ABU Script Dump – I need feedback

Here’s the first three scripts for ABU.  (I am still in the middle of White, with some bits of Red and Green done as well at the moment.)  

Any feedback would be appreciated.  There are surely going to be things I miss.

Script revision as of June 21, 2014


AR – Ancestral Recall Ep 23: Alpha/Beta/Unlimited Prologue


Hi there, and welcome to Ancestral Recall. I’m your host, Eli Kaplan. This is a webseries that explores the history of Magic: the Gathering.


Well, it’s here. The day I’ve been excited for and dreading at the same time. Yeah, after XXX videos, we’re actually doing it. This is the Ancestral Recall Retrospective on Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited. The very origin of Magic. Today we’re going to preface Alpha with the story of how it came to be.


Richard Garfield started design of a trading card game, first called Mana Clash, while he was a grad student working on his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. I am shooting this show two buildings over from where he worked. He tested it out with other members of Penn’s board game and strategy game club, which still meets today. It was a robust design, with concepts that hadn’t been tried before, such as having random pieces of the game in different players’ possession. Players would trade cards to build better decks over time, and they’d also trade cards through the results of games. Ante was a fundamental part of the game.


In 1991, Garfield got in touch by email with Peter Adkinson, the CEO of Wizards of the Coast. At the time, WotC was a small RPG publisher that had acquired the property Talisanta, a fantasy alternative to D&D with over a decade of previous books under other publications. WotC was not quite an indy press, but it was close. It had some links to game distributors, and regularly ran ads in the most commonly read book in the tabletop RPG field, TSR’s Dragon Magazine.


When Garfield went to Adkinson, he wanted to sell a board game design, Robo Rally. You can play Robo Rally today, by the way. It’s an … experience. An experience in frustration, but it’s really creative. Peter had a positive reaction to the pitch, but said to Richard that he thought that the market needed a game that was faster and easier to pick up. When gamers went to big cons like Gen Con or Atlanta’s Dragon Con to play in tabletop games, they often had downtimes of an hour or more. And when they were in a room of strangers, they needed something to do. Richard recognized that Mana Clash fit that concept, and told Peter that he’d do what he can. After some repurposing, Richard showed up with cards in hand and pitched the basic idea to Adkinson. According to Mark Rosewater, both of them knew that the idea would take off if they executed it well. This was money in the bank. If only they could pull it off right.


Garfield has said that the biggest influence on Magic was a board game called Cosmic Encounters. This science fiction board game had players playing different factions in resource management and conflict, and the rules of each faction were different. The rules of the game shifted as well, as part of a theme of mutation. The most important part of Cosmic Encounter is that the rules were not carved in stone, and were a living, dynamic thing. And that was just as true for Magic. When the text of cards conflicted with the rules, the card’s rules held sway. This was a radical concept in game design.


Adkinson and Jesper Myfors, a Swedish artist who got tapped to be the art director, used their RPG developing contacts to reach out to a number of Pacific Northwest area painters and artists to do the art for the new cards. Wizards had a design, but they needed the art. They paid , and And then there was the issue of the name. Mana Clash wasn’t quite doing it. They looked at the RPG market. In 1991-1992, the biggest new property was Vampire. Now, there are a metric ton of media properties about vampires. Dracula movies. Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. TV shows, like Dark Shadows. White Wolf found a way to cut through the morass with a handy little tool: the colon. By tacking on a subtitle to a big, universal word, they turned the generic vampire into a branded property, Vampire: the Masquerade. The formula got followed up with Werewolf: the Apocalypse, and Mage: the Awakening. These names connected to the thematic elements of the games’ flavor, while striking audiences with their stark universality.

So what was the most archetypical, yet brandable name for a game about wizards summoning monsters and throwing spells to defeat their memories? And thus, Mana Clash knelt down, and was dubbed Magic: the Gathering, and rose. Chris Rush, whose most famous card is the original Lightning Bolt, designed the game’s logo.


Source: So You Wear A Cape?


Peter Adkinson didn’t have a ton of money, and wasn’t able to find a US based printer to take his order. It wasn’t a very big order either. Finally he contacted Carta Mundi, based in Belgium. They took the job, and got to work in spring of 1993.


After doing a few chaotic demos at Origins, Wizards of the Coast released Magic to the world at Gen Con in early 1993. Peter Adkinson, the company’s founder, sold out the game’s entire test run in a few hours. The word got around. I saw players playing it at MEPACon, in Easton, PA, in late fall of 93, inbetween games of Shadowrun and Paranoia. I didn’t think of it much at the time, but my friend Ed called me up and raved about it and told me that our local comics and game store, Unknown Comics, in Clarks Summit, PA, had been able to get some from the distributor a month later. Ed cajoled me into trying the game out, taught me how to play the game, and from there, I was hooked.


As a personal note, there are only a few sets that I haven’t opened from a booster.  These sets are, Alpha, Beta, Arabian Nights, and Alliances.  And yes, I have opened all three Portal boosters before.  And a Renaissance booster before.  [Now that’s obscure.]

I’m going to refer to the set as ABU, short for Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited.  The sets are almost identical in card composition, except for the fact that Alpha is missing Volcanic Island and Circle of Protection: Black. The other, famous difference between Alpha and Beta is that the card corners on Alpha are more rounded than those of Beta.  Check this video out, I’ll show you. 

(Show Alpha Chaos Orb, Beta Serra Angel.)

There are also some other significant differences between the sets.  The one that’s most obvious is the card borders.  Unlimited has white borders. Alpha has some rules text that uses letters instead of proper mana symbols [Force of Nature].  Some of Alpha’s cards were missing pips on the mana cost, such as Orcish Oriflamme.  Alpha also was missing two important cards, Circle of Protection: Black, and Volcanic Island.  Beta fixed these issues.

Now, since I’m not planning to do a show on Revised or Fourth Edition any time soon, I figure I should teach you how to differentiate between Unlimited, Revised, and Fourth.  The difference has to do with color, and the bevels, the edges at the border of the card.

With that said, German, French, and Italian Revised have much higher quality printing and beveled edges, so when it comes to them, you’ll need a more discerning eye. You will also have to be able to distinguish between the languages. I am a linguist, and can differentiate between Magic’s languages easily.  Many Magic dealers, let alone players, can’t. I’ve been burned a few times when ordering singles from online retailers like Troll and Toad, who promised me an Italian Serra Angel and sent me a French one.  But that’s an issue for another day.

Technically, by the way, both Alpha and Beta were referred to as Limited, followed by Unlimited.  Wizards didn’t publicly acknowledge the difference between Alpha and Beta for many months.  The first time they printed an official card list, well, it was unofficial, and it was in Shadis Magazine #2. 

Also, these cards don’t have expansion symbols.  We didn’t get expansion symbols on core set cards until 6th Edition.  Wizards retroactively added them for the sake of standardization in Gatherer, so if you’re searching for Gatherer, you’ll see this funny looking A, B, and U.  These symbols have never appeared on a card before.

One key difference between these boosters and today’s is that there were multiple lands in boosters.  Players opening a booster could get a basic land in a common or uncommon slot.  There was even a ‘rare’ island, which I remember opening numerous times.  This practice continued through Revised Edition, until Fourth Edition. At the time, Wizards had no way to guarantee players that they’d be able to get the basic lands needed to build proper decks, so lands were quite valuable.  I remember paying a quarter each to get the basic lands I needed for my mono-black deck.  (See AR episode 2 for more details.)  

The art of the game was based on stock Western fantasy tropes, with European knights and medieval peasants [crusade, farmstead] interspersed with a barbarian aesthetic akin to that of Robert Howard’s Conan the Barbarian [meekstone], though the overall tone of the game was focused on wizards.  There are a few pointy capped guys wearing robes, which felt kind of uncool at the time.  Check out that guy on Fastbond.  Guys wearing pointy hats were a staple of heavy metal vans, an 80s phenomenon that was so ridiculously goofy, that it tarnished the good name of mages for two decades.  It took Peter Jackson to make the American public take them seriously again. 

The heart of the game, of course, is the color pie. Garfield found the sweet spot of five different colors, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The five types of magic also corresponded to the different types of magic in fantasy literature and tabletop games. Nature magic, death magic, holy magic, energy magic, and mind magic, as well as artifice. Richard found appropriate game mechanics that corresponded to these tropes. Magic also took a page from Jack Vance, a popular pulp fantasy author who created a system where mages had to study spells daily to use them, and once they used a spell, it was gone for a day. Just like in D&D, once you used a spell, it would be hard to use it again in the same fight. Unless you studied copies.


