A Look Inside From the Vault: Annihilation

Posted in Feature on August 11, 2014

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he wanted a job making Magic cards. Ten years later, his dream was realized as his combined success as a professional player, deck builder, and writer brought him into Wizards R&D during 2011. He's been writing Magic articles since 2005 and has no plans to stop.

It's time to open up the vault once more. Are you all ready for some annihilation?

Well, then let's get started!

Armageddon | Art by Chris Rahn

I'm the lead designer on From the Vault, and when I first took over this yearly release I made a list of many themes I thought would fit well. (And Mark Gottlieb, former From the Vault owner, handed me some he had made as well.) Cards that blow up several permanents or sweep the board was immediately one of the top choices, and everybody fell in love with the idea.

I mean, who hasn't cast a board sweeper and felt a hint of glee creep across your face (or just a full-on ear-to-ear grin and maniacal cackle) as you, well…annihilated your opponent's board position? Whether you're a Commander player, a Cube aficionado, a Legacy player, a collector, or just play casually at your kitchen table, From the Vault: Annihilation has something for you.

Every From the Vault goes through a long process of discussion and iteration, with cards coming in and out. Today, I'm going to show off all fifteen of the cards in From the Vault: Annihilation—plus also tell some stories about how each one came to be included. Here we go!

Armageddon

Board sweepers have been there from the very beginning—and Armageddon is one of the most classic. From the very first time I presented the idea of Annihilation to people, Armageddon was in there. (The same can't be said for its Alpha partner in crime, Wrath of God—but more on that later.)

There really wasn't much debate here—much unlike, perhaps, the ensuing discussion when you cast this in Commander and all your "friends" give you the death stare. Whether you want to give your Cube a sleek new version of Armageddon or just relive the old days and cast Armageddon with an Erhnam Djinn on the battlefield, you now have a brand-new version at your disposal.

Burning of Xinye

To me, From the Vault serves many purposes. But one major one is to get cards that are otherwise difficult to obtain into the hands of players.

Cards from Portal Three Kingdoms are incredibly hard to come by—and some cards like this one have grown to become popular in Cubes. It's very difficult to get this kind of card into an actual set because of the name Xinye (not to mention it's not really the kind of card we would put into Standard these days), which puts R&D in a bind. Fortunately, From the Vault can put more out there to help out those Cube players without creating so many that owning one is no longer special.

I did have many conversations with creative about if we wanted to create new art for the Portal Three Kingdoms cards and decided to leave them as is. Despite having artwork that doesn't really match what we do these days, they have their own unique charm that we felt was worth preserving.

Also, fun fact: unlike Wildfire, Burning of Xinye actually destroys (not sacrifices) the lands. Time to break out all of your Consecrate Lands! (Okay, so maybe not really. Mostly, I'd just recommend busting out your Signets and Planeswalkers.)

Cataclysm

As the lead designer of From the Vault I often feel like I'm mining Magic's past, throwing pickaxes into the side of caves to find the perfect reprints. And every now and then, you'll scroll down in Gatherer and your blood will start pumping as you uncover a gem.

Cataclysm was one of those.

I was shocked: Cataclysm hadn't ever been reprinted, and it wasn't on the reserved list. It was a perfect fit! There are few cards from this era that are this beloved and have never been reprinted before. This was a home run choice, and it was there from the very beginning. And check out that awesome new art!

Child of Alara

Getting creatures—let alone legendary creatures—into a set all about board sweepers is a tricky proposition. And yet, Child of Alara exists!

I always like adding in a popular Commander legendary creature when I can, and Child of Alara fit everything I was looking for. (Sorry, runner up Mageta the Lion.) Very soon, you can expect a new foil version of the Child to show up in a Commander game near you.

Decree of Annihilation

This card has a bit of a funny story behind it.

When I first started pitching this box to people, I needed a name to give it some oomph. Life lesson: If you're going to try and convince someone of something new, give it a cool name. So, I came up with Annihilation.

It worked well, and people got excited about it. But when I asked them what they expected to be in it, it always elicited this response: "Well, probably Decree of Annihilation…right? It's a board sweeper with 'Annihilation' in the name."

