Saturday 7 July 2012

More Reviews: A Cube Gold

(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.)

Trygon PredatorTrygon Predator 2.5

This little critter is a little bit Vampire Nighthawk, most notably for the 2/3 flying body for 3 which is a great start for any dork both in control and agro decks. 2/3 is the first really golden power and toughness in the cube thus offering a great window of power level at good value. Flying is also shining as the best ability to have on your dorks thus making the perfect little package. Typically I like my more utility focused monsters to offer value when you cast them like Viridian Shaman however the body alone on Predator makes this much less of an issue. With Viridian Shaman type creatures you have to hold them back based on the game state to get any real value from them and with cards like Qasali Pridemage which can be more proactive you have to lose the dork in order to use it as removal. Predator is the best of both worlds as you can throw it down at your convenience and either prevent the sensible casting of enchantments and artifacts or deal with those in play already and still be around during and after. The payback for this is that as a pure removal spell it is slow and easy to disrupt Predator and is better used as a supplement to more dedicated removal when required in a deck. Most decks have some artifacts or enchantments even since the removal of the power and so you can be sure to get more than just 2/3 flying value out of Predator while playing blind. It is often the case that the few artifacts and enchantments in a deck are either really serious threats or of high importance to the decks plan and so even in decks where there are only a couple of targets it is good to be able to deal with them, great example of this include the various equipment, most notably the Swords, Sulphuric Vortex, Zuran Orb, Sneak Attack, Crucible of the Worlds, Oath of Druids and so forth. At worst you have a reasonably priced evasive monster and at best you have won the game entirely of the back of it where no other card in your deck would have been of much use which happens about as much as he is at his worst.

Baleful Strix
Baleful Strix 3.6

I almost resent this card as it is just too good with no drawback or choices to speak of and it sort of isn't a real magic card putting in a very similar bracket to Scavenging Ooze. It has not been in the cube all that long but has been played in every single UB deck since its addition and performed exactly as expected. Elvish Visionary and Wall of Omens are both frequently played A cube cards. Primarily both are played as a two drop that draws a card, the elf is just a body to be done away with via Skullclamps etc or offer up synergy for better elves where as the wall is more of a speedbump against aggressive decks. The Strix does both of those roles, arguably better and offers a whole lot more to boot. The only two drawbacks I can think of in this respect are the lowly 1 toughness compared to Wall making it easier to burn out the way (still offering a 2 for 1...) and that it costs two coloured mana and not one. Being an artifact is more of an advantage than a disadvantage as you can Tinker it or play it in affinity or discard to Thirst for Knowledge, it is also immune to both Go for the Throat and Doomblade which no other dorks in my cube can claim and cannot be intimidated or feared passed. Being easier to kill as more removal can target it is no real concern as it is cheap and replaces itself card wise. Flying and deathtouch is about the best defensive combo a cheap card can have (see Vampire Nighthawk again as the benchmark for all that is good in cheap dorks) making it scale really well into the late game due to being able to trade with the better and better threats. Flying also makes it pretty decent if you do want to get aggressive with it. Hitting for one is weak but better than nothing and likely to get through and nibbling loyalty off planeswalkers is pretty good, when equipment comes into the picture however flying becomes outstanding and the low power far less relevant. Any card which does something early and replaces itself is gold in control decks. I am rarely thankful for a card being gold as it restricts its use but when a card is so obviously all round fantastic like Vindicate it is a blessing so you don't encounter it in every single deck. Where this just blue or black it would see more play than Remand, as it is we shall only see it in every UB deck from here out. 

