The Top 50 Artifacts of All Time
A few weeks ago, Scott Johns contacted me to let me know that MagicTheGathering.com was having artifact week starting today. He wanted to know if I could add an installment of my Top 50 series to their website as the weekly feature. I declined, because I had already promised Pete that I wanted to finish up this series for SCG.com this year (I have Black, Green, Red and Gold left to go). In order to synchronize with the intended MTG.com publish date, I'm here today to present you with my list of the Top 50 artifacts of all time!
Before we start, I'd like to lay down the ground rules for this list. If you're adverse to ground rules, I suggest you get on an airplane or a rocket ship and stay off terra firma. Travel will also let you run from my horrible jokes.
1. This is my list, and only my list. Other people tried to covet this list and make it their own, but they are now all dead. Take my opinions as you will, though keep in mind that I'm usually more right than wrong on Top 50 lists - unlike top 180 lists.
2. Cards are ranked based on their importance and power level in constructed tournament play. I give absolutely no consideration to Limited play, casual formats, or Legacy. Oh wait, I do give consideration to Legacy, my bad.
3. This is not a Blog Fanatic entry - this is an independent entry into the Bleiweiss library of lists. This list cannot be reproduced without the express written consent of Major League Baseball and the New York Yankees. Any attempt to reproduce, replicate or otherwise screen this list will be in violation of the law and will subject you to fines of up to $10,000. Unless you're reading this on StarCityGames.com, in which case you're made in the shade.
4. If you don't like my rankings, feel free to disagree in our forums. Please keep discussion clean, please keep discussion civil.
5. Usually I mention that Gold cards aren't included on these lists, but there aren't any Gold colored artifacts. It sort of defeats the purpose of them being an artifact if they have a color.
6. Some cards have had long shelf lives across multiple formats, while others have been stars in very specific metagames and then have never really amounted to much else. I realize that nobody plays Millstone anymore in serious play, but you'll have to take my word for it that Millstone was a "powerful" card back in the day.
7. I've grouped together cards that are parts of a cycle, so that they don't take up too much unnecessary space on the list. This means that the five Unlimited Moxen will be showing up as a single entry. P.S. while this is a spoiler, I don't think anyone will be surprised by Moxen being on a Top 50 artifacts of all time list.
Each of the cards will be listed in descending order, from number fifty to number Ebony Rhino. Dammit, I just ruined the countdown. Well, for those of you who want to see cards number 50 through number 2, I'll include the card name, format(s) in which the card was played, and an explanation of why that particular card made my list. No Betrayers of Kamigawa artifacts are on this list, as they have not had time to see competitive play yet - sorry Umezawa's Jitte!
T1 = Vintage (a.k.a. Type 1)
T2 = Standard (a.k.a. Type 2)
X = Extended (a.k.a. 1.X)
Block = Block Constructed (varies from block to block)
Legacy = Not on this list - sorry, format is too new for me to be familiar with it. You'll have to live with T1, T2, Extended and Block
BD/RD = Sir not appearing on this list. This list is for Constructed cards only! Haven't you been paying any attention to my introduction?
Without further ado, the Top 50 Artifact of All Time!
50) Disrupting Scepter/Jayemdae Tome (T1, T2)
Once upon there was a deck know as...well, "The Deck". It was popularized by Brian Weissman, and it revolved around the principle that card advantage wins games. Aside from the restricted Mind Twist, no cards in The Deck demonstrated the emerging concept of card advantage as Disrupting Scepter and Jayemdae Tome. There have been better artifacts printed since these that have similar effects, but these two were the ones that first changed the way that competitive players thought about Magic - the idea of drawing more cards than your opponent (Jayemdae Tome) or denying your opponent cards in hand (Disrupting Scepter) showed that even a one-card per turn advantage would quickly squeeze the life out of an opponent and give you more options than them. This in turn led to victory. Years later, the early concepts exemplified by these dual artifacts still resonate strong in all levels of competitive Magic, even if the Book and the Stick (their affectionate nicknames) are underpowered compared to newer cards.
49) Crucible of Worlds (T1)
When Wizards of the Coast ran their second You Make the Card contest, Crucible of Worlds was the result. It was designed by a largely casual player base as a way to combat land destruction decks. Ironically, it's become the key component in recursive land destruction in Vintage, thanks to Wasteland and Strip Mine. While Crucible hasn't seen a lot of play outside the oldest of Magic formats, it has made an indelible dent in a format filled with non-basic lands. It has had made more people move towards running some basic lands in their Type 1 decks than dedicated non-basic land hosers Back to Basics, Price of Progress, or Blood Moon ever did.
48) Millstone (T1, T2)
The second most popular method of winning a game of Magic is by decking an opponent. Millstone was the first card that popularized this strategy, changing the game from a 20 life race to zero into a 60 cards in deck race to zero. Several dedicated Millstone strategies emerged in early Magic, especially in the fledgling Type 2 format. Michael Loconto won the first Pro Tour ever with his Millstone deck, and the card has made appearances on the Standard tournament scene during various States and Regionals tournaments. Much like Disrupting Scepter and Jayemdae Tome, more efficient milling cards have replaced Millstone in modern day Magic (especially since the mill mechanic has moved from artifact to Blue on the color pie with the advent of Ambassador Laquatus, Brain Freeze and Dampen Thoughts). This does not discount that more than one mage was driven insane by the sound of the Millstone relentlessly grinding away.
47) Fluctuator (Block)
Fluctuator never had a huge impact out of Urza's block play, but it dominated the one block Pro Tour in which it saw play. Several players built Fluctuator decks for PT New York (the one held in New Jersey) and piloted them to top finishes. All cycling cards in Urza's Saga and Urza's Legacy had a cycling cost of exactly 2 colorless mana, and Fluctuator made it so that players could load up on cycling cards in their deck allowing them to plow through their decks with ease. This served a dual purpose of tutoring and deck thinning, and allowed players to get to a game-win enabling Tolarian Academy with ease. Fluctuator was banned in Urza's Block play shortly after the Pro Tour it dominated.
