Created by Richard Garfield in 1993, Magic: the Gathering is pretty much considered the granddaddy of all trading card games. It’s still thriving to this day and new expansion sets are released every few months by Wizards of the Coast. In the game, playable both in person and online, players take the role of “planeswalkers,” supremely powerful mages whose magic is so strong they can slip the bounds of reality to “walk” to other “planes” of existence -- hence the name. Planeswalkers are also one of the seven types of cards in the game, a list which also includes Sorceries, Instants, Enchantments, Artifacts, Creatures, and Lands. All these cards can completely change the rules of the game and are typically split among the five colors of mana, green, white, red, blue, and black.
After 25 years and counting, the game has developed literally millions of cards for players to collect and use, leading to billions of various combinations and strategies to use. However, it’s also led to some cards being seen as lame or worthless. While most of these disposable cards are considered so with good reason, some of them, just like the illusion spells you can cast in the game, hide secretly overpowered abilities that can outright break the game. While several of these have been found over the years as new cards unlock new combos, some still fail to get the recognition they deserve as brilliant strategic resources.
20 CEPHALID ILLUSIONIST
A key trick of many decks is to use the graveyard as an additional resource. By putting cards directly from the deck into the graveyard and casting recursion spells to pull them to the battlefield, players can circumvent high mana costs, dig through their decks to get to key combo pieces, and reduce the odds of drawing poorly.
And one of the most efficient cards to do this dredging is “Cephalid Illusionist.” Whenever it’s targeted, you can put the top three cards of your deck into your graveyard. Its second ability can not only prevent all damage deal to an by a creature, but it can target itself to activate its first ability.
19 VIZIER OF REMEDIES
Essentially an inverse of the popular “Winding Constrictor,” “Vizier of Remedies” is an underappreciated necessity in any deck focused on the Amonkhet block or running self-inflicted -1/-1 counters combos. Though not really usable in combat outside of chomp blocking, its effect limiting the number of -1/-1 counters inflicted upon your own creatures is key to mitigating the damage that spells like “Scarscale Ritual” or “Baleful Ammit” can do to you.
It also unlocks an infinite mana combo with “Devoted Druid.” You can add mana to your mana pool by putting a -1/-1 counter on “Devoted Druid,” but “Vizier of Remedies” prevents it from dying from this effect, letting you repeat it as many times as you need.
As a 3/3, “Skinrender” is viable as a combatant but not optimal and 2BB is just a little too high a cost to make it efficient as purely combat-focused creature. However, its "enter the battlefield" trigger is super effective to the point of it making its combat efficiency redundant.
Just by hitting the field, “Skinrender” can outright destroy smaller creatures or cripple larger ones with debilitating -1/-1 counters. While there are more efficient removal spells out there, most don’t double as an usable combat creature and even those that do can’t effect creatures like gods, Darksteel creatures, or any other creatures with an indestructible mechanic.
17 THREADS OF DISLOYALTY
“Threads of Disloyalty” is well known enough for it be reprinted as both an Amonkhet Invocation masterpiece card and in the special Signature Spellbook: Jace collection. However, it doesn’t see a lot of play in the modern format, which is surprising consider its potential.
An enchantment that allows you to steal a creature with a converted mana cost of two or less, the spell itself costs a very reasonable 1UU. While the fact that it can only enchant certain creatures might deter some from using it, but considering that still includes cards like “Dark Confidant,” “Erayo, Soratami Ascendant,” and “Tarmogoyf,” it’s definitely worth using.
16 THRUN, THE LAST TROLL
Despite being a legendary creature, “Thrun, the Last Troll” tends to be overlooked by lots of players. Its abilities are all self-contained and it doesn’t have a lot of potential as a combo piece. But that is overlooking its near limitless potential as the ultimate defensive creature.
It can’t be countered so it’s guaranteed to hit the battlefield upon casting, its Hexproof mechanic protects it from being affected by spells or abilities, and its built-in regeneration ability keeps it fighting against the most insurmountable odds. The only way to stop it is with four or more -1/-1 counters or board wipes.
