Happy New Year! 2019 is gone, and what New Year celebration would be complete without a look back on our prior trip around the sun, how Magic was changed forever by a radical departure in power level from prior design and development philosophy, and where we'll be going from here? And since we live in a post-Buzzfeed era of introspection, I will do it in nobody's favorite form: Top Five listicles on Magic, TV, film and internet memes. Afterward, join me in the break room for birthday cake to celebrate my 30th birthday!

 

Top Five Cards of 2019

 

#5: Once Upon a Time
#4: Urza, Lord High Artificer
#3: Field of the Dead
#2: Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
#1: Oko, Thief of Crowns

Most of this list is actually banned in multiple formats, which should really give us all a slap in the face with just how absurd the power creep was between 2018 and 2019. Do you remember when we were all complaining about Teferi, Time Raveler, Narset, Parter of Veils and Karn, the Great Creator? Those cards are barely a blip on the radar compared to the ones printed in the last six months.

The rest of them have entire articles written on why they were banned too, but the one I want to touch on is Once Upon a Time. The cantrip isn't flashy, but needs recognition for just how much of a boost to consistency it gives a deck. I get why they made it free (so you start the story with it by playing it first), but when it only finds the two most played card types in Magic, why on earth does it need to look at five cards?

 

Top Five Bans of 2019

 

#5: Once Upon a Time
#4: Urza, Lord High Artificer Krark-Clan Ironworks
#3: Field of the Dead
#2: Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
#1: Oko, Thief of Crowns

Save us all 30 seconds each match when we have to go through and read the novel that is Urza's text box and ban him already! I guess instead we can slot KCI in there for now, but when Urza goes it's going to retroactively apply here.

 

Top Five Decks of 2019

 

#5: Izzet Phoenix (Modern) / Krark-Clan Ironworks (Modern)
#4: Bant Golos (Standard)
#3: Simic/Sultai Urza (Modern)
#2: Simic Food (Standard)
#1: Hogaak (Modern)

I think it's easy to forget just how much has changed in Modern this past year. We started with Izzet Phoenix just barely coming into its own and Krark-Clan Ironworks finally drawing a ban after Matt Nass won everything relevant with it. Phoenix would end up being the best deck competing with Dredge for the next few months until the London mulligan shuffled off a few percentage points from the deck and it never quite recovered.

Fortunately, it was probably going to be completely invalidated a couple months later anyway, as Modern Horizons was the dawn of the format no longer celebrating cards from the last 16 years of Magic, but almost entirely ones from this year.

In Standard, hopefully nothing will ever compete with the dominance that Oko, Thief of Crowns saw at Pro Tour Richmond Mythic Championship VI. The only redeeming thing about Oko at that tournament was that a nice 69% of players played it. It was otherwise a complete mess.

At the top of the list is Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis. There isn't quite a feeling to describe just how dominant Hogaak was for months. No matter how powerful this Urza deck feels currently, at least people feel pretty safe that the cards in it (or most of them) will stick around for a while. People actively didn't play Hogaak because buying the cards was such a waste of money because Wizards was obviously going to need to ban something fast. Had there been a Pro Tour Mythic Championship, I have no doubt that we would have seen Hogaak topping Oko's numbers. The deck was solved in days after the format's release, never had pro players working on it, and when they tried banning one card it actually became a better deck because people no longer had to play actual kills instead of virtual ones to make sure they weren't just dead in the mirror. When they did ban Hogaak, he took Faithless Looting out with him, just to make sure the strategy really and truly stayed dead. Many decks were busted this year, but Hogaak is the king that needed to be killed twice.

 

Top Five Movies of 2019

 

#5: Avengers: Endgame (but only the second half)
#4: Alita: Battle Angel
#3: Captain Marvel
#2: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
#1: Knives Out

I will not be taking questions at this time, unless you're asking me to go see Knives Out with you again. The answer is yes.

 

Top Cities I Visited for Magic in 2019

 

#5: Cincinnati
#4: Portland
#3: Seattle
#2: Las Vegas
#1: London

I will forever petition them to put every tournament in London for the rest of time, because I'm in love with that city after going for the Mythic Championship. The rest of the list are the obvious best places for Magic tournaments to be held in the USA, and Cincinnati.

 

Top Five TV Seasons of 2019

 

#5: GLOW (Season 4)
#4: The Mandalorian (Season 1)
#3: Watchmen (Season: The Only One, apparently???)
#2: The Good Place (Season 4)
#1: Daybreak (Season 1)

Daybreak is the best show that not enough people got through the first 20 minutes of, and is pure gold except for the exact first half of episode one. Everything else is amazing, from humor and drama to a complex gay relationship and some unexpected twists. The cliche zombie samurai episode is perfectly done. Do me a favor and go watch it so maybe Netflix uncancels it.

