By Roberto Moser • November 4, 2016
Credit where credit is due
During the past couple of months, famous Magic the Gathering commentator, host and personality Evan Erwin has published a series of videos showcasing his top 100 Magic cards of all time, listing his personal picks for the most relevant, impactful, important or just good cards of all time, including both widely acclaimed cards and gems from Magic’s past.
While such a list has been attempted many times with various results, his take was both simple and heartfelt. Since it would be extremely trivial to just list the strongest cards of all time, he admittedly spiced things up by presenting the list as his own, admitting that personal preferences would be a relevant factor. I will not spoil any of his picks, but let’s just say his take was very interesting, as it managed to bridge the gap between a bunch of traditionally great card and Evan Erwin’s favourite cards.
As a result, it is easy to just watch his videos and say to yourself “I love that card, too!” or “no, that card is awful, I want this other thing to be on the list!”. Magic is a game that leaves a lot of room to personal preferences; so it is almost guaranteed that no two players will ever have the same list of their favourite 100 Magic cards of all time. I, for example, hate Karn Liberated as a card, but I am also aware the Golem Planeswalker is one very beloved card, especially among Tron players. I love Mill as a strategy in Modern, but I al also aware meny players despise cards like Mesmeric Orb.
So where does all of this takes us? It actually takes us back down memory lane.
Evan Erwin’s videos and all the articles that attempted something similar really push long-time players to ask themselves what their favourite cards are. Everyone can name one or two cards out of the blue, but it takes some effort and some actual research to find one hundred favourite cards or one hundred best cards to list. Watching Evan Erwin’s videos, I surely felt pushed to attempt something similar, despite having to perform a couple of personal adjustments along the way, when attempting to take Evan Erwin’s concept and make it my own.
So here you have it: a comprehensive list of my top 100 Magic cards of all time (so far). Part one, because this is going to take a lot of time and space. And, knowing me, I would never be able to squeeze the list to one hundred entries in a reasonable amount of lines of text.
Premises were premises are due
Before we embark in this excruciatingly long journey, let me preface by briefly explain how this very list was conceived.
The one hundred – and more, trust me, there will be more – cards presented this list are my favourite Magic cards of all time as of this moment. This means the following is not an attempt at ranking the most powerful cards of all time, nor a list of the best cards ever printed, design-wise. What follows is nothing but a compilation of the cards I appreciated the most from Magic’s history. The choice might be related to the design of the card, the flavour behind it, the way they performed in a certain environment. Or it might have to do with fond memories from my Magic experience, which have nothing to do with game-wise parameter of a certain card. Everyone knows Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Timetwister and the original Moxes are among the best cards ever printed. But there is a very good chance you will not find any of those cards on my list.
You might interpret what follows as a photo album of my Magic past, with moments, feelings, ideas and concepts represented by individual cards. Design hype, flavour depth and game playability are of course crucial factors, but there will also be a lot of personal feelings involved.
I will also try and limit myself to a couple of lines for each card – though, let’s be honest, I’ll definitely break this rule every single time – hoping a synthetic explanation of my personal choices will ignite your interest and challenge you to write your own list. As anticipated, this very article will go from number 100 to number 51, therefore encompassing the first half of the whole list. You will have to wait a little more to find out what the real top cards are, though some hints might be already disseminated here and there in this very article.
Fasten your seatbelts, because you’re taking your first steps into my Magic mind.
Starting from the bottom
The 100th card on our list has to be something – or someone? – special to start on the right foot. So who’s better than Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded? So far the only attempt at a two Mana Planeswalker, Tibalt scared everyone upon his reveal, as his aggressive cost was absolutely unprecedented. That said, he faded into oblivion pretty quickly, becoming a running joke, rather than the aggressive and chaotic powerhouse some feared. Nowadays, he sees no competitive play, but is still one amazing gem in Chaos-focused Commander decks and kitchen table decks, where his ridiculousness, unpredictability and unreliability make him one of the most entertaining Turn Two plays you can imagine. Draw a card and discard at random? Why not! Be immediately labelled as “a bad player”? You bet!
Number 99 is Path to Exile. A necessary evil and a card I begrudgingly learned to appreciate, its aggressive cost, efficiency and efficacy make it one of the most appreciated pieced of removal in Modern. From Aggro to Control, from Combo to Midrange, Path to Exile is almost always a safe pick to solve your Creature-based problems. That said, it’s not until I fully understood its potential that I learned to love it. Sure, removing a Creature from the game is good, but what if – spoiler alert! – there was a way to profit from the “its controller may search his or her library” part? More on the next episode!
The 98th card is a gem from my personal Magic history. Festering Goblin is a little one drop that quickly became the mascot of my Legacy Zombie Tribal deck. A great Zombie on its own, it bravely held the ground against the customary Turn One Goblin Lackey deployed by my friend’s Legacy Goblin Tribal deck. It eventually died at the hands of my own Carrion Feeders, but what a brave soldier for the cause it was. And it was also kind of cute in its own, twisted and unliving way. Recently reprinted as part of Modern Masters complementary products, the card never saw much competitive play, but always remained among the best openings in dedicated Zombie Tribal decks. Sure, Gravecrawler is good, but this guy has a unique and naïve feeling that really embodies the casual nature of Tribal decks.
