Thursday 31 January 2013

Top 10 Life Gain

Edit 7th June 2015.

This article is very outdated based on new cards and meta changes. A revised one may be found at;

Healing SalveExcluding cards in ones library life is the least relevant of resources in Magic. It is why cards like Necropotence and Dark Confidant are so potent, they convert life into a more useful resource - cards in hand. You start with 20 life and the first 19 of those have no impact on the game as such and so you have an abundant pile of resources at your disposal. As a result of this free stock pile of resources to tap into many of the most powerful cube cards in some way cost or use life up, and not just black card draw effects. Sac, pain and shock lands, Sulphuric Vortex, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Phyrexian mana, Carnophage and so on and so on. That life is less relevant than cards in hand or mana or that cards with life costs are abusable is a well known aspect of magic and as a result life gain has become a cheap thing to have on a card. With life being a resource people don't want to invest in getting it becomes much cheaper to have as an extra on a card and offers big returns for the small investment. There are only a couple of cards purely for life gain that are viable and they are all reuseable effects, most come bolted onto an already good card to make it even better value.

Stream of Life
But why would you want to get life gain for your deck after having discussed how it is a dead resource unless you can abuse it? Even if you are not abusing your life total with Necropotence there is a good chance you have some cards that can or do cost you some life although probably no where near enough to be killing you it will mean you are effectively on a lower starting life total. If you do yourself and average of 0.33 damage a turn and your average game takes 6 turns you can assume your life total is closer to 18 than 20 in reality. Again, this is no biggie, that still means you have 17 redundant life points to fritter away. It is not what you are doing to yourself so much but what other people will do to you. The cube is a vast format with a variety of decks than can bring lots of pain really fast. You need to be able to beat the common archetypes with any deck you are building and in order to beat the fast agro decks you typically need lots of cheap things to be playing so as to not get overrun too fast. In doing this you make your late game much weaker and start to lose to combos through lack of appropriate disruption or to high powered cards in control decks because your deck was full of Force Spikes. While life gain is only any use against the agro decks for the most part (as in you wouldn't feel compelled to play any life gain in your average deck if the field was all control and combo) it is often worth including as an alternative to lowering your curve and therefore average power level. Because life gain is so relatively potent you can pull back a lot of lost tempo against more agro decks and swing the tide with one card even when things look quite bleak. By substituting some cards in your deck for others with bonus life gain as well you can keep a very high overall power level and still have a good game against the agro decks. Baneslayer Angel and Wurmcoil Engine are popular control finishers because they are good threats but also because they can do the job of gaining a load of life back and swinging the tide. When the life gain is irrelevant it doesn't matter as you still have a good threat and when it does it often wins the game. It can even be worth playing a pure life gain card like Zuran Orb if you have enough card advantage or card quality effects to absorb a dead card. Unless you are running one of the agro archetypes your deck will probably be able to cope better with a wider array of decks if you have access to some life gain.  This is why I am not a huge fan of Lightning Helix over Incinerate in agro decks, you are the deck life gain is good against and mirror matchups in cube are very rare.

The life gain played by normal decks to sure up their matches against agro decks has to minimally impact the deck in their other match ups however in decks that are really abusing life as a resource such as Necropotence you typically need some life gain just to enable the continued use of your effects. In such decks it is common to find more dedicated and more hardcore life gain with less regard to them being potentially dead. As your deck can do enough self pain to potentially kill itself you significantly reduce the extent to which a pure life gain card is dead. These kinds of deck are less common in the cube than the broad label of "non-agro" and so the vast majority of the best life gain effects are on cards that would still be playable in cube with no life gain at all. Here is my top ten cards that gain life in the cube:

Vampire Nighthawk10. Vampire Nighthawk

A good all rounder that can go in most decks and feel at home. While a very solid card it it not the best life gainer as it is relatively easy to kill with both removal and in combat and typically cannot gain more than two a turn. If not dealt with it tends to be enough to beat agro decks but is obviously a kill on sight card for things like red deck wins. The 2/3 flying death touch parts of this card make it a great complimentary body for life gain as it will be able to hold off quite a lot of pressure on the board but it does still require it to live. This is a great supplement to a life gain compliment in a deck but is far from enough to fuel a Necropotence engine or hold off a red mage.

Scavenging Ooze9.   Scavenging Ooze

A cheap threat on an annoying disruption dork complete with some bonus life gain. The life gain aspect of this card is somewhat worse than Vampire Nighthawk, sometimes you will be able to drop it late game and gain a whole bunch of life before they can do anything about it however in the earlier to mid game where these kinds of cards tend to be more needed it is a lot of mana for not that much life with other requirements to fulfil. It is because this card is both a potent threat and disruption card that it rates so highly as it is one of the weakest cards in this whole article for raw life gaining power.

Baneslayer Angel8.   Baneslayer Angel

The classic control threat in the big flying life gaining angle. This is almost impossible to race or attack in to profitably. Unless the agro player can kill this on sight it ends games quickly, even if it dies before it kills them it has still usually had such an impact on the life totals that the game is out of reach. The slight downsides of Baneslayer as life gain is that it is five mana and has no immediate change on the life totals. While it is not easy to kill it is not out of the question at all to get it dead which is often as much of a scoop for them as it is for you when you can't kill it. Obviously a very powerful card with very swingy life gaining potential who's only real weakness is having no useful impact if immediately killed.

Primal Command7.   Primal Command

While still being in the five mana bracket with Baneslayer this versatile life gain spell is far more reliable than the Angel as you get seven happy life points as soon as you cast it. You also get the option of getting Eternal Witness and doing it again for another seven or just throwing something back on top of their library and slowing up their tempo. While it is not such a big swing on the board as the Angel the versatility and reliability of it make it a superior life gain card overall.

Deathrite Shaman6.   Deathrite Shaman

This is much like the Ooze except it is a better dork with more useful effects and roles and more efficient life returns. It is not as good a threat although it does offer some reach but given that it is also half the price, is playable in many more archetypes and is also a mana ramper and fixer   The drawbacks of this card as life gain are that it is slow to get life returns from it, it will situationally not work for life when no dead guys are there to be exiled, it is reasonably easy to kill and it cannot give you a big single injection of life. As the life gain is probably the least relevant of all the many many useful effects on the Shaman it is no surprise that this is one of the best life gain cards overall. One mana for two life per turn is nothing to write home about but is more than you can get from many of the life gain effects and a very happy bonus on an already great card.

Thragtusk5.   Thragtusk

This rather fudgy dork does tend to get it done, it is five life right away with a near guaranteed blocker to boot. Although it is no where near the level of finisher as a Baneslayer it is much more reliable value and immediate tempo, the latter of which is especially important against the decks you are playing life gain against. If you already have enough stuff to get you to five mana then Thragtusk is a good final nail in the coffin in the role of life gainer while also rarely being a dead spell in any match up.

Wurmcoil Engine4.   Wurmcoil Engine

Wurmcoil is very much like Baneslayer with one key advantage in that you typically get a 3/3 life link dork to gain you some life even when they deal with it. For the red mage to stop the Engine gaining life with just burn is a minimum of nine. In terms of cost and vulnerability Baneslayer and Wurmcoil are fairly comparable. The Angel only costs five mana but Engine is colourless only and can be made with things like Grand Architect more quickly. Angel only has five toughness compared to Engines six but many more removal spells can kill artifacts. Both are great threats with frightening life gaining potentials but the Wurmcoil tends to offer more value and can go in more decks so is the better card overall.

Umezawa's Jitte3.   Umezawa's Jitte

Jitte is soo good you only ever tend to use the life gain when they kill it with charge counters on but nothing else worth doing with them. Even though you are usually winning any way when you have an active Jitte the presence of the life gain ability is still highly relevant. It makes certain avenues of all-in  or race style strategies pointless where they are typically one of the best things to do against something you can't deal with and will ultimately beat you. The life gain option on the card gives you so much security, like insurance, it is good to have but better not to need. It is not the most reliable of pure life gain effects as all kinds of removal can really set you back in tempo and will therefore almost certainly finish you off given that you were trying to gain more life. While not a great sideboard card against red deck wins despite being a powerful life gain effects it is the perfect kind of card to up the power of your main deck by replacing a weaker card that was mostly there to cover potential life gain needs.

Kitchen Finks2.   Kitchen Finks

Finks is cheap, available to many decks, gives life immediately, acts as a good defensive chump and is hard to clear out the way. You can even abuse the persist in a selection of ways to prolong the irritation of his existence. It is one of the few monsters that excels both as an agro tempo dork and as a defensive early stalling dork. While you don't get the most life from the Finks it comes in the perfect package for when you want life gain. The most important of these aspects is that it is cheap allowing you to fight back a bit with useful things to do earlier in the game against the tempo wars of the cheap agro decks.

Zuran Orb1.   Zuran Orb

When you absolutely positively have to have life gain, except no substitute. Very much like the Jitte you never want to be using this to gain life (unless you are doing some silly infinite combo with Fastbond and Crucible of Worlds). Unlike Jitte this effectively charges throughout the game with no need of it in play and so you can flop it early and deny people strategy options or you can bait them in and flop it down once it is too late for them. This is the only pure life gain card that remains in my A cube and with good reason. The three things that make life gain good are low mana cost, high life returns and instant life returned. On all three accounts Zuran Orb is the best in the business. Sure you have to sac lands but it is better than being dead. When you have the safety of the Orb in play you will only ever be sacing off lands at the last minute which is hopefully at a point where it does not overly damage you. Really late game it at its best when lands would otherwise be almost dead draws. There are plenty of games where they come at you too strong and fast for the Orb to make any difference and would have been much better as anything else however in any game that is at all close the Orb will make a turn or twos difference and swing the game in its controller's favour.

