Wednesday 30 May 2012

Agro Blue

Sea Drake
Although the title may seem oxymoronic agro blue has been not only viable for a couple of years now but also a tier 1 deck and has steadily been getting better. Agro blue is a separate archetype to the tribal Faeries or Merfolk, both of which often end up splashing a second colour. It is far more sustainable in a cube as all the cards are playable on their own unlike some of the niche tribal monsters such as Mistbind Clique or Lord or Atlantis. I also think it is significantly better than either Faeries or Merfolk can be as the singleton format really hurts them by forcing them to play very low quality cards to meet the curve and creature requirements. The tribal decks will goldfish more effectively and tend to look nicer as lists however as soon as they face disruption and really high average card power levels they tend to fall apart and have never been better than tier two decks that have some very good match ups complete with some appalling ones.

Wizards are the blue creature type with greatest depth but unlike Faeries or Merfolk there are few good reasons to play wizards, Voidmage Prodigy being the only one close to cube worthy and that is pushing it a little. The agro blue deck does have mostly wizards, of which many are merfolk or faeries and so it can support a few cards that are really powerful but require support from other archtypes like Silvergil Adept or that are fine in isolation but also enhance some of your guys like Coralhelm Commander.
Vedalken Shackles
This is one of the most unusual builds I have gone for and lacks many of the mainstay cards found in more typical builds. I was aiming for a build closer to Skies decks around the time of Masques block where relatively fat evasion dorks would kill while backed up by pitch counter magic. This was to test out some of the many new beefy three drop blue fliers I have just acquired. A couple of the latest Planechase cards have been very impressive and this would be an ideal deck to try the brand new Illusory Angel out for a second time alongside the archaic Sea Drake.

I had some controversial omissions and also made few build errors. The Snapcaster Mage was pretty awful and should have been a Waterfront Bouncer. That was the only major fault however there are many minors and likely some more calls up for debate too. Aether Vial was limp as I had a low creature count and would likely have been better as another cheap artifact mana provider I just felt I might need it well into the late game with high mana requirements from my deck on top of loads of things bouncing the few lands I was playing. Remand lacked any real synergy with the deck and should have been a dork despite being a good card and guaranteed to be much more powerful than any dork I could replace it with. I played Tamiyo over Jace despite the highly relevant mana cost difference in addition to Jace's higher power and synergy with Delver. I find Timayo a much better answer to threats and a more robust walker. She can also offer a greater influx of card rapidly which I felt I might need with my lack of other card advantage. Mostly though I am still gauging Timayo's power in various archetypes and she is coming up looking good thus far.

OppositionThe most controversial decision was leaving Opposition in the sidelines. Generally it is the best reason to play creatures in blue decks and is an utterly game breaking card. You make it, stop them casting things or attacking as you require and win in safety and comfort. This deck had few dorks and no cards which had any synergy with enchants meaning it would make all my cards like Aether Vial and Delver of Secrets weaker. I also really wanted to see if a blue deck was competitive without Opposition as it often seems to win with, often after a desperate recovery due to the Opposition top deck. This was a good way to see if your deck was actually any good back in formats with Umezawa's Jitte or Skullclamp where any deck with dorks could crush depending on the equipment draws. You would simply cut the equipment out of all the decks and replace with something appropriate, or even play 55 or so cards and adjust the mana base and play the decks against each other and quickly the few decent builds would emerge.

Other notable side liners were Cryptic Command, Vendilion Clique, Force of Will, Trinket Mage and Glen Elandra Archmage, all of which frequent the agro blue decks and perform consistently well. Mostly these were to free up space for cards I get to play less often than are purer for the style of the deck even if generally of less power. Force of Will is significantly more powerful than Foil or Thwart and would have been very good in the deck however the others allow me to play around more heavily with the lands for use with other cards. Vendilion Clique lost the slot due to me testing new cube additions that are both 3 drop fliers. Trinket Mage also lost his place as the 3 slot is so full but the decks dependence on islands makes putting the Seat of the Synod in actually quite damaging, particularly on top of the Faerie Conclave.

