Recurring Nightmare | Exodus | Art by Jeff Laubenstein
11, Jun, 24

Modern Horizons 3 Almost Included a Reserved List Reprint!

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Magic players are the first to complain when Wizards of the Coast pushes the power level of a new card or set too far. Heck, they’ll often complain before they even have the product in question in their hands. You can look back over Modern Horizons 3 previews on Reddit for plentiful evidence of that.

As if the cards we get weren’t powerful enough, during development, Wizards often design some absolute monsters. Typically, these cards never see the light of day, however, MTG players are sometimes treated to a peek behind the curtain. After getting one such peek into Modern Horizons 3, it seems this set almost featured a straight-up Reserved List reprint!

A True Recurring Nightmare

Recurring Nightmare | Tempest Remastered

The Reserved List card in question is Recurring Nightmare, an enchantment from way back in Exodus. It’s one of the elite few cards that can boast they’ve been banned in Commander. This is a high honor indeed, given how lax Commander typically is on shenanigans.

What makes it so good? Well, for three mana Recurring Nightmare lets you sacrifice a creature to reanimate something from your graveyard. As a one-off effect, would be quite powerful since a humble 1/1 token can become an Emrakul. Recurring Nightmare, however, is not a one-time effect. Instead, you can use it over and over again.

This turns the card into a grindy value engine, letting you loop a couple of big creatures with powerful etb triggers. Alternatively, it can win the game on the spot through one combo or another. It’s simply very flexible and powerful. This makes the fact Wizards of the Coast was considering reprinting it downright scary!

As revealed in Mark Rosewater’s Expanding Your Horizons: Energy article, the card that eventually became Chthonian Nightmare was originally just a full-on Recurring Nightmare reprint. “During set design, the team got the idea to explore adding Recurring Nightmare to Modern.” Rosewater notes in the article, “Recurring Nightmare is a powerful card, so this just shows that they were willing to experiment with bold reprints.”

Casually Breaking The Reserved List

Beyond Recurring Nightmare being a powerful card that would be sure to warp Modern, the card is also on the Reserved List. Due to this, Wizards of the Coast has promised that the card will never be reprinted, not even in a Modern Horizons set. Obviously, this makes the suggestion to potentially reprint Recurring Nightmare baffling.

While Wizards didn’t go ahead with their reprint of Recurring Nightmare this development story shows they were considering it. As a result, you may wonder what might have happened should Wizards have pushed this design into production. Could Modern Horizons 3 have marked the end of the Reserved List as we know it?

Sadly, despite the many MTG players who would like the Reserved List gone, this reprint likely never would have gone through. Confirming this suspicion, Mark Rosewater recently spoke out on Blogatog about the possibility. Dismissing the faintest chance of the Reserved List’s removal, Rosewater mused that this was just a development quirk.

“It’s possible they put it in and then remembered they couldn’t. I just know it was in the file for a short blip. Maybe they were getting a sense of it knowing they’d tweak it later.”

Mark Rosewater

Ultimately, it’s definitely for the better that Wizards of the Coast didn’t break the Reserved List for Modern Horizons 3. Not only would breaking this promise cause untold chaos and potentially even lawsuits, but Recurring Nightmare could massively warp Modern. Thank goodness we got a fixed version instead.

The ‘Fixed’ Version

Chthonian Nightmare | Modern Horizons 3

So the Recurring Nightmare reprint was abandoned, thank god. We did get a Reserved List card of sorts in Modern Horizons 3, though. That card is Chthonian Nightmare, and it’s effectively a side-grade of Recurring Nightmare. In some ways, it’s better, and in some, it’s far worse.

The biggest difference here is that Chthonian Nightmare can’t reanimate just any creature, but rather only a creature with a mana value equal to or lower than your Energy total. It gives you three Energy on entry, which is solid, but it’ll need a lot of support to reanimate the chonkers Recurring Nightmare could. As a trade-off, it costs one mana less. This makes it a better option than Recurring for looping small utility creatures.

A subtle, but important, difference between the two cards is the addition of an etb trigger on Chthonian Nightmare. Recurring Nightmare never had one, which meant there was no window for other players to respond to it once played. This made it very, very difficult to remove. Chthonian Nightmare has an etb trigger, which removes this element. It does provide additional value, however, so it’s not all bad news.

Ultimately, Chthonian Nightmare feels very much like a ‘fixed’ Recurring Nightmare, and that’s a great thing. Elsewhere in Expanding Your Horizons: Energy, Rosewater revealed several alternate versions that were experimented with during design, all of which were interesting in their own way.

Most were creatures, a few cared about Clerics specifically, and all were a lot more expensive than what we actually got. One design, titled ‘Frankenstein’s Exchange,’ was only one mana and one Energy away from the final version. It just goes to show how extensive Magic’s playtesting and iteration processes are.

Sneaking Around The Reserved List

While it’s too early to tell for sure, Chthonian Nightmare seems like a major design success from my perspective. It takes a classic card, modifies it to remove the unfun play patterns, and gives it some additional edges to balance things out. It’s the perfect way to bring Recurring Nightmare into Modern, and back into Commander, in other words.

This process also represents one of the deft ways in which Wizards of the Coast can sidestep the limitations of the Reserved List. While the List is largely only an issue for those who play Legacy or Vintage, since it drives up the prices of old-school cards so much, it affects all players in subtler ways.

There are 572 cards in total on the List, all of which come from Magic’s earliest sets. These were formative expansions for the game, where fun, experimental designs were commonplace. Recurring Nightmare is just one example among many. Many modern players would love to try these wacky cards out in Commander, but can’t due to the Reserved List’s devastating impact on prices.

By printing cards like Chthonian Nightmare, in sets like Modern Horizons 3, Wizards can remedy this problem somewhat. Love or hate the Reserved List, it’s undoubtedly a core pillar of the game Magic is today. Through clever sidegrades, Wizards can preserve that pillar while still letting new players have their fun.

Read More: Pricey New MH3 Commander Decks Plagued By Major Printing Error!

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