At that point, I'd explain that Annihilation wasn't going to be its real name and that creative would come up with something else. Decree of Annihilation wasn't in there.

Flash forward several months. I finalized the list of cards, had everything ready to go…and then the product was officially named Annihilation.

I was excited by the name and didn't really think too much more of it, until the flurry of coincidences continued and another card had to be dropped from this set at the last minute. I had a hole to fill, and thought back to everyone's reactions about the name Annihilation. After talking with a few people to confirm that sounded good, I gave Decree of Annihilation the go ahead.

And that's the story of how this box ended up with Decree of Annihilation in it.

Now go forth and blow up everyone's lands in an uncounterable manner! (Or simply try casting this with a Planeswalker on the battlefield.)

Firespout

Firespout is a Cube staple, and it even sees occasional play in Modern and Legacy. I always like to have a mix of rarities and time periods represented in From the Vault, and Firespout seemed like a good fit. Plus, it was a partially green sweeper to help obtain color balance—those are hard to find!

One of my (many) favorite parts of working on Magic is seeing the new artwork come in, and I remember when I saw this one come in my eyes widened. What a fantastic piece!

Fracturing Gust

Affinity got you down? Does your Commander playgroup play with a lot of artifacts and enchantments? Well, do I have the card for you!

Fracturing Gust shows off the variety of mass-removal spells that exist. Sure, a lot of time it's all the creatures or lands that are going away—but enchantments and artifacts are equally susceptible. And while you're at it, why not pick up a healthy sum of life to boot?

Living Death

This was another card that was in this set from the very beginning. It's a cool throwback that sees play in Cube and Commander decks alike. It's such an iconic part of Magic's history to me that I definitely wanted to see it in here.

However, it had already been reprinted a couple times and I wanted to make this one more special—so I put in a request for it to have alternative artwork. Jeremy Jarvis let me know we already had a new piece commissioned for Duels of the Planeswalkers, and as soon as I saw the piece I knew I had a perfect fit. I'm glad this set could bring this artwork off the screen and into players' hands—and I sure hope it ends up in my hands during a future Cube Draft.

Martial Coup

It's a unique kind of effect that both kills all creatures and puts plenty of new creatures onto the battlefield. And yet, that's what we have here! I'm a big fan of this card, and it sees a good amount of play in Cube, Commander, and casual decks alike—and it hadn't ever been reprinted outside of Conflux. I took the opportunity to get some more out there.

Rolling Earthquake

There was a lot of discussion about which Portal Three Kingdoms cards should appear in this set, and eventually we settled on Rolling Earthquake and Burning of Xinye. Rolling Earthquake is a unique kind of sweeper that we're even less likely to reprint in a normal set than Burning of Xinye (sorry, horsemanship lovers!) and is similarly hard to find. This was another card in there from the very beginning, and I'm glad it got to stay all the way through to the end.

If fliers have you down, Rolling Earthquake will sweep them with ease!

Smokestack

I wanted to be sure to have an artifact in this set, as going all the way back to Nevinyrral's Disk, artifacts have a long history of resetting the world.

There were many in contention. However, eventually Smokestack pulled ahead of the other options.

There are a few reasons. For one, Smokestack is a very "griefer" card, slowly whittling away all of your and your opponent's permanents, and we don't print cards that are that frustrating and that powerful in Standard sets anymore. However, for those same reasons, we didn't want to put it into a product like Commander or Planechase, because those kinds of cards tend to be so frustrating we don't want newer players to walk right into them and become frustrated.

That made it a great choice. This way, people who want it for Commander or Cube can still have it and introduce a whole new world to the "fun" of the card, without having it show up everywhere and destroying permanents in every Commander game around the world.

The next step was polling people in R&D as to whether Smokestack felt like it fit the theme of wiping out tons of permanents well enough. It was a resounding yes, featuring many great answers, my favorite of which was probably former Magic designer Max McCall's: "My opponent never has any permanents on the table after Smokestack has been active for a few turns. If that's not the definition of something that radically changes and annihilates the landscape, I don't know what is."