26 Spells
Æther Vial
Mana Crypt
Mox Diamond

Mental Misstep
Aether Vial
Vapour Snag

Delver of Secrets

Snapcaster Mage
Invisible Stalker
Spellstutter Sprite

Looter il-Kor

Kira, Great Glass-SpinnerIllusory Angel
Sea Drake
Vedalken Shackles
Sword of War and Peace

Kira, Great Glass Spinner
Grand Architect

Phyrexian Metamorph
Sower of Temptation

Timayo, the Moon Sage

14 Lands

Faerie Conclave
13 Islands

Vendilion CliqueI didn't really play enough games to get a good feel for the deck nor did I see loads of the cards but it did seem as if I was fine without Opposition. Having monsters that have both high power and toughness is huge for blue as it gives you some serious blocking power that often forces them to stop turning sideways. Typically blue has chumps you attack into like Sea Gate Oracle or valuable threats like Vendilion Clique that you are happy to trade with if they chose to block. I was very impressed with the Sea Drake, I was concerned it would be a little vulnerable at just three toughness and hurt you too much with the land return effect. For an aggressive deck, especially one like this the returning of lands was never much of an issue as you had control over it. The loss in tempo from losing two land was generally more than compensated by the massive evasive dork in play.

The way the agro blue deck tends to play is very unlike any other agro deck mostly due to the fact blue has very few good tempo one and two drops and those that it does have tend to have obscure synergies with cards you often don't want in the deck. Phantasmal Bear is a good example of one of blues best one drop tempo guys however the inability to equip him and the fact there is no redundancy for him make him a dodgy card to play. So turns one and two are spent setting up or not losing tempo with some disruption at best. Delver of Secrets is both good enough and complete with relatively easy to accommodate synergies. This does mean you occasionally do get the early tempo lead on agro decks however this is rare as well as the only viable way for this to happen. Even against control decks it is very easy to draw cards like Spellstutter Sprite that you want to hold rather than curve out with and so you rarely apply much early pressure. This is generally fine as the deck has the capacity to get huge tempo swings in the mid and late game.

Grand Architect
Grand Architect is the cornerstone of the deck, a bit like Goblin Warchief for his tribal crew, he enables a lot of the essential support artifacts while being a crusade for your rather flimsy dorks. It was his arrival that sparked the archetype and I cannot imagine an agro blue deck where I would not want him even costing three like most of the other good cards and despite his lack of flying! Kira, Great Glass-Spinner is another mainstay of the build even though she often has anti-synergy with important equipment. Not only do blue creatures get the smallest power and toughness for the mana but many of them play important roles in your strategy. Having them easily picked off with cheap effects is crippling when combined with your likely loss of tempo in the first two turns.

The deck relies to some extent on artifacts to support it in the areas it is weak, namely removal although the ability to gain life is quite reassuring. With the dorks tending to be quite flimsy equipment is also highly desirable and so various artifact synergies can creep into the deck. Grand Architect is a complete hero for facilitating this aspect of the deck and makes up somewhat for the rather expensive mana price you pay for your artifact solutions. With potential synergies cropping up all over the place from tribal effects to artifacts combined with a great depth in blue it is all too easy to try and do too much. I always find it much easier to build it from the perspective of what I will need in order to survive and then win rather than what will be good with what I have as the latter ends up being about half the cube.

Lighthouse Chronologist
One of the strength of the deck is that several of the guys can win the game almost on their own. Sower of Temptation is a complete joke if they cannot remove it, as is a top level Cryptologist or Chronologist. Glen Elandra tends to shut down the control and combo decks too. With equipment in play and lots of evasion on  your guys you have even more dangerous threats. The pay-off for having weak early turns compared to other agro decks is that you get to take extra turns, steal their monsters and counter spells for free which tends to win games in which you stabilize. As such the deck starts out as a control deck and then immediately switches into the agro players as soon as it is able which is rather an unusual strategy and part of the reason deck lists for agro blue look so odd. It is not uncommon for you to get so behind that you never fully get to become the agro player and win slowly by getting in with a two power flier every turn for what feels like eternity for all involved.

Some ramp is key in the deck and is well worth the card disadvantage which you will easily make up for against the decks where your tempo will be most behind. The deck has lots of good mana sinks and is generally quite mana hungry. My initial list was less so than most as I was intending on returning lots of my lands however in more common lists for which I have given an example of below after turn three you should have huge numbers of options every turn. When Aether Vial is good it is the best of the ramp even if you don't use it to get out a one or two drop. Saving yourself six or seven mana in the mid game on three and four drops is exactly the time you want it most as you wildly swing the game in your favour with your high curve agro deck. Things like Talismans are a bit weak as they don't help you get to your three drops any faster however few cards do help with this and they are sought after by most decks.

