Saturday, 17 November 2018

Golgari Dark Depths .dec

Dark DepthsThis is a nicely placed combo deck for cube. It has multiple things working in its favour that push it above and beyond where it feels like it should be. I am reluctant to call this a tier one deck but it probably is after all the cube specific factors are taken into account. So the main thing working in this decks favour is not needing to lean on black tutors to piece the combo together. This means you can use key early picks to take the premium black hand disruption. Heavy black combo decks really struggle to get Vamp and Demonic along with the disruption they need and this can easily ruin them. This is why, despite having all the needed tools for combo, most black decks need to also lean on blue so as to have appropriate disruption to force through and protect the combo. Black is simply not deep enough in cheap quality tutors and discard. This combo however is mostly about lands and perhaps some dorks and so it can entirely lean on green tutor effects for those, many of which outclass the black ones when used just for the types in question. With that in mind you can pickup the premium black disruption early and not miss out on your good tutors.

Thespian's StageBeing mostly about lands is another perk for cube as there is far less good disruption that hits lands. There is also very little that will exile lands so to fully shut this combo down you have to kill the lands and then use something else to exile the graveyard. That is all a bit much and so most decks will try and find solutions to Marit Lage instead. The next big edge this combo deck has is that it isn't blue which means you will have to fight less. Dimir is always pretty popular as is blue in general. Most combo decks use blue and there is often overlap in the support cards desired so being a combo deck out of blue is a great place to be.

This deck had so much redundancy it felt like playing a constructed deck. I always had my parts and in good time. I won more games than not by just going off a second time after my first go was handled. It is not the quickest deck in terms of potential speed. It can do turn three wins with a god draw but it needs the Mox to do so if using Thespian Stage. I could have thrown in elements like more cheap ramp and burst mana and haste giving effects to try and speed it up but it just didn't feel necessary. Your hand disruption and removal options are solid and your general survivability is good. I would rather consistently threaten lethal on turn four or five in a safe way with a robust deck than have the potential to do quicker kills either at the cost of a slower average clock or just having a bad and flimsy deck.

Vampire Hexmage24 Spells

Mox Diamond

Abundant Growth
Unbridled Growth
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Expedition Map

Inquisition of Kozilek
Fatal Push

Grapple with the Past
Grisley Salvage
Vampire Hexmage
ThoughtseizeInto the North

Collective Brutality
Assassin's Trophy
Satyr Wayfinder
Sylvan Scrying

Life from the Loam

Liliana, the Last Hope
Liliana of the Veil
Eternal Witness
Ramunap Excavator

Pernicious Deed

16 Lands
Into the North
Barren Moor
Tranquil Thicket
Thespian Stage
Dark Depths
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Verdant Catacombs
Overgrown Tomb
Llanowar Wastes

Blossoming Marsh
Temple of Malady
Twilight Mire

2x Snow-covered Forest
2x Snow-covered Swamp

Snow-Covered SwampMy absolute favourite part of this deck was getting to play with Snow-covered lands! On more than one occasion I went Into the North for a basic. I love an excuse to run exotic lands for legitimate reasons no matter how tiny. The list makes great use of the self mill effects open to Golgari. Most find lands or land and creatures so they are already helping dig for your combo however they pair up nicely with some recursive elements in the list to act as even more value and card selection. They ensure that you see a significant portion of your deck is fairly short order. It is not just tutor effects that are empowered for lands but also recursion effects! There is also a mild delirium component in the list. I had initially planned a backup of Emrakul but decided to go pure at the last minute. As such the delirium support is perhaps a little over polished and over the top but it doesn't feel like it detracts from the list as it is. Given how cube games go I would recommend finding space for an alternate win condition like Emrakul, the Promised and or Ishkanah. You might be able to get away wish splashing red for Kessig Wolf Run and some more man-lands. It looks a bit ugly but it scales with your other land support and allows you to trample up the Marit Lage making your primary win condition more effective as well. This change would require a higher land count I am sure. It would also slow the deck down with more lands entering tapped.

Sylvan ScryingNot only did I avoid playing the black tutors but I also avoided Crop Rotation. Turns out when your lands don't all tap for mana and need a bunch of sacrificing you don't want to be blowing up your own lands where possible. You don't need the speed of Rotation and so the card neutral Sylvan Scrying and Expedition Map feel a bit better. In many ways this list is a control deck that just happens to have a combo win it can pull off quickly, a little like Splinter Twin in that regard. I won many games through a combination of hand disruption, spot removal and a planeswalker keeping things safe and in check while I gained value from cycling lands. It didn't really matter how the game was actaully finished, it had been won before that point!

Eternal Witness is a pretty important card as it is the only way you have of getting back non-creature non-land cards which is basically all of your disruption and answers. If you just mill away the answer you need you are going to need to get it back with Witness which isn't ideal but is way better than no option at all. Luckily the deck is able to pack some of the most cost effective disruption and answers in the game so even when you tack on an extra 1GG to the cost it is still viable.

Abundant GrowthThe land enchantments are surprisingly handy allowing you to turn on your Dark Depths as a mana producer. This gives you greater freedom in how you play out your lands which is surprisingly relevant. While they are helpful for general fixing they only shine (one mana cantrip mana rock!) when you pair them with the Dark Depths. Normally I would not be so keen on putting in that much direct support for one card into a deck but given that you should expect to have the Depths in every game and fairly quickly it feels well worth it. Indeed without one of the Growths you are often having to use a tutor that could have found Depths or even Stage to find you a mana source.

I like how this list isn't one that leans on mana dorks what with everything being so cheap. This makes mass removal options more appealing and this can be a pretty big help in clearing the path for your 20/20! I ran Deed for the coverall but Deluge and even Damnation are likely better tempo choices. Or you could go in the other direction for a slower coverall in Ratchet Bomb. Unlikely better than Deed but does give you some room for delirium tinkering if needed. You could run some mana dorks and they would be fine but you are going to need more things to sink mana into and more card draw to make them worth it. There is not loads of suitable stand alone draw for this list, the best sources of value are all focused around the land synergies. Dark Confidant is nice but easily dealt with and a little painful. He makes the mass removal weaker again like the mana dorks. Night's Whisper is the only card draw I was sad not to be able to find room for. Returning to the mana dorks briefly I would much rather play Explore and Exploration style cards as they speed up the combo far more effectively and are less easily disrupted.

