Tuesday, 19 March 2019
Rampage of the Clans jumped out at me on recent spoilers as a very easily abused combo card. Not since Paradoxical Outcome have I seen a combo card with such potential in eternal formats. They even both have some scary things they can do in modern. Outcome has proven to be an abusive card in multiple places and so I do have some reasonable expectations for Rampage, both in and out of the cube. After my first go at a cube list for the card I am even more confidant of this outcome. My list was unrefined and utterly brutal. It could win quickly and out of nowhere. It was surprisingly hard to interact with and despite minimal interactive spells itself it seems to be able to handle most situations effectively. Being a first build and having many new toys to play with I made a number of obvious misbuilds such as ramming in a Wilderness Reclamation! Below is the list I ran with a couple of changes remedying the glaring mistakes. I expect it can still be further refined and will discuss that after;
Elixir of Immortality
Fountain of Renewal
Search for Azcanta
Sai, Master Thopterist
Oath of Jace
Rampage of the Clans
Seat of the Synod
The game plan is pretty straight forward. Make a lot of artifacts and enchantments, cast a big EoT Rampage and swing with a sufficiently lethal army of 3/3 dorks. While relying on 3/3 tokens as a win condition feels a little thin it turns out to be pretty reliable. Being instant speed they dodge a lot of the mass removal. Being so decently sized and numerous they punch through creature based defenses with ease. And coming on the back of a mass Naturalize means that any sort of cheesy defensive crap like Moat, Ensnaring Bridge and the like get blown up before you attack. Giving away a couple of 3/3s is no big deal at all. You have many more! Against aggressive decks you will tend to make a combat phase Rampage rather than an EoT one so as to mess up their board with lots of blocks. If they play around the rampage in this regard you will often have to win over two attacks but that is fine, they rarely have swingback potential after you send double figures worth of 3/3s at their face.
The deck is highly streamlined with the vast bulk made up of fuel for the Rampage. The best of these are the cheap ones that are useful or cantrip. The cantrip on entering play is preferable, with on death being preferable to the ones requiring you sacrifice them. Artifacts are a little better than enchantments for synergy as they can be recast more explosively, provide metalcraft and empower Sai. As such only the premium enchantments earned a slot. It was lovely being able to play both from a build perspective and made it feel like a whole new build experience despite significant overlap with other artifact combo decks. I suspect you could really push one type synergy and broadly forgo the other. This is certainly a heavy lean in the artifact direction but you could easily go further that way. The full lean towards enchantments would likely look a lot more like an Enchantress deck and would be slower than artifact heavier builds but rather safer.
Of the support cards the mana stuff was nice and the main area that enchantments outclass the artifacts. This is of course only because the most bonkers artifacts all need banning to allow other decks to get a look in. If you play this deck in a vintage setting with a full complement of Mox, Sol Ring, blue power and all that jazz then thins combo deck, as with most Paradoxical Outcome archetypes, gets very silly indeed. Certainly Rampage of the Clans is a much more dangerous card in a powered cube setting. The card draw enchantments also tend to outclass the artifact offerings. Being able to effectively dig, draw and ramp while also setting yourself up is a huge win and pretty hard to pass up on. Other cards in this group of draw, dig and ramp on cards of the right type include Mind Stone, Sylvan Library, Courser of Kruphix, Sensei's Divining Top, Shrine of Piercing Vision, Oath of Nissa, Exploration, Everflowing Challice and Treasure Map. Many of these I strongly considered or wanted to play but didn't quite have the other support.
After the support cards that ramp, dig and draw we just have those that are suitably themed. This is just the mildly useful cheap stuff. A lot helps fix out mana and lets us play lots of Forests for Utopia Sprawl and Cryptic in the same deck. A couple put things in our bin back into our deck which is a big deal given how much we rely on Rampage to win games. Some of the support options simply put multiple artifacts into play thus empowering the Rampage. Some are defensive like Propaganda and Spellbomb. There are a wide range of cards you can cram into these slots depending on what you want to sure up, what issues you don't want to face and for those you expect to face. You have specific disruption in Pithing Needle, lifegain in Zuran Orb, some general but risky removal in Engineered Explosives, general defense with Gleaming Barrier and Servo Schematic as well as more X+1 in 1 cheap cards. Even Spellbook has some merits! There are also just some more two drop artifacts and enchantments that draw cards when they come into play if you want to pad out that side of the deck.
There are not many non-land, non-artifact/enchantment (producing) cards in the deck and they all serve a pretty clear role. Rampage is the win condition and Mystical Tutor finds it or the Cryptic Command which is your generic answer card, Fog and Counterspell. Paradoxical Outcome is the only other I ran and it is just too much raw power to not run! It doesn't assist the combo in any real manner and it generally slows the deck down a bit when used but it is such a vast one sided card draw spell that it feels like a must. You get to double dip on all your EtB card draw effects as well as getting some mild protection against removal. Outcome doesn't generate mana in this deck and we don't care about storm although it will sometimes help out Sai, our final card in this group. Although not a Naturalize target himself he does produce artifact tokens. As such Sai doubles up the value of artifacts going into a Rampage and facilitates going off with less resources. The sac outlet is relevant allowing you to dig into action and trigger things like Ichor Wellspring. Sai offers impressive defensive board control and he is your backup win condition should your Rampage get exiled away. As with most artifact decks in cube, Sai is basically your best card. The golden pig of the deck to quote The Commander's Quarters! Sai is so good I considered Efficient Construction but in contrast to Sai the Construction does not live up to its name.
Other non-artifcat/enchantment cards I considered running are all the usual suspects. Preordain and other cheap card quality to setup the combo. Arcane Denial to protect and force it through. Thoughtcast to cheaply refill on gas and other cards in these groups that do that sort of thing. A bit more disruption certainly wouldn't go amiss in this list. The other direction I nearly went in was a creature based one which would have had a more midrange feel about it. Mostly it was wanting to play Oath of Nissa that was pushing me in that direction! Midrange combo decks are not the greatest matchup in most cases although probably a lot more fun to play against. The sorts of card I would have added in would include Glint Nest Crane, Courser of Kruphix, Hangarback Walker, Tireless Tracker, Shardless Agent, and Springleaf Drum. All quite good cards with decent on theme elements. Broadly they would slow you down but increase your safety against aggressive decks with their defense and give you a bit more game against control due to a broader range of potential win conditions.
