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.

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