Brad Nelson’s Best And Worst Cards Of 2017

Brad Nelson is dusting off the soapbox! After one of the wildest years competitive Magic has been through in the 21st century, he’s ready to rattle off his best and worst of 2017. Did your favorite (or un-favorite) card make the list?

2017 is quickly coming to an end with very few tournaments left before we cement our memories from the year. Looking back, it’s felt like this year has been much wilder than others in the past. So much drama happened! We saw multiple bannings in Standard, the rotational shift of the format redacted, and the best team in professional Magic get upset in the finals of Team Worlds. What a crazy year!

All this reminiscing, backed up by Emma’s “The Best of 2017 Awards” article, got me to thinking about making my own. The only problem is not everything was a winner this year. Today we go through my top, and bottom lists of cards from 2017.

Let’s start with the worst of the bunch!

The Worst

Honorable Mentions:

As you can see, some of these aren’t even from 2017. Very perceptive, those who realized this! The cards don’t have to be from 2017 to get on my lists. They just had to have a positive or negative impact on me throughout this year. And these old cards are the cards I always hate! Their suckiness is perennial.

Some of the new cards won me trophies, and others cost me Pro Tours, but results don’t dictate what list cards get on. Just because I did well with a card doesn’t mean I liked it. I would go deeper into why, but they didn’t make the cut and therefore won’t get any of the limelight for today. I mean, do these cards really need to be explained anyway? Probably not.

#3: Rogue Refiner

Wait, what? I hate Rogue Refiner enough for it to be on my list? How could I hate this card when it won me not one but two Grand Prix this year? Short version: this card shouldn’t have been printed. Nor Courser of Kruphix, Tireless Tracker, Den Protector, or any other three-drop green creatures that gain card advantage. Seriously, this design space needs to close pronto! Green is not a card advantage color, but for some reason it became one ever since they did away with ramping into giant monsters like Primeval Titan.

Again, this may seem odd to those who’ve followed my career, as I’ve consistently played green midrange decks more than anything else. The answer to why is simple: I know they win more than anything else. It’s not difficult to have a high win percentage with them, as they are technically breaking the color-pie rules. Green shouldn’t get card advantage! Especially not when the color also is getting some pretty busted creatures to go with the added consistency.

These green card advantage creatures aren’t even just getting paired with extremely good green four-drops. All three of these creatures also worked well with whatever color best supported them. These green shells would merge with a great supporting cast and become a format-defining strategy. The problem with that is they were often considered too good, as they are effectively only splashing for these highly efficient green creatures. The sideboards would be almost devoid of green cards, as green is a terrible sideboard color. Without the necessity of being based-green, these decks could get away with things they shouldn’t have been able to.

Rogue Refiner is just the last in a very long line of abusable green creatures, and I’ve become bored of them. Ramp should come back in a big way. Trust me, Standard would be better off if we didn’t always have a midrange green deck at the top tables.

#2: Approach of the Second Sun

I don’t know if there’s a card I hate more this year than this one. You remember that honorable mentions list? Most of those cards are on that list due to not being able to interact with them, and I hate non-interactive Magic. Why in the world does a spell have to say “win the game,” again? A spell? The only condition is you have to cast it twice? What? Who made this card? It’s the exact opposite of fun! Seriously, is there no other win condition for control out there?

Now, I get it, Torrential Gearhulk was actually somewhat a bust when it comes to reliable win conditions, but that doesn’t mean one needs to exist that’s simply a spell. Why not just reprint Aetherling? That card’s fair and is proven to get the job done. Hell, we just had a set come out all about aether, and every card in that block was busted beyond belief. It would have fit right in!

Who’s actually having fun playing with or against this card? I sure am not! It’s ridiculous that Temur Energy almost never can win Game 1, yet can beat this deck post-sideboard with as little as a Longtusk Cub and a Negate.

I’d also be fine with this deck if it were good enough to change the format, but from what we’ve seen, that’s just not the case. So for now, we simply have to play some counterspells in our sideboard and hope to draw them when we get paired in this matchup. Maybe one day soon this deck will be good enough for us to be able to change our maindecks, but for now we have to respect the decks that can actually close.

And yes, I know this deck won Grand Prix Atlanta! I blame Ben Stark for beating Corey and then punting the finals. It’s his fault my last paragraph has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese!

#1: Deathrite Shaman

This card is ruining Legacy! It’s completely warped the format in all the wrong ways. First of all, it’s the centerpiece to roughly ten variations on the same deck. Some play Delver of Secrets, some don’t. Some play Tarmogoyfs, while others play Young Pyromancer. Some don’t even play a single Force of Will so they can get an added edge in the “mirrors.”

