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The Comboist Manifesto Volume I, Article 15
By Stephen Bahl
The Comboist Manifesto Volume I, Article 15: Comprehensive Retrospective Set Review of First & Second Edition Part 5

Ice Storm
Destroy target land.

Stone Rain
Destroy target land.

Sinkhole was dropped from the core set for Revised (replaced by Erg Raiders) for being overpowered. But other land destruction cards stuck around for later printings. Two mana for targeted land destruction was considered too good, but three mana was another story. Ice Storm and Stone Rain provide the same effect, but in two different colors. This established red, green, and black as the colors of targeted land destruction, but the effect became secondary for black.

These cards, while not as infamous as Sinkhole, were contentious in their own right. Three mana is cheap enough that Ice Storm and Stone Rain could potentially wreck efficient, powerful decks that drew just enough lands, while doing very little against other, perhaps inferior, decks. This can make deckbuilding and gameplay awkward at times. Ice Storm was cut from the core set in Revised (replaced rather disappointingly with Crumble, a card I've never actually seen anyone use), but other green land destruction remained. Stone Rain stuck around for a long time, but Wizards of the Coast eventually decided that three mana was just too good for targeted land destruction with no drawbacks. Land destruction is still part of the game. Green tends to get cards that trade the speed of Ice Storm for some versatility. Bramblecrush is the card that currently fills the role formerly occupied by Ice Storm. Instead of Stone Rain, red now gets the strictly worse Demolish.

Enchantment — Aura
Enchant land
When enchanted land becomes tapped, destroy it. That land's controller attaches Kudzu to a land of his or her choice.

The land destruction that keeps on giving. I used Kudzu in some decks in the old PC game (the MicroProse Magic: the Gathering game). It's a fun card and does have some combos, usually in decks that don't care about losing their own lands, but ultimately it's not very practical.

How is the kudzu supposed to spread to an island, anyway? What about a snow-covered forest? Kudzu is a resilient vine, but it can't grow across oceans and it doesn't thrive in cold environments. This card is silly.

Animate Artifact
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant artifact
As long as enchanted artifact isn't a creature, it's an artifact creature with power and toughness each equal to its converted mana cost.

Adventures in Bad Oracle Texts: as long as it isn't a creature, it's a creature. But then it isn't, so it is. But then it isn't, so it is. What? The original printed text on the card is perfectly clear. I get that “Enchant Non-Creature Artifact” could no longer be a card type, but the current wording is just disgusting. Surely there's a better way.

As for the card itself, Animate Artifact was part of the original three-card infinite turns combo, alongside Instill Energy and Time Vault. It's also the original means of, well, animating an artifact, making it a sort of ancestor to good cards like Tezzeret the Seeker and Karn, Silver Golem. That's about it. No one bothers with Animate Artifact. It's too mediocre by today's standards.

Frozen Shade
Creature — Shade
B: Frozen Shade gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

Sometimes the Oracle text is fine, but the original really needed the improvement. When I was in Junior High, I had a friend that thought his Frozen Shade, probably printed in Revised, got +1/+1 counters. And I can sympathize with misunderstanding the original text of the card. I prefer the Fifth Edition version of this card, with its suitably terrifying Tony DiTerlizzi art.

Frozen Shade is the original shade, and finds itself outclassed by virtually every subsequent shade. Looming Shade is a strict upgrade.

Return target creature to its owner's hand.

Yeah, yeah, this card is a core set staple, but there's something pretty cool about it that I only found out after I started working on this article. I don't usually see cards from the Alpha printing, but that's where all the best misprints happened. Behold, the original printed text for Unsummon:

“Return creature to owner's hand; enchantments on creature are CARD ed. Unsummon cannot be played during the damage-dealing phase of an attack.”

I hate it when my enchantments are CARD ed. So now I really want to get my hands on some Alpha Unsummons.

Anyway, it's a decent card. After the core set began to receive modifications, Unsummon made it into twelve core sets, which isn't quite a record, but it's pretty close. I used to use Unsummon, and Word of Undoing (which is basically the same thing) in a blue deck based around bouncing my opponent's stuff. Good times. Those eight slots really hurt if my opponents didn't have creatures or had untargetable creatures, but otherwise, it's a nice trick.