BonesplitterA more typical list

26 Spells

Chrome Mox

Aether Vial
Devler of Secrets
Hex Parasite

Enclave Cryptologist

Contagion Clasp
Spellstutter Sprite
Waterfront Bouncer
Lighthouse Chronologist

Voidmage Prodigy

Sower of TemptationKira, Great Glass-Spinner
Grand Architect
Trinket Mage
Vendilion Clique

Vedalken Shackles
Aether Adept

Sower of Temptation
Glen Elandra Archmage
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Force of Will
Temporal Manipulation

16 Lands

Faerie Conclave
Seat of the Synod
14 Islands

Ninja of the Deep HoursThe agro blue archetype is refreshingly different, very powerful, highly variable and good fun to play. I am reliably informed however that it is the dullest most depressing thing to play against so swings and roundabouts etc. It allows you a chance to play lots of cool cards like Ninja of the Deep Hours which might be a little more playable with the soulbond dork that gives flying. It can be quite easy to draft as many of the cards are hard to fit into other archetypes and will get you many a free win as people refuse to consider the possibility that you are an agro deck and continue to play as if you were control. The dorks don't matter too much, provided they are reasonably well curved (allowances made for being blue...) provided you have enough, complete with some ramp and some game winners such as the Shackles, the planeswalkers, Opposition and/or the equipment. The Architect is your best card but the deck can function fine without it. He is the perfect facilitator rather than the thing that wins it for you. This makes the deck draftable in most cube lists I have seen and is only improved relatively by being in clunkier cubes.

Monday 28 May 2012


Birthing PodI have managed to pull myself away from Diablo 3 long enough to play a quick cube and write up a quick analysis of one of the decks. Having given up competitive magic due to a serious World of Warcrack habit that cost me two years of my life I am highly wary of this new incarnation which is rather like the methodone of WoW...

There are many incarnation of The Rock in the cube and the archetype is diverse enough to warrant multiple features. This is one of the more popular builds of the deck of late although with Rock decks more than any other deck your build is very dependant on what you are trying to beat. Rock can beat anything but it will rarely have matchups greatly in its favour and does struggle to beat an entire meta, even if that is just two decks. This version of Rock is hinged on Birthing Pod and Recurring Nightmare and is very easy to mix up with Survival Rock due there being huge overlap in cards and much of the synergies. These engine builds of Rock tend to be the most midrange archetypes of the Rock. They have high creature counts to fuel the engine which makes them unable to act like a pure control deck despite having a strong late game due to the inherent card advantage the engines offer. With so many slots filled with utility dorks and engine cards there are few slots for efficient disruption like discard or removal.

Recurring Nightmare
Conversely despite having a very high creature count the deck will never be as quick or streamlined at goldfishing or being aggressive as the pure agro decks that exist in the cube as it will be slowed down by the engine cards and pricey utility dorks. The inability to out control the control decks or race the agro decks is not at all a problem as the beauty of most Rock variants is their ability to easily take up the mantle of the control or the agro player dependant on the matchup or gamestate. No other deck can so effectively play in a completely different style and do it so well and the midrange rock decks do this the best. When you face a control deck you try and beat them up and when facing an agro deck you just try to control and slow the game. It makes the Rock very interesting to play, most so in a matchup where both decks are somewhat midrange and who the is aggressor fluctuates a lot.

Elves of Deep Shadow
25 Spells

Elves of Deepshadow
Bird of Paradise
Jagora Treespeaker
Llanowar Elf

Tragic Slip

Elvish Visionary
Sylvan Ranger
Viridian Emissary
Strangleroot Geist

Brindle Shoat
Viridian EmissaryBlack Cat

Eternal Witness
Kitchen Finks
Viridian Shaman
Recurring Nightmare

Phyrexian Rager

Abyssal Persecutor
Birthing Pod

Acidic Slime
Wolfir Silverheart
Grave Titan

15 Lands

Treetop Village
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Twilight Mire
Overgrown Tomb
Verdant Catacombs
Llanowar Wastes
Golgari Rot Farm
4 Forest
2 Swamp

While this deck came to be after Birthing Pod was printed it is in many ways just redundancy for Recurring Nightmare. The Pod is much more effective in the early game but does quickly lose power as the game draws on. It also heavily requires you to build around it unlike the Nightmare which can be chucked into lots of decks. Because of Pod I wanted to play as many creatures as possible with a very smooth curve relating to the converted mana costs of those creatures. This ensures the maximum longevity for your Pod without diluting the deck with ways to reshuffle your graveyards. With so many cantrip dorks and mana dorks I can get away with a lower land count than most Rock decks and being so ruthless on the number of non-creatures I played I could play I managed to cram in 21 dorks. Many of these however were expensive slow cards like Viridian Shaman to make up for the lack of answers I otherwise had due to such a low spell count.

