Sunday 15 January 2012

Reviews: The A cube red creatures

Inferno Titan
Inferno Titan 4.0

I didn't even put this guy in the cube at first, only the black and white titans. I was very wrong and now deem this to be the best of the titans in cube, although it is pretty close with grave titan. At first I thought this was just an over costed flametongue kavu or an underpowered crater hellion. Basically it turns out that while it does neither as much initial direct damage as the kavu or as widespread damage as the hellion the titan can pretty effectively do either role, all on a much more fearsome body. Rather than do a specific thing well this guy is just quite versatile and very good value for mana. He is a huge tempo swing and snowballs out of control very fast requiring an answer more promptly that any planeswalker (barring Tezzeret the Seeker in the right deck) and offering more value than most even if instantly killed. Just on pure power this titan sneaks his way into all sorts of decks with red in them although never as yet into red deck wins. This is also a great card to use in sneak attack decks as it works very well as an alternate win condition due to relative ease of raw-dogging while still offering good utility as something to sneak into play too. 

Rorix Bladewing
Rorox Bladewing 1. 5                                                                        

This dragon offers a lot of damage very quickly for a reasonably low cost. Sadly Rorix is suffering the power creep and is destined to go to the B cube soon. Any cube feels like it needs a red dragon and a red X spell otherwise you are lacking the quintessential elements of magic. Of the many options of red dragon Rorix is still best as he does something you always want whereas most of the other dragons do a more specific thing which will sometimes be better but mostly be doing nothing. The sad thing about Rorix is I cannot think of many situations where I wouldn't rather just play Titan. If, like me you are a little sentimental and feel a dragon to be a cube requirement I advise Rorix, otherwise I can think of little reason to be wasting slots with this card. 
Siege-Gang Commander

Siege-Gang Commander 3.2ish

3.0 seems too low while 3.5 too high so sorry for fiddly ratings. This is the very best of the one man army cards offering a complete package in one. Lots of attacking power, value if dealt with, removal and combat trickery. The commander is one of the best spells you can make following a reset of some type and one of the few cards capable of single handedly pulling you back into the game. Certainly the Gang is a bit less powerful than the titan but then it costs less and has fewer vulnerabilities. Gang is one of the few cards from the goblin deck that is good enough to see play outside of a goblin deck and retained his A cube spot even when the narrow tribal cards were relegated. The gang tends to see more play in larger drafts than smaller more constructed style cubes but is all round good enough to end up in most decks playing red. It is also noteworthy that red has many more spells on 4 and 6 mana that 5 that it wishes to cast thus upping the appeal of gang to gain a smoother mana curve.

Hero of Oxid RidgeHero of Oxid Ridge 1.5

This guy is really comparable to Koth but I feel overall is the weaker card. Both Hero and Koth are aggressive red four drops. The Hero is easier to play in decks with more colours and tends to facilitate more immediate damage than Koth. Being a creature is a less appealing card type than planeswalker for a threat as they are far easier to remove, especially ones with only two toughness. While many more spells kill Hero than do Koth the walker is one of the few that fails to have any abilities that help him protect himself and can make him little more than a healing salve sometimes. Hero is better than Koth if you are behind in the board position but is still awful as a defensive monster and not what you want to doing at all. The subtle differences in their resilience and applications make little distinction between the cards and ultimately it is Koth's other less used abilities that make him the more interesting and useful card. Hero is just a bit too much mana for most aggressive red decks and a bit too linear to fit in elsewhere. A card I don't see lasting in the cube much longer but not a bad spell, just homeless and overshadowed. 

Flametongue Kavu
Flametongue Kavu 2.0

I have no real clue why but FTK has never shined in the cube. In limited he may well just be the best uncommon ever, not given it that much thought as comparing cards for limited in separate blocks is hard and meaningless. At a guess the other contenders are skullclamp and vampire night hawk but then again I was not drafting when you could open up a sol ring. I guess the best thing you would be doing with your sol ring was making a serra angel... I should stop filling space and at least guess at why this card is only a 2.0. Four is a lot of damage for red allowing you to one shot things otherwise requiring two burn spells, and even when this just hits a 2/1 utility dork the tempo swing is pretty huge. I find FTK used almost exclusively in the more control decks, as unlike Hero and Koth he is a much better defensive card being generally a more effective blocker than attacker. My best guess as to why a card as good as FTK sees relatively little play is where he fits in on a curve. He is too much to pay for a utility card for the aggressive deck and a bit underwhelming and lacking synergy in big mana red decks. At both four mana and sorcery speed FTK has some serious competition in control decks with wraths and planeswalkers offering more appeal. 