46) Candelabra of Tawnos (T1)
The parent of all combo enablers, Candelabra of Tawnos was abused in early Magic in combination with cards like Mana Flare and Wild Growth. It was an enabler in Vintage during the time of an unrestricted Tolarian Academy deck. Candelabra had been restricted in Vintage for some time before being unrestricted in recent times. It's a powerful engine card and one that, in multiples, could wreck havoc combined with Tolarian Academy, Mishra's Workshop, and other lands which produce more than one mana when tapped.
45) Ankh of Mishra (T1, T2, X)
The Ankh has successfully seen play in two types of decks - aggressive decks that are looking to punish slower decks with their land drops (such as Sligh) or controlling land-denial decks that seek to take lands off the board and put them back in an attempt to deal damage with the returning lands (such as the highly successful Parallax Tide/Ankh of Mishra deck popularized by Bob Maher). At only two mana, the Ankh comes down early and begins going to work on both players' life totals. While the effect might look symmetrical, anyone who has been on the receiving end of a turn two Ankh can tell you that the player with the Ankh has surely planned their deck to come out ahead on life.
44) Tormod's Crypt (T1, T2, X)
There are very few cards outside of Black which hose the graveyard. White occasionally gets a card like Honor the Fallen and Blue and Green get some cards which allow for reshuffling without outright removal (think Reminisce or Gaea's Blessing). The few artifacts which can muck with the graveyard are few and far between, but they are valued very highly. The most powerful of these is the zero-mana Tormod's Crypt, from The Dark and Chronicles. Though Phyrexian Furnace comes close (and receives an honorable mention at the end of this countdown), no single artifact hoses the graveyard harder, better, or cheaper than the Crypt. Once Tormod's Crypt hits the table, your opponent's graveyard is a dead man walking, since the activation of the Crypt is free, total, and absolute. The Crypt doesn't just hit one card - it hits them all at once! Early game, mid-game or late game, the Crypt has equal applications at all three of these points making it a mainstay in the sideboards of virtually any deck in a metagame that seeks to hose graveyard-recursive decks.
43) Icy Manipulator (T1, T2, X)
One-half of the dreaded Prison deck of days gone by, Icy Manipulator was feared and respected back in the day. This four-drop artifact served as both an offensive and defensive device, and saw play in a multitude of decks. It acted as a way to tap Winter Orb at the end of your turn in order to get out from under a Winter Orb lock. It allowed you to tap down an attacking creature each turn, forcing an opponent to overcommit to the board - thus leaving them vulnerable to a mass removal spell such as Wrath of God or Earthquake. It also fit into a weenie deck, allowing the attacking player to tap down defenders to clear the path to victory. Icy could fit into almost any deck possible, since it cost a reasonable four mana to cast and a paltry one mana to activate. Alas, as is the fate of many of the artifacts near the bottom of the countdown, Icy Manipulator has not withstood the test of time as more efficient and more specialized cards stepped in to fill its role. Over the past two years, Icy Manipulator has seen literally no serious tournament play, despite being reprinted in Mirrodin.
42) Mana Crypt (T1)
There have been few tournament legal cards that have been printed outside of sets, and Mana Crypt is undoubtedly the most powerful of these. It's a zero-drop Sol Ring, except with a decidedly wicked drawback, one that keeps it from being truly broken. Mana Crypt is amazing acceleration, but it does, on average, 1.5 damage to its controller each turn - and there have been several games decided by a string of unlucky Mana Crypt coin flips. Mana Crypt used to be amazing under pre-6th Edition rules. This was because the coin flip would not take place if the Crypt was tapped, and a player could tap the Crypt for mana during their upkeep (to power Jayemdae Tome or Disrupting Scepter), getting around any drawback on the Crypt. Post 6th-Edition, the Crypt is reserved for decks that win quickly, since a prolonged exposure of the Crypt is game over for its controller. Still, consistent production of two mana each turn for no down payment cannot be overlooked, putting the Crypt firmly in the top 50 artifacts of all time.
41) Voltaic Key (T1, T2, X, Block)
Voltaic Key is an enabler. Pure and simple, it does nothing in and of itself. However, it combines flawlessly with dozens of key artifacts (several of which are on this list) which require tap in the activation costs - most of which product mana. The Key allows these decks to nearly double their mana production (2X minus 1, where X is the mana produced). The Key has been paired and teamed up with a ton of cards on various Banned and Restricted lists over the years, including a half-dozen cards on this countdown. It has been restricted in Vintage because it works so well with other mana engines, and has been the debate, more so possibly any other card in Magic history, if a card which does nothing on its own needs to be the subject of restriction or banning - thus securing its place in Magic lore.
40) Lotus Petal (T1, T2, X)
The inauspicious stepchild of Black Lotus was initially maligned and scorned by tournament players. Casual players were taunted for running Lotus Petal in their decks, as more competitive players viewed the one-turn, one-mana boost provided by this zero-drop artifact as a foolish waste of resources when compared to running more lands in a deck. This pattern of thought continued until the first truly broken artifact-laden block, featuring Urza's Saga, Urza's Legacy and Urza's Destiny. All hell broke loose when Tolarian Academy hit the scene, as this Legendary Land suddenly put cheap artifact acceleration at a premium.
