Looking at a Random Card: Thieving Magpie
(What am I doing here? Read here!)
Thieving Magpie: I concede that I am probably biased, because I started the first draft of my most succesful Pro Tour – London 1999 – with two copies of this creature (I drafted for top 8 in the end, but crashed hard down to 48th place after my left neighbor went into my colors), but the Magpie happens to be one of my favorite cards! (And it actually came up randomly – what are the chances?)
But really, this design gets so many things right: It is a card which gives you an incremental advantage instead of proclaiming “ANSWER ME IMMEDIATELY OR DIE!”, like so many modern 4-drops do. Every connect with your opponent increases your chances of winning the game, but a comeback for him is still possible until the Magpie goes unchecked for so many rounds that an adequately costed “vanilla” flyer (meaning one with no other ability than flying) probably would have killed him in the same time. The Magpie is cheap enough that it comes down early enough – at least in limited – to have enough time to influence the game with its ability, but not so cheap that it can take over a game from the very beginning. It’s not too easy to stop, having evasion and a toughness of 3, but not too hard either (every toughness-2 or power-3 flyer will do, and also a good percentage of the most prevalent removal spells). Just having a power of 1 means that you will typically get to use the extra cards it draws instead of just killing your opponent with it. It’s a card made for long games, but at the same time it makes sure that these games will eventually come to an end (in contrast to a card which, for example, gains you 2 life a turn, like Sun Droplet).
The Magpie is absolutely great in limited environments, as well as in low power casual games. Sadly, it is not powerful enough for constructed (although you could argue that this is, in the end, a flaw of constructed, and not of this card), where you need this effect to be at least at Shadowmage Infiltrator level to work (making it grossly overpowered in limited). Another minor flaw is that its flavor concept isn’t really making sense (although the idea is cute), since a magpie – even in a fantasy world – is unlikely to have more than a toughness of 1. Then again, it has a great creature type, begging to be put in an environment with stuff like Keeper of the Nine Gales, Soulcatcher’s Aerie and Seaside Haven.
Its lack of constructed applications and its concept/stats mismatch keep it from getting an A from me (since I reserve this grade for cards doing everything or at least almost everything right), but I gladly give it a B, even a B+. I believe Magic would be way more fun if it were more about Thieving Magpie and less about Hero of Oxid Ridge!