Monday’s post about the narrative in games is a prequel in a way to today’s post. Mainly in that AVR inspired the idea in the first place. So instead of just alluding to my complaints in cryptic hints, I figured I’d just look critically at the set.
The story leading up to AVR is that long, long time ago, Sorin Markov created the angel Avacyn so that humanity wouldn’t be killed off and vampires wouldn’t starve to death. For a time things were good, as Avacyn rallied the humans around the Church of Avacyn with her angels and humanity was able to fight off the werewovles, geists, zombies and vampires. Enter stage right, the demon Griselbrand who decided to deal with Avacyn by fatally wounding her and trapping her in the Helvault a.k.a. bad guy prison. Now humanity is getting pushed against the wall as the Church of Avacyn is losing its power. the worst of it being the capital of Thraben being ransacked by a zombie horde.
Meanwhile Griselbrand is being hunted by Liliana Vess who is in turn being hunted by Garruk. Interspersed are a bunch of gothic horror tropes and allusions to stories such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Sounds like a good set up for a finale, what we got skipped the third act and went straight to the epilogue. Since there are several distinct elements, I’ll just break them down part by part instead of doing some monstrous summary.
Overall Story: So the basic idea of the good guys not dying off and kicking ass is a nice refresher, I may be new to Magic but it doens’t take that much to look back and see how things have a tendency to go poorly. The problem is in the execution though.
Tone: I think that the set’s tone can explain why it feels like hte third act is being skipped. While humanity is meant to be on the rise and kicking ass; it feels like they already did that and we’re playing out the cleaning act. The presentation of the tribes and by extension the color pie aren’t a clash but rather the cleaning act.
Planeswalkers: If they aren’t named Garruk or Liliana then they’re kinda just there. Sorin is responsible for creating Avacyn and upon returning to Innistrad he’s pissed as hell about what’s going on…so he does nothing except lecture the vampires. His plotline has just been stopped in the middle. Not to mention that when he finds out that Avacyn is trapped in the Helvault he’s determined to free her; only for Liliana to do the honor. Tibalt is a native to the plane but doesn’t really do anything, he’s flavorful to a certain extent. Tamiyo makes sense due to the importance of Innistrad moon, but her storyline starting in the last block of the set means it has no room to go. Liliana is able to kill Griselbrand wile Garruk is unsuccesful in killing Liliana, he’s also still available for a future block. All of the planeswalkers except for Liliana didn’t do anything that lasts; they’re exactly where they were when the block started.
Tribes: While Innistrad and Dark Ascension had a tribal theme going on while Avacyn Restored means that these tribes are either heavily downplayed or wiped out. The Cursemute is Avaycn’s magic that solves the werewolf problem in one nice tidy effect by turning them into wolfir a.k.a wolfmen. This wouldn’t be so bad except there’s a total of 2 wolfir cards in the set. Instead we have some spirits and some random animals that could have just as easily been wolfir. Werewovles also got most of the attention, as their destruction is accounted for, while the other monster tribes don’t have a reason for dropping off like they do. Zombies are still present, it’s just that most of them are in black, which lacked a flavor aside from Reanimator. The skaabs worked off of a self mill theme, but self mil isn’t a mechanical theme, so they had to go. Zombies are also constructs, so they have to be made, and that’s a separate issue. Vampires are marginalized as demons and humans squeezed them out of their colors. Spirits/Geists were more of a creature group than a fleshed out tribe and felt kinda scattered. Some of them like the Geist of St. Traft are good while cards like Mausoleum Guard present them as a threat. Humans have branched out to a degree that they hand’t in the block and are in every color but black for AVR. So what happened to all of those cultists? While breaking the tribes is meant to show Avacyn and humanity’s victory, the manner in which it was done leaves something to be desired.
Color Pie: Mark Rosewater has stated that the color pie is one of the three most distinctive features of Magic, so how the color pie works out in a set is important. The primary color at is black, since black has explicitly been evil this entire block, while white has been good and the other three colors vary. As mentioned before, black is a pretty terrible color, it seems to work best as a mono black, which on one hand is a nice intersection of flavor and mechanics. Good is winning and no one wants to be on the losing team. It also produces another result though, that evil is beaten and on the run. It’s not a clash for the ages but a clean up operation. The problem is that it’s really hard to have one without the other, and I honestly don’t know how you could do it in the same structure. Possibly by approaching the flavor on cards in a very specific manner. Black also has the problem of its cards are forgettable, partly cause their bad, but partly because they don’t appeal to my inner Timmy of that’s cool at all. Red being filled with humans does nicely encapsulate the feeling of rage and fighting back though. The other three colros don’t really have all that much, white is still good, green has become a lot more beastial, in a non horror kind of way, and blue is just there. It seems to have the weakest theme out of the five colors aside from a need for it to be good compared to the darkness that the past two sets had.
Set Mechanics: There are three set mechanics: loner, soulbond and miracle, and I’ll go through how well they uphold in terms of flavor. The loner mechanic refers to cards that revolve around having only one creature in play. It’s the loner mechanic that gives the impression of evil being on the run instead of a fight. Soulbond is the exact opposite, in that’s its supposed to represent teamwork and the forces of good banding together. Which makes the fact that blue and green having it primarily loses the point. A fact that isn’t helped by the fact that none of the soulbond cards can afford to have flavor text; the reminder text for soulbond takes up half the card. Miracle is exactly what it says, a miracle when you topdeck it, considering that there are no cards like ponder (technically there is amass the components but that’s a corner case.) So the most flavorful of them all is Miracle, but it’snot like the competition was all that fierce to be honest.
Characters: Innistrad is more than just its setting, but it also has a cast of characters that have been driving the action. While some like Mikaeus got their own plot arc and cards, others did not. Remember the part where Thraben was laid siege to? that was the product of crazy necromancer siblings as a friendly contest. Yet Geralf and Gisa only have quotes of flavor texts instead of their own cards. Edgar Markov, the man who created vampires and Sorin’s grandfather, could have worked as a big, probably unplayable, mythic rare. A legendary wolfir wouldn’t be uncalled for either. The angels and Griselbrand work from a flavor point of view.
Artwork: The artwork is top notch and is rather awesome. And because it has to be addressed, I think Triumph of Cruelty and Triumph of Ferocity are thematic and appropriate given the characters involved.
Taken as a whole, the flavor is underwhelming. The story ends on a vague but happy note while at the same time the ending is unsatisfying as the plots started in the first two sets aren’t concluded while other plots are started. The mechanics are a far more mixed bags that while having some things that work rather well; also have some failings, some of them being greater than others. In comparison to the flavor that the first two sets of the block provided, Avacyn Restored’s missteps stand out all the more as a result.
If you have any comments or feedback than feel free to respond. I’ll do another one of these with RTR in October.