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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Jul 24 2013 12:25pm
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Part one: Alpha's commons
Part two: Alpha's uncommons
 

And today we finish the series with Alpha's rares!

This article will be a long one. Inexplicably, Alpha had 75 commons, 95 uncommons, and 117 rares. (If you don't already view this as odd, contrast it with Magic 2014's division: 101 commons, 60 uncommons, 53 rares, and 15 mythics. And Magic 2013 had the same division but with fewer mythics. The point is, numbers nowadays go down as rarity increases, not up. Anyway, 117 cards is a lot for one article. Even with the 31 creatures taken out.)

So the goal of this article: examine if and how the forces of power creep have affected each of these cards' designs over the last 20 years. As with the last two articles, I will be excluding creatures, as nearly all of them have improved in ways unworthy of analysis. (Just glance at Lord of the Pit and then at Xathrid Demon. You'll get it without my explanation.)

Rares: White

Animate Wall    

Animate Wall

Most powerful replacement: Rolling Stones costs but one more mana yet multiplies the effect. Wakestone Gargoyle ousts them both, by affecting all creatures with defender (not just walls), as well as adding 3 points of power (and himself being a good blocker).

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Rolling Stones
             
Armageddon    

Armageddon

Most powerful replacement: Other than the cards in Portal—which are hardly reflective of modern design—you can't access this sort of effect anymore unless you play red, and pay dearly. Boom/Bust charges 5R. Devastating Dreams is RR plus X discards.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Boom__Bust.jpg
             
Balance    

Balance

Most powerful replacement: Sure, you can still cast Balance. You just have to wait six turns!

Six... turns.

Or there's Balancing Act at 2WW, but it hardly does the same thing.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Restore Balance
             
Blaze of Glory    

Blaze of Glory

Most powerful replacement: Valor Made Real.

It not only removes the "has to" drawback, but also about 80 words of rules text. Good work, Dissension team.

Verdict: Light power creep.

    Valor Made Real
             
Blessing    

Blessing

I wrote this article's first draft over a month ago, before Magic 2014 was spoiled. It included a lengthy complaint about how this perfectly balanced card hadn't been printed since 4th Edition, in 1995. Sure, it turned the creature into a shade, which is a black ability, but we didn't even have access to it online! "I can understand them not bringing North Star online," I bemoaned, "But come on, why is Blessing not online!" It would have been perfect in a Master's Edition, I reasoned. I then concluded with the minor consolatory note that we at least had Midnight Covenant in black, although it of course wasn't the same.

But now Magic 2014 is out, and that's all been made moot! This card that had been deemed either too strong, too weak, or too off-color for the last 18 years has now been re-deemed.

Verdict: Zero power creep! A Travolta-esque comeback.

   
             
Crusade    

Crusade

Most powerful replacement: This is an easy one. Honor of the Pure.

Verdict: Medium power creep.

    Honor of the Pure
             
Farmstead    

Farmstead

Let me see if I'm reading this correctly.

You want me to spend WWW up front... and then another WW every turn... all for a Fountain of Youth??

BAHAHAHAHA no.

Most powerful replacement: As just said, Fountain of Youth sorely owns this card. And Fountain of Youth is unplayably bad. So....

To quickly run through other cards that are vastly superior to Farmstead: Tanglebloom, Braidwood Cup, Chalice of Life, Marble Chalice, Staff of Domination, Ajani's Mantra!!!

What a clunker.

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Ajani's Mantra
             
Island Sanctuary    

Island Sanctuary

Most powerful replacement: The only cards to compare to this one share only some of its characteristics. Moat, Arboria, Silent Arbiter, Dueling Grounds, Teferi's Moat....

It's unlikely that they'll print another card like this anytime soon, and even less likely that it will cost 2 mana.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Teferi's Moat
             
Purelace    

the Lace cycle

Yes, the rumors were true.

These cards were rare.

Most powerful replacement: If you're looking for a replacement for the blue lace, Prismatic Lace, Sway of Illusion, and Quickchange are all giant leaps forward.

If you're stuck in a nonblue color, well, even then you still have Distorting Lens so I'm just going to call this one a lost cause.

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Quickchange
             
Reverse Damage    

Reverse Damage

Most powerful alternative: This spell has been reprinted in every core set through 9th Edition. And WotC has shown they have no problem printing the same effect at comparable costs whenever they want to, such as with Intervention Pact.

Hallow and Awe Strike are both much cheaper, but are of course also more limited in scope.

Verdict: Zero power creep.

    Intervention Pact
             
Righteousness    

Righteousness

Most powerful alternative: There simply is no alternative to this card.

Hold the Line is a magnified version, but its cost reflects that.

