The Vorthos Awards: Conflux Edition

Posted in Savor The Flavor on February 18, 2009

It's high time that the flavor of Magic, that hidden lore and fantasy feel glimpsed through the cards' flavor and function, had its own awards ceremony. The Vorthos Awards have no twenty-four-hour entertainment channel's red- (and green-, white-, blue-, and black-) carpet coverage, so we'll get right to the categories and the nominees.

The winners, however, will be determined by you. Throughout the article you'll have opportunities to vote on each category, and then next week I'll announce the winners. Be sure to click your Back button to return to the article after each vote submission. Stand and be counted!

And now, the categories.

    Best Top-Down Design

This is a very fun category. In Ramp;D, when we say "top-down design," we mean a card design that has been created around flavor. The perennial example of this is Frozen Solid, a card which captures in its mechanics the feeling or flavor of being encased in ice—but every set has more or less of this kind of design. Top-down designs aren't necessarily related to the storyline, but they're so flavorful that they deserve a Vorthos Award all on their own.

Blood Tyrant – A vampire that gets stronger when it feeds on creatures—or on players! This top-down design manifests in grand style if you're playing in multiplayer.

Quenchable Fire – It'll keep burning you unless you put the fire out with a little water. This is an adorable card that takes advantage of the blue mana symbol being a little drop of water.

Rotting Rats – What if Ravenous Rats came back from the dead? Sometimes top-down designs reference older cards.

Shard Convergence – It's a card that represents the shards coming together, from the perspective of a Naya spellcaster.

Voracious Dragon – As you may know from A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara, goblins are frequently dragon chow on Jund. This is one of the dragons who loves to do some preferential chomping.

    Most Flavorful Legend

Legendary creature cards (and sometimes other legendary permanent cards) carry a lot of Vorthos power. Most of the time, legends are created flavor-first, like top-down cards—the creative team provides biographies of the personalities we'd like to see represented on cards, and the designers come up with card mechanics for them. Other times, Creative sees card designs that match the theme and style of characters we know, and ask the developers to make them legendary, so we can deliver more of the setting's story. Either way, legends are a powerful tool in the Vorthosian toolbox. The nominees are:

Child of Alara – The bizarre spawn of the Maelstrom—violent storm of mana energy currently forming at the center of the five shards—emerges to wreak havoc on the plane.

Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer – The ambitious, and "morally flexible," merchant-master of Bant's Grand Caravan bribes his way out of many situations. His part in Nicol Bolas's plans will one day be revealed.

Malfegor – The spawn of some unholy union between demon and dragon, Malfegor is not only Bolas's right-hand general on Grixis, but also a key to ancient legends of the archangel Asha on Bant.

Progenitus – According to the creation myths of the elves, this restless hydra-god is the soul of all Alara—and it got a pretty splashy card to match.

Rakka Mar – Servant of Bolas and potent elementalist, Rakka Mar may one day fill Jund with her army of elementals.

Vote for the Most Flavorful Legend in Conflux.Child of AlaraGwafa Hazid, ProfiteerMalfegorProgenitusRakka Mar
    Best Conveyance of Set Themes

This award is for excellence in communicating the flavor of the set's flavorful themes. Note that it's not about capturing the mechanics of the set, but about encapsulating the plot and emotions of what's happening in the setting. Conflux is, of course, about the shards coming together, but also about open war breaking out between the "adjacent" shards, and about the rise of elder dragon planeswalker Nicol Bolas and his nefarious schemes. The nominees for this category are:

Conflux – A card that represents Nicol Bolas getting his claw on magics of all five colors as the shards come together.

Maelstrom Archangel – A glorious and powerful five-color creature that is born of the merging of five planes.

Rupture Spire – A land that represents the quintessential incursion zone, a frontier where two shards overlap.

Shard Convergence – A spell that represents the shards converging.

Skyward Eye Prophets – A card depicting Bolas's minions, the doomsayers from the Order of the Skyward Eye, spreading paranoia throughout Bant.

Vote for the Best Conveyance of Set Themes in Conflux.ConfluxMaelstrom ArchangelRupture SpireShard ConvergenceSkyward Eye Prophets
    Best Obscure Vorthosian Reference

How much do I love this category? Almost as much as Glacian loved Rebbec. There are gobs of detailed backstory goodness built into each setting's style guide, and the Alara style guide is no exception. (In a way, there are just not enough cards to get across all this detail. This is as it should be. The style guide is meant to provide an overwhelming pile of detail from which the set's concepter, its artists, and its name and flavor text writers can take inspiration. The cards determine what details turn out to be actually useful.)

Most of these details go unnoticed by those playing the card game. We don't expect players to be such experts in the setting that they catch every detail that makes it onto cards—but the overall effect creates the sense of populated world (or worlds) full of history and verisimilitude. I created this award to recognize those small moments of cool world-building detail seeing the light of day on cards.

Knight of the Reliquary – The Order of the Reliquary scour ancient ruins of Bant, searching for relics that might hold clues about their world's past. After the Conflux their mission changes—they're sent to explore beyond Bant's borders, looking for Bant landmarks that have emerged from other shards during the overlap.

Matca Rioters – "Matca" is a physical and sometimes brutal grappling sport played in stone-bordered arenas in Naya. Matca matches draw huge crowds of humans and even elves to see the competitors, some of whom deck themselves out in thorny armor for some added spice.

Scornful Æther-Lich – Esperites who replace nearly all their natural flesh with etherium become freakish creatures known as æther-liches. Over time, these metallic monstrosities became emblematic of the negative consequences of the Noble Work, and indirectly caused the spurning of Crucius, the brilliant sphinx artificer who devised etherium.

