A Terrible Trinket
Welcome to what is the first in a series of short articles (depending on the MTG Salvation powers that be) about, well, whatever has got my goat recently. For the chat forum uninitiated, IMHO stands for 'In My Humble Opinion' and in this article I will enlighten you as to my oh-so-humble opinions for the week. In real life I'm not that opinionated, but in cyberspace, I'm a moany old gasbag. And what has irked me so much today? Sensei's Divining Top, that's what.
This Top is the bottom!!!
Sensei's Divining Top is the worst card currently played in constructed tournaments. I've recently been playtesting a mono red deck online and I've now played 6 decks in a row that are running this ghastly mana sink. HELLO! GUYS! IT'S RUBBISH!!! If I had a pound for every player who said, in response to my polite suggestion that they'd be better off lining the bottom of their parrot's cage with it, "It's saved me on many occasions." NO, NO, NO. The card you got with it saved you. If you hadn't played the Top in the first place you'd probably have drawn your good card a lot quicker.
Let me spell it out.
We'll start by looking at its first ability.
:1mana:: Look at the top three cards of your library, then put them back in any order.
Hopefully everybody can see that by itself this ability is pretty naff. The first time you cast it is the only time you get any effect from it. This means the ability costs as you have to cast the top to get it. Look at it this way, if you look at 3 cards and only 1 of them is any good, you put that card on top and then draw it. Now you have to pay a turn not to draw the other two naff cards. If more than one of the cards you looked at were any good there was no point activating the top.
Now let's look at the second ability.
:symtap:: Draw a card, then put Sensei’s Divining Top on top of its owner’s library.
Again this ability is good only once. It replaces a (hopefully) good card on top of your library with itself. You then lose a draw to get back the top which you then have to recast so that you can use it again. It doesn't draw you any extra cards at all. It's pants!
It is at this point all the "Top" players are shouting foul. "You don't play it like that.", they say. "You combo the two abilities together." Obviously these people haven't heard the old adage, 'two wrongs don't make a right.' This certainly applies in this situation. Let's examine how it plays out.
Assuming you have mana to burn you first pay and reorder the top three cards of your library so that the next card is the one you want. You then pay another to put the Top's first ability on the stack. You respond to that ability by tapping the Top to swap it with the next card in your deck. This resolves, then you get to look at the next three cards and put them back on top of your library in any order. This hasn't gained you any card advantage. At some point you will draw the Top again. It is at this point I would like to ask all the Top players out there a question. When you've played the little combo above, how often do you order your library so that the Top is the last card you draw? Why do you think this is?
In effect, the Top is only good the first time you use it for anything. It's like having to pay an upkeep cost just to standstill. It gives the false impression that it gains you card advantage. It also makes you feel like you are sorting through your deck to find the right card. In truth, it does neither. In most decks you are better off replacing it with a different card. It has been suggested that you play it every third turn. But seeing as you still draw the same cards just in a different order, this doesn't seem to make much sense.
Some other toys.
This card is so evil it should
have a goatee beard.
have a goatee beard.
So what can you play instead? Well, in Extended the obvious choice is Brainstorm and sac lands like Flooded Strand. Although Brainstorm doesn't gain you card advantage, it doesn't put itself back on top of your library and force you to redraw it. Also, Brainstorm allows you to hide cards from your hand in response to Duress and Cabal Therapy. Combo it with the sac lands and you have a way of getting rid of those dead draws.
In Standard there are other options. Fifth Dawn's Scry cards seem to be a solution. In blue, Serum Visions seems a much better card. It replaces itself and the scry ability allows you to order you library, pitching any bad cards to the bottom of your library. In red, Magma Jet allows red to manipulate its library, something red doesn't often get to do. Other good replacements might include Wayfarer's Bauble or Chromatic Sphere. If card advantage is your thing look to the splice cards as well as card drawers such as Thirst for Knowledge, Night's Whisper or Concentrate.
When is a bad card not a bad card?
Answer? In the right deck. Every dog has its day and like many other strictly 'bad' cards in the current standard canon, Sensei's Divining Top has a place in some decks. Okay this is where I eat humble pie and have to admit that Sensei's Divining Top can be played in Tooth and Nail. Tooth and Nail uses the Top like many Extended decks use Brainstorm. The deck has many ways of shuffling its library therefore ridding itself of cards that may be a bad draw (such as those big creatures you'd rather tooth for). For the same reason you could argue that the Top would sit well in the rogue Eight Land Belcher deck. It also plays many deck shuffling effects and can, therefore, utilize the Top's abilities.
The spinning monstrosity is also seeing some Extended play as it fits like a glove into Draco/Explosion. Lots of shuffling effects plus the need to put particular cards on top of your library mean that this little gyroscope, if you'll excuse the pun, finally comes out... on Top. Scroll Rack has been used previously to set up the combo but the Top can work better as the deck often doesn't keep that many cards in hand. It is also a little cheaper than Scroll Rack. It probably won't take its place entirely as you may draw your Draco and the Top can't help you there.
Some Explosive synergy.
When all's said and done
Sensei's Divining Top should be allowed to fade in the folder. I think that, somewhere in Magic's R&D dept, a sweepstake is running entitled, "How many people will play this pile of manure?" Unfortunately I also think the employee that picked the largest number will win the prize. The only time this little top should be allowed to go round and round is in a draft. And please, don't think of putting it in a limited deck. Not unless you're going to play against me anyway.
But remember... all this is just IMHO.