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Sorry We... Put Brainwash Online Instead of These Cards (Part 8)


Welcome back! Like a persistent foot fungus, every six months or so I turn up with a new article series. We're finishing what we started last time and we're diving into the deep end of Magic's "starter-level" sets to find the top 50 cards not online. We're going to be focusing on Portal, Portal 2: The Portaling, and Portal: Three Kingdoms But Strangely No Kings, and toss in a few obscure Starter 1999 cards, because no one can stop me. All of these sets were created after Mirage, so we finally don't have the specter of "it'll need new art and that costs money...ooooooohhhh *rattles chains* ooohhhh" hanging over our heads. We have other inexplicable specters to talk about here.

Back in 1997, Wizards thought that the best way to get new players into Magic was to give them their own set with "simpler" creatures and effects, many of which were reprints with new names, or near-reprints. That's not the worst idea ever, but here's what else they did in the Portals sets in the name of "simplicity":

  • Have no instants at all... except for all of the things that still had to be played at instant speed, like counterspells and combat tricks. They just blazed right on and called them sorceries anyway. Didn't bother them in the least, even though the complex part was "being played at instant speed", not the name. If you rename "vector calculus" to "pasta", it doesn't make it any easier to digest. 
  • Have no enchantments or artifacts or nonbasic lands or creature types at all. Ok, yeah, that probably made things simpler but also way more boring. When everyone starts playing Magic, all they want to do is throw auras on a 1/1 until it becomes an 11/11... and then their older brother Terrors it. And then that older brother laughs and gives them a series of noogies. I should know, I was the older brother.
  • They changed the word "blocking" to "intercepting" for some absolutely incomprehensible reason. I'd love to hear the market research on that one. "Hey guys, the kids are telling us 'block' makes them think of alphabet blocks, so let's replace that super clear and simple word with a much longer and more obscure word. For the children, you know."
  • They also changed "library" to "deck", "graveyard" to "discard pile," "power" to "offense", and "toughness" to "defense". Really, that all happened. Teachers generally don't teach kindergartners only in Swahili, and then switch to English for the rest of grade school. But that's pretty much exactly what Magic did.

So this article is going to be focusing on Portal, the first set. In addition to everything being super simple, there's absolutely no world building at all in Portal 1, it's just a bunch of random fantasy tropes thrown together in a nonsense blender. It's like a worse version of a Core Set! Isn't that exciting? Despite that, there's some very unusual stuff going on. (I still can't believe #31 is an actual Magic card.) Let's get to it, and remember, no particular "badness-ranking" order until the top 10.

50) Cloud Pirates

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

So, this is a shining example of the kinds of things that the Portal sets can offer us - the same card we already have online, and a strictly worse version of many other cards online, but Commander decks still run it because they need the different names! It's this card:
 
$ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
Randomly note that "Cloud Sprite" and "Cloud Pirates" are the same name rearranged with an extra "a". In the early 2000s, Wizards was going through a severe letter shortage, and had to reuse as many letters in card names as possible. That's how Mark Rosewater lost those 9 letters.
 
These are both way worse than things like Flying Men, Siren Stormtamer, Faerie Miscreant, etc. So I'll give you one guess as to which Commander needs all these weirdoes for his deck. Yes, of course, it's Edric, Spymaster of Trest, who has yet to meet a 1/1 for 1 with flying or unblockable that he doesn't hire sight unseen to be a professional spy, including rowdy carpet thieves. Could an Admiral Beckett Brass Commander deck also use Cloud Pirates? I kind of hope not, because that means Pirates are still terrible, but I kind of suspect the answer is "yes".
 
I really appreciate that Phil Foglio drew each individual pirate on Cloud Pirates with their own signature weapon, like a bunch of flying, shirtless, Arabian-stereotype versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
  • Sai guy! He who smiles really painfully!
  • Scimitar guy! He of the enormous shoulder hoods!
  • Axe guy! He who just dropped his axe yet again!
  • Spear guy! He who does the taxes of the other pirates!
  • Bracelet guy! He who is not cool enough to get a weapon!

(They should probably have the names of famous Renaissance-era Middle Eastern artists, but I'm too lazy to do the lookup for the three history majors that would get that joke.)

49-48) Let's discard some really specific stuff!
 
