year's Un-Con. The art was to be for our very own Vorthos, Fantasy Goober card. To reward the two die-hards whose art was tops of the crop, I am going to show them here, with a little commentary from yours truly.

Winner - Submitted by Herman Lau

This one took me a second look to really appreciate. I was at first disappointed by the fact that I could not see Vorthos's face. But upon greater scrutiny, I ended up getting sucked into the little story written out on the left. It provides enough meat to get me interested, but leaves out enough to allow me to complete the story on my own. It doesn't get much more Vorthos than that. I also like how it links the "real life" Vorthos with the written story via the visualization of the dragon in the story. If this were to be printed on a card, the story text would have to be blown up to be legible at card size. Also, as a matter of my own pride, I would ask that the word "wyrm" be changed to something that would not get Vorthos beat up. I think we would have caught that stuff; the small text, the wyrm, and the covered face, at sketch stage and this would have come out a pretty good solution for Vorthos.

Honorable Mention - Submitted by R.J. Pankow

This submission has some issues with execution, but I was willing to overlook those because of the bountiful flavor packed into this picture. I may not be catching them all, but this art has some very Time Spiral-esque nostalgic references in it. The figure wields a Runesword, brandishes a shield in the form of a Circle of Protection: Black, has a Golgothian Sylex on his head, and had crushed the library paste jar from Orcish Librarian. I imagine I am missing the meaning of the strange, segmented tube he's busting out of. Is this a work of technical mastery? No. but it is an example of a Vorthos in action, doodling up all of the Magical flavor that he loves so well.

Both of these cards break the wall between Magic reality and Magic fantasy. Each one shows real world elements, like cards and puppies and baseball caps, and combines them with swords and dragons. This is how the Timmy and Johnny cards are depicted, and so it is appropriate that the Vorthos card does as well. Congratulations to the two winners.

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