Dingus Egg
Whenever a land is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, Dingus Egg deals 2 damage to that land's controller.

When I was a new player, Erhnamgeddon was a popular archetype. I didn't have one of those decks myself, but I learned about them. It's a pretty silly concept in hindsight, but back then, apparently being able to drop a 4/5 and then destroy all lands and win by attacking before opponents could recover was a big deal. When I played the old Magic computer game (still the MicroProse one), I knew I had to build such a deck. I put Dingus Egg into my deck, and it worked out pretty well. I almost never see anyone else use Dingus Egg, though. I think it's the mana cost, which is just a bit too high. The game sure has changed since 1994, when Dingus Egg appeared on the original DCI restricted list (called the “limited list” at the time). My suspicion is that players already hated having their lands destroyed, and taking damage for it was considered too frustrating for them. Presumably those early players paired the card with Armageddon, like I did.

Destroy all lands.

Black, red, and green have targeted land destruction, but white has been the color to employ broader land destruction spells, and Armageddon is one of the oldest and most iconic. There are different ways to use Armageddon: the aforementioned combo with Dingus Egg, by having alternative sources of mana so that the symmetrical effect isn't actually symmetrical, by being able to get ahead before playing it and using it to prevent opponents from catching up, but purposefully positioning oneself to be able to recover faster after Armageddon hits, and so on. Furthermore, there are variants to these approaches. As with Counterspell and Sinkhole, I find that it's hard to say much about these powerful, famous cards that were once competitive staples, because there's just so much to be said that summarizing is hard. But the point is that it's a good card, and that it's a sweeper.

Nevinyrral's Disk
Nevinyrral's Disk enters the battlefield tapped.
1, T: Destroy all artifacts, creatures, and enchantments.

It used to be a popular item of Magic trivia that Nevinyrral's Disk has Larry Niven's name spelled backwards. Nevinyrral's Disk was historically valued because, as an artifact, it could provide board-sweeping to decks without any color requirements. Nevinyrral's Disk was useful in a wide variety of decks, but really rose to prominence with Necropotence decks, which could pay life to refill their hands, then activate the disk and use the card advantage take control of the game. Nevinyrral's Disk would have continued in its role as a staple, but other, more selective board-sweepers, began to replace it, starting with Powder Keg. Nevinyrral's Disk isn't as uniquely special as it once was, but it's still a good card.

Lord of the Pit
Creature — Demon
Flying, trample
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice a creature other than Lord of the Pit. If you can't, Lord of the Pit deals 7 damage to you.

In Duel Decks: Divine vs. Demonic, the divine deck gets Akroma, Angel of Wrath as its alternate art foil. The demonic deck gets Lord of the Pit. And that's just not fair. It's not that Lord of the Pit is bad, it's just that it's not actually very good. One reason is that Lord of the Pit is, obviously, a very old card. Creatures have generally become stronger as the game has developed. This is especially true for large creatures. It used to be the case that to get a really big creature, one had to pay a lot of mana and then also deal with some other drawback, like an upkeep cost. Lord of the Pit established that for big black creatures, sacrificing creatures could serve as that drawback. Seven mana for a 7/7 flying trampler is fine, but the upkeep is a bit harsh. Lord of the Pit started the trend that led to Yawgmoth Demon, Ebon Praetor, Infernal Denizen, Minion of Leshrac, Devouring Strossus, Greater Harvester, Liege of the Pit, Ravenous Demon, Shadowborn Demon, and Abhorrent Overlord. It's not necessarily a bad concept, but it can all be a bit much, especially when it can be so easy to get big creatures that don't have exorbitant upkeeps, or that have unique abilities to go along with them. Doomgape, which also costs seven mana, is a 10/10 trampler while it does have sacrificing a creature as its upkeep, its controller gains life equal to the sacrificed creature's toughness, which is actually useful. Lord of the Pit is just a big, flying trampler, and that's not so distinctive anymore.

