Friday, 25 May 2018

Battlebond Preliminary Review Part II

Stolen Strategy 1

This almost feels like a better disruption tool than it is a card advantage engine. Certainly casting other people's cards is very powerful but it is not so powerful that you play this over Vance's Blasting Cannons or Outpost Siege, the latter of which lets you play lands in addition to the bonus utility both cards posses over Stolen Strategy as well as a mana off the cost. Gonti is great against aggro decks because he is some tempo with some value that finds a cheap card that will further recover the early tempo losses aggro decks should enact. Stolen Strategy isn't because finding cheap cards of your opponents isn't going to come close to offsetting the tempo loss of making a five mana do nothing in the first place! For that level of tempo loss you are better off drawing from your own deck. This feels simply too slow and random to perform in heads up games. As soon as you are hitting multiple libraries however the card starts to look a whole lot more impressive and should be quite nuts in EDH.

Krav, the Unredeemed 2
Regna, the Redeemer 1

Regna isn't very good, the body is poor for a six drop and the ability is hard to trigger without heavily building around her. If you do she gets more impressive but is still pretty fair. Building around something only to get to the power level of a stand alone Grave Titan doesn't seem like a winning direction to take. Regna is not so bad that you don't want a free one via a Krav nor so bad that drawing her rather than digging her up for free is not devastating when you do pack both. Krav, rather fortunately for Regna, is really quite interesting. He is an exceptional sac outlet, easily the most powerful of those that need mana to sac. You gain life, you draw cards and you power up on the board. It is cheap, instant speed and can do bulk sacrifices like a proper cult! The kinds of decks that want sac outlets in cube tend to want them on the cheaper side and so despite Krav's potency I don't suspect we will see him rocking it in cube. He is probably narrow enough and hard enough to fit in that if he does get some cube attention it will be without his partner.

Arena Rector 7

My my my. Academy Rector is pretty good and found in many a combo deck. Academy Rector is the white Tinker in that it both tutors for a card and then cheats it into play. The original Rector commonly finds things like Yawgmoth's Bargain, Aluren, Mind Over Matter, Dream Halls, Omniscience, Parallax Tide and Wave, Cadaverous Bloom, Decree of Silence and even Treachery. A lot of powerful cards but all quite narrow both in what they do in a situation and in what kind of deck might want them. Now, cards like Ugin and Nicol Bolas Planeswalker are not quite so narrow. Any deck that can play such a card wants it. Even if all you find is Elspeth, Sun's Champion it is still a very high powered card. These big walkers are not only utility power plays but they are also juat win conditions all by them selves. A lot of the enchantments need other things tailored to utilizing them to work. With Arena Rector you just get her in the bin from play and replace her with a powerhouse card from your deck and win, all very normal and easy to include. Basically I am taking a long winded way of saying that I think this is not only a bit more powerful than Academy Rector but also significantly more playable in a draft cube setting. Arena Rector isn't all roses, there are substantially less walkers than there are enchantments and the walkers, while individually high utility, as a card type pack a far lower range of things you can do than enchantments. A lot of the good enchantment targets would facilitate some instant win which the planeswalkers won't. It will be a big swing but it will allow the game to go on for some time. One other difference between the two Rectors is that Arena doesn't have to exile to go and fetch meaning it can be combined with Liliana, Death's Majesty for double dipping on walkers (assuming you have an appropriate sac outlet). I am thinking this will have some game play like Stoneforge Mystic and some like Ophiomancer which makes it sound pretty amazing. I think it will be less powerful than both of those cards but still pretty strong in draft cube and will be even more potent in constructed decks despite not scaling as well into the realms of combo as Academy Rector.

Jungle Wayfinder 1

This feels like a support card such as Borderland Explorer but support cards typically don't stray into the 3 CMC region. This is a bit fair for a cube three drop, the only time it starts to look good is when you are against people without enough basics in their lists and this miss the pull. I don't see the opportunity for that to be known and this to be a good option at the same time so probably a non starter for cube.

Virtus's Maneuver 1

Raise Dead plus Diabolic Edict for the same total cost. The optimist in me sees Kolaghan's Command, the pessimist sees a game loss. The issue with this card is that you need the edict to be good for it to be good in the early and midgame. Cards like Liliana of the Veil and Doomfall can lean on their other elements to shine while this is dangerously weak when the Edict is taking down some 1/1 token. Edict effects scale fairly poorly past the early game and so three mana is a big ask, on top of that you want the Raise Dead to get value and that is less likely the earlier you are in the game. One redeeming feature of this card is that super late game the extra cost on the Raise Dead is no matter, just getting back your best threat will be worth those 3 mana in a lot of cases. Even so I think this is too unlikely to do good work in the early and mid game where you most need it to and so I don't see it fitting into my drafting cube well at all.

Last One Standing 3

Tragically this is probably pretty good in cube as so many strategies are into swarming these days. A three mana wrath that leaves one thing behind sounds totally fine. Sounds way less painful than skipping my lands untapping! It is basically a dud against creature light decks and so it feels like a sideboard tool more than something you would run main and that, along with being gold, feels like it rules it out for most cube uses.

Bramble Sovereign 3

This is worse than it looks but it isn't terrible. It is in the realms of Thrun, Yeva or Chamellion Colossus levels of good at best. Mostly this is a four mana 4/4 which is asking to get blown out. There after you are getting some value and perhaps some tempo out of it too but it is limiting, you need dorks to cast and the mana left over to copy them. Just copying Llanowar Elves isn't all that, you need to be making better things for this to be worth it and that feels like it needs a few too many things to come together to be a good plan. Just run cards that are good on their own and don't risk huge blowouts to most removal when you are playing four mana cards. This is certainly rather powerful but a little aimless, a little bit polar on the risk and rather win more on top of all that. My main argument against this is that I cannot thing of a pair of three drops I would rather have two of than a single cube five drop. The way scaling works on such things means the five drop is just going to be more powerful so even when you do curve perfectly with Sovereign you are going to be slowing yourself down trading power and options for a bit of value. 

Out of Bounds 1

Assist is sadly near useless in heads up magic, perhaps it has some cheeky interactions where it will be to the opponent's advantage to help out paying for your spell. The only way to make it work for you is during part of a mind control turn and that is not only rare but marginal bonus value to the point of actual irrelevance. What interests me about this card is that it seems like one of the least blue intense ways of hard countering a spell without any preconditions, drawbacks or extra costs. Out of Bounds lets you counter anything with a single blue mana and that is a thing. With a Will Kenrith -2 and a Baral in play this is a one mana hard counter. Probably not going to be a thing but noteworthy.

Stadium Vendors 2

This has combo written all over it. Vendors has four things going for it over Coal Stoker, a card which at first glace seems superior. Vendors is a clean EtB effect and does not need casting to trigger making it more versatile. Vendors adds mana of any colour which facilitates a much wider range of combo followups. Vendors can give mana to opponents, which if you are playing with mana burn and you have a good read of their options means it can not only be part of the combo engine but also the win condition! Minor perks or comedy ones aside, the main reason of the four that this has legs over Coal Stoker is simply that it is a goblin and feels like it plays well with the various cost reduction cards, tutoring and synergies with Food Chain.

Spellseeker 7

Lovely. A fantastic way of following on from Imperial Recruiter and the white one. This is not oppressive being a limited range three mana tutor but it is still strong in a wide array of places. It is another tutor and they are in relatively small supply. If this finds part of your combo then there is a reasonable chance you will consider playing it. Cube combo is sufficiently slow that you might well play this over Mystical Tutor so as to not incur card disadvantage. You might be doing that just for the potential to abuse creature synergies. I can easily see this in a Reanimator deck with Recurring Nightmare and Cabal Therapy wanting extra cheap bodies. In all out speedy combo decks Mystical Tutor is almost certainly the better card and in a control deck Sea Gate Oracle has a good shot of being the better card too. Spellseeker is good because it is playable in both those decks and everything in between which cannot so easily be said for those other cards. This finds 2/3rds of the things you could find with a Mystical Tutor in my cube. Also, when you are tutoring for answers you typically need the cheapest one so as to be able to play it alongside the tutor or at least recover more tempo with extra plays the next turn. As such Spellseeker is a reasonable silver bullet finder. I feel like the card this will be closest to in cube is Snapcaster. Both typically cast on turn three, both 2 for ones with a great spell and a limp body! Snappy is obviously rather superior being bigger and cheaper but Snappy is one of the best cards of all time. Spellseeker is not so far behind that he isn't a nice rounded cube worthy card.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Battlebond Preliminary Review Part I

Sea of Clouds etc (Bond lands?)

