[Community Discussion]: What makes a card good?

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Posted on March 5, 2017, 10:31 a.m. by Epochalyptik

What is it that makes a card good?

I wrote a long time ago about the characteristics of a strong deck:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Resilience
  3. Sustainability
  4. Consistency
  5. Cohesiveness
  6. Efficiency
  7. Effectiveness

But what is it about an individual card that makes it good? Does it have to cost a certain amount? Do a certain thing?

Are there any qualities that make a card bad? Things that will never be "overcome" no matter what else the card can do?

If there are two cards that are functionally similar, how do you choose between them? What factors make the difference?

Is there such thing as a card that's universally good? Or one that's universally bad? How important is context in determining how good a card will be?

Is there a difference between a card being good and being playable? How do you determine which cards are worthwhile in your deck?

DrLitebur says... #2

Well, for me, a card can be good in one deck, and bad in another deck. Say, for example, there are universally good cards like Sol Ring and Mana Vault because they are mana rocks, or Prismatic Lens because it can fix mana issues, but in some decks, Sunglasses of Urza can be even better, turning your plains into Plateaus. Cards like Fatal Push are going to be good in just about any deck that run black, but especially anything that runs fetches or uses self-sacrifices. Some may take Ruinous Path over Hero's Downfall or Dreadbore if their deck utilizes the Awakening mechanic. Honestly I think it depends on the deck.

March 5, 2017 10:49 a.m.

pskinn01 says... #3

Unless looking for flavor or theme, instants are better than sorceress, and being cost efficient is important unless you have ways of cheating them into play. Cards that gain you an advantage are better than a card that doesn't (cards that 2 for one, or draw you a card in addition to the spells effects), such as if they made a here's downfall that also drew you a card, that new card would be a better card. It would prob still be a better card even if it had a drawback like lose 1 life

March 5, 2017 11:12 a.m.

shaistyone says... #4

For me, it is far more about the situation than anything else. The number of truly 'bad' cards is actually very low, and (barring formats with deck restrictions) the number of 'unplayable' cards is even lower.
I took first in a prerelease, and the card that turned the most games around for me? Skull Rend
I have played absurd amounts of EDH, and in pretty much any blue deck the card most directly tied to win%? Telepathy

I had a standard deck a few years ago that went undefeated through 3 consecutive FNMs. After he lost one guy wanted to look over my deck. All he could talk about was how bad Fortify was and how I shouldn't play it. In the first game, I had surprised him with quick damage to win. In the second, his damage based removal got blanked, making a fairly tight game super lopsided. You can guess which card was responsible... :)

March 5, 2017 11:34 a.m.

Busse says... #5

Interesting topic, considering the increasing amount of cards released in the last 3-5 years. Nowadays choosing a particular function is quite the feat; taking into account several factors such as CMC, deck's curve, archetype, needs of a particular deck and meta.

Personally, when dealing with such a choice, CMC associated with function plays an important role (e.g. Gifted Aetherborn vs Vampire Nighthawk). The Aetherborn fits quite nicely in the aggressive 2nd turn, while the Nighthawk offers more versatility for just 1 more mana.
Everything is contextual; in the case of Reclamation Sage vs Indrik Stomphowler, the latter would fit better in most green decks because of its sheer size, but in the case of a reanimator deck such as Meren of Clan Nel Toth, the former is more useful as it can die more easily.

Card choices beyond the staples are rarely easy, but a part of what makes this game a great game.

Regards to all, B

March 5, 2017 11:53 a.m.

TheMightyDead says... #6

I think it comes down to personal bias, and experience with said card. to use an example from standard. a friend and I were at FNM last week and over heard people talking about how Renegade Map is a terrible card because Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds as well as fetch lands already exist.

however my friend and I saw it differently. while in normal decks, sure, those other cards would be better choice. but with the kaladesh block being focused on artifacts in a (In my opinion) different way than other sets focused on artifacts, id say now that certain cards are printed ( Tezzeret's Touch, Quicksmith Spy among others) Id almost argue that Renegade Map becomes a must include card in artifact decks. but that's just me.

March 5, 2017 12:18 p.m.

clayperce says... #7

I really like the 'quadrant theory' framework for analyzing individual cards. I'm not sure who came up with it originally, but it was popularized by Marshall Sutcliffe on Limited Resources.

For those not familiar, the basic idea is to look at how a card performs in four different board states (these are from an article on the mothership)...

  • Opening or Developing. Both players are playing cards from their opening hands, and establishing themselves as the aggressor or the control player. This is the early part of the game, and one that is critical to how the rest of the game will play out.
  • Parity. Both players have played most or all of the spells from their hands, but neither has been able to establish a dominating board position. It's a stalemate, with the top of the deck providing the only fuel available to both players.
  • Winning. You have two big flying creatures attacking in the air while your walls gum up the ground, for example. If nothing changes, you win the game in three turns. This is one possible winning board state.
  • Losing. See Winning, but the opposite. You are being beaten down by some threats you can't handle, and you need an answer fast.

