Top 10 Magic: The Gathering Cards That Should NEVER Have Been Printed!
In the incredibly long lifespan of such a complex and popular game as Magic: the Gathering, it is not humanly possible for its developers to make every new card perfect. With new mechanics and exciting sets come many complicated decisions, and each passing year only makes it more difficult, because there are more potentially problematic combos in the available card pool, particularly with eternal formats. Even in Standard, sometimes it’s just not possible to realise the full extent of a card’s power until it’s actually in print, due to the nature of how testing works and how quickly and diligently the competitive and professional Magic scene catches onto the best cards in a format and how to use them.
There have been some mechanics that famously, have been incredibly problematic. Mark Rosewater has created the “Storm Scale” to quantify these – to admit that actually, some of the things they made went a bit wrong somewhere along the line, and they’d probably never print them again. Among the famous 10s on the Storm Scale are Storm itself (obviously), Infect (when was that ever a good idea?), Affinity for Artifacts (RIP Standard of 2005) and Dredge (we forgot we’d made Narcomoeba, oops). Many of the cards that fit into these archetypes are oft-quoted as being broken, but in fact, it’s not little Glistener Elf‘s fault that it was born a Phyrexian. The blame lies purely in the mechanics themselves. Nobody could ever say Golgari Grave-Troll is even remotely playable without the Dredge 6 attached to it, and thus, although there are many cards (artifact lands, I’m looking at you) that really could have done with some extra testing, they are not inherently broken and therefore will not feature on this list. MaRo’s Storm Scale does a good enough job of listing these types of cards and reasons why they’ll not see a reprint without me rehashing it.
In this article I will talk about the top ten cards that, in hindsight, were probably a bad idea, and why that was the case, excluding the mechanics mentioned above. Most of the list is sourced from a public poll that I created when researching for this article, and a couple of inclusions on my part at the end. We will be taking a tour through what are, in the opinion of those consulted and myself, the most broken cards in the history of the game.
So, without further ado:
Top 10 Magic Cards That Should Never Have Been Printed, Ever!
This card is considered by some to be the best white card ever printed. For two mana, it represents tutoring, card advantage, uncounterability, instant-speed interaction and a 1/2 body on top. This card is simply insane in terms of its potential, and with the right deck it can be a game-winning play. On turn two. Sometimes with a Mother of Runes to protect it. It’s what you’d call “pretty strong”.
Stoneforge Mystic came about during the Standard of original Zendikar. At first, it was overlooked, and even printed in one of the preconstructed theme decks, as there was simply no good Equipment available to pair with it in the format. With the printing of New Phyrexia, though, and crucially Batterskull, a whole new deck archetype exploded into life which took over Standard completely. Stoneforge Mystic, Batterskull, Squadron Hawk and Jace, the Mind Sculptor combined to form a deck called Cawblade. After GP Dallas in 2011, where half of the top 8 ran four-of Stoneforge and all of them ran four-of Jace, Wizards implemented a Standard ban for the first time since the swathe of Affinity bannings in March 2005. It has never happened since.
Interestingly, the Stoneforge Mystic ban came with a caveat – since it had been printed in the theme deck, they allowed that exact list to be played, in order to allow new players coming to Friday Night Magic for the first time to be able to buy it and play it out of the box. Any modifications to the list whatsoever, though, required the removal of Stoneforge.
Since its rotation, Stoneforge has been a Legacy staple, being a must-kill threat in many decks such as Death & Taxes, Nic Fit, Maverick, and Esper Stoneblade and Deathblade. It was immediately banned in Extended and Modern, not even getting a chance to see play, and some argue that is not necessary and call for an unban. In Standard, people argue, it wasn’t a problem until Batterskull came along. So why not just ban Batterskull in Modern, and Stoneforge would be fine?
The problem is not with Stoneforge Mystic itself, but the potential the card represents. Just like Birthing Pod, it will hinder Wizards’ development of future cards if they want to keep the eternal formats balanced. If they want to print some really good Equipment into Standard, which could be quite likely given the artifact-based plane we are currently residing on, they don’t want the headache that came from the Modern players after Siege Rhino or Oath of the Gatewatch were printed and the format was messed up. It is simply easier for Wizards, from a developmental standpoint, to leave it banned and not have to worry. Personally, I think it is unlikely that we will see a Stoneforge Mystic unban in the near future.