We stay in the realm of one drops: the 97th card of my list is Vexing Devil, also known as “the one time I thought I broke Goblin Guide”. This is one of the most polarizing creatures from Magic’s recent history, as players either consider this card to be an amazingly aggressive one drop, or an awful waste of deck slots. Sure, we all know it’s never good to give your opponent any kind of choice, but how pushed can a one Mana 4/3 be? When the card was revealed some – including myself – thought it was even better than Goblin Guide. Today we know it’s not the case, but what an amazing card this still is. To this day, I find myself preferring this guy to the aforementioned Goblin Guide when it comes to extreme Aggro decks, like my Modern Kuldotha Red. As the deck’s goal is to close the game as quickly as possible, Vexing Devil can leave your opponent with very little space to adjust to a very aggressive strategy, that usually starts off with a Kuldotha Rebirth followed by a Goblin Bushwhacker.
In 96th place we have Havengul Lich. This card is everything. The art is extremely scary, it’s a Commander powerhouse, it was insanely good in Dark Ascension Limited and, most importantly, it feels Mythic. It has the game-warping feeling that a Mythic Creature should have, it perfectly captures the spirit of the original Innistrad block and, despite seeing no competitive play since 2013, it never fails to disappoint when you manage to resolve it in a tight game of Elder Dragon Highlander. Between its unquestionable playability and the flavour behind it, Havengul Lich truly feels like a videogame boss, with a creepy and quite unique ability and a very eerie feeling. This card is value. Scary value.
95th place goes to Devastation Tide, a card that briefly tricked me into playing Standard back in 2012, before I realized I was a Modern guy. While the effect itself is nothing new in Magic, the Miracle option is the real icing on the cake, as it allows an Instant-speed casting despite the card being a Sorcery. Mix it all with an art that is pure Raymond Swanland and a flavour text that feels White more than Blue, and you get what it’s either the poor man’s Terminus, or an amazing board sweeper for any Blue deck that is able to draw cards at Instant speed. When this card works, it feels insane. When it doesn’t, it is painful at best. And, to be honest, this level of unpredictability makes for a truly amazing card to build around.
Number 94 is a card that tells a story. Bonesplitter is a fairly simple design with not much flavour behind its simple and iconic art. It’s just a huge axe. That being said, it is one of the best examples of how unbalanced the original Equipments were, when they first showed up in Mirrodin. At Common, this card could turn a mediocre Goblin Striker into a force of nature, providing repeatable and powerful bonuses to any Creature on the battlefield at an insanely low cost. To this day, Bonesplitter is one of the most first-pickable Colorless cards in Pauper Cubes and it even sees play in Powered Cubes. It should come as no surprise that the most recent example of a fixed Bonesplitter came in the form of Kaladesh’s own Torch Gauntlet, which doubles the Mana cost and the Equip cost, providing the same effect. The times they are a changin’.
The 93rd card on our list is a great card that saw play in Standard and is nowadays quite popular in Commander. Grave Titan means business. Six Mana for a total of ten points of power and ten points of toughness, with a good chance to increase these numbers as soon as Grave Titan hits the Red Zone. The card somehow manages to circumvent spot removal, as even a timely Path to Exile will leave the two 2/2 Zombies behind. The card saw extensive play in Standard back in the day, when it was among the best bombs in Control decks that were great at managing small threats, but needed a reliable way to actually finish the game. Turns out spreading power among three bodies is no joke, as the card was value on top of value. Commander players can now enjoy this Titan - and its even more popular brother, Sun Titan - in Commander, both as a Token generator and as a big Giant that can turn Creature-based matches into brutal smacks in the face.
Number 92 is a card that is always mentioned among the best cards in Magic history. Skullclamp is insane. It is, trust me. It is a Colourless repeatable draw effect that is sure to win its controller the game, if left unchecked. The card was so good, it got banned in Standard because all the top three decks from 2004 could do absurd things with it. It even got banned in Modern and Legacy because of its ridiculous potential in any deck running Creatures. What is even funnier is that its original design was anything but good, as Aaron Forsythe described in an article from 2004. The card was pushed to the extreme, thanks to Wizards’ poor reading of the potential of Equipments during the original Mirrodin block. Nowadays, it is a staple in many Commander decks and is regarded as one of the strongest Equipments even printed.
In 91st place we find a fairly recent card in Sire of Stagnation. The card caught my attention right from the start, as it promised to be a more honest version of Consecrated Sphinx. A Limited bomb, a great card for Commander and a nice draw engine, this card is either a second Consecrated Sphinx or a continuous Pardic Miner affecting everyone but its controller. Sure, we all know it’s never good to give your opponent any form of choice, but both the alternatives seem pretty good and Sire of Stagnation’s stats are quite great on their own. Pair this beautiful design with a quote that seems to echo Obi-Wan Kenobi’s reaction at the destruction of Alderaan and you are in for a very nice treat and a card that never fails at somehow impacting Commander games.
