Saturday, 30 June 2018

Top 10 Cards from 2011

Hornet QueenAnother supremely high powered year that continues in producing some of the best top end cards in the game. There are very few six or more mana cards that see regular cube use that did not come from the 2010 - 2012 era. Much of what was broken about 2011 is not the fatties however but the phyrexian mana mechanic in New Phyrexia. Not only did it bring the ever dangerous cost reduction and free spells with it but it managed to break the colour pie rather as well. While I don't overly care about colour pie and I actively want more top end power level cards so as to keep cube fresh and evolving I don't like to see design cock-ups that ensure such things will be avoided in future. A simple fix of needing the appropriate basic land type in play as they did for the free spells in Masques block would have resolved any colour pie issues and grounded the free spells.

Commander made its debut in 2011 and it is a fantastic product line that I am glad to see continued and expanded. As a cube player it offers much more exciting new cards than the normal sets which have to be heavily restrained so as to protect modern and standard. I would love to see them plug some cube holes with the commander sets a little more and not exclusively cater to the EDH community. There are far too few one drops in the commander product and that is where the holes lie in cube!

This year we also have Mirrodin Besieged, Innistrad and M12 all of which contribute to the cube. Just having a glance at the cards that didn't make the cut and I see things that would be near the top of most of the previous years top 10 lists. This is another year with a 30+ card cube complement and a lot of them are strong as well. In a 540 cube made up of cards from 25 years or Magic you are looking at 27 cards per year as the bar, above that is an above average year and 2011 is certainly that. We have a premium one drop ramp dork, the best combat trick, one of blacks best creature removal spells, whites most powerful one drop beater, some premium top end cards, one drops and even a couple of planeswalkers. Here, as ever, is that extended list of useful cube cards from the year;

Consecrated SphinxMutagenic Growth
Gideon's Lawkeeper
Diregraf Ghoul
Hornet Queen
Avacyn's Pilgrim
Massacre Wurm
Champion Parish
Garruk Relentless
Enemy Check Lands
Go for the Throat
Consecrated Sphinx
Acidic Slime
Accorder Paladin
Aether Adept
Angelic Destiny
Ancient Grudge
Apostle's Blessing
Beast Within
Blade SplicerBirthing Pod
Blade Splicer
Blightsteel Colossus
Bloodgift Demon
Bloodline Keeper
Bump in the Night
Cemetery Reaper
Celestial Purge
Chancellor of the Tangle
Chandra, the Firebrand
Chandra's Phoenix
Deceiver Exarch
Devil's Play
Doomed Traveler
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Elite Vanguard
Fiend Hunter
Avacyn's PilgrimGarruk, Primal Hunter
Geist of Sanit Traft
Gavony Township
Ghost Quarter
Goblin Arsonist
Green Sun's Zenith
Gut Shot
Heartless Summoning
Hero of Bladehold
Hero of Oxid Ridge
Hex Parasite
Ichor Wellspring
Inkmoth Nexus
Intangible Virtue
Jace, Memory Adept
Leonin Relic-Warder
Lead the Stampede
Mayor of Avabruk
Phyrexian MetamorphMerlira, Sylvok Outcast
Mental Misstep
Mikeaus, the Lunarch
Mirran Crusader
Nephalia Drownyard
Noxious Revival
Olivia Voldaren
Past in Flames
Phantasmal Bear
Phantasmal Image
Phyrexian Metalmorph
Phyrexian Obliterator
Phyrexian Revoker
Porcelain Legionnaire
Puresteel Paladin
Rites of Flourishing
Champion of the ParishSheoldred, Whispering One
Shrine of Burning Rage
Signal Pest
Stormblood Berserker
Stormkirk Noble
Sword of War and Peace
Sword of Feast and Famine
Tezzeret's Gambit
Thrun, the Last Troll
Timely Reinforcements
Treasure Mage
Unburial Rites
Vapor Snag
Vault Skirge
Viridian Emissary
Witchbane Orb
Chaos Warp
Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Soul Snare

Batterskull10. Batterskull

I am not a fan of this card. I remember clearly sighing when I saw it on the spoiler knowing fully how tedious it was going to be in cube with Stoneforge and boy was I on the money. Stoneforge was already plenty good enough and Batterskull just made it disgusting. It was the defining two card combo of the unpowered cube. It was the most broken and degenerate thing you could do and it would defeat most aggressive decks pretty comfortably while remaining powerful and effective against the rest of the meta. The best hope for the aggro player was kill the Stoneforge before it flops in the Batterskull and then kill them before they got to five mana! Battskull is also perfectly playable on its own all be it in rather less wide a range of places. If you are a slow deck then a Batterskull is a great stall tool and with enough mana and almost immovable object. Batterskull is either slow and boring or oppressive and it has been that way ever since release. As other cards have improved Batterskull has lost some power but not nearly enough yet! That being said, without Stoneforge I am pretty sure this would not be on this list.

Insectile Aberration9.   Delver of Secrets

While we are hot off the bat of talking about the most powerful things you can do in the early turns of an unpowered cube a flipped turn one Delver is well up there. Strong enough to have multiple legacy builds the Delver is simply the most oppressive one mana threat ever produced. It has high power and evasion. There are precious few one drops that can deliver more than two a turn, there are no good ones that can do two reliably with evasion and yet this erroneous blue one drop does it all. Being narrow is all that really keeps it in check in cube and mostly that just makes it a bit polar. You need some library manipulation and a good number of triggers or a total boat load of triggers and even with all that it is hard to get above a 50% flip chance in cube and it is still great. It just has such a drastically positive effect on your win % chances when you get those early flips that it is worth the risk of it sitting about being crap for a while.

Kessig Wolf Run8.   Kessig Wolf Run

Potenncy wise I rate Wolf Run above most, if not all of the dual manlands. It is terrrifying to play against. It statrts to become relevant in the midgame where planeswalkers become hard to protect and combat starts to look a bit awkward. Once you get to the late game the card is oppressive and turns everything into a serious threat. A 0/1 plant token? Guess I'll Lightning Bolt that then... Unless you have land removal you are pretty much forced into racing against a Wolf Run in play. The only reason the card is so low is because it is not fixing like the manlands but quite the opposite. It is competing for one of very few potential slots with cards like Wastelands rather than being something actively desirable over other lands in your list and competing with things more like the Temple cycle as is the case for the dual manlands. They are near free inclusions in your two colour list while Wolf Run is a big investment. Despite the big investment it is well worth it for the reach and inevitability it brings. In much the same way that Batterskull empowered Stoneforge Mystic the Wolf Run makes Primeval Titan incredibly potent.

7.   Scavenging Ooze
Scavenging Ooze
This card has been a mainstay in cube and has not suffered nearly as much as some other beaters of the era due to offering so much utility. Certainly Ooze threatens to get pretty big in a longer game but that isn't what makes the card good. Investing too much mana in growing Ooze leads to blowout with bounce or removal and isn't even that good of a return on your mana. Five mana for a 5/5 and 3 life doesn't sound very impressive even if you can break up the mana cost. Without any evasion Ooze is not a very effective threat. What makes the card such a standout in cube is disruption. I like that there is not much good graveyard hate in the cube and I like that green has the best on offer - Scavenging Ooze. Obviously things like Tormod's Crypt are better purely at that role but that is not what drafting cubes are about. The best graveyard disruption is simply the best graveyard disruption on an otherwise playable card in cube and that is absolutely Ooze. Deathrite is a better card but it is weaker disruption. Withered Wretch is (slightly) better graveyard disruption but an otherwise meagre power level. Ooze hits that sweet spot. Most decks utilize the graveyard to some degree and disrupting that is really powerful. Green having the weakest disruptive capabilities in all other areas seems like it deserves Scavenging Ooze!

Spellskite6.   Spellskite

This card is such a little turd. It is unreal how disruptive it can be. It pretty much commands a proper answer, try and just ignore it at your peril. The most frustrating thing about Spellskite is not how it draws removal away from targets you want to aim at but the rarer but far more savage ability to take a lot of buff effects. Spellskite pretty much blanks cards like Rancor and Blossoming Defense. Spellskite also really hampers planeswalkers ability to protect themselves. Not only do you not want to be tapping down or bouncing a 0/4 when trying to protect walkers in general but you really really don't want to straight up waste an ability like a Chandra ping or an Ugin Bolt. When Spellskite isn't wreaking combos and buffs and wasting peoples removal it is doing a reasonable job of defense as a Wall of Omens. Not many two drops demand a premium removal spell. Skite might not be the most urgent but it is the most demanding! It is also very difficult to kill efficiently which further adds to the tedium.

Gitaxian Probe
5.   Gitaxian Probe

This is one of my favourite spells although it is too powerful and should probably be banned in legacy and probably shouldn't have seen print in this form in the first place. It is not obviously over powered but ultimately it is. It has modal costs, both of which are negligible. It has synergies with so so many mechanisms and other cards that combined with its near non-existent cost means it is scaling up in value more than almost any other card in the game. Probe powers up delve, prowess, delirium, storm and so forth. Probe thins your deck and in a way that doesn't punish. I highly rate both Urza's and Mishra's Bauable, especially the latter and while they might seem more free than Gitaxian Probe they absolutely are not. The delay on the draw hurts late and the reduced information in opening hand is a minor thing too. You might argue that Probe also limits your information in mulligan decisions however I would counter argue that the subsequent information you gain is worth way way more. Probe shows you their whole hand which is pretty instrumental in a lot of games. It lets you form a plan, it lets you play around their stuff while setting up your own nicely. Information is the ultimate weapon in magic. It can be gained cheaper than any other resource in magic and it can can be deadly when used well. This information aspect of Probe makes it also scale with player skill more than most cards as well. It is card I am happy with in most decks and one I actively want in an awful lot.