Abyssal PersecutorThe Tragic Slip was probably the most cuttable spell and was played just to give me some early game and trickery. Had the matchups been different (mono white control and UGw junk on this occasion) I would have played a one mana discard spell instead. This would have made the Black Cat a lot better as it had no support in my deck from other discard. As the list stands it is probably the weakest dork I am playing.
I felt I was lacking a few things that I couldn't fit into the deck, the most notable was a creature way to sacrifice dorks which has a number of applications such as triggering Skullclamp. Carrion Feeder is my favourite for this role but is rather more aggressive than this deck is designed to be and so I decided to forgo this luxury. While this was largely fine it did make playing Abyssal Persecutor rather riskier than I normally like.

I also wanted a Fauna Shaman to give me a little more control with my utility dorks however it only having synergy with Vengevine and to an extent the Nightmare while being slow and vulnerable I decided this was also an overly luxurious card to add. Murderous Redcap should have replaced one of the four drops as it has better synergy with the engine than Skinrender while performing a similar role. At this point the deck starts to veer towards a Melira combo deck and I was not wanting to build that so just steered clear of it all. A Vampire Nighthawk was a card I found my self wishing I had included a few times and would have given me some control of the skies enough to drop the risky Persecutor from the list.

Wolfir Silverheart
Brindle Shoat and Wolfir Silverheart were the new cards I was wanting to test. Wolfir took the slot that would normally be filled by Deranged Hermit and seemed pretty good although being so expensive often did not get played. The haste and scaling with other effects bonus four damage you get with souldbonding a dork to Wolfir is more threatening to your opponent than a Hermit and harder to play around. The greater total power and lack of echo are both in favour of Wolfir. His only real drawbacks compared to the Hermit are a weakness to spot removal and lower synergy with Overrun or Opposition however the extreme power to mana ratio of Wolfir is more than enough to compensated for this much of the time, you don't need to have an Overrun to just win with a Wolfir in play. The jury is still out as he mostly just a fatty and five drops get few slots in decks. Brindle Shoat was really good, much more so than I expected. It made you feel super safe against Wrath effects with no need to hold open mana as you do with cards like Caller of the Claw. Ontop of this it has great synergy with the deck as a whole and can work as a good speed bump or a pretty reasonable agro 2 drop. This deck does seem the perfect home for the Shoat and so it remains to be seen if he will make it in any other archetypes and get an A cube slot confirmed.

VengevineNo pernicious Deed may stand out as obscure and tends to only occur in the most agro of Rock builds however with so much utility on my dorks and it not being a dork while killing a few of my engine cards and being a bit slow made me happy to cull it. Had I been facing WW, RDW or Affinity this would probably not have happened. No Death Cloud is more of a surprise as I play that card in anything black pretty much. On this occasion my desire for a low spell count and the fact I was risking it a bit on land count while also having a relatively bulky top end all pointed to me putting aside my love of the card for just one cube and doing the sensible thing.

This is one of the harder Rock decks to play and a very fun build of the deck as you tend to always have lots of options. I had some really good games with the deck and although it did 2-0 as with all Rock decks it was by the skin of its teeth. In fact there has been much debate since about a controversial Elspeth ultimate play in the decider which was very close and could have gone either way. The key to building this deck is to not get over exited about all the different engines and synergies you can put in, I have seen so many decks try to be this deck and a Survival of the Fittest deck, which at 40 card decks you simply cannot do effectively. By all means play a Fauna Shaman if you like but don't then put in Survival, Rootwalla and Genesis and then a Bloodghast and a Liliana and so on.

Monday 21 May 2012


FrogmiteI have finally managed to finish the reviews of each card in my cube as it was three months ago, now I just have to review all the cards I have put in since then... Having spent so long on the reviews I have neglected other new posts for a while so though I should throw in this little affinity list as it is a deck that is mentioned a lot.

Affinity was one of the best decks for a long time and has had a steady flow of cards since Mirrodin first brought the deck onto the scene. Although it has improved over time as a cube deck the changes to damage on the stack rules hurt affinity more than most decks. Combat used to be impossible to come out ahead in against affinity if they had a Ravager in play. Now it is a little more in line with other aggressive decks that have also had a steady influx of juicy new cards to bolster the ranks. I consider affinity a tribal deck as so many of the important cards are unplayable outside of the various affinity builds. There are two reasons I have kept it viable in the cube; the first is that at least half of the cards in affinity would be in the cube without the affinity deck unlike Goblins or Elves (which are the next closest decks in terms of cards that make the optimal lists and that also have a cube slot regardless of whether the archetype is in there or not). The second reason is that it is a very fun deck to play and really quite unlike most others which spices things up and keeps it interesting.

