Really Really Big News! No, Bigger Than That

Posted in Feature on June 30, 2005

By Bennie Smith

Bennie Smith began playing Magic in 1994 and started writing about it shortly after. A Virginia State Champion, he enjoys few things better than winning at tournaments with home brews. Bennie has a weekly column on He also recently published The Complete Commander. Follow him on Twitter, on Facebook, and the occasional Commander games on Magic Online under the handle "blairwitchgreen."

First off, let me say right up front that this isn't a joke. When you finally read what the really big news is, your first impression may very well be disbelief. You may find yourself checking the calendar, wondering if it's somehow April Fools in June. Let me assure you, this is all genuine news, exclusively revealed here for the readers of Into the Aether (even preempting the press release, whoo hoo!).

Anyway, about a month ago, I got the following email from my esteemed editor Scott Johns:

For 6/30 article
Bennie, tentatively we will be using this slot to announce something *huge*. We should know in the next week, two at the most. (I'll keep you posted) In the event we do the anticipated announcement it would be a large part of your article this week).

I didn't save my email reply, but it went something like:

Alright, re: the 6/30 tease: YOU'RE KILLING ME!!! Toss me a bone or something!

Scott's reply?

Nope, this is so huge I can't say anything yet.

See? And you think that writing for Wizards is glamorous, that we get fed a steady diet of insider information? If only that were true, sigh. Instead, we often get teased like this! Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I feel fortunate as all heck to have this gig.

So weeks go by and I finally get this on June 21st.

Subj: Around?
Bennie, are you available for a quick chat this morning on Instant Messenger? It's time to let you in on the big secret coming for Magic Online :)

Within seconds I have Trillian fired up.

[11:54] bennie.c.smith: SECRETS!
[11:54] Scott: haha
[11:54] Scott: THAT DID'T TAKE LONG!
[11:54] Scott: ok, here's the deal
[11:55] Scott: this is big enough that I'm going to let you roll your eyes at me and remind you of the importance of NDA's etc
[11:55] Scott: do you consider yourself reminded?
[11:55] bennie.c.smith: yes, understood
[11:55] Scott: one moment then

… (hurry up and wait, he's killing me here)

[11:56] Scott: check your email

(I frantically check my email, accidentally flip my keyboard, knock over my diet Coke and soak some important papers, but none of that matters since I've GOT TO KNOW THE SECRET!!!! There's the email, open it… read it… I'm stunned… I fall to the floor in amazement, then slowly pick myself and dust myself off, get back on Trillian)

[11:57] bennie.c.smith: What the?
[11:57] Scott: :D
[11:57] Scott: that sounds about right

I told you it was huge! HUGE!!!

Oh... You want to know what the email said? I guess that would help things, huh? Okay, enough with the teasing, those of you who stuck with me two pages without skipping ahead, you guys have wills of iron. Bravo! Okay, here's the email from Scott:

Subj: MTGO Coming up
Later this year, Mirage will become available to Magic Online players... - Scott

Mirage. On Magic Online. No joke.

I'll give you a moment to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. See, this is Krakens-and Dreadnoughts-for-earrings huge. Now, if you're like me, the revelation that Mirage is coming to Magic Online raises tons of questions, so let's grill Magic Online Brand Manager and regular Into The Aether Answer Man Justin Ziran to find out more.

IntoTheAether: I think most people are probably just as shocked as I was to hear about Mirage releasing on Magic Online. How did you decide to go back in time and pick an old out-of-print expansion to release?
JZ: As you can imagine, once we decided to release MTGO, the obvious question was what sets will be online? Well, as you know we chose to launch with Invasion. The "old set" discussion never really went away; it was just tabled given all the issues when had in 2003/2004. Fast forward 12 months - Randy, Scott and I were talking in our weekly meeting about doing something special for MTGO customers, now that the system is mostly stable and we have almost all our functionality back. Among the many things we discussed, everyone perked up when the topic of old sets came up. We knew there was a lot of work necessary to make this a reality but it was something we all thought was important. So here we are today, announcing the MTGO Mirage release.

IntoTheAether: Why Mirage?
JZ: Mirage is the first set based on the block system and it was the first set designed with both limited and constructed game play in mind. Given those, it was the obvious choice.

IntoTheAether: I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering: Is this a one shot deal, or are you going to do other old sets?
JZ: We'll call it a one shot deal for now. If things go well, I could envision releasing sets moving forward from Mirage.

