A look back at the Future (Sight) Part 4
I’m back to talk about Future Sight again, specifically cards from the future-shifted sheet from that set. Those 81 cards were billed as “pre-prints” of cards from future sets, and potential future sets. Now that that it’s been 10 years since they were first printed, I’ve been going through each of the future-shifted cards, starting at A with Arcanum Wings, and talking about whether the set they’re from has been printed yet, or not. Along the way I’m digging into some of the history and mechanics of these cards, and looking at the possible future sets that those which haven’t been printed yet might show up in.
Today we are starting with a doozy, so let’s just get into it.
Dryad Arbor has been reprinted, though it was in From the Vault:Realms, and not a standard legal set, and the likelihood of it being in a standard set (and alongside other cards similar to it) is very low, Mark Rosewater (Head Designer of Magic) has given this a 9 on the stormscale (a 10 point scale of how likely something is to be printed in a standard legal set, the lower the more likely).
Why this scores so high is a bit of a discussion. On it’s face, this seems simple. It’s a land, that’s also a 1/1 creature. There are a ton of lands that become creatures, even one that does it permanently (Stalking Stones), but once you start to look at all of the ways this interacts with all sorts of different things, it gets complicated quick, and I think you’ll understand why this card is likely to be a one-of.
We play with them all the time, but rarely do we realize how odd lands are as a card type, at least how different they function from all of the other card types. Below I’ll run down the many ways Dryad Arbor interacts weirdly with the rules, and other cards.
- Lands are not cast, they are played. This might sound like a weird distinction, but it actually is significant on occasion, when you have cards that let you cast, or play, cards you wouldn’t normally get to. For example Chandra, Pyromaster‘s 0 ability says play, so you can play a land exiled this way, but Chandra, Torch of Defiance‘s first +1 ability says cast, so if you exile a land this way, you can’t play it.
- They can only be played on your turn, during your main phase, and when the stack is empty. This particular characteristic is shared with with all spells that aren’t instants, but spells can be given flash (or cast as though they had flash, depending on what their type is), which let’s you cast them as an instant. Wizard’s hasn’t printed cards that let lands get flash, because then it gets weird. Well Dryad Arbor is a creature, and they can be given flash real easy. I’ll get into that below:
- Land’s specifically have a rule saying they can’t be played on other player’s turns. Here is the rule: “305.3. A player can’t play a land, for any reason, if it isn’t his or her turn. Ignore any part of an effect that instructs a player to do so.”. This is actually a separate rule from the normal timing restrictions. So, what happens when you give Dryad Arbor flash? You can totally play it anytime during your turn, but you still can’t play it during other player’s turns. Oh, and also:
- Lands are the only card type that is restricted in how many you can play a turn. You get one, unless you have other cards telling you you can play more. So if you’ve played a land for your turn, you can’t play Dryad Arbor, whether it has flash or not.
- To make things more complicated, there is a way to circumvent the above two rules. “305.4. Effects may also allow players to “put” lands onto the battlefield. This isn’t the same as “playing a land” and doesn’t count as a land played during the current turn.” This is why cards like Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis and Atarka’s Command are worded the way they are.
- Land’s don’t use the stack. They can’t be responded to, and when someone plays one, they don’t have to pass priority for it to resolve. That means this particular creature just can’t be countered, nor can it even be responded to. If I have Purphoros, God of the Forge in play, and I play a Dryad Arbor you can’t respond while the Dryad Arbor is on the stack, and exile Purphoros, God of the Forge so that I don’t get a trigger. I get to just play the Dryad Arbor, put the trigger on the stack, and then pass priority, allowing you to do stuff if you want.
- Lands are colorless, regardless of what mana they can create. The mana symbols on them do change the color identity of them, like any other card, but a land has no actual color in game mechanics. Except this one, which is green, because Dryad are green I guess. Wizard’s must have decided this having no color would be more confusing than just giving it a color.
- This last one isn’t a characteristic of lands, but rather one of creatures, that differs from how lands work. All creatures, unless printed with or given haste somehow, have summoning sickness. As a creature, Dryad Arbor has summoning sickness. Making it the only land in the game that taps for mana, and comes into play untapped, but that can’t be used for mana on the turn it comes down.
That list is essentially a list of the characteristics of lands, and how they are different from other card types, and thus the complications that arise when you muddle them. The fact that this stuff is mostly hidden I think is a testament to how good Wizard’s is at design, because they make most of this stuff invisible most of the time.
And all of that is the rules of the game, along with a few example. There are a lot of other specific cards that interact oddly with Dryad Arbor. I’ve spent a lot of words on this card already, so I don’t want to spend time on many, but one I think worth calling out is Green Sun’s Zenith.
