Menagerie and the Orange Orb

menagerie (noun)
  1.  a  : a place where animals are kept and trained especially for exhibition
    b  : a collection of wild or foreign animals kept especially for exhibition
  2.      : a varied mixture

Let's talk about the second Chaos Orb playtest card from this post.

This is my current understanding of the history. Some of details could turn out to be a little off, and new information may be unearthed in the future to clear things up a bit more. There are some numbers here that I simply don't know for sure, and it can be hard to evaluate information even from reliable sources. Like how many playtesting iterations there were. The lead developer of the set suggested a while back that there were three or four iterations, but there seem to be (as far as I've found) up to seven different card designs from playtest decks for this set. Even trivia-guru Mark Rosewater (who worked on the set) has shared trivia on his podcast that I suspect is a little faulty. This history is obscure. Lets dig in.

So what is Menagerie?

Lets go back to the autumn of 1992. The Gamma set is ready for testing, and there are now two handfuls of people that get to playtest Magic (about 40 people in all). The rules are well defined, and the people making Magic already starts to talk about plans for the future in case The Gathering turns out successful. Richard Garfield quickly realizes that creating new sets would make it harder and harder for new cards to be relevant in an ever expanding card pool. To combat this, he argues, the options would either be to keep making stronger and stronger cards to keep the new ones relevant ("power creep"), or to rotate which cards are legal to play at a given time or setting. He opts for the second choice - rotation - by having the new versions of Magic cards replace the older as time goes by.

"Gamma" is slated to become "Magic: the Gathering", a year later it will be followed up by "Magic: Ice Age" (with different backs), and a year after that "Magic: Menagerie" could take its place. These are not expansions in the sense we know them now; these are different editions of the game.

The people that developed and tested Magic in this proto-Alpha era was divided into a few different groups, based on their previous relationship with Richard Garfield. Eventually there would be intermingling of these groups, but in 1992 there were three kinda distinct factions. Richard's friends from University of Pennsylvania was one group (basically Barry Reich and Tom Fontaine); then there was "The East Coast Playtesters" (Skaff Elias, Jim Lin, Chris Page and Dave Pettey); and finally it was Richard's friends from his bridge club, also known as "The Penn Group" (Joel Mick, Charlie Catino, Don Felice, Howard Kahlenberg and Elliott Segal).

The East Coast Playtesters were responsible for developing Ice Age, and the Penn Group was responsible for developing Menagerie. Barry went to work on his own set, which is a story in its own.

While much of the Menagerie development is still kinda unclear, we have a pretty good idea of the starting point. The first version of Menagerie from 1992 was very close to Gamma, with a great majority of the cards being equal or with minor tweaks. The Penn Group obviously enjoyed Gamma, but still thought that a few cards could use updates for balance. It was the Penn Group that first developed the ideas of drafting and to create products with Limited formats in mind, and as such they may have had a particular affinity for this. The very first playtest cards from Menagerie were on bright orange stock to set them apart from other sets.

One of my happier #maildays. Also beard.

Tweaks in Menagerie v1 e.g. included switching Gauntlet of Might's cost from one to four mana, making Armageddon a black card, and changing Lightning Bolts cost from R to RR. I also suspect that the land cycle with Rainforest, Highlands, etc was seen here first (today more famous by their printed names, like Tropical Island and Plateau). And I know with some certainty that this was the first set with the double-lands (Vast Plains, Dense Forest, Twin Peaks, etc) that tapped for two mana of the ordinary land's color.

Appears I didn't have a picture of the Menagerie v1 versions at hand, but here's a later (early/mid-93) version of Vast Plains from a different set (that we'll talk about in the future). The Menagerie double lands look slightly different, having "WW" written in the upper right corner rather than the huge "2W" in place of the art. These cards are immensely powerful of course, and never saw print.

Gamma and Menageri v1 Lightning Bolt, via reddit.

As the early versions of Menagerie was playtested at the same time as Gamma, some of the ideas from the set were incorporated in what was then called "Delta"; the final card file that would be turned to the printers to create Limited Edition Alpha. This would include e.g. the dual lands.

The Chaos Orb version in Menagerie v1 is very, very powerful, with the ability to annihilate anything without even flipping. If you are going into a Chaos Orb elimination contest, this may be the best card to have at hand.

People tend to ask how rare these cards are, but it is very hard to answer. For this particular "Orange Sphere", I had heard stories of its possible existence for three years before I was able to see a picture of it. That may have more to do with me having a comparably humble network for these kind of things, but it is still something. I eventually got this one directly from the lead developer of Menagerie who had kept it since the pre-Alpha playtesting days. I've read that for most pre-Alpha playtest sets, about 20 commons, seven uncommons and two of each rare were made. I've heard reliable stories of a second copy of this particular card though, so there are at least two still in existence. It could possibly exist more, but if any it's probably not that many.

After the test of the orange cards was finished, I believe that the next iteration of Menagerie was the blue playtest cards, made sometime in 1993. It is also possible that the next iteration were the pink ones, and that the blue were exclusively made for Ice Age testing.

Both the blue and the pink cards share some common features. For example, they are both using Mono/Continuous/Poly as supertypes of artifacts, they both use the "generic mana + colored mana" to write casting costs, and they both seem to consist of mostly brand new cards, rather than mainly being a tweak of Gamma.

From what I've seen so far, there are quite a few different blue cards in existence, and this set could well be the first "proper" take on what would become Mirage and Visions.

That question mark surely is fitting. These are some pretty cool designs, including early versions of Catacomb Dragon and Earthbind.

