Sunday 15 January 2012

Reviews: The A cube blue spells

Stroke of Genius

Stroke of Genius 1.0

Stroke narrowly gets the cube slot over braingyser from being an instant. When this card starts to become playable a mana here or there makes little odds. Generally though this card is just to slow and useless to see much play in any deck that is not focused on generating massive amounts of mana. Stroke saw more play as a wish target than it ever has as a main deck card and with the loss of wish and academy has seen even less play. Despite this the card offers versatility as both card advantage and a potential finisher in infinite mana combo decks. Stoke is a card that despite being underpowered remains in the cube due to being the best of a bunch of weaker options to perform a certain role.

Time Spiral
Time Spiral 4.5

Although not an auto include in any blue deck the time spiral is about as powerful as it comes. Originally I banned this card along with the other bannings but felt it was more reasonable without academy, time walk, lotus and so forth and brought it back in. Compared to Twister the only real disadvantage this card has is that it gets removed from game which rarely comes into play. Having to wait until six mana is not a great problem as you usually are casting it as one of the last spells you have. Having around three more mana available to use with your new cards is much more powerful than the ability to cast sooner. Certainly it is worse to have this countered than a twister but given that you are casting a spell of this nature you are probably losing regardless of the extra mana you will have up after failing to resolve a twister instead of this. When used in combination with things like heartbeat of spring this card goes from slightly better than time twister to really quite unfair. One of the most powerful combo enablers printed and while not always played it is certainly always a worthy consideration for a deck with access to blue. Mana cost aside time spiral offers one of the most powerful effects available in cube alongside upheaval, death cloud, balance, cataclysm and the various destructive red spells like wildfire and jokulhaups.

Upheaval 3.5 (4.0 in a powered cube)

As just mentioned upheaval is one of the most powerful effects in magic and in a colour generally lacking in this area. A deck needs to have certain aspects to it in order that upheaval be a consideration but when it becomes an option it is about as good as it gets. Either you cast this and win shortly after or it bails you out of an otherwise unwinnable situation. The best home for upheaval is in artifact mana decks using mana vaults and grim monoliths to generate mana, the banning of sol ring, academy etc have reduced the play seen by upheaval hence the rating variance. Trying to use this in control effectively is much harder too with a lack of moxen making it to slow to be an appropriate win condition and ending up most frequently used as an out which resets the game slightly in your opponents favour. A great and unique card that should be in all cubes that have fast mana.

The S**t Walks 3.5
Temporal Manipulation
Time Warp

Technically the manipulation is better as you cannot have it target you opponent via a misdirection or something. As I presently have no such effect in my cube, or any thing that gives a player shroud these are functionally identical. At two and a half times the cost of original time walk they start to feel roughly balanced. Quite a bad card in early draws and quite variable in power once five mana is reached. Utterly game breaking and unfair is what this card offers at best, and effectively a zero mana cycle at worst. This spell has been used to bore magic players heavily in cube for a long time frequently getting chain cast from bouncing eternal witness or time spiral effects. If your deck can deal with clunkier starting hands with brainstorms and force of will then there is very little downside to the time walks effects assuming you plan to reach five mana in the course of the game. Even more powerful with planeswalkers and more recently the addition of snapcaster mage allowing for more blue mage tedium. While these fit in almost any deck using blue their unpredictable nature negates them being auto includes with players often opting for the more dependable spell. There are a few combos that make use of these effects such as panoptic mirror, the best of which by quite a long way is the blue green heartbeat of spring style combo deck which can win with storm or infinite mana or infinite turns. Combo engine decks are better to include in a cube than combos that depends on two or three specific cards. Although presently stripped to the bare bones, a few variations of heartbeat combo are all that presently remain of pure combo archetypes in my A cube. The decline of combo has not really affected the frequency of these reasonably costed time walks seeing play.

Tezzeret the Seeker
Tezzeret, the Seeker 3.5

I had this guy down as the best planeswalker in the cube for a long time. It is more the result of him only fitting in certain decks that tend to have a  very high overall power level that Tez shines so much. Typically he gets cast on turn three, untaps some artifact mana and casts a time walk immediately which is then followed by using his ultimate for the win. His ultimate is the most used of any planeswalkerGarruk Wildspeaker does yet while costing more mana he still tends to be quicker than Garruk if not as useful in any old archetype. Tezzeret works well in big artifact mana decks, an alternate win mechanism in affinity or a tutor effect for combo decks using artifacts such as Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry or Painters Servant + Whetstone. While being the most restricted walker Tez still shapes up very well for his overall power and synergy. 

Gush 2.5

Whenever a spell can be cast without mana it warrants much looking at. The alternate cost is savage in some decks or in some situations while beneficial or at least harmless in others. This is made up for to some extent by a fairly reasonable standard cost and by being instant. With Library of Alexandria Gush was especially useful in refilling your hand very effectively while not giving your opponent a new grasp of seven as well. Now its best use is for powering up Foil. While its best use may be minor it is a versatile card that offers lots of trickery to its wielder and can see play in all kinds of decks. Most commonly these are aggressive decks using evasion monsters to curve out and full of free disruption to back them up. Numerous combo decks have put Gush to use, actually able to generate mana in fastbond style decks of old. Control is the least common place to find a gush as they rarely want to lower their land count but it does provide unique options for them and is fine as a card to pitch  to Force of Will etc or just hard-cast late game at the end of one of their turns in which you didn't need to counter something. 

Thoughtcast 2.0

Less narrow that many of the affinity mainstays this card is still only playable with a high artifact count. At three or more mana to play you are falling way short of the power level required of cube. The sorcery aspect of this card is not too significant as you are aiming to cast it for one which is so little you would rather have the extra options from drawing in your turn than leaving mana open. Pure draw cards don't often find their way into beatdown decks as they are not an investment that provides tempo. The main exceptions to this are thoughtcast, gush and ancestral recall simply because the cost is small enough to play them that tempo loss is not much of an issue. The worst part of this card is the fact that is always needs a blue mana and would likely be much more exciting as a 6 or 7 mana colourless spell. Often this card causes damage to tempo as you don't have access to blue and requires careful mana base consideration as well as artifact count and costs.

