Many of us have been there before: a few days into a new digital TCG and we’ve saved up enough resources to begin crafting a new deck — one strong enough to take down the toughest of opponents. And yet, when we navigate to the unowned section of our collection, we often find that we’re suddenly stuck — there are simply too many good cards to craft! In this article, I’m going to go over what I believe is the best strategy for spending your hard-earned wildcards, both short-term and long-term.
What makes a card a good craft?
There are several factors that determine the usefulness of a card — some cards are simply more valuable than others. There are three major factors that influence the utility of an individual card: power level, ubiquity, and required support cards.
Pound for pound, some cards simply outmuscle the competition. Whether they have game-breaking effects, low mana costs, or both, there are plenty of examples of cards that are much stronger than the rest. When you craft a powerful card, you know that it will always perform well when you include it in your decks.
Some cards see play in a wide variety of decks, and in addition to that some cards are often seen at higher quantities. Whether it’s the removal spell that shows up in every deck that can cast it or it’s the card that’s always a four-of when you include it, crafting ubiquitous cards is a good idea.
Shock lands deserve a special mention in this section, as they almost always show up as a four-of in their respective decks. On top of that, they’re used in great quantities; two-color decks almost always plays eight, and three-color decks sometimes require as many as twenty. Having enough dual lands will open up countless deckbuilding possibilities.
Required Support Cards
Not every card is easy to build a deck around on a budget. Many cards require that you include several other rares alongside them in order to operate properly, which makes them poor choices for crafting early on. Cards that have three or more colors will often require expensive mana bases with at least three or four playsets of dual lands, making them off-putting to newer players. Requiring ownership of dual lands isn’t the worst stipulation — after all, you’re sure that you’ll be able to make good use of those lands at some point — but there are several build-around rares that are even more restrictive than that. Equally powerful and demanding, crafting cards like these is not recommended until you already have a sizable collection.
Putting It All Together
With these three factors in mind, here is a tier list of every card I would recommend crafting to players looking to start their collection. Keep in mind that this list is subjective — the evaluation of individual cards should vary greatly depending on your collection and play style.
Tier S — Format Definers
These are the best cards in standard, hands-down. Play enough games and you’ll see these cards many, many times.
Shocklands (Steam Vents, Watery Grave, Temple Garden, Sacred Foundry, Overgrown Tomb) and corresponding checklands (Sulfur Falls, Clifftop Retreat, Woodland Cemetery, Sunpetal Grove, Drowned Catacomb) — Craft these early on. If you want to play a deck with more than one color, you’ll need cards from this list.
History of Benalia — Don’t let the Knight tribal aspect fool you — this is a very powerful card without any support. Two 2/2’s with vigilance is a good deal for three mana, and the third chapter of this saga is a nice bonus if they survive a couple of turns. The fact that many other powerful creatures you already would want to include in your deck are also Knights is a sweet little cherry on top.
Rekindling Phoenix — As powerful as it is resilient, Rekindling Phoenix is a devastating four-drop. Phoenix is good against fast and slow decks alike, and not many cards interact with it in a positive way.
Search for Azcanta — In the early stages of the game it smooths out your draws and stocks up your graveyard, and in the late game simply activating this card every end step will bury most opponents. For a two mana, near-unkillable permanent, that’s an incredible deal. Every blue deck with enough spells to support the back half of this card will want at least two copies somewhere in the 75, and graveyard decks will almost surely want three.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria — Teferi is the hero of blue-white decks everywhere, as he is one of the most powerful planeswalkers printed in a long time. His plus pulls you ahead in both cards and mana, his minus answers almost anything, and his ultimate flat out wins you the game if it lasts more than a few turns. The only thing holding him back at the moment is the fact that the Azorius guild hasn’t been released yet. Once Ravnica Allegiance comes out, however, he’ll be a huge force to be reckoned with.
Vraska, Relic Seeker — Vraska is an immensely powerful curve topper, capable of removing many problematic permanents and straight-up ending the game in three turns thanks to her ultimate. If you’re playing Overgrown Tomb in your deck, there’s a very high chance you’ll want to include her as well.