Karn Liberated4.   Karn Liberated

Good old Karn! His success in cube is largely down to his lack of colour requirements. As a coloured walker, pretty much regardless of that colour, Karn wouldn't likely see enough action to merit his inclusion in cube. As a colourless walker however he winds up all over the place from blue control decks to green ramp decks. Any deck that aims to get to the point in a game where they can cast Karn should likely be considering him even if most of those end up not running him. Overall Karn is not as powerful as his volume of play and price tag suggest. While certainly very powerful I would expect nothing less from a seven mana card! Compared to other seven drops Karn is reasonably fair and calm, which again, is very reasonable for a colourless card. Any more power and Karn would see too much play in the slower decks. Karn is fantastic design and that is hard to do on a colourless card. He is super slow to dominate most cube games. Most of the time Karn comes down and takes out a single high value offending card, be that an irksome utility land, another walker, some massive dork, perhaps a god. Karn answers most threats and that is great, it is part of his appeal in each colour as he picks up the bits they struggle in. Even white, the colour of removal, typically cannot deal with utility lands and will fold to something like afore mentioned Wolf Run. Armageddon is not the solution to lands most decks want to run! Karn frequently goes one for one with a problem card but this is fine. You get some tempo with that trade and you would otherwise have lost to the card Karn deals with. The next most common outcome for a Karn play is to get a two for one by using the +4 on a card in their hand followed by them using a one for one removal card on him in return. While a 2 for 1 is great it is usually less good than dealing with a relevant card as you pay so much mana for the Karn and wind up with a result you can get from a card like Stupor. The number of games that Karn directly wins all by himself in cube is low. You have to be even at best to give Karn much of a chance of surviving if using him as removal. His ability to hit cards in hand is not all that big of a deal, the decks with big late game hand sizes will have all sorts of outs and counterplay to a seven mana sorcery speed card. All the other decks will have excess lands, dead cards or nothing in hand. The +4 is much more about the loyalty gain and the empowering of the ultimate. That is part of the elegance of his design, all his abilities interlink. Another common way Karn plays out is where he can be attacked for a good amount each turn but not one shot. He comes down, hits the +4 button and passes getting smacked for 6 or 7 and this goes on for a few turns. He might generate a 2 or 3 for one in that time but it is all irrelevant cards. What Karn does do in that time which is of great relevance is that he absorbs around 20 damage and bought you the time you needed to stabilize. They cannot ignore the Karn else he can panic ultimate or just start safely going to town with the -3 ability and so they have to fight a long hard uphill battle despite being well ahead on the board. Karn leads to surprisingly good games as a result of the various ways he plays out which is not something you can say of many seven drops!

3.   Dismember

Not only is this a high powered and versatile removal spell for black but it is a removal spell for anyone able to spend the life on it. It turns out that when you don't have removal you are usually more than happy to blow 20% of your starting life total on getting your hands on some! Dismemeber it kills nearly 95% of cube dorks and needs only a minor assist in combat to take down the biggest things out there. It may not exile but it does handle indestructible effects nicely. Beyond that it ticks basically every box, it is cheap, instant, unrestricted on target. I initially assumed Fatal Push was just better than Dismember but with a good amount of games in the bank I think Dismember is still safe in its spot as the third best creature kill spell in cube.

Liliana of the Veil2.   Liliana of the Veil

We all know how great Liliana is. She is still probably the best modern planeswalker. She is just so dangerous for her cost. Slow decks cannot afford to let her repeatedly +1 or ultimate. The best counter to Liliana is having multiple creatures in play but that is harder to do for the slower decks and leads to blowout plays against other kinds of cards. It is also very hard to get to that position early enough in the game to preempt a Lili. It is also hard to maintain that position throughout the midgame. You want to block efficiently however doing so leaves only your Grave Titan left in play say at which point you pretty much lose to a Lili from hand with a -2 and so you don't block with a token and take extra damage and so on. Obviously that line applies to any Edict but the point is that people don't run many Edict spells in cube because not many are good and those that are fail to be so consistently. I am pretty sure Doomfall is the second best Edict for cube after Lili! Worst case for a Lili play is an Edict with some life gain as they have to attack her. Best case, she dominates the game and this happens more so than with most other walkers. It is not just her threat level that makes her so good but also her versatility. Being able to attack board and hand makes her good in most matchups. She invariably offers some value and poses some form of threat.

Snapcaster Mage

1.   Snapcaster Mage

It is hardest to write about the big names that are every bit in cube as they are in other formats. Everyone knows Snapcaster is the business. There is likely already far more literature on Snappy than anyone needs to read. Most people will have played with and against the card a whole load too and seen the effectiveness of the card first hand. Rather than paint a detailed reasoning as to why the card is so potent it seems more beneficial to instead try and distill the description into a minimalist sketch. So, with that in mind; Snapcaster is a cheap and versatile two for one that scales well into the game. It also offers redundancy on your key spells in any given match up giving you a somewhat post sideboard feel to your build.

Monday, 25 June 2018


Ishkanah, GrafwidowI thought I had done an article on this back when these cards first came out but apparently not. As this is one of the most powerful archetypes in cube now it feels remiss to not give it a little showcase. There are lots of ways to incorporate a delirium theme within a deck but this is the build that goes deepest and is the cleanest. I have built plenty of decks trying to rush out Emrakul, the Promised End. I have used lists with heavy overlap to this one for Death's Shadow decks, I even have a couple of quirky delirium decklists sat as drafts. This however is the best and cleanest example list and most deserving of the title. It is not even an Emrakul deck, I have run plenty of these without her and it isn't a huge loss, you still have inevitability with a fair number of cards in the deck and that is all Emrakul really brings. She makes it super easy to crush any of the slower decks. This list is adept at finding and playing Emrakul but that isn't what make this deck good. Most midrange decks can kill you before you do that if that is all you are doing. What makes this the best Emrakul house is that you do really powerful things all the way up to Emrakul as well. It is nice when one of the most powerful cards in magic is just a backup plan you can afford to throw in!

The delirium card that brings the whole deck together is Ishkanah. She is exceptionally effective. She looks pretty high power level on paper but when you come to play with her she vastly out performs her already strong appearances. She is one of the best defensive plays possible. She covers tall and wide, air and ground, she is near impossible to clear from the board without clearing the whole board, and she makes an ungodly amount of toughness for the mana. Attacking into Ishkanah is slow and unprofitable. She is one of the best from behind cards and will put a lot of those games into an immediate board stall which in turn plays perfectly into your game plan. From that position you will eventually win with one of the many slow value and grindy tools in the deck. I have won a bunch of games just with the built in spider drain! The deck might be built around the delirium mechanic but it is absolutely Ishkanah that makes that a top tier thing to do.

Traverse the Ulvenwald25 Spells

Engineered Explosives
Mishra's Bauble

Deathrite Shaman
Elves of Deep Shadow
Traverse the Ulvenwald

Fatal Push

Grim Flayer
Satyr Wayfinder

Grapple with the Past
Grim FlayerCollective Brutality
Grisly Salvage / Vessel of Nascency
Smuggler's Copter

Abrupt Decay / Dissenter's Deliverance

Liliana of the Veil
Maelstrom Pulse
Eternal Witness
Recurring Nightmare

Ramunap Excavator / Jadelight Ranger

Ravenous Chupacabra

Ishkana, the Grafwidow
Nissa, Vital Force

Emrakul, the Promised End

15 Lands

Satyr WayfinderMostly you want to keep a delirium deck pretty streamlined. A good spread of card types is great but don't get caught up on that, you don't need all of them and you don't need to have at least three of each. More is better but it isn't worth compromising your built to do. You want a good amount of self mill and ideally a bit of discard on top of that. You then want to be able to dig into your deck and cycle through it a bit more than non-blue decks tend to do. Then you want some recursion effects so that you can pluck the things you need out of the bin. You want a bit higher count of removal and disruption effects than you might imagine as well, mostly because your self mill and dig tends not to find these cards so often. Your deck is effectively half the size of most normal decks. You able to run fewer action cards than most midrange decks as your dig will find them. This in turn means you can just run the premium cards and so it feels like you have a much higher power density in those cards. Your single Ishkanah turns up as often as if you had two in the list.

Grapple with the PastThe game plan is fairly simple, get ahead with your cheap early ramp, cheap disruption and over sized cheap dorks. Then milk value and stall with your midgame until you can close the deal with spiders or Eldrazi or even just too much value and control to lose from your position. A lot of decks will fold to a 4/4 trample or 4/5 two drop with any disruption or followup. This list has great tempo, very high power level, all the answers, loads of choice and control over cards, and all the late game. Put like that it is no shock at all that this is one of the best unpowered cube lists. It even has a very deep pool of cards it can draw on to build with. No card is essential either, you really want Ishkanah and you quite want some others but you are totally fine without. I could make a totally tier one deck using nothing but the lands and a number of the delirium cards from this list. I would only be using the delrium cards to make it a delirium deck rather than just a Golgari midrange deck but still, you get the point. You don't even need all the self mill effects but not having them greatly increases the importance of having cheap cards across most of the types that put them selves in the bin somehow. If you can't cheat stuff into the bin as it were you have to manually do it! The tools are there. Most decks, including this one, are a mix of both sorts of support types; the mill and the cheap cyclers. Lands that put themselves in the bin somehow are also increasingly important without the self mill and are generally good to begin with.

