Sunday, 15 January 2012

Reviews: The A cube white spells

Austere Command 3.5      

Austere Command
There is a good argument for more of these mass removal effects in the cube and akroma's vengeance would be the obvious choice with the two being very close in power. Cycling is a great ability but is best on cheaper situational cards like miscalculate. Rarely do you want to lose your main cover all removal spell. Vengeance is less versatile than the command and makes you less happy to play things like land tax or artifact mana which does not really compensate for the fact that it hits more stuff when you cast it. Like many card choices in my cube the more versatile card with less overall power makes the cut as it goes in more decks and allows more free deck construction. Catastrophe is the other card that has seen play in this slot. It offers the armageddon option but at 6 mana it is a bit steep and often not what the more control style deck wants. The options on austere command are more in keeping with what the decks that can afford 6 mana mass removal effects want to be doing. If I am in white and I am trying to control things I am always happy to play this card.

Gideon JuraGideon Jura 3.6ish

Against beatdown Gideon is one of the best things you can spend five mana on. 8 loyalty off the bat if you require or kill something and still have 4 is a huge tempo swing. Gideon also has a much more practical ultimate than most other walkers that sets about ending the game as soon as he has stabilised things rather than wasting a lot of time charging up loyalty. Great synergy with white mass removal and a great card in isolation. The best five mana walker in cube is either Gideon or Tezzeret the Seeker. In the right deck Tezzeret tends to come down very quick, generate some mana then win the game in the following turn if not dealt with which makes him the most dangerous walker. Tezzeret is entirely dependant on support cards to be good and fits in few decks despite the high power level of the best support cards for him in the cube leaving Gideon the more reliable candidate. Gideon is most at home in control decks but fits in well in any mid range deck too.

Wrath of GodWrath of God 3.5

Simple, effective, reliable and all for the right mana cost. Wrath would have been a 4.0 back when the cube was first made in mirrodin block, failing to kill only the odd man land and darksteel colossus. Now monsters recur and come with more card advantage, and now we have some far more serious man lands to contend with, not to mention planeswalkers. Mass removal is one of the oldest control deck things and is reasonably easy to play around, particularly with so many guys that are somewhat wrath-proof to curve out with now. Control decks cannot now solely rely on wrath and need to supplement it with instant spot removal and better creatures and planeswalkers of their own. That said, wrath is the best of the non-situational mass removal spells and one of the few ways to kill certain threats and so remains a staple in most control and mid-range decks with white.

ArmageddonArmageddon 4.0

Lands are more integral to magic than monsters. If your deck is able to cope well with losing all its lands this is a very powerful game winning card that is highly splashable and rarely dead. If I had a Ravages of War I would probably have that in the cube too. Although quite different cards I find both balance and cataclysm end up offering the required redundancy to geddon in decks built around disrupting mana bases, and have not as a result bothered to get the second copy of Armageddon for the cube. The most common home for this finisher is white weenie and similar agro decks but it does crop up in mana denial decks and artifact decks too. Few decks are perfectly happy losing all thier lands with red deck wins, affinity, elves and decks with a lot of artifact mana being most resilient to it. On the flip side this destroys most control decks if allowed to be cast and resolve and does something even less pleasant to blue green combo decks.

Cataclysm 4.0

Not as devastating to a players mana as Armageddon but certainly its closest comparison in usage in my cube. The main advantage of cataclysm over geddon when used in this capacity is that it is pretty devastating to artifact based decks against which geddon is generally quite poor. The part of this card that effects enchantments is rarely very relevant and the creatures aspect is mostly a drawback. White aggressive decks often have multiple fairly weak threats which is obviously far from ideal if wishing to cataclysm, the best solution to this having equipment and more obvious things such as holding back spot removal and a few extra small dorks. Another perk is that it hits planeswalkers which typically white really struggles to deal with. Cataclysm is a more powerful spell than armageddon and has greater scope but is harder to build and play appropriately with but are frequently found together anyway. Other than balance I think this is the most powerful effect on the game in magic for the mana cost.

Elspeth, Knight-ErrantElspeth, Knight-Errant 4.5

Alongside Jace, the Mind Sculptor this walker is as good as they come. As with Jace these walkers are basically always good in any deck that can support the colours. Elspeth is frequently played in agro and control and disappoints in neither. Two useful plus loyalty abilities and healthy does of starting loyalty makes Elspeth about as safe a play as a walker can be, especially at the cheap cost of 4. Her ultimate is one of the weaker ones and does not outright win the game if used, which is fine as it rarely is with games being concluded well before that is a possibility. It is really right to put Elspeth in the bin to get her ultimate off which is unusual for planeswalker ultimates. If more abundant ways are printed to effectively deal with planeswalkers Elspeth will lose value but as it stands she is a game winning threat that has good impact on the board and rapidly swings tempo, more so than Jace, and is really hard to deal with.

