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Magic History: Homelands Insecurity


Homelands Insecurity

Welcome to another Magical history tour! Last time I took a look at Fallen Empires and discussed some of the high points and not-so-high points of the set. This article will explore the set that is arguably the least-popular of all time, Homelands

Homelands was released in October of 1995, shortly after I first began playing Magic. 1995 was yet another booming period for Wizards of the Coast, and they were hot off the successful release of Ice Age. Homelands was initially considered part of the Ice Age block, along with the later-released Alliances, but it never actually fit into that block as far as lore is concerned. Much like Fallen Empires, Homelands was sold in eight-card booster packs, and the set only used two rarity sheets. The "Rares" of Homelands were simply Uncommons printed only once on each Uncommon sheet. Each of the Common cards also featured two art variations, although they were each painted by the same artist. 

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Homelands did not contain any new keyword abilities, a practice that is ubiquitous today. The set did contain "cantrips," cheap spells that replaced themselves with a drawn card first seen in Ice Age. Most of the themes in the set were centered on tribal abilities, although there was not enough support to make such decks viable. There were also several "clockwork" artifact creatures like Clockwork Steed and Clockwork Gnomes

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Homelands was developed by a different group of people than those who had created the rest of Magic sets up to that point. The designers had created a story that they wanted to tell, and they designed the cards in the set around that storyline, often resulting in a unplayable or weak cards. There was opposition to Homelands within Wizards; some staff did not want to release the set, but Peter Adkison insisted and the rest is history. 

The storyline and flavor were very good, and because of this at least some consumers (myself especially) enjoyed the set. Homelands even had its own licensed comic book which told the story of the set, and this added to its mystique in my teenage eyes. The main characters in Homelands were fantastic, and it was great to see characters like Serra (planeswalker creator of the Serra Angel) and Baron Sengir come alive in the pages of a graphic novel. 

With such strong characters, it really is a shame that Homelands ended up as the subpar set that it did. While the set wasn't quite the same as the top-down set designs that would occur in later years, the story constrained designers to the point of creating some pretty terrible cards. As a matter of fact, Homelands was such a weak set that Wizards of the Coast once had to force Pro Tour players to play with Homelands cards in their Standard decks. For the inaugural Pro Tour in New York City, the format was Standard, but players were forced to use five cards from each legal expansion at the time! Pro Tours are meant to showcase new cards, and Wizards was concerned that players wouldn't include any Homelands cards in their decks. 

 

 

The Legends

Since Homelands is a story-driven set, I figure that the best place to start looking at the cards is with the characters. The lore of Homelands dealt with characters like the Sengir family, Serra the planeswalker, Eron the relentless, and more. Many of the important characters received their own Legendary creature card, and all of them were pretty neat (even if most weren't very good). 

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The Sengir Family

The Sengir family were central antagonists to the story, and they were fantastic characters. Baron Sengir was probably the best of this bunch, but he still wasn't very good. Even though he wasn't aggressively costed like most of the contemporary legendary creatures, Baron Sengir was the closest thing that Vampire tribal had for a lord back then. Note that Homelands was printed before Wizards decided to simplify creature counters into +1/+1 and -1/-1 varieties. The evil Baron was so strong that he makes double-sized +2/+2 counters! 

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Joven and Chandler were thieves, and they had apparently upset Eron the Relentless by stealing his Ebony Rhino. Joven and his Ferrets were not very popular tournament staples, but his brother Chandler did get to audition for a popular 1990's era sitcom. Both cards actually have very useful abilities and if they had been printed with appropriate mana costs they'd probably be very good. Unfortunately a five mana 3/3 rarely cuts the mustard, and each one takes triple red to activate their abilities.

Eron the Relentless was actually pretty sweet. I used to play him alongside Ball Lightning in my red aggro deck, although that deck would probably have been better without him. Five mana is often more than you want to pay in a red "Sligh" type deck, and while regeneration is very useful, it is tough to keep three red mana available at all times. Haste is a great ability to have, but the lack of trample really makes Eron seem lackluster compared to Ball Lightning or even Yavimaya Ants

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Autumn Willow was one of the best cards in the entire set. She was basically the first creature with Shroud, although a similar ability was first mentioned on Spectral Cloak in Legends. In the early nineties most creatures were not as good as they are today, but the removal was actually better. All Magic formats included Swords to Plowshares, Terror, and Lightning Bolt, plus a host of other great options. When creatures are weaker and removal is better, it became even more important to have a creature that was tough to kill. Autumn Willow was slightly smaller than what you'd expect to get for six mana, but she still was a tough creature to deal with. 

When players were forced to use five cards from Homelands in their Standard decks, many turned to Autumn Willow. I honestly believe Autumn would see play even if players were not forced to use any cards from the set. Three decks in the Top Eight of the first Pro Tour contained copies of Autumn Willow, including Bertrand Lestree's second place list. 

