Inboxing Day: Dark Ascension

Posted in Savor The Flavor on February 1, 2012

Now that the Dark has begun Ascension-ing, it's a prime time to see what the mail zeppelin has brought for us. These questions and letters were sent in via the email link at the bottom of the page, and I'd encourage you to send along your own missives if you haven't. Don't worry if you don't have a well-thought-out question or even, you know, diagrammable subjects and predicates. Just click that link (mine or any of the other columnists') and say hi anyway. The men and women here at are kind of permanently obsessed with this Magic thing, and we want to talk about it with you.

So let's get to it! No cutesy framing device today, and no further intro-paragraph slow-roll! On to the questions already! Whose brain-scrapings shall we peer into first?

    Angels in the Outfield

Wilson writes in with a question about the non-Avacyn angels of Innistrad:

Hey Doug.

There's something that's been bothering me since Avacyn's fate was revealed and it's the state of her angels.

Why did they start appearing less without her? Is Avacyn the one that pumps them with Angel Power Juice to be capable of doing anything or something?

It seems like in a time of need like the one Innistrad is currently going through, the angels would be more active than they've been ever before, but it seems like the complete opposite. Where are they? And what are they doing?

Thanks for the time.

—Wilson T.

Good question—one we've talked about on the creative team a bit, but we haven't communicated about it very much here on the site.

Back before Avacyn was forced into the Helvault, she had many ranks, or "flights," of other angels serving her and helping her to protect Innistrad from various flavors of supernatural beastie. There are still signs of a few angels here and there, but it's true they aren't exactly out kicking werewolf/zombie/vampire ass in true warrior-angel style, now that she's gone. So what gives?

Requiem Angel | Art by Eric Deschamps

Many of the angels are still around, and they can see the ascension of the darkness, and they still want very badly to get out there and fight all that evil—they're angels. But the angels are just not as effective against Innistrad's unusually plentiful shadowy creatures without Avacyn around. Think of Avacyn's presence as a suit of armor. Without it, they lose battles. They suffer wounds and have to retreat. They have to bide their time more, and dispense with the splashy frontal assaults against zombie hordes and demonkind—or still make those glorious charges, but with the knowledge those charges will be their last. You're right, Wilson, that the angels would be most useful now, as the humans face dire times. But they have to be more selective of when to appear. They have to lurk in the glare of the dawn or the shine behind the clouds rather than make themselves manifest, as much as it pains them. It was probably this way in the times before Avacyn was created, too—angels who could only watch from afar as evil triumphed again and again. Without Avacyn, their contribution can only be minor.

Aw. Poor Innistrad humans, and poor angels who can't help them. Yep, they're probably all toast. Oh well, ha ha! Thanks for the question, Wilson!

    The Stinking Rose

Next up, Travis asks about a common culinary conceit in vampire stories:

Dear Doug Beyer,

Regarding your article "The State of the Faith":

I was just now cooking a vinegar-based chicken stew (quite delicious, I can assure you, and the acidity helps to soften up the bones [there's good eatin' on them things]), when a thought occurred to me. Is there garlic on Innistrad? The question came to me as I was peeling those heavenly cloves. If there is garlic on Innistrad, is it used as was originally intended, as a way for hunters to cut through the overpowering, stinking aura of death and decay that surrounded all vampires, allowing said hunters to keep their wits about them? Or is it used in the bastardized but now classical way of actually repelling the bloodsucking fiends from beyond the grave? All this would, of course, be in addition to making food awesome, as anyone who has access to garlic and doesn't cook with it is a fool in the kitchen (Exhibit A would be my dad).

Or, even stranger, is there garlic on Innistrad, but no one knows about it, save the very vampires who most benefit from such ignorance? Or, strangest of all, is it unknown even to them, while still growing wild on the plane?

Please tell me that at least their (Innistraders') food is awesome.

—Travis F.

There is no vampire-repelling Allium on Innistrad—which is not to say that there aren't delicious root vegetables in the onion family on Innistrad, because I don't see why there shouldn't be—it's rather to say that none of those pungent layered staples are effective in warding off the fashionable bloodsuckers.

In terms of the supernatural worldbuilding of the plane, we made a conscious decision to pick and choose from among the classic anti-vampire tropes, including some of them but not all. In most cases, even the tropes we used we then twisted a bit, giving a particular Innistrad spin on them. The idea that a cross wards off vampires, for example, is reflected in the way that Avacynian priests and vampire-hunters use the Collar of Avacyn as a holy symbol to channel their faith and keep evil creatures at bay. Innistrad humans use wooden stakes against this world's vampires, too, but we made it a requirement that only sharp pieces of living wood are effective against the bloodsuckers' unnatural longevity, as a world-specific twist on the traditional Gothic horror trope. We did consider the garlic thing, but as the concept art for Innistrad's elegant and frightful vampires began to emerge, we decided that the idea of these awe-inspiring creatures stressing out at the sight of a garlic-head necklace would be a bit... lame. So, no garlic-warding trope for this world's vampires.

Avacyn's Collar | Art by James Paick

In terms of the botanical worldbuilding of the plane, however—and this is coming from an amateur foodie who likes to cook in his (tiny) kitchen and who has his own (tiny) vegetable garden in his (tiny) backyard—I feel like every culture that has developed agriculture has managed to innovate the use of pungent/spicy/bitter plants to season their bland/starchy/bland/bland/bland ones. So if they don't have garlic on Innistrad, they probably have something that serves the same culinary role, if that makes sense. They probably grow some form of squash in the fields of Gavony and Kessig, and since the flavor is subtle, they probably pair that barely-there autumnal earthiness with some kind of full-flavored savory root veggie to eat alongside their roasted lamb. But for cooks on Innistrad, it's for deliciousness reasons only, not for supernatural protection.

