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 Alliances. This time around we're checking out Mirage, the first set of the first official Magic: The Gathering block.
You can check it all out in our retrospective video (below).
The first set of three in the first actual Magic: The Gathering block, the 350-card set Mirage saw release in October of 1996.
Extremely different thematically from the Ice Age related sets of the past year or so, Mirage took place on the Dominarian continent of Jamuraa, which had a heavy African influence. In fact, it was such a shift that Mark Rosewater many times in his Drive to Work podcast has stated that, in retrospect, Jamuraa should probably have been its own plane.
Setting the stage for the story arc that would eventually be known as The Weatherlight Saga, Mirage's story was based around Jamuraa's three most powerful nations: the militaristic kingdom of the Zhalfirins (also the home of the planeswalker Teferi, by the way), the religious state of Femeref, and the trading province of the Suq'Ata Empire. Rather than warring against one another, however, the meat-and-potatoes of this story is centered on each nation's struggle against and evil wizard named Kaervek.
Much like Ice Age, Mirage was originally to be a spin on Richard Garfield's original designs for Alpha. Initially called "Menagerie," the set's design was sent to Wizards of the Coast's development team in late 1995 where it received its fine-tuning and got its African-influenced look by then art director Sue-Ann Harkey. It would then make its debut at Pro Tour Atlanta in 1996 where professional Magic players were given the challenge of playing sealed deck limited with cards they've never before seen.
In fact, Mirage was the first set ever created with limited play in mind. People have been playing Magic via booster and Rochester draft, as well as sealed deck pretty much since the game's inception, but no set up to this point was really made with those play styles in mind. That all changed with Mirage and, while Mirage is far from the ideal drafting set, it got WotC looking in the right direction for sets going forward.
Mirage introduced to Magic two new keyword abilities: Flanking and phasing. Neither were terribly popular. Flanking is actually a fine creature mechanic that never really caught on. In's functional and incentivizes attacking because it reduces the power and toughness of non-flanking defending creatures by one. Phasing, on the other hand, was more of a handicap mechanic because it causes the permanent in question to be out of the picture every other turn. On creatures, it's even worse. It's almost like an anti-haste because players can't actually attack with them until two full turns after the creature is cast. Of course, it can be rather amusing giving your opponent's stuff phasing.
Like any set, there are good cards and bad cards. While it's always a bit of a mixed bag at the common and uncommon level, Mirage had a handful of bad (and I mean Homelands-level bad) rares. Cycle of Life, Barreling Attack, and Ethereal Champion all come to mind. The worst, though? That would be Lion's Eye Diamond -- a card you couldn't even give away at the time. But my how times have changed.
Thankfully there was more good than bad in Mirage when it came to cards you'd actually want to use in your deck. In fact, there was an entire deck archetype that was centered on interactions with Cadaverous Bloom. Other cards such as Final Fortune, Forbidden Crypt, and Phyrexian Dreadnought were big on deck brewers exploring "what if" strategies. The set also had some of the highest power level commons of the era highlighted by an 8/4 trampler known as Crash of Rhinos.
Mirage also introduced a handful of cycles with cards that often found their way into players' decks such as Magic's original fetch lands, charms, themed tutors, and diamonds. Looking beyond just the cards, Mirage also had a high bar for art quality. Drew Tucker's Dream Fighter, Terese Nielsen's Zombie Mob, Robert Bliss' Binding Agony, and RIchard Kane-Ferguson's Boomerang are easily among the set's best. Heck, even the Mirage lands were breathtaking in both style an beauty.
Of course, there were some major whiffs in the art department as well. Thankfully, card art like that which were done for Flash and Blistering Barrier are few and far between in this set.
There's much more to discuss about Mirage as a block, but our "visions" for that will have to wait until the next video.
Is Mirage along your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets? If so, let us know in the comments below.
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