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The Comboist Manifesto: A/B/U Retrospective Part 4
By Stephen Bahl
The Comboist Manifesto Volume I, Article 14: Comprehensive Retrospective Set Review of First & Second Edition, Part 4

Uthden Troll
Creature — Troll
R: Regenerate Uthden Troll

Sedge Troll
Creature — Troll
Sedge Troll gets +1/+1 as long as you control a Swamp.
B: Regenerate Sedge Troll

Granite Gargoyle
Creature — Gargoyle
R: Granite Gargoyle gets +0/+1 until end of turn.

The superior alternatives to Gray Ogre. With all three of these being printed in the same set, long before limited formats were conceptualized, there has essentially never been a reason to actually use Gray Ogre in a Magic deck, excepting those players with small collections and no access to the better cards. Sedge Troll and Granite Gargoyle are both rares. By the standards of 1993, all three of these are decent creatures, and probably suitable for casual decks based on creature beatdown. Not very interesting as far as combo decks are concerned. They cost three mana, don't win immediately, and don't slow down combo decks, so most of the time they're a non-issue. A combo deck will either outrace these cards, or was going to lose anyway.

Sedge Troll isn't a terrible three-drop for a black/red deck and is of some historical interest as the first creature with an activated ability requiring mana from a different color. Granite Gargoyle is probably the best of the lot, even though its toughness-boosting ability isn't nearly as useful as the opposite effect. At the CPA, Granite Gargoyle was used effectively in a white/red tribal gargoyle deck that won in one of our tribal multiplayer games.

Animate Dead
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature card in a graveyard
When Animate Dead enters the battlefield, if it's on the battlefield, it loses "enchant creature card in a graveyard" and gains "enchant creature put onto the battlefield with Animate Dead." Return enchanted creature card to the battlefield under your control and attach Animate Dead to it. When Animate Dead leaves the battlefield, that creature's controller sacrifices it.
Enchanted creature gets -1/-0.

Originally, this was the sole representative of the card type “Enchant Dead Creature.” Ice Age would later add one more. The rules have changed multiple times since then, so now the old “Enchant Dead Creature” cards are auras have their own bizarre Oracle texts to function properly under today's rules. Animate Dead has actually been printed with that text too, in “Premium Deck Series: Graveborn.” Other, similar cards have been printed numerous times over the years: cheap black spells that can bring a creature back from a graveyard. Animate Dead is the original, and it's still one of the best.

Other than Lich, an unwieldy enchantment that is generally too dangerous to see much play, the dedicated combo cards I've been reviewing so far have been totally broken, and have usually been banned from tournament play (or in Vintage, restricted). Animate Dead isn't usually considered overpowered, but it's a great card for combo decks. That wasn't always the case. To the best of my knowledge, in the early years of Magic, Animate Dead was primarily a strong utility spell: one's opponent would kill a dangerous creature, and then one would bring it back again. This was still mostly what I saw with the card when I was new to the game. Times have changed. Reanimator decks are a well-known combo archetype, combining spells that put creatures from the library (or sometimes hand) directly into the graveyard, and then using Animate Dead and similar spells to cheat them into play without having to pay their mana costs. I don't know when these decks first rose to prominence, but they've evolved considerably, and none of the creatures that would have originally been chosen for reanimation are in such decks anymore. Animate Dead faces competition from newer versions, like Reanimate, Exhume, and Necromancy. But the original is still found in Legacy decklists to this day. It's that good. In Vintage, Animate Dead has occasionally seen play alongside Worldgorger Dragon, as part of a combo engine enabled by Bazaar of Baghdad. I'll give more consideration to this combo in some hypothetical future article.

Phantom Monster
Creature — Illusion

Air Elemental
Creature — Elemental

Mahamoti Djinn
Creature — Djinn

First Edition had three blue creatures with flying and no other abilities. Flying is pretty good to have, and all three of these saw a lot of play in their day. Air Elemental especially has been a recurring feature in core sets. Mahamoti Djinn was originally the biggest creature blue had, a distinction that probably made it a nice rare to have at the time. In some settings, these creatures are still pretty good.

Obviously there isn't much of an application for combo decks, since these creatures have no abilities other than flying.

