Wednesday 26 December 2012

Magic Online Powered Cube

Black LotusIn previous articles I have been fairly critical of the MODO cube however I think I have been overly harsh, especially as they are continually changing and improving it. Even if they were not it is nice to have the option of cube drafting and is a good thing regardless. I am most impressed with the latest version they have given us complete with the power although not for that reason. The power itself is a good laugh and leads to some crazy games but will always be a little more random. Fun is always a good thing to be trading predictability for as games are supposed to be fun and the cube is not too serious for competitive play yet either. A lot of the chaff cards have been culled, the fixing has been increased and the reduced size of the pool enables greater consistency of archetypal drafting. I still sorely miss Death Cloud and am surprised to not be seeing Fastbond on the list yet despite this it is a very fun and very well rounded cube list. The prizes changes since my last article are also a bonus and make it much easier for people like myself who only wish to cube to do so.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
I have only done four drafts with the powered MODO cube and so am not in a great position to lay down the knowledge. I have also not worked out the meta shift as yet, in my cube the addition of the power made everything a lot narrower, the tier 1.5 decks became unplayable, the agro decks all needed to play outs and take risks to do busted things so as to be able to keep up and the decks that could best abuse the power cards became the dominant decks. Overall I would generalise by saying that adding power to my cube list significantly reduces the converted mana cost of decks (even if you remove the power cards themselves from the equation) and reduces the number of cards that see play. In the modo cube the opposite seems to be happening where decks are becoming much higher in converted mana cost and the whole pool is much more playable. I have faced a lot of decks that simply try to quickly get out broken threats such as Channel plus Emrakul combo or just loads of artifact mana and high end bombs. I think these are great decks but I think they are over populated at the moment and that a draft shouldn't support more than two such decks. They are hard to reliably draft and will leave you with an inconsistent pile of junk a lot of the time. The environment is much better set to exploit these kinds of deck with the more consistently draftable archetypes in my eyes.

The best way to put this is to say that the decks that can most abuse the power like the batty combo decks and the huge quick threat makers will either be 9 and 10/10 decks or they will be 0-4/10 decks. Things like white weenie will always be in the 5-8/10 range and can easily be drafted to have the required outs to the bomb archetypes. You are relying on consistency to beat the broken decks most of the time with your "normal, fair, make a land and a thing then pass the turn.dec" and so ideally want to be proactive. One of my four drafts ended up being a rock deck which was very good but entirely the wrong deck for the new meta. Rock is fair and it is slow and clunky, it can cope with most other forms of fair deck but frequently just folds to an awkward early threat. The main problem with rock is that it is not very aggressive and so gives the bomb decks enough time to get over any inconsistencies in their draws. In other words the delay tactics and consistency in my rock deck were good but not enough to outweigh the slowing of my kill clock. A white weenie deck should always be able to goldfish for around turn five and this will pick up a lot of free wins.

The way to making a white weenie deck better equipped to deal with the bomb decks are reasonably subtle yet highly effective. Path and Plow were already amazing but have managed to go up in value with absurd bombs landing all over the place. Disenchant is now not only main deckable but also a pretty high pick. The ability to take out key mana artifacts or big artifact threats is a huge stumbling block for the big threat decks and most creature based decks try and pack some equipment so it is rarely a dead spell. Karakas deals with an awful lot of the big threats and if they are being cheated into play it is even more brutal. I am fairly happy letting my opponent just have an extra turn when I bounce their Emrukal after they paid most of their life to Channel it out. Stripmine remains one of my top picks in the format, I will take it over almost anything non-powered and later in the draft when I know what archetype I am in it will get picked over power often enough. So many free wins from a card so hard to play around or deal with that fits so wonderfully as disruption in any consistent agro deck. The cards we need to cut from our agro decks to fit in all these cheap disruption effects are the most powerful ones! Things like Baneslayer Angel are just too slow and will either do too little when they come out or will sit in your hand while you crush or get crushed in the early turns of the game. The majority of your standard dork type threats want to cost one and two mana and this feels like it should be the case for most decks trying to win by curving with dorks.