Edric, Spymaster of Trest

Edric, Spymaster of Trest 3.0

A nifty little critter that fits very well into UG creature decks. Obviously it was designed for a different format and is consequently much better in one on one magic that intended however it is not unreasonably good, partly through being gold but also from being easy to deal with and somewhat dependant on other cards. If you have lots of small evasive guys when you cast this then it is basically game over unless they can instantly remove Edric in combat. If you have no other guys or at least any that can productively attack then Edric is offering very little value. Most times he is played he managed to get you one or two cards, the average number being in that region as well. If this is compared to Consecrated Sphinx which generally gets at least two cards and is likely averaging about 5 per cast you can see why I don't think this is over powered. A fairly irrelevant body that you need to keep alive and so won't be doing a whole lot of much that also depends on the quality of your other dorks and your opponents board position. He is also a little bit win more as if you have a couple of creatures you are able to get through unblocked then you are already winning. I do really like that he is an Elf as it makes Opposition Elves a more tempting splash and adds another dimension to the deck. Elves is one of the best types of deck for this effect anyway as you have so many little critters early to get in with. Often in elf decks you have 5 guys to their 2 but don't want to attack as you will deal like 3 or 4 damage and put two of your elves in the bin while they keep both thier dorks. This feels much better when you also get to free Ancestral Recall as well. 

Shardless AgentShardless Agent 3.5

While I have given this the same rating as Bloodbraid Elf I think it is the better card of the two when taken out of any specific context. Lets just say the cost of the cascade effect is one mana then Shardless agent is a two costing 2/2 which is less exciting than a three mana 3/2 with haste but not directly comparable due to different positions on the curve. If we tried scaling the power to make them cost the same for a more direct comparison we might conclude something like you get haste for one toughness with Bloodbraid over Agent. Haste is one of the best effects a dork can have and certainly worth one toughness so it is safe to say that Bloodbraid is the better dork but we would be kidding ourselves if we thought these cards were primarily about the body. It is all about the value you get from your cascade that makes both of these cards fantastic, if you want more guys, or more tempo or more card advantage they tick all the boxes. It generally doesn't matter what you hit assuming you have no total duds to hit like counterspells in your deck, you will get a good deal of what you want because your deck will be doing a thing. So my argument boils down to cascade 2 being better than cascade for 3. Clearly this only applies when you pay 3 and 4 mana respectively otherwise the cascade for more generally has more potential to have most power. Cascade is at its most powerful when you hit the most expensive card you can cascade into and so if you assume an even distribution on the mana curve you increase your odds of hitting the highest card you can by having the lower cascade. You havea 50% chance of hitting a two drop with you Agent but only a 33% chance to hit a three drop with Bloodbraid. On the other end of things when you hit a lowly one drop Llanowar Elf with you Bloodbraid you feel ripped off and have a card that is far less useful at that stage of the game. When you hit the Llanowar with Agent it is perfectly acceptable. As cascade is generally a very random affair it is best to take the statistical approach to analysing it. Another bonus of the lower cascade is that it imposes less restrictions on your deck construction as there will not be as many cards you don't want to cascade into. You can play Forbid with the Agent but not well with the Bloodbriad etc. Agent is a neat little card that has slightly fewer homes than Bloodbraid and so despite being the better card only gets the same rating. It is best in Zoo with blue and Opposition decks although a good all round card like this will find many more homes I am sure. 

