Do You REMEMBER What The Old Sets Were Like?

Onslaught is what Fallen Empires was not: A set about creature types. But Onslaught is good, whereas Fallen Empires was woefully inadequate. I have a deck stock binder where I place rares in the binder that I use and play with, and are not for trade – and I have seven spots devoted to Ice Age cards. That’s one-half of a page dedicated to an expansion similar in size to Odyssey and Onslaught – and five of those slots are painlands!

I know that I am about to commit that most cardinal of sins available to Magic players. Please forgive me. I am aware that you are seething with anger. With scorn. With disdain.

I seek absolution.

You see, Magic has changed. A new set is out, and voices have risen from the ashes. Players lament the cards of yesteryear with an overly fond eye. Mistakes of R&D will be amplified by the masses until you would think a newborn babe could do no worse.

Ah yes; the Lament of the Magic Player. Cards were better, ideas were better, art was better, sleeves were better… Long ago. The Lamentations continue.

Odyssey has 350 cards, but what do people talk about? Wild Mongrel is broken. Psychatog is too good. Upheaval breaks Magic in half. Roar of the Wurm has an inappropriate flashback cost.

346 other cards, and all we can manage is to gripe about four cards.

So I’ve been playing since The Early Days of Magic- and you want to know something about those days of yore? Those days that are continually recounted with a blissful stare into depths unknown?

Those days sucked.

For every lousy card recently published, I can name five cards just as worse from olden times. Onslaught is what Fallen Empires was not: A set about creature types. But Onslaught is good, whereas Fallen Empires was woefully inadequate.

I have a deck stock binder. I place rares in the binder that I use and play with, and are not for trade. I have four pages, from and back, of rares for Onslaught. Three for Odyssey.

I have seven spots devoted to Ice Age cards. That’s one-half of a page dedicated to an expansion similar in size to Odyssey and Onslaught – and five of those slots are painlands!

Ask a player what his favorites sets are and he will most often think of sets with the most broken cards. Tempest with its Cursed Scroll, Tradewind Rider, and Intuition. Legacy with its Grim Monolith, Memory Jar, and Phyrexian Plaguelord. Apocalypse with Vindicate, Spiritmonger, and Pernicious Deed.

Our default is glamorizing the past. It is who we are. It is the very essence of our humanity, and that is why this article will rile the masses. I am speaking against that most primal of forces.

I am speaking out. For R&D.

The Past

Cards and sets printed before there was an R&D cannot be rightfully criticized. Sure, lots of clunkers crawled out from somebody’s cluttered chest of ideas and saw the light of day. Still, we can hardy blame R&D for cards like Infinite Authority. Nothing like wasting a really good name on a really lousy card.

So we move onwards and forwards. Past the last sets of the throwback era. Past Homelands and Mirage. To Tempest, the first Magic set of the modern era.

You know, that same Tempest which was so lightning fast in constructed play, in draft, even in sealed? That Tempest. And we add Stronghold and Exodus to the mix. Lots of problem cards there. The Rath Cycle block, as a whole, was a mistake. Slow things down, add some more sweepers for creatures; heck toss in Tremor and Sandstorm! Do something to combat fast little shadow guys! But no. Despite success with Slivers and Spikes and Walls, the Tempest Block was a mistake.

And if the Rath Cycle was littered with good intentions, Urza’s Block was littered with cards that simply made people scratch their head. Did R&D even test Tolarian Academy? Stroke of Genius? Memory Jar? Were these cards added last minute by a disgruntled employee who had just received a pink slip and was told to clean out his desk? After having just printed Tolarian Academy, did they just think the Magic Playing Public would skip past Crop Rotation, Frantic Search, and Time Spiral? Morphling? Masticore? Were these people sane?

Urza’s Block is a dark blot upon Magic’s history. Let us not forget our shame.

And then R&D followed with a major overcompensation. Tempest block was fast, and Urza’s block was stupidly fast, so Masques was sssslllllooooowwwww. No, slower than you might think. Tempest was Hip Hop, Urza’s was Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Masque block was two old men in the backyard porch on a wooden swing, reminiscing about girls from World War II.

Yeah, there were power cards in Masques… But Rishadan Port and Lin Sivvi don’t hold a candle to an Academy. Masticore eats up Blastoderms and Morphling can crush Avatars.

Let’s not also forget the basic set during these days. Fifth Edition was so bad that the cards imported from Homelands looked good in comparison.

These are the Times and Trials of Magic. And yea, though we struggled through the darkness, verily I say unto thee. The light would come and darkness banished under the dawn.

The Present

And what was waiting around the corner? Redemption! The Invasion block restored our faith in Magic. While the occasional naysayer condemned us to damnation, zounds of the Magic flock resurfaced.

Kicker was a wonderful idea that was hard to abuse. The new and exciting ways of playing Magic continued throughout the block. Invasion gave us a new way to look at the game. No more hum-ho Magic Sets.

Odyssey block gave us more of the same. Flashback, Threshold and Madness each gave the player a new thing to consider. Discarding became a benefit, as years of carefully constructed "Card Advantage" theory were washed away.

And the graveyard? I remember articles in Scrye just before Weatherlight came out; it was touted as a new set that would forever change the way we use our graveyards… But it didn’t. Post-Odyssey Block, however, we will never look at the graveyard the same.

With a variety of ways added to win the game, from Coalition Victory to Epic Struggle. We now have new ways of accomplishing an old task. Poison Counters have made way for even more unusual ways of winning.

And Judgment only gave us five little cards – all of them rare. And yet sideboards were transformed into a different resource. Now, it mattered in the first game what was in your sideboard, as you could Wish yourself one of those cards.

And Onslaught? Creature-type oriented mechanics have been big since the beginning of Magic. To create an entire set of cards similar to the ones used by Mark Rosewater in an old Duelist Invitational? That was masterful. And again, we see things differently.

And morph was a brilliant mechanic to add to the game. While it’s not as complex as you first thought, it has becoming a defining characteristic of a new generation.

Creature types, discarding, the graveyard, the sideboard, winning the game. We have come so far in just eight sets.

The Future

Have you seen some of the cards from Legions? With card names harkening back to Legends, these cards look tremendous. Several new abilities await and virgin wood is within our grasp. Slivers have returned. And again, we are looking at a set that changes the rules.

Why do I love R&D? That is not the right question. This is:

How could you not love R&D?

We have gone from fiasco to fantastic. They are willing to push the envelope, willing to think and rethink mechanics. Willing to think about their creations. They have the ability to change the environment in each block – so much that we have to constantly re-evaluate good and bad.

If Book Burning has been printed in Mirage or Masques, it would have been touted as sheer crap. Correctly so, as well. Yet we have all seen it played, even in Limited formats. There is no stagnation here, no dilapidation of the ages.

When you think of an R&D, what qualities do you want? Inventiveness and creativity? An ability to learn from the past? A desire to try new things? Dedication to the job?

Magic has gone from flop to first. How can you criticize that?

I honestly look forward to each new set with glee. Such glee that I feel like my childhood has been renewed and Christmas comes again. What more could I ask from a simple game?

Until later,

Abe Sargent