Sunday, 15 January 2012

Reviews: The A cube blue creatures

Delver of Secrets | Insectile Aberration
Delver of Secrets | Insectile AberrationDelver of Secrets  3.0*

If immediately flipped this is one of the most powerful one drop aggressive creatures and its blue! This can work in control as well as agro as a 3 power evasion monster is a reasonable threat and for the bargain cost of one mana does not leave you vulnerable to get it out. In cube with divining top, brainstorm and other blue library manipulation this dork is pretty easy to flip. Even if you fail to flip a wizard is not the worst creature type to have floating around. In cube at present I think this is the best flip card although the jury is still out on the new Garruk. This card has found many homes and is often paired with snapcaster mage. These decks include red splash blue deck wins, counter burn, UW weenie, UB fairies style agro control and various mono blue creature decks with things like vedelkan shackles, grand architect and opposition. All said and done it is still a situational card and often a very poor rip off the top meaning you can't just throw this into a deck without thought and not have it cost you sometimes. To offer aggressive redundancy in blue (which is a highly viable archetype in my cube) the advent of this card has made me increasingly tempted to add phantasmal bear to the cube. The only thing holding me back is a lack of half decent aggressive two drops to follow up with at present. This is a great example of the card I like to have in my cube, lots of potential power but needs to placed in an appropriately built deck rather than always just being a no-brainer include card sat too high on the power level devoid of any drawback. I eagerly await more aggressive or tempo gaining one and two drops in blue to be printed as they will really help this card to see play in cube.

*Rating increased by 0.5 with the advent of miracles.

Enclave CryptologistEnclave Cryptologist 2.0

The cryptologist is not definitely better than merfolk looter but the cube does not really want both. The cryptologist gets the final slot as blue really lacks one drop creatures. The downsides compared to looter are a lack of power and an additional mana to get up and running, the latter of which is very significant. The upsides include being able to loot reliably on turn two if in opening hand and that getting to level three is quite easy in the mid and late game turning this guy quickly into a game winner. Generally you only pump your 4th through 7th mana into this when you have nothing better to cast or bluff meaning you don't feel to ripped off when they do kill it in response to a level up. Level up has proved to be a great mechanic offering cards that scale well throughout that game complete with interesting choices. Cards that are useful early and late improve deck consistency giving better games.

CursecatcherCursecatcher 1.5

This guy doesn't affect the board very much and acts more as a rishidan port preventing them from tapping out to cast important spells. This in turn can provide useful information as to what is in their hand based on how they play around the card. This card is significantly improved by lords and equipment that make this guy relevant on the board and works best in tempo style blue decks and opposition strategies. Cursecatcher is the best one drop merfolk and a mainstay of the merfolk deck should it be dredged out of the B cube. The real problem with this card in cube is his lack of use late game resulting in him seeing less play than the other two blue one drops. As with the Delver, the catcher will get stronger if other tempo and aggressive blue creatures are printed. Silvergil Adept is a great card that lacks enough other playable merfolk to be a cube mainstay, with AEther Vial cursecater, cryptologist and a few more merfolk the Adept could well see an A cube slot and give a huge boost to agro blue.

Lighthouse ChronologistLighthouse Chronologist 3.5

Another deceptively good card. The lumengrid warden body is a golden size in cube and is blocks and survives most attacks from early aggressive monsters. Almost all utility monsters in the cube have two or less power as well. This is reasonably comparable to wall of omens in function, simply as a speed bump and good use of early mana. The one power is very handy defensively too as it holds off most one toughness attackers and works effectively in combined blocks. A 2/4 does all this but better, and while not exciting is a better use of mana than nothing. The ultimate level is of insane power and wins games faster than consecrated sphynx if not dealt with but it is the initial body that takes most of the credit for his high rating. It is only really the potential for this to be a finisher that makes it playable although that can happen all rather suddenly and catch you unprepared. Blue has few good two drop creatures and even fewer good defensive ones. The high blue mana requirement is less of an issue as he is most frequently played in mono blue decks as a result of their deficiency in two drops.

