Sunday, 19 November 2017

Lifegain .dec (Soul Sisters)

Soul Warden
This will be the white weenie version rather than the infinite life combo. It is quite the interesting deck. It is essentially a less powerful white weenie deck that has some free wins. In a meta with some midrange creature decks, an aggressive red deck and combo decks that have a cap on how much damage they can deal with their combo (Charbelcher, Illusions of Grandeur, Sutured Ghoul, Erratic Explosion etc) then this take on a white weenie deck will have a huge edge over a conventional list. While this will goldfish kill slower than your normal white weenie deck it still has all the strengths of the deck. It is super consistent being a proactive mono list and having a relatively low and smooth curve. It will punish decks that get bad starts or some kind of screw. It will get wins by going wide or by going past with evasion. It will get wins with good curve draws or a standout card in the matchup such as Spectral Procession or Mother of Runes. White weenie is somewhat of a free wins deck as it is and so this build really does capitalize on that by significantly increasing the potential for it to get free wins. This makes some good sense what with this being the strongest (and only viable?) of the white weenie options in modern. Sadly the majority of the cards on this list are not good stand alone cards and so this doesn't feel like an archetype you can ever really support in a drafting cube. As a strategy for a rotisserie or other more constructed and open card pool event it seems like a great trick to have in the arsenal.

Despite being a heavy synergy deck with quite a defined set of cards in constructed formats it seems to have translated into singleton well. There is a bit of extra redundancy you can put up with to make up the numbers as well as some relatively on theme conventional gems. As with all first outings I am keeping this simple. There are some really nice options for this list in black and ultimately that is probably the most powerful way to go. Black has some payoff cards for having high life which is ideal. It also has plenty of things you can pay life to do and this Pandora's Box of possibility and potential counter-synergy is a big part of my wanting to try out a mono white list to get a handle on things before experimenting further afield! Here is my proposed list;

Serra Ascendant24 Spells

Serra Ascendant
Soul's Attendant
Soul Warden
Martyr of Sands

Legions Landing
Soldier of the Pantheon
Mardu Woe Reaper
Mother of Runes

Sword to Plowshares

Auriok Champion
Ajani's Pridemate
Lone Missionary
Ajani's PridemateLone Rider

Suture Priest
Serene Steward
Honor the Pure

Proclamation of Rebirth
Spectral Procession

Ajani Goldmane
Faith's Fetters
Ranger of Eos

Archangel of Thune
Crested Sunmare

Felidar Soveriegn
Archangel of Thune
16 Lands

Kabira Cross Roads
Windbrisk Heights
14 Plains

So the core of the deck is the same core as the modern builds, that being -

Serra Ascendant
Soul's Attendant
Soul Warden
Auriok Champion
Ajani's Pridemate
Spectral Procession
Ranger of Eos
Archangel of Thune

Swords to PlowsharesThey also tend to pack four Path to Exile which I have substituted for the more thematic Swords. I like the idea of having a cheap instant lifegain effect for cheeky unexpected triggers! In practice both would be ideal but it is trickier picking up both. Honor the Pure also crops up a lot in the constructed lists although not often as a four of. That usually gets them to 36 spells and 24 lands. In cube those cards only make up a third of the deck and so we need to find rather more playables. Honor is better in modern where turning 1/1s into 2/2 is significant. In cube it will help less as your utility dorks will still not really want to get into combat much.

Ascendant, Archangel and Pridemate are the best payoff cards for lifegain in this kind of deck. I was concerned that this would be the limiting aspect of the deck, not having enough payoff to merit having all the weaker lifegain cards. Several things add up to make this not seem like an issue. Firstly there are a bunch of OK lifegain payoff cards I padded things out a bit with. There are some pretty weak ones as well like Test of Endurance which seemed too deep and bad! Secondly, you have a bit of tutoring and recursion for your Ascendant, which being the cheapest of the lot is generally going to be the biggest player. I would consider Recruiter of the Guard for more tutoring before turning to any of the weaker payoff cards. Lastly, the mere fact you are perpetually gaining life will be enough in itself. You won't always need a payoff for your lifegain in cube for it to win the game. Something like an Izzet tempo list simply won't have enough legs in its whole deck to win a game if you gain a couple of life every turn against it.

Ranger of EosSpectral Procession is not wildly on theme being neither a source of lifegain nor a lifegain payoff card however it has synergy everywhere else. It is a huge payoff card for being mono white with its high stand alone power level. It also has great synergy with the Soul's Attendant style cards offering a lot of triggers in one card and brutal synergy with the Anthem effects.

Ranger of Eos seems pretty important in this list, more so than in the modern version. A source of value and the ability to find a wide selection of relevant cards. He seems so good it makes me want to play Recruiter of the Guard even more but you probably then need to run Aether Vial or something to support it all.

Suture Priest is the 4th sister in this list who isn't good enough for the modern versions. She is quite a lot weaker than the others but I think still worth it given your aim and synergies. Marty of Sands is a bit of an odd one. She was part of a different sort of modern deck than the Soul Sisters setup. While both lists have some overlap the Martyr list is much more of a lockout control deck. It would use Proclamation of Rebirth and Emeria, the Sky Ruin to have ongoing access to the Martyr and then it would use cards like Squadron Hawk to ensure a lot of life was gained each sacrifice. The soul sisters list, both this cube one and the modern ones, have less in the way of hand refill and are more inclined towards developing a board both of which hit the value of Martyr pretty hard. I think she is still worth it overall in my list but she is one of the more cuttable things. I like the ability to get a massive early bump in life to turn on an Ascendant. I like the ability to have an instant lifegain trigger on the board as well. The tutoring and recursion of one drops in this list all help empower Martyr too.

Serene StewardAjani's Pridemate is the best tempo card in the deck. Following a one drop sister it is the best two drop in the deck. It grows rapidly in this list and can just win a game all by itself Long Tusk Cub style. It was a card I was scared of lacking redundancy for. Serene Steward is a whole lot worse. The mana cost makes her a far less impressive tempo card. Expect utility and value from it rather than tempo.

At the top end we have Crested Sunmare and Felidar Sovereign doing their best to be Archanagles two and three. Sunmare is powerful in this list, you should be able to trigger it the turn you make it and perhaps even deny your opponent the ability to make dorks else incur a total of 15/15 worth of horses coming at them! While powerful it is not a great finisher card being fairly slow and having no evasion. It has less immediate impact than Archangel as well. Mostly the Sunmare will draw out removal but it should leave a 5/5 token behind which is still fine. The Sovereign is a bit more awkward. It has minimal impact and is a six drop. In a 16 land deck with basically no draw in it you are looking at about a 40% chance of having six lands on turn six, a bit over 50% for turn seven. It is a bad body for the mana, it is pretty easy to kill, it is going to come much later than other people's top end and there is a very real chance you have no where near 40 life nor look like getting there even if you do manage to get it to stick on the board. It does say win the game on it and it isn't a dud otherwise. It is useful to have a stalemate breaker and nothing breaks a stalemate quite like a card with actual win the game text on it. I imagine the best the card will be will all be at the hands of Windbrisk Heights.

Ajani GoldmaneAjani Goldmane is a cute addition. This is like the only deck where both the +1 and the -1 are good abilities! Ajani has always been the ultimate Procession follow up play, his issue is being so linear usually. In practice Elspeth or Gideon are probably going to perform better but it seemed wrong not including Ajani in the perfect spot for him! The vigilance is also going to be more relevant than usual as you are often in the business of protecting your life total.

Another cute addition is Faith's Fetters and it is probably just inferior to Cast Out, Council's Judgement or Unexpectedly Absent. I felt like I needed some general purpose removal and as all of it is somewhat clunky I figured I might as well play a clunky card that also has some bonus synergy.

Soldier of the Pantheon and Mardu Woe Reaper are probably necessary evils just to get that one drop count up. They can offer a feeble amount of lifegain but no where close to being good on that basis. You cannot abuse these cards in the way you can with Soul's Attendant or Martyr of Sands and you need the abuse to properly empower the payoffs. These two additions are primarily 2/1's for one. They give you more early plays and help to empower your global buffs. They help you play like a white weenie deck a bit more and they give you some dorks you are happy to use in a disposable manner. The lifegain aspect of these cards probably just falls into the cute category again and mean that you would be better off with Thraben Inspector and Kytheon in those slots. Sacred Cat is another interesting option in the one drop slot going a bit deeper on the support aspect at the cost of being a less potent stand alone card.

Legion's LandingWhile the Cat felt like an option Legions Landing felt like a must. It has all round ideal support element. The 1/1 token is good, it gets you on the board and it gets you gaining life. It triggers your sisters, gets bigger with your global buffs, and gains life as Sacred Cat would do! Then you get to flip it into a land which means you are kind of playing 17 which is super helpful what with all the 5+ CMC cards you are running. Lastly, if it goes that long, a 1/1 lifelink or bigger every turn will really really stall out a game and let you win with Sovereign or going wide.

Proclamation of RebirthProclamation of Rebirth is an odd one. The three mana mode will rarely be optimal in the early or mid game. You only have seven one drops so having three in the bin is going to be somewhat later in the game. Probably when you have already hit six mana. This is another reasons to consider Recruiter of the Gaurd. More things that can pull the one drops out of the deck when so much of the key cards are one drops sounds nice! As a forcast card this is super late game. It is later than Adanto, the First Fort or Felidar Sovereign. I feel like the card is going to get cast least out of all the cards in the deck but sadly I feel it is required. With less redundancy and a general lack of card advantage or protection against sweepers I think the deck is too fragile without it. In constructed the card is primarily used to abuse Martyr of Sands but that isn't how I expect the card to be used in cube. In cube it will be more copies of the soul sisters and Serra Ascendant. While other cards protect better against mass or spot removal specifically the Proclamation is the only card that really helps against both. It does also offer another aspect of inevitability. So much so that I considered Mistveil Plains. If you can perpetually recur threats and restock your library you don't loose the long game to very much. I think at that stage we are looking at more of a Proclamtion Martyr control deck and a cascade of potential changes would ensue. Dusk / Dawn is another potential way to get some more late game gas in this list. It is a bit clunky and awkward but also potentially very powerful even with some imperfect synergies.

Lone RiderThere are cards that could be refined all over the place in this list and I have drawn attention to them. Before doing anything like swapping Ajani for an Elspeth or Woe Reaper for an Inspector or anything like that I would look to simply replace Lone Missionary and Lone Rider. They are just filler cards. Off theme one drops would probably be better because one drops! These were the most powerful two drop dorks I could find that had lifegain aspects to them. Missionary is just a one off shot of life and has a pretty pathetic body. While it is nice having loads of incidental lifegain throughout the deck you are mostly trying to abuse multiple triggers or cards that will have a huge payout. Just gaining four life once is never a huge payout. You probably don't need that little bit of life at the cost of having a weak card. Knight of Meadowgrain is an upgrade in power now that I think of it and a pretty easy substitution and even Knight isn' thrilling  It is still just a dork and a relatively slow and small lifegain potential. Lone Rider is both a source of lifegain and a lifegain payoff card. The issue is much the same however. It is just a dork, either a terrible one or a decent one (that no longer benefits from Honor the Pure). You are not looking to win with these little edges. The payoff with Ascendant is huge while the payoff for Rider is fairly tame. It is good for a two drop but not just good period. Good luck winning with your 4/4 lifelink trample first strike thing once the four mana plus cards start to hit the deck. It is somewhat on theme but on closer inspection not in the most effective of ways.

Selfless SpiritSelfless Spirit is probably too important an insurance policy to not play over one of these weaker two drops. Although it has no life aspect to it it just covers you nicely in the area you are most vulnerable while also being a fine stand alone card. This deck needs to extend onto the board to really push the majority of the lifegain triggers and as such it is going to fold to a well placed Wrath of God. With no hand disruption or countermagic the deck is just a sitting duck. Proclamation is some help at recovering but more would be very welcome indeed. If I were doing this in a rotisserie I would likely draft some anti mass removal sideboard tech like Second Sunrise or just Hallowed Spiritkeeper in addition to running Selfless Spirit main. Even the shockingly slow Emeria starts to appeal more!

Land Tax is something I wanted to run but didn't find the space for. Such sillyness would make me want to run a Kor Skyfisher which would then in turn make me consider Oketra's Monument and another cascade of changes goes down! Path to Exile coming back being the first of those in this case. Should the list show promise and be fun to play I will likely try out all the variants I can imagine.

As ever I have presented a list chock full of the most synergy options so as to showcase the range of the less commonly seen cards. In practice the refined build of this deck is going to have a handful of less exciting but wildly more powerful cube mainstays. While I am fairly sure of which cards I want to cut and the kinds of things they should be instead. I will test out this pushed linear version first. The weaknesses of the deck will be better exposed so I can best assess how to patch them up. The various support cards may also surprise me, I might find Lone Rider is exactly what the deck wants! Testing is essential but I find I learn more in the testing process if I form expectations on cards before doing so. I know what Selfless Spirit does and how it will help so I can use that slot in testing for something like the Lone Rider in one of the only lists it will ever be viable. Not only do I get to see what such a card can do I also get to see how savage the matchup is in the face of mass removal.

Chalice of Life
Challice of Life is perhaps something I should test out as well. It is fairly slow and doesn't have any overlap with the creature aspect of the deck but it is both a lifegain trigger and and a payoff card. This seems like it would be more effective at ending a game than the Soverign and more all round use than Lone Rider. While I want to test it out it is not a card I wish to replace a creature with and so it is a bit harder to find the room for. Honor the Pure is the thing I would cut for it from this test list but that is just for testing reasons. In practice I have no idea what slot this should take or if it even merits one.

Lastly for the alternate options for this list we have the black aspect. There are three fairly big payoff cards in black for lifegain although sadly two of them are five drops. The addition of black to this list makes it very top heavy and that in itself would need some significant adjusting to accommodate. A black version would either be more midrange with better odds of hitting land drops all the way to five perhaps even with some ramp, or it would cut much of the white top end. Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Divinity of Pride are high stand alone power cards and good game ending threats.

Ayli, Eternal PilgrimAyli, the Eternal Pilgrim is the other black lifegain payoff card and is the thing I most want in this list. She is cheap, has a great starting body that controls the board well, offers utility and support with the lifegain ability and then turns into a complete beast should you hit 30 life. I expect the best builds to use Ayli. Once you go down that path, even if you ignore the five drops you still have things like Lingering Souls looking better than Procession, Sorin looking better than Ajani and that kind of thing. Even extort cards have something to offer a list like this. For an archetype that seems fairly narrow this has a lot of options and a fair degree of direction it can go it. It is going to take several goes at it to get it properly honed. At least with a weaker mono white starting point I will know which are the weakest links and therefor less likely to get carried over into alternate builds. Given how much I have talked about what should be changed from my proposed list it seems cruel not to give a proper one. The reason I shy away from doing so is because I don't know for sure, I can guess at what seems good but I will learn more about how to make a good thing by intentionally testing a weaker list. Anyway, this is the expected form of the best build;

24 Spells

Martyr of Sands
Serra Ascendant
Soul's Attendant
Soul Warden
Martyr of Sands

Legions Landing
Kythoen, Hero of Akros
Thraben Inspector
Mother of Runes

Sword to Plowshares

Auriok Champion
Ajani's Pridemate
Ayli, the Eternal Pilgrim
Selfless Spirit

Suture Priest
Suture Priest
Serene Steward

Spectral Procession
Proclamation of Rebirth
Lingering Souls
Recruiter of the Guard

Ajani Goldmane
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Faith's Fetters
Ranger of Eos

Archangel of Thune

16 Lands

Friday, 17 November 2017

Unstable Thoughts

Blast from the PastOminous title! I don't play any of the "Un" sets in my cube. Mostly this is down to time saving, I don't need even more cards to consider. The main issue with the un cards is that some are too extreme or comic. You have to draw a line somewhere and that is the main thing I can't be bothered with. The only card I have ever really wanted to put in the cube is Blast from the Past but once you start down that path... Red also really doesn't need the help! Just the multiplayer and draft mechanic cards from Commander and Conspiracy are awkward enough for cube consideration, especially when it comes to rule sets for different kinds of event. So basically I have avoided Un-sets for convenience and not because I don't like them. One of the best MtG experiences I have had was a six man Unhinged draft. I think the sets are fantastic, the design and everything, all great. I see them more like an exotic, fun and different thing to do every now and again. Almost like doing a full powered cube!

Broadly speaking there are two kinds of Un card. Those which are funny in their word play and flavour but that still function like a fairly normal magic card. Then there are those that employ some whacky mechanic that isn't really a magic thing such as breath holding competitions and doing daft shit. The former are much more reasonable considerations for putting into a cube and may be used to good effect without changing the experience away from what is expected of a cube. I thought I would have a look at some of those cards from the latest Un set as it seems to be rather more powerful in the sensible card department. I won't be adding any of these into the cube.... yet. Reading some of these for the first time I am not only being more tempted to try some out than ever before but I am also considering if some of the potentials are too good and would just be tedious additions a little like True Name Nemesis.

