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Commander 2018 Flavor Gems

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Commander 2018 is an exciting set for Vorthos. Over the last four years, the Commander products have been a great outlet for overlooked characters who, for one reason or another, never received a card when they were relevant to the story. Standard legal sets tend to take place in the 'present' of the story (with a few exceptions), so there's little chance to see characters whose time has long since past. Commander 2018 is no exception, with cards from all over Magic's extensive timeline, and several long awaited characters finally getting the flavorful cards fans have wanted for years. This year, the focus seems to have been on the deck themes, with off-color Legends filling requests, for the most part. I'll be focusing here on cards with established lore or flavor (or from a known plane), so while I'm interested by the likes of Estrid and Aminatou, I can't tell you anything more than is already on their blurb Commander (2018 Edition) product page. With that, let's dive in!

Saheeli Rai

Those Servos are absolutely gorgeous.

Saheeli, the Gifted by Ryan Pancoast

Home Plane: Kaladesh

Featured In: Kaladesh, Wool Over The Eyes, Card References

Saheeli Rai hasn't been gone for long, just recently re-appearing at the end of Rivals of Ixalan to discuss creating dinobots with Huatli, Radiant Champion. That's okay in my book, though, as Wizards uses her to great effect as the face of the artifacts-matter deck. What's great about this piece is that Ryan Pancoast did his homework. Shivam Bhatt lays out the Indian and Hindu influences evident in the artwork on his blog, but it's clear that Ryan gets the subject matter and has infused his Kaladeshi pieces with a little more than the usual costuming.

Tawnos, Urza's Apprentice

The true hero of The Brothers' War.

Tawnos, Urza's Apprentice by Matt Stewart

Home Plane: Dominaria (Terisiare)

Featured In: The Brothers' War, Planeswalker (Prologue), Card References

Tawnos is one of the most beloved characters from The Brothers' War era, and for good reason. While most of the story's main characters were, at best, self-centered, Tawnos was a breath of fresh air. Tawnos was originally a toymaker, whose clever innovations caught Urza's eye and earned him an apprenticeship with the Master Artificer of Yotia. In those early day's Tawnos' keen eye for integrating nature into artifice refined Urza's work.

When a peace summit takes a tragic turn, the brothers Urza and Mishra find themselves the leaders of nations at war. The war raged until Mishra gained control of additional Dragon Engines and called for peace once more. Urza, now Lord Protector of Yotia and the surrounding nations, agrees. The summit was a ruse, however, which Tawnos learns from Mishra's apprentice Ashnod. He captures Ashnod and keeps the Yotians from executing her over what comes next. As the city of Kroog came under assault by dragon engines, Tawnos ushered the ruler of Yotia (and Urza's wife) Kayla Bin-Kroog to safety alongside Ashnod.

Tawnos became a surrogate father to Kayla's son, Harbin, whose true father was likely Mishra, conceived during a sick ploy from Urza's younger brother. When they finally reunite with Urza, he promotes Tawnos to the rank of Master Artificer for his Clay Statues, a self-repairing golem. Tawnos is later captured by Mishra's forces, but his mercy toward Ashnod is rewarded when she frees him from captivity as well. Ashnod suspects the Brotherhood of Gix as playing both sides in the war, and when Tawnos returns to Yotia, the Brotherhood is expelled.

Ever forward thinking, Tawnos begins to construct an artifact capable of capturing and holding Mishra in suspended animation, Tawnos's Coffin. On the eve of the final battle of the war, Ashnod and Tawnos meet in secret, where Ashnod hands over the Golgothian Sylex, worried about leaving it in the hands of her master. When the two sides clash the following day, the Phyrexian Demon Gix appears, having been manipulating both sides for decades. Gix takes control of all the artifacts, and Urza activates the Sylex to stop him. To escape the blast, Tawnos locks himself into his coffin, which preserves him until Urza, now a planeswalker, frees him five years later.

We don't know how Tawnos eventually dies, but we do know that his legacy lives on to the modern day. Magus of the Candelabra's flavor text notes he is still remembered with respect by the nature mages of Dominaria, despite his master. You can even see what appears to be a prototype Candelabra of Tawnos in his artwork, along with an Ornithopter whose design he helped Urza refine.

Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer

With that beak, was it once a Myr, or is it a sign of its interest in Myr?

Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer by Daarken

Home Plane: New Phyrexia

Featured In: Card References

Brudiclad is about as minor a character as you can get while still existing in the lore as a flavor text character from Sarcomite Myr, a futureshifted card from Future Sight. Kelly Digges (former member of the Creative Team) explains the thought process that went into selecting Brudiclad and why Sarcomite Myr never appeared in Scars of Mirrodin. Of note is that Brudicald is the only colored artifact from New Phyrexia that doesn't use Phyrexian Mana.

General Varchild

Varchild's card calls back to Varchild's War-Riders with survivor tokens.

Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor by Lucas Graciano

Home Plane: Dominaria (Terisiare, Ice Age Era)

References: The Eternal Ice, The Shattered Alliance, Card References

Born near the end of the Ice Age, Varchild became a Kjeldoran Soldier at a time when tensions between the Kjeldoran Nation and the Balduvian Barbarians could not have been higher. As a Captain, she was an aide to Avram Garrison, the leader of Kjeldor's army. Garrison was disgusted by the young Darien, King of Kjeldor, who he saw as weak, and wanted to return to the glory days of Kjeldor. In secret, Garrison was the leader of a rebel faction of nationalists, called the Stromgald Cabal, in league with the necromancer Lim-Dûl. When Lim-Dûl murdered the Stromgald and raised them again as his undead slaves, Varchild defended the King from assassination alongside Jodah, Archmage Eternal and Jaya Ballard, Task Mage.

Darien promoted Varchild to General and she led the Kjeldoran troops in an uneasy alliance with the Balduvians against Lim-Dûl's undead horde. Shortly after the Ice Age ended and the Flood Ages began, and Kjeldor found themselves in possession of disease-ridden cities while the once-harsh Balduvian territory became lush valleys. Over the next twenty years, Varchild found herself agreeing with Garrison's motives, if not his alliance with Lim-Dûl. She hated the growing ties between her nation and Balduvia, and wished to claim fertile Balduvian valleys for Kjeldor. She faked her own death turned to raiding Balduvian settlements with a handful of loyal warriors, attempting to shatter the fragile peace between the nations. Her efforts were in vain, as a short time later a marriage union between Princess Alexandrite and Lothar Lovisason united the two nations for good, forming New Argive.

Lord Windgrace

Both Iron Fist and Black Panther.

Lord Windgrace by Bram Sels

Home Plane: Dominaria (Urborg)

References: Invasion, Planeshift, Apocalypse, Planar Chaos, Card References, Card Art

Lord Windgrace was originally created by author Michael A. Stackpole in 1996 for 'What's in a name?', a story from the anthology Tapestries, as the god some cat warriors worship. He was namechecked again in Stackpole's story 'Insufficient Evidence' from Distant Planes, where we learn Windgrace is a planeswalker. That was about all we knew about Windgrace for years, until J. Robert King fleshed him out as a character for the Invasion cycle, where he was recruited by Urza as one of his Nine Titans, planeswalkers who enlist to battle Phyrexia during the Invasion.

Lord Windgrace's in-universe origins date back to before The Brothers' War (also known as The Antiquities War), with a tribe of panther warriors who ruled the at-the-time still verdant island of Urborg. In Time Spiral, Teferi speculates that Lord Windgrace was one of these panther warriors. The island became a marshland after Urza's Ruinous Blast, but Windgrace stuck around as its protector. Thousands of years later, it apparently didn't take much for Windgrace, who already despises necromancy (thanks to the infestation of necromancers on Urborg) and isn't a big fan of artifice, to sign up for the fight against Phyrexia.

When Urza was inevitably seduced by Phyrexia and murdered his former ally, Taysir, Windgrace was instrumental in fulfilling the destruction of Phyrexia with the other four surviving Titans, as seen in False Dawn. As is custom among his people, he took the heart of his friend Taysir to prevent necromancy. To remember the fallen, he placed it next to his own.

