Sometimes, the flavor text of a card can conjure grand, sweeping images in your imagination, bolstering the resonant flavor of a card or further deepening its connection to the mechanics it involves. Other times, a card’s flavor text is a dumb joke, or a weird bit of poetry; sometimes, a card is printed with flavor text which is the flavor text printed on the card.
Occasionally, however, a card only needs the smallest possible amount of flavor text – just one word. There are plenty of examples of cards that eschew long, flowery sentences for one single word, and are all the better for it – here are five of the best, spanning a wide breadth of Magic’s history.
When you read the first ability of this card, you start thinking, hey, the next paragraph better be pretty bloody good, because we’re off to a terrible start here. What is it going to do? Draw an extra card each turn? Have some kind of powerful activated ability? Nope! It’s got an ability that’s just plain weird – you can sacrifice one of your own creatures to give your opponent their own personal Sulfuric Vortex.
What I like about the flavor text is that it’s almost like a set of instructions. “Wait, why do I want this stupid card? I don’t want to lose life or sacrifice my creatures!” The flavor text hints at what you should do with it: give it away. It’s a very simple and elegant way to sum up the vibe of the entire card, and you can almost hear the smug tone of voice in which the flavor text was doubtless written.
I’ve talked about how flavor text can strengthen a card’s flavor by providing context or detail that pairs with the illustration. Well, ignore all that for this one, because Mwonvuli Ooze’s art is pretty horrendously mismatched from its art.
Those primates don’t look grossed out, not even close. The small one seems pretty chilled out about everything, as though seeing a giant turd-shaped ooze squeezing itself between two palm trees is a daily occurrence.
The second one, too, doesn’t seem disgusted as much as it seems surprised! I mean, this is an appropriate reaction to seeing such a sight, and I find its reaction much more compelling that its smaller cousin there, but… “Ewww!” for the flavor text? Surely not. Ah! Maybe, instead, it’s excited, and the one-word flavor text should be “PogChamp.”
As I discussed with Denis during a recent episode of our “Magic” “advice” “podcast”, Split the Party’s single-word flavor text is a neat little metafictional nod to enfranchised D&D players who know what an awful idea it is to split the party. Often for the characters, it might make sense to split up, from an in-universe perspective, but as any D&D player will tell you, you shouldn’t do it.
First of all, encounters are balanced for parties of around four, so you’re much more likely to get dumpstered by a DM who takes savage pleasure in punishing the mistakes of their players (not that I’d know anything about that, however).
Secondly, D&D is not meant to be played with a fractured group of players, all doing their own thing. Rather than being more efficient, it usually results in things taking twice as long to complete, while one half of the group sits around, twiddling their thumbs, bored out of their minds, unable to take part in the action because of the group’s poor choices.
Next time you’re playing D&D, and someone suggests “splitting up to save time” or some such nonsense, just follow the simple one-step guide in the flavor text on this card: don’t.
Ah – a flying carpet. A wondrous, magical marvel, capable of transporting you great distances in an incredibly exciting and unique fashion. A mainstay of fantasy media, particularly that with Middle Eastern influence, the flying carpet is a faithful trope in fiction – and how better to capture the card with elaborate, extravagant flavor text detailing the rich characteristics of the card?
From Eighth Edition: “Woven from strands of griffin mane and pegasus tail.” Magnificent. Such resonant coloration, such an insight into the magic and ensorcelation behind a flavor-laden card like this one.
Or, if you’d prefer, there’s the shorter – and rather more compelling – version from Seventh Edition: “Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”
There have been a number of different approaches to the flavor text on this classic card. Portal and Portal Second Age sought to be poetic and grandiloquent: “Swing your axe as a broom, to sweep away the foe.” and “Meant to cut through the body and burn straight to the soul.”
M11 tried getting a bit more clever: “From the heart of the mountain into the heart of the mage.” M12 went for a straight-up gag: “It can chop down a redwood in a single stroke. Your sternum isn’t going to fare any better.” M14 came up with… this, whatever it’s supposed to be: “A strict upgrade over the cinder hatchet.” Ouch. Talk about a miss.
All these other flavor texts, however, can’t hope to compete with not just the best flavor text ever printed on Lava Axe, but also one of the best flavor texts ever printed on any Magic card, ever. The overwhelming majority of versions of Lava Axe went with this magnificently simple, wonderfully pithy, and brilliantly hilarious single-word approach:
Sometimes, less is more, and these cards show us that. Rather than overflowing prose that cramps a card’s rules box, cards like these are further augmented with short, sharp and punchy flavor texts that make them so much better than they would be without.