The History of Sharazad
Written by NamataGG3 To this day,
Shahrazad remains a unique and infamous card. However, few players are familiar with its long and colourful past. I hope you find the history
of this card as interesting as I do. I’ll start with the flavour of the card.
Arabian Nights was the first expansion for Magic. It introduced some… interesting cards.
This is the set that gave us such historical gems as Moorish Cavalry and Jihad. It also contained Aladdin,
Aladdin’s Lamp, and Aladdin’s Ring That doesn’t seem too odd, until you
consider that Disney’s Aladdin had just come out on videocassette a month or two before
the set’s release! It suffices to say the paradigm for Magic’s flavour was completely
different back then. Shahrazad is the name of a main character
from classical piece of medieval Arabic literature One Thousand and One Nights.
The spelling of the name itself is pretty interesting. Rather than using the correct scholarly transliteration
of the name, Scheherazade, Richard Garfield and the other Magic designers decided to use
the same stylized spelling used in the translation by Sir Richard Francis Burton, a legendary
adventurer/philosopher known for infiltrating Mecca publishing the Kama Sutra in the west,
and serving as a captain in the East India Company among many other things. Shahrazad’s role in the story is that of the narrator. After betraying her husband, the king Shahryar,
she tells him stories to delay her execution. That is to say, s he tells a story within a story, just
like Shahrazad the card creates a game within a game. Also, each story ends with a cliffhanger
so that the story never really ends. Doesn’t that remind you of
how the card works in a game of Magic? If you’re about to lose, just pull out Shahrazad
and play endless games so that you never get executed. It really is an amazingly flavorful card! The art on the card is awesome too! It oozes
flavour. It may look a little cartoonish compared to the quality of the card s now, but look
at Giant Strength, Celestial Prism, Word of Command, Pyramids, or most of the cards of
the time for that matter… they didn’t exactly have the same standards then as they do now. Now look at that lamp on Shahrazad. The magic lamp story is so overdone that you don’t
really get to see a lamp used as an actual lighting device anymore, but you do on Shahrazad! Plus how many other cards have a
woman beckoning to you from a bed? Here’s a final interesting
tidbit: tobacco wasn’t introduced to Persia until the Europeans brought it back from America.
Therefore, since One Thousand and One Nights comes from long before this, the hookah in
the foreground marks the first and to my knowledge only depiction of cannabis use on a Magic card. Okay, that’s probably more than you ever
wanted to know about the flavour of a card. Yet that’s just the start of the story of
Shahrazad. Let’s discuss how the card itself has been used (and abused!)
since it was printed 20 years ago. When Magic was first created, nobody imagined
what it would become. It was printed with the assumption that
local groups would just buy a few cards. There wasn’t supposed to be more
than one or two of any given rare in the few hundred groups of hardcore roleplaying/hobby enthusiasts that would actually buy more than the starter sets. When Arabian Nights was printed,
the game had been out for about 3 months. It was starting to take off,
but so far only Alpha and Beta had been printed and the assumption that rares
would actually be are still held. In fact, there wasn’t even a “4-in-a-deck” rule. It just wasn’t necessary because it was
impossible to get that many copies of a rare. Unless you were some sort of technology wizard,
you probably hadn’t even heard of the internet et alone online shopping. If you lived in
a major city that actually had a hobby store they wouldn’t have even thought to sell individual cards
from the game Magic: The Gathering. You can imagine why those who are lucky
enough to have those cards are able to sell them for thousands of dollars today. So where does Shahrazad fit in? Well, it made
the card usable. Fun and balanced even. If somebody actually had a Shahrazad in their
deck, they probably just had the one. On the rare occasions somebody played it, it just
added an interesting element of diversion to the game Once the card hit the graveyard,
it was probably going to stay there. The players had roughly the same chance of winning
the subgame as they did of winning the main game. Of course, every statement in this paragraph
became completely untrue as the game evolved… let’s go through them. “It made the card usable. Fun and balanced even.” Shahrazad is the only card outside of ante cards to
be banned in every Wizards-sanctioned format. Sure, it’s a weird, crazy card, but why did it get banned? Keep reading. “If somebody actually had a Shahrazad in their deck, they probably only had one. On the rare occasions somebody played it, it just added an interesting element of diversion to the game.” As Magic grew, this became completely untrue. People started finetuning decks and collecting multiples of powerful cards. The 4-of-a-card limit had to be introduced. Playing a subgame of Magic
once every few games might be fun but playing 2 or 3 subgames in
every game is just tiresome. This makes the most terrifying
element of Shahrazad to the table. If you have more than one in your deck, you
can play a subgame within a subgame. This is VERY tiresome.