In my cynical old age these mostly seem like a mechanism to sell this product. These are premium lands for two headed giant, commander and any other multiplayer format and they are Coastal Towers in heads up play. They are some of the best lands for the multiplayer formats and some of the weakest when not. Certainly these have no cube applications for me, I do not intend to tarnish the best Magic format by going multiplayer at any point! I am not sure about the direction they are taking Rakdos in either from a flavour perspective. Rakdos does not scream luxury to me but whatever. Much as I might seem to complain this is probably a good thing for me, I like these sets a lot as they have way more exotic and pushed cards that will impact cube. Having really strong lands that all multiplayer people will want should increase the pack opening and reduce the value on the cards I actually want!

Pir, Imaginative Rascal 1
Toothy, Imaginary Friend 0

Both of these cards are just far too limp in stats to merit their up front cost. Pir might offer some redundancy in themed decks but I highly doubt it, you can get 2 mana 2/3s that do more so Pir is pretty lame. The only reason I can see Toothy getting play in cube is because you can tutor it up for free with Pir. Even bad cards are worth having if you can get them into your hand for free. I think the cost of actually drawing Toothy makes it too poor to run even with Pir but still.

Rushblade Commander 3

Warriors already had a bit of theme support and Battlebond looks to be adding to that rather a lot. Rushblade will be a lock in for any tribal warrior deck and might even sneak into the odd deck that just happens to have a high count of warriors.

Rowan Kenrith 0

First off, the partner aspect is pretty tame in cube, no deck wants a pair of 6 mana planeswalkers. That assumes you have access to both in the first place. Not that that should matter as Rowan seems pretty awful. The +2 is narrow and gains no value or tempo. In other words, awful. The -2 is also narrow and leaves Rowan highly vulnerable. It will miss a bunch of their dorks based on size and a bunch more based on being untapped. The emblem is cute but taking a few turns with your do nothing six drop to get a "cute" effect is not how games are won.

Will Kenrith 6

Will is a lot better than his sister, or wife, or whatever relationship they have. Being able to Sorceress Queen a pair of dorks for a turn cycle is pretty impressive protection for Will and even doubles up as a way of comboing off past things like Aethersworn Canonist or attacking past defenses. Handling two threats and going to 6 loyalty makes Will very hard to take down in combat. Will commands direct removal to take out cleanly of which there is not too much on offer. The -2 is fairly extreme as well. A pair of cards is nice and is likely better than the -2 on Architect of Thought as you neither have to reveal what you get nor just get one card a bunch of the time. I typically see Will coming down and going +2 to survive the turn followed by a -2 which should provide a huge swing. Often the cost reduction will be irrelevant as by the time you have untapped with a six drop in play your hand will be near empty and you obviously have a load of mana. That being said, if you do have much to do then it is also fairly nuts. It lasts till your next turn so it can be applied to countermagic, you can very easily flop out a five mana Karn and still have mana up for a Dismiss! The ability is tempting to try out in storm. Will has another cute ultimate but I don't see it getting used very much at all, it doesn't win the game and it is a lot less exciting than drawing cards and reducing mana costs. This is fine, Will seems plenty strong with just the plus and minus two abilities. While Will does seem very potent I am not sure how much love he would get in cube being so far up the curve. Blue is not a fan of tapping out in their turns.

Amazing Comeback 1

Quite powerful but I feel like this needs to be specifically abused in a tailor made deck rather than generically being viable. I am thinking Demonic Pact, Glorious End or Final Fortune sort of thing. If you just play this and wait to die it will be a dead card roughly half the time and that is far too much for any card to be dead. That makes it not a drafting cube card. Putting yourself to one is also savagely risky in cube and so I don't even see this being good in the decks built to use it.

Gorm the Great 0
Virtus the Veiled 0

Virtus is savagely poor. Easy to kill an in cube pretty easy to block as well, even with Gorm! Virtus feels like a better blocker than attacker! Gorm on the other hand is actually fine. He is relatively meaty and has some annoying abilities that combine to help race pretty well. Gorm is still too low impact to really merit cube inclusion and the partner with Virtus doesn't help with that. The free card is nice but again, not worth the risk of drawing it!

Mindblade Render 7.5

This seems exceptional. It would be cube worthy if it was only able to trigger from dealing combat damage itself. The fact that you can go turn one Bloodsoaked Champion (Tormented Hero and Vampire Lacerator also both just got a load better!) and follow it with this and start the drawing right away pushes it into the infrequently trod realms of the very good. The standard for card draw dorks has been a 3 CMC 1/3 for a long while. I am more than happy to trade a key word for a cost reduction. I am even happier to pay a life for cards drawn to allow Render to trigger on my other warriors even if they be few in number. Mindblade Render feels like the best Ophidian printed thus far. It isn't the power level of Dark Confidant but it probably has all the other lesser versions beat (Pain Seer etc) and I have all four of them in cube! Render can be better than Confidant as well when you get those tribal synergies going. Further to that Render is wildly more playable than Confidant which typically needs a proactive shell to house well. Render can just go in any old deck and should work out pretty well. It blocks a 2/1 like a charm and represents a must stop threat for 2 mana to a control build.

Archfiend of Despair 0

I don't really see this being played in any capacity but it is better than it looks. At first glance I ruled this out for having no immediate impact but that isn't entirely accurate. If you swing in then flop this out you essentially double the damage your stuff does and this will turn a lot of unsuspecting attacks into alpha strikes. If you could just have this as a curve topper in a sort of midrange tempo deck then that would be fantastic. As an 8 drop there is no real archetype that attacks in which you could realistically play this.

Soulblade Partners 0

Total limited cards.

Impetuous Protege 0
Proud Mentor 0

More limited cards.

Generous Sponsor 5

Intriguing card and no mistake. On an empty board this does nothing and that is probably what kills this card's chances even though boards are rarely empty in my cube these days. This is also a card which can change in power level quite significantly based on the exact translations. If you can combo with with -1/-1 counter removal (or indeed the spicy Contagion/Bounty of the Hunt), wither, or Tetzimoc then this is comfortably powerful enough to consider in a synergy deck. I will absolutely be trying to run this in something or other! In a more general case where you are only getting the trigger from the support of the Sponser itself then the card is still plenty powerful enough but only if you assume a wide range of things on both sides of the board to put counters on. Generous Sponser is fine as a Rishkar being 3/6 of stats for 3 mana, 2/2 of which is able to have haste and scale with other cards key words. Equally Generous Sponser is fine to buff dorks of your opponents and draw you two cards. You are still up a single stat with your 1/4 against their +2/+2 and so on average you have Divination in green with upside and utility. Often the counters you give will not improve the target in a relevant way, Sponsor can likely block any small dork you buff and big ones you likely have another plan for. It is only the middling dorks and evasive ones that are going to be a real problem buffing. I think Sponsor would be top tier if you always had the options on how to work it but I think in practice it will be far to awkward getting it to do what you want without issue. Too often there will not be at least two creatures on both sides of the board for Sponsor to fully shine.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

M19 Preliminary Reviews Part I

I imagine I will have done some Battlebond reviews before the next set of M19 stuff is spoiled and so depending on how the sets are spoiled I may end up reposting this just so there is a version with the rest of the set reviews and not lost in among other sets.

Goblin Instigator 6.5

Great little card that will certainly see a bunch of play. This is what token decks want, it is what goblin decks want and it is playable enough in any aggressive red deck in a cube setting to just run as filler if needed. The only real drawback of this card is that it isn't as good as Mogg War Marshal. Brainstorm being worse than Ancestral Recall doesn't stop Brainstorm being an amazing card... Being worse than something is only a drawback if it actually stops a card seeing play which I imagine will be the reverse of the case for Instigator. Redundancy in the right place increases playability and this is in the right place. This is only a support card and has low power level on its own but it is a fairly premium one for a couple of strong decks so I have given it a pretty high end rating for a support card. A tribal and token staple with other roles all quite likely.