There are plenty of cuts you can make to this list with so many just being filler. You are not going to miss that Prophetic Prism or Abundant Growth much. Both are nice and pretty decent in the deck but they are not essential. I would need a lot more testing to know roughly how much you hurt the deck or help it at all the different ratios of support cards added or taken away. There will be an optimal number and it is probably lower than what I palyed but not by much. Obviously in goldfishing the optimal number is basically as many as you can with zero interactive or protective cards but that is not what we are making our deck for! If you are not expecting aggression the Propaganda can become a cheaper card with positive returns. Fountain of Renewal is very minor in what it does for this list and is an easy cut. Oath of Jace is a bit pricey and might just be better as things like Serum Visions. Spreading Sea is fairly low key as well. I feel like these enchants are getting a bad appraisal due to my deck leaning on the artifact side of things. They were all good, it just feels like they could have been better.
It would seem as if there are many directions to take this deck, the creature heavy build I just mentioned. The enchantment heavy and the artifact heavy of which the latter is most like this build. I also think you can combine this plan into a Sram / Puresteel equipment based deck. Even just splashing for the Rampage sounds pretty strong. That deck is already a very powerful aggro/combo deck so adding in yet another powerful on theme way to win sounds great. Below is a link to a minibreakdown of that archetype;
I look forward to seeing what other people come up with in other formats for Rampage uses. I suspect I will find a few more in cube beyond those considered in this essay. As I might have mentioned, this deck and the namesake of it seems very powerful!
Monday, 11 March 2019
Cabal Therapist 7/10
One of my all time favourite cards getting a big nod from this new offering. I find the timing trigger on this card rather odd. I am not sure why it doesn't use the upkeep and I don't like not understanding a design choice! If it were a card going into standard I might think it was to do with Arena and making things simpler. Certainly this is a little bit better than an upkeep trigger as you get the extra information from the card drawn. If it is a creature you can flash into play then you might even get that perk as well but that seems like a rarity. Perhaps that is just it, they wanted to push this card as much as possible and this timing was the best they could do without making the card dangerously good. If this was usable just at any time in the main phase or just at the start of combat or end step then it would be a lot better. The fact that you have to wait a turn in almost all cases to use this keeps it calmer. It gives the opponent a chance to react before it starts shredding their plan to bits. It means you have to realistically wait till turn three before you get to use it with something else or two two with itself. There are a lot of parallels between this and Pilfering Imp. Imp is Coercion (Thoughtsieze) rather than the Cabal Therapy effect which is certainly a lot better in singleton and still generally better as a first use discard spell regardless of format. You have to only care about one card or have the very best reads for a turn one Therapy to have higher expected value than a Thoughtsieze! Unless you combo your Therapist with a Peek effect you are going to have fairly poor odds on a hit first time round. Imp is also flying which is a more powerful keyword. While not directly better than menace flying will be better most of the time. The key word is minor, these cards are disruptive cards not threats, they simply have added utility, interactivity and vulnerability as a result of small evasive bodies. It is at this point in the comparison that Therapist starts being better than the Imp. It can sacrifice other cards and stay around in play threatening to take more cards away. A Therapist plus a stream of chumps can devastate a slower deck, or an engine deck, all by itself. Imp is only ever going one for one while Therapist can effectively go ballistic on this front and far exceed a two for one in real terms. This will not be common but the threat of it will force a response a lot of the time. Lastly the Therapist is a one mana card with no further direct costs. You can Therapy someone for one mana, all be it slowly! Imp needs three mana invested in it making it a pretty poor tempo play. You can continue to Therapy your opponent at no extra cost on whatever dorks you are tossing in the bin. Black can put up cheap chumps pretty easily, be it in two bodies in one cards which are plentiful at two mana and up in black, or in one drops you can easily get back from the bin, or in two drops with other value effects like the classic Ravenous Rats. Therapist certainly is at it's best in a black deck full of cheap crappy dorks. This could be black aggro, it could be an Aristocrats tokens deck or it could be most iterations of midrange black decks. Therapist seems to fit reasonably well into most of the things you find black doing in cube. It seems to provide a lot of options and a lot of synergies. It threatens ongoing disruption. It is a high power card at a point in the curve where black is a little lacking, both in disruptive effects and in nice playable all round cards. I think this is demonstrated well in Pilfering Imp. The Imp is clearly very low power but it is seeing lots of play because of how it covers many of blacks deficiencies. Therapist is clearly more potent than the Imp, while not directly better in all cases the average performance I expect will be impressively higher. Therapist may end up booting Imp out of my cube. I like it a lot and I can see why it is being used as one of the early showcase cards. It is a lovely design, it wins on flavour, on what is needed, on power level, on option density and I am sure many more categories for design triumphs. I am greatly looking forward to playing with this little gem. It isn't even all that good in the cube meta where power levels are extreme but variance is high, not forgetting the singleton of course. Therapist will scale with skill more than most. In the hands of a great player it will be a premium one drop even in cube. In the hands of a beginner this probably hurts them rather than helping. This probably makes it unwise to include in some cubes based on who plays with them. I will of course be adding it but then I am a glutton for punishment and apparently like to involve my friends in that. Mostly what I am getting at is that the card is hard to rate as it really depends on who is playing with it. If your play group is all hall of famers then this is easily an 8/10 card but if it has mostly newer players then it is going to be rather less! Just before we move on to the other super early spoiled card I want to paint a picture of a near ceiling opener with this and how scary it would be to face. So lets start with a Gravecrawler, could be a Doomed Traveler or a Thraben Inspector. Could even be the Therapist itself if we play something like a Bloodghast or an Orzhov Enforcer on turn two instead. Ideally we have mana up for a Duress or Inquisition turn two to get the required information. Gitaxian Probe or even Urza's Buable can help out if we don't have the mana spare. We are now very well setup to utterly ruin the day of our opponent from turn three onward with a decent soft lock on them. They will be not far off playing just from the top of their deck if they cannot answer the Therapist. We also get to have our whole turn three to further pull ahead while they are desperately scrambling to find an answer to this one mana 1/1 appropriately typed horror! When you can get that much control over the game that early you can even be trading one for one and be very happy with the situation.