Grisly SalvageDoomfall is a surprisingly nice catchall card for this kind of deck. The poor mans Collective Brutality. I would consider that to make up for shortfalls in hand disruption. You really need to be able to hit spells and that limits your good options. Other than the discard, which is continually getting better positioned, this list is chock full of redundancy. There is a tonne of solid removal in Golgari that covers you against all permanents. There is also plenty more card quality and self mill if needed from Vessel of Nasceny to Oath of Nissa. Once you have your combo cards it is pretty hard to be cut. This is a rare example of a combo deck you could take to 50 or even 60 card deck size and not have it tank in viability. It would be weaker as with almost all decks but it would not become unplayable, it would not tank like the other combo decks nor even suffer as badly as most aggro decks. Overall the deck is great. It is powerful and consistent and dangerous. It is hard to shut down and it has loads of build options and directions. It is pleasantly open to draft and has all the good feel of a blue combo deck to play.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Oath of Teferi .dec

Oath of TeferiThe list I am showing below is not one of my own but one of a friend who savagely handled me with it. My own first take of an Oath of Teferi list focused more on flicker elements and contained things like Brago and Venser (the walker). His list was focused on the more powerful side of the Oath. It also preformed much more impressively hence the article being on it rather than mine! There are certainly loads of ways to go with this kind of deck as with any vaguely UW control looking deck. There are just so many viable cards these days and so much redundancy in many of the parts that you can make a number of very similar decks using mostly different cards. The most interesting elements of an established overarching archetype like UW control are which synergies you are playing, how deep you are going with them and which overlaps you are choosing to make use of. This list is a gem. It has exactly enough of all the core things a control deck needs while still managing to cram in a bunch of cute cards and synergy overlaps. It is also by far and away the new record holder for planeswalker ultimates going off both nominally and per game, with a solid two and a bit ultimates per match! It manages to stay true to the archetype while doing something new and creative and it managed to do it sufficiently well so as to win all the matches. Those things are hard with any archetype, Azorius control I would say is one of the hardest. Here is his list;

Clockspinning23 Spells

Swords to Plowshares
Ancestral Vision
Elixir of Immortality

Wall of Omens
Azorius Charm
Arcane Denial
Search for Azcanta
Renewed Faith

Gideon of the Trials
Savor the Moment
Oath of Gideon
Oath of GideonAs Fortold

Cryptic Command
Cast Out
Supreme Verdict
Settle the Wreckage

Force of Will
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Oath of Teferi

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

17 Lands

Mage Ring Network
UW dual lands

Teferi, Hero of DominariaOath of Teferi is the main build around card in the deck. It is so powerful you can broadly ignore the flicker effect and only support it with four planeswalkers. It is a five mana do nothing that empowers a mere tenth of the deck! The mere fact that such a card is playable should make a good case for how good it is. It turns out that having two goes on a planeswalker each of your turns is not just twice as good as normal, it is far far better than that. Walkers that do more and grow quicker are hard to keep pace with. They are super hard to keep from going ultimate and they get there very quickly if not attended to. It is so powerful that it is pretty much a combo with any half decent walker. Much of the rest of the deck plays into this empowering of the walkers as well. The rate this had of getting ultimates off demonstrates the effectiveness of that game plan and support.

Clockspinning is a great little addition to this list. It has been performing quite well in the drafting cube of late but this constructed list is one of the best places I have seen it in for effectiveness. It is cute with the As Foretold and Ancestral Visions but it is also another way of ramping planeswalkers towards ultimates. It is actually really hard to play against walkers when they can grow a couple of loyalty without warning at EoT. Clockspinning is generally quite a good card purely in a disruptive capacity, it doesn't take much extra from your side of things to make it worth running. It is a lovely way to deal with Hangarback Walker. It is nice for shrinking opposing walkers. It is frequently a combat trick with so many dorks having some form of size modifying counter on them. It is both a late game mana dump and a cheap early interactive tempo play. All round cheap and versatile card.

Savor the MomentOath of Gideon is one of my favourite inclusions in this deck. It is the perfect little brother to Teferi's Oath. It makes walkers that little bit more dangerous, it helps protect them and it is a cute little flicker target. Savor the Moment is the spiciest of all the inclusions I would say. It is obviously great with planeswalkers but it also not terrible with a pre-flip Search for Azcanta or a Visions. Also lovely in combination with the As Foretold. Basically at worst the Savor is a Clockspinning and an Explore in one and at best it is totally stealing the game with loads of planeswalker abuse and the potential for free As Foretold mana.

The Elixir was a good call I thought. I might have tried to get away with a Mistveil Plains but then I would also need a white token generating planeswalker to go with it. The deck goes through the library rapidly and wins slowly. It has all the answers but it only has most of them once. It isn't overdone with win conditions either. Value isn't what this deck struggles with and so "wasting" a card on bolstering actual weaknesses felt right.

Elixir of ImmortalityThe removal and counter magic suite was spot on. Impressively so. It was well balanced to work with the As Foretold, the curve, the walkers and so forth. It had no gaps and left loads of room for the cool synergy stuff. My friend held a smug grin as he cycled his Cast Out with his Teferi emblem remarking how it was even better removal in the other mode.

The main issue I have with this deck is how hard it is to make room. There are basically no cards I am happy cutting yet loads of cards I want to add in! Most of the cuts you could make would then need replacing with a comparable card. Really they are swaps or tweaks. You could run Mana Leak or Counterspell instead of the Denial. You could run Thraben Inspector instead of the Wall of Omens. You could run Unexpectedly Absent or Council's Judgment instead of the Cast Out. There might be reasons to go for such changes but in this list I really like the balance that has been struck. If you had to make some space I would consider the Renewed Faith. I feel like you could lose a land but it seems like an unnecessary risk. Especially if you are culling cheap cyclers. Losing land probably means trading down Ugin into a Sun's Champion or perhaps a Karn. It also probably just results in the addition of something like an Opt, Remand or even a Signet to somewhat redress the mana balance.