It is also unlikely that we will ever see a card that does Equipment better.
“I really like this new Ravnica set, I think we’re almost there. I just…. Golgari seems a little underpowered. Is there anything we could put in to fix it? People should want to play black/green more, I just need a card that really says “play me”……”
“I’ve got it! It’ll be a one-drop, but you’ll be able to pay black OR green for it, so it can go in either colour deck. It’s a 1/2, because we don’t want it dying easily. It’ll be like a normal mana dork for green, except the black element makes it use the graveyard – so how about you tap it and exile a land from the graveyard to make a mana of any colour? Birds of Paradise, but conditional?”
“That’s good, but it sounds like it might be outscaled quite easily. And it’s not often that lands ever end up in the graveyard. It might not be quite good enough.”
“OK. How about we give it another ability – exiling creature cards from the graveyard to gain 2 life? Everyone knows life gain is a bit rubbish, but that makes it useful late game when creatures have died. It also makes it handy against burn strategies – and as a bonus, it can hose reanimator decks that want to get their creatures back!”
“I like it so far. I think it’s too green now, though. We should balance it out – if there’s a green ability, there should be a black ability too.”
“Hm….how about, along the same lines, for one black and tap, it can exile an instant or sorcery from the graveyard and make each opponent lose 2 life? Then it’s super revelant, and could be a win condition all on its own? And it makes it more interactive too, so people running Snapcaster Mage can’t flash their spells back.”
“I love it!”
“Don’t you think it might be a bit too good now? A mana dork, win condition and graveyard hoser in one card, that’s one mana, can be run in two different coloured decks and blocks 1/1s for free?”
“Nope. It’s perfect. Send it to the printers.”
Delve was originally printed in Future Sight as one of their future shifted mechanics. It was on a card called Tombstalker, a relatively innocuous creature that saw the odd bit of play but only in some, very niche strategies. This seems fine, thought the bods at R&D. Nobody’s found a way to make this mechanic too good. Let’s bring it back, and print some more cards, because it’s a really cool and interesting way of using your graveyard, and we can print some great spells for high mana costs that might actually see some constructed play outside of Commander. It all seemed like such a good idea at the time.
Unfortunately, as it turns out, it wasn’t. Testing a mechanic on one card, in one colour, that happens to be a creature wasn’t nearly enough to determine how it would play out, and there was a sudden shock to the system that came from the new Delve cards hitting the wider playerbase. Almost every single one is playable in some form – even commons like Gurmag Angler hitting Modern. As it turns out, filling up your graveyard is pretty easy, and 1 mana 5/5s are good everywhere.
The mechanic itself wasn’t the inherent problem, though. Some of the Khans and Fate Reforged Delve cards are good, and very playable, but not great – see Tasigur, the Golden Fang. In Standard, a lot of them saw play, but not to the extent of forming Delve archetypes – they were just good cards that slotted into existing decks. Even in Modern, this was the case, with the new cards providing a good mana sink (graveyard sink?) for the existing Delver of Secrets archetypes.
The problem arises when you attempt to put the mechanic on blue cards, and blue cards that are more powerful than they have any right to be. Dig Through Time went in every single Standard deck that ran control, and in eternal formats, powered out insane combo finishes super quickly and single-handedly made Omni-Tell the best deck in Legacy for the duration of its life there. The ability of blue combo decks to fill up their graveyard with cheap cantrips and fetch lands is unrivalled, and allowing them to look at SEVEN CARDS and pick ANY TWO of them… well, there are no words.
Thankfully, very soon afterwards, Wizards realised exactly what they’d printed and quickly banned Dig Through Time in both Modern and Legacy, and later restricted it in Vintage. It was frequently cast on turn 3 or 4 for just UU – sooner if the combo deck had a good start – and the ability to do it at instant speed after your opponent has tapped out is just bonkers. It was a very good card in Standard, but it was absolutely mental in eternal, and most people agree that this card was simply too powerful – not for its true mana cost, but for the two mana people usually ended up paying for it.
