Q: Let's say the world is about to end and you want to leave the legacy of Magic behind in a world-destruction-proof box for possible future generations to see, but the box can only hold 10 cards to ensure their protection. Any more or less and the integrity of the box is compromised. What ten cards would you include and why?
–Eric, Southern California, USA
A: From Noah Weil, Magic R&D:
Mark was too busy saving Magic to figure out the "most difficult Ask Wizards" he's ever received. Luckily, that's what interns are for. After a lot of haggling and kicking ideas back and forth, most people came to the conclusion that there were no "perfect" ten cards for encapsulating Magic. The goal is to put in as much of the game as possible, but after that it's finding the cards that contain the elements of Magic you want to emphasize. Yes, these are completely subjective criteria. With that being said, here are my ten cards that best teach the game of Magic to a post-apocalyptic, English-speaking, zombie-ridden (a deck, friend, and brainsssss) planet.
#1 Terror (Sixth Edition)
This is the teaser card of the box. It doesn't explain a whole lot, but it gets people interested. What other colors are there besides black? What's an artifact creature? Are there other kinds? Regeneration...? With numbers, skulls, an iconic name, and thought-provoking rules text, Terror is a fine card to get the ball rolling.
#2 Two-Headed Dragon (Eighth Edition)
Dragon?! Well that's cool! Two-Headed Dragon brings a lot of bonuses to the table. It's a new color, and a creature that's not an artifact. It also has some numbers, and an ability that affects one of those numbers. It's not spelled out here, but the firebreathing ability should imply the first numeric is power. In addition, its other abilities indicate how blocking works, and to a lesser extent, attacking. The final bonus is the reminder text for flying, a good segue into...
#3 Serra's Embrace (Urza's Saga)
We don't need to spell out flying anymore, which is good because neither version carries reminder text. In fact, both versions have the un-keyworded vigilance, which is great since now people know that creatures tap to attack. On an enjoyment level, enchanting your creature into something bigger is all kinds of fun, especially for people/humanity just starting. Why Saga version? Better art, better flavor text, and we'll be showing other expansion set cards anyway. As the folks on our boards quickly realized, staying solely with core set cards is an extra limiter this project doesn't need.
#4 Fastbond (Limited Edition Beta)
So far we've shown creatures, creature helpers, and creature killers. Frankly you can have some fun games of Magic with that trinity, but we can go further. The next entrant is a little unusual but it does convey good info. Fastbond has the bonus of implying the one land per turn limit. Besides that, it's a non-aura enchantment, which might not otherwise be conceived of. One drawback is that it doesn't tell say you can only play lands on your turn. That's unfortunate, but I have to concede the rule isn't strictly necessary to recreate the game. A sacrifice, and not the first for our terra-scoured future.
#5 Dismiss (Tempest)
The fifth color, with new terminology mixed into old. We haven't gone into the differences between instants and sorceries yet, but entering "spell" to the lexicon has benefits. You'll note that Dismiss says "counter target spell" and "draw a card," implying they are not one and the same. Thus, what isn't a spell? Who knows, but hopefully they'll pick up land and nonland being utilized differently. Fastbond has already said that lands have special rules attached, and Dismiss may very well further differentiate. Is it possible that despite all this, future people will think they can counterspell land cards? Maybe... but at least it will cost them four mana to try!
#6 Forest (Limited Edition Beta)
Finally we have a land. How do cards get played but with these mythical "land" effects alluded to above? Purposely I skipped the tap symbol and the big whopping mana symbol on newer editions. Flavorful and cool they are, but the concept of tap was already given via Serra's Embrace. Now they know that creatures tap to attack, lands tap for mana, lands aren't spells, and (hopefully) that you can only play one land per turn. That's a fine foundation, but we're not done yet.
#7 Timetwister (Limited Edition Beta)
Lots of terms added here. In particular I like the "new hand of seven cards," along with library and graveyard. How else would they know an opening hand? This is one of the points that's not critical to the game, but done wrong would be really unfun. Don't forget, it's not just about teaching them Magic, it's about them wanting to learn. Starting hands of zero or thirty would be unpleasant for a game standard. Seven is a nice number that should give the brave souls that start to play the game a good balance between exciting topdecks and being able to "do stuff" early on. Plus, we've added sorcery to the picture. This particular card actually tells you what to do with the sorcery after it's finished resolving. Will that show all sorceries work that way, or this card gets extra text because it works differently than the rest? I'm betting on the former.
#8 Dominaria's Judgment (Planeshift)
Mark graciously suggested that the future populace receive cards that have the five colors and the five basic lands. Efficiently, I've provided a card that has both. While protection isn't spelled out here, the concept is quite flavorful. There's no chance that the future will get all the subtle associations with our modern "protection from X," but they don't really need to, either. "Protection" means "safe" and after that, the five land types and the five colors. So that's why there are those five symbols on the back of the cards. But what's with that blue dash over the "t" in "Deckmaster"?
#9 Blinkmoth Urn (Mirrodin)
Fairly complex, but it's time to bring out a biggie. The Urn comes into play with the windfall of "precombat main phase." What does that mean precisely? It means there's a combat phase, and a postcombat main phase. That seems like good info to have, instead of the people responding to Terror with "attack you." After that bit of data, Blinkmoth Urn is an artifact that's not a creature, and another source of mana. More of these sounds like fertile design space for the re-creators of Magic.
#10 Force of Nature (Ninth Edition)
Ending on a high note, Force of Nature has an exceptional amount of information to impart. Upkeep? That sounds like a place to maintain certain cards. While they might not get its placement in the turn, the fact that it exists at all as a stable place is full of positives. That trample reminder text is fine for trample itself, but what I really like here is "defending player" portion. Hmm, an attacking player and a defending player? That sounds extremely helpful for understanding our combat system. Finally, Force of Nature is 8/8. I don't care what kind of barren semi-life you're clawing to, those are cool stats.
With that, a grand end to a challenging exercise. Nice question, Eric from Southern California. We'll see if any of my fellow Wizards want to chime in.