Top 25 Strongest Creatures in Magic: The Gathering

mtg strongest creatures
25 years of Magic: The Gathering history coming together

With 25 years’ worth of cards now in print, there are a lot of contenders for the title of “Magic: The Gathering’s Best Creature.” Over the course of Magic’s history, the criteria for this illustrious title has shifted from looking at pure stats to examining abilities and how easily they can be abused.

With this list of 25, I hope to make my case for each spot as we traverse 25 years’ worth of creatures.

25. Exalted Angel

One of Magic's many fearsome angels.

Exalted Angel initially seems like an unlikely candidate, as it is a 6 drop 4/5 with only a couple of keywords. However, players underestimate the power of Exalted Angel’s Morph ability. Playing this card facedown for 3 mana seems like a waste as it only counts as a 2/2. But with a board full of Morph creatures that can be flipped at any moment for their morph cost, this 3 mana 2/2 becomes much more valuable.  Exalted Angel can easily hit the board as a 2/2 on turn 3 and flip on turn 4 into a 4/5 flying lifelink attacker, a powerful and evasive threat.  The Morph mechanic often made players afraid of attacking into unknown cards for fear of getting blown away or running into a creature with powerful keywords.  This angel has earned its rightful spot in any angel deck as well as many EDH decks.

24. Juzam Djinn

"Expect my visit when the darkness comes."

Delving deep into Magic: The Gathering’s past, we can find some classic cards that have withstood the test of time.  Among these classics is Juzam Djinn, a 4 mana 5/5 flyer that set the bar high for the older competitive scene.  As with most cards, there are some drawbacks that help keep the card’s power in check. The damage at the beginning of every turn is the downside of having such a strong creature so early.  Even with this downside, the flying body was worth suffering for as it could close out games quickly, forcing opponents to respond. Juzam Djinn set the standard against which many cards are still measured today.

23. Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius

Magic's most brilliant dragon, leader of Ravnica's most chaotic guild.

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius is the legendary Dragon Wizard leader of the Izzet guild on the plane of Ravnica. Niv-Mizzet is as dangerous as he is revered, a 6 mana 5/5 flyer with strong abilities. His ability to directly damage targets is a two-for-one, as he deals damage and allows players to draw a card. This ability lets players deal with smaller creatures and directly damage their opponents with the added benefit of gaining card advantage, a powerful tool in any Magic player’s arsenal. Niv-Mizzet punishes opponents who don’t pay him the proper respect and proves that he alone can shape the course of any match.

22. Dragonlord Atarka

The embodiment of Tarkir's unending, voracious hunger.

All hail the dragonlords of Tarkir! Long shall they grace the skies! In all seriousness - Dragonlord Atarka is a major threat if she hits the board for any amount of time.  Not only is she efficiently costed at 7 mana for an 8/8 body, she also comes with flying, trample and a potent enter-the-battlefield effect.  Players can divide damage as they see fit, killing off a handful of small threats or dealing with one big creature. This monster of a card demands attention from opponents; left unchecked, she can end games with all the brutal ferocity of a true dragonlord.

21. Psychatog

All Atogs require payment. There's always a sacrifice.

At first glance, Psychatog doesn’t seem very strong. This was a card defined by its ability to make an entire deck based around it. Most cards that offer a power-up from discard only get that benefit once, but Psychatog actually uses your existing graveyard in conjunction with a free discard outlet to beef himself up. Combine this with some effective self-mill and you can leave opponents facing a huge threat as early as turn 3 or 4. Pyschatog decks also value cards that benefit from being discarded, like cards with the Madness ability. Combining the built in discard with bonus effects like madness allows for some great synergies that make this card a powerhouse build-around.

20. Kitchen Finks

The gift that keeps on giving, whether you like it or not.

Three-card combos are a gold standard in Magic: The Gathering. Few cards in Magic’s history have been as central to the Modern format as Kitchen Finks. A natural sideboard addition to thwart burn and aggro decks, Kitchen Finks has shown time and time again just how resilient older keywords can be with newer sets.  With the introduction of Abzan combo decks in Modern, Kitchen Finks could combo off with a few other cards as a way to generate infinite life or kill your opponent outright.  Multiple forms of the same combo exist with different pieces filling the same roles, but Kitchen Finks is always a vital inclusion.

19. Grave Titan

"Death in form and function."

There once was a time when Titans walked the field of battle, each representing a wedge of the color pie with powerful thematic abilities. While some have been strong enough to be banned due to synergy with other cards, Grave Titan passed the balance test and has never failed to make an impact on the board. The Titan always makes for a big play because of its large body and the fact it makes 2 reasonable bodies when it enters the battlefield or attacks. All of these upsides combined with its on-par cost of 6 mana for a 6/6 body makes Grave Titan an efficient way to refill the board after a Damnation or other wrath effect.  The Titan is cost-effective, hard to block, and provides strong utility for any black deck.