Engineered ExplosivesOne point of note, I have found that increasingly I want mass removal access in my midrange decks. The go wide strategies are just too hard to beat without it. Toxic Deluge is great for it although there are plenty of options. As you only really need it against cards in the 0-2 mana range you ideally want effects with some level of variable control over what they will kill. Being able to take out the smaller things and keep the bigger stuff about makes mass removal feel very one sided against the decks you have it in against. Deluge is the most powerful effect on offer but the artifact options give you some extra removal capacity against non-creature stuff too. They are a bit better in the matchups not flooding the board with dorks.

Here are some of the especially good cards for this kind of deck that I didn't manage to fit in. Some are just cycling filler cards to help shrink the deck and fill up the yard in a nicely distributed delirious way! Some are direct replacements for other kinds of card in the deck and others are just great cards that work well in this kind of shell.
Unbridled Growth

Sakura Tribe Elder
Vampiric Tutor
Meren of Clan Nel Toth
Wretched Confluence
Arguel's Blood Fast
Unbridled Growth
Chromatic Star
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Liliana, the Last Hope
Whip of Erebos
Gnarlwood Dryad
Walking Ballista
Courser of Kruphix

Temple of AclazotzI especially like the Blood Fast in this build and have seen Treasure Map used to good effect for some similar reasons. Blood Fast allows you to do some nice late game ramping without over doing it on land count.You get to play what feels like an extra late game land while increasing the enchantment count in the deck. Blood Fast is also a really good all round protection tool once flipped. Exile removal is one of the few ways to mitigate the inevitability of this kind of deck and being able to sac off your dorks in response to such things is a huge help. The lifegain boost is also nice as burn is way you can lose. The more lifegain effects you can sneak in the less that tier one matchup will be a problem. Mostly Blood Fast is a value tool and this particular list is not lacking in that department.

I mentioned that cheap ramp was a good way of pulling ahead early which is certainly true. That being said this deck is not overly in need of ramp. A lot of its good early control cards are sufficiently big and cheap that you tend to be better off just slowly and steadily making land drops than you are trying to curve out with one or two jumps. Card advantage is generally preferable to ramp effects. You can make a turn five Emrakul but it isn't consistent nor is it necessary. Just make a big fat dork in the early game while disrupting them just a bit in just the right places while drawing extra cards and making your land drops. Don't go over board on ramp effects, two or three is plenty and more is probably detrimental.

Red and white are appealing splash colours for the odd gold bomb like Lingering Souls or Kolaghan's Command. Blue offers to bring a lot more to the archetype with loads of self mill and recursion effects but doing so is a much bigger commitment. Going Abzan or Jund delirium changes little about the deck as I have presented it. Going blue actually changes the structure of the deck and uses a lot more cheap blue cards. You have to have a much much better mana base to incorporate it and you typically have to run a much higher count of instants and sorceries. These three colour builds can absolutely be more powerful but the Golgari version is plenty powerful enough. You have to concede basically no consistency for it to be worth going more colours. It is not as if you lack any tools or power nor even a depth of cards to play.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Thoughts and Additions: M19

I am very impressed with this return to base sets. It has good design, good power levels, and a lot of tasty things for all manner of player bases. We have some nice new tribal toys, some really well thought out sideboard tools, a relatively healthy pile of one drops, a load of nicely interactive cards, and some lovely option dense ones. What is most impressive is how this set has a lot of playables without having any oppressive cards. Cards that get rated 8 and above are typically so good that you see them all the time and they tend to warp the meta and reduce the diversity. It is good that such cards are infrequent. In other words M19 is far better for having nothing better than a 7.5

To Add: (best to worst)

Dismissive Pyromancer
Runic Armasaur
Dark-Dweller Oracle
Remorseful Cleric
Resplendent Angel
Plague Mare
Goblin Instigator
Sarkhan, Fireblood
Vivien Reid

To Test: (most hopeful to least)

Elvish Rejuvenator
Nexus of Fate
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
Surge Mare
Dryad Greenseeker
Tezzeret, Artifice Master
Thorn Lieutenant
Graveyard Marshal
Isareth, the Awakener
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager //
Fountain of Renewal
Herioc Reniforcements
Nightmare's Thirst
Rustwing Falcon

Exotic Reserves: (no order at all)

Liliana, Untouched by Death
Supreme Phantom
Goblin Trashmaster
Sai, Master Thopterist
Stitcher's Supplier
Departed Deckhand
Ajani's Welcome
Leonin Vanguard
Militia Bugler
Volley Veteran
Goblin Motivator
Gearsmith Prodigy
Poison Tip Archer
Satyr Enchanter
Arcades, the Strategist
Desecrated Tomb
Detection Tower
Infernal Reckoning
Valiant Knight
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma
Leonin Warleader

M19 Preliminary Reviews Part XI

Dragon's Hoard 1

Three mana ramp has to double ramp to be cube worthy. That or it has to do good stuff beyond ramping. Cultivator's Caravan didn't last in my cube so the bar is pretty high. Drawing cards is great and this does it for no extra mana cost. The trouble is that you need dragons to power up the draw and there are very few of those. Even one charge makes this pretty good but you cannot come close to relying on that, even in a deck with a pair of dragons in it, which is about the most you can sensibly pick and play. It is gold counters too so you can't even abuse this with Energy Chamber style cards. I will run this in tribal dragons but that is going to be really struggling to beat anything so shouldn't carry much weight.

Suncleanser 1

A counter to energy decks although not too savage of one and rather too late to the party for standard! In cube energy decks are not really a thing and so this has to perform based entirely on its effect on creatures. You can use it to reset a half dead persist or undying creature. You can use it to kill a Hangerback Walker very neatly. There are a bunch of other cute uses for it but ultimately that is all this is in cube, cute. The card needed to be good on its own when there are no countered up creatures to tinker with and it very much fails at doing that.

Ravenous Harpy 1

If this was free to use I would be all over it. It would be a nutty new Carrion Feeder. With the cost it is still surprisingly playable but it is just a bit pricey overall and annoying and will just get beaten to getting played by one of the many alternate options that is either cheaper or has a better baseline.

Doublecast 0

Just a substantially worse Reverberate / Fork effect.

Pshycic Corrosion 1

A simplified and weaker version of Sphinx's Tutelage that is only better in mutiplayer. You might use this in a Jace's Erasure deck but I suspect you can find better ways to mill someone out. And milling people to death in 40 card decks isn't very clever or popular if you are constructing your lists!

Arcane Encyclopedia 0

Poor Jayemdae Tome, heavily outclassed by an unplayable card.

Druid of Horns 0

Powerful effect but putting auras on your 4 mana 2/3 is literally the magic equivalent on removing all your clothes below the waste and bending over a barrel.

Tezzeret, Artifice Master 6

Most interesting indeed. Finally an iteration of Tezzeret that does not rely on having an artifact themed deck to be viable. Obviously Artifice Master is better in an artifact heavier deck but he loses little without and that is the important thing. Six loyalty and an extra 1/1 flying blocker is pretty tough to take down in combat. Fliers are great, they are one of the best ways to close out games and control walkers in cube. Sadly Tezz is a little on the slow side for that. Using Tez to kill a generic walker all by himself is going to take ages and that is assuming they cannot handle 1/1 dorks themselves. Artifice Master has great abilities but he is very slow to pull ahead with. Imagine how unplayable Bitterblossom would be at five, even if it gained life rather than losing it. Tez feels a little win more just because of how slow he is. If you can make him when you are ahead you are going to pull really far ahead, you are going to have the board, have card advantage and have the ability to handle any walkers they might make against you. If however you are at all behind I think it will be hard to swing it round with Tez. I am not sure I rate the ultimate all that highly either. To get there you need to +1 four times, a full Lingering Souls, of which you should have managed to attack for 10 with already! Sounds like just making more 1/1 fliers is safer at that point, certainly one more so you get to keep your Tez around after the -9 but then you will have had the potential to do 15 with Thopters! The only time I can see this ult being good in a 1v1 setting is when you need to tutor up a specific answer, say find the Massacre Wurm to kill all the 1/2 reach spider tokens in play. I like new Tez but I suspect he will under perform. I think he will be fine in cube but I don't think he will be impressive. Tamiyo looks weaker but is rather better suited to the kinds of things you want to do. The -2 draw cards mode on Tamiyo is far weaker than Tezz's card draw, it is situational and costly. Despite this it is more effective, when you do use it you get a huge influx of cards right away. Tamiyo's ult adds to her a lot as it is an actual threat and offers a useful new avenue. Her plus one is also far more useful protection for the later stages of the game and offers more immediate and diverse disruptive capabilities. Tamiyo isn't even very good anymore, just a bit slow and clunky. I hope I am wrong about Tez, I could well be, his individual parts are all great, it is just the way they come together that feels weak. I don't even think he is a weak card, I peg him around Ob Nixilus Reignited. Both are strong cards but typically outclassed and edged out of decks by the five mana Confluences in those colours. The power of cube slowly rising is pricing out the fairer walkers these days.

Transmogrifying Wand 2

I am not entirely sure what to make of this. I think it might be really strong if it didn't restrict you to sorcery speed removal. Even so, it is cheap, overall it is 2 mana per dork to kill a dork. It is kind of like three Beast Within contained in one card but limited to targeting creatures and sorcery speed. While most colours do have access to their own removal options not all that many have the ability to take out three dorks with just one card. While that might appeal I think the removal colours of Mardu will not look to use this ever as the 2/4 Ox is still rather relevant. Blue and green are the colours that most need creature kill and they are also the best positioned to cope with 2/4 tokens. The issue is that you have to be killing high value targets with Wand for it to be a good deal. If you kill most one or two drops you are just changing the card a bit, you need to be killing big serious cards for it to really feel like value and removal. Like, even if I kill a six drop on the first activation it feels like a pretty even trade. I value a 2/4 token at about two mana and the Wand plus use is the other four. Wand is a poor tempo removal card and is more of an out to awkward cards. It is far too clunky and narrow in the places that would want it for it to be a good draft cube card. It does however make the prospects of Simic control more promising.

Vampire Neonate 2

A long way off a powerful card but this does have some merit in tribal builds where you can expect to buff it with various lords. Stat heavy robust cheap dorks are a great way to ensure your lords actually do stuff of use when you make them. This does quite a lot even if none of it is super impressive. Certainly this looks pretty awful and it is all by itself. The key to cards like this is not forgetting that the cheaper a card is the better it scales with synergy cards.

M19 Preliminary Reviews Part X

Liliana, Untouched by Death 3

I am a little split on this card. I like a tribal flavour on a walker but I also wanted a black four mana walker that was decent in a broader sense. So before we go further, this is utterly unplayable outside of a zombie deck. The abilities are all basically blanks without a decently high zombie count in your list. While there are zombies in the cube, enough even to power Gravecrawler, there are not enough to ensure this Liliana does much. If black were to be flooded with premium cube worthy zombies then perhaps this could be sensibly run in conventional a draft cube. For now this only has hope in tribal themed things. In such a home she is very strong. She has three abilities she can use right away, some control the board, some provide value and some provide safety. The first empowers the last, and hopefully other things in your list. The last can further empower the middle ability if it was not sufficiently active before. Nice self interaction and lots of options covering a good range of the game. Power wise it is somewhat harder to say as she is so linked to the zombie tribe. If it was just creatures then the card would be nutty good. It is that functionally in a zombie deck but those creatures will have a lower average power. Mostly it is being narrow that hurts Untouched by Death. Her power, even when limited to zombies, is decent. She is perhaps a bit win more in design in that her -2 is probably the one you most often want to use first but it can be a do nothing when you are behind. One other issue with Liliana being a tribal tool is that she isn't a hyper aggressive card. She is powerful enough that you probably want to run her which in turn will make your zombies deck a bit more midrangy which in turn is a bit more limiting on how you build. It will mean more disruptive and utility zombies and less aggressive ones. It will be interesting to try some zombie decks post M19 if nothing else.

Thorn Lieutenant 6

This is very Sylvan Advocate and probably just worse overall. Vigilance is actually great on Advocate, it means that even when being defensive it is gaining you value and doing its thing. Sylvan Advocate is like Wall of Roots while this is like Sylvan Caryatid. The pump on Thorn Lieutenant is nice but it isn't as good as getting a passive buff, even one half as big. The cost is just so high it is only going to be of much use when you have nothing much else going on. It means they will chump block or not block at all rather than try and kill or trade in combat when you have six up but that is most of what it will do. Getting a 1/1 token is nice but pretty mild. It make the card great against aggressive red decks but otherwise fairly irrelevant. Control decks will just ignore it until mass removal deals with it and midrange decks will just ignore it and make use of bigger dorks. Eventually they might need to kill it if the 6/7 cannot be handled but a 1/1 token at that point isn't all that exciting. This card does have all the right things for cube, it is high power, high all round playability and a nice high floor. It just is a bit aimless. No archetypes are desperate for what this brings to the table. It isn't really a value tool or an aggressive one. The tempo is decent and so it feels like a bit of a curve filler with a bit of mana sink potential. A reasonable way of hedging a bit against aggression without compromising too much on power or your own ability to pressure.

Isolate 7

Well now this is pretty exceptional. Not in terms of power as such but just in terms of being a much needed tool. So many of the most oppressive things in the game are one drops. Deathrite, Mother of Runes, Delver of Secrets, Skullclamp, Swiftspear, Land Tax, Gravecrawler, Grim Lavamancer, Figure of Destiny, Wild Growth, Isolate deals with them all and it does it immensely well. Isolate is great. It will be more great for modern and legacy than it will for cube but it will still be plenty good enough in cube to merit a slot. White is great at killing things but it isn't always great at lining its removal up well. It feels awful having to Swords a one drop only to lose to something massive later down the line. Isolate helps with letting white line its removal more suitably. Not just for being restricted to smaller things but also due to its wide range of permanent types. Isolate has a very Abrupt Decay feel about it. I feel like they will perform similarly in cube. The lower range on Isolate feels offset by the fewer colours and lower cost. Exile is also generally better than uncounterable. It means you can take out something less relevant like a Doomed Traveler or Chromatic Sphere and still feel like you are getting a good trade. Isolate will be a little bit Force Spike, there will be games it sits for a while without targets and then gets blown on something you didn't really care about just to make use of it but it is something you are going to be pleased to see in your starting hand. That being dead in hand aspect comes with the territory. That is the cost of having such an effective and broad removal spell so cheap. The times it totally saves you by giving you that key interaction in the early game will offset the times it is a dead card. My cube is one drop central and so while this will carry weight there it might not have the targets in something like the MODO cube. My cube has 73 targets in a 540ish sized cube. That may only sounds like it gives it a 13% hit rate but that is missing the point. Anguished Unmaking only has a 55% hit rate when measured like that. Of the non-land permanents Isolate is used against it has over a 26% hit rate which is enough.

Mystic Archeologist 2

Sure, better than Azure Mage, well done. There just are not the decks that really want this. If you want cheap dorks you don't want to spend five mana drawing cards. There are times in the odd combo deck you want the option to sink infinite mana to draw your deck but then you have loads of options on that already. I have done that about four times in my time cubing and not at all recently. I guess this is powerful enough that you might well pack it in some very silly big mana decks. If you can lay it on 7 mana so as to assure it is card advantage then it has an outside chance. Still think I would go the Tower of Fortunes route in most cases. One of the Tower cycle is a pretty sad thing to be passed up for as well...

Detection Tower 3

Not a drafting cube card by any means but a nice little sideboard tool to have access to. It is available for all and offers nice counter play to Mask of Memory type effects.

Hieromancer's Cage 0

Shamefull. This is the wrong direction to see things. Pretty much the first real stain on this set. Like, I would understand if this was a common but at uncommon it wouldn't have hurt limited to make this not insultingly bad. And right after the delight that is Cast Out.

Novice Knight 0

Only play this if you want a defender (which you don't, or not this one). This isn't even good enough to make a cube Arcades deck!

Leonin Vanguard 3

Interesting little card. Largely it is just worse than Boros Elite but not entirely. You don't have to attack with the extra guys for this to power up and you might just happen to want life. You might play this in a more aggressive take on a Soul Sisters deck. You might just play it in a super weenie deck cause it is just good enough if all you want is sixteen aggressive one drops!

Leonin Warleader 4

This is basically just a Hero of Bladehold dressed up a little differently. It is also a little bit worse. Not a lot worse at all and not categorically worse either. If you happen to want lifegain, or a four power blocker, or cats, then this might just be the four drop for you! Probably not as it is still just one of those cards that dies to removal effects. You fall so far behind when this gets shot with a Torch of Defiance or killed by Ravenous Chupacabra. I have not run Hero in my cube for a long while and not missed it at all. This is super powerful, it is the kind of card that makes waves in standard but it isn't right for most cubes.

Fraying Omnipotence 1

Interesting and high impact but it just feels far too situational. Pox is super hard to use in cube and not even that good and yet Pox seems a lot better than this. It is all about Death Cloud and Smallpox for ease of setup and control. Fraying Omnipotence is not easy to setup or abuse the symmetry of. I am only giving this a one because I am too chicken to rule out something this powerful. Really I think it is a zero.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

M19 Preliminary Reviews Part IX

Sarkhan, Fireblood 6.5

At first look through I felt that the mana ability was too narrow and somewhat ruled this out. Then I got to thinking about it more and concluded you didn't actually need to use the mana ability for this to be decent. If you compare Sarkhan to Dack Fayden (who is a strong cube card) you find that the latter is actaully quite a lot narrower. Dack is gold which over halves his playability. His ultimate is nearly a blank in most cube decks and while very potent the -2 is often also a blank. Dack has one always good ability and one situational one.  Now, Sarkhan has two good abilities and he is in just one colour. Yes, one of those abilities is his ultimate which cannot be used right away but that isn't too much of a problem. It means Sarkhan needs dealing with. You cannot just elect to ignore him as is often done against Dack. Ignoring Sarkhan will not just afford them card quality but ultimately it will lead to lots of dragons killing you! I think there are plenty of red decks that would happily play 3 mana to get a rummage every turn with that swarm of dragons as the potential pot at the end of the rainbow. Sure, it won't happen very often but it doesn't need to, all it has to do is make Sarkhan a threat. A three mana walker is quite a chore to deal with in cube and so Sarkhan will be scarier than he looks. Sarkhan is already red's best ongoing rummage card effectively having four toughness and haste. So basically I think Fireblood is playable with just the first +1 ability and the ultimate. It isn't broken in that role at all, more of a support card but a better one than it might look. Every now and again the other +1 will be useful too, there are some very good dragons even if few in number. It is something opponents will need to consider as well making it a little bit relevant even when not actually doing anything for you. In blue this card would be poor due to how much looting they have but he is red and so feels like he does enough to be cube worthy.