Tier A — The Tournament Staples
Cards in this tier are powerful metagame staples that show up in many of the top lists in Standard. These “auto-includes” show up in nearly every single deck that can cast them.
Glacial Fortress, Rootbound Crag, Dragonskull Summit, Isolated Chapel, Hinterland Harbor — The only difference between these duals and the ones in the S tier is that these five don’t have corresponding Guilds released yet. They’re still good in three-color decks, but until Ravnica Allegiance comes out, you should craft the other fifteen dual lands first.
Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice — Aurelia comes down early and instantly puts your opponent under a lot of pressure. Few removal spells in the format can actually kill her, and she snowballs out of control very quickly if left unchecked.
Vivien Reid — Vivien’s -3 ability is extremely powerful in this format; nearly every deck has an enchantment or a flyer that you’ll want to get rid of. Her plus is a good way to pull ahead if you’re running enough creatures, and her ultimate should be good enough to win most games you get to use it. Vivien is one of the best curve-toppers for green decks, and I expect her to be the bane of angels, dragons, and enchantments alike.
Assassin’s Trophy — No-questions-asked removal for two mana is an incredible deal, even though you really don’t want to have to cast this card early in the game. No matter what deck you’re playing against, Assassin’s trophy will kill something you care about with great efficiency.
Vraska’s Contempt — Answering nearly any creature or planeswalker with no questions asked, Vraska’s Contempt is a flexible answer to many problematic permanents. Though easy to overlook, the two life gained is a solid bonus on an already playable card.
Knight of Autumn — Knight of Autumn offers great flexibility without compromising on power level. Whether you’re gaining life against an aggressive deck, destroying a problematic artifact/enchantment, or simply deploying a sizable body on curve, Knight of Autumn is sure to deliver what you need.
Emmara, Soul of the Accord — If you’re looking to flood the board, Emmara threatens to churn out tokens from a very early turn. Even if all she does is make one token and trade with another creature, she’s done her job. The games where you get to attack or convoke over and over, however, are why she’s such a powerful card.
March of the Multitudes — March is an extremely powerful payoff for going wide, essentially doubling the number of tokens you have. Convoke plus flash is a potent combination, as it still lets you block with your creatures the turn you convoke them, which is the biggest downside to the mechanic. You have to make sure that you’re committed to going wide before playing this as it’s not a strong play if you can’t make a huge number of tokens with it.
Jadelight Ranger — This three-drop finds you lands early and spells late, with a respectable body to boot. On top of that, it has additional synergies with graveyard decks, making it a versatile role-player that is a worthy consideration in any green deck.
Carnage Tyrant — Slayer of midrange and control decks alike, Carnage Tyrant is a powerful way to punish players looking to slow the game to a crawl.
Lyra Dawnbringer — Lyra dominates the battlefield, playing offense and defense supremely well. Short of a Doom Whisperer your Lyras will go uncontested in the skies, and thanks to lifelink it’s almost impossible to race her.
Shalai, Voice of Plenty — On top of having an efficient body, Shalai protects your other creatures from many removal spells — including the ever-powerful Settle the Wreckage. For best results, pair with Lyra Dawnbringer — having both of those out at the same time is a devastating synergy.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager — Generating instant value the turn he comes down and utterly ending the game if he ever gets to flip, Nicol Bolas is an incredibly powerful card. Once you’ve got your Steam Vents and your Watery Graves, Bolas is a potent inclusion to your collection.
Arclight Phoenix — In a deck built on abusing it, Arclight Phoenix is an immensely powerful card. Though getting it into your graveyard and casting three spells in one turn is far from trivial, Arclight Phoenix is capable of doing some extremely unfair things.
Tier B — Power Players
Cards in this tier can hold their own in terms of power level, but not many decks are interested in these types of cards. You’ll need cards from this tier to complete most decks, but their lack of flexibility or their lack of raw power holds them back.
Doom Whisperer — Doom Whisperer has a massive body for its cost and its colors; Black almost never gets creatures this efficient. On top of that, its activated ability is incredibly powerful, finding you more resources while also filling up your graveyard for decks that are interested in that.
