As a fantasy card game, Magic: The Gathering has always drawn inspiration from the fantasy genre. The game includes classic fantasy races like elves and goblins while also putting its own spin on these genre staples. However, fantasy fiction isn’t the only thing the game references; it also includes some fun references to pop culture of all kinds.
Magic: The Gathering has recently started to include cards from other intellectual properties as fun bonuses to the game’s main content, but even before then, the game included subtle references to other pieces of fiction. These references range from classic legends and fairytales to mobile games, all cleverly disguised as a part of Magic‘s multiverse in a way that doesn’t feel out of place.
10/10 Robber of the Rich Would Feel At Home In Sherwood Forest
Robber of the Rich was originally printed in Magic’s Throne of Eldraine set, which was heavily inspired by fairytales and legends. This thieving archer is a pretty clear reference to the Prince of Thieves himself, Robin Hood.
What makes Robber of the Rich a fun reference is that he both looks and plays like Robin Hood. His design is clearly inspired by Robin, with his curled mustache and soul patch and his skill for archery. Robin’s ideals are also reflected in the card’s mechanics , as the Robber can only steal cards from opponents who have more in hand than the player and won’t steal from those who have less.
9/10 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite Raises Some Hell
Horror fans will instantly recognize the term Cenobite from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. Elesh Norn looks just like one of the Cenobites from the films with her flayed skin and augmented shape, but her connection to them is more than just her appearance.
In HellraiserCenobites are former humans who are chosen by the dark god Leviathan to have their bodies augmented and their blood replaced by a blue liquid. This is very similar to how Elesh Norn and other Phyrexians alter unwilling creatures in a process they call “compleation.” Instead of a blue liquid, the Phyrexians use a special type of oil. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Phyrexians weren’t partially based on Cenobites, so it is nice for Magic designers to give a nod to their inspiration.
8/10 Grave Bramble Represents A Mobile Gaming Rivalry
Grave Bramble is definitely one of the more subtle pop culture references in Magic. There isn’t anything in the name of the card nor its flavor text that would directly cue players into the fact that the card is actually a reference to the game Plant Vs. Zombiesinstead the reference is all in the mechanics.
First, Grave Bramble has defender, an ability that means the creature can’t attack but can block incoming attackers. This is a clear reference to the tower defense nature of most Plants Vs. Zombies games. Grave Bramble also has protection from zombies, which really hammers home the reference. It’s fun to see Magic reference other games in this wink-and-nod type of way as opposed to just directly including characters from them.
7/10 Phelddagrif Is A Sneaky Reference To Magic’s Creator
Phelddagrif is a fan favorite Magic card, not just because the flying hippo creature is unique to the game, but also because it is a great “group hug” commander. Although many players are likely familiar with the card, not all of them know that it is actually a subtle tribute to Magic‘s creator.
Phelddagrif is actually an anagram for Garfield Ph.D., referring to Magic‘s creator Richard Garfield. When Garfield decided to leave the company, the company printed the card Questing Phelddagrif to represent him going off in search of his next business venture.
6/10 Jewel Thief Reminds Fans Of A Famous Cat Burglar
Jewel Thief was printed for Magic‘s organized-crime-themed set, Streets of New Capenna. As an anthropomorphic cat and also a thief, it’s pretty easy to see that the card is a play on the term “cat burglar,” but some fans think the reference goes a little further than that.
Magic fans on Reddit speculate that the card is meant to be a reference to DC’s Catwoman specifically, not just a generic cat burglar. This is partly due to the setting of New Capenna being somewhat reminiscent of Gotham City, given its extensive problem with organized crime.
5/10 Frontline Rebel Quotes Musical Lyrics
Magic fans expect the occasional reference to another fantasy property, and sci-fi or other nerdy genres are also pretty expected. Many players probably don’t expect references to famous Broadway musicals, but that’s what they got in Frontline Rebel.
Frontline Rebel is from the Magic set Aether Revolt which largely focused on a rebellion on the plane of Kaladesh. The flavor text for the card reads, “Will you be strong and stand with me?” While many players may just dismiss this as a typical rallying cry for a rebel to be shouting, it is suspiciously similar to lyrics in “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Misérables. A fitting reference for a story about rebellion.
4/10 Undying Evil References A Classic Horror Movie
The art from Undying Evil depicts a magically reanimated corpse crawling out from a cellar door. Though this seems like typical zombie behavior, horror movie fans will immediately recognize the imagery from an all-time fan favorite film.
From the sinister grin down to the angle of the wooden hatch, Undying Evil is a clear visual reference to Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. The card was printed as part of the game’s Innistrad block, which is full of references to popular horror fiction. Still, Undying Evil stands out as one of the better references due to its adherence to the original shot while not taking fans out of the world of Magic.
3/10 Silver Fur Master Is A Familiar Furry Friend
Though their popularity isn’t quite what it used to be, it would still be difficult to find someone who isn’t familiar with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. During Magic‘s recent return to the plane of Kamigawa, the game’s designers paid tribute to the heroes in a half-shell and their mentor.
The humanoid turtle race of Kappas was used in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty as a clear visual reference to the TMNT, but the best reference was actually to the crew’s mentor. Silver Fur Master is very clearly meant to be Master Splinter and is the most one-to-one comparison from Magic to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
2/10 Shark Typhoon Clearly References A Famously Bad Movie
Magic‘s plane of Ikoria was designed to be the home of many giant monsters. Due to this, the design team at Wizards of the Coast took it as an opportunity to reference a variety of famous monster movies. Fans were split on the idea of including Godzilla and other monsters from outside Magic‘s IP, so one of the best references in the set turned out to be to the terrible Sharknado.
The card Shark Typhoon isn’t even trying to hide its inspiration, which is perfect because Sharknado isn’t exactly a subtle film. Almost as if Magic designers were reveling in the irony, they went ahead and made Shark Typhoon a good card, and it stuck around as a control deck staple for a while.
1/10 Nevinyrral’s Disk Is A Layered Reference
Plenty of players have a hard time pronouncing Nevinyrral, likely because it is just a real name backwards. Larry Niven is a science fiction and fantasy author who inspired some of Magic‘s lore. For example, he came up with the concept of mana being an energy source tied to the land.
Nevinyrral’s Disk also references Niven’s The Magic Goes Away series. In it, the character Warlock invents a spinning disk that is powered by mana. Though it doesn’t have the same destructive powers as Nevinyrral’s Disk, it was the initial designers’ inspiration for the card.
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