Sunday, 7 January 2018
Rivals of Ixalan Preliminary Review Part VIII
Azor's Gateway // Sanctum of the Sun 5
Well well well. When I read this the first time I was so surprised I made some indescribable exclamation noise, the closest I can do for a description is a guffaw. I greatly appreciate the insane raw power this offers. A land that taps for two is usually pretty broken so why not have a land that taps for at least three times that? This is just so much mana it is past the point of useful to have more. It is not ten times better than most other lands because you probably can't spend all the mana it offers on the turn you get it, let alone subsequent turns! This might as well read, flip this to gain five life and have all mana costs of spells and abilities reduced to zero (outside of infinite combo potentials at least). For this to be tempting in a deck you really have to have mana sinks. This only offers mana so unless you can do some special things with a total boat load of it then Sanctum of the Sun is not for you. I somewhat feel like that pushes the card into the realms of narrow. Yes, all decks love mana but this is so much and so slowly that you really need to have built around it to get any real sort of payoff. It isn't great in a ramp deck as it is slow to flip but it wants to play with the sorts of stuff ramp decks have in them so as to make use of the mana. I am looking at this card back to front however as all these flip cards hinge on the front end. If Azor's Gateway is good then five life and just a land is a fantastic payoff already and you don't need to fully abuse the infinite mana to make it worth while.
So, what is Azor's Gateway? It is a two drop looter effect that offers no graveyard synergies. It is a weak support card as such but still a playable card quality effect. Two mana upfront is the standard cost for a looter that can loot once a turn. This requires a mana to do each loot but I think that is fine with it being possible in any colour, something you can do right away, not a rummage, and not on a vulnerable 1/1. If you are in the business for some slow card quality then this is fine. It is mostly better than Treasure Map on the front end and that card has performed well and seen plenty of play. The only time it is worse is when you cannot risk exiling certain cards in your deck. All told, this has a lot of similarities to Treasure Map. Both are quite cheap and very low initial impact that offer some card quality over time and then ultimately flip into some potential payoff. Both can almost immediately upon flipping redeem most, if not all of the mana invested in them on the way to flipping. Map has the bonus of flipping sooner and having the option on taking mana or cards as needed at the time. Gateway is slower and only provides mana and as such needs the extra support. A big difference between this and Map is not that this needs five things and Map needs 3 but that Map is a guaranteed progression each time while Gateway really isn't. I suspect it will not commonly flip on the quickest possible fifth activation. I reckon the average will be closer double that, perhaps 8 or 9 goes before it flips. Late game you mostly want to ditch lands or cheap things. Unless you get some four plus drops exiled with it early game it may well never flip! I find my cube decks on average these days have fairly little top end. Rarely more than eight or more 4 or more CMC cards and often enough none! This would literally be unflippable in some decks, or need the one copy of the alternative cost card like Fireblast or Treasure Cruise to be the final different CMC exiled thing. So this isn't easy to flip nor is it any sort of certain payoff when it does. Despite that it is certainly not a bad thing just to have around looting for you, that may even be better than it flipping in some cases. Despite the insane power this card has I think it is remarkably fair. It isn't easily abused, it just seems all round playable filler with some interesting potential upside! Mostly this is filtering which I can see white being very keen on. Every now and again it is mana mania and that might be helpful! I am not sitting on the fence with my rating of five, I think it is pretty much that good. You can put it in cubes and decks and it will be fine, you can add in some support for it and it will be a little bit better, although still not broken, and so it might not be worth the effort. I suspect a lot of the occasions you might think you want this a Treasure Map will simply be better. It is an impressive design feat getting so much power into a card that is neither broken nor unplayable. It will also give some good stories, the time you flip it when already on like 40 life and get to make a Walking Ballista so big it one shots your opponent from 20 on the spot with shots left in it!
Arch of Orazca 1
This seems fairly weak with six mana being so much to draw a card. The best use for this feels like as something in play to give you the city's blessing when you pop upto 10 permanents in a deck expecting to get there somewhat quickly but not likely to stay there all that long; For this to be worth doing there would need to be good, powerful and synergic ascend card of which there don't seem to be. This wouldn't be much different without the ascend aspect to the card. Not only will you very rarely want to use the ability but you should generally have the blessing before you did anyway. The thing that makes this bad is that for the amount of extra value it provides I would much rather run a basic land and make my colour production better.
