Serious_Fun

An exploration of some of the hidden links between mechanics and flavor.

Eggs That Go Over Easy

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I love Easter Eggs. The first thing I do when I get a DVD is go to eeggs.com and see whether there's some sort of crazy mini-documentary I can unlock by pressing the right buttons on my remote. When I've finally beaten a videogame, I go to gamefaqs.com and look for all of the cool secrets I missed, returning to old save games to make sure that I see everything that my game had to offer.

(I am ashamed to admit that I actually wound up playing Vampire: The Masquerade through twice – once to beat the game, and the other to, um, have a romantic interlude with the hottest character in the game. Yes, you could do that. No, I'm not proud that I spent twelve hours of my life trying to make it happen.)

So of course I come to magicthegathering.com each and every day.

Magicthegathering.com is the place to come for Magic's hidden little secrets. Card of the Day and Arcana point out the funny bits in the artwork, and Ask Wizards will frequently reveal tidbits of trivia to make anyone happy… And then Matt, Mark, and Aaron mop up by pointing out the rest of the things you didn't notice about that glossy little rare in your hand.

The problem, of course, is what I can bring to the table.

I'm not a designer. Contrary to popular opinion, I do not have a job at Wizards. I see the cards pretty much when you do. This means that my ability to give you Easter Eggs is restricted to things I've read on magicthegathering.com.

Somehow, an article consisting entirely of links to past magicthegathering.com articles didn't seem… satisfying. What is this, FARK.com?

But then I thought about Magic cards, and the secret parts of Magic, and I realized there was one thing that nobody really discussed a whole lot. Oh, Mark's talked about “top-down” design occasionally, but there are no articles devoted to the flat-out genius of the Alpha Stone Giant.

Here's the card. Look at it. Don't you see how brilliant that is?

This card's not a marvel of power or efficiency; the Moxes or the Black Lotus are your go-to guys if you want to actually win games. But the mechanics of this card are so beautifully designed that two dry sentences of nothing but pure rules tell you a story.

You can tap Stone Giant to give a creature flying until the end of turn. That's great; a lot of cards give flying. No flavor there.

The creature has to have a toughness less than the Stone Giant's power? That's a little weird, but Magic's full of arbitrary rules restrictions.

But it's not until the third clause in the rules text that you see the full value of the Giant; the flying creature “is destroyed at end of turn.” And without anything more than a basic comprehension of how Magic works, an image of precisely what's happening blossoms into your mind:

“Hey, what are you doing? Get off me, you big oaf! I don't wanna – hey, put me down! You can't throw me at the wizard, you – you – aaaaiiiieeeeeee!”

To a certain morbid frame of mind, that is the funniest image in all of Magic. It's the “toughness greater than power” that makes it sing; if the Giant could fling an Avatar of Woe, then he'd just be some other schmoe who granted flying. That would be useful, to be certain, but not particularly flavorful.

But the fact that he can only muscle lesser creatures into the air unwillingly? Priceless.

And that's a real Easter Egg; those rare moments when what a card does mechanically lines up so perfectly with what it does flavorfully that it is beautiful and true.

Because let's be honest; most cards are pretty dry. Okay, “Shock” and “Lightning Bolt” are electrically-based damage attacks according to the art and the name, but for some reason they don't short out unshielded artifacts. They don't do more damage to metal creatures, or guys in heavy armor, or people standing in water. (And why an “Electrostatic Bolt” is different from a lightning bolt is best left to theoretical physicists.)

In fact, you can't even hit a non-creature artifact with a Lightning Bolt, and why not? It's lightning. I know that tornados have an unnatural affinity for trailer parks, but is Dominarian lightning so picky that it refuses to hit anything that's not moving? I've fried a laptop in an electrical storm, so why is a Shock so pathetically constricted?

It's the rules, the judges will tell you. That's why.

Ah, but Frozen Solid. Frozen Solid, I get; it turns someone into such a brittle ice that they shatter when someone touches them. The mechanics mirror precisely what the card accomplishes in Vorthos-world, and that is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

That's different from, say, Boseiju, Who Shelters All. I get that it's a card that shelters all and prevents Counterspells – I just don't know why it happens. What makes Boseiju so good at protecting things from Counterspells, yet it can't stop a Shock to save its life?

