This week I present my top ten favorite limited cards from across the formats I’ve played. I started drafting seriously in Scars of Mirrodin block, so this list only covers the last five years of Magic. But there have been some sweet cards over those years.

Most people get excited about cube because they can assemble crazy constructed-style decks with unique archetypes. I prefer the careful grind of playing with weaker cards, as is common in draft formats. If I ever make a cube, I want to focus on creating a fun and diverse limited environment. I’d fill the cube with sweet cards that only got to shine for a few months and have receded into memory.

These are their stories.

10. Skyreach Manta

Modern Masters sets help some older cards make it onto this list. Sunburst plus all the removal is one of my favorite limited decks. Pick all the bombs, kill spells, mana fixing, and Skyreach Mantas to go crazy with 5/5 fliers. You need a special collection of cards to make the deck work, but the reward is off the charts.

This deck was especially great in the original Modern Masters set, where the full cycle of basic land cyclers made five color decks easy. Fiery Fall gets an honorable mention for this top ten list, as it provides both fixing and removal. Cards that fill multiple roles are so important in limited decks. You only have 23-ish card slots in your deck. Dual-role cards help check all the boxes for the various matchups you’ll face, and provide room for situationally powerful cards to take your last slots.

9. Mimic Vat

If you can’t have a good time with a Mimic Vat, I question your humanity. For the rest of the game, you get a clone machine for the best creature that dies. This puppy led to all kinds of crazy shenanigans. Poisoning your opponent to death with no infect creatures in your deck? Build your own Phyrexian Arena off either player’s Phyrexian Rager? Putrefax loop? Maul Splicer anyone?

Scars draft had so much removal. It was the last set of the old removal paradigm. Unless your bomb was something like Sunblast Angel, you couldn’t feel too secure when you dropped a big creature. But with Mimic Vat, removal looks stupid. It is the card Phyrexian Processor would be if that were a remotely fun Magic card. Take it for a spin some time.

8. Rix Maadi Guildmage

Block? Don’t block? You lose either way. The Rakdos beatdown deck in Return to Ravnica was a well-oiled machine. You can sing the praises of Boros or Gruul in Gatecrash, of all in ordeals in Theros, or whatever all in aggro deck you prefer. Give me Rakdos and let me unleash the fury. There were so many sweet cards in that deck. Splatter Thug, Gore-House Chainwalker, Auger Spree, etc etc. Once you got the guildmage going, it felt hard to lose. Maybe they have Pack Rat? You might still outrace them!

7. Chromanticore

Did I mention I have a thing for five-color decks? Well here’s the ultimate payoff card for tasting the rainbow. Born of the Gods weakened the sweet Theros draft format in most respects, but the Chromanticore deck was a true gem. I was fortunate to draft the format enough times to play three Chromanticore decks. They were all amazing. Nothing feels better than tapping all your lands to bestow this big boy on basically anything. Super Batterskull. Akroma’s Memorial for risk takers. Baneslayer Angel but not boring.

You haven’t lived until you bestow a Chromanticore. Your opponent won’t live much longer when you do.

6. Sea Gate Wreckage

I have a soft spot for lands. If colorless mana weren’t a thing in Oath of the Gatewatch draft, Sea Gate Wreckage would be pretty horrible. The format supports a colorless theme, and this land is amazing. Aggressive decks tend to run out of cards and have a hard time winning if the opponent can stabilize the board. Streamlined decks can’t afford to devote card slots to recouping late game advantage. Occasionally you have a sweet two-way threat like Essence Depleter or Valakut Invoker, but most of the time you spend late turns drawing and playing small creatures that do little. A land that helps you refill and dig to your outs when game goes long is a rare prize indeed.

5. Abzan Guide

Morph is a complicated mechanic that warps limited environments. Khans of Tarkir had a lot of fun morph cards, but Abzan Guide really epitomizes that set. “I hope that morph doesn’t turn into a 4/4 lifelinker.” Flip those Abzan Guides! That has a high correlation with winning.

4. Spider Spawning

Fill my graveyard and make ten 1/2 spiders? Yes please! They have reach? Hell yes they do. If you are a serious student of limited history, you know Spider Spawning formed the backbone of one of the most beloved draft combo decks of all time. You don’t have to twist my arm to get me to draft durdly Sultai decks. This set the standard by which all durdly Sultai decks shall forever be judged. It is a high bar.

3. Bane Alley Broker

This sweet card used to be the best looter ever. Then they printed Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Well, Kareem was still an all time great after Jordan came along. Bane Alley Broker actually does a decent Jace impression. You start looting cards into exile, and if your opponent doesn’t kill it, you can redraw those cards later. If you know your opponent lacks removal, you can even use the broker to stash expensive spells and situational cards. An unchecked broker takes over the game.

It was a shame Gatecrash draft was so aggressive and hostile to slow card advantage. Bane Alley Broker never got a real chance to shine.

2. Mulldrifter

How can you ever pass this card. I know, sometimes there’s a card that looks better. I’ve made that mistake a few times myself. Sure, Karn Liberated is a better pick in Modern Masters 2015 than Mulldrifter. I guess. Have you read what this card does? Half Divination, half Ancestral Recall. Plus you can engage in some reanimating or flickering shenanigans. If the rest of your deck is any good at all, Mulldrifter makes it so much better.

1. Scholar of Athreos

What can I say? Scholar is my favorite card. It blocks and slowly wins the game. Once you have scholar going, you don’t have to play another spell the rest of the game unless it is better than draining your opponent. If you have a lot of instant speed removal, you can sit back and feel invulnerable.

I recently dug up this great picture from the old Magic Online client:

scholar

I call it Snap Keep. Because when you have scholar and lands, what more could you want?

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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