Today I have some mini articles from here and there in the Magic universe for you that are heavy on the Vorthos.
The Alternate Past, Present, & Future In A Card’s Gatherer Comments
Moriok Rigger was the original Rigger in Magic’s history, though he was printed as a Human Rogue and didn’t get his third creature type until after the printing of Steamflogger Boss. As two-card combos go, Moriok Rigger and Steamflogger Boss are pretty low impact.
Of course, that’s the closest Steamflogger Boss gets to a combo piece or even a lord, as "Contraption," specifically labeled a new artifact type in the card’s sole Gatherer ruling, does nothing at all. "There are currently no artifacts with this type. And there’s no current game meaning of ‘assemble.’"
The only other card with the word contraption in Magic is Kongming’s Contraptions, which is white, count as a Human Soldier, and will never have an interaction with Steamflogger Boss except in the world’s weirdest game of Commander.
Steamflogger Boss isn’t the most popular or popularly hated card from Future Sight. (Tarmogoyf says hello.) Nonetheless, it’s acquired a cult following of fans that just won’t let go. Mark Rosewater said rather memorably, "Let me go on the record: I hate this card. Hate, hate, hate it! I tried to have it killed at every possible turn."
What Mark Rosewater hates, they love. In the card’s Gatherer comments.
I read all of them earliest to latest. The conversation evolves from "what does this do?" and "hey, Lorwyn’s Changelings are Riggers!" to "this could’ve been a Tarmogoyf" and "Wizards, please make this card do something!"
Then things get seriously and awesomely weird.
Commenters start imagining other Rigger cards that assemble Contraptions. Then they start imagining decks. And metagames. The "Popular Comments" section is a beautiful distillation of the wackiness.
It’s like Magic folk art—an organic mashup of You Make the Card, the Great Designer Search, and I don’t even know what else. By the end, I was nodding along to comments like this one from Flingit, reprinted in all its glory:
I like the haste for the Riggers. In my G/R Big Rig deck (splashing Green for Minecrawler Wurm and Groundblast), I can immediately tap my Dormant Rigger, assembling six Contraptions! This guy’s haste can help me win on turn 5, even against mono-land control!
Turn 1: Wooded Mine. Tap for artifact mana, drop an Illusionist’s Fortification.
Turn 2: Mountain, Dormant Rigger.
Turn 3: Forest, Contraption Assembly. Dormant Rigger’s ability triggers. I get another three Contraptions.
Turn 4: Wooded Mine, this guy. Swing with Dormant Rigger for five.
Turn 5: Raw Tunnels, Hodge-Podge Rigger. Tap Dormant Rigger for seven. Hodge-Podge gets +1/+1 for all the Contraptions in play (fifteen by now) and swings through with his haste and trample for sixteen!
Not to be underestimated."
Like a Steamflogger Boss.
Steamflogger Boss, like the many other cards in Future Sight, was meant to show a future. Those futures ranged from "the very next block" (Mistmeadow Skulk, Graven Cairns) to "likely never." Of those never worlds, none feels truer to me than that of Steamflogger Boss.
In another life, that could’ve been my metagame.
Eunuchs & The Genius Of Portal Three Kingdoms
There are three cards in Magic that specifically refer to eunuchs: Corrupt Eunuchs, Control of the Court, and Eunuchs’ Intrigues. Since Western audiences generally aren’t clamoring for eunuchs in their fiction (yes, Varys fans, I see you), it was Portal Three Kingdoms, created specifically for the mainland Chinese market and not offered in North America at the time of its release, that brought eunuchs into the game.
At least Portal Three Kingdoms didn’t have guns.
For a set released in 1999, Portal Three Kingdoms feels surprisingly modern in its color pie expression. Three colors exhibit some desire for either order or control: white, blue, and black. These three colors corresponded to the titular Three Kingdoms.
Shu was assigned to white for its association with nobility and virtue. The Wu Kingdom was accorded blue because wisdom and brilliance are the hallmarks of its political and military elite. The Wei Kingdom went to black, as its ruler Cao Cao comes across as villainous in the most commonly read version of the book Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
The other two colors, red and green, represent neutral or chaotic forces. The Yellow Turban or Yellow Scarves Rebellion overthrew the Han dynasty, said overthrow precipitating the Three Kingdoms period. The cards associated with the Yellow Scarves Rebellion are therefore red. Also red are the eunuchs, who in the telling of Three Kingdoms corrupted the Han dynasty court and made the united kingdom weak enough to collapse.
"Whenever an opponent chooses a creature in play, he or she can’t choose [this card]." It’s old wording to be sure, but it’s also hexproof to the letter. After hexproof became an evergreen keyword with the arrival of Magic 2012, those two Portal Three Kingdom cards had their Oracle text changed to match. Sorry, Troll Ascetic and Leonin Abunas. You weren’t the original hexproofers after all.
That’s why he’s so angry!
Straw Soldiers also received a creature type upgrade, being made a Scarecrow Soldier for obvious visual reasons. Unlike the hexproofers, it is not the oldest creature of its kind because there also was a Scarecrow in The Dark. Its name?