Manic Vandal
Manic Vandal 3.5

Red gets its own sex monkey at last! Most decks pack an artifact or more and so most decks want an answer to these potential threats. Having main deck dead cards is weak particularly in colours like red without good ways to filter cards and make use of the chaff. Although a grey ogre is nothing exciting it will at least do something if you have no targets. The Vandal gets play in almost every red deck without green or white in it and this is more the case now with the wishes gone. He is cheap, reliable and simple providing tempo and card advantage most of the time. This guy sees more play than Viridian Shaman as green has many more options for versatile cards that can deal with problem artifacts. You never feel like the Vandal wins games for you, instead he feels that he stops you just losing when you want him most. Still a great reason to include in proactive and control decks alike. 

Chandra's Phoenix 3.5

This card has been impressing in many different guises since his addition to the cube. Working in control and agro decks as an all round useful dork. His damage output is not immense for his cost but it is pretty persistent and reliable. The flying is particularly nice as red has very few options for cheap flying dorks, it helps significantly as an attacker but equally well defensively. The Phoenix is also extra utility with the many graveyard and discard effects from Gifts Ungiven to Liliana of the Veil to Fauna Shaman. Arc Trail and Lava Dart and of course Chandra herself all help make this painless to recur and continue to abuse. As such the Phoenix also gets marks for being an aggressively cost monster that can offer card advantage. Thus far I have found it be be a great extra tool in the arsenal of red deck wins, blue red control and good old red green beats. I am sure it is versatile and rounded enough to find many more homes as the format evolves and cannot see it leaving the cube any time soon. 

Squee, Goblin Nabob
Squee, Goblin Nabob 2.0

Squee is the specific version of Chandra's Phoenix that recently got returned to the cube with a critical mass of really good discard effects being reached. While he is pretty pathetic as a body serving only really as an overcosted chump blocker he is much easier to recur making him more useful in certain specific decks. Even with only one copy of Squee available the Forbid combo with him is still viable to include in control decks. His other main uses are with Survival of the Fittest, Liliana of the Veil and Pox effects. Essentially your deck should not be playing Squee if your plan involves casting him. This is not to say that you wont end up having too send him to the battlefield when things start to fall apart but does serve as a good guide as to when this is the kind of card your deck will benefit from containing. Decks with a few lightly synergic cards will opt for Chandra's Phoenix or other more rounded spells while decks entirely built around discard engines will reach for the Nabob first.

Tin Street Hooligan
Tin-Street Hooligan 3.0

The Hooligan is basically a gold card as you would only ever play it with access to both red and green. While a Goblin Piker is a deeply under powered card for the cube it can still be what you need from time to time and so you can happily play the Hooligan with a very light splash of green where you would not be so happy to play a Vithian Renegades. The card is played primarily for the removal effect and not the accompanying body which also makes this guy far far better than the Renegades at a third of the mana cost less. I am always 100% happy to play the Hooligan blind, ie when I have no idea what deck they are playing or if he will have any targets. This is not the case with Viridian Shaman and Manic Vandal who I tend to only play if I know there are things I want dead. The Hooligan has a few drawbacks you have to be aware of such as being no use as a Shatter when cascaded into, put into play from an Aether Vial or cast when you have a Goblin Warchief in play. Still for my money it is the best creature than kills artifacts when it comes into play and would have a much higher rating if not tied to two colours. 

Hellspark ElementalHellspark Elemental 2.5

A great little card although a touch on the narrow side. Although it is a dork the card is basically a burn spell and one that may only be used in aggressive decks. Typically the card only gets play in red deck wins  and similar two colour style decks. The best comparison for the card is Ball Lightening and while not strictly better it is superior in enough regards to be able to directly replace it. Overall they both do 6 trample damage, the Elemental however cannot do it all on the same turn and requires an extra mana to do so. Being forced to split the cost over two turns that suit you best makes this card far better on your mana curve and allows much more efficient plays to be made. Costing 2 colourless mana instead of a third red to fully use allows the card to see play outside mono red decks and also allows the inclusion of colourless land within a mana base for the mono coloured decks using it. Hellspark is also much more robust than Ball Lightening and generally requires two removal spells to deal with it without just eating the damage. It is also robust to hand disruption and has good synergy with battlecry and other combat based effects due to getting two attacks instead of just one. 

