Terror – Alpha
Date Reviewed: October 31, 2023
Commander [EDH]: 2.88
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
From a flavor point of view, it’s interesting that Terror was included in Alpha along with the Fireballs and Lightning Bolts of the world – it’s clearly a more subtle sort of concept, a suggestion that black mages can reach into people’s emotions as well as their physical bodies. That’s unsettling enough in itself, and the card also makes you wonder just what how Magic would have been if they had decided to cost it slightly differently. At two mana, Terror was a dominating force in Magic’s early years, and it influenced the game for a long time after that. For most of the late 90s and 2000s, its place in Standard was taken by Dark Banishing and similar cards that cost three mana, and things like that have an outsized effect on metagames – two mana to kill most creatures often means that only the craziest creatures ever get played. And the unsurprising exception in the middle, where it was legal but not much of a factor, was the Mirrodin era.
It also had an impact on design, with attempts to fix it over the years backfiring as often as not. Doom Blade, for example, tried to make it more elegant by removing the regeneration clause (as the ability was being phased out beginning in 2009-10) and the artifact clause. This made it even stronger and led to a decade of forum trolls spamming that everything dies to Doom Blade. Scars of Mirrodin‘s Go for the Throat had somewhat of a downside in that block’s draft environment, but overwhelmed plenty of opponents in bigger formats. The same was true of Dominaria‘s Cast Down. Nowadays, more people tend to play those than Terror, and to be fair, that’s not just because they want to powergame: a lot of people genuinely don’t feel like remembering what regeneration does, or are playing it in a cube where a variant fits better.
I am not sure that Magic environments are better when they have near-universal two-mana removal spells, because it disproportionately impacts creatures that cost four or more and pushes the game even more towards defensive strategies than the rules already do innately. Having said that, if it’s part of your environment and you do choose to play it, it will generally deliver winning results.
Commander [EDH]: 3
Terror is one of the most iconic spells in black. Two mana, kill something with limitations. That sort of baseline (one black mana + one more mana = kill) has become a staple of black’s toolbox, and there are a lot of removal spells that carry on Terror’s legacy in formats since. The most direct retool is Doom Blade, but we’ve also seen Go for the Throat and Ultimate Price in the years since, and cards like these have become staples in their respective Standard formats as a consequence of their flexibility and cheapness enabling many decks to play them.
Unfortunately, Terror has itself aged oddly. The flavor of what it fails to hit (can’t scare artifacts to death, and black is already familiar with its own bag of terrifying tricks) is nice, but it doesn’t make for the most elegant gameplay at times. Over the years, blanking on black has become a bigger and bigger problem; it was actually part of why Ihsan’s Shade was a dominant force of its era, and creatures have generally gotten better since then (and blanking on artifacts started becoming a massive issue in Mirrodin). The upside that Terror has over Doom Blade and Go for the Throat’s broader target access is turning off regeneration, which…while solid in theory, rarely worked well in practice, because dominant creatures with regeneration usually also had a protective ability layered on top of it to restrict targeting. It wasn’t nothing, but regeneration being largely retired from use has not helped this card out, and its narrower target selection means there’s less reason to run it over its successors.
In all, Terror is a reasonably effective card that honestly just failed to keep up with the game as it sped up and the things it failed to hit got more and more powerful. Terror isn’t useless; it’s still a solid two-mana removal spell in and of itself, and that carries a lot of weight, but there have been better two-mana removal spells in the years since.
Constructed: 2.5 (it’s unfortunately just worse than Go for the Throat in the formats it’s legal in, as its one upside rarely comes into play; not bad, but definitely outclassed)
Limited: 4 (with the exception of Mirrodin Limited, Terror has always been premium removal in Limited, even in Dominaria Remastered)
Commander [EDH]: 2.75
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