Growing up, I was always fond of anthologies. I don’t know why, precisely, but I inherently trusted something that had a curatorial vibe to it. My first Magic product outside of Portal was an Anthologies box set I got for Christmas back in 1998. This was the era of The Best American Non-Required Reading series, the age that launched Now That’s What I Call Music!, the era that birthed the subsequent era of .mp3 mixes and explainers and end-of-year lists as easy online content. It was the precursor to our current environment of curational capitalism, the years of “Top 25 Gifts for Him” content mills that just happen to link to Kinja Deals on every post and have micropenny-per-click kickbacks with Amazon.

Into this emerges the Mystery Booster, a strange half-step between Secret Lairs and Masters sets—a curated but massive set drawn from Magic’s history, loaded with obsolete forgettables and old favorites. It’s an anthology in its own right, and one that does something only the medium of Magic can do: recontextualize the way cards play and feel simply by printing them again. What may have been a first pick in Invasion-Planeshift-Apocalypse may be another outclassed creature; what was a niche card in Mirrodin Besieged may suddenly be newly powerful outside an artifact-heavy set. To me, the best aspect of Magic is that every single card tells a story. Sure, sometimes the stories are dull, but what isn’t?

I can’t speak to the inspiration for the set or to the massively complicated logistics that must have gone into ensuring the cards are appropriately randomized and playable both independently and collectively. Luckily, I played with the majority of these cards the first time around, so I feel uniquely qualified to go into the set with fresh eyes and old schema—some of these are old friends, and some enemies, and there are over 1700 of them.

So I sat out in the March sunshine and cracked a single booster, and let fifteen old stories in a new context play out like a Tarot spread.

First printed in Shadows Over Innistrad, the clunky Angelic Purge played way better than it looked. While you never want to Stone Rain yourself, sacrificing a land late game to kill a threat often turned on Delirium and powered up your team. Definitely cuttable, especially in Chaos Draft/Mystery Booster, but a nice lesson in not judging a card without context.

First appearing in M19, I don’t have many stories about this massive Knight. I think I drafted him three times and cut him out of the 23 twice. Sorry, Knight of the Tusk. You’re too little, too late.

Now Ojutai’s Breath, on the other hand, was a favorite of mine from Dragons of Tarkir Limited. Much like Angelic Purge, this wasn’t powerful on its face, but in the environment in which it was printed. With enough Prowess creatures (and Khans block had nineteen), this was closer to Glorious Anthem than a tap effect.

Originally printed in Portal: Three Kingdoms and brought back in Hour of Devastation, Strategic Planning dumped Eternalize/Embalm creatures in your graveyard while snagging a new card. Low impact, easily cut, but always an option—and a member of the proud family of Impulse, Worldly Counsel, Anticipate, Telling Time, and friends.

Now we’re talking. A completely brutal card, Annihilate was fantastic in Invasion block, albeit less certain than it looked—colors were mutable in the format, and you never knew when your target might get hit with Singe or Crystal Spray. Likewise, it was great in Eternal Masters, but was a bit fair for such a high-powered format. This is a two-for-one, and often feels even better than that, when you’re able to remove a blocker that your opponent was counting on to defend their Planeswalker or turn a double-blocking trade into an absolute rout.

Plague Wight provides a minor Spectacle enabler on turn two and a simply awful draw any turn after that. Sometimes, the beauty of anthologizing is reminding you that dreck has existed in every age.

A slow, expensive Firebolt is still a Firebolt. I’ve cut this as much as I’ve played it; but between this and Ojutai’s Breath in this pack, I would hope for one of those to wheel and see if I could cobble together a spellslinger deck.

A lot of recent cards in this pack! Zealot is playable enough—decent stats with a relevant but expensive ability always add up to that—but was better in a format with Afflict and Torment cards that often got 3-6 chip damage in against an opponent. If this is a story, it’s one you read in tenth grade and completely forgot about. Someone worked on that story once, and it slipped through your life without a second thought.

First printed back in 2003 in Fifth Dawn, Witness has been a staple in casual decks and a Constructed powerhouse, ever since she was looping Renewed Faith and Plow Under in Julien Nuijten’s Worlds deck back in 2004. Back then, of course, she could block X/2’s and then get blinked to kill them and return unharmed. She’s still a great chump blocker and card advantage engine; and I, a true Commander player and Golgari aficionado, would be a happy man if she returned in every set.

“Draw a card” was, for years, tacked onto cards for an additional (2). Ever since Ice Age brought cantrips to the game, minor effects in nonblue colors got access to de facto “cycling” for that cost—compare Recover to Raise Dead, for example. Apparently, judging by Rampant Growth and Beneath the Sands, the opportunity to cycle adds (1) to a cost. It’s an interesting design experiment to think of classic cards that could be likewise updated—a Duress for (1)(B) with Cycling (2) would be a hell of a card.

This digression came about, of course, because I can’t think of a more boring card than Beneath the Sands.

Kaladesh is remembered, as all artifact-themed sets seem to be, for killing a Standard format and birthing bans. It’s also remembered as being the set that gave me another Overrun effect to dread.

They’re not all going to be winners. But if you want to talk about stories within a card, Sunset Pyramid is a superb example. Basically fine, infrequently played, and a repeat player in this column.

For when your cup runneth over with Overruns. Triumph of the Hordes is one of the most boring ways to win in Commander, overkill in Limited decks that ran Infect, and an excellent “oh hey, guess you lost” button in Limited decks full of random creatures to get in damage. Overrun required a heavy Green commitment, Tromp the Domains a flaky manabase, Engineered Might and Return of the Wildspeaker a fair number of (non-Human) creatures to get in. All Triumph of the Hordes asks of you is that you’re a good enough actor to not appear like you’re gloating when you shuffle up for the next game.

This the first Limited printing for Aminatou’s Augury, having only existed before as part of one of the Commander 2018 decks. Personally, I tend to go for too many reactive cards in my decks to make this a great choice; and in Limited, you’ll possibly only have a land, sorcery, creature, and instant to even potentially find. I don’t see anything in this card’s future but riding the pine.

The foil sheet for the set is an oddball mix of cards that didn’t have a home otherwise—Commander all-stars, Limited windmill slams, bizarrely pricy foils. If the “playtest cards” in the Convention version are Future Sight meets Unstable, the foils in the retail version are Time Spiral plus Eighth Edition. For the most part, they’re nothing but a nice bonus—a couple of dollars for a Pyretic Ritual in your sideboard helps correct the variance of packs—and sometimes they’ll be a Myojin.

The Myojin cycle in Champions of Kamigawa included the first non-artifact cards to have Indestructible, introduced the previous year in Darksteel. At the time, they were groaners—this was pre-Commander boom, when casual circles often revolved around combo escalation and grungy Stax arms-races. At the time, nine mana could get you this, or it could get you a kicked Tooth and Nail. Now, fifteen years later, it can get you that same kicked Tooth and Nail or a hard-cast Griselbrand and Children of Korlis.

As I finish up, I’m on my way to a draft with some friends—some of whom have been playing since the 1990’s, some of whom picked the game up around Ixalan. We’re all on edge, a bit—there’s the same kind creeping sense of impending disruption that we get during hurricane season. Like all collective groups of nervous humans, we’re going to end up telling stories, even if ours revolve around Goblin Charbelcher or the Haakon/Nameless Inversion combo instead of Gilgamesh or Odysseus. They’re still stories, and they’re still worth being remembered.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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