$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
Are both versions of these cards:
$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
which are both uncommons, while the Portal versions are rares. Wah-wah, that happens a lot in the Portal sets. Exhaustion, Prosperity, Summer Bloom, Blinding Light, Pyroclasm, Phantom Warrior and even frickin' Wood Elves and Charging Rhino all got upgrades to rare, though they kept the same names. Charging Rhino, by the way, is the only Magic card in existence that has been printed exactly three times (in booster packs) with a different rarity each time - Common, Uncommon, and Rare. Prove me wrong, someone with way, way too much time on their hands! (Turns out, this article didn't get published before Dominaria, and now Sage of Lat-Nam has joined this exclusive club. Which is kind of an awkward place, as it's just him and a rhino sipping tea in a room full of books.)
 
Mercenary Knight is actually better than Hidden Horror for some reason, by virtue of changing a B into a so-called generic mana. Even today, a 4/4 for 3 with a drawback isn't terrible. Plus maybe you could Reanimate something later, I guess? You'll also notice that despite both of these Portal cards clearly writing "destroy", they got Oracle-shanghaied into "sacrificing" themselves instead. Blah blah back then you couldn't respond to triggers so it was like sacrificing blah blah, but it still sucks that if you have Avacyn, Angel of Hope out they do not feel the hope and commit suicide anyway if you don't pay.
 
Now both of these guys have some cephalic problems (no, not Cephalid problems, that's what Odyssey block had) that we should discuss.
 
Mercenary Knight, your head is way, way too tiny for your armor. Or your arm. Or your horse. In fact, I think you're just a mannequin head taped to an empty suit of armor with a sword stapled to it.
 
Thundering Wurm, there's a horse on your head. Horse-head is a very common problem in teenage wurms, but you're turning 21 this year. So you might want to get a doctor to check that out. Also, enjoy college bars while you can.
 
47-46) Let's Do the Time Warp Again
 
$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
(While today's mostly about Portal 1, I'm going to group together a few cards from the other Portal sets that do the exact same things.)
First, the official Wizards spelling of this Magic card is Déjà vu. Yes, I know French people actually spell it that way, and we straight up stole this word from them. But it's totally obnoxious that the little accent mark has to face right on the "e" but has to face left on the "a", like they're both worshipping the dot on the "j" as some kind of sun god. French people, I know you love it when Americans tell you how much your language sucks, so please delete all these pointless accent marks. I'm going to de-suckify it and type out Deja Vu for the rest of the article, deal with it.
 
These cards are both common and pauper-legal! They're cheaper but less combo-riffic versions of Archaeomancer and Mnemonic Wall. Outside of pauper, they're worse versions of Call to Mind and Relearn. But they may find a home in Commander decks whose entire purpose is to cast Time Warp, Temporal Manipulation, Capture of Jingzhou, and Walk the Aeons as many times as possible. All of the extra turn cards printed before Wizards started wisely adding "self-exile" clauses to prevent shenanigans. They're like Snapcaster Mages that can only target sorceries and cost 1 more. And have 0 toughness. And don't have flash. Man, Snapcaster is good.
 
The artwork for the Portal 2 version of Deja Vu is just a weird-hat-and-circus-sleeves dude reading scrolls, and the artwork for the renamed Portal 3 version Sage's Knowledge is a pretty great picture of a monk summoning a dead sage who's cracking his knuckles and ready to get down to the serious business of instilling ancestral knowledge. But the artwork for the Portal 1 version deserves some extra pixels.
 
beardy mcknees
 
No person should ever be inflicted with that beard. It looks like someone grafted a broom to his face in some kind of Dr.-Moreau-but-for-janitorial-supplies experiment. Also, is he seriously wearing a knit cap and fingerless gloves and jeans with holes in both knees? And is he assembling a time machine out of children's toys (I see a rocking horse for sure) and industrial wall brackets? This looks a lot more like the poster for a low-budget time travel movie set in 1990s Seattle than a Magic card depicting the nostalgic feeling of "Deja Vu".
 
Last but not least, this card was drawn by by Hannibal King. Yes, Hannibal King the vampire detective painted this Magic card. No, I don't know how that's possible. But I'd bet my Deadpool action figures that this is some kind of meta practical joke that Ryan Reynolds pulled. (Uh, 7 years before he was cast. As Hannibal King, not Deadpool.)
 
45) Burning Cloak
 
$ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
"Hey Minotaur Warrior, put on this cloak."
 
"Why does it smell like gasoline? MYSTICAL gasoline?"
 
"Never mind that. Ready to attack that enemy planeswalker?"
 
"Sure thing Boss!"
 
"Ok, GO! *throws Flame Jab at his back*"
 
"AHHHH! *stamping out flames* Why would you set me on fire, then send me to attack?!?!"
 
"You're way scarier this way! It's a Dread Pirate Roberts thing."
 
