Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday Magic

In which Tim explores the world of Magic: The Gathering one
card at a time, courtesy of Gatherer's "Random Card" button.

Haunted Angel (Apocalypse, 2000)

And here we go, because someone - at least one person - demanded it, the return of, well, a recurring feature. And boy, do we have a card for you this week, one of the most significant, format-defining cards in the history of the game -

Hah, no. This is Haunted Angel. This is a bad card.

This came out in 2000's Apocalypse. I wasn't playing Magic when this came out. This was the Summer 2001 set, meaning it was the most recent new set on September, 11th, 2001, when terrorists commandeered -

Fuck, shit. There has to be something more interesting to say about Haunted Angel.

OK. We can do this.

Haunted Angel is the kind of card no one in their right mind would play under normal circumstances. It's never been reprinted, which is usually a good sign of its forgettability. And yet, it's also a good example of a card that works within the context of its set, maybe not playable under most circumstances but intended to bolster the set's story and themes. Apocalypse was, as you might imagine from the title, a particularly significant set, story-wise. This set was the culmination of a years-long story leading to the invasion of the plane of Dominaria (the former default plane for every Magic set) by the evil extra-dimensional Phyrexians. The core storytelling gimmick at the heart of Magic - the conceit behind the game, really - is that the game takes place in a multiverse of different worlds that can only be traversed by magically gifted "Planeswalkers." You, as in the player, are a Planeswalker, able to take spells and artifacts from across many different worlds in order to wage magic duels. Dominaria was the game's home from its very first set (Limited Edition, retroactively labeled Alpha), back in 1993, although it's been only rarely seen in the last twelve or thirteen years as the game has focused on expanding its stable of worlds.

The Phyrexians are less a race than an infection, a kind of evil illness that spreads through a black bile (kind of similar to the black stuff in Prometheus, although over a decade earlier). The leader of the Phyrexians, Yawgmoth, invaded Dominaria in the lead up to Apocalypse, raising the dead of Dominaria to fill the ranks of his army. (Hence the name "Apocalypse," signifying an actual Biblical end of the world event.) The idea behind a card like Haunted Angel, therefore, is that even a pure creature like an Angel can be turned into an enemy after death: when Haunted Angel dies, your opponent gets a mirror image of the creature with which to attack you.

On it's own without that ability, this would be a good card - an Uncommon white 3/3 with Flying for 3 CMC is definitely playable. But giving your enemy a 3/3 flyer of their own to attack you with after losing the creature, that's a punishing drawback. The one situation where this card might come in handy would be in a multiplayer game: the card grants evil Angels to all your opponents, not just one, and there are lots of circumstances where giving free creatures to other players in a multiplayer game might come in handy.

Although Yawgmoth and the Phyrexians were defeated at the end of Apocalypse, that wouldn't be the end for the villains. A few hundred or so years later (here's a handy, if confusing, timeline for the Magic storyline, although it's a bit out of date) the Phyrexians regrouped on the artificial plane of Mirrodin. The last we saw of the Phyrexians was in 2011, so it's been a while. Recent changes in the game have been designed partly with the purpose of accelerating the occasionally moribund pace of storytelling, so hopefully we'll get some development there soon.


BU said...

Say, I'm at least one person; any chance we can get back to that Secret Wars series?

Tegan O'Neil said...

That one was abandoned (temporarily) not out of apathy but because it had grown massive. The next article is halfway done on my desktop, but man, they are so very time intensive. Actual tracking of stuff down needing to be done, etc.

Bill Snowden said...

More Monday Magic.

Bill Snowden said...


CalvinPitt said...

If we'r voting for series of posts we'd like to see resumed, I'll ask for those posts on Asimov's Foundation series you started a few years back. I was curious to see where you were going to go with them.

And even though I don't know anything about Magic the Gathering, I do enjoy these posts, for the different directions you opt to go when discussing the cards.

BU said...

There was a very good series of post here about the X-Men a few years ago that sort of petered out unfinished, but I don't recall much more than it's was good and I wanted more, not to ask for a refund or anything...

Isaac M. said...

I'm one other person who is very happy this feature returned.