Deep Analysis – My Top 10 Broken Magic Decks of All Time


With the introduction of Kaladesh, an artifact specific block, I thought I’d go back and list what I though were the most broken decks in Magic’s history.  The reason that I wanted to write about this topic was because the last 3 artifact blocks that have been done by Wizards, all have lead to some broken things.

Note: This list is subjective, but there are not many players who have played with and against each deck in this list.  I have had experience with both in my 20 year history with the game.

#10 Tradewind Survival

Survival of the Fittest | Art by Shelly Wan

Survival of the Fittest | Art by Shelly Wan

Survival of the Fittest is one of my all time favorite cards but in the turn of the millennium, it cause quite a stir.  The deck below was the 4th Place deck at GP Phoenix piloted by Scott Johns:

Tradewind Survival

Main Deck Sideboard
4 Wall of Roots
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Tradewind Rider
1 Squee Goblin Nabob
2 Quirion Ranger
1 Uktabi Orangutan
1 Spike Weaver
1 Gilded Drake
1 Monk Realist
1 Deranged Hermit
1 Morphling
4 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
4 Force of Will
2 Mana Leak
2 Impulse
4 Land Grant

4 Survival of the Fittest

1 Savannah
5 Islands
6 Forests
4 Tropical Islands
3 Emerald Charm
1 Aura Shards
1 Spike Feeder
1 Bottle Gnomes
1 Monk Idealist
1 Quirion Ranger
1 Peacekeeper
1 Masticore
1 Uktabi Orangutan
4 Back to Basics

This deck was designed as a control deck with a ‘toolbox’ to deal with any problems that arose.  Its primary win condition was a single copy of Morphling (aka Superman).  Its alternitive plan was to use Tradewind Rider to bounce all of the opponent’s permenants before finishing them off.  The deck used Survival of the Fittest to search for Squee, Goblin Nabob and then used him to search for other creatures each turn.  This deck had many Top 8 finishes and several wins during the 2001 season.  The deck was so powerful that Wizards decided to ban Survival of the Fittest in Extended in 2001.

#9 Eldrazi

Eye of Ugin - James Paick

Eye of Ugin – James Paick

This is the most recent one on the list but it hit hard.  For reference:

Colorless Eldrazi

Main Deck Sideboard
4 Eldrazi Mimic
4 Endless One
4 Matter Reshaper
4 Reality Smasher
4 Simian Spirit Guide
2 Spellskite
4 Thought-Knot Seer

4 Dismember
4 Chalice of the Void
2 Ratchet Bomb

4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Eldrazi Temple
4 Eye of Ugin
4 Ghost Quarter
3 Mutavault
3 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Wastes
1 Spellskite
1 Ratchet Bomb
3 Oblivion Sower
3 Gut Shot
2 Pithing Needle
4 Relic of Progenitus
1 Warping Wail

When a deck has an awesome early game AND an amazing late game, you typically have a problem.  At Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, the Eldrazi rose again and crushed all comers.  The pro tour was just the being however.  The deck morphed into several different versions, eventually making up over 50% of the metagame at Grand Prix post PT Oath of the Gatewatch.  The combination of cost reduction  and search ability from the Eye of Ugin, the extra mana from Eldrazi Temple and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and the powerful efficiency of the Eldrazi creatures made it so that one of them had to go.

With the release of Shadows over Innistrad, Eye of Ugin was banned in Modern which ended the Eldrazi Winter.

#8 Caw Blade

Sword of War and Peace by Chris Rahn

Sword of War and Peace by Chris Rahn

The dominance of this deck was too great to not be mentioned.  The list below is the one piloted by Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa to win GP Singapore in 2011:

Caw Blade

Main Deck Sideboard
1 Consecrated Sphinx
4 Squadron Hawk
4 Stoneforge Mystic

1 Jace Beleren
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

3 Dismember
1 Divine Offering
2 Into the Roil
4 Mana Leak
4 Preordain
3 Spell Pierce
1 Batterskull
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Sword of War and Peace

4 Celestial Colonnade
3 Glacial Fortress
2 Inkmoth Nexus
5 Island
4 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Tectonic Edge
1 Batterskull
1 Celestial Purge
2 Condemn
1 Day of Judgment
1 Despise
1 Dismember
2 Divine Offering
2 Flashfreeze
3 Oust
1 Sun Titan

The deck started out as a control deck that played only 4 creatures (Squadron Hawk) that was already pretty strong.  The bad news came around Mirrodin Besieged when equipment started being printed that was over the top powerful followed by New Phyrexia that dropped Batterskull.  When the Top 8 of multiple major events saw all of those decks containing 4 copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and/or 4 Stoneforge Mystic, Wizards had no choice but to drop the ban hammer.  The deck was as dominate during this stretch as was another deck higher up on our list.