Strip Mine
The thing I noticed most in my first three drafts was that red deck wins was always both there and undrafted and that had I taken those cards my deck would have been much better. In the fourth draft enough was enough and I first picked Sulphuric Vortex over Mishra's Workshop and never looked back taking things like Grim Lavamancer over Tolarian Academy. I did foolishly pick up a Sol Ring and probably miss-built my deck as a result. Red deck wins is not one that abuses the power that much, colourless mana is not that useful and every card not dealing damage is less consistency. The only piece of power that is really a high pick for red deck wins is Mox Ruby, even Black Lotus often does less than nothing and costs you the game by not being a Shock... If going for red deck wins you should be prepared to pick Goblin Guide, Strip Mine and Lightning Bolt over Sol Rings and Ancestral Recalls.

Goblin Guide
23 Spells

Goblin Guide
Grim Lavamancer
Sol Ring
Faithless Looting

Chain Lightning
Jackal Pup
Rakdos Cackler
Spikeshot Elder

Reckless Charge

Kargan Dragonlord
Sulfuric VortexEmber Hauler
Keldon Marauders
Stormblood Berserker

Hellspark Elemental
Torch Fiend
Magma Jet
Searing Blaze

Fire / Ice

Sword of Fire and Ice
Sulphuric Vortex
Brimstone Volley

Koth of the Hammer

17 Lands

Rishidan Port
Teetering Peaks
14 Mountains

Relevant Sideboard

Taurean Mauler
Mizzium Mortars
Molten Rain
Tattermunge Maniac
Price of Progress
Ghitu Encampment
Boggart Ram-Gang

Sol Ring
My list ended up more creature heavy than I would usually like a red deck wins to be but it did mean I could play my Big Equipment helped along with the Sol Ring to power it out. I also ran Koth because of the Sol Ring. In a fair number of games I took out both the Sol Ring and the Faithless Looting so as to ensure I wasn't losing any card advantage. The Mizzium Mortars came in a lot simply to up my burn quota and in hindsight it would probably have been better to have it and something else main instead of the Sol Ring and the Looting.  This however would have made me a lot less happy to play both Sword and Koth and would mean I would have to bring in some very sub par cards from the sideboard to replace them. That said it was incredibly consistent and had enough tempo and reach to finish games off well. It looks light on disruption but what it has barely effects it and makes all the difference in a lot of games. The deck didn't drop a game despite having some very close call games against things like turn two Sun Titans from the guy with the Black Lotus and several other bits of power and would be my vote for the best archetype.... still. Best and most powerful are not to be confused however, the most powerful archetype has bomb like blue cards and loads of artifacts and lands that unfairly ramp but it is not the best because you will rarely be able to get all the right combinations of the pieces. Four drafts is a long way off a sensible sample size however and I could have just had good luck with my red deck wins and happened to play against a lot of clunky big threat decks in all my drafts. I believe red has such reach that it is a deck than can be a 9/10 or even 10/10 while still always managing to consistently average a 7/10.

Sunday 16 December 2012

UGw Opposition

OppositionOpposition is one of the most powerful cards in the cube and in any draft format in which it has seen print. No surprise that the cube versions of Opposition decks are very capable and have been kicking around the tier one area since the dawn of cube. It is a bit of a tease having Opposition as a blue card, or at least it used to be when blue had bugger all dorks worth playing. Glare of Subdual felt like it was more in the right place on the colour pie but not tapping lands makes it far far less interesting for cube play. Green was always the pairing colour of choice for Opposition decks as all the good ramp and utility creatures scale so well into the late game with Opposition. Blue can now quite comfortably do a mono Opposition deck but it is more difficult to draft, more damaged when cut and not as all round consistent as the UG version. This list is UGw which is probably the strongest of all should you get the appropriate fixing.

The main joy of UG(x) Opposition decks is that they are so wonderfully easy to draft. I do not mean it is low skill, I mean that the colours are very deep and the kinds of card you are after are broad and well catered for in most cubes. I end up drafting this deck an awful lot as it is very easy to slip into and highly reliable, all you really need is the Opposition, which often doesn't get first picked but is easily first pickable and more often than not the most powerful card in the pack, if not, it is still likely to be the easiest to abuse. So many lowish powered first picks out of nothing better in the pack will end up being ideal in Opposition decks. The white in this list helps to significantly increase the overall power level of the cards in the deck but is not needed at all to make the deck work or plug any gaps. I would never aim to go for a three colour Opposition deck and would only do so if the draft kindly gift wrapped that option, or gave me no other...

