This is the last article in the series covering "sticky minions" which, as per the title, will be looking at those that are hard to get out of play rather than those that easily come back. Resilient dorks are a rather more loose category than recursive or replacement ones. Indeed there are a couple of dorks here which feel more like they should be on the recursive dorks list, except for the fact they don't have discard/self mill synergy. The tricky thing about this list is that all creatures except Force of Savagery have some degree of resilience. It is all about where you draw the line. High toughness certainly helps as do many other keywords and mechanics. With the other two lists the recursion effect was distinct, defined and similar enough that I could just rate the cards in order of their power and it all worked out nicely. As every dork has some degree of resilience in the cube I cannot just take the most powerful cards. Instead I have set a pretty high bar for what I consider to be the exceptionally resilient dorks and then tossed in a couple of fairly resilient dorks with high power and playability. I have also thrown in a few "anchor" cards so as to give me an opportunity to discuss some specific mechanics.
All the things I considered for this list had to be things that are typically cast the good old fashioned way. A vast number of the good creatures to cheat in are incredibly resilient which stands to reason. With a list already as loose as this one it seemed really silly trying to sensibly include cards like Progenitus and Emrakul in it. They are build around cards while all the cards on this list are things you would play in more normal decks for the most part.
As per the other lists I will give the list ranking for the card and an out of ten rating as I do for my reviews so as to better gauge the value of the card in a wider context.
Mire / River Boa 1.5/10
These little green snakes were some of the most efficient threats in the early days of cube. They were very hard to kill and frequently unblockable with blue and black dominating the format back then. Much has changed since and these don't get a look in now. A 2/1 isn't nearly as relevant of a threat as it was, even one with some evasion. The real killer is how much the regeneration mechanic has suffered over the years. Firstly the cube is now pretty well stocked on cards that will completely bypass regenerate. It does still tax your opponents resources and limit their options which is the strength of resilient dorks but, and this is a pretty big but, you have to have mana up. Tempo is so relevant in the cube now that if you are keeping up a mana to regenerate your Boa you are falling behind. It it like losing the game to a Daze your opponent didn't have. A 2/1 isn't even that big of a deal and so the correct play is just curving out as if you didn't have regenerate which means the Boa's are just super vulnerable to everything! It is only when you start to have spare mana that they become a bit harder to remove and by then a 2/1 should be pretty useless. Despite there being better things on offer now and how much I seem to have laid into these cards they are still pretty high power level and will still win games if they have the wrong basics out, they are just a bit aimless. Their low rating is much more a representation of their undesirability and not so much of their raw power. These older names might not do much now but they still have more scalps and notches than most new cube cards will ever get.
Rainbow Efreet 2/10
Frenetic Efreet 1.5/10
These are more examples of ancient resilient dorks like the Boas. Both were very potent in their time but have not aged all that well. Neither really packs enough punch for the cost. Essentially these flicker away much like Aetherling does and as such they are very hard to kill. Only something like Sudden Shock can reliably take out one of these two. Sadly Rainbow kills pretty slowly and very poorly through any sort of defenses. It also requires twice the mana to protect itself than Aetherling. Frenetic was never really a main win condition, more of an irritation! The real thing that killed these cards was damage no longer stacking. When you could apply damage and then phase out your flier it was much easier to plow through defenses or wear them down while on defense yourself. Without that ability a 1/1 flier will hold off either and that makes these far too much of an investment for what they can do.
Stillmoon Cavalier 3/10
Blood Baron of Vizkopa 3.5/10
Here we have two quite different cards that are mostly just an opportunity to discuss protection. Protection from one colour is very hit or miss, it will be super tedious against one deck, perhaps two if you are lucky but it will be blank text the rest of the time. In a drafting cube a single colour protection is not a reason to include a card. They have to be otherwise good and useful cards like Master of Waves. I have no love of colour protection due to how polar it is based on what you are facing and how uninteractive it is. It is not a good thing from a design and theory perspective and doesn't often lead to good games. Sadly the nature, and indeed strength, of resilient dorks is their difficulty to be interacted with. When you have protection from two colours rather than just one however you start to look a lot more interesting in the general case. In a draft situation having protection from two colours rather than one rather flips the probabilities. It means you probably only have one or two opponents where it will not be a big deal and for the rest it will be some level of tedious. This is made more significant when you are hitting the removal colours, black, red and white. While protection from blue and green have value it is certainly less in the case of blue and rather different in the case of green. Protection from green is much more of a combat/evasion ability as the colour has so little removal. Protection from blue is the weakest of the protections with blue having the least targetted spells and creatures. Uncounterable is much better than protection from blue as bounce is one of their main defenses. Protection from black or white are also generally better against blue mages as well as they so often splash removal from those colours to make up for their lack of it.