Tolarian Academy was part of a cycle of rare lands printed in Urza block that also included Gaea’s Cradle and Serra’s Sanctum. This set marked the beginning of one of the darkest periods in Magic’s history, nicnkamed “Combo Winter” by the Standard players of the time. From autumn 1998 through to March 1999, Standard had seen an influx of incredibly broken cards from Urza block, and it became a bloodbath. Players left the game in droves because you either played an uninteractive combo deck, or you didn’t play at all. It was a serious concern for Wizards of the Coast, who were concerned about the game even surviving this period of turmoil.
Tolarian Academy was one of the main culprits that enabled this combo-centric culture. Paired with cards like Mox Diamond and Lotus Petal as well as Windfall, it allowed you to not only get tons of fast mana for free, but also draw you a fresh 7 and force your opponent to discard their opening hand and draw again as early as turn 1 or 2. So you ended up with all your mana in play and a new set of 7 cards, and the opponent effectively has to keep a 7 without the chance to mulligan (and discard some of the good cards in their opening hand along the way). All made possible by this card, which generated just bonkers amounts of mana.
In December of 1998, both Tolarian Academy and Windfall were banned out of Standard in an attempt to fix the mess, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. Over the next few months things spiralled completely out of control as Wizards realised just what it meant to print some of the cards they’d not tested properly. More and more players left the game, until in March 1999 they put a sudden and firm stop to Combo Winter by banning out six cards from the set, as well as emergency-banning Memory Jar before it was even printed, as they didn’t want a new “draw 7” card to mess up the carefully constructed peace.
Of course, after what happened last time, nothing like the power of Tolarian Academy will ever see print again. It is banned in Legacy and Commander for good reason, and restricted in Vintage – and even as a one-of, it can do some incredibly powerful things when combined with the Moxen in Gush Storm. Its brothers and sisters of the cycle are hit and miss – Gaea’s Cradle is a Legacy powerhouse, and Sanctum and Phyrexian Tower see limited play, but Shivan Gorge is decidedly… lacklustre. The imbalance of that cycle goes to show how far R&D has come since then, and how hard they work now to make sure that each new cycle is as balanced as can possibly be.
Sensei’s Divining Top is one of the most complained-about cards of all time. Originally printed at uncommon in Champions of Kamigawa, an otherwise very innocuous set with little of interest, Top is an absolute powerhouse of a card.
It costs only one mana, and can be run in any deck; it lets you filter through your bad draws in the same sort of way as Scroll Rack, but also allows you to draw a card at instant speed if necessary, making the top three cards of your deck in essence an extension of your hand. The card is much worse without the existence of fetch lands or other ways of shuffling away the cards you don’t need, but theoretically you can always manipulate your draw step into being the best one of three options even without shuffle effects. In addition, thanks to its second ability, Top is notoriously hard to kill – cards like Abrupt Decay and Nature’s Claim don’t work unless it has already been activated, as they can simply put it on top of their library in response. Thank the Lord for Krosan Grip.
It has long been questioned why this card was printed at Uncommon when it is easily one of, if not the best card in the entire set. It seems that Wizards has somewhat of a history of this, with Aether Vial also being printed at Uncommon originally. It has been fixed to Rare in the latest reprint, in Eternal Masters. Nowadays, in a Standard-legal set (if such a card was even printed) it would certainly be at Mythic.
The main complaint about Sensei’s Divining Top, though, is not because of the power level of the card or even the combo with Counterbalance in which your opponent never resolves anything again. It’s the amount of time it takes to use the card. You can activate it any number of times in a turn to look at the top three, only held back by the amount of mana you have, and with the complex decisions involved in a game of Magic, sometimes the top three cards offer you a difficult choice. That choice may change depending on what your opponent does, and then you Top again to rearrange them. In Miracles especially, the Legacy deck in which this card sees the most play, it involves exceedingly complex decision trees and can lead to painstakingly long matches. The main reason Top is banned in Modern is due to the time it takes to play the card, and the amount of matches that would no doubt end up going to time and to draws due solely to Top activations.