Rustwing Falcon 4

This is a lot of stats and strong key words on a one drop. I haven't done a white skies deck in a long old while so I cannot really comment on the strength of it in the present meta. My guess is that it is a sub par version of other decks simply due to easier disruption and lower consistency. You need to have Anthem effects to empower your evasive one power dorks while more conventional aggro decks function fine without the buffs. This might be one of the best one drops in a white skies deck but I don't think it has enough punch to be worth playing on its own and I don't think white skies is a deck worth running either. I don't want to rule this out entirely as a mere +0/+1 on a cheap and OK card is a pretty massive buff.

Revatilize 5.5

Is this better than Renewed Faith? Perhaps but probably not overall. It really depends on quite a lot given how similar the cards are. The main reason you play Renewed Faith in cube is to have a cycler and Revitalize doesn't physically cycle and so doesn't trigger Astral Slide or Drake Haven etc and is of no use to such themed decks. Sometimes you play Renewed Faith to hedge against burn and aggro decks in which case the Faith is probably better again as it has the option on a 6 life mode or at least is uncounterable for 2 life. On the flip side you don't want Faith in a prowess deck and so there are certainly occasions Revatilize will be preferable. Revitalize is also quite a lot more card just on the numbers  (having 50% more life in the good mode assuming you almost always want the 2 mana mode on Faith) and so may well be strong enough just to run as filler. I don't see it replacing a card like Impulse in a control deck nor being enough lifegain to feel like much of a counter to aggro although it will help there. Likely still better off running Impulse and finding the thing that actually beats the aggro deck than gaining 3 life... Certainly very playable and a card I am very glad to see in print. I would like more free lifegain floating about the place.

Gearsmith Prodigy 6

Always nice to see blue get another cheap tempo card even if it is a narrow one. While this is probably not quite there yet for the drafting cube (with not quite the density of artifacts) you have been able to do strong blue tempo decks supported by artifacts effectively for a long time and they have been improving faster than most other aggro decks due to how few playables they had in the first place! Blue has a number of good one drops that pair well with artifacts and tempo themes, most notably Vedalken Certarch but also the new Artificer's Assistant! Grand Architect is a big reason to play such a deck but he only gets better with good cheap supporting dorks. One of the issues with such decks previously is just a lack of playable cards in the roles you need and so Prodigy is a massive buff to them. Typically these decks run equipment and so the Phantasmal cards are more of a no go which takes away some of the best cheap blue tempo cards. This Prodigy fills the hole left by Bears very nicely indeed. Presently I would say this should be in any non-tribal themed blue aggro build but only because they are weak and need the crutch support of artifacts to work at all. Prodigy might one day make it into the drafting cube with some more support but for now I think it is a touch too narrow.

Uncomfortable Chill 0

A bit pricey for a card with a relatively low impact. Repulse is likely just a better all round stall tool as well as having way more interactive potential.

Goblin Motivator 6

So Bloodlust Inciter was a fine card. The only thing that stopped it really shining in cube is that most of the good red dorks already have haste! Despite this Inciter was still fine in cube and fairly desirable in certain archetypes with fewer haste dorks naturally. Goblin Motivator has all the same merits as Inciter and it has significant additional merit in that it is a goblin! While there are plenty of great ways to give goblins haste the ability to do so with a one drop goblin was previously lacking. Motivator substantially empowers Warren Instigator and even Lackey. Having it in a list also further empowers cards like Sparksmith, Sharpshooter, Krenko etc. Warchief cards are such a high priority removal target than you find your abusive dorks don't have haste as much as you might like. Haste on some of these cards is just too dangerous and so having another must kill goblin on your team and in the one slot is a massive win. I suspect this will be a tribal mainstay in cube and one of the premium go to one drops. It only gets a six for general use but I feel like this is at least an 8 if we are just talking for one of the goblin builds.

Catalyst Elemental 2

Blood Vassal comes to red. Priest of Gix made that transition a while back and it didn't do anything too drastic. Given that Priest felt like a much more potent card than Vassal I don't expect Catalyst Elemental to make that big of a splash. It might get used a bit in some ramping red decks but I have not yet found a home for Grinning Ingus so I really don't expect this to suddenly make new things possible even though it looks like exactly that sort of card. Nice to have this out there at least.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Top 10 Cards from 2009

Acidic Slime
This is a really hard year to do as it has some huge names from back then that have fallen off in power since. 2009 also has some cards that perform less well in cube than in constructed and as a result this list looks a little inverted in places. This was the year that I got back into Magic after a few years off. I didn't get back into the competitive and travelling aspects of the game instead finding I was getting most out of MtG playing cube and just following events. This was the year I converted my play sets of older cards into things I needed for the cube. I was now a casual player and not a serious player on a break! This acceptance of the new Magic me brought with it a redoubled love of the game. I had been the snotty annoying kid, the overly arrogant teen, the jet setting competitive young adult and then I was a casual veteran and it felt great!

The big Magic thing of this year was the return of the core sets but with the twist of now having new cards in them. Obviously to push these base sets a lot of the cards were pushed with power level. Along with a power jump this year showcased some really impressive design with some of the best and most interesting one drops (the hardest CMC to design at well). Zendikar, Conflux, and Alara Reborn are the other sets from this year and while Zendikar has the lions share of the cube worthy cards none of the sets are blanks by any means. There are presently 23 total cards in my drafting cube from this era which is a very strong showing. The few power cards from the small sets in Alara block combined with the great depth of more core cards from Zendikar and the core set add up to an impressive year for cube play. Here are the cube relevant cards from teh year not on the top ten.

DisfigureAjani Goldmane
Brave the Elements
Acidic Slime
Harm's Way
Lotus Cobra
Doom Blade
Elite Vanguard
Elvish Archdruid
Expedition Map
Glory of Warfare
Goblin Bushwhaker
Goblin Chieftain
Grim Discovery
Hedron Crab
Knight of the ReliquaryHellspark Elemental
Honor the Pure
Inkwell Leviathan
Iona, Shield of Emeria
Journey to Nowhere
Knight of the Reliquary
Khalni Gem
Kor Skyfisher
Lapse of Certainty
Maelstrom Pulse
Martial Coup
Master of the Wild Hunt
Merfolk Sovereign
Mind Funeral
Mindbreak Trap
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
Oracle of Mul Daya
Open the Vaults
Parasitic Strix
Nicol Bolas, PlaneswalkerPlated Geopede
Punishing Fire
Qasali Pridemage
Sigil of the Empty Throne
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Spreading Sea
Steppe Lynx
Tukatongue Thallid
Thopter Foundry
Time Sieve
Vampire Hexmage
Vampire Nighthawk
Vampire Lacerator
Vampire Nocturnus
Vines of Vastwood
Volcanic Fallout
Warren Instigator
Zealous Persecution

Bloodbraid Elf10. Bloodbraid Elf

Over rated cube card for sure. A 3/2 haste is OK but hardly a game ending threat. You can have four flying hasted power of indestructible vampire instead for the same cost. Most removal kills Bloodbraid, most dorks trade with it at worst. In a lot of ways Bloodbraid is just a Rogue Refiner. The cluttered nature of cube boards makes the body of Bloodbriad a whole lot less threat than it is in modern and so in cube the Elf is more of a value card than a threat. While the card is still very powerful at that it is hurt by build restrictions and being gold. Bloodbraid feels closer to Abbot of Keral Keep in cube than it does to modern and standard Bloodbraid potency. Another thing that hurts the cards playability in cube is the reasonably large number of cards you don't really want to play with it such as countermagic, combat tricks and other time critical or narrow cards. When Bloodbraid does go above and beyond is when you are already applying tempo pressure. It is a great thing to follow up their making of a planeswalker and nuts when you can hit a three drop tempo card with it such as Ahn-Crop Crasher. Great in stompy zoo lists but hard to include elsewhere without lowering the value of the card and/or restricting your build. The actual best thing you can do with it is hit Ancestral Visions but then you are rather playing a Concentrate on legs and your deck is likely at odds with itself!