Auriok Champion 3/10
Mystic Crusader 2/10
Questing Phelddagrif 2/10
Here we have a few cards with protection from black and red, or at least the ability to get it cheaply. Red is typically a better thing to pair with another protection effect as red has its own unique scaling for removal. Black and white tend to scale up well with a lot of their cheap removal still able to take out bigger and/or more expensive things. Red is scuppered by toughness alone a lot of the time and while the best early game removal it quickly falls off in power. Sticking protection from red on a dork makes it pretty much a non-issue having low toughness. That means cheaper dorks which means the potential to get ahead in a big way as you are doing so earlier. The other big perk of protection from red when compared to the other removal colours is that it protects against all the forms of mass removal the colour has as well what with it being damage based. While the combination of protection for red with something else does seem to offer the best potential in theory the reality of things is that none of the options available really do what you want. The Champion has some combo and synergy applications but is far too small and do nothing to get much done in any sort of normal setting. Phelddagrif is far too gold and fair. The card has won a surprisingly large number of cube games but those days are behind it now. We have proper game ending cards like Aetherling now. Crusader, like the Champion, is just too small and do nothing for his mana cost. Even a mono blue deck will outclass you if you try and pack these old school prot black and red things.
Phyrexian Crusader 3/10
This little guy is actually the most resilient of all the double protection dorks that are (or have been) cube worthy. Being an infect guy he is super narrow but if he had doublestrike like his white counterpart or even some mashup of black themed key words then this would be a very good card indeed. Much better than the Mirran fool. Sadly Mirran Crusader is much more playable without the narrow infect limitation. Phyrexian Crusader hits the sweet spot of early game red removal protection and some late game removal protection from the pro white. Not only is it just a higher powered body than any of the dorks with pro red and black that I could find but it also happens to have a bit of pseudo pro black due to being black. While I have tried to limit the amount of removal I have in black that doesn't hit other black things it is still the most common kind of restriction in the colour. As such Phyrexian Crusader dodges the red and white spot removal, the red mass removal and near to half of the black spot removal as well. In cube infect decks this is one of the best cards, you run it in the combo version as well as the more midrange affair. If infect were anywhere close to a common archetype I might be inclined to rate this a little higher but I just can't go higher than 3 for a card than only goes in one kind of deck that very few cubes will support!
Lotleth Troll 3.5/10
While I poo pooed regenerate as a mechanic for the Boas, even at one mana, this Troll has a few other things going on. Regenerate is not far off like a single protection in cube, it isn't enough to make a card playable on its own, the card needed to be close to or actually good enough already. Certainly the regenerate improves the Troll a lot but I find I exclusively play it when I want a discard outlet. It fills other roles but it is the discard aspect that is the real draw of the card. It is also a big part of why it is on this list but for the +1/+1 counter side of it. The combination of being able to grow at instant speed for no mana cost combined with the regeneration capacity make this pretty awkward to kill. They may have tapped out but if you spend your turn trying to burn it down you may well just make them go all in on it and smack you in the face with a terrifying 5/4 trampling regenerate on turn 3! Being black again also a factor in improving this cards all round robustness. Keeping mana open to preserve a Troll is also a more worthwhile thing to do than with a Boa as it is able to become a more relevant threat on the board. You don't necessarily hurt yourself by investing in the cards preservation as it can dominate a game and quickly unlike the little snakes.
