By Roberto Moser • December 14, 2016
Where were we
The article you are reading is the second part of the list of my favourite Magic cards of all time (so far). This endeavour was inspired by Evan Erwin's videos, where he listed his personal picks for the best Magic cards of all time, mixing power level evaluations, personal preferences and overall impact on the game. While his list tries to be impartial, with just a touch of personal preferences, mine rejected the objective perspective in favour of my own taste and personal experiences.
This is why this list will not include powerful cards I never felt a connection with. This is why many of these cards are not as powerful as the staples of the game. This list is shaped by my personal experiences in the game of Magic, so it is a good mixture of me and of all the people I have met in Magic. Each encounter, each game, each tournament and each Magic talk has somehow inspired bits of this list.
If you have read the first part of my list, you will likely know what kind of cards to expect. Maybe you also figured some of the cards that I will be mentioning in this article, with all the hints I have hidden here and there. If you haven't read previous half of this list, don't worry: while I suggest you to give it a read, it is not a mandatory requisite to enjoy this Top 50.
Let's start with the list, then. But first, a brief preface that I think is useful to fully enjoy my top 50 Magic cards of all time.
What you will not find on this list and why
Before we journey through the top half of my list, I feel I have to address the elephant in the room: the famous, amazing, game-defining cards I have not included in this very list. Many of this cards will definitely be in other players' list. I am sure many of you will finish this article and wonder why Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf and Black Lotus are not on the list.
The reasons might vary, so I thought it would be a good idea to provide a quick summary of the main reasons why some famous Magic cards have been excluded from my list:
The 50th card on my list is Solarion and what a weird card this is. I recall opening this card in a Fifth Dawn pack and immediately falling in love. This card felt Mythic even before Mythic cards were a thing. This is what Timmy dreams are made of: a huge Creature that becomes larger and larger, drawing power from the suns of Mirrodin. Even with no Doubling Season available, even with no way to abuse its ability, I just loved Solarion's design. Sure, it never saw any competitive play, it never got even close to impacting any format in a significant way, but what a beautiful card this is. What a majestic beast that would feel at home in a manga by Tsutomu Nihei.
At number 49 we have Dawn Charm and this card might need a little bit of explanation. I love to play Control decks. But playing Control in a cutthroat Metagame means you are often in dire need to defend yourself from multiple angles. Sure, you might have Counterspells, spot removals and multiple copies of Wrath of God, but your opponent comes equipped with efficient Creatures that dodge your Path to Exile, burn spells that threat your life total and spot removals that can take down your blockers. Enter Dawn Charm, a purely defensive Instant that does everything. Safeguard your life total? Check. Protect your Creatures? Check. Counter a burn spell? Check. This card is the White Cryptic Command – ok, I might be exaggerating, here – and it always does amazing stuff. To this day, this is my favourite card to imprint on an Isochron Scepter.
48th place goes to Void Winnower, a card that dared to tackle previously untouched design space to really capture the spirit of the Eldrazi. Read this card and tell me it doesn't feel like it belongs in an Unhinged set. Yet, this is a very real, very legal card. With an eerie art buy Chase Stone and an epic flavour text by Ob Nixilis, this is one of the best examples of what Wizards of the Coast can do, when the design of a card is pushed beyond traditional territory. Half of your opponent hand is now Negated, half of his or her board cannot block an you have a huge Creature to tear apart their life total. This card is not just amazing; it is also a glimpse into the unfathomable nature of an interplanar species we know very little of.
At number 47 is Terror. The poster child for Black removal, an amazing Instant that has existed for years, defining what Black can do and what it cannot. Destroy target Creature are three of my favourite words in Magic and the restrictions that apply to this card helped defining Black's identity for years. Machines and horrors do not feel Terror but everyone else falls victim of fear itself. Before the many variations of this card, Terror was the original piece of Black removal. The iconic, amazing card that never fails to deliver. Ron Spencer's original art is also a beautiful example of what a great artist can do, when playing with the size of the picture itself. Cower in a corner, because there is no escape from Terror.
The 46th card on the list is none other than Consecrated Sphinx. Arguably one of the best – if not the best – Blue cards for Commander, this card has been on the brink of the banning for years. Its powerful effect is insane in multiplayer games, where the card output alone can net between six and ten cards in a single round of the table. If left unchecked, this card leads to an increasing advantage that is impossible to catch up with. Its ability is so amazing that its very good stats are often forgotten: a 4/6 flyer for six Mana is no joke, but its controller ends up never attacking, nor blocking with this insane beast, so as to prevent Condemn effects that could impair this ridiculous card draw engine.
The 45th spot goes to Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. This guy is awesome. He is awesome because he is a giant colourless Dragon that just wrecks the board. Sarkhan went back in time to save this guy and, when the card was finally revealed, we all understood why. Not only this card is amazing, it also echoes Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker's abilities and it just warps the game around his insane set of abilities. Storytime: during a Dragons of Tarkir / Fate Reforged Draft, I once picked a late pack-two Haven of the Spirit Dragon. My reasoning was that I could use the card to splash for an off-colour Dragon, in case I opened one in Fate Reforged. In pack three I open Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and, of course, I end up playing both the Land and the Planeswalker. When playing with a friend, I managed to drop Ugin and clear the board, only to have my Dragon Planeswalker killed by a second wave of attackers. The next turn I drop Haven of the Spirit Dragon, taking back Ugin from the Graveyard and prompting a round of applauses, screams and laughs in the whole Local Game Store. Sometimes Drafts feel like Constructed. Needless to say, I won the game despite my opponent playing excellently.
