Monday 13 February 2012

Heads up cube deck analysis: Part 2 - BW pox

Pox This is a deck I build to test as many of the Dark Ascension cards as I could cram into a single Archetype. It is also a reasonable example of how the black based pox style decks look. I mention this archetype lots as it is highly versatile, powerful, fun and different to play. When the archetype first reared its head in constructed it was known as Pox as that was the main card in the deck. Pox is still powerful but also very hard to engineer compared to the alternatives and now resides in the B cube. Death Cloud has taken the spotlight for being the most powerful disruption effect in these decks and so they should probably be called cloud decks even though they work more like the Pox decks of old than the new Cloud decks in modern.

Death Cloud

The aim of the deck is to stop the other deck from getting going with a small amount of early disruption which is then followed up with powerful symmetrical sacrifice effects to try and lock your opponent out of the game while you make threats that cope well with the sacrificing. Generally it is a combination of cards that are good to discard, produce multiple permanents, accelerate mana, cost very little or offer effects when sacrificed. With disparate threats and many of your spells also damaging your decks ability to do much it is a slow deck that grinds down an opponent while slowly pulling ahead. Here is my list;

25 Spells

Chrome Mox
Mana Crypt

Diregraf Ghoul
Carrion Feeder
Tragic Slip
Cabal Therapy
Inquisition of Kozilek

Stoneforge Mystic
Doom Blade
Black Cat
Orzhov Signet

Loxodon Warhammer
Lingering Souls
Liliana of the Veil
Geralf's Messenger

Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Braids, Cabal Minion

Death Cloud

15 Land

Gravecrawler8 Swamp
Godless Shrine
Marsh Flats
Caves of Koilos
Orzhov Basilica
Flagstones of Trokair
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Other Considerd Cards

Tidehollow Sculler
Dark Ritual + Yawgmoth's Will

The main card I was testing was Gravecrawler as I felt it had the most potential to become a cube mainstay and allow new archetypes to evolve. For this reason I threw in a whole bunch of one mana zombies as they are cheap threats and good sacrificial permanents as well as triggering the Crawler. Carrion Feeder is fantastic with Crawler and Bloodghast, and Sarcomancy is one mana for two permanents, albeit you are only able to sacrifice one of them to all the effects bar Smokestack. Going in this direction rather than heavier discard or more ramp is consistent and offers better early tempo but will reduce the late game power of the build. Not being able to play many expensive cards anyway this is not a big price etc pay as the late game options are not vast for these decks.

Tragic Slip impressed me on its first outing and seems to be comparable to Disfigure in usefulness. Most of the time the two cards would have done the same thing, once the Slip required a suboptimal play to become useful and once it killed a Titan pleasing me greatly. The Black Cat also impressed me and will likely remain an A cube option for black. Being a zombie is a nice bonus, as is the synergy with sacrifice effects. As a defensive monster is where the Cat was most impressive as it really disrupted both early and mid-game attacks. Lingering Souls was outstanding but not quite in the way I expect. I thought I would be pitching the card for efficient flashback costs but I always found myself wanting to cast it twice and have a load of flying men to win me the game. This makes it more of a gold card but still seemingly of enough  power to retain its A cube slot.

Geralf's MessengerGeralf's Messenger is harder to assess the strength of. His coming into play tapped is really significant and greatly reduces his power. Casting him was no problem in this deck but it still an issue with the card and means even if he is good when he is played that won't happen all that much. Once in play he was never the target of removal or really even blocked which meant he did lots of damage but didn't impact the game much beyond that. It is much clearer now that this card can only be used in aggressive strategies or as a sacrificial body for which it is a bit on the pricey side. Typically I never saw Sorin or the Crawler so cannot really offer any feedback on them. At least I am still confident enough in both of their power levels to be able to not worry about them taking up space in the cube.

While still building the deck I felt I needed a little more life gain and a little more card advantage so as to be able to survive the sacrificing effects. I already had included Skullclamp in the build but basically nothing else on either front excepting Sorin. Having already splashed white for Sorin, Vindicate and Lingering Souls I was pretty happy to include a Stoneforge Mystic to increase the redundancy on my Clamp. This also made it much better to run a life gaining equipment as it enhances the use of the Mystic, solved another concern for my deck and also turned my weak threats into much more significant ones. It is a bit clunky but Loxodon Warhammer fit the bill in the absence of Jitte.

The Orzhov Signet was the worst card in the deck by a mile and was a real pain in how it provided its mana. Although I didn't have mana issues it should almost certainly just been another land. I generally feel these decks need some targetted discard to be viable as it really enhances the power of your sacrifice and non-targetted discard effects and gets you through the scary early turns much better than generic 2/2 monsters will. I played a minimal package of Therapy and Inquisition which would have been much bigger without the high zombie count.

There were many cards I wanted to play but could not find room for once the core of the deck was in place and I had added the cards I wanted to test and plugged the remaining holes. Sinkhole is just fantastic synergy with the sacrifice effects and adds some redundancy to Smallpox. It compliments them much like the targetted discard compliments Liliana. Against decks without alternate mana sources the Sinkhole is too good not to include but against Zoo and Big Red with mana critters and artifact mana respectively it felt like Sinkhole would not be buying me enough time to warrant a slot. Sknirender and Tidehollow sculler are both just reasonably good all round monsters that have reasonable synergy with what the deck is doing in addition to both being the cherished zombie type. With these both being filler cards and the deck tight on space I was not distraught leaving them out. Bitterblossom has great synergy but is just too slow really and the life loss can start to be a problem for the deck. Lingering Souls seems better in the deck despite only taking the Bitterblossom's slot on this occasion for being new.

Dark Ritual and Yawmoth's Will add a lot of extra oomph to the deck but reduce the consistency. It felt like I had to chose between the Will and associated cards or the Stoneforge and her package. The latter solved more of the decks issues and seems the better choice in the creature heavy builds. The deck worked fine and went 1-1 being able to defeat Zoo in the way the deck should operate but not having enough speed to deny Big Red the chance to make fearsome threats for which the deck did not have enough power or late game cards to recover from. The deck may be build or tuned in a number of different ways so as to be able to beat a wide selection of match ups, typically however it struggles against any deck heavily using artifacts and decks playing lots of burn. Tuning the deck to cope with those strategies is less effective, although not pointless, and will tend to be more harmful to the decks success in other match ups. Cards like Nevinyrral's Disk start to look useful despite being really slow and clunky, or Zuran Orb which is near dead against most control and combo decks.

Mostly the article is to show the kind of deck I mean when I talk about Pox style decks or Death Cloud decks as I so often do, rather than to show off a great example of deck building or a really exciting new build. The opportunity to evaluate some of the new cards was also good from which I would say Black Cat, Tragic Slip and Lingering Souls all deserve a small bump up to the ratings I offered them in my initial set review. While I did not draw the Gravecrawler I was able to appreciate how much I wanted to draw him in the context of a deck built to showcase him well in one of the two main archetypes in which he might feature. Outside of starting hands he was not a card I was ever desperate to draw and suspect his rating may slightly slip to a 3.5 but the jury is still out for now.

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