One of the easiest and more amusing telltale signs of whether you’re interacting with a Magic player of 15 plus years is to simply show them a card from the first five years of the game and see how they react to the artwork. Not the text or the classic-style frame, but the artwork itself. Generally speaking, someone not of that era is going to either be confused or completely unimpressed by the caliber of the illustrations being shown. Mostly because of how different they look compared to the artwork we’ve come to expect from modern Magic.
When Magic: the Gathering first began, it didn’t have the reach, popularity, and resources that it does today, leaving the game to debut with an understandably shoestring budget. Back then, Magic was a then-unknown game by an equally unknown Wizards of the Coast. To facilitate the need of unique artwork for several hundred cards, they did exactly what you’d expect any game in their situation to do: commission as much artwork as they could from whomever was willing to work with them on creating illustrations that matched the card’s flavor – all while staying within their budget.
The artists who responded brought with them a wide array of artistic styles and mediums, from watercolors to oil paintings; highly detailed landscapes to surrealist interpretations; dark and foreboding to the almost jarringly cartoonish. And because of the financial restraints they were under, many of the artists who became part of the game’s founding were relative unknowns at the time, as their careers were just getting started.
In short, the artwork at the birth of the game wasn’t anything close to the polished, uniform style that we’ve become accustomed to in the last decade or so. Quite the contrary.
Yet to most old timers such as myself, these pieces of art elicit positive emotional responses even now in part due to nostalgia, sure, but also partially because the look was diverse. These variations on tone, style, and yes, even quality, helped provide much needed visual character upon entering the market with the radical new concept of being a collectible trading card game. That is a fondness that’s hard to erase, even if the overall ‘look’ of the game has improved over time.
All that being said, I’ll be the first to admit that because of this, I (as well as others) sometimes had a tendency to confuse one for another when glancing at certain cards that shared a lot of similarities – usually because they were drawn by the same artist and using very similar motifs.
One such instance was two core edition Red enchantments: Manabarbs and Mana Flare. With nearly identical mana costs, associated effects, and both drawn by artist Christopher Rush, they were easy to confuse upon brief glimpse. Manabarbs says that whenever a land is tapped for mana, its controller takes a damage. Meanwhile, Mana Flare states that whenever a land is tapped for mana, its controller adds an additional mana (an effect that quickly became a Green thing ever since).
The other reason it can be easy to conflate these two cards? Because it wasn’t uncommon back then to run both of them in a casual Red deck. Depending on your goals, it was a common tactic to play off the notion of whether you wanted to either help other players or hurt them. Or, well, both.
Which is probably why a number of years later, Wizards decided to go ahead and make a card that combined the two of them into one painfully beneficial effect. That card also happens to be this week’s pick.
Today we have: Overabundance
Focus: Mana Acceleration / Damage Dealing
Highlights: Reflecting the color pie shift of extra mana generation for everyone into Green, Overabundance became a multicolor enchantment that hearkened back to those early Red-centric pain or pleasure decks. However, not only did Overabundance become far more efficient to cast – a paltry three mana versus the seven needed for both Mana Flare and Manabarbs – but it also reduced the amount of deck slots needed from two cards to one. It also happened to be put in the color pair that arguably could benefit the most from this paired effect, allowing you to leverage both spells and creatures as you saw fit.
Mechanically speaking, Overabundance is incredibly simple, providing two (or more) mana for each land someone taps while also doing damage to them in the process.
That’s…it. There is no option to choose one or the other.
On the one hand, Overabundance provides access to at least twice as much mana as you would otherwise, allowing you to cast more spells and spells with larger casting costs more quickly. On the other, like a poison or a curse, you are simultaneously going to be punished for such a gift. The more frequently you tap your lands, the more it’s going to hurt.
Overabundance can be useful in Commander games to that end primarily for two reasons. First is that some players don’t like cards such as Vernal Bloom or Dictate of Karametra which provide an up-tempo boost to everyone, especially on the fear that your opponents will benefit from it more than you will. (I personally call such situations a Howling Paradox, after Howling Mine.) If your opponent ends up with more lands or can put out more powerful cards than you as a result of your own enchantment, it makes it less worthwhile to use them. While many Green enchantments exist that provide one-sided mana acceleration, they’re usually more costly to cast and are incredibly obvious targets for removal.
It’s also why when you do usually see Bloom-style enchantments used in EDH, it’s usually either because that player is willing to take that risk, or because they have deliberately tailored their deck to ensure that they can use the up-tempo mana pacing to combo their way into some kind of anticlimactic win. In which case, yay? That sounds fun for everyone…
Overabundance by contrast provides a universal mana advantage for everyone, but because it comes with a damage quotient, those who dip into the well too much or too quickly become more even more advantageous targets as their board state becomes more dangerous and life total decreases.
The second, and more practical effect, is that because it is ramping up both mana access and damage to your game, Overabundance can help slightly reduce the average play time of a typical Commander game. This allows players to do more things but not have it merely be an all-upside ramping of the board state. Which is why compared to most similar-styled cards, it’s a bit more likely to hang around.
Ironically, the one thing that I do find rather forgettable about Overabundance? The artwork. Not bad. Just, not all that memorable either. Much like a lot of art pieces in the years hence…
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
You can discuss this article over on our social media!