Friday, 23 July 2021

Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms Conclusions and Additions

 

Wizards are certainly testing the boundaries with this set. I suspect it will split the play base somewhat into those who love it and those who hate it. I imagine it will bring in new players and so we will probably see more limit testing stuff. I am fine with the theme crossover and like plenty from the set but found it marred by some bad design. Flavour wise the set gets top marks but in terms of mechanics and general design it is pretty comfortably the worst set in a long time. That is taking the card design as an average and gives no consideration to things like constructed and limited play. If a set plays well in limited and/or improves standard that is far more relevant than it having some cards that are poorly designed. So my critique might sound harsh but it is pretty minor. Further to that the design quality of recent years has been really good. Yes, they have been too powerful and too plentiful, and had some awkward effects on constructed but the quality of design within the sets has been excellent of late. The only design criticism I could bring up is overly wordy and/or needlessly wordy cards. I don't mind a wordy card if there is a good reason to do so but being short on ideas is very much a bad reason! Nothing wordy compares to all this dice rubbish however. Coin flipping was always reserved for a few joke cards and yet here it has been extended out to seemingly serious cards and is a big part of the set. The D&D feel was easily achieved without such a heavy lean on the dice cards. It could have been restricted to a couple of silly cards or at the very least been designed in a less obnoxious way!




It is not all bad of course, there are some cool things and cards I am excited to play with. That however is the other issue here. I am experiencing some serious burnout with the pace of releases. This is the fourth set of new cards this year. I was really hyped for Kaldheim. I was keen on Strixhaven, I was nervously curious about MH2, but come this set I just wasn't that bothered any more. I have been slower to test things, much slower to acquire new cards, slower to review them, and I am sourcing far fewer cards than I would have in the past. You can even see it in the attention to detail in my reviews. I have simply misread much more than I usually would and a lot of that is the result of interest, or the lack there of.. Four new sets a year is plenty, three would be preferable, the pace of new cards this year isn't sustainable. I am pretty sure my stomach for magic is higher than the average so here is to hoping it gets dialed back before damage is done to the player base's stamina. If I am getting the burnout others must be too.   





As I was reviewing the main set I kept finding cards that felt like they should be in silver bordered sets or commander product. Having now seen all the commander cards I can see why that didn't happen as they were even more extreme. This is not a great thing. I guess this is technically a core set which along with actual silver bordered sets, commander product, and arguably Modern Horizon's product, is one of the more suitable place for sillier stuff. The least suitable of those others but still...

The power level is somewhat calm compared to recent years at least however there appears to still be a wealth of additions and high hopes testers. Lots of good cards with few great or broken cards it seems. I usually rank the additions best to worst but I can't easily pick between them here. I like a few cards more than the others but this isn't really for power reasons. I love the Class cards. I am a big fan of Shambling Ghast and You Find Some Prisoners. I am really intrigued by the whole venture thing and am hoping it to outperforms my expectations (a bit like energy did) where none of it seems quite good enough and so it must be better in practice than in a theoretical sum of its parts. 






