Welcome to the Magic Origins Flavor Review! I'm John Dale Beety, the ringmaster of SCG's Vorthosian Circus, and today I'm taking a look at the newest set. While I haven't had the chance to play with the cards, owing to a commitment that kept me from Prereleasing, I've enjoyed the Card Image Gallery and the chance to review the latest cards from the Coastal Wizards.
I won't cover every card, mind you, only those that caught my eye for good or ill. This article also will be filled with more spoilers than a tub of potato salad left in the summer sun for six hours, particularly for the stories told in Magic Origins, so don't say I didn't say I didn't warn ya.
...and I'll write your name.
And now, Taylor Swiftly... to the cards! Just for fun, I'll work in reverse of my usual order.
Basic Lands - These represent the ten planes associated with the five Planeswalkers' stories, with two basic lands given to each home plane and landing plane by color (e.g. Islands are from Jace's home plane of Vryn and his destination Ravnica). Just like a certain writer called four weeks ago.
As usual, Noah Bradley did an amazing job with his Kaladesh Mountains, but what's the deal with having Jonas De Ro copy Lorwyn Forests in his own style?
I wish I were the first to notice this...and I wish I could remember where I saw it first.
Foundry of the Consuls and Mage-Ring Network - Both cards represent places not seen before, Kaladesh and Vryn. Foundry of the Consuls, interestingly enough, is one of the "story cards" for Magic Origins, something that rarely happened even during Magic's early, long-running Weatherlight storyline.
Alchemist's Vial - Lindsey Look is the rare Magic artist more familiar to digital players than paper ones. While her MTGO illustration of Lion's Eye Diamond is famous there, the Alchemist's Vial is only her second appearance in a Standard-legal set.
Guardian Automaton - That poor little girl! She doesn't look happy to be escorted by a metal machine, and in her shoes, I wouldn't be either!
Jayemdae Tome - Sure, it's a reprint, but it's great to see Donato Giancola art back in the Magic rotation.
Prism Ring - A witty flavor text pun for most of us, if not those ambidextrous.
Sword of the Animist - The art falls into almost uncanny valley territory with Nissa's face looking just a little too plastic for my taste.
Blazing Hellhound - Eric Velhagen's painterly style has its place in Magic, but I'm glad it's kept to small doses. I may like art styles outside the current Wizards norm, but I wouldn't necessarily want a whole set full of them!
Possessed Skaab - Holy heck, this card creeps me out. From the ghost-face in the tank to the macabre flavor text, this might be the best Innistrad card not actually printed in Innistrad block.
Zendikar Incarnate - Sometimes a rhyming name tickles my funny bone. Other times it makes me call the card "Zendikarnate" and go on with life.
Aerial Volley - This is Lake Hurwitz's sixth illustration for Magic and he hasn't disappointed me yet. Unfortunately, in today's climate of Magic art stardom it takes either a really famous card or a really attention-getting personality to become well-known and Lake hasn't had his break yet. Give it time, though, and more folks will appreciate just how good he is.
Conclave Naturalists - Say what you will about the "swords and wards" flavor text, I laughed.
Evolutionary Leap - Even though I can't quite figure out what's going on with this art (is that a snake or a tentacle?), I think I still like it.
Herald of the Pantheon - Take a bow, Jason A. Engle. Even if this card never gets broken in any Constructed format, the art's gorgeous.
Leaf Gilder - Now this is how Lorwyn is supposed to look - and by the late, great Quinton Hoover, no less.
One of the artists I never got to meet.
Mantle of Webs - Get your mind out of the gutter. There isn't room for both of ours.
Nissa's Revelation - A great use for digital art, emphasizing the utter wrongness of the Eldrazi Nissa found.
Timberpack Wolf - Really disappointing flavor text. What was wrong with stopping it at the end of the first sentence? The second truly says nothing more.
Valeron Wardens - Fun fact: artist Howard Lyon is deeply religious and does inspirational art in addition to his fantasy illustrations. I see a great deal of crossover in this piece, aided by the "storybook" feel of Bant.
Abbot of Keral Keep - The only illustration (so far) for Russian artist Alexander Deruchenko, here oddly credited as "Deruchenko Alexander." (I really, really, really hope he asked to be credited that way!) The piece itself is dramatic and captivating. I hope to see more from him.
Avaricious Dragon - Many folks have heard the phrase "waste not, want not" that this flavor text riffs upon, but few realize that it also puns upon different meanings of "want." The saying uses the older meaning "to lack desperately," whereas the Avaricious Dragon is more in "greedy desire" mode.
Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh - I have to wonder if this art wasn't the original intended for the card. Compare the other legendary creature faces; all of them have the character front-and-center. Chandra, on the other hand, is tiny in the frame.