Mage-Ring NetworkSo what cards do I want to add in? Loads obviously but a few with rather more merit than others. I think this list wants a tool for dealing with problem lands. Ideally Field of Ruin but Rishadan Port is great too. With 17 lands and so much draw and selection you can easily support a second colourless land in this list. That is the easy include as it is a clean swap for a land. A basic if staying 17 and the Mage-Ring Network if dropping to 16. The Network is mostly for powering out Ugin and with 16 lands he would be toned down to a cheaper walker and thus remove the utility of the Network.

I want to play more planeswalkers so as to take advantage of the synergies. Likely the best options are the known potent walkers. Ideally we could fit a four mana walker in meaning Architect of Thought, Mind Sculptor, Ally of Zendikar or Knight-Errant. The Jace options are a bit more on-theme but generally more vulnerable and harder to deploy. Mystic Confluence is the other thing I really want to find some room for. It is one of my favourite things to pair with As Foretold. I like how it provides gas to carry on exploiting your mana advantage while also affording a good degree of control.

I doubt commander players will be at all surprised at how good Oath of Teferi is due to how much use The Chain Veil sees and how much the thing is! Those who have not played commander however will likely be highly surprised at how massively Oath of Teferi dominates a game. Try it out, just add planeswalkers! It seems you can built with it in many ways and is not as narrow as it looks.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Top 10 Cards of 2017

Vraska, Relic Seeker
A big old 55 cube cards from 2017 and a depth of other useful tools from the sets Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation and Ixalan. This large number could be power creep or it could be sloth in testing! I suspect there is an element of both. While the best and the worst cards quickly make themselves apparent in cube testing the better balanced and designed cards typically take a little longer to show their true colours. While I am fairly happy with knowing roughly how good the cards are from 2017 I am less confident in the fine details that I often use to decide ordering in lists. This is absolutely the year I have shuffled round and fiddled with the most in terms of what makes it and in what position. Suffice it to say 2017 was a good year for cube.

As with most of the more recent years I am wanting to do honorable mentions! There being so many cube cards and their design being so good that they are all somewhat comparable for power/playabiltiy rating helps me resist! This year containing a set with cycling brought vast numbers of playable cards to the cube and made for a very pleasant play experience. Decks are far more rounded as a result of 2017. A big part of this was how well the removal was designed allowing for cover of niche things without forcing narrow and potentially dead cards into lists. This list is mostly removal effects and there are more really good ones from 2017 that nearly made the list too. Removal power creep has lagged behind threat power creep for some time. While 2017 certainly didn't catch up with threat  the improved removal is most welcome. Removal is interactive and leads to better games. It is no fun either losing to things you can't deal with or losing because your hand is full of dead narrow cards you played so the other bad thing doesn't happen! It is also much harder to make removal detrimental when compared to the dangers of power creep in threats. While the power of most of the removal from 2017 is just reasonable it is the suitability and playability of most of it that makes this year stand out as a triumph. More power could have been reasonably thrown into the removal effects offered yet swathes of the fairer cards see regular play. Cycling leads to some very clean design possibilities.

I sincerely hope that 2017 gets the design credit it deserves. I fear it might be overlooked for more macroscopic failures in limited and standard (I am not suggesting things were bad, I didn't follow enough to know, I am just aware that 2017 didn't seem to make waves in the way the most cherished sets do). The individual cards demonstrate real craftsmanship. I hope this is what we can expect in terms of design quality going forwards. Commander was a bit extreme in some ways but still mostly a welcome addition to the pool. Here is the list of quality that didn't make the top 10 list from the year;

Kitesail FreebooterArguel's Bloodfast
Adanto Vanguard
Ramunap Excavator
Kari-Zev, Skyship Raider
Gideon of the Trials
Cycling Duals
Sweltering Sun
Dissenter's Deliverence
Chart a Course
Insult // InjuryCommit // Memory
Hazoret the Fervent
Settle the Wreckage
Harsh Mentor
Oketra's Monument
Hostage Taker
Legion's Landing
Kitesail Freebooter
Insult / Injury
Rampaging Ferocidon
Champion of Wits
Adorned Pouncer
Aethersphere Harvester
Settle the WreckageAhn-Crop Crasher
Aethertide Whale
As Fortold
Angel of Sanctions
Anointed Procession
Approach of the Second Sun
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Reason // Believe
Battlefield Scavenger
Bone Picker
Bontu's Last Reckoning
Captain Lannery Storm
Carnage Tyrant
Baral, Chief of ComplianceChampion of Rhonas
Channeler Initiate
Claim // Fame
Combat Celebrant
Crash Through
Crested Sunmare
Cut // Ribbons
Dusk // Dawn
Djeru's Renunciation
Dread Wanderer
Grind // Dust
Farm // Market
Curse of Opulence
Curse of Disturbance
Firebrand Archer
Forsake the Worldly
Gifted Aetherborn
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Glory-Bound Initiate
Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Dust Walker
Hashep Oasis
Heart of Kiran
Curse of OpulenceHeroic Intervention
Hidden Stockpile
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Hollow One
Honored Crop Captain
Hope of Ghirapur
Implement of Ferocity
Inspiring Statuary
Ipnu Rivulet
Jace, Cunning Castaway
Leave // Chance
Liliana, Death's Majesty
Lord of the Accursed
Herald's Horn
Kess, Dissident Mage
Metallic MimicMaulfist Revolutionary
Metallic Mimic
Mirage Mirror
Never // Return
Nissa, Steward of Elements
Territorial Hellkite
The Ur-Dragon
Prowling Serpopard
Ramunap Ruins
Renegade Map
Rhonas, the Indomitable
Ripjaw Raptor
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Rishkar's Expertise
Rogue Refiner
Ruin Raider
Sacred Cat
Samut, Voice of Dissent
Scrap Trawler
Seeker's Squire
Servo Schematic
Shefet Dunes
Siren Stormtamer
Skyship Plunderer
Sorcerer's Spyglass
Spell Swindle
Spire of Industry
Sram, Senior Edificer
Sram's Expertise
Steward of Solidarity
Sunscourge Champion
Supreme Will
Tezeret, the Schemer
Whir of InventionThrone of the God Pharaoh
Tocatli Honor Guard
Trophy Mage
Unbridle Growth
Unclaimed Territory
Vance's Blasting Cannons
Vizier of Remedies
Vizier of Many Faces
Vizier of the Managerie
Vraska, Relic Seeker
Vraska's Contempt
Whir of Invention
Wily Goblin
Winding Constrictor
Yehenni, Undying Partisan
Yehnni's Expertise

