Arabian Nights (Magic: The Gathering)
|Size||92 cards (78 unique: 27 commons and 51 uncommons)|
|Mechanics||Lands with abilities, djinns and efreets, metagame effects, coin-flip effects|
|Developers||Jim Lin, Chris Page, Dave Pettey, Skaff Elias|
|Development code||Arabian Nights|
|Expansion code||ARN (AN)|
The setting of Arabian Nights is inspired by the themes and characters of the Thousand and One Arabian Nights with some of the characters and places coming directly from these tales. In fact, Arabian Nights stands out as being one of the only two card sets primarily based on real-world fiction (the other being the Portal Three Kingdoms), as opposed to other card sets based on fictions created exclusively for the game.
Richard Garfield, Magic creator, acted as the sole designer for the set, and developed it in parallel with other teams working on what would become Ice Age and Mirage. The Ice Age design team, composed of Jim Lin, Chris Page, Dave Pettey, and Skaff Elias, was called upon to become the development team for Arabian Nights as well, but instead of playtesting the set they managed only to submit some comments because their schedule was so tight. At that point in Magic's development, the role of expansions was relatively undefined, and Garfield intended for Arabian Nights cards to bear a purple and gold back that would allow players to exclude Arabian Nights from their games. In his article, "The Making of Arabian Nights", Garfield cites this as his inspiration to "be more adventurous in creating mechanics and themes".
Player response against the proposed new back caused Wizards of the Coast to stay with the original backs, allowing cards from various sets to be mixed freely in gameplay. To replace the new card back, a symbolic scimitar was added between the card artwork and card text, making the first expansion symbol; every expansion set since has displayed a unique one.
As with preceding sets, interesting errors were revealed when the set was released. One of them was the so-called "Arabian Mountain". When the decision was made to have the expansion sets fully playable with the basic set, Wizards of the Coast decided that there was no need to include basic lands in the print run, so they were removed. However, one Mountain basic land card accidentally remained on the print sheet as a common. Due to this oversight, the Mountain is now the most common Magic card. Another error, this time in printing, caused two different styles of generic mana symbols to be printed on some cards. Some copies of these cards feature a regular sized generic mana symbol, other copies have one that is smaller and darker.
The 78 Arabian Nights cards come in two rarities, common and uncommon. Of the 51 uncommons in the set 19 are U3, meaning that they appear three times on the uncommon sheet. The remaining 32 uncommons are U2, usually dubbed the rares of the set, although U2 cards are only 33% less common than U3 cards. Of the commons 9 are C5 and 16 are C4. Additionally the Arabian Nights Mountain is C1 and Desert is C11. When counting the commons with smaller, darker mana symbols as separate cards Arabian Nights is a set of 92 cards. The smaller darker numbers in the casting cost are referred to as series (a) and the lighter and larger numbers are referred to as series (b).
Of the 78 cards 49 have been reprinted at some time. The most recent card to be reprinted for the first time was Desert in Time Spiral. With 63%, Arabian Nights is second in fraction of cards reprinted in an expansion set only to Antiquities. 22 of the 29 cards that have not been reprinted are on the Reserved List, meaning that Wizards of the Coast has decided never to reprint these, for concern of alienating collectors. On the other hand the Mountain, accidentally not removed from Arabian Nights is the only card of the set that had been printed before. It is thus the first reprint in Magic outside a base set.
Even when separated from its place as Magic's first expansion, Arabian Nights was a groundbreaking set in terms of its impact on the game. In his article "It Happened One Nights", Mark Rosewater detailed amongst others the following innovations or expansions on Alpha mechanics:
- Stealing opponent's cards — Alpha enabled players to gain control of their opponent's permanents, but Arabian Nights explored this theme further.
- Opponent activated abilities — Ifh-Bíff Efreet has an ability that each player can activate. This theme was further explored with the Mongers in Mercadian Masques
- Lands with abilities — Arabian Nights was the first set with Lands that had abilities other than mana abilities.
- Coin flips — Arabian Nights was the first set that made use of coin flips to introduce additional randomness to the game.
- Cumulative upkeep & Cantrips (cards that draw a new card when played) — Both concepts were more formally introduced in Ice Age, but Arabian Nights made use of these on Cyclone and Jeweled Bird respectively.
- Lifelink — The concept of the ability that would become Lifelink was first introduced on Arabian Nights' El-Hajjâj.
- Exile zone as a Limbo — Oubliette was the first card to use what would eventually come to be called the Exile zone as a holding zone for cards temporarily out of play.
Garfield considered several mythoi to build Magic's first expansion around, but eventually decided to use a real-world mythos. Personally fascinated with the One Thousand and One Nights mythos, and inspired by the recent Sandman comic by Neil Gaiman, Ramadan, he decided that it fit the game well and chose to employ it for Magic. Aside from using the original tale as an inspiration for the cards of Arabian Nights and putting short quotes from the book on the cards as flavor text the set originally had no own background story. In 1995–96 two comicbooks (A Time to Gather and And Then There Was One) were produced by Armada to give the set its own storyline, taking place on the plane of Rabiah. Arabian Nights is the only set with the exception of the later set Portal: Three Kingdoms to use an earthbound mythos for its background story although several other sets are inspired by other earthbound myths as well.
- Shahrazad — The effect to create subgames is unique in Magic and eventually led to the banning of this card from all tournament formats as it was perceived to cause problems in tournaments. In his article "The Making of Arabian Nights" Richard Garfield called Shahrazad his favorite card from Arabian Nights also due to its unique effect.
- Juzám Djinn — This card was long considered to be the best creature in Magic, but has gradually lost its appeal. Even so, it still commands a considerable price on the secondary market. When the almost identical Plague Sliver appeared in Time Spiral thirteen years later it barely saw any play in Constructed Magic formats. The art of Juzám Djinn is also widely considered to be one of the most iconic of the early Magic game. Wizards of the Coast even decided to use it as a cover piece for their first Magic encyclopedia (along with Black Lotus and Balduvian Horde).
- Bazaar of Baghdad — Drawing two cards only to discard three appears not to be a powerful effect at the first glance in a game where card advantage is a well established principle, but in Vintage there are several ways to make use of cards discarded. In modern Vintage the Bazaar is a cornerstone of the metagame in general and specifically the Dredge-deck, a deck that strives to exploit the Dredge mechanic to maximum effect.
- Library of Alexandria — The Library has been a staple of Vintage decks for years, but has gradually seen less play in recent years. For some time Vintage players even referred to the Power Nine as Power Ten to include the card. Library of Alexandria is restricted in Vintage and not legal to play in any other format.
- Kird Ape — Kird Ape is one of the most undercosted creatures of the game's early life. When played alongside Taiga, it was a 2/3 for one mana, which led to it being on the first list of banned cards for the Extended format. For this reason, it was reprinted in From the Vault: Exiled. Kird Ape has also been reprinted in Duel Decks: Ajani vs. Nicol Bolas, the Revised Edition, 9th Edition and Eternal Masters.
- Mountain — Basic land. The Arabian Nights "mountain" was the only basic land card of the set printed, by mistake; no basic lands were meant to be printed.
- Al-Qadim, an Arabian Nights-themed Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting
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