Too-Specific Top 10 - 20/20
(Dark Depths | Art by Mathias Kollros)
A Tale of Two Twenties
Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn't a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Battle of Wits is the only "You win the game" card that can never win you a game of Commander?)
Going into as uniquely nomenclatured a year as 2020, there are bound to be articles on top of articles waiting to reference the heck out of that number...
...and we're no different, so get ready.
Top 10... 20 Cards?
That's right, this week we're going to be ranking all of the cards which include or allude to that all important number in Magic: The Gathering: 20.
Many years ago, during the initial design of the first collectible card game, Richard Garfield picked the number 20 as the default starting life total for his burgeoning game. While this total could change due to both cards that have been printed along the way and formats that were invented around them, the number has still held a lot of importance throughout Magic's history, and is therefore featured on many a card. When Blessed Wind was made in Prophecy, for instance, it was phrased directly as "Target player's life total becomes 20" instead of the future templating of cards attempting to return players to their starting life total. This was most likely because the number 20 was so ingrained at that time that it couldn't be fathomed why you would need to specify further.
Between that mechanical importance (and the fact that 20 is a nice round number that is generally enough to overwhelm without becoming inconceivable), there is a rather deep pool of cards featuring the number. Just to get specific, however, let's write out our to-the-letter criteria, as normal.
Criteria: Cards that include the numerical or written number 20 anywhere on their rules or flavor text. As is tradition, all results are ordered by how many decks they are included in on EDHREC.
Okay, that one was easier than normal. Let's get to it!
10. Darksteel Reactor
If you thought having a Helix Pinnacle with built-in shroud to help you gather your 100 counters was good, then how about an indestructible artifact win condition? Darksteel Reactor is a favorite of Proliferate decks the world over, although it's slowly starting to be phased out by Simic Ascendancy in the Simic "counters matter" decks (which is, you know... almost all of them). The ability to have a win condition that is not only cheaper but also directly affects the board is pretty huge, although at least for now the "why not both" mindset is still winning out.
9. Mayael's Aria
Speaking of +1/+1 counters, Mayael's Aria does a great job of putting them on your creatures in addition to gaining you enough life that you've practically won the game. Oh, and if you have a creature with power 20 or greater, it will just go ahead and actually win you the game as well. While most times this will get removed before the board ever lets you get to that point, it's still a nice threat to have for the late game in case your opponents aren't packing a Disenchant, or just to make your creatures huge and win the good old-fashioned way.
8. Visions of Beyond
Whether you're playing mill or self-mill or just good old-fashioned Storm, there are a lot of ways you'll encounter some very full graveyards in a game of EDH. If you can manage to luck into that situation, then Visions of Beyond practically renames itself to Ancestral Recall, in a long tradition of cards trying to give a shoutout to the way-too-good Power Nine cantrip...
...almost all of which have been banned in some format or another, because it turns out that even cards just trying to give a shoutout to the most powerful draw spell in Magic are much too good for most formats.
This is not true of Visions of Beyond quite yet, as the round number of 20 cards in a graveyard is much more difficult to achieve than the mere seven needed to turn Treasure Cruise into a one-mana spell. Plus, I mean, it's not like every cantrip has been banned from Modern, right? Right?
7. Jace, Memory Adept
While Jace might be most famous for having his own memory wiped so many times that you worry about his mental stability, Mill Jace is better at pulling that same trick on others. A rate of ten cards a turn is pretty darn fast when it comes to mill strategies, but given that it's nice to draw cards every once in a while, too, Jace, Memory Adept's ultimate of forcing however many players you want to draw 20 cards makes players +1 him a bit more than they maybe should. Gotta keep your eyes on the prize, Mill decks!
6. Star of Extinction
When this card was first spoiled, it was a Timmy & Tammy dream come true. Fast forward a couple years, and it turns out that for EDH, it's kind of everyone's dream come true. 20 damage to creatures and planeswalkers is not only enough to fully wipe all but the tallest of boards, but also often has a tendency to get redirected through Stuffy Doll effects to end games. Staple what seems like an innocuous land removal onto all of that, and you have what's rapidly becoming a staple in 'big mana' decks that can afford to pay the seven. All in all, however, I think my favorite match here is with Firesong and Sunspeaker. It's hard to overstate how much of a swing it is to wipe the board, get rid of that problem Glacial Chasm, and gain 200 life, all in one go.
5. Simic Ascendancy
I buried the lede here a bit by comparing Simic Ascendancy and Darksteel Reactor in the #10 slot, but there's still more room to gush about everyone's favorite new win condition from 2019. At two mana to cast and three mana to activate, Simic Ascendancy can win games through sheer board advantage fairly easily. What's scary about it, however, is how easy it is to get to the win condition itself in decks dedicated to the +1/+1 counter theme. Seeing dozens of +1/+1 counters appear in just one turn is something we're frankly quite used to seeing in a typical game of EDH, so the fact that it can innocuously win you the game once you've made it around to your upkeep is more than just a little window dressing.
4. Dark Depths
I got a little flack for Dark Depths not technically qualifying for top 10 status on our "Top 10 Cards That Care About Snow" list, so it's good to see it get some official recognition. Add to that that it's about as on-theme as it gets by actually creating a 20/20, and it's kind of tragic that it didn't actually nab the #1 spot on this "2020" list. We'll just have to see if we can do something about that, won't we?
3. Jace Beleren
It turns out that even outside of life totals, Jace still wants to make a point with his ultimates. If you manage to have each player draw a card and keep Jace Beleren protected for four turns straight, then you can point the wispy blue laser cannon at a target opponent and have them mill not-inconsequential 20 cards into their graveyard. To return to the whole theme of amnesia, however, you will notice that you can point that cannon at yourself as well....
2. Hellkite Tyrant
The fourth and last of the "You Win the Game" cards to make this list, Hellkite Tyrant was also #2 on our Top 10 Alternate Win-cons list (Simic Ascendancy was actually #8 as well). Indeed, the number 20 is a theme when it comes to "You Win the Game" effects, appearing on six cards total which allow you to win the game outside of the normal damage and mill effects.
Of all of them, however, Hellkite Tyrant is probably the most noteworthy in EDH specifically, as it will often win you the game on the first swing, whether you trigger its 20 artifact rider or not. Swinging for six with flample followed up by suddenly owning six more mana rocks will do that.
1. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
The saying goes that if you're going to play a card that costs more than six mana, it should win you the game. Well, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger doesn't disappoint, even at ten mana. Before it even enters the battlefield, you get to exile two permanents, and then every time you swing in with the indestructible 10/10 you have the defending player exile 20 cards from their library. If that doesn't end games, I can't imagine what would. Now, if only there were several dozen different ways you could "cast" a ten mana card without having to actually pay ten mana....
The True 2020 List
It's a short list, but the true winners of the honorary 2020 list are obviously those that actually reference the number 20 twice on the card. Does that seem like I nitpicked my way into a list that included my pet card Illusions of Grandeur? Well, maybe so. But hey, I do warn you in every list intro!
What Do You Think?
2020 is finally here, and the hype has been building fast with the announcement of five different Commander products to come. So with that in mind, which one are you looking forward to the most, Commander players?
Finally, what cards did I miss? Why do you think the number 20 is so prevalent in Magic: The Gathering?Why didn't I go out of my way to sneak Goblin Bomb in here somewhere?
Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the "why are you talking so loud, I just need a hangover burger after that New Year's party" table!