In the abstract memories of the Iquati, Jace found interesting ideas to improve upon.
Jace’s Phantasm is a callback to Narcomoeba, from Future Sight, so to explain my feelings here, I’m going to need to talk about that card for a while first. I liked the future-shifted cards for their glimpses of strange new worlds that Magic might someday visit, and Narcomoeba was the one that stood out the most for me.
What We Already Knew About the Iquati
In case you’ve forgotten Narcomoeba‘s flavor text:
It was created by the Iquati as a living memory—one that objects to being forgotten.
A month ago, if someone had picked a random Future Sight card and asked me to tell them its flavor text, Narcomoeba is the one I would have had the best shot at. It’s been dethroned now that I’ve seen a bunch of Akroma’s Memorials at the M13 prerelease, but that’s due to Akroma’s Memorial having short text with a strong pattern. Narcomoeba stuck in my mind just because the idea of a creature that’s also a memory felt evocative.
It’s also something that I’m pretty sure was just made up on the spot to fit the mechanics. The card was created bottom-up to fill a hole near the end of Future Sight development. Creative probably didn’t have any particular Memory World plans ready to go; they just came up with this text by thinking about what the weird mill trigger implies. Why does forgetting something from your repertoire of prepared spells result in some flying creature popping out? Because that creature is itself a memory, and forgetting it makes it all angry and active. It’s a fun interpretation.
There’s been a little more information about the Iquati between Narcomoeba and Jace’s Phantasm. The Aether Flues, in Planechase, revealed that the plane they live on is called Iquatana. It’s full of narcomoebae, things that look like deep-sea vents, and Polymorph effects. Doug Beyer gave some more background on the living memory concept:
“The narcomoebae were created as living recollections, as the genealogical memory stores of the Iquati were sundered in some unknown past event.”
So, not much new there aside from a pretty typical mysterious ancient catastrophe. But even so, these are people who have the ability to make memories real in the form of living illusory jellyfish! (None of which have the Jellyfish creature type, but let’s just ignore that for now.) That’s pretty cool. Raises a few questions: What are these memory creatures like? How do the Iquati access the information stored in them? What sort of things are they memories of? For a plane with so few mentions across cards, a sense of unanswered mystery is a good thing.
Back to Jace’s Phantasm
It’s still not answered, of course. If you were looking for more about the Iquati and their magic memories, Jace’s Phantasm adds basically nothing. Here’s the new information:
1) Jace visited the Iquati. 2) Jace was interested in their living memories. 3) Jace improved on them, making a 1/1 flier that cares about milling in a different way.
Common thread here: Jace. I’m not really a fan of most of the planeswalkers we see in flavor text; they tend to be bland people who will say anything as long as it’s associated with their section of the color pie. (Recent example: Garruk’s line on Bramblecrush.) Jace in particular bothers me, not because he’s less interesting than others, but because he became the face of the game despite still not having character traits beyond “confident blue planeswalker who uses the sort of magic found on blue cards.”
Because of all that, I’m not happy to see Jace taking center stage here. Not only is the narrative focus choosing him over the Iquati, the text is asserting that his living memory magic is better than theirs. Living memory magic is all the Iquati had to distinguish themselves! Why even reference them if all you wanted to do was talk about how Jace is actually the best living memory guy around?
We all know that Magic has been shifting to be more about the characters on the planeswalker cards. That’s been a good thing in a lot of ways, but it’s taken a serious toll on flavor text on a card-by-card level.
Rating for Jace’s Phantasm: 2 out of 5 stars, except the stars are replaced with planeswalker heads for no good reason.
Pedantry corner: “Abstract” is the wrong word to use to describe Iquati memories. The distinguishing thing about Iquati memories is that they’re not abstract. They’re living creatures that can fly around and attack you.