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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Jan 07 2014 12:12pm
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I've done this concept with Alpha through Antiquities.  How do the designs of an old set measure up against today's standards?

Legends had a whopping 310 cards—over triple that of Arabian Nights or Antiquities!  The fact that it is so large is going to change the way I review it.  I don't think anybody wants this to be a seven-part series (myself included), so instead of examining every single card, I'm going to just look at some highlights.  Anyway, what could I possibly say about the current equivalent of a card like Equinox?  Or Divine Intervention?

White

Clergy of the Holy Nimbus    

Clergy of the Holy Nimbus

What's supposed to be weird about this picture is that it's night in one window and day in the other.  But what's actually weird is the arrangement of the stars in the night window.  Why are they more dense on top?  And why are there so many of them?  It looks more like falling confetti than stars.

Modern equivalent: This particular ability hasn't been revisited much, other than the rhystic regenerators in Masques block (like Glittering Lynx) and the reference to this card in Time Spiral (that being Knight of the Holy Nimbus).   And both of those are pretty old.

But if we look at the allowable power level of white one-drops in the last few blocks, Champion of the Parish tells a bit of a tale.

Verdict: Medium power creep

    Champion of the Parish
             
Great Defender    

Great Defender

Yeah, real great defender you got there.  A merfolk.

When this came out, the biggest merfolk in print was a 1/1.  (And before you bring up Lord of Atlantis, he was a "Summon Lord of Atlantis" at the time.  He didn't become a Merfolk until many years later.)

Modern equivalent: This actually isn't so dissimilar to cards like Shielded Passage, Stave Off, Pay No Heed, or Gods Willing.  Weaker, but along the same lines.

Verdict: Medium power creep (even with the possibility of Inside Out combos removed)

    Shielded Passage
             
Heaven's Gate    

Heaven's Gate

Now that is a high-angle shot!  Heaven not only has big gates but tall camera cranes.

Modern equivalent: Instead of changing the color of one card type on the battlefield one turn, how about all the types in all zones for all turns?  I bring you Painter's Servant.

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Painter's Servant
             
Holy Day    

Holy Day

Alpha made Fog green.  Legends made it white AND black (see Darkness).  That is a gutsy color pie experiment.  Could you imagine if the next set had a 1U Lightning Strike?  And also a 1W one?

Modern equivalent: Holy Day was reprinted in Tenth Edition.  Angelsong was in Shards of Alara. But in the years since those, all the fog effects have been green.

Verdict: On-again, off-again colorshifting.

    Fog
             
Indestructible Aura    

Indestructible Aura

"Okay Mark Poole, just say the first thing that pops into your head.  Indestructible Aura."

"Bird head on a merfolk body flashing the heavy metal sign."

"Interesting.  Uh, Natural Selection."

"Bird head on a tiger body holding a tomato and a rope."

"...Soldier token?"

"Bird head on Godzilla's body with Sherlock Holmes' hat and he's tossing pizzas while also kicking a hackey sack."

"Hired!  Welcome to Wizards of the Coast."

Modern equivalent: I mean... this is just Great Defender again.  Why'd they have both in the same set?  Legends probably could have been 309 cards.

Verdict: Light power creep.

    Gods_Willing.jpg
             
Land_Tax.jpg    

Land Tax

Look at that face.  And then look at the purple fuzzy pimp hat.  One of these does not belong!

Modern equivalent: Now here's a card they made way too strong up front.  First it was weakened into Tithe, then Gift of Estates, and then Safewright Quest (barf).

Knight of the White Orchid is a great card but in a very different way, despite having some surface similarities.  We can't even consider him since he doesn't increase your hand size by 9 cards over 3 turns, and he does next to nothing with a Scroll Rack or Seismic Assault.

Verdict: Severe nerfing.

    Gift of Estates
             
Spirit Link    

Spirit Link

Yep, she cast spirit link on a bat.

The only bat at the time was Vampire Bats.  What a waste!  Save it for the Akron Legionnaire, man.

Modern equivalent: This was reprinted through Tenth Edition exactly, and then with a seemingly minor (but actually quite significant) change as Lifelink through Magic 2012.

