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Best Limited Magic: The Gathering Cards of 2023

Best commons and uncommons in each color, best signpost uncommons and the most atrocious bombs to remember what brought us joy or frustration in 2023!

Another year is almost behind us, which makes it a perfect time to look at what it brought to us. I will look at the best limited cards of the year. Best commons and uncommons in each color, best signpost uncommons and the most atrocious bombs. Great moment to remember what brought us joy or frustration in the last 12 months.

But how to compare the cards from different sets? It is not straightforward. Different sets will have different average win rates and that makes comparison tricky – I won’t want to give all the prizes to a set that just had the highest internal win rate. And if the difference is large – that is a trap that can be real. See the distribution of win rates in a set with an average of 52% and 58% – cards that have a great win rate in 52% win rate set would be only mediocre in a 58% win rate set.

To avoid that I can use a maths strategy called normalization. I will recalculate all the win rates in each set in such a way that the average will be at 50%. This will pull both those curves to the left, but the 58% win rate set will be pulled by more – which means now I can compare cards from both sets and the differences in sets win rate won’t matter.

Mind that this means win rates you will see in this analysis will be much lower that the win rates you are used to. Average win rate of users is well above 50% so normalisation will result in lower win rates. I look at the 5 main sets from 2023 Arena: ONE, MOM, LTR, WOE and LCI. With those methodology obstacles out of the way, we can focus on fun part. Reliving 2023 limited.

Best Commons

LCI and ONE were the sets where white was the most dominant, and that can be seen. Oltec Cloud Guard came out on top with 53% normalised win rate, but close behind it was the Miner's Guidewing at 52.9%. Both cards were the staples of aggressively tinted white decks in LCI, using evasion to put pressure on the opponent. Another LCI card in top 10 is Petrify.

But despite not winning the best card in this category, ONE was a clear winner. 5 of the top 10 white cards of 2023 were from the set, including Basilica Shepherd a pushed 5-drop, Crawling Chorus, disturbing both as an art and as something opponent plays on turn 1 and another pacifism variant in Planar Disruption. It was a good year for Pacifisms in general, with some other ones just outside of top 10. WotC did their homework on the decline of Aura-based removal.

Only 2 cards outside of LCI and ONE made the list in two of my personal favourites. Aerial Boost is a perfect combat trick, letting you cast it for free in combat, impacting the board state very efficiently. Hopeful Vigil carried white decks in WOE all by itself doing lots of little but impactful things in every archetype white touched. No cards from LTR on the list is a testament to the weakness of white in that format. Designers really took to heart just how disadvantaged was Gondor against the might of Sauron. Maybe a little bit too much even.

Preening Champion lived up to its name. Not only was it the best blue common of 2023, but the best common of the year of all colors. 55% normalised win rte puts it as an A- grade on the list, with only one other card since MID achieving that – Inspiring Overseer. Worth noting that this is the second, but not the last, best common in a color that creates two bodies. That extra 1/1 looks powerful if you couple it with a card that would almost be good enough on its own.

MOM’s blue was great in general, with 4 other cards from the set making it into the top 10. Ephara's Dispersal was a nightmare to play against – blowing combat wide open with only one blue mana. Eyes of Gitaxias provided a solid body for a reasonable price when paid in instalments. Saiba Cryptomancer was unassuming but potent in spoiling opponent’s removal and Assimilate Essence was a conditional counterspell that stayed relevant till late game. It is the support of those cards that contributed to Preening Champion’s success – something I hope it won’t forget in its acceptance speech.

LCI did pretty well too. Waterwind Scout doesn’t bring an extra body with it but a Map token is not far off. Cogwork Wrestler is yet another of the annoying 1 mana interaction spells that make combat a nightmare and Oaken Siren combines pressure and ramp very well in Artifact-centric decks.

LTR is represented by the core cards for the spell decks – Birthday Escape and Glorious Gale. Both let those decks get tempted by the ring efficiently, thus leading to a better card selection and faster clock. But blue in 2023 was a bit of a hit or miss, with no cards from ONE or WOE making the top 10.

Black is where the LTR shines. Claim the Precious is the top black card, combining the efficient removal with the Tempting mechanic. But there is so much more. Dunland Crebain was the best black creature, Torment of Gollum was something that allowed to control the opponent’s hand while keeping playing to the board, Shelob's Ambush was a very powerful combat trick (my personal favourite of the format was playing Bowmasters in response to Lorien Revealed and Shelob’s Ambushing opponent’s whole board) and Uruk-hai Berserker was just a very solid creature that added to that package. All that with great uncommons made black in LTR a formidable color and the one to beat even in the late format.