The Pink cards exists with both blank backs and with "Magic: The Menagerie" stamped repeatedly on the back; possibly to use in sealed pool environments (like the unicorn stamp on some Gamma cards). The pink cards also introduce things like flanking, and for sure have the dual lands in them. I haven't found any indication that Sphere of Annihilation / Chaos Orb exists in the blue or pink sets (a majority of the Gamma cards were removed after all), but it could turn up at some point. Any hints on its existence (or non-existence) are as always very welcome.

Pink Menagerie Highlands, picture from Tavis King via

Pink card with flanking. Again, thanks goes to Tavis King.

Then, suddenly, Magic was released to the general public in the summer of 1993. It was the most smashing of successes, and players quickly demanded new cards. Releasing Ice Age or Menagerie seemed like a sketchy idea at the moment, as so many of the cards were reprints or reinterpretations of cards existing in The Gathering. So instead Menagerie development were put on the back-burner and we were treated to things like Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, The Dark and Fallen Empires before Ice Age hit the shelves.

Menagerie didn't fully fall off the radar though. Sometime in 1994 we got a new iteration of the set up for testing. And in this one, we actually got a descendant to Sphere of Annihilation. As Chaos Orb had been printed at this point, and they weren't planning to reprint a dexterity card in the set, this version got a slightly shifted name. Like the Orange Orb, this version also destroyed a single target rather than being flipped over the play area. While the mana cost was increased and this version came into play tapped, it also got a small boost with the ability to remove cards from the game entirely as well as the option to target cards in graveyards. I present the first known Spear of Annihilation.

Now we're in the era of the "tilted-T" tap symbol, and an expansion symbol in the right center of the card. The "raEa" note in the lower left corner is production code (noting e.g. that the card is a rare and an artifact).

I should also note here that there exists some fully hand-written Menagerie playtest cards, probably from a slightly later time. Considering how well worded these cards are, I'd guess these are from 1995 or so. I strongly suspect that these cards does not cover the entire set, as hand-writing a full batch of 2,000 or so cards for playtesting would be exhausting when you have easy access to printers. I have not seen these cards by themselves, only as pictures in printed media from the mid-90s.

Next up I believe we have the "Proxy-cards". How and when they were tested, I don't know. If you want to go deeper, I suggest checking out this video.

What we do know for sure is that Mark Rosewater designed Phyrexian Dreadnought, Dreadnought is one of the "proxy cards", and that MaRo started at Wizards in 1995. So these cards should be no earlier than 1995.

Scans from Keith Adams, via the video above.

These cards have no printing information or production codes, so it is possible that these were made for playtesting a handful new designs or just a couple of decks. I have not seen or heard of a Spear of Annihilation among these cards. If these cards do in fact cover the full set however, it is highly possible that a spear exists. But that I don't know yet ;)

Around this time a Menagerie set file was properly stored at the WotC Apple computers. The mid 90s Apple OS had a few alert sounds that played when a file named after these sounds was opened. WotC though it would be funny to name sets in development after the alerts to get the "Easter egg" sounds when they were opened, and so the code name for Menagerie was changed to Sosumi. This makes Mirage (according to Mark Rosewater) the only set to have had two different development code names.

So the Menagerie set would eventually get split up into two expansions; Mirage and Visions. I believe that Sosumi was only the code name for the cards that would become the Mirage set, and that Visions simply had the code name "Mirage Jr".

Mirage/Sosumi/Menagerie was finished by the end of 1995. The final playtest cards from late 1995 have a more modern look; proper mana symbols, correct layout and everything.

The "Red Rare #7" in front would eventually see print as Volcanic Dragon in Mirage. Picture from It could be notable that the article in that link dates the cards to the winter of 1996, but due to the fact that they clearly have 1995 copyright date and that Mirage was released in the autumn of 1996, this seems unlikely (unless he's talking about January 1996).

So is there a Chaos Orb descendant in this last version of Menagerie? Why, yes, there is.

Rare Artifact #8, to be exact. This one I don't own myself; my search has been more focused on the Chaos Orb's ancestors than its distant descendants. I am interested in acquiring this one to round out the collection though, so if anyone has one, or have leads on one, please let me know.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Five to cast, five to use, play only as a sorcery, can't hit enchantments, and exiles itself on activation. Not even graveyard shenanigans anymore. We have moved far from the immense power of the Orange Orb, and it would be hard for almost anyone to recognize this Spear of Annihilation as a distant descendant of the mighty Chaos Orb. The journey of the Orange Chaos Orb would have an anti-climatic ending, coming to rest in a particular bulk rare that few people would give a second look. Printed exactly as the 1995 playtest Spear, who could have known which stories this card held:

So that's the story of the Menagerie Chaos Orb, as far as I've learned it. The next time you see an Amulet of Unmaking in a bulk binder, nod your head solemnly to what could have been, and tip your hat in respect to its noble ancestors.

Until next time,


  1. Thank you for writing these posts. It is always a sweet read and your writing led me into playing with old cards (my first Chaos orb is in postnords hands, hopefully it arrives soon).

    1. Thanks a lot! I wish a speedy and safe journey for your Chaos Orb :)

  2. Thanks for what you have done on this blog. I just got back into Magic after a 20 year hiatus in January and have been having a blast since then. I am currently working on reading your entire blog and am having a great time. Love the enthusiasm for this game.

    1. Thanks a lot man, it makes me really happy to hear! Best of luck plowing through the full blag :)

  3. Phenomenal! Thanks for continuing the saga!


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