This is Whimsy number 100. Actually, I have published a lot more on StarCityGames.com, but some were unnumbered, and some were two-part pieces. Whatever. This is one of those arbitrary milestones – a big, round number – so I am going to do something self-indulgent. I am going to write about my one hundred favorite magic cards.
I’ll probably break this into a couple articles, and each will have some multiplayer references, some random reminiscences, and some links to past articles. More importantly, I’ll tell you casual players why certain cards are worth getting. I’ll also include a price guide. Single dollar sign cards are cheap – a buck or less at StarCityGames.com. Those with $$ are just a couple dollars. Triple dollar signs are around ten, and four dollar signs mean they are expensive, but usually worth it.
I started listing staple tourney cards like Wrath of God, but decided to dump them. I really don’t have anything to say beyond Wrath of God is good removal, yada yada yada. So you can assume that I think the power ten are good cards, even if I don’t include them here. I’m leaving space for more interesting cards, or those I like for multiplayer, or those of which I have fond memories.
I made the list, then randomized it, so the order means nothing. (I tried to rate the cards, but that didn’t work – liking a card is highly subjective, and the reasons are not always comparable. I like both Force of Will and Aura Shards, but for different decks and different reasons. I have no idea how to rank them. That said, here goes, starting with the randomly chosen:
Shivan Hellkite $$
Shivan Hellkite is a beast in decks that can generate a lot of Red mana. He was my kill card in the evil Emperor deck built around Worldgorger Dragon and Dance of the Dead, and I have liked him ever since. Vampiric Dragon is strictly better, if you can get a Black, but I’m unreasonably fond of the Hellkite. So sue me.
I’m not a Red mage, so my Red decks tend to be eccentric. My first list of cards had 104 cards, but only six were Red. For comparison, here’s the initial breakdown:
I’ll cut the last couple once I write the first draft of this article.
Fyndhorn Elves $
I seem to be a Green mage, but that is partly because I like playing multicolored decks, and partly to indulge my inner Timmy. I have always played a lot of mana accelerators, including the basic G, 1/1, tap for G elves. However, I never liked the skullcap picture on the early Llanowar Elves, so I play the guys with knives whenever I can. I even put Fyndhorn’s in my Christmas deck – they look like”Santa’s little helpers,” don’t they?
Spike Weaver $$
The fog machine spike has been in a lot of my decks. He was in the G/B Survival deck that got me some T8 pins at PTQs, was bounced around in the deck that won the St. Patrick’s Day mono-Green tourney, and still lives in some of my standard multiplayer decks. The ability to Fog on demand is always good, and gets much better when you have some method of adding more counters (e.g. Forgotten Ancient) or recurring the Weaver.
Spikes have always been a favorite of mine. The ability to move counters at instant speed has been so good so many times. I have surprised a Hypnotic Specter when my Birds of Paradise suddenly got big, and stopped a Phyrexian Negator in its tracks when I put a spike token on a Wall of Roots. Of all the Limited mechanics that have also translated to Constructed, Spikes is the one I would most like to see return. [Arcbound Ravager doesn’t count? – Knut]
Cycling Lands $
In big, long multiplayer games, fast starts are not so important, so having a land come into play tapped is not much of a problem. Having the ability to draw another card, instead of being mana flooded, is great. I played a few of the old cycling lands in multiplayer, but the new ones are much better. They aren’t flashy, but they do help avoid one of the worst parts of a big multiplayer game – the point where the game gets complex and slow, and you are just waiting around to draw something.
Eternal Dragon $$$
A recurring threat that fetches five different dual lands is pretty nice. I love nearly everything about this in multiplayer – except the price. I can’t afford to put them in all the decks that could use them. Once this rotates out of Standard, I expect the price to drop, and I will buy several immediately.
Serra’s Blessing $$
The ability to attack and not tap is good in Limited, just okay in Constructed, but golden in multiplayer. In a duel, an opponent gets one shot while your defenders are tapped out. In multiplayer, every opponent gets a shot. The”stays untapped to block” is a prime reason that cards like Akroma and Pristine Angel are so good in multiplayer. Imagine a Phantom Nishoba that doesn’t tap to attack – or an Avatar of Woe that attacks, and can still tap to kill something.
