Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Hour of Devastation Initial Review Part VI

Hollow One 3

This is rather like a Myr Enforcer, arguably a more widely playable and higher power one at that. You can play this turn two with nothing more than a Careful Study or Faithless Looting to turn it on. The issue this card has is much like the Ammit. You get a potentially undercost fatty for some minor inconveniences. That is a problem because you rarely want just a fatty in cube. By the time most things are big enough to be considered a fatty in cube you need trample or some other evasion to make them all that useful. At 5 mana this is terrible. At 3 is it OK but far from exciting. It is not until this is 1 or less that it really stands out in the cube. While Hollow One is just a vanilla dork and doesn't have the -1/-1 counters drawback of the Ammit it has a different kind of awkwardness in regards its value at different costs. As this is only good at one or less mana you have to support it heavily. Big vanilla dorks that require support from your build are either overly narrow or simply not worth it. The only time this would see play is if a deck that contained loads of discard (and I guess cycling although even a cycle for one mana only reduces the cost of this by one rather than the two from a discard, which can often be done for zero mana) that also wanted efficient creatures. That is probably only some kind of madness deck as all the other decks with high discard outlet numbers are combo decks and have little need of a vanilla 4/4. This is either too narrow or too low powered for the main cube although at least it isn't both. Nice card though and one that could well find a couple of homes even if they are only constructed cube archetypes.

Shefet Dune 3
Ipnu Rivulet 3
Ifnir Dreadlands 2
Ramunap Ruins 4
Hashep Oasis 1

I have always wanted to see more coloured utility lands with pain costs rather than coming into play tapped ones. While I like what has been done here I don't think these pack enough punch or offer the kind of thing I am after to make a main cube entry. The ability to combine these with other deserts, deserts matter, or desert supporting cards is nice and will have good limited and standard applications. Overall it felt like all the desert stuff was too fair to make significant waves in other formats. Perhaps we will see a total bomb that will be enough to carry a desert theme but it seems pretty unlikely at this stage. As such these cards will have to find homes on their own merit rather than being carried by synergies. So let us take a look at where you might want such cards. One thing I did just realize is that these are basically dual lands when playing a lot of the BfZ Eldrazi cards. In a list with a lot of cards wanting colourless mana these lands rise a good chunk in value. Narrow bonus application but not irrelevant.

The Dunes offer one turn of Glorious Anthem for five mana and a sacrificed land. This is only something you would play in a deck going very wide which is something white does fairly well and not too infrequently. My gut is that if I really wanted something like this I would look to Gavony Township first. If I really couldn't afford that colourless land or the green splash then I probably play this but it likely adds very little to the overall power of the deck. For five mana this effect is pretty marginal. You are probably only popping this when it allows you to alpha strike or perhaps take out a planeswalker. As you will be playing an aggressive deck including this costs you almost nothing, you just might as well if you can. While that should make it an auto include in most white tokens decks I still don't think it is enough for playing this in your drafting cube. The card is narrow and very underwhelming. No one is ever picking this over a proper card as this is so utterly replaceable with a Plains. It will be a last pick far too often and barely ever get taken in the first go round. Such cards lower the draft experience. In constructed this has no cost but in draft it has a more significant cost and will lower the consistency and power of your cube.

The Rivulet is narrower than the Dunes but it is probably more powerful. While you could play this to enable some of your own synergies I think sacrificing a land as part of a setup is too much to make that good ever. The only place I see this is in a mill deck, likely a more rush mill than a control one but viable in either. Nephalia Drownyard is likely more desirable in control for the repeat uses. Four mill is a lot in cube and having access to it for 3 mana and basically no other cost to your deck at all will just give that little bit of extra gas and wiggle room to the mill decks. They don't really need any further love as they are somewhat over powered in cube already.

Dreadlands seems like it is the best of the black removal lands on offer. It is cheaper than Blighted Fen and doesn't have the issue of only producing colourless. Cabal Pit is perhaps more cost effective removal but it is a little unreliable with the threshold and incredibly painful to use as a mana source. The Dreadlands is comfortable and convenient. It is low key removal at a high cost but it is again, a pretty free inclusion. The previous two lands of this cycle both had obvious homes while this more rounded offering doesn't. You could play it in aggressive decks just to give you some extra options and late game gas. You could also play it in a midrange deck although the land loss would be a bigger concern there. Quirky land themed decks may well want this as a more readily usable source of removal but such decks are rarely seen in cube and are typically uncatered for in draft. The issue I fear for Dreadlands is that it is such a generic thing at such a high cost for the effect that I think alternate late game action and mana dumps will be far more desirable. By the time this is online it isn't going to be enough to tip the tide of battle for the aggressive deck, they will be better off going all in on a level up guy or digging with a Faithless Looting Flashback than using this. Generally this won't hurt much as an option but I don't see it being relevant enough to even offset the minor cost of playing this. Certainly this is like the others in that is it too costly on drafts to be worth including in cubes but I am not even sure how much this will get used in constructed events.

Ramunap Ruins is the clear winner of this cycle and is very close to an auto include in RDW. The only reason you wouldn't play this is if you were somehow worried about your mountain count for Fireblast and Lava Dart. Seems unlikely. This is less painful to include than Barbarian Ring not just for the significant life loss difference they will incur but also because it won't have negative synergy with flashback, delve and Grim Lavamancer. It is a lot more mana to activate and can't hit dorks which does make it rather less useful during the game. At the end of the game they are doing very much the same thing, just being an extra two damage you can send at face without needing to draw more cards. A lot of RDW games come down to drawing into burn when everything else is spent and cards like this help a good amount. The convenience, low cost and being spot on theme wise ensure this will see plenty of play despite the fact I don't even think I will put this one in the cube. There just isn't room for marginal free garnish cards. RDW is plenty good without this, I don't need to hurt the whole cube just to polish a single archetype. My normal rule is that any tier one archetypal auto include is a card I will add to the cube but I think it is time to revisit that rule now that the cube is so chock full.

The poor Oasis seems like the turd of the group. Pump is made much weaker when restricted to sorcery speed. The white one has inherent scaling options somewhat mitigating that. This one can only scale with some ability on a dork. Gaining 3 life with this because I pumped a dork with lifelink really doesn't excite me at all. This might be a bit of OK reach in an aggressive green deck but such things are rarely just green. The kinds of decks that could run this will actually find it somewhat of a cost, either wanting basic lands or more dual lands. Treetop Village is often left in the sidelines now due to need of basics and duals. Although the Village comes in tapped it is substantially more powerful than this Oasis. I don't ever see myself playing this before a Village, to be honest I just don't ever see myself playing this.

Maw of Chaos 0

Too pricey to hard cast and not exciting enough to cheat in. There are far far better bodies kicking around and far better ways of dealing with lots of dorks in play, be that with a big dork or not. Even Crater Hellion outperforms this in many of the places you might play such a thing. Magma Giant never saw play, this has not power crept enough from the Giant compared to cube creature power creep in that time frame so this shouldn't either.

Hour of Promise 0

Even if this didn't need the massive desert synergy it just isn't enough. Ramp for five mana isn't exciting, this is only good if it is getting good utility lands. A pair of 2/2s is fine, it is reasonable value at that point but it isn't presented in a good package, it has no real self synergy. There are better ways to ramp, better ways to find non-basics and better ways to develop a board. This is a long long way off a Primeval Titan.

Imminent Doom 3

Well this is a fun card. It is actually pretty decent value pretty quickly. Most red decks will easily be able to milk this for an Arc Trail. it will eventually be a Lightning Bolt as well and might even get in a Fireblast. Value isn't the problem for this, the issues are being a weak late game top deck and for generally being slow. You need six or more damage from this to be good and that means best case scenario you have to get to turn five for this to ever be good. This is too reliant on being cast on turn three, not to mention actually having the right curve in the right order. The extreme upper end on this does give it some mild potential in a deck with tutors so as to have it reliably early. Still very niche and perhaps too much effort for the return. Due to the support it needs it seems like it would be best in some slow Season's Past style control deck but you could conceivably play it in a number of places. Damage is just a potent versatile tool. This offers a solid amount of it over time for a very low mana cost. This feels like the red As Fortold. It is certainly more playable but sadly still not quite enough I think. Cards need to stand alone better than this to have much impact in cube.

Endless Sands 0

This is quite the upgrade to Safe Haven! Mostly due to tapping for mana but the ability to return the things at any time, even if it costs a lot more mana, is a nice bonus too. Far too expensive to use to great effect in cube and generally not close to powerful enough to get played in a rare colourless land slot. I am sure this will be fun in limited but we will need to see yet more substantial improvements to this before it is viable.

Razaketh's Ritual 2.5

Diabolic Tutor isn't playable in my cube, even the unpowered one. A mana more seems like quite a stretch. It feels like if you play this then you will cycle it most of the time. In that capacity I feel like Scarab Feast would be a better addition to the cube... It has to be very late game or at least a rare game state where you can use this as a tutor sensibly. Perhaps this is viable in a ritual storm build using Yawgmoth's Will. Perhaps this is playable in a very grindy Seasons Past style control deck. Perhaps you just run this in a cycling themed deck with black in it just because it is a cheap cycler! This is actually quite a lot like the pain deserts I reviewed in this section. Playing this doesn't hurt you very much at all but the potential gains you get from it are so low on average that even if it is viable in a couple of drafting cube archetypes (which I rather doubt) it isn't worth a slot in the drafting cube.