18. Sower of Temptation

Lorwyn's faeries are equal parts beautiful, clever, and wicked.

Sower of Temptation is a great effect on a small body. This 4-drop gives you a 2/2 flyer and control of any targetable creature for as long as it remains in play. This card can not only gain control of the game on its own but also save creatures that have been stolen. The major downside is the large range of cards that can remove the Sower of Temptation from play. This makes the card balanced, but players can easily find cheap ways to protect their fiendish faeries with blue spells at their disposal.

17. Baneslayer Angel

Hope for the meek, death to the monstrous.

Baneslayer Angel was a major player in the Standard format until it cycled out. While it passes the vanilla test as a 5/5 for 5 mana, its long list of keywords is what makes it truly dangerous. First strike and flying make this a tough threat to face against most flyers, but the lifelink and protection from Demons and Dragons make it so that most conventional flyers with similar power and toughness cannot even damage this angel. When all is said and done, Baneslayer Angel is an auto-include in any flyer-based or white-producing deck.

16. Gaddock Teeg

The king of hatebears.

Gaddock Teeg has been a major leader in several formats. Being a legendary creature, he is a Commander-legal staple as well as a powerhouse in Tiny Leaders. He is also rising to prominence in Modern as his ability forces opponents to deal with him as soon as he hits the board. His abilities are not unstoppable while in play, but they make him difficult to play around as he counters powerful endgame spells. With solid stats and a strong stifling effect, Teeg ranks among the best 2-drops in Magic: The Gathering.

15. Memnite

Though it be but little, it is fierce.

I want to shake things up and mention a creature that always struck me personally as a really strong card. A 1/1 vanilla creature isn’t that impressive…until you see that it’s free. This creature has found a home in several different decklists because it is an artifact, a creature and can be played for free.  Change any one feature and I don’t see it being relevant. Cards that are free have historically been really strong and I believe this card has flown under the radar in the wake of other free cards because of easier or more powerful combo pieces.

14. Shivan Dragon

"Wow! Shivan Dragon is such a bomb!"

In the early years of Magic, Shivan Dragon was the creature to end all creatures. A 5/5 flyer for 6 mana with firebreathing was a finisher to beat all others. This prized creature has been reprinted several times. Despite being over-printed and since overshadowed by newer creatures, it is great for casual and kitchen table play. The firebreathing ability on an evasive body makes the dragon a viable mana-sink that is often remembered fondly by Magic’s more experienced players.

13. Dryad Arbor

Is it a creature or a land? The answer is yes.

Like Memnite, Dryad Arbor is an impactful creature that is free to play. This card is a land and a creature at the same time and can therefore be played like any other land. Most importantly, it can be fetched with anything that can get a nonbasic land. However, Dryad Arbor is especially weak to removal, as it can be taken out by creature- or land-removing cards. In a pinch, the Arbor can serve as a combat trick of sorts, getting the last bit of damage through as an attacker or working as a surprise blocker for those who may have forgotten it was on the board. Dryad Arbor has already found many different uses in a variety of decklists, and as more cards are printed, the possibilities are seemingly endless.

12. Birds of Paradise

"The gods used their feathers to paint all the colors of the world."

Few creatures from Magic's very first set are as comparably powerful as these unassuming little birds. Birds of Paradise is the premiere of 1-mana color-fixing. Its flying keyword was a blessing for green decks that were otherwise sorely lacking in flyers, but what makes it really valuable is the ability to fix for missing mana colors by generating mana of any color. Late-game this is a chump blocker at best, but as a turn 1 play, few are better.

11. Bloodbraid Elf

Queen of the chaos that is Cascade.

Say hi to the most debated card on the Modern ban list. While the true blame for this card’s banning can be placed on Deathrite Shaman, Bloodbraid Elf on its own packs some serious heat. A 3/2 with haste for 4 mana isn’t all that impressive, but Cascade turns this card into a potent force. Most creatures with Cascade are in colors with a lot of variation in the cards that can be hit. With Bloodbraid Elf’s home in Modern Jund decks, the colors available give a lot of consistent hits on great creatures or cheap removal. Combine this with Jund’s impressive hand disruption and removal suite, and you know you’re in trouble if your opponent resolves a Bloodbraid Elf.

10. Monastery Swiftspear

"The calligraphy of combat is written with strokes of sudden blood."

Khans of Tarkir was a considered a fantastic set by many seasoned Magic players. The return of fetch lands alone was enough to make boxes fly off the shelves. The addition of an uncommon with a new ability seemed like an afterthought, but it slowly became a high point. With the simple yet powerful new Prowess ability paired with haste, this card was begging to be broken. This card also changed the Legacy meta by giving Storm decks an alternative win condition. As a Storm player, you are going to be casting strong spells with a ton of copies, so why not pack a creature that makes each spell even more effective? With a high enough storm count followed by a swing from Swiftspear, games could end in a flash.  Since her first printing, Monastery Swiftspear has been an automatic 4-of in every red deck that is ready to sling spells.

