MTG Analysis: Archons
Ashen Rider by Chris Rahn.
Magic: the Gathering has offered many unique spins on fantasy races, from the classical Tolkien-ish elves to the omnipresent and at times bizarre kami. Sometimes it handled them in the most soulless corporate way possible, other times it has displayed such a degree of creativity and soul that it can be thought provoking at times.
By far my favorite is the way Magic handled Archons, creatures of Gnostic lore embodying order and oppression. In most media using Gnostic concepts, Archons are rarely actually present, just being allegorically represented by “The Man” however “The Man” may be, from The Matrix’s machines to Dark City’s insidious glowing squids. As such, Archons don’t really have a media presence per se, and when used the word can be downright meaningless in ways “demon” or “dragon” would be proud off.
Not here, though.
While it seems likely that Magic’s first Archon was in fact a random concept, for reasons I will talk about below, over time the creature type came to have an unique and pretty cohesive thematic identity. It is effectively White’s iconic creature whenever angels don’t quite fit, and it very specifically represents the colour’s more negative side.
Of all the creature types introduced in Magic, it is arguably among the best at balancing the mythology it is based on while taking an unique spin of its own. Magic’s Archons are unmistakable, and yet remarkably familiar…
The Mythological Basis
Mithraic lion-faced figure, often linked to Ialdabaoth.
“Archon” is a Greek word for a civic ruler. It is derived from the root ἄρχω, “to rule”, from which words like “hierarchy”, “monarch”, “lunarch” and other words ending in the suffix -arch, which surprisingly are all associated with rulership and command of some kind.
“Archon” is used pretty liberally in Hellenic literature. Its usually a secular term, but you can find it on a few Platonic texts, mostly as a synonym for the gods. There is no evidence that it referred to any specific kind of being in these cosmologies, instead being more of a short-hand to a deity’s function.
Everything changes in Late Antiquity, however. This is a time marked by an explosion of new religious and philosophical movements, a time when cultural exchange and political instability create the need for something to replace the older civic religions. Amidst this is a branch of spiritualities umbrella’d into the term “Gnosticism”, usually what happens when you mix the asceticism of Platonism with the sentiments of moral rebellion of Abrahamic religions.
In these religions, what usually happens is that the physical, material world is actually an ugly evil Matrix made by an imperfect God, masking the true wondrous spiritual world where the real REAL God actually lives. The hierarchy of beings that were once helpful guides in Platonism are instead converted into demonic oppressors, holding you into the ground by your own senses.
“Archon”, therefore, ceases to be just “ruler”, and instead becomes “tyrant”. And not just a tyrant in the political world, but a tyrant in reality itself, an evil being who works tirelessly to keep you in misery or at least powerless.
A hierarchy of Archons was therefore born in Gnostic traditions. These beings are the “divine” servants of the God Ialdabaoth (also known as The Demiurge), a sort of bizarre mockery of Judaeo-christian angelic orders and potentially the true God. Most of these Archons are aligned with planetary bodies, as a direct defiance to the Platonic notion that the planets and stars are heavenly spheres or benevolent guides. They are quite literally misguiding lights, working the fates to create worldly misery and devouring your soul after you die.
According to most Gnostic texts such as Contra Celsum and On The Origin Of The World, the major Archons are:
– Iao, usually associated with Jupiter or the Sun. Usually described as lion-like in some fashion.
– Saklas, usually associated with Saturn or Mars.
– Astaphanos/Astaphaios, pretty strictly associated with Venus. Supposedly looks like a hyena.
– Adonaios, associated with the Sun. Is described as a seven-headed serpent.
– Elaios/Ailoaios/Ailoein, associated with Mercury. Has the head of a donkey.
– Horaios, which represents the Moon.
Other texts mention a variety of other lists. Pistis Sophia, for example, lists the major Archons as Paraplex, Ariouth, Iachtanabas, Typhon and Hekate. If some of these names sound familiar, remember that these books were written by societal rebels in a time when Greek gods were actually worshiped…
A trait you’ll notice in the above descriptions is that many Archons have animalistic characteristics. This is because, while Archons represent rigid order, they are also embodiments of the material world, and as such also of basic desires. Gnostics were pretty fundamentally set on considering the material world an ugly, filth place, and thus so would be the beings personifying it.