Suddenly, the Petal was doing double duty as both an Academy accelerant and as a method for the Academy deck to access second, third, and even fourth colors in an otherwise chromatic Blue deck. In fact, the main card that the Lotus Petal became splashed for was Yawgmoth's Will, which put the Petal into a third category - a recurring mana boost which could be sacrificed to cast Will and then be put back into play from Will, netting mana. Proving that even the littlest artifact acclerants could do big things, Lotus Petal was eventually banned in Extended and restricted in Vintage. This was not before people began building engine decks around Lotus Petal, Deathlace and Reap, wherein they would Deathlace their opponent's permanents, use Lotus Petal to cast Reap, and use successive Reaps to bring back Reaps, Deathlaces and Lotus Petals, generating infinite mana.
39) Mirror Universe (T1)
Mirror Universe used to be a staple of control decks in Vintage. It's also the last artifact on this countdown which has not withstood the test of time in any way, shape or form. This is not the fault of the Universe - the ability to swap life totals with an opponent is a very strong power, even when paired with the body of a six-mana, use only during your upkeep artirfact. Mirror Universe used to be the kill card of choice in most control style decks in Vintage. This ended not because of the power level of the card, but because of a change in the fundamental rules of Magic.
When 6th Edition was released, the Magic rules team overhauled many of the ways that the game was played. One of these changes was in how life totals worked - before 6th Edition, players could hit zero or negative life totals, and would not die until the phase they were in was ended. Post-6th Edition, the game ends the second a player finds themselves at zero life. One popular tactic was for the Mirror Universe player to mana burn themselves to a very low life total, use City of Brass to deal themselves damage down to zero during their upkeep, and then use Mirror Universe to swap life totals with the opponent to win the game. Since this was no longer a viable strategy under 6th Edition rules, Mirror Universe faded from valued kill card to trade-binder bait. At least the Mirror Universe strategy is still felt today, thanks to life management cards such as Pulse of the Forge and Pulse of the Fields.
38) Cranial Plating (T2, X, Block)
Cranial Plating was the most purely-offensively oriented threat in Affinity. Forget Disciple of the Vault (which, while very good, only truly shined in conjunction with Arcbound Ravager or Atog) - Cranial Plating was truly the straw the broke the camel's back in Standard. Affinity had already become a dominant, problematic deck before the advent of Fifth Dawn. The last addition to the Affinity deck was a card which showed off the true power of another new Mirrodin Block mechanic - Equipment.
Equipment was meant to be a replacement of sorts for enchant creatures, since the latter card type was viewed as weak due to potential loss of card advantage once the host creature was killed. Equipment, unlike enchant creatures, would stay on the board when the equipped creature died, and could be reused again and again, as long as you had mana to spend and more creatures to equip. While other offensively-oriented pieces of equipment had been used in Affinity sparingly (Bonesplitter, Loxodon Warhammer), Cranial Plating immediately burst out of the gates and immediately became an automatic auto-include in all Affinity builds. The Plating made an already consistent deck explosive, as it could boost creatures by +3 to +7 by as early as the second turn. It made Ornithopter not only playable but good, it turned every creature in the Affinity deck from "efficient" to "huge threat" (Frogmite might be good as a free 2/2 on turn 2, but it's fearsome as 9/2 on turn 3), and it would recur turn after turn after turn. Kill a Plated creature? The Plating would be back the very next turn on a different target. Kill the Plating? Then you've still got to deal with the creature, be it Blinkmoth Nexus, Myr Enforcer, or Arcbound Ravager. Without Plating, Affinity might not have dominated in a post-initial banning world such as it did (see further down on this list). With Plating, Affinity went from being the best deck in the format to being the best deck in the format with a new best card.
37) Juggernaut (T1, T2)
Wizards of the Coast tends to make artifact creatures a little less appealing on the cost to power/toughness ratio. This is because any deck has access to artifact creatures, and if you make one too powerful, it will bleed into too many decks, blurring the lines between colors and invalidating several colored choices of creatures. The original example of this was Juggernaut, a 5/3 for four mana. Even by today's standards, this is well ahead of the Hill Giant curve. Juggernaut began seeing play immediately, and was the staple of early Workshop, Abyss and aggressive mid-range decks in early Vintage. When the Extended format was started, Juggernaut was one of three creatures (the other two being Kird Ape and Serendib Efreet) that was immediately placed on the banned list for the format for being too powerful. This may have been an unnecessary motion in a format filled with Swords to Plowshares, Disenchant, and other removal spells, but it spoke highly of the respect afforded to this artifact monstrosity. The power of Juggernaut still resonates today, as even after years of sets being released since Alpha, it is still played as the marquee creature in aggro Mishra's Workshop decks in Vintage.
36) Smokestack (T1, T2, X)
Soft-lock mechanism, board sweeper and control component - Smokestack is all of these tied together in a very odd package. Unlike more traditional lock cards, Smokestack gives the opponent freedom of movement at first - Winter Orb might immediately impact the game, but Smokestack down not do anything the turn it comes into play. Slowly though, the Stack builds up momentum until inevitability is on its caster's side. Smokestack decks first made their debut during Urza's Block Constructed and quickly became tuned in both Extended and Vintage.
It was the last of these formats in which Smokestack found its greatest success, in the form of the $tack$ deck. Due to the rapid mana acceleration available in Type One, it became possible for the Stax player to play a first-turn Smokestack - and to leave themselves several permanents in play. This immediately put their opponent in a quandry - do they play their permanents knowing that starting the next turn these permanents will be knocked down accordingly, or do they wait until they can drop multiple permanents at once, giving the $tack$ player time to further develop their board position?
Thanks to timing issues, the Smokestack player will always stay one permanent ahead of their opponent (put the add a counter ability on the stack during your upkeep, then put the sacrifice effect on the stack, sacrifice X permanents, then have the opponent sacrifice X+1). This also allows the Stax player to come back when behind, to deal with card types that their deck otherwise wouldn't be able to control (lands, enchantments, creatures), and allows the Smokestack player the opportunity to decide when the Smokestack itself goes away (by sacrificing it to itself). Smokestack is one of the few cards in all of Magic which affords the combinations of board control, tempo control, and virtual card advantage (by keeping permanents off the board).