While white is commonly the colour associated with life gain the cube has most of the best life gain in green with black being comparable to white. Enough of the quality life gain is artifact based and so mages off all colour can usually find an appropriate card or two so as to sure up their agro match ups.
Here are a list of the other life gain cards that see a decent amount of cube play that didn't quite make the top ten. I shall say a few words on them as they are so few in number.

Pulse of the Fields
Lightning Helix
Sorin Markov
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Knight of Meadowgrain
Swords to Plowshares
Obstinate Baloth
Ivory Tower
Pelakka Wurm

Ivory Tower
Pulse of the Fields and Ivory Tower are the only other pure life gain cards other than Zuran Orb that have really seen any cube play. Lots of quite weak cards such as Child of Night have been played purely for their life gain but with the intent of not being completely dead in lots of situations however it turns out you only ever want to play either really good life gain or really good cards with some minor incidental life gain effects. The fact that a card is bad does not make up for the fact it is slightly better at gaining life than alternatives. Ivory Tower only sees play in Necro decks although it was also seen in combination with Library of Alexandria in some control decks. It has a few advantages over Zuran Orb in that you can get value from it early at no real expense and it just sits there doing its thing for you however it is a much weaker card overall. Not just for the cards in hand requirement but also because it is slow to offer its returns. Pulse of the Fields is more rapid life return but it is really costly which renders it useless as life gain in some roles and even against some match ups. As a result it is only good against cheap red burn decks which it is really brutal against and has therefore sunk to the despised rank of a hoser within my cube.

Pelakka Wurm was popular in Reanimate decks for a decent period as he would give a big immediate life return while also being an OK threat with a bit of extra value should they answer it. He even saw a bit of play in big rampy green decks although I suspect this won't happen again with Thragtusk in the picture. Sphinx of the Steel Wind and Griselbrand are also both popular Reanimate targets as they have life gain and other juicy effects on the game. Reanimate hurts its self a lot as decks go, especially with its eponymous spell and so almost always packs at least one threat with the capacity to return life. As life gainers there is little to chose between Sphinx and Griselbrand and it entirely comes down to which of their other effects and attributes are more suited to your build. Sorin Markov is running a little low on archetypes that support him with both high mana and high black cost requirements. Black is the colour that wants life the most and so he sees play in this capacity just enough to keep an A cube slot. If he was just as powerful but offered no life I doubt he would see nearly as much play.

Knight of Meadowgrain is one of those cards which continually goes from A to B cubes and back. It is just a high value solid dork, the decks that play him don't really want life gain though and so his value is a little misplaced. This is a bit like Lightning Helix when used in most agro decks however unlike the Knight, Helix is a very desirable control card where the life gain goes from irrelevant to highly significant. Swords to Plowshares is not what you might consider as a life gain card but a good number of games have been saved and then won with the Plowing of your own guy for life, not ideal situations but better than death and all from a card you were playing purely as a removal spell! Obstinate Baloth is a bit dull but has added value from the anti discard and good synergy with Birthing Pod with fewer utility creatures costing four. As life gain it is fine but a bit mid range and just typically worse than options either side of it in the curve.

Tuesday 29 January 2013


Thrull Parasite
With the set now out I thought it was time to try the mechanics out in a forced synergy style deck. The aim with decks like this is to provide a home for as many playable cards with the new mechanic as possible and combine them with the best high powered cards that work well with them. The decks themselves are never better than tier 3 and are pretty happy to take a few games of real decks here and there. The purpose, other than it being loads of fun playing with new and silly cards, is to find out in which situations and with what kinds of cards the new mechanic is best suited to.

It was pretty clear while reviewing Gatecrash that extort would be a good thing to have on a card but no reason to be playing an overly weak or cross purpose card simply to get the effect. Should any of the few more interesting extort cards turn out to be playable it will be useful to know how to take advantage of the extort bonus. Realistically these cards are Thrull Parasite, Blind Obedience and at a push Crypt Ghast however I have included a few less powerful and useful extort cards in the deck so as to ensure I would have access to extort as often as possible. This makes the deck weaker in terms of average card power but then offsets this a little with increased deck synergy. Although the aim is not to be forging a new top tier cube archetype we cannot abandon the notion of trying to win with the deck, if you just get utterly smashed every time you wont get a chance to try the new effects.

Blind ObedienceExtort is not really anything more than a handy little mana sink. The effect for the mana is going to be costing you too much tempo in the early game to be of much value. As the game goes on a little it scales up quite well as their life total drops and you have spare mana. Extort provides both a bit of reach and a bit of life gain which allow you to alter your deck design a little. With extra lifegain reliably to hand you can afford more things like Thoughtseize and Dark Confidant. With the extra reach you can play fewer removal spells and / or evasion creatures. These are both subtle effects but in a deck packing five extort outlets it adds up a bit. While there are no real abuses or going off style combos for extort that I can think of there are plenty of good ways of building decks to make the most out of it. As it is an added mana cost on to spells it is worth playing ramp and playing cheap spells so as to be able to start sensibly extorting as early as possible. Extort also adds a flat amount of minor value to every spell in your deck which means it is relatively more of a power boost to cheaper low powered cards. A late game Chrome Mox is fairly dead but with a pile of extort effects in play it is suddenly a Lightning Helix to the face. Another way to add synergy to extort is with cards that give you further casting triggers for extort. Cards with flashback or simply ones that just draw more cards are both ideal however more subtle cards like Kor Skyfisher and Gravecrawler also have a similar effect.

Overall then I was aiming to build a very cheap deck that was fairly unafraid of playing cards that cost life or were situationally weak or dead. In addition to this I wanted to ensure I was continually casting spells with a healthy supply of mana as reasonably possible. To make the reach aspect of extort useful I wanted to be able to apply early pressure to get their life total as low as possible before they start to stabilize on the board.  Here is the list I found myself playing:


25 Spells

Mox Diamond
Chrome Mox

Thrull Parasite
Mother of Runes
Land Tax
Dark Ritual

Diregraf Ghoul
Path to Exile
Cabal Therapy
Cabal Therapy
Carrion Feeder

Blind Obedience
Syndic of Tithes
Dark Confidant
Kor Skyfisher

Basilica Screecher

Lingering Souls
Geralf's Messengers
Crypt GhastYawgmoth's Will

Crypt Ghast

15 Lands

Orzhov Basilica
Caves of Koilos
Marsh Flats

Godless Shrine
Isolated Chapel
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Plains
6 Swamps

Basilica Screecher
Obviously I didn't win a match with this concoction but I did take a few games here and there and put up a reasonable fight. It did not help I was also greedy on the mana base and was frequently white screwed. Sadly the best performances from the deck where the ones where I drew only the normal cube power cards and none of the extort and support cards. The most fun was getting to late game with three extort effects in play and pulling back from one life against Boros deck wins. Basilica Screecher is obviously terrible and will probably never see cube play again but it performed better than Syndic of Tithes in the deck! Both cards are too dependant on their extort effects to be playable and so are consequently not. The other three extort cards are all more interesting disregarding the extort however they are all a bit obscure in their other effects and are consequently hard to make good use of, especially when they are all in the same deck. I included a few relatively painless ways of enhances these cards where possible however it was all fairly marginal. Crypt Ghast is the very end of my curve and so as a ramp effect seems really weak, as such I played Yawgmoth's Will for some serious abuse and not too bad in the deck without the Ghast. I also had Gravecrawler Carrion Feeder combo to sink mana and the Skullclamp with Bloodghast as well to sink a bit of mana and get some more cards. These were the only sensible mana dumps I could find that fit with the deck. As for Thrull Parasite I threw in a Geralf's Messengers in the hope I could reset the undying but obviously never did. The Thrull was still pretty good simply because he disrupted my opponents cards rather well. The Blind Obedience is dependant on what your opponent is up to and so very hard to build in a way to abuse but I never drew it any way...
Mox Diamond
Moxes seemed like an ideal way to increase the spell count and ramp the mana early and so I greedily played Chrome and Diamond. Land Tax seemed like a good compliment in a deck wanting to have a relatively low land count to draw a high concentration of spells but also to have a decent supply of mana. It also ticks the box for being cheap. The rest of the deck was basically just things to make it reliably able to apply early pressure and staple good black and white cards to keep it competitive.

Overall the outlook is bleak for extort. While it is a lovely little bolt on bonus to have on a card it does not seem to be on either enough good cards or any real power spells or even cards that work really well with it. We already knew that the mechanic was not going to be able to support an archetype which this decks performance fully supports. The odd deck might have the odd extort card in it but it will usually be something like a sideboard card using its non extort effect against something specific. As such there will be very little call to consider how to make best use of the extort, at best it could could sway some very marginal calls between similar cards such as the one mana targetted discard spells. It is kind of like spending a lot of effort trying to abuse the protection from blue on Goblin Piledriver. Let us at least hope the evolve.dec goes a little better and that evolve will be a little more significant in cube.

