InQuest: The Best Cards of All Time

Yes, that's right. I'm asking the age-old question: What are the best Magic cards of all time?

I know, I know. "It depends." It absolutely does depend on a lot of things. Format, game context, bias, and time period all play a huge role in any one person's answer. Serra Angel will always be a quality card, but she's been undeniably outclassed by a variety of today's creatures. Regrowth will always offer a powerful effect at a nice cost, but it really has little to no place in competitive Magic in 2016.

When I've casually asked friends, most can agree that cards such as Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall are safely near the top of the list, but it gets pretty blurry and individualized after that. There are no right or wrong answers. What exactly defines the "best cards?" Black Lotus is great on the first turn of the game, but it might not make for a great "top deck" later on in the game. Context is everything. Griselbrand is clearly a better card than Dark Confidant when it's on the battlefield, but that's, again, a completely contextual situation. Cost effectiveness is obviously important.

So, why am I even bringing this up? A few weeks ago, I stumbled onto my absolute favorite issue of InQuest. For those who don't know, InQuest was one of the premier gaming magazines of the '90s, along with Scrye, TopDeck, and Duelist. InQuest was my personal favorite, though, as it featured a degree of humor geared towards children (12-year-old me) that I felt each other magazine lacked. Each month, InQuest offered up-to-date information that was especially valuable in a pre-Internet world. In the aforementioned issue, the editors got together to rank the top 100 Magic cards of all time.

As I wrote before, context is everything. This issue came out in August 2000, a few months after Prophecy and a few months before Invasion. The magazine's list came with parameters, of course: "We weighed a card's sheer power, cost effectiveness, versatility, and what part it played in history to determine whether it was worthy of Magic's most exclusive club."

For TMD's enjoyment, I've scanned and uploaded each page of the wildly amusing article. It's just amazing. For older players, it'll bring back a lot of nice memories. For newer players, it'll open a window to Magic's past; a time when Hammer of Bogardan, Stroke of Genius, and Nekrataal were more highly regarded than Bazaar of Baghdad, Tinker, and Mishra's Workshop. It's hard for me to believe that I bought this magazine nearly 16 years ago.

What stands out to you as intriguing and/or absurd about their list? I think we can all agree that Black Lotus at #13 is peculiar at the very least. It's also so painfully '90s to have Time Spiral ranked as more powerful than both Black Lotus and Time Walk. Perhaps the most amusing moment, for me, is what the editors wrote for Mox Ruby. "The Ruby has been aiding red mages in their quest to kick blue ass for almost seven years. Makes you feel old, doesn't it?" Good lord.

Where would today's top tier cards roughly fall? Monastery Mentor; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Dark Confidant; Lodestone Golem; Abrupt Decay; and Sensei's Divining Top come to mind.

With apologies to Demonic Tutor and Yawgmoth's Will, here's my casually-considered top 5 list:

  1. Black Lotus
  2. Ancestral Recall
  3. Tolarian Academy
  4. Force of Will
  5. Strip Mine

What would your list of the best Magic cards of all time look like? It's a difficult question to answer. It would be fun to see other members chime in with their own personal top 5 or top 10 list, along with the reasoning behind their decisions. With this being a Vintage forum, I assume that most lists will (appropriately) lean toward Vintage applications, but other formats and concepts are great, as well. Feel free to set your own parameters and guidelines; it's just for fun. Enjoy:

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  1. Ancestral Recall
  2. Black Lotus
  3. Yawgmoth's Will

Not really sure after this.

Masticore at #15. Now that's a list.

(I used to put Masticore in every deck back in those days so I ain't even mad)

For my money it's Lotus at #1 with a bullet. It just embodies what makes the game so addictive. Absurdly powerful, oozing with lore, kickass art, has withstood the test of time.

I'd give serious consideration to Academy at #2 just because it was the iconic card from that era of Magic. It was probably both the best and worst Magic has ever been - the card game has gotten so much better, but I don't think the flavor of Tempest into Urza block could ever be topped.

last edited by ribby
  1. Demonic Tutor
  2. Black Lotus
  3. Ancestral Recall
  4. Time Walk
  5. Yawgmoths Will
  6. Tinker
  7. Brainstorm
  8. Tolarian Academy
  9. Strip Mine
  10. Mind's Desire

I think this is a very difficult task and it is especially hard to differentiate between restricted cards and 4 ofs. So I concentrated on the restricted list. By that logic, the ultimate joker to easily get the most powerful cards in your hand is my no. 1. For the selection of the rest I used several criteria:

  1. Would the card outclass other existing powerful 4-of if they would be unrestricted?
  2. How often do I search for them with Demonic Tutor?
  3. What's their potential to swing a game (probably the reason I so often tutor for them)?

