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Norse Mythology in Kaldheim

Magic’s newest expansion, Kaldheim, hits shelves this week and promises to be an exciting and flavorful addition to the multiverse. Overall, the cards from the spoiler look incredible and I’m hard-pressed to say I’ve seen a Standard release during the COVID-19 era that captures the magic of Magic quite like Kaldheim does.

In particular, the return of the snow mechanic to Standard and Pioneer excites me, but today I’m especially interested in talking about the unique flavor that informs the plane of Kaldheim and its flavor. 

 

Header - Play the Game, See the World

Over the years, and across the history of the game, my favorite sets have always tended to be the ones where Magic explores the history, culture and mythology of various ancient civilizations spanning geography and time. 

 

Serendib EfreetKokusho, the Evening StarZodiac DragonErebos, God of the Dead

 

Arabian Nights, Champions of Kamigawa, Portal: Three Kingdoms and Theros all stand out as exemplary planes in which Magic has used the incredible imagery, mythology and aesthetic from a culture that extends beyond traditional European fantasy tropes. I’ve seen plenty of knights, dragons, elves and so on in Magic over the years so I’m always excited to encounter new fantasy tropes that I’m less familiar with (but excited to learn more about!) brought to life on cardboard. 

 

Header - Norse, Norse, Of Course, Of Course

The Vikings and Norse mythology play a direct and central role in the flavor of the plane of Kaldheim. The Norse Empire of the eighth through 11th centuries was a huge player in the history of northern and central Europe. In particular, the Vikings were known for their engineering and shipbuilding, which took them to the high seas to explore the continent but also beyond, all the way to Iceland and even North America. This next-level shipbuilding helped create many revolutionary boats, in particular the knarr. These longboats, designed for North Atlantic voyages and exploration, provided the Vikings with unprecedented access to traverse the region and beyond at a time when most other cultures remained regional and localized. 

A Viking Knarr longship

Through the use of their superior boats and navigation techniques, the Vikings were able to hit the high seas and expand their culture, influence and understanding of the world around them.

It’s also important (and obvious) to note that the Vikings were certainly not above pirating, looting or plundering! It’s certainly been recorded that these early explorers did not operate with a non-violent agenda like the Prime Directive of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek. 

George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones utilizes Norse mythology in his construction and symbolism borrowed from conceptions of Viking culture. House Greyjoy, for instance, are known for their shipbuilding prowess, high seas navigation and pirating. 

Much of what we know today about the Vikings and Norse Empire is preserved through medieval texts in the form of recorded folktales and myths from this early period. Norse Mythology is full of fascinating tales and legends which makes it a bottomless treasure trove of interesting material for a fantasy game like Magic to draw from. 

Perhaps the most mainstream representation of Norse mythology comes from the Marvel Universe. Much in the same way that Magic has co-opted the stories, mythology and iconography of Norse Mythology into its own mythos, Marvel did the exact same thing nearly 60 years ago!

Thor made his first appearance in Journey into Mystery #83 back in August of 1962. As the Thor franchise and comics became more fleshed out over the decades, his homeworld of Asgard and cast of characters (Odin, Loki, etc.) are essentially lifted right out of those ancient medieval tales and texts! 

Norse Mythology also features an eclectic cast of monsters, creatures and fantasy races such as Jotuun (Trolls / Giants), Dokkalfar (Dark Elves / Dwarves), Ljosalfar (Light Elves) and Nidhogg (Dragons). Magic already supports all of these creature types, which makes seeing Norse representations of Elves, Trolls, Giants, Dwarves and Dragons an extremely neat and novel angle for the game to go. 

 

 

Header - Neat References to Norse Myth

I’m just going to hit some of the basics and unpack a few aspects of Kaldheim’s Norse mythology connection but much has already been written on the subject. If you’re interested in expanding your understanding of how all of these pieces work together in a more elaborate context, I highly recommend reading through the Magic Kaldheim fan wiki.

I think my all-time favorite Norse reference brought to life in Magic form is Toski, Bearer of Secrets.