Another thing you’ll notice is that some of the above Archons are named after names for the Judaeo-christian God. This is because Gnosticism generally holds that the cruel God of the Old Testament is Ialdabaoth, while Jesus (and Eden’s Serpent) represent the true God. Angels and Archons therefore tend to co-exist in the Gnostic worldview, but Archons are the more “traditional”, hierarchical angels while the true angels are a lot less orderly.
Being a soul-devouring, bestial evil opposite to a divine good, its of little wonder that some people both then and now equate the Gnostic Archons with Christian demons. Ultimately, the Gnostic image of the Archon probably shaped the demon hierarchies we know and love. However, there was always something of a distinction: demons are low, chthonic (i.e. hellish) beings with chaotic tendencies, while Archons, in spite of their bestial nature and inferiority to the true divine, were still heavenly figures. Unlike demons, which tempt you into handling them your soul, Archons alreadyown you from the moment you are born, and don’t even need to lift a finger.
Ultimately, if demons are evil in it’s most fun and campy way, Archons are evil in the most soul-killing way possible. Demons use basic drives to lure you in, Archons are behind those basic drives, which exist to enslave you from the get-go.
Page from Plane Shift- Zendikar.
Archons in MTG are essentially some kind of bizarro angels, fitting for creatures designed as mockeries of Abrahamic divine hierarchies. Like angels, they are born from White mana, but instead of representing compassion and mercy they represent dogmatism and ruthlessness. Angels, of course, can represent those in some worlds under some circumstances, but generally they are legitimately benevolent, while Archons are designed to highlight White’s negative traits.
Probably the simplest, most straightforward way the two are opposite is their relationship to Red mana. Red/White is by far the most common multicolour angel combination, representing the martial zeal and compassion seen in most depictions of angels. Archons, by contrast, are present in every combination but Red/White. Granted, this will probably change in the future, but it seems kind of suspicious that the beings defined by an association with tyranny and remorseless pursuit of justice are taking the longest to show up there, even if violence is part of their nature.
Magic’s Archons show some subtle references to their mythological counterparts. They are visually defined by riding fearsome beasts, usually either lion-like or horned critters of some sort. For most of their history it’s been kind of assumed these are just random steeds — an article on Shadowmoor even compares Archon of Justice’s steed to Lorwyn’s stag-like elementals -, but more recently Planar Shift — Zendikar revealed that the steed and rider are both part of the same being.
In other words, the bestial horror is as much an Archon as the humanoid “rider”. As you can see, the guide even calls this stunt “deceptive”, and it’s just priceless.
Also funny considering Ornitharch.
As said several times by now, Magic’s Archons are associated with rigid order. Normally, this is a more punitive association rather than the bureaucracy in mythology, and tellingly most Archon cards relate more to exiling permanents or damage redirection effects. Less “The Man” and more The Punisher.
However, at least two Archon cards do relate to oppression effects. Blazing Archon ceases all attack against you, while Archon of the Triumvirate has the detain mechanic, preventing creatures from doing anything. Perhaps unsurprisingly, at least the latter is associated with the Azorius Senate, the embodiment of action prevention in Ravnica.
In canon Archons do hold a tyrannical position in at least two separate worlds. Krond the Dawn Clad is the dominant religious and enforcer figure on an unnamed plane, opposing the rebellious Vela. While Vela is not particularly sympathetic herself, she is a Gnostic figure herself — it’s kind of in the name -, and the “order versus chaos” conflict is part of their dynamic, two extremes locked in an eternal conflict.
Celestial Archon by Matt Stewart
The one plane where Archons have truly shone so far, however, is Theros.
