Thursday 7 March 2013

Revised Reviews: Red Creatures

It is time to go over the reviews of the main cube cards. Since I first did them over a year ago I have learned more about the newer cards and the cube metagame has changed a little. I have also added new cards and retired some to the B or C cube for the time being although I will still keep those cards in this list. While touching up the reviews it seems like a good opportunity to employ a more informative rating system which I have outlined here. In short the main rating is the same and in bold at the top, the two aspects that make up that composite rating are below. Power relates to the effects and stats of the card for its mana cost while support relates to the cards utility, synergy with other cards and how well in fits into the cube metagame and archetypes. The first set of reviews I did will remained unchanged in the earlier portions of the blog if any uber keen people want to see what, if anything has been changed.

Inferno Titan
Inferno Titan 4.0
Power 4.4
Support 3.7

I didn't even put this guy in the cube at first, only the black and white titans. I was very wrong and now deem this to be the best of the titans in cube, although it is pretty close with grave titan. At first I thought this was just an over costed Flametongue Kavu or an underpowered Crater Hellion. Basically it turns out that while it does neither as much initial direct damage as the kavu or as widespread damage as the Hellion the titan can pretty effectively do either role, all on a much more fearsome body. Rather than do a specific thing well this guy is just quite versatile and very good value for mana. He is a huge tempo swing and snowballs out of control very fast requiring an answer more promptly that any planeswalker (barring Tezzeret the Seeker in the right deck) and offering more value than most even if instantly killed. Just on pure power this titan sneaks his way into all sorts of decks with red in them although never as yet into red deck wins. This is also a great card to use in sneak attack decks as it works very well as an alternate win condition due to relative ease of raw-dogging while still offering good utility as something to sneak into play too. No evasion is least a problem with this Titan as it very effectively clears his own path. One of the very top big threats in Magic and worthy of a slot in any deck suited to casting him.

Rorix Bladewing
Rorox Bladewing 1.5 (B cube)   
Power 2.2
Support 1.0                                                                    

It was always going to happen that the power creep hit this guy hard. I did not expect it to be as hard as it was with Thundermaw Hellkite but it was pretty obvious once that card was spoiled Rorix would't be seeing play again. Rorix hits hard and fast but it hard to cast and at an awkward point on the curve where Inferno Titan always seems to look better. Being a legend also works against Rorix making him easy to kill for white and blue with their cost effective clones and Karakas. Hellkite has the same clock, is harder to deal with and far easier to play. Hellkite is also far better at killing planeswalkers or doing the final push as he is near impossible to block on his first attack. I am a little old school and feel that every cube should have a red dragon and Rorix was good in this role and still feels more epic than Hellkite, despite being clearly worse on all other accounts.

Siege-Gang Commander

Siege-Gang Commander 3.2
Power 3.5
Support 3.0

This is the very best of the one man army cards offering a complete package in one. Lots of attacking power, value if dealt with, removal and combat trickery. The Commander is one of the best spells you can make following a reset of some type and one of the few cards capable of single handedly pulling you back into the game. Certainly the Gang is a bit less powerful than the Titan but then it costs less and has fewer vulnerabilities. Gang is one of the few cards from the goblin deck that is good enough to see play outside of a goblin deck and retained his A cube spot even when the narrow tribal cards were relegated. The Gang tends to see more play in larger drafts than smaller more constructed style cubes but is all round good enough to end up in most decks playing red. Thundermaw Hellkite not only ruined Rorix's day but also makes Siege-Gang see less play too as they share a spot on the curve and the dragon is more proactive and less mana intensive. Commander used to get a fair amount of play for being a good all round five drop in which red could offer nothing else which has now ceased with Hellkite being available.

