"You win the game."

Those are four powerful words, especially if we take this classic Herm Edwards theorem to be true:

If Magicians at your LGS ever start complaining about having to mulligan, I've found that this clip does a fine job putting things into perspective. The idea is that you're not playing Magic for any other reason than to win. Obviously, you're allowed to have fun, but with the understanding that you're playing towards winning the game and not just taking random game actions until you're told to stop (I'm digressing a bit here to keep the Commander players off my back).

So now that we're operating under the assumption that games of Magic are to be won, let's loop back to those four simple words: you win the game. It's objectively the most powerful phrase they can put on a card. As a result, cards with this phrase are few and far between, and they require lots of hoops to jump through. I'm not going to discuss them all here, but there are a few worth mentioning.

Amulet of Quoz is the earliest version of an alternate win condition as rules text. Here is the oracle wording for Amulet of Quoz's activated ability (emphasis mine):

T, Sacrifice Amulet of Quoz: Target opponent may ante the top card of his or her library. If he or she doesn't, you flip a coin. If you win the flip, that player loses the game. If you lose the flip, you lose the game. Activate this ability only during your upkeep.

Ante nonsense aside, this is not a card you're playing if you're playing to win the game unless you truly believe the best you can hope for is a 50-50 event that will determine the game's outcome in and of itself. Worth noting: you can't stop your opponent from simply anteing another card.

That's more time spent talking about Amulet of Quoz than it deserves. Let's move on.

As I noted previously, I started playing Magic concurrent with the release of Prophecy. For those of you who don't know, let me be clear: Prophecy is a terrible set, and Mercadian Masques is a clunky, stupid block chock-full of unfun mechanics. To me, Mercadian Masques block is a far worse failure than the openly broken Urza's Saga block before it. People at least have fun with Urza's Saga block cards these days. No one's having fun with Rishadan Port. Fading sucks. The Rhystic cards are all garbage. The terribleness of Mercadian Masques block deserves its own space; I'm getting way off-topic.

Amulet of Quoz is technically the first alternate win condition card, but Celestial Convergence was the first legitimate one (The Cheese Stands Alone obviously doesn't count). I remember very vividly getting a Prophecyfat pack for Christmas in 2000 (thanks a lot, mom) and opening the packs to find a Celestial Convergence as one of my rares. I was 11 years old. The card should've been a home run, and yet… I felt nothing about it. The card had no appeal to me at all.

There are a lot of words on Celestial Convergence, and the payoff for reading them all is to discover that "seven turns from now, the player with the highest life total wins the game." It is laughable how little this card resonates, even now. It's a spell with suspend that can be Disenchanted. Celestial Convergence is Magic's first real alternate win condition, and it sucks. That's okay. "You win the game" is a dangerous phrase.

Invasion's Coalition Victory marked the first time the WUBRG mana cost had been seen on a card since Sliver Queen, back in Stronghold in '98. Back then, this was a big deal for some reason. The offical Invasion block theme was "holy crap that's a lot of colors," so Coalition's parameters made sense contextually:

You win the game if you control a land of each basic land type and a creature of each color.

Pretty straightforward, but the win comes after its controller pays a massive up-front cost. Like most alternate win conditions, this card saw no play.

Fresh off that Coalition Victory hype, Odyssey block had a whole cycle of enchantments with alternate win conditions. In keeping with Odyssey's ill-advised "the colors in these sets are off-balance!" theme, the black enchantment was in Torment and the white and green enchantments were in Judgment. Odyssey inherited the blue and red ones by default.

In 2002, Pro Tour Hall-of-Famer William Jensen infamously Top 8'd a Grand Prix with a 244-card deck featuring four copies of Battle of Wits. Battle of Wits is unlikely to get a reprint; as Matt Sperling pointed out when Battle of Wits was reprinted in Magic 2013, Battle of Wits isn't really a legal card because it's physically impossible to randomize a deck of 200+ cards. I mean, you could technically play Battle of Wits in a deck of manageable size, but it's not going to have any game effect other than being on the battlefield. It could get you close to getting the city's blessing, I suppose.

After Odyssey block, alternate win conditions were used pretty sparingly for a huge stretch of time. Onslaught block had none. Mirrodin block had Darksteel Reactor, which was terrible. Champions of Kamigawa and Ravnica blocks both had none. Time Spiral block had a Coalition Victory reprint to go with Barren Glory, a cute tournament-legal reprint of The Cheese Stands Alone.

Lorwyn block had Helix Pinnacle, the first alternate win condition to really attract people's attention since Odyssey block, from a whole six years and one card frame before it. Helix Pinnacle is simple and attractive: if I make a bunch of mana and throw into this here card, it will spit out a game win. Well, shucks, I can make a bunch of mana! Heck, I've got all these untapped lands all the time. Why not make them work for me?

In a bizarre twist of real cards inspiring silver-bordered ones instead of the other way around, As Luck Would Have It feels an awful lot like Helix Pinnacle.

Mayael's Aria, from Alara Reborn, is less of a Magic card and more its own self-contained narrative. One big creature will trigger Mayael's Aria, and it will grow. Eventually it will be big enough to gain me some life. Eventually, it will win me the game! Even the worst players realize how mopey Mayael's Aria is. It doesn't even do its own job efficiently. If Coalition Victory is wishful thinking, Mayael's Aria is straight-up naivete. Like, come on. If you have a frigging 20/20, just attack your opponent with it. The game will end. I promise.

Zendikar block gave us Felidar Sovereign and Near-Death Experience. The nice thing about Near-Death Experience is that it's basically Amulet of Quoz without the ante rider.

There were no alternate win condition cards to be found in Scars of Mirrodin block, but Innistrad block contains what is likely the best "you win the game" card, or at least the one that's seen the most tournament play: Laboratory Maniac. Sure, perhaps Pro Tour Hall-of-Famer Gabriel Nassif isn't above playing Maze's End at a Pro Tour, and there's the aforementioned William Jensen GP Top 8 with Battle of Wits, but Laboratory Maniac's tournament pedigree far outstrips every other alternate win-condition card.

Maybe.

Approach of the Second Sun is close. I personally can't recommend the card in Standard, ever; it tends to see play in control shells full of creature sweepers, and the annoying thing about Standard as of late is that all the good midrange decks are already blue, which means they all have access to Negate out of the sideboard. Approach of the Second Sun decks are overwhelming favorites in any game one situation, but they totally falter in the face of pressure backed by a Negate or two. That's not an advisable place for any Standard deck to be.

Despite all that, we came out of the gameplay portion with the Second Sun Control deck with a winning record. Despite the flaws in its stance in the Standard metagame, Approach of the Second Sun is what all alternate win conditions should aspire to be: playable and fun. That's a hard balance to strike, but it's really great when a card's able to check both boxes.

Second Sun Control was a blast to play, even for a jaded old idiot like me. Recommend this deck to any new player if you want them to get extremely hooked on Magic, but be warned: they might tend towards alternate win conditions for a long, long time after playing this this deck.

Jon Corpora
(pronounced ca-pora)
@feb31st