scrolled down the page. My chin was resting between my forefinger and thumb, face relaxed. I was calm. At equipoise. Around me sat printouts full of decklists, release dates, and World Champions. The words "20th anniversary set, one card from each year" was circled on a notepad to my right, written in hasty scrawl only I could decipher. I was a scientist in his laboratory. It was me and the cards.
I clicked on the link to the 2010 World Championships. And suddenly, everything changed.
My face rose off my hand. My heart rate quickened. My mind began to run at twice the processing speed. If I wore glasses, I would have pushed them up my face.
I stared at my screen; I stared at what had sent my processes into overdrive.
Could we do it? Could we really do it? Could we put Jace, the Mind Sculptor in a From the Vault?
There was no way... right?
Welcome to 20th Anniversary Week!
This week, we're going to break from the normal deck tweaking in this column. I know, I know—disappointing. But I have some good news that I think will make you okay with that.
Today, I'm going to talk all about From the Vault: Twenty, including the genesis of the idea, revealing the process that went behind it... and, oh yeah, revealing all twenty cards. Hopefully that's a reasonable compromise.
Let's get started.
In the Beginning, There was Nothing
...and then, there was something. A spark. A idea.
It started like this: I was about three months into working at Wizards when Mark Gottlieb, the former lead on From the Vault, was about to accumulate a lot of new responsibilities as design manager. I had done some non-design work on From the Vault: Realms (notably, writing all of the text about the cards on the inside) and, in the process, taken an interest in the series. Looking for someone to shift the project to, Gottlieb handed it off to me.
It was time for 2013's From the Vault! Great. So... what now?
I started on a more-or-less completely blank slate. Gottlieb had written down a few ideas for future From the Vaults, but the product was now mine. It was my child. Mine! My preciousss...
It quickly became clear that this would release during Magic's 20th anniversary, and that's when the spark happened: I definitely wanted to do something for the big year. I pitched representing some of Magic's most iconic cards throughout time, and then Ethan Fleischer pushed my idea even further with the idea of expanding this From the Vault to twenty cards total, featuring one per year.
I was sold.
Everyone signed off on the idea, and before I knew it, I was ready to start designing this thing.
An Adventure in Space and Time
I had a vision. My vision was to create a box set that showed off the history of Magic. What was the best way to do that? Represent every year of Magic—in both tournament play and in sets.
What did this mean? I wanted to put a card in from each block of Magic (Starting with the modern-day concept of blocks, with Mirage) to represent that block.
I also wanted to show off the history of tournament Magic. To accomplish this, I decided to have a card that appeared in a Pro Tour– or Worlds–winning decklist from each Pro Tour season.
Entwining (or perhaps, to get up with the times, fusing) the two goals led me to this heuristic: each card would be from the block that lined up with that Pro Tour season. It gets a little confusing because of how the Pro Tour schedule changed a few times, but it ended up working.
Those were already two mighty tricky goals to align together. But I had one more goal above all the other goals for this box.
You see, different products have different goals that you can sum up in a short sentence. Some are there to educate new players. Others are there to appeal to deck builders.
My goal for this product: be awesome.
Or, perhaps, said less succinctly but more objectively: give players cards they love and want to both own and play with.
To all of the Cubemasters and Commander players; to history buffs and collectors; to the Evan Erwins of the world: this product is for you. (Fun fact: while designing this product, I often used the metric, "How excited would Evan Erwin be about this? Where on the Evan-o-meter would this fall?")
I wanted every card to have a purpose. They all needed to be awesome—even the cards that were there to show Magic's history needed to be exciting.
This was Magic's twentieth birthday party, and Magic deserves a pretty nice crowd. Not every From the Vault will be like this one, but for the twentieth anniversary it was time to do something special.
My process on this one was long and careful . It was my first product and also Magic's twentieth anniversary—I wanted to make sure I got it right. I created a few initial drafts of lists, showed them around the office (both to people in R&D and people outside of R&D—non-R&D feedback on these is crucial!), took in feedback to see which were getting people most excited,... and then rinsed and repeated until I finally had a core list I liked.
From there, I endlessly tweaked the cards until they ended up in the shape you see today. It took a few months of thinking about it and reiterating, as well as looking through a lot of the same decklists over and over again, but this From the Vault was eventually crafted into something I'm extremely proud to present as a showcase of Magic's history.
Now, let's get onto my Top 20 list for the week. It's one I imagine you're interested in—the twenty cards in From the Vault: Twenty!
