The best cars are made with the best components. The same goes for Magic decks.
It’s real simple in the world of Magic. The cards which accomplish the most, at the cheapest cost, at the most efficiency (in terms of cost and return on investment), and just plain outshine all others in their type (i.e. the best creature in this color, the best enchantment in that color) are those which define the format.
With that said, let me give a huge thanks to Rick Rust, whose amazing article 251 Decks in 4000 Words gave you exactly which cards were the Cadillacs of the format of the Ninth-Kamigawa-Ravnica format:
These are the most powerful cards in Standard. Whether you have counterspells to back them up or other creatures to work with them, the pound-for-pound winners that have given their pilots thousands of dollars were built with those cards.
Let’s take a look at these cards, and find out why they define the format.
Card Advantage – Dark Confidant
One of the first concepts a new player must make about Magic is that drawing cards is good. That card advantage inherently provides more threats, answers, and resources to that player, and they then get an unstoppable advantage.
Dark Confidant has a drawback, but one that deck design can easily circumvent. Hell, the land ratio alone (40% of your deck is free with Bob) is enough to warrant his inclusion in any deck whose converted mana cost rarely exceeds four. He’s showing up in Vintage, the hallmark of busted cards. Enjoy this one while you can. We won’t see this sort of Black-based card advantage engine for some time (expect Blue to overtake that crown).
Resource Advantage – Wildfire
Wildfire decks are not about casting the spell, they’re about recovering from it. Which is why Paladin en-Vec is such a pain for them – he’s already the best creature their opponent could hope for, so it has to be dealt with first (usually with a bounce spell).
Wildfire with Urzatron simply pushes this idea to the extreme – you’re creating more mana than you have any right to, and your card draw is assuring you get the extreme colorless accelerant online.
Dragons define the format’s best fatties, and Wildfire’s ability to cripple resources – and lay threats that aren’t removed via its effects – define the definition of resource control.
Turn 1 is extremely important, no matter what format it is. In Vintage, this can mean a ten-minute win or immediate insurmountable advantage. In Extended, you’re hoping for Cabal Therapy, or Duress, or one of these two creatures (along with Grim Lavamancer) to come through for you.
In Standard, where a turn 2 Dark Confidant sets the gold standard of card advantage, there are few scarier things than a first turn 2/3. Isamaru may not be quite as powerful as Kird Ape, but a 2/2 for one mana with absolutely no drawback has never been scoffed at.
Recently, Richard Feldman created the great Orzhov Maxima deck that went on to qualify many for Nationals and shunned the popular Isamaru for Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. His argument was that while Isamaru is clearly an amazing turn 1 play, you get more mileage from the two-mana legend. While this is clearly debatable, these one-mana guys are the best in their class right now.
Tempo Advantage – Remand and Vitu-Ghazi the City-Tree
These two cards represent different aspects of tempo. There’s the ability to create chump blockers and/or slowly get creature advantage with Vitu-Ghazi, while Remand can essentially be a Time Walking cantrip under the right situations – particularly in the first few turns.
These two cards represent the best at what thinking short term (Remand) and long term (Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree) can provide for a deckbuilder.
Broken – Umezawa’s Jitte
It’s no secret: this was an R&D mistake. One that has many answers, and as such is a defining card. If your deck wins by swinging with creatures, you could rarely find a tool quite as powerful.
It’s broken and it’s unfair and it’s bound to leave the environment in a few months (thank God). Until then, each deck you build must have an answer to this card. It’s too good to ignore. It will remain a staple for as long as Magic is played, because that’s what mistakes do – they constantly remind players of where the game should not go.
Evan “misterorange” Erwin
dubya dubya dubya dot misterorange dot com
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com
Written while listening to Regina Spektor’s “Begin to Hope”