Sensei’s Diving Top – Champions of Kamigawa
Date Reviewed: April 7, 2022
Commander [EDH]: 4.00
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
Sensei’s Divining Top is eyebrow-raising, to say the least. When it first came out, it was probably underrated – people knew it was a good card, but they didn’t anticipate it would one day be banned in various formats and become a meme about time-wasting. To be fair, it only becomes truly degenerate in larger settings when it’s around certain kinds of cards (James explains the Counterbalance and miracle decks just below). The problem is more when its controller uses it in response to every action their opponent/s take – or worse, when both players have it and use it in response to each other using it. In a gameplay sense, this is a good play, because it extends the information available to them and makes gives you, in effect, a larger hand of cards. But this slows everything to a crawl, increases the cognitive load on the player; and if, Odin forbid, you have a cheater at the tournament, it gives them chances to use that sleight of hand they’ve been practicing. There are settings where it can’t do any serious damage, like Commander and Vintage, and I wouldn’t look askance at anyone playing it there (unless they’re using it to cheat, of course), but I think there are others where it doesn’t really add much and isn’t needed. If you need a similar effect in a more casual setting, something like Crystal Ball is close enough and will feel better for everyone involved.
Commander [EDH]: 3/5
An innocuous-looking one-mana uncommon artifact that punches well above its weight and draws bans in the process? You’d almost think we were in Darksteel, though the Infernal Time Waster known as Sensei’s Divining Top is one of those cards whose power is a bit more subtle than it may seem at first.
Let’s start with the surface level: Sensei’s Divining Top gives you a Ponder-like effect each time you want to pay mana for it, and if you need a card you see, you can swap the Top with the card on top of your library. This makes the Top quite resistant to any sort of removal, and it creates a massive logjam at higher rules enforcement levels, as you are obliged to finish waiting each time Sensei’s Divining Top is activated before proceeding. So, it’s cute and kinda annoying, but not too threatening on its own.
Of course, on its own is the key phrase here. Sensei’s Divining Top has become notorious for two particular uses, with the Coldsnap enchantment Counterbalance and the miracle spells from Avacyn Restored, as it turns out that being able to freely rearrange and reorder cards on top of your deck makes these spells even more powerful, and even the ability to immediately draw a spell showed some use with miracles (since they trigger on your first draw of each turn, regardless of how it happened).
It was the key enabling spell of a powerful Legacy deck, but it also was notorious for bringing the game down to a comically slow crawl at higher rules enforcement levels, resulting in a ban in Legacy (and Modern before that). It’s a card with a lot of power in the right hands, and while its warping power tended to be most particular with specific pieces, you can still have a lot of fun with the Infernal Time Waster on your own.
Constructed: 4.75 (it itself is not powerful, but it’s more known for the degeneracy it enables when paired with specific pieces and for numerous slow play violations)
Limited: 2 (not very powerful in Limited environments, not least of all because all of its favorite toys are in different sets)
Commander [EDH]: 4
One of the best cards ever printed and likely candidate for best uncommon ever printed, Sensei’s Divining Top has been a mainstay in decks since it was printed. A legacy staple in decks like Miracles, it allows you to sort of scry 3 for one mana (you can’t put it on the bottom) and then if you need to you can draw a card. This works great with fetch lands, miracle cards, Ponder, etc. many great cards pair well with Top. At a low cost of one mana to cast, this card will wreck havoc in the early game and continue to do so unless it is removed from the board. You’ll want to have plenty of artifact remove ready to go to combat this card!
Commander [EDH]: 5
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