Here, the absence of Angels demanded that something else replaced them as the White iconic, and suffice to say Archons did a great job. Not only do they blend in into the visual look of the plane — especially given that leonin are one of the plane’s races -, and not only is it appropriate that creatures named after a Greek word whose identity was conceived in Late Antiquity are put in the Hellenic themepark world, but they also have a thematic weight of their own.
Theros is a world who ultimately is revealed to be ruled over by petty, evil gods. It is a word where the natural order is inherently unfair, where mortals are subject to the whims of beings far above them. Where their own passions and emotions are controlled by the gods, gods which are demonstrably false and where the only way out is to ideologically oppose them and deny them what they want, to know what they are.
Doesn’t that just scream Gnosticism to you?
Archons are nonetheless not associated with Theros’ gods, instead forming their own esoteric oppressive force outside of the divine hierarchy. Assuming it’s not metaphorical, Silent Sentinel’s flavour text even implies some greater will at work, adding a level of irony to this. They would be Theros’ equivalent of the Gnostic true angels, if not for the fact that they don’t want to enlighten anyone and instead just replace the divine dictatorship with their own.
The Planeswalker’s Guide elaborates further on the nature of Theros’ Archons. At some point in the plane’s history, Archons once ruled through an extensive empire, where they were indeed tyrannical overlords imposing a “strict, merciless justice”. They even commanded about armies of other races like they took a page from Sauron’s handbook or something.
The most notable of these tyrants was Agnomakhos, an Archon warlord that favoured leonin armies. His rule was apparently hard enough that the goddess Ephara taught humans magic in order to defeat him, and eventually a certain couple lead their own armies against him, killing him for sure. Soon after, the Archon empire collapsed, and the city of Meletis was born.
Again, we see Gnostic parallels. Ephara is clearly taking the role of Sophia (the Gnostic figure of enlightenment, sometimes the real REAL God), granting humans knowledge against the tyrant. Less subtle is the fact that love is part of how he is defeated.
In current Theros, Archons no longer hold political power. Instead, they rage mindlessly, trying to avenge their stolen honour. They are listed among the monsters that Meletis keeps a watch for, showing how far they’ve fallen.
Nonetheless, they did unwittingly cause enlightenment: the leonin, former servants of Agnomakhos, fled in shame and renounced the gods, which led to them eventually becoming the face of resistance against them.
The first Archon in the game and always a classic.
As much as I’ve waxed poetics, I have no delusions that a lot of Magic’s Archon lore was a latter development, perhaps a series of very unintentional decisions on the part of Creative. This is due to the very first Archon card, Ravnica: City of Guild’s Blazing Archon, that bears a lot of thematic dissonance for its successors.
While a lot of visual elements are here — humanoid rider, lion steed, what appears to be an emphasis on literally blind justice -, the overall emotion this image is meant to convey is a lot less menacing than in latter pictures, and seems to convey a generic White-aligned paladin figure. Warm colours such as reds and golds are dominant, offering it a cozy feeling that posterior Archon artworks very much lack.
Nonetheless, even with the nostalgia goggles off it’s still a solid concept all around, both in terms of the beautiful card image as well as the mechanics, which are a slightly more aggressive take on the peace-inducing magic alluded to in the flavour text.
Like I said, it seems like a basic White creature concept. I’m not entirely sure if the idea to serve as an opposite to Black specters is even at play here, as the “rider” just seems so normal and if not for the card informing you so we wouldn’t even know if it’s actually flying. The steed isn’t some monster or a particularly fearsome lion, but a rather calm, possibly-bored-out-of-its-skull one.
As the name implies, Blazing Archon’s artwork seems to show it enveloped in fire. Not even “pretty” or mystical “holyfire” or “soulfire” as occasionally seen in White cards. No, it’s actual, red-tinted, explosion-like fire. A White card as designed by [insert Michael Bay, Zack Snyder or whatever].
As such, this seems more like the artwork of a Red/White card, but the card effects are pretty mono-White, and it’s made very clear that this Archon has nothing to do with the Boros, down to it’s peaceful modus operandi. I like that, that the closest thing to a Red/White Archon is still mono-White, a mono-White pyromancer of sorts.