Number 90 has to go to Diaochan, Artful Beauty. This card is multiplayer chaos and democracy in their purest form, mixing politics with intrigue and deceit. With a very simple ability, it opens up to a multitude of situations and possibilities, providing its controller with multiple paths to board management. You can go for the biggest threat on the board in the name of game balance. You can take the second strongest card on the battlefield, to force your opponents to take out that problematic Massacre Wurm that is threatening to kill everyone. You can form alliances, manipulate people and warp board states with a smile on your face and a lot of hatred in your heart. To quote Heath Ledger’s Joker: “you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair”.
Because chaos is fair and we should keep the positive vibe going, the 89th card on the list is Confusion in the Ranks. Now I know some of you only know this card for its Norin the Wary combo, but let’s take a step back and discuss the card for what it is. A pure and uncontrolled engine of mess. You want your Creature? Nope! Want to cast an Artifact? Nope! The beautiful aspect is that it doesn’t simply counter everything that comes down. It doesn’t really deal with permanents. It shuffles things around, forcing players to race for the best Creature, Enchantment or Artifact on the board. Here, take my Llanowar Elves while I get your Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Oh, you have a Kozilek, the Great Distortion? How about a Trinket Mage instead? This card completely overturns the balance of any multiplayer game, introducing a sort of side quest for the best board position acquirable.
In 88th place we have an iconic card that almost everyone knows. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker is the perfect example of an epic Planeswalker card that was not really pushed for competitive Constructed play, but still managed to feel majestic and evil. Between a visually impressive Mana cost and a set of abilities that just scream “evil mastermind”, this card is the definition of awesomeness. The art by D. Alexander Gregory manages to feel both classic and fresh and the resulting product manages to really provide players with a feeling of what an iconic Magic villain can do. Years after its release, this card is still one of the most epic cards one can open in a Draft. Maybe not a correct first pick, maybe not an absolute Limited bomb, but still an amazing powerhouse to have in your pool. After all, we all feel like a child whenever we manage to resolve a Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker.
Number 87 is a card I think every single player knows. It is likely a card we have all played at some point. Evolving Wilds and its previous incarnation, Terramorphic Expanse, have become a Limited classic and a very respectable reprint in almost any Magic set. With very simple design, an intrinsic limitation that prevents them from being abused in Eternal formats and a very respectable flexibility, this “Common Fetch Lands” are always a welcome addition to any Limited, Pauper or Casual deck and sometimes manage to sneak in some multicolour Commander decks. They just work, they help splash an off-colour bomb in Booster Drafts and Sealed Decks and they can trigger Landfall at a very reasonable cost. These cards might not be as beautiful as a Polluted Delta, but they do the job.
86th place goes to a fairly recent card from Shadows over Innistrad: Startled Awake. The card manages to tell a story between its front and its backside, leaving an eerie sense of danger and fright. The creepy figure in the top right corner of Startled Awake is a perfect foreshadowing of the figure in Persistent Nightmare, which shifts the focus of the art on the nightmare-y creature lurking from inside the most awful of dreams. This is even more impressive if you consider this card is, to this day, the only transforming Sorcery in Magic’s history. And its gameplay is very coherent with its flavour, with a nightmare eroding a vitim’ mind to the point of becoming a living essence- I can only hope the future brings us some new spells that tell such a clear and beautiful story by shifting from a side to another.
At number 85 we have an all-time classic in Armadillo Cloak. The card is just very, very good and it really pushed the boundaries for what a Common Aura is supposed to do. While Auras are often considered a trap in Limited games, this card is an amazing boost for aggressive decks, up to the point of seeing consistent play in Pauper Constructed decks. This card is so good, it was promoted to Uncommon for both Vintage Masters and Eternal Masters, a couple of supplementary sets with insanely high power levels. Just put this card on a Hexproof Creature and feel all the value it can provide. And even if you are only enchanting a 2/2 on Turn Three, swinging with a 4/4 trampler with Lifelink is no joke. Whole Pauper Cube deck suddenly make more sense thanks to a single Armadillo Cloak.
In 84th place we have Chandra Ablaze, though this spot could easily go to Chandra, Pyromaster or to – almost – every other incarnation of the Red Planeswalker. What can I say? Chandra is an awesome character, with loads of charisma and a depth that is only now beginning to surface. Unfortunately, not all her incarnations were as impressive, but her recent versions are starting to show how Wizards is finally managing to capture both her essence and the true potential of a Red Planeswalker. It took almost ten years since her first appearance in Lorwyn, but she has become one of the most beloved, symbolic and relevant characters in Magic lore. And, for the joy of all her fans, her cards are starting to keep up with her amazing attitude, finally combining great flavour with awesome playability.
Number 83 is Master of Etherium. Now you need to know my first “serious” Constructed deck was an Affinity deck, back in the days of original Mirrodin. When I got back to the game – around the release of Magic 2011 – I found out the amazing world of Esper had provided some insane toys for a hardcore Artifact fan like me. Master of Etherium was especially cool, as it managed to combine the buffing ability of and Artifact Lord with the raw power of a huge beater. And it was also Blue, which certainly added bonus coolness points. Mix it all with a somehow creepy and beautiful art by Matt Cavotta and you get an impressive card that sees a lot of play in Affinity decks in Modern. And that little Vedalken kid the Master of Etherium is holding in the art? People on Esper are into weird things.
