Friday 6 July 2012

More Reviews: A Cube Green

(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.)

HarmonizeHarmonize 1.5

A card returning to the cube after a fairly long absence. Green control has gained a great deal of strength recently with cards like Beast Within bolstering the ranks. Concentrate is not close to good enough in blue but in green it is a very different story assuming the decks that want it are viable. Green does not need to leave mana open unlike blue and so the sorcery speed of the card matters very little. Green also has far better ramp than blue making four mana a less onerous cost for the green mage, control or otherwise. Green also has very little access to card draw, most of what it does have has strings attached or is restrictive in some way. By no means is this an overpowered card but it nicely fills a gap in greens arsenal. Played in green based control decks where blue or black card draw in unavailable or sometimes in explosive elf mana style green decks.

ExploreExplore 2.5

Another card that has spent time in the cube previously. With the addition of the cycling lands many control decks are running land based engines with lots of man lands and other non basics. Explore trumps the other two mana land ramp spells in green in these types of decks as it is less restrictive. It also loses less of its power than other ramps spells as the game enters the later stages due to the cycling effect. Finally it has better synergy with Exploration than other ramp spells due to them both having redundancy in requirements for optimal use. Explore does run the risk of not ramping you which can be death in the first few turns of the game when other ramp would have given you more game. Overall Explore cannot be said to be better or worse than for arguments sake a Rampant Growth however it does have a greater range of power being weaker in situations and much stronger in others. Even if the average power was identical I would favour a card that demands deck synergy and/or care in use to gain the maximum potential as it makes for better Magic. Typically found in decks playing Exploration and/or Life from the Loam but will crop up all over the place being great filler and a playable most of the time. 

Wolfir Silverheart
Wolfir Silverheart 3.7

I am really bad at missing this kind of card when they are first printed. I see a powerful but high cost dork with little immediate value and no fantastic synergy and somewhat rule it out. A few that slip under my radar are so good that they dominate at PT and force me to test them out. It became quickly apparent how wrong I was to overlook this guy. It is quite hard to quantify at what power level a card has to be before it is cube worthy as a pure threat but twelve power and toughness for five mana turns out to be well above the mark. The format has slowed down with the increasing creature count in decks making a five mana dork that completely dominates the board very good. Sure, like a Baneslayer Angel you can just Doom Blade them down and all is well, however should you fail to have an answer the game will end very quickly. It is nice to be able to have an "answer this of die" card in your deck and this is very similar to Baneslayer in how it swings games and where it fits into your deck. An 8/8 is bigger than all the other monsters that you cast rather than cheat into play and bigger than plenty of those too which takes us all back to the very first games of magic we played where biggest fatty on the board wins! The +4/+4 also makes most guys big enough to trade with at worst all of the frequently cast game enders. A Viridian Shaman soulbonded to Wolfir swats a baneslayer Angel dead and trades with Titans and Wurmcoil allowing you to reuse the +4/+4 on a new dork. The soulbond is a mixed blessing but overall I reckon it is an advantage. When you already have the biggest guy on the board you are best off having power and toughness spread around rather than located in one mega dork. This also allows you to scale well with effects like trample and lifelink, not to mention the good chance you will have to attack with the soulbondee on the turn you make Wolfir. The only drawbacks are losing two thirds of your goodness when you have no other creatures and a vulnerability to instant removal used as a combat trick. There is much competition in the green five slot, far more so than any other colour but that will not be a concern for this card which will be a cube mainstay for a long time to come as he trumps all other green 5 drop creatures presently. I have played or seen him in action in most of the green decks he can go in, which is most of them it turns out. Green based multi colour control decks are too creature light to play him and elves probably doesn't want him but otherwise he is good to go. So far his best showing has been in Birthing Pod in combination with Murderous Redcap however he has been winning lots of games directly himself all over the place. 

