Not copies of the card Last Word, though that’s some mighty fine flavor text.
I may or may not have quoted this flavor text in an interview for a game show.
No, I’m talking about last words, as in the last thing someone says or writes before dying. For example:
“Put that bloody cigarette out!” — Hector Hugh Munro, aka the writer Saki, right before getting shot by a
sniper during World War I.
“Tell my wife I love her.” — Probably a lot of people, but specifically my father.
Those are relatively clear cases. If they seem random, that’s part of the point. However much I might like to think I’d have something witty or eloquent to
say on my deathbed, it’s more probable the words “Legends of the Hidden Temple“ will slip from my dementia-guided lips.
When last words are really famous or catchy, particularly if they were spoken rather than written, it’s a safe bet they’ve been altered in transmission.
The American Revolutionary War spy Nathan Hale, hanged in 1776, has become legendary for his
supposed last words, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Were those his precise last words? Probably not.
Last words get even more complicated when there’s political, religious, or other reason to change them. King George V of Great Britain had his true last words suppressed for fifty years after his death.
While a joke of the time suggested that he’d dissed a certain seaside town with
his dying breath, in truth he’d cursed out his private nurse, though probably not
consciously. (One wonders what he would’ve said to
the physician who gave him a lethal injection so his death would make the morning papers
One of the most famous cases of conflicting accounts of last words comes from the New Testament. There are
three different versions of what Jesus said while crucified
among the four canonical gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I’ll stop there before the comments section turns into a slap-fight.
Please, no flame wars.
From simple statements to fiery speeches, last words have a long history in Western culture, and it’s no surprise that the form found its way into Magic’s
flavor text. In fact, last words (and their written cousins, the last letter home etc.) have become their own mini-genre. I’ll look at the “last words”
phenomenon in Magic from its origins to the present.
Ach! Hans, Run!
For longtime players, Saffi Eriksdottir and her warning to Hans may form the earliest memory of the “last words” flavor text. It wasn’t actually the first,
missing the honor by one set, but I can’t blame anyone who wishes to block out remembrance of Fallen Empires.
Last words of the “ironic” variety.
As popular as the line “Ach! Hans, run! It’s the Lhurgoyf!” might be, it…actually isn’t very effective.
Last words of the “mundane” variety.
Sure, getting gobbled up by a Lhurgoyf isn’t mundane at all, but what do the six last words of Saffi Eriksdottir tell us? There’s a Lhurgoyf, Hans should
run from it, and Saffi has a funky way with interjections. Big whoop. If Saffi were at a spelling bee and asked to spell Lhurgoyf, she’d ask for the word in a sentence, get that, and say,
“No, I meant a real sentence that would actually help me figure out how to spell the stupid word!”
Card name of the “Magic wishes it had this one back” variety. Also last words.
While Ice Age solidified the idea of “last words” in Magic, it wasn’t until Mirage that the dominant strain of Magical last words emerged: funny.
Yes, they can. Peace out, Imwita. Your fictional life led up to this moment.
also introduced multipart last words, of a sort, in the form of a “final journal” penned by one Scout Ekemet. Though more “last records” than last words,
the three cards quoting the doomed (and morbidly curious) scout supply an atmosphere of ever-spiraling doom.
Scout Ekemet seems…kind of impressed?
Just when it seemed the “last words” trope had established itself in Magic, its appearances fell off the proverbial cliff. Tempest block is woefully short
on it, while Urza block has only the “stupid is as goblin does” line on Viashino Cutthroat. Urza’s Legacy was released early in 1999, and for nearly five
years — a stretch including Masques, Invasion, Odyssey, Onslaught, and Mirrodin blocks — there’s a massive drought.
“When I was a whippersnapper, this is what we had for flavor text and we liked it!”
It wasn’t until 2004 that “last words”-style flavor text had a renaissance. October brought the release of Champions of Kamigawa, and before
players experienced the heartbreak that was Betrayers of Umezawa’s Jitte and Saviors of How Is This Even a Real Set and I Still Hate Kataki, War’s Wage, they savored the spoken and written last words of a few poor souls.
Goblin-worthy humor versus utter pathos. Did any of the Lost Battalion write a death poem?
Last words must’ve been on the brain at Wizards Creative at the time. Unhinged, released just one month later, paid two tributes to the phenomenon
among all the doltishness of the “gotcha” mechanic and the musings of Bucky,
flavor text writer
bitter Jaya Ballard wannabe. There was, of course, the card name “Ach! Hans, Run!” (quotation marks required on pain of my copy editor being furious with
me), but also the flavor text of the card Bloodletter.
On the left, a funny name. On the right, one Wizards wished it had back during Innistrad block.
The block after Kamigawa, Ravnica, also supplied a double dose of last words amusement, heavy on the amusement. The set Ravnica had Perilous
Forays, while Dissension offered Bronze Bombshell.
Detour in 3…2…1…
A Brief Bronze Bombshell Detour
This has nothing to do with last words, but I have no idea if I’ll ever reference Bronze Bombshell again, so here goes.
Bronze Bombshell, as a card, probably wouldn’t be made today. The innuendo (“bombshell”
is a World War II-era coinage for an objectified woman) started from the art direction on, and that’s not WotC’s style anymore. The term isn’t particularly
contemporary, either, and it probably went over the heads of a lot of English-speaking players.
Back to Last Words
No block since Ravnica has had more than one new entry in the “last words” genre, though examples still pop up from time to time. Arguably the longest
example in all of Magic’s history appears on Dreg Reaver, a common from Shards of Alara, which features an excerpt from the final written notes of
a Grixis fleshcrafter. The most Constructed-worthy example of last words by far is on the flip side of Delver of Secrets; Insectile Aberration is another
case of final writing, laboratory notes this time.
The most recent example and the only one in a Standard-legal set is Gorgon’s Head from Born of the Gods. Gorgon’s Head combines a clear reference
to an incident from Greek myth with the humorous-last-words tradition in Magic.
, the king’s name was Acrisius, not Igalus.
While last words as flavor text weren’t part of Magic at the beginning, they found a place early on and stuck in players’ imaginations. Even during times
of seeming drought, such as Invasion block, the spirit of last words came through even when they weren’t specifically called out as such.
Their golden days may be gone, but Magic’s last words will pop up as they’re needed as long as characters die. That makes it a pretty safe bet we’ll see
more of them in the game’s future.
What are your favorite last words, Magical or not?