On the Nature of God-Dragons and the Visages Thereof

On the Nature of God-Dragons and the Visages Thereof

July 6, 2018 Off By Chase

Nicol Bolas has a dumb face.

Nicol Bolas has been a part of Magic: The Gathering for almost the lifespan of the game itself, originally seeing print in June of 1994 as part of the Legends expansion. He was a multicolored card and a legendary creature, two firsts for the game that became staple card types. He was a big boy, a 7/7 flyer that, if he damaged your opponent, made them discard their hand and weep bitter tears. Among his elder dragon siblings – other large bruisers with similar mana and upkeep costs – Bolas had the most interesting and powerful secondary ability, so when Wizards of the Coast went fishing for cards to upgrade into proper lore characters not named Urza, Nicol Bolas stood out by default.

Since his humble beginnings in Legends, Nicol Bolas has become the de facto antagonist of Dominaria and beyond, to the point that his fan Wiki page reads like the biography of some prolific warlord. He’s not only a planeswalker – a wizard who can step between worlds at will – he’s one of the oldest and most powerful. His touch turns people’s minds into goo. By his own admission, he’s created entire species and civilizations just to hunt them for sport. He’s been dead (but he got better), a ghost, a time ghost, and an emperor-pharaoh who soloed the entire pantheon of a plane that resembles but is legally distinct from ancient Egypt. Nicol Bolas went 5-on-1 against the main roster of Magic’s other planeswalkers, and won, easily. He’s some combination of Satan, Smaug, and Light Yagami.

And he looks like a frog.

To be clear, this is not a “they changed it, now it sucks” situation. Bolas’s original art is of questionable quality; no offense to Edward Beard, Jr., but “sex offender gargoyle” was a good aesthetic to walk away from. Still, the Legends artwork captures the synergistic ideas of lore-hungry wizard and megalomaniacal dragon. His updated artwork in From the Vault: Dragons tends much more toward the latter, a flying, fierce, but Don Bluth-ish scion of Dragon’s Lair.

But the planeswalker cards…

Nowhere in the lore does Nicol Bolas have an unfortunate encounter with a shovel, nor is there some suggestion that the Ur-Dragon from which he spawned had an unexpected dalliance with a goblin princess. His flat face, tiny nose, and beady eyes are certainly unique among planerending flight lizards, but unique does not equal useful, or intimidating, or particularly interesting. Bolas’s dagger teeth are less indicative of an angler fish (a bottom feeder, not a predator) than some evolutionary adaptation of a giant underbite.

Everything else about Nicol Bolas’s design, aces. His horns and weird egg thing floating between them are good, distinctive character design. Bolas’s crest was an expansion symbol, for God’s sake. His giant wings, sinewy frame, armored shoulders, all evocative of a dragon with which one does not mess.

Core Set 2019 releases on July 13th, and includes in its ranks rebalanced reimaginings of the elder dragons of yore. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager lurks within as a mythic rare, not as beefy as his previous showings but strong for a four-mana card. Pay seven and flip him and–

Ugh.