Moment of Craving 0
This is far far from the Lighning Helix equivalent of Disfigure. The main reason being that Helix is a Searing Spear not a Lightning Bolt, Searing Spear is plenty good enough at 2 and so the 3 life is basically free. Disfigure is not playable at two and so this two life is anything but free. Removal is rarely the place you want to tack on a bit of value for a bit more cost. Removal is best when it is cheapest and most efficient and this isn't that.
This took me a few reads through to appreciate how awful it is. It looks good because it is cheap and targets lots of your opponents stuff. In practice it is the worlds worst Flame Slash. This can't hit players, it does nothing if they only have one creauture. It almost always kills the 2nd best creature they have. For this to be better than a Flameslash they need a 5 power creature and a 5 toughness creature in play meaning after the Mutiny they will still have a five power creature in play which still sounds bad for you.
Blood Sun 2
This is a lot of tempo loss to shut down utility lands in a draft cube setting. The reason being is that most still have mana abilities and so you are only half dealing with something. Sure, it is probably the thing you wanted to deal with but it feels like red has better ways of dealing with non-basic lands. Lands have better ways of dealing with non-basic lands so... This isn't something you would ever play as a counter to something in your main deck either, it does too little and has too high a cost. Perhaps you could run this blind at two mana but at three it is clogging things up too much.
This card is getting a lot of traction for other reasons beyond the ability to shut off utility lands! Turns out sac lands don't have mana abilities which I always seem to forget. Blood Sun hoses sac lands pretty hard which is a big deal in modern, legacy and vintage but is rather less worthy of a deck slot in cube. Most decks have a sac land or two in cube but it isn't worth running a hoser for one or two cards and if it was you would probably run Stifle or Shadow of Doubt instead and you don't!
The other area this is interesting is in combination with the Ravnica bounce lands and Scorched Ruins / Lotus Vale all of which become quite substantially better under the influence of Blodo Sun! Lands that tap from between 2 and 4 mana on the turn you make them with no drawback what so ever sounds really rather good. Again, I am not sure you can properly abuse this fact in cube but it does seem like it could be a thing in other formats. If you can shut off half your opponents lands and have half your lands being grossly unfair then that is a big win. In cube this is a narrow and fair sideboard option or a part of a silly and unreliable combo deck, neither of which sounds very powerful or important. In other formats however this is a potential game changer and I look forward to seeing how that pans out.
Sun Collared Raptor 1
One of the better cheap dinosaur cards on offer. This is a very solid mana sink with this interesting take on Firebreathing. Raptor plus untapped mana is going to be uncomfortable to block and will force awkward choices. It is a little to low powered without further mana investment and a little too bland to be a good stand alone card but at least it has an underpopulated tribe to fall back on!
Raging Regisaur 1
This would have been a really impressive creature a decade or so ago. Now it looks like it needs haste or something to be much of a consideration. You probably play this as decent quality filler in a cube dino deck. It is probably still a bad zoo deck.
Zacama, Primal Calamity 1
Immense power but at 9 mana in three colours this is too much. We have seven and eight drops in single colours (or none at all!) that are comparably devastating. Much like Sactum of the Sun offers too much mana, this offers too much power! It would still be pretty game winning in most cases with 80% of the power it currently has but it would be a lot more than 20% more playable if you reduced the cost and colour requirements in line with power reductions. There is a sweet spot for these kinds of things and it resides a good chunk below Zacama. Another issue Zacama has is that it commands a specific kind of playing, you can't cheat it out and have it be very impressive, you have to cast it and you have to cast it mostly using lands else it isn't having enough impact right away. This is cool but it seems very unlikely to get any cube attention.
Mastermind's Acquisition 4.5
Oooh. Well this is quite the upgrade to Diabolic Tutor! Slap on a Death Wish option that, while costing a mana more than the original, does do you the courtesy of not eating up half your life! Three mana is usually enough to make a sorcery speed, zero tempo tutor effect weak and see little to no cube play. At four this is a very steep tempo cost but it is a supremely wide tutor and feels a bit too powerful to ignore. Obviously that power depends a lot on how you play Wish effects in your cube and what kind of cube format you are doing. I will certainly be testing this out in the drafting cube but I suspect it will be a little too slow. Outside of that I am sure it will see some fringe use at the very least. Super cool card. Immense amounts of options and potential.
