elcome to Old Favorites Week! This week is dedicated to talking about some of our favorite cards of years gone by that have resurfaced in the Core Set (aka Eighth Edition). You see, Aaron asked each of the columnist to pick one of the older cards being reprinted in Eighth and talk about it. And I will but, as my faithful readers are aware, I plan on taking a long detour.
Before I get to my card, I thought it would be fun to talk about how the "one new card from of every expansion" hook came into being. Let me begin by explaining that although I am primarily a designer, I do enjoy doing some development now and then. Of course, with the amount of design we have, that's not all that often. For example, the last Magic set I did development on was Invasion. So when Charlie Catino (my boss) asked if I was interested in being on the Eighth Edition development team, I leapt at the chance.
The team consisted of Robert Gutschera (the lead), Randy Buehler, Mike Donais and myself. Basic set development is a bit different from normal development as all the cards have already been "player tested". The role of a basic set development team is to create an interesting mix of cards and to think about the big picture of how the set will affect Standard. This isn't to say that it isn't a lot of work. It is. But the experience is quite different.
Flashback to about a year ago. I'm having lunch with Aaron Forsythe. Aaron mentioned that he liked the fact that we're tying Eighth Edition into the Tenth Anniversary celebration, but he felt that the set as it stood at the time didn't seem very, well, Tenth Anniversary-y. I agreed. So I left lunch with the goal of giving the set a little more history.
I started by looking back at what cards from the older sets were even available for reprint. While looking at Arabian Nights, I realized that the card Rukh Egg (being a common) was available for reprint. But it involved making a token and the basic set didn't use tokens. Then while I was looking through Legends, I stumbled upon Underworld Dreams. I was around when the card was first restricted, so I remember the terror it used to be. But times have changed and cards like Timetwister and Wheel of Fortune were no longer staples in every deck. Maybe, I thought, Underworld Dreams could come back. No one would expect it. It would be quite cool.
You know what would be even cooler, I thought. What if we brought back Underworld Dreams and Rukh Egg. Yeah, it made tokens, but it would probably be a rare card and maybe we could make an exception. It's not like tokens are all that complicated a concept. And then it dawned on me that I had found two cool cards from two different early sets. The early ones were the hardest. If I could get those out of the way, I could probably find a cool card from every set.
The Search for Aven Fisher
I thought the idea was pretty cool, so I ran it by Randy. He agreed that Underworld Dreams
was reprintable (although we would need to test it) and that we could probably make an exception for Rukh Egg
. But what about the rest of the sets. I needed to do some homework and make a presentation to the team with a recommendation for every set.
This seemed like an interesting challenge, so I sat down set by set and figured out what my options were. At that time I decided that my search was for a card from each expansion that had never appeared before in a basic set. Here is a recreation of my search: (for sake of brevity I have condensed a number of things; some of these cards came later in the process and a few were suggested by other people)
This was easy as I'd already chosen Rukh Egg. Just for fun I looked at my other options. Remember that all the uncommon and rare cards from the set were on the reserved list and thus unusable for my purposes. Once you eliminated all the commons that we had either already reprinted, had judged to be too good, or had abilities that we don't support with the basic set, there was nothing left that would excite anyone if we reprinted it. (Maybe Desert, but I would have expected a big fight about it.) Rukh Egg it was.
Like Arabian Nights, Antiquities has all its uncommons and rares on the reserved list. This meant that I had to look at commons. Antiquities has had a good number of cards reprinted in the basic set making my search quite challenging. Here are the commons available to reprint that hadn't even been reprinted:
Priest of Yagmoth
Sage of Lat-nam
Staff of Zegon
Tablet of Epityr
Once we remove cards that are out of flavor, use mechanics or templates we don't want in the basic set, or are more powerful than we want to reprint, we get:
Sage of Lat-nam
Staff of Zegon
In the end, I felt Sage of Lat-nam was the most exciting card remaining. In the right environment, it might even be good.
Although I had the card I wanted, I searched through the set for something as a back-up. Slim Pickings. (I was looking at cards like Blazing Effigy.) I just hoped that Underworld Dreams would prove less scary than it had in the past.
