Khans Of Tarkir Flavor Review!

Khans of Tarkir brewing and speculating is so…uncivilized. Pull up a chair by the fire for a moment with your host, John Dale Beety, as he takes you through the Tarkir viewing parlor. Try not to spill any brandy on the bear skin rug.

Howdy, folks. Mind if I put on a little music?

(Suggested listening: Moby-Dick; composerJake Heggie, librettist Gene Scheer)

Yeah, that’s the good stuff.

So, Khans of Tarkir, AKA Zendikar-kir, AKA…

I really hope there’s some curveball to the block structure that isn’t “oh myFlying Spaghetti Monster Tarkir is Zendikar” or some other wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff that’s been done before and better by many other media.
The Abzan having a perfect hedron in the middle of its banner (the only hard-edged straight lines in all the clan symbols), Sorin Markov seeking Ugin, Mark
Rosewater saying there’s time travel and he can’t talk about it
…there’s a lot of buildup, and I’m really worried the reveal will be underwhelming. At this point it’ll take something on the order of “Koth of the
Hammer is actually the reincarnation of the Lithomancer,” thereby unifying the unholy trinity of Phyrexians, Nicol Bolas, and the Eldrazi, for me to give
this absurdly telegraphed tale a thumbs-up.

Hey, he’s still alive. In theory, anyway.

For my take on the overall flavor of the various clans, check out my previous article, ” Khans and Consequences.” This article is for my take on
individual cards that caught my eye, for good or ill; the worst reaction I can have to a card is “meh,” because that means it never registered at all.


Abzan Battle Priest
– The diamond motif shows up in full force on this Chris Rahn artwork. I like the combination of the blank glowing eyes and the swirling fog.

Abzan Falconer
– I’m pretty hardcore as Steven Belledin fans go, but I had to check this art several times before I realized exactly what was going on (it’s at the top of
a tower and the falconer is seen through a crenel, or notch, in the parapet).

Ainok Bond-Kin
– Rejoice, dog lovers! The mean-kitty leonin have some company in the anthropomorphized battle-pet sphere. This ainok is lean and short-furred, befitting
the harsh desert environment the Abzan call home.

Alabaster Kirin
– Six lines for flavor text is a luxury in a non-Core Magic set. I’m glad someone used this chance for relatively compact worldbuilding.

Dazzling Ramparts
– Again, strong flavor text, this time in just three lines.

Defiant Strike
Anastasia Ovchinnikova, a concept artist working out of Montreal, makes her regular-set
debut with Khans of Tarkir. This art doesn’t really stand out, but on the other hand it doesn’t look different from the standard I’m used to seeing for

End Hostilities
– For an artist new to Magic (his previous illustrations were singletons in Conspiracy and M15), Jason Rainville’s had some high-profile assignments. His
M15 card was Stain the Mind, which could assume importance in future Standard, and now he has the premier white sweeper of the post-rotation format.

– Along with End Hostilities, Erase says “bleep you” to Theros block. All I can think of is that Wizards feared bestow getting out of control! Oh, and Zack
Stella keeps putting out cool art.

Feat of Resistance
– Debut for French artist David Gaillet (who does a lot of risque stuff, so no link for you). This art “blends in” with the rest, which is its own virtue.

Firehoof Cavalry
– Some artists just make themselves hard to find on the Internet. Newcomer YW Tang seems to be among them; there’s a plausible Twitter handle but no Tweets, biographical information, or links. I can’t even say YW Tang is
“he,” “she,” or some other choice of pronoun. As for the art, again, it blends in well.

Jeskai Student
– Another David Gaillet piece albeit one I like less. The student’s right arm is awkwardly positioned against the mountain backdrop. Add in the
foreshortened fist and it’s hard to see exactly what’s going on there without a lot of thought.

Kill Shot
– I’m not impressed by the name or the flavor text. “Kill Shot” might work in a core set, but it doesn’t fit the overall theme of Khans of Tarkir. In
addition, the statement in the flavor text is utterly unbelievable. If Mardu archers were that good, the Mardu would’ve conquered the whole plane long ago.


Mardu Hateblade
– This flavor text, on the other hand, I can get behind.

Mardu Hordechief
– Another new artist, the Norwegian Torstein Nordstrand. Once again, the art fits in without
standing out, but there’s a lot in Nordstrand’s gallery that I like.

Sage-Eye Harrier
– A rare example of flavor text (rather than a name) requiring an entry in theMagic Lexicon, but ” mandala” is the perfect word.

Seeker of the Way
– By Magic standards, the creative elements of this card are simple, but the cumulative effect is elegant.

– New artist Viktor Titov, a Russian living in Voronezh, has the first piece of art that really makes
me take notice. The flavor text is a match for the tenor set by the art.

Venerable Lammasu
– While I’m excited to see another Lammasu (Hunted Lammasu, you’re no longer alone!), I wonder why Tarkir needed this omen of “big things happening” in
addition to the kirin above.


Blinding Spray
– Not one of the better Sultai secrets, I take it?

– Say what you will about Cancel being no Counterspell, but it’s had some pretty cool art over the years, and this is no exception.

