Thursday 26 January 2012

Review: Dark Ascension Part 2

With the complete list now out for Dark Ascension I am reasonably underwhelmed with the new offerings for the cube. The latter half of the set has very few obvious high power entries to the cube and lots of C cube filler cards that may some day serve a role. This is not to say the set is bad, I am impressed with the flavour and expect it to be in keeping with the high quality for draft that Innistrad has to offer. It also has much for constructed formats but here is for cube talk, for which we shall be scraping the barrels.

Faith’s ShieldFaith's Shield 2.0 

I think this card will directly replace Brave the Elements. While it cannot reliably save your team from some of the mass removal effects nor allow you to alpha strike with an unblockable team, it is a much more rounded card that could easily see play outside of white weenie decks. This is both a combat trick and a counterspell for targetted removal. On top of this it actually has a reliable fateful hour mechanism, particularly against red decks. At five or less life it works as a counterspell for things targetting you which will be great against getting burned out and occasionally be useful against other random effects. It will prove an interesting card to play around although sadly it will not be quite as good as Brave in the dedicated deck it is a more deserving card of the slot as the cube really doesn't want multiple cards like this. Although this is strictly better than Brave the Elements with the trigger it is not something that can be relied upon or easily engineered and will not be doing what you want when you want. Despite this drawback of the Shield in decks that would play Brave the overall playability of this card earns it the a position in the A cube.

Thraben Heretic
Thraben Heretic - C cube

I pretty much view this card as a hoser and don't want to put it in the cube based on that alone. It is a fine body with a pleasant cost but a tap effect is far from ideal even if it is more reliable for certain jobs than other white options.

Call of the Kindred - no slot

Quirky card but to silly to build around, way too vulnerable and for all that investment you should be winning immediately not just putting random dorks into play.

Call to the Kindred

Counterlash - C cube

This is hard to set up as a way to cheat something into play and fits in few decks well. 6 mana is also way to much to be overpowered even if your throwing out Wurmcoil Engines and Blightsteel Colossus. Still, got to keep the cheat cards lying around incase they find a home someday, against all the odds.


Dungeon Geists - B cube

I really like this card, feels a bit like Sower of Temptation. Although Sowers effect is way more powerful the extra toughness on the Geist does keep it around longer and allow it to do more on the board. I can see this potentially finding a home in aggressive blue decks based around flying but only as redundancy for Sower.

Dungeon Geists

Geralf's Mindcrusher - no slot

Cool, a green monster in blue. While this is loads of immovable fat in a colour not overdone for such things it is a bit do nothing and a bit expensive for blue to want to bother with.

Geralf’s Mindcrusher

Mystic RetrievalMystic Retrieval - B cube

This smacks of Mystical Teachings and could very well spawn some interesting archetypes around it. I love the interaction with Gifts Ungiven and Intuition. While sorcery, the lower flashback cost makes up for this. Mystical Teachings has been in and out of the cube, generally feeling a little too narrow due to effectively being a gold card and slightly too much mana. While I am going to try hard to make cool decks with the Retrieval is strongly suspect it will follow the same path as Teachings spending its days in the B cube.

Screeching Skaab

Screeching Skaab - C cube

This does a thing and is a reasonable body to go with that. If a deck type arrives that wants to do what this does then perhaps I'll be glad I kept a copy...

Stormbound Geist

Stormbound Geist - 1.5

If this card could block anything it would be a mainstay blue dork in the cube. As it is it is much more restricted to aggressive decks in a slot where blue already has many options. This is still a whole lot of monster for blue to have access to and requiring of the double kill allows blue to maintain stronger board positions, another thing it is typically weak for. Blue really lacks one and two drop monsters that support archetypes that would use the Geist and so due to the unreliablity of this guys defensive prowess he may well wind up in the B cube.

Tower Geist

Tower Geist - C cube

Now I am all about the Sea Gate Oracle and so I have given much consideration to this card. Sadly I think it doesn't make the cut. The extra mana is so much more over the Orcle  as effect used to smooth out your draw and buy you time. The chance to do something powerful on turn four is what the Oracle lets you do, this is not however a powerful thing. The 2/2 body is likely worse than a 1/3 for a card in this role and flying is certainly not worth the extra mana.

Black Cat

Black Cat - 1.5

I quite like this and think it may have a place in the cube. Ravenous rats, while technically card advantage, does two things very poorly. Them choosing the card they pitch means it is often not very useful, and a 1/1 is obviously getting very little done. Random is significantly more powerful than giving them the choice, sometimes even more so than Coercion effects can be as it is able to hit lands. If the opponent cannot risk a random discard the Black Cat is powerful on the defensive. Rats are typically used in decks that want to make use of bodies and so abuses come into play effects and when this dies effects. Pox decks, Reccuring Nightmare and Birthing Pod are all good examples. These are the only decks that would ever tend to want Ravenous Rats for which Black Cat is significantly better. Rats only being the superior card when you can't find a way to get the them killed usefully.

Harrowing Journey

Harrowing Journey - no slot

Too much mana at sorcery speed. Lacks flexibility over cards like Necrologia and Skeletal Scrying. The only extra use this card offers is nugging your opponent for three which is not at all exciting or worth the drawbacks.

Highborn Ghoul  - B cube

Highborn GhoulBlack lacks all round two drops and zombie just got way better to have as a type. Evasion is nice to have too but the card is just not very powerful. If you are making these and they are making almost any other two drop in the cube you are losing. The BB cost is also a bit of a downer, while this would likely only see play in mono black decks the added restrictions it adds to your mana base make you wonder if it is worth it. Black and white get many more interesting guys at WW and BB which makes them restrictive in a similar way to gold cards. As such I am generally only interested in the very best cards with such costs. At 1B I would be more accepting of this cards otherwise meagre power.