35) Defense Grid (T1, T2, X, Block)
Combo decks didn't exist in their current form (as engine decks) until the advent of the Prosperity-Cadaverous Bloom deck which won Pro Tour: Paris. Since that day, the greatest question on the mind of a dedicated combo player is "how do I stop my opponent from messing with my combo?" There have been many solutions to this answer, ranging from passive answers such as Abeyance and City of Solitude (which keep the opponent from interacting on your turn) to aggressive measures such as Duress and Cabal Therapy (which keep the opponent from holding cards which can thwart your plans). Universally though, the default card for keeping a combo deck from being disrupted is a little two-drop artifact from Urza's Legacy. The initial use of Defense Grid seemed to be as a way to keep control decks from casing their Counterspells on your turn - but it quickly grew into a sideboard staple for combo decks. The Grid completely shuts down the opponent's ability to interact with your board during your first few turns of the game - though the opponent can still strip your combo pieces out using discard spells, the same opponent cannot much with your combo once it starts going off on your own turn. The Grid benefited greatly from its status as an artifact - its lack of color has made it readily available to literally any deck which wishes to run it, unlike the previously mentioned colored solutions.
34) Ensnaring Bridge (T2, X, Block)
Throughout the years, there are various themes that emerge from set to set. Red always gets a Stone Rain variant, while Green gets a new version of Giant Growth each block. White finds new ways to prevent damage, and Blue draws cards. Even artifacts have echoing reiterations with the most common being overhauls of the original five Moxen - the Mirage Diamonds, the Mirrodin Talismen, the Masques Ramos pieces, the Invasion Cameos. More so in artifacts than in any colors in Magic, though, there are unique cards which don't really follow the leads of any previous cards. Ensnaring Bridge is a good example of this type of card - it is a slight variant on the Meekstone theme (keeping larger creatures from attacking), but not really - it still allows full use of those creatures, and the effect is tied to its controller's hand size. Players immediately gravitated towards this card, and several decks were built around it - the most famous of which paired the Bridge with the card drawing, hand emptying Grafted Skullcap. Players would sit behind the Bridge and throw burn directly at their opponents, safe from any creature onslaught that might come their way. Today, Bridge is still played in Extended where it serves as a sideboard card against decks that run large creature threats, decks such as Reanimator.
33) Solemn Simulacrum (T2, X, Block)
There are seven artifact creatures on this list, and all of them have seen extensive play in multiple formats. Solemn Simulacrum was not created by Wizards of the Coast - instead, it was originally imagined as a Green/Blue card by Magic Invitational winner Jens Thoren, who was given free reign to create this card as his prize at that tournament. Wizards did adapt the card for the upcoming Mirrodin block, but left the design virtually unchanged otherwise. The end result? A universally used mana-fixing/cantrip known as Solemn Simulacrum. Several other artifacts on this list are from Mirrodin Block (such as Juggernaut and Icy Manipulator) and did not see play because of the massive amount of artifact hate present across Standard and Block during recent times. Solemn Simulacrum rose above this hate, since it has a good effect coming in (get a land) and a good effect on the way out (draw a card) and serves as a 2/2 attacker/blocker in the meanwhile. Since it was an artifact creature, it saw play across any number of decks, ranging from U/W control to Big Red burn, and several point in between.
32) Platinum Angel (T1, T2, X, Block)
You can't lose the game. Can an ability be any more simple or powerful than this? The entire basis of a match in Magic is to win the game, and the ability to prevent this win makes it impossible for the game to end in anything but your favor. Witness Platinum Angel, a 4/4 flying artifact creature with one of the most powerful abilities ever printed on a Magic card. With Platinum Angel in play, you can't lose. It works as an attacker and a blocker, and can salvage otherwise unsalvageable board situations by allowing your life totals to get into the negatives. While the Angel is a bit pricy at seven mana, decks across every single format have found ways to either hard cast this life saver or to bring it into play through other means (Tooth and Nail, Goblin Welder, Tinker). The Angel is an example of design elegance - the ability says so little but in the end it does so much.
31) Sundering Titan (T1, T2, X, Block)
Some cards in Magic are immediately hailed as powerful and are abused accordingly (Masticore). Others are hailed as powerful but never live up to the hype (Grinning Totem). Even more are initially dismissed and later are proven to be pure winners (Necropotence). Then there's a fourth and rarer type of card - the type that looks powerful, but that nobody figures out exactly what they're supposed to do with the card. Sundering Titan is one such card in that last category - an unwieldy 7/10 creature for eight mana with the ability to destroy a number of basic lands in play.
If Platinum Angel is an example of elegance, then Sundering Titan is its clunky, clumsy half-brother. Its power and toughness are seemingly arbitrary. It costs a little too much (eight) and it triggers in a strange way (both coming into play and leaving play, as opposed to coming into play and going to the graveyard). It can also backfire, destroying your own basic land types. Even with all this awkwardness, players slowly began to appreciate the power and size of the Titan. It began to see play in Vintage thanks to Goblin Welder, and then later migrated to Standard in Tooth and Nail.
Today, it sees play in almost every format and often acts as a one-sided Armageddon. It truly shines in formats with the original ten dual lands (Badlands, Bayou, Plateau, Savannah, Scrubland, Taiga, Tropical Island, Tundra, Underground Sea, Volcanic Island) as it can snuff out several opposing duals while leaving your own lands untouched. Even without land destruction capabilities, the Titan is a 7/10 monstrosity that few creatures or life totals can stand in the way of.
