4th Edition is a strange set

This, right now, is weird, right?

If someone told me during Christmas that, in less than three months, all schools, kindergartens and public offices will close over night; that all the marquee televised events in Europe - including the Eurovision Song Contest and the European Soccer Championship - will be cancelled; that they would close all pubs not only in Oslo where I live but also in the pub capital that is London; that going to any party, much less going over any border, would be forbidden or restricted; and that there would be no Olympics this summer; I would have questioned that persons sanity. Yet, here we are. Weird times.

There's really nothing sensible to write about it here. Whenever I get the urge to write something profound or entertaining about the situation, my thoughts wander off to my friends in Italy and dejection overtakes any wit. I'd really like a spoiler season of sorts right now, having a small peek of what things will look like in a month. Right now, there are no answers.

That said, after two weeks of new rules and intense social distancing, I do not feel that bothered. The restrictions put in place in Norway somehow reminds me a little of my time in the military. Giving up a small part of one's personal freedom to try and support society at large, even if just a little. So maybe this will be the first Easter since 2008 without a 93/94 tournament in Gothenburg, and maybe doing so could make one less person sick. Fair trade. Easy trade.

But let's leave the world on the sidelines for a few moments. Though odd times beget an odd topic, so let's take a peek at a set we've never talked about here before. 4th Edition.

You strange, strange man.

Wanna know what a good core set revision looks like? Sixth edition (Classic) and Eleventh edition (Magic 2010). As The Gathering updates goes, those were the greats. Fight me.

He couldn't hurt me, right?

Now, I barely played during 6th (as I was a teenager trying to get invited to parties rather than getting punched in the hallways), and by 11th my relationship with Magic was mostly steeped in casual oddities and foogey formats. So I never bought a single booster of either set. On the other hand, while the first cards for me were Revised, the set I really cut my teeth on was 4th Edition. 4th I know. 4th tells most all of my early Magic stories and I have an undeniable affinity for 4th.

But it is still a weird set.

The weird thing is that so many of the reprints are either too good or too bad. In Revised, most all updates have a sense to them. Like, when WotC realized that players were buying more than just one starter and two boosters - and that in turn the broken cards would be far more abundant than originally assumed - they cut 13 out of the 16 ABU cards on the first restricted list from the core set. Only Braingeyser, Dingus Egg and Sol Ring were left. In addition, a bunch of the worst "feel-bad" rares were cut. Most notably the four rare Islands, but also kinda unexciting stuff like Blaze of Glory and Natural Selection.

I love the Birdman as much as the next guy, but Titania's Song is a more interesting card.

Revised had a purpose for each card being cut, and even though WotC only had little over 160 possible cards to replace them with, most choices still appear solid today. Yeah, sure, Jalum Tome would have been a better option than Jandor's Ring, but those kinda nitpicks are few and far between. Considering this was their first time revising The Gathering, it is hard to be a hater.

Revised was very close to the same number of cards as Unlimited, with the exception that the four Islands on the rare sheet were replaced by four actual rares (so it went from 302 to 306 different cards; or 287 to 291 if we exclude all basics). By 4th Edition, all lands were removed from the common and uncommon sheets as well; instead getting printed on a separate sheet. That meant that 4th had access to three 11*11 card sheets with unique cards, putting the set size to a significantly larger 378 cards (363 excluding basics, almost a full 25% increase from Revised).

These cards, however, were not picked by assessing their power level but rather by using thermal noise from a resistor. It's list time.

Top 5 Most Overpowered Cards in 4th Edition

1. Channel

The ridiculous power level of Channel somehow wasn't obvious from the start. Channel wasn't restricted in the first B&R, but rather added a little over a month later in March 1994 (alongside cards like Demonic Tutor and Wheel of Fortune). My theory is that this was due to no one knowing what the card did. It is after all impossible to understand the wording on an Alpha Channel, and impossible to read the text on a Beta or Unlimited version.

Unlimited and 4th Edition Channel, image is in no way doctored. I dare you to read the unlimited version.