Increasing Ambition

Increasing Ambition - no slot

Both ends are far too much mana to find a home in any part of the cube.

Erdwal Ripper - no slot

Acceptable starting body and haste are a big bonus on this compared to most of the other various growing monsters. I still think I would rather have a Slith Firewalker thought and that doesn't make the A cube.

Erdwal Ripper

Fires of Undeath - no slot

Even at instant this is significantly worse than Firebolt ontop of which it requires you to be in two colours to fully utilize. Not even close to making it into any part of the cube.

Fires of Undeath

Increasing Vengeance - no slot

As it only targets your spells this is much worse than the current options. No use as a counterspell counterspell and never an option to effectively use at two mana. The flashback part of this card is barely playable adding five mana to the cost of one of your spells.

Increasing Vengeance

Hinterland Hermit / Hinterland Scourge - C cube

A 2/1 for 1R is acceptable and if flipped is a pretty reasonable monster that can be used as effective removal in a red deck. Sadly the flip mechanic on warewolves is really weak in cube as very few decks stop casting spells, and if they do they are dead anyway. Pretty sure this will never get played in any form of cube deck but I am going to have a copy in the C cube anyway.

Hinterland Hermit (Hintreland Scourge)

Markov BlademasterMarkov Blademaster - B cube

I overlooked this guy in the first review. He does however hit for 3, then 7 and then 11 after which they are dead and you have a 7/7 double strike. I am not sure this will see much play as at three mana monsters start to get a little more serious. Red does lack a hard hitting dork on three but without the first contact Blademaster never gets to be hard hitting and that intial blow seems quite unlikely even with red being reasonable at clearing the path. Double strike is a frightening ability however and works very well with all creature buffs. I prefer both Predator Ooze and Geralf's Messengers to Blademaster but the lack of a triple colour casting cost makes the Blademaster a more playable card. All these diffrent angles might combine to make this decent in the cube but I rather doubt it.

Shattered Perception

Shattered Perception - C cube

Could come in handy for something, doubt it though.

Torch Fiend

Torch Fiend - 1.5

Ever so slightly different take on Hearth Kami. The Kami was fantastic when the cube was powered as it acted like a sinkhole half the time, although sinkhole when they have a mox start is less impressive... As a utility card without the power Kami became for too much mana for a one for one trade. Along comes Mr Torch Fiend and allows us to make resaonably costed aggressive two drops that can pop any artifact for a mere one mana. In red deck wins I prefer this to manic vandal as it is more proactive. You can make it at any stage in your curve and not fear a loss to something you then can't deal with later on. It costs the same mana overall as the Manic Vandal and may be split over two turns. It is also usable to blow things up at instant speed which makes it far better against equipment and decks going off. I think I will probably replace Smash to Smithereens with this card although they do not fill the exact same role it is close enough and the Fiend is far less of a dead draw so players will be happier filling out their decks with it.

Crushing Vines
Crushing Vines - 1.5

Not too many flying creatures in the cube but the ones that there are can be a real problem for green. The narrow anti-air  half is not going to come up nearly as often as this being an expensive naturalize but there are plenty enough artifacts that want destroying to make this versatile enough removal for green. When this does hit a flier you will be very glad of having it. A variety of heavy/mono green control decks have been showing some impressive results of late in the cube and this is a nice complement to those archetypes. Obviously if this were a sorcery it would be in the C cube at best but as it stands I think it is worth a shot.

Dawntreader Elk

Dawntreader Elk - no slot

Yet another card that is painfully similar to many others but ever so slightly less useful or powerful. So over Sakura-Tribe Elder this is a 2/2 but costs you a mana to use. If you could put damage on the stack I might consider this a bit harder but as it is I would just rather play a wood elf to ramp me, or for that matter, a rampant growth. Compared to Viridian Emissary you have a vaguely aggressive monster with control over getting a land and a bit more toughness but for this you lose all the synergy and card advantage properties of the Emissary.

Deranged OutcastDeranged Outcast - C cube

Reasonably costed aggressive monster with a useful ability. It can be used at instant speed and he can use himself as ammo, it can even be used to counter an undying effect of theirs. That all said green is overdone with two drop monsters and this one is very limp without extra mana investment. I cannot really see this ever beating one of the existing options to find a slot in an aggressive green deck nor can I see a combo with him as yet, nor is he much use in control decks. The only feature that makes me more curious about this guy is he is a sacrifice outlet in green which have fairly few options for such things. As it is only for humans it is of no real use in any green cube deck wanting to be able to sacrifice creatures however so I feel he is destined to never see the light of day (I kind of wanted to say "play" instead of "day" but I care about animals).

Grim Flowering

Grim Flowering - C cube

Far to much mana and too situational although potentially abusable in self mill strategies, and a rare card draw spell in green. If it had a flashback cost that could be rather more interesting.

Young Wolf

Young Wolf - B cube

I was really hoping this would be a 1/1 zombie for B where it would be really useful. In green I am not sure what this is doing. I don't think it is aggressive enough for the decks that want to beatdown, nor does green have many other good one drops to go with the wolf for early pressure, only elves to make mana for bigger men sooner. Thinking about it most other colours and creature types would have been better for this card in the cube, what a shame. Still, going to try it out a bit, see if I can find a role for the furry little fella.

Drogskol Captain

Drogskol Captain - C cube

This is the best of the gold grey ogre lords Dark Ascension has to offer. Flying is nice and giving hexproof to your guys is great. While not overly relevant in cube having two of these in play is serious and requires global removal to really stand a chance against them. Sadly there are not all that many spirits, nor are they of a coherent theme or tribe. Kira, the Great Glass-Spinner is nice redundancy with Drogskol Captain and a spirit to boot. I am sure a few people will have a go at a spirit deck with this card but otherwise this won't be going near the A cube unless they print an awful lot of white and blue spirits of A cube standard themselves.