In general, a card you want in your hand in three of these areas (in a particular format or meta) is a good card and one you want in all four is a great card.

March 5, 2017 1 p.m.

Runlue says... #8

It has to say "If you do this, you win the game".

March 5, 2017 11:16 p.m.

lithium142 says... #9

clayperce haha, nice! I was going to quote that same article =D

I think that's exactly where this discussion should start. That article focuses almost exclusively on a limited "draft" environment, but I feel you can take its lessons and apply them just as well to a standard environment.

combo decks really cant exist in limited, but if you are playing a combo deck, your combo also needs to be a constant thought. I.E. does this card help me hit my combo quicker, or make it more resilient. otherwise, can this act as an alternate win condition? with that in mind, if you are piecing together a combo, you need to put your pieces through these quadrants as though you were playing them alone. Any combo deck is better if their pieces dont suck on their own.

A great example of a combo deck that functioned with these quadrants in mind was Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin in modern. The enchantment had value in three quadrants because of the creatures in the deck. other than the winning combo, it hit hard on a Snapcaster Mage, Sun Titan, Restoration Angel. it hit there because these three creatures also had the potential for that kind of impact. it would hit on only the parity side if you played it on something like Vendilion Clique or Wall of Omens. still pretty good.

now away from combo decks. I think it's important to also consider the meta state of the format you're playing as well. This kind of falls under parity already, but i think that's a bit oversimplified for complex formats. I think format warping cards are the perfect way to discuss this, because you get to the heart of how it was warped, and what cards came up from it. That said, lets talk about Siege Rhino, or rather, the cards that came into the format solely because he was there. the way to do this is to consider popular cards at the time, and consider them at face value, and then re-look at them assuming you're staring down a rhino on the board.

the first card that comes to my mind is Roast. at face value, this will remove a creature, and nothing else. so it's ok on parity and misses the other 3. compare this with more versatile cards like Lightning Strike that hit both parity and victory and you question why you'd ever run this one. now what if a siege rhino is on the board? suddenly this card also hits losing.

can you think of some more cards that came into the format because of siege rhino? I'd love to see what you guys can think of for sake of discussion.

March 6, 2017 12:33 a.m.

Vickolas says... #10

Well, I've found that how good a card is really is in the eye of the beholder. Like, I could be over here saying that something is awesome, and you could be like, oh yeah... That sucks since it isn't good in modern or whatever. So it really depends on you.

March 6, 2017 8:42 a.m.

Vickolas says... #11

Well, I've found that how good a card is really is in the eye of the beholder. Like, I could be over here saying that something is awesome, and you could be like, oh yeah... That sucks since it isn't good in modern or whatever. So it really depends on you.

March 6, 2017 8:42 a.m.

Zaueski says... #12

If I may direct the conversation the other way a little bit... I do think that there are inherently great cards that you should have a very good reason for cutting like Sol Ring or Serum Visions if you're in their colors. However on the opposite side of the spectrum, there are cards that are inherently bad and are almost never played except by people making decks to attempt to prove a point.

Cards like Alabaster Leech, Doom Cannon, Scornful Egotist, Devastating Summons, Orcish Artillery and many others have way to high of a drawback to ever be useful. Now I'm sure someone somewhere will disagree with me but unless you design the deck around making it playable those are never cards that you instinctively turn to. Like clayperce brought up, its because the vast majority of the time they fail 3 or 4 of those tests and require way to much probability manipulation to ever pay off in a reliable way.

March 6, 2017 10:59 a.m.

Shwang says... #13

The specific format and deck determine how good a card is. Within each format and deck, different cards can be powerful for different reasons. But if I were to come up with qualities for a good card in general, I would say cost efficient, versatile, and supportive.

Format: in sealed or draft, a card like Aethertide Whale can be devastating. Most opponents will not have an answer for it. In modern, you won't see a super competitive deck ever playing Aethertide Whale.

Deck: every card in a deck depends on its surrounding cards. Even a card "universally" good like Sol Ring wouldn't be nearly as useful in a white weenie deck where cards all cost white mana and can be played by turn 2 when compared to a card that supports a white weenie deck, like Crusade.

March 6, 2017 12:02 p.m.

clayperce says... #14

I like the point made by lithium142 and others about how cards can't really be analyzed in a vacuum, but need to be compared against the format-warping cards in a given (format + meta) too. I'm missed the joy that was Siege Rhino, but I know what you mean. For a long while in Standard I always had Clip Wings in my 75, because it was so good against Archangel Avacyn  Flip and then Emrakul, the Promised End. Now, it's just another SOI Common.


So I'm poking around a little on quadrant theory, and found this article by Bruce Richard, over on TCGplayer: Quadrant Theory in Multiplayer Formats. Among other things, it raised the point that a card strong in multiple quadrants is EXTREMELY desirable in multiplayer, because you can find yourself in multiple quadrants at once (e.g., at Parity with one player, Winning against one, and Losing to two others).

