Sometimes it's nice to look back and see just how far things have come since the early days of Magic: The Gathering. To that end, we're bringing you a series of short videos that highlight Magic: The Gathering expansions throughout the years.
Previously, we looked at Urza's Saga, the first in the infamous Urza's block. This time around, we take a few minutes to look back at Urza's Legacy, the second set in what is considered by most to be the most broken Magic: The Gathering set ever printed.
You can check it all out in our retrospective video (below).
Released in February of 1999, the set with a hammer as its symbol, Urza’s Legacy, was released.
The middle set in the Urza’s block, Urza’s Legacy brought with it 143 cards and continues the “Weatherlight Saga” prequel storyline that began in Urza’s Saga. That includes having each of the game’s five colors telling a different part of the story. For more details on that and to catch yourself up with the story up to this point, I recommend you watch our Urza’s Saga video. You can find the link in the video description.
This time around, the story follows Urza’s quest to battle the godlike master of Phyrexia, Yawgmoth, as the would-be deity furthers his plans to eventually invade and conquer his home world of Dominaria. It also sets the stage for Urza’s creation of a weapon that will give him the power to end things once and for all. A weapon that will become known as “The Legacy.”
Pretty much all of the story found in Urza’s Legacy is found in the novel Time Streams, which we recommend you read for the most complete experience.
Failing that, here’s the abridged version:
Urza is busy with his time travel experiments at the Tolarian Academy, having successfully transported the silver golem, Karn, back in time by two days (though that is quite a bit short from the thousands of years he needs to return the golem to the days of the Thran as to prevent Yawgmoth and his Phyrexians from ever becoming a threat).
Meanwhile, an academy student named Jhoira finds a shipwrecked man wash up on the Tolarian coast. Despite the island’s rule to disallow any other adults to be on the island out of concern that they might be Phyrexian sleeper agents, Jhoira takes him into her care anyways.
That man, as we come to learn, goes by the name K’rrik.
Jhoira informs only Karn of K’rrik’s existence. Not wanting to betray one of the golem’s few friends, Karn agrees to keep her secret safe.
Under the cover of night, Jhoira would pay K’rrik visits and a relationship between the two would blossom.
During one of Urza’s time travel experiments, Karn notices a shadowy figure stealing blueprints from the laboratory. The golem follows the figure through a hidden passage and discovers that this figure is none other than K’rrik who, at this point, is in contact with yet another mysterious figure. Karn overhears K’rrik request a coalition of Negators.
By the time Karn returns to present day, it’s too late. Phyrexian Negators have already invaded and the bodies of slain academy students litter the campus. Among the fallen is a youth, Teferi, Barrin, the school’s master wizard, and the golem’s dear friend, Jhoira.
Distraught, Karn takes Jhoira’s lifeless body to Urza and asks to be sent back in time once again so that he may prevent the slaughter. Despite the lab’s temporal aperture being nearly overloaded, Urza agrees. Karn successfully ventures back in time in order to foil K’rrik’s plans, however when the golem tries to return to present day, there is an explosion of temporal energy. The resulting time spiral levels the school. A planeswalking Urza flees to safety, rescuing a dozen or so students and faculty in the process. Karn, himself, saves another 30 from the rubble.
Despite the casualties, Urza sees the event as a success as they not only stopped the Phyrexians from invading the island, but also Barrin’s life was spared this time around. Karn, on the other hand, finds the loss of life to be unforgivable.
Returning to the island a decade later to rebuild the academy with a new class of students, they find that the catastrophic temporal explosion has caused time bubbles to form in the area. Some of these bubbles cause time to progress at ten times the normal rate, while others have the opposite effect. Crossing the energy fields is a fatal act and even working in close proximity to them can be exhausting – even with the special suits Urza and his crew created to help counteract the fatigue.
One of the surviving students who was caught in one of the slow motion bubbles was none other than Teferi. Another student, Karn’s friend Jhoira had spent the ten years during Urza’s absence to study the various time bubbles. Her aging was drastically slowed thanks to her drinking the water that flowed out of one of the slow bubbles.
She shares with Urza her knowledge of a time bubble of intense speed. In that bubble, K’rrik not only survived, but was building an army of Phyrexian Negators with plans to eventually follow through with his attack on the island.
A year after discovering K’rrik’s existence within the time bubble (ten years in K’rrik’s time), Urza sends in an aerial assault. Unfortunately, it’s ineffective at killing K’rrik and is destroyed. Urza and Jhoira escape from their failed attack, but not before Jhoira falls into a coma.
Eventually awakening from the coma, Jhoira has a revelation: If water from a fast time bubble is introduced to a slow time bubble, safe travel between them can occur. With this, they’re able to save Teferi, though the mage is quite annoyed that while all of his peers have matured into adults in the ten-plus years since the explosion, he’s still a child thanks to the bubble of extreme slow time in which he’s resided.
