Looking at a Random Card: Plague Rats

(What am I doing here? Read here!)

Plague Rats: My 10th entry  – and what do I get? A black creature. The irony! And even better: It’s a card I already talked about (kinda). Oh well, here we go!

I won’t repeat everything I already said about Swarm of Rats, though. I’ll just note that Plague Rats doesn’t count all rats, only Plague Rats (at least regardless of who controls them, although that’s unlikely to be a bonus). Pretty obviously, this card’s design predates the 4-copy-maximum for each card other than basic lands and was intended to be a card players would collect in large numbers to build decks with. If you weren’t around playing Magic at that time, but aren’t a complete newbie, you will recognize these rats as the direct precursor of Relentless Rats, which increased this card’s power to the point were it became at least remotely interesting and explicitly overrode the 4-of-rule to capture the original intent.

Actually, back in the day, the Plague Rats deck was something players feared, but this can, in hindsight, be entirely attributed to almost everyone simply not having a clue about Magic strategy then. Looked at from a modern perspective, this card is inexcusably weak, seeing that even the clearly superior Relentless Rats never amounted to anything. I want to add that the whole underlying concept isn’t exactly fun, leading to extremely boring decks and even more boring gameplay. WotC (and especially MaRo) love breaking rules, but the 4-of-rule shouldn’t be broken – I can see nothing good coming from it.

Even in limited, this concept is rather useless. Coldsnap explored it in an unusually small environment, and it wasn’t good even there, just annoying. Even if that small set was drafted all by itself, and even if a player was the only one interested in a certain card which got better in multiples, he couldn’t rely on getting to the criticial mass due to the fact that, on average, there were only 4.4 copies of each card in the whole draft! Making a set even smaller is obviously a bad idea, so the only option to make this concept work would be to make these cards more common than other commons (twice as common would do, I guess). If you think this could be fun, you probably think like MaRo does. If you think like I do, you won’t think this would be fun. There’s just no need to cram a large number of copies of a single card into an environment – instead of cards referring only to their own name, you just use broader categories (like, say, creature types), and you have all the fun of collecting and building up synergy without sacrificing too much variety.

So, the concept is inherently flawed, and in addition the execution is terrible. One good thing is left to say about Plague Rats: They ARE flavorful! (And I once did a very fun Roleplaying/Magic crossover using them, for what it’s worth.) However, in my book this just means that they deserved a better design even more: They’re a total failure, and in contrast to Swarm of Rats, not even the future printing of other cards could help that. They haven’t been breaking anything, so there’s no need to hand out an F, and I will allow their cool flavor (including the original Coleridge quote) to save them from having a minus added to their grade due to their fun-endangering basic concept, but that’s it: They get an E from me.

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One Comment on “Looking at a Random Card: Plague Rats”

  1. arcanion Says:

    It’s interesting that you get so many rats (which is probably a good thing as they get better in numbers – oh wait, not when you want to discuss interesting cards, the irony…)
    I have to admit I like the “rat concept”. Small black creatures that get better if you have more to swarm your opponent…kinda a very early prototype version of slivers.

    Would have liked to see a Rat tribal thing in a set for once. Rats tacked on with some more interesting abilities maybe. the question is, is it really a black thing other than flavour? I guess every color needs some creature based things, black has vampires nowaydays so it’s probably ok.

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