How Staples Become Staples

I’m going to tell you all a story, but this isn’t my story. This story has happened to every Magic player who has ever serious sat down to draft. You open your first pack and you see the most amazing black creature in the set, so you take it. You end up taking black creature after black creature for the first pack, with some life gain and green fat along the way. Second pack; nothing good, so you wind up taking utility commons and uncommons and do a bit of hate drafting along the way. Third pack; you open another bomb creature, this time in green. You take it and feel awfully clever that you’ve drafted the perfect deck.

You sit down for the first game of the tournament and you win. You crushed him into the ground with your endless assault of creatures and black removal spells. Game two; all your opponent does is sideboard no cards. Again game two you have a massive swarm of creatures on the field and a hand full of removal and land search. He has three creatures, all of which are vanilla and at his rate he can never win. Then when he is at 1 life he taps his lands and casts Wrath of God. He never played it game 1 and you had no clue that it was even in his deck. You are shocked as he proceeds to come back and win game two, all because of Wrath of God.

After the match you go over to your friends and complain about how broken Wrath is in limited and that they should’ve never printed a card that powerful. You whine and moan for a good twenty minutes over Wrath of God and eventually start complaining that there are too many Wrath of God variants and that a card that “broken” shouldn’t be a staple of Magic. But the hard truth is that powerful cards like Wrath of God and Birds of Paradise tend to be staples because they are powerful.

Powerful Cards as Staples

Every Core Set everyone is looking to see if their old favorites are being re-printed, as usual as most would say, in the next set. The three most common cards that everyone wonders about are:

1. Birds of Paradise
2. Wrath of God
3. Counterspell

Armageddon hasn't seen paper since Seventh Edition, but everyone wants to see if Wizards dares to bring it back, as well as Counterspell, more recently dropped.

Why are these cards considered staples and Persecute isn't? Persecute has seen three Core sets in a row and is a highly efficient and possibly game changing card when used at the right time, just like Wrath of God or Counterspell.

The reason ultimately boils down to the fact that even if a card is re-printed many, many times, if it wont change the game almost every singe time it is cast, it isn't a staple for its power.

Let us take Wrath of God again as our example of a staple that is continuously re-printed because of its power. It is a very simple card. Two lines of text, a fairly common casting cost, it's a sorcery, and the art is very simple. Similar to the first rule of a good heist, in Magic - Simple Means Safe.

Counterspell is an even simpler card. "Counter target spell." It couldn't be a more functionally bland card, yet its simplicity makes it powerful in that it does what all Blue mages attempt to do, stop the thing that will hurt them most.

Now I'm not telling you all that Grizzly Bears is a staple because it is powerful, far from it, but the sort of simplicity, in a sense simplistic elegance, found on staples like Birds of Paradise and Disenchant, is hard to find, thus making these cards staples of Magic.

Iconic Non-Rares
Not all staples become staples because of their power. In fact, most of them get re-printed time in and time out because they are iconic to the game of Magic, not because of their inherit power. These icons, like Llanowar Elves, Grizzly Bears, Giant Growth, Hill Giant, and Circle of Protection: Red, keep seeing Core Sets because people expect them to be there over anything. It creates a sort of comfort with the experienced players to see the same Grizzly Bears and Hill Giants in their 9th Edition drafts that they did when they were opening packs of Revised when they were just starting out. Comfort is a big part of what makes a card iconic. Almost every Magic player, unless your name happens to be Mike Flores, wouldn't be happy if over-powered and broken cards started showing up as staples. Could you imagine seeing cards as powerful as Skullclamp or Tinker or Dream Halls in every Core set? It would be total chaos not only in the players’ world, but the design teams would have an insane amount of stress trying to find ways to stop these cards without banning them every time. It would result in overpowered sets like Darksteel or complete junk like Saviors of Kamigawa, and nobody wants that.

Sorry I got off topic there, must be the Bawls taking over my system. My point, whether it was clear or not during that long rant, is that the average, sometimes slightly-underpowered commons and uncommons everyone loves and expects in every core set are just as much a staple as the rares like Birds of Paradise. What would you say if 10th Edition lacked Giant Growth or Coercion or Goblin Raider or the COPs? These cards are extremely important to the stapleocity and iconicness of Magic, if not more important because commons are the backbone of all Magic.

Cards So Iconic That They Have Spin-Offs

These cards are in a class of their own. Cards so old and so important staple-wise to the game of Magic that they never die, no matter how hard we wish something new would come out of the beast known as R&D. I know for a fact that if I picked one staple card of each color and an artifact from this category I could easily make a list of at least 7 cards apiece that are direct descendants of these cards. In fact, I'll do just that right now to help prove my point.

Wrath of God

Solar Tide
Soul Scour
I have variants.
Mageta the Lion
Kirtar's Wrath
March of Souls


Dark Ritual

Lightning Bolt

Birds of Paradise

Black Lotus

Now I know that I didn't pick the toughest cards to make examples of, I'm sure that everyone could find a million Giant Growth and Terror variants, but the point remains the same, once a staple card has reached this upper echelon of staples, usually reserved for cards around since before Ice Age, they start to receive direct descendants and variants, even homage’s like what Lotus Bloom is to Black Lotus.

What the Future Holds

As we all know, Planar Chaos is the next set and we all know that the design team decided to reprint cards in different colors than their original printing to show us what could have been. But the design team's willingness to play with the color pie raises some very interesting questions for the future of Magic. Will Wrath of God forever live on in Black as Damnation? Will Disenchant stay as Naturalize forever? Are we destined to get bad versions of Counterspell and Mana Drain every set? Will Black ever get fast mana again? I don't know, you don't know, truth is R&D doesn't know either. All these questions will be answered when they decide how far they are willing to push the envelope, even if it is back towards where it used to be. Nobody is the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future, so I guess the good answer to all those questions is, nobody knows. For all we know in Future Sight we could see a Green Counterspell and Red enchantment removal.

"Staple Status"

After what period of time does a card become a staple? Does it have to be in a certain amount of sets? If so, how many? Is five too few or too many? For arguments sake, lets say a card has to be reprinted at least 5 times and in at least three Core Sets before it can be considered a staple. Lets take a look at some of the cards would make "Staple Status" if they see 10th Edition.

And those are just to name a few of the many. Nothing can grant a card a place in Magic's history like gaining "Staple Status", save bannings and ridiculous decks built around one card. Everyone who has played Mental Magic knows what I mean. When you see that 1G mana cost you are ready to drop the Naturalize when you need to or the Gaea's Blessing if necessary.

I'm going to finish this baby up with another story.

I'm going to return to that story I was telling before, except I'm going to change a few things. Your opponent still wins game two, but this time you have the Wrath of God. You cast it and destroy all creatures. Next turn you drop two efficient beaters considering they are the only two creatures in play. At the end of your turn your opponent Shocks one of them, and then casts Dark Banishing, destroying the other. Are you going to get mad when he does this? Probably, but are you mad at your opponent or are you just frustrated with staple variants, considering that one turn before you cast one of the biggest staples in the history of Magic? That is for you to decide.


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