Consign / Oblivion 3

Front end this is actually better than Cyclonic Rift which is the best performing bounce spell in cube. It is as good as an Into the Roil which was the card that proceeded the Rift. Consign is absolutely playable as it is and needs little more to push it into the realms of good. Sadly I am not sure Oblivion is that thing. Mind Rot for two more mana is a very bad deal. It will be late enough against a lot of decks to be irrelevant and is so very costly that it will likely put you behind even when you hit good off it. The real issue is that this is black making this a gold card. If the aftermath on this card was of comparable power or utility to Oblivion but a blue card (and obviously cost) then I would be all over this. Bounce anything early, disrupt and stay in the game and then have value and/or further disruption sitting there in the bin waiting until you need it. All very appealing. Very playable but not overly powerful. Like so many cards from this set, I can see decks where it would be a fine card and do what you want but the average case will be this just not getting picked or played. This is a card with homes but a card too lacking in power and playability to get near the cube. One thing I do like about this is the ability to fire this off with a Torrential Gearhulk. Cute, but hardly the most busted thing to do with the Gearhulk.

Death's Shadow Decks

Death's ShadowI have used Death's Shadow in the cube before in a number of different applications. He is rather naughty with Varolz in a niche synergy kind of brew. It is also just a good card for Necropotence style decks. The former is not something that happens often by any means nor is it possible in mine, or most other peoples drafting cubes. The latter used to be good but has been struggling to keep up for quite some time now. Despite being aware of the strength's of Death's Shadow I have never built a deck any thing like the various iterations of it that are dominating modern. That being said, most of the good versions of Death's Shadow in modern are already tier one cube archetypes just without the actual Death's Shadow component. Grixis lists look a lot like the Delver/delve decks that do very well in cube. Jund Death's Shadow lists look a lot like a good Jund list and so forth.

It is very easy to convert a number of archetypes into a Death's Shadow deck with very few changes, not even needing any niche and narrow things other than the Shadow itself in most cases. The issues faced by this strategy are mostly that all the lists have a huge demand on some of the very best cards from multiple colours and need amazing mana bases. You really need a lot of the best one drops to make this sort of thing work and obviously they are some of the most contested cards. There is a decent amount of redundancy in the non-black one drops you need but far less so in the two drops where you really want high powered exclusive stuff. All told it will be very hard to get an optimal list in a sealed or draft situation. That is probably fine though, there is plenty of back cards, these are all very potent decks to begin with and the Death's Shadow package is generally pretty broken. Or is it?

TarmogoyfSo yeah, that is the second big issue with Death's Shadow in cube. It is far less effective than it is in modern. Cube is a bit more diverse than modern, decks tend to do a bit more of everything. In modern you know what things might kill you if you drop to various low life counts. In cube so very many things will threaten to kill you if you do too much self hurt that the card is a whole lot riskier. It doesn't mean it can't be good but it means you need to be safer or more proactive when using it.

One thing that is very nice about these lists in cube is that they are themed on fat vanilla dorks. Between Goyf, Angler, Tasigur and the Shadow you are looking at a 1.25 mana 5/5 or so on average, which needless to say is pretty good! Fat vanilla dorks are typically rather uninteresting in cube, Goyf for example is far less interesting and played in cube than in constructed. When you have a deck with a critical mass of such cards you can start to play to that strength a lot more.

I have given three example lists of how I would roughly look to build this deck in what I deem to be the best three tri-colour pairings for the deck. White is a viable addition but it is bland and boring and brings less support to the table than the others. Two colour is likely viable too but will be a lot more restricting. Without the third colour it is harder to look like the constructed decks. I have tried not to be too greedy with these builds (and it doesn't look like it at all...) as they already have such a high demand on loads of top picks in across multiple colours. Not forgetting these lists will all need amazing mana bases to support them as well!

I have also tried to include relatively few niche cards that are seldom found in drafting cubes. Such cards are there but they are very replaceable and serve mostly to show which are the best of the rarer cards. One recurring issue I did find was that I typically wanted more delve cards than I felt I could sensibly support. More than two delve cards starts to get risky and clunky. Especially when this is potential for negative synergy with delirium or other things trying to utilize the yard. The black core of each deck remained very similar. While rounding out the lists I found each looked very weak to swarm strategies and found myself ramming in a mass removal option.

Sultai List

25 Spells

Death's Shadow
Deathrite Shaman
Fatal Push
Inquisition of Kozilek

Stubborn Denial
Gitaxian Probe

Traverse the Ulvenwald
Vampiric Tutor
Serum Visions
Stubborn DenialBirds of Paradise

Collective Brutality
Snapcaster Mage
Dark Confidant
Abrupt Decay

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Satyr Wayfinder
Grapple with the Past

Baleful Strix (or Coiling Oracle  as fine backup)

Pernicious Deed / Toxic Deluge

Snuff Out

Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Snuff OutTreasure Cruise

15 Lands

Grixis List

25 Spells

Death's Shadow
Fatal Push
Inquisition of Kozilek

Stubborn Denial
Gitaxian Probe
Vampiric Tutor
Gitaxian Probe
Lightning Bolt
Claim / Fame (Hour of Devastation new card!)
Delver of Secrets

Serum Visions

Collective Brutality
Snapcaster Mage
Dark Confidant
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy

Looter il-Kor

Tasigur, the Golden FangKholgan's Command
Toxic Deluge

Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Gurmag Angler

15 Lands

A Jund List

25 Spells

Death's Shadow
Deathrite Shaman
Fatal Push
Inquisition of Kozilek

Grapple with the PastThoughtsieze
Faithless Looting
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Vampiric Tutor

Lightning Bolt
Elves of Deepshadow
Claim / Fame
Forked Bolt

Collective Brutality
Dark Confidant
Abrupt Decay

Satyr Wayfinder
Grapple with the Past
Night's Whisper
Vampiric Tutor
Kolghan's Command

Umezawa's Jitte

Street Wraith

Gurmag Angler
Tasigur, the Golden Fang

15 Lands

Of these three lists the Grixis list looks best but mostly for mana base reasons. It has a very light dependency on red compared to the other lists on their third colours. For the Sultia or Jund lists to perform you are really going to need to see all three colours in your opening hand. I think all the lists work well and have a good range of things you can put in them or replace things you wanted with. A lot of these feel like you could stick in an Emrakul, the Promised End theme in them and it would work well and offer good overlap. A 13/13 theming! Some notable cards that you can make work or run to good effect in these lists includes Force of Will, Liliana of the Veil, Dack Fayden, Reanimate and even Berserk! I think blue offers more good support for filling up yards efficiently than the other colours. It isn't that Serum Visions is better than Faithless Looting or Satyr Wayfinder, the issue is that red and green have far less of those kinds of cards than blue does. If you don't play blue you are at risk of not getting sufficient support. The Jund Shadow list looks good but it might just end up being a less powerful or less consistent version of conventional Jund. Perhaps even both! Certainly it is the list that I think would benefit most from the Emrakul theme.

Kolaghan's CommandCards like the new Claim / Fame, Grapple with the Past, Kolaghan's Command and the various tutors are all very important in these lists. They both help find and reuse your Death's Shadow which is pretty important when a lot of your deck is based around abusing one card. You are still pretty soft against exile removal and something like a Spellskite might be a needed solution to that. While you do have other fatties none are as scary as the Shadow!

Running lifegain may also seem like a bad plan but I feel in the cube having some control over things and some built in buffer should things not go to plan is fairly wise. A mild option to top your self up on life here and there will greatly increase the safety of all your lifecost cards.

All these lists look very strong and I would expect them to perform well against pretty much everything in cube excepting burn decks. That being said, these decks don't look wildly realistic to get very often regardless of the format in which you are using your cube in. I also don't think that the relatively narrow Death's Shadow adds enough to these kinds of deck to merit a cube slot or restricting yourself so much in the build. The less cards you get to discard things the worse your delve and delirium cards are, the less you can pay life the less good and less control you have over the shadow. As you cut away any of these elements you fail to support you lose critical mass on your fatties and as such they lose value as a game plan.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Hour of Devastation Initial Review Part V

Doomfall 6

So it looks like we are getting a cycle of these slightly over priced modal cards that offer good core effects from that colour. Hopefully it isn't just the Bolas colours although now I say that it feels quite plausible. Doomfall is low powered but feels playable for a number of reasons. This is an Edict / Coercion split card. While you can get both effects at one mana you can't get better versions of those effects than these for two mana so Doomfall is comparably overpriced to the rest of the cycle. What makes this stand out is how much these effects gain from having alternate uses. Both Edicts and Coercions are very very powerful but they are situational. Mana Leak and Impulse are less polar in their performance and also that much less situational. An Impulse is never dead and so sticking bonus modes on it gains you far less value. Supreme Will is unable to recoup the overpricing as it does not turn a high risk high reward into a low risk high reward one as is the Case for Doomfall. Supreme Will is still just a low risk low reward card like Impulse.

One of blacks big problems as a control colour is that it either wants removal cards or hand disruption effects depending on if it is playing against midrange, control, aggro or combo. Black is a bit clunky lacking in card filter and would often lose due to having the wrong balance of removal and discard. So often black finds itself in the late game with a couple of dead cards in hand and plenty of dead draws in the deck. Doomfall goes a really long way to solving those issues. It is rather like a supplement card. You shouldn't play this as your only removal or discard, if you don't disrupt effectively before turn three you are going to struggle in a lot of cases. You still want to have the Fatal Push or Inquisition of Kozilek on turn one as appropriate for the matchup. This will not be replacing those kinds of cards but it will be able to supplement your numbers of both while making your list more consistent rather than less consistent and more polar. Collective Brutality was a huge addition to black as it was the first good card that was removal or discard. Brutality has a lot of other things going for it and is a lot better than Doomfall but they are similar in what they bring to the table.

The fact that both halves exile the card in question is really what pushes this I feel. Exile is super powerful in the cube and greatly enhances the disruptive potential of this card. A sorcery speed Edict for three is super weak but the added exile makes it a chunk better. They will have to think much harder about what to kill or even play should they have an empty board. They can't just throw a Kitchen Finks under the bus and somewhat counter the Edict. Obviously lots of small tokens still counter the Edict pretty effectively but that is part of the reason Edicts are somewhat polar. Doomfall goes the little extra distance, not only dealing with hexproof and other untargetable threats but by also solving recursive threats well. The Coercion is also that bit scarier for the same reason. Lots of decks that rely on specific cards will have ways to recur those cards should they get dealt with. You might well survive your combo piece getting taken with a Thoughtsieze but you likely won't should this Doomfall find it. Without the exile this would feel somewhere about the power level of a Ruinous Path at best. With it however it seems closer to Hero's Downfall in power and desirability. Now all we need is mini Inqusition with cycling and Terror with cycling!

Torment of Venom 0

At half the price this still wouldn't be as good as Searing Blaze....

Torment of Scarabs 0

Far too slow to really come on line and crimp someones game.

Torment of Hailfire 1

I like this but that doesn't stop it being unplayable. This has a hope in standard where things might be slow enough to properly abuse this Torment mechanic. This card is certainly very powerful but only when you have really starved your opponent of resources or you have huge amounts of mana. Sadly those two things do not work hand in hand, typically if your opponent is being kept low on stuff so are you meaning you won't have loads of mana. Cards like Small Pox, even Thoughtsieze make that more likely. The first hits of this are pretty irrelevant, it is not until they only have high value permanents left in play, none or only high value cards in hand and low life that this gets good. Then it is much like a one sided Death Cloud. I guess you could try and Channel this out early and force a win that way! As soon as you pass that point of the choices not hurting or being that hard this card gets brutal. In the first couple of turns X = about 14 should be fatal!

Farm // Market 2

Cute card but over priced sufficiently to not make any waves in cube. There are the odd heavy synergy control decks where this might fit but it would be just an exercise in saving space in your deck. This is never much more than on theme filler and wouldn't even be that good in the vast majority of places. Farm is both weak and expensive removal by cube standards, it might have the back end of a Faithless Looting but it is gold and entirely lacking the front end of Faithless Looting. I think this has most chance of seeing play purely for it's Flashback part, perhaps even in a deck with no white. Just get this in the bin so you can have a pair of loots whenever you need them. I guess much like how Deep Analysis is played now. You have to really need discard though as again, this Doesn't Have the font end of Deep Anal. While both Farm and draw 2 for 4 mana are awful front ends the Deep Anal is at least the same colour and the same theme. Sometimes versatility is nice, like modal cards, these aftermath cards are often made too narrow for the extra power they might offer to be good enough for cube.

Struggle // Survive 2.5

This isn't drafting cube material as it is far too narrow. It is however something I can see having a place in the odd quirky control, combo or grind deck. Struggle is OK red removal for a non-aggressive player that has the rare perk of scaling up in power into the late game. Dealing with big things is an issue for red and one of the reasons you see it less in control and grindy decks, certainly as the only source of removal. Assuming you are both making lands drops this thing will kill an on curve Titan which is not something red does with one card ever really. Struggle is pretty awful in any deck that is aggressive and a large part of why this is very narrow.

Survive is a narrow and low value ability but it is absolutely something a number of strategies actively look for in single 40 card deck formats. Any slow strategy is at risk of decking itself and has to spread thin to ensure answers. Cards like Survive are massive when it comes to making the slower strategies work. What is so lovely about Survive is that you don't have to dedicate a card to reshuffle because you have a totally viable removal spell on the front end. There are also the combo applications for Survive as it is so easy to tutor things into your bin. Things like Oath of Druids incur self mill and so Survive can act as a good safety net. You either need red mana or a lot of discard effects to play this in such decks as you can't risk drawing it and it being dead which does again hurt it's playability. I expect to see this taking a few deck slots you may once have found a Krosan Reclamation, Gaea's Blessing, Bow of Nylea, Primal Command etc but that won't be exactly loads of play time..

Proven Combatant 0

Poor blue.

Sinuous Striker 0

No, not as a threat. Not as a value card, Not as a discard outlet.

Ammit Eternal 1

This seems far too gimped. I played Blind Creeper in block constructed and those things died a lot and they only got the shrinking until end of turn. In cube you could make this turn three on the play and easily untap with it as a 2/2. This is like Phyrexian Negator except rather than play it versus people who can't deal damage you play it against people who can't cast spells? The afflict is a nice design addition and makes for a more interesting card. It gives this a decent chance of at least being a Lava Spike before it dies, perhaps even a Searing Blaze! Problem is that this is just a big dork and big dorks are not that useful in cube. Those that have a drawback are even worse. A three mana 5/5 is OK, the afflict makes it good but I think the downside just makes it too high a risk for the level of reward you can get. Certainly a Phyrexian Negator has a much more savage drawback than this, Ammit Eternal will just put itself in the bin rather than a load of your other stuff as well. Paying three mana and a card to occasionally do nothing is still far too much of a risk in cube for potential upsides that are not much above the curve at all. This does have a lot of creature types. Crocodile is largely irrelevant but the others do give it a tiny bit more range. Overall I don't see myself ever playing this in cube but the card is a well designed one that could well lead to it performing fairly well in something like standard. I think people will play around this incorrectly and make it seem better than it is. I expect there will be a lot of occasions you can just ignore it. If you are applying pressure and doing a decent amount of stuff this will be like a 2/2 or 3/3 hitting you each turn which is super weak for the cost and incredibly easy to outpace in a race.

Refuse // Cooperate 1

The Refuse end of this card is very poor in cube. It is expensive and inconsistent face damage. Every now and again you will hit big with this and kill people but most of the time this will be a lot worse than a Fireball. Refuse is very bad, I wouldn't even play it in the sideboard against something casting huge spells as some kind of face deck. The only way this card is seeing play is as a Twincast that you play from the bin like Haakon, Strongald Scourge (not a good thing)! That means you can only play it in a list with loads and loads of discard effects. A 3 mana to flashback Twincast would be pretty good but as a card you can effectively only play from your graveyard it is a bit too much effort to make work. This would be vastly more playable if the Refuse portion was simply a blue mana with no text at all. Just blue to do nothing but put it in the bin, perhaps trigger some prowess! I don't feel like I can rule out a 3 mana Twincast you play from the bin due to some very niche combo potentials but this is both weak and narrow to say the least.

Overwhelming Splendor 1

What an awful card. I want to win the game when I pay this much not just ruin my opponents fun. This isn't even that good of a tool for staying alive. It is likely a royal pain and slows things down massively but it is a long way from ending the game. Despite this being a pretty laughable waste of 8 mana the fact that it is a white enchantment with some merit and such a high cost means there is a decent chance that certain kinds of enchantress deck would actually want this. Rector and Replenish effects can easily mitigate the ludicrous cost and then cards like Opalessence will take advantage of it. I hate this card and the fact that it might see some play.

Champion of Wits 8

Very interesting. This is a bit of a Sea Gate Oracle at first being a 2 manas worth vanilla body plus a one mana card quality effect. Lumengrid Warden plus Sleight of Hand is a good deal for the more defensive decks but it is quite a low impact card. Champion of Wits threatens to be much more relevant in combat with its extra power. Defensively it will trade with more and offensively it will be twice as relevant. Careful Study isn't as rounded as Sleight of Hand but it is far more powerful and far more synergic. The card disadvantage of the Careful Study is a problem for it in when not offering a lot of synergy however the 2/1 body on Champion of Wits may well be enough to make it playable in any old place. This is great when you have any graveyard synergies going on. Three mana is pretty slow for some combo lists but still totally fine. Cards like Liliana are commonly used as discard outlets and so I am sure Champion will too. Having a slightly slower outlet is better than not having one at all.

