There is a scene at the end of The Return of the King – I’m thinking of the Hollywood interpretation here, so forgive me, purists – wherein, having saved the known world from the menace of Sauron, several of the major characters take to an Elvish ship to begin a voyage to the Undying Lands.
The characters whom they are leaving behind, choked with emotion, wave them off from the jetty; and we understand, misty-eyed ourselves, that those ships can never return. This is not a voyage, but a metaphor for death. Our valiant friends are gone, destined to live on only in our sunlit memories.
I don’t want to diminish the emotional punch of this image, but… it’s pretty much how I feel about rotations in Magic.
I have been… and always shall be… your friend
When (like me) a player tends to adopt pet cards, it can be gut-wrenching to wave them goodbye.
Even when a card is nominally legal in eternal formats, its power level can be such that no realistic chance of successful migration exists. I like to play unusual decks, but not to the extent that I will register something completely unable to compete: I have learned to accept that the hits of standard past will not always find a good home in Modern (and Extended before it).
The last hope that I’ll be able to relive the glory days with some of my old cardboard companions lies down the narrowest of paths: the route to reprinting in a standard-legal set. In some cases, the likelihood is smaller than in others – but on the off-chance that Wizards of the Coast decides they are prepared to indulge my personal nostalgia, I’m going to lay out my top-8 candidate list below, shut my eyes and cross my fingers.
As Susie (of Calvin and Hobbes) once famously said, as long as I’m dreaming, I might as well have a pony.
#8 – Blazing Specter
This card is a source of constant frustration for me, because it’s eminently reprintable. Each time we’ve visited Ravnica, I have watched the Rakdos spoilers on tenterhooks… but each time, I’m left forlorn.
An additional reason exists for my frustration. If I wanted to, I could play this card in precisely the same environment in which I discovered it: Kitchen Table magic. But, thanks to my awareness of the format system, I can never again happily compete in environments without reasonable shared boundaries.
We had some good times, though. The Ol’ Blazer here was a great mid-game top-deck in every black/red pile I built for years, coinciding with a rich period of deploying resource-denial which Chrome Mox and Stone Rain had lured me into. I can still hear the frustrated grunts of my opponents as their sandbagged, bomb-creatures unexpectedly hit the bin time after time.
Unlike many of the cards from that era in my card-slinging career, I feel that Blazing Specter remains a respectable play in potential Standard landscapes of the future. It’s not overpowered, but it’s solid enough to find a home with anyone who likes their card advantage quick, dirty and unexpected.
#7 – Vindicate
A victim of the contemporary policy which forbids land destruction cards being printed at 3 mana, Vindicate is the iconic utility card.
I’ve used it frequently in cube to eliminate pesky monsters, stop degenerate Academy Ruins loops and un-pacify my game-dominating win conditions. It feels great.
Some may point me toward Maelstrom Pulse, but to those people I say: sometimes it’s good to murder the opponent’s real estate. Land death may be considered un-fun by many, but losing to Urzatron, Karn – or a great big meaty man-land – is pretty un-fun too.
Is it too much to ask, that one of the great swiss-army-knives in the game’s history be given another roll of the dice?
#6 – Everflowing Chalice
The perfect mana-rock, Everflowing Chalice holds a special place in my heart due to its interaction with Proliferate, a mechanic slated to return by Wizards at some unspecified future date.
With a counter-bearing chalice in play, repeatable proliferate effects quickly spiral into an abundance of colourless mana, which in turn allows the resolution of large, colourless planeswalkers* and ridiculous X-spells.
Of course, the chalice doesn’t need such shenanigans to be good. At 2 mana, it is the picture of efficient acceleration. At 4 mana, it catapults the board position forward and provides something useful to do when conventional 4-drops are posted missing.
The problem, of course, is that this card cannot return without the general reappearance of Multikicker. I don’t know how likely Wizards is to resurrect the mechanic, but I think the chances are slim that it will ever share the standard environment with Proliferate again, thereby limiting the potential fun to be had.