The Mandalorian is fairly low on this Top Five list, but I want to be extremely clear that Baby Yoda is not only the only reason to watch the show, but is the cutest thing to happen, ever. That The Child has absurd meme potential is just an added bonus.

Bojack Horseman would make an appearance on this list, except somebody decided to do the annoying thing where they split the season into two parts. Because of this, I don't think the rules committee will count it for my best of 2019 or 2020 Top Fives.

 

Top Five Theros Spoilers

 

My editor says that I have to provide some strategic content to justify an article, so here we are. As of when I write this at the end of 2019, here are the five best cards spoiled from Theros Beyond Death.

#5: Gray Merchant of Asphodel

 

Black is an incredibly powerful color at the moment, and a lot of the good black cards have a lot of pips (I wonder if that was intentional?) Murderous Rider, Cavalier of Night, Massacre Girl, various Cats and Ayara… all of them play very well with Gray Merchant of Asphodel. The fact that so many of these cards also have life gain built into them already makes the idea of Gray Merchant as a final burn spell kind of realistic. Top it all off with powerful ways to make use of all the life gain in either Command the Dreadhorde or Bolas's Citadel, and we're looking at some combinations that Nicol Bolas was clearly scheming for centuries to make happen.

There is one thing that bothers me about Gray Merchant of Asphodel though. Dark Confident as "Bob" makes sense—it's Bob Maher's invitational card. Steve kind of makes sense, since STE (Sakura-Tribe Elder) is the first few letters of Steve. But you're all going to have to forgive me for not understanding why this card is apparently called "Gary" other than Gray kind of anagrams to it… but then why wouldn't it be Gerry? I guess its because that's already taken.

Whatever, as long as we're clear that every card that starts with Nyx is now Nick's.

#4: Thirst for Meaning

Turns out the best description of Grindr I've seen lately is also a pretty good card draw spell.

Thirst for Knowledge had been a staple card draw spell for a number of years in old Extended by the time I first saw it 13 years ago, and Thirst for Meaning will also see a lot of play. Instant-speed card draw in blue becomes so much more powerful because it plays well with countermagic. It forces opponents to actually present threats worth spending an Absorb or Ionize on, because it's so much harder to wait out an opponent who will always hit their land drops and find more removal or countermagic because they can filter through three cards at a time with Thirst for Meaning.

The drawback on Thirst for Meaning isn't even that negative currently, as there are a good number of enchantments already in Standard that we might want to run depending on what color we're in, and I have this sneaking suspicion that there might be more enchantments in Theros for some reason between constellation and sagas returning.

#3: Ashiok, Nightmare Muse

I bet you all already forgot about Ashiok now that the Arena event is over and everyone doesn't get to beat up on poor Mono-White anymore (as if the last three years of Magic hadn't done enough). Well, not me. I'm here to remind everyone that if they ever resolve, Ashiok is going to be an absolute pain to deal with. The ability to activate their +1 ability and go to 6 loyalty is only not impressive sounding because we're all still recovering from the shock that was Oko, Thief of Crowns, and this planeswalker makes a 2/3 instead of a Food Token. If Ashiok is ever allowed to stick around for another turn, the ground is basically locked up forever.

But the -3 is the meat and potatoes of the card. Were you all sick of Teferi, Time Raveler bouncing all your stuff? Well TOO BAD, Ashiok can bounce all the same things, or your planeswalkers, and cost you a card from hand while doing so. Heliod forbid someone ever bounces my token with this one, I might just concede on the spot. Sure, they don't have the incredibly frustrating passive ability, but they also have an ultimate to build to and make creatures instead of a rarely utilized +1 ability.

Temple of Deceit combined with a lot of very powerful Dimir cards from four of the previous five sets means that Theros Beyond Death is going to spawn a whole new archetype, and Ashiok is going to be at the top end of that game plan. Get ready to get tired of this card, because it's going to win a lot of games.

#2: Underworld Breach

I'm not sure why Yawgmoth's Will needed to cost one less, but here we are. Escape for the same cost as the card's mana, except you also have to exile cards from the graveyard isn't much different than a cheaper Yawgmoth's Will in older formats—especially since Kethis, the Hidden Hand has shown just how easy it is to continuously mill yourself if you really want to. The only reason Kethis decks were even Abzan colors was to fit in the namesake card, and now there's another option that plays with similar effects but isn't limited to legendary types.