Scavenging Ooze
Scavenging Ooze 3.6

I have an odd dislike of this card for being a bit too good and ruining a lot of entertaining archetypes. In the cube exiling a card can be very damaging to certain decks, a good example of this is any deck that uses a land engine will likely fall apart without Life from the Loam. It is unfair to call the card a hoser as it does so many things and does them very well. It is more like a Spectral Lynx, Mirran Crusader or one of the various Swords as it is played for its power level and than randomly hoses a few people with the incidental effects. He can fit into aggressive decks as a good early drop that can easily grow as the game progresses or into more midrange decks like the rock where he is a great utility card while also having the potential to win the late game or survive the early game. Not only does it fair very well against decks making use of graveyards it is also very powerful against burn decks and is a must kill for them else it can all get very out of control. For a card with so many powerful upsides it distinctly lacks any form of drawback. It is easy to cast, a decent starting power and toughness, nice and cheap, has no stipulations or restrictions etc. It would still be good enough for the cube without the life gain, or the ability to target non-creatures in the graveyard or if it were GG to cast, perhaps even if it were a 1/1 and it would be a much nicer card then too as you would be faced with an actual choice as to whether it was worth putting in your deck. Many games have ended to an oversized ooze and many others have come to a abrupt concession as vital cards leave the game forever. It is worth noting that graveyard disruption is generally very good in cube with lots of decks using a small amount. Withered Wretch was a much more reasonable package and saw a reasonable amount of play for this reason although was eventually cut for being primarily used as a hoser. I prefer this card to Tarmogoyf, it tends to be bigger earlier and has other uses beyond being fat, the only things Tarmogoyf has over this is a greater ability to cope with bounce and lower overall mana requirements. Additional costs are for the Ooze are easy to fit in around curving out and are both instant and optional making it a minor difference. I find myself only not playing this to avoid ruining a specific matchup rather than it being no good in the deck most of the time which is an odd position to be in. If all you care about is winning however this is an auto include in most green decks (the exceptions being those with very low creature counts such as five colour control or Heartbeat of Spring combo. 

Green Sun's Zenith
Green Sun's Zenith 1.5

This is a very balanced cube card but not one I find particularly important in any deck. With no Dryad Arbor in the A cube this has no exciting targets as a one drop. It is also restrictive on what it can get which is one reason why few combo decks can make use of it and doesn't trigger things like cascade which will often rule it out of creature based decks. While it is a very powerful tutor card that loses you no card advantage for the small cost of one mana, effectively a colourless one at that, the fact that it forces you to cast the tutor and the target in one lump prevents it from being very powerful and is the other main reason combo decks don't frequently use it. The best decks for it are those with lots of green utility creatures that are not too fussed about tempo such as green ramp and the rock. When you can use it to ramp, gain card advantage, deal with a permanent or gain life it starts to look versatile enough to be really desirable. It is a card that scales very well as the game progresses however the reshuffle aspect is rather unexciting. In 40 card decks the targets that are worth getting quickly dwindle and so rather like Birthing Pod this will lose power the longer the game goes on. The best use for the reshuffle is in combination with Sylvan Library where you can get fantastic card quality although this is nothing you can't do with a sac land... The card remains quite popular with other drafters and so it has its A cube slot to see if I can work out why people rate is so highly. When I look at dorks and imagine them costing one more mana even those in the cube start to look very average and so I can't justify a spot in my deck for this unless all my creatures do very different things. 

Strangleroot GeistStrangleroot Geist 3.6

Green has incredible depth in choice of good two drop dorks but this guy has had no problems rising to the top of the pick list despite the double green cost. Geist is direct and reliable which is why it is so often called upon to do battle for people. Most of the other green two drops are accelerators or utility dorks, most of these still have good stats and can offer tempo and aggression but it is not the primary calling of the card. Only Tarmogoyf competes as a pure beater in the two slot that requires no extra mana investment or has any other role beyond attacking and blocking. The Goyf is easier to cast and generally bigger however it is an unreliable size which can be used against you or make building harder. It also just trades one for one with most removal which is no disaster but is rather limp compared to Geist. Overall Geist offers you more and covers more areas than Goyf and is the agro two drop of choice. Haste is also a fantastic effect and helps tremendously with planewalkers and tempo and it lets you keep information away from your opponent. The undying is the main part of this cards greatness, it allows you to curve out with disregard for mass removal and apply pressure with less efficient attacks. It also offers great synergy with all the sacrifice effects in the cube and of course Skullclamp. While the Geist is best suited to aggression it is well at home in any creature based deck for clogging up the ground or nibbling away against other more control style decks. A lovely little card that is just the sort of creature green needs to be competitive against removal, mass removal, speed and card advantage many other colours have. I initially underestimated the impact this would have for green agro decks and focused more on its impact in Pox style decks for which it is still a great card. It is also still the second best card to come from Dark Ascension but not to Gravecrawler as I first suspected but the innocuous Faithless Looting.

