The clock will soon strike 2020! As we approach the new year, let’s take a moment to reflect on the Magic cards released in 2019. Plenty of these cards are excellently designed, but I wonder — which are the best of the best?
Whether common or mythic rare, the following ten cards are groundbreaking in at least one of these ways – flavor, function, new design space, or all of the above.
Captive Audience could have allowed you to choose a different opponent for each mode, but this approach taxes players’ memory in multiplayer games. The card’s design elegantly solves this problem by placing the enchantment under an opponent’s control.
Letting the opponent choose one of the options means they’ll choose the least scary option each time. This is pretty ingenious, as it means the final option is the most impactful one. Your opponent’s demise will be a three-act play, culminating in a grand finale! How fitting for the Rakdos guild.
There aren’t many cards that care about removing loyalty counters from Planeswalkers. Garruk Relentless cares about a certain number of counters. Heart of Kiran uses loyalty counter removal as a cost. There’s plenty of design space to work with here!
And how cool is it that this card depicting the daughter of Kiran has synergy with Heart of Kiran?!
Moreover, if your Planeswalker is losing loyalty counters, there’s a good chance that your opponent was the one to remove them. But when they’re trying to play with fire, it’s painful business! The flavor of getting burned trying to defeat Chandra is wonderful here.
Even if opponents leave Chandra alone, they can’t avoid her flames – she can also lose counters if you activate her “ultimate” ability. With a -7, that’s a lot of damage! Chandra’s static ability works beautifully in tandem with this ultimate – it’s almost as if she’s building up a fiery supernova!
It can take a lot of work to defeat someone. But when you have the power of a group, it becomes a whole lot easier!
The convoke ability does a great job of demonstrating the power of a mob. In the past, this Selesnyan mechanic showed how the power of community can strengthen its individuals. With black’s take on convoke, it shows how a group of like minds can tear something down just as easily.
Any Magic card that makes me pause and think about society is surely a work of art.
When the ability splice first appeared on cards, it only interacted with arcane spells. But in templating the card’s ability as “splice onto arcane,” Wizards teased the potential to splice onto other things. Splicer’s Skill finally delivers on this promise.
There’s also a reference here to New Phyrexia’s splicers. The common trait they all shared? Creating a 3/3 Golem. Pulling that enters-the-battlefield effect into its own spell as Splicer’s Skill makes flavor sense.
A perfect splicing of flavor and function.
It’s important to have cards that reward the Jeskai “flying matters” archetype in Core Set 2020 Limited. Flame Sweep is one of these cards, and it delivers in spades. Let’s break this down:
Flyers are often critical to gameplay in Limited. It makes sense to have an effect that destroys your opponents’ flying creatures while sparing your own.
What else makes sense? The card is supposed to represent a dragon’s fiery breath. When a dragon breathes fire, it naturally forms a cone of flame, angled downward if the dragon is airborne. Opposing flyers get burnt, and so does everyone on the ground!
Consider the card Curious Obsession. Its effects make sense for a creature that’s both curious and obsessed. The obsession keeps you attacking. The curiosity draws you cards.
However, the enchanted creature also gets a +1/+1 power/toughness boost. That part doesn’t make much flavor sense, but is necessary to enable fun gameplay.
As you sift through cards drawn from your library, it’s like you’re thumbing through the pages of a book! And because this is a hard-covered book, each of the book’s two ends is tough! Thus, the creature gets +0/+2.
This toughness boost also matters for gameplay. There are many ways to deal one or more damage in Core Set 2020 Limited. And a creature granted a looting effect is sure to be a high-priority target. It’d be a shame for Heart-Piercer Bow to easily answer this aura enchanting your 1/1 creature!
The purpose of walls in our lives is to divide spaces. Whether that’s two rooms in a home or creating an “inside” and an “outside.”
The battlefield and its players can be considered sharing one large space. When Pramikon enters the battlefield, it’s appropriately mythical that it divides the players!
Not a bad entrance for Magic’s first legendary wall.
Speaking of walls in a home… Blow Your House Down nails a first-time combination of two staple red effects.
Often, when a specific number of creatures can’t block, the number is arbitrary. Why does Wrap in Flames or Panic Attack only affect three creatures? But Blow Your House Down has more significance: it intentionally references the story of The Three Little Pigs.
Red also likes to destroy walls or creatures with defender. We haven’t seen this effect combined with preventing blockers. Blow Your House Down’s flavor ties these two effects together perfectly.
The flavor of high winds from a wolf blowing makes sense for both parts of the card. Creatures fall down, but they can get back up. When walls fall down… well, it’s not pretty.
A silly bird with serious implications!
Whenever a creature is granted an ability like
flying permanently, it needs a marker of sorts to help players remember. Often,
you see this in the form of an aura on the creature. Other times, it’s a +1/+1
counter that tracks a granted ability.
Chillerpillar’s monstrosity ability is a great example. It has flying as long as it’s monstrous, but that can be hard to remember. Luckily, monstrous also grants +1/+1 counters, so you can remember that the creature is monstrous.
But what if creatures could get a different kind of counter? We’ve seen multiple types of unique counters placed on players: poison, energy, experience. What if there were a set where creatures get flying counters instead of the usual +1/+1 counters? The flying counters would, well, grant flying. It’s so simple to understand that Recycla-Bird’s rules text doesn’t have to explain what flying counters do!
And this isn’t limited to just flying. There could be a whole Magic set with vigilance counters, or deathtouch counters. Imagine the possibilities!
Are there frog people in the Multiverse? We’ve seen anurids on the plane of Dominaria and hybrid Simic folks with frog traits on Ravnica. But we’ve never seen the likes of Frogkin Kidnapper before.
Frog people aside, there’s also a promising mechanic here with ransom!
The ransom ability on Squidnapper is slightly different, but I feel Frogkin Kidnapper’s version is stronger. Squidnapper’s ransom requires having a card on the battlefield to track the ransomed card and its terms.
Frogkin Kidnapper’s version, however, allows for you to use instants and sorceries to ransom cards. A blue spell could say “Ransom target creature.” White could use it as a softer exile effect. For black, as with Frogkin Kidnapper, it’s a temporary discard effect.
Ransom beautifully navigates the space between temporary and permanent exile. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this mechanic appear in a future Magic set!
Hindsight is 2019
Thanks for reading! Have a favorite Magic card design from 2019 you didn’t see in this list? Send me a tweet at @bradleyrose.
I’m looking forward to a 2020 where frog rogues can gain flying counters!
Bradley is a co-host of a weekly Magic: The Gathering design podcast, Beacon of Creation. He was among the Top 101 contestants in Wizards of the Coast’s Great Designer Search 2. He enjoys crafting custom Magic product experiences, like Archfrenemies, and building Commander decks with creative constraints.