Contraptions and augmentation seem fun but Unstable seems like the right place for them. Both are a bit unweildy both as a game mechanic and as a logistical thing! Neither are very well suited to cube based on there not being a high enough density to support them. Even if you put every single host, augmentation and contraption in the cube and had a relatively small cube you wouldn't be getting the most out of the cards. If energy can't break into the cube then these things certainly can't!

So, lets havea very quick look at some of the sensible cards that have some cube potential in the same vein as Blast from the Past.

Sword of Dungeons and Dragons

Lovely design, nice homage, but we have more than enough Swords already and this is probably the weakest. You could argue the trigger was better on this than on other things but the downgrade on protection is a big deal.

Kindly  Cognician

Feels like an upgrade on Etherim Sculptor. While this might not hit every artifact in your list it should hit a significant number of any non artifact spells in your deck, things like Tinker, Daretti, etc. It also has another toughness! While this isn't much of a drafting cube card, certainly not in an unpowered cube, it is potentially very dangerous in constructed and powered cubes.


When has a land that taps for 2 not been abused? This has no real cost! I can't be arsed to go and find all the cards with watermarks but I am sure there are enough to fill a deck. They don't even need to be all that great when you can power them out with cards like this. A narrow card but a potentially bomb like power level.


This is just well made. It isn't abusive or over powered but it is still pretty playable. Just a one drop with some utility and a bit of a subgame that isn't too far outside the realms of magic to be lame. The card is fairly low impact and probably a bit slow and annoying to play with in practice but the design of it is great. I would love to see a more streamlined and sensible design of this for normal magic use.

Earl of Squirrel

Well this one made me laugh! Card is poo but I adore squirrellink. It is just fun to say. I also quite like the mechanic, just not on this card. I want a 1/3 squirrellink for 1G please!

The Grand Calcutron

Wow! This is a lot of card for not much mana. This has a fancinating effect on the game upping the complexity massively both by adding in restrictions that require extreme planning to navigate and by providing much more complete information to make your choices with! While I would quite like to play with this card just to experience magic that way I fear this card will just makes games painfully slow. A number of cards in this set have that issue but this is the biggest offender by far. I want to watch my opponents face slowly work out how bad the Daze sitting as the first card in my program is for their whole program as the Calcutron hits play. I also quite want to abuse a two mana card that appears to allow me to draw five extra cards a turn... I think this card is slower than a game where both players start with Divining Tops in play and get a free trigger whenever anything happens (I guess excluding other Tops triggering or that would be a dull old draw).

Ineffable Blessing

I have no idea what the ratios of flavour text to not on dorks is in the cube or just in green. It doesn't really matter much. Even if it was 50/50 you could still draft and build in such a way to make this trigger from 3/4 of your dorks pretty easily. This isn't super powerful but it is cost in a way that makes it very playable. I think this would find its way into most green decks with 15 or more dorks in it. It isn't quite as fun as Sylvan Library or Search for Azcanta but it is going to get you a lot more card advantage than either. This is simple and clean enough that you could run it in a cube no trouble and it would be pretty strong. The previous cards, while potentially powerful and abused, are all a bit narrow for the cube. This really isn't. OK, I just realized tokens trigger this. I now think this is on the too good side to be something that would improve a cube.

Crow Storm

This is likely less effective at ending a game than most of the alternative storm cards. It is still however a storm card, a known broken and abusable mechanic. It is on the cheaper side and it is blue. I can totally see this being used as a backup win mechanism with some great defensive utility if you need to blow it as part of a fizzled attempt in going off. In the right deck this should be pretty easy to wildly outclass a Lingering Souls.

Spike, Tournament Grinder

Speaking of mechanics we know to be broken... Yeah, this card is way too much. Not going near this one. Insane potential power level and abuse potential plus the need of stipulating rule sets for each format.


I would probably play this in a Tempered Steel deck.

Split Screen

Cool design, if a touch fiddly. Very powerful card quality but at four mana this is too pricey even if going a synergy route with Mul Daya or miracles.

Baron Von Count

Not a busted card but a playable enough one. I suspect it is pretty easy to do this in a couple of turns with a deck built around doing so. Tasigur for example does every number bar 3. As this card can be activated pretty quickly it has to be respected and dealt with. It is like a Vial Smasher the Fierce but rather more polar. Either it is a Trained Armadon or it wins the game.

Extremely Slow Zombie

Great design, probably the card I most want in the cube now despite being so vanilla. Last strike is super interesting. While it is typically a drawback it is not the largest and it does come with some perks. You can trigger a Jace, Cunning Castaway loot with it three times in one combat! This is just a very clean and easy to understand card that will lead to some nice things going on. I like how last strike encourages double blocks which in turn makes combat tricks more dangerous.

More or Less

Danger! I am not sure what the most dangerous thing this can do but it is none the less a scary card. It is too narrow for normal use, it will be draw an extra card at best and often worse. However, you can probably make a load of new infinite combos with this or just improve existing ones.

Super-Duper Death Ray

This sits somewhere between an Arc Lightning and a Searing Blaze. I like how this card gives you a nice meaty four damage removal spell that you don't lose value on when you have to aim it at small things. Having this as a burn option in hand would lead to many interesting options. You might intentionally use it on a small thing to gain maximum face damage, you may want to hold it back so you can go 1 for 1 against something with four toughness. This can punish planeswalkers quite nicely, especially the token generators. This is a  well designed card. It isn't directly better than any of the decent 3 mana four damage burn options nor is it directly worse. As with last strike I would like to see this mechanic come to conventional magic in some way.

Better than One

So this card just seems utterly broken regardless of what format you play it in. If all you do is give your opponent half your deck you now have double draws for the rest of the game. You can lay two land a turn as well making this really oppressive early. In those cases it is probably correct to give stuff from hand you wont immediately need away as well to empower your new buddy. Late game you will likely be able to spare a bunch of permanents to give them that leg up. This is batty good on turn two. Literally this, the ability to cast it and six lands would be a fantastic hand. Four or five lands, this and a couple of useful cheap plays would be even better. Some cards like Wheel of Fortune get rather improved when you are playing a two verses one as well! I don't really see how this is close to fair at two mana. Luckily I won't be playing with it!

Amateur Auteur

Kami of Ancient Law with a better creature type, somehow this is a pretty tempting card despite being pretty fair and dull. I just know I will want a Kami and wish it was a human and resent this card when I do.

Very Cryptic Command

Certainly not as good as the original but still a pretty dangerous card. Basic lands have one word in their name as do most of the original duals. This will hit a lot of decks pretty hard as a Mana Short. Very very few other cards have one words names in cube, most of those that do after the ones already named are instants and sorceries. If this isn't able to shut off over half their mana then this isn't a great card. The reshuffle mode is nice but somewhat of a last ditch thing. The recursion is also nice, the equivalent of the draw a card mode on the original and probably better, just a reliable safe value thing. The untap is either a limp combat trick or a way to make this effectively cost two. I can see this getting back Counterspell and untapping two lands so as to immediately cast said Counterspell. Snapcaster without the 2/1 but with the ability to hold onto your card if you need, or just Cryptic countering without the draw in that case. I think mostly you want to Mistbind Clique their land with this in their upkeep and get back something good with it. Then this is a good card with some nice extra utility. When they are all middling non-basic lands and you can't tap down anything at all this thing becomes overpriced and a little limited.

Target Minotaur

A red Umara Entangler. I can imagine wanting this to be a real card for something despite just being a bad Abbot of Keral Keep. It is a playable on theme support card and those go a good way in cube. It is the depth of support cards this set brings like this one that are the things that will make me regret not using the Un set cards most.

Over My Dead Bodies

This is a fairly solid build around card. You should be able to set up one shotting most people with this in good time to cast it, perhaps even accelerating it out too. It has some comparison to Living Death and Twilight's Call but the inbuilt haste makes it rather less effort to get lots of immediate value from it.

