Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Card of the Week: Sedge Troll

I've always been fascinated by the flavor text here. I mean, sure, it's a troll, but it's one that's willing to share his food with a stranger. Too bad that food is what it is...
A Bizzare Sort of Hospitality

I had trekked far into the moors and wetlands when I smelled the cooking on the breeze. Despite myself, my mouth watered at the savory aroma mingled with the smoke from the cooking fire. I had been traveling for days, and my own rations had run  low. Had I not known better, I would happily share the food regardless of the monstrosity of the one who prepared it.

I followed the scent through the damp late-autumn hills. As I passed by a still-unfrozen pond, I gazed in to catch my reflection and nodded with satisfaction. I looked suitably ragged: muddy, starveling thin, and clothed in rags too thin and worn for the lateness of the year. Truly, I was none of these things—the cold is nothing to a planeswalker, and despite my dwindling supplies I was still well-enough fed. But the seeming was important, and I wanted to make the right impression.

The fire flickered in to sight through the scrub and Sedge as I came upon a faint path that ran along a steep hillside. As I drew nearer, I saw that it burned in front of a great hole delved into the earth. A cookpot, old and battered, hung above the fire—the source of the smell. And nearby crouched its owner, my potential host—the largest Troll I’d ever seen.

She was clad much the same as I was: trolls, apparently, don’t feel the cold either. But where my seeming was thin and sickly, there was no doubt about her health. She may have been gangly, but her wiry muscles looked strong and rock-hard and ready to spring at the slightest provocation. Lank black hair hung in front of her face, parting like a waterfall as it fell past her long crooked nose. And though I could not tell their color in the shadows of her hair, her eyes shone with a suspicious light as she watched me approach.

“Please, please…” I coughed, “I am cold and I am lost. Please, let me sit by your fire.” Only a fool or a truly desperate traveler would come to a troll’s fire, or so I had thought until recently. But I had since learned that despite their brutal nature, they have a code of hospitality to neither attack nor turn away those truly in need. Her suspicious look faded into speculation and she relaxed. After a long moment of consideration, she grunted an affirmation and moved aside to let me get close to the fire. She must have thought me to be truly in need and worthy of her protection. Maybe she thought, too, that I looked too scrawny to make a good meal.

I took my place by the warmth of the cookfire and made a show of warming my hands for as long as I thought reasonable. “Thank you,” I said. “I was afraid that I was lost for good, that I’d freeze to death out here or starve before I found my way home.”

“This is not a good place for your kind,” she replied over her shoulder, her words grudging and bitten off. She’d gone to the mouth of her den to dig for something. Eventually, she returned to the fire with two crude bowls of poorly-fired clay. She dipped one into the stew bubbling in her cookpot and offered it to me. The smell was intoxicatingly delicious, smelling of wild onions and hearty roots and something like seasoned pork, all cooked together until the scents blended into a greater sum than the parts. “Why do you come here?”

I shook my head and waved away the delicious-smelling soup. “I must have lost the path,” I lied. “I am but a traveler bound to Hammerheim, in the mountains beyond these moors. It’s been days since I left the road. I didn’t realize it until too late, but the road is faint here and in the fog and the rain I lost my way.” I pulled some dried meat from my satchel as I talked, and offered it to her. “For your pot. The warmth of the fire is welcome enough, and if I cannot repay you for your trouble I can at least try.”

She took the meat and dropped it into the stew, apparently having forgiven my refusal of her soup and my weak excuse for my presence. I tried not to notice the shape of the bones that were already in the cauldron. She took the bowl for herself, and as she ate we talked. Though she was not educated—whoever has heard of a troll that is?—her keen questions kept me on my toes. I suspect that she was looking for a sign that I did not need her hospitality after all. If not for her people’s custom, she would likely have put me in the cookpot alongside the unfortunate person she was trying to serve to me. And if I gave her any reason to break that custom, I’m sure she would try to put me there anyway.

