GoldenEraMTB: You spy two MRC cranks. The red one in the middle and the nickel plated one on the top left.
Best steel crank? Among all the cranks I have there is only one "custom" crank I am actually using on one of my bikes. It´s a Sweet Parts Wings.
So this is the answer to your question.
There are too many drawbacks at all others. Like a high Q-factor (very, very bad! This is disqualifies most steel cranks in my opinion! E.g. MRC, Syncros, Grove). Flimsy welding (Breezer, MRC, Syncros, CQP). Bad bottom bracket (Bullseye). Compared to Sweet most othery are very heavy and have a rough BMX style look.
But, when reality speaks you have to choose other stuff. My favourite MTB crank of all time is pictured, too.
Had never seen a mrc nickel plated, so didn't consider it.
Good point on the Q-factor of the steel cranks. I figured mountain bikes have poor q-factors to begin with, so I didn't give it much further thought. Most mrc stuff is poorly welded, so that's not surprising.
I'm definitely interested in your favorite mtb crank of all time...is it the xtr m900; nothing special about it, but it works great? It's one of my favorites, but I have not had the crank experience you have...please share