Sunday 20 January 2013

Hate Bears

I did a recent heads up cube in which a mate did a cube version of a deck that is apparently played a bit in modern called Hate Bears. It is similar in some ways to a more established cube archetype - GW denial, but was a lot more proactive and played with a very different feel. Essentially it is a green white deck full of as many monsters that disrupt various strategies as possible. We were just throwing a few decks together for some quick games and were not competitively drafting cards due to time constraints so it is a little thrown together and also lacking a few spells I had already chucked into a different deck. I always love a fresh new archetype and rarely if ever do posts on decks done by other people so here is his list.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben24 Spells

Mana Tithe
Swords to Plowshares
Avacyn's Pilgrim
Noble Hierarch

Mother of Runes
Sylvan Safekeeper
Dryad Militant

Ethersworn Canonist
Thalia, Guardian of Threben
Grand Abolisher

Gaddock TeegQasali Pridemage
Gaddock Teeg
Scavenging Ooze
Selesnya Charm

Aven Mindcensor
Kitchen Finks
Loxodon Smiter
Blade Splicer

Knight of the Reliquary

Linvala, Keeper of Secrets
Restoration Angel
Elspeth, Knight Errant

Linvala, Keeper of SilenceSigarda, Host of Herons

16 Lands

Wooded Bastion
Stirring Wildwood
Sunpetal Grove

Temple Garden

Windswept Heath
Flooded Strand
Misty Rainforest

2 Plains
2 Forests

Selesnya CharmI had stolen the Eternal Witness, the Deathrite Shaman, the Fauna Shaman and the Treetop Village among a few other less relevant cards. We also don't have a copy of Leonin Arbiter which he mentioned he wanted but would need to change the mana base to do. The deck would consistently curve out with reasonably solid monsters while disrupting you in various unexpected ways. Although the disruption effects were typically not relevant on half the cards the sheer number of screwy cards meant that there were always a few thorns in your side making life really hard, all while under pretty decent pressure. The few spells the list played worked really nicely. Swords to Plowshares speaks for itself in this and any deck but being cheap is a real bonus for a spell in a deck like this. Mana Tithe is also lovely disruption in this deck as it hits so many targets, works well with the disruptive dorks and compliments a tempo orientated strategy. The Selesnya Charm was also pretty inspired, adding a bit of extra removal to relatively light compliment, offering pump to a tempo based creature deck and never being dead weight due to the knight token option. All in all a nice cheap card to round out the deck and keep it pure but give it some flexibility. Elspeth is a powerhouse but I would cut it for either the three mana Ajani or a creature based finisher such as Sublime Archangel. This is purely for the anti synergy it has with Gaddock Teeg and to a lesser extent Thalia as otherwise it would be a great card to have in the deck. Keeping the spell count to just three or four and keeping them cheap is good deck design for this archetype.

Tajuru PreserverMy mate, who has cropped up before in this blog under the psuedonim "Magnum Force" mentioned he considered playing Thorn of Amethyst and Glowrider but felt they would not be applying enough pressure to fit in with the rest of the rather aggressive list he had concocted. I fully agree with this assessment and think it is the key difference between this archetype and the GW denial archetype. The Mother of Runes combined with the Sylvan Safekeeper was a complete nightmare to deal with, both with removal and combat. They were a really good choice of utility one drops that helped to curve and keep tempo while also allowing late game finishing moves and preserving the lives of the most important disruption effects throughout the game.

Most of the disruptive dorks speak for themselves in this list, typically they have decent bodies for the costs and do some reasonably potent things to ruin the day for a couple of archetypes. A few exist that would have been fine in this deck and fit the theme such as True Believer, Kavu Predator or the afore mentioned Leonin Arbiter but without knowing the meta you are building for it is not easy to say which are right and wrong. I think it is fair to say the the best of the disruption dorks that offer decent tempo have been included in this list. The Grand Abolisher performed the worst of the disruption dorks but that was purely down to the decks I was playing against it rather than the strength of the card. The cards I am less sure about are primarily the ones that do not really disrupt and are just good beaters. That said I think Sigarda is over the top even with a powerful disruption perk, with so many sac lands in the deck and a not vast land or mana critter count getting to 5 mana will not be happening that quickly or reliably. In this role you are vastly better of with either a Tajuru Preserver for the effect or just a card like Sublime Archangel again that acts as a solid and more reliable finisher.

Blade Splicer
Tarmogoyf, Blade Splicer and Restoration Angel are the three cards that I felt didn't so much fit the theme of the deck in that they offered little or no disruption. The Angel offers synergy to a few cards but not enough to be at all abusable and it can save a valuable guy from death while not being a terrible threat however as a four mana card it doesn't really excite me as much as I would like a four mana card to do. Tarmogoyf performed pretty well but is just a beater and feels like you could better use the deck space to have more disruption guys. If you are feeling like you need beefier guys you are probably better off packing Rancor or a bit of equipment. The temptation to include the latter is always there with Stoneforge in the offering. The stand out card in the deck was Linvala who was a complete beating every time she hit the deck although a game was won by an Aven Mindcensor flopping out in response to a sac land activation and forcing the wiff followed by the instant concession. With the benefit of both time and hindsight here is a slightly honed list that I would aim for if I were trying to construct this deck in the future.

Grand Abolisher
24 Spells

Mana Tithe
Swords to Plowshares
Deathrite Shaman
Noble Hierarch

Mother of Runes
Sylvan Safekeeper
Dryad Militant

Ethersworn Canonist
Thalia, Guardian of Threben
Grand Abolisher
Fauna Shaman

Dryad Militant
Qasali Pridemage
Gaddock Teeg
Scavenging Ooze
Selesnya Charm

Aven Mindcensor
Kitchen Finks
Loxodon Smiter
Blade Splicer


Linvala, Keeper of Secrets
Sublime Archangel
Restoration Angel

16 Lands
Sublime Archangel
Stirring Wildwood
Sunpetal Grove

Temple Garden
Treetop Village

Windswept Heath
Verdant Catacombs
Marsh Flats


Sigarda, Host of HeronsI added the Sublime Archangel to fill in for both Sigarda and Elspeth. I added the Fauna Shaman just to add a bit of reliability on having the appropriate disruption effect for a given matchup. I put in Flickerwisp for some general utility but to also further try and abuse the slight synergies included for Restoration Angel. It also adds to the evasive flying portion of the deck which should help finish things despite a lack of removal. The Avencyn's Pilgrim feels much weaker than Deathrite and so I just swapped those two even though the Shaman is less good for mana it is much more useful in many other regards and fits the theme of the deck well. With Shaman added the Knight of the Reliquary was feeling weaker and although offering some nice utility (Karakas is absurd in this deck with so many legends to protect) the Knight is not really disrupting beyond situational and convoluted applications of Wasteland and offensive Karakas play. Treetop Village replaced the Wooded Bastion mostly because it looks ever weaker with more comes into play tapped lands in the deck. The tempo reduction from Village is well worth the bonus threat in any green agro deck and this one is no exception. The only other tweak to the deck is the addition of Rancor to compensate a little for the removal of some of the beefier threats however I am not sure it is really needed with all the fliers. It may well just be better as another mana critter or disruption dork or even just a persistent threat. The cards that spring to mind are a return of the Pilgrim, Kavu Predator or Strangleroot Geist. As I mentioned earlier the deck is ripe for adding a Stoneforge and something like a Skullclamp and an Umezawa's Jitte however it would require a more serious rejig of the deck and so I would prefer to run it in this form before dabbling in more uncharted territory! It is at least fair to say that in going the equipment rout you would cut the Charm and perhaps even another spell and try to fit in the 17th land and/or another mana critter.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Gatecrash Review

So the spoiler is now fully out and it fails to live up to Return to Ravnica for cube offerings. Gatecrash will have one of the lowest number of representation of any set in the cube. I have probably only reviewed another fifteen or so cards out of the hundred and twenty last spoiled cards and most of them are C cube cards that won't ever see play. Gatecrash is not a powerful set which is fairly irrelevant in most formats outside of the cube but does mean most of the more interesting cards just wont cut it if played in a cube environment which is a shame. While it has not power cards to offer the cube nor any that will really effect the cube meta Gatecrash does have a vast number of cards that are just interesting or playable enough to not be entirely ruled out. This is not that relevant for cube in a low powered set such as this however in general it is better to raise the lower bar and not the upper bar which this set does very well.

Angelic SkirmisherAngelic Skirmisher - No slot

Good effect but on too weak of a body at that costing. A joke in limited though.

Blind ObedienceBlind Obedience - 1.2

This is an interesting little card. I was thinking Sydic of Tithes might be cube worthy as it is a cheap extort card bolted onto a generically useful body. Blind Obedience seems like a better alternative should you really want extort effects for late game reach or even life gain. That being said if you want extort then more extort is also good and could lead to both seeing play. Blind Obedience is much more resilient than the Syndic as it is an enchantment rather than a piddly little dork which makes it better purely as an extort outlet however the other effects of the card pretty much have to be worth playing on their own merits disregarding the extort to be a viable cube card. While this is no Kismet as it does not effect lands it is half the price and will still offer a tempo boost while in play against most decks. This is not a control card and will see most of its play in white weenie style decks where you have a lot of small dorks and really want to get in safe extra attacks when they make fatter monsters than yours. Against creature heavy decks it will be very solid and be well worthy of a slot however against control decks it is a lot weaker, it may well allow you to get in some extra damage but not as consistently as against the creature decks and it will be at the cost of not having a more proactive threat card in its place. As such I can see it being the kind of card that is side boarded both in and out rather a lot. The artifact portion of the card is generally less relevant in most matchups but will cripple some, Grim Monolith and Mana Vault are pretty unplayable if they begin life tapped. This will make it a more playable card but as a hoser which I am not a huge fan of.

