A popular social media trend among Magic players this week has been sharing one's personal favorite Magic card "Top 8" list. I thought I would join the fun by taking the opportunity to use this column to share my own Top 8 list! I will focus broadly on what makes these cards special in the game, then I will share my own experiences with them and a bit of history. Here are my eight favorite Magic cards!
A perfect balance of flavor and game play, there is nothing in Magic comparable to controlling the opponent's turn and turning all of the opponent's own cards against them, including killing their own creatures, countering their own spells, and discarding their own cards. This typically translates to massive card and tempo advantage.
Mindslaver sometimes leads to a blowout if not an instant-win situations with the opponent's own cards. A relevant Modern interaction, a Spellskite with a target can be activated repeatedly to kill its own controller, and also in Modern, Arcbound Ravager can be used to sacrifice all of its controller's artifacts. In old Extended, Cabal Therapy used to be very fun as a way to sacrifice the opponent's best creatures and leave them without a hand.
Mindslaver also has great interactions with one's own cards, the most iconic being the combination with Academy Ruins which, with enough mana, can be used to repeatedly recur, replay, and reactive Mindslaver each turn, keeping the opponent in a perpetual state of lockdown and eventually decking. This combination makes Mindslaver a bonafide win condition.
Perhaps my favorite Mindslaver interaction of all is with Fact or Fiction. Controlling the opponent's turn means you control every decision, including splits on cards like Fact or Fiction (and Gifts Ungiven), so you can choose to take all 5 cards (or pick which two Gifts Ungiven cards you want to keep). My UW Urzatron deck employed Mindslaver with the Academy Ruins and Fact or Fiction combinations en-route to a Grand Prix finals:
7. Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir has a powerful and unique effect that breaks the rules of the game. It gives its controller a distinct tactical advantage: by making all opposing Instants function as Sorcery-speed, and by giving all of its controller's creatures Flash, Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir constricts opposing action while giving its controller free reign.
Opposing Counterspells are useless against a resolved Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. Combat becomes a nightmare because Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir's controller can flash in blockers.
The flash ability makes Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir a powerful blocker in itself, because it can be flashed in after attackers but before blockers, and the opponent will be powerless to cast a removal spell on it.
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir has the powerful practical ability that when it's cast at the end of the opposing turn, the opponent will be forced to have a Counterspell because they won't be able to destroy it with removal spells. Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir's controller can then untap and protect it with Counterspells. This makes it a strong tactical and tempo play against decks that rely on removal spells.
There's really nothing like a resolved Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir against a control deck, and this is why it still sees some fringe Modern sideboard play.
The best Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir deck I ever played was Monoblue Pickles, which paired the legend with a host of other creatures and made full use of its abilities. I played this deck to both a PTQ win in Time Spiral Block Constructed and a victory at the Ohio State Championships:
This deck played the combo of Brine Elemental and Vesuvan Shapeshifter to lock the opponent out, so Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir also served to protect the combo from opposing removal. An end-of-turn Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir would serve as insurance against opposing removal, by ensuring that the coast was clear to combo the following turn, or by forcing the opponent to use removal immediately and thus preventing a tempo blowout when attempting to combo the following turn. An already resolved Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir sets up playing combo pieces from hand and the end of opposing turn, keeping them out of removal's reach altogether.
6. Umezawa's Jitte
Umezawa's Jitte is a card without comparison; an equipment as powerful as a planeswalker. It has more abilities than reasonably should be on a card, and together they combine to turn any creature into a battlefield-dominating menace. The +2/+2 pump ability means that after the first hit, the creature wearing the equipment is difficult to block profitably. It's also a strong clock as an effective +4/+4 ability. The -1/-1 Shrink ability turns Umezawa's Jitte into a removal spell that locks the opponent out of the game and is what makes the card so dominant against creature decks. The gain two life ability makes Umezawa's Jitte difficult to ever race, and it's a way to lock out aggressive decks.
Counters can be stored on Umezawa's Jitte indefinitely, so they can be judiciously spent for maximum effect when needed. Umezawa's Jitte can also be moved after combat to a blocker, so it has additional value on defense as a deterrent to attackers.
Umezawa's Jitte is legendary, but during its time in Block Constructed and Standard it was played as a four-of in every deck that wanted it. The legend rule at this time was that the second copy of a Legend destroyed itself and the first copy in play, so there was a war of Umezawa's Jitte, and having more than the opponent was important. Here's the deck I used to reach my first Grand Prix Top 8
This deck is built to get the most out of Umezawa's Jitte. Manriki-Gusari was an efficient way to gain an advantage in the war over Umezawa's Jitte advantage, ensuring the opponent could never connect with their equipment. Celestial Kirin could be also be used to contain opposing Umezawa's Jitte. Lantern Kami is a Flying Man that wears equipment well and Eight-and-a-Half-Tails could protect the creature wearing Umezawa's Jitte from removal or push it through blockers.