Avacyn’s Collar

Avacyn's Collar - C cube

I like this spell but the expensive equip costs on top of narrow applications make this a C cube card. Many of the good things it combos with are humans such as Auriok Steelshaper and Puresteel Paladin. While the clear home for this is an equipment based human white weenie deck I could see it getting play in blue decks as they have a high human count and Trinket Mage to find it. This is no Skullclamp but what it does offer over the clamp is a way to get value out of your dying men while not losing too much board position. The vigilance on the card allows you to be aggressive whilst making your guy easier to send to the graveyard. If it were 1 to cast and one to equip and only required non-token rather than human to get the spirit the card would be very close to skullclamp power levels and would see play in some critter decks where clamp did not. Most of the time the Collar and the Clamp will just complement each other instead. I will try and play this whenever it seems OK just because I want it to be good, I am doubtful but I'll keep you posted.

Elbrus, the Binding Blade (Withengar Unbound)

Grim Backwoods

Elbrus, the Binding Blade / Withengar Unbound - no slot

Even with all the ways to cheat equipment into play I can't see this being good. Combo decks that don't directly win have to be really special, which this isn't. I do like the flavour of the card at least.

Grim Backwoods - C cube

Land with value is good but this is a colourless land with a multicolour activation cost eating up five mana a pop. The ability is exactly what several green black builds want to have I just don't think the cost is quite right in this instance.

Well, I feel I should offer some sort of a conclusion after all that but I kind of did that at the start... I could offer a top five but as I rated the A cube cards that should be pretty clear already. After a few months play with the new cards I will offer an actual results and conclusion section which will detail any changes made to the A cube list since the last list, most of which will be the Dark Ascension cards. At this stage I will re-evaluate my ratings, most will likely drop as their novelty wears off. Some of the B and C cube cards might surprise me and will get further discussion as to why they are better than they seem in the cube. For the next few months my cube will be awash with narrow and underpowered cards all desperately trying to prove themselves before the dreaded cull! I can't resist a list so for the lazy and forgetful - my top 5 Dark Ascension cards for the cube:

5. Faithless Looting
4. Strangelroot Geist
3. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
2. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1. Gravecrawler

For the sake of lists I shall offer my top five favourite cards in the set that I am sure will be too narrow but that I really hope do well. I will be the advocate of such cards building decks specifically tailored for them simply to see if I can make them shine. If I succeed my reward when the day of culling arrives is that I get to justifiably keep fun cards in the cube.

5. Avacyn's Collar
4. Geralf's Messenger
3. Mystic Revival
2. Ghoul Tree
1.Young Wolf

Thursday 19 January 2012

Review: Dark Ascension Part 1

I haven't yet decided the best way to do the new set reviews as the cards require very different amounts of things to be said about them. I can also start reviewing without full knowledge of the set as it the few cards that are of relevance to each other from the set within the cube can always be discussed in the review of the card released after. This will mean however the cards are reviewed in no particular order, if this proves to be annoying I will change how I do this in future.

I will attempt to review all the interesting cards that I wish to try in the A cube and offer them a 0-5 rating. Some of the cards that look good but I won't be including I will also try to review in order to justify the decision. Many cards I will completely leave out as they obviously serve no role in the cube from power level alone. Any card I will try to pick up just to have a copy of for potential use in the cube at some future point I will rank as either B cube or C cube. The former being cards that are just not quite good enough but still powerful or interesting cards, generally either too narrow or too outclassed by better cards. The C cube rating is given to cards that are really really niche, the sort of thing that might be useful in a tribal deck or in an archetype yet to rear its head in the format. All cards obtaining a B cube or rating I will put into the cube on a short trial basis simply to see if I have underrated them and should in fact remain in the cube.

Quite powerful but not offering enough for the mana and requiring other cards to really abuse. Flashback too costly to see much use in that department either. 

Generally worse than Raise the Alarm. Humans are better than soldiers at the moment but not by enough. The fateful hour effect is very powerful but hard to engineer and will only come up in the odd game and probably won't matter half the time anyway. If it were black the fateful hour effect would be more interesting due to extra control over life totals. Even playing mana burn doesn't really give this any edge over raise the alarm as instant is pretty huge on these effects. Raise the Alarm is not in the A cube as it is.

There are not enough enchantments in the cube to make dedicated removal for them viable. Even if there were and this card was the choice pick of them it would already be in the cube making this reprint irrelevant.

Seance - no slot

I could put this in the C cube for some convoluted use in the future as this card has combo written on it, if only in small print. Clunky 4 mana enchantments that have very little use on their own are a poor start for a combo deck and so unless I am unfortunate enough to open one of these I won't bother getting one. 

Lingering Souls 1.5

When I first saw this card I looked at it as a gold card and was unexcited. Then I thought about it as a white card and was even less excited by it. Finally I came to muse on this as a black spell and found I rather like it. Black has a number of cards that want you to make use of discard which Lingering Souls does perfectly. Black also has the most archetypes calling to the sacrifice of permanents for which this is also very handy. As it is unplayable until you discard it in such a deck the card becomes more situation but I suspect decks that would have gone mono black might now splash white for vindicate so it can more easily include this and perhaps the new Sorin too. This card is hardly blowing anyone away for power and will only retain its cube slot if the synergy it offers is desirable enough. 

Loyal Cathar / Unhallowed Cathar - B cube

I think if it were 1W to cast this would make the cut into the A cube. White has a wealth of pretty good two drops, of which many are WW making the bar for potential new candidates really high. Vigilance is about a weak an ability as you can ask for but does work well on this card making it easier to keep up pressure and increase your odds of making a pleasing trade with him.  This dork is most definitely and agro man and could see play in various incarnations of white weenie or soldiers. 

