The mythic hit list – mythic or not?

So what makes a good mythic? What differentiates a mythic from a rare? Why do I have a Princess Mononoke themed Thornling side-by-side with the real card?
As a regular listener to any number of Magic podcasts, I’ve heard variations on this question come up again and again. My take on the idea behind what makes a mythic is very simple:
Opening a mythic should be awesome.
Just that. Something about the mythic, some combination of its traits and flavor should make that experience of opening a pack thrilling – something that makes me glad I’m opening packs.
To clarify, I only ever open packs if I win them as prizes. Nonetheless, I think this is the clear best standard for mythics, and it’s one that I’ve experienced with the Uniques in Mechwarrior and the Very Rares in Star Wars Miniatures.
With that in mind, I’ve gone through all the mythics to date and rated them on how appropriate they are as mythics. Click through to the extended to see how close to the mark Wizards are in making mythics, well, mythic.

A quick note – I operate on the general rule that planeswalkers automatically rate mythic. It’s almost like opening a pack and finding a friend, which is pretty tremendous if you think about it. That said, I also evaluate the awesomeness of their individual abilities.
Shards of Alara
Ajani Vengeant – Yes. Planeswalker, with the bonus of a jawdropping ultimate ability and reasonable everything else.
Elspeth, Knight-Errant – Yes. Planeswalker, with a crazy ultimate and a two “plus” abilities.
Empyrial Archangel – Yes. An unkillable angel that makes you unkillable.
Godsire – Yes. An 8/8 that makes 8/8s.
Hellkite Overlord – Yes. It’s an 8/8 flying, trample, haste dragon.
Kresh the Bloodbraided – Yes. It’s a build-around me legendary creature that gets huge quite quickly.
Lich’s Mirror – Yes. Weird, dramatic, build-around-me card.
Mayael the Anima – Yes. Flavorful legendary creature tied into the set.
Prince of Thralls – Yes. Game-changer with a spectacular effect.
Rafig of the Many – Yes. The distilled essence of a Bant creature.
Sarkhan Vol – Yes. Planeswalker with an exciting, if unrealistic, ultimate.
Sedris, the Traitor King – Yes. Legendary creature with a dramatic game-shifting effect.
Sharuum the Hegemon – Maybe. If it weren’t legendary, it would feel a bit meat-and-potatoes.
Sphinx Sovereign – Maybe. Feels like a functional control creature.
Tezzeret the Seeker – Yes. Planeswalker with a nifty build-around-me theme.
Apocalypse Hydra – Yes. Ridiculous fatty with an appropriate name.
Child of Alara – Yes. Highly thematic creature with a flashy but hard-to-use effect.
Conflux – Yes. Search spell writ large and ridiculous.
Ethersworn Adjudicator – No. Utility creature with the flavor of a normal rare.
Maelstrom Archangel – Yes. An angel with a powerful effect that epitomizes the theme of the set.
Malfegor – Yes. A dramatic but hard-to-use creature that carefully balances impact and drawback, thematically matching its creature type.
Mirror-Sigil Sergeant – Yes. Harder to employ than it seems, but with promises of a spectacular, game-ending effect.
Nicolas Bolas, Planeswalker – Yes. Planeswalker, with all of its abilities being exciting.
Progenitus – Yes. The core legend of the set, with an ability that generates a double take.
Thornling – Maybe. Would be a yes, but the art makes it look like a super bison.
Alara Reborn
Defiler of Souls – Yes. A fatty that generates a progressively game-altering state, as well as epitomizing the idea of the set.
Dragon Broodmother – Yes. A dragon that makes baby dragons that eat each other.
Jenara, Asura of War – Yes. An angel that can get infinitely (theoretically) huge.
Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund – Yes. A dragon that rules all the other dragons.
Lord of Extinction – Maybe. It’s huge, but not immediately obviously huge.
Maelstrom Nexus – Yes. Completely alters how the game works…at least for you.
Sen Triplets – Yes. A “Johnny Fatty” – a card that offers a dramatic, game-changing effect, but which isn’t nearly as easy to use as one might hope.
Sphinx of the Steel Wind – Yes. A cavalcade of welcome abilities on a big body.
Thraximundar – Maybe. Would be a “Yes” if I could tell what the art is supposed to show.
Uril, the Miststalker – Yes. A legendary creature with a cool set of abilities.
Ajani Goldmane – Yes. Planeswalker, with a couple solid abilities and a deceptively exciting ultimate.
Baneslayer Angel – Yes. Wonder Woman with protection from demons and dragons.
Bogardan Hellkite – Yes. It’s a giant dragon that smacks your opponent’s face.
Chandra Nalaar – Yes. Planeswalker with an exciting ultimate and a good second ability. The first ability is a little unexciting, however — too pingy.
Darksteel Colossus – Yes. Super fatty.
Garruk Wildspeaker – Yes. Planeswalker that makes beasts and overruns.
Jace Beleren – Yes. Planeswalker.
Liliana Vess – Yes. Planeswalker, with tutoring power and a spectacular ultimate.
Master of the Wild Hunt – Yes. Game-altering ability that can dramatically swing games.
Platinum Angel – Yes. You can’t lose!
Protean Hydra – Yes. It’s a fatty, but more to the point, it top-down works like a hydra should.
Sphinx Ambassador – Yes. Captures the feeling of a sphinx well, although this is a good candidate for best modern tl;dr card.
Time Warp – Yes. Dude, an extra turn.
Vampire Nocturnus – Yes. The vampire lord, who makes vampires big at night.
Xathrid Demon – Yes. Big, splashy demon that does demon-y things.
Chandra Ablaze – Yes. Planeswalker, with pretty cool abilities and a staggering ultimate.
