Value in Magic (Part One): Efficiency

Here is a simple question, which card is better?

Tarmogoyf or Grizzly Bear

The choice here is quite obvious. But why?

In Magic, there are many reasons why one card is better then another. In this series, we will discuss the concepts of efficiency and value in Magic: The Gathering.

Cost is something that is extremely important to magic players. Even if a card has a great effect, something that could win the game itself, if its not cheap enough, nobody will play it.

Here is an example:


This card’s effect is amazing, game winning in fact, but the cost is just too high for it to be cast and utilized in a normal game of magic (without ways of cheating it into play). This is the core idea of mana- efficiency, being able to see and understand the ratio of the card’s ability to its cost.

Here is an easy example of a simple scale of efficiency.

Lightning Bolt > Searing Spear > Annihilating Fire

Lightning bolt is at the top of this scale, one red for three damage is an easy 1:3 ratio. This card is revered as one of the best spells in magic. The simple efficiency and sheer power of this card makes it an amazing spell that sees play wherever it can. Next is Searing Spear, though strictly less efficient then lightning bolt, this card is still very efficient in regards to its mana cost to ability ratio (which in this case is 2:3 ). This card is very good in draft and will see play in standard decks that can run it. Its a cheap and efficient removal spell that does the job for the cost. Last on this list is Annihilating Fire, this card has the strictly worst ratio on this list of 3:3. This card is playable as solid removal in limited, but doesn’t have much use outside of a format where it is the only removal spell that can be played.

This is a very simple example of value in terms of mana for ability. In this case it was very direct, but it can get very complicated very quickly, when the value of differing effects depends on the game itself.

Tarmogoyf vs. Grizzly Bear

This is the example that I used earlier, but here is the twist. If you are in a limited game, where the cards entering graveyards won’t be that diverse in their type, which one would you take? If on turn two you had the option of getting a 2/2 or a 0/1 the option is clear, but there is a reason that Grizzly Bear is pennies and Tarmogoyf is worth more then some entire decks. It’s all about value in relation to the current game. In a situation where graveyards will be empty, and if something does enter them it will enter late and will not have a very unique card type, Tarmogoyf is very bad. In formats like modern and legacy where all types of cards are being flung into graveyards from an early turn, Tarmogoyf is amazing. The power and efficiency of Tarmogoyf does not depend on the card itself, but the game that is being played around it.

This ends part one of this series. Next time I will discuss the concepts of time and cost of “free” abilities. Please feel free to comment and state you thoughts on this article in the comments below.


Sylvan Studies Team
"He wished for knowledge, but not for the will to apply it" - Cunning Wish
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