Umezawa's Jitte is banned in Modern, but it's an important player in Legacy alongside Stoneforge Mystic!
Tarmogoyf represents the ultimate creature in terms of power and efficiency. Tarmogoyf is notable because unlike most cheap creatures, it grows more powerful as the game goes on. The reason why creatures like Rakshasa Deathdealer and Fleecemane Lion are so good is that they are effective aggressive creatures for the early turns, but in the late game they turn into powerful cards that are as threatening as more expensive creatures. Tarmogoyf has this same impact but in a natural way that's built-in and requires no additional effort.
Tarmogoyf is highly accessible, and with a 1G cost it's highly splashable, hence the nickname "the best blue creature of all time", but it sees play in everything beyond blue control decks to include aggressive red burn decks and attrition-based black rock decks.
I have used Tarmogoyf in all sorts of decks over the years. Some of my favorites include the Pyromancer Ascension deck I used at PT Amsterdam:
In this deck Tarmogoyf was a plan in itself, the single creature threat in an otherwise all spell combo-control deck. It served as a clock and it made it much easier to close out the game with burn spells. It was also a key part of the control plan as a blocker against aggressive opponents.
I look forward to using Tarmogoyf in Modern and Legacy for as long as I can!
4. Mana Leak
Mana Leak is a versatile tempo play that's effective in any deck. It's not a particularly flashy card, but it's effectively a Counterspell in sheep's clothing. I could have picked a more iconic or powerful Counterspell here, but I have a soft spot for Mana Leak, which I have used to great success in a wide variety of archetypes; notice that it's included in two of the decks I have already shared today. Mana Leak was an important part of the Magnivore / Wildfire deck I used to win a PTQ and a US Nationals Championship invite through Regionals:
This deck always sought to constrict the opponent's access to mana, so the "pay three" clause of Mana Leak was difficult for them to meet.
Mana Leak was also a key player in the infamous Caw-Blade deck that was the scourge of a Standard season:
Speaking of Caw-Blade, that brings me to...
3. Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Jace, the Mind Sculptor represents most everything that is great about blue concentrated into one powerful and efficient package. The fact that this planeswalker comes with three useful non-ultimate abilities, compared to most other planeswalkers which feature one or two at most, means that it has significant flexibility and can be used effectively on nearly every board state.
The -1 Unsummon ability means Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a potent tempo play, and it can be used a second or even third time to put the opponent into a tempo nightmare and can generate a massive advantage. The 0 Brainstorm ability is source of card advantage. The +2 ability both builds loyalty and interferes with the opponent's draw step by putting them into a weak lock, a combination that builds perfectly towards the ultimate that effectively ends the game outright.
Everyone has their own Jace, the Mind Sculptor story, and mine begins with the Thopter Depths deck that I used to win Grand Prix Houston:
In this deck Jace, the Mind Sculptor was a removal spell, card advantage engine, and a win condition all in one. It was always great, but it was especially potent after sideboard, where against aggressive decks I would transform into a control deck. Jace, the Mind Sculptor was the glue that held this control plan together. In the ultimate game of the tournament, in game two of the finals, I activated Jace, the Mind Sculptor's ultimate for the first time and won!
Thoughtseize has become the definition of discard spell. Its printing changed the paradigm away from narrow discard like Duress towards an open and powerful discard effect that was effective against anything and everything.
Thoughtseize can be used to disrupt the opponent's plan, but it can also be used to protect its controller's own game plan. Thoughtseize also provides valuable information about the opponent's hand, which allows for precision planning of future turns. Thoughtseize is a net tempo negative of one mana, but it can actually generate real tempo by disrupting the opponent's curve and forcing them to pass a turn without a play.
Thoughtseize has been a key part of every format where it was legal, and it continues to excel in Modern, Legacy, Vintage, and beyond. I have used Thoughtseize to great success in many decks, including the Thopter Depths decks I shared, where it was essential for clearing the way for my combos.
Last season Monoblack Devotion was my home of choice for Thoughtseize:
1. Chrome Mox
Before Chrome Mox was printed, playsets were pre-selling for $100. It was a Mox, and it was being printed in Standard. Chrome Mox was good in Standard, but it would later shine in other formats.
Chrome Mox breaks one of the fundamental rules of Magic: that we can play one land a turn. When cast in the early game, Chrome Mox provides a tempo boost that's magnified turn-by-turn over the course of a game. It's akin to taking an extra turn and playing an extra land, and it allows a player on the draw to regain the initiative or a player on the play to pull further ahead.
Chrome Mox does come with a steep cost of a card, but in unfair decks that can make up for the cost with card drawing and powerful effects, it's a price well worth paying. Chrome Mox was a key four-of in the Thopter Depths decklist from Houston, and it was a two-of in the UW Urzatron deck from the beginning of the article. Chrome Mox was the unsung hero of these decks, where the extra time it provided allowed these decks to execute their game plan and overpower the opponent.
What's your Top 8 Magic card list? Share in the comments!
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