As another year of magic comes to a close, I thought I would reflect back on the year through the lens of Canadian Highlander and discuss what I think are the best cards printed over the course of the past year.
They somehow managed to fit 3 keyword and 3 non-keyword abilities onto the same card and they are all great. Stats? Also great. The 4th point of toughness is huge especially when combined with the deathtouch ability which will often force a double block. This has the potential to blow games wide open, seal the deal on its own, or drag you back from the brink. The only reason it is stuck in the honourable mentions is that I haven’t played with it much and as cliche as it sounds, it just dies to Doom Blade.
It wasn’t too long ago that I can recall players trying (and winning) with Engineered Plague in their decks to combat all of the goblins and elves running around the top tables. While they aren’t as prevalent as they once were the broken symmetry, and bearish body attached to this version turn what should be a silver bullet sideboard card into a format staple. The high potential for blowout and reasonable worst case has driven this to become an auto-include in midrange and aggressive decks that make the black mana to cast this.
The Top 10:
- Brazen Borrower // Petty Theft
While a relatively new card, the power level is clearly evident and it just manages to steal the last spot on the list. A common issue with these types of cards, is that you end up paying an inflated rate for both halves of the card in order to benefit from the versatility it offers. This card’s closest analogs on both sides cost the same amount, and you can have both halves if you want. Many decks often struggle to include a versatile answer like Petty Theft because it lacks raw power. It is simply a stop gap as opposed to a permanent solution and is inherently card disadvantage unless you are willing to pay a mana premium for the cantripping versions. This version does even better. A 3/1 flyer for 3 is already a reasonable rate, and giving it flash makes it competitive in decks beyond those craving for tempo. For years blue mages in the format have been asking for more Vendilion Clique-like cards. Something a little disruptive with a reasonable clock that they can cast on their opponents end step. Brazen Borrower immediately slides into the upper echelon of those along with Nimble Obstructionist and Vendilion Clique. I believe most blue decks will want this with the exception of the hardest control decks and dedicated combo decks, however, you could even make arguments for including it in some of those. I think people still aren’t quite giving this card the praise it deserves because finally you can have the versatility without sacrificing power level or efficiency.
On the face Hexdrinker looks a little clunky and rather unassuming. While it shares text with the powerful Progenitus it seems an onerous task to obtain it. I’m here to tell you, it will happen both much more often, and more quickly than you think. While it is a reasonable turn 1 play I believe that the strongest turn to play this is when you have minimum 4 mana available, which in green decks is often sooner than turn 4. Treat it as a 4-drop and immediately level it to 3, which threatens, with an additional land next turn, to jump it straight to Progenitus status. With the prevalence of sorcery speed removal dropping in the format the ability to immediately make this nigh unkillable for some decks the turn it comes down makes this a more reliable plan that it first seems. I haven’t even really mentioned that you can also get all of this power for the low, low cost of 1 mana; which makes it easily tutorable with Green Sun’s Zenith, Finale of Devastation, or even from the same set Ranger-Captain of Eos. This is another card that has impressed me whenever I’ve seen it and isn’t quite getting its due in our format as of yet.
- Force of Negation
The closest we’ve come to Force of Will since the printing of the original. I was skeptical at first that the inability to hit creatures would mean that this would be liable to sit in hand, in crucial moments. I was wrong. The ability to reasonably cast the card for mana as well as the addition of the pitch clause stapled to it makes this almost as good as Force of Will already and you don’t even need to pay a life to alternatively cast it! Our format has grown to the point where there will be relevant targets in almost every deck for Force of Negation. Even aggro decks will have planeswalkers, equipment, burn spells or even fast mana all of which gets tagged and can swing the course of a game. The biggest reason this makes the list is that it offers decks functionally a second copy of Force of Will against combo. Which, in a singleton format, is a huge deal. Doubling up on a free hard counter in the combo matchup means that you’ll be able to tapout relatively safely even more often to make sure you can apply pressure without actually going shields down. Force of Negation is already a staple in just about every blue deck playing counterspells as it should be.
- Prime Speaker Vannifar
Vannifar is another card that has strong similarities to a format staple, this time a pointed format staple in Birthing Pod. Vannifar not having haste is a bit of a downside, but, being a creature means she is more tutorable and easier to untap for greater one turn win potential. Vannifar immediately found success as a functional second Birthing Pod in the already existing 4c Pod decks. However, it didn’t take long for new decks to start sprouting up looking to take advantage of the ability to have twice as many pods in them. Well known Birthing Pod aficionado Pat Berdusco developed a BUG Midrange/Combo with the ability to out grind the grindiest of decks and assemble the most convoluted of combos with ease. This deck was so interesting that he convinced me to give it a whirl and we both ended up playing it in the first Puget Sound Battle Ground last year to a combined 9-0-1 record (Pat had the draw). Needless to say the addition of Vannifar certainly stretched the envelope on what is possible in terms of creature combo decks and even allowed for a more value oriented version to become successful.
- Teferi, Time Reveller
It should come as no surprise to see “T3feri” on this list. Ubiquitous and defining for an extended period in Standard. Even making strides in Modern though often in more of a utility role. The static ability ranges from annoying to infuriatingly impossible to beat. The plus 1 while innocuous has won me several games personally, and the minus 3’s ability to buy time and generate value completes one heck of a package especially considering it only costs 3. The ability to virtually lock out counterspell decks while generating additional advantage this early is very powerful. Especially with the effect not stapled to creature meaning it is much more difficult to remove. Teferi is already seeing play in fairer midrange/control strategies, however, I actually think he is strongest in combo. Against more aggressive decks he will serve as a road bump and will buy you valuable time. If resolved against control it is likely just game over. Even on his own providing subtle utility such as resetting a candelabra or drawing an extra card and storm by bouncing your own Black Lotus. You may start to notice a theme connecting the cards listed thus far; efficient, cheap, and powerful. Teferi certainly checks all three boxes.
