Wednesday 12 December 2018

The Top 10 Cards of 2018

Integrity // InterventionWe have made it! The 25th and final installment of this yearlong Top 10 series. One thing that is fairly apparent is that the number of cards that get used each year increases. Not just new cards from that year but older cards that work well with new cards too reemerging. Each new card seems to add more, on average to the game, than the last. A fairly obvious trend if you think about it but not something that I had ever really considered prior to doing this series of lists.

The top ten list itself is fairly tame for this year however the number of cards that are performing well in the drafting cube and keeping their slot is huge. The number of cards I have used in specific decks or built around is also extreme. It is pretty much what I always used to request more of - more playable cards. Wizards understand card power a lot better than they used to and are far better at hitting the mark on power level. This means far less broken stuff and far less duds. Just a nice wide array of cards falling in the interesting and potentially playable range. This in turn provides way more longevity from the new stuff with a huge long list of cool new things to try out. Wizards get a lot of stick for a lot of what they do. Purely from a design perspective I am really pleased to see the direction they are going in. I can't speak so much for formats like draft and standard, nor the choices they make regarding play structures, but the individual cards are often such a joy to play with. Games in cube get appreciably better with each new set and it has been that way for the past few years. The cube is at it's most balanced and diverse and it is made up mostly from cards from the last few years. Those two things are very much linked. There are still so many new things I want to try out due to cards released this year.

Jadelight RangerI don' want to quote numbers for cards in the cube as everything is all still so new. Presently this year is the biggest contributor to my drafting cube however not by a massive amount. As the cards get tested, and indeed as new sets are released I expect this number to drop more sharply than others. In another five years any of the last three years could wind up with more than this one. Even so, at that point one of those future years will most likely have the most cards in cube. Presently over a third of the cube is made of cards from 2015 (Khans and Origins) onwards. These are the cards that are generally making a big difference to game quality in the right direction.

As for this top ten specifically I really struggled with the last few slots. There are at least ten comparably strong cards I felt deserved those last couple of slots on this list. The best of those can be found at the top of this extensive list of cards I have so far used in cube decks from 2018. I am sure a fair few more will crop up over time too that I have overlooked. I really couldn't decide for the final slots on the list due to insufficient experience so I just went with my gut. I will try and come back to this in a year or two and revise my opinion on the top ten. Here are those not on the list;

