Did you know that one of the most enjoyable, game swinging, and mechanically bizarre cards ever printed in Magic history is LEGAL in the 5-Color format?
Wizards of the Coast has provided a lot of errata and clarifications to this wonderfully quirky card, but since the emergence of competitive play, it has become a distant memory. The reality is that it is too hard to adjudicate how exactly the artifact’s ability resolves. Its unfeasible for a judge to be present during the casting and resolution of a Chaos Orb to make sure the card's instructions are followed as written. So to alleviate the problem, the DCI banned Chaos Orb in 1995, and it has not seen tournament play since.
The 5-color format doesn’t necessarily abide by official rulings, and has come up with a solution of its own to allow the use of this famous card:
“At any point if Chaos Orb is involved in any spell or ability, no permanents may move from their locations in play. Essentially, everything has a "pin" in the center around which the card can turn to tap. This condition remains for as long as there is a Chaos Orb in play.
If a Chaos Orb lands on a stack of cards, the following 5-Color ruling applies: If cards are stacked and a Chaos Orb lands on top of those stacked cards, any cards that are under that area of the Orb are affected, including cards underneath other cards. Only cards that would touch the Orb are destroyed in this way.
If you would flip a card onto the playing area, you must remove the card from any sleeves before flipping.”
As a result of these rulings, Chaos Orb remains fully legal in the 5-color format. (Although it is still restricted to 1x per deck.) Yay! That means fun for us!
I acquired my Chaos Orb (I believe) around 1998 while I lived in Bloomington, Indiana. At that time, the 5-color format didn’t even exist, so using the card was pretty up to the casual play group I participated in at the time. We were a pretty innovative bunch back then when we played at the IU Memorial Union. I distinctly remember playing my “Chorb”, because even then, it was pretty rare, and only myself and one other player even owned one.
I’ve thrown quite a few Chaos Orbs in my career, and have the technique down to a science. It requires practice, but with a little concentration, you’ll find its actually pretty easy if you break down the steps and pay attention to what you are actually doing.
What I learned through my experience is that you need to be a sniper when executing it. Chaos Orb doesn’t have to fall chaotically to live up to its name. The card still needs to fall from a height of at least one foot above the playing surface, and still flip 360 degrees, but other than those two requirements, don’t try to embellish the toss.
A good practice when attempting to play a Chaos Orb is to only cast it when you want to use it. You will have better luck in hitting multiple targets if your opponent is caught unaware that it is in your hand or play. After is resolves, if you do not pass priority, you will be able to activate it immediately and hit stacked cards, or a grouping cards that are clustered together on the table.
The first thing you want to do when you activate your Chaos Orb is take it out of its sleeve. The 5-color rules actually made a clarification requiring this, but honestly, I prefer flipping it this way. I think you get a better grip on the cardboard, and better control on handling the edge of the card. While it’s inside a sleeve, you are feeling the flimsy perimeter of the plastic edge, not the rigid cardboard. From experience, I believe you get much better results when you flip it sleeveless.
The card text requires the Chaos Orb to fall from a height of one foot. For best results, keep it to the minimum. Don’t exceed the 12”. If you can’t eyeball it, bring a ruler until you can. (Seriously!) The longer the distance the card falls, the more chance that it will drift or land on edge, and miss the intended bullseye.
I don’t know what you would do if you tried to flip a Chorb in Europe. Europeans don’t know what a foot is. (They use the metric system, Duh!)
The next step when lining up to flip a Chaos Orb is aligning your direction. What you really want to do is get your trajectory plumbed to the table, so that the Chorb’s flight path is 90 degrees perpendicular to the play surface. This is probably the most important factor in, next to the release of throwing an Orb. If the trajectory is out of plumb, you increase the odds that the Orb will skip or slide when it finally hits the table. If the trajectory is plumb, there is a much greater chance the card will stick where it lands.
You may find it easier if you get out of your seat and actually stand when flipping an Orb. This way you can clearly see the spot you are positioning over, and assure where it will land.
The next step you need to consider is rotation. If you can minimize the movement while its in the air, the chance that it will land on edge is lessened. What you are aiming for here is to get the card to only flip exactly one time. Measuring your distance to exactly 12” will help control this too.