Sigil of the Empty Throne – No angel has assumed the title of Asha, ruler of Bant's angels, since she died at the hands of Malfegor during the splitting of Alara. An empty throne soars in the skies of Bant to this day, awaiting the day that some being will ascend to become Asha once more.

Telemin Performance – A telemin is an Esper mage-puppet, a creature that willingly submits to being "played" like an instrument by a mage's mind control abilities. The telemin itself is merely the instrument—the mind-mage is considered the artist responsible for the quality of the performance.

    Best Flavor Text

This category is pretty simple. What flavor text knocks it out of the park? There are a wealth of good ones in Conflux, from the poetic mythology-snippet, to the world-building encyclopedia entry, to the sarcastic trash-talking quip, to the inspiring hero-mantra. The hardest thing about this category was picking nominees. For this category especially, if you guys have favorites that aren't represented here, hit that email link at the bottom of the page and let me know.

Ember Weaver"Each night, the sun unravels and blows away. Each day, the spiders set a new one in the sky." – Sunseeder myth

Ethersworn AdjudicatorEsper mages devised their weapons to be so devastating that war seemed unnecessary.

Goblin RazerunnersFinding themselves in a new and unexplored world, they immediately set it on fire.

MalfegorA demon cannot be trusted, and a dragon will not be ruled.

Mirror-Sigil Sergeant – "If I had many lives, I would give them all for Bant."

Paleoloth"Gods do not sleep soundly in the earth's embrace." – Mayael the Anima

Wretched Banquet"The meek inherit nothing." – Sedris, the Traitor King

    Vorthos's Choice

This is something of a lifetime achievement award, that moment in the awards show when the best-preserved fiftysomething from among the attending actors introduces a montage of clips from an honored contributor. Half the attendees dab their eyes with a hanky in time to the sweeping music and black-and-white photos fading into one another, while the others stifle yawns because they're too young to know who this venerable figure is.

But I think everybody can get behind the Conflux recipient of Vorthos's Choice. The award goes to:

Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

I was going to have a set of nominees for this category, too, for you to vote on—but Nicol Bolas casually took control of the other nominees' minds, ripped out their sentience, and left them drooling drones. That kind of campaigning tends to have a powerful effect on a selection committee. So Bolas it is.

It's hard to think of another recent set that was so flavored around the actions of one figure, and of a card that so thoroughly encapsulated the flavor themes going on in the set. Many expansions have a "face of the set," a piece of art that is the go-to showcase for what that set is about—and Nicol Bolas is indisputably it for Conflux. Not only that, but Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker marks a new branch in the evolution of planeswalker cards, the "planeswalkerization" of past creature-based characters in their newly available proper card type. Therefore we award Vorthos's Choice to the well-deserving ancient dragon planeswalker.

I hope you take time to vote (at least, for the categories that Nicol Bolas allows you to vote). I'm eager to see what wins in each category! Tune in next week to see the results.

    Letter of the Week

Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "Jund's One Rule":
I have been looking forward to the Conflux release for two reasons: Bloodhall Ooze and Gluttonous Slime. I have a nigh disturbing relationship with every ooze yet released, but am plagued with one question: will there ever be a white or blue ooze? I have wracked my brain thinking of ways for this to be true to flavor, and cannot think of anything that wouldn't be better suited by a shapeshifter or licid. There is an aching hole in my gooey, ooze-infested heart, and its name is/will be Ooze Control. Do you think the flavors will ever be resolved?

Ooze Control. The best name for anything ever? Possibly. Jenny, I share your love for the Ooze subtype and its bearers—various slimes, goos, and plasms. Our Spengleresque fascination with these form-challenged organisms stems from a primal part of the mind, possibly the cereblobbum, which I am pretty sure is a real thing and not a bowl of alphabet pudding, and against which we are powerless.

Ironically, it is mindlessness which appears to be a crucial part of the flavor of an Ooze. Certainly oozes' most common trick is to change power and toughness, sometimes by gaining or losing +1/+1 counters, and sometimes by tracking some other quantity (like mana in your pool or creatures suddenly devoured). This has happened throughout green, red, and black. But as you mention, changeling/mistform shenanigans aside, almost no Ooze has been white or blue—and I think it's partly that mindless flavor that keeps them out of those colors.

Blue is the most mindful color of all. Just about everything it does, it does with careful, cerebral forethought. Indeed, blue would probably be happy not doing much in the way of action at all, and instead sitting around and thinking all day. An Ooze is pretty much the opposite of this—an Ooze is all action, no thought. An Ooze eats and grows—and even shrinks—often uncontrollably. Not very blue. Certainly blue creatures change shape, but more as a way of deceiving or controlling its own form—not Oozy. The exception is Experiment Kraj, which is sort of a Simic guild-lord gone wrong—an Ooze that accretes size as well as abilities in a slightly shapeshifter-ish way.

White creatures can change power and toughness, too, but white's problem is that its community-centrism flavor gets in the way. Whenever a white creature gets bigger over time, it often gets tied to other creatures, like Kithkin Rabble, or life totals, like Serra Avatar. This kind of flavor lends itself better to humanoid concepts—groups of kithkin, or big angels—so the cards get concepted as non-Oozes. If Lorwyn weren't a tribal set, I could kind of see Veteran of the Depths as an Ooze, but of course it kind of had to be a Merfolk! I don't think it's impossible for there to be a white Ooze—maybe if there were some cycle that demanded it. But for now, we'll have to settle for Dragon Blood'ing our Avian Changeling and calling it an Ooze Missile.

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