For you see, Lifelink cannot be used to halt an opponent's attacker.

Verdict: Medium nerfing.

    Lifelink
             
Visions    

Visions

Given the art, it would appear that some planeswalker brought this spell all the way from Kamigawa to Dominaria.  That's a lot of work for such a weak effect.  That must have added like 8 loyalty counters.

Modern equivalent: The obvious reaction is "today this would be blue," but there are some other reactions you might have when more carefully considering this card:

Visions does none of these!

Verdict: Medium power creep (off-color).

    Ponder
             
Alabaster Potion    

Alabaster Potion

When I was a kid I thought the white blobby shape was the bottle holding the potion.  And it was sculpted out of stone or something.  Only now do I realize it's wisps of smoke coming from a cauldron below.

Modern equivalent: No other card has done quite what this does, excepting the Invasion-block Atalya, Samite MasterRecuperate was an improvement but was way back in Scourge.

Today, life gain and damage prevention are two different cards' worth of effects.  You cast Shielded Passage OR Angel's Mercy.  Not both.  Although it is worth pointing out that both of those are markedly stronger than Alabaster Potion—even after factoring in the decrease in utility.

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Angel's Mercy
             
Osai Vultures    

Osai Vultures

You might guess this to be the first ever Magic card to depict guts, but there was actually an earlier one. Scroll to the bottom to see the answer.

Modern equivalent: Looking at the 1W fliers from the last two years alone we see Aven Squire, Cavalry Pegasus, and Concordia Pegasus, all better than Osai Vultures in most cases.

Verdict: Medium power creep.

    Aven Squire
             
Shield Wall    

Shield Wall

Every person in this army was given a different shield design and a different kind of helmet.

Modern equivalent: There are three cards to compare this to in the past two years.  Glorious Charge is the same mana but a different boost.  Fortify is one more mana but more versatile.  Dauntless Onslaught is also more mana but a bigger effect but a narrower range.

None are strictly superior but I'd pick any one of them higher in a draft.

Verdict: Medium power creep.

    Fortify
             
D'Avenant Archer    

D'Avenant Archer

The sex change operation was a success.

Basically.

Modern equivalent: Crossbow Infantry was a nice improvement, as all drafters know, but we haven't seen it since 9th edition.  D'Avenant Healer and Quilled Sliver were the 2006 versions.  Would you believe we haven't really had any others in the last seven years?  Although if we did I'm sure they would still be stronger than the original.

Verdict: Medium power creep.

    Crossbow Infantry
             
Great Wall    

Great Wall

"Great Wall" has the same flavor problem that "Great Defender" had.  (The accuracy of the card name.)

Modern equivalent: "Has Cotton lost his mind? " ask hundreds of readers.  "Journey to Nowhere?  We're trying to remove plainswalking from everybody, not remove one single creature."

Ah, but when this came out, there only was one single creature with plainswalk: Righteous Avengers.  So... I'm counting it.

Verdict: Severe power creep (basically).

    Journey to Nowhere
             
Keepers of the Faith    

Keepers of the Faith

The name says they keep the faith.  The flavor text says they keep a sword.  The art says they keep a floating box!

Modern equivalent: In the 20 years since (Hurloon Minotaur), there have been a total of 11 vanilla 2/3s for 3.  They're been in every color except green (which has one for two mana).  The most recent was Theros' (Fellhide Minotaur), in black.

What can 1WW get us these days? Fabled Hero, Fiendslayer Paladin, Silverblade Paladin....

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Fabled_Hero.jpg
             
Thunder Spirit    

Thunder Spirit

This art was submitted for a card called Lightning Spirit.

Modern equivalent: Innistrad block had the remarkably similar Voiceless Spirit. There's also Sunspire Griffin. Most decks would prefer Wingsteed Rider.

Verdict: Light power creep.

     Wingsteed_Rider.jpg
             
Angelic Voices    

Angelic Voices

One angel, multiple voices.

Modern equivalent: Of course Glorious Anthem is a mana cheaper and with fewer restrictions.  Honor of the Pure is cheaper still but doesn't help your artifact creatures.