Another pauper-legal gem, Burning Cloak is a very schizophrenic card. "I'm burning your flesh, but you'll also feel stronger as you die!" It's like 5/8ths of a sorcery speed Shock, since you usually can either kill an enemy creature or make your creature big enough to trade or get through unblocked. But thanks to Ixalan, it finally has a home of its own! Maybe! It might be better than Shock if you're trying to enrage your own dinos. Yeah, putting an adorably human-sized cloak on a Brontosaurus and then lighting the cloak/dino napkin on fire would definitely "enrage" them and totally piss them off. Just hope they stomp on the cloak and not your face.
 
44-43) Alaborn, Alaborn! *shakes head, sighs* 
 
$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
Stern Marshal is a fine card. Sure, all of his troops (and one wizard) are totally dead and buried by the snow with only their weapons showing, but that already makes him 1000x more competent than General Jarkeld. And his ability to tap and give something +2/+2 is actually kind of useful! He's like a cheaper, rarer Serra Advocate that doesn't fly and only works on offense. Good bad-card stuff.
 
Now, it looks like Stern Marshal had a backup plan in case he was the only survivor and had already started a wandering carpet salesman business. I've blown his art up to maximum size and those are definitely two carpets he's lugging around on his back. Hmmm... maybe he's not a soldier at all and he's just a really tough boss at the carpet store whose name is Marshal?
 
Anyway, we're really here to talk about Alaborn Veteran, and to do that we need to talk about her set. When they did Portal: Second Age they actually gave it a setting and flavor and so forth. And in retrospect, Wizards would have been much better off not doing that at all (like in Portal 1). The story they made up makes all of Magic worse by just existing.
 
Wizards decided to set it on Dominaria, but on yet another "unknown southern continent" (there's like six of them) called "Caliman". And for some reason the boring white nation (every set has 'em) got guns. Like really awkward, enormous muskets. And everyone, inside and outside of the company, immediately hated that idea! But somehow it happened anyway.
 
Here's all the others (except one we'll talk about next time):
$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
And though the Alaborns had the most, the black Nightstalkers and blue Talas Pirates also got in on the action with a handful of gun cards each. They were all over the place, turns out Caliman is the Texas of Dominaria. So, the big question is, when Phyrexia invaded Dominaria, why didn't Urza, instead of plane-hopping across the multiverse for months if not years, take an actual plane over to Caliman and borrow all of their guns? They were like 2 hours away! It just really clashes with the fantasy/wizard/spell tropes Magic normally relies on. It kind of ruins the entire main Magic storyline, so no one ever talks about it. I definitely wouldn't expect any Alaborns to be mentioned when we head to Dominaria, unless it's to reassure us that they all got totally blown up real good last apocalypse. (They weren't mentioned, but their continent did make the official map and appears non-blown up. Awkward!)
 
The thing that's even crazier about Alaborn Veteran is not only how she has a musket, but she wears it in FRONT of her legs. It's not clipped to the side or behind like all the other Alaborns (or any rational non-suicidal being), she hangs it directly from the clasp of her belt so every time she moves both of her metal legs loudly clang into it. Is she a "veteran" only because she's never been able to make it to an actual battlefield in time, since she has to take pixie size-steps? And let's not forget this is a LOADED MEDIEVAL FIREARM that her metal legs are banging into with every step. Muskets are already super unsafe. The mortality rate for soldiers running on her left side is mysteriously 98%.
 
42) Command of Unsummoning
 
$ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
Thank god for goofy Foglio art; they keep me in business. This card features the Dungeon Master from the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon wearing a ridiculous turban / perfume bottle on his head. D&D wasn't supposed to be in our Magic (until this year). But as we covered before the Foglios drew a whole lotta things that aren't supposed to be in Magic, and everyone just politely coughs and looks away.
 
 
Also, the first guy the Dungeon Master sent away was apparently wearing a green top hat with spikes and hazard tape wrapped around it. Some kind of Rastafarian into heavy metal and crime scenes? That's my best guess. Hmm... if clothing like the hat and shoes gets to stay when unsummoned, where's the rest of their clothes? I think we have to assume he was being attacked by two NAKED guys, which maybe adds a whole different kind of flavor to this card.
 
So, it's Aetherize, but cheaper and worse. Though if you're only going to throw two creatures back with Aetherize, it's just plain better. So it's great against decks that have creatures, but not TOO MANY creatures. Threading the needle!
 
41) Steadfastness
 
$ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
I looked, like SUPER hard for multiple minutes to try and find a card that obsoleted this card, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't exist in white. This card maybe goes into some super-optimistic person's Doran, the Siege Tower deck. Like, rainbows can cure blindness levels of optimism.
 
