Wednesday, 12 April 2017

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

Nope.


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.

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