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The Flavor Gems of Murders at Karlov Manor


Welcome back, gumshoes! Today we're taking a look at the flavor gems of Murders at Karlov Manor! As our fourth visit to Ravnica, there are bound to be references all over the place, although as a 'backdrop set' this time around it's not going to focus on the guilds.

Teysa, Opulent Oligarch by Chris Rallis

Chris inserted his own Magic artwork into Teysa's paintings.

What is a Backdrop Set?

Mark Rosewater explained what a backdrop set was on his blog (editing for brevity):

It's a set on a world we've been to before, but with a different mechanical focus. The first backdrop set was War of the Spark. (I don't count early Dominaria sets as they predated our mechanical theming of worlds.) It was an expansion set on Ravnica, but it wasn't about the guilds and multicolored, but rather an event set about the conflict between Nicol Bolas and his army versus a sea of planeswalkers.

Simply put, after 15 years of exploring planes with very specific mechanical identities, Wizards is trying to expand on worlds without that specific identity. There are some pretty good reasons for that. The Lost Caverns of Ixalan built out Ixalan's worldbuilding in a massive way by incorporating the concept of 'Underground World'. Murders at Karlov Manor allowed a murder mystery to have characters people cared deeply about at risk, while also building out the non-guild side of Ravnica. We used to not get mono-colored Ravnican legends at all. And it also allows us to revisit settings sooner than we might otherwise if we were solely focused on mechanical identity.

Finding the Flavor

With that out of the way, let's dive into the flavor gems! I have a lot to talk about this time around, so let's get started. Case of the Shattered Pact references Glass of the Guildpact. It's literally the shattering of the glass, which you can see pretty clearly in the art if you look closely. It's also probably a reference to the Guildpact itself having been shattered so many times before.

Case of the Gateway Express is a reference to one of the most famous detective stories of all time, Murder on the Orient Express. It's a 90-year-old story, so sorry for the spoilers, but the plot is that everyone did it. Everyone on the train had a hand in the murder, hence the mechanical identity here.

A few Ravnica-isms, Griffnaut Tracker introduces a new word in 'Griffnaut' for non-Azorius griffin riders. Haazda Vigilante reminds you that the Haazda still exist, a loose organization of unguilded law enforcement, akin to sheriffs and vigilantes, who keep the peace in places where the guilds have less sway. Wojek Investigator is our first time Wojek actually gets the Detective type. In the original Ravnica novels the Wojek were, essentially, the Ravnican police force and detectives. Oddly, Feather, Radiant Arbiter did not get the Detective type, despite having been a Wojek herself.

I wanted to mention Agency Outfitter because I thought it was cute that it literally tutored up a Magnifying Glass and Thinking Cap, everything you need to be a detective! I wanted to give Benthic Criminologists a shout-out because it notes the guilds... less than stellar place in Ravnica right now, following on from Mutagen Connoisseur. I love that in MKM, the guilds aren't all equal, some have tarnished reputations from the Phyrexian Invasion and others are practically non-existent. It's a great way to build up Ravnica as a real place in a backdrop set, when a true 'Guilds' set would require them to all be back to 100%.

Case of the Filched Falcon and Coveted Falcon are both reference to the Maltese Falcon, another classic noir story. It's also the archetypical macguffin, an object of no real importance to the story that nonetheless moves the plot along. In the Maltese Falcon's case, it's the object's theft, if I recall correctly.

Eliminate the Impossible is a famous Sherlock Holmes quote: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". Projektor Inspector shows off Ravnica's growing technology, in the form of the 'Projector' a magical version of the holographic screen that has become so popular in media.

Agency Coroner is a necromancer coroner, which is just adorable. Case of the Stashed Skeleton references Cult Guildmage, you can see the Jace puppet in the art, as well as the Lead Pipe. Homicide Investigator references Murder Investigation, with the same corpse presumably been sitting there for a long time. I should note here that it's @spacebeleren who directly me to some of these art references through the solving of some of the puzzles associated with this set. You can check out that thread here.

Hunted Bonebrute is a callback to the Hunted cycle from original Ravnica, like Hunted Dragon, which gave you a cost effective creature but at the expense of giving your opponent tokens with equal power. Bonebrute can avoid that, however, by disguising itself, which is an awesome twist.

Illicit Masquerade is a Face Off reference, a movie where John Travolta and Nicholas Cage swap faces. The Long Goodbye is a term that generally refers to someone dying, so it's appropriate here. Massacre Girl, Known Killer has Wither, one of my favorite mechanics, and I love that for her. It makes a ton of sense for her character, and I'm 100% on board with doing one-off mechanical callbacks when it makes sense, flavorfully. Massacre Girl cuts up her victims and stabs them, weakening them for a kill to come later. Polygraph Orb is a Black-aligned answer to the Azorius' Verity Circle, which I thought was cute.

Crime Novelist is one of my favorite cards of all time. Combining goblins and artifacts is always a win for me, but this art is just so cute I can't stand it. Not only is the novelist adorable, Fblthp is also squeezed in for a cameo under the desk, taking a peek at the latest draft. Reckless Detective references Saruli Caretaker, of all cards, specifically the giant acorn. Shock includes a surprise reference to A Few Good Men, and specifically the famous "You can't handle the truth" scene between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise.

Bite Down on Crime is an obvious references to Scruff McGruff, the crime dog. McGruff was spun out of suburban crime panics of the 80s and 90s, and went on to be a national presence in the USA as a part of crime prevention Public Service Announcements. His signature catch phrase was "Take a bite out of crime".

Axebane Ferox is a new beast on Ravnica, which has a lot of those in Gruul territory, each with different designs, like the Nodrogg. A Killer Among Us is just a great encapsulation of the flavor of the set, a miniature murder mystery played out in card mechanics. If I had to pick my biggest flavor gem for the set, it would be this one. Pick Your Poison is an expression referring to the fact that all of your options are bad. Here, it's quite literal, and the flavor text adds some humor to that by suggesting you not pick your poison, actually.

They Went This Way has another Fblthp sighting! Slime Against Humanity is a great pun on the expression 'crime against humanity'. Tunnel Tipster is our first molefolk! It's not clear yet if they're intended to be indigenous, brought out by the undercity upheaval, or if they're from another plane altogether (like Bloomburrow) and traveled through an Omenpath.

Agrus Kos, Spirit of Justice is our original Ravnica detective, now too old (and dead) for this nonsense. Agrus is our 'detective three days from retirement' trope here, and I'm very glad to see him again AND for him to get that detective subtype. Alquist Proft, Master Sleuth is our Sherlock Holmes analogy for the set. He's smart, he's not good with people, and he's got a vampire 'Holmes' in Etrata, Deadly Fugitive this time around.

Anzrag, the Quake-Mole is one of the Utmungr, the ancient Gruul gods of deep earth. Alongside Ilharg, the Raze-Boar, Anzrag is the second of the Utmungr we've actually seen, but the third we know about (the Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica also mentions Kashath the Stalker). These are the gods of the Old Ways, the half-remembered origin of the Gruul as druidic defenders of nature.

Doppelgang is just a fun pun. Doppleganger means look-alike, but the 'gang' here is used to refer to a streetgang. Excellent work, creative text team.

Gleaming Geardrake shows us something I've been wanting from the Izzet for a long time: artificers! Ostensibly, the guild should be full of artificers and artifacts, they're both mad scientists and inventors, and I think it's a shame we so rarely get to see the artificer side with someone like Kylox, Visionary Inventor. A lot of that is, of course, due to set design. There's enough artifacts in this set, through clues, to justify the mechanical space, where the average Ravnica set just doesn't have that support. It's a shame! I love this side of them.

Leyline of the Guildpact is a reference to the leylines that converge on the Chamber of the guildpact. These leylines are what powers the Guildpact's magic. Azor had built a failsafe in to the original Guildact that would allow the reaction of a Living Guildpact if the guilds cooperated to do so. You can also see the Chamber of the Guildpact in the midst of a stalled reconstruction after being destroyed for the second time in as many years.

Meddling Youths is a Scooby Doo reference, specifically the villainous catchphrase of the show, which is "I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those meddling kids". The card art itself also references Showstopper, with the Rakdos character they're unmasking.

Private Eye is a joke reference the single eye of the homunculi of Ravnica. It also has a much more subtle joke about the e-VASE-iveness granted by the card. Repulsive Mutation features our third Flbthp cameo! Urgent Necropsy is a great use of the lesser known and used word for 'autopsy', which makes it a perfect fit for a fantasy setting. Undercover Crocodelf is an investiGATOR joke.

The new split cards for MKM each feature a neat diptych, or two linked pieces of art: Cease // Desist, Flotsam // Jetsam, Fuss // Bother, Push // Pull, and Hustle // Bustle. I just though that was a cool touch, it's not the way it's always been handled.

Magnetic Snuffler is a very cute cross between a metal detector and an anteater. Also, don't miss the very small Karlov Watchdog appearance of Fblthp, in the extreme upper right corner. I definitely missed it until I did one final art check before writing this piece. The other last one I know of is in Offender at Large, which is itself a great pun of a card referencing someone having not been apprehend, but taking the 'at large' literally. Fblthp is covering under the back foot.

Trope Space Lightning Round

There are way too many trope cards in the set for me to talk about individually, so I'm going to hit a few with some extra things to note, and then list the rest with the meaning of the trope.

Assemble the Players is the penultimate moment from a detective story where all the suspects are gathered so the culprit can be revealed. The alternate art includes Kylox for some reason, possibly as a red herring, as I'm not sure there was a version of the story where he survived this long. Inside Source has some great mechanics, generating a detective that you can power up by revealing information. Museum Nightwatch takes on the night guard trope, down to summoning a detective when he dies. Furtive Courier references Dimir Informant, they're both carrying the same letter. Concealed Weapon is just a perfect mechanical representation of the concept, literally disguising your weapon. Frantic Scapegoat is the best pun in the set, bar none. Get a Leg Up is an expression that refers to horseback righting, but typically means to get an advantage. It plays on both, here. Behind the Mask is another Scooby gang reference, but in a very cute way with the reveal being the culprit was a robot all along.

I had so many references here, I had to cut it down to a few of my favorites, otherwise I'd need a whole other article just for these.


Prisoner's Dilemma by Serena Malyon

I'm going to try to sneak in a few Commander references. I had to mostly skip Ravnica: Clue Edition altogether! Nelly Borca, Impulsive Accuser is the niece of Bell Borca, Spectral Sergeant, a Wojek famous for helping solve his own death.

I just love the idea that Marvo, Deep Operative is just an escaped Simic enhanced octopus doing his own thing. Sophia, Dogged Detective is another Scooby Doo reference, with Tiny being Scooby and Sophia being either Shaggy or perhaps Velma, the only one actually good at solving the mysteries.

Armed with Proof is a great pun. Otherworldy Escort becomes a Spirit Detective when killed. He's also got his hand in a finger gun position, making me think this is a Yu Yu Hakusho reference. Final-Word Phantom's flavor text, Just one more thing, and general dishelved demeanor makes me think he's an obvious Columbo reference.

Tangletrove Kelp is a great pun, the card itself is a Clue Plant. Or... you know... planted evidence. This was subtle enough they pointed it out in the flavor text. Prisoner's Dilemma is a great reference to the statistical theory about the conundrum faced by two prisoners who are faced with the choice to either talk to stay nothing, and what the better odds are for them.

Finally [Ransom Note] has four different versions with a cypher to figure out what it's hinting at as a part of the overarching puzzles associated with this set.

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