Keldon Marauders
Keldon Marauders 3.2

For the most aggressive of decks there are few better two drops than these fellows. It is one of those red guys that is direct damage disguised as a creature like Ball Lightening and Hellspark Elemental. While it has neither haste nor evasion it guarantees two damage and sticks around for an extra turn. This may throw away the element of surprise but does allow you to use it to block with once before your attack or combo it with an effect to give it haste to get two attacks. It also has a decent toughness compared to the other red direct damage creatures which makes it more effective against first strike and generally more robust. Most of the time you will do the five damage with this card for only two mana which makes it the most damage for mana on any such creature which is even better considering the low R mana requirements in the cost. There are a huge variety of other neat synergies with this card involving bouncing or sacrificing it which are also easier on this creature that things like Ball Lightening as you pay the mana for the Marauders in a previous turn. All in all a very good card with very nice design that has only one role despite many different interactions. While a little narrow due to its single role it is well worthy of a cube slot given its power. 

Ember Hauler
Ember Hauler 2.0

Simple is best and this guy is that. I dislike the RR cost as it makes the card far more narrow and rarely sees play outside of mono red. It would also be much more exciting if the activation cost no mana like good old Mogg Fanatic. Despite the annoying aspects of the card and the relatively low power it is the perfect two drop for most builds of red deck wins. Two power for two mana, the ability to target damage and generally offering value if killed means that every box is ticked. It does nothing brilliantly but it does everything that red deck wins wants to do, which is a rare thing for a card to offer. I would likely cut this for being too narrow if red deck wins was not one of the staple archetypes in the cube that has been tier one since it all began. Other than red deck wins it pops up in goblins but as that archetype is presently in the B cube that offers no extra reasons for Hauler to have his A cube slot. 

Kargan Dragonlord
Kargan Dragonlord 2.2

Another RR 2/2 but totally different in application to Ember Hauler. It is not quite as narrow as the Hauler but is also much less useful in red deck wins leading to it only seeing play in some of the builds. The RR cost can be a little off putting or awkward but given the quantities of red needed to level up it is less of a drawback than it is on the Hauler. Level up is a great mechanism that helps decks to have late game power, good mana efficiency and a smooth early cure. They also offer a good number of choices. When a level up creature has a a half decent starting body it is an interesting card. A 2/2 just cuts it but is very weak last resort thing to cast when you have nothing better to do body, it is also quite a big investment to hit the mid level. The Dragonlord makes up for this by being very powerful at both mid and top levels, both end the game pretty fast and give you a serious threat on the board and the jump between the two is not too great either. For decks with access to lots of red mana that either lack late game serious threats or need some cards that can be cast early that don't suffer from low power or being rubbish later on then this is the perfect card. It is quite hard to properly assess the card as it is highly varied in performance. Sometimes it single handedly wins the game from out of nowhere and from a horrible position. Sometimes it costs you the game due to over investing mana into it only to have it bounced or similar and most of the time it trades with something like a Trinket Mage or other card that will have already got extra value. This may seem like it is overall bad but actually having the option to make unfavourable trades with your late game threats is just what you need, in fact it is often what you are doing with Force of Will. In other words, on the face of it the card may seem to under perform in games however the benefits it offers in constructing your deck and the extra options it provides in game more than make up for this. 

Orcish Lumberjack
Orcish Lumberjack 3.5

This often overlooked little fellow would be a clear 4.0 if it sacrificed Mountains or cost green mana to play. As it is they are effectively a gold card and a reasonably demanding one at that due to needing forests specifically and not just green mana. Any card that is cheap and produces mana is interesting, any card that produces more mana than you have to invest into it is also interesting and the Lumberjack does both very well. He has been dubbed the Black Lotus Dude since the de-powering of the cube as he frequently gives the kind of abusive starts that Lotus does. As you can tap your forest before sacrificing it you can very easily produce 5 mana on turn two with nothing more than this guy, a red source and a forest (and a second land assuming the forest is also a red source). Sacrificing land is a big deal, especially early in the game and does need some consideration when building decks that want to be able to abuse the Lumberjacks. Assuming you have a relatively low curve then sacrificing a land on turn two is no big deal if you cast the top end cards in your hand which means you effectively curve out the same but take your 5 drop(s) on turn two and shunt turns two through four back a turn. Sometimes you use the Lumberjack back to back and completely empty your hands on turn three. You get to spend roughly the same amount of mana overall but you get to spend it much much earlier. The tempo boost from this is comparable to Black Lotus and frequently wins games regardless of what you spend that extra mana on. The card disadvantage needed to gain the massive tempo boost is either irrelevant in an agro deck as the game ends so quickly or easily recovered by a control deck due to the extra power and stability they gain. I only play this in RG decks as adding a third colour really lowers your forest count. I also ensure I have a robust mana base and don't skimp on lands when including this fellow. If you have not tried this guy out I highly recommend that you do.

