Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Top 10 Cards from 1994

Mishra's Workshop
The cards from 1994 still hold an air of wonder about them for me along with the 1993 cards for the simple reason that they predate me playing the game. It is evident that much was learned about Magic in the previous year and far fewer bomb cards slipped through. Of those that did you generally had to put in some work towards abusing the cards in question. There are only four cards from this era that I don't play with in cube for power reasons and they are all rather less egregious than those from 93. These are those four cards;

Mana Drain
Mishra's Workshop
Strip Mine

With so many of the simple and staple cards already printed in the core set there is rather less overall from 1994 and much of the things that have or still get used are in quite specific places. I will not be listing all the cube played cards from every year but it is quite interesting to look at the formative years this way. I had not appreciated quite how quickly power in design was reigned in nor how stark the contrast was between 93 and 94 for direct simple colour defining cards and vague convoluted cards respectively. Here is a list of the cards I have used in cube from this era;

Ball LightningAshnod's Alter
Active Volcano
Acid Rain
Ball Lightning
Blood Moon
Candelabra of Townos
Concordant Crossroads
Fellwar Stone
Ication Javelineers
Ivory Tower
Maze of Ith
Nether Void
The AbyssRelic Barrier
Remove Soul
The Abyss
The Rack
The Tabernacl at Pendrell Vale
Tormod's Crypt
Urza's Lands
Hurkyl's Recall
Transmute Artifact
Power Artifact
Goblin Grenade

Lastly onto our top ten. You can see the exploration of design space starting here already with tried and testing cards getting tweaked. You can also see a stark decline in power level when compared to the list for 93. Certainly there are some great cards on this list but they don't match up with the top of the last list even with over 15 cards banned out from that era and not on the list! Not only does the top end not match up but the 94 pool lacks the depth of the 93 one.

10. Assorted

There isn't really a solid contender for this slot. It could be Moat although the card is lame. It would be Blood Moon if it were not a cube thing as the card is so significant in constructed formats. Ornothopter felt like it merited the slot simply for its latent power and eventual ascension in Mirodin. Ball Lightning was a huge card back in the day but is no longer that much of a feature. Goblin Grenade is one of my favourite cards! Pendlehaven is probably the most playable of the options.. You are hard pushed to find more than 8  generally playable cards for un unpowered un-combo cube from this era but at least there are still uses for many of these lovely antiques.

High Tide

9. High Tide

A narrow card but a mightily potent one in the right deck. Blue storm is one of my favourite decks to play and this is the cornerstone of it. I don't think cards like this are great in what they do for drafting cubes but that is the case for all the narrow build around things really. High Tide and decks using it certainly merit mention in power terms being not just one of the best combo decks in cube but also one of the best decks in all of magic.

Mishra's Factory8. Mishra's Factory

Like an old friend this card has always been there for me. It has been used in control and in aggro, it has been the main win condition for some lists! The very first manland managed to hit a lovely note for power level. The mere fact it has remained playable for 24 years without being overly oppressive at any point makes it seem like good design. Factory was one of few counterplays to Wraths for quite some time. I suspect the success of the card is the reason we now have a wealth of interesting manlands to choose from.

Boomerang7. Boomerang

This is the only card printed in 94 that feels like a card printed in 93 with perhaps the exception of Strip Mine . Boomerang is simple and clean. It is also colour defining and fairly spot on for power level. Unlike Counterspell, two mana is the appropriate cost for a bounce spell. The only real advantage Boomerang has over other bounce spells that followed it is that it can hit lands. A well aimed early Boomerang on a land, despite the card disadvantage, can be more than enough to secure a victory. This game winning potential probably makes it the most powerful all round of the bounce options but newer quirkier versions like Cyclonic Rift and Into the Roil lend to a better gaming experience. Ideally what we need is a bounce spell that specifically targets planeswalkers, artifacts, creatures and enchantments such that it can hit man lands but without being oppressive for slower decks needing to hit every land drop.