15 QUIRION RANGER
In terms of usability, “Quirion Ranger” is on par with the iconic green card “Llanowar Elves” but isn’t even half as popular. Like “Llanowar Elves,” “Quirion Range” is an easy one-drop costing a single green source. Unlike its more popular counterpart, “Quirion Ranger” can use its activated ability the same turn it’s played as it doesn’t require the card to tap.
Its ability is particularly useful if you have no land cards in hand, which essentially lets you flicker a land to untap a creature. This can lead to a number of interesting combos, depending what activated abilities creatures you control have, but in the worst case scenario can provide you with an available chump blocker.
14 QASALI AMBUSHER
The advantages and disadvantages of “Qasali Ambusher” should be fairly obvious from the get go. It’s not the strongest of creatures and doesn’t have a built-in trigger ability. However, it’s one of the best defenders you could ask for. An opponent might think you’re defenseless with a tapped out or nonexistent board state, but all you need is to have a “Plains” and a “Forest” card on the field in order to flash in a solid 2/3 creature with Reach to protect you from small to moderate threats.
It doesn’t even specify that they have to be basic lands, meaning that dual lands like “Savannah” or “Scattered Groves” could do the trick by themselves.
By itself, “Pili-Pala” is about as useless as it appears. A flying 1/1, it’s only reasonable in combat and its ability to untap itself to provide an extra mana is not worth its activating cost, except maybe to make it a chump blocker. However, “Pili-Pala” is fortunate enough to be one half of one of the best two-card combos in the game.
When combined with “Grand Architect,” “Pili-Pala” can tap itself for the mana required to untap it. By floating one blue mana to use “Grand Architect”’s second ability, you can use these cards together to produce infinite mana. And if you can’t win the game in one turn with infinite mana, you’re doing it wrong.
12 SPREADING SEAS
Many players may shrug their shoulders at “Spreading Seas.” An enchantment that can turn any land into an “Island” in addition to its other types, the enchantment card seems pretty straightforward and limited in its capabilities. But that’s narrow minded thinking right there.
An open minded player sees how this can be used as an offensive weapon and a last resort resource. When you’re using a creature with the Islandwalk ability, “Spreading Seas” can make it an unblockable attacker and if you need an extra blue source, you can cast the enchantment on one of your own lands to make it one.
11 SIMIAN SPIRIT GUIDE
As a creature card, “Simian Spirit Guide” sucks. A 2/2 creature for 2R with no combat abilities or triggers is about as inefficient and ineffective as they come. But its simple mana ability is so ridiculously overpowered that it’s a favorite of Pro Tour Champion Alexander Hayne and a staple of every good modern cube format.
By exiling it from your hand, you lose a fairly useless creature, but gain a potentially game-saving floating red mana. While usable for just about anything, the mana from “Simian Spirit Guide” has the bonus of being a shock to opponents who can be hit with a surprise “Lightning Bolt.”
10 TIBALT, THE FIEND-BLOODED
Often joked about as the worst Planeswalker card ever printed, “Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded” is starting to be recognized as an underappreciated gem of a card. It’s first loyalty ability lets you draw a card and then discard a card at random, filling both your hand and graveyard.
While the word ‘random’ is enough to scare away most players, a deck built around card-draw and recursion can mitigate the potential damage effectively enough to get “Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded” to its final, ultimate ability, which lets you swing at all opponents with all of their own creatures in the perfect alpha strike.
White is a pretty good color for running removal cards that ruin an opponent’s board state, and the cheaper you can do that, the better. Which means that if one is running a mono-white deck, “Abolish” is a downright necessity. The card, which can destroy an opponent’s artifact or enchantment, has a higher converted mana cost than other cards with the same effect, but it has its own unique work-around for the high price.
Instead of paying 1WW for the card, a player can simply discard a “Plains” basic land from their hand, something a well-organized deck should be able to do at the tip of a hat.
8 CEREMONIOUS REJECTION
The entire game of Magic is based on the five colors. Blue is primarily associated with counter spells and controlling the flow of the game. Enter “Ceremonious Rejection.” One of the lowest-costing counter spells ever printed, it suffers from a significant downside as it only effects cards without colors. While this seemingly limits it to only colorless artifact spells, there are actually a number of other spells that it can target, including the incredibly powerful Eldrazi cards.
