Top 5 skilltesting cards in Magic

This is a top 5 list based on my own perception and experiences with these cards. Your experiences may differ, as may your opinions. Mine are more correct, however, since mine are written down here.

 

brainstorm.hq#5: Brainstorm: Contrary to popular beliefs, Brainstorm is not the be-all, end-all skilltester in Legacy, since it’s far from the most complicated spell in the format. It is the most popular one, and probably the most powerful, but only as long as it’s plaeyed somewhat correctly. Brainstorm, in conjunction with fetchlands, create a card-quality engine for most blue decks, it smoothes out draws and creates consistency as it, along with Ponder and sometimes Preordain, allows the pilot to dig for answers, sideboarded hate cards, combo pieces etc. There are a few “rules” when it comes to playing Brainstorm (detailed in my post about it below), and when these are broken the card becomes significantly less-broken. That said, Brainstorm is somewhat of a generation divider in Legacy, if you see a player casting it at the end of his or her opponent’s first turn without any way to shuffle afterwards, and then untaps and proceeds to draw one of the two cards they put back, you can be quite certain he or she is new to the format. There are instances where this isn’t the case, but overall, you simply supposed to “never cast it”.

 

meddlingmage.hq#4: Meddling Mage: Chris Pikula’s Invitational Card comes as a humble 2/2 for 2 with an (almost) unique abiltiy built-in. What I like about this card is not only how it tests the skill of the pilot involved, but it also tends to test the skill of deckbuilders in a format where it is available and popular. For a while in Vintage, it wasn’t uncommon to see people split their Red Elemental Blasts and Pyroblasts and one of the reasons for that was Meddling Mage. I also like how it takes a lot of knowledge about the format it’s being played in to be played correctly. For example, there was a deck in Vintage many years ago under the name The Perfect Storm (TPS). It was basically the Vintage restricted list with Brainstorm, Dark Ritual and so on added, and it generally won through casting some rituals followed by some card-drawing, followed by a Yawgmoth’s Will to do it all again and then finish off with a Tendrils of Agony. So, against that deck, what do you name with Meddling Mage? Tendrils of Agony? Yawgmoth’s Will? Burning Wish? I named neither – instead I found that the most effective strategy was to name Dark Ritual, since it prevented him from getting his deck going and finding an answer to Meddling Mage in the first place. Situations like that are quite subtle and rare, but I feel “Pikula” can still do great work against non-redundant decks, as long as you know what to name.

giftsungiven.hq

#3: Gifts Ungiven: The fixed version of Intuition, from Champions of Kamigawa, offers a whole new dimension of gameplay to all sorts of decks. Some Vintage combo decks can use it to search for something crazy, like Black Lotus, Time Walk, Yawgmoth’s Will, Recoup (meaning no matter what the opponent does, the Gifts Ungiven player will play all those cards anyway), some might use its inherent rules-crazyness to find Iona, Shield of Emeria (or other broken dude) and Unburial Rites (meaning both cards will go to the graveyard where they work well together) and some might construct a deck around it using various singletons with similar effects, creating a redundancy in what you tutor for. For example, an Esper-coloured deck could search for Damnation, Day of Judgment, Supreme Verdict and Wrath of God, and always end up with two sweepers for 4 in the hand no matter what. Gift Ungiven, however, is an extremely versatile card, and if you do construct a deck around it á la Gifts-Rock or Gifts-Control, make sure you do your homework. There are Gifts piles for most any situations in these decks, but what I like most about the card itself isn’t how it’s just skill-testing for the caster, it’s also skill-testing for the opponent. It’s a shame it’s banned in EDH, but Intuition works a lot like it there as well. Both cards ask the opponent to properly identify both the board- and hand presence of the caster, and clearly evaluate the threat level of each card he or she finds.

 

factorfiction.hq#2: Fact or Fiction: This card is on the list for many of the same reasons as Gifts Ungiven, it’s testing the skill of not only the caster, but also the opponent. The card was immensely powerful in all format it was legal in during its Standard tenure, and there’s a reason people coined the abbreviation EOTFOFYL (End of Turn, Fact or Fiction, You Lose). People have famously misplayed with the card, most notably Billy Moreno, against Antoine Ruel at Pro Tour LA 2005. Ruel was playing Psychatog in the third game of this Extended Pro Tour finals, against Moreno’s UG Madness, but Ruel can’t seem to draw any black mana. He casts an end of turn Fact or Fiction, flipping over another Fact or Fiction, Stalking Stones, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, and two black sources. Moreno stops and thinks for a while, but fails to interpret the threat levels on his opponent’s cards properly. Meloku was, in that format, so overwhelmingly powerful, the proper division for Moreno is probably to just split it Meloku against all the other four cards. Ruel would’ve probably taken Meloku anyway, it was simply that powerful – a resolved Meloku for Ruel is almost certainly game over for Moreno. Moreno, however, instead chooses to split it black mana against everything else. Ruel happily picks the pile with Meloku, Stalking Stones and Fact or Fiction, and the rest is history.

 

doomsday.hq

#1: Doomsday: This card takes the number one spot on its sheer brokeness, at least theoretical brokeness. I say theoretical, because the card is extremely difficult to play. The deck constructed around it, Doomsday Tendrils, in theory, lacks weaknesses as long as the pilot plays his creation perfectly, since there are Doomsday piles for just about any situation. However, just memorizing the piles by what mana you have available is a four-page word document, a daunting task for anyone. Play at your own risk.

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