Court Street Denizen
Boros EliteBoros Elite - No slot

This is not the one drop you are looking for. Getting this to trigger, especially early is rarely going to happen and early is when you want your one drops to be good. As such, this is very bad.

Court Street Denizen - C Cube

This reminds me of Waxmane Baku which is clearly not a cube card but none the less was a beating in limited. As this is more generically easy to trigger than the Baku and needs no mana to do so this is somewhat better but I really cant see the Grey Ogre body cutting it even with the reasonable tempo tapping.

Daring SkyjekDaring Skyjek -C Cube

As 2 mana 3/1 dorks go I quite like this one however I am not sure people will often go looking for it as it is not exactly an exciting card. The other 3/1 white guys that get some play tend to be for other synergies, Porcelain Legionnaire for more Tempered Steel types of deck and the Accorder Paladin for token style decks. They buff the other cards in the deck where as the Skyjek doesn't and while flying is nice it is not the most reliable of flying and so I think this will see a few outings at best in my cube.

Dutiful ThrullDutiful Thrull - C cube

This is quite pesky and, although it isn't really worth it in any deck as a 1/1, should you be able to boost it then you start to have a decent looking dork. As an agro dork it is not doing enough for anyone to care that its hard to kill and in control decks you do not want to have mana pinned down for your defence to stay alive.  Either equipment or Crusade effects are both good for boosting it and white decks are very frequently splashing black these days for Lingering Souls and Vindicate. The main problem with this card is that you rarely need both a one drop and a regenerator and so I think Spectral Lynx need not fear for its places in decks.

Frontline MedicFrontline Medic - 2.0

Three is a more reasonable place on the curve to be getting a bit more value out of the battalion effect. A 3 mana 3/3 in white is decent enough on its own although not quite cube worthy, the battalion effect however is really rather powerful and will allow you to plow your men fearlessly into your opponents face. It is a touch on the narrow side as only really cheap agro decks will want to play this. The counter effect is neat and a quirky little bonus however it is a bit of a narrow hoser. There are few X spells in the cube and most are red with most of those being mass removal effects. As such this will be a real headache for any kind of red control or midrange deck and almost always bait some single target removal or countermagic. So, this will go in a lot of WW and Wx agro decks and will be brutal against blockers whenever you have battalion and still decent when you don't. It will be called upon more often when facing red decks to bring the counter ability into use but is highly unlikely to see play in any sort of control deck.

Gideon, Champion of JusticeGideon, Champion of Justice - 1.5 (although probably a B cube resident)

Being a 4 drop white card is a tough break and when you are awkward to use and marginal in terms of power things don't look to great for new Gideon. His -15 effect is serious and should almost always win the game however getting there is a bit tough. When they have lots of guys they are likely to be able to ignore Gideon and race you, when they have no guys he is never getting to 15 loyalty before something more significant happens and the game ends. When they have a couple of small dorks he will just eat the odd attack and save you a few life. This might be enough to win some close games but probably not as effectively as a Zuran Orb would. As a threat Gideon is more interesting as he is hard to kill with sorcery removal and near impossible to profitably block. To keep Gideon reasonable in a close creature combat style game he will need to be chumped and attacked a bit and so he is a very good tempo card in a midrange or agro deck. The problem he faces in this role is that he has weak synergy with many other white agro cards such as equipment, he is competing with some really serious creatures such as Hero of Bladehold and Sublime Archangel who pack a lot more punch while doing other useful things and to cap it all off the other white 4 drop planeswalkers are currently all more potent in decks capable of apply tempo pressure. I rate this walker about the same as Koth of the Hammer although obviously quite different cards. Being so odd in function I must play with new Gideon a fair amount before I can be sure about any of my initial assessment, my hunch is he is too situational and low power and will sit in the B cube for it but I could easily be wrong on this one. This is not a great planeswalker but they don't generally have to be all that good to perform fairly well in cube, planeswalkers are generally just a great permanent type.

Righteous ChargeRighteous Charge - No Slot

Mini Overrun for white, I am sure there are lots of other cards a bit like this, or in fact just like this, but just like this none of them are really cube quality either. If this were instant perhaps but I'd rather just have a persistent pump effect for the mana like Glorious Anthem.

Syndic of TithesSyndic of Tithes - B cube (but will start out in A cube)

I like this card but fear it is both a touch narrow and a touch underpowered to be keeping hold of an A cube slot. As a life gain card in white it is very poor compared to the myriad of other choices. I therefore see only two homes for this card, firstly as a life gain card in BW decks it is much more interesting simply because black has more need of life gain and few decent options to call upon, especially in cheap agro decks. Black has more card draw than white too and so will be able to fuel the extort. The second main use for this card is as reach in WW style decks who must usually rely on attacking to get through any damage. White has some evasion but not as much as it would like and so Syndic of Tithes might be the ticket. My suspicion is that it is too slow to be that dangerous of a late game threat when the board has clogged up but I would like it to be viable.

ÆtherizeAetherize - C cube

This would have been a frequent target for Cunning Wish when it was in use but it is a bit too narrow in application to be worth a main deck slot. When they are attacking with a couple of critters or more it is a savage tempo swing but this will not be very easy to set up and having four mana set by as well is both difficult and telling.

Cloudfin RaptorCloudfin Raptor - 2.5

This is my favourite evolve card thus far as it is just what blue wants. There are few decent cheap flying creatures around and despite blue being the colour of the skies it is also the colour of lame one and two drop dorks (although Snapcaster and Delver of Secrets are doing their best to turn this around). The Raptor commands a decent creature count to become viable but overall needs less support from your decks design than either Delver or Snapcaster. Having zero power is almost an advantage as it allows you to very easily grow the Raptor and can kick things off with lowly 1/1s. Once you have got the Raptor to a 2/3 it is looking really rather good for the investment and hopefully it is not finished there. I suspect it will feel rather like Champion of the Parish to play with and is probably better despite having less damage output for both the evasion and the wider number of cards that will trigger it to grow. I think this card will herald the first time in cube that blue has been able to have a genuine serious tempo start, Imagine turn one Raptor into turn two Delver and then a Phantasmal Bear then hitting for two in the air. Turn three you could make a Serendib Efreet or a Vendillion Clique and lay in for 8, 6 in the sky should you have flipped the Delver! You would have a total of 11 power and potentially 12 toughness which is really not what blue should be up to! As a late draw the Raptor is pretty awful but then again it is not the worst late game top deck in the cube and blue is well set to somehow convert it into better cards. Flying is still pretty handy even on 0/1s and 1/2s all the way into the late game where you need flying chumps or evasive things to equip up. It is not the raw power of this card I find so exciting but more the potential new archetypes it will go a long way in facilitating.

Enter the InfiniteEnter the Infinite - C cube

If you can't find a better thing to do with 12 mana in the cube something is amiss with your cube or your strategy. This only gets a C cube slot because it has a unique effect  in case of some cool combo. Mostly this is just dead weight until it is total overkill.

GridlockGridlock - No slot

No draw card, no cube slot.

Hands of Binding - C cube

Hands of BindingCheap cipher is interesting but with cipher being combat damage this is a very fragile and tenuous way of dealing with a dork. It has some reasonable tempo applications but for cube it is way below the bar and only really gets the C cube slot because I am not sure about the cipher mechanic yet and may find it has cool applications.

Incursion Specialist - C cube

Not exactly a great card but in blue it does raise an eyebrow. A 2 mana 3/3 evasion monster is decent and in blue it is unheard of. The trigger is hard to satisfy reliably and makes building decks with this in it much more constrained but in the right deck this is one of the very best aggressive two drops blue has to offer.

Rapid HybridizationIncursion SpecialistRapid Hybridization - C cube

I have often thought about sticking a Pongify into the cube for a laugh but I don't see it being main deckable which means the same for this. The cube being so fast paced and powerful bounce is often as good as removal but it is nice to have options and so I'll keep a copy of this back for a rainy day.

RealmwrightRealmwright - C cube

I am a big fan of this little dork but sadly he doesn't do enough. He he funky synergy with Vedalken Shackles and High Tide but has little redundancy to rely on the effect and does so little else as a card while being highly vulnerable all make this card unlikely to see play.

Simic Manipulator
Simic Manipulator - C cube

This card is vulnerable, slow, unreliable, situational and really not even worthy of a C cube slot. There are a few redeeming things for this New Man of the Sea. One is that you get the guys for keeps regardless of the fate of the Manipulator, the second is that you can get a couple of guys on the go at once with it which is marginal but good against the swarmier decks like white weenie and elves. Lastly I quite fancy an evolve themed deck (not to be good, just to have some fun building and getting smashed with) which this could have enough forced synergy that it is playable.

Stolen IdentityStolen Identity - C cube

You may get to double or more the effect of a Phyrexian Metalmorph however it is double the cost and just a bit too clumsy and situational for my liking. It gets the C cube slot like Hands of Binding but should I find cipher to be useless it probably wouldn't even keep that.

Crypt GhastCrypt Ghast - 1.0

I am a fan of this card but I am aware that I like it rather than that I know it to be good. In fact I am fairly sure it will be average at best. It totally reminds me of Oracle of Mul Daya although a bit more quick to become dangerous. The Oracle will tend to slowly take the game out of reach of an opponent where as Ghast is much more likely to be devastating if allowed to live until your following untap step. The Extort is a nice little bolt on ability that makes the 4 mana 2/2 that little bit easier to stomach. It has good synergy with lots of extra mana and is generally a sought after effect in black. Crypt Ghast could be the thing mono black control needs to return to tier one status in the cube but is probably a bit high on the curve to do it alone.

