Friday 6 July 2012

More Reviews: A Cube Blue

(This selection of review posts I will continue to add to as more cards get returned to the cube that were not in my original list and consequently not on my first set of comprehensive reviews. Those reviews are large enough and ordered enough that it is best to leave them alone. I will also re-review new cards that become cube mainstays once they have settled in as it were. My preview of the new set releases misses aspects of the card which experience will fill in. For some cards it is quickly obvious how wrong I am and where, typically this is for the most played and most powerful new cards, primarily as they are seeing lots more play than the more marginal ones. Explore and Harmonize have been around for a long enough time, even with only mild playtime for me to give a fair review of the card. Wolfir Silverheart is a rare example of a card so powerful it is getting lots of play and is very clear to see its strengths and where it fits in. The Wolfir Avenger is a card that will be a lot longer in getting to a point I am happy to give a final review to even though it was added at the same time as Silverheart. It sees less play and is more a more subtle card, it is also more similar to other cards in the cube and so runs the risk of being reviewed on the merits and failings of those cards rather than its own. Anyway, all this is simply to say, watch this space as I will be continually adding reviews to this post.)

Mystical Tutor

Mystical Tutor 2.0

As more and more combo decks fell from the A cube the Mystical Tutor lost much of its value. Mystical Tutor gave some combo decks the option of dropping black due to having sufficient draw, card quality and tutor effects from blue alone. Being restricted to instants and sorceries is not too savage as most answers and lots of combo pieces as well as some of the most powerful and game changing effects fall into those categories. Not having to pay life to get a card as Vampiric Tutor requires is pleasant however those few times you lose to not being able to fetch a land alone are enough to make it the worse choice. With combo dwindling and control not wanting to lose card advantage Mystical got benched until miracle arrived for which the synergy is too great to ignore. I like the card anyway as tutor effects offer lots of choices and make for taxing and interesting games so was happy to bring it back. It is showing up now more in UW and UR tricksy control decks where it can be abused with miracles and allow a lighter compliment of answer cards to be played. The power of late game threats and the extra spaces allotted to them in decks compensates well for card disadvantage.

Show and TellShow and Tell 2.0

Tedious, cheesy, lottery all spring to mind regarding this spell. I am not a huge fan but rather more for the design than the power level which is more than adequate for the cube. With Sneak Attack, the reanimate package and some of the fatties that go with that all being brought back into the A cube it seemed rude not to bring Show and Tell back too despite my prejudice. Essentially it is just an Exhume in blue that has no need for you to get your guys in the bin first. You pay an extra mana for this which is fair enough and get to abuse cards like Emrakul that are not big on going to the graveyard. You can even dump in other permanents however I have yet to see this be effective when not a creature. It feels a lot like losing to a Tinker which is another card I am not the biggest fan of as it feel like putting all your eggs in one basket. So long as they continue to print absurdly good monsters at the very top end cards like this that can abuse mana costs will be cube worthy, despite not being guaranteed to be fun for all players. Another reason I dislike Show and Tell is that it wants you to put in lots of quite narrow support cards to be at its best.

Serendib Efreet
Serendib Efreet 3.0

I love to be able to bring back classic cards and the format seems right for this guy at present. Flying is amazing and blue has enough dorks for it to be able to build creature decks too. Blue has few creatures with such a good ratio of power and toughness to mana cost and less still low on the curve. The Efreet can block and live through doing so almost every creature in the cube that costs the same or less. Only Vampire Nighthawk is able to block and kill it and it dies in the process. When you have a card that is in some way on par with Nighthawk you know you have a very good card! Although I mentioned blue having enough dorks to make a creature based deck this is also pretty good in control decks despite the life loss although I suspect Fetter Geist would be better most of the time. Blue does have a vast array of powerful flying creatures that cost three mana but this is the most reliable of the bunch having only a consistent minor drawback. Sea Drake and Illusory Angel can both be better but this requires some effort in design while the Efreet is just good all of the time. Vendilion Clique is arguably a better card but it fulfils a very different role due to having three less toughness. If fails to dominate the board in quite the same way and is not something you are happy to get stuck in combat with. Being able to cheaply gain control of the board is very important in current magic as it paves the way for you to establish your planeswalkers while at the same time makes their walkers a lot less effective. This is all amplified by the flying side of the card and is well worth the life cost.

