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Urza's Saga

Urza's Saga
Urzas Saga logo
Set Information
Set symbol
Symbol description Gears
Design Mike Elliott (lead)
Richard Garfield
Bill Rose
Mark Rosewater
Development Mike Elliott (lead)
William Jockusch
Bill Rose
Mark Rosewater
Henry Stern
with contributions from Beth Moursund
Art direction Ron Spears
Release date October 12, 1998
Plane Dominaria
Serra's Realm[1]
Themes and mechanics Free spells, Sleeping and Growing enchantments
Keywords/​ability words Cycling, Echo
Set size 350 cards
(110 commons, 110 uncommons, 110 rares, 20 basic lands)
Expansion code USG[2]
Development codename Armadillo [3]
Urza's block
Urza's Saga Urza's Legacy Urza's Destiny
Magic: The Gathering Chronology
Unglued Urza's Saga Anthologies

Urza's Saga is the fifteenth Magic expansion and was released in October 1998 as the first set in the Urza's block.

Set details[ | ]

Urza's Saga is a 350-card black-bordered set containing 110 commons, 110 uncommons, 110 rares, and 20 basic lands. Its expansion symbol is a set of gears, highlighting the artifacts theme of the set, and is meant to symbolize Urza’s experiments in finding a means to defeat Phyrexia.[4] R&D originally envisioned Urza's Saga (and the Urza block as a whole) to be centered on an enchantment theme,[5] but the creative team had already decided that the block should be all about Urza, the greatest artificer of all time. By further referring to the block and the companion books as the "Artifacts Cycle", the original idea disappeared from view. It didn't help that the set contained some very powerful artifacts and artifact-themed cards like Fluctuator and Tolarian Academy. In fact, with so many cards in the set that were considered by many to be "broken," the following period became known as "Combo Winter," with many such "broken" cards and combos filling all tournament formats.[6] This led the DCI to ban a large number of cards in December 1998.

Marketing[ | ]

Urza's Saga was the first set to replace 60-card starter decks with 75-card tournament decks, the idea being that this would make it easier to run Sealed deck tournaments. Cards were also sold in 15-card boosters and four preconstructed theme decks. Each booster pack contained 15 cards: 11 commons, 3 uncommons, and 1 rare. The boosters featured artwork from Herald of Serra, Chimeric Staff, and Phyrexian Colossus. The prerelease promo for Urza's Saga (September 26, 1998) was a foil Lightning Dragon; this was the first time a Magic card was released in foil, though the next set in the block, Urza's Legacy, had foil cards inserted randomly into booster packs.[7]

Written by Duelist Executive Editor Will McDermott, the The Official Guide to Urza's Saga takes a card-by-card look at spells, artifacts and specialty lands in set. In addition to the card analysis, the Guide includes images of every card in the expansion and presents a unique look at Urza's story from the explosive end of the Brothers' War to his discovery of the Thran Mana Rig.

Storyline[ | ]

From the perilous domains of Phyrexia and Shiv to the splendor of Serra's Realm, Argoth, and Tolaria, he travels the planes seeking weapons to destroy the dark forces that stalk him.[8] New magic discovered. New power revealed. Urza's Saga has begun.

Hundreds of years have passed since the Brothers' War, but many things that started there are only now coming to fruition. Urza's Saga departs from the story of Gerrard and Volrath in a flashback, showing the origins of the Legacy. The readers meet Teferi in his student days and Serra at the peak of her power.

Mechanics and themes[ | ]

Like many earlier blocks, Urza's Saga did not have an overarching theme, though it did have an emphasis on enchantments and artifacts. The popular cycling keyword, which allowed players to discard unwanted cards to draw new ones, was introduced in this set. Echo, a keyword requiring a second mana payment on a permanent in exchange for higher than usual stats, also debuted in Urza's Saga.[9]

Non-keyworded abilities appearing in Urza's Saga include free spells, growing enchantments and sleeping enchantments.

Misprints[ | ]

Creature types[ | ]

No new creature types were introduced in this expansion, although Hidden Stag was later retroactively changed to produce Elk Beast tokens, making this the earliest set with this creature type.

The following creature types are used in this expansion but also appear in previous sets: Ape, Avatar, Beast, Bird, Boar, Cat, Centaur, Cleric, Crab, Djinn, Dragon, Drake, Elemental, Elf, Enchantress (later changed to Druid), Giant, Goblin, Hippo, Horror, Illusion, Imp, Insect, Knight, Lizard, Merfolk, Pegasus, Shade, Shapeshifter, Skeleton, Snake, Soldier, Spirit, Thrull, Treefolk, Troll, Viashino, Wall, Whale, Wizard, Worm, Wurm, Zombie.

