Rant of Valakut: A Token History Ben Iverach-Brereton March 29, 2021 Rants of Valakut Tokens have always been a part of Magic. The concept was introduced with The Hive all the way back in Alpha. At the time, players had to find their own items to represent these game pieces, be it glass beads, spare dice or whatever else happened to be on hand. These days you can find official tokens in nearly every booster pack and preconstructed deck, but their inclusion is actually a relatively new concept. Sheepish Beginnings Physical tokens were first introduced in 1998 in booster packs of Unglued. In that set, the tokens were textless art cards depicting Soldiers, Goblins, Zombies, Pegasus, Squirrels and Sheep. The tokens were left intentionally generic so they could depict a variety of creatures as needed, though that concept clearly wouldn’t last. If it had, we wouldn’t have over twenty distinct Elemental tokens, each with a unique combination of colour, power, toughness and abilities. Starting three years after Unglued, in 2001, Wizards of the Coast would produce more physical tokens, this time as giveaways as part of their Player Rewards program. Unlike the ones that appeared in the joke set, Player Rewards tokens had the word “TOKEN” written across the top, and included both a type line and a power and toughness. While useful, this change did diminish the universal nature of these game pieces. In 2003 the token design updated along with Magic’s card frame, and the word “TOKEN” was replaced with the creature’s type. This put the layout of the official tokens fully in line with regular Magic cards, putting its name at the top of the frame. After all, in game terms a token’s name is the same as its type, unless otherwise stated. The Player Rewards tokens only lasted one more year before being discontinued. After a year with no new tokens, they would return once more in 2006 as a new promotional item. With the release of Coldsnap, players could get a token of the now-infamous Marit Lage, created by the land Dark Depths. Marit Lage marked the first ever instance of a legendary token in Magic, and the earlier layout changes meant that its name would be clearly printed at the top. This was also the first time Wizards of the Coast would apply a foil treatment to a token, something that wouldn’t happen again for another six years. Foil Angel and Demon tokens would be given out during the Avacyn Restored prerelease, but only from extremely limited Premium Helvaults. Foil tokens would show up again briefly in 2015 and 2016 as promotional items for Eldrich Moon and Kaladesh, but it wouldn’t be until the release of Unstable in 2017 that they would appear in booster packs. Foil tokens would finally become a regular feature of Magic with the introduction of Collector Boosters in 2019, albeit as part of a premium product. A Change of Attitude When they were first introduced, tokens were treated as collectable items more than regular game pieces. After all, players could use anything to represent a token, so having a specially-printed card seemed like an indulgence. However, this attitude would clearly change when tokens would be added into Tenth Edition booster packs in 2007. Official tokens would no longer just be promotional items, but a core part of Magic: The Gathering. The full impact of this change in philosophy wouldn’t be felt until much later, but normalizing the use of official tokens would lay the groundwork for more intricate and complicated card designs moving forward. Creatures like Mitotic Slime and Reef Worm would likely never have seen print without easy access to these player aids, given how complicated they can be. The same could be said of mechanics like embalm and eternalize, which can create several unique tokens over the course of a game. It’s hard to imagine anyone signing off on these abilities if official tokens weren’t going to be included in booster packs. Two-Faced Once tokens were introduced to regular booster packs and preconstructed products, Wizards of the Coast would continue to experiment with their design, especially for promotional rewards. This would include the double-faced tokens of 2012. During Dark Ascension, FNM players could get Human//Wolf tokens, and later in the year participants at the Avacyn Restored pre-release could get the aforementioned Angel//Demon tokens from the promotional Helvault kit. Double-sided tokens would would become a regular part of the Commander decks as early as 2014, and would also show up as a part of both the Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation bundle boxes in 2017. FNM promo cards would be replaced briefly with double-faced tokens that same year during the Ixalan block, although that experiment would be very short-lived. 2019’s Modern Horizons was the first booster pack product to include double-sided tokens (not counting Unstable‘s foil tokens with their full art backs, again in 2017). The random nature of Modern Horizon‘s tokens unfortunately made them a bit awkward, since you could never be sure what kind of token was on the reverse side without looking. These days, double-sided tokens appear in most preconstructed products, while booster packs stick with the usual advertising on the back. Not Just Creatures Printed token cards went through several changes over the years, but from a gameplay perspective they remained fairly consistent. It took until 2007 for a card to create a token that wasn’t a creature, even though there was nothing in the rules from preventing that from happening previously. In this case it was Future Sight‘s Imperial Mask that introduced this new concept. It was an enchantment that made a copy of itself for each of its controller’s teammates. A few years later, during the Scars of Mirrodin block, players would have the opportunity to create more token copies of noncreature cards, with both Prototype Portal and Mirrorworks. It would take several more years, however, before a Magic card would create a noncreature token that wasn’t also a copy of something else. Gold tokens, created with the card Gild, showed up in 2014’s Born of the Gods alongside the usual fare of Wolves, Birds and Cat Soldiers. This would be a precursor to the ubiquitous Treasure tokens we have today. 