John-Michael Gariepy

The Top Ten Most Reviled Magic: the Gathering Cards, According to Gatherer – Part 2

Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls!  Step right up and see design so terrible, so strange, so singularly miserable, that I urge those of you with a weak constitution and a penchant for fainting to avert your gaze and engage in a less thrilling amusement, like the roller coasters further into this park.  In part one of this two part series, you were exposed to some of the basest card in Magic the Gathering, as voted upon by the fine folk who glean Gatherer.  Today, however, we step beyond the merely horrible, and launch ourselves into The Design of Darkness.  For those men and women among you who are manly enough to gaze into the maw of madness, I peel back the curtain to reveal…

Number Five: Bog Hoodlums

Community Rating:  .776

Hoju and I are both in the Myriad Games Podcast and participate in the same Magic: the Gathering league.  We open a pack a week and add it to our collection, making decks based on what we opened, and reset every season.  Hoju likes Lorwyn, and has opened a disproportionate number of Bog Hoodlums, opening one in every other pack.  The card makes him furious, and his hatred of it only grows over the years.  Whenever someone attempts to convince him there are worse creatures in Magic, Hoju rejoinders with “Sure, that’s a bad card.  But at least that card can block.”

It turns out that, although you win Magic by attacking, being unable to stop yourself from losing because you can’t block is very frustrating.  The fact that this card pretends to hide it’s terrible power to toughness casting cost ratio behind a fun mechanic only annoys people even more.  When you win the clash, instead of getting a 4/1 that can’t block, you get a 5/2 that can’t block.  Whoop-de-frickin-doo.  That’s like going to a concert, paying twenty bucks for a bottle of water, and getting to play a little side game to win a package of peanuts.  You already insulted me.  Stop making it worse.

Best comment, made by Demonic_Math_Tutor: I think they just dont know how to do anything but zerg rush with other bogarts…

Number Four:  Sorrow’s Path

Community Rating: .776 (While Bog Hoodlums has the same community rating as Sorrow’s Path, Sorrow’s Path’s rating is considered more accurate, and is therefore worse by virtue of the fact that more people have voted on it.  172 versus 161 for Bog Hoodlums.)

Sorrow’s Path.  A classic terrible card.  Let’s break this monstrosity down.

1).  In order to properly use Sorrow’s Path, you first need two creatures that can be blocked, and your opponent needs to have two creatures that can block.

2).  Now, attack with those two creatures.

3).  Your opponent says “Sure, I’m game.” and blocks with his two creatures.

4).  At this point, you need to look at the state of combat.  For you to consider activating Sorrow’s Path, there needs to be an advantage to switching which creature is blocking which creature.

5).  Activate Sorrow’s Path.  Deal two damage to yourself and each creature you control.

Wait.  What?

I know a lot of pieces of cardboard, but this is the only one I suspect of being high.  In order to profit with Sorrow’s Path, you need a rare circumstance to take place.  Once it happens, if you activate Sorrow’s Path, you need to, somehow, avoid wrecking your board.  Oh, and by the way, the board wrecking doesn’t happen as part of the card’s activation cost.  Your opponent can help you out by tapping your Sorrow’s Path, mid-combat, with a Twiddle.  Or maybe he wants to tap your Sorrow’s Path every turn, by using Icy Manipulator?

On top of all that, what in Gabriel Angelfire’s name is going on with the art in this card.  That is one of the goofiest pieces of artwork I’ve encountered.  Am I supposed to think that that soldier would have been fine if he had to fight two warriors, a dwarf and a dragon?  Man, I feel bad for that javelin-wielding wizard-killer up there.  He was primed with his special wizard’s-bane javelin, but now he’s forced to fight his secret weakness:  a midget.  Well, at least the wizard hunter will get the last laugh when the volcano behind the hill erupts and deals two damage to everything.