Phyrexian Ghoul $
The original Nantuko Husk is on the list more for the memories than for current playability. I have played Phyrexian Ghoul, or his renamed reprint, in Pattern of Rebirth decks, in zombie decks, in Cemetery decks and in Rob Dougherty Elvish Succession deck. In multiplayer, I like him in decks with Grave Pact and cards like Sengir Autocrat – but since Grave Pact will appear later in the list, enough for now. More commonly, however, the Ghoul or Husk combined with Caller of the Claw to create lethal damage out of nowhere. The best advice was”always block the Ghoul / Husk” – and I won a lot of matches when opponents didn’t follow that advice.
Phyrexian Furnace $
This was Scrabbling Claws, from back in the day when graveyard order was important. Like Claws, the Furnace”cycled”, and it was Extended’s alternative to Tormod’s Crypt once that rotated out. These have gotten cheap recently, and I still dump some into a lot of multiplayer decks. They can help out against Living Death and Reanimator decks, work well against Oversold Cemetery and eat Eternal Dragons. There are classier answers to all of these decks, but the fact that Phyrexian Furnace”cycles” makes it generally more playable than Withered Wretch. As for why you would play this over Scrabbling Claws – the Phyrexian Furnace looks a lot cooler (and sometimes nailing the bottom card is better than giving them a choice.)
Yavimaya Ants $
Once upon a time, there was a dominant extended deck called Trix. It used Necropotence and Illusions of Grandeur / Donate. It was deadly, and eventually Wizards banned Mana Vault, then Necro. (My whining about Trix and the bannings is here. It’s good.) Before each of the bannings, Trix was not unbeatable. You could build a deck to smash Trix, but that deck could not beat anything else. Trix was dominant – but not quite as dominant in numbers as Ravager Affinity is today. Something to think about.
Yavimaya Ants were part of my anti-Trix tech. Trix would Necro for the combo – and that Necro would involve paying life for cards until their life total was just a bit higher than whatever you could inflict next turn. Yavimaya Ants messed with that math. It wasn’t perfect, but once opponents heard about it, it made the math harder. Trix was all about math, and anything that made the Trix player think harder – and possibly make more mistakes – was good. Nowadays, the Ants are still in my Survival deck, merely because a hasty Green trampler is often unexpected. Gigapede may be better in most decks, but the Ants have history on their side.
Maze of Ith $$$+
I have a love/hate relationship with Maze of Ith. On the one hand, it is an extremely effective method of stopping attackers (including Darksteel Colossus), and it is part of one of my favorite stupid combos (Rocket Launcher/Maze of Ith/Argothian Elders.) On the other hand, if several people have Mazes, a lot of large creatures stay untapped, leading to massive creature stalls. In one memorable game, everyone at the table had at least one, and several people had multiples. Boring! (It got so bad that we were running Tsabo’s Web.) However, when you have Maze of Ith and others don’t, it is really good.
This rivals Accumulated Knowledge as my favorite instant from Masques block. If I play Cunning Wish, this sits in my sideboard. It is amazing for stealing tokens, but also works for all those little utility creatures. I once stole a Goblin Welder, then used that Welder to fizzle other Welder tricks all game (if one of the Welder targets is gone on resolution, the switch fails – so Weld one target.) Dominate also stole at least one match in the first PTQ in which I ever made top 8, or published a report, so it packs good memories. (Wayback machine? – found it!) In multiplayer games, you generally have enough mana to steal almost anything – and it works. Sure Bribery or Control Magic may be simpler, but Dominate has a surprise factor that the others don’t.
Argothian Enchantress $$$
I have written about Enchantress decks several times. Argothian Enchantress was the first great card drawing engine I built a deck around, and it rocked. I still love the deck – and put it together again last month. Here’s an excerpt from an old Dojo article, written about 1950 or so. I was playing Enchantress in four player game. Cathy was my partner.
Cathy: land, Mox, (I think) go.
Me: Forest, Argothian Enchantress, Savannah (via Exploration), Wild Growth on untapped land (draw card), Rancor John’s Negator (draw a card), Exploration (draw card), Serra’s Sanctum (via Exploration #2), tap for WWWW, Auratog, Auratog, go.
