Return from whence ye came…
In the last article, we discussed the Eighth Edition and Ninth Edition, printings of Sacred Nectar in our discussion of quotations about reverie. That version was different from the quotation we'd analyzed in a previous article which appeared on the Portal, Starter, and Seventh Edition printings of the card. As we discussed in the last installment, Sacred Nectar is one of those rare cases in Magic where a card has had two different quotations from the real world at different times.
This has only occurred seven times in the course of Magic’s history. Ignoring Sacred Nectar, which we've already discussed at length. Let’s look at the six remaining cards. Here they are in chronological order:
- Boomerang (Legends – Seventh Edition)
- Aethersquall Ancient (Starter 1999 – Seventh Edition)
- Wind Drake (Portal – Seventh Edition)
- Dark Banishing (Seventh Edition – Eighth Edition)
- Archivist (Eighth Edition – Ninth Edition)
- Mind Stone (Tenth Edition – Gateway)
When you look at each of these cards, and their dual quotations, that's a dozen cards with text for us to analyze. To make this easier to deal with, we'll split up our in-depth analysis between the remainder of this piece, and our next installment. Let's dig into these in chronological order starting with Boomerang.
The card Boomerang has been around since Legends (1994). For most of its first reprints (including Fifth Edition), it kept its original quotation from Shakespeare’s King Richard the Second. However, starting with Seventh Edition it got another real-world quote, this time from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen.
Boomerang is a classic blue instant, able to bounce any permanent to its owner’s hand for the price of two blue mana. It hasn't been reprinted since Tenth Edition, but it’s still a renowned spell, and its effect can be seen imitated by many other cards printed since. Such instants are always handy, although they see the most play in limited formats.
O! Call back yesterday, bid time return.William Shakespeare, King Richard II (1595)
The flavor text in this original Legends version comes from William Shakespeare, and it’s a quote from King Richard the Second. A single line in hendecasyllable (a line with eleven syllables), it seems to fit well on a fast card like Boomerang. In context, it’s part of a longer sentence addressed by the Earl of Salisbury to the eponymous Richard II. The point is that the king has arrived one day too late, and thus lost his chance to have an army. The full quote goes on: “And thou shalt have twelve thousand fighting men!”
While this resonates with the theme of returning to the past, it incongruously implies a lament, wherein the interlocutors wish they could turn back time. Given that this card grants you an annoying ability with which to gleefully foil an opponent's schemes, the quotation appearing in Seventh Edition is perhaps more apropos in spirit.
Seventh Edition (2001)
Return from whence ye came…Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queen (1590)
In Seventh Edition, as well as Eighth Edition, Ninth Edition, and the Gateway Promos sets, the quote on Boomerang was changed to the simple yet effective line “Return from whence ye came…” This is one of the most iconic flavor texts ever, in my opinion. It’s from an epic poem published at the end of the 16th century, composed by the English poet Edmund Spenser. Titled The Faerie Queen, it's one of the longest poems ever written in English, with over 36,000 lines.
The change in the flavor text was accompanied by a change in the art, with these editions featuring the work of celebrated Magic artist Rebecca Guay. It seems as if the art was conceived to complement the new text, capturing the vibe perfectly by depicting flying fairies dragging away some sort of treefolk. After Ninth Edition, they went back to the old flavor text and art, until the Gateway Promos version, in which the Spenser quote and the Guay illustration made a return.
No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793)
Portal was the first edition containing Wind Drake, and thus this small blue creature started its long journey with a beautiful quote from William Blake. It's an excerpt from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a collection of proverb-like short poems, inspired by the Biblical prophetic tradition. This line in particular speaks of freedom and independence, suggesting that there is no sin in ambition as long as one is honest and self-reliant.
Seventh Edition (2001)
But high she shoots through air and light,Thomas Moore, O that I had Wings (1855)
Above all low delay,
Where nothing earthly bounds her flight,
Nor shadow dims her way.
We won't spend too much time on this one, as we have already discussed it in one of our recent installments. Let's just say that, starting from Seventh Edition, both the flavor and the text changed. Similar to what happened with Boomerang, it looks like they decided to pair Tom Wänerstrand's new art with a new real-world quotation, this time by Thomas Moore. Wind Drake also had other flavor texts—such as the one from Tempest edition, quoting Orim and Gerrard—however, in these cases, the creative team used their own IP material.
Aethersquall Ancient is not a particularly famous card. There are other sorceries with similar effects, such as the versatile Firespout. It was printed in just three sets and received different flavor and different artwork in each one. Two of them feature real-world quotations, while the one from Mercadian Masques is all original IP text.
Starter 1999 (1999)
To-night the winds begin to rise… The rooks are blown about the skies…Lord Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam (1849)
First printed in Starter 1999, Squall got a quotation from Lord Alfred Tennyson, an English poet who lived through most of the 19th century. Actually, this quotation combines two separate parts of the poem, with two more lines being elided in the middle. The full passage reads: "To-night the winds begin to rise / And roar from yonder dropping day: / The last red leaf is whirl'd away, / The rooks are blown about the skies".
The poem is a requiem for one of Tennyson's friends. The sentimental subtext does not particularly resonate with the card in my opinion. Do you remember the Fifth Edition Hurricane by any chance? While all of its other editions lacked flavor text or used an original one, the Fifth Edition version featured a real-world quotation about a storm, taken from Virgil's Aeneid (an epic poem written in Latin between 29 and 19 BCE). It tells of a sailor cursed by the god Neptune, forced to wander at sea for years on end, facing all sorts of trials and tribulations. The quote reads as follows: "The Raging winds..., settling on the sea, the surges sweep / Raise liquid mountains, and disclose the deep."
Coming from an epic poem full of adventures, this rollicking Virgil quote really captures the experience of the hero Aeneas being tossed about in his boat—it also captures the atmosphere of a Magic duel, with spells flying back and forth, and hapless creatures stuck in the middle. The Tennyson quote, with just a vague sense of gloom, falls flat by comparison.
Seventh Edition (2001)
May the winds blow till they have wakened death...William Shakespeare, Othello (1603)
Here we have the final printed version of Squall, from Seventh Edition. It's the second quote we see today from Shakespeare, this one taken from Othello. Shakespeare is one of the most frequently quoted English-speaking authors in Magic history, so we'll be looking at many more of his quotes in later articles.
In this case, the excerpt is again a hendecasyllable. As we have seen on many occasions, the words have been twisted in their meaning to fit the context of the card. Edited as such, the quote conveys the impression that someone is actively hoping for some sort of violent winds to rage. However, a glance at the preceding line clarifies the quote's original meaning: "If after every tempest come such calms." Here, Othello is speaking to his beloved wife Desdemona, saying that he doesn't fear death if it comes while he's with her.
Having considered a few cards whose flavor texts were changed from one edition to another, it is a matter of subjective opinion whether you think these changes represent an improvement or not. From my perspective, the only card that saw a real improvement was Boomerang, with the new quotation and art harmonizing nicely.
However, I think a little bit of diversification in content is always a good idea. So we can appreciate these rare instances where Wizards chose to switch things up. In our next installment, we'll explore the three other cards on our list, and draw some conclusions on the whole experiment.
What do you think about today's flavor texts? If you have a favorite, let us know in the comments below!