Watching the Spider’s Web

Watching the Spider’s Web


In the summer of 2018, Magic returned to its roots with the renaissance of the core set after a three year hiatus. This came as great news to players like me who have long felt its absence; it was refreshing that the game’s developers recognized its utility within the product cycle. Core sets act as a perfect entry point for new players to expert-level expansions, they make way for expensive reprints that can’t fit anywhere else, and otherwise provide an easy-going Magic set during the months when folks in the northern hemisphere are vacationing or spending time outdoors. Furthermore, the Core set is like returning home from a long voyage abroad. It is a photo album that you can flip through to relive your travels and revisit all the extraordinary places you have passed through. In M19 alone, we can look back on the Greek-inspired land of Theros, traverse the Aztecan jungle of pirates and dinos on Ixalan, and even hike the dragon-ridden barrens of Tarkir. There are very few world-building rules for the common core set, which invites Magic players to glimpse the panorama of the multiverse while fanning through a single booster pack. And of all the money-making mythics, the sideboard hosers, the reimagined Elder dragons and pushed new Planeswalkers that one may find while doing so, no card makes me happier in M19 than this one. Giant Spider is Magic at its core. It is the beating heart of the game’s origins and humbly serves as a middle-of-the-road four-drop for any limited deck running forests. The card debuted in Magic’s first set, Alpha, and immediately established two foundational guidelines for the game’s overall feel. The first: Magic would be a card game built from the well-known tropes of high fantasy of decades prior. Alpha had elves from the forest, dwarves from the mountains, fancy trinkets infused with mystical powers and even a walking, talking tree. No doubt the creative team was tapping into Tolkein’s world for inspiration. A giant spider appeared in that world, too: it seems Frodo’s encounter with Shelob had become the perfect model to follow when designing fantasy monsters. Although Shelob was not the first riff on sentient spiders (you can look as far back as the ancient Greeks with Arachne for that) she has certainly become the epitome of the archetype. Since The Return of the King in 1955, we’ve seen giant spiders pop up in countless role-playing games and Hollywood blockbusters. Stephen King channeled the beast in his 1986 thriller IT, which had his supernatural antagonist take the form of a giant female spider when viewed through human eyes. The 1990 Jeff Daniels flick Arachnophobia and 2002’s Eight-Legged Freaks starring David Arquette parodied the fear of giant spiders to fun, comedic effect. Will Smith’s Wild Wild West from 1999 showed off a giant steampunk spider which acted as a weapon for the villain’s plan to destroy the United States. Will Smith: He has an 80-foot tarantula. And perhaps my favorite iteration from this beautiful era of cinema came from 1997’s Honey We Shrunk Ourselves. Granted, this is actually a normal size daddy long legs, but to old Rick Moranis, it may as well be a behemoth. The giant spider has also been showing up in geek culture for decades as well. In the Godzilla universe, Kumonga was an arachnid kaiju that terrorized the 1967 film Son of Godzilla. In The Legend of Zelda’s Twilight Princess, players had to battle with Link against the giant spider Armogohma in the Temple of Time. Growing up playing EverQuest had me hunting huge arachnids in starting zones with noob armor, and then again later once my toon had some exp under his belt. Good times. Between camping mobs, I was turning the pages of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, in which the mysterious Aragog lurked in the Forbidden Forest and echoed the chapters of Shelob’s Lair. The list goes on and on. What is central to giant spiders in pop culture is that, far more often than not, they are antagonistic entities in the stories they inhabit. This is because the giant spider takes an already very human fear of eight-legged creepy-crawlies and amplifies it to the utmost extremes. Magic, however, has given us a much more neutral iteration over the years: the game’s spiders are not necessarily evil, but rather just another creature among many. The tribe’s defining factor is not Fear, but Reach. (Sam laughs) See what I did there? Ron: Thanks for that! Harry: Don’t mention it. Much like what I said about burn’s relationship to the color Red in my video on Bolt, Alpha’s Giant Spider established exactly how these creatures would behave for the subsequent 25 years following the game’s first set. It’s not often you nail the formula on the first try, but this was the other vital guideline set in place by this single card. Central to Spiders in Magic is both their ability to block flying creatures as well as having more toughness than power, and each of these aspects are present on Giant Spider. As a result, since day one, Magic’s spiders have never needed to be revamped. This is proven by Giant Spider’s almost perfect attendance in every core set in the game’s history. Between 1993 and 2012, the spider saw reprint after reprint and garnered a couple of new looks in the process. The original artwork by Sandra Everingham depicts a monstrous beast lurking on a web behind the tower of a castle. As implied by the card “Web”, it is not the size that grants it the ability to intercept fliers, but rather the net it is standing upon. This is confusing however, since Sandra’s spider is very much based off of a Wolf Spider, which itself does not spin webs to catch prey. Randy Gallegos’ version from Portal explicitly shows a Wolf Spider as well; its two large eyes above a set of four smaller ones and the spiny edges on its legs make it easy to identify. Wolf Spiders are unbelievable creatures: they hide in burrows in the grass and use their speed and intelligence to hunt prey rather than trap flying bugs in webs. But they don’t live on webs, as shown here. A Golden Orb-Weaver is much more in line with the idea of the airborne hunter. This species can spin gigantic, sticky webs, and often feeds on flies, locusts, and even birds and bats. Their patterned and colorful thoraxes and long, thin legs make them distinct. In Magic, we can see riffs on the orb-weavers on cards like Netcaster Spider and Nyx Weaver. Other, real-life species are represented on cards as well. Blightwidow, as the name suggests, is an infectious version of the Black Widow and shows a glowing Phyrexian symbol in place of the infamous red hourglass along the underbelly. Giant Trapdoor Spider is maybe the most straightforward interpretation of the Trapdoor Spider, which is as terrifying as it sounds, but not nearly as terrifying as Spider Spawning, which was BDM’s favorite draft deck in Innistrad limited as well as the result of crushing a mother wolf spider with a broom. I’ll spare you the result: you can watch it at your own risk at your leisure. Various Recluses have been printed, too, and a few have deathtouch to reflect the species’ venomous bite. Not all of Magic’s spiders are quite so literal, though: Skysnare Spider ignores the defining factor of having eight legs in favor of wielding at least twelve. Mammoth Spider combines an arachnid with a wooly mammoth and replaces its fangs with tusks. And an Ember Weaver is perhaps the most creative and out-there render of a spider I’ve seen on a card yet. The closest parallel to something so outlandish in the wild would be a species like the Spiny Orb Weaver. Yeah, that’s a spider. Leave it to Steve Prescott to do the honors. It was in M13 that Giant Spider ended its streak of appearing in every core set since Alpha. Until that point, only Giant Growth held such an honor, but lost its spotlight a year prior in M11, leaving Giant Spider as the sole survivor in M12 before getting the boot. Nonetheless, redemption for the spider came in the form of its first printing in an expert-level expansion in Amonkhet in 2017, which brought with it new artwork by Aaron Miller. This spider is not a wolf spider, but an original amalgamation of various reference photos and imaginative liberties employed by the artist. And since M14, it has reestablished its streak of appearing in nearly every core set, barely replacing Mammoth Spider late in development for M19 and subsequently inspiring this video. Like I said up top, the core set is an invitation to appreciate the eclectic nature of this card game. It’s a crossroads of where we’re going and where we’ve been, and it presents an opportunity to take a breather and notice something you may have previously overlooked. I’d like to end with a gem that I discovered while researching for this video, which is the flavor text from the 7th edition version of Giant Spider. It reads:

