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Sorry We... Put Brainwash Online Instead of These Cards (Part 1)


Time for a new article series where we examine some old and almost exclusively bad Magic cards! This go-round, rather than dual land cycles, we'll be examining the "best" (and that word is used super, super loosely) of all the cards that haven't yet made it onto Magic Online.

Why now? Well, after years of quiet pleading from myself and many others, Wizards has finally listened and put some more "old" cards online! In the most recent treasure chest update, they added an "exclusive" section and, along with Commander 2017, put 34(!) old cards online that we've never had before! Awesome! This is something we've been asking them to do for years, especially after treasure chests debuted and gave us a distribution method for cards with, shall we say, extremely niche appeal. Like "luxury sandwich baggies" niche.

Wizards even did a survey and asked people what they wanted! It would have been nice if they told people about the survey, since I and several others that care deeply about this topic had no idea it happened. Apparently to get the full Magic Online experience, you not only had to check Magicthegathering.com, and the Magic Online tumblr, and Magic Online reddit, you also had to sign up for a Twitter account and receive the tweet from them or whatever, I guess? It would have been really nice if Magic Online mentioned this super vitally important survey, but whatevs. They actually did it! They listened to some (random tiny fraction) of the Magic Online population! Woo, I'm honestly excited they did!

This bodes really well for the future. I'm a big proponent of eventually getting all (possible) legal Magic cards into Magic Online, and this gives us a method to do so and shows that they are willing. There's some challenges and restrictions we'll discuss, but if we can get an infusion of 25-40 new cards every 6 months (once in the spring along with Conspiracy-type sets and once in the fall along with Commander sets) we'll be able to make real progress on the missing 800-ish cards!

Speaking of which, how many cards are not online?

-Alpha through The Dark has 275 cards printed that aren't online.
-Fallen Empires through Alliances has 294 cards printed that aren't online.
-Portal through Starter has 206 cards printed that aren't online, which also includes the 1 unique Promo card not online (Sewers of Estark).
-Conspiracy + Commander has 104 cards printed that aren't online.

That's 879 cards!

BUT...

-Alpha through The Dark has 10 banned cards (Ante, plus Chaos Orb, Falling Star, and Shahrazad) and 1 "questionable" card (Golgothian Sylex) which is legal but has a mechanic that's moved over to silver border.
-Fallen Empires through Alliances has two banned cards (both Ante) and 1 "questionable" card (Apocalypse Chime), which is officially the second most useless card in Magic after Power Surge.
-Conspiracy sets have 25 banned Conspiracies, and another 27 cards that are "questionable" in that they're legal cards, but they have text referring to drafts, so they're mostly vanilla creatures or just do nothing when used in a non-draft format.

Taking all those out leaves us with: 264 + 291 + 206 + 52 = 813 cards! These 813 are what I'm going to be focusing on.

Now, there's probably a small number of cards excluded internally by Wizards for things like culturally insensitive names or associations, or really difficult to program effects. And of course Wizards seems to love excluding cards that work best in multi-player games (we'll call that "M-Bias"). But I'll leave all those in as possibilities, as we don't know Wizards' exact policy. I never thought we'd get Word of Command or City in a Bottle online, so who knows?

Also, to clarify, there's a ton of great Magic art that isn't online, but we're only talking about cards where "a card with that name can't be played online in any form." I know, you don't have your favorite sexy Terese Nielsen Elf art online, but that's your own weird mental burden to deal with.

How many articles am I committing to by reading this far?

Well, now you're stuck. This article series is going to be divided into 12 or maybe more parts.

1) Intro, and Covers #50-31 of Alpha, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark. (The early sets... like, this article right now.)
2) Covers #30-11 of Alpha, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark.
3) Covers #10-1 of Alpha, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark.
4) Covers #55-41 of Fallen Empires, Ice Age, Homelands, and Alliances. (The black hole of awful sets that almost killed Magic... plus Alliances!)
5) Covers #40-26 of Fallen Empires, Ice Age, Homelands, and Alliances.
6) Covers #25-11 of Fallen Empires, Ice Age, Homelands, and Alliances.
7) Covers #10-1 of Fallen Empires, Ice Age, Homelands, and Alliances.
8) Covers #50-31 of Portal, Portal 2: Electric Boogaloo, Portal: My Three Kingdoms for a Horse, and Starter:1999 (but not Space:1999, that's different). (The portal to... intercepting your discard pile? But only on your turn, before you declare attackers.)
9) Covers #30-11 of the Portal sets.
10) Covers #10-1 of the Portal sets.
11) Covers 5th Edition cards and missing Commander 2016-2017 cards.
12) Covers missing cards from Conspiracy and Conspiracy 2: I'm Awesome But No One Had Time to Buy Me, plus a few special guests. (The "programming is hard" sets.)

