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!
Know Visited planes (that we’ve seen in cards): Jund (Alara), Bant (Alara) Alara (Reborn), Dominaria, Theros, Kaladesh, Kamigawa
Sets/Storylines: Lorwyn, Shards of Alara, Magic 2010, Magic 2011, Magic 2013, Magic 2014, Journey into Nyx, Magic 2015, Aether Revolt
Known Other Planeswalkers (that we’ve seen as a planeswalker card): Sarkhan, Elspeth, Bolas, Koth, Kiora, Tamiyo, Nissa, Chandra, Tezzeret, Jace, Liliana, Gideon, Saheeli, Dovin?, Narset?
Bio: Ajani Goldmane is torn between his leonin ferocity and his sense of justice. He was born on Naya and became an outcast within his own family, an albino leonin never accepted by the rest of his pride. The only person who cared about him was his brother Jazal, the leader of their pride and Ajani’s inspiration. Ajani had always shown potential as a mage and healer, but had assumed his main calling was to be a warrior in Jazal’s service. The day that Ajani’s brother was assassinated by unknown forces was the day that Ajani’s Planeswalker spark ignited, and everything changed. No longer could Ajani worry about his problems with his pride. His quest to discover his brother’s killer has led him into a tangle of intrigue woven by mysterious forces, forcing him to broaden his skills as a warrior and to unlock new potential within himself. After thwarting Nicol Bolas’s plans on Alara, Ajani set aside his anger and began to travel the Multiverse.
Colors: UB (Dimir) although she is starting to dip a bit into R
Backstory: A Theros-born siren, Nireta’s life was a simple one. Her formative years were mostly uneventful, growing up relatively alone on a small archipelago. The only saving grace was that the seas of Theros were often fraught with danger and that meant wreckage would often wash up on her shores. However, without being able to read or write, her entertainment was always disappointingly limited. One fateful night, Phenax sent her an emissary with an offer to grant her the ability to read, write, and speak human tongues with the vague condition of owing the collective pantheon one favor they could collect at any time. The nymph barely even finished her sentence before Nireta had made her decision.
Phenax had made this deal with the long game in mind. Theros would always need heroes and Heliod was always willing to find more. Heroes would always need struggles to overcoming or monsters to slay and Phenax knew that sometimes he had to give one side a little push to get his entertainment moving. It would take years for Nireta’s curiosity to become greed, terrorizing ships and nearby towns for more knowledge, but it eventually all came to a head. In the cover of darkness, a budding warrior scaled the near sheer cliffside walls to her home and attacking her while she slept. She tried desperately to fight back, but found herself overpowered and was thrown from her home into the sea below.
Broken and bloodied, she mind began to fade as she was pulled under the tide. She was cold and scared, cursing the gods and praying for salvation. As her mind slipped from consciousness, so too did her body from Theros, her spark igniting. Before she knew it, she was in a dark, stone cavern. Although it was filled with fungus and a wretched stench, anything was better than drowning. She wandered the catacombs for hours before she found by a Golgori shaman, and with a little bit of Siren persuasion, was able to nurse herself back from near death and find out about the world she found herself on.
When she finally left the Ravnican sewers, she spent months hiding incase Ravnica had heroes of their own. Bouncing from place to place, making herself both welcomed and forgotten in every home she could, curiosity eventually overcame her fear. She was in a whole new world, and that meant more things to take and learn. She “acquired” the deed to high, lonely tower and gotten back to business. Despite trying to keep a much lower profile this time around, the right words had gotten to the right people and she would once again find strangers in her home.
Although they never initially claimed a guild, Nireta knew enough to guess Dimir. The two agents came to broker a deal; Nireta would work as a free agent of sorts hired out to use her abilities when necessary, and in exchanged would help forge documents and generally make her life much easier. With much more caution than last time, Nireta accepts the deal and with a much more permanent base, she explores the multiverse taking whatever trinkets and artifacts she finds that pique her interest.
Preferred form of Magic: Nireta focuses mainly on sound-based magic. First and foremost is her natural siren songs with all the mind controlling and persuasive powers they grant. She has also augmented this with other vocal-based spells she has picked up on her travels and even a very small amount of mind-magic.
Character’s strengths: For someone who lived with little interaction with society and has only been reading for a handful of years, Nireta is actually very well read and well spoken. She can quote Therosian philosophers just as easily as the current exchange rates of the different Ravnican currencies. She likes to read as often as possible and will usually beeline to the closest thing a plane has to a newspaper when she arrives on one.
Nireata is also stronger than your average siren. Actively attacking ship and smaller settlements on Theros helped train her to control small crowds of people and having to use her song to sneak around Ravnica constantly for months has made her much better at subtly using her voice.
Character’s flaws: In terms of magic, her siren song can be restricted by all the means you would expect for verbal based magic (plugging one’s ears, silencing spells, gagging, countersongs, etc.). While she can use non-verbal versions of all her magic, she is nowhere near as skilled nor as powerful in this regard.
Another problem is Nireta’s greed. It’s not so much that she’ll just take what she wants, when she wants, it more that due to living in isolation most of her life she tends to make poor decisions. A running theme with her is that she makes objectively poor deals. Sure, she’ll get what she wants, but more time than not put herself in a much worse position because of it.