Serra the Benevolent 8/10
I suspect I am going to quickly tire of reviewing walkers with 36 or so of the buggers due in War of the Spark... Serra is an interesting one. I didn't like her at first and then I just kept spotting game states where she would be nuts. A couple of these were the classic turn four after a Lingering Souls or a Spectral Procession. Having a very dangerous 6 loyalty walker after battering someone in the sky is a great place to be. Assuming you did much of much with your first couple of turns that will be all she wrote for many a game. The +1/+1 to fliers retained impressive relevance into the late game for a significant number of white decks. Even pumping just one dork is a big deal if it means it is able to turn a trade into a chump or if it finishes off a planeswalker. White isn't overdone with haste or direct damage so a lot of players will make plays that let planeswalkers get low on the board. Buffs are one of the few punishes white has to offer. What I like about this +2 ability is that it is situational in some regards but still probably good even when you have no fliers due to how dangerous the other abilities are. You can likely make Serra on an empty board of your own, +2 her and force all attacks to come her way for as long as she lives simply to stave off the ultimate. I anticipate seeing Serra force a lot of bad attacks and absorbing a huge amount of damage. In the theme of bad attacks we also have the -3. At first I didn't like it much as I felt it left Serra overly vulnerable. The thing is that a Serra Angel is a reasonable thing to have at just four mana. You don't need much more on top of that for it to be great. If you force a burn spell out to finish off your Serra then you have a net result of a zero card cost two or three mana Serra Angel token. That is a big win. If you force them to attack into your Angel to kill Serra then again, you are a powerful token up so effectively a 2 for 1 as well as gaining mana and life back on the deal. These are all the likely outcomes for your Serra getting killed. If she isn't killed then she is going to churn out more Angels and pump existing ones and likely win the game all by herself. Serra is pretty much the only planeswalker that can die after just one activation and expect to still be ahead on tempo and value and as such I think she will be one of the best in cube. I think she will likely take any slots Gideon, Ally of Zendikar would be getting in modern. In cube Serra is more midrange and Gideon is more aggressive but both are good enough that I think you play them in some less on theme settings. I expect Serra to outclass Gideon in cube as well as modern. Her ultimate is dangerously potent. A lot of decks simply can't beat a Worship emblem. It doesn't win the game but it effectively does. What makes it especially good is that it can be threatened the turn after Serra hits play. This will devastate a stalemated board. It will catch people off guard while curving as well. To effectively play against a Serra if you can't beat a Worship emblem you always have to be in a position to threaten damage and that is hard to do, especially against white. I think it is safe to say this is a pushed card. It looks like it would be oppressive in basically any standard format ever. The potential for the +2 doing nothing initially put me off the card but that was a poor assumption. When you take all the cards abilities and loyalty into account a do nothing +2 is actually just fine because of what it threatens and thus forces. It reads a bit like some of the Gideon abilities that force you to attack him. Serra threatens in far more ways than most planeswalkers. She threatens the game ending Worship, she threatens by being a Favourable Winds, and she threatens by slowly churning out Serra Angel tokens. This wide array of dangers really help make her good but I think the main component of her quality is the really high chance on getting card and tempo advantage from her. It is un-intuitive because of how most other planeswalkers function. If I make an Elspeth or Gideon and toss out a soldier or knight token only to have my opponent Hero's Downfall my walker I feel like I got a fairly bum deal. I might have a token and it might do reasonable work for me but I am down a mana. I certainly don't feel like I got a two for one because of my remaining token. A small vanilla token is absolutely worth something but it is closer to the one mana difference in cost between Downfall and the planeswalker than it is to a card. This feeling of worth changes dramatically when the token is a 4/4 flying vigilance and not a crappy small vanilla dork. I am more than happy to consider the worth of that at least a card. Sure, a token Serra Angel is still worse than a real one but not loads. Silumgar's Command and of course the brutal Glorybringer are the only cards I can think of that clean up a Serra without losing card advantage. Even the Command is a mild tempo loss. So, we have established Serra has a good threat level. We have established that she has a good chance of being value and tempo positive and that she should cope well with varied board states and matchups. All in all I think we can fairly safely say that this is a pretty nifty planeswalker. It has comparable power to other good ones but she has much more immediacy about her and that is the hidden thing that really pushes her into the realms of premium walkers.
Friday, 8 March 2019
Now I have always loved a mono blue aggro deck but they have always really struggled to compete. They put up a great game against midrange, control and combo but they tend to get battered by the other aggro decks. There are several reasons for this and they have historically spanned all iterations of aggressive blue decks. One is the classic lack of suitable removal that makes cards like Mother of Runes, Deathrite Shaman and Grim Lavamancer a monumental headache. The other was simply lack of playable one drops. You can barely scrape together four decent blue one drop beaters and they typically have poor synergy with each other. A white deck can pack 16 comfortably and still have no cards weaker than those the blue player scraping four together has to run! Well, if you can find a way of empowering the 1/1 unblockable suitably then you vastly increase the quantity of decent one drops blue has on offer which solves the biggest issue it currently has. Especially as this also has a high chance of making all the one power fliers in blue that much more likely to scale up as well.
Here is the list I ran with in my attempt to take advantage of the cheap evasive blue dudes. There are loads of subtle direction changes and tweaks you can make and a bunch more you simply should. I will cover those and provide an improved list after.
Sigil of Sleep
Throne of the God-Pharaoh
Jace, Cunning Castaway
Thassa, God of the Sea
Hall of Triumph
Master of Waves
Bident of Thassa
As you can see from the list there are two ways I have tried to take advantage of the unblockable guys. One is simply to increase their effectiveness through buff effects. Blue is light in this department and so we have had to lean on artifacts a little. I even considered both War Horn and Sunken City! The latter is horrible but it is some devotion at least... The other exploit is with effects that trigger on (combat) damage to players. This includes the aura buffs and a few other exotic permanents.
So the cards I would cut are fairly easy. Bident of Thassa was complete overkill. I don't need the card draw, I am getting that from cheaper things and I am trying to race anyway, I shouldn't be getting card advantage from my top end. Even the force through damage aspect of Bident is useless as my guys are all unblockabe anyway! Bident seems nicely on theme but it just isn't what you need either. Jace is nice in this list but he probably has to go. He is a bit slow and perhaps a bit too fair on the power levels. He forces you to play a game of blockers and protecting and that isn't really what you are good at. I like Jace in this list but I am pretty sure that is a bias, I am sure the best versions of this deck wont run him. Or at least they won't run that Jace if they do!