*commander product card


Additions 


Lolth, Spider Queen

Portable Hole

Hive of the Eye Tyrant

Hall of Storm Giants

Den of the Bugbear

Lair of the Hydra

Cave of the Frost Dragon

Plundering Barbarian

Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar

Werewolf Pack Leader

Ebondeath, Dracolich

Shambling Ghast

You Find Some Prisoners

Ranger Class

Paladin Class

Preist of Ancient Lore




To Test With High Expectations



Prosperous Inkeeper

Loyal Warhound

Hurl Through Hell*

Nadaar, Selfless Paladin

Zariel, Archduke of Avernus

Yuan-Ti Malison

Varis, Silverymoon Ranger

Froghemoth

Demilich

Bag of Devouring*

Iymrith, Desert Doom

Forsworn Paladin

Wild Shape

Death Tyrant*

Check for Traps



To Test With Low Expectations


Inferno of the Star Mounts

Eye of Vecna

Xanathar, Guild Kingpin

Orcus, Prince of Undeath

Dungeon Crawler

Ellywick Tumblestrum

Flameskull

Midnight Pathlighter*

Icingdeath, Frost Tyrant

Dawnbringer Cleric

You See a Pair of Goblins

Wight

Ranger's Hawk

Extract Brain*

Meteor Storm

Volo, Guide to Monsters

Dancing Sword

Warlock Class

Minsc, Beloved Ranger

Sorcerer Class

Westgate Regent

Monk Class

Demogorgon's Clutches

Monk of the Open Hand

Immovable Rod*


For the Constructed Reserves 


Moon-Blessed Cleric

Acererak the Archlich

Unexpected Windfall

Treasure Vault

Hobgoblin Bandit Lord

Xorn

Cleric Class

Ingenious Smith

Fighter Class

Tasha's Hideous Laughter

The Blackstaff of Waterdeep

Circle of Dreams Druid

Mimic

Component Pouch

Rod of Absorption*

Minn, Wily Illusionist

Wish

Silver Raven

Maddening Hex* (too good not to get, too offensive to actually play with!)

The Book of Exalted Deeds

Trelasarra, Moon Dancer

Keen-Eared Sentry

Feign Death

Celestial Unicorn

Oswald, Fiddlebender 

Pixie Guide



Thursday, 22 July 2021

Preliminary Reviews: D&D Commander Part IV

 

Thorough Investigation 2

I really like this. I like clues, I like getting them and I like saccing them. I also like attacking and venturing. This is lots of things white aggro decks wants to do however this is quite costly and quite low tempo. You also need to be attacking which is at odds with the tempo of the card and makes it a bit needy. Five mana to draw a card and venture is a terrible rate. Seven to do both those things twice isn't that much better. This never really gets there on efficiency and so it probably isn't playable despite being really cool looking. In a midrange deck with a high number of evasive dorks then it looks more likely to perform. I like how it is any kind of clue saccing as with Tireless Tracker, you don't need to pay the 2 and draw the card with your clue, you can sac it to any effect and still venture. Cooler but not all that much more application as a result. This is fine but not good enough but I still want to play it and that is a design win at the very least. 



 



Revivify 1

Powerful effects but incredibly random and situational. Just play Teferi's Protection or Selfless Spirit if you want a card like this. They do more without being so random. 





Radiant Solar 1

As a six drop this is a non-starter. It simply lacks the power and threat needed at that cost. The cycle mode is more interesting and could see some play in a couple of synergy lists. Likely not due to the low nominal power but not a card you can rule out being so cheap to use and unique in operation. 





Immovable Rod 6

Somewhat expensive removal with reusability and venture shenanigans. I want there to be a cool Clock of Omens Paradox Engine type thing going on with this but it is probably a bit cute. In many ways this is an inverted Icy Manipulator that is cheaper to use on one target, or indeed multiple targets provided you are spending four turns per target! The venture certainly takes the sting out of having to swap targets and is probably a nice venture support removal tool. As far as a maindeck tool goes I suspect it is a little slow and easily answered to compete with what white has access to. Very nice if you want removal and want to keep a nice high artifact count. 





Nihiloor 0

Nope. Five mana, three colour, conditional Control Magic. There are not only cards better than this, there are cards better than this in the D&D set... The tiny drain payoff in no way makes up for one of the failings of this card, let alone all of them. Obviously rather better ceiling as you add opponents into the mix, just not a 1v1 card at all. 





Wulfgar of Icewind Dale 2

A fun looking build around card but narrow and rather high up the curve. The kinds of shell you could build this into will just be a fairly classic red green beats list with some ramp and some high tempo fatties. Without a lot of synergy this dork is savagely underpowered but with the right synergy he coudl well be at least viable. 