Too much mana and far too sorcery to be any use, cute though.

Thraben Doomsayer - B cube

I don't really like this guy but he does offer an Elspeth feel to him as they both start pumping out 1/1s on turn 4. White is quite low on three drop monsters but this is a bit slow, small and vulnerable to really excite me. The Fateful hour ability is nearly as weak on this card as it is with Gather the Townsfolk. Non-black really is not the place for it. This guy might occasionally prevent certain attacks that put you below 6 as your swing back will become fatal which buys you more time to make more men. I just can't see that being a frequent even at all. 

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben 3.5

Now this is a very interesting white two drop. I have played glowrider in cube and this is significantly better. I see three solid homes for this, GW mana denial, BW
Thorn of Amethyst has also seen cube play but at the time decks that ran it could not easily afford the card disadvantage. By having legs this version removes that problem. The most comparable card in the cube at present is Ethersworn Canonist who is easier to kill despite double the toughness of this guy simply by being an artifact, and less potent in combat than this guy. Canonist's affect is more polar as well being of little impact to someone curving out but really devastating to some archetypal strategies like storm. This guy is more consistent as disruption and with the first strike is probably better against agro decks as well. Looking forward to ruining people with this in cube for sure. 

An X spell with power flashback that mills could be powerful but I find mill decks really hard to balance in the cube and narrow like affinity but dull like infinite time walk.dec and as such will probably not go out of my way to get one. 

Thought Scour - C cube

So far the only blue card really worth mention, although just a functional reprint this does offer the much sought after redundancy. Should some archetypes find they quite want to mildly mill someone, most likely themselves, these cards will be quickly found for the job.

Geralf's Messenger - B cube

Gah! This card would be so solid in the cube at 1BB. The card would still even have enough power if it started as a 2/1 to make the cube at 1BB. At triple back however I am very sceptical as it will only be playable in mono back decks or those splashing just a couple of non-black mana symbols. It even makes colourless land really dubious in a mono deck. Black is the best colour to have a all black mana casting cost as many of its most powerful spells like mono black decks best, dark ritual helps too. The comes into play tapped effect is actually a bit of a pain too as it really takes away from the tempo changing effects of this card. It is harder to get a good trade with it first time round and when you finally do it comes in tapped again. A three mana guy that has no board impact is much much worse than a one mana guy that also has no board presence. The comes into play tapped effect on this guy is over twice as bad of a drawback than it is on Diregraf Ghoul. 

Fiend of the Shadows - no slot

A powerful monster and a beating in draft but for cube, especially low mana ones like mine, this guy is too slow to effect things, too much mana and too small in size. I would always rather play a thoughtseize or an abyssal persecutor depending on which part of the card I most wanted. I would then just play hypnotic spectre if I wanted both. 

This guy has massive power and is also a funky infinite combo with triskelion. Sadly at 6 mana I would always rather have a grave titan. Mikaeus needs you to have stuff in play to shine, Grave Titan, Sorin Markov and Yawgmoth's Bargain are all significantly better on their own. Things at the dizzy heights of 6 mana really need to be all round insane or do a specific thing perfectly thus Mikaeus I think won't be seeing play. 

Gravecrawler 4.0

This is the sort of card that you look at and rather than think are there enough zombies in the cube to make it playable you think in terms of what zombies will now be added to the cube with this card making them better. This is hands down blacks best aggressive one drop and exactly what black needs at the moment. Most other good black one drops are zombies as are a decent number of costlier guys in black allowing the ability to be on enough of the time to be fantastic. Skullclamp is an obvious abuse of this guy, I much prefer the more subtle Carrion Feeder for the synergic abuse. There are few one drops that can be aggressive while also offering card advantage and with good reason too. Not only will this guy feature in most black agro decks he will also be part of a few pox / deathcloud style decks as he can act as a good card to pitch from your hand or a permanent you are happy to sacrifice. I also like the flavour of this card, it sort of does what a zombie should. 

Tragic Slip - C cube

I like this card but I think disfigure is just better being so much more consistent. It is possible there is room in the cube for both, perhaps I shall trial this out with the B cube cards. When you have a morbid trigger it does become blacks best spot removal spell hands down. Brimstone volley has made the cut and seems like it should reflect well on this for doing so.

Flayer of the Hatebound - er.. no slot I think

This guy has me a bit confused. He is clearly too much mana to be very playable straight up but he does have some interesting combo applications. Seance is an example of quite a bad one, Sneak Attack a much better one. All a bit flouncy though to be worth worrying too much about.

Forge Devil - C cube

I want to love this card but just can't quite. The damage to you is fine, the problem is that you are forced to use it and cannot target players. This makes this a bad one drop and quite a poor removal spell. He is better with things like Goblin Bushwacker but not enough so to compensate for his low power and situational uses. 

Hellrider - no slot

This is basically just a Hero of Oxid Ridge that gains a toughness for the loss of the random evasion thing. I am far from sold on Hero, and he has a unique effect while this little devil is pretty bland. 

Faithless Looting 2.5

This is a very cool card and interesting to boot. Careful Study spent a long long time in the A cube well outlasting the reanimator specific cards getting cut. Red is one of the most interesting colours for this to appear in at the moment with Chandra's Phoenix proving strong and many old classics begging for a card like this such as goblin welder, anger and the madness burn spells. Red is fairly narrow and this opens up many potential doors for more exciting red decks. I hope a reliable card with similar effects is printed to accompany this to really make such decks viable. Another hope for this card is that it will help red black to see more play with black having the most cards it actively wants to put into the graveyard. It is even possible that this will see play in some decks that are not desperate to put anything specific in the graveyard but simply to obtain card quality. This was never done in blue as they have access to better options for card quality and card advantage. In red however this is a different story and might just be versatile enough to sneak in. If not this card will need to team up with some other spells and find a few happy homes or it will eventually go the way of careful study and join it in the B cube.