Cloudfin Raptor is a potential cut. Judge's Familiar would be better for sure, you could run both but Raptor is certainly wrong if over the Familiar! Raptor isn't able to grow with loads and adds less than you expect. I kind of autopilot played Raptor as it is the best aggro blue one drop in a general sense. Normally you just need it but this list really doesn't. Dive Down was another potential cut. You just don't need the protection. Sure, they can kill your buffed dork but you are probably still ahead on cards and mana. Spell Pierce would have done more and even that feels like it is going to be annoying having to hold up mana. This is certainly more of a Daze and Force of Will kind of deck in that you really can and want to spend your mana proactively and not be holding it open sat on reactive cards. I think Spellskite would be superior to Dive Down as it is more disruptive, can do so at no mana's cost once in play and has decent defensive application in a race. Mostly though I learned you don't need as much protection for your dorks as you do in the standard version of this deck. Just make stuff and attack and things go pretty well! The other easy cuts would be the UU creatures. You don't need the devotion that badly and they are just a bit awkward and low powered. Surveiling Sprite is likely better than Thalakos Seer as it affords much better defensive capabilities and even Sprite seems a bit meh.
I looked at running both Merfolk Trickster and Harbinger of Tides as both are decently high power and high tempo dorks. The usual burden of the UU cost is turned into a perk in this mono blue devotion deck. The issue I have with these cards is that they are not unblockable in any way and thus fail to really act as threats. At that point you should just be playing things like Vapor Snag and Grip of the Roil.
Everything else I was more of a fan of and would have to be well persuaded before cutting. I guess that isn't true, I would fairly happily cut a land from this list, perhaps even two if we are replacing one of them with Gitaxian Probe! The deck operates on few mana fairly well, has a big of dig and draw it gets online cheaply. It also has loads of very cheap low value cards so flooding is pretty devastating. The risk reward balance for this list very much pushes you towards being greedy on the mana base and I didn't really take that into account in my first build. Having the Bident made it better to curve out a bit more and it obscured the problem of too many lands as well by overdrawing. Cutting it and lands is a good plan.
What else is up for consideration to replace these suggested cuts? What directions can we go in? Firstly True-Name Nemesis is probably an auto include although not definitely. He is fairly pricey and doesn't do much to protect you against mass removal which is your biggest concern against slower decks. I didn't bother running him as he is uninteractive tedium that no one enjoys yet everyone is familiar with how it plays. On the too powerful to not include front we probably have both Jitte and Force of Will as well. I can't see either of these being bad in the list. Force will simply help all round in all matchups providing tempo, disruption and protection. Jitte will have a nice high floor while really helping your game against the treacherous aggro matchups. Sword of Fire and Ice would also perform very well in this deck as you can reliably connect with it and thus have it act as removal. Part of the point of making this deck however is to find ways in which I can move away from these blue tools and not have to rely on having them. Certainly I start to get unhappy about playing Bloodforged Battle-Axe in the same list as Jitte or SoFI and I really don't want to have to cut it. Battle-Axe was great and quickly got out of hand. It is exactly the sort of buffing tool this list wants. It is the Pack Rat Bonesplitter! What makes it somewhat preferable to Jitte and Sword is low risk. The cost of the card is sufficiently low that you can use it more easily past disruption and even if you fail it is not quite such a savage blowout. It is especially strong against artifact removal as you can easily ensure you have multiple in play.
What we ultimately chose to replace the poor cards with depends on what we want to beat, especially when we fail to have the premium blue and artifact things. Beating the control and combo decks is generally just a case of throwing in countermagic, and not even that much. This list is all about cost so high effect one drop cards like Flusterstorm, Spell Peirce and Snare alongside the viable free ones are where you want to be. Cryptic Command is unusually bad in this list, although still a fine inclusion. It is normally so good in aggressive decks because it fogs an attack of theirs while letting you force through some damage of your own and really turn the tide in a race. This list has no need of help forcing through damage. The clear problem with this plan is for the most part it is making your deck worse against the creature matchups. Countermagic isn't great against creature decks, especially ones that don't hit creatures! Also especially against those using cheaper dorks.
Beating the midrange creature decks is very easy and can be done handily with a spot of bounce. This is well aided by a smattering of the more general countermagic too. Pierce, Daze and that sort of thing. Beating the token and weenie decks this way however is a total non-starter. Really you have two options. Either you accept those as likely losses or you directly hose them. Sadly direct hosing trashes your other matchups, isn't all that much fun and is still quite hard to do. Legacy's Allure was a decent way of getting some nice early tempo and disruption on the aggressive decks that wasn't dead in other matchups quite as much as most other hoser cards are. Good though it was it isn't close to enough to help with the go-wide lists out there.
With this being such a new deck concept to me and not one that is really mirrored in other formats I need to do more experimenting and testing to know what directions and balances of stuff are sensible. I think the next step is to build the most powerful (and most boring) all round build with a selection of the crutch cards like Jitte and Force of Will in the list. I think that will give me the information I need in regards future directions I can take the deck. While blue aggro lists might be a little polar in their matchups they do at least have the advantage of being highly tuneable. This comes with many perks but it does make the discovery phase of any sub-archetype that much harder.
Before wrapping this up I want to have a quick look at some of the more interesting cards in the deck that I liked and would try and keep in my various future builds. Throne of the God-Pharaoh was a nice touch and is better than War Horn would have been in several ways. Obviously it is cheaper but it can also work for you when guys are not attacking. Yet another strong synergy card to go with Grand Architect! Throne also works with vehicles nicely but I think I would rather empower it with Mothdust Changeling! It is not that vehicles are bad for this deck, more that they scale poorly with global buffs and equipment and this list is leaning on those things a little hard already. The loss of power on your dorks from Throne versus War Horn matters little as your damage output is the same with both and there isn't blocking going on.