At number 82 we have Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. One of the most impressive Planeswalkers in Commander, one amazing Limited bomb and an absolute Standard powerhouse during her time, this incarnation of Elspeth is by far the most awesome. She had just travelled to Theros with her knightly attitude and code of honour. And she is really showing all her majesty and gravitas. Her awesomeness also translates to some fringe Modern play, thanks to a set of abilities that is downright impressive. She protects herself, she deals with threatening Creatures when her controller is behind on board, she can turn into an aggressive engine and she packs all the epicness and heroicness of the titular White Planeswalker. Sorry, Gideon and Ajani, but Elspeth wore the Colour way better than any of you. I mean, we do have to get back to Theros to save her at some point, don’t we?
81st place goes to Bitterblossom and what a card this is. Bitterblossom dominated Standard to the point of getting pre-emptively banned in Modern when the format was conceived. The Enchantment was finally unbanned in 2014, promising to break the format, but ending up seeing way less Modern action than initially theorized. Outside of Modern, the card is a true Commander powerhouse and works amazingly in almost any deck running Black and needing a continuous supply of flying Tokens. Pair it up with Skullclamp for an amazing draw engine, use it for repeatable sacrifice effects or just build an army of flying Faeries. This card is guaranteed to be relevant at almost any stage of the game. In addition to its playability, the iconic art by Rebecca Guay and its amazing flavour text make this card the poster child for the whole Lorwyn set. It’s beautiful, it’s dangerous, it’s awesome.
In 80th place we another amazing card for any Affinity player: Etched Champion is strong, it’s extremely powerful and it just reads amazing once its controller is able to acquire Metalcraft – which should always happen, given its use in Artifact-based decks. The original art – once again by Matt Cavotta, your one stop shop for any Artifact Creature art – is a work of absolute art. The card sees both Modern and Legacy play, but what is really enticing is the combination of its design – so clean and simple, as echoed in the art – and its flavour text, which hints at the dark future of Mirrodin at the hands of the Phyrexians. The card is the definition of elegance, but it manages to also tell the story of its world, albeit as a grim foreshadowing. And if you’re in it just for the playability, let me assure you a Cranial Plating on this guy is an absolute beating as every Modern player knows very well.
79th place is the home of one awfully unfair card. Hymn to Tourach is pure evil in its most amazing and unbiased form. Cast this spell on Turn Two and you might have just won the game. The fuel of so many “feel bad” stories, an amazing and unpredictable piece of aggressive hand disruption, Hymn to Tourach can really hit hard. Ideally hitting one or two Lands out of the opponent’s hand, this can be an absolute backbreaker, punishing players for keeping unreliable or shaky hands, punishing players for taking one Mulligan to many, punishing players who play complicated or demanding Combos, punishing just anyone for anything. This is the evillest card I can think of, because it doesn’t downright win the game on the spot, but it takes you there. Slowly and painfully. One random discard at a time.
We shift the gears for number 78th, where we have Molten Psyche Now, I love Wheel of Fortune effects. But there is something in this card that just challenges my inner Johnny. Within a single card, you can combine the annoyance of a Wheel of Fortune, the demanding requirement of Metalcraft and the direct damage of a finisher for aggressive decks. This card prompted me to build a deck around it, just for the sake of attempting a Turn Three kill thanks to a possible Reverberated Molten Psyche. While not a competitive card by any mean, nor a reliable Combo engine to bring at local tournaments, this card can be the bane of any unprepared Two-Headed Giant match. Does it work? It mostly doesn’t. Is it awesome? You bet it is.
77th place goes to a card that shines for its amazing flexibility. Far / Away ranges from being a solid and reliable Control card to an insane blowout during tight matches. Seen mostly in Commander and occasionally in Modern, the card is so flexible and reliable; it will never let you down. I remember casting this spell on Turn Five during many a Dragon’s Maze Limited matches and completely overturning a difficult board state. You can easily two-for-one your opponent, you can save one of your Creatures and remove another one on your opponent’s side of the table, or you can just cast any of its half for a still very respectable effect. This card is good, do not underestimate its flexibility and power if you know one of your opponents has one in his or her Commander deck.
In 76th place we have a classic. A true classic. Fact or Fiction shines in my list in all its glory – and as a placeholder for all the similar card designs it inspired. From Truth or Tale to Steam Augury, from Sphinx of Uthuun to Epiphany at the Drownyard, this card has been imitated many times. But you can’t deny the charm of the original. Fact or Fiction is one of the most skill-intensive cards ever printed, as it generates an insane number of alternatives, fuelling complicated decision processes in your opponent. Who is suddenly supposed to take a potentially game-ending decision based on very limited information. I have seen multiplayer games completely halted by the casting of a Fact or Fiction, leading to aggressive discussions and negotiations among all players. I have seen inexperienced players making devastating mistakes based on very subtle bluffs. I have heard Magic veterans proclaiming that “Fact or Fiction should be always countered, no matter the situation”. It’s not everyday that a card coined the motto: “end of turn, Fact or Fiction, you lose”.