Players skip their untap steps.
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice Stasis unless you pay U.

An excellent card for prison decks. Back in the day, control-based prison decks would use Kismet and a few Howling Mines, ensuring a stream of Islands to pay the upkeep on Stasis, while opponents would be unable to improve their board position. This archetype was known as “Turbo Stasis.” Typically Stasis was removed from the battlefield with either Boomerang or Despotic Scepter (later Claws of Gix) at the end of the opponent's turn. Lockdown combo decks used Time Elemental to make the effect of Stasis asymmetrical. Stasis went on to see combos with many other cards, including Root Maze, Temporal Adept, Chronatog, Tradewind Rider, Frozen Æther, Vedalken Mastermind, and Murkfiend Liege. Wizards of the Coast has a bit of a bias against cards like Stasis (probably a big part of the reason Stasis stopped being reprinted after Fifth Edition) because opponents tend not to have fun being unable to play their cards for turn after turn while the player using the prison deck slowly sets up a win condition. On the other hand, some players really enjoy that sort of thing and I've met a surprising number of people who cite Stasis as their favorite card ever. So yeah, I guess your mileage may vary. Or something. Stasis is a pretty strong enchantment.

Just about everyone that's ever seen Stasis has probably wondered at some point why the artwork is so different from all the other cards. At some point, I was curious enough to look that up on the internet. The artist for Stasis, Fay Jones, is actually somewhat famous locally in Seattle (I'm not actually sure how famous she is as artists go, but her work is on lots of murals and stuff in pretty important locations). She also happens to be Richard Garfield's aunt.

Dwarven Demolition Team
Creature — Dwarf
T: Destroy target Wall.

Dwarven Warriors
Creature — Dwarf
T: Target creature with power 2 or less can't be blocked this turn.

Dwarves originate in Norse and Germanic mythologies. Well, the word does, anyway. They weren't originally described as being short, which seems like a pretty important bit, especially considering that “dwarfism” in modern English is used as a term for medical conditions that cause people to be short.

Dwarves are a staple of fantasy literature and games. Their appearance is largely based on medieval artistic depictions, which show squat, bearded humanoids. That raises the question: what do female dwarves look like? Medieval portrayals generally ignored them, so modern fantasy versions of dwarves have taken various approaches, including “Uh, they're like, super rare, so we just never see them,” “Screw it, they have beards too,” “They look like human women, except for the fact that they're short and squat like their male counterparts,” and “Decline to answer.” As a fantasy game, Magic started out with a couple of dwarves, but took the “Decline to answer” approach to the beard question. Later sets would throw Magic more into the “They look like human women, except for the fact that they're short and squat like their male counterparts” camp. Later sets would also give the game better dwarves to actually play. Seriously, these two are pretty bad.

Oh, and some people really want to play dwarves. I never understood it. In any game where playing as a dwarf is an option, they'll take it. In gaming, dwarves definitely have their fans. And all the ones I see are tall, which makes me think there's some weird psychological thing going on—I don't know.

Anyway, the first two dwarves in the game are both 1/1 creatures that cost three mana. Dwarven Demolition Team's ability is too narrowly focused: even with scrubby decks built exclusively of old cards, walls just aren't that prevalent. Although if you do happen to run into a wall-based deck with this guy, he really pulls his weight. And Dwarven Warriors? Well, attacking with a small creature, making it unblockable, and then pumping it up with some other cards is a viable way to kill someone, but there are better options for that, especially these days. Even if I were to built a tribal dwarf deck, I don't think I'd consider either of the original dwarves.

Power Surge
At the beginning of each player's upkeep, Power Surge deals X damage to that player, where X is the number of untapped lands he or she controlled at the beginning of this turn.

Rest in peace, Power Surge. The Magic 2010 rules changes eliminated mana burn from the game, which made some cards better, some cards worse, and outright destroyed a few cards. Power Surge could be the poster child for this. Its combo with Candelabra of Tawnos is a classic. Power Surge was never the greatest enchantment, but it did work. And against some opponents, Power Surge could deal lethal damage with no other damage sources to back it up. Not bad for a two-mana enchantment. Rules changes have essentially retired this card from the game, but it used to be a decent rare. Technically, Power Surge combos can still work if one throws in Manabarbs. Speaking of which...