Baneslayer Angel9.   Baneslayer Angel

I spent a while torn over this. In 2009 and for many years after Baneslayer was totally first pickable. It was the best threat in the cube and ended more games than any other card. It was impossible to race and impossible to tangle with in combat. It basically felt like a Serra Angel that came with a ready equipped and pre-charged Jitte! Since then however everything has changed in cube and Baneslayer is a pretty risky card. If you pay your 5 mana to flop out the Angel and you eat one of a plethora of removal effects then you probably just lost. It could be a -1 from Jace, the Mind Sculptor, it could be a Ravenous Chupacabra, it could just a be a Doom Blade. Most decks have multiple such cards as there are plenty of three drops that can be pretty game ending if not dealt with and so vast amounts more spot removal are played in cube decks compared to 2009 era. Essentially playing Baneslayer turns a lot of common cards into Time Walk effects and that is a huge risk to take. The only reason Baneslayer is viable despite being a five drop with no real self protection, immediate value or effect is that when it does manage to dodge those game losing removal spells it will tend to wrap things up pretty quickly. Baneslayer is now an all in card, sometimes a hedge card against red and green. It is not the premium top end it used to be. I would love to have had Lotus Cobra, Acidic Slime, Harms Way or Bloodghast taking up the bottom end of this top ten list as those cards are all much more interesting and exciting. Much as I am trying to base things on how cards are now I am finding it hard to escape the gravitas of Bloodbraid and Baneslayer.

Day of Judgment8.   Day of Judgement

Nothing too exotic here, just another Wrath. The loss of hitting regenerators barely ever comes up in cube even though the odd regeneration card still floats about in cube. White having reasonable redundancy in Wrath effects makes it a very reliable control colour to draft. This consistency means people respect what a white deck might do to them with four mana which in turn leads to interesting games. Wrath effects, especially these clean and simple ones, are not particularly interesting cards to play. It is the potential of them that leads to interesting choices and games. The dynamic of extending appropriately to cope with mass removal is a great aspect of magic and Day of Judgement helps with that more than it might seem.

Burst Lightning7.   Burst Lightning

Yet more Shocks making it into the various top ten lists. Burst Lightning is I think the closest to appropriate power level for a one mana instant burn spell they have produced. I have played this over Chain Lightning in more reactive decks (although that is rare). What makes it so good is it's instant speed. So many of the good one drop burn is sorcery and that is a bit of a turn off, both for control and for prowess decks. Certainly it would seem that most Shocks with upside are made sorcery if that upside is actually good as per Firebolt, Forked Bolt and Pillar of Flame. Burst Lightning is the only instant Shock with frequently useful upside. Wild Slash for example has only been more than Shock about as much as Dragon Hunter is more than an Elite Vanguard which is to say about twice ever in my cube. Burst is super playable, ha a healthy power level and great design. For my money, the best designed of any burn spell ever.

Glacial Fortress6.   Allied Check Lands

Well designed dual lands that are very much on the fair side of things yet still highly playable. The slower decks get a lot more out of these lands than the aggressive ones but both still happily play them. Glacial Fortress is perhaps the only check land that tends to be more desirable than the corresponding pain land in cube. While these lands should be interesting to build with due to their pre-requisites the issue is that the better duals satisfy these and so they wind up being a little bit win more. In great mana bases full of sac lands and duals to find with them the check lands are super consistent at coming in untapped from turn two onwards and as such are great and you are happy enough running up to three suchcheck lands in most decks. If however you are leaning rather harder on pain, quick, filter and even Temples for your fixing then check lands are typically your worst duals offering no bonus perks and typically coming in tapped. In a world without shock and original duals check lands would be weaker but much more interesting to build with and consistent in their power level. Battle lands found a way of fixing the issue with polarity but were that much less powerful in general that the design fix isn't as interesting or useful.

Goblin Guide5.   Goblin Guide

Until Tarkir block a few years back I would have had this at least 3rd on this list as it was so much better than all the other one drop beater dorks in the game, specifically the red ones. Now red has a bunch of new one drops many of which are in the same kind of ballpark as Guide and the exclusivity of it has declined. Still a fantastically good card but not such a big signal card. You still always play Guide in your aggressive decks with red mana in them but you are not so sad when you have no Guide to put in. I rate Guide as one of the best designed one drop beaters of all time with the drawback being so interesting. I would love to see more cards with this sort of design. It gives the card mild variance due to differing values and counts of land in different decks. It gives extra information, it gives extra options and more than anything else it is actually a pretty real downside. There are times when I welcome the warm embrace of the Guide's beatdown when he gives me those extra cards. A card that can make both players feel good, isn't oppressively powerful and yet remains top tier is surely a design triumph?!

Spell Pierce4.   Spell Pierce

One of my favourite counterspells in the cube. One mana is fantastically cheap and an extra cost of two is as good as hard in the all important early game in cube. Negate is a great counter that has a solid range in cube and this is the high tempo version. It lets you make really aggressive plays early in the game with great safety. It is one of the best counters in a control vs. control situation as it is a great aid in winning any big turns. Due to how high the fee to cost ratio is (2:1) Pierce stays relevant longer than you expect it to as well. It gets lumped in with cards like Force Spike when it really tangles more with the likes of Mana Leak. All the other one mana soft counters and things like Daze and Censor are super easy to play round if you feel the need. Trying to play around Pierce will be crushing. You probably have to play round it on a few key turns else walking into it is also crushing but you cannot consistently avoid it, the only sensible thing to do is bait out a Pierce with some medium value card ideally in the two to three mana range.

Noble Hierarch3.   Noble Hierarch

One of the best mana dorks ever, probably the best in modern. Fixing for 60% of the colours, ramp on a one drop, able to attack itself or can sit back and ramp while buffing other dorks. I would still rather pick a Birds of Paradise over Hierarch due to how open it is but if I have a Bant midrange deck I absolutely want this little lady in my list over the other one drop dorks. Turns out exalted is a very powerful effect which scales well with lowering cost and utility roles over attacking ones. As such exalted is about as good as it gets on this premium utility one drop! Hierarch would easily still be playable without the exalted and it would still be one of the best of the one drop mana dorks. Hierarch is probably the closest thing out there to a Deathrite Shaman in that it does what you want it to very nicely and then it goes on to do a bunch more useful stuff on top of that!

Path to Exile2.   Path to Exile

Instant speed, one mana, exile effect and no target restriction. On the four qualities of removal this bad boy scores top marks on all possible categories along with only one other card. On average it is the second best removal spell in all of magic and there is a fair old gap between 2nd and 3rd. It is also the best removal spell out there for the more aggressive decks who do not wish to give away free life. The most impressive thing about Path to Exile is that the card is actually pretty fair and well designed. It is hard to take advantage of the low cost in the early game as giving someone a free land is better for them than basically any one drop. There is a reason Sakura Tribe Elder is a two mana card! Path has a drawback that scales really nicely with the progress of the game that keeps it interesting throughout. You can use it early but you want to avoid it. Path also has alternate uses and synergies further adding to the complexity and interest of this first rate card. Pathing your own dorks to ramp and fix is way to go sometimes, a lot more frequently than with Swords to Plowshares too! Thraben Inspector made that a much less painful thing to do more recently. Path is a nice way to turn on a Land Tax, Tithe or Knight of the White Orchid as well. Path to Exile is a flavour and colour win in addition to being a game play win. It is cheap and simple yet still powerful and and interesting. It is really very hard to design a one mana card of this power level without it being oppressive and so even more bonus marks for doing just that.