Legion Warboss

Integrity // Intervention
Jadelight Ranger
Legion Warboss
The Eldest Reborn
Duantless Bodyguard
Midnight Reaper
Doom Whisperer
Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
Rekindling Phoenix
Thrashing Brontodon
Direfleet Daredevil
Adventurous Impulse
Fountain of Renewal
Fanatical Firebrand
Dusk-Legion Zealot
The Eldest RebornSkymarcher Aspirant
Sai, Master Thopterist
Adeliz, the Cinder Wind
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
Ajani's Welcome
Arcades, the Strategist
Arch of Orazca
Arclight Phoenix
Artificer's Assistant
Assure // Assemble
Azor's Gateway
Beast Whisperer
Benalish Marshal
Board the Weatherlight
Boros Challenger
Bounty Agent
Bounty of Might
Burglar Rat
Cast Down
Sai, Master ThopteristChamber Sentry
Chemister's Insight
Conclave Tribunal
Connive // Concoct
Crackling Drake
Crash Through
Creeping Chill
Curious Obsession
Dark-Dweller Oracle
Dawn of Hope
Deeproot Elite
Departed Deckhand
Dire Fleet Poisoner
Discovery // Dispersal
Dread Shade
Dream Eater
Electrostatic Field
Dauntless BodyguardElvish Clancaller
Elvish Rejuvenator
Emmara, Soul of the Accord
Etrata, the Silencer
Expansion // Expulsion
Experimental Frenzy
Fall of Thran
Find // Finality
Flower // Flourish
Forerunner of the Empire
Forerunner of the Legion
Fungal Plots
Fungal Infection
Gearsmith Prodigy
Ghlata, Primal Hunger
Ghitu Lavarunner
Gird for Battle
Glowspore Shaman
Sentinel TowerGoblin Banneret
Goblin Cratermaker
Goblin Chainwhirler
Goblin Insitgator
Goblin Motivator
Goblin Trashmaster
Grand Warlord Radha
Graveyard Marshal
Gruesome Menagerie
Haazda Marshal
Hadana's Climb
Healer's Hawk
Herioc Reinforcements
History of Benalia
Hunted Witness
Invert // Invent
Isareth, the Awakener
Jade Bearer
Saheeli's DirectiveJaya Ballard
Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain
Josu Vess, Lich Knight
Journey to Eternity
Jungleborn Pioneer
Knight of Autumn
Kraul Harpooner
Lava Coil
Legion Lieutenant
Leonin Vanguard
Liliana, Untouched by Death
Liliana's Contract
Lyra Dawnbringer
Martyr of Dusk
Marwyn, the Nurturer
Mastermind's Aquisition
Mausoleum Secrets
Maximize Velocity
Nicol Bolas, the RavagerMemorial to Glory
Merfolk Mistbinder
Merfolk Trickster
Militia Bugler
Mission Breifing
Mist-Cloaked Herald
Mox Amber
Murmuring Mystic
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager // the Arisen
Nightmare's Thirst
Nightveil Sprite
Oath of Teferi
Paladin of Atonement
Path of Metttle
Pelt Collector
Pilfering Imp
Pirate's Pillage
Dusk Legion ZealotPrice of Fame
Precognition Feild
Radient Destiny
Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage
Ral, Izzet Viceroy
Remorseful Cleric
Resplendent Angel
Rite of Belzenlock
Risk Factor
Runaway Steam-Kin
Runic Armasaur
Rustwing Falcon
Saproling Migration
Sarkhan, Fireblood
Satyr Enchanter
Seafloor Oracle
Siegehorn Ceratops
Board the WeatherlightSlimefoot, the Stowaway
Song of Freyalise
Snubhorn Sentry
Sovereign's Bite
Sparring Construct
Sporecrown Thallid
Squee, the Immortal
Status // Statue
Stealleaf Champion
Stitcher's Supplier
Sunholm Stalwart
Tajic, Legion's Edge
Tempest Djinn
Tendershoot Dryad
Territorial Allosaurus
Tetzimoc, Primal Death
Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle
The Flame of KeldTezzeret, Artifice Master
The Antiquities War
The Flame of Keld
The Mending of Dominaria
The Mirari Conjecture
Thief of Sanity
Thought Erasure
Thorn Lieutenant
Thousand Year Storm
Thran Temporal Gateway
Torch Courier
Traxos, Scourge of Kroog
Twilight Prophet
Urza's Ruinous Blast
Valiant Knight
Venerated Loxodon
Verix Bladewing
Zhalfirin VoidWarkite Maraduer
Warlord's Fury
Wayward Swordtooth
Wizard's Lightning
Yawgmoth's Vile Offering
Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp
Zhalfirin Void

Aminatou, the Fateshifter
Ancient Stone Idol
Arcane Artisan
Arena Rector
Arixmethes, the Slumbering Isle
Azra Oddsmaker
Bonus Round
Cheering Fanatic
Entreat the DeadCoveted Jewel
Endless Atlas
Entreat the Dead
Estrid, the Masked
Estrid's Invocation
Generous Patron
Genesis Storm
Kestia, the Cultivator
Lord Windgrace
Magus of the Balance
Mindblade Render
Najeela, the Blade-Blossom
Nesting Dragon
Night Incarnate
Octopus Umbra
Reality Scramble
Rushblade Commander
Sage's Reverie
Saheeli, the Gifted
Saheeli's Directive
Sentinel Tower
Together Forever
Turntimber Sower
Tuvasa the Sunlit
Varina, Lich Queen
Will Kenrith
Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign
Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow

Vivien Reid10. Vivien Ried

A little bit of a slow burner in cube as well as in standard. Vivien is great. She is the ideal control walker in a green shell. She provides useful value in her +1 and has a nice range of answers on her -3. The Plummet is huge, the key line of text in what makes Vivien so strong. Green is poor at killing creatures and vulnerable to fliers. You can't play Plummet as it is far too narrow but you want to. Until now there have been no good modular cards with a Plummet effect but Vivien ticks that box wonderfully. Freyalise was the other common control walker for green but 1/1 mana dorks are no much value or reach. Nissa Vital Force is generally a bit more aggressive and slower to gain you value or control. Vivien just hits that sweet spot of doing what you need from that sort of card given the types of places you will play her. She both covers inherent weaknesses while being otherwise well suited. A very fair feeling planeswalker but one that it turns out we quite needed. Green is a bit in the position red used to find itself in. Neither was great at slower games. Mostly because neither had the tools to go long. Then red got great value and utility cards and became a fearsome thing to face in the slower games. Green looks like it can go long with good big cards and plenty of value but due to lack of ability to handle things like spells or creatures means that the longer the games went the greater the chances of just losing to something random are. Vivien does a surprising amount to counter that problem and that is why I have given her this slot on the list over cards that seem more potent or see a bit more play. Legion Warboss is both more powerful and sees more play but it is just the same as Rabblemaster and isn't such an interesting card. Jadelight Ranger sees more play and is more powerful but Jadelight is just another 3 drop value dork, a thing green has so many of I did a top 10 list just for them! It doesn't massively change what the colour can do and so Vivien seems a more noteworthy card.

