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 Post subject: Designing Black flavor
PostPosted: Tue Feb 16, 2021 2:22 pm 
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 16, 2021 5:04 pm 
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While I don't have a problem with the existence of this Secret Lair in particular (I do hate the concept and the aesthetics of Secret Lairs in general, though) or the intended message behind it (I mean other than "mOnEy!"), there is one major thing that pisses me off. Sydney Adams, as we can gather from her article, is clearly aware of black characters from older lore (at least from the Mirage War, and she sure projects some wishful thinking onto Jolrael) as well as Teferi's wife and daughter, and she outright admits that Shalai isn't black in her original art... but somehow she still chose to pick her for this Secret Lair. And nobody stopped her, neither Nic Kelman nor the art department.

With the last card of the set revealed and the final story told, I hope my efforts will be seen for what they are. I hope my intentions are taken the way I intend. I hope you can feel my heart, and how much this product meant to me.
No, they are not, and no, I cannot. Taking a non-black character and appropriating her for a virtue signalling cash grab - at least to me - comes across as arrogant, disrespectful, lazy and disingenuous. Apparently Ms Adams is unaware of - or simply indifferent to - the fact that the integrity of Magic's fictional universe matters to people, and that returning to Dominaria after eleven years of waiting meant at least as much to them as this Secret Lair means to her. I wrote a long rant about the art screw-ups in Commander Legends and I won't shut up about this either.

This is exactly the kind of stuff that divides fandoms and makes people call each other names on the internet (pick your poison between "Raaaaciiist!" and "SJWs are ruuuining Magic!"). Besides, WotC simply isn't in any position to virtue signal. At all. We are still talking about the company that cut the return of Zhalfir in favour of a terrible Core Set that didn't sell and that refuses to return to Kamigawa because it was "too Japanese" or whatever. The same company also thought it was okay to just make Teferi a planeswalker again with next to no explanation. Off screen. With zero story time dedicated to it. That's not even mentioning the fact that they just plucked Kaya out of any context she existed in after War of the Spark and shoved her into Kaldheim to hunt down Vorinclex, for no other reason than that they thought a black woman as the face of the set would get them likes on Twitter. Kaya's character and story don't matter, only optics do. Which is doubly sad in the case of Kaldheim because I would have loved to see Koth hunting down Vorinclex instead. You know, another black character who actually 1.) has a reason to be after Vorinclex, 2.) hasn't shown up since forever, and 3.) would have actually been thematically appropriate for the set, because you can't get much more Metal than Koth. I could go own about the fact that Tarkir and Kaladesh are built entirely on paradoxes and retcons, which is another thing that creates a divide between people looking for representation and people looking for creative integrity. So no, I'm not buying it. Actions, not words.

Imagine a little Zhalfirin boy reading about Jolrael in his history book and being inspired to explore more of the natural world.
Oh, and since the article mentions Zhalfir that much, what's going on with the artwork on Path of Ancestry? That boy's hair and clothes don't look remotely Zhalfirin to me, no matter how many times the article tries to assure me of that. I guess getting the look of Magic's most prominent black setting right wasn't important enough to the "creative lead" of this product. Besides, Zhalfir was phased out about a decade after this stuff happened (which the article conveniently ommits), so no, this isn't a very likely scenario anyway. Really, Core 21 did a better job at everything this Secret Lair is supposedly trying to accomplish. At least it featured many prominent black characters that are actually black, and it made a real effort to capture the look of the setting. Maybe I'll live to see the day when Zhalfir returns for real and Teferi being a 'walker again actually matters and makes sense, but until that happens, I can do without any more of Wizard's hypocrisy.

Oh, and one last thing:
I thought about why she chose to protect the Llannowar elves in the Phyrexian invasion, her most notable achievement. Then I realized, of course she would. In human-dominated Dominaria, Llanowar elves are in some ways, a marginalized group.
I guess someone is projecting their own victim mentality on a fictional group of elves. I mean, come the hell on. Imagine someone walking into Llanowar and asking the elves whether they feel marginalised by humans. They'd probably have a good laugh at that, before piercing the intruder with arrows. Llanowar is a lush, gigantic forest that the elves live in by choice, not a ghetto or a social housing block.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 16, 2021 8:31 pm 
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When it comes down to this, it isn't for me. That's fine, it doesn't take away anything from me for it to exist and for some people, it might be important. That's cool for them and I've no objection to things being for specific people.*

But that doesn't mean I have to care either. I don't like virtue signals and I don't trust that this is anything more than marketing for their bad optics they got chewed out for last year. But honestly, I'm not celebrating it because it isn't meant to be something I have any reason to.

