Top 50 Best Magic: The Gathering Cards of All Time
The Best Magic Cards
Wizards of the Coast has delighted us gamers (that's a nice way of saying nerds) for years with arguably the best trading card game ever: Magic The Gathering. Always adapting without leaving old cards behind, the game brilliantly tasks players to craft the perfect deck using a customized combination of the five mana colors, and from standard to commander, several formats exist to ensure there's something for everyone.
Magic is also much easier to play in multiplayer than Yu-Gi-Oh or Pokemon and has several thousand cards for players to choose. With that massive array of options, which cards reign supreme? Factoring in mana costs, usage, power, and more (don't worry, plenty of unrestricted cards stand beside the banned ones), here are the top 50 cards in the Magic TCG!
50. Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 7
Planeswalker Nicol Bolas requires a fair chunk of mana plus three specific colors but offers four loyalty abilities. All impress, particularly the first, which adds two loyalty and can cast an opposing card for free, and the last, which subtracts 12 loyalty to exile all opposing nonland permanents.
49. Nissa, Vastwood Seer/Nissa, Sage Animist
Here, Nissa first begins as a low-cost creature who also conveniently searches for a Forest, ensuring you don't run out of lands, and her elf status usefully combos well the popular green elf family. Then, once your land total hits seven (one of green's specialties), she turns into an impressive planeswalker whose +1 loyalty ability either adds to your hand or gives an extra land.
48. Thassa, God of the Sea
The god cards always impress, especially blue's Thassa. Although it doesn't count as a creature until your blue devotion hits 5 (the number of blue symbols you have in the costs of permanents you control), Thassa wields an impressive 5 power and 5 toughness, is indestructible, scries at the upkeep of each of your turns, and can spend two mana to make a creature unblockable for the turn.
47. Maze of Ith
Unlike most lands, Maze of Ith can't tap for mana, but instead taps to essentially lessen the damage of an attacker to zero, indefinitely stalling your opponent's strongest monsters and offering more time to prepare in the hectic MTG arena.
46. Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
Skithiryx wields good battle stats, flying, and mana abilities that can give it haste or regenerate if destroyed, but its best trait is its infect, which permanently damages opposing creatures by placing -1/-1 counters instead of damage. Also, infect damage dealt to an opponent becomes poison counters, and landing ten of them nets you an automatic win regardless of your opponent's life; no other infect card offers as many benefits as the Blight Dragon.
45. Primordial Hydra
One of several superb green hydras, Primordial adjusts its power/toughness to suit your current mana production. It also automatically doubles its counters (and strength) at each of your turns and gains trample once it has ten counters, making it one of the best and most adaptive offensive forces in the game.
44. Purphoros, God of the Forge
Like other gods, Purphoros is indestructible and enjoys stellar battle stats, although it isn't a creature until your red devotion hits 5. Purphoros also deals two damage to your opponents whenever a creature enters the field under your control, absolutely critical to the Krenko red goblin-swarm strategy, and since the damage doesn't target them, it's almost impossible to avoid.
43. Ral Zarek
Ral Zarek's +1 loyalty ability taps an opponent's units while untapping one of yours, a great boon in itself. However, if you manage to pull of his ultimate -7, you're nearly certain of victory—you flip five coins and take an extra turn for each heads. One extra turn is deadly enough, 2-3 are unsalvageable.
42. Frontier Siege
Frontier Siege usefully gives the choice between two abilities, and most players will opt for the "khans" trait. With it, this mana gatherer gains you two green mana at the start of each of your main phases. Note that players have two main phases in a single turn (pre and post combat), meaning Siege can grant up to four total mana every turn!
41. Kiora, Master of the Depths
Although new players often focus on a planeswalker's ultimate, the bread and butter of planeswalkers are their loyalty-adding abilities since you always have access to them. Kiora, Master of the Depths provides a great plus one that can untap both a creature and a land you control, letting you easily mana ramp to your strongest cards, and her minus two can search for a land and creature from the top of your deck.
40. Return to Dust
Return to Dust classifies as an instant but usually you'll want to cast it like a sorcery (meaning only on your turn in a main phase) because you'll get to exile two artifacts/enchantments rather than one. Not only does this remove two units, it banishes them, bypassing indestructible equipment like the pesky Darksteel series and preventing discard pile retrieval.
39. Sheoldred, Whispering One
When a black deck can successfully produce seven mana, it's rewarded with the praetor Sheoldred, who harnesses 6/6 stats and swampwalk, making her unblockable when an opponent controls a swamp. Then consider her truly brutal effect: at the beginning of your upkeep, you return a creature from your graveyard to the field; at the beginning of your opponent's, they must sacrifice a creature.