Eldrazi Monument – Yes. Splashy and game swinging.
Eternity Vessel – Yes. Splashy effect, albeit one that’s generally far worse than it seems.
Felidar Sovereign – Maybe. The “you win the game” effect pushes it toward mythic, but it is otherwise mostly a big, lifelinked fatty.
Iona, Shield of Emeria – Yes. She turns off a color.
Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet – Yes. Big poppa vampire, eating your enemies and resurrecting them on your team.
Lorthos, the Tidemaker – Yes. Giant death octopus, with one tapdown per tentacle.
Lotus Cobra – Yes. The promise of a turn four Violent Ultimatum, however shaky it is, places this firmly in mythic.
Mindbreak Trap – No. This feels like a very meat-and-potatoes counterspell, even if it’s actually much cooler than that.
Nissa Revane – Yes. Planeswalker, with a nifty, highly thematic ability.
Ob Nixilis, the Fallen – Yes. Super landfall game-ender.
Obsidian Fireheart – No. Feels more like a random rare.
Rampaging Baloths – Yes. Fatty that makes 4/4s!
Sorin Markov – Yes. Planeswalker who builds up to Mindslavering your opponent.
Warren Instigator – Yes. Turn three Siege-Gang, right?
Abyssal Persecutor – Yes. A 6/6 demon for four mana, but you can’t win! Scary but cool.
Admonition Angel – Yes. A fatty that turns your lands into O-Rings.
Avenger of Zendikar – Maybe. Making a bunch of 0/1s is not intuitively exciting, and the name and art don’t sell the card.
Comet Storm – No. It’s a Fireball.
Dragonmaster Outcast – Yes. A “not as good as it looks” awesome card that makes dragons.
Eye of Ugin – Yes. In light of Rise, this is an awesome card to pull because it lets you cast your fatties.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor – Yes. Planeswalker, with insanely good abilities and a truly game-ending ultimate.
Novablast Wurm – Yes. A Timmy creature with a Timmy effect – “Kill everything!”
Omnath, Locus of Mana – Yes. Offers the promise of ridiculous ramping much in the vein of Lotus Cobra.
Wrexial, the Risen Deep – Yes. A funky fatty with a Timmy Johnny effect.
Rise of the Eldrazi
All is Dust – Yes. Sacrifice all colored permanents? Indeed.
Cast Through Time – Yes. Much like Maelstrom Nexus, makes it so that you’re playing a fundamentally different game from your opponents.
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn – Yes. Duuuude. 15/15 Time Walk.
Gideon Jura – Yes. Planeswalker, and it can turn into a creature and smack your opponent around.
Hellcarver Demon – Yes. A 6/6 all-in Mind’s Desire.
Kargan Dragonlord – Maybe. The ultimate is cool, but have to readjust your outlook to think that “a vanilla 2/2 can be mythic.”
Khalni Hydra – Yes. An 8/8 trample on turn [early]? Awesome.
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth – Yes. Rahr. The best Eldrazi art by far.
Lighthouse Chronologist – Yes. Even with the long path to get there, the ultimate promises insanity.
Linvala, Keeper of Silence – Yes. Seems crushing, even though it isn’t.
Nirkana Revenant – Yes. Promises vast power for the vampire Timmies among us.
Sarkhan the Mad – Yes. Planeswalker, and turns dudes into dragons.
Transcendant Master – Yes. Even though it’s a long walk, the top level is amazing.
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre – Yes. An indestructible Eldrazi.
Vengevine – Maybe. A recurring attacker seems kind of meat-and-potatoes, even if the haste makes it an aggro standout. Makes me wonder if Ichorid would be mythic as well.
So the overall conclusion I’ve come to is that the mythics tend to feel genuinely mythic to me. Let’s check out the ones that toe the line or just blow right over it:
The maybe list
Avenger of Zendikar
Felidar Sovereign
Kargan Dragonlord
Lord of Extinction
Sharuum the Hegemon
Sphinx Sovereign
Notably, a few entries on the maybe list are here because of flavor issues. Avenger of Zendikar just looks and sounds like a lame card — do you want to pull Swamp Thing out of a pack? Do you want to do that and learn that he makes 0/1s? Would you be happier about the 0/1s if the art and name were cooler? Probably. Similarly, Thraximundar fails because the art looks like someone just went crazy with a brown marker and no clear plan. I was shocked the first time I read Thraximundar’s type line and realized it was supposed to be a Zombie. And Thornling as “super bison” really detracts from an otherwise awesome card. Why can’t it look like the mockup I put up at the top of this post?
After all, isn’t this…
Cooler than this?
Sphinx Sovereign, Sharuum, Felidar, and Vengevine all feel sort of “functional but not exciting.” I’m not wowed when I open the pack and see them as my penultimate card.
Finally, Kargan Dragonlord earned an asterisk based on the fact that we’re not yet used to Levelers…it’s possible that in a month, it won’t feel like a maybe to me.
The no list
Comet Storm
Ethersworn Adjudicator
Mindbreak Trap
Obsidian Fireheart
A Fireball, a dude that kills dudes, a counterspell, and a red creature with a burn effect. None of these take my breath away in any intuitive way, although as a Johnny I appreciate the cleverness of Mindbreak Trap’s design.
Overall, I think R&D has a solid hit rate with mythics, and it’s good to keep in mind that in some cases the differentiation between mythic and non-mythic comes down to flavor rather than other aspects of the card. So far, I’m happy with the feeling of mythics…
…or am I? The second half of this question, naturally, is whether any of the rares out there really “ought to be” mythic. Look for that post in the very near future.