Jaya Ballard & Her Successors
As a flavor text aficionado of a certain, ahem, Magical vintage, Jaya Ballard is one of my favorite characters. The quip-happy fire-wielding Task Mage was one of the defining personalities of Ice Age block, Alliances in particular, and her words lingered on until Tenth Edition, the core set released immediately after Time Spiral block.
After the introduction of planeswalker cards in Lorwyn, Chandra Nalaar took over the "red mage" slot and tried her hand at a couple of quotes from Incinerate, though her style of snark is significantly wordier than Jaya’s.
Chandra isn’t where Jaya was as far as quips go, but she did—indirectly at least—learn from the best. According to the Planeswalker novel The Purifying Fire, Chandra studied the art of burning things at Keral Keep on the plane of Regatha, which got its start after Jaya Ballard made a visit to the area. Insofar as there would be classes at a facility revering individual choice, verbal "burns" seem an appropriate lecture topic.
The last flavor text credited to Jaya Ballard, at least as far as first printings go, was on fast mana friend Simian Spirit Guide from Planar Chaos, the same set where Jaya Ballard received her long-awaited card. For those Vorthoses who know Jaya only from her frequently reprinted burn spell quips, "all my spells smell like burnt hair lately" might just seem like another of her lines, but there’s a deeper history.
During Jaya’s mercenary days, she had to defend a settlement of elves from an army of smart and malicious gorillas. (At one point the gorillas were going to be the focal point of the Alliances set, and certain disagreements manifested themselves in petty yet hilarious fashion.)
To keep a long story short, Jaya doesn’t like apes.
Because Simian Spirit Guide (and Jaya Ballard, Task Mage) were printed in Planar Chaos, the middle set of a block designed specifically to mess with timelines, there are a couple of different interpretations that are plausible for Jaya’s quote on SSG. Is the voice Alternate Jaya, maybe not in league with the apes but not hating them either? Or are these the words of sweet revenge?
Other red-aligned characters tried to take the mantle of "Master of Snark" between Jaya’s storyline departure and the arrival of Chandra Nalaar. One of my favorites appeared on only two cards in just one set, but darn if he wasn’t funny. Meet viashino technician Whip Tongue.
Back in the days of Urza block, the card flavor text was tied more closely to the overall storyline. Once Whip Tongue or his analog was out of the storyline, he wouldn’t appear on any further cards, and maybe Wizards of the Coast just decided not to continue with him. It doesn’t help that Impending Disaster is largely an unfun card and won’t be given a Modern-legal printing for years if ever.
Some people see great card art and feel sad it was "wasted" on a less than powerful or otherwise out of favor card. I do the same thing with flavor text.
#MTGStories: The Magic Mom Meets All The Pros
Like most other Magic players, I have my socialization groups when I go to tournaments. Beyond my friends and acquaintances, though, I have a few strangers I like to meet. They don’t play in the events. They sit in the hall or just outside it, reading a book or working on a project while waiting for their children.
They are the Magic moms. (And dads and other relatives, I’m sure, but I see moms most often.)
In my earliest tournaments, my mother was a Magic mom. For my first few tournaments in the Midwest before she felt comfortable dropping me off and doing something else for the day, she’d find a seat and make herself at home with her crocheting or a Cat Who… novel.
Every once in a while she’d hold a bag or a deck for a competitor. It astounded her (and me!) that people were willing to trust a complete stranger with their Magical valuables, but she was there and could help so she did.
The last time she did the "ensconce herself by the door" thing was at Grand Prix Dallas in 2007. I’d just moved down to Texas and wasn’t sure how I’d get to the tournament, which was held in the suburb of Grapevine. Mom was missing me. I was missing her. We made the Grand Prix a reason to meet up for the weekend; Saturday I played, checking in with her, and Sunday we spent together.
After a few rounds, I went to visit her and found her surrounded by bags. Um, Mom?
She reassured me that she was just watching some stuff. A gentleman came up, collected his gear, and thanked her. She was definitely in her element, chatting with people and feeling useful, so I gave her my update and wandered off for some more fun.
It wasn’t until supper that night that she told me about the shy young man.
He was standing a bit away my mom said, like he wanted to talk to her but wasn’t sure. She smiled and waved to him, and he smiled back anxiously. Then his eyes lit up, and he dashed off. A moment later he returned in the company of a friend. The friend listened to the shy young man and translated:
"Would honorable mother of honorable competitor please watch my bag?"
I did a double take. She’d spoken to a Japanese pro? One of my big reasons for going to the Grand Prix was the chance to meet international pros, and I’d struck out all day.
Yep, she said. Japanese.
Was it Kenji Tsumura? Shuhei Nakamura? Tomoharu Saitou?
She didn’t know. She didn’t ask his name.
Had she met anyone else?
Well, there were the nice Frenchmen, and a couple of friendly Brazilians . . .
She didn’t have names, but she had nationalities. As she went on with glee about the people she’d helped and where they were from, I poked a chicken finger into honey mustard sauce and smiled. I’d gone to the Grand Prix to try to meet Magic pros, but my mom was the one with the perfect tech.
Do you have any "Magic mom" stories to share? Did you like the mini articles? Let me know!