Bruce did a follow-up article as well: Multiplayer Rankings: Animals!, which describes a totally different way to evaluate cards. It's (much) more complicated, but interesting. The basic idea is to evaluate the card based on six weighted factors, each represented by a different animal. I'm not sure at all about the weights he's assigned ... it seems like different players would weight these factors very differently, based on their experience or just their playstyle. E.g., I HATE group-hug (or 'Plankton') cards in multiplayer, and would weight that area much lower. Nevertheless, I think the factors themselves are worth mentioning:

  • Rattlesnake (22%): Cards that discourage your opponents from attacking you
  • Gorilla (20%): Cards that have bigger effects. They tend to make immediate statements in the game
  • Spider (16%): Cards that trap or surprise your opponents
  • Pigeon (14%): Cards that get better with more opponents
  • Plankton (14%): Cards that benefit all players
  • Cockroach (14%): Cards that offer repeat effects or extra resources
March 6, 2017 12:34 p.m.

scarson300 says... #15

I think variability (doesn't have to be color specific), cohesiveness (can be used in most deck plans), rotational (can it last through at least its rotation in standard) I.E. Fatal Push, cost (price of card monetarily and cost of cast).

That's just my opinion.

March 6, 2017 1:17 p.m.

lithium142 says... #16

Shwang that's a given. You could say the same thing about archetypes. You'd never play Luminarch Ascension in a burn deck. A great example of this is Fertile Thicket. A card i was super salty about every time I pulled one. I was convinced it was the worst card printed in years, until my friend beat me top-decking it in his amulet bloom deck. In anything but a land deck you're better off running a basic forest, but in that deck, lands are gas, and so it fits for parity and opening.

Zaueski I agree totally with that point. Yea, you can force a card into playability. But there's a difference between a Playable card, and a card that's just inherently good.

I got a little chuckle out of your bit on using such bad cards just to prove a point. My top rated deck was just that. A buddy of mine was angry about pulling Descent into Madness in a pack, and wouldn't shut up about it. So I took the opportunity to make a point out of it

March 6, 2017 3:10 p.m.

HenryPerson says... #17

Personally, any card that is above fair is good (fair meaning a 1/1 for 1, a 2/2 for 2, and so on). A 2/1 for 2 is terrible, and a 2/2 for 2 is okay. But the card that is good is the 2/3 for 2, or a card that has an ability that balances out its poor value. The same goes for enchantments, instants or any noncreature spell.

March 6, 2017 10:08 p.m.

golgarigirl says... #18

At least in a competitive constructed format, I think it is all about cost vs effect-level efficiency. Think of almost any format all-star for any 60-card format, and that's it. Everything else just amplifies or detracts from that key relationship to the point where something is playable or unplayable.

March 6, 2017 11:35 p.m.

ksbaker1989 says... #19

I'm also the kind of guy that wants to prove a point with bad cards. My favorite way to do this is Captivating Glance and Tel-Jilad Stylus, though I am attempting to find a more consistent and efficient way to do the same effect.

March 7, 2017 8:23 a.m.

dotytron says... #20

I personally only play casually with a few friends and have random assortment of cards back to new phyrexia, some older that were trades or single purchases, that aside I really feel that a good card needs to do 3 main things aside from the quadrant.

1). Perform how you expected or better in the deck you put it in after play-testing/ real play

2). Be a card you would like to draw or tutor anytime in the match

3). Keep you at your current board state or increase yourself as a threat

these rules i follow for all my physical decks i have and can apply to 1v1 or 2HG or EDH

this also applies to any meta you have to deal with too

March 7, 2017 12:39 p.m.

Jhed1 says... #21

I'll state my answers in the order that questions were asked.

  1. There are several qualities that make a card "bad" - the biggest examples for me would just be limitations in effectiveness, mana cost too high for the impact provided from the card, or a multi-color combination that provides little to no benefit outside of the card in question.

  2. Two cards with similar functionality - this one has always just been a meta call for me. The best and most frequent discussion I have with this locally is... Supreme Verdict or Wrath of God. Regeneration clause or playing around counter magic - the factors that go into deciding which one you want to play, is determined by the rest of your deck. If they counter my wrath of god, can I recover? If they land a Thrun, the Last Troll can I win through it?

  3. There are always going to be cards that are objectively good regardless of any context. Deathrite Shaman Ponder Brainstorm Tarmogoyf Liliana of the Veil. I don't think there's objectively universal "bad cards" outside of like - high mana cost grizzly bears that don't have any unique mechanics to them, but even that just opens of a question of why play a Gray Ogre when you can play a Simian Spirit Guide.

  4. To me there's a huge difference between being good and being playable. Everything in MTG is playable (as long as it's legal in whatever format you choose) - to me what makes a card "good" is if someone else is playing with nothing but "good cards" can you still win a game outside of extreme variance in your favor. I have my fair share of pet-cards that are objectively bad, or less than optimal, but in the shells I build around them, it compensates for the individual weakness. If you just jam a bunch of "good cards" into a deck, that doesn't make your deck good.

