Stick the landing.
ver watch a gymnastic routine where the performer is obviously on the top of their game? There they are, swinging and looping on the bars, contorting their whole body into unearthly and yet beautiful shapes, arcing with a fluid grace that seems somehow angelic.
Yet experienced watchers know that a beautiful routine can be slaughtered by that one final misstep at the end. Here they come, sailing off the high beam, twirling off the balance beam, their torsos and legs shifting in mid-air... and it's all down to that final piece of footwork.
Can they finish this routine as perfectly as they started? Can they land on their feet in perfect balance, or will they—God forbid—end this show with an ungainly lurch forward to stop from falling?
Stick the landing.
When that sort of thing happens, you become absorbed in it—you begin quietly begging the gymnast to keep it up. It's been so good thus far. All you have to do is not screw up the final seconds.
Just make it.
That, my friends, was Weatherlight.
Because let us be honest for a moment: some of the first expansions of Magic were not very good. We look back fondly at Antiquities and Legends and Arabian Nights because they're cloaked in the mists of time. But if they released any of those as a new set today, you'd probably think it was... well, like I said, not very good. And that's putting it charitably.
For every Library of Alexandria, there were two Elephant Graveyards and a Jandor's Ring. For every Mishra's Workshop, there were two Damping Fieldss and an Obelisk of Undoing. And Legends was a hodge-podge of random, often vanilla, overpriced creatures that didn't work too well together.
None of this was the fault of the designers. The folks at Wizards didn't have much of a clue as to how to build a coherent, consistently enjoyable set, simply because nobody had done this before. (Pioneers always have a difficult path to tread.) Magic was still fun, naturally, because it was all new to us (and in the days before spoilers saturated the net, every booster pack really was a surprise—you'd often crack a card that nobody had heard of).
But speaking as someone who cracked open a lot of packs of Ice Age, it was often painful opening up early booster packs—you'd get a lot of really bad cards, things you couldn't use even if you wanted to. Sure, you could get Force of Will, but it was more likely you'd get Benthic Explorers or Nature's Chosen. * There was a lot of filler, and the less said about the "get the same cards seventy times in a row" experiment with alternate art that was Fallen Empires, the better.
A lot of the people I knew were wandering away from Magic because, well, the sets just didn't have a lot of zing to them. You may complain about a lack of good cards in your pack now, but compared to what you got back then, comparatively speaking you're getting the motherlode. Wizards was experimenting wildly, and a lot of it was just Not Working.
Then Mirage came out.
Mirage was what I'd consider to be the first Magic set where Wizards just plain got it right. The artwork was beautiful, the cards were useful and flavorful, and every booster pack was guaranteed to have something good in it. The filler dreck that saturated previous sets was gone, supplanted by genuinely useful cards. And it had mechanics that seemed synergistic, not just a loose thematic overlap.
Then Visions came out, and Visions was even better. Magic was back; I'd drifted away from the game for a bit, but my friends were beginning to whisper that maybe I should return. Really, this was worth it.
By the time Weatherlight was about to be released, all of Magic fandom was holding its breath: Oh, Lord, please, stick the landing. Make this set good and wise and wonderful. Make it the first true block.
The miracle? They did.
Almost every card in Weatherlight is simple and yet good. Look down that list of Weatherlight cards, and you'll find nothing but pure elegance—solid cards that do simple, effective things. There aren't any text-cramped cards like Balduvian Shaman or Giant Albatross; instead, they're all workhorse cards, nearly any one of which you'd be proud to have in your pool today.
To this day, I remember Weatherlight fondly as the moment when the tide began to turn for Wizards—the set where I realized that this game was going to last a while. There was potential in this game, and Wizards had, after years of experimenting, finally unlocked it.
That said, let's take a look at some of the cards that I remember most fondly from Weatherlight.
This is a card that's both better and worse than Control Magic, which was the enchantment to beat at the time. Unlike Control Magic, you get your stolen creature untapped and ready to block—something even Take Possession can't do. The downside, of course, is that when the creature dies, the original owner gets it back.
