In a few hours, it’ll be 2019. There will be things to look forward to, and things to dread, opportunities to celebrate, and opportunities to mourn. Some people won’t make it through the year; others will wonder how they did. You may end the year with fewer friends than you have now, or with more, or in a quantum state of unfixed relational understanding. Whatever occurs, it’ll be different; that’s the only guarantee. We celebrate the New Year because it means promise and because we’re glad to have some kind of demarcation. “We did it. We made it.” So congratulations to you, all of you who made it. You did it.

My 2018 could be best: the year I got married, the year I got back into acting, the year I started a new career. Maybe it was your worst. Years are human concepts applied to implacable inhumanity—coordinates strewn across an endless ocean—so don’t stress too much about it. Years come and go. Your life is moments, not years; and you’ll remember the way you felt in moments before you remember timelines and schedules. For now, it’s enough to know that it’s a new opportunity for goals and resolutions.

In 2019, I intend to delve more deeply—and Delve more deeply—into Modern. I intend to draft more, to write more, and to create more. I try to learn one new thing every day, read one new thing, and create one new thing. That’s brought a fair amount of structure and joy to my life. Your year is made up of individual days; the things we do day to day are the things that define us; and for many of us, Magic is a huge part of our day and of our life.

So at the close of the year, during your personal stocktaking, it makes sense to include a review of Magic’s year and how it affected you. So these were the Magic moments that defined 2018 for me, and what I’ll remember when I revisit these cards in years to come.

Best New Mechanic


Sagas are brilliant designs that mirrors both Suspend and Planeswalkers without being overly complicated. These cards drew from Richard Garfield’s conception of stories as cards. Personally, the flavor doesn’t come through perfectly, but they’re a stellar design. They present inevitability without losing interactability; they create new mini games within the game; and—unlike the bulk of Time Spiral block—they reward story-experienced players without alienating newer players.

My personal favorite was The Eldest Reborn, because I’m a complete mark for cards that offer incremental value. But every Saga at least suggests a deck or a situation where you’d be thrilled to draw it, and that’s one of the hallmarks of successful design.


Surveil is a superb mechanic that hits all of my targets—feeds graveyard strategies, reduces variability in games, reads and plays simply—and I have no doubt that we’ll see it again very soon. (I felt much the same about Proliferate, but it has yet to resurface in Standard.) That said, it’s basically a modified Scry, so I can’t recognize it when we have something as innovative and balanced as Sagas.

Here’s something I’ve always found helpful in criticism: separate the concepts of “favorite” and “best.” Just because something appeals to you—or is completely unappealing—that doesn’t mean it reflects quality. I may detest Marvel movies and Mythic Edition: Ravnica; but they employ Taika Waititi and subsidize Battleborn, so I toss them into the “not the target audience” bucket and move on with my day. That doesn’t mean you can’t recognize quality at all, though—they’re just two different metrics.

Favorite New Cards

Karn, Scion of Urza—I’ve put this minigame Phyrexian Arena machine in every draft of every deck I’ve built this year, and cut it from 80% of them. I love him, and what he represents, and can’t wait to spend years trying to get him to operate at peak efficiency. Forcing your opponent to make a choice with imperfect information that results in card advantage is essentially my favorite—and possibly the best—thing to do in this game. Also, there’s this:

Assassin’s Trophy—I have a sketch of something to do with Assassin’s Trophy that’s cruel and odd and potentially viable. Expect a report in the coming weeks as I continue to develop the strategy. Even without that, this is a powerful, flexible, and subtly dangerous card. I love that Wizards is still finding design space in the Green/Black destroy-a-permanent subset.

Deadeye Brawler—In Limited, this was the perfect multitool that killed Dinosaurs, blocked random Vampires, and drew cards from turn six on. Any hand with three lands and a Brawler was a snap-keep for me, even the ones that probably should have been a more considered decision. Losing to your own blinkered hubris is, and hopefully will always be, a part of this game.

Disinformation Campaign—Continuing the theme of Dimir Limited all stars, this is a deeply hilarious card to me. Not only does it set up an absurd value engine for the Surveil deck, it’s especially great for me: I have a Cube of windmill-slam picks (Sprout Swarm, Umezawa’s Jitte, etc.), and this belongs in there, but can’t, as there’s no Surveil synergy. Hilarious.

Stunning Reversal—I don’t mind dying in a game of EDH, assuming I’m somewhere with easy access to WiFi and books; but I really appreciate the ability to force someone who thought they’d squash to expend one more card to seal the deal. This card is hilarious every time I’ve cast it. Dying to your own Dark Confidant is extra hilarious.

Best New Cards

Here are my top four best new cards from 2018:

  1. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
  2. Arclight Phoenix
  3. Rekindling Phoenix
  4. Jadelight Ranger

This was the Year of the Phoenix, with Wizards finally cracking the code to red’s secondary iconic creature type. I love that Rekindling Phoenix isn’t a simple return-from-the-graveyard threshold, and I love that Arclight Phoenix is.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is mildly problematic in terms of power, but “metagame defining” isn’t “game breaking,” and he can be interacted with to the extent that he’s a fair unfair card. Speaking of which, Jadelight Ranger is a flexible card that—like all flexible cards—is subtly powerful in ways that aren’t apparent until you play it. It streamlines the Golgari decks, and—with Simic playing around with +1/+1 counters—I don’t see it becoming a less important part of the metagame going forward.