24 Spells

Birds of Paradise
Bird of Paradise
Joraga Treespeaker
Llanowar Elf
Noble Hierarch

Swords to Plowshares
Force Spike

Wall of Blossoms
Wall of Roots
Stoneforge Mystic
Viridian Emissary

Arcane Denial

Wall of BlossomsEternal Witness
Kitchen Finks
Wood Elves
Blade Splicer

Master of the Wild Hunt
Restoration Angel
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Garruk, Wildspeaker

Acidic Slime

Consecrated Sphinx

Garruk Wildspeaker16 Lands

Tropical Island
Flooded Strand

Misty Rainforest
Breeding Pool
Temple Garden
Stirring Wildwood

Celestial Colonnade
Yavimaya Coast
Flooded Grove
Simic Growth Chamber

3 Forests
1 Island

Wall of Roots
Once you have your Opposition the only thing that you are really trying to do is cram as many useful creatures into the deck as possible. As the criteria is being a dork, and the cube is full of really good dorks, you can build multiple versions of similarly good Opposition decks that only have Opposition and lands in common. Talking specifically about the choices of dorks I have gone for in this list is not overly helpful in understanding the archetype which is both broader than BG decks, not to mention better. So, as you want lots of guys it is a good idea to get as many of the effects you want to have in your deck in dork form such as Acidic Slime instead of Naturalize and Wall of Roots over Explore / Nature's Lore. In the latter example Wall of Roots is also far superior to Sakura Tribe Elder because you get to ramp and keep a body in play for tapping things later on. More key that the commonly used strategy of having utility dorks is having spells that double up as guys such as living weapon or planeswalkers that make tokens.

Arcane Denial
Opposition decks are not without their weaknesses, which include mass removal, enchantment removal, creatures that don't need to tap to be useful or can at least usefully tap at instant speed, and lastly running out of gas. Enchantment removal tends not to be an issue as not all that much gets played and the few that are such as Vindicate are easy to play around. You also have a bit of insurance with Eternal Witness however a counterspell tends to be the best solution when you can't deny them the ability to actually cast it. Counterspells are also a great answer to mass removal and so are worth a few slots but too many is crippling and leaves you with too little a creature count. Gone are the days of Mystic Snake being a big name in this archetype. Arcane Denial is perfect as it at least draws you a card which is the next best thing to having a dork and it is also cheap and easy to cast, you don't even really care about the cards you give your opponent. Typically you are punishing them in one area, be it lands or dorks and only care about the few outs they might have. There are other ways of making mass removal less painful to you such as persistent monsters like Kitchen Finks and planewalkers who tend to avoid mass removal.

Sower of Temptation
Blue and green are the two colours that lack creature removal, Opposition will stop blockers and attackers you don't like but it does little to stop a Grim Lavamancer going to town on your army and you will spend more time with Opposition not in play that you will with it any ways. The counterspells can help in this area but it is not the main, or even a very good reason to include them. You would be far better off with more dedicated removal such as Umezawa's Jitte. Having a third colour as I have done offers the creature kill but it is yet another non-creature card in the deck for the most part and wants to be kept to a minimum. The only half playable single colour removal spells that are also dorks are Flame Tongue Kavu and Shriekmaw. Bounce and control magic effects I find tend to work out pretty well when no third colour is an option. Bounce effects are easy to find on decent creatures and work very well in your deck. Mana critters combined with bounce dorks give you a huge tempo edge, combined with counter magic they offer a more reliable way of dealing with pesky dorks and combined with Opposition they can stop bounced things ever coming back to play. The list I have given is very much on the light side of ways to deal with dorks and is more focused on card advantage and creature power to compensate for this lacking.