Fatal Push10. Fatal Push

While this might be one of the all time premium removal spells in formats like modern and legacy poor Fatal Push is basically just another Disfigure in cube. That is great, don't get me wrong, more playable decent quality one mana removal in black is exactly what was needed. Push itself isn't a bomb but black is doing much better because of it due to how sparse it was on consistent and rounded playables at the low end. Black having few high quality and well rounded one drops get a huge boost whenever a card like this joins the ranks as black lacks depth, not power. They are instantly very playable even if they are not of standout power level. Push is a top tier removal spell but it is better in modern and legacy than cube by a noticeable margin.

Field of Ruin
9.   Field of Ruin

The fixed Strip Mine after many many attempts! This is a good way to keep spell and man lands in check and can even be used to punish greedy mana bases. It has some cute utility as a shuffle effect, potentially on both libraries. It can also fix for you in some cases as well. All round a very interesting card with a spot on power level. You see more of Field than Rishadan Port which is an impressive place to be. The card is wonderfully fair for one that comes with so much depth, playability and options. This would be one of many premium example cards that showcase quite how good of a job the design and development teams did for the cards of this era.

8.   Cast Out
Cast Out
This is probably only this low on the list because it is a little dull. It has been seeing consistent play in a vast array of decks. Basically any white deck. The cost of playing it is minimal and the safety it brings is large. The wider the coverage of your removal the less you need to run and Cast Out has a wide old web. The high cost is almost entirely mitigated with flash and cycling. It doesn't hold you back like most other pricier cards, indeed it can often help get you out of a bind. Impressively Cast Out has taken much of the play that Council's Judgement used to get. Cycling, instant speed and only a single white to play all add up to be more desirable on average than permanent exile without targetting issues at three mana. It is not easy to understand how this outperforms Judgement so obviously in practice as it is so un-intuitively based on how much more powerful Judgement seems on paper. Both are cover all 1 for 1 answer cards at high cost. They are your get out of jail free cards. Where you want to be in a game is not in need of a get out of jail free card. Obviously amazing when you need them but if all is going well then they are fairly inefficient. Cast Out has far better utility in that case not just because of the cycling but also fairly significantly from the flash. It lets you bluff other plays or leave things till the last minute for maximum information or perhaps even a blowout play. It is much easier to get value from killing a low value target with a high mana cost removal card if you can do so at instant speed. All that more than makes up for the lower cost and more certain permanent end of the problem card.

Abrade7.   Abrade

Another fine removal card that has empowered all flavours of red. Abrade did big things in constructed yet is perhaps even better suited to cube. With such a wide array of stuff going on and less focus in archetypes due to singleton the modal nature of Abrade shines bright. It lets you have access to Shatter without need of card filtering tools or the risk of having dead cards. The upside on having outs to artifacts comfortably outweighs the drawback of not being able to burn players or walkers. This comfort barrier increases as your build tends from aggro towards control of course. I was concerned that this would not see play over Searing Spear but it very much does. It is supremely rare that a burn player finds themselves wanting to do three to face and being stuck with Abrade. You can plan for such things in most instances and use the appropriate spell on the appropriate target based on the stage of the game and what you expect to need to kill. Amazing card for midrange and control, great card for aggro and a huge boost to red all round.

Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin
Search for Azcanta

6.   Search for Azcanta

Another card I am a little shocked to see so low on this list. This is a big name in many formats for being a cheap all round card that provides card quality, then mana and finally card advantage. In constructed the card quality and advantage aspects are the main contributors to the value of the card but in cube the mana production value accounts fora significant portion too. All round the card is great design. it provides lots of control over the game through lots of options. It does an appropriate and useful thing at all stages of the game and is surprisingly often positive in both mana and cards. Despite all this the card is pretty fair. In cube it has the tendency to be even more silly as I have on more than one occasion found myself in a position of knowing the order of my whole library! Really powerful if you can remember it and have a tool to manipulate it in some way, say Azcanta, the Sunken Ruins! Being slow is what makes this card so fair, you are looking at a long time before it is worth the card cost, usually it needs to flip. If you are looking for positive return on cards and mana we are talking a really long time, longer than most games! Although not longer than most games involving Search for Azcanta.

Treasure Map5.   Treasure Map

Treasure CoveSearch for Azcanta is more streamlined and powerful card compared to Treasure Map. It has no ongoing costs to use and it has a potentially limitless use. Map by contrast only offers 3 scry and each needs you to pay for it, then once flipped can only draw three extra cards by itself total. The main reason Map sees a lot more play in cube than Search for Azcanta is that it is colourless. Blue is already spoilt for card quality and draw. None of the other colours have access to both of those things, white doesn't have either! Draw and card quality in non-blue colours tends to be limited or conditional or have additional costs or prerequisites. Very few cards just scry and draw cards outside of blue and so Map is a pretty huge stand in. Further to that map offers plenty of good artifact synergies, not only being one itself but turning into three when it flips. Metalcraft in a can! A good way to make your Scion of Urza really pack some punch. What really makes map so good is how dynamic the card is. Very quickly it can provide you returns on all your investments. It can be an Ancestral Recall and/or a Black Lotus. I guess with it being three to six turns to unlock those things it is more of an Ancestral Visions and Lotus Bloom but still all good cards that most decks can put to use well. The advantage Map has over those things are the three scry you get prior to than point and the control you get within the one card. Frequently I have seen map been flipped at end of turn and then used for mana in the following turn to deploy something like an Ugin far quicker than expected, perhaps even just a six drop with enough Treasure remaining for protective countermagic. Treasure Map can have a more rapid and swingy impact than most of the the other flip land cards from the block due to the potential mana influx and that is surprisingly powerful given how slow it seems on paper.

