Saturday, 20 June 2015

Picklist for White Weenie

Savannah LionsAfter having done the top draft picks in cube and found it to be a fun but somewhat arbitrary analysis I wanted to try and do a pick list for an archetype. A kind of rough guide to best and most important cards in an archetype so that in a draft you can prioritise better when you have some direction. White weenie is one of the purest and thus simplest archetypes and so it is a good starting place for me trying out this new idea. All of the ratings on this list are contingent on your other picks and so I will try and describe what cards will shift other in which direction on the list. Much of it is about getting the right balance of threats, removal and utility that fit into the curve distribution you want. I find I am picking to curve more often than I am picking based on pure power and that is very much the case with white weenie.

The ideal curve for the deck is roughly 9 one drops, 7 two drops, 5 three drops and 3 four drops with 16 lands. You can mix this up a fair bunch and the deck will still be fine. 6 - 8- 6 - 4 would work and might even be better if it was with more optimal cards than you can manage with the ideal curve I suggested. Five drops are fine too, I avoid them if possible but they are not a disaster. This immediately should tell you that when going white weenie you should be looking to pick up one drops over most other cards when possible, there simply are not going to be enough of them physically in the cube you are drafting to reach the quantities you ideally want if you let them pass by. Sure there are low odds on other people taking your one mana 2/1 once you have established yourself as a aggro white drafter however there are plenty of packs that don't have anything playable for people and there are plenty of picks where you will not see the booster again.

Elspeth, Knight-ErrantKnowing your curve is all well and good but you also need to know what kinds of spells you want to put in onto your curve and the optimal ratios of those cards. Predominantly white weenie wants threats, infact it is a common pitfall of the construction that people wreak there consistency by not being threat dense enough. White weenie creatures are not hugely exciting, especially the cheaper ones. It is all to easy to get sidetracked by powerful cube cards and not have enough substance to win games. I like at least 16 actual threats in a deck. This will include some non creatures and it pretty much excludes a couple of dorks. Mother of Runes and Gideon's Lawkeeper can be pumped and equipped and be used to apply damage but they are not often going to be doing this, especially Mother. At best I would consider them half threats and only then if I have the relevant things to buff them with. One power from a card isn't getting it done. Spectral Procession and Elsepth, Knight-Errant are both fine to call threats however all of the mono white Ajani incarnations would not count as a threat. Crusade effects and equipment are not threats either(excluding Batterskull).

I like around 2 pump effects, either equipment or global pump. You can go more, 3 is usually fine and 4 can work if you are really careful about it. Then you want some removal, not that much is suitable so you tend to play all the good stuff you can get your hands on and make do with what you can when you inevitably fall short. I think 4 removal spells is about right, more isn't going to hurt if it is good and doesn't hurt your threat count. The remaining 2+ slots I like to dedicate to disruption, card advantage, game enders or utility. Armageddon is a fantastic finisher, Mana Tithe can do a lot of work. Land Tax is immense and so forth.

Splashing colours is something to consider as well, assuming you are not playing any double costing cards, one drops of the splash, and have at least as many ways to produce a colour as you have total symbols of that colour you are comfortable splashing things in white weenie. Green and blue don't offer you much you are that excited for but it can happen. Usually it is because you are fighting over the white and are a little short on playables rather than because you wanted too. This is usually fine and a good way to get out of a bad spot. Red and black are the splash colours of choice. Black gives you some juicy removal, card advantage and token themed card and is by far and away my most common splash. Red gives you some token potential and burn! I find red dangerous and all too often end up as a Boros deck rather than a white weenie with a red splash. Boros is potent but is ideally built differently to white weenie and is less reliable on the mana base. I shall try and indicate the kind of times I will consider picking up speculative splash cards or enablers in this list. Usually how it happens is when you get those boosters with no on colour or colourless playables at all and you take the land or the potential off colour sideboard card or whatever. For the purposes of this list I will assume that you have no splash cards or enablers at all. Certain things obviously rise up the ranks rapidly as soon as you can or it looks like you will be splahsing that colour.

With this vague structure in mind here is how I would prioritise the cards assuming somehow I had none of them when picking but also know I am going white weenie. Firstly I take the cheap all star water carrier cards that go in almost every kind of white deck. Then I take the high power bomb cards or niche cards I really want. Then it is the cheap core archetypal cards for my deck and then finally it is the higher CMC dorks and support cards. So, starting at the top with the cream of the picks:

Path to Exile1.   Path to Exile - premium removal that will be taken almost instantly by any other white player.

2.   Swords to Plowshares - not as good for white weenie as Path but generally the better card and still plenty good enough in the deck any any other to pick on sight.

3.  Elspeth, Knight-Errant - One of the most powerful white cards most people will be happy to pick up. Acts as a threat, a pumper, and a brutal finisher.

4.   Umezawa's Jitte - Not only is this a great card in your deck but it pretty much wreaks you as well and is easy to play in most decks and colours. Don't pass one of these. If I get a pack with two of these top four cards I am likely to try and take something else and avoid white weenie letting the person on my left deal with it. Pump, removal and a game ender.

Umezawa's Jitte5.   Wastelands - White doesn't have much disruption and so anything half good it can find is a big win. This is exactly that, with so many one many 2 power guys you can deeply abuse slower decks with the Wasteland, not to mention all those free wins courtesy of the screw. Slightly devalues WW and other high colour intensity cards.

6.   Stoneforge Mystic - Somewhat of a speculative pick, I take it this high early on in a draft or when I have at least one juice equipment. Later on in a draft without any equipment this falls off drastically and has little value.

7.  Council's Judgement - A bit clunky and slow compared to the premium creature removal in white but highly effective none the less. One of the few cards you actively want to play that deals with non-creature, non-land permanents and something also very sought after by control decks. It is not the power of Judgement in your deck that makes it a high pick, it is the combination of it being good in most white decks and the relative difference between having it or having Revoke Existence or Oblivion Ring in your deck.

8.  Mother of Runes - One of the few white cards that can close out a game and break stalemates. She makes spot removal bad against you and combat good for you.

9.  Sword of Fire and Ice - Picked highly because it goes in a lot of other decks, goes up in value if you have Stoneforge or down as you increase your number of other equipment.

10. Armageddon - Can be picked lower down if the cube also has a Ravages of War but most don't and so this is a brutal and unique finisher that is the bane of many archetypes.

11. Soldier of the Pantheon - Your premium one drop no fuss dork. One mana, lots of value with no stipulations or maintenance. The life is minor, the protection from gold is very much not.and will usually do a lot of work for you holding of bombs and sneaking past Baleful Strix. This is the kind of card you want to make turn one EVERY game, if you don't pick them up highly then you won't be doing that and it won't matter so much about your nice equipment, good removal and disruption.

12. Land Tax - One of the few card advantage tools white has access to and pretty well suited to the archetype. Incredibly powerful but harder to play in decks with more colours so I will occasionally risk trying to wheel a Land Tax.

13. Student of Warfare - Although not nearly as good as even a Savannah Lions as a one drop if you have any sort of follow up plays however the student is a real game breaker and scales wonderfully well with the game giving you options and being mana efficient. Part one drop, part serious threat.

Figure of Destiny14. Figure of Destiny - The other Student of Warfare and so close overall in so many ways.

15. Isamru, Hound of Konda - Better with Karakas, worse than most one drop humans if you have Champion of the Parish.

16. Mardu Woe-Reaper - Very comparable to Isamru, sometime the effect will be useful but most of the time you are just throwing it out as an Elite Vanguard.

17. Dragon Hunter - A situational and marginal effect but at least not one that is lost if you lead with it on turn one. As you can see, getting the redundancy in the deck is important hence the high pick rating on these low powered cards.

