Tuesday, 07 September 2021 08:35

A Look Into the Power Nine: Ancestral Recall

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Artwork from the MTG card "Ancestral Recall." Artwork from the MTG card "Ancestral Recall." WOTC/MARK POOLE

To this day, the words "Power Nine" are instantly recognizable to both younger and older Magic: The Gathering players alike. They are arguably some of the most powerful cards ever made, especially in comparison to mana cost and in-game impact.

While Magic Untapped has given an overview of other Power Nine cards in the past, like the infamous Black Lotus, the others tend to not get much focus. Which is a shame, because their history gets very weird, very fast. When a card has a story, you know you're in for a fun time.

One of those cards is Ancestral Recall, an instant costing one blue mana. The card allow you to draw three cards or have an opponent draw three cards (it's since been eratta'd to the more friendly phrasing of "target player draws three cards.") Even today, it's known as one of the most devastating blue cards ever made, and you can quickly see why.

Simply put, it's a cheap card draw. And it's one of the most recognizable ones too - Mark Poole's card art made sure of that and today remains one of his more recognizable pieces of art for Magic nearly 30 years later.

But it could have been WAY different. Back during initial creation, Ancestral Recall, then known as Ancestral Memories, was going to be a common rather than a rare. A common that powerful would have kind of broken the game. Pull a few of those, load up on mana, and soon you could get and afford really powerful creatures or game-winning spells and combos.

So, Richard Garfield had to scale it back to rare. But even then it was seen as too powerful. By the time banned and restricted lists came out, Ancestral Recall was one of the first added. Today it's not really allowed in anything but Vintage, and even then it's restricted to a single copy per deck. Basically, you can rarely play it. Which is fine because few can really afford even a single copy of the card.

Unsurprisingly, Ancestral Recall turned out to be one of the most expensive cards of all time on the secondary market. While not as much as some, like Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall still goes for thousands of dollars -- and that's the Unlimited version of the card (its third and final printing). Original Alpha and Beta versions go for between $6,000 and over $20,000 today. 

Like any of the Power Nine, Ancestral Recall was too powerful to really be a part of modern Magic, but that hasn't stopped Wizards of the Coast from trying to print fixed versions such as the Alliances card Library of Lat-Nam and Time Spiral's Ancestral Vision.

But it's been decades since the game of Magic has seen a copy that's even close to Ancestral Recall's card drawing power and efficiency.  In truth, that's probably for the best.