As usual, Wizards of the Coast has released an awful lot of MTG cards in 2023. In fact, the final count racks up to a staggering 4,773 cards released this year alone. If you add in all the myriad variants too, that number soars to a, quite frankly obscene, 9,790. Within this exhaustive list, Wizards has printed myriad powerful, exciting, and downright format-warping cards. The question remains, however, which one is best?
To start to answer that question, as is customary for this time of year, we have an end-of-year awards ceremony. Here, we’ll be going over our top picks from 2023 before awarding the coveted title of MTG Card of the Year. Between reprints, bans, surprises, and… Rancor there’s certainly a lot to go over. So, without any further ado, welcome to MTG Rocks’ 2023 Card of the Year awards!
Worst Card of the Year | Mardu Blazebringer
To kick things off on a less-than-positive note, 2023 did feature some real stinkers. As usual, the majority of these cards are simply Draft chaff. So bad that they’re often discarded and left on FNM tables, these cards don’t serve any purpose outside of Limited. While the moniker of Draft Chaft is damning enough, within this category there are some true, utterly dire duds.
For 2023, the worst card, by far in our opinion, is Mardu Blazebringer. Originally printed in 2014, this card has made its glorious return as part of Khans of Tarkir on MTG Arena. Here, Mardu Blazebringer is next to useless, as attacking or blocking will kill it after combat.
Technically, Mardu Blazebringer can trigger Ferocious and Raid, thanks to their marginally positive stats. This, however, doesn’t redeem them, as there are 60 4/4’s for 3 in Magic. While not all of these are fantastic, at least they don’t kill themselves at the first opportunity.
As if being bad wasn’t enough, Mardu Blazebringer was only released on MTG Arena in 2023. This means that fewer players than usual are going to see or play with this card, hurting its overall standing. Alongside this, Mardu Blazebringer is almost guaranteed to see no constructed play. Anyone who does jam this monstrosity into a desk is likely doing it for a meme.
Reprint of the Year | Doubling Season
In a year chockablock with reprints, there is no shortage of cards to choose from in this category. Thanks to Universes Beyond sets, Secret Lairs, and full-on reprint sets, there are literally thousands of potential options. Out of these, however, none have been quite as useful as Doubling Season.
Thanks to doubling the amount of tokens and counters you create, Doubling Season is obscenely useful. As a result, an immense number of Commander decks make use of this card. To date, over 128,000 decks use this iconic value engine. As a result, copies of the card aren’t cheap, to say the least.
Understanding this, Wizards has often used Doubling Season as a prized reprint in a set. Between Modern Masters, Battlebond, and Double Masters, Doubling Season isn’t an uncommon sight. Despite this trio of reprints, the price of the card has remained staggeringly high. Before 2023, a single Doubling Season would set you back around $85!
Thankfully, that all changed this year as Doubling Season was reprinted not just once, but twice! Appearing in Commander Masters and the Enchanting Tales bonus sheet, the price of Doubling Season has dropped dramatically. From highs of around $85 last year, Doubling Season is now just $35. Considering how widely played Doubling Season, there’s no doubt in our mind that this reprint was the best of 2023.
Most Controversial Card of the Year | Nissa, Resurgent Animist
On their own, Nissa, Resurgent Animist isn’t exactly the most controversial card this year. That honor, instead, may well go to The One Ring or Geoligical Appraiser. Loved and lamented for their format-warping power, there’s no questioning the impact these cards had on MTG. Despite the strength of these cards and the frustrations players have had with them, they’re the biggest controversy of 2023.
For better or worse, there’s no beating March of the Machine: The Aftermath, when it comes to controversy. Not only was this MTG’s first-ever micro-set but it was also leaked extensively before release. Typically, this isn’t too uncommon, as leaks do tend to happen with physical products. March of the Machine: The Aftermath, however, took everything to a new problematic level.
Rather than just one or two cards being leaked, a YouTuber, oldschoolmtg, managed to almost leak the entire set. Since there were only 50 cards to reveal, this wasn’t too difficult to achieve, however, Wizards still wasn’t happy. Wizards and Hasbro were so unhappy, in fact, that they reportedly sent the Pinkertons to oldschoolmtg’s house.
As you can imagine, this didn’t go down well with the MTG community given the Pinkertons’ history. For weeks Wizards faced intense backlash from the community and media alike. While this did die down once future MTG sets started to be spoiled and released, it’s nevertheless a dark mark on 2023’s record. Unfortunately for Nissa, Resurgent Animist, they’re the most popular and widely seen card from this set, so they have to pick up the award on its behalf.
Most Surprising Card of the Year | Up the Beanstalk
Following its release in Wilds of Eldraine, Up the Beanstalk has been absolutely everywhere. Despite this, however, before the set’s release, while some players were paying attention to it, no one expected it to warp two formats. At first, it just seemed like a decent card draw engine in Green for a big stompy deck, which is nothing new. Once the set was released, however, players quickly clocked on to this uncommon card’s insane potential.
When played alongside Modern’s Evoke Elementals, such as Solitude, Up the Beanstalk is utterly insane. Even when being Evoked by exiling a card, Solitude will still trigger Up the Beanstalk, potentially replacing the casting cost. Depending on your draw, this can essentially make the effect of the relevant Evoke Elementals completely free!
Exploiting this practically free value and gas, Up the Beanstalk quickly became a Modern staple. Played alongside Fury, Leyline Binding, and even Time Warp these cards were absolutely everywhere. As a result of this, Wizards decided to take action in December and banned Up the Beanstalk alongside Fury.
Despite being banished from Modern, Up the Beanstalk continues to be an incredibly powerful and useful card. Seeing play within Legacy, Commander, and even Standard, this uncommon is absurdly strong. Up the Beanstalk might just be the most powerful uncommon from 2023, and very few MTG players saw it coming.
Cutest Card of the Year | Poison Dart Frog
In 2023, Wizards of the Coast and the talented team of MTG artists have created some absolutely outstanding pieces of art. While we could look at these all day, and even hang them in galleries, unfortunately, art is a subjective subject. What one player may love as the best thing ever, another player may despise more than anything.
Thanks to this constant divide due to opinions, divining the best MTG art of 2023 is an almost impossible feat. Despite this, however, there is one detail that most MTG players seem to be able to agree on. Poison Dart Frog is absolutely cute as a button.
Released as part of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, this adorable poisonous frog quickly stole the hearts of many MTG players. After looking at their adorable face for a mere moment, we can’t deny that they’ve enamored us too. Sure they might be occasionally deadly to touch, but how could you not love them?!
Ban of the Year | Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
Throughout 2023, Standard has been in a very troubled spot thanks to deeply repetitive play patterns. Unfortunately, at the end of 2023, we’re still facing that same issue, however, it’s at least not as bad as it once was! This follows the highly requested and much-needed ban to Fable of the Mirror-Breaker in May.
Prior to this banning, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker offered any deck with a splash of red incredible value. Capable of generating treasure tokens, looting cards, and then becoming a copy engine, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker did it all. Thanks to this, the card was everywhere, with games often revolving around who resolved theirs first.
As the most popular card in Standard for a long time, the ban it received was a long time coming. Following its ban, the Standard meta has been in a healthier place, with a more diverse range of decks available. While this is obviously a good thing, unfortunately, the new three-year rotation of Standard is keeping things a little stale. Despite this, however, we can’t understate just how needed the ban of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker was.
Commander of the Year | Sauron, the Dark Lord
Throughout 2023, Wizards of the Coast has printed a lot of incredible Commanders. Between new Typal support, iconic Commander reprints, and compelling Universes Beyond cards, there’s no end of options. Out of the 787 potential Commanders that have been printed this year, however, one must reign supreme. Rather aptly the Commander achieves this impressive feat is Sauron, the Dark Lord.
Ranking as the 47th most-played Commander in the past two years, there’s no questioning Sauron, the Dark Lord’s popularity. Used within a staggering 9100+ decks, this brand-new Commander is absolutely everywhere. From just looking at Sauron, the Dark Lord, it’s easy to see why they’re 2023’s powerhouse pick.
Not only does Sauron, the Dark Lord boast a deadly 7/6 body, but each of their abilities is obscene. Difficult to remove thanks to Ward, punishing to opponents thanks to Amass, and a card draw goldmine through The Ring Tempts You, this Sauron does it all. Sure, they might be expensive to cast, but that doesn’t stop cards like Edgar Markov.
At the end of the day, if you’re looking to build an Amass deck, Sauron, the Dark Lord is the obvious choice. The same is true if you’re building a villain-focused Lord of the Rings-themed deck. Thanks to this, it’s no wonder that Sauron, the Dark Lord beats out the competition to be the best, and most popular, Commander from 2023.
