Sunday, 15 January 2012

Reviews: The A cube colourless spells

Chrome Mox 4.5 
Chrome Mox
Probably my favourite ever magic card offering some of the most difficult choices right from the first turn. I loved this card so much it is the only card I ever bothered trading for two play-sets of. It is a mox that is balanced! The chrome tends to wind up in blue decks most as they are inherently slow and can recover the card disadvantage. The most aggressive white weenie and red deck wins suffer the card disadvantage more severely and require the speed boost less with an already very cheap mana curve. Certainly the mox is best in your opening hand where it can offer its services for more of the game and have more imprint options to chose from however it is a lot more useful as a late draw in cube than in any other magic format. The nature of cube has resets and huge changes in game state with many spells effects being symmetrical. A top deck or opponents play can give a sudden surge of cards at which point an extra mana at the right time can make all of the difference. Even in control on control mirrors this remains the case when a few crunch turns happen and players try resolving their big spells.

Mox DiamondMox Diamond 4.5

The other widely usable balanced mox is easier to play with than chrome but far harder to construct with. For the most part chrome can be counted as a land where as diamond needs to be counted as a spell making mana bases very hard to work out and harder to avoid potential mana floods. Diamond works better in more aggressive decks than chrome but is still not an auto include by any means. The best homes for this deck are just where certain cards allow for efficient use of the card such as Land Tax, Life from the Loam and Yawgmoth's Will. The colour fixing side of mox diamond makes it more popular than chrome in decks with three or more colours too as a general rule (chrome also becomes less reliable as your increase the number of colours you play, unless of course they are mostly gold cards). Chrome probably sees slightly more play than diamond however when diamond is at its best it outshines chrome for sure.

Mox Opal
Mox Opal 2.5

Mox opal is unplayable in most decks however, like mox diamond but to a far greater extent, when it is good it is very very good. This can only be played in a heavy artifact deck, ideally with lots of fast mana and cheap artifacts. This is basically only the various incarnations of affinity and the big mana artifact decks that are generally blue and/or red. Legendary status is meaningless in cube although occasioned use when Karakas was doing the rounds. I have a lot of artifact mana and cheap artifacts in my cube including most of the affinity cards (which is effectively a tribal deck), these all have synergy with each other and facilitate many kinds of deck but tend to be quite narrow and could arguably be cut if mostly drafting a cube. Artifact decks are great fun to play and quite different so I forgive them being quite narrow cards and keep them available. Were I to cut things like ornithopter and frogmite the mox opal would start to look really weak and narrow.

Zuran OrbZuran Orb 4.0

If you could accurately determine which card was most instrumental in sealing a victory for any given game of magic the innocuous little orb would have amongst the highest number of killing blows so to speak. Life gain is generally quite a weak premise for a card and all other life gain effects in the cube come attached to another relevant effect which speaks volumes for the power level of the orb. It is quite hard to really understand exactly why the orb is so strong. Often enough it simply draws out a loss as you bleed out your land count slowly getting further behind. With fastbond gone the orb has lost most of its combo applications yet still sees much play. Typically in black decks that abuse necropotence and bargain to get card advantage or in white decks to combine with balance and land tax allowing respectively an armageddon option and guaranteed usage. I think the best way to understand the power of zuran orb is to consider it as a seal of time walk. It hopefully does nothing until victory is within sight at which point you should have enough life available from your land to give a safety net to get the win or buy that extra turn or two of attacks you can absorb. Any close game will generally be swung by the orb coming down and at zero mana it is a very low risk card with the only drawback being pseudo card disadvantage when you draw this and it is of no consequence to the game as the moxen can be.

Mana Crypt (Book Promo)
Mana Crypt 4.5

The mana crypt is more powerful than sol ring in the appropriate deck and given that sol ring is a solid 5.0 rated card that is lots of power. The significant loss of rating this card suffers over sol ring is because of the drawback obviously, but more specifically it is because the decks that cannot afford the life loss are the ones that would benefit most from the use of this card. The crypt finds a home in combo decks when they are viable and any heavy artifact decks, particularly those with tinker, arcboundboundmana requirements and don't get much value from the crypt and infrequently play it with the exception of quirkier white weenie decks with either higher curves or an abundance of equipment or mass land destruction. Another home for the crypt is the aggressive blue decks who desperately want the extra mana but are able to race against the life loss relatively effectively. Another first turn power-play is plains, crypt, kor skyfisher, crypt again, sword of win
and more.

Everflowing ChaliceEverflowing Chalice 3.0

A lovely card that finally relegated thrann dynamo to the B cube. The chalice is everything you want from a colourless mana generator. You can fetch it with a trinket mage and power it up with proliferate! More relevantly than those pleasant aspects of this card it may be tapped for mana on the turn you make it, it untaps normally and scales well throughout the game. The chalice fits in any non-green deck (as they usually have better options) wishing to accelerate to something or just spend lots of mana on things. The card does what you need it to when cast for two and although not exciting will likely be of great help unless in a badly misconstructed deck. Typically this will be cast for two in control decks and is a sign of not much going on when made for more although it will be offering some real advantages to that player if the games picks up again. In artifact decks this card is far more frequently cast for large numbers and abused with voltiac key and is still generally better than the dynamo in such decks despite the obvious inferiority if kicked two or three times.

