Spectral Chaos

Like many interesting stories, this is a hard one to know where to start.

I've barely ever talked about Spectral Chaos here. The only time I think I've even mentioned it was as a throw-away link about Barry Reich's adventures around the the time The Penn Group worked on Menagerie (later Mirage) and The East Coast Playtesters had their hands full with Ice Age. But in the shadows I've though about it a lot. Partly as the unique hidden treasure it is, and partly for a particular card in the set I've been looking for for years. The Annihilator Orb. A sister-card of sorts to Spear of Annihilation, which was a playtest descendant of Sphere of Annihilation (which was the playtest card for Chaos Orb). So a distant relative for sure, but still something that I'd love to have as a reference in the binder.

There are three playtest versions of that card, excluding the final "text-only" sticker. I've only ever seen the ones that originally belonged to Barry Reich; those that were later acquired by Keith Adams. And it is possible that those three are the only copies out there; it was a rare from an unreleased set after all.

Version 1

Version 2

Version 3

Getting any "proper" version of Annihilator Orb for my Chaos Orb collection was something I eventually accepted I'd probably had to live without. Keith wasn't splitting up his complete set of Spectral Chaos, and none of the other playtesters appeared to have one. So right now in the binder I simply have a home-made stand-in for the card along with some notes on its vague relation to Chaos Orb and a little history of the set it was to appear in.

But my search had at least found me the pictures of actual playtest cards above, along with some pretty solid ideas of why the card evolved like it did. So when Micah contacted me a few months back regarding his plan to actually realize this set, and asked if I wanted to do a spoiler, my second thought was "Yes, and please let me do Annihilator Orb!". Though my first thought, of course, was amazement and awe of the herculean undertaking in realizing the set. The craftsmanship is just stunning, and the work put behind something like this solely for the love of the game and community is nothing short of inspirational. And the fact that the entire original design/development team (that is, Barry himself) was a part of the effort makes this in my mind - even though these aren't "real" Magic cards - the "real" Spectral Chaos. So, hats off to you guys!

My first plan was to make a video. I loved the hangout discussions from SoCal Deep Spawners and much appreciated the unboxing of Northern Paladins and Gumgod. But, it turns out, I am not much of a man of videos and my oldest 93/94 friends (whom I wanted to do it with) are possibly even worse. And there wouldn't be much interesting discussion regardless if I'm only filming myself. So instead, I'm trying a live blagging of sorts. I'll open the pack, look at the first card and write down my impressions, and then move on to the next card. So all the instant unqualified takes of my spontaneous impression, without the technology of moving pictures. Sounds simple enough to try out.

Before we start, I should add a couple of disclaimers. I haven't read the actual Spectral Chaos spoiler for almost five years, and my current knowledge of any unspoiled cards are hazy at best. I do remember a couple powerful cards that haven't been spoiled at The Chaos Orb yet, but basically anything I find in the booster will be as much a surprise for me as it is for anyone else. And in terms of art, wording, or Chaos History, I am completely blank (outside what has already been "officially" spoiled).

Second, I should note for clarification that this booster pack was a gift, and I do not believe this set will become widely available anywhere. It was a fan art project by Micah to visualize and share the story of the possibly strangest loose thread in Magic's history, and as such it is not intended to be for sale. I will however personally trade for an Annihilator Orb if anyone opens that one. And I'll probably accept the odd Spectral Chaos card at occasional casual events I'm hosting, if you happen to have some. Would be a shame to not let these gems see some action after all.

Ok, so let's get on with the booster!

We're starting off with a Swamp. Spectral Chaos - much like Ice Age and Mirage - was made as a stand-alone set, and as such the inclusion of basic lands was of course important. Back in the old-old days, before Arabian Nights, new editions of Magic were also intended to have different backs, so lands with the correct backside were instrumental in an era before sleeves.

Our next pick is Cremation. Now this is a flavorful ritual! In a small sense it reminds me of Culling the Weak (instant that adds BBBB if you sacrifice a creature), but this one is much more of a build-around and a couple of steps more exciting. Using the graveyard as a resource wasn't really a thing before Weatherlight, and this is a cool design even by today's standards. I don't know how to build with it, but it might involve Wall of Earth, Diamond Valley or Bazaar of Baghdad.