The twenty cards in From the Vault Twenty
In 1993, there was no World Championship. There was no live webcast streaming; there was no DailyMTG.com; there was no internet in your phone. But, for the brand-new fledgling game of Magic, there was something else very special happening: the first-ever DCI-sanctioned Magic tournament.
Held at Gen Con, this was the first real event for Magic. Ale Parrish took it down in a Game 3 that was covered here.
Not much survived from that event but this lone record. Everything had been lost to time. Not even Magic history buffs like Mark Rosewater had any ties to the people in the event back then. It was cloaked in mystery... until now.
With the contents of the winner's deck suddenly mattering for this boxed set, I went to great lengths to track down Ale Parrish and chat with him about the tournament. He is a part of history—and if lost history could be recovered, I was going to find it.
I eventually did find him, and conducted an interview. The interview I'll put at the end of this article—it was wonderful to read, and his perspective is quite touching. However, after talking with him to see what he remembered being in his deck and thinking on it more, I went back to the card I had originally selected in case I couldn't find Alex: Dark Ritual.
Dark Ritual is an iconic piece of Magic history. From the early days of "Ritual, Hypnotic Specter, go," to the comboriffic decks it fueled later on, Dark Ritual is a recognizable part of Magic that has been there since the beginning. I've talked to many players who have told me it was their favorite card. And, lo and behold, in the account we have of the match, Ale played it, so I knew it was in his deck.
Dark Ritual was a slam-dunk pick for me—but I'm still glad I contacted Ale for that interview. (Seriously, be sure to check it out at the end of this article.) And speaking of another slam-dunk choice...
Playable when it was released? Check. A staple in Legacy today? Roger that. A must-have for Cube? Yep. A popular Commander card? Absolutely!
This card was used in Zak Dolan's infamous green-white-blue control deck he used to take down the 1994 World Championships. Winning with powerhouses like Serra Angel, Zak's deck sported the full four copies of this one-mana instant.
If you're a Magic player who plays any format Swords to Plowshares is legal in, this will interest you. As soon as I saw this was a possibility, I knew it was a perfect fit to show off the history of Magic.
To those of you out there with a keen eye who are really paying attention, you'll notice that Swords to Plowshares is actually in here from a reprint set! Swords originally released in Alpha, and, while it was featured in Zak's deck, I already took a card from Alpha—Dark Ritual—so this is actually attributed to its Revised reprinting. I wanted to make this box awesome and represent Magic's history, and the next best choice was Kismet.
When I weighed it, at the end of the day I'd much rather put in a Swords to Plowshare (which does fit, technically) to represent Magic than put in Kismet to make me feel better about checking a box—and I think players who open this From the Vault are likely to be far happier with a Swords. This is the only card in this From the Vault taken from a reprint set.
Zak Dolan's Angel Stasis
Winner, 1994 World Championship
Ah, here's a nice card to partner with that Dark Ritual you just opened up...
Another iconic card from the beginning of Magic. Players have been grimacing when Hymn to Tourach is cast against them since Fallen Empires released in November of 1994. It quickly became a cornerstone of Magic, and at the next World Championships, Alexander Blumke's black-based Rack deck ran four copies of the mean sorcery. (Interestingly enough, his deck featured both of the other cards previewed so far: Dark Ritual and Swords to Plowshares. History, indeed!)
Whether you're Cubing or playing Legacy, Hymn remains a brutally effective card to this day. And speaking of Cube, how about that Cube art?
One of the fun things about working on From the Vault is figuring out which art pieces go where, and which cards to put new art on. (None of which are without internal controversy, of course—as I'll talk more about later.) The Magic Online Cube, however, had a lot of old art of popular cards recommissioned to meet our current standards. And what a coincidence—we were about to release a From the Vault featuring several old, popular cards! Instead of having the art locked up on a server somewhere, this was a great opportunity to get it into print.
As a result, you'll notice that this From the Vault has an incredibly high density of cards with new or never-seen-in-print artwork. (Nine, in total!) And speaking of cards with never-seen-in-print artwork...
Alexander Blumke's Rack Control
Winner, 1995 World Championship
What would a box set of Magic's history be if there wasn't a single mana Elf in it?
Almost synonymous with the idea of a green deck, one-mana accelerators have been around since the very beginning. True, Llanowar Elves is probably better known—but Fyndhorn Elves fit the rules of the box. (Besides, you probably already have plenty of Llanowar Elves anyway.)
Fyndhorn Elves also gave an opportunity to showcase Hall of Famer Olle Råde, and his winning red-green deck that featured Giant Trap Door Spider, of all things! (Which Fyndhorn Elves no doubt helped deploy a turn early.) Winning Pro Tour Columbus at only sixteen years old, the genius who would later earn an Invitational card of his own harnessed the power of a mana Elf.