The final weakness of the archetype is that it can run out of gas very easily. In a top deck situation you are often in real trouble as so many of your cards are do nothing Elves and you have few serious threat cards. This list is very very high on card draw effects with Jace, Skullclamp and Consecrated Sphinx, all serious card draw engines. You do not need to go this all out on it but some is certainly needed unless you end up only playing really high power cards, which in turn means you will lose to any vaguely quick deck.

I feel I need to rise to my own challenge and make a viable list that uses very few of the same cards to illustrate the depth of the archetype.

Eternal Witness24 Spells

Birds of Paradise
Fyndhorn Elves
Llanowar Mentor

Enclave Cryptologist

Lotus Cobra
Waterfront Bouncer
Fauna Shaman
Coiling Oracle


Squee, Goblin Nabob
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
Coiling OracleMan O' War
Eternal Witness

Shardless Agent
Trygon Predator

Sower of Temptation
Glen Eldandra Archmage

Meluko, the Clouded Mirror
Force of Will

16 Lands including a Treetop Village

Ok, so not quite no overlap, Birds of Paradise and Eternal Witness are too juicy, I very nearly put some two mana walls in the second list as well!

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Top 10 Burn Spells

A nice pure Top X list here much like the counterspells one. It would be easy enough to work this out from my ratings however here it is for convenience sake. It is far far easier to compare a narrow style of card like counterspells or burn directly, especially given their colour confinements as they all do the same one thing. Without further-a-do here is my list:

Lightning Bolt
10. Lava Dart                 1 (4)
9.   Seal of Fire               4 (8)
8.   Searing Blaze            2 (18)
7.   Searing Spear           4.5
6.   Incinerate                 4.5
5.   Chain Lightening       9
4.   Burst Lightening       4 (3.6)
3.   Fireblast                  2.6 (20)
2.   Arc Trail                 9
1.   Lightening Bolt        9

Ball Lightening              12
Galvanic Blast              16

Lightning Helix
I imagine many are wondering where Lightening Helix is on my list and will be assuming I have excluded non-red cards or something similar however I just don't think it is top 10 material. It is the most overrated burn spell going as it is hard to cast and is at somewhat cross purposes. Certainly it is a card that offers huge value and is well above the curve on power but life schmife is all I can say. In a control deck it is a decent tempo card as the life is significant but in the agro decks the simple Incinerate is so much more forgiving on your mana and does exactly the same thing, if not more, for you. I hate gold cards anyway for their lack of playability and stand by my rating of Seal of Fire and Lava Dart above it. To be fair to the card the only other burn spell not on this list I might rate above it is Firebolt and so the very worst Helix is would be the 12th best burn spell.

Galvanic BlastAnother exclusion which deserves honourable mention is Galvanic Blast which is quite significantly better than all the other burn when in the right deck. Burn is very simple to break down into a numerical comparison where you factor in the burn per mana and burn per card. By doing this you can get an all round value score for your card which accounts for both forms of card efficiency. Obviously you will tend to favour mana efficiency or damage efficiency on your burn depending on what kind of deck you are building so the scoring isn't all that relevant beyond a theoretical point of view. More significant are the factors that fall outside the considerations of these efficiencies such as prerequisites for the effects or additional costs or stipulations. Fireblast would technically score infinite due to not costing mana to use most of the time. It is hard to simply mathematically compare saccing two lands to a normal mana cost and my method of removing infinities is somewhat of a botch. The numbers by the sides of the card are suppost to represent the combined score of mana efficiency and burn efficiency, Lightning Bolt is 3 burn for one mana and one card, 3 x 3 = 9, simple.
Galvanic Blast gets a near top score when it is cast with metal craft and has all the benefits that the rating does not account for as well being both one mana and instants speed. Despite this there are not enough artifact decks that really want good cheap burn to merit it having a main cube slot.

Lightning Bolt is a clear winner, the score system doesn't account for instant speed which is always nice. Nine is a good score although not the highest, it gets the top spot for being so consistently good. One mana spells are a premium and with no drawback or downside Bolt goes in every red deck very happily.

