During the earliest section of The Last of Us, even when the gameplay is still not combat or stealth focused, the level design is still establishing it’s core rules- look for light in stark contrast, yellow/yellow highlights lead to your goal, etc. While the primary intent behind this section is to establish Joel’s character and the backdrop of the larger world, it is no accident that these moments of teaching are so subtly presented as well.
At the dawn of the game, Magic the Gathering’sAlpha had the Savannah
Lion to lay the groundwork for what a top-tier White creature could be.
But in recent years the once powerful rare has lost its crown as the
king and the design has been
leveraged more at uncommon and with upside. Today I would like to
examine the history of the Savannah Lions template, which I define as a 1cmc creature with base power and toughness of 2/1.
Did You Know : Alpha
At the beginning of Magic’s history the best you could do a single
White mana was get yourself a 1/1 with Banding at common or a vanilla 2/1 at
rare. And this trend continued on for the first few years of Magic, in
Arabian Nights (as an example),
both of the 1cmc White creatures were 0/1 - Abu Jafar and Camel
respectively. Of course, it should also be pointed out that this was
during an era where creatures were not considered to be the powerful or
evocative part of the game.
What (W) Gets You…
And for all those people who aren’t history buffs out there, that was it for the power level of creatures for the first 16 years of Magic’s history. Think about that, from 1993 to 2009 Savannah Lions was the gold standard for aggressive White creatures with no drawbacks - besides the one example of Isamaru, Hound of Konda. That’s insane. And yet, I never noticed as a young kid opening packs and building 75 card casual decks to play with during lunch.
This isn’t to say that we didn’t see other 2/1 creatures for 1cmc across the game’s history, some of them were even tournament worthy in their prime, but they always came with some kind of drawback.
Then, 2009 happened; it was a gloomy day, then the clouds parted, we looked to the sky as the heavens sent us a message from above. We all squinted our eyes and adjusted to the heavenly glow, and we could finally make out what the message said…
This blew my mind when it happened. I don’t even know that I really fully understood what the release of a Core Set every year even meant at the time. But the idea that a product that normally acted as a list of cards that were legal in Standard was going to have new cards and good cards, did not compute.
I should also say, I didn’t play during Lorwyn and Alara block, so when I got pulled back in, I had no idea the power of planeswalkers. And I think that is the fundamental shift that will open the flood gates for some of the cards I am about to outline. That and the choice by Wizards of the Coast to make the game play of Magic happen far more often on the battlefield than the stack.
So while many people were drooling over Baneslayer Angel, an uncommon was about to start a new trend for what White Weenie could look like in Standard (and I guess the other formats, if that’s what you’re into).
2/1 Dude, Seriously?
Through Elite Vanguard we were given our old friend Savannah Lions (who had been out of Standard for one whole rotation) but at a lower rarity and with relevant creature typing. And like Blade of the Sixth Pride, this was going to get a bar that would easily be beaten in the coming years.
Once again, I don’t think this being the precedent for a solid White creature and it being upgraded several more times between 2009 and now is a bad thing, this was a subtle sign that the times were changing. Planeswalkers were now the face of every set and that meant that they were going to be format defining it many cases, Shock and Fireball weren’t going to cut it.
War Falcon was the next dip into the Savannah Lions template and I will admit, I only have this on my radar because it works well for my Knights Tribal archetype for my Commons Cube. This does come with a drawback for sure, but since it can naturally block with no set-up, I see it having some value.
In Theros block we were given two new creatures out of the Savannah Lions mold in Loyal Pegasus (a less better War Falcon) and Soldier of the Pantheon. Both of these rarity shift away from Elite Vanguard in each direction and it shows, the Pegasus is well suited as an opening play in a decent W/R draft deck and really nothing else. Soldier on the other hand, well now we’re playing with fire. This really shows what W can buy you in the New World Order and as a seed for Return to Ravnica block, it served its purpose.
What I really like here is the that the mold is being pulled in different directions to let the template play with different power levels in a condensed period of time. Honestly, Soldier might not be seeing play in Modern, but it’s a card I have slotted into at least two of my Commander decks.
Elite, but Better
As we move one step away from current day, we get two creatures from back-to-back sets that really spit on Elite Vanguard, finally making it become old news. Dragon Hunter and Mardu Woe-Reaper are 2/1′s with no drawback and conditional upsides. Once again - as uncommons - they’re probably not at the top of anyone’s list of best cards from either set, but they are role players and good in the Limited formats they populated.
And finally, we’ve reached the current crop of Savannah Lions; Kytheon, Hero of Akros and some Ally. I think the choice to make Gideon’s early years be in the form of a 2/1 is a nod to the history ofMagic in a fun way; it shows how far the game has come and on a story card. Granted, this time we see the template being used on a mythic rare and it has an ability and another face, but whatever.
Expedition Envoy, I see, as just a planeshifted Elite Vanguard; almost the same card, but with a flavorful creature type for the block. I’ve used it in Commander and drafted it at least once for a good White Weenie deck, but obviously its not making huge waves. Heck, it’s currently still in Standard, how I wish Allies was a thing in right now.
So, in conclusion, I really wanted to do another Magic Design History and now I have. I have a few ideas kicking around for another installment, possibly on Blade of the Sixth Pride - seriously, it’s got a worthy track record as well. But I hope somebody liked this. Until next time, thanks everyone!
Ellie is never in any real danger when sneaking past enemies in The Last of Us. The player character of Joel is charged with her protection- but her invulnerability makes this a moot point outside of some environmental puzzles. This shifts the understanding of what Ellie is to the player. Rather than a protector and the protected the relationship between the player and her is one of partners. They both need each other, but this doesn’t manifest itself in negatives (using first aid packs when Ellie’s hurt, extracting her from crowds of zombies, etc.) but in positives (assistance in combat, identifying unseen enemies from a distance, etc.).