I was inspired to write this article after watching a few Cube matches. See, there are some cards that have been printed over Magic’s 20+ year history that really change how the game works, and the best of these deserve their own special category. These are the cards that make your opponent play like a complete buffoon, and lead to some of the strangest plays and game states imaginable. Maybe it’s because their effect is just bizarre, maybe it’s because it seems like there is a way out—but no matter the reason, all the cards on this list lead to some real nice plays.
Emrakul, the Promised End and Mindslaver
Yes, these cards do in fact make your opponent play badly. Duh.
The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
Stapling upkeep costs to your opponent’s creatures is asinine, and I refuse to consider forgetting to pay for Tabernacle a huge punt. This card is just egregious, and I have arbitrarily declared it ineligible for the list.
Top 8 Buffoon Cards
8) Gifts Ungiven
This one used to be more interesting before Unburial Rites, as now the plan is to just get Rites plus some large creature, and the opponent can’t screw it up. When it is for any other combination of cards, things can get funky, and I’ve seen people hand me Gifts piles that let me win when I had no way out if they binned the right cards. Forcing your opponent to make strange choices can lead to some interesting situations.
7) Dark Confidant
For some reason, when Dark Confidant hits the board, people lose their mind. They somehow think that Bob is just going to deal 3 a turn, when in reality it’s more like 1.2 damage (or less) on average. I’ve seen Blue-White Control decks just go ham with Celestial Colonnade, then lose horribly when Dark Confidant deals 4 damage over 3 turns instead of the 10 they needed. Likewise, when people decide not to kill Bob against an opponent at 12 because they might die to the trigger, that’s this effect in a nutshell.
6) Death’s Shadow
This one is similar to Dark Confidant, but way worse. At least with Dark Confidant, you are only giving up cards when you fail to kill it, or try and race it. With Death’s Shadow, you are just killing yourself by growing the Shadow. I will say that Death’s Shadow is harder to play against, since it’s counter-intuitive to not attack the opponent, but the number of people I’ve seen die to Death’s Shadow because they randomly took the opponent from 9 to 4 life is staggering.
5) Chalice of the Void
Under the new trigger rules, there’s some merit to casting spells into the opponent’s Chalice in live play, because they could miss the counter trigger. Still, Chalice counters way more spells than it should, often multiple times in the same game. I’ve even seen Chalice counter the controller’s spells at a high rate, which I guess makes this a card that turns both players into buffoons.
4) Fact or Fiction
It’s true that FoF often leaves the opponent in a bad spot no matter what, but I’ve seen more than my fair share of awful Fact or Fiction splits. The worst is on Magic Online, where an errant click leads to the spell just being Fact (a.k.a., 5 vs. 0), but even in cases where a player actually chooses the split, there’s plenty of room for error. One of the most common mistakes is undervaluing lands, and I’ve scooped up so many 2 lands + 1 spell piles that I have to imagine the opponents could have done better (often spell/spell/land vs. land/spell is better than land/land/spell vs. spell/spell).
3) Force Spike/Daze/Cursecatcher/Censor
All these effects get lumped into one because they share the same outcome—players Time Walking themselves in order to not get Force Spiked. I get that paying 1 mana seems so doable, and waiting a turn seems so natural, but sometimes you just have to make the trade. After all, it’s still just a 1-for-1, and it’s not like you lose points at the end of the game if you get a spell Dazed. The way that Force Spike really wins is if you wait an extra turn to cast every spell, and that happens so often (and will start to happen in Standard, now that Censor is around). The beauty of Censor, by the way, is that if you play around it like this, they just cycle it. Whoops.
2) Land Tax
Very few cards lead to horrific board states like Land Tax, where I’ve seen both players sit there discarding rather than play a land. If your opponent plays a turn-1 Land Tax on the draw, it’s not insane to wait a turn and see if they play a second land, but you should usually just disregard it and play your land. If you skip your second land drop, they basically bought themselves being on the play, and Land Tax is still there and ready to be active later. Once both players are refusing to play a second land, the game is just horrible, and they should just agree to a draw so real Magic can be played.
Number 1 with a bullet is Standstill. No other card leads to more ridiculous games, and I’ve seen them run the gamut. The most common punt against Standstill is to try and avoid breaking it for so long that the opponent gets a huge advantage, mostly by virtue of them having more lands (and lands with abilities, like Mishra’s Factory). It also leads to aggro decks hitting for 2 a turn without playing a second creature, which buys the control deck 5-6 turns, at which point the control deck breaks the Standstill at end of turn and the aggro deck draws 3 then discards 3, which isn’t a huge upside. Likewise, breaking the opponent’s Standstill on your main phase is often bad, especially when their hand is full, and people do this time and time again.
Perhaps the worst is deciding that your deck can force the Standstill deck to break it, when they undoubtedly have a better constructed deck for the scenario. I’ve also seen players try to Stifle the trigger (hint: this doesn’t work out well), and there are tons of mistakes I’m not mentioning as well. Standstill is just a messed up card, and one that makes otherwise reasonable players just lose their mind.
There’s something about giving the opponent 3 cards that just feels bad, and the creative solutions players come up with are not effective at stopping it. They played Standstill, they are going to draw 3—deal with it.
Let me know if I missed any absurd cards. Many exist, but these are the ones I’ve seen generate the most egregious plays.