Superior Numbers - Your Favorite Card Sucks

Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens

Welcome to Superior Numbers, where I try to do numerical analysis on cards and deckbuilding trends using a little bit of math.

Your favorite card sucks. At least, when I play it in my decks. And my favorite cards might well suck when you play them in your decks. That's because we're different people. You like poetry and I like fiction. You eat your vegetables first, and I eat the steak. Your mom thinks about you when she sees a happy family, and your mom thinks about me... at other times. We're different, and how we play is different, and it's these differences that wind up affecting how good certain cards are in each of our hands, and I want to talk about a few of them.

When I originally started writing for EDHREC, I talked a lot about cards that were almost never good in your deck compared to dozens of alternatives, things like Cancel and Manalith and Naturalize. That isn't the case here, however. This article is going to look at cards that are generally very, very good. They're just not good in decks I brew meshed with the way I play, and looking at why that might hopefully help you look at why some cards that are otherwise great don't seem that way when you play them.

Bright Copper Kettles and Warm Woolen Mittens

Faithless Looting is a powerhouse, seeing play in over 27,000 decks on EDHREC. That makes it the 4th most played red card in the format. It's a legit cog in cEDH decks, too, showing up in decks like Kess, Dissident Mage Storm, and it was disruptive enough in Modern to get banned. It's a fantastic card, and this isn't a hot take trying to argue otherwise. Because of this reputation, I've run it in multiple decks over the years, from Brion Stoutarm to Archangel Avacyn to Lathliss, Dragon Queen. Still, no matter the deck, it never felt good to draw. It wasn't until the release of Light Up the Stage, though, that I realized why it felt that way.

First, let's look at what Faithless Looting does well:

  1. It filters down to the specific card(s) you want for a combo or play line.
  2. It's a cheap and efficient way to generate two spells for Storm or other cast triggers.
  3. Puts cards in the yard for multiple graveyard interactions ranging from reanimation to fueling things like Delve or triggering draw from Rielle, the Everwise.
  4. Finds that land you need to keep going early, or hopefully trades land cards for nonland cards later.

A whole ton of decks want to do any number of those things. If you're playing out of your graveyard, for example, Faithless Looting almost feels like a draw four for a single red mana. Some decks, like Kess, Dissident Mage, take advantage of all four things Looting does well. Just look at the most popular red commanders in the last two years and you can immediately see how almost all of them interact favorably with Looting. Lord Windgrace heads 2,890 decks and is the 6th most popular commander in the last two years, and he absolutely loves the idea of you pitching a few lands to a Loot.

The three decks of mine that I mentioned above? Brion Stoutarm and whatnot? They didn't want to do any of those things, really, at least not in the way that I had them built. They weren't combo decks or builds looking for a particular game-winning line, there wasn't any Storm going on, and there wasn't any reason to intentionally bin stuff for any reason, either. The fourth reason is rather universal in any deck, but it's also not a thing that only Faithless Looting accomplishes, and it's the kind of thing that only accounts for a fairly narrow slice of game time.

I didn't really realize any of those things until I replaced Looting with Light Up the Stage in a red deck, and it became apparent that what I really wanted was just raw card draw. I wanted more actual cards in hand, not particular cards in hand. That isn't true for everyone, or maybe even most people, but for my decks and my playstyle, it was, and that's when I realized Faithless Looting just isn't a card for me, given the way I was building in red and the way I was playing. I'm probably not the only one, either. While it remains an excellent card, I would bet that a few of those 27,016 decks running Looting might be better off joining the mere 1,825 running Light up the Stage, especially if you're in a meta like mine where cards aren't often allowed to sit in a graveyard long enough to take advantage of the Flashback.

Cream-Colored Ponies and Crisp Apple Strudels

When is a modal spell not a modal spell? When you only ever use one mode. And again, to be clear, this is a me thing. You might be using Disallow to shut down Aetherflux Reservoir activations or Archmage's Charm to steal 14/14 tokens made by a Phyrexian Rebirth in every game. For me? 99% of the time Disallow was a Cancel and Archmage's Charm was a Cancel that was harder to cast.

Now, sometimes a modal card comes with a mode that you never use, but it doesn't matter because the opportunity cost is nothing. I don't think I've yet cast Return of the Wildspeaker for the +3/+3 mode. Nothing is lost by doing that, though, as even without that mode it's still generally a better Soul's Majesty. I'd probably run Return if it was just the draw half of the card. That's not true of Disallow; I wouldn't run it just for the counter at 1UU, and there is an opportunity cost being paid for not using the other modes, namely an extra mana over other alternatives each time I cast it. If you aren't at least occasionally using it to Stifle something, it's just a Cancel, and Cancel is a terrible card.

As for Archmage's Charm, you do have the alternative to cast it as a draw effect if you don't use the counter, so the mana you held up doesn't go to waste, but UUU to draw 2 doesn't feel particularly great, either. As with Disallow (and unlike Return of the Wildspeaker) it's a card where that cost for those modes isn't worth it alone. Also, I realized that, when I was playing it, the times I was willing to hold up mana for a counterspell, it was probably because I was trying to prevent something from happening, or happening to me, and just because that thing didn't happen during that spin around the table didn't mean I was willing to burn my only counterspell to draw two cards.

They're both great cards, but for me and for how I'm building and playing they just didn't work as well as the less expensive Counterspells that almost always did the same thing as these spells but at a lower mana cost.

Doorbells and Sleigh Bells and Schnitzel with Noodles

First off, don't @ me with how great wheels are in your deck built to do powerful things with wheels. Yep, they're excellent in Nekusar, the Mindrazer or The Locust God. They're also excellent in decks that tend to empty their hand early and fast, or ones that want to fill their yard, or ones running things like Narset, Parter of Veils that render them absurdly lopsided. Consider your glasses pushed up and me well-actuallied. Wheels, in the same vein as Faithless Looting, Disallow and Archmage's Charm, are great in the right deck and in the right hands, and it's entirely possible that, given Wheel of Fortune is in 11,334 decks and Reforge the Soul is in another 13,773, there're a whole lot of right decks and right hands out there.

It's just that my decks aren't those decks, and my hands aren't those hands.

In my red decks (or even blue decks, to account for wheels like Time Reversal and Day's Undoing) I'm not doing any of those things. My particular decks aren't getting triggers from drawing or aren't emptying their hands early, they're not looking to play from the yard, or to Leovold anyone's hand. What do wheels do in my decks? They give 7 new cards to me and 21 new cards to people trying to kill me.

That's terrible math, at least for me in my decks.

These Are a Few of My Least Fav'rite Things

So what cards are out there that are generally absolute haymakers that just don't quite work for you, specifically, and why is it that they don't work? Sound off below, because hearing about specific instances is something I find really helpful when it comes to diagnosing problems and issues with brews and builds.

Until next time, may your numbers be superior!

Tymaret the Murder King: Infected Wounds

Commander (1)
Creatures (21)
Artifacts (12)
Instants (9)
Enchantments (8)
Sorceries (13)
Lands (36)

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Dana is one of the hosts of the EDHRECast and the CMDR Central podcast. He lives in Eau Claire, WI with his wife and son. He has been playing Magic so long he once traded away an Underground Sea for a Nightmare, and was so pleased with the deal he declined a trade-back the following week. He also smells like cotton candy and sunsets.