Thursday 30 May 2013

Bannings: Mana Crypt

Mana Crypt
It has been a long time coming but it is time to retire the Mana Crypt in my cube along with the rest of the power. I used to argue that only combo benefited from the Crypt with agro decks having too little colourless requirement and control never wanting to risk the life loss in a long game. As combo is the weakest of the three main archetype groups I was happy leaving in a card well above the power level to give level the playing field a little. Sadly now the meta is shifting towards a meta with midrange decks dominating a lot more which changes the dynamic of who wants a Crypt. Agro decks are playing higher curves and more expensive cards to have a little more game against the midrange decks and more combo decks are doing well as they are highly effective against midrange decks. Now midrange, agro and combo all compete for Crypt and make up a much higher portion of the field than they did a year ago. Combo also needs less of a boost with midrange being more prevalent. Crypt is not just a very high power card but it is also very random and swingy. If you get it in your opener with a few cards to play off it quickly then you will really struggle to lose however off the top late game it is rather a dead draw. While you may be able to do some great fun things with an early Crypt it is not so fun for your opponent and doesn't lead to good games of magic. Another issue with Mana Crypt is its unbalance in draft formats compared to more constructed ones. In draft decks all tend to look a little more midrange regardless of the intended aim of the deck and are also much less powerful making a highly powerful, swingy card that excels in and against midrange decks such as Mana Crypt a liability. We have had some good times but in the name of better Magic I am banning Mana Crpyt. This will weaken blue more than anything else with cards like Trinket Mage and Tinker losing some power but as it has remained the best colour consistently I am not concerned about this change. My banned list looks like this at present:

Black Lotus
Library of AlexandriaSol Ring
Mana Crpyt
Mox Jet
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Mox Emerald
Mox Pearl
(Time Vault)

Strip Mine
Tolarian Academy
Library of Alexandria

Time Walk
Ancestral Recall
Cunning Wish
Mana Drain

Living Wish

Buring Wish

The power of the Wishes entirely depend on how you play them in the various ways of doing a cube ranging from pointless to vastly over powered. They really helped round out tight 40 card card decks but were a bit of a cop out in deck design and really just made everything more complicated and tedious than it needed to be. I could have changed the rulings on them rather than just banning them but either way, they make for better cubes when not included despite being very difficult cards with lots of choices and utility. Technically Time Vault should be on this list but I have never had or wanted one, it seems like the Wishes in terms of what rulings you use with it determining whether it is broken or terrible, it is also just a tedious card as soon as it becomes playable. Library of Alexandria is probably the most likely card within this list to become unbanned as the format is a little too fast to reliably be able to abuse the card. Without the cheap universal artifact ramp it is hard to recover the tempo loss incurred by going nuts with the Library early. That said, it would still be very unfair in control mirrors even if man lands are currently one of the best cards in those matchups! I do still like the occasional rotissary, or even a draft, with all the power included. Sure you get some dud games and blow outs but it makes you appreciate the calmer fairer formats and is really exciting to do now and again.

Saturday 25 May 2013


Aurelia's FuryI don't do enough control decks in these example lists mostly because they tend to be reactively built and are usually jst a pile of fairly homogenous control cards. It is hard to really define them as archetypes beyond their colours with a few exceptions. While this is not what I would call an exception it is not a typical control deck at all. It is very light on threats and wins far more slowly than the newer cube control lists which pack really good top end dorks like Titans, Angels, Dragons and Sphinxes all of which end games fast. I wasn't going to bother doing this list at first but the games it gave were so extreme I decided I would. When building it my aim was to not include all the cheesy cards that are found in most control decks these days like Snapcaster Mage, Cryptic Command and the previously mentioned top end threats. It is not my fun having your first few turns disrupted by cheap control cards and then just losing to a Wurmcoil Engine you can't answer and so my intent was to be able to play a control deck that was more fun for both players. Suffice it to say I missed the mark and made one of the most tedious long winded boring decks for both players I have come across in cube, and that is saying something. In one game I got a Sword to Plowshares on an Isochron Scepter and cast it so many times my opponent was over 70 life at one point. I ultimately managed to win on the upkeep of the turn I would deck myself (after already having cast a Time Spiral once) with another seven Lightning Bolts to the dome totalling over twenty cast in all from a Timayo ultimate to take the game...

Memory Lapse21 Spells

Lightning Bolt
Swords to Plowshares

Wall of Omens
Isochron Scepter
Fire / Ice
Lightning Helix

Memory Lapse
Arcane Denial
Lat-Nam's Legacy
Cyclonic Rift

Detention Sphere
Wrath of God
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Wrath of God

Gideon Jura
Timayo, the Moon Sage
Temporal Manipulation
Time Warp

Austere Command
Time Spiral

Devil's Play
Aurelia's Fury

19 Lands
Thawing Glaciers
Desolate Lighthouse
Celestial Colonnade
Thawing Glaciers
Sacred Foundry

Hallowed Fountain
Steam Vents
Arid Mesa
Scalding Tarn

Flooded Strand
Volcanic Island

Azorious Chancery
4 Islands

Temporal ManipulationAlthough I messed up in regards to having fun games I did at least make a challenging deck to win with. Much of this was down to it simply being weaker than a typical cube three colour control build however it is still probably just about a tier one deck. With a lot of control decks these days all you have to do is plan how you are going to survive up to casting one of your five or six drops that should single handedly stabilize or win you the game. With this list you are relying on planeswalker ultimates, Colonnade or X spells to win the game for you all of which are very slow and serve other main purposes within the deck. You will be faced with the option of using Devil's Play to kill a dork from the bin on say turn seven and will be needing to think about if that will leave you sufficient tools to physically win the game rather than if it is just a sensible play right now.

I decided to go heavy on the taking of extra turns however they were primarily weak blue versions of Explore. With so many X spells the deck is mana hungry and the main ways you have to generate advantage are incremental once a turn effects from planeswalkers, Scepter and Thawing Glaciers meaning despite the lack of attackers the time walk cards supported the overall approach of the deck. Being so light on threats means you make their removal worse while ensuring you have the maximum number of answer cards making it more likely you take it to the extreme late game where your cards are at their most powerful. Although an arduous task to win with the deck it was yet a joyous coming together of long term planning that made it feel very satisfying in the way having finished a marathon is.

