Article: Amonkhet and Egyptian Lore

Discussion in 'General CPA Stuff' started by Oversoul, Sep 29, 2017.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    A while back, I tentatively decided not to write more front-page articles, and instead to focus on forum-based content. This was something that I was, and still am, a bit torn on. On the one hand...
    • Writing forum posts is easier than preparing and submitting articles.
    • If I see a typographical error in one of my forum posts, I can go back and fix it.
    • Forum posts allow me to explore other types of content besides long-form articles.
    • Forum posts are good for putting up multiple installments over time.
    • No one visits the front page anyway.
    • Because of spam issues, the article comment sections are gone. Forum posts are conducive to discussion between multiple people (obviously), and more importantly they still exist.
    On the other hand...
    • This site doesn't have much readership and the real point behind my articles was to keep in practice at consistently writing long-form writing, something that forum posts aren't likely to motivate me to do.
    • The front page is looking deserted. My last article was published almost a year ago.
    • Front page articles make serialization of content clear and easy. Plus, I just liked the name, “The Comboist Manifesto.”
    • If I don't submit articles to the front page, I won't get to see Spidey's pull quotes. And that, dear reader, is the greatest shame of all.
    As you can see, it is quite the dilemma. And I still don't know that I've made up my mind, but I've been drifting toward the “forum posts allow me to explore other types of content besides long-form articles” approach. Or to be less diplomatic, I've been spamming up the message boards with my ravings on various topics. In the back of my mind, there was this notion that I would save front-page submissions for occasional “real” articles and focus largely on shorter stuff, like those “Magic Memories” threads. Some of those, most notably the Survival of the Fittest thread, could easily be full articles, but I definitely preferred putting it up in chunks over time and having other people chime in. But that didn't mean that I was giving up on articles.

    And then a year went by. Most of one, anyway. And here we are, with me writing an article. So I'm going to post it as a forum thread. In the future, perhaps I'll find that this sort of thing really should be submitted as a front-page article. Or perhaps not. Maybe it should be both? I don't know. By the way, I guess I'm looking for feedback on this. Do I clutter up the front page or do I clutter up the forums? Like I said, quite the dilemma. Also, it's well past time to move on to the reason we're here in the first place: ancient Egypt.

    Everything above this paragraph was actually written around the time that Amonkhet came out. I just about mustered the effort to proceed at the time, but I used the excuse of “Let's wait for Hour of Devastation and cover both sets” so here we are. I do think that both sets are relevant as far as ancient Egypt is concerned, but the second set is definitely more heavy on the whole “Nicol Bolas, Supervillain” thing, which I'll also critique. Because I can.

    I am biased. Magic has borrowed from several famous historical mythological frameworks, and there isn't an exact rubric for this sort of thing, so we'll all have our own opinions on how to do it in the first place. To further complicate things, mythology gets filtered in different ways from different sources, and we get exposed to it in different ways. So while I don't find the use of mythology to be egregious in Kamigawa Block, someone who is more familiar with the source material might. So far when it comes to Magic sets identifiably drawing on mythology, we've had Arabian mythology in Arabian Nights, Norse mythology in Ice Age Block (very loosely, with some more broad European stuff in there too), Japanese mythology in Kamigawa Block, Celtic mythology in Lorwyn/Shadowmoor (again pretty loosely), Greek mythology in Theros Block, and Indian mythology in Kaladesh Block. There are also a few other inspirations for some sets that probably fall into this same category, like the use of “Gothic Horror” for Innistrad Block or the Mongolian inspiration for Tarkir Block. And some day, if I live long enough, it is my fate to get into an argument about the inspiration for Zendikar Block, but that day has not yet come. But while I'm not an expert on any of these, uh, genres, Egyptian mythology is the one that I am closest to being knowledgeable about. I fell in love with Egyptian mythology when I was a kid, and since long before they announced these sets, I was dreading the looming inevitability that someday, they'd do “ancient Egypt” as their theme. That these sets, flavorwise, would disappoint me was virtually certain. So yeah, I'm biased. But hear me out anyway.
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    One of the most important issues to note, right off, is that while Greek mythology is chock full of iconic characters and stories about them, older mythology (including Egyptian) doesn't have so much of that. The reasons for this difference are interesting and important, but go beyond the scope of the discussion. But it's an important point, because the use of mythology in Theros Block was generally well-received, and while the main story of the block is a story about a planeswalker from Magic, there are aspects of the lore and even some individual cards that resonate with stories about the Argonauts, Theseus, Hercules, etc. A set with an ancient Egypt theme can't really pull that off. So the same approach that worked for Theros can't really be duplicated for Egyptian mythology. It's a fundamental problem and you can't just slap a Nicol Bolas band-aid over it. Look, I'm not saying that I know how to do it right! I'm just pointing out how it was done wrong.