It is worth noting that unlike some other creatures with sacrificial upkeep requirements, Lord of the Pit does not tap itself if its upkeep isn't paid, it simply deals 7 damage. This could allow it to win games in which its controller is ahead on life, simply by taking the upkeep damage and then attacking. While this does sometimes happen, I'd prefer to just use cards that are better than Lord of the Pit in the first place.

Demonic Hordes
Creature — Demon
At the beginning of your upkeep, unless you pay BBB, tap Demonic Hordes and sacrifice a land of an opponent's choice.

Force of Nature
Creature — Elemental
At the beginning of your upkeep, Force of Nature deals 8 damage to you unless you pay GGGG.

Speaking of cards that are crippled by upkeep costs, check these guys out. This is how Wizards of the Coast originally envisioned most big creatures. Times have changed. Demonic Hordes is a 5/5 demon for 3BBB with an upkeep that makes it essentially unplayable. For comparison, in Avacyn Restored, there's Harvester of Souls, a 5/5 demon with deathtouch and “whenever another nontoken creature dies, you may draw a card.” It costs 4BB. Force of Nature is 2GGGG for an 8/8 elemental with trample and an upkeep that makes it unplayable. For comparison, Zendikar has Terra Stomper, an 8/8 beast with trample that can't be countered. It costs 3GGG.

Oh, and about those cards I just named for comparison, the new ones that are better versions of the old ones and that also, in addition to being better for other reasons, don't have the crippling upkeeps. They're not even that good! I mean, they're playable, but there are other, even better, cards that players tend to use more.

Enough about power creep. Let's see something that still holds up.

Hypnotic Specter
Creature — Specter
Whenever Hypnotic Specter deals damage to an opponent, that player discards a card at random.

A classic. In Seattle we used to call it “Hyppie.” No idea if that nickname was used elsewhere. First turn Dark Ritual into Hypnotic Specter into ruining opponent's day used to be part of the experience of playing Magic. Not a lot of the game's original creatures hold up by today's standards, but Hypnotic Specter sure does. This was the best black creature in the original core set and a strong contender for the best creature in the entire set, which just goes to show how imbalanced the game used to be against creatures, considering that Hypnotic Specter isn't mind-blowingly overpowered, but merely good, while most of the original creatures are completely obsolete.

Hypnotic Specter was dropped from the core set after Fourth Edition, but Wizards of the Coast put it back in for Ninth Edition and left it in for Tenth Edition and the 2010 core set. You could theoretically play this card in Modern tournaments, although it doesn't have a deck that provides a suitable home for it in that format at this time. Hypnotic Specter is probably better off in Legacy, where it can still appear alongside its old buddy, Dark Ritual.

Copy target instant or sorcery spell, except that the copy is red. You may choose new targets for the copy.

I used to use this with Fireblast all the time in my Burn deck, but eventually new cards were printed that took its place (Rift Bolt, for instance). For even more fun, there's Time Walk. Fork was even restricted in Vintage for nine years in fear of such shenanigans, although those concerns weren't really warranted. Fork is fun, anyway. If your opponent uses Counterspell on something you cast, you can Fork the Counterspell and then use it to counter the original Counterspell, turning your Fork into a counter-counter. The possibilities, while not actually endless, stretch pretty far. What's not to love?

At the beginning of the end step, if no creatures are on the battlefield, sacrifice Pestilence.
B: Pestilence deals 1 damage to each creature and each player.

Like most cards, Pestilence isn't really strong enough for tournament play. Unlike most such cards, Pestilence is a total powerhouse in casual play, to the extent that, against the unprepared, it can seem like broken cards that actually are exploited in tournaments. Because the card dates back to the beginning of the game and was a common until Sixth Edition (in core sets, and later in Urza's Saga with Pete Venters art), it was widely available to casual players. The CPA used to have a prominent member who went by the name, Mr. Pestilence. He collected copies of Pestilence.

Howling Mine
At the beginning of each player's draw step, if Howling Mine is untapped, that player draws an additional card.

Shortly after free-for-all multiplayer games became a thing, players figured out that they could use Howling Mine under the pretense of helping everyone equally, while actually having decks that were better equipped to exploit the extra cards than their opponents. I don't need to tell you about this, because you've done it yourself. Your opponents probably didn't fall for it, because they had done it too.