Number 44 is Emeria, the Sky Ruin. This Land is beautiful. The art by Jaime Jones is just amazing, as it beautifully depicts a moment in the life of the Zendikari. The nature of the environment provides a fantastic sense of vertigo, under a boundless sky disseminated with ruins that defy gravity. To me, the card is the single best depiction of the Zendikar environment, with a true fantasy feeling that is absolutely unique for the world of Magic. The effect of the card is also very powerful, as it rewards players to build decks with a high concentration of Plains. If Mono-White is one of the weakest Colours to play in Commander, Emeria, the Sky Ruin surely provides a good incentive to give the Colour a try.
The 43rd card on the list is Sword of Fire and Ice, though we could consider this a placeholder for Sword of Light and Shadow, as well. The two original Mirrodin swords, these cards are insanely powerful, quite possibly testifying the incredible unbalance that existed in the original Equipments. Five mana to turn any Creature in an insane powerhouse is no joke, and the cards still see competitive play in Legacy, where they can be easily fetched with Stoneforge Mystic. The two Swords are among the default options for any Commander deck wanting to play Voltron-style, as the protection from two different Colours can shut down many removals. While the Scars of Mirrodin block provided three new iterations of the design – completing a cycle that was not originally a cycle – these new versions, to me, feel slightly messier, with abilities that try to go wide to provide a sense of raw power. The originals, on the other hand, still feel polished and elegant, with precise effects that just mean business, without feeling unnecessarily huge.
At number 42 we have Seething Song. Martina Pilcerova's art on the card is unbelievable, with a dark background epically pierced by the sudden flow of lava emerging from the ground. In perhaps an homage to Fantasia, the characters summons a blow of pure energy from the land, erupting with power in the midst of a dark night. Pure power is unleashed by magic. A seemingly innocuous Common, the card is actually banned in Modern, as it would allow Combo decks to jump ahead in the Mana race. Can you imagine Storm decks or Scapeshift decks having access to this card? What initially felt like a good and fair card turned out to be the Dark Ritual of Modern and Seething Song was banned, alongside Bloodbraid Elf, in January 2013. Turns out you cannot cheat Mana restrictions in Modern.
In 41st place we have Seat of the Synod, but it is just fair to extend this honour to all the coloured Artifact Lands. Ancient Den, Vault of Whispers, Great Furnace, Tree of Tales and, of course, Seat of the Synod form an amazing cycle of cards that uniquely defined the environment of Mirrodin. Nature itself is artificial on the Metal Plane. Gold, steel, iron, copper, lead and silver are shaped into trees, vaults, hills and mountains, in a world where the terms “natural” and “artificial” lose their meaning. The cycle is firmly banned in Modern, as it would provide Affinity decks with a ridiculous boost that would be hard to top. While Modern Affinity players can only enjoy Darksteel Citadel, Legacy players can appreciate the full power of this cycle of beautiful Lands. To this day, my first “serious” deck – which I still own with pride – is illegal in Modern just because of these amazing cards. There is something spectacular in dropping a Turn One Seat of the Synod, followed by a wave of Artifacts. And maybe a Thoughtcast to end the turn in style.
Number 40 is Huntmaster of the Fells, also known as “the insane bomb that everyone played in competitive Standard back in the day, while I just wanted to play a Werewolf deck and was having a hard time finding a playset”. Yes, the name is quite long. Huntmaster of the Fells is value on top of value, an insane card that really made me understand, for the first time, that Wizards did not want Mythics to necessarily feel Mythic. The card is “just” a Werewolf dude hunting in the woods. The flavour is pretty blend, but the power level of the card is what really gives it the Mythic status. This is no epic Dragon, nor an amazing Legendary Angel. This is just some random Werewolf guy who dominated Standard back in the day. Despite threading on all my beliefs regarding Mythics – much like Grim Flayer did recently – the card was, and still is, one of the best toys in the casual Werewolf decks I started building during the first Innistrad block. This card is pushed to the extreme and, if you have ever faced, it you will likely know what I'm talking about. Both its sides are phenomenal and you are gifted with value whatever side this guy flips to. This card makes me almost sad to also run a full playset of Immerwolf in the deck. Almost.
At number 39 we have Glimpse the Unthinkable. The backbone of any Modern Mill deck, this card is the most efficient Mill spell ever printed. Two mana for an immediate ten card mill is just an absurd ratio and casting multiples usually means that your strategy is really working. While Mesmeric Orb is perhaps a better Turn Two play in dedicated Mill strategies, there is no denying that topdecking this card feels amazing. A card never reprinted since its original appearance in Ravnica, this amazing spell also showcases one of the most awesome flavour texts in House Dimir's history. Brandon Kitkouski's art makes everything even more amazing, as the Blue and Black Colours of the card are contrasted by the brown, grey and purple tones of the art. Somehow the yellow frame of the card only makes the final product even more spectacular, displaying a palette of colours that is devoid of green, but ranges from bright yellow to shades of blue, from pitch black to pale white.
