The best Magic: The Gathering cards aren’t as set in stone as you might think, because the game’s a roiling mass of cardboard that’s ever-changing. Not only are new cards constantly added into the mix, but old cards can resurface when specific strategies or decks rise to the top of any of the many formats that are available to players in this rich TCG.
Best MTG cards
- Swords to Plowshares (Alpha)
- Eternal Witness (Fifth Dawn)
- Mana Crypt (HarperPrism Book Promos)
- Teferi’s Protection (Commander 17)
- Mana Drain (Legends)
- Cyclonic Rift (Return to Ravnica)
- Paradox Engine (Aether Revolt)
- Crucible of Worlds (Tenth Edition)
- Heroic Intervention (Aether Revolt)
It’d be easy to simply pick cards like the Black Lotus and call it a day, but we think that’s a bit dull. Rather than just going for the most powerful MTG cards that are all going to slowly erode and never be reprinted thanks to the reserved list, we’ve decided to pick the best MTG cards from amongst more recent printings. These cards are a lot cheaper, but still have a huge impact on the game and can turn a game in your favour with a single cast.
While power creep does exist in MTG, there tend to be cards that stick out throughout the years and help redefine different formats as they do so. As such, our list of the best MTG cards is made up of picks from throughout Magic: The Gathering’s history, and you’ll see lots of staples from different formats here, along with a couple that were simply too strong and ended up banned in some.
1. Swords to Plowshares (Alpha)
You’re a farmer now
First up, we’ve got one of the most efficient bits of removal in MTG. Swords to Plowshares is a one-mana white instant that lets you exile a creature, and then its controller gains life equal to that creature's power.
Removing any creature you want for one mana is more than worth the life trade-off. In niche circumstances you can even use it to gain life on your end, too. It does what it needs to do very well, and being able to only leave one mana up and destroy any creature is something that most decks can do comfortably.
2. Eternal Witness (Fifth Dawn)
The past is the present is the future
Eternal Witness is a three-mana creature with two power and one toughness, but it’s not meant to be a fighter. Instead, it’s meant to enter the battlefield as many times as possible, because it has one of the best triggered effects going.
When Eternal Witness enters the battlefield, you can return a card from your graveyard to your hand. That means this card allows you to recast your best spell no matter what it is. It also means that if you can make it leave and reenter, you can refill your hand with whatever you want.
3. Mana Crypt (HarperPrism Book Promos)
Pain for mana
Mana Crypt is a bit like Sol Ring, but for people who don’t like paying mana for things and also don’t mind a little bit of pain. It’s a lot more expensive too, but that’s an aside.
This is a zero-mana artifact that taps for two colourless mana, then asks you to flip a coin in each of your upkeeps. If you lose the flip, you take three damage.
This is mostly a Commander card, because it’s more than a little bit banned in most other formats, but when it works, it can skyrocket you to greatness, especially if you pair it with a card like Sol Ring.
4. Teferi’s Protection (Commander 17)
Out for lunch
Teferi’s Protection is the MTG equivalent of a kid pretending to be in an invulnerable hamster ball when they’re pretending to be superheroes fighting with their friends. Actually, it might even be stronger than that.
This is a three-mana instant that reads: “Until your next turn, your life total can’t change and you gain protection from everything. All permanents you control phase out.”
Being phased out means that nobody can interact with your permanents in any way. You can use this to dodge board wipes, attacks, Paddington hard stares and probably your tax bill too.
5. Mana Drain (Legends)
There are many counterspells in MTG, including one literally called Counterspell. However, over the years, they’ve all become a little bit fancier. One of the most interesting is Mana Drain, because it does so much more than just counter a spell.
Mana Drain costs two blue mana, and can counter any target spell. On top of that, it reads: “At the beginning of your next main phase, add an amount of colourless mana equal to that spell’s mana value."
Basically, not only do you get to say no to something, you also get to cast something bigger on your next turn.
6. Cyclonic Rift (Return to Ravnica)
Is there anything worse than staring down an army of creatures, artifacts, planewalkers and enchantments? We think not - especially if you’ve got your own army of things just waiting to make a move but unable to do so. Well, nothing breaks a stalemate like Cyclonic Rift.
Cyclonic Rift is a two-mana instant that lets you return a nonland permanent you don’t control to its owner’s hand. However, it also has an overload cost of seven mana, which allows it to change the word “target” to “each”. This means you can board-wipe your opponents and leave yourself free to do whatever you want.
7. Paradox Engine (Aether Revolt)
Congrats, you’ve won
A lot of the most obscene, and often exploitable, cards in Magic: The Gathering allow you to untap your permanents more often than you should. Whether it’s creatures that tap for mana, some absurd effect or just the ability to attack with abandon, untapping your stuff is very good.
Paradox Engine is a five-mana artifact that lets you untap your nonland permanents every time you cast a spell. This makes it painfully easy to get more use out of your creatures’ abilities, and is so easy to break that it’s actually banned in Commander.
8. Crucible of Worlds (Tenth Edition)
Tilling the land
Fetch lands are incredible, because they allow you to find the land you need to help smooth out your colour options and also help thin the number of lands in your deck, making it more likely you’ll draw something powerful. Something, for example, like the three-mana artifact Crucible of Worlds.
This card lets you play lands from the graveyard, which means that you can replay your fetch lands as often as you’d like, but it also lets you replay lands you have to sacrifice or just help make self-mill a more viable strategy.
9. Heroic Intervention (Aether Revolt)
No damage, no problems
Finally, we have Heroic Intervention. This is another instant spell that essentially allows you to negate a fair few different things. While it’s not quite as potent as Teferi’s Protection, it does still offer a way for green players to protect their permanents.
Heroic Intervention only costs two mana, and it grants your permanents hexproof and indestructible. This not only stops board wipes, but also protects your things from targeted spells and combat damage too. It’s a very strong MTG card, and it sees a lot of play in a few formats because of that.