Master of Waves is another big standout. Obviously the card is well known for being the main payoff for a blue devotion deck but he is that little bit tastier than usual in this list for a couple of reasons. Firstly you have a couple of Anthem effects meaning that even if Waves is dealt with the tokens can remain in play. These anthems also really helped scale up Mausoleum Wanderer, frequently it was at 2 or 3 power thus making it a much harder disruptive tool. Another thing going for Master is simply that this deck has vastly more blue one drops than any other blue deck I have managed to create. This means that this list has the highest chance of curving into a turn four seven devotion Master. Master is just more value more quickly in this deck than others. He goes so wide that you don't care about any lack of evasion. He puts up such a massive wall that you can easily and safely race. Based on how desirable these attributes of Master are I think Rogue Refiner is probably worth a slot in this list. He has some synergy with the unblockable gimmicks but is mostly just a nice reliable way of getting a good amount of stats and bodies onto the board without any phaff. Here is my revised second generation unblockable blue aggro list;
Sigil of Sleep
Throne of the God-Pharaoh
Thassa, God of the Sea
Hall of Triumph
Master of Waves
Force of Will
Based on the recent PT (or MC or whatever they are now) win by Autumn there might be better ways to take this build. By lowering the curve and reducing the Anthem cards and other quirky support stuff and just replacing it with good old fashioned permission suddenly this list resembles a cube version of Autumn's deck. Obviously Pteramander should be in and would be improved with the higher spell count too. I first wrote this before Ravnica Allegiance was out and so the card wasn't a consideration at the time. I will certainly retry this archetype in a manner better resembling the standard version and see if that is a better way to take this general plan. It may not be sufficiently different in performance, feel, nor even cards included, to merit another article on the matter so I thought I should at least mention it here. Turns out it is a very hard deck to play and so it might actually be amazing but I am too poor at it to realize that potential and thus deem the deck less noteworthy. It is much more of a control deck than this iteration despite both leaning on Curiosity effects. A rare case of heavy card overlap in two different class of archetype.
Monday, 4 March 2019
Drill Bit - big lose
Unlike the red spectacle cards the black ones are generally harder to trigger due to the nature of the decks. With timing and tempo all being so important for hand disruption those difficulties make this a lot weaker than I predicted. The red spectacle cards are far better supported, much more on-theme and typically more naturally tempo positive. The red spectacle cards are also as good, if not better, in the late game as they are in the early game. Hand disruption is best right away and quickly loses value. The awkwardness of casting Drill Bit scales very poorly with needing to cast it promptly. I fear Drill Bit is getting cut from the cube soon never to return.
Dovin, Grand Arbiter - mild lose
Dovin is fine but he isn't anywhere near as exciting as I predicted. I thought Dovin was going to be a really big deal and he is so far being just a good fair card. I think he will improve over time as we learn how best to deploy him and the support for doing that improves. Presently the issue with Dovin is that he is easily killed. To grow quickly him you have to be attacking meaning Dovin is exposed. Ticking him down to make thopters is nice but again, just leaves you quite exposed with a mere two loyalty. Dovin isn't great in control shells as they are rarely in a position to attack and afford large loyalty gains. Blue white aggressive decks are still finding their feet in my cube meta but are certainly the best home for Dovin. Despite preferring the aggro decks Dovin is decent in more midrange and control shells. I peg him a bit above the power level of Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, a fair bit infact. That being said however Nissa comes out turn two a lot more often and is less narrow in effect and less narrow due to colours. Nissa is likely the slightly better cube inclusion and will see more play but powerwise Dovin has her beat.
Depose // Deploy - mild lose
Mostly this is a lose because I failed to appreciate how significant the need of a target for Depose would be. I likened this to Fire / Ice because you can always just cycle it for two. The thing is with this is that you can't. More often than not you can but that isn't good enough. When you play cheap cantrips they affect your mana ratios. When you need to cycle a card to curve properly it is super miserable having this in hand and no targets. While this is still a good and versatile card it is not nearly such a free include to a deck than I thought. There are greater risks associated with playing it and the relatively low power it brings doesn't now feel as exciting. Certainly I will still play this when it feels right but it will not get anywhere near the play Fire / Ice gets. It is more of a nice filler all round card than it is a free include. I does at least play very nicely with the Azorius aggro builds that Dovin is helping gain traction.
Light Up the Stage - huge win
Obviously this is mental. One red, draw two. Obviously very very good. I'm pretty sure I wanked on about how good this would be in previews and it has even outdone that. Huge new card for red in basically all the formats.
Skewer the Critics - lose
I also wanked on about this and how it was going to be top five burn spells etc. On this I was off the mark. It is closer to Rift Bolt than Lightning Bolt and that is for sure. The card is fine but it is a little clunky. In an Izzet prowess deck I rate this highly. It is still a strong card for an aggressive red deck but it quickly falls off in value as you move towards the midrange and then to the control. I am playing Searing Spear over Skewer in those cases if I can. The average mana cost of the two is comparable but it likely favours the Spear in the slower decks. More over it is instant allowing for much more utility, tempo thieving, and other options. Sweker is efficient and on-theme but it is still a bit clunky and awkward.
Pteramander - big win
This has also cropped up in a lot of formats and been doing good work. While this is a powerful cheap little beater it is still a beater and isn't quite such a universal win as Light the Stage even if both are multiformat all-stars! It certainly seems better than Delver of Secrets already. It was better designed but it also seems to just be a better, more powerful and playable card.
Silhana Wayfiner - win
Not a powerhouse by any means but way nicer than I was expecting. Wayfinder isn't great tempo but it is still getting involved. It blocks and trades or threatens some damage and planeswalker pressure. It is significantly more board and tempo than a 1/1 play like Satyr Wayfinder or Elvish Visionary. I just found whenever I played Silhana Wayfiner I was happy with what I got. On turn two it was amazing. It is just such a good curve card as it gives you such great odds of following it with something potent and appropriate. The way Wayfinder works it kind of lets you see five cards in the way that Ponder lets you see four. If you look at the top four and see nothing you want you just put them all to the bottom and get that extra bit of dig. Usually you want a land or something to play and looking at four cards finds you such a thing in most green decks. Obviously weaker with lower creature count but as I say, that is not an overly green thing to be doing. Also still fine when your creature count drops unlike a lot of cards that become awful. Wayfinder is still perfectly playable when you have a low creature count. Wayfinder also has a lot of pleasant synergy with other green cards. It can setup a Courser of Kruphix or clear some crap away from the top of deck you left there with a Sylvan Library. For your two mana you don't get robbed on tempo and you get to be proactive. You also get an impressively high value card quality effect. It is more than Seek the Wilds and you get a 2/1 into the bargain which is better tempo even if it is less value than having that card in hand and not sat atop the library. While the value for cards on this is on the low side the value for mana is exceptional. This is at least three manas worth of stuff and that really helps makes it good. I am calling this a win because I thought it would be poor like Omen Speaker. Lots of people got really excited about this and so for them it is probably still a lose. For now it seems like a reasonable include in a cube.