I’m going to refer to the set as ABU, short for Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited. The sets are almost identical in card composition, except for the fact that Alpha is missing Volcanic Island and Circle of Protection: Black. The other, famous difference between Alpha and Beta is that the card corners on Alpha are more rounded than those of Beta. Check this video out, I’ll show you.


(Show Alpha Chaos Orb, Beta Serra Angel.)


There are also some other significant differences between the set. The one that’s most obvious is the card borders. Unlimited has white borders.


Now, since I’m not planning to do a show on Revised or Fourth Edition any time soon, I figure I should teach you how to differentiate between Unlimited, Revised, and Fourth. The difference has to do with color, and the beveled edges.

With that said, German, French, and Italian Revised have much higher quality printing and beveled edges, so when it comes to them, you’ll need a more discerning eye.


Technically, by the way, both Alpha and Beta were referred to as Limited, followed by Unlimited. Wizards didn’t publicly acknowledge the difference between Alpha and Beta for many months. The first time they printed an official card list, well, it was unofficial, and it was in Shadis Magazine #2.


Also, these cards don’t have expansion symbols. We didn’t get expansion symbols on core set cards until 6th Edition. Wizards retroactively added them for the sake of standardization in Gatherer, so if you’re searching for Gatherer, you’ll see this funny looking A, B, and U. These have never appeared on a card before.


In my preview, I told you guys I wasn’t going to get a booster to open, because I can’t quite swing it financially. This is true. But I should also mention that buying boosters of ABU is rather risky, because of the packaging. It’s slightly translucent, so if unscrupulous owners project light and push individual cards up, they can actually see what the contents of the booster are. This design flaw was true for boosters all the way to Ice Age. I’m really glad they solved the problem. Starter decks don’t have this problem, to be fair, but that’s even MORE expensive. So that isn’t happening.


Oh wait, I know what I can do. Click on these links so you can see what it’s like to open some of this product. Thanks, Youtuber community!


Whew, that saved me a bundle.


OK, we’re going to finish here today, and we’ll come back with a profile on black. We’re going to be spending a while exploring the depths of this set, but this is the genesis of the game, and it deserves some serious reflection. If you enjoyed this video, hammer on that like button, subscribe if you haven’t done so already, and don’t forget, I have a crapton of other videos to check out. And don’t forget to leave a comment. Thanks for watching. This is Eli Kaplan for Ancestral Recall, signing off. Good games, and good luck.






Ancestral Recall #24: ABU Retrospective, Part 2: Black


Today we’re going to look at all the cards that matter from ABU’s black. Black has some really powerful cards, and when I started playing, it was the color I started off with.


Let’s talk about the flavor of Black. If we see the Color Pie, Wizards declares that Black is the color of decay, of death, and of seeking individual interests at the expense of everyone else. It is the most selfish color, and has the most varied types of attacks. Using black, you can attempt to live forever by callously murdering every threat raised against you, or you can spend your days destroying your enemies, relishing victory more than you relish living to a ripe old age. Its characteristic race started off as zombies. [Characteristic meaning that it’s the ‘default’ creature type for smaller or mid-sized creatures.] Later on, with Zendikar, vampires took over the job, but zombies have been in first place for most of the game’s history. The original iconics [typical, popular, big and expensive yet powerful] were vampires, after a very brief instance of demons in ABU. But a few instances of right wing Christian fundamentalists denouncing the game as an ill for children changed that.


Black has 46 cards in the set. There are 10 enchantments, 16 creatures, 8 sorceries, and 8 instants and interrupts.


The color set many important precedents. Black creatures, more than any other, often have upkeep costs. Demonic Hordes required BBB every upkeep. If you ever fail to pay the upkeep, they turn on you and destroy one of your own lands instead. The Lord of the Pit, the set’s largest creature, demanded a creature sacrifice every upkeep, or it would deal seven damage to you. You couldn’t choose to skip the sacrifice and just take the damage, either. I loved playing Lord of the Pit on the kitchen table, but far more often than not, it ate a Swords to Plowshares.


Black demands commitment. The reward for commitment was having more powerful creatures. At common, Frozen Shade promised really huge pumps, at the demand of constant investment. The rare Nightmare demanded a serious payment up front, but was a powerful flier. Surprisingly, this card usually came out initially as a 3/3 or 4/4 thanks to ramp like Sol Ring or Dark Ritual. While Nightmare hasn’t had too many variants, there is one in standard right now, Squirming Mass.


