When I heard the premise of Dragon’s Maze—contestants running through a three-dimensional maze for a fabulous prize—I thought to myself, “Hmm, where have I seen this before?”
Ah, Masters of the Maze, how retro are you? The “video game of the future” that required a huge monitor bank with joystick and soundstage set (2013 check: nope), involved a human avatar, and began the same year Toy Storywas released but had CGI on a cable-channel budget. It and Legends of the Hidden Temple(whose endgame setting was itself rather maze-like) were the stuff of my after-school dreams.
The Implicit Maze of Ravnica, of course, is defended by enemies far more dangerous than the Mirror Man or a temple guard. Those of us outside the walls of Wizards still aren’t sure that this isn’t one of Niv-Mizzet’s bizarre power plays, either (the Reddit decoding of the Guildgates’ hidden message notwithstanding). Nonetheless, we have a maze, we have runners, and only one will win. Sit back, eat a snack, and crack a pack. It’s Vorthos time…almost.
Full disclosure paragraph: I have contributed names and flavor text to an upcoming Magic: The Gathering set (not Dragon’s Maze). I also personally know an individual who contributed names and flavor text to Dragon’s Maze, Brendan Weiskotten. As of my writing of this article, I do not know exactly which names and text he contributed.
Ok, now it’s Vorthos time.
Colorless Cards, Colorful Critique (Artifacts and Lands)
Cluestone cycle: The art intrigues me, but the flavor text feels hit-or-miss. Azorius speaks of the sides of the triangle but ignores the circle in the middle, while the Boros Cluestone uses humor that feels at odds with the guild’s newfound militancy. The Izzet Cluestone, by contrast, illustrates the guild’s values (when there’s no right answer, creativity is a must), as does the Selesnya Cluestone. The Simic Cluestone “moves the camera” to show how the guild is viewed by others, the lack of a thank you to come before Rapid Hybridization’s You’re welcome. My personal favorite among the Cluestones, however, is Rakdos Cluestone. “Burn. Bleed. Enjoy.” Short and dangerous, it’s the perfect motto for the destructive hedonism of the Rakdos.
Guildgate cycle and Maze’s End: I’ll preface this by saying I don’t have formal art training, but from the gut? Wow. This may be the best single-set group of land art in the last decade, and yes, I’ll put Unhinged and Zendikar up against Dragon’s Maze. Cityscapes aren’t everyone’s favorite, but from the detail-stuffed Simic Guildgate to the early-John-Avon-like abstraction of Noah Bradley’s Boros Guildgate and the actual-John-Avon Orzhov Guildgate, I’m counting up how many of these are physical paintings (and how many I can afford to buy).
Unlike last time, when there was a tight cycle of flavor text, this group shows a mix of perspectives. Only Rakdos Guildgate touches on the Implicit Maze, in suitably creepy fashion. The Dimir Guildgate’s use of “unfurl” and “spreading stain” is technically correct, but because unfurl is used today almost exclusively for flags and sails, it jarred me. Maze’s End is an enjoyable top-down design, but part of me wishes it had flavor text, even if it were just one line.
A Case of Mono: Notable Single-Color Cards of Dragon’s Maze
Boros Mastiff and Lyev Decree: Both cards show Kev Walker’s tendency toward abstracted backgrounds. I consider the Mastiff’s “fog of war” more successful than the Decree’s, though the latter does have flavor text that evokes, for example, Harvey Silvergate’s Three Felonies a Day.
Haazda Snare Squad: David Palumbo’s found a sweet spot for Magic art that retains all essential detail at card size but has a loose and “painterly” look at full size. Because Mr. Palumbo also paints nudes, I haven’t included a link to his blog, but the interested and mature art lovers in the audience know how to use Google.
Riot Control: Another example of Ravnica’s fantasy city flavor, plus as good an insight as a human ever will get into a sphinx’s thought processes.
Mindstatic: Cute flavor text. I’ve come to appreciate the verbose pomposity that fits a few groups of cards, usually mad scientist and gloating evil villain types.