That is it for the sensible playable stuff so far but we are just under a third spoiled so far so I expect plenty more interesting cards to come.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Top 13 Colourless Lands

WastesI have found colourless lands being less and less used in cube. They have to bring quite a significant benefit or they simply don't outweigh the drawback of not being able to play your spells every now and again. There are lots of reasons why this trend makes sense but they are all a little subtle. It involves the various dual lands that fail to help provide colour on turn one, the increasing overall power level of things, the increased value of one drops and of tempo in general and the increase of dual lands that require other specific land types. There is also a lot more good mana sinks and things that you can recur in various ways too.

The only time it is actually zero cost to run a colourless land is when you are mono, you have no double colour two drops and you will not be keeping any 2 or fewer land hands. This is not at all common in cube. You also don't need to incur zero cost to play colourless lands. It is more just a case of the lower the cost the better they are. A deck which will keep a selection of 2 land hands, is splashing a second colour and that has one or two double cost two drops will be fine to run a colourless land. Every now and again it will be awkward but rarely critical. Assuming it is adding much at all with its utility it is likely worth it.

The issue is that most decks are not like that at all. You will have two colour aggressive decks with 12 one drops. In such decks you are best off playing colourless land in spell slots as they will be incredibly harmful if you have to make them as your 2nd land. Perhaps you will have a three colour midrange deck with a bunch of different double costs on your four drops. The old Mind Sculptor, Knight-Errant and Wildspeaker super friends decks at the dawn of the walkers! In such decks mostly you will get away with a colourless land, even two. The thing is that the one time you can't cast a big four drop on the turn you needed to you will actually lose. The risk, even if low odds compared to the cheaper decks, is just as ruinous, perhaps more so. Very few colourless lands offset that kind of game losing risk.

Ancient TombBack in the day I would just throw in a colourless man land in any old deck. It just felt worth it. Spells were weaker, you had more time and much more buffer room in which you could fail to do useful things in. Colourless lands were low cost and low risk. When I first built my cube the fixing included 5 sac lands, the 10 original duals, the 10 pain lands and City of Brass! I think I actually had the Odyssey filter lands in there too desperate as we were... Suffice it to say there was much more incentive to stay mono back then! The better fixing we have now encourages a higher colour intensity in casting costs. The better spells we have means that not casting things with your mana is a much greater cost. Many of the good dual lands, most notably the filter lands, but also the check lands, while generally being untapped colour producers fail to do so on turn one. You might have a great mana base  however changing one basic into a colourless land is almost like triple the risk due to potential openers with it and the filter land etc. Very few decks now run Mutavault or Mishra's Factory, they are really only wanted in some narrow (and usually undraftable) archetypes like Goblins, Affinity or Merfolk. A good RDW list will have at least 8 one drops, ideally more. It will probably also have the odd RR two drop. You keep most 2 land hands with RDW, if one of those doesn't tap for red you are in for a rough time if you don't find another red source quick. Red has more option on late game ways to use its mana without having to play late game cards. This was a large part of the role of these kinds of utility lands. If you don't need to find ways to spend spare mana late game then there is little point taking those early game risks. The few premium colourless lands still see plenty of play but almost everything else is rarely seen in cube drafts.

In this list I have not considered cards like Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors. While both clearly colourless lands they are not at all included in the same way that the others are. These are specifically for ramp, they are not something you replace a basic land with for some extra free value because you think you can get away with it.  Lands that tap for two can be pretty powerful and these are probably the two best. They just don't really fit in this list as they are not really the same kinds of card at all and won't compare in very relevant ways.

Volrath's Stronghold13. Volrath's Stronghold / Academy Ruins

Back when the latter of these was a new card you would use these things to recur powerful cards and that would be your inevitability and win condition. It turns out if you add three mana to the cost of anything in cube it gets pretty awful. Even Ancestral Recall fails this test looking a lot worse when it is Concentrate... These only become good in the super late game when you have no gas in hand or anywhere else and are drawing blind. Even then you need a relevant target. Suffice it to say with the increase in tempo and card power these slow tools became quickly useless in most draft decks. The only real play either of these now see is in a combo deck where they allow you to recur a key component should you let it fall into the bin somehow. While this effect does become quite dominant in those super late game scenarios they occur so infrequently you don't want to over do it on improving that aspect of your game. These are irrelevant in most games in any beneficial way. A minor cost to the early game to gain a decent boost in an area of the game that rarely happens turns out to be a bad trade. Stronghold is typically less risky simply due to the existence of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. That being said, the Ruins is found mostly in artifact based decks which are very light on coloured mana needs compared to all other decks containing coloured spells. Both still see fringe play but neither has done anything of note in a long time.

Inkmoth Nexus12. Inkmoth Nexus / Blinkmoth Nexus

Without ways to buff these cards they don't have enough impact to be worth it. A lot of buff effects cost mana to use much like activating these. If you want to hit someone with a Sword on one of these then it is 4 mana every turn rather than 2 mana once. Affinity loves these cards as it has great ways to buff these for little to no mana and also greatly benefits from the artifact synergies. Outside of affinity these are almost never used. Inkmoth obviously goes in the infect deck, which is bad. I have seen it also used with Primeval Titan and Wolf Run to provide a land based win condition which is OK but not thrilling. White weenie using Glorious Anthem effects would absolutely play the Blinkmoth if it were not for Spectral Procession, some WW two drops and loads of one drops. Figure of Destiny is another card that really devalues the colourless lands in red and white aggressive decks. The aggressive decks tend to prefer punchier lands to chip damage ones like these. You need to win before something like a Wurmcoil hits play, you can't just sit there for five turns doing them one a go to deal the last quarter of their life, you will have lost by then.

Mishra's Factory
11. Mishra's Factory / Mutavault

Two power goes a way to making these more playable than the Nexus options. You don't need buff cards for these to be somewhat significant. Most plays are based on what you can do immediately to counter them or punish them. A planeswalker will make you consider how much potential damage you can hit it for. A mass removal spell will take into account the known things that will be able to attack after. A Nexus is likely able to do more damage over the course of a game than either of these but these are able to threaten twice the damage at the same mana investment on any given turn. These are nice useful lands to have. They do some meaningful damage now and again when you have mana spare and conditions allow for it. They improve any alpha strike move be it on a walker or player. They incur play round costs for your opponent as well. Both these man lands are more useful throughout a game that most other man lands and utility lands but they don't offer any real big late game payoff. The value they offer in game is also not massive. You are going to be better off playing spells and that is the real problem for these cards. Factory is mostly just found in affinity lists and Mutavault finds its way into most tribal decks. Beyond those they are rarely seen. Red is just going to play a Barbarian Ring or Ramunap Ruins over this. Even Teetering Peeks and Smoldering Spires typically do more work and incur less risk.

Gavony Township10.   Gavony Township

Great late game win potential and some nice synergy options. This card destroys stalemates. It is a pretty cost and turn efficient way to push through compared to most other utility lands too. The issues for Township are that you need a board for it to do anything and it is a colourless land with two colours of activation needed. Narrow as a gold card and narrow as a colourless land. While very very good in some decks it is not playable in enough situations to merit a drafting cube slot. This land will directly win far more games than a Mutavault and it comes online much faster than something like a Volrath's Stronghold. The cost/risk of including any of these 3 lands is the same and so it really is just the number of lists than can use Township that keeps it down on this list as it really is quite a step up in potency.

9.   Ash Barrens
Ash Barrens
This is kind of cheating as it really isn't a colourless land unless you are foolish enough to play it without basics. This is much more of an Evolving Wilds that you can use for mana the turn it comes into play if you need and are happy to forgo the option on coloured later on. A lovely little fixing tool and very well designed card. Given the criteria for this list however it should almost be discounted. It is almost like calling a pain or filter land a colourless land. True but only in the sense of casting some colourless mana BfZ Eldrazi things. Either way, this marks the point on this list where cards above it are drafting cube worthy and cards below it I now feel are too narrow and/or low powered to use up slots in drafting cubes. Especially if those are land slots you could have fixing in! This being so high on the list of colourless lands just goes to show how important fixing is!

Westvale Abbey8.   Westvale Abbey

This thing is ultimately what did for the other colourless man lands and even Gavony Township in my cube. This card has great reach but it is also able to contribute to the board on its own. While it doesn't have that combat ready in play feel of the other man lands it does the other things that they do and generally rather better. Westvale can provide ongoing chumps, empower sac outlets and useful things like that. Really it is about the game ending potential of this card. If you are going to take a risk on mana base you want big rewards and this provides. Lots of decks that would be considering scooping are able to continue in the game due to just having this in their list. This is one of the more late game only lands but being playable so widely and having both huge impact and utility carry it a long way. Ormendahl is a beating. He is super hard to remove and super hard to race. Unless you happen to have a bunch of fliers he is going to end you rapidly as well.

Library of Alexandria7.   Library of Alexandria

Good but overrated. In most good cubes you can only use this if you are a combo deck or a control deck against a control or slower deck. For any other archetype the cost of losing early mana and perhaps juggling hand size is just too great. Library in the right spot is near impossible to beat but there are very little of those relative to the wrong ones. On balance the card is not over powered but it is so polar as to be pretty tedious. When it is good it is pretty unbeatable and not in a fun way (for one player..). When it is bad it does nothing beyond occasionally hurting your ability to cast things. The best argument for this in a cube is that so many people misuse it that it becomes a trap card! If that is something you are in for then go nuts. For good players they can usually include this with basically no risk and take the odd free win. It is no Strip Mine but it is in that vein of badly designed cards! I like to make weaker players better rather than setting them traps. I also like games to involve more skill and less random free wins because you drew the good card for the matchup. To recap, this card is near unbeatable if two slower decks face off and someone makes it turn one. As soon as one of the decks is a tempo deck Library becomes a pretty poor card.

Rishadan Port6. Rishadan Port

Port has fallen off a little of late. I find it is usually used as the reserve for when you didn't get the premium land disruption land for your given archetype. That or you are looking to go deep on a mana denial theme. Port is low cost to run and will be a significant factor in some of your games. It is not quite the free win card something like a Strip Mine is so often but it will play a major role in your games when it is strong. The nice thing about Port is the ongoing options it provides. It covers you to some degree at any stage of the game where you are drawing a little weak. If you have no two drop play then you can just use your Port to disrupt what your opponent is up to. Later on you can use it to force through your plays or keep them off a double colour and at any point you can just not use it and tap out for a big on curve haymaker. They wont know when you are going to Port them and so they will have to always respect that you can and that can be pretty tedious to play against. It can have the "losing to the Daze they never had" effect. Port is a good control tool for handling manlands but sadly it is much weaker at dealing with utility lands such as Kessig Wolf Run and the like. All it can do to them is force them to use it at a specific time. Port is very much a card than shines on the play and loses its luster on the draw. While most archetypes will toss in a Port when it is super low risk doing so but I have found with increasing reliance on specific land types and having sufficient basic lands for them that there just isn't room. Battle and Shadow lands on top of check lands and having things for Tribe Elders to find etc. all take their toll and mean than Rishadan Port is a cost. It is a small cost but increasingly less worth the payoff. Other colourless lands steal the few slots with their much higher and known returns.

Myriad Landscape5.   Myriad Landscape

This is an impressively powerful ramp card being fixing and card advantage into the bargain. Landscape is basically a Kodoma's Reach for any deck... on a land. You do really want to pack at least 4 basics of any type you wish to fix. I have gotten away with a 4/3 split on basics in a two colour deck and not been punished when trying to milk this for some late game value but I wouldn't want to go lower. While this does have a more significant early game cost than any other card on this list being both colourless and coming into play tapped it is able to convert into value quickly and easily which in turn can completely swing a game. One of my more memorable uses of it involved doing nothing but laying lands and activating my Landscape until turn four, the last land I made was a Temple of the False God which my landscape had turned on a turn sooner than expected. I promptly made a Teferi, Temporal Archamge and used the -1 to untap sufficient of my lands to cast a Temporal Manipulation. Having access to 12 mana on my effective turn four with six cards in hand and the option on Sleight of Hand if needed is about as big a swing as one could expect in an unpowered cube from a control deck. This card gets run in any slower deck that wants access to plenty of mana which is a lot of them. While less so than Ash Barrens this is not a pure colourless land due to being able to fix. It is not a million miles away from calling a pain land a colourless land. Like, technically yes but practically no. It is misleading despite being "correct". A pain land is absolutely a colourless source but to my mind a colourless land is one that is limited to producing colourless. If we are going to get super pedantic all lands are colourless and so we are left with no appropriate simple term for a land that produces colourless mana without the ability to produce any coloured mana. Semantics aside Myriad Landscape feels more like the other colourless lands on this list than Ash Barens due to spending the relevant early stages of the game unsacrificed for the most part.

Kessig Wolf Run4. Kessig Wolf-Run

This is the control killer. It is in fact the killer of any long game. The player who has the Wolf Run has all of the reach and inevitability. In many ways it is the perfect mana sink. It is a low cost card to include in your deck and it provides almost everything you could ask for. All you need are creatures, even manlands will do the job. With enough mana every creature becomes a game ending threat. A late game Wold Run is more oppressive than a Jitte or Sword that you lack an answer to. Lands are that much harder to shut down than artifacts and that is a huge part of the strength of the card. You cannot counter it. Very few cards actually kill it and even then you have to exile it to stop it just getting recurred some way. While exiling lands from bins is easy to do there is no removal in cube that exiles lands from play directly. This means you are using a niche or premium card to take out a Wolf Run and another thing to stop it finding its way back into play. Wolf Run's insane inevitability means that any deck with some dorks and it can just become the control player if they need to. Control decks knew this and as such had to effectively race down aggro lists that contain it. It was like a multistage boss fight, in the early game you just have to survive but the moment you stabilize you are then in a race to beat the enrage timer (which is Wolf Run plus some mana). Wolf Run is one of the reasons Primeval Titan is so brutal. If the Titan doesn't get there he has left behind a significant mana advantage plus a manland and a Wolf Run to seal the deal. Wolf Run is probably one of my most splashed for cards after Lingering Souls. I always want it in my mono green decks and have run it to good effect in a couple of aggressive red decks as well.

Field of Ruin3.   Field of Ruin

I didn't expect this card to be this good but it is just so incredibly playable and such a low cost. Field of Ruin simply brings a lot to the table, an unexpectedly large amount in fact. Firstly it can fix for you so it sits somewhere between Myriad Landscape and Ash Barrens in terms of cost, and much closer to the latter. Basically it is one of the least painful colourless lands to include. It offers valuable interaction of a kind that is hard to obtain on other cards. Any deck wishing to develop mana and cast some bigger things is not going to be interested in Wastelands and Rishadan Port is a bigger cost to play and use and doesn't shut down a number of the problem lands. Field can be used to shut down utility lands and any archetype can play it if they want. You can even use it to disrupt colour production if you have a good read on what basics they have in their deck. Three colour lists are vulnerable to not having the right basics to find or better still, have none left at all! The goodness doesn't stop there. Field offers you the ability to shuffle your own deck and your opponents. This means you can combo it with all sorts of funky things. It can be a soft counter to a Vampiric Tutor or turn an Oust into more permanent removal. As Field is relatively low cost to use it will often sit in play acting as a deterrent. They never activate their man land as you will just kill it and be ahead on mana for the exchange. As such you are presented with loads of options for how and when you are going to cash in the Field. As we know, options are great! Field of Ruin is great and yet it is also wonderfully fair. It has been a significant part of taming Wolf Run hence nudging it out of the top three.

Wasteland2.   Wasteland

Free wins you say? Why thank you yes, I'll take one. While perhaps giving the illusion of being fair this card is far from it. As most will be more than aware of what with its three figure price despite being a non-reserve list uncommon! Little is more brutal than being on the draw and having them go one drop, Wasteland and another one drop. You start your second turn with nothing in play and they have three things of which one is already beating down... So many memories of asking or being asked "did you miss your land drop?" immediately following the forlorn nod a Wastelands goes from hand directly to the bin and the game is pretty much done. Wasteland is a savage punish card for mana and colour screw. It is also good insurance against your own floods. You have nothing to do this turn? Just blow up a land and stall for a bit and hope to draw into a curve play. Wastelands ensures basic land are premium finds with sac lands in the early game of legacy. In cube it is just more of a consideration due to the lower frequency of facing the card. Giving it only mild consideration however leads to bigger blowouts. The card is dangerously good but at least it has play around potential.

Strip Mine1.   Strip Mine

Yup. All the goodness of the Wasteland and absolutely no play around potential. I deem this too good and have banned it along with the power. In any unpowered cube that runs Strip Mine it would be my first pick over anything. Over Jitte, over Jace, over Bolt, over BoP. It is open, it affects the game early, it leads to free wins. It combos with things like Crucible of Worlds. All round highly oppressive card. People are well aware of how good it is yet I still think people undervalue and under pick it in cube.

Maze's EndThe list would feel incomplete without a few honorable mentions. We have Darksteel Citadal which does a lot of work supporting artifact decks. It shows up in most of them from the combo to the beatdown ones. It even crops up in the odd Armageddon style of deck. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is another potent colourless land that is narrow but is still an important card in a couple of archetypes. Both these cards are better than the low end of this list but neither are really draft cards. There are some other cute land disruption lands that see some fringe use like Dustbowl, Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter. A couple of cute lands from the same cycle as Wolf Run and Township also get some fringe use. Nephalia Drownyard is in all the mill decks. Desolate Lighthouse has seen some love. Some really cool and quirky stuff has been used in constructed events recently such as Maze's End and High Market. Land are very playable cards! As they are so easily used their effects have to be fairly marginal else they are broken. With the cube being all about high playability this doesn't leave much room for the cool lands. When you start constructing decks however loads of appropriate and useful lands are out there and win up doing cool things in cool decks. I have won a cube game with Maze's End and it was one of my most enjoyable wins of all time!

Saturday, 11 November 2017

8 Rack .dec

The RackWell, a generous 4 Rack.dec but still, we make do with what we must in singleton! I have been meaning to do this deck in cube ever since Shrieking Affliction came out and for one reason or another I just somehow haven't. I have loads of experience with Pox and old school styles of Necropotence decks which have many similar core principles. I have even used The Rack a bunch in those lists. All these kinds of deck plunge the game into a low economy one. The Pox builds tend to abuse the symmetries with cards like Bloodghast allowing them to pull ahead. Necro obviously uses the massive influx of cards on the cheap to pull ahead. While this list uses many of the same cards and resource hitting strategies it doesn't really abuse the symmetries. It has a few things that work well with the self discard and sacrifice but not really. This deck just employs a far better win condition in the various Rack effects. As has been said many a time, winning is the best form of defense in magic. This list does not need to create such a tight stranglehold on the opponent nor be able to cope with a full range of potential problems as it is rather more proactive at turning its advantage into an actual win. I have had plenty of games with a Pox deck where I am ahead for turn after turn after turn but only beating down for 2 in each of those I give my opponent every chance to pull out of it. Most normal games are totally won or lost if someone does nothing for a few turns in a row but not with the Pox style lowering of resources in the game.

Shrieking AfflictionOne of the problems with discard is that after you reduce their hand to zero they are able to play off the top fairly well and you have a bunch of dead discard cards. This is why you can't over do it in normal decks. As this list wins through them having low hand size they are caught between a rock and a hard place. If they hold stuff in hand they are not getting much done except turning on your discard effects. If however they play out their stuff your very efficient Rack effects punish them. Pox decks need to keep the land count low such that top decks cannot just be played. Rack decks don't care about mana denial. Either opponents have plenty and play out their hand quicker thus suffering more to The Rack or they hold back on laying lands to mitigate damage and can't play their big stuff anyway.

The premise of the 8 Rack deck is simple, rapidly strip the scary parts out of their hand before they are relevant and then put them under Rack pressure and simply control the game as best you can. This list has no power, no Mox and yet it can technically make someone discard their whole hand on turn one! This is a design for a list I plan to do soon. While it is untested I am fairly happy with the build and don't expect it to change wildly. I expect I will mostly want to tweak ratios and things. The potential cards I looked at but didn't end up running will all be covered in this article. There is a fairly limited selection of core cards for this deck and so the main bulk of the deck is pretty set in stone. Here is my intended list;

Raven's Crime24 Spells

The Rack
Shrieking Affliction
Quest for the Nihil Stone

Raven's Crime
Funeral Charm
Inquisition of Kozilek
Cabal Therapy

Fatal Push
Dark Ritual
Dread Wanderer
Hymn to Tourach
Waste Not
Nezumi Shortfang
Asylum Visitor
Dark Confidant

Hymn to Tourach
Collective Brutaility
Augur of Skulls

Liliana, Heretical Healer
Liliana of the Veil

Toxic Deluge / Last Reckoning

Death Cloud

16 Lands

Mishra's Factory
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
14 Swamps

Nezumi ShortfangShrieking Affliction and The Rack are the namesake of the deck and the most key cards, I would run more if I could and in desperation have also run Nezumi Shortfang and Quest for the Nihil Stone. Both these extra Rack effects do have quite high ceilings however both have pretty embarrassing floors. Shortfang is an instant speed discard effect that turns into a Rack on legs. The downside is that it is four mana before any of that good stuff happens and is highly vulnerable to removal. Quest is super good on turn one and a terrible play much beyond then. Wanting to play it turn one also reduces the value of cards like Inquisition of Kozilek which are ideally what you lead with so as to remain safest and in the most control of the game.

The deck has six one mana discard spells and this is potentially one of the ratios that might get tweaked. A few more options exist which would be playable in this shell but I think these six are generally the best. Inquisition and Thoughtsieze are just the most effective early game disruption. If you let them chose what to discard with your early spells you are likely to fall too far behind. As such I tried to keep a high number of cards which gave me the choices. Harsh Scrutiny is probably the next one I would look to add or exchange with. Raven's Crime is important for the late game lockout and repeat use potential but it is a weak one drop. I didn't bother running a Dakmor Salvage to pair with it for that reliable discard as there is only one of each. The number of times you get to combo them in a relevant way will be vastly outnumbered by the instances of you losing tempo due to a crappy EtB tapped land.

Funeral CharmFuneral Charm is mostly good as it can hit the drawstep and keep someone without cards or plays for a turn. The removal utility is nice as well and is generally a better use of the card turn one. Blackmail has great scaling within this kind of deck and is a passable first turn play, especially when followed with a lot more discard. It makes life hard for your opponent. Cabal Therapy is perhaps a little ambitious. Missing with it is pretty bad making it a fairly weak turn one play. A big part of why it is in is the ability to flip Heretical Healer. Therapy is great after you have had a look at your opponents hand and that makes it great in this deck, just not on turn one. Despite having so many one drops this deck isn't full of ones it really wants to lead with. As such it might well be correct to force in a few more Duress and Harsh Scrutiny style cards.

Smallpox does give this deck an air of being a Pox deck. While the mana denial aspect of the card is less useful than usual it is still a great all round card for the deck. The mana denial just helps increase the pressure on your opponents resources and happens to not harm you that much with such a low curve deck. Mostly this card is an Edict that also causes them to discard. It is the equivalent of Searing Blaze in the burn decks. I found the Smallpox a little hard to compute at first and found it misleading me in how I should be building the deck. As soon as you look at it as target player sacrifices a creature and discards a card you are on the right tracks.

Liliana, Defiant NecromancerLiliana of the Veil and Hymn are complete mainstays. Hymn is the most brutal and efficient discard you have and Lili is the best ongoing source of it. Having a removal mode is also a huge win for Lili when trying to play a low economy game. The importance of reusable discard in some matchups is what lead me to force in Heretical Healer. The list is a little creature light for it to be ideal but beyond that the card is perfect in the deck. Even the initial body is useful with its lifelink and annoying size! Mostly the upgrade from +1 to +2 on the discard and the free(ish) zombie token make a flipped Heretical Healer rather more oppressive to handle than the more reliable Liliana of the Veil.

Fatal Push is just a very good rounded cheap card that gives control and options and tempo. A smattering of cheap spot removal seems wise for a deck like this in cube and Push is the best. Snuff Out would be great although you don't want too much life cost cards. Disfigure would be fine if needed. You can probably bundle through just fine with just edict and mass removal stuff but I do feel safer with a targetted option main. I also considered the much pricier Never // Return due to how soft this deck is to most planeswalkers should one get past the discard. Three is quite a lot of mana and so I would probably go with Vampire Hexmage as my solution to planeswalkers and stick to cheaper creature kill cards. Certainly the Fatal Push slot is one of the more open ones.

Bontu's Last ReckoningThe Dread Wanderer is the most open of all the slots. It is very much a filler card in this list. Fine to discard, fine to nibble away with, fine to chump block with, great to flip a Lili or flashback a Therapy and all that sort of thing. It is also just a fine card to play on turn one. Almost certainly more useful than The Rack or a Raven's Crime would be. There was a while I had a Skullclamp and a Bloodghast in this list but it all felt a bit wishful. The deck isn't full of dig or draw and without the things to go with them the individual cards are a bit weak. This list doesn't quite have the creature count to make good use of Clamp and so more contained card advantage cards like Dark Confidant and Night's Whisper feel like the better direction to take.