Gutter SkulkGutter Skulk - C Cube

Black has so few robust and easy to cast two drops that Grizzly Bear is close to playable in some decks, the fact that this also has two of the more useful creature types for black means it might actually be wanted one day.

Illness in the RanksIllness in the Ranks - C cube

I don't like this card, it limits formats and is not an exciting way of balancing meta games. It is a pure hoser which is a card style is dislike all round and am sad that it is powerful enough to be worth chucking a copy in the C cube.

Lord of the VoidLord of the Void - No slot

No trample and unpredictable upsides both make 7 mana or the effort of cheating into play not worth it.

Ogre SlumlordOgre Slum Lord - C cube

I want this card to be playable as getting extra bonuses from having guys die is good synergy for black. Sadly at five mana for a 3/3 this guy is a bit too vulnerable and low board impact to be exciting. Sure you can trigger him the turn you make him however it is rare that you get much tempo boost or value from turning your men into 1/1 death touchers. He makes and boosts rats and so he at least deserves a C cube slot to appease my love of tribal warfare in the cube.

Undercity PlagueUndercity Plague - C cube

This seems better than the blue cipher cards however it really does need to proc off the cypher the turn you cast it to be close to good. Black does have the ramp to get this out and lock up games but it seems a touch hopeful and risky.

Thrull Parasite - 1.0

Thrull Parasite
I think this is just enough stuff to make this card playable. Compared to Hex Parasite it is rather weak against planeswalkers and other counter based menaces, although it may cost less mana to remove the counters the need to tap and only being able to take one counter at a time makes it too ineffective to be played just for against walkers. Extort is great addition to any already playable black card as I so often harp on about black loving the life gain. It is not however a reason alone to play a card, most of the time you will want to spend your early game mana curving out optimally and not slowing yourself down to get minor extort value. Costing less is a bonus on extort because it means you have the option to do so for longer, it will make your sub par draws somewhat better. The reason I think this is playable is largely the huge number of creatures that make use of counters which give the Parasite both synergy and hosing potential. It will make evolve, level up, modular and more a lot more mechanisms and effects awkward to use for your opponents while giving your own persist, undying and unleash monsters some nifty trickery. You would probably not invest a whole slot in a situational disruption card, nor in a synergy card as weak as this is in isolation and you wouldn't play a 1/1 for 1 just for extort but when you wrap the whole lot up in one we have a cute and fun little utility card.

Wight of Precinct SixWight of Precinct Six - C Cube

If Gutter Skulk is nearly playable this is also quite interesting. It has a good creature type and casting cost like the Skulk and scales somewhat better. Sadly it is really dependant on what you are up against as to how good it will be and while in some games it would outshine Tarmogoyf I fear in too many it would be poor, especially as it is unlikely to be anything short of embarrassing to curve out with. I will likely test this card unlike so many of the chaff I am condemning to the C cube from this set as it both cool and interesting and has rather more potential.

Bomber CorpsBomber Corps - C cube

One of the better battalion dorks but still not good enough to be actually wanted by a deck and will sit in the C cube un-loved and un-tested until one of my cruel mates insists on a cull of the complete no hopers.

Five-Alarm FireFive-Alarm Fire - No slot

This sounds like a juice drink and reads like a tongue twister. While I quite like the card and its design it is not powerful enough for cube as it is going to be too slow  and unreliable to charge. The way it adds value to weaker dorks (well, it adds value to all dorks but relatively more to the cheaper ones) and can even encourage you to make bad attacks or blocks is done in a nice way on this card.

Foundry Street DenizenFoundry Street Denizen - C cube

In some situations it will be better than a Jackal Pup which isn't something to get to excited by, especially as there are many situations it will also be awkwardly worse.

Hellkite TyrantHellkite Tyrant - B cube

A lot of monster for not all that much mana but too much in general to pay for such a disparate card. There are better dorks, not to mention dragons if you just want to beat down. If you want to kill artifacts you are getting something cheaper to do the job and if you want to try and win the game with 20 artifacts you are mental and in for a disappointment.

Hellraiser GoblinHellraiser Goblin - 1.0

I am not quite sure where this guy fits in yet but he is really rather powerful, red green beats seems the obvious place but time will tell. Giving all your guys haste on top of being a 2/2 haste for 3 himself is a lot and will make him a big target for removal. His drawback is quite significant, mostly in that it makes him a lot easier to block and get out of the picture, with combat tricks and burn however the overall tempo will quickly get out of hand. Without at least one deck that always wants him however he could quickly sink into the ranks of the B cube.

Legion LoyalistLegion Loyalist - B Cube

This is another interesting card, unlike the Boros Elite this is not just a pure beater and so not being able to trigger the battalion early is no huge drawback. Raging Goblin is not an exciting card however and so this does still need to have more late game applications like Goblin Bushwhacker to be viable. How useful the effect actually will be is something I am struggling to work out. Usually this will be used in weenie decks where giving trample is not that important and first strike will get less and less exciting as the game goes on. Not being able to be blocked by tokens is also somewhat niche and won't apply in a lot of situations. My best guess is that this will make blocking slightly more awkward and allow you to sneak in the odd couple of damage you otherwise couldn't. While a Bonesplitter probably does a lot more than this in a game it is not a simple case of the equipment being better as you need to have the right quantities of dorks, Legion Loyalist being a dork does make him quite a bit more all round useful despite being clearly less powerful. If he pumped power at all for other dorks he would almost certainly be good enough but as he is I am dubious. The place I see this being best is in a goblin deck where you have lots of weenies but also good pump effects and things like Piledriver that really benefit from trample and first strike. You also have good sacrifice outlets in goblin decks for when he is being no more use to you than a Mon's Goblin Raiders. I will test this out a bit but as its best archetype already resides in the B cube to make drafting better I think realistically this has to go there as well.

Skinbrand GoblinSkinbrand Goblin - C Cube

While I like the bloodrush mechanic, especially the cheap ones, this is a weak pump effect that neither gets through loads of damage or swings that many combats wildly in your favour. I tend to find I am looking at bloodrush cards as pump effects first and dorks second with this as no exception with such a limp and ineffective body all aspects of the card are not really worth having.

SkullcrackSkullcrack - 3.0

Dull but necessary is the verdict on this. While only hitting players used to be very weak with planeswalkers all about it is not half as bad and in addition to this it is a card that you only really play in decks where you want to be aiming some burn at peoples faces. Red deck wins is a big name in the cube meta and life gain is the best way to beat it which has put an unhealthy emphasis on Sulphuric Vortex, both in how important it is to the red player but also in other players ensuring they have sufficient answers to it. Stigma Lasher has been getting a lot more play recently but is neither very good compared to Kargan Dragonlord or Ash Zealot, nor much use against undying monsters, nor that reliable at stopping life gain. Skullcrack is much more to the point regarding life gain and should stop any of the Stigma Lasher desperation from happening. Skullcrack is nicely powered so that it is not sickening to play in your deck but it will ever so slightly reduce the over all power level. It is a necessary evil rather like Torch Fiend but it will make games more interesting and more balanced not coming down to just one card deciding things.

Experiment OneExperiment One - 1.0

Although green has the most abundance of choice for dorks at all points on the curve it has a distinct lack of solid one drop beaters. Wild Nacatl is very goof but basically a gold card or at least not at all a stand alone. Experiment One is far from exciting and not enough on his own to suddenly give enough viable one drops to bring back cube stompy. Although the regenerate is not all that exciting the card wouldn't be playable without it as it plays into greens biggest weakness. Green dumps lots of things into play and then easily folds to mass removal, you need to dump lots of things into play to make this card any use but as you usually won't lose it because of the regenerate you can afford to play it. Due to lack of interested archetypes I think this will quickly sink out of the A cube but it could see a return if enough good agro green one drops arrive.

CrocanuraCrocanura - 1.5

I initially dismissed this card as a limited card only, despite being a very good one. The more I look at it the more viable it seems, a little like Vampire Nighthawk turned out to be. Green has no early anti air and it has few good agro three drops both of which make it more likely to fit in. With only one power it is going to get to a good size pretty quick, especially so in green where 3/5 and 4/6 won't be uncommon end points that it reaches in just a few turns. I am keen to try this and keener still to get ribbed really hard for playing only to crush people with it.

Gyre SageGyre Sage - C cube

I am not at all impressed with this which is a shame because at first glance I got all prepared to be very excited. Tapping for no mana until it has evolved is grim, it is slower, riskier and just a whole lot worse than Joraga Treespeaker. For an evolve card it has quite awkward power and toughness to begin with making it less likely to smoothly grow with your curve. Once you have grown it twice it does start to look rather good but I suspect it will end up just beating down most of the time because once you have grown it to a decent ramp card you will have cast the things that it would have been nice to ramp into. I have given it a C cube slot over no slot because there are some naughty tricks with counter cards like Bounty of the Hunt that could be quite abusive if not very optimistic.

Serene RemembranceSerene Remembrance - B cube

A nice cheap little card that needed to replace itself to be viable in all but the most specific of roles. The effectiveness of this card does mean it will be the best thing available for your (probably combo) deck from time to time but as either a hoser or a do nothing spell it is not really close to being maindeckable in normal decks. Losing card advantage and not effecting the board, even at the bargain price of one mana is not what most decks are after.