Disdainful Stroke
– The second part of the flavor text doesn’t fit the mechanics. If Disdainful Stroke exiled a countered spell it’d fit, but as it is, I would’ve used the
first sentence and called it a day.

Embodiment of Spring
– All the parts of this card come together to tell a story. I’m a fan.

Glacial Stalker
– It’s probably a good thing both this and Glacial Crasher are Limited fodder, because having them in Standard at the same time and both Constructed-worthy
cards would’ve been awkward.

Icy Blast
– Effective flavor text. Also, your obligatory ” and one thought crystallizes like an icy blaaaast…

Jeskai Elder
– Senior night at the disco is more fun when she’s on the dance floor.

Monastery Flock
– I always enjoy seeing new John Avon art. As for the flavor text, I’ll just put this out there…

Riverwheel Aerialists
– Speaking of wuxia films, suddenly I want to see a Riverwheel Aerialist master do the raindrop thing.

Scion of Glaciers
Titus Lunter is a new artist from Sweden. This art is pretty cool (pun intended) and reminds me of
Master of the Wild Hunt.

Set Adrift
– I love the flavor text — the Sultai don’t play — but I wonder why the Mardu emissary would be tied up so much and yet have his right wrist and hand
seemingly left free.

Treasure Cruise
– Someone was proud after thinking up this punning nickname. Someone had every right to be.

Wetland Sambar
– I get where the flavor text is going, but some of the words aren’t necessary. “Softly,” for instance…is there any other way to approach an herbivore?
Not to mention that “from his or her hand” sounds like game text, not flavor text.


Bitter Revelation
– A small bit of storytelling flavor text that works on its own and as part of a greater whole.

Dead Drop
– Effective art. As for the flavor text, well, if

a construct was so overused

that it got parodied all the way back in Unglued with Lexivore and its flavor text, maybe it should get a rest? Besides, how much more chilling would it be
to just have Sidisi say “Give them a diving lesson” instead?

– More storytelling flavor text. The difference between present-day storytelling text and the way entire storylines were shown throughout card sets is that
only the choicest moments make it onto cards now. (Among past offenders, Jilt stands out.)

Dutiful Return
– I’m not the first to make this observation, but the card’s official nickname is ” Carmen Miranda.” (It wouldn’t surprise me if Carmen Miranda were name-checked in the art
description.) Hats off to Seb McKinnon for this chilling illustration.

Kheru Bloodsucker
– I’ll never be able to un-see that. Well done. (Ugh!)

Murderous Cut
– Perhaps a serpent’s fangs would stab, but a dragon’s? I always put them more in the “bite you in half” category.


– The flavor text writer may or may not have been going for it, but the line has a strong Biblical parallel.

Rakshasa’s Secret
– This art is basically “Siegfried & Roy escapee doing bad things to Noah Bradley‘s mind.” It’d be hilarious if he actually was the model.

Rite of the Serpent
– Wow, this art is a blast from the past! It has a serious “mid-90s, freak-out-a-kid, get-the- Harper-Valley-PTA-upset” vibe.

– Love the name. It’s one of those where you’re surprised it wasn’t used on a terrible card two or three years into the game’s existence.

Unyielding K
– Assuming an orc would be intelligent enough to say this exact text, it’s an effective illustration of how the Abzan view family.


Arrow Storm
– A flavor text one-liner I would’ve been proud to write.

Bloodfire Expert
– Seems the rule of thumb is “efreet = red, djinn = blue.”

Bloodfire Mentor
– I get the flavor text’s connection with the art, but it and the mechanics just don’t mesh. It’s a zero-power creature!

Crater’s Claws
– A Jeskai monk asked a Temur shaman, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?
” To which the shaman replied, “What did the three claws say to the face?

Dragon-Style Twins
– They’re two sides of a single blade…and they each carry two blades. Is this some kind of enlightenment paradox or is it just another case of flavor
text that sounds pretty but makes no sense at all?

– Kev Walker is among the longest-tenured artists still working on Magic, and this old-school illustration, paired with clever flavor text, makes for a
Vorthos winner.

Jeering Instigator
– I love this art. The crown’s bigger than the rogue is!

Monastery Swiftspear
– I get where the flavor text is going, but I have to suspend a lot of disbelief.

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
– Let’s just take a moment to appreciate how much work Daarken’s put into Magic and how he’s defined Sarkhan’s character over the years with his art.

– I want to see how translators handled this flavor text, because the pun based on various meanings of “snapped” may not go across languages.

Trumpet Blast
– Zurgo sure talks a good game, doesn’t he?


Alpine Grizzly
– A callback to the days when the Sultai Empire was much larger, a theme also seen on Empty the Pits.

Become Immense
– Hmm…where have I seen this setup before?

Feed the Clan
– For multiple meanings of “companion,” I assume. New clan members have to come from somewhere!

Highland Game
– I keep seeing the character “Arel” mentioned. Will this character become more important later in the storyline?

Hooting Mandrills
– I love the informal “crocodile chow.” It’s just the perfect word here.