    Since I'm so critical of these sets, let's start with some things that don't belong. Now, I acknowledge that this is a matter of taste. Every Magic set inspired by some mythology also added other things that aren't part of the mythology. But emphasis matters. For example Theros Block has a couple of krakens, which are from Norse mythology, not Greek. But really one of them is supposed to be based on the Greek Charybdis, and krakens were already a creature type in Magic, so they went with that. But at some point, if they went overboard with the krakens or if they kept inserting other elements of Norse mythology into the sets, it would have become too much. I can only decide for myself how much is too much, and it's up to you to make that call for yourself. But what I want to highlight here is that some of these choices just don't make much sense for a top-down design. Let's get to some specifics...

    Angels
    Nope. This one is just wrong. They already had angels in the previous block, where they actually made sense because Indian mythology draws on both Hindu and Islamic elements, and angels important in Islamic lore. There's just no way to shoehorn them into ancient Egyptian lore unless they're alien invaders brought in by a planeswalker, obviously. But that would be dumb.

    Drakes
    I actually don't even know what the explanation for drakes being on Amonkhet is supposed to be. They already have sphinxes for flying blue creatures. I'm baffled by this one.

    Cartouches
    Wrong again. “But wait,” some poor fool tells me, “cartouches are an Egyptian thing.” And that's true. But the cartouches in Amonkhet are objects placed onto people's bodies to do magic stuff to them. Real cartouches were stylized borders put around names in writing to emphasize their importance. This would be like if people in the future wrote a story “inspired by” 21st century America and the characters dueled each other to the death with weapons called “apostrophes.” So I consider this to be much more egregious than the angels. At least with angels they're taking something from another source and using it in the ostensibly Egyptian-based set. But cartouches really were part of ancient Egyptian culture, and the descriptions of them in Amonkhet bear no resemblance whatsoever to the real thing. Even the art doesn't depict the shape of a cartouche, and it's not even close. They devoted real effort to this too. Mechanically, cartouches take up ten cards and get mentioned about a thousand times in the backstory.

    Organizing people into “crops”
    No, this isn't an Egyptian thing. I think it's something that they made up themselves. I sure hope so, because it's too bad of an idea to steal from someone else. Like most people, ancient Egyptians had families. They did not live in crops. That's not a thing.

    Nagas
    Nope, that's Indian. Those were supposed to be in Kaladesh. Wait a minute, they didn't forget, did they? Oh wow, you guys can't just forget to put nagas in your Indian set and then dump them on the Egyptian set!

    Minotaurs
    No, that's Greek mythology. Try again?

    Dragons
    No, that's every mythology in the world except Egyptian.

    Manticores
    Persian.

    Sandwurms
    No, that's Frank Herbert's Dune novels.

