Thursday 8 November 2018

Top 10 Cards of 2017

Vraska, Relic Seeker
A big old 55 cube cards from 2017 and a depth of other useful tools from the sets Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation and Ixalan. This large number could be power creep or it could be sloth in testing! I suspect there is an element of both. While the best and the worst cards quickly make themselves apparent in cube testing the better balanced and designed cards typically take a little longer to show their true colours. While I am fairly happy with knowing roughly how good the cards are from 2017 I am less confident in the fine details that I often use to decide ordering in lists. This is absolutely the year I have shuffled round and fiddled with the most in terms of what makes it and in what position. Suffice it to say 2017 was a good year for cube.

As with most of the more recent years I am wanting to do honorable mentions! There being so many cube cards and their design being so good that they are all somewhat comparable for power/playabiltiy rating helps me resist! This year containing a set with cycling brought vast numbers of playable cards to the cube and made for a very pleasant play experience. Decks are far more rounded as a result of 2017. A big part of this was how well the removal was designed allowing for cover of niche things without forcing narrow and potentially dead cards into lists. This list is mostly removal effects and there are more really good ones from 2017 that nearly made the list too. Removal power creep has lagged behind threat power creep for some time. While 2017 certainly didn't catch up with threat  the improved removal is most welcome. Removal is interactive and leads to better games. It is no fun either losing to things you can't deal with or losing because your hand is full of dead narrow cards you played so the other bad thing doesn't happen! It is also much harder to make removal detrimental when compared to the dangers of power creep in threats. While the power of most of the removal from 2017 is just reasonable it is the suitability and playability of most of it that makes this year stand out as a triumph. More power could have been reasonably thrown into the removal effects offered yet swathes of the fairer cards see regular play. Cycling leads to some very clean design possibilities.

I sincerely hope that 2017 gets the design credit it deserves. I fear it might be overlooked for more macroscopic failures in limited and standard (I am not suggesting things were bad, I didn't follow enough to know, I am just aware that 2017 didn't seem to make waves in the way the most cherished sets do). The individual cards demonstrate real craftsmanship. I hope this is what we can expect in terms of design quality going forwards. Commander was a bit extreme in some ways but still mostly a welcome addition to the pool. Here is the list of quality that didn't make the top 10 list from the year;

Kitesail FreebooterArguel's Bloodfast
Adanto Vanguard
Ramunap Excavator
Kari-Zev, Skyship Raider
Gideon of the Trials
Cycling Duals
Sweltering Sun
Dissenter's Deliverence
Chart a Course
Insult // InjuryCommit // Memory
Hazoret the Fervent
Settle the Wreckage
Harsh Mentor
Oketra's Monument
Hostage Taker
Legion's Landing
Kitesail Freebooter
Insult / Injury
Rampaging Ferocidon
Champion of Wits
Adorned Pouncer
Aethersphere Harvester
Settle the WreckageAhn-Crop Crasher
Aethertide Whale
As Fortold
Angel of Sanctions
Anointed Procession
Approach of the Second Sun
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Reason // Believe
Battlefield Scavenger
Bone Picker
Bontu's Last Reckoning
Captain Lannery Storm
Carnage Tyrant
Baral, Chief of ComplianceChampion of Rhonas
Channeler Initiate
Claim // Fame
Combat Celebrant
Crash Through
Crested Sunmare
Cut // Ribbons
Dusk // Dawn
Djeru's Renunciation
Dread Wanderer
Grind // Dust
Farm // Market
Curse of Opulence
Curse of Disturbance
Firebrand Archer
Forsake the Worldly
Gifted Aetherborn
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Glory-Bound Initiate
Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Dust Walker
Hashep Oasis
Heart of Kiran
Curse of OpulenceHeroic Intervention
Hidden Stockpile
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Hollow One
Honored Crop Captain
Hope of Ghirapur
Implement of Ferocity
Inspiring Statuary
Ipnu Rivulet
Jace, Cunning Castaway
Leave // Chance
Liliana, Death's Majesty
Lord of the Accursed
Herald's Horn
Kess, Dissident Mage
Metallic MimicMaulfist Revolutionary
Metallic Mimic
Mirage Mirror
Never // Return
Nissa, Steward of Elements
Territorial Hellkite
The Ur-Dragon
Prowling Serpopard
Ramunap Ruins
Renegade Map
Rhonas, the Indomitable
Ripjaw Raptor
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Rishkar's Expertise
Rogue Refiner
Ruin Raider
Sacred Cat
Samut, Voice of Dissent
Scrap Trawler
Seeker's Squire
Servo Schematic
Shefet Dunes
Siren Stormtamer
Skyship Plunderer
Sorcerer's Spyglass
Spell Swindle
Spire of Industry
Sram, Senior Edificer
Sram's Expertise
Steward of Solidarity
Sunscourge Champion
Supreme Will
Tezeret, the Schemer
Whir of InventionThrone of the God Pharaoh
Tocatli Honor Guard
Trophy Mage
Unbridle Growth
Unclaimed Territory
Vance's Blasting Cannons
Vizier of Remedies
Vizier of Many Faces
Vizier of the Managerie
Vraska, Relic Seeker
Vraska's Contempt
Whir of Invention
Wily Goblin
Winding Constrictor
Yehenni, Undying Partisan
Yehnni's Expertise

