The Top Ten Keyword Abilities of All Time



It seems that nothing in Magic sparks more water cooler discussion than lists. With that in mind, I've decided to rile up the masses and try my hand at deciding the best of the best in various categories of Magic. So, after much thinking and sleeping, I have decided to bring forth my first list: the top 10 keyword abilities of all time.

Keyword abilities have played an integral part of Magic for a long time. From Banding to Graft, keywords have altered the way people build decks, and even had decks built around them. Standard has been dominated in past years by keyword-based decks, whether they be Affinity, Madness, or Cycling. But which keyword is truly the best? Which can claim the throne of best keyword of all time? We're about to find out.

Before we get to the list, I will give you the criteria from which I will be judging these fine keywords.

1. Keywords will be judged from the effect they have had in all formats. However, I will be giving much more weight to mechanics for how they have affected the Eternal formats, Legacy and Vintage. It is my opinion that the true test of a keyword is how it can do against all the hate and all of the sideboard tech imaginable. As a result, some keywords may be lower than you think they should be, and some will be higher.

2. Keywords will also be judged only on their Constructed play value. I know, Splice onto Arcane was teh awesome in limited, but it won't be getting anywhere near a spot in this list.

3. To be on the list, the ability must be a keyword. The reason for this is because otherwise it becomes very hard to distinguish what a mechanic is and what a mechanic isn't. Unfortunately, this means Urza's untap effects, and other powerful tools such as Wishes will not appear.

4. The opinions expressed in this article are solely the opinions of me, CynicalSquirrel, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the MTGSalvation staff.

Without further ado, here's the list.

10. Kicker
Kicker is widely regarded as one of the most fun abilities ever printed. And why not? Kicker featured powerful cards like Orim's Chant and Orim's Thunder, along with a solid cast of other cards. It was the defining ability in the hugely popular Invasion block because of how you could make different colored cards with it and put abilities on them that people wouldn't expect. In the late game, kicker cards were great because they could have multiple effects on the game, and they weren't too bad by themselves, either.

9. Fading
The list continues with a keyword from a set not remembered too fondly by most Magic players: Nemesis. Fading was seen on powerful cards that are still played today, such as Parallax Wave and Saproling Burst, not to mention Blastoderm, one of the best and most efficient creatures ever printed. The ability of fading to get more powerful effects out quicker more than made up for the fact that they would only stay around for a few turns.

8. Buyback
Buyback is one of the mechanics Wizards has acknowledged was a huge mistake. Why? Buyback created repetitive game states, and many of the cards that used it were very annoying when they saw play. Cards like Capsize and Whispers of the Muse allowed recurring bounce and draw, which made MUC decks very difficult to handle. Corpse Dance is still seen in various places for its infinite spell combo with Composite Golem. With Crucible of Worlds seeing print, even Constant Mists has begun seeing a bit of play because of how you can lock aggro decks out of the game with it. Overall, Buyback is one of the strongest mechanics in the game because of its ability to constantly recur cards and allow for massive card advantage.

7. Cycling
Cycling is the only mechanic with the benefit of being used in two different blocks. However, Wizards did it for good reason: Cycling won't necessarily break games open (Unless it's a Decree of Justice), but it is probably the most useful mechanic on this list. Cycling allows you to run mostly conditional cards and never have them be dead in your deck. There is never a time in a game where a Cycling card will just be sitting in your hand and you wish it wasn't there, which is a huge benefit. Back in Urza block, it was commonly abused with Fluctuator to draw your whole deck, or simply used to cycle unwanted cards and get less dead draws.

However, Cycling really became a top notch mechanic with the printing of Onslaught Block. Now cards not only can cycle, but also have effects added on. Cards like Lightning Rift, Renewed Faith, Astral Slide, and Slice and Dice are all new cycling cards that have had a huge impact in different formats. Because of its cycling ability, Eternal Dragon is arguably the best White creature of all time. In control decks, it can thin your deck and ensure land drops, then come back for a 5/5 flying beating. The cycle of Decrees in Scourge was also strong boons for Cycling. Decree of Justice is unquestionably the best for its ability to win games late, but Decree of Pain, Decree of Silence, and Decree of Annihilation also have seen play in different places.

As you can see from this Legacy build of Rifter, a W/R cycling control deck, building around cycling is a very effective way to build a deck:
RifterMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Land:
19x Snow-Covered Plains
4x Secluded Steppe

Creatures:
4x Eternal Dragon

Spells:
4x Swords to Plowshares
4x Abeyance
4x Renewed Faith
4x Decree of Justice
3x Wing Shards
3x Wrath of god
3x Humility
3x Gilded Light
3x Akroma's Vengeance
2x Rune of Protection: Red



6. Affinity
This one is probably going to anger some people, mostly because of how Affinity dominated Standard in recent years, and was going to dominate Extended before key cards were banned. Affinity's sheer power was unquestionable, with cards like Frogmite, Myr Enforcer, and Thoughtcast being played way earlier than they had any right to be. However, Affinity does not make the top five of my list because it really is not the reason why Ravager decks dominated for so long.

In March 2005, Wizards finally put their foot down and banned Raffinity decks from being competitive in Standard. However, the list is interesting for different reasons. If you look closely, you will see that none of the banned cards actually had the Affinity mechanic. If Wizards had simply said, "All Cards with the Affinity Mechanic are banned," Ravager probably still could have been a tier one deck. [This is why they correctly focused on the engine – the artifact lands. –Ed.] However, I'll still give Affinity some credit because it definitely contributed to breaking open. However, it is not a top five mechanic, in my view.