So, just as a 3 mana 2/1 that did a Careful Study I think this would be cube worthy but the Champion is rather more card than that. State based pump and I believe instant pump effects will enable you to draw bonus cards from the EtB ability. Assuming the latter works you can turn a Mutagenic Growth into a free Night's Whisper. While this won't happen loads it is a pretty big deal when it does. Something that can turn a Giant Growth into an Ancestral Recall is rather the eye opener. That is quite the upgrade in power which will see to a number of cards massively gaining incentive to be run when you have the Champion.

The eternalize is probably less relevant in cube than the fact that you can turn this into a card advantage tool with pump. That being said, the eternalize is very powerful as a second half of a card. If you look at card advantage creatures they are not actually that much better cost than this. Mul Drifter is the best of the bunch and it is only 2 cheaper. a 2/2 flier is generally worse than a 4/4 and draw two is a lot worse than draw 4 discard 2. It is the comparison to Phyrexian Gargantuan that really makes the eternalize on Champion of Wits seem impressive. This is so much card that it should almost automatically win any late game. If neither of you have much going on or are in a board stalemate digging for ways to break it then drawing 4 cards deep and getting a 4/4 body extra is just such a huge swing. Odds on they need to deal with the 4/4 and you will have totally refilled on gas. Just on its own this card is a 4 for 1 and a huge amount of card quality. For such insane value it has an incredibly suitable front end. It is a good way to gain card quality and potentially enable things without falling behind in tempo or cards. The front end also really supports your odds of getting to the eternalize. Having so much card quality and board presence for the mana combined into one card is the perfect way to ensure you win sooner or survive longer regardless of the matchup. The momentum you carry forwards into the late game from card quality (assuming you do it right) is pretty massive and makes that seven mana eternalize rather more realistic.

This card is plenty good when it is at the absolute floor of its capacity. It is still likely better than Sea Gate Oracle. The upsides on this card however blow most things out of the water. This has synergies all over the place and all sorts of late game action. Very much the new front runner for best card in the set. Lovely design and a welcome addition to cube. A very nice way to offer lots of power without being an oppressive card.

Unraveling Mummy 0

Not good enough for a tribal zombies deck and so utterly unplayable anywhere else. This isn't a bad card it is just a lot less good than a sufficiently large pool of cards that do the same sort of thing that it is a non starter in cube.

God-Pharaoh's Gift 1

This is basically a rejigged Mimic Vat. Rejigged in such a way to broadly be worse. This is more mana up front but has no ongoing cost. This can only do dorks once but has the option on any while Vat does the same dork over and over but can only do that one until you swap it over. The one big thing the Gift has over the Vat is that the tokens don't die at end of turn. That means you can build up a board over time with the Gift. The Gift also is less dependent on what is in the bin, just so long as you have dorks it is making 4/4s with haste which is better than the average dork in cube. For Vat to really shine it has to catch a Titan or something. Vat does have some disruptive potential and does work with your opponent's dorks but I still prefer lasting 4/4s from my things than copies of things. Certainly I would rather have a Gift in play than a Vat but that isn't a surprise give one is 3 mana and the other 7. Vat can be active on turn four while Gift is not until turn seven without ramp and without missing land drops. The front loading of cost for the Gift makes it too hard to play sadly. While it is only a mana more for the first trigger and actually two mana less on the second trigger the mere fact you need to have seven mana all in one go to get this online is too much. This would be an OK Tinker target if your deck was full of creatures which typically Tinker decks are not. Despite being very powerful and having some cute interactions with things I cannot think of any archetype in which this would work out well or any way to construct a deck around this card that wouldn't just be well under powered.

Appeal // Authority 0

Despite being cheap and unique this seems too poor and narrow for cube. I typically don't like to rule cards like this out entirely but this has so many issues. It is gold, it is sorcery speed pump and sorcery speed tap down. The pump is conditional. There is no deck I can imagine that would want the effect of just Authority in the way I can see a deck wanting only Market for example. Even if you could include Authority at no cost to the deck and reliably play it without incurring a card cost I don't think you would want it.

Tribal Vampires

Stromkirk Captain
The vampire tribe has had a lot of love over the past couple of years. One of the awkward things about vampires is that they don't really have a theme. Most of the other tribal decks are focused around certain things or have a particular abusive game plan. There are plenty of good vampires but some are aggressive, some midrange , arguably even control. There is little in the way of "I win" moves that the vampires can do. Essentially vampires is going to just be a deck of dorks that work to improve each other. I looked at aggressive strategies but they lacked one drops. Not very many overall with lots of those being pretty weak. The same is somewhat true of the two drops. Lots of good cube worthy cards but nothing bomb like, nothing that screams out to play vampires like Priest of Titania in elves, Lord of Atlantis and co in Merfolk, Thalia's Lieutenant in humans, Piledriver and Recruiter and Lackey and Prospector and all the damn goblins. Even thought zombies have comparable low end they have various I win buttons at the top end to offset the weak low end like Grey Merchant and Bidding.

Pulse TrackerAll this is to say that while I can put a pile of good cards all with the word vampire on them somewhere none of those decks look like archetypes. They don't look better than just playing something more direct without being restricted to vampires. Without a specific plan you are essentially either making an aggro deck or a midrange deck if you plan on using a tribe that has no combo elements or that is able to mimic other good non-tribal archetypes game plan. The good top end for a more midrange vampires list doesn't leave enough space to play the good non-vampire spells you need to have a good midrange deck, you either don't have enough low end vampires to support your high power vampire lords and such or you don't have enough low end power or interactive capabilities to compete in the cube setting.

When looking to build an aggressive deck the sheer number of cheaper cards you need really stretches the vampire pool thin and leaves you with a heavy reliance on not getting too disrupted. If your Pulse Tracker doesn't get buffed up by a couple of lords as the game progresses you are not going to get much out of the card. Equally if your Tracker gets pinged off your lords will not be carrying their weight. You could do a vampire aggro deck in cube and it would be fine, it would compete OK, sometimes it would look very powerful but on average it would be a little less consistent and powerful than any similar aggro deck without the tribal vampire restriction.

Bloodhall Priest
I claimed vampires didn't have a theme which is true in the way I meant it which was they do not have a specific plan on their route to victory. They do now somewhat have a theme and that is in the madness and discard direction. They also have a bit of sacrifice going on as well but that is less easy to support, less numerous and generally less powerful. While madness isn't a way of winning it is certainly something you can build around. It gave me some direction to work with and ultimately lead to the most satisfactory looking lists and reason to play vampires. I don't love this list. It would really benefit from some cheap things that made vampire tokens. It also has some cards with no synergy beyond being vampires just because they are very high power level and the deck needs that.

This list is still incredibly light on disruptive effects. Targetted discard is missing from this list, I would like to find some room for it but I really feel you need a high mass of vampires to justify the lords given you lack ways to cheaply get multiple vampires into play. The discard would be double effective as with so many discard outlets you rarely find yourself with dead weight in hand. More removal wouldn't go amiss either...
Indulgent Aristocrat

Madness Vampires

Falkenrath Gorger
Indulgent Aristocrat
Faithless Looting
Insolent Neonate

Carrier Thrall
Asylum Visitor
Olivia's Bloodsworn
Heir of Falkenrath

Stormkirk Condemned
Stromkirk CondemnedRavenous Bloodseeker
Call the Bloodline

Drana Kalistra, Liberator of Malakir
Captivating Vampire
Stormkirk Captian
Olivia, Mobilized for War

Stormkirk Occultist
Liliana of the Veil
Fiery Temper
Kolghan's Command

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Vampire Nocturnus / Bloodline Keeper
Falkenrath Aristocrat
Bloodhall Priest

16 Lands

Ravenous BloodseekerAs yet this list is untested and is basically my guide for myself when I do come to try it out. This is why I have crammed in as many on theme vampires as possible and gone light on the generic cube good stuff. This actual list isn't very good but it will help show me which of the support vampires are least useful There are some super low powered cards I am not sure are needed like the Insolent Neonate and Ravenous Bloodseeker. There is also a lot of discard for tempo returns but little for card value. The list might need a Squee, Goblin Nabob just to keep on top of the discard needs! That or more raw draw potentially. I am sure I will be able to refine this significantly as make room for those much needed Inquisitions and Thoughcasts! A somewhat proactive deck that has this little one drops is really terrifying. This likely needs a Forked Bolt and a Lightning Bolt on top of those discards to really compete. That will mean cutting out a lot of the support and filler vampires.

Vampire Nocturnus is insanely powerful but in a two colour deck I think it is likely too unreliable. My guess is that I need to cut him or swap a significant number of the red cards for black ones. With loads of scry it could work too but there isn't much in Rakdos, certainly not within the vampire things. Kalitas and Falkenrath Aristocrat gets in just for being really good and being vampires. I might be better off with less top end or more synergic cards despite these being two of the clear best stand alone vampires. I'm not even running original Olivia who is super potent but very slow and midrange. The newer Olivia offering is much more suited to a vampire themed deck as well as a more tempo driven deck.