Vraska, Golgari Queen9.   Vraska, Golgari Queen

I have been really impressed with Vraska in this four mana offering. Her abilities cover a wide range of doing the things you want to be doing. She is safe and suitable. She can protect herself or yourself with either removal or life/loyalty gains. A four mana, six loyalty walker in green is no easy thing to take down. Her ultimate is frightening too. She can even support things like Liliana, Heretical Healer and Journey to Eternity with her sacrifice ability. The cost of sacrificing stuff late game in Golgari when you went the value is minimal too. She draws cards, deals with a lot of problem cards and threatens to close the game too with her easily reachable ultimate. Vraska is a real pull to the colour pairing and has seen some splashing for as well. She is one of few options on four mana planeswalkers in those colours and that greatly ups the demand on her. Vraska is one of the few elite gold planeswalkers that see as much play as the good mono coloured walkers.

Emissary of Grudges8.   Emissary of Grudges

This dude is super naughty. He is basically the big True-Name Nemesis. The red Aetherling if you prefer. Emissary comes into play and is super hard to interact with or get out of play. He also has the perk of ending the game incredibly fast. This would all stand to make him rather oppressive if it were not for being a red six drop and thus not seen as often. Power level wise he is about on par for a cube six drop. There has been much debate as to which is better out of Grudges and Inferno Titan which is a potent place to be! While Grudges may be on point for power I am not a huge fan of the design. Unsurprisingly all the less balanced cards come out of sets like Commander. Emissary simply isn't very interactive or fun to play against. You need to have a Wrath effect or two good removal cards and be ahead enough to eat the Misdirection. Both pretty rare and thus Emissary tends to just end games and on the quick side too. Very good but pretty dull.

Assassin's Trophy7.   Assassin's Trophy

Not a great deal to say about this one. It is just a lovely little removal card. It is what you want from removal. Cheap, broad target range with no target restrictions and instant speed. It has the perfect drawback weighting that makes it interesting and fair too. Without the drawback it would be utterly bonkers and no fun to play against, even if it didn't hit lands. With too much more of a drawback it would probably suck. It is exactly the sort of card you need in cubes. Broad removal that is unlikely to sit dead in hand is a big part of having good interactive games where choices matter. This is seeing way more love than Abrupt Decay in cube although that is actually down to the poor scaling Abrupt Decay has with recent cards like Fatal Push and Vraska, Golgari Queen than it has to do with power differences between Decay and Trophy. All told both cards are similar ballparks for power levels. Trophy is just a little more playable and a little more interesting. Status // Statue is also a lovely new offering in the removal camp this is also both more interesting and more playable than Abrupt Decay. Sadly it is not quite as powerful!

Ravenous Chupacabra6.   Ravenous Chupacabra

Not exciting nor even all that powerful. What makes Chumpcabra the go to 187 dork now in cube is simply reliability. It always kills and it has no target restrictions and as such it does its primary role better than anything else. Skinrender does't always kill, Shriekmaw can't always target and Noxious Gearhulk is in the price bracket of win conditions not answer cards and value. When you have recursion effects or tutor effects or anything like that you want the Chupacabra over alternatives as it is reliable. Sure a 2/2 body is fairly low value but that only represents a small fraction of what the card is about. You are playing this to kill things and it does that fantastically. Skinrender has a 50% better body so at first glance you might think the removal needs to be 50% better on Chupacabra for it to be better. It probably is about that much better but that still makes the cards seem comparable if you equally weight the removal and body components. If you value it more at an 80/20 split which feels more realistic then you get a vastly better deal with Chupacabra. (80% of 3x + 20% of 2x > 20% of 3x + 80% of 2x if you appreciate that sentiment better in a sort of maths phrasing!) Both amount of play and overall performance are notably better than all the alternative removal dorks so you can just go for some play experience with the card and not need to do maths conjecture on the matter! Chupacabra just feels like one of those clean staple cards with one line of text you find in Alpha.

