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Insider: No Offense Taken

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I thought I would have a little fun this week by focusing on a subset of cards that many players don’t know about. They tend to get forgotten in their old age, though they still have some relevance in certain circles. But there’s one thing that sets them apart from the other 10,000-plus cards in Magic: The Gathering history. These cards transcend the Reserved List.

What Does That Mean?

Well, consider this: Wizards of the Coast has created a seemingly arbitrary list of cards they promised never to reprint again. No matter their value, every card on this list is treated equally: from Black Lotus to Zuberi, Golden Feather.

Over the years, many players have clamored for an end to the Reserved List. They cry out that abolishing the list would enable some of the game’s best formats to flourish due to the reduced barrier to entry. Some are even willing to stand by while their collection declines in value if it means they will be able to find regular Vintage and Legacy opponents.

No matter where you stand on the trade-offs involved, there’s one group of cards that have no chance of being reprinted even if the Reserved List disappeared. Perhaps these are cards worth scrutinizing more closely—but before doing so, allow me to explain.

No Offense

Some cards in Magic’s history carry with them some significant baggage in their title or artwork. These are cards Wizards of the Coast likely wishes never existed and would prefer to let drift into the game’s past. Therefore, even if the Reserved List was abolished immediately, this subset of cards stand out as safest from reprinting simply because of their negative connotations.

Consider this: someone asked Mark Rosewater on Blogatog if Wizards would ever reprint Stone-Throwing Devils.


His reply:
Blog

This creates a precedent: some cards can be even less reprintable than Reserved List cards simply because of their implications.

That’s not to say these are the best investments in the hobby. Surely there are better places to put money to work. But I suspect if an index were to be created that summarized these potentially offensive cards, there would be some real returns evident.

More Examples for Consideration

In a recent article, I alluded to the card Jihad, and I mentioned that regardless of the Reserved List’s fate, you can reliably invest here because the card can never be reprinted. Why not?


Well, back when the card was printed, the term “Jihad” referred to the Arabic word meaning striving or struggling toward a praiseworthy aim. Seemingly harmless, the name fit the flavor of the card and set quite well. However, recent events have warped the term, and many now associate it with violence. According to Wikipeda, Jihadism is a “21st-centry neologism found in the Western languages to describe Islamist militant movements perceived as a military movement ‘rooted in Islam’ and ‘existentially threatening’ to the West.” I can conceive of no environment where Wizards of the Coast would want to remind the world of this card’s existence. Thus, it will disappear into obscurity.

How about the card Invoke Prejudice?


This harmless blue enchantment from Legends can’t possibly be offensive, can it? Well look closely at the artwork to see for yourself. What do those characters in the picture look like to you? To me, they closely resemble an American white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Whether or not the similarities are a coincidence, Wizards would be crazy to print a card that specifically mentions prejudice so blatantly.

Both of these cards are already pretty expensive, so they may be more well-known to all of you. Here’s something a little more obscure:


What is going on in this picture? Just your usual depiction of a religious figure getting lit on fire! Talk about crossing the line. This one is also on the Reserved List, but does Wizards really need to overtly promise us they’ll never print this card again? One look at the artwork and this should be assumed!

Let’s stick with The Dark for a second. The set’s theme certainly has dark undertones, which resulted in some pretty extreme card concepts. If Martyr's Cry wasn’t worrisome enough, I suppose you could always talk to the Preacher about it. How’s that for pushing the envelope? Also on the Reserved List, this one is useful in Old School and will never see a reprint again due to the religious context.


How about the card Grave Robbers, which literally depicts a couple guys robbing something out of a grave? We probably won’t see this card printed ever again.

Want to really feel uncomfortable? Check out the card Cleanse.


The name of the card itself doesn’t imply something taboo. But if you read the card’s rules text and stop and think about the implication, you can really start to feel squirmy. I’m not going to go any deeper into this explanation—you’ll never see this card again.

How about the bondage implied by artwork for Gwendlyn Di Corci? That will certainly get some people’s attention.


According to Gamepedia, Gwendlyn was known as one of the great temptresses of Dominarian lore. Yeah, right, like Magic wants this kind of backdrop for their game? Imagine your 13-year-old son or daughter opening this card in a pack and asking you about what’s going on in the picture! No, thank you!

Lastly, although not as particularly offensive, consider Dystopia.


