From the Vault: Twenty

Posted in Reconstructed on August 6, 2013

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

I scrolled down the page. My chin was resting between my forefinger and thumb, face relaxed. I was calm. At equipoise. Around me sat printouts full of decklists, release dates, and World Champions. The words "20th anniversary set, one card from each year" was circled on a notepad to my right, written in hasty scrawl only I could decipher. I was a scientist in his laboratory. It was me and the cards.

I clicked on the link to the 2010 World Championships. And suddenly, everything changed.

My face rose off my hand. My heart rate quickened. My mind began to run at twice the processing speed. If I wore glasses, I would have pushed them up my face.

I stared at my screen; I stared at what had sent my processes into overdrive.

Could we do it? Could we really do it? Could we put Jace, the Mind Sculptor in a From the Vault?

There was no way... right?

Welcome to 20th Anniversary Week!

This week, we're going to break from the normal deck tweaking in this column. I know, I know—disappointing. But I have some good news that I think will make you okay with that.

Today, I'm going to talk all about From the Vault: Twenty, including the genesis of the idea, revealing the process that went behind it... and, oh yeah, revealing all twenty cards. Hopefully that's a reasonable compromise.

Let's get started.

In the Beginning, There was Nothing

...and then, there was something. A spark. A idea.

It started like this: I was about three months into working at Wizards when Mark Gottlieb, the former lead on From the Vault, was about to accumulate a lot of new responsibilities as design manager. I had done some non-design work on From the Vault: Realms (notably, writing all of the text about the cards on the inside) and, in the process, taken an interest in the series. Looking for someone to shift the project to, Gottlieb handed it off to me.

It was time for 2013's From the Vault! Great. So... what now?

I started on a more-or-less completely blank slate. Gottlieb had written down a few ideas for future From the Vaults, but the product was now mine. It was my child. Mine! My preciousss...

It quickly became clear that this would release during Magic's 20th anniversary, and that's when the spark happened: I definitely wanted to do something for the big year. I pitched representing some of Magic's most iconic cards throughout time, and then Ethan Fleischer pushed my idea even further with the idea of expanding this From the Vault to twenty cards total, featuring one per year.

I was sold.

Everyone signed off on the idea, and before I knew it, I was ready to start designing this thing.

An Adventure in Space and Time

I had a vision. My vision was to create a box set that showed off the history of Magic. What was the best way to do that? Represent every year of Magic—in both tournament play and in sets.

What did this mean? I wanted to put a card in from each block of Magic (Starting with the modern-day concept of blocks, with Mirage) to represent that block.

I also wanted to show off the history of tournament Magic. To accomplish this, I decided to have a card that appeared in a Pro Tour– or Worlds–winning decklist from each Pro Tour season.

Entwining (or perhaps, to get up with the times, fusing) the two goals led me to this heuristic: each card would be from the block that lined up with that Pro Tour season. It gets a little confusing because of how the Pro Tour schedule changed a few times, but it ended up working.

Those were already two mighty tricky goals to align together. But I had one more goal above all the other goals for this box.

You see, different products have different goals that you can sum up in a short sentence. Some are there to educate new players. Others are there to appeal to deck builders.

My goal for this product: be awesome.

Or, perhaps, said less succinctly but more objectively: give players cards they love and want to both own and play with.

To all of the Cubemasters and Commander players; to history buffs and collectors; to the Evan Erwins of the world: this product is for you. (Fun fact: while designing this product, I often used the metric, "How excited would Evan Erwin be about this? Where on the Evan-o-meter would this fall?")

I wanted every card to have a purpose. They all needed to be awesome—even the cards that were there to show Magic's history needed to be exciting.

This was Magic's twentieth birthday party, and Magic deserves a pretty nice crowd. Not every From the Vault will be like this one, but for the twentieth anniversary it was time to do something special.

My process on this one was long and careful . It was my first product and also Magic's twentieth anniversary—I wanted to make sure I got it right. I created a few initial drafts of lists, showed them around the office (both to people in R&D and people outside of R&D—non-R&D feedback on these is crucial!), took in feedback to see which were getting people most excited,... and then rinsed and repeated until I finally had a core list I liked.