    Serpopards
    Gah! Well, this one is a bit weird. The word “serpopard” isn't a reference to or translation of anything mentioned in Egyptian writings. It's a modern word used to describe certain figures depicted in artwork, mostly Mesopotamian, but some Egyptian. The most prominent examples of “serpopards” seem to be from so far back in ancient Mesopotamia that written records weren't around yet. But modern scholars thought they looked like big cats with serpentine necks, so they made up “serpopard” as a descriptor. No one knows exactly what the deal was with those figures. But they sure don't show up in Egyptian lore. This would be a minor nitpick at best, but the whole concept of a literal “cat snake” combined with the stupid name is just a bit much. Egyptian mythology may not have so many different characters that could be used as a basis for creature types, but surely we don't have to dredge the well this vigorously!

    Deserts
    Look, the ancient Egyptians had like three deserts: the Western Desert, the Eastern Desert, and the Nubian Desert. They knew about them and stuff, but they didn't focus on them especially. I get it, the area around them was mostly desert and it had been a while since Magic did much with desert cards. OK, more than a while. But you could put deserts in almost any set. Arabian Nights took place in a world inspired by the mythology of people who lived in and around deserts, and it got one desert. Tarkir Block, with its Mongolian inspiration, had none in three sets. The ancient Egyptians lived along the Nile river, but were close to deserts. They didn't obsess over deserts, but I guess it's an appropriate world to do something, maybe reprint the original Desert. Or if it's necessary, maybe three, one for each of the deserts actually relevant to the ancient Egyptians? Not enough? Five, one for each color? Or maybe have different versions for Hour of Devastation and that's ten right there! Look, I'm trying to throw WotC a bone on this one. I don't think that deserts should really play a role here, but I can see that others might want them and if you're finally going to deliver on that, maybe just one isn't enough. How many is too many? I don't know. It's subjective, of course. I'd think that three is plenty. How many interesting things can you really do with deserts anyway? But I can see a case for pushing it a bit more, and there are two sets here, so maybe ten isn't too many? It seems like a lot to me. But you know how many deserts are actually in these sets? Nineteen. I counted. One of them even has “oasis” in its name! That's a piece of land that is literally defined exclusively by its not-desert features. Come on.

    A massive, long-lived, superintelligent, serpentine monster who rules over a hot, desert world as an autocrat, organizing the lives of the people under his rule to promote a culture of constant martial training, all to further his own elaborate schemes. Also, he gives himself a religious-sounding title and uses the worship of himself by his subjects as a means to facilitate his manipulation of their lives over a period of generations. Also, there is a woman who is an extremely skilled fighter who stands against him and struggles to rally others to defy the tyrant.
    I don't think it will shock anyone to learn that this isn't from Egyptian mythology. What it is from, however, is Frank Herbert's Dune novels. Yes, all of those things. I'm being cheeky, because there are other, different things that Leto Atreides and Nicol Bolas do not have in common at all (Leto Atreides is not really a villain, for one thing). But I find it a bit odd that in the same book series that first introduced the world to gigantic worm-monsters that rise up from underneath the desert sand and attack people, a major character seems to have so much in common with the villain in a Magic block that is ostensibly “Egyptian” and also features those, wholly un-Egyptian, worm-monsters. Leto Atreides calls himself “God Emperor.” Nicol Bolas calls himself “God Pharaoh.” Did they think that because “pharaoh” is an Egyptian word, no one would catch on to the similarity? I really don't think that I'm reading too much into this one.
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Those are some things that don't belong. But what's missing. That's trickier, because there are so many things about ancient Egypt that could, at least hypothetically, be used in a Magic set. Not all of them are what I'd call good ideas to fit into a Magic set, though. Still, there are some really iconic, important concepts that it seems like it would be silly not to use, that they fit so well or have already been done in Magic or that they'd just be fundamental for any sort of “ancient Egyptian theme.”

    Obelisks
    When I was a kid, I was excited to use the Chronicles card Obelisk of Undoing, just because it was an obelisk and I loved ancient Egypt. The art didn't really depict an Egyptian-looking obelisk, but I didn't care and also I was using the card in some sort of clumsy infinite combo. I was 12. Shut up. Anyway, I said I was dreading a set with a supposed ancient Egyptian theme, but I assumed that at least we might get some cool obelisks. Magic had already done them before, and multiple times at that. Alara Block had them and there were a couple of others after that in other sets. Amonkhet had, well, none. And Hour of Devastation had Obelisk Spider, a creature that isn't an obelisk and has nothing to do with obelisks, but they threw the word into its name for no discernible reason. Um, I think there are supposed to be obelisks in the art, obscured by the creature's huge, malformed legs. They could have done some sort of obelisk mechanic or something. [Addendum: Manalith does depict appear to be an obelisk in everything but name, so there's that.] But no. Instead we get bricks. Bricks! The ancient Egyptians had some bricks, I guess. They did make bricks and build walls and stuff. You know who else did that? Everyone else. Bricks are everywhere. Nothing really special about bricks in Egypt. They carved obelisks out of a single, solid piece of stone, because they were badass. You can't make an obelisk with bricks. Unsurprisingly, all of the brick cards suck. Should have gone with obelisks.

    Temples
    Yeah, lots of cultures had temples, but the ancient Egyptians were really into them. They built a lot of temples and temples are central to their lore. These sets have none. They definitely depict some of the architecture found in Egyptian temples, so I could be overreacting on this one, but I don't think so. Egyptian temples were far more important than pyramids, even if they're not as famous today. Theros Block had temples and the temples corresponded to the gods, which make sense. I don't know why the Amonkhet gods wouldn't get temples, especially since Egyptian lore held that the temples were necessary for the gods to connect to this world and to maintain it, which would explain why the Amonkhet gods failed, now that I think about it.

    Egyptian-style curses
    This one is especially notable because curses are employed in Amonkhet Block and yet bear no resemblance to the curses that were actually part of ancient Egyptian lore. It's like they read somewhere that the ancient Egyptians had curses and thought, “Well, we did curses in Innistrad Block and we can do them again here” but that was it. This seems like a real missed opportunity. The ancient Egyptian curses were written on clay statuettes, which were then ritually abused and destroyed. If the set was supposed to have an Egyptian theme, this was an obvious opportunity to take a real-world inspiration and do something new mechanically, but instead we get crappy cards along the same lines that the Innistrad Block curses (and the Shadows Over Innistrad ones too) already explored. And that's disappointing.

    Atenism
    I don't know that I'd call this one particularly necessary, but it's a very interesting bit of history and a lot of the imagery from Amonkhet and the “second sun” stuff had me assuming initially that they were using Atenism as inspiration. But it didn't happen. I don't know how you tell a story in an Egypt-inspired world about the overthrow of the old gods and their usurpation by a pharaoh without managing to invoke Atenism, but that does seem to be what WotC set out to do, mostly by ripping off Frank Herbert's Dune books. Go figure.

    Griffins
    Already in Magic, also from Egyptian lore, unlike angels, bird wizards, manticores, minotaurs, drakes, etc.

    Shas
    It'd be less of a stretch than “serpopards”!

    Ankhs
    Magic already had one of these! And they were a big deal in ancient Egypt.

    A gigantic river
    I have mixed feelings about this one because they did bother to make up a river, give it a name, and put it in the art of several cards in the set. The Luxa. But it's a problem of scale. On Amonkhet, everyone in the whole world, every living person, is stuck in just one walled city, surrounded by an inhospitable desert. Ancient Egypt wasn't like that at all. The Nile Valley was huge. The ancient Egyptians didn't think of themselves as being walled in, surrounded by an infinite desert. To them, the Nile was at the center of everything, but they recognized the world around them too. They were the premier shipbuilders of their age, trading extensively with other nations. And their farms,which do get at least a slight nod with the card Irrigated Farmland, were the source of their prosperity. I contend that this is a valid line of criticism because the Luxa in Amonkhet is just there, doesn't really do anything, and doesn't convey how incredibly big the Nile is, how it shaped Egyptian culture. And really, I'm sick of these lazy “worlds” that WotC keeps making up. Dominaria had continents, islands, wars, invasions, empires, fallen empires, and enough of a history to rival the worldbuilding of just about any other fictional universe in any genre of gaming. I don't expect a multiverse full of that level of detail, but “the whole world is one big city” or “the whole world is a barren desert with one walled city” really shouldn't be acceptable. It's pathetic. Also, in Hour of Devastation the Luxa turns to blood, the city is attacked by a swarm of locusts, and the city is bombarded by hail. Those aren't things from Egyptian mythology at all, but I could swear that I recognize them from somewhere.

    So I'm disappointed with the portrayal of Egyptian mythology in Amonkhet. I leave it to the reader to decide how much of that is legitimate and how much is just me being picky. I don't really think that there's a right or wrong answer. Now, there's also the matter of the other major theme for the block: Nicol Bolas. And I just want to express my annoyance at how Wizards of the Coast turned an interesting character into the blandest, least appealing villain I've encountered in any medium in a long time. To put it bluntly, Nicol Bolas sucks. He is a stupid, garbage character and the writers are bad and should be ashamed for how bad they are. The worst part is that it wasn't always this way!
  4. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Nicol Bolas started out in the surreal, convoluted setting of Legends, where he was one survivors of the Elder Dragon Wars. The lore established that although the elder dragons were very powerful, they were often forced into servitude by powerful planeswalkers. Uniquely among the elder dragon characters, it was emphasized that Nicol Bolas was a scholar, aggressively seeking out knowledge and studying all the magic he can find in order to become more powerful. Then he became a planeswalker and gained even more power, becoming a kind of despot. He defeated a leviathan planeswalker and left part of its skeleton as the Talon Gates, a monument to his victory. Later, he fought Tetsuo Umezawa and, in his distraction, was killed. But he recovered even from that. When the multiverse was collapsing, Nicol Bolas planned to construct a vessel that would preserve him and allow him to enter whatever world would emerge, but Jeska succeeded in stopping the collapse. He attempted to take over Alara and use it to gain power, but was defeated, in his distraction, by Ajani Goldmane. He recruited Tezzeret to serve him and uses the artificer as a tool even as Tezzeret plots to break free from Nicol Bolas' control and strike back at him. Oh, and he brokered a deal between Liliana Vess and four demons, which had repercussions on other story events later.

    These stories came about through material corresponding to several different set releases and other writings, so it's all rather hodgepodge, but it paints a picture of Nicol Bolas as what I consider to be an interesting character. He's an ancient, powerful dragon, but unlike other ancient, powerful dragons, he has a passion for knowledge and study. He takes steps to bolster his already considerable power, and prides himself on his skill in battle and mastery over his foes. He strives to rule over others and desperately craves supremacy. He likes to make deals with others and seems keen on using his vast knowledge to make sure that those bargains are working out in his best interest. He has lots of irons in the fire. But in a way, his ambition afflicts him with a kind of shortsightedness that is his greatest weakness. Nicol Bolas never lets himself get caught taking on a superior opponent, but he is thwarted by weaker enemies because he blunders into circumstances in which he is at a disadvantage, even after laying such careful, intricate plans. The Elder Dragon Planeswalker with tens of thousands of years of experience somehow gets stopped by a pithy hero who catches him at a disadvantage. It's a dynamic not really seen in other stories and I thought it was a cool aspect of Magic's lore.

    And then they took it too far. The vision of Nicol Bolas as a cunning strategist and manipulator was pushed so far that his involvement became a thinly-veiled excuse to move the story along in whatever way the writers want to. Why does Nicol Bolas manipulate planeswalkers into freeing the Eldrazi? It fits his nebulous, inscrutable agenda! Why does Nicol Bolas invade Tarkir and attempt to kill Ugin, only to leave without finishing the job so that Sarkhan Vol can use time travel shenanigans to save Ugin? It fits his nebulous, inscrutable agenda! Why does he send Tezzeret to Khaladesh? It must be because he's just so gosh-darn smart that we can't follow his intricate plan. And for those who caught bits and pieces of the Khaladesh storyline but might be fuzzy on the details, the answer cannot possibly be that it was for Tezzeret to construct a planar bridge on account of the fact that Tezzeret didn't know how to construct such an item, but Rashmi invented it and he appropriated it, which would be an unforeseen circumstance. The writers can concoct any scenario they want, and have Nicol Bolas in the background pulling the strings, manipulating events to suit his own ends. And what ends are those?