There are so many giant demons that demand something from its controller, I can’t mention them all. My favorite is Wayward Angel, a Serra Angel variant that transforms into Lord of the Pit when you hit threshold. She goes from the top of the morality scale, to the very bottom. But the best homage to Demonic Hordes is Helldozer. This card has one of my favorite names, doesn’t require the upkeep cost, and can untap and attack if it happens to blow up a nonbasic land.


Black creatures had mixed levels of efficiency. At common, there were Drudge Skeletons, excellent defensive creatures. Scathe Zombies were strictly average at 2/2 for three mana, and they had a Lord, the Zombie Master. Zombie Master itself wasn’t a zombie at the time, but it’s been since errated to be a Zombie and give other Zombies swampwalk and regeneration. The Scathe Zombies since then have been strictly outmoded. Just going by vanilla zombies, Innistrad’s Walking Corpose is strictly better at one colorless less. But with 20 years of shifting power around, that would obviously happen.


Since then, it’s been recognized as one of the worst Lords in Magic. But at the time, some players craved to get Zombie Masters and their thralls. Another common was Plague Rat. For the first few months of release, many players wanted Plague Rat, because they could play as many as they got their hands on, and each one made the others bigger. In fact, at the 2001 invitational, Hall of Famer Gary Wise acquired a deck from the Auction of the People format, and played a deck with 20 Swamps, 8 Black Lotuses, and 32 Plague Rats under the bright lights. He smashed face with it. Here’s another Gary Wise story. He named the deck “Jeff Donais Is Going to Love Me”, in honor of former Level Five judge Mike Donais. Donais crushed Wise with this deck in the very early days, and Wise apparently never forgot it, because he submitted it to the Invitational as part of decks submitted to the community, and he took it as part of the auction.

One of Black’s early claims on the color pie was forcing enemy creatures to attack. Nettling Imp forced a creature to attack or die, and could kill a creature if It got tapped by Twiddle or Icy Manipulator. This card hasn’t had many callbacks, but Ken Nagle, R&D designer, still harbors love for the Ice Age variant, Norritt, which also could untap blue creatures. For quite a few years, Norritt was Nagle’s writing handle. This effect had a mirror in blue’s Siren’s Call. In 2014, this effect has mostly migrated into blue, though the occasional card like Shipwreck Singer shows up in black.


The other natural partner to Nettling Imp was Royal Assassin, or, as they say in French, Assassin Royale. With cheese. This guy knows the power of a quick, controlled movement in the right place. This card put the fear into opponents when it hit the table. It did have a proviso, but this was Magic’s first creature that could directly kill other creatures. It even directly inspired a common that’s been reprinted to death, Assassinate. That is what he does. From Stronghold Assassin, to Visara the Dreadful, to Avatar of Woe, to [RTR Gorgon Planeswalker.] This is where it all started. By ending lives.


Black had two power uncommon creatures. The first, Sengir Vampire, was an efficient flier. In fact, it was the first high profile reprint in an expert level expansion in Torment. The other, Hypnotic Specter, is an incredibly terrifying creature because every time it connects with the opponent, they have to discard a card at random. This was a natural combination with Dark Ritual, an interrupt that could give you access to three mana all in one heady shot on turn one. If your opponent didn’t have a Swords to Plowshares or Lightning Bolt, a turn one Hippie was nigh unbeatable. I’ve done this many times over the years.


Some other notable uncommons were Black Knight, one of two creatures with protection in Alpha, and Bog Wraith. My favorite variant on Black Knight is Hand of Cruelty, because I personally prefer Bushido over first strike. Bog Wraith was a potent hoser against other black decks and a regular in early sideboards. This was black’s answer to black, because Terror was out of the question. These two creatures may be quite strong, and actually on the good side of the current power curve. But they were behind Hypnotic Specter and Sengir Vampire.


On the spell side, black was the king of spot removal. ABU had Terror and the expensive Drain Life at common. There was also Paralyze, a dirt cheap enchantment that tapped a creature and required its controller to pony up four mana every time it untapped. This effect has since been shifted to white. At uncommon, there was Pestilence, one of the more powerful global enchantments printed. This enchantment allows its controller to pay black as many times as they want, dealing one damage to each creature for each mana spent. The only downside was that if all the creatures went away, Pestilence had to be sacrificed. This was a dominant common, and when it was in Urza’s Saga it continued to wreck players in Limited.