Spit Flame 1

I don't rate this very much but I cannot rule it out because it can be abused with cards such as Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury. Three mana burn is pretty weak in cube as is burn that only hits dorks. There are not close to enough cheap dragons to make this cube worthy and it shouldn't be powerful enough to build around.

Chaos Wand 0

Quite a lot of fun and even value but so much mana for utterly random outcomes. Well named card at the very least.

Poison Tip Archer 2

This is a fairly poor body for the cost. It is pretty easily removed and will mostly trade with the things you want to block with it. As a Giant Spider this isn't very impressive. Where this does have a chance is as redundancy for Blood Artist. Decks using those kinds of theme really get a lot out of these kinds of cards, they are basically finishers. You stall the board until you draw one and then you sac everything off and win. Narrow and low powered but sadly probably the third best at doing what Blood Artist does.

Arcades, the Strategist 1

This is very powerful but it is powerful in a way that is hard to build upon, especially in cube. If you could overlap this with Doran then you might well have a deck on your hands. Assault Formation is a help but having to pay to attack with defenders is a blow. If you just build a deck full of Walls and Arcades then you lose when you don't draw Arcades or indeed he eats the action end of an exile removal spell. I guess having Arcades as a commander would allow you to build an actual Wall deck but that isn't much help for cube. I will likely try this out in cube but I think we need another good card with (not Animate Wall!) this kind of effect before we have a properly viable thing. Presently in my head the deck is full of tutors and things to protect and force through Arcades and feels like it lacks the room to fill up on the actual defenders.

Demanding Dragon 1

This just feels like a bad Thundermaw. Pre Stormbreath era that might have been enough. Now in the post Glorybringer age this card just looks limp. Edicts are already one of the most unreliable effects in the game so adding to it the choice to forgo the Edict at all for five life further reduces that value. Demanding Dragon is bad at planewalker control and bad at being a Lava Axe and those are a big part of Thundermaw's potency in cube.

Heroic Reinforcements 5

I really like this! I think it is great card design. Being gold, a four drop, fairly linear and relatively fair in power level means this has almost no chance in my drafting cube. That being said, I like this card sufficiently that I will absolutely be building with it where possible. What I love about this card is how on theme it manages to stay despite doing a bunch of stuff. I like how it manages to be a support card, a stand alone card and a card with good potential for scaling. This card sums up Boros really well too. While perhaps not as cleanly done as Lightning Helix the card is more thematically Boros. The baseline is getting to smack with a pair of 2/2 tokens right away and having a residual Raise the Alarm should the tokens survive the attack. This is OK reach, OK tempo, OK value and a fairly nice way to handle planeswalkers. Despite not being super powerful it is still a nice solid floor to the card and it has a decent range. The thing about this floor however is that you shouldn't be on it very often. Most decks playing this will have dorks in play. Token decks typically don't struggle for board presence, it is pushing through that is hard. I expect to buff a couple of other dorks most of the time and I also expect the haste to apply to other dorks more often than you might think, hopefully over half the time. Heroic Reinforcements is the kind of card you play later rather than earlier meaning you may well have mana up to play things alongside it and if not you may well just have things in play to help you make dorks for all that positive scaling joy. I want to curve out turn two Young Pyromancer, turn three Monastery Mentor and of course turn four Heroic Reniforcements! That is 15 damage on that swing alone. Raise the Alarm meets Reckless Charge. Draggon Fodder meets Charge. Red cards meet white cards...

Dismissive Pyromancer 7.5

And just like that my claims about best rummager in red in the Sarkhan section are put to question. This is a great card although much  more so for cube than other formats. This is just one of those nice rounded card. It is cheap, it is versatile, and it is high power which is really all you need to go a long way in cube. Those things make it playable and that is what earns and keeps cube slots. You can play Dismissive Pyromancer in aggro, in midrange and in control. You can even play it in any combo or synergy deck trying to use the graveyard. Much as I rave about this it is not actually very good at anything. A 2/2 body for two is not good. It is better than doing nothing but it is not a strong board development. A Flame Slash for five mana and a turns wait is shockingly bad as creature removal even if you can get a free chump block and use it at instant speed. Even the looting is bad, no one wants to pay a mana to loot, and certainly not to rummage. As a looter this is Battlefield Scavanger levels of weak. The overall card might be better than Sarkhan, Fireblood but the looting part very much isn't. So while this might be bad at what it does, it does a lot of things well enough and all of those things are things you want to do. It is like a red Supreme Will in that regard. It also has a much higher ceiling than most utility cards as most of those tend to be modal spells. Most utility creatures tend to have one effect that offers different positives in different situations such as Scavenging Ooze as lifegain or graveyard disruption. Anyway, if you get a couple of relevant combat steps and/or a couple of loots with your Pyromancer before you cash it in to kill something then it has done huge amounts of work for you. Lovely to see red getting some really well designed and useful utility dorks. Midrange red has gone from nonviable to top tier in not much more than a yearand Pyromancer will add to that progress in a big way!

Supreme Phantom 4

Not nearly enough spirits in cube to make this a good draft card but for a tribal deck this is one of the best lords ever printed. A 1/3 is better than a 2/2 and flying is better than the total lack of keywords most lords get for themselves. The cost is even comfortable! You could argue a case for Lord of Atlantis as he provides island walk as well but it doesn't matter, they are not in competition, it is just to illustrate how strong this lord is! Spirits are probably quite a good tribe now, they were a bit thin but they have some very strong cards in their ranks. A good cheap empowering spirit is just the ticket to ramp up the tribe!

Liliana's Contract 1

Tidings! Painful painful Tidings! There is some merit to draw being on an EtB effect but enchantment themed decks have never struggled for draw. Devotion is another perk for this but it is rather too high on the curve. Tidings isn't good either for the tempo cost and so the four life loss on this is an even bigger kick in the nuts than usual. As for controlling four demons... Don't if you want a good deck. It reminds me of Epic Struggle! Like, at what point do you have four demons in play and have not somehow won? Great in multiplayer, not so much in 1v1 play! That being said, I love a build challenge and will absolutely try and win some games with this. It can't be harder than Maze's End as a win condition!

M19 Preliminary Reviews Part VIII

Aviation Pioneer 0

A blue Seller of Songbirds. I like these kinds of cards but this is clearly far too low down on the power. Thopter Engineer is a lot more card than this and it is yet to breach the drafting cube (although not at all far off).

Ajani's Welcome 2

This is rather worse than Soul Warden and co. due to only triggering off your own dorks and because it will not trigger other such cards itself. The advantage Welcome does have is that it is more resilient than the creature versions. I can see this making some Soul Sisters lists but it certainly isn't an auto include despite being a one drop engine support card.

Dryad Greenseeker 6

This is a green Sinbad with +2 toughness. Or indeed, just still a green Fa'adiyah Seer with the bigger bum. I rate this but I can see it winding up a little too unthreatening to be a mainstay. I like this because it is probably able to draw near half a card a turn on average and that it is a mere two mana and that it is able to defend reasonably while doing so. It is Courser of Kruphix at -1/-1 for G less to play. It doesn't even concede as much information. That is probably a reasonable trade off for not being able to attack and dig for lands at the same time. Not so much for the lifegain. Dryad isn't actually all that close to Courser in power. Courser is just much more relevant on the board and rather more threatening and much more rounded. Even so, I like this little value dude a lot. A big upgrade on Sigiled Starfish!

More Planeswalker deck stuff 0

More cool uses of the colour locked Impulse effects but all rather too far from the power curve. The green Skalla Wolf is closest and still no. I want cards of this design to be good enough but I absolutely don't want to see planeswalker deck cards being good enough!

Graveyard Marshall 5

Well this is certainly above curve but it also feels like a very bad Scrapheap Scrounger. A 3/2 is a fairly poor defensive statline so despite his being one of few over statted one and two drop black dorks than comes in untapped and has the capacity to block that probably is not what you want to do with it when playing in. Gifted Aetherborn is the BB midrange and control two drop you are going to play if you are into the blocking game. This will see play in tribal decks but only because they are thin on one and two drop dorks of sufficient power. I do not expect to see this cutting it in drafting cubes mostly due to being so black heavy. Reflecting on my comparison to Scrapheap I actually now feel this is more like Herald of Anafenza or Precinct Captain in that it is vulnerable to removal but it able to dominate a board with enough time which are things you absolutely cannot do with Scrounger. One thing Marshall does do well is coming down on 8 mana say and having the ability to make an instant pair of dorks, like a really shite Grave Titan! More realistically he comes down on five making one token at opponents EoT and another two the following one. This is above curve on two and scales up well. I should like it more than I do but the lack of any immediate value or effect on top of the BB cost are rather a turn off for me.