Force of Will
Force of Will 4.6

This is the closest I have come to giving a card 5.0 that has not been banned. More than any other question most games in the cube end with; Force of Will? Free counterspells are great offering tempo gain and the opportunity to be more proactive. Force of Will is leagues ahead of the others. Being a hard counter that only costs you one card to pitch cast with a playable standard mana cost makes this an auto include in any deck with enough cards to pitch. You don't even need to be running lots of card advantage to make back the cost of this spell as it is just so reasonable. Exiling a card rather than discard can be annoying in singleton formats for combo and control decks as the cards they often most want to pitch early are the most important cards in their decks for winning. Nothing makes you feel safer in magic than sitting on a force of will and some situational cheap spell to pitch like a force spike. The bannings have made the best cards in the cube much closer in power level but if pushed for a choice this would be mine. 

Treachery 4.0

If they have no sacrifice mechanism or no counterspell then Treachery is a total wreaking. Paying five to bait a counterspell or kill a guy, even in blue, is far from a bargain and the loss of tempo from which can be fatal. This is the infrequent worst case scenario which is easy to play around. Best cast scenario, which is most of the time you hit five mana and expend one card and an average of one mana to kill their best guy while getting one for yourself. Even if they untap and immediately kill the Treachery you have gone one for one on cards, gained mana advantage and caused them to lose attacks. Treachery is hard to deal as an enchantment and often requires them to kill their own guy giving you that great two for one feeling. The mild downside of this card clogging up your hand until you hit five mana is least problematic in blue with much filtering, pitching and reshuffling effects to smooth things out. A strong contender for any heavy blue deck, control or agro. 

Fact or Fiction
Fact or Fiction 3.5

An outstanding card from many perspectives. It gives your opponent the chance to make mistakes, offers interesting choices to the caster, digs deep into the library for when you need a specific spell, costs only one blue mana to cast, is instant speed, guarantees three for one card advantage at worst, fills up the graveyard and just so often causes someone to scoop in favour of dividing up three or more things that beat them. The instant is the key aspect of the spell making it playable in control with four mana being a risky investment to make in a main phase. The reason it only gets a 3.5 and not a 4.0 is that the cost makes it compete with other very appealing spells and rules it out as an option for some combo decks and high agro low mana curve decks. Still, this is about the most all round card draw spell in the game after Ancestral Recall offering a good quantity of cards for a reasonable cost with no stipulations or real drawbacks all rounded off with the essential instant speed to offer the complete package. The few slight drawbacks you could accuse this card of are danger of losing vital combo pieces in singleton format and the information it gives your opponent on your hand. Neither of these are enough to even affect the cards rating however. 

Foil 2.0

As free hard counters go this is a long way off a Force of Will. Twice the card requirements and usually harder to fulfil does not makes up for the one less mana it is to hard cast than Force. The card disadvantage is too much for most control decks to stomach particularly as one is a land which often leads to situations where you think you will lose if you don't counter the spell but missing your next land drop will also likely cost you the game. Foil works wonderfully with Gush and most frequently finds a home in agrressive fish and skies style decks that lay down cheap evasive or disruptive creatures and support them with cheap and free counter magic. For free hard counters after Force of Will there is little to chose from and Foil is pretty clearly the second best with all round consistency and application. Less so with the Island but the discard can be utilized to the casters advantage with various graveyard focused decks which is one utility Force of Will cannot offer due to exiling the pitch card. Foil, like Force of Will becomes harder to play the less blue your deck becomes but with Foil starting out more demanding in its alternate cost it only gets harder relative to Force as you entertain more colours. A slightly easier normal cost means you are pretty happy to hold this as emergency backup and never need to pitch cast. 

Jace, the Mind SculptorJace, the Mind Sculptor 4.4

The middle Jace is the second best all round planeswalker in the cube after Elspeth. I am sure many people will argue with me and say that Jace is the better of the two, and it is fair to say it is very very close between these two and then quite a jump down to the next walkers in power level. Both cost 4 mana and can go directly to 5 loyalty if required. Elspeth can protect herself from a +1 effect while Jace can only bounce dorks for -1 a should he need to protect himself. This downside is somewhat offset by Jace having a +2 effect to recharge the lost loyalty faster. Both of these walkers are unique in that Elspeth has two plus loyalty effects and Jace has four not three abilities. These obviously helps their overall power and allow them to perform a useful role in most white or blue decks accordingly. My preference for Elspeth over Jace is down to fact that Elspeth will win games all on her own, Jace on the other hand helps your deck to win more easily. If your deck is a poor match-up or just a bad deck the Jace will not be so helpful. The other main reason for a preference for Elspeth is that she will continue to grow in power while being useful in a board position full of dorks. Jace can only really allow you to pull away from your opponent if the board is empty or static. I have spend a long time detailing why Elspeth is marginally better but the difference is pretty marginal, both are extremely powerful and outstanding first picks. They both really set the bar for other 4 drops in those colours, particularly non-instants, and prohibit any play from loads of other 4 mana cards that really don't compare well to them. If you drop a Jace onto an empty or static board with counter backup you should win almost every time. 

Gifts Ungiven
Gifts Ungiven 3.5

I tend to find that most blue based control decks will play either a Gifts Ungiven or a Fact or Fiction. When you just want to draw cards the Fact or Fiction is the superior choice however if you have any synergy the Gifts becomes exceptionally powerful. It can completely set up your engines or find all the things you need to gain control and win from the situation. Rather like a Jace but requiring a tailored deck, if you can resolve a gifts at a stage in the game where the board position is empty or static you should invariably go on to win. In a singleton format the Gifts acts like a super juicy Intuition and with appropriate graveyard recursion works like a double tutor spell. Snapcaster Mage has added to the toll of cards that work particularly well with Gifts which previously included Eternal Witness, Life from the Loam, Chandra's Phoenix, Genesis, Cabal Therapy and basically anything else that has some effect involving graveyards. I can imagine post Dark Ascension that a particularly strong set of cards to get would be Faithless Looting, Geistflame, Chandra's Phoenix and a Mystic Revival. Gifts is another fantastic card that really allows people to play magic offering loads of options and difficult decisions for you and your opponent. 

