Last updated on August 29, 2023
Deathrite Shaman (Secret Lair) | Illustration by Mark Riddick
Whether you’re trying to attack your opponent as early as possible, trying to accelerate your mana, or trying to assemble some perfect combos, you likely need some 1-drops. Each color has received a wide variety of powerful 1-mana cards throughout Magic’s 30 year history, so let’s look at the best of them ever printed.
When we say 1-drop, we simply mean a creature that costs just one mana. These cards are particularly important in decks that want to develop the battlefield as early as possible, like in aggro, ramp, tempo and combo decks. All sorts of decks can be interested in them when they’re good enough. They do all sorts of different things, and you’ll see cards on this list for a wide variety of different strategies.
Before Delver of Secrets existed, the deck that now bears its name was once called Canadian Threshold, and Nimble Mongoose was played instead of Delver. While it’s not played much anymore, it’s still a card worth remembering for its place in Magic history.
The adventure mechanic really was broken and the fact that one of its best payoff cards is a 1-drop goes a long way towards that. Edgewall Innkeeper was a Standard mainstay and one of the cards you least wanted to see on turn one.
White decks hate to see red spells that blow up their entire board. Enter Burrenton Forge-Tender. Protection from red is already incredibly annoying for red decks, and saving your board from a pesky Anger of the Gods has made this a popular sideboard card over the years.
Who doesn’t love gaining life? If you’re gaining a bunch of it, you kind of want to be paid off for it. Serra Ascendant is exactly what you want, since a 6/6 flying lifelinker for one mana is absurdly good.
While Giant Killer is technically a 1-drop, the reason we care about it is that it’s also a versatile removal spell. Adventure is a pretty dumb mechanic, and this card has shown up across various Magic formats that want some extra utility out of its 1-drops.
Figure of Destiny was once a $20+ card, despite easy-to-obtain promos existing. It was an extremely busted 1-drop when it was in Standard, both in mono-white and mono-red aggro decks. Its design also heavily influenced the creation of the level up mechanic a few years later, as well as cards like Ascendant Spirit and Evolved Sleeper.
We’ve seen a few different versions of this card in different colors, but none are anywhere near as good as the original. Arcbound Worker is an artifact, which gives it huge synergies with Arcbound Ravager and all sorts of other cards. This was mostly a big hit in Standard, but it’s still appeared in some Hardened Scales decks since then.
Rhys the Redeemed has never seen any play (to my knowledge) in competitive Magic, but it’s a huge fan favorite for Commander. White and green are the two most synergistic colors for a tokens deck, and Rhys is a perfect commander to use for a deck like that.
Zombie tribal wasn’t very good when it received support in the original Innistrad block. However, Cryptbreaker headlined the mass of support it received from Innistrad’s second attempt and catapulted it up the ranks to even win a Pro Tour in the hands of Gerry Thompson.
Mono-red decks in Standard are happy with just about any aggressive 1-drop creature that they can find. Bomat Courier was quite a bit better than most, letting you refresh your whole hand if it survived for long enough.
Pro player Brad Nelson said that when he was invited to WotC to playtest Modern Horizons 2, the new squirrel cards in the set were broken. Ravenous Squirrel was supposed to trigger off all permanents, including fetch lands. Thankfully, they fixed it, but this little guy still made some waves. Particularly in Historic, where the Cat Oven combo synergized with it perfectly.
Gingerbrute is my pick for the best flavor design in Magic history. It’s just perfect. While it didn’t see a lot of play in Standard, an evasive haste creature that can be searched for, particularly by Karn, the Great Creator or Urza's Saga, is something that quite a few decks are very interested in.
Gravecrawler has pulled its weight in a lot of decks this past decade. Between graveyard-based combo decks and just straight-up zombie tribal, there’s plenty of uses for a card like this.
This might look like a useless card, but a lot of decks just need to discard a card or two on turn one and Putrid Imp is a good way of doing that. This has seen play in a lot of decks over the years, including dredge, reanimator, and Vengevine decks.
This is only the first 1-drop mana accelerator on this list and it’s a doozy. Arboreal Grazer has been a key piece in decks that don’t necessarily care about large amounts of mana but need as many lands in play as possible, like the now banned Field of the Dead decks and the Pioneer Lotus Field combo.
Often referred to as the red Thraben Inspector, Voldaren Epicure has only been around for less than two years but has already seen play in a variety of archetypes. Most notably, it’s one of the key cards in the brand new Boros convoke deck that is currently shaking up Pioneer.
“Protection from everything” is a pretty scary line of text to see, even if it costs nine mana to get to. It’s certainly scary enough to make Hexdrinker a desirable card in a variety of aggressive green decks across many Magic formats.
Every aggressive tribal deck needs its 1-drop, and this is what we have for spirits. Thanks to a lot of spirits being cheap to play and Collected Company being part of the deck, it’ll often attack as a 3/3 flier while providing a great bit of disruption.