Archon of Justice
Archons would make their second appearance in the unfairly maligned Shadowmoor setting (specifically, Eventide) with the aforementioned Archon of Justice. Compared to later Archons it still has a somewhat traditionally heroic look to it, riding a beautiful stag-like beast and wielding a red cape. Its flavour text is even pretty standard:
In dark times, Truth bears a blade.
However, there are already hints of the more sinister characterization Archons would later be defined by. For one thing, the Archon bears a masking hood, masking its face and has a rather jagged armour, making it eerily Nazgûl-like. There are no warm colours here: the picture if dominated by a really cold silver/white, while the orange cape seems to be dimmed to some extent. Unlike its predecessor, riding “alongside” the viewer, this Archon is more distant and above the viewer, and while it can be interpreted as a heroic stance it could instead mean that its going to smite you.
Note also that it supposedly fights for “Truth” with a capital letter, which could hint at an obsession with the concept rather than any legitimate heroism. Perhaps to illustrate this, whenever it dies it drags something — creature, land, enchantment, whatever — along with it to the afterlife. This is the first Archon card to have an exiling effect, which would eventually become common in this creature type, befitting their ruthlessness.
The “steed” half nonetheless is arguably the most adorable in all Archons. Doug Beyer did make a comparison between it and Lorwyn’s stag-like elementals, which could suggest that at this point the idea that the “steed” is part of the Archon was not fully set in. Given that there are no stag-like elementals in Shadowmoor, however, in retrospect it’s very fitting, showing that there is in fact no actual steed that the Archon could have gotten hold off, that the “steed” is itself.
This raises the question on whereas Shadowmoor’s Archons are actually “up-graded” elementals, since like them Lorwyn’s White aligned elementals are also embodiments of White mana and it’s principles. Then again, Shadowmoor also has angels, so maybe Archons are their own beings, and their similarities are some magical analogue of convergent evolution.
Archon of Redemption
Magic’s third Archon debuted in Worldwake. Both Ravnica, Shadowmoor/Lorwyn and Zendikar were separated from each other by one block each, making this pattern of Archon debuts amusingly well timed.
Archons as a whole were unfortunately an unexplored aspect of Zendikar’s worldbuilding, but thankfully they would get attention years later in Planar Shift — Zendikar, where there was a snippet revealing the true nature of Archons at last.
Archon of Redemption is pretty bland as far as Archon illustrations go. It shows it soaring through the bright blue sky raising a white sword and followed by pretty doves, which would make for a pretty heroic-looking picture if not for the sinister, ghostly “rider” — which, on closer inspection, seems to be just a suit of armour full of light. It’s empty! It’s unclear if Archontic ruthlessness was part of their characterization yet, but the mean face on that lion could hint at that.
It’s no wonder Creative chose this picture to show how “deceptive” the Archon visage really is.
The flavour text, at first sight, seems very generic for a White creature. Basically it fights until Emeria, the zendikari merfolk sky-goddess, is “freed”. Things, however, take a turn for the very dark at the end of the Zendikar block, when it’s finally revealed that “Emeria” is actually the eldrazi titan Emrakul.
Hope you’re happy now.
This actually raises several interesting questions. According to various storyline sources, Zendikar’s angels were fully aware of the true nature of the “gods”, and basically just impotently went along whenever mortals claimed they were emissaries of Emeria. Evidently, the same does not apply to this Archon, which does sincerely believe in Emeria and sheds blood in her name.
Were Zendikar’s Archons truly more ignorant than the angels, and were easily converted into the nascent religions? Or were they actually aware of the eldrazi and devoted themselves to them for some reason like Ayli and the cultists did?
Planar Shift mentions that the Archons in Zendikari are normally agents of the archangels, but how could this be if they have more or less the opposite opinion on the “gods”? Did the Archons rebel against the angels for their eldrazi overlords?
That would explain why Zendikar’s angels died out so throughly.
Magic’s fourth Archon was also the first introduced on a supplementary product. While the previous Archons were part of well defined settings with their own visual trappings, Vengeful Archon didn’t need to abide by any particulars, and as such is arguably perhaps the first “generic” Archon, just showing a regular example of this species. The the name if effectively redundant helps.
Appropriately, then, what now defines Archons is fully evident in this picture. In spite of the bright golds and reds, enhanced by what appears to be the sun as a backdrop, the light here is literal, not moral. The “rider” is covered head to toe in almost robotic armour and bears what appears to be an empty helmet, making it quite unsettling on a closer inspection. It is framed as more or less the center of the picture, away from the viewer and even tilted back as if expecting an impact.
No wonders, given that the most prominent part of the Archon, the “steed”, is the focus of the image, a massive, fearsome winged lion coming towards you. The fact that it’s the largest Archon so far, at 7/7, doesn’t put the mind at ease.
Other then Blazing Archon, this is the Archon card that feels the most Red/White, and not just in terms of flavour and card illustration. Befitting its redundant name, Vengeful Archon redirects damage dealt to you, an effect nowadays more commonly seen in Red/White than pure White cards. Previous Archons had rather aleatory mechanics, but latter Archons would reflect the species’ vengeful and tyrannical aspects with exile effects.
Krond the Dawn-Clad
So in Planechase 2012 we finally get our first legendary and multicoloured Archon, Krond, who also happened to be the biggest Green/White flyer for a while. He was also the first Archon given some sort of characterization as an individual character, adding further to the list of debuts this guy accomplished.
From the story supplements in Planechase 2012, we know that Krond is the ruler of his so-far-unnamed plane, leading both as a civic ruler as well as a religious figure. He appears to be an embodiment of daylight itself, and is locked in a perpetual struggle with the human wizard Vela, who rebels against his authority. I’ve already talked about how this superficially “day/night, male/female” conflict mirrors the Gnostic framework where Archons were conceived, and I hope one day we get to see these characters again.
On Krond himself, this is the second time the fearsome (or at least passionate) side of the Archon is demonstrated by the “rider”, not the “steed”. As with Blazing Archon’s, Krond’s lion half seems half-bored, while the “rider” is yelling and screaming. Someone needs a little self-help…
As with Blazing Archon, there is a justice motif with a blind fold and scales, but while in the former it seems to be rather superficial in Krond it dominates the character. The scales aren’t just drawn on a shield like a good luck charm, they are the character’s actual “weapon”. Where Blazing Archon is fighting by your side with a sword, Krond is flying above you, flaunting a symbol of control like a flag while yelling madly.
If Blazing Archon was fighting for justice, Krond is weighting down the justice he’s going to deliver. And he seems pretty pissed.
For all intents and purposes, Krond seems less of a fighter than most Archons, being the first one to not carry a sword. Indeed, he represents the more law-oriented side of oppression, fitting as he’s essentially the government. To these ends, he has vigilance, the only Archon to have this keyword so far, and pretty much the only example of this keyword in Green/White cards to symbolize a Big Brother analogue.
Green/White could use more of it’s own Azorius/Consulate/King Brago analogues, come think of it.
Archon of the Triumvirate
With Return to Ravnica and how busy it was, I would forgive them if Archons just weren’t important enough to fit in. Thankfully, Creative delivered, lightly so granted, but still with an awesome card in Archon of the Triumvirate.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this Archon is aligned with the Azorius Senate, a fitting place for a creature traditionally associated with oppressive order, and standing in opposition against the Boros and Orzhov-aligned angels. It’s likely that the original Blazing Archon was Gateless, and indeed Archon of the Triumvirate is practically its polar opposite.
Like nearly all modern Archons, it is depicted as a distant, ominous figure, flying above you. Instead of the warm fire you get this cold, blue-ish light and a healthy amount of shadows, making the Archon seem all the more cold and unwelcoming. Unlike Blazing Archon, who raises a sword openly, this Archon wears a hood and uses a hammer as a weapon.
But the absolutely creepiest part is the “steed”.
