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Awesome But Impractical / Magic: The Gathering

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Magic: The Gathering is the oldest collectible card game on the market, with thousands of unique cards to choose and build a deck from. Naturally, many of them look more effective than they actually are. Note that the Commander/EDH format allows a lot of these cards to be used more practically because it has longer games.

A lot of combos are cool, but impractical: they'll win spectacularly, but only if you can play four different cards on the same turn that require three different colors and no counterspells from your opponent. Guess the odds on that actually happening. This is the aim of Timmy/Johnny players, especially those who combine Timmy's love of big flashy effects and Johnny's love of convoluted combos. Even if their combo only works once, they're happy.


  • The entire cycle of Pacts from Future Sight also fall into this: They're very powerful spells for free, but you have to win the game that turn or be certain you'll have the mana available next turn to pay for it, otherwise it's an instant loss. Three of them still see varying amounts of play: Pact of Negation is the most widespread, as it keeps instant-win combos from being interrupted; Summoner's Pact is often played to fetch creature combo pieces, such as Primeval Titan; and Slaughter Pact is used as a surprise kill spell when otherwise out of mana. As for Intervention Pact and Pact of the Titan? They have their small niches, but are usually considered unplayable.
  • Any spell that requires more than two types of colored mana can become this. Three-color spells like Cruel Ultimatum (mentioned further down) can be worth the hassle, but four- and five-color spells are unlikely to make up the disadvantage of playing with a four- or five-colored deck and hoping that the opponent doesn't just steamroll you as you try to set up your field.
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  • Spawnsire of Ulamog's ability lets you play as many of the humongous Eldrazi cards as you want, right now, for no extra cost, and without even having to have them in your deck... if you can somehow get the whopping twenty mana it takes to activate it. It wouldn't be terrible, except that having all of your Eldrazi at once is almost always overkill—for just over half the mana cost as the Spawnsire of Ulamog, you could just cast Ulamog itself and skip the middleman.
  • The Elder Dragons (Arcades Sabboth, Chromium, Nicol Bolas, Palladia-Mors, and Vaevictis Asmadi), five cards with powerful stats and splashy effects (for their time period) but which were almost impossible to play thanks to their casting costs and requiring a constant influx of mana every turn to keep them in play.
  • In early Magic, most large creatures qualify. They may have impressive stats and possibly cool effects, but they're expensive and frequently come with upkeep costs and/or other hideous drawbacks. Modern creatures tend to both ditch the drawbacks and be larger and cheaper, even if they may not have as many abilities as the ones from Legends. Magic's early card designers didn't appreciate that giving a big creature a high mana cost was already a drawback.
    • Any of the legends from Legends: Large creatures with splashy effects, but very expensive and frequently with upkeep costs.
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    • Polar Kraken: an 11/11 trampler for 8UUU that enters the battlefield tapped. Its cumulative upkeep? Sacrificing a land.
    • Leviathan: a 10/10 for 5UUUU that forces you to sacrifice two Islands just to attack with it or untap it at the beginning of your upkeep.
    • Marjhan: 7/7 for 5UU. It only untaps if you're willing to spend UU and sacrifice a creature at the beginning of your upkeep. It's also sacrificed if you don't control an Island, and can't attack if your opponent doesn't control one.
  • Much like the Elder Dragons, Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. His +3 ability destroys a noncreature permanent (in addition to providing an obscene boost to his Loyalty), and his ultimate effectively leaves your opponent topdecking with very little resources. The catch? You need 8 mana, 4 of which need to be split into three different colors. That's never been an unattainable feat, but the same block had Nicol Bolas' signature spell Cruel Ultimatum in the same colors for one less mana that would almost always win the game when it was cast; Nicol Bolas, while still a kitchen table favorite to this day, was left on the sidelines as all the competitive decks opted for the seven-mana sorcery instead.
  • Planeswalkers' final abilities are either impressive or game-ending, but need multiple turns of constant defense such that you can accumulate enough loyalty counters to pay the cost. Keep in mind that most planeswalkers' loyalty-increasing abilities offer marginal defenses on their own. The few planeswalkers who can use their final ability much sooner typically have a more underwhelming effect. Thus, a planeswalker is often evaluated by their first few abilities which are often available as soon as they enter the battlefield.