Scalding Tarn1.   Enemy Sacs

Sac lands being what they are you only really need one of the colours to match provided you have the right original dual or shock land. This means that enemy sacs didn't really change anything beyond bringing more sac lands to the table. It didn't really empower the off colours any more than the other pairings. They could just as easily printed functional copies of the allied sac lands so that you could have ten sac lands in a singleton format and it would have done much the same thing. Enemy sacs is just more sac lands and ultimately that is a good thing for cube. With only five on offer before hand they were stupidly premium, now you can reasonably expect at least one and that in turn increases consistency and smooths out who the recipients of that consistency buff are. Sac lands remain the most played cards in my cube and are up there with the highest pick priority cards as well. No one is ever too sad about first picking a sac land.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Top 10 Cards from 2008

Spectral ProcessionI thought this year might mark the calm before the storm,  a sort of lull before the power creep in dorks really went nuts. Not so much... While not a busted year it has some very strong cards and a lot of depth as well. This is actually the first year that finds creatures becoming the focus of my top 10 lists certainly in terms of those that attack! This implies that it was around this time that creatures were taken up a gear. I had always thought it was Zendikar block that marked the start of the marked power creep but seems that is a couple of years too late. Perhaps it is more to do with good all round cards with really high playability and less to do with raw power. Certainly the many well designed cards from this era feel like they have aged far better than most of the older cards and those of comparable ages. The year is made up of Shards of Alara, Eventide, Morningtide and Shadownmoor and is thus more sets than most previous years and is more new cards than any year previous too. Along with power creep this trend of more sets and cards has continued. In principle I like more cards as it is more chances on cool things but in reality I would just prefer a cleaner 3 or 4 releases a year with less than a thousand cards with less of the chaff cards reaching print! Here are some of those cards from this year I don't consider chaff before we got to those golden ten!

Chameleon Colossus

Spectral Procession
Dragon Fodder
Knight of the White Orchid
Ad Nauseam
Ajani Vengant
Tri (Shard) Lands
Bant Charm
Bloom Tender
Boggart Ram Gang
Chameleon Colossus
Countryside Crusher
Cruel Ultimatum
Curse Catcher
Tidehollow ScullerElvish Visionary
Esper Charm
Etherium Sculptor
Ethersworn Canonist
Fulminator Mage
Guttural Response
Heritage Druid
Master of Etherium
Mistveil Plains
Murderous Redcap
Murmuring Bosk
Nettle Sentinel
Oblivion Ring
Painter's Servant
Preeminent Captain
MutavaultRanger of Eos
Raven's Crime
Regal Force
Relic of Progenitus
Shard Volley
Sharuum the Hegemon
Slippery Boggle
Smash to Smithereens
Swans of Bryn Argoll
Sygg, River Cutthroat
Tezzeret the Seeker
Tidehollow Sculler
Wickerboug Elder
Wilt-Leaf Liege
Woodfall Primus
Wurm Harvest

Devoted Druid10. Devoted Druid

While this little two drop has nowhere near the power level in cube as he does in constructed he is none the less a solid little card. Two mana ramp effects have to be pretty impressive in green to make the cube and Druid lives up to the task. He is not quite so exotic as some of the alternatives but he more than makes up for that in reliability. You don't need to make land drops (Lotus Cobra) or have forests in play (Roffellos) for Druid to output mana as you do for the other two drops that ramp for more than one mana. You just slap Devoted Druid in your deck and he will do his job regardless of how the deck looks. The one off burst ramp for two that Druid gives you is incredibly potent. That one big hit of double ramp combined with the ongoing ramp for one gives you both a head start or later nitro boost as well as greater speed in the rest of the race! Spectral Procession likely has done more work over the years in cube than Druid but being so colour intense makes it one of the narrowest cards still in my cube so I gave the 10th spot to Druid (and have some regrets now that I am reviewing things).

Flickerwisp9.   Flickerwisp

This badboy has just remained a cube staple since release. The body is fine enough being relatively little mana for a decently high threat level card. The effect however is just so immensely useful that it pushes Flickerwisp to a pretty good spot. The list of things this regularly does is long but here goes; re-triggering an EtB effect on your own cards, untapping a land to gain an extra mana on your opponent's turn, giving a creature psuedo vigilance, killing a token, resetting planeswalker loyalties, preventing a creature from blocking, resetting a level up, evolve or otherwise growing on investment creature, unflipping flip cards, regaining control of stolen cards, refreshing depletion cards such as the new sagas, lowering a land count periodically to empower effects like Tithe, and possibly some more! Flickerwisp is a highly creative card as well as a nicely interactive one. It is a great example of good card design and leads to some great interactions.

Bitterblossom8.   Bitterblossom

I have never been a huge fan of this card. It has an aggressive lean and yet it is incredibly slow to take effect. A great tool against control decks but also a liability in some cases. I have seen people just die to their own Blossom with some comedy cards holding back the tide of Faeries. Architect of Thought is one of my favourite counters! Back in 2008 tempo was sufficiently low that Bitterblossom was just a solid card, overrated in cube but none the less a strong threat. Over time power creep made Bitterblossom weaker and narrower however changes to my cube design as well as emerging new archetypes have made up for that. More grinding midrange games, less combo, more general versatility in cards, and more things checking for card types have all wound up empowering Bitterblossom. It is strong in delirium decks and strong in Blood Artist decks while remaining an option in most black lists. Bitterblossom is a cheap source of ongoing value with plenty of archetype suitors for it.

Figure of Destiny7.   Figure of Destiny

This one drop used to be the hot sauce. He was pretty comfortably the best one drop beater ever made in magic at the time and was a huge boost to both aggressive red decks and white weenie decks. While Figure is still a great card he is not a high tempo one drop play, either costing you a single mana for a 1/1 or two mana for a 2/2. Both these stat lines are low tempo for their cost and make Figure more of a flex card than a pure aggro card that he once was. Figure pads out the one drops nicely while giving you more mid and late game. Being able to level up at instant speed makes Figure rather more complicated to play with and against than the level up dorks. It does lead to a more interesting card and goes a long way to offsetting the low tempo aspect of the card. Great design all round. A clever way of making a hybrid mana one drop not overly flexible in where it can be played like the next card. Figure has a great power level and is packed full of option density. I would love to see more creatures that can "level up" at instant speed.

Kitchen Finks6.   Kitchen Finks

Pretty mental this being in the bottom half of this list. Finks was easily one of the most powerful creatures in the game for a long old time. Finks was loads of tempo and loads of value. It hard countered red aggro and could be played by black green midrange decks or blue white control decks with ease. It was sufficiently aggressively statted that proactive beatdown decks would want to play it too. Finks was playable in every sense of the word, because of the hybrid mana, because it is tempo and value at the same time, because is good in most situations, in most decks and against most decks. Finks is even a part of a reasonable combo deck! Finks is still great but power creep has been mostly focused on creatures and so there are a lot of things now on a similar power level. A lot of those are more focused at what they do and can edge out Finks from lists he would once have been an auto include in. Finks now feels most like a card you use to hedge with if you feel weak to aggro or removal rather than something so good that you just play it. I like where it sits for power level relative to the rest of the cube now. Historically it was too good with its highly flexible hybrid cost, it had the power level of a real gold card such as Knight of the Reliquary.

Vendilion Clique5.   Vendilion Clique

Another three drop dork with three power to adorn this list. It would seem that power creep has set the lower bar somewhere a little before 2008 as this is where we are starting to see a more noticeable tick up in creature count. Clique is an all round great card a bit like the Finks and the Wisp. It is a pokey proactive threat, it is a useful disruptive tool and information gathering device and it can be used well in controlling reactive decks thanks to the flash. Clique is even a bit of a card quality dork with the emergency self targetting loot option when you are short on lands or are desperate for something. Clique has further parallels to the other three power three drops on the list. It is all about playability and they all have it. These three mana utility dorks bridge the gap with tempo and value, power and low cost and as such are all in the rare group of dorks you find in aggro, midrange and control builds. This is even more impressive when you consider how reasonable these cards seem in terms of power level relative to the cube. Well, that is the case now at least, Clique and Finks both seem rather over powered in 2008 and indeed outside of the eternal formats!

Negate4.   Negate

One of those classic hits and quite possibly one of the last of the really clean colour defining core cards. Negate is the balanced Counterspell. It is like all the solid but fair black removal. Deal with something for two mana but with a restriction that makes things interesting. I play Negate a lot, more than most other countermagic. It is less onerous that the universal hard counters like Force of Will, Cryptic and actual which all need much heavier blue commitments. Things like Remand, Mana Leak and other playable counters are a lot softer and less reliable than I would like. Negate is the perfect two colour deck counterspell. It is easy to cast and deals with all the non-creature things while the other colour your blue is paired with can deal with the creatures! It is a cheap hard counter and it stays that way. As I think the correct mana cost for actual Counterspell tuned for cube power is two and a half mana there is no clean and balanced "Counter target spell" card, they all need tweeks to be balanced. Due to this Negate is the poster boy for countermagic and blue. Negate is the bar by which other counters get compared, or at least it should be from a design perspective.