As such, Revised - which was released in April 1994 - could be excused for not removing it as a "spoiler card" and stop the already running presses. But by the time 4th rolled around, Channel had been restricted for over a year, and was possibly the single most hated and feared card in the game. Countless ante cards were lost to card sharks with Channel decks, and countless people had their joy of the game wrecked by the mistake uncommon. There's a reason Channel-Fireball is considered the most iconic combo in Magic's history.

Channel was the first card to get actually banned from all types of play in the wake of the expanding tournament scene. Not only was it banned in Vintage, but it also holds the distinction of being the first card ever to be banned in Standard. Today Channel is still banned in every sanctioned format it could be legal in except Vintage, where it is restricted. It is the only green card in Magic to achieve this feat.

2. Mind Twist

It was no secret that Mind Twist was broken at the time 4th Edition was selected. It had been restricted for all long time, and high level players across the BBSs argued that it was far more unfair than things like Black Lotus and the moxen. Mind Twist is also a great way to create utterly unfun play experiences and get new players to leave the game. Hell, in contemporary 93/94 it is by a good margin the card that most people argue should be banned. Just as players did in 1995, which eventually led to Mind Twist being banned across all formats. To talk in NewSpeak; reprinting Mind Twist in 4th Edition is akin to reprinting Oko, Thief of Crowns in Theros: Beyond Death.

3. Balance

Balance holds the record for "most misleading card name", flooring contenders like Awesome Presence (not awesome) and Great Wall (not great). Again, the reprint in Revised could be excused here, as for some reason no one played Balance for the first year of the game. When a guy finally did, Balance turned out so br0nk that - even with sub-optimal card choices to the tune of three main deck Library of Leng - he broke the game enough to get an entirely new School of Magic named after him; the Maysonet School.

Balance somehow didn't get fully banned in a format until the creation of Extended in 1997, but it still holds the distinction of being the first card to ever be restricted in Standard. That same month, April 1995, it was also restricted in Vintage. And also that month, it was reprinted in 4th Edition. In a similar achievement to Channel, Balance is the only white card to be banned in all formats it could be legal in except Vintage, where it is restricted.

4. Strip Mine

Like most of us, I've never heard anyone talk about Strip Mine's power level in 93/94. Still, it's banned in all sanctioned formats save Vintage (where it's restricted), so I assume there could be something to this card.

5. Mishra's Factory

At this point it feels weird that they didn’t reprint Mishra's Workshop in 4th Edition. It's arguably worse than Strip Mine, and up until at least Urza block it was similar in power level to Mishra's Factory. And WotC did reprint pretty much every other staple from AQ in 4th after all, including both Triskelion and Tetravus as well as the set's then-chase rare Colossus of Sardia. I guess the Antiquities quota was filled by fan favorites like Amulet of Kroog, Tawnos's Wand and Battering Ram instead. Or perhaps the criteria to pick cards were some apples and a blindfold.

Top(?) 5 Bad Cards from 4th Edition

Picking five bad cards in 4th Edition is not an easy task. Not that bad cards are hard to find, but rather that there are so many different criteria you could use to pick them. Do you look at cards that have such a streak of uselessness that you're wondering why they weren't mercy-killed already in Revised, like Celestial Prism and Simulacrum? Or are you looking at utterly unexciting "cycles" taking up dozens of rare and uncommon slots, like the Wards, Mana Batteries and Laces? Do you look at cards that just seem utterly redundant, like Land Leeches in a set with Elvish Archers or Gray Ogre in a set with Uthden Troll? Or are you going deep, looking at cards that got reprinted with terrible errata, destroying what could otherwise have been high tier contenders, like Relic Bind?

"Why 4th Edition, why?" - Basalt Monolith

After some intense soul searching, I landed on taking one card of each color, limiting myself to cards that got their first white-border printing in 4th. Cards that were actively picked to get reprinted. And as I'm only doing one card of each color, fan favorites like Marsh Gas and Brainwash will be left without further mention. Also, if you think this should be a top7 with lands and artifacts as well, you are clearly going too deep. And the answers to those would be Oasis and Cursed Rack. List time!

