Saturday, 24 February 2018
Top 10 Cards from 1996
Bounty of the Hunt
Elvish Spirit Guide
Sky Diamond etc
10. Lake of the Dead
This is pretty much the Orcish Lumberjack equivalent which would have been 11th on the list for 1995. I cut this a few years back for being too polar and too narrow (you only really played it in mono black which isn't really a thing). I think if I had not Field of Ruin would have ensured I now had! Going all in isn't great in cube. Sure, you might make some turn three Grave Titan which might well win the game but you might also just lose with that line as well to a reasonable answer. There is a time and a place for going all in and it is a lot later than in the picking or deck design stage in cube draft ideally! Power wise Lake is absolutely cube worthy but like so many old and powerful cards it is narrow in how it offers its power making it questionably playable enough to merit cube inclusion and sufficiently polar that it doesn't lead to great games even if it were. Lovely look and feel though, a favourite of mine even back then.
Free spells are great but this is a little sitational to perform too well. You need to be fairly heavy black to support this. It is pretty good and can be devastating but it just isn't quite there overall. Snuff Out or even Sickening Shoal are typically more effective removal. Contagion is more of a counter card to weenie strategies but then in black you just have better options against those kind of plans. Too low impact to be worthy of a sideboard slot and too limp of a hedge card to merit running main. If this were three 1/1 counters then I think it would be really exceptional and the best of the mana less removal options. If there is a resurgence in one toughness dorks then this might come back but red already ensures they are not too prolific.
8. Enlightened Tutor
Fair, flavourful and elegant design. I am a huge fan of this cycle and would like to see it explored further. While not far off exclusively a combo card it is a remarkably good one and finds at least one part of a lot of the best cube combos and often more than one. A lot of the good sideboard, silver bullet and hedge cards are also something you can find with this little Tutor. I would probably call this the best tutor outside of black or blue, while green may have some more powerful cards that find creatures there is significantly more redundancy in those effects thus reducing the premium on their value. Fabricate and Idyllic Tutor both kind of blow. Half the range, three times the cost and sorcery speed.... No thanks.
7. Lions Eye Diamond
A classic example of a dodgy old card! This is as good as Black Lotus in a tiny fraction of places and pretty much garbage everywhere else. I do appreciate the throwback nostalgia cards that give us more balanced glimpses of original 1993 power however they have to be done right which LED is not! Ancestral Visions and Temporal Mastery are probably the two best attempts at fair and balanced power cards and neither of those are without issue. LED is fine for cube use as it is that much harder to abuse. The card is still great in a couple of combo shells but that is it. As combo doesn't draft that well either you don't even see LED in most drafting cubes and that is for the best.
6. Mystical Tutor
I have this rated above Enlightened as it is something you can play outside of combo. I am not convinced my logic is sounds here as I feel like I play the two cards a similar amount overall. I have used Mystical Tutor in a selection of control builds, typically those without black and more recently those with miracles in them! Mystical Tutor is not that exciting in combo decks and is usually just backup for one half of your things. Merchant Scroll also will take its slot from time to time, typically in storm combo decks. There are no two card combos that are both instants or sorceries except the very first one (Channel plus Fireball) and that is pretty much the nut low now. I have on many occasions used Mystical Tutor to find Enlightened Tutor and that makes you want better Tutors, perhaps even just card quality effects. Given how hard they cut back on Tutor power after this cycle I can say with confidence that 1996 was the best year overall for Tutors in magic offering more strong and playable ones than any other year.
5. Lim-Dul's Vault
A wildly underrated card but not necessarily an underplayed one. In a 40 card deck you only need so many tutors. In a black deck you are more limited on good discard spells than you are on tutor effects! While I rate this in the top three Tutors of all time, and fairly close in power to the other big names - Vamp and Demonic. Vault just being gold makes it substantially less playable. It is a must for any combo cube but a more midrange cube has less call for such things.
