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Monday, 13 January 2020 10:00

The (short) history of "dexterity" cards

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Artwork from the 'Magic: The Gathering' card Chaos Orb. Artwork from the 'Magic: The Gathering' card Chaos Orb. WOTC / MARK TEDIN

Constant changes in mechanics and ways to play is one of the mainstays of Magic. When something works, it stays or is at least constantly brought back in again and again in new core sets and expansions. But when something goes terribly … well, let’s just say they briefly had their time. Especially if, say, it actually used physical movement from the player to perform and not just playing said move of the card.

Yet, for a brief time in the mid 1990s, throwing your cad up and seeing where it landed was very much a tactic. Cards using this mechanic even have a snappy moniker: Dexterity cards.

In 1993, Alpha/Beta had one such card, the infamous Chaos Orb:

Chaos Orb was literally an orb of destruction, and the player had to throw it at least a foot in the air to see where it randomly came down. 

Issues were almost immediately apparent. As players could have cards in odd locations while on the table, it could theoretically hit a lot or nothing. When players had it, suddenly card placement was a tactic. It even got more ridiculous when an early tournament reportedly was won by a player who tore his Chaos Orb into pieces and threw them into the air like a cluster bomb, virtually taking out everyone the other player had down. Yeah. That happened. The Unglued card Chaos Confetti, by the way, is actually based on this out-of-the-box tactic

A few years later Falling Star was released which, again, had the player rely on throwing their cards up in the air to chance. But, like Chaos Orb, it had many of the same issues, minus all the tearing up. 

With complaints coming in, the concept of dexterity in Magic was retired, with both Falling Star and Chaos Orb going on the banned list in Vintage and Legacy. They are only really “legal” in the non-WotC official format Old School, and even only then within their original decks. The last time they were Tournament legal was about 1995 or so.

Today only a few "Un-" cards use this skill, and of course, those aren’t meant to be serious.

Magic creator Richard Garfield has said that while dexterity cards haven't exactly gone the way of the dodo, they won’t be coming back anytime soon.

"No, we didn't can the concept,” said Garfield. “There will always be weirdo cards like this floating around, but the same old one gets passé." 

While there have only been two like it, dexterity cards are a reminder of the strange cards Magic has made in the past .. as well as what they may introduce in the future.

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