Fate Reforged offers us an interesting opportunity to travel 1,280 years into Tarkir’s past, allowing us all to experience what life was like for the khans who would ultimately shape their five clans into the destructive bands of warriors we know and love. As I do with every set, once the full spoiler for Fate Reforged was revealed to the masses, I immediately began poring over the names and flavor text contained within. As I devoured each and every tasty morsel like a freshly hatched dragonling, I came to notice that a larger-than-normal amount of flavor text was either spoken about or spoken by one of the five khans of old. I love flavor that offers us a window into another world, exposing our inner Vorthos to the many cultures existing in each world we visit. Fate Reforged is no different, and the names and flavor text paint for us a picture of five warlords the likes of which Tarkir might not have seen before—and may never see again.
In this article, I will be taking a close look into the names and flavor text of Fate Reforged—as well as into the information revealed to us in the Planeswalker’s Guide to Fate Reforged in an attempt to piece together as much information as I can about these important leaders of Tarkir’s past. Prep your Vorthos; things are about to get tasty.
Daghatar is the khan of the Abzan clan, a band of warriors who pride themselves on their ability to endure. His epithet of “the Adamant” reveals much to us about his character. The word adamant is defined as “refusing to be persuaded or to change one’s mind,” with synonyms ranging from unwavering and unshakeable to determined, firm, and resolute.
Daghatar appears to us as the Abzan ideal, a khan who is physically tenacious, and he embodies an unyielding spirit. His stance, combined with the mid-construction Abzan fortification behind him, instills in us the idea that he is the foundation that all Abzan culture will be built upon—and rebuilt with each assault. Compounding on that idea is the fact that adamant is also an noun that refers to a legendary rock or mineral similar to diamond. On the Mohs Scale of mineral hardness, diamond is the defining mineral used to set the bar as being the hardest.
Another synonym for adamant is uncompromising, and in the Planeswalker’s Guide, we learned that, contained within the head of his mace is a bound malevolent spirit. Currently, nearly every spirit we have encountered in both Tarkir’s past and present has been tied to the Abzan clan. Could Daghatar be so steadfast in his belief in Abzan culture that he would bind the spirit of one of his own clan members into his weapon as a sign of his obstinacy? Compare all of this to the current clan leader Anafenza’s epithet of “the Foremost.” Foremost is defined as “one who is most prominent in rank, importance, or position,” telling us—and all those who may meet her—that she is the leader of the Abzan and little else.
Daghatar is also quoted on four different cards in Fate Reforged. These lines coming directly from the character allow us further insight into his thoughts and beliefs as he leads his people. On his own card, Daghatar states, “Our Victories will protect a thousand generations,” furthering the idea that he is working toward founding a stronger Abzan clan.
On the cards Abzan Advantage and Rally the Ancestors, Daghatar is quoted as saying both, “To survive, you must seize every opportunity,” and, "The family is a tree, and in times of need, every branch can be a weapon." Both of these cards show us a khan who is not afraid to make use of every resource available to him in order to protect and sustain his clan, including the use of deceased ancestral spirits as soldiers in his armies.
Shu Yun is the khan of the Jeskai clan, a group of warriors who pride themselves on their superior cunning. His epithet “the Silent Tempest” is an oxymoron—a figure of speech that juxtaposes elements appearing to be contradictory—in that the word tempest literally means “a violent commotion or disturbance.” Shu Yun is showcased as a fulcrum, a pivoting point found between two ideals. Note that, in his art, he is depicted between a monk studying a scroll and a monk practicing martial arts, a perfect balance between mind and body.The silent tempest is one capable of being as powerful as a windstorm, and yet able to contemplate the consequences of his actions. Shu Yun understands that knowledge is as important to achieving victory as martial prowess, an idea that is clearly shown to us through his quotes found in the flavor text of both Ojutai, Soul of Winter and Enhanced Awareness. On Ojutai, Shu Yun states, "When I battled Ojutai, I realized my learning had only begun," showing us that even though he is the Jeskai khan, Shu Yun understands there is always more knowledge to be obtained.
Enhanced Awareness’s flavor text contains the quote, "Study the topography of your enemies, and you will have a map to victory," which furthers the idea that Shu Yun understands that knowledge can be just as important to winning a confrontation as physical ability. What I really love about this particular card is that it offers us a first-person view of how Shu Yun perceives the world around him. If you look at Ryan Alexander Lee’s piece, we can see two major effects: a blurring of the charging enemies’ limbs, creating the idea that Shu Yun is able to move so quickly that his opponents seem to be attacking him in slow motion, and a magical outlining of the enemies vital and areas. These two effects again show us that Shu Yun is physically formidable (having the martial prowess to react at lightning speed) and mentally conditioned (having studied his enemies weaknesses before the fight even began).
I want to stop quickly and say that I absolutely love the concept behind this piece by Ryan Alexander Lee. The first-person view is immersive and really allows me to feel I’m viewing from the perspective of a Jeskai warrior trained in attacking the pressure points of my enemies. The view is something that Wizards of the Coast does not do often, and it is something I would like to see more often. It reminds me of the Tony Stark view made famous by the Iron Man movies.