Halfway through the first half
75th place goes to a card everyone knows and – not everyone – loves. Sol Ring is the universal symbol of Commander, thanks to Wizards aggressive reprinting of the once hard to find Artifact. The card manages to be a format definer for Vintage, an absolute Commander staple and an amazing first pick in Powered Cubes. It is pretty much an absolute bomb in every format it is legal in, thanks to its explosive potential and its immediate payoff. Recently reprinted as a Kaladesh Invention, Sol Ring is a card everyone plays whenever there is an opportunity – while everyone else complains about its unfairness. The card even inspired a motto in my playgroup: “gentlemen do not cast Turn One Sol Ring” as it’s so good; it will often shape entire games when deployed during the first stages of the game. As an honourable mention, a shut out is due to Mana Vault and Mana Crypt, as well. Yes, I know these are all very different cards, but I wanted to group them here, under the umbrella of Sol Ring’s iconic presence.
And now something completely different: in 74th we have Phyrexian Crusader. A one-man army that can take entire boards on by itself, while also working as an amazing offensive threat. You don’t always see a 2/2 for three Mana with four abilities, but this guy manages to be that awesome, even without a flavour text to tell us how awesome it is. With its trademark disturbing Phyrexian style – perfectly depicted by Eric Deschamps – this card still sees some Modern play in dedicated Infect lists and was briefly played in Legacy upon its release. Back this guy up with Invigorates and Mutagenic Growths and you have a one-hit killer that can swing through armies of White and Red Creatures without being affected. Cast it in Legacy on Turn One thanks to a Dark Ritual and you are in for a potential Turn Two win. Yes, I built that deck in Legacy. Shut up, it’s awesome. Unreliable, but awesome.
73rd place goes to another card from the Scars of Mirrodin block. Omen Machine is a beautifully conceived cards for any player wanting to have some casual fun at the kitchen table. With zero competitive play potential and a phenomenal effect that is sure to bring utter chaos to any Commander game, this card is one of the reasons why I decided to build a Mono-Red whacky Chaos Commander. Random and unpredictable cards everywhere, while also punishing decks wanting to draw insane amount of cards? Yes, please! Let me just add David Rapoza’s – the same artist who drew Green Sun’s Zenith Go for the Throat and Gideon, Champion of Justice, among others – art for Omen Machine looks amazing in foil.
The 72nd card on my list is a card that is just absolutely perfect because of its simplicity. Fabricate sees play in Modern and Commander and was briefly spotted in Legacy decks that just want to fetch for an Artifact. What is beautiful about this card is its linear mechanic: what do you do in real life, when you create an Artifact out of your memory or out of a library or an instruction manual of some sort? You Fabricate, of course. Done. The card works exactly how it is supposed to work, with no weird strings attached and no need for further explanation. Glen Angus’ art from Mirrodin is absolutely stunning, perfectly capturing a slice of life on the world of Mirrodin, and the flavour text is the perfect bridge between what the card does and what “fabricating” means. A true piece of design elegance that is also very, very playable.
At number 71 we have a fairly recent card from Battle for Zendikar. A Common, actually. Eldrazi Skyspawner is quite possibly the best Wind Drake-like card ever printed at Common rarity, combining two point of evasive power with valuable ramp application and a decent support to Token strategies. Hands down my favourite Common from the whole Battle for Zendikar block, this card is an absolute Pauper Cube staple and can easily find its place in aggressive and defensive decks, thanks to its intrinsic flexibility. Three points of power spread across two Creatures, with the larger one also being evasive is almost unprecedented at Common rarity. Sandsteppe Outcast and Ghirapur Gearcrafter were already decently playable cards, but Eldrazi Skyspawner pushed the bar even further. Let’s not forget Chase Stone’s amazing art for the card, which really captures the weird and disturbing essence of the Eldrazi.
70th place goes to a gem from the past. Isochron Scepter was likely the first time in my Magic life where I was able to correctly assess the quality of a card without having anyone helping me out. I remember seeing the card and being extremely shocked at its potential, as casting one Instant over and over seemed absolutely promising in certain types of decks. The card was even an Uncommon at its first printing, so it really wasn’t showcased among the top Mirrodin Rares upon its initial release. I quickly acquired a playset of them, sure that I would be able to put the two Mana Artifact to good use. Flashforward to now, that same playset is solidly placed in my Modern Esper Mill deck’s sideboard, as an excellent engine to bring in after Game One, repeatedly managing Instants as various forms of countermeasures. It comes as no surprise that the card has been reprinted as a Rare in Eternal Masters, finally attributing it the Rarity it originally deserved.
69th place goes to Thoughtcast. A Five Mana spell that would be absolutely unimpressive, if it wasn’t for three beautiful words: “Affinity for Artifacts”. Having a chance to draw two cards for a single Blue Mana is absolutely amazing, as we get in the uncharted territory of a Careful Study or a Faithless Looting without the discard clause. This card marks the first time when I fully realized how good drawing cards can be in the game of Magic. Beginners and inexperienced players tend to underestimate the power of dedicated draw spell, especially when the Mana cost is deceptively high. But if you take this card for a spin in your Affinity deck – either in Modern or Legacy, depending on your preference – you immediately feel all the awesomeness of this simple, yet extremely effective Common. Craft an explosive Turn One play and you might even find yourself with a replenished hand by Turn Two, thanks to one – or two, who knows –Thoughtcast.