Find // Finality —
Trostani Discordant — Trostani is a nice reward to having a lot of creatures out, and she comes with her own army as well. Having four toughness is a big deal too — being immune to lightning strike makes her much more reliable against red decks.
Venerated Loxodon — If you’re interested in flooding the board early on, Venerated Loxodon can be a brutally powerful play. Even if you’re only convoking three creatures to cast it, the Loxodon represents a massive 7/7 worth of stats for only two mana. Just make sure you have plenty of cheap creatures and/or token makers to enable this card.
Settle the Wreckage, Cleansing Nova — If you’re looking for a sweeper in white, these are your best options. Settle is better if you care about instant speed or if you’re playing creatures yourself, but Cleansing Nova is more reliable in general.
Dream Eater — Dream Eater has a huge impact the turn it comes down, often blocking a small creature and bouncing a big one, with surveil 4 being a very nice bonus on top. Dream Eater is a strong curve-topper in blue midrange decks, and it’s good enough to see play in control as well.
Karn, Scion of Urza — Karn is a card advantage engine that can fit into any deck that wants it. Though there are very few playable artifacts to make his -2 effective enough for you to want to use it, he’s still a great way to dig for spells to cast, and at an impressive 6 starting loyalty he’s quite durable as well.
Experimental Frenzy — Experimental Frenzy is aptly named, as the turn after you cast it you are very likely to cast a lot of spells. Though not without downside, this four mana enchantment is a great way to ensure that you will have plenty of spells to cast. Including ways to clear excess lands off the top of your library is a good idea if you’re running this card.
Arguel’s Blood Fast — A little life is a meager price to pay for an endless supply of cards. Arguel’s Blood Fast is one of the best sideboard options against slower, more controlling decks available to black, and it’s so powerful in the right situation that including one in the maindeck is a viable choice.
Ritual of Soot, Deafening Clarion — There are almost always decks that plan on swarming you down with small creatures. These two sweepers are effective at clearing the battlefield of early creatures, allowing slower decks to survive until the lategame.
Benalish Marshall, Tempest Djinn, Goblin Chainwhirler, Steel Leaf Champion — These creatures are the reasons to play monocolored decks. Each of these come down early and hit very hard, rewarding you for sticking to one color. If you’re new to the game, these are strong early crafts, given how decks that play these cards usually don’t run any dual lands.
Izoni, Thousand-Eyed — Though you do have to dedicate some deck slots to enable her, Izoni is an extremely powerful payoff for Undergrowth decks. Making six or more tokens with her on the sixth turn is a very realistic scenario, and chaining these together will absolutely bury most opponents. If the game doesn’t immediately end once you cast her, the card draw ability will find you more action. Every single undergrowth deck wants at least two of her, and some might be interested in as many as four.
Tajic, Blade of the Legion, Swiftblade Vindicator — The 2-3 punch of these cards will run over any opponent not prepared for it. Amounting to a massive 7 damage by turn 3, any aggressive Boros deck is surely interested in pairing these two powerful cards together.
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants — Ajani is a powerful curve topper in an aggressive white deck. Your creatures will grow out of control quickly if unanswered, and his ultimate will simply bury your opponent in tokens.
Ral, Izzet Viceroy — Ral is a powerful card, but you have to make sure you have a high enough density of instants and sorceries in your deck before you include him. Once you can consistently get his -3 to deal five damage, he’s a strong inclusion in your deck. His +1 will find you the cards you’re looking for, and his ultimate will win the game on the spot.
Niv-Mizzet, Parun — Niv is a much more powerful card than his rating suggests — against any blue deck, the only card that comes remotely close to his power level is Carnage Tyrant. However, what’s keeping Niv down is how poorly he lines up against the removal spells in the Golgari deck. From Ravenous Chupacabra to Vivien Reid to Vraska, Relic Seeker, there are simply too many good answers to him. If you’re looking for a mirror breaker in the blue matchups and his’s mana cost doesn’t scare you, Niv is the way to go.