The Scarab God4.   The Scarab God

This is one of those cards that is just too powerful to ignore. It takes over a game and is very hard to handle. It is the kind of card that you go out of your way to play and that is the only time you will find gold cards high up on these lists. I savagely underrated this card on review, I simply saw it is an overly fluffy top end gold card that wouldn't see enough play in cube to merit inclusion. The card is so powerful however that I instantly saw my mistake watching it perform on camera in a standard pro tour. It was the first activation and it was on a Torrential Gearhulk and the game went from a close affair to beyond over in that moment. Obviously that was a top end recursion but even so, the power of the card was clear and it has lived up to that in cube. Most decks only have a handful of ways to stop it being a perpetual threat, some have none. Those that do have permanent solutions can still be bodied by the God with the many various other attributes it has. In the slower games waiting till nine mana for an activation alongside the cast can be too much for opponents recover from while being safer against removal. You can also just protect it with a Spellskite or pluck away their removal with Duress or Negate. Do that and then easily win with an activation or two and perhaps even some free scry and lifedrain into the mix! Basically you untap with Scarab God and you probably win and this in turn means some decks will start to throw resources on the fire just to buy time. It is powerful because it is hard to properly kill but it is really really powerful because it wins games regardless of being hard to kill. A hard to kill threat that wins games with ease is a scary card. Sometimes it wins because it is huge and they can't get rid of it, other times it wins because it creates and army. Sometimes it wins by making enough defenses to hold off an all in aggro deck. The fact that some Temur energy decks were splashing for it says it all really. A fourth colour added to a synergy deck for a card with no synergy overlap.

Glorybringer3.   Glorybringer

This is another of those too powerful not to play cards. I remember reviewing this and claiming that despite it clearly being more powerful than Thundermaw that it probably wouldn't see as much play as it was not as an aggressive finisher. Instead it was so powerful that it just warped the meta and made midrange and control red something you really wanted. Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Abrade, Sweltering Sun and Fiery Confluence made midrange and control red viable but Glorybringer is the pull, it is the main card that makes you actively want to go that way being more impactful than Chandra and more playable than Titan. Glorybringer is capable of some of the filthiest swings in the game. When you do something like kill a Restoration Angel with the trigger and attack a planeswalker to death you are getting a three for one that makes Ancestral Recall look like poor mana efficiency. While it is not common to get two big hits it is common place to get two things dead on the first attack and one of them is almost always good and you always get a Glorybringer in play! An exerted in play Glorybringer feels worth nearly all that five mana and so assuming you kill six mana worth of stuff you can still call Glorybringer about five mana more efficient than Recall! Sure, this is ceiling territory we are still talking but worst case scenario you just hit them for four and have an unexerted Glorybringer in play. This either forces removal or an answer that can stand up to four damage. Bearing in mind you are facing a red player and they have at least five mana there is a good chance they can supplement the exert damage with a bit of burn meaning very few answers to Glorybringer come in creature form. Hornet Queen and Baneslayer Angel are about all there is, even the mighty Ishkana is a little bit high risk when facing off against Glorybringer. Glorybringer isn't quite as potent as The Scarab God but it is far quicker acting and a bunch more playable hence being higher up on the list.

Walking Ballista2.   Walking Ballista

Outstanding card, perhaps a little too all round good. It is not the power that is objectionable but the extreme playability this card has. It is good in aggro and great in midrange and control. It also seems to be one of the best combo finisher tools out there. It winds up in affinity decks and Eldrazi decks. It just goes anywhere and is really quite good in all of those places. Late game it is a reliable and safe win condition. It is also the best of mana sinks in those late game situations. Ballista affords vast option density. Make it at almost any point on the curve. At most points there after charging it up for 4 mana is often a good option. Ballista provides removal to many colours that lack it, pretty much all of Bant benefit a lot from Ballista. Even though white can deal with creatures it is not very efficient at taking out the small ones without Wraths. My favourite thing about this card is how it keeps Mother of Runes a bit more in check. Being too playable isn't really a criticism either given that the power level isn't in the oppressive region, it isn't really over the top either, just a healthy high powered card. The criticism would more be in the fact that you see it a lot so it makes things less varied. I don't think that is a problem either as this card is so option dense it brings a lot of play with it and that is what leads to good games. I would tend to weight my preference on quality of game over variety of game. Cube has never felt like it lacked in variety!

Fractured Identity1.   Fractured Identity

This is an oppressively good card in heads up play. Power wise it is top tier but shouldn't count as broken. It is slow and expensive and gold. It shouldn't be any worse than the Scarab God for example but it totally is. The problem with Fractured Identity is that it has comparable polarity to badly designed old cards like Anhk of Mishra or Armageddon. Such cards often win the  game or do nothing. Identity is weak against aggressive decks but it never does nothing and so it is even more all round oppressive due to being highly playable. As soon as it is any sort of midrange or control matchup the whole game becomes about Fractured Identity. It is such a savage answer and swing that it is much like a Wrath of God in a control versus aggro matchup. The aggro player is trying to force a Wrath while having enough to follow it to win the game, or failing that ending the game before a Wrath is online. Who ever has Fractured Identity is the control player in any sort of game without a speed based deck. If I can hold it back for your best target I am going to win, if you can force me to use it on a medium level target then the game can return to a normal affair. If you suspect Fractured Identity you simply cannot cast any sort of big top end card, most notably planeswalkers. This removes most of your sensible low risk options going into the mid and late game when playing against Fractured Identity. The card is far more oppressive to the cube meta than Jitte has ever been. Being a spell that has the entirety of it's effect right away you have to play around it at all times while a Jitte was only a problem once in play. It could be dealt with retroactively at relatively minor incurred cost and so forth. Fractured Identity is significantly better than Treachery or anything like that as it is so much safer. You get to exile their threat meaning it never comes back and it doesn't trigger the on death effects and bypasses indestructible and the like. Your token copy is exactly that - yours! They cannot Brooding Saurion it back or bounce it to their hand. Their card is gone and you have your thing. Even hitting a three drop with Identity is a two for one and a tempo swing. You are up a three mana card and they are down with a six mana swing at the cost of just five. The nine mana swing and three for one feel you get when you get to Fracture Karn Liberated...  Fractured Identity is too powerful of an answer card, it hits almost any target and handles most forms of resilience, it is always at least a two for one and it is generally a tempo swing too. It is never bad and frequently game ending and that all adds up to an oppressive card. Bad design and well worthy of culling from cubes for several good reasons.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Runaway Red .dec