2014 also introduced tokens for Land Mines and Stoneforged Blades, proving that noncreature tokens were here to stay. Indeed, they would return in the form of Clue tokens in 2016’s Shadows over Innistrad, Treasure tokens in 2017’s Ixalan, and Food tokens in 2019’s Throne of Eldraine, just to name a few. Along the way we would also see the first ever Aura tokens, created by Commander 2018‘s Estrid, the Masked, and even planeswalker tokens, created by Ixalan‘s Jace, Cunning Castaway… although sadly there were never physical tokens made for Pirate Jace. More Than Just Tokens In addition to the normal tokens in the set, 2015’s Khans of Tarkir introduced a curious player aid in the form of morph overlays. These were intended to be put over top over a face down card, to remind everyone that it was a 2/2 creature that could be turned face up. With Fate Reforged‘s manifest mechanic and corresponding reminder card appearing in the very next set, these player aids would also serve to distinguish between what cards were morphed and which ones were manifested. This would be relevant in both the Khans Standard and Limited environments, and while it may not have actually come up very often, having easy access to the reminder cards likely prevented confusion for a lot of players. I’m just disappointed that we never got card sleeves with the manifest art; I can’t help but think it would have been clever, but I suppose it would have defeated the whole purpose of having the overlays. The morph and manifest cards weren’t the first non-permanent player aids, mind you, and they wouldn’t be the last. Printed planeswalker emblems had been around since 2012’s Dark Ascension, and even before that 2010’s Scars of Mirrodin introduced a Poison Counter card. Commander 2015 would add another way to track counters on players with the Experience card, and 2016 would add a third with Kaladesh‘s Energy Reserve. 2016 also saw Conspiracy: Take The Crown and its Monarch token, followed the next year with the City’s Blessing token from Rivals of Ixalan. This trend of player aids would continue in 2019 with the On An Adventure token in Throne of Eldraine, and again in 2020 with the addition of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoth‘s Companion reminder card. We’re still going, too, with 2021 already introducing the Foretell player aid in Kaldheim, suitable for keeping track of all your cards in exile. As varied as the player aids have been recently, perhaps the most unique ones were the punch cards from 2017’s Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation. These perforated cards had punch-outs for brick counters and -1/-1 counters, and markers that could be placed on a card to indicate that it represented an embalmed or eternalized creature token. Similar cards appeared in packs of Ikoria, Lair of Behemoths in 2020, this time with double-sided ability counters on them. It’s reasonable to assume that punch cards will come back again, too; the ability counter mechanic has already shown up in other sets, and adding punch-out cards in booster packs is a very convenient way to give players access to a physical reminder. Of course, they may also be useful for whatever new counters or indicators Wizards of the Coast decide to introduce in future sets, any of which could be made easier to comprehend with a similar player aid. Makin’ Copies Perhaps not as exotic as sheets of punch-out counters, I think one of the cleverest innovations to the token slot in recent history has to be the introduction of the Copy token. It was first introduced as a double-sided token in 2018’s Dimir Guild kit, with art from Stolen Identity, and has since made a reappearance in several 2020 sets, including Double Masters, Zendikar Rising and Commander Legends, this time with new art. What’s great about the Copy token is its versatility. This goes back to the original idea for physical tokens as they appeared in Unglued: it gives players an object that can be used to represent a wide variety of permanents, as needed. Of course, Copy tokens are intended to be used as duplicates of Progenitor Mimic, various encore creatures, or even Jace, Mirror Mage (we finally got that Jace token!), but in a pinch these tokens can be used as anything from an extra Soldier to a duplicated land. After all, it can be a copy of anything you need, and it’s already appropriately named. If you want to get extra creative, Copy tokens even have other uses. I like the idea of putting it on top of an existing card to use as an overlay, similar to the Tarkir morph and manifest player aids. This could be useful when dealing with oddball cards like Permeating Mass and Essence of the Wild, or even a Mystic Reflection. All three of these cards can create confusing board states, but by using Copy tokens as overlays it can help clarify what’s been turned into a different card. Players sometimes also need help visualizing what’s going on with the stack when spells and triggers pile up. Copy tokens can be helpful here, too. Having physical objects to literally stack on top of each other can be a simple way to work through complicated triggers, and Copy tokens slot in nicely. The token can just as easily represent a duplicated spell or trigger as it can a duplicated permanent, after all. While any object can serve this purpose, having it clearly labelled as a “Copy” might just avoid any additional confusion for a befuddled player. The only thing I’d like to see alongside Copy tokens would be a set of matching counters, each with a corresponding number or colour. The counter could be placed on the original object being duplicated, and would remove any question as to which permanent is copying which. Admittedly, a system like this probably isn’t necessary unless you’re playing a deck filled with clones, and honestly, who would be foolish enough to do that? A Valuable Tool Since their introduction in 1998, physical tokens have put in significant overtime, providing players with a multitude of convenient reminders and markers. They keep the battlefield easy to understand at a glance, and make games run more smoothly. As Magic continues to grow in complexity, having access to these player aids is becoming more and more important, especially for new players, and their inclusion in booster packs has been invaluable in that regard. That said, people are just as likely to use dice or scraps of paper in their games when they need a quick token, which is totally fine. As long as the board state is clear and everyone knows what’s what, it doesn’t really matter what players use. Still, once things start to get complicated it can be really nice to have the official pieces of cardboard on hand; they really do help keep everything straight. Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName Email Website Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.