*This is an irony because usually when things like this happen it's because something wasn't for a group and they got upset they weren't included.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2021 2:28 am 
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That was actually a bit better than I was expecting, to be honest. It's slanted, but if you're going to do something for BHM, for me, it better include some history beyond the normal talking points. That said, the integration of MtG story stuff into the art of chosen cards was part of the reason why I had been weary. I would've much more preferred if it was just straight up America/Africa instead of trying to project in onto Jamuraa.

However, even on that note, there were some things that annoyed. Relatively minor, as opposed to a lot of WotC virtue signals, but still there. Sydney does a lot of straight up projection, and some of her broad strokes undersell the range of black history. Africa is huge, and the cultural stuff she mentions probably ought be more specific. For example, for the African Diaspora, it probably should specify the Western aspect of the African Diaspora (Western countries taking slaves from West Africa). This is mostly because Kenya gets mentioned later, and that would be more related to the Ottoman slave trade, which would tend more toward Turkey and Russia (and also makes the Christianity thing a bit weird since it would be more of a "native" religion in that area.).

There's also this quote, which is sidestepping a big elephant in the room.

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There is an expectation that due to slavery, Black people in America don't farm or grow things. Instead, there is a stigma in which we are the ones who deplete resources, offering nothing to the table but an open hand. The idea of the Welfare Queen, popularized during the 1976 election, cemented into American history the stereotypes that still impact our opinions on welfare today.


The expectation isn't because of slavery. Like a lot of her sources say, there were a ton of black sharecroppers post Civil War. Even if you include that as an extension of slavery, when sharecropping ended, that skill with agriculture didn't automatically go away. What stopped the association was undercutting the labor force with immigration after black people couldn't legally be taken advantage as blatantly (This isn't to say immigration bad, but rather that the way the US government used it at this time can be criticized). This combined with the "War on Drugs" where jobless black men ended up getting hooked on drugs and government welfare incentives meant that the best way to provide for the family was to be out of the family led to the "welfare queen" stereotype. Before this, the part of the horror of slavery was the idea of black families being broken up, but the prominence of the broken family came during the 1970s. This job replacement is also why the animosity bet black gangs vs latino gangs was so hostile.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2021 4:57 am 
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There's also this quote, which is sidestepping a big elephant in the room.

Quote:
There is an expectation that due to slavery, Black people in America don't farm or grow things. Instead, there is a stigma in which we are the ones who deplete resources, offering nothing to the table but an open hand. The idea of the Welfare Queen, popularized during the 1976 election, cemented into American history the stereotypes that still impact our opinions on welfare today.


The expectation isn't because of slavery. Like a lot of her sources say, there were a ton of black sharecroppers post Civil War. Even if you include that as an extension of slavery, when sharecropping ended, that skill with agriculture didn't automatically go away. What stopped the association was undercutting the labor force with immigration after black people couldn't legally be taken advantage as blatantly (This isn't to say immigration bad, but rather that the way the US government used it at this time can be criticized). This combined with the "War on Drugs" where jobless black men ended up getting hooked on drugs and government welfare incentives meant that the best way to provide for the family was to be out of the family led to the "welfare queen" stereotype. Before this, the part of the horror of slavery was the idea of black families being broken up, but the prominence of the broken family came during the 1970s. This job replacement is also why the animosity bet black gangs vs latino gangs was so hostile.


She didn't say that slavery was the reason black people don't farm, she said that slavery is part of why the expectation exists. For people who don't know the history, it's not a stretch to make that assumption. This is also a short article where explaining the entire history would take a lot of the word count and pull attention away from the art she was actually talking about. That's why she included sources, so people could get the story even though she couldn't cover it properly.

While I don't have a problem with the existence of this Secret Lair in particular (I do hate the concept and the aesthetics of Secret Lairs in general, though) or the intended message behind it (I mean other than "mOnEy!"), there is one major thing that pisses me off. Sydney Adams, as we can gather from her article, is clearly aware of black characters from older lore (at least from the Mirage War, and she sure projects some wishful thinking onto Jolrael) as well as Teferi's wife and daughter, and she outright admits that Shalai isn't black in her original art... but somehow she still chose to pick her for this Secret Lair. And nobody stopped her, neither Nic Kelman nor the art department.



