With the release of From the Vault: Legends next week coming fast, we are going to be getting a second look at some very old cards that are very unique in Magic. Legendary creatures are very unique on their own, only being able to have one of them with the same name out at a time, but there are two cards in this little package that are unique even in the Magic world: Cao Cao and Sun Quan. Interestingly enough, these cards are based on real people. This effectively shows that our world is also one of the many worlds that make up the multiverse of Magic: The Gathering.
Cao Cao and Sun Quan are both from the set Portal Three Kingdoms, based on the Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The novel portrays the events of three separate kingdoms vying for the Imperial Throne of China after the Han dynasty was overthrown in 169 and split apart. This time period and the novel that was inspired by it has been a popular source of material for all types of games, most notably perhaps the video game series Dynasty Warriors. Of course, this was also the inspiration for Portal Three Kingdoms, a whole set of Magic cards.
Portal Three Kingdoms, released in 1999, was the third of the Portal sets, made up of very simple cards used to introduce players into the game of Magic. This set was released for East Asian and other Pacific markets with English cards mostly in Australia. Naturally, being based on Chinese history, it didn’t have a whole lot of the fantasy stuff we come to expect from Magic these days. There were no elves or goblins and hardly any, well, Magic. Because of this an ability like flying wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, though it was still pretty important to have some type of evasion to put on creatures. Horsemanship is the Portal Three Kingdoms version of flying and it works exactly the same way.
If a creature with horsemanship attacks, only creatures with horsemanship themselves are able to catch up and block. It makes great sense for the set, but now it’s a little weird when we have Armored Warhorse and it can’t block against creatures that have horsemanship. Most of the time in legacy or casual games the horsemanship ability is going to be equal to unblockable. With Sun Quan being reprinted for this From the Vault set we will now get the chance to make use of this powerful ability. This card is definitely a great pick that was made more in the interest of fun than actual competitive cards and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing the faces of my friends as I play Sun Quan and react to this ability they would have never seen otherwise. The real nice thing is that Sun Quan isn’t really all that bad a card. You get a 4/4 for 6 mana, which is not too bad considering it is a blue card that can survive a Lightning Bolt. Really what makes the card great though is that it gives all of your creatures horsemanship, including himself. What could be better than winning a game by putting your Sphinx of Uthuun
Sphinx of Uthuun on a horse and riding past all your opponent’s flyers to victory?
The other side of Portal Three Kingdoms in this package comes in the form of Cao Cao, Lord of Wei. You get a pretty strong 3/3 character for 5 mana, but like any good rare the best part about him is his ability. It’s a very straightforward ability that allows you to simply tap him to have your opponent discard two cards. It’s probably about as close to instant-speed discard as it gets in Magic, being as fast as an instant but you are forced to use it during your turn before you attack. It’s not too big a deal, since forcing your opponent to discard will rarely affect the game unless a spell on the stack is counting cards in hand or something. It can be weird not being able to use the ability after attacking, as the may draw cards after your attack, but this is an ability you can use to get rid of two cards every turn. There aren’t really any nifty tricks about Cao Cao, he’s just a good engine for discard that is a great fit in decks that use Megrim
Megrimor Liliana’s Caress
These two were probably a big surprise to everyone that looked through the list of cards in the From the Vault: Legends set but they do show an interesting period of Magic. Our world is a part of the Magic multiverse, and if the flavor text from historical novels aren’t a big enough clue, cards like these and the whole Portal Three Kingdoms set are one of the best ways to prove it. It’s pretty neat to get a curveball from the wizards at Magic at times with cards that are more focused on interesting interactions between cards or even the sometimes goofy history of the game.