3 thoughts on “The mythic hit list – mythic or not?

  1. You consider a lot more of them as hits than I do… I don’t think cheap 4-of cards like Lotus Cobra or Warren Instigator have any business being mythic, or even Vengevine (which is basically a Bloodghast). There needs to be a Timmy appeal to a mythic, and it should be a card that’s a suitable 1-of in a casual deck.
    I also disagree on Obsidian Fireheart. The ability is more than a usual burn effect because of its inevitability, saying “even if you kill this thing, you’re still going to die”. That’s an awesome feeling for a red mage.
    Cruel Ultimatum strikes me as the best example of a rare that should have been mythic.

  2. @Phil –
    Lotus Cobra and Warren Instigator both work for me because they promise awesomeness, but actually deliver it in a pretty unstable fashion. Although I agree that there’s a clear “Timmy” appeal to mythics, I think it’s broader than the usual Timmy demographic.
    Lotus Cobra is a Spike-Timmy card, for example. The Spikes there see the card and start drooling at the upside…and as we saw, it takes a while to even out and realize it’s a decent card, but not a ridiculous one. Mike Flores’ first article on Daily MTG about Lotus Cobra is a good example of the Spike-Timmy emotional response, where he’s dreaming of early Ultimatums and calling the Cobra the best two-drop ever. Later one, we’ve realized it can be contextually awesome (e.g. in the Mythic deck) but it’s not a Goyf — not a tournament staple in every deck with even a hint of green.
    So to me, if it does that gut punch “Holy crap, this card is awesome!” for any one of the demographics, it’s a worthy mythic — and a good hallmark of this is that it tends to draw overestimation from us on the our first pass.
    I do like the “suitable one of” test you propose, but I think Lotus Cobra passes that test — I would have put my single Lotus Cobra into my deck if I had opened one way back when in high school, much as I ran my single Library of Alexandria. Sure, four would have been nice, but one was still awesome.
    I agree on Cruel, by the way. The entire Ultimatum cycle seems like a concept tailor-made for mythic, and I’m not clear if they were made rare out of a fear of having overly expensive tournament playables (even if only one of them was really commonly played) or for some other reason.

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