Yavimaya ElderYavimaya Elder 2.5

A classic card that has not been overly swamped by the creature power creep. The closest comparisons to Elder are Wood Elves and oddly Krosan Tusker but as you can see these cards only do part of what the others do and are dissimilar enough to be used for different applications in different decks. Elder is the most all round of the three as it offers good card advantage while having the most usable body. This used to be called the green Ancestral which I think is generous, even the green Land Tax would be optimistic. For pure card advantage I would much rather play Harmonize as you are not guaranteed to get 2/3rds  land and will pay one less mana. If you want to ramp play Sakura Tribe Elder or the afore mentioned Wood Elves but if all you need to do is carry on making land drops and efficiently stall or even apply some pressure then Elder is the man. I cut Elder I while back just to free up space to try other cards out as he is not essential for any archetype and would not be missed very much but I think on power alone he deserves a cube slot and I am happy to welcome him back. He is most played in the Rock but may also be found in green based ramp and control decks. He is especially good in ramp decks as you need to be laying lands while casting your Rampant Growth effects for them to be at all exciting. With green having much less card advantage than most other colours the ability to neatly keep the hand full goes a long way. The double green cost is a little bit of a downer on the card making it more awkward to play and less suitable for decks with loads of colours. If he were single green he would likely feature much more in Pox style Rock decks. 

HurricaneHurricane 2.5 

This is one of those cards that has been around forever and has never really been that exciting or powerful. A sudden inspiration has however convinced me it is a key spell for green and just what the colour needs to excel. Previously Hurricane has been a wish target but I have never actually had a copy in the A cube and so it has not had lots of play thus far. Despite this it has been proving highly effective in a number of roles. Green has few fliers and lots of creatures which enables it to effectively kill the problem critters without harming their own. Green also lacks removal, particularly mass removal and while this wont affect all their guys it will affect the most annoying ones. Using it to take out planeswalkers is also very effective and means you often get at least a two for one when casting it. Finally lest we not forget it is basically a fireball in green which is truly absurd. Green has fantastic ramp and is easily able to maintain a high life total and can just end the game from nowhere. Green has many single target kill a flier spells however they are sideboard material at best. Hurricane is more like a card from the Command cycle giving you the option to take out two different kinds of permanent or dealing direct damage to the face. The cube has been swelling with fliers and green cannot compete with the other colours in the skies. Instead it is equipped with Hurricane which is about the closest any mass removal spell has come to Bonfire of the Damned in one sidedness. The meta is fully ripe for cards like Hurricane to shine with planeswalkers and fliers being all the rage. It is good in agro green decks as well as green control decks and seems highly worthy of its slot despite sitting in plane view ignored and off the radar for so long.

Master of the Wild HuntMaster of the Wild Hunt 3.0

This quirky midrange dork feels like a planeswalker as it has a few effects and provides an incremental advantage. Sadly it is a bit easier to kill than most walkers and so is not quite as robust a threat however if unanswered the Master should take control over the game in a few turns. Master is probably greens best card when it comes to creature kill mostly due to green really lacking in that department rather than for Masters effectiveness as removal. He is slow and reasonably easy to disrupt and offers no advantage at all should he be killed before your next upkeep. He is not a card you should rely on too much however he is still a lot of card for the mana and is worthy of inclusion in many decks. There are not that many four mana cards that are likely to win the game in a couple of turns if unanswered and fewer still with as much utility as Master. Being able to offer a reasonable defensive set up or sit back and pick off creatures or gradually amass an army while you lay in are all good things to be able to do. For both his power and utility we can forgive him being a little on the slow and vulnerable side and for his game winning capacity we can forgive the fact that he gives no added value like Thragtusk. Very much an all rounder card that is fine in most decks but a mainstay in none (except perhaps Opposition decks where he offers amazing synergy).