Still, this is one of the more realistic cards on my list. Here’s hoping…
* Yes, in the last entry I condemned Karn as un-fun. Yes, I’m now touting him as a great thing to do with a lot of mana. Yes, I’m a hypocrite. Move along.
#5 – Wildfire
If the last card on my list ever makes it back, I expect it will end up hanging around on street corners with its dangerous older friend, Wildfire.
When it’s good, Wildfire is literally the most powerful thing you can imagine doing in a Standard Format. Ramping to 6 has been fashionable in recent years, when Titans bestrode the landscape, so we know that it’s a readily achievable threshold – but Wildfire is an even better payoff, if you ask me.
If I throw down an Inferno Titan against an aggressive deck, it’s a favourite to dominate their strategy… unless they have a removal spell, or a couple of burn spells, in which case, I may find myself staring down my likely demise at the hands of several small men.
The great thing about Wildfire is that Doom Blade can’t undo all my good work. In fact, short of a counterspell, I’m going to absolutely ruin the board position of my opponent whilst simultaneously removing their ability to cast spells in a meaningful manner. While they scrabble around to find lands, I’ll typically be recovering at pace with the help of artifact mana, or racing ahead thanks to a Planeswalker I already had in play before the apocalypse arrived.
I’ve tried to make Wildfire work in Modern, with mixed results. My instinct is that, at 6 mana, it’s a natural apex predator for standard; but like Tyrannosaurus Rex, it will inevitably die out in more evolved formats.
Still, the dream of blowing up the world is one I’m not quite ready to let go of yet.
#4 – Rude Awakening
To explain why I love this card so much, I need to tell a story.
Back in Mirrodin/Kamigawa standard, I was getting back into the game and playing in tournaments regularly for the first time. Affinity was the boogeyman and I hated it, like many others.
At one particular FNM I found myself back-to-the-wall, at low life, facing down a tapped, post-combat Ravager wearing a Cranial Plating, accompanied by about three tapped artifact lands. I had stalled my way through the game, blocking earlier creatures with Sakura-Tribe Elder, oxidising threats, witnessing back Elders and Oxidises… but here I was, close to death. I had a mess of lands and one card in my hand.
“Can you play through this?” my insufferably smug opponent asked me, flashing two copies of shrapnel blast.
“Yes,” I told him, untapping, drawing a blank and resolving the Rude Awakening (with entwine) which had been my solitary card. A mixed, 11-strong band of Islands and Forests danced across the table to claim his life total.
As I reached for the poisonous stack of artifact hatred that was my sideboard, smiling sweetly, I watched my opponent’s face. Burned into his features was the legend: BUT YOU DID NOTHING ALL GAME AND SOMEHOW I AM DEAD AAAAARRRGGGHH.
Please, Wizards. I speak for all durdlers everywhere when I say please, please give me back that feeling again.
#3 – Eternal Witness
I have walked the dark path more than once in my life. I have used this young lady to return a recently resolved Plow Under to my hand, as my opponent rolled their eyes and dropped their hand face down onto the table.
I have held her in my hand, hidden from view, as nervous young men agonised over how to divide my Gifts Ungiven piles.
I have stayed in touch throughout games in which I should rightfully have been steam-rolled, as she helped me to recycle Remand over and over again, until I could draw the action I needed.
I want to do these things and more – and I want to do them in standard again. Come on, Wizards – is my gal-pal here really so overpowered?
#2 – Cruel Ultimatum
There is always a greater power.
It’s pretty appropriate, on the basis of this classic flavour text, that Cruel only makes #2 on my list… even here, there is one card which has a greater pull on my heart-strings.
That card will wait, however. For now, let’s reminisce about all the things which made this card wonderful.
