So about a year ago when I caught wind that Wizards of the Coast was working on a special collector's set for the 15th anniversary of Magic, I begged to be a part of the development team. I wasn't above groveling for the opportunity to have some say in creating what was essentially my dream collection as a long-time fan of Magic: From the Vault: Dragons. I'm here today to tell you a little bit about how the box came about and give you a sneak peek of some of the foil Dragons inside it.
So what was it like to work on this project? How do you cram 15 fire-breathing reptilian godlings into one tiny box? The short answer is that we did it the way any small group of die-hard Magic fans would: We each made lists of cards we thought should be among the 15, and then had a series of arguments—I mean, meetings—where we discussed the pros and cons of including each of our favorites.
Early on, I drew up a list of every Dragon card ever printed in Magic's history from Alpha to Shards of Alara. There were over 75 candidates! We wanted to hit every color of Magic (and artifact), since Dragons have been printed in each of the five colors. Magic creative manager Brady Dommermuth suggested that we keep the majority of them red, since these fiery chaos-sowers define the very essence of red. That turned out to be a guideline that was easily met.
It's been really fascinating to watch threads of speculation about the Dragon box on our forums from the "inside." Fans of this game are incredibly intelligent and creative, and I'm often surprised at how accurate some of the forum speculation turns out to be. In fact, some of you went through a lot of the same exercises on the forums that we went through in order to get to the final list of 15 Dragons.
For example, one of the early theories posted on the forum was that From the Vault: Dragons would include one card from each year of Magic. 15 cards for 15 years seems to really support that, and we did talk about trying to pull that off, but there are a couple of gaping, scorched, crispy holes in that plan.
The first (and biggest) problem was that in 1995, there weren't any new Dragon cards printed! It was the year of Ice Age, Fourth Edition, Homelands, and blasphemy, because there was not a single new Dragon to be found. We could cheat and say that Shivan counted since it was in Fourth, but that's a little cheesy.
The second flaw was one of unnecessary limitation. Why say that we could only print one card from 2003 when there were over a dozen Dragon or Dragon-related cards in Scourge alone? It seemed like putting that constraint on our choices wasn't what was best for this beast.
There were a few cards that were on everyone's list—"no-brainers" if you're going to create a box of the most important Dragon cards in the history of Magic. At the top of that list was Shivan Dragon.
Shivan Dragon. Warming hearts and charring faces since 1993. The undisputed master of the mountains of Shiv was one of if not the most exciting rare to open back in the early days of Magic. It's withstood the test of time, seeing print in every core set except Sixth. And it's still seeing action in 2008. Four of the five Red-Green Aggro decks at this year's Pro Tour–Hollywood that packed a Shivan in the sideboard made it to Day 2!
Donato Giancola's version of Shivan in Tenth Edition is pretty sweet, but we had to do something special for the Shivan you'll encounter in this box. The art is a new take on an old classic, from Justin Sweet:
Two-Headed Dragon was another fairly easy choice. He is consistently voted a fan favorite in polls. In "Selecting Eighth Edition," it beat Crimson Hellkite 83% to 17%. In "Selecting Tenth Edition," it came in a close third out of 11 dragon candidates.
One little known fact about Two-Headed Dragon is that Sam Wood actually painted the same Dragon twice—once for the Mercadian Masques version, and once for a Junior Super Series tournament prize card that was released in 2003. The version in this box features the JSS art.
The #2 vote-getter in the "Selecting Tenth Edition" poll was my personal favorite for this box: Thunder Dragon. A lot of players aren't familiar with this guy, but at the time of the poll, writer Ben Bleiweiss said "This is the card that should win the vote, as it is A) the rarest to find and most in need of reprinting, and B) is as playable as Shivan Hellkite." It lost out to Shivan Hellkite by 1.1% of the vote.
Thunder Dragon was first printed in 1999 in a small, English-only white-bordered beginner set called Starter. He's pricey, but when he comes down, he hits the table pretty hard, blasting the landscape of any weenies that might have been harassing you in the early and mid game. This version has been given life by new Magic artist Chris Rahn. You'll be seeing more from Chris in upcoming sets.
Cycles of Dragon rares have popped up periodically in Magic sets since Legends. Most of those cycles had more than one amazing candidate for this box. In the end, we couldn't even fit in one dragon from each cycle (much to the dismay of the Teneb-loving Devin Low), but we did hit some the highlights.
The first set to feature a dragon cycle, Legends, featured the biggest, baddest-est dragons of all-time: the Elder Dragon Legends.
