The Function of Flavor

Magic the Gathering is a game that has both amazing flavor and function, sets like Innistrad and Theros has been lauded to be the pinnacle of flavor in Magic. Let us take a look into how flavor can inspire function in Magic sets.

The flavor and function of a Magic card goes hand in hand, cards like Chained to the Rocks is extremely flavorful, calling back to the myth of Prometheus where he was chained to a rock.

Cards like these are the epitome of flavor while also still retaining function in the game, from enchanting a mountain to having an Oblivion Ring effect to represent the creature being chained to a rock.

While some cards are good in both flavor and function, some cards are not executed that well.

Main example, Breaching Hippocamp.

Coming from the same set, the art of the card drawn by Christopher Burdett shows a Hippocamp jumping out of the water, the art itself is superb, however it does not connect well to the effect of the card. Whenever a player thinks of a thing breaching out of the water, many players assume that the Breaching Hippocamp has Flying.  There are subtle visual cues like these in Magic, there is even a card called “Jump” that gives a creature flying until end of turn.

This is an example of why flavor either in art or name needs to connect with the function of a card, this is true for top-down design as it is easy to do. However in bottom-up sets, the function of the card must evoke the flavor of the card.

In sets like Dominaria, the mechanics of the card must represent the flavor of the world, historic and sagas represent the history of the plane especially with most of the Magic story happening there. Not only that, the legendary creatures in the set represent figures either from its long history or new characters to rebuild the world.

On the other hand, mechanics like Afflict from Hour of Devastation and Support from Oath of the Gatewatch don’t exactly give much of an impact to the players in comparison to mechanics like Eternalize and Surge also from both sets respectively. The key to creating a flavorful mechanic that also ties into gameplay is making it feel like the players are doing something represented in the card art or effects.

Cards like Earthshaker Khenra are very flavorful, the art depicts a Jackal thrusting its spear unto the ground, representing the enter the battlefield effect. Its Eternalize effect depicts it turning into an Eternal, a servant of the elder dragon planeswalker, Nicol Bolas. The art, effects and flavor all combine into a brilliant card that is seeing standard play, even nearing the end of rotation.

Early Magic: the Gathering has always been called the pinnacle of flavor in the game, from the frames to even the cards’ effects, the game now has matured and things change, the change in frames makes things look more streamlined and the oracle text helps judges and players understand the card using the current game language. Old cards and mechanics such as Ice Cauldron and Banding respectively did not age well in terms of the game language, but the card and mechanic both had extremely high flavor, ignoring or lessening its function. While having a flavorful card is good, a card that tries to fit too much flavor into the card creates long and nearly incomprehensible rules text, cards like Necromancy did not age well

The card itself is flavorful, bringing a creature card from your graveyard onto the battlefield, it is easy enough to understand. however the amount of the oracle text of the card has barely fits within its text box. This makes it that players who are unfamiliar with the card confused as to what it can do had they not read the card effect properly or have it shortened.

The main problem is that the original text for Necromancy is easy to understand, however as the game grows and more streamlined terminology is used, the oracle text has changed many times.

In short, sometimes flavor undermines flavor and vice versa, however there are many cards in the over sixteen thousand total magic cards that is rich with flavor, some of the most iconic cards that the game has ever seen, flavor is intertwined with function well and that is all thanks to those at the magic R&D, this has been Benji, signing off.

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