Runic Armasaur 7

I expect this to be very powerful indeed. That statline is oppressive for aggressive decks, even those packing bigger threats. Armasaur will basically require hard removal to clear out of the way. It might not have loads of attacking power but the huge arse on Armasaur will allow it to attack pretty safely and pressure planeswalkers or even players eventually. About 35% of dorks in my cube have an ability that will trigger Armasaur. That alone makes it pretty likely to be relevant in most games. Then we have all the lands that will trigger it as well, notably the sac lands. Armasaur will likely force a situation or so where you get a card out of it and likely prevent a few more from happening so as to avoid giving away yet more cards. It is hard to call this disruptive as it doesn't prevent anyone from doing anything. It certainly poses a big inconvenience however and makes plenty of things not worth doing. Good flavourful design and a nice solid all round card I expect to see in loads of green decks. It is somewhere between a Harsh Mentor and a Courser of Kruphix in feel.

Departed Deckhand 3

This isn't potent enough for general cube use but I suspect it is a lock in for spirit tribal builds as they are short on one and two drops. This is also more resilient than Phantasmal Bear as abilities don't kill it. As such you are not that likely to suffer blowouts playing this. That isn't the problem, it is just that an unblockable bear in blue isn't very exciting. The ability is OK but a bit expensive to have a huge impact, especially in a spirit deck where most things already evade somehow. Mr Saint Traft perhaps is a big fan of this pirate!

One with the Machine 1

Myr Enforcer draw 7! Nice fantasy but not worth the setup or build around needed. Even with the potential to draw seven this is quite a hard card to play and is unlikely to see any cube use.

Stitcher's Supplier 4

This is an amazing support card but it is not one that is going to be useful in a drafting cube, or at least not as yet. Any build with heavy graveyard synergies, perhaps with zombie and/or creature sacrifice themes as well, is going to be rather keen on this. Cube doesn't have the consistency that constructed does for drafting the heavy synergy decks and so that combined with being very low stand alone power level is why this isn't going to perform in a drafting cube. When you get to build with this then it will do loads for rather little. I am looking forward to Gravecrawlers, free Cabal Therapies and Vengevine in concert with Supplier. This will fill a role very similar to Hedron Crab in a self mill list and in a lot of ways it will out perform the little Crab.

Sai, Master Thopterist 5

This is a lovely little card although it is a little hard to know where it fits. In a deck with loads of Baubles and Chromatic stuff Sai is outstanding as a Pia Nalaar style value three drop. In a deck without such things Sai is mostly a 1/4 worth neither the card or the mana you spend on him. There is some combo application for Sai I am sure but making a bunch of 1/1 fliers isn't a win on the spot without more to back it up. I don't see this outclassing Thopter Foundry in that regard. Like, you could ram Sai into an Ironworks deck and go pretty nuts with it but you just don't need to do that, you are better off running win conditions that win more reliably like Spellbomb on the spot or Emrakul. I also don't see Sai working well in affinity or other aggro artifact builds. Being a 3 mana 1/4 means he will come too late to the party to have the desired effect. He is also a shocking late game top deck. For Sai to work out well I think you need him in slower decks, blue tempo builds, midrange decks and perhaps even the odd artifact heavy control list. I feel Sai needs too specific of a deck with too much direct support, of which, there isn't a huge supply, to really shine. The card is very powerful but it doesn't seem to have the playability needed for a drafting cube.

Valiant Knight 1

Not a great card on its own with relatively few knights kicking about, even post Dominaria. I would play this in a tribal knights deck but it would only be OK in such a deck and such a deck is also going to be very low tier if even viable.

Lena, Selfless Champion 0

This just seems like a Captain of the Watch with a much much bigger range. Sadly most of that extra range is to be found well below the floor of Captain and Captain isn't all that itself. On a sparse to empty board Lena is an embarrassment. Her Selfless Spirit ability is nice but it doesn't save her. Six is the sort of mana where you are moving out of range of creature heavy decks too.

Goblin Trashmaster 3

We are getting to the point where you could legitimately make an EDH goblin deck without having to stretch yourself to get there. Goblins have so many options and good cards to choose from. I like this card but I do not expect to see it all that often in 40 card goblin decks. It is likely best as a sideboard tool and even then I imagine I would rather some Shattering Spree sort of effect for handling artifacts. Trashmaster is one of the better ways to give your Gobbos +1/+1 in mono red, likely 2nd or 3rd best and it also offers some nice utility. In the builds looking to go wider and with more token generation I can see this being too good to pass up. In the more classic Onslaught style of goblins deck this might just be too far up the curve and too poor as a stand alone to make the cut. One of the big issues with such decks is having your early stuff stick, you need to develop a board for cards like this to be good and that can be hard to achieve. There is not that much room for new 3 CMC and greater goblins and so this will have to fight with cards like Krenko for deck space. Much as this is only a tribal card it feels like being a tribal goblin card isn't anywhere near the narrowness of other tribes what with it being the most powerful tribe, having the most stand alone playables within the tribe, and the most diverse in archetypes.

Friday, 22 June 2018

M19 Preliminary Reviews Part VII

Diamond Mare 0

Oops, meant to do these all together! Beyond the name and horse type this doesn't feel like part of the Mare cycle in design at least. This is much more the evolution of the Throne of Bone come Prism Ring style of cards. Do you want a 1/3 body on your lifegain effect? Hard to say really because I don't think you want the lifegain effect to start with so adding things to it isn't sweetening the deal much! There are better ways to gain life and better defensive tools. This is so all in on that front that it is basically a sideboard card but it isn't powerful enough to carry weight there.

Chromium, the Mutable 0

I like a flash flier that is uncounterable.  Such things beast control decks. Sadly it is seven mana and three colours making it really only a control on control tool. A glorified Pearl Lake Ancient! Gaining hexproof is nice but it isn't protection against mass removal and that is a mild problem. When all you do is be big and sticky you kind of need to be sticky against the things you expect to face. A control killer for a control card will absolutely face some mass removal. Chromium likely turns one of their dead cards into an answer. The flash helps you protect with countermagic better but not against Supreme Verdict! You also don't want to be countering cards you can usually leave as duds. I like the flavour of this although I am not sure it needed to be that complex. It doesn't feel like turning into a 1/1 human it adds much other than confusion. Anyway, this is powerful but unsuitable and overly narrow.

Bone Dragon 1

A five mana 5/4 flier is an OK baseline but it needs to do rather more than just that to have a shot at cube. Plenty of demons with upside on that have fallen by the wayside. The recursion on this is nice, it is a reasonable mana cost and can be done EoT which is pretty key. This would have much less hope if it was a sorcery speed recursion. Even so, exiling seven other cards is big, it is the cost of Treasure Cruise. You only have so many big delve style plays you can make in a 40 card deck and any kind of deck that is able to fill up the bin is going to be far more keen to play cost reduced threats and card draw rather than from the bin threats. Basically what I am saying is that while this is a fine card it requires a little bit too much support for which you will employ other, better cards, when using. That support is there but it is there for Tasigur and Ancestral Recall Cruise, not this thing. Even if you didn't have other delve cards or uses for your yard (but for some reason the capacity to fill it up reliably?) you are only going to get a couple of recursions out of this before you start to run out of deck. I think I prefer Geralf's Masterpiece to this. If feels more powerful and like it works better with that sort of theme. Suffice it to say that Masterpiece is yet to be run in my cube.

Isareth, the Awakener 5

Another one of these tempting three drops. It offers power and value but it is not an assured good play. It will eat Bolts, Spears, Sunlances and all manner of other cheap removal. That is bad but it isn't awful, you need to eat the removal eventually and you are only a mana or two down in most cases. That is a reasonable risk exposure given the potential upsides on this card. This is also better in many respects later in the game when you have a full bin and more excess mana so you will hold it on three mana for other better plays often enough that you will somewhat mitigate the tempo vulnerability of the card to removal . It will not take many recursions of Ravenous Chupacabra or Snapcaster Mage to put games out of reach. Deathtouch is nice, it makes this scale up well on defense and make blocking it that bit more awkward. One attack and Isareth should pay for herself, two should be a real swing. That all assumes you have good things in the bin. Just OK stuff is only worth doing if you don't have good things to spend your mana on otherwise. Isareth is a little bit clunky, mana consumptive, and dependent on the state of the graveyard. I like her but I fear she is just a little to fair for what she brings to the party. Strong, plenty of power but not as easily milked as she needs to be. Certainly worth a trial but not overly optimistic for her. 

Open the Graves 1

Cute but a bit pricey for the grindy effect it has. Play a Spawning Pit over this if you really want this effect.

