The Most Flavorful Cards in Khans Block

Posted in Ways to Play on March 3, 2016

By Cassie LaBelle

Cassie LaBelle is a freelance writer. When she's not at her keyboard dreaming up stories, you can find her playing with his cats, listening to records, or building yet another Magic deck.

You couldn't have asked for a better farewell to the three-set structure than Khans of Tarkir block. Present, past, and alternate present? Sign me up. I love the Eldrazi and I'm psyched to be spooked out by whatever horrors await me on Innistrad, but Khans of Tarkir was the Back to the Future of the Multiverse. It will always hold a special place in my heart because of that.

Shadows over Innistrad promises to be one of the most flavorful blocks since, well, Innistrad. But before we can learn to re-love an old world, it's good to look back at the world we're leaving and see the flavor we loved before. Nothing makes me anticipate the rush of a new set more than looking back and remembering the tingles I got the last time I entered another world.

I was asked to write about the most flavorful cards in Khans block, but I soon found it an impossible task. Khans was better at the small stuff than any block in history. I could ramble for days about Renowned Weaponsmith and Tasigur's bananas and the two slightly different versions of Thornwood Falls. Khans is flavor-geek nirvana.

So I turned to the community for help. I asked my Twitter followers, my Facebook friends, my playgroup, and the crew down at the local shop. I talked to dozens of people and ended up with a giant list of flavorful cards. They were all worthy of inclusion, quite frankly, but let's start with one of the undisputed best:

Alesha, Who Smiles at Death

There are times when the flavor of a card transcends a great piece of art, a poignant line of flavor text, or a resonant set of game mechanics. Alesha, Who Smiles at Death is one of those times.

I asked Emma Handy, a tournament grinder and Gathering Magic columnist, to tell me why Alesha mattered so much to her. These are her words:

I was speechless that Magic had so boldly crossed the proverbial line. Reading the dialogue "You tell me this? A human boy who thinks he's a woman?" for the first time sent a tinge of panic through me. At the time of its publishing I was presenting as male publicly and very few people actually knew of my plans to transition from a male to a female. I was afraid that before even coming out or "successfully" transitioning, I would have to see and deal with transphobia from within the Magic community.

I logged into Facebook and saw something that I never thought I would. I saw my friends standing up for people who were trans. I saw those friends standing up for a demographic I was a part of not because they "knew someone" but because they thought it the right thing to do without any kind of prompting.

Part of the reason I waited so long to transition was the incredibly negative connotation associated with transgender people. "The Truth of Names" passively brought a topic to light that hadn't really been discussed before and did it in a way that was far more positive than almost anything from a comparable brand.

Speaking from experience, one of the scariest parts of transitioning is worrying about all of the people you may or may not lose for making the decision to be true to yourself. Just seeing the overwhelming support for trans people that came from people in the Magic community was absolutely overwhelming, and I won't ever forget it.

Anafenza, the Foremost

In the lead-up to Khans, the thing that excited me most was the knowledge that we would finally get to meet the "wedge" clans. I remembered how important it felt when I first got to experience the Simic Combine, and I knew that there were people out there whose favorite color grouping hadn't been explored yet. Would Khans of Tarkir finally give green-blue-red and white-black-green mages their resonant homes?

For Rachel Stevens, the answer was yes. "It's a shame folks' opinion of the wedge was mainly negative due to a certain rampaging quadrupedal horned beast," she told me, "because the flavor was utterly fantastic. I loved the Krumar. I loved the Orcs that loved their newfound family. I loved that while blood was important, so were the families you made."

Crux of Fate

This is it—the, er, crux of the whole story. It's unbelievable how the whole narrative can be expressed so simply, so elegantly, but there you go. In one direction, clans. In the other, Dragons. No compromises. No easy choices.

I love that the Tarkir narrative didn't present this as a simple choice between good and evil—some things are better about the Dragons world, but not everything. That home Rachel found among the Abzan didn't really exist anymore, for one. "Gone were the Orcs," she wrote, "gone were the Krumar, gone were the ancestor spirits, all in favor of Dragon worship. I have retired my Abzan clan shirt for now, though I donned it one last time at the Dragons of Tarkir Prerelease with the goal of slaying as many Dromoka-brood Dragons as I could. I will remember my armored brethren, I will remember Anafenza, the Foremost and her Orc Krumar brother. I will remember the amber throne."

Dragonlord Silumgar and Silumgar, the Drifting Death

One of Tarkir block's most interesting flavor quirks was the ability to have two different versions of each legendary Dragon in play at the same time—one from the past, and one from the alternate present. Whenever they ended up on the battlefield at the same time, interesting things tended to happen.