The top end of this deck is the area I am most unsure of. I am sure it wants at least one big mass clear effect. Over all Deluge seems a little better than Reckoning just because you can keep some of your own stuff alive. The mana loss is not such a big deal for a list like this. The life loss more so probably. Three big clears seems like it would be too much. The trick is finding the right balance. Death Cloud is one of my all time favourite cards. My concern is that it is a touch slow for this list and that it might be a little annoying to use with the couple of creatures you don't really want to kill of your own. I feel like Cloud will have a rather polar performance in this list while the three mana Wraths will be rather more consistent. Cloud adds a huge extra weapon to this deck's arsenal but I am really unsure of where the balance will lie between games it is overly awkward or dead to those in which it wins it. A Wrath, Geddon, Fireball and Mind Twist all in one just feel like it is too much to pass up on for this archetype.

Waste NotDark Ritual is in the list for two reasons. Firstly it is a concession to the list having a surprisingly small number of strong one mana plays. Secondly it is a concession to this kind of list being one that struggles if you manage to get in under it. On the draw this list can be vulnerable to a range of different things and a Dark Ritual can really provide for some nice early swings. The biggest possible of all the swings is a Dark Ritual into a Waste Not which in turn cascades into your getting more mana and cards such that you can wipe their whole hand leaving you with some cards and permanents. Super unlikely but very fun! Waste Not is a little bit polar in this deck as well. Sometimes it will just win games all by itself and others it will be too much of a tempo loss to use in time and wind up being a blank. I think the potential power of the card and how perfectly on theme it also make it too good to miss but with Cloud, Ritual and the Waste Not the deck is getting a little crowded with situational cards. I think this is fine, you need some swing cards else you play too fair and just get beat by something unfair. There is enough self discard that you can use unhelpful cards in hand as buffer for cards you want to keep and there should be enough card draw to support some dead cards. Indeed, I am strongly tempted to run Chrome Mox and/or Mox Diamond in this list for much of these reasons. As I know how those things play out I will test the deck without and add them in if I think it is needed or would just improve the deck overall.

Asylum VisitorThe main card advantage cards in this list are Asylum Visitor and Dark Confidant. Visitor is the better of the two all round. It is bigger! It can trigger more often. The lifeloss is predictable and consistent even if the average is the same. The madness also helps buffer against the symmetrical discard. Bob, still great though! Average CMC of 1 and nothing bigger than a 3 to hit makes Bob a happy boy. I would also happily toss in a Blood Scrivener to complement these card draw dorks despite being a step down from these two in this list.

Collective Brutality is just too good not to play given that it is also a nicely on theme card. It is like a more controlled Smallpox. I was reluctant to use two mana discard slots for cards that go 1 for 1 rather than two for one but the power difference on the cards is too extreme for it to be correct playing some crap like Wrench Mind over it! I did end up finding room for Augur of Skulls. Overall it is probably worse than Wrench Mind in the discard department. It is however a more rounded card that offers nice synergy with Heretical Healer as well as the potential just to stay in play blocking and regenerating. Being well rounded and offering options and utility tend to go further in cube than in other formats so I am happy enough with the clunky Augur.

Augur of SkullsLands are pretty straight forward. You want black mana as quickly as possible. This mostly just means swamps. Lake of the Dead is too much of a cost and is more mana than you really need. You can get away with a colourless land in this list, perhaps two if you are super greedy. You need Urborg to offset two and it still helps with just the one. This deck is very colour intense. While there are plenty of options on colourless lands very few actually feel like they are worth the risk of not being able to play a card. Wastelands is powerful and played by the legacy versions of this deck but that is legacy. This list isn't really attacking mana, it might come for free on Smallpox and such but dedicating cards to it is a little extreme. It spreads the deck a bit thin and doesn't have vastly better payoffs. While Wasteland is one of the better options I went with what felt like a more on theme manland. It helps speed up a win when closing a game which is the plan with The Rack effects. Factory also helps threaten planeswalkers which is one of the scarier things it can face. I briefly considered Volrath's Stronghold and then I remembered it wasn't 2006. The Tabernacle at Pendrel Vale is a cute addition but again it taxes mana rather than cards and not tapping for mana itself makes it something you really need to play as a spell. Pretty unfair if you combo it with Urborg however. This list is low enough to the ground that you could cut a land if you wanted to be greedy but I don't think that is too wise. This deck needs to get on top early. Once there it can sit there pretty content. It is well setup to eat loads of late game dud draws. It is not so well setup to win a game if it never sees a third land like most good red and white aggro decks can do.

Kheru Mind-EaterSo, what are the other options for this kind of deck? What did I chose not to add in that I have not mentioned? First up there are cards like Kheru Mind-Eater and the old Necro classic Hypnotic Specter! While these cards are very much on theme they are a little slow and unreliable. Certainly things like Dark Ritual empower them but only it they stick. These cards are a double risk in that they are a big blowout when you eat removal or they just arrive too late to the party and do very little. These kinds of thing feel like they would be better in a sideboard for bringing in against slower decks. As this list feels like it needs to get on top of the game as quickly as possible I aimed for quick, cheap and direct discard as much as possible.

Another card that I feel is more of a sideboard tool but that sees a lot of constructed play both main and sideboard is Ensnaring Bridge. While the card works well with your stuff it just feels less reliable and less of a solution than the mass removal options. Bridge doesn't protect you if they just blow it up, Bridge doesn't protect you against things like Thermo-Alchemist either. Ensnaring Bridge seems very brutal against a tenacious fat dork deck like zoo or a linear dork deck like white weenie but pretty lame elsewhere.

Ensnaring BridgeCursed Scroll was one of the most tempting cards run in some legacy decks that is not in my list yet. A nice repeatable source of damage to control little dorks and planeswalkers and also able to speed up the clock. A great card in a low economy game. I didn't end up running it as it felt a touch on the slow side and so things like Fatal Push appeal more as removal and things like Mishra's Factory appeal more as a little bit of extra damage to aim at things.

I have seen a list with Sinkhole but as with Wastelands I think that you are spreading this list too thin if you try and attack each resource directly. Deathrite Shaman is the other big card commonly seen in the legacy lists. It seems really good in the deck and should probably be included where ever possible. Even if you don't get sac lands or any playable BG dual lands the card is still going to do decent work. There will be plenty of lands in the bin to make mana with and plenty of cards to throw at their face. I didn't include the Shaman as it is a high priority card that is ideally used with other high pick cards. Getting the Shaman on top of some of these premium black cards is going to be a fairly tall order. A bit like with the Mox, I would like to see how the deck performs without it before allowing that crutch to rest on. I don't love decks that fall apart when you take out single high powered carry cards from them.

UnmaskMind Twist and Unmask represent the premium discard options at the two far ends of the spectrum. While both fantastic cards I think their extreme nature makes them less well suited for this deck. The Twist is too slow and won't get big value due to how much you should have hit their hand before getting to Twist for a good amount. Unmask is just a big card cost to play. It is more of a combo thing. If I was that desperate for more discard early the Mox route feels a lot more rounded. If you were running Skullclamp or Necropotence as huge card draw engines then the value of Unmask goes up a lot.

I looked at Doomfall but the discard aspect of it is very weak in this deck given its cost. You are looking to empty hands on turn 3 so hitting one card is not exciting. Play a better discard card or a better removal card. This is very much not a replacement for Liliana or Collective Brutality here.

MisinformationMisinformation is another favourite card of mine. Best case scenario you waste three of their turns for one card and one mana. Makes Time Stretch seem rather overcost! Misinformation is pretty effective in any resource denial low economy game as so many things lose their value. This list more so than the Pox decks as you don't much care about giving them lands back. It is a win more card and a situational one. It is best when your opponent has nothing going on and in those cases you are winning. It might make the deck more powerful but it also makes it less consistent. This is a card I would look to if I had more raw card draw or some tutoring effects.

I looked at Ravenous and Rotting Rats and both have merit. Had I gone the Skullclamp route these would look even better. They empower cards like Therapy and Heretical healer nicely and are rounded on theme cards. Rotting Rats have some extra synergies and pack a little more punch but they are not a painless play for you either. They both feel a bit slow and fair for what this deck is really trying to do. If you Rat them on turn two the discard isn't going to disrupt them at all that turn and will take a while to have an effect. A 1/1 on the board does very little to stave off what they might do given your lack of disruption.

Gerrard's VerdictI also looked at Gurmag Angler, just a fatty you can flop out quickly and cheaply. It seemed rather off theme despite being decent power level and fairly well rounded. I would rather have consistent starts than random big swing plays in the mid game.

