“And a lean, silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power must also come–great responsibility!” ~ Amazing Fantasy #15
The Moxen. With the inclusion of the Black Lotus these are the most iconic cards in all of Magic. Bringing a power level second to none, you would think that these cards were always worshiped as the best the game has to offer... but that is far from the case. In fact, if you went back in time to a card store when Limited Edition was new, you would be hard pressed to find someone that valued a Mox above, say, a Clockwork Beast. The power in these cards was hidden. You had to understand how the game worked before you realized just how broken they really were. Today we are going deep on these five cards, looking at their lore, their history and their implications on Old School.
In Magic's lore, the origin of the Moxen are lost to the sands of time. The earliest reference in the historical record is the ownership of a set by Liana of Minorad. A "pre-mending" planeswalker, Liana lost possession of them in a battle to fellow planeswalker, Ravidal. Ravidal used these Moxen to create a device called the "Mox Beacon" which became the device that sparked The Planeswalker War.
This is Magic "pre-history" and only documented in comic book form, not on cards through flavor text. It is arguable whether or not this is still considered "canon". In any case, people of the multiverse see the Moxen as mythic artifacts that exude great beauty and are valued as powerful weapons when wielded by spelllingers and planeswalkers alike. While the original five Moxen are all but a myth to most denizens of the planes, Chrome, Opal and Diamond Moxen are still rarely spotted and documented by historians even to this day.
Their names are spoken by players in revered and hushed tones. The Moxen are just as mythic to the history of the game as they are in the lore. This is as much because of their scarcity than because of their power level. Collector's and players alike covet ownership of these cards.
From a power perspective these cards are simply "game breaking". They provide fast mana with no down-side and running five of these in a deck of sixty almost guarantees you a lightning fast start - or even a win. They warp every metagame and format that they are allowed to exist in despite their one-per-deck restriction. Because of this, you will see the Moxen included in almost every competitive deck in all the eternal formats, with players frequently running an entire set even if they are only "in" two of the five colors. Even if a player doesn't run them, they have to build their decks with a contengency to deal with them. They are powerful stuff. No doubt about it.
In the collection.
We know exactly how many Moxen were in existence but no idea exactly how many remain in the play pool. 189,000 cards. 37,800 sets. A ridiculously small number for the current player base. This availability stifles competitive Magic at its highest levels and is in many ways the "doorkeeper" of the eternal formats. Please show your Moxen when you enter. Many times professional players will borrow sets for a competition or share a set amongst their team members. With millions of players in the Magic player base, its no wonder that Wizards of the Coast pushes Modern as their "play with all your cards" format.
In July of 1995, Wizards of the Coast produced a reprint set called Chronicles. Their intentions were noble. Reprint the older cards that players could not get their hands on; level the playing field for the expanding player base. No one could comprehend that this single decision would irreparably damage a portion of the game... forever.
Magic was in a very unique place. Early printings of cards were becoming expensive; well expensive in context of the period. Moxes were selling as high as $50.00 each and the Black Lotus would cost you a couple of hundred dollars. Crazy money, right? Who pays that kind of money for a "piece of cardboard"? Wizards knew how powerful and breaking the Power Nine were by 1995 and probably wouldn't have considered a reprint, but there were a lot of other cards that were perfectly balanced but still a problem to acquire. In their view, they had to curb the secondary prices that were spiraling out of control - and fast. Quickly a reprint set was assembled and sent to the printer. Chronicles was born. Unfortunately, the set was released in unheard of quantity. 125 cards went to the printer... And 180 million came out of it.
The secondary market panicked like the stock market of 1929 - card prices and collection values plummeted. Retailers and collector's felt betrayed. So in response, Wizards made its second terrible decision. They created the Reserved List - promising to never reprint a card that was added to the list - with a percentage of cards from each future expansion being added to it. To this day no one knows what really went down inside the walls of Wizards that resulted in this decision. Anyone that was involved is legally bound to not discuss the details.
In 2002 Wizards modified the Reserve List policy by announcing that no cards after Urza's Legacy would be added to the list, but by that time the damage had long been done. The eternal formats would never be the same, and many of Magic's most pure and most elegant designs would never see the fresh ink of a printing press again.