Legend Rules Change in Cube

I am all for this new rules change and am happy to pay the minor flavour costs to obtain a better overall game. With only one copy of each card the rules changes are of minimal effect in the cube compared to other magic formats. Within the cube it has only really two ramifications, making clones no longer Hero's Demise in blue and allowing multiple copies of same name planeswalkers in play at the same time. The latter in particular I am fond of as it means the first person to resolve their Jace, Elspeth etc is no longer vastly ahead even if they have made a weaker version. Typically in control mirror matches Jace Beleren was the best of the Jaces as you can cast him soonest. This in turn means they have to spend four or five mana on their Jace that only serves to kill your Jace from which you have already obtained value. Now with the new rules  you can make your Jace Beleren first and I can still make mine and use it as intended. While you may have been getting activations a turn or two earlier the fact that my Jace cost more implies I will get more value from my activations and be able to catch up somewhat. It also means we both have much more choices to make as we both have a Jace rather than both not having one. Choices are good, they allow you to outplay people and they make for more fun and involved games. You get to use the card in your deck for its intended use, perhaps you were playing Jace the Mind Sculptor to set up your miracle cards and without the use of his abilities your deck has way more overcost spells and becomes rather unwieldy. Having deck synergy and design disrupted unintentionally by cards in this manner is random and detrimental to the game which the new rules changes have ironed out. You will still be forced to consider to drawbacks of playing two or more copies of the same walker in your deck however you wont have to worry about those from your opponent.

As for the changes to how clone effects will work I am also very pleased. Being a legend in the cube was a large drawback and made a lot of cards unplayable. The main culprits in ruining many legends are Phantasmal Image, Karakas and Phyrexian Metalmorph and the new rules will stop two thirds of the problem. The best example of a card made unplayable by clones is Thrun, the Last Troll who was supposed to be incredibly hard to deal with, in particular by blue however in the cube blue found it easier than any other colour to cope with him. The clone cards are still very good and won't lose much value compared to the legends like Thrun who will gain an awful lot of value. If they make a big scary legend you can clone it and have the situation equal as if you had killed it, just more complicated and interesting. A trade off where one group of cards lose basically nothing from their value and playability while another group vastly grows in these areas is a good trade in my books.

As for flavour concerns I am not worried, I can look past the idea of a Sword somehow being a combat aid to a dog and so I will be able to deal with this too. I appreciate not everyone has the same indifference to flavour in which case its a good job you are into cube as you have all the power to play whatever flavour based rules you like. I also appreciate that certain cards will become far more abusable in formats where multiple copies are allowed such as Mox Opal and Gaea's Cradle. This may incur some bannings or meta shifts and card value swings but it is still a good thing to do for going forward with magic.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Post-RtR Zoo

Ghor-Clan Rampager
With the full block of Return to Ravnica now out the various cards in the cube are settling into place and finding their various homes. This list of zoo has given a home to nine new cards from the block and unsurprisingly is one of the archetypes to benefit most from the recent sets. I built this deck as a test deck as I had made a variety of control decks to play against each other in a little experiment and needed to have a few common agro decks to keep them sensible and allow for other comparisons to be made regarding the control decks. As it turned out this particular zoo list has utterly crushed everything in its path and not yet dropped a match with much more play than the average cube deck gets. This is not just against the control decks but also the other agro decks including a lovely red deck wins list.

It is unmistakeably a zoo deck with many of the mainstays from my lists from a year ago but with a few subtle changes to accommodate the new treats. Previously I have built my zoo decks with a heavy emphasis on green ensuring almost every land in the deck generates green mana and only ever played single colour requirement spells outside of green. This makes the deck significantly more consistent while also allowing you to go all five colours if you so chose. The version I have here however is fairly even split between the Naya colours making the use of a fourth or fifth colour too risky. With all the new cards you don't need to dip into more colours to keep the power level extremely high. Zoo has always been about curving out with incredibly high tempo, value and power dorks with a huge depth of significant threats in the deck and I now feel that can be achieved best in a list similar to this:

Boros Elite

23 Spells

Noble Hierarch
Deathrite Shaman
Legion Loyalist
Kird Ape

Boros Elite
Wild Nacatl
Steppe Lynx

Flinthoof Boar
Voice of Resergence
Qasali Pridemage
Gyre SagePlated Geopede

Strangleroot Geist
Gyre Sage
Lotus Cobra
Boros Charm

Selesnya Charm

Boros Reckoner
Knight of the Reliquary
Kitchen Finks

Bloodbraid Elf
Ghor Clan Rampager
Boros Charm
Wolfir Silverheart

17 Lands

Wooded Foothills

Windswept Heath
Arid Mesa
Stirring Wildwood
Rampaging Ravine

Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Sacred Foundry

Bloodstained Mire
Marsh Flats
Wooded Bastion

Fire-Lit Thicket

Other Contenders:

Thundermaw Hellkite
Boggart Ram-Gang
Bird of Paradise
Lightning Bolt/Helix
Treetop Village

Voice of Resurgence
The first thing to notice about this deck is that it only has two non-creature spells and they are both Charms. Both Selesnya and Boros Charm are two of the most powerful Charms however they have struggled a little to find many good homes until they gelled perfectly into zoo. They give you a vast degree of options and security without significantly reducing the threat count or giving you poor curve draws. Selesnya Charm is better than Path to Exile most of the time as things smaller than five power just get run over by your army, especially if you have a +2/+2 combat trick. The Selesnya Charm is also fine to use as a flash 2/2 should you find yourself without threats to cast making it never bad yet still frequently game winning. The Boros Charm is a touch harder to use and comes into play more at the end of the game. Should you be able to cast it in reply to a Wrath effect it is completely game over but this is somewhat rare. Oddly the most common use is the doublestrike effect which is close to Overrun levels of power in a deck like this with lots of cheap high power dorks. Four damage is also fine as a final bit of reach or a way of taking out planeswalkers. As you are almost always getting huge amounts of presence onto the board and applying pressure the combat trick side of the Charms tends to be more effective than removal so I was fairly happy cutting all other removal from the deck. The Ghor Clan Rampager has been highly impressive in this regard too and is somewhat the Gruul Charm in the deck acting as a second more powerful Selesnya Charm and gives you a reliable amount of combat trickery of which none is ever dead or even below par power level.

