There are several ways to rate a card. You might think about how a card interacts with other cards or how it fits into a deck. However, when looking at, say, a brand new card without any clue how the metagame will be affected by the other cards in the set, you can’t use these criteria. When I look at a card, one of the things I think about is "resource management." It’s a term that I’ve dubbed describing what you get from what you put into a card. Based on resource management, some cards are really good, while others are pretty bad. It’s the purpose of this article to enlighten you about the inner workings of resource management.
The first thing to look for is what you put in to a card. And, I’m not talking about just mana cost, here. I’m talking about EVERYTHING that’s required to play a card. For instance, for any card M, there’s a "resource cost" of at LEAST 1: A place in your library. If you plan to cast the card, you have to add an additional cost for a place in your hand. So, for any spell M, there’s a resource cost of at least 2. For a more real-to-life look, let’s use Grizzly Bears as an example.
Grizzly Bears is a 2/2 creature with casting cost 1G. Its resource cost is 4. A place in your deck, a place in your hand, and two mana. Now, what do you get out of it? That’s what I dub the "resource reward."
So, what DO you get out of Grizzly Bears? A 2/2. That’s a resource count of 4. In any one confrontation, Grizzly Bears can deal 2 damage, and it requires 2 resource points of your opponent’s. So, since it can deal two damage, and it requires two of your opponent’s resources to get rid of it, it has a cost of 4 resource points. 4 for 4 sounds pretty good, right? And, since you know that 2 of those 4 resource costs are places in your library and hand, it’s even better, right? Does that make Grizzly Bears a good card? (See end of article for answer.)
Let’s take another example: Masticore. Here, it gets a little tricky. When I deal with resource management, I like to think of only one turn and one exchange. So, let’s look at Masticore. Masticore requires a spot in your deck and a spot in your hand. It also has a casting cost of four generic mana. So, so far, its resource cost is 6. Also, every turn, you have to discard a card to it. That makes the cost 7. With just the bare creature, you have a cost of 7. The resource reward of Masticore is 9; it has a power and toughness of four each, totaling 8. The extra resource point comes from Masticore’s special ability.
Creature abilities can be rated in different ways. If ability combats an opponent’s resources, then it counts. You count the ability only once. That’s why Masticore’s a 9; it can deal a point of damage and nullify a resource point of your opponent’s. However, since Masticore’s regeneration ability doesn’t affect your opponent at all, it doesn’t count. The reason for this is because, when dealing with resources, you only look at yours, not your opponent’s. You don’t know if your opponent is going to cast a four-point Earthquake or a Wildfire. These spells have different resource costs; however, Masticore’s regeneration would nullify both of them. For this reason, you only count abilities that directly affect resources when calculating resource rewards. Some examples are Masticore’s damage, Morhpling’s power/toughness pumping, Rishadan Port’s tapping, and Disrupting Scepter’s discarding.
Also when dealing with resource rewards, you must keep in mind that the rewards contest each other. For instance, when a 2/2 blocks a 3/3, the 2/2 has a total of 4 resource reward points; however, the 3/3 has 6 total points. Thus, the 2/2 has resource disadvantage and, in this case, dies. That’s why, when you deal damage with a burn spell, it only counts as 1 resource reward for each damage dealt. You’re directly affecting your opponent’s reward count, not his cost count. That’s why Dark Banishing has a reward of 1 instead of 3+. It simply gets rid of the creature; it doesn’t even bother with the fact that the card was once in the library and hand and probably has a casting cost.
So, how do you rate a creature once it’s been cast? Well, Grizzly Bears still has a resource reward of 4, but, once it’s cast and out of your hand (and, therefore, library), its cost is reduced to 0. Some good. Masticore, on the other hand, has an upkeep of 1 resource point. But, 1 for 9, in terms of Magic, is usually quite a bit better than 0 for 4. But, Masticore’s ability costs 2 to use, and you get 1 reward point from it. So, Masticore’s cost-reward ratio could be 1:9, 3:10, 5:11 and so forth. As long as you’re willing to pay the cost, you can reap the benefits of the reward.
Let’s look at one more example before I address all of you who already disagree with me. I’m always looking for opportunities with which to poke and ridicule Rath’s Edge. Well, here’s another one. Rath’s Edge’s resource cost is 8. That includes a place in your library and hand, paying four mana, saccing a land, and tapping it. Tapping does count as a resource point. It’s not counted in creatures with abilities not requiring tapping because they can deal damage without tapping by blocking. However, if a card’s required to tap, then that’s another resource point (the card itself is the resource used). What does Rath’s Edge do? One damage. So, Rath’s Edge’s ratio is 8:1. If you tap it for mana, it’s just like any other land with the ratio of 3:1.
Now, I know that BY NO MEANS should resource management be the only way to rate a card. It’s very hard to rate most instants and sorceries this way. Whereas Searing Touch has a ratio of 3:1 (we won’t get into Buyback), Snuff Out has a ratio of 6:1. I think we all know what’s better. Also, cards like Morphling with multiple abilities might be hard to rate. Additionally, spells like Wrath of God and Armageddon are impossible to rate because they have variable rewards and costs.
Also, some cards go above and beyond their rating when coupled with other cards. Donate’s ratio is 6:-1. I consider it a negative reward because you LOSE something. Illusions of Grandeur’s ratio is hard to determine because you lose the life after you gain it and cumulative upkeep is difficult to rate. The bare card of Illusions would be 8:20, but, after a while, it could be 0:-20. However, when you put these cards with negative rewards together, you get an excellent byproduct.
As you can see, resource management is only one of many ways to look at a card. You can use it in addition to other methods or not use it at all; I would definitely NOT suggest using it by itself to rate cards. But, it can help you prove points, or it can settle an uncertainty about which of two seemingly even cards is better. In any case, it can’t hurt to rate cards this way.
In closing, let me give you some resource management ratios for some cards you might be interested to know.
Yawgmoth’s Bargain: 8:0, 1:0**; 1:1*
Attunement: 5:0; 5:3*
Mother of Runes: 3:2; 1:1*
Skittering Horror: 5:7
Rishadan Port: 3:1; 2:1*
Phyrexian Colossus: 9:16; 8:1*
Brown Ouphe: 3:2; 3:1*
Phyrexian Dreadnought: 15:24
Pouncing Jaguar: 4:4
Treachery: 2:1 (If successful)
–Daniel Crane *Ratio of cost to reward of ability. **If you use Academy Rector to fetch this from your library, it only has a resource cost of 1: The place in your library. (This is an example where a card’s cost might not include a place in the hand; technically, any enchantment could have a cost of 1, and any creature could with Buried Alive and Living Death. This is one of the flaws of this system.)