Magic: the Gathering is a collectible card game, where players spellsling against opponents by crafting a customized deck out of 12,758 possible cards. This article is about ten cards that will steal victory on the verge of disaster. These ten cards are deck hacks. Even in the slowest theme deck, they will super-turbo charge your way to victory.
“Oh!” many readers are saying to themselves right now, “I’m not sure how you’ll paint your list, but I already know which card will take number one. It’s Black Lotus, right?”
This card sits at the top of most top ten lists, and for good reasons. It’s the most expensive Magic card ever printed, not including misprints and specialty printings, clocking in at $4,999.99 on Starcitygames.com. It demands that figure for a reason, too. Black Lotus not only accelerates you faster than any singular Magic card, but it does it as a 0-cost artifact, allowing you to play crazy insane with cards like Auriok Salvagers.
I could spend an article series delving into why Black Lotus is so over-the-top broken, and why Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic, thought this was okay. But I’m not going to. Because it didn’t make the top ten. It isn’t even in the top fifty.
That’s because, like in my previous article The Top Ten Most Reviled Magic: the Gathering Cards According to Gatherer, we’re using Gatherer, Magic: the Gathering’s online card database, to rank these cards. Gatherer has a lot of features. One of them is the ability rank the card you’re looking at using a .5 to 5 star rating system, and according to the Magic community’s votes, Black Lotus isn’t worthy enough.
Why? Well, because Gatherer is a melting pot of ideas of what makes Magic a great game. It’s not enough for the card to be merely spectacular. For a card to make it onto the top ten list it has to be so much fun to play, that few people will get mad when you do it, because, damn, they want to do that too. Gatherer doesn’t tell us what cards are the most powerful, (Though, don’t get me wrong, every one of these cards are utter game breakers), it tells us which cards people love playing and wish they owned. It tells us which ten cards, out of all the cards in Magic, are the most desirable.
Honorable Mention: Rancor
Community Rating: 4.833
When I first made The Top Ten Most Reviled Magic Cards, I made a quick scan to see which cards had the best community rating. At the time I wrote that article, Rancor was number one on the list, beating every other Magic card.
What makes this card one of the greatest cards ever printed? Have you played Magic? There was a very small gap in the game’s history when it wasn’t really about creatures. The game was combo this, and control you that. If you swung with creatures, you were often confronted by an empty board. Blocking creatures were there by way of accident.
Rancor lived in that environment. It gave players a card that stated “Your best attacking creature deals an additional two damage every turn. Due to trample, blocking that creature with accidental combo pieces is now an exercise in futility. Oh, and that whole thing about losing card advantage when you play an Enchant Creature on your creature and your opponent destroys your creature? Yeah, no.”
Rancor was nuts then. Today, it’s better. Combo decks are rare, counterspells require more dedication and land destruction is a theory. This is a world where six casting cost Titans rotated out of the main set, and people were happy to see them go because those guys were too strong a presence when they dropped and attacked. Creatures block. Or at least they would, if you weren’t slapping a Rancor on your creature while ramming it into your opponent’s face.
All that and the card’s easy to find! It used to be common in Urza’s Legacy, and it was reprinted in Magic 2013 as an uncommon. Wait, wait… I’m still trying to get over that. Wizards reprinted what was, for at least some amount of time, the highest rated card on Gatherer. Crazy! Play four.
Best Comment, made by the_sixth_degree: “Dear Wizards: Thank you. Thank you very, very much. -Timmy”
Number Ten: Isochron Scepter
Community Rating: 4.841
Where do I go from here? How about Silence, an instant that reads “Your opponents can’t cast spells this turn.” What? Really? If I untap with this artifact and my opponent didn’t destroy it, and he can’t cast instants, then… I won, didn’t I? Didn’t I?
Silence and Orim’s Chant are poster child targets for Isochron Scepter, but if Isochron could only choose cards like them, then it wouldn’t hit the top ten list. Not being able to cast spells is boring. Magic is a game about casting spells, not watching my opponent lose while playing with his resources. Luckily, there are 891 other cards you can play off of Isochron. If your favorite Magic card happens to be a two casting cost or less instant, wouldn’t you enjoy the opportunity to cast that spell every turn. Lightning Bolt, Doom Blade, Fog… oh, cripes, it makes bad and hard to play with cards fun to play… Accelerate, Metamorphose, Whitesun’s Passage.
I could go on, and on, and on. In fact, if you want to troll players, just pop onto a Magic forum and say “I was thinking of making an Isochron Scepter deck. What instants should I put in it?”. Within a single day, you’ll probably have the most popular thread on that forum. Remain vague about what your needs are, and you can tag Magic players along for months. Even if they recognize they’re being trolled, they won’t care. They’ll be thrilled to talk about all the things this card can do.
Best Comment, made by Pikikako: “BoomerangBoomerangBoomerangBoomerangBoomerangBoomerang“
Number Nine: Mana Drain
Community Rating: 4.842
David Price once said “While there are wrong answers, there are no wrong threats.”
What Mr. Price meant with that famous bit of Magic tactics was that no matter how much you think you know about the meta-game, or how well you think you understand your opponent’s deck, an answer card, a card that’s designed to stop your opponent from winning his game, may not appear when you want it, or may be designed to tackle the wrong problem. A threat, though, is a threat, is a threat. A threat, unanswered, will win you your game. You should aim to play answers when absolutely necessary, but you should always aim to play good threats.
Mana Drain is a threat.