Lastly, she has trouble leveraging all the things she knows which again stems from her living outside of society. Her lack of conventional learning means that she doesn’t always understand the facts and stories she has memorized. An example being if she were to read the notes of one of Ral Zarek’s experiments, she would be able to regurgitate most if not all the information in it, but the greater meaning behind the experiment would be lost to her.
Notes and Asides:
-The people of Ravnica often confuse her for some sort of Simic experiment (either someone who admired angels too much or an angel who wanted a new look). At first she just went along with it, but now that she knows who the Simic actually are, she doesn’t bother correcting people as the lie has gotten too big for her.
- Speaking of angels, Nireta takes any chance she gets when meeting another winged humanoid to study their clothes. Finding anything that fits comfortably around her wings is often difficult, but not impossible when you have the whole multiverse to go shopping.
- The two Dimir agents (who I’ll eventually find names for) are actually pretty low on the totem pole. They openly work as more overt members of the guild, but are trying to use their connection to Nireta to gain a better standing. While at first, the relationship between the three was businesslike and strained, by this point they have come to see themselves as friends/partners (about as far you can really go with Dimir anyway).
- In terms of personality, I tend to think of her somewhat as the Little Mermaid’s Ariel with a bunch more kleptomania thrown in. She’s not an inherently mean or evil person, just that her curiosity and need to know more can sometimes be overpowering. She often wonders if this is a result of Phenax’s deal or just a regrettable part of her own nature.
Relationship with Halona
Halona and Nireta are close friends after meeting on Ravnica. They found that they had similar interests in learning (Halona with more of a goal in mind while Nireta did so for the sake of it) and they have similar senses of humor, although Halona’s more energetic and sometimes absurdist humor can get a little on Nireta’s nerves. Halona adores the fact that Nireta’s curiosity means she’s almost always up for one of her adventures (even if she uses the word loosely) and Nireta loves the fact that not only does she have someone to share/flaunt her treasures with/to, but someone who’s loyal and doesn’t have a relationship based on hunting her, making deals with her, or being controlled by her.
Finally finished the bust for my pre-spark Ashiok concept! For a little bit of my headcannon backstory:
Ashiok was born in Ravnica, as the only son to a powerful Boros military captain. However, they struggled with an onslaught of sicknesses their whole life. Ashiok was pale, tired easily, and couldn’t walk more than a few feet without a cane. This naturally created conflict with their father, who demanded a strong, physically capable soldier. Ashiok spent their bed-ridden time studying powerful spells and sorceries, and it wasn’t long before they became obsessed with Dimir magic.
Ashiok’s father was even more infuriated at the revelation that his son was fraternizing with a rival guild. Little did he know, he would be one of Ashiok’s first real victims.
Foil full art Ephara, God of the Polis peel alter. Had a blast brainstorming this and working on it. Commission, NFS.
I’m open for commissions right now. Please contact me on my alters page at facebook.com/nerdkingalters
On the plane of Theros, the undead Returned congregate in the necropolises of Odunos and Asphodel: the former being a city full of angered and greedy Returned and the latter full of despondent Returned who are more accepting of their fate.
In later traditions of Greek mythology, the Asphodel Meadows is the portion of the Underworld where ordinary souls go when they die. As it held those that were neither heroic nor greatly evil, it was likely the most populous section of the Underworld. As with the city of Asphodel, the Asphodel Meadows were known to be extremely dull.
The name Odunos is possibly based on the Greek word
oduné, meaning pain or distress. Led by Tymaret the Murder King, pain and distress is definitely what the residents of Odunos inflict on others.
The most enigmatic of the gods, Kruphix
is associated with green and blue mana, has dominion over the potential, the
distant, and the unseen. Thus, he is seen as an oracle of dreams. He also
governs navigation, mystery, and the cycles of time. Mortals say that Kruphix
is the most ancient of the pantheon, the keeper of mysteries that no others are
meant to learn.
The reclusive god speaks rarely and
counts few worshippers. He often takes no real form but appears only as a
Nyx-filled space in the sky. Because of this his temple is built over a
cataract at the very edge of the world. Here he can enact the silence, which
for a time, seals away the other gods by writing their names in his tree.
Kruphix knows the truth of the origins
of Theros and its deities. The gods where born from mortal belief and dreams.
He watched as the other gods of sun, death, nature and even love where born,
took power, be forgotten from mortal memory and vanished. Kruphix himself doesn’t
himself know if he is even the oldest god or just the oldest of the current pantheon.
Kruphix knows everything on Theros and
such learned that Theros was one of many worlds when a planeswalker first visited
Theros. As she stepped foot on Theros, Kruphix learned all that she knew.
Recently however Kruphix regents this knowledge as he has learned about three
threats that not even the gods could protect Theros from, in which he had confided
to his oracle Kydele;
the Eldrazi, god like monsters that eats worlds, the power hungry elder dragon
planeswalker Nicol Bolas and the souless Phyrexia who are a blend of flesh
and metal in a twisted parody of nature.