Glen Elendra Archmage3. Glen Elandra Archmage

A monstrous card and quite the counter to the previous Negate. I have lost several games to feeling safe with my Negate plus Doom Blade in any sort of fight over game winning spells and then they flop out a Glen and my well laid plans crumble. Glen utterly crushes control decks being one of the best tools against them. Obviously two Negates in one card is a big deal however it is much more than that. It is partly that Glen stalls the game while makes the small aerial beatdown offered meaningful. More than that it is having access to a pair of Negates at one mana a shot. That gives extreme control over any big turns or plays and even lets you be proactive. You can just start running stuff out knowing you have a couple of hard counters to respond to their answers. Glen is a fine card against most lists being, if nothing else,  a pretty reasonable blocker if needed against the aggro decks. Glen is quite like Mother of Runes in midrange games as well and generally forces a two for one in addition to some awkward plays. Glen locks down a lot of situations, a one to punch of Glen and planeswalker in whichever order is most appropriate will win a lot of games. Counter based trickery and flicker effects can provide even more lockdown brutality. Many a concession has been the result of a reset Glen!

Fire-Lit Thicket2.   Filter Lands

Really interesting and quite potent dual lands. Interesting in that they scale poorly with themselves and colourless producing lands. Interesting in that they provide not just a single fix but a double fix. In a deck with BB and WW cards to cast filter lands are your best fixer while in a deck with BW, BR and RW cards to play a filter land will be a liability for two of those. In the more general sense filter lands are comparable to the check lands in that they fix for two colours and typically produce useful mana immediately from turns two onwards. Filter lands can cast colourless things but not many decks have colourless one drops they actively want to make on turn one. The colourless component got a boost in utility with the Eldrazi cards from BfZ which is cute! Filter lands are one of the best cycles of dual lands in terms of power level and complexity. They have a much greater range on their potential performance than other lands while sitting in a good average spot that remains highly playable. I hope to see the rest of the one off duals from Time Spiral block done soon, or at least Burnwillows and Canopy! The others are more dubiously needed and a bit harder to balance in the case of River of Tears. You would need a cycle of 20 to do all variants of it as it is not symmetrical in how it treats the colours it fixes, like if you were to do a full cycle of the Tainted lands from Torment. .

Elspeth, Knight-Errant1.   Elspeth, Knight-Errant

In cube Knight-Errant reaches her full potential. In constructed she was decent but was rather outclassed by alternatives. In cube the different meta suits Elspeth perfectly and she is a force to be reckoned with. I am sure I have said it a lot but Elspeth is the reason I cut the power from my drafting cube initially. Everyone was just super board with Sol Ring, Mana Crypt and Black Lotus leading to turns one and two Elspeth. It was just so unrecoverable with there being little to no removal back then for planeswalkers. Obviously there was loads of reasons to ban the power but it was Elspeth that really brought those issues to peoples attention! In cube Elspeth is the king of planeswalker fights. If your planeswalker doesn't read "destroy target planeswalker" in some capacity then Elspeth is going to win that fight. Elspeth is one of very few walkers who can not only protect herself well with both blockers and high loyalty while also threatening so effectively. Elspeth can usually be played after someone else's planeswalker and instantly take it down by sending some little dork to the skies. Most planeswalkers are not good plays if there is already an Elspeth in play. Boards in cube get very cluttered and planeswalkers are common and powerful. Elspeth thrives in that environment. Certainly she is not as powerful as Jace the Mind Sculptor but she absolutely out performs him in cube. There is loads of counterplay to Jace, such as haste dorks, EtB triggers on dorks, just a couple of cheap dorks etc. There is very little counterplay to Elspeth. Either counter her or have direct removal like Dreadbore for her. Planeswalkers are a little hard to compare across the board these days with there being a pretty large disconnect between the 3 mana ones, the 4 mana ones and the 5 or more mana ones. For cube I have called Elspeth the best planeswalker since 2008 and I still mostly hold by that claim. I certainly still think she is the best of the 4 and 5 mana walkers on offer in cube although it is a close run thing. It is probable that the more polar cheap and expensive walker groups have a few in their ranks that have surpassed Elspeth in cube performance but as said, they are not directly comparable cards due to how and where you can play them. Another aspect of Elspeth's extreme cube power is that you can play her in any speed of deck. She is a great finisher threat for white weenie. She is an incredibly strong play for a midrange deck and she is also a pretty desirable walker in the control decks and this is all because she is so well able to play offense or defense as required and does so well. In control she works wonders with Wrath effects as without direct removal people are forced into over extending onto the board to try and take her down. Very much one of whites best cards in cube and a little underrated due to how much better she is in cube than in other formats.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Mono White Approach .dec

Approach of the Second SunThis is an Approach of the Second Sun deck that a friend of mine devised. He was making it UW which likely is a better build but I challenged him into going mono and he rose to it fantastically. The list below is how I would build the deck given what I learned from my mates build. We had a good old chat about the build after our games and discussed many ways you could go with the deck. We both concluded that adding in either blue for dig, draw and permission or black for tutors and hand disruption would be the best direction to take this list but it was still highly competitive in it's untuned mono white state. Being creative and successful at the same time in mono white is a pretty big deal so my mate gets top marks for that!

The advantage of going mono in cube is two fold, it typically increases your consistency but it also means you don't have to fight over things as much and can get on with picking the most powerful things you want for your deck. Another advantage of going mono when building new decks is limiting yourself and the build. Restricting your options helps you focus in on the key aspects of the deck's plan, I find even though I will have a weaker deck it will be more on the money strategically. It will point me in the best direction for when I do chose to complicate things. With a mono deck you learn the weaknesses quicker and we will get to that after the list;

23 Spells
Land Tax
Path to Exile
Enlightened Tutor
Mana Tithe

Land Tax
Orim's Chant
Thraben Inspector

Treasure Map
Scroll Rack
Wall of Omens

Unexpectedly Absent

AbeyanceRenewed Faith
Forsake the Worldly
Gideon of the Trials
Council's Judgement

Settle the Wreckage
Wrath of God
Cast Out

Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Approach of the Second Sun

Decree of Justice

17  Lands

Secluded Steppe
Mistveil Plains
Myriad Landscape
Mage-Ring Network
Arch of Orazca
12 Plains

Decree of JusticeThe deck performed very well and, as any mono white control deck should do, utterly wrecks aggro decks. Where a list like this is more vulnerable is to hand disruption and permission. The scariest hand disruption are things like Doomfall and Thought Knot Seer as they exile. If you get your Approach exiled you are winning with 1/1 tokens, or more likely, not winning. You have counter play to hand disruption in the Scroll Rack and even the Mistveil Plains and you shouldn't expect as much of it as counterspells. To fight those we have Abeyance, Orim's Chant, Mana Tithe and an uncounterable threat in Decree of Justice. The Decree made me want to try out Azor's Gateway in the list as it is such a good mana dump and the list wanted more dig and filter too. Had I gone with Azor's Gateway I would have probably wanted to go deeper down the rabbit hole and pack Walking Ballista. A deck like this is certainly one of the best homes you are going to find for the crazy flip card. It may sound like overkill packing so much anti permission things but with such a good matchup against creature based things I think it is the way to go unless you have prior meta knowledge. If you want a bit more protection again hand disruption you can play a conservative Gilded Light or a heavy hitting Leyline of Sanctity.

Scroll RackThe other weakness this list has is an over reliance on the Scroll Rack Land Tax combo. Not only do you want to find and resolve these cards but you want to keep them in play for ages and ideally keep the Tax active all the way to seven mana! I was strongly considering things like Boarder Posts and Khalni Gem to make that a reality. I defeated the deck once with a well timed World Breaker killing a Scroll Rack on the turn he played his 1st Approach with six cards remaining in hand. I was dead the following turn had I not and I was probably dead if I played another land and turned his Tax on again. I would also have probably still lost had he had a shuffle effect in hand so as to clear past the 6 plains on the top of the deck! You can partially protect these key cards with Spellskite or if you wanted to go super deep some Rebuff the Wicked technology!

