Magic Memories: Tolarian Academy

Discussion in 'Single Card Strategies' started by Oversoul, Jun 4, 2018.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    There is a point in all of this, which I'd planned on when I started the thread. Took me long enough to get to it, but whatever...

    I admitted at the outset that Tolarian Academy was a mistake. I actually went a step further than that. When it comes to broken cards, Tolarian Academy isn't just a run-of-the-mill mistake, but arguably the biggest mistake. I say "arguably" because it all depends on your interpretation. But I'd point out that the only cards consistently presenting a power-level issue to the same striking degree as Academy, across different formats, tend to be ones originally printed in 1993, and the context of the game was different. As amazingly powerful as some other cards have shown themselves to be, Tolarian Academy almost always seems like it can take things to another level. I'd say more about this, but it seems like it's probably a non-controversial assertion that Tolarian Academy is one of the most broken cards ever printed. So yeah, to reiterate from my first post in this thread...

    I said all that at the outset primarily because it was too important not to note it. This isn't your typical Magic card. I write the stuff in these "Memories" threads about cards I enjoyed playing with, but there's no question that this one is broken. I'd even say, "most egregiously broken." But there was also a secondary reason for my emphasizing this aspect up-front. And that's this: it's been almost 20 years since we were introduced to Tolarian Academy. Looking back, well, what of it? It was a mistake to print the card. But now it's been in the game for 20 years. And so what? In the grand scheme of things, what is the effect on the game?

    Those copies of Tolarian Academy? They're in Vintage decks. They're in trade binders. They're hoarded by financial speculators because the card is on the Reserved List. They're in Highlander decks. They're in "Power Cubes." Generally, they're not doing anything bad. The card sees little real use, is kept in check in the formats where it is still allowed, and it makes for interesting conversations. So, in essence, Tolarian Academy isn't a problem anymore and actually does some good things. I mean, yeah, that's pretty much it.

    I'm not saying that mistakes aren't mistakes! But so many of them are tempered with time. So many cards that were considered too strong at one time are now reined in naturally, by the evolution of the game. And even the truly egregious offenders tend to find some niche. Skullclamp was a huge mistake, but these days it's mostly an EDH card and not really a problem for that format: it's even been reprinted in the Commander precon products. Mind's Desire was a mistake, but it now plays a minor role in Vintage and in EDH, as well as in some other, more obscure places. It was reprinted in a Duel Deck. Stoneforge Mystic was a mistake, but now it helps form multiple healthy archetypes in Legacy and other formats. And even Tolarian Academy, the biggest mistake of them all (when it comes to power-level specifically), is a valued card in Vintage, in Cubes, and in specialty formats like Canadian Highlander. Virtually every "broken" card, setting aside the initial fuss, has gone on to become innocuous in the context of the game as a whole, given the passage of time.

    Maybe that's not some profound insight, but it sure seems like it should have implications on card design. Yes, WotC should set out to avoid mistakes, but if they always err on the side of caution, sets will be weak and boring. If they make the occasional mistake, there might be some upset over it, but that has always faded with time. And it's the interesting cards, especially the mistakes, that have allure. Even in Modern, a comparatively young format, it seems like the cards that keep people coming back are the ones that were once mistakes. It's a mistake to design a card like Tolarian Academy, but it's a bigger mistake to make everything dull and low-impact because you're too cautious.

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