We talked long into the night, her trying to catch me in a lie that would send me to the cauldron and me asking her about her people—later on, I would craft what I learned into a summoning. Finally as the dawn approached, her weariness overcame her hunger. With a great fang-bearing yawn she retreated to her den. She offered me a place to sleep in it next to her, but I declined. I felt safe that her hospitality would see me through my sleep, but I did not want to risk her when we woke—presumably, she’d consider me warm and rested enough to no longer need her protection and thus fair game for her cookpot. I rested an hour or so, until the sun had risen above the trees, before I left her behind. And though I never saw her again, I have never forgotten her odd and dangerous sort of kindness towards me.

While I'm not a fan of Modern Magic, I do appreciate that the Time Spiral block had so many callbacks to Old School cards. Hedge Troll is my favorite one of these.
A Serious Obligation

The Sedge Trolls are far from the only culture who practice a form of sacred hospitality, though most others don’t eat those who don’t qualify for their protection. To some extent, hospitality between guests and hosts is required by all cultures. The more extreme concept of offering shelter and food to those in need, regardless of who they are, is particularly common to those cultures who live in difficult environments—deserts and arctic areas, for instance. As one never knows when he or she may need the hospitality of even a bitter foe in the face of nature’s wrath, so too does one offer the same to friend and foe alike.

These expectations of hospitality are enforced not only by the potential of needing hospitality in turn, but by punishments to those who break them. Denying hospitality was, at the very least, a good way to have hospitality denied in return. Many cultures levy greater penalties to those who break hospitality, up to and including death.

The Way of the Troll and the Disk

Sedge Trolls are particularly effective allies for a mage to have in a sorcerous duel. Their regenerative abilities makes them difficult to kill, which is always useful against the likes of red mages or others that rely on spells to directly damage their foes. It is also particularly useful to mages who can kill all allies in battle, their own as well as those of their foes. Unlike most such allies—those likely to be in the employ of a rival mage—the Trolls can survive overkills wrought by the likes of the Nevinyrral’s Disk.

The combo at the heart of many a deck.
This ability to shrug off death has led to the Sedge Troll as the centerpiece of a school of sorcerous combat. Typically, a disciple of this school summons Trolls and other regenerating creatures into battle, then unleashes the power of Nevinyrral’s Disk to destroy all combatants. The trolls survive through their regenerative capacity and are unimpeded in their attacks on the rival mage.

My own take on Troll Disco. I found this version to be too slow to be effective. Sure, the Rukh Eggs and Guardian Beasts are cool in theory, but are too costly to reliably bring into play.
Danatoth of Alsoor

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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Card of the Week: Regrowth

Almost a year ago now!
The End of the Long Winter

In Parma, among the northernmost lands of the Domains, winter lasts for months on end. From shortly after the leaves of the white oaks fall, the land is gripped in snow and ice until well past the equinox. Even with longer hours of day than night, the snow persists and the branches of the broadleaf trees remain bare. The whole world seems to be made solely of dead shades of gray and somber evergreen. But though it seems to take forever, the snow eventually melts and the grays give way to browns.

Until one day when the rains wash away the dust left by the snow and the sun warms the ground and the first new shoots spring up from the soil. When the first new leaves escape from their buds. When the first flowers bloom with dazzling whites and pinks and purples. In the blaze of new color, the world is Regrown.

I cannot prove a thing, but I am sure that the spell of Regrowth was originally created by a mage from a land much like Parma. To see the land bloom once again after months of hibernation can be revelatory, and it does not seem a great leap of logic to attempt to replicate such a change with magic. To replicate the springtime, even if only temporarily, is potent magic indeed.

While the nameless creator’s original spell likely affected only the regeneration of plants, it was surely not long before other mages expanded on the concept. Animals and even people are not that much of a stretch. Likewise, the repair of inanimate objects follows as well. But when the spell became capable of bringing back lost ideas, spells, and even ley lines, it truly came to draw upon deep concepts of magic.

