Saturday, December 13, 2014

Magic: The Gathering, Legacy Collection - Garruk Wildspeaker

At this point, I'm sure it will come as no surprise at all when I tell you I have always been a big fan of the card game Magic: The Gathering. Having an older brother who played just when Magic was starting out in 1993 and groups of friends from then up until the current day who enjoy playing, it has been a part of my life for a long time. The game has a reputation of being a more offensive nerdy interest than most but I have never really understood why. It's less time consuming than Dungeons & Dragons, there's a ton of strategies and interactions between cards and it's just plain fun, dammit!

The point I'm eventually getting to here though, is that despite existing for over twenty years now, the Magic universe has not seen much in the way of non-game related merchandise. There were a couple of statues and...T-shirts mainly. Funko, purveyors of Pop! Vinyl figures of every single character you've ever loved, ever (seriously) has changed that. After crushing the world beneath their army of unstoppably adorable super-deformed pop culture icons, Funko decided to branch out in more standard action figures in a seven inch scale. Game of Thrones was their first attempt and while I don't dig on the show myself, I had read very positive reviews of the results.

Then they announced they were working on a line of Magic figures featuring some of the major Planeswalkers from the game lore (Planeswalkers being, for those not in the know, powerful magic users who possess a unique ability to travel between the dimensions of the Magic universe, known as "planes.") The initial list wasn't that interesting, mostly the boring, single-colored versions of the main Planeswalkers Wizards of the Coast use as the "face" of the game a lot. I kind of forgot about them for awhile until actual pictures of the figures surfaced. Then things got interesting and I'll tell you why, but not yet! Read on...

So this is Garruk, one of the original first five Planeswalkers printed way back in Lorwyn that each represented a single color of magic that can be drawn upon in the game world. Linked with green mana, a type based around life and growth, but also the savagery of brutal truths of nature, Garruk primarily embodies strength and savagery. A beast mage, Garruk summons mighty creatures to aid in his hunts and tracks the most powerful prey across the multiverse using his Planeswalking ability.

Right out of the package, you can see Funko nailed the spirit of Garruk's character. In a line of seven inch figures, Garruk clocks in closer to eight, towering over his smaller wave mates. Clad in a mix of furs, bits of armor, tattered cloth and ragged chainmail, the detail on Garruk's clothing alone is insane. This is no real shock though, as Gentle Giant Studios, well known for their super-realistic, highly detailed work, did the sculpting here. The details just keep popping out the more you look him over; spikes emerging from the pelt over his shoulders, a broken sword dangling from his belt, small braids at the end of his beard.

This version of Garruk bears his signature helmet with narrow eye slits and long curved tusks flanking the jaw. Out of the box, one of my sample's tusks was curled up in his collar and thus bent, but it straightened itself out quite a bit once I freed it.

Garruk has about twenty-four points of articulation that I can count; ball jointed neck, hinge and swivel shoulders, bicep swivels, hinge elbows, hinge and swivel wrists, ab crunch, swivel waist, hinge and swivel hips, hip swivels, double hinge knees and hinge and swivel ankles. Whew. A lot of this is well hidden by his costume, but some of it is unfortunately hindered by it as well. Due to his hair and the beast pelt on his shoulders, Garruk's head doesn't move much and his loincloth/skirt bits limit his upper leg movement somewhat.

Another articulation related note that also crosses into quality control is this.

Note the gap in the plastic between the where the lower arm and upper arm sections meet at the elbow. This was not like that out of package; the elbow joint was stuck when I first tried it and a bit of force caused it come free with an ominous crack, and that gap. The peg holding the arm together doesn't appear to have broken and the joint isn't particularly loose, but it still worries me. Of course, this is most assuredly a problem only in my particular sample so no worries.

Garruk's only accessory is his massive axe and is probably all he could ever need. The only other thing I can imagine a Garruk figure coming with is a removable helmet and who knows, this is only series one.

Now the interesting thing about this figure (and a reason I caved to buying it) is the name on the package versus the sculpt. This is clearly Garruk, but the name written on the box is Garruk Wildspeaker, the title of his first card when he was a purely green, fun lovin', beast callin' fellow without a care in the multiverse beyond bigger hunts. This figure though, with a sickly pale greenish tint to the skin, spines poking up through his pelts and a more ragged, menacing appearance overall exactly matches the art of Garruk, Apex Predator. Further backstory is required. After a bit of kicking around, doing what he does, Garruk crossed paths with the black-aligned Planeswalker and necromancer, Liliana Vess. The two clashed and after a prolonged battle, Vess blasted him with a powerful demonic artifact called the Chained Veil and fled. The Veil's power cursed Garruk and warped his powers, driving him mad for a time (creating the green/black "flip" card, Garruk Relentless/Garruk the Veil Cursed) until he found a method of temporarily suppressing it. Emphasis on temporary as the curse soon returned stronger than ever and drove Garruk to begin hunting all planeswalkers instead of just Liliana. Jace Beleren, the first blue-aligned Planeswalker and fan Mary Sue, eventually stopped Garruk from turning into a full on demon, but was unable to defeat him. More disturbingly, when Jace touched Garruk's mind, he discovered that while the Veil's influence had made him into a murderous nightmare, Garruk was aware of this and liked what he had become.

So this figure is that Garruk, the plane-hopping serial killer who revels in his handiwork, not the standard version with the Wildspeaker subtitle. This both makes sense and is a little odd to me. It makes sense to release the first Planeswalker figures in their original and best known forms to attract the most buyers, but the Apex Predator version of Garruk plays heavily into the storyline of the current core set, Magic: 2015, as well as the related tie in materials like the Xbox Live version of M15. It seems Funko erred on the side of caution with this one and in the long run I guess it doesn't matter, but I find Garruk's descent into madness the more interesting part of his story. In fact, I only grabbed this figure after determining the sculpt was based on Apex Predator and not Wildspeaker.

"You call yourself a hunter..."

So my opinion might seem a little biased based on my love of the game, but really Garruk here is the only figure in the initial offering I felt I needed to own. This isn't Funko's fault by any means, just most of the main Planeswalkers aren't that interesting in design. The construction, paintwork and sculpt on Garruk are for the most part excellent and the Magic series is a strong addition to Funko's repertoire. For around sixteen to twenty bucks, the line is on par with other figures in this scale price-wise and if you dig the game or just need some cool fantasy-themed figures to fill out your shelves, these are for you. I hope this line continues on strong, I want to see Ob Nixilis (in any of his forms), Kiora, Sorin, Karn, and dare I say it, a giant-sized Nicol Bolas.

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