Some of these may surprise you.
You may not know it, but some of the most powerful Magic: The Gathering cards you play are (or were once printed as) Uncommons. Before Magic Boosters contained fifteen cards and Mythic Rares, many strong cards came in at the Uncommon rarity. Especially with releases such as Alpha and Unlimited, where Black Lotus and the rest of the Power Nine came in at Rare, this made room for powerful Uncommons to shine — many of which see play today.
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For example, cards such as Sylvan Library, Mystic Remora, and Sword to Plowshares are older yet solid Uncommons that continue to be influential in numerous formats even today. The same is true for Sensei’s Diving Top, one of the more obnoxious cards printed from Champions of Kamigawa as it dragged out games to absolute boredom, which resulted in a ban in Modern and Legacy. While it’s effortless to focus on Rares and Mythic Rares, Uncommons can often disrupt metagames and offer a power level that can become an issue later on.
Strixhaven: School Of Mages
Take Expressive Iteration as a recent example, an Uncommon from Strixhaven: School of Mages. Recently, the card saw a ban in Legacy, with the same restrictions already extending to Pioneer, as the card offered incredible card value to the point where it dominated these formats while legal. However, Expressive Iteration remains playable in Modern, at least right now, as Modern can accommodate the Sorcery without worrying about Brainstorm or other powerful cantrips to pair alongside it. While there are so many powerful Uncommons to consider, whittling this down to only ten is difficult.
However, we’ll be looking at Uncommon cards that were first printed at the Uncommon rarity, meaning this won’t account for any downshifts or upshifts seen with cards such as Lightning Bolt, a card first printed at a Common back in Alpha. And with that, let’s look at some of the best and most powerful Uncommon cards in Magic: The Gathering.
Market Price: $1882.80
Printed in Arabian Nights and a member of the polarizing Reserved List, Bazaar of Baghdad is a powerful Uncommon card if utilized correctly. Seeing play in Vintage, Legacy, Commander, and numerous Cubes, the card serves well in a Reanimator strategy, where you want to ditch cards such as Griselbrand, Atraxa, Grand Unifier, or Iona, Shield of Emeria into the graveyard to only recur these with Reanimate or Animate Dead shortly after. Going further, the card is decent in Legacy Dredge, as you want to throw away your creatures to Dredge them back as the game progresses.
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While it seems weird to feature a Land card that doesn’t come with a mana ability, being able to tear through your library is such a strong effect and allows you to do some silly game actions in the process, and I mean, who doesn’t want a turn two Griselbrand?
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A card you never want to attack with is Mother of Runes, one of the most powerful Uncommon creatures printed in Magic: The Gathering. A staple in Leagcy’s Death & Taxes, Mother of Runes can give herself or another target creature protection from the color of your choice until the end of the turn. From being able to blank removal, forcing damage through, or wanting to remove Auras from your creatures, Mother of Runes is always relevant during a game as it’s so hard to remove her. She’s that iconic, other Magic cards take inspiration from Mother of Runes, such as Giver of Runes and Skrelv, Defector Mite that offer similar effects.
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Since her release in Urza’s Legacy, Mother of Runes often sees reprint in Masters sets at Rare, as the effect is powerful within the Limited environment. Legacy aside, Mother of Runes is a popular option for Legacy and Vintage-powered Cubes, where she also crops up in Commander depending on the strategy.
Strip Mine (No Horizon)
Market Price: $61.09
While an Uncommon despite having other printings at essentially Rare in the same expansion, Strip Mine is a disruptive option from Antiquities. Banned in Legacy, Strip Mine only sees play in Commander and Cubes, with a restriction in Vintage as the card can destroy any target land, and yes, this includes Basics.
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Strip Mine is so good at what it does, no other card has come close to being as effective when it comes to one-for-one land destruction. Admittedly, Wasteland is a close second, but looking at more recent options such as Field of Ruin and Ghost Quarter, it’s clear Wizards of the Coast are reluctant to print effects aggressively costed as Strip Mine in Modern, Pioneer, and Standard. And maybe that’s a good thing, as seeing your mana options blown up repeatedly alongside cards such as Wrenn and Six or Crucible of Worlds isn’t a great feeling.
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A card that lines up unfavorably against Strip Mine or Wasteland is Ancient Tomb, a powerful mana option from Tempest. Often named “Sol Land” as it shares the same mana identity with Sol Ring, Ancient Tomb generates two colorless mana at the exchange of two life. As Magic: The Gathering cares about using life as a resource, cards such as Ancient Tomb can encourage explosive starts depending on the strategy. Usually, you see Ancient Tomb in an array of Legacy archetypes such as Sneak and Show, Painter, and Prison, where you want to cast spells ahead of schedule to deploy a favorable board state. The same applies to Commander, where Ancient Tomb sees play in the singleton format with a similar approach.