March 7, 2017 1:59 p.m.

Catalog9000 says... #22

What makes a card good?

Low cost, high impact.

Bonus points if you can find multiple cards with the same or similar effect for consistency in your deck. After all, 8 cards with the same effect are better than 4.

March 8, 2017 9:21 a.m.

Argy says... #23

All I know is Rite of the Serpent sucks.

March 8, 2017 9:34 a.m.

MoJoMiXuP says... #24

I find it interesting that so much of this discussion is focused on how competitive the cards are. A good cards win games seems to be the assumed consensus in this discussion. I'd say this generally holds and it gives us a quantitative component for assessment (win rate, % played in competitive metas, mana efficiency for effect, etc) but at heart, this is a game isnt it? The more fun it makes, the better the card is, no? For example, seeing Thieves' Auction at EDH last night was awesome fun and I thought 'Hey, that's a great card, I should maybe work it into my Jhoira deck'. I also think originality should count for something. Strionic Resonator, Laboratory Maniac, Knowledge Pool, Helix Pinnacle, Sundial of the Infinite, these are all good cards because they opened up new stratagies. Uniqueness may not fit into quadrant theory and often don't open up a strategy that is highly competitive, but I think it should count for something. Just food for thought.

March 8, 2017 2:48 p.m.

dotytron says... #25

I have to agree with MoJoMiXuP as well, so many card choices I make initially have nothing to do with how objectively good the card or cards are, but how much fun it is to play with

March 8, 2017 4:54 p.m.

TheRedGoat says... #26

I have to wonder where Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded falls in all this considering his biggest downside can be negated the turn before he enters play with Library of Leng.

Obviously I'm thinking for commander only but eh, that's the format I play so I judge most cards based on their commander play-a-bility first.

March 9, 2017 12:24 a.m.

Argy says... #27

The other interesting thing is that people can undervalue cards until they see them used effectively.

I was ridiculed at my LGS for including Archangel Avacyn  Flip in Cast a Shadow.

Then she was played in the SOI Pro Tour deck that won, and suddenly everyone was raving about her.

When I bought her she was going for AU$10 because no one wanted her. After the Pro Tour she shot up to AU$80.

March 9, 2017 5:56 a.m.

Big thing for me is getting out of it what you put into it, or more. Both in mana and in board presence/hand size. Killing a 3 mana creature with a 1 mana spell means your opponent spent more resources than you. Or, with enters the battlefield abilities, you can essentially get rid of a threat while gaining board presence. Consistency and costs are important. Having dead cards is giving your opponent a resource advantage in a way. I see a lot of games as an arms race.

March 9, 2017 2:38 p.m.

TheRedGoat says... #29

@YamishiTheWickedOne Then by that definition of an "arms race" couldn't there be an argument for an ideal card? As in regardless of the meta or format you're playing in there are certain aspects that put a card above the rest?

Obviously this still has to be adjusted for the type of deck you're playing, as in no self respecting Mizzix of the Izmagus build wants creatures over spells for a majority, but then the spells for that deck might have an ideal form that each card should follow.

I also would imagine this is extremely similar to how actual card creation works for Wizards RnD.

Ps the link is a mistake. It should just be the card

March 9, 2017 3:39 p.m.

TheRedMage says... #30

When looking at the quality of a card in a vacuum, there's usually three main qualities I evaluate.

The first, and most important, one is efficiency. Good cards tend to have a low mana cost compared to the effect they produce. Lightning Bolt, one of the most efficient spells ever printed, can usually kill creatures that cost two or three mana more than the bolt itself. As other posters have identified, this is by far the most important parameter. Some cards can have niche effect, and require you to jump through a bunch of hoops in order to be good, but if the effect they produce is strong compared to their mana cost, they may be worth it.

The second one is setup cost. Let's consider for example a card like Ghastly Demise. It's potentially even more efficient than Lightning Bolt, allowing you to kill even gigantic monsters for a single black mana, but few would argue it's a better card. Demise doesn't actually work unless you do some work ahead of time to make sure your graveyard is full - if there are no cards in your yard, it doesn't do anything at all. Jumping through the hoops to make a card work can be worth it if you are adequately rewarded in terms of efficiency (look at the modern Death's Shadow deck, and what it's willing to do to get to cast one-mana 5/5s) but if you can get the same effect without having to put a bunch of work in upfront, that makes for a better card.

Finally there is scope. Good cards are good in a variety of situations. The Lightning Bolt we were talking about before is not only efficient, but also versatile, allowing you to finish off your opponent if their life dips too low. Cards that are efficient, but narrow in scope are not necessarily bad, but the situation in which they are good are few and far between. It's hard to say if Lightning Bolt is better than Stony Silence - the latter has a very specific job and, when it's good, it might be better than any other card in your deck while, when it's bad, it might do absolutely nothing. The fact they are only good so infrequently makes efficient but narrow cards worse cards overall, but don't be surprised if they show in force in your sideboard.

