I hope you are having a great day today.
Today, I wanted to begin a series of retrospective Top Tens where I look at the best and most iconic cards from a given Block of cards. Since I played during this era, I can help make sense of and create some context for those cards and well as later cards that came along that played into these sets.
I thought about starting this series with Ice Age, Homelands, and Alliances as the first sort-of Block. But it’s not really a Block in the modern sense of the word, unlike the MirVLight Block that was about to hit and make it big.
Mirage and especially Visions were incredibly good at being fun to draft, having powerful commons, and bringing out some fun cards and mechanics that are essential to the game today.
I played during this era and had my first Limited experiences here. (Which I won, in case you care). I consider Visions to not only be the best set in this Block, but of this entire era!
So, what are the best, strongest, and most iconic cards from MirVLight?
Let’s find out!
Honorable Mention – Impulse, Common
Let’s begin with a card that’s no stranger to anyone and came closest to cracking that Top Ten list. Impulse joined other recently printed effects, like Brainstorm, as an iconic tool for many decks. Impulse was the first instant that was cheap, put the card in your hand, and then cleared the crap off the top of your library, and many other effects that would get printed later would follow.
Diabolic Vision? Sorcery, 2 mana, put them back on top of your library rather than on the bottom. This was quick, simple, cheap, and powerful. You are not drawing a card with Natural Selection. Ever since Impulse, we’ve had ton of similar effects from Anticipate to Worldly Counsel and some that care about the type on the card. Impulse has really been powerful in implementing a strong game across the years, and it’s an iconic card from this Block. And it just missed my Top Ten list!
Top Ten Time!
#10. Dwarven Miner, Uncommon
This is Dwarven Miner. For an era of time, this domianted any formats it was legal in, including Vintage. It was played in Five Color, Standard, Extended, and lots more. It was a key card in the first Jank decks. It was a powerhouse and often played as one of the few creatures in its deck, just due to the ongoing tap-destroy a non-basic that was crucial for winning. There was even a vote with Dwarven Miner vs Blood Moon to determine which was making the cut into 8th Edition:
And as you can see, it lost, but it held its own.
Here is a preview for its spiritual successor, Dwarven Blastminer:
Here’s the key quote:
“The most impressive of these were Dwarven Miner from Mirage and Back to Basics from Urza's Saga. Both saw a great deal of play in tournament caliber decks in a variety of formats as long as they were legal, with both remaining absolute powerhouses in the Vintage format as well as serious threats in Extended, at least prior to the rotation of dual lands. Even the Standard format has been so permeated with nonbasic lands that these cards have historically been quite powerful, with Ben Rubin's Dwarven Miners in his Sligh deck proving decisive in his matches against Survival-Recur decks when he placed second at the 1998 World Championships.”
This little Miner built a powerful cachet as a strong answer to any land-based issues that people wanted to lean upon. It’s definitely worth this spot.
#9. Tithe, Rare
Hello Tithe! After Land Tax, Tithe is considered to be the second-best land-fetching card in White’s history, and that’s pretty important considering how broken Land Tax is. What makes this shine is the instant status. As soon as someone drops an extra land, I can Tithe and grab two Plains for 1 mana instead of one. Because you are fetching two lands for one instant mana as long as you are down a land, this is incredible. The worst-case scenario for Tithe is 1 mana + one land. That’s a pretty strong “Worst Case” right? Because it can get Plains, it won’t fetch basics for getting mana, but it can get multicolored lands that are Plains, such as Plateau or Hallowed Fountain. Tithe made the cut in many formats, and it remains a force everywhere from Commander to Legacy.
#8. Ophidian, Common
If you had asked me to create this list a few months after the Block was finished, this would have hit at #3. Ophidian was everywhere. It was the first of this style of damage to the face. It was a massive, ongoing, mana-free source of card advantage that was played everywhere. It dominated Standard under the Forbiddian deck that locked you down with this and the buyback of Forbid that would require you to discard two cards to counter whatever your foe drew and cast. (It also ran Arcane Laboratory so your foe, and yourself, couldn’t cast more than one spell per turn). The buyback put Forbid back into your hand for another go and there was a ton of cheap counters like Counterspell and Dissipate at the same time as Forbid. Ophidian was played at the kitchen table as a four-of and people would attack each other with agreements to ”not block” so they could each draw cards from the other. Its ability would even slip past Maze of Ith!
But the era of Ophidian Dominance has faded a bit. We have a ton of cards since then that can draw you cards while also punching and hurting your foes. They are all in the flavor of Ophidian, and they are flying 1/3s, or grounded 1/3s, or fear 1/3s, and such all over. Ophidian can still be felt at the kitchen table, even if it’s play has been diminished. It falls to the eight spot on my list, but it’s still here!
#7. Phyrexian Dreadnought, Rare
Phyrexian Dreadnought is a banner card from this era as it is both a powerful card and an incredibly weak one. Because of its come-into-play restriction, it requires a big ol’ sacrifice. But tons of folks broke it from formats and cards as exotic as Illusionary Mask in Vintage, to contemporary stuff like Pandemonium in Standard. It needs friends to make it work, but the 12/12 for 1 mana is always going to catch eyes, as it pushes the boundary of good and legal cards.
