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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Mar 20 2023 9:09am
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"Ach, Hans, run! It's the Lhurgoyf!"

It's one of the most famous flavor texts in the game's history. So famous it later received its own card, AND a sequel. But what I'm going to focus on today isn't the famous part of the quote, it's what comes right afterward:

—Saffi Eriksdotter, last words

Yes, this was a "last words" joke, a structure Magic has been using steadily since one year prior. Thirty years into the game, 33 separate cards have featured someone's last words—more than one per year!—yet they contain a surprising amount of variety.

I'll review the (subjective) quality of each one along with some commentary and point out some patterns.

Let's gooooo!! In chronological order.

 

card year emotion joke? comments rating
1994 cockiness yes

A respectable start! This is a very basic and standard last words joke. "No way will that thing hurt us!" (It does.)

I do like the way it causes you to imagine a bit of backstory. The goblin flotilla is approaching this seemingly harmless (if muscly) merfolk; they're ready to attack it; then it makes some sparks shoot out of its hand. THEN the quote is said.

...and the sparks turn into a tiny person. Really, look closer at the artwork!

☆☆☆
1995 bravado no

Surprisingly sad! Like you have this card making your creatures stronger, and this inspirational speech... and then you find out its speaker (and possibly his whole platoon) was soon wiped out.

Now, if you consider how weak he is, that shouldn't be too much of a surprise, but it's still sad. I'll downgrade it a little for being bland, but I can understand people appreciating its understated pathos.

☆☆
1995 panic yes

Come on, it's the all-time iconic one. This is top tier flavor text of any kind, let alone ones about last words. And it's earned its fame by being remarkably well crafted.

In very few words, this both builds up the fearsomeness of this new creature type and makes us laugh at the silliness of the scene. The three exclamation points, the flavorful choice of names, and even the slightly-off-kilter "ach!" all ooze with character. We feel like we know who these two people are, and how they got in this mess, and how they didn't get out of it, despite this brief moment being the only time we've seen them.

☆☆☆☆☆
1996 bewilderment yes

Lhurgoyf is a hard act to follow, but even if this came one year before, Goblin Tinkerer is clearly a middle-of-the-road, boilerplate joke. It works. It doesn't stand out. It's fine.

It's the most concise yet, which I appreciate. And it gives you some room to imagine a scene. What you imagine is a little less rewarding than Vodalian Mage however.

☆☆
1996 laziness yes

He thought he could slack. He thought he'd be fine to separate from his group. Then he ran into a 5/3 with haste.

This one's basically fine. My favorite detail is Vark's job title: he's a goblin scout. It would be bad for anyone to lag behind their group like this, but it's doubly bad here because his job is to be ahead of the group! Frankly he deserves what he got.

☆☆
2004 complacence yes

They went a whole 8 years without a last words joke! I guess somebody at WotC was getting tired of them.

This to me is not a triumphal return. It's much less specific than some of the previous, and we don't even get a sense of what risky behavior Jiro and Hoto were doing near their homes.

☆☆
2004 caution yes

Outstanding. Confusing A with Æ is already clever, and turning it into a calamitous scene is even better!

Whether sneaking three more Æs into the speaker's name and job title is a nice embellishment or overkill is a matter of taste, but it does certainly explain why they're so familiar with the letter. I'll say it works, especially in the hyper context of an Un- set.

AND another benefit of this flavor text: it helps players better understand how to play the card! The rare bit of flavor text that functions as reminder text.

☆☆☆
2005 apprehension no

Ominous! Moody! Matches the artwork alarmingly well! Doubly sad she died while still only a novice!

Still... pretty bland. I think we've seen better by now, and will continue to.

☆☆
2006 glee yes

Lighthearted and fun. The core of the joke is of course juxtaposing their naïve glee with the horrible fate awaiting them.

I also like how it provides rationale for both the character decisions ("shiny!") and the mechanics of the card ("pull off the chain"). And frankly this feels totally on-brand for a Gruul raider named Ukl.

☆☆☆☆
2014 dubiousness yes

Another eight-year hiatus! But this one was worth the wait.

Not only is it funny, it makes us feel smart, because we have to fill in the rest of the joke ourselves (and it requires a tiny bit of outside knowledge to do so).

The quote is not just a generic "I bet that monster won't hurt me," like so many others on this list. Igalus saying "show me" sounds innocuous and even irrelevant at first. Until we think about it. Then we realize.

(Him being a king adds that tiny extra bit of humor. All that power, yet he knew less than we, the random citizens reading about his death.)