Deathrite Shaman
In the light of making sure the threat count it at its highest possible and with an influx of high power yet low curve dorks I felt able to cut the various ramp effects that don't do much to add pressure. The exalted on Hierarch is outstanding in the first few turns and Deathrite causes all sorts of bother to people. He has some negative synergy with Knight of the Reliquary however the vast number of sac lands in the deck makes me happier with both, especially as they are very high power independently. Bird of Paradise was a consideration as it so often is but I wanted to push the idea of threat redundancy and am not missing the Bird as yet. Gyre Sage got his first real showing in this deck and performed far better than expected but then would have to as he basically took the slot of Tarmogoyf. He gives you options and becomes a good threat in time however is one of the few cards that is really bad off the top in the late game. As no decks have managed to take this list of zoo to the late game yet that isn't seeming like much of a problem but suffice it to say the jury is still out on the Gyre Shaman who only has a probationary testing slot in my A cube at present.

Legion Loyalist
Voice of Resurgence is the big new name in town and has been exceptional in this deck. Most of the time you want to trade him or have him killed as the token always seems to be vast and dominates. He greatly adds to the other persistent dorks and man lands making you super safe against mass removal. Boros Reckoner is not as impressive as the Voice but does have what you want from your dorks. He is a big part of why I went so heavily into Naya colours although having lots of two drops with double colour requirements also made this more sensible. On his own I am not sold on him being worth  altering a mana base such as not having a Treetop Village, Dark Confidant/Lingering Souls, or a basic land in the deck. I should probably point out that although there is black in my deck it is never needed, only being used for Deathrite Shaman activation and only serves to improve the mana base and other synergies with more sac lands.

Boros Reckoner
Boros Elite was a card I disregarded when first spoiled as I figured it would be a 1/1 more often than not, certainly not on turn two which is when your one drops most reliably get in. Certainly you don't get to swing for three with him on turn two in this deck however every turn there after he seems to have battalion meaning your deck has an awful lot of very high power and toughness one drops. This, as previously mentioned, means you can cut out things like Birds of Paradise and just get to beating face as fast as possible. Boros Elite manages to stay significant for the entire game which even the mighty Goblin Guide fails to do consistently and so this more than makes up for the fact Elite doesn't hit hard on turn two. He has performed very well in other agro decks and is likely going to keep its A cube slot to my surprise. Another one drop that has been impressive, although again not really in the first two turns, is Legion Loyalist. He is a great aid in triggering your battalion and always seems to make combat highly in your favour. Having high powered cheap cards such as Elite and Loyalist, even if not optimal early (assuming you do have some better one drops like Wild Nacatl and Stepp Lynx, which we do), greatly aids your tempo as you can just make even more highly powered stuff in the mid game.

Selesnya Charm
Hellrider really shines in a list like this along with the previously mentioned Loyalist and Elite as there is such a high creature count. 21 is a lot but then if you consider Selesnya Charm can be a dork, two of your lands are dorks, five of them are sac lands and increase your ratio of creature spells in the deck when used, and then you have Bloodbraid getting you a bonus dork and several other dorks replacing themselves upon death you have a deck that feels like it plays 30 dorks. Hellrider is pretty saucy normally but in this list he outdoes Sublime Archangel. He gives you a lot of reach immediately even in a stagnant game and is always a massive tempo swing in your favour.

There are both solid high power cards and more quirky suspect looking ones from Return to Ravnica block in this deck and while all have been good it seems to be the effect of the quirky ones most making this deck so impressive. The Charms and the one drops allow you to come out guns blazing from the word go and cut down on lower power or lower tempo cards you used to need to keep you safe. If you can do a constructed style cube and form a mana base as potent as the one supporting this deck I feel that Zoo knocks red deck wins off the top spot in cube archetypes. In draft however it is too onerous to get the mana base to support you consistently leaving red deck wins or even white weenie as the top dog. Zoo is still always going to be a tier one deck and now has the potential to be the best but with any three or more colour deck it is only ever as good as its mana base.

Thursday 16 May 2013

Top 10 Wrath Effects

Wrath of God
It is time for another top ten list as they seem to be the most popular articles. I shall attempt to define the criteria of this top ten clearly as I specifically mean mass creature kill rather than mass removal in general. This however makes it harder to evaluate the mass removal effects that kill creatures and/or other permanents as well. You cannot ignore the fact that some of these cards do more than just killing guys as it is often a big part of what makes them valuable. Balance and Death Cloud in particular may be used in many different roles either based on the game state or through the deck design. This list will look at how good Balance is when it is being used to kill creatures as its primary function and it will discount the perks of being able to use Balance to Mind Twist or Armageddon as a primary function. It will not however discount the fact that you will be able to affect lands and hands with Balance while you are using it to kill creatures. Without this subtle distinction I don't think you could make a sensible list for wrath effects and would instead have to call it mass removal in which the more versatile cards that hit more card types would have to receive much higher ratings.  Typically creatures are what you want to be able to kill en mass as they are the second most abundant permanent type after lands whilst fluctuating in number far more. To use mass land kill your deck needs to be built around that idea while most slower decks can make good use of mass creature removal. The matchups where mass artifact kill is good are too few in number to make it worth playing in its own right yet it is a fantastic addition to a wrath effect. I would like to simply define the criteria of this top ten as which card I would most want to have in my deck as a way of improving its matchup against a creature based deck. The problem with that as a criteria is that the cards are all different colours and work best with different support cards or in/against certain builds. Any way, I hope that is enough preamble for you to appreciate the angle from which I am approaching this list and why and so on with the list.
Merciless Eviction