Dragonborn Champion 1

Too hard to pull off doing 5 damage and not very repeatable. Win more when you do and a 4 mana 3 toughness do nothing when you don't. Not a good range to occupy.





Wild Endeavor 1

Unreliable and not very threatening or useful. I don't want basic lands on my six mana spell. This has good odds on making at least 9 power over 3 bodies but all of them being mid sized vanilla tokens is quite the turn off. I can do better than that for five mana already in green. Yes, this also gives lands and way more than one mana's worth. This is absolutely a lot of value it is just the wrong sort of value at the wrong cost. Imagine how nuts this would be if you halved it both in terms of cost and payout, it would be silly! Worst case a 3/3 and a Rampant Growth for 3 mana? Best case double that? Just a pair of 3/3 for 3 mana would be pretty scary! Just a good example of why scaling in Magic isn't linear. 





Neverwinter Hydra 1

Well, this is fun at least. Dice rolling randomness is mitgated rather by rolling multiples. Sadly the number scale with X and low values of X would be the most common. Four mana trample 6/6 ward dork is great. Make it a 1/1 and it is laughable. The 3/4ish average it is at that cost isn't worth it, nor is the 7/7 six mana mode. You have to high roll for this to be a good mana investment and even then it is just a decent threat, a group of which there is no real shortage. 





Indomitable Might 1

Sneaky but expensive and situational. 





Bag of Tricks 1

A kind of Birthing Pod that trades low mana cost and sacrifice for high mana cost and total random outcomes. Have a nice spread of dorks 1 - 8 and then off you go! The average result makes this look good as you are drawing gas and playing it for little more than the actual cost. In practice turn wasting feel of paying 5 to tutor up an Elvish Mystic or rolling the same number a bunch and running out of targets is all enough to make this pretty unplayable. The build constraints help with this feeling unplayable in 40 card lists too. 





Vengeful Ancestor 1

Hmm. Not bad but not exciting. Best case I get a midsized flier and force you into some chump attacks. That needs you to have some small dorks and me to have some big dorks and then for you to have no useful interaction at all. Seems wishful to get this to the unimpressive ceiling. Seems like this could be a good way to fall behind to a Doom Blade much more consistently. Very slight tribal potential. 





Maddening Hex 8.5

Overpowered broken sillyness that will not be good for the game is what we have here. This card just doesn't pan out at all well for players in 1v1. This is also horrific design being another double whammy on random. Some decks are mostly dorks and can ignore this largely. Others are not and cannot hope to beat this. Then you have the capacity to roll only high numbers or only low ones . Average 2 dmg and the card is fair, average 5 and the card is more than oppressive. This is comfortably good enough in cube. Even the decks without dorks still have some spells, on average you only need two triggers from this for it to have been outstanding. Even so, I will probably avoid adding it just because it is the wrong kind of card in every way. Bad for fun, bad for interaction, all the bads. This is an awkward card that gets a little in the way of my cube design philosophy. It is powerful enough to make my cube but not powerful enough to outright ban. As such it is getting a soft ban like True-Name Nemesis just because no one enjoys playing against it. 




Chaos Dragon 1 

A 4/4 flying haste for 3 that attacks 50% of the time. Far too unpredictable as to being able to answer walkers. You win or lose by those dice results and that blows. The card is pretty poor too, I wouldn't play a 2/4 flying haste for 1RR and I like the sound of that hypothetical card more than this dice based rubbish. Best case for this is being a cheap dragon for some tribal list. 




Berserker's Frenzy 0

Super situational card that will sit dead much of the time. Why mess about with this when for much the same mana you can just kill things directly or make more and better threats.




Klauth, Unrivaled Ancient 2

Assuming just this attacks and you can use the mana it is a 3 mana 4/4 flying haste with a lot of upside. The seven mana starting point however is a big turn off. Mana on a late game card isn't really the thing you are after either. This seems amazing in commander but in 1v1 you want to be wrapping things up not going bigger with a 7 mana spell. Lots of power here but not the kind you really want. 




Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Preliminary Reviews: D&D Commander Part III

 

Grim Hireling 2

This is excellent but likely fails due to cost and needing support. Fail to be able to generate treasure with this and it is just shocking. Even with treasure generation the card isn't loads of threat. It is a bit of value, a bit of tempo and some utility but it isn't quick or robust and so it is likely just a synergy tool. 






Death Tyrant 7.5

All together this might just make the cut. Being a recursive threat as well as one that has immediate impact and ongoing value potential this is ticking those key boxes. None of it is amazing but none of it is bad either. The body is big and relevant. The recursion is expensive but useable and adds a lot of inevitability to the card. The passive effect is the biggest draw. It lets you send in chump attacks without concern and makes trading for your opponent a nightmare. It has some of that Kalitas feel to it where opponents stop blocking. This is a bit slow and clunky to be a bomb or anything but I can't see it performing badly in cube or getting cut anytime soon. It compares remarkably closely to The Scarab God and typically has a more immediate effect on the game. 





Danse Macabre 1

Doubly random both due to dice rolling and due to game state. Fundamentally this is a five mana Edict, Innocent Blood even, removal spell and that makes it unplayable. Yes, sometimes it absolutely wins the game for you. Other times it does little to nothing. The norm is certainly towards the killing a random small dork and thus unplayable. Multiplayer formats however quickly scale this up to impressive. 





Karazikar, the Eye Tyrant 0

This just does so little in 1v1 play. Most five drops outclass it, even limited commons like Owlbear...





Component Pouch 4

Effectively this is a rock that enters tapped and then makes 2 mana every other turn at worst. A poor man's Coalition Relic. The difference between the initial charge being 1 or 2 is likely massive when curving with this. That alone is a big turn off. Beyond that this is a bit slow. I can see this getting better as mana sinks become ever better. Especially as cube seems to be slowing down presently. 





Midnight Pathlighter 4

This is pretty scary stuff being both a giver of evasion and a giver of perks based on a dork getting through to face. Much as the power is there with this one the colours are a turn off. The body is as well but we can cope with that thanks to the power. It is really more the case that the power is too hard to get at. Blue and white dorks isn't a great cube archetype and the decks you do find fulfilling that are typically quite evasive already. The evasion granted is the bigger reason to be playing this. Sadly legends are quite common in cube and randomly facing a couple of them turns this from a game winning bomb into a bit of a blank. I imagine this is only winding up in build around and synergy lists. 





Extract Brain 5

Very polar card. You really need to cast this and hit most of the opponents hand. That likely means playing this as a five or six mana spell on curve. Do that and hit their top end card and you likely win. Wiff with this or draw it too late and it is going to do nothing. Power wise this gets there but being so random, swingy, and situational, is all quite the turn off. This will have to really perform in cube to overcome those hurdles to me wanting to play it. 





Wand of Orcus 1

So very slow and clunky. Another example of a card simply failing to clear the Sword of Generally and Better bar and thus never likely to see any play. Rathe the win more card along with poor synergies (you want big power for the trigger but low power dorks are much better recipients of deathtouch). 





Grave Endeavor 2

This is instant and it should win the game most times you resolve it. Drain for 7 or so and then recur a dork with say 3 counters on it. The dork doesn't have to be all that impressive to swing for the win. Seven mana is luckily too much for a 1v1 card that needs a thing in the bin to do anything. 





Rod of Absorption 3

Too narrow for drafting cubes as you really need a high count of cheap spells to properly turn this on. If you can cast a couple of burns spells and a couple of Ponder type cards with this, ideally no less than three, then the card is quite nuts. That will be 3 mana to draw 3 or more good cards. It is on the slow side, on the needy side, and really only goes in a very over subscribed archetype. As such this really isn't getting attention other than build around. High power you need to work to unlock. 




Phantom Steed 1

An OK body and a relatively potent effect all very let down by needing a dork of your own in play, ideally a decent one, or at least one with a useful EtB effect. Steed is too often dead, too easily disrupted, and not quite good enough at attacking to be cube worthy. Not really a build around card either resulting in a powerful but practically unplayable card. Horse tribal!?





Minn, Wily Illusionist 3

Much as I really like this I fear drawing two cards is too much of an ask for what this card does. Sure, it is easy to draw multiple cards but it is a cost and Minn isn't good enough to overcome that cost barrier. Minn isn't putting that much into play when illusions die beyond lands and even that is very late and slow. In a deck with the likes of Gitaxian Probe and Gush along with loads of other draw options in things like Serum Visions and Archmage's Charm then Minn will perform. In more conventional decks Minn will often just be a 1/3 that dies. Even if she sits around a few turns then makes a 1/1 it is not going to be getting it done. Effectively a build around card. 





Arcane Endeavor 1

The least offensive of the cycle being somehow the least swingy. There are some interesting choices on what numbers you pick from the roles based on what is in your deck assuming you don't have things in hand to cast. There are not that many high impact instants or sorceries for general play that you can hit with this. Time Walk effects feel like the best by a long old way. Overall I would expect this to cost you around 3 mana net and draw you four cards which sounds amazing. Sadly you need seven mana up front rather ruining that efficiency. For such a big spell I still dislike the uncertainty to the point of it feeling unplayable. I cannot imagine playing this over Time Spiral which is more cards and more useful mana even if it is partly symmetrical. I cannot in fact imagine playing at all.





Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Preliminary Reviews: D&D Commander Part II

 

Robe of the Stars 0

In principle I like this but in practice it isn't the kind of thing you want. This does nothing by itself and is very defensive. Few decks look for that mix and fewer still can afford the space. There are so many more useful or appropriate means of dork protection that don't sink a load of your resources for a potential of zero gains. 





Mantle of the Ancients 2

This is a powerful build around card. It is too clunky and reactive to play even in a normal aura deck. What you can do with this is play a load of looting effects to power through you deck and find some kind of cheap hexproof dork to play while filling up the bin with some well placed auras then one shot the opponent with a Mantle of the Ancients. A bit too much of a fiddle to be all that powerful and rather putting all your eggs in one basket as far as strategy goes. 





Holy Avenger 0

Nope. Don't play this. It is quite bad to begin with and then has a big of helping of narrow to go with that. Just imagine the deck that could make good use of this and how slow and bad such a deck must be.





Fey Steed 4

This is a useful ability and one that white quite wants. Mila offered it but on a fairly puny 2/3. This is a 4/4 but then it also costs four rather putting it out of the utility area and into that which requires a bit more threat. The attack perk is nice but somewhat minor in addition to pretty situational. It is again, quite comparable to Mila. Much as I like this card and want to draw cards when my threats are targetted in white I don't see this quite being the card to do that for me. 





Storvald, Frost Giant Jarl 0

Very gold and very costly for what isn't really all that much threat. This kind of cost needs a near perfect threat and that is a long way off what this is. Insufficient reach, mediocre tempo, and no value to speak of at all. 





Underdark Rift 2

Broad spot removal on a land. Sadly a dice rolling land. At least this will always leave things a couple of draws away and will sometimes be very deep indeed. This is useable although the self exile clause stops it from being actually good in some kind of land synergy build. Without it you could really control a game. For general use this is a little costly to use and will not see much play. Certainly too narrow for drafting cubes. While it is playable it is not very high up the list of colourless lands you actively want in any given deck. Further to that it is the kind of card that doesn't get activated much. I suspect things like Mishra's Factory and Rishadan Port getting used for the abilities well over ten times more than this.