The list of top black commons is completed with powerful removal from each set. Deadly Derision was the black highlight of MOM – instant speed, leaving a treasure, unconditional – all that you want from a removal spell. And it had a great companion in Final Flourish – a flexible removal capable of dealing with the early threats but growing with the game. ONE contributed Anoint with Affliction – good on rate but excellent if you could enable Corrupted mechanic. WOE gave us Candy Grapple – an excellent removal that through Bargain enabled other shenanigans with Hatching Plans or another entry on the list – Hopeless Nightmare. This card led was perfect for an attrition plan – limiting your opponent’s options while giving you a nice sacrifice fodder that led to card selection later in the game. LCI’s black didn’t any goodies, but LTR compensated for it and some.

To continue the trend of body + 1/1 cards doing well, the best red common of the year was Chimney Rabble. A 4 mana 3/3 that comes together with a 1/1 is a staple mid-power common for years, but add haste and voila – top common. Which is not that surprising when you realise that Haste is worth a good half mana on a card. Chimney Rabble surprised many, me included, with ho powerful it was but part of its power was in red being very good in ONE in general.

Apart from Rabble there were 4 more ONE cards in red’s top 10. Hexgold Slash was a Shock Variant that made more expensive Toxic creatures in green almost unplayable. Nothing worse than spending 5 mana on a creature opponent kills for one mana. Barbed Batterfistwas an excellent 2 drop that left a useful equipment behind. Furnace Strider was another hasty threat with a solid body, that also could make some of your other threats hasty which was key in games where you were racing against your opponent. This importance of haste is what made ONE one of the fastest formats in memory at least in terms of the game duration in turns. But there was a bit more grindy side to ONE red – Axiom Engravermade the top 10 – a 1/3 that let you rummage a card couple of times. The cheap rummaging creatures were a bit of a discovery in recent years with Scrapwork Mutt being dominant in BRO and Volatile Wanderglyph doing decent things in LCI (despite not breaking into the top 10 here.

LTR was represented by only one common, but what a common. Rally at the Hornburg was powerful and fun to play. 2 hasty 1/1 Humans on a spell tapped into many synergies at the same time and seeing it played on turn 2 against you when you were on the draw usually spelled trouble. Also MOM has only one card on the list: Volcanic Spite. Great removal, upgraded version of an already great card – no wonder it did well.

WOE is represented 3 times and in all 3 cases it is the burn spells that did well. Torch the Tower Flick a Coin and Cut In formed a diverse base for controlling creatures of all sizes, which was a very strong point of red in that format. All of them played out very differently, had their small advantages and rewarded smart plays and removal management.

Yet again, no LCI cards on the list.

Green had a clear winner in Contagious Vorrac. 3 mana for a 3/3 that draws a card, even if it is only a land, is great. And a fail-case of proliferating or, in some case being able to proliferate instead of getting another land, is a cherry on top. But that is the end of good news for green commons. All the other ones on the list have a significantly lower win rate, making green the least successful color of 2023. There two more ONE cards on the list – mainly dragged up by the power on RG archetype in that format: a solid 4-drop in Lattice-Blade Mantis and a fight spell in Ruthless Predation.

But the real winner for green is LCI. 6 of the top 10 green commons are from Ixalan. 3 are Dinosaurs in Pathfinding Axejaw, Armored Kincaller and Cavern Stomper. Poison Dart Frog is a mana dork that helps churning out those expensive spells early and turns into an annoying blocker later in the game. Staggering Size is a great finisher combat trick letting your large creatures trample over tiny blockers for significant damage. Huatli's Final Strike is a pretty powerful bite spell for a common, with the boost in power allowing to efficiently kill something while threatening more damage. Green’s power in LCI is mainly driven by RG Dinos archetype and WGs good performance as a “I am not synergistic really but cards are powerful enough” deck.

Only one card from any other expansion made the list in Hamlet Glutton. A 7 mana 6/6 trampler that somehow almost always cost 5 mana thanks to its bargain ability proves the point that chunky evasion is the name of the game for green. Unfortunately neither MOM nor LTR didn’t contribute to the top 10. Especially in LTR green felt like the weakest of colors. Its best common, Enraged Huorn, didn’t even make the top 30 best green commons of the year.