Daughter of Autumn was thematically related to Autumn Willow, but she never saw the light of day outside of her bulk bin. She's a pretty good example of the problems the set had; she was designed to represent her position in a storyline and was pretty much unplayable.

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Continuing on with the theme of neat-but-useless legends, Hazduhr the Abbot and Rashka the Slayer are a couple of wasted Rare slots. Even though I lived through the Homelands era I had to search online to find these two creatures. They're so un-memorable that I had completely forgotten that they had been printed. You can glean from the flavor text and abilities on these two creatures that white and green characters were fighting with the black Sengir family. It's too bad that the execution was too poor to make that story matter to fans. 

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Ihsan was a Serra Paladin who was turned into a Shade by Baron Sengir. Depicted with a shadow-cloaked face painted by the late Christopher Rush, Ihsan's Shade is one of my favorite cards of all time. The artwork on Ihsan's Shade is just amazing, and I have always had a fondness for black legendary creatures. 

Beyond the artwork and character lore, Ihsan was actually a great card in its heyday. Six mana for a 5/5 was a decent rate for the era, and protection from white was extremely relevant. The thing about Ihsan's Shade that made it playable is that it wasn't vulnerable to the popular spot removal of its era. You couldn't kill Ihsan with Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt, or Terror. This meant that you basically had to have two Bolts, a Wrath of God, or some kind of Fireball/Drain Life to kill the thing. 

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Reveka was the ultimate Prodigal Sorcerer! In the olden times players referred to creatures that tap to do one damage to a target as "Tim"s, and Reveka was apparently Tim's older sibling. Being able to deal two damage to any creature or player is a great ability to have, but the inability to untap Reveka made her mostly useless. Four mana is also a lot to pay for a 0/1 creature. 

The Non-Legendary Storyline cards

Homelands seems to have had a bunch of cards that should have been or could have been legendary. I'm not sure if these cards were not made legends for playability concerns, but many of these cards represented specific things from the story. 

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Great! Just what we need! A card that will destroy other cards that nobody wants to use! Even when people were forced to run Homelands cards in their decks, this card wasn't good enough to see play. Expansion hosers are very rare in Magic, and this was the last one ever printed as far as I know. 

 

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This is that thing that Joven and Chandler stole from Eron the Relentless. I'd be mad too if I was Eron; seven mana for a 4/5 is super expensive! Look at all those jewels too, what a shame! 

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If you love indigenous Australian musical instruments, than Homelands is your jam. Didgeridoo is a laughably bad card on its face, and it gets even worse when you put it into context. The set had very few Minotaurs, and a few of the creatures in the set depicted Minotaurs but had "Bodyguard" as a creature type (later correctly changed to Minotaur). I guess if you're determined to play Minotaur tribal then this is sort of your Aether Vial, but even that is a stretch. 

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Feroz's Ban represented a spell that the planeswalker Feroz cast on Ulgrotha to protect it. I'm not sure why they represented a spell with an artifact instead of an enchantment, but they did. This card is, in my opinion, a good example of a playable effect at an unplayable cost. Making spells cost more to cast is a powerful and disruptive ability, but at six mana it's just not going to work the way it needs to. Eventually Wizards would print cards like Sphere of Resistance and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben that are cheap enough to be effective. 

 

Location, Location. Location!

You can't have awesome characters without equally awesome places for them to live, right? Homelands only had one complete cycle (although there was another nearly finished cycle of spells), and it was made up of famous locations from the storyline. 

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With these cards you could build theme decks based on your favorite characters! That would be much cooler if those theme decks were remotely playable. These lands were just awful, and they seemed even worse coming on the heels of the Ice Age painlands and taplands. 

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Pain Lands were amazing compared to Tri-Lands

The original dual lands were thought to be too powerful because they had no real drawback. In order to keep basic lands relevant in Standard, all future dual lands would have some small drawback associated with them. Some dual lands did damage to you when you used them, and some used depletion counters (which were truly horrid). The Homelands triple-lands were the first three color lands, but that mana cost you an arm and a leg.

You'd have to tap these lands plus one or two other lands just to make colored mana. The flexibility just was not worth it. City of Brass had been printed in Chronicles so it was Standard legal, and players had allied-colored pain lands to utilize as well. There was just no reason that these lands would be useful enough to include in a deck. They did tap for colorless mana, but that just wasn't enough to make these lands more than junk. 

Homelands also featured a type of card that isn't printed anymore, enchant worlds (now called world enchantments). For those of you who don't know what that is, you can think of it sort of like a legendary enchantment. These cards represent a magical enchantment that is affecting the "world" that the battle is currently being fought in. These cards are global enchantments, meaning they affect all players. If a new enchant world comes into play while another one is on the battlefield, the old enchantment is placed into its owner's graveyard. 