That's obviously a blue mans selection that others might see different. On the other side blue dominated Vintage forever and so I am fine with it (a Workshop Player would probably include Chalice, Trinisphere and Lodestone Golem). I wasn't sure about the Moxen. They are clearly what this format is about and would be auto-included as 4-ofs but nevertheless they don't have something swingy and are not very likely to get tutored. But at least the list is based on Moxen to be included in every deck playing the cards on the list. Lots of ifs and whens and these kind of list will probably never have objective standards. So I leave it as my personal choice of cards I have mostly swung games with, tutored for and always loved to draw them for their power level.

This is very funny. The most hilarious parts for me are the ones where they talk about their "scientific method". I can't tell if they are joking or not about that (I would be down with the joke, but if this is supposed to be serious, well...).

The card description that piqued my interest the most is Icy Manipulator (#33). I wasn't playing Magic back in the day, so I wouldn't know, but didn't the Winter Orb get the rule change just recently? Can somebody explain that to me? Was it official back then or were people just playing with their own rules?

It is pretty amusing that the Lotus is at 13th spot. Was this a defendable opinion in 2000? Also, the description of Plow is great and very current, you just have to change the numbers.

I'm not going to try and put my own top5, that's just too hard and as a new player I don't want to make any definitive statements about things 🙂

@maciek16180 when the game debut there were different types of artifacts; mono, continuous, and artifact. Normal artifacts (like forcefield) operated by paying a cost, mono artifacts (like sol ring) had to be tapped to be activated, and continuous artifacts (like winter orb and howling mine) were always on if they were untapped. Howling Mine was updated at some point because it was reprinted while Winter Orb never was (until EM).

@wfain Thanks! I knew that e.g. Lotus is a mono artifact, but I couldn't make a connection there.

...why is there a lingerie-clad angel holding a serra angel?

@Winterstar because target audience of 12-year-old Magic player.

Edit: Or maybe not. Right below the angel it identifies Xena, Warrior Princess as the "Best Screamer." I'm certain I didn't know what that meant when I was 12.

last edited by halahel

Since it's my list I offer you the top 15 Nobles with brief summaries for each:

  1. Noble Hierarch - The powerhouse herself, Noble Hierarch ushered in the idea of a "better bird". While we've since been spoiled by Deathrite Shaman, the lack of graveyard dependence and ability to push your other creatures continues to make her a solid choice for certain decks.
  2. Stromkirk Noble - Whirling Dervish never looked so good! This guy was the 1-drop that red needed during his stay in Standard, and while he's outclassed now his ability to walk right past the human infestation and exponentially grow was rather important.
  3. Noble Benefactor - While symmetrical, this guy still represents a Demonic Tutor ability in blue that has the potential to be rather spicy. Will he ever been a breakout hit? Time will tell.
  4. Noble Purpose - An EDH all-star, creating a huge force and suddenly dropping this bad boy can put you well ahead of the opposition.
  5. Noble Panther - As creatures continue to improve, we mustn't forget how this guy set the bar for what a GW creature could do. First strike has his moments, and this guy could easily take down every Juggernaut you throw at him.
  6. Falkenrath Noble - The older brother of Blood Artist, this guy is a clock to himself while still providing for the Aristrocrat-style decks you'd secure in his old Limited homes.
  7. Noble Quarry - Lure is nothing to scoff at, and the ability to play the Taunting Elf or offer it to a much bigger threat gave this card quite the versatility.
  8. Sprite Noble - I'm incredibly excited that this lady is seeing a lot more light in EMA! With the move to uncommon this flying lord can make your aerial assault that much more vicious!
  9. Faerie Noble - Sprite Noble's uncle was the only creature to be a Noble in creature type! This now-Faerie instead provides a lord effect to a tribe that gets very few.
  10. Noble Templar - While not Eternal Dragon, this common more than likely providing his versatility in OLS draft far more often. Big vigilance can stop quite the ground assault, and basic Plains being on the uptick in Vintage just improves this guy's vision.
  11. Vampire Noble - This is what black gets for this price, but it's nice to know that Vampire can still receive the tools to be a tribe, no matter how vanilla.
  12. Noble Vestige - While not quite a Samite Healer, the little flyer that could was often important to stop the bleeding during the hyperaggression of Zendikar draft.
  13. Noble Elephant - Banding and trample! This combintation of traits can make this mighty elephant a tough pill to swallow as he rubbles through the red zone.
  14. Noble Stand - While a noble act indeed, the idea of gaining life while protecting the homeland simply doesn't push you towards the winningest of situations.
  15. Noble Steeds - Two arts and they're both beautiful, this Knighthood-wannabe just falls a bit behind the modern curve.
last edited by Guest