☆☆☆☆☆
2016 irreverence yes

I don't know about this one. The first sentence is boring, even hacky, but feels necessary to set up the punchline. The second sentence is snazzy, and where all the charm comes from, but can't stand on its own. Cutting out either doesn't quite work, but having them both feels like too little payoff to justify the length.

What if we replace the first sentence with something shorter? I propose to you:

"I'm not afraid. The worse the curse, the better the prize."

And if you think my version loses too much by not mentioning "dark magic," I argue it's implied by "curse."

☆☆
2017 zealotry yes

This works! Brief, punchy, funny, another mix of fearsome and lighthearted.

You can tell when we're not supposed to feel bad for these deaths because the characters have names like Ukl or Srok or Jerl.

☆☆
2017 dilligence  yes

I was all set to give this one star. It's quite unimpressive at a glance.

But I do admittedly like the way the lightning kills him while the storm is only visible way off on the horizon. It implies the Lightning Strike spell comes much faster than expected and wasn't even part of that storm.

☆☆
2018 dilligence yes

This one I will totally give one star to.

I get it's a reference to the previous (view the speakers' last names), but 1, the previous is not worth referencing, and 2, this reference is a downgrade.

I'm not afraid to hurt some feelings. This one isn't good.

2018

concern

no

Spooky! Ominous! Etc.

Middle of the road. It functions, but it doesn't impress.

☆☆
2019 naïveté no

Does an obvious job of building up the ninja's stealth and deadliness.

Another medium one.

☆☆
2019 hubris  yes

This has more of that cocky arrogance moments before death. I like this a little more than average because of its sheer exagerated silliness. They were killed not because their plan failed, but before it was even formed.

Also the irony: for all the intelligence Tadith "the Wise" has, they're not smart enough to be scared of a giant dragon.

☆☆☆☆
2019 meticulousness yes

Yet another smart T-named wizard getting killed by a dragin before their plans even get off the ground. They're in the same set, so neither is exactly a reference to the other; they're just companion pieces.

To me they're both about as effective. I'd call the previous one slightly better, but they're within the same star rating.

☆☆☆☆
2019 confidence yes

"I guess he didn't throw it far enough, huh hyuh!"

This one is perfectly acceptable but falls short compared to the others. There's just not enough to imagine.

☆☆
2019 blitheness yes

One of Alpha's most iconic cards, reprinted for the ~21st time (depending on how you count), and finally it gets a "last words" flavor text!

This one is OK. No more, no less.

☆☆
2019 awe yes

2005 might have been the year of the gamer, but 2019 was the year of "last word" jokes! Six of them! Five of which are all from the same set and all on dragon-related cards. Innnteresting.

This particular one is about as good as the other medium ones, which is to say, medium.

☆☆
2020 surreptitiousness yes

A new year, but dragons are still making people utter last words.

They're not making people get any wittier, though.

☆☆
2021 horror no

Pretty good! Belstad is so afraid they can barely compose their thoughts.

Last time they barely escaped, but this time, it's even worse. And they were only a cathar recruit. Dreamed of being a (Cathar Commando) but never got the chance.

☆☆
2021 relief yes

Unfounded emotions are an effective comedic device. This flavor text is also a reminder: for all the scary werewolf cards Magic's been doing in normal years, don't forget normal wolves are still quite powerful.

☆☆
2022 consternation no

This one I like for two reasons. 1, it's a nice change of pace (it's the only one so far expressing confusion/disorientation) 2, it's quite flavorful. It depicts the power of these slivers in a subtle, creative, and ambiguous way. It hypnotizes you—but then what, exactly?

☆☆
2022 elucidation yes Typical cocky narrator is taken unawares. Been there AND done that. ☆☆
2022 startlement yes This one adds a little to the flavor of the mechanics. It shows how slivercycling plays out "in real life." Slivers appearing unexpectedly. OK. The quote's still a little boring though. Probably would have slayed in the 90s. ☆☆
2022 conceited, then agonized yes

This one's a little too hammy for me.

But I do like how it's clowning on the "well actually" bros. Back in 2022 that was a hot button issue.

☆☆
2022 dissonance yes

This one seems boring, then confusing, then you look back at the card name and art—and suddenly it's clever and funny. I like this one. It adds a lot to the card's flavor.

This flavor text gets us imagining the movement of this ponderous beast, something we never would have bothered to do otherwise. And we would have gotten a different answer if we did.