Why am I reading this article?

Well, aside from the making fun of terrible Magic cards, the next time Wizards does a survey to check which old cards we want online (aaaaaaaand maybe tells people about it?), you'll have some idea what cool old cards haven't made it online yet. Then you can tell Wizards which ones you want, and we'll hopefully be able to avoid the great Brainwash debacle of 2017.

Man, that card is bad. Like, real bad. Like, Guard Duty and Kirtar's Desire and Oppressive Rays are each 1000% better and also Pauper legal. I do want every card online, but we probably could have waited a bit longer on that one. Maybe a Sram, Senior Edificer Commander deck would run it, but that's it, because I don't think anyone needs copies #13-16 of a one-mana aura that's strictly worse than the other three. Also, that's some pathetically weak Brainwashing if they can block just fine and they can pay three mana to not be brainwashed at all. But then next turn they're brainwashed again? I don't know the rules of brainwashing someone, but I didn't think it's a recurring problem like athlete's foot.

The meaty part of the article

Each article is going to cover some of the "best" cards that aren't online yet. Except for the top ten of each group, the others are in a sort of general mass and no particular order.

50-45) The remaining Legends Legends

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Ah, yes, this fun group. I've made fun of these cards many, many times before. To hit some highlights:

Ayesha Tanaka has a weird "courtesan-style" or possibly "Mike Tyson-style" tiger tattoo on her face. She also has some kind of magical little person in an adorable suit of armor standing on her shoulder. And the armor has a skirt that's turning into cloth or something? Basically, this card feels like you caught them at a very awkward moment and you probably shouldn't ask too many questions. Ability-wise, she has both banding and "countering activated artifact abilities" except she gives them an escape clause with white mana. So, uh, that's a unique set of powers, I'll say that. Useful... I'll probably not say that.

Johan, you will notice, is Darth Maul's punk teenage son and has giant forehead arrows that just scream "PUNCH ME RIGHT HERE". He also wins the award for Magic's most complicated way to say "vigilance". It's just vigilance, geez. It wouldn't be that hard to say "other creatures you control have vigilance." But no, they added a weird clause that he can't attack at the EXACT same time that he needs to give other creatures vigilance. This makes the timing impossible and screws up the wording royally and makes him way harder to program than he should be.

Kasimir the Lone Wolf is the only "vanilla" legend that didn't make it online. No one is sure why, and honestly it wouldn't surprise me that they just forgot him when programming the rest into Master's Edition 3. He's also the atypical white/blue Conan type - the rare barbarian who still really values order and community despite living alone in a cave with a wolf. Apparently he was a scholarly cleric before he decided that being a barbarian just sounded great, but somehow he didn't end up red/green, 'cause I guess he stuck to those core white/blue values. Also, would you believe that in the history of Magic, there's only one card that strictly obsoletes him? He's no Dragonlord Ojutai, but if you really want a 5-power white/blue creature as commander for six mana or less and don't want to spend more than one white and one blue mana, he was your only option! For the theoretical person with those exact requirements who only exists in my head! Darn you Ojutai, another life you've destroyed.

Gosta Dirk, Lord Magnus, and Ur-Drago all have first strike, so I grouped them together. I guess they also have some useless flavor text about everyone's favorite abandoned mechanic, landwalk. For some reason Legends never gave us a Legend that can stop mountainwalk, so Mountain Goats just bleat at you as they trundle on by...
-Maybe in the history of Magic someone once ran Gosta Dirk against a Merfolk Commander deck, and his ability was relevant? I think it's about as likely as yaks becoming the next big pet craze, but who knows.
-Don't get me started on Lord Magnus, who has not one, not two, not three, but apparently FOUR separate trees growing out of his neck. And he also wears a helmet that leaves his brain exposed. That's probably not great armor design, not a lot of "sunroof" helmets in the historical record. Stopping forestwalk is fine, but then he also stops the precisely FOUR creatures in Magic that have plainswalk. That's exactly equivalent to Magic having a card called "Quiet Time" that only affects cards with "Bellowing" in the name. There's exactly 4 of those, too.
-Ur-Drago is awesome, despite having armor that looks like it was made from dried pinto beans and a name that implies he's best buds with The Ur-Dragon when they're like, casual acquaintances at best.

All of them except Johan are ally-color generals, so not needed for color balance or anything, but hey, it would still be really awesome if Commander could have access to all of its Commanders and stuff.

