Tuesday, 14 April 2015
First Pick First Pack Rating for Cube
So I saw BDM pose the question "what would be the top five picks in a modern rotissary draft?" and found the responses to be interesting and accurate. Loving my lists and having been doing a lot of booster draft with my cube and with newer players recently I decided to do a similar sort of thing for the cube. I have previously tried to do this for cube rotissary however beyond the first picks it becomes rather impossible as it all depends on what you and other people have taken. Rather than do a list for such a pick order I thought it would be far easier to consider which cards I would most like to first pick first pack and then rate them based on that alone. All of the cards on this last are very happy first picks and you will not that often get to chose between two or more of them. The use of such lists is much more as a guide as to how you should try and value things in general. Despite being a fairly abstract exercise it is still quite useful for both new and more experienced players alike. The first three cards on this list are all basically the same in terms of pick level. The power difference between them is subtle and minimal. If given a choice between two of them in a pack I would almost certainly choose based on what else was in the pack, what I could signal and table etc. If those things didn't decide it clearly I would likely just pick based on what I was most up for playing on the day.
1. Birds of Paradise
There is basically no better (un-powered) cube play than a turn one Birds of Paradise. It is great for aggro decks and equally so for control decks. It is the cheapest and best ramp by a country mile outside of the power. It does tie you to green and is not a card you splash for but we are fine with this as it keeps you as open you can be while tied to a colour. Green is powerful, probably only second in power to blue, and it is also diverse. You can easily be a ramp deck, a midrange deck, an aggro deck or a control deck with your Birds opener. Green works well with most colours and Birds facilitates any number of those that you end up going with. Birds is also a useful body, the flying usually winds up being more relevant than the one power you get with most mana creatures. Being able to block fliers and protect planeswalkers or carry equipment over would be blockers turn up less often than the odd damage or trade you get with a Llanowar Elf however they are so much more game determining that the Birds would likely still be better if it only tapped for green (although this would certainly remove it quite a long way from the top of this list!).
2. Swords to Plowshares
The most effective and reliable removal spell in the game. If you have this and you are playing white then it should be in your deck. Like a Birds first pick you have to end up in that colour to be able to play it so it is a bit of a commitment however it is vastly more splashable than a Birds and is much more likely to still make the final deck when you are being cut from that colour. Plow is great because it is useful at all stages of the game and both in and against all kinds of deck. Committing a little to a colour is far less painful when you are making no direction commitments in that colour. White is also nice and open as colours go, it has great aggro and control options and works well with all colours. Plow is head and shoulders better than anything else as pure creature removal. It scores top marks in all the important and useful area and has a drawback that is typically irrelevant. One mana, instant speed, unconditional and exile, Plow gets it done. Cards like this often go a little under the radar because they do not always appear to be amazing but this is a misconception. It is rare to get any card advantage out of Swords. Often you will be forced into using it on low value targets when you really wanted to hold it for the Wurmcoil Engine. The point is not that the card is weak when used on their turn one Birds because it could have dealt with the brutal Wurmcoil. It has given you options, it might not win many games but it will have stopped you losing loads. Cards like Swords do all the heavy lifting in a deck and allow you to take the win with your more exciting threats. Much like in football, strikers (threats) get all the glory while the defenders and midfield do all the important hard work! Cards like this are the foundations of a deck, do not pass up the opportunity to get them.
3. Lightning Bolt
Another water carrier card that goes in any red deck. Premium spot removal with no drawback at all and most of the important boxes ticked. On top of being not that many pure creature removal spells below Plow it also helps kill planeswalkers and players. This makes it one of the most versatile and rounded cards in magic. While all three of the top cards are coloured they are all very open in what you can do with them within that colour. In addition to this they are all one mana which means you will likely cast them more than most other spells. Well worth that first pick. Should I see any of these cards 2nd pick onwards I will strongly consider moving into that colour. A stronger signal than one of these three epic one drops is hard to achieve. Bolt was the number one card in the modern rotissary hypothetical proposed by BDM and I wholeheartedly agree with that. It is basically joint top in an unpowered cube. Red is narrower than both green and white in the cube. You can go aggro easily and control with the right colour pairings so although it can go in both directions it has less room to manoeuvre within those directions. With part of the strength of Bolt being that you can direct it at players heads it does also lend itself a little more to the aggressive deck and should give you a little bias in that direction once picked.
4. Umezawa's Jitte
Jitte once held the number one spot on this list. A large part of that is the ability to keep yourself open to any colour. Odds on you will end up playing the Jitte and so you risk wasting picks that much less by not making a commitment until you see what you are passed. Just so long as you wind up with enough creatures you want to play Jitte will make the cut. It wins most races and breaks most stalemates. It is relatively cheap and offers a broad range of utility. Lifegain for black, removal for blue and green etc. When a Jitte enters play it becomes the focus of the game, removal is now saved to prevent Jitte getting counters rather than for specific threats. Removal is more abundant and on average better than it was at the time of Jitte's release. Creatures are substantially better now than they were then, both of these factors make it that much more reasonable to defeat a Jitte in a "fair fight" where you do not directly kill the offending Jitte. This is why I would pick the much more reliable coloured one drops over the Jitte these days. You might still well take Jitte over something like a Bolt because you want to send a strong signal. In the impossible hypothetical choice of either but without the other however the Jitte winds up at number four.
5. Elspeth, Knight-Errant
While there are potentially a few more powerful planeswalkers than this one, including a certain Sun's Champion that goes by the same name this particular planeswalker is my highest preference for a first pick. The reason being the classic openness of the card. Provided you are playing a decent number of white sources in your deck you will play Elspeth and she will be very good. In an aggro deck she will be one of your best cards. In football she would be one of the highest earning big stars all the kiddies want to be. In midrange decks again she will be one of your best cards. For control you may prefer the Sun's Champion but you still play this happily. Knight-Errant is an incredibly robust planeswalker with five 4 starting loyalty, 4 mana casting cost and a +1 that makes chump blockers so she can be incredibly defensive and absorb a huge amount of damage while surviving longer than most. Despite this great defensive capability she is also a potent fininsher, her ultimate is not insane but still pretty hard to beat for a lot of decks and with only plus loyalty abilties it is always a danger that makes Elspeth pretty urgent to kill. Her ability to send things to the air also makes it very hard to play planeswalkers into and is an actual finisher if it ever comes to that. Rounded, reliable, versatile and very very powerful despite a medium cost.
The painless free win card. In some cubes this would be my number one pick, mine is chock full of fixing and cheaper things making the Wasteland less ruinous, slightly. Wastelands is arguably the card that leaves you most open out of all the top spells. There is a slight aggro bias on the card but it is so punishing and useful across the board that you generally want it as at least an option for your control decks. Rishidan Port may be more what you want in those but if you need to take out a man land or keep them off a mana that turn or turn your flood and their screw into a free win Wastelands still very much gets the job done. Typically what it does is make high colour intense casting cost spells that much less appealing to you which is a kind of narrowing. All in all Wastelands will wind up in most decks and get you a win here and there pretty much by itself. It won't do a lot in the rest of your games but it hardly needs to to justify picking and plying it!
7. Thundermaw Hellkite
Nominally I think this is the most powerful of the top end finishers. Thundermaw ends games and fast. He kills planeswalkers, removes all the enemy chaff from the skies and is a total bargain at five mana. The extra power and toughness over other comparable five drops makes such a difference. Stormbreath Dragon is so much wildly less exciting than this and it is mostly just down to the size. Sarkhan Dragonspeaker is also less desirable than this despite being that much more versatile. Thundermaw, as with most creatures is a bit like a spell, mostly a Lava Axe but with a free flying 5/5 on the back end of said spell! The thing that pushes Thundermaw over the top is again, that you can pretty much play it in any deck. It is far higher up the curve than you want in red deck wins but it is sufficiently good that you still almost always end up playing it. Rather a really good card that you cast a turn slower than usual than a below average card is much more the case in draft. For control this gives great planeswalker control and is so cheap and quick compared to other threats that you can get a lot more done with it safely. Thundermaw just gives you very little time to respond to it before it has done critical damage.
An overly obnoxious creature that is near impossible to deal with. Counter it, luck out with some split second sillyness or win before it can kill you. Those are the only three options you have facing an Aetherling that is played safely. This makes it very slow but unreasonably certain. This is the finisher all the control decks want, when you have it you need very little else. It is so game ending and so reliable you pretty much ram it in most blue midrange and "aggro" decks then you can make. It is not pretty but it is somewhat effective. If you are applying some pressure you can usually make the Aetherling with that much more safely with just one blue left up. Aetherling is the narrowest card on the list so far as it is primarily a control card and a reasonably heavy blue one at that. As I say, you can effectively ram it in other styles of deck, it will likely only be 70% as good as it would be in the control decks but it is sufficiently powerful that the 70% is enough to have it remain one of your best cards! The reason this is the top blue pick to my mind is that it is the most exclusive. Jace is a better card all round, mostly because it is so much cheaper but there are loads of decent planeswalkers you can suitably replace top Jace with and still be pretty much as well off. There really is no comparable substitute for the Aetherling, all the other threats are so much less effective at killing and so much easier to kill that you simply have to run that many more which in turn leaves less space for other things you want. Just having Aetherling in your deck will give you a vast edge in a control versus control match. They simply cannot let you resolve an Aetherling and will have to play accordingly which usually means far less efficiently.
9. Sword of Fire and Ice
High power, leaves you open for colours and is generally pretty easy to throw into most decks. Control mostly doesn't have sufficient dorks to run equipment but you can do it. Things like Stoneforge Mystic and Geist of Saint Traft go a long way in that area. Sword of Fire and Ice is not quite as brutal as Jitte in a creature based game however it is more rounded in that it is better against control decks and gives your dorks a base stat boost. You can afford to have less dorks in a deck with a Sword than you can if you first picked a Jitte however you do ideally want more evasive or trample dorks for your sword to be optimal. One of the very nice things about equipment is that they turn any body into a relevant threat and as such are a lot more forgiving should your draft go horribly.
10. Path to Exile
Basically this is Swords to Plowshares. Sometimes it is better but most of the time it is worse. Generally this is more suited to aggro while Plow is the control card of choice however both are plenty good enough that you play either in either or both in either when you are a luck sack. Path is worse because it has worse scaling, you cannot use it to kill a Bird of Paradise on turn one and have it be useful, really you don't want to be using it early or on things that small because of the drawback. Knight of the White Orchid and Land Tax are nice to mitigate the drawback but really, getting to totally kill anything for just one mana is what is mitigating the drawback!
11. Wurmcoil Engine
A game ender that will go in any midrange or control deck. It leaves you very open and it a whole lot of card for your pick. Short of white removal or blue counter and control magic there is no way to efficiently deal with a Wurmcoil Engine. It stops attacks, is near impossible to race and provides far too much value to trade well with. For most aggro decks it is that little bit too high on the curve to play but can be done if the draft goes badly, at least you are not having to face off against it with your aggro deck as well!
12. Force of Will
The narrowest card on the list as it is a solid blue commitment and cannot be played as a splash nor is it suitable for every archetype. Blue for that matter is harder than most colours to craft non control archetypes with. It remains high on this list because it is incredibly powerful and a unique effect like the Aetherling. Just having the Force of Will in your deck makes your opponent have to play accordingly. Once you have it in your hand your options go through the roof. Being able to play it for zero mana it is useful before any of the top three cards on this list can come into play. Sometimes you just have to counter their turn one on the play Goblin Guide.