In 38th place we have one of my favourite Legacy cards ever printed. Dark Ritual is an amazing glimpse into what the game of Magic looked like in its first years. A card that will never see an equivalent in Standard or even Modern, Dark Ritual allows aggressive strategies to jump two Mana ahead during the first turns of the game, enabling a Turn One Necropotence or, if you are a casual like me, a Turn Two Phyrexian Vatmother. Dark Ritual is the card that introduced me to the many ways Black is able to twist and distort the fundamental rules of Magic, acquiring momentary power at the cost of long-term durability. “Everything, now” was – and, to some degree, still is – the philosophy of Black, a Colour that never shies away from temporary benefits. Card disadvantage, and vulnerability are all unquestionable issues of this card, but there is so much joy in resolving a Turn One Phyrexian Crusader against a White-Red opponent.
The 37th card on the list is Cogwork Librarian. Once again, a card that proved Wizards of the Coast was willing to play with previously unexplored design space, in the name of variety. The first in a long list of cards that impact the Draft portion of the game, Cogwork Librarian is what Cube players' dreams are made of. The card is the embodiment of all the times Draft players struggled with a difficult pick, dreaming of having a chance to take two cards out of a very powerful pack. What to pick when you open two amazing pieces of removal in a single booster? Why not both! Cogwork Librarian allows both new and experience players to enjoy the drafting process in a whole new way, toying with the very rules of the game, to enjoy a richer, funnier and more challenging experience, passing around the amazing ability to openly cheat a Draft pick. Don't mind if I do!
36th place goes to my favourite Dragon in Magic. No, it's not Shivan Dragon. It's not Bogardan Hellkite, either. No, not even Scion of the Ur-Dragon. My favourite Dragon in Magic is none other than Steel Hellkite, one of the many amazing cards to come out of Scars of Mirrodin. While the card was largely overshadowed by Wurmcoil Engine in Standard, its power shines in all the Commander decks that have trouble dealing with non-Creature permanents. How do you manage Enchantments in a Blue-Black deck? How do you destroy problematic Creatures in Mono-Green? Steel Hellkite is always a great answer, as it provides a fantastic one-sided mass removal that can either manage a problematic threat, or completely devastate a board of Tokens. The art by James Paick is phenomenal, depicting a menacing steel predator roaming the smoky skies of Mirrodin, while Jaime Jones' promo version provides an even more dynamic representation of the mechanic Dragon.
At number 35 we have Vela the Night Clad. This Legendary Human Wizard was printed in Planechase 2012 and was only reprinted once, as part of the Commander Arsenal supplementary product. The card is an amazing build-around Legend for all Commander players who want to pilot a Blue-Black deck that is all about enter the battlefield effects and self-bouncing of permanents. Definitely worth checking if you want to build a Ninja-themed deck. As part of the other ninety-nine, Vela is a fantastic support card, providing evasion to your whole board and eroding your opponents' life total whenever one of your Creatures leaves the board. The art by Allen Williams is the definition of gorgeous, as it portrays Vela in all her elegance, beauty and darkness. Her mantle is pure night, shimmering with the grim colours of a dark aurora. Her and Krond the Dawn Clad's flavour texts mirror each other, in a constant cycle of light and darkness, dawn and sunset. Unfortunately for Krond, Vela just wore it way better.
The 34th card on our list is Solemn Simulacrum, Jens Thoren' invitational card and a true staple of Commander. Thanks to a phenomenal combination of abilities that are always good, this card is no stranger to Elder Dragon Highlander players, it saw play during its most recent Standard appearance and it is also quite appreciated in some Modern lists. A 2/2 that triggers a Rampant Growth effect upon entering the battlefield and draws a card when it leaves the board is pure value. The fact that it is colourless makes it one of the most appreciated cards inside decks that are usually unable to ramp or draw cards without splashing. Unless you have specific restrictions or you are building your Commander deck with a specific criterion in mind, Solemn Simulacrum is likely to sneak inside your list at some point. Needless to say, it becomes even better whenever you are able to recur it. Do not forget Mimic Vat got the 64th spot on my list, after all.
Number 33 is the most recent card on our list. And it's actually two cards, so allow me to bend the rules a little bit on this one. Brisela, Voice of Nightmares is the horrific melding or Bruna, the Fading Light and Gisela, the Broken Blade. A card so amazing and disturbing, it feels like it was ripped out of a Claymore episode, or a Silent Hill boss fight. The meld mechanic was met with mixed reviews by many players, but as a casual player I must say I loved it. The sole existence of this card prompted me to build a Commander deck to exploit Bruna, the Fading Light's enter the battlefield ability and occasionally meld her into Brisela, Voice of Nightmares. The triple flavour text of the card is amazing and a not-so-subtle hint at the proverbial principle of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. Let's take a moment to also enjoy the beauty of Clint Cearley's art. So much going on in this twisted masterpiece!