Necrobite is a kind of similar effect but isn't as combo-friendly.

Righteousness was reprinted as recently as Magic 2010, showing it seems to be balanced by today's standards.

Verdict: Zero power creep.

    Righteousness
             
Wrath of God    

Wrath of God

One of white's most iconic and powerful cards, and one that helps define whatever format it's legal in.

Most powerful alternative: This was in every single core set through 10th edition. In the coming years, it would be replaced by Day of Judgment. True, it's better in your deck of regenerating creatures, but the change is overall a penalty, as it cannot harm your opponent's regenerators.

Both cards have a notable absence from Magic 2013, and our closest option is multicolored, that of course being Supreme Verdict.

What will Magic 2014 have in store? Time shall tell. [Like I said, I wrote this a month ago! By the time this sees print, time has already told. No exact wraths in Magic 2014. It does have Planar Cleansing.]

Verdict: Light nerfing.

    Day of Judgment

 

Rares: Blue

Ancestral Recall    

Ancestral Recall

This card never really got its moment in the sun, but I've always thought it was a little underrated! I mean the ability to force your opponent to draw 3 cards is perfect in a Black Vise deck.

Also, the other ability on the card complements something like Lorescale Coatl by giving him +3/+3. It's just a shame this card doesn't affect the board state under normal circumstances.

Most powerful alternative: I'm not sure why, but WotC apparently felt the need to hose this quirky build-around-me card. It now costs five, as Jace's Ingenuity.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Jace's Ingenuity
             
Braingeyser    

Braingeyser

Most powerful alternative: For a while, there was nothing to replace Braingeyser. Then we had Stroke of Genius, friend of control decks and combo decks alike.

Then Mind Spring comes out, reminding us that (1) Braingeyser's stats are still relevant today and (2) it wasn't as broken as we remembered it being.

If you dip into multicolor, Sphinx's Revelation is obviously a powerhouse, but that's not what we're talking about.

Verdict: Zero power creep.

    Mind Spring
             
Copy Artifact    

Copy Artifact

Most powerful alternative: Sculpting Steel.

There's also have Phyrexian Metamorph, but we're starting to drift off course.

Verdict: Light nerfing.

    Sculpting Steel
             
Drain Power    

Drain Power

Most powerful alternative: I guess there isn't one. Nobody wants one, but we don't even have the option.

Verdict: Technically speaking, Severe nerfing, as WotC no longer gives blue sorcery accelerants.

   

 

 

             
Magical Hack    

Magical Hack

WotC sure must have thought changing swampwalk to plainswalk was powerful.

Most powerful alternative: Mind Bend is an upgrade, Whim of Volrath is a bigger one, and Trait Doctoring is a bigger one yet!

We still aren't up to the level of playability, but we're getting there.

Possibly.

Verdict: Severe (but futile) power creep.

    Trait Doctoring
             
Mana Short    

Mana Short

Most powerful alternative: Mana Vapors, Exhaustion.

They aren't as good when the opponent leaves things untapped, but... who cares? They have other advantages.

Verdict: Light power creep.

    Mana Vapors
             
Sleight of Mind    

Sleight of Mind

Okay, so WotC thought changing "counters red spells" to "counters black spells" was powerful. I guess I can buy that. But why did they think the phrase "counters red spells" could ever appear on a card?

"This card counters red spells cast during an upkeep"?

"If a player counters red spells twice in one turn, they win the game"?

Try writing your own. It's very difficult to stay grammatical, and impossible to make mechanical sense!

Most powerful alternative: Still Trait Doctoring.

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Trait Doctoring
             
Stasis    

Stasis

Eeeee, Stasis.

(holds fingers in the cross sign while backing away slowly)

Most powerful alternative: Vesuvan Shapeshifter + Brine Elemental, I guess.

Off-color, you have Recurring Nightmare / Yosei, the Morning Star.

Verdict: Severe nerfing, and thank goodness.

    Brine Elemental
             
Time Walk    

Time Walk

Here we are with another Johnnies-only card.

Sure, it puts an extra counter on your Phantasmal Sphere, and it gets an extra activation out of your Harrier Griffin, but is this really worth the dead card in your hand while you wait to set all that up?

Time Walk can never get an extra attack out of your Ball Lightning—you need a much stronger 1U card like Teferi's Veil to do that.

The fact is, if we're taking extra turns and our opponent isn't, we're decreasing the value on our Black Vises as well as our Sleeper Agents. While making theirs more powerful!

Most powerful alternative: Time Warp.

Verdict: Severe nerfing. Go figure!

