The Spectral Chaos Project


Set Size: 429 original playtest card designs (plus some original surprises for fun…)
Click here to see the entire set of reimagined card images (this will be updated as card images are spoiled).

Originally Designed by: Barry Reich

Reimagined/Realized by: Micah a/k/a RagingRiver (of the New York Sisters of the Flame)

Set Legality:  Never officially released/printed by WotC, there are no real cards to play, legal in zero WotC formats.  This is a fan art concept only.


What’s Spectral Chaos?

Spectral Chaos was a Magic expansion set developed by Barry “Bit” Reich for Wizards of the Coast in the early 1990s.  While helping design and playtest Ice Age and Alliances (which were actually the first expansion sets designed, despite not being released until 1995 and ’96, respectively), Barry got the idea to develop a multicolored themed set, and was given the green light to begin work designing Spectral Chaos.  Conceptual design was underway even before Alpha was released in 1993, and development and multiple rounds of playtesting continued over several years into the mid-1990s, as the newly popular company was finishing designs for Ice Age, Alliances, Mirage and other sets of the era.  After four rounds of playtesting, Spectral Chaos was submitted to WotC in 1995 (and again in 1997).  Apparently out of fear that the public wouldn’t want a multicolor-themed set right after Legends (which introduced multicolored spells to the world), WotC decided not to release the full Spectral Chaos set as originally designed by Barry.  However, instead many of Barry’s ideas from this large, diverse set were incorporated into other early expansion sets (especially Tempest and Invasion), including many game mechanics and card designs that modern and especially old-school/vintage/premodern Magic players will instantly recognize.  You can find out more about Spectral Chaos and its influence from Mark Rosewater here, here and here.

Decades later, “The Misprint Guy” Keith Adams acquired the playtest cards and set design paperwork directly from Barry.  Among this paperwork, Keith found and revealed the last-known version of the complete, numbered, playtested 429-card set.  As a Magic old school, oddity and draft enthusiast myself, researching and bringing this never-released set to life has been a passion project of mine ever since.

Why You Should Care about this Set

Spectral Chaos is the only publicly-known Magic expansion set of the old school era that was tested through four complete rounds of playtesting without ever being released (Invasion, while certainly influenced by Spectral Chaos, copied very few of Spectral Chaos’ designs directly).  At 429 unique cards, it was a massive set – it would have been the first (or possibly second after Ice Age) stand-alone expansion set, and it would have been bigger than any set ever released in Magic history except 5th Edition.  It provides a time capsule, a glimpse at the origins of some of Magic’s biggest and boldest card ideas.  Think you know Magic history? Did you think that Alliances was the origin of “free” instant spells?  That zombie tokens and the flash mechanic were created for Mirage?  That half-mana was just a punchline for Unhinged?  That artifact lands were invented in Mirrodin? Think again.  These and so many other designs and mechanics find their origins much earlier, in Spectral Chaos.  In some cases, Spectral Chaos card designs were even printed in later expansion sets nearly word-for-word!  Even if you aren’t a Magic history or Librarities nerd like me, Keith’s revelation of the complete Spectral Chaos set provided an unprecedented and amazing chance to see into the brilliant mind of one of the original designers of Magic, to understand how many cards you know and love came to be.  Looking back at the set is like traveling a road of Magic-al discovery!

Bringing Spectral Chaos to Life

My goal in this project was to bring Spectral Chaos “to life” by reimagining what the set might have looked like, had it actually been released exactly as originally designed.  Considering it was the biggest expansion set ever developed, it was a massive undertaking.  I started from scratch and spent hundreds of hours over the past several years painstakingly researching and interpreting the original playtest language of each card, finding appropriate art, and adding historical commentary, which I’ll discuss later.

