BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — It’s time to begin a new block of cards in our Magic: The Gathering price guide, and following the harrowing escape from the artificial world of Rath back in the aptly-named Exodus, our heroes deserve a break. And as it happens, this is a perfect time to give them one — before we rejoin the crew of the Weatherlight in the game’s main story, we must first take a step back in order to understand the events that led to its creation… many of which begin with a familiar face from Magic history, and are chronicled in three booster packs collectively known as Urza’s Block.
Urza is best known as the “winner” of the Brother’s War between him and Mishra (which can effectively be seen as the catalyst for most of Magic’s plot), a gifted artificer, the man who plunged Dominaria into the Ice Age as a direct result of his powerful Sylex Blast, and a mighty Planeswalker fueled by the two magical crystals that he used as eyes. After the war, however, he came to realize that by the time of the explosion, his brother had been fully corrupted by the Phyrexians who infiltrated his army during the conflict. Enraged and heartbroken by this discovery, he swore vengeance against all of Phyrexia, and learned of its whereabouts after saving a former Phyrexian agent by the name of Xantcha (who would later become his trusted assistant). After creating a gigantic metal dragon, Urza launched a one-man assault on the Plane, and came surprisingly close to destroying it — but Phyrexia’s god Yawgmoth launched a mental attack on Urza that drove him to near-insanity, forcing him to flee.
Following this failed assault, Urza and Xantcha spent years traveling from world to world evading Phyrexian forces, and Urza would eventually be cured of his madness after a chance encounter with fellow Planeswalker Serra (who you may recognize from, of all sets, Homelands). When the duo returned to Dominaria, Xantcha enlisted the help of a slave named Ratepe (who bore a striking physical resemblance to Mishra) to help the old artisan work past his ever-growing grief and guilt and focus on the Phyrexian threat in front of them. During the process, Xantcha and Ratepe not only fell in love, but also continued helping Urza hunt down invading Phyrexians, and sniff out the “sleeper agents” scattered throughout his home world.
After the trio created a series of devices that would destroy these hidden intruders, Urza discovered that the mastermind behind these agents was none other than Gix (one of Yawgmoth’s most loyal followers). Upon facing him in a climactic battle at the Caves of Koilos, Gix attempted to kill Urza with a powerful temporal shift, but Xantcha and Ratepe intervened at the last moment — an act which killed them both, but also caused the spell to backfire, obliterating the Phyrexian commander once and for all.
Although both Gix and Urza’s grief were laid to rest in the battle, Urza’s battle against the Phyrexian empire waged on. Now knowing that they were even more threatening than he had first expected, he summoned the Plane’s most talented magicians, builders, biologists, and polymaths (including a man by the name of Teferi) together into an academy on the island of Tolaria. Here, he implanted Xantcha’s remains into a silver golem named Karn, and used both the new understanding of shared history from his encounter with Gix and the constant breakthroughs of his staff to develop a time machine that he hoped would allow him to witness the war that led to Phyrexia’s banishment.
As Karn possessed the ability to enter and alter the past through rifts created by the time machine, Urza’s plan was to send the construct back to the war, defeat the Phyrexians while they were comparably weaker, and save all of Dominaria from what he expected to be a grim future. However, the time machine absorbed too much energy during its trial run, causing it to detonate. This not only obliterated the Academy and nearly everyone in it, but also covered the island in strange temporal disturbances. While he and Karn survived, Urza was devastated by the fact that he had caused yet another massive catastrophe on his home plane — especially when it may well have resulted in the destruction of the entire Multiverse at the hands of the Phyrexian army.
Much like other Blocks, this series of sets features the introduction of two new mechanics — both of which have seen varying levels of success. Cards with Cycling (which let a player discard them and pay a Mana cost to draw a different card) have their uses when combined with Graveyard recursion like Living Death, and Echo cards (which require the player to pay a card’s casting cost again on the turn after it is played) allow their users to place strong cards on the field earlier in exchange for slower play in the next turn. In addition, although it was originally designed to be focused around Enchantments, the creative team (who had deemed that it would be about Magic’s greatest artificer before the designers released the set) ended up dubbing Urza’s Block as “The Artifact Cycle” — but bizarrely, this confusion is one of the least ridiculous things about this series of releases.