OppositionOpposition 4.0

This card has got better and better as blue has gained more and more high quality low cost monsters. It was a fantastic spell when first printed any way. Back then creature decks would splash blue for Opposition and perhaps the odd other sub-par card, now blue can be the base or only colour in an Opposition deck. If you can get far enough ahead on the board an Opposition is game over being able to shut down all mana sources or all creatures or bits of both. Opposition is a card that loves to be placed with tempo creatures like Aether Adept and Lotus Cobra. Opposition starts to be good in any deck with 10 or so dorks (in 40 cards), as you increase the synergy of your dorks and other cards for Opposition it goes from being a solid card to being the best card in the deck. I can't remember a straight UR Opposition deck having been done (might have to try one now) but every other colour combination, including 3 colours, has seen it used. The most typical version is UG although mono blue versions have been increasing wildly in popularity over the last few years. 

Cryptic CommandCryptic Command 4.0

This is the card I was most wrong about. I was not at all impressed with what I essentially saw as a four mana counterspell. I was finally pressured into adding one to the cube and was simply blown away by how off the mark I was. I now consider this to be the 3rd or 4th best counterspell of all time. I may end up tweaking this rating up a little to 4.2 or something as I review the others and make up my mind. Triple blue was a huge turn off for me too but my attitude has changed rather more to throwing in an extra blue filter land to my deck. The strength of the card is in its vast applications. Each of the abilities is situationally useful with the draw always being consistently fine when you only require one of the others. Most of the times you cast this it will essentially be a time walk. The card makes you feel safer than your average counterspell as it can be effective once a card has resolved. Cryptic just offers everything, card advantage, tempo, flexibility and an out in so many circumstances. If my deck can just about support the mana requirements I will be happy to play this card, pretty much regardless of what else the deck is doing. While best in control decks it is still very powerful in more aggressive strategies. It is quite hard not broadcasting when you have Cryptic in your hand but then it is also quite hard to play around it effectively even with that knowledge. 

Deep Analysis
Deep Analysis 1.5

Every one loves Deep Anal - nostalgia, card draw, innuendo, the card has it all! With the arrival of planeswalkers a four mana sorcery that has no effect on the board is really weak. Unless your deck has access to lots of mana or lots of discard this card in unplayable. Those with the mana tend to prefer more powerful spells and those with suitable discard outlets are few in number and usually not blue. When it can find a home Deep Anal is versatile and powerful enough but not wildly exciting. Life costs are very match up dependant being unusable versus red burn and irrelevant against most control. Generally not knowing how useful a card will be in your deck is pretty annoying too and reduces the play this card sees further. Madness is the best home for this card but the deck is tier two at best in the cube and blue has very little to offer the deck and will be a splash at best usually. Intuition and Gifts Ungiven are the cards that keep this viable for the cube and are effects that got more powerful with Dark Ascension but are still very slow and might not be enough to keep this card in the A cube for long. 

ForbidForbid 2.0

A hard counter for three mana, two of which blue is below the power level of cube. The buyback is expensive, can be risky and requires an engine to be of use more than once. That said, there are no other counterspells in the cube at three mana and few hard counters, particularly at low mana costs. I think forbid is one of four hard counters that reside below four mana. The buyback may also be turned into an advantage should your deck have a requirement for discarding although this is a less common use than combining Forbid with an engine to soft lock your opponent out of the game. Typical engines include the classic Squee combo, now with added Phoenix, but Life from the Loam and even Land Tax can work just as well. Forbid is often thrown into heavy counter decks with minimal synergy as it slots into the curve neatly meaning the extra mana cost over many counterspells is not often too problematic. It then gives you the option of having more counterspells when the game calls for it, even at the cost of other cards this can be very handy. Cards that give you options are good, particularly when at least one of those options is a perfectly playable card on its own.

TinkerTinker 4.0

The power of Tinker is rather dependant on the various support cards you have for it in addition to whether you have access to power. I have cut most of the most absurd Tinker targets from my cube such as Blightsteel Colossus, Inkwell Leviathan and Sphinx of the Steel Wind when I cut the reanimator cards as they became way too narrow. A Myr Battlesphere or Wurmcoil Engine are about the best targets I have left in the A cube and they are plenty enough to make Tinker very powerful. Back in the day Tinker was one of the very top picks and a game winning card in so many decks. The typical Tinker game going Mana Crypt, Island, Tinker to get the huge threat that your deck can't deal with. This can still happen but the threats are more manageable, and the draws for early Tinker are less consistent and slower. Tinker combines what is effectively a mana generating effect with a tutoring effect which are two of the most powerful in magic. Tinker does need a deck built to house it properly and make it effective but these are powerful and diverse decks anyway so it does not detract from the card rating much.

Capsize 2.0

This card is very like Forbid in lots of ways. A slightly over costed standard blue effect with an option to gain repeat uses. Also when set up appropriately, ie a huge mana advantage, Capsize can lock a player out of the game as Forbid can when you have huge card advantage although both require a fairly static board position. Bounce is surprisingly good in the cube as the loss of card advantage is rarely an issue. Being able to have any permanent not in play at your will is useful against any deck but generally cheaper better bounce cards exist for that role unless your deck will need at least six mana to win. These decks include draw go control decks, blue green ramp combo decks and blue based artifact mana ramp decks. Wipe Away has replaced Capsize in the past but a three mana bounce spell with no late game perks is just too much mana to be consistently useful. the strength of Capsize also depends on your deck and cards while that of Wipe Away depends on what they are doing and is much harder therefore to engineer it to be at its most powerful.