Still, efficiency is king. If a card is overcosted, it often does not matter how easy to make work or broad in scope it is, it's still just going to be bad.

March 10, 2017 5:46 p.m.

One of the most underlooked parts of a creature are the keywords. When you just see a creature stacked with plenty of keywords, it's almost guaranteed to be good. Like Vampire Nighthawk, Ormendahl, Profane Prince, etc

March 10, 2017 6:24 p.m.

EnderJace80 says... #32

In my opinion its how much value you get from each card for instance Baleful Strix is very good because it replaces itself in your hand can hit from the air and trade with a big creature also it has a lot of keywords witch is very very good but it also depends on the deck if you are a boros aggro deck you are not running Negate or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy  Flip but you are running cards like Boros Charm and Lightning Bolt becuse they fit in your colors and work with your deck

March 12, 2017 8:54 a.m.

TheRedGoat says... #33

Okay, so actually Baleful Strix is a perfect example card for what I'm talking about with "ideal cards" for certain roles. The role in question being a "chump blocker".

If you think about making up a card that is the perfect blocker then certain keywords and abilities come to mind, but you'll run into gaps in the design depending on the rest of your deck. For instance, not every card built to be a blocker replaces itself as much as be resilient and not need to be replaced. Not every blocker will survive combat, however, one might argue that not every blocker needs to survive combat just stop damage.

Baleful Strix fills the former role. If a player finds the need for creature card that is specifically meant to stop or discourage attacks, but still be a potential aggressor, then the bird is the word so to speak. The strix has some of the best combination of abilities for such a blocker. Having a low cost ensures this can indeed be a deterrent to early attacks but can confidently attack itself early on too. Having flying over reach may leave you open to the odd "hate flying" specific cards, but for a card meant to also attack flying is better. Lastly, the addition of drawing a card from entering the battlefield also fulfills the basic need of any deck to want a "cantrip" type card. Whatever the strix does,or has done to it, it cannot be entirely wasted because it gave you another card to replace itself.

Now maybe you're actually wanting the latter ideal for a blocker. You may be looking for a card that is not an artifact and therefore vulnerable to anti-artifact spells. This unknown perfect blocker may instead need to survive anything it blocks rather than ensure the death of the attacker, which most of the time this is a player preference, but perhaps a pillow-fort build specifically may want to avoid trample damage and needs a creature with massive toughness. This same type of creature should be able to block any type of assault, including spells thrown at it. And of course it should draw a card, but a consensus has to be made somewhere right? Which given the casting cost of Wall of Denial, I think not drawing you an extra card right when it is cast or enters if fairly alright, as it should be able to prolong the game enough that you don't need a card right then and there.

March 12, 2017 11:15 a.m.

kodus says... #34

there are very few bad cards IMO, so i'll start with what does make a bad card bad.

mana cost vs influence on the board state, i.e a 5 cost 3/3 with no abilities, is, objectively, a bad card, IMO.

secondly, the ability on the card cannot only be useful in a situation where you're winning anyway. i.e mayael's aria's last ability is not a good ability (if you own a 20/20 creature you win the game), because if you already have a 20/20, that particular match is probably already decided and you are simply waiting for an official conclusion. you could simply attack, and vice versa the ability cannot only be good if you are seriously losing, i.e lich's mirror. lich's mirror is never going to really save you.

so for me, what makes a good card good is firstly is it's mana cost vs board state influence. for me that is the first thing i look for, "is this card worth the 3 mana i'm going to tap"

for me my second criteria is context, what are the surrounding cards going to be. am i going to build a deck around, say, omnath, locus of rage? then yes, omnath, locus of rage is good. his presence justifies the mana cost, and the rest of the deck will be there to enable him. but i wouldn't put him into just any gruul deck

my third criteria for a good card is flexibility within a match, once the first two criteria have been met, for another example i would consider mental misstep an extremely good card, however it is a dead draw very early in the game, so while i wouldn't outright ignore the possibility of using it, i would take points off a 10 scale for a card for not meeting this criteria, for me to exclude this criteria it would have to fill a very specific niche within the deck (for context, mental misstep is in my mill deck specifically to counter things like felton's cane)

my fourth and final criteria is realistic application. it's hard to deny that the abilities on something like phage the untouchable are very powerful, but phage is extremely vulnerable and is going to be the target of precisely all of the removal that is currently available, so it's almost always ruled out as a viable card for me.

March 13, 2017 5:40 p.m.

Jerkoid says... #35

I think there absolutely exist cards that are outright better in any situation. I've got a couple criteria for a good card:

  1. Cost. Of course, this is important. There is a reason Doom Blade is so much better than Murder.

  2. Power. As in overall strength of the card. Easier to see in creatures; a strong creature has power/toughness equal to its cost, a very strong one has P/T higher. It's harder to see with non-creatures, but a powerful card is one with a powerful effect.