Whenever a player taps a land for mana, Manabarbs deals 1 damage to that player.

Since it costs four mana and provides a symmetrical effect that, on its own, isn't very threatening, Manabarbs doesn't see much competitive tournament play. The card has been legal in Standard at various points and has been used in aggressive red decks, where the symmetry of the effect isn't particularly important (you take some damage, but your opponent is already hurt from your first few turns and either dies to Manabarbs or refrains from improving board position).

Manabarbs presents a treasure trove of casual combos, and probably deserves its own article. I haven't seen a Manabarbs deck in many years, but I once had a deck that used it with Urza's Armor. I've tried Manabarbs in a few other decks and I've seen others use it in ways I'd never have thought of. I won't even try to list all the Manabarbs interactions I know of, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Tamanoa, which makes the card insane. Also good to use with Manabarbs: a second copy of Manabarbs. Maybe even a third. Finally, the first combo I ever saw used to make a multiplayer game take a turn for the chaotic was Manabarbs with Mana Flare. Speaking of which...

Mana Flare
Whenever a player taps a land for mana, that player adds one mana to his or her mana pool of any type that land produced.

In the past, players would sometimes use Mana Flare in red decks with activated abilities as mana sinks, accelerating their own plays, boosting the potential of their mana sinks, and possibly forcing opponents to take some mana burn. The elimination of mana burn did affect this card, but unlike Power Surge, Mana Flare wasn't rendered obsolete.

Mana Flare works for all mana-producing lands, which makes it a fun multiplayer card. Against a single opponent, the investment can be risky. To make sure that Mana Flare helps you more than your opponent, you need to have ways to put all that mana to good use. For example...
Disintegrate deals X damage to target creature or player. That creature can't be regenerated this turn. If the creature would die this turn, exile it instead.

Fireball deals X damage divided evenly, rounded down, among any number of target creatures and/or players.
Fireball costs 1 more to cast for each target beyond the first.

I always thought it was a bit strange that the game started out with two red “X” burn spells. Wouldn't one have been enough? Disintegrate is a perfectly viable option for most decks, but its bonus, preventing creatures from regenerating and exiling them if they die, is a bit narrow. Fireball is the more versatile option, and ended up being the one that got reprinted in more sets. The printed version for the Beatdown boxed set even gives Fireball a mana cost of XYR (Fireball deals X damage divided evenly, rounded down, among Y plus one target creatures and/or players). That's one of the only instances in which Wizards of the Coast actually printed a Magic card with “Y” as a variable.

For combo decks, I've already noted the power of the Channel/Fireball combo (which works just as well with Disintegrate in place of Fireball). Really, anything that can provide copious mana, even if it's just playing lands over time, can make these spells lethal.

Creature — Shapeshifter
You may have Clone enter the battlefield as a copy of any creature on the battlefield.

Clone was retained as a creature in the core set for Revised Edition, then removed from the core set until Ninth Edition, when it made its way back in. Clone copies creatures. There's not really much to say about it other than that, but copying creatures can be pretty useful. Clone has always been a decent creature.

Clone is potentially viable in combo decks, but I've generally seen the card played in control or aggro-control decks. Combo decks tend to work better with other, newer shapeshifters.

Vesuvan Doppelganger
Creature — Shapeshifter
You may have Vesuvan Doppelganger enter the battlefield as a copy of any creature on the battlefield except it doesn't copy that creature's color and it gains "At the beginning of your upkeep, you may have this creature become a copy of target creature except it doesn't copy that creature's color. If you do, this creature gains this ability."

Because it has some additional utility over Clone and was printed as a rare while Clone was an uncommon (in later sets, Clone is a rare for some reason), Vesuvan Doppelganger became a sought-after card. And it's still not bad for control decks. However, the ability to re-copy during one's upkeep is often unnecessary, and the additional blue mana requirement can make Clone the better option for many decks. Time Spiral completely replaced this card with its Vesuvan Shapeshifter.

Orcish Artillery
Creature — Orc Warrior
T: Orcish Artillery deals 2 damage to target creature or player and 3 damage to you.

Orcish Oriflamme
Attacking creatures you control get +1/+0.