While very similar to Mausoleum Wanderer, Cursecatcher looks like the worse card but belongs to the inarguably better-supported tribe. I began my journey playing Legacy with merfolk tribal, and Cursecatcher has consistently remained in the deck as a great 1-drop that beats down early and disrupts annoying plays later.
As an aggro deck, human tribal needs solid 1-drops, and none are better than Champion of the Parish. Playing this on turn one means it’s often massive by turn three or four, especially when played with Thalia's Lieutenant.
Thraben Inspector is extremely close to a 1-mana creature that draws a card when it enters. That’s already phenomenal, but it also gives you artifact-based synergies and token synergies, which is a lot to get from just a 1-drop.
Basking Rootwalla, and its Modern counterpart Blazing Rootwalla, is really just a 1-drop in name only. You should never be paying mana for this; rather you should be discarding it and casting it for free. This has been a key combo piece, especially in Vengevine decks, like the now banned Survival of the Fittest deck in Legacy and the Hollow Vine deck in Vintage.
Cauldron Familiar was one half of the infamous “Cat Oven” combo that dominated Standard and Historic for quite some time. The idea is to pair it with Witch's Oven to keep sacrificing the kitty each turn and immediately bring it back, triggering cards that care about creatures dying or being sacrificed. It was eventually banned in Standard, much like nearly every other good card to come out of the insane Throne of Eldraine.
Just like Hedron Crab, Stitcher's Supplier has been a fantastic upgrade to a lot of decks that want to mill themselves as fast as possible. Most notably in the infamous Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis deck that basically ruined Modern for the month or two that it was allowed to exist in 2019.
You don’t get a lot of things in MTG for free, so a 1-drop that sacrifices creatures for free is definitely something we’re after. Viscera Seer mainly saw play back in the days of Modern Birthing Pod decks, where it was part of the infinite combo with Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Kitchen Finks.
The reason that Hedron Crab makes this list and Ruin Crab doesn’t is because you can mill yourself with it. The mill deck in Modern wants this, but also a variety of Vengevine combo decks throughout the game’s history have come back to this as an exceptional 1-drop that’s good at filling the graveyard quickly.
We’re about to see a lot of powerful elves. A recent addition to the game, Allosaurus Shepherd has made Legacy elves decks much more resistant to disruption, most notably allowing them to get around Chalice of the Void.
I’m sure that R&D intended this card’s abilities to be downsides, but in reality, they’re actually upsides. Thanks to Birchlore Rangers and Heritage Druid, you can actually tap a Nettle Sentinel for mana, so you just love untapping it whenever you cast a green spell.
Slippery Bogle and Gladecover Scout are rather unassuming, but the bogles deck in Modern has dipped in and out of the format for the last decade or so. The idea is to dump a bunch of efficient auras on either of these creatures and create a mostly unkillable threat that ends the game quickly. It’s a strong deck for sure, even though Modern might be a bit too powerful for it nowadays.
Along with Nettle Sentinel, Heritage Druid is the main mana generator that powers the combo elves deck that has been prominent in Legacy for nearly 20 years. This makes it not only one of Magic’s best 1-drops, but also one of its best elves.
Disciple of the Vault is a dangerous creature that has been banned in a total of four formats: Standard, Extended, Mirrodin Block Constructed, and most recently Pauper. Sacrificing multiple artifacts is trivially easy to do, and the damage hits from this add up very quickly.
Another free sacrifice outlet, but one that’s considerably more aggressive than Viscera Seer. Carrion Feeder has been a powerhouse in decks like the busted Modern Hogaak deck. Any deck that likes to aggressively sacrifice its own creatures is automatically interested in this.
Quirion Ranger looks like it has a hefty cost to activate, but when you’re untapping a mana dork elf and then replaying your Forest to tap it again, it ends up netting you quite a lot of mana in the early turns of a game. It also has some nice synergies with a variety of creatures that have made it a mainstay of eternal formats for decades.
While other things have since taken its place, Wild Nacatl was once the best aggressive 1-drop in the game. Still played to this day in some builds of Modern’s Domain Zoo, Nacatl has been a powerhouse ever since it was printed thanks to Sacred Foundry turning it into a 3/3 with ease.
Phyrexian Dreadnought is one of the biggest creatures ever printed, and while it looks terrible, you can just counter its triggered ability. The classic combo is to Stifle it, but these days you can also combo it with a Torpor Orb, Hushbringer or Strict Proctor. Given that your payoff is a 12/12 trample for just one mana, that’s definitely worth building around.
Although Arbor Elf requires a high number of Forests in your deck to be consistent, it rewards you for that. Untapping a land is similar enough to just tapping for mana, but when combined with something like Utopia Sprawl or Wild Growth, it ramps you even faster.
At first, people thought that Goblin Guide had too much of a downside to be playable. Except that a 1-drop 2/2 haste is absurd enough that we didn’t care, and this has been a staple of red burn decks in every Magic format ever since it was printed.