Most Archons seem to gravitate towards lions, with the exception of the elk-like Archon of Justice, but Archon of the Triumvirate sets itself apart with a terrifying demon-like monster that looks as if it spawned in a Rakdos pit. Among Ravnica’s massive variety of bizarre and horrific critters, this creature pretty much stood itself apart. Its origins were never elaborated upon, the art guide only showed sketches of it in relation to the Archon. Where did it come from!?
In retrospect, the answer is obvious. Which is all the more unsettling and/or awesome, in my opinion.
Archon of the Triumvirate was he first Archon card to have it’s own prerelease edition, completed with an exclusive artwork:
In essence, the same things that made the “official” artwork creepy and unsettling, with a little more emphasis on the cold light rather than the shadows. The creature, posited ever more prominently, gets even more demonic, including what appears to be a set of teeth in the inner ear.
The “rider”, on the other hand, gets a spiffier set of armour and loses the coat for a trailing cape. There is still a hood and a hammer, but instead of being even remotely menacing they simply highlight how ridiculously pompous it is. Look at it, it’s like it’s going off to play whack-a-mole with some criminals.
The contrast between the demonic “steed” and the silly “rider” is almost comical, and I love it.
So we finally get to Theros, the one place where Archons managed to truly shine. The very first Theros Archon revealed, Celestial Archon, is a pretty majestic incorporation of the creature type into the plane, combining Archon hallmarks with the plane’s take on Greek aesthetics.
Compared to most Archon artwork, Celestial Archons’ has an element of closeness not seen since Blazing Archon. It’s still rather intimidating, but less in an oppressive or creepy way and more in a confrontational way, something confirmed by it having first strike. Both the “steed” and “rider” seem pretty emotionless, offering an otherwise neutral atmosphere, an effect added by the purple cape and blue sea and sky.
Celestial Archon is currently the only Archon that is also an enchantment creature, and as such bears the iconic Nyx-starfield on its shadows, making it look very glittery. As such, it is a Nyxborn, and therefore not actually a “true” Archon per se, just an imitation born from either a dream or a god’s will. “Falsehood” is a pretty thematically important theme with Archons, but it’s clearly a lucky accident in this case.
Judging from the golden armour, sun-spear and laurel crown — which make it amusingly demonic — Celestial Archon probably serves Heliod, an assumption supported by it being on Meletis, the center of Heliod’s cult. True Archons in Theros are stated to work independently from the gods, which leads credence to this being a Nyxborn anomaly, most likely an imitation. As Heliod is essentially Theros’ Ialdabaoth, the fact that he’s making false Archons is on a level of irony I didn’t even know existed.
Like Archon of the Triumvirate, Celestial Archon also got a prerelease picture. Unfortunately, I’m unable to track the larger version, you we’ll have to do with the version for ants:
This version is a lot less bright than the “official” artwork, being set at sunset. There is an additional colour contrast, with the “steed” being dark while the “rider” sporting a very bright yellow cape. This effect is further enhanced by the Nyx-starfield, mostly focused on the “steed”.
There’s a particularly militant feel to this Archon. It rather distant, but angled as to clearly be departing for war. While the “steed” takes most of the frame, the bright colours clearly emphasize the “rider”, adding a level of dissonance between both.
It’s also one of the two Archon pictures (alongside Ashen Rider) that seem to depict a take-off, as it clearly seems to be gaining altitude quickly.
You might be wondering why I chose this picture to start off my article. Why does this specific image basically starts my introduction into my favourite Magic race?
Because it’s my personal favourite. Duh.
When Ashen Rider was first revealed in Theros, I had some mixed feelings. Up to this points, Archons were a predominantly masculine race, at least aesthetically. Angels were all female and demons still are all male for reasons too complicated and saddening to get into here, so I thought that Archons, being mana manifestaions, would follow the same steps. White already had an iconic feminine race representing its values across the Multiverse, so I thought Theros would be a nice departure. Have a more egalitarian representation, with Black having it’s own sirens, gorgons and harpies while White got Archons.
Shock of all shocks, Ashen Rider is a girl.
The chestplate and long hair give it away pretty easily — no other Archon had hair like this -, and the flavour text refers to her in female pronouns. In retrospect, we can also see yet another aspect few people noticed then: the “steed” is a lioness.
At the time I thought this was a bit unfair. It’s not like Magic lacks female representation in regards to creatures that by all logic shouldn’t even have a gender identity.
But, over time, I warmed up to the idea. The revelation that Archon “steeds” are part of them was the ultimate catalyst in selling me the concept, and it makes the picture just priceless in hindsight. By now, it was clear that the Archon lore in Magic had already fully ossified, and we didn’t even know half of it.
The fact that Amonkhet later introduced male angels helped. Now I have no complaints.
Beside the twist, both the lioness and “rider” are just plain well designed. The former has this eerie bone-like albinism combined with a deathly thin physique and fearsome four upper canines, which really illustrate how bestial Archons are. The “rider”, in spite of her female shape and the hair, appears to be yet another empty suit of golden armour, staring ahead in a deadly confidence. Like the “steed”, the “rider’s” armour is of a deathly white with slight golden tunes, adding to the ghastly atmosphere. She is truly out for blood.
Curiously, although the Archon’s colour scheme is almost exclusively white or off-white, this is our first White/Black Archon. I remember it upsetting me, since it was basically implying that the Archons would be tilted towards Black in Theros, but the rest of the block showed that to not only not be the case, but also how evil mono-White can be.
Indeed, Ashen Rider appears to a very odd isolated case on many fronts. Most White/Black creatures on Theros are Athreos’ undead minions, but Ashen Rider doesn’t appear to be associated with him, not being an enchantment creature or stated to be an enforcer of his will. Like most Archons, she seems dissociated from the gods.
She is nonetheless emerging from what appears to be a portal to the Underworld or some ominous dark place, carries a scythe as her weapon, and the flavour text hints that human sacrifice is required to summon her. Is she Theros’ version of the Erinyes, summoned to exact chthonic justice on the oathbreakers? Is she being worshiped as a death deity behind the “real” gods’ backs? Or does she govern a more sinister realm?
Adding to the confusion is the architecture of the building the portal is in. It’s completely unlike the “Hollywood Ancient Greece” the rest of Theros’ buildings have, instead resembling a Gothic cathedral like those owned by the Orzhov in Ravnica. Yet, unlike the cityscape the building’s surroundings appear to be desolate mountains.
Born of the Gods gave us an even more feminine Archon in Ornitharch. This time, it isn’t even an empty armour, just a woman riding on a silver chariot. She doesn’t have have a blindfold, allowing us the first sight into an Archon “rider”’s eyes.
Predictably, they are menacing pits of yellow light which, combined with her utterly emotionless face, speak volumes about her true nature than any blindfold could.
Overall, I really like this card illustration. It is one of the most visually distinctive Archons without deviating too much from the basic premise as an orderly, ruthless being beyond your comprehension. Considering the “steed” is the same being as the “rider”, though, this must mean that Ornitharch is part-chariot…
The fact that she’s the weakest of Archons at 3/3 doesn’t help. Yeah, your bandwagon is so intimidating.
Thankfully (or not), her tribute ability makes up for this. If you don’t worship her (that is, give her two +1/+1 counters), she sends in two birds to peck your eyes out. This is probably why she’s called “Ornitharch” (”bird ruler”, or “bird Archon” if you’re so inclined) in the first place, and why the artwork shows her surrounded by doves.
This makes her the second Archon specifically associated with doves in it’s artwork, the first being Archon of Redemption, though that one’s ability is not specifically tied to birds. Who knows, maybe it will become a common motif now.
Silent Sentinel debuted alongside Ornitharch in Born of the Gods. As much as I like Ornitharch, this is one of my favourite Archon cards after Ashen Rider, both aesthetically and mechanically, so it did overshadow her in my eyes. Being later on the alphabet than her allows me to finish these reviews on a grand note.