Thankfully, it does not seem likely to be unbanned anytime soon. I actually love this card and use it in my own Commander deck (that format takes ages anyway so it doesn’t matter) but there’s no question that it is extremely powerful and difficult to play with properly. With the addition of Monastery Mentor to the Miracles decks, it also forms part of a powerful combo wherein with two Tops and a Mentor, you can essentially get a Monk token and a Prowess trigger for 1 mana, consistently, by playing Top, tapping Top, drawing the other Top and looping it. At least it’s trying to make up for the amount of time it leeches by providing a quick win condition.
Jace is a card that always comes to mind immediately when people talk about the most powerful cards ever printed. He was designed to be the “ultimate” blue planeswalker by R&D, being given four abilities for four mana, and combining all the most powerful elements of blue together in one card. He is simultaneously a must-answer threat, a source of card advantage, a source of card selection, a method of board and library control and a very difficult-to-interact-with win condition. In addition, his -1 protects himself very well from creatures (sometimes outright removing your opponents’ game-winning Marit Lage), and his starting loyalty is high enough that if you are playing around it and +2 him straightaway, he won’t die to Lightning Bolt, which is very significant.
Jace was part of the package that combined to form Cawblade when he was in Standard. Quite quickly, Wizards realised their mistake when every one of the Top 8 decks in almost every tournament was running Jace in their deck. They banned the card outright from Standard after GP Dallas 2011, alongside the caveat Stoneforge ban, in order to put a stop to Cawblade altogether, and no card has ever warranted a Standard ban since.
Since then, Jace continues to be hailed as the best planeswalker ever printed. He has never seen the light of day in Extended or Modern, probably quite rightfully so, although some are claiming that with the current speed of Modern, a Jace unban might be the way to bring control back into the format (and it certainly would – with a vengeance). He has been a mainstay in Legacy and Vintage decks since his printing; even though his mana cost is at the very top end of what you can afford to run (considering that in many games it is difficult to even reach four mana due to the presence of Wasteland, and you need five to play around Daze) the value provided by a resolved Jace is simply insane.
Brainstorm is one of the most-played cards in Legacy, not only because of card advantage, but because of its capacity to sculpt your hand by removing the worst two cards in it, and Jace constitutes a Brainstorm every turn, for free – drawing a card and providing a lot of selection, without having to use a card to do so. With the option to cut off your opponent’s good draws, control the board or simply use him to win the game if necessary. Not to mention, the most common removal spells in these formats – Abrupt Decay and Swords to Plowshares – don’t interact with him at all, and Lightning Bolt only does if your opponent isn’t playing around it properly. Make no mistake, this card is an absolute powerhouse, and it’s commonly said that if a Miracles player untaps with Jace in play, it’s likely game over.
There’s not much more to be said. Jace is the best planeswalker there ever has been, and probably ever will be, and is certainly among the most powerful cards in the game’s history.
4. Peregrine Drake (at Common)
This is a bit of an odd inclusion, but I feel that it deserves a mention. Peregrine Drake is not, at first glance, a particularly powerful card, and certainly not one that belongs in the same league as the other cards in this article. However, I am discussing power level relative to formats and cards that have broken the game in some way, and in that respect, this card fits the bill perfectly.
To properly justify this card’s inclusion, some background is necessary. The reason that Peregrine Drake should not have been printed at Common rarity is because it made it legal in the popular MTGO format, Pauper. This format is comprised of only cards that have been printed at Common. Until January of this year, Pauper had been plagued by an oppressive combo deck called Esper Familiars, which ran Cloud of Faeries, a card with a similar mechanic to Drake. Cloud of Faeries was banned in the January B&R announcement, and many Pauper players were happy to not have to deal with uninteractive combo decks, in a format with limited ways of preventing it.
Prior to 2016, Peregrine Drake was mostly overlooked, as a Commander card and not much else since its rotation from Standard. However, with the release of Eternal Masters in June of this year came the downgrade of Peregrine Drake to Common, and it suddenly burst into the limelight as a new, and improved Cloud of Faeries, ready to pick up where Esper Familiars left off with an even bigger and better combo.