“Watching the spider’s web — Llanowar expression meaning ‘focusing on the wrong thing’”. It’s a poetic little insight about changing your perspective (in this case, so you don’t get eaten). I suppose the more positive and on-theme parallel idiomatic expression is “see the forest for the trees”. We often get so caught up in complaining about the minutiae and goings-on of Magic that we overlook how kickass this game and its people are. Apart from that, there is always something cool to learn from the cards. I watched a few hours of BBC documentaries about spiders for this video and was nearly brought to tears by how inventive and resourceful these little bugs are. I can’t recommend enough the time-lapse of the Golden Orb Weaver spinning her web if you would like to delve further. So let’s mind the spider, see the forest, and close this video with one of the most groovy riffs I’ve ever heard played on a guitar. This is Animals as Leaders performing a song aptly named “The Woven Web”. Smile and bob your head along with me. If you enjoyed this video and learned a couple of things about spiders along the way and would like to support the channel, you can do so in one of two ways. You can go to Cardkingdom.com/Studies and maybe pick up a couple of Giant Spiders while you’re there. Or you could go straight to my Patreon page and donate a $1. Maybe $5 and get your name in the credits alongside all these lovely people. Thanks for watching everyone, I would like to close now with a video from @VorthosMike. Mike: I’m VorthosMike and I’m here to talk to you about my favorite creature in Magic: The Gathering. And that card is Giant Spider. Giant Spider was my finisher back in the day because it was the one card that I knew who could beat Serra Angel. What you did is, well you took the Giant Spider. Added his mouse friend to it, and you got a large creature that could destroy theirs with a combat trick. It was the leveling up of Magic for me. It brought me from a beginner into an actual player with a deck with actual strategy. It meant so much to me that I actually sought out the Alpha original and it now greets me, with Donny Cola everyday as I walk out of my office. So every time I write an article, I turn on the light switch; I see my Giant Spider. I finish an article, turn off the light switch; I see my Giant Spider. It is my everyday art. The thing that brings me the most amount of joy.