From there, I endlessly tweaked the cards until they ended up in the shape you see today. It took a few months of thinking about it and reiterating, as well as looking through a lot of the same decklists over and over again, but this From the Vault was eventually crafted into something I'm extremely proud to present as a showcase of Magic's history.

Now, let's get onto my Top 20 list for the week. It's one I imagine you're interested in—the twenty cards in From the Vault: Twenty!

Drumroll please...

The twenty cards in From the Vault Twenty

#1: 1993

It all began at Gen Con.

In 1993, there was no World Championship. There was no live webcast streaming; there was no; there was no internet in your phone. But, for the brand-new fledgling game of Magic, there was something else very special happening: the first-ever DCI-sanctioned Magic tournament.

Held at Gen Con, this was the first real event for Magic. Ale Parrish took it down in a Game 3 that was covered here.

Not much survived from that event but this lone record. Everything had been lost to time. Not even Magic history buffs like Mark Rosewater had any ties to the people in the event back then. It was cloaked in mystery... until now.

With the contents of the winner's deck suddenly mattering for this boxed set, I went to great lengths to track down Ale Parrish and chat with him about the tournament. He is a part of history—and if lost history could be recovered, I was going to find it.

I eventually did find him, and conducted an interview. The interview I'll put at the end of this article—it was wonderful to read, and his perspective is quite touching. However, after talking with him to see what he remembered being in his deck and thinking on it more, I went back to the card I had originally selected in case I couldn't find Alex: Dark Ritual.

Dark Ritual is an iconic piece of Magic history. From the early days of "Ritual, Hypnotic Specter, go," to the comboriffic decks it fueled later on, Dark Ritual is a recognizable part of Magic that has been there since the beginning. I've talked to many players who have told me it was their favorite card. And, lo and behold, in the account we have of the match, Ale played it, so I knew it was in his deck.

Dark Ritual was a slam-dunk pick for me—but I'm still glad I contacted Ale for that interview. (Seriously, be sure to check it out at the end of this article.) And speaking of another slam-dunk choice...

#2: 1994

Swords to Plowshares is one iconic piece of Magic history.

Playable when it was released? Check. A staple in Legacy today? Roger that. A must-have for Cube? Yep. A popular Commander card? Absolutely!

This card was used in Zak Dolan's infamous green-white-blue control deck he used to take down the 1994 World Championships. Winning with powerhouses like Serra Angel, Zak's deck sported the full four copies of this one-mana instant.

If you're a Magic player who plays any format Swords to Plowshares is legal in, this will interest you. As soon as I saw this was a possibility, I knew it was a perfect fit to show off the history of Magic.

To those of you out there with a keen eye who are really paying attention, you'll notice that Swords to Plowshares is actually in here from a reprint set! Swords originally released in Alpha, and, while it was featured in Zak's deck, I already took a card from Alpha—Dark Ritual—so this is actually attributed to its Revised reprinting. I wanted to make this box awesome and represent Magic's history, and the next best choice was Kismet.

When I weighed it, at the end of the day I'd much rather put in a Swords to Plowshare (which does fit, technically) to represent Magic than put in Kismet to make me feel better about checking a box—and I think players who open this From the Vault are likely to be far happier with a Swords. This is the only card in this From the Vault taken from a reprint set.

Zak Dolan's Angel Stasis

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#3: 1995

Ah, here's a nice card to partner with that Dark Ritual you just opened up...

Another iconic card from the beginning of Magic. Players have been grimacing when Hymn to Tourach is cast against them since Fallen Empires released in November of 1994. It quickly became a cornerstone of Magic, and at the next World Championships, Alexander Blumke's black-based Rack deck ran four copies of the mean sorcery. (Interestingly enough, his deck featured both of the other cards previewed so far: Dark Ritual and Swords to Plowshares. History, indeed!)

Whether you're Cubing or playing Legacy, Hymn remains a brutally effective card to this day. And speaking of Cube, how about that Cube art?