Cathy: land, Thran Dynamo??, go.
Ingrid: Land, Kavu Monarch, go.
Me: Tap Forest with Wild Growth for Argothian Enchantress, Gaea’s Cradle, Rancor on Auratog (draw 2 cards), Exploration #3 (draw 2 Cards), Forest, Verduran Enchantress, Seal of Strength (draw 3 cards), Brushland, sacrifice Rancor to pump Auratog, recast Rancor (draw 3 cards), Rancor #2 (draw 3), tap Serra’s Sanctum, cast Flickering Ward, (draw 3), bounce Flickering Ward and recast (draw 3), land, Seal of Cleansing (draw 3), Wild Growth on Cradle (draw 3), another Wild Growth on Cradle (draw 3), Auratog, Endless Wurm, Emerald Charm to untap Cradle, retap for GGGGGGG, cast and sacrifice Rancor to pump Auratog many times, draw cards, send trampling Auratogs at both John and Ingrid, sacrifice tons of enchantments to make both ‘Togs 30+ tramplers, win.
Turn 3 kills on two people, over an untapped Kavu and Phyrexian Negator – that’s why you play Enchantress, and the Argothian is the best Enchantress around.
Sol Ring $$$
It is simple, splashable mana acceleration with no drawback. I play Sol Ring in nearly every deck. I think I own eight or nine, they are restricted, and mine are all in decks. Cheap ones are about $8.00 – and worth the money. Even if all you play is casual Wurm decks, get a Sol Ring.
Aura Shards $
Of all the multicolored cards from Invasion, this one enchantment has been more welcome in more multiplayer games than any other. It says – to everyone but the owner – just let me cast some creature and I’ll off that problem enchantment / artifact. What’s giving you trouble: The Abyss, Unnatural Selection, Moat, Sulfuric Vortex, Humility, Ensnaring Bridge? Relax, my elf can take care of it. It is a simple, easy answer to so many problems – but one that does not threaten the table or make you public enemy number one. If you are playing a G/W creature deck, this is too good to pass up.
Sol’Kanar, the Swamp King $$
Yes, for one more mana you can get Dromar, the Purger, which is bigger and flies. Sol’Kanar is no longer really all that amazing, but he still has a certain panache (which isn’t easy when you’re a muck-encrusted bog dweller.) Although he doesn’t look like much anymore, there was a time when a 5/5 for five mana, with decent special abilities and no drawback, was something amazing. My, how times have changed.
Unnatural Selection $
I first built this deck in T2 when that was Invasion/Masques. Unnatural Selection comboed with Pure Reflection and Empress Galina for board control, and turned Sunwebs into “banana slugs” which beat for five. Then I modified it for multiplayer, adding Karakas (“Hey, Tooth and Nail boy, your Colossi are both Legends. One’s dead, and I bounce the other”) and Spirit Mirror (0: destroy all reflections – and for one mana, your critter is a reflection.) It manages complete board control very easily.
A friend also built this deck, and we once got into a two-headed giant game, as partners, both playing these decks. It was amazing – we had board control on turn 2, and spares of every critical part a few turns later. We were debating how to kill them when they conceded – and made us change partners.
I still have the deck together. The current build is something like 4 Selection, 4 Brainstorm, Impulse, 3 Spirit Mirror, 3 Silver Drakes, 3 Sunwebs, 1-2 Wall of Air, 1-2 Absorb, 2 Mother of Runes, 2 Soul Warden, 2 Dismantling Blow, maybe a Swords, lands, etc. I would have Eternal Dragons in there to fetch Tundras, if I had spares. Of all my multiplayer decks, this is the one I have kept together longest.
Bone Shredder $
Ingrid and I started playing way back, but as a beer and pretzels game – we just played the hundred odd cards we had. We started buying boosters around Tempest, and seriously collecting cards when Saga block came out. I never played with Nekrataal much, so Bone Shredder was my introduction to the Terror-on-a-stick concept. Shredder was really good with Recurring Nightmare and all the graveyard recursion I used to run – and echo creatures are even better with Lifeline. Shredder is also a standard Living Wish target, since the single Black in the casting cost means it is splashable.