#7 Flash Hulk

Protean Hulk by Matt Cavotta

Protean Hulk by Matt Cavotta

Normally problem cards get banned only when they become a problem.  Flash was a card printed way back in Mirage that didn’t really cause a problem at the time but the way it was written, it was only a matter of time.

Flash Hulk

Main Deck Sideboard
4 Dark Confidant
4 Protean Hulk
1 Carrion Feeder
1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
1 Body Snatcher
1 Karmic Guide

4 Brainstorm
4 Mystical Tutor
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Flash
1 Echoing Truth
1 Massacre

4 Sensei's Divining Top
4 Chrome Mox
4 Counterbalance

3 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
3 Island
1 Swamp
1 Underground Sea
1 Tropical Island
1 Tundra
3 Massacre
4 Leyline of the Void
4 Quirion Dryad
1 Reverent Silence
3 Swords to Plowshares

The problem finally began popping up in the weeks leading up to GP Columbus 2007.  The deck works like this:

  1. Cast Flash to put Protean Hulk into play then not pay for it which triggers its dies trigger.
  2. Next, when Protean Hulk dies you search your deck for Carrion Feeder and Karmic Guide.
  3. Karmic Guide returns Protean Hulk to play.
  4. Sacrifice Protean Hulk to Carrion Feeder to search deck for Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker.
  5. Tap Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to put a copy of Karmic Guide on the stack, then sacrifice Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to Carrion Feeder.
  6. Return Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker from the graveyard to play.
  7. Repeat to make infinite 2/2 flying, pro black creatures.

All this for exactly 2 mana.  The deck even had builds where it could attempt to go off on turn 1.  Not even a fresh faced 18 year old Owen Turtenwald could best the deck, losing to the deck in the finals piloted by Steve Sadin.  After that performance that saw 3 copies make the Top 8, Flash was banned in all formats except Vintage where it was restricted during the next announcement.

#6 Affinity

Arcbound Ravager by Kev Walker

Arcbound Ravager by Kev Walker

Trivia Question: What deck produced the most cards banned at the same time?


Main Deck Sideboard
4 Arcbound Worker
4 Disciple of the Vault
4 Frogmite
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Meddling Mage
3 Myr Enforcer
3 Somber Hoverguard

4 Thoughtcast
4 AEther Vial
3 Cranial Plating
4 Chromatic Sphere

4 Seat of the Synod
4 Vault of Whispers
2 Ancient Den
4 Darksteel Citadel
2 Glimmervoid
1 City of Brass
2 Blinkmoth Nexus
1 City of Brass
3 Kami of Ancient Law
3 Engineered Plague
3 Chill
2 Seal of Removal
3 Cabal Therapy

Ravager Affinity had 8 cards that were banned in March of 2005.  No other archetype in the history of Magic had more cards banned from it at one time.  The combo of Arcbound Ravager + Disciple of the Vault allowed players to increase the Ravager power via +1/+1 and by dropping your opponents life by 1 for each trigger was painful but that wasn’t the only problem.  The Affinity mechanic decreased the cost of those costs and with Artifact Lands basically producing 2 mana in this form, the deck was busted.  Pierre Canali took 1st Place with this build at PT–Columbus 2005.

The deck is a Modern staple today and is still rather powerful but not nearly as broken as the original version.

#5 Lauerpotence

Necropotence - Mark Tedin

Necropotence – Mark Tedin

Necropotence is a card that appears multiple times on this list.  The reason is due to the fact that being a permanent whose able to draw cards by spending life.


Main Deck Sideboard
4 Order of the Ebon Hand
4 Knight of Stromgald
1 Ihsan's Shade

4 Drain Life
4 Hymn to Tourach
4 Demonic Consultation
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Incinerate
2 Firestorm
3 Disenchant
4 Necropotence

4 Badlands
4 Scrubland
2 Bad River
3 Gemstone Mine
8 Swamp
3 Lake of the Dead
1 Firestorm
1 Disenchant
3 Pyroblast
3 Terror
2 Mind Warp
2 Circle of Protection: Black
3 Honorable Passage

This deck that run roughshod over every deck in the Summer of 1997.  The deck takes apart your opponent’s hand with Hymn to Tourach and creature removal in the form of Lightning BoltIncinerate and the powerful spell Firestorm.   The deck could tutor for any card with Demonic Consultation.  Usually the game ended with Lake of the Dead powering out a large Drain Life.  Randy Buehler took the deck all the way to the top as he won PT Chicago (Extended format).  With the win, the deck took over the rest of the summer and players remember that being called “Black Summer”

#4 High Tide

Time Spiral by Michael Sutfin

Time Spiral by Michael Sutfin

Fallen Empires might be one of the worst Magic sets of all time but it produced 2 non-rare cards that still see play in Legacy today, the discard spell Hymn to Tourach and the blue accelerator High Tide.