Day of JudgmentDay of Judgement 3.2

While certainly worse than wrath the redundancy they offer makes both better cards in the cube. Not many creatures regenerate in the cube and mana is not always available for regeneration when they do show up. This is so infrequently inferior to wrath it seems harsh to rate it a whole 0.5 lower. Wrath of God feels more powerful based on its name alone, this politically correct re-hash of the spell seems limp and ambiguous. When we cast wrath of god we slowly sweep it across our opponents vision while confidently and proudly declaring "wrath". We cannot feel so mighty when trying to "day" our opponents. Wrath of God implies the caster is god. I propose that Wrath is the better card for its name rather than its function as the confidence gained from an ego boosting cards improves game play.

Oblivion Ring
Oblivion Ring 3.0

I always feel a bit unhappy when I find myself wanting this for my deck. Whenever I draw it however I tend to be grateful I did not give in to my previous reluctance concerning the card. It is not the most exciting or reliable of 3 mana kill anything spells. It doesn't hit lands nor is it instant. It doesn't even fully get rid of the problem even if the vast majority of times it does. That said it is the only mono colour three mana kill anything spell without some significant drawback. This makes the card very playable in any white deck and often takes the slot that might otherwise go to a Disenchant or other specific removal. The Ring is about the best thing a standard blue white control deck can do about a resolved planeswalker and sees much play for that sole reason. Despite all the versatility of the card I find it to be clunky and inelegant in my decks and prefer to seek other solutions to my problems, the card is just a bit too good for me to always succeed in my attempts.

Spectral Procession
Spectral Procession 1.5

While this card is of higher power than the rating suggests it has only ever had one home and that heavily restricts its effect on the cube. The deck is very heavy white weenie with global creature buffs and rarely finds a home in the versions of white weenie that are more artifact heavy using equips to buff their guys and things like Aether Vial to power them out. I like the idea behind the cost flexibility but in practice it has little effect and the card might as well be WWW as that is what it is when you are building your deck. At five and six mana the card is terrible and it is probably weaker than Battle Screech at four. As such it is pretty restrictive in terms of incorporating it into decks. With no boosting effect the card is pretty powerful offering split evasive damage but with a Crusade or a Mikeaus the Lunarch or even a humble battlecry dork the game tends to be over pretty fast. One of the few cards that gives occasion for Maelstrom Pulse to shine but even then they go one for one with equal mana spent...

Tempered Steel
Tempered Steel 1.5

This is another of the very specific white cards that finds only one home but is of a very high power level in that archetype. Tempered Steel is the entire basis of the archetype for which it resides and offers absurd power to. An affinity style deck can easily have four or more monsters out and ready to attack on turn three when you cast this. It is not far off having Overrun all the time in the appropriate deck. The mana cost of the card, particularly the double white makes things quite interesting in terms of building an affinity deck. Mana base is the deciding factor when constructing affinity decks and you can either fill up on loads of colour fixing and play all the most powerful coloured cards or restrict yourself to minimal colours and cards from them and fill the deck with power, or you can just risk it and play all the power from all the colours but I recommend against this. I tend to find myself going mono white when I use this card but I think I could easily use a second colour. While this card is very narrow I do like the extra options it affords the cube in a manageable one card package and have little objection to a few such narrow spells remaining even if they are firm last picks most of the time.

Disenchant 3.0

Simple, reliable removal that is risky to forego in your deck. It is rare that you will not have targets for these and I will generally consider it if I am playing white. It is pretty much as simple as the less stuff I have that can deal with artifacts (primarily) and enchantments the more inclined I am to play it regardless of my deck. If I have no other way to kill an artifact I will almost certainly play it. Green has better alternatives to Naturalize that white has for Disenchant and as such the Disenchant is far more valuable to white. Being cheap, versatile, easy to cast and instant are what make the card so good. Trading one for one at sorcery speed is far less exciting or able to generate any additional value such as in response to an equip. Both artifacts and enchantments are relatively narrow targets but generally powerful effects. The ability to destroy either makes the card significantly more powerful than an effect that can only hit one such as Divine/Serene Offering. While sometimes it will only be able to hit a Talisman in the late game and will be pretty weak as a top deck, other times it will be your best card as it beats their combo or shuts down an engine (Recurring Nightmare / Birthing Pod / Opposition / Survival of the Fittest / Smokestack). It also has the occasional free win when you can hit an early mox or destroy a card they were going all in with. Recently a glut of playable artifact creatures have seen print making this even less often dead in hand.