☆☆☆☆
2022 franticness yes Shoulda said that earlier, I guess! Or would it have mattered.... ☆☆
2022 unease yes

Another stealth kill! This assassin is so stealthy, you think they're someone else.

I was about to give this a three, but then I read the title of the card and realized it had absolutely no relevance (a stealthy ninja kill isn't "defiling" the victim). It gets even worse when you look at the card mechanic—why should this ninja get stronger with more swamps? Frankly this card should have nothing to do with ninjas.

Compare it with the original printing, which has relevant artwork (a guy drowning in muck) and flavor text ("the only shortcut in a bog is to the bottom"). Then you realize what an awkward, forced fit this flavor text and art are. This is the 7th "last words" joke of 2022. I think someone in the office liked them a little too much.

2023 condescension no

Last KNOWN words. Weird! So Hilde might have said something after this? But no one knows? So they said this first quote, then took the Cap into a private room by themselves, then some time later they were found dead? Probably with their tongue cut out? OK! I guess.

That'll teach Hilde not to mock superstition. On second thought, it won't, because they are dead. They cannot learn.

☆☆
2023 betrayal yes

Darven trusted Malach. So much so they built their entire life philosophy around trust. Then a meddling red mage went and did this....

☆☆
2023 self-importance yes

Initial reaction: This deserves one star. It's like the virulent sliver quote ("this is venom, not poison!") except without the causation. Mistaking poison for venom would indeed be fatal, but does it matter if you mistake a snake for a serpent? Maybe if you're near water and think it can't reach you? But it didn't say that....

Then there's the matter of the speaker! Yes, I get they're being pedantic, but are they really THE pedantic? As if that's a job title, or their #1 claim to fame? All around clumsy writing. Stupid, bad, one star.

Then I realized: This is not Stonecoil Serpent's first printing. What if "that's not really a serpent" was a complaint WotC received about the first one? Knowing Magic's fanbase as I do, this is extremely likely. What if this flavor text then is actually designed to make fun of those whiny, pedantic fans? While they're busy braying over a pointless distiction, they get murdered. Ballsy! All of a sudden I love this flavor text. This is a message more people need to hear. 

☆☆☆☆☆

 

That's all of them as of February 2023! But I have some related cards to talk about.

First: cards that mention last words but don't quote them

card year tone joke? comments rating
2001 eerie no Excellent lore. A lot to imagine. It also explains how some of the previous list's last words were recorded, ha ha. ☆☆☆☆
 2007 evocative no More excellent lore! An unnecessary but quite clever flourish. I'm impressed. ☆☆☆☆
2011 intimidating no Typical tough guy threat. I feel like I've heard this boast before. ☆☆
2011 insidious no It's clearly an attempt to bridge the card's name and mechanics. A failed attempt in my opinion. This barely makes sense. ☆☆
2017 desolate no Ooh, I like this one. You really get the image of Kefnet trying to say one last thing, but being unable to, and the followers' desperation turning into despair. ☆☆
2022 persistent no A somber scene. The grim realities of war. It's ok. ☆☆

 

As a bonus, here is how many times I awarded each rating:

  • 5 stars: 4 times
  • 4 stars: 6 times
  • 3 stars: 10 times
  • 2 stars: 18 times
  • 1 star: 2 times

And... one final bonus... the card that inspired this whole article... we have to talk about Crimson Kobolds.

   

On the surface, this is a fairly simple flavor text. Bearand thinks kobolds are harmless, then is killed by one, and those were their ironic last words. Right?

Or is it....

Because you will notice this is not technically their last words. It's their epitaph—the words carved on their tombstone. Which makes us wonder: how did they get there?

It's possible these were indeed Bearand's last words. The friends in charge of putting the funeral together wanted to play a prank on poor deceased Bearand, so they used the tombstone to make fun of them.

Or it's possible Bearand wasn't killed by Kobolds in the first place. This is just a quote of theirs written on their tombstone—it could have been something they were famous for saying, while they led a successful crusade to slaughter kobolds. Perhaps Bearand died peacefully of old age years after retiring. They requested to be remembered as the scourge of the kobolds, with this quote on their tombstone. Everyone who saw it would be inspired to take up arms against these defenseless creatures.

Strangely, this is the only epitaph in all of Magic's flavor text, so we can't examine other ones to get a feel for a pattern. Epitaphs are not even visible on the cards depicting tombstones! (1, 2, 3, 4.) We can only look at Crimson Kobolds and wonder.

 

 

"Some look to the skies and wonder; I look to Crimson Kobolds."
—Cotton Rhetoric, last words (of this article)