Urza plans a second attack, though this time using artificial avians in order to avoid any human casualties. Unfortunately, as the attack commences Urza is himself dragged into K’rrik’s fast time bubble with only his Planeswalker nature preventing his death. K’rrick captures and tortures Urza. Karn soon after enters into the fast time bubble, locating and saving Urza. As the two escape, Urza laments that the only thing his failed attack on K’rrik succeeded in was providing the Phyrexian with more metal and more powerstones that can be, in turn, used against Tolaria.
In council after Urza’s second attack on K’rrick’s time bubble, Barrin points out that for every year they prepare, K’rrick gets a decade. Urza departs for the land of Shiv, putting Barrin in charge of the academy in his stead.
In Shiv, Urza pays a visit to an ancient, yet working thran quarry with plans to use the metal forged there to construct a thran golem strong enough to travel back in time farther than Karn could. At a place known as the Mana Rig, Urza met the lizard-like race of the Viashino. After a show of power when the Viashino challenged Urza’s authority, they relented and showed the planeswalker their Thran Turbine – a machine that the lizardfolk have no idea the purpose for other than that “It hums.” Urza, however, quickly discovered that the rig can be used to create powerstones and trained the Viashino to do so.
The Viashino weren’t the only residents in Shiv who thrived around the Mana Rig. Goblins, too, lived in the area and often would often spend much of their time hidden in the rig’s various crawlspaces. Urza trained them, too, and the Viashino and Goblins both worked towards Urza’s goal despite the races’ disdain for one another.
Soon, it became time for Urza to depart from the Mana Rig. In leaving, he created a defense grid around the location so that work on the rig can continue uninterrupted by external forces.
Meanwhile back on Tolaria, K’rrik’s Phyrexians were forming a formidable army, showing no mercy as they looked to attack the academy. Urza, looking for whatever help he could get, turned to the Yavimaya Forest for the special lumber he would need to build the ultimate weapon to finally destroy the Phyrexians: a skyship that could not only hold all of the pieces of his Legacy Weapon, but could also planeshift.
While the planeswalker was exploring the forest, he encountered its protective avatar, an ancient maro-sorcerer known as Multani. Not unfamiliar with the name of Urza thanks to the destruction he caused at the forest of Argoth thousands of years prior, rather than assist the planeswalker, the maro-sorcerer instead lured him into a trap. He was hypnotized and locked into the center of a centuries-old tree where he would stay for the next three years.
Back at the academy, Tolaria was being destroyed bit by bit by K’rrik’s forces. Due to Urza’s extended absence, Barrin sought out the planeswalker and, upon locating him, used is magic to unseal him from Urza from both his wooden prison and his stupor. Multani attempts to intervene, but is instead caught up in Urza’s energy as he planeswalks back to Tolaria.
There, Multani watched as Urza fought to protect all life on the island – not just those of his human students – from the Phyrexians. Soon, the planeswalker enters into K’rrick’s time bubble and approaches the Grim Monolith in which the sleeper agent resides. In the bubble, Multani is horrified to see the true terrors of the Phyrexians.
K’rrick fights back with his broodlings, debasers, and defilers. Just as Urza is about to perish, Multani lends the planeswalker his strength. As a last effort, Urza planswalks directly into the space where K’rrick was standing, instantly killing the sleeper agent.
Multani, now convinced that Urza is no longer the enemy of nature that he once was, shows the planeswalker the Weatherseed. From the seed grew treefolk powerful enough to take on the Phyrexian menace and protect the island of Tolaria, as well as its academy.
Enjoying this second chance to correctly take on Phyrexia, Urza took the opportunity to finally finish his blueprints, which were for a skyship that would eventually be known as The Weatherlight. Though he was missing one key component: a suitable power source.
Meanwhile, back on Serra’s Realm things haven’t improved much in the thousand-plus years since Urza and Xantcha visited and the Phyrexians’ attack.
Between the long-term absence of the planeswalker Serra, who departed for Ulgrotha a millennium ago, and the plane’s ability to purge itself of black mana contamination, the realm was slowly crumbling. And it doesn’t help things that Radiant, he archangel Serra put in charge upon her departure, has gone mad.
Where Serra ruled through hope and glory, Radiant instead holds a fatal vendetta against all things she suspects to be Phyrexian and rules with a McCarthyism-like judgment to bring peace and quiet back to the realm. In fact, shortly into Urza’s brief return to the plane, he witnesses the archangel destroy innocents whom he knew were not Phyrexian. Disgusted, Urza offers to take any and all refugees with him and away from the realm. Radiant, however, refused and decried that Urza himself was Phyrexian and, too, must die.
Urza escapes back to Dominaria along with a handful of angelic refugees. There, a completed Skyship Weatherlight awaited him. He names Jhoira captain, adds Karn to her crew, and sends them to Serra’s Realm with himself and Barrin in accompaniment on the backs of powerful dragons.
Upon arriving a final time on the plane, he finds it on the verge of a planar collapse. Radiant and her angels attack, but each angel killed only proves to accelerate the plane’s collapse. The archangel challenges Urza to a one-on-one duel which Urza winds up losing. Radiant removes the planeswalker’s powerstone eyes and returns to her Forbidding Watchtower along with her new prisoner.