Set of the Year | The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth
Thankfully, while there are a lot of cards to choose from this year, only ten MTG sets were released in 2023. While this is still a remarkably high number compared to the past, it does make picking that much easier. The fact that The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth was released also helps this process, since this set was stellar.
As the first-ever Draftable Universes Beyond set, there was a lot of trepidation going into The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth. Thankfully, however, Wizards of the Coast absolutely smashed it out of the park. Not only did Wizards deliver on the beloved franchise’s flavor, but the gameplay was sublime for Constructed players. Limited could have been a bit better, but it did not take away from players’ opportunity to dive into the world of Lord of the Rings.
Following on from this spectacular first release, which sold like absolute hotcakes, Tales of Middle-earth delivered again. Launching twice thanks to the recent Holiday Release, Lord of the Rings just doesn’t quit. Between the Scene Boxes, Commander decks, Starter Kits, and all the myriad Boosters, The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth literally has it all.
The People’s Choice Award | Rancor
With 2023 coming to a close, recently, many MTG players have been taking to social media to discuss the year’s highlights. Doing exactly this, Reddit user u/Laboratory_Maniac recently asked players about the best card from the year. As you might expect, when responding to this post, many players chipped in with their suggestions about what was best.
In doing this, one of the most popular suggestions from players was Atraxa, Grand Unifier. Popular in both competitive formats and Commander, this card is a fantastic draw engine that typically wins games when it lands. Alongside this, Atraxa is also beloved for spoiling the Battle card type ahead of schedule.
Despite the love for Atraxa, there’s simply one card that can’t be beaten. As u/ApplePie_1999 states, this card is Rancor. Don’t listen to the haters who say Rancor wasn’t printed in 2023, they’re just jealous. Instead, fully embrace the Rancor sweep for it was always meant to be. “YEAH BROTHER, RANCOR SWEEP 25 YEARS IN A ROW”
By God, It’s Orcish Bowmasters With a Steel Chair!
To be serious for a moment, The People’s Choice Award for 2023 goes to Orcish Bowmasters (sorry Rancor). From the moment it was spoiled, this card has been making waves for its utterly obscene power. Seeing play in every format where it’s legal, Orcish Bowmasters blows away the competition.
As soon as they enter the battlefield, Orcish Bowmasters is already incredibly useful. Not only can they deal with an annoyance like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, but they Amass Orcs 1. Once in play, Orcish Bowmasters then continues to punish each opponent for any additional draw they take.
In competitive settings, due to all the card draw in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage, Orcish Bowmasters excels at removing threats. They can even dish out damage to the face if an opponent has already whittled themselves down enough. In Commander, however, Orcish Bowmaster’s effects are amplified, turning them into a true overwhelming menace.
Thanks to their multiformat dominance, there’s little doubt that Orcish Bowmasters deserves this award. If we’re being honest, however, it did steal it from the real victor of this awards article below.
Card of the Year | The One Ring
As if it needs any introduction, The One Ring is our 2023 MTG card of the year. Claiming the true popular vote and our own acclaim, this card has made an impact on Magic like no else. A multiformat menace and staple in competitive and Commander, The One Ring is hands down the best card this year.
Providing players with immediate protection and then card draw that only gets better, The One Ring is utterly fantastic. Beyond just being temporarily good, The One Ring is also, aptly, Indestructible, so you can usually realize its potential. Theoretically, there is a downside of damaging yourself with Burden Counters, however, the positives massively outweigh the costs.
Alongside being one of, if not the, best MTG cards printed this year, The One Ring is also iconic. For starters, it’s The One Ring from The Lord of the Rings, but beyond that, this card has a story of its own. To commemorate the occasion, Wizards created a one-of-one serialized variant of this card; the One-of-One Ring.
Exciting the MTG community into a frenzy, the hunt for this card was, hopefully, a once-in-a-lifetime event. Potentially worth over two million dollars, players were cracking packs like mad to find the One-of-One Ring. Even once it was found, the story didn’t end there, as it would eventually be sold to MTG superfan and world-renowned rapper, Post Malone.
Thanks to this event, The One Ring is an utterly iconic MTG card. Not only is it the most expensive card ever sold at $2,000,000, but it also still regularly sees play. There’s no card that deserves the title of Card of the Year more.