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CasualNation #25 – The Top 10 One-Drops

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Hello, Nation! One-drop creatures are historically bad in multiplayer land. What good is a Wild Nacatl or Savannah Lions against three or four opponents? In Commander, it's even worse with foes rocking 40 life at the beginning. However, there have always been a few one-drops that have a lot of power in the multiplayer metagame. What are they? How can you use them in your decks?

I hope you've had a fun week since last time. I thought this would be a fun little project, so I began to jot down the most powerful one-drops out there. Some of these are useful because of tap ability they have, and others have static abilities. None of the creatures on this list are on here because of their power and toughness (sorta). Who cares if you swing with Jackal Pup or Isamaru, Hound of Konda? They aren't going to do much. That doesn't mean there's no room for aggressive creatures in multiplayer, because there certainly is. It just means that the small-time stuff needs to be upgraded. I'd much rather see a mono-Green aggro deck with Garruk's Companion and Leatherback Baloth than Skyshroud Elite and Jungle Lion.

What one-drops can dominate a table? What one-drops are awesome? What one-drops should probably cost another mana? What is the single best one-drop for multiplayer? Let's take a look!

In order to prepare for today's article, I looked at every single one-casting-cost creature in the game—just to make sure I didn't let any slip through the cracks. Here are the ones I think are the best, starting with a few honorable mentions.

Honorable Mention #1: Veteran Explorer

Want to know what's awesome about Veteran Explorer? In addition to the fact that he will almost always suck up a piece of removal like Lightning Bolt or Terror, he speeds up a multiplayer game by at least two turns. That's, like, ten minutes. It gets you right into the main part of the game. It's also the creature least likely to piss off someone, ever. It makes people happy to kill your creatures, and you are happy to see it die. Everybody loves Veteran Explorer!

Honorable Mention #2: Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, et al.

All of the one-drop creatures are great for any deck-builder. They almost never get killed except on accident by getting caught up in an Earthquake or Damnation meant for others. They give your deck some oomph, and when pressed, they can always nip in for 1 or 2 damage, jump in front of an attacking creature, or grab a Loxodon Warhammer to become a major issue. They aren't super-amazing, like many of the other creatures we'll see, but they are really, really good. Your decks want them.

Honorable Mention #3: Planar Guide

Saving your entire team is awesome. Send your team to Exile-land while the Wrath of God comes through or the Phyrexian Rebirth arrives or it is time for your Final Judgment. Then your team comes back from Exile-land and is ready to beat again. The Planar Guide was lost, but that's an easy price to pay to keep your guys rocking. You can use it defensively to keep your guys alive. You can also use it offensively, in addition to that Day of Judgment. Like many other creatures you'll see today, having it available, with the mana to use, will change the way the game is getting played, and how people treat you. This is a great little creature that often would be called "underused."

#10: Serra Ascendant

Let's get this Top Ten thing kicked off right now with the hardest card to grade at #10. Here's why it's a troublemaker—this is a review for multiplayer, generally. Some multiplayer formats (*cough*, Commander, *cough*) begin with 40 life. In those formats, Serra Ascendant is a lot better than #10 on this list. Some multiplayer formats begin with the normal 20 life. Serra Ascendant shouldn't even be an honorable mention in those. So I averaged it, roughly. Serra Ascendant is my #10 gal (guy?). Do I need to explain how a 6/6 flying Lifelink for 1 mana is good? I doubt it.

#9: Grim Lavamancer

One of the main reasons this is such an awesome card is that you can tap to deal 2 damage to stuff, but you can't do it constantly. It has a cost of removing two cards from your graveyard. Because of the self-limited nature of that cost, you have this when you want it, but you are unlikely to go all crazy with it, which helps to keep it alive for a while. I've never seen this get killed upon arrival, unlike many other creatures. Having the ability to use it in an emergency, but not regularly, gives you the constant threat of it. That threat is a powerful thing. Who will attack you with a creature with a power 2 or 1? No one. (Unless it has Shroud or they have a Seal of Strength or some such.) This is a great card for your board position!

#8: Devoted Caretaker

As far as one-drops go, some are really great on offense. Traditional ones that see lots of play in tournaments are those that have a power greater than 1, like Loam Lion and Kird Ape and Tattermunge Maniac. Then there are those that are for defense in combat, such as Will-o'-the-Wisp and #4 below. Some have useful abilities that help your game plan, like Llanowar Elves. Finally, some have defensive abilities. They add to your defense, but not in terms of stopping an attack. Instead, they help to keep the team alive. This is one of those dudes. I think there are some people who misread Devoted Caretaker. They think it just protects creatures. It will tap and help any permanent you have. Give a land protection from instants and sorceries. Do it for an artifact, an enchantment, and even a Planeswalker to protect it from that Vindicate or Rootgrapple. When the Caretaker is out and untapped, it's rare to see anyone targeting your things. They know that it will just get protected. This is a great one-drop for your decks

#7: Guul Draz Assassin

Level-up creatures are great early drops that turn into powers in the mid or late game. With just a pair of level counters, using extra mana when you've got it, you turn this into a very strong creature. It doesn't take long to add another pair of counters and you are tapping to kill some really serious threats at the table. It can often go untouched at the second level of power, when it is Disfigureing things. A lot of creatures are bigger, so many players won't even bother touching it. As long as you don't get too greedy, you might be able to have it in play for a while. It will be virtually an AEther Flash for just your foes. (Nothing with a toughness of 2 or less will get played). It's a nice little adjunct to other removal strategies and more powerful killers.