  3. Threat. Can the creature end the game really fast if left unchecked? Does this enchantment give me an inevitable win if it stays on the field for long enough? Would this combat trick completely upset the board state in my favor? Good cards need to have an immediate effect on their own. Even the slow ones should force your opponent to change their plans to deal with them.

  4. Resource control. Does the card get you access to other cards, or to the correct cards? Or, does it give you an edge in terms of resources over your opponent? Examples include card draw, scry effects, loot effects, land ramp, and 2-for-1 removal like Bile Blight or creatures packaged with removal like Polukranos, World Eater.

  5. Flexibility. If the card can deal with multiple situations, or deals with a wide range of threats, it's better. Ultimate Price is better than Doom Blade because it hits more creatures. The card is also better if it can deal with multiple board states: stalled, winning, losing, etc.

  6. Empowerment. How well does it enable other powerful cards or mechanics? This is especially important for cards that could potentially combo. Example: Second Sunrise, which is outright useless in everything but Eternal formats, where it's the backbone of the Eggs deck. Another example: Deathrite Shaman, which is so good at making any G/B deck work better that it belongs in just about every one, despite not doing anything flashy on its own.

  7. Reliability. Does the card trip over itself so hard that you never find a good situation to use it, like the atrociously-designed Rattleclaw Mystic? Or, do the effects meld well with the card's intended purpose, like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy  Flip? Basically, can you always be sure of the card doing its job?

  8. Mind games. Finally, does the card force your opponent to play differently just knowing that you use it in your deck? Half the strength of Counterspell-type cards or combat tricks is that you can bluff them with open mana, forcing them to change their plays.

March 16, 2017 1:30 a.m.

StopShot says... #36

The quality of being good is pretty subjective and can't be wrought down to fact unless say one card is strictly better than the other. There's also cards that get deck-listed to no end and I always find them incredibly hyped-up over how "broken" they are to all other cards and they will use their price tag to boot as a way to justify how good they are.

I think the quality of "goodness" of a card is in the eye of the beholder, and though I can find reasoning for some cards to be better it always breaks down to how you use them. Not every deck has to run a staple if they just so happen to run a color. In fact staples can limit creativity and force you to build around them like Tarmogoyf or Delver of Secrets  Flip which I feel makes them bad cards not in the sense of their playability but in their sense of restriction.

Anyone can build a deck however they like and that's perfectly fine. For me I have a pet card I value that I can attest that no one has ever really used or likely wouldn't have heard of and that's Darklit Gargoyle. I know it doesn't compare to what heavy-hitter cards I listed before, but I personally value the card more and think its amazing based on my own judgment. Those are just my thoughts though.

March 21, 2017 3:25 a.m.

jordanalessi says... #37

It comes down to Epochalyptik 's sixth principle, "efficiency" or as Catalog9000 said, "low cost, high impact". Like Argeaux said, Rite of the Serpent sucks, and that's because it has an absurdly high cost when compared to cards that have a similar outcome like Go for the Throat.

The "impact" of a card can be tricky to judge because it can vary depending on the strategy of the deck. For example, Flying Men is a low-impact card that becomes high-impact when used in an Edric, Spymaster of Trest EDH. But like DrLitebur said, there are some cards like Sol Ring which are low-cost & high-impact in ANY deck regardless of strategy.

THOSE kinds of cards are the best: efficient AND independently useful regardless of specific strategy.

March 24, 2017 6:09 p.m.

Argy says... #38

Smuggler's Copter is an example of a card that is good in a wide variety of decks.

March 25, 2017 7:24 a.m.

guessling says... #39

I am a budget deck builder. To me, good cards win without requiring "pay to win" expenditures.

If I drop $100 on a box it's because I think it will form the basis of 5 decks.

If I can fix mana 1 turn slower for under $1 compared to over $20 then I will build the rest of the deck around that, reducing the price even more because this changes the playing field of optimality and efficiency between cards that do similar things.

If I get 1-3 wins out of 5 for under $100 (or even under $50) but it would cost $500-$900 to upgrade to 3-5 cards, I'm not entering tournaments generally so that's fine.

Back when I built first iterations of EDH decks, I got cards under $10 max / under $5 in general. Some of those cards raised in value since 2012 when I got them. They are now peeled from decks and stored as "investments".

March 25, 2017 7:34 a.m.

ChaosJester says... #40

Well, I think each card is good by its own way. It depends from the combination with other cards. jordanalessi Some player would love Rite of the Serpent for strategys that use the high cmc of this card in positive ways.

March 25, 2017 10:08 a.m.

guessling says... #41

I love cards like Blossoming Defense, Dispel, and Lightning Bolt. These staples get taken for granted until burns for 2 instead of 3 etc. However, no matter how good they are, they are never going to be "must includes for all decks" or worth more than $5.

