I myself have never been great at identifying dead cards. Is [card]Doom Blade[/card] better than [card]Hideous End[/card]? Is [card]Disfigure[/card] better than both or them? What about old faithful [card]Terror[/card] and [card]Dark Banishing[/card]? A lot of these questions have different answers depending on the metagame of the play group you happen to be in.
How useful is [card]Grim Discovery[/card], really? [card]Grim Discovery[/card] + fetchland is awesome – not to mention the creature you’d get to play again. But I always go back and think: how often do I really want to draw [card]Grim Discovery[/card]? It’s a great way to recur my [card]Terramorphic Expanse[/card], [card]Marsh Flats[/card] or [card]Verdant Catacombs[/card], but really, do I need to? Then there’s the creature I recover – if it died earlier, would it help me now? More often than not, all I can pull back with [card]Grim Discovery[/card] is stuff you don’t really need back anyway.
But there are times when it shines. If I happened to get hit by a [card]Mind Shatter[/card], something like that would be lovely. I get my beloved land back! I also get my (put big creature you like very much) back! It’s not always a dead card – but it’s not as good as I’d like it to be. Why? It’s because we’re used to the idea of losing something permanently in Magic. It’s very easy to lose something and we don’t expect to get it back. Instead, we do what we should be doing – instead of mulling over the past, we play more stuff that attracts even more removal. If our plan works, by the time our best, most annoying creature shows up – your opponent has no more answers.
However, if you think about [card]Grim Discovery[/card], if you use it at the optimal time – it gives you some card advantage. A fetchland back from the grave is two landfall triggers (and an extra land as bonus!) and a good creature back from the grave is awesome.
Of course, in a deck without fetchlands or creatures, [card]Grim Discovery[/card] is most certainly dead. So I guess it really depends on your deck – and your opponent’s deck.
This brings us back to statistics. How often does your deck come into the situation on its own where the card is useful? (Ignore the opponent for now.) Can you create the situation if it doesn’t happen? How good is the card in that situation? How good is the card if you aren’t in that situation? For example, let’s look at [card]Needlebite Trap[/card] and [card]Archive Trap[/card].
[card]Needlebite Trap[/card]: Never. [card]Grove of the Burnwillows[/card]. Pretty good. Really expensive.
[card]Archive Trap[/card] : Always. [card]Path to Exile[/card]. Pretty good. Still playable.
Traps are good examples because they are good in a very well defined situation, but they can be bad – or even terrible in others. [card]Needlebite Trap[/card]s are great to buy one turn off a [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card], but if your opponent never gains life, it’s pretty awful.
Some cards are almost always good. [card]Lightning Helix[/card] is a good example. There are very few situations where you don’t want to gain life while dealing damage at the same time. It’s cheap enough that should be able to play it eventually (even if you are colour-screwed). Yet at the same time, you need to be careful. Cards like [card]Rampant Growth[/card] are also almost always playable – but you don’t really need it if your deck doesn’t have cards needing more than 4 mana.
Then, you have to consider – your opponent’s deck. A card like [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] seems weak when you happen to be goldfishing, but it’s a real monster when you have an opponent. You yourself might not be playing as many card types as needed to make it big – but together with your opponent, you probably are. [card]Harms Way[/card] is useless without an opponent – but it’s almost always useful with one. It’s like a counter spell – it’s a dead card to you by itself, but in response to your opponent, it’s a great card.
Whether a card is dead depends heavily on the decks in play. [card]One With Nothing[/card] seems useless – but combined with graveyard strategies and Rakdos-themed cards, it’s really quite the powerhouse. Even [card]Path to Exile[/card] is no good if there aren’t any creatures – or the only creatures around have shroud. Yikes.
Let’s go back to my example of [card]Doom Blade[/card], [card]Hideous End[/card], [card]Disfigure[/card], [card]Terror[/card] and [card]Dark Banishing[/card].
[card]Doom Blade[/card] and [card]Hideous End[/card] are really about the same, just that [card]Hideous End[/card] gives you the additional effect of taking away 2 life from your opponent. [card]Dark Banishing[/card] is similar – but for 1 extra generic mana, it takes away the possibility of regeneration!
To be fair, we’re comparing [card]Doom Blade[/card] to [card]Terror[/card]. If you are facing a lot of regeneration, [card]Terror[/card] is awesome. If you aren’t, then [card]Doom Blade[/card] hits more things and is even more awesome than [card]Terror[/card]. It even makes [card]Dark Banishing[/card] look obsolete if you don’t see much regeneration. If you see regeneration, then [card]Doom Blade[/card] is looking pretty dead. I’ve talked about a strange card – [card]Disfigure[/card]. How does it fit in? It’s better than all the other cards in the sense that I can hit everything – even stuff that’s black. The problem? It can’t hit anything bigger then 2 toughness. If everybody is playing small fry that’s annoying – it’s great. If everyone is playing huge things – it’s terrible.
If you notice that some of my cards are missing their apostrophes, that's deliberate. I don't have time to go through the mouseover plugin to fix them. Yet.