Starburst: The 'Magic' playtest card that was (mistakenly) the most powerful card ever


A simple reminder that wording counts on Magic: The Gathering cards.

Back before the Alpha/Beta sets of Magic: The Gathering, there was playtesting. A lot of it, in fact. And while today WotC has playtesters who have grown up with the game, understand all the mechanics, and generally know what makes a good Magic: The Gathering experience, playtesting back then wasn't quite as intricate and nuanced.

Being in pre-Alpha, many kinks were being worked out. This resulted in some prototypes that were vastly powerful. Some of these came to be known the "Power Nine," and to this day they remain infamous. That is especially true with the holy grail of Magic: the Black Lotus.

But there was one card that shook playtesters to the core: Starburst

Costing only two mana (one of which must be red), Starburst came with the highly useful mechanic of costing your opponent their next turn. On the general gaming side of things (think in Uno or Monopoly), it wasn't all that bad. But in Magic, it could make a huge difference.

Or, as some playtesters saw it, an instant win.

Thanks to the wording "opponent loses next turn," many playtesters thought that they literally lost the entire game their next turn, rather than they miss a singular turn before they go again.

Magic Creator Richard Garfield, who created and oversaw the early development of the game, was besieged by playtesters furious that such a card causing an automatic death was in there. Instead of a strategy based card game, many players saw it as "keep drawing cards and survive until this one is played."

The name also wasn’t sticking. Starburst was a great candy with all but one amazing flavors. It's not exactly what you think of as a way to disable enemies. To that end, the card was scrapped. "Opponent loses next turn" was left in favor of the much less confusing "Take an extra turn after this one." And that other card’s name? Time Walk.

Today Time Walk can be rarely played, thanks to it’s age, power, and the fact that it's banned in most formats. Regardless, it is still regarded as one of the best Magic cards to date.

All in all, not bad for an accident that had poor word usage.

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.