Any cards that go out of their way to identify themselves as colorless, such as cards with Devoid, are also viable targets. There is no greater feeling than your opponent trying to cast “Kozilek,” “Ugin,” or “Paradox Engine” and you swerving them with a single blue source.
7 GOLGARI GRAVE-TROLL
To the organized Magic player, the graveyard is just another, bigger, less malleable hand. Using effects from beyond the mortal coil is a popular strategy as it usually means better odds for drawing better cards and more resources at your disposal from the graveyard. And one of the best tools for graveyard-using decks is the Dredge mechanic.
Instead of drawing a card, the Dredge ability lets players put a certain number of cards from the top of their libraries to their graveyards and return the Dredge card to their hands. This might sound like a poor trade, but “Golgari Grave-Troll” is a key example of how powerful this effect can be.
6 MYRIAD LANDSCAPE
It enters the battlefield tapped, which certainly lowers its efficiency, but “Myriad Landscape” is still one of the best nonbasic lands in the game today. While the casual player might dismiss it as being too slow or not viable in speed decks, it actually becomes an active weapon in a Landfall-based deck.
Not only does it trigger the ability, but using its non-mana ability can retrigger the effect twice over. All well netting additional mana to play around with. Additionally, if you can’t activate “Myriad Landscape”’s ability for whatever reason, you can still use it as a colorless mana source, immediately putting it above other fetchlands like “Flood Plain.”
5 MYSTIC SNAKE
Much like the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expects the “Mystic Snake.” The main problem with it is that it costs too much to cast. At 1GUU, it’s too costly to be effective as a counter spell and too expensive to be an efficient 2/2 creature. But it’s in the combination of the two where “Mystic Snake” shines.
Once it’s been effectively used as a counter spell, it can then be immediately repurposed as a chump blocker. Even if not used for as a counter, its Flash ability makes it useful as an impromptu defender in a desperate scenario. “Mystic Snake,” being a versatile card and last-second savior since 2001.
4 KNIGHT OF THE RELIQUARY
On the surface, “Knight of the Reliquary” is just a slow, self-building knight that lumbers along more than a legitimate tank. However, this discounts its use as a combo piece. First off, when paired with fetchlands, even rudimentary ones like “Terramorphic Expanse” and “Evolving Wilds,” it can exponentially boost its combat viability without costing you your mana base.
Second, its ability to both sacrifice and tutor for lands can combo off with both landfall and graveyard triggers to potentially game ending. Using it in conjunction with cards like “Crucible of Worlds” and “Omnath, Locus of Rage” is all but a guaranteed win.
3 MOMENTARY BLINK
There’s a reason this common card was reprinted for 2017’s Modern Masters expansion set. Though not as cheap as “Cloudshift,” which does essentially the same thing, “Momentary Blink” is superior due to its second ability. It has a reasonably low Flashback cost, letting you play it from the graveyard in a timely fashion just by indulging in an Azorius deck.
In an optimal scenario, this lets you trigger an “enter the battlefield” effect twice over to maximize its potential. The combos this could be a part of are near endless. “Sun Titan,” “Karmic Guide,” “Reveillark,” “Solemn Simulacrum,” and “Mulldrifter” are all favorites used in conjunction with it.
2 GRIM LAVAMANCER
Mono-red decks tend not to use a lot of recursion spells, meaning that once a card hits a graveyard, it’s usually gone for good. “Grim Lavamancer” is one of the lowest-costing red cards to take advantage of a healthy graveyard. It tends to be overlooked because it’s slow to activate, but it can be used at instant speed, requires only one red mana to use, and, depending on your opponent, can remove resources they can potentially use.
Though weak in combat, it can blow up smaller creatures from across the battlefield and can “Shock” enemies arbitrarily. All by doing what is essentially Magic’s version of taking out the trash.
1 GOBLIN GUIDE
“Goblin Guide” is widely considered to be one of the best red cards ever printed, much to the confusion of amateur or novice players. At first glance, it appears to benefit an opponent more than it does you. By attacking, it risks letting the defending player draw an additional land and can also prepare its target by letting them know what their next draw is.
However, if played from an opening hand, it has to potential to deal out 2 to 4 damage before the game has even reached full swing, putting you at a definite advantage. As the saying goes, if your opponent survives long enough for you to feel the drawbacks, you’re not playing it right.