Hymn to Tourach6. Hymn to Tourach

Disruption in a brutal form and a cheap two for one. Hymn is very powerful indeed, it has won a lot of games randomly hitting lands. While still far above the power of what would be reasonable in standard, even modern, Hymn is not that big of a deal in cube any more. The heavy black is more of an issue, as is it being a potential dud in the late game or a significant tempo set back in the early game. Night's Whisper has been seeing a lot more play in my cube for a while now. All the premium discard in cube is now one mana or modal. Despite the high power level  most people I play with now typically prefer a more consistent option.

Land Tax5. Land Tax

This is arguably the most potent card advantage tool ever made. I suspect I have added more cards to my hand via Land Tax than any other card in magic, with a potential exception found further down this list (although that is more of a technicality) along with with Necropotence and Skullclamp too. Land Tax is one of those nice cards that gets away with being significantly above a reasonable power level due to it having no proactive or threatening components. Further to this Land Tax needs you to be behind in some respects to power up thus being somewhat of a catch up card. Anything that improves on the draw but still good enough to play when not is an interesting card that may help to improve the game which I would argue that Land Tax does despite its vast power level. Land Tax is something you need to build around to some degree which also keeps its power level a little better in check. Not only is it the most mana efficient way to increase your hand size without paying life or setting up an infinite combo but I think it probably also represents the biggest cards per card on average in all of magic. I love Land Tax, I love removing all the inactive draws from my deck, I love the way it can incite the "don't play lands" game. It is not just one of whites most powerful cards but also one of the most interesting it has on offer.

Force Spike4. Force Spike

While very well balanced the Force Spike is a little polar as per many of the earlier cards. Force Spike can be a do nothing dud or it can win the game. I tend to prefer my cards with a lower range on their performance but Force Spike brings enough good to the table that I can forgive it easily. It is one of the only ways to effectively be safe on turn one as a blue mage. Island go while sat on Force Spike is a great feeling. Force Spike is all about the reads and bluffs and that is what makes it a great card. Playing around the card excessively is far worse than running something into it in most cases and that is where the intrigue comes from. As both 100% playing around the Spike and blinding running into it are pretty ruinous you need to hit the right balance and that makes it a nicely skill intense card. As easily dead cards go Force Spike is well positioned in blue as you can cash it in to some looting effect with relative ease. In the same way that Nekratal and Shriekmaw step on the toes of Doom Blade so too do things like Censor and Daze effect Force Spike. There is diminishing returns on how much value you can get from these effects in a deck and so each one beyond the first gets weaker. While Censor does not directly compete with Spike as they are on different points on the curve it does still make it a less played card overall. The beauty of Force Spike is that the less it gets played, the better it becomes. The less play it gets the less it is on people's radar and so the more value it typically gets.

Elves of Deep Shadow3.  Elves of Deep Shadow

An early example of design exploration and a lovely one at that. Llanowar Elves were just so spot on that tweaked iterations of them were pretty inevitable. This card is not just a balance win but also a big flavour one. Whenever you have some black costs in your green deck Elves of Deep Shadow are preferable to Llanowar Elves, when you don't then they are not! You can still play them off colour and they are OK. I feel like I have been waiting for over 20 years now for the rest of this cycle! Avacyn's Pilgrim is a fine card but it is not as well balanced or flavoured as these elegant old elves. Turns out green got about as many one mana ramp cards in the first three years of MtG as it did in the following twenty years!