Here’s a summary of how I approached this project to reimagine/realize Spectral Chaos:

  • Playtest Version. If you look through the materials that Keith Adams and others have published, you will find that there were multiple rounds of playtesting and many card designs changed during different rounds. All designs for this project are based on the final numbered set list revealed by Keith Adams online in 2015.
  • Unchanged as Much as Possible. None of the following aspects were changed at all: Card name, collector number, casting cost, ability activation cost, and (for creatures) base power and toughness.
  • Interpreting Text. Card text matches the final playtest version as closely as possible, translating the original intent of abilities and effects into modern wording. Some rewording was minor (like using modern ability keywords). Some rewording was much more significant, in order to accomplish the original intent utilizing modern terminology for mechanics, game zones and turn phases/steps, the language for which didn’t exist in the early 1990s.  Even where the intent of a card was clear, this process of reinterpretation inevitably required some judgment calls to be made (e.g., “sacrifice” vs. “bury”? “choose” vs. “target”? These distinctions didn’t exist in the early 1990s). Where the original language seemed ambiguous, or where an ability could result in a confusing or conflicting game state, I did my best to interpret and clarify in a way to preserve the original intent and playability of the card as much as possible.  However, if the original language was very clear, I did not change the effect – even if the resulting card might be considered “unplayable jank” by contemporary players.  I valued the historical integrity of the original set design above all else.
  • Interrupts. All interrupts became instants.
  • Chaotic. The card type “chaotic” was an original feature of the set design, and was preserved.
  • Creature Types. There weren’t too many “tribe-matters” cards in Spectral Chaos. Where creature types weren’t specified or relevant, or were obsolete (many creatures fell into this category), I added or modified the creature type.  This is one aspect where I was fairly liberal in making changes, with the goal of using mostly familiar tribes, plus a few fun twists as an attempt to keep things a little “chaotic” as Barry intended. (I’m looking at you, Telmarian Ambassador 😉)
  • Legendary Spells. Spectral Chaos was initially designed before Legends, and none of the final playtest cards were written as legendary in the final 1995 version of the set.  However, I decided to make creatures with obvious given names legendary, to be consistent with how legendary creatures were usually printed in the 1995-1997 era.
  • World Enchantments. I chose not to reword any enchantments as world enchantments.  Frankly, I wasn’t sure how to go about it because I’ve never really understood WotC’s design protocol for them.  (Arboria and Koskun Falls are Enchant Worlds, but not Moat? Living Plane, but not Blood Moon? Mystic Decree, but not Undertow? etc.)  Since the “world” supertype didn’t exist when Barry Reich started designing the set, none of the enchantments were playtested that way, and the supertype would already be obsolete by 1997 anyway, I found it easiest to just not errata any enchantments.

Magic: The History

However, this project was about a lot more than simply re-wording the text.  That’s actually the easy part.  I really wanted to bring this set to life and explain the history, context, influence and importance of Spectral Chaos to the entire Magic community.  After considering several ways to do this, I decided to create a special kind of “flavor text” called ChaosHistory!  I annotated as many of the card images as possible with historical commentary, playtesting details, set design trivia, and explanations of how future Magic sets would eventually be influenced by certain Spectral Chaos card designs.  1 in 4 cards contain ChaosHistory, so be sure to look out for them!

No original art was commissioned for Spectral Chaos, nor am I aware of any art or lore direction from Barry Reich or WotC.  Instead, I carefully curated appropriate artwork for each card image.  (More info in the Acknowledgments below.)

The “Spoiler” Schedule

Some people are already familiar with the set, but most don’t know the card designs, even if they’ve heard of Spectral Chaos before.  To make it fun, this project will be “spoiled” in phases, similar to how Scryings was revealed in 2019.  Here is the anticipated schedule, and participating old school groups.  This schedule will be continually updated, and links to each spoilers will be added once they are published:

  • June 7 – RagingRiver’s Inaugural Sunday Spoiler
    • Spectral Chaos (#428) (Very Rare)
  • June 8 – Sisters of the Flame (Paul De Silva)
    • Telmarian Ambassador (#34) (Common)
    • Healing Potion (#40) (Common)
    • Vampire Bat (#45) (Common)
    • Imprison (#81) (Uncommon)
    • Acid Dragon (#97) (Uncommon)
    • Blight (#107) (Uncommon)
    • Giant Bat (#133) (Uncommon)
    • Helm of Order (#175) (Uncommon)
    • Gymnasium (#186) (Uncommon)
    • Spectral Growth (#271) (Rare)
    • Chain Reaction (#331) (Very Rare)
    • Mox Diamond (#408) (Very Rare)
  • June 10 – Old School Discord (Jason Collins)
    • Terramorph (#6) (Common)
    • Killer Bee (#20) (Common)
    • Werewolf (#41) (Common)
    • Battle Swap (#91) (Uncommon)
    • Horns of Jericho (#93) (Uncommon)
    • Health (#126) (Uncommon)
    • Nightfall (#140) (Uncommon)
    • Water Lilies (#141) (Uncommon)
    • Undo (#306) (Rare)
    • Great Cat Armand (#353) (Very Rare)
    • Ophion (#372) (Very Rare)
    • Thought Stone (#410) (Very Rare)
    • One-Man Show (#S5) (RagingRiver Original Concept)
  • June 12 – All Tings Considered (Mano)
    • Dragon Pup (#19) (Common)
    • Dwarven Ritual (#26) (Common)
    • Slimeballs (#43) (Common)
    • Negate (#85) (Uncommon)
    • Page’s Lace (#123) (Uncommon)
    • Order (#127) (Uncommon)
    • Waterfall (#137) (Uncommon)
    • Hestian Quickling (#149) (Uncommon)
    • Virus (#257) (Rare)
    • Efficiency (#368) (Very Rare)
    • Mind Twister (#401) (Very Rare)
    • Moonstone (#409) (Very Rare)
    • Gabriel’s Horn (#S8) (RagingRiver Original Concept)
  • June 14 – RagingRiver’s Sunday Spoiler
    • Life Stone (#414)
  • June 15 – NEOS (DFB)
    • Apprentice Swordsman (#22) (Common)
    • Fidget (#52) (Common)
    • Pax Oliphant (#64) (Common)
    • Mesa (#68) (Uncommon)
    • Earthshake (#89) (Uncommon)
    • Incessant Tomtoms (#95) (Uncommon)
    • Arizona Phoenix (#121) (Uncommon)
    • Mana Magnet (#180) (Uncommon)
    • Avenger (#247) (Rare)
    • King Snake (#320) (Very Rare)
    • Brainwash (#427) (Very Rare)
    • Rainbow Connection (#S3) (RagingRiver Original Concept)
  • June 19 – Northern Paladins
    • Disenchant (#33) (Common)
    • Arsonist (#51) (Common)
    • Earth Priest (#55) (Common)
    • Spider Monkey (#160) (Uncommon)
    • Brown Fungus (#163) (Uncommon)
    • Waterlog (#165) (Uncommon)
    • Iron Rose (#168) (Uncommon)
    • Shylock’s Mazer (#176) (Uncommon)
    • Flame Strike (#209) (Rare)
    • White Doom (#254) (Rare)
    • Dale (#309) (Very Rare)
    • Mnemosyne (#315) (Very Rare)
  • June 22 – Lords of the Pit
    • Sylvan Adder (#12) (Common)
    • Craw Chameleon (#59) (Common)
    • Immense Spider (#60) (Common)
    • Copy Enchantment (#80) (Uncommon)
    • Psychic Leech (#90) (Uncommon)
    • Prismatic Blast (#96) (Uncommon)
    • Halo (#128) (Uncommon)
    • Rous Eel (#135) (Uncommon)
    • Scroll of Papyrus (#184) (Uncommon)
    • Gremlin (#278) (Rare)
    • Fusion (#330) (Very Rare)
    • Simplicity (#402) (Very Rare)
  • June 24 – Beasts of the Bay
    • Mildeworm (#28) (Common)
    • Fizzle (#62) (Common)
    • Cleric of Sameze (#111) (Uncommon)
    • Lightning Rod (#148) (Uncommon)
    • Lemming (#152) (Uncommon)
    • Treeline Wanderer (#162) (Uncommon)
    • Crystal Sceptre (#167) (Uncommon)
    • Faded Mox (#178) (Uncommon)
    • Lesser Black Demon (#250) (Rare)
    • Gahchgah One-Eye (#333) (Very Rare)
    • Polymorph (#339) (Very Rare)
    • Nostalgic Incantation (#S9) (RagingRiver Original Concept)
  • June 28 – RagingRiver’s Sunday Spoiler