1. White: Seeker

Hey, you know how no one ever played Fear? Well, what about if we instead put the effect in a color where all the playable creatures are either weenies or already have evasion, and then double the mana cost?

2. Blue: Erosion

No words can convey the utter lethargy emitted by Erosion better than just reading the card itself twice.

3. Black: Word of Binding

Now, the Ron Spencer art here is hardcore as tits. An H.R. Giger style Tyranid in some serious rule 34 shenanigans. 90s t-shirt worthy. And Maeveen O'Donagh is a made-up writer and won't turn in her grave by having a solemn quote of hers on a card like this. But did the people picking this one even know that Winter Blast was in the same set? Or, as black X-spells go, that Mind Twist was in?

4. Red: Eternal Warrior

This is why we can't have vigilance in red anymore.

5. Green: Pradesh Gypsies

Pradesh Gypsies is a bad card. But I don't want to write something insulting to neither Romani nor horses. So I'll just tell a joke I heard from a guy in the Dutch old school guild instead:

An American tourist is traveling in the Netherlands when he comes by a remote farm. While the farmer only has a novice understanding of English, he is a friendly man and converse with the American, whom doesn't speak Dutch.

American: So what do you do for a living?
Farmer: Ik fook horses.
American: Pardon?!
Farmer: Yes, paarden.

(The joke works better if you speak Dutch)


So that's some 4th Edition ranting for you. I could go on, but I already accidentally deleted this post once and had to re-write it, so I feel pretty filled up. I might go back to the topic in the future, as the well here is deep.

These are strange times. Times you'll probably remember for the rest of your life, and times that your kids may ask you about in the future. I hope that they treat you well enough. Sometime we'll look back at these months. Wash your hands.


  1. Albino Turtles27 mars 2020 04:34

    Relic Bind ��

    1. Albino Turtles27 mars 2020 04:36

      It wouldn’t let me put the :(

    2. Yeah, that one really took a beating... Probably restriction-worthy in the Legends printing, and now just bulk.

  2. MG this post is amazing, thank you. Really well-done and funny. Stay well my friend!

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words Bill! The best of health to you as well my friend :)

  3. wow that 'Maysonet Rack Balance Deck' is awesome hahah!

  4. Thanks for this post, Mg. I started writing something the other day but just couldn't find the words. This is awesome. :)

  5. Great post MG, 4th was my first big set as well (started during revised but it was almost out of the shops) and of course you buy the latest set.

    The horse joke made me laugh and yes it only works in Dutch. ;-)

    1. Haha sweet! Great that I have some dutch readers then :D

  6. What happened to this blog? >:(

    1. I have no idea ;) But feel free to give requests if there's any particular topic(s) that you'd like to read about :)

  7. Sweet! More on this and similar topics please! "Set reviews" is always a good read! What´s your oppinion on the Relic bind? 4th or Legends (and restricted) wording? would you rather have an unplayable card or more cards on the restricted list?

  8. your worst 5 have some cards that still sees some play in some formats. The Eternal warrior is a staple in the Shandalar Speedun deck (shivan dragon is the only creature in the deck and some dungeon dices give a starting creature. Slam a Eternal warrior on the dragon and go to town), the Word of binding would probably see play in some limited decks. the other 3 is truly some stinkers though..

    1. Haha, I did not know that :D Happy to hear that Eternal Warrior actually got some time to shine somewhere.

      Regarding Relic Bind, I'd probably still go for the Legends version and have one more card on the restricted list. It is just a non-entity right now, and I think "forgotten" is a worse fate than "broken".

      And thanks for the suggestions!

    2. Me too, regarding the Relic Bind. More playable cards not less.

      There might be some material here for a trivia post; reprints or replaces featuring cards like Relic bind, Tawnos Wand, Disprupting scepter, etc. Add some Alpha stuff in there as well (Island sanctuary, the sepcter again). Is the revised Disk overpowered with modern rules? (no tap symbol).

  9. Well written articel. I hope we some more of this kind of posts.


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