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The Most Powerful Do-Nothing Cards in Modern

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Is it just me, or is Standard feeling a bit...repetitive? Maybe the format just burnt out for me a little quicker than normal this season, especially with the presence of cards like Nexus of Fate, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Narset, Parter of Veils. I think these have been a huge contributing factor to my Standard fatigue.

It's for that reason that we're going to keep talking about Modern. Modern is and has always been one of my favorite formats, despite the fact that it feels like it's somewhat devolving into a degenerate combo format (and no, I don't think it has always felt like that). Maybe I just see the format through rose-colored glasses, but I do think there's still a ton of room for experimentation and innovation.

One of the most interesting things about Modern, however, is how many ubiquitous cards there are in the format that simply... do nothing. It's weird to say, but honestly, most of the top decks in the format have at least one card in their deck - and a popular card at that - that "does nothing." This week I want to take a look at some of those cards, and explain some of their applications despite the fact that, as Magic cards, they're all extremely unexciting.

Mishra's Bauble

Mishra's Bauble

This is still one of the weirdest cards in Modern to me. Coming straight out of the somewhat unpopular Coldsnap set back in 2006, Mishra's Bauble was practically garbage until it started showing up in the format-defining Death's Shadow deck. Outside of the minimal knowledge gained from it, this card basically does nothing other than draw you a card, and it doesn't even do that until the next upkeep, be it yours or your opponent's.

One thing about a lot of the cards on this list is that it isn't important what they do, but rather what they are. In this case, the Bauble is a zero-cost artifact, so it does things like allow you to essentially play 56 cards, grow your Tarmogoyf, contribute to Delirium, assist with metalcraft, and ironically, the list goes on and on. At its peak, this card was pushing about $35 due to the rarity of being in Coldsnap, but thankfully due to some reprints, it's sitting around a much more reasonable $8 or so now.

Faithless Looting

Faithless Looting

What can we even say about this piece of junk? It's so funny to me how powerful this card is. It's basically a single Bazaar of Baghdad activation, which, on the surface, doesn't feel very good. You look at a card like Divination, where you get rid of one card to draw two new ones, and you're like, okay, this is a good rate. And then you see Faithless Looting, where you get rid of one card...and two more cards...to draw two new ones, and it just kind of feels terrible.

But, again, we have to consider all parts of the buffalo here. Faithless Looting not only costs one mana, which is huge, but it also puts very relevant combo pieces into the graveyard, like creatures to reanimate, or flashback spells, or god forbid an Arclight Phoenix. Not only that, but we have the option of casting it a second time later in the game and tossing two lands in the graveyard for potentially two actual cards. Modern is such a graveyard-centric format that it makes sense to see a card like Faithless Looting doing so much work, it just feels weird. Especially because we've watched these cards go from being nowhere to everywhere over a course of time where specific cards being printed made them relevant.

Ancient Stirrings

Ancient Stirrings

Oh man, just like Faithless Looting, Ancient Stirrings is a card people have sought to be banned for quite some time. The problem with this card is that it isn't exactly Demonic Tutor, but in the decks it's played in, it sometimes might as well be. You're basically always drawing the best card in your top five cards in the decks that play Ancient Stirrings, whether it's getting a colorless planeswalker, a missing Tron piece, an Eldrazi, or any number of useful artifacts, the range on this card is pretty staggering, especially at one Green mana. In other words, you're often getting a land or one of the most powerful cards in your deck.

Ancient Stirrings is innocent enough, but its effect all too often mirrors that of a tutor, and the more powerful archetypes that are reliant on colorless cards that show up in Modern, the more this card needs to be watched. Assuming you have 50 cards in your deck when you cast this, you're looking at 10% of your deck and picking the most useful card to you. That's a pretty good Serum Visions.

Arcum's Astrolabe

Arcum's Astrolabe

We actually talked about this card a bunch the other week when we were talking about Modern Horizons and some of the innocuous cards in the set. This one definitely stood out there, and you can find it in a ton of Modern decks, mostly artifact-based strategies.

In order to really understand what's going on, you kind of want to look at cards like Chromatic Star and Chromatic Sphere. In addition to drawing you a card, which is the only reason this card is seeing play anywhere, it does the same mana fixing that the other one-mana artifacts have been doing for years, only it does it on a much more permanent basis.

The problem, as you're well aware, is that the cost is much more prohibitive at one snow mana. Although thanks to a card like Prismatic Vista, it's currently a lot easier to find a single basic land that can cast this. And who knows, maybe one day we'll have snow variations of shock lands. Or maybe even dual lands. (Unlikely, considering they're on the reserved list and this would be a functional reprint, but a boy can dream.) We can also convoke with the Astrolabe or tap it for mana with Urza, so in truth, this card is infinitely more usable and castable thanks to some other hits from Modern Horizons.

Street Wraith

Street Wraith

I want you to think back at the number of times you've ever cast a Street Wraith or seen a Street Wraith cast against you. And I'm not talking about it entering the battlefield from the graveyard, a la Living End. But when was the last time five mana was tapped for this card? Go ahead. I'll wait.

...

Odds are there's someone out there who can remember one time, but realistically it probably isn't you. And that's because just like Mishra's Bauble, Street Wraith is a card that is simply added to decks (just like Gitaxian Probe before it) to lower the number of functional cards in the deck, increasing your odds of drawing the cards you want, when you want.

But again, just like many of the other cards on this list, there's more going on than face value. For Living End, this is a creature that can enter the graveyard for free, while also digging you closer to your cascade cards. For a deck like Death's Shadow, this is a way to artificially alter your life total while, again, getting closer to your more relevant spells. If your deck wants creatures in the graveyard, the ability to draw a card for free, or a way to manipulate your life total, this is a surprisingly effective card that doesn't really do anything that relates to its casting cost or card type or power and toughness.

Simian Spirit Guide

Simian Spirit Guide

For a long time Magic has asked us questions like "How much life is a single card worth?" or "Is one mana worth a single card?" For the latter, the answer is clearly "yes" as Simian Spirit Guide has been enabling combos in Modern for a long through. In Modern, Simian Spirit Guide plays the same role as it's Green counterpart, Elvish Spirit Guide, in Legacy, but it also plays the role of a Lotus Petal as well, which is a card that sees a ton of play.

Like the other cards on this list, Simian Spirit Guide isn't a card that you're casting for three mana to attack and block with, but realistically, this is something that happens more frequently than I expect it to. No, the Guide is just a card you put in your deck to do the degenerate things you want to be doing on turn faster, and just like many of the cards on this list, has been considered at different points to be too strong and unnecessary for Modern.

A lot of the cards mentioned today are no different than cards like Serum Visions or Opt. They're typically one-for-one cards, only instead of the selection provided by the Blue cards through scrying, you get other benefits like putting a creature into the graveyard, or having an artifact on board, or getting some great selection but being limited to only colorless cards. A lot of times the cards mentioned here are actually more powerful, which is meant to be balanced by their restrictions or their limited functionality, and several of them have been actively in discussions for bannings for months.

I'd love to know what you guys think and if there are any cards like this you feel like I'm leaving off, so do me a favor and leave a comment below with your thoughts! As always, I love you all and thanks so much for reading. Be sure to use promo code FRANK5 to get 5% off your purchases, and I'll catch you all next week!

Frank Lepore

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