Ionize — Though perhaps a little bit weaker than Sinister Sabotage, Ionize plays an important role in the tempo Izzet decks, dealing with a threat and dealing a little bit of chip damage at the same time. Incidental damage can be quite valuable in the right deck, making your burn spells much more threatening and forcing opponents into a defensive position earlier than they’d like to be.
Runaway Steam-Kin — Runaway Steam-Kin is deceptively powerful. Assuming the majority of spells in your deck are red, Steam-Kin will likely attack as a 3/3 the turn after you play it, and a 4/4 the turn after that. Red decks rarely get creatures that efficient, and that’s not even considering the mana production ability. Runaway Steam-Kin is one of the best cards to craft first for a mono-red deck, and it’s even a card you could play in red-heavy Izzet or Boros decks.
Risk Factor — Giving your opponent a choice is never a good idea, but Jump-Start really puts this card over the top. As long as your deck is committed to pressuring your opponent’s life total, casting Risk Factor as the last card from your hand will often put your opponent in quite the dilemma.
Pelt Collector — If you’re looking to beat down, Pelt Collector puts on a ton of pressure from the very first turn of the game. Most green decks will have no problem growing this creature out of control very quickly, demanding a removal spell or else. For a one mana creature, that’s an incredible deal; just make sure your creature count is high enough.
Expansion // Explosion — Expansion is a playable card at times in the early game, with a wide array of uses with and against several cards. However, what makes this card so powerful in control decks is Explosion, which scales from a reasonable if somewhat inefficient draw spell in the mid-game to a straight-up win condition in the late-game.
Legion Warboss — Legion Warboss comes down and immediately puts the opponent under a lot of pressure, forcing them to react quickly or die. Though nearly everything kills Warboss, it’s very easy to run away with a game where they don’t have an answer.
Resplendent Angel — Creating a dedicated lifegain deck in order to abuse Resplendent Angel’s token-making ability isn’t a great idea — it’s too much work to gain 5 life in a single turn, and even if it comes together Resplendent Angel is very easy to kill.
Thorn Lieutenant — Thorn Lieutenant has a powerful defensive body, halting early aggression with ease. On top of that, his pump ability can be a reasonable mana sink in the late game, making him a good addition to any green creature-based deck.
Ghalta, Primal Hunger — If you’re interested in playing big creatures, Ghalta is definitely the kind of card you want to add to your deck. Outsizing absolutely everything else on the battlefield and dominating creature mirrors, Ghalta packs a huge punch.
Nullhide Ferox — Noncreature spells are overrated anyways! Nullhide Ferox is massive and annoying to deal with. Not only that, it’s also a great way to punish players for leaning too heavily on discard effects to slow you down. Most mono-green decks will want to include four copies.
Vraska, Golgari Queen — Though not nearly as powerful as her Ixalan version, the Queen of the Golgari is useful in the right deck. Though you really have to build around her to get the most out of her +2 ability, her -3 ability is a solid removal option and her ultimate will often end the game in short order. Just make sure you have plenty of permanents you’re fine with sacrificing.
Tier C – Role Players
These cards are too niche to be in the mainboards of most decks, but they can all shine under the right circumstances.
Vance’s Blasting Cannons — Though a bit slower than Experimental Frenzy, Vance’s Blasting Cannons is another good option for a red four-mana value enchantment. The back side is powerful as well — three damage a turn adds up, whether it’s removing medium-sized creatures or decimating your opponent’s life total.
Lazav, the Multifarious — Lazav is a servicable play early on, blocking small creatures and helping set up your draw. Later on in the game Lazav should have plenty of goodies to copy out of your graveyard, giving him some nice flexibility.
Response//Resurgence — Response isn’t far from a playable removal spell on its own, especially when you consider that it can be used as a mono-red or mono-white card. However, Resurgence is an extremely powerful option under the right circumstances, leading to game-ending turns.
Mission Briefing — In a spell-heavy deck, Mission Briefing is a nice way to make sure you always have the spell you need for the right situation. Just make sure you have a high density of instants and sorceries before including this card.