We keep wandering around the original Mirrodin block for number 68, where we have Opaline Bracers. Also known as “rainbow Vulshok Morningstar” this card is insanely fun to play, especially in Limited – or Constructed, who am I to judge you? – environments that can easily support decks generating three to five Colours of Mana. Turning a small 1/1 into a 5/5 is no joke, although the Sunburst requirement turns this card into a demanding build-around, rather than a straight up powerhouse. But once you are able to fully exploit this card, you are sure to love it. I have seen Pauper Cube decks running off-Colour Bounce Lands just to exploit Opaline Bracers’ full potential. Yes, it was me doing it. Yes, my Mana Base was extremely shaky and unreliable. But, boy, was it fun.
In 67th place we find another Common card. This time a widely appreciated card and not another weird build-around masterpiece that only I can enjoy. Sign in Blood is widely regarded as one of the best Common draw spells of the recent years, as it combines Mana efficiency with card draw output. Two cards for two Mana is no joke and the life tax is almost always worth it. The card sees play in Pauper and Commander and has appeared in some competitive Modern and Legacy decks, thanks to its simplicity and effectiveness. Sure, it’s no Ancestral Recall, but in the modern era of card drawing at Common Rarity, there is no denial that Sign in Blood can old its ground among the best options available.
66th place goes to an all-time favourite of mine. Myr Enforcer is the original Affinity for Artifacts payoff, with its impressive stats potentially dropped on the board during the first turns of the game, after a barrage of cheap Artifacts. The card is raw power in its purest form, with no form of evasion, no fancy effects and no ability, aside for a very aggressive Mana cost reduction that can turn this 4/4 into a cheap or even free Creature. A lightning rod in a deck filled with aggressive Artifacts, this card hits the board hard and is just an amazing reward for well built Affinity decks. While Modern decks nowadays tend to focus on other options, the card still sees some Legacy play inside the most aggressive decks, accompanied by its fellow machines.
Position number 65 goes to Bloodghast, one of the most enduring and annoying cards to ever come down on Turn Two. A card with decent stats on its own, it becomes absurd in almost any aggressive deck thanks to an amazing Landfall ability, while its potential Haste is just icing on the cake. The card is widely played in Modern, Legacy and even Vintage, is a fantastic engine in Commander and sees wide play in Powered Cubes. Keep pressuring your opponent with an almost unstoppable attacker, exploit its self recursion prowess with sacrifice outlets, draw an absurd amount of cards with Skullclamp, this card is just fantastic. And it is even a Vampire Spirit, which is a combination of Creature Types that has never appeared on any other card and is downright cool. With just one printing in Zendikar, this card needs a reprint so bad, I can only hope it will come in one of the incoming supplementary products.
Speaking of recursion, 64th place goes to Mimic Vat. A Rare gem card from Scars of Mirrodin, it saw some fringe play in Standard back in the day, before disappearing in the mists of rotation. But once Commander became a widely supported and extremely popular format, Mimic Vat enthusiasts suddenly found a format where this Artifact could shine in all its glory. With the potential of recurring enter the battlefield effects over and over again, this card is the substance of dreams for any Commander player wanting to abuse all those awesome triggers. Acidic Slime, Solemn Simulacrum, Eternal Witness, Mulldrifter, Fleshbag Marauder, Woodfall Primus are just a couple of examples of what you can do with the card. This card generates stories and plays amazingly. What’s not to love?
The 63rd card on our list has to go to one of the most amazing pieces of quasi-removal ever printed. Surgical Extraction is a beautiful card that every Modern player has likely seen once or twice during competitive tournaments. While Memoricide-type effects have been printed dozens of times in Magic, with Lost Legacy being the most recent iteration of a similar effect, Surgical Extraction is quite unique. By specifically and precisely removing cards starting from one’s graveyard, this card ironically redundant and reliable deckbuilding, providing more targets, the more crucial the extracted card is. The fact that it’s Instant speed and the virtually free Mana cost turn this card into a Graveyard hate trick, a combo countermeasure and just a great tool against predictable decks. And if you are able to quickly fill your opponent’s graveyard, you’re in for a truly efficient and potentially game changing extraction. Just try and remove a non-basic Land to really see what I am talking about.
Number 62 is Silver Myr and, with him, all the Mana-producing Myrs from the original Mirrodin block. These cards provided Mana ramp with no casting Colour restriction, enabling even White and Blue to jump from two to four Mana by Turn Three. While more expensive than Llanowar Elves and less reliable than Rampant Growth, these little Creatures surely portrayed the flavour of Mirrodin in an unique way. The parrot-shaped head of these Creatures, their intrinsic cuteness and great playability in Limited, Pauper and sometimes even Commander make them both iconic and very, very playable. Not only that, but Kev Walker’s art for Silver Myr is moody, beautiful and so insanely charming. A true work of art on a card that deserves way more recognition that some would think at first glance.
Position 61 goes to Minamo, School at Water's Edge. Also known as “the Land everyone should play in their Blue Commander decks”, Minamo is one of the many powerful Lands emerging from the not-so-impressive Kamigawa block. While the set is often criticized for its weird design and a flavour feeling that was there, but did not really deliver game-wise, some of its cards still possess an iconic gravitas to this day. Minamo, School at Water's Edge is definitely one of them, as it embodies a monastery-type feeling, filled with charm and epic majesty. And let’s not forget how good this card can be in Commander: untapping any Legendary Creature can result in either interesting combats or insane blowouts, depending on how much you can profit off Minamo’s simple and straightforward ability. This card untaps Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, provides pseudo Vigilance to any Eldrazi, resets Merieke Ri Berit, unlocks your tapped Legendary beaters and can occasionally save some points of life during tense combats. You can also use it on your opponents’ Legendary Creatures, so why not use to its full political potential?