Simic Sky SwallowerSimic Sky Swallower 2.0

It seems like I am only adding UG gold cards at present which is odd as it was, for a long time, one of the least powerful gold combinations with Mystic Snake being the best of the bunch... Now some of the cards that were not played often enough like Trygon Predator and the Swallower in question are finding many more homes while new funky UG gold cards are getting printed in special promotional packs. It is not a concern that I have gone from very few UG cards making up the gold portion of my A cube to them holding the highest proportion as I base my inclusions on how much play they get. This approach does not reduce the weaker colours to such few numbers that they become unplayable because of the elegant negative feedback mechanism of draft. If one colour is generally thought to be weaker it is under drafted however as soon as this is also generally thought to be the case (which happens simultaneously) people return to the colour as they will get higher quality and later picks. Less people draft it but more those drafters will tend towards mono decks and so the cards are played just as much as before. What actually happens in my cube is that a weaker colour will not significantly drop in number of cards but will instead become more streamlined and focused on the few archetypes and support cards the colour best offers. This goes a long way to explaining why red deck wins and white weenie are so well catered for in the cube. It is not that either colour is weak however they are narrower than other colours, which in the case of red has ended up making it one of the most powerful colours. I digress... My cube lacked fatties which do improve draft formats and this one is a nice all round fatty. It is hard to kill, hard to stop or get past, offers a decent clock and is not over the top expensive. Seven is a lot of mana with the normal cut off point being 6 mana for normal decks. Green decks are able to get away with very high cost cards, both from its ability to ramp and that it often rebalances a long stretching mana curve with lots of stuff at the low end. Occasionally it is a card that is cheated into play but is more commonly just a very reliable win condition for control decks. With very expensive cards it is good to be able to put them to other uses in the early game which is actually quite doable with Swallower despite having no built in ways of doing this. Blue has an abundance of hand and library manipulation and green has lots of effects to discard creatures to and let us not forget Force of Will. When trying to up the count of something in the cube I like to pick the most all round example of such a card and this is a good example of me doing that. Rating it however does mean I probably have to revisit some of my older ratings on fat dorks as I don't much like expensive cards and tend to be biased against them. Swallower is much less played than Myr Battlesphere yet the ratings I have given them both don't properly suggest this. 

Dromar's CharmDromar's Charm 2.0

I ramble on a lot about not having many gold cards as they go in far fewer decks. Putting a few numbers on that might help. There are 32 combinations of different coloured deck you can build in magic of which any one given colour will be present in exactly half. Sadly the maths is not simple as there are far more mono decks and two colour decks played than those with greater numbers of colours for which any one colour is only in a third of the decks. Even so, the number of decks that can play a card of any given single colour is very high, probably around 40%. If you then look at how many decks can play a card with two colours it can only go in a 15th of the most common deck types. Including all 32 types a 2 colour gold card can only go in 8 of them but at the very best there is no way a gold card will go in more than 20% of the archetypes because of the tendency to play fewer colours. The least restrictive of gold cards (ie just two colours) are about half as playable than a mono card so how unplayable are three colour cards?!? I would say roughly 75% of decks are mono or dual colour and three colour cards cannot be played in these decks. They can only be played in 4 of the total 32 all of which are three times less played than other colour combinations. At best a triple colour gold card will be playable in 4 or 5% of the field. This would mean Dromar's Charm would have to be about twenty times better than the worst mono card in my cube to obtain a space. This kind of reasoning however should not be the only thing one considers as you will never have any triple colour gold cards. The power of the card for its cost but not concerning their different colours must be taken into account. A card of sufficient power at the right point in a draft might convince you to make a splash and so forth. Dromar's Charm is a subtle but highly powerful spell that fills in so many holes in the kinds of deck that play those kinds of colour I think it is a good card to include so as to increase the interesting and difficult choices in draft. It is easy to splash for any deck already in two of the colours and doing so will lead to a very strong archetype with many other perks and synergies. Charm is not unlike Cryptic Command in that is covers you in lots of ways. Life gain is surprisingly useful and can feel like time walking against the right decks. Removal is always nice and as with the life gain when you card is not committed to doing a narrow thing it is both much more powerful and able to offer much more utility. Countering spells is great, everyone loves it and the three mana hard counter for only one blue mana is not too bad of a deal even in cube.   Dromar's is my favourite out of the many three colour charms although Esper is cool and Bant is very powerful despite being in slightly less played colours. As gold cards go this is about as good as it gets, full of flavour, great utility and fits in perfectly with the colours it is in. I would probably give this at least a 4.0 if it were not for all the drawbacks of gold. How useful information from hypothetical situations is!