If you thought the film Inception was confusing try keeping track of 3 (or more!) sets of life totals in a Magic game with multiple copies of Shahrazad. It’s not as fun as it sounds,
and it doesn’t sound all that fun. “Once the card hit the graveyard, it was probably
going to stay there.” In the original game of Magic, the graveyard was not nearly as much a part of the game as it is now. Today’s exile zone is more accessible than the graveyard of those times. Occasionally, a creature might gruesomely
be returned from the dead by black magic. But that creature probably got to the graveyard
the fair way, by dying in combat. When it came to reusing spells, only the unique
green spell Regrowth could do that although the temporal manipulation of Timetwister could also do it in a roundabout way. If anybody ever did make a Shahrazad/Regrowth deck, I’m sure it was a great joke but quickly became unpopular.
Two or three subgames is just tiresome. Nowadays, cards in the graveyard are almost
as easy to play as cards in your hand, if not easier. If somebody does have a Shahrazad recursion deck you can expect to play 2 or 3 subgames
every single turn of the main game. Ugh. Not to mention that it can
easily be copied by spells like Fork. That’s not even considering the
possibility subgames within subgames I shudder to think. “The players had roughly the same chance of winning
the subgame as they did of winning the main game” This brings us to a part of Shahrazad’s history
that many players are not familiar with. For a time, Shahrazad was one of the
most powerful cards in Magic. When Shahrazad was printed,
the exile zone hadn’t been invented yet. In fact, Arabian Nights introduced the concept of manipulating cards outside the game with Ring of Ma’ruf a concept so radical at the time that they italicized
the words “outside the game” on the original card just to show how awesome it was. Then Antiquities brought us Bronze Tablet,
a card so bizarre you’ll just have to look it up yourself. Basically, removing stuff from
the game was weird back then. Then, after Legends, The Dark came along
and made removing from the game a regular thing but not nearly as prevalent as exile is now. When stuff got removed from the game back then,
it was really gone. In fact, if it got removed from the game during a
Shahrazad subgame, it was gone in the main game too. As graveyard recursion and removing from
the game became more commonplace Shahrazad became not only a nuisance
(it was one of the first banned cards) but it also became a powerhouse! As soon as you could resolve a Shahrazad,
you could just slowly pick away at an opponent’s library within subgames until their deck
was removed from the game. Then you would just win the main game
due to the empty library draw rule. Another potential abuse strategy was to use
Shahrazad in a tournament sideboard. You would win the first game of a match as normal,
on your deck’s own merits. However, in sideboarding your deck would transform. Rather than trying to win,
you would try to drag the game out forever resulting in a draw for the second
game of the match due to time constraints and an overall match win. Sadly, stalling and delaying is still a
tactic sometimes employed by more unscrupulous tournament competitors,
but Shahrazad made it absurdly easy and effective. The process of mulligan-taking for a single
game alone could eat up several minutes. This potential for abuse is what ultimately led to the
banning of Shahrazad in Vintage and Legacy formats. For a long time, Shahrazad was up there with
Contract From Below as terrifyingly powerful cards that would dwarf the power 9, if only
they were legal. Of course, with the introduction of the exile zone, cards exiled by Shahrazad now return
to the original game, taking away its extreme power though not its extreme capacity to annoy. For years most copies of Shahrazad lay
squirrelled away in binders, unused and forgotten. With it being banned in all formats,
Shahrazad would very rarely show up in an actual game would very rarely show up in an actual game,
and even then only as an eccentric novelty. Shahrazad has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity lately. For a short time, the card was allowed in the
official Elder Dragon Highlander rules. The single-card rule prevented
game-within-a-game headaches. The casual tone of the format makes
delaying tactics pointless. Furthermore, EDH is the perfect
place to use strange and silly old cards. Unfortunately, those in charge of
the official EDH rules realized that the average player can’t be trusted not to copy
and recast Shahrazad and run games into oblivion and it has again become an
outlaw in all sanctioned formats So what’s the situation with Shahrazad now? Well, for one thing, it’s valuable. You can expect to pay about $40 for a used one
and even more for one in mint condition. Ironically, it’s also much easier
to obtain than it used to be 20 years ago. The savvier internet shopper could arrange to have one sent directly to his or her mailbox at the lowest available price in the world within
a minute of finishing this sentence. In the rare circles of friends that can
resist the urge to ruin games with it Shahrazad is even cast in EDH
or casual games every now and then! Hi guys, thanks for checking out
“The History of Shahrazad” If you wanna read the original text,
you can find it in the description. This episode was illustrated
by the very talented Jesse Kvist Todays honourable mention is “Un-seen” an article by Mark Rosewater, the head designer of magic, about a set that was never released.