I also like groupings of cards that synergize well and can form fun strategies like Forsaken City + Stasis that still do something outside their synergy or combo.

I especially like cards that synergize with a commander such as Distortion Strike with Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest.

Decks made with cards like these can pull a few wins on a budget even against $xk top 8 decks.

March 25, 2017 10:46 a.m.

Pygmyrhino990 says... #42

First we need to look at purpose. I feel like we need to take each type of card (land, instant, sorcery, creature, planeswalker, enchantment, artifact).Land:- What mana does it produce- Does it enter tapped-- Is there a condition that can stop it from being tapped-- Does entering tapped provide an added bonus- Does it give a creature boost- Does it have any other external ability

Instants will always triumph over sorceries, but for the sake of it we're gonna include them togetherInstant & Sorcery:- Does it provide an adequate effect-- Is this effect better than other cards with similar effects-- Is this effect versatile- Does the mana cost (if an instant) allow for you to still play things on your turn- Is there an instant with the same ability (if sorcery)-- (chances are if there is an instant with the same ability it will cost an extra mana, or another negative effect)- Is the effect versatile-- Does the card offer multiple options--- Is the mana cost higher than cards with 1 option--- How many options can be selected-- Is the spell immune to counters-- what variety of cards can the spell target

Creatures, Artifacts, Enchantments:- Does it have high power and/or toughness- Is its ability good-- Is it better than other creatures/artifacts with the same ability-- Can the ability be found cheaper in an instant or a sorcery-- Can the ability be made with a good combo- Does the creature require other creatures to be considered effective (allies, melding cards etc.)- Does the creature have reach (this is big for green decks)

Planeswalker:- Is its ultimate ability really worth taking up an entire slot in your deck for?-- If not, is the other 2 abilities enough to make up for it-- If so, can it be supported by the rest of your deck, or by itself until it reaches this ability- Is the mana cost possible with the cards you have in your deck-- Is your deck centered around 1-3 mana creatures with a 6 mana PW--- Can you reach the mana cost before being wiped out-- Is your deck centered around 4-6 mana creatures with a 3 mana PW--- Can it defend itself before you get creatures out

Mana costs are one to be debated. Generally, lets take counterspells for instance, the order for good effect and mana cost goes as such- 3 generic (no counterspells like this) - many restrictions - 2 generic 1 blue (Disrupting Shoal) - some restrictions or alternate negative effects- 1 generic 2 blue (Forbid) - minimal negative effects or restrictions- 3 blue (no counterspells like this) - no restriction, possible good effect such as splice- 1 generic 1 blue 1 black (Psychic Strike) - no restriction, good extra effect- 2 blue 1 white (Render Silent) - no restriction, super awesome ability

and thats just the 3 mana ones, if we look at two mana counterspells (I wont include Counterspell because its illegal in modern) It is very similar- 2 generic (once again none of such) - high restrictions, negative effect- 1 generic 1 blue (Negate) - some restrictions- 2 blue (Deprive) - chances are there wont be restrictions, but if there isn't then there will be a negative effect, Counterspell was banned because it abuses this order- 1 blue 1 green ([consume magic]) - this card was the only example i could find (i dont think its real), but it allows a slightly good effect of countering abilities, at the cost of countering creatures planeswalkers and artifacts

then theres the classic 0 mana cards. 0 mana cards are a matter of necessity, do i really need Bone Saw, how well does it synergise with my deck, is it necessary for my combo. Do i really need Pact of Negation, is it absolutely essential to counter that spell, or will I win this turn.

March 28, 2017 1:13 a.m.

MagnusMTG says... #43

It's much easier when comparing two similar cards to determine if they are good to play. Most of the time it isn't clear if one card is strictly better or strictly worse than another. Easy examples are like Golgari Guildgate vs. Foul Orchard: The guildgate is strictly better. Why? Because it's functionally exactly the same as the other, but it's also a gate, so can interact with spells that care about gates. Oh, but what if your opponent has cards that can hurt you for having a gate? If you're doing a Return to Ravnica block constructed or limited match, then maybe it's just as likely that having a gate is good vs. a weakness, but how likely is that?

Well, what about Jungle Hollow? It's strictly better than Foul Orchard, of course, because it's exactly the same, but also gains you life. What if your deck's strategy or your opponent's hurts you for gaining life? Again, how likely is that? So, of course, absolute comparisons in a vacuum can't be done, but considering the 99% of likely match-ups, some conclusions are pretty certain.

A card on its own - not compared to a similar one - is a lot more difficult, and involves more cost-benefit analysis like many others here have been talking about. Creature value vs. CMC; what if the mana cost requires two of the same color instead of just one? what if the mana cost requires more than one color? Is it better to spend one more mana to get an effect on an instant, or is it better to be satisfied with sorcery-speed if the CMC is low?