The Urza’s Block is widely regarded as the single most powerful set of booster packs of all time, and even Urza’s Saga (the opening pack of the block and the one we’ll be discussing today) alone was enough to result in a tremendous number of effective cards that transformed long-drawn-out Magic games into nothing but strings of combinations. According to Mark Rosewater, Magic’s entire Research and Development team was almost fired because of how badly it broke the game’s constructed format — and while the days of “Combo Winter” have long since ended, you can still find many of this block’s most infamous entries as part of powerful decks in any format that will welcome them. This, however, begs the question: just how much is this power worth in modern times? We took the average price of each card from the set (using data from pricing site MTGGoldfish) to find out.
#5: Time Spiral ($113)
In 2006, the creative team behind Magic released Time Spiral — a set that not only allowed players to explore what became of Dominaria long after the end of the Weatherlight Saga, but also featured a “bonus sheet” that revisited many of the game’s older mechanics (such as Buyback, Flanking, and Shadow) and creature types (including Thalids, Rebels, and a massive new brood of Slivers). Interestingly enough, however, this booster pack was not the first time the term “Time Spiral” appeared in the franchise. That honor would go to a card released back in Urza’s Saga –which, while not as famous as the later set, still maintains a degree of value and power that puts it above many other cards from its pack.
Those familiar with valuable TCG cards will undoubtedly see familiarities between this card and Timetwister — a member of the infamous Power Nine with a similar “time rewind” effect. The difference between the two, however, is that Time Spiral boasts both a higher cost and a better effect. In addition to the card reshuffling effect, for three extra Mana, Spiral also allows the player to untap six Lands, essentially allowing the card to pay for itself (or reuse Land effects that can provide more than one Mana) and the player to cast even more spells afterward. While this isn’t nearly the best example of an easily-abused untapping effect (this honor would go to a card in next week’s set), the fact that it provides players with a new hand on top of this makes it an incredibly useful card in more ways than one. It’s also worth noting that just like Timetwister, this effect also forces other players to reset their own hands and Graveyards without touching the field — which can not only disrupt a deck focused around the Graveyard, but potentially get rid of an opponent’s future plans. On top of this, the seven draws all trigger the effects of cards like Orcish Bowmasters and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse seven times for each player — meaning that the card can be used both offensively and defensively.
While Timetwister may still be considered the absolute king of reset effects, Time Spiral certainly does have its uses, especially for those who are searching for a cheaper alternative to one of Magic’s most infamous cards. When one takes into consideration just how expensive Timetwister is, though, the term “cheaper alternative” still leaves something to be desired — and as one might expect, even Time Spiral fetches its own hefty price.
#4: Yawgmoth’s Will ($166)
While the focus of Urza’s Block obviously remains on the man it is named after, the Phyrexians are viewed as a gigantic looming threat throughout his travels — and as such, it only makes sense that the man responsible for creating them (as well as corrupting Mishra, albeit not personally) would serve as both Urza’s mortal enemy and the main antagonist of these three booster packs. However, even someone as strong as the Planeswalker would have trouble dealing with an enemy like Yawgmoth. The Lord of the Wastes, as he is sometimes called, already has a long history of being a Machiavellian manipulator, but his powers have drastically increased since he became a God on the Plane of Phyrexia — so much so that even the dead bow to his every command.
In past columns, we have observed cards that allowed players to easily take useful Creatures out of their Graveyards, and more recent additions to the franchise allow them to cast Sorceries and Lands from the discard pile as well. Rarer than these offerings, however, is a card that lets an individual cast everything from their Graveyard at once. While you still need to have enough Mana to pay for the casting, Yawgmoth’s Will is a great way to reuse previously-removed cards, and can serve to return huge numbers of cards to the field when run in decks that use low-cost strategies.
