Last time in this series, I discussed an oddball Rakdos enhanced creature from Dissension that happens to embody a lot of the things I like to do and see in design. Today, it's going to be something that's sublimely absurd (and pretty underpowered) on a much grander scale. For those that don't know the premise:
I love Magic, of course - that's the major reason why I've written about it for as long as I have - and probably most of my readers do too. There are a lot of reasons to love this game, and everyone has their own, but Magic is principally dependent on its cards, so a fondness for individual cards in fact underpins most of our feelings. I have been playing Magic a long time, and, well, I've seen a lot of cards come and go. This means I have a lot of favorites. So I've decided to recount my one hundred favorite Magic cards of all time, tell the stories behind them as best as I can, and hopefully articulate some kind of greater lesson about each of them.
There is no one reason to love or hate a Magic card - there's the flavor, the elegance of the design or its power, the uniqueness of it, how impressive and awe-inspiring it is, or entirely different and personal ones. As nobody fits any of the player psychographic profiles perfectly well, I'll probably talk like a Timmy, Johnny, Spike, Melvin, and Vorthos at different times and in different combinations about these cards.
So, how about Prophecy, huh? This may have been among the worst Magic sets ever designed. It was the worst set of a bad block, its major mechanical theme was a drawback (and the broader execution of it has been left semi-irrelevant since mana burn no longer exists), and its flavor barely bothered to use any of the interesting parts of the Jamuraa setting.
The entire Masques block was a reminder of the double tragedy of a horrifically overpowered block (not only did Urza block make things degenerate, it made the followup underpowered and unfun to overcompensate, as was seen with Mirrodin into Kamigawa and thankfully not since), as well as a cautionary tale about the set-on-three-different-planes gimmick.
I could go on and on, but this isn't an article about why Prophecy was bad - it's supposed to be about how one particular card from Prophecy - Search for Survivors - is, if not good, at least so-bad-it's-good.
This is a top-down flavor rare, which means it has nothing to do with the themes of the set it's in, which is definitely something it has going for it in the environment it's in. So far, so good. It also is an expansion of red's color pie and a way to allow it to get graveyard effects, which I can get behind, even if it's the most blunt-instrument, usually-bad-design, jokey-stereotype-about-red way to do that. (Wow, red is random because it's mercurial and wacky, how original.)
Flavorwise, we're dealing with something excellent. The name is resonant and rolls off the tongue and perfectly represents what's going on - a rather disorganized rescue mission. You don't know if you're going to find a half-dead but revivable person underneath that rubble or the corpse of your best buddy. The art, too, counts for a lot - you can really appreciate the self-serious distillation of all Barbarian Warrior Fantasy Races into the Keldons. Those guys certainly didn't have a subtle aesthetic, but they had an enjoyable one.
But really I think I like this one just because it originally said "shuffle your graveyard."
Oh, there's supposed to be a lesson here. Right. Okay, so, that would be: "Make bad cards - the game does need them, after all - but don't ever make unappealing cards. Make lovably bad ones."