As the sun goes down on the core-set forever we get to see its last hur­rah — and Magic Origins is shap­ing up to be an inter­est­ing set to say the least. The full set of has final­ly been spoiled to us after a very extend­ed spoil­er sea­son so I think it’s time for a look at Magic the Gathering Origins and my thoughts on how the set/season is going to effect the game going for­ward. Magic 15 felt like a noble, if failed, attempt to shake up the core-set drudgery whilst retain­ing its core pur­pose. Without hav­ing to wor­ry about the more “tra­di­tion­al” things we have come to expect from the “Magic 20xx” sets, Origins feels more like its own expan­sion.

The Standards of Standard

Let’s give a spot of back­ground first. With the new, faster, block struc­ture rota­tion stan­dard being more diverse and less sta­t­ic but arguably more expen­sive or less expen­sive to keep up with depend­ing on who you lis­ten to. For those not in the know, Wizards of the Coast will release sets post-Magic Origins in two “large-set” blocks that will then rotate every 18 months. There will be a lit­tle bit of an awk­ward tran­si­tion with Khans of Tarkir rotat­ing a bit odd­ly in there, but this is going to be the sys­tem mov­ing for­ward. (4) (5)

(images from Wizards of the Coast)

What this means is: Origins is not only the last core-set, but the end of an era for stan­dard as a whole. It’s been near­ly a year on from the­se announce­ments and I still stand by my assess­ment at the time that this is a pos­i­tive change that will help reduce the fluc­tu­a­tion in the size of the stan­dard card-pool. I hope Wizards can breathe some new life into stan­dard and tempt peo­ple back — like me — who have given up stay­ing recent with the most com­pet­i­tive decks. I still watch stan­dard close­ly, but it hasn’t been my pri­ma­ry mode of play for quite some time.


This set has been hard to gauge from the pre­views and spoil­ers out there; I’ve seen a great num­ber of cards with very inter­est­ing and unique effects that could con­ceiv­ably do noth­ing. My pre­dic­tion would be for unpre­dictabil­i­ty. When you see some­thing like Siege Rhino, or Polukranos, World Eater, they’re eas­ier to peg because they have such very good cost effi­cien­cy. We’ve seen some cards like Hallowed Moonlight square­ly aimed at being a tool again­st com­bo decks in eter­nal for­mats, but I’m going to for­go the usu­al card-rankings and just pick out three cards I find inter­est­ing:


First off Zendikar Incarnate. I real­ly like the “Land Matters” design of this one, since that is the core the­me of Zendikar. Some oth­er cards like Animist’s Awakening also seem to hint at a return of some­thing like land­fall and I think Wizards would be crazy to not bring back the beloved abil­i­ty in Battle for Zendikar. As it stands, Zendikar Incarnate is just a 44 for four mana that has the pos­si­bil­i­ty to become a beefier if match­es go long or fea­ture crazy ramp effects. This looks like a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ty with cards like Nissa’s Revelation sug­gest­ing we might see high con­vert­ed mama cost Eldrazi mon­sters appear­ing in the com­ing block.

Pia and Kiran Nalaar is a card with a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ties to it, I know a lot of red arti­fact com­man­der play­ers are hav­ing a good long look at it. It’s a card with four pow­er for four mana spread across three crea­tures with an abil­i­ty that syn­ergies with itself. It’s also very good in terms of fla­vor, and sets up char­ac­ters via the func­tion of the card. Having an arti­fi­cer that comes into the bat­tle­field with two thopters that can then be hurled at your oppo­nent or their crea­tures is just a great piece of intu­itive design. The fact it has so many pos­si­ble inter­ac­tions in for­mats like com­man­der is just icing on the cake for me. I hope this is at least good in lim­it­ed.

Disciple of the Ring  aside from hav­ing kick-ass art — has been one of the most hard to place cards for me. On the one hand, it’s a blue tool­box crea­ture with a bunch of abil­i­ties. On the oth­er hand, those abil­i­ties are not pump-able like you get with a for­mer stan­dard pow­er­house like Ætherling. Plus they require you to exile an instant or sor­cery card from you grave­yard. In a blue deck that con­di­tion isn’t hard to meet, but it’s still an extra con­di­tion. There is also the corner-case that this could turn into the new abil­i­ty we’ve seen from the set Spell Masterywhich requires you to have two or more instant and/or sor­cery cards in your grave­yard to get a slight bonus.

Planeswalker the Planeswalkening

There are, of course, the flashy trans­form­ing Planeswalkers that have been the most high-profile of the spoil­ers our there. Lilliana’s ear­ly reveal was pret­ty unex­pect­ed and piqued people’s inter­est in the idea of see­ing all of the­se char­ac­ters before their spark ignit­ed. It’s a cool con­cept, but mod­ern Magic sets have been too focused on Planeswalker wor­ship in my opin­ion. I under­stand that some­one in the mar­ket­ing depart­ment prob­a­bly insist­ed they need­ed more human char­ac­ters in the games, but Magic has a rich and weird his­to­ry that is gen­er­al­ly being ignored for the­se, frankly, quite bland player-insert ves­sels.

origins insert plainswalker

Origins put some much-needed meat on the bones of the­se peo­ple we are sup­posed to have been iden­ti­fy­ing with for years, but in my mind they still feel a bit too much like wish-fulfillment mas­cots; twenty-somethings with extra­or­di­nary pow­ers and only super­fi­cial flaws and depth. I’d per­son­al­ly love to see char­ac­ters like Ugin and Khan be much more fleshed out. Khans block promised a lot of the Spirit Dragon and deliv­ered very lit­tle, instead choos­ing to focus on Sarkon’s poor­ly thought out “drag­ons R gud coz drag­ons” arc. C’mon guys, we have all this pre-mending lore stuff we can be delv­ing into and as yet we’ve not seen it used.

