From flashy Secret Lairs and Expeditions to the Reserved List, there is something exciting about seeing a rare or beautiful card across the table. When it comes to Magic cards we often jump to the hyper-expensive, holy grail, wallet-busting cards.
Today, I would like to talk about something a little different.
These are no doubt rare. The few that have ever been sold have gone for tens of thousands at auction.
These are the Heroes of The Realm (HTR).
What are the Heroes of the Realm Cards in MTG?
Heroes of the Realm have been produced every year or so since 2017. They are an eclectic bunch of cards with very unique mechanics. Despite being black-bordered, they also feature their own custom card back, meaning they cannot be played in official tournaments.
They are produced in small numbers, often with only single digits of any given card in circulation. Any card printed in such low numbers must demand a high price point. Surely collectors would go crazy for them.
So how do you get one?
This is unfortunately where our cardboard fantasies fall apart. Heroes of the Realm cards are given as gifts to WotC employees. In fact, each card features the name of the employee printed on it. It’s certainly a very exclusive club!
The cards themselves feature some creative designs.
As Mark Rosewater once put it, these cards are ‘designed to be read’ rather than played with. They do not go through the same rigorous design process as typical Magic cards. Sometimes the R&D team does get involved to lend a hand, though.
The cards live in a curious design space. They don’t need to be ‘safe’ or even playable like other cards. Instead, these are some of the most creative cards to see print.
Let’s take a journey through the years and visit the cards in this collection.
Heroes of the Realm Cards 2017 (HTR16)
In 2017 we saw three Heroes of the Realm (HTR) cards printed. There are four known printings of each of these cards. The first is Chandra, Gremlin Wrangler.
The four-mana planeswalker was given to the team who produced the first line of Duel Decks. This product lasted a brief couple of years before being retired in 2021. The first run of duel decks in 2017 aimed to replace the Intro Decks of prior years and also introduce new players to planeswalkers by having a notable walker as the face card.
It is only fitting then that the promo for the team was also a planeswalker. Chandra, Goblin Wrangler isn’t half bad. Its design is perfectly playable as it produces tokens and deals damage based on the number of ‘Gremlin’ creatures you control.
Up until the Kaladesh block, Magic had only seen the printing of three Gremlins in its history. Then, Kaladesh added six new cards that either are or produce these strange little creatures. Chandra reminds me somewhat of B.O.B (Bevy of Beebles) from Unsanctioned. A planeswalker that gets better based on the number of creatures you have.
Another fun detail about Chandra is she is one of the few planeswalkers with flavor text. This odd distinction is only shared by the Secret Lair version of Liliana, Death’s Majesty, and on the front side of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound.
For one of the first HTR cards, Chandra is pretty tame, playable, and I don’t think we would have blinked twice if we saw it in Standard back in the Kaladesh block. As we will see with the other two cards from HTR16, there are much crazier designs out there.
Dungeon Master is next on our list.
This was given to the team behind Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition. While not a Magic the Gathering team, Wizards of the Coast also owns this popular tabletop RPG. The design of Dungeon Master seems outlandish and far out for those who saw it revealed back in the day.
However, in 2021 we saw the release of the D&D-Magic crossover set Adventures in the Forgotten Realms which made dice rolling the norm. Dungeon Master is still likely a bit too outlandish to truly see play, but it certainly isn’t as ludicrous as it looked back in the day. Entering the battlefield with 1d4 + 1 is a wonderful design. The d20 dice roll on the +1 feels very flavorful. The only thing they missed out on was maybe a draw two or draw three if you roll a nat 20, something we would later see in AFR.
The last thing that strikes me about Dungeon Master is it shows how much future planning and foresight WOTC has regarding their upcoming sets. The minus-6 ability, “You get an adventuring party,” was reworked into the party mechanic for Zendikar Rising three years later. The main change was including a Warrior rather than Fighter in a party. Seeing so much of Dungeon Master reworked into Standard-legal sets makes me excited for the other HTR cards and what teasers they might hold for the future.
The final card of HTR16 was gifted to the members of the Duel Masters team, another WotC-owned product. Nira, Hellkite Duelist is a WUBRG dragon with enough keywords and shenanigans built into its textbox to make any EDH player happy.
On entering the battlefield, if you would lose the game instead draw three cards, and your life total becomes five. This happens at instant speed thanks to flash and you could even flicker it to repeat the effect if needs be. Nira is a hell of a Hail Mary in your time of need and worst-case scenario it’s a 6/6 dragon with all the keywords a dragon could want. The card is stellar and probably even a bit overpowered in the context of Commander. I would hate to face off against this thing. I will give points, however, for it being a five-color dragon that doesn’t need to be dragon tribal.
Heroes of the Realm Cards 2018 (HTR)
Fast forward a year and we have our next batch of HTR cards.
They are Diabolical Salvage, Inzerva, Master of Insights, and M’Odo, the Gnarled Oracle. They were given to the Magic Strike Team, Consumer Insights, and Magic Online Teams.
This trio of cards is phenomenally broken!
Indeed, that is slightly the point as they are not made for regular play. The designs here are nonetheless interesting. Diabolic Salvage is immensely strong. A 16 power, instant speed, Split Second is hard to argue with, but the addition of a four-mana rebate at the end of the turn in the form of treasure is just amazing value.
I would love to see a card like this find a home in Red Deck Wins strategies as a crazy top end. According to Gavin Verhey, the four goblins in the image are a nod to the four people that made up the strike team responsible for offering rapid support to projects in need of assistance.
Inzerva, Master of Insights also strikes me as an incredibly strong card that gives insight into past and future designs. We see the hybrid two generic or one colored mana in the casting cost, something that we have only seen once before in Shadowmoore almost a decade ago.
Meanwhile, five years in the future we saw hybrid mana return time and time again, but most notably in the form of hybrid Phyrexian mana. It seems hybrid mana is always on Wizards’ mind as they try to incorporate it in new ways.
Mechanically, this card reminds me a lot of Dack Fayden. However, Inzerva has you draw two discard one as opposed to Dack’s discard two. The ability to look at the top of other players’ decks reminds me of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Inzerva doing it to each opponent and you getting to scry two on top of that makes this a slam dunk in any control strategy.
Finally, M’Odom the Gnarled Oracle features the Eminence ability first seen in the Commander precon decks of 2018. We remember how powerful those precons were.
Commanders like Edgar Markov and The Ur-Dragon still roam many tables to this day. M’Odo would certainly join the ranks of most powerful Commanders if it were printed in a regular set. The card itself is a reference to Momir Basic, a special Magic Online format in which you play with a deck of basic lands, and you can cast cards at random.
Discard a card and pay X to get a creature with mana value X or less into play is just plain nasty. How about on turn one guaranteeing yourself a mana dork every game? Fill your deck with plenty of cards that enter the battlefield and draw a card to ensure you always have cards to discard for M’Odo’s ability and you are in for a great time! Not so much for your opponents.
We won’t even pretend this card is balanced. I encourage you to try and build a deck around this. What’s the best thing to cheat out of your deck? Do you steal from your opponents or focus on your own deck of tricks?
Heroes of the Realm Cards 2019 (H18)
2019 brought with it a new slew of EDH-focused cards. A tweet from @MishyFishyWhoo, Influencer Marketing Manager for Wizards of the Coast at the time had this to say about Kharis & the Beholder, “I wanted to really symbolize our creators and their communities in this card. This is why we leaned into Charisma, human tokens, and the ability to add more power based on the size of your community on the board.”
Being a D&D-focused card, we also see dice rolling on Kharis. This is a little bit of future foreshadowing at dice rolling in a traditional set. Perhaps the team behind this card tested it in their own Commander decks and found dice rolling to be fun and engaging enough to turn a wild dream into a reality.
Optimus Prime saw his debut from Drew Nolosco over on Reddit. The Global Brand Manager for the Transformers TCG had a lot to say about the card. As you might guess, it has a second face and the effect to “turn target permanent you control to its other face.”
But Optimus Prime has more. He is a triple-faced card!
In a post from @TransformerTCG they show off oversized cards that can be flipped into other cards, and that is exactly the case with Optimus Prime here too. The other faces of Optimus Prime are Transformer TCG exclusive and as Nolosco says “MTG-side Primes’ ability can’t flip himself into his TRA TCG version. I mean, c’mon. That would be crazy.”
From a design standpoint, Optimus Prime hits a funny niche of flipping cards onto their other side. This is distinct from cards that transform like many werewolves. It would be interesting to see a design that allowed you to transform any double-faced card such as the Magic Origins flip walkers.
Sol, Advocate Eternal might be the most powerful commander of the bunch. What matters here is “legendary partner” allowing you to have two commanders as long as Sol is one of them. The other commander is promoted to legendary.
So any creature can now become your commander.
Maybe you just want to always have that turn one ramp? Put a Birds of Paradise in there. Or maybe you want to play a five-color deck with your favorite red creature alongside Sol?
Regardless, this has thousands of possible options. Looking deeper down the card, Teamwork is a fantastic mechanic I would love to see printed on more commanders. Rewarding partner instead of simply having one good commander and a second commander just for the sake of colors. This could have fit in very well on the Stranger Things Secret Lair as “Friends Forever” would surely have great teamwork. @J_Beleren revealed the card on Twitter saying “Game Support and Customer Service won this for being incredibly awesome and I’m proud not only for being the lead designer but also being on this team full of amazing people.”
The focus on teamwork is a recurring theme on these cards and I believe Sol exemplifies this. While there are some “legendary” staff members at Wizards of the Coast that are in the public eye, it is a legend’s job to elevate those around them so the team can succeed. Sol highlights this by allowing everyone to shine.