In 32nd place we have Furnace of Rath, a senseless card that turns all Commander games into a desperate race for damage. Run for your life, because Furnace of Rath is likely to speed the game up at an insane ratio. Creatures start dying, damage piles up and life totals quickly fade into oblivion. An amazing embodiment of the essence of Red, this card is pure instinct, no planning and all fury. Recently revisited in Dictate of the Twin Gods, a card that manages to be even more interesting thanks to Flash, Furnace of Rath is a sporadic combo piece alongside Heartless Hidetsugu, but it can also just be a fantastic chaos card to wreck the board. Who needs strategy when you can take the whole table down a spiral of violence and brutality?
At number 31 we have Day of the Dragons. A largely forgotten Enchantment that saw a lot of kitchen table action, but little to no true competitive play, Day of the Dragons turns all your Creatures into flying monsters ready to take the sky – and your opponent's life total. With a pretty serious Mana cost, this card is the key of many casual ramp decks that want to turn all their Mana Creatures into sudden threats. While some tried this with Elves, I felt the need to give the Myrs a spin in this dance of Dragons. What is better than turning legions of parrot-headed robots into Dragons? A lot of things, actually, but this one has always felt so amazingly charming, to me. You'll believe a Myr can fly.
Number 30 is Platinum Angel. The first time in my Magic life I opened a card in a booster and considered it “the strongest card ever printed”. The original Mirrodin block is when I started cracking packs and this card is just the perfect deceiver for any unexperienced player. “How could I ever lose the game with a Platinum Angel on the board?”. I went so far as to include one Platinum Angel and two Whispersilk Cloaks in my Artifact deck – which, at the time, was all about weird Rares I loved and was far from any competitive deckbuilding territory – sure that the combination of cards was just unbeatable. Little did I know that Artifact removal was a thing and it was also frequently maindecked, at the time. Years later, Platinum Angel is still one of my favourite cards, despite its absence from any of my present decks. I mean, look and Brom's art and tell me it's not beautiful.
At number 29 we have a Common that feels all but Common. Pestilence is one of the best examples of how much Magic design has changed over the course of the game's history. Mark Rosewater's New World Order aims at providing easy access to new players thanks to a relatively simple design of Magic's Commons. And let me say Pestilence is anything but simple. A potential board wipe and a nightmare of points of damage stacked upon each other, Pestilence is the bane of Token decks, a defensive powerhouse and even an Aggro finisher. A defendable first pick in Pauper Cube, the card requires clever deckbuilding and is always the subject of discussions whenever it sneaks inside greedy multicolour decks that have little access to Black, but need to control the board at all costs.
The 28th spot on the list goes to Curse of the Swine, also known as “the Baconator”. I have an irrational love for this card. First of all, the art is amazing. Secondly, the foil version is absolutely gorgeous, with the little helms shining. Thirdly, the card is an amazing homage to the myth of Circe. Fourthly, the card was spoiled on the day of my birthday, so it really felt like an amazing present for my Grimgrin Commander deck, which had troubles dealing with indestructible Creatures. Fifthly, there is nothing better than turning your opponent's Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre into a pig. Finally, the card is the sole reason why a Pig Token – technically a Boar Token, but the art clearly depicts a pig – was added to Theros.
Number 27 is another amazing card for Commander: Sheoldred, Whispering One is an absurd powerhouse when the board starts getting crowded, as it provides continuous value in the form of repeated reanimation and Diabolic Edict effects. With also a very respectable body, Sheoldred, Whispering One will help you keep the whole board in check and will simultaneously help you regain board presence. Unfortunately, she tends to be a pretty huge lightning rod, so protecting her should be a priority. Aside for her unquestionable playability, Sheoldred, Whispering One is also my favourite Phyrexian Praetor. Sure, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is extremely iconic and an aesthetic masterpiece, but Sheoldred has some magnetic allure that I just can't ignore.
At number 26 is my favourite Equipment ever. Umezawa's Jitte is amazing. What I love about this card is that it doesn't really support any strategy. Especially in Commander, it doesn't really fit anywhere. It is just always awesome. As long as you have a Creature to equip, Umezawa's Jitte is amazing. It sees consistent play in Legacy, it is a Commander powerhouse despite having no specific synergy and it's a Powered Cube staples. There are situations where an unchecked Umezawa's Jitte puts its controller in a position where it is practically impossible to lose the game. The definitive example of how insane Equipments were back in the day, rumour has it that the original design had a different set of abilities. Alongside the “gain 2 life” and the “target Creature gets +2/+2”, it appears that the original design had Umezawa's Jitte generate Black Mana. A last minute change turned an interesting card into the bane of Aggro decks.
Number 25 is Descendants' Path. Quite possibly my favourite of all the Magic the Gathering pieces Terese Nielsen has done, this art is amazing. The composition, the timeless feeling it conveys and the beautiful portraits are just phenomenal. Even better, the card is quite the treat if you want to build a Tribal deck filled with your favourite Creatures. From one generation to the other, the legacy of the tribe lives on, one upkeep after another. In my case, this card is a fantastic outlet for my Werewolf deck, but it can find its place in any kitchen table deck sporting a good number of Creatures of a certain type. The card even lends itself to some Combo plays, especially if you want to cheat Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play via a Conduit of Ruin. But then you become an awful person and you are not truly loving the beauty of Descendants' Path amazing art.