I always thought world enchantments were a cool idea, and I still think they could be. There aren't actually that many of this type of card that sees play, so it's not very often that the "one world enchantment rule" even matters. Legends had several cool world enchantments including The Abyss, but Homelands had some that were not nearly as iconic. 

The world enchantments in Homelands are very flavorful. and they compliment the story well. It's just too bad that these cards were not adjusted to be more powerful.

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Uncle's and Ante

There were quite a few oddball cards in Homelands, but there's one particular card that probably seems the most obtuse to the youngest generation of Magic players.  Your eight-card booster pack might just contain this odd-looking black creature.

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Timmerian Fiends was the very last ante card ever printed, and the ante rule was removed from rule books around this same time. For those of you who do not know, the original and official method for playing Magic involved betting (an ante) of a random card from each participant's deck. Initially Richard Garfield wanted a way to force players to trade cards, because he felt that trading was an important part of the game experience. Ante was designed to ensure that each player would have a collection that was constantly changing.

Most players did not like the ante rule and generally avoided playing with it. The way cards were supposed to be added to the ante was pretty unfair too. Players would start a game normally by shuffling and cutting, but before the game would start both players exiled the top card of their decks and added them to the ante. It was entirely possible for one player to randomly add their Black Lotus to the ante, while their opponent got lucky and only had to risk a basic land or something cheap. At that point the stakes were uneven, which pretty much makes the whole process unenjoyable. 

The other problem with ante is that is violates the law in many jurisdictions across America. Magic was taking off like a rocket in the early nineties, but the game also received flak from some schools and religious groups. The last thing that Wizards of the Coast wanted was to be known as was a combination of Dungeons and Dragons and Poker, so ante was abandoned. All that's left of this ante rule are a few cards from Alpha to Homelands that mention it. 

 

The Good Stuff!

I already mentioned a few of the good Homelands cards like Ihsan's Shade and Autumn Willow, but there were additional cards that were found to be useful. During the era that Homelands was in Standard, Serrated Arrows was one of the best cards from the set. 

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Serrated Arrows might not look like much, but it was actually a very helpful card. The color pie has always dictated that some colors don't get good removal. Serrated Arrows was a colorless form of removal so it could be used in a green or blue deck as a way to kill creatures. If you look throughout Magic's history you will notice that there are a lot of cards that became playable because they could transcend color limitations. Serrated Arrows were playable for the same basic reason that Aeolipile, Nevinyrral's Disk, or Quicksand were playable. 

The other thing that Serrated Arrows had going for it was that it killed creatures via -1/-1 counters. Regeneration isn't a common ability in contemporary Magic, but in 1995 plenty of good creatures could regenerate. Serrated Arrows was able to pick off those nasty Will-o-the-Wisps and River Boas! 

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Merchant Scroll is sort of like a blue Demonic Tutor. Sure, the range of cards that scroll can find is much more limited than that of Demonic Tutor, but it can still find some very game-breaking cards. The most common uses for Merchant Scroll was to find cards like Gush and Ancestral Recall, and it increased the odds of finding those cards significantly. Merchant Scroll is so powerful that it is still on the Vintage restricted list, and it's not likely to be removed any time soon. 

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Memory Lapse was a weak counterspell, but much like Remand it had the potential to set an opponent back a turn. Putting a countered spell on top of your opponent's library caused their next draw step to be wasted, which is far more effective than returning it to their hand. In combo decks Memory Lapse was easier to cast than Counterspell, and those decks usually only needed one more turn to win the game anyway. 

There are other cards in Homelands that could be considered playable, but none of them are too memorable. Sea Sprite. Giant Oyster, and Abbey Gargoyles get honorable mentions as they did see some play in the early years of the game. 

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Final Thoughts on Homelands

The process of writing this article has made me realize that Homelands was even worse than I remembered it in terms of playability. I remembered my negative impressions of the cards, but I had forgotten just how bad some of them were. That said, I also feel that the characters and story of the set were actually much more interesting than I remembered. 

I honestly feel that today's design team could make a follow-up to Homelands that would be simply amazing. Characters like Baron Sengir and Autumn Willow could be given new versions with updated abilities and casting costs. Wizards of the Coast is much better at coming up with designs for dual lands than they were back then, so even the triple-color lands could be fixed. 

Serra and Feroz never got made into cards, and now that planeswalker is an official card type, they easily could be made. Perhaps Joven and Chandler could join forces with Dack Fayden and become the three greatest thieves in the Ulgrotha! 

That's all the time I have for this week, you can chat about #MTG with me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr - Islandswamp on Magic Online and TMD

 


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