Verdict: Medium power creep.

    Honor of the Pure
             
Divine Transformation    

Divine Transformation

Before Serra Angel became divine, she was a 1/1 with flying and vigilance.  She was a Skyshroud Falcon.

Modern equivalent: We can do a biiiit better with auras these days.  Armored Ascension is a huge step up for the white deck.  Daybreak Coronet for the hexproof auras deck.

Verdict: Medium power creep.

    Armored Ascension
             
Moat    

Moat

Shoulda painted this with the drawbridge up.

Modern equivalent: If you want to stop creatures from attacking today, it'll cost you nine mana (see Blazing Archon.

I was ready to call this for "severe nerfing" until I realized that Time Spiral gave us this effect on an 0/3.  It's still a downgrade, due to its vulnerability, but not as much of one as I expected.

Verdict: Medium nerfing.

    Magus of the Moat
             
Rapid Fire    

Equinox

Does swinging your sword faster allow you to smash through someone else's sword?  I don't know, but it's not as unlikely as you might think.  Back when I was in school my science teacher shoved a plastic straw into a raw potato just by thrusting it quickly.

Modern equivalent: Now this card is just embarrassing.  Giving it first strike and rampage 2 isn't all too different from giving it first strike and rampage 0.  And the fact that you have to cast it before blockers are declared ruins any surprise factor advantage you could have gotten!

Look at how incredibly superior cards like Seize the Initiative, Swift Justice, and Zealous Strike are.  And those are still draft-only cards.

And the weird thing is that those are actually a little weaker than what we had ten years ago!  We used to get this effect with a cantrip, like Guided Strike.

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Swift Justice
             
Spiritual Sanctuary    

Spiritual Sanctuary

Was the weakness of this card meant to satirize religion?  Before you dismiss my idea, reflect upon the weakness of Keepers of the Faith as well.

Modern equivalent: Instead of paying 2WW up front to gain one life every turn (while possibly helping your opponent to do the same), let's just cut it in half.

Verdict: Medium power creep.

    Ajani's Mantra
             
Petra Sphinx    

Petra Sphinx

I know what walks on three legs in the evening.  This card!  Look at the artwork! 

Modern equivalent: There are a lot of good white creatures costing 5 mana.  There's Ethereal Champion, Abbey Gargoyles, Hazduhr the Abbot.... 

Verdict: Severe power creep,

    Baneslayer Angel
             
Ivory Guardians    

Ivory Guardians

"Some say their actions are above the law."  Shouldn't Ivory Guardians have protection from white, then?

Modern equivalent: Look out!  He can become a 4/4!

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Sun Titan
             
Elder Land Wurm    

Elder Land Wurm

Loooove the artwork.  Never understood what that large blade on the right is supposed to be though.

Modern equivalent: After studying a few old sets, I've realized that no category of cards more consistently gets severe power creep than expensive creatures.  This card and the next one will illustrate what I mean pretty clearly.

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Angel of Serenity
             
Akron Legionnaire    

Akron Legionnaire

It's another Mark Poole painting.  So you all know what that means about what's hiding under his helmet.

Modern equivalent: Well....

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Avacyn, Angel of Hope

 

Blue

Enchantment
            Alteration    

Enchantment Alteration

Stealing those wings was more practical, I admit, but stealing the sunglasses would have been a lot cooler.

Modern equivalent: Aura Finesse is slightly less versatile but more than makes up for it with the cantrip.

We miss the ability to move an opponent's Pacifism onto their own guy, of course.

Verdict: Light power creep.

    Aura Finesse
             
Force Spike    

Force Spike

Force Spiked-Ball, they mean.

Modern equivalent: Stymied Hopes is possibly an improvement.  Or should I just compare this to Mana Leak?

Verdict: Light power creep.

    Stymied_Hopes.jpg
             
Boomerang    

Boomerang

"Fetch him back here.  Legs first!"

Modern equivalent: We still have this effect all the time.  Except for the important difference that we don't want you bouncing your opponent's lands anymore.

Blame Stone Rain, Magnivore, Annex, and Wildfire.

