Looking at a Random Card: Lashknife
(What am I doing here? Read here!)
Lashknife: When R&D tries to take an old mechanic which has proven too powerful and reuse it in a way which is not, there are two major pitfalls they can walk into: They might either make cards which are still overpowered, maybe even more than before (for example, Yawgmoth’s Bargain was supposed to be a fixed Necropotence), or they might produce cards which are laughably weak and are a disgrace to that mechanic.
Now guess which camp Lashknife falls into? See, that card is so bad, when I read it for the first time back in 2000, I assumed it was supposed to have flash (not the keyword, which wasn’t created back then, just the ability) to make any sense at all. I’m still not convinced I was wrong with that assumption… Lashknife would have been laughably weak even with Flash, but at least the alternate cost would have made some sense then, allowing you to ambush your opponent with a first-striking defender when you were tapped out… damn it, that reads every bit as lame as it actually is…
The funny thing is that R&D DID get a few cards with alternate costs more or less right in the Masques cycle – while I don’t like the mechanic itself for certain reasons I will elaborate upon one day when a card comes up which is actually usable, Foil, Flameshot, Reverent Mantra or Abolish are just a few examples of cards worthy of inclusion in constructed decks, but not breaking anything. Lashknife, however is simply a shame to its family! It’s not as if Lance was ever needed by anyone, so why add a mana and an alternate cost which allows yot to put a Lance on a creature for free by tapping a creature (probably the same creature which will get the first strike, making it unavailable for blocking for a turn)? No matter if you’re on offense or defense: When presented with the choice of tapping one of your creatures or passing on the opportunity to hand out first strike, you will likely chose the latter option – which means that Lashknife effectively is a DOWNGRADE from Lance… how low can you go?
Really, if I cannot presume that an additional ability was inadvertently left off the card or a clearly stronger design was neutered in a last-minute procedure in a way which would make absolutely sure that whatever issue the card had beforehand would cease to exist, I do not know what to make of this design. I know that back then it was official policy to include a few stinkers in every set as an opportunity even for absolute beginners to realize that they could improve their decks by replacing these cards, but these designs were generally not using kinda complicated mechanics supposed to be among a set’s selling points, like free spells were during Masques block. Now, that block is famous for its low overall power level (a panic reaction after Urza block had gotten completely out of control), but after Rouse and Tidal Bore in Mercadian Masques, which were already near unplayable, but not absolutely useless, I just don’t see how R&R could lower their standards for a free spell card AGAIN, especially since in Nemesis Magic began to recover from the low in power level which Mercadian Masques constituted. But they did, for whatever reason.
You should not ever put this card into a cube. It’s not worth the complexity it presents for beginners, not even if you feel that they deserve to be set such traps (which is a mistake in itself – don’t bait beginners into building decks which majorly suck because they include such cards: They won’t have fun, and you should have enough of an edge against them anyway.) You certainly don’t need a warning to not touch it in any constructed environment. It is just another example of a card which shouldn’t exist because it has no play value, but does not actually harm the game if included in an otherwise enjoyable environment (the latter being the condition for a grade worse than E), so it gets the grade which I give out the most, a flat E.