30) Trinisphere (T1)
How many cards have so totally transformed the dynamics of an entire format as Trinisphere? I'm not talking about warping a metagame - I'm talking about literally changing the way in which entire deck design has to be made in an entire format. Trinisphere was originally envisioned as a hoser for the Affinity mechanic (against which it did virtually nothing), but ended up being a card that has defined all of Vintage for a year now. Every deck has to confront the reality of the dreaded Mishra's Workshop/Trinisphere opening, which can end a game before it even starts. In a format dominated by broken cards, cheap artifact mana, and low mana costs, Trinisphere takes all bets off the table by locking down an unfortunate opponent, keeping them from playing anything for the first couple of turns in the game except for lands. Meanwhile, the Trinisphere player is free to drop their artifact acclerants pre-Sphere and go crazy on their own mana development. This play has decided many a match before the first turn has even ended, and has raised the specter of banning due to the sheer coin-flip-I-win nature of games.
29) Chalice of the Void (T1, T2, X, Block)
Chalice of the Void has thrived in formats where lower cost cards are king - particularly in Vintage, as a tool against combo decks, and as a way to stop weenie decks. Set to one, the Chalice stops the most threatening creatures across several formats (Disciple of the Vault, Goblin Welder, Goblin Lackey) along with key search/tutor spells (Brainstorm, Ancestral Recall, Vampiric Tutor). Chalice is capable of shutting down up to half of the cards in a finely tuned deck, as many decks strive to get the cost of their cards as close as possible to zero.
28) Goblin Charbelcher (T1, T2, X)
On the surface, the Charbelcher looks like an unreliable source of recurring damage, one which is vaguely reminiscent of Erratic Explosion. Quickly though, people discovered that if you could find a way to remove all the lands from your deck, the Charbelcher would act as one of the most deadly kill cards ever printed. Charbelcher decks dominated Pro Tour: New Orleans in 2003, able to kill as quickly as the second turn thanks to Tinker and Mana Severance. Standard decks appeared which tied Charbelcher together with Proteus Staff and token creatures - this would allow a player to completely stack their deck, so that the Charbelcher would be assured a lethal activation. Later, the Charbelcher served as a win condition in the Krark-Clan Ironworks deck (after Myr Incubator would strip all artifact lands from that deck) and eventually the Charbelcher made its way to Vintage, where is starred in a deck which didn't need to remove lands - it only played two lands (along with Land Grants, and several alternate non-land mana sources)! Goblin Charbelcher is reminiscent of a high-cost Channel/Fireball.
27) Isochron Scepter (T1, T2, X, Block)
Isochron Scepter has the potential to finish higher up on this list than 27th, but has yet to live up to its full potential. With that said, it has still become a force across multiple formats, most notably Extended. The Scepter can provide an endless source of several key instants, ranging from Orim's Chant to Moment's Peace to Fire / Ice -the limit of what can be imprinted on the Scepter is mitigated by the fact that there are dozens (if not hundreds) of worthwhile one and two mana instants that have been printed over the years. Even more important is the effect that Isochron Scepter has on R&D design - all future instants have to be weighed against their ability to be imprinted on the Scepter.
26) Mana Vault (T1, T2)
There's a line that has been drawn in recent years. This line concerns the development of artifacts that produce mana - it's been said that R&D keeps a very watchful eye on making any artifacts which produce more mana than they cost to cast. This credence is based on fact and experience, as there are no less than fourteen cards on this Top 50 list that directly or indirectly provide more mana than their cost. Mana Vault is among the oldest of these cards - it turns one mana into a short burst of three. In many ways Mana Vault is a colorless Dark Ritual, except one that hurts you turn after turn once it is activated. The ability to turn one mana into three in the early game has proven invaluable to all types of decks, ranging from combo deck to decks that contain high cost creatures and spells. Early Standard decks regularly packed Mana Vault to power out second-turn Serra Angels and Orggs - and to allow for large Fireballs and Earthquakes early in the game.
25) Scroll Rack (T1, T2, X, Block)
There are few cards in Magic which allow such versatility of searching through your deck as Scroll Rack. Its only limitation is the number of cards you have in hand and the number of shuffling effects that are present in your deck - both of which are negated by partnering Scroll Rack with its favorite friend, Land Tax. Even without the Tax, Scroll Rack has been a key part of several combo decks throughout the years including the dreaded Tolarian Academy decks. Moreover, Scroll Rack serves as a way to protect your hand from discard spells - one mana will send all your most valuable spells to the top of your deck when you're faced with a Duress or Cabal Therapy - and one more mana the next turn will retrieve your entire hand. The last use of Scroll Rack is as a way to prevent yourself from being decked - once you're down to no cards in your library, simply activate the Rack and put back a card from your hand. Repeat this each turn, and you will never turn out of cards.
24) Arcbound Ravager (T2, X, Block)
Affinity. Has any other mechanic caused such a schism in the tournament playing public in recent memory? Acting at times as a combo deck, a beatdown deck, and a tempo-control deck, Affinity has skewed tournament results at every level of play for going on two years now. It's difficult to separate out where this deck goes from good to multiple-format distorting, as it breaks down at both the fundamental (the Affinity cards itself, such as Myr Enforcer and Thoughtcast), supplemental (Shrapnel Blast, Disciple of the Vault) and basic (the six Artifact lands) levels.
Arcbound Ravager was one of the supplemental catalysts which sparked the rise of Affinity decks - though it does not have the affinity mechanic itself, the Ravager has acted as a jack of many trades. It replaced Broodstar as the marquee creature in Affinity. The Ravager came down on the second turn, immediately turning all of your permanents into threats. It helped mitigate the effect of artifact removal, as removal spells aimed at your non-Ravager cards would turn into +1/+1 counters on Ravager, and removal spells aimed at the Ravager would turn into multiple +1/+1 counters on your other artifact creatures. It worked as half of a Channel-Fireball finisher when paired with Disciple of the Vault. In a pinch, the Ravager could even just grow arbitrarily large when it was fed artifacts on the board, allowing it to serve both offensively and defensively. Last of all, it served as an artifact to fuel the keyworded affinity cards in the Affinity deck. While there were more broken cards in the Affinity deck than Ravager, none made as efficient use of every other card in the deck as this Darksteel rare. This is not even to mention its interaction with the first card to be banned in Standard between Urza's Block and Mirrodin Block.
