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Flavor Review: Dragons of Tarkir


Drop to your knees, and grovel before the Elder Dragons. Not since the Legends expansion of 1994 have creatures of such terrifying magnificence darkened the skies and set the land aflame.*

What mortal would dare choose the most flavorful of the Elder Dragons? The best scaled? Preferences for flavor text, art, and thematic game mechanics are subjective. No one could authoritatively choose the best—except for me.

As a certified Level 20 flavor judge, I will review the Vorthos elements of Dragons of Tarkir, issue flavor warnings as needed, and declare the top three flavor winners.

* Technically, Elder Dragons were reprinted in 1995 as white-bordered abominations. We don't talk about that set. No one talks about it.

My, how epic she has grown. If the Atarka of Fate Reforged was ferocious, she became formidable. The art for each Elder Dragon dominates with its execution and exemplifies the color combination. Dragonlord Silumgar basks in his covetous decadence. Dragonlord Dromoka poses with the majesty of a natural monument and is just as immovable.

We can see the resemblance of the dragonlords in their broods. Names such as Sunscorch Regent and Enduring Scalelord establish their supremacy on Tarkir. Gone are the khans. What once was now never were. There is a new world order of tooth and claw.

Names to Savor

Most Dragons throughout Magic history have had Dragon in the card name, with a few Hellkites thrown in for spice. Tarkir now has a diversity of Dragons, with impressive names such as Pristine Skywise, Ruthless Deathfang, and Savage Ventmaw.

As creative as those names are, card names of single words are the most memorable. They're easiest to say when recounting stories of games, and none has more power than the monosyllable.

I welcome Roast to most prestigious of card names—what strength of flavor. Roast does 5 damage, the iconic number of Dragon power since Shivan Dragon. Well done.

As a red Planeswalker at heart, I must yet stay unbiased concerning my flavor rulings. To appear neutral, I’ll point out that the flavor text almost earned itself a logic violation. Technically, it's correct as written, but I would've preferred to see something in the vein of, "An intruder may be burnt, eaten, or burnt and eaten."

This card explains the lack of Rotting Mastodon on Tarkir. They died out, and then even their shambling corpses went extinct. The card art and text all synergize to paint a brutal picture in tones of mud and blood.

Once, when blue ruled the Multiverse, there was Impulse. Now we have something less insightful but more logical. This is a win for game balance and color identity. Also, it's clearly a spell taught by Dragonlord Ojutai.

I’ve never before seen a dragon slap away an offending spell, and it’s beautiful. Every flavor component comes together on this card to define a new word in Magic.

Resupply may not ignite any Planeswalker’s spark with its thrilling potential, but it satisfies.

This set contains a wealth of new card names featuring single words. Corpseweft implies weaving the dead together to create some manner of abomination. I don’t see a downside.

So true to name, Vandalize can deliver the gut punch of a two-for-one, but most times, it’ll be only childish. Also, “To ruin is to rule,” is a great slogan for the red Planeswalker.

Before moving to the next culinary category, I must compliment the name-chefs who created Flatten, Warbringer, Shaman of Forgotten Ways, Display of Dominance, Silumgar's Scorn, Living Lore, and Stratus Dancer.

Tasty Text

What a poignant way to show that the dragons have suppressed beliefs with fire and fang. The flavor text begins with the critical word martyred and ends with short and simple words for understated grief. Abzan players the world over will shed a tear and bury a dragon scale in the desert in her memory.

That looks more fox than hound to me. Wonderful! And the flavor text is even better. Green creatures should rightly scorn the puny weaklings of black and blue.

I can’t tell if I love this card because it’s reminiscent of Dandân or because it’s merely awesome. I do appreciate the brevity. Why fill a box with text when a single line will do? Ancient Carp would have been a lock for the top three flavors of the set if it’d been phrased, “Why eat a morsel . . . ”

Double-fisting dragon heads of burnination may seem excessive, but it’s not. It’s just enough. This is great world-building to show the current citizens of Tarkir assume that Sarkhan was once a khan. To be fair, he does have khan in his name.

Here we have another powerful monosyllabic card name, but it’s the flavor text that makes this a gem. The writing explains the vital protective properties of bling.

Though nothing will compare to our first bear punch, Epic Confrontation is a fine tribute. Its flavor text succinctly brings smiles. I rate the card eight out of ten bear bruises.

Flavor text has an important role to play explaining unintuitive mechanics. This ability excites the imagination. Why does sacrificing my own creatures force my opponent to do the same? The deliciously macabre flavor text hints that the souls of the dead are consumed. It’s implied that these spirits grant the necromaster’s power to lash out at their foes. If this were stated more overtly, Ruthless Deathfang would be a contender for the flavor winners of the set.

The card Duress suggests that Zurgo was cowed by the dragons. The flavor text presents a powerful idea and a poignant storytelling moment. It also fails to mention the key scaled component. It might have read, “ . . . how his old foe had been broken by the elder dragon.” Or it could’ve ended with more power: “ . . . how his old foe had already been broken.”