Thundermaw HellkiteThundermaw Hellkite 3.8
Power 3.9
Support 3.7

Not quite as good as Baneslayer Angel but not far off and offering some niche applications of its own. This little dragon is one of the best finishers in the game for being cheap and quick at its task. It works well as the top of the curve in more agro decks and brilliantly as a threat in control. Although the Hellkite offers much less presence on the board than Baneslayer it is a far less vulnerable use of five mana as the haste combined with the comes in to play effect make give you lots of value immediately. Hellkite is a very effective sniper against planeswalkers and also very powerful against archetypes suck as faeries and skies and cards like Lingering Souls and Bitterblossom. Siege-Gang Commander is the kind of card to come down and stabilize the game 
and solve some problems for you, Thundermaw Hellkite comes down and poses a problem for your opponent. It is such a proactive beastly threat you can often go straight on the offensive when you make it even if you were on the back foot before hand. Flying and haste are two of the best abilities a dork can have in the cube and are almost always relevant against any deck. A great all round card that is crammed full of quality and value.

Hero of Oxid RidgeHero of Oxid Ridge 1.5 (B cube)
Power 2.2
Support 0.5

This guy is really comparable to Koth but I feel overall is the weaker card. Both Hero and Koth are aggressive red four drops. The Hero is easier to play in decks with more colours and tends to facilitate more immediate damage than Koth. Being a creature is a less appealing card type than planeswalker for a threat as they are far easier to remove, especially ones with only two toughness. While many more spells kill Hero than do Koth the walker is one of the few that fails to have any abilities that help him protect himself and can make him little more than a healing salve sometimes. Hero is better than Koth if you are behind in the board position but is still awful as a defensive monster and not what you want to doing at all. The subtle differences in their resilience and applications make little distinction between the cards and ultimately it is Koth's other less used abilities that make him the more interesting and useful card. Hero is just a bit too much mana for most aggressive red decks and a bit too linear to fit in elsewhere. Hellrider is another obvious comparison that is clearly better than Hero yet for some reason has not found its way in to my cube yet. Perhaps it is because none of these high powered aggressive red four drops have really ever performed well or fitted into an established archetype. 

Flametongue Kavu
Flametongue Kavu 2.0
Power 2.8
Support 1.4

I have no real clue why but FTK has never shined in the cube. In limited he may well just be the best uncommon ever, not given it that much thought as comparing cards for limited in separate blocks is hard and meaningless. At a guess the other contenders are Skullclamp and Vampire Nighthawk but then again I was not drafting when you could open up a Sol Ring. I guess the best thing you would be doing with your Sol Ring was making a Serra Angel... I should stop filling space and at least guess at why this card is only a 2.0. Four is a lot of damage for red allowing you to one shot things otherwise requiring two burn spells, and even when this just hits a 2/1 utility dork the tempo swing is pretty huge. I find FTK used almost exclusively in the more control decks, as unlike Hero and Koth he is a much better defensive card being generally a more effective blocker than attacker. My best guess as to why a card as good as FTK sees relatively little play is where he fits in on a curve. He is too much to pay for a utility card for the aggressive deck and a bit underwhelming and lacking synergy in big mana red decks. At both four mana and sorcery speed FTK has some serious competition in control decks with Wraths and planeswalkers offering more appeal. While there are lots of dorks for FTK to target he can sit dead in hand however more often you want to cast him at a point in the game where they have unexciting tartgets which he feels like a waste if used on such as a Trinket Mage. Four mana is quite a lot in cube and a 4/2 body is not that much reward. Even so, Flametongue still finds the odd slot in a variety of decks and still offers a lot of value for the mana. 