10. Austere Command
9.   Death Cloud
8.   Merciless Eviction
7.   Wrath of God
6.   Damnation
5.   Rolling Earthquake
4.   Pernicious Deed
3.   Balance
2.   Terminus
1.   Bonfire of the Damned

Austere CommandAustere Command is safe and reliable without being restrictive as similar cards like Akroma's Vengeance are. You can still play Oblivion Ring and Talismans without fear of shooting yourself in the foot. Six mana is a lot to pay for mass removal but when it comes with lots of utility and a wide spectrum of coverage you are getting a good deal. The way in which the two aspects of the creature kill work can be highly abusive. When you need to kill all the dorks in play then you can however it is not uncommon to have situations where all their guys cost three or less while you have a single four or five drop. You might well have needed to wrath regardless of having the big dork down and almost all other conventional wraths don't have a mechanism to save your guy. This can work the other way round should you have a bunch of tokens of something but is less common. What is more common than getting a one sided wrath out of Austere Command is simply using one half of the creature kill effect to kill a selection of both players dorks but changes the advantage from being theirs to yours. A nice safe top end cover all spell that gives you lots of freedom to build with, probably more so than any other wrath effect.

Death Cloud
Death Cloud would probably be about fourth on my list if it had simply been mass removal effects rather than specifically wrath effects. It is the card that is most easy to use in other ways out of all those in this list and I have an unhealthy fondness of the card to add bias into the mix. After Damnation black is very limited in its options for mass removal and while Death Cloud isn't actually all that as a wrath effect compared to Infest or Mutilate or Consume the Meek. The problem with all of blacks other options is that they are very narrow. Not only do they do nothing more than Wrath they fail fairly hard in the wrong deck or matchup and see very little play. As a black mage you are generally better off avoiding any main deck play for these other option wraths and this is where Death Cloud comes in. The Cloud is quite costly and should they have some token style thing out early then the Cloud will often fail to do much at all due to being too short on mana. Even when you can wipe out all the dorks you have probably put yourself in a worse position relative to your opponent as the aggressor is more likely to benefit from the hand loss, life loss and land loss. It does however manage to act as a consistent mass removal spell across all matchups. So while it is quite a painful wrath effect to use early as a control player against an agro player it works impressively well as a wrath control on control or within a more tempo based deck. It also becomes very powerful as a late game wrath for a control player against the agro player as you should have more lands and ideally even cards at that stage so providing you can afford the life you can effectively reset the game for them without a hand while you get to keep some lands in play and easily win the top deck war. Certainly Death Cloud is a more awkward wrath effect to use than any of the others but it is not only more versatile in application but also far more viable in non-control decks which usually only get things like Arc Trail as mass removal...

Merciless Eviction would be substantially higher than eighth as a mono coloured card yet it is frequently getting splashed for since being added to the cube as it is such a brutally effective Wrath. Not only does it offer much of the utility afforded by Austere Command it can kill planeswalkers and exiles things too. It makes you feel very safe knowing you have the power to rid the game of basically anything to come your way. The exile side of the card is terrifying to play against, agro decks cannot over extend with things like Kitchen Finks and Strangleroot Geist. Control decks which are light on threats cannot easily afford to have them removed from the game never to return and combo decks generally fold when a combo piece is exiled. Six mana is a lot but if you get there you are probably not behind any more.

Plain of Wrath of God gets in as my number seven as simple is so often good. It is relatively cheap, easy to cast and still deals with the majority of dorks. Regenerate isn't a huge thing in cube but stopping it is better than not stopping it. Even with man lands and persistent dorks Wrath of God still takes a large chunk out of a board position. It only kills creatures but then it only costs four and no more. You tend to get card advantage and tempo all at once when making use of this spell which is a common theme among good cube cards. Almost every white control deck still packs a copy of Wrath of God. It goes in before Day of Judgement and the six mana mass removal spells but is often still accompanied by one or two of them as redundancy in that kind of effect in the right deck is great.

Damnation is a black copy of Wrath of God yet it is more valuable in cube due to black having nothing close to it is quality while white has an abundance of decent Wrath effect cards to choose from. Without Damnation blue black control decks would be pretty weak. Beyond this small difference all the same good thing about Wrath of God apply to this cheap, reliable and clean spell.

Rolling Earthquake
Rolling Earthquake hits every dork in my cube making it far far better than standard Earthquake which is far too unreliable to get many places in control decks. Earthquakes in general are a mixed bag of blessings and boons, it has a couple of really strong perks that are reigned in by some awkward aspects to the card. The downsides first: it hits you for X which if you are under pressure (as you presumably should be if wanting to use a mass removal card) is never comfortable. Secondly, if both curving out normally you are generally a mana off killing their biggest one or two dorks. Even if each dork I make only has the same toughness as its converted mana cost Earthquakes of any flavour are an awkward solution. They are also really poor against decks that make fast fatties at you which unlike plain old Wrath of God your Earthquakes are never dealing with. On the plus side however you have a mass removal spell that can take out a planeswalker, and unlike Merciless Eviction, it can do it while it takes out all the dorks as well. This perk is one of its main selling points however its other perks include being useful as a finisher should their life total get too low and that it may be used as a two or three mana card giving you much more early game than most other Wraths. This makes Rolling Earthquake scale very oddly throughout the game as it is quite useful on turns two and three then suddenly becomes about the weakest wrath in the cube till about turn six or seven when it starts to shine again.

