Welcome one and all to my little blog on the internet. I know all of you came for the preview card but I just want to display the beautiful art so much:
The art depicts Captain Jhoira, the captain of the new Weatherlight. Anna Steinbauer has been a relativity new artist to Magic but has already painted a good number of cards.
I know you’re here for the card (in fact I bet most of you have scrolled by this to look at the card and closed the tab). This isn’t my first exclusive card, but one in a very long time. But if you stick around I’ll be discussing the nostalgic differences between Time Spiral and Dominaria. That’s interesting, right? Right?
Anyway, here’s Wonderwall:
Will this be played in Pauper? I don’t know. Secret tech in Brawl? Sure, why not. What I do know that Unwind has me feeling more nostalgic than this card:
And why is that?
It all came to me from a tweet from Wedge of the Mana Source:
I grew up with Dominaria, I’ve been playing since Revised, but I have no idea what this moment is. I really didn’t pay attention to the story from the early yeas. I knew some of the characters of the Weatherlight Saga and could pick a number of them in a line up. I’ve even got the full set of Vanguard cards and I don’t know all of the characters. If you asked me what each of their stories and characteristics were I would just shrug my shoulders. Squee can’t die and Karn is a pacifist golem is the extent of my knowledge. I had/still have no major connection to the story element of Magic.
And you can tell the past couple of years that WotC has been integrating the lore with a much more powerful push than before. It’s been effective because I know more characters now and have a general concept of the storyline to a certain extent. This is because of the inclusion of Planeswalkers in Lorwyn, after the Time Spiral block. The focus was to create iconic characters that could be seen over several different years and planes; the blocks after Onslaught bounced from plane to plane so there wasn’t a consistent cast of characters to focus on. WotC wanted an ongoing storyline to tie into and the best way to do that was to create characters that were able to plane hop.
In Time Spiral, our last return to the plane of Dominaria, we also had a heavy dose of nostalgia. It had been a few years since we left Dominaria to go planeswalking so returning to the vast history was a good choice. Every card referenced an older card or two or three from all over Dominaria’s history. For newer players it was confusing because a good number of the abilities didn’t make much sense: Why did Blazing Blade Askari have “2: Blazing Blade Askari becomes colorless until end of turn.”? It’s a callback to famous common Raging Spirit, obviously. For older players it was a return home to where and when we started played and we embraced that warm familiar feeling.
Just like players are doing with Dominaria.
However, there’s a huge difference between Time Spiral and Dominaria. Time Spiral on the whole gives me more nostalgia than Dominaria. Let’s take a look at two cards:
Both are heavily nostalgic but in different ways. Restore Balance is part of a cycle of cards that are based on iconic spells from the history of Magic cards while Fall of the Thran is based on the story of, well, the fall of Thran from the history of Magic lore. Both contain effects that mimic White Alpha cards (Balance and Armageddon respectively) and delayed effects turn from when they were cast. Restore Balance’s card flavor is that a spell is coming from the past in a time rift and Fall of the Thran’s flavor is the telling of that particular story.
There’s the huge difference: Time Spiral was about referencing the cards in Magic’s history while Dominaria is referencing the lore of Magic’s history.
Sure, there’s some lore in Time Spiral in the lands and the Legends so not every card only are call backs, but for the most part these sets have different reference points. Zhalfirin Void versus Urza’s Factory: Teferi’s misery after phasing out of his homeland versus the combination of the Urza Lands and Mishra’s Factory (The reference to his brother having a factory combined when you have all 3 different Urza lands they create seven mana, creating a 2/2 Assembly-Worker token which is the same size/creature type of Mishra’s Factory). Time Spiral is a mashup of Magic’s gaming history. Zhalfirin Void could have been in any current set, but WotC decided to tie it into the flavor of the story rather than just some random land. Urza’s Factory is a better nostalgia feeling for me; I like the call back to older cards and mechanics more than the references to the story.
I am a Melvin, not a Vorthos.
(Aside: If you don’t know what a Melvin or a Vorthos is, read this post by Mark Rosewater. Basic gist is that Melvins are drawn to the mechanical aspect of cards/sets while Vorthos prefer the flavor aspect. This is different than the player profiles of Timmy, Johnny and Spike.)