Manic Vandal
Manic Vandal 3.0
Power 2.4
Support 3.6

Red gets its own sex monkey at last! Most decks pack an artifact or more and so most decks want an answer to these potential threats. Having main deck dead cards is weak particularly in colours like red without good ways to filter cards and make use of the chaff. Although a grey ogre is nothing exciting it will at least do something if you have no targets. The Vandal gets play in almost every red deck without green or white in it and this is more the case now with the wishes gone. He is cheap, reliable and simple providing tempo and card advantage most of the time. This guy sees more play than Viridian Shaman as green has many more options for versatile cards that can deal with problem artifacts. You never feel like the Vandal wins games for you, instead he feels that he stops you just losing when you want him most. Still a great reason to include in proactive and control decks alike. Torch Fiend tends to be preferred in the red deck wins style of deck for being more aggressively cost and more able to proactively cast while Vandal winds up in the more mid-range and control decks. The longer a games goes on the more likely you are to come under threat from cards like Sword of Fire and Ice and so the slower decks are much more in need of having appropriate answers. Rather dull but still an instant red staple.

Ball Lightning
Ball Lightning 1.5
Power 1.8
Support 1.2

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

Zo-Zu the PunisherZo-Zu, the Punisher 1.2 (B cube)
Power 1.4
Support 1.0

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

Chandra's Phoenix 3.5
Power 3.2
Support 3.9

This card has been impressing in many different guises since his addition to the cube. Working in control and agro decks as an all round useful dork. His damage output is not immense for his cost but it is pretty persistent and reliable and brings people within burn range surprisingly well. The flying is particularly nice as red has very few options for cheap flying dorks, it helps significantly as an attacker but equally well defensively. The Phoenix is also extra utility with the many graveyard and discard effects from Gifts Ungiven to Liliana of the Veil to Fauna Shaman not to mentioned the mighty Faithless Looting. Arc Trail and Lava Dart and of course Chandra herself all help make this painless to recur and continue to abuse. As such the Phoenix also gets marks for being an aggressively cost monster that can offer card advantage. Thus far I have found it be be a great extra tool in the arsenal of red deck wins, blue red control and good old red green beats. I am sure it is versatile and rounded enough to find many more homes as the format evolves and cannot see it leaving the cube any time soon. It is one of the elite dorks like Kitchen Finks that offers tempo and card advantage in one package and as such finds homes in control decks all the way to the most agrressive of decks.

Squee, Goblin Nabob
Squee, Goblin Nabob 2.0
Power 1.6
Support 2.5

Squee is the specific version of Chandra's Phoenix that recently got returned to the cube with a critical mass of really good discard effects being reached. While he is pretty pathetic as a body serving only really as an overcosted chump blocker he is much easier to recur making him more useful in certain specific decks. Even with only one copy of Squee available the Forbid combo with him is still viable to include in control decks. His other main uses are with Survival of the Fittest, Liliana of the Veil and Pox effects. Essentially your deck should not be playing Squee if your plan involves casting him. This is not to say that you wont end up having to send him to the battlefield when things start to fall apart but does serve as a good guide as to when this is the kind of card your deck will benefit from containing. Decks with a few lightly synergic cards will opt for Chandra's Phoenix or other more rounded spells while decks entirely built around discard engines will reach for the Nabob first. Often he turns up in decks with no red cards or mana sources and with the right selection of looting effects offers an easily tutorable reliable and versatile card advantage engine. 

Tin Street Hooligan
Tin-Street Hooligan 2.7
Power 2.6
Support 2.8

The Hooligan is basically a gold card as you would only ever play it with access to both red and green. While a Goblin Piker is a deeply under powered card for the cube it can still be what you need from time to time and so you can happily play the Hooligan with a very light splash of green where you would not be so happy to play a Vithian Renegades. The card is played primarily for the removal effect and not the accompanying body which also makes this guy far far better than the Renegades at a third of the mana cost less. I am always 100% happy to play the Hooligan blind, ie when I have no idea what deck they are playing or if he will have any targets. This is not so much the case with Viridian Shaman and Manic Vandal who I tend to only play if I know there are things I want dead. The Hooligan has a few drawbacks you have to be aware of such as being no use as a Shatter when cascaded into, put into play from an Aether Vial or cast when you have a Goblin Warchief in play. Still for my money it is the best creature than kills artifacts when it comes into play and would have a much higher rating if not tied to two colours. 

