75 thoughts on “Magic TV: Extra – The Most Skill-Intensive Cards in Magic”

  1. My personal worst Cabal Therapy ever, playing against UG Madness.

    He has a Mongrel, `Moeba, and Arrogant Wurm. I Therapy and start thinking about what 4-ofs I haven’t seen yet. I ponder for a moment and then it hits me.

    Him: Naming?
    Me: Basking Rootwalla!! Wait! $&#@!!

    He had 2 🙁

  2. Owen,

    Heads-up: That Therapy was awesome. You are only required to name a card as the spell resolves. When your opponent asks “naming?” he is essentially passing priority. When you name Basiking Rootwalla, there is no window for him to respond by discarding them.

  3. I would add Jace, the Mind Sculptor to the list, just because the card gives you the option to do such diverse things. Then again, I’ve played Brainstorm with shufflers heavily since the days of Oath + Gaea’s Blessing in Extended, so I don’t really find that as skill intensive. (Not to say that LSV haven’t played Brainstorm enough, of course, but he seems to have seen more people misplay the card than I have.)

  4. Surprised about Brainstorm over Jace, the Mindsculptor, since Brainstorming is only one of the 3 things you can do when you cast it.

    Also, water Humphrey! Until you put it on tape, we can’t be sure =P.

  5. Bloodbraid elf is obviously the most skill intensive card in magic. Sometimes you have to wait till you have extra R for kicking ruinblaster!

  6. You only have one Brainstorm and it’s all about getting lots of value early game in a format where you don’t have a lot of mana sitting around. Brainstorm also affects the keepability of some hands. JtMS costs 4 and sticks around, so the Brainstorm ability itself is a little easier than a normal Brainstorm since you can just treat him as a free Tome more than anything. You don’t need to squeeze value out of him since by Brainstorming only twice you’ve produced value (well, doing it once is a card + whatever they used to answer Jace, so it has value the turn it hits the battlefield), whereas Brainstorm the card is by definition only Brainstorming once.

    It’s a versatile card with lots of options, but I don’t think Jace is incredibly skill intensive. It gets better with skill, which is what I like.

  7. Brainstorm being an instant matters a lot in its complexity. One of hardest skills to learn with it is when not to play it.

  8. Confusion in the Ranks? Avarice Totem? GOBLIN GAME? Just because nobody plays with cards doesn’t make them skill intensive

  9. No surprises on that list. I have the feeling that there is some bias on the list slightly just because there were 3 blue cards 1 black card and an artifact. What about the most skill intensive cards per color. Some candidates…
    Green- Sylvan Library, Life From Loam, Realms Uncharted
    White- Shahrazad!!! (The true “most skill intensive card”), Balance, Eternal Dragon,
    Red- Some combination of the cards where players bid life similar to Goblin Game,
    Black- Cabal Therapy, Necropotence, Darkblast.
    Blue- Your list

    Even looking at those cards there is still a bias towards control and combo decks, but these are obviously not the most powerful cards in the game. I guess the lesson here is that extra skill does not imply extra power. (Looking at you Bloodbraid Elf)

    Thanks for the video. You all do good work.

  10. Please please please capture better audio for these shows. I hate having to turn my volume all the way just to hear what you are saying….

  11. I’m surprised that cryptic command didn’t make the cut. Then again you guys were only doing the top 5, but I do have to say that cryptic command took a good amount of skill to play, at least in my experience

  12. Menacing Ogre showed up in a Momir game recently.. That card is pretty mind-boggling.

  13. Jace needs to atleast get an honorable mention. He does brainstorm, + unsummon + scry and each one can win you or cost you the game

  14. I think the distinction between Jace and some of the cards on the list is this… a misplayed Jace is still going to do some pretty good things for you. A misplayed Brainstorm or Gifts Ungiven is just a blank.

    Jace is, however, quite skill-intensive to play against, though the same could be said of any good Planeswalker.

    On the topic of Humphrey… It’s clear that Tristan is not interested in taking care of a house-plant, and that’s not going to change. Seeing this to be the case, it’s actually LSV that’s choosing to let Humphrey die.

  15. good comments about FoF. It was hard to play *against*, and easy to play *with*. My funnest FoF story was making a stack of 5 lands, and having the player take the zero pile because he was afraid I had Blood Oath.