I picture living in Boseiju. “The rain,” I'd say. “It's coming through the roof.”

“Can't do a thing about that,” the janitors shrug.

“But it says you shelter all.”

“We shelter you from magic,” they'd say testily. “Roofs are extra.”

“But Phil over there just got torched by a lightning bolt, and then Jack just got bounced back to somewhere. It doesn't seem like you're protecting us from a whole lot of spells here…”

“Look,” they sigh. “We protect you when you cast spells.”

“But Timmy the Prodigal Sorcerer over there just tried to zap someone, and he got Stifled!”

“We protect Wizards when they cast spells.”

“But he's a Wizard! Look at his creature type!”

“Okay, fine, fine! We protect planeswalkers. When they cast spells. For a price. After that, you're on your own.”

“But the whole ‘Shelters All' thing…”

“Marketing. Pure marketing. Now if you'll step aside, I'm going to not tap for mana because nobody's paying me.”

Likewise, I get that Celestial Crusader gives all of the other White creatures a bonus… But why? What's so inspiring about Celestial Crusader that she makes everyone else healthier? Is she a doctor of some sort, or a personal trainer?

“Man, I was ripped when Celessie was in da house. I could bench, like, twice my normal weight.”

“So what happened?”

“She left. Got Terrorized right out of the neighborhood. After that, I just didn't have the energy to work out, man. But if she comes back, I'ma pump up just like that.”

It's flavorful. But not particularly logical.

We are not talking strategy, mind you. Nobody's ever going to claim that Frozen Solid and Stone Giant are the keys to victory, so if you're looking for a way to dominate your multiplayer table, look elsewhere. For a day, we're just looking at the pure fun of imagining – and if your imagining consists solely of “What if my opponent was at zero life?” perhaps you might want to shuffle on and take a shower.

But if you're looking for a non-comprehensive list of Vorthos cards, look on!

Form of the Dragon

This is the classic Easter Egg card, because it's simple: you become a creature. You heal damage just like a creature, and creatures without flying can't attack you, and every turn you breathe fire.

Thankfully, you still retain some of your planeswalker nature while in the form of a dragon. Otherwise, this card would read, “If a spell or effect would destroy all creatures, you lose the game because you just got sent to the graveyard along with everyone else, you silly bozo.” Which brings up the rather thorny question of why the Wrath of God only gets called down upon creatures – there are kabbalists who've had extensive discussions debating whether Akroma is more powerful than God, or whether God's just particularly mad at the creatures who are screwing up the planets He's created. In either case, though God gets very very angry at creatures, He never seems to get mad at the guys who keep bringing all of these creatures into play. Which makes one wonder just what God's up to, really.



Crash Landing

It's pretty obvious what happens here – that Aven Cloudchaser is sailing along without a care in the world, and then suddenly, whoops! She falls out of the sky and into some very angry woods.

The woods have to be angry, because they're whompin' the crap out of her. That's the way this spell works; the more land you control, the more angry trees come running across the landscape, malice in their eyes, to play “Dog Pile On The Rabbit” with this helpless winged creature.

It's like the end of Two Towers, brought to life. Wait. Flip that, reverse it; it's like the deleted scene from the end of the Two Towers, brought to life in the extra-special edition that I'm sure you paid $25 for somewhere.



Verdant Force

He's large. He's hulking. And every turn that passes, he drops a little Saproling token. It doesn't take much to give the flavor, but Verdant Force is one of those rare cards that combines flavor with power, because you're controlling a card that is continually giving birth. Think about that the next time you throw one of these down on the table; you now have a baby factory.

The only way you could make it more flavorful is to have Verdant Force not be able to attack or block. “I'm in labor,” Verdant Force says, hands on her belly as another Saproling squirms out of her. “You want me to fight?”



Polymorph

Ah, the classic silliness. Polymorph is a crazy, crazy spell that's not terribly useful or efficient – nobody said you could control what you turned into –– but it turns an existing creature into another creature. The picture says more than I could say about the card, really.