I am pretty sure this is just awful, his flipside is cool but in cube it is quite hard to effectively engineer that flip without just conceding. The investment of 4 mana for a 3/2 body you want to preserve in order to flip is far to bad to go near the cube. 

I really hated this guy at first but he grew on me quite a lot. He is a powerful facilitator giving all your guys some evasion which is a rare thing for a red deck to have access to. By being an ability card he can become quite the target for removal which is also to your advantage if it nets you a two for one. Sadly you need other guys for this to be worth playing and is just a tad on the slow side. 

Ghoultree 1.5

This card has been getting a lot of hate but I quite like it. It reminds me of tarmogoyf although sadly in scales in the wrong direction relative to the progress of the game thus being far weaker. Survival of the Fittest is the card that makes me think this is worthy of an actual slot in the cube but a cheap 10/10 that is reasonably easy to make even cheaper via loads of different mechanisms sounds fine to me. So what if he doesn't have trample? This guy is good when he is four or less mana, he is probably fine at five given he is green. At that sort of cost you are getting good value even if they are not taking any damage. 10/10 is still very big.  I see this working well in green black deathcoud pox style decks as well as decks based around Survival of the Fittest. If a new kind of madness deck becomes viable in cube then this could also feature in that. 

A cool way to counter an undying effect but not reason to be playing the card. Morbid is a lame ability on a combat trick and will frequently not be possible to set up thus giving you a limp combat trick. Often it will just feel better making a guy really hard post combat which is strong but high risk. The card is cheap, flexible and potentially very high power and might see cube play if combat tricks were more viable in general in the cube. 

Increasing Savagery - C cube 

Yet another card that feels ace with Triskelion! In green the flashback is quite plausible and could easily land on a bird of paradise or something for the win. Prior to that it feels rather like a creature enchant. With green gaining hexproof monsters rapidly this might be viable as it doesn't sit on the overrun slot. All in all I think I like this less than Might of Oaks just because it is sorcery. Green also looks set to get a few decent undying monsters that make both this and Hunger of the Howlpack slightly weaker, these being the weaker cards will feel the brunt of that anti-synergy and sit eternally in the C cube.

Predator Ooze - B cube

Another case of this being an A cube staple if it were costed at 1GG. Green has great two and four drop aggressive monsters but is rather lacking good ones to compliment them with in the one and three slot. There are many cards awaiting cube time on the sidelines like leatherback baloth that require mono green, if a critical mass is reached then they may all suddenly make it at once. This set in particular has so far offered a decent array of aggressive green monsters meaning reaching a critical mass more likely at some point soon. Cheap indestructible monsters are rare and this would have been quite nice in the cube to add a bit of variety. Indestructible being only slightly better than hexproof in the cube makes this very comparable to Dungrove Elder, which, while easier to cast, is still only playable in mono green or the lightest of splashes. Not the quickest of agro monsters this guy is still very dangerous and is yet another thing control decks have to be able to cope with.

Scorned Villager / Scarred Werewolf - C cube

I want this to be good but it obviously won't be in the cube due to unreliability and low overall power level.

Strangleroot Geist 3.0

While heavy green this guy is still pretty playable in two colour decks although 1G would give it significantly higher rating. Another great card for birthing pod decks but less usable in the pox / deathcloud decks for the intense colour requirements of all those cards. While this is clearly the best aggressive green creature in terms of cube that has seen print since vengevine it is a two drop and green already has an abundance of powerful dorks available to it. The high power of the card will not really impact many decks as it will be replacing something already perfectly good. Any monster that is aggressively cost for its power and abilities that can offer some card advantage is always well worth looking at, the cheaper they are the more interesting they become. This set has a good offering of such cards of which I think this is a clear number two after gravecrawler.

Vorapede - B cube

Strangleroot Geists big brother is far less exciting. At five mana a pure beater has to be better than casting an overrun and winning the game. The big pede has a high power level but doesn't really fit any place as he stands on the curve and with what roles he performs.

Wolfbitten Captive / Krallenhord Killer - C cube

This guy is pretty good as a one drop aggressive guy. While less utility than a basking rootwalla and always costing mana to be significant even when transformed this guy is limited. That said green is very lacking in the aggressive one drop department and with just a few more printed this might be the least weak option for a mono green agro deck that requires a certain number of one drops to work well. There is no real home for this guy in the cube at present and so will start proceedings collecting dust.

Drogskol Reaver - no slot

Cool but way way too much mana, I would want at least 7 toughness before considering this for a C cube slot.

Havengul Lich - B cube?

This is another card I am pretty clueless about. His ability seems powerful and his body is OK. He kind of reminds me of Genesis just trading a little certainty for some speed. I don't think he is significant enough to make the cut as a five mana card but if some useful interactions crop up that could make the difference.

Huntmaster of the Fells/Ravager of the Fells 1.5

Despite much hype I don't think this card will make many waves in the cube. Firstly he must compete with Bloodbraid Elf, secondly he is a bit all over the place. One minute he is defensive orientated and fragile, the next removal and aggression. This guy has lots of power and is cost low enough to be considered for both agro and more control decks. Even without attacking this guy will win games if around long enough just from flipping back and forth.

Stromkirk Captain - C cube

I'll store one of these away for that day I think a tribal vampire deck will be fun. It won't be and I'll put it back and wait for someone else to share my miserable experience.

