Last time, I invited you to come on the long, strange trip I'm beginning with regard to my Magic memories as I talked at length about a certain story-critical rare artifact from Apocalypse. As I said to introduce myself:
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.
By contrast, the next card in my top-hundred list is not a memorable flavor-driven card like Legacy Weapon. It's an obscure Limited-fodder uncommon that happens to be from a set that holds a lot of good memories for me and that employs many of my favorite design tools of all time. That card is Squealing Devil, and it pushes a ton of my Melvin buttons.
You see, as a longtime custom card designer and as a game design nerd, I appreciate offbeat cards a lot. They may not be particularly powerful or otherwise noteworthy but they're blazing their own trail and doing things in a way nothing else does them, and creativity for its own sake (or any of the other things that make a Magic card offbeat - deliberately being an old-school throwback, enabling an odd strategy...) is a noble goal, in my opinion. So what makes Squealing Devil so strange and so cool?
One, it's part of a huge, huge cycle (freaking twenty cards!) called the "enhanced spells" from the original Ravnica block. These were a kicker variant that opened up a lot of design space because they cared about how you cast them. If the colorless mana cost was paid with in part with at least one off-color mana, you got an extra effect, related to the off color. This was a new approach to multicolor and a signal of a bolder era of design. It made me swoon a little thinking of the possibilities, and I designed plenty of my own goofy takeoffs on it (including a whole creature type called Reagents that effectively made all your spells of a certain color enhanced).
Ravnica's guilds had the obvious instants and sorceries, Guildpact's had creatures that got an off-color enters the battlefield triggered ability (or "comes into play" as it was templated then). Dissension's enhanced spells took it a step further, as they were creatures with an on-color enters the battlefield triggered ability and another off-color ability that you only got to keep around if you paid the right mana.
Squealing Devil was the most out-there of them all. It was the second Devil creature, ever. Before Innistrad block used them as small red creatures to replace Goblins, there was only Stone-Throwing Devils, which was so old it almost didn't count. There was my box for one-off or nearly-one-off creature types checked. Then there was the mystique of having a technically monored creature with fear, which was entirely unheard of. And the enters the battlefield ability being effectively an X-spell, using that beautifully awkward templating because of stack-to-battlefield memory issues? It was a lot of bizarre and even ugly things coming together to make a card. Not a game-changing card, but one that was fun to read and think about and have on the board in a Limited match.
So most of the psychographics don't "get" it and it makes elegance-oriented Melvins cringe. It deeply appeals to one person - me - and therefore is a successful design. The takeaway here? Chase after designs that make someone love them, or, better yet, that turn players into those that are capable of loving those designs.