Tasigur is the khan of the Sultai clan, a group of warriors who pride themselves on their unparalleled ruthlessness, and his epithet of “the Golden Fang” speaks volumes to us about his character. The symbol of the Sultai clan is the dragon fang, chosen to pay homage to the ruthless dragons of Silumgar’s brood. Tasigur’s “golden fang” does not refer to a literal fang of gold, but instead, it represents the fact that the khan’s power stems from his immense wealth. As explained to us in the Planeswalker’s Guide, Tasigur is the pampered heir to a Sultai fortune. Combine that access to overwhelming wealth with his latent hedonistic tendencies, and we are given an individual who will not hesitate at utilizing everything at his disposal to achieve his desires—no matter how dark or twisted they may be. The flavor text on both Typhoid Rats and Douse in Gloom offer us a window into the ruthless tactics employed by the young Sultai prince:
These pieces of flavor beautifully illustrate exactly what it would be like trying to deal with Tasigur in any sort of “diplomatic” situation. Tasigur is a man who gets what he wants—one way or another. Sibsig Host’s flavor text, "They were your friends, your family, your clan. They want only to welcome you," shows us that the sadistic prince would not think twice about using the zombified remains of your loved ones in order to defeat you in battle, and that makes us wonder whether he actually gets enjoyment out of such an unspeakable tactic.
The card Tasigur's Cruelty is also aptly named. Why are the cruelest tortures the ones that leave no marks upon the flesh? Unlike its physically apparent cousin, psychological torture offers no way to easily showcase just how badly you have been hurt by it, increasing the level of difficulty for you to gain the sympathy you might require in order to overcome its lasting effects.
It is in Tasigur’s own description of Silumgar that we gain the greatest insight into what the khan considers to be important. Tasigur makes a point to list all of the tactics that he uses in his rule over the Sultai as he recounts Silumgar’s own single-minded ruthlessness.
For a little bonus flavor, check out Steve Belledin’s blog post about the Drifting Death here.
Alesha is the khan of the Mardu clan, a horde of warriors who pride themselves on their speed and proficiency in battle. Her epithet of “who Smiles at Death” showcases her fearlessness as a leader of the warring Mardu people. The concept of smiling in the face of death touches on a few tropes found in both films and literature. A common idea used for groups of warring peoples—like the Spartans of Greece for example—is the idea that the most glorious death one can achieve is on the field of battle. Alseha makes her name as an individual who eagerly greets death, suggesting that she is not afraid—and may even long for—her final breaths to come “with sword in hand.” This idea is further reinforced by her quote on the card Arcbond.
If we look at Alesha’s ability to resurrect her fellow comrades, we can discern that she may be smiling at death due to her ability to circumvent it, creating the air of arrogance and self-confidence that would be required of a nineteen-year-old horde-leader.
There is also chance that this name is referencing a trope that touches on the idea that, when one “smiles at death,” he or she does so because the individual realizes that as he or she dies, other people close to him or her may be watching. The pain of seeing one suffer as he or she perishes may hurt those close to him or her more than the imminent death, and in spite of the pain associated with dying, heroes and heroines can be seen smiling or laughing in the face of death, creating one final glimpse of their overwhelming resolve before they depart the world of flesh. This trope is especially common in manga and anime heroes and heroines, showcasing their strength until their final breaths.
Yasova is the khan of the Temur clan, an outfit of warriors who pride themselves on their savagery in battle. Her epithet is . . . Wait a tick—she does not have an epithet at all. Sometimes, the most powerful lines are those that go unwritten. Yasova’s absence of any form of significant title paints the picture of a khan who lets her actions speak louder than any words ever could. Wielding a weapon that most likely resulted in her surname, Yasova is a fierce combatant with little patience for casual discussion.
There are two major quotes attributed to Yasova on Fate Reforged cards, and both of them offer insights into not only her character, but the state of affairs on this past version of the plane. On the card Frost Walker, Yasova is quoted saying, "As the clans carved out their territories, we saw allies where the Mardu saw only obstacles." This line of text showcased Yasova’s belief that the Temur clan should use every resource available to them in their fight for survival, and that to do otherwise is simply foolish.
On the card Feral Krushok, we are given insight into a different aspect of Yasova’s personality:
Sure, this can be seen as an insight into Yasova’s sense of humor or her superior strategic intelligence when dealing with other clans, but what I see here is a reference to one thing: diplomacy. 1,280 years ago, in past Tarkir, the clans were still entertaining the idea of diplomatic solutions to clan conflicts, something not showcased on the cards of Khans of Tarkir.
Part of the reason I enjoy Magic’s flavor so much is that I understand how much thought and effort goes into crafting each name and each line of text. The creative minds at Wizards of the Coast work tirelessly to ensure that the flavor of each card immerses you deeper into the worlds they create. Which of the five khans did you find to be the most interesting representation of Tarkir’s past clans? Let me know down in the comments! My personal favorite is Tasigur, and I cannot wait to build a deviously diplomatic Sultai Commander deck led by the ruthless golden fang.