To practice this, hold your Chaos Orb face up, horizontally, one foot above the table surface. As you practice flipping, closely watch the card as it falls. When it lands, it should complete the required one flip, and land face up on the table. If it doesn’t, you either a.) under-flipped, and it only turned 180 degrees; or b.) you over-flipped 270 degrees. You really want to limit the movement to the absolute minimum required to resolve the ability.
This part of the technique will require the most practice to master, but it is certainly achievable over time.
This may appear obvious, but you do have a choice which axis you flip the Orb along. It is always better to flip along the longer axis of a card, as the rotation will be tighter and more focused. If you choose to flip along the short axis, the rotational arm will be longer, leading to more uncontrolled movement.
The release of the card needs to be fairly precise. The best description of this would be a “snap release”. You want the card to leave the motion of your fingers as quickly as possible so that as the card begins flipping, it does not come into contact with your hand.
Place you thumb along the edge on side of the card. Position your index finger beneath it, so that your middle knuckle is below your thumb. Try to hold your wrist steady, as you align your position. When you are ready for release, dip your wrist slightly so that the card will clear your index finger in the release. Snap the card downward as your index finger slides forward. The card will naturally pivot on your index finger as the thumb snaps downward, beginning the flip.
Apply a sharp downward force as you snap the release. The more force you apply, the shorter the duration will be as the Chorb falls to the table. Remember, you still need to balance the amount of force applied with the amount of time it takes to still flip the card 360 degrees. Both mechanics are critical in achieving accuracy you want to hit your card every time.
The sheer power taking out multiple cards for three colorless mana makes Chaos Orb a powerful and essential tool in every 5-color deck. I urge you though, try not to break the DBAD rule when flipping your Chaos Orb. Just because you can wipe out your opponents entire stacked mana base, doesn’t mean you always should. Be nice. The card is mean to be fun.
Alternate Resolution Procedure
Many years later while I played in Ypsilanti Michigan, my play group decided to resolve Chaos Orb in a different (and in my opinion, un-fun) manner. The problem was that the games became TOO chaotic when Chaos Orb was announced. People would literally panic, and quickly begin scattering their cards all over the table, far exceeding the reasonable 2’ x 3’ play area that they normally allotted. Arguments would ensue as to what you could and couldn’t move, and when. It completely disrupted the game. As a result, it just became easier to say you didn’t actually have to flip the Chorb on the table to resolve it. Instead, you would just pay three mana, name your card, and destroy your target. Chorb essentially became a colorless Vindicate, since you normally only wanted to hit target a single specific card anyways. How un-fun! Needless to say, I’m glad my current group doesn’t practice this resolution.
Like the Chorb, Falling Star uses the same mechanic to resolve its ability. I have found the same card-flipping techniques apply, even though this spell is loaded with red ink, and is a sorcery rather than an artifact. Too bad the effect is only about 1% as powerful as the Chorb. I would still give you MEGA-style points if tried to flip one against me.
Occasionally, I still see people with this homage to the original Chaos Orb in their binders or wish board. Although Unglued cards are not legal in the 5-color format, I’d probably be pretty lenient if you wanted to tear up your card and use it to get out of a sticky game situation. (Note, you actually have to tear it up in front of me to get the effect. Pre-torn bits in a baggie are not acceptable to me!)
Well, there go, another installment of Grim Tidings. Who would have thought flipping a piece of cardboard could be so complicated? I hope you all consider this, and enjoy playing Chaos Orb in 5-Color as much as I do.
Bonus Kudos: Ultra Pro!
I need to give props to the Ultra Pro company this week. I’ve played Magic the Gathering for 15 years, and used Ultra Pro products for the majority of my career. Over the years, I’ve been satisfied with the quality of their products.
Last week I purchased a few packs of sleeves, and was surprised to discover that they were defective: The backing was reversed so that the textured exterior was actually inside the sleeve! This hardly seems worthwhile to mention, but on a whim, I opted to not return the defective sleeves from point of my purchase, and rather contact Ultra Pro, just to see what they would do.
To my delight, Ultra Pro’s customer service department responded to my issue within 5 hours of submission! They informed me that they will replace the defective sleeves at no cost, and mail the to my home. They were prompt, courteous, and seemed genuinely interested in tracking down this QC problem. Thank you Ultra Pro for making me, a mere consumer feel valued. Good job!