Hellspark ElementalHellspark Elemental 2.5
Power 2.6
Support 2.4

A great little card although a touch on the narrow side. Although it is a dork the card is basically a burn spell and one that may only be used in aggressive decks. Typically the card only gets play in red deck wins  and similar two colour style decks. The best comparison for the card is Ball Lightening and while not strictly better it is superior in enough regards to be able to directly replace it. Overall they both do 6 trample damage, the Elemental however cannot do it all on the same turn and requires an extra mana to do so. Being forced to split the cost over two turns that suit you best makes this card far better on your mana curve and allows much more efficient plays to be made. Costing 2 colourless mana instead of a third red to fully use allows the card to see play outside mono red decks and also allows the inclusion of colourless land within a mana base for the mono coloured decks using it. Hellspark is also much more robust than Ball Lightening and generally requires two removal spells to deal with it without just eating the damage. It is also robust to hand disruption and has good synergy with battlecry and other combat based effects due to getting two attacks instead of just one. A well rounded card that does a specific thing with flexibility. 

Keldon Marauders
Keldon Marauders 3.2
Power 3.7
Support 2.8

For the most aggressive of decks there are few better two drops than these fellows. It is one of those red guys that is direct damage disguised as a creature like Ball Lightening and Hellspark Elemental. While it has neither haste nor evasion it guarantees two damage and sticks around for an extra turn. This may throw away the element of surprise but does allow you to use it to block with once before your attack or combo it with an effect to give it haste to get two attacks. It also has a decent toughness compared to the other red direct damage creatures which makes it more effective against first strike and generally more robust. Most of the time you will do the five damage with this card for only two mana which makes it the most damage for mana on any such creature which is even better considering the low red mana requirements in the cost. There are a huge variety of other neat synergies with this card involving bouncing or sacrificing it which are also easier on this creature that things like Ball Lightening as you pay the mana for the Marauders in a previous turn. All in all a very good card with very nice design that has only one role despite many different interactions. While a little narrow due to its single role it is well worthy of a cube slot given its power. 

Plated GeopedePlated Geopede 2.5
Power 3.0

Support 2.1

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

Torch FiendTorch Fiend 3.0
Power 2.3
Support 3.8

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

Ember Hauler
Ember Hauler 2.0
Power 2.0
Support 2.0

Simple is best and this guy is just that. I dislike the RR cost as it makes the card far more narrow and rarely sees play outside of mono red. It would also be much more exciting if the activation cost no mana like good old Mogg Fanatic. Despite the annoying aspects of the card and the relatively low power it is the perfect two drop for most builds of red deck wins. Two power for two mana, the ability to target damage and generally offering value if killed means that every box is ticked. It does nothing brilliantly but it does everything that red deck wins wants to do, which is a rare thing for a card to offer. I would likely cut this for being too narrow if red deck wins was not one of the staple archetypes in the cube that has been tier one since it all began. Other than red deck wins it pops up in goblins but as that archetype is presently in the B cube that offers no extra reasons for Hauler to have his A cube slot. Although he rarely sees play outside of red deck wins it is not because he is only viable in the very agro decks but because he is only good in mono red decks. Mid range and full on control mono red decks that are nothing like Big Red have been cropping up more and more often this last since my first review of this dork. In these less agro mono red decks Ember Hauler is a very safe card to play as it gives you some early game without detracting much from your late game. 

