Top 5 Most Flavourful Legendary Creatures In 2020 (So Far)
2020 has been dubbed ‘The Year of Commander’ by WOTC, and despite a global pandemic stopping most of the player base from playing EDH in person, it has been living up to it’s name.
From Theros to Zendikar we have been given some of the game’s most impactful Legendary Creatures. This has manifested in some Commanders that are immensely and perhaps oppressively powerful (looking at you Uro) but we don’t concern ourselves with such things here! What we care about are those Creatures that able to tell a story from top to bottom and are so bursting with flavour that every Vorthos player felt a ripple through the Multiverse when they were revealed.
So without further ado here are my top 5 most flavourful Legendary Creatures in 2020 so far. We will Be looking at Theros through to Zendikar because, let’s be honest, Commander Legends is going to be in a world of it’s own…
Akiri, Fearless Voyager
Coming hot out of Zendikar Rising we get the second iteration of Akiri, first represented in Akiri, Line Slinger from the 2016 Commander Pre-con decks. At time of writing we are deep in the middle of the web fiction releases for Zendikar so there may be more to learn about this adventurous Kor lore wise, but the new Legendary stands on it’s own to tell a rich narrative.
Akiri is famed Planar wide for her mastery of Sky hooks, a means of traversing the floating structures of Zendikar using rope and hook to climb and swing, so naturally Akiri’s abilities are centred around equipment. Her first ability allows the player to draw cards for attacking with equipped creatures. This ability is tied into the idea of Akiri, geared up with lines and hooks, swinging into action and discovering the hidden secrets of the Skyclaves. The more she swings, the more cards you draw, and the more treasure can be recovered from your deck. But the ability extends further. If you have multiple creatures equipped, and you attack multiple players, you can draw a card for each player you attack, which in multiplayer means up to three cards a combat! Whilst the analogy of players being the active representation of Skyclaves full of treasure isn’t perfect, it still goes a long way to placing Akiri not just as a solo adventurer but also the leader of an expedition.
Her second ability, allowing an equipped creature to unequip, tap and gain indestructible, is a neat way to show the perils of using Sky Hooks, and the need to perhaps take a break from exploring to prioritise survival. This mechanically also helps sure up what is seen as being a precarious strategy for those using a Voltron style deck, which is often run parallel with equipment.
A quick note on the dynamic art by Ekaterina Burmak. We now see Akiri fully kitted out in Kor armour, sporting a much bulkier and protected look than her previous card, a direction shared by many of the other Kor creatures in the set. This gives us a little extra insight into the Kor race and helps differentiate them from the other Humanoids of Zendikar.
Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths
Anyone who has read or listened to any of the content I have produced in the past knows just how much I love this Dimir Legendary, and yes I do have a deck built around them.
Atris, Oracle of Half Truths printed in Theros Beyond Death, is a riff on the Ancient Greek Oracle at Delphi, who was presented as both an adviser and seer to military leaders and state officials, often characterized as giving advice that could be interpreted in many ways. This idea of “Truth” through certain points of view is something which Atris embodies and not just in the creature’s name.
The U/B colour identity shows ties to Phenax, the Theroisan God of Deception and whilst we never got any real lore for Atris it is reasonable to assume that they are an Oracle at a temple dedicated to this God. Their attire in the fabulous Bastien L. Deharme artwork is again reminiscent of Phenax, with flowing purple robes, gold adornments and most notably a headdress with protruding ‘wings’. The placement of the headdress is also visually evocative of another character depicted in the Theros sets, the U/B Planeswalker Ashiok, themselves a figure shrouded in the unknown. Atris’ clothing as a whole further adds to their mystery, with their age, gender and expression never being explicitly revealed.
Atris’ abilities are where things get really interesting. The ETB effect is essentially a Fortune’s Favour but with 3 cards instead of 4. Allowing your opponents to control the information you have in your card selection adds a whole meta game to your deck. Does your opponent try to hide the more powerful cards from you in an effort to have them discarded, or do they bluff and show you the best choices hoping you will pick the unknown? Are they friend or foe? Do you let on to them what cards are important to you? This is an incredible representation of the Oracles messages, able to be interpreted in a thousand different ways. Even giving Atris Menace, as they are so mercurial you need two creatures to guarantee a block, is a nice touch and brilliant storytelling.
General Kudro of Drannith
For Ikoria, a lot of its reputation and marketing focused on presenting the Plane as a realm of giant Kaiju and Monsters. However, it was the Humans of the Plane that I think held some of it's most interesting flavour. General Kudro is the leader of Drannith, the militaristic, more-than-a-little fascist city state, that sees itself as a stalwart against the chaotic and rampant monsters that stomp around the Plane.
Kudro’s B/W colour identity takes quite a different approach than many of the other B/W Legends in magic. B/W is often presented in terms of some sort of corrupted religion and whilst we do have an idea of religion in Drannith (in the Django Wexler Book ‘The Sundered Bond’ the term “Hells” is often used as a curse word) the crux of this destructive devotion focuses on the city itself and its people. The white in Kudro’s identity is his lifelong service to the city of Drannith and the belief that the order it represents is the righteous path. The black in Kudro’s character is still an expression of the classically black ideal that achieving your goals through any means necessary is valid, but whilst in many other characters this is seen as a selfish, individualistic mindset, for Kudro it is always for the preservation of the city and the system that bind its inhabitants, a system he is unwaveringly a part of. This all culminates in the philosophy that to protect the City of Drannith and all who live in it Kudro, and the military he commands, must be willing to fight and die for it, without question.