The 60th card on our list is Cranial Plating, one of the cards – if not the card – that made Affinity a viable strategy in Modern, Legacy and Pauper. Providing an insane power buff to any Creature inside the right deck, this card is actually part of a five Colour cycle that is frequently forgotten, in the face of this very two Mana Artifact. You might not remember Healer’s Headdress, Neurok Stealthsuit, Sparring Collar and Horned Helm, but Cranial Plating is sure to be quite famous among every player with at least a couple of months of Eternal experience. I remember building my Affinity deck more than ten years ago and including a couple of Cranial Platings in the first draft of the list, only to bump the count to a full playset as soon as I realized how reliably this Equipment could turn any Ornithopter into a devastating force of nature. Once again, when Wizards introduced Equipments, they hadn’t really figured how strong these cards could turn out to be.
At number 59 is Searing Blaze, a powerful burn spell that feels so beautiful thanks of its amazing mix of design elements and key components. You see, Burn decks are often torn between dealing damage to the opponent and managing opposing Creatures. Unexperienced Burn players will lose games because they fail to deal with a key Creature, or because they spend all their resources managing the board and not the opponent’s life total. This card does both. But it does it with one of the most beloved mechanics in recent Magic history: Landfall. Just play a Land and deal a total of six damage. Seems easy, right? Not really: if you are playing an extremely cutthroat format like Legacy, you soon realize this card actually needs a Creature to target – which might not always be the case, considering how some Legacy decks feature little to no Creatures – and a Fetchland to be cast at Instant speed for its full value. These couple of conditions, however, make the card even more interesting, as they require your plays to be as timely and well-planned as possible.
58th place goes to one of my favourite Planeswalker: Tezzeret, the Seeker. Tezzeret is a great character in and on himself, with his evil ambition balanced by his servitude to Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, his Aetherium essence fuelling a continuous affinity towards Artifacts on various worlds. We saw him on Alara, we met him again on Mirrodin and we are likely to face him a third time on Kaladesh. What I find amusing is that the character has shifted from the original Mono-Blue version to a Blue-Black, more evolved incarnation, while retaining his Artifact focus without feeling farfetched or forced. He deals with Artifacts, he manipulates the very essence of constructs, but he is also a deep and interesting character that doesn’t just plays with his toys. He has dreams and ambitions, he has an identity of his own and a story to tell. He is driven by his natural affinity towards Artifacts, but he is much more than a mad tinkerer. He is a seeker, he is a minion, he is a Master of Etherium. He is Tezzeret and he is not just another Blue Planeswalker.
Number 57 is a placeholder for a three-card cycle: Sword of Kaldra is just a third of the awesome cycle featuring Shield of Kaldra and Helm of Kaldra. What is so amazing with this cycle? Everything. For starters, this is the first time I actively wanted to possess a full cycle of cards just for the awesome flavour behind it. I went so far as to briefly run a single copy of each Artifact of Kaldra in my Affinity deck. Yes, I know, it makes no sense. But I loved Mirrodin as a Plane and I loved that Sword of Kaldra, Shield of Kaldra and Helm of Kaldra were the used as set symbols for Mirrodin, Darksteel and Fifth Dawn. It felt like playing with a whole set in a single card. What is even more interesting about this card cycle is that the actual payoff is not really there. Summoning Kaldra was one of my childhood dreams, but when I grew up I realized how this wasn’t really worth it, game-wise. Sure, the flavour of resurrecting a legendary hero from the various pieces of his arsenal was insane, but all you are ending up with is a huge beater that costed an absurd amount of mana and could be Unsummoned or Path to Exiled with ease. Sure, you can always re-summon Kaldra, but there is a limit to the amount of mana you can pour into this cycle. Disregarding the obvious limitations of this card cycle, I love this cycle, as it represents one of the most naïve moments of my Magic life.
56th place goes to none other than Delver of Secrets. It’s not always that a Common card manages to impact Standard, Modern, Legacy and Pauper at the same time, not only becoming a major player in various formats, but generating new archetypes thanks to a build-around criterion that perfectly fits the existing Metagame. Flashback to the first Innistrad block, when Delver of Secrets was printed. Dismissed by some as a “cute card with little applications”, it quickly rose to the top of Standard, finding its place among the best decks of that period. Its influence quickly moved to Modern, where Blue-White and Blue-White-Red decks were struggling to find a good Turn One Creature that could impact the board without impairing a mostly spell-based list. Delver of Secrets became one of the most played cards in the format, outside of dedicated Combo decks. Thanks to its Mana efficiency, Legacy quickly adopted the card as well, thanks to the heavy library manipulation that is possible in the format. Brainstorm is a Legacy staple, Ponder and Preordain are also often played, so Delver of Secrets was almost guaranteed to transform within the first couple of turns. Shardless Sultai and Temur Delver just feel in love with Insectile Aberration. Needless to say, Pauper also adored with the 1/1, leading to many players adopting it alongside the already mentioned Brainstorm, Ponder and Preordain. Ironically, a good Common like Delver of Secrets turned out to be quite awkward in Limited, where its blowout potential was often balanced by the unreliable nature of Draft and Sealed decks.