In 24th place we have Gravecrawler. One of the best Zombies ever printed, it just comes back again, and again, and again. As long as you have another Zombie friend to carry him – is that the flavour behind the card? I never quite understood it, honestly – it never truly stays dead. While the card is insanely pushed on its own, it gives its best inside dedicated Tribal strategies, Combo decks and Dredge-style lists. A self-recurring 2/1 that only costs one Black Mana is undeniably good, and it becomes even better with Skullclamp or any sacrifice outlet you might want to exploit.
At number 23 we have Caged Sun. The flavour of the card is amazing, depicting a Mirran creation encasing one of Mirrodin's suns to collect its flowing Mana. I hope you are familiar with the concept of a Dyson Sphere, because it really provides an additional layer of enjoyment for the card, Let's just say the principle behind this card might be less fantasy than one might expect. Pair it up with Scott Chou's perfect art and you have a hypothetical concept from our world mixing with the iconic and fantastic aesthetic of Mirrodin. My only regret is that I never manage to find a place for this card in any of my Commander decks. Even in the Mono-Coloured decks, I always end up cutting this card, to my great sadness.
We get to number 22nd and we encounter quite a surprise. Archive Trap is what Mill players' dreams are made of. While five Mana for a thirteen card mill might not seem much, the potential to cast the card for free makes it quite ridiculous. Trick your opponent into searching his or her library with a Ghost Quarter or a Path to Exile and then profit off the 100% Mana cost reduction. Or just wait for them to crack a Fetchland and surprise them with an unsolicited mill bomb out of the blue. This card is the soul and essence of Modern Mill decks and it really instils in your opponent a sense of impending doom, whenever you are able to threat its free casting.
21st place goes to Frogmite, quite possibly my favourite Affinity for Artifact card ever printed. While largely overshadowed in Modern by other, more impactful options – I am looking at you, Arcbound Ravager – Frogmite somehow manages to still be my favourite Creature from my whole Legacy Artifact deck. There is just something about a 2/2 that can be explosively cast on Turn One as part of a dedicated all-out Affinity strategy. Sure, you might lose long-term consistency, but when your goal is to fill the board as quickly as possible, Frogmite is such an amazing option. To top all that, the flavour text gives us a taste of the vibrant ecosystem of the Mirrodin, perfectly embodies by Terese Nielsen's fantastic art.
Let's take our first steps into the Top 20 and meet a Magic all-star. Phyrexian Arena is one of the best draw outlets in Commander. Being an Enchantment, the card is usually way more resilient than the aforementioned Consecrated Sphinx and it can net you a significant number of cards at a very reasonable cost. Despite being amazing on its own, I must confess I feel the need to have Phyrexian Arena share this spot with its Blue friend, Rhystic Study. While having a very similar function, Rhystic Study tends to be less reliable and way more annoying, as it requires some degree of cooperation from your opponents. No matter which one you prefer – the answer is “both”, of course! – these two cards are two of the main reasons why I am a huge fan of recurring card advantage. There's just something amazing in drawing multiple cards, one turn after another.
At number 19 we have Goblin Game, also known as “let's not play Game Theory for a couple of minutes”. This card is everything. Coming from an era when Magic card didn't necessarily have to make sense, this card is chaos and wackiness in their purest form. Everyone takes damage, then someone takes even more damage because he or she was not taking enough damage already. There, Goblin Game. I have won and lost games to this card, I have spent entire minutes staring at my opponents and I have bluffed certain numbers just to take down someone with me. Love this card. Love it!
Number 18 is my favourite Black Instant ever: Doom Blade. While I already mentioned how iconic and awesome Terror is, Doom Blade embodies – embodied? – the next generation of Instant removal. For just two Mana, you get to take down something. Anything. Ok, almost anything. Not Grave Titan, but almost anything else. The card is essentially the gold standard for a Black Common and remains to this day one of the most beloved examples of what Black can do. Simple, effective and Mana efficient. With the New World Order progressively diminishing the power of Common removals, Doom Blade might not see any reprint in the near future at its original Rarity, but it remains one of the best cards in Pauper Cube. Someone has to keep “dies to Doom Blade” real.
At number 17 we have Rancor- Probably the most pushed Aura every printed, Rancor was originally printed as a Common in Urza's Legacy, breaking the stigma that Auras are never good in the first place. Because Rancor is good. Really good. For a single Green mana, the card turns any Creature into a pretty impressive attacker, providing a good power buff and a way to sneak a couple of damage in, thanks to Trample. What really breaks the card, however, is the constant self-recursion of the Aura. It is so hard to get rid of the Enchantment, especially if your only way to manage combat is by bashing Creatures into each other or casting a spot removal. For reference, Gryff's Boon was printed in Shadows over Innistrad with a similar purpose, it provided Flying, but only one point of additional power. And you had to pay to recur it. And it was an Uncommon. Rancor was great, it is great and it will likely stay great for years to come.