Frantic SearchFrantic Search 3.0

Card disadvantage at its best! This little gem would seem to find its way into every single combo deck. The untapping land effect cards are all of huge power as this is one of the most generic as it costs little and just draws cards. Search is great not only for ramping mana in combination with lands that tap for more than one but also for fixing colours too. Generally Frantic Search is used as a ramp spell or as a way to get cards into graveyards. Even at zero mana a card filter/quality effect spell has to be of more use than a one hit double loot such as a Divining Top and therefore will only see play when the other effects on the card may be put to use. Back in the day when combo was rife this card may have reached a rating of up to 4.0 but now it just does not have as many homes. It is not so much the loss of the power that effects Frantic Search, or even the combo decks that much, it is mostly that very few cards that supplement. improve or found new combo decks are now printed while powerful aggressive or disruptive creatures have continued to see print. If we see much more aggressive cards with Madness or Flashback that are cube worthy the Search will start to see more play again but in agro decks.

Thirst for KnowledgeThirst for Knowledge 2.5

This has all the required aspects of a draw spell and a few more bonuses to boot. Instant speed and reasonable cost to cards drawn ratio being the main things the card has in its favour. The extra utility on putting cards in the graveyard is fantastic in some decks but does not quite make up for the drawback which is the requirement to either play a reasonable artifact count (6ish or more ideally) or really want the discard such as in a reanimator deck, although this is getting a bit slow for them. When you are not discarding artifacts Thirst starts to look very overcosted but padding out a deck with artifacts is pretty easy with Moxen and artifact lands. This is however inadvisable against some match ups, particularly for control decks. Despite its restrictions against inclusion you will struggle to find high quality cheap instant card advantage in the cube so when you can play Thirst you are often grateful. 

Jace BelerenJace Beleren 3.0

Three mana planeswalkers are very powerful as they enter less scary looking boards. While Jace cannot protect himself he can go directly to 5 loyalty which is hard to kill, and if they do manage to kill him the tempo loss that early is usually worth the costs. Versatility is the one of the strengths of walkers for which mini Jace is no exception. On a stable board you can either ramp and use as a win condition or run down for a somewhat slow Ancestral Recall. As you have the control of when you draw and when you both draw combined with the fact you have a steady stream of cards coming your way it is pretty easy to take control of a game with an early Jace rather like a Phyrexian Arena or a late to the party Library of Alexandria. In 40 cards decks the ultimate is pretty deadly and also fairly easy to get too. Certain walkers are a bit of a bum as you cant have multiples in play, Jace being able to usefully run himself into the ground to make way for his middle brother makes it much more comfortable playing both copies in a deck. High quality cheap card draw is hard to come by and Jace is not the best purely in that role for being slow and sorcery speed. He is a great supplement to a deck slightly lacking in that area as he offers so much more than just draw being both a tempo changer and a potential threat. 

IntuitionIntuition 2.0

In the singleton format Intuition is just a bad Gifts Ungiven as it cannot get three copies of the same spell and act as a tutor. Offering no card advantage and requiring (ie being able to find three spells that will do the same thing) the exact same redundancy as Gifts makes it far less playable in control.  If only you could still get three copies of Accumulated Knowledge with it... The classic get a pile of lands play is a fine alternate use for the card but no reason to be playing it alone. As such Intuition see play in very specific circumstances which are all to get cards you want to have in the graveyard. Sometimes used instead or as well as of Buried Alive in reanimator deck and sometimes used to find a whole bunch of cards you want in the yard thus being able to offer effective card advantage. While cute, these strategies tend to be a little slow compared to just playing better card draw and better cards. I do love to get a Giestflame, a Faithless Looting and a Chandra's Phoenix but I refer you to my previous point.

TimetwisterTimetwister 4.0

Seven cards for three mana is lots of cards for not much mana. While the effect is symmetrical you get first usage on the new cards, even if you are three mana down. The fact that it kills all players current hands means  that you can gain huge card advantage from it when they still have a full grip and you are nearly out of gas. There are two kinds of deck that will play Timetwister over Time Spiral. Those decks that never intend on reaching 6 mana and dump their hands very quickly such as an affinity deck and an array of UG(x) decks that want the ability to recur Twister from the graveyard to cast numerous times. In most control decks I feel vulnerable without access to one of the various graveyard reshuffle effects (this includes Primal Command despite the lack of drawing seven cards on the card). Control decks have few threats and in a singleton 40 card formats you can easily deck yourself in longs games and need to use certain cards multiple times. Timetwister solves these problems and offers the chance to get huge card advantage at the same time. While both useful, powerful and abusable the symmetric nature of the card does mean that casting it is usually of great benefit to your opponent and becomes dangerous or unplayable in many games and match ups. Often the bane of black control decks who cannot much affect the tops of libraries and will lose to you top decking this even after destroying your whole hand.

Lat-Nam's Legacy
Lat-Nam's Legacy 3.2

This is probably my favourite of the cheap card advantage / card quality spells. It is the next best thing to a Brainstorm and better in many situations. A 2 mana instant that can draw you two new cards is the perfect thing to cast at the end of your opponents turn in which you did not need to counterspell anything. As with so many things it is the instant speed of this card that makes it so much better than See Beyond in most situations. Another perk to the card is that when you have no card to reshuffle you just draw two. It is also the next upkeep, not just your upkeep so if you main phase play it you will have any counterspells in time for their main phase. This can be an irritation if you need to dig for lands. It has its own shuffle mechanism and so does not require other cards to get rid of chaff spells like Brainstorm does. A delayed draw is really handy to combo with cards like Balance or to evade cards like Mind Twist which in my book makes up for being worse at getting lands than other draw spells. There are also precious few ways to get cards from your hand into your library which is very important for a variety of combo decks in the singleton format of cube. I really love this card and had to struggle not to give it a 3.5 rating. A highly versatile card that makes for better and more interesting games and a card every cube should have a copy of.

See Beyond
See Beyond 1.5

This is a handy card but lacks the utility of Lat-Nam's Legacy. It can never net you cards, nor protect your hand or complement counter magic well. As a card quality spell the various one mana Ponder and Preordain cards are much better unless you specifically need to be putting cards from your hand back in your deck. The one advantage it has over Lat-Nam's is its speed, not as in sorcery as clearly the card is worse there, but in terms of getting immediate effect and as such the See Beyond can be the more popular choice for combo decks. The cube probably has a slot for a 2 mana sorcery speed card draw / quality spell and the present choice is between this and Treasure Hunt which can be obscene  although generally pretty uninteresting. See Beyond is more consistent than Lat-Nam's but is never interesting, its not even a useful shuffle effect... It can be just what a deck wants and is perfectly OK in most blue decks but otherwise is a very low power card that tenuously remains in the Cube.