What didn’t carry over to other sets? Well, Deathlace, for one. Deathlace’s effect has proven to be unplayable in any constructed format it was legal in. Black also got Deathgrip, an enchantment that countered green spells being cast. A mirror of Green’s Lifeforce, this incredibly out of color hoser mechanism got rejected for good soon after. Gloom was the most vicious color hoser of them all, requiring an onerous three additional mana for each white spell players wanted to play. The only thing people did with Laces was with blue/red so they could Lace a permanent, then hit it with Red or Blue Elemental Blast. Funny, but in the words of Dark Helmet, this isn’t the Wide Word of Sports.


Another ability black has played with over time is Howl from Beyond. This instant speed creature pump only boosts power. If you have an unblocked creature, it’s quite fine, but there is so much room for it to go wrong. The variant on this spell that has won the most games is Hatred, an Exodus rare that comboed especially well with Shadow creatures. If you can play this on an unblocked guy and have the appropriate level of life, it’s game over, baby, game over.

This ability tends to be more in red than black these days, though.


Another thing black tried to do that didn’t catch on was giving all black creatures +1/+1 with Bad Moon. I see a Bad Moon Rising, I see, trouble on the way, I see, only a few reprints and virtually no variants, while White gets Crusade, Jihad, Glorious Anthem, and Dictate of Heliod. Yeah, Bad Moon got reprinted in the Timeshifted sheet. Big deal. Black is rarely so generous as to give its team benefits, unless it’s simultaneously keeping everyone else down. See Ascendant Evincar for example.


Black corrupts the land, and so we see Evil Presence, which turns a land into a swamp, and Cursed Land, which deals damage to a land’s controller every turn. The problem with Cursed Land was that it was overpriced, but nearly impossible to deal with, and Evil Presence’s power level was too low. Later versions such as Contaminated Ground punished the player for tapping the land, or allowed the aura’s controller to destroy the enchanted land.

Another key element of black was skullduggery and beating people over the head with influence, and that came out with ante cards. Yeah, ante was one of the original mechanics in playtesting Magic, allowing players to get new cards in an environment when you couldn’t buy them, and opponents were unwilling to trade. Black had three rare ante cards that allowed their masters to break the rules. Darkpact allowed players who put up a chase card to switch it sight unseen with the top card of the library. Demonic Attorney, and yes, there are other kinds, forces your opponent to concede or both players add another card to their side to increase the stakes. There are other ‘win more’ cards in Magic, but if you were in the driver’s seat, this ‘win more card’ did more than any other win more card in Magic’s history.

If someone asks you what the most powerful draw spell in Magic’s history is, I’ll tell you that there is a best answer. And no, it isn’t Ancestral Recall. Not even close. Contract from Below forced its controller to ante an additional card, a stark price indeed. But for one single black mana, you discard your hand and draw seven new cards. Yes, it’s a sorcery, whereas Ancestral Recall is an instant. But four more cards for the same mana cost … it’s not even a contest.


Speaking of crazy prices, there’s Lich, an enchantment that lets you keep playing, though you no longer have life. Instead of having a life total, you draw a card every time you would gain a life, and sacrifice a permanent for each point of damage you take. When Lich leaves play, that’s it, the enchantment’s controller’s actually dead this time. This card has inspired other cards, such as Odyssey’s Nefarious Lich, Darksteel’s Lich’s Tomb, and New Phyrexia’s Phrexian Unlife. There’s also Torment’s Transcendence, which has a slightly similar effect, but goes the other way. Creatures coming back from the graveyard is perfectly normal, but keeping a player alive under unusual conditions is a very small niche in Magic.


As the master of death, Black could reverse it with Animate Dead. This card has been errated several times, so I’m going to show you the current wording. The alternative would be Raise Dead, which only costs a single black mana, but it only brought back creatures in your yard to your hand. Getting dead creatures directly into play is almost always more expensive than 1B. Reanimator took a few years to really come to the forefront of tournaments, but it had staked out its claim from the game’s beginning.


A horrible precedent that started in Alpha and got undone years later was Nether Shadow. Nether Shadow is the first card to have haste. Yes, black got haste first! Weird, huh? That isn’t the problem with this card, though. The problem with Nether Shadow is that when it hits play, you suddenly have to take care about maintaining the order of the graveyard. There are other cards that care about graveyard order as well, like Weatherlight’s Death Spark. But this type of card is less of a headache for its users and more powerful when it doesn’t have the same strings attached, and requires a cost like removing a card from the graveyard. See Ichorid, made famous by John Rizzo, as an example.


