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 Weatherlight. This time around we're checking out Tempest, the the first set in the block known as "The Rath Cycle" and the first since Homelands to take place on a plane other than Dominaria.
You can check it all out in our retrospective video (below).
Magic: The Gathering enjoyed a major shift in terms of tone, set construction, and overall look and feel when Tempest hit the market in October of 1997.
Kicking off a block that would be known as The Rath Cycle and continuing as the second chapter in the overall story arc of The Weatherlight Saga, Tempest takes place on the artificial plane of Rath. It follows the story of Gerrard Capashen and the rest of the crew of The Weatherlight as they seek to rescue the kidnapped Captain Sisay, who was abducted during the events of the set Weatherlight. Shortly upon arrival, however, their ship was intercepted and attacked by The Predator and forces led by the dark angel, Selenia, on behalf of Volrath, the plane’s shapeshifting ruler, and his desire to gain possession of Legacy artifacts.
By the way, if you feel lost all of a sudden, don’t worry too much about it as many of these details such as who Volrath is, what the Legacy is, why he wants it, as well as what the plane of Rath is all about are all explained over the next handful of sets as The Weatherlight Saga progresses.
Anyway, the silver golem Karn – one of the parts of the Legacy – is taken aboard the Predator with the minotaur Tahngarth in pursuit with the hopes to reclaim it. Gerrard falls from the Weatherlight into the canopy of the Skyshroud Forest below, with the remaining crew – Hanna, Orim, Ertai, Starke, Squee, and Mirri -- setting off after the skirmish to repair the now damaged Weatherlight and locate Gerrard so they can continue on their mission. It’s in this on-foot part of the story that much of Rath is discovered by the Weatherlight crew and, by extension, the player.
We’re introduced to the elves of Skyshroud and its leader, Eladamri, as well as the Vec and Dal – both human tribes abducted from Dominaria -- as well as the Kor – a race that was abducted from their home plane of Zendikar – a location the game wouldn’t visit until nearly twelve years later (they're seen more in the next set). There’s also the Soltari, Dauthi, and Thalakos – three other races that were unwillingly brought to Rath, but suffered the unfortunate mishap of being trapped in the interstitial void between their original plane and their new one. All of these folks were kidnapped and brought to the artificial, Phyrexian-made plane of Rath to supply Volrath with the manpower needed to stage a full-scale invasion, by the way, though not everyone abducted bought into the program.
Getting back to the set’s storyline, once the Weatherlight crew gained a few new allies among the locals and repaired their skyship, the remaining crew (along with a couple of new additions) resume their journey, aside from the mage Ertai who stayed behind to study the runes of a portal that’s said to have the power to return everyone home to Dominaria after they infiltrate Volrath’s stronghold, rescue Sisay and their crewmates, and reclaim their stolen pieces of the Legacy.
On their way to the stronghold, the crew happens upon a strange, hive-minded feral race known as slivers before sneaking into Volrath’s lair via a ventilation duct that leads to the fiery Furnace of Rath followed by the carrionette-infested Death Pits.
Once through there, it’s onto the inside of the stronghold itself, which (conveniently enough) is the name of the next set.
But keeping on with Tempest, there’s more to the set than just having the most robust and well-made story in the game up to this point. The set introduced to the game of Magic one of its most powerful and popular keywords as well as one of the most cult-followed creature types (that would be sliver for those keeping track), and has a rather interesting backstory about how the set (and, subsequently, many of the sets that follow it) came to be.
Tempest, the 350-card “large” set in the once-standard large-small-small block structure that Wizards of the Coast abandoned a little while back, is where the now-iconic Magic designer Mark Rosewater made his debut as a set lead on a team highlighted by Magic creator Richard Garfield.
In looking back upon his first set in a lead role, Rosewater said in his Maro on Maro article series: “While I’ve made a lot of better sets over the years, this was a pretty good first design and will always have a soft spot in my heart.”
While Rosewater was the man in charge, some of the key elements used in the set came from team member Mike Elliot. Elliot had previously designed his own expansion called Astral Ways and, while never published, some of his ideas made their way into Tempest. This included slivers and the shadow mechanic, as well as a third mechanic that was originally part of the set but was cut for use in a later expansion. And what was that third “mystery” mechanic? Magic players would have to wait until the release of Urza’s Saga to experience it, so we’ll clue you in in that video.
While on the topic of things being made for Tempest that were instead used elsewhere, there were to cards that were to make their debut in the set that never made it. One such card, the enters-the-battlefield-matters Gravedigger was plucked from Tempest for use in the beginner-oriented set Portal (though it did get inclusion in Tempest by way of a reprint). The other, Gemstone Mine, was moved from Tempest to Weatherlight once the latter lost a land card in development and the team needed a replacement.
And in a similar vein, there’s one card in the set that was originally drastically different than what wound up seeing print. That card, Helm of Possession (an artifact with a Control Magic ability), initially let its user take control of an opposing player instead. If you’re familiar at all with the sets Mirrodin or Scars of Mirrodin, this should sound rather familiar as the card (more-or-less as it was originally imagined) did finally see print some nine years down the line.
On top of having slivers, flowstone, spikes, and licids (technically the game’s first enchantment creatures and one of the inspirations behind the Theros ability bestow), as well as buyback and shadow, Tempest was also originally supposed to have another key theme: Poison. Maro was (and still is) a big fan of poison mechanics and he was looking to finally bring the ability to big-time play in Tempest. In fact, at one time there were more than 60 cards in the set that made reference to the ability. Most of the rest of R&D, however, was having none of it and stripped the set of anything and everything poison.
As far as what did make it into the set, Tempest offered a cornucopia of (mostly good) cards highlighted by the likes of Ancient Tomb, Cursed Scroll, Diabolic Edict, Grindstone, Intuition, Lotus Petal, Scroll Rank, Time Warp, Aluren (which combos with Recycle), Earthcraft, Static Orb, Reflecting Pool, Wasteland, and countless others.
But even looking a tad below that power level of card, there’s still a wide variety of really good stuff as the player’s disposal. This includes the likes of Capsize and Verdant Force, good sideboard cards like Boil and Choke, and some fun things like Wood Sage, Lobotomy, Booby Trap, and Humility.
Tempest also brought with it a handful of cycles. Most notable are the medallions, which reduce the cost of each’s specific-colored spell by one generic. Other cycles, however, such as the tap pain lands (which are just a worse enemy-colored version of the pain lands from Ice Age) and the ally-colored slow lands (which are just “fixed” and less-wordy variations of Ice Age’s depletion duals).
Like Ice Age and Mirage before it, Tempest also saw a number of key reprints from previous Magic earliest days such as Shatter, Disenchant, and the Circle of Protections with others, such as Rootwater Hunter, serving as functional reprints despite having a different name.
Tempest also brought to Magic at least one other new thing: Preconstructed decks. Known as “theme decks,” Tempest featured four of the block’s eventual twelve theme decks: W/B Deep Freeze, W/R The Flames of Rath, U/B The Slivers, and W/G The Swarm. The concept of ready-to-play, pre-made decks would prove quite popular and Wizards of the Coast continues the practice even today.
Is Tempest among your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets? If so, let us know in the comments below.
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