Sorin, Lord of Innistrad 3.5

This is a very powerful walker and a good distance above any other gold walker. Most comparable to Elspeth, Knight-Errant, this would be at least a 4.0 if not limited by colour restrictions. Beyond that two the walkers have an equal number of pretty even pros and cons. Sorin has less loyalty and a weaker second ability but a far more usable ultimate and better first ability. Sorin's second ability offers some pleasant synergy with  his other main effect too. I suspect this will see play in almost all decks that can support the colours however I suspect this will mainly be for novelty reasons. The only time I think you wouldn't be just as happy with Elspeth in your deck than this is when you are a black green deck splashing white as it often does. Much of this guys power is the fact he is a planeswalker and thus a very hard to deal with threat which provides incremental card advantage, what the abilities are is not all that relevant provided they are of some use and are good value. These are, thus he is good.

Hellvault - no slot

An unusual and interesting card but overcosted and lacking any decks that jump out as a good home for the vault. The artifacts thus far have been very weak, all generally overcosted and rather narrow in addition.

Vault of the Archangel - no slot

This card is too slow for a colourless land to see in play in the cube, particularly as it is a gold card effectively.  Should be pretty good in some other magic formats however.

Monday 16 January 2012

Reviews: The A cube gold cards

VindicateVindicate 4.0

This card embodies versatility and is never a dead card. It can offer free wins if they hiccough on lands, has aged well to hit planeswalkers and is one of the few absolute auto include cards if you have the colours easily accessible. I view a double colour requirement and sorcery speed as a limitation rather than an actual drawback such as that of Beast Within. The double colour is good as vindicate would get played too much otherwise and get very boring for deck construction. Instant speed would obviously be better but I think we already have enough from this card. While quite a bland card the sheer number of targets it can hit means it does offer lots of choices. The most common of those is weather to use on a low power target to gain immediate tempo or save it to deal with a card that ruins you. This is particularly difficult if you have no other enchantment removal say and happen to be playing verses an opposition deck.

Maelstrom Pulse
Maelstrom Pulse 1.5

This is a far cry from vindicate. Not being an instant is far more significant on this spell as it can't deal with man lands and, while still very versatile, feels more over-costed than vindicate and is thus a very clunky card. The hit all copies effect is rarely of relevance in the cube and doesn't feel like card advantage even when hitting multiple tokens. The main feature of this spell is that it kills planeswalkers, when it does do this however you are generally behind as they have traded one for one, with pretty similar mana but had at least one use from thier walker. The only real way to kill a walker and feel ahead is to do so by attacking with guys you have in play or a counterspell. Pulse is what you play when you don't have room in a deck to play a couple of more specific yet far better spells. Black green is one of the most common colour combinations which works in this cards favour but I fear this will soon feel the sting of relegation as beast within continues to prove itself.

RecoilRecoil 2.0

Recoil is far less of a removal spell than pulse or vindicate or beast within but it makes up pretty well for this by being instant and offering no drawback. It is hard to lose card advantage by playing this spell, which makes it an excellent bounce spell but then again it would have to be at three mana. It is quite easy to play around recoil by keeping land in hand, and so it sees less play as a result. Black is the discard colour however and if supported by some of blacks discard arsenal recoil starts to look better than vindicate. While bounce is generally very versatile you rarely want to use this on your own cards making it less powerful as bounce. Overall the costing of this card seems about right leaving it as a medium power level card that can be shifted in either direction based on deck design and opponents skill.

Pernicious DeedPernicious Deed 4.0

Unlike vindicate the deed fails at dealing with planeswalkers. It makes up for this in a few ways. By playing your own walkers you can take advantage of the downside and destroy the world heavily in your favour board position wise. Walkers are already good enough and don't need to be encouraged on both sides of the table for silly reasons like this! While being generally very good the deed single-handedly annihilates most artifact based strategies. As this remains perfectly good without artifacts it is not at all a hoser, neither is it used solely for  that purpose. Things tend to just be dull and one sided when deed is faced by the artifact deck which does not do too much to improve the cube. This is just something we will have to live with as both artifacts and deed are too good to cut.

Lightning Helix

Lightening Helix 3.0

The helix is vastly overrated by most players in most formats. It does all the things you want it to do and is great value with the three life. 3 damage is the right number for two mana, instant is optimal. The three life you gain rarely makes much odds however and on that basis incinerate is the better card (despite helix being less playable in general anyway due to more restrictive colour requirements). When you are the one playing the burn your life total tends to be irrelevant except in the mirror match, which is difficult in cube! The helix is a real pain to cast more often than you would think and disrupts the other plays you want to make. All this said it is still a cheap, hefty burn spell with lots of added value and one of the best things to have under an isochron sceptre. It is generally a better control card as the life is much more useful but will see play in basically all RW agro decks too. I think people just can't refuse the power it offers or just assume it must be better than incinerate.

Terminate Terminate 2.0

A very unexciting card in a very unexciting and uncommon colour combination. Terminate is pretty happy in most decks that are red and black but so few are that it sees very little play. I always feel a bit ripped off when I play terminate and think about the white instant spot removal which so greatly outshine this that it seems unreasonable for it even to deserve a slot. A bit like comparing council of the soratami to ancestral recall. Even so this is about as good as spot removal gets after the big fall off from path and plow. Terminate sees little play as so few archetypes are black red, the most common home for it is blue based control with a splash of black and red. As creatures are in the cube tend to offer value even if instantly killed by removal, and planewalkers are good alternate threats to creatures, a better way to go about winning is by casting better creatures and more planeswalkers than your opponent.