Skarrg GoliathSkargg Goliath - C cube

A very powerful bloodrush effect that will win a lot of games. The problem is that the main dork is a bit too steep and one dimensional to be much use of ever really get cast without causing loads of dead card damage first. Craterhoof Behemoth seems to always do about the same as both halfs of this card combined and so this will probably never see play.

SlaughterhornSlaughterhorn - 1.0

This is another one of those deceptive cards that is not what it seems. As a dork with a discard effect this is a bad card, but as a pump spell with a back up body it is actually quite playable I think. Typically you want to be pumping dorks in decks that want to be attacking and so the restriction on when you may use the bloodrush is not that limiting, it is far better than it being a sorcery for example. It will occasionally be annoying that you can't use it to put your guys out of removal range from something like an Earthquake but at least you then have a dork to make afterwards... In the games where you wished you could pump one of your blockers you are probably losing any ways so we have a card nearly as good as Giant Growth. This you may think is not much to get excited about however pump is great, it is just let down by one weakness that this card is not at all subject to. Pump is what you want to have in games where you are relying on tempo to win, it just too dangerous to play pure pump spells in case you run out of threats or hiccough curving because of them. Giant Growth is powerful, it scales with you dorks abilities and is very cheap and relatively versatile. This is a nicely designed card as neither aspect of the card is very powerful yet neither is it weak for the cost while the two aspects complement each other very elegantly. Just remember, this card is not playable when you want another dork to bolster you ranks, it is playable when considered as a pump spell as its primary role. Being cheap and mono coloured (also in a colour lacking much creature kill) it is likely to be the most useful of the bloodrush cards for cube play.

Verdant HavenVerdant Haven - C cube

A few incarnations of enchantress decks reside in the C cube yet I have never really managed to get one working properly. One of the ways to build enchantress decks uses cards like this to power up its mana and while this is cute and offers much needed redundancy to the archetype the three mana price tag might push it out of viability for a deck that itself is not really cube viable.

Wasteland ViperWasteland Viper - C cube

The decks you want pump effects and combat tricks in are heavy creature agro decks. In these decks you don't want to waste cards on one power dorks or one power pump spells. Unlike Sluahgterhorn which is a nicer versatile tempo card this is much more of a control or removal card and a clumsy unreliable awkward one at that. I don't see in what deck I would ever want this (and yet I feel compelled to C cube one anyway...).

Alms BeastAlms Beast - B Cube

A big solid threat for the mana that will probably see constructed play due to the not too savage drawback. I would quite like to abuse it with Kavu Predator but that feels tenuous. The problem with this dork is that it is restricted to BW decks which are not tripping over themselves to find more generic high powered 4 drops. Being just a fine but bland card in a deck that is not desperate for it nor played that frequently means this doesn't get an A cube slot despite obviously being more powerful than a lot of the rest of the set.

Assemble the LegionAssemble the Legion - 1.0

I am not sure why I am so drawn to this card as it is costly and gold and a bit bumbley. This is a fairly serious threat that is generally harder to deal with than planeswalkers while doing a similar sort of thing. It is a bit slow to get going but will get out of hand faster than most planeswalkers typically do. It also scales up more smoothly in power which walkers either never do or do so after a long period of doing more minor things. The obvious comparison card is Goblin Trenches however they are very different in application. The Trenches allows you to win much more rapidly and is a better tempo card however it requires a much greater resource investment, when using Trenches you are making a bit commitment, this can be chucked down and then ignored while it slowly powers you up. I see this being much more playable in typical control decks than Trenches because it is so self contained. It is worse than planeswalkers for taking the pressure off yourself as it cannot be attacked nor will it provide more than a single 1/1 defender for the first two turns you have it however the upside of this is that you are able to drop in onto a board in which you are so far behind that any walker you made would simply be a bad Fog and head directly to the graveyard. Being so hard to kill is a real benefit to a control deck as well where you are lighter on threats and want to avoid investing lots of mana into something that immediately eats a cheap removal spell. This will see play not only in control decks but also the various incarnations of decks that make some threat that survives an epic global removal spell and then cast said mass removal spell. Typically these decks are red or white for Wildfire, Jokulhaups, Armageddon, Cataclysm and so forth which makes Assemble the Legion an ideal card to play and gives it multiple archetypes where it is viable. Academy Rector is also always on the look out for new powerful targets to flop into play and while this is not a great mana saving nor has much in the way of combo appeal it is still a decent option.

Aurelia, the WarleaderAurelia, the Warleader - B cube

Speaking of power, this might be the single most powerful card in the set. This Lightning Angel come Relentless Assault hits for 6 on its own and gives all your dorks double attacks. This will end games very fast however I don't think it will see enough play to deserve a slot. It is both gold and legendary which put me off it a little. It is also in colours and of a style that means the only decks that could really abuse it really don't want to play 6 drops. Control decks could play it but it is significantly worse than Baneslayer and a whole host of other cards and so with no viable homes this bundle of power must reside in the B cube.

Aurelia's FuryAurelia's Fury - B cube

A versatile card that I think is a bit too costly to be a mainstay in any archetype. You can Abeyance people, you can tap their team, you can kill creatures and you can finish off players but none of this is cheap. Unless going for the first option you are always going to be wanting at the very least 4 mana to throw into this and even then it is not coming close to the effectiveness of cards like Arc Trail, Bonfire of the Damned, Devil's Play etc. Removal really wants to be cost efficient and even as much versatility as this card offers doesn't offset the fact that you are basically never getting a good deal without spending at least 5 mana on it. In heavy control decks I can see this being good as a role a bit like Cryptic Command but obviously far worse. In other decks it is just too costly to be playable.


Anyone who wins a cube game with this is my hero and I am tempted to give it a slot just so I have a chance of being my own hero. Obviously unplayably awful.

Borborygmos EnragedBorborygmos the Enraged - No slot

Not brutal enough to be a cheat into play target and too expensive to be just a top end dork or backup for your Siesemic Assault.

Boros CharmBoros Charm - 2.0

Another pretty decent charm hits the deck. This is a little easier to assess than many of the others as it is more specific than most. I cannot really see this getting any play in control decks. Except for silly people trying to abuse indestructible stuff and things like Armageddon this won't see play in combo either however the three abilities are all quite streamlined for the sorts of things it might be nice to be doing in agro decks. The abilities are also all somewhat versatile, especially given their simplicity. Damage is always good and 4 for 2 at instant speed is tasty, it will usually deal with planeswalkers and offer good reach for finishing people off. The other two can both be used and combat tricks or for other things. Double strike can be given to a Phantasmal Image to kill it, it can be used to get a double trigger from an equipment, it can be used as a finisher when a relatively fat dork slips past blockers although in most of the decks this might see play the 4 damage is going to be better most of the time in this role. Mostly the double strike will see play to save or trade monsters in combat however this is rarely exciting as you are either losing tempo or card advantage and so I suspect it will be the least used of the three effects. Making all permanents indestructible is saucy, it gives you a pretty solid counter to most mass and targetted removal with the classic exceptions of Death Cloud and Terminus and the ever trumps Path and Plow... Not only does it counter most removal for all of your stuff but it can be used fairly often in combat to swing the outcome in your favour, you will be able to make horrid attacks that normally would put most of your men in the bin just to force through a few damage. If things are less stagnant on the board you will be able to get immense tempo from it when they make some blocks or attacks expecting to trade off dorks or life. Things like making your stuff indestructible  or giving them double strike are not useful enough to be played on cards in their own right for the most part (obviously this depends on the power of the card in question or the aim of the deck but for a simple Boros Deck Wins style deck this is the case). When you start to put them with other nearly good enough effects the card becomes more useful throughout more of the games you play. This is particularly good as it means the games will become more varied. Effects that were not previously playable for being too situational will be cropping up on charms and giving us new interactions. Sadly I can't see this being used outside of Boros Decks Wins and so it will have to be an auto include in the deck to realistically keep its slot in the A cube but I am a fan and look forward to annoying people with it.

Clan DefianceClan Defiance - No slot

This is like the Angelic Skirmisher in that it is a limited bomb yet not playable in cube. This time it is because it is too slow and too situational, every now and again it would be the perfect game winning card however most of the time it would just be an awful narrow removal spell.

Cartel AristocratCartel Aristocrat - C cube

Nothing very exciting with awkward costs to boot. Sac outlets are sometimes desirable and so I'll squirrel one away in case it is the most appropriate one day.

Deathpact AngelDeathpact Angel - No slot

Too slow and costly for what is not actually that serious of a threat given the competition at the six slot.