Pacifism is a staple of white, and the idea behind this flavor text has succeeded before. However, I believe the Mirage version was more effective because the payoff came closer to the end. The reprint might have read: “No, I could never fight again. What if I stepped on a butterfly?”

That is no butterfly. Here, the superb flavor text takes us deep into Sarkhan’s perspective. We hear through his voice that he couldn’t imagine why anyone would harm a poor, innocent, rampaging dragon.

Dragons of Tarkir gives us a banquet of flavor text. For more choice cuts, read Ainok Artillerist, Sunscorch Regent, Strongarm Monk, Dutiful Attendant, Reduce in Stature, Sandstorm Charger, Tormenting Voice, Student of Ojutai, Graceblade Artisan, Collected Company, Blood-Chin Fanatic, Damnable Pact, Wandering Tombshell, Shape the Sands, and Youthful Scholar.

Munchable Mechanics

My, how far the khans have fallen. Fate has not been kind to Zurgo. The Tarkir block has succeeded in telling its story through its game mechanics. We don't need any flavor text to understand the changed course of history. Once Zurgo was the leader of a proud, tri-colored clan. Now he's too cowardly to block, let alone command.

The Command cycle not only establishes the new rulers of Tarkir, but also well represents the various desires of the dragonlords. When we play these cards, we immerse ourselves in the story. Let our puny servants carry out our every whim.

As perilous as it is to criticize anything regarding the Elder Dragons, I do wish they had more mana symbols in their casting costs. Each original Elder Dragon had six symbols, making them more impressive than other mere legends.

I suspect that costing Dragonlord Atarka at 3rrgg would've given too much devotion to Xenagos, God of Revels. Seeing that combination played in Standard would've left a sour taste in my mouth. Luckily, the testers at Wizards have foresight that’d even impress a Planeswalker sage.

We all saw it coming, and there's something to be said for satisfying expectations.

It’d be wrong of me to overlook the dark-chocolate phrasing of “when this exploits a creature.” Qarsi Sadist also comes with flavor text as deliciously evil as Oreo pie.

These tribal Dragon cards get my Vorthos heart a’thumping. I can envision how a draconic mentor would make my spells burn all the brighter.

Sarkhan’s Triumph captures the mood of the set and high point of the block’s arc. I rate this card ten out of ten adorable dragonlings.

Flavor Fails

Many players without certification in flavor judging have asked whether megamorph is a bad keyword—or the worst. First, let me say that the mechanic has good flavor. Under the guidance of the Spirit Dragon, morph has become more powerful than it was under the khans. Renaming the keyword emphasizes this storytelling point. However, calling it megamorph brings to mind rangers wearing tacky, checkered suits.

The keyword could've been called "greater morph" to avoid that comparison. It would've also lost its edge in alliteration. That may have been worthwhile if old Planeswalker veterans like myself comprised all of the Magic player base. That's not so. When I was a young gamer, I loved the word mega. Defeating the Mega Dragon on the Darkside of Xeen was one of my early triumphs.

The mechanic megamorph wasn't named for me. The Elder Dragons were. I'll call it even.

No Flavor Warning issued.

I’m all for dancing around pools of lava as seen on Crater Elemental, but I have to question if the awesomeness of this card outweighs the ridiculousity. The abilities bring to mind a volcanic burst of Flame Slash proportions as well as the formidable eruption.

Crater is one confusing part of this card, as it also brings to mind meteorite craters. “Caldera Elemental” would’ve been clearer. Alternative art of a smoldering mountain may have served better. “Dormant Elemental” was available, and if ever there were a card deserving of “Volcano Elemental,” it was this one.

Nope. I’m out. I’m calling the cops on this lava party.

Flavor Warning issued.

I might’ve passed this card by if not for the terrifyingly creative plague described in the flavor text. I hope this writer isn’t also proficient in mad science. The trouble is that the flavor text doesn’t explain why only creature tokens are afflicted, something achieved by the card name of Illness in the Ranks. If anything, I’d expect a “virulent” plague to infect all creatures.

The potent flavor text has poor synergy with the mechanics, and the generic card name doesn’t help. I advise everyone to take two spoon-fulls of Ancient Carp oil and wash your hands after handling this card.

Flavor Warning issued.

Now that the unsavory part of the review is done with, I can tuck in my napkin and announce the tasty triumphs of the set. Some people might hesitate to choose the most flavorful cards among so many. Not I. I sweat certainty, and I didn’t get to be a Level 20 flavor judge for my good looks.

If you want to indulge further in the set's art, look for the illustrious review by Mike Linnemann. For more depth on flavor, I recommend the writings of Ant Tessitore. If you’re in need of any flavor rulings, I can answer them in the comments. Without further ado, I give you the best of Dragons of Tarkir.

Top Three Flavor Winners

Third Place for Most Feels

Second Place for Best Storytelling

Overall Winner

With Best Creature Type, Greatest Trove, Grandest Fangs, Most Prestigious Necklace, Oh My Eternal Master

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