The Real Story Behind Scourge
Another third of a year, another set release. As promised, Scourge delivered a powerful punch in the area of the storyline. J. Robert King's novel, though not ending with as big of a bang as I had expected, nevertheless did justice to the powerful title Scourge. However, if you want to know more about the story, you'll have to check my next article - for this article, dealing with the flavor texts of the Scourge's cards, will give you very little information. (However, be warned that I'm not holding back in the area of spoilers, so if you want to read the novel yourself without ruining the ending, come back to this article when you're done.) Why's that?
Well, Wizards totally dropped the ball on the cards, at least in terms of the storyline.
Personally, I feel that Scourge has a strong story to tell, at least in the scheme of Magic. However, the cards do not do the novel justice. The flavor texts in Legions supported the storyline to some extent, although there was also a great deal of supplementary information not covered in the novels. Even though Scourge doesn't add anything significant to the Scourge storyline, it certainly does not support the story put forth by J. Robert King. The flavor texts appear to belong in Eighth Edition, not Scourge. They are bland, boring, and weak - especially in the wake of the strong pool of ideas in the novel.
Now, I really have nothing against general flavor texts - as long as they're supplemented by the storyline. To me, the storyline is what sets the basic edition from the expansions and what separates one set from another. Disenchant is a general spell that anyone can cast. However, in the context of Onslaught, Naturalize can be interpreted in context of the Mirari making the Krosan Forest grow beyond its previous boundaries. When you put a spell in an expert-level expansion, you allow it to grow beyond the restraints of a general edition.
Take Faces of the Past, for instance. Not all cards need to reflect part of the storyline - in fact, doing just this was met with harsh criticism during the Tempest block. However, this opportunity was horribly botched. See, perhaps the absolute coolest part of the novel occurred when Karona was in search of another being like herself. She contacted individuals from all the colors, coming in contact with Multani, Fiers (a Dwarf god), Ixidor, Teferi, and Yawgmoth!
Now, these encounters would be perfect for a card called Faces of the Past. Instead, we get a picture of someone I don't recognize with the flavor text,"The ties that bind can also strangle."
What the heck does that mean? More important: What's the significance? Ten seconds after seeing this card, the average player is going to forget. However, a flavor text and picture reflecting seeing those five characters from the past would stand out as one of the hallmark quotes of the set. Dropping the ball on Faces of the Past itself would be forgivable if the mistake were corrected on other cards of the set... But almost no cards reference the story at all.
That's not the deal. I quote Mark Rosewater in his article Bursting With Flavor:
"We are no longer trying to tell a story. The elements (the people, places, and things) will exist in the cards, but the game will make no attempt to explain how those items interconnect. The story will be left to the novels. Instead, Magic Creative is focusing on showing an environment. As you look through the cards in an expansion, you will be exploring the world presented in the cards. While trading card games may not lend themselves to telling a story, they are excellent at presenting an environment."
Now, that's all well and good, and the second part of that paragraph would seem to support the stance that was taken with Scourge. However, in Scourge's case especially, you cannot simply exclude the story from the cards because you don't want to"interconnect" them. In Scourge, Karona affected every sentient being on Otaria - not to mention that to leave that plot event off the cards is denying the defining part of the environment of that set. Without including Karona's effect on the world, the creative team at Wizards dropped the ball on portraying Scourge's unique environment.
However, not only were bland flavor texts used and the interesting storyline of Scourge ignored, but the Riptide project was continued and made important once again in this set. This is more of a criticism of the Onslaught block on a whole than of Scourge in particular, but the Riptide project really belonged in a novel. I mean, I think that the idea is awesome, and I wish that either J. Robert King had worked it into the Onslaught block books or that the idea had been saved for another block. It just seems that every idea should be experienced fully, and both the storyline in the Onslaught block and the interesting idea of the Riptide project were slighted by being represented by only one medium apiece.
Well, I suppose that's enough criticism. Let's take a look at the very few cards that do, in fact, relate to the Scourge storyline.
Rise once more, so you may continue to destroy our enemies.
-Karona, false god
This basically goes to show that Karona is a stick. Born of Zagorka, Phage, and Akroma, she is the ancient mother of the three sorcerers who once ruled the world. Her power is infinite, and she has a sense of morality that would be questionable if anyone dared stand against her. Well, as this flavor text shows, Karona does have a very small number of enemies, and she's willing to use a great deal of means to deal with them.
Rush of Knowledge
"Limitless power is glorious until you gain limitless understanding."
-Ixidor, reality sculptor
This flavor text relates Ixidor's part of the story. Given his powers by the ancient god Lowallyn, Ixidor became strong enough to create his own world. However, in Scourge, his power grew so much that he in fact transcended form and became Lowallyn. This quote refers to Ixidor's skepticism about wanting to get involved with Karona, especially when he realizes that Karona can do whatever she wants.
Once again, Kamahl felt the full force of the Mirari's pull, but he had learned much since the last time.
Here we have perhaps the only storyline-accurate card in the set: Kamahl has indeed learned much since last time he picked up the Mirari. In Scourge, he learns to control the Mirari instead of it controlling him. In fact, Kamahl has changed so much that I wouldn't have objected to another legend card made for him altogether. Something, perhaps, like this:
Kamahl, Otarian Savior
Creature - Legend
5: Put Kamahl, Otarian Savior into play. Use this ability only if Kamahl, Otarian Savior is in your hand or graveyard.
All creatures you control get +1/+1 for each legend in play.
Sacrifice all non-legend creatures you control: Destroy target legend.
This is a battle of gods; it is my heaviest shame that I may participate.
Karona, False God
Although this card didn't have enough room for flavor text, the rules text had plenty of flavor! Really, this cardboard representation is pretty close to the"real" Karona from Scourge. The way she plays on everyone's side and beefs up all her followers wherever she goes is just the way she lives on Otaria. Nicely done!
Well, those are the four cards that I feel deserve a highlight in this article. What did you miss from the flavor texts not included in the cardset? Check out my next article to find out!