Kudro’s abilities are a masterful extension of these ideas. His first line of text giving humans +1+1 is played off of his third ability, sacrificing the same humans to act as removal, in a wonderful back and forth that actively tries to fortify your creatures whilst also using them as a dispensable resource. The stipulation that the creature you are trying to remove must have power 4 or greater is a clever nod to the active story of the set, pitting tiny humans against giant monsters. Admittedly his middle ability is a little less evocative, however in a Standard meta that includes the Escape mechanic, it still utilizes your creatures as literal deterrents against more unnatural strategies.
Kogla, The Titan Ape
Did you know that King Kong, the nakedly obvious inspiration for Kogla, is in fact NOT owned by Toho, the Japanese film production company that owns the Godzilla franchise? Neither did I until Ikoria dropped and I’m not 100% sure WOTC knew either. For this reason however, Kong wasn’t licensed for one of the new Godzilla alt art skin treatments, but instead received an in-Multiverse analogue in the form of Kogla, The Titan Ape.
The themes that permeate the King Kong films and media often centre around the conflict between the savage but ultimately pure power of nature (Kong) and the technologically advanced but selfish modern world (Humans) and Kogla shows this narrative beautifully. Kogla’s ETB effect, where it fights another target creature, perfectly captures the territorial nature of the Kong character (and can lead to flavour wins on the battlefield if you fight a Godzilla skinned creature.) His attack trigger, destroying an artifact or enchantment, clearly shows the apes distain and mistrust for modern technology and his activated ability, protecting a human creature, directly references the third act of the original 1933 King Kong film where Kong cradles the heroine Anne Darrow, protecting her from attacking Biplanes. Even the wording for this ability, returning the human “to it’s owners’ hand” seems to be a cheeky nod to the sequence.
And then there’s the astounding Chris Rahn Art (but then again, when is Rahn not astounding?). The Empire State Building is swapped for Ikoria’s Crystals, Anne Darrow is swapped for Kogla’s Bonder and Biplanes are swapped for Skysail airships, in an artwork that is drenched in movie poster motifs. Rahn caps it all off by providing Kogla with a set of horns forming a crown, solidifying him as king.
Theros Beyond Death is a set packed so full of references to Greek and Persian myth that we could legitimately fill this list with creatures from that set alone, however along with Atris I feel that Alirios, Enraptured deserves the spot because of the subtlety in its deep flavour.
Alirios is the Therosian version of the mythical Narcissus, the hunter who was so beautiful that when tricked by a Nymph to stare into a reflecting pool, they could not tear themselves away from the figure staring back at them and they eventually perished. This story is told on the cardboard not in one single ability but through a whole series of subtle signifiers.
Firstly, Alirios enters tapped, immediately representing his beguiled state. When he enters a Reflection token is created and he can’t untap if there is a reflection left on the table, representing his infatuation with his own image. Interestingly the token is not Legendary, fully cementing the reflection as a hollow image that could technically be copied over and over to further entrance the creature. This alone would be enough to adequately tell the myth of Narcissus, but the card goes even further.
In the art by Kieran Yanner, who is honestly on fire here, we see Alirios staring into the reflecting pool, with a gaunt, sullen mirror image staring back at him. In the token art, we see the scene reversed, with the sullen version of the character in an identical pose, staring into a pool with the bright, fresh face of the creature card looking back. Another subtle difference in the art comes in the more natural surroundings of the creature version and the pillared, dull surroundings of the token suggesting that the token is in the Theros underworld, foreshadowing the fate that ultimately awaits Alirios. And if all that isn’t enough to hammer home the reflecting themes, Alirios is a 2/3 and the token is a 3/2, glorious!
This Creature is perhaps the best example of a whole card telling a singular narrative, that we have in 2020 and could even be considered top tier across all of magic.
And there we have it! 2020 isn’t quite over (in magic terms that is, in world terms it’s not looking great) and there are a lot of cards I didn’t talk about. But if Commander Legends has anywhere near the same level of flavour incorporated into it’s legendary creatures as we have had so far, then we are in for a wild ride. Noticeably there were no cards on my list from the commander Pre-con decks, and maybe that’s down to much of the design focus being on their functionality for new mechanics coupled with the lack of returning characters this year, hopefully this will be balanced again in the future.
I hope this article has shown you that there is a lot of room on these cards to not just be a playable game piece but also to be a vessel for narrative, because it is undeniable that when both of these aspects are working in tandem, the game as a whole is just so much better.
Until next time Vorthos people!
Andy Mann is co-host of the Magic The Flavouring Podcast, where he and Nathan Cansell talk about all things Magic flavour, design and lore, as well as interview MTG creatives. You can find them through the links below!
Podcast: https://magictheflavouring.buzzsprout.com/ or wherever you find your podcasts. Twitter: @MTFlavouring Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqEmU7KIqU4Bcwn2RfcJ-yQ