One of the most common strategies that I’ve heard that includes Sorrow’s Path is casting Donate, giving it to an opponent, then tapping it to deal damage to the opponent’s team.  It can’t be a good sign, when the best use for a card that you can come up with is “Force my opponent to use it.”  Well, at least you can tap this thing for mana while you wait for…. Crap!

Best Comment, made by car2n: If Wood Elemental is the “Plan 9 From Outer Space” of M:TG, then Sorrow’s Path is the “Manos, The Hands Of Fate”

Number Three:  Purelace

Community Rating: .768

I chose the Fourth Edition printing of Purelace to point to the fact that this card was reprinted a total of five times.  The third worst card in the history of Magic, and we have five chances to get our hands on it!  Oh joy!

Why is this card rated so low?  Well, pretend its 1995, and you’re new to the game of Magic.  You open up a bunch of packs, and flip through the cards.  Someone points to the Purelace in your hand and says “Oh, I’m pretty sure that’s a rare.”  You got a rare in your pack!  Well, okay, there’s a rare in every pack, but you got Purelace, and it’s a rare!

So what does Purelace do?  Hmm… it makes a card white.  Why does it do that?  The game’s about attacking your opponent with creatures… but, okay.  It’s just a narrow rare with an ability that doesn’t come up that often.  There’s probably a level of strategy where this card becomes important later on.  Maybe it’s best to just put it in your deck and figure out how to apply it later.

So you play a few games with Purelace in your deck, and you recognize a couple of cool things about it.  It’s cheap.  Cheap cards are good.  You figured that out fast.  Later, you find out it’s an interrupt.  That means it’s fast.  REALLY fast.  This card is cheap and fast.  Purelace is looking strong.

If only the card did something.  All the card does is hang out in your hand and threaten to stop something from happening sometime in some theorhetical situation which never comes up.  I mean, it kind of combos with Circle of Protection: White, but your opponent either isn’t playing white, which makes the circle useless, or is playing white, which makes the Purelace useless.  The same problem applies to White Ward.  It combos with Black Knight.  Kinda.  But then you would need to pack a creature that requires a heavy black commitment, and then it… counters a spell that targets the Black Knight I suppose?  Makes it so one creature can’t block Black Knight?  That’s good?  It can make your non-white creature get +1/+1 when Crusade is out, which is more depressing than cool.  It kind of works with Gloom, and it’s cool that you can use these two cards to stop a card from coming into play for a while, but a friend later told you that, while, yes, this card is an interrupt, you can’t cast it before your opponent casts a spell.  By the time your opponent casts his blue spell, it’s too late to Purelace it and make the card more expensive.  What the heck?!

Well, okay, the card’s just ahead of it’s time, right?  Someday, in a later expansion, a set will come out and break Purelace.  Man, you can’t wait until that day comes…

Best comment, made by jfrei81: Bam! I turned your Blightsteel Colossus white… HERE I RULE!

Number Two:  Razor Boomerang

Community Rating: .763

Did Wizards recently print a card that’s reviled more than Sorrow’s Path and Purelace?  And in a set that features the most sought after Planeswalker in Magic’s history?  Bully, Wizards.  Bully to you.

Razor Boomerang has picked up a lot of heat since it’s been printed.  Despite that, I once came in second in a draft with this card hanging out in my slow, controlling green/white deck.  Pay five colorless mana to do a damage to a creature or player.  Gee, that doesn’t sound so good, but that’s not the worst thing I’ve heard of.  Why do people hate this card so much?

My guess is that, of the few people who have picked the boomerang up, all have been disappointed.  They didn’t realize how often they wouldn’t have a creature to equip when they needed it (or how often a creature would be blown out, just when the Boomerang was equipped to it).  Or, they didn’t realize how much of a pain it is to keep replaying this thing.  Or it didn’t occur to them that, you know, maybe they didn’t really need the direct damage after all, and stared longingly at this card, wishing it just gave one creature +2/+0 or trample or something.