18. Gideon's Lawkeeper - Greatly underrated card, half a threat half a removal spell and a one drop to boot. The first tapper is great, the second is less value, doubly so the more things like Mother of Runes you also have picked up. Higher value when you are light on creature removal.

19. Valorous Stance - Solid cheap instant removal that does what you need it too and doubles up as a counter to removal effects. Higher value when you are lacking  Path and  Plow.

Sublime Archangel
20. Sublime Archangel - Another underrated card and a complete beating. My ideal three 4 drops would be this, Armageddon and Elspeth. She comes down and does a big chunk and then threatens huge evasive damage the following turn if they cannot immediately deal with her. At winning games she does a lot more work than any of your 3 drops threats and she is more likely to be picked up by other players than most of your threats.

21. Elite Vanguard - No frills but usually comparable to the better versions, still does the thing you are playing it to do.

22. Champion of the Parish - Very potent, easily the best one drop when you have the humans which white typically does when you get enough threats just because it is the most common type. One of the most likely one drops to come back round however and very poor when your deck is sub par. You are picking it high to get the right count of playable one drops mostly.

23. Thalia, Guardian of Threben - A killer disruption card come decent two drop body. While she is brutal against a lot of decks there are some where she will hurt you more than them. She is better in the non-token themed decks but still usually played in everything. She slowly and smoothly gets lower on the list as your spell count and non-creature threat count increases.

Hallowed Spiritkeeper24. Karakas - Usually has targets in your opponents deck and is almost entirely painless to play yourself. The more legends you have the better it becomes but only slightly, most of the value is in what you can bounce of your opponents.

25. Hallowed Spiritkeeper - A potent body that gives you great wrath effect protection which white is vulnerable to. It scales well into the late game and gives you great evasion too. Easily the best three drop threat.

26. Loyal Cathar - Good again against mass removal. Lower on the list for each non-white producing land you intend to play but otherwise one of the most reliable two drops.

27. Savannah Lions - Most cubes don't even run the poor cat any more, it has been outclassed. You still need to be picking it up over most things if you see it and have not reached your desired level of cheap cards but it is where you start to not massively want those cards in your deck.Things like Boros Elite, Icatian Javelineers, even Suntail Hawk can be picked and played and even be good if built around well however they are not in most cubes any more and will not be featuring on this list. These sorts of cards can all be roughly considered to be around here.

28. Skullclamp - Somewhat of a risk in white weenie. It is best in lists with token generators however those also tend to have global pump effects which stop you being able to clamp things at will. It is not that often you want to be getting rid of threats either. A very very powerful card that is well suited to white weenie but very hard to play and build with correctly. Mostly higher up on the list because it is more playable in other colours and archetypes. Consider more as a card advantage spell than a pump card.

29. Precinct Captain - A solid and threatening stand alone two drop. Better with global pump effects and worse with non white producing lands.

30. Brimaz, King of Oreskos - The big Precinct Captain and quite a lot more monster for the mana. You take the two drops over this kind of this to a point because there are fewer high quality ones you can pick up. Make no mistake though, Brimaz is better than almost all of them.

31. Seeker of the Way - A nice solid two drop that is easy to play. It is picked over WW cards when you have things like Wasteland and obviously scales up in power as Thalia scales down in power as you increase your non-creature count.

Rishadan Port32. Rishadan Port - A useful Wastelands style card that is a little mana intense and annoying for your W only cards but otherwise very strong in the archetype and also highly picked by other players.

33. Silverblade Paladin - A cheap card that allows you to dominate the board easily. A little vulnerable, no bonus value or evasion are the drawbacks for this dork but when he is good he is brutal, a kind of mini Sublime Archangel.

34. Gather the Townsfolk - A fairly wet two drop that scales very well with global pump effects and prowess trigger cards. Also very good if you have Champion of the Parish. Even without Champion Gather is better than Raise the Alarm as it is not unheard of to get 5 dorks instead of 2 while instant does very little for you in this deck. One of the harder cards to draft and is scales more wildly with the other things your deck has in it.

35. Knight of the White Orchid - A solid two drop body that can get you card advantage, even a little bit of ramp. Much better on the draw and somewhat of a slot filler rather than doing something you are desperate for. If you are splashing and have the right Plains/X dual lands then Knight goes up in value a lot because of its fixing potential.

36. Lingering Souls - The first speculative splash card I would consider picking up. It is playable without access to black and very good even if you just get a couple of ways to fix. Any other black card would require substantially more fixing to play, I would want 4 ways to get black to play a Vindicate, maybe five to play a Dark Confidant.

37. Raise the Alarm - Just a slightly weaker Gather, great in tokens, a little limp otherwise.

38. Cataclysm - The poor mans Armageddon is much harder to build with. It has some perks and can be better but is certainly much more work to do. A big perk for the card is that it takes down planeswalkers while doing most of an Armageddon. The creature removal aspect can be useful but can also be very awkward should they have managed to resolve a Titan, not that Armageddon solves this but still. Also very nice if you have a smattering of useful artifacts and enchantments. If I don't get the Geddon I will try and play this, I have played both which is good if you are set up to do so.

Spectral Procession39. Spectral Procession - Very powerful but a little awkward. Lots of good cards have weak synergies with it and it is a three drop. Non-white mana sources are obviously very bad for this card. Prowess triggers and global pump scale well with it, one of the best possible consecutive plays in white weenie is Procession followed by Ajani Goldmane.

40. Unexpectedly Absent - A fine all round utility removal spell. Gives good tempo but doesn't fully solve problems on the cheap and is weak against enter the battlefield effect cards. Scales up a bit in value the more mana disruption effects you have and the fewer alternative removal cards you have.

41. Linvala, Keeper of Silence - A solid flying threat that deals with all those pesky little utility cards you can't afford to waste removal on. A lot of decks fold pretty hard to this naughty card. Sometimes thought it is just a medium sized flier, which is often enough on the back of loads of aggression.

42. Monastery Mentor - A fine three drop that nets you some value over time. Very strong in the token slant deck but fairly weak when you have less than 8 triggers (which you should have less than to get the threat count needed most of the time).

43. Honour the Pure - Very potent in the deck but useless to anyone else and the icing on the cake so to speak. You can have a plenty good deck without the card, even the effect. Lots of things pump dorks and you don't even need to do that to win. Much more important in the decks with lots of token generators and a good count of one drops.

44. Mana Tithe - A fine filler card but one to be careful of as it isn't a threat and can wind up dead. Best with other mana denial effects.

45. Spear of Heliod - Some perks over Honour but overall slightly weaker and doing much the same thing.

46. Mono white Ajani - I have lumped these together because few cubes will run more than one of the three that currently exist. All are fine cards but all fall into the category of pump effects of which you cannot have more than 4 of and usually want more like 2. Global pump is cheaper and safer and equipment is more direct. An Ajani in your deck will usually be fine but I typically find that there are things I would prefer to have in those higher slots. Goldmane is certainly brutal in the tokens decks and Caller of the Pride can offer some much needed evasion if you lack it. Steadfast is the best in a vacuum but hard to get loads of value from.

47. Flicker Wisp - A nice evasive threat with some utility. Usually it is killing a token or preventing something from blocking as you don't have that many cards with enter the battlefield effects to get triggers from. Better than Monastery Mentor and Spectral Procession in a vacuum.

48. Kami of Ancient Law - As with the Savannah Lion fir one drops I use this to represent the baseline of white two drops that can be found in cubes. Accorder Paladin, Knight of Meadowgrain and other filler two drop bodies. Some are situationally much better than others but broadly speaking they are filler. Some try and fill these slots with hoser cards, some like the utility. Basically you should be picking these generic lower powered two drops over a fair number of cards when you are not yet upto the right ratios for your curve.