Mox Opal26 Spells

Mox Opal
Mana Crypt

Arcbound Worker
Signal Pest
Chromatic Star

Disciple of the Vault
Springleaf Drum
Goblin Welder
Galvanic Blast

Disciple of the VaultTerrarion
Hex Parasite

Arcbound Ravager
Cranial Plating
Myr Retriever

Phyrexian Revoker

Master of Etherium
Tangle Wire
Yawgmoth's Will

Myr Enforcer

Blinkmoth Nexus14 Lands

Seat of the Synod
Tree of Tales
Vault of Whispers
Ancient Den
Great Furnce
Mishra's Workshop
Ancient Tomb
Blinkmoth Nexus
Inkmoth Nexus
Mishra's Factory
Tarnished Citadel
City of Brass
Darksteel Citadel

Other cube worthy affinity cards:
Thopter Foundry
Salvage Titan
Thopter Foundry
Wheel of Fortune
Shrapnel Blast
Etherium Sculptor
Somber Hoverguard
Chromatic Sphere
Aether Vial
Mana Vault
Talisman of Oncolour
Vault Skirge
Salvage Slasher
Ethersworn Canonist
Porcelain Legionnaire
Court Homunculus
Tempered Steel
Steel Overseer
Engineered Explosives
Dark Confidant
Trinket Mage
Stoneforge Mystic (or Cranial Plating #2 as it is better known in affinity)

AtogThis is a creature heavy three colour list which makes fixing and card advantage more important. The fixing is to support three colours (even if they do only total 7 cards) and the card advantage is to make up for the low average power level you suffer by packing lots of small and/or artifact creatures. You can go for a bit more ramp/fixing with things like Talismans and pack a  few more serious threats like Tezzeret the Seeker or Masticore Mk II. You can go for white instead of red to gain some interesting artifact dorks and the power of Tempered Steel however this build is the most dodgy for mana base and often requires significant other sacrifices to work.

When building a key thing to do, regardless of how many colours you have gone, is to play as few coloured spells as possible. So often you will keep a hand that has a coloured spell that it can play only to later draw ones it cannot. You can still easily win games without access to one or more of your colours in a game which rather needs to be the case with the erratic nature of the deck and the ease of disrupting its mana base. Another key thing to keep in mind is the average power level of your deck as it is all to easy to fill it out with things to streamline it and support the other cards and leave yourself lacking fire power. Affinity has few serious threats after Cranial Plating is dealt with and the initial swarm of gribblies has been held back. It is a very hard deck to balance and due to its erratic nature it is also much harder to asses the performance of overall builds. Sometimes you crush everything and seem invincible, other times you draft it and get crushed with very similar lists. I suspect it is the case some of the time that relatively subtle tweaks could significantly change the performance however for the most part the sample size of games over a cube session is too small and is likely just the odds working a little coincidentally.

Cranial PlatingAffinity is a very tenacious deck that can apply pressure on lots of fronts and that can easily recover from horrendous positions. Cheap draw 7 spells are at their finest in affinity which can jump right back into a game with one. It is however a deck with very little in the way of answers to anything much at all. It aims to have much bigger monsters much faster than other decks and in greater quantity to boot. This deals with most creatures and planeswalkers well enough but some spells, enchantments and artifacts can be pretty ruinous. For the most part you can just rely on winning before they get to draw/cast the problem card enough of the time to not worry about making your deck inconsistent to be able to deal with it. Engineered Explosives is the least dead and most synergic thing you can play if you are desperate for an out. Thoughtsieze is also an option all be it a very weak one. I have seen Vindicates and even counter magic hanging around fearful affinity decks not wanting to lose to cheese like Worship. Vindicate isn't awful but I am far from a fan and as for counterspells...

I find my most common build is straight UB although I suspect BR may be the best way to go in this day and age. Extra colours means worse mana and greater temptation to play more coloured spells. A few cards totally wreak you such as Austere Command and Pernicious Deed. Your ability to play loads of man lands goes a long way to solve this problem but generally it is a fair price to pay for the fact you will get total blow out draws that are pretty unbeatable. You get to have your fun with 15 permanents to their 3 on turn 3 as you swing for the kill and they get to return the favour by killing all of yours in one go on turn 6. It is also doubly fun when you manage to come back and win a game after you have been depermanented by something which is more likely in affinity than any thing else.

Saturday 12 May 2012

Miracle Deck!

In my most recent heads up cube I wanted to test out as many miracle cards as possible and so built this deck as a vessel in which to do that. It was both competitive and fun to play much to my surprise. I crammed in as many support cards for miracle as possible leaving out only Scroll Rack and weak one offs like Ponder. I then played every possible on colour miracle and worked the deck around that. Playing Reforge the Soul and Thunderous Wrath made the deck veer away from a counter burn deck and end up sort of tempo based control.

Temporal Mastery23 Spells

Sensei's Divining Top
Mystical Tutor
Noxious Revival

Lightening Bolt
Delver of Secrets

Punishing Fire
Lat-Nam's Legacy
Fire / Ice
Snapcaster Mage


BrainstormVendilion Clique
Chandra's Phoenix

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Chandra, the Firebrand
Cryptic Command

Devastation Tide
Reforge the Soul
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

Thunderous Wrath
Temporal Mastery
Bonfire of the Damned

17 Land (I should have blagged the Chrome Mox and cut a land)

Desolate LighthouseGrove of the Burnwillows
Forgotten Cave
Faerie Conclave
Desolate Lighthouse

Cascade Bluffs
Volcanic Island
Steam Vents
Scalding Tarn

Shivan Reef
Izzet Boilerworks
Tropical Island
Wooded Foothills

3 Islands
2 Mountains

Reforge the SoulWhile this deck worked pretty well if I were to build a miracle based deck again it would either be UWR control or Ru with artifact ramp and have a proper control deck or a serious tempo deck and not some mid way mess between the two. Unsurprisingly Reforge the Soul was not a great fit in the deck but did still impress me with its potential. It is quite easy to set up cards to miracle out at the end of an opponents turn thus giving you seven new cards with all you mana to get first use out of them. Temporal Mastery I have tried once before and on both occasions it has been very much like Time Walk, while less convenient to cast it is only slightly so in a dedicated deck such as this. This makes it a very good card although the exile does keep it in control somewhat.

The card that stood out most of the test subjects was Bonfire of the Damned which was a bit of a surprise. Casting it for 3 or 5 mana normally turns out to be pretty game changing so when you manage to set it up well from a miracle cast it is ridiculous. The ability to use it as instant speed mass removal gets around real problem cards for control decks such as man lands. Thing thing that stood out most for me on the card was that it is highly effective against planewalkers as it not only damages them directly but also clears the way for your men to finish them off if needs be. This makes me wonder if Entreat the Angels may be powerful enough for a cube spot after my initial disdain towards the card. If so it still wont be close to the power of the Bonfire at least.
Bonfire of the Damned
While the expensive miracle cards have been impressing more than expected the cheaper ones have been much more lack lustre. While Vanishment or Thunderous Wrath are pretty decent when you just raw dog them off the top it turns out most of the time a Shock would have been better. The cheaper utility spells like Fire / Ice need very specific timings to get most benefit from them and this makes the cheaper miracle cards too much phaff to set up. While the prowess of Bonfire has made me reconsider Entreat, the limitations of Vanishment and Wrath have cast doubts over Banishing Stroke which I have also yet to play with.

Tamiyo, the Moon SageOther new cards seeing play in this deck were Tamiyo and Desolate Lighthouse although Noxious Revival is sort of a new card in terms of its effectiveness with miracle. Tamiyo is fine, I stand by my initial review of her and think she is the third best 5 mana walker and likely to be in the top 10 of all walkers. The Lighthouse turned out to be a little better than expected. It is probably the best of the entire cycle of Innistrad block dual colour activation utility lands. Its uses extend beyond one or two archetypes, it is versatile enough to be considered for basically any deck with blue and red in it, in which the only reason it will not make the cut will be for colour issues alone. Expending four mana is a lot for a minor effect but not so much as to make it unusable, particularly as you can include the card almost at no cost.

The deck was mostly fun because you had to set yourself up for miracles so you got to mess around with Top and similar spells but you had an obvious aim making it easier but also a little more like a combo deck. The sillier decks are often the most fun to play, especially when they put up a good fight which this was able to do because it was chock full of powerful cards!

Here is a possible list for the UWR miracle control deck I suggested might be one direction to improve on the miracle theme.

Entreat the AngelsChrome Mox
Zuran Orb

Sensei's Divining Top
Mystical Tutor
Spell Pierce

Swords to Plowshares

Lightening Helix
Snapcaster Mage

Isochron Scepter
Sensei's Divining TopArcane Denial
Lat-Nam's Legacy


Trinket Mage

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Elspeth, Knight Errant

Gideon Jura

Temporal Mastery
Bonfire of the Damned

16 Lands (I cannot be bothered to work out a sensible mana base for a deck I'm not going to battle with, sorry. It would contain at least one man land and lots of duals if that helps.)