Interestingly enough, this can sometimes work to your advantage. People just don't get as mad if they know they can get their guy back after a Wrath of God (assuming that they're not going to die in two rounds to whatever you took, natch). It won't stop them from going after you, but they won't be as vindictive.
I have seen clever players play this upon their own creature in preparation for a Wrath of God. Sneaky, that!
One of my earliest multiplayer-only decks consisted of four copies of this enchantment and a lot of guys with protection from red. (Back in those days, people generally didn't play with fatties—it took Invasion to make dragons cool again.) It didn't win much, but the joy of plopping down three copies of Æther Flash and watching almost everything die in a fire was a joy to behold.
Aura of Silence
I've mentioned this before, and I'll mention it again: this is one of the best anti-enchantment / -artifact cards out there. Note that the new Oracle wording has it affect all players; this is a beautifully designed card.
This was noteworthy not to the Magic community, but to me personally. Playing in Ann Arbor, I found a gentleman who'd built an entire deck that revolved around stocking the graveyard with creatures and winning with a bunch of recurred Circling Vultures.
It wasn't a great deck (not that many decks back then were "great" as we understand it now), but it was the first time that I really saw someone build an entire deck around a creature's drawback. I realized that though clauses like "discard a card" and "remove this from the game" could be ugly, they could also be worked around.
In that moment, I realized that Magic could be built around downsides as well as upsides, if the card was cheap enough—something that every novice player needs to learn at some point, but I learned from Circling Vultures.
Of all the cards to learn that lesson from!
This was one of the first cards that really began to help green. Before that, all green got was regeneration shields, which didn't help much against black's endless supply of "do not regenerate" clauses. Oh sure, you couldn't hit something with your Giant Growth, but finally we had an answer to the endless barrage of Lightning Bolts that seemed to kill our happy Elf decks.
(And yes, we had happy Elf decks back then.)
This is still a good card in multiplayer, servicing what I call the "hurtsyou, hurtsme" market. In a large game, there will be people who will be inconvenienced by this who want to get rid of it—but there will also be people who benefit, and sometimes will act to protect the Dense Foliage for you. This is indeed awesome when you watch other players burning cards to destroy / protect your own card.
One of my favorite flavor cards, if a bit risky in multiplayer. Indeed, you have five turns to make it all work. If not, it's over.
It worked well in some tournaments. Alas, in the days before Urza's Saga combo madness, five turns was usually not quite enough. These days? Well, if you can assemble a frightening heavy-black combo, go for it. But one Millstone effect can ruin ya.
Back in the day, everyone I knew had a deck that abused Marsh Vipers, Instill Energy, and Fire Whip to try to kill the other players. Why? Well, we all loved the idea of killing the other player with poison counters, and Marsh Viper gave two of them!
Alas, the number of good creatures with poison counters were slim, and the chances of landing two enchantments on a 1/2 creature in the days of Lightning Bolts taught us a very important lesson: A deck that relies on enchantments piled upon on one creature is a deck built on a very narrow plinth.
(P.S. – I love using the word "plinth.")
In the days before Odyssey Block made the graveyard matter, the graveyard was indeed a mighty dead place. Creatures came back a lot (mostly thanks to Animate Dead, one of the best enchantments ever), but anything else pretty much stayed. Oh, there were a handful of cards that could bring non-creature stuff back, but most of them cost a zillion mana and were not particularly intuitive.
Gaea's Blessing was one of the first cards that had people going, "Hmm. Maybe I can use this in some sort of arbitrary loop." Love it or hate it, this was one of the first cards that made people start thinking in terms of combo... and it put a permanent crimp in the plans of Millstone-based decks everywhere.
This is, ironically, perhaps the most influential multiplayer card ever. Go ahead, read it. Doesn't seem like much, does it?
But back when Internet Magic was still young, there was a Magic site called The Dojo. Actually, I lie—the only Magic site was The Dojo.
The Dojo was the first site to publish Magic strategy articles, and it was a sprawling site that published pretty much anything. But the best and biggest Magic writers appeared there (including Mister Michael J. Flores), and much of the strategy that we take for granted today was generated there.
"Card advantage?" Explored at The Dojo.
"Tempo?" Brought into existence at The Dojo.
