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Coat of No Arms – The Top 20 Snakes in MTG

As we move into Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty spoiler season (releases February 10), I thought it’d be fun to take a look at one particular tribe that received an overhaul in the original Champions of Kamigawa (2004) block – Snakes! 

As a planar location, Kamigawa is unique in that it is the only locale in the multiverse where “creature type – Snake” is a legitimately supported tribe within that fantasy world. Kamigawa’s Snake tribe are called “Orochi” and are firmly rooted in green’s color identity.

I’m thinking if Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty adds onto the Orochi legacy, aka Snakes, that an article that takes a look back on the strongest Snake options from previous level Kamigawa and beyond might be a fun refresher for deck builders that may not have had the opportunity to play the original Kamigawa block nearly 20 years ago. 

I came up with a pretty expansive Top 20 (as well as Honorable Mentions), so let’s jump right into viper’s nest. 

 

 

Header - Honorable Mentions

While not traditionally or typically “Snake cards,” today’s honorable mentions are cards that will certainly help bolster a deck full of Snake cards. 

Animal Sanctuary

Snakes are often lumped in with Insects, Rats, Spiders, and Squirrels as being part of a loose “varmint” alliance as is represented by a card like Animal Sanctuary.

Speaking of deathtouch Snake tokens…

Pharika, God of AfflictionOphiomancer

I love Ophiomancer. It’s one of my all time favorite cards to play with and it makes deathtouch Snake tokens, one per turn (if you don’t have one already). “Deathtouch” and snakes tend to go hand in hand for obvious flavor purposes. If a poisonous Snake bits somebody, they die! The ability to produce deathtouch tokens (especially turn after turn) is particularly powerful since these tokens can be traded with actual creature cards (provided the token’s controller can get them into combat with an opponent’s better creatures – typically while blocking). 

Ophiomancer is typically a card I will pick much, much higher than other players when I’m lucky enough to see one in a Cube draft. It’s a card that I think 99 percent of players underrate in the abstract. 

Ambush Viper

Not a particularly good card, but it’s an iconic design with a lot of Limited function. I love seeing green get conditional removal with some play to it. 

Patron of the Orochi

Not “technically” a Snake, but Patron of the Orochi does have a lot of synergy with Snakes by virtue of having snake offering. Not to mention, Patron is a huge mana producer in a green-based ramp deck. 

Serpent GeneratorSnake BasketOrochi Hatchery

I’ve touched on some Snake token-based cards already but artifacts that produce Snake tokens go back a long way – back to 1994’s Legends, in fact. It’s clear these Snake token-producing artifacts become more powerful and mana efficient over time. 

It’s also interesting to see that the OG Serpent Generator produces “poisonous” tokens. 

Marsh Viper

Poison got a huge overhaul in the Scars of Mirrodin block when it was redesigned as a more powerful mechanic, infect. In the context of an article about Snakes in the history of Magic, it seems worth making an honorable mention that Snakes were the original poison counter kill cards. 

 

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20. Ophidian

Ophidian

Realistically, Ophidian is probably closer to an honorable mention than a card I’d realistically put into a deck in 2022. Ophidian served as a key lynch pin in early “draw-go” blue counterspell decks. Stick a Phid, use Powder Keg to sweep up an opponent’s blockers and bury them in a cavalcade of extra cards. 

19. Prowling Serpopard

Prowling Serpopard

A big part of Prowling Serpopard’s fame is due to its unique Snake Cat creature type and imaginative artwork. With that said, making one’s creatures uncounterable is pretty neat especially when clearing the way for big bombs to resolve. 

18. Sakiko, Mother of Summer

Sakiko, Mother of Summer

The Kamigawa Orochi have a family hierarchy of legendary creatures that combine to bolster the core of the Snakes on the Plane. Snakes on a plane never get old. 

Sakiko allows a player wielding a lot of tokens to really ramp mana via combat, which is a unique take on a deck playing a lot of creatures and also wanting to ramp. The Kamigawa Orochi dynasty tends to inform a play pattern where lords improve the stats of smaller, less impactful Snake creatures, which makes them quite formidable when leading Snake tokens into battle. 

17. Ohran Viper

Ohran Viper

Ohran Viper was a huge deal when it first saw print in Coldsnap. It’s basically an Ophidian, colorshifted into green, and also netting multiple positive abilities. Unfortunately, the stars never really aligned for Ohran Viper to find a home in a Constructed format, but it’s a great role player in a Battle Box, Cube or Snake-themed deck because of its above average stats and ability to draw extra cards. 