I think it is good to go all out and try cube decks that focus on mechanics such as proliferate or miracle as it shows the potential and direction for those cards in the cube. While most of them contain too many narrow cards to be cube mainstays they are great fun and often surprisingly competitive. The only proliferate card to be cube worthy is Contagion Clasp and thus not enough to base anything other than a few synergies on. Miracle looks set to have far more representatives and could well become an archetype in its own right, at the very least it will be a direction you can take existing archetypes. These test decks allow you to see very quickly which your best support cards are and what the best interactions with other cards are. In the case of miracle I thought it would be Brainstorm and Jace that were the best cards however Divining Top outshone them both doe to cost, ease of use, recursive use and most importantly the ability to trigger reliably in opponents turns. This still means blue is by far and away the best support colour for miracle as it has Trinket Mage to go and find Top and both Brainstorm and Jace are still fantastic, both for miracle and in their own right.

Saturday 5 May 2012

Modo Cube Drafting

I first wrote this just after the first time cube came to modo but never got round to finishing it and posting it. We are now in the middle of cube modos second outing and I have managed to get a lot more drafts in this time round. I did 4 last time and am now on my 8th this time round. Things are going pretty well although I have had almost exclusively mono beatdown decks and mostly red ones at that. Mostly I have been doing the 8-4 although impatience has led me to regret doing a few 4322 and swiss drafts (as the ques are less full) in which the winnings are lower and my decks end up a lot more inconsistent. When drafting with more skilled players everyone tends to end up with better, more consistent decks as people react to signals better and end up hate drafting far less. Unsurprisingly my control decks have performed the worst while my mono coloured decks have done the best.

12 decks

1 White weenie 3-0
1 mono black agro 3-0
1 WB weenie geddon 2-1
1 Boros Deck Wins 3-0
1 UW control 1-1 (4322)
1 The Rock 1-2 (swiss)
1 Big Red 3-0
1 Ponza 2-1
4 RDW 0-1, 3-0, 2-1, 1-1

(returning to what I started 3 weeks ago mostly just to fill the void left by the absence of online cube drafting...)

So the best format in magic comes to best medium for fair and diverse play – Magic online cube draft! I only managed to do four drafts this weekend due to not realising it was only here for the weekend. While I still prefer my cube list I am greatly anticipating the return of the format, ideally for good. My understanding is that Wizards make less money from a cube draft online than normal drafts where the packs must also be supplied and as such the opportunity cost of allowing people the option of cube will harm their revenue as people who would otherwise be drafting normally will cube instead. I don't normally play Modo and neither do many of my friends however we were all online this weekend to try it out. Regardless of the profitability I also think it is a little harsh to tease players like this, guess its back to playing real life people for no tix for me. Right, whine over and onto discussing the cube Wizards used.

It is a 720 card de-powered cube with even colour splitting which seems very sensible for use solely in 8 man drafts. It has a higher average power level than my cube, a higher mana curve and less narrow “synergy” cards. Being 720 cards you will only ever see half of the card pool in a draft which means putting too many narrow cards in will lead to a lot of dead picks which is not ideal when you only have 45 cards from which to build your deck. The main result of these differences is that the games feel much more like limited games than constructed games which is neither a good nor bad thing but simply wise to observe. The two basic archetypes are; generic limited control decks that stall, stay alive and aim to cast massive powerful bomb cards and agro cheap things to try and kill people before they make anything too broken. You can do combo decks or mimic constructed archetypes but you have to be lucky to get the things you need and shouldn't try to force them if you want to stand a good chance of winning the event.

Their choices of cards that were too powerful to include interested me greatly. Their banned list as it were is very similar to mine only allowing Umezawa's Jitte, Karakas and Strip mine to be used from it but also adding Mind Twist, Timetwister, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Mishra's Workshop and Mana Drain to the list. The last two I can entirely appreciate and even Mana Crypt can be rather unfair however the others seems a little overly cautious. I got a last pick Mind Shatter, add a mana to the cost of the other banned cards and they are all still very high picks. Mind Twist can be tedious but only as much as Hymn to Tourach can be, with most of the other fast mana gone Mind Twist is even less frightening. I imagine Jitte will ruin lots the games it turns up in but the full set of swords were doing a good job of that anyway so its not too big of a deal. Karakas has had an errata which makes it less tedious only being able to bounce creatures. The Strip Mine is the most dangerous card that has been left in the format, particularly as Crucible of the Worlds is also at large but also with the high curve and low number of duals.

There are a few cards that seem like massive omissions. Green does not have Overrun which is a huge card for the colour and gives it real reach. Blue is missing Grand Architect which makes the aggressive blue strategies far less appealing. Red has not been given Burst Lightening or Seal of Fire which may be intentional so as to keep red deck wins style decks in check as they are one of the obvious best aggressive archetypes. Bonesplitter is one of the best equipment cards and would be especially brutal in this slower format. Missing the Talismans is also a shame as they are much more reliable colour fixing and ramp than the various alternatives used like Fellwar Stone. Smallpox and Kor Skyfisher are two cards I highly rate that are also missing. No cards are essential in a cube however and these omissions free up space for other interesting cards.