Consecrate // Consume - mild win
Where Depose // Deploy was found not meeting expectation this has stepped up and exceeded. It is rare for neither player to have anything in the bin by the end of their second turn. While still not nearly as online as Ice Consecrate is still more online early than Depose. As such this is a lower risk card to play on the whole. It turns out it is also just rather good. The graveyard disruption is rare in cube and affects a lot of cards and Comsume is powerful. It deals with a lot of serious cards that can be hard to handle and it does so with a big chunk of life back. This is a removal disruption card with an unusual range but surprising potency.
Wilderness Reclamation - win
I massively underrated this. I just thought it was a bit overkill, hard to support and a bit of a do nothing on its own. It is all of those things but it is just so immensely powerful that it is worth jumping through the hoops you need to. Firstly it is free! It costs no mana to lay if you have something you were doing with four mana at instant speed anyway. You can pass the turn with Cryptic Command up having made your Reclamation. Very naughty. As Foretold has been great in cube and Reclamation is basically better in all ways other than suspend cards. Reclamation comes into play with effectively four charge counters on it which is certainly nice even if it only triggers once per turn rather than the twice As Foretold does. The really big difference is that you can spend your mana on things other than spells. This makes things like Walking Ballista and Search for Azcanta all a lot more exciting. X spells also appeal more with Reclamation. While very potent it is not all that well supported in my cube it would seem. It is hard to piece together a solid looking deck that takes advantage of the mana. This is certainly a design thing rather than a lack of power for Wilderness Reclamation! The issue is how many cards do you need to support a Reclamation in cube and whether that is worth it for the overall consistency and playability of the cube.
Theater of Horrors - win
All the perks of Phyrexian Arena without the life loss and with a bonus ping effect. I have seen this work well in midrange and control decks as well as the more predictably good aggressive decks. This is just powerful ongoing card advantage with very little downside or inconvenience. There really are not that many occasions where I would play Phyrexian Arena over this but then that is how gold cards should work!
Unbreakable Formation - win
Really impressed with this. Normally situational aggro cards are not great in cube. This has seen consistent play in aggressive white decks and has performed exceptionally well. Countering removal is nice but the addendum mode is brutal. You just get a free hit without any consequence as well as a team buff. It almost always puts the game out of reach. Any races are just done but it is proving to be critical damage in some way when cast with addendum. Which is most of the time it is drawn it would seem. Very powerful, nicely versatile and surprisingly well suited.
Ministrant of Obligation - mild win
Just seeing play and being annoying. It is just like a static Hangarback Walker or weasly Hallowed Spiritkeeper. It clogs up the board and makes mass removal and planeswalkers far less appealing lines to take. Obligation is one of those cards that helps you extend without over extending. The majority of the value of the card is back loaded but it is still a relevant play at the front end. It scales very well with white anthem cards and is just an OK all round playable card for the numerous token based strategies.
Rampage of the Clans - win
Not something you can just toss into a cube and have it be good. You might get away with it in a powered cube but otherwise this will need a lot of supporting. I have a .dec article on this either published or soon to be. That is how it will need supporting roughly but do that and you have a bomb on your hands. This is a filthy good combo finisher style of card. You just cast it and win. It is the instant speed that makes it so effective in this role but regardless you can milk this for a silly amount of value. I was frequently making double figures of 3/3s between turns four and six. It wins out of nowhere and it wins effectively. I expect to see this be a thing in other formats. It is probably a bit narrow for drafting cube but it is absolutely worth paying attention to in the more open or constructed style singleton formats. It has a very Paradoxical Outcome feel about it.
Rythm of the Wild - win
Not working with tokens makes this a close call for the drafting cube with so many of the best creatures for cube being ones that come with tokens. It is very powerful but being hard to build with on top of being gold is a big ask. When in play it is fantastic. It turns all your small mana dorks and early plays into much more significant threats and it makes your top end far more dangerous both with potential haste and uncounterable. A truly terrifying card to play against as a blue mage. Just having the option on +1/+1 or haste is huge, options is how you win the good games of magic and big dork decks have lacked them historically.
Mesmerizing Benthid - big win
Just the ticket for blue decks. This holds the ground really well. Better than most in fact. It is super hard and low value to remove. Nine toughness , over three bodies, that you have to hit sequentially is a tall order. Not being able to directly interact with Benthid until the 0/2s are dealt with is also a real pain, it can do a lot of work in that time. Turns out a 4/5 hexproof is a massive chore to handle and affords a really strong source of planeswalker control and clock. All the ways to deal with it involve huge exposure to something like a bounce spell. Benthid buys a lot of time and ends of a lot of aggression. This gives blue the window to take control with powerful walkers, permission and card advantage. It also just wins by itself a bunch of the time. The closest thing blue had to this before was Whirler Rogue which saw play all over the shop. Defensively this is vastly preferable and blue tends to be the slowest colour in cube. All told this has seen a lot of play in a short space of time and never failed to impress.
Gutterbones - win
The Gutterbones itself has not done anything that unexpected what with being so comparable to other well known cards. What makes it a win is the jump from three 2 power one drop recursive dorks to four. Black is getting there for sufficient one drops for the various different build, of which Gutterbones helps multiple. Aggro black has recently jumped in power quite noticeably and I put most of that down to this subtle addition.
Rix Maadi Reveler - win
Just a nice playable card. Playable in mono red and a bit better with increasing access to black. It is card quality early and mild to significant card advantage late. There is some potential discard synergies on the go as well. It is enough tempo that you often play it in aggro decks and enough utility that it is desirable elsewhere. This has seen a lot of action since release and has generally performed very well. I think he is very hard to play with well and that has been the cause of not consistently looking good. I expect this to increase in effectiveness and the estimation of others fairly rapidly.
Judith, the Scourge Diva - win
Utterly nutty good card. Judith makes combat a total nightmare for the opponent. It is like giving all your non-token creatures a +2/+0 due to the on-death ping. It means a 2/1 will trade into a 4/4 which is madness! If you have much board at all Judith is a terrifying card to lay. That is her only real downside, she is rather poo all by her self. Broadly that is not an issue as she is well supported without any effort in mine and most other cubes. She can be great on turn three but she is so potent it doesn't seem to matter a jot if you take a couple more turns developing your board so you can flop out a game winning Judith on turn five or six. Judith does die easily but she is able to win or at least put you on that direct path in such short order that it is not a real problem.