Natural Order
Natural Order 3.2

The green version of Tinker is a lot less played than its blue counterpart however this has more to do with the support offered by the colour for those kinds of archetypes than the power of the card. To play cards like this you need a lot of cheap yet useful things to ensure you can sacrifice something early in order to play them while also having a selection of really powerful big things to abuse. In blue you have lots of quick cheap card quality and filter spells to smooth out your draws despite having a disparate mana curve. In green you typically get what you draw and so your clunky deck will punish you far more often. Having to use creatures also tends to be slower than using artifacts to ramp because of summoning sickness but also because creature removal is far more abundant. The extra cost on Natural Order over Tinker is one of the least relevant factors in their difference of power and amount played as is the quality of things that you can get. Tinker is often used as a way to ramp mana or draw cards rather than to directly try and win so it is perhaps more flexible but Natural Order has a wide array of really serious monsters to be laying down most of which should end the game in short order. Progenitus has been king of the targets for a while and quite comparable to the various Colossus Tinker often gets however we now have Worldspine Wurm to really ramp the power of what this card can cheat into play. It is a far superior card to Tooth and Nail and works best in a deck quite like the old standard deck Elf and Nail which can ramp up enough mana from the elves alone to cast the big threats so that they are not always such bad early draws. It is also fine in a more control ramp deck provided it has both a decent enough (7 or more) cheap green utility and ramp dorks to be sacrificed and a worthy selection of targets that wouldn't be unreasonable to include in the same deck without the Natural Order. The final note about this card is that it is at its weakest against blue where counter magic and bounce are happy to ruin all your fun.

Moment's PeaceMoment's Peace 2.0

This card is somewhat of a hoser however it is a very appropriate plug for a serious and generic hole in a lot of decks. The classic home for this is in Heartbeat of Spring decks where you typically only lose to direct hate or being put on good clock. As the deck is so important to have as a smooth redundant selection of cards working towards the same end you cannot afford many slots at all for slowing down people's clocks. In terms of effect for a card, not to mention the reasonable cost, Moment's Peace is about an effective delay card that you can employ. It has great synergy with graveyard effects as well and so has homes in decks with Gifts Ungiven as well as those with Oath of Druids. Against a deck like white weenie which fully relies on combat to kill you this card is pretty close to having two time walks, more so when their board position and resources in hand are pretty irrelevant to your plan for winning. Against decks like red deck wins which can apply pressure on numerous fronts it is weaker but still enough of a delay to be worth having, it is more like a lifegain card than double Time Walk. It is against control decks where it is typically a dud card, being of no use till the late game and easy to disrupt while hard to set up so as to not be totally dead. Most of the time it is combo decks that play this however I have seen it used in control decks although a word of warning on this front, unless you have some way of clearing up the board like an Upheaval or Austere Command you are not really achieving anything with it. In mono green control for example you will delay them killing you for two turns but it is unlikely that you will be in a position to stop them killing you on the third turn with what they have been able to do in the down time compared to you with one less card and five less mana.

Woodfall PrimusWoodfall Primus 1.4

Quite an average all round fatty, it is not the scariest threat nor does it have the most swingy of abilities yet it is reliable and solid. The body and initial effect for the mana are fine but not a massive bargian at the costly eight nor are they very powerful compared with the most extreme fatties in Magic. As a result he is not often included as a dork to cheat into play or to hard cast leaving him rarely seeing play. He works best where you can abuse the persist and thus gain much more advantage of the comes into play effect. These are basically either Flash or Sneak Attack where you get to kill two things and have a 5/5 trample left over afterwards which is game early and still powerful later on. The other home Primus finds himeself in is decks which have both a lot of mana ramp but also the odd cheat effect such as Oath of Druids, Tooth and Fail or Natural Order. When you have the options of both casting or cheating into play his middle power and cost are a much more useful balance.  Terastodon has also been ruining this guys day in terms of getting play as it is a much more brutal card while fulfilling many of the same roles. They cost the same but Terastodon can either kill 3 things right there or can give you a vast army with 18 power total both of which are swingy enough to be worthy of cheating into play. The downside of Terastodon is that he is far clumsier to use and not as consistently solid and good as Primus in most situations. Decks that play fatties tend to want them to be really swingy and have great potential power and so Terastodon is seeing more play at present with Primus only ever getting cheated in when persist is abusable. Although Primus is rarely the best at anything he is a good cube card because he is so all round acceptable and works as good back up filler in many kinds of deck.

FarseekFarseek 1.0

Typically about 4th choice two mana land ramp spell for green. Each of the good ones has its own perks and places where it excels. The perk offered by Farseek is that you can get the shock or original cycle of dual lands with it however the main issue with Farseek is that it is always far worse than Nature's Lore in this role.
As such it is always second or third choice behind the afore mentioned Lore as well as cards like Sakura-Tribe Elder and Explore. Even Rampant Growth sometimes beats it to the list as one of the few decks that wants these kinds of spells is typically mono green in which Farseek is rather unhelpful. Being so low down on the list in a selection of cards that are not played in that many decks makes it hard to stomach giving it an A cube slot. A solid, useful and playable card that is simply to fair in power level and up against too many slightly better versions to be seeing much play or getting much rating.  

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