Once at the watchtower, she combines the powerstone eyes (which, by the way, is actually Urza’s mightstone and Mishra’s weakstone) which sets off an explosion that not restores Urza’s power, subsequently destroying the now Phyrexian-controlled Radiant. The battle now over, Urza and crew save the rest of the realm’s population before the planeswalker uses the energy put off by its collapse to turbo-charge the Weatherlight’s worn powerstone, thus powering a mass planeshift back to Dominaria and allowing Urza realize his destiny (but that’s for the next chapter in the series).
Just like with the story, Urza’s Legacy picks up right where Urza’s Saga left off in terms of development and, indeed, an overall insane power level with even more over-powered cards and concepts. And, just like with Urza’s Saga, much of this is because Wizards of the Coast R&D were immensely more focused on story (something they really did execute quite well) over mechanics.
Of all of Urza’s Legacy’s broken cards, two tend to reign supreme as the set’s most notorious.
Memory Jar holds the distinction of being one the fastest card ever to be banned from DCI sanctioned play. Wizards already created an extremely powerful “draw seven” card in Urza’s Saga with Time Spiral. Now, with Memory Jar included in Urza’s Legacy, the game had two over the course of only a few months. In the announcement of the card’s ban Wizards said, “Many players have brought to our attention that this card, while perhaps not as strong as some other cards…is nonetheless strong enough that its presence diminishes the tournament environment.” Unfortunately, the ban didn’t take effect until after two large events: Grand Prix Vienna and Grand Prix Kansas City.
Using Memory Jar and a then-overlooked enchantment from Stronghold called Megrim, along with the anti-counter magic card Defense Grid, Magic players Randy Buehler and Erik Lauer broke Magic’s extended format wide open with the two of them finishing third and fourth at the Vienna event.
Then there’s Tinker, a card that can easily tutor for the aforementioned Memory Jar. Designed as a fixed and simplified version of Transmute Artifact from Antiquities, the card proved to be overly broken as it’s an all-too-easy way to get around Magic’s resource management system. In specific, that would be the mana cost and how it ties into what a card is or does. While both Transmute Artifact and Tinker require the caster to sacrifice an artifact, the former requires that players pay mana equal to the difference in the mana cost of the artifact sacrificed and the artifact fetched. Tinker does not.
And, like with the echo (which now begins appearing on non-creature permanents) and cycling mechanics that were introduced in Urza’s Saga, as well as the “sleeping enchantments” theme with cards like Opal Avenger and Lurking Skirge, Urza’s Legacy also included more of the infamous “free” spells that untapped land after cast. This includes Cloud of Faeries and Palinchron. Grand Prix Vienna winner Kai Budde would exploit the rebates these “free” spells provided and put the now infamous High Tide deck on the map after taking first with the deck at the event.
Mere weeks after the set’s release, Wizards issued erratas for the block’s “free” creatures. As written, the cards untap lands upon entering the battlefield. With the errata, they must be cast from a player’s hand for the rebate to take effect. With this little change, WotC immediately killed off the immensely powerful and problematic Recurring Nightmare/Survival of the Fittest deck as they tried to keep the nearly catastrophic “combo winter” from ruining the game.
Thankfully, Urza’s Legacy’s popular and powerful cards extend far beyond just the handful that nearly broke the game. Rares such as Goblin Welder, No Mercy, Defense of the Heart, Deranged Hermit, and Crawlspace. And, of course, there’s the still-quite-banned-from-most-formats mana rock, Grim Monolith.
Urza’s Legacy is also home to one of the game’s most iconic uncommons, Mother of Runes, which is a common sight in Legacy and has a tie-in to Urza’s Saga’s Rune of Protection series. Another powerful Legacy card, Crop Rotation, also made its debut in the set. Other notable lower-rarity cards that were introduced in Urza’s Legacy include the likes of Rancor, Frantic Search, Snap, and Avalanche Riders, an invitational card which was designed by and bares the likeness of Darwin Kastle, winner of the 1998 Magic Invitational Tournament.
Magic’s first full cycle of “manlands” made their debut in Urza’s Legacy with Treetop Village, Faerie Conclave, Forbidding Watchtower, Spawning Pool, and Ghitu Encampment. There’s also a series of four black creatures (all Phyrexian) with escalating –X/-X abilities.
And on the more novelty side of things, while Urza’s Saga was the first Magic set with (arguably) widely-available foil cards thanks to its Lightning Dragon prerelease card and various promos handed out by the now-defunct Arena league, Urza’s Legacy was the first to provide randomly-inserted foil (then marketed as “premium”) variants of every card in the set directly in the pack.
Speaking of packs, I think we’ve packed more than enough info into this video even though there’s more to tell about the Urza’s block. But our destiny is to finish that story in next month’s video.
Is Urza’s Legacy one of your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets? If so, let us know in the comment section below.