Glorious Anthem49. Glorius Anthem - Possibly even worse than Crusade, I think 3 of these is pushing it anyway but still, very comparable to Spear. Pick low and don't play too many but very potent.

50. Blade Splicer - A top rate three drop that doesn't do that much of much for you other than be good value for mana. Improved with Flicker effects, pump that effects non-white cards and Cataclysm but really there are better things you want in your limited three slots.

51. Cursed Scroll - Surprisingly good in white weenie where your removal is not well suited to clearing out little chaffy dorks. Also fine as a way to punch through late game damage in a stalemate. Very much a late game card and one to avoid if your curve is looking too high.

52. Scrubland - Before any speculative splashing can occur you need the lands and so for the most part I will pick those up before any other potential splash cards. As there are not that many cards that you will splash for nor even that many lands you can easily splash with it is well worth taking note of what has passed you by as too much means the speculative lands are not going to offer you much exciting.

53. Godless Shrine - Basically a scrubland, we don't much care about being shocked.

54. Vindicate - Solid removal that keeps you super safe and robust while also contributing to any manabase disruption. Sufficiently good late game to be played on a fairly light number of black sources. With even a little black fixing this jumps a decent chunk up the picks.

55. Cloudgoat Ranger - One of the better five drops offering evasion, flicker synergy, massive board presence and great synergy with global pump.

56. Mox Diamond - Much better with Land Tax and mass land destruction effects. Good with a splash colour too. Without such things I will avoid playing it as it is too inconsistent and you cannot easily afford the card disadvantage.

57. Restoration Angel - A tricksy annoying card that typically doesn't get you much value from the effect in this archetype. Fine as a filler four drop finisher but not very exciting.

58. Hero of Bladehold - Very powerful but lacking evasion so is rather win more. Better in token decks but plenty good enough in a vacuum. Low pick because you are very limited on four drops and this is doing nothing other cards are not doing, generally I just prefer a flier.

59. Any White Sac Land - sac lands are good, they will fix and thin and generally be valuable cards. For splashes they are fairly poor unless you get the appropriate shock or dual land however at which point they become lovely.

60. Batterskull - This card is all over the place in pick order. You really don't want to play it unless you get Stoneforge. If you already have the Stoneforge there is very little you pick over this ever. If you do not then it is a very speculative pick indeed. Early on I would pick Baterskull much higher than this while later on I would likely pick it lower than this.

61. Disenchant - A card you can maindeck and often do if you have no other removal cards that can hit what a Disenchant does. Hopefully it will sit in your sideboard but it is one of the nicest cards to have there.

62. Other good BW fixing - This is pain lands, scry lands and check lands.

63. Sorin, Solemn Visitor - Not quite as powerful as Elspeth but the next best thing if you can cast it. A very potent pumper and threat. Slightly better in token based decks but just always good. If I have the black sources already this jumps wildly up the pick order.

64. Baneslayer Angel - Big and scary, evasive and stuff too. Thing is you can get more value or do more with a 4 mana angel you have a hope of casting on curve.

65. Balance - Not a card you can really abuse but situationally it will do vast amounts for you. It is a good card to bring in against unfair decks, bad matchups or main deck if you just have a bad deck. A lot of the time it is killing half their land, all their hand and wrathing your team. Not ideal but still pretty hot for 2 mana.

66. Revoke Existence - Or Seal of Cleansing or whatever not quite as good as Disenchant effect, nice to pick up, much less so if you get the Disenchant.

67. Ranger of Eos - Another acceptable four drop that can get some utility and power with the likes of Lawkeeper and Student of Warfare. Sadly the 3/2 is pretty pathetic

68. Bad BW fixing - This is like the bounce lands, the life lands and can include the filter lands if you are not playing any swamps.

69.Dark Confidant - One of the last black cards I am eager to splash for. Being a two drop it is a little rougher on the mana base but it is immensely powerful and offers something you struggle to get elsewhere.

70. Dismember - An acceptable card to take with or without a black splash although the latter makes it that much easier to stomach. When you are light on creature removal this is the best off colour option.

71. Lightning Bolt - Just so good if you see one it is potentially a strong signal and if not just a nice part of an option.

72. Go for the Throat - You need to be black for this one obviously but it is quite acceptable generic removal when you are.

72. Plateau - As you can see, I much prefer the black splash.

74. Sacred Foundry - Might as well.

75. Tanglewire - Usually just a side board card against decks you fear you can't beat. Better with more mana denial effects but normally you are too slow to be able to close out a game off the back of Tanglewire.

76. Top Quality Burn - This includes most of the single red one and two mana cards, Chain and Burst Lightning, Incinerate, Lightning Helix and most notably Arc Trail. Not only is the last card a beating against you but it is the kind of removal white is worst at. Even with good mana and few white removal spells you likely don't want much more than 4 burn spells.

77. Good RW fixing - as per the black.

78. Perphorus, God of the Forge - Well worth splashing for in a token slanted deck, really hard to beat once in play and gives the deck a whole new dimension.

79. Bad RW fixing - again.

80. Young Pyromancer - not quite Dark Confidant but good in a token theme deck and one of the few dorks you might splash for. Sadly works badly with Honour the Pure.

81. Grim Lavamancer - Because of what he brings to white this is one of the few one drop non-white cards you can play in white weenie.

I almost never hate pick with white weenie, there just isn't anything that brutal against you. Yes, you hate wraths but you can't hope to hate on them, there are too many. This is a deck that rewards discipline. Pick the cheap white cards you will play, then look at other stuff. I will almost always take a white/x land over a card I will never play and I will then take an unplayable white card over some kind of hate pick in another colour. Arc Trail is the only card that is at all worth hating and even then there is a small chance you will play it yourself! Cutting the white is best early where you want to squeeze people out of it and send a strong signal.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

MtG Origins Flipwalkers Review

A distinctly underpowred set compared to others in recent years. Both spells and creatures that were not exactly powerhouses before have been reprinted but worse. Sorcery speed Smother, four mana Man-O-War, awful Leonin Scimitar and so forth. At least Wizards are a business and need to sell cards so we have some fairly pushed flipping planeswalkers to be adding to the cube.