Arc TrailArc Trail gets a more controversial second place. In cube there are far greater numbers of cheap spells than other formats and lots of small utility creatures to boot. Arc Trail is very easy to get a two for one with and can even find it happening against non agro decks. It is at its strongest against the agro decks where it can so easily take all the steam out of their draw. In these situations where you cast it on turn two or three and hit two dorks it is about the best tempo card in the cube. It also offers cheap card advantage in red where it is short supply. The worst it ever is still makes it playable in decks like red deck wins where you want all your cards to be able to do two damage to the dome. The score for Arc Trail can be 2 at worst when it is two mana and a card for just two damage but when you get the two for one it is a high scorer as well.

FireblastFireblast is the narrowest of the burn spells in this list but it is also the most powerful by quite some way. When you can afford so sac two mountains the score is equivalent to 20 which is over double the number one card! When you can't however it is a pathetic 2.6 which is fairly unplayable thus illustrating why the card is narrow - unless you can reliably afford to sac two mountains the card is weak. Usually this just ends the game as the last card the turn before your opponent was expecting however the beefy 4 damage does occasionally make it worthwhile using midgame to wipe out a big dork and keep swinging.

Burst Lightning just pips Chain Lightning to 4th place and this is primarily because of control decks preferring the flexibility and instant speed of the card to the raw power of Chain Lightning. Neither 4 or 3.6 are huge scores which are the respective normal and kicked options however this rating does not reflect the range of the card. One mana spells are premium early game and high damage burn spells are much more efficient late game and Burst gives you a decent offering for both scenarios.

Chain Lightning
Chain Lightning might as well just do three damage, I have never yet seen the fork ability get used which is quite remarkable. In theory it would be cool on a Swans of Bryn Argoll but further applications for it I struggle to find. In very aggressive decks it is pretty close to Lightning Bolt but in control it is rather more tedious and sees much much less play even with its very solid score of 9 and having the premium one mana cost.

Incinerate is quite a step down in power from the premium burn but like Lightning Bolt is highly consistent. The anti regenerate effect is very marginal but does at least come into play now and again unlike Chain Lightnings ability. Three damage at instant speed is desirable and although it is not very mana efficient it is far easier on your red which is highly relevant in two or more coloured decks.

Searing Spear is obviously just another Incinerate for all intents and purposes. Redundancy is nice but that is not really a thing burn in general lacks, in fact it works against Spear quite often. You want another burn spell but already have Incinerate and find you would rather play something else than Spear which gives you a different kind of effect.

Searing Blaze
Searing Blaze is rather like Arc Trail in that it can be utterly unfair or somewhat weak. Most decks now run dorks and so Blaze's inherent weakness over other more reliable burn is less and less an issue. When it is weak it is far weaker than Arc Trail at its worst however when Blaze is strong it is the best burns spell in your deck. It scores a massive 18 when it deals 6 damage for two mana and this would theoretically be 36 if you managed to kill off a creature and a planeswalker at once. Because it is so off the charts good when at its best, which is not that hard to engineer, it is well worth playing and risking it being bad.

Seal of Fire is a highly underrated burn spell that does wonders for your mana efficiency and burst output. It is not uncommon in the cube to need to kill something with 5 or more toughness on turn two or three and it is often the case that you have sufficient burn just insufficient mana. Burn heavy hands in general are irksome as you often have to waste the early opportunities to use your mana if you have no targets to kill. Seal of Fire is always happy to be thrown onto the table for later use. It may seem marginal spending just one mana a few turns earlier than you need to spend it but it is just much easier to overlook those kinds of benefits and is far from marginal. Typically this is more of an agro card than a control card but is playable in any deck. A score of 4 is low, probably the cut off point for playable, but if it fulfils the criteria of costing you zero relevant mana then it gets a very healthy score of 8.

Lava Dart
Lava Dart is my final burn spell of choice, it is low impact but highly flexible. It can be more game changing that Arc Trail in the right circumstance and also offers high curving efficiency like Seal of Fire. It is also a card you still get most of the value from when you discard it for whatever reason. Another perk it has over cards like Arc Trail is that is is very hard to play around having it kill two of your dorks, against the Arc Trail you can simply stagger your low toughness dorks so that you never have two in play however Dart happily waits around to get its second kill.