- Value – I’ve heard this card estimated at a nine-for-one, on the basis that the life swing is equivalent to a consume spirit or similar. Sometimes it’s less, for instance when no creature is available in the caster’s graveyard, or the opponent has less than three cards; sometimes, against a red deck for instance, those five life points are priceless.
- Power – The power to flip a game completely on its head; to turn a war of attrition into a one-sided thermonuclear combat, or to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
- Iconic status – Just look at that casting cost. What card could be worth seven mana, all coloured, in such a demanding arrangement? THIS ONE. THIS ONE CAN.
Cruel can’t win from every position, but supported with the right friends it can create a mountain for opposing players to climb.
- It can’t win through a board full of creatures – but if you damnation away the opponent’s team, it will handily dispose of their follow up threat.
- It can’t stop an opponent from Cruel-ing you straight back if they had more than 4 cards in hand – but if you run pinpoint discard, you can guard against such situations.
- It can’t hold the early game to stop you from dying before you hit 7 mana – but that’s why you should design your deck around keeping parity (or better) and drawing the game out until it becomes the ultimate stall-breaker.
Sadly, I fear we are never likely to see Cruel grace a standard table again. It is, by its very nature, part of a very unique cycle – and I question the willingness of Wizards either to reprint that whole cycle or to give us Cruel as a standalone. Perhaps I will simply have to make it work in Modern… wish me luck.
#1 – Etched Oracle
Oh, Etchy. Will we ever again shuffle up together, my faithful companion?
There are so many things right with the Oracle.
- He has a respectably-sized body, provided one can meet his multi-coloured conditions; I am already predisposed to playing decks with four or more colours, so that sounds just fine to me.
- In addition, he has a magnificent upside once in play: a colourless Ancestral Recall, which I like to think is represented by the beautiful poly-chromatic orb he clutches in his filigree fingers.
- Finally, he has the most gorgeous artwork I have ever seen on a Magic card. Gaun Yersel’, Matt Cavotta.
But there are also things which count against the Oracle, from a reprinting perspective.
- He is only viable in an environment with plentiful colour fixing… and despite visiting such places several times, Wizards have historically chosen to overlook him.
- He carries the Sunburst mechanic, which is thematically linked to Fifth Dawn, the specific set in which he was first printed. To create a world where Sunburst felt appropriate would take slightly more bending-over-backward than I expect Wizards to indulge in.
All of this is more painful, because I feel that he missed out (if you’ll pardon the pun) on his time in the sun.
When the Oracle first arrived, standard was a mess. Affinity reigned supreme and all organised play twitched helplessly in its iron grip; in such an environment, if a card wasn’t Oxidise at one end of the cost spectrum or Molder Slug at the other, it probably wasn’t getting played in any decks lining up against the artifact menace.
Eventually, bannings fixed standard slightly. For a brief period, I was able to play actual games with the paragon of good, fair creatures – and lo, he was glorious.
In the days of ‘damage-on-the-stack’, Etchy was the absolute stones. He was a house against attacking weenie creatures, a solid man to trade with larger animals… and if played correctly, he always came with an ancestral absolutely free.
- Block your X/4 guy
- Damage on the stack?
- Pay 1, sac the Oracle, draw 3 cards
- Damage resolves, your guy dies
- Set off the party poppers, rig up a piñata, etc
If getting a 4-for-1 with my creature felt amazing, the 5-for-1s were even better. Sometimes, my fire-slinging opponents would swing their weenie team into my Oracle… I would block a small man… and they would hurl in a burn spell to finish him off. Naturally, I would cash him in, untap and go bananas – not difficult when the other guy is hurling good resources after bad, while I’m drawing into sweet spells and Eternal Witnesses by the boatload.
Ah, Etchy. Our time was so short, but so sweet. I struggle to fully express my feelings on this matter, but Whitney can pick up the slack.
It’s not all about me
That was my list, but different opinions provide life with a lot of its wondrous variety.
If you ran Wizards for a day, what would you throw back onto the printing presses?