Fear No Good

Posted in Savor The Flavor on June 16, 2010

Listen. I know what you're going through. I know how hard it can be, all those foolish mortals meddling in your plans to shackle the world in your clutches. You've explained to them that your reign of singular tyranny is the only key to true global enlightenment, haven't you? And they didn't listen? They called you names like "monster," even? And not once did anyone appreciate the exacting genius of your multifaceted plot?

Take heart. You're not alone. You're an archenemy, and you deserve victory far more than any of those nearsighted chicken-brains.

You're already on the right path. You know in your gut what it will take to bring your utter supremacy to fruition. You just need a bit of guidance. That we can provide.

It comes down to the three "R"s: Reject subtlety. Risk hubris. Realize your utopia.

Welcome to Archenemy.

    Over-the-Top Names

"It is not sufficient that I succeed. All others must fail." – Genghis Khan

The villain holds a special place in our cultural consciousness. He or she has a particular code of conduct, a particular manner of disparaging those who attempt to thwart him or her, and a particular pattern of boasting bluster.

The names of Archenemy schemes build on this cultural expectation. When the Archenemy design team devised these special scheme cards, Creative team manager Brady Dommermuth began concepting the cards with placeholder names like "This Is But a Taste" (later called "Behold the Power of Destruction") and "Look Skyward and Despair" (that one—well that one made it all the way to print). We found that the over-the-top villainous feel of these card names was infectious; playtesters in the villain seat were gleefully intoning the placeholder names as they flipped over their scheme cards. That naming style added another dimension to the already (from the heroes' perspective) dread-inducing experience of witnessing the schemes going off, and served to conjure a tone and flavor that helped define Archenemy. That's basically my favorite thing in the world: flavor that perceptibly adds fun to gameplay while giving the cards a unifying, characteristic feel.

Dance, Pathetic Marionette | Illustration by Steve Prescott

Oh, and also the phrase "pathetic marionette." Those are my two favorite things: the effective flavor thing, and the words "pathetic marionette."

If you're the archenemy, you're going to be ganged up on. You have no allies, no sympathizers, no loved ones save the schemes you lovingly set in motion. But you're the archenemy; you don't need sympathizers. Most of your schemes, plus the rules of Archenemy themselves (playing first and drawing first, getting 40 life, etc.), are incredibly skewed in your favor. It's only proper for the archenemy to get all these advantages.

After all, somebody who just acts like a jerk is not a villain. A villain is a flamboyantly resourced jerk. A jerk full of unjustified bravado and socially-unacceptable utopian visions. To make the leap from jerk to archenemy, you have to crank some dials until they snap.

To my mind, that's why it worked so well to let the names go a little over the top—it's to fit that cranked-to-eleven villainous splendor. Besides, the scheme cards are oversized and have no mana costs, so there was plenty of room in the name bar. Hence names like "Only Blood Ends Your Nightmares" or "Your Puny Minds Cannot Fathom." Muahaha.


"She shall undo her credit with the Moor.
So will I turn her virtue into pitch,
And out of her own goodness make the net
That shall enmesh them all."
– Iago, from Othello by William Shakespeare

As you'll see at the Release Events, the first-person, directed-at-the-hapless-heroes tone of the scheme names spills over into the tone of Archenemy flavor text. After a bit of the flavor text was in place, we decided that every piece should be a quote from the perspective of the archenemy, as if they were all taken from an extended evil-doer's diatribe that was spread across the scheme cards. Villains love diatribes.

My Crushing Masterstroke | Illustration by Alex Horley-Orlandelli

We realize that evil doesn't come naturally to everybody. If you are among the deviousness-deprived, the schemes' flavor text can be another way to help you get into that Archenemy mindset. Read the flavor text as you flip the scheme over during your first main phase—aloud if you're feeling it—and you might find that the three-piece suit of evil is tailored to you after all.

    The Undepicted Villain

"The same energy of character which renders a man a daring villain would have rendered him useful in society, had that society been well organized." – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

The art of Archenemy schemes is vertically-aligned, sort of like creature tokens or Planeswalker cards, with some fancy transparency in the frame, like the Eldrazi cards. Many of the schemes show heroic mages being the victims of some horrible effect, which is only proper—schemes very often victimize the heroes.

A Display of My Dark Power | Illustration by Jim Nelson

When the archenemy himself or herself is depicted, though, the villain's identity tends to be obscured. Sometimes you see the action from the archenemy's perspective. Sometimes you see a wide shot that includes the archenemy, but his face is covered by a hood or stylin' villain-style helmet. We thought that it would help you feel more like the archenemy if the art didn't contradict your villainous self-image, and to some degree let you mix-and-match schemes into your own customized scheme deck as you desired. Plus the villain is just cooler when you can't get a clear glimpse of him. Mystery is power, and power is every villain's goal ever.

    The Flavor of the Four Archenemy Game Packs

"When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before."
– Mae West

Each of the four Archenemy game packs comes with a preconstructed 60-card deck and a deck of 20 oversized scheme cards. Each game pack is built around a single thematic scenario—a villainous goal that the archenemy is trying to accomplish before the other players (who are nominally the "heroes," although the archenemy of course sees himself as the hero, according to his own vision) can thwart him. Here's a guide to the flavor behind each deck.

    Assemble the Doomsday Machine

As you pick up this deck, you'll become a visionary (not "mad"—we villains don't use that word) artificer obsessed with constructing a vast device with many artifact components. Your magical arsenal is thick with artifacts that combine in devastating ways and clockwork contrivances that will keep you alive until your doomsday machine is complete.

