There were a couple of thousand new MTG cards printed in 2023, but if there are just five worth knowing about, it’s these five. These are the best in show, the top Magic: The Gathering cards of the year.
To shape our list, we’ve examined the MTG 2023 release schedule, and looked back at all the MTG sets that came out this year. We’ve considered the cards that formed the best MTG Arena decks, but also thought about other MTG formats, especially the increasingly popular Commander.
- Atraxa, Grand Unifier – most impactful creature
- Sunfall – best board wipe
- Nissa, Ascended Animist – best planeswalker
- Sauron the Dark Lord – best new commander
- The One Ring/Orcish Bowmasters – strongest cards
1. Atraxa Grand Unifier
The most impactful creature of the year is Atraxa, Grand Unifier.
Atraxa, Grand Unifier is one of the best cards of the year, and you only have to glance at her card to understand why. This creature has a fantastic combination of stats and keywords, but more importantly, it provides amazing value. The ability to draw a bunch of cards the second she hits the field means even if you remove an opponent’s Atraxa, you still feel way behind.
Atraxa, Grand Unifier dominated Standard in the first months after Phyrexia All Will Be One, and she has remained a key player in ‘Domain’ decks throughout 2023. Because her ability is so helpful and versatile, the card is a cornerstone of a bunch of decks in basically every format. She’s a popular Commander for soupy good-stuff type decks, shows up in Modern and Pioneer, and there are even competitive Legacy and Vintage decks that cheat her into play.
Sunfall is the best board wipe MTG card – it’s practically one-sided!
March of the Machine gave us one of the best White board wipes ever printed. While it only hits creatures and costs five mana, Sunfall has a few great things going for it. First off all, it exiles, preventing your opponent benefitting from pesky death triggers. Secondly, it gives you a creature back, and the fuller your opponent’s board, the bigger that creature becomes.
Sunfall works really well in the more controlling kind of deck that runs few creatures. There’s something truly satisfying about the play pattern of dropping this card on your opponent, keeping your incubate token safe for their next turn, then transforming for two mana and beating down with a gigantic Phyrexian.
3. Nissa, Ascended Animist
Nissa, Ascended Animist is the best planeswalker MTG card of 2023.
This year has had fewer MTG planeswalkers than most, as Wizards of the Coast switched to a new policy of just having one in each set about halfway through the year. But one planeswalker card stands out in particular, and that’s evil Nissa.
Nissa comes with the flexibility of a variable mana cost, but what makes her truly fearsome is her +1 ability. Oko showed us how a planeswalker that generates creatures while ticking up in loyalty can be a force to be reckoned with, and while Nissa isn’t as hard to deal with as that apocalyptic prankster, she is still pretty menacing.
4. Sauron, the Dark Lord
The best new card for the Command zone is Sauron, the Dark Lord.
The Lord of the Rings set had some great MTG Commander options, and Sauron the Dark Lord is just the cream of a very fine crop. To give you some idea of its popularity: this card has cracked the top 50 on EDHREC at record speeds, racking up over 9000 MTG Commander decks.
Sauron the Dark Lord has a lot of merit beyond the awesome villain he depicts. For starters he engages with all the Lord of the Rings mechanics, from Amassing orcish armies to being Tempted by the ring. That incentivises players to build highly thematic decks using evil Lord of the Rings cards.
Sauron the Dark Lord packs unique ability on top of unique abilities, which makes him really fun to play. He has a strong form of protection which usually requires a player to sacrifice something very valuable, and he can even start drawing you cards once your hand gets depleted. Basically, this dark lord ticks all the boxes.
5. The One Ring / Orcish Bowmasters
Pick your champion: The One Ring or Orcish Bowmasters.
This one’s a tie because The One Ring and Orcish Bowmasters are both busted cards for loads of formats that came out in the same set, and we just couldn’t choose between them. While the One Ring is more versatile, being a colorless artifact spell that can go into any deck with space for it, Orcish Bowmasters is just as format-warping, making it really hard to play one mana creatures and punishing card draw hard.
Back to The Ring, this is simply an insane card draw spell, making you immune to damage for a turn and then absolutely going off with increasing amounts of card draw. It’s hard to deal with, and even if your opponents casts it into the fire, you still got some value from it.
But Bowmasters gives absurd value too. For just two mana you have a creature with flash that creates growing creatures, punishes players for drawing to find an answer, and can pick off other small creatures. The best answer for this card is itself, which can lead to many matches becoming a Bowmasters-off.
Sadly, that’s all we’ve got time for for now – there’s wrapping paper to clear and leftovers to munch. It’s a shame, as there are plenty of other great cards from this year worth highlighting.
Up The Beanstalk provided so much value it had to be added to the MTG banlist, and most recently the Discover mechanic proved equally problematic, basically giving Standard and Pioneer their own versions of MTG Cascade. MTG Doctor Who provided some really unique Suspend cards, and dozens of interesting Commanders tempted us to build new decks.
For now though, let’s tear our gaze away from all the mighty good cards of this year and look forward to the sets coming up on the 2024 MTG release schedule. Or, for a broader celebration, check out the Wargamer team’s favorite games of 2023.