Hello everybody, and welcome back to the SCG Daily. If I seem a little surly, it’s only because my most recent attempt to become Maryland State Chump was wildly successful.
You might recall my last turn on the Daily, in which I made lists of various Magic-related things that I thought would be interesting. The positive response to that Daily was above and beyond anything I could have expected; I’m not gonna lie, once I find a gimmick that works, I tend to go with it.
The first installment of the original Week of Lists was a list of the top 10 one-drops of all time. A pretty embarrassing list, truth be told; I overlooked some notables like Basking Rootwalla and Goblin Welder. For my second time I did it right, starting the list a few weeks ago and doing some Gatherer searches to make sure there was no one I was forgetting. Thus, I give you…
Top 10 Creatures for Two Mana
Honorable mentions include Quirion Dryad (people love him, but aside from the Miracle Gro/Super Gro season he just hasn’t had the results); Withered Wretch (the most effective man to offer his ability, but it’s a very narrow ability); shadow creatures like Soltari Priest and Dauthi Slayer (there were other, better, weenie creatures in these colors already on the list); and Werebear (given his immense popularity in Legacy right now, this was probably the toughest cut of all and I imagine I’ll get flamed over it).
10. River Boa
Last time there was some criticism because I didn’t really list my criteria. (Let’s face it, though: I’m ranking Magic cards here, there’s not a lot of science to it.) As much as I have criteria, it goes like this: first I consider the length of time the card was heavily played on the Pro Tour and in PTQs, and then I look at other issues like card power, efficiency, being a fan favorite, etc.
That’s what gets River Boa onto the list. Sure, Werebear has been ruling Legacy for months. However, the Boa was one of the most important Green creatures in every Pro Tour and PTQ format for years… because, of all the Forest-dwellers, he had the best shot at fighting Counterspell and friends. Throw in a regeneration ability that was occasionally handy against Red decks and other beaters, and you get one of Green’s first truly great creatures. Sorry, Werebear.
9. Hermit Druid
Considering how much Wizards hate to ban creatures, a good way to get on this list is to be banned in a format. Even setting the famous Angry Hermit II combo deck aside, the Hermit spent almost his entire existence being a combo enabler, starting with the Living Death decks in Rath Block Constructed. Eventually, the Hermit combo decks got so fast that banning the Druid in Extended was called for.
As I was putting the finishing touches on this article, I asked myself it was wrong to have this guy on the list over Werebear. However, the Druid was one of only four non-ante creatures banned at the outset of Legacy (the others were Goblin Recruiter, Metalworker, and Worldgorger Dragon), and if it were legal in that format, I imagine even Werebear would have to bow down to its powerful combo-enabling ability.
8. Cloud of Fairies
It’s really surprising how much use people were able to get out of a simple 1/1 flier with a comes-into-play ability. Of course, that ability was the misnamed “free spell” ability, and as the most aggressively-costed card with that ability, the Fairies saw heavy play as long as Urza’s Block was legal. Even once the “free” creatures were errata’d, that didn’t stop the Fairies from being a key cog for several Extended seasons in Aluren, Enchantress, and Mind’s Desire combo.
The Fairies then went on to play a big role in Vintage aggro-control decks, as Fish players found a great way to play a threat and a Standstill in the same turn off of only two lands. Although most Fish decks have moved past using the Fairies, any creature which has ever seen play in Vintage is at least a candidate for this list, and the Fairies’ long run as a land-untapping powerhouse puts them over the top.
7. Pump Knights (Order of Leitbur, Order of the Ebon Hand, Knight of Stromgald, Order of the White Shield)
No, White Knight and Black Knight are not on the list. Frankly, the pump knights have always put the Alpha knights to shame.
In the early days of the Pro Tour, it was really hard to find a creature that was better at what it did than a pump knight. Necropotence wouldn’t have been Necropotence without the Ebon Hand, and the only way for White aggro decks to compete with the Skull was with pro-Black pump knights of their own. As I mentioned above, there were lots of White and Black weenie creatures competing on space for this list: shadow guys, Rebels, Skittering Skirge, Silver Knight, the Kamigawa Hands… but the pump knights were first, and I think ultimately the best.
I actually think he’s powerful enough to be higher on the list, but he’s "young" enough that I couldn’t justify leaving Goblin Piledriver out of the top 5. Even so, he’s still widely recognized to be the second-best two-drop in Standard (yes, yes, we’re getting there), the sort of card you need to have a plan for if you want to win.