Liliana, Heretical Healer is a very potent card full of things going on. What she is not is better than Lilana of the Veil. Lets just get that out there from the get go. She very likely is better than the other two Liliana versions however I don't think comparing her to just walkers is the way to look at these cards. Far more of the time she is in play she will be a bad Vampire Nighthawk than she will be a good planeswalker. Getting her to flip will be hard work, you will have to find a way to sac or kill your own dork or force them into a position where they have to block and kill something. The threat of the flip is the best thing about this card, you can flop it out and suddenly they won't be keen on blocking things. Any spot removal they have will be taking out Liliana before your other threats. I am very impressed with the design on these planeswalkers, you get a lot of power, a lot of versatility, both for not much mana yet the cards remain highly fair. You can just flop out Liliana on turn three, she will likely get killed or sit about doing fairly little. She might nibble away or allow other dorks to do so, she might hold off the odd attacker but all in all she will compare poorly to the now somewhat average Vampire Nighthawk. Running out the turn three unaided Liliana will be much alike to throwing down a two mana Snapcaster or Den Protector and forgoing the main perk of the card just so you can spend your mana and get stuff on the board. Liliana will do more work in these situations and is made better overall as a result of the option to but make no mistake, compared to what is going on in cube she does not compare well to most things you can do with three mana if used in this way. Liliana improves significantly with appropriate synergy. Obviously she needs other creatures in the deck so as to even threaten a flip but there are still some which will work especially well with her. Sakura Tribe Elder springs to mind first although plenty of dorks with free or cheap sacrifice abilities will make Liliana substantially better. When you can reliably drop her down, sacrifice another dork and get a 2/2 zombie as well as an active planeswalker you are likely quite ahead. Should you use something like a Tribe Elder to trigger her then you will be able to instantly get it back again for more defence and card advantage. Within black there are good ways of flipping as well although none seem quite up to the convenience of the old snake and other cards outside the colour like Mogg Fanatic. Recurring Nightmare is very powerful but very slow, Carrion Feeder is very useful and cheap but offers little power or value without lots of other synergy for him. Flesh Carver is good but costs 3 to play, 2 to activate and ideally wants yet another dork to sacrifice. You need the right cards to flip her effectively but it is not hard to do. Unfortunately flipping her is not all there is to it. She is not a planeswalker you can automatically gain advantage from just by activating repeatedly. Both players discard for +2 is great..... in the right deck. Any symmetrical effect needs to be designed around so that it is doing something advantageous for you. Therefore to get the very most from this card you not only need a decent creature count complete with sacrifice outlets you also need to have a deck with discard utility or that empties its hand very quickly. Quite a tall order and giving fairly few archetypal options in which you are able to get the best from Lili. I don't actually think you need her to be optimal to be including her in decks, even just a flip into a -3 on some juicy dork is a good chunk of tempo and card advantage. If you are able to happily +2 her then you are going to be hard to beat. A lot of decks really hate the +1 on Liliana of the Veil and so getting double the loyalty and the same initial loyalty is clearly better and therefore going to be even more hated. The decks that fear discard the most usually have spot removal answers and so extra loyalty isn't as defensively useful as you might hope but it is still no bad thing. More than anything the +2 lets you get more out of the -X and get to the ultimate more often. The -X is just a nice way to get card and tempo advantages and will be the most common way to win with Lila. The ultimate is fine but shouldn't be a thing often at all, not only do you have to flip the card then activate the +2 three times without much loyalty loss to even get there, then you have to have more use for it than just getting dorks back which means having removal and targets and so on and so forth. It is fine but it could be blank and the card would be basically just as useful and good.

Nissa, Vastwood Seer is curious. She seems a touch weaker overall that the rest of the cycle at first glance however I suspect this may be a trick of good design and in fact she is likely very comparable to the others. We have to remember that these are creatures first, walkers second. With Nissa, you get value regardless. She comes down, eats a Lightning Bolt, you are still ahead and happy which is not the case with the others. Nissa will always be good for you, she will give you board presence, help you curve, give you card advantage and not that infrequently she will also go on to win the game. Early she is great, much like any sort of speedbump Simulacrum, Civic Wayfinder, Sea Gate Oracle card. Late game where your Wood Elves are less exciting Nissa will come out and effectively self flip (assuming you have forests left to find and order things sensibly) right away. You can even do this through instant removal if you also happen to have an ready unused sac land. Getting to six lands in play with another usable land drop this turn happens fast in green and so you can have Nissa be a serious threat pretty quickly. Three mana for either a forest, a 4/4 and a 1 loyalty Sage Animist or three mana a forest, a card and a 4 loyalty Sage Animist potentially as early as turn 4 but still likely before turn seven. That is a lot of card. Especially remembering that we basically can't go far wrong with this as a humble 3 drop. It has the feel of a really good level up card that you don't need to pay any mana or even have played her to be in the process of levelling! It is hard to think of a nicer pairing of cards, a good value two for one body that helps you have lands that turns into a planeswalker that makes a threat or draws cards. It does what you want cards to do at the right times in the game. If you do make her turn two or three everyone is well aware you are not flipping her for a good while and she represents very little threat in the short term. Should she not need to be used as a body and manages to survive a bit then she turns into a high kill priority. The planeswalker portion of Nissa is rounded, drawing cards and making board position is strong. She is not overpowered as she has low starting loyalty and grows slowly with only a +1 to do it with. That said, drawing cards or making big tokens is pretty perfect, Sarkhan Unbroken is quite the house and this is not wildly far behind despite costing a whole Izzet Charm's worth of mana less. Her ultimate should win the game on the spot but should also be seen very rarely as drawing so many cards and having the odd 4/4 will win games beforehand.

Chandra is the worst of the cycle. I missread her at first and thought you could ping any target which would have made her one of the best! I was very excited about having a good pinger in red and am now rather dispondant about the card. She is still decent and cube worthy but incredibly linear and somewhat of a risk. She is pretty easy to flip IF you get to untap with her. Just having two red spells or one and be able to get a successful attack in does the job. Three mana for a 2/2 do nothing however is pretty lame and vulnerable and is a big part of why this is the weakest new offering. The planeswalker half of the card is OK, it ether burns our opponent down gradually or Shocks creatures. Shock isn't killing all that much and at -2 loyalty cost it is leaving Chandra fairly vulnerable. As for the +1 it is fine but in reality it is probably doing less damage than Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh would do and may even be more vulnerable. If you want to maximise your damage output with Chandra you can just carefully arrange it so that you do exactly two with her on each turn. If you can freely attack then you only need one spell to be able to do 4 total per round of turns. If you can't attack then you need three spells of which one has to be instant which isn't wildly sustainable but never the less is much more damage output than the walker offers. Yes, the emblem does change this but getting there is so slow you would have just killed them with pings, attacks and/or +1 activations way before hand almost all of the time. The best things about this Chandra are that you actually have the choice if you want to flip her, it is easy to do but may not be right for the situation. Almost all the other cards in this cycle are substantially better and more useful once they are a walker, not so with the burny lady. The other best thing is related to this and is that you will be able to use the flip as a way to protect her should you have enough instant red spells. Rather than flip becuase the walker is better you will flip because otherwise she is dead. A bit of utility, a bit of evasive damage and good options and potential value for a mere three mana. Not a bomb but very good filler indeed. Fine in red deck wins, just a little high on the curve and in competition with more direct cards like Rabblemaster, Dualcaster Mage and Vortex. Fine in more midrange affairs too and more in competition with Chandra's Phoenix, Ire Shaman and Prophetic Flamespeaker than the three drops found in red deck wins. Haste, a bit of cheap instant burn and a bit of spare mana go a really long way to improving the card. You can flip on the turn three right after making her (with a Lightning Mauler and a free spell). It is more likely than you can make and flip her right away on turns five or six but when you do she is a pretty big tempo swing regardless.

Kytheon is a bit of an eye opener. We have established these cards are dorks first and planeswalkers as an afterthought. Most of the creatures are ever so slightly below the power level of the best comparable creatures you can find. Nissa versus Civic Wayfinder, Jace versus Looter il-Kor or Enclave Cryptologist etc. Kytheon is just better than the alternatives and fairly substantially at that. The closest to him are Isamru and Soldier of the Panthon, stand alone dorks that are good aggressive tempo plays and have bonus utility and resiliance compared to the classic Savannah Lion. Certainly there are times that either of Isamru or Pantheon will be better than Kytheon however on average Kytheon seems the clear winner. Indestructible has a much broader application than protection from gold and is much more abusive than a mere one toughness. Kytheon is extra good in cube where being a white one mana legend is to your advantage. A single version allowed in play is not an issue and Karakas is likely helping you more than hurting you. You have to pay three to go indestructible which is a large sum, it means the significant portion of the value you get from Kytheon will be from the threat of activation and not the actual activation. Even so, when you have spare mana a 2/1 indestructible does a lot of work. So much so that control decks might even consider playing this guy, a fine play to trade early, hold the ground mid and even win games. Surviving most Wrath effects is pretty huge, white aggressive decks are highly vulnerable to those spells and so Kytheon with allow you to extend your board with some comfort. Additionally should you play him in control, your super late wrath's won't kill your Kytheon! So, one of the best white one drop creatures printed. Would be a lock in for cube if the juice ended there. It does not and so we must look at Gideon, Battle-Forged. He is meatier, less mana intense and offers way more utility than Kytheon. Flipping to him is fairly easy with an aggressive deck or any sort of token generation. A control deck playing just Lingering Souls and Elspeth, Sun's Champion could reasonably expect to flip Kytheon if it was desperate to and given enough time! The indestructible ability greatly helps flipping as you don't need to set up the attacks beyond having the right number of dorks. Gideon has rounded offensive and defensive capabilities that should allow you to dominate any sort of combat. Force things to attack Gideon can save you or other planeswalkers from evasive monsters or just anything should you lack blockers. This can also be used to take thier blockers out of the way for your next attack. The +1 allows you to have a solid attacker, an attacker with pseudo-vigilance that is an insane blocker or just an insane blocker. Lastly, the 0, it is the least versatile but it hits hard and reliably and is a way to close out a game once the board is right to do so. As Gideon is so combat focused I suspect it will be best in agro and midrange decks. Whatever happens and however good he might be in your deck he is never going to be bad value. One mana! For all this! Sure, most of the time you flip him you will have invested more like four mana and possibly even some chump attackers but then you will have also likely gotten through a bunch of damage with your 2/1. A fantastic aggressive white card that is sufficiently good and useful he should be winding up all over the place.

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is very comparable to the other good looters you can find. Slightly tougher than a classic Merfolk Looter but unable to do any nibbling. If I wanted a Looter in cube I am going for il-Kor or Cryptologist but Jace is incredibly close to them both in that role such that you are perfectly happy to run it just at that. Looters have always been great cards in magic, the ongoing card quality is huge and they have lots of synergy with various mechanics. Doubly good if you want bodies to equip or use for things like Opposition. Although they are small and vulnerable they are sufficiently cheap that you are not distraught when they eat removal. The small is somewhat minor as well as you are getting value from them each turn they live regardless of their ability to get into combat. Looters work amazingly in some archetypes and are fine in any. For constructed Jace is likely one of the most playable, having ways to usefully dispose of excess copies of cards that will legend rule you is a huge perk. Four copies of this will be possible while four copies of the others might be pushing it. Although the legend rule is minor in cube there are multiple incarnations of several planeswalkers including Jace. Being able to discard another Jace doesn't sound great but might well be a thing. This semi security also applies to Lilana as you can discard further versions of her. Kytheon is "better" than Jace but also less synergic and so I suspect we will see more of Jace than the others getting play. Jace comfortably passes the test of being a body you are happy to play just as the creature, it is cheap enough, as with other Looters, that it is no disaster when he dies on sight, which will probably be most of what happens to this poor guy. Should you get to untap with Jace it is going to be very easy to flip him. With sac lands and card quality cards and other top notch cheap things going on graveyards can fill up quickly. If your graveyard is a big pile of sac lands however I am not sure how much you want to flip your Jace. Once flipped you lose your ongoing card quality. Yes, you get instant value when you flip or an awful lot of loyalty as you see fit. This however isn't necessarily doing anything useful for you so unless you have a couple of things you want to cast in the graveyard or you need to protect him against something like an active Lavamancer or your own wrath you may be better off leaving him as a dork and just getting some looting done. In my experience I would say that a fairly optimal number of loots is three from an early Looter. After that point you have either crafted your hand perfectly such that you don't want to discard anything else or you have already cast everything! This bodes very well for Jace as that is about the most you will ever get from him unless you have a lot of things that remove stuff from your own yard like delve. So how good is Jace, Telepath Unbound? Pretty good compared to other walkers and insane for two mana. Yes, mostly it will be two mana, suspend 2 or 3 with the same number of loots thrown in somewhat under half the time! This is why we can't be comparing these cards to pure planeswalkers or get too excited about the cheap cheap mana costs. Five loyalty is lovely, it keeps you pretty safe against all but serious threats or board positions. The plus one is minor but also useful. The -9 is quite game ending but it is unrealistic with a low value +1 to grow from five should you even get to that stage. It is also quite slow to end the game, it doesn't just do it there for you like Nissa's. I really wouldn't be surprised if I never saw this be relevant. The -3 is what this card is all about, it is the way you get value from the card. What I will be looking to do with this in ideal circumstances is play it early, get a few loots in, flip it and keep it alive long enough to cast two bonus spells with. That should really be enough for so little that you win the game. It is no Snapcaster, you cannot usefully cast countermagic with it nor can you even rely on getting any card advantage from it. You play this as a Looter, not a Snapcaster. It rewards you with Snapcaster like bounties should it complete its task as a Looter. Now that we have that clear back to comparing it to Snapcaster! The main perk is of course that you don't have to invest any mana to get the effect and so you can cast your Wrath for four mana that much more easily and comfortably. The second perk is that you might get several hits from it therefore generating even more card advantage. You need targets for it to be much use. Cheap card quality spells will be some of the best, burn will be great too. Wraths, another big one with removal being a common target but sad that it is all reduced to sorcery speed. Without these sorts of things then Jace isn't actually very exciting once not a Looter. With good targets he is a fearsome card indeed. He will fit in so very many different kinds of deck, the thing he has most in common with Snapcaster!

Friday, 12 June 2015

Card Spotlight: Collected Company

Collected CompanyWhen I first saw this card I saw a lot of potential. Best case scenario you get card quality, card advantage and mana advantage, not to mention tempo and trickery. Everything basically. A pair of chosen three drops into play at instant speed for just four mana. You could even get great fixing from the card if you were brazen enough to find a Geralf's Messengers and a Mantis Rider. This best case scenario rather puts to shame the mighty Bloodbraid Elf but as we all know, it is very wrong to judge a card on its best case alone. Worst case with Collected Company is a double miss and as such you are 4 mana down and 1 card down for basically nothing. I have seen a number of Bloodbraids hit things they then can't use, and it is always hilarious. Rancor, countermagic, the wrong kind of removal. The funniest was one hitting an Ancestral Visions that would have decked him. Even so, you still have a 3/2 haste for your mana. Not a disaster but not great. Bloodbraid and Company are comparable in a number of ways but what we have shown here is that Company has a much broader range of results than Elf from the much much weaker to the more powerful. It is the sign of good card design and one of the reasons it is very hard to build and maintain a cube these days. There are so many extremely high powered cards that now exist that rather require you to milk the potential from them. If you do not build around those kinds of cards you might as well not play them at all and Collected Company is exactly such a card.

Bloodbraid Elf
I had high hopes for the card and wanted it to be good and have now had a chance to play it a bunch and see how it has performed. I knew it would be important to build around it but not to what extent that would be the case. I have now cut Company from my main cube as it was simply too narrow. It was incredibly restrictive on what you could put in your deck, by the time you had put in enough good targets that the Company was worth it you didn't have enough room left for the key non-creature spells most decks need to perform. Good cube cards should be able to fit into decks easily, Company does not. I mentioned good targets, 50% of your deck might be creatures that cost three or less but you are not exactly jumping for joy when you get a pair of one drop mana dorks as your bounty. Certainly these bonus targets reduce the low end performance of the card but they do nothing to improve the top end performance of the card. To get the top end performance looking good you end up with a deck with a disgusting mana curve that is weighty on three but goes little beyond that with far too few one drops for a deck that low to the ground. Sure, this makes your company good when you play it but it makes your deck pretty horrible otherwise. This is certainly more of a thing you can do in constructed where you can have 4 copies of the Company but in cube it is pretty bad. I have seen the company be fine in some decks and good in one but that isn't enough to hold onto a cube spot for a card so specific. Multi-colour Zoo style decks are pretty good with the Company but it still fails to outperform the Bloodbraid in such lists even when built with the Company in mind. Not knowing what you are getting is a little tedious, it typically means you are playing it main phase so as to not miss out on haste and things which loses all the instant utility of the card. Just knowing you get a 3/2 haste with Bloodbraid allows you to more reliably plan your plays.
It is the various creature based combo decks where company has a place in cube. The best deck I have used it in by a country mile was an Aluren based combo deck where you were using the card as a way to dig for the combo pieces you need. Obviously Aluren and Collected Company go pretty well hand in hand due to them both only working with CMC three or less dorks. By taking good advantage of the tutoring aspect of Collected Company you get a lot more out of the card and do not need to always be hitting two targets or high mana cost targets for it to do what you need. As such you do not need to distort your deck to accommodate the Company thus making it vastly less restrictive and damaging. Although tribal goblins is not defined as a combo deck it has far more combo elements than your typical creature based deck and as such I presume that would be another good home for Collected Company.

To confirm my experiences from testing I thought I would do some maths on the subject which mostly lead to remembering how bad I am at probability. Ultimately I had to seek help from a magical dutch maths doctor whom also loves to put numbers to the game. I wanted to see the the relationship between the % of Company targets in your deck and the odds you have on getting a dud company that gives at most one dork. Obviously the double wiff is much worse than a single wiff but both are usually sufficiently bad so as to make the Company a substantially below acceptable cube power levels. Assuming an infinite deck size for simplicity sake and exactly a 50% targets to non-targets ratio then you have about 11% chance to wiff your company, of which about 1.5% (1/64) are your odds on getting the double wiff. It does not take much to tweak a deck so that Bloodbraid cannot hit an unplayable spell, certainly a lot lot less than it does to get a list up to 50% company targets. That suddenly seems like a lot of effort when you can still do the equivalent of a Bloodbraid wiff over one in ten times and even risk the total do nothings.

Going to 52.5% threats Company hits reduces your chances of a wiff significantly being around an 8% chance to not hit two or more things. Take it all the way to 60% targets, the most I can conceivably imagine being in any sort of deck ever, and you wind up with a less than 3% chance to wiff. Slight changes make a big difference to the outcome and sadly you are typically going the other direction from the 50% mark. At 40% targets, which is still a fairly tall order and somewhat limiting on your build you have just under 5% chance to hit nothing and just under a 1 in 4 chance to not hit two things. All in all pretty weak.

Collected Company is a potentially very powerful spell however in order for it to be this way you need to have almost entirely optimal conditions for it. Either a stupendously high target count that somehow doesn't wreak your mana curve or a combo nature where you gain further value from the way in which the card works. Move away from these things even slightly and rather than an extremely powerful card you have a decidedly average cube card. Move away slightly some more and you have a pretty unplayable card. I love the card and I love the design but sadly for cube it is not something that you should be including and even in my extravagant everything cube for rotissarie I can't see it being used very often at all. Another one of those cool cards that slips by cube like Accumulated Knowledge and Squadron Hawk.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Updated Top 16 Lifegain

Renewed Faith
I was re-reading the original best life gain spells article that I wrote only two years ago and was amazed by how much was no longer applicable. New and better cards no exist that are not on that list, those that were on the list are in wildly different places and on top of all that the importance of life gain has changed massively in the cube. Everything offensive is significantly more powerful than it used to be. The whole meta has also ramped up a bit in average converted mana cost, where once you might play Lava Dart for the added utility you would now play Searing Spear for that extra gas. Boggart-Ram Gang used to be one of the quickest clocks you could put someone on with a solid stand alone three drop. Now we have things like Rabblemaster which kills in half the time if left unchecked. Before life gain was only really relevant if you were spending it yourself or facing down a burn deck. Now most decks want a bit to sure up any aggressive matchup and for decks trying to play the long game it is a must. Life gain now gives you that much more wiggle room. A lot of threats will now make you as good as dead in two hits meaning you have a lot less time to find answers. Having a bunch of incidental life gain in your list allows you to get back into the game should such a threat get a few turns going at your face. Simply being on low life totals drastically reduces your viable options in most games and so being able to top up lets you play with much greater efficiency.

Obstinate BalothThere are lots of cards that gain life however the cube requires rather specific things from cards that offer it. This list is specifically rating the quality of the cards that you play so as to check the life gain box in your deck construction. There are more powerful cards that also gain life out there not on this list however they are in some way worse at providing the life boost than these cards. Baneslayer Angel was once high up on this list and is still a very potent card. The problem with her is that her life gain is slow and unreliable. You have to wait a turn and connect with a card that a lot of removal will take down before you get life back. In some matchups this is not that much of a problem but there are still plenty where it is. Another card that has fallen far from grace is the mighty Zuran Orb. Once atop the life gain list the little artifact barely sees any play now and the places it does are typically as a way to sacrifice lands rather than to gain life. While Orb is one of the most potent pure life gain cards it is frequently also a complete blank. With the increase in power level and average converted mana cost each card counts that much more and so you just cannot afford to have cards that do not help you out in other ways.

The key aspect of life gain for the cube is primarily the usefulness of the card that the life gain is attached to. Beyond that there is how immediate the life gain is, how much you get or can potentially get, how cheap the card or effect is and how hard it is to disrupt. There is a critical cut off point in mana cost where the potency of the card becomes less relevant overall. Baneslayer is a great card, it gives lots of life per hit and can potentially do many hits. Sadly, because it is five mana and slow to get going, although it is still a great threat, it is not a great life gain card.

Deathrite Shaman
1.   Courser of Kruphix
2.   Deathrite Shaman
3.   Thragtusk
4.   Umezawa's Jitte
5.   Sphinx's Revelation
6.   Kitchen Finks
7.   Sorin, Solemn Visitor
8.   Scavenging Ooze
9.   Siege Rhino
10. Lightning Helix
11. Elixir of Immortality
12. Absorb
13. Bow of Nylea
14. Soulfire Grandmaster
15. Wurmcoil Engine
16. Batterskull

Courser of KruphixCourser only gives one life per land made, usually just one per turn (although it does mitigate sac lands well as well as having great synergy with the shuffle!) and not always even that. The thing with Courser is that it is just so good, you would play it in most decks even without any life gain. Ongoing card advantage and information on a robust 2/4 body for 3. It is the ongoing nature of the life gain combined with its cheapness that make it so dangerous for aggressive decks. It is a high priority kill target but is sturdy for its low cost and typically saves you a lot of hurt even if it just gets you 0 or 1 life.

Deathrite Shaman is a little slower and more vulnerable than Courser, he also loses his other utility and costs you some mana should you be using him for life. This isn't even always an option should there be no creatures to exile. For this you get a card a third the cost of Courser and that offers double the life in an ongoing capacity. All told I think Deathrite has earned the best creature in all of magic title. He does so very very much and is just one mana. Sure he gets burned a lot and dies most of the time he gets into combat but for one mana, so what. It likely means your Courser is going to live that much longer! Again, it is the cheapness of the card that makes the limper life offerings that much less important.

ThragtuskThragtusk is rather a different kind of thing. Bam, five life right away but no chance on more life to come without some kind of Flicker effect. The Tusk is not a very exciting body, it dies easily and usually doesn't do all that much itself. Thragtusk is good because it is immense value, the immediate life hit and then the 3/3 guy when Tusk goes away. It reliably puts a body on the board and gives such a direct hit of life that the whole tempo dynamic wildly shifts. Suddenly you can be comfortably winning a race. He is late but this is OK because short of a counterspell the life is happening and a lot of it.

Jitte has fallen a little off lately. Still a very dangerous a highly picked card but none the less getting noticeably less play than a few years back. Better and better creatures combined with more quality removal has made the Jittle that much riskier and less impactive. A reasonably good board position can now easily overpower a Jitte where that was near impossible when it first came out. Regardless of this Jitte is still a great card and in part this is due to the life gain for which it is reasonably reliable and rather potent. Four life per connection which can be as much as 8 life per turn with re-equips for blocks or double strikers is a fair old chunk. Combined with the other options on Jitte it gives you excellent racing potential and is a bargain to get on line at just four mana total. A little easier to disrupt than some of the other life gain but well worth that risk if you have sufficient creature support.