Pernicious Deed
Pernicious Deed is well known for being really rather good. It does not suffer the same fate as Rolling Earthquake in not being able to hit everything while both curving normally as you get to pay just X rather than RX or in the case of the new fail Deed BBGX.... On top of this it is converted mana cost you need to match rather than toughness which for creatures is typically lower. The only time this is not the case is against affinity decks where Myr Enforcer is impossible to kill but at least you get their lands instead! Deed may be used like Austere Command in that you have control over what extent the permanents are killed allowing you to leave yourself with an actual board presence after nuking most of theirs. One of the most overlooked aspects of Pernicious Deed is that you get to use it as an instant making it really brutal to play around or maintain tempo. It can snipe off man lands, keeps artifact and quirky enchantment decks in check, and does so far quicker than Austere Command or Merciless Eviction can come to your aid. It is the total bane of red deck wins and white weenie who try to have things like Cursed Scroll, Sulphuric Vortex, Honour the Pure and equipment in play to evade losing too much value to mass removal. One of the best ever printed control cards that goes in every single deck with black and green mana that has the slightest whiff of being a control build.

Balance is absurdly powerful, at half the cost of Wrath of God it does three times as much. It is at least much harder to build with and play towards than the simple Wrath of God. For it to be reliable and effective mass removal at a bargain price all you have to do is not make any dorks yourself or at least ensure they die before you need to cast it. Then everything dies, including indestructible dorks. The problem with Balance as an efficient Wrath of God is that the decks you most need a two mana Wrath against are ones like affinity which mean you will usually have to pitch a whole pile of cards from your hand or a chunk of lands later in the game. Even when this happens Balance has been good as it has saved your arse. When Balance really starts to shine is when they are saccing far more than you are saccing across the majority of categories. This usually requires a fairly artifact heavy deck with things like Chrome Mox. It is quite easy to abuse the non-creature portions of Balance with cards like Zuran Orb however this is outside the scope of this top ten. You don't need any cards to make it abusive against creatures, you just need to not have your own. What you do need to make sure your efficient Wrath does not hurt you too much are productive ways to quickly get cards out of your hand for the early game.

Terminus very nearly got my number one slot. There are a number of things I look for in Wrath effects and this has nearly all of them going for it, more so than the top dog. The only one this lacks is the ability to hit a wide selection of things but in a list dedicated to creature removal it is a very minor drawback. On the plus side however, Terminus gets around graveyard effects almost as effectively as exiling does, it can be cheaper than Balance and it may be played at instant speed so as to protect against man lands and haste critters. It does require some support to optimally use such as a Sensei's Divining Top however it is still fine hard cast as a six mana sorcery, it will still do more than Wrath of God would in that it gets round persist, undying, Wurmcoil Engine, Bloodghast etc. When you can control the miracle use it is hands down the best anti creature card in the cube and it will still bail you out like a massive luck sack blind off the top more than seems fair.

Bonfire of the Damned
Bonfire of the Damned is Rolling Earthquake on steriods. The number of ways in which this card is obscene is itself obscene. It has a few aspects to it where other cards are better suited however these are greatly outweighed by its serious upsides, unlike Rolling Earthquake which more or less breaks even in this respect. First and foremost this is a one sided effect which is not something I expressly look for in a wrath effect as it is usually way overcosted and not so important in a creature light control deck. When it comes seemingly free of charge on an otherwise playable card it vastly increases its value. You can safely fire it off whenever you like regardless of your life or the dorks you have in play. You can manipulate or luck out to use it at instant speed which is one of the main things I look for in good Wrath effects. It is also far more playable without a miracle trigger than you might intuitively think. While ranging from 50% moving towards 100% more expensive than Rolling Earthquake to hardcast  as you pay more the one sidedness really tells. You can just do it for one or two damage which is often enough to take out all their chumps and nibble enough of their planeswalker to swing in with your utility chumps and take it out. Bonfire is never bad to cast and it is as simple as that and it can get a lot better than just being not bad. Taking out their guys and a planeswalker or dealing them a chunk of damage with the potential to do so at instant speed without any detriment to your side of things for a selection of reasonable mana prices add up to a fantastic mass removal spell.

Nevinyrral's Disk
A token mention to a few of the cards that didn't make the list I think is called for. Mizzium Mortars is great but is primarily a single target removal spell, the mass removal option is pricey and not flexible enough to take everything out reliably even if it is a one sided effect. Nevinyrral's Disk is a golden oldie that is kind of the bad Pernicious Deed. It can be used by any colour and has the lovely instant aspect in its use however is rather slow and clunky to get online. All is Dust is a bit more immediate and tends to deal with planeswalkers  as well but is prohibitively costly for most decks to be considering and ends up being quite a niche card used in quirky decks like mono green ramp control and completely colourless lists. Supreme Verdict is another new card that is getting a lot of play and sometimes taking Wrath of Gods place in decks and while it is certainly good the restrictions from its colours rule it out compared to the likes of the all white version. Upheaval also feels like it deserves mention as it is blues best way to deal with lots of dorks for a good while. Cyclonic Rift is also now doing some work in the same kind of vein and although it is far easier to throw into any old list than Upheaval it does a far worse job of dealing with dorks as they all just come right back into play again as they still have their lands.

 A selection of three mana partial mass removal cards have also done good work in the cube as a great way to cope with weenie decks before it is too late. Often even the four mana Wraths come when too much damage has already been done. The best of the three mana mass removal cards are Slagstorm, Firespout and Infest although a fair number of others have seen play. Infest is in fact pretty horrible but black has so little to chose from. Both Slagstorm and Firespout have good damage output for the costs and offer some flexibility to either give you board advantages or ensure the card isn't ever a dead spell.

Bg Zombie Bidding

Patriarch's BiddingThis is rather a fun deck and while not even what I would describe as tier two it is capable of giving you some good cube games. It most resembles a bad block constructed deck from a bad block although it may be tailored to cope better with various match ups in cube. The list below is a fairly pure one that plays weak synergy cards over strong isolated cards however throwing in cards like Pernicious Deed would work wonders for a number of your games and so it is a judgement call on how much you need to meta to have a chance of even getting a game and how much you can throw into having lots of fun with zombies.