Spellstutter Sprite
Spellstutter Sprite 2.5

This dork is playable in cube if it is your only faerie as so many relevant spells cost 1. Flash and flying make this guy useful as a combat trick but is not his optimal use. As you increase your faerie count this gets better and better as a counterspell but the card should not really be included in you counter magic as a mystic snake would. The role this card fulfils is much more like Arc Trail offering a very cheap two for one and providing a tempo swing. The 1/1 body is only exciting aggressively if you have a reasonable number of equipment. Blue aggressive decks will usually be running equipment anyway just to make up for below average power and toughness monsters.This is more so the case as trinket mage and grand architect have good synergy with equipment making this a good card to use too. This little critter will find play in both agro and control decks but most typically those found somewhere between the two. Very pesky with waterfront bouncer and other mechanisms to recast too. With better support cards this could easily become 3.0 or higher rated.

Etherium Sculptor

Etherium Sculptor 1.5

A versatile little critter who ramps well while also offering a body for extra value. He finds play in affinity although not an auto include, tempo blue decks, storm style decks with high artifact counts and quick mana big artifact decks too.  As with many affinity style cards  he allows for ridiculous starts but is more frequently a poor top deck later in the game. Effects that reduce the cost of spells are very powerful and should always be considered closely. Most are symmetrical making them harder to abuse safely. Sunscape familiar is one of my all time favourite cards and I often splashed it and no other white cards in to my blue green combo decks. This guy is a card that can work similarly being a two mana personal effect and although he is less powerful than sunscape familiar he is much more widely useful. If your deck needs to win early or has ways to filter weaker cards later in the game and has a healthy number of cards this accelerates it should probably be a consideration for your deck (assuming it as already blue).

Voidmage Prodigy
Voidmage Prodigy 2.0 

This guy is the only card in the A cube that provides an incentive to play wizards. Wizard is one of the most abundant creature types in the cube, certainly in blue. On top of this most wizards are utility guys, often offering their effect on entering the battlefield. This makes them good targets to sacrifice for counterspell fodder. Voidmage can provide a way to soft lock an opponent pretty effectively but this requires you to have reasonable board position and good amounts of blue mana. While he is cheap, his ability is far less so and thus for him to be consistently a useful card in your deck you need to not rely on him. This means casting him on turn two and trading for a Savannah lion or something enough of the time. The morph is rarely of use, particularly as the only monster in the A cube with morph somewhat reducing the surprise factor. A good card but generally restricted to heavy blue blue decks and rarely allowed the chance to shine due to his fragility and late game ability.

Phantasmal ImagePhantasmal Image 2.5

I dislike putting cards in my deck which I do not know what they will be doing for me. When you are able to play this you generally have weaker monsters and hoping to copy something big they make. Two mana is a bargain with the drawback being fairly inconsequential and offers blue the chance of a big cheap guy, something it otherwise fails at. My main attraction to this card is when you know you are facing legends making this become a reliable Hero's Demise. When I mentioned the drawback being inconsequential I was referring to how your opponent can play in order to take advantage of it, which mostly they cannot. When building a deck with Image you have to be mindful of things like equipment which can be annoying. Blue wants to equip guys if it is winning by swinging meaning Image is not something you can seamlessly slot into any old blue deck.

Waterfront Bouncer

Waterfront Bouncer 2.5

A fantastic utility creature that offers synergy in many different ways. If your deck can support the card loss Bouncer offers huge tempo advantage, most frequently however his presence when he is active on the board he just forces your opponent to play very differently while costing you no extra cards. He is at his best in decks wanting to abuse graveyard effects, usually with green. Apparently he has had an errata making him a merfolk in addition to his types which increases his usefulness in fish style archetypes although most of those cards reside in the B cube. Useful late game to save your own creatures, particularly those with come into play effects. Opposition decks also value this guy highly as his otherwise pretty irrelevant body become useful even when you don't want to be discarding.