Kargan Dragonlord
Kargan Dragonlord 2.5
Power 3.0
Support 2.2

Another RR 2/2 but totally different in application to Ember Hauler. It is not quite as narrow as the Hauler but is also much less useful in red deck wins leading to it only seeing play in some of the builds. The RR cost can be a little off putting or awkward but given the quantities of red needed to level up it is less of a drawback than it is on the Hauler. Level up is a great mechanism that helps decks to have late game power, good mana efficiency and a smooth early cure. They also offer a good number of choices. When a level up creature has a a half decent starting body it is an interesting card. A 2/2 just cuts it but is very weak last resort thing to cast when you have nothing better to do body, it is also quite a big investment to hit the mid level. The Dragonlord makes up for this by being very powerful at both mid and top levels, both end the game pretty fast and give you a serious threat on the board and the jump between the two is not too great either. For decks with access to lots of red mana that either lack late game serious threats or need some cards that can be cast early that don't suffer from low power or being rubbish later on then this is the perfect card. It is quite hard to properly assess the card as it is highly varied in performance. Sometimes it single handedly wins the game from out of nowhere and from a horrible position. Sometimes it costs you the game due to over investing mana into it only to have it bounced or similar and most of the time it trades with something like a Trinket Mage or other card that will have already got extra value. This may seem like it is overall bad but actually having the option to make unfavourable trades with your late game threats is just what you need, in fact it is often what you are doing with Force of Will. In other words, on the face of it the card may seem to under perform in games however the benefits it offers in constructing your deck and the extra options it provides in game more than make up for this. As mono red decks have become more varied Kargan finds himself in more and more decks as he is so safe and flexible. 

Orcish Lumberjack
Orcish Lumberjack 3.3
Power 3.8
Support 3.0

This often overlooked little fellow would be a clear 4.0 if it sacrificed Mountains or cost green mana to play. As it is they are effectively a gold card and a reasonably demanding one at that due to needing forests specifically and not just green mana. Any card that is cheap and produces mana is interesting, any card that produces more mana than you have to invest into it is also interesting and the Lumberjack does both very well. He has been dubbed the Black Lotus Dude since the de-powering of the cube as he frequently gives the kind of abusive starts that Lotus does. As you can tap your forest before sacrificing it you can very easily produce 5 mana on turn two with nothing more than this guy, a red source and a forest (and a second land assuming the forest is also a red source). Sacrificing land is a big deal, especially early in the game and does need some consideration when building decks that want to be able to abuse the Lumberjacks. Assuming you have a relatively low curve then sacrificing a land on turn two is no big deal if you cast the top end cards in your hand which means you effectively curve out the same but take your 5 drop(s) on turn two and shunt turns two through four back a turn. Sometimes you use the Lumberjack back to back and completely empty your hands on turn three. You get to spend roughly the same amount of mana overall but you get to spend it much much earlier. The tempo boost from this is comparable to Black Lotus and frequently wins games regardless of what you spend that extra mana on. The card disadvantage needed to gain the massive tempo boost is either irrelevant in an agro deck as the game ends so quickly or easily recovered by a control deck due to the extra power and stability they gain. I only play this in RG decks as adding a third colour really lowers your forest count. I also ensure I have a robust mana base and don't skimp on lands when including this fellow. If you have not tried this guy out I highly recommend that you do.

Merciless Predator

Reckless Waif
Reckless Waif 0.5 (C cube)
Power 0.2
Support 1.0

I have been pretty unimpressed with this guy thus far. The werewolf flip mechanic is pretty weak in the cube as most decks are able to cast at least one spell a turn every turn and are equally able to cast multiples in a single turn should they need to. The cube is full of cheap spells and mana curves tend to be lower than most other formats and so you want to cast flip cards at the end of your curve rather than at the beginning so that they spend least time unflipped. Casting a Huntsmaster of the Fells on turn four and then skipping plays on turn five to flip him is far less damaging to your tempo than skipping plays on turn two to flip a Waif. Basically Waif is only good when things are going wrong for you or wrong for your opponent meaning you should probably just play more two drops or more lands. One mana vanilla 1/1s are a complete waste of a card in most formats offering no real clock and no board presence either. The vast majority of the time that is exactly what Reckless Waif is (well, all the time considering it becomes a Merciless Predator but you know what I mean) which makes it unplayable. If you want a one drop that much there are countless more reliable ones to chose from in red alone. Jackal Familiar anyone? The few pros for Waif over other red one drops is that it is particularly good against slow control decks  as you have a much better chance of flipping him early without harming your own curve. This however isn't enough to make him playable, even as a sideboard card. He only has a B cube slot in case of tribal decks. 

Mogg FanaticMogg Fanatic 2.5
Power 2.0
Support 2.8

Simple and effective. A one point piece of burn is useful to neatly finish things off and having it on the board already is even more useful to save on mana requirements. Seal of Fire is great and this does a lot of what Seal does but until called upon he nibbles away a few life points or carries some equipment or chump blocks. I cut this guy when they changed the damage on stack rules and he could no longer take out a two toughness guy on his own however he found his way back in and has earned his A cube slot for a second time. Primarily played in red deck wins and goblins where he offers a surprising amount of tempo and value but can still be useful filler in slower or more controlly decks. He is one of the many cube cards that I like to include that has quite low overall power but that performs so many different roles at good value for mana that they gain their slots. The ability to self sacrifice is often underrated for its use in countering spell effects such as the life gain on Lightening Helix. Needing no mana to do this makes Fanatic a safe card that is unlikely to work against you. Fanatic does half of what you want from a one drop beater and half what you want from a burn spell giving you incredible flexibility and control. In the ideal situation he comes down early smoothing out your curve, then gets in a few attacks before getting aimed at something to finish it off. In these situations he saves you having to use another more powerful burn spell while having already given you some value. If you manage to get in two attacks with Fanatic it is very likely to have been one of your best spells in that game.

Goblin BushwhackerGoblin Bushwhacker 2.0
Power 2.6
Support 1.5

I cannot take credit for this quirky little chap as I rampantly took the piss out of the person who brought one along for the deck they had planned to build. I immediately condemned it to the C cube only to have it dug out again by people wanting to get more ribbings from me. Instead of that they beat my face in with it and now I am a huge fan. It is all the things I love in a card, great synergies, low mana costs and various uses. While pretty much the nut low as your first play it is still often better in those sort of decks than making no play and will still get in for enough to make it worth it, especially if you have other pumping effects like equipment. Where this guy really shines most is turns 4 onwards when you can make him and another dork such as a Keldon Marauder and get maximum value, tempo and surprise out of him. Being able to play him at most points on the curve yet have him increase in power the more you delay this is ideal for any kind of card. Typically only found in Goblin decks, Red Deck Wins and Rx aggressive decks he is especially popular in Boros Deck Wins as he works incredibly well with Ranger of Eos and Kor Skyfisher. While including him in your deck makes it much harder to play against and offers you better reach he is a slightly situational card and quite a poor rip off the top when you have nothing else, as the decks that want to play him often crave redundancy and already suffer from lower average card power level he does not always make the cut. Being RR when at his best also makes him less appealing in any non mono red deck. 

Spikeshot ElderSpikeshot Elder 1.6
Power 1.5
Support 1.8

I have been having a long debate as to whether Magus of the Scroll or Spikeshot Elder deserve the A cube slot. Elder is better with other cards where as Magus is better on its own which wasn't enough to decide and so the fact that I already have Cursed Scroll and prefer something a bit different ended up deciding it for now. Both are essentially poor mans Grim Lavamancer as they need three times as much mana to get shooting. Elder is nice to supplement your early drops and give some presence even though he won't get activated for quite some time. This is not as wasteful as it is with Bushwhacker but it is still not powerful like a Goblin Guide or Stromkirk Noble. Spikeshot is very much the late game card. His activation is a little expensive to be something used lots but is a good deterrent as well as a good mana sink. Certain cards will simply not get played as you will freely kill them however this is even better than killing them as it frees up your mana for more powerful things. Being able to attack as well as ping is really nice and adds a lot to the card as you can freely attack and still have the deterrent effect. It also means that if you do have a pump effect like a Teetering Peeks or Reckless Charge you can get extra value with mega ping as well as the big hit. These one offs are nice but rarely come up. If however you get a Rancor or Bonesplitter type effect onto a Spikeshot Elder he goes from being mediocre to being a really serious threat. Despite his low base power level he scales very well with certain cards which none of the other red one mana shooting dorks do and this also helps earn him a slot. He is reasonable filler in most kinds of decks however will be one of your worst spells without something to give him that extra kick, particularly in the slower decks. 

