Cellar Door: A MTG Card With an Unusual Origin

Illus: Rob Alexander

In 2011, Innistrad had some creepy card names, with one, Cellar Door, being a lot more scary than many thought at first.

When Innistrad hit the shelves in 2011, it quickly became one of the most celebrated sets over. The unique horror theming, some of the best set up mechanics ever, some unique double cards, and really the whole atmosphere of it made it a hit. Even over a decade later, it is still talked about and has been held up as the right way to both make a set and start off a new block on the right foot.

The tops, for many, was the theming. While Magic: The Gathering had dabbled with horror before, they went all in on Innistrad. A mix of traditional horror elements, fantasy elements, and Magic lore made for some unique card names. There were Edgar Allen Poe references, song references, horror movie references, and even some from obscure horror tales. But then there was one that confounded even the long time players: Cellar Door.

Cellar Door is an artifact that costs 2 generic mana that states: "Target player puts the bottom card of their library into their graveyard. If it’s a creature card, you create a 2/2 black Zombie creature token."

It's not that bad of a card. But what about the name? While cellars can be creepy, it isn't an overall scary sounding thing. So why is it in Innistrad titled like that?

Well, according to linguists with way too much time on their hands, Cellar Door is seen as a beautiful phrase. Really.  J.R.R. Tolkein loved it, as did many other writers. It just sounds pleasant. Even Poe used it as the basis for The Raven. So, when coming up with card titles for Innistrad, the Magic team picked it as a horror sounding card. Why? Because it is a phrase that sounds beautiful, regardless of context. Mix that in with Cellars inherent creepiness, and the card goes a bit deeper than many thought.

And that's where the sudden zombie and other parts come from. It isn't supposed to sound creepy, but the implications very much are.

Cellar Door has only seen one reprint since its debut in Innistrad (that would be just a couple of years ago in Jumpstart 2022). But there's sure to be opportunities for more reprints in the future.

It's almost like it's just there lying in wait, ready to be be brought up again -- especially if any more visits to Innistrad are on the table.

Evan Symon

Evan Symon is a graduate of The University of Akron and has been a working journalist ever since with works published by Cracked, GeekNifty, the Pasadena Independent, California Globe, and, of course, Magic Untapped.