Another Birthing Pod adjacent card makes the list, to the surprise of no one. Although the most obvious comparison here is Eldritch Evolution. Eldritch Evolution was once pointed for a day and has remained a contentious discussion point for the council ever since. Although the ceiling on Neoform may appear a little lower because it only jumps one rung on the mana ladder, it actually has several advantages over Eldritch Evolution. First and most obvious it only costs 2 but this is vastly more important than just costing less mana. This means it is tutorable by Spellseeker which makes it much more accessible. It also adds a +1/+1 counter to the creature which can often make a big difference. Ever have to face down a 4/4 Leovold, a 4/2 True-Name Nemesis, or an 8/7 Carnage Tyrant. Neither have I, but several of my opponents sure have! Lastly it doesn’t exile and in a world of Snapcaster Mage, Eternal Witness, and even Archaeomancer (likely too deep) that opens the door for many neos to be formed. Neoform is already a staple in every creature combo deck that can cast it, and even sees a reasonable amount of play as a value tutor in fairer decks.
- Urza, Lord High Artificer
Urza is one of the best Academy cards printed in a long time. The ability to combat artifact hate cards effectively, provide a valuable mana sink, and win the game via the likely massive token all in one card is ridiculous. Urza forces your opponent to fight on multiple axes, and answer both it and the token quickly or the game will simply end. Academy decks often rely on having engine cards to function, for example Paradox Engine is a great mana engine, Future Sight a great card engine. They work great together however on their own they aren’t nearly as threatening. Urza does both as well as provide value and impact on board. The ability to tap non-mana producing artifacts for mana lessens the cost of including them in the deck so now non-eggs Academy decks have the ability to play explosive cards like Krark-Clan Ironworks with less risk of it being dead. I still don’t think there has been enough innovation in regards to Urza yet. He has been slotted into already existing decks, but I believe that he is powerful enough, and there are enough supporting pieces to try out new archetypes revolving around the High Artificer.
- Oko, Thief of Crowns
Oko just might be broko. Oko may only seem decent at first glance, but once you get a chance to play with him you almost immediately realize just how powerful he is. The most overwhelming part of the card is the starting loyalty. The ability to go to 6 loyalty to first turn he’s in play is backbreaking. I cast this card the first week it was legal against mono red on turn 2. I plus 2’d to make a food token and they asked what that did. I almost felt too bad to tell them. How do they ever come back from that point. That is not withstanding what is in my opinion the most confounding part of the card. The second ability is a plus 1?! It seems to me that that ability could have easily been a minus 1 or even a zero and it still would’ve been a powerful card. The combination of making a 3/3 every two turns while gaining 3 loyalty seems absurd to me and most people sitting across from it happening. Where I think Oko is most underrated (yes, I actually think he is underrated) is as a utility answer to problem permanents. Blue/Green is a colour combination that’s biggest weakness has always been a lack of good answers to permanents that have resolved. Oko has the ability to turn even the most powerful Creatures and Artifacts in the game into mostly harmless elk. The first time I got to play Oko I immediately used it to turn my opponents Paradox Engine into a 3/3, I won that game.
- Mystic Sanctuary
It’s. An. Island. The opportunity cost of playing this in most decks is absurdly low. With the advent of more and more basic-typed dual lands it will only get better with time. It should be an auto-include in just about every blue control deck. The ability to rebuy a spell just by playing a land and often have access to it in the same turn is incredible. Not to mention more powerful uses such as setting up Miracles. Esper Reanimator now has the line of Entomb Entreat the Angels, fetch Mystic Sanctuary put Entreat on top all on your end step. Great I love it. This is without even touching on the multitude of potential infinite combos available using Time Walks. Meloku, Trade Routes, Kefnet, Venser, the Sojourner, and even Zuran Orb + Crucible of Worlds/Ramunap Excavator all go infinite with this fetchable land any castable Time Walk. The cost of putting this card into your deck? You have to play islands. It might come in tapped sometimes. That’s it. This card is nuts and we haven’t even come close to fleshing out all of the possibilities yet.
- Wrenn and Six
Wrenn and Six is an absolutely devastating magic card. We all laughed at Tibalt. “He’s unplayable!” we said. Who’s laughing now? Wrenn and Six. They provide a functional way to recur Strip Mine or Wasteland starting turn 2. While also having the option to kill the mana dork you desperately want to play to try and break the lock. They also come down at a potential 4 loyalty frequently on turn 1 or 2 meaning it will almost certainly take more than one turn to remove them even without blockers. This card is certainly at least partially responsible for the recent success and prominence of the lands based midrange decks over the past few months. Beyond that it has become ubiquitous in every deck that can cast it and several that previously couldn’t. It is a 2 drop that is powerful at any point during the game and has the ability to take over as soon as it enters play. I have spoken to some people who think Wrenn and Six seem underwhelming. The operative being “seem”, once you play with or against them you will truly understand just how powerful they are.
2019 was a great year for Magic and Canadian Highlander in particular. Some of the most powerful cards in recent memory were printed and are still being tinkered with to fulfill their maximum potential. Others have already had near instant success and have been dominating tournaments already.