Incremental Growth
– The Abzan Houses, encapsulated in one image.

Rattleclaw Mystic
– The art is almost too busy with the flame on the hand, but it’s just on the right side of complexity. I expect I’ll be staring at her a lot once Standard

Savage Punch
– Instantly memorable over-the-top art. Jeremy Jarvis must’ve dropped an invisible microphone the first time he saw this one and Wesley Burt got himself
invited to a lot of Magic tournaments, if that’s what he wants.

Seek the Horizon
– Between this gorgeous aurora landscape and Brain Maggot, it’s pretty clear Min Yum can illustrate almost anything.

Trail of Mystery
– I’ll say this for the “dragonfire” morphs: they look way cooler than the eight-legged clay blobs seen on Break Open and other cards.


Abzan Guide
– Decent enough flavor text, if a bit derivative of the many other “guides” in Magic’s history.

Bear’s Companion
– Clearly a “summer shot” for the Temur, but a lovely illustration nonetheless. The flavor text has appropriate wit as well.

Crackling Doom
– …I think I’ll fear the lightning as well, if it pleases you.

Deflecting Palm
– This art is proof that one doesn’t have to show blood to be utterly gruesome.

Highspire Mantis
– There might be an ainok or two who’d be able to hear the mantis coming, if dog whistles are any indication.

Kin-Tree Invocation
– Am I the only one who sees a similarity between this depiction of a spirit and the “smudged” look of the eidolons in Theros block?

Narset, Enlightened Master
– Narset and her Abzan counterpart Anafenza both represent a seldom-seen Magic character demographic: women who are neither super-youthful nor crones;
Narset only looks thirtysomething (Jeskai age slowly). That, and the art for Narset is flat-out gorgeous.

Ride Down
– Do any members of the Mardu actually have hooves? I get what was meant by the flavor text, but it feels as if the word “horse’s” is missing.

Snowhorn Rider
– This flavor text is worth a chuckle or two. I like how everything else about it is so straightforward.

Sorin, Solemn Visitor
– I love Cynthia Sheppard’s approach to Magic art. She’s not afraid of making a man look gorgeous (compare this almost-bishounen take on Sorin against the
original Sorin Markov) but still plenty dangerous. I’d like to see the full-art version!

Surrak Dragonclaw
– So “halves of a bear’s head as shoulderpads” must be in fashion this year…

Utter End
– The flavor text of the set, for my money. To the point, haughtily dismissive, just an all-around winner.


Cranial Archive
– Volkan Baga’s made some of the most beautiful paintings ever to grace Magic; Mox Opal and Muzzio, Visionary Architect are but two of his creations. When
he’s set to painting something horrific, he brings the same skills to bear, and the results are not pre…actually, they are pretty. Still horrific,

Dragon Throne of Tarkir
– As I’ve seen written elsewhere, it’s kind of funny that it costs mana to sit in a seat. At least the equipped creature has defender to prevent a total
flavor fail.

Heart-Piercer Bow
– How would this theoretical bow even work? Wouldn’t it snap as soon as the first arrow was drawn? And “strung with
the wind itself” crosses the line between poetic and silly.

Lens of Clarity
– Yep, that’s a carnivorous mammal under there. Now drop the lens and run to the hills!

Witness of the Ages
– And now for some total randomness, let’s throw in a techno-golem! It’s arguably the most European-influenced card in Khans of Tarkir, though the deepest roots of the source material are (geographically) Asian.


Bloodfell Caves
– There’s an inherent tension in naming lands that doesn’t exist as often with other card types. The design space of lands is limited, but they’re
essential to each block. A name may be flavorful, as Akoum Refuge is, yet totally out-of-place in a setting such as Tarkir where it may be wanted again.

Bloodstained Mire and the Other Fetchlands
– Psst. Flavor text. I have a bone to pick with some of you. Clearly the flavor text was set up as a cycle with the obvious pattern, but some of these are
better than others. Wooded Foothills? You’re awesome. Windswept Heath? I’ll take it.

But Polluted Delta? Why “prevailed,” of all words? “Soared.” Where dragons once soared, their bones now sink.

Flooded Strand? There are these things called antonyms. “Slept” and “rest” aren’t even close to being them.

Bloodstained Mire? “Triumphed” and “molder” don’t connect. It’s not even wrong. “Where dragons once ruled, their bones now serve.”

This flavor text cycle feels like someone came up with a really good line and all the others were built off it, some by a person or persons who missed the

Frontier Bivouac
– Pronounce it “(Roy G.) Biv Whack.” I’ll hand it to the namer for a clever word and to artist
Titus Lunter for a great job with this card art and the basic lands matching the Temur wedge.

Nomad Outpost
– Ditto Noah Bradley for his work on the Mardu shard lands.

Tranquil Cove
– The obligatory John Avon landscape, gorgeous as always. Need something for him to sign at Grand Prix New Jersey? Crack those packs!


On behalf of our musical guests Zenditarkir, Time Spiralara, and Heath Windswept and the Fetchlands, this is JDB wishing you a good night. Best of luck at
the Prerelease…unless you get in the Sultai Brood’s way!