One of the fun things about working on From the Vault is figuring out which art pieces go where, and which cards to put new art on. (None of which are without internal controversy, of course—as I'll talk more about later.) The Magic Online Cube, however, had a lot of old art of popular cards recommissioned to meet our current standards. And what a coincidence—we were about to release a From the Vault featuring several old, popular cards! Instead of having the art locked up on a server somewhere, this was a great opportunity to get it into print.

As a result, you'll notice that this From the Vault has an incredibly high density of cards with new or never-seen-in-print artwork. (Nine, in total!) And speaking of cards with never-seen-in-print artwork...

Alexander Blumke's Rack Control

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#4: 1996

What would a box set of Magic's history be if there wasn't a single mana Elf in it?

Almost synonymous with the idea of a green deck, one-mana accelerators have been around since the very beginning. True, Llanowar Elves is probably better known—but Fyndhorn Elves fit the rules of the box. (Besides, you probably already have plenty of Llanowar Elves anyway.)

Fyndhorn Elves also gave an opportunity to showcase Hall of Famer Olle Råde, and his winning red-green deck that featured Giant Trap Door Spider, of all things! (Which Fyndhorn Elves no doubt helped deploy a turn early.) Winning Pro Tour Columbus at only sixteen years old, the genius who would later earn an Invitational card of his own harnessed the power of a mana Elf.

Another upside of Fyndhorn Elves: we could print a version with new art! As a card we've only printed once, we've never had the chance to give it new art in paper. I've heard numerous Cube players wish there was another piece they could use. Well, now there finally is. (Justin Treadway: this one's for you!)

Olle Råde

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#5: 1997

Impulse was a staple tournament card in its day, and a card you still see in Cube and Commander decks everywhere. It even saw occasional Legacy play in High Tide decks up until a few years ago. It was a defining card of its era. Countless articles were spawned by the card, talking about strategy, how to play it, and even what various different pro players' versions of (often humorous) Impulses would do if Impulse perfectly matched their play style. (If you're so interested, you can still find said articles in archives around the Internet.)

While Impulse saw play in a lot of places, perhaps most iconically in Magic history it was played by Mike Long at Pro Tour Paris. (The one where most people hear about Mike exiling his only Drain Life and still winning—although that actually isn't a true story.) Mike took down a star-studded Top 8 with his Prosbloom deck—a combo deck built around Cadaverous Bloom, Squandered Resources, and Prosperity. Impulse was a key card in this deck, making sure Mike could find the cards he needed to finish assembling his combo.

Not only does Impulse hold an important corner of Magic history, putting it in this set finally meant we could give it new art that wasn't some crazy scary old dude rummaging through scrolls. (Or whatever that is, depending on your perspective.) I knew the art director Jeremy Jarvis would be all over getting new art for this card. History, a chance for good new art, and a very playable card—perfect.

Mike Long's Pros Bloom

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#6: 1998

There is a lot of love for Wall of Blossoms.

It blocks. It cantrips. But most of all, it unlocks nostalgia for a lot of people. That's not to say the card isn't powerful—it is—but for many people, Wall of Blossoms highlights the fun that could be had back during their college summers of 1998.

You know, the kind of fun like what Brian Selden had when he was locking people under his RecSur engine. (RecSur, shorthand for Recurring Nightmare and Survival of the Fittest.) When Brian took down Worlds in Seattle, Wall of Blossoms played all kinds of roles, from blocking to repeatedly drawing cards to becoming best buddies with Tradewind Rider. I sure hope you didn't intend to progress your board state anytime soon!

With Wall of Blossoms a firm part of Magic's history and a much-beloved card even today, it made for an easy choice to slide into this box.

Brian Selden's RecSur

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#7: 1999

When I think Urza block, I immediately think of one thing: fast mana.

Games were ended blisteringly fast (well, at least turn-wise—the actual sequence with Memory Jar and Tolarian Academy took a while) as the world descended into Combo Winter.

Eventually, things began to get better (at least comparatively—they were still pretty busted overall) and a little mage you might of heard by the name of Kai Budde took down the 1999 World Championships. This fast mana piece was at the heart of his Wildfire deck, keeping his Covetous Dragons alive and his mana intact as Wildfire chewed through his opponent's side of the board—or just, y'know, enabling a frustratingly strong Mishra's Helix.