The classic blue common makes a return at half the mana cost. A fun fact, perhaps, is that Phantasmal Terrain was originally playtested at UU and with an additional upkeep cost of 2. The upkeep cost was thankfully removed, but UU is still pretty steep for the effect. The Terrain we have access to today do see the occasional play (I've played it myself in early years of the format, and it is deece in Merfolk and Suicide Blue to kill factories and enable landwalk), but I strongly believe this is a more correct cost. Also a great card for a multicolor set! Using it on your own lands seems like a solid option, and cutting your opponent off a color seems very legit.

Ooh, a Chaotic Instant. This is the first use of super-types on spells, which is rad. Attacking yourself is a part of silver-border these days (e.g. Evil Presents), but the concept is of course awesome. Combine with False Orders for all the value.

This is very similar to the printed Forbidden Lore from Ice Age, though one mana cheaper and with a weaker boost. Not sure if the Ice Age development inspired this one, or if it was the other way around. If the life of the Ice Age version is any indication though, this one would probably stay in the binder.

So this one looks at least sideboard playable. At the very least it is two damage for two mana in blue, and occasionally it will deal a lot more. It is kinda fun that blue used to have a thing for punishing Enchantments with dealing damage to the controller, like with Feedback and Power Leak. This is proper old school design, unlike anything we'd see blue mages conjure up this side of the millennium.

Hey, the first card with shroud! This is not bad. Obviously a good choice in e.g. Sligh builds that today use Brass Man to play Atog on the 2-drop slot, but the second ability in particular opens up for shenanigans. This is the best friend of Pestilence, and I'm sure there's more sweet synergies.

Ok, so the art is great. And this is the kind of card I'd love to be good. But at six mana you'll get Shivan Dragon, and even if you don't have access to the rare Shivan you could get Earth Elemental or something that kills this in combat for one mana less. I guess I should be excited that it is a common, and as such it kinda takes the role of a red Craw Wurm or Sea Serpent, but I suspect this is the kind of card you'd cut from your first deck after a few trades. Unless the art sells it hard enough.

Now THIS is some proper power. If Spectral Chaos had been released at the same time as, say, Legends, with the same print run, I suspect this would have been one of the most sough after cards in the set today. This is exactly Volcanic Island in any highlander format, and in modern non-highlander you'd pretty much always cut one of your Volcanics for one of these (slightly better if you're facing e.g. Surgical Extraction). Or maybe just play five U/R duals. This is a solid power level correction of the original duals, and a great design.

Another basic land, this time a sweet looking Forest.

AAAAAAAHHH!!! I now firmly believe that this was not randomized, and that Micah is a king among men. To the binder with you, Annihilator Orb, to live among your brethren! Everything from here on is gravy.

Still adrenaline from the last card here. Ok, so Colorless Ward looks solid. For starters, it kicks Artifact Ward from Antiquities square out of the water. And it kinda reminds me of the Scarabs from Ice Age, though with a more trustworthy p/t boost. I don't know where it could find a proper home though, outside something like a Rabid Wombat deck. But it's cool enough for school, and we should note that this is in fact a "Mythic Rare", a decade and a half before those were implemented in Magic.

Ok, so I'm playing this in my Tribelander deck. This is a simultaneously fixed and broken Rainbow Vale. Given enough politics, this could give two players an arbitrary amount of mana. And played fairly, this just seems like an utterly fun card to play, in particular in multiplayer. Two thumbs up, and looking forward to getting kicked out of kitchen table games for playing this one.

This is another amazing design. Basically, it lets any player skip their draw step and cast a non-permanent spell from their graveyard (and exile it) that turn instead. It is what people in the business might call an EDH card, or simply a solid lategame spell. It of course works wonders with Power cards, as it basically lets you draw a 0-mana Regrowth each turn, but I still feel that the home for this might be one of my janky multiplayer decks. Ok, down to the last card!

Yeah, just read the card. This is what oldschool is all about. Getting to be a part of this spoiler season and open a booster was a fantastic experience; thank you so much Micah. And Barry. And all you guys caring about this. I didn't really know how to start this post, and now I don't know how I should end it.

There's a letter in the envelope as well. Let's check it out.

Hehe, what do you know! Errata and stuff for the cards we opened. So that means that the wonderful bequeathing had some proper method to the madness :)

Be sure to follow the rest of the spoiler season and read more about Micah's project over at The Chaos Orb. This is a fantastic tribute to the earliest days of the game, and a rare opportunity for us fogies to experience an old school spoiler season.


Bonus: After I'd finished writing this, Micah sent over high-quality scans of the cards in the booster, along with the original playtest (v4) versions. Enjoy: