Friday, 28 April 2017

Card Theme and Streamlining

Ancestral RecallI find myself talking a lot about how "on theme" a card is these days. There are so many great magic cards that refining which are most cube worthy isn't as much about raw power as it used to be. When there was less to choose from being just a powerful card was enough. Now a card has to qualify on more levels than just power to gain permanent entry to the cube. There are two things I want to discuss here and each of those things can make a card more or less suitable for the cube. Before getting to those however let us consider what is meant when we talk about the power of a card (not the bit before the toughness). A powerful card is a good one. Ancestral Recall is a powerful card. That we can all agree on however that is because Ancestral Recall is both nominally powerful and powerful in context. There are plenty of cards that are only one or the other of these things and such cards are more controversial and debate as to which are more powerful becomes interesting.

The idea of nominal power or power in a vacuum is impossible to measure and ultimately fairly meaningless. Despite this I am sure it is how we first consider and evaluate most new cards and it serves as a useful measure for expectation of the card. One could make a chart for all the things cards broadly do and value them on an abstract power level. You could go the extra distance and try and scale things with each other. Generally the higher the mana cost the lower the value of more stuff. By that I mean if you have an equally powerful two drop and four drop card and then you add to both the same bonus effect that is worth about a mana and increase the cost accordingly the resulting three drop would be more powerful than the resulting five drop. Power scaling in magic is not just the sum of the parts. Another example of awkward scaling is key words. Trample improves as stats increase. It is pretty worthless on the small creatures and pretty valuable on the big ones. Deathtouch has the opposite scaling as trample. Firststrike is far better with deathtouch yet trample is less good when you have any other sort of evasive mechanic. Accounting for all these nuances in a model would be a terrifying task. These are the simpler aspects of magic and they are already looking near impossible to create a model that would accurately measure the relative nominal power levels of cards. I think humans are generally much better than models at accounting for these kinds of small and subtle factors and I think generally the experienced magic player is pretty good at understanding the nominal power level of a new card. It is very helpful to be able to relate new cards to existing ones and use that as a guide for expected power levels. So although no such model exists we can all imagine it and likely already do so. My point here is that just getting a high nominal power level score is not ultimately that relevant. The cube is not a collection of the most powerful cards in a vacuum but a collection of the most powerful cards in magic in the context of the other most powerful cards.

Charging Badger
There is a great correlation between nominal power and contextual power but it is only that. Let us say you have a cube of 720 cards aiming to have the most powerful cards in all of magic. By that logic your 720th card should have nominal power X, every other card in the cube should have a nominal power greater than X and everything you didn't include would have less than X nominal power. This isn't at all the case. In all cubes I have encountered there are always plenty of cards with "greater than X" power left out and plenty more "less than X power" included. This is because the context of the cube acts as another modifier on the nominal power to give a contextual power that can either be greater or lower than the starting nominal power. This is much the same in any format. The super powerful cards somewhat define the context and so the rest of the meta is made up from the suitable high power cards and the highly suitable fairer cards.

The context of the cube is a fairly long winded way of eluding to the meta. The reason I haven't just called it the meta is because the meta implies specific archetypes and decks. While this is useful information I mean a broader appreciation for the kinds of things that are going on. An idea of the general speed of things is very important. What are people winning with? What mechanics are common and what enable them? To try and give so specific examples I would say that exile effects are of greater value in the cube than in most other formats as there are typically a lot of recursion effects and persistent threats in cube. I would say that the format is quicker than most which increases the value of cheaper cards. The contextual power of a 2/1 for 1 is greater in cube than it is in most other places in part for this reason.

Lightning Bolt
On theme and streamlined are simply two ways to say that a card compares well to the things that scale positively in the context of the cube. On theme means all the things the card does are things that you want a card like that to do. Streamlined means more how a card works with itself to achieve its role. The latter is only applicable in the cards with lots of text, something like a Lightning Bolt is inherently as streamlined as you can get as it only does one thing! Generally cards that are on theme will also be fairly well streamlined. Only the really obviously over powered cards can get away with not being streamlined and still see play.

A really good way to appreciate streamlining is to go back to our idea of a nominal power calculator. You can increase the nominal power of a card by tacking more things onto it. Every line of text increases the power of the card assuming it isn't a drawback. The problem is when you simply are never going to realistically take any advantage of that aspect of a card. If a card is of nominal power X due to the attributes Z, Y and W resulting in that final value of X but in the cube the card is only viable in a way that ensures attribute Y is of little to no value then the power of the card is no longer X but X - Y (roughly). A streamlined card is one where all the attributes of that card work appropriately in the roles you might play that card. A streamlined card does not waste an ounce of its power. The high powered cards frequently found left out of cubes are either narrow or they lack streamlining.

If streamlining is a good way to say that a card does not lose any of its potential power then being on theme is a way of saying that a card creates ethereal power out of nowhere. On theme cards are typically low powered cards that look too fair to be in the cube. In physics you can't create power out of nothing, that is nonsense! The way to understand this ethereal gain of power is that that these on theme cards enable or unlock the power potential in other cards. The power you gain from on theme cards is actually untapped power in your other highly powerful but often not so streamlined cards.

Ahn-Crop CrasherThe best example I can think of for this is to compare the new Ahn-Crop Crasher to any of the classic good red three drops. Goblin Rabblemaster is undoubtedly more powerful in a nominal sense and both are fairly well streamlined. The Crop Crasher however is much more on theme. It will have a better low end performance than Rabblemaster and it will do more to improve your other cards. The Crop Crasher will do far less over a period of time but it will do more immediately . This means for the kinds of decks you want those kinds of cards in the Crop Crasher may well end up doing more on average as the games tend to be succinct.

To know if a card is well themed you do generally need to understand the format well however you can often work out if a card is streamlined without too much consideration of the meta. The well themed card is more actual powerful than its nominal power would suggest as it unlocks power in other cards. The streamlined card is simply greater than the sum of its parts as it scales with itself. Rather than X + Y = Z you get X x Y which equals something geater than Z.

This is all just a way to appreciate and evaluate cards. I certainly find it very useful in cube design, deck construction, and even during play, where correct card evaluation is critical to decision making. Our initial impressions of cards can often bias us. Something that is just obviously powerful at first glance may turn out to be underwhelming. Unless you consider the reasons behind things you will tend to keep using your initial evaluation of the cards power as a base line.

Stormchaser MageI should probably finish with some examples as these concepts are pretty vague. Firstly there is Stormchaser Mage. On paper it is strong enough but not obviously super powered. Really it is just a Monastery Swiftspear with +0/+1 and flying for an extra blue mana. There are not many creatures that would still be good in the cube if you added a blue to the cost and only gave them +0/+1 and flying. Just looking at the bits that make up Stormchaser Mage it is a fairly low powered card by cube standards, especially by the standards of gold cube cards. Fortunately for Stormchaser Mage all its parts scale very nicely together and add up to an effective little card with no real drawbacks. It is one of those cards that very much works well with itself to give back a lot more than expected. It has good surprise value, it is a cheap threat that contributes to the late game as well as the early game. It is robust, hard to play around and so on.

Mantis Rider has the reverse going on to Stormchaser to some extent. Both are cheap gold threats with lots of key words. Mantis Rider looks a lot more powerful at a glance, even taking into account the different costs. I would absolutely say that Mantis Rider has significantly more nominal power than Stormchaser Mage. The Stormchader Mage however is one of the most streamlined cards going that has a good amount of different abilities. Mantis Rider isn't poorly streamlined but it isn't nearly as good as the Stormchaser in this regard and as such has performed less well in cube. Often one of the three abilities is a blank on the Mantis Rider which is a minor set back. What is more relevant is the size of the body relative to the cost. It is not just the abilities but also the chassis they come on. For your flying, vigilance and haste to get anything much done the 3/3 body has to survive and be relevant. The prowess on the Stormchaser Mage combined with the cheaper cost lets the 1/3 body and therefore the other abilities actually do their work significantly more reliably.

Viridian ShamanLastly I want to look at Viridian Shaman, a card that looks like it would be on theme and streamlined in lots of places but actually is the reverse in most cases. You have to think why you are playing a card. With Viridian Shaman your answer will be pretty condemning. Should it be because I need to deal with such and such a problem artifact then you are hurting yourself quite a lot. A three mana sorcery speed removal effect, not to mention a narrow removal effect, is a poor answer. If you are wanting to deal with specific things then you should play the best answer possible and that is never Viridian Shaman. Obviously your answer for why you are playing the card isn't because you think Grey Ogre is good and so the only answer left is that you want some value. Viridian Shaman may sound like value being a two for one but it really isn't. A vanilla 2/2 gets very little done, it is not a great tempo play. Deconstruct is a far better tempo play if you are set on playing a three mana sorcery answer! Oxidize plus and two drop would also be far better tempo. The "value" you get extra on your bad Shatter effect is a 2/2 that you paid nearly two mana for. Sure, it is a free card so to speak but it isn't a good one. You usually wouldn't be spending mana on something like that until you have nothing else to do. So Viridian Shaman is not on theme because the reasons you would play it don't match up to what it offers. It is a bad removal spell, it is generally a weak tempo play and it is not value that you really want. With all that said it is still a good card in the right situation. Should you be up against something like affinity then it starts to look like good tempo and value again because the nature of your opponents deck makes a 2/2 chump significantly more relevant in addition to the removal effect being reliable. Cards that become appropriately themed based on what I am facing rather than what I have in my deck are basically what I class as sideboard cards.  

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Podcast Trial (Amonkhet Preview: Mechanics and Blue)

I have been considering different formats for cube content for some time and mostly been putting it off due to my technical ineptitude! With the hand holding of a more competent friend I have finally gotten around to such things. This is a 20 minute or so podcast previewing the mechanics and blue cards from Amonkhet (as per the title). The plan is to do similar length ones for the rest of the relevant cards in the set. I expect to be doing 3 or 4 more in this style.

Obviously this is our first go at such things. The sounds quality is far from good, there is plenty of "umming" and repeating words like nice all of which I am aware of and hope to improve significantly on over the series. Should there seem to be a demand for such things and we get good enough at doing them then I will continue to output content in this format.

This is the link to our first podcast. You get to hear me! You also get to hear Steve, an old and local friend who has been playing Magic nearly as long as I! He plays a lot of MODO drafts across whatever formats are available. This is on top of being one of the core members of my cube group and as such he is the only person I regularly play with who does more magic than I presently do. If you wanted to check out his magic styles he is given the pseudonym "Swanker" for the recorded drafts posted on the blog and he does pretty well for himself. I may also try and get some written content from him up on the blog.

Any feedback welcome. We don't have a fully formed direction as yet and will be happy to change up the style or the level of the content. Improvements to quality will just have to come with time and practice but things like how long they are, how much detail we go into, how many cards we try and cover etc. are all open to change.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Radkdos Madness Deck Wins

Rakdos CacklerRakdos has always been a limited colour pairing with few archetypes and fewer still good ones. There are some obscure combo decks you can make work in Rakdos but those are not usually supported in cube which leaves only Reanimate/Sneak Attack style decks in that vein. There is also the Rakdos component in Grixis Delver, Grixis control and Jund builds. Lastly there is RDW as in Rakdos deck wins. This last thing was never something you wanted to go into, it was something that occurres when your red deck is bad and you need the support of a second colour. There are actual good reasons to splash white, blue or green into a base red aggressive deck. When you go into black it is because you don't have enough playables in mono red and it is the only thing open. Black and red have pretty poor synergy with each other. Neither can kill enchantments, both have a tendency to hurt you and there just isn't that much one colour wants from the other in the more conventional creature based decks. The best cards just work badly with each other, do you run Vortex, do you run Dark Confidant or do you just cross your fingers and run both?

BloodghastWith Amonkhet came two new red one drops, three new black ones and a selection of good supporting cards in those colours a little higher up the curve. Black and red got more love in one set than you typically get from two years worth of cards. Sufficiently so I think to turn Rakdos Decks Wins into a tier one archetype you might choose to go into rather than being forced that way out of necessity. Not only did Rakdos get a pile of new cheap and potent tools to play with but it also began to form a sort of synergy or theme to work with not unlike the introduction of prowess and the rise of Izzet tempo. The theme is discarding cards, something black and red were both already pretty good at. There has always been some things that are beneficial to discard, recurring creatures, flashback stuff, madness stuff etc. but it wasn't quite enough things of quite enough power to be worth forcing a synergy around them. With the support from Amonkhet that too seems like it might change.

This is an example list of what I think the archetype will roughly want to look like. I haven't tested any of the new cards yet with Amonkhet not being out yet. I have kept it low to the ground as that is typically a good way to start out investigating an aggressive archetype. I have also refrained from playing any exotic things that are unlikely to be found in most cubes. There are piles of great cards you can work into this kind of list but most are pretty narrow. Some of those cards may make an entry into the cube if this archetype proves its worth but to do that it needs to be a viable thing with only the synergies from the cards that are stand alone good enough. I didn't even include all the best new cards for these colours from Amonkhet, notably Harsh Mentor. I thought it best to keep the unknowns down and focus more on the synergy cards as a starting out point.

Faithless Looting25 Spells

Bloodsoaked Champion
Faithless Looting
Dread Wanderer

Rakdos Cackler
Flameblade Adept
Falkenrath Gorger

Grim Lavamancer
Ruthless Sniper
Bone Picker
Bomat Courier

Bomat CourierLightning Bolt
Lava Dart

Bloodfury Militant
Battlefield Scavenger
Heir to Falkenrath

Collective Brutality
Asylum Visitor
Scrapheap Scrounger
Dark Confidant


Wheel of Fortune

15 Lands
Asylum Visitor
Canyon Slough
Blood Crypt
Sulphurus Springs

Bloodstained Mire
Blackcleave Cliffs
Dragonskull Summit
Lavaclaw Reaches

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Foreboding Ruins

3x Mountain
2x Swamp

Falkenrath GorgerRuthless Sniper and Flameblade Adept are the two new big cards you want to enable with discard. The Battlefield Scavenger and to a lesser extent the Bloodfury Militant help enable them. Dread Walker is just a fine dork that happens to have some synergy with discard mechanics. I also threw in Bone Picker, more because I want to test it out and to show an example of the kinds of places it can be good. It does not have any specific synergy with the deck beyond being cheap and aggressive.

There is a lot of wiggle room in the design space for this deck, mostly I have filled potential spaces with solid stand alone cards like Dark Confidant, Dreadbore and some burn. These could be replaced with madness cards like Stormkirk Occultist and Fiery Temper if you had access to them and wanted to push the synergies even further. There are plenty more potent things you can use to enable any extra synergies you might add such as Smuggler's Copter. You can go deeper down the rabbit hole and play things like Flamejab, Deathspark, Circling Vultures, Squee (Goblin Nabob), Insult // Injury. Mox Diamond, Forgotten Cave, Barren Moore, Pale Rider of Trostad, Pack Rat, and so on and so on. Some of these cards are far from cube worthy, some are but they are a little more work to include or perhaps a little polar. A lot depends on how the deck works out. It might just want good stand alone cards or it might only be worth doing if you push the synergies. My guess is that the former is the best route to go and so we won't be adding narrow graveyard synergy cards just yet.

CryptbreakerIn terms of play this should be somewhere between a RDW list and an Izzet tempo list. It has a higher threat density than both but it likely not as quick as the RDW due to less burn. It makes up for this with much more longevity courtesy of the recursive stuff and other card advantage effects on the go. Broadly this is just another aggro deck that wins by having good cheap tempo cards but it does have some slightly better matchups than RDW or white weenie or any other variant of such decks. Not only will this be a real chore for control decks to control but it will also be very effective against other decks running lots of little creatures. Not really intentionally but a lot of the things that work well in this deck are good in the mirror. The removal spells and effects get value or tempo or both and the threats are more dangerous or more resilient. Another advantage of this kind of deck is the ability to hedge. In a RDW list you do not want any fluff, it all wants to be damage and good cheap threats. In this list there is so much utility from discarding cards that you can afford to run cards like Dreadbore and Wheel of Fortune.

As a two colour aggro deck it will never be as consistent as the mono coloured versions unless they are really bad and have only a couple of one drops. That being said this seems incredibly consistent. It may not quite have the same level of card quality as an Izzet tempo list but it has way more redundancy and robustness which should more than make up for that. In the Izzet lists you have to take a tempo hit to play a Serum Visions or something so as to have the things you need. In this Rakdos list your synergies just kind of happen as part of what you are doing. There are also just a lot more good one drop threats for this Rakdos list than there are for Izzet tempo.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Amonkhet Conclusions and Best Cards

Amonkhet is easily the set with the most on offer for the cube to date. This is obviously a trend with power creep and the like, a number of recent sets have achieved this, or at least relative to their size. Those that haven't came close as well. Despite that I think Amonkhet offers significantly more than one would expect given the general rate of power creep. The amazing thing about Amonkhet is that it isn't even that powerful. There are not many bomb cards or things that are so pushed they will obviously be oppressive. There is no Smuggler's Copter here! What there is are loads of very well designed cards that are very well suited to the role they do. Lots and lots of fair card with a cheap cycling cost as well making them incredibly playable.

Another thing about Amonkhet is that it easily has the highest influx of one drops from any release. It has a good number of two drops as well. One drops may not be the most exciting cards themselves often having low overall power and not all that much text but they are by far and away the most playable cards and the cards you encounter most in cube games. The more diverse and interesting and well designed one drops there are the better and healthier the game is, certainly in cube. Amonkhet should significantly change the cube landscape as there will be so many more ways to begin games of magic.

There is power creep at play in Amonkhet but it is well integrated. A fine example of this is Soul-Scar Mage. A card arguably more powerful than Swiftspear however the added power is not in a tempo way, it is in a more ongoing capacity. It allows you to play one drops that don't necessarily just win you the game through early tempo but that won't also hurt you as much in games going long. This is great design philosophy and should ultimately allow for a far more dynamic range of archetypes and strategies. On the flip side of this a lot of the more obviously pushed and powerful things are a little awkward or at odds with themselves. You can get a lot of power from a lot of the three and higher drops in Amonkhet but none of it is direct on-theme power like Thundermaw Hellkite, it is all much more spread about and thus harder to take advantage of.

Amonkhet potentially offers so much new stuff to the cube I have had to, for the first time in a review, try and take account of a new higher bar for entry to the cube. A lot of cards here, if printed in isolation, would make it into the cube however I have been a lot more ruthless in which cards I am going to try out and test than normal as the overall power level of the cube should be rising a good chunk thus making a lot of stuff that might have been good enough clearly not good enough.

Cube Mainstays (best to worst)

Irrigated Farmland / Scattered Groves / Sheltered Thicket / Fetid Pools / Canyon Slough
Harsh Mentor
Cast Out
Bone Picker
Nissa, Steward of Elements
Soul-Scar Mage
Battlefiled Scavenger
Dread Wanderer
Gideon of the Trials
Flameblade Adept
Channeler Initiate
Ruthless Sniper
Commit // Memory
Vizier of the Menagerie
Bloodfury Militant
Curator of Mysteries

Stuff To Try Out (best to worst)

(the things I expect to remain in the drafting cube)

Insult // Injury
Ahn-Crop Crasher
Heiroglyphic Illumination
Dissenter's Deliverance
Forsake the Worldly
Rhonas the Indomitable
Champion of Rhonas
Glory Seeker
Prowling Serpopard
Samut, Voice of Dissent
Trueheart Duelist
Vizier of Tumbling Sands
Sweltering Suns

(the things I expect to cut from the drafting cube)

Honored Crop-Captian
Angel of Sanctions
Pyramid of the Pantheon
Exemplar of Strength
Rhonas's Monument
Comabt Celebrant
Throne of the God Pharaoh
Start Finish
Bloodlust Inciter
Gust Walker

Stuff for Constructed Cube Exclusively

Archfiend of Ifnir
Sacred Cat
Trial of Ambition
As Foretold
Pull from Tomorrow
Lord of the Accursed
By Force
Shadow of the Grave
Cascading Cataracts
Sandwurm Convergence
Vizier of Remedies
Gideon's Intervention

Amonkhet Initial Review Part IX

Binding Mummy 0.5

Playable in a BW tribal zombies deck but not exactly exciting even there. Narrow to the point of probably not being worth talking about....

Bloodlust Inciter 4

I think red has too few non-haste creatures it wants to pair with this for the card to be worth including in a cube. It is the non-red colours that will want this effect most and RX decks typically want more powerful cards than this. I am actually going to test this out as it is very cheap and convenient and may well has some surprising applications I haven't fully considered. This probably fails the Reckless Charge test but it does have the one advantage over any other haste giver in that it can be online and ready to go for your turn two and won't incur an extra cost on your subsequent curve plays.

Time to Reflect 1

They really want a BW zombies archetype huh? This is the kind of thing you need a lot of before such a thing becomes viable but even when every creature you have is a zombie this still isn't in the top three black or white removal spells. Not really like black or white lack removal either. Good card but not great and severally gimped by being super narrow.

Lay Claim 2.5

While a lot better than Confiscate this is pricey to cycle and obscenely expensive to use. This will massively hurt how streamlined you can make your decks. I can think of loads of cards I would much rather have in my deck than this. I think a huge part of the issue is that stealing a thing for seven mana just isn't going to be enough of a swing to be worth it. Seven mana cards want to have massive impact in a lot of situations and Lay Claim just won't do that.

Embalmer's Tools 3

Cute card but ultimately too narrow for most cube uses. You can build around this to some extent but it probably isn't worth it unless it is a game winning combo rather than just value. I like how this can be used to power out your own synergies with self mill or turned on your opponent as an alternate win condition (in 40 cards decks at least).

Labyrinth Guardian 1

Too much of a 2/1 for 2 against too many cards. The embalm cost is too high for it to be a good tempo/value card and the body is too weak for it to be a good card! Tribal illusions.....?

Shadowstorm Vizier 4

This is a kind of Stormchaser Mage without the haste. Prowess is easier to support than this mechanic but this mechanic is significantly more abusive, especially in these colours. I expect it is very easy to set up one turn kills with cards like this and Psychatog should you want that to be a thing. I will test this out but I think being gold and needing support it will simply not see any play in drafts. In constructed decks it should see a bit more love but it is just a cheap filler dork a lot of the time rather than a bomb or key card.

Honored Crop Captian 6 (sort of)

Accorder Paladin returns to Boros with a lovely extra toughness. This is a very good card indeed. It is one of the most aggressive two drops out there and it has great synergy with how Boros aggressive decks typically function. Veteran Motorist is a little more stand alone good but it has significantly less upper potential than this. I am trying to keep narrow gold cards to a minimum so this and Veteran Motorist are likely too much to run both and so I might solve that conundrum by just playing neither! While easily powerful enough for any cube this is not so unreasonably powerful you have to play it and it is narrow to the point of probably being best if you don't.

Aven Wind Guide 3

I somewhat hate this card, it is narrow in function, narrow due to cost and low powered. That all said, if you have a deck comprised heavily of non-flying tokens this is a game ending card. A lot of the time you will literally win as soon as this hits play. This is too narrow for a drafting cube but if you construct a deck around it the card should perform well.

Stinging Shot 2

The cycle isn't cheap enough that you are happy to just throw this into any old deck blind just to hedge against fliers. This just doesn't have enough targets in the cube, there are less than 40 fliers in my cube of which more than half have more than 3 toughness. This is a good removal spell but it needs the right environment and that is very much not the current cube meta.

Initiates Comparison 0

I like this, mostly for the potential abuse with things like Cradle and Rofellos which in practice is magical cloud land thinking. Mostly this dies to everything in combat and doesn't do anything much. It isn't even great ramp as you have to use some pre combat and some post combat. Don't play this but do create more cards like this with a little more power and playability! I love the idea of the utility combined with the aggression.

Haze of Pollen 1

Because Lull is too good.... Despite being a downgrade on an unexciting card this is still playable in the decks that just love to Fog.

Blazing Volley 0

This is the cheapest way to do one damage to all their dorks. Usually the cheapest way to do a thing is pretty good in cube but 1 damage to creatures isn't doing enough against enough to be something you want to play regardless of cost.

Violent Impact 1

A four mana Pillage with cycling. Weak but not awful. I am not sure where you would play this ever, it is too pricey for good LD and generally just poor removal.

Pursue Glory 2

A four mana Trumpet Blast with cycling! If I was considering playing Trumpted Blast I would also consider this. The higher cost is a little less problematic with this card as it is either something you play and win with or something that does very little. Low power level card but suprisingly well suited to the role and archetypes you would play it in.

Nef-Crop Entangler 1

I think this is worse than cards like Gore-House Chainwalker although it is likely an upgrade on the Spectral Bears. When you are only just better than a creature card two decades old, from Homelands none the less, then things are not looking good. The quality of red two drops has risen a lot with this set and not at all due to this card, I suspect even if it ever was playable it entirely isn't now. I don't even think the exert synergy really helps this thing out in cube, there isn't enough to combine with it.

Ruthless Sniper 6.5

This seems pretty good to me which has me a little worried as these days only really pushed cards are good enough for the cube and they don't push commons or uncommons. To me this seems like a black take on Grim Lavamancer. Grim is better than this card but not by very much at all, they both have their perks and drawbacks, The Sniper is active right away and never need tap to use. This means you can use him as much as you have discards and mana and he can be saved as a surprise or used to simultaneously attack and shoot stuff. All his work remains unlike the damage of Lavamancer on creatures making him better against big things. This is a good black one drop that you can play outside of purely aggressive decks which is great in general and great for black which sorely lacks such things. You will need the support for this card but that is pretty easy to fulfill in black. This guy also has some cute interactions with counter based cards, mostly disruptive in removing your opponents +1/+1 counters but potentially something like resetting your own Geralf's Messengers.

Bone Picker 8

Wow. This is another lovely little gem to sneak into this set. This is the kind of card that will shine in the more powerful formats, including cube. In such formats speed is huge and speed is obtained by playing cheap cards. That means cheap cards that you can get a lot more out of than what you paid for them are good. This isn't a turn one play very often at all but it is a very relevant early play that you expect to be able to do alongside something else. I think this will significantly outperform Delver of Secrets in cube. Delver is obviously still the better card in formats where you can run four of the things to support it as it actually is a one drop you can make on turn one. The Bone Picker is a more powerful thing once in play and it is far less onerous on your deck to support it. You can certainly improve the value of the Bone Picker with cards like Cabal Therapy and Mogg Fanatic for cheap self sacrifice or you can just run a lot of cheap or pitch removal like Gut Shot or Snuff out. These things will make it more consistent but I think it is plenty good enough just to play when something dies in combat turn three or four. Flying and deathtouch are two of the best scaling abilities, the make smaller creatures far better and they help those dorks to remain relevant much longer into the game than most other key words. Black now has three powerful, useful and interesting one mana creatures from this set all of which are not purely aggressive cards. That should really really help the colour out and we should be seeing some more interesting black options in the future. I think despite red getting more and better cards than black in this set for cube that black will be the colour to be morst improved as a result of Amonkhet simply from the three one drops it is getting. The best thing about the black one drops is how refreshingly different and well designed they all are. None are obviously oppressively good like Deathrite Shaman nor are they linear like Gravecrawler. They make black a lot more playable but in a way that should also make it interesting.

Seeker of Insight 0

While 3 toughness on a looter is lovely you want your looter to loot most of all, that is why you are playing the thing. This is a bit hardier to removal and a bit better in combat but really so what? If it ever doesn't loot for you that is the nut low, you have Lumengrid Warden, good job.

Compelling Argument 1.5

This is cheap enough for the amount it mills to be just about playable. Mill is niche and not very fun or interactive so hopefully we wont see much of this.

Vizier of Remedies 3

This works very well with persist creatures of which there are a couple of pretty high power ones in cube. There are a couple of things it is OK against as well. With their only being a couple of things this works well with and also only a couple it works well against in my cube I think the effect on this card, while very cool, is simply not enough. Melira, Sylvok Outcast isn't main cube worthy and she is directly better than this. This will see play in versions of Merlia Pod, but that should be it.

Gust Walker 4

This is somewhat of another Daring Skyjek. A two drop that can hit in the air for three. The Gust Walker outputs less damage than Skyjek but it has significantly higher toughness. There are not loads of blockers where the extra toughness makes a big difference but there is plenty of burn and ping effects where it does. I like this card but it seems a bit too much on the fair side for cube use. The Skyjek has a slightly better best case scenario than this which I think keeps it ahead for cube contention presently. I will certainly give this a little try but my expectations are that it will not remains in my drafting cube long at all. It has a lot of the elements you want in a white aggressive card but it is just rather bland.

Devoted Crop-Mate 2

Good value, OK stats and relatively cheap. I don't think this is consistent enough or high enough tempo to be a great card. Best case scenario you make this on curve and get to attack with it and then put a two drop into play. That is decent tempo but not great as you are still paying 3 for a vanilla 3/2. I would say that is two manas worth of thing in play itself at bets so you have gained a net of one mana, sounds like tempo but the delay on getting that two drop and the fact your 3/2 is blank next turn actually makes it pretty sub par tempo unless your two drop is really unfair. This this to even work you need to have a thing killed or discarded. This is a messy card for sure. It is playable in a couple of places but it is somewhat off theme in all of them. Needing to attack to get the value from this card and being such a limp body is what does for it, you are not expecting this to have a long life expectancy!

Forsake the Worldly 5.5

This is a very interesting card indeed. Instant speed exile quality removal is amazing. Three mana is pricey but not utterly unreasonable. You somewhat expect to have to pay three these days for a playable card that hits artifacts or enchantments. You are super happy if you can use this on something and keep your Anguished Unmaking for a potential creature or planeswalker. Cycling two is also a little pricey but it is at least all colourless which makes this one of the most splashable cards going. Disenchant is a funny card, you play it in everything white when you know you have a couple of good targets in every matchup. The issue is you rarely know this and so Disenchant spends a lot more time in sideboards than anywhere else. This is far more main deckable than Disenchant. It is more of a cost to include that the cheap one mana cyclers but it is a very direct and effective card so it will often be worth it. The thing that might get this cut from cube is the new Cast Out which is broader in scope and less onerous to play in any given white deck due to its cost. Certainly with both Cast out and Forsake the Worldly combined with all whites previous removal white is very much the removal colour. A lot of the previous rounded white removal was awful (Oblivion Ring) or double white (Council's Judgement / Unexpectedly Absent) making it less worthwhile or less easy to splash respectively. The new offerings from this set greatly encourage a white splash to cover removal deficits in other colours. This is not a powerful card but it is a significant one. It brings new and valid options and is a welcome new card.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Amonkhet Initial Review Part VIII

By Force 5

A different take on Meltdown going for quality over quantity. This is a lot less good against affinity but a lot better against an artifact ramp deck. It is more playable as a stand alone card too as sorcery speed Shatter is not the worst. We are not presently in an era of maindeck artifact hate in the cube. The only playable artifact removal tends to be on versatile cards like Kolghan's Command. By Force is very powerful sideboard removal for constructed stuff but not a good inclusion in most unpowered cubes. A powered cube probably has enough targets that you do want to run maindeck pure artifact removal and this is one of the best on offer.

Vizier of Many Faces 5

There are a lot of cards now that are just direct upgrades on Clone. I personally hate Clone cards and am not at all excited about this new offering although it is one of the better options out there. The embalm value is very high on a Clone and the cost of it is pretty low both front and back end. This is certainly a card that wouldn't feel out of place in a cube but it is not one I am rushing to include. It would probably be the 3rd Clone clone I would consider after Phyrexian Metalmorph and Phantasmal Image. Apparently clones love a "ph" instead of and "f" in their names...

Gideon's Intervention 3

This is Runed Halo and Nevermore Rolled into one. While it is a mana less to play the Gideon's Intervention you are losing a bunch of the value as the effects of Runed Halo and Nevermore rather overlap. Intervention is actually better than the sum of its parts as it can protect you against lands and it protects your creatures as well. It may not actually give protection but I can only really think of mill effects or ongoing player targetted discard where that is relevant. This card is very clunky but it does provide quite a rounded sort of protection that white is not usually privy to. This can shut down a lot of combo decks pretty well and it has both proactive and reactive viability. I don't like the card much but then I don't much like Faith's Fetters and they do a pretty comparable job. This is probably playable although I don't think it is a good card. Hopefully Cast Out is sufficiently better than this sort of thing that I wont need to bother with it! It should underperform in cube as it was designed for formats with upto 4 copies of cards and can get substantially more value outside of the singleton format.

Oketra's Attendant 1

While not powerful enough for a five mana card in cube however you use it this is a mighty impressive card none the less. A five mana 3/3 flyer is a good limited card, give it cycling and it is a great card. Give it embalm for five as well and the thing is looking better than Call of the Herd - on an uncommon!

Cradle of the Accursed 1

Even with desert tutor capacity you don't want this when you can have a Mishra's Factory or Mutavault. It is so slow and low powered that even in some land based  Life from the Loam control thing you are going to be playing something with more impact than this instead.

Grasping Dunes 3

There have been lands like this before but this seems to be the most rounded and cheapest to use. I fear the effect is too minor for it to be getting much play in the drafting cube. When you are free to sac off lands the -1/-1 isn't going to be solving your various problems. It is still a useful effect white, green and even blue decks would like to be able to use. I can imagine this going in with a Knight of the Reliquary package in some constructed cube decks. There is also still the hope of there being a top rate card which tutors for this which would improve its viability significantly, if not quite to main cube level.

Harvest Season 0

This is a pretty awful card. The effect is potentially very powerful but it is just far too slow and hard to setup. It isn't even that nuts until you can get X=3 or more lands. Two is obviously good but not good enough for how bad this is on average. Give this convoke and I am interested...

Bloodfury Militant 6.5

Perhaps if I keep commenting on how red is getting yet another good cheap dork they will just keep coming! Bloodfury Militant is quite the upgrade on Minotaur Explorer! This is an OK card in its own right and a very good card in a deck with good discard synergy. Heir of Falkenrath has performed very well in cube and this has some obvious comparisons just being a well above the curve two drop that you have to discard a card to get at. A 4/3 is a little worse than a 3/2 flyer but in the early stages of the game the bigger thing is liable to do more work and that suits red very well. A 2/1 is also better than nothing when you cannot afford the discard but the counter argument to that is Bloodfury Militant is still a 4/3 when it is your last card while the Heir is locked at the 2/1, initially at least. I expect this to see a good amount of play in aggressive decks all over the place. It is very passable filler in a lot of archetypes outside of RDW, Izzet tempo and what seems to be a new viable archetype; Rakdos Madness Deck Wins! You might play this in a reanimate deck if you were short of outlets, you might play this in Zoo as well for another efficient fat two drop. The only tier one red archetype I don't think this has much use is in ramp decks which are far more green than red anyway. This is not as bonkers as some of the other cheap red dorks in the set but it is a nice solid card that has a bunch of bonus utility. A happy cube addition. With Amonkhet red is looking nearly as well set as white is for a wide and powerful range of cheap creatures to choose from. The real question is if the Rakdos discard themed aggro deck is good enough to grant Pale Rider of Trostad a cube slot...

Shadow of the Grave 3.5

This is a super cool card. It counters discard effects used on you or turns your loot and cycle style things into extreme value. Normally these sort of buff another thing style card are too expensive to consider using but Shadow of the Grave is pretty easy to get something out of. Another big advantage is that if you can't easily get advantage from it you can likely dispose of it usefully due to the nature of the deck you are playing it in! So far the best thing I can think to do with this is doubling up on Siesmic Assault activations. Ultimately this card is far too narrow for a drafting cube but it is cheap and seemingly abusable. I expect some modern combo to crop up with this card. I also expect it to be good in a couple of the niche and exotic cube decks we get to see from time to time.

Start // Finish 3

This is a fairly decent control card yet works acceptably well enough to run in maidrange and aggro if needed. It is good convenience and utility on the first portion and then just a plain old removal spell on the back end. In the sorts of decks you might use this the sac cost on the aftermath will be a pain rather than a potential perk. It will often mean you have to be precious about one of the 1/1 tokens. Every now and again you will cash in something like a Solemn Simulacrum and it will feel good but it will not be the norm. While quite a nice card that offers good options and good safety I think it is simply too low powered for essentially a gold card. As it is a new mechanic I will endeavor to test out these cards a little more thoroughly but my strong expectation is that most of these are not good enough. Start // Finish is one of the more appealing gold aftermath cards overall so if it struggles to perform I hold out even less hope for the others.

Hieroglyphic Illumination 5.5

That name is enough for me to want this card to be a total non-entity so that I need not write it down again. Sadly, when I look at this I see something significantly more playable than Fact or Fiction in my current cube meta. The top end on this card is far from special. There are a lot of cards that do a lot more for that kind of mana but this still does enough. You can sit there representing that Cryptic and be happy to play this instead. It is instant speed card advantage which is hard to get these days. An instant Council of the Soratami would be playable, Think Twice is pretty decent and so by those standards this is doing the sort of thing you want this card to do in a way that isn't horrendous. Yes, it is a shocking tempo play but then so is a Fact or Fiction and so is a Stroke of Genius. This kind of pure card draw isn't bad because it is bad, it is bad because it is rare that you can find the time to use it. When you can and do you are winning. This card has the critical ingredient all other blue instant two or more for one pure draw cards lack. This can cheaply become something else and won't sit in your hand costing you effective card advantage when you are short on the lands or under too much pressure to spend a turn drawing cards. This is always useful, it is always getting you to where you want to be regardless of it being early game or late. The one issue with this card and those like it, particularly in blue is that there is diminishing returns on the perks of cheap cycling and cantrip cards in most cases. When you draw those hands that are like 3 or 4 land and the rest Quicken/Peek style cards you are hurting yourself through lack of information. You might be in for a massive flood or something than you just can't can't prepare for due to all you cards in hand being cyclers. The card this actually compares to most is Whispers of the Muse which is a card that shone in its time. The Illumination has far less late game potential but it has a better midgame and an equally strong early game. Overall this is to the advantage of the Illumination. This is a very playable card but it is low enough power that it shouldn't be super common. I prefer it to Think Twice for the same reason I prefer Censor to Miscalculation - less of a burden.

Cascading Cataracts 3.5

Indestructible lands are useful with things like Armageddon and Jokulhaups and as such this will absolutely see play in those styles of deck when they have access to the Cataracts. Without those kinds of reasons to play and indestructible land this isn't doing much of much for you. This is far too narrow to be a good inclusion in a drafting cube. The colour fixing might be useful in a five colour control deck or something but it isn't good fixing per se.

Commit // Memory 6

Commit is Unsubstantiate meets Memory Lapse. Four is a lot to pay for a soft counter or a bounce spell, even one that is card neutral. Dismiss is not good in cube but that isn't a great comparison here. A better comparison would probably be Venser, Shaper Savant. They are both four mana instant one for one disruption cards that keep you safe against the vast majority of things. At three mana I think Commit would be incredibly powerful, at four I think it is still playable in cube. Given that Commit is an OK starting place Memory does not have to add a lot to the card before we have something quite good. Memory is a powerful effect but it is not a good card in its own right. Time Twister is barely playable in anything these days in cube and it is half the price! For this kind of card however I think you are quite happy having a powerful effect you are unlikely to use. Some control decks play Elixir of Immortality in them as a precautionary measure, they never want to draw the thing and have to use it but if it wasn't at least an option in the list you would be forced into playing a much tighter game and have your options greatly reduced. This is the result of the singleton format and 40 card decks in control. Now Commit // Memory is a far less dead card than an Elixir of Immortality in decks wanting to play the long game. The reshuffle is more of a liability but you still have that option within the list and it costs you far less to include. I think this functionality of being able to play with the potential for a full refill or a second go on your spells is enough to make this a good card, Memory should barely ever be cast in such cases but you are none the less glad of having it. This is just the control decks wanting to go long. There are also plenty of decks that would fairly happily have a nice draw 7 option like Izzet tempo or some combo deck. While rare for them to get to six mana it is not unheard of at all and in such cases having Memory would be a real game changer. Normally decks can't afford to run such luxuries as they are only good in the rare cases but when Memory comes as a kind of free thing on the back of Commit it is a pretty big win. I think this has a number of good homes in the cube. It is convenient and versatile enough to make up for its relatively low power. In that regard it is really not unlike the mighty Cryptic Command. As discussed, Dismiss is not a cube worthy card, nor is Into the Roil in only kicked mode. It is the versatility and convenience of Cryptic being able to mimic these various different things and solve most problems to some extent that makes it good, not its raw power level. I expect Commit // Memory to be similar in that regard but more in the Venser power range ultimately.

Spring // Mind 0

Just wildly over cost at both ends for generic effects you are able to find much much cheaper elsewhere.

Disposses 1

Disposes? Disposses? Whatever. Usually this kind of thing is unplayable in singleton however this doesn't have to hit something already there, you can just name the thing and it is gone. This is a super narrow sideboard card you would only use against a very select group of combo decks and even then it probably isn't great. Most combo decks have some backup and it is rare that you just win by removing one card. I don't expect this to see play, I wont be bothering to get one in case it does!

Sandwurm Convergence 2.5

Reminds me rather of Dragonform. While this is an 8 mana card it is something you could play in green ramp decks as they will get there. The thing is, I like to win with my 8 drops and I like to do it fast. This thing is much more of a don't lose card and so I don't think you want it ever. It is more interesting as an Academy Rector target. When you are not able to spend 8 mana on things then surviving better is a much more relevant perk for your deck. I anticipate this getting some use with Academy Rector (perhaps even Show and Tell) and being very good with her, it is rare to have a win condition combined with a defense tool that is an enchantment. Outside of these cheats I think probably not.