IntoTheAether: How is this going to affect Online Extended?
JZ: This won't affect Online Extended since it synchs up with real-world Extended (as Invasion-forward) this fall. Mirage wouldn't be legal for Online Extended, but it may lead more people to play the new Classic format.

IntoTheAether: Any idea of what avatars you'll be giving out for the Mirage release events?
JZ: Yes, but if I told you now, what would we talk about in the pre-release interview? We'll release Mirage-specific data after Ravnica.


IntoTheAether: Is this going to interfere with the regularly scheduled release events?
JZ: No, it will not interfere with SoK, 9th or Ravnica. The tentative release date for Mirage is early December.

IntoTheAether: Some people might worry that this is going to pull resources away from fixing/improving the existing system. How do you respond to that?
JZ: Regarding Mirage and v2, I have no worries whatsoever. I think the live team has done a fine job of balancing improvements, enhancements and new content.

As for Mirage and v3, it turns out that programming Mirage uses completely different skills from programming the new client. Our card programmers have gotten so good over the last few years that they've not only caught up, but started to work ahead, so we turned them loose on an old set.

IntoTheAether: Mirage was released in starter decks that were different from modern tournament packs. How is the new release going to come out?
JZ: The 60 card Mirage starter decks will be replaced with 75 card Mirage Tournament Packs. The 15 card boosters will remain the same. The MSRP for the Tournament Packs and Booster packs will be $11.29 & $3.69 respectively. We didn't make theme decks back then so there won't be any theme decks online for Mirage.

IntoTheAether: Are we going to be able to redeem a full set of Mirage?
JZ: No - Redemption won't be available for Mirage.

(Sorry, collectors—back when Mirage was printed Magic Online probably wasn't even a spark in Dr. Garfield's eye-- Bennie)

IntoTheAether: Are we going to be able to eventually play Mirage-Visions-Weatherlight draft or block constructed?
JZ: Let's see how the Mirage release goes before we start talking about other sets.

IntoTheAether: Mirage was released prior to the big base rules changes rolled out in 6th edition. I presume Mirage cards will be errata'd to take this into account?
JZ: It's a reasonable question, but this is the kind of thing that R&D has already addressed through Oracle. Cards from the Mirage set are legal in several currently played tournament formats and have been seeing play in tournaments for years. Any errata needed to bring Mirage cards into line with the 6th Edition rules changes was done long before we ever considered bringing the set to Magic Online. Cards will be shown as originally printed unless you have the "show Oracle rules text" option turned on, in which case it will show the Oracle rules text.

IntoTheAether: Do any of the rules gurus anticipate any weirdness coming out of Mirage?
JZ: I leave it to the pros in R&D to comment. Sounds like you might get a follow up interview out of this :)

(Duly noted! – Bennie)

IntoTheAether: Do you worry releasing Mirage and other sets concurrently with the regularly scheduled expansion sets might syphon off demand, buzz, or excitement from the new stuff?
JZ: Not at all. In fact, I think this is a great opportunity for us to create some excitement with new and old players alike. Newer players, those who have never played with Mirage, will now have the chance to give the Mirage cards a try online. Older players who never really got into Magic Online will now have another reason to give online play a try. All in all, I think this is a win-win for the Magic player as well as Wizards and I look forward to all the discussions on the message boards.

IntoTheAether: Any truth to the rumors that you'll soon be legally changing your name to Justin Zirilan of The Claw?
JZ: No comment.

There you have it! If you read between the lines, I think it's pretty apparent that Wizards is willing to release other sets, filling in between Mirage and Invasion, if the MTGO community wants it. So sound off in the forums guys and gals: how do you feel about Mirage coming to Magic Online, and would you like to see other classic sets be made available?

Cool Things About Mirage Coming to MTGO

Not everyone is old school and remembers first-hand how cool Mirage was as a set. The first limited event I played in (sealed deck) was Mirage. It hasn't been legal in paper Magic Extended in a while. I thought I'd spend a little time “previewing” some of the really cool things Mirage will bring to the Magic Online experience.