Ebony Fly 6

This is a powerful mana rock. It costs the right amount to deploy and has a lot of utility down the line in closing out the game or even just controlling planeswalkers. I will try and avoid having it in the cube as it is filthy design. The effect is just so wildly polar. Even making it range from a 2/2 to a 4/4 would be a massive improvement on the card and it would still be a polar feel bad card. I'll very much try and stick to Mind Stone over this where possible. Activating this at any point in the game before a low resource top deck game is pretty much living or dying by the dice. Try and take out a walker and fail to roll high enough is likely a loss and that just isn't how I want to play my Magic. 





Bucknard's Everfull Purse 1

Another interesting card ruined by random dice rolling rubbish. Some random would have again been OK but the range is just foolish. 





Hurl Through Hell 7.5

This is rather like Hostage Taker. It gains a lot of safety thanks to the instant speed and the inability for opponents to regain their dork with removal. The cost for that is no longer hitting artifacts and not getting a free 2/3 as well. I am fine with all of that. Artifacts are not the main target for Hostage Taker and a 2/3 is pretty minor when compared to the power of an effective Control Magic (plus any Etb/cast triggers). This is an answer, value, and a threat. It isn't great tempo but it is fine tempo. This is premium removal. A kind of fair Fractured Identity. 




Fevered Suspiscion 0

This is very expensive in all ways and is significantly underpowered in 1v1. Far too random in results too for this kind of investment. 




Bag of Devouring 5

This would be a fantastic little support artifact if it were not for the exile aspect. You are not triggering a load of your "when this dies" effects with this and so you are not generating extra value easily. Even so, this is a source of value ultimately thanks to the d10 ability and the very likely predominant saccing of tokens. That probably makes it close to playable. The d10 is random but the floor is fine and the average result is well above what you need for it to be as good as endless value, or at least well outstripping what is actually available to get back. I think performance on this will be fine but it will be too much of a tempo loss and too much of a luxury to make enough decks to be worth including. 





Wild-Magic Sorcerer 1

Just too needy to perform well and too costly for those risks to be worth taking. 




Share the Spoils 4

This is so symmetrical I cannot quite tell if it is good or not! It is capped at one spell a turn and in a 1v1 game it will always be 2 extra cards in each players hand effectively. So, the symmetry is broken in a couple of ways here. The best way is by having a cheap deck that empties it's hand fast thus ensuring you have more use for the extra cards. There are some mild mill uses for this in cube just playing your opponents stuff and depleting their resources. Not quick or exciting but absolutely a thing that would happen if you played with this. I wonder how the dynamic works when there are 2 lands on offer with the Spoils, do you lay one and risk exiling something good for your opponent to play with their hit on it? Ultimately this is a very quirky and wordy take on a Howling Mine you get first dibbs on the bonus card in 1v1. I am really unsure still about this. It seems like it is just not worth it most of the time but it could be pretty broken in the right place or with the right abuses.





Reckless Endeavor 2

I really really still hate this design. This card is too costly for normal cube play but in decks that can cheat big things out this gets a bit scary. This can easily generate mana, it can even do it while Wrathing. The effect is a bit too potent to ignore even if the card is horrific looking. 





Fiendlash 1

Powerful equipment but narrow and clunky. You are just not playing this in a cube over a Sword of What and Ever in your deck and thus absolutely your cube. Quite possibly too clunky even for a deck built around abusing this effect.





Lorcan, Warlock Collector 1

Too pricy for normal use and too fiddly to abuse for cheating out. Very powerful effect on this however. 





Hellish Rebuke 3

A mass Reciprocate type of card. This should crush any sort of race but as a Wrath or protection spell I think it is a little lacking and as such the end product is likely too situational. Being forced into eating a load of face damage to kill dorks is lame, it is why delayed Wraths are lame. It also doesn't help protect planeswalkers. The potential upside of killing multiple dorks for three mana is enough for me to want to test this but I can't see it being played over good spot or good mass removal cards.