4. Lat-Nam's Legacy
This card used to be hugely important in cube but has steadily declined in power. A big part of what made this good was that there are very few ways to put cards in your hand into your library and this was one of the cheapest, most playable and most self contained option on offer. Back when Tinker and Oath of Druids decks were big things this was the sort of thing you wanted most as support. There has been a huge shift in the meta since then and now we tend to want cards in the graveyard much more than back in our library. Since I cut the miracles from the drafting cube the only real value this has compared to other card quality is that it is instant. Chart a Course and Strategic Planning are both more effective than Lat-Nam's but they are not something you really want in control decks. Still however Impulse and Predict typically steal the slots Legacy would get. This is very much a card I could cut now which seems crazy given how much of a staple it used to feel like it was. Cheap blue card quality is just good however and sees play all over the place as premium filler. I could equally keep this and add in Anticipate and Telling Time and See Beyond and all four of them would still probably see enough play to merit their inclusion!
3. Wall of Roots
Much as some of the best and more important core coloured cards come from the earlier years of Magic I am starting to appreciate how dry aspects of it were too. While green has had a lot of premium ramp spells from these first four years of the game it has just dawned on me that it has nothing else at all! The only thing green has to show for the early years of magic in a cube setting is simple quality one and two mana ramp cards. Red only has burn and the other colours and types of effects are sadly linear too. Obviously power creep in creatures renders a lot of older dorks unplayable but that isn't really a thing yet. The cube never had much in the way of threats from the early years of magic, they cube wasn't really a thing until post 2000 and so most of its threats came from sets after 96. Anyway, just another observation on the way through! Wall of Roots, while just another cheap green ramp card is pretty great! Arguably the best two drop ramp in green although that area is really well catered for with lots of powerful options each of which has their time to shine but none always being the best. Wall of Roots is just all round good, it makes mana quickly and develops the board usefully at the same time.
2. Arcane Denial
Another underrated card. I think that this period probably has a lot of these because they dodge other formats. Arcane Denial isn't relevant for modern or standard, the only format you can play it in you also have Counterspell, Force of Will and even Mana Drain legal. In constructed runners up don't get much in the way of reward or acclaim. In cube runners up, especially close ones, are a pretty big deal. Remand, Memory Lapse and Arcane Denial make a nice triangle of comparable counters with varying degrees of card cost. Arcane Denial is a hard counter that also draws you a card! It is just not card neutral like the other two. If your reasoning for not loving Memory Lapse is because it isn't an answer then let me introduce you to this lovely little gem. If you come back at me with "eeew, I don't want to two for one myself" then perhaps you will disagree with the number one card on this list? Arcane Denial is premium cheap hard countermagic. It is great in proactive strategies or ones where you have a very nice lineup of answers to threats across the deck or indeed if they are just threat light. Highly versatile card, one of my all time favourites too! Even if you don't like Arcane Denial, if you are in the business for unrestricted hard counterspells you will not find more than a handful at two or less mana. I think indeed that Arcane Denial marks the last printing of such a card.
1. Force of Will
This card feels like it is more significant to MtG than the rest of the cards from this year combined. Best ever counterspell. Great in vintage, legacy and all forms of cube alike. One of the very best things about this card is that it is actually close to fair. It is certainly much more inline with the power level of Thoughtsieze than Stripmine or Mana Drain or something. It leads to interesting decisions and vastly increases the need for thought over actions for both players. It is a card that makes games better even when it isn't in the game (assuming not everyone knows that). One of the nice things about cube is that you don't get as tired of cards as quickly as some big names in constructed. If I were an eternal format player I might not be so keen on the card. There are really only a couple of cards in the cube I have not banned that I find boring and tedious, Ashiok, Jitte, Shackles mostly. Force of Will has had a lot longer to annoy people and it really hasn't. Them putting their powerful blue spells in the bin really softens the blow on an emotional level if not in the actual game!