    Time Warp
             
Timetwister    

Timetwister

Boy here we go again. An obvious pattern is emerging here—if a card has "time" in its title, you shouldn't waste your "time" on it! Well Time and Tide was pretty sweet but every rule has an exception.

I admit, it can be fun to spin the roulette wheel and draw a new hand, but after casting this card, you can't afford to cast anything you just drew, so your opponent gets first crack at all the loot. Also don't forget how easily hated out of the metagame this is by Psychogenic Probe.

You're better off just drawing cards the old fashioned way. (Your draw phase.)

Most powerful alternative: Time Reversal. Does WotC have some strange obsession with making Alpha cards cost 3UU or something.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Time Reversal
             
Volcanic Eruption    

Volcanic Eruption

Most powerful alternative: Let's see... destroy X lands... deal X damage to each creature and player....

No, blue never got another one of these.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Saprazzan Legate

 

Rares: Black

Bad Moon    

Bad Moon

Most powerful alternative: Ever since Bad Moon's last reprinting, in Time Spiral, this effect has come with a much higher price tag. The BG, BU, and BR lieges are the cheapest at 4 mana each, the BW liege is 5 mana, and at 6 we have Ascendant Evincar.

These days, if you want to pump up your whole army on the cheap, you need to be playing white. 

Verdict: Medium nerfing.

    Ashenmoor Liege
             
Contract from Below    

Contract from Below

Most powerful alternative: I looked high and low, but I simply could not find another card that draws 7 cards for one mana.

Barrin's Codex could draw 7 cards for 8 mana and 7 turns' worth of counters. Griselbrand lets you draw 7 cards for 8 mana and 7 life. Necrologia is 5 mana and 7 life, but must be cast during your discard phase.

Hmmmm....

Verdict: Brutal nerfing.

    Nighthaze
             
Darkpact    

Darkpact

Most powerful alternative: WotC never did revisit the premise of swapping the top card of your library with something your opponent owns.

I'll guess the closest is Praetor's Grasp, only you don't get to keep the card when the game is over.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Praetor's Grasp
             
Demonic Attorney    

Demonic Attorney

Most powerful alternative: Again, it doesn't transfer ownership after the game is over, but if we're trying to remove the top card in each library, Whetstone is sort of close?

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

I think WotC has something against ante cards.

    Whetstone
             
Lich    

Lich

Remember during one of the Great Designer Searches when a contestant submitted a cycle of cards that each lost their owner the game when they left play? And Gleemox openly mocked that contestant for submitting what would be the most hated mechanic of all time?

Yeah! Lich is pretty bad. Even if it does allow for a janky, unreliable insta-win combo centering around Soul Spike and such.

Most powerful alternative: But that didn't stop WotC from producing several worse-than versions!

Oath of Lim-Dûl is worse, Nefarious Lich is usually worse, Lich's Tomb is certainly worse, and Dralnu, Lich Lord is way better but actually doesn't have a ton in common with the original card.

Verdict: Light nerfing.

    Nefarious Lich
             
Mind Twist    

Mind Twist

Most powerful alternative: This card was considered off-the-deep-end-broken for a very long time. Then WotC realized it was only a little over the curve—nothing a single extra black mana couldn't fix. And thus Mind Shatter was born.

Mind Shatter still only saw moderate amounts of play. Blame Blightning.

Verdict: Light nerfing.

    Mind Shatter
             
Warp Artifact    

Warp Artifact

Most powerful alternative: There's not much to say about this that I didn't already say about Cursed Land in the commons article.

Except to say that the art depicts a tablet being stretched out, which according to the mechanics does not interfere with how the tablet functions, but does cause it to harm the user.

Hmmmmm.

Maybe the wizard has to put the tablet in his mouth to use it. Then it would make sense for the stretched version to cause pain.

Well in case you didn't read (or did read but didn't remember) my Commons article, I concluded that the nearest replacements for this effect in black were Curse of Thirst, Noxious Field, and Tormented Soul, depending on your criteria.

Verdict: Medium nerfing.

    Noxious Field
             
Word of Command    

Word of Command

People make fun of this art's lack of detail all the time.

How come nobody seems to make fun of its irrelevance? I know that the art direction wasn't as thorough back then, but are you telling me that Jesper Myrfors was given the title "Word of Command" and his mind landed on glowing eyes in a darkened cave? Or was this something he had already painted, and he just told Richard Garfield to find a place to use it?

Whatever the case, I am still waiting for a Magic card to depict what the rest of this crooked-eyed monster looks like. Or has it already been shown? I don't think I would recognize it.