Blightning 2.0

This has crept back into the cube as black red has become a more viable pairing of colours. First Olivia Voldaren and then Dreadbore and Rakdos Charm have all made the colour combination much more robust and potent. In addition to this planeswalkers are far more abundant than when Blightning was first released simply because more have been printed and people are better at including them in their decks. With walkers in nearly every deck now you can get a 3 for 1 with this card which is pretty brutal. As discard goes it is a little expensive and direct damage is not a great partner, in terms of synergy, for discard. It is card that offers good value but not in a package that is easy to make best use of all that value, a little like Lightning Helix. The recent cube meta has shifted a little away from raw speed and towards more purely powerful cards which also makes Blightning shine at the moment. More often are there cards to hit in peoples hands and more often are they high value cards. It is by no means an auto include in a BR deck but it is a fairly solid card and a viable choice for most of the possible BR decks. 

Sphinx of the Steel WindSphinx of the Steel Wind 3.0

This fatty is one of the best all round cards for cheating into play. It can be Reanimated, Tinkered, Welded, Show and Told or Dream Hallsed into play. You can even Sneak Attack it out although it isn't very special in that role. The problem with this card is that is utterly wreaks red and green mages who have basically no answers in their own colours to it and are very unlikely to be able to race it. Of the fatties who frequently get cheated into play this is one of the slowest clocks but with flying, life link and vigilance you are generally very safe from losing while you have it in play. Although red and green mages auto loose to this 99% of the time it is not all that big of a deal for mages of other colours who can usually find a selection of ways in which to kill it. This sees a lot of play because it is versatile in which combos it works with but also because it is the most effective card in a few specific applications, the beating of red and green players being the primary one of these but also for other matchups where you need to dominate the board and immediately take all the tempo.  I have seen this card used as a top end threat but without a fairly decent amount of ramp and good colour fixing I think it is a lot worse than Baneslayer or Wurmcoil in that sort of role. I somewhat dislike the card for being so good verses some colours while fairly average against others but that is exactly what decks like reanimator want, a few silver bullets that are really likely to take the game solo which this achieves perfectly. 

Ajani VengeantAjani Vengeant 2.0

This is one of the cards I am aware I differ more noticeably from the opinions of the general public and of the pros who share theirs. The cards like Death Cloud  that I rate far higher than most others somehow seem more reasonable that is the case when I rate a widely regarded card so poorly. It seems very unlikely that everyone else is just wrong and so I am continually playing this guy trying to find out where I am wrong. I have come to the conclusion it is the way my cube is designed and the metagame of my cube that makes Ajani so poor and not so much that either myself or everyone else is wrong. Ajani is a fairly powerful walker that really suffers from a lack of homes and that he gets less done that most other four drops in both his colours. The keeping tapped effect is versatile and nice but only giving one extra loyalty and not actually tapping the thing make it unreliable protection and generally underwhelming. With only three loyalty to begin with he is vulnerable and grows slowly while adding very little value to your position. The Lightning Helix is very powerful and fairly cost however it is hard to get multiple uses due to his initial low loyalty and his weak plus loyalty effect. His ultimate is also nicely low loyalty costs and to the point game winning however again with the limp plus loyalty ability and the low initial loyalty it is so rare to get close to going ultimate. All the best walkers get something done with an effect they can do repeatedly and so Ajani is falling short before we consider his possible homes or his gold limitations which are basically the same thing. Agro decks want more proactive things in the top of their curve and typically don't care at all about the life gain which devalues the best bit of Ajani. Control decks are much more welcoming of Ajani but have many better alternative walkers, not to mention high mana costing cards. Despite this I play him in place of cards to prove myself wrong and always regret it. While he is good he is both too narrow and too weak in comparison to really deserve an A cube slot. If he were mono coloured, or his +1 was a +2 or he began with 4 loyalty or the +1 tapped the thing as well then he would be very worthy of a slow but as it is I just don't like him at all. I am typically pretty pleased if I get to do two Lightning Helix with this guy however most other 4 mana walkers I am hoping to win the game with or at least bail me from dire situations.

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