It's a shame, because Wizards has since figured out how to create, market and sell a reprint set without damaging the secondary markets. Using rarity as a tool, they can now print "in-demand" cards at Mythic rarity - slightly increasing overall availability and giving new players a fighting chance to crack one in a pack of cards for $3.99. Unfortunately, the Reserve List remains one promise they are unwilling... or unable to break.
An alternate reality.
When I think nostalgically back to the period before the Reserved List, I always wonder what Magic would be like today without it. I think the game would be faster overall - at least in the eternal formats. Vintage and Legacy tournaments would be larger and more plentiful - and probably more inclusive of the player base. Wizards R&D would have still gained experience and learned how to balance the current meta game so the Moxen and the Lotus would probably be relegated to supplemental products - to keep them in print while still maintaining a balanced environment for Standard. A set like Eternal Masters would include the Power Nine at Mythic Rare... and the dual lands at Rare. It would be glorious.
I could even see cards like Crystalline Mox seeing print in these supplemental products - continually shaking up a now healthy eternal metagame. Crystalline Mox was scheduled to be printed in Mirage, by the way. Though I'm almost certain it was for power level, no one knows why it was officially dropped from the set. In an interview with Star City Games, Dan Frazier revealed that he had been contracted to do the art and had even turned it in to Wizards, so the card must have been pulled at the last possible minute. The art was re-purposed in the same set - becoming the Enlightened Tutor.
Old School and you.
So where does that leave us for our favorite format, Old School? Well walking a tightrope, really. Part of the fun of Old School is replicating a period in Magic's history and the Moxen are definitely part of that. Players that have these cards should enjoy them and play them. That is what they were designed for, and the way they will bring you the most joy. Don't leave them trapped in a plastic case.
This, however, brings us to the harsh reality. Magic cards are made of paper. Handling paper degrades it. They are never going to make more. Eventually these cards will be so rare that they will no longer be played or even exist in meaningful quantity. What happens to our beloved format when these (and other cards) disappear forever? It is something all Magic players will have to deal with at some point, but as Old School players we will be the first.
I'm not advocating allowing everyone to sleeve up proxies, or to even expand our card pool. I think both of these restrictions make our format special. I am advocating a little common sense to keep the format healthy. Players almost never jump into a new form of the game with both feet. They want to try it out and learn the ropes before they "buy-in". We want new players to have a good time - so our format thrives. Keep this in mind when scheduling events. Tailor your decks to the the audience. If you know you are the only person bringing power to the table, maybe you shouldn't. Everyone wants to play their cards, and its hard to get any real satisfaction losing every game on turn two. Make them feel welcome. Ease them in.
If you don't want to water things down, an alternative is to consider a proxy "grace period" where a new player can slot a certain number of proxies - say ten - into their deck for a limited time frame - say six months. Add the additional requirement that the printed proxy's image must match the original printings. This will preserve the Old School atmosphere while being more inclusive. Whatever you do here - allow Collector's Edition cards in your playgroups. They make our format somewhat affordable, and from the printing totals you can see they are still quite rare. We should not shun or squander this valuable resource based on square corners invisible inside a sleeve.
Old School is about celebrating the greatest period in Magic's history while enjoying your favorite adult beverage. It was a time of goofy combos and cards that unabashedly didn't fit into the color pie. There are so many other great cards and quirky decks in our format that don't involve the nine cards of power. We need to find ways to celebrate those without being hamstrung by just 189,000 cards. Let's keep it fun and keep it alive. We all need to work together to find a way. As Old School players we are on the vanguard of this problem.
The final word.
There are a few of you out there reading this who own a set of the Power Nine in its various printings and I am among you. If you have any of these cards - even the Collector's Editions - I leave you with this message:
You are the owner of something special. You are the steward of part of Magic's history. With this ownership you have a responsibility - not only to care for these cards as a special resource and historical artifact, but to teach that history and pass it down to newer players.
The legacy and history of the game's early days is what makes it special - if we lose that, Magic will just become another pre-packaged, non-collectible game sitting on the shelf of a big box store - and no one wants that. Take care of your cards, but play them and share them with the millions who came after they had already faded into legend.