Engineered ExplosivesEngineered Explosives 2.5

Highly versatile little card that will crop up here and there. With access to a three or more colours reliably and perhaps a few things to makes that 4 or 5 occasionally like Bird of Paradise, Vivid Lands or Mox Diamond the card really starts to shine. The ability to tutor this up with a trinket mage is also pretty huge as mass removal is not the sort of thing you expect at 1 or less mana. It kills planeswalkers and is much quicker than ratchet bomb, even if more mana to use. Overall this card is better than ratchet bomb when you can reliably charge to three or more, otherwise it is too restrictive. Both cads fill very similar roles in decks being more used to deal with specific threats rather than being a card like Wrath of God or Pernicious Deed which aim at gaining card advantage through mass removal. Getting card advantage is more of a nice bonus when it happens from the explosives. Much of the time you want to use it this way you are faced with the hard choice of killing three OK things or two slightly better things, neither of which fully stabilize you. Often you are also forced to kill something of your own in order to hit the thing or number you want most. As the card is more ambiguous as to what role it will be performing it is far harder to build your deck around it that a wrath or deed.

Mana Vault
Mana Vault 4.2

This is one of the most effective accelerators remaining in the cube with the removal of the power. At one mana it is easy to curve out nicely with it or tutor up with Tezzeret or Trinket Mage. Great to abuse with voltaic key for huge mana or gain a small boost once and sacrifice. The life drawback is nowhere near as harmful as on Mana Crypt and makes this far more playable in control type decks. Typically this will see play in the combo decks and is a mainstay of the big mana artifact archetypes. It is my favourite picture on a magic card too which has no effect on its rating. It offers choices, do you take a turn out to untap or take the pain and hope to top deck or just cast something of little consequence? The drawbacks on Mana Vault are certainly very pesky compared to Grim Monolith but at half the mana cost we can happily forgive them. The vault, while netting you the same mana as the crypt on the turn you make them, will generally deny you access to a coloured mana and thus make it that much less explosive than crypt. Often the vault is dropped and left a few turns until it can be of most use, this should never happen with crypt, both for the life loss and the fact that it freely untaps.

Aether VialÆther Vial 2.5

The Vial is a powerful card but rather like Birthing Pod it requires a deck to be somewhat structured around it. You need a high creature count and an appropriate curve within those guys to really abuse vial. Ideally you want to make it on turn one as well which means you can initially be slower to get aggressive. It also makes it often a very weak draw later in the game. Even in perfect decks for it you will still find it to be of little use more often than not but the power if offers on the occasions it is good is huge enough to compensate. If made on turn one and then curving out a few guys over the next three or four turns with it there is no other card that can offer as much free mana without a consequence. It can be 6 coloured mana by turn or and 10 by turn five. Evading counter magic is a bonus to the card but a very minor aspect compared to the mana generation. The ability to bring in monsters at instant speed is also more relevant than their being counter proof. Things like Kor Skyfisher become really powerful if usable at instant speed, not to mention the fear an untapped vial gives a player wishing to attack. Another small nombo this card can have that occasionally precludes it from decks is that it doesn't work with things like Sarcomancy, Bloodbraid Elf and Spectral Procession.

Chromatic StarChromatic Star 3.5

This is the perfect example of a good magic card. It makes decks and mana bases both more consistent while offering good utility and synergy with cards that want artifacts in play or to sacrifice them. Sure, the card doesn't do much and won't be the cause of games being won or lost on its own. It will perform its role unnoticed in the background, prevent the screw and draw you out of harms way all allowing you to play the game of magic rather than slowly dying without options. I cannot really stress enough how cards like this improve all formats of magic. The cube allows the star and similar cards to shine but it is also a format where the one mana cost can occasionally be a burden meaning the card is far from an auto include in any deck. On the other hand the star is a pretty reasonable consideration for any deck which is another fantastic claim for a card.

Sensei's Diving Top 4.0 (or 0.0 if you are bad)
The Top is a painfully skill intensive card and when in play causes games to grind to a slow crawling pace. This is pain as this is a beautiful card and offers many of the perks of Chromatic Star, in that is reduces the random screw odds against you. I would also prefer it if the costs on the abilities were switched so that you could destroy the damn thing when they tap out. As it is the thing is basically indestructible which only adds to the frustration caused by its retarding effect. On the plus side it is the card I see most misused in the cube either porting down the users mana for no gain or being put in decks with no use for it giving them effective card disadvantage. A nifty trick with the card in combination with Voltaic Key is to use the tap effect then respond by untapping it and using it again. You then draw the top and another card, which after replaying the Top allows you to use your key and spend two mana a turn to draw a card. The more shuffle effects you have, the more mana you have and the more specific cards you need to find such as combo pieces or answers the better top will be in your deck. The only other occasions the Top is called upon is as a cheap artifact to boost a total count or get sacrificed. With many decks fitting these various criteria the Top is a popular card but is still probably played more than it should be and definitely more than people would like. Tomi Walamies once said he thought Maze of Ith was the worst card in magic simply for the ability it gave people to misplay the card to put themselves at a disadvantage. Top is far worse in this respect than Maze of Ith...

Chromatic Sphere
Chromatic Sphere 2.5

Like the Chromatic Star but slightly worse in most situations. There are times the Sphere is the best of these effects in the cube but these are rare. When you are having a power turn with a Yawgmoth's Will or facing down a Samurai of the Pale Curtain the Sphere will still draw you the all important card. These slight upsides do not outweigh the fact that the Sphere has no synergy with sacrifice effects. The primary function of this card is to smooth mana and draws and reduce chance losing you games. In this role there are few cards as effective but assuming you have any cards that require/allow you to sacrifice artifacts the sphere will be third choice out of the options after Chromatic Star and Terrarion. I am always happy to pick one of these cards in a draft as it gives you many more options to fine tune your land spell ratio in a deck. Sometimes 16 land and 24 spells is too land light and 17 land 23 spells is too much land, in this situation you can either run 17 land 24 spells or you can run 16 and 24 spells including a Chromatic Cycling Fixer.

