A Tribute to Chaos Orb: A True Icon of Magic
- Pietro Cavalletti
The card Chaos Orb is a true icon in MTG, but it's banned in every WotC format because of the dexterity required to use it. The introduction of the 93/94 and Alpha 40 formats, however, has led to a resurgence of the "flipping mania" meta.
Have you ever seen those videos where a Magic player shouts and gets up with a card in hard then flips the card on the table? That's Chaos Orb in action! The card is proudly back like a long-forgotten talisman, like the true Holy Grail of Magic: The Gathering.
Source: YouTube - Tom Andrews, February 2016
The Brief History of Chaos
First printed in the mighty 1993 Alpha set, Magic's very first release, Chaos Orb is among the most iconic and sought-after cards, together with the Power 9 and other legendary cards like Juzám Djinn and Library of Alexandria.
The card's success is not only due to the wonderful artwork of Mark Tedin, but also for its mechanic. "Flip Chaos Orb onto the playing area from a height of at least one foot…" is undoubtedly one of the most creative and funniest of all Magic cards up to date.
It was also one the most powerful cards during Magic's "wild" period, which lasted until January 25, 1994 when Wizards of the Coast released the first Banned / Restricted List. But at that time, Chaos Orb was still legal. The card was only added to the Restricted List later in August of the same year along with a bunch of mythic cards like Underworld Dreams, Mind Twist, and Mirror Universe. Falling Star, a card with a similar dynamic to the Orb, was also restricted at that same time.
The card was then fully banned in November 1995 and has not been playable in any format for almost 20 years. That is until 93/94 raised the Orb from its grave. Chaos Orb is now gaining monetary value day after day, reaching the same value as Moxes in its Alpha and Beta versions.
Latest News: In February 1, 2019, Eternal Central announced a new erratum for the card, changing its wording to clarify some issues about the actual flipping of the card and its effectivity.
It's been more than 25 years and Chaos Orb is still a card that generates discussion, together with an unchanged passion towards it and its charming effect.
An Illustration of Chaos
A short section – but absolutely deserving – goes to the art of the card, a true masterpiece by Mark Tedin. The image of Chaos Orb is definitely one of the reasons for its popularity. The animated Orb vomiting lava while grinning has been inspiration to many profile pictures on Facebook, alters, playmats, t-shirts, etc.
Card Text and Its Interpretations Throughout the Years
One of the reasons that led to the banning of Chaos Orb was that it was hard to manage in a competitive game. Furthermore, the card text lead to a few misinterpretations.
Basically, Chaos Orb requires you to physically flip the card into the air like a coin. When (if) Chaos Orb lands on other cards, you destroy those cards. The text also specifically states that Chaos Orb has to be flipped from a height of at least one foot and it has to turn completely at least once.
It's not hard to understand why Chaos Orb is extremely powerful, able to potentially destroy several cards for only three mana and during the same turn in which it is played! Keep in mind that Magic players tend to place their lands close together on the board, which means that you could decimate your opponent's field with a single card.
The actual reason, however, why Chaos Orb was banned was simply because tournament judges didn't want to have to deal with having to decide (without seeing the actual action) whether someone flipped the card in the correct manner or if the Orb touched a card or not. I personally think that the real problem is not in its "dexterity", but in the issues that the card can raise – especially after what happened in the case that I will describe in the next paragraph.
The Breaking Point and the Legend of the Torn Orb
For a time, Chaos Orb was actually able to resist bannings and limitations, probably because of below:
- The card introduced a "funny" dimension of Magic in its first years of life.
- There were other more "problematic" cards that had to be dealt with at that time, such as the P9 and other absolute bombs.
In the few years when the Orb was played, rumors were reported of cases wherein the card was used in "underhanded" ways to maximize its impact. The most-known legend is the one about a Pro Player (some say it was Kai Budde, others say it was Mark Justice; everyone has a different version).
During the final match of an important tournament, the player, being at a disadvantage, decided to literally tear his Chaos Orb into pieces, then launch them in the air to touch almost all of the opponent's cards, thus obliterating his board and winning the game. Legend says that this was evaluted as legal by the judge, but the player was disqualified afterwards for having, at that point, a deck of only 59 cards.
Whether or not this story is true, it's for sure become a part Magic history as one of the game's most popular legends, and has even led to the card's lifetime ban from competitive Magic. The legend also resulted in the creation of Chaos Confetti, printed in Unglued (1998).
I did some research on this card and came across the "Ask Wizards" of December 2002, where DCI Manager Jeff Donais said:
When Mark Rosewater was working on the Unglued set, he called a bunch of people and asked them if they had ideas for cards. My idea was to recreate the story of a person ripping up their Chaos Orb. I submitted my idea for a card I called, 'The Real Chaos Orb'. It was exactly how you see the card Chaos Confetti, including the flavor text, 'And you thought that was just an urban legend.' Mark even got Mark Tedin, the original artist for Chaos Orb, to do the art for Chaos Confetti. I have the original Confetti artwork at home to celebrate my first Magic card officially designed.
A testament to the mythic appeal of the card, other sought-after products that were created from Chaos Orb are the Oversized 6x9 Promos version, released in 1997 and the Ultra-Pro Puzzle Cards version, released in 1996 in nine rare pieces.
Guess: What's the only other card that has had this honor? The Black Lotus!
When I first approached the Old School format in 2015, Chaos Orb was just floating on a few dozen Euros for its Unlimited version. Now, the same version starts at 550,00 €. It's potential, however, has always remained the same.
In 93/94, the card was reworded from its original text to a more "rational" one:
1, Tap: Choose a non-token permanent on the battlefield. If Chaos Orb is on the battlefield, flip Chaos Orb onto the battlefield from a height of at least one foot. If Chaos Orb turns over completely at least 360 degrees during the flip, and lands resting on the chosen permanent, destroy that permanent. Then destroy Chaos Orb.
Substantial clarification was done on the technical aspect of the flip. More importantly, a limitation was added. The card can only target one permanent that must be chosen at the moment of the activation. These changes made the card more playable in tournaments and increased its reasonable reliability, even though there are still disputes about the "quality of the flipping" and if it "touched the card or not".
The case is diffirent, however, in Alpha 40 where the card's Alpha text and function remain as is. As a result, Alpha 40 players place their cards more distantly from one another. It still produces devastating effects though, as you can see in the picture below.
Keep in mind that in the end, Old School and Alpha games are fun. Thus, a fun and iconic card like Chaos Orb perfectly fits the spirit of the formats.
Now, Chaos Orb is back in its popularity, especially in Old School tournaments. When a match ends in a draw, a Chaos Orb-flipping contest with "sudden death" can decide the winner! In 2018, Chaos Orb was also the protagonist of the Eternal Weekend Vintage Championship playmat, a collectible that is already proving hard to find. (Thankfully, Cardmarket has... five!)
Do you want one last piece of advice?
Considering how much a Chaos Orb is worth today…
Use ANOTHER card to practice the flipping!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.