5. Threshold
Threshold has gotten quite the spotlight in Legacy recently for it's placing at the two Legacy GPs. Threshold is an extremely powerful effect when placed on the right card, because it matters in almost every game. All of a sudden, 1/1s for 1G become 4/4s, and 1/1 untargetables turn into 3/3s for G. The efficiency of the threats in a Threshold deck is really how it wins games. Mystic Enforcer is another great beating for Threshold decks, along with Fledgling Dragon. There were also several other cards that were strong when played in Odyssey Standard.
4. Flashback
Now we kick off the Final Four with Flashback, a very unsung mechanic. Cards with flashback almost never stand out in a deck, and people will never use the mechanic to build around. However, it is one of the most powerful mechanics ever printed. Flashback allows you to get more bang from your buck with certain cards. A weak, sorcery speed Diabolic Edict all of a sudden becomes better, because you can kill off another creature with it later. A sorcery speed Shock becomes better, because it hits for 2 more later. Cabal Therapy is considered one of the best discard spells of all time, simply because of the flashback ability, which can allow you to rip several cards from a flustered opponent's hand. Deep Analysis is also one of the strongest card drawers in recent memory, and Roar of the Wurm almost always is 3G for a 6/6 creature, thanks to cards like Wild Mongrel and Careful Study. The ability of Flashback to get more weight out of your card slots is what pushes it over the top of everything before it. Other notable Flashback cards are Moment's Peace, Call of the Herd, and Ray of Revelation.

3. Madness
Continuing with the Odyssey block theme, we get to Madness, which is another card-advantage related mechanic. Madness is great because it turned what should be a drawback into a massive advantage. Wild Mongrel is one of the best creatures of all time because of flashback and Madness cards. Discarding Arrogant Wurms and Basking Rootwallas is one of the most feared plays in magic, and can allow you to beat down your opponent so fast. RG Builds can run Fiery Temper and Violent Eruption for tons of extra damage, while the UG builds still have Circular Logic as a near hard-counter and Deep Analysis to draw. Madness decks have always won because of the card advantage and synergy all of the cards have.

Another note here is that all of the last three Odyssey block mechanics go together so well. It's a testament to how solid a block Odyssey was that their mechanics are so strong, but not overpowered in any way. As you can see from this Type 2 decklist, all of the Odyssey mechanics had great synergy with one another:

UG Madness - Worlds 2002Magic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
9 Forest
9 Island
4 Yavimaya Coast

1 Aquamoeba
4 Arrogant Wurm
4 Basking Rootwalla
4 Merfolk Looter
4 Wild Mongrel
3 Wonder

4 Careful Study
4 Circular Logic
4 Counterspell
2 Deep Analysis
4 Roar of the Wurm


2. Dredge
Dredge may be a new kid on the block, but it is already making huge impacts across the game. Whether it's people cycling lands and abusing Life from the Loam or just dredging their entire library to put Ichorids into play, it's hard to argue with how powerful this mechanic has been, especially considering the relative lack of time people have had to abuse it. Darkblast has become nearly a sideboard staple in Legacy and Vintage because of how it can knock off pesky Goblins or any other little dorks that could stand in your way. Golgari Grave-Troll and Stinkweed Imp are played only because they have the dredge mechanic, which shows how abusable and how strong it is.

Of course, the king Dredger is Life from the Loam. From the surface it looked like a jank rare, until people realized you can recur cycling lands, Wastelands, Strip Mines, fetch lands, or any other goodies you wanted. Life from the Loam has already been abused in pretty much every non-standard format.

The reason Dredge is so high on this list is also because I believe people haven't even found the best way to abuse it. There are so many potential possibilities with the mechanic, that it will just keep getting used and used as the years go on, whereas Madness and Affinity have probably peaked in terms of potential.

1. Storm
The Storm mechanic is basically a combo player's dream. Storm appears on few cards, but the ones that have it have almost all seen play in different formats. Even with only one spell played, cards like Wing Shards become huge sources of card advantage, and they only get better as time goes on. Then, of course, there's the combo duo of Brain Freeze and Tendrils of Agony, which have become staples in any combo deck because of their basic uncounterability, and that they can win the game fairly easily in a dedicated deck.

Of course, the most powerful and feared storm card is Mind's Desire. It was almost immediately restricted in Vintage because of how insane it could get, and one could make a legitimate case that Mind's Desire is the most powerful spell ever printed. Even with only four or five spells, Desire will easily break open games. When you start topdecking more Desires, the insanity only increases. Shortly after Mind's Desire was released, Mike Long vowed to get it restricted, and he did. His deck, fittingly called Long.dec shook up the Vintage format like few others had, and caused the restriction of Mind's Desire and Burning Wish. Here's a (pre-restrictions) list:

Long.dec, revised by Stephen MenendianMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Mana:
3 Chromatic Sphere
4 Lion's Eye Diamond
5 Moxen
1 Lotus Petal
1 Black Lotus
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mana Vault
1 Sol Ring
1 Mox Diamond
4 Dark Ritual
4 Gemstone Mine
4 City of Brass
1 Tolarian Academy
2 Underground Sea

Spells:
4 Duress
4 Brainstorm
4 Burning Wish
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Demonic Consultation
1 Timetwister
1 Wheel of Fortune
1 Windfall
1 Tinker
1 Mind's Desire
1 Necropotence
1 Yawgmoth's Bargain
1 Memory Jar
1 Tendrils of Agony



Well, that's it for me. Let the debating begin.

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