As I looked through the commons and uncommons, one card stood out: Skull of Orm. Now I'm a Johnny through and through and I have great memories of playing Skull of Orm. This card wasn't as powerful as some of the others but it was a fun card from Magic's past.
My first choice was Goblin Grenade. But I was told that it had already been put into Onslaught and then removed for power reasons. Next I chose Seasinger. But it was a merfolk and we were clearing Eighth Edition of merfolk. Things were looking dim until I came across Orcish Spy. While not a powerhouse, it was a fun card that brought a smile to older player's faces. Not the strongest of repeats but the best that Fallen Empires had to offer.
I first toyed with Orcish Lumberjack
. We've moved fast mana (at card disadvantage) to red from black, so this card fit the current color wheel. Unfortunately, R&D thought it was at too high a power level. Things were looking dim. And then I looked at the reserve list. When the reserved list was created, it allowed us a certain amount of rare cards to reprint (Twenty percent if my memory serves me). When we rotated cards into the basic set, sometimes we didn't max out the twenty percent. When that happened, R&D would pick out cards that it wanted to save for later reprint. These cards wouldn't be put on the Reserved list. Vexing Arcanix
was one such card.
I have a fond memory of Vexing Arcanix. I actually used it to make top thirty two at the Ice Age prelrelease in Toronto. I was then asked to drop out as I was freelancing for the company (writing an article about the event no less) and everyone felt it would look bad if I did too well. (Current pro player Dave Humpherys went on to win the event.) My entire plan was to use Zuran Orb to stay alive long enough to cast Vexing Arcanix. The card is especially good when the opponent doesn't know the names of the cards in his deck.
Vexing Arcanix felt a lot like Skull of Orm. It wasn't a super powerful fun but it was a quirky card from Magic's past that I thought many would be happy to see return.
I approached this set with great fear. How was I supposed to find a great reprint in Homelands? No one was all that fond of the set the first time around. But then I stumbled upon Merchant Scroll. Wait a minute, I thought, a Homelands card that's seen play in more than one format. I quickly jotted it down and moved on.
I approached Alliances with the opposite attitude of Homelands. Alliances is one of the greatest Magic sets of all time. It has to be filled with goodies. As it turned out, not as many as you would think. Many Alliances cards are simply too complicated for the basic set while others are too powerful to reprint. At first my eye was on Gorilla Shaman, but I was told that an XX activation was simply too much for the basic set.
A quick aside. Customer Service keeps records of what cards cause the most confusion. And for many years, the number one card was Meteor Shower (from Ice Age).
Next my eye went to Guerilla Tactics. The card has a colorful history in tournament play. (Remind me someday to tell the story about the Scott Johns/Tom Guevin Type I semi-final game at PT Dallas.) If Johnny and Timmy get old favorites, why not Spike?
When I sat down with Mirage, I would never have guessed that this set would prove to be my biggest hurdle. It was a large set with lots of cool cards. How could I not find something? What I quickly realized is that most of the cooler cards had either already been repeated or were on the reserved list. In the end, I found two cards with potential, Foratog and Mind Bend. Neither were a top tier repeat, but I felt each would have a few fans. To compensate I put both on the list.
This one had already been provided for me as all of you had voted Nekrataal into the set.
This was another set where the most attractive card was a spike repeat, Lava Hounds. Like Guerilla Tactics, Lava Hounds have a colorful constructed past.
In my original pass, I didn't consider Furnace of Rath because I thought we wouldn't want to do doubling in the basic set. Instead I had my eye on Orim's Prayer. It had seen some tournament play and I thought it would be a neat reprint. But then something happened. You all voted for Noble Purpose instead of Orim's Prayer in the on-line vote. That meant I couldn't use Orim's Prayer.
But during development, as I saw the hook slowly coming together, I realized that we were a little more willing to push the envelope. So one day during the meeting I said, "You know, what might be cool as the Tempest repeat? Furnace of Rath?"
I had expected some resistance but got none. The whole team had fond memories of the card and thought it would be a fun repeat.