That is not to say that most mages who know the spell use it for such esoteric purposes. Like everybody else, a mage’s wishes are mostly small. That mages can realize their grand dreams easier than others is beside the point—Regrowth is cast mostly to restore or repair small things: a barren fruit tree, a broken tool, a sickly child. In the grand scheme of the multiverse these things are small, despite their great importance to an individual mage.

Celebrating Regrowth

The natural world is defined by cycles of life, death, and rebirth. While some cultures see themselves as above nature, this is not true—people are as tied to the world as any other creature. It is no surprise, then, that cultures throughout the multiverse—at least those outside of the tropics—notice and celebrate the springtime. Whether these celebrations mark the start of a new year, observe the year's planting, or reflect an aspect of the culture's religion, many also contain themes of rebirth, resurrection, and Regrowth.

Trilliums: a sure sign of Spring in Minnesota. Unfortunately, this one is still a few days before blooming.
The Power of Renewal

Green magic is widely considered to be the weakest branch of sorcery amongst the original scholars of magic. Whether this is true is debatable—who can deny the vast power of a Force of Nature?—but it is true that green magic’s strength is slow to gather in comparison to the other colors. Hence, rare is the mage who practices naught but green magic. But while sole practitioners are hard to find, those who dabble in green magic are far more common—and most of these do so to access Regrowth. The ability to Regrow and cast any spell lost in battle—fearsome summoning, powerful sorcery, potent ley line, or anything else—is powerful, and especially so when combined with other magics that can do similar. Such other spells are not rare, but Regrowth is among the most efficient of them.

Regrowth at home in mono-green: I've made a home for my Wolf(hound)s of the Hunt!
Danatoth of Alsoor

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Card of the Week: Cosmic Horror

Back in the day, I opened three packs of Italian Legends—this was the best card I pulled, and I still have it. If only I'd have kept the Tabernacle I pulled from the one pack of English Legends I opened...
When the Stars are Wrong

Some people say that one’s fate is determined by the stars. One’s personality, they say, is influenced by which stars were in the sky during one’s birth. The positions of the sun, the moon, and the wandering stars against the backdrop of the fixed stars further influence the events of one’s life. I don’t know if such things are true—and I suspect that at least for the most potent of mages, they cannot be. For how can the stars of one world influence a mage when he or she travels to another world with different stars?

The skies beyond our worlds do hold power, though, even if it is not the power described by the astrologers. Those among us who have witnessed the Bad Moon rise cannot doubt its power to strengthen the undead hordes. Those of us who summon the light of the Blood Moon to hamstring our foes cannot deny its effect on the very ley lines of the land. A Falling Star flung from the skies is as undeniable a display of power as can be imagined. But despite the power of these things, they are still understandable.

Sometimes, however, the stars align just so...and something else comes down from the skies.

From what I remember—but that’s the problem. I don’t have any clear memories of that night. How am I to know what was really there, and what my mind made up to shield itself from the truth? But from what I think I remember, the night was cold. Not yet winter-cold, but a damp sort of cold that feels even worse. The wind howled in the leafless dead trees, but the skies were clear. No moon, Bad or otherwise, rose to rival the stars themselves. And the stars, they undulated and flashed in a weird sort of rhythm. To look too long at their pulsations made me nauseous, but I could not look away.

Soon my discomfort became more than just physical. There was something out there in the blackness, beyond the stars but still horribly close. What it was I could not see, but I knew that it was older than the hills—older than the world—older than even the stars themselves. And now its attention was focused on our world. I imagine that I myself was too insignificant to matter to such a thing, but even in its indifference I was doomed.

The dread, the nausea, the panic grew and grew, and just as I felt I must surely die should it worsen...I saw it. Or whatever part of it that my mind could make sense of. As vast as a mountain, it blotted out the light of the stars from whence it came. Great slavering maws of teeth, glaring eyes, tentacles wriggling like worms in the gut of a sick animal—these are all that I could make out of it, and only in impression. What it actually looked like, I cannot even dream of. And the sound—at once a whirring hum-buzz and a deep rumbling like an earthquake and nothing in between, a sound not meant for human ears. But full of malice and scornful indifference, as if I were an insect at the foot of a bored child hearing my impending doom in the idle laughter.

