To be considered for this list, a keyword ability has to be just that - both a keyword and an ability. Keyword actions and ability words don't count. I chose three criteria to judge all keywords abilities:
- Innovation. When this keyword ability was first released, did it add something fundamentally new to the game of Magic? Since then, has the ability been used in new and different ways?
- Endurance. Has the keyword ability aged well? If a number of cards were printed today showcasing this ability, would players welcome those cards? Do players remember the keyword fondly?
- Playability. Perhaps the most important criterion, does the keyword ability play well? Is it fun? Does it lead to interesting and exciting games? Can it make for powerful, memorable cards?
#9 - Splice
I want to make this perfectly clear right out of the gate: splice could have been higher on my Top 10 list. Had its debut not been stifled by its parent block - Kamigawa block, widely regarded by players as somewhat problematic - I have no doubt that this keyword ability would be as unquestionably well-loved as some of the other keywords here. But its debut was stifled, not just because it was surrounded by difficult, underwhelming and too-linear cards, but because splice was anchored so fundamentally to those cards. Arcane, as an idea and a card subtype, was dead on arrival. Nearly every Arcane card was inferior in some way to a non-Arcane card of similar design (cards like Cleanfall, Lava Spike and Reach Through Mists impressed few, to say the least). The implicit assumption that splice, by itself, would raise the value of Arcane cards was incorrect - if the leader (the Arcane spell that you cast) isn't compelling, the follower (the spliced effect) isn't going to make you want to play it any more. Keeping a card with splice in your hand rather than cast it is a nontrivial cost that did not require the preemptive gimping Arcane received.
Why, then, do I put splice in the Top 10 list? The first reason that splice makes the Top 10 is because of the zone in which it operates - a player's hand. While the hand is one of the most dynamic zones in the game, it is a virtual wasteland when you consider the few interesting mechanics that interact with that zone. Even among that limited subgroup, most hand mechanics are limited to interacting with the way you draw or discard cards, because the hidden quality of a player's hand makes other interactivity challenging. Perhaps more importantly, if a card is in a player's hand, the player hasn't paid the card's mana cost, meaning that most potential hand mechanics can't utilize the quintessential balancing and limiting factor that a mana cost provides (Glowering Rogon and its ilk will testify to this). But, splice proved all the common wisdom about hand mechanics wrong. It was the first truly versatile, customizable, interactive, balanced mechanic to use this challenging-to-design-for zone to its full potential.
Splice did most of the things that buyback attempted to do years earlier, during Tempest block, but in resolving buyback's terrible card advantage and static-game-state issues, it's fair to say that splice did all of those things better than buyback could ever hope to do (I hate to ruin the surprise, but you can probably deduce that buyback didn't make this Top 10 list). Splice let players literally design and build their own spells in a modular way that no mechanic has done before or since. It even birthed the oddball gem Evermind, which remains one of the most unique cards in Magic. Since splice, Magic has seen a few other mechanics that utilize players' hands come and go, but none of them have added as many new and interactive features to players' hand zones as splice. For championing the hand, splice earns its well-deserved spot in the Top 10. When splice eventually makes its comeback, it should be in amazing style.
- Innovation: A+
- Endurance: B
- Playability: B