13. Jace, the Mind Sculptor
The mightiest of the planeswalkers doesn't even hit the top ten. He is great but he is awkward. Unlike Elspeth he does not hold his own and survive well when you are behind on the board. Unlike Elspeth he does not really win the game on his own. You need to house Jace in a deck than can look after him and take advantage of him to maximise his potential. Also he is blue, a colour that is typically quite awkward to get a coherent archetype with. Random good blue cards mixed with random good cards of another colour or so will usually get rolled pretty hard by similar styles of midrange non-blue decks. It is not until you get really cohesive blue decks that the power of the colour really comes out. A good blue based control deck with all the important elements covered can easily take down any draft but you are far more likely to end up missing key ingredients going down that route than you are just picking good removal, dorks and planewalkers from two or three other colours. Jace is powerful enough for these things not to matter too much, you still usually take him first pick, you just need to be a bit more aware of his shortcomings.
A bit of a dull card and also a somewhat speculative pick. The value of this increases because of Stoneforge Mystic. Because of that, although this leaves you open, you are that little bit more inclined towards going white with a first pick Batterskull. Batterskull has elements of Wurmcoil Engine and Aetherling about it but is significantly less potent at either of those specific roles. Overall it is quite an expensive and clunky card. Early it will win you any racy creature based game and late it will win you most grindy stalemates but inbetween those times it is somewhat of a 4/4 for five. Sometimes good but usually underwhelming. It is not the power of Batterskull that makes it a high pick, it is good but not insane. It is the many things it brings to the table while remaining so open. It is a persitent threat if you go control. It is a powerful finisher to pump your weenies in an agro deck. It is lifegain for a black deck spending life as a resource and so on. Despite all this utility it is still a stand alone card that does a thing.
15. Noble Hierarch
Exhalted is much closer to flying as found of Birds of Paradise in power level than it is the plus one power you find on the Llanowar Elf brigade. Tapping for three colours is three times as good as the Elves and 60% as good as the birds. Typically exhalted is most useful in aggro and midrange decks while flying does more in the control decks. Hierarch is good, really good but it isn't a Birds. While it does 60% of the colours birds does, if you are only considering the possible colour combinations that it covers the % signifacantly drops. Because we are discussing first picks the value of having those extra options is a much bigger factor. Birds is only slightly better than Hierarch, it just offers way more potential. If you know you are going white green you may chose to play a Hierarch over a Birds but when you can end up anything it would be foolish to think it was a close call.
That about does it for the best of the best. There is a wealth of cards I commonly first pick and do so happily but the distinctions between them are far smaller and either more subjective or just more of the same sorts of justifications just on less powerful cards. Within this bunch of cards are all the strong black cards. While many of them are more powerful than the cards on this list they are all far narrower and harder to get the full potential from. Black is fairly awkward colour. It gets on pretty well with green in an even split but otherwise you want to be very heavy black or very lightly splashing it. Committing to black at all is far riskier than committing to any other colour including blue, the next trickiest. A number of the cards on the list are very high power but are either incredibly narrow in the archetypes they are found in or really require you to pair them with other effects to be able to make them perform well. Most of the gold cards on this list are ones that are flexible in how you can play them and can be used to some effect in just one of the colours. I do not love committing to one colour off the bat, two is really uncomfortable. I try not to pick up cards like Vindicate or Pernicious Deed, full on two colour gold spells, until I am a little more confident I am in at least one of those colours. This might be early as 4th pick and could well be sooner if I get a duff pack.
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lilianna of the Veil
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Fire / Ice
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Cube is so full of power you can reasonably first pick most planeswalkers, fat threats, one drops, draw spells, removal and the good burn. That is the key difference between cube and other formats in draft, basically all the cards are good. In block draft your picks are much more determined by the raw power of the card. In cube your focus is much more on cards that give you most options, both in the games and the rest of the draft. To that end I often end up picking speculative good dual and sac lands over the less nutty cards I have listed here. Again, because all the cards are really powerful cube draft is much more about creating a deck that works as a whole than it is about getting bombs. Almost all of the top picks are those cards so useful, powerful or unique that they transcend archetypes and go well wherever you stick them.