Another upside of Fyndhorn Elves: we could print a version with new art! As a card we've only printed once, we've never had the chance to give it new art in paper. I've heard numerous Cube players wish there was another piece they could use. Well, now there finally is. (Justin Treadway: this one's for you!)
Ice Age/Alliances Constructed – Winner, Pro Tour-Columbus 1996
Impulse was a staple tournament card in its day, and a card you still see in Cube and Commander decks everywhere. It even saw occasional Legacy play in High Tide decks up until a few years ago. It was a defining card of its era. Countless articles were spawned by the card, talking about strategy, how to play it, and even what various different pro players' versions of (often humorous) Impulses would do if Impulse perfectly matched their play style. (If you're so interested, you can still find said articles in archives around the Internet.)
While Impulse saw play in a lot of places, perhaps most iconically in Magic history it was played by Mike Long at Pro Tour Paris. (The one where most people hear about Mike exiling his only Drain Life and still winning—although that actually isn't a true story.) Mike took down a star-studded Top 8 with his Prosbloom deck—a combo deck built around Cadaverous Bloom, Squandered Resources, and Prosperity. Impulse was a key card in this deck, making sure Mike could find the cards he needed to finish assembling his combo.
Not only does Impulse hold an important corner of Magic history, putting it in this set finally meant we could give it new art that wasn't some crazy scary old dude rummaging through scrolls. (Or whatever that is, depending on your perspective.) I knew the art director Jeremy Jarvis would be all over getting new art for this card. History, a chance for good new art, and a very playable card—perfect.
Mike Long's Pros Bloom
Pro Tour-Paris 1997
It blocks. It cantrips. But most of all, it unlocks nostalgia for a lot of people. That's not to say the card isn't powerful—it is—but for many people, Wall of Blossoms highlights the fun that could be had back during their college summers of 1998.
You know, the kind of fun like what Brian Selden had when he was locking people under his RecSur engine. (RecSur, shorthand for Recurring Nightmare and Survival of the Fittest.) When Brian took down Worlds in Seattle, Wall of Blossoms played all kinds of roles, from blocking to repeatedly drawing cards to becoming best buddies with Tradewind Rider. I sure hope you didn't intend to progress your board state anytime soon!
With Wall of Blossoms a firm part of Magic's history and a much-beloved card even today, it made for an easy choice to slide into this box.
Brian Selden's RecSur
Winner, 1998 World Championship
When I think Urza block, I immediately think of one thing: fast mana.
Games were ended blisteringly fast (well, at least turn-wise—the actual sequence with Memory Jar and Tolarian Academy took a while) as the world descended into Combo Winter.
Eventually, things began to get better (at least comparatively—they were still pretty busted overall) and a little mage you might of heard by the name of Kai Budde took down the 1999 World Championships. This fast mana piece was at the heart of his Wildfire deck, keeping his Covetous Dragons alive and his mana intact as Wildfire chewed through his opponent's side of the board—or just, y'know, enabling a frustratingly strong Mishra's Helix.
Fun fact: My birthday was two months after I started playing Magic, and as a gift my mom bought me this World Championship Deck. (Wizards used to sell gold-bordered decks that were complete copies of Top 8 decks from the World Championship.) Tasting the power of Kai's deck at a ripe eleven years old was partially what spurred me on to get to where I am today. (Unlike Finkel's Rising Waters deck, which I was also given as a gift and that completely mystified eleven-year-old me. My only conclusion about it was that it must have been a draft deck, since it was so hard to win with.)
I find it wonderfully circular that now I get to be the designer once again highlighting Kai's deck.
Winner, 1999 World Championships
I had a card commemorating Budde. You didn't think I was going to let a set showing off the history of Magic go without a card representing Jon Finkel, now did you?
This card was plucked from a winning deck that had one of the most famous final matches of all time, in an incredible three games against Bob Maher, another Magic great, at Worlds 2000. This card came from one of the most busted deck archetypes of all time: Tinker. This card came from the deck of Jon Finkel. This card choice is Magic history embodied.
And what of Tangle Wire itself? It's been called several names in my presence—many of which I won't repeat here. But in general, it's one of the more infuriating cards to play against. (It falls into one of my, ahem, "favorite" categories of cards: "stack tricks matter.") But I'll say this: Zac Hill taught me over and over that this card is unbeatable in Cube, and I haven't found his claim to be far off point. As an avid Cube player, Tangle Wire is one of the cards I dread my opponent casting the most. Needless to say, it's powerful.