Runaway Steam-KinI built this list up last night and was not disappointed. Normally when I build a new archetype for the first time I pull out all the cards I think should go into it, lay those out and then slowly add to it with suitable other cards so as to make it up to 40. For this deck I was over subscribed with contenders for slots rather than under and had to simply start cutting. I much much prefer building up a deck from nothing rather than carving a deck out of a larger pool. I don't think either way is wrong or right and is likely just a preference thing but it is a big part of my deck designing process and not having it set me a little on edge. It felt like I didn't know the deck at all. I was certainly not confidant of it going into the games. I guess if I were a sculptor I would use things like matchsticks to build up my works from nothing rather than a block of stone to chip away until my creation emerged! Anyway, this insight into my deck building process was mostly to show how much potential this list has in cube. There is absolutely a correlation between how many cards I know are going in a list from conception and how well it does. When I have a paltry collection of cards to start with my final results are weaker, when I have most of a deck in mind then it will perform more robustly on average. So despite me being on edge due to not having my usual building process I should have reconciled myself in statistical trends! The list absolutely lived up to that promise and didn't drop a game despite seeming down and out on more than one occasion.

26 Spells
Rite of Flame
Faithless Looting
Lightning Bolt
Chain Lightning
Lava Dart

Monastery Swiftspear
Soul-Scar Mage
Rite of Flame
Gut Shot

Firebrand Archer
Electrostatic Field
Runaway Steamkin

Tormenting Voice
Cathartic Reunion
Risk FactorPyretic Ritual
Desperate Ritual


Seething Song
Insult // Injury
Risk Factor
Wheel of Fortune

Arclight Phoenix
Experimental Frenzy
Past in Flames


Bedlam Reveler

14 Mountains

Ruby MedallionThis is not the exact list I ran. I had Young Pyromancer, which was weak, and Ruby Medallion, which was outstanding. Those have been replaced by Gut Shot and Insult // Injury which I somehow overlooked in my initial card pullout and then due to my process being disrupted I didn't have a second chance to think of them (my excuse and I am sticking to it). I would love to find room to keep the Ruby Medallion as it performed so well. This list is so tight I cannot easily find space in it. Seething Song is perhaps a reasonable cut but taking out such a powerful and on-theme instant seems so wrong when the deck is based around red instants and sorceries so heavily.

The most reasonable cuts on that basis are probably the one drop beaters. The deck is not really about attacking. While Both Soul-Scar and Swiftspear are high powered and on-theme they are payoff receivers rather than contributors. While they might be able to get big fairly easily they are not quite so well supported by removal to create them a path clear of chumps. I would be reticent to cut them as the list doesn't have masses of damage output. If you don't get ahead in tempo and put people's life totals under pressure it feels like the deck simply isn't going to be dangerous or punchy enough to keep people on the defensive. Things like Risk Factor will not pose much of a choice. One of many things I will have to tinker with and test to find out.

Past in FlamesSo what was it about this list that made it perform so well? Hard to put a finger on it exactly, likely due to it being a composite of several factors. Unlike a lot of red lists aiming to attack peoples life totals fairly directly this list dose away with redundancy and makes up for it with card quality and draw effects. Classically a deck such as this will have few to no non-land cards that are not something that does face damage. This list however has loads of looting cards and loads of rituals all of which are pretty much blanks on their own. An older red deck would see 10-15 cards from the 40 and need to be able to win with those. This list frequently came close to decking itself. Excluding the Past in Flames, Experimental Frenzy and the Risk Factor this list contains the capacity to draw 20 cards spread across a bunch of spells. Basically this means you can be fairly sure of seeing most of the deck and so you can really lean on and push those synergy cards. It looks burn light and threat light but that is only if you are looking at this like a classic aggressive red deck. When you double or triple the number of cards you expect to see then you are fine for tools to end it with. Indeed, you are much more consistent and powerful because you can rely on single one off big effects like the Past in Flames or Insult that much more heavily. You can make a game plan that utilizes one of these effects before you find it and usually make it work.

Cathartic ReunionIt is not just the digging through the deck that is good, indeed that by itself would be bad. You don't want to waste much time, cards and mana on card quality and draw when you are trying to kill people in a linear way like this. It is because you can tie together so many synergies while doing these things that allows it to be a benefit rather than a cost. The rituals help you to recover some of the tempo loss and indeed can work to power out a good start which you then recover from with the card draw.

Runaway red is a really good name for the deck as it is exactly what it does. I had turns where I would start doing things and end up doing multiple times as many things as I initially anticipated. On more than one occasion I fully charged up a Steamkin, used the mana from it and then did it again in the same turn. Combined with the flashback effects and the draw effects the deck does not run out of gas quickly! Cards like Lava Dart really empower the deck as a whole. You are happy to loot away the Dart or happy to use it all for triggers. Having it in the bin as an instant and free way of charging up your Steamkin was always lovely. It was certainly the most helpful card in recurring Arclight Phoenix.

