On This Date in Magic History: Eighth Edition (July 28, 2003)

Jacob LacknerModern, Standard

Welcome back to another edition of “This Day in Magic History,” where this time we’re taking a look at the release of Eighth Edition, which debuted on July 29, 2003.

A discussion of this set may not sound particularly interesting at first. After all, Eighth Edition was a core set during an era when core sets consisted entirely of reprints. However, Eighth Edition is arguably the most consequential reprint set ever! 

Eighth Edition introduced a completely revamped card frame, so the cards in it look quite similar to the cards we see today. This card frame marked a new, “modern” era in Magic history — and as a result Eighth Edition is the oldest set that is part of the Modern format. 

Eighth Edition also featured a unique promotional campaign called “Selecting Eighth Edition,” which gave players a say in some of the cards that appeared in the set.  

A more modern look

In 2003, Magic turned a decade old. At the time, there had only been very subtle changes to how cards looked. That all changed with Eighth Edition, which introduced a brand new card frame. 

These newer card frames created a cleaner look. Cards were more clearly divided into different sections, with boxes placed around the card’s title, type line, and Power and Toughness. The card frames introduced in Eighth Edition are still very similar to the card frames we have today.

These days, I think most players are pretty happy with the card frame. Not everyone was happy about it in 2003, though. 

Change to your favorite game can always be difficult. That’s something we still see today any time something about Magic changes. In 2003, some players really felt that the new card frame would be a detriment to the game. 

Critics of the new frame felt it took away some of Magic’s character and fantasy feel. For them, the cards just felt like they were part of a different game. It was such a controversy that when Mark Rosewater wrote an article in 2013 called “Twenty Things That Were Going to Kill Magic,” the Eighth Edition card frames came in at #11!

In the long run, the shift in card frames did mark a new era within Magic. In 2011, when the Modern format was created, Eighth Edition was chosen as the oldest set within the format. The new card frames introduced in the set were a big reason for this. These new frames were seen as marking what was then the “Modern” era of Magic (as opposed to the Classical), and that’s how the new format got its name.

The ‘Selecting Eighth Edition’ promotion

Eighth Edition’s design got players involved in the design of the set more than any other before or since. The “Selecting Eighth Edition” promo consisted of a series of polls available on magic.com during the Fall of 2002. The outcome of these online polls would have a direct impact on what cards appeared in Eighth Edition, and on what those cards would look like. 

During the promotion, there were 36 polls. Twenty four of them dealt with the art and flavor text that would appear on cards. The remaining 12 polls pitted two to four cards against one another, and the winner of each poll would get a reprint in the set. 

That’s right, Magic players got to decide 12 of the cards in the set. While flavor text and art are cool and all, players having a direct impact on which cards would be printed in a Standard-legal set is definitely the coolest part of the promotion. 

In 2002, people voted for cards they knew would be legal in both Standard and Extended, and then rotate out of both of those formats before long. But Eighth Edition has ended up having significantly more long-term relevance due to the creation of the Modern format in 2011. 

Modern never rotates, so all the cards in Eighth Edition have always been and will always be legal in the format. One of the cards that won these polls has had a huge impact on the format, since it is only legal in Modern as a result of its appearance in Eighth Edition

Ensnaring Bridge vs. Static Orb

One of the polls pitted two prison artifacts against each other: Ensnaring Bridge and Static Orb.  Ensnaring Bridge won. 

The Bridge keeps creatures from attacking with anything that has power greater than the number of cards in your hand, so it is really effective at shutting down any deck that plans to win the game by attacking.   The Bridge has gone on to be a key card in Modern. While it didn’t see play immediately in 2011, it did help enable Lantern Control, a deck that emerged in 2015.

Lantern Control decks look to lock the opponent out of attacking them so they can slowly rip their library apart with Codex Shredder. Lantern of Insight lets the player know what the opposing player will draw next, and you can just Shred any card they might draw that might be useful. 

This really wouldn’t be possible without Ensnaring Bridge, as creature-based decks would be able to run a Lantern Control player over without it. Once a Bridge is in play, it doesn’t really matter if the opposing player draws creatures, so you can just let them draw those as effectively blank cards. 

Between 2015 and 2019, Lantern Control decks amassed one Pro Tour Top 8, two World Magic Cup Top 8s and eight Grand Prix Top 8s. Without Ensnaring Bridge beating out Static Orb, that wouldn’t have happened.

Overall, that makes for a pretty impressive Modern resume. It has appeared somewhere in the 75 for decks that have Top 8’d 5 Pro Tours/Mythic Championships, 39 Grand Prix or MagicFest Top 8s and two World Magic Cups. It would be interesting to get a peek at an alternate reality where Static Orb won the poll instead of the Bridge, though.

Obliterate vs. Jokulhaups

I also want to talk about one poll I think could have had a big impact on Modern, had the other card won.  For some reason, people voted for Obliterate over Jokulhaups

I actually remember voting in this poll myself, because Jokulhaups was one of my favorite cards at age 14.  I don’t really remember how I voted on the others, but I remember this one because I was so disappointed that Obliterate was printed instead. 

In fact, I’m still disappointed! Jokulhaups is the superior card in most ways. Sure, it can be countered — but it costs two mana less and destroys all the same stuff. Eight mana is way too much for a board sweeper. 

Obliterate hasn’t even seen fringe play in Modern, and I’m reasonably confident Jokulhaups would at least see some play in Modern if it were legal there. There isn’t really a comparable card in the format, so it would at least be fairly unique. An alternate reality with Jokulhaups in Modern would be another interesting one to get a look at.

If you’re curious about the outcomes of the other polls, you can still find them on Magic.com! 

End step

So, that’s Eighth Edition — a surprisingly important core set for Magic. I think it would be really great if Wizards of the Coast decided to try out another promotion where players get to vote on which cards would appear in a reprint set. This seems like something that would be particularly appealing to commander players, because they could get some much-needed staples. 

Unfortunately, the promotion is almost 20 years old, and they have never implemented anything similar since then — so I don’t think there’s much of a shot. There’s no harm in hoping, though!