  16. MostlyHarmless

    No love for Doomsday? I’m pretty sure that every time you play that card you can win, but most of the time you don’t know how.

    Thanks for the videos, though. Keep them coming.

  17. I actually zoned out when he was talking about top untill he said “I can see it’s boring you” too funny.

  18. I second Scroll Rack deserving a place on the list.

    I also think Cabal Therapy should’ve been #2 or #1- It forces good players to utilize every bit of knowledge to properly play. Opposing deck knowledge, body language analysis, the whole package. My top example of this had to be vs a u/g thresh deck game1 of a legacy tournament. Made a successful read off his body language on my first turn Underground Sea and therapied away 2 stifles after having him on either thresh or counterbalance off his t1 Trop.

    Sometimes you get lucky, but sometimes it’s not luck. When it’s not luck, it’s the judgment required of Gifts or FoF without even getting to see the cards.

  19. All of my favorite cabal therapys were from reading body tells. I had a UG Opposition deck mull to six and then snap keep. I was running RB aggro.

    He seemed so confident, like he’d already won the game. I drop Therapy and his face doesn’t change. I went pretty deep into the tank before naming Sakura Tribe Elder. He discarded three.

    Another one was against UW Scepterchant. I’m running BG aggro control, now, and I’d therapyd him a few turns earlier, to which he responded with a Brainstorm to hide a few cards. A bob was drawing for me, but I wanted to kill him ASAP because I have no MD answer to a chant lock. I drop a Nantuko Shade, and he doesn’t look worried at all, even though the thing can kill him in one hit. I tanked for a while before sacking bob (!) to flashback therapy naming Wrath. He discarded two, and tilted like crazy for the rest of the match.

    There are a lot of soul crushing ways to win a game of magic, but I think therapy blow outs are pretty high up there.

  20. @M. Ward:

    What exactly does one’s body language look like when holding 2 Stifles and their opponent plays Underground Sea?

  21. i think Skullclamp needs to be on this list as well. I can understand the argument that it does not count because it is banned, but it wasn’t always banned, and it was often very tough to use. At least use correctly… I think at very least it deserves an honorable mention. Otherwise I immediately came up with the exact same list of five.

  22. I’m surprised you didn’t add in Predict. It’s one of the trickier cards to play since you can play it on the opponent and yourself and it’s a task to set up sometimes. Keeping all that in mind, it makes you time out what turn you want to play it on top of it all. It’s a very odd card to play in any tempo based deck.

    Doomsday is definitely on there also. I don’t know too many people who know it through and through. I don’t know all the combinations just in Legacy, much less the Vintage versions. It makes gifts look like a Cascade card.

  23. I personally think devastating summons is one of the more recent cards that I consider difficult to play with. It brings about a ton of question, and lines of play. Sometimes you just go all in, others, there’s a fair bit of debate.

  24. I remember much Brainstorm / Landgrant silliness back when those were in Mercadian together. That was some huge turn 1 digging power that made many hands keepable. Of course a good opponent would write down everything he saw in your hand (like all those Hunted Wumpus’s)!

  25. owen and xChaospherex please both stop talking lol

    also lsv i think making top,brainstorm,and counterbalance into one package would be good,,very skill intensive synergies those have

  26. @Tyler how is your list skill intensive at all?life from the loam and darkblast realy?u cast darkblast killing an elf,,if theres another target in play guess what u do,DREDGE IT!!!ur list fails

  27. vincent stevenson

    Having played Doomsday and Gifts Ungiven in Vintage a lot, I feel a case could be made for Doomsday over at the very least Fact or Fiction. As pointed out, FoF pretty much only tests the opponent. Tested by whether he takes the bait and counters it, and tested by the piles he makes. It’s not often that your poor timing of casting of FoF loses you the game. Essentially FoF doesn’t reward you for skillful use to the same degree as a card that puts the choices in your hand.

    Contrast that with Doomsday where every choice is made by the caster and if you make the slightest mistake you are rewarded with a loss. Granted it’s relatively trivial to remember the 5 or so most common piles that win you the game based on having a Gush, cantrip, Brainstorm, Ancestral, etc in hand, but when there is some level of disruption from the opponent your skill with the deck and your intelligence are tested to a degree that FoF could never measure up to.