    • Red Elemental (#336) (Very Rare)
  • July 2 – Dice City Games with special guest BARRY REICH!
    • Air Turbulence (#24) (Common)
    • Obsidian Acolyte (#32) (Common)
    • Shadow (#42) (Common)
    • Shock Wave (#104) (Uncommon)
    • Bad Karma (#124) (Uncommon)
    • Floating Skull (#134) (Uncommon)
    • Gybe’s Psychic Crush (#143) (Uncommon)
    • Malec-Hi Shortbowman (#153) (Uncommon)
    • Hot Potato (#303) (Rare)
    • Village in the Clouds (#311) (Very Rare)
    • Illusions of Grandeur (#321) (Very Rare)
    • Barry Reich, Great Creator (#S6) (RagingRiver Original Concept)
    • Blank Creature Card (for Barry Reich, Great Creator)
  • July 4 – Brothers of Fire
    • Goblin Foresters (#18) (Common)
    • Ghost Rider (#30) (Common)
    • Natural Defenses (#37) (Common)
    • Coral Reef (#71) (Uncommon)
    • Sidewinder (#77) (Uncommon)
    • Mystic Spirit (#86) (Uncommon)
    • Thorgar the HUGE (#98) (Uncommon)
    • Enrage (#139) (Uncommon)
    • Solar Flare (#221) (Rare)
    • Mass Resurrection (#365) (Very Rare)
    • Stream of Consciousness (#403) (Very Rare)
    • Felice of Many Colors (#424) (Very Rare)
  • July 12 – SoCal Deep Spawners
    • Unstable Terrain (#188) (Rare)
    • Dolphin King (#190) (Rare)
    • Pipe (#197) (Rare)
    • Semaphore (#204) (Rare)
    • Lesser Red Demon (#213) (Rare)
    • Three-Headed Cyclops (#218) (Rare)
    • Red Damping Field (#228) (Rare)
    • Oasis (#236) (Rare)
    • Empathy (#241) (Rare)
    • Medusa (#246) (Rare)
    • Instigator (#259) (Rare)
    • Highland Eagle (#269) (Rare)
    • Wand of Resurrection (#291) (Rare)
    • Paxin’s Helm (#295) (Rare)
    • Life Leech (#308) (Rare)
  • July 19 – The Old School Blag (Magnus de Laval)
    • Phantasmal Terrain (#9) (Common)
    • High Treason (#16) (Common)
    • Cremation (#47) (Common)
    • Promontory (#67) (Uncommon)
    • Psychic Ripple (#79) (Uncommon)
    • Master Swordsman (#99) (Uncommon)
    • Forbidden Lore (#157) (Uncommon)
    • Ethereal Shifter (#179) (Uncommon)
    • Annihilator Orb (#293) (Rare)
    • Discovered Country (#313) (Very Rare)
    • Colorless Ward (#361) (Very Rare)
    • Graveyard Waltz (#387) (Very Rare)
    • Gratitude (#S2) (RagingRiver Original Concept)
  • July 25 – End of Turn, Draw a Card (Svante Landgraf)
    • Ravenous Shark (#13) (Common)
    • Bog Orcs (#21) (Common)
    • Elbis’ Meditation (#49) (Common)
    • Catoni Walrus (#87) (Uncommon)
    • Mana Beetle (#103) (Uncommon)
    • Stream of Healing (#125) (Uncommon)
    • Poltergeist (#142) (Uncommon)
    • Mati the Lizard Queen (#154) (Uncommon)
    • Paxin’s Gauntlets (#181) (Uncommon)
    • Orcish Canal (#288) (Rare)
    • Copy Spell (#326) (Very Rare)
    • Reflection (#363) (Very Rare)
    • Water Lilies (Copy) (#T1) (Token) (for Water Lilies)
  • August 2 – The MTG Underground (Shaman Ben)
    • Golden Fleece (#39) (Common)
    • Vile Incantation (#46) (Common)
    • Mist (#78) (Uncommon)
    • Orcish Flamethrower (#106) (Uncommon)
    • Sift (#109) (Uncommon)
    • White Cloak (#114) (Uncommon)
    • Lifegiver (#177) (Uncommon)
    • Jaccartel (#182) (Uncommon)
    • Resonance (#283) (Rare)
    • Hellfire & Damnation (#347) (Very Rare)
    • Elric’s Oath (#377) (Very Rare)
    • Paxin’s Sword (#423) (Very Rare)
    • Zombie (#T3) (Token) (for Ophion)
  • August (date TBD) – Stockholm in a Bottle (~15 cards)
  • August (date TBD) – The Horde (~15 cards)
  • August (date TBD) – Emerald City Trolls (~15 cards)
  • August (date TBD) – Underworld Dreamers (~15 cards)
  • August (date TBD) – Eternal Central (~15 cards)