Fire / IceFire / Ice 4.2

Another of my all time favourite cards and I think the most versatile card in magic despite being a rather hard category to quantify. Either half of this card is would be perfectly fine as a single card in their own right. Fire/Ice is also not as restrictive as the non-hybrid mana gold cards as you can still put it to use while missing a colour. You are in fact often more than happy to run this card in a mono red or more typically blue deck with only the faintest hope of having the other colour, say a single Mox Diamond. Fire offers what all burns offers, good removal for small monsters and an occasional finisher yet it offers more - the chance to get a very cheap two for one. Arc Trail is incredibly powerful for this reason and while less damage Fire is instant. Ice has more uses than Fire, offering the simple cycle option, or fogging attackers, or tapping mana sources, either to disrupt their plays or force through your own.

Thopter FoundryThopter Foundry 0.5

This actually just should straight up not be in the cube at the moment. It supplements affinity decks very nicely and is a strong combo deck with sword of the meek however as I have cut the sword due to being too narrow the thopter foundry is left as an optional support card for a narrow tribal deck that has little power as a card on its own. If combo returns with any force this will very likely be one of the combos to return, especially so with it fitting into more than one archetype. Although non-essential this card has many good uses in affinity, its only home as it stands in my cube, making fliers to force through damage, a sacrifice outlet that retains you artifacts in play count and a life gain spell for red decks. It is however quite hard to cast in affinity seeing infrequent play overall as a result.

Bloodbraid Elf
Bloodbraid Elf  3.5

Card advantage on a good aggressive monster, fearsome to the control player. On average this card is really under-costed too as three mana for a 3/2 haste is about right, the extra one you pay extra for your dork is compared to the cost of the spell you cascade into. Assuming you hit a two or three mana spell you have under-costed tempo, aggression and card advantage. Bloodbraid actually improved with the removal of power as you got less dud hits on moxen. She can still be somewhat random with consistency hard to engineer in singleton formats. She cannot be played with much counter magic and is weak with combat tricks, various silver bullets or random answer cards. Even with multiple dud or weak things she can cascade into she is well worth inclusion in most red green creature based decks as she is still pretty goof when you wiff the cascade. I have seen her used very swell in seismic assault decks in order to go fetch it too. It is a shame the cascade mechanic is so random as it reduces the skill level.

Mystic SnakeMystic Snake 1.0 

At four mana this card tends to broadcast itself and is pretty hard to rely on as a counterspell if you wish to carry on making other plays. The tempo swing is not that great either as a 2/2 body fails to achieve all that much. The redeeming feature of this critter is the ability to repeatedly bounce and recast it forming a soft lock on your opponent. There are some other nice perks from having a counterspell attached to a creature like this aside the recursion such as tutor effects. An old magic folk lore tells of the horrors of a backfiring mystic snake:
Player A - casts Fact or Fiction
Player B - casts Negate targetting Fact or Fiction
Player A - casts Mystic Snake
Player B - responds to Mystic Snake with a Disrupt targetting their negate and neglects to pay 1. Snake resolves with the only target on                stack being Fact or Fiction.

Murderous Redcap
Murderous Redcap 2.5

I am rather biased against the duel colour cards as I find them very ugly in decks not of both colours. They are of course better than mono coloured cards and significantly better than normal gold cards but this doesn't always stop me playing something else less ugly in my deck. Despite me being bad and having my reservations the Redcap is a very powerful card. He is generally more card advantage than the other 187 creatures and is far less often dead in your hand. On the whole Redcap is the control decks choice card where as Flame Tongue Kavu and Skinrender are the more aggressive choices as they have much greater impact on the board due to greater immediate killing potential and bigger bodies. The Redcap is more of a speed bump, like Solemn Simulacrum, that is really unappealing to attack into. He is also a great utility monster in Recurring Nightmare and / or Birthing Pod decks.

Shadowmage Infiltrator
Shadowmage Infiltrator 1.5

A card that is fast losing ground in the power creep but still finds a home enough to deserve his slot over other cards despite being gold. The most comparable card to this is Thieving Magpie as a 1/3 evasive monster with card draw upon damaging a player. Flying and Fear are pretty comparable in the cube as evasion where as three mana is a worlds difference to four. While being gold makes the infiltrator far less playable, being four mana, gold or otherwise, is  unplayable period. Other weaker options exist that are too vulnerable and lacking any evasion. Without evasion these kinds of cards require too much setting up to make them worthwhile card draw engines and really have to be the complete package on their own, which the infiltrator is. Despite this he is a slow way to draw cards and quite a vulnerable investment to make with it having no impact till it starts to connect. He finds most play in mid range blue black decks rather than pure agro or control. He will still see some play in Psychatog or other blue black pure control decks but is sharing more and more with cards like Jace Beleren, Vampire Nighthawk, Enclave Cryptologist and Seagate Oracle.

Kitchen FinksKitchen Finks 4.0

An incredibly powerful monster that works in control and agro decks equally well. Thanks to Meliria the Finks has a combo deck of sorts too. The hybrid cost with only two thirds colour requirement, unlike Boggart Ram-Gang, finds the Finks in many non white or non green decks. Zoo and the rock are the two most frequent homes of the Finks. They are also about the best card you can play against aggressive mono red equating to about a 4 for 1. While they would be far less exciting without either one of the life gain or the persist (but still having a 4 life gain) the Finks would still be a cube worthy powerful monster. Great tempo gain through lasting board position and life gain push them over the edge of reasonable power. They need no support cards to make them powerful although do have good synergy with sacrifice effects and things that remove counters or add +1/+1 counters. Undying is a much more powerful mechanism than persist but no monsters with either effect have been printed that are so devoid of drawbacks and so easy to include in decks as the Finks.

