Saturday 14 January 2012

Reviews: The A cube green spells

Rancor 3.5

RancorAlthough confined to green this card is more powerful than bonesplitter, it offers additional trample at half the mana to get up and running and once in play is harder to deal with. The only real vulnerability to this card is instant creature removal as it is cast but this is pretty easy to avoid on the whole and the increase in hexproof monsters is making that easier too. It is a shame green doesn't have more powerful aggressive one drop monsters to put this onto. Almost any aggressive green deck will consider playing this and not without good reason. I am pretty confident in predicting that rancor will happily live out its days residing in the A cube. I was running out of things to say about this card that is just clearly above the reasonable power level, pretty sure this is the only creature enchant in the cube designed to be put on your own guys. Anywho, the thing I remembered is that having rancor in your deck makes you much happier to load up on mana critters as they can all become reasonable threats later on when their acceleration is not of use.

NatureNature's Claim 3.5

Cheap instant removal is great, having it hit various different things is great. This card is better than Naturalize on a number of levels, first and foremost is the vast one mana difference in their costs. Mana is everything in magic and in fast formats it is even more, er, everything... 4 life is also nothing in magic, particularly when you are giving it not losing it. The life gain effect on the card makes it a much more versatile card than naturalize giving you the ability to blow up your own things, say a convenient rancor, to get out of a fix. The life gain also has decent synergy with Kavu Predator and Punishing fire. If you remain unconvinced this card is less good than naturalize start thinking of spells you like, remove a mana from the cost and add a 4 life gain effect for your opponent to it and see if it starts to look better. Unless you were thinking of a burn spell the answer is almost certainly yes. Hard counters for 1 mana, yes please. Wrath for 3, sounds good.

ExplorationExploration 1.5

The poor mans fastbond. Exploration requires a deck that is built with it in mind, typically only finding a home in UG combo decks. The effect is powerful and the mana cost is right but it is hard to take consistent advantage of, at which point you have cost yourself card advantage. The effect offered is enhanced by having access to similar abilities such as Oracle of Mul Daya. For exploration to become a strong force in cube I feel like they need to print some cheaper cards to give it the redundancy, say a grizzly bear complete with exploration effect. Although quite narrow and often a last pick in drafts the exploration is cheap and powerful and despite not having many solid homes it is the kind of card that could easily find more as new cards are made. It is a very important card in enchantress style decks however those cards are all highly niche and will never get into the A cube, the deck itself being tier two at best. This is a shame as enchantress is a very different deck to all others and good fun to play.

Life from the LoamLife from the Loam 2.5

This is one of the best ways to get card advantage in green. Being able to repeatedly get three cards for two mana doesn't even sound bad compared to ancestral recall. The downsides of this as a spell are that you have to ensure the deck will reliably have target in the graveyard making it much more restrictive than a lot of good card advantage. Secondly, with the cards always being land and, unlike land tax, coming from the graveyard they do not thin your deck to increase card quality and with being lands they tend to offer little immediate game changes or answers. The dredge aspect of the card is very useful in graveyard orientated decks but is far more dangerous in a singleton format with 40 card deck sizes and must be used sparingly. The various homes for this card include gifts style UGx control decks and decks using mass land destruction such as armageddon, cataclysm, deathcloud, wildfire and even smokestack. It also really aids the Seismic Assault combo decks if the cube contains the other appropriate cards.

Regrowth 2.0 (3.0 in a powered cube)

Regrowth is much much less exciting in a de-powered cube as there is less spare mana, the games do not progress as fast and very few spells that are still above the average power level even with en extra two man on the cost. Regrowth gets better and better as the game goes on but is basically dead in the opening hand, a bit like a reverse demonic tutor. The thing is all games have an early game while not all have a mid or late game making this no tutor. In the singleton format it is more powerful especially in more fragile decks that have access to fewer answers or require certain cards to work as intended. Mostly the regrowth is used to abuse gifts and time walk effects in UG combo and control decks. It is too unreliable and slow to be used much in more standard archetypes such as the rock. The roles this card fulfil make noxious revival a very tempting card to replace it with as mana is more important than card advantage most of the time when you really want to get a specific thing back.