Champion of Dusk 2
Pricey but direct and effective. This is a fine stand alone card but it is too far up the curve to be what you want. This is in fact just a scaled up Dusk Legion Zealot when it is your only vampire. As Deadeye Brawler demonstrated all ready, adding a mana cost just to gain +1/+1 on a creature with other abilities is a really bad deal. In a tribal deck Champion of Dusk packs a lot more punch in terms of drawing power but it is a rather odd kind of payoff for a top end tribal card. Bishop of the Bloodstained ends the game, this prolongs it, and even with a huge pile of new cards that may well not be the best thing. I like this more than Graveborn Muse with the more relevant and useful body, the more immediate and reliable card influx, and the lower risk of having it doing critical damage to you. Muse has not been seeing much love at all recently and so this isn't looking super likely to get cube action. Another one of the many cards that are powerful but just come too far up the curve for their kind of effect.
Pitiless Plunderer 2
This is a bit of a 4 mana 1/4. It is super weak but it does have combo potential written all over it. While Pawn of Ulamog is generally cheaper and better the Plunderer does trigger off tokens and is able to survive better so has safer and broader combo applications. The ability to generate coloured mana helps a lot there too Don't play this unless it is a combo/engine piece.
Twilight Prophet 4.5
This card has 3 modes of action, a 2/4 flier for 4. A 2/4 flier for four that is also a personal Howling Mine. And a 2/4 flier for four with a personal Howling Mine that also drains them for 3 or so each turn! I think there is a reasonable distinction between modes two and three as you need library manipulation to do a hefty hit with any consistency. You certainly can't rely on any damage of lifegain from this card without the manipulation. Either way, you are pretty happy with modes 2 or 3, that is enough power to afford a cube worthy four drop. The quality of this is mostly down to how bad the first mode is and how long you are likely to sit with it in that mode. A 2/4 flier is great but not at four and not when it has no other immediate impact. This kind of card eats bounce and spot removal and sets you pretty far back. You find a lot of cards like this in the three slot but at four it is a bit too much risk to invest heavily in a relatively low stat dork that doesn't do anything unless it survives a turn. One of the real strengths of this card over Dark Confidant is that it has no build restrictions on it, you can play all the big delve spells and Titans you like without risk of killing yourself! Sadly it costs twice as much to play and probably doesn't do very much for a while. Lack of experience with ascend is also probably making me overlook any build requirements it might impose. This is certainly a card worth testing, four toughness and flying do tick some boxes quite nicely. This will be awkward to kill for red, black and green mages and especially brutal against the red with potential lifegain as well. I think this probably isn't quite cube worthy because ascend is a little less easy to get than I imagine. You have to expect to get it and in fairly reasonable time for this to havea shot and probably not enough decks are upto the task.
Wayward Swordtooth 4
This is probably my favourite use of the ascend mechanic from a design perspective. You pay 2 more for an Exploration but you get a free 5/5 some turns down the line. This will almost certainly see some play as redundancy for Exploration in some of the more focused constructed decks. The real question is if it is good enough to make the cut in the drafting cube. Is this just good enough in its own right? Rhonas wasn't and although he was quicker to turn on and a better body he didn't provide a useful ongoing free effect. As ramp I fear this is too slow and requires both one drop ramp and card draw effects to properly make use of it. As a general card I think it is a bit irrelevant as body by the time it is active and too infrequently useful for its ramp effect. You need this on curve, the lands to go with it and something to play off the back of it all. This will get you to six two turns quicker which could be turn three off the back of an Elf, which is easily enough mana to actually get the blessing or just do something swingy and broken! I like this card and plan to test it but it seems too situational and narrow for the drafting cube. This is just your 2nd or 3rd Exploration in Horn of Greed and other land themed decks. It is an option I will certainly be glad of but it would be nice if this could hold it self up on its own.
Hadana's Climb // Winged Temple of Orazca 4
I think this is the best of the gold flip cards in this set. The land is quite like a Wolf Run and Wolf Run is a fantastic game ending tool. This card offers a good amount of reach to any creature based Simic deck. This is also a fine thing to have going on each turn. It takes at least three turns hitting dorks to be worth three mana but at that point it is good flipped or not. There are also plenty of things with +1/+1 counters on them in cube and so flipping this right away shouldn't be very difficult. While this is nice and powerful Simic aggressive decks are not common and I just don't think this would see nearly enough play to merit a slot even if it is suitable in power terms. I am absolutely going to do some building with this in some Hardened Scales decks and such like. I will also briefly try it in the drafting cube but with the expectation of quickly culling it. Probably after someone forces it just to see and it fails on them super hard. Not necessarily because Climb is weak but because Simic has no creature kill! You can have all the power you like but if there is no suitable deck to house that power then you have no playability and that is what is needed to get into the cube.