Ever since Alpha’s Frozen Shade, Magic has had shades. The effect was simple and seemingly powerful—convert mana into (temporary) power and toughness. It’s one of the original “threat of activation” abilities, where your opponent knew exactly how big it could get and had to block accordingly, while you could wait until after blocks and then decide with perfect information how much mana to use.

This pump ability appears on 29 out all 33 shades in Magic (Ihsan’s Shade was originally Summon Legend and not a shade, Mire Shade permanently buffed itself, and the far more recent Skyclave Shade and Author of Shadows finally broke the convention completely).

The shade effect has fallen out of favor as it’s a bit too powerful at common, is very math-intensive, over-incentivizes monoblack in Limited, and doesn’t cut it in Constructed anymore. That’s why we have Tattered Apparition and Veiled Shade as expensive shades with expensive pumps nowadays instead of the aggressively costed Nantuko Shade or Frozen Shade. But with Brother’s War bringing us back to Magic’s past, an old effect emerged from the shadows.

Frozen Shade hit the gym

This is the most powerful shade ever printed. Just compare it to Nantuko Shade—you get better stats, an easier mana cost, and a completely splashable activation cost. You even get some graveyard hate thrown in for free!

Connecting 1993 and 2022

It’s a tad shocking seeing just how buffed Misery’s Shadow is relative to all of its ancestors, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when an effectively retired effect gets pushed. Early Magic was defined by weak creatures and powerful spells. Frozen Shade doesn’t look great by current standards, and it lined up poorly against Lightning Bolt, Swords to Plowshares, and Ancestral Recall back in ‘93.

Skip ahead fifteen years, and aggressively costed shades didn’t have a place in New World Order Limited with their highly involved math. They didn’t fit into Standard, either, where creatures were plenty strong on their own and the closest analogue, Putrid Leech, didn’t need mana to pump. Magic didn’t need shades anymore, beyond a handful of Limited-focused mana sinks with simpler math.

Misery’s Shadow is such a cool addition to Brother’s War because it’s a bridge between past and future, just like the set itself. It’s got one of Magic’s oldest abilities, was left in the past for good reason, and is being brought out of retirement with a very modern coat of paint. It reminds us both of where Magic began and how far it has grown in thirty years. Misery’s Shadow would have been by far the greatest creature in Alpha (though it’d still have been outclassed by its spells) but now it’s just one among many powerful creatures in the set, and may not make a splash in Constructed.

Perhaps it’s not even that much of a problem anymore—it’s not meant for Limited (where the math and power level would probably be too much), but the original shade ability might actually be fine in an era of with oodles of strong removal, mana sinks, and card-advantage generating threats. Magic has rightfully soured on the effect, but things have come full circle (at least in this one moment), and the shadow falls once again.

Zachary Barash (he/him) is a New York City-based game designer and the last commissioner of Team Draft League. He designs for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance game design. When the stars align, he streams Magic (but the stars align way less often than he’d like).

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.