With Volrath's Stronghold and the Invasion itself centered on Urborg, Windgrace took it upon himself to scour Urborg for artifice and any sign of Phyrexia reemerging, forming the Windgrace Acolytes. The Acolytes were successful for centuries, but during the Time Spiral crisis, Windgrace sacrificed himself to seal the rift that had formed above Urborg (but not before infusing his spirit in the land). The sudden surge in mana following the Mending gave the resurgent Cabal the upper hand and the Acolytes have been largely wiped out by the modern day. Windgrace's Judgment shows Lord Windgrace destroying a Phyrexian trooper.

There was a popular and pervasive fanon that Crovax the Cursed's surname was Windgrace, implying a connection between Lord Windgrace and Crovax. Despite being debunked pretty early on (in the early 2000's), the idea has been often repeated.

Gyrus, Waker of Corpses

Home Plane: Alara (Jund)

References: None

We learn from Gyrus, Waker of Corpses' blurb that it's a hydra from Jund. What's interesting about that is up until this point, the known hydras from Alara were all mammalian - Feral Hydra and Apocalypse Hydra have fur and everything! Gyrus is a pretty big departure, taking on a more reptillian look and gaining some kind of head crest. It would make sense, however, if the other hydra we've seen were from Naya, and this is merely the first example of a Jundian Hydra. The head crest shares a similarity with Hydra Omnivore, and I wonder if there's a connection.

Xantcha, Sleeper Agent

Home Plane: Phyrexia

References: Planeswalker, Card References, Card Art

Xantcha was a Phyrexian Newt, the human-like genetically engineered template from which all original Phyrexians were compleated. Following Gix's failure during the Brothers' War, he returned to Phyrexia to implement a sleeper agent program. Xantcha was one of the first newts set aside for this process, and even her name, Xantcha, was merely a designation for where she should stand when assembled with the other newts. Xantcha and a fellow newt, however, discovered they had independent streaks. The Phyrexians did not appreciate their individuality, and Xantcha's friend was killed while she was sent on progressively more dangerous salvage assignments. The rest of her batch of newts were quickly killed by the inhabitants of Dominaria, as none of the Phyrexians had accounted for how the local populace would react to dozens of identical humanoids showing up out of nowhere.

It was during one of these assigned salvage missions that she was discovered by Urza, who was a slightly insane planeswalker after nuking his home. He believed Xantcha to be human, and the two became companions as he travelled the Blind Eternities. During Urza's ill-fated assault on Phyrexia with a giant dragon engine, Xantcha stole back her Heartstone from the Phyrexian Tower.You can see both depicted in her card art, and also on the card Ill-Gotten Gains. Phyrexia pursued them relentlessly across the Multiverse, and her Black mana caused her to be outcast when the two sought sanctuary on Serra's Realm. She eventually convinced Urza to leave, and centuries later they returned to Dominaria to find the sleeper agent program alive and well. Xantcha's ability to detect other agents leads them to devise a means to destroy ever sleeper agent on Dominaria at once. As Xantcha tries to deal with Urza's fractured mental state, she recruits a young man named Ratepe to play the part of Mishra. They fall in love, but when Gix returns and Urza and the Phyrexian Demon confront each other directly, it's only Xantcha and Ratepe's sacrifice that allows Urza to win the day.

Xantcha's Heartstone contained her essence and her memories, and after her death Urza used it to make his time travel probe self-aware, birthing Karn, Silver Golem. When Karn ascended as a planeswalker, Xantcha remained a part of him. Unfortunately, what gave him life also caused the corruption that Karn accidently spread across the multiverse, and the Heartstone central to Phyrexia's defeat also became central to its rebirth.

Kestia, the Cultivator

I was really hoping Kestia would end up being a new god (or old one).

Kestia, the Cultivator by Zezhou Chen

Home Plane: Theros

References: None

Kestia is a Nyxborn nymph, likely a servant of both Ephara, God of the Polis and Karametra, God of Harvests based on her colors, as she shares characteristics of each. She's very different from the other nymphs, although she shares the most similarity with the card Observant Alseid, which is also set against a wheat field backdrop. Is her much more human appearance due to her being unique among the nymphs, with power over the domains related to farming?