Think TwiceThink Twice 2.0

This is not a cheap spell but it offers a lot of what you want from the kinds of cards that are used to smooth out draws. It is instant and so like Lat-Nam's Legacy may be used with counterspells to maximise your mana efficiency. It is also quite like two distinct spells, the first half is just a cycle when you are light on lands or have spare mana, the second half is a bit more of a mana investment but turns it into card advantage. Essentially it is like having both a 2 mana cycling card and then an instant speed Council of the Soratami. Although you don't get two cards when you flash it back you have gained card advantage overall. Paying the extra two mana much earlier in the game is great to get the first card early and still completely fine if you never get round to flashing it back, chances are if you had played a three mana draw spell instead you would have got value from it at all due to having no chance to cast it. Cards like this are really good for fine tuning your mana to spell ratios in decks, typically for control hitting all the way to your 4th land drop is hugely important. This helps with both the third and fourth depending on how desperate you are. I would rarely take a two land hand with a control deck but a Think Twice would be one of the more likely cards to convince me if I had it. While it is very uninteresting when you only flash it back it is still a much better card to be putting in the graveyard than most. Any synergy with Gifts Ungiven or discard effects do increase the value of Think Twice if only by a little. 

RemandRemand 3.6

A 3.5 rating feels a little low for this little card as I think it is one of the top 5 counterspells, although very close with a few others. I typically play this over actual Counterspell although they are not all that similar. Remand is the only soft counter in the top 5 too although Force Spike and Spell Pierce are both very close on it's heels. Remand is nice and easy to cast at 1U which is important as it is better in the early game. At its best Remand is basically a Time Walk and at its worst it will cycle at some point and perhaps waste some of their mana. The huge strength of Remand is that it simultaneously fills two valuable roles in a deck. It is early disruption that will gain you a tempo advantage and it a card like Think Twice or Lat-Nam's Legacy that smooths out your draw and helps you hit key land drops. It can also be used to humorous effect such as Remanding your own Armageddon in response to them sacrificing their last land to a Zuran Orb. More practical uses include powering up storm by remanding your Brain Freeze or other storm spell and recasting it for double storm fun. Remand is also potent against cards with additional costs such as Force of Will, Tinker, Harrow etc or against flashback where it is a half price Dismiss. Typically however you just remand a spell that uses all or most of their mana on the first five or so turns and feel really ahead. One of the best ways to appreciate the power of Remand is to compare it to a Disperse with "draw a card" on it too. Although Remand requires you to be time specific when casting you can see where I am going with the analogy. 

Into the RoilInto the Roil 2.5

I think there is one slot in the cube for a 2 mana bounce spell and I am forever torn between this and Boomerang. Ease of casting and potential value from kicker go a very long way to making up for not hitting lands as Boomerang does. The reason Into the Roil has the cube slot over the better card at present is simply its extra playability. It is slightly weaker in more decks while still being good enough when that is what you want. The more expensive bounce hit lands anyway so if you are relying on it to deal with any problem permanent you will have more than one bounce spell. Man lands can be a pain but it is more the fact that you can get basically free wins if you hit an early bounce land with a Boomerang. Free wins can be nice but are not good magic and is another good reason to have Roil representing 2 mana bounce for blue in any given cube. Most of the time this will be played for 2 mana and at card disadvantage simply to keep a handle on things. While it may feel like a really inefficient way to solve a problem that is generally fine in cube. Blue has so much power that it can easily afford some easily remade card disadvantage in the name of staying alive or dealing with things it otherwise couldn't. Bounce is great utility as well. I may chose to play it over a Disenchant in a standard UW control deck if I felt I was not facing much in the way of artifacts or enchantments but still wanted some form of out. 

CounterspellCounterspell 3.5

This should have an errata to being called Actual Counterspell to differentiate it from the effect. This is a card I love much less than most people and not because I don't like countering peoples stuff. It is more because I think the effect is overrated. It is very good but people seem to fear it far more than they should. Intrinsically the effect is good but not over powered at all, it is the way in which people play wrong when faced with the possibility of counter magic. There is nothing I like less than dying to some random dork that snuk in before you ripped your Counterspell that managed to get in 5 times while your helpless to do anything to the board with your counter magic. For this reason I tend to play few counterspells in a control deck, 6 in a 40 card deck would be a lot in my books. I like my counterspells to offer me some extra utility. Arcane Denial, Remand and Mana Drain each offer something Actual Counterspell does not. As I like to have a reasonable spread of one, two and free counterspells and Actual tends to come in 4th favourite it doesn't often get slots in my decks unless multiple decks are fighting over the cards. Counterspells have got worse in general as magic has aged as more spells get around them, cascade, flashback and so forth. They cannot be relied upon as your only answers and should be treated a little more like black discard. Counter magic remains powerful in the late game where discard becomes poor but despite this you should treat it more like buying time through disruption rather than locking someone out of the game control. Your discard cannot help you against top decks and counter magic cannot help you once you are out of mana to cast it. It is easy to slip past either and so additional answers are required. 

Mana LeakMana Leak 1.5 

I hate this card and only ever play it if I need another two drop counterspell and have no access to any others that are suitable. It is great early in the game but pretty much dead in the late game. In the mid game it can be dead and is easy enough to play around. As counters that get worse as the game goes on I would always rather play a Force Spike or other one mana spell. While I am biased against this card I do dislike it more than is reasonable. Most of the time it gets the job done as well as counterspell and sometimes better.  I have often toyed with swapping this for Miscalculate as cycling nicely offsets the problems with the card. Sadly I cannot find a copy so have no idea if it would be better and will have to stop being lazy and buy one. I have a strong aversion to cards that are unpredictable in what they can offer you, I also have an aversion to playing cards that can dead. On top of this I don't like playing very heavy counterspell counts in decks and even if you love Leak you cannot claim it is in the top 5 or really even that close to it. Taking all this into consideration despite my overly biased opinion on this card you should avoid playing this where possible.