  • Most Instant-Win Condition cards end up being impractical. While it's incredibly satisfying to use these spells and actually have them go off, and Battle of Wits has even seen some high-level tournament play, it's much more practical to use conventional means. Many of them are so slow that the game will most likely be over long before they finish charging, and if it does go on that long, you can probably win just as easily with, say, a large flying creature. Also, many instant-win cards only activate if their condition is true at the start of your turn, which means your opponent usually has a full turn to either destroy the card, invalidate the condition or finish you off (unless you can somehow create the right condition at instant speed just before the end of their turn). Some specific examples:
    • Darksteel Reactor and Helix Pinnacle are big, flashy, nigh-unkillable instant-win spells, but take forever to charge.
    • Oath of the Gatewatch introduced another one with Hedron Alignment: It's very unusual to draw all 4 copies of a card in a normal match, getting cards into exile is tough, and even then one discard spell, or a spell removing cards from exile or graveyard, from your opponent can ruin the entire thing.
    • Near-Death Experience requires you to be at exactly 1 life at the beginning of your upkeep.
    • Chance Encounter requires winning ten coin flips. Your opponent losing one does not count.
    • Mayael's Aria gives you an instant win if you manage to pump a creature to 20 power, which will likely win you the game anyway (although the card has other effects that make it slightly more useful) — attacking the opponent directly with a creature with 20 power usually means victory.
    • Battle of Wits requires you to have 200 or more cards in your library at the beginning of your upkeep. This has the unique disadvantage of giving away your main strategy before the game even starts: you need at least 201 cards in your deck, and preferably a bit more to have a realistic chance. Most players stick to the bare minimum of 60 cards in their deck to maximize their chance of drawing the card(s) they really want. The difference is very visible, and an opponent with the right cards can start planning right away. If you're exceptionally unlucky you could be onto Plan B before your first turn. Another issue unique to Battle of Wits that makes it almost unplayable in tournaments is shuffling, of all things. Sufficiently randomizing a ~300 card deck is exceedingly difficult and time-consuming. Battle of Wits decks are often filled to the brim with tutoring cards and fetchlands to give something resembling consistency to such a huge deck, and the deck must be thoroughly shuffled after each time one is used; playing it in a timely fashion in paper is nearly impossible.
  • The rather amusing combo that pairs Battle of Wits with Spawnsire of Ulamog's 20-mana activated ability to bring out 200 copies of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Being a Legendary creature, all but 1 copy of Emrakul would immediately need to be sacrificed to the Graveyard... but due to her triggered ability, all copies would go to the library instead, fulfilling Battle of Wits' condition and winning the game. This victory method is impractical not only due to the aforementioned drawbacks of using Spawnsire of Ulamog's ability, but also because copies of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn retail for roughly $25 each - and as such, would cost roughly $5,000 in cold, hard cash. Getting 200 copies in order to use the combo is something only a bored billionaire would go for. It also wouldn't work in tournament settings, where, in addition to the impracticality of 20 mana, Spawnsire of Ulamog can only summon Eldrazi in your 15-card sideboard and you're limited to 4 copies of a card in your deck + sideboard. A casual setting with more relaxed rules might allow it, if you just wanted to entertain some of your friends by casting 200 Eldrazi. In any case, you wouldn't really need Battle of Wits to win anyway- Emrakul's extra turn effect triggers when you cast it, so even using Spawnsire of Ulamog to cast 200 Emrakuls gives you 200 extra turns.
  • Triggering the ability of Door to Nothingness can be especially difficult. You have to have two mana of each of the five colors to trigger its ability, which is far from trivial to achieve. You also have to leave it sitting on the table for at least one full turn and hope it doesn't get destroyed. However, if you do succeed in this, the target player loses the game on the spot.
  • Epic spells. Printed in Saviors of Kamigawa, the Epic spells are five spells with awesome, flashy, and powerful effects, such as being able to mill out your opponent every turn or steal a permanent from their deck every turn, that repeat themselves at the player's upkeep. However, they come with the cost of the player being unable to cast any more spells for the rest of the game. This is a crippling drawback that resulted in only one of the five cards, Enduring Ideal seeing tournament play in the Modern format, since Enchantment decks can pillow fort and stall out the game long enough to manage to reach the seven mana required to cast Enduring Ideal and lock the opponent out of the game with layers of protection and resource denial (often comboing Dovescape, Overwhelming Splendor, and Form of the Dragon once Enduring Ideal is cast). The other four cards are never played due to taking too long to cast or being too underwhelming to justify their drawback.