Relentless Dead 4/10
This is a card I was close to putting in the recursive creatures list as it feels a bit more like them. This card also isn't resilient at all. It is super easy to get out of play. The most enduring thing about this card is its colour, short of Doom Blade effects pretty much every removal effect in cube handles this! In the future when sticky minions with a return to hand from play (rather than from the bin) vibe are viable they will probably merit their own sub category. The recursive effect is rather weaker than regenerate as well as the Relentless Dead go back to your hand and require recasting. Sure, you can bring other zombies back but this is even more mana and mana is the big issue with cards that rely on regenerate effects for their durability. This is one of those cards that makes this list look disjointed! I had to mention it somewhere as it is very much a sticky creature and it is quite good. It gets a lot of support play in tribal decks and devotion decks. It is also just fine enough cheap filler for most heavy black decks. This is good because it is a value, support and utility card that can just be used as a fine dork either on offence or defense. It is probably most alike to Dread Wanderer in this regard. Sadly being a double black card makes it narrower and being a two drop makes it less urgently desired. The inability for this card to recur if you miss one of its on death triggers makes this one of the least reliable recursion effects but the card is still fine, you simply have to play it accordingly and be prepared to use it as you need to use it as opposed to how you most wanted to use it!
Obzedat, Ghost Council 4/10
This dude has an odd form of protection. Essentially it is protection from sorceries however it is immune to most mass removal as well which a card with "protection from sorceries" would not have. Obzedat is also effectively untouchable by their planewalkers further limiting the potential answers to it. With five health, five CMC and black in the cost this card is really hard to remove. You can even use it as a threat without the need to attack so you can also avoid cards like Condemn and Wing Shards should you suspect it. Black and white only have about three or four reliable and effective removal spells that can hit this. Red needs two instant burn spells to take it down plus another to mitigate the drain ensuring it is always a 3 for 1. While Obzedat is far more robust in practice than he may look at first glace he has other issues. Not only is he a gold five drop but he is quite dramatically colour intense. You have to be pretty heavily in both his colours to play him. He is also a bit like a Batterskull you cannot cheat into play with Stoneforge. Obzedat is a very grindy card. He often just sits there draining for two each turn either being held off by the threat of a mass block or just getting chumped each turn with a plant token. Obzedat is a uniquely robust dork and a pleasantly powerful one but he is too narrow to be a prime drafting cube candidate.
Kira, Great Glass 4/10
Another card without immense durability but one where that is a significant part of her kit. Kira is just pretty good all round in a number of creature decks. She usually demands a 2 for 1 and a tempo swing to deal with. Her strength is a bit like Mother of Runes, you are forced into dealing with her first else you are going to eat further two for ones. She even has an edge over Mother in that her protection is online as and when you cast her. She can also usefully apply pressure while keeping those shields up. The thing that kept Kira down most in the cube has been a desire to play equipment in a lot of blue creature decks. Kira is a little bit annoying when you want to suit up your dorks. With blue creature decks already being fairly uncommon to see the far more broadly playable equipment won out. I have not had Kira in my drafting cube for quite some time, I wouldn't even really have considered her a mainstay back in the day when all the creatures stank! Kira saw most of her recent action in merfolk lists however Kopala has probably put an end to that. While Kira remains a fine enough stand alone card she is just that bit too fair for cube these days. She is a bit like the red Phoenix cards.
Aethertide Whale 4/10
This card held its own in my main cube and is a complete house in my budget cube. A 6/4 flier for six hits hard and blocks well enough. It is not the most exotic of threats but it is pretty good at its job. What makes the Whale so strong is that you get to bounce it for no mana cost. If you do nothing else with the energy, the second time you play it you will have two activations up making it basically untouchable. Killing it the first time requires two removal effects, one of which is instant. Killing a 4 toughness flier isn't the easiest. I don't actually think flying helps it live at all but still, it is hard to get this dead. All you can really do is stall it out or have an endless supply of fliers or one sufficiently big one. In many ways this is like Eternal Dragon use to be. You cannot afford the double digit cost of recurring the Dragon in cube and rely on that as your win condition, it is just too slow and expensive. Six mana to reply a Whale however is much more affordable. Whale is a perfect control top end card as you can use it defensively and more importantly you can tap out to play it with a higher degree of all round safety than other threats. Some you risk having yourself killed and others you risk getting killed and as such have no way to win. Whale is a good middle ground as far as these kinds of threats go.