Phasing & Flanking!
(Shimmer, Taniwha, Teferi's Imp, Reality Ripple, Jolrael's Centaur)
Phasing was one flavorful, wild and crazy mechanic that was mostly used as a drawback on some cards to enable them to be more mana cost efficient. Sandbar Crocodile was one example of this. Some creatures used phasing as a defense measure, evoking the ability to dodge an early demise. The maddening Frenetic Efreet could randomly phase out if it were in trouble (though if you lost the coin flip he destroyed himself). There are some interesting things to note about phasing. Local enchantments and counters on cards that phase out remain on the cards and return when that card phases in. Coming into play abilities don't trigger from phasing in, but leaves play abilities do trigger when phasing out. Some of the Wormfang creatures in particular love to phase in and out; somehow phase out Wormfang Manta multiple times and get an extra turn each time.

As an aside, did you know that Tawnos's Coffin, a rare from Antiquities, has been errata'd to actually phase out its target? So even though Phasing technically first appeared in Mirage, it got retroactively added to a card from one of Magic's earliest sets. I guess Mishra, Urza and Tawnos were so amazing they knew about phasing before they had a name for it. In fact, Oubliette also has errata which uses phasing, and that card is from Arabian Nights, Magic's very first expansion!

Pinpoint phasing can also be a potent weapon against creatures like Torment's nightmares. Reality Ripple your opponent's Laquatus's Champion to gain back six life, but when it phases in it won't trigger its life loss ability.

Flanking isn't quite as esoteric, being a combat ability much like a reverse image of Bushido. The one really nice thing about Flanking is that opposing creatures with toughness of one are pretty much useless in a fight with Flankers. Back in the day, Jolrael's Centaur was a brutal little beater, with its untargetability nicely ignoring popular pinpoint removal like Swords to Plowshares and Incinerate. Nowadays, he might appreciate a little non-targeted boost from Fangren Firstborn.

Enchant Worlds, baby!
(Bazaar of Wonders, Chaosphere, Forsaken Wastes, Hall of Gemstone, Null Chamber, Tombstone Stairwell)

Tombstone Stairwell
Okay, they're now called World Enchantments, but still. We haven't seen these in a long time (since Visions if I'm not mistaken), and they operate under unique rules. When a World Enchantment is played, it destroys a previously played World Enchantment in play. Yep, there can be only one (in play at a time). Hall of Gemstone is a potent weapon against counterspells as well as a multicolor spell hoser, and Forsaken Wastes punishes life-gaining themes and even takes a parting shot at targeted enchantment removal. Tombstone Stairwell is a long time favorite of mine in casual paper Magic; it's brutal in combination with Vengeful Dead, with each opponent losing life equal to the number of creatures in all players' graveyards at the end of each player's turn. You might not even have to pay the Stairwell's upkeep more than once. Gempalm Polluter is a bit more directly punishing. Speaking of zombies, it's definitely not a combo with Wretched Anurid.

Bazaar of Wonders was always intriguing to deckbuilders, but back in the day you didn't have much more than Millstone to work with. New toys like Dampen Thought, Cloudhoof Kirin and Mesmeric Orb should give MTGO players some interesting options.

More Legends!
(Hakim Loreweaver, Purraj of Urborg, Teferi's Isle)
While nothing holds a candle to the legend-centric Kamigawa block, Mirage sports a relatively high legend count of 13. Several of them dealt specifically with Dragons, either gaining control of them (Hivis of the Scale), fighting against them (Rashida Scalebane), or coughing them up out of the graveyard for one hasty attack phase (Zirilan of the Claw). Imagine using Minamo, School at Water's Edge to get two activations from Zirilan and fetching out two Dragon Tyrants!

Shauku, Endbringer is another legend that would very much like to be schooled at Minamo. Then there's Spirit of the Night, the record holder of the most abilities crammed onto a fat creature until Akroma came along. Asmira, Holy Avenger wouldn't mind feeding off your Tombstone Stairwell for good measure. Champions of Kamigawa's Time of Need certainly helps build a more consistent Mirage legend deck than we could before.

More Dragons!
(Teeka's Dragon, Canopy Dragon, Catacomb Dragon, Crimson Hellkite, Mist Dragon, Pearl Dragon, Volcanic Dragon)

Volcanic Dragon
Mirage sports seven dragons, one more than Champions of Kamigawa. Unfortunately, most of these dragons are relatively weak in comparison, though Dragon fans will simply love to have access to these old classics. Teeka's Dragon is expensive, but impressive if you can get enough blockers in front of her. If your multiplayer games tend to sport plenty of fliers, toss in a few Shinen of Life's Roar to channel and watch the rampaging fun!

Even though Crimson Hellkite is incredibly mana intensive, it does sport arguably the best dragon art in Magic.

