by Guess Who!
“[Giger] mandated that the creature have no eyes, because he felt that it made them much more frightening if you could not tell they were looking at you.“ – Alien Evolution, Alien Quadrilogy Box Set
“The Newborn’s eyes and nose were added to improve its expressions to make it a character, rather than just a “killing machine”, and give it depth as a character.” – Unnatural Mutation – Creature Design, Alien Quadrilogy, 2003, 20th Century Fox
So, now this is happening.
Anyone getting tanked up to make a moral judgment about this criticism should consider that the auteurs of this harlequin fetus have a job in paradise creating entertainment products to sell at a markup. Their asses are covered, their motivations a mixture of personal creative ambition and company direction, and like any object d’art put forth for our consumption, and *to* consume our hard-earned dollars, it is the fairest of games. Fairer, indeed, than Magic itself.
It was with the weariness of a weathered pack animal that I slumped upon seeing the M14 Sliver reboot. It is not just that it’s unnecessary, ill-advised, implicitly insulting. It’s that creativity has found no purchase on the dull edifice of this undertaking. It precedes M14 like a corpse floating headlong down the Nile, fly-blown and crocodile-bitten, leaving us to wonder what homogenized horrors may yet come.
Slivers with male and female characteristics? (Can sexualization be far behind? Is the Sarah Kerrigan of Slivers on the horizon? Or is one Glissa enough?)
Sliver generals, ranks within the collective? Slivers in clothing?
A menacing Sliver planeswalker dropping one-liners on token-generation Sorceries?
“You’re about to get a bad case of…the hives.”
The mind reels and rebels.
Where to begin? Perhaps with the admission that this doesn’t matter. A set is no museum exhibit but a collection of mass-produced game pieces, and if the rooks and pawns carry the benzine stink of the industrial process, they will still play readily enough. The art itself is expertly done. In a year, nobody will care. We are just here to get on the record, you and I, that we may one day link back to this combined outcry of voices, having suffered for too lengthy an interval the release of sneering, talking slivers that look like Donkey Kong. Today is our Independence Day.
Aaaaaaaaaaaanyway, look at this piece of shit:
Well, this guy certainly seems like he’s part of a hive to me. A hive of gorillas. I’m not sure why the extra limbs were necessary to set this heater of a design apart from it’s predecessors. In case you’re wondering if there’s ever been a sliver with tusks and black sinew accented by boney plates before, the answer is no. That could have been sufficient had cooler heads prevailed.
(PS: Gives all slivers trample? HOW EXCITING. They couldn’t have picked worse cards to pseudo-spoil.)
I especially like how the word ‘Sliver’ evokes something infiltrating, sharp, a lithe and predatory scintilla that’s part of a larger whole… and this card is a giant chimpanzee blundering through the forest, alone. As for the face, stretched as it is between two chitinous outcroppings, it appears to have all the mobility and expression of a vintage phrenology chart.
Come on! You wanted the face, Spielberg. Let’s see the soliloquy! Oh, what’s that? You’re saving it for the Wal-Mart shelf, those burning Sliver eyes writ large on a fat pack?
My conceptual complaints are, like my sadly desecrated friends, legion. Slivers have always been a basic form to which disparate characteristics could be applied, leaving all Slivers present (one presumes) with identical, combined traits. Now that the symmetry of the basic form is broken, the mental picture of what happens when slivers gather is muddled. Instead of imagining plating hardening or muscles strengthening on a hive-wide basis, we’re just left to conjure all a montage of disparate forms working together, looking like the X-Men if all their faces were shot up with Novocaine.
Moving on in this burgle-fest:
The General Grievous of slivers, and no less superfluous a visual design. This looks like a Phyrexian Obliterator fell into a bag of ketchup chips and got really mad. The face, with all the softness and expression of an uncracked walnut, adds the now-expected stone nothing. Oh, and he’s got dreadlocks because he’s a Sliver.
It’s hard to explain why using faces this way is so ineffective, but I’ll try. Human faces are soft, they can express sadness, joy, fear, resolve, they have folds and pores, distinguishing marks. Sliver faces will never be used to express any emotions besides “I’m going to attack you”. These faces are just simulacra – blank, glowering, and dare I say “Phyrexian” in their unrealness. Do Slivers have tear ducts, throats, teeth? Do they eat human food? What other anatomical weirdness is suggested by this change?
You can’t just slap a face on something inhuman and give it character. It’s like putting a face on an ant or a cockroach.
I’m preemptively not interested in the inevitable “Slivers have been twisted by a humanoid corruption into the image of their new master, [Planeswalker whoever]” explanation, because I know it’s just a planter placed strategically over a commercial carpet stain. As a narrative impetus, accessibility is no less hollow than the lightless eyes of the new brood it’s birthed.
Hell, maybe there won’t even be an explanation, since core sets are the garbage time of Magic narrative. (Anyone remember the Eastern Paladin and Western Paladin?)
Anyway, my point is that every new sliver is just this guy.