The better plan, as mentioned, is going blue or black and using their tools to find the Approach. White has no dig or tutor effects for sorceries nor does it have much in the way of card draw at all. Palace Jailer feels a bit risky in a deck with so few creatures. Pursuit of Knowledge always feels risky! Karn, Scion of Urza would be great except that if you +1 him and happen to hit your Approach and they can deal with the Karn you shot yourself in the foot pretty hard. Artifacts present some value options, the Treasure Map proved outstanding in the games. My mate played Solemn Simulacrum too which is passable filler but feels a bit low impact these days. This list is a pretty reasonable housing for Isochron Scepter with a number of strong targets and a tutor for artifacts naturally in the deck. With the addition of some cheap cantrip cards, perhaps over some of the cyclers, you could give this deck a whole extra dimension whilst also partially solving the card draw issue. Sometimes you will just get a nice annoying Unexpectedly Absent, Path or something, sometimes you will get powerful disruption and ongoing draw with Abeyance and sometimes you will randomly steal games with the Orim's Chant combo. If going the Scepter route I would try and play Hallowed Moonlight as a nice utility draw card to go alongside Abeyance. I would probably also replaced the Renewed Faith with Blessed Alliance. While you are doing cheesy things like Scepter locking people why not throw in cards like Moat to further abuse your Enlightened Tutor at the mere cost of peoples enjoyment and your popularity! Winning with Moat or Worship is like winning at Street Fighter by spamming the E. Honda slap or Baraka's lightning thingy. No one had fun or felt good. A reference even older than Moat itself!

Myriad LandscapeGiven this list plans to win by playing 14 mana worth of 7 drop or indeed making a whole boat load of tokens with a Decree it is going to want a lot of mana. The sooner it has at least 7 the sooner it can think about winning. Ramp sounds like an obvious inclusion but I think it is a little bit dangerous, you don't want to hurt your consistency, this is more of a control deck than a combo deck. I'd rather take a little longer to get there and increase my chance of doing so and that is feasible with white's tools. I like Solemn Simulacrum as it is both ramp and value at once. That is also why I have only used lands as ramp tools in this list. Mage-Ring Network was the only land ramp my friend played and it was excellent. It might be the best ramp land option for this list which is impressive given the strong list of alternatives. I wanted to run Temple of the False God but didn't want to dip too low on the land count, ideally I want to be cycling that Steppe! I considered Ancient Tomb as well bet felt that a little extreme. Two lands in one feel like a two for one and a free Explore which is perfect for the list and comes at relatively little cost. It is certainly a huge perk for the mono approach. Pearl Medallion was considered and my mate even ran a Mox Diamond but I didn't feel the burst merited the card disadvantage even though I love it when a Medallion comes out! If I wanted more ramp I would likely go for a Wayfarer's Bauble so that I could go that bit deeper on colourless lands that can ramp as well. Bauble also doesn't feel like it costs you a card in the same way as the bursty options.

My mate ran Terminus which was fine. You could go heavier miracle and pack the Divining Top and the Entreat the Angels (the latter over the Decree as a neat swap) and that would also be a fine way to go. I don't think the deck needs it to compete and not having miracles is totally fine as well, better running no miracle things than building in a bad miracle theme, so my list is safer and on that front and user friendly! Much like the Scepter package this miracle theme is an optional bolt on to add some depth and bite but it should be done once you have mastered the underlying base deck first for best effects.

Gideon of the TrialsMy mate ran Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Gideon Jura. I actually had the Gideon of the Trails in one of my decks and the emblem was pretty good against this list! Ugin is obviously fantastically powerful but it is over the price of the Approach and doesn't bring anything new to the table. White is the colour of exiling all the non-land things after all! I feel like a Martial Coup would get more work done.

This deck being mono, having a high curve and a low colour requirement allows you to pack a lot of colourless lands. Mostly these are best used as ramp cards but you can patch over some of the issues the deck has. I used the new Arch to add in some card draw although Geier Reach Sanitarium might be a better option. My mate ran Rishadan Port which is probably the most powerful and rounded of the options. Boseiju, Who Shelters All is another way to combat permission if you are that keen. If I was going down that route I think I would want a Weathered Wayfarer to help me find it.

Despite being mono there was a wealth of options for this deck. While it may be better with access to more colours it is really nice to know you can make it work in just the one. It makes it a lot more viable for the more exotic constructed style formats in cube. The list has other strengths as well, having a card that literally says "win the game" on it is a big deal. There isn't a lot of counterplay or defense to that for a lot of archetypes and it gives you that lovely certainty of inevitability. It isn't even that slow if you can get the Rack with a decent hand size on the go which does usually mean also having Taxed but still, this list can win on turn seven, up to two turns sooner if you pack some more extreme ramp. That is all quicker than an Entreat deck will do and those are about as punchy and quick as control decks tend to be excluding the pseudo control decks like Splinter Twin. There is also more counterplay to Entreat kills. One good suggestion on how to build this deck is like an Astral Slide deck from back in Onslaught block. Amonkhet brought lots of lovely new cycling cards to run with it and they seem like a nice overlapping set of strategies. I have been meaning to do a post Amonkhet cycling deck for ages now but can't work out what colours to do it in, let alone how to go about building it. I suspect I will try and refine that before going for some combi deck containing both elements. Approach feels like a slightly improved Aetherling in a lot of ways and is a very space efficient way of enabling your control deck to win games. It might actually be worthy of a drafting cube slot!?!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Top 10 Cards from 2007

This the biggest year for cube since '93 looking at things chronologically, as we are. It turns out that many of the big names from the Lorwyn (big) block come from the first set and not the following three. Time Spiral block continues with its exotic and useful nature with both Planar Chaos and Future Sight offering up some juice. I think I only have 13 or so of the cards from this year presently in my cube but scanning down this list I have had a huge number of these cards in cube for extended periods and could well see some making a return. Interesting cards, solid cards and powerful cards left right and center! I am very fond of all the blocks that contribute to this year too, I just like how they look and feel.

Shelldock IsleShelldock Isle is also a card I ultimately banned. While also supporting cheat in mechanics and thus big creatures like Emrakul, Ulamog, Griselbrand and the like the Isle was simply far too good. It is super easy to setup, hit randomly or with a Tutor or Brainstorm effect. It is then very easy to turn on. Shelldock frequently fired off in the midgame, from like turn five and would usually represent such a swing that the game would be won. The cost of playing Sheldock was very little as well considering how game breaking it is. It is like playing an Ancestral Visions except you also get an Island with it at the start and late game the suspend is reduced to 1! Oh, and it would frequently generate a bonus 12 mana Tolarian Academy style now and again... All in all far too good in cube and a fairly easy cut. Even without cards with vast CMC Shelldock is pretty oppressive, 20 cards left in a deck occurs in most games and rapidly. To be a comparable power level to 60 card decks it would need to trigger on a practically empty library in 40 card decks. The next youngest card I have banned is Grim Monolith and one can appreciate the greater understanding of the design team as magic has aged. If Shelldock functioned as intended as per 60 card decks it wouldn't need banning.

Aven MindcensorSunlance
Aquitect's Will
Augur of Skulls
Austere Command
Autie's Hovel
Aven Mindcensor
Body Double
Boom / Bust
Cloudgoat Ranger
Coalition Relic
Crib Swap
Dakmor Salvage
Dawn Charm
Daybreak Coronet
Doran, the Siege Tower
Dryad Arbor
Coalition RelicGaddok Teeg
Gathan Raiders
Gilt-Leaf Palace
Glittering Wish
Goldmeadow Harrier
Graven Cairns*
Grove of the Burnwillows
Horizon Canopy
Imperious Perfect
Kavu Predator
Keldon Marauder
Logic Knot
Mad Auntie
Magus of the Moon
Merror Reejerey
Mesa Enchantress
Kavu PredatorMirror Entity
Mistbind Clique
Nameless Inversion
Oblivion Ring
Pact of Negation
Porphyry Nodes
Primeval Command
Profane Command
Rebuff the Wicked
Rites of Flourishing
River of Tears
Scion of Oona
Seal of Primordium
Street WraithSecluded Glen
Silvergil Adept
Simian Spirit Guide
Slaughter Pact
Sower of Temptation
Spellstutter Sprite
Springleaf Drum
Street Wraith
Summoner's Pact
Sword of the Meek
Thorn of Amethyst
Tolaria West
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Venser, Shaper Savant
Vivid Lands
Whitemane Lion
Windbrisk Heights

Tarfire10. Tarfire

Just a Shock when you cast it but rather more than a Shock at the times you are not casting it. Initially this was exclusively a tribal card for the synergies it offered with Ringleader, Recruiter and Matron however it has made its way into the drafting cube since the arrival of delirium. Tarfire is easily the most playable of the cards with the tribal type. Most decks are pretty happy throwing in some cheap burn. Tarfire now enjoys a supporting role for Emrakul, the Promised End, Tarmogoyf and all the delirium cards. Having cards that put themselves in the bin when you play them, while being useful effects, that have multiple types, and low costs are what delirium decks want from a support card. Tarfire would be good at supporting those cards even if the tribal type wasn't as super rare as it is on playables.