    Due to the mending, planeswalkers lost most of their power. Nicol Bolas, in his conversation with Liliana Vess before arranging her contract with demons, bemoans what he lost and provides insight into the goal that drives him. “How we have fallen,” he tell her, “Once, we were gods, working our private havoc through planes known and unknown.” And when she notes that her body is on the brink of falling apart from age and that he looks healthy and powerful as ever, he responds, “You did not know me at my height. I have lost more power than you could learn in a dozen lifetimes.” That's a pretty clear motivation for the character: he lost a great deal of power and he will use what he has left to get it back, no matter what it takes. And he just might be intelligent, resourceful, and ruthless enough to pull it off. With that in mind, one might think that he has some terrible plan, that he'll destroy a plane siphoning power from it, like he might have been trying on Alara before Ajani stopped him. Instead, he took over Amonkhet, a plane with eight gods. Eight.

    “Once, we were gods.” Well, apparently being a god isn't all it's cracked up to be. It was revealed that Nicol Bolas simply planeswalked to Amonkhet, swooped in and easily defeated all eight of its gods at the same time. Doesn't make much sense. Either he was being reckless or gods are so far below his level of power that his aspiration to become one is looking pretty stupid. Not only that, but once he has control of the plane, he sets up this elaborate plan to use it for making an undead army? What does a being that can take down and brainwash eight gods without breaking a sweat need a bunch of zombies for anyway? All that time and effort and he's not really accomplishing anything. And then the “Gatewatch” show up, expecting to find Nicol Bola but floundering around without a plan for some reason. Now, we've established that Nicol Bolas is absolutely ruthless and full of ambition. For each of the five “Gatewatch” planeswalkers, I can see two immediate possibilities for how our villain might react. He could either...
    1. Kill the meddling planeswalker to prevent said interloper from interfering with his schemes in the future. He has no compunction against killing, has said so repeatedly, and just set up a plane to turn it into a bloodbath. A planeswalker that is actively opposing Nicol Bolas is a threat or at least an annoyance. Their planeswalking ability alone is sufficient for them to cause all sorts of trouble if they're allowed to live. Kill them, and the problem is solved.
    2. Subvert his would-be attackers and use them as tools. It's been established that his mental magic is so powerful that he can control others. He's already using other planeswalkers as agents in his schemes, so why not continue that? Killing them isn't necessary if they can be made to serve him while alive.
    But that's just my analysis as a short-lived human. Nicol Bolas opts for the far more subtle, sophisticated approach of beating the crap out of the “Gatewatch” and, one by one, bullying them into planeswalking away. Not to a particular place. Just anywhere that's away from Amonkhet. And then, when Tezzeret approaches, Nicol Bolas gloats that this outcome was even better than if he'd had to kill them. Why? What possible advantage could there be to having five of his enemies travel to random places when he already had them beaten and could have killed or captured them? It breaks the sincerity of his character and is just plain sloppy writing.
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I find it hilarious that after over a year of frontpage inactivity, I go and officially announce my intention to use the forums as a better space for articles (for now anyway), and then it turns out that someone had beaten me to article publication by a matter of hours and I hadn't yet noticed. My absolute conquest of the front page has been stifled by the return of the mysterious Dan Freagarthach after his apparent 13-year hiatus.
  6. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    My opinion/suggestion would be to still post on the front page, but provide a link to a thread here in General for comments (either I can do it or you can start a thread and include the link at the end of your article). I mean, your assertion is that no one visits the front page anyway but is there really a difference between the regulars seeing the front page versus coming directly to the forums? Whereas any visitors who happen by chance to come here will probably see the front page before the forums.
  7. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Yeah, this one ended up running even longer than I thought it would, so I think you're right. One thing that's been bugging me is that I have been veering a bit toward more longform stuff in forum posts and I don't know where the cutoff should be for whether some thing is an article or whether it should just be forum posts, but for this one it's not even close. I'm now leaning toward just sorta mirror-posting more stuff, putting it up on the forums first (like this) and then cleaning it up a bit and submitting it for the front page.
  8. Melkor Active Member

    That was going to be my suggestion, why not both?

