Unholy Strength and the Pentagram: Magic's First Controversy


An example of how parental outcry changed the appearance of a Magic: The Gathering card.

When the first Magic: The Gathering cards first came out in the early 1990s, it wasn't all dual lands and power nine cards. Like any card game, while there were a lot of powerful cards, there were so many more cards that just didn't do all that much on their own.

One of these cards in that initial batch was Unholy Strength.

A simple +2/+1 buff on an enchanted creature, it was a fairly useful card that would also be easily forgotten in the grand scheme of things. We say 'would' because (thanks to the card's original art) Unholy Strength lives on as one of the most controversial cards. Why? Well, lets see if you can spot the reason:

Yeah, that's a flaming pentagram behind that dude on the card. When kids began to play the game more and more, parents began to look at them, with some overtly religious parents in particular freaking out about it, calling it a 'devil-worshipping game' thanks to the pentagram and cards like Demonic HordesDemonic Tutor, and Contract from Below (though, Demonic Attorney was pretty spot on). It was seriously a huge problem. Many parents wrote Wizards of the Coast and many began to refuse buying it for their kids. While the furor didn't quite cut into sales, it was a lot of bad press for a game that, you know, also had you fight against the demons with angels and the like.

But to quell parents and Christian groups, WotC made a few changes to the game. Not only were demons removed from the game for a bit, but Unholy Strength itself got a bit of a makeover in 1995 when reprinted in 4th Edition. And by a bit of a makeover we mean alternate art. And by alternate art we mean they just removed the pentagram, now making it look like a guy losing it in a mosh pit at a Smashing Pumpkins concert:

It did the trick. Parents pretty much stopped complaining and moved on to Harry Potter to raise hell about teaching witchcraft to kids. After a few years, Wizards of the Coast reintroduced demons into the game and, as the first players became adults, they taught their own kids that there wasn't devil worship at all here.

However, in all subsequent reprintings, the pentagram is still gone and the card got new art altogether in Fifth Edition. Officially, it is gone because it was "unnecessarily excessive".  But in reality, it's gone to serve more as a reminder that Magic can change their cards or remove them when needed, such as in mid-2020 when several "racist" cards were taken off of the Magic card roll out of respect for sweeping racial justice changes around the world. 

Unholy Strength was just the first of many...for the oddest reason.

Evan Symon

Evan Symon is a graduate of The University of Akron and has been a working journalist ever since with works published by Cracked, GeekNifty, the Pasadena Independent, California Globe, and, of course, Magic Untapped.