9. Blightsteel Colossus

Favored son of the Phyrexians.

Blightsteel Colossus’ impressive text block signifies what needs to be present for players to cast anything for 12 mana. The mere presence of the “infect” keyword ensures its superiority to the similarly-statted Darksteel Colossus. Fighting against infinite life? Infect doesn’t care. While some players consider infect a horribly abusive mechanic, it does offer a check and balance to mass life gain strategies. The biggest hurdle for casting the Colossus is its mana cost, but there are many ways to cheat it out as early as turn 2. This creature makes for a scary sight that can often only be removed with an exile effect. It would have been higher on the list had it cost any less.

8. Progenitus

"The Soul of the World has returned."

A 10/10 for 2 of each mana color can seem almost impossible to cast, but Progenitus is worth the work. This legendary creature has protection from everything. No, seriously, read the card. It isn’t unbeatable, but you have got to have an answer on casting or a wipe that doesn’t target. The added bonus of it never hitting the graveyard and going back into the library puts it on par with Blightsteel Colossus. The added benefit of built-in protection making it slightly higher on the list. While harder to cheat out, this Hydra still offers plenty of ways to make your opponent sigh and wonder where they went wrong in life.

7. Griselbrand

Any other placement on the list would have been sacrilege.

What could be wrong with giving the color of zombie reanimation a target that not only gives an instant card advantage but also a massive body that can fly over defenses? WOTC thought it wasn’t a big deal, and players now have one of the best reanimation targets ever. Period. Griselbrand can give you a new hand just by hitting the field. Allow him to attack or defend, and you basically give his controller free cards to draw. Black decks are used to sacrificing to get ahead, but this is bonkers. In fact, Legacy has a deck based on this hitting the battlefield in the first 2 turns. Even in the face of answers and removal, this card can still generate card advantage that is nearly unbeatable.

6. Tarmogoyf

"What doesn't grow, dies. And what dies grows the tarmogoyf."

Tarmogoyf is known as one of the most infamous green creatures in Modern. Its power and toughness grows as you fill your graveyard. With colors that love dumping cards in the graveyard, Jund decks can easily make this turn-2 creature into a 3/4 or a 4/5. Despite being one of the most effective top-decks in the late game, Tarmogoyf does suffer from being able to be removed easily. Removal abounds in most formats, but the upside is how quickly your opponent’s 20 life gives way to an unchecked 5/6.

5. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Mother of madness.

This legendary Eldrazi is a wall of abilities. It can’t be countered when it is cast. You get an extra turn after you cast it. It has flying, protection from colored spells and annihilator 6. With the ability to shuffle the graveyard (including itself) back into its library, the  cheating creatures clause applies to this mother of Eldrazi terror. It is a favored target due to the annihilator ability, forcing opponents to empty their own boards, and after it leaves play you get a free library shuffle along with added cards from your graveyard. While it may seem like Emrakul is as good as it gets, there are even more powerful creatures in the top 5.

4. True-Name Nemesis

Spite outlives the spiteful.

While this card started in a Commander set, it quickly pushed itself into Legacy as a way for blue decks to get aggressive. For 3 mana, this card simply says it has protection from a chosen player. This means nothing short of a counter on casting or a board wipe will deal with it. As a 3/1, it leads to a quick clock with few answers. While not number 1, it is a close runner-up to the top 3.

3. Goblin Welder

Mistake Number 1: Giving the goblin power tools.

This wily little goblin basically begs to be played in combos. Goblin Welder is a 1-drop instant combo with the right artifacts. His ability is a free trigger so it only makes things easier if you wanted to double Goblin Charbelcher or swap out a useless artifact for a Platinum Angel. The only thing that holds it back is having to have an artifact in the graveyard. This card is not only essential in Legacy goblins decklists, it almost makes the deck work by itself.

2. Primeval Titan

It's Prime Time!

Primeval Titan (affectionately nicknamed Prime Time) seems pretty standard at first glance as a 6/6 for 6 mana with trample. The part that makes this card broken is the land grab that triggers when it enters the battlefield or attacks. The lack of restriction on the type of land makes this card so strong. On its own, Primeval Titan made the Amulet Bloom deck in Modern a terrifying force. This card is so strong it has been banned in Commander and is only legal in other formats due to the cheaper answers and faster games that can make casting a 6-drop difficult.

1. Deathrite Shaman

A Planeswalker with extra steps.

Deathrite Shaman may be the most influential 1-mana creature that has ever been printed. It has been compared to a planeswalker  in its structure and offers not only mana fixing, but also graveyard control and a steady source of damage. Deathrite Shaman gave Bloodbraid Elf a bad reputation and allowed  Jund to succeed even after Bloodbraid’s banning. Banned in Modern due to its innate power and potentially banned in Legacy, this elf is the bane of some players’ existence.

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