Karn, Scion of Urza5.   Karn, Scion of Urza

Karn has seen a lot of play and has given a wide range of performances. The fairly obvious thing with Karn is that the more artifacts you run the better he is. This means that Karn is really only as good as the support there is for him. With no other artifacts Karn is on the low end of the spectrum for four mana planeswalkers. With a couple he is decent. With any more than that he is utterly unreasonable. I like cards that scale but Karn does so a little too steeply and has too acceptable of a baseline given how high his ceiling is. Arguably one of the most powerful planeswalkers, certainly in terms of ease of play and setup to obtain that near ceiling feel. Karn is certainly potent enough that the count and use of artifacts in my cube has jumped as a result of him. Despite this it is still pretty tough to get a Karn deck with all the good support in a draft where he reaches his ceiling. As such, despite his high ceiling and high floor Karn still seems to perform in a fairly average sort of way in an unpowerd draft cube. With power he has a nice jump but so do many things. Having synergy with cards that are more powerful and stand up on their own is no massive benefit or acclaim. It is the constructed cube decks where Karn really shines. In those he is an interesting and powerful option that improves a lot of decks, especially those with fewer or narrower colours. A big part of what makes Karn a lovely addition to cube is how widely playable he is with his lack of colour ties. This has lead to some interesting uses and a lot more general use.

Shalai, Voice of Plenty4.   Shalai, Voice of Plenty

I have been super impressed with Shalai. I was expecting her to not have that much in the way of abilities due to the fact that when you have removal you are going to be using it on the 3/4 flier preferentially over most things anyway. This was an accurate assessment for cards like Doom Blade however it turns out that most of the things Shalai effects are not Doom Blade. They are things like Vampire Hexmage, Walking Ballista, Duress, Lightning Bolt, Edicts, and many more. Shalai does a superb job of protecting your planeswalkers and your smaller creatures. She randomly disrupts a bunch of spells too. The best way of understanding what it is that makes Shalai so good is option density. She drastically reduces what your opponent is able to do. They may well have all the answers but Shalai still typically forces them to be used in a way or sequence that wasn't optimal. When they don't have answers then they really are unable to do all that much. Like Winter Orb reduces your opponents abiltiy to play by crimping their mana Shalai does it just by reducing options. The +1/+1 counter ability has even seen a bunch of use although I attribute this mostly due to Shalai seeing a lot of play because of the rest of her things. The more action a card gets the more likely you are to experience the less relevant aspects of it. Even if a minor perk the +1/+1 counters are still a perk on what is already a great card! Mostly she is played in non-green decks too. A 3/4 flyer is also a great body that puts a good amount of work. Shalai is solid, highly disruptive, potentially to the point of locking people out of the game and fairly safe. Her only real downside is that you tend to go one for one and concede tempo with her when you walk into a good answer. Not many four drops that have this downside last in the cube and that in itself should speak volumes for the quality of Shalai. Part of why she gets away with it is that you can mitigate that one weakness in loads of ways. From hand disruption and countermagic to simply having a board of powerful yet vulnerable things. Shalai seems like she buys enough time and is a relevant enough body that she closes out a lot of games pretty much by herself.

Plague Mare3.   Plague Mare

This little horse is rather extreme in my cube but may well just be average in other cubes. It all depends how low to the ground your cube is and how much you have in the way of support for the token based strategies. I have found that both token strategies and low to the ground cubes to be great and so my cube is heavily tailored to those ends. As such Plague Mare is a pretty hard counter to vast swathes of cards in my cube. It has done some of the filthiest things since joining the cube ranks earlier this year. It is the new Arc Trail. It is a card you can play in midrange or proactive creature based decks without being an act of self harm or even going off theme. It was getting to be a bit the case that decks without sweepers had very little hope against the go wide decks and it was really hurting those midrange decks. A bit of tuning to counter that combined with cards like Plague Mare has decently addressed that issue but it hasn't stopped the Mare from being a power house. It counters or neuters so many top rate cards that you don't need it to kill three 2/1s or mana elves to be worth it. Having to make a 4/3 Angel of Invention because you saw a Plague Mare is really sad. A Siege Gang without any goblin tokens is pretty sad. Having a nice way of cleaning up after popping a Hangarback Walker or Hallowed Spiritkeeper is great too. I have simply never found Plague Mare to be bad. It can win some matchups all by itself but even in the non-aggro games Mare still seems to do great work. A little bit dull looking and also a little bit dull in action but dull doesn't mean it isn't bonkers. It also seems necessary so I am more than happy to have this guy as an options. Even though I seem to always be the one eating the wrong end of this card. I don't play around it enough and get savagely wrecked by it. I literally only just noticed the can't be blocked by white creatures bit as I put the images in before publishing. It has not come up yet despite seeing play in every black deck that can run it since its debut. The reason why is obvious - it killed all the creatures!