Dimir CharmDimir Charm - 2.5

I quite like this Charm and would rate it in the same sort of bracket as the other good ones from RtR block. It is not as all round useful as Izzet Charm nor does it have the potential to really effect games like Rakdos does but its effects are solid and focus on the core aspects of the game. Dimir Charm has two consistently quite useful effects and a third more versatile yet quite situational effect and so it will rarely be dead. All the effects are more than fair for the cost and so you will never be blown away when you use it either but it should always get used. The removal is probably the best of the three and will see most use, it also scales well with the other effects. In the early game the removal will be able to hit almost everything on the board and be really good however as the game progresses the targets you want to kill will all be out of range and it will feel weaker. The counter magic is however a hard counter and will work just as well as the game goes on, sorceries also tend to cost more than other spells and so it will be a strong late game card too. These are the two solid effects that will gain or maintain your tempo and keep parity on card advantage. The third ability has several applications however they tend to require the more extreme circumstances. As it loses you card advantage you only want to be using it when the gains (or potential losses are vast), the three such situations I can think of at the moment are; when you really can't afford to miss a land drop, when your opponent has very few turns to draw an out of which they have one or few copies of (like a limp Misinformation), or potentially in a late game top deck war although I would often be tempted to hold onto it and try not to throw away card advantage. The third ability is also quite good in decks that have Divining Top, Brainstorm or other top of library manipulation, particularly those which want to put things into the graveyard like reanimator. All in all it is a very versatile card with desirable effects at a reasonable cost. I think it will improve the quality of games and I think it will see play in a reasonably wide array of decks despite having a much more control feel about it.

Domri RadeDomri Rade - B cube

I have already been testing with this card since it was spoiled so early and I can't say that it has ever impressed. It is harsh but I think a simple Elvish Visionary would have been more effective in every situation where I have had Domri. His colouring and his requirement to play a high creature count makes him only worth playing in RG agro decks in which he just feels like he is going against what you are trying to do. He is rather awkward to curve out with without losing tempo because fighting is somewhat situational and the +1 does nothing to the boardstate. The ultimate is fairly irrelevant because the style of deck he goes in should have won or lost by then any ways. A very narrow card that I like the idea behind but fail to see how he could be any use in cube.

Drakewing KrasisDrakewing Krasis - C cube

Perfect example of the crap I fill my C cube up with. While a good little dork for the mana it is bland and vulnerable as well as gold and much worse than all of the many options my cube has to offer in terms of three drop fliers. On paper it is good and will be great in limited but it is not a cube card, it does not do enough and is far to risky to waste 3 mana on against red players.

Duskmantle SeerDuskmantle Seer -  1.5

I think this will probably not see enough play to keep an A cube slot but does certainly have the power to deserve it. The issue with the Seer is that it requires both a certain kind of deck and a reasonable amount of building around. In the decks it is good in it will be a three pronged assault, firstly in being a solid flying dork that is very reasonably priced, it will dominate boards, eat walkers and offer well paced clocks. The second prong is the steady feed of new cards it will provide you helping you to take the win. The third prong is that their decks will not be build accounting for the Seer and may well punish them, against certain ramp and cheaty big dork decks it will almost be a direct hoser. Nice Emrakul, take 15? It will also somewhat speed up any clock which is generally to the advantage of the player with a 4/4 flyer in play. All in all a very cool and powerful card that does rather a lot but sadly won't be doing it in that many different decks.

Elusive KrasisElusive Krasis - C cube

Better than the previous Krasis as it does a specific something and is not so vulnerable but it is still not even close to the level of being good enough to see any play.

Fathom MageFathom Mage - C cube

I like ongoing draw than costs you nothing but this is too vulnerable to be worth the mana cost, at 0/3 or 0/4 then I might be interested but as is I'll stick to more reliable card draw. If you really want to get free card draw out of a dork then either Consecrated Sphinx or Primordial Sage!

Firemane AvengerFiremane Avenger - B cube

To be honest I think the low power of this set is making me overly kind, the three previous cards (not including the Seer) should all really be no slotters because this is not good enough for the B cube but a whole level better than the previous Simic cards. White has a plethora of 4 mana flying dorks that are pretty decent and while the effect of this one is up there with some of the others, Emeria Angel springs to mind as a comparable sort of card to be getting some action with, the fact that it requires battalion and two colours makes it unworthy. It is narrow in where it will see play and rather hard to get value out of the trigger.

Ghor-Clan RampagerGhor Clan Rampager - C cube

This is an actual C cube card, it is nothing special as a dork, just a fairly decent agro beater that is not close to the power of Bloodbraid Elf or Huntsmaster of the Fells and so will not see much play. This guy is deceptively good however and may well turn out to be better in a RG agro deck than Huntsmaster as it is sort of two rather good cards in one and really goes a long way to assuring you have all the tempo. Having the option of a solid beater or a powerful combat trick at different points on the curve make this a really nice smoothing card in an agro deck. If this were mono colour I think I might give it a slot to test it out but being gold it seems too niche to bother even if I am right and he is just the ticket for RG beats despite his lower power level than alternatives.

Gruul CharmGruul Charm - C cube

Not the best of the guild charm cycle but not without its uses. The problem with it is that the uses are all disparate and niche, there is no single ability that will be useful in most situations nor is there an ability which any archetype is desperate to have. The gaining control of all your owned permanents is only any real use against blue mages and smacks of a sideboard card. Killing fliers is great for red and green who are light on them and doing it on mass is game winning however this would rarely ever happen unless you were up against a Faeries deck which again smacks of a sideboard card. The effect would be far better if it just killed a single flier as you are already a red mage and can burn the pesky small ones away. I can see it now in testing losing to Baneslayer Angels and Consecrated Sphinx with this clogging up my hand. The final ability is nearly enough to make this playable in an aggressive red green deck except that it doesn't work on fliers, the fact that this card can deal with some of those is hardly much use at compensating for the failings of the unblockable effect.

Master BiomancerMaster Biomancer - 2.0

I think this is pretty dangerous, as a 2/4 for 4 it is not too bad for tempo in both agro and more control styles of decks, neither is it too vulnerable to be worry about investing 4 mana for little return. Once it is in play it seems as if things get really out of hand really fast even without you abusing the Biomancer in any form. Simply giving any dork you make +2/+2 is usually going to mean you can only lose to mass removal. I really fancy the idea of following a Biomancer with a Deranged Hermit for 21 powers worth of fun. Then there is all the abusive fun you can have with creatures than love counters or various things that pump your Biomancer.

Merciless EvictionMerciless Eviction - 1.5

Another card that suffers not only from being gold but also having relatively few decks in its colours that would want it. As far as power goes I am fairly happy in calling it the best of the various six mana mass removal effects. Austere Command is closer in power but being just one colour is vastly more playable so this will not be stealing its spot. Compared to Catastrophe, Akroma's Vengeance, and Planar Cleansing the Merciless Eviction is quite a leap more powerful. The others tend to be a bit inflexible and therefore don't easily allow you to abuse. Typically when you get to six mana you are not trying to blow all or most of it up again and so the Eviction has all of the most important options on it which is close to making it more powerful than Austere Command on its own. The ability to kill two kinds of thing is nice but as the dork options are divided into two categories it is often just a Wrath of God, being able to take out their weenies and leave you big threat or kill their while team and snipe out an equipment as well happens infrequently. Certainly it is an excellent bonus to have on a card and makes it more fun to play Austere Command with the many more options it brings to the table but sadly the simple yet effective exile trumps destroy effects so hard in applications across the board in cube that Eviction is quite a lot more powerful when you put aside the colour concerns.

Mystic GenesisMystic Genesis - No slot

Not as good as Mystic Snake as it cant be abused with creature based effects, and the Snake ain't exactly hot.

Orzhov Charm - No slot

I really don't know what to make of this other than it seems utterly awful. The removal option makes it playable but as it is pretty much worse than all the other white and black spot removal cards in the cube the other options would have to be good, and they are not. Being able to bounce one of your guys for the not so wonderful cost of two mana and a card is situational and clumsy at best, the auras perk is so rarely doing anything it is worth no further mention. The final ability gets a one mana dork back of which there are few that are worth two mana and fewer still that are so essential to your plan that you would put in a terrible card to secure their safety. Basically, as I can see it you have one useful effect in an unpleasant suboptimal form complete with two nearly useless alternate options, all three of which cost you something more than they should such as tempo or life.

Obzedat, Ghost CouncilObzedat, Ghost Council - B cube

This is another very powerful card that probably just wont find a home. It suffers from the being gold and being legendary troubles that many of the more powerful cards in this set seem to however this one feels more purposive and honed than the others. It has protection against any sorcery speed effects which is always nice and will assure some damage and life gain every turn regardless of how your attacks go. Five mana is rather a lot and so I can't see this getting play often both for colour requirements and because of the stiff competition from Baneslayer and Gideon Jura in that sort of slot and role.

Prime Speaker ZeganaPrime Speaker Zegana - C cube

This is a lot of fun with Tooth and Nail but sadly pretty unplayable on its own. Six mana for a dork dependant on other dorks in play is awkward and it is not an easy six at that with double blue and green. Being a legend here is at least less of an issue as bouncing it probably just helps your cause and if they kill with a clone it has at least done its job for you in terms of card draw. Consecrated Sphinx just sets an unreasonably high bar for card draw on dorks.

ShamblesharkShambleshark - C Cube

This is a pretty good beater, it should hit as a 3/2 to begin with and seems quite easy to get to 5/4 with. It is like a really poor mans Tarmogoyf. Flash is always nice to have on a card but I don't see here how it does much to work with the rest of the card. Even so it will help to surprise block those Dark Confidants that are so hard to deal with in UG, that is if it ever sees any play. Above the curve but not enough to offset the limited excitement value of the card and its gold restrictions.

Signal the ClansSignal the Clans - no slot

Even if this was directly tutor a dork it wouldn't see much cube play at all. There are not many RG decks that want to lose tempo to find dorks and those that do have far better options in Fauna Shaman and Survival of the Fittest. Three is quite a hard number to reach in a 40 card deck of creatures that do equivalent things. You might be able to reliably get a mana critter or a reasonably fat threat but getting silver bullet cards and answer cards will not be happening from this limp tutor.