I threw myself to the ground and cowered in the cold mud, but even then I knew it was futile. How could it not pass over me? But despite my frenzied screams, pass over me it did. After an amount of time—moments? Hours? Days?—its presence began to fade. Perhaps the stars changed so it could not remain here. Perhaps it grew tired of the game. I fled—not to safety, for nowhere can be safe from such a thing—but because I could do nothing else but flee.

It was months later, once my feverish nightmares settled again into uneasy dreams, when I came to a horrifying realization. Perhaps my encounter with the thing had created a connection between it and myself, but I knew how to call it back. So thoroughly that I could do it without thought. Initially unaware of what I was doing, I found myself twisting threads of mana just so, and the stars...responded. As soon as I realized what I was doing, I shoved the mana away, tried to shove the knowledge from my mind. But it’s still there...waiting for when I’m weak or stressed or desperate. Waiting to seize control and call the Horror’s attention again.

Eldritch Abominations

The Cosmic Horror is not unique, nor is it isolated to Dominaria or any other known plane. Tales from distant worlds usually decline to give these beings names: “Nameless Ones”, “Old Ones”, “Elder Gods”, and such. Occasionally one is named, but such names tend to be mere approximations of sounds that people cannot vocalize—thus, Cthulhu or Ktulu in place of the alien and unpronounceable true name. More commonly, if they must be named in the specific, they are given titles such as “The King in Yellow” or “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”.

The big bad of Eldritch Abominations: the OG, if you will. Ia! Ia!
The Insanity of Calling on Horrors

No sane mage summons the Cosmic Horrors to fight their battles for them: it is too much of a risk. They are indeed powerful, but their power can seldom be reliably directed only at others and not oneself. Furthermore, the mana needed to twist the stars into the proper configuration to call them is also needed to maintain said alignment. Such a cost can be paid, but not reliably and not for long, and the mana used to pay it cannot be used for other purposes.

I don't think you can make a good deck with Cosmic Horrors, but you can at least make a thematic Lovecraft one. Cultists! Sacrifices! Rats (in the Walls)! Ghouls (who ride the night-wind)! And (of course) Cosmic Horrors!
Danatoth of Alsoor

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Card of the Week: Sol Ring

The Unlimited one does look cool, but guess which one I play when it matters?
The Persistence of Knowledge

As the ages pass, it is inevitable that the knowledge of earlier generations will be lost. This is not always a bad thing, for the later generations make discoveries of their own to replace what was lost. Sometimes, the new knowledge is superior to the old: the summonings of the modern-day mages far surpass in power the summonings of those who still adhere to the old ways. In other cases, the modern-day mages never surpass the ancients: though the binding of ley lines into gemstones was likely common knowledge in the elder days, none today remember the craft so well as to make Moxen without drawback.

But on rare occasion knowledge from the ancient days persists into modern times unchanged—neither lost nor superseded by superior technique. The Sol Ring is one such example. Though almost as powerful as any of the great forgotten artifacts, knowledge of its creation has never been lost. In fact, the techniques of its creation have been discovered again and again throughout the multiverse, albeit in different form than the work of the ancients.

Whereas we of the oldest school of Magic mimic in our artifice prominences of Dominaria’s sun as we draw upon them, our successors take a more literal interpretation of the concept and bind similar energies into wearable rings. Indeed, their lore speaks of “binding the light of distant stars” into their rings. They are closer to our techniques than most of them know: it is not widely believed, even upon the more enlightened planes, that stars are but other suns—albeit much, much farther away than the suns that they know. Perhaps the star that they draw their power from is Dominaria’s sun, so far away from their own as to appear but a speck of light in the night sky.

