Recently a lot of lists and top ranking articles were placed on various popular magic sites (alpha/beta/unlimited cards, on this site & top 50 artifacts, on www. wizards.com & top 5 multiplayer creatures, several on www.starcitygames.com ). I'm sure some people appreciate them, but personally, I think they are the most boring type of articles that can be written about magic.
Just naming some cards isn't that interesting and most often the authors say something any experienced player already knows. "Visara is good because it's beefy and kills creatures!" Well, duh, I can read the card too. Of course some cards are good because if you combine them with a few others the synergy becomes fantastic (forgotten ancient+ spikes, triskelion, mindless automaton). Such deck ideas can be very interesting and inspiring, but only if a writer mentions how he/she uses the card in a certain deck and how that makes the card mentioned good. This is the stuff I appreciate, but unfortunately it is more rare than the first category. Describing synergy and ranking individual cards are two different things, however.
With lists and rankings one card is being named, that means at least 56 other cards, that make the mentioned card so great in a deck, are not named. War Elemental is a very cool multiplayer card, and has great synergy with massive burn. But answer this: does the War Elemental make burn spells good or do burn spells make War Elemental good? Why name War Elemental if you're actually meaning the synergy of a whole bunch of cards? Wellwisher, Noxious Ghoul and Shepherd of Rot are only good in a deck that supports the tribal theme. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker requires some creatures with good comes-into-play/leave play triggers or other good abilities. Seedborn Muse only gets real good if you an abuse the fact that you have several untap phases with cards. But these cards get mentioned in top 5 lists of multiplayer creatures. Why promote one card if you mean a whole deck or a certain combo? Naming one card, doesn't do justice to the actual deck idea. Besides, ranking cards becomes somewhat questionable if you actually mean a certain combo or synergy with it. Comparing 5 creatures, or 50 artifacts with each other is not so clear cut if you take different synergies, combo's or play-environments into account.
Of course you could apply certain rules to guide the ranking; biggest impact on tournament play, best creature without looking at how to combine it with 56 other cards. You could in theory compare some cards and rank them on certain specifics. Yes, Copperhoof Vorrac is awesome in multiplayer. Yes Black Lotus probably deserves to be number 1 in an artifact ranking. But did someone need to tell you that? Did you learn something new? Ok, with all the cards out there you will learn of a card that you didn't know of already. But why not propose some cards that are surprising and drop the urge to rank? Most often the ranking itself is a subjective choice by the author, based on his/her playstyle, preferences and experiences. Describe the way you use a card and in what way that is interesting, but stop the senseless ranking!
Just naming some cards you like and made a cool deck with may sound a bit random, but it's better than stating obvious facts or mentioning cards if you have nothing interesting to say about it. A well written article which let you see cards in a new way doesn't need ranking or listing. Ranking and listing are tools, not means to an end. Some authors seem forget that.
Arjan van Houwelingen (Jorael)
Feedback is appreciated!