Honor of the Pure
Honour the Pure 1.5

A very narrow card that has only one archetype in which it is not even an auto include. Having the redundancy from Crusade and some weaker extras from the B cube should you wish do enhance the usefulness of this card in deck building. Obviously this is the best, 2 mana and hard to remove due to being an enchantment. It is easier to cast than Crusade and wont randomly buff their guys too. This is sometimes played in white weenie without Crusade but never the other way around (a rather redundant end to that sentence...). Generally a white weenie deck has to go either pump effects like this or equipment. It can also do a bit of both but then it becomes harder to abuse certain effects. Despite this not being an auto include for only one deck the deck has many builds and has consistently been one of the top tier decks for as long as the cube has been around. Without access to cards like this there would be few ways to build white weenie and make it a rather dull affair.

Crusade 1.0

Retaining its cube slot on the basis of Honour the Pure but not displeased with the classic feel the card brings to the cube. If playing both this and Honour you need to ensure a high creature count, think of it as every non creature you play making these 2.5% worse (in a 40 card deck). Keeping your average card power high and your curve looking right can make it tough to reach an optimal creature count. The power of the guys is less relevant as the global pump will offset this and more when working as intended. Generally you are looking to pad out the deck with cards that have good synergy with being pumped. Abilities such as first strike, life link, flying and provoke on cheap guys scales very well. Obviously things that generate tokens are also very good and count as a creature slot in the deck although will tend to make cards like Aether Vial unappealing.

Revoke ExistenceRevoke Existence 1.5

I thought this would be a lot better that it has proved to be. While exile is very handy from time to time being instant speed is of much more use. White has Disenchant, Oblivion Ring and Austere Command at its disposal to deal with artifacts or enchantments which is not really enough options. White sorely needs a viable creature that can cheaply take care of artifacts and then there would be less need of cards like this. It was added shortly after Wurmcoil Engine for which it is an outstanding response. It turns out that most of the things you wish to exile are lands or creatures and not artifacts or enchantments. Wurmcoil is an overlap exception to this trend for which there are not enough to make this better than Disenchant, or for that matter ever really played. The instances I can remember it seeing play were to test it out or in drafts when they hadn't managed to pick up any other disenchant effects.

BalanceBalance 4.5

I would have to say that in terms of effect power to mana ratio Balance is the clear winner. The banned cheap blue cards are more efficient but they do not do as much to the game. Effects like Death Cloud, Upheaval and Cataclysm are all far more expensive to cast. Balance offers you the ability to Armageddon, Wrath of God or be Mind Twist. It even offers the ability to do multiple of these effects, all for just two mana. In terms of a get out of jail free card Balance has to be one of the very best too. The interesting aspects of the card are not when you are totally dead and then you rip it off the top to equalize the game only to then win the game of top deck magic that follows. It is interesting in how you are able to set it up and also how it is restrictive to the point of almost being fair. Often you will have to suffer the ill effects of one portion of the card to gain greater benefit from the other two, wiping out their hand and army is generally worth the cost of a pile of your lands. Balance entirely depends on the game state, most of the time if you are winning it is worse than dead unless you have specific synergies to abuse it. In terms of when a card is dead, when you are winning is about as good as it gets. Zuran Orb is a frequent combo piece with this allowing you to remove all lands in play should you wish. The various Moxen also have good synergy with the card as they reduce your hand size faster making Balance better more quickly and because they remain in play without effecting the outcome of the Balance. Most of the really powerful early magic spells (Alpha etc) tended to lack interesting features but Balance is a happy exception to this and while sometimes frustrating to play against it does lead to more interesting games.

Path to ExilePath to Exile 4.2

The second best spot removal card in the game and situationally better than the number one card. Instant, one mana and exile are prefect on all accounts for a removal spell and the downside of giving them a land is not enough to offset the convenience of Path. Having both this and Swords to Plowshares gives great redundancy to white in really top level removal and is utilized in practically every kind of deck using white. Exile is huge in this format as it gets around the many when this dies effects as well as indestructible and recursive monsters as well as getting the threat gone through library reshuffle or Regrowth effects. The one gripe I have with Path and Plow is not that they are too powerful but rather that there is just a huge gap between them and the next best removal spells. Many decks don't play any basic land which makes Path outstanding, white also has Land Tax and Knight of the White Orchid which really benefit from you casting Path. Path is generally better than Plow in aggressive decks than don't want to be giving away free life. Mana is generally lots better than life and losing card advantage is worse than not losing it so even in aggressive decks it is not always better. This is most the case early in the game where creatures are weaker and lands are more valuable (and stand to have more chances to tap). It is not wholly uncommon to Path one of your own guys simply to get the ramp in mana yourself.

