The story of Arabian Nights is a tumultuous one. I'm sure I'm going to write about it in more detail in the future. For now, lets simply state that there were some reservations at WotC about adding cards to The Gathering. Ice Age had been planned as a standalone version of Magic with different card backs. Using different backs was also suggested for Arabian Nights, as well as having a different color on the borders, before finally settling on having an expansion symbol to differentiate the cards. The set hadn't been tested nearly as much as the original core set, and there were worries that players could get alienated. Richard Garfield stated that if you were going to play a deck with the expansion, you would have to get the permission of your opponent first. And to really make sure that the expansion wouldn't break the original game, he created City in a Bottle.
a post about Serendib Efreet. I think the time is ripe to take a deeper look at another sweet card from the first expansion. Today, let's look through the glass of City in a Bottle.
City in a Bottle is, fairly obviously, the first "expansion hoser". And in Old School Mtg, it's a really good one. It kills a majority of the best creatures in the format, as well as cards like Library of Alexandria, City of Brass and lots of other powerful staples. The card is the main reason that Juzam Smash decks play Sengir Vampire rather than Serendib Efreet. Pretty much any deck that don't rely on cards from Arabian Nights themselves would be wise to include the card, at least as a sideboard option. Killing five of the best lands in The Deck, crippling a majority of the offense in Zoo, or simply holding off Juzams is a bargain at two mana.
So what is a city in a bottle anyway? It is not mentioned in 1001 Arabian Nights for one. When it was decided that Wizards should make the first expansion for Magic, they argued that it would save a lot of time to use an existing mythos as the basis of the set rather than create a new one from scratch. At the time, Garfield had just read Sandman #50, Ramadan. It is about how the Caliph Harun al-Rashid becomes worried that his city of Baghdad will eventually be forgotten. 8th century Baghdad is shown as the most spectacular and awe-inspiring city in the world, overflowing with wealth and mythical beings. The Caliph makes a deal with Dream and sells his city to him. In exchange, Dream will make sure that the Baghdad of Arabian Nights will always live on in the dreams of man. Dream seals Baghdad in a bottle, and we see the Caliph wake up in "real world" 8th century Baghdad with no solid recollection of what transpired.
The bottle shown in the comics doesn't really look like the one on the card. This could be chalked up to that Drew Tucker maybe hadn't read the comic. If we dig a little further though, there are some other interesting things about the artwork used.
In 1993, the artwork was mostly up to the artists. Garfield's response to seeing Llanowar Elves for the first time was reportedly "That's not at all what I had imagined." All artwork was used, to the point that new cards were made for unused artwork (like Bird of Paradise). This makes the fate of the original art for City in a Bottle very strange. The art first submitted for the card is the first Magic art I know of that was in fact rejected. Drew Tucker's original interpretation never saw the light of day. As to why it was rejected, I can only speculate. Maybe the colors of the bottle and the background looked too similar to the comic, and WotC was worried about accusations of plagiarism?
The original art for City in a Bottle is owned by "The Godfather of Pimp" Jason Jaco. For those of you that don't know him, his CV includes being the CEO and Content Manager of Eternal Central, as well as one of the early adopters of Old School Mtg in the US. I sent him a message and he was quick to send me a picture of the original art.
|The art was later suggested for Urza's Miter ;)|
City in a Bottle was the only card in Arabian Nights not primarily influenced by 1001 Arabian Nights, but rather referencing a comic from present time. In a similar vein, the expansion hoser from the next set had a fairly odd name reference. Rather than talking of "The Brother's War" between Mishra and Urza, this one had a blantant Bible reference.
|"So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha" John 19:17|
The Crucifixion Bowl is not as versatile and powerful as the Bottle. It has twice the mana cost, with an additional mana to activate, and destroys itself in the process. It also won't hinder your opponent from casting cards like Hurkyl's Recall or Transmute Artifact. It's not a complete dud though. Recently a few players have begun using the Sylex as an answer to Factories and Su-Chis. From what I've heard it works well enough.
The next set took the expansion hosing even less aggressively. Legends gave us Arena of the Ancients. This one only shut down all the new multicolored creatures introduced in the set and left the other cards alone.
|This might actually be playable in that newfangled EDH format the kids are talking about.|
|The problem is that it is pretty much the only permanent in Homelands that don't suck, which makes it suck again.|
|If you wanna talk real old school, add them to the ante instead of removing them from the game.|
To handle this ambiguity, and encourage sweet basics, we actually used to have a small errata on City in a Bottle. The errata simply stated that the Bottle did not affect basic lands. This was to make the Arabian Nights Mountain playable in the format, instead of just being a much worse alternative to the ABU versions. Some time later, Wizards changed the rules on expansion hosers to solve this issue once and for all. Now the hosers look for cards originally printed in the set rather than checking for the expansion symbol, and Mountain v78 is free to roam the format without any help from us.
|Now this is amusing. The first errata of the card available to players (from the first Official Encyclopedia) was misprinted and hence need errata.|