There are also a good number of cards I have tried and found under-powered such as Basalt Monolith or just used in way to few decks (usually gold cards). In a colour balanced 720 card cube this is to be expected and does give rise to more unusual situations. There are also a decent number of cards I haven't thought to try or simply haven't got round to trying which I look forward to testing with an open mind. Frenzied Goblin stands out as a card I had never entertained as viable for the cube but that could actually be quite handy in certain decks. I have not played with shadow monsters in the cube for a long time. Back in the day non agro decks didn't play much in the way of monsters and so evasion wasn't such a big deal. As creatures have got better and planeswalkers are common evasion has become more valuable in the cube. I have had shadow guys in half of my cube decks on modo (after 4 drafts, sadly red is lacking in shadow cards) so far (the better performing decks) and have been very impressed with them and expect some to see a long awaited return to my cube.

There is far less mana fixing in the modo cube than I am used to and far less land in general. This further increases the limited feel of the format and makes fixing a high pick. Aggressive decks cannot really go for more than two colours unless they are very fortunate with lands and should aim to splash rather than even split where possible. Many of the cheap two and three drop monsters have double mana costs which needs to be carefully monitored while making picks. Consistency in aggressive decks is of great importance and with this cube as it is the best option is to go mono coloured where possible and if not should prioritise on colour duals over most other things. The slower decks are able to get away with more janky splashes and colours in general but it is still an issue none the less. Looking at my 12 drafts I have gone mono two thirds of the time, two of which were very light splashes in the 2nd colour and all of which had pretty reasonable fixing and still they are the under-performing decks.

Planeswalkers are plentiful in this cube and are usually very high picks. There is an abundance of removal, particularly mass removal for most permanents in this cube however planeswalkers are hard to deal with and make for the most reliable threats. Equipment is also proving better in this cube than in mine. The slower format helps as does high quantity of mass creature removal. Powerful equipment allow you to extend better without losing to mass removal as fewer permanents are hit and also allows you to recover from mass removal more easily as one equipped monster can be a serious threat. In a generic good stuff deck an ideal situation is to have the majority of your creatures as cheaper utility guys that ideally offer some value when played or killed with a couple of decent bits of equipment and as many on colour planeswalkers as you can pick up.

Removal of all forms is highly valuable in modo cube. Mass removal is great but only applicable in certain kinds of deck and so targetted removal of all forms is important to pick up, often more so than the powerful threats. Obviously creatures are the main thing you want to be able to kill but having cards that can take out other permanent types are very useful even if you end up leaving them in the sideboard. I probably wouldn't maindeck a pure artifact kill spell such as Smash to Smithereens until I saw something I really wanted to be able to kill but I would happily maindeck a Naturalize as you have many more possible targets. Pillage is another card in this vein I find I always play when I have it.

Here are just a few cards that jump out at me as really happy first picks you could have in this format:

Umezawa's Jitte
Swords of This and That
Elspeth, Knight Errant
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Mox Diamond
Chrome Mox ( I keep seeing these going very late
Lightening Bolt
Goblin Guide
Sulphuric Vortex
Strip Mine
Crucible of Worlds
Bird of Paradise
Swords to Plowshares
Path to Exile
Vedalken Shackles

My Big Red List:

23 Spells

Spikeshot Elder
Mogg War Marshal
Coldsteel Heart
Mind Stone
Everflowing Chalice

Pristine Talisman
Paladium Myr
Worn Powerstone
Wheel of Fortune
Chandra's Phoenix

Solemn Simulacrum
Chandra, the Firebrand
Goblin Ruinblaster

Chandra Nalaar

Inferno Titan
Myr Battlesphere
Sundering Titan
Burning of Xinye
Devil's Play

17 Lands

City of Traitors
16 Mountains


Platinum Angel
Phyrexian Processor
Mind Slaver
Smoke Stack
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Time Spiral ( I show these two blue cards to make a point of consistency > power)

To conclude this little into and exploration of modo cube I would say that the best way to win is having a mono coloured beatdown deck with a curve that is tailing off around the four slot. When this is not an option or not desirable then be very mindful of your priorities. Big bomb cards are abundant in this cube particularly compared to normal booster drafts where as removal and fixing are not so plentiful. When making a normal looking non-mono good stuff deck I would prioritise mana fixing followed by removal, then followed by useful low curve cards taking big power bomb cards only when there is no other pick or you feel properly saturated on the other cards. Winning however is not what cube is about so instead take no notice of what I have said and pick the most fun card every time!