23) Null Rod (T1, T2, X)
There have been dozens of cards printed over the years which were designed to hose artifacts en masse, ranging from Shatterstorm and Pulverize to Purify and Seeds of Innocent. Arguably, none have been as efficient and effective as Null Rod, an artifact itself. The quote on Null Rod says it all: "[Gerard] But it doesn't do anything!" "[Hanna]No-it does nothing." Null Rod shuts down each and every artifact ability which has an activation cost, including abilities that produce mana. It is easy to cast, easy to splash in any deck as it itself is an artifact, and has been a mainstay in all formats where it has been legal as a way to stop artifact-based decks. There are two cards which keep Vintage from being completely over-the-top broken, and Null Rod is one of those cards (the other is Force of Will).
22) Zuran Orb (T1, T2)
Zuran Orb seems innocuous enough - it trades lands you have in play for two life an activation. This ability is quite unfair on multiple levels, as are many abilities which trade one resource (land) for another (life). First, Zuran Orb costs zero, so it can be cast at any point in the game without distracting from other important spells. Second, it can effectively double a person's life total - if you play ten lands over the course of the game, Zuran Orb gives you the potential to have forty life points by the time the game is over. Third, it interacts spectacularly with cards that thrive off you having less lands in play than an opponent (think Tithe and Land Tax). Fourth, it was a key card in the Necropotence deck, as it changed the equation of 1 land = 2 life to 1 land = 2 cards. Fifth, it was a way to stymie land destruction decks and to profit off your own mass land destruction effects such as Armageddon.
21) Chrome Mox/Mox Diamond (T1, T2, X, Block)
I've grouped these two together even though they are functionally different, as they are very similar thematically. Both require you to lose a card out of your hand to use (though you can drop an unimprinted Chrome Mox to get it on the board, such as to raise your count for a storm spell or to get an artifact in play for affinity), and both accelerate you by a permanent one mana for the cost of zero. There's been a debate about which is less important to lose - a colored card from hand, or a land from hand. Either way, both of these cards have become staples in various decks which require acceleration, most notably weenie decks and combo decks.
20) Sapphire Medallion (T1, T2, X)
Sapphire Medallion doesn't produce mana on its own, but it is capable of creating dozens of virtual mana in any given game. The other four Tempest medallions have never really caught on for tournament play, but Sapphire Medallion has been a longstanding member of any Blue combo deck for over half a decade now. It started to emerge in some early Tolarian Academy builds, and later found a home in High Tide decks. These decks cast multiple Blue cards each turn, and so each Blue spell you cast becomes a mana "produced" indirectly by the Medallion. The power of the Blue Medallion truly shines when paired with the Blue "untap lands when you cast a spell" mechanic seen on cards such as Time Spiral, Cloud of Faeries, and Frantic Search. When played with those cards, the Medallion does double duty - it acts to both reduce the mana cost of a spell by one, and allow the combo player to untap one more land than is invested (for instance, Cloud of Faeries costs only a single Blue under a Medallion, but untaps two lands when it comes into play). Most recently the Sapphire Medallion has been seen in Extended Mind's Desire decks, where its ability to affect several spells a turn fits perfectly with a deck built around casting as many spells a turn as possible.
19) Powder Keg (T1, T2, X, Block)
People initially dismissed Powder Keg as a narrow card, since it could only destroy cards with an exact cost equal to the number of counters it had accumulated. Powder Keg proved itself quickly, as it could come down and immediately clear the board of zero-mana cards such as animated man-lands (Treetop Village, Mishra's Factory), Moxen, and later Artifact Lands (Seat of the Synod). It allowed control decks to pinpoint their destructive effects (so as to protect their own more expensive permanents), and gave a handy way to clear the board for virtually any deck against fast, aggressive creatures (set to one, Powder Keg killed over half the cards in Goblin decks, including Goblin Lackey, Goblin Cadets, Mogg Fanatic, Jackal Pup, Goblin Vandal, Mogg Conscripts and Cursed Scroll). Powder Keg is a perfect example of a finesse card - in the hands of a good player, it will act as part threat removal (killing what is on the board) and part threat deterrent (keeping an opponent from dropping cards which could potentially be killed by Powder Keg). Best of all, multiple Powder Kegs could be in play at once so that once the first was activated, the second could be set up to handle future threats.
18) Aether Vial (T1, T2, X, Block)
There are three types of Magic players: Timmy, Johnny, and Spike. Timmy loves playing with huge and splashy effects, Johnny loves winning with nifty combos, and Spikes like just plain winning by using the most efficient cards possible. Aether Vial appeals to none of these three players, which would explain why it has been undervalued in the year since it was printed.
Timmy wants a larger effect to put creatures into play, such as from Quicksilver Amulet or Elvish Piper. Johnny doesn't see the application of Aether Vial in a combo deck, since it does virtually nothing to advance a combo the first couple of turns it is in play. Spike ignored the card since it was card disadvantage on the first turn, and would always be behind the natural curve of what a deck could cast anyhow. All three of these players were wrong about dismissing the card, as it slowly ingrained itself into the minds of the tournament playing public.
Aether Vial is only as slow as the creatures in your deck, and plays the double duty of negating countermagic and doubling the generation of threats a deck can play each turn. A first-turn Vial can be followed with a two-mana and one-mana creature in turn 2, and a three-mana and two-mana/one-mana creature on turn 3 - effectively producing 1-3 mana worth of additional creatures by the third turn. Assuming you play a land a turn, the six mana you had access to on the first three turns becomes a virtually nine. Moreover, the Vial allows creatures to be dropped into play at the end of an opponent's turn (acting as a poor man's haste) and allows the smoothing of the mana base in any given deck, since the Vial does not care about color. Aether Vial first saw play in block Affinity decks and has quickly spread across every format, most notably at this time as a key card in several Extended decks ranging from Life to Goblins.