Nature's Lore 2.0

This is my personal favourite of the rampant growth effect cards. Mostly it is because the land comes into play untapped but also because you can find non-basic lands and easily fix your mana base. This kind of ramp only finds a home in control or combo decks as agro decks tend to prefer making the more vulnerable mana critter on turn one. The card is not exciting or of high power level but does one of greens main things and is a nice option to have in the cube. Redundancy is a great thing to have in singleton formats and you can find lots for this card  however Rampant Growth, Farseek, Explore, Kodama's Reach and Cultivate all reside in the B and C cubes. Green has many ways to accelerate and while these spells are good in several decks they are not the only options and if included tend to bog down a cube. Cards like Wall of Roots and Sakura-Tribe Elder are generally as good as the sorcerys in all kinds of decks and much better in most decks and so deserve the slots more. The Lore would be better with the most appropriate redundancy but has to make do with what is there for practical reasons. The difference is minor enough to be a reasonable compromise.

Survival of the FittestSurvival of the Fittest 4.0

Fine to completely build a deck around or simply throw in at the end as a bit of utility. The Survival has many different powerful interactions and synergies. It is a tutor effect which is always powerful and more so in singleton. It has great redundancy from Fauna Shaman allowing you to more comfortably build decks based around the card. It facilitates all the graveyard effect based creatures, offering card advantage at while doing it. Being an enchantment is quite handy too as they one one of the hardest permanents to deal with, mostly because few serious threats exist that are enchantments. Mostly found in green black based as when basing a deck on this card those are the most appealing colours. When just throwing this in a deck for utility you are fine providing you have a few specific monsters you situationally really want and decent creature count of which many lose their significance as the game progresses. Even just a couple of guys with synergy is enough to abuse Survival as it can go and find them when you make it.

Sylvan Library
Sylvan Library 3.5

Greens own personal divining top. The top has wider application and more trickery about it but the library is far far cheaper mana investment and can be used for card advantage. Library is also more vulnerable than top as it cannot leave play at will but as an enchantment it is still relatively safe. Card advantage in green is never this cheap and readily available so if you have sufficient life gain this can be fairly abusable. Against many archetypes you are pretty happy to take three or four cards from this with no access to life gain in your deck making this one of the few cards capable of being situationally better than Ancestral Recall. The reason this only gets a 3.5 rating then is because it can be a two mana investment that achieves nothing for your board position and loses you card advantage. A Grizzly Bear is generally a better card against red deck wins. The library is also not overdone with consistent homes. Rock likes to have access to pernicious deed and aggressive decks want to make threats instead. Despite this the library gets enough play to warrant a slot and clearly enough power and unique effects in green that it will always find more new homes as the format evolve unlike many cards who get left behind due to the power creep once they fall out of favour with the best archetypes.

Krosan Grip
Krosan Grip 1.0

Three mana is a alot to pay for an effect you can get for one mana. The grip will trade one for one and unlike most removal will probably not gain you much of a mana advantage either. On top of this it is reasonably narrow and will only be put in decks that are really desperate to deal with something or lack any other answers of this kind. Split second is a nice mechanic but unpredictable as to when it will be of any benefit. Because of this the extra cost incurred from having split second is generally less good than having a cheaper spell doing the same thing or a different mechanic attached to the effect offering greater synergy with your deck. Wipe Away and Sudden Shock both suffer this effect and also have more interesting alternatives than Krosan Grip hence neither holding onto an A cube slot. I suspect I shall replace this with Crushing Vines if it proves itself worthy of a slot as this is seeing very little play presently.

Heartbeat of Spring
Heartbeat of Spring 1.0

There are many incarnations of UG combo decks for which Heartbeat is a mainstay in all of, including storm decks, infinite mana decks and infinite turn decks. Generally Heartbeat is abused with various effects that untap lands and efficient card draw to enable a turn in which you "go off" being able to cast your entire deck repeatedly. As my cube presently stands the vast majority of the support cards for these kinds of deck have been relegated to the B cube for being too narrow. The archetypes may still be build with just cards in the A cube but it is a shadow of the versions incorporating B cube cards too. Although the only real home for Heartbeat is UG combo decks there are enough different builds of these to keep it from being too narrow a card. That being said I shall probably still send this to join its companions in the next cull as playing a sub par deck is undesirable. Sadly that would mean there was basically no option to draft a combo deck with only my A cube. I should like to see a rock paper scissors format with combo, control and agro in the cube all being similarly reprisented. Without the power however, even in rotissary and other constructed style cube formats, agro fully dominates with control decks morphing to just become bigger agro decks.