And, once again, this was a great opportunity to give an older piece of art a new update.
Winner, 2000 World Championships
We've seen a lot of defining cards so far, and perhaps no card defines the Invasion era of Magic better than this four-mana instant. It was so strong it even spawned its own acronym: EOTFOFYL. Or, for the uninitiated, "End Of Turn Fact Or Fiction You Lose."
As a defining card in Standard and even Extended, you could expect it to be a powerhouse in Block Constructed—and Pro Tour Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz packed the full four copies in his WU deck dubbed "The Solution." A deck he built as a—wait for it—solution to the format, Zvi played some tight matches in the Top 8 of the tournament and came out victorious, with Fact or Fiction carrying a large part of that victory.
I more or less always knew I wanted Fact or Fiction in this box—the larger discussion I had many times was about which art to use. I bring this up because we talked about it so much internally that I'm sure many of you will point it out as well.
What's the debate? Well, the art from the Duel Decks: Jace vs. Chandra duel decks isn't in foil, and there were debates on both sides about which to use. One evokes nostalgia, and when we were already switching out so many other pieces of art for Cube updates or new commissions, it would be nice to keep some of the more iconic older ones.
On the other hand, there are already foil new-frame Fact or Fictions (FNM promos) and putting a piece of art that hasn't been foil yet into foil is something I aim to do. There were good arguments on both sides.
Eventually, I talked with creative and Jeremy Jarvis, Magic's art director, really felt like the old art was the right thing to do here. Plus, Fact or Fiction is a popular card—given infinite time, I wouldn't be surprised if one day we made a promo that was a foil of the Jace vs. Chandra art, and I would want that promo to still be exciting.
Something you often have to do in R&D is exercise the art of restraint with a nod toward future products, and this bo set was already going so crazy that this was one lever we could wait on pulling until later. And, for all those wondering, that's the story of why this Fact or Fiction has the art it does.
Zvi Mowshowitz's White-Blue
Winner, PT Tokyo 2001
There are a lot of great cards you could look at pulling for this year.
Psychatog is one that might instantly come to your mind... but hold on a moment. While 'tog did dominate Worlds in 2002 and win in the hands of Carlos Romao, those 'tog decks all had Chainer's Edicts. Then, at the Block Pro Tour in Osaka, Chainer's Edict once again ruled the roost with a whopping twenty copies in the Top 8... mostly in the hands of Mono-Black Control decks!
Upheaval is another solid choice. Although, as much of a Cube staple as it is, it's banned in Commander. It's also not quite as iconically Constructed playable as some of the other choices.
In the end, I wanted to have a good black removal spell in the box, and Chainer's Edict is also quite reminiscent of this era of Magic. Plus, with the opportunity to get new art that looks far superior to the not-at-all representative old art of the card, Chainer's Edict was perfect fit.
2002 Worlds (Type 2): UB Psychatog
Since the very beginning of Magic, white board sweepers have been a staple of the game. Wrath of God and Armageddon were printed all the way back in Alpha and found themselves being put in decks over and over again. These "symmetrical" effects seldom are, as the decks that use them are built to be in a position where they are highly favored after one resolves.
In a set all about Magic's history, I wanted to fit a board sweeper in somewhere. Fortunately, Osyp Lebedowicz gave me just that opportunity. With his Onslaught block victory at Pro Tour Venice, Osyp displayed just how powerful a board sweeper that could also cycle could be.
I have to say, I wasn't expecting Jeremy to ask for new art on this card... but I'm glad he did. This new art blew me away, and is one of my favorites of the bunch. I look forward to casting this in a Cube draft soon.
Lotus. In the world of Magic, that word carries so much weight. From the original and iconic Black Lotus all the way through to updates like Lotus Bloom, Lotus is a word that I equivocally associate with power. In fact, whenever I see a real-life lotus, or eat at a Thai place with Lotus in the name, or see a lotus print on a shirt—any of these things—I immediately think of Black Lotus. I desperately wanted to put a Lotus in here and, fortunately, there was one that lined up perfectly: Gilded Lotus.
Speaking of power, 2004 was a crazy year—Mirrodin released and suddenly it seemed like anything was possible. Pro Tour New Orleans seemed like the wild west: suddenly, a slew of insane artifacts had been unleashed upon a world where cards like Tinker and Metalworker were legal, and anything was possible. The impact on Extended turned the format on its head—it was like dropping a group of dinosaurs into a petting zoo.
If you weren't playing then, it was a crazy event that everybody had their eyes on. Nobody had any idea what was going to happen, and every round you would see something new and unique that would make your eyes pop. The only other time I've seen anything like it was Pro Tour Philadelphia, when Modern was introduced at the pro level.