Thrun, the Last Troll 4/10
I think Thrun is one of the more overrated cards in cube. Yes, he is very hard to stop but so what? The dude is just a 4/4. There are one drops with higher threat level. That might look like a joke or an over exaggeration to make a point but it isn't. I mean it. Delver is the standout one but things like Grim Lavamancer and Deathrite also both threaten unstoppable damage. Most threats race Thrun or hold him off. At the very least they force Thrun to stay back. Thrun is only really dangerous against you if you are slow, have a game plan that doesn't involve putting any creatures into play at any point and probably an over reliance on counterspells too! What I will say for the old Troll is that it is one of the very best cards to wear an Armadillo Cloak or equip a Loxodon Warhammer to. You give that body some trample and a touch more power, perhaps some lifelink, and then you have a real card. Racing ceases to be an option, chumping with planeswalker tokens is not an option, ignoring it is not an option. The humble Rancor turns Thrun into a monster! Thrun is a hard counter to an archaic archetype that has long fallen out of viability. A lot of lands do what Thrun does better! In a cube dominated by tempo this four mana 4/4 gains very little from any of its three lines of text. It isn't really worth countering, destroying or targetting! It is inconvenient, perhaps even tedious, but it isn't good. Cards, especially those at four mana, need to do useful and relevant things or they need to be a super scary and effective threat. Without cards to empower Thrun he is bad. With them he is great but then suffers the narrow penalty. Thrun is certainly one of the harder dorks on this list to deal with. If we were looking purely at how robust a card is then it would be higher up. Robustness is only good if it is protecting something worth having and that is the main take away here. I prefer all the other 4/10 cards on this list to Thrun but I have let him have the top stop of the bunch as he is the most resilient of them all.
Carnage Tyrant 5/10
This is a bit of an odd one. It is very good against blue decks with the double protection element of uncounterable and hexproof. It is as hard to kill with spells and effects as Simic Sky Swallower and it is punchier, safer to cast, cheaper and all in a single colour. The only thing you lose is flying but that is a pretty big deal. It is not all that hard to find six powers worth of blockers and wrestle this thing down. It hurts (and is usually game over to a combat trick) but it is doable and that greatly detracts from this cards effectiveness as a threat. It is more like a green Thundermaw Hellkite. It should get in at least one good attack and force an urgent and dramatic response. It is a nice top end threat in a proactive deck but it is not one of a few threats you want in a more combo or reactive deck as per the Sky Swallower. As such Carnage Tyrant doesn't really have a home in cube. Big ramp decks don't want him as it isn't enough of a payoff. Aggressive decks don't want him as he is six mana. Midrange decks want a more reliable threat or a better value card, say, a Titan, for either option... This card is great, it is what Thrun wishes he was. Thrun isn't great because of what he is and does, Tyrant is held back because of where he is on the curve given the places you want to use him in. Sagu Mauler looked a lot better on paper than Swallower but in practice it wasn't close. Tyrant looks even better again but still seems to fail on the suitability front despite having more than enough power for the cost.
Simic Sky Swallower 5.5/10
This might look a bit like a cheat in card but I have found it is primarily used in a way where it is going to be hard cast. It always surprises me how well this old dork holds up. He still gets a lot of play and still wins a lot of games. Seven mana gold cards are pretty vile things but in green they are rather more palatable. You can splash them without any cost to your deck and they frequently come out on turn five. This is not the hardest card on this list to deal with as most non-targetting effects will get it, the non-red ones at least. Just having shroud isn't great. Sky Swallower has a few key things to go with it that make it great. Being a huge flier means that short of a deathtouch flier or some eldrazi or Griselbrand/Ormendahl shaped demon you cheated into play this card is not falling in combat. I have actually seen this taken out with a 5/5 flier and a combat trick, that was pretty gross and unexpected but it is substantially rarer than these other infrequent events. The other thing that presses the issue rather is how rapidly and reliably this will end a game. It isn't quite so quick in a goldfish compared to something like a Myr Battlesphere but in practice it feels like having a massive one sided Sulfuric Vortex. That damage just gets through. When you only give your opponent two or three turns to find a fairly specific answer your card is automatically that much safer. Killing people quickly has always been the best defense in Magic. Another factor in this cards reliablity is that you are typically very aware of the few potential answers your opponents might have. It is fairly easy to draw out or rule out a Wrath effect as a green player (unless your opponent is specifically aware of your Sky Swallower that is). This is a simple card and while it may not look super exciting when compared to more modern things in that price range it just gets the job done very well.