The new-border Sol Rings with the golden ring and laser beam art are not near as cool as the solar prominence originals. But to be fair, the original original Sol Ring, from the Gamma playtest stage, is also a jewelry-style ring.
In my own progression as a mage, the Sol Ring was one of the first truly powerful things that I learned about. Like most young mages, I was first impressed by being able to summon Craw Wurms and other huge creatures. But I soon realized that summoning them in the heat of battle was much harder to manage than it looked. I also realized that having a Sol Ring would let me summon them far earlier than I could by only drawing upon my lands. I cannot claim that this realization made me a much better mage, or that I ever developed any particular talent. But it was a small glimmer of insight that there’s more to being a mage than summoning huge monsters and casting huge Fireballs—an insight that slowly led to other, greater insights into the nuances of Magic.

I still possess my Sol Ring from all those years ago, a thin loop of fire to wrap around my finger. It is not something I can wear all the time: even at a fraction of the temperature of the prominences it links to, it cannot be worn without some amount of pain. But its utility far outweighs and discomfort. Many of my other relics from that age are long gone, traded away spell for spell or otherwise lost. The Sol Ring has served me well and continues to do so.

Solar Power

It is, perhaps, unsurprising that the Sol Ring has persisted far longer than its more powerful counterparts. The Sun has always been seen as a source of power—it is obvious to any who merely steps into its light that it warms, nourishes, and illuminates (and it also blinds, parches, and burns). It is likely the most powerful thing in the existence of most beings. It is no large leap to realize that its power can be harnessed for other uses, including magic. And while the Sol Ring is a particular manifestation of this kind of magic, tales abound of other such forms: solar deities that play fundamental parts in many mythologies, holy warriors that ultimately draw their power from the sun, foul creatures that are wounded and destroyed by the purity of its light. Nor is the Sol Ring the only example of light-empowered jewelry: witness, for instance, the greatest works of smithcraft ever, the holy jewels containing the light of the progenitors of the Sun and the Moon coveted by the greatest evil power of a world even as they burned him for his corruption.

Just a few books with solar-based magic and power. Left to right: solar fae (only usable through the faith of the masses1), the Conciliator (said to be a messiah who will re-ignite the dying Sun), and Galadriel's Phial (containing the light of the Evening Star, which is of course a Silmaril—itself containing the light of the Two Trees that predated the Sun and Moon).

Legendary Power in an Affordable Package

Though it is not as fabled as the Moxen, the Sol Ring is nearly as powerful and is thus an indispensable part of almost every mage’s arsenal. The rush of mana that it provides allows a mage to cast costlier spells more rapidly than normal. With the possible exceptions of mages who delve so deeply into a single color of magic, it is hard to imagine a strategy that a Sol Ring does not complement.

This is not a good deck. But it would be even worse without the Sol Ring. (This is my Undead Enchantress deck from the current Paladins derby. Thanks to my work's printer for the proxies...)
It is hard to overstate the importance of the Sol Ring in hastening a mage’s spellcasting. Indeed, if the techniques of its creation had died out with those of the Moxen, the few remaining Sol Rings available would likely be almost as sought-after and precious as the jewelry.

Danatoth of Alsoor

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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Card of the Week: Indestructible Aura

This is widely considered to be the most metal illustration of all Magic cards. Not only would the bird-person look right at home on the cover of a badass power metal album, but he's even throwing the horns!
Unexpected Salvation

In the ages since I discovered magic, I have been many things. I have wandered as a vagrant, studied as a scholar, and walked the planes as a mage. When necessity has demanded it, I have fought for my life and the lives of others. On rare occasion, I have even fought for kings and queens in war. In most of these cases I have drawn upon my magic, but it was not so for the first time. In my first war, I was a soldier. Certainly I knew some magic then, but not enough to do more than protect myself and maybe fell a foe or two before they came close enough to lock swords with me. No, aside from that, I swung a sword with the rest of my fellows.

The war was another of the endless battles of the Dark ages of my birth, where city-states pitted themselves against each other for supremacy and, more importantly, ever-harder-to-find resources. I forget which ones—I had long left Alsoor and would not return to where I was known as a dangerous mage—but joining an army was one of the more reliable ways to eat, so I joined. All I remember from those days is that our army was the smaller one, and significantly so. Whereas we seemed to huddle together on our side of the battle plain, our foes seemed to stretch from one side of the horizon to the other. Every one of us knew that we faced our doom.