  • The card Chalice of Life/Chalice of Death can make an opponent lose 5 life each turn. However, you have to not only keep it on the field and live long enough to take advantage of it, but also reach ten more than your starting life total just to transform it and get to use this ability.
  • The B. F. M. (Big Furry Monster) from the joke set Unglued: BBBBBBBBBBBBBBB is a huge cost, even for a 99/99; most games would be wrapping up by the time you got that kind of mana. Since each half is useless on its own, most reanimation spells don't work & Victimize is the only way to get it into play via the graveyard. It's not even clear if alternate costs like Fist of Suns would work, since it's unclear if each card is a separate spell and the only source for Un-set "errata" is Mark Rosewater speaking semi-officially on Tumblr.
  • Phage the Untouchable got a lot of attention when she first debuted due to her abilities; she instantly kills any creature she deals damage to, and any player that takes damage from her loses the game. To counterbalance this, Phage also has an ability where if she isn't cast from her controller's hand, that player loses the game. She's such a hassle to use properly that she got the derisive Fan Nickname "Phage the Unplayable". Opponents will probably have much larger creatures by the time you have 3BBBB handy to play her. Also, she doesn't have indestructible, first strike, or trample. Combos to get her into play from the graveyard or library just don't work. And she's still vulnerable to counterspells, blocking, instant-kill spells, and so on. Abilities in later editions render her deathtouch ability almost moot, and there are so many ways to get rid of her that it's almost not worth the trouble of setting up a combo to summon her. And just to twist the knife further, should you somehow manage to get her into play, your opponent can still "blink" Phage (that is, exile her and then return her to the battlefield, such as with Flicker). The result? Her first ability will trigger, see that you didn't cast her from your hand, and you lose.

    She's even worse in Commander, a format where unusual cards and interactions thrive, because casting her from your command zone does not count as casting from your hand... costing you the game on the spot. There are a few ways to avoid that note , but it's entirely possible to not draw any of them in a 100-card singleton deck.
  • The Invasion block's 5-color theme resulted in a ton of these:
    • Draco was a 9/9 for 6 mana.....provided you had all 5 basic land types in play. While the numerous ways to search your library for a given land card make it easier, you still have to build your deck around a Domain strategy for this to work, which has the unfortunate side effect of often leaving the player with too much land and too little of everything else. Since Domain checks for land types and not mana colors, the creature and artifact mana sources prevalent in the block couldn't help; you were also stuck with a nasty upkeep cost if you didn't have all 5 land types. Since then, though, a prevalence of dual-lands with basic land types, and Nylea's Presence have made it easier to cast.
    • In the same vein, Apocalypse had Last Stand: Each of its 5 effects would have been great on its ownnote , but putting them all on 1 WUBRG card note  results in a spell that really doesn't have a practical use: 5-color decks tend not to have too many of any 1 land typenote , so the spell's tough to cast & generally worse than low-cost cards in each color.
    • Invasion's cycle of three-colored legendary dragons. 6/6 with flying and a triggered ability for 6 was a good deal at the time & still is in Block Constructed, but the mana cost was 3CDE-even the set's strong multicolor theme couldn't make these viable.
  • Zurgo Helmsmasher, the leader of the Mardu from Khans of Tarkir, is a devastating hasty beatstick that is almost guaranteed to get at least one attack and gets bigger every time he kills something. Unfortunately for him, a) even in decks that can meet his tri-colour demand he's sharing space with Butcher of the Horde, which is tougher, cheaper, and can be used in multiples, and b) he dies so easily to removal in the enemy turn, even if he kills a chump blocker, that his lack of trample makes him largely useless. (He even dies fairly easily in his own turn if he's coming up against another deck with black in it - black gets a lot of -X/-X instants that do an end-run around his indestructibility.) Ironically, his alternate-timeline self from Dragons of Tarkir, which includes flavor text that he's fallen so far his enemy thinks he's Not Worth Killing, is so Boring Yet Practical (a 2/2 for 1 red, or dashed for a red and a colorless, with the only drawback being it can't chump block) that it became an instant mainstay in red decks.