"Hey soldiers! I, your wizard, grant you the power of STEADFASTNESS."
 
"Um, ok. Thanks?.... What does that mean?"
 
"It means you now have a sureness and continuousness that may be relied upon! According to wizard internet!"
 
"I don't really feel any more continuous than I did before. Did it work?"
 
"Hmm... Do you feel any undeviating constancy or undeviating resolution?"
 
"*from the back* I have a undeviated septum. Does that count?"
 
"No."
 
"Oh."
 
"I'll figure it out, you soldiers go fight those goblins and I'll just count and see if more of you live than I expect to."
 
"Ok men let's ... wait, what?"
 
40) Fruition
 
$ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
Are you ready for your close-up, Miss OH MY GOD YOU'RE AN ALIEN.
 
Fruit
 
That is at least a 7-inch forehead you're sporting there. I guess the artist wanted to give you a cool head tattoo of a crosshair(?) but ran out of room and just... went with it. Also, it seems he didn't give you any pants, because you know you can't be a person in tune with the forest and still have PANTS. That's like an unwritten rule.
 
In duels, meh. In multiplayer, it wouldn't be weird to gain 20+ life for one green mana, because Oracle definitely plays favorites and this card somehow got on Oracle's good side and got changed to count ALL Forests. Burning of Xinye, despite being printed with the exact same "you and your opponent" wording, is not an Oracle favorite and now only affects a "target" opponent despite that making it not match up with Wildfire and also not make any logical sense. Oracle's like a prejudiced grandma with 5000 grandkids; only a select few get money on their birthday, and Fruition is one. Maybe grandma Oracle doesn't wear pants either.
 
 
Ah! Did that forehead just get... closer?
 
39-38) Tricking people is the best way to achieve peace!
 
$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
Basically the same card as Festival but with way less creepy clowns, they're both just as good to combo with Siren's Call. For some reason, grandma Oracle let Festival keep its near-identically printed wording about "creatures can't attack this turn", but it makes these two cards talk about "skipping combat phases" for some reason. That actually matters these days with all the "beginning of combat" triggers. I think grandma Oracle's a bit senile.
 
Straight from Yale's International Law 205: Foreign Relations course comes False Peace and its flavor text showing us a realistic depiction of how difficult it is to forge lasting treaties with totalitarian regimes like North Korea. They only last one turn because there's always a guy with a bad haircut in the background smirking and plotting about how quickly he can break it.
 
Empty City Ruse is based on an actual cool (though possibly apocryphal) anecdote from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the "Empty Fort Strategy". Basically Kongming, "Sleeping Dragon" didn't want an enemy Wei army to pillage and destroy some fort/city, so rather than defend it, he sat on top of opened city gates and said "No traps here! I like super pinky swear! Come on in!" And the enemy generals knew he was a really tricky guy, and so he MUST be lying and there's LOTS of traps and stuff and maybe we should just leave this city alone. You'd think with 150,000 men they could have spared like, three guys named the Chinese equivalent of "Bubba" to go check the city out. Nope, didn't want to risk it, didn't even want to try and capture the opposing general Kongming who was like 50 feet away, they just got themselves the heck out of there.
 
In addition to that great story, this is the only Magic card in existence to mention "Zither". It's a weird musical instrument but also one of the most fun-to-say words in the English language. How could we not get this online, so I can type "Zither you" every time I cast it?
 
37) Nature's Cloak
 
$ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
It's our first Rebecca Guay art! She has 18 cards between Portal 1 and 2, and they're all pretty great. This card is nothing special except the art, but it's maybe ok in mono-green Commander. Early Magic really really overvalued "landwalk" abilities and how useful they were. Let's just focus on forestwalk and how the price of giving it away changed.
 
$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
The cost of giving forestwalk on a 1/1 went from GGGG+Tap, to 1GG, to just Tap on a creature that's half the cost. In less than 5 years! That's quite a discount. Also, Alan Rabinowitz who painted Unseen Walker (and also the already-mentioned Library of Lat-Nam) is famous for his celebrity look-a-likes on Magic cards. Go check out LeVar Burton of Star Trek fame on Sirocco, for example. I'm not quite sure who he painted on Unseen Walker, but she probably wouldn't be happy to know that she's wearing a translucent bathrobe and used to be a hag.
 
36) Howling Fury
 
$ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
I have to blame this one on a friend of mine. I think this card is pretty terrible, but he keeps threatening to run it with Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon. He insists that no other card in Magic does what it does. I just couldn't believe that, and I said I'd put it into the countdown if he was right.
 