The original card I pitched for this slot was Wall of Blossoms. I brought it up with the developers and the general consensus was that it was a little strong to repeat. Not that we'd never repeat it but we didn't want to use up so many power points (the set as a whole has to keep an even keel on the power level from Seventh to avoid power creep) on a single card in Eighth. Then I stumbled upon our list of saved rares. Both Grave Pact and Intruder Alarm were available. Done and done.
Exodus was another set that proved more difficult than I would have expected. Too many of the interesting cards dipped into mechanics we didn't want in the basic set. In the end, I went with Curiosity as its one of a handful of creature enchantments to ever see tournament play.
For Seventh Edition, we grabbed a number of cool cards from Urza's Saga (Pariah, Worship, etc.). This time around I wanted to look for something a little more offbeat. That's when I stumbled upon Fecundity. The Johnny in me has always loved Fecundity. I think it enjoys any card that converts one resource into another. Fecundity has never really been a tournament card but in enables a cool style of deck, so I included it.
I was having trouble with this set until Aaron said, "You do know that Phyrexian Plaguelord isn't on the reserve list."
In addition, in R&D's current quest to knock blue down a peg (and once again, I swear that blue's going to rebound just like every other color in the history of the game), I stumbled across Defense Grid.
I have fond memories of this set as it's the one set in the history of the game that I designed by myself. At first I thought I was limited to the commons and uncommons, but once again I discovered that R&D had thought ahead and saved a few rares. I was wary about Plow Under at first as I've been dubious about green's ability to bounce things on the color chart. But after discussing it over with R&D, I realized that it's an established ability in green (done at a pretty low frequency).
Mercadian Masques - Apocalypse
These sets were essentially a gimme as these were the sets that were officially marked to rotate into Eighth Edition. And they all were gimmes, well, except Apocalypse. While we found cool cards from each of the other expansions, Apocalypse proved very hard. For starters, most of the set was enemy related cards. None of those would work in the basic set as enemy affiliation is the "exception to the rule" and the basic set represents "the rule".
We were at wits end when Randy suggested Phyrexian Arena. But it had an upkeep effect and we had avoided putting cards that referenced upkeep in the basic set. We went back and forth and finally decided that making a few small exceptions to help the hook were okay.
Odyssey - Scourge
As these sets are officially marked for Ninth Edition, we decided we would use the hook to pluck simple common and uncommon cards that helped redefine the adjusted color wheel. This is why none of these cards are particularly exciting cards.
What Do You Think?
So with a proposal in hand, I went to the Eighth Edition development team. The team took to the idea right away. In fact, they thought I hadn't gone far enough. Why stop at the tournament legal sets?
The team decided that the promotion would be cooler if every expansion was represented, so we started looking at the non-tournament legal sets. Portal had a number of interesting choices. I had always thought Balance of Power was an interesting spell, so I suggested it. We later also added in Primeval Force as we were having a really hard time finding big green creatures without trample.
Portal: Second Age
Most players have no knowledge of the Portal sets. This is what makes doing repeats of them so much fun. Vampiric Spirit, for example, is a pretty neat card (with some funky art) that few players have ever played with. We also put Angel of Mercy in as who doesn't love having an extra angel?
Portal: Three Kingdoms
This is one of the more interesting experiments we've ever tried. To sell Portal in the Asian market, R&D (and by R&D I mean Henry Stern) adapted Portal to a popular Asian legend. The set was printed primarily in Asian languages (although there was a small amount of English printed). The team felt it was important to take a card from the set that pushed the flavor of the set. We started by changing Portal: Second Age's Ancient Craving to Ambition's Cost. But we didn't feel like that card was flavorful enough. So we chose Peach Garden Oath, a card that refers to a crucial plot point of the legend.
The original plan was to have a card from every expansion. And we meant every expansion. So we searched for an Unglued
card. After some discussion, we settled on The Cheese Stands Alone
. While the ability was weird, it was the kind of effect we might do in normal Magic
. And that's when the troubled began.