Most powerful alternative: Sen Triplets? Mindclaw Shaman? Mindslaver? Muse Vessel? This is a tough one.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Sen Triplets

 

Rares: Red

Earthquake    

Earthquake

Most powerful alternative: Bonfire of the Damned can be better, but is inconsistent. Molten Disaster is more powerful but more expensive. Really there's never been a better card than the original, except Rolling Earthquake, which as a Portal 3 card is hardly an indicator of any relevant design philosophy.

(Side note: This is another great time to be playing online, where Rolling Earthquake costs only 14 cents versus paper's $120!)

Verdict: Light nerfing.

    Molten Disaster
             
Fork    

Fork

Most powerful alternative: Reverberate. Which is slightly stronger, because if you copy your opponent's Psionic Blast, it can't be stopped by a Circle of Protection: Red!

(If you're wondering what I'm talking about, Fork makes the copy red.)

Verdict: Zero power creep. (I know what I just said, but what if they have a Circle of Protection: Blue?)

    Reverberate
             
Mana Flare    

Mana Flare

Most powerful alternative: Nope, no longer.

For a while, it was colorshifted into green, with Heartbeat of Spring. Then it was turned into a creature, with Keeper of Progenitus. Now it's just stricken from the record.

WotC doesn't want us to make that leap from 3 to 8 mana.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Geosurge
             
Manabarbs    

Manabarbs

Most powerful alternative: We saw this as recently as Magic 2012. I'm calling that balanced by today's standards.

Verdict: Zero power creep.

    Manabarbs 
             
Power Surge     

Power Surge

In my opinion, having had time to reflect, MaRo was right that the game is better off without mana burn. But there were a few casualties, and this card is one of them. What used to be "players are damaged for each mana they don't use on their turn" turned into "tap a player's lands at the end of their turn." At least it still combos with the card right above it.

Most powerful alternative: Are we looking for a card that does what the original did? There are none. Impatience overlaps slightly.

If we're looking for a card that mimics the new-rules version... actually, there are still none. War's Toll is kind of close. City of Solitude and Dosan the Falling Leaf are a little closer, if we switch colors.

Verdict: Medium nerfing.

    City of Solitude 
             
Raging River    

Raging River

Most powerful alternative: Well there are no recent cards that have you physically place attacking creatures on either side of a card... but if we're looking for cards that force your opponent to make disadvantageous blocks, we have things like the provoke mechanic, the "must be blocked" mechanic, the ever-confusing Balduvian Warlord....

Invasion Plans would be the closest, if it weren't symmetrical.

Note how all of those cards are more than 2 mana, and most of them are fragile.

Verdict: Medium nerfing.

    Invasion Plans
             
Smoke    

Smoke

Most powerful alternative: There's only been one card in Magic's history to share the rules text of this double-red enchantment:

a GWU creature.

Go figure.

Verdict: Medium nerfing.

    Stoic Angel
             
Wheel of Fortune     

Wheel of Fortune

We are still patiently awaiting a card titled Jeopardy.

Nobody reasonably expects a Family Feud, The Price is Right, or Win Ben Stein's Money.

Most powerful alternative: Wheel of Fate if you're patient; Reforge the Soul if you're lucky.

Verdict: Medium nerfing.

    Wheel of Fate

 

Rares: Green

Aspect of Wolf    

Aspect of Wolf

Most powerful alternative: Did you know that there are currently 9 auras in green costing 2 mana that make a creature bigger... and Aspect of Wolf's increase is still the biggest??

Of course if we go just one mana higher, we can literally double the effect, so I'm still calling this one for power creep.

Verdict: Light power creep.

    Blanchwood Armor
             
Fastbond     

Fastbond

Most powerful alternative: It's probably Exploration, which was a long time ago, not capable of the same broken plays, and still overpowered by today's standards.

Manabond was trash in most decks but occasionally was put to use in something unusual, like those 40+ land decks. But that too was a long time ago.

These days all we're left with are things like Skyshroud Ranger and Terrain Generator.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Skyshroud Ranger
             
Kudzu     

Kudzu

Most powerful alternative: A Blight that goes back and forth killing both players' lands... and it's green?? What kind of an alternative could there possibly be for this?

How about Spreading Algae plus Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.

I don't know. Let's just say LD is now more expensive and less repeatable and move on.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Feast of Worms
             
Living Artifact     

Living Artifact

Most powerful alternative: Hey, I recognize a Sun Droplet when I see one.

It's less mana, but it only gains life half as quickly. (Or, in an 8-player game, 1/8 as quickly.)

Verdict: Medium power creep.

    Sun Droplet
             
Living Lands     

Living Lands

Most powerful alternative: Life and Limb.

You could use it to be the same card as Living Lands, or you could use it to make your saprolings into Llanowar Elves, or you could do both at once!

Verdict: Light power creep.

