Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
What Are Opening Hand Cards in Magic?
If someone takes an early lead in Magic, it can be hard to catch up, especially in 1v1 where stragglers can't team up. To further this advantage, a rare set of cards offer special effects when contained in your starting hand, granting unique advantages that'll give a fierce head start.
These cards are found across all colors with many (but not all) belonging to the Leyline or Chancellor series. So, with dozens of potent initial hand abilities, which spells reign supreme? These are the best opening hand cards in Magic: The Gathering!
10. Chancellor of the Annex
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 7
The downside to the Chancellor cards are their huge mana costs of seven, meaning it'll be awhile before you can afford them. Still, Annex offers a sturdy 5/6 (five power and six toughness) fighter who belongs to the powerful angel group, and her flying trait lets her soar over ground-based blockers.
Plus, she counters opposing spells unless your rivals pay an extra colorless mana, skillfully hindering their mana capacities. In addition, you can reveal Annex in your opening hand to apply a similar effect to your opponent's first spell, countering it unless they pay an extra mana. Note this helpfully applies whether or not their first spell come on their initial or later turns, meaning they can't avoid the price by simply neglecting a first round play.
9. Chancellor of the Tangle
Seven mana is more affordable to the green faction, as it possesses several mana ramp and creature supports to help field your bigger titans. Chancellor of the Tangle arrives as an intimidating 6/7 with the handy vigilance and reach traits; vigilance lets him swing without tapping (an uncommon ability among greens) while reach lets him block flyers, an excellent boon for the generally grounded forest-dwellers.
Plus, Tangle himself assists with mana ramp; when revealed in your opening hand, you begin your first main phase with an extra green mana. Used in tangent with your normal land-per-turn, this affords CMC two spells even on your first move, landing a sweet speed advantage that foes may never catch up to.
8. Leyline of Lifeforce
Leylines aren't as powerful as Chancellors, but they only cost four mana, and if contained in your opening hand, you can begin the game with them in play! In this case, green's Lifeforce prevents creature spells from being countered, an excellent check again blue's numerous counterspell tricks.
Note that this impact all troops, so don't use Lifeforce in multicolor decks where you yourself plan to negate your opponent's soldiers.
7. Chancellor of the Dross
Dross is another seven-cost creature, but he bears a solid 6/6 stats, flying, and lifelink, recovering your a corresponding amount of health whenever he deals damage to an opponent or their creature.
Plus, if you reveal him in your opening hand, at the first upkeep, each opponent loses three life, then you gain an amount equal to the total lost. This is big even in 1v1, but in multiplayer matches, you can amass a huge reservoir of extra health while edging foes closer to defeat. As icing on the cake, Dross belongs to the abundant vampire clan, granting synergy with black's blood-sucking immortals.
6. Leyline of Sanctity
Like its brethren, Sanctity costs four mana, but you can place it onto the field for free when contained in your opening hand! This white enchantment belongs to the rare set of cards that grant you (rather than your creatures, as is usual) the hexproof trait, preventing your opponents from targeting you with spells or effects.
Remember, hexproof is a superior form of shroud, as it disables your opponents (but not yourself) from targeting you. A rare and appreciated trait that adeptly defends against curses, forced discards, and many other ailments.
5. Leyline of Vitality
Green's forests access this potent boon, and like its kin, it costs four mana but can be fielded for free from your opening hand. Vitality provides two small but appreciated boosts, the first granting your units an extra +0/+1, giving an extra toughness and letting them endure more punishment. The next lets you gain a life whenever a creature enters the field under your control.
Both are handy boosts, and note how the lifegain applies even if you didn't cast the card (letting it trigger on token swarming and the like). Plus, since the effect states "may", you don't have to gain life in the rare cases where you wouldn't want to.
4. Leyline of Singularity
Blue's islands fuel this interesting spell, although you'll ideally field it for free from your opening hand. Singularity renders all non-land permanents legendary. This impacts several effects, most noticeably allowing all players to control only one of each non-land permanent thanks to the legend rule.
Use this in standard format to punish your opponent for fielding multiple copies of the same cards and prevent them from further swarming; diversify your own deck to avoid the net yourself. Just keep this one away from EDH format—its limit of one card per deck (other than basic lands) makes Singularity's effect largely redundant.
3. Leyline of Punishment
With the same starting hand fielding as its fellow Leyline members, red's Punishment provides two brutal effects that check defensive strategies. First, players can't gain life, an excellent barricade against common lifegain tactics. Furthermore, damage can't be prevented, circumventing several protective barriers.
Leylines typically inflict you with the same net as your opponent, but since red very rarely dips into lifegain or damage prevention, you'll hardly notice the field-wide trap. I use Punishment in a variety of red decks and formats, and I especially appreciate how it avoids the enormous price tag of most Leylines (who can cost dozens of dollars); you can often attain it for less than two bucks!
2. Leyline of Anticipation
You know the Leyline drill: four mana if cast normally, zero if played from your initial pool. Anticipation offers you (and only you) an excellent boon, granting your nonland cards the flash trait, letting you cast them at instant speed on any phase or turn.
This is simply a huge benefit with numerous applications, from fielding last-minute blockers to prolonging field-wipes until you can make the most use of them. Anticipation rightfully makes opponents skittish on their turn, as they'll know you can essentially cast anything at any time.
1. Leyline of the Void
Using four black swamps or some of luck of the draw accesses Leyline of the Void, which simply exiles any cards that would go into your opponent's graveyard. Exiled units are much, much harder to retrieve than cards in the graveyard; banishing your foe's spells prevents flashback/unearth effects and a variety of revivals.
Exiling is especially brutal against zombie cards, but nearly every theme in the game relies on the graveyard to some extent, making anything that diminishes it a a useful tool. Use Void alongside black's "Bojuka Bog" land to eliminate opposing spells before they can be recovered.
How to Support Opening Hand Spells in Magic
Today happened to feature all Leylines and Chancellors, but a few cards outside their groups also revolve around opening hands, like "Gemstone Caverns" and "Providence". While luck plays a large role with these cards, you can bend fate to your advantage by utilizing them in smaller-deck formats, maximizing your chances of drawing them in your opening hand. Additionally, mulligans can help search them out, as your opening hand isn't determined until all players have completed their mulligans.
Even if luck's not on your side, these spells can still assist you with their regular mana costs, making them engaging and competitive ways to test your luck. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of starting hand effects, vote for your favorite card and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill