Saturday 7 July 2012

More Reviews: A Cube Lands

(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.)

Tranquil ThicketThe Onslaught Cycling Lands 3.5

Not including these in the cube before was a huge oversight. Since their recent inclusion they have seen play in most decks and have guaranteed a place in the cube for a long time to come. Compared to the original cycling lands these are far far better. Essentially they are half the cost to cycle with all the other functionality the same. The simple reason being when you don't have the colour to cycle an onslaught land you should be making it rather than ditching it, this isn't 100% the case but is more so than most things you could try and cover in a blanket statement in magic. These lands really help sure up mana bases as you are much more inclined to add that extra safety land if you have the option of turning it into another card for very little cost. The difference between 15 and 16, 16 and 17 or 17 and 18 is pretty huge in 40 card decks and the cycling land add a tremendous degree of fine tuning capacity with these otherwise clumsy integers. I have often built 41 card decks with the soul aim of having a more precise land to spell ratio. When 17 lands (17/40 = 0.425 ) is just too few and 18 (18/40 = 0.45) is more than you would like then the old 18 lands in a 41 card deck trick can be employed (18/41 = 0.439). Certainly coming into play tapped is a drawback but is better than not making a land drop and reasonably easy to play around where even agro decks have been packing some  despite the risk to tempo loss. The very best home for the cycling lands is teamed up with Life from the Loam which makes for a powerful card advantage engine. All in all they are great cards, they are pretty skill intensive as lands go and offer lots of choices for deck design as well as in game, they are a lovely design which improves magic and are not of a power level where they are always an auto include.

Desolate LighthouseDesolate Lighthouse 2.5

The understated nature of this card made me under evaluate it where I should have been rating it more highly. The effect is useful in any deck yet abusable in some and neatly fits into lots of archetypes, more than many single coloured cards in the cube find their homes in. The activation cost is costly for a loot effect but cheap compared to most activations of land and is not really the cost of the ability. In reality the cost you pay to have access to looting when you need to or have spare mana is losing the ability to tap for a coloured mana on one of your lands. If your deck can support it then there is basically no reason not to include it however assessing when this is the case is trickier business. As a general rule most decks can support a colourless land and things like UR Tinker decks can support loads. The main two considerations are the ratio of coloured mana cost requirements in your spells to colourless and the number of spells in your deck which have no colourless mana in their cost. The first ratio will reflect the latter value but having more ways to look at a problem is best for resolving it. As a general rule I would start to avoid colourless lands when I get to double figures of cards with no colourless or at around 65-75% ratio of coloured mana requirements on spells to colourless. If you really want the reliable reusable looting from Lighthouse but you are concerned about casting consistency then consider playing it in a spell slot rather than a land or even tossing in something like a Chromatic Star to smooth things over. Any game that goes past the mid game that is close will be won by the player with an active Lighthouse the vast majority of the time which makes it worth spending a long time deciding if you can afford the cost of playing it. I am happy to call it the best of the Innistrad gold utility land cycle despite thinking the RG and RW were initially better. The problems with those lands is that they go in less archetypes and those they do fit into tend to have much bigger issues incorporating the colourless aspect. The UW one is quite nice but has an awkward prerequisite that makes it too big a risk to play in the creature light decks that most want it and can best support the colourless aspect. Of the whole cycle Lighthouse has the most stand alone usage and is the easiest to use with all the others needing you to have creatures in play or doing very little.

Hinterland Harbor
The M10 Lands 1.5

I wanted more dual lands in the cube that provided mana on the turn you make it and particularly felt the need for more enemy colour dual lands. I wanted to add the Mirrodin Besieged cycle of lands as I think they are by far an away the best not in the cube that fit the first requirement however not having enemy colours I went for the M10 lands who had the enemy colours arrive for us in Innistrad. Typically these only see play in two colour decks as in three or more colour decks they are coming into play tapped a lot of the time. Sometimes this is fine but it does mean that cards like the bounce lands get in before them fairly often. I have yet to see one played over  a pain land too which I think speaks a lot to their reliability. They put a higher premium on the sac, shock and original dual which are already the clear best lands and they make the other duals less appealing. This means I will cut these as soon as they print some good tempo enemy colour dual lands. The reason for my desire for enemy coloured dual lands is because the dual man land cycle is only allied colours and makes those decks have an easier time of things. Perhaps this is the flavour R&D would like in our Magic but I don't really see how that makes it a better game.

Shelldock Isle
Shelldock Isle 3.0

I love nothing more than someone losing a game because they were greedy and played this over an Island. This is a card I don't really like but must concede it is of more than enough power level to deserve a slot. Not only does it have great synergy with all the decks that try and cheat bit fat things in to play it is also quite good in normal mid range and control decks where it is a free spell and a bunch of mana saved for the small loss of one mana earlier. In cube with 40 card decks it is really easy to activate this land and often before you are really into the late game. You even get to play the card making all manner of things like Emrakul even more unfair to hideaway. I also dislike the way this card is unbalanced by the difference in deck sizes and considered changing the requirement to 13 cards or something similar  but that would be awkward, ugly and just make the card way too niche in application so I might as well just play it as it is or not at all. Sure, I think it ruins games when someone comes along and flops a free bomb into play but it is probably a lot of fun to do that regardless of the skill it took to do. I am not sure if there is such a thing as a Magic snob but I feel as if I may be turning into one.

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