    To the point of the article, it's one of those things where it is in some ways tough to criticize WotC on this because they have no standards or guidelines. They're kind of all over the map as to how much a mythology is actually incorporated into the world building. For instance, Kaladesh does not actually use much in the way of actual Indian mythology or culture. The Indian theme is almost entirely aesthetic. Also, in talking about Kamigawa, MARO has said that one of the problems is that they used too much of the Japanese mythology that was slightly off the beaten path for the mostly American audience. Not to mention that they have to make things different enough in order to trademark and copyright everything (we can't go back to Arabian Nights because they don't own the world).

    Further, MARO has commented that creative and design don't like the sort of open ended, everything is there, complete world that Dominaria represents. My feel is that everything needs to be an elevator pitch. Gothic horror with a mystery that turns into cosmic horror! Steam punk inventors revolt against the man with Indian flavor! Egyptian tropes with Nicol Bolas scheming behind everything! So it seems like the philosophy is that they need to really spoon-feed us the world (or to put it more positively, they try to distill things down to the best parts). On the one hand, I feel like I like the open sandbox better, on the other hand, I kind of feel Mirage/Tempest/Urza's is the height of Magic (just a coincidence that I was in high school then I'm sure), which coincided with the first ongoing story driven sets.

    At the end of the day, I think most people with good knowledge of the source material of the inspirations will have issues with WotC's use of it. I think it is probably just a good idea for people to add "very loosely" in front of any alleged inspirations for Magic planes.
  9. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Yeah, I don't know why I didn't settle on that in the first place.

    I suppose so. They definitely focused heavily on the magic/technology fusion concept and I'm a little unclear as to how steeped in Indian lore it actually is, both because I'm not as familiar with Indian lore and because some of the items there seem iffy. I thought Ajani's involvement was supposed to be invoking Narasimha (whose name I totally didn't remember and had to look up, but I remembered the concept), but I heard that it was coincidence somewhere, that they put Ajani in the story without any notion that it would look like Narasimha. And then I thought the aetherborn were just their own thing that they completely made up, but heard that their existence was supposed to be a reference to the cycle of rebirth, which I didn't even notice when I read the stories. Maybe I have a tendency to read too much and/or too little into these things.

    I do remember hearing him say something like that, but I also remember laughing because he made it sound like the mistake they made for Kamigawa Block was making the mythology too authentic when I'm pretty sure the real mistake was making the gameplay experience of the mechanics and the power level of the cards have the exact smell and feel of hot garbage. I wasn't crazy about the two Amonkhet sets, but throwing -1/-1 counters everywhere and having your creatures come back after they die is generally fun. I don't remember exactly how Soulshift or Sweep worked, but I do remember no on liking them. There's certainly a subset of players that will criticize everything harshly, but I think the vast majority, especially casual players, can forgive sets that are a little underpowered or ones where the mechanics don't really create interesting gameplay, but both at the same time is just too much.

    Now, none of this contradicts the notion that the use of Japanese mythology as inspiration in Kamigawa was too esoteric or had other issues, which might very well be true. I just think that the fact that the block is so bad needs to be stated up-front and gotten out of the way so that other commentary isn't making excuses for the real elephant in the room. WotC, especially Mark Rosewater, seem quick to admit that Homelands was a bad set, but really beat around the bush when it comes to Kamigawa Block. I get that it was more recent and that people who are still working there put in work on those sets, so maybe they want to be more gentle about it, but still...