Riftwing Cloudskate
Riftwing Cloudskate 2.3

This is one of those cards that a cube wont miss if it is not in but wont seem out of place when it is. No decks need it nor even auto include it but it is pretty playable in most decks. Cards like this are good for draft formats and I am happy enough to be bringing it back. The reasons behind which are reasonably convoluted, blue has a huge glut of three drop monsters to which I have recently added a whole lot more like the jolly fellow above and so I was looking to trim the ranks of blue three drops. In this bracket I found Aether Adept to be the most cuttable. The Riftwing is an attempt to replace that kind of comes into play bounce on a dork effect. It is not at all a direct replacement but I think Riftwing is the superior card. The body is more useful with flying even if it is a weaker creature type, the bounce is more versatile and makes the card have much broader application and the mana cost is variable giving you yet further versatility and smoothness. Blue lacks decent tempo things to do on turn two and Riftwing is a good use of your mana on turn two even if you don't get any tempo advantage for a few more turns. Five mana is a bit steep but in the late game it matters a lot less about the cost and a lot more about the immediate impact, this flexibility makes the card much stronger rather like Mull Drifter. Another reason I added this back into the A cube was to give Illusory Angel that little bit more playability with suspend giving you a manaless cast to plan around.

Boomerang 2.4

I have always sat on the fence regarding which I think is the better card out of Boomerang and Into the Roil. The ability to hit lands verses easier casting cost and optional cantrip kicker. Into the Roil is more consistent of a card but on the odd occasion when you want to hit a land my good god is it utterly ruinous. Vapour Snag has been outstanding in the cube and has been jokingly called the blue Plow. While I doubt Boomerang is going to be getting dubbed the blue Vindicate any time soon the principle is much the same. Tempo is harder to get in the cube than card advantage, especially for blue and so cheap cover all disruption/removal is really useful. Up until Vapour Snag started to impress (I considered putting Unsummon in the cube too...) I would never have considered putting both Boomerang and Into the Roil in the cube as it was a fringe card and unlikely to be desired in multiples. I am putting Boomerang back in to see if more bounce is made use of in the hope that it is and I don't have to chose between it and Roil. Compared to into the Roil Boomerang is more devastating on an Isochron Scepter and more at home in bounce themed decks which frequently turn into pseudo land destruction decks. Otherwise I suspect the choice as to which people will play will be based on the anticipated matchups. If people are getting Gung ho with bounce lands, City of Traitors and Lack of the Dead then Boomerang will be the more effective card in your deck.

Inkwell LeviathanInkwell Leviathan 2.5

This card is often a counterpart to Sphinx of the Steel Wind, it can be cheated into play by all the same mechanisms. It is one of the most easily cheated into play cards along with the Sphinx as it is an artifact and a creature while still having colour and can reside in a graveyard. It also compliments Sphinx in that it is quite tricky to deal with for quite a lot of decks. It has a slightly quicker clock than the Sphinx but leaves you a lot more vulnerable while you try to kill them, it is also fairly unplayable for the cost if you are not cheating it into play and so it only ever goes in combo decks unlike the Sphinx which has been run in the odd control build. It is particularly good against blue for the extra evasion although better at staying alive against white and black decks than the Sphinx of the Steel Wind is. Red and green decks may still not be able to kill it but they can just block it or kill you. Really I just see this as a combo piece and so it is somewhat narrow, it is not even that powerful compared to many of the possible targets, it is just so highly convenient.

Looter il-Kor
Looter il-Kor 3.0

I have been impressed with this card since its most recent return. It has always been one of those borderline cards that pops briefly into the cube to spice it up then sees to little play and leaves again. This time however blue has really powered up on the creature front and has a lot more decks that play dorks and wins by attacking. This Looter is a lot of things all in one neat package and so gets a lot of slots for doing two different things in the deck, sometimes you need a two drop to even your curve, sometimes you need evasion to utilize other effects and have a way of winning, sometimes you simply need more bodies in your build, sometimes you are land light and really want some more early draw to make your land drops more likely and sometimes you have some situational spells you really want a good way of putting to alternate use. When you are nearing a complete deck and you have just a few slots left but several holes still to plug I am often finding Looter to be a go to guy. The only other creature with shadow in my cube can't block so this is basically unblockable which makes this as reliable as any other looting effect dork. Part of why this is so playable is that blue is very thin on the ground for good playable aggressive one and two drops and while this does not scream aggression it is a fantastic support dork and scales very well with equipment and other pump effects. It is at least proactive on two fronts as well so works in most decks. I think this Looter will be staying in the A cube now for quite some time.