To this end, it is especially deadly in Vintage format, where it can easily revive a huge number of low to no-cost cards (particularly the likes of Dark Ritual, Lotus Petal, and even members of the Power Nine) to create game-ending combo chains in Storm decks. While it does not serve this purpose as much in Commander, it can still be used as a way to bring back important cards from the grave when needed, and alongside fellow mass grave recursion centerpiece Underworld Breach, often serves as a game-ending card in Competitive EDH. Even without taking this into consideration, though, any deck always appreciates the ability to reuse their best cards (even recycling a few draw spells or Mana Rocks can greatly advance your game state), meaning that the card can truly serve a purpose in any strategy that has a spare slot for it.
Add in the fact that the “removed from the game” clause only applies for the rest of the turn — meaning that a player could later use reanimation abilities to bring cards back to life again if they are somehow removed a second time later on — and it’s easy to see what makes it so strong.
Yawgmoth’s Will may not have the “staying power” of cards that allow players to return things from the Graveyard to the field every turn (such as Karador, Ghost Chieftain or Crucible of Worlds), but what it lacks in endurance, it makes up for in pure explosive power. Unfortunately, this power comes at a price. The aforementioned Underworld Breach is already expensive in its own right, but considering how expensive a copy of Yawgmoth’s Will can be, it’s easy to see why many decks prefer it as their primary win condition instead.
#3: Gilded Drake ($239)
Everyone can remember a time that they have made a poor purchase, and even though the exact nature of a poor financial decision can vary from an investment in network marketing to simply a disappointing new trading card, many of us come to regret some of our more foolish financial decisions. While regifting is a potential way to get rid of these old shames and save some money on new purchases, it’s considered by some to be cheap in the real world — but ironically, in Magic, a card that exists to be given to someone else can prove to be both powerful and profitable.
The idea and game plan behind every inclusion of this card is quite simple: keep it in your hand until a specific creature appears (usually an opponent’s Commander, combo piece, or heavy-hitting Creature like Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre), and then cast Gilded Drake, using its effect to exchange it for the target. While this technique is certainly not as versatile as those that are encouraged by other expensive cards like Survival of the Fittest or Yawgmoth’s Will, there’s something to be said for just how game-changing the right switch can be. Being able to both rip a key card from your opponent’s field and place it onto yours can drastically shift the balance in a game, and stealing control of a card is a great way to keep the opponent from utilizing it without simply sending it to the Graveyard or Command Zone to be brought right back.
Although Gilded Drake’s Power and Toughness are fairly decent, they are often relatively mediocre compared to the stolen Creature, meaning that this is almost always a vastly one-sided trade. The annoying exchange effect can also be recycled if combined with cards like Clever Impersonator or Phantasmal Image (who can become copies of Gilded Drake if it’s anywhere on the field, thus forcing a trade upon entry) or those that can return the dragon to the hand or force it to leave and re-enter the battlefield under the player’s control (which allows them to conduct another exchange).
It may be true that not all that glitters is gold, but Gilded Drake certainly does seem to be worth its weight when it makes an appearance on the battlefield. The always-useful effect, combined with its low Mana cost, make it an excellent addition to any deck willing to pick the card up. Whether that purchase is entirely justified or another example of excessive spending, though, is up to the buyer to decide.
#2: Serra’s Sanctum ($250)
While it’s true that Lands are some of Magic’s most costly cards, it can be rather odd to some that not all of the game’s earliest Lands were places visited by or home to the series’ characters. As such, as the universe grew beyond a generic fantasy card game, it’s only natural that some of the story’s most famous characters and settings would eventually get their own territories. Ironically, while one of these Lands (Tolarian Academy) is considered to be strong enough to be banned in practically every Magic format, it isn’t anywhere to be found on this week’s list. Rather, it’s the former home of Serra — the mighty and benevolent Planeswalker known for her connection with Angels — that secures second place on this week’s list.
The ability of Serra’s Sanctum is one that can be tremendously useful, but is also highly reliant on the number of Enchantments a player can have on the field. Fortunately, this specification also makes it an excellent fit into all sorts of White decks and those that utilize the color. Even putting aside strategies that utilize huge numbers of Enchantments to render their key creatures indestructible and unstoppable (most notably Light-Paws, Emperor’s Voice), useful White Enchantments tend to find their way into all sorts of decks: themed strategies like Angel or Soldier Tribal decks often utilize cards like Court of Grace, Honor of the Pure, Angelic Accord, or Flowering of the White Tree to both create useful Creature tokens and significantly raise the power of their armies, and many of White’s most popular cards (including Ghostly Prison, Land Tax, and column favorite Smothering Tithe) also just so happen to be Enchantments.
