Monday 19 August 2013

Top 10 Dimir Cards

Dimir is another fairly weak guild in terms of the gold cards it offers the cube. Not only are the cards fairly weak on average but there are also very few that have seen play in cube compared to the other guilds. Many of those that have seen play are specific combo pieces or parts for highly narrow decks such as mill. Some of the golden oldies have not faired so well in the changing magic meta like Mr Teeth here on my left who would have been in most top 10 dorks lists when first released.

10. Lim-Dul's Vault
9.   Far / Away
8.   Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
7.   Oona, Queen of Fea
6.   Psychatog
5.   Sygg, River Cutthroat
4.   Shadowmage Infiltrator
3.   Recoil
2.   Dimir Charm
1.   Baleful Strix

Lim-Dûl's VaultLim-Dul's Vault is not a well known or common cube card however it is one of the best tutor effects in the format. Demonic and Vampiric are better but the Vault does have advantages over them and is not that far behind in power. You shouldn't ever have to pay more than five life to see every card in your deck and the average life payment is going to be as close to that for Vampiric Tutor as makes little odds. The big upside on the Vault is that you get to have a free Index after you have found the card you are after. If it is just a land you needed you can chose one that has the most suitable other cards to accompany it over the subsequent four turns. In the combo era this was a mainstay but sees basically no play any more with tutor effects being far less in demand, particularly those that incur card disadvantage.

Far // Away
Far / Away is probably the second best split card to date however it is a stupendous way off the best. Far / Away is versatile and offers value while also being a bit like a hybrid card in its ease of splashing. The problem with the card is that it is pretty much just a removal spell which when cast for the cheap options is neither value in mana or cards. If it were able to perform more varied roles or if it were just one mana less somewhere in the costs it would be a real winner but as it is I find it not enough in the early game and win more overkill in the late game. For gold removal to be cube worthy it has to really outshine the alternatives. It is good enough for cube in raw power and will see play as removal is generically good however I don't feel it is good enough to occupy a gold slot in the cube.

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas is a card I have never had be good for me yet have on good authority that it is one of the better planeswalkers. I have always found the five mana Tezz to be vastly more effective, you are typically playing artifact ramp with either and so the coloured mana is harder to get than the colourless portion making the five mana Tezz easier to play. He also scales better with your artifacts for both the untap and the tutor. Four mana Tezz needs a much higher artifact count to work well and is far slower to impact the game. I appreciate the power of Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas however he fits only in a narrow selection of deck types and is doubly awkward to include in them based on being gold.

Oona, Queen of the Fae
Oona, Queen of Fea is a fine card that should break any stalled game rapidly and win most games if unanswered. This is what you should expect from a six mana dork however Oona is better than most at winning games when you have spare mana. Obviously compared to the six drops that do things without mana investment such as Consecrated Sphinx or the Titan cycle she lacks some tempo. The reason she is so good at winning games is that she provides three separate forms of attack, firstly she is a 5/5 flier herself which is quite a serious thing to keep at bay. Secondly she generates an army of flying tokens that will be able to swarm past any would be blockers capable of holding of Oona herself and lastly she will mill their library to nothing in fairly short order allowing her and all her minions to hold back and defend if needed while still working towards a win. Hybrid mana works in her favour as it does with most cards that have a healthy portion of colourless requirement in their cost. In many ways she is like Moloku the Clouded Mirror, Oona makes tokens less effectively but doesn't set you back in subsequent turns in doing so.

Sygg, River CutthroatPsychatog is a card that has never performed as well in cube as it has in other formats. Part of this is only having a single copy of it and everything else making you unable to rely on the Tog to do what you want. You can't lay one early and hold the ground as you risk losing it and thus losing a main win condition. You can't freely exile any card you like from your yard either as you have to pay attention to your recursion and reshuffle effects for cards you may well need again. Also, with only 40 card decks you are having to exile the majority of it most of the time you are making the Tog lethal. Tog has been used in madness and reanimate strategies however being a reasonably poor early tempo play and costing three mana just as a discard outlet make him weak in both these decks. Despite all this Tog saw a lot of play in the early days of the cube as there simply were not many creatures that were anywhere near as good. Now however any deck that might have wanted the Tog is just going to play something like Vampire Nighthawk instead. The card is too abusable and versatile to ever fully stop seeing play but it is long past the hay day of Mr Teeth.

Shadowmage Infiltrator
Sygg, River Cutthroat is a card I have never liked all that much as it can be rather unpredictable. When you make it and you are already ahead in the tempo it is really brutal however on the back foot it acheives very little for you. I am happy to play it in an aggressive deck that has specific ways to abuse it like Lightning Bolt and three power evasion monsters but without the synergy cards it doesn't do enough of what you want. More commonly used in mono blue decks than Dimir or mono black where the lack of playable two drop dorks makes him that much more appealing.

Shadowmage Infiltrator, like Psychatog is not the card he once was. He is slow and vulnerable, generally incurs a tempo loss and is also fairly easy to block. Jace Beleren and Phyrexian Arena both see much more play as they are more reliable ways to gain a steady flow of extra cards. Rather than occupying a card draw slot in my deck I now allocate Infiltrator to the chump blockers list as a 1/3 is still a fine size to block with and it means I haven't built my deck wrong when the Infiltrator dies without drawing any cards for me. While still a very playable card it now does a fairly different role.

