Saturday 7 July 2012

More Reviews: A Cube Colourless

(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.)

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Emrakul, the Eons Torn 3.0

The single most powerful card every printed returns to the cube along with its essential support cards. Despite the power of the card, and its utility, in a cube without Tolarian Academy 15 mana is beyond prohibitive for seeing play. Green ramp decks that dip into the B/C cube can support him however I have found most of those too narrow for the A cube and general drafting. There are many ways to cheat Emrakul into play, some for just a turn, some without casting him but all very effective at ending the game. Sneak Attack, Show and Tell and Oath of Druids are the best three ways to Emrakul someone although others exist. While a boon for reanimator decks the graveyard reshuffle effect is of great use in some decks, most notably Oath ones as it is all to easy to mill yourself to death or effectively do so by putting all your outs in the bin. Often fragile decks like this would need to pack a card dedicated to dealing with this problem however Emrakul offers this as a little bonus while also being your win condition. His other application is to be Erratic Explosion bait although he is not the best in this role and so needs to serve other purposes in the deck to be used as such. He can be rather cheesy and dull to lose to and is inconsistent at best but is really the sort of card that should be in a cube and so I do not begrudge him his slot, certainly not as much as Blightsteel Colossus who is even more tedious with Tinker.

Myr Retriever
Myr Retriever 2.0

This little guy fits in lots of decks and offers a great deal of utility to them in a selection of ways. In affinity he is another body to equip, a great sacrificial artifact and often enough a second copy of the artifact you need to kill them. In big red he is a good early chump blocker and abusable with Goblin Welder as you get setup. The price paid for this wide array of utility is that he is not outstanding at any of the things you want to do. As an early speed bump you may well not get value from his recursion effect, as an eternal witness you require a way to kill him off, as a body he is about as weak as you can be. This meant he was often cut for more dedicated cards in decks with specific aims or needs. I have even seen this guy in white weenie and red deck wins when they go for a heavy artifact bent and versions of mono blue tempo decks too. While a non essential card he allows much more ability to draft some of the more risky archetypes that require you to get specific cards to be viable.

Sword of War and PeaceSword of War and Peace 3.0

This is the clear second best of the Sword cycle and although much less interesting than Feast and Famine it ends up doing a great deal more. Red and white are good colours to have protection against but not any significant degree more than any other colour combination. In all fairness Swords tend to be more about the +2/+2 and potential random protection gibbing than the abilities as you should be pulling very far ahead if they start to get through. The strength of the ability is more about forcing bad chump blockers through fear of getting hit and proccing it. War and Peace offers no chance to get card advantage like all the others but it does have a direct and synergic effect that can cause enormous life swings and can conclude a game quicker than the other swords. Getting hit by this with a fairly full hand is really not a good option of which you will be very lucky to survive more than twice. Even with both players just having one or two cards in hand you are still gaining huge tempo from hitting them. With the symmetrical draw 7 effects in cube it is also not unreasonable to engineer a 16 points of more life swing. Swords can be a bit clunky and this can become an over cost Vulshock Morningstar (which is no terrible thing, just not optimal), it offers few choices or any real utility and I am not a big fan of the card but it does just get the job done. If you want powerful mid range equipment to end games on your gribbly little dorks, play Jitte. If for some reason that has been banned in your cube, play Sword of Fire and Ice. If someone else has it or will whine that you are hosing their UR deck, play Sword of War and Peace. A closer comparison to this Sword than Fire and Ice or Jitte is Loxodon Warhammer which is more certain life gain and offers trample which can be really important. Overall the extra toughness and cheaper equip costs make the Sword significantly more consistent and useful, even if it is slightly weaker as a life gain card.

Thran Dynamo
Thran Dynamo 2.5

One of the first big mana ramp cards on the curve you can freely use again and again without it remaining tapped or causing you lots of pain. It is rather a bland card but it is also quite effective. I cut it for Khalni Gem as coloured mana is a lot more useful however they are not really the same kind of card. The Gem is good fixing and utility is decks that specifically want artifact mana while the Dynamo is just pure ramp for decks that are really mana hungry. In most decks there is not enough requirement for such vast quantities of colourless mana and so while some control decks might pack a Gilded Lotus very few would bother with a Dynamo. The only places this will see play are the artifact ramp and combo decks which have very few coloured spells in them and are mostly artifact ramp with some utility and threats. As it costs four mana you pretty much need a small ramp spell to get to play it so that you can ultimately ramp into something really good quite quickly. Only really dedicated decks will be wanting to ramp into ramp and so this explains a bit why Dynamo is a bit niche. To show why it is so powerful you can apply a similar logic to how I assess the overall power of burn in a comparative way. If you look at the total ramp you gain for you card investment and combine that with how much ramp you get for your mana investment then compare that result with other ramp cards you see it is quite a lot better, 2.25 compared to 1 from a Llanowar Elf or 0.5 from a Talisman or 1.8 from Gilded Lotus. It may be used on the turn you make it as well which can often mean it only sets you back one mana to make for its future benefits. All in all it is a clean, effective and efficient top end ramp card that frequents most big artifact decks and even makes the odd appearance in really extreme ramp control decks and ones trying to get Tooth and Nail working.