Sylvan Library2. Sylvan Library

This is the card I was referring too that is up there with Land Tax for extra cards drawn for me. It feels a bit like cheats counting library as two extra draws each turn as you have to put those extra draws back or pay a lot of life each time. I certainly have not payed 4 life more times than I have gotten a basic with Land Tax! Anyway, this card is supremely good. It is better than Divining Top for most uses. Only really miracles, Counterbalance synergy or artifact synergies prefer the Top. All other decks would just rather flop out a Library and not have to invest any further mana into it. I rate Library over Demonic Tutor in pretty much every non-combo application. The ongoing card quality is really hard to beat. It is very akin to playing against a Search for Azcanta. The longer the game goes on the lower your chances of beating the perpetual card quality cards and Library is absolutely up there with the best of them. It feels like you got an Anticipate for free every time you get to shuffle or mill your library. Against the slow decks you can just pump life into it as you see fit. While there are plenty of matches where I don't pay any life there are plenty more where I will draw multiple cards from the Library. On average the card more than replaces itself. Although most poor tempo plays have gotten worse over the years Library seems to be holding steady, if not improving. Green is getting more and more things that work with tops of library as well as things which manipulate it all of which help to empower this gem. Sylvan Library is not a million miles off Land Tax, both are above the curve but not being threats they get away with it rather more. Library doesn't need as much build consideration as Tax nor does it need you to be behind in any way to activate.

Chain Lightning1.   Chain Lightning

Quite a lot worse than Lightning Bolt yet nothing really to do with the text box. I have only seen the chaining of Chain Lightning be relevant on a couple of occasions and only once in a significant capacity. It is all about the difference between instant and sorcery. Broadly speaking this is the second best burn spell however I will frequently play a Burst Lightning or Searing Spear over it as the value of the instant speed is more important in that style of deck. In the more aggressive decks there is a lot less to choose between this and Bolt. Chain and Bolt, Path and Plow, Inquisition and Thoughtsieze, Birds and Hierarch, it seems like most of the colours have a pair of top notch colour defining cards that sit above the Ousts, Llanowar Elves, Shocks and Blackmails. I do not expect to see another one mana three damage spell without target restrictions or other notable drawbacks and unlike the one drop mana dorks this is not something I am sad about. It is simply too much of a return, too efficient, too much utility and too much tempo. Much as I don't think we want more things like Bolt and Chain I do not begrudge them in cube as they are so diluted by the other less efficient burn spells.


  1. Thanks for some entertaining reading over lunch! My thoughts on some of the top cards:

    - Mishra's Factory: One of the things I like is that it often blocks as a 3/3. It's certainly happened that people mistakenly attack into it. There is also an interesting tension in the card: in a low-curve aggro deck the extra Bear is welcome but is it worth damaging your mana base?

    - Boomerang: Not a card I've cast very often (if ever?) but I suspect it's gotten a lot better of late. With Tempo becoming ever more critical in Cube, I can see this being a great support card for pro-active blue decks.

    - Land Tax: Agreed, one of whites most interesting cards ever. I still remember brewing an Alesha EDH deck and chuckling when I realised that it's quite a serviceable discard outlet. The interactions with Scroll Rack and Brainstorm are also great. And Seismic Assault! Even fetches you the triple red hahaha!

    - Force Spike certainly has a 'rep' over here. One of the veteran cubers here despises the card because it punishes you when they have AND when they don't have it. And it somehow gets him every time. I like this bluffing aspect a lot though, and I wish they'd print more cards that make use of this sort of gameplay.

    - Chain Lightning: The point about the original burn staples being too good is certainly true. I imagine burn spells are some of the hardest to design for R&D

  2. Yea, Factory and Pendlehaven remain the two most walked into on the board "tricks" as it were. Sadly I think that tension is now gone for factory and I almost exclusively want the colour production. It is only decks with colourless mana needs or artifact synergies where I want the Factory. I have cut enough double colour two drops to make Factory playable in most mono lists but then typically things like Rishadan Port get more value in.

    Boomerang is powerful for sure and a lot more versatile than other mana denial cards but you rarely feel good about winning with it. It is just like Sinkhole in that regard.

    I do love these additional snippets of experience and input. I love seeing how others view cards and how different cube metas evolve. Cheers for the comments!