Brad: As 2018 comes to a close and we unwrap booster packs for draft, let’s take a moment to review the past year’s Magic: The Gathering cards from a design perspective.
After much deliberation, I decided on a list of Top Five Designed Cards, with one card from each of Rivals of Ixalan, Battlebond, Dominaria, Core Set 2019, Commander 2018 and Guilds of Ravnica. Additionally, every rarity is represented on at least one card in this list.
Adam: This was an interesting exercise. With the sheer number of cards that were released this year, finding the five best was no small task.
Without further ado…
Brad’s #5: Experimental Frenzy (Guilds of Ravnica)
Experimental Frenzy impressively accomplishes many Magic firsts. It is the first to card to have:
- The sentence “You can’t play cards from your hand” in its rules text
- The latest templating for being able to look at the top card of your library
- An activated ability whose sole purpose is to destroy its host card
- The word “coffee” in its flavor text
(Flavor text isn’t usually a concern when evaluating card design, but it’s a nice touch.)
All these abilities are straightforward to understand, but just unusual enough to pique the interest of Johnny/Jenny players.
Adam’s #5: Healer’s Hawk (Guilds of Ravnica)
If you listen to our podcast, you will understand why I chose this card. I love simple designs, especially those that have been overlooked for decades. This simple French-vanilla bird had never seen print before this year, and I’m happy to see it.
The second reason I love it so much is that I designed the exact same card for my custom set, New Legends. (Yeah, okay, I’ll stop patting myself on the back.)
Brad’s #4: Mutiny (Rivals of Ixalan)
Magic has finite design space, including card names. Some words can make sense in pretty much any set, like Divination. Others, not so much.
Mutiny is a word that doesn’t make sense in every setting. In a set with captains and pirate ships, the word is a flavor home run for a new card design.
On top of that, Mutiny is a clean, straightforward effect that avoids using set-specific mechanics, maximizing its ability to be reprinted in future sets.
Adam’s #4: Fumble (Battlebond)
I’m not a sports guy, but even I understand the flavor of this card. Battlebond was meant to evoke arena combat with strict rules, and this card really gets the point across. Also, it’s great in any cube that has a strong aura/equipment theme.
I also want to piggyback on Brad’s comment above. You can’t have Fumble in a non-sports set, so this is a big flavor hit.
Brad’s #3: Stunning Reversal (Battlebond)
Adam and I swung at our opponents for lethal in a Two-Headed Giant Battlebond Sealed match at Grand Prix Las Vegas …except our opponents didn’t lose. Instead, they tapped four mana, drew a full hand’s worth of cards, then took another turn to defeat us. Suffice to say, we were stunned.
The aptly-named Stunning Reversal replaces your game loss with a different effect, just like Lich’s Mirror and Exquisite Archangel. But those cards are permanents – once you have the Angel or Mirror on the board, everyone knows it’s possible for you to avoid death. As an instant, Stunning Reversal is sure to catch your opponents off-guard.
Adam’s #3: Blackblade Reforged (Dominaria)
When you’ve been playing the game for twenty-some years and you see a callback to a card from 1994, you tend to get a little excited. Having the Blackblade appear on a real card after all this time really made me smile.
The rules text “Equip Legendary Creature” is also one of my favorite things in the game. I had been messing around in that design space, but this iteration is super clean and I can’t say enough nice things about it.
Brad’s #2: Chromium, the Mutable (Core Set 2019)
Vorthos players often appreciate top-down card designs. But it can matter a whole lot to see a creature card whose rules text references a piece of that character’s lore. Chromium, the Mutable is such a card.
A great lore reference doesn’t always guarantee great card design, but Chromium has the best of both worlds. This card’s set of abilities work together perfectly to evoke a “basically untouchable” Dragon in gameplay.
Adam’s #2: Chaos Wand (Core Set 2019)
C’mon, you know you’ve tried it. This design really nailed the feeling of “chaos magic”; it really feels like you’re playing with an item from D&D.
Every time I activate this card, I’m excited to see what will happen. You don’t get that feeling with a lot of cards.
Brad’s #1: Knight of Grace / Knight of Malice (Dominaria)
Hexproof: a great ability when used sparingly. Competitive Slippery Bogle decks in Modern are a great example of what happens when hexproof goes too far. As a result, recent sets only contain hexproof on creatures with converted mana cost four or more; cheaper creatures only get hexproof under certain conditions. But unlike previous examples, this latest iteration on hexproof isn’t based on a condition or a limited time frame– it’s limited scope!
Borrowing design technology that already exists with “protection from [quality],” Dominaria’s Knight of Grace and Knight of Malice’s “hexproof from [color]” counters hexproof’s inherent power. While this may notwork in every set, it was an elegant solution to the hexproof problem in Dominaria.
What’s more, this mirrored pair evokes the classic cards White Knight and Black Knight. The original pair could ward off black spells and white spells, respectively, but their protection ability meant they could never actually fight each other. “Hexproof from [color]” answers this problem.
Adam’s #1: Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign (Commander 2018)
This card is odd, and not in the way you’re thinking. She has an odd number of everything! Let’s see if I can list them all:
- Odd number of letters in her name.
- Odd mana cost.
- Odd number of colors.
- Odd number of keyword abilities.
- Odd number of words on her type line.
- Odd collector number.
- Odd number or words in the text box.
- Odd number of words in flavor text.
- Odd power.
- Odd toughness.
- Odd number of horns.
- Odd number of wings.
- Odd number of columns.
Okay, okay, you get the point. The design on Yennett is impeccable. She is by far the best designed card of the year, if you ask me. I literally can’t even.
Design Space Out
Here’s to another year of sweet Magic: The Gathering card designs. Maybe someday we’ll get an Emrakul that has hexproof from all colors.