The release date for Journey into Nyx is Friday. If you're lucky, you were able to hang out at a Prerelease and play with the cards. I had my first Star City Game Center Prerelease experience and had a heck of a time in the midnight flight.
I've also had the complete Journey into Nyx card list for a while (and while I'm on the topic, don't forget to preorder your singles here), so I've had plenty of time to think about the flavor of Journey into Nyx, not only in isolation but how it fits into the whole Theros block. Journey into Nyx hits some great flavor notes (Midas! Atlas!), leaves some unresolved (no Achilles! no Persephone!), and gives a partial answer to how the story of Theros ends (in Deicide).
Before I jump into my flavor review of noteworthy cards, it's disclaimer time.
I contributed creative text to Born of the Gods (but not Journey into Nyx) and had access to Theros block's style guide in advance. I had no specific foreknowledge of cards in Journey into Nyx. For sets where I have advance knowledge of the contents, I am ineligible to play in events from that set's Prerelease through its Game Day.
On with the show!
Aegis of the Gods - Right of the bat we have a new artist: Yefim Kligerman. A recent grad, he's a concept artist with a lot of spice. His Aegis of the Gods and Harness by Force fit in smoothly with the rest of Journey into Nyx. Those with more advanced art training might have quibbles, but if he's this good when he's this new, there could be some awesome art in store over the next few months.
Akroan Mastiff - So the safety of Akros was never in doubt, eh? This one will be more jarring to those who read beyond the cards (Uncharted Realms, eBooks). For someone who doesn't know about the Siege of Akros, the flavor text probably just sounds cool.
Deicide - This card doesn't answer every question about the end of Theros block, but it's pretty clear that Xenagos, God of Revels is no more after Elspeth delivers a spear to the chest. Telling block story through cards is a delicate balance. Too much and the result is the Weatherlight saga, which was nearly all plot and little setting. Too little and there's Dragon's Maze, which sets up a race to be run and doesn't even tell who won. I like the note struck here.
Dictate of Heliod - With a career stretching from Force of Will to Dictate of Heliod, Terese Nielsen is one of the longest-tenured Magic artists. She's also among the most distinctive active illustrators for the game, occupying the "traditional medium, personal style" niche long held by Rebecca Guay. Most of Magic's current player base has never been around for a new set with new Guay artwork (her last active block was Lorwyn-Shadowmoor), and Nielsen has filled the vacuum.
Godsend - The pun in this card's name—it's a gift from Heliod, thus a "god-send," and it's going to kill Xenagos, thus a "god's end"—is untranslatable, and in other languages the translators went different directions. The French name of the card, Don du ciel, is "a gift from the heavens." The Italian name, Nemesi degli Dei, is on the less friendly side.
Launch the Fleet - The history of Greek warfare is littered with naval battles, but most famous is the start of the Trojan War, when the abduction of Helen of Troy made her "the face that launched a thousand ships" (in Marlowe's words).
Aerial Formation - In Evan Erwin's Journey into Nyx complete set review, he proclaims this picture of Thassa "ugly." Me? I think Thassa just came back from a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show(and you know Thassa brings the water pistol). She just wants to unwind after a night dressed as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and these nasty soldiers brought an Aerial Formation to her turf.
Daring Thief - The flavor text is a spin on a long-used saying: "In war, truth is the first casualty." It's been attributed to Aeschylus, but that's probably bogus. (As an aside, should cards from Theros block make their way into future core sets, the ancient Greek writers would be excellent sources of real-world flavor text!)
Riptide Chimera - While Elspeth's three-word flavor text on Deicide—"it is done"—comes across as simple and elegant, Kiora's "I want one" sounds more petulant. It fits her personality but might have succeeded a bit too well.
Thassa's Ire - Moral of the story: sometimes you really don't want to meet a god. Flavor text this idiomatic wouldn't have worked in Theros or even Born of the Gods, but players who have experienced the world of Theros for months will get the reference. (Future players are another story.)
War-Wing Siren - The more Magali Villeneuve art I see, the more I'm impressed. This illustration fuses Greek myth and Magic's "mage punk" ethos in a way I haven't seen before.
Agent of Erebos - This card, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and Golden Hind are the first Cyril Van Der Haegen illustrations for Magic in a long time. Mr. Van Der Haegen has been battling cancer—StarCityGames.com helped raise funds in 2012—and it's heartening to see him back in the Magic art rotation.
