Sigarda, Font of Blessings | March of the Machine: The Aftermath
3, May, 23

Missing MTG Feature Has Been Hiding in Plain Sight!

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Article at a Glance

When it comes to telling the story and flavor of an MTG set, Wizards of the Coast has a variety of tools at its disposal. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the main one of these is the dedicated story episodes that accompany every modern set release. Typically comprised of ten story episodes, these written stories help to flesh out planes, both new and old. Unfortunately, however, as good as this written story can be, it’s not entirely without fault.

Thankfully for lore-loving MTG players, the only story chapters are hardly the only storytelling device Wizards uses. The most obvious secondary storytelling feature is found on every single MTG card: art. Thanks to Wizards’ talented team of artists, this art can showcase an immense amount of detail about the plane and its citizens. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all. 

To make this art even better than it already is, Wizards of the Coast often supplements it with flavor text. Providing a deeper insight into a scene or character’s feelings, flavor text is typically lauded by the MTG community. Recently, however, it seems that flavor text has been becoming less and less commonplace. That was, at least, until recent math proved this feature has been hiding in plain sight all along!

The Death of Flavor Text

Shessra, Death's Whisper | Adventures in the Forgotten Realms
Shessra, Death’s Whisper | Adventures in the Forgotten Realms

Throughout recent years, MTG players have steadily been growing more and more aware of the disappearance of flavor text. Previously, it seemed that almost every set was stuffed full of it, recently, however, few cards have the space for it. With more and more mechanics being crammed onto legendary creatures, it seems cards simply don’t have space for flavor text anymore. Just look at A-Calim, Djinn Emperor as an example! It’s so full of text that it needs a scroll bar for you to read it all!

Thanks to MTG’s recent shift in design philosophy, cards without room for flavor text have seemingly become increasingly common. Considering that flavor text has long been a beloved feature, this understandably upset some players. So much so, in fact, that some players set out to prove their point. One such concerned player was u/testype01, we recently highlighted “The Death of Flavor” on Reddit. 

“For the last few years, people have been complaining about the length of text in the cards. Some of the recent sets have been named as “the wordiest” of all times (Kaldheim comes to mind) and in general some new abilities printed in cards are so convoluted that they seem like Chains of Mephistopheles. I too have been a little annoyed by the amount of text in the cards, but there is something more that I really miss from this new era of cards and that is the flavor text.”

Testype01

Within this post, Testype01 crunched the numbers to find out exactly how quickly flavor text had been disappearing recently. Utilizing data from Scryfall, initially, their data was incredibly damning, showing a steep decline following the release of Throne of Eldraine. According to Testype01’s calculations, less than 40% of most new cards have flavor text. 

As you might imagine, considering the love for flavor text, these findings didn’t please many MTG players. After all, less flavor text on cards means there is less story overall to enjoy! Thankfully, however, thanks to the bizarre choice to exclude reprints, alongside some other errors, Testype01’s findings weren’t exactly correct. This was highlighted by u/CaptainMarcia, who went on to share their own findings. 

Not Dead, Just Pretending

Flavor Percentage Chart
Flavor Percentage Chart | CaptainMarcia

Within CaptainMarcia’s follow-up post, they present a much more accurate depiction of exactly how much flavor text there is. This was achieved by eliminating a variety of fields that muddied the results, alongside, importantly, including reprints. Thanks to their tweaking of the formula, CaptainMarcia found that rather than falling all the way down to belove 40% following Thone of Eldraine, the average is closer to 60%. 

While these numbers present a much more appealing picture, this average still represents a decline from the previous norm. According to CaptainMarcia, this happened around the release of Kaldheim, rather than Throne of Eldraine as Testype01 claimed. Ultimately, CaptainMarcia highlighted that the range for cards having flavor text has only “shifted from 65-80% to 53-67%.” 

While this is, obviously, still a drop in percentage, it’s nowhere near as bad as players previously expected. Subsequently, some players were understandably left wondering what was going on, and why the current state of flavor text felt so barren. Thankfully, there is an answer to why sets have been feeling so flavorless. The problem appears to be Showcase frames

Introduced in Throne of Eldraine, Showcase (or Booster Fun) frames have been an incredibly successful addition to MTG sets. Thanks to this success, Showcase frames have become increasingly prevalent within modern MTG set releases. For art lovers, this is far from a bad thing, however, this litany of alternate art dilutes the frequency of flavor. While Phyrexia: All Will Be One was a welcome exception to this rule, typically, alternate art treatments don’t feature any flavor. This makes it feel like flavor text is a whole lot less prevalent than it actually is since packs are now filled with these alternate art treatments.

The Best and the Worst Combined

Metropolis Reformer | March of the Machine: The Aftermath
Metropolis Reformer | March of the Machine: The Aftermath

This issue will be especially pressing for March of the Machine: The Aftermath. Despite only being a 50-card micro-set, March of the Machine: The Aftermath has 230 cards in total! 

As quick mathematics will know, this means each card has at least four different art variants. In case you’re wondering, the variants available are standard, etched foil, showcase, extended art halo foil, and Halo foil showcase frame. Out of all these different art treatments, only the standard cards have flavor text. 

Out of these 50 standard cards, there are 27 cards with flavor text. In theory, this means 54% of the set’s cards have flavor text. In reality, however, only 11.7% of cards within the set have those glorious extra lines of text. While March of the Machine: The Aftermath is the worst case of this we’ve seen, it nevertheless exemplifies the major problem facing flavor text. 

Beyond just being the worst example of art saturation in MTG’s history, March of the Machine: The Aftermath carries an extra sting. This is thanks to the set’s flavor text being really good. Providing an incredibly useful, albeit brief, additional look into each plane, this flavor text does wonders to show the extent of the Phyrexian invasion. Hell, the 27 cards of flavor text arguably do more for the set’s story than the actual story episodes themselves!

Just look at the flavor text on Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin, for example. This short line of text quickly explains exactly what’s going on, filling in some of the blanks the story missed. Similarly, the flavor text on Leyline Immersion provides an insightful look into what’s going on with Nissa. Complimenting these, the short and sweet text on Nashi, Moon’s Legacy is utterly wonderful following the devasting story chapter.

A Flavorful Future

Niv-Mizzet, Supreme | March of the Machine :The Aftermath
Niv-Mizzet, Supreme | March of the Machine: The Aftermath

Ultimately, while the percentage of cards with flavor has been trending downward somewhat, it might not be time for alarm bells just yet. After all, if Phyrexia: All Will Be One proves anything, Wizards is more than capable of effectively using flavor on Showcase cards. Providing a deeper insight into the Phyrexian mindset, this flavorful addition was absolutely incredible. Whether or not it happens again, however, remains to be seen.

If Wizards continue to utilize Showcase cards effectively, it’s entirely possible future MTG sets could have more flavor text than ever before. At the moment, however, it’s far too early to say if something like this will actually happen or not. Subsequently, for the time being, we’re just going to have to wait and see what the future holds while enjoying the flavor text that we do have.

Read More: MTG Players Lament State of Controversial Format!

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