It’s also worth noting that Sanctum does not specifically count White Enchantments, meaning that it also fits well into multicolored decks that use Enchantments (particularly the likes of Zur the Enchanter or Uril, the Miststalker). Enchantment Creatures, too, are counted when tallying the amount of Mana that the Sanctum provides, which also allows it to become a huge source of power when used in a deck led by Go-Shintai of Life’s Origin or the recently-released Anikthea, Hand of Erebos.
With all of the different decks that Serra’s Sanctum can fit into — as well as the amount of Mana it can provide — it’s no wonder that the Land fetches such a high price. However, as impressive as it is, it’s still a far cry from the number one most expensive card in Urza’s Saga — or even the most expensive Land.
#1: Gaea’s Cradle ($780)
As mentioned above, Serra’s Sanctum may be one of the priciest lands in the set, but it certainly does not take the top spot in terms of value, nor is it the one that can provide the best level of Mana gain. Both of those honors would go to Gaea’s Cradle — a card that is often considered to not only be the greatest Green Land ever created, but one of if not the single best and least situational Lands of all time, even eclipsing far more valuable options in terms of overall effectiveness.
Unlike Serra’s Sanctum or Tolarian Academy, which can have difficulty scaling their Mana gain due to their reliance on Artifacts or Enchantments, Gaea’s Cradle benefits from the number of Creatures on one’s battlefield. As one might expect, in decks that focus on creatures, this can be a tremendous benefit that is capable of spiraling out of control extremely quickly, and give players able to drop any number of smaller creatures onto the field incredible Mana boosts very early into the game — allowing them to quickly drop incredibly powerful cards onto the field much faster than they are meant to. In many situations, with enough creatures on the board, it’s easy to extend this gain even further into ways to generate unlimited Green mana with the effects of Wakeroot Elemental, Candelabra of Tawnos, Silvanus’s Invoker, or the combination of Argothian Elder and Wirewood Lodge.
Naturally, this makes the card both incredibly versatile and impressively powerful. While it was seemingly born to fit into Mono-Green strategies like Elf Tribal and Mono-Green Stompy, it’s also worth noting that the card can be a perfect addition to any deck that utilizes the color Green to any extent — most notably in Naya decks like Jetmir, Nexus of Revels who thrive on flooding the field with Creatures, or those that need huge swaths of Mana to activate game-ending combinations.
Although each one of the themed Lands from Urza’s Saga fetch their own high prices on the secondary market nowadays, none of them — even Serra’s Sanctum — come close to matching the value of Gaea’s Cradle. Over time, the card has earned a tremendous price tag due to both its ability and place on the Reserved List, and at the moment, is among the most expensive Magic Lands and cards ever printed (only falling under early Lands from Legends, Arabian Nights, Alpha, and Antiquities). If one can somehow get hold of the card, it would no doubt be an excellent addition to any strategy that can utilize the Cradle — as long as you’re willing to pay what might be more than the entire rest of the deck for it, of course. If this is out of your price range, consider running Growing Rites of Itlimoc instead, which can provide the same effect if given time to transform.
Much like the Mirage Block before it, the Urza selection of booster packs introduces a tremendous number of cards that are both expensive and immensely useful — with Gaea’s Cradle serving as the single most expensive card from the entire Block. Still, it’s worth noting that this by no means devalues the rest of the entries into this next collection of sets. The Urza Block in particular, as mentioned before, is notorious for introducing a tremendous number of incredibly powerful (and also relatively expensive) cards to the franchise — and as you might expect, such power comes at a great price. Next week, we will continue to learn this firsthand with a glimpse at Urza’s Legacy — and what this age-old sorcerer can do to fight back an artificial onslaught the likes of which the Multiverse has never seen.
What do you think of Urza’s Saga as a set, and the Urza Block? Are you excited to learn about how Dominaria’s past can help to save its future? And what’s the funniest exchange you can think of performing with Gilded Drake? Be sure to let us know on our Facebook pages!