#6: Dragonmaster Outcast

It seems like WotC has recently decided to push the power of 1/1 one-drops to massive levels. Look at this, Scute Mob, the aforementioned Serra Ascendant, and even #3 below. This is the second-highest-charting creature for its pure offensive-ness. In terms of pure power, it has more than many entries below it, but it almost always gets killed within a second of hitting the board. I've seen it go off a grand total of once. There is something to be said for subtlety. Despite that, there is a ton of value under this admittedly fragile hood. Getting an instant army later in the game is money. Dragons go rawr! Having a creature in your deck that immediately pulls out a Path to Exile is pretty good. Remember that it has no use in the early game, which drops it some on the radar as well. You'll get six lands soon enough, so make sure to consider it for your decks.

#5: Goblin Welder

No 1/1 for 1 mana in Magic history has had more decks built around it than Goblin Welder (only Goblin Lackey is likely in the running). In a deck that is not built around it, and just has some artifacts, it's downright amazing. In a deck that is built for it, it's stupidly broken. I suspect that of all of the one-drops in the history of Magic, this is the one that WotC most wish they had added more mana to its cost. The ability to instantly swap an artifact in play for one in the graveyard has thousands of uses. From putting severe beaters in play to recurring Memory Jar to using artifacts that have done their job (tapped Mana Vault, Pentad Prism) to recurring Mindslaver—this card will destroy your opponents. The only thing that keeps the monumental power of this card from climbing higher on today's chart is the fact that you have to use it with artifacts of a certain power level, and have to have enough artifacts in your deck to run it. It's not as universal as the next four cards. Respect the Welder.

#4: Steel Wall, Perimeter Captain

If you are playing any color other than White, Steel Wall, as a one-drop with 4 defense, is clearly the best you are doing for 1 mana. One of the reasons that Savannah Lions and others suck, in addition to life totals and spiraling cards of awesomeness and mass-removal city, is that people play great defensive creatures very early. You aren't going to be able to find a creature to crack a Steel Wall or Perimeter Captain until the third turn at best (and that's with something major, like Woolly Thoctar or Leatherback Baloth). You likely aren't going to see something able to crack it until turn four, when all of the 4/4's for 4 mana come to the table, and it will be turn five before it can attack. If you play this on turn one, you are guaranteed safety for turns. Consider the awesomeness of Steel Wall; four colors see this as their best defensive one-drop. Only White with Perimeter Captain has a better card.

#3: Figure of Destiny

The highest-charting offensive one-drop is the Figure of Awesomeness. What really makes it shine is the simple fact that it can become a really strong creature, but nothing too broken. Sure, getting it to 8/8 flying/First Strike is great, but it's not the biggest or nastiest creature likely to be seen that game. It will draw removal, but it often won't. There are a lot of worse creatures that could be in play. This is especially true in a world with Maze of Ith or other defensive cards. This is also especially true when everybody has higher life, from spells or Commander starting life totals. As a result, you get a card that could be great, and yet sticks. This is totally unlike the previous charting Dragonmaster Outcast, which just gets auto-killed constantly because it's too much.

#2: Soul Warden, Essence Warden, and Soul's Attendant

Some people think these guys would be #1, but they aren't. First of all, they are annoying, and often slow the game down. Someone plays Soul Warden, and then stops paying attention to the board for a few minutes, then comes back and wants to know how many creatures came into play, because he has to gain that life. He takes a phone call, and expects us to do his paperwork. That's the annoyingness of Soul Warden (although Soul's Attendant is a may effect, so that's not as bad). While I want to ding these cards for being a-freakin-noying, I also have to admit that they are mega-powerful. You play one, and roughly by turn four or five, you have gained 10 or 12 life. Then someone plays Barter in Blood in order to stop some nasty creature play, and you lose your Warden dudes, happy with your life total. Alternatively, you turn your life total into a fountain of life after cycling Decree of Justice or using Mobilization or even Martial Coup for a bunch (the soldiers come into play first from the Coup). And let's not forget the combo potential of these guys as well. So annoying . . .

#1: Mother of Runes

Ah, yes, the Mother. That this is not Soul Warden and company may surprise you, but it shouldn't. This has one of the single best tap abilities in the game. Want to save a creature from Pyroclasm? Want to keep a creature from dying after it blocks? Want to protect a guy from targeted removal? Want to get one of your creatures back after getting stolen by Control Magic? Want to ensure one of your guys gets a hit in? The Mother is to the rescue. An untapped Mother of Runes, ready to do her mother thing, is a severe handicap to your foes. They won't even bother looking your way for playing things from Swords to Plowshares to Lightning Bolt to Go for the Throat. Some of the cards on today's list have been offensive, and some defensive. The Mother of Runes is the ultimate one-drop for defense, while also able to contribute to your offense. She is the single best one-drop for casual Magic of all time. Period.

I'm starting to dig these Top 10 articles more and more. They are clean, and they make for a great conversation piece. It's fun to talk about what you think should have been here, or what ranked too highly, or not high enough, etc.

On that note, what did you expect to see here that didn't chart? Nova Cleric? Magus of the Scroll? Enclave Cryptologist? Goblin Lackey? Scute Mob? Will-o'-the-Wisp? Spurnmage Advocate? Hana Kami? Let me know your thoughts!

See you next week,

Abe Sargent

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