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I have a problem, and unsurprisingly, it’s with Sorquixe. Two weeks ago, he wrote an article about his top 9 most hated card designs of 2020. I’ll be the first to admit, there were definitely a lot of card designs that were less than great, especially of the Uro variety. However, we don’t need all this negativity! Before we’re completely thrust into Kaldheim, I want to briefly recap what the best cards of 2020 were! I have to do 10 by the way, just to show Sorquixe up, it’s the only way.
With that in mind, let me talk about my parameters quickly. I’m only going to focus on the major set releases, and for 2020, that will include Theros Beyond Death, Ikoria, Core Set 2021, and Battle for Zendikar. Secondly, these are purely subjective on what I thought were the best designs, from how interesting it is, the role it fills, gameplay, and so on. Lastly, they have to be cards that were first printed in 2020. If I didn’t have this parameter, number 10 would be Solemn Simulacrum then 1-9 Scavenging Ooze. I mean look at it.
With that out of the way, let’s go over my favorite cards of 2020!
HONORABLE MENTIONS: MDFC BOLT LANDS
Although these lands were not all made equal (looking at you Sea Gate Restoration), this is one of the best designs I have seen since I started playing Magic. Beyond them all being very well designed, none of them have ever felt overbearing despite their ubiquity in many formats! Multiple choices and good gameplay feel is the hallmark of a great design.
#10 Thassa, Deep-Dwelling
I know Thassa hasn’t had her time to shine yet, but I still love her so. I used to be an avid EDH player and all I would play are toolbox creature decks where everything has an ETB effect so Thassa really resonated with me. Thassa blinking something at every end step gives you near immediate value and is only as powerful as the best threat you played before.
Based on that restriction, it’s a very satisfying card to play with as blinking decent permanents to accrue insane value is such a fun way to win. This did have a little bit of a degenerate element with cards like Agent of Treachery and Gyruda, Doom of Depths, but the upside of how cool this design is easily outweighs that small blemish on her history.
#9 Klothys, God of Destiny
What can I say, I’m a big fan of Gods! Klothys is such an interesting design as, in most matchups, Klothys is a cool pseudo Sulfuric Vortex. However, when you’re facing a deck that is looking to abuse the graveyard, Klothys absolutely shines. I’ve always been a fan of solid cards that can have extremely strong impacts in certain scenarios as they highly reward deck construction and including them in the first place. However, a deadly flaw of these types designs is when a card is too good normally so it sees a lot of play, then also happens to be back-breaking versus a certain archetype or in a certain situation.
Take Teferi, Time Reveler for example. Teferi was an amazing anti-control tool, but ended up being way too powerful against everything else as well which made it a staple in every deck that can cast it as well as demolishing any chance that Flash or Control could ever exist. Klothys is reasonable on one side, and very strong against graveyard strategies, but not unfairly so. It’s an extremely fine line to tread that I think Klothys perfectly rides.
#8 Fiend Artisan
I don’t know how you could look at this card and not immediately love it. This is the first creature that tutors other creatures that’s been playable in a long time, and I love that it has applications in different strategies. With cards like Prime Speaker Vannifar, it feels amazing when you get it to work, but you’ll have scenarios where you don’t have a good target to fetch or that’s the only creature you have. Fiend Artisan fixes that issue by being a playable threat by itself, but not a ubiquitous one. Since it gets buffed by the amount of creatures in your graveyard, this synergizes well with it’s own ability, with you self milling, or an opponent who is milling you or heavily interacting with you. I know Fiend Artisan hasn’t seen much play yet, but I think it’ll have it’s time in the sun before it rotates.
#7 Luminarch Aspirant
It’s been a rough few years for those who like playing White cards. A lot of the threats have been underwhelming and their answers somehow even worse. We’ve had brief splashes of White being a strong color with Archangel Avacyn and History of Benalia, but those periods felt few and far between. Luminarch Aspirant, though not flashy, is everything I want from a threat in White. It’s great early, great late, great if it sticks around for awhile, and great if it’s your only creature, but not game breaking. White has had too many conditional threats recently, but I’m hoping Luminarch Aspirant breaks that mold.
#6 Mazemind Tome
I’ll admit, I wrote this card off for a long time. When it was first spoiled, I never even considered that it could be constructed playable. When people started playing it, I only conceded that maybe it was an ok board card against really slow decks. I was dead wrong. Mazemind Tome is so much better than I gave it credit for, but has a lot of satisfying game play elements to it. Not only do you have to constantly balance whether you want a Scry or a Draw, you only get 4 total activations to work with.
This would’ve been an excellent design by itself, however, once you use 4 activations you get an additional 4 life! I’ve seen grumblings that this is the most frustrating part of the card as you get a bunch of value then some life, and it can be, but I think this was an excellent idea for this card. Without the incentive for the life gain, all Mazemind Tome would be good for is either sideboard play, or only played in decks that are looking to always blink it. In fairness, right now Mazemind Tome really only sees play with Yorion anyway, but not only do I think that’ll change.
#5 Crawling Barrens
Man lands have always had an interesting place in Magic’s history and have been subject to an extremely difficult design space. The deal with man lands is that there is such a fine line they can toe, on one side, they could be horrible to fringe playable as they’re either too costly to use or under-statted, and on the other, amazing to the point their downside completely pales in comparison to the upside. I don’t mind playing with powerful cards, but feeling forced to play a card because you’re in those colors is never that interesting, but I understand that’s going to happen time to time.
With that in mind, Crawling Barrens is probably the most balanced man land I have ever seen. The initial cost is somewhat high and it’s a colorless land, but it rewards you for investing into it as it can keep growing larger and larger every time you put 4 mana into it. Aggro decks can use this as a late game sink to try and force through the last few points of damage or control decks can use this as a wincon, but you still can’t play too many since it is colorless. Like a lot of these, when you have meaningful decisions both in and outside the game, it’s a great design.
#4 Skyclave Apparition
Similar to Luminarch Aspirant, I’m glad that White is starting to get some real love with their creatures. I have happily played many Banisher Priest, but this one takes the cake. Unlike a lot of these card, Skyclave Apparition does fall more into the camp that it’s so good you have to justify not playing it, but this time I don’t mind. Skyclave has completely invigorated White decks in nearly every format from Standard Yorion decks to Death and Taxes in Legacy. White cards have had it too hard for too long, it was time to throw them a bone!
#3 Sublime Epiphany
Playing with this card is simply…sublime. Ok I’m sorry, but I think this is a great design! Epiphany is my favorite type of card where there’s a tangible cost to playing it, but when you get it to work, you reap a huge reward. You need to be able to play a 6 drop in your deck, that you like holding mana open, and you ideally have a creature on board already. Epiphany really is only good when you clone a creature as well, so it requires a good amount of set up and timing to make work. However, what’s your reward for putting all these pieces together? Generally so much advantage you win on the spot. I like cards that are difficult to use, require a real deck building cost, but give you a large payoff.
#2 Sea Gate Stormcaller
Sea Gate Stormcaller hits every note on what I’m looking for on a card and then some. It’s unique, it’s fun, requires reasonable set up, and can give you great payoff. As of now, Stormcaller has really only seen play in Historic, which makes sense because of the significantly larger card pool. However, Stormcaller is just a few cards away to being an amazing tool in Standard as well! I’m beyond excited for when, not if, this card is good in Standard and I’m copying spells left and right!
#1 Shark Typhoon
Shark Typhoon is the complete package and playing with it has only been extremely satisfying from my perspective. The card is very powerful making an instant speed uncounterable threat that also cycles itself. Furthermore, although many never do it, the 6 mana half of the card is also very powerful in certain situations. I’ve mentioned this a lot in the article, but having a lot of options on a card is really satisfying from a gameplay perspective. You can make this a tiny roadblock, a huge threat, a powerful enchantment, or a cheap cycle, all on one card! Very few cards give you so many strong options while also not being overbearing. Although Typhoon can feel a little strong in slow mirrors, it’s not by any means unbeatable, and cards like Whirlwind Denial perfectly counters it as well! When one card offers that many game play options from early game advantage to a win condition, you know you struck gold.
Thank you for reading! Let me know what your favorite cards of 2020 were and if you agree or disagree with my rankings! Have a great day!