Fleecemane Lion 5.5/10
I am surprised how much this has fallen off in power so quickly of late. The card is great but ultimately it is just a better Thrun. Having a Watchwolf as this cards front end make it a much more appealing vanilla fatty and a far better tempo play. Once made monstrous it is also the hardest card in the cube to deal with, although again, sadly just a 4/4. In my experience this card mostly just makes games go super long. Gold hurts this but so to does specifically being Selesnya, a colour far from short in high quality cheap dorks for all occasions. Also not a particularly exciting or popular colour pairing. Despite seeming like an all round batty card for power level it is very much a card on the chopping block next time I decide to do some space making exercises on my cube. This plays a little like a relentless dead. You play it out on curve if you have to and that is all fine. Then you play this little dance of them not killing it and you not activating it. Sometimes the game goes on long enough that activations become likely, and even when they are not the threat of them was useufall still a relevant factor in the game. Both Lion and Relentless Dead are early game filler to help with consistency and tempo that can provide a decent edge should the game go long. They are however both cards that concede tempo once you start paying mana on their activations. At 7 mana a 4/4 hexproof indestructible sounds a whole lot less impressive.
Experiment One 6/10
This card has never really had much opportunity to shine as green doesn't tend to go in for aggressive strategies that curve out from turn one with the aggression. If they did this card would be far better regarded. This is absolutely one of the premium aggressive one drops. It needs far less support than Delver of Secrets or even the prowess cards. If you are playing an aggressive one drop in green you will absolutely have a healthy number of dorks than can evolve this. Getting it to a 3/3 is where you want to be, that is when it is significantly better than your bog standard two power one drop. Not only that but it is when the zero mana regenerate kicks in! This is one of the least resiliant dorks on this list as it has a conditional and limited supply regenerate that wont be active from when this card hits play. It is also pretty small to begin with. The fact that a Lava Dart can usually take this out does rather go in the face of what this list is supposed to be about. My counter to that is that this is a one drop. The bar is a lot lower for one drops given their importance and scarcity (at least in the good ones). Experiment One is pretty much the only one drop that could be described as resilient yet also does enough beyond that to be worth playing. Sorry Slippery Boggle, you need rather too much work to make relevant... Experiment hits hard and it does so quickly. It is super tedious when you can't even clear a one drop with a Day of Judgment or Supreme Verdict. It even tends to out perform the Wild Nacatl in zoo and is your premium one drop. Yes, in constructed zoo it is a lot less close. Games are quicker in modern and each individual card has to work on its own that much more with so much cheap efficient removal and discard floating around in modern. In the clunkier cube a late game Nacatl draw can still be weaker than an Experiment top deck as the board will be cluttered and the game may well go on some time longer. In the early game the Experiment is almost always better. Nacatl is also rather more specific in its required support and can just be awful if you lack the good tools to make him a 3/3 for his first attack. Anyway, Experiment One is really really good. If green had a RDW or white weenie equivalent deck the card would probably have a rating comparable to Monastery Swiftspear, an absolute top tier one drop threat. Without any real homes beyond the zoo archetype however the card is rather stymied and gets a rating that doesn't reflect its in game performance very well.