First, there was some concern that the card leaned too far away from Magic's image. (Remember the card is a picture of a superhero humanoid piece of cheese.) But Brady Dommermuth came up with a new visual take on the card that would keep the silly flavor but in a more mainstream approach. His idea would be of a room filled with treasures from across the land. In the center of this room of riches would sit a wedge of cheese atop a pedestal. A light from above would shine on the cheese giving it the sense of an item of great power.
So what happened? We were done in by something we had never thought about. The grey border. Here's the problem. We have two important rules in Organized Play: (we actually have more than two important rules but these are the ones that matter for this discussion)
Rule #1: You may play with any version of a card with the same name.
This rule is crucial as we don't want to have to make players by a new set ever time a card is repeated.
Rule #2: Grey bordered cards are not allowed in sanctioned tournaments.
This rule is important as it's the thing that allows us to do expansions like Unglued.
You see the problem. If we reprinted The Cheese Stands Alone in Eighth, we would have to put a white border on it (black border in foil) and make it tournament legal. According to rule #1, this means you could now play the Unglued version in a sanctioned tournament. But this contradicts rule #2. The only way to avoid this contradiction would be to change one of the two rules and no one wanted either to change. This meant that Unglued would have to sit out this promotion.
R&D is anything if not thorough. If every expansion was represented, why not the promotional cards? The biggest problem was that we only had six cards to choose from.
Arena - not an ability we wanted to reprint on a land
Mana Crypt - bah-roken
Nalathni Dragon - we don't support banding any more and even if we did, we wouldn't in red
Sewers of Estark - we do fear in black and completely unblockable in blue
Windseeker Centaur - we do "doesn't tap to attack" in white not red
This left us with Giant Badger. And that is why there is no a very large badger in Eighth Edition.
And then we turned our eye to Alpha. Now technically, we couldn't reprint a card from Alpha that hasn't been in the basic set, but we felt we could reprint one that hadn't seen the light of day since Unlimited (remember that Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited are identical - barring some COP: Black and Volcanic Island madness). After looking at the short list, we settled on Invisibility. We later put in Dwarven Demolition Team when a slot opened up.
The reason Savannah Lions doesn't technically count by the way was that it appeared in Revised (Third) and Fourth Edition.
Now we should get to the point where I wrap up my column and say I hope you learned something. But, remember my assignment from Aaron. I'm supposed to talk about a card that's returning. And so I will. I've waited for this part of the article because it ties into Alpha
. You see, while looking through Alpha
I stumbled across a card that I used to love playing that I hadn't seen since the days of Unlimited: Fungusaur
Huh, you might be saying. Wasn't Fungusaur in Revised and Fourth Edition? I would argue no. Sure, there was a Fungusaur in those two sets, but not the Fungusaur. You see, when the card was reprinted in Revised, it was decided that the card was too good as printed (as it was obviously devastating in tournament play - sarcasm alert) and changed the functionality of the card. The Alpha Fungusaur got a +1/+1 counter whenever it was damaged. The Revised version got a +1/+1 counter at the end of any turn it was damaged. What this meant was that the new Fungusaur could only grow by one +1/+1 counter a turn.
This had always annoyed me. When this change was made I was just another player and could only sit back and frown. But then it hit me. Maybe it wasn't too late. "What if…," I asked, "We brought back Fungusaur? Not the lame Fungusaur from Revised and Fourth. The real Fungusaur."
The team was a little hesitant as there are more copies of the changed version than the original version. But I argued that there weren't all that many out there of either and the original Fungusaur was a perfect creature to reflect the properties of green. Then the team brought up the +1/+1 counter issue. The basic set didn't have +1/+1 counters. If we could have a card with tokens and one with upkeep, why couldn't we have one rare green card with +1/+1 counters?
The old timers, by which I mean the ooooold timers, would appreciate it. And the newer players would find why the Fungusaur was fun in the first place. After much deliberating the development team agreed and Fungusaur (the real Fungusaur) returned.
And that is my old card of the day. Stay tuned this week as each columnist picks their favorite repeat from Eighth.
Join me next week as I talk about another favorite repeat from Eighth Edition (although one not quite as old as Fungusaur).
Until then, may you know the joy of affecting the game you love.
Mark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.