Terrarion 2.5

The final card of the three cycling mana fixers, it offers some advantages over the others for a drawback. The Terrarion offers a double mana fix on the turn you use it which is rarely relevant but certainly not irrelevant. For this double fix you are prevented from using the Terrarion the turn you cast it which is also not often significant. Should it be drawn later on in the game and the card is desired more than the mana fix it may still be sacrificed immediately. Decks that primarily want to have useful artifacts lying around to sacrifice will play the Terrarion and the Star, those decks would just want occasional pain free fixing and a pseudo 39 card deck will opt for Star or Sphere. I love this kind of card so much I tried out Barbed Sextant in the cube but the card draw was too slow and the cube does not need that many kinds of this effect. Kaleidostone probably offers more interesting options to the cube than Barbed Sextant even if not directly comparable.

Voltaic Key
Voltaic Key 3.0

The Key is the enabler for the big mana artifact decks of all flavours. It fits perfectly on the curve and offers an array of useful combos with most of the other spells that go into such decks. It can draw you additional cards with Divining Top, fix your colours with artifact lands and moxen, be fetched by a Trinket Mage, give your dorks pseudo-vigilance, and most importantly ramp your mana with artifacts that tap to add two or more. The two most notable of such artifacts are Grim Monolith and Mana Vault which both particularly enjoy the company of Voltaic Key as they are unable to untap as per usual and require a hefty mana investment to do so that the Key can negate offering either a steady flow of additional mana or a big burst of extra mana. Key is one of the best cards in the various decks utilizing lots of artifact ramp but it rarely features outside those decks and cannot really attain a higher rating as a result.

Bonesplitter 3.5

Rancor is the obvious comparison and also the more powerful card. They have been given the same rating however as Bonesplitter sees slightly more play from being colourless and also due to it being at artifact on occasion. Ths Bonesplitter does so much more aggressively than any other similarly costed equipment. One to cast or equip makes it very easy to curve out with the card while having many options open. With some more expensive equipment you risk losing even when your monsters are not killed but simply due to inefficient use of mana which is rarely the case for Bonesplitter. It frequently sees play in red deck wins, white weenie, and both agro blue and black decks which is basically any non-green beatdown deck. For the cube I rate the Bonesplitter as the fourth best equipment behind Jitte, Skullclamp and Sword of Fire and Ice. Although what it does is not exciting it is undercosted and without any close comparison and therefore really stands out at its role which is primarily making cheap small monsters go much further.

Cursed Scroll
Cursed Scroll 2.0

This classic card crops up in all sorts of decks. For non-red decks it is one of the most cost effective way in which they can have access to direct damage. For red decks it is used as a non-red source of damage as well as a different type of threat that offers repeat usage. It is sometimes even used as a cheap utility artifact in decks that want to have lots of artifacts to power up other effects. The high cost to damage ratio and the cards in hand requirement make this almost exclusively a late game card. It offers some very interesting choices for both you and your opponent when used with two or more cards in hand which makes me like the card more. The power level of the card is not especially high relative to the rest of the A cube but it retains its slot comfortably for now as there are no real comparisons or alternatives. I used to prefer Magus of the Scroll in red deck wins as it could nibble a few life points away in attacks and having more guys was useful for Reckless Charge and Goblin Bushwhacker. I am now of the opinion you either play a better one drop monster or Cursed Scroll  over the Magus as you primarily want the card to evade removal, not the specific effect.

Flayer HuskFlayer Husk 1.0

I thought this card would impress more than it has. It is two permanents for for one mana, one of which isn't a token and it has loads of subtle synergy with so many of the other cube cards from Bad Moon to Kor Skyfisher. Despite the many perks of the card it has too low a power level to make the cut in the decks it would perform best in, and for that matter most of the decks that it wouldn't too. The only deck it has performed reasonably in has been equipment based white weenie decks that use Puresteel Paladin to get card advantage and living weapons to keep the dork count reasonably high. The equip cost is too high in mana to complement the low cost of the card and the minor stats boost. If that were somehow different, perhaps costing life, the card would see much more play in aggressive decks that had much synergy with it at all because it is so effective in smoothing out mana efficiency.

SkullclampSkullclamp 4.5

Overall I think this is the best equipment, with Jitte as the only other serious contender. Jitte utterly wreaks other creature based decks in short order but it generally less exciting than your average Sword of This and That against control decks. Clamp on the other hand is powerful against any deck and can be used and abused in more ways than Jitte all for half the cost at both ends. Beyond both being very good equipment there are few similarities between Jitte and Clamp as they perform vastly different roles. Clamp is unlike most other equipment in this respect and is the hardest of them to play correctly with. This is because most of the time clamp is used it is costing you tempo and gaining you card advantage while other equipment, assuming they are successfully equipped, provide a large tempo boost. I have seen many a player too eager to use the clamp and throw the game due to lacking significant board position. At all times when using clamp you need to be very aware of which of its roles you desire as they are distinct. It is either; a mini Bonesplitter used to put on additional pressure, an Altar's Reap, allowing you to over extend against mass removal or vague protection / evasion in that it acts as a disincentive to block or attack into a clamped guy or use removal on them. It may perform many of these roles in a single turn but very much depends on the state of the game. In a close tempo race you rarely want to be using it as Altar's Reap and will primarily be using it as a Bonesplitter and as a disincentive. Against combo it is far more frequently used to mercilessly murder your team in order to find a specific answer card. It is even used itself in some combo decks. In summary Skullclamp is a great card of the highest quality that offers many powerful uses. Misuse however will cost games and so its controller must carefully ascertain which of its distinct uses apply at all times.

Talisman of Dominance
The Talismans 3.5

These are the most consistent way to ramp and fix mana for all colours other than green. They have been in the cube since it was first made and are probably well up there with the really big name cards for most played of all time. I have actually cut the RG Talisman of Impulse as it was rarely played and never sorely missed if unavailable. The WG Talisman of Unity saw more play big mono white decks and in various mana denial decks using Winter Orb and Cataclysm etc. Overall however the green aspect of talismans is never desired as green has far better creatures and spells to ramp and fix. Red artifact decks are perfectly happy with utility cards such as Mind Stone or Everflowing Chalice over colour fixing for their two mana accelerators, it certainly never needs two Talisman that tap for red. The two blue Talismans are the most played by quite a significant margin and the overall rating is aimed at reflecting those. It is not the power of the non-blue Talismans that let them down after all.

Orzhov Signet
The Signets 2.0

I have only bothered putting copies of UW, UB, BW and UR into the cube. Two of these offer redundancy on the blue Talismans while the other two offer opposing colour fixing for the two opposed colours that most want such effects. Occasionally someone will dip into the B cube and dig out one of the other signets for very obscure decks but a complete set of 10 is far far too much for a cube to support and will just end up being a load of last picks. As ramp cards they are pretty weak, while not coming into play tapped they are still quite hard to effectively use on the turn cast even if it is beyond turn two. Forcing you to have one of each colour can be annoying as well meaning they often get paired with filter lands to offset that problem. Turning a colourless mana into coloured is quite useful and allows a higher number of colourless generating effects to be played in the deck. Never play one instead of the Talisman equivalent if you have the option, otherwise fine for what they do but not exciting or as robust as one tends to like cards of this nature to be.

Mind StoneMind Stone 1.5

While this taps for mana immediately when you make it the fact that it is only colourless makes this almost always worse than the Signets and Talismans. In the cube generating colourless mana is quite easy to do, even  large quantities of it which this does not offer. As such it finds more play in ramping control than big mana artifact decks. As colour fixing is usually better than the cycling this will be the second or third choice for such decks and does not see much play as a result. Everflowing Chalice has stolen most of the homes this card once had which is a shame as this is a very nicely designed card that is not especially high power but does what you want it to reliably and well and is never dead due to the cycling. This is one of those cards that is fine in lots of decks but not quite good enough to make the final cut in the vast majority of cases.

Grim Monolith
Grim Monolith 4.0

A cube mainstay that offers the desired redundancy to Mana Vault for big artifact mana decks. Obviously not quite as good as the Vault as it is harder to tutor for, offers less burst and is less easy to curve out with smoothly. While the burst from Vault and Monolith if used on the turn they are made can be of use it is more often the case to make them as an investment so you can add three mana extra to a subsequent turn. For this use the Grim is far closer to the Vault in power despite being double the cost. Once in play the perks of monolith over Vault are surprisingly noticeable. Being able to untap it at any stage is really really useful as you don't have to make difficult choices in your upkeep. Not having it hurt you is always a bonus but far less relevant than the convenient untap. Another minor perk of the Monolith is as a mana sink to avoid burning. Monolith tends to come as a package deal in decks alongside Voltaic Key and Mana Vault, often with the three lands that generate 2 or more colourless mana too. This package gives such an early power boost to the mana of a deck that it can go in a wide array of directions using expensive spells such as Upheaval, Yawmoth's Bargain, Wildfire to name a few. Simply making a massive threat much quicker than is fair also works very effectively and is generally more reliable than trying to mess about reanimating them into play.

Contagion ClaspContagion Clasp 2.0

I have a real soft spot for this spell as I love the many minor value things you can do with proliferate. Primarily it is an over costed sorcery speed removal spell with huge limitations. The only perk it has as removal is dealing with persist guys but I guess now that will be offset somewhat by undying guys. The many uses of Clasp stem from being versatile and offering lots of subtle synergies. First and foremost it is an artifact which has countless applications  even if it were basically blank. Come into play effects are also useful for gaining extra value with repeat uses. Having served its purpose most of the time once in play it is a great sacrificial card too. The real question is how useful is proliferate and at what cost? 4 is a lot but there are sufficient things that benefit from more counters that with a little attention to deck building the Clasp can occasionally be of huge value. The cards that spring to mind are Tanglewire, Smokestack, Tumble Magnet, all the levelling monsters, all the planeswalkers, Everflowing Challice, Modular guys, Mikeaus the Lunarch, Inkmoth Nexus and so many many more. Paying 4 to put a counter on a  planeswalker is pretty uninteresting but when you manage to get three or more effects of some use four starts to look cheap. Clasp trades power for utility but manages to stay viable in the cube as a great little card to smooth out your deck.

Winter Orb
Winter Orb 2.5

This is a very powerful card that is both cheap and available to all colours. The problems with it are a lack of redundancy and difficulty in building a deck around it. Hokori, Dust Drinker and Rising Waters are a bit costly and restrictive to offer the desired redundancy. Sphere of Resistance and now also Thalia aid the effect of the Winter Orb and are as good as you can get for having enough effects for properly building a deck based around mana denial. The most common deck using Winter Orb is a WG(x) deck using lots of mana dorks, some cheap threats and utility, some artifact mana and a whole bunch of things to stop them making things. The difficulty with the deck is similar to those experienced by black based pox decks in that they want to include so many things they run out of space and if not careful end up with a deck that is either very inconsistent, unable to beat certain things or lacks any gas. It is also thrown into heavy artifact mana decks that tend to be blue or red based and possibly splashing either of the other colours and/or black. While not the main focus of the artifact decks they just work so well with the burst, high mana lands and alternate mana sources already in the deck. Generally more powerful without the power in the cube as Moxen are so effective against it. Bounce lands go some way to helping but do not compare well overall to Moxen...

Cranial Plating
Cranial Plating 2.0

Plating is a hard card to rate as it is the best equipment in the right deck while being complete poo in the vast majority of decks. This is compounded in the cube where narrow decks are penalised so heavily on rating and options. It is less narrow than many of the affinity cards but not by much. I have seen it played in a variety of mono coloured aggressive artifact heavy decks in all colours except green. When you have a reliably high artifact count Plating is pretty much the most power you can hope to be boosting your guys with. Even at just three artifacts total in play the plating is very good and beyond this it gets silly even before you consider monsters with evasion or infect or life link or double strike etc. The instant equip effect is also very powerful as it allows you to totally dominate combat either forcing it through as you have more guys or using it to kill of larger blocking monsters of you choice. It is a cornerstone of the affinity deck and may even survive the culling of the affinity only cards which I doubt I will ever do. Affinity just uses too many very powerful cards that are in the cube regardless and is both fun and powerful so highly worth the slots for narrow cards like Myr Enforcer and Arcbound Ravager.

Ratchet BombRatchet Bomb 2.0

Sadly a little on the slow side to be a generic answer to things. It is strictly better than Powder Keg and replaced it as soon as it was released. Typically this is used in decks that lack answers to specific things such as mono black decks as an out to artifacts or enchantments. Playing the card can be very difficult but also quite interesting. Having it in play will force different plays from your opponent and may be used to add insult to injury if they hiccup in curving out as they will not want to make multiples of permanents with the same converted mana cost. Generally you will have an idea of the things you need it to be hitting such as a planewalker or opposition or a Sword of Ted and Ium. The problem is trying to gain any use from the card while ramping up its counters pre-emptively. Most of the time it will never hit the things you were playing it against as it is either killed before reaching the right charge or forces different plays. This means you can be better off leaving it on two charge instead of three even if you know you want to use it against 4 drops. It is hard to describe an example of when this would be the correct play and so the simplest thing to do is reinforce the idea that you are unlikely to be reliably hitting things costing three or more. It is too slow to be reactive and too obvious to be pre-emptive and so needs to be thrown down as soon as you can sensibly make it and then used to control your opponents options from the outset as its primary function. If while doing this you manage to reach 4 counters and kill a planeswalker at the end of it all then great. Also often used to wipe out a whole bunch of tokens, most of the time to allow an attack to kill of a planeswalker. If you have access to three or more colours the Engineered Explosives tends to be a more useful card despite the greater cost. Ideally you want to be able to hit four mana for Explosives to shine even if it is just off a Mox, Vivid Land or Bird of Paradise. You can usually use the cards to get a 2 or 3 for 1 rather than controlling the board or saving as an answer. Often this will not solve all of the things you want it too and is another tricky call.

Isochron ScepterIsochron Scepter 2.5

This is one of the more tedious cards alongside things like Vedalken Shackles. The arrival of planeswalkers has made the incremental card advantage of the Scepter less exciting it is still a very versatile and powerful card. It is cheaper to make than planeswalkers but tend to then only have one effect that costs you mana to use every turn. If killed prior to use it is also vulnerable to getting yourself 2 for 1'd. Orim's Chant takes the throne for dullest card to imprint but has been removed from the cube for being too narrow. It is quite hard to use in a deck as you need a good number of sensible targets. Lots of cards are OK but only a few are really abusive, Fire / Ice and Lightening Helix are both outstanding choices. Burn spells all tend to be quite good with Burst Lightening being one I am fond of for the option to kick it. Counter magic is OK but will not get you much use and rather than gain card advantage will tend to buy time. The best counterspells are Memory Lapse, Remand and Arcane Denial as they can draw you cards or cost your opponent cards. Terminate, Doom Blade, Swords to Plowshares and even Disenchant against the right deck are all great targets but less useful in all matchups. Into the Roil and Boomerang are both pretty useful in all matchups, the latter is better early for hitting lands while the former is useful for card advantage later in the game. Typically played in counter burn decks but will also find play in various incarnations of Psychatog style control decks or UW control, generally both at least splashing red too. Probably the easiest way to know if this is good in your deck is to check if you are playing Fire / Ice, if not then probably also not. If so then if you have 5 or more other reasonable targets then its probably starting to look quite nifty.

Lightning Greaves
Lightening Greaves 1.5

These boots have gone out of fashion lately. In Mirrodin when the cube was far less consistent the Greaves were highly regarded and saw play in both agro decks and combo decks. These days the only time they see play is in heavy monster based artifact decks where it can be abusive with Goblin Welder, Metal Worker and later on the massive threats. Occasionally agro blue decks try out the boots but they are never too exciting in that deck although they do fit in the curve better for blue than all other agro decks. Forgoing a two drop and a threat to haste up your subsequent men is often too much of an investment to be worthwhile. Most agro decks will have very few draws where the Greaves shine, this can be remedied by building around the Greaves but then when you fail to draw them your deck is slow and clunky. As monster quality has gone up the value of this card has decreased and is now just not worth altering your deck to suite it meaning very few decks ever look at them.

Scroll RackScroll Rack 3.0

One of the most complicated cards in magic, comparable to Divining Top although more complicated. It offers a few things Top does not but for a downgrade in price, convenience and versatility. When you have card draw, shuffle and untap effects on the go Scroll Rack will melt your mind, particularly in a combo deck in a close game. You can prevent yourself from getting decked with Scroll Rack although rarely useful. The power of the card scales with the number of cards you have in hand and so it is best in decks with access to lots of card draw. White has little cards advantage and combining this with an active Land Tax is a very powerful way to remedy this deficit in the colour. It is the only non-blue card in the cube that allows cards to be put from the hand into the library which is a very handy effect particularly in a singleton format. Scroll Rack is one of the most effective spells at digging for specific cards and does not need shuffle effects to become playable as Top does, instead it requires a good amount of card draw. Top tends to be more for filtering cards and gaining card quality where as Rack is much more about getting the cards you are after as soon as you can. Scroll Rack is played in all manner of decks across all the colours, never in agro decks and generally in the more quirky unusual decks. While I love this card I do always feel like I misplayed the game whenever I use it and pity anyone who has to wait around while their opponent sits confused by how to make use of the card.

MortarpodMortarpod 1.0

A great little utility card that sadly costs rather too much at both ends to be much good. Heavy equipment white weenie is the only deck to effectively use the card and that is based on the synergy with Puresteel Paladin and Stoneforge Mystic the former especially so. Without cards that enhance this card in some way that you would be playing regardless this card is not worth it. Even if you want sacrifice effects the cost is too great and the effect too minor for this to be the solution. It does offer the ability to kill small creatures to some colours that lack that option but due to low power and lack of synergy with blue and green you are better off without. I am trying to think of more positive things to say about the card given that it is in the cube after all. Er, it combos with Bad Moon to give you the all powerful 1/2 germ fanatic or with infect monsters for unblockable poison or Fume Spitter shenanigans. As you can see, while it offers some different synergies throughout the cube they are pretty lack-luster. This is a good example of a card I slung in to test out and rarely played due to it being pretty poo but never got round to cutting as I like the card. I do not see this lasting many more culls having taken the time to properly think about it for this mini review.

Crucible of WorldsCrucible of Worlds 3.0

I included Fastbond and Strip Mine within the power and removed them. If you have both of those cards in your cube Crucible is more like a 4.0 as it is one of the most powerful combo engines while still having uses in other decks. Fastbond plus Zuran Orb and this is an infinite life and mana combo, throw in a Strip Mine and lock them out of the game. The reason the combo is so good is that all the cards are powerful on their own. While a powerful engine Crucible plus Exploration and Wasteland is not infinite or a likely win. Other decks that make good use of Crucible are slower black pox decks, sometimes with Lake of the Dead. Big red with land destruction such as Wildfire also commonly use Crucible to recover quickly and gain card advantage. Green based control decks with Gifts Ungiven however use Life from the Loam as it is more tutorable and offers more options. Although Crucible has good synergy with sac lands, Mox Diamond and the odd other card it does too little without support cards to be included in random decks.

Tangle WireTangle Wire 3.5

A terrifying card that when used at the right time will lock someone out of the game for 2 or 3 turns. If your deck can make a good number of permanents quickly of which some are threats then Tangle Wire is likely a good card for your deck. Most commonly used in elves, white weenie, affinity and other fast artifact decks. Red deck wins has made good use of the Wire in non-cube magic however the relatively high cost and lack of damage or card advantage make it terrible unless played at the exact right time and thus too unreliable. Generally the Wire is an anti control card but this is mostly because control will have a lower permanent count than other decks. As an artifact with an expiry date it makes a great sacrifice target and commonly is paired with Goblin Welder, Tinker and Arcbound Ravager. It has also seen use with proliferate for comedy lock-down. Tangle Wire is a better card in a powerless cube as it becomes harder to run out as many permanents. The ability to stack the fade effect and the tap effect so that the controller taps one less card than their opponent and has the ability to tap the Tangle Wire itself means that it is not a symmetric effect like Winter Orb and therefore needs less dedicated deck construction for it to work.

Loxodon WarhammerLoxodon Warhammer 2.5

Slow and clunky as you might expect and elephants arsenal to be. Much as I don't have any real love for the card it has consistently been the second best of the Swords - much like Margaret Thatcher is the second best Spice Girl. Protection against relevant colours is better than trample but much less fun to play. Protection against the wrong colours does nothing, perhaps even harming your own abilities. Swords become a Vulshock Morningstar when they are blocked or blocking or even hitting a planeswalker. The cost for just giving a guy +2/+2 is far too risky to be consistently worth it unless you have evasion guys or lots of removal to ensure you get the trigger on the Sword. Should they respond to an equip and remove your dork the tempo loss is extreme, it is very easy to lose games this way even if you are ahead prior to making a Sword. The lack of toughness on the Warhammer is not really a concern, defensively the lifelink more than makes up for this. Additionally the dorks are usually able to killed in response to an equip any way thus making it pretty irrelevant in protecting them. Warhammer costs slightly more than a Sword but due to the fact it offers its advantage whenever it attacks it is much easier to regain any lost tempo from a previously denied equip. Warhammer turns any dork into a threat and is one of the better ways to be gaining life in creature heavy decks for most colours. It will always occupy the top end portion of any deck but does get the job done if a little clumsily.

Tumble MagnetTumble Magnet 2.0

This was one of those cards I threw in not expecting anything other than to play once and confirm that it is awful and then remove it to the C cube to reside for eternity. As it happened it kept winning games instead. It might seem underwhelming however it scales well with the power of other cards. Lots happen in a few turns in the cube and so the majority of times the game is concluded before you can spend all the counters. This makes it much better than Icy Manipulator which is just too expensive. I have seen Tumble Magnet played in lots of different archetypes including agro, combo and control, generally used in draft rather than constructed cubes as it is generic good filler. Constructed cube decks do still call upon Tumbles, most commonly those also using Winter Orb as it both hurts their mana (most decks have either some artifact mana sources or some critters that tap for mana) and allows you to turn off the Orb for your untap (I am not 100% sure you can still do that in current rules but I like to be able to reminisce on magic of old). At filling any one role the card is weaker than other options but as general utility Tumbles is outstanding. Disrupting mana bases, tapping blockers to kill off walkers and players, tapping attackers to buy time and bypassing colour protections all help to make it worth the slot and the mana in a lot of decks.

Sword of Fire and IceSword of Fire and Ice 4.0

The third best equipment thus far to be printed and rather likely to stay that way for a long time to come. Also the clear best of all the Swords of This and That. Generally better than Jitte against control decks as well which is often overlooked simply because Jitte is the better equipment overall. While Swords all fall into the expensive equipment category due to a minimum cost of five to have online the two mana equip cost is very reasonable. The cast and equip costs are the wrong way round to curve out with however make the card better overall as you lose less tempo to any disruption and save more mana in the long run. The 2 damage portion of the card means that any time a small critter can chump block they will which stops many of the swords benefits. The protection helps to stop blocking but not as reliably as having evasion monsters in your deck. Drawing cards and dealing damage are always good in magic against basically any kind of deck. While all the other Swords have effects that might be more powerful, none of them are as consistently useful. Few equipment in the cube offer toughness boost which is another perk of the Sword however the protection from red does negate some of the benefits of added toughness. Essentially the SoFI turns any body into a decent threat for a very reasonable price. The best decks for Swords are those with lots of 1-3 drops, either white weenie where your guys come down early and do a lot of damage but are very weak late game or in blue based creature decks where you have lots of small utility 2 and 3 drops but no real finishers.

Sword of Feast and Famine
Sword of Feast and Famine 2.0

I have been very unimpressed with this sword thus far and anticipate replacing it with a Sword of War and Peace soon. While making them discard and untapping your lands can be very useful they can also both do nothing. The protection Feast and Famine offers is also far less useful than expected, most green decks have an abundance of ways to kill artifacts, especially green black ones, and black decks can easily kill creatures without having to target them or deal them damage. The best I have seen this card be in in blue skies style decks where the untapping of lands is most frequently useful combined with the evasive monsters to ensure the effect can trigger. Blue creatures also appreciate the stats boost most. While still a powerful piece of equipment I have not found a place where I wouldn't prefer to have Sword of Fire and Ice of Loxodon Warhammer instead.

Vedalken ShacklesVedalken Shackles 3.5

One of the most tedious cards in the cube and very little fun to play against. It is generally a case of kill this or die for most normal decks (ones that make dorks) which puts it in a similar category to Umezawa's Jitte. While at its best in mono blue decks it doesn't require you to play only islands at all and may be played reasonably well in even split two colour decks. Even if you can't steal their biggest dork simply chump blocking with their small guys will quickly put you well ahead. Not wanting to simply throw guys away an active Shackles will tend to shut down most attacks single handedly. The original dual lands and shock lands along with the vast majority of cube monsters having two or less power make this card highly playable. Despite all this I cannot highly recommend including this in your cube despite being clearly powerful enough. The card does not make games more fun or more interesting and is restrictive in deck building.

Khalni GemKhalni Gem 2.0

I put this card in the cube with no serious expectation of it lasting more than a single outing. I was highly surprised by how useful I was finding it to be and ultimately removed Thran Dynamo which stopped seeing plat to give this a permanent slot. Assuming you make normal lands every turn then a Thran Dynamo offers you 8 mana on turn five while the Gem offers you  a mighty 5 mana on turn five... Typically however you are not using normal lands but things like City of Traitors and Mishra's Workshop which you can either use to ramp further or save from a forced sacrifice. On top of this these multi mana lands give you colourless which can cause you problems which the Gem resolves nicely. In lots of the decks that want to play a 4 cost artifact mana source they will be missing subsequent land drops anyway so the return effect is not too bad. Big Red is the biggest user of the Gem where it can put some lands back into the hand in preparation for a Wildfire or to cycle off a Forgotten Cave. In all it offers more utility and fixing than Thran Dynamo and still gives all the same benefits of being an artifact in play or in your hand etc.

Nevinyrral's Disk
Nevinyrral's Disk 1.5

Unlike most expensive artifacts the Disk is not commonly played in decks that can easily reduce that cost through ramp of various sorts like Big Red or Tinker style decks. That makes it painfully slow mass removal as it comes down on turn four then gives them a whole extra turn to deal with it or prepare before being useful. Typically played by blue and black for its ability to deal with permanents those colours can't. Not hitting planeswalkers is pretty tedious and has made the card worse in recent years but still the best of a sub-par bunch of options for colours without their own answers. Although not many tuned constructed style cube decks call upon Disk for being too clunky it is picked up pretty early in more limited formats as reliable mass removal for any deck. A cool and classic card with a nice feel to it which might bias me on keeping it around but for its applications it is vastly better than Oblivion Stone almost all the time which is the only real comparison. Typically you are under pressure to use these cards and the extra mana to use the Stone effectively gives them and extra turn  on you to reapply pressure.

