Top 10 Most Confusing Cards in MTG – Riley Ranks

Alchemy, the latest digital-only format on MTGA, has introduced some cards that aren’t realistically possible to play with in paper, with effects facilitated by the digital nature of the MTGA client. It has also introduced some really, really weird cards on top of that – cards that even after a couple of read-throughs, still leave you scratching your head. Magic players love to complain, and Twitter has been awash with grumbling and griping about cards such as Grizzled Huntmaster. So how does it work? You thin your deck to add copies of a sideboard card into your hand? Something like that, I don’t know. Why can’t we just go back to the good old days of Magic, when there was never any doubt as to how cards work? You know, the good old days when cards like Animate Dead, Chains of Mephistopheles and some of the most confusing cards were printed.



Header - 10. Goblin Game

Goblin Game

I thought subgames, like Shahrazad, were banned? Apparently they missed Goblin Game, though. This card turns what should be an easy process – bidding as low as possible without being the lowest bidder – into a scramble to find coins or dice (or, in that goblin’s case, books and amulets and… a broken fishing rod?) to hide. Goblin Game isn’t actually that complicated once you understand it – bid low, but not too low – but boy do they make it hard to get there with how it’s all dressed up.


Header - 9. Raging River

Raging River

Much like Rock Hydra, the flavor of this card got in the way of crisp and clear rules language, and so the fun-hating Oracle text came along and rained on the parade. You no longer move creatures to either side of the river, you just divides the creatures into a “left” pile and a “right” pile. Boring! I do like, however, that flying creatures aren’t affected by this card – they can just fly onto whatever side of the river they like. 


Header - 8. Animate/Dance of the Dead

Animate DeadDance of the Dead

Animate Dead is a famously complicated card with an absurd amount of rules text, but its lesser-known cousin, Dance of the Dead, is just as bad. The printed text on these cards change as they resolve in an effort to achieve something that should be relatively simple. The rules have to bend over backwards for these cards to work, however, and that’s why we end up with 100+ words on a single card. 


Header - 7. Takklemaggot


Have you ever heard of semantic satiation? You’re about to, my friend, because Takklemaggot is going to sound increasingly ridiculous as you read its text, and that’s not even accounting for what it does. Right, so, it eats away at a creature’s toughness, then when it’s killed that creature it returns from the bin to eat away at another one, except this time your opponent gets to choose which one. Then, if there are no creatures, it starts doing damage to… someone? Could be you or your opponent, it’s impossible to say which. 


Header - 6. Word of Command

Word of Command

Are you ready for the weirdest Mindslaver you’ve ever seen? Once again, the reason this card is so confusing is that the rules have to tie themselves in knots to make something relatively simple happen: I get to force you to cast one of your spells how I choose. But for the rules to parse this, it has to go over how mana is tapped and spent, who control whom at what point and a whole lot of other nonsense. Weird how the original Alpha printing, with all of that set’s idiosyncrasies, is easier to understand than the Oracle text!


Header - 5. Chains of Mephistopheles

Chains of Mephistopheles

Chains of Mephistopheles gets a bit of a bad rap for being one of Magic’s most confusing cards. It’s weird, certainly, and leads to some ridiculous situations when combined with other cards (Sylvan Library? No thanks). But in terms of what it actually does, once you figure it out – it’s not too hard to understand, but the rules text doesn’t really aid you in getting there. Maybe they should have just printed this handy flowchart on the card instead.

Source: Ask a Magic Judge


Header - 4. Illusionary Mask

Illusionary Mask

Alright, what’s going on here? You want me to pay some amount of mana that could pay for a creature in my hand, and then basically play a morph, kinda sorta, that gets flipped if it deals or takes damage or gets tapped? Apparently this card was so weird that at one point they just changed what it did altogether, added mask counters, made the creature an 0/1 – and then decided the original mess was better than the new one and went back to it instead. Ah, the good old days, before weird cards like Grizzled Huntmaster ever existed.


Header - 3. Dead Ringers

Dead Ringers

You come to two doors, each guarded by an identical guardian, one of whom is a nonblack creature that is a color the other one isn’t. What does your copy of Dead Ringers do in this situation? If you answered “gets put in the garbage can”, you are correct. This card is so, so confusingly expressed – it basically says destroy two creatures that are exactly the same color or colors, but instead takes us on the scenic route, filled with double negatives and all the rest of it. 



What? How confusing could this card possibly be? All creatures become 1/1s, and love their abilities. Easy, right? Sure, easy enough, until you start including cards like Opalescence. Then, this card becomes so ridiculously convoluted it results in individual card rulings like this:

This is the current interaction between Humility and Opalescence: The type-changing effect applies at layer 4, but the rest happens in the applicable layers. The rest of it will apply even if the permanent loses its ability before it’s finished applying. So if Opalescence, Humility, and Worship are on the battlefield and Opalescence entered the battlefield before Humility, the following is true: Layer 4: Humility and Worship each become creatures that are still enchantments. (Opalescence). Layer 6: Humility and Worship each lose their abilities. (Humility) Layer 7b: Humility becomes 4/4 and Worship becomes 4/4. (Opalescence). Humility becomes 1/1 and Worship becomes 1/1 (Humility). But if Humility entered the battlefield before Opalescence, the following is true: Layer 4: Humility and Worship each become creatures that are still enchantments (Opalescence). Layer 6: Humility and Worship each lose their abilities (Humility). Layer 7b: Humility becomes 1/1 and Worship becomes 1/1 (Humility). Humility becomes 4/4 and Worship becomes 4/4 (Opalescence).

Oh, so no worries then. Glad we got that cleared up. 


Header - 1. Remove Enchantments

Remove Enchantments

I just do not understand what this card is trying to achieve. It bounces enchantments you control and own, but not ones you control but don’t own – it destroys them, instead. Then there is a whole bunch of text on Auras, which baffles me, as Auras are all enchantments, right, so they should be affected by the “all enchantments” bit. And then, as though that weren’t enough, we’re adding a clause about attacking creatures? On a card that is, ostensibly, about removing enchantments? The only thing this card has removed is my former status as someone without a headache.


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