Dragons of Tarkir is a great set, but I think we can all agree there was a particular stark, unsettling omission: Sunweb. Since the announcement of Planeswalker Origins as the last in a long line of Core Sets, I’ve had several questions relating to the implications this will have on the game – none have been addressed or even speculated on in the internets I’ve webbed.
A main concern is how this change will affect reprints, and this is why I think we all, every one of us, were disappointed, shocked, and angered at the absence of Sunweb in Dragons of Tarkir. I know we all rushed my local 24-hour department store, bleary-eyed with rage upon skimming the visual spoiler after the final update as the tiki-torch and pitch-fork sections were all understocked and disheveled and the minimum wage employees looked apathetic and exhausted; I presume this was the aftermath surrounding this particular issue and not just another one of their average nights on the graveyard shift. What I’m trying to say is that the not-reprinting of Sunweb is truly the Terrasidon in the room. And it would do us all good to just unpack this issue.
I could talk at length about the finical intricacies of reprinting cards. That would probably be a more widely applicable blog post. But ignore that for the time being and just agree that it’s comforting for players to see reprints in sets. Example: A particular card may have nostalgic value, but negating that it reassures players the cards they have and no longer feel are good in eternal formats might still be reprinted one day and become viable for further play in a Standard deck or regain value for future trading. Even if they’re never actually reprinted, it becomes inferred by a steady population of reprints. It’s in Magic: the Gathering’s best interest, premium-priced plastic-cardboard conglomerate selling business model that it is, for players to associate as much value as possible to their cards.
Now I know what you’re saying: ‘Harvey, I see where you’re going with this, and agree with you entirely, but I can’t explain it all to my mouth-breathing friends and family. Can you continue to articulate my thoughts?’ And I want to assure you: the answer to that is ‘Yes. It would be my pleasure’.
If reprinting cards intrinsically boosts the health of the game, not just limited to price control of format staples, Wizards of the Coast needs to define what kind of reprints they will be employing in sets. Among the thirteen reprints used in Dragons of Tarkir (Battle Mastery, Death Wind, Dragon Fodder, Duress, Evolving Wilds, Explosive Vegetation, Gravepurge, Kindled Fury, Mind Rot, Naturalize, Pacifism, Spidersilk Net, and Ultimate Price) only 3 were uncommon and none were rare. This would suggest the current model uses only common and uncommon cards, and if rare cards see no hope of reprint, even at reduced rarities, then that’s a problem for reasons I just got done telling you about; now, please pay attention.
Sunweb is a prime example of a missed reprint opportunity. It is ancestrally one of the few white dragon themed cards and among those it is the one that has the most distinctly ‘white’ flavor. It also has the most ‘Dragons of Tarkir’ flavor; this set struggled to balance an identity between having a high concentration of ‘Dragon’ creatures at all rarities without resorting to making any of them less than a splashy 3/3 creature with flying and it compromised by leaning on the cycle of uncommon morph dragons. As a hulking 5/6 conditional defender, Sunweb would have played nicely in a block where giant things were a main concern on the plane. Its inability to block face-down creatures would have made it feel more interactive with morph and manifest. And finally just being a giant defender would have created a new deck archetype with Assault Formation, a strange card and much talked about card that fails to have any relevancy in limited formats. What I’m trying to say is: Sunweb would have been very functional in draft.
Finally, the Sunweb would have provided an interesting intersection to fluidly connect bits of lore, addressing some of the flavor questions in Dragons of Tarkir. If there was one confusion about the set, it would be ‘what is the conflict here’. Khans of Tarkir introduced us to a dying world with bickering warlords and Fate Reforged took us back to a pivotal moment to change the outcome of the conflict between the dragon lords and the khans’ ancestors; now that we are back in the present day and dragons reign supreme, a lot of players are curious as how they should feel. On one hand, dragons are awesome and it’s great to have a bunch of new dragon cards. On the other hand, they seem to have enslaved all the humanoid races and done their best to obliterate all traces of the khans from history. The protagonist, Sarkhan, seemed thrilled to see a plane overrun by dragons, not for any real reason, mind you, but because that seemed to just be his particular nerd fantasy; now that people are disempowered and universally enslaved, to us -the players, Sarkhan kind of just seems like a douche.
What’s missing in this story is called ‘the humanizing element’. It’s easier to empathize with human characters, particularly since the dragon lords themselves haven’t set out an overabundance of personality behind their motivations. And that makes human slavery feel bad; are you following this Fblthp? Ojutai might be the closest one to being an exception here, as he takes it upon himself to encourage all his subjects towards enlightenment. But then again we also aren’t given a reason why. Does he think that enlightenment is a universal right? Does it think it gives his people the option to remain subjugated to him? Is he training them for something? It really just seems to be something he does because that’s what Blue/White always does…
Which brings us to Dromoka, the only dragon lord who made explicit demands of his khan: that they renounce their ancestor worship, cutting out their Black alignment and just becoming Green/White. This was a mechanic choice made for Dragons of Tarkir, that each three-color ‘wedge’ Khan would swear fealty to a dragon lord and lose a color to become a two-color pair common referred to as ‘allied pairs’.
Now I’m going to try my best to say that this just didn’t make much sense and move on. Khans of Tarkir was made and marketed as the block that would feature wedge-color support, which had never been done before and was being highly demanded. And it also allowed the game to name the wedges with flavor names. In Dragons of Tarkir, Wizards nixed that wedge-support for more super common allied color pairs and retconned the names of the wedges out of the lore months after they were introduced.
It’s a bit confusing right now, but without a good explanation somewhere in the lore as to why these dragon lords would be opposed to this extra color among their alignment, it also looks lazy. Not a lot is required here, just a bit of perspective as to why Dromoka dragons, for instance, oppose ancestor worship and necromancy. It’s an important distinction to make: Dromoka aligns itself towards Green and White and strongly rejects Black because of its own unique principals and perspectives, not the other way around. That keeps the colors and what each of them stand for broad and open to multiple interpretations. Nuanced and interesting stories. It all keeps it from being the same type-cast, rehashed story you’d find in a children’s card game.
Sunweb, it just so happens, rounding this long sidewinding, spotlight of a tangent back the true star left standing center stage, is the perfect intersection for the White aligned Dromoka brood to give some insight to how Dragons view persistence after death, not among humans (because really, do you think they would really care), but among their own kind. The flavor text on Sunweb could have mentioned they sadness they feel seeing a dragon incomplete, or the outrage at seeing one of their own as a spirit that could be shaped and controlled; it could have said pretty much anything about how Dromoka sees death and it would have been a touchdown out of the flavor ballpark. That’s kinda what you do in the fantasy genre, you make stuff up until it makes since.
Sunweb was a sorely missed opportunity. We are all in agreement about that and I know I’m just salting old wounds bring it up; It probably embodies the single greatest let down of the release of Dragons of Tarkir. Where it matched the set in mechanics, flavor, and provided the opportunity to utilize the all-important reprinting of a formerly rare card.
Next time I’d like to talk at you about your own economics and breakdown the Modern format support set, Modern Masters 2015.