If you’re a big fan of 1,001 Arabian Nights and video games, then the past forty years hasn’t really been that great of a time. Games based on the ancient folklore tales are few and far in-between. While some great titles like Prince of Persia and Magic of Scheherezade have an Arabian feel, they don’t actually follow the stories. And while Aladdin was an excellent platformer, it was about as authentic as you would expect from a Disney animated movie.
In 1992, Taito and Sega, hoping to capitalize on the popularity of Disney’s Aladdin movie, threw their turbans into the ring with Arabian Magic and Arabian Fight, respectively. Having not actually read the complete Arabian Nights saga, I can’t say for sure which, if either, is more accurate to the source material, but Arabian Magic, although the technical lesser of the two, feels slightly more “epic story” to me. The basic plot involves up to two players choosing from four characters (including Sinbad) with a quest to retrieve seven jewels required to restore the King, who has been turned into a monkey.
Arabian Magic isn’t afraid to get crazy with its atmosphere. Magic and the supernatural abound, from the many genies you’ll encounter to flying carpets, underwater hand-to-hand combat against the undead, and even a level which consists of being shrunk to ever smaller sizes and fighting inside a series of magic pots. This is probably the main advantage it has over Arabian Fight, which often comes across more as a straight beat-em-up wearing Arabian-flavored skins. The smaller sprites are less detailed, but this actually works well to make the combat easy to follow. Although it’s easy to get surrounded by enemies, the combat is actually more fair than usual for this genre.
Of course, discussion of which is the better game is a moot point now, since the likelihood of finding a cabinet for either of these is amazingly small, and if you’re going to emulate, it’s just as easy to pick up both ROM sets at the same time.
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!
This is Khalia for @youwakeupinadungeon. She’s an NPC from their rather interesting sounding campaign, an immortal antagonist and the mother of Elena (the last character I drew).
She’s an Ifrit (which is a race of fire elementals) princess who was essentially reincarnated into an immortal sage (beings of godlike power). She’s involved in some world ending stuff but isn’t evil per se, she has just been (as far as I understand) manipulated into the role of antagonist by Hes (her actually evil wife).
Khalia was a relitively easy character to figure out in terms of her appearance - her skin is pinkish and her hair has in it all the colours present in fire (I’ve drawn her in the midst of casting a spell and I imagined that her hair would actually become fire when she casts spells or when she becomes very emotional).
Her clothing on the other hand is another story… I tried so many different variations. Since Khalia is originally from a vaguely Arabic culture, her clothing was meant to reflect that. It was also specified that her clothing be very dark in order to set off her skin colour. Initially everything I tried was just looking really plain and not at all worthy of what is (I assume) a level 20 character. The fact that the clothing had to be essentially black was proving to be a big challenge. Eventually I decided that her clothes themselves should be made somewhat of flame and this semed to solve the problem but it still took a couple iterations to get something that I was happy with.
Thanks so much for this character, such a challenge and a real pleasure to design!