    Life and Limb
             
Natural Selection     

Natural Selection

Another flavor nightmare. "You know, natural selection. Like when a tiger-man with a hawk's head holds a tomato."

"Oh, yeah, I do know."

Most powerful alternative: If you switch colors, you could get this same effect with a slo-trip (see right).

You could upgrade it to a real cantrip if you limit its effect to your own library (that card being Ponder of course).

Verdict: Medium power creep (off-color).

Pro tip: When playing Shandalar, this card is how you ensure your Demonic Attorney is useful.

    Portent
             
Web     

Web

Most powerful alternative: Frog Tongue and Spider Umbra are usually better than Web.

Spider Climb is strictly better, and in two different ways.

Verdict: Medium power creep.

    Spider Climb

 

Rares: Artifacts

Ankh of Mishra    

Ankh of Mishra

Most powerful alternative: The only other card to come close to this is Zo-Zu the Punisher, who has three distinct disadvantages (its cmc, its color requirements, and its fragility).

Verdict: Medium nerfing.

    Zo-Zu the Punisher 
             
Black Lotus    

Black Lotus

Pssshhhh, like I would use this card! I have to sacrifice it? What's next—sacrificing my lands? Sacrificing my creatures? Kaervek's Spite?

Granted, it's nice to trigger your Urza's Miter, but all the Lotus accomplishes in this scenario is paying for the activation cost. All so you can draw a card! Maybe if I just didn't play with the junky Lotus in the first place I'd already have another card.

Most powerful alternative: Lotus Bloom or Lion's Eye Diamond, depending on your build.

Unlike all those blue cards, the five-mana version of this spell (Gilded Lotus) is functionally superior. I'm not sure what an exact reprint would cost. Probably four.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Lotus Bloom
             
Chaos Orb     

Chaos Orb

Most powerful alternative: ..............Violent Ultimatum I guess?

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Violent Ultimatum
             
Cyclopean Tomb     

Cyclopean Tomb

Most powerful alternative: I was tempted to say Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, but that makes lands into Swamps too. Cyclopean Tomb makes them into Swamps only. We're trying to limit the opponent's options, not increase them.

Quicksilver Fountain is pretty close.

Verdict: Light power creep.

    Quicksilver Fountain
             
Dingus Egg     

Dingus Egg

Most powerful alternative: In 20 years' worth of cards, this is literally the only one that causes land destruction to trigger damage. Please tell me if there's one that I missed. I tried a few different phrasings in my searches.

The only even vaguely similar card I could find was Pedantic Learning.

Verdict: ???  For all we know this will be printed in the next set at half the cost. Or double.

    Pedantic Learning
             
Disrupting Scepter    

Disrupting Scepter

Most powerful alternative: Another darling of the core set, from Alpha straight through ninth.

In the five core sets since then, the only repeatable discard was Liliana Vess.

The only comparable recent colorless card is Muse Vessel.

Off-color, Scepter of Fugue is a clear upgrade.

Verdict: Medium power creep (off-color).

    Scepter of Fugue
             
Forcefield     

Forcefield

Most powerful alternative: In all of Magic, this is the only card with the Oracle text "prevent all but 1."

The only thing I could find that was remotely similar is Vhati il-Dal.

But if we're looking for a three-mana artifact that prevents damage, Pearl Shard and Thunderstaff are our best options.

Verdict: Medium nerfing.

    Pearl Shard
             
Gauntlet of Might    

Gauntlet of Might

Most powerful alternative: Gauntlet of Power. Boom.

Verdict: Light nerfing.

    Gauntlet of Power
             
Helm of Chatzuk     

Helm of Chatzuk

Most powerful alternative: We never really got a chance to see power creep's effect on banding, because WotC discontinued it before it had a chance to grow.

The last card to grant banding was printed in Ice Age, a scant 2 years after Helm of Chatzuk, that being Baton of Morale. Although it has an advantage in being repeatable (don't forget that the Helm is a mono artifact), it's hard to imagine a situation in which you would need to use it more than once a turn anyway. And even if we did... we're already up to four mana! I'm calling it worse, if only by a little.

Verdict: Light nerfing.

    Baton of Morale
             
Howling Mine    

Howling Mine

Most powerful alternative: This has been a staple for a long time, and will likely resurface again.

The most recent version is Temple Bell—more mana, but better functionality, so I would call it a wash.

Verdict: No power creep.

    Temple Bell
             
Illusionary Mask    

Illusionary Mask

Hmmmm.

Most powerful alternative: If we're looking for a card that hides what your creatures are until just the right moment, this has always been the only option.

If you're looking for a card to replicate this card's unintentional, and only useful, ability (to sneak expensive creatures into play), we can look to places like Sneak Attack.

