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Flavor Gems of Secret Lairs: Part 2


Welcome back, Secret Lair fans (and detractors, too - you don't have to like the concept to enjoy the flavor). Back in April I tackled the first forty cards in the Secret Lair Drop series, and today I'm back with a new crop of Secret Lair Drops to discuss. This time around, I'm covering roughly the same number of cards, but there's a catch: These collector numbers have me all screwed up. I mentioned last time how the Secret Lair Drops were hopping around a bit, and while we've mostly filled in the blanks of the first 95 cards, we're still missing collector numbers 46-50 as of the writing of this article.

As much as I would love a clean numbering here, the most recent Secret Lair Drops have jumped forward into the low to mid 100s, and it's not clear when we're getting 46-50. These numbers haunt me, and every SLD with a collector's number over 100 is a twist of the knife. There's no sign that the Secret Lair Drops are going to stop anytime soon, but the good(?) news is that as they continue to vary in style, it's not going to be the kind of product that everyone will want to collect every time, and you should not feel compelled to. The best example of that is our first discussion today.

Full Sleeves: The Tattoo Pack (41-45)

Blood Artist by Joshua Howard

I really appreciate the art and skill that goes into permanently inking someone's skin, but it's not something I've ever desired for myself (I have enough scars, thanks). Tattoos are also the kind of thing people can be squeamish about, and there's even a specific phobia for people with a fear of needles: trypanophobia. So, it's easy to see why a drop like this might be polarizing, but I appreciate the tattoo crowd getting a shout-out here. This series of four cards by Joshua Howard includes cleverly thematic cards for tattoos: Eternal Witness, Blood Artist, Pithing Needle, Spell Pierce, and Inkmoth Nexus. Your tattoo is going to be around forever, and an artist used a needle to pierce your skin and ink it. I appreciate the thought that went into that card selection, and the tattoo designs are very cool.

Wherefore Art Thou (46-50)

They say absence only makes the heart grow fonder, but I'm beginning to think this group of cards (almost assuredly a 5 card set) is an eldritch plot to make me lose my sanity.

International Women's Day (51-55)

Captain Sisay by Magali Villenueve

I absolutely love this Captain Sisay card, who is one of the coolest characters in all of Magic. While the original Sisay card has been reprinted a few times, it hasn't actually ever gotten new art in the last twenty years. There's been something of a Sisay-ance in modern Magic, and I'm happy the original Sisay has gotten such a cool update. She is one of the few original Weatherlight crew members to have a great card the first time around, one popular in Commander, but unlike Hanna, Ship's Navigator, up until now she never got an art update.

While all the IWD pieces are great, I also wanted to call out Narset, Enlightened Master, the original Narset card from the Khans of Tarkir timeline. It's very cool to see this version of Narset get the borderless treatment, and makes me want to include this version in a Jeskai deck where I might otherwise not.

Meren of Clan Nel Toth, Oona, Queen of the Fae, and Saskia the Unyielding are really strong Commander picks that round out this drop. Overall, I just really want more borderless cards like these, especially for popular Commanders. I can't emphasize enough how much I've been loving the borderless treatments Magic cards have been getting this year.

Can You Feel With a Heart of Steel (56-58)

Darksteel Colossus by Hector Ortiz

Although a much smaller drop than some others, Can You Feel With a Heart of Steel feels like a Secret Lair that drops directly into my soul. Hector Ortiz's Darksteel Colossus is a great "What If Mirrodin was full-on Sci-Fi?", but retains some key design elements to make it familiar. Keeping the motes of light orbiting the colossus is a great touch.

Walking Ballista by Bad Flip Productions feels like a design straight out of the 1980 giant robot handbook. It would fit right in on a Gundam or Transformers show. Arcbound Ravager similarly feels like it would fit right in an 80's mecha anime, but I also like how much of the original design elements Danny Miller included, especially the color scheme.

I only wish these were borderless, like the Godzilla series, rather than 'full art'. Once you've had a taste of no border, it's hard to go back.

April Fools (59-62)

Goblin Snowman by Victor Adame Minguez

The April Fools SLD are in a weird spot. They're only kind-of a joke, as they have a real printing for stores to use, however they want to. I think it's hilarious to give these terrible old cards the premium treatment, with new amazing artwork and full art frames. My personal favorite is Goblin Snowman, featuring a goblin who has made an idealized version of himself and is about to... uh... endow the snowman with a second carrot.

This Secret Lair Drop got a little smaller as just a few months after being first previewed, Noah Bradley's Squire was removed after he was accused of sexual assault and posted a public apology (the apology letter has since been deleted from his twitter account). The shirtless 'distracted boyfriend meme' version of the card (modeled on Bradley himself) took on a significantly less humorous cast in light of the revelations.

Also included with this set is a white-bordered Tibalt (although it's unclear if it was replacing Squire or was already intended for the set). For those of you not familiar with the old card border color schemes, white borders were used in reprint sets and black borders were used for new expansions. From Tenth Edition onward (circa 2007), Core Sets simply used black borders like everyone else. Some (?) people liked the white bordered cards, and using it on a Tibalt card in 2020 is just the height of silliness.

The Godzilla Lands (63-67)

Mountain by Grzegorz Rutkowski

I talked in depth about the Godzilla Series in my article Godzilla: the Monster King, and these Godzilla lands are a great extension of that. The Plains features two well known monsters, Godzilla and Mothra, stomping across an open field. The Island is the iconic image of Godzilla returning to the sea. The Swamp is one of my favorites, Godzilla facing off against Hedorah, the Smog Monster. Hedorah is also notable for trying to bring political allegory back to Godzilla films, as Hedorah is literally a pollution monster, making it perfect for a basic swamp.

The scale on the Forest is a bit confusing. The giant trees in the foreground make Godzilla appear to be much smaller than he should be. If you look carefully at the forest 'floor', however, you might notice it's actually treetops, indicating that we're above the canopy here and the giant trees are merely there to indicate it's a forest and not a carpet of shrubs. The Mountain is my favorite though, a scene of Rodan facing off with Godzilla on a mountaintop. This piece is by far the most dynamic, so kudos to Grzegorz Rutkowski for nailing it.

Theros Stargazing Vol. I-V (68-82)

Theros Stargazing Panorama Vol. I-V by Jason A. Engle

I think that it was inevitable that, after the fantastic Theros: Beyond Death Showcase frame for the Theros gods, the originals get the same treatment. While I'm not a huge fan of how they were released (it turns out I only wanted one god out of every pack) - I've snatched up my favorites as singles for my Commander decks. I didn't really talk about Jason A. Engle's Constellation piece in my THB Flavor Gems piece, but I just want to note here this is excellent flavoring. The frames themselves as updated versions of the 'enchantment creature' frame is good, but the full art representing how the gods might look to someone staring at the Theran Night Sky is just... *chef's kiss*.

End of Summer

That's about it for this week. I know I included just some of the Summer Superdrop, and I'll talk about the rest next time as I cover numbers 82 and beyond. Given that the Secret Lair Drop Collector's Numbers continue to jump around, I'll likely just start covering forty at a time in release order, even if it makes my brain said to do so.

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