Giver of Runes is an extremely important card in Modern, particularly in Hammer Time. It’s perfect for when you have creatures that you can’t afford to have die, so a creature-based aggressive combo deck is exactly where you want it.
Following its release, it didn’t take long for Esper Sentinel to become a multi-format all-star. Particularly in Modern and Commander. It slots perfectly into Human tribal and Hammer Time, and all sorts of Commander decks are interested in essentially a 1-drop Rhystic Study on a stick. Sure, it only triggers once per turn, but punishing opponents right from the start of the game can be pretty brutal.
Monastery Swiftspear is a 1-drop that, thanks to cheap burn spells and cantrips, can often attack for three or four damage as early as turn two. It has seen play in nearly every format since it was printed nearly ten years ago, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Always bolt the Lackey. That’s what I was taught. If you allow a Goblin Lackey to connect with you, it’s very hard to win the game from there. Cheating out a free goblin, perhaps even a Siege-Gang Commander or a Muxus, Goblin Grandee as early as turn two ensures you a quick victory against most opponents.
It wouldn’t really be fair to split these apart. At the end of the day, all the 1-drop mana dorks that we have are very powerful. It’s been decided that they’re too good for Standard; only two are legal in Pioneer and they’re some of the best cards in the format. Above all else, with Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise being printed all the way back in Alpha, these cards have been a huge part of Magic for its entire history.
It’s hard to imagine that any competitive Magic player would be unfamiliar with Delver of Secrets. It’s simultaneously one of Magic’s best 1-drops and also the most overrated. Unlike many 1-drops on this list, it’s only good when you surround it with the right deck, and sometimes that’s just not possible to do. That’s why it headlines one of Legacy’s most powerful decks yet sees no play in Standard.
Death's Shadow has had a storied history in Magic. Once thought to be completely unplayable, it’s now one of the strongest creatures in the game. There are enough good cards that make you lose life that you can support this very easily. Fetches, shocks, Thoughtseize, Street Wraith, and Phyrexian mana are all excellent with it and have kept shadow relevant in competitive play for many years.
Everybody’s favorite (or perhaps least favorite depending on your perspective) mom is one of the best white creatures ever printed. The fact that Mother of Runes can protect itself makes it incredibly hard to kill. You have to do it while it’s summoning sick or your removal is less than useless. It’s has been a mainstay of Legacy’s Death and Taxes deck for as long as the deck has existed, and it’s not going anywhere.
The impact of Haywire Mite on eternal formats was felt almost immediately. Artifact and enchantment hate in the form of a highly searchable body (once again, by Karn, the Great Creator or Urza's Saga) makes this an auto-include in any deck that can do that.
Delver of Secrets was once the best 1-drop for aggressive tempo decks, then the next two cards came along and shoved it right out of the top spot. Dragon's Rage Channeler is often easier to turn into a 3-power flier, and surveilling every time you cast a noncreature spell is very useful at fixing your draws and filtering to your best cards as quickly as possible.
Yeah, it’s Ragavan. I’ve done a lot of ranking lists where Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer has ended up at the top. It’s definitely the best 1-drop red creature ever printed. Ragavan is a creature that you absolutely must deal with or it’ll run away with the game and make it feel like you can’t come back. This has led to it being banned in Legacy, and I feel like a ban in Modern is inevitable given enough time.
Here we have Magic’s best ever 1-drop creature. Deathrite Shaman is absolutely absurd. I used to joke about how it’s impossible to read it and have fully understood how strong the card is. You keep going back and noticing new upsides.
Did you notice it’s an elf? It has 2 toughness, so it won’t die to a Gut Shot. It functions as graveyard hate. It’s a win condition that doesn’t get into combat. It’s a black mana dork. Why does it only cost one mana???
The fact that this card is banned in Modern and Legacy should say it all, and it’s only not banned in Pioneer because the format has no fetch lands. This card is responsible for qualifying me for the Pro Tour, and it’s just one of the best creatures Magic has ever had.
However, the best payoff cards for 1-drops are Ranger of Eos and Ranger-Captain of Eos. These cards have provided some much-needed card advantage to otherwise linear aggro decks. Ranger of Eos in particular headlined the deck that won the 2009 World Championships, Naya Lightsaber. Despite it being one of the worst decks to ever win Worlds, Ranger of Eos was still a standout, appearing in several other decks in that event. The newest version of it, Ranger-Captain of Eos, is certainly a stronger card and has shown up in many different Modern aggro decks.
Arboreal Grazer | Illustration by Jason Rainville
Cheap cards are important to many strategies, and I hope you’ve enjoyed my look at Magic’s best 1-drops. There are just so many memorable ones to cover, and I’m positive there will be even stronger 1-drop creatures to come in the (maybe) not-so-distant future!
With that, I’m all out of creatures to talk about! Did I miss out on your favorite 1-drop? Let me know what you think should be included, or what you think about my rankings in general, by leaving a comment or joining us on our Discord!
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