Hazoret the Fervent 6/10
I think anyone who plays standard is well aware of how beastly this is. In cube it is a whole lot easier to have an empty hand when you get to four mana! Indeed, the reason Hazoret gets such a low rating out of ten is nothing to do with its extreme power level. The issue is that aggressive red decks are so brutal now that a four drop has to be stupidly direct to compete. My typical red deck has about 12 one drops, 8 two drops and 4 three drops. The only four+ drops (that you have to pay mana for) I have played recently are Territorial Hellkite and Fiery Confluence, both of which deal more damage more reliably right away than Hazoret. Basically, Hazoret gets better the longer the game goes on once you put it into play. It is good right away but increasingly hard to contain. Cube red decks want cards like that at one and two mana, not at the end of their curve. In any sort of grindy game Hazoret is the premium red four drop. Super hard hitting with various avenues of attack and importantly hard to remove. Hazoret is the indestructible version of Simic Sky Swallower. While neither is super safe across the board to removal their decent size and ability to close a game promptly and reliably really tax your opponents time resource thus further reducing their potential pool of answers. So yes, Path to Exile handily and efficiently shuts down a Hazoret much like a Supreme Verdict cleanly shuts up a Sky Swallower. Both however will happily grind your face into the ground when you don't have the right kind of card and that will be more often than not.
The least resilient dork on this list along with the other one drop. The kicker for Kytheon is that once flipped he can act like a dork and has a good deal of resilience in that form too. While it is not quite as rounded as indestructible it has no mana cost to use which makes it rather better than his dork side! Just in general terms the ability on Kytheon is weak. You are effectively paying 3 mana for a free 2/1 whenever you use it. That isn't great. For three mana you could have a Rogue Refiner, or like, a good card that can win a game. Point is, you are only really using this when you are low on resources relative to mana. It is used to force flip Kytheon a lot too and that is fine but a lot fairer than you think. If Kytheon didn't already do something as a 2/1 then your 4 mana planeswalker is actually pretty awful when compared to what you could have had spending that mana elsewhere. Experiment One doesn't have to pay mana to protect itself and that is what makes that good. What makes Kytheon good is not all that hinged on the indestructible feature. It is that a 2/1 for one is good and Kytheon comes with more gravy than any other already playable card! Gravy that helps with late game scaling and that helps with utility.
The Scarab God 6.5/10
The ability to return to hand rather than go to the bin upon death is not the greatest protection on this list by quite a way. It is certainly less strong than either hexproof or indestructible. The Scarab God is all about the obnoxious power level. It is a decently big body, it has a brutal activated ability and a strong ongoing effect. If you untap with a Scarab God you are in for an easy ride. So many cube dorks turn out to be rather improved when created as 4/4s with the same text. Either you get a discount on some bomb top end card or you turn a nice utility or value dork into a good threat as well. Four mana 4/4 Grave Titan? Sign me up. Four mana 4/4 Mausoleum Wanderer? Yes please! There are just so many text heavy dorks in cube we great EtB and state based effects. With its prevalence in standard at present most are aware of how good this naughty thing is. It is a gold five drop which keeps it narrow but it is just one of those cards with so very much power that you are OK with that.
Probably the hardest of cards to deal with or stop in any meaningful capacity. The only clean, and frankly likely, way to deal with Aetherling is to pluck it from the hand before it is cast or counter it. Once in play Aetherling is basically the most unstoppable card in magic. To kill it once in play you either need more instant removal cards than they have spare blue mana or you need to turn off its abilities with a state based effect such as a Pithing Needle and then kill it conventionally. The only thing keeping Aetherling close to a fair card is how mana hungry it is. Ideally you want to play it as a ten drop. You want a couple of mana spare to flicker it a bit and some more mana for a counterspell just in case! Rarely will you be given that degree of comfort in cube and so often the Aetherling will tentatively come out as a seven drop with just the one life that turn. If they don't have double answers that turn you will likely win. Another aspect that keeps Aetherling fairer is that it is relatively poor defensively compared to many other win conditions. Aetherling has psuedo vigilance (at a cost) and can block most ground things pretty well but it only blocks one thing, it cant stop much in the way of evasion and it has no lifelink or other such defensive aspects. At killing people it is the most reliable threat going. It is like a True Name Nemesis that can have 8 power, vigilance and is also protected against mass removal. The issue is not so much how good Aetherling is at what it does but that you need to be somewhat in control before you play your Aetherling and that is quite hard to do.