Vampire Nocturnus
Tribal vampires has a lot of potential build options open to it although it would seem as if none of them are really quite there yet. This madness tempo list feels the closest by a good way at the moment but they all need more of the same kinds of cards to really get there. They need more viable one drops, either cards that are of comparable potency to your average aggressive white one drop or vampire versions of cards like Thraben Inspector and Cryptbreaker than offer a bit more utility and value past the early turns. Tribal vampires could also really really use a Raise the Alarm style card, even a Butcher Ghoul would get it done if it were a vampire... With just a couple such cards I think vampires will jump up the ranks of the various tribal options in cube and be a whole lot more viable.

Here is a list of some of the other cards I was considering either for this list or just as a powerful card with some potential in a vampire themed deck;

Olivia, Mobilized for War
Gruul Draz Vampire
Yehenni, Undying Partisan
Bloodmad Vampire
Gifted Aetherborn
Patriarch's Bidding
Vampire Lacerator
Stromkirk Noble
Blood Artist
Gul-Draz Assasin
Aether Vial
Vampire Nighthawk
Vampire Hexmage
Gatekeeper of Malakir
Kalistria Highborn
Feast of Blood

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Time to Ban Vault and Monolith

Grim Monolith
While Mana Vault and Grim Monolith are not the same power level of Sol Ring, Black Lotus, Fastbond or cards of that ilk they are very much top tier in unpowered cubes. They also have the issue of many older cards in that they are rather polar. Either they do little to nothing or they allow for utterly unfair things that your opponent has very little chance of interacting with. I don't mind powerful cards but I do mind those which are so extreme in their performance. Things that are often unbeatable or can give near unbeatable openers just don't make the game better at all. A RDW has so few outs to a turn three Wurmcoil Engine courtesy of these fast mana cards. The same is true of most decks without non destroy removal options. The more the cube fills out with newer better designed cards that are high power but not polar in performance the more these two cards stand out as offenders. Bad decks can just ram in these and steal a lot of games. Most cube games in my unpowered cube are close interactive affairs in which choices matter a lot. It is also noticeable that games with Grim and Vault are the least like that.

Mana VaultI thought Strip Mine was a clear ban along with the rest of the power yet I have taken many years to come round to considering Vault and Grim in the honorary power. Vault and Grim certainly allow for more broken things than Strip Mine and they are certainly a lot more polar. The both are guilty of the offences of getting free wins and for uniteractive games. Certainly Strip Mine allows for less potential interaction than most other cards but still. If I am banning Strip Mine I should certainly be banning these. More fun will be had without them in the midrange cube and that is the cube of choice for close games. I am all for some powered cube sillyness now and again so that I can do insanely powerful things and go off with infinities of this and that or drawing my whole deck a few times over. That is where Grim and Vault belong and so that is what I shall be doing! Next card that needs some serious consideration for being uninteractive, potentially over powered and certainly no fun is Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver...

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Hour of Devastation Initial Review Part IV

Crook of Condemnation 0

This is already exclusively a sideboard effect and it is just worse than the alternatives for cube. Tormod's Crypt and Relic of Progenitus are generally a lot better than this mostly for speed reasons.

Hostile Desert 5

An interesting new take on man lands with a somewhat conditional activation. If you don't worry about the need to exile a land to activate this it is one of the most efficient man lands on offer. Only a couple have power equal to mana investment, this not only has that premium power to cost ratio but it is also backed up by a solid amount of toughness. Mutavault is a 2/2 for two mana, Stirring Wildwood is a 3/4 for 4 mana, Treetop Village is a 3/3 for 3 mana. Basically Hostile Desert outperforms other mana lands in pure stat terms. This is good, it means you get more tempo for it than other man lands. It means you will be able to profitably attack with this more often than other man lands too. Now, this is all well and good but we can't ignore the land exile requirement. It is absolutely a cost even if just a small one. In the cube there are cycle lands, sac lands, loot effects, discard effects, land destruction, self mill and all sorts of jazz that fills up the bin with lands. If you want to you can pretty reliably have lands in the bin for all the times you would want to activate a man land. Sadly that would count as support. Also, many other cube cards also rely on the graveyard for fuel be that delve spells, Grim Lavamancer, Deathrite Shaman etc. By running a Hostile Desert you have the incentive to play more supporting cards and less other cards that use that same support. Hostile Desert is good but it certainly isn't as good as a Treasure Cruise or Deathrite Shaman and that is a bit of a problem. The Desert is not a stand alone card, it is not entirely contained and as such I think it will see less play than those that are like Mishra's Factory. The colourless man lands don't see that much play as it is. I like this card but my gut is that it won't see enough play to stay in most drafting cubes. Casting your stuff is the most important thing in magic. Only decks that are absolutely sorted in the mana base have room for luxury cards like colourless manlands. This is even more so the case when things like Wastelands, Port and Wolf Run are all much more potent cards you can play in colourless land slots.

Driven // Despair 0

This has an elegance of design to it with good symmetry and colour flavour. Those things however do not help it much in its prospects for the cube. For Driven to be good you have to have multiple dorks connecting with face. Super situational and pretty win more. Utterly dead in a lot of cases. Despair is much the same. The menace is likely more useful than trample as it helps out your small dorks better and thus allows for more potential value but that is a very minor point. I'd rather be drawing cards than forcing discards but again, another minor point that doesn't change the fact this card isn't something you should play. It is cheap and pretty flexible and as such could look more playable than it is. While the card isn't the nut low the type of card and how it is framed are both big problems for it.

Unesh, Criosphinx Sovereign 0

Nope. Six mana for a 4/4 flier and not quite 80% of a Fact or Fiction. The cost reduction is as good as blank in cube. Many better cards than this already exist, threats, sources of value or both!

Hour of Glory 0

In singleton formats this is quite a lot worse than Silence the Believers, in fact it is probably just a lot worse in any format! Gods are not a big problem and even when you can play multiples you tend not to be playing more than a couple. So, instant and exile removal is lovely but four mana isn't. Silence the Believers didn't work out in cube so this absolutely won't. The single black in the cost isn't making any real difference to that.

Angel of Condemnation 2

This has quite a lot going on. It feels like it is really close to there but not quite. This is too soft to too much removal. With four toughness I think it would be great but at three it feels all too risky and slow. I like Emeria Angel more than this as it has no further mana investment required. Emeria Angel has not performed that well whenever she has been in my cube which does not bode well for Mrs Condemnation. The exert effect is super slow and will lead to blowout things happening too much of the time. The flicker effect seems more useful but again, I can think of other cards I would prefer in that role. The most damning of which is Eldrazi Displacer as it failed pretty hard in testing for cube. This is a fine card but it isn't a busted one or a bomb and that is what cards need to be when they cost 4 or more for cube, powered or otherwise.

Reason // Live 7

I am drawn to this mostly because I want to scry for 3 for a single mana! Much as I want to do this I am not sure how great it is when paired up against cards like Serum Visions. The overall card quality effect between Reason and Serum Visions is super close, Reason is in fact ever so slightly better when you have interactions with the top of your library but it is very marginal. The major difference is of course that Visions is card neutral and Reason is card disadvantage. Only card quality effects with extreme power or utility see play if they are card disadvantage such as Vampiric Tutor or Faithless Looting. There are decks that could play Reason in place of other blue card quality things, those that don't care about card advantage or that have loads of synergies but these are few enough that Reason is massively less playable than Serum Visions. Reason is playable on its own (as in without the Live half) but I don't think it is playable enough to earn a cube slot just as Reason. I think you need the Live half to make the card enough of a thing that you can run it in a cube even if some decks would be OK with just the Reason part. That makes it somewhat of a gold card which in turn sets the bar for cube entry quite a bit higher. The only gold card quality card I have in the cube is Lim-Dul's Vault which is one of the most powerful. While Reason // Live is not quite the same power as Vault it is not a purely card quality card and also not a gold card in the same way making it much more forgiving and versatile.

So does Live do enough to push this into cube worthy levels? I designed a card I wanted to see which was bascally U to scry 3 and investigate. That would easily be cube worthy power levels. It would arguably be one of the better single blue card quality cards. It would probably also be pretty fair in modern unless you could abuse the clues somehow. Anyway, tangents aside, this is not that far off a scry three plus an investigate. It is only 3 mana more than saccing a clue and only when you hit a non creature. Yes, it is green mana and yes it is also sorcery speed both of which significantly hurt it. Low end this is quite weak but still probably better than a Think Twice! It is only quite weak compared to things in the cube, it is still playable in cube at its low end and that is pretty handy. So what about the upper ends of Live? How does that start to look? For that to be the thing you really need to be hitting at least three manas worth of creature, ideally more like six! When that happens the card goes from being low powered filler to good to pretty nuts. When you do hit that six drop you basically got a free scry 3 for zero mana and zero cards. A zero mana Serum Visions with 50% more scry would be better than Brainstorm. So yeah, this has some pretty serious top end. To be fair, anything that can end up in an Emrakul has a pretty high top end! You can totally just play Reason turn one and it will set you up really well. Perhaps enough to win before Live is relevant or perhaps just enough that you at least get to gain your full value from the card.  It is better than Think Twice in this regard as it is front loaded. You pay two mana to do very little with Think Twice while you only pay one mana to do rather a lot with Reason. Your flashback of the Think Twice makes it card advantage while the aftermath of Live only mitigates the initial card disadvantage of Reason but that is totally fine. You get power early when you need it at a cost you are very able to afford at that stage then later you can recoup that cost when you have a different balance of resources. Essentially Reason // Live works very nicely with the flow of the game.