Of course we're trying to examine the effect of power creep on the game, and it would be unfair to say that Illusionary Mask represents WotC's honest belief that cheating creatures into play should cost 2 mana, since that was never part of the intended design.

The only thing we have to fairly compare this card to is the morph mechanic. And the only cards that hide what other creatures are, rather than merely concealing themselves, are things like Backslide and Weaver of Lies. So—

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Weaver of Lies
             
Jade Monolith    

Jade Monolith

Most powerful alternative: There have been a ton of similar cards, but most work in the opposite direction. General's Regalia, Pariah's Shield, and Nova Pentacle redirect from you to a creature.

Vassal's Duty is the only similar card, yet it has:

  1. a color requirement
  2. a large restriction on which creatures it can save
  3. a severe increase in the activation cost

Verdict: Severe nerfing. But why? Was the original broken? (Should I buy a playset? It was in ME4. I can't see a combo with it though. Nova Pentacle I could combo with Mogg Maniac. But this....)

    Vassal's Duty
             
Jayemdae Tome    

Jayemdae Tome

Most powerful alternative: WotC is constantly making variations on this theme.

  • Blue's Treasure Trove was repeatable.
  • Serum Tank was a strict upgrade in its block (but still didn't see much play thanks to Thirst for Knowledge).
  • Fool's Tome is better in a hellbent deck (but why would one of those want a Jayemdae Tome?).
  • Thran Tome was more mana for an effect that was probably meant to be better... but wasn't better....
  • Trigon of Thought does a good impression for a few turns, then it starts getting sloggy.

And many more! But the original is still relevant, as evidenced by its Magic 2013 appearance.

Verdict: Zero power creep. (Brian Weissman would be proud.)

    Jayemdae Tome
             
Kormus Bell    

Kormus Bell

Most powerful alternative: It's still the only card that turns swamps into creatures. Living Plane in Legends turns all lands into creatures. So does Life/Death from Apocalypse—for one turn.

But really if you want to animate lands you're best off sticking to forests. The color pie has spoken.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Life__Death.jpg
             
Mana Vault    

Mana Vault

Most powerful alternative: No way. If you want mana these days, you have to pay for it.

Up front. Not with a Voltaic Key.

Our best options come from Urza's block, in Grim Monolith and to a lesser extent Thran Dynamo. But that was from Urza's block! If we want a recent option, really the only choice is Gilded Lotus.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Gilded Lotus
             
Meekstone    

Meekstone

Most powerful alternative: This was good to go up through 7th edition (ensuring its existence online). After that, the ability shifted to white, as seen on as seen on Crackdown and Marble Titan. The latter was reprinted in 9th edition, and we haven't heard from the ability since. 

If Marble Titan were printed today, he would have vigilance.

Hey, maybe on a future mythic rare.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Marble Titan
             
Mox Jet    

the Moxen

Um, excuse me, but don't basic lands have the same ability, and aren't they already 0 mana to put onto the battlefield?

Moreover, we can fetch a basic land with Untamed Wilds! Not so with moxen.

They're nice to feed to an Atog, granted, but they also lie susceptible to Shatter, Arcane Laboratory, and most egregiously Nix. And they commit suicide at the sight of a Titania's Song.

I know that combining the concept of a land with an artifact seems like a great idea, but trust me, at no point in time could that ever work. Not even in a block based around artifacts.

Most powerful alternative: Mirage's Diamond cycle.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Charcoal Diamond
             
Nevinyrral's Disk    

Nevinyrral's Disk

I remember the trivia about the Larry Niven anagram... but I forget who that gentleman is and what his relationship is to Richard Garfield. Maybe his cousin? A playtester? A former professor?

Most powerful alternative: This ability has gotten more expensive AND moved to white. Twice: Magus of the Disk and Akroma's Vengeance.

Scourglass looks similar but doesn't destroy artifacts. Austere Command can only accomplish part of the ability.

Planar Cleansing is close, but also destroys Planeswalkers. Still, this is the most recent version, so it's the one most representative of the current mindframe.

Verdict: Medium nerfing. (Its increased mana requirements are offset by its surprise factor.)

    Planar Cleansing
             
Sunglasses of Urza    

Sunglasses of Urza

Alpha taught us so much about Urza's eyewear. But what accessories does Mishra wear?

Most powerful alternative: Celestial Dawn seems to be a strict upgrade. It's not even harder to cast, since anyone using the Sunglasses would need white mana available to begin with.

And (almost always) superior to either of those is Chromatic Lantern. It does nothing to boost your Marble Diamond, but....