Number 16 is Sensei's Divining Top, one of the only “good” cards to come out of the Kamigawa Block. The card is the definitive Commander staple, thanks to the long-term advantage provided by a continuous adjustment of the top of the library. I have yet to find a Commander deck that does not want this card in its ninety-nine, aside for themed decks or decks built with very specific restrictions in mind. If you are building a “good” Commander deck, chances are you are going to love a Sensei's Divining Top. The card is solidly banned in Modern to prevent the Counterbalance soft lock, which, in turn, is the core component of one of the strongest Legacy decks in the present Metagame. If you have ever played competitive Legacy, you probably have an idea of what a struggle it is to play against Blue-White Miracles, a deck so good and consistent that it almost always shows up in the Top 8 of any Legacy tournament around the world. Sensei's Divining Top, however, is not devoid of problems: its repeatable and valuable effect is extremely time consuming and, while this might not be an issue in casual Commander games, it becomes a real problem in timed Legacy tournaments, where inexperienced players are likely to score a draw after another because of the continuous top of library manipulation. Nevertheless, Sensei's Divining Top maintains its status as one of the most iconic Commander cards ever printed, providing Elder Dragon Highlander players with a chance to peek into the future, by spinning the prophetic Artifact.
What could beat Sensei's Divining Top? How about Snapcaster Mage! The 15th card on our list is Tiago Chan's Invitational Card. One of the best Creatures ever printed in Magic, in a Colour that can fully exploit its huge potential, this two-Mana 2/1 with Flash would be good on its own, but flashbacking an Instant or a Sorcery is what really seals the deal. A multi-format staple, the card is widely played in Modern, Legacy, Commander, Cube and pretty much anywhere you are allowed to run it. One of the reasons why Innistrad boosters nowadays sell for way more than the original retail price, Snapcaster Mage is in dire need for a reprint, considering its wide impact and the always increasing price tag. Long story short, the card is amazing. Between the dreaded “Bolt – Snap – Bolt” plays in Modern, to flashbacking a Damnation in Commander, you cant's really go wrong with Snapcaster Mage. I run one in my Grimgrin, Corpse-Born Commander deck and I must confess casting a Snapcaster Mage into a flashbacked Cryptic Command is such an awesome feeling. Great card is just great.
From one iconic card to one that makes little to no sense. The 14th pace on our list goes to Leveler, a card that never made sense in the first place. You have to understand I was a young boy when Firth Dawn hit shelves, so one day I cracked a pack and found this Rare. Good players at the time dismissed the card as a weird build-around that was very unreliable and didn't deserve a spot in any competitive strategies. Smart kids laughed at the card and interpreted it as a joke from Wizards of the Coast. I did not. I was in love. The card was so senseless and absurd that it triggered my immediate love for wacky designs that made little to no sense. “A 10/10 for 5 that costs you the game when it comes down” sounds promising, but “a 10/10 for 5 that costs you the game the turn after it comes down” sounds even better. The card suddenly opened up a plethora of wacky possibilities. Give it Haste and Double Strike and hope to kill your opponent on the spot. Pass it to your opponent with Endless Whispers and hope they have no countermeasure. Or, more recently, repopulate your library with Elixir of Immortality, or try and win the game with Laboratory Maniac. This card is absurd in the wackiest way, which is even funnier, because its flavour text is supposed to be serious and scary, contrasting the weird dynamic of the card itself.
I mentioned it already, so you probably saw this one coming. Number 13 is Cyclonic Rift, one of the best Blue cards for Commander and definitely one of those cards that can completely overturn a complicated board state. This Return to Ravnica Rare was so good, everyone immediately hailed it as an insanely pushed card for Elder Dragon Highlander, thanks to an insanely powerful effect and a pretty impressive Mana cost. Sure, seven Mana firmly put this card into “Commander territory”, the dreaded area where cards become only viable in casual and multiplayer formats, but Cyclonic Rift managed to quickly catch the attention of pretty much every single Blue mage playing Elder Dragon Highlander. You might question that Commander is a format filled with enter the battlefield effects, so resetting your opponents' board might generate quite a number of unwanted triggers. To you I can only said that I have seen Cyclonic Rift resolved many times and in almost every occasion, the caster ended up winning the game. It's all about how well you can time it.
Number 12 is Blastoderm. Spoiler alert: this is my favourite Green card ever printed. Why? Because the card is insane and it really provides an amazing example of what Green used to be – and, to some degree, still is. A huge, cost-effective beater that just wants to hit the Red Zone and cares nothing about long-term plans. Nature in its most brutal, violent and untameable form. With Shroud, there is no way to Terror, Doom Blade or Path to Exile the card. Not even its controller can interact with it. Once it is unleashed, there is no way to hold it back. Fading also encourages you to just swing for damage and never leave this Beast behind, so you immediately get a sense of the rampaging fury Blastoderm brings to the table. Needless to say, the card was originally printed as a Common – for the joy of Pauper Cube players around the world – and was Colour-shifted and Rarity-shifted with the printing of Calciderm. Sorry, but you can't beat the original.