Cyclopean Tomb
2, T: Put a mire counter on target non-Swamp land. That land is a Swamp for as long as it has a mire counter on it. Activate this ability only during your upkeep.
When Cyclopean Tomb is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, at the beginning of each of your upkeeps for the rest of the game, remove all mire counters from a land that a mire counter was put onto with Cyclopean Tomb but that a mire counter has not been removed from with Cyclopean Tomb.

What do these three cards all have in common? Their mana costs were originally misprinted! In the Alpha printing, Orcish Artillery and Orcish Oriflamme each had a printed mana cost of 1R. And the game didn't start out with Oracle rulings and such, so the cards were used with the erroneous mana costs, even after fixed versions were printed. Orcish Oriflamme made the original restricted list in 1994 because of an overreaction to this issue. It just might be the most mundane, underpowered card ever restricted in tournament Magic.

As for Cyclopean Tomb, it was originally printed with no mana cost. There's just a blank space in that part of the card's border. According to Mark Rosewater, the ruling back in 1993 was that the card was just unplayable. I don't know that this matters because no one seems to have ever played the card anyway. At the CPA, one time a topic came up about the most unused Magic card in the original core set. I pointed out that anything reprinted in later sets (keeping in mind that later core sets had much larger print runs) would have seen more use, and that unreprinted dirt rares would be the natural home for the least played cards ever. Cyclopean Tomb is a strong contender for that title. It's not the worst card in the set, but it's convoluted and so thoroughly unremarkable that no one would care to play it. I've never seen it in action myself.

Black Knight
Creature — Human Knight
First strike, Protection from white

White Knight
Creature — Human Knight
First strike, Protection from black

You can't see their faces in the artwork, but don't worry: both knights have been verified to be human, even if it took a while. Magic's two original knights hold up pretty well, even today. They're not awe-inspiring, but they're efficient. These two started a trend of black and white getting opposing pairs of knights in later sets. But eventually, knights were established as more of a white thing. Black has 26 knights all to itself, while white gets 100 to itself. The first two are among the best. Their protections are rather situational, but a 2/2 with first strike is pretty good anyway.

Northern Paladin
Creature — Human Knight
T: Destroy target black permanent.

Northern Paladin is the other human knight from the original core set. Unlike the other two, he wasn't originally a knight at all, but a paladin. Creature type revisions changed that, which might be relevant for a tribal knight deck, if there weren't too many better options. Northern Paladin hoses most black decks if they can't kill it, but killing these has never been much of a problem for black decks. Against non-black decks, Northern Paladin faces the same issues as the other color hosers, but it's still a 3/3 creature. That's actually not so bad. A 3/3 for four mana, while not ideal, could work in a pinch. Northern Paladin has always been mediocre, but I suppose it's a respectable variety of mediocre. Nothern Paladin was at least good enough that Wizards of the Coast decided to follow it up in later sets with paladins corresponding to other compass directions.

Its lack of utility against non-black permanents is what holds it back. If only there were some way to fix that...

Sleight of Mind
Change the text of target spell or permanent by replacing all instances of one color word with another.

There are two things that I really like about Sleight of Mind. Firstly, its functionality is almost entirely dependent on combos. One could interfere with an opposing color-hoser in some improbable cases, but realistically, this card is strictly used for combos. Secondly, the potential to use this on either spells or permanents gives the card some flexibility. Northern Paladin is a pretty obvious card that could be used with Sleight of Mind, but the combo isn't even that strong. Most Sleight of Mind combos are a bit underwhelming. It can still be a fun card.

Magical Hack
Change the text of target spell or permanent by replacing all instances of one basic land type with another.

Ah, the card that can turn creatures from forestwalkers into plainswalkers. Magical Hack's main use historically was to edit landwalk abilities. If my opponent is playing black, I change Lord of Atlantis to give all of my merfolk swampwalk, and so on. There were other options, like modifying a Tsunami to destroy mountains, but landwalk abilities were the main synergy. Magical Hack wasn't quite as useful as Sleight of Mind, but both were reprinted for a while. Later cards combined the two and sometimes provided new functionality, but could usually only target permanents, not spells. In the case of Magical Hack, the potential to target spells with it is such a corner case that new versions in expansion sets, such as Mind Bend, could pretty much take over.