She claims that Shalai was always supposed to be a POC, but that her original art was racially ambiguous. Do you have a reliable source saying that cannot be true? Because if your entire argument is "she looks white to me", then it might be you who is projecting here. I did a quick search, and found basically no lore whatsoever about Shalai, so I have a hard time seeing where you're coming from. Granted, she does express herself really badly by saying Shalai is "of African descent", but it is hard to talk about race when you're dealing with people created fully formed by magic. Like, I would definitely want to know what the deeper lore there is supposed to be. Why is she the only non-white Serra Angel? It's a really cool idea, but it could really use some context. But unless someone can point me to a source specifically denying it, I don't think it's that bad.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2021 5:13 am 
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She's not the only one. The generic Serra Angel printed in Dominaria isn't white. Lyra isn't either, and I assume she's a serra angel too, but I don't really know enough to say that with any certainty.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2021 5:20 am 
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Aaarrrgh wrote:
Granted, she does express herself really badly by saying Shalai is "of African descent", but it is hard to talk about race when you're dealing with people created fully formed by magic.

That kind of language is really irksome for me for two reasons.
The first is that it erases every non-African descended identity. There are a lot of subcultures within the communities that don't identify as being of african decent.

The second, substantially less serious but more genuinely annoying to me, that there is no Africa in Dominaria and using said language is reductive.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2021 8:44 am 
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Aaarrrgh wrote:
She claims that Shalai was always supposed to be a POC, but that her original art was racially ambiguous. Do you have a reliable source saying that cannot be true? Because if your entire argument is "she looks white to me", then it might be you who is projecting here. I did a quick search, and found basically no lore whatsoever about Shalai, so I have a hard time seeing where you're coming from.
Wait, what, who said anything about Shalai being white? Because the part about her being "racially ambiguous" in the original art is exactly my point. "Racially ambiguous" isn't the same as "black". They could have made her black in Dominaria, but they didn't, which means she isn't a valid inclusion for this product.

Here is a big high resolution image of the original art:

Spoiler


You just can't look at both artworks of Shalai next to each other and tell me that they look remotely like the same person or that there isn't some serious race-bending going on. Looking at it purely from the perspective of someone who expects consistency and creative integrity, it doesn't really make a difference whether she was "white" or "racially ambiguous" anyway, the point is that they took a character who was very obviously not black and decided to make her black.

From a general diversity and representation angle, though, it's actually even worse that Shalai wasn't "unambiguously white" or whatever, because changing her to be black erases the pretty unique appearance she had in Dominaria. It's taking something away from the people who saw themselves in her original look. The creators of this new Secret Lair claim they want more diversity, but apparently not the diverse kind of diversity.

Now, given that this is "only" a Secret Lair, how much does it actually affect the integrity and consistency of the charatcer and the world in which she exists? After all, Secret Lairs have done a lot of whacky stuff in the past, and none of it was considered "canon", right? I think this time it might be different. I'm convinced that everything they use to virtue signal that hard is effectively immortalised (which is another reason why diversity and representation shouldn't be separated from creative integrity). The depictions of Akroma, Toggo and, to a much lesser extent, Hans and Krark in Commander Legends might become a problem eventually if the art department is ever going to look for ways to reference them in another set, be it in the form of in-universe art depicting Akroma or the look of the Otarian goblins going forward. The exposure people have to those cards and the expectations and misconceptions that creates might have a real impact on WotC's work if they aren't careful. And I'm afraid the same might be true for future depictions of Shalai. A huge part of the appeal of Dominaria was that they tried very hard to stay consistent with what had previously been established, which is simply a must for a 'history plane'. Creating new inconsistencies (despite better knowledge) is detrimental and wrong and should be avoided at all costs. We already had Core 19 and the complete lack of continuity editing in the Dominaria short stories to deal with.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2021 11:01 am 
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One thing we can all agree is that article trashes Vivien, and that's all good.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2021 12:08 pm 
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Retcon to black > ambiguously brown. Shalai shouldn't have made ambiguously brown in the first place and as long she being black is now canon for future cards I like that better than "something tan". Not every character needs to be a as dark or have an afro (or neat afro-mohawk) like Kaya but they really need be established.

Its also showing how limited an petty some of you all are if you trying to put lore retcons as reasons wizards is visual signaling when we have the real world **** they need fix (which this set only just touches on).


