by Bryan Hockey

This is a review of the flavor of the cards from Modern Horizons. It’s primarily based off the flavor text, but the card names and art factor in as well. We’ll start with the best ten cards, then proceed to the bottom twenty. If you’re wondering why there are twice as many bad examples as good ones, well, so am I.

Top 10

10. On Thin Ice

He cursed the wind. He cursed the cold. But by stepping on the ice, he cursed himself.

There was a time period where Wizards was obsessed with making every piece of flavor text a list of three things, with the last one being some clever turn. This easily lands among the best of those, with flavor text that perfectly marries the title, the art, and the mechanics.

9. Nature’s Chant

“Plant every sword. Embrace every soul.” –Trostani

This works with or without the quote, and is good enough to salvage the card’s mediocre art.

8. Bazaar Trademage

He traded a lamp for a scepter, the scepter for a ruby, and the ruby for a simple rug.

This is an example of exactly what flavor text is supposed to do. Neither the flavor nor the card’s art work well on their own, but they come together beautifully.

7. Shatter Assumptions

Rigid minds are the first to break.

The idea that discarding cards is an attack on one’s sanity has been a rich well of flavor since the game’s inception, and this card proves that it’s in no danger of going dry.

6. Cloudshredder Sliver

Forked tails rustled. Talons clicked. A lone sliver streaked overhead like jagged lightning, and the hive thundered.

I don’t even know how to resolve the massive gulf between this and some of the other flavor text that makes it onto cards. A writer clearly worked hard on this, while some others seem to have been scribbled on Applebees napkins during lunch time.

5. Icehide Golem

In colder climates, ice is more obedient than stone.

Whoever wrote this one needs to run a world-building seminar for the rest of the flavor team. Top notch.

4. Recruit the Worthy

For peace of mind, they mustered for war.

This does so much with so little. It tells us a lot about the priorities, history, and resolve of these people, all from less than ten words.

3. Impostor of the Sixth Pride

The tribe was as strong as his longing, their territory as vast as his isolation. The changeling knew he had found a home, and a form.

This set contains a few cards with flavor text in the theme that being a changeling is a lonely existence. On the whole, they’re fine, but this is a gem among them. It turns draft chaff into a memorable card worth owning.

2. Arcum’s Astrolabe

Though the Time of Ice has ended, its relics still slumber in New Argive.

This right here is solid. It adds to the card’s fiction. It provides some context for the name “Arcum” which new readers can pursue, and older readers can remember. This card is greatly improved by the inclusion of this flavor text.

1. King of the Pride

“Glorious, to walk again across the savannah with my beloved.” —”Love Song of Night and Day”

The “Love Song of Night and Day” is among the pinnacle of Magic’s story-telling history, from a time when they were willing to take risks with their storytelling. Seeing it recalled here warms my heart.

Bottom 20

20. Pillage

“The embers of our homes still smolder, and already the villages of Kjeldor burn in retaliation. What they have started, we will finish.” –Lovisa Coldeyes

This was great until I got to LOVE IS A COLD EYES.

19. Sunbaked Canyon

Since the river ran dry, travelers wander where the fish once swam.

The idea here is alright, but it clearly never got the editing pass it needed. Since the river ran dry sets up an event in the past; the independent clause should then describe the period from that event up until now. Except the verb form is “wander” instead of “have wandered.” That means that “since” here does not mean “Ever since,” it just means “because.”

Because the river ran dry, travelers wander where the fish once swam.

And that is just terrible. It seems like the travelers are specifically following old fish trails or something rather than just following the canyon carved by the river. The good news is now that we have a construction that isn’t trying to be two things at once, it’s easy to fix: just drop the dependent clause entirely.

Travelers wander where fish once swam.

18. Cunning Evasion

“Begin with your escape and work backward.” –Way of Secrets

I asked why this was a quote. I told myself that it must be that the Way of Secrets appears on other cards, and we’re building out that fiction. So I searched on Scryfall; no other card mentions the Way of Secrets at all, meaning that the author just didn’t have the confidence to leave it here without the quotation marks. Another easy fix once we remove what isn’t necessary:

Begin with your escape and work backward.

17. Ayula’s Influence

Ayula’s runic clawmarks ensure her territories are never left defenseless.

The fact that it’s “territories” and not just “territory” implies she’s got some sort of coalition government made up of multiple independent nation-states. I really hope that’s intentional, and the next expansion is just a bunch of depowered ‘walkers getting their shit wrecked by a pile of bears.

16. Reap the Past

The ground cracked and unleashed a thousand years of history at once.

This is a sorcery card; of course the event takes place all at once. There’s no reason to qualify that in the flavor.

The ground cracked and unleashed a thousand years of history.

15. Dismantling Blow

“What cannot be destroyed will be bound, but do try to destroy it the first time” –Rem Karolus, Blade of the Inquisitors

This is just noise, and it doesn’t make sense with the card.

14. Savage Swipe

Nine generations of metalworking skill are no match for nine hundred pounds of rage.