All in all, the best common of the year is by far Preening Champion. Yes, it was annoying to play against it but lets agree to fondly remember those times we had it in our decks.

Best Uncommons

56.6% in my normalised metric is a big achievement for a card. To put it in context: only 41 of 1435 cards on the list had a higher win rate. Annex Sentry’s great body that is a removal, relevant types plus Toxic for good measure is a lot for 3 mana. Annex Sentry was oppressive in its format for all the right reasons. And that was greatly helped by the overall quality of white. Ossification was a powerful removal, Hexgold Hoverwings – one of the best Equipment spells of the year, Swooping Lookout, an unassuming 1/2 flying creature for one mana overperformed its expectations and a 2 mana 3/1 that can become indestructible was as good as they normally are.

LCI also did well. Ruin-Lurker Bat is yet another oppressive one drop – lifelink AND evasion AND card selection from time to time? Yes please! Clay-Fired Bricks and Spring-Loaded Sawblades made for an excellent controlling package that let particularly WU decks in the format be solid as aggro but with more staying power than other aggressive decks in the format.

If you like multiple bodies for on card (rectangles baby) – look no further than Norn's Inquisitor. A 1/1 that can potentially make a 3/3, but will at least get a 2/2. And all the other Phyrexians flipping becomes better was good enough to warrant a removal to prevent all that value. Which was great for you – opponent had to waste a removal spell on a humble 1/1 letting your other creatures live and threaten their life total.

The Princess Takes Flight was a masterfully designed synergy piece in WOE. Return it to your hand to remove another creature later, sacrifice if for bargain to get double value – why not. Fun card that played well in multiple archetypes and was even a good splash lot of the time. Great in controls but still very good in aggro – what is not to like.

We still don’t know where was Gondor when the Westfold fell, but it was certainly not in the top 10 white uncommons as no LTR cards are on the list.

There could be only one winner in blue uncommon category. 5/4 hasty threat for 3 mana? Where is the drawback – of – you get to Discover 3 when it dies? That is a very strange drawback… Zoetic Glyph did wonders for UR and WU in LCI and lot of it has to do with other excellent cards in that set like my 1-drop of choice, Spyglass Siren and a 2/1 for 2 mana that always draws a card when played against me (while I miss) – Staunch Crewmate.

Also LTR has 3 cards on the list. Saruman's Trickery shows that adding a 1/1 on a counterspell is also a powerful thing. Horses of the Bruinen let you reset the board while scrying and getting that little tempt by the ring – and that was enough to make it a great top-end card for controlling archetypes. And if you love loops and drawing cards – no better way to do it that The Bath Song If the limited legend, Sam Black, got a penny for every time he cast that spell and looped multiples of it during the LTR season, he would be a much wealthier person.

MOM also has 3 cards on the list. Artistic Refusal got a lot of its win rate from early days in the format, when people routinely forgot that being tapped out doesn’t mean opponent can’t counter your spell. But even in late format it was really hard to play around this spell even if you knew opponent has it. Captive Weird is another oppressive one drop from 2023. Early it was a good obstacle that limited the damage aggro decks could do, later it turns into card advantage plus a sizeable body. On other hand, Skyclave Aerialist was a good offensive threat. 2 power on a flyer for 2 mana is always a good deal and if you managed to flip it and start accruing value – game was usually over.

Even though blue was pretty bad in ONE, Unctus's Retrofitter still made the top 10 uncommons list – which is the testament to the raw power of the card. A 3 mana 2/3 with Toxic for some reason that brought together a 4/4 body is very akin to Zoetic Glyph. And the fact it did so well in a relatively weak color proves its power.

No cards from WOE made the list, but it is worth noting that Hatching Plans and Picklock Prankster were just outside of it.

By mere fractions Deep-Cavern Bat beat Nazgul as the best black uncommon of the year. No mean feat given that black is not particularly powerful in LCI. But Bat shows its individual power and indicates it might become a staple in multiple constructed formats in the future. Evasion and Lifelink make it an annoying threat, and in many cases your only way of dealing with the Bat is exiled by it already putting you firmly in the top-deck mode. Chupacabra Echo, a removal on a stick in a format with many ways of recurring it unsurprisingly also made the list. Some LCI decks had Chupacabra as their main win condition. I had games when I recast the same copy of the card more than once, slowly draining the will to play from my opponents.