Tuvasa the Sunlit

It's interesting that the 'Jade' around her head is white, is it symbolic of her colors?

Tuvasa the Sunlit by Eric Deschamps

Home Plane: Ixalan (Ixalan)

References: Card References

Tuvasas is a Shaper of Ixalan, a leader of the Merfolk people. Named after one of the nine rivers of Ixalan, she's a contemporary of the likes of Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, Kopala, Warden of Waves and Tishana, Voice of Thunder.

Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle

Arixmethes could probably have taken Kozilek, the Great Distortion. RIP Lorthos.

Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle by Dimitar

Home Plane: Theros

References: Drop by Drop

Arixmethes was a very in-demand creature (appearing in lists alongside the likes of Urza, Serra, and Feather), despite only have a single story appearance in Kelly Digges' Drop by Drop. When the planeswalker Kiora was still travelling the planes to find sea creatures to fight against the Eldrazi, Arixmethes was the biggest she ever encountered - noting Arixmethes was at least as big as Kozilek (something the kraken's stats reflect!). Although she ended up being unable to summon Arixmethes (settling for the theft of the Bident of Thassa, instead), Arixmethes left a huge impression on the fans. A polis (also named Arixmethes) had originally been built on the back of the slumbering kraken, destroyed when Arixmethes submerged, and became the equivalent of Theros' Atlantis myth.

Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow

Home Plane: Kamigawa

References: None

Yuriko brings Kamigawa back to Magic again (something that's only happened in supplemental products). It's not clear 'when' Yuriko is from, but she's not a character that was ever mentioned in the original Kamigawa novels, nor in any story return since then. If you want to read about the other Ninja of Kamigawa, check out A Servant's Tale and The Sound of Crickets.

Flavor Gems

Treasure Nabber

Precious.

Treasure Nabber by Alex Konstad

Treasure Nabber is a fun piece. The wide, bat-like ears indicate a goblin from Kylem. The art itself shows a Sol Ring in its grasp, and if you couldn't figure out the purpose of the card, this should tip you off! It's a great meta nod.

Ancient Stone Idol

This card is so freaking layered.

Ancient Stone Idol by Josh Hass

Ancient Stone Idol is the absolute greatest flavor win of Commander 2018. Let me break it down for you. The statute itself is from Zendikar, a representation of Cosi from Shrine of the Forsaken Gods. As we all know, Cosi was a myth that sprang up around the reality of Kozilek. Like Kozilek's two cards, it's a 12/12 for 10 mana. It's also a reference to Stone Idol Trap, with the face specifically designed to evoke the classic token created by the trap. That's at least four references, both flavorful and mechanical, all inside this one card.

Best of the Rest: Plane Explain

It's a flavor GEM... get it? ... I'll see myself out.

Coveted Jewel by Jason Engle

Not every card needs an entire section dedicated to it. In this last section I'm going to break down which of the remaining cards we can place on a specific plane with reasonable certainty. Frequently, when a supplemental card calls back mechanically to a certain set, the card itself takes place on the same plane as that set.

Zendikar cards include Octopus Umbra, which is a mechanical reference to both totem armor and Lorthos, the Tidemaker (may he rest in pieces). They also include Crash of Rhino Beetles, which feature hedrons in the artwork, and Turntimber Sower, which shows the Turntimber forest being rejuvenated.

Loyal Apprentice and Retrofitter Foundry both feature the style of Kaladesh, making them easy to place. Entreat the Dead features a warped Avacynian symbol, making it likely a post-Eldritch Moon scene. Coveted Jewel features the reflections of a pirate and Dusk Legion vampire in a Orazcan jewel, making it a recent Ixalan card. Vedalken Humiliator shows a relatively uncorrupted Mirran landscape, indicating it's a pre-New Phyrexia card set on Mirrodin. Nylea's Colossus is obviously Theros.

My final card is more an educated guess: Night Incarnate. Every elemental with Evoke hails from Lorwyn, either in the original Lorwyn or the Morningtide expansion. Given how Night Incarnate mimics the look of the intelligent elemental Flamekin (or perhaps their Shadowmoor counterparts, the Cinders), I feel pretty comfortable placing it on Lorwyn.