John-Michael Gariepy

The Top Ten Most Desirable Magic: the Gathering Cards, According to Gatherer, Part Two

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In The Top Ten Most Desirable Magic Cards, According to Gatherer, Part One, we witnessed six of the finest pieces of cardboard ever to grace the game of Magic.  Those cards were powerful, flexible, open-ended and fun.  Well… fun at least for the person who cast them.  It takes a certain caliber of cards to get a consistent five star rating on Gatherer.  Card number eight, for example, Gaea’s Cradle, ranked in at a 4.842 community rating out of 219 votes.  That means if seven people gave this the worst possible score (one-half a star), then the other 212 voters gave it a full five star rating (which is not how it went down, since the math is an approximation).  These cards have a higher density of stars than the Messier 80 Globular Cluster in the constellation Scorpio (Oh snap!  I went there!).

Despite that, there are seven cards that have garnered even more respect from the Magic playing community than that.  Among them is:

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Number Five: Tinker

Community Rating: 4.864

Here’s a well-known, little-known fact:  Urza’s Block was supposed to be the enchantment block.  I don’t mean that it was ‘supposed to be’ the enchantment block because they designed an enchantment block, but then scrapped the idea,  and made it a block about super-powerful artifacts.  I mean that, if you pull the set apart, piece by piece, you’ll notice a swath of innovative space dedicated to the role enchantments have in the game of Magic.  Some of those cards even became all-stars in their own right:  Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Opalesence and this list’s Honorable Mention, Rancor, are some of the most devastating cards to grace the game.  These powerhouses were supported with potent enablers; among them, Replenish, Argothian Enchantress and Serra Sanctum all provide unfair resources to players willing to dedicate to the block’s enchantment themes.  What would it take for players to forget this overpowered theme written into half the cards in the set?  How ridiculous must a card be to make people refer to The Urza Block as “The Artifact Block”?

Oh.  Hi there, Tinker.

From the standpoint of ‘good game development’, Tinker makes no sense.  The card may as well read “Destroy the credibility of target game.”  Tinker circumvents the entire game of Magic, and tells you that it’s fine to do whatever you want to do, as long as you build a deck with a few constraints.  You know how a game of Magic has a tempo to it, in which each stage of the game is represented by more and more lands accumulating on the table allowing you to cast bigger and bigger spells?  Whatever.  You know how much of the excitement of Magic is in the variability of the game, and the fact that you can never guarantee which cards you will draw?  Yeah, that’s not important either.  Tinker was an uncommon.  You were not only allowed to play four of them, they were easy to find.  It’s been twelve years, and you can still buy them online for three bucks a piece.

The charm of a card like Tinker, though, isn’t that Tinker will kill you.  It’s the thing that does the thing that kills you.  I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this from cards ten through six, but many of the top rated cards in the game are top rated cards not because they directly win you the game; they’re the top rated cards because they let you do what you want to do.  If you want to drop a Darksteel Colossus on the table on round three and flatten your opponent, Tinker will let you do that.  If you want to fetch up one of the many combo pieces in your wacky Rube Goldberg inspired Clock of Omens deck, Tinker will let you do that, too.  If you want to search through your five color, two hundred card deck for your Door to Nothingness, just so you can make spooky voices while you threaten people that, yes, one of these days, you’re going to assemble the correct mana configuration to finally force someone to take a walk through the spooooky dooooor.  Then yes, you damned fool, Tinker will let you do that, too.

Best Comment, Made by JFM2796: I love the idea that just doing a little tinkering with a Darksteel Relic, like moving some parts around, turning some knobs, etc. can turn into a Darksteel Colossus.

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Number Four: Ancestral Recall

Community Rating: 4.866

There was a time when Ancestrall Recall was fair.  That would be the year 1992.  The year before Magic was released and was just some wacky game that a role-playing game publisher by the name of Wizards of the Coast was testing in Peter Adkison’s basement.  Originally, Ancestral was part of a cycle of ‘boon’ cards (along with Healing Salve, Dark Ritual, Lightning Bolt and Giant Growth) that gave you three of one resource for one mana.  Except, instead of gaining three life, you drew three cards.

Richard Garfield noticed that this card was out performing, like, his entire game. He came to what was, at the time, a rational solution:  Bury Ancestrall Recall in the rare slot.  The card was awe inspiring, but you were allowed to have a few inspired cards in your deck.  After all, how many packs could a player open?  Ten?  Sure Ancestral was better than all the other cards, but it couldn’t win the game by itself.  You had to have good cards to draw for it to work its magic.  Besides, if a player used Ancestral that often, it would end up as ante in a game, and it would spread out to other people in your play network.  Problem solved.