Much as Reason is a great turn one play doing so does mean you either have to go blind on Live or pair it with other library manipulation. Blind is fine in the very late game, any flood or topdeck war and as such can just wait until one of those game states occurs. If however you do hit something juicy with any library manipulation you have the option of firing it off sooner. Unless you totally run out of gas before you hit five mana which is pretty rare there are very few situations you can be out of pocket or lose out much with this card. Simic is also the colours with most of the library manipulation, and a fair whack of big dorks too! I really won't worry about lowering the potential value of Live by blowing my Reason whenever I have a spare blue. This is also a pretty well contained top deck. For six mana you can setup your next couple of turns and make something pretty decent assuming you have any sort of reasonable creature count in your deck. This will not only be one of your best possible late game top decks it is also one of your best turn one plays. That sounds like it adds up to a mentally good card. As a small aside, it should often work to bait out a counterspell. If your opponent has no removal and they know you have knowledge on the top of your deck they may be forced into countering Live but all that will do is buy them a turn assuming you did have something juicy on top. Against countermagic this card has the effect of increasing your threat density which is nice.

Mentally good might well describe this card but only in the right deck, one with blue and green mana and a decent spread of dorks. That is a whole lot less decks than basically every other card quality card can perform optimally in. In decks with relatively low creatures or generally small creatures or those without some access to green mana Reason // Live is far less good. Either you have to play it on the merits of Reason alone or you have to play it as low powered filler. With a lot of cards randomly fixing colours for you like Chromatic Sphere or some random Signet / Talisman or just some easy to include dual land I think you can expect to see this in a lot of essentially non-green decks. Like those green ramp decks than splash for the red activation on some lands but nothing else or those white weenie decks packing some black just for the option on a Lingering Souls flashback. This would be a great card in a Dimir Reanimator deck for example. Good at setting up the combo early and potentially able to be part of the combo later! Although this is only nuts in a couple of places I think it does have a wide enough range where it maintains a cube worthy level of potency that it gets itself a slot. I really love the card and hope to see more like it. I still want my investigate scry 3 card but I'll take this. Reason // Live is certainly one of the most interesting of the card quality cards. It is a shame it is kind of gold mostly because I will get to use it that little bit less and I want to use it loads!

Hope Tender 1

A shame this is so weak as I want to live the dream with this and generate hundreds of mana with Cradle and Nykthos! While the ceiling on this thing is very very high the floor is pretty much a Grizzly Bear and the floor is where this sits most of the time. This is poor fixing or poor ramp every other turn at base. It is only at all good when you have lands that tap for multiples and when that is the case you have better options than to play this.

The Scarab God 4

I really hope there are not going to be 10 of these as they are all very powerful and have lots going on making for lengthy reviews. Doubly tedious when I expect none of them to really be significant features in most cubes. My guess is that we just get these three as they are the Bolas colours. This may be the best of the three so far. It is quite meaty, quite resilient, offers inevitability, reach, disruption and even potentially card quality! You don't need zombies to make this good but if you do have them it greatly ups the speed and threat level of this card. Should you just have a couple in play your opponent will have to deal with the Scarab God or the rest of your board right away else the game will get wildly out of control for them. In Dimir there is a fair amount of value to a 5/5 for 5 that comes back to hand when it dies. That holds off a lot and is a top end thing you are not afraid of getting into combat. If the Scarab God sticks and your opponent doesn't force you to spend mana elsewhere you can only then lose to big fliers or burn. This is fairly good defensively and very good offensively. Despite all its qualities it is just a powerful five mana gold threat. Given how much less picked and played gold cards are in cube I really struggle to justify running any cards like this. Silumgar for example saw pathetic amounts of play compared to all the other black and blue 5 CMC or greater cards. The Scarab God is good but just not worth a slot.

Djeru the Purified 2

Interesting. The body here is a long way off worth it. A 4/3 vigilance is barely worth 3 mana. The damage prevention to walkers is cute but won't even always be relevant when you have a walker in play. You are playing this for its value and ability to find planeswalkers. This is a solid two for one and it is somewhat of a tutor. It gets you a walker and then works pretty well at protecting it. Two quite heavy cards in one. This gives lots of late game and is also something you are happy to throw down as soon as you hit the mana and trade it off if needs be. I call this a kind of tutor because planeswalkers are rarely combo pieces and even if they were finding them for five mana isn't winning many races. While this is pretty good it is a bit misplaced for cube. Value cards want to be three or less mana. This is a good one so it might have gotten away with being 4 mana (and scaled back a bit on the stats) like a Ranger of Eos. A five mana card which is mostly value just doesn't seem like it has a place. It is a little narrow because you need at least two walkers in your deck for this to find. It is a heavy card but it isn't super threatening. You need to be at least stable for a planeswalker to represent much of a threat. So despite being heavy and top end this fails to be a great threat and it fails to be good recovery. I don't see this making waves in cube.

Fervent Paincaster 0

Somehow this looks OK at first glance. It really isn't though. It is just a bad Prodigal Sorcerer. That extra power and extra text doesn't do much to improve it and does a bunch to make it worse.

Claim // Fame 3

I like this card a lot but it is ever so slightly too narrow, low impact and situational to merit a cube slot. If this were all in the same colour then it would be very strong but in two colours it just won't get enough play. Both halves a quite minor and so you really need the value from both to push this into the really good power levels. Both being so cheap that is easy enough to do but only when you are Rakdos which is that much less common. I see this doing some good work in modern potentially where being gold is no real drawback and so many juicy creatures cost 2 or less. In constructed cube events this may well see some love but I don't see it being enough to push through into drafting cubes and their increasingly tight ranks.

Steward of Solidarity 4

Hmm. This is pretty low powered. It is also very slow. Sadly I don't think this will have quite enough impact to see play but I do plan on testing it. It does some things that seem quite helpful given the way the meta is presently. Compared to Precint Captain this has some perks. It is easier to cast and does not rely on attacking to make dorks, the dorks are also a tiny bit better! Captain on the other hand is able to make tokens a lot faster and has the fairly valuable first strike itsel. Steward is perhaps better if they have a 2/3 or better in play but probably both are just bad in that situation. I cannot see a 1/1 token every other turn making enough of a difference to swing a game. The idea behind this card is just as a cheap way to ensure an ongoing supply of things to equip and crew and to ensure your Glorious Anthem cards are high value when you play them. You force them to waste removal on your two drop rather than just having a blocker else the rest of your deck is empowered. This makes it sounds nice but that is perhaps thinking too highly of this card. It is only good value if the game is both close and long which is not what aggressive white decks are looking for. You could play this in a control deck and it would be OK early but it would suck pretty hard later on. Unlikely to cut it but not miles off for suitability reasons mostly.

Vizier of the True 0

Way too much mana or even more way too few stats. There isn't going to be enough exert support for this to shine either. Not a cube card at all.

River Hoopoe 1

I love it! I don't even know how to pronounce it and I just love the all round sillyness of this thing. This isn't unplayable but it isn't a good card and certainly not a very broad one. A 1/3 flier for 2 is an OK defensive tool or body to empower but it is a good way of being playable just at that. While this does offer more I don't think it is close to enough. Five to draw a card and gain two is pricey. Do that midgame and you are falling far behind. For something that is only good when you need late game mana sinks I can't see this getting play. Even in just one colour I doubt this would be quite enough card to make the cube.

Resolute Survivors 0

A fairly reasonable card but a total no hoper for cubes. Narrow and far too fair. Just a pretty bland dork.

Rhonas's Last Stand 3.5

This feels a bit all in for my liking. While more powerful and playable (as a main deck card at least) than either the black or white offerings so far this thing has some issues. I think this is overly polar, it will either be a bit of a liability or it will dominate a game. In this cards favour you have green able to produce a lot of mana outside of lands thus mitigating the downside. You have a 2 mana 5/4 really early in the game. That is super big. Sadly this is a token and overly vulnerable to bounce and flicker. While it might be pretty good against green and red mages the other colours will simply be able to gain huge tempo swings against you if they have the right answers. Woolly Thoctar doesn't see any play and it is not much slower than this and rather less vulnerable. Just big and cheap isn't all that in cube, especially when you have to take risks to get it. I can see decks where this would be pretty good. Ideally you play it and give it haste. I don't think there will be nearly enough demand for it in a drafting cube but in a tailored deck I think you could get sufficient power milked from this card to make it compare well.