Green Sun’s Zenith let’s you find any green creature, as long as their converted mana cost is X or less. As Dryad Arbor is a green creature, so it’s a valid target, and, as a land, it’s converted mana cost is 0. So, you can get it with a Green Sun’s Zenith cast for 1 mana, with an X of 0.
Obviously this doesn’t break Green Sun’s Zenith on it’s own, but what it does it gives an already good card even more flexibility. It can find a relevant target on literally every turn on the game. Green Sun’s Zenith is banned in modern, and it might be worth banning, on similar logic to the Birthing Pod ban regardless, but the interaction with Dryad Arbor really pushes the card over the top, as it’s just never bad.
So yeah, after all of that, I think it’s easy to see why this card is unlikely to come back, especially with friends.
Which I can understand, but it does make me a little sad, as I really like this card. I also love that as Dryad Arbor is not only a land, but a forest, it counts for things like Baru, Fist of Krosa, or Karametra, God of Harvests. Note, that you can fetch it as a forest for Karametra, but you didn’t cast it, so it doesn’t trigger her ability. Just another little piece of complication packed into this card.
Since then it’s been in quite a few sets, along with a lot of innovations and twists on it. Mark Rosewater breaks down it’s history and all of those twists and explorations in this article. It was posted in February 2009, right after Conflux came out, so it doesn’t include anything from Amonkhet, but it’s still a super interesting read, and covers most of the history of this mechanic.
As that’s all right there, and I just spent a long time breaking down a single card, I’m not going to repeat most of what he said, but I will go over a couple of the relevant slices of design space.
As a quick, but relevant, aside Edge of Autumn was reprinted in Duel Decks:Knights vs. Dragons, Street Wraith was in the first Modern Masters set, and Homing Sliver was in the Premium deck Series:Slivers deck. So three were in reprint only sets, and none of them have been brought back in a standard legal set.
Cycling itself is a 3 on the stormscale. Mark describes this as “Will most likely do again, probably many times”. Which is pretty easy to demonstrate, based on how often it has come back. That said though, what we are looking at here are two variants of cycling, so their chances will be less than that, like with any branch of design space off of a base mechanic.
Looking first at the alternate cycling costs, it seems unlikely that we will see that variant of cycling return. In the above linked article by Mark on cycling he says “The lesson having made these cards is that this is not the ripest of design veins. It’s both hard to find a match between card and alternative cost and there are a limited number of alternative costs that work. In addition, some degenerative things can happen if you have too many cards that don’t require mana to cycle.”
To back up his point about degenerative things, you can look at the current modern metagame where the Death’s Shadow decks run Street Wraith with no intention to ever cast it, it’s in the deck as a free way to decrease their owner’s life total, and thus increase the power/toughness of the eponymous card in the deck, Death’s Shadow. I’m not sure this is exactly degenerative (as I don’t play modern I can’t really judge that), but it certainly outside the normal use for such a card, and something that helps to affirm Mark’s caution about going deeper on this particular vein of design.
Still I think these two are cool cards, and in particular I love the design on Edge of Autumn where it gets you a land if you don’t have a lot, or it let’s you cash it and a land in for a new card if you have a bunch of lands already. It’s also a sweet card in a some of the land-centric commander decks that I love to play, like Titania, Protector of Argoth, The Gitrog Monster, or even Angry Omnom, I mean Omnath, Locus of Rage.
The chances for Typecycling to come back are higher. In the above article Mark says: “Scourge’s plainscycling and the ilk have definitely opened the door for cycling to have a pseudo-tutoring quality. Future Sight messed around with creature types but really any subset of cards shows potential merit.”
The land typecycling, which is where this started back in Scourge with cards like Elvish Aberration, got a twist in Coflux, that Mark talks about in the above article, with Basic Landcycling, but then it got another twist in Alara Reborn, which came out after he wrote that article, with a cycle that were two color gold cards, that could be cycled to search for a land with the basic land type of either of their two colors. Like Igneous Pouncer for instance.
Basic landcycling came back in Commander 2016, which isn’t standard legal, but they are brand new cards with the mechanic on them at least. There was a cycle of two color instants and sorceries in the five ally colors, along with a land (Ash Barrens) that all had Basic landcycling to help fix the mana in that set, as the decks were all 4 color.
Beside those variations on landcycling though, no other types have had cycling cards since Homing Sliver and Vedalken Aethermage. I’m hopeful to see this variant of cycling again, as I am a big fan of limited scope tutor abilities. I tend to run things like Time of Need, and Vedalken Aethermage because they let me get whatever version of a thing I need at that point in the game, but at the same time they don’t let me turn every game into the exact same game plan over and over again, like a good old Demonic Tutor does.
There was one other innovation with cycling in Future Sight, and it has even come back, but it wasn’t on cards that were in the future shifted sheet.