Whether the Church favored our cause or whether the Church-folk amongst us just feared being killed alongside us, the priests and priestesses who found themselves with us that day went about before the battle blessing all that they could. Most of them merely uttered prayers seeking Tal’s protection for us, but a few of them—blind to the fact, of course—were mages themselves and placed spells upon those they blessed. I hid from them, as I had my own magics to protect me and I would not risk discovery—and besides, my spells were sure to be stronger than any Church magic...or so I thought.

The battle was as lopsided as could be expected, and our army suffered heavy losses. But it was not a rout. One of the priestesses must have been a powerful sorceress indeed, as a handful of my fellow soldiers seemed to be invincible on the field. Not enough to sway the outcome of the battle, but enough to prevent a mass slaughter in chaotic retreat. For as long as it held, those that her magic touched were Indestructible.

I can still see in my mind’s eye, as clear as day, as one of the Indestructible fought. His company fought alongside mine, and his last stand saved us from the worst of the slaughter. He fought with the discipline of a veteran soldier, of course, but that was not what saved us. He seemed all but untouchable, dodging attacks that he couldn’t have seen coming and shrugging off blows that should have felled an ox. But nothing slowed him in his almost-methodical assault on the enemy. First a parry and a counterthrust to strike home past a shield. A recovery from a hammerblow to the face as easily as if it had been a slap. A dodge away from a cut to the neck at the last moment. A blade deflected and a strike to take advantage of the resulting opening. Soon all eyes were on him, the awe in our eyes mirrored with the fear in the eyes of our foes. The sun broke through the clouds and shone on him, and he seemed to have a golden Aura about him. He was wonderful and terrible to behold.

But nothing lasts forever, and his protection finally crumbled as well. The clouds rolled back over the sun, and as the golden light faded around him so too did his luck. One moment he stood over a fallen foe and looking for another, and the next a stray arrow stood out from his left eye. But though he fell, he had driven off enough of the enemy so that our companies could regroup. And so it was here and there across the battlefield—gaps where the priestess’s chosen had won precious ground. But as the enemy’s companies reformed, we saw that despite their Indestructibility we were still far outnumbered. Yet because of their great feats, we were able to retreat in an orderly fashion. We had lost the battle, but we could have faced far worse.

Limited Invincibility

Many tales exist of invincible heroes, or at least heroes whose invincibility is mostly-permanent. Certainly a great hero may have a specific point of weakness (maybe a heel?), but is otherwise Indestructible. Fewer speak of temporary Indestructibility, where a hero has only a short time to do incredible deeds before he or she is again vulnerable. Such limited Indestructibility, when rarely seen, may be the result of a talisman or item of some sort, or more rarely is conferred onto a hero by the skills or powers of another.

Though I'm sure that some of you will be able to name any number of legends or pieces of fantasy literature where a character is granted temporary invulnerability, all I can think of off the top of my head is this.
The Coolness Factor

Not many mages make use of the Indestructible Aura. While it is effective and easy to cast, its effects are short-lived. This may be useful in surprising a foe, but in general there are better ways for a mage to protect his or her allies: destroying foes with lightning or forcing foes to exchange their weapons for farming implements, for example, are just as efficient and far more permanent. None, however, make an ally look so impressive...and the importance of aesthetics in battle cannot be discounted, at least not for some mages.

Yeah, the Indestructible Aura makes the deck worse, but where else are you going to use it other than a White Weenie deck?
Danatoth of Alsoor

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Card of the Week: Pestilence

Too on the nose for these days?

Under the Yellow Flag

It is no secret that magic can be deadly. Lightning Bolts and Fireballs are obviously so, as are the dangerous entities summoned into battle. But there are less obvious dangers than rains of fire and rampaging beasts, and these are no less deadly. Indeed, due to their subtlety, they can be even more deadly—perhaps not to the mages that call upon them, but certainly to those unfortunate enough to be in their way.