But LCI was not the winner in black. That goes clearly to LTR with 6 cards on the list. Nazgûl was a first pick material not only in paper draft where it is one of the most valuable uncommons of recent years, but also on Arena due to its sheer power. And Sauron forbid you got multiples – those games quickly went out of hand. But behind the card name=”Nazgûl”] there is a plethora of powerful uncommons, starting with its loyal steed – Voracious Fell Beast. Removal on a 4/4 flying body is definitely worth 6 mana. It was often the last spell cast in a game. Gollum's Bite was an efficient removal with value late in the game to get that extra tempt. Gothmog made Orc amass armies a pain to deal with both on offensive and defensive, making favourable blocks a nightmare. Gollum was a good aggro threat at 3/1 but later in the game, like his bite, became a value engine for decks that wanted to tempt a lot. Bitter downfall shows that modality matters. 4 mana removal is ok. A 1 mana spell that finishes off a creature that was dealt damage is quite poor, but cram both on the same card and you have a great removal spell. And that 2 extra damage helped a lot.

Black in ONE was underwhelming but Drown in Ichor bucked that trend. Cheap, efficient and proliferate was frequently more than an empty text.

The Witch's Vanitywas a great value engine for slower black decks in the WOE format – doing a lot of small things is great on a spell that only costs 2 mana.

No cards from MOM made the top 10, but there was a bunch of them just outside of top 10, so black in MOM was not a complete trap.

Chimney Rabble‘s big brother is the best red uncommon of the year. Yes. Every time you tapped out and were unable to cast Saruman's Trickery or Glorious Gale – Eomer appeared on a white horse to ruin your chances of winning the game. 5/4 haste is terryfing and despite the 1/1 being not guaranteed, lets not fool ourselves – it made it 99% of the time. And Eomer had some unlikely allies in a bunch of great uncommon Orcs: Grishnak is a threaten that comes with 3/3 worth of stats on 2 bodies. Foray of Orcs was not that different from Flametongue Kavu. But wait. There’s more. Fire, Foes!”] was the card I most often hoped opponent doesn’t have – a bane of my 1/1 human tokens. Spoiler – they always have it. And Ranger's Firebrand was good in aggro decks but a particular start of UR spells matter archetype providing both early game board control and late game tempt + go face potential. 5 great red uncommons in LTR.

Rebel Salvo is not far behind Eomer and Fire, Foes!”] No mean feat. But 3 mana 5 damage at instant speed is already good. But Salvo frequently cost 2 or even 1 mana – bargain deal. And it aligned well with some threats in the ONE format – particularly the oppressive common in Furnace Strider.

Talking of furnaces: Furnace Reins is another Threaten-style effect that did well in 2023. MOM didn’t have too many sacrifice outlets, but still, Reins did very well just on their face value.

WOE had 2 cards on the list. Yet another card name=”Threaten”]-style effect – I see a trend there – in Twisted Fealty. This time steal comes with a bit of extra value in the form of a wicked Role and I guarantee you that in many games this was the last spell cast. Witchstalker Frenzy is very akin to rebel Salvo – an instant speed 5 damage spell that can be cast for as little as 1 mana.

Also LCI has a representative on the list – Geological Appraiser, unfair in constructed formats, in limited showed that it can be also good when played as a completely fair card. 4 mana 3/2 that will get you an extra 2 and a bit mana of value on average is still an amazing deal – if you make sure not to play too many situational cards to go with it.

Evolving Adaptive is yet another 1-drop on the top 10 lists but actually the first one to be on top of it. Leading a collection of other 1- and 2-drops that were the most powerful uncommons in green this year. Great threat that grew to 4-5 power without much problem if not dealt with early. It is joined by 4 other ONE cards. Cankerbloom is a 3/2 for 2 mana, which is a good deal. And later in the game it had some other uses if need be. Armored Scrapgorger was a powerful mana dork that later turned into a reasonable threat. At the same time it could control the opponents graveyard well. Tyvar's Stand was a good protective trick that later in the game won games if you had more creatures that opponent did, as long as they were tapped out or had no cards in hand. Lastly, Incubation Sac was a great midrange engine that fit well in the mana curve making sure those RG decks never run out of threats to deploy.

Green uncommons in WOE did well too. Starting with 2 Food enablers – Tough Cookie and Welcome to Sweettooth were both scary to see on turn 2. Royal Treatment is another one mana protection spell – several of those did very well in recent years and that is definitely a category of cards to watch in the future.