Yeah, unless, you know, one of those generations made a spear, or some arrows, or a fence. Even if you ignore that, this is still boring flavor text on a card with a boring name. It’s like they don’t want you to remember it.

13. Collector Ouphe

“He steals power from treasure after treasure, and what does it do for the ouphe? Nothing.” —Jhoira

This is the opposite of what happened with Lava Dart. There’s no reason for this to be a quote, and the card suffers for it.

He steals power from treasure after treasure, and what does it do for the ouphe? Nothing.

Closer, but we can do better.

He steals power from treasure after treasure, and what does it do for the ouphe?

There we go. Now the flavor text informs the rest of the card, and is informed by it. We don’t need the flavor text author to spell everything out, because we have the rest of the card right in front of us.

12. Shenanigans

Pricy baubles are no match for cheap tricks.

The real-world story of this card is that it’ll be used to blow up Moxen in something like Vintage dredge. It won’t, but the flavor plays off that idea anyway. It would work quite well if the card weren’t called fucking Shenanigans.

11. Twin-Silk Spider

A forest-wide network of webs brings a hungry couple to capture prey.

You have to read it three times and double check the card name to understand what the author is getting at, and the payoff is there’s two spiders.

10. Spiteful Sliver

Victories against the hive are tragedies.

This was the least subtle way possible to effect this concept. This is one of the rare occasions where the text would have worked much better as a quote.

9. Gluttonous Slug

No amount of salt will save you.

This seems like enough salt.

8. Spinehorn Minotaur

“If you think twice, I’ll cut twice.”

This was bad when I assumed the card was some sort of card-drawing hate. Reading the mechanic makes it even worse, as it’s now the minotaur eloquently outlining some sort of trade deal with the person who summoned it.

7. Spell Snuff

“Good night.”

Like its tradition with discard, Magic also has a long history of putting flavor text on counterspells that taze the opponent. Unlike the discard spells, this tradition has always been garbage. Every “Good night” and “Maybe next time” is a missed opportunity to examine the nature of playing the game like they did with Mana Leak:

The fatal flaw in every plan is the assumption that you know more than your enemy.

Also, we should all agree right now to call this card Sell Stuff.

6. Sling-Gang Lieutenant

Freshly promoted to “first rock”, Zaz was eager to make an impact.

The art on this card is a joke, and the joke works because it lets you find it in your own time. All this flavor text does is ruin the joke by explaining it.

5. Eyekite

“This one will need direction. After all, each of its eyes is larger than its brain.” —Cyla, Lord of the Aerie

When someone argues with me for saying that humor does not belong on Magic cards, I will show them this card.

4. Firebolt

“There’s more where that came from!”

Get it? Because it has flashback? Isn’t that clever? This is the kind of flavor text that isn’t just bad, it also muddles the theme of the rest of the set, and the rest of the game. It still might be an improvement over the original–Reach out and torch someone–which is a pun. The thing about puns is they’re funny when they’re a surprise. The thing about magic cards is you tend to play with them hundreds of times.

3. Excavating Anurid

Turg’s spawn ruled long after he croaked.

I wonder if the author finished jacking off from the brilliance of “Turg,” or from his “croaked” pun.

2. Venomous Changeling

It doesn’t contain venom. It is venom.

They couldn’t even be bothered to include typographic emphasis on “is.” The card also doesn’t make sense–something that is a thing necessarily contains itself. You wouldn’t argue that the ocean doesn’t contain water because it is water. Like, the changeling clearly isn’t just venom because it’s a creature that can attack and block and die; it’s not just a poison counter or a land named A Pool of Venom.

What really makes this flavor text terrible is that someone already wrote a better version, on Pit Scorpion:

Sometimes the smallest nuisance can be the greatest pain.

1. Thundering Djinn

It strikes like a bolt from a brainstorm.

Sweet Jesus. It’s simultaneously lazy yet overwrought. Similes are dangerous to use to begin with, and this one just falls out of your mouth. When I say it aloud, despite having not hand in creating it, I feel embarrassed.

It manages to get worse the more you think about it. Are they talking about drawing a Lightning Bolt off of a Brainstorm? But Brainstorm draws three cards, so by the time you attack with this you’ve already drawn a card for your turn so it’ll do four damage instead of Lightning Bolt’s 3.

The flavor text also doesn’t add anything. We already know this card deals extra damage when it attacks. We don’t need the flavor text to clumsily tell us that over again. This is space that could have been used to fill out the world; e.g. by telling us where these djinn live, or how many there are, or who they serve.

This would barely pass on a sophomore’s English homework. We are all reduced for having read it, and I apologize for forcing it upon you.

Members of the Why Is It A Quote Club

  • Collector Ouphe
  • Cunning Evasion
  • Rime Tender
  • Fact or Fiction
  • Force of Virtue
  • Nantuko Cultivator

Members of the You Are Not Funny Club

  • Eyekite
  • Vengeful Devil
  • Goatnap
  • Goblin Matron
  • Lancer Sliver
  • Planebound Accomplice
  • Sling-Gang Lieutenant