I could rag on those early playtesters, but, really, they had no idea what their game would be like after it hit the SanDiego Comic-con in 1993.  Besides, when you read through what Richard and the Wizards staff did to develop his game, it’s obvious that they were both careful and creative in their efforts to recreate what a ‘collectible card game’ would represent.  Magic is great.  It’s lasted close on twenty years now, and is, one of the most written about games, ever.  The Wizards staff had an understanding that their game was going to be big, but who can prepare for that?  The good news is that, while Magic had many growing pains, the expansion designers never felt a need to grandfather Ancestral Recall’s power.  Drawing free resources for a negligible amount of mana was too good for the game they were crafting, which Wizards understood after they saw what the game had become, and never quite made this mistake twice.  I’m not going to say Wizards didn’t make a ton of mistakes when it came to judging the power of card drawing… but at least those mistakes weren’t as blatant as this one.

Oh, and there’s another takeaway here, for those of you who are working on designing your own game.  One look at Ancestral Recall should warn you that maybe you haven’t tested enough.  In Richard’s playgroup, this card was a really good idea.  In the real world, it breaks the game.  This mistake seems absurd now, but was a non-problem in 1992.  If you haven’t tested your game thoroughly and with an open mind as to how your players can and will abuse your game, I can assure you, you have quite a few Ancestral Recalls in there.

Best Comment, Made by Gcrudaplaneswalker:  The guy’s like I CAN’T STAND WHAT THOSE IDIOT PRIESTS ARE TEACHING ME!!!!!!!! JUST GIMMEE THE THREE CARDS ALREADY!!!!!!!!

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Number Three: Yawgmoth’s Will

Community Rating: 4.868

I’m surprised.  I wouldn’t have expected the Magic community, as a whole, to have the sophistication to stick this card third from the top.  I mean, if I showed this card to a new player, I expect that he’d say “Hey, that’s pretty cool!  I can use it to bring back a couple of creatures in a turn.”  I wouldn’t expect him to say “Hey, that’s a super-death-combo-engine that would encourage the history of Magic to bend and warp decks around it, even though the only format that you’re currently allowed to use it in would restrict players to only one copy.”

But maybe that’s the point.  In every stage of your exploration of the game of Magic, Yawgmoth’s Will gets better and better.  New players see this card, and think of how it will let them put a few destroyed threats back on the board in the late game.  Intermediate players will see Yawg Will and realize that they can string an absurd number of powerful cheap spells off of it, making maximum use of their Unsummons and Innocent Bloods.

Experienced players, however, will know what happens when you combine this card with cards like Dark Ritual or High Tide.  Yawgmoth’s Will has more and more value the more and more spells you can play in one turn.  With four swamps up, cast two Dark Rituals, then cast Yawgmoth’s Will, then cast those two Dark Rituals again.  Suddenly, you’re up to your neck in black mana, and ready to explode.  Combine Yawgmoth’s Will with cards that draw cards… say you tossed a Sign in Blood in the mix before casting the Will, then cast it again afterwards… that would leave you five black mana to play with.  You’ve now cast seven spells.  Have you seen what Tendrils of Agony does?  That’s a pretty good spell number eight…

But even at this unabashedly broken level, I can still see why people love this card.  Storm, and cards that support storm can be very sexy.  Yawgmoth’s Will encourages you to play this slow, manipulative game, maximizing your resources, and stalling your opponent.  Then, in one turn, you go off.  You add a surge of mana to your mana pool, and start flipping cards from the top of your deck.  Many times, you’re not really sure it will work.  I mean, it’s likely to do something, but you can pool an extraordinary amount of mana in your pool, drop a Fact or Fiction, and… get nothing.  That’s rare, mind you, but the threat of it happening keeps this card feeling like you’re playing by the seat of your pants.  What will happen?

Best Comment, Made by Enelysios:  I have noticed that many new players… come in with the attitude that a card has to more or less say ‘You win’ on it to be good. You become a good magic player when you can look beyond each card in a vacuum and see the interactions between cards that really win games. I don’t just mean combos, but the way cards and decks have to work together as a whole.

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Number Two: Hymn to Tourach

Community Rating: 4.871

Wizards may have had a better understanding of how powerful card drawing was after Alpha, but they had no clear understanding of how to price discard.  Mind Twist, the other main culprit in this plot, was reprinted through to fourth edition.  Then it was banned.