Fair enough, Max.

The final step was to get Jeremy to commission some new artwork for it. Ah, a nice and bleak Smokestack: what other world to show off here than New Phyrexia? Enjoy this window into what's happening off on the other side of the Multiverse.

Terminus

Ah, Terminus. Those who arrive, survive.

…No, wait ,wrong kind of Terminus.

This kind of Terminus has shown up in plenty of Legacy decks (miracles are pretty powerful with Brainstorm and Sensei's Divining Top!) as well as appearing all over in Cubes and Commander decks. (The fact it tuck Commanders to the bottom of the library is quite relevant.) It's a unique take on Wrath of God, and one I wanted to show off here.

Upheaval

You might remember last year's From the Vault. (You can check out my article on it here.) I included one card from each year, and when it came to 2002 I chose Chainer's Edict and danced around the fact that Upheaval would have been a good choice.

The truth of the matter is, we do a lot of long-range planning in R&D and, with From the Vault specifically, I do a lot of long-range planning. I knew that Annihilation was going to be the next year and wanted to represent iconic cards that represented devastation from across Magic's history. Upheaval is probably the best known and most popular blue one, and I knew I wanted to use it here. So I ended up choosing Chainer's Edict for that set to save Upheaval for this set.

Something important to keep in mind: If something is missing from one of these, there's a good reason. It's not that we just completely miss obvious things, but that we have the entire picture of Magic's future to work with and know where something is going to fit better. If you really want something to appear again, stay patient. If it's something that's realistically reprintable, there's a good chance you can expect to see it eventually. Even horsemanship got its day in From the Vault: Legends and Commander (2013 Edition).

I look forward to drafting this version of Upheaval in Cubes for years to come.

Virtue's Ruin

Perish exists as a solution to green creatures, and its counterpart, Virtue's Ruin, is a hard-to-find card that only exists in the first Portal set. (Its counterpart, Nature's Ruin, wasn't as necessary to reprint since Perish already does the job.)

It's unlikely this was going to show up elsewhere, and so From the Vault was a great deployment method for it. Plus, it gets Virtue's Ruin onto Magic Online for the first time! At this point, Magic Online is stuffed full of all the cards you might want to play as sideboard options, and so to find one that isn't already on there is a rarity.

Wrath of God

Ah, how appropriate that we end so close to where we began. We started with Armageddon, an Alpha staple, and thanks to the magical power of the English alphabet, it brought us back to Wrath of God at the end.

This card nearly wasn't in From the Vault: Annihilation. It's iconic and perhaps the first card that pops into your head when you think of a card that clears the board. But there was a big problem: the name. Magic creative has been trying very carefully to not put a spotlight on cards that reference the real world, and this religious connotation is firmly within what creative normally (and completely understandably) tries to eschew.

I was talking with Mark Purvis—director of global brand marketing for Magic and one of the pioneers of From the Vault—about the set and, much like everybody else, he expressed surprise that Wrath wasn't in there. I explained the problem that creative had presented me, and we talked for a few minutes about the solution before an idea struck Mark:

"Wait a second. Didn't we just make a set with literal gods?"

Considering Heliod is a particularly wrathful one who is a major jerk and (spoilers!) kills off Elspeth, it seemed like an ideal solution.

He pitched the idea to creative, which was good with it, and Wrath found its way into the set. For the first time, Wrath of God depicts a literal Magic god unleashing his wrath: a solution everybody can be fairly happy with.

Closing the Vault

Well, that's it for this year! It's time to close up the vault until next year rolls around and I can show off its contents once again.

I hope you enjoyed this look through the cards in From the Vault: Annihilation! If you have any feedback or questions on the set at all, feel free to send me a tweet or ask me a question on my Tumblr and I'd be happy to answer what I can.

I'll see you back again tomorrow for ReConstructed. In the meantime, have fun plotting how you're going to use these fifteen cards to crush your friends!

Talk with you soon!

Gavin

@GavinVerhey

GavInsight

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