Uncage the Menagerie 1

Not the thing. This is poor card advantage as it scale up so badly, the higher X the less cards you have of that cost. Past 3 on X and you will be clearing you will be clearing out your library of what is left often not getting the full X things. As a tutor this is OK but not strong. The only place I see this getting attention is in a combo deck where all the parts of the combo have the same CMC and are dorks. Also likely only for 2 and 3 mana cards. This is substantially worse to Collected Company although not a direct comparison. I'd generally rather play a Weird Harvest than this. Very narrow and often weak.

Earthshaker Khenra 6.5

This is a pretty good all round aggressive threat but not busted at any point. This is just a high quality card to fill out your curve. It is perhaps Kari Zev levels of good, not quite so impactful in an ongoing way from the get go but much more to offer in the way of value and utility. The ideal for this is getting the tempo lead against another aggressive deck or forcing though some extra damage against a control player. If you can negate their blocks for a turn and get in with this and say another 2 power card then it has already done good work. Four damage for 2 mana and a 2/1 body to tell the tale is pretty good even if they still have a 2/3 in play. Just getting in for a couple of attacks on curve is fine too, in those cases it probably does just as well as Ash Zealot and is easier to cast. The eternalize is very nice and scales up well with both of the Khenras abilities. Taking out a 4 power blocker for a turn and getting to smack in with a 4/4 haste is a big deal. That is Gloryseeker levels of impact for that one turn - from a flashback on a decent two drop. While aggressive red decks are seldom looking to get to six mana they often do. More often than a lot of aggressive decks as they can expend so many resources as removal and take a game long. Things like Firebolt do add a lot to RDW reach and value simply because a RDW player is almost always still in the game due to the potential to bypass most kinds of defenses with burn. Anything that is fine early and has some useful things to do late are great for RDW players. Even more so when they don't have many looting effects to turn excess lands into more gas. The difference between five (for Firebolt flashback) and six to go eternal on this is pretty big in a red deck, that is certainly closer to two turns extra than it is one turn extra. I still think this is totally fine, when you have a front end that is pretty playable all on its own and then a flashback mode that is really quite powerful. It threatens a high chance of 4 damage alone the turn you do it, plus any extra damage from smaller critters you have that can also squeeze in plus any follow up damage you might be able to get with your 4/4. You might not eternalize this very often, perhaps half the frequency that you flashback a Firebolt however this should do more than twice the work when you do play it so you are getting a decent return on your mana. A great curve filler card that offers some reach and some value all while being very on theme.

Razaketh, the Foulblooded 3

This is a super powerful card that would seem to be somewhat in competition with the mighty Griselbrand. In that regard he doesn't come out on top but that doesn't necessarily mean this is useless. As a top end threat to potentially cheat in this lacks immediate impact and protective capabilities. This is Dragonlord Atarka without the five damage or Griselbrand without the lifelink. To get enough value out of this you need to be able to abuse the tutor or the sacrifice. While a tutor is never bad it should rather be redundant if you can have an 8 drop in play. In those sorts of decks the tutors are played to get the 8 drop in play. If you need to tutor things up to win or even not die post making an 8 drop then it suggests to me that your choice of threat isn't ideal. A sac outlet is a useful thing but enablers are like tutors, they should help get you where you are going not be your end game. I like the idea of using this with Shallow Grave so that I can put my things back in the bin rather than exiling them but that seems so unlikely and so win more. If I have this and any other top end threat in play surely that game is over and I don't need a bit more value. I don't see a place for this in the cube as yet but it could well pop up in some niche constructed lists. Certainly it looks more appealing with the super silly cards like Tooth and Nail where you can pair it with something specific more reliably. I can't see it coming up often even if it does manage to find some home in cube. Sufficiently unique and powerful to merit keeping and eye on. Not useful enough to go in a cube yet though.

Rebuilding Kherna 1

Clearly this isn't going to be the actual name of this card and it is a slightly off translation. Will try and make a note of this as it has been confusing in the past! It shouldn't be too relevant however as I don't think this is enough to cut it in cube. The initial play is OK but without flash it is just two to the face, perhaps a little more if it allows for an otherwise bad attack to become good. It isn't a great two drop as green has so few aggressive one drops to proceed this with. Pumping a mana elf is pretty sad. A zoo deck might play this but I doubt it, it isn't good enough on its own and isn't that exciting when it is good. The eternalize is a bonus certainly but it is pretty broadcast, easy to stop the initial damage and beyond that just a 6 mana 4/4 token which is pretty awful. The back end is just too slow, too low powered and too unreliable to be something you really want to invest mana in. That would be better spend on a Kessig Wolf Run most of the time. I doubt this will see cube play, it would need loads of synergy with the pumping. The eternalize simply isn't good enough to make this good in any self mill kind of thing. You are barely getting any extra value when you discard this to a Survival of the Fittest compared with any normal dork.

Nimble Obstructionist 7.5

Best card in the set so far. I think I prefer this to Vendilion Clique for cube too although it is quite close. This is pretty big for blue. I am pretty aware of my curves in the cube for the various colours and card types. Blue lacks three drops, it really lacks good three drop dorks. This is a powerful enough card already but it is extra welcome in light of the gap it will sit in. So, why is this so good? What is this bringing to the table? Obviously this is somewhat of a split card. It is either a 3/1 flying flash or it is an uncounterable 3 mana Stifle that also draws a card. It isn't both. Clique always gets to be the disruption/card quality as well as the 3/1 flier. Clique does more when you play it on average but Obstructionist does a lot more when you don't play it if that makes sense! Playing around this is going to be a nightmare, put it that way.

A 3/1 flying body for 3 is OK. It trades up quite well in the air, represents a good clock and most importantly tackles planesalkers very effectively. It is also a safe play a control player can make and most of this is down to the flash. I might be sat on this and a counterspell. If you make a walker that is going to get to 3 or less loyalty I am probably better off letting it resolve, saving my counter, developing my board and just killing it with good old attacks from this. Blue struggles versus planeswalkers somewhat and this is a fantastic tool to help cope with them. The body part of this is just about good enough that you would run it in the cube and be happy to put it in your deck. Just because of the flash it will often outperform True-Name Nemesis! The value of the body obviously rises rather nicely when it is only part of what the card can do or be. The main drawback of a 3/1 flier is that is sucks when they have a Lava Dart in the bin or a bunch of Lingering Souls tokens. Clique's average performance is hurt a chunk by those sorts of things however the Nimble Obstructionist doesn't lose much at all as it has an entirely different mode.

So then, how good is a 3 mana uncounterable cantrip Stifle? Really good. Much much better than Disallow when not countering spells and much much more playable than Stifle. The issue with Stifle is not power level at all but range. It might have loads of things it affects but to be worth a whole card it has to hit something of pretty high value. Having either a super low powered card or even a dead card clogging up your hand is a big risk. Without a pre-known high number of valuable targets across the board or loads of card filter Stifle isn't super playable in cube despite having an insane upper potential. Due to drawing a card with Obstructionist you don't mind at all as much about the value you get from it. You can hit a pretty low value thing like a plus ability on a walker and still feel good about it. It doesn't have quite the same upper range as the Stifle as you can't hit those turn one sac lands but hitting a turn three sac land is still pretty nuts. This card just being in cube will ensure people crack their sac lands before opponents have three with a blue up if they can. Cycle for 3 is OK, cycle for 3 and disrupt a bit is good, cycle for 3 and disrupt a lot is great, make a 3/1 and kill a walker is great and make a 3/1 safely and apply pressure or trade with a flier is nice too. This is good early and good late. It provides a very wide range of options without ever being a dud card. I expect to see a lot of this.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Hour of Devastation Initial Review Part III

Sunset Pyramid 2

Cheap to play and use compared to most other cards of this ilk such as Jayamdae Tome. Sadly, for some reason these kinds of cards have always been grossly over priced. Every colour has value in some shape or form so there shouldn't be that much of a premium for this kind of effect on a colourless card. To draw 3 cards with this you have to pay 8 mana and wait at least three turns. It is nice that you can spread the mana cost out but still, this is a very mana inefficient card for the effect. The scry is nice but even worse on the good value front. The only chance this has in the cube is in concert with artifact synergies. This does at least qualify as a cheap artifact and will therefore support other things pretty well. Too narrow for an unpowered cube but OK filler in a powered one.

Oketra's Last Mercy 1

After Bontu's card I was hoping this was a cycle and I was then hoping Oketra's would be essentially a Swords to Plowshares with the lands not untapping bit. That would have been very interesting. Oketra's Last Mercy isn't. Lifegain and nothing else on a three mana sorcery. No thanks. While this is awful and shouldn't feature in any drafting cube it is not quite as bad as it looks. It has some strong sideboard potential against burn decks for example. If you gain over 10 life in that matchup you are fairly OK with skipping your next turns casting. This is like an inverse Final Fortune, you kind of skip your next turn to have potentially many more turns after that! Mostly this is bad because mostly this doesn't do anything to stop the things that are killing you. Sure, gain yourself 15 life, I'll just carry on hitting you for 8 a turn and we will see how good your life gain card is. I guess I didn't really need to go on much about this card, if a three mana Wrath with this drawback isn't good then a lifegain spell with the same cost and drawback is looking very sad.