Drake seems expensive to initially cast at five mana, but most games of Pauper go on long past turn five, and the fact that it only requires a single blue mana makes it easily splashable with one or two other colours. With its release, people immediately began brewing the best way to use it, and soon there were Drake decks popping up all over the format – in the Tron lists to untap Urza lands, in control decks as a 2/3 flyer which was essentially free and allowed you to keep up counterspells after the fact, and even in some ramp decks combined with the Ravnica bounce-lands.
However, the most popular usage of Peregrine Drake was the infinite combo with Mnemonic Wall and Ghostly Flicker. With these three cards in play, you can generate infinite mana by untapping your Drake and using Wall’s trigger to fetch back Ghostly Flicker, and then casting Banefire for lethal damage. The fact that the combo works at instant speed also makes it very difficult to interact with, as any attempted removal on the resolved Drake means that its controller can simply go off in response.
At first, people were wary of building the deck. With the September Banned and Restricted announcement looming, everyone seemed to mutually agree that Drake would be banned, or at the very least, should be. They didn’t want to build into it and waste their money for when the inevitable happened. It was very surprising when there was no mention of Pauper at all, and immediately, many competitive players bought out Drakes and built the oppressive combo list.
In the space of a month, and with the threat of a banning seemingly absent, the percentage of Drake decks in the meta doubled from 11 to 22 percent. The deck was obviously absurd, only held back before by the risk of a ban. When Wizards noticed this, they issued an emergency ban, for only the second time in the history of the game (the first being Memory Jar in Combo Winter). From November 16th (the MTGO downtime, since Pauper is primarily an online format) Peregrine Drake will no longer be legal. Thankfully, its lifespan was only a meagre five months, and Pauper will certainly be much better off without it.
Skullclamp is the quintessential “broken” card. Its story is well-known and documented in the Magic community as one of the most amusing and famous R&D mishaps of all time. As the story goes, in original Mirrodin block when this card first saw the light of day, there was a new card type that had been printed – Equipment. MaRo & Co were eager to push this new card type and make it playable in the Standard of its day, and so they came up with Skullclamp in its original iteration – a 1 mana Equipment that gives +1/+1 and draws you two cards when the creature dies.
However, late into testing, it appeared that for an uncommon, Skullclamp was simply too good. They decided that no matter how much they wanted to push Equipment, they couldn’t print a card this cheap that had no downsides, because it would outshine some of the rares in the set, and they had to change the original design. It was altered at the last possible minute to give the creature +1/-1 – in theory, a practical downside that didn’t change the card very much, but just enough to make it slightly worse. By the time anyone realised quite what they’d done, the card was already finalised and the set was ready for release.
Not surprisingly, a card that is 1 mana of any colour to cast and essentially reads “1: sacrifice target X/1 creature, draw two cards” is absolutely bonkers. From tokens to mana dorks, this card turns every single X/1 creature on your board into card advantage, and if you don’t have any X/1s to equip it to, at worst it does its original job and makes one bigger creature slightly more powerful while providing a consolation prize if it dies. It was very quickly banned out of Standard when the format became overrun with Skullclamp decks; it was literally either run four Skullclamps or run something that beats four Skullclamps. Naturally, it had to go.
Since then, developers have admitted that Skullclamp was one huge mistake. Aaron Forsythe called it “the card that slipped through the cracks”. Quite clearly it has never been allowed into Extended or Modern because its power level is through the roof and it’s so easy to build around, particularly with the amount of mana dorks in Modern that quickly get outscaled. If your Noble Hierarch could replace itself with two more cards after you didn’t need it anymore, or you could run Skullclamp in conjunction with Young Pyromancer in red/blue control lists, Modern would probably be a very different place.
Suffice it to say, Skullclamp was the one card in over fifteen thousand that literally never should have happened.
First seen in New Phyrexia, Mental Misstep was one of an unfortunate cycle of cards that used a new mechanic created for the set: the Phyrexian mana symbol. Intended to mess with the colour pie in ways that had never been seen before, Phyrexian mana allows the player to pay a mana of that colour OR two life to play the spell or ability. This theoretically allows players access to card types they wouldn’t otherwise be able to play, and widens the diversity of decks. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite that way in practice, because Phyrexian mana is one of the most broken mechanics to date.
Let’s count the cards that see play, shall we?
Birthing Pod: used to be a deck archetype all on its own, banned in Modern because it was so good, it prevented R&D from printing any good creatures in future sets.
