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Real-World Flavor: Magic’s Religious Citations

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Leviathan, too! Can you catch him with a fish-hook or run a line round his tongue?

Over the past few instalments, we have not followed a chronological order, nor have we proceeded according to authors. Instead, we dealt first with specific themes (such as fantastic beasts and the faculty of immagination), and then with cards containing different real-world quotations (a topic that we split in a first part and in a second part). As a such, we analyzed cards that were printed throughout the whole history of Magic: The Gathering.

Today, we'll get back to Magic's first years, tackling the usage of religious texts as literary sources for flavor. Only two cards have quotations from the Qur'an, while five contain quotes from the Bible. These seven cards were all first printed in the early age of Magic, between Arabian Nights and Legends. The onlyq exception is Knight Errant, which only saw light in Portal (1997).

This time, we'll proceed in chronological order, which will also allow us to split between the two cards quoting the Qur'an and the five cards quoting the Bible. Let's begin with an all-star from Arabian Nights.

King Suleiman


We made tempestuous winds obedient to Solomon...
And many of the devils
We also made obedient to him.

The Qur'an, 21:81

King Suleiman, from Arabian Nights, is a card whose concept comes from the King Solomon. For us Magic players, though, it's a small creature, a 1/1 for the cost of two mana, with a powerful (if somewhat limited) ability: it destroys Djinn or Efreet creatures by just tapping. Such a specific ability sounds a bit weird nowadays, but back in 1993 there were plenty of Djinns and Efreets to destroy, so it does make sense.

As for the flavor text, this quotation from the Qur'an describes Solomon's powers by illustrating how he's able to control not only the winds, but also "many of the devils." Which in the game of Magic are obviously Djinns and Efreets, the creatures King Suleiman is able to destroy by tapping. It's not particularly spot-on, as he is supposed to control them, rather than destroy them. We can forgive him, though, for it's still a beautiful card with a great concept behind it.

From a financial perspective, it's not among the most useful cards from Arabian Nights, but it's still pretty expensive. After all, its price tag is driven by the fact that it's a rare on the reserved list with no reprints. And I'd also add that it's a great collectable, being inspired by a semi-historical character from our world.

Piety


Whoever obeys God and His Prophet, fears God and does his duty to Him, will surely find success.

The Qur'an, 24:52

Piety was also first printed in Arabian Nights, but unlike Suleiman did get a few reprints, including in Fourth Edition and Renaissance. What is most interesting is that it kept the same flavor text in all its reprints. As we'll see, this is a common thread among the cards explored today.

A white instant for three mana, it grants your creature +0/+3 until end of turn. It's not impressive, it's a common, and it's not on the reserved list, which is why its price is much cheaper than Suleiman's. As for the flavor, it's a proverb-like sentence. We got used to this kind of phrase, as we saw a bunch of them when dealing with Greek and Latin quotations. It simply means that if you obey to God and do good, you will find success.

Durkwood Boars


And the unclean spirits went out, and entered the swine: and the herd ran violently … 

Mark 5:13

With Durkwood Boars, we are now moving to the Bible. And we are also leaving Arabian Nights to approach Legends. This green creature is a vanilla Boar, a 4/4 for five mana with no abilities at all. It also kept the same quotation for all its reprints, which it had more of than Piety.

The flavor text is a quotation from Mark the Evangelist. It describes a Biblical episode where Jesus lets some demons enter some two thousand pigs, and they all end up drowning in the sea. It's quite a violent scene, but it gets cut on Boars's flavor text just before escalating.

Part Water


… and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

Exodus 14:22

Part Water only exists in Legends, as it got no reprints. It's probably the card which tells the most recognizable Biblical episode, at least among the five we are analyzing. A blue sorcery, it grants islandwalk to a number of target creatures, depending on how much mana you spend when you cast it.

The episode it quotes is the "Crossing of the Red Sea", when the Israelites manage to escape from the Egyptians through the guide of Moses. It comes from the Exodus, and it's one of the most famous scenes from the Bible.

Revelation


Many are in high place, and of renown: but mysteries are revealed unto the meek.

Ecclesiasticus 3:19

Revelation is a problematic card within this list. The reason is that its quote was corrected from one printing to the next, as John Dale Beety explained in this article. If you look at the original printing from Legends, the quote is attributed to Ecclesiastes 3:19. The problem is that such attribution was a mistake, a typo really, as the real text it cites is Ecclesiasticus 3:19.


The Book of Ecclesiastes is 100% canonical, while the Ecclesiasticus is considered apocryphal (i.e. excluded from the canon) by Protestants. As such, depending on the creed and the tradition you look at it from, Revelation might or might not be considered a card quoting the Bible.

Anyway, the quotation is another proverb-like verdict. This does not surprise us in the least, though, because the Ecclesiasticus is one of the typical books commonly known as "sapiential literature" or "wisdom literature". In other words, in a similar way to the book of Proverbs or the Psalms, it contains suggestions on how to live a good and successful life. In this particular case, it explains how what is most important is only revealed to the meek.

Segovian Leviathan


Leviathan, too! Can you catch him with a fish-hook or run a line round his tongue?

Job 40:25

The most ancient of Magic Leviathans, Segovian Leviathan was first printed in Legends, thus preceding just by a couple of months his cousin Leviathan from The Dark. It got many reprints (including Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Edition), but always maintained the same quotation. It's a big creature, at least for blue: a 3/3 for five mana, with the bonus of islandwalk.

Not impressive, but it's funny how in the Sixth Edition version it temporarily got the creature type of "Serpent". It's actually not a mistake, from a philological point of view. Most modern interpreters intend the Biblical "leviathan" as a crocodile, rather than a cetacean, but another interpretation is that of a large snake.

Knight Errant


Before honor is humility.

Proverbs 15:33

As mentioned in the introduction, Knight Errant arrived a bit late to the party. While the other six cards were all printed between 1993 and 1994, this Knight showed up in 1997, with the arrival of Portal. Another peculiarity is that only this card did not maintain its original flavor text in subsequent reprints. At least, not in the last one, which occurred in 2001 with Seventh Edition. There, it received a much more trivial flavor text: "Knights are quick to pledge their loyalty and even quicker to charge into battle".

In Portal and Starter 1999, instead, the quotation comes from the Biblical book of Proverbs. It's a very short sentence, and it sounds perfect on a white knight. It mentions two typical qualities of the color white in Magic, namely honor and humility, and states that the latter is even more crucial than the former. It's just a vanilla 2/2 for two mana, and therefore I'd say I'll trust him.

Conclusions

What are the differences between the quotations from the Qur'an and those from the Bible? What do they have in common? Personally, I find more similarities than differences. The two cards quoting the Qur'an where printed within an edition heavily based on the Middle East, which contributes in separating them from the others.

Nevertheless, the concepts we find prove quite smilar. There are some very smart phrases typical of wisdom literature, a few suggestions for a good life, certain episodes coming straight from the two religious texts, and of course a lot of magic. What is your favorite card among those we analyzed today?

Francesco Spagnol

Francesco started playing Magic in middle school just as the Onslaught came out. He has taken part in many tournaments and organized several events himself. Booster draft is by far his favorite format, but he also enjoys Pauper and Pre-Modern. When he doesn't play Magic, he works in the publishing industry, as an editor of children's books. He is always looking for good stories.

View More By Francesco Spagnol

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