Outside of greens top 5 cards, the win rates are significantly lower than in other colors, yet again pointing towards relative weakness of this color in 2023. Still, worth reporting that among those slightly weaker cards, Cenote Scout was the best performer from LCI. 90% of the time you hope it will become a 2/2 – but 2/2 for 1 mana is not bad.

Tandem Takedown from MOM closes the top 10 – a solid bite spell that sometimes let you flip a powerful battle.

LTR nowhere in sight. Best green uncommon from LTR, Meriadoc Brandybuck, was only 36th on the list.

Last, but definitely not least – the signpost multicolor uncommons. And here the winner is Bladehold War Whip. Basically a 3 mana 2/2 Double Strike that made equipping cheaper for other equipments you control – not bad in a set with For Mirrodin! mechanic. And when the 2/2 got killed, you still were left behind with the equipment that later in the game meant you can put it on a larger threat. Great card. And number 2 on the list is also from ONe. Cinderslash Ravager is a 5/5 Vigilance for 6 mana that for some reason also deals 1 damage to each creature opponents control. But that wouldn’t be an appealing card in this form. Enter the cost discount for each permanent with oil – Ravager frequently cost 2-3 mana letting its controller double spell effectively on turns 5-6. And that is a good value.

I used a broad definition of signpost in my analysis – not strictly multicolor spells did well enough in WOE, but 2 of the multicolor Adventure spells did well. Imodane's Recruiter is one card army in a box. Topdecked late in the game on its own threatens 9 hasty damage. And that is something. Seeing the adventure part cast was bad for morale. Because you knew that in this game, you will be playing on the backfoot – that is if you survive the next turn, which was rarely the case. Gingerbread hunter was one of the reasons you might have survived the recruiter. Removal early, big threat/blocker that comes with some potential life gain attached to it – great mid-range to control card.

Dimir had its time to shine in MOM. Invasion of Amonkhet was the scariest Battle at lower rarities and Halo Forager was sort of Chupacabra Echo of the set – only on a better body. All contributed to the power of UB in MOM, especially in the early days of the format. Another MOM card on the list is the Marshal (no, not that one) of Zhalfir – the knight lord that moonlights as a tapper. Great design – as body on lord creatures are often irrelevant as you don’t want to put them in combat anyway to preserve their effect in your typal deck so an ability tagged on is a great feature.

LCI has two representatives. First (as it was born) Itzquinth, Firstborn of Gishath – the little dino that could. Great body – 2/3 haste for 2 mana is a deal – and the later in the game, the more likely the ETB ability is going to be broken. Often will deal 3-4 up to 7 damage clearing the path for your chunky but often evasion-less dinosaurs. Captain Storm is similar to Evolving Adaptive. Starts small but if left unchecked will quickly spin out of control. The need to deal with it early means your aggro opponents will not be able to deploy threats efficiently – a win of its own. And control opponents might need to use an overpriced removal spell, meaning your later threats might be able to survive.

Only one LTR card on the list. Shadow Summoning is a simple design – 2 mana 2x 1/1 flying creatures. Elegant and powerful – made top 10 despite white being relatively weak in LTR. Turns out Summoning (OK, and black) were just powerful enough.

Eventually, but by a thin margin, uncommon of the year overall goes to Annex Sentry.

Card of the Year

We move to win rates not accessible to reasonable cards. Every card in the top 10 has a normalised win rate of >60% – which is a lot. But there could be only one winner here. Bonehoard Dracosaur is not only the highest win rate of 2023 – no card since MID came even close to its level.

Top 10 is full of busted bombs – covering mana value range from 2 to 7. No point to go into details on those as I might accidentally trigger some memories we all would like to forget linked to those bombs. All of those cards have one thing in common – when cast, they frequently negate anything opponent did till then. Those are all big groan tests – you see them cast and what looked like a great situation turns into (luckily – not long lasting) nightmare.

Congrats to Dracosaur as the superior bomb overlord of 2023 and I wish to all my readers and your close ones a great 2024. Hopefully filled with amazing limited formats and great cards to play, build-around, laugh, cry and have fun with. And don’t worry – I’ll be there to convert those emotions into numbers 🙂

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I am a limited player, who mainly skips playing in order to analyse the limited data using I run a podcast: Magic Numbers, where I try to use data to let you improve your limited game play, find out which heuristics work out and which common ideas are not well supported by data.

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