Unlike the answer spell Counterspell – which, by the way, Wizards decided was too powerful for the game and upped the casting cost to make the spell Cancel – Unlike Counterspell, when Mana Drain fails to stop your opponent from casting the right spells, it can still snag a ‘useless’ four casting cost spell out of the air, pool the mana into your mana pool next turn, and let you drop something absolutely insane. How insane? How about “Untap, play my fifth Island, tap out and cast Inkwell Leviathan?” And now that mana burn is a thing of the past, this card has no drawback.
Best Comment, made by drvpfx: “It is obligatory to make a sucking or slurping sound upon the successful casting of this spell.”
Number Eight: Gaea’s Cradle
Community Rating: 4.842 (Gaea’s Cradle has the same score as Mana Drain, but has more total votes, making it eighth. That’s a bit tricky, though, since Mana Drain has more total votes if you count its reprint in Master’s Edition. Either way, I’m going by a strict reading of the way that Gatherer sorts these cards. Feel free to switch the two in your mind if you wish.)
Gaea’s Cradle is one of the sneakiest pieces of power that people will let you get away with playing. Arguments of how this land produces unnecessary amounts of green mana will be countered by “It only encourages creature decks, and decks with lots of creatures are fun to play against!”, and “But it has a drawback! It doesn’t do anything if I control no creatures!” and, “It only goes crazy if I’m already winning!”
The problem with those arguments is that they’re all correct. It doesn’t matter how many arguments you use to defend your pet card, though. When you play with Gaea’s Cradle, you still produce an unfair amount of mana. ‘Cast two Overruns on round four to win the game’ type of mana.
But the real crazy stuff starts when you build around this card. Any green spell that puts creatures into play and includes an ‘X’ in its casting cost will explode in the cradle of Argoth. Why bother casting Doubling Season? Gaea’s Cradle is its own Doubling Season.
Best Comment, made by kronos539: “Squirrels. Saprolings. Wolves. Elves. I want to buy a condo in the Cradle of Gaea…. this land makes me want to cuss like a sailor.”
Number Seven: Swords to Plowshares
Community Rating: 4.845
Swords to Plowshares, Swords, or StP to its friends, is a classic piece of removal in a color that desperately needs strong removal. White’s track record is splotchy when it comes to dealing with creatures in the opponent’s camp. There are times in the history of the game where the Magic’s designers intended white to stop creatures by blocking. This message was relayed to us via cards with big-butted toughness, and zero direct removal. Maybe that strategy would have been fun if you could, you know, block your opponent’s threats.
Swords, however, smacks down threat after threat. The answer came from a color you don’t have protection from, and the creature was “removed from the game entirely”; Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. What’s the catch? Your opponent gains a commodity that both players couldn’t care less about. Maybe it would let them last an additional turn. Since most games in early Magic were about establishing control, then claiming victory after control was established, the extra turn was often irrelevant.
All that, and Swords was printed as an uncommon in the base game, and reprinted through four editions, plus Ice Age, (then inserted into the Beatdown Boxed set, Elsperth vs. Tezzeret, Masters Second Edition, and Masters Fourth edition. This card gets around). While new players have a hard time understanding the raw power of this card (I remember when I used to play the game back in 1995. My opponents would block attacking creatures, then use the Swords on their own creatures to gain life. That passed for leet tech back then), many years of playing with it due to a lack of other options taught players that a drawback isn’t a drawback if it isn’t relevant.
That, and, given your play group, your friends will probably allow you to play a copy without getting bent out of shape over it. I mean, it’s not like this is a broken combo piece like Mind Over Matter, or a card that breaks your opponent in half when you play it, like Wildfire. Swords is just the best piece of creature removal ever printed.
Best Comment, made by tiddlywanks: “Wait when the game is over you put exiled cards back in your deck i thought you just left them there.”
Number Six: Mishra’s Workshop
Community Rating: 4.855
Imagine you’re new to the game of Magic in 2005, and a friend of yours gave you his finely tuned Blue/Green Madness deck. Someone else in the store offers to play you in a match. He asks you if it’s okay… he’s running some old cards. “Just four of them, really,” he says. Oh, well that sound fine. Let’s shuffle up and play!
You cut each other’s decks and flip to go first, and he wins. You look at your hand. Rocking! A perfect curve! This guy is dust!
Your opponent, though, sets Mishra’s Workshop on the table, taps it, then drops a Trinisphere into play. You back him up, because you have no idea what either of those cards do. Hmm… okay… Mishra’s Workshop must be that old card he was talking about. It taps to… is this right? It adds three mana to your mana pool? I guess it’s only for artifacts… but that doesn’t seem like much of a restriction. After all, your Islands are only for blue cards, but it only adds one mana. Then you read what Trinisphere says. “Each spell that would cost less than three mana to cast costs three mana to cast.”
It’s like these two cards were made for each other. You draw a card, put a land into play and pass the turn. Okay, no big deal. You just have to wait a couple more turns before you cast any spells. Maybe he has a slow deck, and wants to bring everyone to his level. You can deal with that.
Your opponent then drops another Mishra’s Workshop into play, taps both of them, and casts Razormane Masticore…
Mishra’s Workshop is unabashedly unfair. In an artifact deck, it is far more powerful than the super-powered Black Lotus. Black Lotus, after all, only gives you three mana once. For the price of a land drop, Workshop will give you three mana every turn of the game. The only reason it isn’t restricted in Vintage is because its very presence, Trinisphere and Tangle Wire stops the meta-game from devolving into a combo-lovefest.
But Wait! There’s More!
Click here to go to Part Two, and we’ll try to wrap our heads around cards number one through five. We’ll fail, of course, but we’ll fail valiantly.