Snapcaster Mage
Snapcaster Mage 4.5

This guy is the best card printed for cube for quite a while. It was obviously going to be great without needing to play it in any decks but having now had a decent amount of time using the card I can confidently say it is far better than I anticipated. Most people think that Dark Confidant or Tarmogoyf are the best creatures ever printed and this may be so for constructed formats but in the cube I prefer the Snapcaster to both and think it is a very strong contender for teh best dork slot. Confidant is a bit restrictive in how you  can build your deck with him in it and Goyf is just a very undercosted beater with no added value. I have been trying the Snapcaster out in all sorts of decks from red deck wins to blue white control expecting it to be sub par in and have always found the card to shine. He is basically an aggressively costed Eternal Witness thus fits well in both combo and control with the vast array of cheap spells to recur. Flash also makes this a viable two drop should you need to take out some early aggression or simply apply some pressure. Tutor and recursion effects are more powerful in singleton formats giving this guy another boost in power. Mostly it is a combination of his high potential power scaling well into the game combined with a lack of any drawback what so ever that make him so very good. While not strictly drawbacks he does not work well with alternate casting cost cards like Force of Will and Foil or mechanics like suspend which is probably just as well as this guy plus Ancestral Vision would get tedious very fast. Getting hit by Mental Misstep twice by turn two because of this guy is painful enough.

Kira, Great Glass-SpinnerKira, Great Glass-Spinner 2.5

This is another one of those surprise cards that was dug up one day to plug a hole in a deck and impressed so much she has not left the A cube since. Kira is fantastic protection for your guys and allows you to play more vulnerable utility dorks such as Waterfront Bouncer and Sower of Temptation. Generally Kira is not the creature they most want to kill and are forced into difficult choices, use two effects to kill the desired thing or use three to first deal with Kira. This buys a lot of time and tempo for the blue mage. Having evasion is useful because the effect is far more valuable than the body you would not often want it fighting in combat. With flying it usually gets to nibble away for two a turn providing even more tempo. Blue creature decks often desire equipment to give their weaker guys a bit more presence on the board and Kira has poor synergy with them which is critical in deck building. Generally it is all fine provided you have very cheap to put on equipment like Bonesplitter but will give your opponent the option to one for one remove the monster and so should be treated like putting an aura on. There are not all that many effects that allow people to easily expend the first target trigger from Kira but she is obviously much weaker when she does encounter them.

Æther AdeptAether Adept 2.0 

Apparently being a wizard is worth costing 1UU over 2U for Man O War. While this has not been an issue as the Adept tends to only see play in heavy blue creature decks or UG decks where the fixing is very good I am pretty certain it is still wrong. Either way, a 2/2 for three that can bounce any dork when it comes into play is great although not quite great enough for two copies with the three slot being a very contested slot for blue guys. Early game the Adept is fantastic for giving great tempo swings and later on she finds good use  bouncing your own guys to get extra value from their come into play effect. She is always a firm favourite with Opposition as she is a great thing to proceed it with upping your creature count significantly compared to your opponents. She is especially useful in helping to set up attacks to kill off planeswalkers. Despite the many perks of this card the final body is of little use on its own and will likely trade for a similar creature that offered card advantage with its effect.

Treasure MageTreasure Mage 1.0

I love cards that tutor and I love cheap dorks that offer card advantage. Treasure Mage is a long long way from Trinket Mage and sees very little play. With just one target he is very hit and miss and even at two he will still miss finding something often enough to be annoying. Three or more targets and your deck is starting to be really top heavy. The only really viable deck for the Treasure Mage is a big mana artifact deck for which there are so many options on very powerful cards the Mage is frequently sidelined. Treasure Mage has very little impact on the game when he is made with you needing a few turns before you can make use of the tutored card. Six mana cards are generally not utility or answer cards which are the most useful to be able to tutor for, Treasure Mage will mostly go and find a win condition, which then begs the question as to why you are not just playing more win conditions or more effective draw spells.

Trinket Mage
Trinket Mage 3.5

This would easily have been a 4.0 or higher with the power still in the cube and was comfortably in the top 10 creatures in the cube for a long long time. Even without being able to get cards of the same power as Black Lotus and Sol Ring the Trinket Mage is significantly better than his treasure loving cousin. Trinket Mage does not require you to clog up your deck with expensive targets and the things that he gets may be put to more immediate use. In addition to this Trinket Mage has at least five times as many targets as Treasure Mage in the cube. Depending on what kind of things you want this guy to be able to tutor for you can include appropriate cards in your deck so as to gain life, fix colours, find lands, find ramp spells, get card advantage, get mass removal, pump your guys and so on. Any artifcat printed costing one or less mana is always looked at more carefully as the presence of Trinket Mage alone will make the card much more powerful and playable.