Ankh of MishraAnkh of Mishra 2.5

This little card is really rather brutal and acts like a cheaper Sulphuric Vortex for any deck feeling agro enough to support it. Typically it is the red agro decks with their burn that are keen for the power of the Ankh but I have seen it crop up in most agro decks except those relying on sac lands to fix their mana. While  I like the fact this is a cheap persistent threat I dislike the fact it is a little tempramental in use. On the play on turn two following a one drop threat it is back breaking for most decks however it can be dead weight in the mid game when you are behind in any way against a non ramp or control deck. In addition to this wide variation of power it is much much more effective against some archetypes than others which is fine in principle but does make me look less fondly on it. While hosing archetypes is bad hosing sac lands which are overly powerful and in most archetypes is something I am much more in favour of and so Ankh wins back some lost points on that front. It was also one of teh few cards that could keep Fastbond in check before I banned it from the cube. Similar decks to those abusing Fastbond still exist but without it they don't need any keeping in check. Another perk of the card is that it is one of the few cheap aggressive artifact cards and so can go fairly well into any tempo deck desiring of artifacts for synergy such as Shrapnel Blast and Galvanic Blast.

Sundering Titan
Sundering Titan 2.0

Back in the day this was one of the big Tinker and Reanimate targets. There were less serious monsters with come into play effects and less non-basic dual lands. The dorks agro decks could make also used to look pitiful against a 7/10 where are now they can easily block or race it. Sundering Titan has slipped from a mainstay threat for cheating into play into a more niche disruption threat. It still sees a reasonable amount of play but a lot of this is due to him working well with a lot of the good cheaty cards like Flash, Sneak Attack, Show and Tell, Tinker, Reanimate and Goblin Welder rather than him being especially good with any one. Sadly how good he is is almost entirely down to how many colours your opponent is, if you are against a mono player he is really awful while he is usually game over for a three or more colour deck. The more colours they are playing the longer he stays a powerful card to have enter the battlefield and the less likely they will be able to recover from it if and when he does. Being only colourless mana he is still hard castable in the heavy artifact ramp decks and sometimes comes in to bolster the threat count but never before Wurmcoil Engine or Myr Battlesphere. It is the lack of any evasion such as the seemingly reasonable trample that makes this such an awkward card to try and win with and so you do have to kind of view it as disruption more than a threat. It is nice that it is one of few cards that helps keep the power of the many coloured decks more in check.

Pithing NeedlePithing Needle 1.8

A neat little answer card for a selection of decks against a wide array of awkward problem cards. Most commonly found in blue decks which have Trinket Mage to fetch it up however not uncommon in black decks where killing artifacts is tough. You need to really want to stop something with the Needle to be able to play it as it obviously does nothing else and often only partly shuts down a card like when you turn off their Grim Lavamancer but they still manage to kill you just attacking for one. It is most commonly employed against equipments and planeswalkers however is surprisingly useful in lots of situations against lots of cards. The bargain price of one mana often makes it tempting to throw down to get a small immediate advantage however it is often right to hold onto it for the serious problem cards you had it in for in the first place. In the case of planeswalkers it is one of the few removal spells that can stop them getting even one ability use out of a walker and can be a fine pre-emptive lay however it is often the case that a single activation of a walker is not worth its cost, especially the plus loyalty effects, and so you are better off letting them make their expensive cards and then shutting them off. While Needle does nothing else beyond shutting something down it does make it a lot more robust than Phyrexian Revoker and as such more reliable removal. Given that you are playing it because of problem cards the fact that it is more reliable makes it far better in this capacity however as light tempo disruption the Revoker is the better call as it is not a lost card. A great sideboard card, a generally useful disruption and solution card that can be used to bolster synergy in any artifact themed deck and a nice fair card that makes a selection of mono coloured decks more viable. It is often particularly brutal against combo decks who struggle to deal with it and often can't go off around it. It is rarely the best solution to a problem and playing it feels like accepting defeat and that your deck has fundamental flaws in so it sees less play from me than it probably warrants. It feels a bit like Pacifism, a totally fine removal spell that you just wish was something else like a Doom Blade, Path to Exile or even a Journey to Nowhere when you use it.

Lodestone Golem
Lodestone Golem 2.8

I rather like this card however without Mishra's Workshop or the other artifact based power cards it is significantly less powerful than he once was. Back in the day it was not uncommon to flop this out turn one and then win using it without doing much else. These days he still has several homes and good uses but far less consistently comes out before it is too late to recover from it. As creature removal is also on the increase in decks and he has only three toughness and is an artifact it is very easy for most decks to kill him. That said he is a powerful threat that is very easy to cast and will almost always disrupt to some extent without any further investment from you. It is not something like Winter Orb that you were relying on the disruption from to be able to win the game. For such a bargain all round package it is something you are happy to flop down and let it do its thing regardless of whether it eats removal or goes the distance. The homes this guy has are all rather different which is also testament to a good card with clever design (assuming it is not just over powered...). It goes in affinity from time to time depending on how much mana they are likely to have quickly and if there is any other disruption on their mana base in the deck. It goes in the big ramp artifact decks that are typically red and/or blue as you want to be able to do something useful and synergic with your deck before your power spells. If you have too many of your 3 - 5 drops as more ramp in such decks and not enough action you can roll to lots of things. He also finds homes in some agro decks that are also disrupting the mana base or have burst mana. White weenie rarely plays him as it has its own power four drops but it is not bad in the Armageddon style versions. Black agro decks also quite like him if they are a bit more Sinkhole orientated. The final place I have seen him putting in good work is in GW denial decks where he doubles up as more mana disruption and a threat which is important in decks that are stretched very thin with little card advantage in them. In the mana denial decks he is very much there to bolster the effect of cards like Winter Orb, Tangle Wire, Sphere of Resistance etc and is second rate to them because it is that much slower to get out.

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