Time Spiral speaks to me as someone who loves the mechanical nostalgia of the set. It was the first time for a Magic product to have this nostalgia feel so both Melvins and Vorthos loved the set for different ways. It’s not that I don’t like the new set, I just appreciate it in a different way. The Sagas work for me because of the mechanics of it and how it works as an early prototype of Planeswalkers. The stories the Sagas are telling have no emotional impact for me unlike what a lore Vorthos might enjoy.
Most everything relevant on the cards in Time Spiral was a reference to another card, not a moment in story or a character. Years later in Dominaria, it’s a completely 180 degree turn as most of the cards are focused on that story connection rather than a card. WotC needed to give these two sets different identity otherwise the enfranchised players might see this as “Time Spiral 2: 2 Split Second 2 Suspend”. Dominaria had to have a unique feel in order to dip into the nostalgia well a second time. When WotC revisits a block/set identity it has to be done differently (Invasion, Ravnica, and Shadowmoor blocks were about multicolor pairs) otherwise it all starts to run together.
Dominaria, more consciously, focused on the story this time around.
You’re got bloodlines and references to events and memorials and Tolarian Scholars. For newer and less enfranchised players, it’s easier to wave off unknown quantities as story elements from the past than callback mashups to older cards (Looter il-Kor is a mashup of Tempest block goodies the Kor, Merfolk Looter, block keyword Shadow and a future push for the Rogue subtype for Morningtide, so yeah a common in the set). By focusing on story this time around it allows players to dig into how this all connects into the bigger picture rather than “Well, these two cards from long ago got together…”
But that’s not every card in Dominaria, like I mentioned. Let’s take another look at Unwind.
When I first saw the card I thought it was Rewind, after all it was a Blue counterspell with “Xwind” that untapped lands and countered a spell. But it didn’t cost 2U. Unwind references that Urza’s Saga card while being slightly different. This time Unwind counters a noncreature spell instead of any spell like Rewind could. Since Unwind doesn’t have the UU in its mana cost that most hard counters need, it fits in with the more modern design of having narrower counter spells so it diversifies the decks better (which is one reason, I believe, we won’t see Counterspell back in Standard; it’s too good for what it can do).
Unwind doesn’t call back to any story moment (as far that I know, I know that Jhoira does magic with time, maybe?), and if it did, it might be called “Jhoria’s Unwind” or something like that. But with Unwind, it can be reprinted in future Core Sets or other supplemental products in the future years with new art (though why would you want to), without having to tie it in with a certain flavor, like Llanorwar Elves. It’s a nice, simple effect that references an older card with fantastic art.
Maybe I’m wrong though. Everything is a Remix and this simple common is just a variation of a counterspell. I could be reading too much into it and I just wish I had a “better” preview card. However… this is the first time we’ve seen an “Untap up to X lands” equal to its casting cost on a spell since Urza’s Saga block (Pore Over the Pages being the only standout) and Urza’s Saga takes place on Dominaria. The card is also titled Unwind, which looks like it’s a direct reference to Rewind. Copy, transform, combine. It’s not like this is a tinfoil hat moment. Unwind is a design oddity from the rest of Dominaria; this is a callback to a card not a story.
That’s completely my jam.
I’ve seen Vorthos Twitter collectively celebrate all of the references in the art and the flavor references in Dominaria. It hasn’t resonated with me and that’s perfectly fine. The game of Magic is so much to so many people. This is not to hate or make fun of the people who like different things than I do; it’s far from it. If you want to dig around in the lore of Magic, go for it. Ethan Fleischer, one of the Magic designers who worked on Dominaria, dove into lore from a PS1 game to pull out some ideas.
If you can reference in a single card’s art what the spear tip of a statue is from, then I think I can have my Unwind/Rewind callback.
I do believe that when this set comes it you’ll have a bunch of older established players shift their favorite set from Time Spiral to Dominaria and it wouldn’t surprise me if most of those should be Vorthos minded. Being a Melvin, I think my heart will stay with Time Spiral, apocalyptic nightmare and all.
Go have fun Unwinding people’s turn.
I’ll be at GP Seattle with Commander and Brawl decks as well as a Spoils Cube. You can always tweet me to find out where I am (@mtgcolorpie) or look for the MTG Color Pie playmat. Stop and say hi.