Master of EtheriumMaster of Etherium 1.5

This guy will happily see play in any heavy artifact deck and not just affinity. He is cheap and big and an artifact himself which adds to the synergy of the decks he is good in. That said he is not all that exciting, the +1/+1 buff is no way near as good as something like a Crusade as it is harder to put to good use and easier to remove from play for three and not two mana. As a big cheap guy he has no evasion or card advantage and is one of the easiest threats to kill in the whole cube. While blue might lack big cheap men this is not so much the case when using heavy artifacts and so this guy doesn't even plug a hole in blues repertoire. Dorks that don't do much else other than be fat have to be really good to make the cut and while this is the required power for such things it is quite narrow and so not highly rated on those two accounts.

Sea Gate OracleSea Gate Oracle 3.5

If I were forced into saying what blues best monster was in the cube after the removal of the power but before the arrival of Snapcaster Mage I would have handed the prize to this little dork. He is one of the most played blue creatures as there are no requirements for your deck in order to make good use of him. I have gone on somewhat about how three toughness is really good on a monster in the cube and various 1/3 and 2/3 dorks do better than they should for this reason. Throwing in not only a cantrip but also a card quality mechanism to this outstanding defensive body and you are onto a winner. Phyrexian Rager is a great card and this is basically superior in every regard except in the most aggressive of situations. Typically blue agro decks still want cards like this with high toughness as the majority of their threats are small bodied fliers. Great in control too where the extra cost over Wall of Omens is well worth it for the one power and Slight of Hand effect although typically played together for the redundancy despite different costs. The fourth land is often a swinging point in a game and if either player misses that land drop the chances of them losing increase significantly for most decks. Sea Gate Oracle is a hero for finding that land. There are many cards you can use to ensure you don't miss important land drops but very few also provide tempo gain. The most innocuous cards are often the most powerful and this is no exception.

Vendilion Clique
Vendilion Clique 3.5

Clique is likely blues best aggressive monster with evasion as well as a good power to cost ratio. The flash and the hand manipulation, particularly in combination are what make the card so versatile and playable. Synergic with counter and draw due to the flash, good at hitting planeswalkers both before and after they hit the board. The low toughness is a significant vulnerability but the flash and hand manipulation both mean you tend to get good value even if the card dies to the first opportunity to be Arc Trailed. I find I target myself nearly as much as my opponent with the hand manipulation to lose the chaff and find what I need. Clique is top five in blue monsters in the cube, sadly faeries is not a powerful archetype lacking sufficient depth in quality of cards like this to fill out a singleton deck. Spellstutter sprite is fine as a Mental Misstep but is still the only relevant reason include faeries in your deck. Mistbind Clique, one of the most powerful faeries, does require more support to be playable and as such is not a viable A cube card and resides in the dusty C cube with the other non stand alone faeries. Should more faeries of this quality see print then the Mistbind may see promotion and afford this guy even more play. Vendillion Clique sees play as a supplementary win condition alongside cards like Vampire Nighthawk and man lands in control decks and in all blue based agro decks or tempo decks or opposition decks. Blue is not spoilt for choice on really above the curve monsters and so this sees play in decks where it doesn't have any specific role or synergy.

Pestermite 1.5

Not an overly exciting card that has managed to avoid being cut along with other faeries and Splinter Twin cards due to being reasonably good all round filler in a few archetypes other than those two specific ones. Three mana is a lot to pay for a 2/1 even if it does have flash and flying. This is compounded by blue having an abundance of three drop creatures. The tap effect is certainly useful but in most cases it is about the most minor tempo swing on a card. The untap is less useful still outside of Spliter Twin gimmicks. Overall the card manages to do a number of different roles quite poorly. If your deck wants most of these roles then it is OK filler, otherwise it is simply way too underpowered to be of much use. For the most part these are skies, faeries and mono blue opposition decks, all of which are very similar in the cube. I suspect this will soon also get cut as low power general purpose cards need to see play in more than one broad archetype to deserve a cube slot.