Oh my god, I think I just nerded out on worldbuilding flavor and culinary anthropology at the same time. *wipes a tear* Thank you for prompting that, Travis!


Jeremy asks about the management structure of our rotting friends:

Dear Doug Beyer,

I've got a question about zombies. There is so much Zombie tribal: Undead Warchief, Lord of the Undead, Cemetery Reaper, and others. But it just seems to me that zombies wouldn't work together at all. I mean, they're brainless beings fed by lust for killing, why would they help each other? I could imagine a powerful necromancer uniting them, but most cards that help the tribal of Zombies ARE zombies. Why do zombies work together and why don't you usually print necromancers who are human?


Great question, Jeremy. I think that trend comes about less from a flavor reason and more for reasons of card design—partly because of the designs of cycles, and partly due to modern "lord" design. Some zombie-leaders are Zombies to match the rest of a cycle of leaders. Goblin Warchief is a Goblin, Merfolk Sovereign is a Merfolk, etc., so to keep things symmetrical, the Zombie representative has the same subtype that it interacts with. Years ago, cards like Goblin Kingweren't the race type that they pumped, and instead had type Lord—that's more the kind of relationship you want for Zombies, with an out-of-race creature guiding and directing the Zombie rabble. Zombie Master might have been intended to have this flavor, but nowadays he's type Zombie himself and just pumps "other" Zombies, like most modern "lords" do.

Occasionally, we posit a few zombified creatures as having mental capacities and knowledge of spells—liches and such—some of whom might possess the capacity to lead other undead. But these are the exception. Most of our zombie lords are Zombies themselves to make tribal decks work better, not to intentionally flaunt the usual minded-human-who-leads-mindless-undead flavor.

Havengul Runebinder | Art by Bud Cook

There have been a few Human necromancer-type cards that lead zombified hordes in the way you describe, though. Lim-Dûl the Necromancer and Infernal Caretaker are in this vein. Doomed Necromancer has some of this feel, although he doesn't exactly get to stick around to enjoy his creation. Dark Ascension, timelily(?) enough, has two good examples of Human necromancers in store for you, in the form of Wakedancer—a sort of shamanic necromancer—and Havengul Runebinder—a straight-up flesh-reanimating Dr. Frankenstein. Thanks for the question, Jeremy!

    Ocular Correctness

The next reader, Jody, has a serious (and seriously funny) case of that most Vorthosian of syndromes: Flavor Precision Ire (or FPI). Flare-ups of FPI can occur whenever a card delivers a certain amount of top-down flavor, but looks unflavorful when compared with other cards in Magic. Let's look at Jody's letter describing the classic FPI symptoms, and the potential solutions outlined therein:

Dear Doug Beyer,

The preview of Jar of Eyeballs shows a severe flaw. Whenever a creature dies, 2 of its eyes pop out and go in the jar. You know what creatures provide 2 eyes for this? Evil Eye of Orms-By-Gore. Evil Eye of Urborg. Pilgrim's Eye. Sewn-Eye Drake—THEY'RE SEWN IN! One-Eyed Scarecrow—IT'S ONLY GOT ONE EYE!!!!

Rather than recall the card and publicly apologize for the glaring oversight, I think the simplest thing to do is to provide errata to existing cards to tell how many eyes they yield to Jar of Eyeballs upon death. The cleanest way to handle this, in my opinion, is to change the creature stat block to Power/Toughness/Eyeball Yield. Grizzly Bears are the simplest at 2/2/2. Bloodshot Cyclops would be a 4/4/1. Reassembling Skeleton is a 1/1/0. Primordial Hydra gets +1/+1/+2 counters. Dark Tutelage gets reworded to include "Creatures you control get +0/+0/–2." Ocular Halo provides the enchanted creature an additional +0/+0/+20. Eye of Ramos gets changed to also become an equipment that grants +0/+0/+1. Sunglasses of Urza now also turns white creatures red.

Not only is this clean and simple, it opens up entirely new development space. Red and black get effects that reduce eyeball yield through boiling or extracting, green ups the yield through traditional Giant Growth effects, white normalizes the eyeball count amongst your creatures to provide standardization, and blue crosses eyeball yields with power and toughness or changes eyeball color.

With these few simple tweaks I think the card can be fixed and people can once again play Magic with peace of mind. What do you think?


Excellent stuff!—I mean, oh dear, tsk tsk, a very worrisome case of Flavor Precision Ire. Note the citing of multiple cards that contradict flavor. Note the proposal of a radical alternative system, including a thorough flavor-based reinterpretation of the entire game. It's the most textbook case of FPI I've ever seen, and it's clearly in its advanced stages.

My diagnosis is complete. I'm afraid that I must recommend one of two ways to proceed: either total amputation of the inflamed Vorthosian lobes—cutting out the source of Jody's FPI before it spreads too far—or immediate adoption of this eyeball counting system for all creatures across Magic, because that is pretty awesome and oh my god now I've caught it too.

I enjoyed this letter immensely. High-five to you, Jody. You truly do have a sick mind, in the best way possible. If you want to maintain a table of every creature's eyeball count and use it to errata cards so they make proper flavor sense in eye-matters scenarios, you have my wholehearted blessing.

    Thank You for the Brain Scrapings

Thanks again to everyone whose letters I used in today's article. I truly enjoy getting to see your crystallized thought processes and your flavorful delvings into this mutual Magic interest of ours. If I didn't get to your letter, it is either because I didn't have room this week or because you haven't actually sent one in, and the odds favor the latter rather than the letter. We seriously love hearing from everybody, so if you have a neural notion you want to share, feel free to contact me or any of the other writers on the site. See you in 168 hours.

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