Remorseful Cleric 7

This is great. It isn't that it is powerful rather that it is very playable while being something that is in incredibly short supply. A 2/1 flier for 2 is good enough so that when you slap desirable upside on it you wind up with a great card. Now Tormod's Crypt is a long way from this being the next Selfless Spirit of utility. The cards are framed similarly but Spirit is on theme for your own plans while Cleric is conditional on your opponent caring about their bin in some way. Protecting your plan is better than potentially disrupting theirs. This is more in the realms of Scavenging Ooze because you are getting similar utility out of them and playing them in similar roles. I like white and green getting extra disruptive cards, they are either short on interaction or just a bit dull and could use the love. Graveyards are heavily used in cube and there is precious little against it so it is nice to have more scope for fighting over those resources. Contrite Cleric will be difficult to use well as you have to sac off the card to use the disruption making it a harder and weightier choice. Great addition for cubes however. A nice new way to interact with more niche areas of the game that you can still play maindeck. 

Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma 3

This is a whole lot of card for sure. I am not however the biggest fan. The cost reduction ability is going to be hard pressed to apply to that many cards in your build which in turn will make it unlikely to be useful, indeed it feels a lot like it just encourages over extension! That means we are just looking at an aggressive card. It feels like it is somewhere between Voltaic Brawler and Sublime Archangel, an odd pair I know! Goreclaw attacks as a 5/4 with trample which is pretty sturdy. He also buffs up any bigger dorks you might have which is probably under one on average. Giving trample to one big thing is pretty significant but there are not many big things in cube without some evasion themselves. What really hurts Goreclaw is that he is a mild 3 toughness while not attacking and does nothing really until then. Goreclaw fails super hard as a card in the face of removal. I can imagine some decks wanting him but not good decks. For a drafting cube he is narrow in where you would want him and is an overly risky card. I am not even going to bother trying this one out.

Amulet of Safekeeping 2

An odd little hose card. A little bit of token control and a little bit of respite from stuff aimed at your face. I like the design in that it stacks with itself so that if one is good against your opponent then a second will make it even worse for them. Obviously this is far too low impact and narrow for any sort of main deck or drafting cube. There are boards I would be OK with this in at least, although fairly rarely.

Cleansing Nova 1

The utility on this is nice but it is likely not enough to carry it in cube. It is not common to face decks with heavy artifacts or enchantments, you mostly just need to kill the relevant one they have. Doing so for five mana will hurt. Spot removal is generally the best way to cover yourself in a drafting cube against the Disenchantables. This means you just have another five mana wrath with a super minor upside and that is not what we want at all. This might be OK in a very specific meta but I suspect even then there will be better ways to counter what is going on than this lumpy card.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

M19 Preliminary Reviews Part VI

Alpine Moon 1

Weird card. This is a good way to shut down combo decks based on non-basic lands but they are not that much of a feature in cube. I don't think this is powerful enough to run as anything other than a counter to combo decks. Using this to turn off a manland or a Rishadan Port sounds awful. You are a card down and you might even fix their mana! This should be pretty hot for constructed formats but I doubt it is seeing much cube love. I have won more games in cube with Maze's End (once) than I have with Dark Depths...

Psychic Symbiont 1

I don't really see it but you might find some use for this in a combo shell. Some new Aluren style deck or perhaps some Recurring Nightmare thing. If you are playing this it is for the EtB effects on a creature so as to abuse the type, not so you can cast it and attack and block with it. I highly doubt this will ever see the light of cube play but it isn't utterly inconceivable.

Draconic Disciple 0

Three mana ramp cards need to double ramp or otherwise be insane. A Grey Ogre with a seven mana self sac ability is a long long way off insane.

Metamorphic Alteration 1

For general use this has two applications. Either you buff your crap dork or you turn a threat into an irrelevance. For either of those things to be a reality you need there to be a crap thing and a powerful thing in play although what your options are from that point depends on where those things are on the battlefield rather more. Buffing your own stuff is always dodgy with auras as it leads to savage blowout plays with removal. On top of needing a thing yourself you pretty much need the coast to be clear ( them tapped out, counter backup, complete information, or I guess Spellskite type protection) for this to be a buff. It may have mild utility as such but it is way too inconsistent for it to contribute much to its value. We are therefor primarily looking at this as a weird removal effect to evaluate it and in that light we quickly see how unplayable this card is if that wasn't already clear ( it took me this long to get there). There might well be some combo applications for this but I doubt it, or at least I doubt they are anywhere near good.

Voracious Hydra 0

Neat design that gives you some nice control but not enough raw power for cube play. Sure, it has synergies and interactions you can abuse but none are combos that win the game, they are all just ways of scaling this up. And that is the problem, you just don't want this and so you don't want to bother scaling it up.

Sarkhan's Broken Seal 1

Intriguing design on this one but not one that is going to make it very far in cube. This seems like an EDH card where you can hit all opponents, have a big general and time luxury of time to cast big things. In cube you are going to really struggle playing enough things that trigger this to merit inclusion. It is a card like Tooth and Nail, it enhances top end when you should just play more top end. Not a strong 40 card deck spell. The best chance for this is with some card that bounces itself, Pearl Lake Ancient say (although I am sure there are better options, it is just the first I thought of and I don't have the time to go find the best options much as I wish I could....). If you can setup a situation where this is something you can trigger at will then perhaps it is viable. Sounds like more effort than payoff but still, enough to keep it from getting ruled out. Pandemonium and Electropotence may help this card to see some combo action but they may also just be sufficiently better as to prevent this getting used. Pandemonium is absolutely the most easily abused of all three.

Mistcaller 3

Nice, I like what has been done here. A new take on Containment Priest and a good way to powercreep the merfolk one slots without diverging from the colour pie. Not a lot to say on this one. It is a good sideboard card, it is a playable maindeck card in a tribal deck, it would be a fine cube inclusion if you have cheat in fat dork themes in your cube. Blue was already the best at countering those strategies so you might not even need it there. Just exciting to have more viable one drop blue dorks even if they are not all that powerful! With good flicker effects you can turn this into removal so expect this to become more interesting down the line if such things present themselves.

Nightmare's Thirst 4

Ooh! Well I do rather like this. That however does not mean it is good, that we will need to discover through mental probing and play. The real test is if this is better or worse than Tragic Slip as they are very similar cards. Both are baseline B to give -1/-1 at instant speed and that is a pretty common baseline for black removal options. You can get it with all sorts of frills. Slip sits atop that list in a general sense as removal benefits most from scaling. Slip can kill those turn one elves but it can also kill those late game Titans. Nightmare's Thirst also has scaling so I suspect it will at least be above the other -1/-1 cards even if it doesn't trump the Slip. One life is nice, it is extra nice in black, but it isn't making a big difference to the baseline of the card. Especially when you could have a 1/1 saproling if you want. Basically, and obviously,  Nightmare's Thirst in a cube, or in a specific deck, is as good as the lifegain you have access to. If you have Zuran Orb and an active Ivory Tower in play (because you are playing a Necro deck from the nineties) then Thirst is great. If you only have Kalitas and a Grey Merchant of Asphodel in your deck as ways of gaining life then Thirst is too under powered. It is not just about quantity of lifegain or indeed the amount of that lifegain but how cheap and accessible that lifegain is. Those are the most important things and there are relatively few of those in cube. It certainly feels like creatures die more often than life is gained. That alone is pretty much enough to secure Slip over Thirst in a cube setting. That could change over time, I doubt Thirst will ever be better than Slip on average but it could well reach the point in cube where it is good. Indeed, you could build a cube in which it was good if you really wanted to. Slip is a better late game card and is better able to handle very large dorks Thirst is going to be a lot more convenient to empower in the early and mid game. You can kill a two toughness dork on turn two with just a life land. Perhaps their Oust lets you smackdown on their Avacyn! This is a card to keep an eye on. Black already wants lifegain cards and this adds to that desire a lot. There are certainly decks where this would significantly out perform Slip or indeed most other black removal but they will not happen often enough for this to be cube worthy just yet. I am super hopeful that I will get to add this to the cube soon, I think the lifegain elements introduced in M19 are much needed and quite exciting for the direction of the card design at present.

Epicure of Blood 0

Nearly a combo card but too expensive for one thing. Not translating 1 for 1 but instead an instance of lifegain for 1 being the other thing.

Shield Mare 0

A sideboard tool only and not even good enough there. Yes, this murders red decks but so do a lot of cards, cheaper ones at that. This is probably a 1 for 1 plus six life against red which will be back breaking for them. They might not care about a 2/3 though in which case this is a shocking 3 mana for 3 life.

Vinemare 0

I am not sure I have ever said this before, but I prefer Thrun! Hexproof is an odd one. It is either very good because the dork it is on is well worth protecting or it needs to be on something cheap so that you can then scale it up more effectively. A Sword on a Slippery Boggle is cool and adds a lot of value, a Sword on Vinemare is slow and generally less exciting. A pretty vanilla four mana dork with 3 toughness isn't a good hexproof card, you need to buff the defense else it fails pretty hard in combat.

Lightning Mare 1

I kind of prefer Mardu Scout to this and I am not a big fan of the RR 3/1 particularly. I don't much care about this being uncounterable as it is a low impact spell. It will mess up someone trying to curve with Remand but that is the best it can really hope for. I am not even excited by the blue dorks being unable to block it. There are not many blue dorks nor do many decks rely on them for blocking with, the best it will do here is bypass Baleful Strix and True Name. Blue typically relies on other colours for creature control and so a 3/1 that has all this anti-blue shenanigans isn't going to have the desired result against blue all that often. The half firebreathing is nice but not as nice as dash. It is typically better on dorks with higher toughness than power. You will rarely get to trade up with this and mostly wind up trading down. This card does have a lot on it so hard to rule out but I don't expect to be running it anywhere.