Grand ArchitectGrand Architect 3.5

One of blues best monsters, all of which are still legal in "Modern". This guy performs a couple of roles really rather well and finds play in a variety of decks, all be it mostly blue ones. So for starters he is a decent size being reasonably tough to kill and usable defensively in combat. Although his uses can be combined to both offer something to an archetype generally speaking one is the primary and the other is a nice secondary bonus. Essentially he is either there to pump all of your blue dorks giving you all round better tempo or he is there to generate mana for artifacts along with any other blue dorks you might have. It is rare for a card to have two abilities that are each good enough to merit a card seeing frequent cube play independently of one another. Unfortunately it is quite hard in blue to curve out with good aggressive monsters, particularly in non-tribal decks and so Grand Architect ends up being most effective in the mid to late game when used to pump your men. When used as pure ramp, as with all ramp spells he is most effective early on. While he may cost three which is quite a lot of mana for ramp he does at least tap on the turn he enters play. Turning artifact creatures blue is both a useful combat trick despite being an on the board one and also sometimes allows you to generate a little extra mana if you have some spare blue. The third ability is very much the minor of the three and is just occasionally nice rather than a reason to play the card. I tend to only play him for his ramping effect when I have a decent number of other blue creatures to tap as well which is not all that often in heavy artifact decks. When I am using him as a blue Crusade however I find I am a lot happier to start adding big equipment and cards like Vedalken Shackles to my deck as well. This implies he is better in the creature based decks than the artifact ones but I am perfectly happy to leave it at he is really good in both kinds of decks and outstanding when there is overlap.

Phyrexian Metamorph
Phyrexian Metamorph 3.0

This card is quite hard to rate as it is so varied. It is a Hero's Demise, a Clone or a Sculpting Steel, all of which are cards that often depend on what your opponent is doing. The Metamorph can literally go in any deck although blue is its favourite home as casting is more flexible and artifact synergy is highest. This makes it as hard to build with as it is to review as you always have it as a viable option and have to work out if it is something your deck will make good use of as well as factoring in what you are playing against. I find I end up only playing it in decks that want a high artifact count and have good synergy with them as middle curve filler, quite a lot like Solemn Simulacrum. If I am anticipating a Thrun I will be far more inclined towards inclusion too. Although it has the potential to be game winning or saving I shy away from regularly playing cards that I cannot rely on to do a specific thing. Including a card like this solely to copy your own stuff (thus making it more predictable) makes the card much weaker due to the need of having something good in play already to copy and making the card suffer from the win more issue of many good looking cards.

Sower of Temptation
Sower of Temptation 3.0

Almost all cubes seem to pack Control Magic yet the Sower is less commonplace to my bewilderment. Certainly Control Magic is more robust but for those requirements you have the more powerful options of Vedalken Shackles and Treachery. Sower being a creature allows you much greater synergies with lots of good cards and offers you a massive tempo boost. Sower is a mainstay of blue aggressive strategies and while easy enough to kill if it should survive the game is pretty much over. Returning to Sower being a creature you can get repeat uses through bounce spells, cast it at instant speed with things like Aether Vial and easily protect it with effects like Kira or Spellskite. In addition to this it is an evasive body to equip or hit planeswalkers with or fuel an Opposition. Sower is also generally not too bothered about mass removal either as that still deals with the creature you stole as well most of the time and still leaves you with a two for one. Decent creature types as well, we just need to get faeries and merfolk breeding for the ultimate blue creature type...

Glen Elendra Archmage
Glen Elandra Archmage 3.0

This is to control decks what Sower of Temptation is to beat down decks in that if it is not appropriately dealt with the game shortly concludes. The ability to counter two spells just shuts down any deck not heavily based on winning with creatures (which includes many combo decks as well as control however getting this into play and active before a combo deck kills you can be a challenge). In many of the decks that look to play this card it will be able to protect something game winning such as equipment, Opposition, Sower of Temptation, planeswalkers or Vedalken Shackles as its main function. Evasion is nice however applying the beat down is the least relevant function of the card and keeping her out of combat that will kill him is usually the correct play. I was inclined to rate this slightly higher than Sower as she is more robust due to having persist however most of the time you want to make this guy with a mana open as tapping out to drop a 2/2 you don't want involved in much combat and therefore doesn't offer much tempo can be very risky, it can easily lead to them untapping and getting out the card they were holding back for fear of other counters. There are some pleasant synergies with this card that can soft lock your opponents out through resetting persist with things like Hex Parasite. This is a tedious and humiliating way to beat people and a good way to put them on tilt which can be a good or a bad thing depending on many non magic related things.

