R Koster's picture
By: R Koster, Rob Koster
Oct 04 2019 12:00pm

Sometimes you hear people talking about a card being broken. Well, let's be honest. Most Magic players call everything that beats them broken. But what makes a broken card? And most important, how do you find them for your next event so that you can end the puny Magic careers of your opponents?

Some things consistently break cards. It doesn't even matter in which card game if you know what makes something broken in any game, you will know how to find them in every game. Since I've gotten half-decent at Magic, my not-Magic-playing friends have basically banned me from every single card or deckbuilding game they play. It's better that way though, it kept hurting my mind how obvious the things were that they were missing in those games. As a general tip; if you play card games on any competitive level. Just don't play with people that don't at all. It's fun for just about no one. It's like playing Poker against a 4-year old that has their cards face-up on the table.

Anyway, back to the point. What makes a card broken. Well, it's a couple of things.

It's way cheaper than it should be. Or it can be made cheaper.

Let's start here.

KezzerdrixRavenous Baloth

Let's say that a 4/4 should be 4 mana. That definitely hasn't always been the case. But let's just assume that for now. Look at these cards. Kezzerdrix was very playable in its time. A 4 mana 4/4, even with downside was just absolutely huge and dominated boards. A while later, you got Ravenous Baloth. A card that was called busted and broken in its time. And these days we get Questing Beast which is basically the Magic variant of Oprah saying: "And I get a car! And I get another car! And another car for me! I get all the cars!"

If you would have told me 4 years ago that Questing Beast would ever see print. I would laugh you out of the building. It still feels wrong that it's been printed. I mean, look at that, that's what? 700 Keywords? Absolutely ridiculous.


Magic cards are like stuff you buy in the store, with Mana replacing the money. If you want more of something, you pay more for it. Sometimes there is a discount or even a sale. But still, the premises stand. When things become too cheap, things like Black Friday happen. That's what's going on with Questing Beast. Let's go through it one by one.


It starts out as being a 4 Mana 4/4. That's already absolutely fine, they could just print that. Not at Mythic, but they could at Common or Uncommon. Then we get:

Vigilance, worth 1 Mana.

Deathtouch, worth 1 Mana.

Haste, worth 1, maybe even 2 Mana. Haste is one of the best evergreen keywords around after all.

~ Can't be blocked by creatures with power 2 or less. Let's say it's worth 1 Mana.

Combat damage that would be dealt by creatures you control can't be prevented. Worth another 2 Mana

When ~ deals damage to an opponent, it deals that much damage to target planeswalker that player controls. This is a new effect, but I would price it at at least 1 mana.


To sum it up, by that logic Questing Beast is worth about 12 mana in total. It's a guesstimate, but if you had told me 4 years ago that Questing Beast would have seen print at about 9 or 10 Mana, I would find that very reasonable. That's still a bit of a discount from 12, but nothing really broken happens outside of combo's with fast Mana at 6+ Mana. They could print Emrakul, the Aeons Torn at 10 mana as a 10/10 and not that much would change about the card. The higher the Mana cost, the more diminishing returns you get with the amount of brokenness. I mean look at these:



They say all sorts of fancy numbers on the upper right hand of the card. But don't be fooled. What you see here is a 1 Mana spell that's potentially free with the help of a friend I will talk about in the next part of this article. And 2 free spells. Nobody that puts these cards in their deck is trying to do anything reasonable with it.

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis destroyed the entire Modern format for half a year. It's just a pile of the most broken things to ever see print in Magic. If we ever see a card that says: "You can't spend mana to cast this spell." ever again. Every single red flag you have in your mind should be going off.

Once Upon a Time is 0 mana looking at cards and picking one. Ponder And Preordain are banned in Modern and will never see the light of Standard again. This might not be better, but it's 0 mana look at 5 cards. I don't care how many restrictions it gets, that smells like a broken card to me.

I hadn't fully grasped how broken Emry, Lurker of the Loch is until I played a league yesterday where someone played it together with Jeskai Ascendancy, Urza, Lord High Artificer and Mox Amber and Mox Opal. I have mixed feelings about this, on the one hand, I already thought that the Arcum's Astrolabe Artifact decks were really pushing what was going on in Modern. On the other hand, I own about 70 copies of Jeskai Ascendancy because I called from the moment it got printed that it will get broken at some point. It's just that kind of card, nothing fair ever comes from it. I would like to get rid of my 70 copies and then see it get banned, thus making me money and making me able to say: "I told you so!" Both some of the finer things in life.


Jeskai Ascendancy



Just to explain in short. It's a 3 mana do nothing on the turn it's played. Let's be real that is on turn 2. Then you go to turn 3 and draw a bunch of cards and Untap a bunch of dudes. You get their effects again.

Let's say you have an Emry, Lurker of the Loch for instance. You've milled over a Mox Amber or a Mox Opal when you played it. Now you get to tap Emry to return a Mox. You've essentially used 0 mana to pump your Emry with an additional +1/+1, and you've drawn a card you previously milled, and you get to filter a card from the top of your deck. Let's say you've drawn another Mox Amber or Mox Opal. You get to do it all again! All for free! Just toss in some Urza, Lord High Artificer and some more artifacts. Someone will figure it out, but when I played against it, it felt very, very busted.


So, to sum it up. The second thing that can break a card is a repeatable free effect that would usually cause Mana. I'm going to move on now though, my word count is creeping up on me and I still have to mention one more category that breaks things.


Fast Mana

This is the thing that makes people that are good at cardgames get banned by their Muggle friends at casual card game evenings. We know how insanely busted fast Mana is. We know that even though it's only a one-time thing these days, the amount of advantage gained is insane. And I'm not even talking about the original 5 Moxen, they just didn't know back then. Who can blame them? It was a whole new field. You live, you learn.


Whenever a card can make you gain Mana, it's always something to pay attention to. Do you think the Urzatron is bad in Modern? When the format started out, we had Cloudpost. But it's a tapland! Is what I hear you thinking. Nobody cares, we didn't even have Amulet of Vigor, and it still was broken beyond all reasonable things. Seriously, I made an Aladdin Tribal deck with (Aladdin's Lamp) and Aladdin's Ring. I put a Cloudpost based Mana base in there. The deck was way too powerful for our casual little group.


And Cloudpost is far from the only offender. Banlists are full of these things. Fast Mana is just inherently broken. I don't care if it's Delve, Convoke, a card that adds more Mana to the pool then it's cost or just consistently makes Mana. If it makes Mana either very fast or very consistently, it can be broken.

I'm fooling around in Modern with Skirk Prospector, Fecundity and Empty the Warrens. I can't get the combo down consistently enough, but I've drawn my deck and attacked for 70 on turn 3 quite a few times already. It's still a glass cannon now. But it'll break someday. And there are probably dozens of these things that I'm not even aware of.