38. Narset Transcendent
Entering with a massive six loyalty, blue and white Narset Transcendent works best in instant/sorcery builds. She can subtract two loyalty to grant your next instant/sorcery rebound, essentially activating it twice, and her ultimate -9 prevents your opponents from casting anything other than creatures.
37. Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury
While not as prevalent in the lore as Nissa, Freyalise more than impresses with her superb planeswalker abilities. Her +2 creates a mana-tapping elf token, her -2 offers green some much-need artifact/enchantment removal, and her ultimate -6 draws a card for each green creature you control. An amazing card, but be aware she only enters with three loyalty, so keep Llanowar's Fury well-guarded.
CMC: 1 (1 to equip)
Costing very little to both cast and equip to a creature, Skullclamp gives one extra power but subtracts a toughness. However, this subtraction can actually be a good thing, as when the equipped creature dies, you get to draw two cards. Thus, Skullclamp can be fitted onto your units with toughness 1 to purposefully kill them and provide unparalleled draw power. Like most artifact-equipments, it's also colorless, qualifying for any deck scheme.
35. Temporal Mastery
When you need a miracle, Temporal Mastery has you covered. If you draw it, you can immediately reveal and play it to gain an entire extra turn—for only two mana! If for some reason you wait, or can't afford the cost, it'll instead demand seven resources.
34. Utvara Hellkite
A costly but powerful beast, Utvara combos with itself by creating a 6/6 dragon token whenever one of your dragons attacks—including tokens!
A must for any red deck capable of affording its mana, Utvara can soon create an infinite swarm of dragons, especially if you give them haste through other red methods to let them attack immediately. I also enjoy that it's not legendary, letting you field more than one at once, and the fact that you can often nab one for under four dollars on Amazon!
33. Tamiyo, Field Researcher
Drawing from the white, green, and blue teams, Tamiyo's first two abilities are nice, as she can +1 to let you draw when either of up to two selected creatures deals combat damage, and her -2 taps two permanents and forces them to stay tapped even at your opponent's next untap phase. However, her incredible -7 not only draws three cards but gives you an emblem that lets you permanently cast cards from your hand without paying their mana costs!
32. Baral's Expertise
For five mana, Baral's Expertise returns up to three target creatures and/or artifacts to their owner's hand. Not only does this remove three threats, it works on two types of cards. But that's not all, folks—you can then cast a card with cmc four or less from your hand for free, making Baral's Expertise essentially a free bonus to your other spell.
Karakas is banned from commander matches for good reason. Not only can it tap for a white mana just like a normal Plains land, it can also tap to return a legendary creature to its owner's hand, a free removal that would decimate EDH generals (who are required to be legendary) if ever unrestricted.
30. Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger
The praetors strike again. Vorinclex costs eight mana, but note that green employs several cards that can gimmick creatures into the battle for free (like Norwood Priestess). Once fielded, Vorinclex wields 7/6, trample, and two great abilities. The first essentially lets you tap lands for two mana rather than one, and the second delays opponent's lands that are tapped from untapping by one turn. This puts you at a massive mana advantage that few foes can overcome.
29. Avacyn, Angel of Hope
White employs several powerful high-cost angel creatures, the strongest of the strong being Avacyn, Angel of Hope. She demands eight mana but arrives as an 8/8 with flying and vigilance (she can attack without tapping) plus one of the best abilities in the game: all permanents you control have indestructible. This protects Avacyn herself, your other troops, planeswalkers, artifacts, and enchantments from being destroyed. If your opponent doesn't have a handy exile or return-to-hand card available, they'll soon lose to an invincible army.
28. Karn Liberated
Karn's rare colorlessness means any deck has access to his awesome planeswalker powers. Though he costs seven mana, Karn can add four loyalty in a single turn, forcing a player to exile a card from their hand. He can also subtract three to exile a card on the field. These abilities work well on their own, but combo superbly with his ultimate -14, which restarts the entire duel but with the cards previously exiled by Karn under your control. Ah, always love doing that in my online matches.
When it's not forbidden, this one's a no-brainer for any blue deck. Using a single mana pop, you get to draw three cards, then place any two from your hand on top of the deck. This increases your overall hand size while allowing you to cycle out less-needed cards, and it also works great for setting up cards with the miracle ability.
26. Omnath, Locus of Mana
Don't let Omnath's initial 1/1 fool you. For each green mana in your pool, he gets +1/+1 and can quickly become one of the strongest creatures in the game thanks to his second trait: your green mana doesn't fade as phases and turns end. Yep, you can stockpile your old mana to save up for big game-changers, strengthening Omnath along the way!
A powerful card with a unique ability, Omnath also works great as commander in EDH format and isn't as expensive as you may think.
25. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Legendary land Nythkos, Shrune to Nyx can spend two mana to tap and give an amount equal to your devotion. For monocolor decks in particular, this often spends two mana to gain far more. Thankfully, it can also simply tap for a colorless mana, ensuring you're never without some crucial resource generation.
24. Lightning Bolt
One of the simplest cards, but one of the best. For only one mana, this red spell slashes either an opposing creature or opponent themselves for three damage. This trades a card that only cost you one mana to defeat an opponent's that needed far more, or finishes off your adversary when they're already on the brink of defeat without having to break through blockers.
23. Paradox Engine
One of the easiest ways to construct an infinite combo, colorless artifact Paradox Engine untaps all nonlands permanents you control when you cast any spell. With just a few units who can draw when tapped plus some mana-producing creatures, you have all you need for infinite mana and access to your entire library. Five mana's not such a bad price for unlimited power, eh?
22. Jace, the Mind Sculptor
One of blue's numerous amazing planeswalkers, Jace's Mind Sculptor rendition is one of his best. Needing the resources of only four Islands, it arrives with four loyalty abilities, including a zero cost one that acts just like a Brainstorm and a -1 that easily returns an opposing creature to the hand.
21. Phyrexian Metamorph
One of Phyrexian Metamorph's mana can instead be paid for using two life, giving access to its incredible effect with just three mana. Upon entering the field, Metamorph can become a copy of any creature or artifact—including your opponent's! Just keep the legend rule in mind here to ensure you don't have to send a copied legendary card you control to the graveyard.
20. The Immortal Sun
For six mana, The Immortal Sun bestows a plethora of awesome traits. First, it prevents any planeswalker from using their abilities—just be aware this includes yours. Then, you get to draw an extra card each turn, spells you cast cost one less mana, and all creatures you control get +1/+1. These are versatile boons that benefit any deck, not just a particular archetype or playstyle.
19. Grand Abolisher
The undisputed best safeguard against annoying blue counters and other unpredictable instants, Grand Abolisher prevents opponents from activating spells or abilities during your turn. Absolutely essential when tackling a blue deck., and his amusing flavor text is lovably campy.
18. Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
Players fear the eldrazi cards for good reason. Most are colorless, meaning one could be lurking in any build, and though they cost incredible amounts of mana, their annihilator effect forces opponents to sacrifice when they attack.
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth especially stands out for his 12/12 power and toughness, four cards drawn upon being cast, and annihilator 4—your opponent won't last long when having to sac four cards each time he swings.
17. Demonic Tutor
A card that spent a surprising amount of time unrestricted before finally moving to some formats' ban lists, Demonic Tutor simply searches your deck for any card and adds it to your hand. The ability to pull any card at all for only two mana is absolutely tremendous and long remained one of black's biggest temptations.
16. Sword of Fire and Ice
CMC: 3 (2 to equip)
The "Sword of" cards all impress, but a few stand above the rest. Fire and Ice offers +2/+2 and protection from blue and red to its attached creature. Those abilities alone could justify the expended mana, but then Fire and Ice lets you inflict two damage to target creature/player and draw a card whenever the equipped monster deals combat damage to a player. And with protection from red and blue, many creatures can't even block Fire and Ice, giving it easy access to a direct attack.
15. Primeval Titan
Sometimes banned for its fierce powers, Primeval Titan lets you pull two tapped lands from your deck whenever it enters the field or attacks. That's some amazing mana ramp, especially so since the cards don't have to be basic lands—feel free to pull Gaea's Cradle, Maze of Ith, or other unique lands. Beyond that, Titan enjoys a strong 6/6 and trample.
14. Oloro, Ageless Ascetic
Oloro, Ageless Ascetic can spend life to draw extra cards, but he's really renowned for his abilties as a commander. Not only does he give access to blue, black, and white (a potent EDH combination), he gains you two life per turn—even when resting in the command zone! This potent trait lets you easily gain enough health to activate cards like Serra Ascendant without having to fuss over other fallible life-gaining effects.
13. Akroma's Memorial
This legendary artifact simply provides each and every creature you control with flying, first strike, vigilance, trample, haste, and protection from red and black. Good luck defeating an army buffed with that many abilities.
12. Swords to Plowshares
Experienced Magic players often say "The only life that matters is your last." Thus, the tradeoff from Swords to Plowshares, which exiles any creature in exchange for the controller gaining life equal to its power, hardly matters considering the low cost and banishment, usefully preventing graveyard recovery.
11. Lightning Greaves
CMC: 2 (0 to equip)
A valued equipment with the rare ability to equip for free, Lighning Greaves can be shuffled between creatures without having to spend mana. It also provides its wearer with haste and shroud, letting them ignore summoning sickness to attack the turn they arrive and preventing them from being targeted by other effects. Swap for similar card Swiftfoot Boots to change shroud to the better hexproof ability, but you'll have to pay a mana to equip it.