Fun fact: My birthday was two months after I started playing Magic, and as a gift my mom bought me this World Championship Deck. (Wizards used to sell gold-bordered decks that were complete copies of Top 8 decks from the World Championship.) Tasting the power of Kai's deck at a ripe eleven years old was partially what spurred me on to get to where I am today. (Unlike Finkel's Rising Waters deck, which I was also given as a gift and that completely mystified eleven-year-old me. My only conclusion about it was that it must have been a draft deck, since it was so hard to win with.)

I find it wonderfully circular that now I get to be the designer once again highlighting Kai's deck.

Kai Budde

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#8: 2000

I had a card commemorating Budde. You didn't think I was going to let a set showing off the history of Magic go without a card representing Jon Finkel, now did you?

This card was plucked from a winning deck that had one of the most famous final matches of all time, in an incredible three games against Bob Maher, another Magic great, at Worlds 2000. This card came from one of the most busted deck archetypes of all time: Tinker. This card came from the deck of Jon Finkel. This card choice is Magic history embodied.

And what of Tangle Wire itself? It's been called several names in my presence—many of which I won't repeat here. But in general, it's one of the more infuriating cards to play against. (It falls into one of my, ahem, "favorite" categories of cards: "stack tricks matter.") But I'll say this: Zac Hill taught me over and over that this card is unbeatable in Cube, and I haven't found his claim to be far off point. As an avid Cube player, Tangle Wire is one of the cards I dread my opponent casting the most. Needless to say, it's powerful.

And, once again, this was a great opportunity to give an older piece of art a new update.

Jon Finkel

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#9: 2001

We've seen a lot of defining cards so far, and perhaps no card defines the Invasion era of Magic better than this four-mana instant. It was so strong it even spawned its own acronym: EOTFOFYL. Or, for the uninitiated, "End Of Turn Fact Or Fiction You Lose."

As a defining card in Standard and even Extended, you could expect it to be a powerhouse in Block Constructed—and Pro Tour Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz packed the full four copies in his WU deck dubbed "The Solution." A deck he built as a—wait for it—solution to the format, Zvi played some tight matches in the Top 8 of the tournament and came out victorious, with Fact or Fiction carrying a large part of that victory.

I more or less always knew I wanted Fact or Fiction in this box—the larger discussion I had many times was about which art to use. I bring this up because we talked about it so much internally that I'm sure many of you will point it out as well.

What's the debate? Well, the art from the Duel Decks: Jace vs. Chandra duel decks isn't in foil, and there were debates on both sides about which to use. One evokes nostalgia, and when we were already switching out so many other pieces of art for Cube updates or new commissions, it would be nice to keep some of the more iconic older ones.

On the other hand, there are already foil new-frame Fact or Fictions (FNM promos) and putting a piece of art that hasn't been foil yet into foil is something I aim to do. There were good arguments on both sides.

Eventually, I talked with creative and Jeremy Jarvis, Magic's art director, really felt like the old art was the right thing to do here. Plus, Fact or Fiction is a popular card—given infinite time, I wouldn't be surprised if one day we made a promo that was a foil of the Jace vs. Chandra art, and I would want that promo to still be exciting.

Something you often have to do in R&D is exercise the art of restraint with a nod toward future products, and this bo set was already going so crazy that this was one lever we could wait on pulling until later. And, for all those wondering, that's the story of why this Fact or Fiction has the art it does.

Zvi Mowshowitz's White-Blue

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#10: 2002

There are a lot of great cards you could look at pulling for this year.

Psychatog is one that might instantly come to your mind... but hold on a moment. While 'tog did dominate Worlds in 2002 and win in the hands of Carlos Romao, those 'tog decks all had Chainer's Edicts. Then, at the Block Pro Tour in Osaka, Chainer's Edict once again ruled the roost with a whopping twenty copies in the Top 8... mostly in the hands of Mono-Black Control decks!

Upheaval is another solid choice. Although, as much of a Cube staple as it is, it's banned in Commander. It's also not quite as iconically Constructed playable as some of the other choices.

In the end, I wanted to have a good black removal spell in the box, and Chainer's Edict is also quite reminiscent of this era of Magic. Plus, with the opportunity to get new art that looks far superior to the not-at-all representative old art of the card, Chainer's Edict was perfect fit.

2002 Worlds (Type 2): UB Psychatog

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#11: 2003

Since the very beginning of Magic, white board sweepers have been a staple of the game. Wrath of God and Armageddon were printed all the way back in Alpha and found themselves being put in decks over and over again. These "symmetrical" effects seldom are, as the decks that use them are built to be in a position where they are highly favored after one resolves.

In a set all about Magic's history, I wanted to fit a board sweeper in somewhere. Fortunately, Osyp Lebedowicz gave me just that opportunity. With his Onslaught block victory at Pro Tour Venice, Osyp displayed just how powerful a board sweeper that could also cycle could be.

I have to say, I wasn't expecting Jeremy to ask for new art on this card... but I'm glad he did. This new art blew me away, and is one of my favorites of the bunch. I look forward to casting this in a Cube draft soon.

Osyp Lebedowicz

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#12: 2004

Lotus. In the world of Magic, that word carries so much weight. From the original and iconic Black Lotus all the way through to updates like Lotus Bloom, Lotus is a word that I equivocally associate with power. In fact, whenever I see a real-life lotus, or eat at a Thai place with Lotus in the name, or see a lotus print on a shirt—any of these things—I immediately think of Black Lotus. I desperately wanted to put a Lotus in here and, fortunately, there was one that lined up perfectly: Gilded Lotus.

Speaking of power, 2004 was a crazy year—Mirrodin released and suddenly it seemed like anything was possible. Pro Tour New Orleans seemed like the wild west: suddenly, a slew of insane artifacts had been unleashed upon a world where cards like Tinker and Metalworker were legal, and anything was possible. The impact on Extended turned the format on its head—it was like dropping a group of dinosaurs into a petting zoo.

If you weren't playing then, it was a crazy event that everybody had their eyes on. Nobody had any idea what was going to happen, and every round you would see something new and unique that would make your eyes pop. The only other time I've seen anything like it was Pro Tour Philadelphia, when Modern was introduced at the pro level.

One round you'd see Twiddle Desire, with "unplayable" cards like Twiddle and Burst of Energy untapping Gilded Lotus to fuel Mind's Desire. The next, you might see a Mindslaver lock with Goblin Welder. And, just when you think you had seen it all, you would spot an Isochron Scepter with Final Fortune... followed up by a Tinker for Platinum Angel! If you blinked, you might even miss a Mana Severance-Goblin Charbelcher kill.

Amid all of the insanity, Rickard Österbergended up on top with his Goblin Welder and Tinker deck, he dubbed George W. Bosh. While he may have played only one Gilded Lotus, don't let that fool you—it was a crucial Tinker target.

As a fun aside, Jeremy Jarvis had always lamented that the original Gilded Lotus art wasn't actually Gilded. He didn't have the chance to fi it in Magic 2013 (I'd imagine likely because there was internal concern in R&D that Gilded Lotus might not safely make it through playtesting, so we didn't commission new art just in case) but this was finally his window of opportunity. Say hello to some new artwork—now with an actual gilded lotus!

Pro Tour New Orleans: George W. Bosh

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#13: 2005

Champions of Kamigawa block brought legends back in a big way. Suddenly, being a legend mattered. With a Japanese-inspired mythology behind it, the set brought a variety of new tropes to Magic—including Ninjas! Ink-Eyes is still a popular Commander and Cube card to this day, surprising plenty of people as it pops out of nowhere to steal their best dead creature.

At Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2005, the format was Champions of Kamigawa Block Constructed and the format was full of slow interactions. Sensei's Divining Top, Sakura Tribe Elder, and Kodama's Reach paved the way for things like legendary Dragons or Rube Goldberg-like Gifts Ungiven locks with Hana Kami, Ethereal Haze, and Soulless Revival.

When you're looking for answers, what better way to fight off legendary Dragons that a creature which not only successful fought legendary Dragons on offence, but regenerated to boot—and then stole them back later? Ink-Eyes helped carry Gadiel Szleifer to victory, as he took back Sunday for the Americans.

Gadiel Szleifer

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