Merciless Predator

Reckless Waif
Reckless Waif 0.5

I have been pretty unimpressed with this guy thus far. The werewolf flip mechanic is pretty weak in the cube as most decks are able to cast at least one spell a turn every turn and are equally able to cast multiples in a single turn should they need to. The cube is full of cheap spells and mana curves tend to be lower than most other formats and so you want to cast flip cards at the end of your curve rather than at the beginning so that they spend least time unflipped. Casting a Huntsmaster of the Fells on turn four and then skipping plays on turn five to flip him is far less damaging to your tempo than skipping plays on turn two to flip a Waif. Basically Waif is only good when things are going wrong for you or wrong for your opponent meaning you should probably just play more two drops or more lands. I am pretty sure this will soon be cut but it takes a lot of will power to take out three power one mana dorks, particularly in red. 

Mogg FanaticMogg Fanatic 2.5

Simple and effective. A one point piece of burn is useful to neatly finish things off and having it on the board already is even more useful to save on mana requirements. Seal of Fire is great and this does a lot of what Seal does but until called upon he nibbles away a few life points or carries some equipment or chump blocks. I cut this guy when they changed the damage on stack rules and he could no longer take out a two toughness guy on his own however he found his way back in and has earned his slot for a second time. Primarily played in red deck wins and goblins where he offers a surprising amount of tempo and value but can still be useful filler in slower or more controlly decks. He is one of the many cube cards that I like to include that has quite low overall power but that performs so many different roles at good value for mana that they gain their slots. The ability to self sacrifice is often underrated for its use in countering spell effects such as the life gain on Lightening Helix. Needing no mana to do this makes Fanatic safe card that is unlikely to work against you. 

Goblin BushwhackerGoblin Bushwhacker 2.0

I cannot take credit for this quirky little chap as I rampantly took the piss out of the person who brought one along for the deck they had planned to build. I immediately condemned it to the C cube only to have it dug out again by people wanting to get more ribbings from me. Instead of that they beat my face in with it and now I am a huge fan. It is all the things I love in a card, great synergies, low mana costs and various uses. While pretty much the nut low as your first play it is still often better in those sort of decks than making no play and will still get in for enough to make it worth it, especially if you have other pumping effects like equipment. Where this guy really shines most is turns 4 onwards when you can make him and another dork such as a Keldon Marauder and get maximum value, tempo and surprise out of him. Being able to play him at most points on the curve yet have him increase in power the more you delay this is ideal for any kind of card. Typically only found in Goblin decks, Red Deck Wins and Rx aggressive decks he is especially popular in Boros Deck Wins as he works incredibly well with Ranger of Eos and Kor Skyfisher. While including him in your deck makes it much harder to play against and offers you better reach he is a slightly situational card and quite a poor rip off the top when you have nothing else, as the decks that want to play him often crave redundancy and already suffer from lower average card power level he does not always make the cut. Being RR when at his best also makes him less appealing in any non mono red deck. 

Spikeshot ElderSpikeshot Elder 2.0

I have been having a long debate as to whether Magus of the Scroll or Spikeshot Elder deserve the A cube slot. Elder is better with other cards where as Magus is better on its own which wasn't enough to decide and so the fact that I already have Cursed Scroll and prefer something a bit different ended up deciding it for now. Both are essentially poor mans Grim Lavamancer as they need three times as much mana to get shooting. Elder is nice to supplement your early drops and give some presence even though he won't get activated for quite some time. This is not as wasteful as it is with Bushwhacker but it is still not powerful like a Goblin Guide or Stromkirk Noble. Spikeshot is very much the late game card. His activation is a little expensive to be something used lots but is a good deterrent as well as a good mana sink. Certain cards will simply not get played as you will freely kill them however this is even better than killing them as it frees up mana for more powerful things. Being able to attack as well as ping is really nice and adds a lot to the card as you can freely attack and still have the deterrent effect. It also means that if you do have a pump effect like a Teetering Peeks or Reckless Charge you can get extra value with mega ping as well as the big hit. These one offs are nice but rarely come up. If however you get a Rancor or Bonesplitter type effect onto a Spikeshot Elder he goes from being mediocre to being a really serious threat. 