    I’m sure the guys just forgot all about Doomsday when they were making the list as I can’t begin to imagine the arguments for FoF being more skill intensive than DDay.

    Water Humphrey, please!

  28. Gifts ungiven is really nice…

    Worst way I used it was, search for 2 Cards and let them both be but in my graveyard, basically rendering my Gifts into a inta Buried Alive for 2.

  29. @Michael
    I’d probably put Cryptic on my list of LEAST skill intensive… it just does whatever you want.

  30. how about some more obscure cards (pretty much edh/cube only)…

    Culling Scales – Extremely hard to know exactly when to destroy your opponent’s mana accel or two drop or whatever. When do you play out your signet? When do you even play culling scales to maximize value?

    Decree of Justice – When do you cycle and when do you get angels? When do you trade it for your opponent’s attacking three drop and a card?

    Smokestack – I think you can tell how hard it is when you play this against a relatively new magic player and they think its the worst thing they’ve ever seen.

    As far as Fact or Fiction goes, I am probably the only one who thinks it is not very skill intensive to play against. It is a very powerful card, but I think the decision tree is extremely simple – usually you just give them the best card or one they want with a land and three mediocre cards that don’t beat you. Then you still know what to play around. Compare that to playing Jace TMS – Jace has three possibilities (or 4 if you are lucky!) EVERY TURN. Very rarely will you see Jace used optimally.

  31. shaun needs to spend less time giving people store credit and more time giving humphrey the water he deserves!

    as an aside, BBE does require some skill, I think a lot of people draw BBE and as soon as they can they cast it, where if they wait they get SO much more value. You see this once every round on GGS live at the 5ks, BBE to empty board cascade into removal *facepalm*

  32. Mindslaver – Maybe Deserves a mention and Ravager.

    Totally agree on gifts being no1. I lost one gifts mirror, in all the games I played with the deck.

    People always said gifts lost to the UG deck but going gifts with kodamas reach another gifts plus inkeyes and a way to get inkeyes back into hand, always resulted in them giving you reach plus gifts, which was really bad form them, even more so if you draw souless revival, which if you have a top down is not that hard.

  33. Cascading is kind of an art, only the most gifted people manage to cascade into what they need.

    Every time you do it, it really has a magical feeling. You cannot help but grin and flush with happiness and joy.

    I trust in my cascading abilities so much that I first Terminate a Scute Mob and then cast BBE to cascade into Pulse for the Baneslayer. The more you trust, more often it happens.

    On a more serious note, I am surprised that Planeswalkers get no mention in the video. I’ve been testing some UW/UWR and I never know what to do with Jace. You guys know any articles on that?

  34. Also like therapy my first ever big tourni win, not counting the one were both the people in other semi got DQed was with a GBw rock deck. I had tutored the go before with living wish for visra put did not have mana to play as well. I topdecked therapy for the turn with my opponent with 2 cards in hand and no plays for the last few turns.

    I started tapping my mana to play visra then suddenly caught myself, verbally reprimanded myself for not thinking my play through (can’t repeat what i said here), cast therapy first and hit vindicate:)

  35. Is it a coincidence that 3 out of the 5 “most skill intensive” cards are blue?

    I think not.

    Blue is just broken.

  36. Kevin, like it or not, blue is the “clever/tricky” colour, shared somewhat with black.

    I personally think other colours should get more such cards, but the fact that the “tricky” colour has several of the most-skill intensive cards is pretty unsurprising, and has nothing to do with inherent power level.

    Witness ancestral vs. brainstorm: ancestral isn’t skill-intensive at all :).

  37. I’m officially jumping on the Doomsday bandwagon.

    P.S. Sorry Tristan got so many off-Top-ic emails.

  38. Thanks for picking my question…

    And well, I live in Medellín, Colombia… UPB is where I study (a university, not a city or state) and Bucaramanga… well, it is a city in Colombia, but I just dont know why did Tristan say that…

    Anyway, thanks for the credit and for the answer, I hope that when I order my cards they travel to the correct place!!!

  39. Penultimate means second to the ultimate. Tristan referred to the #1 choice as the “penultimate.” This ruined the video for me.

  40. “Decree of Justice – When do you cycle and when do you get angels? When do you trade it for your opponent's attacking three drop and a card?”

    um you almost always made soldiers in the decks it was played in

  41. @David:
    “What exactly does one's body language look like when holding 2 Stifles and their opponent plays Underground Sea?”