The vast majority of people on Dominaria and elsewhere in Dominia are not mages. They are unlikely to face the wrath of a Shivan Dragon (unless they live in Shiv, and then only if they live near one’s lair). They will almost certainly not be devoured by a Lord of the Pit (unless they are even more foolish than the planeswalking mages that do so and dabble in demonic knowledge themselves). But they are likely to encounter a force even more dangerous and deadly than a demon or a dragon—Pestilence.

Ever since people have gathered together in numbers larger than those of wandering bands of hunters, they have known Pestilence. For it is in the filth and the squalor and the crushing crowds that Pestilence seems to thrive. To be sure, those who dwell in the countrysides or in the wilds are also susceptible, but it seems that the cities are where these sicknesses seem to begin. And once begun, none are safe—Pestilence can spread from city to city, into the countryside, even cross oceans. The only safety to be found is in luck and extreme isolation.

Indeed, in one such city did a plague begin in the years of my youth. Despite their similarities—cultural, geographical, and otherwise—Ghed and my home city of Alsoor were bitter rivals. But though many in Alsoor would celebrate Ghed’s misfortune in any other circumstance, none gloated when Pestilence came to Ghed. Perhaps it was compassion for even their hated neighbors in the face of the horrors of plague. Perhaps it was merely fear that the Pestilence would spread to Alsoor.

I was not in Ghed during the plague, but I did hear the tales of the survivors. As far as plagues go, it was mild: swelling in the joints, fever, an outbreak of pustules, and rampant contagion, but few deaths. But even without a deadly effect, it still sparked fear and panic. The far-off nation of Almaaz was blamed for it, and dozens of visiting Almaazi were killed in “retribution”. The city closed its gates, both to keep outsiders from bringing in more Pestilence and to prevent residents from spreading the Pestilence to the countryside. Neighborhoods afflicted the most severely were blockaded off, and even a few buildings were boarded up and burned with the sick still inside. No, the Pestilence was a mild one, but the true horrors came with the fear.

The Current Pestilence

Pestilence has existed throughout the multiverse for as long as there have been people, though urban living conditions are necessary for it to spread beyond isolated groups of people. Sometimes these outbreaks are small, and sometimes they go on to affect entire planes. History is studded with plagues that spread far and wide and kill millions, even beyond the lesser plagues that are smaller and less lethal.

As I write this, the multiverse is dealing with a new Pestilence. Thought to have originated when a bat-borne disease infected human hosts, it has spread like wildfire in the past few months. It has yet to be seen whether it will go down in history as a great plague or merely a lesser plague, but it is at the very least somewhat lethal and very contagious. As is always the case with Pestilence, isolation from non-essential contact with others is crucial in preventing its spread.

So I have some extra copies of Pestilence. I'm planning on altering them up and giving them out as prizes for an online tournament. Stay tuned for the Covid Cup announcement coming soon!

Germ Warfare

It should come as no surprise, given my previous writings, that mages are willing to harness the most dangerous and depraved magics in their battles for dominance with their peers. Pestilence is no different—it is, after all, an effective means of killing off creatures of all sorts. That it is also capable of killing the mage that employs it is of little concern, as there are always additional magics that can slay an opponent more rapidly once the Pestilence has done its gruesome work. Furthermore, there are a few creatures that seem unaffected by the disease...but yet can carry it to infect others.

Those White Knights and Orders of Leitbur are asymptomatic carriers of Pestilence.

Danatoth of Alsoor

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Card of the Week: Scavenger Folk

It's such a strange-looking piece of art. For a long time, I wondered if Scavenger Folk were humans or a lineage unto themselves. When the card was reprinted with new (and inferior) art, I decided that they were human after all.
Scavenging to Survive

Few records exist from the first decades that followed the violent end of the Artificers' War, when the last mortal act of Urza broke Argoth into pieces and melted its sands to glass. It was not only disastrous for those unlucky enough to be on Argoth to die in the blast, but for the rest of the world. For the devastation was so immense as to kick dust and debris high into the air above. The larger objects fell back to the earth soon enough, but the dust remained there for years—and in large enough quantities to block out the sun. Across Dominaria the land cooled, the crops failed, and the people suffered and died.