Umezawa's JitteSphinx's Revelation is a card that offers you two of the three resources in magic paid for by the other. If you have enough mana (and of the right colours) to run Revelation you typically do so. It is expensive and gets better the more mana you sink into it. Although it comes late it is ideally a decent chunk of life and is very hard to disrupt. The combination of cards and life are usually enough to be able to turn around a game pretty effectively.

Kitchen Finks is rather like a mini Thragtusk. It is lower life overall and significantly lower right away. It is also a little easier to disrupt some of the life gain and the second body on Finks but for the price you pay these are minor things. Overall Finks is a great tempo and value dork that is the bane of most aggressive decks. The fact that it is much more of an early play really slows the momentum of an aggressive deck and winds up doing a lot more for you in those match ups when you play it at the start than a turn five Thragtusk will manage..

Sorin, Solemn VisitorSorin, Solemn Visitor is a big hit thus far in cube. While his life gain aspect is situational and disruptable it is also greatly powerful. A +1 pump to all your dorks attack as well as life link scales well with lots of dorks as well as with fatter dorks. Out of nowhere you can flop a Sorin on to a fairly dull and even board and utterly smash any chance of racing right there and then. Making 2/2 fliers when you don't have a suitable army to pump is good too and just being a planeswalker still holds lots of value as well. Sorin is potent because he offers both ongoing life gain and in potentially huge chunks.

Scavenging Ooze is along similar lines to Deathrite Shaman as a life gain card but is narrower in application and of lower power hence the lower rating on this list. Ooze still needs creatures to eat, only gives one life per trigger and also needs green mana each time. Late game Ooze is a beating as there are lots of things to eat and more mana to do so with. Early on he is far less exciting than a Kitchen Finks, Courser of Kruphix or the Deathrite Shaman. Being able to activate right away does increase his reliability as life gain but does little to improve his early performance.

Siege RhinoSiege Rhino is known for its all round power and value. Three life once is not huge but it does take the edge of things which is usually more than enough when you have a Rhino in play as well. The Rhino is marked down mostly for being an awkward three colour card that you cannot play as often as you would like. If it were not for this awkwardness he would be well above Thragtusk in this list and generally as well. A 4/5 trampling body is much much better than a 5/3, it might well still be better than a 5/3 and a 3/3 token too!

Lightning Helix is a card I have not historically had much love for however I must now concede that it is about as free as you can get life gain on a card and about as playable a card as you could hope for. Any control or midrange deck is hungry for life gain, being able to pack Incinerate, Searing Spear etc with a free three life in your deck goes a long way. Yes, it is slightly more awkward to cast but you really should be able to fire it off before you have lost all 20 of your starting life.

Elixir of ImmortalityElixir of Immortality is the non-green card of choice for any deck wishing to secure the inevitability. Time Twister effects used to be more popular but their high cost and high risk due to giving away up to seven new cards has seen them significantly decline in all bar the combo decks. With increased raw card draw power from things like Treasure Cruise and Sphinx's Revelation it is pretty easy to go through a 40 card library. Again, with only 40 cards you are spread thin on answers and may need the same one repeatedly in a long gruelling match for which the Elixir comes in handy. It is hard to disrupt Elixir and it gives a juicy immediate five life at an affordable 3 mana split into two parts. It is card disadvantage and most alike to Zuran Orb in that it seemingly does little else for you other than give some life. You only play it when you want the reusable graveyard but the life gain is what makes it playable.

AbsorbIn the cube the difference between a three mana counter and a two mana one is pretty huge. Lightning Helix is comparable to Incinerate - another very strong cube card. Absorb is comparable to Cancel - a near unplayable cube card. The life you gain from Absorb in other words is not free, you pay for it to the tune of a white mana. Some three mana counterspells do see play in the cube, mostly this is down to the distinctly finite number of unrestricted hard counter magic you can find for two mana and not because the cards themselves are super good. All of them still do a bunch more for you than Cancel however! Voidslime has much greater utility and disruption potential. Dromar's Charm again has a lot of utility and nearly made this list itself. Forbid allows for lock down abuses and can just be a useful discard outlet too. Dissipate even has decent cube utility and Dissolve some bonus value. You have to quite want your three life to forgo any of these other perks. It is just a top up on life, a small hit of three once when you counter something. Broadly playable but distinctly fair. The reason it sees so much play is that it is doing two things that are well paired, both stalling the game and it is never a dead or even that weak of a card in any given matchup. Three mana is less onerous against slower decks and the three life is that much juicier against the aggressive ones. Absorb is not a powerful card, it is just a wonderfully appropriate one and still gets a lot of play as a result.

Bow of Nylea
Bow of Nylea is somewhat of the green Elixir. It does all of what Elixir does and a bunch more as well. It is more expensive, a bit more vulnerable and less immediate on its returns but for its ongoing value and utility these are forgiven. In green control decks Bow of Nylea has time and again proven its cube value. It gives you supreme inevitability with potential to gain three life a turn, make threats grow in size or recycle potent cards back into your library. In control mirrors it is reaching comparable fear levels as Ashiok and Aetherling. As with Elixir, you only play it when you are trying to always be the control player making it more niche than a number of cards on this list but it is one of the most underrated cube cards  none the less.

Soulfire Grand Master
Soulfire Grandmaster is a new addition that might seem somewhat low down until you realise he is the very first lifelink creature to have made the list. All the other monsters have abilities or enter the battlefield effects that provide life. All those monsters that rely purely on dealing damage with lifelink are typically too slow and vulnerable to be heavily relied on as a source of extra life. Soulfire is vulnerable and somewhat slow but he affords life in several ways and is so cheap that, as with Deathrite Shaman, his vulnerabilities and sloth are substantially mitigated. Just as a 1W 2/2 life linker the Soulfire Grandmaster is one of the best cheap lifelink creatures going. Knight of Meadowgrain just doesn't do enough to see cube play these days and is the only close thing. Against another agro deck they will have to kill it right away or pause attacks so that you cannot gain life each turn with it. This is all well and good, a 2 power life linker for two is situationally great and otherwise just about fine. It is the other aspects of Grandmaster that push him over the top. Rarely does life link on your spells do much outside of red but it is fairly obnoxious when you have the burn. It is very easy to save Grandmaster till you can drop him and a burn spell on the same turn should you need to reliably gain some life. Just turning all your burn into super Lightning Helix is quite nice, when it comes to things life Bonfire of the Damned and Blasphemous Act then you can start to be far more abusive than even Sorin can manage. I gained over 100 life with the latter, Grandmaster and just three mana. He is also great as a speed bump come late game lock down card in Azorius control builds. All in all very impressive.

Wurmcoil EngineWhen you cannot get cheap cards you want that give you life you might as well get something really robust and powerful with the potential to gain vast quantities of life. Wurmcoil Engine is so good that for most aggro decks it sets the pace for when you need to have won by. If they resolve a Wurmcoil it gets disgusting very quickly short of a few good exile, bounce and tap solutions. Racing six life gain a turn is unlikely, attacking productively through the Wurmcoil is near impossible without evasion. Wurmcoil is great at providing sufficient life to keep you alive through most circumstances and is hard enough to kill that you can rely on it far more than you can with Baneslayer to be gaining you that life. Costing six and not being able to immediately gain any life means you will have to do quite a lot of work just to get to stage you can make the Wurmcoil with any semblance of safety, if at all. Great card and a great threat but not something you want to exclusively rely on to be refilling your life total.