Here’s one more example of a new mechanic that doesn’t correspond to the modern color pie. Land destruction is primary in red and green. It’s tertiary in black. Alpha has three land destruction spells. Stone Rain’s red and costs three. Green has Ice Storm, also at three. Black gets Sinkhole. For two mana. What gives? Well, Garfield spread around the land hate love around at the time, and he wanted to reward black for playing more black. Since then, black occasionally gets some land destruction, such as Befoul. But it’s the exception rather than the rule.


Mind Twist is my number three discard spell of all time. So powerful, so worthy of restriction. So stupid of Wizards to reprint it in Fourth Edition. Random discard was the norm for Alpha, and with artifact mana and Dark Ritual to ramp this out for four or five cards on turn three, this effect was just plain broken.


While they kept trying to find a better, fairer version, Wizards kept printing Dark Ritual. This card is what made black three drops so much more powerful than the rest for many years, because they came out way faster than they should have. This card violates the game in so many ways. And since it’s all in one shot, it’s degrading for the caster as well.  


There are more cards that don’t really interest much, like Warp Artifact, a bizarre black hoser against artifacts that really wasn’t so bad. The last one, and possibly the craziest black card of all, is Word of Command. This spell lets you use an opponent’s mana to play a spell. This card’s current wording only loosely looks like it does as printed. This is the card that inspired Mindslaver and the current standard legal spell, Worst Fears. This is definitely a risky card to make, because its effect was incredibly wild, even by the standards of 1993. I wouldn’t call it the strangest card in the set, though.



What are my top 5 coolest cards for ABU’s black?


5. Sengir Vampire. He grows more powerful as he destroys your enemies’ pawns.


4. Royal Assassin. He’s fragile, and easy to kill if you spot him. But the damage he can do, especially as part of a team, is nuts.


3. Word of Command. Get into your opponent’s head. Literally.


2. Mind Twist. This is unmitigated power, doing a trademarked black effect.


1. Hypnotic Specter. This evil ghost could strike fear into the opponent’s heart and empty their hand as early as turn two.


So that’s black. I hope you guys enjoyed the profile. ABU has so many flavorful cards, so many creative designs, and so many fundamentally relevant concepts, so it’s hard to make a distinct conclusion. After I do all the other colors, I’ll talk about the initial color wheel and its balance, and what color got the best design.


Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed the show, hammer on that like button, and subscribe if you haven’t already. And if you’re new to the show, go and check out my other shows. I really appreciate your support.


This is Eli Kaplan for Ancestral Recall, signing off. Good games, and good luck.






Hi there, and welcome to Ancestral Recall. I’m your host, Eli Kaplan. And guess what, peeps, this is my 25th episode! Wooooooo! Yeah!   Who’s the man, who’s the man. I mean, I’ve put out other videos, cube stuff, top 10 lists, but they don’t count. This channel is all about the sets. And we’re in the middle of the most important Magic set, Alpha/Beta/Unlimited. So far, we’ve looked at the story of how Magic came to be, and examined black. Today, we’re looking at blue. Yes, blue. The best color of Magic. The color that gives crafty players the most chances to outplay their opponents with cunning, and in many ways the least powerful. Blue is the slowest color, and at the same time the most interactive. Blue rarely starts off demanding attention to its raw power, but its slippery creatures and mastery of countermagic and bounce ensure that brawny might can fall to wit and intrigue.



Of all the colors, blue has the least creatures, with only 14 out of 46 spells. Most of the creatures are fairly powerful for their cost, though. Blue is the king of instant magic, with 14 instants and interrupts, and has quite a few sorceries too.


Let’s start off with the creatures. The biggest and most efficient is Mahamoti Djinn, AKA Fat Moti. The original art made him look reluctant, but the art that you see in M15 is most badass. While Arabian Nights had a lot more Djinn, Mahamoti was the first.


Blue had a gigantic common in Sea Serpent, the first creature with islandhome. The idea that you could kill it by blowing up your opponent’s islands, thus giving it no place to live, is incredibly flavorful. But it was a weak card because in many matchups it just couldn’t attack.


Blue is the color of the sea. Pirates live at sea, and shoot at people. Thus, Pirate Ship. It has islandhome, annoying. But at least it can still contribute to the board state if it can’t get at the opponent.


If you wanted flyers, Blue was the place to be. At common there was Phantom Monster, which was just like Hill Giant, except it flew. Phantasmal Forces was another illusion, with four power instead of three, but it was incredibly fragile and required a blue mana on its controller’s upkeep. That is a serious drawback.


Blue elemental creatures are straight forward. There’s Air Elemental, which is strictly worse than Sengir Vampire or Serra Angel for the same cost. But it’s still good enough to make the grade since it has flying. Water Elemental hits hard, surprisingly, and pushes the ground pounder power level a little too hard for modern standards.


The little blue creatures were Merfolk. A vanilla 1/1 for U isn’t special. Lord of Atlantis gave the 1/1 island walk and a stat bump. It took several years for Lord of Atlantis to start becoming tournament viable, but once it had enough support, Fish was a real deck. And as is the case with all of Alpha’s lords, it originally wasn’t a member of the tribe it boosted. That’s since been fixed.


Prodigal Sorcerer has had so many variants across the years. This card got the nickname Tim extremely fast, because Monty Python and the Holy Grail has always been held in high regard by gamers.   For those of you who don’t understand the reference, here’s a little clip so you understand.


I don’t like showing long clips, but for incredibly important bits such as this, I’ll make an exception. Anyway, doing direct damage is no longer in flavor in blue, but it is in flavor for red. I need to mention Psionic Blast as well. The card does kinda make sense, flavor-wise, in the case of psychics frying their own brains while injuring others. But this is really red’s provenance. The legacy of Psionic Blast … is Ravnica’s Char. And the modern day Tim is Prodigal Pyromancer.


While their templating left a lot to be desired, blue got two copy cards. Clone’s fairly straightforward, coming into play as a copy of another creature. It copied all of its characteristics. The comely Vesuvan Doppleganger could switch its form on your upkeep, but could never get rid of its blueness. There are a ton of cards that riff on Clone, so I’m not going to list them all. Unstable Shapeshifter, Volrath’s Shapeshifter, and Vesuvan Shapeshifter [Time Spiral] are the clone cards that can change what they’re copying once they’ve hit the table. While green does get some access to copying creatures, this effect is blue first and foremost. Blue also got Copy Artifact, which was a sneaky way of getting around the Restricted List in Vintage. If you have a broken artifact, you could get another.


Blue benefits from walls more than other colors, because it’s so slow. Wall of Air doesn’t hurt anything that much, but it’s got really efficient stats and blocks five drops. Wall of Water, didn’t get reprinted much. Because it sucked.


Let’s move on to Blue’s trademark, the counterspells. The set had Counterspell, Power Sink, and Spell Blast. Spell Blast was the worst, and Power Sink … wasn’t so bad. Counterspell , proper, is brutally efficient, however. Counterspell has been deemed too good for Standard, and has been officially given the boot for Cancel. There are so many variants of counterspells under the sun, I can’t even begin to get into them.


But there was another counterspell in the set, Blue Elemental Blast. It could destroy a red permanent, or counter a red spell. And Red got the same feature, because … Red gets counterspell access? It feels odd.


There were other awesome spells. For three mana, Mana Short shut down a player’s turn by tapping all their lands on their upkeep. What’s in a rose? In Magic, pain and frustration is what’s in a rose. Drain Power is a card we’ve never revisited, which allows you to tap all your opponent’s lands as a sorcery and add the mana from it to your pool. While this was extremely risky at the time, due to the existence of mana burn, it could fuel some seriously big effects. This was a combo with Rocket Launcher.

For a color famous for card drawing, blue only got two draw spells. Braingeyser was the state of the art, even if the art was in the stone age. Two mana up front is slightly cheap by today’s standards for draw X, but this is at sorcery speed. A much, much better choice for drawing cards is Ancestral Recall, blue’s contribution to the boon cycle. This is my favorite card in Magic. I own one. Nothing else is as powerful as it. Nothing. *except for ante cards


Magical Hack and Sleight of Mind were noteworthy, but definitely not powerful. Sleight of Mind allowed you to change color words in rules text, and Magical Hack allowed you to change basic land types in rules text, on either cards in play, or spells on the stack. Though people didn’t talk about the stack at the time, but rather batches. Some day I’ll explain the original Magic rules, the Sixth Edition shifts, and later tweaks in another show. But not today.


Want to hack the game? Time Walk hacks the game, by giving you an extra turn. I hate its sequels in group games, because they hog all the fun. But in a real tournament, it’s fair game. Time Walk was inappropriately costed. Five mana is the right cost for this. Or two, provided you tack on a huge rider on it like Final Fortune. Final Fortune is definitely one of my favorite cards, even if I’ve never played it in a tournament. But I’m glad we got the concept here.