Lastly I looked at white. Gerrard's Verdict is one of the better two mana discard spells and would be a happy inclusion. It would also make Lingering Souls an option and likely too good of one to refuse. White also has things like Vindicate and Balance for some nice board control options. White certainly ups the power level and options but much like with Death Rite Shaman it also increases the demand on your picks. I will typically try out a new build in as few colours as I can first so as to see how it gets on. Overall I think you probably are best off staying mono with this deck.

So that is basically all my thoughts on this archetype. This is essentially a mini archetype breakdown on a narrower subject than usual. I think the deck looks good, probably one of the best resource denial strategies in the cube excluding broken artifacts and power cards. This deck has plenty of options on ways to empower it and plenty of solutions to problems it may face. It is possibly not the most fun of decks but different is always fun and first. Waste Not means at least one player can have fun!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Card Spotlight: Kitesail Freebooter

Kitesail FreebooterI was recently asked why Kitesail Freebooter and not Mesmeric Fiend, or for that matter, Brain Maggot. This is a good question. You look at a card like this an obviously it is all about the discard. You would class these kinds of cards as hand disruption and not as creatures, well certainly not as threats at least! Intuitively then reducing the effectiveness of the hand disruption to offer some limp buffs to a very limp body sounds like a terrible trade off. Most of the time this is a sensible kind of logic to use for assessing things like this. You don't however want to rely on assessment tricks like that alone to evaluate a card, it helps to consider as much about it as possible. You can fall into traps if you make an assumption about something without exploring it fully. To do this I asked myself questions like what the role of a Mesmeric Fiend actually was, where you would use it and what it would typically do for you? I wanted to understand more deeply the cost of reduced utility on the discard.

In my experience you play Mesmeric Fiend in one of two situations. Either you need more hand disruption effects and you don't have enough actual good cards like Thoughtsieze in your pool to use in which case you are just running a bad card to plug a hole. The other case is where you want hand disruption effects and you have a lot of cards that have synergy with the creature card type. When you can tutor up dorks, recur them from the bin, turn them into cards or Overrun with them for the win etc your discard dorks gain a lot of utility. In the former case you would much rather your Mesmeric Fiend was an enchantment instead of a creature like Journey to Nowhere verses Banisher Priest. The 1/1 body gets very little done and means your disruption is short lived.

Mesmeric Fiend
Due to the nature of these cards you typically aim for removal with them. If you don't then they just kill your dork, get their card back and carry on as if not much had happened. When you are not taking removal you are taking disruption effects like counter magic so as to force through important things of your own. Sometimes you are just disrupting combo pieces and buying yourself some time. In the majority of cases, when presented with a hand of cards the correct choice will be a non-creature spell. Some decks have such an abundance of removal effects that you have no expectation of getting a two for one with your card nor indeed that much in the way of disruption. When you flop down your Mesmeric Fiend on turn two and see Arc Trail and Lava Dart or a pair of Wraths then the most significant aspect of what you have done is gained information. I think information is generally undervalued by magic players. It is certainly the hardest resource to convert into real value. When you go one for one with your Fiend but you gain useful information I generally consider that to be a win.

Often you will also feel like you are trading down too but the reality is often in your favour. If they Wrath your Fiend and a mana dork it feels like you ate a two for one. When they Lava Dart your Fiend it feels like you paid twice as much mana and they still have half a card. These might feel like bad deals but they probably are not. A Wrath that hits a Fiend and an Elf is terrible, they have used a key tool to handle two things that are not really threats. In the game of matching up answers to threats accordingly, as the control player needs to do, they are losing. Even the Lava Dart can be to your advantage if it meant they didn't get to do their optimal play that turn which might have been making a threat or it might have been using the Arc Trail. Both these situations I described sound like you got two for oned however I would argue it as much more like a 1 for 1 trade. You gained valuable information and perhaps a tiny bit of disruption from forcing sub par plays. Having information alone will often bait out the sub par plays. If you know they have something easy enough to play around they will often take the low value payouts on that card. All this is to say that while not hitting creatures is a downgrade it is not a major one. The card still does what you want it to do in disruption and information gathering. It has exactly the same performance in the discard as Fiend when Fiend is good.

Stormchaser Mage
Monastery SwiftspearEven a minor downgrade is still a downgrade. This means that flying and an extra toughness have to do quite a lot of work to make the card good. I was trying to think of examples of cards that differ by exactly +0/+1 and flying and came up with Monastery Swiftspear and Stormchaser Mage. Both of these are great cards. Swiftspear is the better card but due to being a one drop and for being mono, not to do with actual power level. Both cards are very impressive when played. These prowess cards are very different sorts of cards to the hand disruption dorks and so those buffs will scale a bit differently. The point is more that you are totally happy paying a whole extra mana for the +0/+1 and flying on Stormchaser, it feels like a good deal. If we were to ignore the scaling differences and say that they are of equivalent value to a Mesmeric Fiend or a Swiftspear then we can do some magic algebra kind of rearranging the equation. Instead of adding the flying and toughness to the Fiend and removing its ability to take creatures from hands we simply remove its ability to hit creatures and reduce its mana cost by a blue mana. Not having blue in the cost I guess we just reduce the cost to a black. Anyway, this one mana 1/1 fleeting Duress sounds really good to me. Sounds a lot more useful than a Mesmeric Fiend. This is another one of those card evaluation tricks. It isn't proof a card is good because I made the assumption that +0/+1 and flying had the same value on any creature which they don't. It is just a good way to check out if a change seems like a good deal mana wise or a bad one and here it seems like a good one. That is of course assuming we can argue a case for the value of the buffs on this kind of card.

So, this all comes down to how good is a 1/2 flier compared to a 1/1? Turns out the answer is massively so. A 1/2 flier is relevant throughout the game while a 1/1 is pretty irrelevant from start to finish. While the prowess guys gain more from flying and toughness than the Fiend in theory the relative change is more significant for the black dorks. Swiftspear is good to begin with, it didn't need the buffs to become a relevant body. Fiend on the other hand is a liability as a dork half the time! It is only ever good as a body when combined with other cards. The 1/2 flier is frequently relevant and so going from a liability to a useful thing is a much bigger swing than going from a good body to another iteration of good body.

Jace, Cunning CastawayI feel as if I am going to do a bad job of fully explaining why a 1/2 flier is so much more gas than a 1/1, each example will sound very underwhelming in isolation. The point is more how many different things you can use just this cards body for. Another factor is that increasingly small differences in the early game equating to big ones later on. Freebooter can safely block creatures with one power. This can stave off a bunch of early game chip damage that would otherwise have made the late game uncomfortable. More critically it can handle fliers as well of which many come in 1/1 form. Holding off a Lingering Souls with a humble Freebooter feels great. Forcing them to chump attack in at a planeswalker in desperation is even better! Planeswalkers are a huge part of Freebooters potency in cube. Cheap flying blockers make deploying your own planeswalker vastly safer and having flying attackers in play greatly reduces your opponents ability to usefully get them down. Planeswalkers are a big part of why a couple of damage difference in the early game can make a huge difference late game. Just having that one point of damage in the air might not directly kill a planeswalker but it will reduce the good options it has on how it can use abilities. Equipment are another thing fliers love. Small creatures on the ground carry equipment fine enough but they are usually killed off in combat and force reequip costs and generally eat away at your tempo. Slap something on a flier and jobs a good'un. Small fliers are great for raid triggers too! Offensively the card will do a lot of work too, it is one of those hidden Lava Axe style cards. While lacking any burst potential the card seems to just chip away and before you know it you can start threatening lethal swings. Freebooter is able to act offensively or defensively as the game requires and is surprisingly effective at both.

Mesmeric Fiend was only useful as a creature specifically in combination with other creature synergy cards while Freebooter is pretty useful as body in its own right. It still has all the potential creature synergies and indeed scales much better than Fiend with most of them. Fiend was either a good support card or a bad substitute card. Freebooter is a great support card and a solid substitute. Freebooter has a little bit of the Collective Brutality about it. Both are a lot worse at hand disruption than a Duress but both are great, often better alternatives to it due to the extra options, synergies and utility they bring to your deck. I have found that cards which are able to affect the board while also disrupting plays from hand in some way simultaneously have become increasingly strong in cube. They let you take the reins of the game and dictate a lot of what goes on. Subtle and surprising cards like Mausoleum Wanderer and Judges Familiar as well as more established names including both Thalias and Vendilion Clique. Certainly good company for Freebooter to keep!