Enthralling Victor - Ladies and gentlemen, your official man-candy of Magic Origins. The Goblin at the bottom right is what really sells it.
Ghirapur Gearcrafter - Another single-card artist debut, this time by Victor Adame Minguez of Mexico (and sorry about the lack of accents - I'd put them in if the programming supported them!). Not only is Mr. Minguez a gifted artist, he also self-identifies as a Magic player. He's one of us!
Pia and Kiran Nalaar - It's rare to see a couple on a single Magic card, much less one so obviously affectionate. Thumbs up!
Thopter Engineer - I can't even tell you why I love this illustration. I just do.
Cruel Revival - One of two cards in the debut of Magic artist Miles Johnston, the other being Jhessian Thief. He's young, he's talented, he's British, and he's our guest at Grand Prix London next month. If you're in attendance, please stop by his booth and support an illustrator making his GP debut!
Dark Dabbling - Another debut, this time for Bastien L. Deharme of France, an illustrator with a great deal of "edge" to his usual work. The atmospheric effects on this card and Sentinel of the Eternal Watch are a Deharme signature, and I'll recognize his future illustrations.
Demonic Pact - One of the most flavorful designs to see print this year, based off a long-ago You Make the Card submission.
Gilt-Leaf Winnower - Another unusual, flavorful design, this time focusing on unequal power and toughness.
Liliana, Heretical Healer / Liliana, Defiant Necromancer - Karla Ortiz is one of my favorite newer artists in Magic, and the sheer self-confidence needed to pull off both sides is noteworthy. She was up to the task as well, and I'm glad for it.
Rabid Bloodsucker - As long as the flavor text is - and yes, I've come to think of three-line flavor text as long - I don't see wasted words. Well done.
Revenant - The original flavor text was less of a joke than this weak, disjointed attempt at grandeur.
Touch of Moonglove - Also known as "Still Life with Flowers and Dagger." An oddly peaceful image, for all the death we know both could bring, and the more impressive for it.
Unholy Hunger - In my mind, everything was cool until the angel touched Liliana's hair. Then it was on. Unfortunately I can't include the "He Shot My Hair" clip from Spaceballs, but this is a family site...
Clash of Wills - Yet another Magic debut, this time by Yan Li of Montreal, Canada. Yan Li is a co-founder of OXAN, a concept art studio whose other co-founder was more established Magic artist Yohann Schepacz.
Separatist Voidmage - A bold piece of art that commands the eyes. On a common, unfortunately, and not a particularly good one, but at least it will appear often in packs.
Soulblade Djinn - I had a laugh at the flavor text, though now I'm wondering if a card could have the type line Artifact - Equipment Illusion...
Whirler Rogue - Another great piece of art from Winona Nelson.
Anointer of Champions - One of two cards in Anna Steinbauer's Magic debut. I don't have much to say about this piece, but I will talk about the other one soon...
Auramancer - Probably the last time Rebecca Guay art will be seen in a Standard-legal set. Cherish it, folks!
Blessed Spirits - And here's the other Anna Steinbauer art, on possibly the most controversial card in Magic Origins.
The art by itself isn't an issue; frankly it looks more like a digital 3D version of a Precious Moments figurine than anything else. Sure, some immature people in the community would make "block with the dead kids" jokes, but if it were paired with some long, droning flavor text from Mikaeus about the innocence of children that's as far as it would go.
Instead it has six words: "Not all heroes die in armor." And suddenly there's a hidden yet palpable story behind these two spirits that belies any cutesy tale; whatever they did, they didn't survive it. They may look happy now, but... yeah. Chills.
Enlightened Ascetic - I like how the art and flavor text come together to tell a story of someone whose belief (or anti-belief) is enough to suppress the starfield of the gods in the immediate vicinity.
Healing Hands - Another single-card debut, this time from Chilean illustrator Josu Hernaiz. Another well-done piece and another reminder that there are many, many more talented artists than there are pieces for Wizards to commission each year. The competition is fierce!
Kytheon's Irregulars - Note the subtle reinforcement of "Irregulars" by making the members different heights and body types - often in group shots of all men or all women, the figures will be extremely similar in build.
Relic Seeker - Another set, another gorgeous piece of Volkan Baga art. If I had a cap I'd tip it.
Tragic Arrogance - Maybe it's because I read the story, but of all the "story" cards in the set, this one has the most resonance for me. Excellent Winona Nelson art helps.
That's a wrap from me. Overall I'm really impressed with how well-done this set is. A few missteps, as there inevitably are, and one adorable and really controversial card, but I'm in a celebratory mood as a whole and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on a few cards on Friday!