    Generally a slumping of the shoulders. I’ve played UGr Thresh, and there is nothing you want more than to be on the play and Stifle your opponent’s first-turn fetch land. It’s the best feeling. It’s like if puppies and ice cream had a kid.

    In the story, it doesn’t matter that M.Ward played an Underground Sea. It matters that he didn’t play a fetch land, and his opponent let his disappointment show.

  42. How do you feel about the skill intensity of necropotence? Having played a bit of storm in vintage, the number of cards to grab with necro is always a puzzle that I’m pretty sure I get wrong a lot of times. The whole, rfg face down, pick up at the end of turn thing is tough especially compared to something like yawgmoth’s bargain. The exile discarded cards really makes me start doing math and even some probability calculation factoring for storm count, life total, and implications of cards lost when I go for yawgmoth’s will. Not to mention my opponent just might decide to take infinite turns next turn…

  43. “@M. Ward:
    What exactly does one's body language look like when holding 2 Stifles and their opponent plays Underground Sea?”

    Like the poster above me said, it was more the disappointment that I didn’t play a fetch (I was holding one, and would’ve played it if he hadn’t played a trop, making me put him on stifle). After deliberating about playing around stifle, reading his response to the Sea sealed it.

    It also set off bells when he too suddenly started paying rapt attention as soon as I played a land. As soon as I laid a card down, he snapped up to see what it was (presumably in hopes that it was a fetch). At that point, I didn’t even need to read the disappointment to know what he was holding. The humor was in how furious he got, with me, for “randomly guessing” so well. He didn’t even suspect for a moment that he could be to blame.

  44. meddling mage should get a mention. It’s basically cabal therapy that is easier to counter (ie by removal spells).

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  46. I think that you missed out on Doomsday. Casting Doomsday and winning that same turn though disruption is on the same level of skill intensity of Brainstorm.

    On a side note:


  47. No love for countermagic? I really feel like the simple Counterspell is one of the most skill-intensive cards, due to it’s simplicity. Unlike Spellstutter Sprite and Spell Pierce that you will often use whenever they will counter something because of their narrowness, and cards like Cryptic Command and Mana Drain that you will often use even if countering the spell isn’t all that important to you, Counterspell asks you a very fundamental question: is this spell more important than the next thing I might want to counter?

    Choosing when to leave mana up for a counter, when to tap out for something, when to leave mana up as a bluff, when to counter the first spell they play for a turn, whether to counter a cabal therapy or hope they miss, when to counter the tutor and when to wait for them to cast the card they found, etc. are all such interesting and diverse decisions.

    Like, yeah, Gifts is hard to use, but realistically you can plan out 10 piles before the tournament, and you will be using one of the those piles at least 90% of the time. Counterspell actually requires you to make new decisions every time you have it.

    Not to mention how sometimes you have to be able to make a split-second decision so you can let something resolve without cluing in your opponent that you have a counter.

  48. Sylvan Library, Arcbound Ravager, Survival of the Fittest are up there too, I think. Also, Wishmonger. 🙂

  49. I support Doomsday. Though I’m pretty sure how interesting the things you can do with the card are often causes people to overvalue it when building decks. As such, it’s got a bit of a janky vibe.

  50. i just want to say Mindmoil in a Limited game was the most skill intensive card i used to play, it just totally twists your mind
    Its just like Top but the cards go under the library so you have to first count your library than do the math for when to hit the cards you are now putting under (always calculating that you still draw a card every turn) so that you than are able to make the right ordering so that you will be constantly hitting your spells with the lands in between (which are cind of fillers). And if your really want to master it you need to watch out and still know all the cards that you havent drawn yet and their effects (for example a draw spell totally screws up the math till than) and their mana costs so you should be able to play two in a row. I dont think anyone ever ever will get it right in paper magic.
    Just think about it for a second, maybe should be up in that list

  51. I think Intuition is harder to play correctly than top. It’s so often a triple demonic tutor in lands so its incredibly difficult to get all 3 targets correct and the opponent has to decide which of those cards you get right away and which you have to work harder for.

  52. Other color therapy plays:

    I once therapied rootwalla, hitting three, because I had a sweeper ready and they already had board presence.

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