Geist of Saint Traft
Geist of Saint Traft 2.0

This guy offers a lot of punch for just three mana and being hexproof is of great help with his fragile body, both for safe equipping and avoiding spot removal. The card is not without its drawbacks however, the most obvious being that he has few decks in which he is really at home. UW has a selection of aggressive options and is certainly competitive, it is quite clumsy to build and lacks great synergies resulting in it being an uncommon deck to encounter. The only other places this shows up are 4 or 5 colour zoo decks and UWR tricksy tempo decks. Gold cards inherently struggle to find numerous homes however even if this were mono white or mono blue it probably still wouldn't be an auto include for any decks. Three is a funny point on the curve for most agro decks as the really game winning cards cost 4 or more and your agro base costs 2 or less. Cards that are just quite good frequently don't make the cut in the aggressive decks as the few slots are reserved for cards you need to do a specific thing such as a Viridian Shaman. The other huge problem with this card is that you generally only get one attack out of it. Most decks pack a bunch of cheap utility creatures, most of which trade with the Geist and very gladly at that. Getting good value out of the Geist is quite hard and requires them to have few dorks while you have good removal. His best use is taking out planeswalkers with the Angel on the one attack he is likely to get. He is also quite nice as a sort of danger card that you can lay and have your opponent play too much around the card despite all it is doing in the present is sitting in play doing nothing.

Boggart Ram-Gang
Boggart Ram-Gang 3.0

Gangs of goblins are always good and this guy lives up to that. While all the goblins in this gang are condensed into one body it is one of the best tempo cards in the cube for three mana. A decent size in addition to haste and the ability to take permanent chunks out of huge monsters is a big swing of tempo. Wither has just got a little worse with undying monsters arriving and was not the most relevant of effects before then but is still definitely better than not having it. Unike Kitchen Finks or the other hybrid mana dorks the Ram-Gang being tripple red or green needs to be played in mono red, mono green or red green. I have seen it played in Naya and Jund type decks but I am not a huge fan of that, if you can't cast it on turn three or when you have three mana the gang starts to look a lot worse. He used to see a lot of play in red deck wins but that has had really good one and two drops that have edged the Gang out of the picture somewhat. He now primarily gets played in RG beats as mono green stompy has not progressed past a tier 2 deck, he is also usually guaranteed a spot in goblins decks despite have no synergy with Warchief at all. The best thing that you can do with a Ram-Gang is reveal it to the cascade of Bloodbraid Elf.

Knight of the ReliquaryKnight of the Reliquary 2.5

This is a very powerful and useful little dork that has loads of applications and trickery. She can ramp, she can fix, she can tutor, she grows and all for the bargain cost of three. A few things however keep her much more in check in the cube than she has been in constructed formats. Firstly with 40 card decks you can only play so many cool lands to go and fetch as you won't reliably have a forest of plains to ditch if you have too many non basics. Having only one copy of Temple Garden and Savannah makes you more reluctant to pitch those, even more so with things like Taiga when you are more than just green white. Secondly a lot of the good lands to go and get with the Knight are way to narrow to ever have slots in the cube. Secondly the Knight is pretty slow often being a lowly 2/2 with no impact on the board when cast. She is an aggressive utility creature like a Fauna Shaman or a Lotus Cobra and will tend to see play in creature based decks that want to be the aggressor however she is much more suited to being on defence so as to be able to block and activate.This means she is at her best in creature on creature games. Unless she is finding man lands or surviving a Geddon or Cataclysm against control she is not the most exciting threat and is pretty ineffective against combo.

PsychatogPsychatog 2.0

Good old teeth has sadly not aged all that well no transferred over to the cube format with all the perks he had in constructed. Exiling cards, particularly in blue decks with their reshuffle effects, is always a little uncomfortable and trying to have enough to get the Tog to 20 power or close to is a really tall order in 40 card decks. On top of this there is no redundancy for Tog in the cube and so basing a strategy around him is pretty risky. Tog Upheaval is a very weak deck in cube not just for the ease of going Plains Path to Exile after they reset the game with a Tog on their side. He is still a very versatile creature and good in both quirky agro control decks as well as control decks. In the latter he doubles up as both an early speed bump as well as a potential late game win condition but should definitely not be relied upon for the latter and certainly not at the expensive of crippling yourself early to keep him about. 

Qasali PridemageQasali Pridemage 3.0

In a single colour this would be better than a 3.5 as it is the optimal utility dork. A very efficient beater that also serves as an answer to loads of annoying cards that otherwise would require diluting of your deck to be able to deal with and leave you with dead cards and bad draws. Although you have to lose the dork to kill a thing unlike Viridian Shaman you are not constrained by keeping it back until needed and are therefore able to curve out nicely with it. It is basically an auto include in any green white deck with creatures in. Being able to hit both artifacts and enchantments is nice too as many of the white, green and red creatures that deal with awkward permanents only hit one or the other. Viridian Zealot originally had a cube slot and saw play as a cheaper alternative to Nantuko Vigilante however it was all round really awful, you never wanted to lose it in combat as you would then be without your answer, you also often tried to keep up activation mana to sacrifice as a response to things. The cheaper activation and extra toughness make Pridemage much more usable.

Figure of DestinyFigure of Destiny 3.5

A wonderfully designed card that was a precursor the great mechanic of levelling. Figure has a lot going for it being usable in two of the better weenie colours, being a one drop and also a late game threat. As a one drop it is rather like a Pounching Jaguar as it achieves really very little without becoming a 2/2 first which obviously ties up extra mana. Overall it is better than an echo 2/2 for one or a haste 2/2 for 2 as you get the flexibility in how you curve out with it. The level mechanic is pleasantly different from actual level monsters for two reasons, one that is better and one worse, keeping it in good balance overall. Figure may be grown (or shrunk!) at instant speed which is significantly more convenient than other levellers however the increments of cost increase meaning you can't physically reach higher levels without all the mana to do so in one go making it a worse mana sink. While not the most efficient card for its mana the flexibility and good scaling of the card throughout the game make it one of the best one drops in the game. Most comparable to Student of Warfare it is a little less efficient for the cost but more flexible in where and how it may be played.