The interesting thing about the best Invitational cards is that they serve as fine card advantage while at the same time being decent threats. Confidant is maybe the strongest in both of these areas, comparable to a Necropotence that attacks for two. Plus, he’s splashable, which I will predict will be a huge factor once we have an Extended season in which Confidant and a full set of dual lands are legal.
After the Piledriver came out, the Goblin deck came into its own, separate from other Red decks which weren’t going for the tribal theme. Although Goblin Lackey had also allowed Goblin decks to do some pretty dumb things, no creature has ever brought quite such a “out of nowhere” quality to any tribe before. This is the same in Vintage (where Food Chain Goblins won the “Shooting Stars” Power 9 tourney) as in Legacy (2 Goblin decks in the GP: Philly Top 8), and Extended (not currently top of the heap, but it’s definitely a deck you have to be aware of).
In my first draft of this list, he was at number 3. However, I decided that Piledriver was weakened by the fact that several other goblins played a key role in its success – would it be so terrifying without Goblin Warchief or Siege-Gang Commander? A good question for forum debate.
Two or three years from now he’ll probably be surpassed by Dark Confidant – the Confidant is the better card in terms of raw power – but for now Meddling Mage has had the longer reign as the more popular card, especially at the PTQ level. Personally, I’ve faced infinitely more Mages in Extended PTQs than I’ve faced Goblin Piledrivers, from Scepter Control to Shaheen Soorani Rewind/Decree of Justice deck to the Dump Truck-style aggro-control builds that a few brave players are always willing to try.
Part of the reason for this is that for its very efficient cost and size, the card does something that no other card does. Most creatures are either just beaters, or can be described as "[Non-creature card X] on a stick." However, being able to actually deny plays from the opponent is a powerful, unique ability that (until the recent printing of Conjurer’s Ban) we had never seen this cheap. I imagine that contributes to his immense popularity in the older formats.
At first I wanted to have Wall of Blossoms on the list at number 10, because of the powerful role it played for control decks. There’s a problem with that logic, though: Sakura-Tribe Elder is better than Wall of Blossoms in every imaginable way. So much better, in fact, that it kept moving up and up the list as I revised it, despite being relatively new.
He defends, he attacks, he occasionally trades with opposing creatures… and he always thins your deck and accelerates your board regardless. He’s the best control-deck creature ever printed, by a wide margin, and he’s pretty amazing in other types of decks as well. Tell you the truth, I was surprised he got printed. I don’t expect they’ll make ‘em this good for a long time to come.
2. Wild Mongrel
I think this rivals Skullclamp as the most egregious card design of all time. At least Ravager (gee, I wonder if he’s on this list) and Umezawa’s Jitte were rares, suggesting that R&D were aiming for powerful cards in those spots and overshot a little bit. Flametongue Kavu was probably a mistake at uncommon, but at least it had a tiny butt compared to other creatures with its casting cost.
Mongrel had no drawback, no weaknesses, no limits to its synergy with other cards in the block… and there were multiple copies of him at every draft table. Seriously, how does Mongrel get printed at common? Did Green really need a Grizzly Bears that can become 5/5 or 6/6 at will, while simultaneously enabling the block’s graveyard themes? Compare, if you will, the following card on the Coldsnap spoiler:
Snow Creature – Centaur Warrior
S: Boreal Centaur gets +1/+1 until end of turn. Play this ability only once each turn. (S can be paid with one mana from a snow permanent.)
His ability has a mana cost, its usage is restricted, he can’t change colors… and despite all of that, he’s spoiled at uncommon! These are the harsh lessons taught by the Deep Dog. We’ll never see his like again.
What, you were expecting Elvish Archers?
I mean, clearly a creature that was banned in Standard and has subsequently proved to be playable in every format, even Vintage), and awesome in most of them, is going to top this list. Clearly any creature for whom untapping with it in play announces “I win now,” in such a way that Osyp nicknames it the Fairy Godmother, is going to top this list. Clearly a creature which has won one Pro Tour, but only one because several other Tours have had their formats shaped around utterly crushing him, is going to top this list.
Unlike the one-drop list, which was up for some debate, clearly Arcbound Ravager is the best two-drop ever printed.
Join me tomorrow for some comic recommendations.