Goblin GuideGoblin Guide 4.5
Power 4.5
Support 4.5

The very pinnacle of one drop beaters. Almost every single one mana two powered guys have had a run in the cube at one point or another. Many of those had worse drawbacks than the Guide and yet guide has a better toughness than most and haste!!! Haste really raises the bar in terms of what a turn one play can do, there was a time when I would pray for Isamru in my opening hands while now it is obviously Guide I want to begin my curve with. Stromkirk Noble, Steppe Lynx, Delver of Secrets and Wild Nacatl can all do more damage as a turn one play eventually, Even a Spikeshot Elder can in theory do more however they are either much slower to apply the damage or situational as to when they can. Goblin Guide is good damage from the get go in a reliable little package. On a card offering as much tempo as it does the drawback is barely even that. It rarely bails anyone out of a stitch, games rarely go on long enough for any netted lands to be relevant, having high cards in hand count can be punishing for things like Black Vise and in addition to all of this you get free information on what your opponent is drawing. In much the same way Bill Hick's describes the perfect advert for Coke, the perfect deck is just Goblin Guides, Lightening Bolts and Mountains. Most one drops become weaker as the game progresses, particularly off the top but guide holds up pretty well and while not the best late game draw is certainly a lot happier than Stromkirk Noble, Diregraf Ghoul or Savannah Lions. Every single agro deck with red in it plays the Guide with perhaps the exception of some RG decks which try and ramp on turn one and rely more on beefy dorks to power through and less on efficient dorks such as this. Goblin Guide is head and shoulders above the competition, at his best he is comparable to the other best one drop beats at their bests however Guide is still almost as good as he is at his best when he is at his worst. His range of performance is consistently top rate and he is so easy to throw into a list without much thought or preparation. 

Stromkirk Noble
Stromkirk Noble 2.6
Power 2.6
Support 2.6

This is reds second best pressure drop on turn one and there is quite a long way to go in power level in either direction before you meet Goblin Guide above it or Jackal Pup below it. On turn one it can be better than Guide however this requires you to get him to about a 4/4 which rarely happens. As a later drop it starts to get very poor and really needs a Bushwhacker or Reckless Charge to be anything other than dribble beyond turn 2. There are lots of humans in the cube in all colours making him pretty evasive in combination with some selective burn. Provided you get to boost him at least once you will generally get decent value from him as they will be forced to trade or risk it getting out of control. A 2/2 is just much more useful to have around and can be made to count for much more even if not able to get in. Even without the evasion he would be better than Slith Firewalker who has seen probably too much cube play. Although you have to have the Noble a turn earlier and lose the surprise factor while giving them a sorcery speed chance to kill it you have made a one drop and can still make a two drop. Stromkirk allows much better tempo starts than Slith ever could and neither ever really go the distance alone so the threat of the card is where most of its strength lies. Losing tempo is not something you want to do simply to force awkward plays from someone. On turn one this is one of the best dorks you can make in any agro deck however the sharp decline in this guys power after turn one hold his rating and playability back. Although easier to play without support cards than Champion of the Parish he is so much slower and harder to grow that he is a less effective threat. Red is the perfect colour for this dork where it is easiest to force him though with abundant cheap burn. A red deck wins mainstay and a dork that is fairly frequently found in other archetypes too including some more control style tempo disruption decks. In such decks he scales well as he offers a lot of potential power and value that is more reliable when backed up by disruption and more valuable for its ability to become a serious threat as those decks are lighter on threats. 