Here we have a card that literally means “community or society that is undesirable or frightening.” While flavor-wise it’s very clever, the political and social undertones may be a bit too much for a 21st-century collectible card game. Dystopian societies draw attention to real-world issues, and the fact that the card especially punishes green and white permanents magnifies to me the poor choice of name for this card.

Useful Information?

I’ll admit I wanted to have a little fun this week; I realize this set of cards may not be the most cohesive for speculation. It would make no sense to buy the market out of Martyr's Cry. However, if you look at the price charts of some of these cards, you’ll see that more than one of them has proven to be lucrative over the years. What’s more, they provide an offbeat look at Magic’s past, which may increase their allure to the nostalgic collector.

Some folks (myself included) tend to forget that while Magic has broken more into the mainstream nowadays, the game does have a few skeletons in the closet when it comes to its past. Collectors will forever be interested in some of these earlier cards, and the most offensive ones tend to provide a sort of notoriety about them.

If you were interested in this article, I’d encourage you to put your MTG finance hat aside for a day and browse through some more of Magic’s original sets. Arabian Nights, The Dark, Legends, and Fallen Empires really have some darker undertones associated with them that you don’t see in a modern-day set. Even Shadows over Innistrad, which seemed like a play on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow over Innsmouth, didn’t reference evil, diabolic creatures or prejudices nearly as much.

Wrapping It Up

In the Seventh Grade, I was scolded by a teacher for talking about Magic cards in school. She saw the game as a negative influence on youth, and she certainly wasn’t the only one. Other adults saw cards like Unholy Strength, with the demonic pentagram, not to mention more blatant references like Demonic Tutor and Demonic Hordes. Ironically, these cards all seem harmless now when compared to the most offensive cards in the game’s history.

These cards fall into a category which I believe transcends the Reserved List. These are cards Wizards wants no 13-year-old opening ever, and therefore they will likely never be reprinted—even should the list be abolished.

Therefore, if you’re interested in owning some of Magic’s dark past, I encourage you to pick up a few of these cards. They’re certainly a conversation starter amongst friends, and you’ll even have a chance at making some money on them in the long term. Jihad and Preacher already spiked, but surely there will be others to follow. Perhaps an all-offensive Old School deck could be constructed with enough creativity. That’s sure to earn some flavor points with “The Underground”!

...

Sigbits

  • There was one card in Star City’s Old School MTG sale that caught my attention: their Near Mint Serendib Djinn. The markdown to $33.99 was just $2 above Card Kingdom’s buy list, so I couldn’t resist picking up their remaining copy. Perhaps when the sale ends this will be restocked, but it really belongs at $49.99 retail now given the recent rise in its price.
  • I hadn’t realized how many neat combos were achievable with Land Equilibrium in ‘93/’94. It seems that true land denial strategies in the format come in blue and white colors rather than black and red. The utility of this enchantment has not gone unnoticed, as it is sold out at SCG with a $49.99 price tag. Even Italian copies aren’t cheap, retailing for $29.99. That’s how you know the card sees actual play!
  • One last card Wizards will likely never reprint: Heaven's Gate. The artwork and flavor are brilliant, but I’m not so sure Wizards wants to release such religiously charged cards anymore. Sure, they make lots of Angels and Demons—but they haven’t printed many cards that literally depict concept religious concepts such as “heaven.” They might as well have printed a “Saint Peter” card that combos with this one!

25 thoughts on “Insider: No Offense Taken

  1. I enjoyed the article, though I think you may have dug a bit deep on a few of them (especially Cleanse; afterall, the literary world is riddled with instances of Light vs Dark and yet most don’t find it offensive). Nowadays it’s pretty easy to find something that offends somebody..I definitely agree with Invoke Prejudice (and from what I’ve heard that card and his personal opinions were one of the reasons WoTC stopped using Richard Kane Ferguson for card artwork, though I can’t find any legitimate references to this). I do think this was an interesting article and I realize that it’s a difficult subject to cover. I also remember parents barring kids from playing Magic (back in the late 90s) due to the “satanic undertone” they saw…same issue happened with the game Diablo and Warhammer.

      1. You are correct, Harold McNeil is the guy who has the strong racist leanings and that is why you don’t see his artwork on cards anymore.

    1. “Funnily” a somewhat racist guy I know particularly enjoys the combination of Cleanse and destroying all black creatures.