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2021 2:30 pm 
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Retcon to black > ambiguously brown. Shalai shouldn't have made ambiguously brown in the first place and as long she being black is now canon for future cards I like that better than "something tan". Not every character needs to be a as dark or have an afro (or neat afro-mohawk) like Kaya but they really need be established.

As it has been said, people of mixed heritage exist. Having characters with no obvious single real-life ethnicity is completely fine, since reality is often built around spectrums rather than a limited set of possibilities, as long as A. it's not a way to scoot a specific heritage under the carpet and B. it makes sense with the setting at large.

(there's the matter of how the physical features of angels are determined in-universe, but it doesn't seem the point being discussed at the moment)

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2021 3:12 pm 
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Serra angels as of the return to Dominaria are born from belief so presumably they're shaped by people's wishes.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2021 4:08 pm 
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Retcon to black > ambiguously brown. Shalai shouldn't have made ambiguously brown in the first place and as long she being black is now canon for future cards I like that better than "something tan". Not every character needs to be a as dark or have an afro (or neat afro-mohawk) like Kaya but they really need be established.

As it has been said, people of mixed heritage exist. Having characters with no obvious single real-life ethnicity is completely fine, since reality is often built around spectrums rather than a limited set of possibilities, as long as A. it's not a way to scoot a specific heritage under the carpet and B. it makes sense with the setting at large.

(there's the matter of how the physical features of angels are determined in-universe, but it doesn't seem the point being discussed at the moment)



As a mixed race person I know, and that was what I mean about a character not needing to look like Kaya. Characters can have an ambiguous look but it should be set whatever they are race/ethnicity wise. Shalai being ambiguously brown looking isn't an issues its the fact they had her being ambiguously brown instead of figuring out a race for her. Compare this to lets say, Teyo who is more ambiguous looking but was always stated and intended to be latino/hispanic.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2021 4:48 pm 
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I honestly find the emphasis on Kaya's physical appearance and daily routine telling to how shallow they actually approach this. On the one hand, I'm glad they went the extra mile to do their due diligence, but on the other, they spent so much time on the superficial aspects, they forgot to actually develop any deeper character and motivations. She's been whatever the story needed of her like an amnesiac Jace.

Even if killing the Obzedat was consistent with her talent, everything following certainly wasn't consistent with what we knew of her character. And then Kaldheim happened and it's made zero sense outside of marketing for her to be there. We legitimately never got a reason she was involved and it doesn't even coincide with her abilities.

I'm definitely in the camp that this should have featured Koth, especially since it wouldn't have hurt the representation present in the set. He didn't even get to be featured in the gaggle of appearances that was war of the spark.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 20, 2021 1:24 am 
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There is an expectation that due to slavery, Black people in America don't farm or grow things. Instead, there is a stigma in which we are the ones who deplete resources, offering nothing to the table but an open hand. The idea of the Welfare Queen, popularized during the 1976 election, cemented into American history the stereotypes that still impact our opinions on welfare today.


I'm a little surprised to hear that's a stereotype. If anything I'd have thought the plantation system would have established the opposite stereotype. The connection from that to the Welfare Queen thing is rather tenuous other than to say it all ties back into racism. The 76 election thing is quite valid though. Reagan pushed the welfare queen angle pretty hard. Notably he based a number of claims on the acts of professional conwoman Linda Taylor, who made money unfairly off of welfare, but also a number of other things.

Llanowar elves as a marginalized group is a stretch. Humans might outnumber them, but numbers certainly don't dictate who's marginalized here on earth. If anything I get the impression the elves do a fair bit of marginalizing themselves. Making that kind of a reach makes the whole article feel much less sincere. I comes across as under-informed about both MTG and racism.
I expected an empty symbolic gesture but the article really illustrates that they never really gave Sydney's project much attention or support. It feels like a cheap fix to a problem WOTC still hasn't fully acknowledged. I can see why people are getting upset.

Getting off topic, but Koth would have been a good fit for Kaldheim with the Phyrexian presence there. Forget which person of color would fit better and try to think of any walker that has a better reason to be there. Koth was the best pick lore-wise and happened to be black, but both of those were lesser considerations than marketability.

Quote:
Serra Angels are the most renowned (not literally) angels in Magic's history.