Number 55 is Pyxis of Pandemonium. Yes, a card that actually exists. An unreliable, weird and wacky card that never saw competitive play, but was always a favourite of casual players and Chaos decks enthusiasts. This card is possibly one of the best designs inspired by Ancient Greek myths, as it perfectly translates the tale of Pandora’s box into Magic mechanics. All the evils of the Cosmos are collected inside the box, unknown to the world until the lock is broken and its content unleashed on mankind. What is amazing about this card is the undeniable curiosity that slowly creeps inside players, who, much like Pandora, can’t resist the urge to peek inside the box. Constructed applications of the card are of course very limited, given its unpredictability and the fact that its destruction causes all the exiled cards to be lost forever. That being said, the card is an amazing toy to play with in wacky games, between kitchen tables and casual Commander games. If you are into weird and unexpected cards, give Pyxis of Pandemonium a try. You will not regret it.
The 54th card on the list is a card that almost every Magic player knows. A card so iconic that all its variations and alternative versions have been commonly referred to by the name of the original iteration. Counterspell is one of the most famous – if not the most famous – Blue Magic card. It perfectly embodies what Blue does best: outwitting the opponent with countermeasures that nullify other players’ plans. Blue is all about being clever and smart and there is nothing cleverer than stopping your opponent’s moves with timely Counterspells, proclaiming “just as I expected” whenever you foil a key play, or interrupt a game-changing sequence. A unique aspect of Magic as a game, Counterspell plays with the essence of magic itself: every card is a spell and every spell can be countered. Aside for flavour interpretation, the card sees play in almost every format it is legal in: from Legacy to Pauper, from Commander to kitchen table, everyone either loves or hates Counterspell. But everyone has to respect it or its many, many variations.
At position 53 we have quite a big card. And by that I mean Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and, of course, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Ulamog was my favourite Eldrazi titan out of the Rise of the Eldrazi set. Emrakul was insanely huge, Kozilek was a bit more elegant and tricky, with no in-built protection. Ulamog was just about everything I wanted. A huge, unfathomable Lovecraft-inspired monster that was great at managing the board, was hard to deal with and could quickly win the game, without feeling as unmanageable as Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Sure, Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre was quickly a game ender, but he could be Path to Exiled, he could be sacrificed, he could be Mind Controlled. While his first version was original and awesome, his second incarnation, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger managed to clearly define his traits and characteristics, setting him apart from the other Eldrazi titans. Emrakul was the end bringer, Kozilek was the distorter and Ulamog the consumer. Suddenly the unthinkable became slightly more understandable. He is the Galactus of Magic, the insatiable devourer of realities that can completely wreck a Commander game.
52nd place goes to one of my favourite Zombies ever printed. Undead Warchief is awesome. It’s scary, it’s menacing, it’s imposing and, most importantly, it really provides a Zombie deck with a strong feeling of tribe. This guy is the general of your undead army, the field marshal of your horde of Carrion Feeders, Boneknitters and Festering Goblins. While not a real contender for competitive Legacy decks, Undead Warchief is the dreadful king of kitchen tables, alongside the Warchiefs printed alongside it. Daru Warchief, Mistform Warchief, Krosan Warchief and the most famous of them all, Goblin Warchief, are all amazing cards. One of which – of course I’m referring to Goblin Warchief – has actually seen relevant competitive play, supporting synergistic Tribal strategies. Whether you are looking for an amazing Lord for your casual deck or you want to grind Legacy tournaments with your Goblin deck, this card cycle is likely to provide some interesting options.
The 51st card on our list is Gilded Lotus. A true Commander bomb, the card is extremely simple, but also very effective. Ramping from five to nine Mana might not seem much, but the impact of this card ends up being always awesome. While the Mana output itself is quite impressive, its actual playability is even more interesting, as it allows decks of any Colour to ramp, while keeping three Mana open for a Hinder, or a Hero’s Downfall. Needless to say, the card is also a call-back to Black Lotus, with a similar – and actually repeatable – Mana output, at a more reasonable price.
What to expect
Gilded Lotus concludes the first part of the list of my favourite Magic cards of all time. We are halfway through the whole list and there is obviously so much more to come. In this first entry we have seen some Commander staples, some obscure toys that only casuals can appreciate, as well as some Constructed-worthy options.
The upcoming cards will include more obscure and forgotten gems, as well as multi-format staples that every Magic player knows. We get a bit more personal with the Top 50, so expect a lot of weird or inefficient cards that never saw any competitive play. But, rest assured, there will also be absurd bombs that are played in pretty much every format they are legal in.
I hope this first half of the list provided some inspiration to all of you, either to include some weird new cards in your decks, or to try and write down a list of your own. It is quite a journey throughout your personal Magic history, so please let me know what you end up with. Even a Top 10 or a Top 20 might turn out to be quite a rewarding effort and I recommend you all give yourself a try. You might learn a lot about Magic and even more about yourself.
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