Murmuring Phantasm: Surprisingly candid flavor text from the Dimir and suitably chilling. This one gets the “wish I’d written that” seal of approval.
Runner’s Bane: Why doesn’t it touch Teysa or Emmara? (Foreshadowing!)
Uncovered Clues: Because Magic’s storytelling pattern through cards is now focused on vignette rather than plot, glimpses like this are all we’ll see of the Implicit Maze (without buying the e-book, of course).
Bane Alley Blackguard: I’ll preface this by saying I have a lot more sympathy for the struggle to create great flavor text now that I’ve gone through the process myself. That said, this flavor text just didn’t work for me. Every time I try to fix it in my head (deleting the first sentence, for example), it still doesn’t feel right. I get what it’s trying to do, but it feels…bloodless. It’s exposition instead of true monologue.
Hired Torturer: This card—art, flavor text, everything—has found the exact line between cheesy and creepy and is dancing on it like a Gore-House Chainwalker. I still can’t wrap my head around the “defender” part, though. Maybe he doesn’t leave the torture lab?
Worst. Roommate. Ever.
Punish the Enemy: Points for a rather chilling quote from Aurelia. The art’s not bad either.
Maze Behemoth: Everything came together for me on this card. It’s one of my favorite creatures of the set.
Mending Touch: The gift/given repetition bothers me here. “The gift of life must be free” is simpler, but I’m not sure it has the same impact. On the other hand, I like the art by Magic newcomer Karla Ortiz (who also excelled on Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts).
Phytoburst: I’ll call an Azorius check here. Why haven’t our favorite law-mages regulated this aggressive plant menace to apartment-dwelling society?
In general: I’m not as impressed with the guild champions as I was the guild leaders in Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash. Part of this is because they were made for mythic and then dropped to rare, with lots of shuffling of abilities and mana costs going on; Mark Rosewater has already told the story about how this flavor disconnect happened. I’ll give credit for owning up to the mistake, but on the other hand, I do have to lay out the criticisms that are due.
Emmara Tandris: The first Elf in Magic’s history to clock in at 5/7 is this legendary Elf Shaman. The Internet’s current Great Question: “What the heck happened that Emmara Tandris can kill a Craw Wurm one-on-one, no buffs?” This may surprise some people who know how hardcore I can be about Vorthos, but I’m not frothing at the mouth over Emmara Tandris. Mistakes and kludges happen, and it’s not as if a 5/7 Elf Shaman will drive players away from the game as, for example, broken Standard decks Ravager Affinity and Caw-Blade did. On the other hand, I will say Emmara Tandris ranks right behind this video from a French family film on the official List of Things Ordered by Sense Made.
Lavinia of the Tenth and Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts: They’re not quite as jarring as Emmara Tandris, but both of these Humans are 4/4 creatures, a violation of the usual guidelines. Teysa in particular has received an upgrade from her time as Teysa, Orzhov Scion, even though she’s a generation older and still using her cane. What Teysa lacks in physical mobility, though, she makes up for in strength of will. Do not underestimate her (in the Vorthos sense). While I’m not enthused by the 4/4 bodies, I’m a fan of both illustrations.
Melek, Izzet Paragon: I thought all wizards were weird. *ba-dmp-tsh* More seriously, does Rakdos Guildgate imply that Melek doesn’t get that far? It’s the last gate on the Implicit Maze route, and Melek doesn’t exactly have skin to leave behind.
Varolz, the Scar-Striped and Vorel of the Hull Clade: Unless I call them “Scar-Striped” and “Hull Clade,” I doubt I’ll be able to keep these two straight. Ok, Wizards, normally you do a great job, but what the heck were you thinking with these two guild champions? Not only do they start with the same letter, already a bad sign, but they share four letters total, V-O-L-R, in five- and six-letter names. Maybe everyone in Creative knew the difference after months of working with them. Maybe after months I’ll have some kind of mnemonic worked out. Until then, though, there’ll be a lot of grief over a problem that could’ve easily been corrected.
