Forgotten Heroes: Benalish Hero
The clerics who wrote the Benalish history books were clearly kissing up to the knights leaving out the part of the narrative concerned with the common people. Challenging the Great Man Theory with some historie vue d'en bas et non d'en haut, Sancho tries to give a voice to the disenfranchised Benalish Hero.
Wie Es Eigenlich Gewesen Ist – As It Really Happened.
Newcomers to Magic might think of the History of Benalia as a knightly affair with mounted warriors on white steeds jousting it out in tournaments and clashing in shiny armor on the battlefields of Dominaria. That is the history they have been told and the history recorded for posterior in the beautiful stained-glass artwork decorating the churches and cathedrals of Serra.
But Benalia's past is so much more than the history of great men and Benalish Marshals leading their armies into grand battle, when you scratch the surface and dig into the layers of sediment left by the common people. Little has been recorded about the people's history of Benalia, the history of those heroes that bravely made their stand on kitchen tables around the world and who even took down mighty dragons of Shiv and seemingly unstoppable Craw Wurms thanks to their corporation – an ability which was called banding in the early times of the nation's history, when its complex caste system was still guided by the lunar cycle. It is time to get the facts straight put things in their place and in the words of Leopold von Ranke, the father of modern history writing, look at Benalia's history as it really happened. Let's look at the history of the common Benalish Hero.
I'm with the Band
In the mid-nineties when Magic first appeared, it seemed like everyone I knew was in a band, be it grunge, punk, death metal or experimental acid-jazz-grind-core-performance-art. I was in on all of it – except grunge, because the only thing out of Seattle I enjoyed those days was the highly addictive cardboard crack from Wizards of the Coast. But even Magic had its bands and guessing by the looks of their members with the likes of Benalish Hero, Mesa Pegasus, and Pikemen, they must have sounded just like Richie Blackmore's Rainbow. And honestly, the lyrics about heroes, dragons and bold adventure penned by Ronnie James Dio some decades earlier would have made for a better soundtrack to the epic lunch room and kitchen table battles than whatever it was Nirvana and Pearl Jam sang about.
While everybody understood what a band was (be it a brave band of adventurers or a death metal band in studded leather and big boots) explanations about the finer details of how banding worked in Magic were lost on most people. I suppose that one major obstacle to comprehend banding was that it is really two quite different abilities in one single keyword and taking the five minutes to read the rules covering banding was not something most casual players were willing to invest. It was much easier to call someone over, if a board state arose in which it seemed that banding mattered. Being one of the few to actually take the time to read and understand the rule, I was indeed often called over to a table in the lunchroom to help in just those situations, and it was mostly for my knowledge on the subject of banding, that I was considered a rules oracle by some of my Magic playing friends back then. Most of those times it was not surprisingly the presence of the common Benalish Hero on the battlefield that lead to the questions.
We Could Be Heroes
While the later so celebrated Benalish Knights were off fighting windmills and serenading fair maidens the Benalish Hero stood their test on the battlefield time and time again, easily summoned by a single white mana as they were and readily available popping up in every other brown Revised booster wrapper – or so it seemed. The hero was there from the beginning, being printed for the first time in the original Alpha Limited Edition and that printing unsurprisingly remains the most expensive printed version of the card starting at just a little above 20 € – excluding the more elusive misprints from the so-called Summer Magic set, which are a lot pricier with only three for sale on Cardmarket at the time of writing beginning at 200 €.
All versions have the same stern female character on a plain yellow background as the illustration – and no, it is not intentional that I once again have chosen a card illustrated by Douglas Shuler (misspelled Schuler on the early versions) for a Forgotten Heroes article. Shuler was never one of my favorite Magic artists, but I can't rule out doing an art piece on him and Melissa Benson at some point. Besides changing border color from black to white between Beta and Unlimited and correcting the name of the artist between Unlimited and Revised editions, the only other change the card saw during the time it was in print was that the keyword Banding was called Bands up to and including Revised edition. Benalish Hero remained in the core set up through 4th and 5th Edition after which she disappeared, never to be seen again.
While old heroes may never die, Benalish Hero has forever faded away into obscurity and it is most certainly one of the least likely Magic cards to ever see a reprint. First of all, despite being played a lot when only a few hundred different Magic cards existed, it never made any impact, and today a 1/1 creature with an obscure and convoluted keyword attached to it is just not good enough to include in anything but the most casual of decks. And most casual players never really got banding, which is another good reason to assume that Benalish Hero or indeed any of the 40 white- or black-bordered cards mentioning banding will never see print again (41 if we include the silver-bordered sets). After the Weatherlight expansion banding was never seen in another tournament legal set. But even as the hero fades away after one last time in the limelight, I think this card remains one of the most iconic Magic cards, since even those who did not have a collection large enough to get a rare Shivan Dragon or even an uncommon Serra Angel most likely did have at least one Benalish Hero representing from the beginning white as the color of going wide. Let's raise our Ivory Cups in one last salute for Benalish Hero.
As always, I look forward to reading what you have to say about the subject be it your personal stories involving Benalish Hero, your views on the historiography and history of Benalia, or your plans to use Helm of Chatzuk in your Wall-themed Commander deck to confuse your playgroup or teach them about Banding.
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