Surge Mare 6

Now this could be just the ticket. Unlike Lightning Mare this is actually pretty effective against the colour it hoses (ha! the hose-horse cycle). This has the best evasion of all five Mares and with green having no real removal this has a great shot of being a pain in the arse for a lot of green mages. A 0/5 blocker for two is great, it holds off loads and is hard to take down. Being able to make it a 2/3 or even a 4/1 is huge as well. It allows you to actually prevent smaller dorks attacking with your 0/5 rather than just holding them off. It allows you to pressure with your wall when you can and it even makes it quiet a punchy threat or able to trade up well. The looting is almost the worst part of this card (mostly because you generally have to pay 1U to get it) and looting is amazing! This is a versatile card and a very skill intense one. I like how the +2/-2 ability will lead to complicated combat. I am sure I will attack with this loads with zero intention of pumping so as to tie up other blocker for free. What do they block it with? A 3/2 that will trade but only if I want to? Just chump it with a 1/1? Commit a 5/4 to killing it and risk a trade? Just let it through and let them get looting valeu? Surge Mare looks like a real chore to play efficiently against. It looks like it dominates green heavy players nicely too. It is not insane power but it is solid and does a lot.

Plague Mare 7

This seems a little bit oppressive in the kind of Chainwhirler way. Most decks have at least token chaff, some have 2/1s, some have mana dorks, some invest in 1/1 flying tokens and so on. Sure, this will do little more than be a Grey Ogre some of the time but it will be pretty nuts the rest of the time. Even killing one relevant thing with this makes it look better than most of the other 187 dorks black has. Whenever you kill 2 or more relevant things (which can be, and often is, 1/1 vanilla tokens) then Plague Mare will be devastating. It will be Arc Trail top end levels of swing. This even does some good work on combat just by shrinking their team a bit. That could well be enough to turn the tide and will often lead to dead planeswalkers or shocking trades. I wish this card was a little less polar but that is near impossible to do with conditional mass removal cards. Might as well just go for playable which this very much is. It is not the power of Chainwhirler but it is ever so much more playable. I have run Plague Spitter as a anti weenie cards loads in the past and to good effect but I think Plague Mare will take on that mantle now.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

M19 Preliminary Reviews Part V

Satyr Enchanter 3

This will see some play but not a lot. It is not the lack of power that makes Mesa and Verduran Enchantress weak, it is their vulnerabiliy, which this has to the same degree. I think this has come too late, now there are enough quality cards you would want in a 40 card list themed around enchantments that this is going to be pretty unexciting. It will see play here and there but it wont add much nor make much difference, there was already enough redundancy in what this does and they were already the filler cards. This needed hexproof ideally although shroud would have made it fairer but then also sadly narrower. At least this will actually help enchantress decks in EDH!

Volley Veteran 3

I suspect this will actually make the shortlist for a lot of goblin decks. While it is mostly worse than a Flame-Tongue Kavu it is a goblin and it is a removal spell. It is nice to cost reduce, nice to haste up, nice to find with goblin digging effects, nice to sac to a Food Chain, and most of all it is nice to add in more removal to a goblin deck without having to remove goblins. Goblins is super tight and has many good cards to chose from. This isn't replacing Incinerator and Sparksmith but it might well complement them.

Mirror Image 1

I am sure this will have its uses being one of the cheaper Clone options out there. It also doesn't have the "downside" or relying on what your opponents are playing with. Despite feeling like a better designed card it is obviously a worse card as it has had options removed. Instead of being randomly situational it is win more and basically conditional. This will only really be a combo card and even then probably still third in line after the cheaper and better Clone options (Phantasmal Image and Metalmorph).

Evlish Clancaller 2

A cheap elf lord isn't really what elves are about. Archdruid being a lord for example can be a drawback if you were relying on Skullclamp to draw into more action and go off. There are aggressive elf decks but they are the least common and frankly the least potent of the ramp, combo and aggro directions you can take the tribe in. Elves kill with Overrun effects at which point Evlish Clancaller looks like under a third of a card. The second ability isn't great in general but it is a blank in most cubes. So, this is an OK card at best that also happens to be off theme. It is cheap and has scaling so I expect it to get dabbled with. But I neither expect that to happen often nor anyone to conclude that it is good.

Dark-Dweller Oracle 7.5

Now this is one of the most exciting cards thus far from the set. A low cost dork with reasonable stats and a fantastic ability that is immediately active. I expect to see this all over the shop. It is great in RDW in the way that Battlefield Scavenger was used. Just a nice dual purpose card that affords some selection, dig or value while being a cheap proactive card you can develop the board with. Dark-Dweller Oracle will be like that in the role it does but it will do that role a whole lot better due to actually being a decent powerful card. You will also find Oracle doing work in any token deck. It turns Dragon Fodder into value, Rabblemaster into super value, turns on Blood Artist etc, or indeed just digs into your deck to find such cards. I am sure this will pop up in goblin builds going forward as well. It is just too much like Skullclamp to not wind up in creature decks. This is the perfect kind of card for cube. It is especially good in some archetypes due to functions and types however it is broad enough in utility and high enough in power that it will be a cool new mainstay for drafting cubes. I love how the instant speed of the sacrifice ability is tempered by the reduced utility of playing random cards from your deck of which only flash and instant cards have any value. I also like how the low cost of the ability is tempered by diminishing value each turn as your mana dwindles and your lands drops are consumed. This is a great example of how you can push power level on cards without making oppressive cards. Oracle is also going to be a skill intensive card to play due to the unknown aspects of the mechanic.

Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner 0

Weird design. Intriguing but never in a way that made me consider this for cube. Mostly I was curious about the hexproof ability and how it compares to haste, which is actually favourably in a lot of cases. As reliable damage or as a blocker it is a whole lot better. As a finisher it is worse. But yea, interest aside, a three colour dork has to be better than this, poor Palladi-Mors isn't as good as most mono coloured cube six drops.

Resplendent Angel 7

This is far too much stuff on a fine baseline not to be good. A 3/3 flier for 3 is OK, it might well wind up going 1 for 1 with removal but it will have a significant impact on most games when not and isn't a savage setback when so. Three CMC is roughly the upper limited on dorks that fail to provide value or protection in the face of spot removal (with some exceptions for the absurdly potent). Flying scales well so compared to many other three drops it will be more relevant late game even before we look at the abilities. Both of those abilities are threatening even without ever being used. They make Replendent Angel a lot scarier. Both are relatively infrequent but they are sufficiently powerful that they need respecting. Getting a Serra Angel token at the end of any turn in which you gained 5 life is a big win. A 3 mana Serra Angel token is not for off decent on its own, it is nuts on top of a another good 3/3 angel. That should put most games out of reach, let alone making more than one token! Then we have the ability to pump this dork. A +2/+2 and lifelink gain until EoT is pretty limp at six mana, it is hard to do and somewhat low powered when you do. It is unlikely to stave off removal. What it does critically do however is trigger the token making which is suddenly all sorts of worth the mana. It means that Resplendent Angel has that danger, like a 2/2 Nissa with six lands in play, or a 4/4 Figure of Destiny with five lands in play. Opponents may be able to weather a 3/3 flier but they will have to deal with Resplendent Angel regardless as it is just too much when reaching that six mana mark. This is a very powerful card that is solid from most view points. It is good early and late in a game and has a very high power level. It has a high floor and a very high ceiling. It offers interesting synergies while also being a self contained entity. It is pretty spot on for the sorts of cards that do well in cube. Mostly I want to combo this with Scroll of Avacyn but I cannot sensibly add that to the cube just for this!

Liliana's Spoils 0

This isn't good enough at all but I love elements of the card. Mostly the digging for black cards bit. I want to see more of that kind of mechanic. Sadly this is far too expensive for discard and far too slow and tempo scuppering as a value card. It has a whiff of Foresee about it but sadly it needed to be better than that to have a shot. Perhaps if it were Coercion rather than Raven's Crime but even then it is pushing it.

Magistrate's Scepter 1

I  had completely forgotten about this card. It is at least a lot better now than it was in Masques block due to charge counter shenanigans although that was probably the case by Scars of Mirrodin... I want to make a Coretapper plus Power Conduit style deck that abuses this! Sounds like it will be too thin for cube and just too weak and fragile for modern. Fun though! Unless you are putting counters on this for free or otherwise abusing the charge up mechanics on this it is a long way form viable. Once you find good ways to do this it looks interesting but more in a fun way than a good way.

Ajani's Last Stand 1

So this is awful if you ever cast it being a conditionally delayed token of the size you could get a better real dork on time for at the same cost. When you get to toss this to a Liliana activation you might well just win the game off the back of it. Lots of cards do that against discard already though and they barely ever see play as it is not a sufficiently big hose for a sideboard slot. While I typically prefer a Wilf-Leaf Liege, Metrognome, Obstinate Baloth or Loxodon Smiter for my discard protection with them mostly being better things to normally cast there is some merit in the Last Stand mostly due to the flying and how that will more reliably counter planeswalkers. This is sideboard only and not something I expect I will ever use.