Glorious End 1.5

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this. It seems incredibly dangerous. Final Fortune isn't good enough for cube and so this three mana versions shouldn't either in theory. This is to Final Fortune what Time Stop is to Time Warp after all. Time Stop has some nice trickery about it and could be used effectively to bait out attacks or cards from hand as well as just being a Time Walk. Baiting things out is less useful with Glorious End as you don't have long to take advantage of that. It seems like the narrowest of all the other things mentioned here. Perhaps the gimmick is to combine Glorious End with the new Gideon? Sounds a lot scarier in standard than anything else. I don't see this working out well in cube really at all but it is too powerful to entirely rule out and ignore.

Heart Piercer Manticore 1

I can think of places this is good but that won't be the norm. A lot of the time this will be a 4/3 for four with an embalm cost you never have mana or time for. Far to situational and fair for a four mana cube card.

Vizier of Deferment 1.5

Interesting little card that is pretty good but rather to cute and situational for cube use. You can use this to Maze of Ith things, either your own chump attackers or theirs. This is less good on defense as you cannot also block with it and you risk triggering their EtB effects. Offensively if you can use this to trigger one of your own EtB things and save it from death then great but otherwise other cards would be doing what this does far better. It is nice to have a card that can kill tokens but again, narrow and not comapring well to alternatives.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Black Weenie

CarnophageRight when I first started cubing black weenie was as good as white weenie, it was arguably better. This was in original Mirrodin block and as such there were very few good aggressive one drops for any colour. White only had Savannah Lions while black had both Sarcomancy and Carnophage!
Fairly quickly black weenie fell away as a thing as the white creatures got better and better. Black decks started to rely on synergies and disruption more than being an aggressive deck. Mono black decks of all flavours pretty much fell off all together not that long after the first visit to Zendikar.

White dorks are simply a massive amount better than the comparable black ones. Savannah Lions is now not close to the top 10 white aggro one drops while both Sarcomancy and Carnophage would still be in the top five black one drop aggro dorks. For every Soldier of the Pantheon white gets black gets a Tormented Hero. White already had more effective removal and so combined with the more efficient threats white weenie was able to remain in the meta and retain its tier one status consistently.

SarcomancyBlack has always had more options and tools than white and as such it has always felt like it should be able to put out lists that are competitive. Black has good hand disruption, some burst mana, it also has a selection of land disruption tools and it has a whole pile of card advantage on offer. White only has the mana disruption aspect and it is much more limited than what black can do. These various things should be able to make up for less efficient threats but so far I have failed to do so.

I have recently been thinking about new ways to approach mono black decks and one of the things I considered was a lack of focus in previous builds. Things like Hymn to Tourach and Sinkhole are a bit too powerful not to play in a mono black deck. It seems wrong to build a deck and leave out your best one drops like Inquisition on Thoughtsieze. Undoubtedly these are some of blacks best cards however the cube is not all about best, it is about most well suited. Historically I have tried to plug the gaps in blacks arsenal with these powerful cards however I feel a better approach is to focus on a maximum of one thing. If you are trying to build an aggressive deck you don't want to harm your consistency by reducing your threat count. Land destruction and discard effects are not winning you the game, if you Inquisition someone instead of making a 2/1 then you are not making the highest tempo play nor ending the game as quickly as possible. These kinds of effect are also rather situational and become dead cards quicker than most. While it might feel wrong to forgo some of these super powerful cards I think it is probably the way to go.

SinkholeAnother realization I had was in regards to a new style of aggressive deck that has recently arisen and so far used predominantly by red and white. There is now sufficient redundancy in playable one drops that you can build a 40 card deck that is 12-14 one drops and the rest two drops, perhaps a pitch spell and a key three drop such as Sulphuric Vortex. Just being able to play so much so quickly defeats a lot of decks. It is more consistent and more challenging to beat than higher curve versions of those decks aiming to get to 4 mana and chock full of really powerful cards. It seems like madness when you are cutting cards like Elspeth, Knight Errant for an Elite Vanguard but the results are hard to argue with.

Black has just about kept up with white in terms of number of available aggressive one drops. It doesn't feel like it to me as I perpetually cut the limp black ones as they don't see any play and are clearly worse than the white ones that do see play and as such remain in the cube. Kytheon might be substantially better than any one drop black has to offer however this significant power difference isn't nearly as pronounced when you are just going for the cheapest most aggressive thing possible. The Gnarled Scarhide gets just as much work done as Kytheon in most of your wins in the deck that ends it curve at two!

Gnarled ScarhideMy new vision for black weenie goes all out on one drops playing basically everything it can. It then plays basically no hand disruption nor mana denial effects to make room for more threats. The idea is to go wide rather than have better stuff. Without wasting time on disruption and taking full advantage of some burst mana and cheap removal you are able to get very far ahead on tempo. This should put you in a position to be able to push for a win before something like a Jitte can wreak you. The best way to answer awkward cards has always been to play a quicker and more linear strategy such that you can broadly ignore the problem cards. Black has never coped well with Jitte and often uses that as an excuse to pack hand disruption. The thing is that hand disruption is a shocking answer to a Jitte, you have a very small window to actually hit the thing and it isn't an answer that works alongside your game plan. Better to just have a deck that is too quick for Jitte to be that relevant than a slow deck with sub par answers.

The other thing this deck does is pack a lot of card advantage. This is not new to black aggro decks however it normally comes in the form of Necropotence which is powerful but inconsistent and slow. With so much redundancy in Dark Confidant effects it seems wise to use them rather than one off powerful cards you won't always see or be in a position to use. This is much like how white weenie decks pack a lot of their disruptive capabilities - on the back of Grizzly Bears! It then uses equipment or Crusade effects to turn its low power one drops and bears into more potent threats should the battle get to the midgame. Black can do these things too, it may not have quite the same quality in Crusade effects but it can make do sufficiently. In a deck going wide with one drops I prefer the Crusade cards to the clunky equipment. Jitte I would consider, having it makes you super safe against it in cube! Skullclamp is also a strong consideration but is more of a card advantage supplement than a creature buff. I would certainly play the Clamp over Necropotence in this list. That said Clamp works poorly with Crusade effects and is ultimately a bigger tempo drain than Necro, certainly something that would need careful testing to see if it could work. I think there is room for either Jitte or Smuggler's Copter but not both. The deck would be fine without either.

"Black Weenie"

Bloodsoaked Champion27 Spells

Chrome Mox

Fatal Push
Dark Ritual
Bloodsoaked Champion

Diregraf Ghoul        
Gnarled Scarhide

Tormented Hero
Vampire Lacerator              
Rakdos Cackler
Tormented HeroCarrion Feeder

Collective Brutality
Bad Moon
Dark Confidant

Asylum Visitor
Blood Scrivener
Pain Seer
Glint Sleeve Siphoner

Heir of Falkenrath
Gifted Aetherborn

Hall of Triumph
Mogis Marauder


13 Swamps

Dark ConfidantThis is the list I plan to start testing with. I may be able to shave off some of the weaker one drops in favour of some punchier cards. As low as possible is a pretty good starting place and it will show me any gaps the deck might have. There are a wealth of options to plug potential holes although a lot of them come in at three mana. Some of the back Dark Confidant cards are pretty weak and may well under perform in the deck. Pain Seer is marginally improved with any vehicles. Scrivener and Visitor scale well with the discard outlets, the pitch/imprint cards and just having a mentally cheap deck. Glint Sleeve may well be the worst although the evasion makes it a better threat despite being the clear weakest of the draw dorks.  Gifted Aetherborn is another potential cut, mostly being played as a source of lifegain. This deck looks fairly weak to a red deck, it would need to aggressively mulligan to a Bad Moon effect to lay before most of its dorks. Some mild lifegain to offset the hurt is nice if it doesn't stand to harm your potential tempo and Gifted Aetherborn is one of the cheapest options on offer.

There are plenty of potential filler two drop dorks. Pack Rat gives you some late game and some discard utility but is even more expensive than getting a Jitte online. Vampire Hexmage gives you a nice proactive answer to planeswalkers and a selection of other annoying permanents but it offers little synergy and costs a small amount of tempo compared to what you could play in its stead. Nantuko Shade hits very hard but it is a little too mana intense, this deck isn't really looking to have more than three lands in play very often. There are also of course the various pump and prot knights, the "can be fliers" ones are likely the best options there. Some shadow dorks are passable if you really want the evasion but I think filling out with card draw dudes is a better way to use your two drop slots.

If I need more removal I will look to the free cards first. Sickening Shoal is likely not enough as all your cards are so cheap. Slaughter Pact and Snuff Out are likely better but Contagion is the premium for this list. Other option include Malicious Affliction for value or Tragic Slip or Murderous Cut for tempo. The latter seems a little too slow even with your discard. Unless you get a bunch of dorks killed it will be hard to fire off in time.

As for potential three drops there are loads and loads but I really don't want more than two and it seems like the Hall is a necessary evil for this direction of play. The three iterations of Liliana for 3 mana all seem quite nice but are all on the slow side. Drana, Liberator of Malakir, Yehenni, Undying Partisan, Flesh Carver and Geralf's Messengers are all contenders with a lot to offer an aggressive deck and a nice high power level. The issue is again that they are all a little slow and with such a low land count, unreliable too. Increasing this decks curve much at all would require the addition of more lands.

The Results!

Mogis's MarauderThe deck performed better than expected in testing and I was very happy with the overall build. More evasion guys would have been nice but that was the only thing I found really wanting in the deck. Missing hand disruption and land destruction wasn't a problem at all and the increased consistency from ignoring those things was noticeable. Mogis Marauder showed why he is the three drop dork that made this list in testing. He was what you wanted to draw because he invariably had win the game written on him.

Both Cryptbreaker and Blood Scrivener were outstanding in the deck, able to draw so many cards and do all sorts of cute trickery. Scrivener is arguably the best Dark Confidant in this list! The deck had some very nice starts, it was fairly consistent and it was pretty hard to contain. Things like Fire Ice and Arc Trail are pretty brutal for it alongside things like Kitchen Finks and Jitte, all the usual agro dork deck killers! This came as no surprise but the resilience of the deck when actually facing such cards was impressive. A simple Bad Moon sorts out the Arc Trail issues quite well at least! It did make for a rather scary Ophiomancer that I had to face down but that was a known risk! It was part of why the removal suite had no cards that can't take out black dudes.

Hall of TriumphSpeaking of the removal suite the worst performing card by a long way was the Fatal Push. You wanted something that could reliably shift a medium sized dork out the way such as a Courser of Kruphix. Having to run in your guys to trigger the revolt does not make up the the low cost of the Push. Doubly so when it is something massive like a Sheoldred that you need to get out the way. I would totally cut the Fatal Push and nothing else. If I was afraid of black decks I would go for Go for the Throat. If I was afraid of my mana it would be Snuff Out. If I was scared of big green and white dorks I would go for the value of Malicious Afflication. Even things like Vendetta, Paralyze and Ulcerate came up as cards I would prefer to the Fatal Push in this particular deck.

While this is not yet tier one this is a potent deck. It does have things that other weenie decks don't have, most notably a tonne of card draw but also persistent dorks that make the usual counter of mass removal a lot less effective. With a few more actually good cheap black threats this deck could become a worthy cube archetype. While we are still leaning on Tormented Hero we shall have to be happy with being an impressive tier two sort of deck. With Amonkhet now being spoiled we are already one very solid card towards this kind of thing being tier one.

Amonkhet Initial Review Part VII

Vizier of the Tumbling Sands 6

Well this is a hard to rate card. I don't think you ever really want a 1/3 for 3 that untaps things. It might be fine in a deck full of Gilded Lotus and Mana Vaults and OK in most decks but it isn't the sort of thing you would be actively wanting at just that. As with all these cycling cards it is purely the cycling utility that makes them interesting. The fact you can make this as a 1/3 will occasionally be handy but certainly not why you are playing the thing. It is like when you play your Gempalm Incinerator to power up a Piledriver or to chump block a Myr Enforcer. You are either super ahead or super behind, it it not the norm nor really the desire for the card. Anyway, how good is an uncounterable instant 1U untap a thing and draw a card? That is 95%+ of what this card is. Sounds pretty good. Sounds like it is in the same ball part as Ice, a famously good card! While Ice is purely disruptive the Vizier is generally not. Most of the time Vizier will be trying to produce mana or double up tap to activate effects. He will be trying to get you some value. Occasionally he will be a cheeky combat trick too. As you need synergies to get the most out of this while Ice is always just good I think this will be a lot less played than Ice but I imagine it will often look better when it is in use.

Stir the Sands 3

This is dangerously close to playable. A four mana uncounterable flash Phyrexian Rager without the life loss is sadly pretty good. Being instant helps pricey cards like this out so much. This also has a top end mode which is pretty awful but should you just need a loads of dorks on the board it is at least an option. Ultimately this is not enough power for a card this slow. It would be happy filler in control decks but you don't want four mana filler ever.

Shefet Moniter 2

Lizard mode is pretty unplayable even compared to Stir the Sands! This card mostly just reads uncounterable instant Rampant Growth plus draw a card for four. The desert utility sounds nice and cute but it is super unlikely to be a thing you will find happening in drafting cubes. Perhaps once in a blue moon you will be able to construct a deck with some desert utility but really that seems like a gimmick. If you are making constructed cube decks you should be packing much more exciting stuff than this. So, is this playable for its cycling mode without the ability to get deserts? In cube probably not, four mana is not where you want your Rampant Growth cards to be. Good value but quite painfully slow.

Deem Worthy 0

This is overpriced in either mode and being limited to creatures at both ends as well makes it pretty unappealing to most red decks. You want to be winning on turn four not Shocking a guy and getting a two for one... Don't play this in cube. (Yes, you can play this is control and midrange but it isn't great there either, answers want to be cheap and ideally versatile which this isn't)

Cryptic Serpent 3.5

This is a dangerous little number. It is like the Qumulox of the prowess decks. Sadly this doesn't have flying and so I don't think it is quite dangerous enough. Prowess decks want reliability from their threats more than they want raw power. Gurmag Angler is likely just a better and more reliable version of this card. The advantage of Serpent is letting you keep your bin and not being in three colours which is nice. Even if this is good in Izzet prowess decks it is only good in those and is far from irreplaceable with more widely useful cards. As such I don't think I can waste a cube slot on this narrow vanilla dork but I do think it can perform very well in the right setting. I expect to see this in some constructed decks.

Grim Strider 0


Sunscourched Desert 3.5

This is a surprisingly good land. Being able to ping a planeswalker with a land drop sounds great. This might even be better value than a Mishra's Factory style card in an aggressive red deck. A reliable one damage for no mana is a whole lot quicker and harder to stop than a man land and probably does more damage on average in winning games. Sadly the card is rather low impact. You can only play the odd colourless land and there are many better ones out there than this. Unless there are lots of good desert synergy playables this seems to much of a garnish card to deserve a cube slot.
I do expect to see this getting some minor attention in constructed decks in the future at least.

Plague Belcher 2

This is pretty poor as a stand alone dork. It isn't even really exciting enough to play in a zombie deck unless you are trying to combo kill people with Vengeful Dead and a sac outlet and some massive supply of zombies to sac. These days such things are much better done with Grey Merchant of Asphodel. The only real place I can see for this card is with some significant abuse of self imposed -1/-1 counters. Such a thing isn't possible in my drafting cube by a long shot, I'm not even sure if such a thing is viable yet period. Either way this card is not a powerhouse and it is very narrow.

Lord of the Accursed 3.5

Tribal zombies still languish as one of the weaker main tribes. Every new lord, one drop and otherwise good black card help but this one isn't pushing them over the edge yet. Zombies is good fun and while not tier one it is still a competitive cube strategy. There is a good chance you will play this in a tribal zombies deck and little to none of you playing it outside such a deck. It is better than most of the other 3 mana zombie lords. The extra toughness is always nice and the menace is pretty good reach. A nice solid card I only rate so low due to only having the one tier two archetypal home which I don't even support in my drafting cube.

Dread Wanderer 8

At first glance I thought this was a massive rip off compared to Gravecrawler and Bloodsoaked Champion as it is rather pricier to recur. Then I realized this thing can block, all be it slowly. This thing is a great aggressive card but unlike all the other aggressive one drops black has this thing is actually quite playable in the less aggressive decks. It offers decent tempo early and some good value and defenses later in the game. This is certainly one of blacks most versatile one drop which is something they have sorely lacked over the years. This would have been good enough for the cube if it couldn't block. The one card in hand or fewer stipulation isn't as big a deal as it sounds, even in the slower decks. You are not recurring this if you are mana screwed nor are you using it if you have better cards in hand most of the time. As such when you want to recur this most you will be in a position to do so. This isn't usually going to be the best one drop dork in the deck it is in but I think it is pretty comfortably blacks best one drop dork overall (excluding Deathrite of course). This is a very big boost to black all round. My guess is Fatal Push and Collective Brutality will be the only cards to have a bigger impact than Dead Wanderer on the colour since Liliana of the Veil or Toxic Deluge (I can't be bothered to find out which came more recently). These small cheap workhorse cards never seem that exciting in themselves but they are the foundation upon which you are able to build. Black has struggled to make any sort of tier one archetype in the cube and much of that is due to not having a supply of cards like this to give you a good solid starting point.

Nissa, Steward of Elements 7.5

Yet more lovely design coming out in this set. This is also effectively another three mana planeswalker, better in fact as she scales so well with your mana progression. Nicol Bolas and Ugin are no longer the biggest planeswalkers in the business! As a three mana walker you can go to 3 loyalty and get to scry for 2 or you can stay at one loyalty and hope to hit a land/one drop. If you do hit in the latter case and Nissa survives the turn you are pretty far ahead. Equally you can more safely setup the 0 for the next turn with the scry and assuming the land you find comes in untapped you will have as much mana for that turn as you would with the other very greedy play. You can aim to use her as the ramp rather than to ramp assuming her loyalty is safe and you hit a two or three drop dork instead of a land. These are nice options to have on X=1, three mana Nissa. She can't protect herself at all as a three drop but with a +2 effect and being in green and not losing value in the same way other three drop walkers do when they sit in your hand I don't see that as much of an issue.

Later in the game, I very much like the way you can play her for an effective cost of two. Garruk Wildspeaker and Teferi both had that property and are very powerful game swinging planeswalkers as a result. It is not that hard to know what is on the top of your deck in blue/green nor that hard to manipulate it. If you play Nissa for X = Y in the mid to late game when you have a Y cost creature on the top of your deck you want to play then you have added a lot more value to the board than the mana you spent.

The 0 ability represents a lot of potential value in both cards and mana. It has great synergy with the colours and the +2 ability and the flexible casting cost of Nissa. The +2 itself is a great stand alone ability, it is not that much worse than Dack Faydens in effect and it gains twice the loyalty. Any sort of fair or close game will be utterly swung by one player getting to scry 2 for a few turns. It might not gain cards or directly gain tempo but any three mana walker with a +2 is a real chore to deal with and any three mana walker with a threatening +loyalty effect is not something you can ignore. Worst case scenario for Nissa is that she gains you a great deal of value in card quality while making a big dent in the aggression/suite of answers of your opponent.

Lastly we have the ultimate. It is not as powerful as many planewalker ultimates however it is a lot more direct. This is a likely 10 damage right away which has a pretty good shot of ending the game there and then. Loads of really powerful planeswalker ultimates take ages to actually win from and don't always solve the problems at hand. Winning always solves any problems you might be having in that game. I think this ultimate is one of the very best of any of the conventional planeswalker ultimates. It is cheap relative to the loyalty gaining effects on the card and the starting loyalty count and it is very effective in most situations. Not only does this seem like a good ultimate for a win condition it looks like an ultimate you can get off fairly easily.  It feels a lot like Garruk Wildspeakers ultimate. Easy to fire off and very threatening which is a fantastic place to be. Nissa has one final thing over even the great Garruk and that is that you can use her ultimate the turn you make her, if X is six or more you can just do 10 right there and then if you want which makes Nissa one of the most dangerous late games planeswalkers when not in play. You have to respect the potential for her and that is a lot of free value. Pound for pound I think this is one of the best all round walkers to see print in a good long while. She is versatile, powerful and broadly effective. She is Coiling Oracle all the way up to Craterhoof Behemoth and everything you want in between. I think the only thing really holding this Nissa back is that she is Simic. Simic is one of the few colour pairings that still lacks certain tools. It is hard to build good rounded decks in Simic colours although still entirely possible. Simic actually has one of the widest range of different archetypes in the cube but a significant number of them are only possible with niche cards when doing constructed events. Another mild drawback for this Nissa is that Nissa's are now the most common planeswalker typie in the cube. I have the three mana one, the creature flipping one and both five drops. I will probably have to cut Vital Force to stop things getting cluttered with Nissa. If this were mono coloured I might well give it an 8.5 for being so potent.

Rhonas, the Indomitable 7

While not bonkers this is the best of the gods in Amonkhet. It is certainly a load better than Nylea who was the clear worst of the (five mono) gods last time we had such a cycle. This is a pretty scary body for the cost. The lack of evasion is less of an issue for Rhonas that it is for Hazoret, partly as he is a three drop, partly because green is less eager to force through damage as soon as possible and partly because of Rhonas's activated ability. Rhonas feels like he is part Cultivators Caravan and part Kessig Wolf Run. He is a sticky 5/5 for three that isn't able to freely attack much like the Caravan and he is a hard to deal with buff that offers a great late game mana sink and turns all of your other creatures into real threats. Rhonas is a powerful aggressive tool if you can reliably have other creatures to turn him on. He is also a pretty good midrange or ramp card simply because he offers a decent amount of utility and power for the mana and card investment. You gave to play Rhonas in a creature heavy deck but that is his only requirement and not a hard one to fulfill in green.

Anointed Procession 1

Unless there is a good infinite combo for this it is unplayable in cube. Do nothing four mana sorcery speed cards are a really bad starting place for a card. Those that only buff your stuff rather than disrupting your opponent are even tougher to have work. In a token theme deck you want cards that have synergy with tokens and are themselves threats. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is such a card. Anointed Procession isn't.

Harsh Mentor 8.5

Seems this set is not done with handing out top quality cheap cards yet. This is incredibly good. Burning Tree Shaman still gets played in my cube when we are doing rotisseries and things. This is so much better than the Shaman in so many ways. Harsh Mentor will be a cube, modern, vintage and legacy staple from here on in. It is one of the best and most effective hate bears ever to see print. White hate bears tend to each stop a specific thing. Harsh Mentor lets you do whatever you want but hurts you a lot for doing so. Essentially Harsh Mentor hoses most things in a way that lets red proactively take advantage. A white hate bear will just sit there saying you can't do your thing till you deal with me. Harsh Mentor just kills you a lot quicker! Each archetype has one or two specific hate bears that are good against it and the rest are just bears. Harsh Mentor should be effective against most archetypes. It is one hate bear fits all shapes and sizes! It is a hoser card that is more interactive than most but it is still one of the most on point, effective and efficient one I have seen. Good design although potentially a little too high power level and rather scary as such.

Eidolon of the Great Revel is a big deal in aggressive red decks and the most comparable card to Harsh Mentor. Both hope to get in free, ongoing damage through your opponent's need to play a certain way. The Eidolon is easier to kill being an enchantment and it is harder to play as it is double red. The effect from Eidolon is symmetrical and often hurts the red player more than their opponent. Both Harsh Mentor and Eidolon have a pretty broad range of things that trigger their damage and look to be comparably punishing against most draft decks. The Eidolon still seems like a better hate bear against specific known decks, storm as a good example! In the more general case I find I much prefer the Harsh Mentor for his convenience in use. This is a rare example of an aggressive red card that I would pick over a lot of one drops. Sulphuric Vortex is one of the few others which really shows my level of expectation for this beast. Let us just take a very quick glance at some of the things Harsh Mentor will tax you 10% of your starting life total to use; sac lands, equipment, vehicles, clues, Rishadan Port, man lands, Wastelands, leveling up, Aetherling, Spellskite, and this list goes on a long old way! A final thought, it costs you six life to kill Harsh Mentor with  a Jitte that starts unequipped...

Protection of the Hekma 0

This isn't a good answer to a combo deck that kills you in increments of one damage. It is an even worse answer to an aggressive token deck or something. Never play this. I think you would get more value out of a straight up lifegain spell! Meditation Puzzle? Landbind Ritual? No, me neither.

Bontu the Glorified 1

This seems super weak. It seems so shit I think I must be evaluating it wrong. The only redeeming thing I can think for this is that it is a very hard to stop four turn clock should you be able to feed it every turn. With enough cards like Bloodghast you could reasonably fuel Bontu without it crippling you in both cards and tempo but Bontu doesn't feel good enough to bother building around. A four power attacker for 3 with evasion can be obtained much more easily than by killing off your own stuff! A one point drain life and a scry is not a great deal for two mana even before you are required to put your things in the bin to do so. It would be a nice perk to have on a card but as a prerequisite to attacking or blocking it is super uncomfortable.

Glyph Keeper 3

This is pretty strong, a hard to kill flier of decent size that you can then flash back is a reliable win condition. While good it isn't good enough. For a little more mana you can have threats that are really really hard to stop or kill. Or you could have a card with a pile of utility, or you could play cheaper cards. The three toughness actually feels like a problem on this card as there are quite a lot of cheap fliers that would trade with this in combat.

Sweltering Suns 5.5

Here was have a nice variant on Slagstorm or Anger the Gods. If you know you need the creature removal than Anger is the best on offer however if you are playing this kind of effect as a hedge card then you likely want one of the others. Slagstorm is suitable for aggressive decks but far from efficient if used in player mode. You don't want to be doing yourself for three in control decks much either so Slagstorm is a little narrow. Sweltering Suns does have a pretty onerous cycle cost but it is wildly more playable in midrange and control than the alternatives. It is not so hefty that you wouldn't play it in RDW if you needed to. As such I think this card just makes it into the cube over the alternatives for being the most all round playable even if it is never the absolute optimal.

Wayward Servant 3

Another tool to combo kill people with zombies and Patriarch's Bidding style things. This would be a decent tribal card if white was the colour you wanted to splash in your zombie deck. This is super narrow but does at least have an application. It has the advantage over cards like Vengeful Dead for being a fine card to just play on curve in your tribal deck.

Enigma Drake 1.5

They have done cards like this before and they have been bad. Doubly narrow, annoying to build and play with and not even that powerful on average. Spellheart Chimera is the offending comparison card which I thought would be decent. It really wasn't. This might be a touch better than the Chimera but not enough to make it anywhere near playable.

Samut, Voice of Dissent 6 (at least probably)

What the?!? Erm, this is an unexpected card to say the least. Despite being all over the place this thing is pretty nuts in power level. I don't much like the design but it is too powerful not to at least try out in the cube. The choice between getting value on the flash or on the haste is probably the most interesting thing about this card. Beyond that this is just a very high impact threat. It has a significant immediate effect, a dangerous ongoing effect, great scaling potential all over the place, it is pretty hard to disrupt or prepare for Samut and he should crush most races being so punchy and having vigilance. A very messy card as well as an undesirable gold five drop but clearly very pushed.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Amonkhet Initial Review Part VI

Liliana's Expertise 2

This card has a lot going for it. A pair of 3/3s for five mana isn't bad and you get a Crusade effect for any other zombies you might have too. It is also an enchantment that has an EtB trigger and that has an immediate impact on the board. This card could have application in either a zombie themed deck or an enchantment themed one. For zombies it is a little high up the curve and likely is annoying as a high powered top end card you can't recur from the graveyard. When you get to five mana you generally want game breaking effects rather than just decent value and synergy. I suspect Grey Merchant of Asphodel and Noxious Ghoul would keep this out of most zombie lists and Doomwake Giant, Sigil of the Empty Throne and many others would do for it in enchantment decks. Despite this it is a decent and unique card so not one I would rule out. It would certainly outperform most of those cards in a drafting cube! Sadly if this isn't game breaking enough for silly themed decks it certainly isn't game breaking enough for main cube usage.

Vizier of the Menagerie 7

This is a great value tool for green. It is like a four mana Courser of Kruphix or a meatier Oracle of Mul Daya. The Vizier's effect however is much more impactful and dangerous. Typically creatures will outnumber lands in your green deck so it has better odds of hitting. You are not limited on the number of extra dorks you can play in a turn either. This makes Vizier basically a Future Sight in a deck with only creatures and lands in it. Courser of Kruphix can only clear on land out of the way per turn while Vizier can clear as many useless little elves out of the way as you have mana for. While getting a free land off the top of your deck or a free dork off the top ultimately is the same value it is almost always going to be more tempo having the creature come first. Vizier has really nice synergy with both the cards I am comparing it to. If you can lay lands from the top of your deck as well as playing creatures then even more Future Sight goodness! The Vizier doesn't concede information ahead of time either. A 3/4 body is a pretty good size to be, it copes very well in combat and does well against removal too. It might not be a bargain at 4 mana but you are not paying for the body here so the fact that it is a robust and useful one adds a lot of value to this card. Oracle's biggest weakness is being a pathetic 2/2 for four. It is redeemed somewhat by having good odds on having a useful effect the turn you make it even if on curve. You are happier to tap out for a Vizier, waiting a turn to get value due to the better body. As for the fixing aspect of Vizier it is pretty minor. You are not going to rely on this creature for fixing alone and so you will either have a deck that can play exotic costed creatures or you wont and as such wont be playing any. I am sure it will come up from time to time but it should be about as relevant on the fixing aspect of Oath of Nissa. Not why you play the card! Meren of Clan Nel Toth is a four mana 3/4 value dork that has performed very well in cube. It is gold and has lower upper potential than the Vizier but is otherwise very comparable so I am expecting pretty good things from this new offering.

Censor 7

While this may look like a re-jig of Miscalculation it is all round a substantially more useful card. This is one less to cycle and one less on the bonus cost. It will be easier to play around this or just luckily dodge it than Miscalculation but not twice as easy as the difference would suggest. On the flip side cycling a card for one is probably more than twice as good as cycling it for two. It greatly increases the convenience of the card and makes it far less of a burden on your deck. Past a point in most matchups you are expecting to have to cycle a Miscalculation and so there is a very real cost of playing it. If you only actually cast the thing in 20% of games you can say that it is adding 1.6 CMC to the total CMC of your deck. This is a 0.04 total increase to your average CMC for fairly little gain. 0.04 may sound minimal but really isn't, it could mean needing another land or goldfishing a turn later. If we assume 20% is a good estimate for how often we will play our Miscalculation then I would estimate at least 15% for Censor, likely closer to 18%. We are then only adding 0.02125 average CMC to our list with the Censor. Basically I am trying to say that you get more effective disruption relative to the burden you place on your list by including it. These numbers also entirely discount the occasions where you have a spare mana and a cycle costs you nothing at all. Having a spare mana is very common but having two is far less common, you are usually in a rough spot already when you have two mana spare. This fact alone significantly improves Censor.

Force Spike is an incredibly powerful card. I play it in basically every blue deck that can support it. It is a nightmare to play around and one of the most efficient and rounded disruption you can play. The drawback with Spike is that it is dead pretty quickly and so you need reliable ways to make use of a dead card. Without lots of things like looting the cost on your list is often too great to run the Force Spike. It doesn't hurt your CMC but it does hurt your value. Censor (and Miscalculation) have built in protection against hurting you in this way and are playable in decks without support for them. Censor might be twice the price as Force Spike but in practice this will only really hurt you on turn one. After that point anything you can hit with Spike you can hit with Censor. You often broadcast Spike when you leave exactly one mana up after a risky play. Censor is far less broadcast. Certainly you will have to play a little slower than you could with Spike but the kinds of decks wanting this sort of disruption will be more than happy to do that. I think this card hits a sweet spot of cost and effect balancing. While it looks pretty comparable to other cards already out there I think it will perform much better and see a good amount of play. Remand is a more powerful card but Censor is closer in power level to Remand than it is to Miscalculation. Good rounded two mana countermagic is not that common in cube, there just isn't loads of it about. This seems like a great fill in for a Counterspell. It will mostly be as effective in the early game when you want that two mana cover all disruption and compared to the likes of Mana Leak it will be wildly more useful in the late game.

I also expect loads of people to play poorly around this card. Just because of what it does people will feel like they have gotten a much worse trade than the reality. Ultimately this is just a one for one when it hits but people will feel like it is a zero for one as it is so like Force Spike. I anticipate people just curving out slower to avoid being hit by this which is terrible. By all means be aware of countermagic including Censor but don't avoid it for the sake of it, don't fall for thinking you are getting an advantage out of avoiding Censor as a default. On the flip side, if you can bait out a Censor with a useless card then you are actually ahead!

Oketra the True 1

This is unreasonably similar to Heliod for my liking. Oketra has the upside of turning herself on and of hitting a bit harder over Heliod but it is not enough to turn an average card into a good one. Heliod was too slow and situational to ever perform well in my drafting cube. Heliod does have application in enchantment themed decks which Oketa never will and so despite Oketra looking a little better than Heliod I expect her to see less play, quite possible totaling at no play at all.

Honoured Hydra 3.5

Way to take a massive dump on Roar of the Wurm. This is quite the better card in essentially every way but you would hope so after over a decade of power creep. The question is not if this is better than a card that was once good but whether it is a card presently good enough for any cube applications. It turns out that is a much harder question! A 6/6 trample is significant but even at four mana it is not above and beyond the cube power level. You certainly are not adding in a discard theme to power up this thing although you might throw this into a deck already with a discard theme as OK filler. As a threat card this is quite good. It is the same cost and body as a Primeval Titan first time round and offers value in a second coming rather than a bunch of lands. Sometimes some utilitiy and man lands is going to be best and sometimes another 6/6 is going to be more effective. Generally I lean towards the side of the lands and that is before taking into account exile removal preventing any embalming going on. I don't think this is quite enough threat to be worth playing as a six mana card. Resiliant dorks are best when they are cheap like Strangleroot Giest. With big dorks I think you just want really high power and impact, cards that will finish the game. Trample is a big deal on a large dork like this so I will test this out just to be sure. My gut feel is that this is broadly good but just that little bit too fair for where you might play it role wise or curve wise.

Never // Return 4

Ruinous Path was pretty bad in cube. The three mana combined with the sorcery speed made it a very underwhelming removal spell. It took your whole turn and generally didn't gain you any value or tempo, often the reverse. You barely ever awakened it and so it was just a really bad Hero's Downfall. Never is the same sort of thing and so Return has to be a worthwhile thing for this to stand a chance in cube. Return is itself a card with a lot going on. You can only play it from the bin so sometimes it is a free card, it makes a 2/2 and it exiles a card in the graveyard. Return is wildly overpriced for what it does even considering it can cost you no cards. A 3B 2/2 with an EtB trigger to exile a single card from a graveyard and draw a card would not be that exciting and it would be a whole lot better than Return. Graveyard disruption is very good in cube but it is good when it is cheap, ongoing and on a good card. Scavenging Ooze being a prime example. You are not going to be stopping some reanimate deck doing its thing against you with this. You might stop a Snapcaster being able to choose specifically Lightning Bolt but you can't keep it from having targets with Return. Return is poor graveyard disruption. A free 2/2 is nice but it isn't something you are doing unless you have very little else to do. I do rate this card above Ruinous Path as you will still get the value from Return when you use Never for 3 mana and you don't ever need to get to seven mana to have that potential. The awaken is much much better than Return but it isn't practically useful. If I feel black needs more removal or a shift towards more rounded removal this will be my next in line for now but it certainly isn't replacing Downfall.

Pull from Tomorrow 5

Saucy. This is directly better than Stroke of Genius assuming you are using it to draw cards rather than to kill people. When you take a decent card and add on a free loot you typically have a much better card! Braingeyser is the other comparison here but expensive sorceries are not really the thing. You can only really play the Geyser in combo style decks making loads of mana and even then it is risky. The instant versions are also playable in control and generally safer. If you have the mana to fuel an X draw spell then you can afford the difference of one less card to get it at instant. I don't think this is good enough to be used as a discard outlet, you have to pay five just to get a Thirst for Knowledge effect. In a drafting cube this has the potential to be a little narrow. I think this will see more play in rotisserie and other constructed cube decks than it will in draft. While it is a lot broader than Sphinx's Revalation in application the loss of the lifegain does make Pull from Tomorrow significantly less appealing to control decks. I'd like to rate this higher, it is a good card that will see play after all. The thing is it won't see that much play and will still occasionally be left out for one of the various other blue X spells for one reason or another.

Unburden 2

This is pretty good too considering. Even the lowly Mind Rot can start to look appealing with cycling. This is not the sort of card I really want in my cube. It is pretty low power and not a unique effect by any means. If I was wanting discard spells I would look to more powerful ones than this first. If I wanted utility spells I am pretty sure I could find something more appealing than this. The only occasion I might consider a card like this is in a Rack themed deck where you need a lot of discard and as such your discard effects quickly becomes dead. In such a list Unburden would be lovely but you probably just have to run a tonne of card quality in such a deck anyway to have a chance as none of the other discard can be cycled away. Despite being quite playable I don't expect this rather fair and rather unexciting card to see play.

Neheb, the Worthy 2

Minotaurs have some pretty serious lords and tribal buffers in Rageblood Shaman, Ragemonger and now Neheb too. The issue is that there are precious few playable stand alone minotaurs. Boros Reckoner, Gnarled Scarhide and Fanatic of Mogis are the only three than have even seen cube play. Until we have like 10 more one and two mana minotaurs that are playable there will be no viable tribal deck.  Such a day might come although the minotaurs are thematically hardy, it is like holding out for a load of one and two drop dragons. As such I think we can only really consider Neheb as a stand alone card for cube as as one of those he is pretty awful. He is too slow and small to be a reliable discard outlet so I can't imagine those kinds of decks wanting him. His only other hope then is just as a fairly aggressive beater in decks likely to be hellbent quicker than most. A 4/2 first strike for 3 is OK but not good enough on its own. The discard is likely to hurt them a lot more than you but it doesn't have great synergy with a slow and weak body. This is just getting itself killed a lot. This is a fine card but you can do a whole lot better than fine with gold three plus drops. Vial Smasher the Fierce is a significantly more dangerous and powerful card than this and he sees relatively infrequent play. With that in mind Neheb seems like a bad inclusion in a cube.

Reduce // Rubble 3.5

To all those people begging for Mana Leak their prayers have entirely been ignored with this offering. Three mana Mana Leak is super bad in cube. You can get hard counters with significant upsides for three mana. Rubble had to be super worth it to give Reduce a chance and it isn't. Locking down three lands for three mana is nice but it is even on tempo. Early Frost is super situational and that offers some positive tempo. For Rubble to be good you have to be ahead in some way. I guess it is fine if you are even and you are just trying to buy some time to get to the later game as you expect your deck to perform better there. Kind of like a three mana Remand. I seem to have slightly convinced myself this is playable, three mana Mana Leak with a three mana Remand (minus the draw) flashback option sounds passable. I might have to test this out. I think being both gold and being a little awkward to use smoothly will ultimately make this underplayed in cube and not worth a slot.

Doomed Dissenter 1

This is basically a Butcher Ghoul. It has some slightly different interactions and synergies but ultimately it is much the same sort of thing. The Ghoul saw no play and so I expect the same of this. Young Wolf wasn't good either so really not looking great for this card although I would absolutely run it in the cube if it were just B to play!

Quarry Hauler 1

This is somewhat of another Maulfirst Revolutionary. While the card was surprising in its performance the issue with it was being a vanilla 3/3 for 3. You really wanted it to be a 1G 2/1 or like a five mana 6/6 trample. Either super cheap and convenient or an actually relevant card. The Quarry Hauler is far worse than Maulfist in this regard and as such I am not even sure you could sensibly play this in a deck built around counter manipulation.

Pyramid of the Pantheon 5.5

This looks really nice and useful.  It is part Gilded Lotus and part Prophetic Prism. For 4 mana and three turns you get a Gilded Lotus. It is a really low investment for quite a significant return. You can get blown out pretty hard tapping out to make a Gilded Lotus should they have appropriate disruption. It is pretty hard to get blown out with Pyramid of the Pantheon as your investment in it and any given time is very low. The fixing it offers is nice too and while a fairly expensive way to fix colours it will be helpful and can likely be taken advantage of. If you consider you are paying for the ultimate Gilded Lotus rather than the fixing then it is free! While this generally compares well to Gilded Lotus in a lot of ways it has one big drawback and that is speed. You can't just draw this and make it and have it be good. You can't ramp into it and be super ahead nor can you Tinker this up and be ahead that way. For this to be good you need to be a little patient and that will not suit all decks. In a control deck this is the mana ramp and fixing tool I think I want. In some sort of artifact ramp deck the Gilded Lotus is still the big name. Even in a control deck where you have the time this card will still pose some awkward issues. If you make this on turn one, to get it active so to speak at any sensible rate you have to use it every turn. This means you are a mana behind for the critical early stages of the game. If your choice is counter their two drop or charge this then you will often have to forgo the charging just to stay in the game. I love the design on this but it might well make the card too narrow in its applications to merit a cube slot. I hope that isn't the case as I think this would be a lovely addition to my cube should it perform well.

Heaven // Earth 2.5

This is a very powerful card indeed. The issue here is not what the card offers or does for you but how easy it is to play and use the thing. If you need to Earth you have to Heaven first or discard the thing. If you do this then you no longer have access to the Heaven portion. Typically fliers come later than the ground based dorks you want to kill. This is quite the control card and there are precious few control decks containing Gruul colours than don't have a high creature count. Perhaps you could run it in the Emrakul, the Promised end hard cast decks as they have discard to support it and this thing does reduce the cost of Emrakul by 2! I think this card is cute but it is way to specific to be a good drafting cube card and not actually that powerful either. When this sort of thing starts to look useful Pyroclasm is usually a much better call. The cheap, reliable, no fuss versions of that kind of effect.