Looking at a Random Card: Johan
(What am I doing here? Read here!)
Johan: When Legends came out, the concept of legendary creatures was brand-new, as was the concept of multicolored cards, and both were only used in conjunction with each other. While it was clear from this setup, but also from their flavor that these multicolored legendary creatures were supposed to be awesome, their designers simply failed to deliver here in most cases, although the severe underprinting of Legends made these cards at least hard to find and thus desirable on a basis which had little to do with their actual play value.
Johan isn’t the worst example, but looked at with a modern eye he is still quite unexplainable. A green-centered three-colored legend which grants vigilance already looks a bit strange, but is not too far from the tenets of the color pie. The strange restriction imposed here that Johan himself can not attack if you want that bonus (and may also not be tapped for other reasons) should make you scratch your head, though – and if you’re into templating and the art of making older cards working within today’s rules, groaning while reading Johan’s oracle text. So you’re supposed to spend 6 mana on a 5/4 creature (underwhelming even by creature standards back then, by the way), in three colors nonetheless – and then not attack with it? Why again? Hmm… okay, your other creatures have vigilance then, nice, but maybe simply attacking with your 5/4 would just be more useful… and if so, why not just play a bigger attacker that is easier to cast, like, for example, Craw Wurm?
Let’s stop here: Whenever there is even a doubt that a creature might compare unfavorably to Craw Wurm, obviously something is seriously amiss. Envision Johan to be 6/6 for the same cost, and its ability just reading “Creatures you control have vigilance”… and you know what? It would still not be awesome. It wouldn’t even be good. Even for limited purposes, you wouldn’t need to worry that this legend was too strong, but rather ask yourself if it was actually strong enough to lure people into playing 3 colors (the answer depends on the exact environment, I guess). In any case, you would ask yourself why a green-centered legend gives your creatures vigilance – oh, and why on earth it is a wizard!
Johan is a complete design failure. He is the product of a completely unexperienced design team (designed before Magic was even officially released, if I remember correctly), and it shows. The power level of multicolored cards in legends varied wildly; many mechanics were unintuitive, just strange, plain broken or even useless; and mana costs – including colors – seem to have been assigned with some special die. By modern standards, the whole set Legends is little more than a bad joke at the expense of the players.
Of course I do not rate cards according to the low design standards of earlier times, but usually I like to remind my readers that the knowledge needed to design good cards had to develop over the course of the years. In this case, though, I will not let this card’s designers get off easily: Even considering the lack of design knowledge which has to be excused, this is just uncaring, thoughtless design. I fail to see even a raw idea which is interesting, and also neither concept nor flavor make sense or are in any way appealing. Johan was obviously designed to fulfill a quota; shoddy, hurried work scribbled down from the top of someone’s head and never considered for a revision. This is a THREE-COLORED RARE LEGENDARY CREATURE, for crying out loud, in the first set to feature multicolored cards and legendary cards overall! There is just no excuse for this kind of failure by negligence.
There also is no doubt about the grade Johan deserves: Useless in constructed, nearly useless in limited (you really don’t want an environment where this is your reward for going three-colored), not making sense in any way – this is a clear E.