The artwork is truly amazing for a White card. As I’ve shown, most Archon pictures are eerie in some way or another; Ornitharch notwithstanding, they move progressively towards a feeling of alienation and intimidation as the Archons gradually loose their humanity and heroism to the viewer.
Silent Sentinel is the apex of this: the “rider” is an unambiguously empty shell, a suit of black armour whose insides glow with a strange pink light, apparently cast in shadow. In contrast, the lion is very physical and fearsome, its head even cast in light as if to add the contrast.
Now that we know that the “steed” is part of the Archon, it almost feels like the “rider” is a ruse, a suit of armour animated for reasons only Silent Sentinel knows. Not a “rider”, but a puppet.
The name, if you think about it, is rather ominous as well. The artwork does indeed show the “steed” and “rider” staring at something, and given the shadows they seem to be flying stealthily, perhaps trying to remain hidden. The flavour text gives confirmation that the Archons do not generally obey the gods, but instead a “higher justice”.
It could be a metaphor for their own self-righteousness, or indicate that some else is pulling the strings. Either option is not very comforting.
The card’s ability is related to returning enchantments from the graveyard. Regardless of the interpretation, Archons have powers over the very fabric of Nyx, which explains why they were dominant over Theros once and why the gods don’t really do anything about them aside from Ephara’s aid.
Though it doesn’t really relate to the “Silent Sentinel” name.
Like Celestial Archon, Silent Sentinel got a prerelease card art. As with it, I can’t find a larger version:
No offense to the artist, but this picture is just an immense downgrade from the “official” artwork. All sense of dread is pretty much gone in the generic day sky lighting.
The “rider” is also an empty suit of armour full of light, but it feels like it is too autonomous, instead of the puppet-like synchrony with the lion the “official” one has. It’s pointing like a generic evil overlord. The horns are really out of place, more fitting of a generic Norse set — or Amonkhet — than Theros.
And speaking of the lion, this is easily the most bored of all lion “steeds”. The way it’s looking down while the “rider” is gesticulating is ridiculous, like its giving orders and the lion is barely listening. There’s no indication that these two are two parts of the same creature.
Archon of Valor’s Reach
Our final Archon for the moment hails from the world of Kylem, a place that’s basically a plane wide sports competition and one of the goofiest official planes in MTG (as opposed to the even goofier “unsets”). The exact status of Archons in this world has currently not been disclosed (really, there’s only a half-assed guide for those interested), but it can be inferred that its either another sports star (when you get angels and demons to participate, nothing’s off limits in these games) or, more likely, one of those responsible for the enforcement of the competition’s rules, as implied by its card ability, which prevents both players from using a particular permanent.
At first, I simply assumed this was a return to the “heroic” portrayal of archons, what with the warm colours and the typical sword and shield of the classical paladin. But upon closer inspection of the art we get the exact same feel as in Silent Sentinel: an empty suit of armor with glowing eyes, creepily in tune with the steed’s (in this case a tiger) head. The borderline gas-mask like appearance of the helmet and those massive wing-ears don’t help.
Like Krond this is a Green/White Archon, which I’m guessing that these creepy, ruthless abominations will continue to be a staple of the most “goody-two shoes” colour combination and I absolutely love it.
And that wraps it up
Archon of the Triumvirate “steed” concept art by Aleksi Briclot.
As I said, a lot of these nuances and references might be accidental, unless someone in Creative is really passionate about Gnostic mythology. But I stand by my case that these “accidents” have worked well to make one of the most unique creature types in Magic, and certainly the best possible embodiment for White villainy.
With all of this said and done, I hope Creative keeps finding new and innovative ways to explore Archons. Maybe a pretty unique spin for the inevitable — or not!? — Red/White one/s, or maybe contrast and opposition with either angels or specters.
As always, I can’t wait to see what Creative has in store for Archons. Based on the general trend seen above, the unnerving aspects of this race will probably be continued to be emphasized, continuing the evolution from “heroic” figures into strange beings beyond mortal comprehension.