It's tough math to figure when there are so many variables. How much mana is a creature's power worth? What are the exchange rates between generic mana, colored mana, creature stats, damage effect, life gain amount, re-usability (permanent vs. one-time effect), additional costs (need to discard, need to sack a permanent, need to tap it or something else?), etc.

After seeing a lot of cards, I think all players get an intuitive sense of what's good in a general sense. For a long time, I've used the "Air Elemental Test." Air Elemental was one of the first (relatively) powerful creature cards I owned when I first started playing back in the 90s. It's a 4/4 for 5 mana, so neither its power nor toughness equals or exceeds its CMC, but it flies, so I feel okay spending a little extra for it. But it requires double-blue . . . - No problem in a mono-blue deck, but what if you're dual-color? Etc. Anyway, to me, it's like a baseline to start from for comparison. How does a creature's body compare to its mana cost? Does it have evasion or other relevant ability to make a higher CMC worth it?

To expand the discussion even more now, what about calling a card "good" in an even more general sense? Many players like Magic for more than just competitive playability. What about the artwork? What about two cards with the same art, but one has the pre-Modern card frame and another doesn't? What about sentimental value over a foil promo or a card signed by an artist or a pro?

These considerations are probably thought about more by casual players, and the EDH crowd. Me, I don't care so much about foil vs. regular, but I am very picky about basic land art, for example.

March 30, 2017 9:18 p.m.

Snap157 says... #44

No cards, (with the exception of vanilla creatures), are bad if you build around them correctly. Of course the cheapest, most flexable cards tend to be the ones that are chosen most frequently, but any card has its place in the right deck and format.

April 1, 2017 8:29 p.m.

EnderJace80 says... #45

a card being good or bad it all depends on what colors your deck is and if it fits your strategy like you arent playing Dromoka's Command in an Ad Nauseam deck because it doesn't fit your strategy

April 2, 2017 10:09 a.m.

lithium142 says... #46

Snap157 that is a very narrow way to view card value. there are plenty of horrible non-creature spells (if you can build a deck with Arcum's Weathervane where it isn't a waste of resources, then fine, you win) and a fair number of very playable vanilla creatures. Leatherback Baloth is a great example of this. being highly played when he was standard legal, and still seeing mild play in modern devo and aggro decks

April 2, 2017 2:59 p.m.

Snap157 says... #47

lithium142 do keep in mind that I mentioned in the correct deck and format. I'm sure that the Weathervane was able to be built around at the time in standard, given the snow-shananagans going around, and I agree on the vanilla creature point, however a deck based around vanilla creatures will usually not win too much without something helping them along. With the nearly infinite number of ways to combine mtg cards to make a deck, I feel like it would be foolish of me to say that a card cannot fit in at least one of them.

April 2, 2017 9:15 p.m.

I think it comes down to a more ethereal feeling than any of that, especially for the majority of players who aren't and don't want to be at a pro level of play, and that is the feel of the card. Does playing the card make you feel like you just did something cool or set you up to do something cool. Empty the Warrens or Grapeshot feel awesome to pull off because of the skill and luck to get a high enough Storm count, big creatures have a good feel because of how domineering they are in combat, Terminate is a good feeling because you eliminated that domineering creature. It's about the feel of the card and that's what makes it good.

April 3, 2017 5:32 a.m.

The quality of a card is quite hard to judge in a vacuum. Even the cost/impact factor is far from universally applicable.

Even the most atrocious costs and drawbacks can be turned into an advantage, that's the beauty of Magic. Just one example, Altar's Reap would be inferior to most blue draw spells, but in a deck that runs undying creatures like Young Wolf, you get 2 cards, a +1/+1 counter, and some combat trickery at the cost of 2 mana, suddenly outclassing the very same blue draw spells.

What makes this important is that everyone tries to maximize the efficiency of their respective deck. A card doesn't have to be good for everyone and all decks, it only has to be good for me and the deck I am building. Universal value is always beaten by specific value.

Now what if you just love building decks and churn out several prototypes and variants every month? A universally good card can be reused in many different decks, so it's most probably a good investment. On the other hand, if you can get two, three or even ten specialized synergistic playsets at the cost of one universally good playset which you then have to proxy or shift around all the time, that's a different case.

To sum it up, Cards are never played in a vacuum, therefore their quality can't be measured in a vacuum either.

@ Snap157 + lithium142

I think Leatherback Baloth, a 4/5 for 3, hardly counts as a vanilla creature, so it's probably not a very good example anyway.

April 3, 2017 11:03 a.m.

lithium142 says... #50

while i agree with your points, i think this is delving more into the topic of "what makes a bad card" rather than "what makes a good card".

Triforce-Finder: from the WOTC page -

"Vanilla" is a term refering to creatures with no rules text.

"French vanilla" refers to creatures that only have keyword abilities: I.E. flying, exalted, deathtouch, ect.

"Virtual vanilla" refers to creatures that are vanilla after the first turn they ETB.

whatever way you look at it, Leatherback Baloth is certainly vanilla

April 3, 2017 7:42 p.m.

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