  • Platinum Angel, a 4/4 flying creature with the effect "You can't lose the game and your opponent can't win the game". The catch? A mana cost of 7 and no protection against creature and/or artifact destruction/removal.
  • Savor the Moment from Shadowmoor lets you take an extra turn for only 1 more blue mana than Time Walk.... but at the cost of skipping your untap step. There might be a deck that could abuse this with upkeep or other automatic effects, but in most cases skipping the untap step reduces the extra turn to just drawing a card (or doing things postponed from the last turn).
  • Yawgmoth's Agenda lets you cast cards from your graveyard, making it a recurring version of the game-breaking Yawgmoth's Will. The catch? You can only cast one card per turn. So few decks can work around this constraint that it's near-useless rather than overpowered.
  • Lich effectively makes it impossible for you to lose the game while it's in play, provided you have enough permanents to feed to it (which is easily accomplished with a number of different deck types). The problem is that your opponent needs only a single disenchantment, or any other card that destroys enchantments, to instantly end the game.
  • Cards that remove cards from the battlefield if they're from certain expansions, such as City in a Bottle and Golgothian Sylex. While being able to remove a large portion of your opponent's cards is nice, the sets are so old that most people don't play them and playing these cards is bound to result in bickering about whether your opponent's card is removed.
  • Double-faced cards and the accompanying transform mechanic are this trope on a more meta level: While double-faced cards allow for some unique mechanics and spectacular art and flavor, they have a lot of unique logistical problems. They require special card-printing tech, you have to either use sleeves or special checklist cards to keep your opponents from seeing them in your hand, and so on.
  • The meld mechanic, an extension of transformation, takes the impracticality a little further. To meld, you need two very specific cards to initiate the Fusion Dance, which will necessitate tutors and very specific deckbuilding to use effectively. Should the single melded creature leave the battlefield for any reason, both components are lost, turning a simple removal spell into a card advantage surplus. Finally, because double-faced cards are public knowledge in drafting, your opponents in a draft can easily identify if you have half a meld and can take the other half to deny you full value.
  • A Redditer was able to set up a way to play a game of Uno from within a game of Magic. It only takes 29 cards in a specific order.
  • You instantly win the game if you can cast Coalition Victory, but doing so requires that you have all 5 basic land types and a creature of each color, a difficult feat even in decks built around a domain strategy.
    • The land part can be made easier with Nylea's Presence, Prismatic Omen, or multiple activations of Terraformer. As for the creatures, any WUBRG creature by itself, like Chromanticore, would work, but Reaper King and Transguild Courier make it easier. Even if you take the "easy" route, you still need to find a way to cast Coalition Victory itself, and pray that opponent doesn't kill your creature in response (which will cause it to resolve without any effect).
  • Dark Depths can get you an indestructible 20/20 flier. The catch? You have to sink 30 mana into removing all of the ice counters on it first. Even if you don't die trying to do that, your opponent will probably be able to deal with such a creature by the time you get it out. It doesn't help that Dark Depths is a land that can't produce mana. However, the release of Vampire Hexmage pushed it to plain Awesome — the Vampire costs two black mana and can be sacrificed to remove all the ice counters for free, which can get you a 20/20 as early as turn 3.
    • Thespian's Stage being activated to duplicate Dark Depths, but without the counters, can also get you a Turn 3 Marit Lage. Even more awesome when you're copying your opponent's Dark Depths instead, before they can even respond.
  • If you have an Iona, Shield of Emeria while a Mirror Gallery is on the battlefield, you can cast a kicked Rite of Replication which gives you five extra Ionas for each of the Magic colors, preventing your opponents from casting any colored spells at all. The problem, of course, is that aside from needing those exact three cards, they are all very costly (Mirror Gallery, the cheapest component, costs 5 mana, while Iona and a kicked Rite of Replication each cost 9), plus colorless spells exist that can take them out (such as All is Dust). There are many cheaper ways to prevent your opponent from casting spells, even if they have their own drawbacks such as Rule of Law.


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