Falkenrath Aristocrat 7/10
The original Hazoret! This thing has evasion and no restriction on being able to attack. He comes down fast and ends the game nice and quick without much fuss. The ability to make indestructible is contingent on your having a dork in play and the ability to grow him is further limited to those dorks being human but neither of these things is hard to do or that uncommon. Sometimes you can just all in and seven them in the air out of nowhere. Other times you just snipe out a planeswalker and have a scary threat left to show for it. Aristocrat is a card I frequently splash as it is exactly what I want out of my top end threats. It is on the narrow side being a card you want to play in a deck with a decent creature count on top of it being gold. I find it very easy to navigate around the limitations of the card. Against a green or blue player I will happily run this out solo as I wont need to make it indestructible. Against other colours it is not hard to engineer lines of play that will give you protection for this card. Most of the other cards on this list incur a tempo cost on the dork for their resilience in that you can get better tempo cards for the mana. It is pretty hard to find a better tempo play than a four mana four power hasting flier. Bloodbraid I hear is good but it is far less reliable tempo and also less reliable damage. When you can not only tax your opponents options hard but you can also continue to apply maximum pressure then you are onto a winner. Cartel Aristocrat has even seen some love with its similar mechanic to this. The card is super annoying when it has sufficient tokens to eat. Being half the power it is a little less worth the life of something else to save and so it is rather more niche in terms of building with it. As a general rule however, manaless activations with alternate costs are a great way to get a good deal on a resilient dork.
Adanto Vanguard 7/10
This new entry has really impressed me. A lot of games have just been dominated by this thing. It is relentless. It is a fantastic thing to equip. A Jitte on a Vanguard is one of the scariest things you can face. In some games it feels like you have an Abyss on just them and in others it feels like you have a two mana True Name nemesis. Any deck that uses empowering effects, be they tribal lords, or in the case of Vanguard, equipment and Anthems, hugely benefits from sticky cheap support dorks with no cost on the recursion/protection. Butcher Ghoul was recently the stand out card in a tribal zombie deck I built. Clearly Adanto Vangaurd puts the Ghoul to shame in power level. Vangaurd is certainly more of an offensive creature but it is less linear than it looks as well. It certainly has more distinct archetypal homes than Elite Vanguard and your other generic one mana 2/1s. Vangaurd is a card you want in any aggressive creature deck but it is also a card you quite want in the Cawblade style decks and other more midrange, tricksy or tempo orientated decks.
True-Name Nemesis 8/10
I am forever saying this card is overrated and here I am slapping it at the top of this list. While I maintain this card is overrated it isn't by all that much, the card is very strong indeed. It would probably be fine if it were green but as a blue card it is a little tedious! It is a card that makes people give up, a little like Jitte. I see a lot of people lose to it where they didn't necessarily need to. The card can only do so much. It fails to handle a lot of situations and it has very limited recovery and game ending potential. Most other three drops race this better or gain advantage over time in a stand off. It is when both players are fairly even and trying to play a similar sort of game than True-Name is a total beating. If we both have nothing and you make some non-evasive dork in your turn and in my turn I make a True-Name then it will feel a lot like you got time walked. You will have no counter to my play and your options are reduced and I will have loads of options on how to play depending on what you do. Your plansewalkers now all suck while mine are now super safe. True Name is decent in aggro as a robust evasive threat but it does nothing to protect you from mass removal and so isn't all good. As a defensive tool it is nice but it is generally less good than a Baleful Strix. Using True Name defensively is much like having a Beloved Chaplain. Not so great with your own mass removal, not so great against trample or flying and not great in terms of card advantage. Just stall and as such less appealing than Wall of Omens. True-Name is best suited to the tempo and tricksy decks that want high value things but at low cost and in lower numbers. A card that is feared more than it should be, that is frequently used badly, and that is commonly missplayed against. In the right place or at the right time the card is pretty unfair. It is its low risk and low cost that make it a comfortable top for this list. There is a very real cost to including cards like Aetherling in your list while True Name slots in pretty comfortably in any non-combo blue deck.