But I’m going to blame the artwork.  Franz Vohwinkle is a great artist, whose done pieces like the Tenth Edition Evacuation.  But, in this piece, the ugliest minotaur you know  is eyeballing a mysterious computer graphic that was rejected from Final Fantasy VII, which, for some strange reason, is flipping out all over your card.  I don’t want to equip this to my creature, I want to spin it into a trashcan.  Even the flavor text makes fun of the card, telling you that if you choose to wield this weapon, it will come back and stab you.

Best comment, made by Kurhan: “Few can catch it without losing a finger.”  Even less can play it without losing the game.

Number One:  Viashino Skeleton

Community Rating: .760

That’s a .760 rating out of a possible five stars, people.  This card was voted on by 194 Magic players.  .500 is the lowest these people could invest (with many not realizing that you could give a half star rating).  This card is just .260 stars away from a perfect goose egg.

But, why this card?  As Hoju would point out back in Boggart Hoodlums, “At least he can block.”  Granted, those are some terrible stats, and the activation is off color, but at least regeneration is strong, and there are a few cards in Alara you’re happy to send to your graveyard, so why this card?  Why not, say, Takeno’s Calvary, which comes in at number 11.

I’m not sure, but I’m guessing the reason is that, in order to regenerate this creature and stop it from going to the graveyard in combat, you must discard a card that is better than it.  That is, unless you discard another Viashino Skeleton.  Why?  Because every card in Gatherer has a better rating than this card.  There are 12,412 other cards in the game of Magic that you can discard to protect Viashino Skeleton.  All 12,412 of which are better cards than Viashino Skeleton.

So this is a bad creature, with confusing and ugly artwork, whose flavor text tells you the creature should be extinct, and dregs up thoughts of other older inefficient Magic cards, whose ability is off color and asks you to discard something of greater value to keep it around… I… I want to strangle this skinny lizard skeleton’s neck.  My hands hurt from smashing them into the computer monitor in an attempt to tear this virtual card off my screen.

Best comment, made by VoidedNote: The only thing this card has going for it is that it’s strictly better than shooting yourself in the foot.

So, what have we learned?  While many of the top ten most reviled cards make me want to hold myself while I cry in a corner, there are obvious patterns in the madness.  If we’re willing to see past the terrible whole of these cards, we see some interesting terrible features leap at us over and over again.  Among them:

  • People don’t like drawbacks.  Even when the drawback is an option that makes the card more playable, it also makes the card less fun.  Eight of the cards on the bottom ten list started the party wrong by asking players to do something that they don’t want to do.
  • If you’re going to give a card or mechanic a drawback, make sure there’s some other quality about the card that gives it specialness.  Not being able to block may make players upset, but they will get over it if the creature in question has value.  Making the card worse, however, fills the trash can.  Players don’t like tearing up cards that they paid money for.
  • If you design a card or mechanic for your game, make sure there is a type of player that would enjoy it.  As with Thermal Blast and Security Detail, don’t assume that, while many players will hate the card, some person will make the card their pet.  There are a number of well-loved underpowered and appreciated cards.  Knowing why people appreciate those cards can lead to stellar design.  Not understanding why those cards exist can lead to disappointment and rage.
  • Don’t hate on the little guy.  Just because someone is new to the game and needs limited options in order to remain invested, doesn’t give you the authority to double up on that player’s frustration by designing low power into their cards.
  • Oh, and if you design a weak card, be cautious giving it an ability that asks you to give up other resources to make it work.  You may be designing the next Sorrow’s Path, or Viashino Skeleton.

Oh, hello there!  I made a follow-up article to this one based on The Top Ten Most Desirable Magic Cards.  Feel free to click on the link to go read it.

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16 thoughts on “The Top Ten Most Reviled Magic: the Gathering Cards, According to Gatherer – Part 2

  1. Hoju got in touch with me on Facebook, and left me this message. It seemed more appropriate as a comment to the article, so I’m copy-pasting it here.