Favorite Decks

Ali Aintrazi’s Five-Color Lich’s Mastery—My Lich’s Mastery deck didn’t end up working out (although it’s a blast for taking to FNMs), but Aintrazi built a more functional shell around it. He treats the card as a recurring source of card advantage, rather than a Necropotence. The result was a thing of beauty.

Yuuya Watanabe’s Izzet Drakes—Watanabe’s latest Pro Tour Top 8 finish came with this high-velocity and responsive deck. It’s just the ultimate Izzet archetype—spellslinging, card-drawing, Drake-casting elegance. How can you cast aspersions on a deck that runs Murmuring Mystic in the board?

Matt Nass’s Golgari Midrange—Nass, the architect of Tin Fins and so dear to my heart, finished just outside of the top 8 with a Golgari midrange list that’s the epitome of what I want out of this game. Interactive, powerful, and able to recur Ravenous Chupacabra—what’s not to love?

Anything with Goblin Chainwhirler—You have to respect the RRR behemoth. Shout out to everyone who ran this gnarly boi and catalyzed a whole bunch of absoluty berserk “here’s why Chainwhirler needs to be banned” discourse in the early summer. You’re all fabulous.

Favorite Reprints

Fulminator Mage—Cheap, effective, and down to $8.

Narcomoeba—Love this card outside the context of Dredge. Surveil wasn’t enough to make this playable, and that’s why I love it as a reprint. Broken cards becoming fair in the context of different environments is one of the more interesting aspects of this game—see also Goblin Warchief.

Breach/Vengeance—At the start of the year, playsets of Goryo’s Vengeance and Through the Breach clocked in at $400 total. Now, you can pick them up for a fraction of that price and play one of the most fun glass cannon decks possible. This is how the reprint process should operate.

Phyrexian Altar & Phyrexian Tower—Sacrificing Gravecrawler for BB is great. Sacrificing for B, replaying it, and then looping as long as you care to is even better.

Least Favorite Reprint

Verdant Force—In theory, it’s a cute gag to demonstrate how far we’ve come since 1997, when this was a tournament staple and a power benchmark. The thing is, we learned that already, back when it was reprinted in Ninth and Tenth Editions. To everyone who wasn’t playing back in the day, or isn’t familiar with the legend, Verdant Force was immediately ignorable. To everyone who was playing, it was a reminder of how the game has changed. Plus, the flavor text is execrable. Referencing the past is fine, sure, but forcing the past to be referenced is tawdry. Verdant Force in Dominaria is like revisiting your high school at the age of twenty.

Best Reprints

The shocklands—Not a surprise. Steam Vents and friends are superbly balanced cards that should be available to every player, regardless of budget or skill level.

Chromatic Lantern—The three-mana mana rock with mild upside is a tough niche to fill, and this fills it best of all. It’s not a Standard a big player at the moment, but a potential role player in decks like Five-Color Lich’s Mastery I mentioned above. A welcome reprint overall.

Rishadan Port—Legacy roleplayer plummets from $75 to $12. Now everyone has the opportunity to experience frustrating, grinding games like it’s 2000 again!

Back to Basics—This was getting pricey, but now is back to a reasonable price with interesting new art.

Crucible of Worlds—An absolute casual staple, tournament roleplayer, and stickershock catalyzer, until this summer. Great choice, great card. Plus, you could theoretically live the dream with Scapeshift in Limited, although I didn’t hear of that happening.

Top Finance Picks

Helm of the Host—The Chromatic Lantern of Dominaria. Will hit $10 by 2022.

Mission Briefing—No, it’s not Snapcaster 2.0, but using these to fill out your TCG Player minimum will double your return eventually.

Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow—This will hit $6 pretty soon, and will hit $15 the second a new Ninja-adjacent block is announced.

Sarkhan, Fireblood—Wait for him to settle a bit more, then move in. He may be a hyperspecific three mana planeswalker, but he’s still a three mana planeswalker. Also, you can call him ‘Sblood. “Do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?” It’s not Ibsen, but Sarkhan seems pretty good.

Every single $3-5 card from Ultimate Masters—Gamble, Creeping Tar Pit, Daybreak Coronet, Eldrazi Conscription, etc. If you have a spare $100, buy 25 copies of your chosen speculative pick, and stick them in a box until 2020.

It’s an Ending

The year 2018 is now wrapped up—poorly, in newspaper, with dangling ribbons and peeling Scotch tape—but wrapped up nonetheless. Mark Rosewater has mentioned he’s more excited for 2019 than any other year in Magic’s history. Personally, I’m not interested in rankings, but in games and cards; we shall see how next year plays out by either metric. As for Magic in 2018, it was a fabulous year: full of exciting new cards and potential decks and creative choices for reprints. I may resist hype, as a matter of character. But I can’t resist success, and 2018 was a huge success. Here’s to another year like it.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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