Mulldrifter 2.0

A nicely flexible dork that can be a reasonable chump, an evasive body or a pure card advantage spell. The downside of the card is a cost of 5 to get the dork which is the part where you are getting value and most utility. At three it is a great backup or out to a screw but more like super cycling barring the all important instant speed. So while Council of the Soratami is a brilliant side of a card to have as a backup it is not a great reason to include as the main function which it invariably is due to five being so very much in the cube. Compared to basically every other five drop permanent in the cube it will have less impact on the board. It is nice off the top in a stale late game and it is great when you have stupid amounts of spare mana however in a normal curve you will not be feeling too clever when this is your five drop. Better in slower cubes with less card synergy in favour of card power levels but in my cube it rarely finds a home. If you want chumps with cards you go for Sea Gate Oracles and cheaper dorks, if you want evasion you play Vendilion Clique and other efficient beaters and when you want card draw you play Fact or Fiction. Mulldrifter is just too expensive to be a jack of all trades usefully.

Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Meloku, the Clouded Mirror 2.0

Unlike Siege-Gang Commander and many of the other 5 drop one man army cards Meloku requires you to further invest to obtain your army. He flies and more importantly makes an army of fliers which is nice but he offers no extra utility beyond the returning of land which for the most part is just a drawback. There are quirky synergies and combos with the effect however in decks where you want to do that Trade Routes is simply a much more reliable way of doing this. Meloku is a great late game rip off the top and will win most games where he gets to live for a couple of turns however he is reasonably easy to deal with and offers little value when played when you first hit 5 mana and is then immediately dealt with. While you can get value from a dead Meloku that was killed with spot removal after you had spare mana he does nothing to give value through mass removal which can also be a pain. A good card but with too few homes and roles to be getting much play.

Frost Titan
Frost Titan 2.5

Probably the third best of the titan cycle but sadly quite a step down from Grave and Inferno. The tap effect is very nice in blue as a way to lock down things you would otherwise struggle to deal with. The protection is surprisingly handy although no way near the power of hexproof. Lack of trample or other evasion is a problem on such a big investment of fat and makes it hard to get much done against lots of little dorks. You want Titans to gain card advantage when you make them and you want the game to get quickly out of control when you get a few swings out of your Titan and Frosty here does neither of these things very well. On paper the Primeval Titan seems a bit better with the trample, the card advantage and the ability for the game to get very out of hand however you need the support cards for Primeval and you need the right deck. More decks exist that are good that can just throw in a Frost Titan and none of them need to worry much about the synergy with their other cards. If anything the biggest problem with Frosty is that the Sphynx's trump him at his various functions. For evasion and difficulty in removal Jwar Isle is the card and for games getting out of hand and offering you value Consecrated is the direction of Sphynx to head in.

Consecrated Sphinx
Consecrated Sphinx 3.6 

I hated this card when I first saw it and refused to put one in the cube for ages. Then I drafted someone else's cube and ended up with one that I was forced to play in my sub par UG deck. Suffice it to say I was quickly convinced of my error. The card draw seemed rather win more and the body alone for the mana did not excite. It is also plausible to lump Sphinx in the category of cards that offer no value if insta-gibbed however this is barely ever the case. The vast majority of the time you draw at least two cards from the effect, any more than two cards drawn and the game tends to be pretty over. A good finisher and as hard as most Titans to kill the Sphinx is about the best blue threat to end your curve on. I find I often play it instead of something like a Time Spiral or perhaps even a Fact or Fiction as it will be pretty effective as a card draw mechanism but then also doubles up as an extra threat. This means I am a lot less unhappy about losing this guy than I would be about losing something like a Baneslayer which earned its place in the deck as a pure threat and not a dual purpose card. Since adding Sphinx (rather later than I should have) poor old Frost Titan has seen very little play. Consecrated Sphinx has great synergy with Arcane Denial and Jace Beleren, it also has great synergy with Force of Will as you ideally want your late game cards to be blue so you can pitch them in the early stages if needed. Historically blue has outsourced most of its finishers in counter based control decks but more recently seems not to need to so much.

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