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From Alliances, Force of Will is a historically-powerful spell that sees play in Legacy, Vintage, Commander, and various Cubes. Through exiling a Blue card from your hand and paying one life, you can cast Force of Will for free and counter target spell — becoming a Legacy and Vintage staple over time. Usually, you see Force of Will in numerous Delver, 8-Cast, Four-Color Control, and Death’s Shadow strategies in Legacy as casting spells for free continues to be busted.
Force of Negation takes inspiration from Force of Will, but offers a few downsides to offer some balance compared to the Alliances Uncommon. In addition, Force of Will is excellent in Blue-based Commander strategies as it’s often free, as long as you have enough Blue cards to reap the value.
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One of the more iconic cards for Commander is Demonic Tutor, a card first appearing in Alpha at the Uncommon rarity. Tutors play a crucial role in Commander, as you want multiple ways to find the card you need to win the game, and Demonic Tutor is one the best available. There have been numerous tutor cards printed over the years, such as Imperial Seal, Vampiric Tutor, and even Entomb, but none come close to the raw power and efficient mana value that Demonic Tutor offers.
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As the unofficial tenth member of the fabled Power Nine, Library of Alexandria is a fantastically-powered Uncommon that is part of the Reserved List. While the card remains banned in Legacy and Commander, being able to play this on turn one allows you to keep drawing cards every turn. Back in its heyday, you could run four copies of Library of Alexandria (because for some reason, it isn’t Legendary) and chain the activations to draw four cards which is simply absurd. Right now, Library of Alexandria lurks as a restriction Vintage and sees play numerous powered Cubes where the card is one of the more underrated options to draft in Vintage Cube, as players tend to focus towards the Power Nine or any combo potential instead. Despite the lack of play and restrictions, Library of Alexandria remains one of the most powerful Uncommons printed as it offers card draw for a minor downside
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First printed as an Uncommon from Darksteel, not only did Skullclamp become one of the most busted cards from Mirrodin block, but also one of the most busted cards in recent memory. While Skullclamp is only one mana to cast and one mana to equip, it’s the “whenever the equipped creature dies, draw two cards” ability that made it ridiculous in every format it was legal. Take Block Constructed, Standard, and Modern as examples, Skullclamp saw play in Affinity builds featuring Arcbound Ravager, and in Standard, Skullclamp saw play in Goblins with Skir Prospector, as you could keep cycling through Goblins and drawing more cards while using the Skirk Prospector’s sacrifice ability to produce mana to equip Skullclamp to another Goblin.
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Despite the preliminary ban in Modern, Skullclamp does continue to see play in Vintage, especially alongside cards such as Young Pyromancer and Monastery Mentor, as it’s so easy to generate a bunch of Tokens. By equipping Skullclamp with those Tokens, you draw more cards, meaning you are much more likely to draw into more spells to trigger Prowess on these creatures again. Eventually, Skullclamp saw a restriction in Vintage, where the card has since lurked in Commander and Cube since..
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One of the best counterspells ever printed, Mana Drain first appeared in Legends and is an Uncommon from the expansion. Often featured in Vintage, Commander, and Cubes, Mana Drain enables you to counter any spell for two Blue mana and, on your upkeep, add an amount of colorless mana equal to that countered spell’s mana value. By countering a spell with Mana Drain, you have the option to either cast numerous spells in your turn or cast one massive haymaker spell to close out the game. More commonly, Mana Drain appears in Commander as an effective counterspell that offers a burst of mana in your upkeep is excellent within the singleton format.
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Since Mana Drain’s first release was in Legends, there are plenty of reprints to help curb the cost of the powerful card. Releases such as Commander Legends, Iconic Masters, and Double Masters 2022 have made the card affordable since the early days, meaning you’re more likely to come up against the card in Commander.
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Perhaps not much of a surprise, but Sol Ring is by far and away the most powerful Uncommon card in Magic: The Gathering. First appearing in Alpha, Sol Ring is a long-time staple in Commander and appears in numerous Commander Precons. While it’s restricted in Vintage and (very) banned in Legacy, Sol Ring remains evergreen in Commander and Cube, where you want the card in your opening hand to enable those busted early turns. As for Cube, Sol Ring is often a higher pick than some Power Nine cards, as the mana acceleration is always relevant outside of Black Lotus and the Moxes.
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While there is plenty of discourse about whether Sol Ring should see a ban in Commander, you have to admit the card plays a significant role in Commander’s identity in a similar way Brainstorm does for Legacy. No matter your thoughts on the one-mana artifact, it’s clear Sol Ring remains one of the most powerful Uncommon cards in Magic’s history, at least for now.