Swords to Plowshares
Swords to Plowshares 4.5

The original and best removal spell. There is not a lot to say about this especially given its similarities to Path. It costs one mana, it is instant and it exiles the creature. These are all just as ideal as they are with Path to Exile. Plow is the card you want to kill their turn one play, sadly it is also the card you want to kill every play there after and so in many matchups it will be saved for the most irksome of threats. Everyone knows that life is the least relevant resource in magic and the scaling that goes with this card always makes you feel like you get a good deal out of it when you kill something facing you down. Like Path it can also be used on your own dorks as a last resort making it a little more versatile. This may seem very weak but when you need life then it is better than nothing.

Land Tax
Land Tax 4.5

The most effective card advantage spell in the game costing just one mana, not being symmetrical like Timetwister and being able to gain upwarsd of 15 cards in a game of magic, I am not sure what the all time cube record is for Tax but 15 is not uncommon although 6-9 would be the usual. White has very little in the way of card advantage but in Land Tax is does have one of the very best. It may only get land and basics at that but much of the time this is what you want any way. There are good uses for an abundance of lands such as recovering well after an Armageddon, looting them away into spells or being extra abusive with Scroll Rack. Land Tax is at its best in mono white where you can play the most basics. In multi coloured decks you never really want to cut good dual lands for basics so as to get more value out of Tax. In reality you can play about 7 basics and still have Tax be worthwhile. Obviously the more basics you have compared to non basics the better. Generally I just find I trim down on luxury lands when wanting to abuse Tax. On top of getting loads of cards into your hand it also takes loads of increasingly dud draws out of your library. Mono white has few ways to abuse having loads of cards in hand beyond Scroll Rack unlike blue with its Jace's and looters. Much of the strength of the Tax in mono white decks, especially the aggressive ones, is that after a couple of activations they never draw a non action card again and can just overwhelm a control deck through card quality. It is well worth always taking 3 lands when you can even if you then need to discard most of them.

Mana Tithe
Mana Tithe 3.5

Well, its a Force Spike and they are really good. Colour shifted cards are not always going to be the same rating as a functional reprint would be in the same colour. This is the same rating although the cards do end up in relatively different deck styles as well as some similar ones. I would probably say Mana Tithe is the better card for two reasons. Firstly white has very little to chose from spell disruption where as blue has a ridiculously long list of options and secondly because when you are playing UW control and don't have Force of Will the Tithe tends to be a better choice out of the two of them. This is because when you want to counter a couple of spells in a big turn you start to run low on blue mana with Cryptic Commands and Actual Counterspells being cast, having an unsuspecting plains untapped at the end of all this is common and having a Force Spike you can't play is horrible. White has a lot of mass land destruction for which this style of counterspell suits very well. The most common home for Mana Tithe is in white weenie decks as a cheap cover all disruption spell.

Harm's Way
Harm's Way 1.0

A neat little utility spell that offers a nice tempo swing as well as the ability to gain card advantage. The problem I have with the card is that it is more of a hoser than anything else. Some decks suit having it slightly more than others but it is what you are playing against that tends to dictate the quality of this card. Against red deck wins it is about the best thing you can cast for one mana in the cube and against a slow control deck it will tend to sit in your hand doing nothing or get used as a really ineffective removal spell by redirecting damage your things are dealing which usually results in you 2 for 1ing yourself. It is quite nice filler for white weenie decks and has seen some play in control decks but would probably see more play if it were a Kor Firewalker instead. As I think cards to hose strategies make games and construction less fun I avoid them. This is fine against any vaguely combat orientated deck, which is over half the field for most of my cubes, but not really good enough against the rest of the decks to deserve its slot.

Brave the Elements
Brave the Elements 1.5

This spell is a little more versatile in its applications than Harm's Way and is consequently less rubbish against control decks. Sadly it is more situational and therefore harder to gain maximum value out of that it is with Harm's Way. Generally these kinds of cards don't end up outside of mono white decks as when you have other colours to chose from you have way better options and solutions to fill out your slots with. As such the restriction on benefiting only white guys is mostly irrelevant although you do sometimes end up with some colourless dorks in those decks. Being able to give everything protection is why this card is so interesting as it fills several roles. It can protect a specific card from spot removal which is good for equipping and general tempo. It can act as a pseudo fog by allowing you to chump block with everything and keep them alive for the swing back or just actual chumping the following turn. Most importantly however it acts as a very mini Overrun in that it gives your whole army reasonable evasion and allows you to alpha strike where you normally would just be putting cards in the bin. It can even negate some mass removal spells, namely red ones. Overall it is a versatile and powerful card that suffers from being both situational in game and narrow for construction purposes.

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