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Chromatic Lantern
             
The Hive    

The Hive

Shouldn't it be called a hive?

Most powerful alternative: Our basic intuition tells us that this card is way overpriced, but did you know that not a single other artifact can repeatedly reproduce 1/1 flying creatures?

Hornet Cannon doesn't count, since the tokens die. You are using Hornet Cannon either as an overcosted Razortip Whip or an overcosted Horn of Deafening, not to amass an army. I'm getting off-topic.

Tetravus (and its many versions) make flying tokens, but a very finite number. It's not the same.

If we want to replicate this card, we have to go to black for Bitterblossom, or blue-white for Moorland Haunt. Those are the only options. Of course one of those options is extremely powerful.

Verdict: Severe power creep (off-color).

    Bitterblossom
             
Time Vault    

Time Vault

Most powerful alternative: This is another one of those broken-by-accident cards. In 2009, WotC restored the intended function (and reminded us of how bad Time Vault was supposed to be) by printing Magosi, the Waterveil.

Verdict: Severe nerfing. No Twiddles allowed.

Hey you could still use Rings of Brighthearth though.

    Magosi, the Waterveil
             
Winter Orb    

Winter Orb

Most powerful alternative: Rising Waters. Or Hokori, Dust Drinker. But either way you're paying 4 and you're no longer colorless.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Rising Waters
             
Badlands    

Dual Lands

Most powerful alternative: The number of alternatives to these cards is staggering. Which one is most powerful depends on your build. It would take about 10 minutes to find and type every single option. Just trust me that there are OPTIONS. But obviously none of them are as good as the originals.

Verdict: Medium nerfing.

    Blood Crypt

 

And that's the end of Alpha's noncreatures!

I did get one request last week to also write up all of Alpha's creatures that I skipped. Does anyone else think this is a good idea, or should I leave this series as it is?

8 Comments

Larry Niven is the author of by Kumagoro42 at Thu, 07/25/2013 - 12:15
Kumagoro42's picture
5

Larry Niven is the author of Ringworld. Maybe the author of Discworld would have been a more relevant choice, but I guess "Ttehctarpyrret's Disk" was a bit too much.

How is a clerical bell that floats in the sky able to turn swamps into 1/1 guys? And what do those swamp-guys look like? Like Swamp Thing? But he's clearly green. (Not that the actual real-life swamps aren't essentially green too. The idea of swamp = evil has always struck me as very cartoonish. And since when necromancers, vampires and zombies dwell in swamps, anyway?)

Also, they somehow thought that a volcanic eruption DESTROYS the volcano. And it's somehow fueled by the forces of air and water. (Maybe this even makes some scientific sense, but it shouldn't for guys who think swamp = evil).

Do the creature list as a tongue-in-cheek article, please!

Disk by OdinFK at Thu, 07/25/2013 - 15:54
OdinFK's picture

Nice play on words, but the inspiration of Nevinyrral's Disk actually comes from one of Niven's stories. The idea is a disk, that is enchanted by two spells. One makes it rotate ever faster, the other keeps the disk in one piece. In Niven's world mana is a finite ressource and taken from the environment. The disk thus consumes all the mana it has access to and destroys all kinds of enchantments, that rely on mana.

No, I knew that. I was just by Kumagoro42 at Thu, 07/25/2013 - 20:02
Kumagoro42's picture

No, I knew that. I was just making a joke about naming a disc after someone who's famous for a ring. Niven's story is actually called The Magic Goes Away, which is really perfect to allude to for the card.

While we're at it, speaking of that link you provided about how they created a bunch of cards at the last minute only because there was unused art, that speaks volumes on the quality control of Alpha. But the best proof is just something like Ancestral Recall. That's the best evidence of the fact that Garfield and co. didn't playtest much, if at all. If they did, they would know that replacing a card with 3 cards can't be done for a negligible amount of mana. It's like allowing for a wish to wish for 3 more wishes. It beats me how he didn't realize that (further proof: he also thought having whatever number of the same card in you deck was okay).

But really, Garfield is a genius and all, he had one of the greatest ideas in the last 20 years of gaming, but developing wasn't his strong suit. I wonder how much he played Magic before the first few sets were released (remember the anecdote: Magic wasn't even his main project, it was sort of another thing that he had and wasn't sure about, and brought out only because the other ideas were rejected).

Bottom line: insisting on playing with Alpha cards is like using the very first version of a software, incomplete and chock full of bugs that make it almost unusable, only because that's the original one and you remember the sweet time when you were young and it came out.
I bet new players that start playing now and never saw early era cards before, if they look at them, they can't believe they were for real, both the good and the bad ones. "Did you seriously used this stuff? Were you on crack and then you got on rehab?" "He, some of us will never be able to clean ourselves up from Alpha."