Cycles[ | ]

Urza's Saga has seven cycles:

Cycle name {W} {U} {B} {R} {G}
Cycling lands Drifting Meadow Remote Isle Polluted Mire Smoldering Crater Slippery Karst
These common lands come into play tapped and add one mana of the appropriate color, but can also be cycled. The related uncommon cycling land Blasted Landscape adds only colorless mana, but comes into play untapped.
Embraces Serra's Embrace
(Serra Angel)
Zephid's Embrace
Vampiric Embrace
(Sengir Vampire)
Shiv's Embrace
(Shivan Dragon)
Gaea's Embrace
(Child of Gaea)
To get more people to play enchant creature Auras, this cycle was made which combined several abilities onto a card with a mana cost of {2}MM. Each card refers to a rare creature from either Alpha or Urza's Saga.[10] Verdant Embrace in Time Spiral referenced this cycle, mimicking Verdant Force.
Legendary lands Serra's Sanctum
Tolarian Academy
Phyrexian Tower Shivan Gorge Gaea's Cradle
Rare legendary lands.
  • Three of the lands provide one colored mana of the listed color for each card you control of the listed type.
  • The other two lands produce {C} instead of colored mana and have a second ability which they can be tapped for.
Perpetual enchantments Brilliant Halo Launch Despondency Fiery Mantle Fortitude
When these common Aura enchantments, each with a converted mana cost of 2, go to the graveyard, they are returned to their owner's hand.
Rare growing enchantments Serra's Liturgy Recantation Discordant Dirge Rumbling Crescendo Midsummer Revel
Each of these rare growing enchantments has a mana cost of {3}MM except for the white one that costs {2}{W}{W}. Each can be sacrificed by paying one mana of the appropriate color for an effect that grows with the number of verse counters on it.
Uncommon growing enchantments Serra's Hymn Lilting Refrain Vile Requiem Torch Song War Dance
Each of these uncommon growing enchantments can be sacrificed for an effect that grows with the number of verse counters on it.
Runes of protection Rune of Protection: White Rune of Protection: Blue Rune of Protection: Black Rune of Protection: Red Rune of Protection: Green
These common enchantments are similar to the Circles of Protection from Alpha, but their activation cost requires {W} rather than {1}, unlike the Circles which allowed for merely splashing white. Their cycling ability, however, gives them extra utility. Two other runes exist complementing the cycle: Rune of Protection: Artifacts (uncommon) costs only one {W} mana to activate, as opposed to Circle of Protection: Artifacts, which costs {2} to activate. Finally, Rune of Protection: Lands, printed at rare, prevents damage from lands. All 7 of the runes were illustrated by Scott M. Fischer and featured the same woman in the art.[11]
Uncommon enemy color hate Absolute Grace, Absolute Law Douse, Hibernation Yawgmoth's Edict, Bereavement Disorder, Scald Carpet of Flowers, Spreading Algae
Each color contains an uncommon card that viciously attacks one of that color's two enemy colors. This is a throwback to a similar cycle from Revised Edition.

Vertical cycles[ | ]

Cycle name
"Free" Spells Rewind Peregrine Drake Great Whale, Time Spiral
Each of these blue spells has an effect that untaps lands equal to their mana value. For the creatures, this untap happens as an enters the battlefield effect, and for the spells, they are part of the resolution of the ability.

Mega-mega cycle[ | ]

Cycle name {W} {U} {B} {R} {G}
Voices Voice of Truth (Nemesis) Voice of Reason (Urza's Destiny) Voice of Grace (Urza's Saga) Voice of Law (Urza's Saga) Voice of Duty (Urza's Destiny)
Voice of Grace and Voice of Law are the first and second cards in this mega-mega cycle. These are uncommon white 2/2 Angels that have a mana cost of {3}{W} and have protection from a different color. Voice of All, who has protection from a color chosen as it enters the battlefield, would be released in Planeshift as an homage to the mega-mega cycle.