Jace Beleren9.   Jace Beleren

Original Jace and the first of the three mana planeswalkers. Beleren is a testament to good design, the card has been in the cube since it was printed and has seen plenty of play yet has never seemed over powered. Beleren is more limited than your typical walker in that he is only really card draw. Although he can also be a win condition that is only if you have gained complete control as per most planswalker ultimates. You usually won before you go there. Beleren offers no utility beyond card draw prior to that point which is what makes him a unique walker. Fortunately Jace is good enough and versatile enough at what he does to be fine with just doing card draw. A +2 ability on a three mana walker is normally oppressive, see Ashiok, but as Jace concedes cards to do this and doesn't really become more threatening himself it is interesting and balanced. The choice to both draw or just draw yourself and the choice of attacking Jace or ignoring him is often a difficult and interesting choice for both players and that, on top of being so fair, is what makes him such good design.

Mana Tithe8.   Mana Tithe

I liked the colour shifting of things, I think it was done with more than sufficient restraint to cause any problems or homogenization. White also really needed the love in terms of interesting cards, interactive cards and option dense cards. White is fine on power level, playables, archetypes and so forth but my god is it a dull colour. Very few white cards pull me to the colour but this blue card does a good job of it! I feel like Force Spike sits well in white, it certainly sees a lot more play than the blue version but that is largely due to blue having a lot of options for that kind of thing that is often used over Spike. White also puts Mana Tithe to better effect than blue can as it has lots of cheap proactive threats and mana denial disruption on many of those. If they are under pressure from either of the Thalia's for example a Mana Tithe is going to be rather more effective.

Ponder7.   Ponder

While Ponder and Brainstorm are the two most played card quality cards in constructed formats where they are legal they are rather overrated in cube and often weaker than the simple scry options. Without an abundance of sac lands and other shuffle Ponder offers less card quality than scry cards typically. It is a superior digging tool but again, most cube decks are looking for overall consistency and not just dig capacity. Combo decks often want direct dig but all other kinds of deck just want overall consistency for the most part. Ponder is still a great card and still a premium one drop it just turns out that it is only 4th or 5th best of the cards that do the same sort of thing in a cube without combo. This low rating and dull report on the card make it sound worse than it should. I will happily play Ponder in any deck, even without any sac lands. It is still a great card and one of the most played in my cube. Rarely is it left unpicked or unplayed and rarely do I think someone is playing it when they shouldn't be. Ponder is great, just not Preordain great! This version is ugly despite Tedin being the artist of most of my favourite spells I have never been a big fan of his humanoid depictions. I was glad when the Msets brought this out with new art.

Tarmogoyf6.   Tarmogoyf

Another card that is overrated in cube based on its strength in constructed. Certainly Goyf remains one of the most efficient creatures in cube as it is in modern however with just the one copy in cube it is much harder to house the Goyf in a way that makes good use of his huge stats. Just a random fat dork is a bit aimless. It will get removed if needed or chumped if needed and will rarely dominate the game. In modern you trade off resources and quickly and so you want the card you have left over to wrap things up quickly. In modern Goyf is almost a combo card with Thoughtsieze as it ensures you can play it on turn two already Bolt proof. In cube it is far more common to have a big board stall. Gofy is getting rather better in cube at present with delirium cards and other graveyard based synergies being common and powerful. Despite most older creatures getting worse over time Gofy is one of the very few that is getting better. It is still way better in constructed than cube and was never a bad card in cube.

Shriekmaw5.   Shriekmaw

A lovely little card that seems to find its way into most black decks. A two mana sorcery speed Terror is fine. It is playable enough and that is what tends to matter with cards that have different modes of play. Shriekmaw gives you some early options while being a reasonably weighty late game card if held onto. Five mana removal is poor as is a 3/2 partially evasive dork however it is good value and usually good tempo when combined. Critically, the pricey nature of the powerful end is dramatically reduced in risk by having a useful two mana mode. Evoke is a great mechanic and this is the best of the cube cards with it on. Evoke is also a nice way to get dorks in the bin be that for flipping Heretical Healers or empowering delirium or providing targets for recursion effects. Spell effects at spell costs on creatures is also really nice for mainly green tutor and dig effects. A really great all round card that is exactly what you want in cubes. 

Garruk Wildspeaker4.   Garruk Wildspeaker

One of my favourite planeswalkers. Great design for both flavour and power level. Garruk never felt like he got as much love as he deserves. While green has lots of strong walkers I think Wildspeaker remains the best in cube. The best thing about Garruk is that he costs very little mana. If you plus him with just normal lands in play the turn you make him he has only cost you two mana effectively. If you can flop out something else alongside your Garruk then you have had a huge swing of a turn. Garruk plus lands that tap for more than one, or just Garruk off the back of ramp is all very bursty. Garruk also protects himself as all the good four drop walkers should. The ultimate on Garruk also helps more than most planeswalkers ultimates to push his power level. It works well with green and the making of 3/3 beasts, it can happen the turn after Garruk hits play and it often threatens to end the game. Garruk is one of the most common planeswalkers to force a bad attack or a bit of burn just to keep him off his ultimate. Despite his versatility and power he is not all that disruptive and so has always been fairer than the bomb walkers.

Damnation3.   Damnation

The black Wrath of God and probably better than the original simply due to greater redundancy in white. This is a great colour shifted card as it is entirely appropriate. Black feels like it should have Wrath and as of 2007 it does so that is great. A Day of Judgement shifted over as well would be nice! Black having access to decent, reliable mass removal adds depth to the colour and ensures it is a strong pairing for a control deck. There are not many core cards (those with few words that do one thing cheaply) that can be colour shifted and not seem to break the colour pie. I would love to see Shock in another colour for example but it would feel wrong. Damnation doesn't at all and is a huge win on that front as well as the power aspect. The art is a wonderful counterpoint to Wrath of God as well.

Cryptic Command2.   Cryptic Command

No one is a stranger to this bad boy or what it does. A huge pull to blue and a huge buff to some of the other best blue cards. Luckily for Cryptic Command filter lands arrived before it did! After taking a break from the game in 2006 I didn't really get back into MtG until 2009. I had vaguely kept the cube upto date but I wasn't following events or metas. I was pretty oblivious to the potency of this card and rather underrated it. It reeked of Dismiss and bad Repulse and it took a bit of persuading me to add it to the cube. There are those who do not let me forget my very very off evaluation of this beast to this day. Thankfully I am rather better at appraising cards these days, although most of it is just recognizing bias. I was biased against Cryptic for many reasons, not least being triple blue to cast. Cryptic was not in my cube for a couple of years and that is frankly shameful, even as a super casual as I was at the time.

Thoughtseize1.   Thoughtseize

One of the all time great cards. I rate this up there with Force of Will. In a lot of ways it is better. I would certainly rather be playing Thoughtseize on turns one and two than Force! That becomes less true when you have a powered cube, then it is all about going first and having lots of power! Thoughtsieze is easily the best non-land card in modern, arguably in legacy and not far off in cube. Thoughtsieze provides complete information and almost full control. It is a one for one trade for a minor tempo cost. It gives you a plan and takes away theirs. I think this effect is so colour defining for black and so interesting and skill intense that I would like to keep it in the game and have more similar effects printed so as to allow for more cube redundancy. I would also like to see more cards that protect against discard effects. The problem with this card in modern is the lack of counterplay, not so much the power level of the card, although that is also very very high!