Tuesday, 26 January 2021 09:19

Marquee Cards: Mark Rosewater's noble experiment

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Marquee Cards: Mark Rosewater's noble experiment WOTC

Every once in a while, Wizards of the Coast tries to change things up with a new type of Magic: The Gathering card or something of that ilk that can help innovate the game. And (arguably) the first kind of card to try this was known as a "Marquee" card.

The thinking was that a marquee card could be any type of card (though usually an artifact) that could go into any deck. Basically it was a powerful colorless card that didn't require certain colors of mana to play that would let you mess with your opponents deck like a preemptive strike. While not really that novel now, back in the 90s this was seen as pretty huge.

The first card, Jester's Cap from the 1995 Ice Age set, didn't even mean to set off this trend. Post-release, Mark Rosewater and company simply found that the card had been hugely popular because of it's affordable mana cost and the ease of which you could mess with an opponents deck.

So, it was decided that a card in each set would be created to do precisely that: Make it compatible with any deck type and, essentially, screw over your opponent's deck from within.  It was an idea that Rosewater would run with.

Two more such cards made their debuts in the 1996 sets Alliances and Mirage: Helm of Obedience, which mills an opponent's deck in search of a creature to snatch up for you, and Grinning Totem, which allows you to cast a spell directly from your opponent's deck.

However, this is where things started to get bumpy. By 1997, the few marquee cards that had been printed remained popular but were seen as gimmicky and were getting harder and harder to fit in newer deck simply because of the logistics of a card going directly into another deck like that. By Tempest the cards all but grounded to a halt. In that set, Rosewater wanted to include a card called Volrath's Helm, which was pure marquee in terms of cost and ability. However, the rules manager had had enough and told him that it just didn't fit in anymore. Considering that the card would have allowed the player to essentially take over the opponent's cards for that turn and play them, it was just a smidge too much. And, just like that, marquee cards were done for. Rejection tends to do that.

They did get a brief revival in 2003 during Mirrodin, however, when Volrath's Helm was reworked into Mindslaver, but that was more of finally getting the card out there rather than trying to restart them. Since then, marquee cards haven't made a comeback.

Today, marquee cards are remembered as one of Rosewater's experiments. It's something of which he has called a "silly pet theory that wasn't necessary." While this doesn't mean that we won't see another revival in the future, marquee cards will probably remain a legacy of Magic yet again trying something new that didn't quite work out long-term.