Ben’s Ten – The Top 10 One-Drop Creatures of All Time!

Monday, August 30th – Which creatures are the best one-drops of all time? Ben counts from #10 to #1 in this week’s edition of Ben’s Ten!

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s Ben’s Ten! I’m going to be looking at the ten best one-drop creatures of all time. They will be judged on several criteria, the key three of which are sheer power level, length of relevance in Constructed formats, and “I really don’t want to be facing down this creature on the first turn” reaction from your opponent.

Before I get to the list, I’d like to talk for a paragraph or two about “length of relevance in Constructed formats.” Magic is an ever-evolving game, and because of this the relative power levels of cards fluctuate. Pop quiz: Where would you put Mogg Fanatic on this list before the M10/damage-on-the-stack rules changes were enacted? Where would you put Mogg Fanatic afterwards?

Right now, Mogg Fanatic is not one of the Top 10 one-drops in Magic, because of this rules change. However, Mogg Fanatic is a card which has been a staple in decks (not just goblin decks!) for nearly a decade, and has been the part of many, many Pro Tour and Grand Prix Top 8 decklists. In a historical context, Mogg Fanatic is certainly one of the Top 10 one-drop creatures ever printed, but it does take a hit in the rankings because there are creatures printed since that, right now, have a much more contextual, and actual, rise in power level.

I’ve also been reluctant to list any sort of runner-up breakdown, for the cards that fall outside of the Top 10, just to cover my bases. Seems like a cop-out to me; I’d prefer to live or die by my lists, and if I have a Wild Nacatl at #11, whereas everyone else would have put him on the top 10 — well, then we have a discussion, don’t we!

And now, my list of the Top 10 one-drop creatures of all time!

10) Kird Ape
There was a point in time when Kird Ape was put on the banned list for Extended. This was at the formation of the format, and Kird Ape was deemed too powerful alongside Juggernaut and Hypnotic Specter. Fast forward (around) a decade, and two of those three creatures weren’t even good enough to really see Standard play, much less be a threat for older formats. Kird Ape has lost some of its luster to other Zoo-oriented creatures — both Steppe Lynx and Wild Nacatl outclass it this point, thanks in part to the existence of fetch lands to work alongside dual (and shock) lands. Kird Ape still sees play in Red-based versions of these decks, and there are fewer classic openings in Magic than “Taiga, Kird Ape, go.”

9) Noble Hierarch
There are many rules in Magic that are in place more for game design issues, and one of the most important is the “you can play one land a turn” rule. One-drop mana-producing creatures are, by nature, extremely powerful — in essence, they allow you to be ahead a full turn of development on your opponent, and access to three mana on turn 2 is a huge advantage. Noble Hierarch is among the best of these types of creatures, because it not only accelerates your mana, but it also gives your other creatures a small, but important, boost when attacking. While a Llanowar Elves might give you the same extra mana production (+1 mana), Llanowar Elves also only product one type of that mana (Green, as opposed to Green/Blue/White), and Llanowar Elves don’t also effectively replace themselves as an offensive one-drop (Noble Hierarch does, thanks to the Exalted ability). Perhaps the greatest testament to the quick rise to importance of Noble Hierarch is the amount of play it’s seeing in the Legacy Format, where it is able to compete with the greatest hits of the past 17 years of Magic’s history.

8) Phyrexian Dreadnought
Does it seem like a cheat to have a one-drop creature on this list that technically is pretty useless on its own? While you need other cards to make Phyrexian Dreadnought work, there’s no denying that no opponent wants to be facing down a first (or second) turn 12/12 trampling monstrosity. The first pairing for Phyrexian Dreadnought was Illusionary Mask — simply put the artifact creature under the artifact for one mana, and then attack — poof! Since Dreadnought is already in play, you don’t need to sacrifice 12 power in creatures. Later, changes to the rules surrounding Dreadnought (changing its sacrifice requirement to a triggered ability) allowed it to combo fantastically with Stifle, and to this day Stifle-Nought is a part of the Legacy metagame.

7) Wild Nacatl
Yes, Wild Nacatl should have been on my Top 10 cards in Shards of Alara Block list. Sorry! When faced with this list, I had two choices: stubbornly leave Wild Nacatl off of this list (so I would be consistent), or put it on this list and eat a little crow. I’ll have to say — while feathers don’t taste great, I’d rather be accurate (as accurate as you can be with subjectivity!) than stubborn.

Wild Nacatl out-Kird Apes Kird Ape. On the first turn, Kird Ape can be a 2/3, whereas Wild Nacatl can be a 2/2. Past that turn, Wild Nacatl is usually a 3/3 (including on the first attack), and that extra point of power is the difference between singlehandedly killing an opponent in seven turns or in ten turns.

6) Goblin Welder
Goblin Welder would have been ranked closer to #1 on this list a couple of years ago — it was part of a dominant Vintage strategy, and made waves in Extended (winning Pro Tour: New Orleans in 2003 as part of Rickard Osterberg’s George W. Bosh deck). The ability to cheat artifacts into play at the cost of “tap” is ridiculous in a vacuum — though you need one artifact in the graveyard and one in play, Goblin Welder allows you to circumvent huge amounts of mana as soon as it is active on turn 2 — or recursively lock someone with Mindslaver early in the game.

Just a side note here: Though Goblin Welder decks have posted fantastic results in the past, and though Goblin Welder’s ability to cheat artifacts into play is a huge potential mana advantage, isn’t it a disappointment how little play Goblin Welder has seen in Legacy? I could easily see Goblin Welder ending up in the top five of this list, if it ever found a Tier 1 deck in Legacy.

5) Grim Lavamancer
Aggressive Red decks, and Zoo decks, have traditionally had a linear plan — smash your opponent before they get a chance to set up their game. Accordingly, these decks are willing to sacrifice life (fetch lands into untapped Shock lands/Flame Rift), lands (Fireblast), creatures (Goblin Grenade/Reckless Abandon) and even the ability to win the game past this turn (Final Fortune) in order to kill an opponent quickly. Traditionally these decks have lacked reach — the ability to do just those few extra points of damage to kill an opponent, once you’ve run out of cards.

One of the great strengths of Grim Lavamancer is that is allows these types of decks to sneak through those last few points of damage to win the game, at the cost of a resource that is traditionally unused by Zoo/Red decks — the graveyard. While other cards are using cards in hand (burn) or creatures on the board to win the game, Grim Lavamancer takes what you don’t need anymore and turns it into lots of extra damage. This doesn’t even take into account that Grim Lavamancer also, you know, kills creatures that are on the board, so you can keep swinging in — or even that removing cards from your graveyard can de-power the always-relevant Tarmogoyf. Many cards on this Top 10 list get worse as the game progresses — a first turn Wild Nacatl is a lot better than a sixth turn Wild Nacatl. Grim Lavamancer usually remains relevant to the game state even late into the game — to the point where it’s one of the only one-drops on this list you probably don’t want to play on the first turn.

4) Mogg Fanatic
While the change to damage on the stack affects the overall power level of Mogg Fanatic, this goblin has a long and hallowed history in every format — Standard, Extended, Legacy, and Vintage. Mogg Fanatic is not only relevant as a offensive creature (it used to be able to take down creatures twice its size in combat, pre-M10 rules), but as a trump to utility creatures of all costs. Six of the nine other creatures on this list will usually have one toughness; Mogg Fanatic hits the board, and can immediately answer any of these threats, if need be. Moreover, being a Goblin matters. At this point in the game’s history, I’m confident in saying that Goblins are the most successful tribal strategy, as far as overall consistency in winning from year-to-year. With cards like Goblin Ringleader and Skirk Prospector, it matters if your one-drop is a Goblin. Grim Lavamancer might look better on paper, but Mogg Fanatic trumps it in a one-on-one battle. Unless Wizards changes the damage-stacking rules sometime down the road, I expect Mogg Fanatic to drop down on this list in the future — but right now, Mogg Fanatic is historically one of the best one-drops this game has ever seen.

3) Birds of Paradise
A couple of weeks ago, I said that Noble Hierarch out-Birds of Paradised Birds of Paradise in the current Standard? So why is Birds of Paradise higher on this list than Noble Hierarch? While Noble Hierarch has only been around for a year and a half, Birds of Paradise has been around since Alpha, in 1993 — and during that time, Birds of Paradise has always been a relevant tournament card. It is the gold standard against which all other mana-producing one-drops are measured — for a Green, you get a 0/1 flyer which can produce any color mana — not just Green, not just Green/White/Blue, but any color, Black and Red included. For any deck that wants to run 3+ colors of mana, Birds of Paradise has to be a consideration — it’s the backbone of a Green manabase across time and formats that seeks to control the game with the best removal from each color, or drop back-breaking bombs from other colors.