Efreets, Djinns, Griffins!
(Frenetic Efreet, Wildfire Emissary, Vaporous Djinn, Zuberi, Golden Feather)
Tribal fans get some more options! Well, with 4 Efreets, 4 Djinns, and 5 Griffins, maybe not but it's still fun to check out these old classics. I already talked about how good Frenetic Efreet was, and back in the day Wildfire Emissary was a heckuva tough customer, protected from Swords to Plowshares and having a large enough toughness to shrug off Lightning Bolts or Incinerates.

Many of the other Efreets and Djinns follow in the footsteps of their Arabian Nights cousins, being mana undercosted for their size, but being saddled with painful drawbacks. Finding workarounds to these drawbacks is the stuff that Johnny's dreams are made of!

(Crypt Cobra, Sabertooth Cobra)
For those who don't want to wait for Rosewater to slip poison into a new set, now you get Mirage to get a taste of this rare, alternate win condition that first cropped up in Legends. Getting your opponent to accumulate 10 poison tokens won't be easy but it's doable, especially with newer cards like Aggravated Assault and Seize the Day. Savage Beating can be particularly savage, dishing out twice or even four times the poison with entwine.

I was sad to discover these were Cobras, not snakes, so they don't benefit from the Kamigawa snake tribe. Maybe they'll get some creature-type errata between now and December? Let's make up some signs that say, “Stop the Divisiveness! Cobras are Snakes Too!” and picket Wizard's HQ, what do you say?

White and Black Counterspells? Green Direct Damage?
(Illumination, Withering Boon, Unyaro Bee Sting, Superior Numbers, Sandstorm, Dark Ritual, Fog, Disenchant)
Newer players are going to find the color pie to be flavored quite differently in Mirage, where there was some rather bold “bleed over” to allied colors. White and black got to dip into blue's countering ability with Illumination (for artifacts and enchantments) and Withering Boon (for creature spells). Green got direct damage, albeit pretty weak compared to red spells but you know, beggars can't be choosers.

Dark Ritual, Fog, and Disenchant were originally base set reprints, considered to be staples of their respective colors and so they got reprinted into the large expansion set. It's interesting to note that the color pie realignment has moved all of these “staples” into other colors, so this is your chance to play with the originals.

X Marks the Spot!
(Builder's Bane, Drain Life, Energy Bolt, Kaervek's Purge, Kaervek's Torch, Power Sink, Prismatic Boon, Savage Twister, Sealed Fate, Soul Echo, Torrent of Lava, Tropical Storm, Vitalizing Cascade, Volcanic Geyser)
Mana hogs of the world unite! Mirage sports lots and lots of X spells (14 to be exact), with commonly good Kaervek's Torch lighting things up in both draft and constructed formats. We've gotten some great mana boosters in MTGO, including the Urza lands, Cloudpost, Mirari's Wake, and Cabal Coffers; now you'll be getting a bumper crop of new toys to pump your mana into.

Other noteworthy cards include:

  • Enlightened Tutor
    Three very popular Tutors – Enlightened, Mystical, Worldly, all uncommon.
  • A cycle of common Guildmages with handy abilities – particularly Granger and Shadow that can each “ping” a creature or player for one red mana. The Invasion block guildmages were “toned down” versions of these little powerhouses.
  • One of black's most bashful beatdown creatures, Skulking Ghost, ready to take solid chunks out of your opponent's life total with each attack so long as nobody looks at him cross-eyed or breathes in his direction. Back in the day, we called him “Stinky.”
  • Probably the most incredible multiplayer wall ever printed, Wall of Roots is the mana machine that keeps on giving during each player's turn. Toss it in your Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker deck and never run out of extra mana!
  • Not quite Lightning Bolt-good, but the decidedly undercosted – and common! – Incinerate!
  • Restricted in Type 1, Lion's Eye Diamond can now give online players a chance to abuse this card with Wishes and flashback.
  • We already mentioned Frenetic Efreet, but I wanted to mention him again, probably the only coin-flip card to be a seriously powerful constructed card.
  • The original Fetch Lands (Bad River, Flood Plain, etc), as uncommons they should be a wonderful boon for the casual players who don't have as many of the Onslaught rare fetchlands as they'd like. Prismatic fans rejoice!

So there you have it! Please make sure to let us know what you think in the forums; personally, I'm excited about the chance to play with some old favorites online, as well as the possibility of having other classic sets rolled out in the future. What do you think?

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