#1 magic card?


The rest don't matter because I prolly ante'd it while drawing my deck on turn one off a Dark Ritual.

  1. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben- My mainstay for Legacy and now Vintage. Netting me more wins than any other card in recent history.
  2. Mana-Gorger Hydra - Played him a bunch and feel like his full potential is not yet realized.
  3. Sylan Library - No explanation needed I feel.
  4. Ancestral Recall - CA is king
  5. Thrun, the Last Troll - Personal favorite card. Bust fun i ever had in EDH when I played it. Always dream of returning to Legion Land Loss with a couple of this guy in the list.

Horrible I know. Whatever.

@ribby Masticores are the best and i don't blame you..would have done the same if i had access to them at the time 🙂 I really wish old Masti will become relevant again in today's game 😞

I loved Inquest. It was my favorite magazine by far. I read them cover-to-cover each month. People nowadays don't realize how good they have it with all the Magic content out there. Back in the old days we had The Dojo and these magazines.

lol I just love that I now know someone was paid to draw Juzam cold-cocking a Psychatog once

also fyi everybody, the order is Wall of Blossoms > Jokulhaups > Maro > Lightning Bolt. Keep that in mind.

@boggyb that was a 2000 issue apparently so it the original Atog being punched!

@Serracollector Whenever someone comes through with these lists, there's always those jokers who want to say Contract from Below is the best. But those people really miss the point.

They claim that Contract is the best drawing spell of all time, blah blah blah. I get it. I get that you're joking. But let's be serious here people. The best card of all time is a serious question and deserves to be taken seriously, so lets not pollute the discussion with cards like Contract that are woefully under-powered.

The best drawing card of all time is clearly Shaharazad. Contract draws a bunch of new cards, sure, but there are other cards to do that... Shahrazad draws the entire match! This isn't even a close comparison.

Best. Drawing. Card. Ever.

Is this the best card ever printed? I think so, because I, like the people in the Contract camp, put a premium on drawing. Unlike them though, I take it seriously. (You could also make a case for Black Lotus, sure... but seriously people, what are you casting off your Lotus if not a Shahrazad anyway... you can even float the extra white mana through your magic subgame, to cast your next Shahrazad!)

I could go on... and on...

and on... about this card.

last edited by Topical_Island


Difficult, really difficult. I'll try to give my own idea of current 10 best cards.

1-Ancestral recall. Puts you ahead in the game, is the target of most tutors and the main reason why misdirection was a playable card.
2-Black lotus. T1 explosive starts, fixes mana if needed, and enables decks or cards single handed.
3-Force of will. The glue of vintage, what keeps crazy decks to blow the format.
4-Mishra's workshop. What makes one the most successful decks viable. Black lotus every turn. Busted.
5-Oath of druids. Absurd card that breaks some rules, 1 card combo lots of times.
6-Gush. Draw 2 cards and get a land drop if needed, for free. Wow.
7-Yawgmoth's will. It should be higher, but it's hosed by lots of cards, including own snapcasters and delve cards. Unique card with devastating effect.
8-Time walk. Good itself, insane with planeswalkers, library, creatures... Can be a game winner.
9-Chalice of the void. Can wreck unprepared decks itself.
10-Cavern of souls. Mana fixing, avoids countermagic. Creatures are improving faster than other spells in the recent years, so it can only get better.

Notable absences: lodestone golem, monastery mentor, fetches, strip mine, jace the mindsculptor, mana drain, gifts ungiven, demonic tutor, balance, tinker, tolarian academy, timetwister... Sadly no red card feels good enough to include it, neither bolt, pyromancer of wheel have that power in my eyes...

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