Goblin Grenade

It's an old-school card, and ludicrously powerful ¬– five damage to any target for a single mana and a sacrificed Goblin? Watch the number of ways they've watered down this effect over the years. But if you want to know just how efficient Goblins are, this is your card – give them a little mana and a target, and pow! They just can't stop themselves.



The Also-Rans

I asked my friends for suggestions as to other Easter Egg cards. Here's why they're wrong. Sorry, fellas.

Hurricane and Earthquake

Why does an Earthquake not damage lands, no matter how much mana you put into it? Show me a good, powerful Earthquake that doesn't take out a couple of real-life Islands or Plains along with it. And these gigantic Earthquakes don't crumble Mountains? I don't think so.

And a Hurricane that doesn't hurt anyone on the ground? Ask the people in Katrina how they felt about that. I'm sorry, my friend, but you just don't count.

Volcanic Eruption, though – now that's an Easter Egg card.

Think Twice

Several folks pointed this out. And it's sorta-clever, because you draw two cards from the same spell.

But what is drawing a card? Well, it enables you to get a new spell into your hand or to get a land… Or at least that's what it does mechanically. But you know what? I've thought twice about a lot of things. “Ferrett, we'd like you to be the new multiplayer writer for magicthegathering.com.” You bet your butt I thought twice before accepting that great responsibility. But did I summon a griffin or suddenly acquire new real estate from the mere act of reconsidering?

Sadly, no. If it did, I'd be thinking about stuff all the time.

Plus, then there's the problem of what “a card” is in Magic. Just in blue card-drawing alone, “a card” is getting memories from the past, a scroll, an exploding brain, a fish (no, really), a plan, what a flying octopus excretes after it eats a land, concentration, wise counsel, what you get when you look at a Masticore's guts, freaky wings, a spray of water in your face, something an enslaved Djinn hands you, a top-secret secret, what a fish gives you when a cheap opponent summons a creature, something one obtains from 360-degree vision, an opportunity knocking, a departing hippo-gift, wealth, a foggy grasp, reading runes, a horde of spiritual eels, a crushed microwave, a “serum” trip, really cool skywriting, a mystical vision you get when you see your opponent's spells that somehow does not let you cast his spells, a lazy guy leaning on a sword doing… something, a stroke of genius, a dream, the news, or a treasure.

I'm not even talking about “draw a card, discard a card” effects. Or cantrips. This is just one drawn card.

So what is a card flavorwise? Heck if I know. It has something to do with smarts if it's blue… But a lot of smart guys play Magic, and none of them have yet managed to summon even a lowly Squire. (The pros have barnacles, but perhaps that's a gag best reserved for the next Un- set.) So it's obviously not just thinking, otherwise Einstein would have been flying around Germany and destroying the Nazis in World War II, possessed of strange and unearthly thinky-powers.

The point is, it's hard to come up with a real mechanic-matches-the-flavor for a card drawing spell if you're not really sure what “card draw” is in the game. (Now, Malignant Growth? That's an Easter Egg, baby.)

Aurification

I love the idea that this card turns things into gold. But somehow, the only thing these golden guys do is not attack. I saw Goldfinger – you just paint a girl gold, and she dies. I have a hard time believing that these creatures are made of solid gold, and yet the only drawback is that they can't fight.

“Hey, Phil! You look a little… different.”

“Yeah. I got the aurification. Solid gold now.”

“Must be heck on your back.”

“It is, it is. I'm a soft metal, so I can't really stand upright the way I used to. Still, I can pretty much do anything I used to do – I can tap for abilities, I can block creatures, the master can sacrifice me… I'm just solid gold now. I can't fight, is all.”

“Why can't you fight? You look fine to me.”

“You kidding? I'm a treasure now. He keeps me at home just so he can clip my toenails. They're worth ten bucks apiece, these days.”

As usual, if you have an idea of what you think is an Easter Egg mechanic card, sound off in the forums. But keep in mind that you may be wrong; the perfect match of mechanic form to function is a tricky one, so be prepared for some fierce debates!

Yours trulified,

The Ferrett

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