Welcome to my Tales of Aria preview! I feel like I deserve some recognition for not making the title a joke about Briar sending the pulses of sapphics racing (which I’ve now undermined by mentioning it). we’ll stick with the form of my Monarch spoiler where I drop the preview right after this opening section, let everyone who just wanted to swing by scope it out and move on, and then everyone who wants to hang around for the main article can join me on the other side of the image. Briefly, before we start, I want to say that I’m really in love with the art direction of Tales of Aria – while I certainly appreciate FAB’s grisly art, I also enjoy pretty things (I feel like there is an obligatory joke here) and Tales is shaping up to be a really gorgeous set.
Welcome to Candlehold
Yep, this is my card, pretty fancy, right? So, I don’t want to get bogged down too much in speculating on its use –one thing I’ve learned through repeated spoiler seasons for various games is that, even the best analysists are often incorrect about whether a particular card will blow up of fail to make an impact. That said, Pulse of Candlehold does carry the “one per deck” Legendary restriction which certainly sounds powerful. We don’t really have a ton of information to go on, in this respect. Fables’ are Legendary, but the restriction stems partially from their singular nature in the game’s lore as opposed to being a strict power level regulator. Gorganian Tome is a casual multiplayer card specifically because of its Legendary restriction. If it didn’t have it, quite a few decks would be very interested in running three copies.
The Pulses aren’t Specializations, strictly speaking, but since they each only really have one hero that would run them right now, they’re functioning in similar space. On that front, we could look to Levia’s two Legendary Specializations, but she isn’t seeing much play on the whole, so it’s kind of a “not applicable” situation. That just leaves us with Chane’s Eclipse and Soul Reaping. How good are those? Well, if you check out recent first place Chane decks, of which there are quite a few, every single deck plays both cards. And that’s it; those are the Legendary cards that you can shuffle up. So, thus far, if a hero is viable, their legendary cards have been impactful 100% of the time… in our sample size of one. Let’s call it a potential indicator of its power.
If a Legenday restriction potentially indicates that Legend Story Studios considers Pulse of Candlehold to be a powerful card, then the fact that Pulse banishes itself when played should probably be taken as reinforcement that they really don’t want you to get this effect more than once per game. What does it actually do? Pulse of Candlehold allows you to recur two cards from your graveyard, provided they have the appropriate type, it also gives you go again and costs nothing to play. It’s most immediately obvious use is for setting up combo plays, a thing Runeblades have historically been interested in doing. I tend to think of Runeblades as being characterized mechanically by being able to do both arcane and physical damage, and having various combos that key off these different damage types. We’ll have to see if that’s Briar’s thing as well (please be her thing). Early indications are good at least.
Even from the limited commons we’ve seen, something like Stir the Wildwood (Red) is offering you a potential 9 Damage for 2 Pitch, if you can meet its criteria. At the most basic level, Pulse could set up an efficient turn around a card like Stir. However, I’m going to bet that there are some significantly meaner things that people are going to figure out how to do once we have all the pieces of the Tales of Aria puzzle. Being able to pick your next couple cards is just an extremely powerful effect, though it is definitely less exciting at the very beginning of the game where your options for retrieval are somewhat limited. So that’s some obligatory card talk, now let’s wander off into more fluff oriented areas.
But First: Finance
Wooo topic fakeout! LSS very kindly sent me two copies of Pulse of Candlehold, one normal copy and one cold foil. Yup, if you didn’t get the memo with the other Pulse’s spoilers: these are looking like our Majestic cold foils for the set. And, as with the Monarch Majestic weapons, I’m going to assume that these are short printed (remember that Legendary restriction?) I think, in terms of value, we could once again see these being some of the top first edition pickups from the set, likely beating out some of the Legendarys in terms of price if they see meaningful play. It’s also just an absurdly pretty card in cold foil. This is why LSS, by my estimation, makes the most consistently attractive premium cards in the industry. They’ve hit on a very good balance of embellishment that is attention grabbing but doesn’t go overboard and kill the effect by making the card a big shiny mess. Instead the frame gets the treatment as does the glowing root structures and the water, but that’s it. The restraint with the foiling enhances the art as opposed to taking over. Look, I’ll be honest; since the card arrived in the mail it’s sat on my desk right in front of my keyboard. I still pick it up throughout the day and just tilt it left and right to get the foil effect. It’s very pretty. The Aria cold foil border is definitely giving Solana a run for its money.
Lore time! Let’s talk about what we currently know about Candlehold. Candlehold is a secluded grove near The Great Tree of Korshem (sometimes “The Korshem” or simply “Korshem”). The giant tree is often described to be the “heart” of Aria, and historically, it has acted as the way that outsiders enter into the closed off region. A “wayward soul” might find themselves waking up at the base of The Korshem, for instance. If you were unaware, a big part of the Aria lore is that the region has been this secluded paradise for thousands of years. It’s so overflowing with abundance that people don’t have currency, they just barter or give of their excess because they haven’t really retained any concept of why one might hoard wealth. Magically separated from the rest of Rathe, Aria was the one truly idyllic region of the world. Of course, because this is Rathe, it was only a matter of time before things went sour. In recent years, the barriers have begun to break down, revealing Aria to outsiders who might breech its borders.
Interestingly, this dynamic is paralleled in Candlehold. While the Flow is generally regarded as a generative force in Aria, the convergence of Earth and Lightning in Candlehold has created something called the “Strale,” a volatile mass of powerful energies. The Strale has, for eons, separated Candlehold from the rest of Aria, much how the Flow separates Aria from Rathe proper –Aria is pretty much a matryoshka doll of seclusion. And thus, Candlehold is doubly cloistered, or it was at any rate. In the same way that recent changes have exposed Aria, shifts in the magic that bound the denizens of Candlehold to their grove have begun to weaken. Who exactly lives in Candlehold? Well, the Queen for one.