One of them is even nicknamed “Czech Pile!” Legacy is supposed to be one of the most diverse formats in existence, and there are enough variations on the same deck we started naming them after the region where a specific variant was created!

The Best

All right, now that we’ve excreted all the bad 2017 had to offer, we can finally get to the good stuff. There are many cards that have made me happy this year, but just like earlier, I can’t talk about them all! Here are my honorable mentions before we get into the cream of the crop.

#3: Gonti, Lord of Luxury

Ah, Gonti, Lord of Luxury, how I miss you so. Sure you’re still in Standard, but can I justify playing you over Bristling Hydra? My Revelation teammate took you all the way to a Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Portland, but is that good enough? I’m just so torn!

Gonti, Lord of Luxury is just a fantastic Magic card. It is card advantage in matchups where that’s relevant, but just the action of creating that advantage is different from how it’s normally done. Usually it’s something boring like “draw a card,” but not for my buddy Gonti! No, Gonti lets you reach over the table and take a chunk out of the opponent’s library. Against control, take a counterspell! You never lose games when you counter their spell with a counterspell from their own library!

Gonti, Lord of Luxury is simply a fun card that’s still good enough to see competitive play. It adds randomness and excitement to games that may get played over and over again. It would have taken a higher slot on my list if it weren’t for how important these next two cards were for actually impacting their formats in a positive way.

#2: The Scarab God

I’m guessing you’re confused right now. I’ve spent much of today dissing cards I play with and praising those I don’t. Honestly, that’s why Magic’s such an interesting game. Just because I don’t want to play something doesn’t make it disliked, nor does playing with something make it enjoyable. The Scarab God has stirred things up in Standard. Even after two months, the collective isn’t sold on whether this card is worth splashing for or not in Temur Energy. To me, that makes this an amazing card.

Sure, you can say it’s pushed. It’s a five-mana mythic rare that will take over the game if left unchecked. But they’re supposed to be pushed! Remember Baneslayer Angel? What about Dragonlord Ojutai? The Scarab God isn’t doing something we haven’t seen before; it just has its own spin on inevitability.

I love this card because it creates tiny dials of metagaming in an otherwise “solved” format. Splashing The Scarab God comes at a cost, but sometimes that’s worth it and other times it’s not. Without this card to ebb-and-flow through the metagame, we would have already given up on Standard. We would have found the best variation of Temur Energy, and that would be it. Wizards of the Coast would cut down to three Magic Online lists a day and we would call for bans. Instead, we get five decks a day and a fairly diverse metagame for what it is.

See? I can be optimistic after all!

#1: Death’s Shadow

But Brad, how can this vile disgrace to cardboard in fact be the source of all your happiness?

Now, this might not be the popular opinion nowadays, but Death’s Shadow has been the source of much debate these past six months. There have been arguments on whether it or something played alongside it should get the axe, as many thought the deck to be too powerful. Unsurprisingly, the format continued to evolve, with the players kicking and screaming the whole way, until now it’s a vibrant and healthy format. So why is that?

It’s all due to what makes decks like Grixis Death’s Shadow good, and inversely how to attack it. Starting with the former, Grixis Death’s Shadow preys on any deck that needs something specific to happen in a short period of time. Take Ad Nauseam. This deck builds to a big key turn that Grixis Death’s Shadow is aware of. All game, both players know what needs to happen for them to win, but Grixis Death’s Shadow is designed to be able to fight it, thus causing decks like Ad Nauseam to get pushed out of the metagame. Ad Nauseam just doesn’t have “it” when it comes to beating Grixis Death’s Shadow.

“It” is redundancy and good topdecks. This is how you exploit a deck filled with Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek. Scapeshift has “it” while G/R Breach does not, as one gives up speed for redundancy and better topdecks.

You see what I’m getting at? The entire format has shifted to facilitate these new “rules” that Death’s Shadow has forced upon the format. U/R Gifts Strom, Eldrazi Tron, Jeskai Control, Tron, Dredge, Lantern Control, and Collected Company are all designed to obey them. They all have more redundancy than other Modern strategies and are built to draw well off the top of the deck in the mid-game.

This is what has caused Modern to become more “grindy” and less dependent on opening hands. Combo decks are less flimsy (which makes them slower), midrange decks flourish, and even control is playable. Just saying this out loud makes it hard for me to believe anyone has ever wanted to ban the creator of such a healthy format! There seems to be more playable decks now than ever before, and even then there seems to be fewer “no-contests.”

Thank you, Death’s Shadow! In fact, you’ve singlehandedly made Modern a better format than Standard!

So that’s it. Those are my lists. Do you think I’m wrong in any way? Well, too bad, because this is my soapbox to stand on and not yours!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll be back next week in time to prepare for the #SCGINVI that’s happening next weekend right here in Roanoke, VA!