As a tribal archetype zombies has come a long way in the past few sets affording you a lot more scope in how you go about building a zombies deck. Zombies have lots of lords but beyond that very little abusable synergy compared to tribes like Goblins and Elves, what they do have going for them is that they are black and can make use of one of the more powerful tribal spells - Patriarchs Bidding (although not technically a tribal subtype card...). A surprising number of good zombies are green so coupled with the perks Survival of the Fittest effects from green offer it seems like the best way to go for a zombie bidding deck. Another perk of having access to the green zombies is that they give you a good selection of powerful two drops which black has been very thin on historically. As such this deck is an agro deck aiming to curve out with powerful dorks while being able to over extend and recover with top end mass recursion effects.

Lotleth Troll
24 Spells

Carrion Feeder
Diregraf Ghoul

Skulkbriar, the Walking Grave
Lotleth Troll
Putrid Leach
Fauna Shaman

Survival of the Fittest
Blood Scrivener
Withered Wretch
Withered WretchAbrupt Decay

Liliana of the Veil
Dreg Mangler
Geralf's Messengers
Lord of the Undead

Death Baron
Nantuko Husk

Undead Warchief

Patriarch's Bidding
Noxious Ghoul
Living Death
Undead Warchief

16 Lands

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Llanowar Wastes
Verdant Catacombs

Overgrown Tomb
Woodland Cemetery
Twilight Mire
Golgari Rot Farm

Treetop Village
3 Forest
4 Swamp

Other interesting cards:

Gempalm Polluter
Twister Abomination
Grave Defiler
Zombie Infestation
Putrid Imp

Survival of the FittestI am of the opinion you lose credibility on calling a deck tribal if you have more than one creature outside of the tribe within the build. Fauna Shaman is the Clickslither / Stoneforge Mystic / Craterhoof Behemoth / Trinket Mage / Ranger of Eos / Snapcaster Mage etc that finds herself as the exception within this list. She wasn't even that good in the deck working very badly as either Survival or as a beater but the deck doesn't really have the card advantage to support discard outlets like Zombie Infestation and so could only really replace the Shaman with a tutor effect. In hindsight that would probably have been a better call. The Abrupt Decay is the other main card deviating from the purity of the zombie theme and although I would far prefer it to be a funky card like a Gempalm Polluter with no acceleration and basically no disruption till about turn five  you need something. A bit of targetted discard is a strong contender in this role of helping the deck be competitive in a cube meta.

Liliana of the Veil
Liliana is another non-zombie themed card however she offers so much to the deck she is a no brainer, helping out with getting Scrivener online, filling up your graveyard, offering some desperately needed early removal and offering a serious problem card for heavy control decks. The only two other non zombie cards in the whole deck are Patriarch's Bidding and Living Death both of which are in the list to perform the same role despite going about if slightly differently. The various utility zombies allow you to get both to leave you with everything and them with nothing should you be able to set them up appropriately. One problem with the deck is that you have little ways to directly kill them the turn you return your guys, perhaps the non-zombie card should be Hellraiser Goblin instead of Fauna Shaman as haste would be really handy. Vengeful Dead won't get it done as you probably won't have enough zombies in play, despite them being huge. The same applies to Gempalm Polluter and although he is of more use outside of a Bidding turn his extra mana costs make him no real use there.

Lord of the Undead
The three lords in the list give you a really terrifying curve if not disrupted and give you some pretty serious board position. Lord of the Undead gives you some lategame control options as well as his boost to zombies but is the weakest of the lords to curve out with. The deathtouch from Death Baron makes combat really unfavourable for your opponent even if they have some crazy ramp or reanimator deck however it is the good old Undead Warcheif that really makes an impact. People who play with Tempered Steel know how vast a +2 power bump is and he reduces costs as well which is not insignificant at all in the deck. If you make a zombie every turn then flop out a Warcheif you generally just turn things sideways and win. Cemetery Reaper didn't make the cut as the list was bloated on the 3 slot and he has bad synergy with recursion effects.

Withered Wretch is pretty good in cube anyway even if it hasn't been in the A cube for a while and is a little over shadowed by Deathrite Shaman and Scavenging Ooze. An awful lot of powerful cards in cube use graveyards, some decks like Life from the Loam and Reanimator rely on them and now a good chunk of dorks have persist or undying all of which the Wretch is fantastic against. He also helps clear things out of the way for when you want to bring everything back to life. The Carrion Feeder on the otherhand allows you to put everything in the graveyard just before you bring everything back. He has some cute uses beyond that but is primarily a tutorable sac outlet. Because of the single specific dorks required to successfully return all your dorks and not theirs the Survival effects are very important if you are heading towards a Bidding style win. Nantuko Husk is the backup for Carrion Feeder but is a bit pricey and is perhaps cuttable.

Ghoultree is a funny card I wanted to test more than anything else, this is about the best deck for it and I was happy enough with it to play it again in a deck as suitable as this. 10/10 is really big and even without any abilities at all it gives you a lot of board control. It is highly cuttable but if fun is what you are after then this is a must include! Noxious Ghoul despite his horrific cost is really good and not at all just for fun (although he still is), when you Bidding him back in he is a one sided Wrath and when you are just playing him normally he keeps all the chaff dorks well under control. He is your main creature removal and one of the few good zombie synergies this deck really gets to abuse.

The real reason this deck is not going to be a top flight cube performer is that in order to get a sufficient zombie count to make the synergy cards worth it you have no room for cheap disruption or ramp, both of which the deck sorely needs to compete in various match ups. Llanowar Dead might help but it is really not close to the power level of this deck let alone the cube. The more you succumb to a desire for more powerful cards the more the deck just turns into some kind of rock deck and not a classy tribal deck. If doing this deck again I would change the following few cards about:
Skullbriar, the Walking Grave

Nantuko Husk
Fauna Shaman


Hellraiser Goblin
Vampiric Tutor
(some red dual lands)

Wednesday 8 May 2013


Slith FirewalkerThis is a deck that at a glance looks a lot like RDW and could also be confused as a Ponza style deck. Sligh probably isn't the best name for it but at least if differentiates it from the other two very similar decks in which this sits somewhere neatly between the two in styles. RDW wins with either tempo or inevatibility as all its cards deal damage in some way yet do little else. Ponza is a little more midrange and has far fewer threats than either RDW or Sligh, instead aiming to disrupt mana bases heavily. Ponza is a tier two deck at best and has some very one sided matchups. This listing of Sligh does disrupt mana but not in an attempt to lock them out of the game as Ponza loves to do, it is more a case of drawing out the game and making it all awkward and slow for your opponent. The mana denial and retarding of the game scale very well with several of the threats in the deck, those being the growing creatures and the cards like Ankh and Sulphuric Vortex. It also helps give you an additional edge against top heavy or colour heavy decks. The trade off for this is that you will be far weaker against decks like white weenie who will have too many threats to cope with and more card advantage while really not worrying to much about the mana disruption. Sligh has far more balanced and generally better matchups than Ponza and unless you want to go big and cast Wildfire etc is probably the only viable way to go in the cube with mono red for land destruction.