Shoot, I just built a few decks around this card earlier this year!
The Dreadnought has cast a shadow on casual tables ever since it was printed. You can’t design without it in mind.
It earned this spot!
#6. Buried Alive, Uncommon
Weatherlight promised something new – a graveyard featured set. There were a few cards that played into that theme, such as a creature you could discard from your hand whenever you wanted or a few effects that used the graveyard as a resource:
Due to the small number of these sorts of recursion and effects, the set didn’t really feel like a graveyard-infused set! Except for one card . . . Buried Alive. That card remains a triple tutor for 3 mana for tons of decks and builds. The power of Buried Alive cannot be over exaggerated. It’s a nasty card that enables entire archetypes.
Buried Alive for the win. But not my top five!
So what did make the cut?
#5. Lion's Eye Diamond, Rare
It took a long time for LED to catch on. Outside of cute combo decks that would win with the cards in play, LED was a fun and interesting combo piece. I was able to get 4 back when it wasn’t worth much. Now? It’s a key piece of a ton of Legacy decks where it features in combos from Storm to Dredge to Goblin Charbelcher. There always seems to be some new brew that needs or is enhanced by a full slate of LEDs. They are on the Reserve List, so they aren’t getting made anytime soon. I actually “bank” my trades and such into LEDs, as they are such an important and key part of many, many decks in Legacy, they aren’t going to drop in value in that format due to dropping off the tournament players’ radar. They will be in demand for a long time to come, and I find them to be consistent price risers.
#4. Fireblast, Common
I would argue that Fireblast has ended more games due to the alternate casting cost option of this spell. Zero mana for four damage is nasty, and it puts any Red Deck Wins player into the driver’s seat for a nasty game-winning damage spike. You will know what your foe’s “real life” is at when you subtract the Fireblasts and Lightning Bolt or variants in your hand. But your foe doesn’t know their real life, so they are likely to drop to zero life before they hit zero life. They pass turn four having dropped to 12 life from your Ball Lightning, and then you go Bolt, Fireblast, Fireblast, sacrifice this Mogg Fanatic, take 12 to the face and die. Fireblast is the unfair part of this equation by far. It’s long been the Force of Will of Red.
It’s just a powerful and strong card that can hit someone out of nowhere. Enjoy it!
#3. Natural Order, Rare
What makes Natural Order so useful, is that we have a number of ways to speed this up while also giving you bodies to use for its effect. For example, you could drop a one-turn or two-turn creature that can accelerate your mana, such as Wall of Roots or Llanowar Elves. Then, on turn three, you cast this and sacrifice the mana accelerant and search your library for the Best (Green) Fatty ever printed and then you just win from that position. Jamie Wakefield famously got Verdant Force, but there are many options. Today I’d grab a big fat Green creature that twins hexproof and trample – Carnage Tyrant, as it’s both uncounterable and just 6 mana to cast if your Natural Order is countered or you can’t find it.
Natural Order’s limitations of sacrificing and fetching a Green creature might be real in a vacuum, but aren’t much of a deck restriction when you start playing with it. Enjoy building around this powerful force of Green violence!
#2. Vampiric Tutor, Rare (With a shout out to Enlightened Tutor, Mystical Tutor and Worldly Tutor – all Uncommons)
There are two(ish) words that can inform you about just how good Vampiric Tutor is.
This is cheaper than Demonic Tutor, and it can be cast as an instant in response to something. I like to cast it before I go to draw a card from an effect. The instant clause ain’t nothing, and you need to recognize just how good it is to cast and use your Tutor reactively. The best part is that it leaves your mana free to cast what you fetched. If I sorcery out the Demonic Tutor, then I am often frumping around without the mana I need to cast what I Tutored for. But with this, I can just cast it at the end of someone’s turn, draw it, and cast it with all of my mana free. I can also keep my mana free from other answers, such as countermagic. Vampiric Tutor is awesome!
And it comes so close . . . Nah not really. Nothing comes close to #1.
Honorable Mention to the other 1 mana instant Tutors as well!
#1. Nekrataal, Uncommon; Uktabi Orangutan, Uncommon; Man-o'-War, Common (and a shout out to Knight of the Mists and Shrieking Drake, both Common)
There are a ton of great cards in this Block. We have cards that were heavily played then, although they have seen reduced play since – like Abeyance. We have cards that are incredibly valuable in Commander (how about Winding Canyons?) or cards that dominated Limited – such as Empyrial Armor. We have tournament cards and casual hits with equal aplomb.
And despite it all, there is no real choice for my Top slot. This is really a Top Nine list as nothing else can chart here. No other cards are as iconic, as powerful, or as impactful, as Nekrataal and his friends. The ability to slay on arrival is something that pushes tables around. It dominates. Ever since, creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers have been printed up and down in virtually every set since! We have a triad of awesome etb triggers here that have made the cut for tournaments, draft, and casual decks ever since. From the Sex Monkeys to the Jellyfish, these are classics of the game. You cannot discuss the history of Magic, or of the creatures therein, without discussing these. The rest of this list is debatable, but I’m not sure how anything else can be #1.
And there we are! I hope that you enjoyed this leap into some deep Mirage Water. So, what did you think of my list? Anything I missed? Anything that you thought should be on here? Just let me know!