Fatal Push10. Fatal Push

While this might be one of the all time premium removal spells in formats like modern and legacy poor Fatal Push is basically just another Disfigure in cube. That is great, don't get me wrong, more playable decent quality one mana removal in black is exactly what was needed. Push itself isn't a bomb but black is doing much better because of it due to how sparse it was on consistent and rounded playables at the low end. Black having few high quality and well rounded one drops get a huge boost whenever a card like this joins the ranks as black lacks depth, not power. They are instantly very playable even if they are not of standout power level. Push is a top tier removal spell but it is better in modern and legacy than cube by a noticeable margin.

Field of Ruin
9.   Field of Ruin

The fixed Strip Mine after many many attempts! This is a good way to keep spell and man lands in check and can even be used to punish greedy mana bases. It has some cute utility as a shuffle effect, potentially on both libraries. It can also fix for you in some cases as well. All round a very interesting card with a spot on power level. You see more of Field than Rishadan Port which is an impressive place to be. The card is wonderfully fair for one that comes with so much depth, playability and options. This would be one of many premium example cards that showcase quite how good of a job the design and development teams did for the cards of this era.

8.   Cast Out
Cast Out
This is probably only this low on the list because it is a little dull. It has been seeing consistent play in a vast array of decks. Basically any white deck. The cost of playing it is minimal and the safety it brings is large. The wider the coverage of your removal the less you need to run and Cast Out has a wide old web. The high cost is almost entirely mitigated with flash and cycling. It doesn't hold you back like most other pricier cards, indeed it can often help get you out of a bind. Impressively Cast Out has taken much of the play that Council's Judgement used to get. Cycling, instant speed and only a single white to play all add up to be more desirable on average than permanent exile without targetting issues at three mana. It is not easy to understand how this outperforms Judgement so obviously in practice as it is so un-intuitively based on how much more powerful Judgement seems on paper. Both are cover all 1 for 1 answer cards at high cost. They are your get out of jail free cards. Where you want to be in a game is not in need of a get out of jail free card. Obviously amazing when you need them but if all is going well then they are fairly inefficient. Cast Out has far better utility in that case not just because of the cycling but also fairly significantly from the flash. It lets you bluff other plays or leave things till the last minute for maximum information or perhaps even a blowout play. It is much easier to get value from killing a low value target with a high mana cost removal card if you can do so at instant speed. All that more than makes up for the lower cost and more certain permanent end of the problem card.

Abrade7.   Abrade

Another fine removal card that has empowered all flavours of red. Abrade did big things in constructed yet is perhaps even better suited to cube. With such a wide array of stuff going on and less focus in archetypes due to singleton the modal nature of Abrade shines bright. It lets you have access to Shatter without need of card filtering tools or the risk of having dead cards. The upside on having outs to artifacts comfortably outweighs the drawback of not being able to burn players or walkers. This comfort barrier increases as your build tends from aggro towards control of course. I was concerned that this would not see play over Searing Spear but it very much does. It is supremely rare that a burn player finds themselves wanting to do three to face and being stuck with Abrade. You can plan for such things in most instances and use the appropriate spell on the appropriate target based on the stage of the game and what you expect to need to kill. Amazing card for midrange and control, great card for aggro and a huge boost to red all round.

Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin
Search for Azcanta

6.   Search for Azcanta

Another card I am a little shocked to see so low on this list. This is a big name in many formats for being a cheap all round card that provides card quality, then mana and finally card advantage. In constructed the card quality and advantage aspects are the main contributors to the value of the card but in cube the mana production value accounts fora significant portion too. All round the card is great design. it provides lots of control over the game through lots of options. It does an appropriate and useful thing at all stages of the game and is surprisingly often positive in both mana and cards. Despite all this the card is pretty fair. In cube it has the tendency to be even more silly as I have on more than one occasion found myself in a position of knowing the order of my whole library! Really powerful if you can remember it and have a tool to manipulate it in some way, say Azcanta, the Sunken Ruins! Being slow is what makes this card so fair, you are looking at a long time before it is worth the card cost, usually it needs to flip. If you are looking for positive return on cards and mana we are talking a really long time, longer than most games! Although not longer than most games involving Search for Azcanta.

Treasure Map5.   Treasure Map

Treasure CoveSearch for Azcanta is more streamlined and powerful card compared to Treasure Map. It has no ongoing costs to use and it has a potentially limitless use. Map by contrast only offers 3 scry and each needs you to pay for it, then once flipped can only draw three extra cards by itself total. The main reason Map sees a lot more play in cube than Search for Azcanta is that it is colourless. Blue is already spoilt for card quality and draw. None of the other colours have access to both of those things, white doesn't have either! Draw and card quality in non-blue colours tends to be limited or conditional or have additional costs or prerequisites. Very few cards just scry and draw cards outside of blue and so Map is a pretty huge stand in. Further to that map offers plenty of good artifact synergies, not only being one itself but turning into three when it flips. Metalcraft in a can! A good way to make your Scion of Urza really pack some punch. What really makes map so good is how dynamic the card is. Very quickly it can provide you returns on all your investments. It can be an Ancestral Recall and/or a Black Lotus. I guess with it being three to six turns to unlock those things it is more of an Ancestral Visions and Lotus Bloom but still all good cards that most decks can put to use well. The advantage Map has over those things are the three scry you get prior to than point and the control you get within the one card. Frequently I have seen map been flipped at end of turn and then used for mana in the following turn to deploy something like an Ugin far quicker than expected, perhaps even just a six drop with enough Treasure remaining for protective countermagic. Treasure Map can have a more rapid and swingy impact than most of the the other flip land cards from the block due to the potential mana influx and that is surprisingly powerful given how slow it seems on paper.

The Scarab God4.   The Scarab God

This is one of those cards that is just too powerful to ignore. It takes over a game and is very hard to handle. It is the kind of card that you go out of your way to play and that is the only time you will find gold cards high up on these lists. I savagely underrated this card on review, I simply saw it is an overly fluffy top end gold card that wouldn't see enough play in cube to merit inclusion. The card is so powerful however that I instantly saw my mistake watching it perform on camera in a standard pro tour. It was the first activation and it was on a Torrential Gearhulk and the game went from a close affair to beyond over in that moment. Obviously that was a top end recursion but even so, the power of the card was clear and it has lived up to that in cube. Most decks only have a handful of ways to stop it being a perpetual threat, some have none. Those that do have permanent solutions can still be bodied by the God with the many various other attributes it has. In the slower games waiting till nine mana for an activation alongside the cast can be too much for opponents recover from while being safer against removal. You can also just protect it with a Spellskite or pluck away their removal with Duress or Negate. Do that and then easily win with an activation or two and perhaps even some free scry and lifedrain into the mix! Basically you untap with Scarab God and you probably win and this in turn means some decks will start to throw resources on the fire just to buy time. It is powerful because it is hard to properly kill but it is really really powerful because it wins games regardless of being hard to kill. A hard to kill threat that wins games with ease is a scary card. Sometimes it wins because it is huge and they can't get rid of it, other times it wins because it creates and army. Sometimes it wins by making enough defenses to hold off an all in aggro deck. The fact that some Temur energy decks were splashing for it says it all really. A fourth colour added to a synergy deck for a card with no synergy overlap.

