Keywords have existed from the beginning of Magic: the Gathering. Even then, the original 10 (haste, flying, fear, protection, landwalk, banding, first strike, regeneration, trample and vigilance) had some problems: I recall the original MtG player’s guidebook requiring something like 10 pages explaining how banding worked, and it seems like people still don’t understand how trample really works (Yes, I realize haste, fear, and vigilance didn't have keywords back then. I didn't mention it because it's an unimportant point and makes me waste time explaining it, thus disrupting the flow of the article. Like now. I hate you guys.)
Although Arabian Nights came out with the similarily confusing Cumulative Upkeep, and Legends with Bands with Other, new keywords didn’t come into existence with regularity until the introduction of Mirage and [card=suq'ata lancer]Flanking to the tune of one new keyword per expansion on average.
Then came Scourge. Having tested returning Cycling in addition to introducing Morph in Onslaught, Wizards decided to release THREE new keywords into the minor sets: Provoke, Double Strike and Storm. Ever since, each expansion has had at least two keywords, with this most recent block containing at least three keywords per set. Some have been good; some have been terrible throw-away ideas that are certainly undeserving of their own keywords. In this article I will highlight some of the very worst, and why they were so bad. NOTE: The focus of the article will be on Constructed play.
An unholy trinity of bad abilities
Category 1: The Three Most Useless Keywords Ever
This category rates the effect (rather, lack therof) this keyword has had on the game of Magic. Splice onto Arcane might not be a bad idea, but the cards that had Splice were generally bad enough that they never saw tournament play. These are the very worst.
I guess Wizards was scared of making tribal decks too strong or something, because this ability has maximum usefulness early on (when your hand is still full) but only exists on creatures with CMCs of 3 or more. And the two 3-mana Amplifiers either punish you for amplifying or suck. Even if you played an all-creature deck these cards wouldn’t become remotely broken.
Glowering Rogon or Spiritmonger?
For some reason, Wizards thought people would be willing to pay more than half a creature’s worth for half a creature. Being unable to attack until two turns after hitting play completely ruined any speed advantage these cards might have offered, and their complete undependability made them only a candadite for wacky combo decks seeking to abuse that rules nightmare they carried with them.
Is this meant for your creature or your opponent’s?
1. Bands With Other
I think we were all expecting this one. Giving a very limited amount of creatures the potential to use a bad ability is weak, and then you consider that you have to spend a card to get this potential. Cathedral of Serra + Gosta Dirk + Jasmine Boreal makes for a rather unthreatening combo. For the record, what this does is give the creature banding, but it can only band with other creatures that have the same ability.
”Please, please let me draw Adventurer’s Guildhouse..”
Category 2: The Three Most Poorly Conceived Keywords Ever
These are keywords that Wizards should have stepped back halfway through and realized were a bad idea. Instead, they will forever remain in our heads as big mistakes.
One of the most uninteractive abilities ever, especially considering Green and Red didn’t have any shadow creatures (having lame anti-shadow cards instead). Shadow decks were basically games of swing-at-each-other-until-somebody-dies, and forevermore creatures with shadow are basically unblockable in the older formats. Cool idea, but not a good one.
Yay, I get to block!
Giving artifact decks 2-mana lands while weakening artifact removal was a terrible idea. By enabling nearly-free or free spells, Affinity returned us to the brokenness of Urza’s Saga in a hurry, and cards like Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating didn’t help. When applied in non-broken ways, the mechanic was boring and fragile. Much like Storm, the mechanic either worked or it didn’t, and when it worked it was pretty unfair.
Another failed attempt to give Blue strong creatures with drawbacks, this keyword was so worthless it lost its title as a keyword. All flavor and no function, nobody enjoyed these cards and nobody would even if they were strong because pretty much every game they would just sit there. And when did that "sacrifice" clause ever matter?
This seems fairly costed.
Category 3: The Three Most Poorly Executed Keywords Ever
Some keywords have amazing flavor, and have the potential to be amazing and cool mechanics. Instead, some rebalancing in a room somewhere leaves us with a mangled Homunculus of a once-great idea.
The idea of a spell having a value when it’s NOT played is a great idea, and makes the hand a new arena of combat for the game. However, instead of making Forecast something playable WotC decided to slow it down to a once-per-turn, only-on-your-turn, never-a-surprise kind of mechanic. The best part is that its the mechanic of the Blue-White Azorius, which absolutely despises playing spells on it’s own turn.
I’m going to be keeping this in my hand for a while.
2. Splice Onto Arcane
An ability not unrelated to Forecast, Splice Onto Arcane could have been a good mechanic if thy printed Arcane and Splice cards that didn’t suck. The Kamigawa mechanics were meant to work together, but they were so low-quality in general that one couldn’t justify running Arcane spells so you could Splice other bad spells onto them. Hence the notable lack of keywords in Kamigawa tournaments.
It sucks, but at least you can Splice stuff on it.. If you have the mana.
A super-great idea that promoted bluffing and surprise is now “I play face-down Exalted Angel.” It turned Limited on its head, but in Constructed, for a 2/2 was too slow every time, especially when one had to factor in the morph cost (which was usually huge too). for a 2/1 or even a 0/3 would have been light-years better and brought the keyword up to tournament speed.
Fatal Mutation + Break Open FTW.
Category 4: The Three Biggest Wastes of Cardboard Ever
These were the keywords that you would see when you cracked a pack and immediately pass over. Filler sucks, and these keywords filled more than anyone else. THIS IS WHERE WIZARDS SCREWS US [Surely you mean WI$$$$ARDS -Ed].
Suffering from the Mercenary syndrome of finding irrelevant cards, Soulshift had enough potential to be unfair that it had to be relegated to weak, uninteresting cards. Thus 27 cards, one of which was maybe playable. Too bad you need a lot of Soulshift for the mechanic to pan out.
Was this card supposed to make Soulshift good?
Wizards figured out a while ago that not only was landwalk useless in most metagames (flying every few games), it was BORING. Now it's more used for flavor than as a serious ability, but it still has resulted in 45 generally useless cards (save Dryad Sophisticate).
Gotta get around those flying creatures somehow..
What a failed project. A whopping 101 cards referenced morph, and of them only Exalted Angel saw real play. I guess you could include Blistering Firecat too if anybody ever flipped it in the history of ever. Over ONE HUNDRED cards. Thats 2/3 of a minor set. I consider it a bigger mistake than Urza’s Saga; you can ban broken cards, but you can’t take back bad cards.
Were they serious?
I personally am not looking forward to the return of snow-covered lands. They look great (as in beautiful), but the cards they produce aren’t going to be any stronger than normal and it’s probably going to be like Shadow; produce a lot of cards only useful in block (oh wait.. Coldsnap doesn’t have blocks). Snow permanents are more of a gimmick than anything, and this cheapening of the product for sales angers me.
Please prove me wrong, Wizards. Don’t make me update my list.