Ankh of MishraSligh is a more challenging deck to play than RDW as you are frequently faced with the choice of applying more pressure or reducing the mana options for your opponent. You have few ways of generating card advantage and also your threats have low power as well as there being a low number of them. If you apply no pressure you will not be able to hold your opponent off getting to do stuff eventually and in all likelihood it will be better than what you can do. Sligh is far more tempo focused than RDW even though it is a couple of turns slower. With cards like Chrome Mox and Tanglewire you have less redundancy in your damage output and therefore need to make your cards like Goblin Guide and Stromkirk Noble do that bit more. You need to carefully assess what cards most wreak you and make your threats in windows where they can't make them and then use your disruption to hold off the problem cards until it is too late.

Black Vise
24 Spells

Chrome Mox

Goblin Guide
Stromkirk Noble
Grim Lavamancer
Faithless Looting

Lightning Bolt
Chain Lightning
Black Vice
Mogg Fanatic

Cursed Scroll
Galvanic Blast
Goblin GuideBone Splitter
Reckless Waif

Ankh of Mishra
Slith Firewalker
Shrapnel Blast
Arc Trail

Dwarven Blastminer

Sulphuric Vortex
Molten Rain
Zo-Zu, the Punisher

Shrapnel BlastWheel of Fortune

16 Lands

Rishidan Port
Teetering Peeks
Great Furnace

Mishra's Factory
11 Mountians

Rishadan PortI need to do an updated RDW list as my first version is a pretty bad one in hindsight, in part because of the Reckless Waif in it which has not been played since that deck until this one. The Waif is still a terrible card in cube even if it is at its best in this list. It is too easy to flip it back and quite hard to flip in in the first place even with things like Wastelands and Rishidan Port to spend your mana early potentially without casting spells and making it less likely things will be cast against you. This deck wants cheap threats that can be fairly powerful on their own. Stromkirk Noble and Slith Firewalker are in the deck to offer this cheap yet powerful single threat feel. Neither need any further mana investment once played like a Kargan Dragonlord does to become serious and can easily put the game out of reach on their own if backed up with mana denial. Reckless Waif is not in the same league as the growing dorks but as red has so few options for cheap hefty threats we make do. Slith Firewalker is pretty awful too to be honest and is not really cube quality any more but like the Waif is perfectly suited to this kind of deck and has the added perk of being nostalgic!

The deck utilizes a lot of artifacts and as such can run both Galvanic and Shrapnel Blasts which are two of the highest output cheap burn spells going. Galvanic Blast is rarely hitting for four in this deck but is still better than Burst Lightning would be, you are always happy with it just being a Shock. The Shrapnel Blast however is a real bonus to this kind of deck giving you vast reach and security against things like Elspth, Knight-Errant and Baneslayer Angels. Red deck wins would love to be able to play Shrapnel Blast but this list only just has enough artifacts to make it work, a RDW list can't get close to enough and still look sensible.

Molten Rain
Black Vice is another card that is not cube worthy overall but is at its best in this kind of deck. It is a cheap threat that scales very well with a retarded, low resource game while being an artifact to support the Blasts. It also has good synergy with Goblin Guide and Wheel of Fortune all of which make it playable but unexciting. On the draw you would almost always take it out of the deck as it is also one of those cards that has a huge swing in power level between being on the play and on the draw. The Wheel of Fortune is perhaps the most luxurious and superfluous card in the list. While it does recover you much need cards and theoretically gives you more advantage than your opponent, based on the theory you have cast more stuff as your stuff is cheap and much of it reduces their mana output, it neither acts as a threat nor denies any mana, if anything it will give more mana options to your opponent. Without the Black Vice I probably would have cut this as it is risky investing any mana in doing anything not relating to tempo but wasn't disappointed with the cards performance at all. It is easy to forget or even just miss quite how brutally Wheel of Fortune can wreak your opponents game plan which is a very unusual sort of tempo and disruption.

Dwarven Blastminer
Bonesplitter helps to make your various small threats a bit more significant and boost your artifact count. It helps you spend your mana and advance your board position very efficiently but does suffer a little from a light creature count. Despite this I think you need something of this nature to make up for your monsters all being very small and not being able to afford to go two for one against anything slightly fat that slips into play. Dwarven Blastminer is yet another B/C cube card that works well in this list, he can single handedly lock out a fair number of cube decks and is devastating for lots if not answered quickly. Against most mono decks he is your worst card but at least is still a body. Magus of the Moon performs a similar role however stops much of what you want to do with your lands and only really affects colour, not raw quantity of mana, meaning you can still easily get wamped by a Wurmcoil Engine.

The Ankh of Mishra and Zo-Zu make up the core aspect of the deck supplemented by Sulphuric Vortex and Black Vice to offer ongoing damage output. This makes the deck brutal against any deck with a high curve or that is slow or that has loads of colours. Decks like Zoo which are one of the most effective at taking tempo leads are so reliant on sac and dual lands that they don't have a  great matchup against Sligh while they do against red deck wins. It also makes Sligh far more effective against various UG style combo decks that try to take lots of turns and go off in some way. Again, RDW doesn't have much disruption against those decks and is too slow to goldfish to kill them. RDW is the more consistent deck and has more even matchups across the board. Sligh should be used as a meta choice as it is much more capable against the right field but struggles with the other common top tier mono decks like white weenie.