Nothing Can Stop Me Now | Illustration by Jesper Ejsing

The theme of "Assemble the Doomsday Machine" is victory through artifice, and the art of its schemes shows this. You'll see sharp-toothed gears, mystical hourglasses, hero-spying lenses, various disturbing blueprints, floating mechanical citadels, and all manner of eldritch machinery.

    Bring About the Undead Apocalypse

Shuffle up this deck to become a devilishly ambitious (again, not "mad") necromancer who seeks to rule by the power of undeath. Your deck is Zombies, reanimation spells, massive monsters to revive from the grave, and a host of other socially-repugnant methods of triumph, and your game plan is to overrun the world of the living with your undead creations.

Rotted Ones, Lay Siege | Illustration by Steve Prescott

The art of the "Bring About the Undead Apocalypse" schemes is undead-happy: undead wurms, undead mammoths, undead sphinxes, and the always classic undead people. Plus there are a few abstract pieces that show the necromancer's command over pain, agony, and madness alternate belief systems.

    Trample Civilization Underfoot

For this deck, you take on the role of a wild, instinct-driven (for the last time, you are not "mad"!) druid bent on ripping down the dismal overindulgences of "civilized" life. Your deck is monstrous Beasts, Elementals, Treefolk, and like-minded Shamans who form your natural army, alongside a grimoire full of spells that let you rise up and punish civilization for its excesses. And what better way to punish society than to stomp hoof-marks into its collective face?

The Very Soil Shall Shake | Illustration by Val Mayerik

The scheme art of "Trample Civilization Underfoot" shows Nature in full-on angry eyes mode: monstrous saprolings, vines with some sort of anti-architectural grudge, mouthy person-sized flytraps, verdant growth punching up through the ribcages of fallen warriors, and other terrifying scenes of nature on the march.

    Scorch the World with Dragonfire

Truth be told, the world is pitifully underscorched. Fortunately there's this deck—your means to wreak dragon-based mayhem. Here you play the role of a passionate (okay, fine, mad) Dragon Master (meaning either that you're a master of dragons or that you're a masterful dragon—up to you) with a very easy-to-understand yet hard-to-stop game plan. Your playbook is essentially this:

The art of "Scorch the World with Dragonfire" depicts—you guessed it—weasels. Skyfull after skyfull of fire-breathing ... weasels ... Look, just see Rule One.

Look Skyward and Despair | Illustration by Todd Lockwood

I hope you have fun at this weekend's ArchenemyRelease Events, either by beating up the archenemy or by donning the mantle of lurid evil yourself. Remember:

Reject subtlety.

Risk hubris.

Realize your utopia.

    Letter of the Week

To: Doug Beyer
Subject: Tars Olan, kor world-gift

Dear Doug Beyer,
I just recently got back into Magic and I was curious, if you have the time, could you please tell me a little about the position of kor world-gift. I'm super curious about what this status is.
Thank you in advance.

Thanks for your question, Brandon, and welcome back. Here's an unreleased passage from the kor section of the Zendikar style guide, which should enlighten you about the Rise of the Eldrazi printing of Smite:

World-gift. Every kor family elects a child, typically the second-born, to abandon to the wilderness as a sacrifice to pacify the natural forces of Zendikar. Some of the abandoned children, called world-gifts, die quickly, but many of them manage to survive long enough to new lives outside the kor nomadic families. A world-gift kor typically adopts the language and customs of the culture with whom he or she matures. Tragically, most never feel at home among the "static" races; driven by wanderlust, many world-gift kor end up venturing back out into the wilds at some point in their lives, but are never welcomed back into kor society.

That was fun. Let's do another, shall we?

Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article: Frakkin' Zounds

I realize that I am in fact commenting on an article that was written about a year and a half ago, however I will be honest when I say I was only recently directed to these little articles of yours and have been reading them. First I just want to say I love learning about this, when it comes to fantasy of any kind, I play/read for the lore.

Now to my comment, regarding the swearing, I believe there is a 6th type [of fantasy swearing], or at least a subsection to point number 2. The examples you used - frak, frell, tanj - are all made up to the point of the word unto itself is fairly nonsensical. What about made up swears that use regular words already in the language to curse? As a counterpoint to these 3 made up ones, I offer Robert Jordan's (may he rest in peace) Wheel of Time series. Within these books, you don't hear the curses that offend the senses, you hear "Blood and Ashes!"

I use this because even the first time I read through the first book, the moment Matt said that, I knew exactly what he meant. This was a heat of the moment curse, something that just slipped past his lips. After having read the series a few times, I will fully be willing to admit that there are times when I find myself with the urge to use this very curse myself.

My point that I'm trying far too hard to reach is that not all made up swears need to be nonsensical jibberish that kinda resembles a real curse, it could be a combination of real words that add up to what readers can believe is a curse.

Awesome example, thanks Zach! I've received fun (and sometimes eye-poppingly vulgar) feedback from that article over the months and years. As people have read it and responded, I've become kind of a collector of fantasy swears. "Blood and ashes" may indeed represent a new category that I didn't cover: it's an English (or whatever language) phrase that's suggestive of negative or evil imagery (through associations with universally-accepted "bad" things like bleeding or being dead and reduced to ash). But the phrase is only actually vulgar in the fantasy world where the book is set. It's a good solution to the fantasy swearing problem—suggestiveness that's established through real English words, vulgarity that's established by context. Consider it added to the collection!

See you next week!

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