I'm just exceedingly confused by who they think wanted this sort of thing. I fully understand, accept and embrace the fact that some people want to play Storm, Dredge and Reanimator, and I myself have played all of those and enjoyed them. But Yawgmoth's Will is banned in Legacy, restricted in Vintage, and nobody has ever looked at Modern and said "I think we need more combo decks, where's that card that lets us abuse our graveyards even more?"

This card will likely see almost zero Standard play, but given the power level of cards lately, there's a chance they just accidentally printed a new Dredge-level card that will prove me wrong.

#1: Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis

I keep having to talk people into this card and I don't get it. Sure, white has looked pretty poor lately, but not because it's lacking components. It's because outside of some multicolor cards, everything it does is too easily undone by cards like Deafening Clarion, Kaya's Wrath or Time Wipe. Even now that Field of the Dead and Oko, Thief of Crowns are gone, it can't seem to compete with the other archetypes. But the problem isn't its best draws (Venerated Loxodon will still run you over), it's that it lacks resiliency, and holding up Unbreakable Formation isn't exactly possible against Deafening Clarion all the time.

Enter Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis.

Elsepth's token making ability is very useful, but it's not that loyalty ability that makes her so strong. Her -1 ability with a pair of creatures already in play effectively makes Elspeth a 4 power creature with haste, and there is plenty of pedigree for those in Magic's history. The fact that the combined 4 power gets spread around makes her ability resistant to single-target removal and lets creatures trade up or attack through creatures they couldn't normally.

Her play pattern works incredibly well for games where the opponent plays a board wipe as well. If the opponent deals with the swarm of creatures after her initial push of damage from her -1 ability, she can use her -2 for the next two turns and, if no land drops are missed, escape back that turn to use her -1 again, leaving her at 4 loyalty with four Solider tokens in play and them taking 4 damage.

As a weird additional point, Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis costs four, which is a spot on the curve that white decks generally are really lacking. I'll save you the trouble of a Gatherer search and just tell you: the best two non-multicolor white cards that cost four are Conclave Tribunal, which doesn't count, and then… Ajani, Caller of the Pride? A card that I think I saw once in a life gain deck on Arena because it could make Ajani's Pridemate Tokens.

 

Top Five Magic Memes of 2019

 

#5:

Marie Kondo: What is this?
Me: It's called Nexus of Fate
Marie: Does it Spark Joy
Me: Absolutely not
Marie: Thank it, and then discard it
Marie Kondo: And what is this?
Me: It's called Nexus of Fate

— Jessica 🌸 (@jesstephan) January 31, 2019


#4:

Marie Kondo: What is this?
Me: It's called Nexus of Fate
Marie: Does it Spark Joy
Me: Absolutely not
Marie: Thank it, and then discard it
Marie Kondo: And what is this?
Me: It's called Nexus of Fate

— Jessica 🌸 (@jesstephan) January 31, 2019


#3:

Marie Kondo: What is this?
Me: It's called Nexus of Fate
Marie: Does it Spark Joy
Me: Absolutely not
Marie: Thank it, and then discard it
Marie Kondo: And what is this?
Me: It's called Nexus of Fate

— Jessica 🌸 (@jesstephan) January 31, 2019


#2:

Marie Kondo: What is this?
Me: It's called Nexus of Fate
Marie: Does it Spark Joy
Me: Absolutely not
Marie: Thank it, and then discard it
Marie Kondo: And what is this?
Me: It's called Nexus of Fate

— Jessica 🌸 (@jesstephan) January 31, 2019


#1:

Marie Kondo: What is this?
Me: It's called Nexus of Fate
Marie: Does it Spark Joy
Me: Absolutely not
Marie: Thank it, and then discard it
Marie Kondo: And what is this?
Me: It's called Nexus of Fate

— Jessica 🌸 (@jesstephan) January 31, 2019

 

Ugh, fine, I'll concede.

Of course, these are all just conversations, really. Even if my opinions are objectively the best ones, they aren't the only ones out there, and I'm interested to hear what you, dear reader, think. Was there another card or deck that was the best of 2019, or Theros spoiler that is better than the ones I picked? Did you think there was a TV show I missed? Feel free to send any and all positive feedback to me on Twitter @nicknprince and negative feedback to @nickprince. Until then, keep playing Urza as long as he's not banned.


 

Nick Prince

 

Nick Prince is a competitive Magic player and member of the L.A. Gayming Society leadership team.

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