I have been recently going through my metric ass-ton of excess Magic cards, trying in vain to sort them all. Most of the bulk cards I have were acquired through drafts, sealed and other limited formats. As such, most of them are… incredibly terrible. Offensively terrible. “Dear god why did they waste the ink on this piece of crap” terrible.
Before we start, let me just say this: I have read all of the “making bad cards” articles Wizards has put out. And, while I agree with a lot of their points, specifically around rares, there are a NUMBER of things I disagree with. With that, let’s move on. Also, I am not talking about the price point of cards. Yes, it is annoying to buy a $5 pack of magic and get a card worth literally 30 cents. But, that’s technically out of Wizards’s hands.
Magic the Gathering has always had mediocre cards, it would literally be impossible otherwise. The sheer number of cards out there require some to be more powerful than others. Even if you look at a set-by-set basis, there are too many cards for each one to be good. But, some cards go that extra little mile of being just plain bad.
I am a Spike (a player that plays to win), so I like good cards and I dislike terrible cards. However, I enjoy playing draft and sealed over constructed. Usually when this complaint is brought up by Spikes, they like to compare basic commons with some of legacy’s most busted cards. I am not one of those people, I can see how simple yet efficient cards can have it’s place, but I still have to draw a line somewhere. In here, I will try to explain what I consider to be a bad card that should not have been printed.
Now, let me just point out the big Tarmagoyf in the room: narrow cards are not “bad.” One With Nothing is often touted as a bad card. It is not a bad card, it is just incredibly narrow. Yes, there are some cards that can sometimes perform the same action better. But, the point for these incredibly narrow cards is to inspire creativity in people. Maybe there is a combo or other interaction that makes for a fun and exciting deck.
The bad cards I am talking about are the hordes of chaff that are put out to “help drafters.” I’m talking about absolute card-bage like Sparring Mummy or Dune Beetle. Yes, they’re fine cards for draft, I guess, but they are boring. They have no creative use, no niche they could exploit, and they inspire no one. You would never see someone make a Dune Beetle deck.
And again, I am not saying that as long as a card is not in a tier 1 deck, it is bad. Anointed Procession or Liliana’s Mastery will not be making any Grand Prix debuts, but they are still fine. You could still see someone making a casual deck based around those. Colossapede, on the other hand, is left to wallow in literal obsolescence. Stinging Shot at least has a niche in some sorry sideboard, but who is going to run Minotaur Sureshot? Why are all these cards, from common to rare to mythic, just so bad?
Now, the trouble with fixing these is two-fold: excessive redundancy and keeping limited stable. The first is much more complex, so let’s talk about limited for a sec.
I love drafting. I draft much more than I play constructed.
- I like never coming up with the exact same deck twice.
- I like never knowing what sort of trick your opponent could pull.
- I like agonizing over card choices, whether looking to cut good cards or add filler.
And draft is no reason to limit the power level of cards. All you have to do is look to various Cubes that get added to MTGO. They usually feature the most powerful cards to have ever been printed, and are just as fun as any other “normal” drafting environment.
Complexity of a draft is a completely different matter, however, and for that I do have to yield a bit to Wizards. Drafting is definitely a bit more complicated than just playing the game. Even experienced players have trouble drafting complex sets, and Cube drafting is way out of their league. Thus, it can be good to have simple cards that everyone understands at a glance.
Still, I could see the overall power increased without sacrificing the simplicity.
However, the trickiest part to buffing cards, especially the forgettable commons, is creating excessive redundancy.
Take a look at Colossapede, and how we might buff it. It is a green big creature with no abilities. We might want to add Trample, as most big green creatures like trample, and maybe buff it to a 6/6. But look at new!Colossapede vs Honored Hydra. They cost similar (the ‘pede is only 5 mana vs the Hydra’s 6), they perform similar roles, but the Hydra is still much better. In order to make Colossapede able to compete against the Hydra, you can’t just look at the overall power of the cards.
Essentially, in order to save Colossapede, we have to make a whole new card, with a whole new niche and identity. It may be called Colossapede, it may look like Colossapede, but it will not be Colossapede anymore. Compound this with the numerous other “boringly bad” cards and you can have a problem.
But, in the end, I think it is worth it.
In fact, I will be starting posting articles about fixing the bad cards. I’ll start with Amonkhet and Hour of Devestation, then I might work backwards. We’ll see.