Bloodcrazed Hoplite - This is Jeff Simpson's first (and so far only) illustration for Magic. The Canadian concept artist's debut, a startling image of a soldier possessed by Slaughter God Mogis, makes me want to see more of his work.
Brain Maggot - Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew.
King Macar, the Gold-Cursed - That overstuffed text box makes me think that the "may" ability was just a substitute for "exile target creature other than King Macar, the Gold-Cursed." Unfortunately that also affects the flavor of the card. The whole point of the curse is that it's not optional!
Ritual of the Returned - I love this top-down design. The whole flavor behind the Returned is that they give up their identities to escape the Underworld, and the card mechanics reflect that perfectly. (Also, who else wants to cast this on a Death's Shadow or Phyrexian Dreadnaught?)
Spiteful Blow - On close examination, this card art depicts the fist of Phenax slamming down on some unfortunate souls. At first glance, I saw a different body part, as did several other people. As this site is PG rated, I shall say no more.
Bearer of the Heavens - I've seen this rant elsewhere, but I'll add my voice. How is this card not mythic? It's a giant that literally holds the heavens on his shoulders. Hythonia the Cruel was mythic, and this card isn't. My sad meter just flickered.
Blinding Flare - Another new artist: Evan Shipard. He's Australian and clearly talented, as a glance at his site shows. Only one piece of art is a bit weird, but he blends in well with the rest of Magic's look.
Gluttonous Cyclops - A classic case of a really cool flavor text idea not quite getting there in execution. Maybe I'd buy the shepherd-fruit comparison more if it weren't a cyclops "learning" it?
Pensive Minotaur - An amusing little oxymoron of a card. Incidentally, has anyone been able to put the various pieces of The Theriad in order? It's defeated my puny little brain thus far.
Dictate of Karametra - Noah Bradley has been one of the most consistent artists in recent Magic history, hitting repeated home runs. The art on Dictate of Karametra is at once grand in scope and surprisingly intimate.
Golden Hind - Part of me wonders if this art was commissioned specifically for Theros. The trees don't match what we've seen elsewhere on Theros, and the overall vibe is different. If so, I'm glad the piece found a good home.
Market Festival - Setessa isn't strictly anti-male, particularly on market days when people from outside the community come to sell their wares. The composition of the art is a bit odd though; it took me a couple of looks to realize that there's a hand in the top right of the image!
Nature's Panoply - John Avon's Magic contributions have been sparse lately—his only prior work for Theros block was Lightning Volley—so this piece in Avon's signature style is a treat.
Renowned Weaver - German concept artist Yohann Schepacz debuts with this card and the Spider token it creates. I was wondering if Theros block would get around to an Arachne reference, but the Renowned Weaver delivers.
Multicolored, Colorless, & Tokens
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes - Magic's favorite furball has tapped into his chill side and is teaming up with Elspeth to take down Xenagos. I'm a little worried for Ajani though—just ask Obi-Wan Kenobi how safe it is to be a hero's mentor.
Athreos, God of Passage - My pick for the best god art of the block, and one of the most flavorful designs in the pantheon to boot. A+ work.
Deserter's Quarters - I don't think anyone's walking out of the Deserter's Quarters. The bronze bull is a reference to a semi-mythical torture and execution device that may have been used by a Greek tyrant.
Hydra token - Mental Note: Keep my precious unicorns away from baby hydras.
Keranos, God of Storms - As it turns out, Keranos is the closest in the Theran pantheon to thunderbolt-hurling Zeus. It's another sign of how Wizards changed up Greek myth and didn't just do a by the numbers copy of the source material.
Mana Confluence - In geography, a "confluence" is where bodies of water meet—in this case, the mythical rivers of the Theran underworld. The word's metaphorical meaning makes the card sound like an enchantment, but its literal meaning is all land.
Minotaur token - Craig J. Spearing isn't a completely new artist to Magic since he made his debut with Putrid Leech in Duel Decks: Jace vs. Vraska, but this will be the first chance for many players to see his work. Oddly enough, the Minotaur tokens don't say they have haste, while the wording on Flurry of Horns clearly suggests the creatures themselves having haste.
Zombie token - A cool "storytelling" token that's significantly less creepy than the Theros child zombies of why did I remind myself of those things?
Talk To Me
What's your favorite flavor in Journey into Nyx? Do you like how the block came together?