Fear and famine crowded people into the cities, huddled for protection. Without anywhere else safe to go, those who seized power were free to ruthlessly use it to consolidate power further. Even those rulers who spoke words of a higher purpose were no more than tyrants jealously holding onto what was theirs. But things were just as bad outside of the cities. In the wilds it was a white-line nightmare, where only those mobile enough to scavenge or brutal enough to pillage survived.

Hundreds of years had passed since the destruction of Argoth before I was born, and though the world had healed of the immediate trauma it was still gravely wounded. The pillagers persisted, both as highwaymen in places like the Scarwood and the priests of Tal that ruled the cities in all but name. Much has been written of these folk, but less so of the scavengers. Yet these, too, survived, and perhaps better than did the pillagers.

To be fair, I (and Pappagallo) consider Max Rockatansky to be a scavenger—and there are four movies about him. I guess they do tell stories about scavengers after all.
Perhaps the most well-known of these much-ignored people persisted into the times of my youth. The very same Scarwood that became a hideout for bandits also became a refuge for the destitute and homeless. The woods offered them a shelter from the terrors of the outside world. But it was not safe even discounting the bandits, dangerous goblins, hags, and other dangers also stalked the woods. The refugees first banded together for safety in numbers, and eventually managed to cobble together a society for themselves in towns of hovels and caves.

Perhaps the greatest factor in the survival of the Scavenger Folk was their poverty. They were disadvantaged one and all—the homeless, the farmers driven from their lands by goblins and raiders, the believers in faiths persecuted by the Church of Tal, and the like. Living on the corpse of the old world, making use of the broken and discarded, they tended to have nothing worth stealing. Even the most bloodthirsty of the pillagers tended to leave them alone, as they could often sate their bloodlust on richer victims.

And yet, the skills that the Scavenger Folk developed to survive made them into great thieves. To most of them, it mattered not whether a find was broken or intact, claimed by another or abandoned—they could take it for themselves if it could be used for shelter, fuel, food, or other necessity. Tales abound of their duplicity, where they steal great riches or powerful magical artifacts. It is only after such thefts that others would take notice of Scavengers—in wrath over or greed for the stolen items, others inevitably found a reason to attack the Folk. But even then it was almost always too late: once in the hands of the Scavengers, their treasures were lost forever.

Written Out of History

As mentioned above, the Scavenger Folk are mentioned very rarely in histories and tales. Even then, they are incidental—lurking about the margins of stories. Their unsavory reputation is notable, and perhaps the only reason they’re mentioned. But other than being unwelcome in cities and being rumored to be grave robbers, little is said. Perhaps those who recorded the tales assumed that their readers would already be familiar with the Scavenger Folk and felt no need to tell more. In this, they follow a well-established pattern—the powerful and successful tend to write the histories, and show little interest in speaking of the weak and powerless.

Aside from the card itself, this book contains what little information there is about the Scavenger Folk. It's only an incidental mention or two, so you'll be disappointed if you read it for that. I didn't like the book—it doesn't fit the feel of The Dark expansion at all—and was disappointed in any case.
Offensive Scavenging

It is rare, but not unheard of, for great mages to ally with the Scavenger Folk. Their skills in plunder are just as effective against a rival mage’s artifice as against an unguarded refuse pit. And while there are more efficient ways to remove a rival’s artifacts, not all mages are able to use them. Those mages who rely solely on green magic, unable to Shatter or Disenchant threatening artifice, sometimes choose to employ the Scavengers. Granted, they can also Crumble, but the ability to also send the Scavengers into battle is not to be overlooked—especially if they’re magically enhanced in stature beforehand.

Scavenger Folk: a 1/1 for 1 with an upside? Perfect for a Green Weenie deck!

Danatoth of Alsoor

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