16. Kaseto, Orochi Archmage

Kaseto, Orochi Archmage

Kaseto is a Commander deck card with Kamigawa flavor. I’ve had the privilege of getting to play a friend’s Kaseto, Orochi Archmage Snake tribal deck. I wouldn’t put Kaseto into the top echelon of most powerful Commanders of all time, but I do think it’s the current best Snake commander in the game. I was impressed with Kaseto’s ability to churn out unblockable damage. It was better than I expected it to be and I think it provides the best possible color identity (Simic) to facilitate Snake synergies. 

15. Skullwinder

Skullwinder

Skullwinder is a hard card to assess. On the one hand, what Skullwinder does is quite powerful (Eternal Witness is one of the best creatures of all time) but I struggle with putting cards in my deck that also help my opponents. With that said, it’s a fun design and very much in flavor for a Snake-themed deck. It has a bit of a chaos element to its game play which makes it pretty fun to play with. I would describe Snakes as more of a “casual” or “fun” Commander archetype and Skullwinder is an ideal sort of card to put into a deck like that. 

14. Seshiro the Anointed

Seshiro the Anointed

Seshiro the Anointed is an extremely synergistic card for a Snake-themed deck. It does suffer from only having a green color identity which makes it a bit awkward to build a Commander deck around though. There are also limited options for creatures that count as Snakes (Gatherer gave me only 98 results for Snakes and a lot of them were pretty weak). 

Kaseto, Orochi ArchmageXyris, the Writhing Storm

I’d personally prefer to use Kaseto, Orochi Archmage or Xyris, the Writhing Storm simply to gain access to a blue color identity. With that said, Seshiro is probably the most powerful Snake commander in terms of stats and synergy, but it’s mono-green color identity is a huge cost of using it as a commander. 

On the other hand, if a player were building a UG Snake deck, I think Seshiro is a slam dunk inclusion in the 99. 

13. Sosuke’s Summons

Sosuke's Summons

A difficult card to assess on a list because it’s relative value increases or decreases depending upon how hard a player is pushing “Snakes matter” within a deck. Obviously, the card is going to be outstanding in a deck where it returns to hand every time a creature is cast.  Also, it’s a pretty baller card to pair up with a Skullclamp or Ashnod’s Altar to really reap the rewards of those extra Snake bodies. 

As I’ve been ranking and assessing the Snakes of Magic, I’ve noticed it kind of breaks down into two categories: how strong is the Snake in the abstract as opposed to how strong is the card in a Snake tribal deck. Sosuke’s Summons would be one of the top Snake tribal cards to include in a themed deck but not very good outside of that specific context. 

12. Blight Mamba

Blight Mamba

I touched on Snakes’ relationship to the poison counter mechanic and Blight Mamba is the powered up infect version from Scars block. It’s a formidable card in Pauper Infect and it was an extremely impactful card in Scars Limited. Infect is such a powerful mechanic (and Snakes have always been a part of poison counter kills). 

11. Stonecoil Serpent

Stonecoil Serpent

Stonecoil Serpent has a lot of different things going for it that make it such a quality Magic card. The biggest upside of Stonecoil Serpent is that it provides its caster with a ton of different options for deployment. It’s a cheap drop when it needs to be and it’s a great mana sink when its caster has a huge abundance of mana. In addition, it can be played in any color or combination of colors. So Stonecoil can be flexibly deployed anywhere in the curve and will typically have above average stats for the cost no matter when it is played. 

 

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10. Gravebreaker Lamia

Gravebreaker Lamia

Gravebreaker is one of the “Covid era” designs from the past few years that I really like. The ability to tutor for a card to put into the graveyard is excellent and its ability to make spells cast from your graveyard cheaper is obviously synergistic with its tutor effect. Lamia is the type of play that sets up strong strategic lines of play which is exactly what I enjoy doing in multiplayer. 

Both Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons and Pharika are great ways to play Golgari Snakes in Commander.

9. Sakura-Tribe Scout

Sakura-Tribe Scout

Sakura-Tribe Scout is a card that has aged like a fine wine. It wasn’t a huge deal when originally printed but the ability to put an additional land into play (especially as a repeatable effect on a one-drop creature) is quite good. There are a few cards that provide a similar type of effect at a similar cost – but STS does it the best which is a rare distinction for a Snake card! STS is a card that often makes Commander decks (even those that have nothing to do with Snakes). It’s particularly useful for generating landfall triggers during other players’ turns. 

8. Winding Constrictor

Winding Constrictor

Winding Constrictor was essentially an entire BG midrange archetype when the card appeared in Standard. It boasts one of the most useful and compact +1/+1 synergy enablers in all the game. 

Hardened Scales

Hardened Scales is a reference to Winding Constrictor since it essentially runs back and doubles down on Constrictors’ text. While more of a +1/+1 counters card than a tribal Snake card, it’s undeniable that Winding Constrictor is one of the most impactful Snakes to ever see print. It will be interesting to see if BG +1/+1 counters strategies will incorporate more Snakes to build around in the future. 