Preconstructed decks[ | ]

Urza's Saga has four theme decks. The expansion was the first one to feature a three-colored theme deck.[12]

deck name
Colors Included
{W} {U} {B} {R} {G}
Sleeper W
Special Delivery R G
The Plague W B
Tombstone W U B

Notable cards[ | ]

  • Back to Basics sees play as a mana prison piece in Legacy, targeting the many nonbasic lands.
  • Defensive Formation is the last spell to change damage assignment amongst several creatures, similarly to how banding worked.
  • Duress was for a long time the best precision discard spell, now generally third behind Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek. However, its power level is modest enough (and name generic enough) to warrant continual reprints.
  • Gamble is a strong but risky red tutor that red graveyard decks often use.
  • Morphling nicknamed Superman, it was the control finisher of choice for the era, being nigh-unkillable and could defeat creatures with up to five toughness with damage on the stack. It inspired a series of cards that have a long list of activated abilities, characterized by the +1/-1 and -1/+1.
  • Priest of Titania supplemented Gaea's Cradle in Elfball decks.
  • Smokestack was the basis of many "Stax" prison decks, like the old vintage UbaStax, or Legacy's RedStax (MoonStax), WhiteStax (AngelStax, ArmageddonStax).
  • Show and Tell and Sneak Attack form the backbone of the Legacy Sneak and Show deck, being reanimator-like without using the graveyard.
  • Waylay had a curious timing issue in which casting them on the opponent's end step let a white player create six power worth of creatures with functional haste, giving it the name "White Lightning". Revising the wording of the cleanup step returned the card to the intended functionality of a defensive ambush.

Banned and restricted cards[ | ]

Urza's block was notorious for the number of cards banned for power level, given the amount of combo potential and fast mana amongst their cards.

  • Serra's Sanctum, Gaea's Cradle and Tolarian Academy all can generate copious amounts of mana, the latter of which is still banned in Legacy as playable 0-mana artifacts outnumber the other two significantly. All were banned in Block Constructed.
  • Stroke of Genius was a simple X spell that drew cards, which let it be both a card advantage spell and a kill condition when the infinite mana combo was assembled.
  • Time Spiral functions like Timetwister but also gives back a mana rebate. However, the six mana down payment made it difficult to reach, letting it be unbanned in Vintage in September 2008 and Legacy in December 2010.
  • Voltaic Key created infinite turns with Time Vault, a combo with various other artifacts over the years, and so was restricted early in its lifetime. It was later released as more cards were released.
  • Windfall generates most of the value that Timetwister did, and so was restricted and banned from Legacy and Vintage the year it was released; it hasn't been revisited since.
  • Great Whale and Peregrine Drake are part of the "free spell" mechanic, which resulted in combos in Legacy and bans for Pauper by producing infinite mana.
  • Yawgmoth's Will allows a player to recast every spell in their graveyard, which with rituals and the "free spells" often resulted in Storm kills.
  • Fluctuator could let a player cycle for free and was banned in Standard in 1999.
  • Goblin Lackey was one of the scariest Goblins to see on the draw from the many options it could cheat out and was banned in Extended in 2005.

Reprinted cards[ | ]

The following cards have been reprinted from previous sets and included in Urza's Saga.

Functional reprints[ | ]

Urza's Saga has eight functional reprints:

Card comparisons[ | ]

Trivia[ | ]

  • The original planned name for the set was Urza's Odyssey.[13] It was rejected on legal advice at the time.
  • Morphling was originally intended to be a reprint of Clone. It had to be redesigned after the art had been finalized because at the time the game rules couldn't properly handle clone effects.[14]
  • Cycling was originally created by Richard Garfield during Tempest design. [15]

References[ | ]

  1. a b Wizards of the Coast. "Dominian FAQ (archived)".
  2. Wizards of the Coast (August 02, 2004). "Ask Wizards - August, 2004". Wizards of the Coast.
  3. Magic Arcana (June 21, 2002). "Armadillos". Wizards of the Coast.
  4. Brady Dommermuth (October 31, 2006). "Ask Wizards". Wizards of the Coast.
  5. Mark Rosewater (June 07, 2010). "Disadvantaged". Wizards of the Coast.
  6. Mark Rosewater (November 10, 2003). "Make No Mistake". Wizards of the Coast.
  7. Magic Arcana (July 26, 2004). "The first foil prerelease card". Wizards of the Coast.
  8. Scott McGough (March 21, 2011). "From the Ground Up". Wizards of the Coast.
  9. Wizards of the Coast (1998) "New Features of Urza's Saga"
  10. Mark Rosewater (July 25, 2022). "Magic Design A to Z, Part 3". Wizards of the Coast.
  11. Magic Arcana (March 22, 2004). "Cycling art mystery". Wizards of the Coast.
  12. Urza's Saga Preconstructed Decks — Wizards of the Coast
  13. Mark Rosewater (August 4, 2023). "How Trivial with Mark Rosewater (Video)". Magic: The Gathering. YouTube.
  14. Mark Rosewater (August 4, 2023). "How Trivial with Mark Rosewater (Video)". Magic: The Gathering. YouTube.
  15. Mark Rosewater (April 22, 2017). "I had never played in a limited environment with Cycling and now I'm in love.". Blogatog. Tumblr.

External links[ | ]