The faces are either dead, waxen and mockingly human in a way the designers didn’t intend, or it IS intentional, in which case the slivers are just Phyrexians 2.0 and this is further reinforced as the dumbest idea of all time.
To add to the misery, the flavor text suggests that slivers have to “command” each other to take on their shared characteristics. I wonder if that was in the style guide or some random dingleberry just made it up on the spot. Neither would surprise me. I further wonder- if you have this in play with a Blade Sliver, does the Blade Sliver grow two legs and a face as well?
Might as well keep the mediocrity train a-chugging:
I don’t think that’s how Slivers work, flavor text guy. They don’t all see through this Sliver, they gain the ability to…oh-never-mind.
This one looks like somebody disemboweled Voldo from Soul Calibur and dropped him into Cambodia on a mission to assassinate communist advisers. I fail to see why you couldn’t use the existing Sliver morphology to just this Vigilance effect- a slender sliver propped upright on it’s limb, triangular head raised, cobra-like, to detect any possible stimuli.
Oh, wait, now I remember- lazy art production.
Even if Sliver morphology had run its course (which I don’t concede), there were settings, textures, actions, colors, sizes! All sorts of knobs to be turned on the Sliver etch-a-sketch. Look man- tell me you don’t like my name. Tell me you don’t like my voice. Tell me you don’t like my fucking necktie. But don’t tell me you couldn’t put three creative people in a room for a few hours and come up with compelling art for fifteen new slivers without increasing limbs by 300%. Anyone who tells you that is lying to you.
Now we be a good time to talk about what a disaster it is to take an essentially insectoid/feral race and make it humanoid when a huge part of suggesting a hive (without actually showing one) is that morphology. If I see one ant, I expect more ants. If I see an ugly two-faced humanoid standing around like the Marlboro man, I don’t expect more of the same.
Alright, let’s wrap up this freakshow before I vomit:
Guy looks like a Viridian Elf that stumbled out of the Mephidross after a ten-day crack binge. Of the spoiled art, I think this is probably the biggest departure from the typical Sliver, visually…but it’s certainly not a departure from various other designs that have come and gone throughout Magic’s history. Maybe it’s the Steelform talking, darling, but you seem like either a Myr or a Phyrexian to me.
I don’t get what the flavor text is trying to say. It’s either awful, awful, or boring, and the only mystery is what the intent was.
Does Sarlena think people could actually mistake them for humans? If so, she’s dumb.
Does Sarlena think people would try to fight them the way they fight humans, in terms of vital spots and such? Are sliver legs not legs? Do they not have tendons to cut? Do their faces not protect eyes and brains? We know they do, since Sentinel Sliver has eyes…so why can’t you fight it like a human?
Does Sarlena just mean they have inhuman cunning and viciousness? If so, this is a boring and none-too-expansive reference to the art change.
Spin-doctoring and digging the needle in is the explanatory post by WotC creative guru Doug Beyer, who I’m hoping was not the genesis of any of this schlock but rather was handed market research lemons with which to poop out a putrid and hackneyed lemonade.
Here’s the link, which should come with a kiss, since I fancy a kiss when I’m getting my doodle pulled.
” M14 adds a host of new slivers, and we decided it was time to broaden their range of potential morphologies.”
“We wanted them to be able to look you in the eye like other fantasy races, to be capable of a greater range of body language and even, sometimes, to generate facial expressions.”
So you wanted to broaden your range…with the restriction that they have humanoid faces and be able to show humanoid body language?
I’m curious to hear your initial thoughts.
Well, here you go.
I just can’t imagine anyone thinking this was a good idea. Taking one of a canon’s historically unique elements and gentrifying it for the masses is not a creatively laudable action, let alone advisable. I hope it was done under protest. What design space is opened up here? A chance to fill a graphic novel panel with a sliver’s flashing eyes? To describe a sliver’s changing expression in a novelization? Is this a genuflection before the graven monolith of packaging art, full-page advertising, and retail surfacing? Was the intent simply to place expressive Sliver faces at eye level with young Wal-Mart shoppers, piquing interest enough to elicit a tug at mom’s dress?
Slivers have lost their uniqueness- they are now the equal of any other sneering, razor-clawed antagonist. This new direction weakens the impact of the race and how it can be understood by players as a hive group without exposition to that effect.
While I’m at it, let’s just say that your flavor text writers needn’t bother keeping their mantles dusted for the installation of a Franz Kakfa prize.
It’s moot anyway. We’re still going to buy ’em. We’re still going to crack’em and play ’em. If Magic Online has shown us nothing else, it’s that the game is strong enough to weather most any stumble, so long as the gameplay remains pure. Our hides are toughened by numberless lashes, scabrous gifts from the whip of commerce. Virescit volnere virtus, as noted orator Sarlena, Paladin of the Northern Verge might say.
Though we will persevere, there has been one casualty here, and before it passes into the shadows of the internet perhaps this communication can serve as an epitaph.
Visually and in terms of mystique, Slivers are done.
An iconic creature type ends. Not with a bang, but with a click, a chitter, the crack and snap of flesh hardening into more of the same.