SmokestackSmokestack 3.0

A go to card for almost all the mana denial decks which include Big Red, black Pox, Artifact Tinker decks and even white or white green Armageddon/Cataclysm decks. It is a huge effect to have on the board and gives you a great deal of control. By correctly stacking the effects you can ensure your opponent is always the first to lose a card. It is a little slower than Braids but allows you to play in a few different ways. You can either ramp the counters up as fast as you can with the aim of depermanenting both players to reset the game in an advantageous position for you. When not aiming to depermanent both players it is risky ramping the counters on the stack up too much as you will end up losing more stuff overall. You can get it to a nice and steady one of two counters, which ever you will be stable on, and lock the other player out of the game. You can even drop it down and neglect to charge it until it suits you to do so and simply cause people to play differently. A great and powerful card that brings a lot of power to colours that struggle to compete otherwise. It has still taken a bit of a dent with the arrival of planeswalkers as so many of them make tokens and are immune to sacrifice from the Stack.

Gilded Lotus
Gilded Lotus 3.5

The cornerstone of every artifact ramp deck. Certainly it is not the cheapest of ramp cards nor does it net you mana immediately however most of the time you will be using your Mana Vaults, Crypts and Monoliths to be casting this. Once it is down you have no coloured mana worries and you are not restricted by awkward untap costs. Once you have one of these in play you just feel really powerful and able to do vast amounts in your turns. Quite often I will play Tinker with the biggest target being Gilded Lotus and I am rarely unhappy I couldn't get a big fat cheesey dork instead. Gilded Lotus winds up in lots of decks although it is fair to say it is usually with an entourage of familiar faces including Mishra's Workshop, Mana Vault, Voltaic Key, Grim Monolith, Tinker, Upheaval, Goblin Welder, Wildfire and so on.

Memory Jar
Memory Jar 3.5

This is about the most efficient colourless way of getting card advantage that there is. In addition to this it is far less symmetrical than all the other draw seven effects as only you get to have a main phase with the cards you get. You can also make it and use it at a later date thus freeing up maximum mana to abuse the influx of cards. It has good synergy with Scroll Rack and Goblin Welder for saving specific spells and getting repeat uses. You can use it to good effect with Mind Over Matter too as both fuel to untap and for things to make with masses of mana. Generally the Jar is restricted to decks with lots of mana so as to be able to make use of the majority of the 7 new cards before they are lost again. It has been played at the top end of very aggressive cheap decks which can also play most of a new hand on one go but it is rather slow and lacking in immediate tempo for such a late play and is rarely used in that role. Jar tends to tag along in Gilded Lotus's motley crew getting slots where coloured card draw options are weaker or non existent. With most of the ramp being colourless in those sorts of decks the Jar is often one of the best anyway. It is viable in green decks as well as it allows a decent recovery after a global creature kill where things like Regal Force are found lacking. Green can also afford five mana more easily than most colours without recourse to artifact ramp as well.

Batterskull 1.5

This is all a bit slow and clunky and if it were not for the unreasonable synergy with Stoneforge Mystic I am not sure this would still have a slot on its own merit. As an equipment it is 5 to equip which is pretty unreasonable and as a creature it is a 5 mana 4/4 which even with lifelink and vigilance is way below the power level required for the cube. The return effect in nice but also expensive and not something that you can frequently leave mana open for, certainly not when you make it. The only sensible homes for this card then are in big artifact decks as a persistent threat (where you do have the mana to make it for 8) or in decks with Stoneforge. It is much more reasonable to be able to keep three mana back to bounce the Skull if you can make it for two mana at instant speed. Two mana 4/4 life link monsters with flash and vigilance are somewhat above the power level of the cube... Stoneforge is good enough without Batterskull to win games of her own accord and I have a huge dislike of including cards in the cube that largely depend on another card to be playable. In slower formats and cubes this card gets a lot better however in mine it struggles to compete with the various streamlined archetypes. Unless this starts to see some play apart from Stoneforge it is ultimately doomed to the B cube.

MindslaverMindslaver 1.5

It is a bit like Time Stretch in that you get two more turns back to back although one you would have been having any way and the other very much depends on what they have as to its effectiveness. Often Mindslaver is like a 10 mana Orim's Chant although I have still lost to it plenty from having a Necropotence in play or even just a Zuran Orb or Arcbound Ravager. Although you can split the mana costs and it is an artifact making it much easier to cast for its converted mana cost it still seems to expensive and unreliable to be worthy of such a valuable top end slot in most decks. The best decks for Slaver are ones with Academy Ruins or Goblin Welder that can lock out a person from the game however in these decks it is rather win more as you would very likely be winning just as much with a Myr Battlesphere or Wurmcoil Engine and neither of these would be useless dead draws at any point (compared to other 6 drops). One nice things about the Slaver is that is does give your decks outs to things it would not otherwise have access to but overall I don't rate the card highly as with any spell that derives its power from what it is against rather than what it is built with. It is also one of the easiest cards to forget the legendary status of so be wary when considering your Metalmorph targets.

Karn Liberated
Karn Liberated 3.0 

This is a card that is hard to rate as it is unlike other cards. It is colourless but not an artifact which makes it a bit less natural to consider its actual cost. Things like Mana Vault still accelerate into it well but you cannot Tinker him up or ramp into him with Grand Architects or Workshops. He is also playable in any colour of deck which increases his number of homes although not significantly as he is still a seven drop and therefore at the very top of the curve or too much mana period. I have seen him played in green land ramp decks, counter style control decks and artifact mana ramp decks all of which he was strong in but obviously only when played. He does not end the game quickly nor does he have any great synergy with the decks in which he seems to fit into. As a planeswalker however he is really quite something with a might +4 ability allowing him to absorb stupid amounts of damage and a powerful -3 ability that makes Karn frequently act like a funky Desert Twister. Playing a 7 mana out is quite extreme even if they have added value and you don't have any other available ways to solve your problem. Karn has probably not been around long enough yet for me to give an accurate depiction or assessment of his place and power in the cube.

No comments:

Post a Comment