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.


  1. And 1.5 rated Lingering Souls is still in everyone's cube. Amazing card.

    1. Yea, I got this one very wrong! At least it was out of 5 not 10 back in these days. Souls, Swiftspear and Oko remain my three biggest misses on reviews. Doubly so as my bias tends to overrate rather than underrate.