In this retrospective series, I have decided to look at Magic: the Gathering’s past and come up with a hand-picked list of cards from each set in Magic’s history that I would consider the best, starting with 8th Edition.
What criteria am I using to decide this, you ask?
I’m looking at three factors:
- Eternal Playability – how often is the card played in eternal or constructed formats (Modern, Legacy, Vintage, Commander, etc.)
- Monetary Value – how much is the card worth today? How much was it worth when it was originally released?
- Wow Factor – is the card bursting with flavour and originality? Did it bend or break the format it originated in?
With this in mind, I will compile five of the strongest cards from a different set each article. I will not simply pick the five most expensive cards from each set, but rather will focus on five of the most powerful, interesting, and unique cards using a combination of the above criteria.
This brings us to 8th Edition: a core set originally released on July 29th, 2003 that marked the 10th anniversary of Magic, and the official beginning of the Modern-legal format. This was also the first set to use what is now referred to as the modern border with a new, elegant cardface design.
8th Edition featured 357 white-bordered cards (113 Common, 113 Uncommon, 111 Rare and 20 lands), including cards from every previous expansion set since Alpha.
Without further ado, here is my list of the top 5 cards from 8th Edition:
5. Urzatron Lands (Tower, Power Plant, Mine)
At first glance, it might seem unusual to include these land cards in my list of top cards from a set, based on the criteria I defined above to calculate my rankings. Lands by their very nature are not usually splashy cards. Most casual magic players run basic lands in their decks, which are the cheapest and most plentiful lands available in Magic. They are the cornerstone to any deck. Lands can often be valuable cards; however, due to their ability to fix your manabase (e.g. fetchlands, shocklands) or pack powerful abilities (e.g. Karakas, Wasteland, Eye of Ugin).
The Urzatron Lands are an example of a powerful trio of lands that are so strong they are used in decks at the highest levels of competitive Magic in modern and legacy formats. Urzatron is the nickname for the cards named Urza’s Power Plant, Urza’s Mine, and Urza’s Tower. When all three are in play, they combine to provide seven mana. The Urzatron lands were first printed in Antiquities and have seen print in Chronicles, Fifth, Eighth and Ninth Editions. Due to their inclusion in several sets, the value of Urzatron lands is relatively inexpensive when compared with other powerful land cards. However, due to their importance in decks such as Tron, they slot in at #5 on my list of the top 5 cards in 8th Edition.
Choke is a card that can singlehandedly throttle a deck, which is something you do not see very often out at the uncommon level. It is primarily seen in sideboards as an effective counter against any blue-based decks in Modern and Legacy formats.
Many players have criticized Choke, and cards of its ilk, as it limits deck diversity and punishes players simply for playing basic islands. Some have even called for an outright banning of the card. Fortunately, Wizards has moved away from printing these types of cards in recent sets, although a outright ban on Choke in Modern or Legacy does not appear to be in the cards any time soon.
Near mint copies of Choke are currently selling for an average cost of $6.50, which makes it the most valuable uncommon in 8th Edition by a wide margin.
3. Birds of Paradise
This is one of my favourite cards in all of Magic, and is also one of the most iconic. It has a long history dating back to Alpha, the first set in Magic’s history, and has been reprinted over and over again, including in the recently released Conspiracy 2: Take the Crown.
For those who are unaware of the origin of the card, here is the backstory: during the design for Alpha, the original artwork submitted for Tropical Island featured a prominent bird in the foreground. Rather than reject the art outright, Richard Garfield designed Birds of Paradise to fit around the art and included it in the set as a new card.
Despite the heavy reprinting of the card, Birds of Paradise still commands a price above bulk status due to its inclusion in several decks in Modern, Legacy, and Commander formats, not to mention a casual all-star. It enables ramp strategies and mana fixing, making it a must-include in many decks.
2. Ensnaring Bridge
Ensnaring Bridge is the one of the two most valuable cards from 8th Edition, and for good reason: it is an incredibly powerful card that can grind games to a halt all on its own. While there are philosophical arguments to be made over how “fun” a card like Ensnaring Bridge is and how it actively prevents players from playing Magic, no one can deny its power.
Ensnaring Bridge has only seen print in three sets: Stronghold, 7th Edition, and 8th Edition, which means it has not been reprinted since 2003. This certainly factors into its current price, which is around $40. It is also featured in a few Modern control and Legacy burn decks, but mainly as a sideboard card. Although the card seems like a good candidate for a reprint, I would not be surprised if Wizards excluded it from the next Modern Masters set due to its oppressive nature, which seems to go against their recent philosophy to encourage deck diversity and allow players to cast their creatures and spells. But then again, they did reprint the next card in our list not so long ago, which leads us to:
1. Blood Moon
Many Magic players simply loathe Blood Moon (full disclosure: I am not one of these people). It counters many decks due to its ability to lock out both abilities and mana fixing provided by non-basic lands, causing many players to auto-scoop when their opponent plays a Blood Moon. That said, it is not nearly as oppressive as Choke and Ensnaring Bridge, and is more of a healthy check-and-balance against players who overly rely on non-basic lands to power their decks.
As of the publication date of this article, Blood Moon is the most valuable card in 8th Edition. It has been reprinted four times since it was first printed in The Dark, including most recently in the original Modern Masters set. Despite this, it commands a price tag north of $40, due to its popularity in non-rotating formats and its power. I suspect we will see another reprint within the next couple of years, with the most likely inclusion being in the next Modern Masters set in 2017.
That wraps up my thoughts on the Top Five Cards in 8th Edition. Do you agree or disagree with my selections? Which cards would you have included in your top five? Let me know in the comments below!
All financial data graphs are courtesy of www.MTGstocks.com and are current as of August 28th, 2016.