Glorybringer3.   Glorybringer

This is another of those too powerful not to play cards. I remember reviewing this and claiming that despite it clearly being more powerful than Thundermaw that it probably wouldn't see as much play as it was not as an aggressive finisher. Instead it was so powerful that it just warped the meta and made midrange and control red something you really wanted. Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Abrade, Sweltering Sun and Fiery Confluence made midrange and control red viable but Glorybringer is the pull, it is the main card that makes you actively want to go that way being more impactful than Chandra and more playable than Titan. Glorybringer is capable of some of the filthiest swings in the game. When you do something like kill a Restoration Angel with the trigger and attack a planeswalker to death you are getting a three for one that makes Ancestral Recall look like poor mana efficiency. While it is not common to get two big hits it is common place to get two things dead on the first attack and one of them is almost always good and you always get a Glorybringer in play! An exerted in play Glorybringer feels worth nearly all that five mana and so assuming you kill six mana worth of stuff you can still call Glorybringer about five mana more efficient than Recall! Sure, this is ceiling territory we are still talking but worst case scenario you just hit them for four and have an unexerted Glorybringer in play. This either forces removal or an answer that can stand up to four damage. Bearing in mind you are facing a red player and they have at least five mana there is a good chance they can supplement the exert damage with a bit of burn meaning very few answers to Glorybringer come in creature form. Hornet Queen and Baneslayer Angel are about all there is, even the mighty Ishkana is a little bit high risk when facing off against Glorybringer. Glorybringer isn't quite as potent as The Scarab God but it is far quicker acting and a bunch more playable hence being higher up on the list.

Walking Ballista2.   Walking Ballista

Outstanding card, perhaps a little too all round good. It is not the power that is objectionable but the extreme playability this card has. It is good in aggro and great in midrange and control. It also seems to be one of the best combo finisher tools out there. It winds up in affinity decks and Eldrazi decks. It just goes anywhere and is really quite good in all of those places. Late game it is a reliable and safe win condition. It is also the best of mana sinks in those late game situations. Ballista affords vast option density. Make it at almost any point on the curve. At most points there after charging it up for 4 mana is often a good option. Ballista provides removal to many colours that lack it, pretty much all of Bant benefit a lot from Ballista. Even though white can deal with creatures it is not very efficient at taking out the small ones without Wraths. My favourite thing about this card is how it keeps Mother of Runes a bit more in check. Being too playable isn't really a criticism either given that the power level isn't in the oppressive region, it isn't really over the top either, just a healthy high powered card. The criticism would more be in the fact that you see it a lot so it makes things less varied. I don't think that is a problem either as this card is so option dense it brings a lot of play with it and that is what leads to good games. I would tend to weight my preference on quality of game over variety of game. Cube has never felt like it lacked in variety!

Fractured Identity1.   Fractured Identity

This is an oppressively good card in heads up play. Power wise it is top tier but shouldn't count as broken. It is slow and expensive and gold. It shouldn't be any worse than the Scarab God for example but it totally is. The problem with Fractured Identity is that it has comparable polarity to badly designed old cards like Anhk of Mishra or Armageddon. Such cards often win the  game or do nothing. Identity is weak against aggressive decks but it never does nothing and so it is even more all round oppressive due to being highly playable. As soon as it is any sort of midrange or control matchup the whole game becomes about Fractured Identity. It is such a savage answer and swing that it is much like a Wrath of God in a control versus aggro matchup. The aggro player is trying to force a Wrath while having enough to follow it to win the game, or failing that ending the game before a Wrath is online. Who ever has Fractured Identity is the control player in any sort of game without a speed based deck. If I can hold it back for your best target I am going to win, if you can force me to use it on a medium level target then the game can return to a normal affair. If you suspect Fractured Identity you simply cannot cast any sort of big top end card, most notably planeswalkers. This removes most of your sensible low risk options going into the mid and late game when playing against Fractured Identity. The card is far more oppressive to the cube meta than Jitte has ever been. Being a spell that has the entirety of it's effect right away you have to play around it at all times while a Jitte was only a problem once in play. It could be dealt with retroactively at relatively minor incurred cost and so forth. Fractured Identity is significantly better than Treachery or anything like that as it is so much safer. You get to exile their threat meaning it never comes back and it doesn't trigger the on death effects and bypasses indestructible and the like. Your token copy is exactly that - yours! They cannot Brooding Saurion it back or bounce it to their hand. Their card is gone and you have your thing. Even hitting a three drop with Identity is a two for one and a tempo swing. You are up a three mana card and they are down with a six mana swing at the cost of just five. The nine mana swing and three for one feel you get when you get to Fracture Karn Liberated...  Fractured Identity is too powerful of an answer card, it hits almost any target and handles most forms of resilience, it is always at least a two for one and it is generally a tempo swing too. It is never bad and frequently game ending and that all adds up to an oppressive card. Bad design and well worthy of culling from cubes for several good reasons.


  1. Congrats on making it through all of mtg history!! Now that it is done, you are going to need a new list plan ;)

    1. Still one more to go! 2018's top 10 will be arriving some time in December. No specific plans beyond that but feel free to make suggestions.