7. River Boa

River Boa

River Boa holds a special place in my heart. It was one of the most efficient stat line creatures in its day. The combination of being cheap, having regeneration and islandwalk made it a really effective tool against removal and blocks from the blue-based decks of its time. With that said, River Boa is still a quality threat in Pauper where its ability to shrug off Bolts and swing uncontested against the blue decks while wearing a Rancor is still a pretty big game. 

6. Coiling Oracle

Coiling Oracle

For the most part, as I break down my list, I notice that green is very much the dominant color for “best Snake cards.” The second best color is to combine green with blue to gain access to the Simic Snakes such as Coiling Oracle and friends. 

I love Coiling Oracle because it’s like an Elvish Visionary that, with a Ponder or Sensei’s Divining Top, also gives us an Explore effect to play an additional land from the top of our deck. Also, never discount the power of blinking Coiling Oracle. I’ve been doing a series on $40 to $50 budget Commander decks and Coiling Oracle makes the cut in every UG deck. 

5. Hexdrinker

Hexdrinker

The only Snake Mythic Rare to make today’s list, Hexdrinker is one of those crazy power creep designs that could really only come out of a stacked Modern Horizons set. It’s a card that I think has cool flavor, art and is really powerful. Too powerful, for instance, to find a lasting home in my Battle Box/Cube. So, it’s one of those newfangled Mythics that really has a great power level to mana cost efficiency ratio. The card was good enough to find a home in Modern Jund decks which is really saying something – it’s not easy for a card to be straight up efficient enough to play in Modern. 

4. Ice-Fang Coatl

Ice-Fang Coatl

Like Baleful Strix, Ice-Fang Coatl is a fantastic value card that can go into any deck that can support UG mana and snow typing. It can be flashed down during combat when we’re playing defense and deathtouch down an opponent’s best attacker and is also just a “cycle-for-upside.” Easily one of the most competitively costed Snake cards ever to see print and again from a Modern Horizons set. 

3. Lotus Cobra

Lotus Cobra

I’ve had a lot of good times casting Lotus Cobras over the years. It was the signature card of the Standard Temur Titans deck that was a powerhouse in Zendikar Standard. The Cobra helped power out Jace, the Mind Sculptor as well as Frost and Inferno Titans

Misty Rainforest

Obviously, every card in Magic that has positive synergy with fetchlands is a huge boon (since fetchlands are among the most efficient and powerful lands ever printed). 

I loved the play pattern of Lotus Cobra so much that I actually built a Vintage deck around it back in the day with four Dark Confidant and four Lotus Cobra to again power out Jace, the Mind Sculptor (and Necropotence) while also helping to power through Workshop’s Spheres and pressuring opposing JTMS. 

FastbondGush

You haven’t truly lived until you Gushbond with a Lotus Cobra in play. 

2. Mystic Snake

Mystic Snake

Maybe a bit controversial to rank Mystic Snake so highly, but I believe it fills all the boxes in terms of being a great and iconic card. I remember being genuinely excited to see this card printed in Apocalypse and it was the card I most wanted to crack out of a pack back then. 

A creature that’s also a counterspell! Yes, sign me up! It was likely the card that got me to start playing Standard back in the day and was a fixture of my Squirrel Opposition deck. Varmints! 

I also played Mystic Snakes again once they were Timeshifted in Time Spiral. I played UG tempo in both Block and Standard Constructed formats. 

It’s also a fantastic budget card for Commander decks, especially considering the great blink options that can be paired with it to reuse its ETB counterspell ability. In terms of being a quality card that is also iconic, I have no problem with letting Mystic Snake slither into the number two spot on my list. 

1. Sakura-Tribe Elder

Sakura-Tribe Elder

There was no way anyone but “Donny” would earn my checkmark as the best Snake to ever see print. In its time and over the years, Sakura-Tribe Elder has an incredible legacy of helping to shape not only the color green but Magic play patterns. 

STE immediately put green Tooth and Nail ramp decks onto the map in Standard after Mirrodin block. The card is essentially the best Rampant Growth variant ever printed because it also gives its caster the ability to chump block to prevent damage before sacrificing. It was even better when it first saw print and damage still used the stack. It’s Rampant Growth – but with a body that provides more options. There are also a lot of mechanisms to recur or replay creatures as a mana sink and Sakura-Tribe Elder is a fantastic card to recur in multiplayer to help continue to develop a lot of mana.

Looking back, the printings of Eternal Witness and Sakura-Tribe Elder (in two sets right after one another) signify the color pie shift that brought green from the bottom of the basement and trended it toward being what is now debatably the best color in Magic (Tarmogoyf didn’t hurt either…). 

Without much thought, I’d put a Sakura-Tribe Elder into basically any green Commander deck that I’d ever build.

 

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