Beloved Chaplain $
Protection from creatures is a pretty nice option. I have played Beloved Chaplain with Pariah (which makes you pretty much immune to attacking creatures), in a Thrashing Wumpus deck (with Pariah again), and in a current deck with equipment and Serra’s Blessing. Loxodon Warhammer and – even better – Sword of Fire and Ice are great for the Chaplain, since she will get through. Barry borrowed that deck a few nights ago, and got triple Sword of Fire and Ice on the Chaplain. He enjoyed that quite a bit.
Silvos, Rogue Elemental $$
This is what Green fat is all about. Of course he isn’t tournament worthy, but I enjoy playing him in base Green multiplayer decks. In some cases, he can win games. More commonly, he serves as a distraction. People get distracted worrying about Silvos, which gives me time to have my deck do whatever it is supposed to do.
It says a lot about Constructed Magic that Silvos, and Spiritmonger before him, have never found a place in T2. I wrote about this a while back – I think it is because of Wrath of God. To oversimplify – you cannot afford to invest a lot of resources in something if opponents are likely to spend a lot less negating it. The article says it better – which is not surprising, considering that it was about 4,000 words, instead of about fourteen in this paragraph.
After seeing the new single Blue card drawing spell (Serum Visions) in the spoilers, I can see just how far Blue card drawing has fallen. Serum Visions is a sorcery speed cantrip that lets you stack the next two cards of your library. Sorcery speed – that is almost useless, and I would rather have crap like Sleight of Hand than Serum Visions – and would much prefer anything that cycled for the same cost. Compare Serum Visions with Brainstorm. Brainstorm lets you look at three cards, then put any two cards from your hand on top of your library. It lets you hide cards from spells like Duress or Lobotomy. You can also used Brainstorm, and a shuffle effect, to draw three cards and stick dead cards back in your deck. Brainstorm plus fetchlands is a wonderful combination. Serum Visions plus fetchlands is a non-bo.
Spite/Malice is another card that provides options. In multiplayer games, I really don’t want dead cards – but the flip side is that counterspell control decks don’t fare well in multiplayer. You tap out too often, and don’t draw often enough (think one draw phase for you to one for each of your opponents.) Spite/Malice give you the ability to sit on a counter when necessary (e.g. if you discover that an opponent is playing a combo deck), or toast some creature if that is more useful. While Spite can only nail non-creature spells, those are the ones that really hurt in multiplayer (think Living Death, Vengeance, Armageddon, Wrath, Furnace of Rath, Blatant Thievery, etc.)
I would note that a lot of split cards made the first draft of the list. Wax/Wane has been a favorite – both because of the ability to kill enchantments like Humility and the warning that”this deck has combat tricks,” which often sends opposing attackers elsewhere. Life/Death made the initial list because of Reanimator, and Fire / Ice because it is insane. Only Spite/Malice and Fire / Ice made the final draft.
Accumulated Knowledge $$
Accumulated Knowledge – AK – is one of the best cheap card drawers you can get. If you play Blue and cannot afford expensive stuff like Intuition or Ancestral Recall, look at AK, Impulse, and Brainstorm. AK is especially good in multiplayer where games can continue long enough for AKs to accumulate. AKs are particularly broken in emperor games, if you coordinate teams beforehand. Having three people playing AKs means you draw incredible numbers of cards. Paying 1U for three cards is nice – AKing for eleven cards is broken.
Originally this was going to be Ancient Hydra, which I flagged because it was one of the few Red cards I have played fairly often. However, Ancient Hydra is just a bad Triskelion. Then I decided to substitute Flowstone Overseer – which can also provide board control by killing even regenerating creatures, but can’t throw counters at opponent’s heads. He isn’t too amazing. Finally I decided to screw Red and just list Triskelion. I play him in Oath of Druids decks, in Mishra’s Workshop decks, and even in decks with Recurring Nightmare and Oversold Cemetery.
Dismantling Blow $
I have always been a big fan of having the right answer in my decks, even when those decks are a bit slow as a result. Disenchant has been a common inclusion, but Dismantling, with the draw two cards kicker, is even better. Like it’s cousin, Orim’s Thunder, it is almost never dead in multiplayer games, and is almost always cast with kicker. It is one of those simple, elegant utility cards that I have always liked.
