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Worst Fears: A Magic the Gathering Card As Metaphor for Losing Control in Life’s Bitter Game

Worst Fears is a mythic rare card from Magic the Gathering’s Journey into Nyx set. At first glance, veteran Magic players saw the popular effect of the Mirrodin artifact Mindslaver, take control of a target player’s next turn, on a sorcery card. But, unlike Mindslaver, an artifact card which would go to the graveyard where you could choose to get it back with a host of card effects, you only get one shot at Worst Fears, as it’s removed from play after you cast it. 

Even with a whopping eight mana casting cost, Worst Fearswas playable in Standard tournaments of its day. When you consider that casting Mindslaver required six generic mana with an activated ability costing four mana, seven generic mana and one Black mana is a relative bargain for such an effect. But, while Mindslaver is historically well-regarded as a reusable artifact, why would a one-shot knockoff be worth playing?

The great irony of my own personal history with the card is that when I was writing the first draft of my review of this mythic rare, I was watching my own life spinning out of control. My own worst fears of losing control of my career and my own destiny seemed to becoming realized. Perhaps that sense great uncertainty and existential dread in my own life what drew me to writing about this Black sorcery card in particular. It was released in 2014, but it was some years later I actually wrote about it. That’s because I tended to write about Magic cards that had enjoyed at least some competitive history, which by 2017 it had.

Back to the card itself, being able to control an opponent’s turn can be devastating. As this is a late-game effect, taking control of a player and deploying their resources in the worst possible manner can allow you to take over or even outright win a game. Also, having only a single required Black mana in its casting cost made it playable in a wide-array of control deck shells. While it couldn’t be ubiquitous like the colorless Mindslaver, it still could be cast in a wide range of decks.

Its high casting cost and an effect that seemed underwhelming on the surface caused many players to argue that Worst Fears was a waste of a mythic rare slot in an otherwise powerful set. Indeed, you would much rather have one of the ten multi-colored God creatures in that slot; five of them are still highly relevant in the 2020’s for crap’s sake! Then again, I can understand them not wanting to print an effect like this at the rare slot for Limited purposes; that is, draft and sealed deck, always a popular, intended way to play the game straight out of the box. 

You could argue that Mindslaver was a rare in the original Mirrodin set, although it was bumped up to Mythic when it was reprinted itself in Scars of Mirrodin. And, just as it was in its original Standard heyday, it was yet again an important card in that Standard format, as well. But, as the mythic rarity didn’t exist until years after the first Mirrodin set’s release, that’s not a valid argument.

Anyway, since Urza Tron decks (those monstrosities powered by the Antiquities Urza lands) in the Modern format made heavy use of Mindslaver to great effect for many years. So, it was thought Worst Fears could be played a bit in Constructed. Of course, an upfront investment of eight mana is a lot, regardless of the format. But, the 8-mana sorcery did sneak into a few Standard decks back in 2014. 

Primarily, Worst Fears saw play in a few Mono-Black Devotion decks, a major competitor during Theros block Standard. One 8th place Standard PPTQ UB (Blue/Black) Control deck ran a copy in the sideboard. As these decks had access to the incredible land Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx which gave you mana of a single color based on how many mana symbols of that color you had in play (Devotion), eight mana was really not all that hard to come by.

MTG Pro player Ali Aintrazi even played a main deck copy of Worst Fears in his January 2015 Sultai Delve deck at a Standard Open in Washington DC. Ali got fifth place in that tournament. A “Mono Green” deck even ran one copy in its sideboard, as this Green deck splashed Black mana for Pharika, God of Affliction and Doomwake Giant. But, since early 2015, it hasn’t seen much in the way of competitive play, in Modern, or otherwise.

Like many other high mana value cards that saw play at the fringes of top competition, though, Worst Fears would prove helpful in Commander. In that format, there are many decks with the ability to simply cast it for free. The first Commander to make the best use of this sorcery was Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge. Jeleva has an ability to exile cards from the top of your deck, and you can cast any instants or sorceries from those exiled cards without paying their mana cost. This means you can play Worst Fears for free whenever you want. 

It would take some years before other Commander decks widely adopted it, as it wasn’t considered worthy of a slot at eight mana. In 2022, there were two commanders printed who finally saw fit to include Worst Fears on a regular basis. 

One of them is Magar of the Magic Strings, from the Unfinity set of all places. The Minotaur’s ability is for three mana (one generic, one Black, and one Red), you note the name of a target instant or sorcery card in your graveyard. You put it onto the battlefield face down and treat it as a 3/3 creature. Then, whenever that “creature” deals combat damage to a player, you may create a copy of the card with the noted name and cast it without paying its mana cost. Yes, you can essentially cast Worst Fears as many times as you can hit players with it while it’s a creature. 

Whether you’d actually pull this off, as if the creature is removed from the battlefield in anyway it gets removed from the game (exiled), it’s a heck of a powerful maneuver. Of course, such a deck also plays high-cost, high-reward Sorcery cards like Army of the Damned, Breach the Multiverse, Call Forth the Tempest, Hit the Motherlode, Rise of the Eldrazi, and many more. Worst Fears may, in fact, be the least impactful of those cards just mentioned. But, it’s still well worth playing in such a deck,

The other Commander is Zevlor, Elturel Exile from the Battle for Baldur’s Gate Commander Legends set. This hasty Tiefling Warrior has a tap ability for two generic mana that allows you to copy the next instant or sorcery spell you cast for each other opponent. That means in a multiplayer setting, Worst Fears will control each other player’s next turn. That is definitely worth eight mana. It’s a shame that Zevlor isn’t a more popular Commander. But, like with Magar, the deck plays powerful targeted spells and Worst Fears is still one of the more underwhelming.

As a niche mythic rare that can take a player (or several at once with Zevlor) out of the game at once, Worst Fears has done the job its designers intended it to. But, it’s even better to me as a metaphor for losing control in our own life’s often bitter game. Our worst fears will come true if we don’t take action and let others decide what will happen to us. It’s funny how such a powerful life lesson can come from pondering over a single obscure Magic the Gathering card, but here we are.

~ Amelia Desertsong

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Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy. Personal Website: https://www.thephoenixdesertsong.com

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