When I was doing the early prep-work for this series, I decided to cover only the 81 future-shifted cards, as they were the only ones billed as “from the future” specifically. There were some cards in the main set that did future things, but also a lot that really didn’t. So I wasn’t going to talk about any of them, but in the course of researching these 4 I came across these two.
At first I was still going to skip them, as I have so much to talk about with just the 81 future-shifted cards, but then I realized that, while these two haven’t come back in a standard legal set (the first one was in Duel Decks:Garruk vs. Liliana), this is a take on cycling that actually has come back in standard legal sets, twice in fact.
So, here is:
Both of these combined Cycling with another ability to create synergies within the card, and a lot of flexibility and extra lines of play with them.
Ichor Slick can be traded for a card for 2 mana, cast for 3, or you can get both for 6.
Marshaling Cry can get cast twice, or traded for a card, and cast once.
Both offer a lot of flexibility because of how Madness and Flashback synergize with cycling.
This combining of cycling with another ability, came back in Shards of Alara, with Viscera Dragger.
It also just came back again in Amonkhet, with Oketra’s Attendant.
In Mark’s above linked article he said this was a take of cycling that stood a good chance of coming back, and he wasn’t kidding. At the time he had the example of Viscera Dragger to use, and now, 8 years later, we have another one.
As a quick aside, I love this kind of synergy building with disparate pieces. It was my deep love of these two, and their more intricate forebear Blast from the Past, that made me realize I was not only a Vorthos, but that I also had a strong Mel leaning as well.
If you don’t know what those terms mean, here’s Mark Rosewater’s most recent article about these two aesthetic profiles. While I’m at it, here are some places where he talks about the 3 psychographic profiles. The psychographic and aesthetic profiles are a topic I find super interesting, and are one I don’t want to really get into now, as that would Shahrazad the heck out of this already long article, and remember when someone casts Shahrazad, everyone loses.
Now, before that this tangent goes any more wildly out of control, on to the next card.
Emblem of the Warmind has not been reprinted. It’s kind of an oddity among Auras, which I think is what they were aiming for, but I’m not sure it’s one that has much design space, or at least much Wizard’s is going to want to explore.
This is an Aura that doesn’t reference the enchanted creature at all. I looked through every Aura since Future Sight, and I couldn’t find another that omits that. Commander’s Authority is one that’s pretty close though. Commander’s Authority grants an ability to the enchanted creature, and thus references the creature, but in practice this doesn’t really alter the creature. Commander’s Authority would function the same as a non-Aura enchantment. The only difference is that it would be less fragile, as it is weak to enchantment removal, creature removal, and some corner cases like Humility.
Emblem of the Warmind works out similarly, the only difference is it’s not actually weak to Humility style cards. It’s a more fragile version of Fervor. I do like to talk about worse versions of a card still potentially having a place in commander, as you can only run 1 of the best, so often the top 3 or 4 versions of something can still see play, just to get the redundancy other formats get from running a 4 of the best version.
But, we’ve already got a lot versions of this. Hammer of Purphoros can die to artifact hate, but gives you extra upside. Fires of Yavimaya and Temur Ascendancy both require more colors, but come with more upside as well. Concordant Crossroads and Mass Hysteria both give haste to everyone’s creatures, but there are times when you don’t care, and the lower cost (and only being in green for Concordant Crossroads) makes these just fine.
And that’s only enchantments. Ogre Battledriver, Anger, Dragonlord Kolaghan, Madrush Cyclops, Urabrask the Hidden, Cyclops of Eternal Fury, Samut, Voice of Dissent, and Maelstrom Wanderer are all creatures that do this, each their own up and downsides.
There are also some tribal cards that do this for a tribe, like Goblin Warchief, Heart Sliver and Kragma Warcaller. There are one-shot ways to do this, if you think you just need one attack, like Flame-Kin Zealot, and Goblin Bushwhacker.
So yeah, there are lot of other options in commander. All of that said though, one place did just occur to me. I’ve been intending to build an Anax and Cymede commander deck for a while, and one of the challenges is finding ways to target them, and still be doing other stuff the deck wants to do. Emblem of the Warmind seems like a perfect card for that. Actually so does Commander’s Authority now that I’m thinking about it.
Maybe I should end this article now, before I start brewing a deck instead of talking about Future-shifted cards like I promised you all.
Moltenronrick on tappedout.net
I started playing Magic when I was 8, and Revised had just been released, and have been playing on and off since then.
I like to write, and I like magic, so writing about magic was a natural step.
I live in Minnesota, USA where it's pretty cold, then fairly hot, and then pretty cold again.But at least we don't get Earthquakes, hurricanes or *that many Tornadoes.