Can I Buy These Cards?



I’ve had the fantastic opportunity to meet Barry Reich in person, and also do follow-up interviews with him about Spectral Chaos.  He is a delight and is quite obviously a Magic design genius of the absolute highest caliber.  Thank you Barry for spending several hours of your time with me, and more so for sharing your mind with all of us in the form of Spectral Chaos.  Gratitude is likewise due to Keith Adams for obtaining the playtesting materials for the set and willingly revealing them to the world.  Obviously, without his doing so, we would never have had this remarkable insight into Magic’s initial development and early set design.  Thank you Keith for your invaluable contributions to the global Magic community, of which Spectral Chaos is but one of many.  Thank you also to “North American Old School” founder Jimmy Cooney, who hosted Barry at Dice City Games for the premier “draft” of a hand-made version of the set in 2019.  Unfortunately I was unable to participate in that landmark event, but that effort enabled me to contact Barry and learn so much about the set.

Even though I’m not selling any cards, it’s very important to me not use any copywritten art without the artist’s consent.  Thus, in selecting art to use for my project, I chose a mix of works in the public domain, other royalty-free artwork, and artwork I purchased.  Piracy of artwork is rampant on the internet, and fantasy art is (unfortunately) an especially frequent victim of this crime.  I made very extensive efforts to identify and give credit to original source artists and confirm all the art I used is freely available for public use.  (In fact, researching and correctly sourcing the art was by far the most time-intensive part of this entire project.)  I strongly believe that artists should be credited and compensated for their copywritten works, even on passion projects like mine.  If any artwork is credited incorrectly, or is actually copywritten and not authorized for public use, this is despite all my best efforts.

I’m not the only nerd obsessed with Spectral Chaos. Since Keith spoiled Spectral Chaos in 2015, a few other people have made similar efforts to mock-up some or all of the card designs on reddit, Instagram, CubeTutor and elsewhere.  And as I mentioned previously, Dice City Games hosted an actual “draft” of many hand-made versions of the playtest cards in 2019 with Barry personally.  (If you really want to ruin the fun and spoil the cards before seeing them here, you can find Keith’s original post of all 429 cards via internet search. Once the full spoiler season is over, I’ll link to Keith’s original posting here.)  For what it’s worth, I found out about these efforts long after I had started this project myself, and all my designs were done independently.  I’ve since seen these efforts, and they’re awesome.  I applaud any and all efforts to bring attention to this unique part of Magic history.

This Spectral Chaos Project is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.
Don’t print these images and try to pass them off as real cards.  These are mock-up card images for educational purposes, as a vehicle for my research and annotations, and to preserve forever this fascinating part of Magic’s early history – basically, instead of writing a book about the history of the playtest set, I figured people would prefer to just see the information and history of the set in the form of commentary on mock-up card images, rather than words on a page.  Mana and game symbols, certain card design elements and the game of Magic itself are, of course, property of Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro, and are referenced in this project solely for transformative fair use, historical commentary and parody purposes.

Barry Reich agreed to be interviewed for this project and a fair amount of the ChaosHistory comes directly from Barry himself.  Other sources for ChaosHistory include Keith Adams, some past statements from Mark Rosewater, other public WotC statements, and of course my own research into cards and early Magic history.   I have made no money off of this project, nor did I pay any money to (or receive money from) Barry or Keith for sharing their knowledge with me.  While Barry and Keith are both aware of this project, I want to be clear that neither my interpretations of card designs nor any ChaosHistory has been endorsed by Barry Reich, Keith Adams, Richard Garfield, Mark Rosewater, WotC/Hasbro or anyone else.  Any misinterpretations, errors and mistakes are mine, and mine alone.