NegateNegate 2.0

A hard but situational counterspell that costs a fair amount. Typically I prefer Spell Pierce as one mana is a world of difference from two. When your card is situational already you are not losing as much as you are gaining from changing hard counter into a soft counter if the mana cost is right. Negate is not dead against agro decks as it hits lots of the most dangerous cards like planeswalkers and equipment. While playing Negate is usually a meta choice you can build decks that really don't care about creatures at which point Negate is one of the best counterspells in the game. The most common home for this is in multi-coloured control decks that cannot support the heavy blue requirements of most hard counters. Compared to Dispel, Annul and Envelop Negate is a much better cube card. Unlike Spell Pierce Dispel, Envelop and Annul are far too narrow and can only be played when you have full knowledge of what you are against. As such they are basically only ever sideboard cards and therefore not worthy of cube slots. Negate covers all of those options for a small cost and may be main decked blind without issue. Two mana is a world more than one but playability rules when deciding cube slots. 

Memory Lapse (Jigsaw)Memory Lapse 2.0

This is not unlike Remand although sadly not quite as good. It offers the same overall card advantage and requires the owner to recast the card. It also costs the same mana and can be more brutal than Remand if they need to be drawing lands. Lapse will almost always delay the spell by a turn which Remand does not do nearly as effectively as the game progresses. I also find Lapse to be one of the better cards to have under an Isochron Scepter due to how it forces them to play. Why then does Remand tower so far above Lapse in power given their similarities and the few advantages just mentioned of Lapse. As neither actually deal with something they are tempo based disruption cards and not pure counterspells. When you are trying to gain tempo through such effects it is because you are aiming to win the game later on, otherwise you would have a more proactive card in the slot. Drawing more cards, especially lands and things that do more than go one for one is how you win games that go on longer in magic and as such the fact that you don't lose a card when you play Remand that makes it much better at what you want from these cards. Remand helps you to get where you want to be. The difference between both players losing a card with Lapse or neither player losing a card with Remand works out greatly in favour of Remand simply due to the role the card fulfils. Lapse is not a bad card in the role of Remand but requires your deck to have a very consistent mana base (making drops rather than fixing colours) and a higher quantity of card advantage. Also probably the best pseudo-hard non-alternate cost counterspell for combo decks. This means it substitutes for Remand sometimes and finds occasional play in preference to Remand or other disruption / counter magic in Scepter decks, mana denial decks and combo decks.

Daze 2.5

Daze is probably the best generic free counterspell after Force of Will. Mental Misstep is the more powerful card but fulfils a very specific role and so is not a good comparison. Few counters are good comparisons for Daze however. Force Spike is a great card and the mere threat of it makes people play differently. Daze has the same effect but is more harmful to play around due to it not needing any mana to play. Both Daze and Force Spike spend their time divided reasonably evenly between being a cheap hard counter on exactly what you need to being totally dead to being able to counter something just to get use from the card rather than because you couldn't beat the card. As previously mentioned the threat alone of these cards gives you an advantage so even when dead they sort of haven't been. They do spend more than their fair of time share exiled due to Chrome Mox and Force of Will. The normal cost on Daze is still cheap and is used much more than Force of Will uses its alternate cost. This is pretty reasonable as the alternate cost on Daze is most often worse than that of Force of Will early in the game. While it is no card disadvantage you have effectively destroyed one of your land which blue above all colours hates. This will set you back in tempo and can easily cost you the game as a result. The alternate cost becomes much more comfortable from about turn four onwards but by this stage Daze is far less likely to be countering stuff. If your deck can cope with having weak cards (ie lots of card advantage or quality) and also recover tempo well then Daze is fantastic, if not then you need to really consider if it offers you what you need. Daze does have some good synergy and utility outside of its main function such as to turn on Land Tax or to get a land for Foil. Most commonly played in aggressive fish or skies blue decks but cropping up reasonably often in all kinds of decks from UG Opposition to UW control.

Mana DrainMana Drain 4.5

This was one of the cards considered for the banned list and I am now beginning to regret keeping it. Playing mana burn rules in your cube does not do anything to balance this unfair counterspell.  Mostly what it does is counter some reasonably powerful and good three drop and then untap and make a threat, usually with counter backup. Whether it is a planeswalker or a Wurmcoil or just a meagre Simulacrum it is such a swing in the game state that you win off the back of it most times. Mana Drain is often a proactive counterspell which seems kind of oxymoronic. You find you just want to counter any expensive spell simply to gain the mana ramp if you have things like the afore mentioned Wurmcoil in hand. Mana Drain is probably one of the cards responsible for winning most cube games. Actual Counterspell is plenty good enough and then Mana Drain comes along and spoils loads of games before they have really got going. You should pick up cards like Solemn Simulacrum and Divining Top as great mana dumps if you have the Drain but if not play it any way and don't worry about it at all. It will be winning you way more games than it causes you any harm compared to Actual Counterspell or most other cards...

Arcane DenialArcane Denial 3.8

This is one of my favourite counterspells. Nothing says easy to cast hard counter like Arcane Denial. Unlike many other counterspells it is also dual purpose which given the versatility of counter magic already is quite extreme. In mono blue decks it may be fair to say that Actual Counterspell is a better card however I am not 100% convinced of this as I shall come to explain. Unlike Actual Counterspell, Remand and Memory Lapse which all retain card advantage parity with the other player Arcane Denial will put them a card up on you compared to before you cast it. This may seem terrible for a control deck to be giving away card advantage however in my experience it is rarely an issue unless playing against a deck like red deck wins for which you have to use the card differently. Like Remand you get to draw an extra card early in the game which greatly helps control decks to stabilize. The loss of card advantage in this early stage is overcome later on by cards like Wrath of God and planeswalkers which you are much more likely to be able to cast as you have both disrupted your opponent with counter magic while also drawing extra cards. Some combo decks using this card also don't care in the slightest about donating extra cards to the opponent a little like Goblin Guide as the game will be well over before they are relevant. Arcane Denial is also the best counterspell to splash along with Negate as it says no to anything for just one blue. When you need to counter a spell such as Armageddon or lose as a result losing card advantage is an easy sacrifice to make. Finally onto the reason this card is never dead, even when you really don't want to gift your opponent a pile of cards. If you counter one of your own spells all of the card draw effects target you meaning you get to draw three cards at the start of the next upkeep. This is not quite Ancestral Recall as it is two cards and two mana plus whatever the card you countered cost however it is still card advantage and good card quality. Throwing away things dead late game such as Chrome Mox or avoiding being put savagely behind from hand disruption is a fantastic secondary use for the card. I rate this as the fourth best counterspell of all time and it is pretty close to Cryptic Command too.