In 11th place, the final card we meet before entering the Top 10 is Cryptic Command. A card I personally adore because of the immense sense of power you get whenever you resolve it. It makes you feel smart, it makes you feel powerful, it has an implicit charm that comes with a challenging Mana cost and a set of fantastic abilities. Wayne England's art is extremely evocative and it has rightfully become one of the most famous pieces of art for Modern Magic. The card sees play almost everywhere, from Modern to Legacy, from Commander to Cube, thanks to its multiple applications and its ability to always do something relevant. When the worst thing you can do with your four-Mana card is to counter a spell and draw a card, you know you are in for one multi-format staple. Hands down one of the best Counterspells ever printed – behind Force of Will and Mana Drain, probably – Cryptic Command always feels awesome.
The top ten
We enter the Top 10 with my favourite Magic the Gathering art ever printed. In 10th place we have Angel of Flight Alabaster, which, to me, is still one of the most beautiful cards ever printed. The art by Howard Lyon is absolutely gorgeous, conveying a sense of danger, purity, innocence and desperation all at once. The name sounds extremely epic – just try and say it out loud! – without sounding cheesy or pointlessly pretentious. It's just awesome. The card itself is a good Limited first pick, but it never really shined in any Constructed format. Nevertheless, this very card is one of the main reasons why I started collecting Angels. Most of them look phenomenal and, among the most beautiful, Angel of Flight Alabaster both sounds and look amazing.
For number 9 we get into very personal territory. Pensive Minotaur is a largely overlooked card, clearly designed to support Minotaur-focused Limited decks and solve curve-based issues one might have drafting Journey into Nyx. Wizards could have given us a default vanilla 2/3 with no abilities, nor flavour; instead they ended up creating one of the most absurd cards of the entire set. Sure, on the surface, we are still talking about a 2/3 vanilla for three Mana. But look at the card. It's a Minotaur pondering about life with a human leg in its hand. A human leg. In its hand. And it – the Minotaur, not the leg – is thinking. What is it thinking about? Poor life choices? Investment portfolios? Career opportunities? Fashion trends of the next seasons? We have no idea, but it is thinking. With a human leg. In its hand. The fact that the Minotaur is supposedly pensive is in no way depicted via keywords, mechanics or abilities. In the modern era of Magic, where everything is designed with a goal or a meaning behind, this card somehow slipped through rational thinking processes and was blessed by a glorious art piece by Svetlin Velinov. There is no way for this card to exist the way it exists, but its sole presence somehow makes Magic a better game. I love the card so much, I forced its name upon my friends when choosing a team name for 2015's Grand Prix Florence, which was a Team Sealed Grand Prix. Among the many talented players joining the even, Team Pensive Minotaur – or “Team Minotauro Meditabondo”, if you want to go with the Italian version – showed up to a rightful 2-3 record. You know, 2-3, much like Pensive Minotaur's stats. Sometimes it's just in the cards.
At number 8 we have Preordain, a card I truly fell in love with when I got back into Magic. Preordain is yet another attempt at fixing Ancestral Recall, possibly one of the most busted cards in the history of Magic. First we had Brainstorm, then we had Serum Visions, then Ancestral Vision. More recently, Treasure Cruise was attempted and we all know how that went. Every time Wizards attempted a “fixed Ancestral Recall”, the result was either a mediocre card or a format-defining one-Mana card draw. As part of this continuous effort, Preordain is a beautiful and elegant attempt, with a very simple function. You may look at a total of three cards – two plus one, technically – but always end up drawing only one. It is very cost-effective, it is clean and simple. It does its job and was often a staple of my casual Blue decks. Banned in Modern, often outshined by Brainstorm in Legacy, the card is still one of my favourite, thanks to its unquestionable Pauper Cube playability.
Number 7 is another Blue card. Another Blue card that draws you card. Another Blue card that draws you card and was originally printed as a Common. I'm talking about Mulldrifter, one of my favourite Creatures ever printed in Magic. A 2/2 Flyer for five Mana that draws you two cards upon entering the battlefield and is easily splashable is just nuts. Even better, if you are short on Mana you can opt to cast it as a Divination, drawing two cards without leaving a 2/2 Flyer on the board. It might not seem much, but this card manages to be always awesome, despite the extremely simple design. Are you Mana screwed? Cast Divination! Are you behind on board? Cast Mulldrifter for five Mana and enjoy a three-for-one! Are you ahead or at parity? I hear an evasive 2/2 that also provides card advantage is good! What is even more absurd, is that the card was originally printed – in Lorwyn – as a Common. Which means it was possible to end up with multiple copies of Mulldrifter in Draft. This “miskate” was fixed with Modern Masters, when the card was bumped up to Uncommon. But, as I am sure you all have already guessed, this never prevented Pauper Cube players from enjoying the card as arguably the best Blue Common available.
Number 6 is Lightning Bolt. Arguably the most played spell in the history of Magic, Lightning Bolt is so defining, so iconic, that every player knows it. It is the benchmark for premium removal, it is simple in its design and extremely effective in pretty much any format it is legal in. Widely played in Legacy, Modern, Cube and Casual, it is very hard to find a deck that has access to Lightning Bolt and does not want to play it. While its Mana efficiency might not be a priority in formats like Commander, the card still sees some play in Highlander and other “unconventional” formats. Lightning Bolt is truly one of the pillars of the game, with a ton of reprints throughout Magic's history, and a huge impact in defining what Red is and can do. Graced by a phenomenal piece of art by the late Christopher Rush, Lightning Bolt is a classic and it truly aged well.