One round you'd see Twiddle Desire, with "unplayable" cards like Twiddle and Burst of Energy untapping Gilded Lotus to fuel Mind's Desire. The next, you might see a Mindslaver lock with Goblin Welder. And, just when you think you had seen it all, you would spot an Isochron Scepter with Final Fortune... followed up by a Tinker for Platinum Angel! If you blinked, you might even miss a Mana Severance-Goblin Charbelcher kill.
Amid all of the insanity, Rickard Österbergended up on top with his Goblin Welder and Tinker deck, he dubbed George W. Bosh. While he may have played only one Gilded Lotus, don't let that fool you—it was a crucial Tinker target.
As a fun aside, Jeremy Jarvis had always lamented that the original Gilded Lotus art wasn't actually Gilded. He didn't have the chance to fi it in Magic 2013 (I'd imagine likely because there was internal concern in R&D that Gilded Lotus might not safely make it through playtesting, so we didn't commission new art just in case) but this was finally his window of opportunity. Say hello to some new artwork—now with an actual gilded lotus!
Pro Tour New Orleans: George W. Bosh
Champions of Kamigawa block brought legends back in a big way. Suddenly, being a legend mattered. With a Japanese-inspired mythology behind it, the set brought a variety of new tropes to Magic—including Ninjas! Ink-Eyes is still a popular Commander and Cube card to this day, surprising plenty of people as it pops out of nowhere to steal their best dead creature.
At Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2005, the format was Champions of Kamigawa Block Constructed and the format was full of slow interactions. Sensei's Divining Top, Sakura Tribe Elder, and Kodama's Reach paved the way for things like legendary Dragons or Rube Goldberg-like Gifts Ungiven locks with Hana Kami, Ethereal Haze, and Soulless Revival.
When you're looking for answers, what better way to fight off legendary Dragons that a creature which not only successful fought legendary Dragons on offence, but regenerated to boot—and then stole them back later? Ink-Eyes helped carry Gadiel Szleifer to victory, as he took back Sunday for the Americans.
Ken Bearl LOL - Pro Tour-Philadelphia 2005
Ravnica marked something truly incredible for Magic. It released, and everybody was hooked on the guilds. It was so successful that, as I'm sure you know, we recently returned there.
There were many great cards that could have been taken from this year, and from a multicolored block there were certainly a lot of good gold options. However, I wanted red to have at least one card that was truly red—and Char embodies red perfectly to me. You take some damage... and the red mage deals with the consequences.
Char is not only iconic as a burn spell—it's part of the infamous Lightning Helix sequence where Craig Jones cast Char end step, then untapped and drew Lightning Helix to take the game and match.
There are some events you witness in life that are so strong, so poignant that you remember exactly where you were as you watched them unravel. This was one of them. I remember I was sitting at my kitchen table in Phoeni watching the live Honolulu webcast. There was a green apple to my right, half eaten. In the background, my mom was watching television. And then, I saw this:
I still get shivers down my spine, even to this day, when I hear the players react and Randy Buehler scream. What a moment.
Nobody ever gives enough credit to the setup man, but without Char, Craig's Lightning Helix wouldn't have been possible.
Now, of course, despite all of the talk about Craig's Helix, what many people forget is that he didn't actually go on to win the finals! That honor belongs to Mark Herberholz, who played a Gruul deck that changed the entire outlook of the Standard environment. What card also featured prominently in his Gruul deck? Char!
And, of course, later at the team Pro Tour, Char also played a vital role in Team Kajiharu80's victory as well.
Direct damage is something I wanted to be sure to capture in this From the Vault—and Char does that while also coming with a lot of history.
Craig Jones - Zoo
Pro Tour-Honolulu 2006
Time Spiral was a crazy block. And what better way to represent it than a focal character like Venser himself? Showing off the block's unusual temporal theme, featuring a unique ability, and representing a form of bounce and pseudo-countermagic, Venser hits several new notes.
At Pro Tour Valencia—a Pro Tour where the entire venue flooded on Friday!—Remi Fortier put another aspect of Venser to good use: he being a Wizard. Thanks to Riptide Laboratory, Remi could use Venser over and over again! Taking down Andre Mueller's Enduring Ideal deck in the finals, Fortier called Venser his "MVP card." The combination of bounce against Mueller's enchantments and the virtual countermagic against Enduring Ideal put Fortier in a great position.
Since then, Venser has seen play in Standard, Extended, Modern, and even a little in Legacy. And, of course, he's an ever-popular Cube and Commander card as well. Plus, after the events of Scars of Mirrodin block, Venser isn't coming back anytime soon, so this is also a great opportunity to revisit him—and with new pre-Planeswalker art to boot!
Pro Tour-Valencia Top 8
The Changelings were part of the glue that held the tribal block of Lorwyn together, and perhaps no card headlines Changelings better than Chameleon Colossus.
As a 4/4 for four mana, with its stat-doubling ability, it would already be a fierce contender—and protection from black pushes it over the top, getting around removal spells and Bitterblossom tokens alike. At Pro Tour Hollywood, Charles Gindy used Chameleon Colossus to devastating effect to top out his green-black Elves deck, which threatened to cast the Colossus as early as the third turn. On the heels of something like a Wren's Run Vanquisher, Colossus adds another large, early threat to the board.
Chameleon Colossus is a good representation of Lorwyn block and, as a card you see often in Cubes and every now and again in Commander, Chameleon Colossus still holds power today.
Pro Tour-Hollywood Top 8
There are some cards in Magic that are particularly fun to hand to people and watch them read. I love seeing the moment on their faces as they process what the card does... and Cruel Ultimatum is my favorite card of that category.
It's like a cheesy infomercial: every line comes with, "but wait, there's more!" It's just so over the top, so ridiculous, that it grabs your attention and doesn't let go. It can completely swing a game back in your favor. Coming back from a Cruel Ultimatum takes a lot of work.
And, as if that wasn't enough, it also led to another incredible moment. At Pro Tour Kyoto, Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif played a five-color control deck sporting Cruel Ultimatum as a major card. With his back up against the wall, he realizes he still has a small chance left...
Boom. Nassif calls up Cruel Ultimatum and it's there—swinging the game back in his favor. He then goes on to defeat Luis Scott-Vargas in the finals, taking down the Pro Tour and cementing Cruel Ultimatum in history.
Cruel Ultimatum was always on my list as the card I wanted to use for this year. It's not only completely crazy, but is also exemplifies Shards of Alara block as a tricolor card. With the absurd mana cost of , it's something so outside the norm that it instantly grabs your eye.
While the original artwork was good, this update just knocks it out of the park. Nicol Bolas is giving his minion Sarkhan a little "talking to," we'll say. I sure hope Sarkhan doesn't value his cards in hand at all!
Pro Tour-Kyoto Top 8, Standard
There are several big-name cards in this box... but none of them hold a candle to Jace. When I saw people speculating about this From the Vault after it was announced, Jace would often be mentioned as being awesome, but usually with the quantifier, "There's no way Wizards would actually do that, though."
How did it work? Well, as I described earlier, part of my process was making preliminary lists and then showing them around the office and having people vote on which aspects they liked. Early on, when I was making my lists, I realized Jace was a potential choice. At first, I figured it would be crazy to propose... but over time, I began to come around on it. After all, often the world is changed the most by those people with crazy ideas.
I wanted a Planeswalker in the box set for the twentieth anniversary, and I couldn't get the idea of putting the most iconic one in there as a headliner out of my head. It was like Jace-ception.
Eventually, I put it on a list I showed around, and everybody instantly loved it. For a twentieth anniversary set, it seemed completely appropriate. If there was a time to push the Jace button, it was for an anniversary.
Jace is one of the most defining cards of the current era, and he is one of the major storyline faces of Magic. Jace defined the Pro Tour the entire time he was legal (including winning Worlds in the hands of Guillaume Matignon that year), and he's still seeing plenty of play in Legacy... one of the most powerful formats in existence. He even had a rap song written about him! But, despite all of this, we aren't ever going to reprint this Jace in a Standard-legal set because of his power level.
Well, if he isn't going in a Standard legal set and we want to get more out there, why not right here?
It's tricky to know which cards to pick, sometimes, especially since we have to lock everything down so early and cards may become more or less sought after between locking down the cards and release. (Card selection for this From the Vault was wrapped up around a year ago, and card selection for the next From the Vault is already finished!) However, everyone was able to get on board with Jace being a big part of this product and so we moved forward with it.
I'm happy that one of the most iconic, most powerful, most beloved cards in recent years is able to help represent the history of Magic in From the Vault: Twenty. Long live Jace!
2010 Worlds Top 8, Standard
Searching up something and putting it onto the battlefield is something that has historically been quite powerful. This card from Mirrodin Besieged is certainly no exception. For only one extra mana, it's whatever green creature you want in your deck at any time!