Extremely unrelated but I really hate that attitude. Can you really call them "non literal" angels? Isn't that kind of like calling Aslan "not literally a lion"?* Obviously it's all fictional, but you wouldn't say Aslan "doesn't count as a real lion".
*I'm not really up on Narnia lore. So if he's not technically a lion then just imagine some other fictional lion.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 20, 2021 2:17 am 
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TPmanW wrote:
Llanowar elves as a marginalized group is a stretch. Humans might outnumber them, but numbers certainly don't dictate who's marginalized here on earth. If anything I get the impression the elves do a fair bit of marginalizing themselves. Making that kind of a reach makes the whole article feel much less sincere. I comes across as under-informed about both MTG and racism.


A nice reminder is that the llanowar elves are a militant racially motivated, xenophobic extremist nationalist group that equates an accurate punishment for breaking a branch to be breaking a bone in the offenders body.

To speak nothing of the fact Freyalise, their literal God, is a psychopath by all measures.

Quote:
I expected an empty symbolic gesture but the article really illustrates that they never really gave Sydney's project much attention or support. It feels like a cheap fix to a problem WOTC still hasn't fully acknowledged. I can see why people are getting upset.

I don't know, it's kind of a two way street. I've seen a lot of instances over the past decade of people using existing products/franchises as a soapbox and little else. I'm not saying that's what happened here, but I've seen it a ton in the comic and game industries.

Quote:
Getting off topic, but Koth would have been a good fit for Kaldheim with the Phyrexian presence there. Forget which person of color would fit better and try to think of any walker that has a better reason to be there. Koth was the best pick lore-wise and happened to be black, but both of those were lesser considerations than marketability

They are massively pushing Kaya considering the brevity in time she's been around. Already served as the face of three sets.

As a thought experiment, say they did use Koth. Presumably, because of color balance issues, we'd need a new villain. Not like Tibalt brought much unique to the table either, so who better to serve there?

Quote:
Quote:
Serra Angels are the most renowned (not literally) angels in Magic's history.

Extremely unrelated but I really hate that attitude. Can you really call them "non literal" angels? Isn't that kind of like calling Aslan "not literally a lion"?* Obviously it's all fictional, but you wouldn't say Aslan "doesn't count as a real lion".
*I'm not really up on Narnia lore. So if he's not technically a lion then just imagine some other fictional lion.

To further complicate matters, renowned by what metric?
In world? Gameplay? Precedent?

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 20, 2021 3:39 am 
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Barinellos wrote:
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Getting off topic, but Koth would have been a good fit for Kaldheim with the Phyrexian presence there. Forget which person of color would fit better and try to think of any walker that has a better reason to be there. Koth was the best pick lore-wise and happened to be black, but both of those were lesser considerations than marketability

They are massively pushing Kaya considering the brevity in time she's been around. Already served as the face of three sets.

As a thought experiment, say they did use Koth. Presumably, because of color balance issues, we'd need a new villain. Not like Tibalt brought much unique to the table either, so who better to serve there?

Hm... Ashiok would seem to fit, but he was used fairly recently in Theros. Though he went looking for Phyrexians at that point, so it would make sense if he found the ones most recently in Elspeth's memory and was related through there.

You could also use this as an opportunity to reintroduce Tezzeret. He's metal enough for the Metal plane, and a villain we kind of want to check up with now that he's out from under Bolas's claw. He also has ties to NPH, though at this point he might not see Vorinclex as an ally or be seen as one.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 20, 2021 4:39 am 
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TPmanW wrote:
Quote:
Serra Angels are the most renowned (not literally) angels in Magic's history.

Extremely unrelated but I really hate that attitude. Can you really call them "non literal" angels? Isn't that kind of like calling Aslan "not literally a lion"?* Obviously it's all fictional, but you wouldn't say Aslan "doesn't count as a real lion".
*I'm not really up on Narnia lore. So if he's not technically a lion then just imagine some other fictional lion.

I don't think the statement is meant to imply that Serra Angels aren't literal angels, but rather that they're not the literally most renowned. I would guess that she's trying to juxtapose player familiarity with in-game significance or something along those lines.
Barinellos wrote:
Not like Tibalt brought much unique to the table either, so who better to serve there?

Just use actual Valki.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 20, 2021 6:14 am 
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I think the "renowned" line might just be a joke based on the fact that "renowned" is a defined mechanic term in the Magic rules, which does not apply to Serra angels. Granted, there are no literally renowned angels in Magic by that standard, but it still seems like the most likely explanation.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 20, 2021 6:57 am 
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To speak nothing of the fact Freyalise, their literal God, is a psychopath by all measures.


She's mono- so its okay.

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