North Star

When was the last time I left the apartment to peruse the town? Surely weeks, probably months. But the other day wanderlust grabbed hold as I saw an open block of two hours in the calendar. The sun stood high in the winter daylight, the thermometer danced around ten below, and it was time to peruse. 

My goal was to buy a new toothbrush and moisturizer. Yeah, I moisturize. What am I, some murk dweller malcontent throwing my face into the constant bruise of Nordic winds? But regardless my quest was fruitless as it turned out my moist dealer and the whole mall was closed due to corona. Got me again, pandemic.

On a brighter note, the sun was shining and I was outside. And I was at spitting distance from Outland, the local card shop here in Oslo. Mise well peruse down there and see if they have some cards to doomshop. In particular I was on the hunt for a few random Arabian Nights cards to fill some holes in the almost-complete set.

Outland.

I masked up and found myself in the Outland basement. Local hero and old 93/94 slinger Michael was behind the counter today. Always a pleasure to see him. I asked if they had any Arabian Nights binder, and was informed no. But I was not to despair, as he had a couple of long boxes with 93/94 bulk in the back. It was time to shuffle through card stacks.

After some shuffling, I came upon this light version Piety:

87 down, five to go.

I also found myself with a renewed sense of bafflement for Legends. I mean, I know the cards in the set and I've opened a handful boosters in my day. But when you sort through a pile of bulk, the sheer numbers just get to you. For every Darkness, there are ten Hellswarm. For every Wolverine Pack, there are piles of Hornet Cobra. Yeah, Sir Shandlar of Eberyn and Torsten von Ursus are playable, but for every fringe playable legend you have a stack of Sivitri Scarzam and Kasimir the Lone Wolf. There is just so much mediocrity in the set. And in the pile, one card stands out as the most mediocre of them all. It calls to me.

North Star.

But I can't think too long about North Star without letting my mind wander to the pure kinema that is Fist of the North Star. 

I TURNED MY BODY TO STEEL!

How do I not yell "I turned my body to steel!" more often? It's like the ideal idiom to have whenever you present some awesome threat, but kinda suspect that you'll end up in a pile of rubble and your own guts if the opponent has a powerful answer. I will henceforth say that whenever I cast Juzam.

Anyway, North Star. It is the worst. It's like the live action remake of Fist of the North Star. People often fall back on cards like Sorrow's Path when they talk about the worst card in Magic, but to that I retort no. Sorrow's Path is not a disaster in classic 93/94, and I'd even argue that there's a tier6 combo deck to be found in 93/94 Scryings when we get access to Political Trickery.

Well played Greg. (Via @OldschoolMtg on instagram)

Zvi Mowshowitz once argued that every deck in Magic gets better with Black Lotus. On a similar note, I believe every deck in Magic gets worse with North Star. I mean, I could theory craft a deck that wants Rapid Fire. I can envision an Aysen Highway blink control with Opalescence that gets some mileage out of Great Wall. Give me a pen and an hour, and I'll show you a proliferate Gitrog Monster EDH that wants Wood Elemental in the 99. But I can't think of a home for North Star. Unless you actively build a non-functional mana base of course. Hmm...

Is Master of the Hunt the actual MVP for once? Do you play 70% lands? Does this break Fire Sprites? Stay tuned!

There's a rumor - which I chose to believe - saying that rather than going deep on playtesting, Legends developers simply added one or two mana to the cost of a lot of cards. I guess that's how you get four-mana Quarum Trench Gnomes and six-mana Kasimir the Lone Wolf. Which brings us the question, would North Star be playable if it cost 3, or even 2, to cast and activate? I'd still go for a resounding no. What if it cost 1 to cast and activate then? Well, a 1:1 North Star is in the power level ballpark of Celestial Prism. Both demand an extra mana to "wash" generic into more useful mana, though North Star is a bit cheaper to get on the table and could possibly fix more than one mana. Celestial Prism makes up for it a bit by being able to use the mana generated for abilities and upkeep costs of cards like Pestilence, Elder Dragons and Chain Lightning. Basically the same ballpark. And Celestial Prism is quite possibly the least exciting card in The Gathering. So it seems we have to dive all the way down to The Deep Water test.

Trivia: The director of this movie also dabbled a bit in sweaty live-action manga in the nineties; though not Fist of the North Star, he did produce Crying Freeman in the same vein. Another trivia: This movie was the first Dutch 3D production.

Our Deep Water test is actually not related to the 2009 Brian Yuzna pic, but rather to the Magic card Deep Water. One day, while staring at it, it occurred to me that Deep Water would be pretty much unplayable even if it cost 0 to cast and 0 to activate. This is impressively bad.

The Deep Water Test: If we remove all mana costs on the card, is it still a bad card?