Titanic Brawl - lose
This may well be the best fight card but obviously that isn't a good measure of how a card should perform. No fight cards are good because broadly speaking it is a poor means of doing removal. If you need removal in your green deck you play a colour that can do it properly rather than sub par cards.
Orzhov Enforcer - mild win
Just a nice tempo defense play. This qualifies well in the two bodies for two mana in one card category that the Aristocrats style of deck like so much. It is also a suitable stand in for a Baleful Strix. While not as good a value play the increase in stats and bodies does a lot more work in trading, holding the fort and taxing removal. Enforcer is annoying to attack into and should crop up both in token decks and in slower decks needing tools against aggression.
Tithe Taker - win
Very annoying card you want to kill but also kind of don't want to kill. This does enough of enough things to be a really good all round cube card. It is enough tempo that you play it in aggressive decks and it 4is enough value and disruption that it also does well in midrange decks as well. Like the Enforcer before it Tithe Taker is also a great inclusion in Aristocrats lists.
Essence Capture - lose
Overall just play Remove Soul and/or Essence Scatter in cubes. Certainly this has the higher ceiling and will do some great work in constructed aggro blue decks there are not nearly enough of those in cube to offset the double blue cost of this card. You cannot take a huge hit in playability for a mild uptick in potential value and keep a good drafting meta.
Monday, 25 February 2019
I should probably have made this a top five rather than a top eight. With only 23 gods in the game so far this list contains over a third of them. The bottom end of this list is particularly thin, there will certainly be no honorable mentions. I have run The Scorpion God in several places but it is a push to claim those are note worthy! Heliod is a cute mana sink for your Serra's Sanctum in enchantress decks. Erebos and Bontu crop up now and again in a variety of themed (and usually bad) black builds. Even the lowly Kefnet has done some work in modern with Porphyry Nodes. Being so unique most of the gods have their uses but for the most part they are rare and minor. None feel honorable!
In terms of flavour I love the gods, I also like how the design of the cards emulates a different kind of magic card. The way in which they contain a huge amount of power makes them feel godlike. While the design is great from a flavour point of view I do not have a huge love of the gods from a play perspective. They are a little too uninteractive for such potent cards and can lead to polar games with little relevant options once the god is doing it's thing. I would like to see more gods introduced to the game but I would like them to come with some viable counterplay, in particular to red and green. The poor colours only just got done being bodies by things like Sphinx of the Steel Wind and now they are getting it from the far cheaper and more playable gods. At least the Gruul colours do contain a decent chunk of the better gods.
8. Phenax, God of Deception
This is the main reason I should have done a top five not a top eight! Phenax is super narrow and super lame. No one likes losing to mill in cube. Phenax is extremely powerful but he is in need of some specific support and just isn't in any way fun or interactive, even by the standard of other gods. Even if he is powerful enough for cube I advise against running him in any capacity. You will have more fun without him. The thing that makes Phenax so potent is that he can win the game the turn you make him with ease. In any sort of board stall Phenax is going to be able to end the game quicker than most other sources of reach. This does mean you need a lot of creatures in your blue black deck which isn't all that natural for Dimir. When you don't have any dorks Phenax does nothing at all. Phenax is polar in the extreme. He is also immune to much disruption or able to bypass it making him a doubly poorly designed card.
7. Keranos, God of the Storm
Of the gods that have seen enough play to make any statistical sort of claims I would say Keranos is the least often found in combat. I don't ever recall having seen one in creature form at least. Keranos has seen some love in the past due to Izzet having relatively poor planeswalker options. Most of them are vulnerable and low powered or fairly niche in application. It is not yet clear if new five mana Ral Zarek, Izzet Viceroy is superior, inferior or simply for a different sort of role. If the former then we will likely not see that much more of Keranos in cube but we were not seeing much of him anyway. Most of the four mana Jace and Chandra offerings are just more powerful cards. The real advantage Keranos has is that he is hard to kill but these days if you make a five mana do nothing in a control deck you have already won or you are about to lose. So the fact that planeswalkers are more vulnerable is somewhat irrelevant. If there was a good way to sneak out Kernos before your draw step, say with an Aether Vial, then that speed up would help. Perhaps if you could trigger him with draws in your opponents turns! Then he would just be yet another card desperate to be paired with Divining Top. He somewhat is already given that is allows you some choice over what Keranos does. That segues neatly into the other reason Keranos is mostly inferior to planeswalkers - you get no control over drawing a card or doing three damage. Options is a big part of the power of walkers and Keranos has none. Keranos will win you basically any game given long enough but he lacks the immediate impact, control and safety to really help you survive long enough to take advantage of him.
6. Rhonas, the Indomitable
While clearly a potent god I have found Rhonas to underperform. I think it is just because it is a green beater with some conditionality. If you are beating down in green you are typically at the mercy of your opponents disruption. That tends to make Rhonas a bit of a win more card or a total do nothing. At best he tends to just be a bad Kessig Wolf Run. That in itself isn't a terrible place to be. Wolf Run is the card I splash into green decks most commonly! Rhonas is a great way to turn mana into reach. Especially so in green where he is a creature and thus works well with all the card quality effects and tutors. He is a pretty good way to diversify your threats. This is mostly just a way of taxing and stretching opposing removal. Rhonas may just be a creature but he is immune to most removal and lets you extend into mass removal with a little more confidence than usual. Rhonas makes your mana dorks relevant in the latter parts of the game as well. Unlike a lot of the gods on this list Rhonas fails to do anything at all by himself and has no ongoing perks. Green also has a wealth of robust, high value and high power three drops taking his deck slots. Unless you have a specific need of playing Rhonas it is fairly hard to play him over something like a Jadelight Ranger. He is a great card but hard to find a suitable place for where you cannot find superior alternatives.