Goblin GuideGoblin Guide 4.5

The very pinnacle of one drop beaters. Almost every single one mana two powered guys have had a run in the cube at one point or another. Many of those had worse drawbacks than the Guide and yet guide has a better toughness than most and haste!!! Haste really raises the bar in terms of what a turn one play can do, there was a time when I would pray for Isamru in my opening hands while now it is obviously Guide I want to begin my curve with. Stromkirk Noble, Steppe Lynx, Delver of Secrets and Wild Nacatl can all do more damage as a turn one play eventually, Even a Spikeshot Elder can in theory do more however they are either much slower to apply the damage or situational as to when they can. Goblin Guide is good damage from the get go in a reliable little package. On a card offering as much tempo as it does the drawback is barely even that. It rarely bails anyone out of a stitch, games rarely go on long enough for any netted lands to be relevant, having high cards in hand count can be punishing for things like Black Vise and in addition to all of this you get free information on what your opponent is drawing. In much the same way Bill Hick's describes the perfect advert for Coke, the perfect deck is just Goblin Guides, Lightening Bolts and Mountains. Most one drops become weaker as the game progresses, particularly off the top but guide holds up pretty well and while not the best late game draw is certainly a lot happier than Stromkirk Noble, Diregraf Ghoul or Savannah Lions. 

Stromkirk Noble
Stromkirk Noble 2.8

This is reds second best pressure drop on turn one and there is quite a long way to go in power level in either direction before you meet Goblin Guide above it or Jackal Pup below it. On turn one it can be better than Guide however this requires you to get him to about a 4/4 which rarely happens. As a later drop it starts to get very poor and really needs a Bushwhacker or Reckless Charge to be anything other than dribble beyond turn 2. There are lots of humans in the cube in all colours making him pretty evasive in combination with some selective burn. Provided you get to boost him at least once you will generally get decent value from him as they will be forced to trade or risk it getting out of control. A 2/2 is just much more useful to have around and can be made to count for much more even if not able to get in. Even without the evasion he would be better than Slith Firewalker who has seen probably too much cube play. Although you have to have the Noble a turn earlier and lose the surprise factor while giving them a sorcery speed chance to kill it you have made a one drop and can still make a two drop. Stromkirk allows much better tempo starts than Slith ever could and neither ever really go the distance alone so the threat of the card is where most of its strength lies. Losing tempo is not something you want to do simply to force awkward plays from someone. 

Grim Lavamancer
Grim Lavamancer 3.5

Not the best one drop as it won't be active and at best can nibble in for one. He is still a body however and is better than mountain go. As the graveyard starts to fill up he becomes a really serious problem for decks and needs to be dealt with. Most creatures die to him and those that don't at least don't two for one you when you help kill them with Grim. When you have no creatures to kill or the finish line is in sight he aims his lava at the dome and effectively adds a damage to every card that you put in the bin. A good number of red spells have flashback or other ways to be usefull from beyond the grave which means you don't always get 1 damage per card but this is no reason not to play Grim or flashback cards. He can be a little slow to come online and does tie up extra mana making him not all the best tempo card. He is also fragile and winds up dead before he gets to shooting much. This is still fine as it will free up your mana and mean they don't have removal for more rounded threats like Kargan Dragonlord. He has become worse as creatures have gotten bigger and quicker and much harder to fully kill but this is only compared to how powerful a one drop he was. He is still a lot of card for the cost despite not being quite at the levels he was when first released. 

Goblin WelderGoblin Welder 4.0

This is basically a reusable Tinker for a third of the mana. Sure you need something in the bin and you need to wait for summoning sickness to pass but no other one mana critter offers anything close to the power this guy can bring. Welder really needs the right deck to shine in which limits his play a little but does also allow archetypes to exist due to his power which increases his playtime. He can be used in two main ways, either a combo reanimate style where you put things in the bin and cheat them into play or as utility while you curve out. I don't like to rely solely on the first strategy as it is a little vulnerable and fiddly however it is nice support for conventional reanimate. The latter is my preferred use as he is powerful with all of your deck. You can send away tapped Monoliths and Vaults only to bring them back untapped or recur an expired Tangle Wire. Welder is abusive with comes into play effect cards like Solemn Simulacrum as well as those with when this dies effects like, erm, Solemn Simulacrum. When you have ramped you way into abusive amounts of artifact mana getting value from Welder the whole while you can then use him to make your late game threats counterspell and removal proof. Sometimes Welder is thrown into combo decks as a way to recur a combo piece that has been dealt with assuming it is an artifact and the deck has at least 4 others to exchange for it. If affinity can support the colour requirement it is a nice little utility dork that either keeps threats about or gains incremental card advantage with Chromatic Star. It has even been used as a pure disruption card in red deck wins where they had no artifacts but wanted to be able to mess with the opponents however this is a hosery use and not all that fun to be on the receiving end of. Welder is narrow and generally requires support but is powerful enough to etch lots of uses around the cube for itself. 

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