Keyword Soup

One of the changes com­ing to the game with Magic Origins is the shuf­fling around of some of the key­word abil­i­ties and actions that will be present in every set. If you didn’t know, Wizards of the Coast has a set of abil­i­ties that are present in most mag­ic sets they pro­duce. Things like fly­ing, tram­ple, etc are at the core of the­ses. These lists change over time, and once more the recipe for the key­word soup has been slight­ly altered:

Keyword Abilities removed:

  • Intimidate
  • Landwalk
  • Protection

Keyword Abilities/Actions Added:

  • Menace
  • Prowess
  • Scry

Menace is a brand new abil­i­ty and goes straight into being a key­word. A crea­ture with men­ace can’t be blocked except by two or more crea­tures. It has an effect that has been knock­ing around for a bit with great cards like Madcap Skills, so you can think of it as just giv­ing a name to an abil­i­ty many of us have enjoyed using already in var­i­ous sets. According to Wizards, it will be a sort of replace­ment for Intimidate and so will be pri­mar­i­ly red and black. Seeing as how this was more of a red abil­i­ty to begin with, I think it is a per­fect fit and means we won’t miss what Intimidate brought to the table when it is retired. It’s a wel­come change.

origins insert 2

Prowess is also now becom­ing one of Magic the Gathering’s sta­ple abil­i­ties and I couldn’t be hap­pier. Creatures with Prowess trig­ger and get +1/+1 until end of turn when a non-creature spell is cast by their con­troller. This abil­i­ty was pre­vi­ous­ly exclu­sive to the Jeskai Way in Khans in the recent Tarkir Block. I love prowess: it adds a lot of crea­ture com­bat game­play to decks that run a lot of spells. This means it fits so nice­ly in blue based strate­gies; it presents a lot of decision-making as it turns all instant spells effec­tive­ly into mini combat-tricks. It’s just an effect that mesh­es so beau­ti­ful­ly with the exist­ing frame­work of Magic that I’m sur­prised it took this long to make it into the per­ma­nent vocab­u­lary of the game.

Scry is now a Keyword action as well — again, some­thing I am very enthu­si­as­tic about. Scry solves a lot of the vari­ance prob­lems in the game whilst still feel­ing fair. It has a smooth­ing effect on bad draws and with repeat­able use (like on the card affec­tion­ate­ly known as Patrick Scryfish) it can take over a game by set­ting you up with mul­ti­ple good draws. Information and fil­ter­ing with­out card advan­tage, if you don’t like it you can scry me a river.

As for what’s being lost, like I said, I think Menace more than replaces the role of Intimidate. And let’s be hon­est, if they removed Landwalk from a set with­out telling us I’m not sure many of us would notice. Such is the sit­u­a­tion­al nature and low-power of the effect. Protection we are not actu­al­ly los­ing; just see­ing a lit­tle bit less of it. Wizards describes it as still a “Tool in their Toolbox” and the effect can be pow­er­ful so a smat­ter­ing of pro­tec­tion abil­i­ties may crop up spo­rad­i­cal­ly in some future sets, just not all of them.

Aside from the new key­words we also have two new non-keyword abil­i­ties com­ing in Magic Origins:

origins insert 3

The first of the­se is Renown, which grants a crea­ture a num­ber of +1/+1 coun­ters when it deals dam­age to an oppo­nent cor­re­spond­ing to the renown num­ber and becomes renowned. Some crea­tures, once renowned, can also gain addi­tion­al abil­i­ties. This seems like an inter­est­ing effect, but being depen­dent on deal­ing dam­age can mean renowned crea­tures with pow­er­ful abil­i­ties just sit there unable to attack.

Spell Mastery, as we dis­cussed before, requires you to have two or more instant and/or sor­cery cards in your grave­yard to get a bonus effect. I’m not so keen on this, as Delve is still in stan­dard for colours where Spell Mastery seems most appro­pri­ate. Perhaps red is the place this could shine best, with its abun­dance of burn. I’m pret­ty unex­cit­ed by Spell Mastery to be hon­est, It seems like it requires setup for very lit­tle gain.

In many ways Magic Origins is more like a big expan­sion set than a core-set; with the low num­ber of rare and mythic re-prints along with the intro­duc­tion of new and inter­est­ing abil­i­ties. Overall, I think it is a fit­ting send-off for the increas­ing­ly redun­dant feel­ing Core Set, and if noth­ing else, fea­tures a whole bunch of inter­est­ing cards for peo­ple to brew with. One of my hopes is that Wizards of the Coast takes the end­ing of the core-set as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to think of a per­ma­nent and afford­able way to get peo­ple start­ed with Magic  — out­side of the large­ly for­got­ten and ignored sam­ple deck prod­ucts. But that’s anoth­er dis­cus­sion for anoth­er time. Have fun at your pre-release events, and as always, remem­ber to sup­port your local game store and hug your play­group. SweeneyTrading Card GamesTraditional GamesMagic The Gathering,OriginsAs the sun goes down on the core-set forever we get to see its last hur­rah — and Magic Origins is shap­ing up to be an inter­est­ing set to say the least. The full set of has final­ly been spoiled to us after a very extend­ed spoil­er sea­son so I think…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.