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Strictly better describes a card which is, in isolation from other effects, superior to another card in at least one respect, while being worse in zero respects.[1][2] Cards are commonly found to be strictly better than others by virtue of lower cost, larger effect, instant speed, greater power or toughness, or more versatile or added effects.

Description[ | ]

"Strictly better" status is not dependent on creature type.[3] More generally, such comparisons between cards are made independent of any particular board state.[4] Therefore, because of the sheer number of possible gameplay circumstances, for any given "strictly better" card, there is typically some imaginable set of circumstances in which it is, in fact, inferior to another card that would otherwise rank below it. This fact implies that a "strictly better" card might be more accurately termed "typically better", and that distinction sometimes confuses newer players.[5][6] However, "strictly better" is well understood among experienced Magic players, and is the prevailing description of such a relationship between cards.

For example, Lightning Bolt is strictly better than Shock. Both are instants, both cost {R}, and both can target either a creature or a player, but Lightning Bolt deals 3 damage, whereas Shock deals only 2 damage.[7] Although Shock would be preferable to Lightning Bolt if, for example, your opponent controls a Mogg Maniac that you need to kill while you have 3 life, this doesn't preclude Lightning Bolt from being "strictly better," as said circumstances are incredibly niche. How broad these circumstances are is generally the most contentious aspect of the term; a general rule of thumb is that no other card or mechanic in the context should be named, making the use case as generic as possible. Things usually discounted:

  • Card-specific abilities - any scenario that requires a specific card interaction in order to disprove strictly better is moot.
  • Target redirection spells and control-changing effects are too rare and specifically are powerful because they reverse situations.
  • Effects that specifically call out higher numerical values beneficially or lower numerical values negatively, which falls under "unusual".
  • Creature type should only be counted as neutral. Creature types in the rules text should make any two cards largely incomparable. Artifacts and enchantments with identical abilities also should not be compared. Colors or types of tokens created should also not matter.
  • Devotion and chroma, which would make denser color symbols marginally better despite being a hinderance otherwise.
  • Color identity in regard to the Commander color identity rules should not affect if a better card has a multicolor ability, but different colors are incomparable.

Many pairs of cards are not directly comparable, and thus cannot be termed strictly better or worse. For example, Reprisal and Vanquish the Foul have similar effects, but the latter half of each effect cannot be compared to the other card. Despite Reprisal's lower cost and faster speed, it cannot be termed strictly better than Vanquish the Foul. However, Reprisal is strictly better than Smite the Monstrous, because it has a lower cost and prevents regeneration while being worse in no respect. The fact that something like Spell Snare counters Reprisal but not Smite the Monstrous is not a valid consideration.

The printing of a new strictly better card may make comparable cards obsolete, and this process left unchecked leads to power creep. As rarity has no factor on the definition of strictly better, this occurs relatively frequently with directly comparable cards printed in the same set. Less often, two commons such as Glory Seeker and Knight of Cliffhaven in Rise of the Eldrazi will have this relationship. This phenomenon of strictly better cards within the same set goes all the way back to Alpha (e.g., Gray Ogre and Sedge Troll).

Examples[ | ]

More powerful at same cost[ | ]

The following cards have the same cost, but one has an added ability or greater size.

More flexibility at same cost[ | ]

The following cards have the same effect, but one is more restricted in its use.

Same effect but cost less[ | ]

The following cards have the same effect, but one has a greater cost.

Instant instead of sorcery[ | ]

The following are cards that have the same effect and cost but are instants instead of sorceries.

Multiple upgrades[ | ]

Some cards may be strictly better in multiple respects but are only strictly better overall if they have no attributes inferior to the card they are compared with.

References[ | ]

  1. Mark Rosewater (March 31, 2003). "This Land is My Land". Wizards of the Coast.
  2. Mark Rosewater (January 10, 2022). "Even More Words From R&D". Wizards of the Coast.
  3. Mark Rosewater (July 20, 2014). "Does the term "strictly better" care about creature types?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  4. Mark Rosewater (September 07, 2017). "Can you please give us a definition of the term "Strictly Better"?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  5. Mike Flores (March 03, 2014). "Strictly Superior". Wizards of the Coast.
  6. Mike Flores (March 10, 2014). "Redundancy". Wizards of the Coast.
  7. Sam Stoddard (November 4, 2016). "Strictly Better". Wizards of the Coast.