The other blue piece of power, Timetwister, also deserves to be talked about. This spell was broken open in Alpha’s development by Charlie Catino, who coupled it with Wrath of God, Swords to to Plowshares, and countermagic to slowly strip all the threats from an opponent’s deck while shuffling everyone’s graveyard back into their library. Once all the threats were removed from an opponent’s deck, Charlie could just let the game play out and deck his opponent.


Blue also gets some more hacking in with Psychic Venom, which made tapping a land painful. A lot of early players liked playing this with Icy Manipulator, and even Twiddle. The card disadvantage was preposterous, because … what if the opponent does nothing, and just waits to play their spells with pristine mana? Well, Power Sink, for one. Blue could also use Phantasmal Terrain to cut off colors. But these effects aren’t worth it today. Blue could hack enchantments to make them painful every turn. By the way, I didn’t mention it last show, but Feedback as well as Cursed Land originally did damage on every upkeep. But Wizards issued errata to make all of these enchantments, including Wanderlust, and Warp Artifact work the same way. It wasn’t an issue of power level, because the power of all of these cards wasn’t a big deal. It was a templating issue. But Copper Tablet got to keep its constant pinging. Because symmetry.


These hacking cards didn’t get many followups. Doing frustrating things on upkeep was a memory issue, and it didn’t really make games more enjoyable. Another hacking card was Power Leak, which ate up opponent’s mana or life if they had an enchantment out. This doesn’t feel very blue at all. Then there was Creature Bond. The art doesn’t communicate the effect of the card, it’s hard to tell that that’s a dragon behind the woman, and a death trigger in blue feels totally wrong. This card has been properly shifted to black, where it belongs.  


Blue also got to steal stuff. Control Magic was the best spot creature removal spell in the game, because the creature came over to your side. Wizards persuaded players to play this at five mana, and it was fair at that level. My favorite version is Enslave, from Planar Chaos, because even if it costs two more, the feeling of loss literally stings your opponent every turn. This paved the way for many other cards that steal permanents. Red gets to borrow, blue gets to keep. The set also allowed us to directly steal artifacts with… Steal Artifact. What a name. Blue is the color that’s historically been closest to artifacts, and this card sets that premise up.


Wizards kept trying to make Jump a card. They first tried tacking on a slow cantrip, then a fast cantrip… this is a classic example of a card that never gets costed right for players to run it in tournaments. The problem with this card is that even with the cantrip text, it usually isn’t worth paying a single U for it. Two mana for a permanent version, with a blocking restriction, still didn’t played in Theros.


[Leap, Updraft, Stratus Walk]


Aqueous Form is a useful draft common in 2014 with Theros. Scrying one per turn? Cool. In Alpha, we used to pay double the mana, and not even get the scry. Invisibility got taken out from Revised Edition, and honestly I’m not sure why. The best card that gives unblockability as an enchantment is probably Traveler’s Cloak, but this type of effect is very hard to cost in a way that balances it for Limited and Constructed play.


For color hosers, ABU blue has Lifetap. This is a relevant effect, but if there’s any color that can get mana without having to tap lands for it, it’s green. Aside from the aforementioned Blue Elemental Blast, there’s a bizarre rare hoser, Volcanic Eruption. This card was very expensive, but allowed blue to destroy Red’s mountains and provide a consequent earthquake. It even damaged flyers. Volcanic Eruption has to be the least effective color hoser in the set, though.


The most divisive card in the set was Stasis, This card shut down the pace of a game to a trickle, even more harshly than Winter Orb. Getting Serra Angel and this out was the game plan for many, many blue/white decks. This card was also incredibly offputting to many players because of the art. What is a French fool doing on this card? Why is there a palette? Is that a dog, or an Anubis-type guy, or what? This card prompts so many questions.


Top 5 cool blue cards


5. Stasis. Scary though it is, this card is one of the most brutally powerful control effects in the game.


4. Mahamoti Djinn. You ain’t ever had a friend like him.


3. Ancestral Recall. It doesn’t do anything special, it just lets you do more of everything for dirt cheap.


2. Time Walk. Like Ancestral Recall, it lets you do more stuff. But in so many different ways.


1. Counterspell. Screwing with your opponent’s plans is always rewarding.  This is the spell that made players like me fall in love with Blue.