The birth of multiplayer Magic?
The concept of Beatdown, Combo, and Control as archetypes? You guessed it—The Dojo.
In fact, most of what we'd consider to be strategy emerged from the often-contentious debates at the Dojo. In those innocent days before Magic Online brought Magic to everyone and the Pro Tour funds made pros reluctant to share their tech for fear of being bumped out of the Top 8 by a deck of their own design, The Dojo had the best players with the best advice.
And it was a community. Everyone was on The Dojo. In fact, as the editor of StarCityGames.com at the time, one of my main problems was trying to make a name for my site because The Dojo, realistically, had everything. Even Wizards' official site, "The Sideboard," wasn't as popular as The Dojo.
But back then, a guy decided that he liked Jangling Automaton, and so he wrote a parody piece on building decks with it. It was the first real exploration of a "casual" deck on The Dojo, some funky little thing meant for multiplayer.
The man who wrote that was Anthony Alongi—my predecessor here in the "Serious Fun" slot, and the first man to write about multiplayer. In fact, I began writing specifically because I saw Anthony doing it. As did others. And soon, people began started thinking about "multiplayer Magic" and "casual" Magic as its own, legitimate format.
Jangling Automaton caused Anthony Alongi to write about multiplayer, and he in turn caused others to write about it. And once we started yammering away about how fun it was to play with others, Wizards started to notice this fledgling market of multiplayer games. They saw how eager and enthusiastic we were about it, and began to design cards for it (starting seriously with Prophecy, and moving upwards from there). They began to cater to it.
Like Two-Headed Giant? It probably wouldn't be a sanctioned format without Jangling Automaton.
Enjoy the casual rooms on Magic Online, and the multiplayer games? Thank Jangling Automaton.
Do you like this very column? That's all thanks to Jangling Automaton.
To assume that Anthony was the only reason multiplayer Magic became popular, of course, is a bit of mild hubris. It probably would have done okay on its own. (After all, multiplayer is fun regardless of what some Internet columnist thinks.) But it would have taken a lot longer for Wizards to notice this unsatiated market of frenzied MP fans without Anthony (and the people he inspired) continually waving the flag high, telling Wizards that we exist and we want to play Chaos Multiplayer games.
That's right: Weatherlight was, in a very important sense, the birth of multiplayer as its own recognized format. And how cool is that?
Say goodbye to your amazing Sol Rings and Moxes, folks. This just makes 'em dead. And back in the days when Sol Rings and Moxen were common, this was an awesome artifact to have.
I would consider this one of the first true multiplayer cards. Pestilence, Earthquake, and Hurricane were probably the first cards that scaled, but it also hurt you just as much, making it difficult to take advantage of them without a Circle of Protection.
But Peacekeeper? Sure, it's fragile! Yet it affects everyone equally, allowing you to play a deck that takes advantage of a condition that nobody else saw coming—namely, the cessation of all nasty combat. This doesn't target anyone, and in fact it scales beautifully, stopping all combat no matter how many players are hanging around your dining room.
To this day, a lot of old-school players still have a Peacekeeper deck. (And many of them, to be Very Nice people, also pack the happy Weatherlight card Noble Benefactor, which spreads the love to everyone.) This is a card that encouraged decks to take on many folks at once, and for that it is awesome.
For years, if someone playing black was tapped out, you feared a Spinning Darkness. Sure, there were cards like Pyrokinesis, but they were hard to find; in those days, it seemed like everyone had the Darkness.
I suspect that there are multiplayer games where people will never see The Darkness coming. Perhaps you should be on top of that.
In a slower multiplayer game, who doesn't like plopping your guys down at instant speed at end of turn? Sure, it's three extra mana, but in a big game a strange land on the table is easy to overlook. And it can lead to some very surprising, and entertaining, interactions, if it's another old-school favorite like Nekrataal.
I myself have two of these in my [card name censored] deck. We'll see whether it wins in tonight's game. All hail Weatherlight!
* – Yes, I know that technically speaking Nature's Chosen is the same commonality as Force of Will. But as someone who opened the packs, it sure seemed like I got a lot more Nature's Chosens.