Monday 20 August 2012

Top 10 One Drop Beaters

Jungle Lion
I love a one drop beater, there is no way to get a better tempo boost than making an actual threat on turn one. A selection of the most powerful archetypes involve making reliable early pressure and then maintaining that slight tempo edge long enough to muscle a win. Mono black agro, red deck wins, white weenie, boros, zoo and many more less established or named decks are all variants on the simple theme of winning by making use of tempo. As a group of spells there is a higher proportion of one mana beaters that can easily do more than one per hit than any other group of spells say counter magic or burn spells that make the cube. Only the very weakest like Wild Dog that have too few good homes and have too inconsistent of a drawback are not powerful enough for cube play. One drop mana critters offer a tempo boost much like the pure beaters but in a slightly less direct way. You don't get the tempo boost by beating with your Llanowar Elf and so they won't be featured on this list.

Goblin Guide

10. Steppe Lynx
9.   Basking Rootwalla
8.   Isamaru, Hound of Konda
7.   Carrion Feeder
6.   Figure of Destiny
5.   Student of Warfare
4.   Gravecrawler
3.   Wild Nacatl
2.   Delver of Secrets
1.   Goblin Guide

So, from the top Goblin Guide is the clear winner. Even the three power beaters take a couple of turns to apply as much damage as the Guide and have less surprise factor when drawn late game. Guide is damage right from the get go, is a healthy size, takes no more mana investments and gives you free information while getting his beat on. It is everything you want in a tempo one drop and has a drawback which often isn't one at all.

Delver of SecretsInsectile Aberration

Delver sneaks in at number two despite having little other support creatures in blue. It is also very weak if you fail to flip it and have to play light creature count anyway to give reasonable odds on flipping it. Flying is so very good in magic and while not as tempo enhancing as haste it has more reach, utility and longevity as the game progresses. On top of this three power is very rare for a one mana investment. Not a consistent card but when you do flip it you have quite an unreasonable edge.

Wild NacatlThe Nacatl is just a lot of stats for not much mana, the pre requisites are easy to achieve with sac and dual lands. A simple but brutally effective card that is big enough to still be decent as a late draw. Often played in RG or GW decks as it is so easy to splash in the appropriate lands. It is easier to play this effectively than Delver but has fewer decks that it fits in and lacks the flying and so sits just behind it.

Gravecrawler is a fully acceptable 2/1 for one with the added perk of recursion. This makes him good tempo early and offers great synergy and some inevitability too. Not being able to block is relevant in agro on agro games but generally is not relevant to the kinds of deck using it. In black you would happily trade a toughness and the inability to block in order to not lose a life a turn in the really agro decks. You do have to spend extra mana to make him any better than a Savannah Lion but the ball is in your court with that choice and it is not a big cost.

Figure of DestinyStudent of Warfare and Figure of Destiny are very similar cards. Both can apply significant early pressure while offering the ability to turn into very serious late game threats. Both cost more than one mana to get much tempo boost early and consequently are the least effective tempo cards in this list. They make up for this with flexibility and good scaling. In a perfect curve out you are always better off with a one drop that has no extra mana costs however when you don't have a two or three drop you are well covered by your level style guys. Figure can be played in more decks and the instant ability to level is really useful but it is a lot of mana in the mid to late game to make it very threatening which is why Student is ranked higher. A 3/3 with first strike attacking on turn two is going to get a lot of damage through while the 2/2 Figure is likely just going to trade with a utility dork. On top of this Student is  only 8 mana, paid for as you like, to get to the top level which will end games very fast. Games have ended to little more than an unanswered Student by turn 4.

Carrion FeederCarrion Feeder is rather more of a utility dork than a pure agro dork but he is only really suitable for agro decks and is very good none the less. He will generally set you back in tempo in the early game if you make him bigger than 1/1 but he helps against disruption and with combat trickery, he steadily grows and he combos really well with the black recursive dorks. Over the course of most usual games he grows reliably as monsters get into combat or are picked off with removal and so he acts a little like the Figure and the Student without requiring any extra mana.

Isamaru is your standard 2/2 for one with no drawback. For big things being legendary is a huge downfall with clone effects and Karakas being a royal pain but one mana critters are not too bothered by such things. Indeed Karakas is often really good for your little Hound of Konda and protects it well. Not an exciting card and offering no other synergy beyond Karakas protection but is reliable and has all the core elements of a one drop tempo beater. The extra toughness over Savannah Lions and Elite Vanguard is nice but not always enough to outweigh the creature type synergy of the latter.

Basking Rootwalla
Basking Rootwalla is rarely played in the most balls out agro decks and tends to find himself in quirky agro decks trying to maintain high card advantage instead. Because of the mana requirement to make him a 3/3 you lose tempo rather than gain it by pumping early. He is still fine to have around just nibbling away for one as you often get him for free both to cast and as a card, he is hard to block and is a fine dump for spare mana. He will supplement things like Overrun and has some very nice synergy with cards like Vengevine and Fauna Shaman. Just the other day I lost a game to a 4/5 Rootwalla courtesy of Pendlehaven. A card with a lot of uses that will aid the tempo aspect of various engines.

Steppe LynxThe final card to make the cut is Steppe Lynx but it was a close call. Unsurprisingly with the very limited scope of a one mana casting cost the various contenders will all be fairly similar. Sarcomancy, Diregraf Ghoul, Elite Vanguard, Champion of the Parish, Stromkirk Noble, Kird Ape and the humble Mogg Fanatic all came very close to the last spot. Below the top 6 there is not a great deal to chose between cards. The Lynx has been putting many games utterly out of reach for recovery in recent incarnations of Zoo and Boros and so qualifies mostly on recent form. You need sac lands to make him good but you only need to draw one or two to have Lynx be brutally effective. No other half decent one drop hits for 4, few do 3 and a bunch of those need further mana to get you there. Hitting with a 2/3 is fine, even if it is only a 0/1 blocker most of the time, it is not like you want him to be blocking in much the same way Gravecrawler and Carrion Feeder are fine. Hitting with a 4/5 is totally not fine when it cost you all of one mana and will get you free wins when you make it on turn one with a few sac lands in hand. The odds on it being a free win are certainly lower than with cards like Sinkhole and Hymn to Tourach but it is still something that will happen enough to justify playing the card. When it is not a bomb it is still fine but is one of the worst late game top decks. Most one drop creatures are weak when drawn late and so the main reason this only just makes the top ten is the high dependence on sac lands for its power levels which are not easy to pick up in drafts.

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