Sets like Shards of Alara and Ravnica owe a lot to Invasion's gold theme. Invasion was the first set of a block that took a look at how colors matter and interact with each other. It is a favorite set for fans, because lots of people like gold cards. Gold cards tend to be more powerful than mono-colored cards, so Watchwolf is better than Bear Cub. We like to see powerful cards, and if they can make us work for them, we like them more. It can be hard to design cards with a hindrance because sometimes, players just don't get what makes something good. The first time I saw Basking Rootwalla (during a hiatus from the game), I thought “this would be okay if someone casts Hymn to Tourach on you, I suppose.” The Madness mechanic took some work to figure out and take advantage of. Luckily, gold cards have no such problem, since most Magic players know how they work. You plug in a white and a green mana and you get a 3/3 instead of a 2/2 for your work. Gold cards also fit into theme decks really well, since sometimes, a theme is just the colors in the deck.
Part of the lingering wisdom from Invasion is how accurately-costed the gold cards are. That set the tone for how to price gold cards in Magic. We last saw that many gold cards in Legends, where the “goldness” was supposed to be cool enough to pay a premium. Thus, you got clunkers like Lady Orca. With Invasion block, we got a concrete idea of how much an ability should cost. For example, in Apocalypse, we saw that “destroy target permanent” cost either 4GG (Desert Twister) or 1WB (Vindicate). The cost to both bounce a creature and force a discard is 1UB, thanks to Recoil.
Though I am entirely too tired of gold cards now, they are fun in limited numbers and Invasion brought a lot of cool things that players hadn't seen before. If you picked up Magic after Invasion, let me tell you – you rarely saw gold cards. Sometimes they were cool, sometimes they were indecipherable. You didn't know whether Harbor Guardian or Windreaper Falcon were actually any good, but they looked cool. Thus, a set with a lot of gold cards must have been way cool to color-deprived players. You had to go back all the way to Stronghold to see a gold card, which is just mind-boggling to me today. You could have picked up Magic in Urza's Saga and played for two years and never opened a gold card in a pack.
That's why gold cards mattered so much to players when Invasion came out.
Let's take a look at some of the highlights of the set! Since there are a lot of goodies in this set, I'll be breaking the review into two different articles so you don't get overwhelmed.
Hypnotic Specter was back! People loved Blazing Specter mainly because they didn't have Hippie anymore. It hit on the same turn Hippie would and hey, you still had Dark Ritual in the environment for awhile to power this out. It formed part of the disruption in Tom Van De Logt's Machinehead deck, alongside Flametongue Kavu and Terminate. Even though it doesn't force a random discard, it was still good enough for the environment.
I'm a little surprised that the Specter is still actually worth something; it's a hasted Abyssal Specter, not a slightly-slower Hippie. Selective discard is a lot worse than random discard. My best guess is that people will pay a little for nostalgia in their discard decks.
The Cap'n is mainly used these days as an EDH general. I've got a list with her floating around, and she can be pretty devastating. For example, you can go get Gaddock Teeg, then Hokori, Dust Drinker and Kataki, War's Wage and just pester the heck out of people. Tag an Umezawa's Jitte on one of your soldiers and you can peck away at people with annoying bears. Near-limitless tutoring is her main appeal, and when you can combine her with Thousand-Year Elixir or Minamo, School at Water's Edge... you get results.
$1.00 ($23.00 in foil)
The real breaking factor in this card is that it counts dual lands. Thus, it was used in Extended in both CounterTop and Gifts Rock because it paired with the Ravnica duals. You could easily make an opponent shell out five mana to get a single attack in, which is pretty debilitating. It gets a little attention in Legacy, but it's really too slow to do much good.
The return of Elder Dragons was way cool in Invasion. They remain very popular among fans, even though many have been reprinted here and there. When you connected with Crosis, you could make that poor sap lose their whole hand if you guessed the color right! What a blowout against that pesky Elves player! That said, having a 6/6 flier meant that most of the time, the ability was worthless because you didn't need it with a body that big. It's the Gleancrawler syndrome.
$3.50 ($20.00 in foil)
Darigaaz is a little less cool than Crosis, since you merely get a bit more damage instead of wiping someone's hand. That explains why this Jund Dragon is less valuable.
$2.00 ($10.00 in foil)
There was a time when this was the biggest, meanest creature around. It was hard to kill since it regenerated and it sealed things up really quickly when you attacked. It's the best in the line of black “Demons” that require you to pay mana or sacrifice a creature every turn, lest it betray you. I think part of its value comes from being a good finisher for casual token decks.
Fact or Fiction was rarely fair. Even if you flipped over only one good card, you could draw four from it. Or to put it another way, the fewest number of cards you were guaranteed, at instant speed and for only one blue mana, was three. What a rocker, especially if you flipped into more copies of FOF! People are notoriously bad at splitting FOF, and you'd often flip five cards, only to see the two cards you wanted put in the same pile! It's even worse than Gifts Ungiven for that! Card draw hasn't been this good for a long time. The closest it got was Careful Consideration. Until that, we had a spate of sorcery-speed draw like Concentrate and Tidings to teach us that we can't hold up countermagic as well as draw cards all the time.
Although it's been reprinted a lot, FOF is still pretty valuable. It's a great power uncommon that you can still find in boxes. Interestingly, the foils are worth little more than the regular versions these days.
When you have to reset a multiplayer table, Obliterate is handy. It makes insidious appearances in Jhiora EDH decks, especially since there will usually be an Eldrazi or something else nasty following up behind the board-wipe.
Join me next week when we round up the hits in Invasion!