XXCall of the HerdCall of the Herd 1.5

It pains me to give this such a low rating as the card is lovely design and good nostalgia too. Sadly the power creep has not just caught up to this card that was so ahead of its day, but overtaken it and left it chilling out with the likes of Ernham Djinn. This was one of the very first cards that was aggressively costed so as to gain tempo from it but also offered card advantage. Now we have all sorts of flora based cards offering this from Strangleroot Geist to Vengevine. Call is a little too middle of the road, rather like Blade Splicer as 3/3s for three don't do all that much to the game. The best uses I have seen for Call is in combo decks that use the graveyard lots such as Oath of Druids simply as a pretty solid way to buy some time or even act as an alternate win condition. Tokens are far less robust in the cube than actual creatures with the popularity of bounce and things like Ratchet Bomb, Pernicious Deed and Engineered Explosives all easily taking them out. Call does still see occasional play in a wide selection of archetypes but the frequency declines with every new set.

Beast WithinBeast Within 4.0 

This is one of the best spells to be printed in a long time. I love the card and I love the design and feel it has given green all the necessary tools to be the base for control decks. Cards like this are much much more powerful in the cube than they are in normal constructed 60 card decks as the cube is more varied and powerful that being able to answer basically any problem card is well worth the minor set back. The power of this card highlights the decline of cards like Call of the Herd, when you are happy to be giving 3/3 tokens away you are hardly going to be excited about making your own. So, we all know Vindicate is a great card that has only two flaws, it is two colours and it is sorcery speed. Beast within has none of these concerns and can often offset the 3/3 token drawback by virtue of being instant and thus having the capacity to gain 2 for 1s or large tempo swings. Being green is especially nice as it is really hard to deal with some problem monsters and green has enough fat and walls to ignore 3/3s all day. Most commonly it hits planeswalkers which is rare for any colour and a valuable asset to have at your disposal with unchecked planeswalkers being a common way for games to end in short order. In the cube it is very easy to lose to a single card you cannot deal with that can come in so many different forms it is hard to account for them all. Every single kind of deck can benefit from the security of very general purpose answer cards. The Wish cycle used to be what most people played in order to cover themselves against surprise losses however Beast Within is quicker, cheaper and generally more effective as an answer than a Wish. The ability for it to hit lands also makes it very dangerous as a threat should they be foolish enough to lay an early bounce land or allow you to colour stitch them. So far I have treated Beast Within as an easier to cast instant speed Vindicate with a negligible drawback but it has a secondary use in its ability to make an instant speed 3/3 on your team for the small cost of an unwanted permanent. This is surprisingly handy not only for taking an unexpected win with an alpha strike in a close race but also for making a blocker and killing of small monsters.

Garruk WildspeakerGarruk Wildspeaker 4.2

I love this guy and for all round goodness he is my 3rd favourite walker after Jace and Elspeth's 4 mana incarnations. He doesn't win as many games as Tezzeret but is vastly more playable to the point of me being more than happy to have him in any green deck. He defends himself better than most cheap walkers and for that matter most of the more expensive ones too. A 3/3 is a very healthy blocker and the ability to untap lands so as to allow more spells and more loyalty to keep him alive is exceptional. His abilities are the complete package with acceleration, token generation and a cheap yet reliable finisher ultimate. His ultimate is likely the best of any walker in terms of how often it gets used (both relative to the walker getting cast and nominally) and how often it then wins the game. Untapping land is far better than adding two mana as it allows you to keep up counter magic or have good synergy with Winter Orb or generate stupid amounts of mana with Gaea's Cradle and the like.

Garruk Relentless
Garruk Relentless 2.0

Garruk, the Veil-CursedI have so far been very unimpressed with this version of Garruk and never found I wanted it over Wildspeaker. Relentless is quite fragile having low loyalty combined with difficulty in ramping it back up. Making 2/2s is nice enough but often achieves very little, they are either chumping to keep Garruk alive or being ignored. Getting to fight with a low toughness critter is handy in green but rather situational as well as being a single use most of the time. Being easier to cast than Wildspeaker is not all that exciting as green is rarely a splash colour. Relentless is probably better than Koth of the Hammer but due to having much better alternatives as well as lots of other Garruk incanations for the anti-synergy in decks he sees less play and performs less well. Once flipped he can ramp again but only making 1/1 deathtouch dorks which are better on the defensive but worse otherwise, again this is fine but not exciting. Tutoring for creatures and sacrificing them is useful but not something you want to rely on at all and infrequently arises. Finally the overrun effect on Relentless is far less good than Wildspeakers version as it is more situation and much slower to get online. Were this walker to go by a name other than Garruk it would likely see a lot more play but as it is he is hovering around the cutting line. Low impact and fiddly is how I would best describe Relentless in a couple of words.