5. Thassa, God of the Sea
Power wise Thassa is one of the more impressive gods. She under performs because she is in blue and blue has poor aggressive strategies and has to play dodgy cards to empower devotion. It is not even like you can do much to pick up the shortfall by packing another colour because then you either ruin your mana base or your ability to turn on the devotion cards. Unlike many other Theros gods Thassa is one that you very much want as a creature. A three mana 5/5 indestructible is the stuff of dreams for blue. The other abilities are good but they are not worth the investment without getting that 5/5 body to see some action. Scry every turn is lovely but it is terrible compared to Search for Azcanta. It is also an incredibly slow affair. You would have to have double figures worth of turns to come close to making a card and three mana back in value from just the scry. Thassa is an aggressive card and that just makes the scry worth a bit less. The unblockable ability is great. It provides some reasonable reach but it is pretty late game as it does not come all that cheap. Blue isn't great at racing or at tempo and so you are pretty unlikely to be using it while you still have ways you can invest your mana in tempo. Much as I have marked down Thassa due to weak blue aggressive devotion cards I expect that to change. Blue got several good cheap aggressive cards this year and I fully expect to see it continuing to get more. It really wont be that long before you can support Thassa in an actually quite reasonable deck and then she will be pretty oppressive.
4. Xenagos, God of Revels
Oddly I find Xenagos to be the devotion based god most frequently in creature form. There are some quite playable cards that really empower Gruul devotion (Burning Tree Emissary, Boggart Ram-Gang etc) for one. More over, the kinds of deck that want a card like Xenagos are typically packing some meaty permanents. Green allows you to play more double coloured cost cards in other colours too so you will find even the mono coloured cards adding to the devotion count decently well. Xenagos does a really good job of ending games. He basically gives all your subsequent cards haste while being a pretty unkillable Wolfir Silverheart as well. Ideally you play him and pump up a 3 or 4 drop beater such that thy either chump block or take a massive hit in the face. The following turn you make something else fairly fat and swing in with Xenagos himself, the new empowered dork and your previous dork for what is usually more than enough damage to end things there and then. Xenagos is like having a Kessig Wolf Run that is also a Hanweir Battlements and that fully activates each turn without costing you any mana. Xenagos is the king of haymaker cards. Often a bit overkill but the real reason he sees little play is that he can do nothing the turn you make him and does do nothing if you have nothing else. When you can just play it safe with haste dragons, potent planeswalkers or massive green dorks Xenagos tends to get endged out. There are not that many occassions when your 4/4s and 5/5s being 8/8s and 10/10s makes a huge difference. Surrak is a mana cheaper, a colour less, still gives things haste and can attack himself on the first turn most of the time. Surrak and top of the line five drops are really what killed Xenagos, Elspeth and Godsend had nothing to do with it outside of the storyline! While historically Xenagos has performed better than Thassa and Rhonas I expect both those gods to overtake Xenagos over the upcoming years. Being significantly cheaper and mono coloured puts them at a huge playability advantage.
3. Hazoret, the Fervant
A great standalone card offering huge tempo, reach and power. Hazoret is one of few gods that works well without any real support and towards fairly universal on-theme ends. You can just toss Hazoret into most cube decks that are at all tempo based. My cube is sufficiently low to the ground that you can get away with Hazoret in decks that are basically midrange. You don't need to be just red or even heavy red either. You can splash in a Hazoret no trouble. She is tempo because a 5/4 hasting indestructible is a savage beating. She is unafraid of combat and kills most that stand in her path. While fairly hard to make on curve and attack it is not impossible nor is it even bad to make her and not attack. She would still be a solid card without the haste! It is certainly a whole lot easier in cube to empty most of your hand by turn four. Making her later is no bad thing either. Her power is still pretty extreme if made on turns five onward. It is lovely when you get to make a punchy threat and even have some mana left over to activate a Grim Lavamancer or something. Powerful enough to rival Thundermaw yet cheap enough to run in decks too low to the ground for five drops. The discard for damage ability is nasty too. It ensures attacking is going to be an option but it just ensures victory eventually regardless of attacks. You can sit back and chip people down in some degree of safety behind your 5/4 indestructible wall! The only thing really working against Hazoret is the vast swathes of other great red four drops and only being able to sensibly play a couple of them at any time. Rekindling Phoenix offers more control, Chandra offers more utility, Hellrider offers more burst, Pia and Kiran Nalaar offer more coverage and that is just some of the non-gold stuff.
2. Porphoros, God of the Forge
While this is a bit of an engine card it is in a common and powerful range of archetypes. Porph may look narrow but he sees a massive amount of play. He is just so powerful. He is very hard to deal with and provides inevitability and reach. All the gods a quite hard to deal with, the Theros ones most so with them being non-creature cards often. Of those Purphoros feels like the hardest to remove as he gives you least time alive to do so! Mostly it is about adding two damage to every creature you get, if Purph was just an enchantment with that effect, like a doubling up of Impact Tremors, then he would still see loads of play. Becoming a creature is rare and often more of a risk than anything else! As soon as he animates he becomes vulnerable to Vraska's Contempt, Path, Plow, Repulse, Edicts and swaths of other ways to remove him that only affect creatures. The mini Trumpet Blast Porph offers is also nice, it means he is a huge threat if you have your gas in play or if it is in your hand. In a well built Porph deck you don't really need either provided your library is full of things like Goblin Rabblemaster and Seige Gang Commander. Everything suddenly packs so much punch, good threats become obscene threats when Purph is lending a hand.
1. The Scarab God
In cube, much like in standard, this card is oppressive. It is incredibly hard to deal with outside of blue and white and far from easy for either of those colours. Untapping with Scarab God is usually game over. Making it on 9 mana for the instant recursion so as to get value in the face of exile quality removal is also a huge swing capable of ending most games. The Scarab God is a defensive beast bringing huge bodies to the board. He ends the game quickly if it is clear to do so or he does so safely with scry, loads of blockers and direct life loss. I strongly hope Jund colours get more in the way of answers to the Scarab God going forwards. It is just way too safe and reliable of a finisher in the present meta. Most decks in one of the colours will splash for it given half a chance and it seems to be consistently powerful enough to reward people for doing so. Even the graveyard disruptive element of the card is annoying. It is just a little bit too good in a few too many ways. It probably should be a 4/5 and it probably should cost five to recur things and it doesn't really need the scry and the drain. I think you could make all those changes and the card would still be pretty strong. As it stands the card is a total all star in cube and one of the most desirable game enders out there. The Scarab God is hard to counter and will win through almost all situations, most quickly and easily. It reminds me of playing with Jitte when that was in block/standard. As soon as such cards enter play the whole dynamic of the game shifts and totally revolves around them. You will do drastic things with low value simply to prevent a charge or an eternalize from happening. It is all a bit too much power with no real downsides. At least over time answers and power creep have reduced the tedium of Jitte play. Hopefully the same will be true of this naughty God.