Zuran OrbBatterskull is much like the Wurmcoil, it is robust and meaty. It is still slow, especially so when  at all disrupted, but if offers double defense with the combination of lifelink and vigilance. Once you get going with the Batterskull you are very tough to race. It is pretty much as slow as the Wurmcoil as far as this list goes and both less robust and less life returns hence being lower on the list and otherwise being very comparable. Certainly having Stoneforge in your deck makes the Batterskull vastly higher power and likely the most wanted card on this list.

Kitchen FinksThere is plenty of life gain not on this list that still gets some niche cube play as lifegain cards and also plenty of regular cube cube cards that get play but not really as any sort of life gain thing. Seeker of the Way is one of the latter, as is Baneslayer Angel. Zuran Orb is the former, as is the antiquated Ivory Tower although that shouldn't be seeing play! Vampire Nighthawk has fallen from grace a little being all to easy to knock out of the way. Dromar's Charm is a big hit of life if needed but does nothing else if used in this capacity. Renewed Faith has been seeing an increase in play lately all though not quite up to A cube standards yet. Pulse of the Fields however has not seen play in a long long time. Once the cheesy hoser of burn decks it is now not even close to viable with 4 life being far too little for the huge three mana cost. Various Ajani incarnations offer life, they are all fine but need to be played in the appropriate place to be good and in such places you are typically not doing so for any life based reasons. Warden of the First Tree is another new card with life gain potential that has been performing fairly well but is a bit narrow and far too costly and vulnerable to be relied on as life gain. Primal Command used to get a lot of love and was a substantial life infusion when needed but has been completely overshadowed by Bow of Nylea and not seen place since. Sword of War and Peace offers some life, sometimes more than Jitte, however it is less reliable at it and far less versatile and powerful. Griselbrand gives big life swings, as does Sphinx of the Steel Wind however both are the preserve of combo style decks. If Wurmcoil is on the slow side these 8 drops certainly are! Pelakka Wurm even had some love in this kind of role one, replacing the super slow Phantom Nishoba! These days such fatties are far too low powered to get a look in. Jeskai Charm is rather narrow in application however it has been brutal in a similar way to Sorin, Solemn Visitor, in that it can create a massive swing in tempo out of nowhere.

Lightning HelixAll in all there are lots of cards that are cube worthy that gain life. Some is incidental and just slightly increases the power of a card, others it is far more the reason you are playing the card. What you have to be good at doing is knowing when your deck will benefit from life gain, care nothing for it, or absolutely needs it to be viable. Once you have established which one of these three groups your deck sits in you can more sensibly find the most suitable cards for your deck. If you don't care about life at all you are likely a super aggressive deck, likely red, or some kind of a combo deck and you should consider playing Searing Spear instead of Lightning Helix as it will increase your consistency. This is only good advice in cube play, you will note modern decks do not take this advice and this is because in cube you very rarely face mirrors due to the card pool being what it is. If your deck benefits from life gain but doesn't need it then any card in the cube with any life gain potential that you want in your deck has surprisingly higher value than you might think. Early on for such a deck I might well take a Kitchen Finks over a Tarmogoyf, a slightly less powerful card that fulfils several roles. Having the Finks will round out your deck and make your matchups smoother. That bonus life gain will make a real difference when facing the burn player. Not only will it give a good buffer but it gives you more options in how you play, throw it down early and just fight the tempo directly or bait them into over extending by holding back the Finks. Lastly when your deck needs life gain you are likely a control deck or a very grindy deck. It is no longer a case of pick up the cards that give life and that you want in your deck, obviously you do that, but it is not always enough or you do not see the few cards that fit this criteria. You may well have to pick some things you don't want to and likely over things you did want and then shoehorn these random life gain things into your deck that you otherwise don't need or have better options you would rather have in the slot. You don't want to cut that Aetherling, you don't want to have no life gain but you also don't want to play two six drop threats and play the Wurmcoil as well as the Aetherling. All somewhat rough choices however the only totally incorrect one is the one without the life gain. You simply have to be aware of the issues you are creating and how to solve them. If you play both the six drop threats then you probably need to pick up a bunch more card quality effects and that sort of thing. If you were looking to play endurance or grinder control and you fail to find any suitable life gain then you likely have to try and do something else. You obviously can't be going too far away from control at this point but you likely have to be doing something really broken to be winning games. This might be playing Entreat the Angles as a quick way to steal wins. It might be going some sort of Upheaval route with a bit more ramp so as to lock people out of games. That is the joy that is magic, there is always a solution to a problem, you just have to recognize when there is a problem and respond accordingly! Life gain is an appropriate solution to several different problems you can face in magic and has a much more relevant place in the game now than ever before.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015


I don't normally write about the social and political side of MtG but I am more connected to this story than normal as I was discussing it as in unfolded with a friend. He told me about the pick and I laughed commenting I would probably have done the same thing. For those of you who missed the debacle, a player rare grabbed a foil Tarmogoyf (worth at least $200) in a prestigious Grand Prix top 8 over a Burst Lightning that would have gone in his deck and been amazing. Many felt this was not in the spirit of the game and a heated social media "debate" ensued. I am of the opinion that there are many reasons to game and to compete. There are the financial returns, the glory, to travel, just for fun, to meet people and socialise, simply to win and so forth. So long as you are not cheating, exploiting or being a generally unpleasant human I have no issue with the motives that inspire you to play MtG. Should your main goal be financial, a) perhaps play poker and b) picking the foil Goyf likely was the best call. The reason I would have taken the Goyf in that situation is the hedging of expectation and not purely on the resulting expected value. Should I have not taken the Goyf and just got killed in round 1 then I would be kicking my self. In that situation and I have taken the Goyf I am less put out by the whole thing, likely feeling I deserve the loss somewhat! If I win without taking the Goyf I am pretty happy but if I win and I took the Goyf I feel like a cheeky legend. Also, the Goyf is guaranteed, progression through the top 8 is not, regardless of the pick.

The prize support is not huge for a Grand Prix, the difference between coming 4-8th and coming 1st is $3.5k or so, the diff between 4-8th and 3rd/4th is only $500. The difference between having a top rate Burst Lightning in your deck and some weak generic filler dork isn't going to do much more than shift your win percentage by 2 resulting in a match win percentage looking more like 4. The might returns on 4% of $500 is a tenth that of the Goyf, sure there is more for grabs later on but as you have to win the previous rounds the contributions from the matchup % differences do not add up to much.

It later transpired the Goyf grabber was knocked out by his opponent ripping the card he should have picked. Equally funny and some good karma but not maliciously, just in the sense that it is a good storey. Amused as I was I didn't care about him being knocked out, much like I didn't care that he picked the Goyf and much like I wouldn't have cared had he won. Had I been in that top 8, playing green and receiving the pack from said Goyf grabber than likely I would have cared a whole lot more. I wasn't and I didn't. I am one magic anecdote up and it cost me nothing more than the time to hear about it.

Our hero of the storey is not done yet with karmic justice however. After the event is all done he places the foil Goyf on e-bay and in a genius move pledges to give half the proceeds to charity. With all the fuss surrounding the incident it attracted attention and quickly flew past the $200 or so normal value for a foil Goyf. We are now sat at just under $16k with several days left to go on the auction. Even after the charity cut our hero is looking at double what he would have received for winning the Grand Prix! All those people getting on their high horses, saying mean things and taking a game way too seriously somewhat have egg on face. They certainly helped get the bids up nice and high.

There are many lessons in this series of events. Be nice and don't get over zealous about fairly minor things would be one. The most significant one is that MtG is dangerously expensive to get into and play with cards worth far too much. If the prizes of one of the biggest tournaments going isn't incentive enough to get people playing the game as intended then there is an issue. The high value of certain cards used in tournament play greatly hinders the game at all levels, including as we have seen, the very highest.