Friday 6 July 2012

More Reviews: A Cube Red

(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.)

Ball Lightning
Ball Lightening 1.5 

A golden oldie returning to the cube perhaps too much for its charm and nostalgia than for its diverse playability. A very powerful card but very narrow in where it may be placed. In terms of high damage spells it is about as good as you can get for the mana (If you assume that the two things you care about are damage to card ratio and damage to mana ratio then you can multiply them together to give you an overall feel for the card. Ball Lightening is a mighty 6 damage per card and an acceptable 2 damage per mana and so offers a value rating of 12, compared to the 9 of Lightening Bolt or the 8ish of a morbid Brimstone Volley. As an aside a metalcraft Galvanic Blast is the winner at 16 and Shrapnal Blast comes in high at 12.5 assuming you don't count the artifact you sacrifice as a card, Blistering Firecat manages a healthy 12.25 however and so we can appreciate the limitations of this mathematical assessment of burn spells.). Needless to say you get a high damage output on Ball Lightening for a good value mana cost making it a very efficient top end burn spell. It also does not rely on your deck to support it in any way as the the other top efficient burn spells tend to. Sadly all this must come at a price. Tripple red makes the  card unplayable in anything other than a mono red deck and even then it is restrictive on the lands you can run. The nature of the card makes it only suitable for agro decks and so that combined with its cost means it only sees play in red deck wins and with competition so steep it is far from guaranteed a slot there. A single first strike blocker negates him, as can a tap effect and a lowly wall can take most of the sting out of its attack. Unlike most burn spells you don't really get to target it and so your opponent can chose if they want to absorb damage with dorks. In red deck wins it is pretty easy to set up a Ball Lightening so that your opponent has little choice in how they must take the damage but even so it is a drawback to the card. It is also very hard to get value out of Ball Lightening for being a creature by returning it for a second hit or clamping it for extra cards because few cards exist to offer those synergies that are good in red deck wins and because it is so easy to kill the Lightening in combat before it can do any further damage.

Faithless Looting
Faithless Looting 3.8

Although Looting has not been in the cube all that long it has seen so much play I feel I am able to give it a reasonably good appraisal. I wanted to give it a 4.0 but felt that this would reflect harshly on cards like Brainstorm. Brainstorm is the more abusable and powerful card, although not by much, however blue it somewhat spoiled for choice in that department where as most other colours are lacking. Early card quality spells are outstanding in magic and lead to better games. I was initially less excited about the card as the obvious comparison is Careful Study which is not a card you can play in any old deck. Study needs you to want to put cards in the bin for some reason to be worth the card disadvantage and better than cards like Ponder in those slots. The flashback aside, in red where you have nothing like Ponder to fall back on the looting starts to look more appealing. Looting really opens up red and makes it much less narrow as a colour. Many good effects, lots of which are red such as Squee or Chandra's Phoenix have great synergy with the Looting. Goblin Welder loves to be paired with things that fill up graveyards and red has more flashback cards in the cube than any other colour. The niche graveyard decks that use looting are reasonably clear and obvious but don't make up a huge part of the metagame. It was the effectiveness of looting in agro decks that really surprised me. In red deck wins the idea of losing cards and mana to not achieve any damage seems ridiculous however it turns out that this is rather a black and white view of how games play out. Late it turns useless lands into damage spells for very little cost and early it can dig you out of a jam at minimal cost due to pitching cards with value in the yard. If it were just careful Study it would probably still get a 2.5ish rating and see a good amount of play. With the flashback adding value and flexibility to the card it is presently seeing play in the majority of decks containing red and is a mainstay in a couple of strong archetypes including Big Red and Red Deck Wins. This is a format changer in the cube although I missed it at first and is quite possibly the best spell to see print since Cryptic Command and certainly one of the top five spells to be in the Modern format. 

Firebolt 2.8

Sorcery speed shock is limp but sufficiently playable to make any added extras look quite appealing. This was in the A cube for a very long time but was being edged out by newer more exciting burn like Arc Trail, and Burst Lightening. One of the best things about the Firebolt is you are never afraid to use it as you can be with either of the afore mentioned more powerful spells. When you have a target you Firebolt it, you might want to hold the others for a later date when you can get more value out of them. With Firebolt if you get to that later date you will be able to get your value and casting it early without regret is a good way of getting to later in the game. The main reason I brought this back was the high degree of synergy it has gained in the cube from the new top quality red discard effects. Much like you are not unhappy to blow a Viridian Shaman out of the way with this you are also reasonably content to throw it in the bin off a Faithless Looting etc. Most of my reasons as to why this is a worthy cube card seem to be along the lines of it is bad so your happy when you get to do anything useful with it but this is not why I am trying to get across. The best comparison would be a Barbarian Ring which to all intents and purposes is just a bad mountain as Firebolt is a bad Lightening Bolt. The pay off is the essentially free 2 damage you get access to later. Burn is quite samey so taking a minor hit on the initial power of a card can be worth it for the flexibility and 2 for 1 potential it gives. Red is more popular and more powerful than it was in cube when I first started playing it in Mirrodin block and there is more options for burn. Rather than keep it narrow and only able to support one heavy burn player I have started to return those that have been replaced. With miracle now out I suspect Magma Jet will be next in line to return if the current quantity of burn can't support two players. 

Sneak Attack
Sneak Attack 2.0 

Another of those cards that allows you to cheat vast monsters into play on the cheap alongside Reanimate and company, Tinker, Show and Tell and Oath of Druids. It is a great dynamic as they all do similar things but in different colours and with different dynamics. This makes it very interesting in deck building allowing you to chose one or more of these strategies which gives lots of combinations of resulting decks. Do you go for just reanimation so as to increase the consistency with fewer colours and more dedicated cards or do you increase your redundancy and routes to winning by going for more of the cheat into play options. Sneak Attack is the most expensive of this kind of spell but does allow for repeat use and so could be compared more to Recurring Nightmare than Reanimate however it is very much a combo card and not a control card so I tend to group it based on that more than any thing else. Sneak Attack only gives you one attack with your dork while most of the others leave it in play. This makes Sneak Attack better with certain kinds of dork, those that kill in one hit like Serra Avatar and Blightsteel Colossus and those that have powerful effects when attacking, entering or leaving play which include the Titans (including Sundering), Wurmcoil Engine, Emrakul, Myr Battlesphere and so forth. Stand alone dorks like Akroma are far less powerful when suck into play. Griselbrand is a new fatty that begs for these effects and was a big reason for me putting so many back into the A cube. One of the issues with Sneak Attack decks is that you can't play too many things to sneak in or the deck loses all consistency and when one fails to kill or is dealt with you have nothing else to be doing. Flopping down a Griselbrand and drawing one or two more hands prior to the attack phase is very effective in sorting this problem out. Sneak Attack is a narrow card but different and fun and a good support card for other narrow but cool cards like Griselbrand and is happily welcomed back to the cube. 

Bonfire of the Damned
Bonfire of the Damned 4.0

I have been truly blow away by the power of this card which has settled into the cube really quickly and is seeing unreasonable amounts of play. Red is now generally a better colour than white to partner up with for a control deck and most of this is down to the Bonfire. Initially I thought red lacked any ways except Divining Top and Scroll Rack to abuse the miracle and that the alternate cost was a bit too steep. On both accounts I was wrong, casting it for three or five normally is generally enough to completely take control of the board and later in the game becomes quite unfairly one sided. It is rare to just raw dog it and not be miles ahead by casting it there and then with no prior setup or planning having gone into that play. These things make it totally fine to play in a deck with no ways to abuse where it is still powerful and versatile. As soon as you have things like Brainstorm in the mix the card goes from good to a joke that isn't very funny on one side of the table. Not only is it cheap, one sided mass removal but it also hits planeswalkers and can be used as an instant to trick people or wipe out man lands. Wrath of God is no longer the big name in mass removal and Noxious Revival is likely going to get a bunch more play simply to abuse this card further. This is the quality of mass removal required to cope with the newer powerful and more persistent monsters and is the new bar by which other mass removal will be measured against. 

Torch Fiend
Torch Fiend 3.0

In the initial review I did of this card I only gave it a 1.5 in light of the rather lacklustre Hearth Kami. Although Torch Fiend has not been in the cube all that long it has secured itself a slot by frequently appearing in a selection of decks. In red deck wins he is the first choice artifact insurance for his low cost and dual purpose. Hearth Kami was quite good in the powered cube but became way too mana intensive without moxes to eat. Fiend will cost you less mana on average than the Kami to destroy things now and for this efficiency and reliability it is often played, which in turn leads to higher ratings. Compared to cards like Smash to Smithereens it is just far less narrow making it a much more viable maindeck card. Compared to Manic Vandal on the other end of the spectrum  it does not really offer any card advantage but can be used to instantly destroy artifacts which is useful in all sorts of situations and it is far more proactive costing one less mana for the same power and not needing targets when cast. Typically agro decks will play Fiend while control decks play Vandal however they are both acceptable replacements for each other and pop up all over the place. Most red decks end up with one in them. A simple, balanced and quite bland card that fulfils an important role in cube decks. The card it not highly powerful but it is highly effective, how good a card is always comes down to the context in which it is played and the context of the cube involves lots of game changing artifacts.

Kird ApeKird Ape 2.0

I love this little fellow, my very first deck used Kird Apes and Tinder Walls and it was always fingers crossed for the god draw of two 2/3s on turn one. He is a rarity in that he is an old aggressive creature that has just about managed to stay above the curve. Ape has seen less play over the years as more and more alternatives crop up but enough archetypes still play him enough to keep his A cube slot. Three toughness is really quite a lot and in many decks you want good board presence and resiliant dorks more than you want speed and aggression. This means Kird Ape still beats Goblin Guide to deck spots, typically these are the higher mana curve beatdown decks such as Zoo and RG beats where he is not so irrelevant in the mid to late game as a play. Agro dorks with two or less toughness tend to trade with most utility dorks which is exactly what you want to do with your utility dorks when playing against a beatdown deck. Kird Ape survives basically all utility dorks and kills most of them as well making him a great card to smooth and lower your curve with. You need to be a little careful about your mana base as he is obviously horrible as a 1/1 but otherwise he is not too restrictive in deck construction. He also sees a lot more play than Loam Lion simply because red has less tough monsters than white and more good beatdown archetypes that want a dork that is just big and cheap. 

Plated GeopedePlated Geopede 2.5

I resisted having this in the A cube for a long time but it kept ending up back there through no actions of mine. It also kept performing impressively in both Zoo style decks and Red Deck Wins. My dislike of the card comes from its reliance on sac lands to be abusive and a reliance on making land drops to be playable. What I didn't factor in as much was that if you do make this and curve out making more lands you only need a couple of turns before they are very dead assuming the other things you are doing are at all helpful. Without sac lands a 3/3 first strike for 2 is not worth the dependence on making land drops in an agro deck however the potential for it to hit for 5 is too unfair. In the ideal situation you make it on turn two and follow it with two sac lands which make it near impossible to lose if it is not killed. It is also really hard to block sensibly with sac lands in play as it can be made the appropriate size at instant speed. Sac lands may even be saved so as to apply a massive hit later. If you have 3 or more sac lands Geopede starts to look really rather good and a worthy inclusion in your agro deck. He is not even the worst blocker with first strike making him pesky. It is a little unpredictable and quite swingy while also forcing you to get sac lands which are already in high demand and very powerful all of which mean I don't have a love of this card still although I must concede that it is good enough for the A cube. 

Molten RainMolten Rain 1.5

Rather a dull card in cube, especially given Chocking Sands barely ever sees play. Molten Rain has two homes however it is far from a mainstay in either. In one Stone Rain or Pillage would be better but the cube only has so many slots, especially for weak marginal cards and so it must make do with Molten or no Rain. Destroying a land for three mana is way too fair for cube, even on the play or with ramp the loss of tempo you get from spending turns and cards to kill lands off usually ends up killing you. For single target land destruction to work you need to draw near perfectly and have you opponent not draw optimally as well. As such you never run decks with lots of cards like this, instead you play a card or two like this for timely disruption when it works with what your deck is doing. Wildfire decks come in a selection of builds, RG, WR, mono red and nearly pure artifact based. A cheeky bit of land destruction can win the odd game early when appropriate but is rarely dead late game as you have mass land destruction effects to help keep it significant. Killing their 6th land for three mana and a card is poo but killing their 2nd after you cast Wildfire is backbreaking. The other common home for Molten Rain is in red deck wins where the two damage bolt on bonus is often more important than the killing of the land. Three is a lot for red deck wins and I find a good indicator of how good my deck is. When I have two or less 3+ drops (no including Fireblast) my deck is amazing and when I have more than four my deck is weak. This is only a trend and not a certainty but it does mean Molten Rain only ends up in a fifth at most of red deck win lists. It is a lovely compliment to Rishidan Port and/or Wastelands but in red deck wins would rarely be used in combination with any more land destruction and would never be used without the good shot at getting two bonus damage through. 

Zo-Zu the Punisher
Zo-Zu, the Punisher 1.2

Zo-Zu can be brutal but he can also be rather average. If you are on the play or get a Mox start then he is more likely to be brutal but often he comes down late and has little to no effect for quite a chunk of mana. He is rarely what you want in goblins decks and so only really fits in agro red decks and ponza style red decks. In the former he is up against a lot of strong opposition and is in a slot the deck is trying to minimise and so rarely sees play. On top of this he is a legend which makes him even easier to kill as if three mana 2/2s with no immediate effect weren't bad enough already. His main redeeming feature is Ankh of Mishra which gives him sufficient redundancy to set about building a little around. In red deck wins Zo-Zu is only ever put in if the list already has the Anhk. It is so hard to beat the one two punch of early Ankh followed by Mr Punisher, the old sac land for 9 isn't so good. It is even harder when they have a Rishidan Port down or some other mana denial or disruption. The one good thing about Zo-Zu over Ankh is that he is a little more pro active, if your deck is a little more focused on mana disruption the games often stall out with neither player doing very much at which point beating for two a turn is actually very relevant. Generally this will sit in my sideboard for against control and many coloured decks and is rightly domiciled to the B cube most of the time. 

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