Re: No, I knew that by OdinFK at Fri, 07/26/2013 - 01:21
OdinFK's picture

I hate to smartass you (okay, whom am I kidding, most MTG players like to know it best), but apparently Richard Garfield knew very well, that cards like Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall were overpowered. And he did in fact playtest the game for about two years. The reason that these cards exist is that they anticipated each player to only have a few hundred cards maximum. If one player in your group had one Ancestral Recall then, and drew him once every other game, that was just cool. Nobody expected that people would buy boxes and boxes, and try to build decks consisting only of Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, and one Fireball or something.

If you want evidence to critisize the playtesting on, you maybe should point to the fact, that Sol Ring, Black Vise, and Channel were only Uncommons. Especially Sol Ring is way too strong, but also Black Vise was a card, that people lost tons of games to, because nobody had any idea how to build there deck right. Deck building principles were about as elaborate as 20 lands, 20 creatures, and 20 spells should be about right.

And MtG was very much Richard's main project at the time. It was not the original reason why he sought cooperation with Wizards --that was Robo Rally-- but when it was clear, that Magic was his project, he spent lots of time on it.

I'm sorry, before by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 07/26/2013 - 08:59
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Before counter-smartassing you: do you happen to have some insider knowledge of how things went down at the time? Just to know. I'm not being sarcastic, I swear. :)

Also: is your sincere opinion that they did a pretty good job in playtesting Alphas? Or in predicting patterns of card distribution that were already known at the time — Magic is the first card trading/collecting GAME, certainly not the first card trading/collecting series.

re by OdinFK at Fri, 07/26/2013 - 17:46
OdinFK's picture

No, I don't have insider knowledge. But I think I have read about all there is to read about the history of the game. Articles from MaRo, Richard Garfield, Peter Adkison, etc. Duelists from back then, dailymtg articles and so forth. To be honest, there is not even that much to read about the prehistory of the game. If you want to read about that yourself you might want to start in the Wikipedia. About two years was the time Richard Garfield spent developing MtG according to all sources I would know of.

And --call me fanboy-- I firmly believe Richard and his playtest group did an incredible job of playtesting Magic back then. I don't mean the early expansions, just the original Limited Edition. If you want to judge their playtesting you have to take into account that Magic was not just a new game. The concept of a Trading Card Game was exploring a completely virgin design space. For everything we take for granted now, Richard had to think of a way how to do it best. Minimum deck size, starting hand size, turn structure, one land drop per turn, number of cards in the game, use of rarities, really everything. Now imagine playtesting that. On which basis do you evaluate if your design decisions are correct?

Another thing that you have take into account is, that nobody dreamed of Magic ever being as popular as it was already a year after its launch. For effective playtesting it is important to know, what your audience is, and here they erred by being to cautious. They thought people would buy a starter and a handful of Boosters and that was it. Again, try to imagine the difference from how we experience Magic today. Back then the following actually happened frequently: You played with friends, and somebody had brought a few friends of his, who also played this Magic game. Now these friends bring their cards of course. You play with them, and one of them randomly has a Time Walk. Your reaction today might be, "oh, gosh, now I lose to that overpowered card again". In fact the reaction back then would have been completely different. Your reaction back then would have been "wow, what is this thing? I have never seen it before, but this is amazing. By the way would you trade it? No, sigh, I wouldn't trade it either. That is so cool". This is the environment, that Richard Garfield was designing and playtesting for. If he hadn't done his job of playtesting Magic so incredibly well back then, Magic would never have taken off.

Sure, a few of the Alpha/Beta cards are way more powerful than others, but most people were aware of that. Why is Ancestral Recall a rare card when all the other boons are common? Obviously they knew that one card in the cycle was too strong, but they loved the symmetry of the cycle. So instead of cutting Ancestral Recall from the game they made it a Rare card. People would only be very infrequently exposed to the card and it would not warp the playing experience. I cannot fault them for not expecting, that Magic became so popular that many people eventually would spend more money on Magic than on their car.

Anyway, your opinion of how good their playtesting was is as good as mine. I just don't think it is right to say "there are a bunch of broken cards in Alpha -> their playtesting was crap".

I used Sleight of Mind regularly by Rerepete at Thu, 07/25/2013 - 21:50
Rerepete's picture

What other way to nerf all those color hosers and CoPs...I sleight your Crusade, now its pumping my blue creatures instead....Lots of fun (right along with Stasis)

This is nice. I like the idea by LindsayKelly at Sat, 07/27/2013 - 20:37
LindsayKelly's picture

This is nice. I like the idea on this. Keep it up. - KSA Kosher