    “JM I have been misquoted here, my problem with the hoodlums is not that they can’t block, that is just kicking a dead horse. They are at best a 5/2 for 6. Now yes black isn’t know for high power and toughness and it has the bonus of being a goblin but there are many other black goblins around for 6 that are better, and they don’t have to win a clash to be better, and they can block like for example: Earwig Squad, quill slinger boggart, warren pilferers, squeaking pie grubfellows. All better cards that cost 6… oh wait no they are all better cards and they all cost less than 6.”

    Hoju’s got a point, and I shouldn’t sweep it under the carpet. Sometimes the bad cards are just bad. There’s a lot wrong about Bogart Hoodlums. In the article, I often waved aside the casting cost to power-toughness ratio problem, because a lot of non-Magic players would read it as gibberish. But, really, that’s a miserable casting cost to power-toughness ratio…

    • Isaiah on said:

      It doesn’t look like the designers for the Innistrad block are paying attention to complaints about creatures who can’t block. I purchased a few packs from the Innistrad and Dark Ascension sets, along side of an Avacyn fat pack, and I have a few Stormbound Geists and more than four Sightless Ghouls (including a foil, yay!). I doubt I’d use them unless I’m a building a thematic zombie deck, maybe.

      • Tom LaPille, who heads up Magic: the Gathering’s weekly development article went into detail on this problem in his article “The Problems That Wouldn’t Die”. http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/feature/183

        As a quick explanation of the problem… undying is a very exciting mechanic, but it makes cards look very bad. If Sightless Ghoul was printed as a 3/3 for 3B that died and came back as a 2/2, drafters would be very excited for the card (albeit, they still wouldn’t like the fact that it can’t block). Instead, the card is a 2/2 for 3B that can’t block… the base stats look crummy.

        The Future Future League also noticed, when playtesting Undying, that the board state kept clogging up. People didn’t want to attack into that, and Innistrad block draft slowed down. The way they solved this was to make make many undying creatures not want to block, make some that started with one toughness, and make some that couldn’t block to begin with. Suddenly, the format was faster and more fun, even if occasional cards suffered.

        This being said, some players have noticed that those cards aren’t as bad as they look. Sightless Ghoul has a community rating of 2.033, which designates it as decent filler… and that’s after the negative impact of zero star ratings from looking terrible. Stormbound Geist gets a 3.55. Compare that to the Blue flying staple creature Wind Drake, which comes in at 2.85. Turns out the Geist is strong… maybe even tournament worthy.

        • Isaiah on said:

          I’m still unsure of the usefulness of the Sightless Ghoul, just because he does seem a bit overpriced for what he is, thanks to his lack of blocking. That said, I’m honestly surprised that the writer suggested Pyreheart Wolf is a “finesse” card, because it seems like a “very” useful creature, especially if you were to go about building a swarm deck. In fact, I would say that many of the sets’ wolves are “a lot” more useful than the werewolves, though they are weaker with regards to toughness and power, many of them have special abilities that seem focused on overcoming defenses, like trample and the “can’t be blocked by creatures with less power than itself” rule, pair that with deploying Pyrehearts one-at-a-time, and a player can get through a pretty thick screen of creatures and walls. As for Undying, I think it’s a wonderful mechanic, and the Young Wolf is a good example of that, with a 1G cost, you may be able to get a creature who strikes for one point of damage, first turn; kamikazes an opponent’s 1/1 or 2/1 creature the next turn; then can try for a third attack or be a useful blocker at 2/2. So, at least, it should make a very fun red/green wolf deck, but I’m sure better players can do all the more with it.

  2. Isaiah on said:

    The two articles in this small series were pretty interesting. Though reading the introduction for the first part, I’m now hoping that you’ll also be writing a list of your own ten most hated cards? It may prove useful as an explanation of broken mechanics, as it’s safe to assume that the list would include both awful and cheesy cards, and also provide an opportunity to read you opinion about the “deck construction vs. table-play” debate on which is more important; but also, hopefully, it will include a few of your Magic war stories.

    Returning to the article though, maybe Purelace could help to protect, say, your Elder Dragon or a similar golden legendary by reducing the number of vulnerabilities it has? I remember receiving that card when I first tried to play the game way back when, and I didn’t even know or care that it was a rare.

    • The article is popular, and demands a follow-up. Between my Facebook and Google+ accounts, approximately 25% of my friends and followers read this article the day it came out. That’s a loud and clear message… since I assume some of those readers don’t even play Magic, but were interested in cards with great poverty.

      I will probably follow this up by doing the exact opposite soon, and looking at the top 10 most desirable cards. Spoilers: Black Lotus isn’t on the list. In Gatherer, it’s card number 34. After that, though, I may come back and work on a more personal list. That’s much more difficult to assemble, since most people try to avoid thinking about cards that go beyond bad and become major dissapointments. I’m sure I can find ten, though. Magic’s a big game.

      On the subject of Purelace, I think it gets a bad rap as well. The five laces don’t have much use in a normal game of Magic because they are so narrow, but what they specialize in, they do very, very well. Since I’d want to defend the card, I intentionally made a little story to explain how painful the card would be for the majority of citizens in Magic-town. It is, after all, their story.

      • Isaiah on said:

        At first, I was trying hard to imagine an instance where Viashino Skeleton would prove useful, but I gave up on it. My thought was focused on the possibility of it being a creature that you could use to throw powerful creatures into the graveyard, just to then pull them to life through some necromancy. It seemed like it would be a viable option if you were fielding a red and black deck, but I can’t help but think it demands too many other cards to make it a reliable trick. Especially when, the last I remember, one of the most important cards for the cycle, Lure and its forcing an opponent’s creatures to block Viashino, would demand a third color because it’s green and I imagine that’d dilute a deck way too much.

        All of that said, your writing was both interesting and effective, insofar as putting the Magic bug back in my head. Thanks to the list, I’ve now been eying an Avacyn and Dark Ascension set of fat packs and some Innistrad boosters as a way to wade back into the game. And hoping that no one in my family back home got wise to the fact there’s a “little” money in selling all of the cards I have stored away in shoe boxes.

        • Ha! I’m always happy to infect people with the Magic disease. Do play Magic in moderation, and take care to try other games. We’ve got a podcast for Core Worlds coming up… that’s a very interesting Deck Building Game… it doesn’t kill the Magic bug, but it does cut down on the swelling.

  3. This was a great and enjoyable article, but I wanted to say that using Twiddle or Icy Manipulator to tap Sorrow’s Path does not activate its ability anymore than than using an ability to tap an opponent’s Island or Llanowar Elves will give mana. It simply taps it, preventing it from being used (unless its ability is used in response). Please make more articles like this.

    • Sorry El Payaso Malo, but the current oracle text of Sorrow’s Path disagrees with you. After the first ability, and a solid line break, It reads:

      “Whenever Sorrow’s Path becomes tapped, it deals 2 damage to you and each creature you control.”

      …and lest you think that’s an errant part of the first ability, the first ruling on Gatherer is:

      “This has two abilities. The second ability triggers any time it becomes tapped, whether to pay for its ability or not.”

      But I do thank you for bringing this up. I probably should have quoted this in the article, since I’m sure many people are confused my Sorrow’s Path’s second ability, and I could have done a better job explaining myself.

      Also, thanks for the kind words. 🙂 A lot of people liked this article. I like talking about Magic; it’s one of the most intriguing games in existence. It is tough, however, to come up with a unique Magic article, since there are so many people writing about Magic. Don’t worry, I plan to do more. I just want to make sure I’m adding something to the game, and not adding to the noise around it. 😉

      • Wow, I’m actually shocked. I went to the Oracle to make sure I was understanding it properly, and my reading comprehension totally failed me this time for some reason. I apologize. I actually started with your article on the best cards. I had recently purchased Necropotence to finally try it out (since black is my favorite, I am actually surprised I had never ever played a game with it in these years) and it’s freaking ridiculous. Stupidly strong. I had decided to see if the modern opinions of older greats still held up, which led me to you. Surprisingly, I hadn’t even heard of most of these crappy cards. I might have that black goblin, though. Maybe.

        • Man, I miss the days when I was the only one who recognized Necropetence for what it was. I used to smash people over the head with a combination of that card, Dark Ritual, Hymn to Tourach, Order of the Ebon Hand, Lightning Bolt and Incinerate, and people would wonder how they lost.

          It almost feels like people weren’t as smart back then, though I know that isn’t the problem. It is, however, an excellent portrayal of what education does for a society. Today, Necro wouldn’t hide under the radar like that, because the card flies so many red flags. Those red flags didn’t exist 15 years ago.

        • When I first saw it, I (like most people) thought it looked terrible. I skip my draw step and then pay to draw? My mind equated it with skipping one’s combat phase and then paying X to attack with a creature, X being the creature’s converted mana cost. It just sounded rediculous to me to pay for something you get for free. After rereading the convoluted wall of text they liked to put on Ice Age cards, I realized that I could do it more than once a turn. I have a fifth edition one, so it’s much less “contract fine print lawyerese” looking. I might get one or two more. I’m not sure, yet. I can’t wait to start dominating my playgroup with this card most of them are probably going to scoff at. Hell, one dude in my group is hilarious. Even though he knows it isn’t strictly true, he equates “losing life with always bad.” Sometimes we do a thing where we switch decks. When he plays with mine, he looks at his hand and sees Grinning Demon, Promise of Power and Lord of the Pit and all he’ll play is Black Knight. It’s pretty funny to watch as he gets a look on his face whenever he draws. He typically only plays green elves, so he’s used to lifegain (which doesn’t help him against a Whispersilk Cloaked Phage).

  4. Most of these bad cards could be fixed (making them passable) by simply adjusting their mana cost. However, Razor Boomerang cannot. Even if it cost 0 to play and 1 to equip (or the other way around) it would still be useless. (Making it 0 to cast and 0 to equip would probably break it, as it would most probably allow some free infinite combos. Therefore it wouldn’t be a solution that would actually fix the card. It would just break it.)

    I think it’s rather telling if a card is so bad that it remains bad no matter how much you lower its mana cost. That requires talent.

    • It’s true. I didn’t focus on the mana cost too often in this article. If I did that, then there wouldn’t be much of an article. Just the title, a list of ten cards, and the words “These cards are too expensive”. That said, some cards are bad despite their casting cost. Temple Elder would be bad even if it cost one white. Not because it wouldn’t be playable… it would probably hit a number of good tournament decks at that casting cost. It would be bad because it’s clunky, unfun, and most people wouldn’t *want* to play with it, unless they knew it would win them games. There’s more than one way for a card to be bad…

      On the subject of Razor Boomerang… the card is terrible, I admit, but at 0 and 1 it would probably be too good. We haven’t seen Viridian Longbow, or any card comparable to it for a while, and a Razor Boomerang set to 0 and 1 would be better than that card by leaps and bounds… and that card was pretty damn good in draft, if I remember. I know I’d third pick the Longbow if I saw it again. Maybe not if I was playing red… but any other color combination, sure.

      • Michael Sparrow on said:

        Interestingly enough, there is a small niche for razor boomerang that I stumbled upon once. Of the many infinite-mana combos out there, one of the slower ones involves the myr artifact creatures from Scars of Mirrodin: one Palladium Myr and two Myr Galvanizers will provide infinite colorless mana. In such a situation, razor boomerang’s exorbitant cost no longer matters, and Galvanizer’s neat untap ability means you can use it to deal infinite damage to all opponents and their creatures. I admit it’s not much…but it’s something.

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