Hello everyone and welcome to another install of Magic Design History, my series devoted to taking you back through Magic’s history to examining the good and bad of card design. Today I want to talk about a cycle of cards from Alpha nicknamed “the boons,” those being Healing Salve, Ancestral Recall, Dark Ritual, Lightning Bolt and Giant Growth. I imagine you may have heard of some if not all of these. These one mana instants - of varying power level - formed an identity for each of their respective colors, either in the early years or permanently.
For the structure of this article, I would like to address each card one at a time and talk about a alternate world where it had a different design, the impact and/or what should be costed under current design philosophy. I do want to stress, I think these cards - especially the powerful ones - were the kind of thing the game needed at its birth to inspire the love it got, but some of the changes or commentary come with 20/20 vision.
Easily the worst of the cycle - seriously, these cards should not have been commons - Healing Salve exists in an area of White that doesn’t really happen anymore. Since New World Order in 2009, Wizards has moved away from cards preventing damage like this, especially on creatures. On top of that, life gain being the sole purpose of a card is not viewed as being worth the mana or card slot in a deck. So this card really fails on all levels in its printed form.
So what do we do differently? Well, if I were to fill the slot this took up in Alpha - once again, with 20/20 vision - I would have a one mana instant that did one of two things; a) “Destroy target attacking or blocking creature with power 3 or less” or b) “Destroy target enchantment with converted mana cost 3 or less”.
You may have noticed the awkward inclusion of “3 or less” there, this is to keep it tied to the rest of the cycle and to keep the power level contained. I feel without the use of the number 3, the cycle falls apart.
Now, because it’s the worst card in the cycle, I feel pretty safe in saying that this effect in costed correctly, maybe even too expensive. In the current world of Magic this effect is just stapled onto 1/3 creatures as an enter the battlefield effect for 1W.
Oh boy. So here we have the commonly considered best card in the cycle, by a mile. This is the best example of something that would have been considered a mistake in 1998, but was exactly what the game needed in 1993. This is easily a rare in its printed form and an uncommon once it’s “fixed” version, aka Jace’s Ingenuity.
So what would I do differently? Well, without the cycle restriction of the number 3, I would have this draw two cards and chalk it up to Alpha being Alpha. In a world where I am changing the text to lower the power level? I would make this a Mana Leak for only U (see my write-up on Lightning Bolt). This would stick to the theme of including “3” and still make for a card that may be incorrectly costed, but not by much with 20/20 vision.
Unlike Healing Salve, this effect still happens frequently enough in Standard-legal sets, it’s just costed at 2UU for a sorcery or 3UU for an instant. Open and shut case.
So. I think this is an example of a really fun card that shouldn’t be allowed in tournament decks. Luckily, Wizards agrees with that now. Dark Ritual is an insane card that got printed more times than it had any business being printed. If this was still a regular effect in Black, I would expect this to be an uncommon now. Though, I would expect a color-shifted High Tide before another ritual effect in Black.
So how would I change this? One, I would make it Red. But if it had to be a Black effect, I think I would replace this with “Target creature gets -3/-3” even though that might be stepping too much on Lightning Bolt’s space. I will admit that B on an instant is really only worth -2/-2, but this Alpha!
If this effect saw printing today in Black, I think it would cost 1B for BBB or require you to sacrifice a creature.
This one is pretty cut and dry in my eyes, Lightning Bolt is a very strong card that has been safe enough to print in Standard in the last decade. It warps the format around it due to the gravity it has, but it seems like the kind of card that is really needed in a format like Modern. All that said, I don’t see Wizards injecting this into Standard any time soon, certainly Modern Masters.
Would I change anything? Probably not, at the price of R, I don’t know that anything was more evocative in Red for Alpha and I don’t think anything about it is a mistake. Besides, maybe setting a toughness threshold for a creature to be good in Standard healthy. I think it’s a good tool to keep Planeswalkers in check and the card is iconic.
This effect is a constant in Magic, so it’s really easy to gauge where this should be costed: 1R. And I feel saying “should” might give the wrong idea, what I mean to say is that 1R is the safe version of Lightning Bolt and like my cheaper Mana Leak example earlier, the differences in cost can be chalked up to learning lessons. It still sets a bar without being format warping. And the extra generic mana opens design up to adding an exile effect or set specific keyword.
Finally we have the best design of all five, not the most powerful, but the closest to perfect. Giant Growth has been printed more times than any other card in the cycle and is the starting block for many Green pump spells being designed for Standard. It is as reliable as Naturalize and Cancel are in most current sets.
So then the question what would I do differently? And anti-climatically, nothing. I think Giant Growth is a great design, in direct contrast to Healing Salve, which I think is safe but very weak. There doesn’t need to be any costs changing, in fact the converted mana cost is usually bumped up to just make combat tricks weaker in a Limited format.
I would like to thank all people that tagged along this journey of 1000+ words as I examined one of Magic’s oldest cycles. I honestly didn’t know that the content was going to have that level of depth. Until next time, thanks!
In honor of season 2, here’s the list for a 25-day challenge once the season is over. I’m posting it now so folks (and myself) can start getting some ideas on what the answers will be. Have fun come July 28th!
1. The episode you were most looking forward to. 2. A season 2 title you got excited for. 3. An episode from season 2 you would show to someone to introduce them to the series. 4. Favorite new character. 5. Favorite new dimension. 6. Old dimension you wished had come back in season 2. 7. Old dimension you were happy to see again. 8. Season 1 character you were happy to see again. 9. Favorite Season 2 Penn design. 10. Favorite Season 2 Rippen design. 11. Favorite Season 2 Boone design. 12. Favorite Season 2 Sashi design. 13. Favorite Season 2 Larry design. 14. Any headcanons about any of the new characters/dimensions? 15. Favorite Season 2 song. 16. Funniest moment in Season 2 17. Most dramatic/tense moment in Season 2. 18. Most heart-warming moment in Season 2. 19. Any new OTPs? 20. Any new OCs? 21. Favorite guest voice actor in Season 2. 22. A dimension you wished had more time spent on it. 23. Least favorite new dimension. 24. A new character you most relate to. 25. A message you’d like to say to the cast and crew of Penn Zero.
Because every fandom deserves one of these!
1. The first episode you ever saw.
2. Favorite character.
3. An episode you would show to someone to introduce them to the series.
4. Favorite episode.
5. Favorite human dimension.
6. Favorite non-human dimension.
7. Any character headcanons?
8. Favorite minor character.
9. Favorite Penn design.
10. Favorite Rippen design.
11. Favorite Boone design.
12. Favorite Sashi design.
13. Favorite Larry design.
14. A world you’d like to see revisited.
15. Favorite song.
16. Funniest moment.
17. Most dramatic moment.
18. Most heart-warming moment.
19. Any OTPs?
20. Any OCs?
21. Favorite guest voice actor.
22. A guest you’d like to see voice a character.
23. Least favorite dimension.
24. A character you most relate to.
25. A crossover you’d like to see.
26. Favorite souvenir from A Little Piece of Larry.
27. A character whose daily/personal life you’d like to see more of.
28. A world you’d like to see visited in future episodes.
29. Team Hero or Team Villain?
30. A message to the PZ cast and crew.
25 Day Penn Zero Season 2 Challenge day 11- Favorite Season 2 Boone Design
His boat design from “The Pirates, the Parrot, the Puzzles, and the Talking Boats”. I have no reason for choosing this other than the fact that he thought of “Disco Letter Monkey” in this form and my friend and I bring it up every once in a while, laughing like idiots, and acting like it’s an inside joke of ours.