PonderPonder 2.5

I don't much like any sorcery speed cards in control decks that do not effect the board position. This is not a view held by all players and leads to Ponder and friends getting play in all the flavours of blue deck. As blue has few one drop monsters the one mana cantrip cards are quite useful in tempo based blue decks as they allow you to play fewer lands and only the best low drop cards yet still have a good chance of curving out with them. It is in combo decks these cards shine the most as they are very cheap, replace themselves (thus reducing the size of your deck effectively and therefore making you more likely to draw what you need regardless of the library manipulation) and dig effectively at least 50% deeper into your deck due to it being 40 cards not 60. When you are only after card quality and have no need of instant speed with few shuffle effects Ponder is vastly superior to Brainstorm. You can see up to 4 cards which is more than any other cantrip one mana card quality spell and it is an optional shuffle too. Although Preordain is the better card it is very very close and the two swap around as to which is best in situations and decks. 

Gitaxian ProbeGitaxian Probe 1.5

This is a card I threw in the cube to test out but had no real ideas in mind for it. This is unsurprising as the card is very low impact however it has cropped up in a wide variety of decks often enough to keep its slot even though it hasn't become a mainstay in any deck. Given that the card is pretty painless to play in a lot of decks it is just occasionally exactly what you need to finish off a build while keeping the right mana ratios etc. A lot of the time two life is irrelevant and on the times it is not the one mana cost is hardly troublesome unless played off colour. Looking at peoples hands is an effect that is very hard to place a value on because it depends on so many factors, many of which are outside of the normal considerations for cards. It is good in control and against it, it is good against un-scouted decks but it is much less use against players who broadcast their intentions. Essentially if you can get good reads on your opponents anyway you may be better off playing a Ponder or an extra land. Looking at peoples hands is useful if probability is not a strong suit of yours as well which is another unusual yet worthy consideration to make. The nice thing about Probe is that the cost is right for an effect so difficult to pin value to and so it will never really damage you and may well completely save you. 

PreordainPreordain 2.6

Ever so marginally better than Ponder as you can use it to keep only one card that you see without need of another shuffle or scry effect. Ponder may search a card deeper but it does not allow you to set yourself up as well in general which is what you are trying to do in the early turns. The two cards offer nice redundancy to each other and are so similar you are generally happy with either. The best way to shed light on why Preordain is better is when you have a land light hand and would cast one of the cards on turn one. Lets say you see one land and the rest cards you have an easy choice with the Preordain where you put the non-land to the bottom and take the land. With the Ponder you are likely best of shuffling and hoping to hit 2 out of 3 lands in your next three cards which can leave you more screwed. It is much more frequent to need several things at any point in a game of magic than it is to only need one specific card. Ponder is therefore better less often. 

Mystical TutorMystical Tutor 3.0 

Likely the second best in the cycle of these tutors as instants and sorceries make up a good portion of answers, outs and combo pieces. Being instant and only one mana makes up for the card disadvantage a little and prevents too much tempo loss from use. Tutors are great in singleton formats as I seem to say rather too much. This aside I tend to avoid playing it in control decks as I dislike the card disadvantage but it does allow you to play less redundancy and fill those extra slots with powerful cards and extra card advantage. I think it comes down to preference more than anything else but I tend to find I need to use my tutors to recover from bad situations rather than to get ahead and as such the card disadvantage is much more crippling. Agro decks have very little use for such cards and on the other end of the spectrum the combo decks adore them. Having Mystical Tutor as well as lots of card draw and card quality makes blue the best colour for combo decks although black is close behind. With combo having had a real lull over the past couple of years this has seen very little play despite being a key card in lots of different decks. 

Vapor SnagVapour Snag 2.5

This is a recent addition however Unsummon would do the job just as well. The addition of Snapcaster Mage as well as more creature based and tempo based decks being built has made cheap effects like this much more desirable. The one life loss is largely irrelevant and is a drawback about 20% of the time as you want to bounce your own guys. This does make me wonder if I should jsut dig up an Unsummon as with many blue decks (which have little life gain and are often slower) the value of your life is much higher than for other decks. With the speed of the cube and the power of various effects it actually ends up being better than Path or Plow around half the time. Blue simply doesn't have much it can do to impact the board on turn one short of having the appropriate counterspell, which if you are on the draw can only be Mental Misstep. This makes Snag a valuable asset in blues early box of tricks. 

BrainstormBrainstorm 4.0

Many people both overrate and misplay this card. It has many applications and offers great utility, card quality and trickery complete with valuable and hard to find library manipulation. Unless you have specific uses such as an Erratic Explosion deck Brainstorm requires you to have shuffle effects in your deck to be better than Ponder or Preordain. This is easy to achieve with things like sac lands and you can get away with about three or so. I see so many people cast a brainstorm the moment they have a spare mana to do so, often on turn one which is usually a big waste. The power of the card lies in getting rid of the cards you put back on top and so waiting till you have both a shuffle effect and cards you don't really want is optimal. As I write this we are on the verge of miracle cards which will primarily serve to make this a much more valuable card. I have adjusted its rating up a little in light of this new mechanic but suspect I have been overly cautious. Another key use of Brainstorm after miracles and shuffling things away for pseudo Ancestral Recalls is getting protection from hand disruption whereby you can hide key spells on the top of your library to play later in the game. This is another reason to save the Brainstorm and not insta cast it. The final use of the card I have touched upon and it is simply getting cards from your hand into your library which in singleton formats is important for quite a few combo decks such as Oath of Druids and Tinker. While powerful the card is well designed and subtle in effect and rewards the skilful player. Cheap card quality enhances games and makes for results that are based more on skill than luck of the draw. Brainstorm is a common favourite among magic players and deservedly so. 