We get into Top 5 territory with Guardian of the Guildpact, a card I have learned to love because of what it represents. While not impressive on the surface, the card is essentially only played in Pauper Constructed and Pauper Cube, where its unique ability makes it a smaller and cheaper Progenitus. The card really thought me the importance of evaluating a card based on its contexts and the environment it is played in. While by no mean comparable to other four-Mana all-stars like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Bloodbraid Elf, Guardian of the Guildpact is an awesome card in its awesome niche, where it shines as one of the most powerful and unmanageable cards available. You might have drafted an amazing Rakdos Control list, you might have ramped into a Capsize lock, but then the “Pauper Progenitus” hits the board, you now things are about to get real.
At number 4 we have Ponder. And before some of you start questioning that the card is oddly similar to Preordain, let me stop you right there. The reason why I love this card is that, while surely playing a similar role to Preordain, the design of the card is what makes it insane. Read the card to a new player and see what happens. In yet another attempt to create a fixed version of Ancestral Recall, Wizards gave us a one-Mana monster that is the bane of all Magic rookies. “You look at the top three cards of your Library, draw one of those and put the other two you looked at back in any order, or you opt to draw none of those three, shuffle the Library and draw a random card”. For one Mana. The number of possible branches in this insane decision tree is insane for a single Mana and, oddly, this is what makes the card amazing, to me. It is gratuitous complexity in its purest form, all in the name of giving Modern its own Brainstorm. And, guess what? The experiment failed and Ponder is solidly banned in Modern for the years to come. Good game, Wizards. Good game.
Number 3 is my boy. You knew this guy was going to be here somewhere. Grimgrin, Corpse-Born is my favourite Legendary Creature ever printed, my favourite Zombie ever printed and definitely one of my favourites cards ever. It is an engine, which is great for a Legendary Creature, because it gives you a strategy to build around in Commander. It is a source of repeatable removal, which is great, because it provides board advantage as soon as the engine starts moving. It gets bigger, which is great, because it gives you a finisher in Control and Voltron decks. It is Blue and Black, which is great, because it gives you access to two amazing Colours for Control strategies. And Dimir is always the best Guild. Grimgrin, Corpse-Born is everything I want from a Legendary Creature and, most importantly, it feels fair. Even when he starts mauling board states, it never feels overpowered or oppressive for the format. He is no Derevi, Empyrial Tactician or Purphoros, God of the Forge. He is an engine, but he is an engine that can be interacted with.
We're getting awfully close, here. Number 2 is Hedron Crab, one cute Creature that is the signature one-drop of most Modern Mill decks. Hedron Crab is a fantastic combination of a Mill engine and an insanely beautiful art by the always awesome Jesper Ejsing. It is no secret that Mill is my favourite Modern Magic deck and it goes by itself that this one tiny cute card is one of the main reasons why the deck exists in the first place. Hedron Crab provides a repeatable source of Mill at an absurdly low cost, turning your Fetchlands into chunks of six cards getting milled from your opponent's deck. You get to the point of keeping almost any hand with two or three Lands and a Hedron Crab because, from there, it's all value. Painful and milling value.
We did it. Number 1 is, of course, Baleful Strix. Much like Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, I love this card because it is everything I love in Magic. I am sure if I were to design a card with no limitation whatsoever, I would end up with something really similar to this. Dimir card? Check. Also an Artifact, which is something I love? Check. Draws a card? Check. Has a set of abilities that is pure value? Check. Is also an owl, which is awesome? Check. Has an amazing art by Nils Hamm? Check. Baleful Strix is everything. Despite only seeing print in Planechase, Commander products and Eternal Masters, the card is a Legacy staple and an unbelievable source of card advantage, resulting pretty much always into an insanely efficient two-for-one. Mulldrifter's little brother is no joke and I encourage everyone to give this card a shot in any format they can play it. You are always happy when you cast this card and, if you can't cast it, at least you have something beautiful in hand to look at.
Thank you for reading
First and foremost, thank you all for reading this ridiculously long couple of articles. In all honesty, I underestimated the length of this until I started writing, so if you stayed with me until the very end, thank you. I really appreciate it and am eager to read your lists, if you feel like you want to share anything like what you've just read.
Before I leave you – what, you still have something to talk about?! – there is one more thing I realized while writing this. Running the list through Excel, it turns out there is a lot of interesting information to be gathered. Personal preferences are the windows to one's mind and I think there is a lot in this list about the Magic player I am. And, maybe, about the person I am.
So this experience has truly been an eye opener. I would like to spend some more time, in the upcoming future, reasoning on what impressions one can gather from this absurdly list of cards. I feel this really resonates and merges well with the Player Types Wizards uses to cluster fans.
Until next time, I encourage you all to give this endeavour a try. You'll probably have a lot of fun and I am pretty sure you will realize something interesting about your personal preferences, your attitude towards the game and maybe even life in general.
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