10. Atraxa, Praetors' Voice
A vicious angel/praetor mashup, for only four mana Atraxa wields 4/4, flying, deathouch, vigilance, and lifelink. Additionally, at your end step you can proliferate, giving any permanents you wish another counter of a type they already have. This can further strengthen any creatures with +1/+1 counters but also adds to the loyalty counters of planeswalkers you control (called a "superfriends" tactic), making Atraxa a surprising versatile beatstick/planeswalker support package.
9. Cyclonic Rift
Cyclonic Rift's base cost of two lets you return an opposing card to hand, but overloading it instead for 6 returns all opposing cards to hand. This almost always signifies game over, can trigger on your opponent's turn thanks to the instant speed, and bypasses indestructible creatures, who can't be destroyed but can be returned to hand.
8. Sword of Feast and Famine
CMC: 3 (2 to equip)
The emerald-shadow blade of Sword of Feast and Famine offers its attached creature +2/+2 and protection from green and black. Then, when they inflict combat damage to a player, that player is forced to discard and you untap all lands you control, an awesome trick up your sleeve to keep your options available.
7. Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
The best planeswalker yet, Jace's three abilities all work wonders. The first adds loyalty while both scrying and drawing, the second returns any opposing monster to the hand, and the ultimate -8 provides an emblem that counters and negates the first spell your opponent casts each turn. Once you get that, 99% of the time it's game over.
6. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
The king of the mighty eldrazi clan, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn has become illegal in more formats as players (and Wizards of the Coast) realize its awesome powers. Sure, it costs 15 mana, but that just means a player needs a free-creature effect to field it or to stockpile mana with cards like Omnath.
First, Emrakul can't be countered, so blue can't stop it. Then, if you actually cast it (and didn't gimmick it to the field), it gives you an entire extra turn. Finally, it has protection from every color, flying, and a whopping annihilator 6, easily making Emrakul the strongest Magic creature yet.
5. Ancestral Recall
Draw power is always important; you run out of cards, you run out of lands to play, creatures to cast, removals to use, and so on. To avoid this fate, blue encompasses a lot of control cards, the strongest being Ancestral Recall. One mana, three cards. No delay, no drawback, no expensive mana cost.
Although Ancestral Recall is rightfully banned in most formats, you might be interested in the legal Ancestral Vision, which is basically the same card but makes you wait a few turns before the draws occur.
4. Mana Drain
This card illustrates why facing a blue deck is so terrifying. For only two mana, instant-speed Mana Drain first counters any spell, negating and sending to the graveyard an opposing card of any value. Then, for your next main phase, Mana Drain adds an amount of colorless mana to your pool equal to the negated card's CMC.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Not only is your opponent down a card, you're up 4+ mana, letting you cast your strongest titans way and seizing an advantage few will recover from. Whenever a player succeeds with a Mana Drain, unless it's a multiplayer match where the stragglers can band against them, the game's likely already over—for just two mana!
3. Time Walk
The defacto blue extra turn cards (Time Walk, Time Warp, etc.) offer their power for five mana. That's already a good bargain, but Time Walk cuts that price in more than half! Yep, for only two mana (one of which can be any color), you get an entire extra turn to play another land, draw another card, attack again, and possibly gain even more extra turns. For its extraordinary power, this one will likely stay banned forever.
2. Black Lotus
Perhaps the rarest and most valuable MTG card yet, Black Lotus lives up to its legendary reputation. It costs zero mana to play and can sacrifice itself to give you three mana of any color. Remember, gaining large amounts of mana early on lets you play cards that seize the advantage before any opponent could be reasonably prepared. Plus, Black Lotus can be used with any color deck and won't cost you any resources; luckily, this one's been banned for a long time.
1. Sol Ring
Sol Ring represents a card arguably superior to Black Lotus when it comes to quick mana production—especially since it's still legal in some formats. For a single mana of any color, this stupendous artifact taps for two colorless, giving you an extra mana the turn it arrives and two extra every turn after that. Many EDH battles are determined by who draws Sol Ring first (use those mulligans wisely).
Which MTG color do you prefer?
Future of Magic
Sure, mana ramp should be a viable strategy, but typically players have to work for it by keeping their ramp creatures alive and waiting for summoning sickness to fade. Ramp artifacts like Sol Ring, Black Lotus, and the Mox jewels offer the strategy to any color for almost no mana, and I'm relieved most are illegal in several formats.
But maybe ten years from now, we'll have a whole new batch of overpowered cards in the database to complain about as we yet again celebrate Magic's best trading cards. Love 'em or hate 'em, these are the cream of the crop and the staples you'll see in almost any match. While we eagerly await Magic's next booster set, vote for your favorite color in Magic and I'll see you at our next trading card countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill