March Madness is here, and it brings with it an awesome few weeks of college basketball that is untouched elsewhere in sports. Davids slay Goliaths, and teams etch their story into legend.
Inspired by madness, I decided to write an article yesterday where I built some Madness decks. Today, I want to delve into the top of the heap, and see what the best madness cards of all time are!
I love madness! I used to have a Madness-focused Five Color deck that clocked in at 250 cards. I can’t tell you how happy and surprised I was when I saw madness return as a perfect fit for the next edition of Innistrad. It felt like the sort of mechanic that was never to be used again, and I’m glad that feeling of mine was out of date. We now have three blocks of madness cards!
I wrote the list, and then sat on it for more than a week to ensure that the ratings were true, and not just a quick hot take. But this top ten list still feels weird to me. It begins in Johnny space. Cool ways to make discard mechanics work! Great synergies! And then at around #5 it turns into pure Spike. Free creatures! Cards that cost almost nothing! Cards that dominated their formats! And that’s pretty weird to me. But that’s the honest list. I can’t, in good conscience, move a Johnny card up to #3 or drop a powerful Spike card from #2 to #9 when that’s not where they belong.
The best Madness cards are ones you want to cast already and are fine in your deck. But when Madness’d out, you get a huge discount! Ready to take a look and see what we have? I know I am!
10. Welcome to the Fold
What does Blue like to do? Blue likes to draw cards. Blue likes to wreak and play havoc with your strategies and game plan. Blue is the color of saying “no” more often than “yes.”Blue is the color of your strict conservative dad rather than your nice liberal mother.1 Blue is not your friend. So where does this card play into Blue’s strengths? Well, for one, it’ll steal an opposing dork permanently as long as they are small enough. Don’t forget that. (It’s also not an enchantment they can kill to get their dork back, by the way) But by discarding it for an effect, you net the effect as well as a powerful madness theft of something at instant speed that can change the tables very quickly. And that’s Blue’s core, so you know how to make it work for you!
Welcome to the Top Ten List.
9. Nightshade Assassin; Call to the Netherworld
In any madness deck running a strong Black component, these are powerful tools to break stuff open. One is a free Raise Dead spell that costs no mana and can return something awesome, and the other a strong Assassin effect for two madness mana. And their abilities don’t require madness, so you can cast them normally. There’s nothing wrong with Nightshade Assassin as a normal 4-drop in a heavy or Mono-Black deck. It works well. Call is the same. These are powerful entries for your madness toolbox.
Do note that the Nightshade Assassin requires a different, more control, deck to function. Often, madness decks just want to spew their hand onto the battlefield with discard effects and then power a win. But the Assassin works best with a full grip of Black cards. So you’ll want to run it in a deck that can reveal enough stuff to slay well.
8. From Under the Floorboards
If you aren’t using madness, this is still 6 power of dorks for five mana plus three life. Compare it to, say, Bestial Menace at five mana for 6 power across three bodies. (And the Menace doesn’t gain you any life, dorks are untapped, and you can’t madness for more later.) At least Conqueror's Pledge gives you the chance to kick it for double tokens, not even Bestial Menace can do that. Within the context of other mass-token producers at that casting cost and level, I’m sure you can see the value of From Under the Floorboards. It’s useful as a quick way of pressuring someone early or you can use it to hit hard later with a game-winning number of Zombies and life. After all, they were hiding under your floorboards all along!
7. Stromkirk Occultist
The Occultist is an awesome card. I have run it in Standard decks that had no discard effects to get the madness to trigger. I have run it in casual games and multiplayer. A 3/2 trample for three mana with a face-smash trigger is very much good. I named it the second best card from Eldritch Moon. I’d put it third today behind Thalia's Lancers at the two spot, but it’s still a very strong card, and the madness just makes it sing. It’s a great card with a cheap but effective card advantage potential.
Don’t mentally assign Stromkirk Occultist to the province of madness-only and then ignore it in decks where it’s strong.
6. Big Game Hunter
Big Game Hunter can do a nice impression of a Nekrataal or Bone Shredder for just three mana, as it kills the big stuff. And at any multiplayer table, especially Commander, there’s always big stuff to kill! People like to run their enbiggened baddies, and you are much more likely to feast with the Hunter. You don’t even need to have anything close to madness to make it work, and it’s probably the madness card most played outside of madness decks as result. In fact, I’d say it’s the best madness card that wasn’t pushed hard and overpowered in Torment. It’s a dork with a strong presence at ending threats, and when you can get that for a single mana off a madness outlet or something, it’s even better!
All right, Top Five Time! Spike, let’s take us home . . .
5. Violent Eruption
Violent Eruption was a powerful game-shifting card in Limited. You would do everything you could to grab and play it, despite the heavy Red commitment. Forget madness. For a Lightning Blast amount of mana and damage you could split it up among other targets and easily have an instant face-smash of damage. I still like this card for Cubes and such today. But outside of that, the madness for three mana, and one fewer Red helps to make the cost more manageable, while the effect is no less face-smashingly real! Get an instant Arc Lightning for one more damage! Gain some critical range and card advantage.
4. Arrogant Wurm, Reckless Wurm
Arrogant Wurm was a powerful card in the Madness deck as a fast 4/4 trampler for 3 mana that was otherwise free. Imagine a 2nd turn Wild Mongrel or Aquamoeba into a 3rd turn four/4 that could be cast as an instant, as long as you discarded it. And Reckless Wurm was a great attempt to bring back and duplicate that success as well. Beaters often win games, especially cheap beaters. This duo is no laughing matter in a modern context. Sure, all they do is swing and trample. But for the madness cost? It’s a no-brainer in these shells.
3. Circular Logic
In most decks, Circular Logic is a hard counter early on, and its madness cost was a clear mistake. It proved to be too much of a cheap answer. I think a powerful argument could be made that it was not necessarily the cheap and powerful cards that made Madness the dominant Standard deck of its era, but this cheap counter that prevented you from doing anything about it. For comparison, take Broken Concentration. Yes, it’s a hard counter for sure, but it’s madness is an abysmally high four mana. That’s almost prohibitively high with cards that seek to use mana for their discard engine-ing, such as Compulsion. You would have to use it with mana-less stuff like Merfolk Looter or Aquamoeba to reliably madness it. Wizards knows how powerful Circular Logic was, and had to nuke it. The result is the 3rd best madness card of all time!
2. Fiery Temper
Once. Twice. Thrice. On three occasions in the history of this game, we’ve had a Standard environment where madness was legal as was this powerhouse. And don’t sleep on it. In the right home, it’s the best burn spell ever printed. Better than Lightning Bolt, as you get the discard trigger as well! On the first occasion, Fiery Temper was awesome, and really helped push Madness to the top of the Standard Heap o’ Decks. Then it was surprisingly brought back for another go as one of the purple-symbol timeshifted sheet of cards for Time Spiral. Of course, that block had a cool madness theme too with cards like Dark Withering. That time around, madness wasn’t this dominating force of nature for Constructed, although I loved madness as a draft archetype, and it was my favorite of the era. The final time we had a madness block was recently in Shadows over Innistrad. Again, madness was around, and Fiery Temper was viewed as one of the best reprints! It’s so good! But even though aggro and madness felt very pushed, it never reared its head, although you always felt like it might. And it was fun as Friday Night Magic deck! Fiery Temper rates this spot.
1. Basking Rootwalla
No madness card ever printed is as powerful as Basking Rootwalla for zero. It was the card that made Madness and the card that fuels a lot of powerful stuff since. It’s great a as 1-drop because people won’t often block with their bigger 1 or 2 drops because of fear that just swell into 3/3 and kill their dork while your Rootwalla lingers. You can spend the mana you might otherwise spend in casting spells in pumping it up, and it’s almost always a 3/3 when you need it to be. It has a strong range, strong game, and virtually has the keyword, “This cannot be blocked until turn four”. It’s an awesome card in play.
And there we have it! Thanks for reading my list. Madness is maddening at times, but it’s worth it. So what did you think of my list? Anything I missed? Did I get anything wrong? Just let me know!
1 This joke is meant to lampoon gender roles. If you noticed it, good job!