44-42) The World Enchantments

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There's actually a 4th World enchantment not online from these sets, but it actually made the top 10, so you'll see it later.

One of my favorite things MarRo has written this year was the Unstable FAQAWASLFAQPAFTIDAWABIAJTBT. And the bit that made me laugh out loud involved Rules Lawyer.

Rules Lawyer says "state-based actions don't apply to you or other permanents you control", and MaRo runs through the list of them, finally getting to:

  • You can control multiple permanents with the supertype world. So, that opens up some deck ideas, I'd imagine. (704.5k)

Ha! Yes, we finally can cheat on the World sub-type the way Mirror Gallery cheats on the Legend rule!

Well, the Lawyer's never coming online, and World Enchantments are generally terrible, like "final 3 seasons of Dexter" terrible, but we should probably get the rest of the World Enchantments online, ya know? At least then you can mess with your opponent's brand-new Field of Dreams.

Caverns of Despair is like a Dueling Grounds, but twice as bad and for one more mana! Or a much worse Silent Arbiter that doesn't die to creature removal! Or a Crawlspace that stops you from attacking opponents! But at least it's got a really, really sad dragon drawn by Harold McNeil. And I guess maybe they're in a cavern? It's kind of hard to tell.

Gravity Sphere is actually a pretty unique effect in Magic, not just red. There's plenty of one-shot effects that cause creatures to lose flying, but almost no ongoing, static ones. Of course, one of them is Chaosphere and it's almost the same card, but slightly different and way more complicated! We should get the simpler one online for people who don't like thinking as much. Also, this was the first ever depiction of a buff male angel in Magic, and we don't even get to see his abs? Lame.

Revelation is like a Telepathy that makes the game less fun for everyone, not just your opponent! When it's cast, everyone just gets to know everyone's hand and spend several minutes analyzing the game state until you collectively decide who won, and then move on to the next game. Doesn't that sound great? It's like if Gitaxian Probe was a card that everyone played almost every turn of the game. Like Modern used to be before they fixed it.

All three of these have pretty unique effects for their colors. Plus you can randomly hose The Abyss or Nether Void - bonus!

41-37) The Mana Batteries

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I know what you're thinking. "C'Mon, Magic must have obsoleted these cards in the past 22 years." I really thought they did too! But sad to say, Magic has not. Gemstone Array would get there if it also tapped for mana. Crystalline Crawler is pretty close, but it doesn't tap to add a counter its first turn and is an easily killable artifact creature.

Nope, these are still sort of the best we have at storing mana of the five colors on artifacts. I mean, lots of cards are way better than them (including Crystalline Crawler), but for their specific purpose, they're pretty much it. They really could use a "this is the way we would do it now" update in a future set.

They let five artists with completely different styles go nuts on their interpretations of a "mana battery." Style guide, shmile-guide, screw that! White, Red, and Green all look sort of reasonable, though it's a bit weird White would stick their battery in a mountain. Black could have been just a cool skull, but instead it has a lot of other hard-to-discern stuff going on. There's a snake, some feathers, and some nails, I think? A sprig of festive holly? Maybe somebody's thigh bone? It ends up looking more like the bottom of a necromancer's junk drawer than a "mana battery".

And then there's the Blue Mana Battery. My friends and I used to discuss both the worst and weirdest Magic art at length in those halcyon pre-Mirage days, and this one was definitely a part of both conversations. I still don't know what to make of it. There's these green square-bound spirals floating in some kind of ocean / night sky combo where you can barely tell the difference. These spirals aren't 3-D objects or anything, just flat drawings that don't interact with the waves at all. There's four of them in the back, but if you look closely you'll notice there's also two baby spirals in front. After years of thought, I've decided this is a vacation photo of some other-dimensional 2-D beings who visited our 3-D universe. Mom, Dad and 4 kids, and they're standing in front of some kind of actual blue mana battery we don't see, like a poorly framed vacation photo of Mount Rushmore.

It's all just super weird for a Magic card. Not quite Stasis weird, but probably number two. Oh wait, I forgot the sexy space bug that gave Einstein his ideas on Eureka. And then Einstein himself on Presence of the Master. The Foglios were just super into Einstein for a while. Phil used to dress up as Einstein and... anyway... You know what, let's just say Blue Mana Battery is somewhere near the top of weird Magic art.

36-35) The Text Changers

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Again, you probably think that there's a spell that does what these do only strictly better, but there actually isn't. A lot of these text changers can either only target permanents, or only last until end of turn. The only other card in all of Magic that can also do both of those things is Spectral Shift, which is probably a much better spell overall, but hey, it's not 1 mana!