Arclight PhoenixArclight is actually only good in the deck because it is such a free inclusion. You are actively wanting to discard it and then usually able to get it back at little to no cost. It is a synergy receiver like the one drops however being a card and a mana less in cost most of the time it is a whole lot better! I did pull it off turn one which was pretty cool. That is far from the norm however, you should expect to be recurring it later in the game, turn three or four most commonly. That being said, you should also be able to recur it multiple times over the course of a longer game. Without the abundance of looting or the lots of spells theming of the deck you couldn't play Arclight. This really is the perfect fit for all the new red gems from Guilds of Ravnica!

Experimental Frenzy does not feature in the modern version of this deck but is quick enough for cube. I didn't bother supporting it as well as I perhaps should have. Sac lands is the best way of doing this. They thin the lands and let you shuffle them off the top when you run out of drops on a given turn. Getting blocked by the second land is one of the few ways this deck doesn't "runaway" whenever Frenzy is in play. Cards like Pyrite Spellbomb and Magma Jet are also considerations for their ability to shift a card from the top of the deck. The issue with those is savagely low power for the Jet and lack of synergy support on the Spellbomb. It is all probably a bit keen anyway. This list doesn't lean on Frenzy and works fine without it. Sac lands are nice perks but are highly contested and harder to pick up. Beyond that I wouldn't bother trying to support it further.

Experimental FrenzyFrenzy is not the only source of gas this deck packs by a long shot. Wheel of Fortune and Past in Flames are both huge injections of gas and the casual Ancestral that comes with Bedlam Reveler is no small thing! Risk Factor affords a lot of draw potential as well. I was surprised at how often it seemed like it was correct for my opponents to let me draw. I think that is a trait somewhat unique to a deck like this. Four or Eight damage is a lot for this deck while three or six cards is not such a big deal! Either way, Risk Factor was really impressive. It was lovely to have two cards in one. It was nice to be able to pull things out of the hand with the jump-start and it was no loss tossing it to a loot also due to the jump-start. All these heavy draw tools gave the deck huge recovery potential. The list really doesn't need much in play to do mentally potent things. You can feel safe because they have a small hand and just a few lands in play and they can untap, draw and cast their deck and deal you plenty more damage than your life total. I think that is what I liked most about the build, the fact that it is so dangerous yet so unassuming. It is really hard to spot when it is about to unload and kill.

Electrostatic FieldElectrostatic Field is yet another new card that slots into this list. While not super powerful nor indeed better in most senses than the two cards it provides redundancy for the effect of it is still pretty huge in this kind of deck. When you are leaning on a certain type of tool having access to multiple copies of that tool is massive for synergy. This list is really good at dropping down a two drop that pings per spell. The rate at which this deck cast spells makes such cards very quickly have vast damage outputs. They are your main repeatable damage sources but they don't need you to clear a path for them. They bring the pain without having to attack and that lets you make your burn go a whole lot further. They stack up too which is even better for having redundancy! The other new cards are all more powerful, interesting and exciting but Field is likely the most relevant in contexts like this.

There is an argument for going blue. Mostly just for Treasure Cruise. In most ways it is superior to Bedlam Reveler. There is also of course Gitaxian Probe which I should likely have already found room to squeeze in despite not having any blue to cast it with. Sure, they don't charge up Steamkin but they do work for everything else and are low cost, high power, high synergy additions. Again, I am going to blame my clearly incorrect exclusion of Probe on having too many cards from the outset!

Gitaxian ProbeSo what are all these cards I wanted to play but had to cut? I have mentioned some already. Others include some spicy mana and card producing top end that would have been very potent to ramp out with rituals and the like. These included both Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Koth of the Hammer who were easier to cut due to not being instants or sorceries! I also pulled out Vance's Blasting Cannons which sadly is an easy cut because of its low power. There are the red cantrip cards like Overmaster and Crash Through that just cheaply and easily provide triggers. These would have been excellent filler if such things were needed. I imagine trying to do this sort of build in a 60 card deck (yet staying singleton) would require you to include such things but with my tight list they were also easy cuts. All they do is provide support for the synergies, they don't do anything by themselves and that makes them less exciting than things like Tormenting Voice.

Crash Through
I looked at Flame of Keld because I love it and because it has some mental synergies going on. Sadly it also has some awkwardness to it in this list. It is not an instant or sorcery and it is dead or causes other cards to be dead when both are drawn into the same hand (Wheel and Reveler). I looked at Abbot of Keral Keep but didn't like the lack of control I had over it in a combo like deck such as this. I looked at flip Chandra, the Fire of Kaladesh who is usually pretty naughty in decks like this. This time however she looked like a slower version of the two drops that also has a cap on her potential damage output. Funny how even when a high powered card is supported by synergy still winds up being weaker than a low powered card (such as Electrostatic Field) supported by the exact same synergies! That is why we talk about scaling so much in these articles! Guttersnipe would be a substantially scarier card than Chandra in this list and is a real contender for a slot.

Fiery TemperI looked at Firebolt but went with Chain Lightning for that extra punch mostly because of Past in Flames being in the list. Without that I think I might well go for Fire Bolt. I looked at Fiery Temper, the only card in the modern list I elected not to run. I didn't feel like I had sufficient discard outlets to make it consistent. Needing the mana up when you pitch it in order to play it has always made the card inflexible and slow in my experience. I should probably have tested it over Chain if for no other reason than to confirm my suspicious. If it is run in a modern list it is likely to be pretty impressive. Wild Guess was another card I had intended to play but was cut due to working less well with Medallion than the others in that bunch of cards.