Green Sun's Zenith has seen play from Standard all the way to Legacy, finding Acidic Slime or Scryb Ranger, Dryad Arbor or Gaddock Teeg. It's also a staple for formats like Cube. In this particular case, it was mostly used to find either a Birds of Paradise or Primeval Titan in the hands of Jun'ya Iyanagaas he used hisWolf Run deck that took down Worlds 2011. The versatile sorcery could help accelerate Jun'ya into Primeval Titan... or just be a Primeval Titan!
It's usually the card that actually kills you that gets the attention instead of the card that helps find it, and so Green Sun's Zenith is often quietly one of the most important cards in the decks it tends to fit in. Zenith provides both consistency and the ability to run several silver bullet cards for different situations. Its power and reach throughout several formats made me want to put it in this box.
2011 Worlds Top 8, Standard
Lands with effects have been staples since the early days, heralding all the way back to cards like Library of Alexandria and Mishra's Factory. I definitely wanted one land in this box somewhere, and with Innistrad came a slew of powerful activated lands. I was considering Inkmoth Nexus for a while, but then after Brian Kibler'svictory at Pro Tour Dark Ascension with Wolf Run Ramp, I had just the card I was looking for.
Kibler's deck was a little different from Iyanaga's the year before. Kibler took the approach of using the brand-new Huntmaster of the Fells to add a more creature-heavy approach to the already strong archetype. However, like Iyanaga, Kibler was also packing Primeval Titans, which accelerated him. And thanks to Kessig Wolf Run, all of those lands grabbed by the Titan turned into extra damage. Even if opponents killed off the Titan, you could still assemble Inkmoth Nexus with Kessig Wolf Run and kill them in short order.
Kessig Wolf Run was a defining card in the Standard format both Iyanaga and Kibler played in, and it still continues to pop up in Standard decks even right now! It just goes to show how powerful lands that create spell-like effects can be.
Pro Tour Dark Ascension Top 8, Standard Constructed
A Magical Anniversary
When the United States launched Voyager 1, a probe to explore space, they put a little something extra on board. A golden phonograph record, featuring inscribed images of what life on Earth looks like, where we are in the solar system, sounds from several different form of life, greetings in many languages, and more. Why? So that, just on the off chance the probe ever encountered extraterrestrials, we would relay a small part of what we are to them.
That's kind of how I think of From the Vault: Twenty.
If I were to send one Magic item to show off the history and variety of the game to a civilization that knew nothing about it, I'd send out this box. (Preferably with a note that said, "Dear aliens: Here's what a basic land is...")
After seeing what Magic has done in twenty years, and knowing what some of the future holds, I couldn't be happier to be a part of this wonderful game and community. I feel honored to be the one to design the twentieth-anniversary From the Vault and show off all of that rich history.
Magic is truly is an incredible game.
If I look back at most moments in my life where I had a decision or some major event occurred, I can see the shape of what the other fork in the road might have looked like. I can see the relationship that could have been, the job I could have had, the passion that never was. Learning to play Magic is the one instance that has so irrevocably crafted my future that I honestly have no idea what would have happened had I never started playing.
I think back to when I was just starting, when I was on our living room carpet with my brother, and we were casting our creatures (incorrectly)—that young Gavin had quite the journey ahead of him.
I wouldn't have known it at the time, but Magic would become so much more than a game to me. It has become a permanent fixture of my life; like two branches of ivy growing around a building and tying into one collective, so too have I and Magic grown together. Magic has given me lifelong friends, memories, and adventures I would have never had otherwise.
I'm sure there are many of you out there who feel the same way. I'm sure there are many of you out there who have been playing for a couple months and can see the spark of all this on the horizon. I'm sure there are many of you out there who are just beginning.
Hello. Welcome. Good to see you. And thanks for being a part of making Magic so great.
Happy 20th, Magic: The Gathering. Here's to many, many more.
Exiting the Vault
Well, it's going to be hard to follow up this reveal. But in two weeks, we'll try! There's another deck-building challenge on the way. Send in your favorite Standard decks, and let's get rolling!
Deadline: August 12, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists by clicking on "respond via email" below. Please submit decklists using the following template. (The specific numbers below are arbitrary, so please don't feel a need to use them—it's just how an example of how a decklist should look when laid out.)
4 Other Spell
4 Other Spell
I hope you enjoyed today's look through history, strategy, and the newest From the Vault. I'd love to hear your feedback!
If you have any thoughts on the composition of this From the Vault, please send it to me so I can take it into consideration moving forward. Feel free to post in the forums or send me a tweet—I'd love to hear what you have to say.
I'll be back next week with a budget look at Modern. Talk to you all again then!