Pride Sovereign 1

To my surprise there are actually a number of decent white and green cats in the cube. When this reliably comes down as a 3/3 or bigger it starts to get decent. This is why I haven't just written this off, you could play this in a tribal cat deck. Such a deck would just be a quirky version of some better Selesnya list but it would be fun and different at least! While this card is ultimately good value on its own it is just painfully slow. It is a Grey Ogre for a turn most of the time and that is very bad. Then it is a pair of 1/1 lifelink cats for the next two turns. Finally after three turns of very low value and tempo you actually have a decent card and board. Your Pride Sovereign is a 4/4 and able to become a 6/6 at instant speed making more dorks and likely block as well. It is not unlike a Grave Titan once it has been around for a while. The thing is you might as well just make some more expensive card that isn't a risky play instead. Just play that Angel of Invention, Cloudgoat Ranger or Deranged Hermit! They might not come down sooner but they will absolutely be relevant sooner.

Mirage Mirror 6

This has a lot of cool uses. You can copy a Grim Monolith and generate mana without any untap issues which is my personal favourite! I fully anticipate this being a rules nightmare in multiple ways. By the looks of it you can stack the effect and do it again on something else. You could copy and Arcanis and the Grim Monolith and then Arcanis again and tap to draw three and then pay four to untap it with the last Arcanis copy still on the stack and then draw another three. This is a silly example but I am sure there are some more practical uses for it. Initially I thought this was awful. I already hate Clone effects and rarely play them myself. This is a Clone that is expensive and has an ongoing use cost. That sounds like piling bad upon bad. Upon deeper consideration however the things I mostly hate about Clones do not overly apply to this little card. You can just dump this down without any targets. It is a rare example of a proactive Clone that doesn't rely on you keeping something in play or making two things at once or your opponent having a worthy target. Once in play this is kind of dangerous and awkward to play around. I can give a lot of my cards pseudo-haste should I have the two mana spare afterwards. Any dork with a good on attack trigger works very nicely with this be that a Titan or a Hanwier Garrison. You don't have to commit either, you can jsut copy whatever is useful there and copy something better later on when siad better thing is in play. Other Clones you have to wait or get low value.

Just having this in play will be a little like having a Vedalken Shackles. It will prevent opponents from laying certain cards or playing a certain way. It is almost like a Spellskite, just a total ballache to play into. There is no way your opponent is Show and Telling in Emrakul if you have this in play as you will get the first attack. This is likely true of most top end stuff, no one wants to get hit by a Titan. The Mirror has all sorts of nice subtle things going on as well. You can just use it to colour fix. Pay 2, copy a land and then tap for a mana, the Mirror is always a Prophetic Prism! It is also one of those annoying threats that evades a lot of sorcery speed removal like vehicles and man lands. This is cheap, it has synergies, it is proactive, it is disruptive, it is threat diversification, it is utility, it basically has too much going for it for it not to work out well in cube. A cool an interesting card that seems pretty playable in most cube archetypes. I certainly like this more than Phyrexian Metamorph. Mirror might not be quite as powerful (it also might be!) as the Metamorph but it is substantially broader and more playable.

Ramunap Hydra 0

As a 5/5 this is pretty good but it isn't even close to the levels of good it would need to be to make deserts playable yet. This is just a dork, a slow conventional dork. It is like a very bad Baneslayer Angel. As a mostly Hill Giant card this isn't close to playable.

Scavenger Grounds 2

Mostly this is another Bojuka Bog. It is more expensive to use by a long old way but it comes in untapped, it can exile things at instant speed and it can be laid and used as a land before you need to exile stuff. This is a pretty narrow sideboard tool but I do expect it to see some play. It might even sneak in main in some lists when there is a known meta. Lots of good sideboard options in this set so far it seems.

Neheb, the Eternal 4

If you have Karakas in your cube this isn't playable. That applies to any legends that cost like 3 or more and don't have an immediate effect. Assuming you don't have Karakas Neheb starts to look rather interesting indeed. Big cards that can offer an immediate mana return (Nissa Worldwaker, Garruk Wilderspeaker, Teferi Temporal Archmage) are a lot more playable than comparable cards of the same price range. It is why Hour of Reckoning seems pretty good while Bontu's Last Reckoning seems pretty awful. Neheb is a five mana 4/6 that has some pseudo evasion in that he will always deal 3 or 4 per attack. That isn't bad, it is quite durable and relatively effective but as a top end cube threat that is a long way from being enough. This is OK because the interesting/powerful thing about Neheb is his potential to generate loads of mana, and with the right cards or board this can be done the same turn as making him. If you cast Neheb pre-combat and manage to get in for even a couple of damage them Neheb is much more like a three mana investment and is wildly more powerful. You can do some pretty bonkers things as well. Neheb can pretty easily generate mana rather than jsut getting a discoutn, lay him, in for a whole bunch and then perhaps throw a Fireblast at your face. Pay five mana, get a big old body and the best part of ten mana back! Turning all my Lightning Bolts into Dark Rituals sounds like a nice option to have. Neheb also does 3 or 4 mana himself when attacking, great if you can give him haste and not the worst if you just have him on the go.

This does all sounds massively fun and potentially broken but it has some issues. Red is not a colour that often wants to go long. It tends to play less in the way of mana sink cards than most other colours. With less demand there are just less of those kinds of cards in most cubes and that means it will be a lot harder to get Neheb performing as well as he could. Every now and again you mill make Neheb and then get to max level your Figure of Destniy or Kargan Dragonlord on the same turn and it will be great. What I expect to happen more is that Neheb will sit in hand as your last card for a few turns waiting for your fifth land. He will then come down and have basically no follow up with any mana you might generate will him. The more top end and sinks you play to empower him the less chances you have of being able to get good returns on mana with him. Presently I don't think red is setup such that this is something you are able to get much value from. I think you can force red more into that potential with cube design if you are so inclined. I also think red will eventually have some good and viable midrange options where it is the main or even only colour. When that day finally arrives there is a good chance Neheb will be a big name in that archetype. I want this to be good now and will absolutely be trying it out in the cube but my expectations are not super high.

The Locus God 2

Nice card but is it better than Keranos, Niz-Mizzet, Consecrated Sphinx, Inferno Titan etc? And even if it is, is it any more playable? Big gold things have to be really really above the curve or utterly unique and this is neither. I have no room for either Keranos or the Dracogenius which doesn't look great for the Locust God. Worst case scenario this is a bad Ephemeron. Not awful but pretty weak in power and tempo. Best case scenario you have a Jace or Dack in play and get to generate a swarm of hasting locusts for no mana cost. In that situation The Locust God is pretty spicy. It is all about the ability to make tokens, the more you can make immediately the better this is. If you are relying on the 4 mana loot then the card is very weak. The recursion on death is nice but not great. Lots of things exile or counter and even if they don't, having to repeatedly pay 6 mana for a 4/4 isn't winning many games. Draw is a lot weaker if you are holding it back till after you make your top end threat. Planeswalkers are the best thing to work with this but if you start your turn with a walker in play you are already winning. As such this is a bit of a win more card. It has quite a lot going on but needs too much supporting for my liking. A six mana gold card needs to be bonkers right away all on its own and this misses the mark.

Solemnity 1

Another lame white hoser card that can only be played in sideboards. There is every chance that there is or will be some combo with this but that isn't likely going to translate well into cube. I'm not even sure this is quick enough against infect for modern use as a sideboard tool. Infect isn't a thing in cubes. It doesn't do enough to be something you would bring in against affinity (in any format) either. One to watch but a pretty limp card from a cube perspective.

Freying Sanity 4

This is a very high powered mill card. It is able to be so powerful as you need to support it before it is doing enough. If this is just milling them for one a turn when they cast a spell or use a sac land or eat a removal spell then this is a poor card. If however you lay this after a Mesmeric Orb or perhaps follow this up with a Glimpse the Unthinkable then it is going to be doing a lot of work. It is like a Furnace of Wrath for mill but a lot better as it is cheaper and gets some value out of them just doing stuff. This is both a mill tool and a way of empowering your other mill cards, it is like a mill lord! With this you should be able to reduce how many resources (cards and mana) you invest in winning and as such will be able to include more stuff to increase consistency and survivability. I think this will be oppressive in cube mill decks and it might even be powerful enough to enable some 60 card mill decks, likely standard but I wouldn't be shocked to see a modern mill deck one day. I don't like powerful mill cards, mill isn't a fun game to play and mill is substantially more powerful in cube than anywhere else. This is a good card but in only one place and that isn't a good place to have more good cards. Thankfully most people don't run mill stuff in their cubes so we won't have to see too much of this. If you run mill themes in your cube then run this too, if not don't. Simple at least.

Swarm Intelligence 0

Seven mana... Why even print this? Commander I guess but then stick it in those sets. Yeah, so either play affordable card draw or play a seven mana card that wins the game and don't play this. If you really must then play Twincast or Fork but don't do that either.