Howling Mine was a key component of TurboStasis decks, which used it to avoid msising land drops. It also has the bizarre distinction of being one of the few artifacts that received an upgrade to preserve its old functionality, with the “if Howling Mine is untapped” clause.

Serra Angel
Creature — Angel
Flying, vigilance.

Sengir Vampire
Creature — Vampire
Whenever a creature dealt damage by Sengir Vampire this turn dies, put a +1/+1 counter on Sengir Vampire.

Shivan Dragon
Creature — Dragon
R: Shivan Dragon gets +1/+0 until end of turn.

Three big, flying creatures with useful abilities. The 5/6 Mahamoti Djinn could also make some claim to dominating airborne combat, but these three were more versatile. They've been reprinted numerous times, and all three are present in the 2014 core set.

Serra, Sengir, and Shiv were originally just names added to these cards to give them some flavor, but which didn't really mean anything. Later, the lore would be fleshed out, with Homelands providing considerable background on Serra and Sengir. Shiv would be more fully explored in Urza's Saga.

They've made it into the latest core set, so these creatures aren't completely obsolete. But they do have a lot more competition now. Sengir Vampire is probably the worst of the three, as his ability is the hardest to exploit, and other black creatures can either be more independently efficient or can be stronger in combos. Serra Angel was once the creature of choice for control decks, and was white's default choice for a big, flying creature. Other angels would later do a better job of filling some roles than Serra Angel. This culminated in Baneslayer Angel, which doesn't have vigilance, but has more than enough to make up for it and then some. Shivan Dragon is still actually pretty efficient, but later versions of a big, red dragon have provided other options, although none of them completely outclass the original.

Wall of Swords
Creature — Wall
Defender, flying.

Wall of Air
Creature — Wall
Defender, flying

Wall of Water
Creature — Wall
U: Wall of Water gets +1/+0 until end of turn.

Wall of Bone
Creature — Skeleton Wall
B: Regenerate Wall of Bone.

Wall of Fire
Creature — Wall
R: Wall of Fire gets +1/+0 until end of turn.

Wall of Stone
Creature — Wall

Wall of Brambles
Creature — Plant Wall
G: Regenerate Wall of Brambles

Wall of Ice
Creature — Wall

Wall of Wood
Creature — Wall

Living Wall
Artifact Creature — Wall
1: Regenerate Living Wall.

I have mixed feelings about walls. They do have their uses, but most of them are pretty bad. I might say more about walls in the future: a few of them do have some interesting combos. For now, I'll say a rule of thumb should be that a wall should be able to perform some function other than just sitting there and preventing attackers from getting through, otherwise it isn't worth using. None of the original walls really accomplish this.

Creature — Cockatrice
Whenever Cockatrice blocks or becomes blocked by a non-Wall creature, destroy that creature at end of combat.

Thicket Basilisk
Creature — Basilisk
Whenever Thicket Basilisk blocks or becomes blocked by a non-Wall creature, destroy that creature at end of combat.

This was a strange pair. Same mana cost, same power and toughness, same abilities, but one has flying and the other doesn't. One might think this would make Thicket Basilisk strictly worse, but it's that's an oversimplification. A popular tactic was to put Lure on Thicket Basilisk, killing all of an opponent's untapped creatures. Cockatrice couldn't pull that off. On the other hand, Cockatrice could block and trade with Serra Angel and the like. They are thwarted by walls, if that matters. The real problem is that these creatures cost five mana and are kind of puny at only 2 power. Decent in their day, but they both look rather weak now. However, green does lack useful, durable flying creatures, and Cockatrice does still have that going for it.

Artifact Creature — Juggernaut
Juggernaut attacks each turn if able.
Juggernaut can't be blocked by Walls.

Cockatrice and Thicket Basilisk have a hard time dealing with walls, but Juggernaut's special ability is to go right through them. This is, of course, marginal. And in some situations, the obligatory attacking is a liability. However, it is a 5/3 creature that costs four mana with no color requirements. That is efficient. It was efficient at the time, and it's still efficient today. Some of Juggernaut's fame can be attributed to Mishra's Workshop, which made it entirely realistic to drop the 5/3 on the second or even first turn of a game. Other artifact creatures have since been printed that might be deemed more useful overall, but Juggernaut has a niche as an aggressive, four-mana artifact creature and will probably always rule that particular domain. It has always had a lot more going for it than the other artifact creatures in the original core set...