The problem with good discard spells is that it’s hard to gauge how powerful they are when you cast them.  If I cast a spell and I draw two cards, I know that my game improved by these two cards.  When I cast a spell that makes my opponent discard two cards, I don’t see how that affected his game.  Maybe that was a game winning move.  Maybe it did nothing.  You could compare notes after the game, but that lack of immediate information is tough to read.

It’s in this murky pool of the early game that Hymn to Tourach was cast.  People could tell it was good, but it was hard to prove it was busted in half.  The fact that the discard was random made it difficult for even the opponent to understand how devastating Hymn was.  Players would lose the game on turn two, but wouldn’t realize it until turn twelve.  So Hymn slipped under the radar.  While Necropotence decks flourished, few people pointed the finger at Hymn and said “That’s the problem!”.  They were more concerned with the card that drew you too many cards for too cheap.  Necropetence would eventually be banned.  Hymn, while at one point restricted, would rotate out, and has never been banned, except for some technical reasons dealing with the online pauper format (it’s printed online as an uncommon in Masters Edition).

So why reward it with five stars?  How can this card, as destructive to the health of the game as it is, be celebrated?  Don’t people hate discard anyway?  Shouldn’t people look at this card and be disgusted?

Well, sure, people don’t like discard.  But Hymn to Tourach isn’t just a broken discard card; It’s a broken discard card that was printed at a rarity more common than common, in the most overproduced Magic set ever printed.  Fallen Empires was printed 17 years ago and still go for two bucks a pack.  Every pack you open, you get a solid shot at opening a Hymn to Tourach;  maybe two.

While early Magic was full of overpowered control and combos, Hymn to Tourach fought for the little guy.  This card was a ‘must counter’.  If you didn’t stop it, it tore your $100 deck to pieces.  Pack enough cards like Hymn to Tourach and Stone Rain in your deck, and it didn’t matter what you won the game with.  You could claim victory with a pack of Mountain Yetis, if that’s all you owned.  I know that’s what I did.

Best Comment, Made by Claov:  “Mind Rot cries itself to sleep at night knowing it can never measure up to this card.”

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Number One: Demonic Tutor

Community Rating: 4.879

The Christian newsletters have been warning us for close to twenty years now.  According to Ask Peter, for example:

“Pokeman teaches young children the basics of elemental magick – how to use elemental spirits: fire, water, earth, air, ethers.  By the time kids master the occult basics of Pokeman they are ready to move into Magic the Gathering.

“MG is like a flight simulator that teaches kids spiritual warfare but from the side of the Adversary of God and NOT from the side of the Most High God.  Kids learn how to conjure and manipulate demonic entities.  There is real power associated with the playing of this game.  Tournaments are set up all over the world to recruit these MG prodigies right into the occult.  To be involved in the occult requires individuals to have very high intelligence and you mentioned that your son does.  In your note you wrote that your son wants to be a vampire and live forever.  The object of MG is to suck the life force out of you opponent and take on his energy – in effect this is what vampires do.”

We laughed when they called Magic a ‘Role-Playing Game’.  We thought it was funny that people with little experience with the game would denounce it.  Mazes and Monsters indeed!  Don’t these people know that the slippery slope argument is a common informal fallacy?  You can’t assume that, because kids like Pokemon, then they will advance to Magic: the Gathering, then become enthralled in the nature of Magic, seek to learn more about the dark arts, and be drawn further and further into the hands of The Morning Star in their quest for knowledge, until they had become initiated in The Cult of Magic.  That would only make sense, for example, if the most desirable card in all of Magic was that of a demon imparting unholy lessons, while offering anything we wanted.

Stop!  For the love of God and all that is holy, stop playing Magic!  Every thing we do in this game leads to this!

Hey… is that recycled artwork in the background from Volcanic Eruption?

Best Comment, Made by Dark_Raider:  Too bad it’s banned? This card in standard would make things so broken, it would make puppies cry.

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Hey, congrats for making it all the way through the article!  Now that you’ve seen the best that Magic has to offer, may I suggest The Top Ten Most Despised Magic: the Gathering Cards, According to Gatherer?  It would be like having a divine slice of cheesecake, and following it up with a giant pile of snot!

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2 thoughts on “The Top Ten Most Desirable Magic: the Gathering Cards, According to Gatherer, Part Two

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Desirable Magic Cards, part 2

  2. “Best Comment, Made by Dark_Raider: Too bad it’s banned? This card in standard would make things so broken, it would make puppies cry.”

    I almost accidentally read “it would make popes cry.”

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