 

Toski, Bearer of Secrets

 

Toski invokes a reference to a mythological creature called Rataoskr, who runs up and down the World Tree carrying messages between the gods and other mythological creatures. 

The “World Tree,” Yggdrasil, as a model of the universe also plays a pivotal role in Kaldheim’s flavor and construction. 

 

The World Tree

 

Bifrost is the famous rainbow road that links the various realms depicted in Norse mythology and is represented on the Magic enchantment The Prismatic Bridge.

 

 

Obviously, Magic’s conception of the planar multiverse plays nice and coherently with Norse mythology’s concepts of traversing from one realm to another via supernatural means such as the Bifrost. 

It’s very clear that there are a lot of one-to-one symbolic representations of characters from Norse mythology that have been reinterpreted for a Magic context. The deeper you go, and the more you immerse yourself in Norse mythology, the more connections you’ll start to see. However, it’s clear just from the surface that there are a ton of references being made. 

 

Boreal Outrider

 

“We apologise for the fault in the subtitles. Those responsible have been sacked. Mynd you, møøse bites Kan be pretti nasti…”

 

I highly suggest picking up a book of Norse mythological tales and checking some of them out. They’re a lot of fun as far as mythologies go and there are plenty of modern adaptations that are fun and fast-paced reads. It certainly brings a new appreciation to a lot of these new Kaldheim cards when you’ve read a few of the myths and can make more of these basic connections. 

 

Header - A Song of Ice Age and Fire

The last thing I’d like to touch on today is how Kaldheim plays into Magic’s own lore. In particular, there are tons of strong thematic overlaps between Kaldheim and the Ice Age block (Ice Age, Alliances and Coldsnap). 

It should be obvious that these subsets of Magic contain a lot of thematic overlap, in particular, the use of the snow mechanic as well as references to Norse mythology and Nordic language.

 

JokulhaupsKjeldoran OutpostJotun Grunt

 

While the events of the Ice Age block take place on Magic’s signature locale, Dominaria, in an Ice Age resulting from the fallout of The Brother’s War in Antiquities, it’s clear that Ice Age was heavily inspired and influenced by Norse mythology. Its various fantasy creatures and motifs inspired Magic in the same way that Arabian Nights draws from Middle Eastern tales, legends and history. It’s certainly a less direct invocation than Arabian Nights, but I’d argue Norse influence is still quite strong throughout Ice Age block sets. 

Unfortunately, no Lhurgoyf sightings on Kaldheim so far….

 

Lhurgoyf

 

However, we’ve got bigfoot spotted on both planes! 

 

Karplusan YetiFrostpeak Yeti

 

I haven’t read the Kaldheim story yet, but I’m really interested to see if there’s an explanation or correlation between the strong Norse influence in Ice Age sets and the obviously similar themes and tropes being released now in the present Kaldheim set. 

In general, I’m a big fan of the Ice Age sets. I enjoy seeing the various snowscapes, fantasy creatures and people that inhabit these realms brought to life as game pieces. I have zero issue with saying that, as far as Standard releases go, Kaldheim is the first set in the COVID era to really capture my imagination and excite me.

The return of an all-time classic game play and flavor mechanic like snow gives the set a very authentic Magic feel. The artwork looks amazing and the cards feel fun and exciting. In terms of cards I’m excited to play with… there are a ton of cards I’m considering adding to my personal Battle Box game. I’m even considering altering the actual rules of my format to some extent, simply to make room for all of the cards I like! 

Overall, even with zero understanding of Norse mythology or the Vikings, I think Kaldheim is a flashy and exciting Magic set. However, the depth of the flavor adds a whole new dimension to my enjoyment of the set.

I haven’t followed “competitive” Magic very closely over the past year because I prefer to play those formats in paper as opposed to online, so I have no thoughts on how Kaldheim will impact competitive formats. As far as sets that I’m excited to collect, enjoy and add gorgeous cards to my Battle Box though, I’m of the opinion that Kaldheim fires on all cylinders and exceeds my expectations for what a high quality Magic expansion can and should look like in 2021. Until next time…

Lykke til HA det gøy! 

(Good luck and have fun!)

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