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Also, for completeness sake I should mention there's this version of Sleight of Mind from Ice Age that doesn't look like Barney's brain was autopsied and then accidentally dropped in a pitcher of Tang. Yes, at one time, this card was so important to Magic that it became one of the very first ever reprints. Wizards felt that they just couldn't make a large set without it, putting it on the same level as Counterspell and Swords to Plowshares. Huh.

In early Magic, with color hosers so crazy powerful, they thought that having these type changers was vitally important so your color hosers wouldn't be dead in every match. This was when most Magic was kitchen table and before sideboards were really a thing. Since we now have amazing technology like "sideboards" and "not printing color hosers anymore," these cards have taken a nosedive in usefulness.

But they can still be fun, and if you're the kind of person that really loves building a deck that messes with colors and land types on stuff like Acid Rain and Light of Day, you're going to need as many of these effects as possible and all the help you can get. By which I mean "the help of mental health professionals."

34-32) Black cards from Antiquities

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Hey kids look! It's some cards that care about artifacts from a color that's not supposed to care about artifacts!

I feel like Black in artifacts sets really gets the short shrift. In both Scars block and Kaladesh block, Black basically decided to ignore artifacts and do its own unrelated thing except for a handful of unthemed cards. In original Mirrodin, we had the "Nim" mechanic on cards like Nim Lasher that led to a bunch of terrible cards... plus Cranial Plating, which sort of counts as a black card if you squint.

But not in Antiquities. They were like "Artifact set where every card in the set has to mention artifacts? We decided Black can't destroy artifacts? No problem, let's do this." And they came up with a bunch of creative ways for black to interact with artifacts, like these three.

Haunting Wind seems like it could be a card you'd run in mono-black Commander. Breya decks got you down? Mishra and Muzzio giving you fits? Make it so they get pinged not only every time they activate an artifact, but also every time they tap an artifact land or attack with an artifact creature. And make it really hard for them to remove it as an enchantment! I also like how one of the ghosts is pointing like "DUDE, this is my side of the battlefield to haunt, get the heck over to your side!"

I love Phyrexian Gremlins. I played with this card a ton back in the mid-90s to give black a way to "deal" with artifacts. And unlike the abstract weirdness of Amy Weber's Blue Mana Battery, here she drew some appropriately adorable gremlins mucking about with some gears. So... why can't black tap artifacts anymore? I don't know, but it totally works for me that they could. We got an updated version in Rust Tick that costs 1 more to activate, but PG here was the only Gremlin in Magic at all for like 15 years, and he's the only one not online. Plus, he'd be pauper legal, and right now there are ZERO common ways for black to mess with artifacts.

Priest of Yawgmoth is not exactly a scary representation of the evil of Yawgmoth and Phyrexia. Rather than the symbol of Phyrexia, he wears a giant 1 and 5/8ths hex nut around his neck, available for 89 cents at your local hardware store. He's also entirely a robot made of metal, but when they did the grand creature type update they decided he was sort of person-shaped so he's a human. It must be those goofy eyes that make him look like a Muppet joining the Borg collective. But hey, he (along with the equally goofy Yawgmoth Demon) were the first cards to ever mention Yawgmoth, so that's a thing. His ability... eh, it seems potentially cool, but you have to really work to find that potential. You need artifacts that you pay less than full price for and a way to spend a lot of black mana. Maybe a pauper affinity deck that wants to finish the game with Drain Life? Uh, sure, those exist.

31) Sisters of the Flame

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This artwork is very clearly set in the late 80s or early 90s, because that is some big, big hair she is sporting there. I can't decide if Jesper used his girlfriend as a model or it's supposed to be some 90's celebrity sporting some red skin. One would think having your hair teased several inches off your head might be a liability if you're trying to worship lit candles, especially with the amount of hairspray this probably required. (Note that their kind of candle worshipping is different than your mom's inability to stop ordering from the Yankee Candle catalog.)

Along with Iron Myr, she's the only Magic creature in existence with "TAP: Add R to your mana pool". Heck, she and Exuberant Firestoker are only mono-red creatures in existence that can tap to add mana without sacrificing something. Plus, she was common in 4th Edition so she even qualifies for Pauper. And... uh, they made her a shaman, so... she only costs RR with a Bosk Banneret in play! What a deal for the nice cultist lady. I bet she's wearing pink legwarmers under that cloak.

 

Ok, that's all for today, folks. Until next time, keep playing the bad cards!


More in this Series


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