I know, I know. He just showed up in Time Spiral. But he's got the most interesting ability of any of the Elder Dragon Legends, and in the mythos of the game he's a planeswalker tyrant who has done battle with heroes from Teferi to Tetsuo Umezawa. This project gave us the opportunity to give the old coot a face-lift, and D. Alexander Gregory's version gives us a glimpse at a younger, svelter, pre-planeswalker-spark Nicol Bolas, one who looks like he works out at the gym after a hard day of charring souls and crushing cities.
Most of the Mirage Dragons are on the reserved list, so that cycle is not represented. After Mirage it would be another 4 years before there was a Dragon cycle at rare, but it was a doozy: The Invasion Dragon Legends cycle. Darigaaz, the Igniter, Dromar, the Banisher, Rith, the Awakener...there were some real butt-kickers in that set, but in the end it was Rith, the Awakener's number that we punched.
Rith, the Awakener is a pretty unique Dragon Legend. First off, she's green, one of only 13 green Dragons ever printed in Magic. Secondly, she makes Saprolings. Thirdly, she's got antlers!
Rith, the Awakener won out for inclusion in the set in part because she was included in so many competitive Standard decks in the 2000 Pro Tour. At Chicago that year, there was a face-off in Round 10 between Brian Kibler and Jon Finkel in which both eventual Top 8ers were running a Rith. As the story of the now famous match goes, Brian somehow found a tailor to suit up that Dragon with Armadillo Cloak, and knocked a match concession out of Jon Finkel in one back-breaking swing.
This set's version has a new tailor too: Todd Lockwood has created a new look at this clawed monstrosity:
Kamigawa led us again to conflict. Keiga, the Tide Star, the Tide star saw a fair amount of Standard play in the 2005 season, as did Yosei, the Morning Star, the Falling Star. But no other Dragon in this cycle sees as much play (still) as Kokusho, the Evening Star. Plopping two of these babies on the table at the same time creates a back-breaking life swing thanks to the "legend rule."
Thinking Outside the Box
Outside of cycles and favorites, we had to make a decision about whether or not to include cards that weren't actually Dragons. In the end, we decided to do so, and there are two cards that appear in the box that don't have the creature type "Dragon"—in fact, they don't have a creature type at all.
One of them got a face lift with what turned out to be my favorite piece of artwork generated for the set. It's a piece by Daarken, depicting a planeswalker that is casting a spell to transform himself into hell on wings:
The New Hotness
I wanted to give you a glimpse into some of the decision-making that went into breathing life into this collector's set. Here are some other quick details about From the Vault: Dragons.
There are 15 cards and a spin-down die in this box, all with a new expansion symbol unique to this set. These dragon cards look unlike any Magic card ever printed before—they're printed on a foil stock that is twice as reflective, and treated with a varnish that gives them a very unique look. Six of the cards feature brand-new artwork.
There are other, more subtle touches on the cards that I hope other collectors like me will goob out about. New flavor text and updated oracle text appears on many of the cards. Reminder text was kept to a minimum on this set (only 1 card has it), which means that a couple of cards have flavor text for the first time.
This is meant to be a collector's item, so we're printing a limited number of them. The box will go on sale worldwide on August 29, but if you're going to GenCon Indy a week from now, you'll have an opportunity to get a copy of From the Vault: Dragons more than two weeks earlier. Starting Thursday, August 14, and for each of the four days of the con, we will be selling 100 copies of From the Vault at the Wizards of the Coast retail booth in the dealer hall. They'll be limited one per convention attendee, and we're only bringing 400 to GenCon.
Along with all the other cool stuff in From the Vault: Dragons, you'll also get an early sneak peak—an extremely early sneak peek, if you're one of the few to get your hands on the set at GenCon—at a card from Shards of Alara. Hellkite Overlord is a big, bad, fire-breathing monstrosity from the future. I'm not going to spoil the surprise of seeing what it does, but I will give you a peak at the Justin Sweet art that depicts it swooping down for a kill:
All of the cards in From the Vault: Dragons are tournament-legal for formats that card is already legal in (Shivan Dragon for Standard tournaments, Kokusho, the Evening Star for Extended tournaments, etc.). You might wonder where that leaves Hellkite Overlord, which isn't even released yet.
As a special preview, Hellkite Overlord won’t be legal in Standard until the release of Shards of Alara on October 3, but in the meantime, as a printed Magic card, it will be legal in Legacy and Vintage starting on August 29, 2008.
Don’t miss your chance to get From the Vault: Dragons!