*Bonus*—5 Questions with Ale Parrish, the First Magic Champion!
(1) How long did you play Magic? Have you played at all in recent years?
I played Magic quite a bit as a high school student, having been about fifteen when I first learned about the game. In university, I did not have as much time for gaming, so it was difficult to keep up. Moreover, I was broke. I distinctly recall the sad, sad day when I was forced to sell my original Magic cards to pay for tuition (my prizes for winning the Gen Con tourney were a box of 1st series (now called Alpha or Beta, depending) cards, a framed certificate, and the chance to challenge many of the Wizards of the Coast employees who claimed to have "unbeatable" decks). While I would love to have the cards back, it was pretty cool back then to be able to splurge on the expensive mac and cheese for a couple of weeks, and to continue being allowed into my classes.
Now that I'm a university professor, I have a little more money to splurge on games again. I was delighted to see that Xbox Live Arcade got a scaled-down version of Magic—the nostalgia factor was all but overwhelming. I downloaded it as fast as my DSL would let me, and ended up loving it. Some of my nerdy professor friends have been bugging me to get back into the full game again, and they'll probably convince me soon. It's awfully hard to stay away.
(2) About how many players, roughly, were in the tournament?
The tournament at Gen Con in 1993 was not the elaborate thing you see today. The game hadn't been out that long, and the Milwaukee convention didn't support the same number of visitors as Indy, I'm told. The whole thing was over in a day, and there were fewer than 200 entrants.
Each head-to-head match was the best of five, but few matches went more than three rounds. Decks back then used to annihilate each other fairly predictably. The final match was my Black-Red deck versus my opponent's White-Green. The game at this point in its development catered heavily to a two-color combination, and this was the classic showdown. I think the Wizards employees were even more excited than the competitors, because in their minds this established the dominant color combination in the game.
An old account of the final match is available online , so I won't bore you with the details, but I was able to scrape out a tough victory against a smart opponent, who I recall being a really nice guy. I was pretty pumped, and I had planned to enter the tournament again the next year, but I believe that was the last time I was able to make it to Milwaukee before the convention moved.
(3) How did you end up playing the event? Did you come to Gen Con expecting to play in it, or did you end up playing in the event by happenstance? What's the story behind this event for you?
It's a funny thing—I didn't even know about the Magic tournament ahead of time. The convention organizers had lost my preregistration materials, so I lost my spot in quite a few events I wanted to attend. I did a lot of wandering around, seeing what was available that weekend. There was almost no publicity for the Magic tournament ahead of time, but I saw it was on the program and, on a lark, I entered my name. I had just gotten my ass handed to me at the annual Risk tournament, so I was looking to redeem my gaming honor; it worked out in the end.
Now I have wild nerd cred, although I'm often a bit shy about telling people I won the first Magic: The Gathering national tournament.
(4) What was your favorite card in your deck?
I wish I could be more helpful with questions about deck composition. I seem to recall the Black Vise card was especially useful in chipping away at opponents or severely limiting their play options. I also remember Unholy Strength being essential to my strategy.
(5) Nearly twenty years later, how do you look back on that event? What is your favorite memory from the tournament?
I know this is going to sound trite, but I look back very fondly on my time playing Magic, mostly because of the people. I don't ever recall having an argument or creating any ill will when playing Magic, and the promoters of the game were so enthusiastic when I won. I kept getting requests to play other folks, or to talk about my deck construction. It was a really rewarding experience. I think it also helped that the game was just starting its ascent toward the outrageous popularity it now claims. The designers were the folks who wanted to play cool games and get paid to do it—an increasingly difficult feat in the board/card game industry. Their own excitement fed into the players, and everyone seemed to have a lot of positive feelings toward the game and the Magic community.
As an adult looking back on my experiences with Magic, board games, and RPGs, I think games like this serve a very important function in modern life. Not only do they promote literacy and prosocial activity among players—and let's face it, many gamers young and old could use a little help with their social skills!—but the games and the gaming stores that sell them collaborate to create a safe space for kids who might otherwise be finding "alternative" forms of entertainment. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in A Man Without a Country, the majority of life is spent dinking around, and as a teenager this was especially true for me. If I hadn't had some healthy outlets for my creativity, I would have found other ways to spend my time and energy.
When I have kids of my own, I plan to invest in their well-being by letting them play as much Magic as they want (although I will have to get back into practice, so they don't beat me too easily).
When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he wanted a job making Magic cards. Ten years later, his dream was realized as his combined success as a professional player, deck builder, and writer brought him into Wizards R&D during 2011. He's been writing Magic articles since 2005 and has no plans to stop.