Magic: The Gathering

5th Edition

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Set Information

The Fifth Edition of Magic: The Gathering was a revision of the base set released in March of 1997. It contained 449 cards, counting multiple illustrations of basic lands, making it the largest card set in the game's history. It was the first edition of the core set to reprint cards from the first 'Block' of expansions; Ice Age, Fallen Empires, and Homelands.

Like its predecessors, Revised and Fourth Editions, Fifth Edition made numerous changes to the game's rules and card mix. The set's designers stated in The Duelist that they wanted to prune from the base set cards that were too powerful or too weak. Many overpowered cards from Limited and Unlimited Editions had survived the past two rotations, including Channel, Balance, Black Vise (create), and Mind Twist (create), all of which had been restricted (i.e. limited to one per deck) or outright banned in Standard tournaments. Although they were removed from Fifth, a few powerful cards still survived, including Dark Ritual and Mana Vault (create). Many unpopular cards that the developers (and most players) considered too weak and narrow in function were also removed, including the "Laces" (Chaoslace, Deathlace, Lifelace, Purelace, & Thoughtlace), the "Wards" (Black Ward (create), Blue Ward (create), Green Ward (create), Red Ward (create), & White Ward (create)), and Fortified Area (create).

Unlike its predecessors, though, Fifth Edition also removed many cards that Magic's Design and Development team saw as just a little bit too good, but not quite so powerful as to heavily disrupt tournaments, including Savannah Lions, Serra Angel, Hypnotic Specter, Sengir Vampire, Lightning Bolt, and Swords to Plowshares. Many of these cards were brought back in later sets after the designers had re-evaluated their impact on play. A few cards that were in Revised but had been cut from Fourth were brought back as well, including Atog and Shatterstorm.

Fifth Edition also set a new precedent by changing the artwork and/or Flavor Text on many cards, especially the five basic lands, each of which was given four new illustrations to replace its original three. This was done so that WotC would not have to continue to pay for the use of many arts done for earlier sets, as originally artists were paid royalties for their artwork being used, instead of a flat fee as is done today for new Magic art.

Fifth Edition was the first version of the base set to reprint cards from the Fallen Empires and Homelands expansion sets; it also reprinted more cards from those sets than any other version of the base set has. Because those expansion sets were perceived by many players as weak, there was and still is some dissatisfaction with the Fifth Edition card mix. However, many of the reprinted cards were good enough to be used in tournaments, and at least one Ice Age card was later declared broken. Boxes of Fifth Edition currently reach about the same prices on eBay that boxes of more recent sets are retailing for. This is opposed to boxes of 4th Edition which go for much higher, and to boxes of Fallen Empires and Homelands which are probably the cheapest boxes anyone can find to buy that are tournament legal.

Fifth Edition was the first version of the base set to use the cosmetic changes that were introduced in the Mirage expansion (including a slightly expanded text box and bolder, more visible power/toughness numbers) It was also the last version of the base set to use what are sometimes referred to as the "old rules". The rules were drastically changed in 6th Edition, and the rules from that set onward are usually called the "new rules". The term "Fifth Edition rules" is sometimes used to refer to all versions of the rules before this change, and the term "Sixth Edition rules" to refer to all versions of the rules afterward. Most notably 5th edition was the last Core Set to feature game concepts like 'fast effects' and 'interrupts', being replaced by the stack in 6th Edition, and all spells being either Instants or Sorceries.

Famous cards introduced to the core set
Although Fifth Edition contained no new cards, several already-existing cards were reprinted in the basic set for the first time, thus making a new impact on tournament play. They include:

  • Ice Age "painlands"': With the removal of the original "dual lands" (lands which could produce mana of two colors with essentially no drawbacks), Fourth Edition printed no such lands to assist multi-color decks. Fifth Edition filled the void by reprinting Ice Ages Karplusan Forest, Adarkar Wastes, Sulfurous Springs, Brushland, and Underground River, which can produce two different colors of mana but damage their controller when used that way. They have reappeared in three of the subsequent four editions of the base set.
  • Necropotence: This Ice Age card had dominated tournaments in 1996, and so many players were surprised to see it return. Although still the basis of powerful decks, the loss of support cards like Hypnotic Specter helped keep its power in check somewhat. Mark Rosewater, a chief Magic designer for many of the future sets, has said that even though it was acknowledged that Necropotence was a powerful, if not too powerful, card it did change and affect the environment in a way that made it interesting and fun.
  • Force Spike: An overlooked card from Legends, Force Spike did not appear powerful at first. But the ability to disrupt the way an aggressive opponent plays the first few turns of the game has proven it a useful tool for blue control players time and time again.

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