Clockwork Beast
Artifact Creature — Beast
Clockwork Beast enters the battlefield with seven +1/+0 counters on it.
At end of combat, if Clockwork Beast attacked or blocked this combat, remove a +1/+0 counter from it.
X, T: Put up to X +1/+0 counters on Clockwork Beast. This ability can't cause the total number of +1/+0 counters on Clockwork Beast to be greater than seven. Activate this ability only during your upkeep.

Obsianus Golem
Artifact Creature — Golem

That's all of them, by the way. Artifact creatures were part of the game from the beginning, but there were only four of them (I already covered Living Wall with the other walls, but it's bad anyway) to start out, and only Juggernaut was decent. Obsianus Golem is more expensive than Juggernaut and doesn't hit as hard. Clockwork Beast began the trend of convoluted clockwork artifact creatures that enter the battlefield with counters on them and proceed to lose those counters. To date, we have Clockwork Avian, Clockwork Steed, Clockwork Swarm, Clockwork Beetle, Clockwork Condor, Clockwork Dragon, Clockwork Vorrac, and Clockwork Hydra. None of them are particularly good! I guess, if nothing else, Clockwork Beast can boast having spawned an entire tradition of mediocrity.

Rock Hydra
Creature — Hydra
Rock Hydra enters the battlefield with X +1/+1 counters on it.
For each 1 damage that would be dealt to Rock Hydra, if it has a +1/+1 counter on it, remove a +1/+1 counter from it and prevent that 1 damage.
R: Prevent the next 1 damage that would be dealt to Rock Hydra this turn.
RRR: Put a +1/+1 counter on Rock Hydra. Activate this ability only during your upkeep.

Rock Hydra and Clockwork Beast would later team up to make Clockwork Hydra, which would still not be good enough for me to actually want to use it. Alternatively, one could view the assortment of “Phantom” creatures in Judgment as the fixed version of Rock Hydra. However one looks at it, Rock Hydra is not a strong card. It does have flavor, though. The Oracle text doesn't show it, but on the printed cards, the counters are referred to as heads. You know, because it's a hydra...

Scavenging Ghoul
Creature — Zombie
At the beginning of each end step, put a corpse counter on Scavenging Ghoul for each creature that died this turn.
Remove a corpse counter from Scavenging Ghoul: Regenerate Scavenging Ghoul.

Unlike Rock Hydra, having the counters get a flavor-based name wasn't even on the original card in this case. Scavenging Ghoul's counters started out having no name, but were made corpse counters in Fourth Edition, to distinguish them from other counters. Regenerating is useful, but this form of regenerating is situational, taking time and dead creatures to become available. Scavenging Ghoul could still be decent if it costed less mana. Four mana for a 2/2 is wretched, and would have been even back in 1993.

Personal Incarnation
Creature — Avatar
0: The next 1 damage that would be dealt to Personal Incarnation this turn is dealt to its owner instead. Any player may activate this ability, but only if he or she owns Personal Incarnation.
When Personal Incarnation dies, its owner loses half his or her life, rounded up.

Not to belabor the point, but this was back when it was thought that big creatures had to have big drawbacks. Somehow, Personal Incarnation remained in the core set through Fifth Edition before Wizards of the Coast caught on to the fact that no one wanted to use the stupid thing. It's too bad the card has such a crippling weakness, because the art is actually kind of cool and a 6/6 for 3WWW with a damage-redirection ability would be fine, if not for the gaping flaw.

I didn't notice it until just now, but I think it's time for another round of Adventures in Bad Oracle Texts! “Any player may activate this ability, but only if he or she owns Personal Incarnation.” That's like saying any person can withdraw money from my bank account, but only if he or she happens to be me. We don't use the word “any” in English when we're actually being as exclusive as possible. It's just silly. The original text is a bit awkward and needed to be cleaned up, but this is an abomination.

Read More Articles by Stephen Bahl!

 - Wednesday (July 18. 2018)
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