Birthing Pod

Birthing Pod 3.6

A fantastic card which is comparable to Recurring Nightmare. While it is cheaper to use than Nightmare and more relaxed on colour requirements it is difficult to fully abuse in 40 cards decks. The stipulations on what you can search for means it is hard to support a chain of creatures longer than 5 difference in mana costs. It also means that the longer the game goes on and the more you use the Pod the less good it gets as you run out of targets. Being able to sacrifice creatures is very useful for certain effects and things like Skullclamp which historically green has had little access too until Pod came along. Pod is a great card with lovely design that sadly needs quite a dedicated deck to support it with a high creature count, good come into play and when this dies effects and a very smooth and ideally short curve of the creatures. Typically I find these decks to look quite like rock decks however I feel as if this is just because Pod is still quite new to the cube and so the more obscure variations on how it can be used have not yet arisen. A few quirky creature based combo decks mimicking those that have cropped up in the modern format have also made use of Pod as a good tutor mechanic for its pieces despite not having the highest overall creature count. This is fine as you only need to use it once or twice in order to have won. This is one of the most interesting non-creature cards in the whole modern format although it does still revolve around creatures... I love the phyrexian mana mechanic and would like to see more cards that use it or something similar. A mechanism to reduce the colourless aspect of a cards cost rather than the coloured would be less abusable in terms of the colour differences.

OverrunOverrun 4.0

This is the ender of games like no other card and one of the most important cards for any aggressive, or even simply creature based, green deck. Green lacks reach in its aggressive decks as it has poor creature removal and not much in the way of disruption. Assuming you have any sort of board position there is a high chance casting Overrun would end the game, I have had countless where I have done enough damage earlier that simply +3/+3 and trample is enough to see my single dork to victory. Elves decks of all kinds are the very best home for Overrun, even combo elves might as well play it as it basically say win the game on it and is castable from about turn three in elves! Five mana is not too much for green decks, even aggressive ones as it finishes off your curve perfectly at about the time it becomes an instant win. If your plan is to win with hard hitting monsters of which a good number are green I would not leave home without it. It works particularly well with the various mana critters green has to offer which further helps green agro decks as they lack one drops that are pure aggression and often lose some ground to things like Goblin Guide. Having a few useless late game 1/1s suddenly swinging in for 4 a piece is ideal. Garruk Wildspeaker is a better card all round but his Overrun ability is always known (unless you can proliferate on the turn you make him!) and despite being less mana tends to happen after you could cast an Overrun. Garruk is ideal redundancy for Overrun but not a replacement.

Plow UnderPlow Under 2.5

A brutal card that can swing games hugely, one of the few non-symmetrical cards that are suitably costed to gain cube slots. Sometimes it is double Stone Rain and sometimes it is Time Stretch which is a bargain for either at just 5 mana. Green also has some of the best synergies with land destruction colours and decks as well as having a reasonable selection of options itself. In addition to this it is a card advantage spell in green which is reasonably rare and ideal when suited to beating slower decks. Cast early versus any sort of deck off some green ramp is ruinous for them however if they manage to get a reasonable board position before you plow their lands it fails to achieve you very much. It is also quite an awkward card to fit into a deck as it costs a lot, doesn't advance you at all, nor does it answer any threats or problem cards nor stops any beatdown you might be under and benefits from having lots of other support cards for it to shine.

Primal Command
Primal Command 2.5

This card always seems to steal the slot that Plow Under would have. It is not the efficient and convenient utility package and powerhouse that Cryptic Command is and it is not as impactive as Austere Command however it is the comfortable 3rd best of the Command cycle and does a lot of what decks need and fills in loads of holes in builds for the cost of just one card. It can effectively deal with any non-creature threat in play or any problem card residing in a graveyard which is nice but quite an inefficient amount of mana to do something like that for. It can be half a Plow Under while still doing other useful things, it can Eladamri's Call to cycle the card nicely whilst using for other ends. Gaining 7 life is huge against a couple of common matchups and is one of the more frequent uses the card ends up getting used for. Typically against Red Deck Wins it will fetch an Eternal Witness and gain 7 life only to have the Witness get it back for another 7 life fix. The surprisingly desirable portion of the card is the reshuffle but used on yourself rather than on the opponent. So many green based decks want ways to reuse large portions of their deck and without blue cards like Timetwister and Spiral they have only unreliable creatures like Loaming Shaman and Battlefield Scrounger which are also pretty naff outside of that narrow reshuffle desire. Command can offer this marginal but important ability to a deck without costing it a valuable slot.

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