Mike Haynes knows this firsthand. Back in March of 2015, he was playing in a PPTQ with a control deck that ran both versions of Silumgar. During a crucial Game 3, his board was being pressured by a Mastery of the Unseen that kept pumping out an endless stream of 2/2 manifest creatures. He had Silumgar, the Drifting Death on the battlefield, but it wasn't enough. A 3/7 flying Dragon is powerful, but it can't stop an army all by itself.

That's when Mike played Dragonlord Silumgar. Since Silumgar, the Drifting Death gives -1/-1 to all creatures a defending player controls whenever any Dragon attacks, Silumgar was able to team up with, er, himself in order to clear out the 2/2 tokens in a single hit. "It seemed like the legend rule should have applied here," Mike wrote to me, "but really, it was like in Back to the Future when Biff gave the sports almanac to his past self."

I couldn't agree more! Every time-travel story needs a good paradox or two, right?

Meandering Towershell

One of my favorite Magic community moments of all time happened last winter, during Fate Reforged preview season. The top of the Magic subreddit was full of threads dedicated to sweet new cards like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Soulfire Grand Master, and...Meandering Towershell. Apparently, the durdle turtle had been returned to the battlefield under our control tapped and attacking at the beginning of the next preview season! I can't have been the only one who loved this, because Meandering Towershell hasn't sat out a preview season since.

Narset Transcendent

If you attended Grand Prix Toronto last year, you might have run into a familiar Planeswalker meditating on the convention hall floor:

This is Erin Adams, and I was able to catch up with her a little bit later so we could talk about her experience cosplaying Tarkir's most enlightened master.

For Erin, it's all about the art. She's a big fan of Narset artist Magali Villeneuve, and she was in the middle of creating another Villeneuve-inspired costume when Narset Transcendent was previewed. She found the art so striking that she immediately stopped working on the other costume and decided to bring Narset to life. Erin used to study ninjutsu as well, so Narset's meditative attitude and affinity for the martial arts resonated with her on a personal level.

Believe it or not, Narset is only Erin's second attempt at cosplay. Narset was previewed in late February, and Erin knew she'd be attending Grand Prix Toronto in May, so she only had two months to get it done—no easy feat with a full-time job and two children. She'd been sewing and painting a long time, but the project pushed her into new creative territory. As you can see from the above photo, Erin's costume was ready in plenty of time for the Grand Prix. She even managed to play Magic that weekend, making Top 32 in the Super Sunday Series tournament.

Guess which Planeswalker she found staring up at her from the rare slot in one of her prize packs?

Savage Punch

I can't think of another piece of Magic art that became so iconic so fast. Savage Punch was one of the first pieces of art released at the start of Khans of Tarkir preview season, and it burned down social media like a house afire. We didn't know much about the Temur yet, but we knew from this card that they would be awesome—heck, Savage Punch is why I chose to represent Temur at the Prerelease.

Even now, Savage Punch is my enduring image of the clan. Ask me my favorite part about the Temur, and my first three responses will have something to do with Surrak KO'ing that dopey old grizzly.

Summit Prowler and Summit Prowler

If you attended the Fate Reforged Prerelease, you might have been lucky enough to nab an Ugin's Fate pack. Each of these special boosters contained two alternate-art cards from Khans of Tarkir or Fate Reforged, each highlighting an aspect of the plane reshaped by Ugin's survival.

Once Dragons of Tarkir came out, we were all able to experience the massive changes brought to the plane by the survival of the Dragons. While I love gushing over Ojutai and Atarka as much as anyone, my favorite way of looking at this shift is through a red vanilla common—Summit Prowler—that was printed in both Khans and Dragons.

At first glance, the cards are exactly the same—a vanilla 4/3 for 2RR with flavor text about yetis attributed to the Temur Hunt Caller. The artwork is the mostly the same, too—same horns, same pose, same rocks, same mountains in the background.

Oh—but what's that in the background of the Dragons of Tarkir art? Two circling Dragons! The flavor text has changed, too—in the Khans version, Nitula, the Hunt Caller warns her young warriors against hunting yetis. In the Dragons version, poor demoted Surrak encourages his striplings to hunt the yetis as tribute for Atarka.

Avid Magic player Seth Burn thinks Summit Prowler is the most flavorful card in Khans block for a slightly different reason: in Khans Draft, the card was a late pick because most decks didn't have access to double red on turn four. But Dragons of Tarkir was such a different world that Summit Prowler ended up being one of the most powerful commons in the set! The Yeti didn't change—the world around it did. What better way to experience the fickle nature of time travel?

And with that, it's officially time to say goodbye to Tarkir. Here's hoping we take a trip back someday. At the very least, I'll have to sneak a couple of Summit Prowlers into my Shadows over Innistrad decks. You know, just to see how they'd fit in.

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