Ancestral VisionAncestral Vision 3.6

One of the most potent and efficient draw spells in the cube. Typically control decks are playing less pure draw spells and more cards that cantrip early and things like planeswalkers to effect the board and gain card advantage later on. Only the very best pure draw now remains and this is one of the lucky few. Costing only one mana is pretty negligible at most points in the game and may not be disrupted at that point. It can be annoying as a sorcery if you have something like a Force Spike and having to make that choice. I usually find getting down your Visions at the earliest opportunity to be the correct play. The delay in getting cards is obviously a bit annoying but still worth the wait. I have not seen too many people die with this still suspended. The problem with card draw in general is the investment of mana  needed to do so which offers no advance in board position and so the delay in cards from visions is more than offset by the freeing up of mana to allow other things to be played. 

Force Spike
Force Spike 3.5 

One of the most painful ways to lose a game is to a Force Spike, so much so that it often does more for you when you don't draw it. Nothing makes you feel safer when you are a control deck than starting off a game with an Island and have a Force Spike to back it up in hand. Many of the other options for one mana counter magic are more cost effective or situationally more powerful however none are as all encompassing as Force Spike. It can hit any spell and is guaranteed to stop it if they are curving out in the early stages of the game. While one of the best cards to have early in the game it is one of the weakest late game cards for blue, this is the colour to be a dead card in with many ways to get value out of useless cards. It is also the colour to be a really powerful early play as blue lacks ways to get involved in the game in the early stages. If you know the sort of things your deck is scared of or weak against you can tailor you suite of one mana counter magic should you deck desire that sort of technology. If you are lacking information on what you are likely to face you can't go far wrong with Force Spike as something to give you more early game. I have previously mentioned I keep a bit of a tally as to what cards seem to be the hinge card that ultimately swung the game one way or another. Force Spike is very high on that list and is one of the cheapest spells on it too.

Spell PierceSpell Pierce 3.4 

This is one of the most reliable cheap counters as it is crippling to play around unlike Force Spike, Daze or Disrupt which are manageable to evade for key cards. Not hitting creatures makes it a bit weaker against some of the aggressive archetypes than Force Spike but against any deck with 50% or less creatures it is one of the best counters you can run. It is so rare for a game to go on so long and people have enough mana that it is actually dead like Spike, Disrupt and Daze easily become and in the first 6 or so turns, which are vastly more important than the later ones, it is as good as a one mana Negate. The popularity of planeswalkers makes this a better card too as it will be able to to deal with some of the more serious threats in most kinds of deck. This is the third best counterspell to be printed since Force of Will after Remand and Cryptic Command and has been performing outstandingly when selected. Cards like this allow you to play valuable comes into play tapped land like Celestial Colonnade much more comfortably as you can still keep up reliable counter magic while making early tapped land instead of holding them till later and not being able to cast an expensive spell when you need to. Even against the decks it is weak against which have 10% of the cards or less as viable targets it is still rarely dead and might sit in your hand a bit longer but will eventually trade efficiently for some card you would rather not have to cope with. 

Mental MisstepMental Misstep 3.0

When you are on the draw there are few cards that make you feel safer in your openers. Almost every deck plays one drops and some of the most powerful cards cost a mere one, not to mention one drops being one of the most common of any converted mana cost (along with two). Blue is generally most vulnerable early in the game and being able to set up or counter multiple things without losing card advantage is a real help. While remaining a hard counter throughout the game it does lose value as time progresses as the things it counters start to impact the game much less. Stopping the turn one Llanowar Elf is game winning, stopping the turn six one is marginal. It tends not to see play outside of blue as other colours are less afraid of early drops but it does get brought in lots from sideboards to deal with specific things such as a Path to Exile, Reanimate or Goblin Welder. Sadly it is a little like one of those cards that depends a lot on what you are up against which detracts from its neat design. At least being blue there are lots of good ways to get use out of somewhat dead cards. 

DisruptDisrupt 1.0

This can be the most unfair of all the one mana or less counterspells as it cantrips which usually costs 4 mana or offers some cards to the opponents as well. Sadly it is also the most situational of all the counterspells in the cube hitting significantly less than Spell Pierce. Many decks have very few instants or sorceries and by their nature it is reasonably easy to play around disrupt with instants. On top of the limitations on targets it is the softest kind of counter you could imagine and is easy to avoid once it is on someone's radar. The upside is you can cycle it later on when there is no chance of stopping any spell. The bonus of drawing a card and being easier to get value from later in the game does not compensate for the limitations on targeting. One mana counterspells are played so as to keep the early tempo under control so that you can win later on with more effective cards. Disrupt is weaker at what you want it for and better at things you can achieve more effectively later in the game. As such Disrupt tends to only be brought in when you know it has lots of targets making it rather a hoser card. My bias towards it is the only thing keeping it in the cube where too many better alternatives also reside. 

Spell Snare
Spell Snare 1.5

Comparable to Mental Misstep in that it is great on the draw and better in the respect that it hits more powerful cards so does lose value as much as the game progresses. It also tends to have a more consistently high number of targets across all archetypes than Misstep does, some decks can have as few as a couple of one drops where as I cannot think of any good deck that would have less than 4 two drops. Snare has no alternate cost to guarantee its slot however and struggles to compete with more reliable counterspells that do not have their power level determined solely by what the opponent is playing. Despite more targets than Misstep it is more the case with Snare that you cannot really say your deck will benefit from it with no information about what you are facing. You can look at a deck and know that it will be weak to turn one plays and therefore reasonably include Misstep blind. If your deck is bad against two drop plays you should really start again from scratch rather than hoping Spell Snare will save you. Blue easily has enough depth to support two counter style control decks and when it is required to do so cards like this become much more interesting and valuable. When you have basically got free reign on counterspells this is a little to niche to get slots over more reliable cheap disruption.  

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