Our next card might take the award for most unique commander. The Legend of Arena is a saga that can be your commander. This was given to the MTG Arena team. Notice in the middle of the card among the wizards you can see the Arena symbol. From a play pattern perspective, a saga as a commander is interesting. We often want commanders to stick around, but this one is going to fade away after a few turns. That said, the payoff for cheating a planeswalker into play is amazing.
Heroes of the Realm Cards 2021 Part 1 (H19)
@MelissaDeTora revealed several of this cycle’s HTR cards on Twitter. Collectigull was given to the “Booster Fun” team responsible for the booster pack rework. This included set boosters and the creation of “The List.” Collectigull features the Throne of Eldraine showcase border and its adventure mechanic. This is because Booster Fun was first utilized in Throne of Eldraine.
Keeper of the Secret Lair was given to the Secret Lair team; no surprises there. The design to me screams silver border with cost reduction based on something meta. To be honest, I am disappointed this card isn’t five-color so we could build an entire deck around Secret Lair.
War of the Spark was given to the team behind the War of the Spark set. Beautiful stained glass art on a saga. Seeing stained glass in portrait too is a nice touch as it feels more like a traditional church stained glass piece.
The storytelling on the card is equally wonderful. Chapter I is the war’s beginning with Zombies or planeswalkers arriving on Ravnica. Chapter II represents the war itself, with casualties on both sides. Finally, in Chapter III the war ends with Bolas being imprisoned. It’s clean, simple, and tells a story.
Champions of Archery was given to the Throne of Eldraine team since Archery was the codename for the set during development. The design here is incredibly unique, allowing you to put cards into your command zone and turn it into a commander. My mind immediately runs to filling my deck with legends and putting 50 creatures in the command zone. Why? Because we can!
Other than that, Champions of Archery gives commanders you control +X/+0 for each commander you control. What a sweet effect, and a fantastic synergy. This reminds me of Sol as once again it puts an emphasis on the other cards in your deck. Like Sol communicates the idea of a leader elevating those they work with, it is touching and beautifully conveyed by the mechanics.
The last of the bunch revealed by Melissa is Myntasha, Honored One. Myntasha was gifted to the Modern Horizons team. What a fantastic design, allowing you to crack a pack and add it to the game.
It reminds me of cards like Booster Tutor from Unhinged. The dream of cracking a pack of original Innistrad, Urza’s Saga, or Alpha just for this! Furthermore, it is great to see that all cards from that booster can be cast thanks to booster cascade. This would make a wonderfully fun and unique commander.
The Cinematic Phoenix was given to the Cinematic Team (those responsible for the amazing Magic animations you see around set release time). As of the phoenix’s release, this was the only legendary phoenix in Magic, leaving many people eager to someday get their hands on it. The ability to return legendary creatures from the grave to play is a lot of fun and an alternate win condition in the second ability is simply icing on the cake. This card is powerful, fun, and incredibly rare as the cinematic team itself is one of the smallest teams at Wizards of the Coast.
Fabled Path to Searo Point is a cute anagram for Operations, the team that won this award. Operations covers a wide range of tasks in the company so five colors of mana to represent that diversity is understandable. The card itself essentially making all creatures unblockable is a great inclusion since Operations teams are the ones that keep things moving in the company.
The flavor text here is a touching addition.
Another cute touch is the art itself. Tom Wänerstrand was once an artist for Magic and painted the original snow-covered mountains in Ice Age. He is now a member of the Operations team, but reprised his role as an artist for this card. You can see his original snowy mountains in the background.
Heroes of the Realm Cards 2021 (H20)
Finally, we come to the 2021 cards. We have the least information about this trio of cards. Starting off, we have Eurokas. This card was given to the European team. Like some of the other cards seen today, this card uses design to reference community.
Euroakus enters with a number of 1/1 Wizards equal to the number of differently named lands ie: for each country in Europe. Euroakus also lets you draw a card for each Wizard you control. That is to say, you are learning based on the culture and ideas of everyone involved. This card is a wonderful homage to that team and seeing the European map on the art is wonderful.
Mountain Mover was given to the 2020 Crew. This is the most generic team name of the bunch and does not give much insight into who specifically this is for. The ability on the card and the phrase “to move mountains” would lead me to speculate this was given to a team that did the impossible somehow.
Given that 2020 was a turbulent year for business across the globe, and many people turned to digital Magic as paper play was no longer an option, my guess is that this went to some sort of IT team. A team responsible for keeping everything up and running on Arena and MTGO during a time when people flocked to these services to get their fix.
Finally, we come to our last card: The Secret Lair. No prizes for guessing, this card was given to the Secret Lair Team of 2020. The art here is incredible, featuring the same artist and style from the Ooze Secret Lair.
The card’s ability to make mana, gain life, and scry is great. However, I can only imagine it only works once. After all, once I say the secret word it’s no longer a secret! To this day we don’t know the secret word. But who knows maybe someday you’ll sit across from someone who does.
There we have it! A round-up of the Heroes of the Realm cards as of today. These cards are as uniquely designed as they are rare.