Grim Lavamancer
Grim Lavamancer 3.6
Power 3.8
Support 3.5

Not the best one drop as it usually won't be active and at best can nibble in for one. He is still a body however and is better than mountain go. As the graveyard starts to fill up he becomes a really serious problem for decks and needs to be dealt with. Most creatures die to him and those that don't at least don't two for one you when you help kill them with Grim. When you have no creatures to kill or the finish line is in sight he aims his lava at the dome and effectively adds a damage to every card that you put in the bin. A good number of red spells have flashback or other ways to be usefull from beyond the grave which means you don't always get 1 damage per card but this is no reason not to play Grim or flashback cards. He can be a little slow to come online and does tie up extra mana making him not all the best tempo card. He is also fragile and winds up dead before he gets to shooting much. This is still fine as it will free up your mana and mean they don't have removal for more rounded threats like Kargan Dragonlord. He has become worse as creatures have gotten bigger and quicker and much harder to fully kill but this is only compared to how powerful a one drop he was. He is still a lot of card for the cost despite not being quite at the levels he was when first release. He is a lot like Mother of Runes, he can dominate games, is usually a kill on sight card for a lot of decks and is still fairly effective even in their weaker matchups. A versatile and high value card that is at its best in decks full of cheap cards with an strong compliment of instants and sorceries to ensure the graveyard is quickly and constantly filled.

Goblin WelderGoblin Welder 4.0
Power 4.6
Support 3.5

This is basically a reusable Tinker for a third of the mana. Sure you need something in the bin and you need to wait for summoning sickness to pass but no other one mana critter offers anything close to the power this guy can bring. Welder really needs the right deck to shine in which limits his play a little but he does also allow archetypes to exist due to his power which increases his playtime. He can be used in two main ways, either a combo reanimate style where you put things in the bin and cheat them into play or as utility while you curve out. I don't like to rely solely on the first strategy as it is a little vulnerable and fiddly however it is nice support for conventional reanimate. The latter is my preferred use as he is powerful with all of your deck. You can send away tapped Monoliths and Vaults only to bring them back untapped or recur an expired Tangle Wire. Welder is abusive with comes into play effect cards like Solemn Simulacrum as well as those with when this dies effects like, erm, Solemn Simulacrum. When you have ramped you way into abusive amounts of artifact mana getting value from Welder the whole while you can then use him to make your late game threats counterspell and removal proof. Sometimes Welder is thrown into combo decks as a way to recur a combo piece that has been dealt with assuming it is an artifact and the deck has at least 4 others to exchange for it. If affinity can support the colour requirement it is a nice little utility dork that either keeps threats about or gains incremental card advantage with Chromatic Star. It has even been used as a pure disruption card in red deck wins where they had no artifacts but wanted to be able to mess with the opponents however this is a hosery use and not all that fun to be on the receiving end of. Welder is narrow and generally requires support but is powerful enough to etch lots of uses around the cube for itself. 

Gorilla ShamanGorilla Shaman 1.5 (3.5 in a powered cube) (B Cube)
Power 1.8
Support 1.3

The famous Mox Monkey of old finds himself at long last in the B cube after many years strong service. Back in the day he was invaluable disruption against all the deeply unfair decks with their artifact mana. In an unpowered cube such as mine now he is not worth a slot. Not all decks have things you want to kill with the Shaman and many of those that do are cards like Sword of Fire and Ice which costs too much mana to sensibly do with the Gorilla. You are far better off playing the more reliable cards like Torch Fiend and Manic Vandal as your artifact destruction cards when not facing Sol Ring and the original Moxen. Basically in an unposwered cube there are not enough targets, nor are they cheap enough to make Gorilla playable unless used as a hoser or sideboard card against affinity and other heavy artifact decks. When you can reliably eat permanents for one mana a go you are looking at a strong ability. Hoser cards and pure sideboard cards don't get slots in my A cube and so that is that. 

Kird ApeKird Ape 1.8
Power 2.2
Support 1.6

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

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