How does North Star pass this test? Would you play North Star if it cost zero to cast and use, shaving a solid four mana in each column? Like maybe? I guess it would be comparable to a zero-mana Arcum's Astrolabe that doesn't draw you a card, and most cantrips are pretty lousy if they skip the whole cantrip part. I think I'd give it a 'D', which is remarkable considering how much mana we're shaving off.

Still not that impressive.

There are some pretty bad rares in Legends. Stuff like Rapid Fire and Alchor's Tomb. But I believe North Star is the least playable rare in the history of the game. Rares like Sorrow's Path and Wood Elemental get the creative juices flowing, or at least give us a good laugh. You can build a weird theme deck with Worms of the Earth or Season of the Witch. But almost nobody cares about North Star enough to make a meme or joke deck out of it. And still the card mesmerize me.

Because North Star isn't the worst card ever printed. I can see that now. The lantern showed me the difference between bad cards and detrimental cards. The worst card isn't some harmless and unplayable rare. Maybe the worst card is something like Sacrifice, which nerfed or eliminated the ability to play Magic in many towns due to religious backlash? Maybe it is the Chronicles Elder Dragon Legends, which led to a huge confidence drop in Magic as a CCG and the creation of the Reserved List. Maybe it's Invoke Prejudice. Or maybe it's just something like Uro, a card that almost certainly lead to more frustration than joy. Whatever the answer to the "worst card" question may be, I now believe that North Star is better than Uro.

It certainly wasn't my plan walking into the store, but in the end I couldn't resist making an offer on the card. It told a story I wanted to remember. Maybe I was lucky that they didn't have an Arabian Nights binder, and I got to find that terrible piece of cardboard in the stacks by happenstance. Or maybe I'm a sucker who just payed almost $40 for a played copy of North Star. But that small whitening on the card also speaks to me of a strange bygone era. Somewhere someone played North Star.

Kommentarer

  1. Nice story. The artwork is as great as the playability is terrible.
    You claim Season of the Which as a bad card, but I think think card is quite good in commander/multiplayer games. Play either if you have Angus Mackenzie as a Commander or while having a Fog or two in your hand, and you can watch your opponents tap everything and attack each other while you attack the now defenseless opponent to your left.

    SvaraRadera
    Svar
    1. Thanks Anders.
      Feels like "quite good" may be overselling Season of the Witch a bit, but I agree that it's playable. I've used it in a Witch deck for tribal multiplayer, and it was pretty fun and flavorful combined with stuff like No Mercy and Bitterheart Witch. I'd probably still argue that it was the objectively worst card in that deck, but it did have a home and purpose ;)

      Radera
    2. Somehow a lot of these bad cards seems to have awesome art! I'll put Season of the Witch on my man-cave wall if I had the opportunity! All cards mentioned in this (as always) awesome article have that in common. Well except Celestrial Prism...its hideous. And perhaps i´m a bit biased as all art from 93-96-ish is better than anything else..

      Radera
  2. Is this card perhaps good in draft?

    OldSchool94 is notoriously low on color fixing. The other three that I'm aware of are Celestial Prism, Implements of Sacrifice, and Standing Stones, all three of which are not good. If you want to play three+ colors in draft, you've got to use one of those pieces of garbage (Implements is okay actually). Perhaps combined with Channel it might be decent?

    SvaraRadera
    Svar
    1. I'd still argue no. Adding an extra four mana to the casting cost is just way, way too much. Celestial Prism adds one extra mana to fix, Standing Stones add zero mana, so they are leaps and legions better than North Star. The difference in power level between North Star and Celestial Prism is the same as the difference between Ancestral Recall and Concentrate, those extra mana to cast makes a world of difference. If you have four more lands in play to cast your spell, mise well just add some extra lands of the correct color.

      Radera
  3. You could be right that, even in draft where massive "bombs" and color-fixing are at a premium, North Star is perhaps the worst option. Although whether it's playable is unknown. I'd like to see its performance in OldSchool94/95 draft some day if I ever find myself with too much money and a bit of misfortune on my side, I'll let you know how it played.

    Perhaps North Star would be playable in a constructed format? Would Urza Tron be able to use it? Urza Tron doesn't care so much about cost and it needs some kind of color fixing as well.

    SvaraRadera
  4. I think its only viable in a Titanias song deck if you for some reason lacks artifact four-drops...Heck there arent many good ones at 4 i guess...(book, icy, disk, cursed rack..)

    SvaraRadera
    Svar
    1. Nice! Titania's Song would make it playable as a four-drop but also it might allow for using cards that are difficult to play in multi colored decks, like Lich, Season of the Witch, Invoke Prejudice (if it weren't banned), or Worms of the Earth. None of good cards, but it makes it possible to play such cards.

      Radera

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