17) Winter Orb (T1, T2, X)
Mana Disruption has always come at a premium in Magic, and mana disruption spells are costed high enough so that players will have enough time to develop an early board before having their sources of mana disrupted. Such was not always the case, and the most undercosted mass-mana disruption spell ever is Winter Orb. At only two mana, Winter Orb can come down early, immediately stifle a player's mana development, and continue to mess with the game until the Orb itself is tapped or removed. Of course, the player with Winter Orb will usually pack ways to tap the artifact themselves (Icy Manipulator and Relic Barrier are two favorites for this purpose), will run artifact mana (unaffected by the Orb) or will run cheap threats (goblins) and use the Orb to keep the opponent from reaching enough mana to combat these threats effectively.
16) Tangle Wire (T1, T2, X, Block)
Just like Winter Orb above, Tangle Wire is a card designed to mess with people's mana. Although Tangle Wire goes away over time, it also is much more proactive in disrupting a player's mana base - while a player can "save up" mana under Winter Orb by not playing spells until they need to cast the big one, Tangle Wire keeps them from casting anything, period. Moreover, the player with the Tangle Wire is always going to be two permanents ahead of the player on the receiving end of Tangle Wire (tap the Tangle Wire itself plus remove a counter before resolving the Tangle Wire effect). Aggressive decks and lock decks have been using Tangle Wire for years as a way to stymie an opponent's mana base, and these decks have all risen to prominence in their respective formats (Red Deck Wins, Stax).
15) Black Vise (T1, T2)
Black Vise might well be the most abusive source of passive recurring damage in all of Magic. For the low cost of one mana, the Vise will immediately deal three damage on the first turn before the opponent even gets to start the game. The Vise also forces an opponent to dump cards out of their hand at a rapid pace, dictating the pace of the game. In multiples, Black Vise gets downright ugly - it wasn't unusually for a person to cast multiple first turn Vises when they weren't restricted in Vintage, and have them deal nine damage on an opponent's first turn. The existence of Black Vise in multiples virtually killed reactive control decks, and it was quickly restricted in both Vintage and Standard.
14) Masticore (T1, T2, X, Block)
Remember when I mentioned above that certain cards were viewed as powerful and lived up to the hype? Masticore was not one these cards, as most players dismissed the large creature as having too expensive a drawback (losing a card each turn) versus its effect. These players were quickly proven wrong by those who played the 4/4 virtually unkillable (due to its cheap regeneration cost) artifact creature that could gun down other creatures one after another (due to its cheap pinging cost). Masticore has seen play in virtually every deck based around killing with artifact creatures, and in any deck that contains creatures and ways to generate large amounts of mana (Gaea's Cradle + Elves).
13) The Six Artifact Lands (Ancient Den, Darksteel Citadel, Great Furnace, Seat of the Synod, Tree of Tales, Vault of Whispers) (T1, T2, X, Block)
Without the six artifact lands, the Affinity and Krark-Clan Ironworks decks would never have existed. These lands worked as double-mana producers (tap for a mana, reduce the cost of affinity for artifact cards by a mana) with no drawback other than being both artifacts and lands at the same time. The lands served a dual purpose of mana production and +1/+1 counters for Arcbound Ravager, allowed the sacrifice of artifacts at the cost of a land for Atog, Shrapnel Blast and Disciple of the Vault, and acted as part of the kill condition (with Myr Incubator) and the fuel for the engine in the Krark-Clan Ironworks deck. The lands were also played as fuel for Tinker in Extended, and to reduce the cost of Furnace Dragon (and to fuel Shrapnel Blast) in Red during Block Constructed and Standard seasons last year. Though they look simple in design, they have been the source of more trouble across multiple formats (Extended, Block, Standard) than almost any other card printed in recent years - save one, which appears in the Top 10.
12) Cursed Scroll (T1, T2, X, Block)
Cursed Scroll, along with Ensnaring Bridge, taught tournament players that card disadvantage was not necessarily a bad thing. Cursed Scroll became a surefire recurring source of two colorless damage once a player got their hand down to one card. It cost only one to cast, allowing it to slip easily past early game permission spells. It is cheap, efficient, reusable, and has seen play since the day it has been printed. It was so powerful in block that it ended up dominating an entire Pro Tour - which ended with the Scroll being banned.
11) Lion's Eye Diamond (T1, X)
For years, players ignored Lion's Eye Diamond. The card did not emerge as a powerhouse until the advent of artifact-based combo decks emerged during Urza's Block. Brian Hacker piloted the most successful Lion's Eye Diamond-based Tolarian Academy deck at Pro Tour: Rome, using Lion's Eye Diamond as both Academy fodder and mana-accelerant with Time Spiral on the stack. He would then recur LED with Yawgmoth's Will, generate a ton of mana, and start casing other Willed cards from the graveyard. Players continued abusing Lion's Eye Diamond in other decks, such as Memory Jar decks. Vintage players would finally break Lion's Eye Diamond in half thanks to the storm mechanic - and shortly thereafter, LED was restricted in Vintage. It should also be noted that Lion's Eye Diamond has very good interaction with the Madness mechanic.
10) Nevinyrral's Disk (T1, T2, X)
Nevinyrral's Disk is the original board sweeper, and it does the job more effectively than any other card printed to this day. Tempered only by the drawback of coming into play tapped, the four-mana Disk is capable of taking out all non-land threats on the board, acting as a giant reset switch. Necropotence decks ran Nev's disk as a way to deal with troublesome artifacts and enchantments (as Black normally cannot deal with these types of permanents) while control Blue decks ran the artifact as a way to both control the board and deter future threats, all the while sitting back on countermagic and card drawing spells. As a note, the Disk destroys itself as part of its effect, and not as part of its activation - and several players have found ways of recurring the same Disk multiple times as a result of this (such as with Boomerang or with Reality Ripple).
9) Metalworker (T1, T2, X, Block)
Metalworker is the best artifact creature ever printed, beating out Masticore and Arcbound Ravager. What makes Metalworker so good? Metalworker can produce an insane amount of mana for a very small investment - a second or third turn Metalworker can produce as much as fourteen mana on its first activation, allowing Metalworker to consistently have a better cost-to-mana produced ratio unaided than almost any other card in Magic. Metalworker has been abused in every format in which it was legal, from Urza's Block constructed to Vintage. It can interact brokenly with Voltaic Key, Staff of Domination, or it can just plain make a million mana to fuel a third turn activated 10/10 Phyrexian Processor with Masticore backup. Metalworker has proven to be so problematic that it was banned in Extended.
8) Mindslaver (T1, T2, X, Block)
There were two blocks that have produced a disproportionate number of broken artifacts - the first was Urza's Block and the second was Mirrodin Block. Mindslaver has the second most powerful effect out of Mirrodin, right behind Platinum Angel. Initially thought to be a little too expensive, several enterprising players tried out Mindslaver and found it was quite fine when paired with Metalworker, Tinker or Goblin Welder - especially with the last of these three. One Mindslaver activation can completely wreck an opponent's hand and board simultaneously, as their most important spells are turned against them. Recurring a Mindslaver with Goblin Welder each turn equals a nearly unbreakable soft lock on the game.
7) Sol Ring (T1, T2)
There's not much to say about Sol Ring other than it costs one to cast, produces two mana a turn with no drawback, and can be reused each and every turn. Compare this to Lotus Petal (0 cost/1 produced, 1 time use) or Mana Vault (1 cost/3 produced, effectively a 1 time use) and you can see why Sol Ring is one of the top mana producers ever printed, and why it is one of the Top 10 artifacts of all time.
6) Grim Monolith (T1, T2, X, Block)
On the surface, Grim Monolith looks weaker than Mana Vault since it costs one more mana to cast. However, it is supposed drawback on the Monolith which makes it better than the Vault - instead of taking damage, the Monolith can untap at any time that you wish to spend four mana. It will not damage you like the Vault, it can be untapped at the end of a turn instead of just during your upkeep, it can get around cards like Tangle Wire (since you can float four mana - three from the Monolith itself - and then untap the Monolith once you resolve the Wire's effect), and it can generate infinite mana when paired with Power Artifact.
5) Memory Jar (T1, T2)
Memory Jar saw a brief stint of play in Standard, and was banned more quickly than any other card in the format's history. Randy Buehler developed a Standard legal deck revolving around Memory Jar and Megrim which was capable of a 30% first turn kill ratio. R&D has figured that "temporarily" gaining seven cards was mitigated that you had to use or lose these seven cards immediately. What they learned is that any and all "draw seven" effects are highly powerful, and putting one at a low cost on a universally abusable artifact is just a plain bad idea.
4) Skullclamp (T1, T2, X, Block)
Skullclamp is the most broken card printed in Magic in recent years, period. It's good in the early, middle and late games. It allows you to break even on the first activation (creature + Skullclamp = 2 cards) and will net you more and more cards as you feed it more and more creatures. Skullclamp initially found a home in Goblin and Affinity deck but quickly rose to prominence in any deck that ran creatures - Elves, Tooth and Nail, Zombies - literally every deck with creatures would improve with the addition of Skullclamp. It was banned in Standard and Block due to abuse, and was preemptively banned in Extended where it would have ruined the entire 2004-2005 Extended season had it been allowed to see play.
3) The Five Alpha Mox (Mox Emerald, Mox Jet, Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby, Mox Sapphire) (T1)
The five Mox break the one-land-per-turn rule that holds the very foundations of Magic in place. The game is built around the concept that each player only gets to play one land a turn, but the Moxen get around this rule by substituting for basic lands. They have no drawbacks, and accelerate your mana. Because of the speed boosts they provide, they have been coveted as valuable cards in Vintage for going on a decade now.
2) Chaos Orb (T1)
Chaos Orb may have been banned for being a physical dexterity card, but it changed the way people played the game. There are countless stories of people arranging and rearranging their cards to keep multiple cards from being destroyed by a single Orb activation, but as it stands the Orb read 3: Destroy one to (as many as you can hit) permanents. At the worst it was a colorless Vindicate, and at best it was a one-sided Armageddon and Nev's Disk rolled into one. Chaos Orb is arguably the best removal spell ever printed for this very reason, and it would be in the main deck or sideboard of every Vintage deck to this day had it not been banned outright for logistic reasons.
1) Black Lotus (T1)
There is no deck in Magic that would not benefit from playing a Black Lotus. The ability to boost your mana by three for the cost of zero, with absolutely no drawbacks, is completely and utterly insane. Consider how good Lion's Eye Diamond was with the drawback of losing your entire hand - now translate that to a card with the same ability but with no drawback and you have the most powerful artifact in Magic's history.
Honorable Mentions: Ashnod's Altar, Bottle Gnomes, The Mirage Diamonds, Draco, Feldon's Cane, Fellwar Stone, Horn of Greed, Howling Mine, Illusionary Mask, Ivory Tower, Jester's Cap, Karn Silver Golem, Krark-Clan Ironworks, Phyrexian Dreadnought, Phyrexian Furnace, Phyrexian Processor, Serrated Arrows, Sphere of Resistance, Su-Chi, Thran Dynamo, Time Vault, The Rack, Tsabo's Web