In addition, the fact that Birds of Paradise flies catapults it even further up the list — unlike Noble Hierarch, Birds of Paradise can evade. This is important thanks to equipment — we’ve seen many, many games decided over the years because a 0/1 Birds became 2/3 with a Sword of Fire and Ice, or kept swinging into the Red Zone with a Jitte (which, of course, already had at least one counter to pump the Birds to 2/3). I’ve seen turn 1 Birds turn into turn 2 Ninja of the Deep Hours. I’ve seen Birds of Paradise jump in the way of an otherwise game-winning Morphling or Baneslayer Angel — which is just enough to allow an opponent one fatal counterstrike, which Noble Hierarch could not have prevented.

2) Disciple of the Vault
The interesting thing about one-drop creatures on this list is that they fall into three categories: Utility (Birds of Paradise), Combo (Phyrexian Dreadnought), and Aggro (Wild Nacatl). You don’t really see too many control one-drops on this list — like a Loyal Sentry — because control spells at the one-drop slot tend to be much more efficient than creatures (Lightning Bolt/Swords to Plowshares). The top two finishers on this list are both cards that fall primarily into the Combo aspect of one-drops — they enable decks to do broken things.

Disciple of the Vault is generally considered the second-most powerful card in the Affinity deck (behind Skullclamp), and certainly the most powerful creature — even ahead of Arcbound Ravager. Disciple of the Vault allowed the Affinity player to come out swinging, and then sacrifice everything in an orgy of destruction (be it to Ravager, Atog, or Shrapnel Blast) for what effectively was a one-time, one-mana cost Fireball. Assuming an Affinity player could unload their entire hand by turn 3, Disciple of the Vault was lined up to do 7-8 damage, just by being on the board, on that very turn. In multiples, Disciple of the Vault got quite sick. Moreover, the main way to stop Affinity is to destroy artifacts — but Disciple of the Vault makes your opponent pay for doing such a thing.

Affinity hasn’t really been much of a player in Legacy, and was a fringe player in Extended before they changed Extended to be only the past four sets – but it was banned in that format. Would unbanning Disciple of the Vault have made Affinity too good? It’s hard to say, but it says a lot about the sheer power level of Disciple of the Vault that Wizards wouldn’t let players find out in the first place.

1) Goblin Lackey
Many of the cards on this list are here because they let you cheat at the game of Magic. I don’t mean cheat as in “you drew ten cards in your opening hand!” cheat, but that they are so far ahead of the curve that they change the rules by which the game is played. Disciple of the Vault allows you to do 7+ points of damage on turn 3, with a one mana investment. Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch give you extra mana at a time in the game when lands are at their highest premium. Phyrexian Dreadnought lets you cheat into play a 12/12 creature at a time when nobody should have a 12/12 creature —and even Wild Nacatl allows you to play a 3/3 when usually three-mana is the cost for such a creature.

Goblin Lackey lets you cheat Goblins into play from your hand. It doesn’t matter how much that Goblin costs — as long as your Lackey hits an opponent, you’ve just played a free spell. There are a lot of great Goblins to cheat into play — Goblin Ringleader (to fill your hand, and add a 2/2 haste creature to the board), Goblin Warchief (to make your other Goblins cheaper to play on turn 2), Goblin Matron (to tutor out any other Goblin in your deck), and even Siege-Gang Commander (a 2/2 and three 1/1’s plus the ability to Shoc k the opponent).

Goblin Lackey takes an early stage of the game, and allows you to cheat things into play that shouldn’t be hitting the board until turns later. Imagine this turn sequence:

Turn 1: Mountain, Goblin Lackey

Turn 2: Mountain Attack with Lackey (hitting, opponent at 19), drop Goblin Warchief on the board using Goblin Lackey’s ability, play 2x Goblin Piledriver

Turn 3: Play Goblin Matron (getting a third Goblin Piledriver), play Mountain, Play third Piledriver, attack with Lackey, Matron, Warchief, and 3 Piledrivers (each Piledriver gets +10/+0), for a total of 37 points of damage.

This may look like a lucky draw — but it’s a draw that Goblin Lackey enables time and time again. Goblin Lackey not only lets you accelerate your second drop of the game, but lets those drops build on one another until you’ve gotten an insurmountable advantage — as soon as turn 2! And because of the power of this ability, the tournament finishes that Goblin Lackey has had over the years, the fact that Goblin Lackey allows Goblins to be a Tier 1 deck still in Legacy, and that Goblin Lackey is a card no opponent wants to be staring down on the first turn, I feel that Goblin Lackey is the #1 all-time one-drop creature in Magic’s history!

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback on the forums — and next week, join me for a very special Ben’s Ten look back at a very special part of Magic’s tournament history!

Ben Bleiweiss