John-Michael Gariepy

The Top Ten Most Reviled Magic: the Gathering Cards, According to Gatherer – Part 1

Magic: the Gathering is a collectible card game, where players spellsling against opponents by crafting a customized deck out of 12,413 possible cards.  This article is about the ten worst choices you can make for your deck.

But it’s more than that, too.  There’s a number of articles on the internet that claim to represent the worst cards in Magic.  Most of those articles are bogged down by personal experience, by conversations with people the author knows, and swayed by popular opinion.  Here’s a card that often pops up on one of those lists:  One with Nothing.

For those of you who don’t know much about it, Magic: the Gathering isn’t a shedding game.  Unlike Uno or Crazy Eights, in Magic, you want as many cards in hand as possible.  More cards means more power and more options.  There are numerous strategy articles dedicated to achieving card advantage.  This card flies against one of the most powerful paths to victory in the game of Magic.  It dumps your hard earned card advantage, and it does it at instant speed.

But for every tenth player, this card reads as potential.  Sure, in most games, the card is terrible.  But there’s a subset of players who enjoy the challenge of finding situations where the card is perfect.  What if you had a creature that ‘turned on’ when you have no cards in hand?  What if your opponent packs four of Lobotomy, a card that not only rips a card out of your hand, but seeks your graveyard and library and pulls all copies of that card out of the game.  What if you just like to be funny, and insist on dumping your hand as a way to taunt people you’re about to crush?  Heck, One with Nothing even popped up in player’s sideboards to fight Ivory Crane Netsuke decks (a deck that jammed extra cards in your hand, then punished you for having extra cards in your hand) when those decks represented half the environment.

This article is not about cards like One with Nothing.  This article is about the cards that are so disgusting that no one is willing to defend them.  How can I be sure of myself?  Because I didn’t make the list.  The Magic: the Gathering community, as a whole, created this list.

You see, Magic has this website by the name of Gatherer, which operates as a database for its cards, but it’s much more than that.  On Gatherer, you can find out individual card rulings, how the card translates into different languages, see other people’s comments on the card, and give a card a rating from one-half a star to five stars.  It’s this last feature we’re focusing on.  I’ve sorted all the Magic cards in existence starting with the “lowest community rating” and worked my way backwards.  What we find is ten harsh lessons in design.  This dump is a direct warning to game designers:  These cards represent design that few, if any, players are willing to defend.  Brace yourself.

Honorable Mention:  Fasting

Community Rating – .827 Stars

The flavor of this card may be the one thing keeping it out of the bottom ten.  There’s a story here:  Hold back on drawing spells, and you will be rewarded with life.  Unfortunately, the flavor isn’t perfect, and the card commits a Magic sin that pops up on old cards that existed before Magic established a proper identity:  It references the real world by putting a large cross in the picture.  Is this monk supposed to be in a fantasy setting, or can we find him helping out at the local parish?

Why is this card so bad?:  Remember what I said about card advantage earlier in One with Nothing?  This card does the same, but in reverse, offering to give up future draws for a pittance of life.  It doesn’t look as bad as One with Nothing, because it gives you an option.  You can choose to not draw a card.  You don’t have to.  But by doing that, the card is bound to disappoint anyone who plays it, since there are very few situations where gaining that minor amount of life is going to be worth missing the next card you drew.  And even if it is the right play, its far from exciting.  Drawing a card, and seeing what you get is exciting.  Gaining two life is the Magic equivalent of drinking a dixie cup of soda.  One with Nothing gets this nastiness over with.  This card sits on the table and mocks you.

But, to add insult to injury, the card has this crazy clause that if, for some strange reason, you are winning the game by gaining two life per turn and not drawing a card, then Fasting will auto-destruct.  Players who find those situations should be rewarded by Wizards of the Coast with a trophy and a year’s supply of Mountain Dew.  Instead, the Fasting player is rewarded by having their card taken away from them.

Best comment, made by Arachobia: I don’t quite understand the flavor of this card. So you starve by not drawing cards? What, is that how planeswalkers gain spells: eating them? And you get healthier by starving? This is just weird.

Number Ten: Thermal Blast

Community Rating:  .815

The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with Thermal Blast, it just isn’t good.  For five mana, you deal three damage to target creature.  That’s five times the amount that Lightning Bolt costs… and that doesn’t even factor that you can’t hit players with this spell.  Add that to some ugly artwork where you’re not quite sure what’s happening, and the lost potential for a good card name, and you end up with this card.

But, in case that wasn’t enough, the threshold ability puts one more brick in the wall.  Many tournament players admire abilities that manipulate and put cards into your discard zone, or graveyard.  However, there’s a large contingent of casual players who hate, hate, hate that.  They don’t want to spend time thinking about the minor applications of cards that might happen to put cards from anywhere into their graveyard, and, in fact, they are frustrated at the lost opportunity each card in their graveyard represents.  So we’ve alienated the tournament players and we’ve alienated the casual players.  Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Best comment, made by GaseousPlatypus:  At first I gave this a 0.5.  Then I re-read the card and realized that it can only target creatures.  I then spent the next few minutes desperately willing the rating system to allow me to give this a 0.

Number Nine: Scorching Spear

Community Rating: .797

If you thought Thermal Blast compared poorly to Lightning Bolt, then feast your eyes on this buster.  Designed to be put into a beginner product during a time when Wizards struggled to put out the fire out of Red Deck Wins, Scorching Spear not only deals one third the damage that its predecessor dealt, it does it at sorcery speed:  Only on your turn, and in response to nothing.

In Portal and Starter, everything that wasn’t a creature was a sorcery.  Many players have forgiven a number of spells that came out of those introductory sets for taking good instants and turning them into passable sorceries.  But that would mean this card should be like Shock, and deal two damage.  If you want to make cards for beginners that are a little worse than their normal counter parts so you can use them as a teaching tool, that seems fine.  You shouldn’t abuse the new player’s faith in the game by hamstringing their spells, though.  Those players should lose games to experienced players due to a lack of experience, not due to blisteringly inferior card quality.  No wonder Starter never took off.

Best comment, made by BlindThrall: This isn’t even a spell. It’s lighting a pointed stick on fire and throwing it. Anybody casting this should feel ashamed that a damn goblin… is a better wizard than them.

Number Eight: Temple Elder

Community Rating: .795

By the time your opponent is dropping three power creatures that deal three damage to you per turn, this guy taps to gain you one life.  In order for life gain to be relevant, it needs to be better than dealing damage.  In Magic, you win the game by dealing twenty damage.  If you gain twenty life, however, you’re just less likely to lose.

So, pack a weak ability onto a weak body, put it on a card with okay art, but art which doesn’t really say anything, accompany it with flavor text that’s even less relevant,  and stick that all on a card that, in order to do what it does best, requires you to tap it before you get a chance to block or even see how your attack step resolved itself, and you get the Eighth worst card in the history of Magic.  Poor.  But there are seven cards worse that this.

Best comment, made by luca_barelli:  Why are there these dumb limitations on tap abilities in Portal? The designers for these sets should have been fired.

Number Seven: Security Detail

Community Rating: .783

I have to admit a bit of confusion on my part as to how this card ended up number seven.  Sure it’s a bad card, and there are tons of cards (Mobilization springs to mind) that do a better job doing what Security Detail fails to do.  You would think that someone would defend this card and flip it into a goofy creatureless deck.  I guess not.  I guess there’s a point where a card is so poor and unexciting that nobody is willing to defend it.  Even the people in the artwork of this card have given up.

Best comment, made by Wulfsten:  …a waste of a perfectly lovely concept.

Number Six:  Ignoble Soldiers

Community Rating:  .781

Mercadian Masques is on a roll, providing the seventh and the sixth most reviled cards in all of Magic.  Ignoble Soldier confused a number of players when it was printed.  White rarely gets high power creatures, so when a 3/1 for 3 was printed, a lot of players got excited, and were ready for some shield smashing fun.  Ignoble Soldier, however, does nothing in combat.  If you attack with your soldier, and it gets blocked, it comes up blank.  It turns out that the soldier in the artwork isn’t the guy swinging the mace, but the dude on the ground getting pwned.

But there are some miserable creatures out there.  Squire, the poster-child for inefficient creatures rates better than this card (In fact, Squire is rated at 1.611 stars.  More than double Ignoble Soldiers rating).  Why so much hatred for Ignoble Soldier?

Well, part of it has to do with players desires.  Players really want White to pack a few more three power creatures for three.  The fact that this card wastes that opportunity makes people mad.  In fact, to these people, the relevant creature type of ‘Soldier’ makes their frustration worse.  To add to the misery, the ability, artwork and name don’t feel white at all.  The card feels like a reject common from black or red that somehow mixed onto an uncommon white card.  As a last stab of annoyance, the card isn’t even a Rebel.  Mercadian Masques had a major mechanic that involved recruiting white rebels out of your library.  Had it been a rebel, it may have found a home with a player who wanted to take advantage of the odd scenario where this card would be exactly the right tool for right now.  Players don’t like inefficient cards, true.  But what they really hate are cards that fail to achieve their potential.

Best comment, made by Kirbster: Oh, Masques. You’re my favorite set, but that doesn’t mean you make it easy for me.

These last six cards may be so ugly, that even their designers can’t love them.  We’re only half way through, though, and we haven’t even plummeted to the worst half.  Click here to continue on as the list moves from terrible to absurd.  Until then, may you love bad cards, but shun bad design.

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