Attunement 1.8

This is a lovely little combo card that is a mainstay in a few and viable in many combo decks. It is not quite as abusable as Frantic Search but is in a similar vein of card. Unfortunately combo is still in a lull in terms of cube viability and three mana spells that have no effect on the board spell death against a lot of decks. In powered cubes effects like this are far more abusable and make it more deserving of a slot while in my present cube it rarely sees play. Although perfect for Reanimator decks it is too slow compared to the likes of Faithless Looting to get a place. The best deck for Attunement is Opalessence where it does everything you want, filling up your graveyard, digging deep into your deck and being an enchantment so as to help in the finishing blow. It is also quite good in Heartbeat of Spring storm style decks where you have sufficient draw and mana to offset the card and mana requirements of Attunement.  In such decks it is really only much use when you are already going off and so consequently is not a high value card in that deck either. The ability to repeatedly draw three cards for a lowly three mana with the potential advantage of filling up your bin is always going to be interesting and worth keeping in the back of your mind for decks but Attunement's time to shine is not right now.

Brain Freeze
Brain Freeze 2.5

One of the best combo finishers out there for many reasons. It is blue which is the most common combo colour, it is cheap and instant allowing for easier wins past disruption, it scales rather unfairly well with 40 card decks over 60 card ones and it works off storm which is generated by lots of combo decks and is hard to counter. A very tedious card when Cunning Wish was in the cube as it would so often come out of nowhere and end games both in combo decks trying to do one things and just wishing for Freeze and winning that way instead or from a control deck killing a mid going off combo deck that plays a draw spell. It is easier to hose mill effects than damage or even many dorks (the other typical storm finishers) with cards like Emrakul or Gaea's Blessing or at least survive them due to an in play Necropotence. This is not so much of an issue as it is wiser to stop the storm if possible rather than the mill as it serves as more effective disruption for what the rest of the deck is about as well. It is not a very exciting card and is basically dead weight until the very last minute and so I do not have a huge love of it but with combo struggling in the present meta it is a welcome necessity.

Venser, Shaper Savant
Venser, Shaper Savant 2.5

This Boomerang come Remand style dork is pretty decent and often gets less credit than he deserves. He is both expensive and relatively low impact at first glance. You typically don't get card advantage with him and you might expect the tempo gains to be offset rather by having spent 4 mana for a poxy 2/2. These are all true of the card and stop him from being a real power house or a mainstay in any archetype but they are not sufficient to render him unworthy of an A cube slot. He is quite playable in most decks with the general exception of combo and tends to fulfil several roles within your deck thus being excellent filler. The four mana is a lot but having flash goes a really long way to solving this, it makes him playable in control and far easier to get lots of value from. Generally it is harder to lose tempo with a card when it has flash and makes it far safer, as well as all the other perks and tricks that comes with it. Being both a dork and an effect is always nice too as you get something you want with a bonus something thrown in. Control typically wants the bounce effect but is very greateful for the expendable blocker that comes with it. Generally the bounce effect is used over the Remand style one simply for the reason there are more often targets for it! There are relatively few expensive spells that paying 4 to return one to the hand is not amazing most of the time as well although stopping something like a Titan from getting its come into play effect can be pretty huge. Even with its lower usage the Remand option on the bounce makes you feel very safe when you have a Venser up, like a weak Cryptic Command. Bounce is really really good in cube, it is cheap and often effective removal and aids blue greatly in an area it is otherwise weak in. Venser is particularly good in that he is utility bounce that can hit lands as well as other permanent types. This is less abusable than it is on a card like Boomerang as it costs four but it still very powerful with there being man lands, Lake of the Dead and bounce lands all over the place. As he is a dork you can also soft lock people out of the game with cards like Waterfront Bouncer or get other utility from him that you cannot with many other good bounce effects. He is also not really reduced in power by being a legend as so many of the more costly ones are as he is not so important to keep in play for the investment as others and gets you value when cast for against Karakas abuse. Venser is less good as an agro card than Riftwing Cloudskate but is superior in all other regards and for all other archetypes while being a very similar kind of card.

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