Monday, March 12, 2018

Uncle Istvan: When is popularity worth being weird?

"My guess is that the people putting together Fourth Edition included Uncle Istvan because, “Hey, he’s Uncle Istvan! Everyone loves Uncle Istvan! Oh, man, he’s awesome!” I’ll admit to liking this card when I first saw it, too, and I know people are going to tell me how much they love(d) this weirdo, but I don’t think cards like this are great for the game"--Aaron Forsythe, Random Card Comment of the Day #23 10/27/2010

 
He's going to block for you



There you have it, Aaron Forsythe (former?) head of R&D bad mouthing Uncle Istvan, and his status as an outliner. In the full comment, he ignores design philosophies of the time ('It came out after Legends but acts like it doesn't exist'), insteading choosing to shill for newer cards or 'ones that accurately represent the game'. Actually for the sake of posterity, here is the full quote:




"I included Uncle Istvan on the Time Spiral “timeshifted” sheet because he’s so off-kilter, out of the color pie, and abnormal creatively that he’s memorable--a reminder of how odd some cards were all those years ago. The people that put him in Fourth Edition, I believe, did so because they thought he was a good, representative card that should be an ongoing part of Magic. Sheesh.

Things that are wrong with this card:

1) He’s named like a unique character but isn’t legendary. That sin is forgivable in pre-Legends sets, like with Arabian Nights’ Ali Baba and King Suleiman, but not here. The Dark came after Legends, yet pretends it doesn’t exist.
2) He’s named like a unique character but isn’t rare.
3) He’s an insane dude holding a bloody axe and he’s 1/3.
4) He’s a very black creature with a very white ability. That ability kind of made sense on Wall of Shadows in Legends, but not here.

My guess is that the people putting together Fourth Edition included Uncle Istvan because, “Hey, he’s Uncle Istvan! Everyone loves Uncle Istvan! Oh, man, he’s awesome!” I’ll admit to liking this card when I first saw it, too, and I know people are going to tell me how much they love(d) this weirdo, but I don’t think cards like this are great for the game.

People latch on to outliers because they’re outliers (see: Squirrels, Beebles). I’m okay with outliers as long as they make even a bit of sense. But ideally people’s favorite cards--the ones they talk about and show their friends--are ones that accurately represent the game, stuff like Serra Angel or Sarkhan the Mad. Now that’s a crazy dude I can get behind."


Is this a fair assessment of the card? No, it is not. Sure, the Uncle isn't legendary, but The Dark came out right after Legends, I'm almost certain this issue never even crossed anyone's minds. Instead he's something that has become all to rare in this day and get, he's memorable. Plus, as more then one person has said over the years 'he's not legendary, because everyone has that crazy uncle'.

Sure, he's only a 1/3, but going by the old assestments, 1 power was an unarmed human in peak physical condition, which means he's as strong as a human can hope to be, and a 3 toughness was that of an elephant, which meant he is no wimp. So the 1/3 is very fitting.

So what makes him memorable? Well first, he's a very well known American Horror Trope, basically the near unkillable psychopath, in the vein of Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Mike Myers, and so forth. It makes sense, since The Dark features numerous horror references, it's no surprise that this one is one, and for a long time, he was the only card to hold this trope. If you wanted you ax weilding maniac, you had to go to him. This also explains his 'non-black' ability, to endure an almost super human amount of harm. Plus, him being unkillable by creature damage in itself is entertaining. He might have no idea what an Eldrazi is, why the pretty boy Gideon is getting involved, or the complexities of a Wurmcoil Engine, but he can block them all day. Plus, the color pie can, and should be bent occasionally, especially on examples like this.

Then you have his creature type. As printed (excluding the Time Spiral one) he's 'Summon Uncle'. Yes, Magic had some strange creature types through most of it's history (Imagecrafter use to be a lot more enjoyable). Uncle, is actually one of the more entertaining one, and I know I'm not the only one who said 'I'm going to make a family deck' (that included Sisters of the Flame and Brothers of Fire). Throw in Grandmother Sengir and viola, family reunion.dec (with Feast of the Unicorn being the sit around dinner).

Then you have the art. This one is a treat, showing a demented angry hobo, living in the woods, with bones hanging off his clothes. He has a crazy beard, and a bloody axe, and the dark fog of the woods. In reality, it's a great piece, one that still gets fan art drawing of it to this day, and Daniel Gelon even made another portrait of him for the anniversary artbook.


"Wanna stay over for dinner?"

His update in the art book
In fact, miraculously his popularity hasn't diminished over time, in fact, him being in Time Spiral managed to help it thanks to modern and Innistrad.

There are photo's of cosplayers and alters all over the Internet, which show this crazed rednecks popularity.
My favorite alter though.
 He even got a miniature through 'Heartbreaker Miniatures'

The most expensive mini in the set.


Sadly, there is almost no lore on the guy. He is mentioned in the Ice Age book by name once, and he appears as a curse in the pre-revisionist novel 'Dark Legacy', which was a (now) non-canon book based on the Dark.


Regardless, its easy to see why, despite lack luster stats, he's so popular. It's because he's more then a swingy creature, or a build around me EDH general. He's a card, with a story, with atmosphere, with humor. I hope Mr. Forscythe can read this, and realize, why he's a memorable card, even a decade after his last printed, and why people love him, because we could sure use more cards like him in this day and age.

Also, next time you bad mouth a classic, don't plug in some random recently printed card.

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