Blowing a Fuse
In general: I love the “fuse” concept and name—much more flavorful than “split cards” or “entwine,” I’d say. I could see fuse returning in the future, which is more than I can say for many keywords in Return to Ravnica (ahem, cipher).
Catch // Release: Check out the “possessed loxodon” eyes on Catch. For a small art box, it has a lot of personality.
Normally he’s a peace-loving vegetarian. That won’t help you tonight.
Protect // Serve: Is it just me or does this word pair feel more Boros than Azorius? Maybe old Ravnica Boros. New Ravnica Boros is more military than police, with Azorius taking over the police role.
Wear // Tear: Something went wrong with Wear’s art. We’ve had Wear Away, which at least looked like an artifact was eroding, but this is a just plain Smash. It makes no sense. Fortunately, Tear is as gorgeous as a Ryan Pancoast illustration should be and makes more sense in context.
For those gold cards that are neither guild champions nor Fuse keyworded. “Multicolore” is also a variant of the Louis Vuitton Monogram design created by Takashi Murakami for those who are into either luxury goods or contemporary Japanese art.
Advent of the Wurm: Simple but effective flavor text, a callback to the “Selesnya is gathering an army!” references earlier in the block.
Armored Wolf-Rider: Meanwhile, back in Ravnica, the wolves make growling speeches and take a vote. “We’re most of the power and toughness in this relationship! Elf Knight? How about Wolf Knight instead!”
Blaze Commando: An ax-crazy Minotaur Soldier with spikes on his gauntlets? Why yes, I think I’ll get out of the way.
Bronzebeak Moa: These flightless birds look just funky enough to make me smile. Well done, James Ryman!
Debt to the Deathless: If the art didn’t creep me out, the flavor text is there to finish the job.
Feral Animist: The flavor text is funny, but it has none of the bluntness of the Gruul. Without an attribution to, say, an Izzet experimenter, I have to assume the Animist is talking, and goblins usually aren’t that smart.
Korozda Gorgon: Dear bikini-top on Korozda Gorgon, you make no sense. None. Korozda Gorgon kills her enemies by making them look at her face. You, bikini-top, you by your very existence allow certain foes to be distracted from her face for an instant, resulting in possible accidental survival of the dorkapotamus ready to run a sword through your curiously exposed midsection. You make as much sense as a Wookiee on Endor. On the other hand, I do understand the collecting instinct.
Krasis Incubation: Wow. That is one creepy stare. Props to Marco Nelor on this one.
Legion’s Initiative: I wish this card had flavor text. Suddenly I’m contemplating the Draconic equivalent of “Come at me, bro!”
Maw of the Obzedat: “What do you mean, it’s not symbolic?”
Obzedat’s Aid: Abstract spell illustrations can be hit-or-miss. I can’t say exactly why this art appeals to me. “It fits.” That’s as close as I can come.
Render Silent: Another “wish I’d written that” flavor text. It really captures Azorius.
Showstopper: Twisted and wrong and hilarious. Both the card and art have become community favorites, and for good reason. (You sick, sick people.)
“I challenge you to a silly-off!”
Voice of Resurgence: Winona Nelson knocked it out of the park on this one. Her elemental is utterly fantastic—and the most natural thing in the world. I had an instant emotional connection.
Zhur-Taa Druid: I was following the flavor text right up to the end. There are cards such as Vesper Ghoul and Elves of Deep Shadow that involve the payment of life to get mana out of them. This card punishes the enemy when it taps for mana. If the finish had been “pain-free” instead of “without cost,” I would like it more.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this flavor review of notable cards from Dragon’s Maze. I’ve enjoyed the block from start to finish, and I hope you have too. As always, thanks for reading.
@jdbeety on Twitter
I am Gruul.
It’s the least popular guild in the standings and picked on by the rest of Ravnica…reminds me of my high school years.