The Top 10 Keyword Abilities Ever - #1 and Wrap-Up

Welcome to my countdown of the Top 10 keyword abilities in the history of Magic. To start at the beginning, please go here. To see my picks for #9, #8, #7, #6, #5, #4, #3 and #2 just click on the numbers.

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:
  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
We're finally here - the top dog, the ace of spades, the royale with cheese - the ultimate card in the keyword ability countdown. Is it the one you expected?

#1 - Equip

In the previous installment of the countdown, I finished by saying that flying is Magic's most perfect keyword ability. It is, but that doesn't mean it's the best. Equip is not perfect: it is a warty, messy, complicated keyword ability with countless footnotes, corner cases and bizarre head-scratchers. (Tell me again, how can that Headless Horseman be equipped with that Horned Helm?) In equip's lifetime, it has run the gamut from dud to disaster. Except for Ensouled Scimitar and Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang, a card with equip is inherently incapable of winning you a game all by itself. What a piece of work! If this Top 10 were a beauty contest, equip would rank near the bottom. Good thing it's not. What matters here - what has mattered since the beginning of this Top 10 feature - is whether a keyword ability makes Magic a better game. Equip, for all its faults, adds more to the Magic experience year after year than any other keyword ability. That is why it wins this competition, hands down.

Now that you know why equip takes the top honors, I'm going to tell you something you probably didn't know: you love equip. The litany of excellent, famous, game-changing cards with equip is longer than you probably realize: Bonesplitter, Cranial Plating, Helm of Kaldra, Lightning Greaves, Loxodon Warhammer, Shield of Kaldra, Sunforger, Sword of Fire and Ice, Sword of Kaldra, Sword of Light and Shadow, Umezawa's Jitte. There's a card on that list for everybody, and I'm leaving out a number of classic favorites. If any other keyword ability had such a high percentage of awesome cards to its name, there would be no question of its qualifications. Equip undoubtedly gets a bad rap because of enchant, the keyword ability it obsoleted (yes, it did obsolete it, WotC, you can phase out enchant any time you want, you really can). Most players don't realize how completely and decisively equip solved the problems inherent in enchant. Players understand that it fixed enchant's card disadvantage problem, but do they realize that it also solved enchant's tempo problem? Its color pie problem? Its flavor problem? It's time to cut the cord - equip and enchant don't belong in the same category.

Some people may argue that equip doesn't deserve the highest accolades because it is derivative of other games. Spellfire, Netrunner and Vampire: The Eternal Struggle are all examples of early CCGs to feature equipment before Magic got around to it. Magic had Helm of Chatzuk and Sandals of Abdallah, but those cards had no distinctive mechanic to separate them from other artifacts. Equip is perhaps all the more impressive because Magic R&D took the time to examine the place of items both in Magic and other CCGs and came up with the perfect response. Equip allows these cards to function in either a starring or supporting role. To paraphrase Mark Rosewater, equip has more than one knob to twist - separating mana cost from equip cost was an ingenious move that feels only natural now, but was state-of-the-art when equip first arrived in Mirrodin. Because the flavor of magical items is so deeply-ingrained in the fantasy genre, you can't fault WotC for wanting to capture that flavor more successfully with equip. That they also did so in an utterly new and functional way proves that equip is a uniquely Magic keyword ability. Not only unique, but the best there is.
  • Innovation: A
  • Endurance: A-
  • Playability: A+
So, did all of your favorite keyword abilities make my Top 10 list? No? I've got a secret to share: mine neither. First of all, there are more than 10 outstanding keyword abilities in the game of Magic. Storm, bushido and sunburst - to name just a few - are all worthy of respect, even if they didn't make the Top 10. Some, like split second and graft, are personal favorites of mine that I had to cut loose. Not because they are bad, but because the competition was fierce. And finally, there are some genuine stinkers out there... five of which will be the topic of an upcoming blog series!

Many thanks to all of you for reading! I hope this Top 10 list has stirred some thoughts about what it takes to make Magic, and card games in general, fun and exciting. Enjoy playing them!

Agree with Guesswork's Top 10? Disagree? Have a different perspective to share? Post your comments below.


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