Essential Magic Articles

On Card Evaluation: The Mistakes We Make

by Jake

    So, you have a pile of cards.  We all do, or almost all of us.  Mine's small these days, as I've sold or given away the majority of my cards.  I imagine I'm not alone, but I also suspect I am a minority.  This article is written primarily with the casual audience in mind, but most of this also applies to more serious magic.  The question is how do you evaluate the worth of a card in play, in your hand, in your library, and in your graveyard, and then build a general rough analysis of how good the card is overall.  This isn't a conclusive treatment, but I'll try to cover a few useful litmus tests that are generally agreed on but forgotten with nightmarish regularity.

Five things to bear in mind:
There are bad cards.

Mediocre cards.

Cards that the game has left behind.

There are cards that do things no other cards can do.

There are cards that are the best at what they do.

    The first and easiest way to rank cards is by comparing them to functionally similar cards.  This is not always a great method, because there's a lot it doesn't cover.  For example, a comparison between Gifts Ungiven and Intuition can be very misleading despite the fact that Intuition was the literal inspiration for Gifts Ungiven.  Both, however, serve as a good high water mark for card quality.  It's still useful in the simple cases, and can really highlight simple things, such as instant versus sorcery speed, or disparities in casting cost and color demands.  This should be your first line of defense against bad cards.  Does it play well against the heroes and villains of Eternal? Of Extended?  Of Standard?  How does it stack up compared to cards that have fallen out of favor, like Accumulated Knowledge?  If you'll be playing mostly with friends, look at their decks, and decks like their decks.  How does your new favorite stack up compared to power level in the group?

    In quick sequence, an reference case of each category so that we can settle on the same page.  Feel free to skim a little, this is just a set of anchors to familiarize you with my viewpoints.  Your reference points may vary, particularly if you are on a budget.  This is really important, and you should try to remember the power level of the meta-game you plan to settle into with your new-found beauties.   In short, where do you think the card you just dug up falls in our five categories?  Why?  Can you justify your reasons?  Here, I normally sit down with a friend or two and talk through the card or cards and how they stack up against their historical kin.  These are my internal examples:

    First, I think we can all agree that One with Nothing is a terrible card.  But maybe a better example is the much maligned Hill Giant in all his guises.  He's simple, and he's terribly inefficient in the modern arena.  He's about as useful to us as a dewclaw, even in limited.  But by my less-than-cunning estimation, these days Shatter is also terrible.  Why?  Why would I say that?  Ancient Grudge, Shattering Pulse, Smash to Smithereens, and even the humble Fury Charm all occupy the sample precise cost at instant speed and represent strictly better options.
Why is this?  Let's go item by item.

    Ancient Grudge.  Flashback for a cheaper and off-color cost that still lies within a friend color, still at instant speed.

This has the potential to generate card advantage, as well as tempo advantage.

Shattering Pulse.  The buyback is high enough to be prohibitive, but at least it's there.  Again, the potential to generate card advantage by acting as spot removal that isn't a one-for-one.

Smash to SmithereensShatter with a Lightning Bolt glued to its back at no charge.  It's even in Standard.

Fury Charm.  Options.  Options, even bad ones, are nice when they're completely free of charge.

So, I think we can comfortably call Shatter a terrible card.  It occupies a spot in the design space that's heavily populated with better options.  You could argue that the meta-game has simply left it behind, but that would mean it got left behind all the way back in Exodus as far as most of us are concerned.  This is pretty clearly a case of the game itself accelerating out past any position that shatter could reasonably occupy.  The slight exception case being the famous story that Mike Flores tells <a href=>here</a>.  But, Jake, he covers much of what you covered just now and he's a better writer.  He's also a gentler soul, and a better man.  Old Mrs. Shatter is dead.  She's dead as a doornail and there's more nails in her coffin now than there is wood.  I have fond memories of Shatter too, but I also have terrible memories of burning a Shatter that I had saved like a precious morsel, trading one for one with crucial threat, only to have another must-kill artifact hit the table the next turn, or even later in the same turn.  Shatter doesn't even prevent regeneration.

Last edited 3/18/2010 4:31:28 PM Page 1 of 4  Prev  Next  Go to page:

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