Angrath the Flame-Chained, Huatli Warrior Poet — If you’re in the market for an impactful five drop against control decks, Angrath and Huatli are solid choices. Though I wouldn’t craft more than one or two of each, they can provide a lot of value in the long run against slower, more reactive decks.
Underrealm Lich — If you’re looking for a powerful Golgari mirror breaker, Underrealm Lich is a strong contender.
Deathgorge Scavenger, Remorseful Cleric — Graveyard-based strategies are powerful with Guilds of Ravnica, and these two creatures are effective at fighting them while also being reasonable threats otherwise.
Blood Operative — In a similar vein to Deathgorge Scavenger and Remorseful Cleric, Blood Operative is a strong card that incidentally exiles cards from your opponent’s graveyard. Having said that, you’d really want to have at least eight or ten Surveil cards before you’d consider including Blood Operative in your deck.
Sarkhan, Fireblood, Spit Flame, Dragon’s Hoard, Demanding Dragon, Verix Bladewing — Dragons are fun to play. They’re huge, they fly, and sometimes they come with really powerful abilities. If playing with fire is something that excites you, then Dragons could be a fun casual deck to build.
Citywide Bust — If you’re playing a deck full of small creatures and you want a way to clear the board of larger threats, Citywide Bust is a great sideboard card. Destroying just about every green creature in the Steel Leaf Champion deck as well as having use in other matchups, Citywide Bust can be a useful option for white weenie decks.
Thief of Sanity — Thief of Sanity is a potent sideboard card, punishing slower decks for sideboarding out too many removal spells. If you connect with Thief even once you’re ahead, and much more than that will bury your opponent very quickly.
Jaya Ballard — In a spellslinger deck, Jaya is a potent option, putting you very far ahead on mana when you need it and finding you action when you don’t. Just make sure you include enough red sources to support her hefty triple red cost.
Banefire — A win condition against slow decks and a removal spell in a pinch, Banefire is a great way to punish control players for relying too much on Settle the Wreckage.
Divine Visitation — Divine Visitation is a super-powerful card in a tokens deck. Often times the first token-making spell will make enough angels to halt attacks from the opponent, and the second one will end the game. Just make sure you’ve got plenty of token makers, and that you have a plan to live long enough to get to use this enchantment.
Nezahal Primal Tide. Chromium the Mutable — Nezahal and Chromium share a lot in common — they’re completely backbreaking against slower decks, especially blue ones. Being uncounterable and all but unkillable, both are extremely high-impact in the control mirror. Just don’t craft more than one copy of either — the first is enough in most cases.
Mnemonic Betrayal — Mnemonic Betrayal is an extremely powerful effect, but it’s quite limited in scope. While useful deep in the lategame in a midrange or control mirror, you have to cast at least three impactful cards off it to really feel like you got a good deal.
Sorcerous Spyglass — Getting to shut down activated abilities can be quite valuable in certain matchups, and getting to look at their hand is a nice bonus to that effect. Being colorless also makes this an ideal sideboard card, as it can show up in any deck that needs it.
Shapers’ Sanctuary — Shapers’ Sanctuary is a powerful sideboard card against removal-heavy decks, threatening to draw a ridiculous amount of cards for a one drop.
Hostage Taker — Though Ravenous Chupacabra is the better card under many circumstances, Hostage Taker nevertheless remains a powerful option to Dimir decks.
Treasure Map — This colorless source of card advantage can be used in many decks. It does a little bit of everything, between smoothing out your early draws and giving you the option of a mana boost or a card boost in the mid to late game.
Arch of Orazca — Though few decks will be in the market for a colorless land, Arch of Orazca can be a relatively low opportunity cost inclusion in several decks.
Siege-Gang Commander — Siege-Gang provides a ton of value and is resilient in the fact of spot removal spells. Though he’s vulnerable to sweepers, Siege-Gang is a reasonable curve-topper to include in your red decks.
Dismissive Pyromancer — Another solid option for slightly slower red decks, Dismissive Pyromancer filters your dead draws away in the mid- to late-game while also serving as a removal spell in a pinch.