Verdict: Medium nerfing.

    Disperse
             
Flash Counter    

Flash Counter

This art was submitted for a card... called...

Marble Madness.

Modern equivalent: Chop the mana in half!   Dispel.

Verdict: Light power creep.  But don't think all counterspells are going to suffer that fate, because the next card is....

    Dispel
             
Mana Drain    

...Mana Drain!

"He's about to cast something—toss over the Homarid baby."

Modern equivalent: We remain in the Cancel era, as M14 proves.  Even if Theros does have the slightly upgraded Dissolve, we are still a ways worse than Mana Drain.

Verdict: Severe nerfing

    Dissolve.jpg
             
Remove Soul    

Remove Soul

This is about as close as Magic comes to nudity.  OK there was that one Elvish Ranger picture.

Modern equivalent: They actually nailed this 100% on the first try.  (A true rarity in these old sets.)

Verdict: Zero power creep.

    Essence Scatter 
             
Spectral Cloak    

Spectral Cloak

"Enchanted creature gains flying and leaves a trail of fire behind it."  Close enough.

Modern equivalent: We can give you this same effect for less mana AND remove the drawback.

There are also a couple of two-mana versions with flash.

Verdict: Medium power creep.

    Robe of Mirrors
             
Venarian
            Gold    

Venarian Gold

The art makes it look like you can't put gold on the guy until he's already asleep?

Modern equivalent: (pumps in 6 mana) "Now he can't untap for 4 whole turns!!"

(is put in a time machine and shown Claustrophobia)

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Claustrophobia
             
Zephyr Falcon    

Zephyr Falcon

Falcons were sure a well defined tribe back then.  There are three different ones with the exact same stats and abilities!

Modern equivalent: Not only does blue get better cards than this now, every color does.  Hovermyr!

I've put him in a Savor the Moment deck.  Pretty sweet.

Or you could just swap the vigilance for a better ability, like Metropolis Sprite or Mindshrieker.  Either way—

Verdict: —Light power creep.

    Hovermyr
             
Devouring
            Deep    

Devouring Deep

What exactly did this devour?  A Mons's Goblin Raiders?

Modern equivalent: Even in 1994, we already had Serendib Efreet in the 3-drop slot.  If you want to stick with islandwalk specifically, Thada Adel, Acquisitor is a huge improvement.

If you just want a guy with evasion, True-Name Nemesis is leagues ahead of both.

Verdict: Severe power creep.

   
             
Teleport    

Teleport

More overcosted evasion!

Modern equivalent: Artful Dodge is a single mana and is reusable.  Distortion Strike does that with a +1/+0 bonus.

Or just look at all of the improvements on Aqueous Form.

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Aqueous_Form.jpg
             
Azure Drake    

Azure Drake

Azure is a real word, meaning blue.  In a sense, there are a lot of azure drakes in Magic.

Modern equivalent: We still get these stats as a common every once in a while for the sake of drafting (most recently in Magic 2011).  But we also get Argent Sphinx, Dungeon Geists, and Sower of Temptation so....

Verdict: Medium power creep.

    Sower of Temptation
             
Wall of Vapor    

Wall of Vapor

We were still a long ways off from the indestructible keyword.  And learning how to balance it.

Modern equivalent: Fog Bank is 1U and can also block fliers.

Darksteel Myr is less mana, colorless, and way more durable.

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Fog Bank
             
Segovian
            Leviathan    

Segovian Leviathan

Look at how much bigger this guy is than a whale.  How is he not a 10/10!

Modern equivalent: As illustrated above, (True-Name Nemesis) is a bonkers upgrade to creatures like this.  But we do still get Inkfathom Divers sometimes.

Verdict: Severe power creep.

   
             
Elder Spawn    

Elder Spawn

It's an expensive creature, so you know what that means.

Modern equivalent: Goliath Sphinx and Quicksilver Gargantuan are some of the bigger blue creatures at 7 mana.  They can be blocked by red creatures, I admit, but....

Verdict: Severe power creep.

    Goliath Sphinx

 

The answer to the Osai Vultures trivia question: Alpha's Living Wall.