Then flashed the living lightning from her eyes,
And screams of horror rend th’ affrighted skies.Alexander Pope
When we consider cards with real-world flavor, Legends is by far the most represented set, containing 41 unique cards with flavor texts from real-world authors. We've dealt with a good number of them so far in this series, but not with all of them. Legends took inspiration from a multitude of different genres, so it's not easy to find a common flavor theme connecting all the cards.
Horror is an easy theme to pick up on if you study the cards in the set with real-world inspired flavor. 14 of the 41 cards with real-world flavor quotes in Legends are black cards. It's natural that those cards would feature frightening illustrations and flavor texts as a consequence. Today we'll take a look at some of those cards and their flavor choices.
Then flashed the living lightning from her eyes,
And screams of horror rend th’ affrighted skies.Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock, 1702
In the early years of the game's development, many Magic cards were given generic names. Cosmic Horror is a prime example of this. The expression "cosmic horror" is so generic that it now refers to a whole subgenre of horror, both in literature and other media. It is often used as a synonym for "Lovecraftian horror,", both of which rely on the power of the unmentionable and the incomprehensible. Interestingly, there is no direct quotation from Lovecraft, neither here nor on other Magic cards.
Cosmic Horror is a beautiful card, and it lives up to its name. It was not easy to create art for a card with such an important name, but the illustration by Jesper Myrfors is appropriately horrific. As for the flavor text, it quotes a poem by Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock, a celebrated example of the mock-epic genre. The scene is that where the curl of the title is trimmed, and the "screams of horror" are the immediate reaction to such villainy. If you know the poem, this card gets really funny, as you can appreciate the distance between the tremendous image and the parodic text.
… The ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head …
he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast …Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, 1820
Where Cosmic Horror tapped into the essence of its namesake genre, Headless Horseman, on the other hand, makes use of a much more traditional kind of horror. It also continues the trend of cards with generic names. Some find this to be part of the charm of the old-school sets such as Legends. Wizards use generic names for cards very sparingly these days. Seeing it so prevalent here only adds to the nostalgic feelings of these cards.
First printed with the subtype Horsemen, it was later errated to be a Zombie Knight. Regardless of its creature type, it's still a mediocre card. As a 2/2 for three mana, it's almost a copy of Scathe Zombies, especially after the creature type changed. As we mentioned in the first article of this series, it's usually the most useless and unimpressive cards that receive the best flavor text. Headless Horseman is no exception.
the quotation comes from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the most famous gothic tale in English to feature such a monster. The original short story by American author Washington Irving has been retold and reimagined numerous times over the years. Even Disney made an appropriately creepy version of the story in 1949.
High on a throne of royal state …
insatiate to pursue vain war with heav'n.John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667
Paradise Lost by John Milton is one of the most renowned works ever quoted on a Magic card. Hellfire, a black mass creature removal sorcery feels like an appropriate home for the text. In the right deck, it can often work as a one-sided Wrath of God, though with a high price in damage dealt to the caster. Power with a price is what we've come to expect from black cards, and this is one of the earliest examples.
The quote here comes from the very beginning of Book 2. The subject of the sentence is no less than Satan himself. His name is omitted with an ellipsis, but the art by Pete Venters doesn't fail to give some clues about the identity of the figure. After all, who else might sit on a throne and be insatiable to pursue a war with heaven?
Horror of Horrors
And a horror of outer darkness after,
And dust returneth to dust again.Adam Lindsay Gordon, The Swimmer, 1870
Horror of Horrors, is another oddly generic name. This time, it does not refer to any famous creature. Instead, it's a weird enchantment that costs five mana and lets you regenerate black creatures by sacrificing Swamps. It was reprinted in Ninth Edition and has never seen much play.
The quote, is a couple of lines from The Swimmer, a poem by Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon. It's totally out of context and doesn't really make sense on the card. The only link I could see is between the concept of "dust to dust" and the ability to regenerate creatures in exchange for Swamps.
Shimian Night Stalker
'Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world.William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1603
Of the cards we are analyzing today, Shimian Night Stalker is one of my personal favorites. From the memorable art (once more by Jesper Myrfors) to the exceptional quote by Shakespeare, it's one of Legends' little flavor gems. Of course, from a gameplay perspective, the card is a failure. A costly 4/4 creature, its damage redirection ability has niche use at best. It's also oddly out of place on a black card. Damage prevention is typically a white ability.
The quote is from Hamlet's Act 3, Scene 2. It is among the most gothic speeches in the play. Hamlet himself is the speaker, reflecting on the lateness of the night. It's the time when "churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out", i.e. midnight. The imagery is very suggestive and goes well with the weird creature illustrated by Jesper Myrfors.
An immense river of oblivion is sweeping us away into a nameless abyss.Ernest Renan, Souvenirs d'Enfance et de Jeunesse, 1883
Let's close this installment with the famous card The Abyss. By far the most expensive card of this series, The Abyss is on the reserved list and has always maintained a high price tag. It's a four mana enchantment which destroys a creature at the beginning of each player's upkeep. The card is at its best when played in a creature-less deck, or one with animable lands such as Mishra's Factory. Pox decks are a great example.
The flavor text is an excerpt from one of French philosopher Ernest Renan's last works. In the English-speaking world, it's known as Recollections of My Youth. The sentence quoted is a little vague, but interesting. It nicely complements the illustration by Pete Venters.
Legends contains many cards with real-world flavor texts. today we looked at a subset of them sharing a horror theme. What do you think of these quotes compared to similar quotes we saw in the Poe and Coleridge articles? Looking at the subset of these cards which share a horror theme is just one of the many possible approaches to analyzing all the real-world flavor texts in the set. In the next installments, we will analyze more cards from the set. What other common threads or patterns do you think we will find? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!