      I on the other hand don’t really see Martyr’s Cry or Preacher being a big concern. To me burning a religious figure is no different from burning a non-religious figure and there’s plenty of burning of people in Magic (“Yes, I think ‘toast’ is an appropriate description.”). Preacher to me is just someone who preaches, which can be about anything. I guess you might want to keep religion out completely and therefore rule out both cards, but to me that’s much weaker than something that might be considered racist. In any case then Army of Allah would be out for the same reason.

      1. pi,

        Indeed, Army of Allah is another one I forgot to mention. Good add. Looking at Wikipedia, Allah is the Arabic word for “The God”, which can be interpreted as the Abrhamic God. Could you ever imagine Wizards making a card “Army of Jesus”? Never!

        Do you think WOTC wants to be printing religious-themed cards nowadays? I’m trying to think of new cards from SOI that had religious themes – there are references to sanctuaries and the like. But Orzhova, the Church of Deals is the only card I found in gatherer with the word “Church” in its name.

        1. I don’t think people from my culture would mind (see comment below). However, I am not from the same culture as people at Wizards. Despite my feelings on it you are more likely to be right that they wouldn’t want to as you are from their culture.

          I’m perfectly happy to disagree on what could be acceptable in this regard and grant you that you are more likely to be right on what they won’t actually print.

          I’ve just been trying to show that these cards may feel different to different people.

        2. only one “church” in the name, sure, BUT:

          there’s Church of Avacyn, complete with angels, parishes, chapels, cathars, missionaries, chaplains,

          many cards referring to “sin” and “grace”

          there’s at least one Deacon, and many many Priests

          and of course an untold number of Shrines

          1. Wizards has done an amazing job at dancing around the concept of religion and worship in all sorts of ways without tying anything back to the real world. All the references to angels, chapels, missionaries, etc. are all in a fantastical context.

            I would argue that Heaven’s Gate is tied to realism more closely than, say, Isolated Chapel. There can be sanctuaries and priests, but no heavens and Cardinals because those are tied to religious realism that Wizards now avoids (but didn’t back in the day).

    2. David,

      Thanks for the comment! I really wanted to go outside the box this week. Back to regularly scheduled finance next week :).

      I personally think Cleanse is pushing me out of my comfort zone, but I suppose it can be read as an innocent card as well (cleaning the world of zombies, vampires, etc.)

      There are certainly cards that will offend anyone anywhere, but I’d like to think some of these were particularly bad from back in the day!

      Thanks again!

      Sig

  2. I find Cleanse an odd addition. I assume it’s just the name that you are pointing out? But it seems ok to me. I would have never taken it that way. It is simply a white spell destroying black creatures. Would you include Massacre to that list as well… a black spell who subtly aims to destroy white creatures for free? If those are both considered racially insensitive then the whole color pie has to go as white and black are enemy colors by design.

    And Dystopia… same thing. It’s a color pie thing, nothing more. Besides, Dystopian societies are actually VERY popular topics in recent years, at least according to the box office and Hollywood. People show up in droves to watch Hunger Games, The Purge, Divergent series, Elysium, Maze Runner. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see an entire dystopian world in the next two years (although it would be hard to do correctly.)

      1. That and the term “ethnic cleansing” carries a ton of bagging. Therefore a card called “cleanse” that wipes out all creatures of a single color being offensive doesn’t feel like a large leap to me. The term isn’t “ethnic massacring” after all.

  3. Great Article this week. It was fun to take a look at some of these old cards that have been mostly forgotten (and WoTC wishes was completely forgotten). A thing Ive noticed is in today’s society everything has to be devoid of feeling emotion “because of the children.” God forbid a 13 year old sees something that makes them a little bit uncomfortable. And while I admit that even I feel a bit uncomfortable looking at invoke prejudice, that doesn’t mean that every game, piece of art, or music needs to be emotionally sterile. The game could still have dark undertones without being overtly offensive, but sadly that’s just not what WoTC wants. Interestingly, SOI was a pretty dark set, but again they managed to water it down and in my opinion it just doesn’t resonate. Anyway just my thoughts. Love the article.

    1. Peter,

      Thanks for the encouraging feedback! I was nervous that people would read this article and dislike it for its loose (nonexistent?) connection to MTG Finance. But it sounds like once in a while people appreciate pieces that are more off-the-wall. I’ll keep this in mind!