    That's a weird one. I mean, Arabian Nights was clearly a one-off in several ways and they immediately started moving the game in a different direction where it didn't really fit. But almost everyone forgets that it wasn't actually the last time they used one of those blatant real-world references. For reasons that were never clear to me story-wise, Mirage Block, which was mainly about the phasing Teferi/Jamuraa shenanigans, included some sneaky elements from the plane of "Rabiah", which was the retcon-created plane that served as the setting for Arabian Nights, and one not-so-sneaky inclusion. The Arabian Nights cards King Suleiman and Bottle of Suleiman were references to the real-world Ottoman sultan Suleiman I. Well, Visions had this...

    [IMG]

    Oops! I mean, it's not really a problem. Weird, though.

    Yeah, I get that. Seems a bit odd to me because MaRo himself worked extensively on the whole "Weatherlight" storyline that was going on back then and is clearly proud of it, and the fans all seem to look back on it fondly (except for the bizarre ending stuff, but actually MaRo wasn't even involved in the creative portion of it anymore by that point and could even be considered to get points for being one of the ones who didn't bungle the story). And yet they decided to depart from that so aggressively.

    Well, I'm desperately trying not to get my hopes up for Dominaria next year, but Richard Garfield's announced involvement is making that difficult.

    Agreed. I do realize that by picking on these sets in this way, I'm downplaying the fact that this is all sort of par for the course. In fact, I just remembered that besides featuring nagas, Tarkir Block also had rakshasas, even though Kaladesh had neither. That's a pretty blatant one right there. It was more that it hit home for me personally with these sets because I've been enthusiastic about ancient Egypt and about Magic the Gathering for what must be almost exactly the same length of time (over 20 years now), so it was more disappointing (in my case) than the past instances of what really amount to the same thing.

    Something I don't think I properly conveyed in this article was how small some of these things really are and how it just strikes me as odd that the sets came out this way. I don't know what kind of research that they did, but it's clear that they did at least some research and it shows. If they want to jump off from there and only use the mythological inspiration "very loosely" then yeah, some of us are probably not going to like it but I can see a case to be made for that approach. So if you want to redefine "cartouche" to be this weird mummy-controlling enchantment deal, well, that's something. We could dwell on it or not, but ultimately what they're doing is pretty much what you've described. However, griffins are a tribe that a lot of people like, and they've been paying more attention to tribes lately. Wouldn't it make sense to put griffins in a set inspired by the mythology that griffins originally come from? Or better yet, they've been pushing this whole deal about sphinxes being "the blue iconic" and even though I don't even like that, they've really gone all-in on it. Egyptian lore featured different kinds of sphinxes, so this would seem like the perfect opportunity to really explore sphinxes, perhaps do something to help them catch up to the other, more established "iconic" creature types. And it's not even like they forgot sphinxes! They put two in each set. But really, that's not very much, and instead sphinxes share the air with drakes for some reason, while griffins don't make the cut at all and instead we get yet another block with angels in it. Realistically, I was probably going to, at best, roll my eyes at whatever loosely-inspired-by-Egypt concepts they came up with. But choices like those are just baffling.
  10. Melkor Active Member

    MaRo also recently explained that Nagas ended up in Amonkhet because they got pushed out of Kaladesh because they felt they hadn't had elves in a set in a while and felt they had a good way to do them on Kaladesh. Each set serves so many masters it's impossible to know sometimes why they make the choices they do without someone like MaRo flat out telling us. I think it also comes down to the fact that Magic set design is probably a lot more haphazard than we usually perceive (though recent Standards certainly made that not just my opinion).

    http://markrosewater.tumblr.com/post/165948249313/if-naga-mythology-is-from-india-why-was-naga-an
  11. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I hadn't seen that. I like how the person asked why the nagas were on Amonkhet and instead of answering that question, he answered the different question of why there are elves on Kaladesh.

    I'd ask why there are rakshasas on Tarkir, but I suppose all we'd learn is why they put the aetherborn on Kaladesh.

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