Magic: the Gathering’s Secret Sci-Fi History

Magic is usually thought of as a fantasy game filled with wizards and elves and swords. Science-fiction has always been a part of the strange world of Magic, though, from the earliest artifacts to the upcoming expansion Mirrodin Besieged.

Clockwork Avian. One of the first Magic expansions was called Antiquities, and it was heavily focused on artifacts, powerful objects that could be used by any mage (and in any deck). Most of them were overtly magical, but a robotic pterodactyl? That’s almost steampunk. Sadly, this and the other clockwork Magic cards are pretty much junk that you wouldn’t even use in a casual deck.

Clone. Another example from very early in Magic’s history, Clone appeared in the original Alpha printing of Magic’s first ever release. It’s still in print, appearing in the current core set, M11. Sure, it could be a magical clone, but I prefer to think there’s some genetic engineering going on. I’ve actually seen Clone turn up in some tournament decks — as recently as last week, in fact.

Drelnoch. I can’t find an exact analogue for a Drelnoch in the Lovecraftian bestiary, but if one suddenly appeared near the Mountains of Madness, I wouldn’t bat an eye (I’d just run screaming). Alternately, Cthulhu mated with a Yeti? This card gets added mystique for being in Coldsnap, Magic’s “lost” set that was discovered and released years later. That didn’t actually happen (it was a newly designed set made to have a retro feel), but that was the company line for a while, and some fans thought it was true.

Phyrexian Negator. Not all of Magic’s monsters are demons. Technically, Phyrexian Negator is a horror, one that Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger are probably quite familiar with. This card has some of my favorite flavor text, describing in just four words a creature whose sole purpose is to destroy reality. Phyrexian Negator was also the source of some controversy when it was reprinted with new art in a theme deck recently. It’s technically on the reserved list of cards that Wizards has said will never be reprinted, so they claimed the theme deck didn’t count since it wasn’t part of an actual tournament legal expansion (it was also reprinted as a limited edition Judge’s foil promo).

Cathodion. The Mirrodin expansion introduced Magic to a world made of metal and filled with artifacts. It’s no surprise that a lot of sci-fi ideas appeared there as well, including the Cathodion, which is just a straight up robot (one that is possibly working in a Jawa sandcrawler).

Neurok Stealthsuit. If a creature can’t be seen, it can’t be targeted. The Stealthsuit is cool because it can be used in any color deck, but blue decks can equip it to a new creature at instant speed. Random trivia: the blue mana symbols in the text box are in black and white because of a printing problem that couldn’t be solved in time for the release. Since this hasn’t been reprinted, we’re stuck with the ugly “colorless” blue mana symbols.

Skullclamp. This uncomfortable device lets you suck knowledge straight out of your victim’s heads. It’s a bit twisted that those victims happen to be your own creatures, but in Magic, card drawing is incredibly powerful. The ability to abuse this card caused it to be banned in several tournament formats.

Triskelion. Cathodion is a robot, but Triskelion is an awesome robot, a stalking, tentacled mechanical beast straight out of War of the Worlds. It’s even currently in print (just ignore the original art…that was just a prototype, ok?).

Living End. What would sci-fi be without a zombie apocalypse? Living End kills every creature in play, then returns every previously dead creature to life. That means this card is especially effective if you have the means to kill off a ton of your own creatures only to bring them all back. I tend to think Magic is at its best when it lets you be really evil.

Cytoplast Manipulator. There’s some kind of post-human bio-engineering going on here. She’s a human mutant, for one thing, with some kind of bizarre apparatus that grafts cell growths onto other people’s heads, which she then uses to control their minds. Then I guess she dips her hands into some kind of glowy blue goo, possibly just for aesthetic purposes. One of my favorite cards.

Phyrexian Vatmother. Finally, here’s a preview from Mirrodin Besieged. In case the Negator didn’t make things clear enough, Phyrexian Vatmother is an alien queen all ready to cultivate her offspring, which apparently grow in vats. She certainly has an aggressive cost for a 4/5 with Infect, but then, she poisons you. You’d better have an exit strategy.

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