Simic CharmSimic Charm - 1.0

Not as good as the Boros Charm but fairly similar and not quite as restricted to agro decks as the RW offering. It is much more of a tempo card than an answer card, a finisher or a blow out effect. It will rarely gain you any card advantage but it will be ideal insurance for developing an early to mid game board position with a good chance of having the tempo advantage. Hexproof is far less exciting than indestructible and will rarely help against mass removal or offer you any synergy with your own global effects but it will do basically the same thing most of the time which is to counter a removal spell and in some situations it will be more effective such as against exile effects. Pump spells see little play and while I think people tend to underrate them there is good reason behind not playing them as they are not always a useful card to have. Giant Growth is quite a lot of extra stats and isn't an unreasonable effect for two mana, having it on an otherwise useful card makes it really appealing as you get all the benefits of having pump in your deck without the drawbacks. The bounce effect is probably the most generally playable option of all three and ensures the card, while not of vast power, will always have its uses and won't be a card you are always wishing was something else. Sadly I don't think this card will stick around all that long in the A cube, the sorts of decks that could play this sensibly are Opposition and UG tempo decks both of which are spoiled for choice in cards already. Not only this but in those sorts of decks when you want an effect you either go for the best one that comes bolted onto a dork or you go for the cheapest mana cost option available and so I suspect the Charm will always be on the short list for these decks but very rarely make the final cut.

Soul RansomSoul Ransom - No slot

This is a trick card, in no way is it better than Control Magic or any of the more powerful steal dork effects. The 4 card thing looks extreme but is only ever a downside to the card. Giving choices like to your opponent, even if they seem brutal is never good. When they need to give you a 4 for 1 they will and when it is a horrific thing to do they won't. When they need to kill a Control Magic they don't just have the option to give you two cards and lose two of their own and so without a Disenchant or something specific they will lose the game.

Spark TrooperSpark Trooper - No Slot

Much worse than Blistering Firecat, life is never bad to have but it is not worth trading off power, utility or mana costs to get in the kind of deck that might play them. Ball Lightning only just clings onto a cube slot so good luck to this steamer.

Treasury ThrullTreasury Thrull - C cube if I happen to get one, certainly not trading for one of these to sit in the C cube.

Not as good as Sun Titan, or many other cards that do aspects of what this oddball dork does but better.

Truefire PaladinTruefire Paladin - C cube

A bit too good not to hold onto a copy but a bit too bland and generic to be seeing any play, there are lots of quite good dorks for the mana, without a specific need of that card or some synergy there is rarely a use for them unless they are the best. Particularly not gold ones.

Unexpected ResultsUnexpected Results - C cube

A funny little card that could be abused in a Heartbeat  or Show and Tell style of deck that not only has some combo potential but also some last chance unlikely outs that are such fun to win with. Realistically any deck that has a curve that would make this card consistently valuable would itself be unplayable and Mind's Desire is a much more consistent and powerful version of this.

Urban EvolutionUrban Evolution - No slot

A card that looks like the perfect fit for a UG Heartbeat of Spring style deck. The problem is that with the Explore and the Council of the Soratami bolted together you can't use it early when you want it. As such you are always going to play a 5 mana Time Walk, a two mana ramp spell or any of the many many better card draw spells over it depending on what you actually need.

Vizkopa ConfessorVizkopa Confessor - No slot

I like the card design but for cube this would need to cost at least two mana less. At least.

Whispering MadnessWhispering Madness - C cube

This is a very powerful effect, especially complete with a mechanism to reuse it every turn. It is highly abusable in decks that can lock people out with Tanglewire and the like or those which can dump their whole hands out very quickly. I really want to build a Whispering Madness affinity deck as it is somewhat of a match made in heaven. The problems this card has are that its colours have few decks that can abuse this card beyond affinity and that it is both a touch dependant on things you have little control over and easy to disrupt any abuses of. I look forward to tinkering about with this card but suspect it will never quite be reliable enough to play.

Lazav, Dimir MastermindLazav, Dimir Mastermind - No slot

Filthy cost, slow and unpredictable trigger and all round not cube worthy.

High Priest of PenanceHigh Priest of Penance - C cube

If this were RW I would have it in the A cube for systematic abuse. I would slap a Slagwurm Armour on it and go to town on him with my burn! As it is he is very awkward to make much more effective than a 1/1 death touch.

Zameck GuildmageZamek Guildmage - C cube

This is the best of the three guildmages spoiled so far in Gatecrash and probably all of RtR for cube use. The problem with all the Guildmages is that they are too mana intensive to get any value from and typically offer low powered returns for the investments made. Great in limited and late game top deck mode but in cube where this happens less often they are not great. This has cheap abilities which is greatly to its credit, drawing cards for two is nice, especially if you can reset your Strangleroot Geist at the same time. Being able to grow all your guys is less exciting but more abusable with cards such as Deranged Hermit. Typically however it would just be used to sink spare mana.

Boros Reckoner
Boros Reckoner - B Cube

I am struggling a little with this guy, sometimes I look at it and think its terrible and the next time it seems bomb like. On its good days it seems like a mini Phyrexian Obliterator that it undesirable to do combat in the same game as while being a reasonably beefy body for the mana. On its bad days it seems like a card that is only playable in two or three very similar agro weenie archetypes that don't want many three drops much less so do they want generic good dorks that serves no real purpose. Optional first strike makes it much harder to work out combat with this guy and could lead to some unexpected trickery. Power wise it is decent but it is too aimless and too restrictive to be an A cube mainstay.

Burning-Tree EmissaryBurning Tree Emissary - B cube

I really like this card but can't see it being what is needed in any deck. The low power of the card and infrequency of the mana being really useful make it not worth playing. It can help you fix your colours for a turn but unlike Manamorphose it is held back by being stuck on a 2/2 rather than being the more universal card draw. I want this to be good but fear there is no way of being able to rely on getting worthwhile tempo from him.

Immortal ServitudeImmortal Servitude - B cube

I thought this was quite good until I was informed it was equal to X and not X or less upon which revelation I have revised my assessment to pretty awful. It feels like it must have some good combo applications but the card is a bit clunky and ugly for me to bother trying to work out what that combo might be. Outside of combo decks unless you have almost exclusively one or two drop dorks this card is unplayable and if you do then you could probably improve the power and curving abilities of your deck by making that not the case any more. If I pick one of these up I will definitely try to build a deck comprised of as many one mana black and white dorks as I can cram in before they are becoming much weaker than Dutiful Thrull...

Nightveil SpecterNightveil Specter - 2.0

I am a fan of this card, it is a great body, 2/3 is commanding against all the early and utility dorks and flying is great on its own, let alone when it has synergy with the effect. It is not quite drawing a card when you hit them with Specter and although it is not as good as drawing a card from your side of the board it can be very damaging to their strategy and therefore sometimes better than drawing a card yourself would be. Often it will get you lands which is nice and can be really pesky with some effects like fate steal that will let you pick and chose what you want to thieve. If it sticks around long enough you will get the mana to cast the spells you exile with it even if you are not in the same colours. I can see this being highly playable in a wide range of black, blue and black-blue decks from control to agro. Three colour decks or off colour two colour decks (such as UR or BW) will be unable to play this unless the non UB colour is the smallest of splashes so it does not have the typical wide scope of hybrid cards but remains still far more interesting that standard gold cards are.

Shattering BlowShattering Blow - 1.5

Cheap, instant, exile and viable in the majority of cube archetypes. This is one of the most all round playable cards I have seen print. It will painlessly deal with Wurmcoil Engines bringing joy to the world, particularly the world of the red mage. Unfortunately I cannot get to excited about cards like this that do the same as other cards just marginally better.

Dimir KeyruneThe Key Runes

Too expensive to be good ramp or fixing complete with dorks to low powered to be worth investing in as useful threats.

Glaring SpotlightGlaring Spotlight - C Cube

I really hate cards like this, it is not a very good solution to a metagame issue nor is it a very fun card. The bonus sac ability is cool and makes the card better but is not really enough to make the card playable on its own and so you have to be using this as a hoser. It is probably the best answer to some things for some decks in the cube and I know I will be the one wanting it if I don't put one aside but I would much prefer to see this kind of effect on a dork if it must be printed at all.

Thespian's StageThespian's Stage - C cube

A bad Wasteland for legendary lands and a pretty bad fixer or wildly unreliable utility land. Lots of uses but none are going to be worth having a colourless land with a further 3 mana investment before it does anything at all, and when it does it will likely be marginal at best. Quite fun though and broad enough that I'll be stashing one away.

Top 10 Gatecrash Cards for Cube

Well, I say top ten but as I was doing it I realised there are only seventeen cards I am even going to slightly bother to go out of my way to put in the A cube with a slight possibility of them staying there a while. None of these cards have assured A cube slots which is very rare for a set not to have at least one clear lock in for the cube. In a years time I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that only a handful of Gatecrash cards remained in the A cube at all.

17. Slaughterhorn
16. Hellraiser Goblin
15. Crocanura
14. Simic Charm
13. Assemble the Legion
12. Thrull Parasite
11. Duskmantle Seer
10. Blind Obedience
9.   Master Biomancer
8.   Merciless Eviction
7.   Shattering Blow
6.   Nightveil Specter
5.   Boros Charm
4.   Dimir Charm
3.   Frontline Medic
2.   Skullcrack
1.   Cloudfin Raptor