Per the very limited amount of lore available at the time of writing, the people of Candlehold have “fallen from grace after the fall of the Ancient Davnir, father of the Earth. They’ve been trapped within this beautiful grove for eons, bound and melded with the Strale” and the queen spends much of her time atop her throne “as her mind wanders to the time of the Ancients.” It’s unclear to me if the people of Candlehold are or were human, and if the same Queen has ruled the grove for all the eons of its remove. What I can say is that given the art and the fact that they seem to have become suffused with the Strale, I’m reading the queen as a sort of faerie queen figure – perhaps more in the vein of Irish and English folklore than the derivations of Titania, the queen of the fairies from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (herself based on the figure from folklore).
The depictions of faerie queen characters often take two major forms. There are the more playful trickster ones that descend from Shakespeare’s Titania –they may toy with humans, but they are benevolent overall. And then we have the ones more rooted in folklore where the fairy queen is a figure of both striking beauty but also has the capacity for terrifying power. In this duality, she functions as a personification of nature’s splendor and fury. For a contemporary example, think Galadriel when Frodo offers her the ring.
We Stan a beautiful and terrible queen. Is this the mood what we’re getting with the Queen of Candlehold? I don’t know, but I sort of hope so. Aria’s sheltered area against the harsh outside world narrative is interestingly complicated by the introduction of a powerful force within Aria that hasn’t been able to affect the region for untold years, and is now suddenly reintroduced at a time of crisis –but is she on the side of the current human population of Aria as an ally, or does she aspire to be queen of more than Candlehold? (Tell me more, LSS)!
Hybrid Existences: Art Deep Dive
One of the elements that we can see in a lot of the Candlehold-related artwork is an intermingling of plants and people in ways that are distinct but not entirely unreminiscent of how previous Runeblade art has leaned into the biomechanical. When people are talking about the “biomechanical” in art, they’re frequently using H. R. Giger (the father of the creature designs for Alien) as their base.
One of the main properties of the aesthetic is the blurring of the organic and inorganic. We can see this integration in FAB on cards like Bloodsheath Skeleta and Reaping Blade. In these pieces it’s hard to decipher what elements of the equipment, if any, are simple metal and which might be alive. On the other hand, Giger frequently played with biomechanical designs to create images that are simultaneously beautiful and disturbing (Li II is named for and modeled on his first wife, actress and model Li Tobler), this element shows up in Runeblade as well -see personal favorite that I will shoehorn into as many articles as possible: Consuming Volition.
Another major visual source of inspiration for Demonastery-aligned Runeblade is the work of directors like David Cronenberg and John Carpenter with a keen interest in body horror, the distortion and transgression, of the human form in ways that provoke horror, a sense of wrongness, and yes, on occasion, sometimes contain an arousing quality as with pieces of Giger’s work.
The action on Howl from Beyond, for instance, certainly wouldn’t look out of place in a film like The Thing
What’s super interesting to see is how these notions of hybridization are picked up in the Candlehold art generally and specifically in the elemental Runeblade cards. In The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania above we see the fae figures in nature, but they aren’t physically integrating floral elements into themselves. We see this in traditional depictions of creatures like dryads as well. From their Grecian appearances forward, most depictions of dryads are simply beautiful women who are in nature.
However, more recent fantasy works have played around in this space, blurring the lines between person and plant.
Another contemporary instance occurs towards the end of the 2018 film version of Annihilation (of which I’m a big fan), we take a break from some serious body horror (that bear!) to have a more peaceful take on transformation and transmutation in a scene that depicts Josie’s ultimate reaction to the Shimmer.
Some recently spoiled cards really show this aesthetic off:
In both pieces we see the integration of vines as equipment. However, unlike the biomechanical elements we saw in Bloodsheath Skeleta and Reaping Blade, the vines appear to have a more harmonious flow. This is, perhaps, best showcased on Embodiment of Earth where the queen’s hand flows into the throne and vines meld into her legs
For me, this framing showcases Aria’s take on the Runeblade class as a symbiotic relationship as opposed to the Demonastery’s which feels much more parasitic. I know that some people were upset to see three Runeblades in each of the last three draftable sets when other classes have been cooling their feet for a year or more. But, I think the inclusion here is actually really good for showing off the big picture ideas about how class and talent intersect. We got a hint of it with Levia, who was a Demonastary spin on a class that was initially associated with the Savage Lands. Yet, Briar’s contrast to Chane is the first time we’re really going to get to see a fully developed take on not just the visual aesthetic differences between different region’s versions of a class, but whether different talents can make a class feel distinct while maintaining a mechanical core of class identity.
Oh, while we’re talking about Briar (::the author fans herself here::), her young art shows a great example of that harmonious interplay between plant and person that I was talking about. Compare Young Briar to Young Viserai or Chane
People seem to be having a decidedly better time in one of these cards.
Thanks for Stopping By
That brings us to the end of our time together for today. Thanks to my regular readers for your continued interest in my work, and thanks to any new readers who swung by for the spoiler and decided to stick around to the end. I know that in an era of video content, long ponderous articles are not exactly in vogue. I appreciate that so many of you opt to engage with the content that it’s to the point where LSS sees me as worth giving a choice spoiler like Pulse of Candlehold to (or including me in the Content Creator Appreciation Kit Program, so that I had a chance to hand out promos in some recent contests). Thanks for reading… now I’m off to review that Briar art for a future article.
*Header Image – Pulse of Candlehold by Pavel Kondrashov