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria2.   Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

I don't really need to spend much time on Teferi. His power is well known to players across all format borders. He is just so clean and on point for what you want a control planeswalker to do. He is a stealth five mana walker due to his plus one. It makes him much more like a three mana planeswalker. Control decks want to be in the position to make walkers with disruption to back them up with and that is exactly what Teferi does. As powerful as five drop walkers and as safe as a three mana one. That is really at the crux of why Teferi is so played. He also does exactly what you want in terms of abilities. A gain in loyalty with card draw and one for one removal for almost any target. You get value or control and you get the most direct value and the broadest control. You will usually have at least one useful thing to do with Teferi, often two. His ultimate is a really big threat and empowers the threat of loyalty gain. The removal ability even lets you use Teferi exclusively as your win condition as he will prevent self mill and let you grind out the game. Teferi is the all round control planeswalker that combines decent power with perfection in suitability to task. His synergy with lands like Azcanta or Azorius Chancery is also a little bit naughty. It gives some easy ways to scale up the power on your already top of the range planeswalker.

Retrofitter Foundry1.   Retrofitter Foundry

This was another somewhat slow burner. It took a fair bit of time with this in the cube before we cottoned on to how nuts it is. Some people call it the one mana planeswalker. It has a bit too much need of mana investments for me to like that comparison but I can see where people are coming from. Foundry just does several things incredibly well and efficiently. It is inevitability for one. Endless 1/1 fliers or 4/4 beaters will overcome almost all decks in time. Foundry offers great mana efficiency in that you can easily use all your mana every turn with a little planning. Just tossing those spare one or two mana the way of Foundry adds up over a couple of turns and leads you to being surprisingly ahead. Retrofitter foundry allows you to be incredibly reactive as you can leave up all your mana until the last minute all the time without risk of wasting it. Foundry also has massive amounts of synergy across the whole cube. It turns out a lot of good stand alone cube cards make servos or thopters. Whirler Rogue is already a great card, when you can freely make it 7/7 in stats instead of 4/4 it looks really oppressive. Lastly Foundry acts as a kind of sac outlet which is monumentally frustrating to play against. If you ever try and deal with a token your spell or effect will get fizzled and that token will become another kind of token. If you try and charge a Jitte or use lifelink the Foundry is going to deny you. Foundry has a numerous occasions defeated Wurmcoil Engine. The card is incredibly low cost to run in any deck and adds a lot if dimensions to it. The power level is very high but it isn't completely off the charts. What pushes this card to the very top of this list is playability and convenience. It is just a bit too easy to use and abuse without any real risk or cost. Only the most aggressive (to include most combo) of decks with no synergies to pair with it don't want this card. Any sort of midrange or control deck is more than happy running this. It is like Walking Ballista in that regard. The best thing about having this in your deck is that you will not have to face the card! Foundry is even a fine way to curve out. You can have a 4/4 on turn four for 4 mana total investment on prior turns, leaving you all your turn four mana and most of your turn three mana still to do other things. You even get a bit of utility from your various 1/1 tokens prior to that. The fact that the card is both inevitability and not a bad tempo opener should set some alarm bells ringing. Tempo and value is fundamentally all there is in magic and so when cards do both you have to pay attention. This has trickery and a boat load of option density to add to the mix as well.


  1. I feel sad to see this series come to a end, because was a blast to see you analyze each year. I hope see another serie so good as this.
    Thnaks for the work, of a silent reader.

  2. +1

    I let your blog open on my chrome so that I can check if the new post for this serie was there. Thanks! Do more of these.

  3. Please keep it up man. Love your stuff!!

    1. Cheers! Love your cube, one of the neatest and best considered powered cubes I have ever seen. Several cards I plan to give another trail to based on them being in your cube. I love what you have done with your lands although I do recommend more of them! They never feel like exciting new additions and you have to cut lovely cards for them but they do always seem to improve things.

    2. *THANK YOU* *THANK YOU* *THANK YOU* :) You have no idea how much that means to me.

      I only just put it together over the last six months or so. Complete novice to this. One big piece of context: It's designed to be as powerful as I can manage but we typically play it out in Multiplayer games. So, hopefully this explains some of the individual card choices. However, I still tried to pick ones that wouldn't suck if you had field them in a duel. It's an interesting design problem. On the lands, I do hear you. One thing driving the #'s..I 'seed' the 40 packs with 2 non-basics per pack. I know this is cheating but it hopefully ensures more variety and (I think?) fairness and more options when drafting/deckbuilding. 40 Packs = 80 Non-basics.

      Oh, one final touch on the lands you can't see online..

      40x each:

      + 10 of these:

      I also have all the tokens, emblems, etc etc.

      We've drafted it about a half-dozen times, various sized-groups, even duels, and it is 1000000% hellaciously fun, every time. This is the most fun I've ever had playing Magic, tbh. I won't ever stop cubing.

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