Also, I'm not a fan of landwalk abilities anyway.

Lord of Atlantis
Creature — Merfolk
Other Merfolk creatures get +1/+1 and have islandwalk.

Zombie Master
Creature — Zombie
Other zombie creatures have swampwalk.
Other zombies have “B: Regenerate this permanent.”

Goblin King
Creature — Goblin
Other Goblin creatures get +1/+1 and have mountainwalk.

The three original lords. Well, they aren't lords anymore, but they were. Originally, Goblin King and Lord of Atlantis just had their own names for their creature types, and Zombie Master's type was “lord” (this was before creatures could have multiple types, so Goblin King did not count as a goblin, as its type was “goblin king” and not “goblin” or “goblins”). In Revised, all three were given the “lord” creature type, and it was established that the creatures of this type would enhance some common creature type without having it themselves. This meant that a player with two Goblin Kings would be giving all goblins +2/+2, but the Goblin Kings themselves would not get the bonus, as they were not goblins. But that was later changed and lords, while retaining their lord typing, also got the types of their followers, so Goblin King was “Creature — Goblin Lord.” Later, the lord creature type was completely excised from Magic, so now none of these guys are lords anymore, although the term is still used to describe creatures with this sort of functionality.

Creature types gradually became more important in Magic. Originally, creature type was mostly just flavor, and there were a few cards that made a few creature types into exceptions. These three cards were the first. New players might be surprised to discover that elves, one of the most successful creature types, was completely unimportant for the first several years of the game's history. Oh, there were elves, but the fact that they were elves wasn't relevant to gameplay until Tempest finally gave them their own lord. By that point, there were some other cards that made creature types relevant (Griffin Canyon, for example), but it was a pretty minor aspect of the game. Onslaught, introducing powerful new cards based around “tribal” mechanics, changed all that. Players loved it, and the game has continued to develop with “tribes.”

These three cards were the original basis for an entire aspect of the game, but how do they measure up in terms of playability? Well, Zombie Master turned out to be the weakest of the group, not giving its creatures a size boost. Zombies are perfectly good as a tribe: deck based around zombies can be strong. But there are better zombies to use, and Zombie Master no longer makes the cut in dedicated zombie decks. It's not bad, but it's not good either.

Goblin King, while mediocre for the fist few years, started to become a very strong card as more goblins, and better goblins, were printed. Goblin King is still good enough to be a staple in Modern goblins decks. The change that made it so that multiple Goblin Kings would enhance each other helped, but the main change was how incredible goblins became. Giving a boost to Goblin Guide or Goblin Piledriver is a lot better than doing the same for Mons's Goblin Raiders or Goblin Balloon Brigade.

And then there's Lord of Atlantis. Initially, Lord of Atlantis had some advantages, costing only two mana instead of three, and being in blue, the strongest color in Magic. Merfolk of passable quality were printed in old sets, and merfolk developed alongside other tribes in the late 1990's and early 2000's. But for whatever reason, the boon that other major creature types got with Onslaught passed over merfolk completely. There were no merfolk in Onslaught, and none in the sets that followed. I remember wondering why Wizards of the Coast killed that creature type while simultaneously making other creature types matter. Perhaps they decided that wizards were the default tribe for blue and that there was no room for merfolk alongside them. If that trend had continued, then Lord of Atlantis would seem archaic. Instead, Time Spiral brought merfolk back, with Lord of Atlantis being reprinted as a timeshifted card. Then Lorwyn happened, and Lord of Atlantis, formerly the least relevant of the old tribal lords, became the best—by leagues. It wasn't the case at the time, but Lord of Atlantis is easily one of the best creatures in the original core set.

Counter target spell.

Destroy target land.

Richard Garfield has said that there was some debate over whether to create these cards, that some of the playtesters hated them and didn't want them in the game, while others thought they were important to include. I don't know what the game might have turned out to be like without them, but I'm glad that they exist. Ultimately, both cards were retired from the core set, deemed to be undercosted for their effects. There's a lot to be said about these two cards and their contribution to the game's history. For the purposes of this article, I'll just single them out as two of the most powerful cards in the original core set and pillars of control. If you played Magic in the 1990's, you were either cursing the effectiveness of these cards or you were using them yourself.

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