I like cards that serve multiple uses, when in the right deck. I had watched others struggle with Vampire decks, which tried to make people attack into a Sengir Vampire, but the Nettling Imps died, and those decks folded to Peacekeeper and Royal Assassin and so forth. I tried Bullship instead – it killed the little annoyances and forced larger ones to attack. It still works reasonably well in that deck, but it makes this list more for nostalgia purposes – Bullwhip Vampires was one of the first times I made an original”combo” deck that actually worked.
Yavimaya Elder $
The Green ancestral was the absolute first card on my list. If I had the ability to chose one card to have reprinted, this would be it. I played Elders in the T2 Rock, in G/B Survival, in all the extended Rock versions I have tried, and in a ton of casual decks. It is mana fixing and card drawing in one. The only thing that can possibly make it better is Skullclamp – because it makes the sac for lands and cards even cheaper. But even without Skullclamp, the Elder can block, then fetch its lands and draw its card. (That is the correct order – you announce the draw a card ability, then pay costs. The costs include sacrificing the Elder. That puts the”draw lands” ability on the stack on top of the card draw. Don’t forget that – the land search is optional, so if you draw first, a judge would say you have chosen not to get the lands.)
Power Matrix $
I play this purely to indulge my inner Timmy – and because of the reactions of the other Timmies around. I usually take one or two less powerful decks to casual nights, and play them if I get into games with newer players. Giving a creature flying, trample and first strike is neat – and it makes casual Constructed feel like Limited, at times. More importantly, it makes for great politics in multiplayer – I can not only affect my own creatures, I can mess up blocks, save or kill creatures, and otherwise make everyone cautious. People don’t always think about this – until a Morphling flies headfirst into a Craw Wurm that not only flies, but has first strike.
Sylvan Library $$
Looking at all the decks I play, I think I am, at heart, a Green mage that doesn’t like fat. I like the tricky Green cards, and Sylvan Library, the great Green card drawing agent, is a fine example. It isn’t broken, even with readily available shuffle effects, but it is pretty good. It is almost broken with Abundance: the rules interaction lets you name card type three times, and keep all three cards, without paying life. I could explain the interactions, but that’s dull – just trust me on this. Sylvan/Abundance is great.
Unless you are one of those people who play lots of Mental Magic, you may not remember that there is a instant speed reanimation spell, in Green. Reincarnation is a Legends uncommon that is pretty reasonably priced. It also allows for a lot of nifty combat tricks – for example, cast Reincarnation on a nearly depleted Wall of Roots, then give it the last -0/-1 counter to pay for Survivaling some fattie into the graveyard, Survival resolves, Wall dies to state based effects and you pull the fattie out to block. It is also a great response to someone bolting your birds.
Rocket Launcher $
People always give me one of three responses when I play Rocket Launcher in multiplayer. Response #1: Huh? What is that? (I tell them it kills Birds, Elves and Royal Assassins…) Response #2: Hey – old school! It’s a bad card, but kudos on the old school style points! Response #3, and this is mainly people who have played with me before: You are playing some infinite mana deck again, aren’t you?
If you need to kill everyone at a table at once, and have infinite mana, there are only five practical ways of doing it. First, you can split a Fireball, but that doesn’t show much class. Second, you can Pestilence, Earthquake, or Hurricane, and have some method of preventing the damage to yourself, but that requires two cards. Third, you can activate Shivan Hellkite many times, but half your mana needs to be Red. Fourth, you can activate Whetstone or Ambassador Laquatus and mill everyone, but that doesn’t work if anyone has Gaea’s Blessing – or Darksteel Colossus or Serra Avatar, etc. Fifth, you can use Rocket Launcher. Rocket Launcher is the multiplayer equivalent to Magma Mine – when you have a ton of mana, that mana can make both lethal – but, unlike Magma Mine, Rocket Launcher can have a number of targets.
Okay, this is over 4,000 words already, so I’m breaking it off here. That’s about one third of the way through the cards, so look for two more sequels.
You can debate and criticize my card choices in the forums, or email me.