Saturday 4 May 2013

BW Tokens

Doomed Traveler
I often speak of "mid-range" decks yet have posted very few lists of such decks. Much of this is because it is an archetype more predisposed to draft while the deck lists I tend to give are the more constructed style. This is very much a mid-range deck easily able to take on the role of the aggressor or control player as needed. It applies pressure yet has a solid late game with various card advantage effects and high power cards. You can go mono white tokens, BW, WG, BGW and with Return to Ravnica block perhaps now even builds involving red. This is a BW build but they are all fairly similar styles of deck. The premise if to use effects that scale well with multiple creatures so you can always make a decent board presence with just one card. You do not frequently over extend into mass removal as there is no need. The decks only making white tokens have the advantage of being able to use Honor the Pure and Crusade but as you do not need to be so quick about things you can afford more expensive options that cover everything.

This list is very heavy on planeswalkers as so many make tokens or pump them or both. You have good disposable blockers to keep the walkers safe against pressure and apply sufficient pressure yourself that control decks are not always afforded the luxury of killing or countering them. It does make the deck very top heavy which in turn requires a sturdy mana base. Mid range decks are often the most ruined by missing the 3rd or 4th lands as they need the weight of their top end to kick in on time to keep up any pressure they might have going on. Against agro decks they jsut need to keep casting things, the inherent card power and advantage you have over the more pure agro decks will mean you should always live if you can always be casting stuff as long as they are. This rule obviously applies fairly well across the board but is most noticeable I find with the mid-range decks.
Gather the Townsfolk

24 Spells

Mox Diamond

Land Tax
Doomed Traveller
Mother of Runes
Path to Exile

Swords to Plowshares

Gather the Townsfolk
Knight of the White Orchid
BitterblossomStoneforge Mystic

Precinct Captain
Raise the Alaram

Lingering Souls
Spectral Procession
Sword of Feast and Famine

Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Ajani Goldmane
Hero of Bladehold
Sublime Archangel

Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Elspeth Tirrel

Mikeaus the Lunarch

16 Lands

Marsh Flats
Caves of Koilos
Isolated Chapel

Godless Shrine
Windbrisk Heights

8 Plains

Sublime ArchangelSo, as with all mid-range decks it has lots of familiar high powered spells that for the most part are just dandy without any real support. The only cards from the B and C cube in this list are the early token effects including Doomed Traveller, Gather the Townsfolk and Raise the Alarm. These are fine early game but far from exciting, if you are lucky you will trade with stuff or perhaps get in a bit of damage. Sometimes you are even just chumping to keep your life total reasonable. They might even be better as higher quality defensive dorks like Loyal Cathar even if they didn't scale as well once you start to get going with your four drops. Even so it is always nice to air some different cards when the deck suits them. Typically they are at their best in the mono white tokens build as they can get pumped earlier and be of much more use.

This list is fairly light on things that boost tokens as tokens decks go however those effects are supplemented by equipment and are all reusable allowing things to get very powerful very quickly. There are also a couple of generic powerful cards that work well with tokens like Hero of Bladehold for the battlecry and Sublime Archangel for the super-exhalted. This means that all the pump effects are threats in their own right and never dead cards which is a great help in a mid range deck.
Spectral Procession
Black is the lightest of splashes mostly so I could run Spectral Procession without much risk. I have only one land in the whole deck which doesn't produce white and I nearly didn't bother doing that. I figured being able to fix black with Land Tax or Path to Exile was more significant overall than having that extra reliability on having the Procession online from three mana. I even nearly threw in a Fetid Heath in a wishful way of offsetting the Swamp. Spectral Procession is one of the very best cards in the deck, it gives you a good pile of dorks with the highly valuable flying attribute. Lingering Souls is better but Procession has better tempo and curves better into something brutal like Ajani Goldmane. There are only four black mana symbols in the deck but without going heavy black there is not much else you want in black. The deck can support Dark Confidant but it is not needed and could be a risk now and again.

Elspeth TirelIt is rare for me to run two of the same named planeswalker in a constructed style cube deck however both Elspeth incarnations are outstanding in this deck. Tirrel in particular is a complete beating being able to easily ultimate the turn after she comes down and gain a pack of life in the process. Tirrel is at her absolute best in this list, for agro decks she costs a little too much and life isn't an exciting thing to be getting for the plus loyalty while for control decks which don't have a strong board position making some defensive tokens leaves her vulnerable on two loyalty and the lifegain scales poorly. In this list both her first two abilities are very useful and work well with the other cards in the deck. Her ultimate is even more effective as you should always have more tokens about than your opponent. On the other hand Elspeth Knight-Errant makes tokens, acts as a finisher and is highly robust despite being overly cheap. She is the best planeswalker when not housed in a highly suitable deck. My logic for including both is simply that they are both so strong, noth as cards and within this archetype, they should comfortably win almost all games in which they are not dealt with reasonably promptly making a potential dead card in hand far less of an issue.

The rest of the list somewhat speaks for itself. They are all just the most powerful and suitable cards to fill out the curve that could be found. The Sword could have been one of the better ones however I find winning with equipment to be dull so wanted to make things more interesting. You have to mulligan more than most with a deck like this as you cannot keep hands with too much top end nor can you keep one that is land light (assuming no Land Tax to bail you out). Mikeaus helps with this a little as it is not terrible chucking him down on turn two. In an agro deck doing this would be very poor tempo play but in this mid range list you are just happy to be getting things on the board and spending your mana. The god draw for this deck oddly involves following a Spectral Procession with an Ajani giving you a fast growing aerial armada. Anything useful you do before this only makes it more brutal. So long as you can identify when you should be the control player and when the agro player you will do very well with a deck like this. It is solid across all non-combo matches and even has some game against combo. With combo at an all time low in cube at presenet (more so with an un-powered cube) the mid range decks are having a resurgence and this is a fine example of one of the best.