High Tide

Main Deck Sideboard
4 Time Spiral
3 Merchant Scroll
4 High Tide
3 Stroke of Genius
3 Turnabout
3 Frantic Search
4 Counterspell
4 Force of Will
2 Arcane Denial
1 Brainstorm
4 Impulse
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Palinchron

4 Thawing Glaciers
3 Volcanic Island
16 Island
4 Hydroblast
4 Ophidian
2 Null Rod
1 Mountain
4 Pyroblast

So after Tolarian Academy was banned across multiple formats, players began experimenting with High Tide.  The deck played similar to the Academy deck using many ways to untap its lands (Turnabout, Frantic Search, Time Spiral, Palinchron).  Since High Tide added additional mana each time you tapped an Island, you start netting more mana for each spell you play.  Eventually you can cast Stroke of Genius to deck your opponent.  Kai Budde used this version to win Grand Prix Vienna 1999.

The deck still sees play today in the Legacy format.

#3 Trix

Illusions of Grandeur - Quinton Hoover

Illusions of Grandeur – Quinton Hoover

Many of the decks back in the early days of magic that were combo decks named after cereal.  Don’t let the name fool you, the deck was nuts.

Necro Donate AKA Trix

Main Deck Sideboard
4 Duress
4 Donate
4 Dark Ritual
4 Demonic Consultation
3 Vampiric Tutor
1 Hoodwink
1 Contagion
4 Force of Will
2 Brainstorm
4 Mana Vault
4 Necropotence
4 Illusions of Grandeur

4 Underground Sea
4 Underground River
4 Gemstone Mine
3 Island
6 Swamp
1 Hoodwink
2 Contagion
4 Phyrexian Negator
3 Annul
2 Unmask
3 Hydroblast

The deck was designed to put a copy of Illusions of Grandeur on to the battlefield as fast as possible and then Donate the Illusions to your opponent…who then has to deal with paying for its cumulative upkeep cost.  You gaining 20 life and then you opponent not being able to pay its upkeep makes them lose 20 life.  The redundancy of cards in the deck made the deck very consistent and ultimately lead to the banning of Necropotence in 2000 in the Extended format.

#2 Academy

Tolarian Academy - Stephen Daniele

Tolarian Academy – Stephen Daniele

My number 2 deck on this list was one that caused the winter of 1998 to be called ‘Combo Winter’.


Maindeck Sideboard
4 Ancient Tomb
3 City of Brass
4 Tolarian Academy
4 Tundra
4 Volcanic Island

4 Lotus Petal
4 Mana Vault
4 Mox Diamond
2 Scroll Rack
3 Voltaic Key
3 Mind Over Matter

3 Abeyance
3 Intuition
3 Power Sink
4 Stroke of Genius
4 Time Spiral
4 Windfall
1 Arcane Denial
4 Chill
4 Gorilla Shaman
2 Red Elemental Blast
4 Wasteland

This was Tommi Hovi’s Pro Tour winning list from Rome 1998.  Tolarian Academy tapped for 1 blue mana for every artifact you controlled.  The deck abused this by using ways to untap the Academy, like Time Spiral (which also refills our hand) or Mind over Matter eventually ending the game by forcing their opponent to draw their entire deck via Stroke of Genius.  The deck dominated the early winter season until the December 1998 ban of both Tolarian Academy and Windfall.

#1 Broken Jar

Memory Jar by Donato Giancola

Memory Jar by Donato Giancola

Only 1 deck in the 23 year history of Magic required an emergency ban.

Broken Jar

4 Defense Grid
4 Lion's Eye Diamond
4 Lotus Petal
4 Mana Vault
1 Megrim
4 Memory Jar
4 Mox Diamond

4 Brainstorm
4 Dark Ritual
1 Mystical Tutor
4 Tinker
4 Vampiric Tutor
2 Yawgmoth's Will
3 Ancient Tomb
4 City of Brass
2 Gemstone Mine
3 Underground River
4 Underground Sea

The deck, designed by Eric Lauer and Randy Buehler, was designed to kill your opponent on turn 1 50% of the time.  That is an incredible rate.  After this deck had 3 players make the Top 8 of Grand Prix Vienna in 1999, the emergency ban announcement was made on that following Monday.  It remains the fastest ban in Magic history, thus cementing its place as my choice for the most broken deck of all time.

It takes a lot for a deck to feel broken and now you see why.  Now the last 3 times there has been an artifact block (Urza’s block, Mirrodin block, and Scars of Mirrodin block) there has been a banning (or 2).

Will Kaladesh provide more of the same?

Only time will tell.


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