Wait, how does banding work again?
While classic keywords like cycling, kicker and flashback remain fan favorites, not all keywords are created equal. Many keywords, in fact, are absolute stinkers, and some are so bad they’ve been done away with altogether. Plenty of Magic’s mechanics miss the mark: sometimes they’re too powerful, sometimes they’re too oppressive, sometimes they’re just boring. Today, we’re going to count down the 10 keywords that are the worst of the worst in Magic, from the obscure to the generally reviled. Here we go!
Landwalk goes all the way back to the beginning of the game itself: cards from Alpha like Bog Wraith and Shanodin Dryads had swampwalk and forestwalk, respectively. It was done away with in Magic Origins, however, because it resulted in otherwise-vanilla creatures being unfairly overpowered in certain matchups. If a creature had forestwalk, and you were playing a green deck, bad luck – you don’t really have a meaningful way to contest the forestwalker. Landwalk was uninteractive and unfun, and it’s good they got rid of it.
Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that another problem with landwalk was when it was given to creatures who couldn’t be blocked when opponents controlled a Plains – “plainswalk”, as featured on cards like Zodiac Rooster, is very confusing in a game that has “planeswalkers” as a central component!
What is going on with amplify? I suppose the idea is you have a full grip of creature cards that you can use to juice up your amplify creatures as you play them, but here’s the problem: almost all the amplify cards are really expensive, with the cheapest of them being three mana! You look at a card like Glowering Rogon – how many Beast cards do you expect me to have in my hand on turn six? I see what they were trying to do here, and maybe putting it on one and two-drops would have just been absolutely busted, but this seems like a mechanic that would have been best left on the cutting room floor.
The mechanic that became keyworded as fear existed for a long time without a keyword. Cards like Squirming Mass and Frightcrawler had fear before it was called that – it was eventually keyworded in Onslaught, named after the Alpha card Fear, but then with M10 was replaced by intimidate, which was meant to make the mechanic both a bit clearer and a bit more flexible. Well, intimidate didn’t stick around for long, either, eventually being replaced by menace in Magic Origins, at the same time landwalk obsoleted. Funnily enough, both intimidate and landwalk have the same issue – they make some cards selectively powerful with limited opportunities for counterplay, whereas menace is much more well-rounded and interactive.
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Rampage had the potential to be a cool mechanic, but the way it was implemented just made it one of the worst keywords of all time. Punishing people for double-blocking, rampage was put on a bunch of expensive creatures that, for the most part, you could get away with… just never blocking. They play their Aerathi Berserker or Gorilla Berserkers, both five-mana, two-power creatures, and you just… take two. Why double block and trigger rampage when you can just take a bit of damage and wait for either a removal spell or a single blocker that was big enough?
R&D had another crack at rampage with bushido, which triggers whenever anyone blocks, no matter if it’s you or an opponent. Bushido is a bit better than rampage, as it makes your creatures into respectable blockers, but again most of the time people just… won’t block when you attack. Six mana for Silverstorm Samurai? Sure, take three, I guess. Oh no. Bushido can be useful for disrupting combat when an opponent is on a low life total, but as a keyword that opponents can safely ignore for much of the game, it really misses the mark as a cool or interesting combat mechanic.
Ever heard of the keyword landhome? Nope, me neither, and that’s because it has actually been removed from old cards through errata. Landhome says that to attack with a creature, an opponent has to control a certain type of land, and if you don’t control that type of land, you have to sacrifice the creature with landhome. Confusing, with the same problems as landwalk but with extra tracking issues, landhome was typically seen in the form of islandhome on big blue creatures such as Sea Serpent, but most creatures with this suite of abilities were never actually keyworded. Island Fish Jasconius, Marjhan, even Gorilla Pack – they all have what would be landhome, had the keyword persisted. Instead, it was very wisely retired, only making a little cameo in Time Spiral and Planar Chaos with Slipstream Serpent and Bog Serpent, respectively.
Technically speaking, sweep isn’t a keyword, it’s an ability word, but I’m including it here because it’s just such a terrible mechanic. Existing on just four cards from Saviors of Kamigawa, sweep requires you to return lands – many lands – to your hand in order to have an effect. In the case of Charge Across the Araba, you can see what they were going for: attack with the team, bounce all your lands to buff everyone, win the game. But with Sink into Takenuma, or Barrel Down Sokenzan? Pick up all your lands to make them discard or to kill a creature, and then what? Play a one-drop the next turn? Sweep sucks, it sucks so much, and it’s good they’ve done away with it.
Any mechanic that discourages interaction is going to put a lot of people offside, and hexproof is extremely unpopular as a result. Particularly in Limited, this keyword makes creatures so difficult to deal with that it results in games that feel thoroughly unfair. There definitely aren’t as many hexproof creatures as there used to be, but whenever they crop up, it just feels awful to play against them. R&D has been experimenting with “hexproof from X” instead, which is obviously much less oppressive, but more broadly we’re seeing hexproof start to give way to ward as a conditional protection ability, which is a change I think we can all get behind.
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If hexproof sucks, shroud is even worse. Now you can’t target your own creatures, never mind your opponents – that means no Auras, no Equipment, no pump spells, nothing. I don’t know what the deal is with shroud. You play a creature and no one gets to touch it, it just sits there until it gets blocked or swept away. We haven’t seen shroud as a keyword since Mirrodin Besieged (it’s referenced on Arcane Lighthouse, but only in getting rid of it from opposing creatures), and I don’t know how many people out there are mourning shroud’s long-overdue demise.
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Banding is often cited as one of the worst – if not the worst – keyword in Magic, and for good reason. Or, rather, reasons, plural. This mechanic is not only confusing and unintuitive, R&D also doubled down on how incomprehensible banding can be with the later addition of “bands with others,” just to make things worse. Essentially, banding says that creatures with banding, plus one without banding, can attack or block as a group, but even that doesn’t quite capture it. The ability changes depending on whether you’re on offense or defense, it reworks the combat damage assignment process, and generally is just a total headache to correctly navigate. Some people claim to have a flawless understanding of banding, but I’m not having it. The rules reminder text – just the reminder text – is over 130 words long. Such keywords were simply not meant to be.