Dismember: sees widespread Modern play because it gives a blue deck, or a green deck access to hard removal for one mana.
Spellskite: a Modern sideboard card (mainboard, sometimes) that hoses certain strategies and provides virtual immunity to many removal spells.
Gitaxian Probe: Legacy, Modern and Pauper staple. Fills up the graveyard for Delve cards while providing free information for combo players about whether the coast is clear.
Apostle’s Blessing: makes your large Infect/Blitz/Zooicide creature unblockable, or effectively counters a removal spell.
Surgical Extraction: great sideboard card in eternal formats, hoses combo decks that use the graveyard or removes a threat or win condition from the opponent’s library. Free.
There are of course more – Porcelain Legionnaire, Phyrexian Metamorph, Gut Shot, the list goes on and on. Phyrexian mana has created cards that are generally cheaper than they should be, most often entirely free, and allow for the colour pie to be completely ignored.
The most heinous of these offending cards is Mental Misstep.
Quite apart from the fact that hard counterspells really should stay only in blue, this card has hundreds of different applications. While it wasn’t exceptional in the Standard of its day (although it did a good job of checking Delver of Secrets) it tore through Legacy and Vintage immediately. The designers claim that they had intended to create a card that would help the eternal formats by making a Force of Will-esque card that didn’t require you to play blue. They hoped that it would check combo decks and also check Brainstorm decks.
Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way and instead of nonblue control becoming viable, every single deck simply started running Misstep. If you didn’t have your own Misstep to counter your opponent’s Misstep, you were doing something wrong, and this is the fundamental problem with a card like this – its own hard counter is itself. When everyone CAN run this card, everyone WILL run it, because everyone else is running it, and then it simply becomes a case of “who has it when?”. Needless to say, shortly afterwards R&D admitted their mistake and banned it.
When the original Modern banlist was created, Misstep was one of the first cards on the list. It would be absolute carnage if this card were ever to be unbanned. The density of one drops in Modern is insane, and with every deck having the capability to run this card, every deck would, in order to counter both the opponent’s one-drop threats and also counter the opponent’s attempts to counter your one-drop threats. This card is simply an absolute shambles, and should remain firmly in Vintage, countering Ancestral Recall for all eternity.
So here we are. The summit, the pinnacle, the final frontier. The most broken card in recent Magic history.
This card was conceived as part of Wizards’ pet project to introduce some of the Power 9, but ‘fixed’, into recent sets. Other cards in the cycle included Temporal Trespass and Day’s Undoing. While those cards are actually reasonably balanced (and honestly, err on the side of totally unplayable in most scenarios), Treasure Cruise absolutely is not.
I have spoken about the problem with Delve mana and blue cards earlier in this article while discussing Dig Through Time. Treasure Cruise says in the corner that it’s 8CMC. Fine. It can say that all it likes, but it’s a one-drop in every other way that counts. It’s Ancestral Recall at sorcery speed, printed into recent formats. It’s ridiculous.
Almost every deck in Standard ran this card – but for once, and thanks to the rigorous testing regimes of R&D nowadays, Standard wasn’t the problem. Every deck that could possibly run it in Modern and Legacy did so – and by every deck, I mean every deck. Jund and Burn players were splashing blue to play this in Modern. Delver players in Legacy were drawing three new cards by turn three. Even Vintage saw significant changes when this card appeared on the scene, and Delver became unstoppable – suddenly Recall wasn’t restricted anymore!
And it’s a common – A COMMON!
Whatever R&D were smoking when they came up with this, I’d love to try it.
After the initial impact, at the very next B&R announcement with the release of Fate Reforged, just a few months after its printing, Treasure Cruise was banned in Modern and Legacy, and restricted in Vintage. It had wreaked absolute havoc on all three formats, and as Wizards have now realised, when you print the words “Draw three cards”, you have to be very, very careful what else you put alongside them.
So there you have it. As voted by the public (with a little input from myself as well), the top ten cards that really didn’t turn out the way Wizards expected.
Community Question: Is there another card that you think should be on this list? Or perhaps a card I spoke about that you don’t think deserves to be there?
Thanks for reading,