So that is my cube take on Runaway Red. Not yet fully refined but absolutely tonnes of power and potential. It is a great way to play a direct aggressive burn strategy yet have loads of things going on for you. Lots of choices, lots of drawing cards and all the things that make MtG fun. Also a great way to fit loads of new cards into one deck! While I do that quite a lot with new cards so as to test them out quickly I rarely find that they gel together quite so well, especially not when it is a fairly new archetype. This deck is hard to beat. Controlling and containing it is super hard. Not only do you give it a dangerous amount of time but you really need to be able to disrupt spells, graveyard and things in play which is too tall of a task to be a reliable way of beating it. A massive win for the red cards from Guilds of Ravnica. A massive win for red mages who like a bit more going on in their games but still want a face paced tempo red experience rather than a more generic midrange one. Very much a new archetype that I will be returning to and tinkering with.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Magistrate's Scepter .dec

Magistrate's ScepterThis list was a blast! I mostly built it as a joke but it performed rather better than expected. While not exactly close to top tier it is more than capable of winning and needs respecting. To date it is probably my best deck making heavy use of proliferate, one of my all time favourite mechanics. I thought the deck was going to be sufficiently poor that I threw in a Karn, Scion of Urza and a Sai, Master Thopterist so as to have some actual games. Both cards are incredibly potent in decks comprised of mostly cheap artifacts and will dominate games by themselves. That certainly happened and half of the games I won were due to these two cards and the X/X constructs and thopters just being very good. I also won games with infinite turns and the fun things the deck was built to do. This was done with sufficient frequency that I would probably try for a purer combo build next time around to give it a better test. I think this build is likely better but the other build will be more revealing as to the actual power of charge counters on artifacts as a plan! I would also quite like to try and build a version of this list using Paradox Engine as an additional way of going off however such a list would need to be a little more like a storm deck and with more mana rocks.

25 Spells

Astral Cornucopia
Mox Opal
Everflowing Chalice
Astral Cornucopia

Surge Node
Implement of Ferocity

Energy Chamber
Core Tapper
Power Conduit
Throne of Geth

Contagion Clasp
Walking Ballista
Hangarback Walker

Surge NodeSteel Overseer

Magistrate's Scepter
Trophy Mage
Steady Progress
Scrap Trawler
Sai, Master Thopterist

Karn, Scoin of Urza
Lux Cannon
Padeem, Consul of Innovation
Tezzeret's Scheming

Tezzeret the Seeker

15 Lands
Energy Chamber
Inventor's Fair
Seat of the Synod
Tree of Tales
Inventor's Fair
Academny Ruins
Spire of Industry
Tropical Island
8x Islands

So the plan is pretty simple. Make things that deal in counters and pair them with things that benefit from counters. Ideally the most powerful cards or those that you get the most return from plying with counters. Magistrate's Scepter is the ideal card both functionally and scaling wise. Each counter you get on it counts for four mana and I guess an untap which is a lot of value. Getting free turns is one of the best ways to assure a victory too! The Lux Cannon is your other main charge counter payoff card but it is more of a safety net than a win condition. It slows down the game a lot and will eventually win or allow basically anything else to do so. It provides a good out to almost anything but it is not something you are expecting to get online quickly and have it active all the time. It doesn't go infinite like the Scepter. Trophy Mage and Tezzeret are mostly just there to get your Scepter although Tez is another strong alternate win condition. He even allows for some serious mana production if you have charged up some mana rock sufficiently.

Throne of Geth
There are several cards focused on getting charge counters on things many of which also work with +1/+1 counters. This helps kick start the proliferate cards into action. While the proliferate cards are not ongoing or are fairly onerous to use each turn they do pack a massive punch over the alternatives. When you get to grow everything at once it gets pretty out of hand. The creatures all get bigger, the mana rocks all produce more, planeswalkers become more loyal and all of this is in addition to your main artifact payoff cards charging up. Lots going on, lots of potential power and certainly lots of fun!

Scrap Trawler is a bit of a filler card. I wanted another target for my Trophy Mage and I wanted more artifact dorks and I wanted more value cards. Scrappy isn't a great card in this deck at any one thing but he has a lot of overlap. Padeem was trying to cover both protection and extra value. While fine I think I could have found more exciting things to take his place. Perhaps not as protection but certainly as things to enhance the list. These would be the things to be replaced first. While Sai and Karn are not on theme with the counter elements that much I would probably need to do a pretty heavy reconstructive job on the deck if I were to remove them, likely resulting in a bit of an overhaul to the creature elements in the deck such as Steel Overseer and Hangarback Walker.

Padeem, Consul of InnovationPart of me finds this deck distasteful in that it is part combo deck attempting to take infinite turns while also being part beatdown deck like Hardened Scales affinity. In constructed formats doing two distinctly different things is a bad plan. You don't find mill burn decks... You need such an extreme degree of overlap in your core cards before decks with multiple plans become viable. Most do it with sideboard transformations, most of the rest are simply combo decks with two combos both making use of the same support cards. Very few get to be combo and aggressive or combo and control. In cube, while it is still generally not wise to make decks with multiple plans the margins for where it is OK are much much wider. The format is more forgiving and the increased card pool and number of unique cards played allows for much deeper synergies. Linear strategies are also more easily countered in cube so having alternatives in your win conditions is always a boon.

Here are a few cards I looked at running in this list. Mostly they are a bunch of the usual artifact support suspects. Some would allow for greater exploration in certain areas (Statuary), some are a little bit cooler than usual due to counter synergy and some are just a bit spicy because you don't see them very often. There are also a couple of dull answer cards you probably just want in a lot of matchups so that you are not cold to their shenanigans.

Thran Turbine
Thrann Turbine
Fountain of Youth
Pithing Needle
Jeweled Amulet
Inspiring Statuary
Commit / Memory
Chromatic Star
Engineered Explosives

Really what this deck wants is a Sol Ring! Obviously most decks want Sol Ring but some more than others and this is right up there with those that want it most. The thing about this list that hurts it most is lack of relevant early plays. It has few one drops and despite a reasonable number of two drops very few of them actually do very much to affect the game on turn two. You need to spend some time setting up with this deck and that means high aggression or well placed disruption are issues. I considered using lands to assist this problem a little but Saprazzen Skerry is pretty slow and quite hard to use well with proliferate. Ancient Tomb is the best option but it does hurt quite a lot. While it will improve many matchups it feels like it will make those against red decks worse! The real reason we are playing a deck like this is to play cool and unusual cards, to force our opponents to read our cards and then suffer the terrible shame of losing to garbage like Magistrate's Scepter. This is basically trolling people through the medium of Magic the Gathering! Deck optimisation isn't as important as dusting off those quirky cards. This list might not be tier one in power but it is absolutely up there with the best of the troll decks.