Top 5 Catastrophic Events in MTG History
Magic: The Gathering is a worldwide phenomenon and has paved the way for many other card games that we know and play regularly today.
Being the first major company to explore these territories brings significant economic benefits but, at the same time, exposes you to risks.
In today's article, I want to go through the most traumatic events in Magic: The Gathering history so they can help you understand what led to today's situation.
For example, why Banned Lists exist and why some cards have been banned for a very long time.
Or because certain game mechanics are not reused or are used with extreme caution.
Back to 1996, Magic: The Gathering was taking its first steps (it was born only a couple of years earlier) but at the same time it was seeing unprecedented growth and more and more tournaments were being organized.
The first major traumatic event (not that there weren't any before but certainly not of this magnitude) is remembered as "Black Summer" and involves the Necropotence card you see above.
Necropotence was printed in 1995 and the specialized press described it as a waste of time and printed paper. In 1996 it became the card that destroyed the (recently introduced) Standard / T2 format.
How was this possible?
Magic: The Gathering is a game with limited resources (players start with a certain life total, you can only draw one card per turn, the deck must match certain prerequisites, etc.) and Necropotence contravenes one of these principles , that of the card advantage.
That is, if the resources are limited, the player who manages to have access to them in greater numbers can win more consistently.
Imagine what a game of chess could be like if only one of the players could have twice as many pawns as normal. Wouldn't it have an advantage?
The Necropotence deck could even play the card in turn 1 (in conjunction with Dark Ritual) and could draw a lot more cards than its opponent by burying him under the weight of card advantage.
Yes, to do so he would have to pay life points but at the time there were already ways to recover life points or steal them from the opponent (Drain Life).
So it was possible to power this engine sustainably and it became an extremely powerful deck.
At that time the Format became a struggle between the Necropotence decks and the counter-Necropotence decks.
The Wizard of the Coast learned a lot from this mistake (many cards from the deck were then placed on the banned list) and since then the cards that allow you to draw other cards have been designed with a new perspective.
After the events of the dreaded "Black Summer", dominated by decks with the Black color, there were no major changes until 1998, when a new "Season" took place. The "Combo Winter".
The Urza's Saga set was released in October 1998 and is part of the Urza's Block which is remembered as the most broken block of all time, simply the power level was disproportionate.
In the Urza block some cards were printed that referenced old broken cards with some modifications (in an attempt to "fix" them) but they got exactly the opposite effect, creating new monsters.
To further fuel the fire, starting from 1997 there was a sort of paradigm shift by the players of the competitive scene as they began to play decks entirely dedicated to combos while before the combos were usually additions to decks in their own right such as alternative methods of victory or to vary the gameplay.
This created the perfect storm, for the whole winter combo decks were king and between December 1998 and March 1999 we saw the largest number of bannings since the beginning of Magic history and involved all the major formats of the time. In some cases (such as after the Vienna Grand Prix Tournament) it was also necessary to resort to emergency bans (On this specific occasion the "memory jar" card you saw above was banned).
Also in this case the lessons learned were many, such as the recognition of the Combos as a major Archetype and not just as a filler.
Or how to deal (or rather, how not to deal with) overly explosive mechanics that need to be reconsidered and cannot simply be "fixed" by adding just a few mana to their casting cost.
Let's move in big steps until around 2003 where a block was released with the theme Artifacts. What could possibly go wrong?
In order for the Artifacts thematic to be played competitively, no effective cards were printed for countering artifacts. These types of cards (inserted on purpose in a set to avoid that a mechanic of the previous sets becomes too dominant) is called Hoser.
Mirrodin, the block that first featured the artifact theme as the main one, actually brought for the first time ever a mechanic, called Affinity, which dominated the standard format for the next 2 years and also had significant impacts on the Modern format. A format born a decade later.
Affinity allows the reduction of the cost of casting some spells based on the number of artifacts we control, on Mirrodin even lands are artifact and therefore it becomes extremely easy to cast spells at ridiculous or even zero cost!
Legend has it that there were some sudden changes in the design phase of the sets that make up the Mirrodin block.
For example, the Skullclamp card you see above (which was one of the first to be banned because it allowed you to draw too many cards), was actually designed very differently and was changed just before printing. Equipment was a big introduction to Magic: The Gathering and they wanted to give the mechanics a boost to make it stand out.
The Artifact Lands themselves are also said to have been a fairly sudden change and so the casting costs of Affinity cards should have been higher to balance the change, but they were not changed.
In addition, realizing the errors too late, they decided to weaken the next Block (Kamigawa) to slow the uncontrolled growth of the powel level but, in doing so, created one of the worst blocks in Magic history.
Artifact lands and other cards were banned in 2005, when it was too late.
Lessons learned with Mirrodin still echo today such as how to use hosers to better handle problematic mechanics or how sudden and improperly tested changes can spell disaster.
Let's move on to another of the most glaring mistakes in the history of Magic: The Gathering as we move to 2010 with the Worldwake expansion.
Jace Beleren is a main character in the expansion's plot and therefore is honored with a respectable card, perhaps even a little too powerful.
At that time, it was common to joke that to create a new deck you start by putting 4 copies of Jace and then we'll see ....
Stoneforge Mystic (in synergy with equipment cards from previous sets, like Batterskull) and Jace, the Mind Sculptor created a duo that set the standard on fire and led to the ban on both cards in various formats.
In many tournaments, UW Control deck mirrors were the norm.
For the last leg of the journey we pass to 2015 - 2016, with the Battle for Zendikar - Oath of the Gatewatch block, which brought back the events of the Eldrazi (monsters unleashed with the expansion that gave us the "Caw Blade ").
In this case the problem is opposite to the previous one, where the fan boy was acclaimed, in this case it was the bad guys who got a push.
As you can guess, the monstrous Eldrazi came and dominated the various formats in which they were, in some cases, banned.
Of the 3 great Eldrazi progenitors 2 had been defeated while the third was absent from the roll call.
As a further problem, even the next expansion (set on the plane of Innistrad), was shown to be surprisingly connected to the third progenitor Eldrazi and it took some time to find out and defeat him in turn.
This led to a kind of thematic heaviness that lasted for about a year.
On the one hand, the Wizard of the Coast was good at giving 3 different mechanical identities to the 3 progenitors but in any case there were some uninspired overlaps, recognized by the WOTC itself.
This concludes this journey in the history of Magic: The Gathering, write me in the comments if you agree or if for you there have been other more dramatic or influential moments for the history of this fantastic game.
© 2020 Christian Allasia