Well, then, here we are. For 3 total mana or less in black or colorless I couldn't find any other card that can boost a random creature by 4 power. You'd almost certainly rather have Butcher's Glee or something, but if you NEED +4 power RIGHT NOW and don't want to sacrifice a creature to Wicked Reward or have 4 creatures in your graveyard for Ghoul's Feast, this is your only option. Darn it. I like it when my friends are right, but not as much as I like being right. One-Wolf Moon!
 
35-34) How bad can 1-mana pauper cantrips be? Part 2: The baddening
 
$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
Of course, like almost everything else in Portal, they're worse (sorcery-speed) versions of these:
$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
Cloak of Feathers has some amazing Rebecca Guay art, and I'll fight anyone who says different. I'd even do that kind of 80s knife fight where we tie our hands together and wear cargo pants. My only quibble with this awesome, rarely-seen piece of art is that the flavor text says the cloak's made from a "thousand feathers from a thousand birds" but it's clearly only peacock feathers. 'Becca don't have no time to read no chump flava text.
 
Ah, Sorcerous Sight. It would totally freak me out if I turned around while reading and some magical eyeballs complete with comically-large magical eyebrows were spying on me. It would probably freak me out even more to find out I was a woman and wearing barley on my head... but only slightly.
 
(Insert your own paragraph about how they're useful in Talrand, Sky Summoner and Jori En, Ruin Diver Commander decks. Be sure to make fun of both their hats and their ridiculous spiky shoulder pads.)
 
33-32) Assassins the Musical
$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00
 
You can sing along here if you dare.

[PROPRIETOR]
Hey, pal- feelin' black?
Don't know when to tap?
Hey, pal-
I mean you-
yeah. C'mere and kill a king right now.

No deck? Icy not there?
No room, Comman-der?
Hey, pal, don't despair-
You wanna slice a king right now?
c'mon and slice a king right now...

Some guys
Think they can't be high picks.
First prize often goes to shiny mythics.

[KING'S ASSASSIN]
How much?

[PROPRIETOR]
Two black and One. Old cardstock. 32 mm. Ultra-Pro sleeve.
No foil stamp on the bottom.

[KING'S ASSASSIN]
All right, give me.

[PROPRIETOR, TURNING TO OTHER PATRON]
Hey, kicked out of your nest? 
Snakelet girl unimpressed?
Show her you're the best
If you can slice a poacher now

Etc...

Apologies to Sondheim, and like, everyone else in the world in general?
 
31) Assassin's Blade

I'm not going to show you the picture for this one right away. Let's just sit back for a minute and imagine what kind of artwork should go with an instant/sorcery called "Assassin's Blade".

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$ 0.00 $ 0.00

Nope, it's not this one, this one is a perfectly normal assassination of some Elf dude.

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$ 0.00 $ 0.00

Nor is it this one, where a Dimir assassin is about to have some extreme theological differences with a Selesneya missionary. Both of these depict pretty normal assassination stuff, really.

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$ 0.00 $ 0.00

WHY ARE YOU ASSASSINATING A MONKEY? WHO PAYS FOR THAT?

*ahem*

I just can't believe Magic has a card that honest-to-god depicts a MONKEY ASSASSINATION.  For 10 years this was Magic's only depiction of an "assassination" on an instant or sorcery. I'm glad PETA only plays card games that cats can play too.

I mean, did some rich crime lord get some poop thrown on him at the zoo and was like, "That's it, I'm assassinating that monkey for the good of all humanity." Was it like a super Planet of the Apes kind of monkey that escaped from a lab and was fomenting simian revolution? Was it an organ grinder monkey that was just too good at begging, and fellow beggars pooled their money to hire old Garth One-eye? Because of the complete lack of any kind of world or flavor in Portal, we have no idea. So far, Wizards has given us no hints and been completely silent on whether they are PRO or ANTI monkey assassination.

I kind of don't want to stop talking about the art, but I guess we should talk about what the card actually does. If you compare it to Doom Blade, it comes up pretty short, but it's almost the same card as Immolating Glare, and in today's removal-starved world that saw some play. It's probably around the power level of Walk the Plank, and players who have never known what real removal looks like were super excited to see that one.

For a mere 39 cents (as I write this) you too can own Magic's assassin of pets in action, though my guess is this card's not making it online without some updated art. Maybe we can ask for art with like, a parrot assassination? A guinea pig assassination? Pet rock assassination?

 

Ok, that's all the simian slaughter I can take for one day (or possibly decade?), so join us next time as we recreate 77 years worth of ancient Chinese history using only Magic cards, paper clips and the power of imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

Stop following me! Go away, creepy forehead!


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