      I made the EXACT same observation as you regarding SOI. I could have seen some very dark themes in the set given its theme; but to me it was watered down as well. Nothing about repenting, preaching, etc. It was very much “these are zombies, these are angels, etc.” without any in-your-face religious references. I think that’s WOTC’s intent from now on…the good old days of making people uncomfortable are long gone.

      Do you think they’ll ever print a card with a pentagram on it again? Pentad Prism is kind of close…but it doesn’t hold a candle to Demonic Tutor or Unholy Strength!

      Thanks for sharing!

      Sig

  4. I completely agree on the KKK card. That card should be deleted literally from mtg history. Ban it in every single format, except standard (ban it 2 days later).

    About the religious cards, I understand the current sensitivity in the cards with references to islam.

    But not with the others. Murder is a card and as disturbing as martyr’s cry.

    death, murder, killing, pain is part of such a big part of our entertainment products that it starts hurting if you think about it.

    Why does every major entertainment product needs so much killing and/or hurting?

    1. I get your point that as a culture we glorify violence, but magic is a fantasy game about conflict. Conflict is interesting. Because of the fantasy setting, Murdering a creature isn’t like watching some atrocity on the news. My Aurelia got shriekmawed last night, and my thoughts were not “Poor Aurelia. She is just a hardworking Angel trying to provide for her family, and instill order into a chaotic society.” Although I might say this next time she gets blown up in a game of commander. My point is that yes as a society we are violent, but I don’t think the violence depicted in MTG contributes any meaningful amount of impact to this problem, TV, Internet, and Video games do way more on that front than MTG ever could.

    2. It is important to remember that Invoke Prejudice as a card isn’t outwardly in support of the KKK. We now assume that because of Mr. McNeil’s vocal racism, however, the card art itself is a hooded figure with an axe, and hooded figures have been around for centuries (look at many medieval secret societies).

      The other question I’m curious on is how the artwork was chosen/directed. I’ve read that nowadays WoTC is far more specific on what the general artwork on a card should look like to fit the card itself, however, that wasn’t always the case. I also read that going back to say Urza’s Saga artists were given more leeway in what was in the actual picture. If we go back all the way to Legends (which is one of MTG’s earliest sets, it’s entirely feasible that WoTC didn’t want to risk turning off artists by being too demanding given they hadn’t established the company or brand at the time). I’m not trying to defend Mr. McNeil by any means, but I’m just curious how much he knew of the card BEFORE it was printed (i.e. did he know the name or what it did or was he given a general guideline).

      1. I know in Alpha the artists literally just got not a name of a card over the phone. Legends wasn’t that much later. I know the Dark was the first set with a unified art direction. So likely very little to no input from wizards on the card.

        This article has sparked some awesome debate!

        1. I have really enjoyed all these comments! It’s so funny because sometimes I write what I believe is a really meaningful MTG finance article, and it gets 0 comments. Then I write something purely for the fun of it with only tangential mtg finance content and the comments are explosive! Just goes to show that people appreciate going outside the box once in a while!

    3. phyrexian trader,

      Killing and murdering sells! That’s my simple answer to your question.

      Many games revolve around destruction I suppose. Even something classic like Battleship involved destroying ships…what do you think happens to the “people” on those ships when they’re sunk? They probably die!

      That said, there’s a continuum here between “murder a creature” and “burn a religious figure at the stake”. I don’t think we will see anything that hints at real-life religious views or concepts anymore. There will be references to fantasy people worshiping fantasy gods but certainly not Allah.

      Thanks for chiming in!

      Sig

      1. If I’m not mistaken phyrexian trader has the same cultural background as I do (otherwise one nearby). It may be a cultural thing. I only remember 1 religious person being killed in our history (which may very well be my lack of knowledge of history! Saint Boniface btw)).

        I also don’t feel that killing a religious figure changes much versus a regular person. It’s like 99.9% of the impact is killing someone and then maybe 0.1% is added for it being a religious figure (if anything is added at all actually). So to my mind Murder and Martyr’s Cry are in the same ballpark.

        1. It goes beyond just the killing of a religious figure, IMO. It’s also the WAY they’re being killed. Burning a person alive supercharges the religious undertones…if the artwork was of the same character getting killed in a duel of swords, it wouldn’t be nearly that risky.

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