Recoil is a great card and the first on this list which really deserves a cube slot. Often called the instant Vindicate you can't go too far wrong with Recoil. It is a great out, it is outstanding late game removal, it offers tempo and card parity and is impressively versatile. The fact that it hits lands is what assures it a cube space as bounce lands and man lands are incredibly good targets for bounce and abundant in my cube. If you are also packing any discard your Recoil will simply become a Vindicate around the midgame which is doubly yummy in blue and black where ways of dealing with artifacts and enchantments are limited and awkward.

Dimir Charm has been impressive thus far in cube, it has found itself in more different decks and seen more play than any of the other new charms even if it has not been quite so blow out powerful as Selesnya, Rakdos or Boros Charms. It is most like to Izzet Charm in that it has three different yet desirable control effects however you always feel like you get far more value out of Dimir Charm than Izzet. Dimir Charm has also wound up in several agro and combo decks despite seeming to be mostly a control card. It is especially satisfying to counter a Bonfire of the Damned or Terminus that has been carefully set up to be cast in your attack step. I am also partial to getting a pseudo Time Walk out of it when my opponent has nothing going on and I give them a dud draw. Also quirky as a way to put reanimator targets in the bin. It is cheap and versatile which is what good instants are made of.

Dimir Charm
As with so many gold combinations there seems to be one card that stands head and shoulders above the rest in power level. Baleful Strix is a fairly innocuous card that simply put is far too good. It is the best of all the speed bump style cards out there, it is so good it is played in most agro decks that support the colours. It can block and trade with most creatures in the cube, costs only two mana and replaces itself. There are a lot of cards in the cube that do little more than draw a card for two mana and then there is this. Being an artifact is also totally a perk as it gives you synergy for your cards without you giving a monkies it is more vulnerable. It is really hard for you opponent to kill the Strix without you getting a better deal in the exchange. You Disenchant my Strix, OK, I am a card up, we have mana parity and you no longer have your Disenchant. Deal. I have literally lost games to people casting this every turn using Academy Ruins or Volrath's Stronghold. Really this card should lose either flying or deathtouch to stop it being so ultimately tedious and auto include, it would still probably be the best Dimir card.

Here is the rather short list of other Dimir cards that have had play in the cube, mostly they are mill cards or niche combo peices and are therefore about as narrow as it gets.
Baleful Strix
Cavern Harpy
Dimir Guildmage
Dimir Infiltrator
Glimpse the Unthinkable
Shadow of Doubt
Mind Funeral
Time Sieve
Nightveil Spectre
Duskmantle Seer
Nephalia Drownyard
Havengul Lich

Thursday 1 August 2013

Top 10 Rakdos Cards

TerminateRakdos until very recently had some of the weakest gold cards going. For a long time Terminate was the best Rakdos card and quite how bad it is compared to some of the mono coloured removal in the cube just shows the weakness of the cards they had at the time. Black red was also one of the very few colour combinations that had basically no competitive archetypes for a long time, obviously not helped by a lack of gold juice to power up the option. First we got Redcap who was cute, then we got Blightning and that had value and then the floodgates opened piling on top quality cards faster than I could add them to the cube. So many good four drop dorks that clearly powerful new cards like Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch haven't even had a look in yet. Although Rakdos has now got some juicy cream at the top of its pile it has a sharp fall off in quality for the cube after about 7 cards and made the list really tricky. It is certainly the case that the Rakdos top 10 has the youngest average age of card.

Fulminator Mage

10. Fulminator Mage
9.   Terminate
8.   Anthemancer
7.   Blightning
6.   Rakdos Cackler
5.   Falkenrath Aristocrat
4.   Rakdos Charm
3.   Murderous Redcap
2.   Olivia Voldaren
1.   Dreadbore

AnathemancerStarting at the bottom for once, Fulminator Mage just makes the list and was a very close call between Wreaking Ball, Void and Bituminous Blast all of which see infrequent play and are fairly unexciting low power cards. The Mage offers some security against awkward lands and some disruption potential on an easy to cast body that ensures you won't ever have a dead spell. Sadly three mana land kill is almost as lacklustre as a Grey Ogre in cube and so even when you really want all aspects of the card within your deck it still doesn't excite or even impress that much.

Terminate was directly replaced by Dreadbore and I have never looked back. I always felt so resentful when playing Terminate that it was so much worse than Path and Plow, at the very least I felt I deserved an exile effect or something. Despite this is was and still is one of the most reliable and most effective removal spells in magic. It has probably seen more play that any other card in the top ten list simply because it has been in the cube so very much longer. Although I am glad to be rid of the card it is unlikely that it will ever be out of place or weak within a cube.

BlightningAnethemancer is the last of the filler spells on the list than basically see no play in the cube these days. While quite a potent damage dealer come value card the cube is a little to fast to really suit this guy, even with my absurd non basic land count. Against any agro deck he is a poor tempo play, even when you get to shoot them for three or four you will still generally lose tempo over a deck making plays that impact more on the board with their three mana. This made Anethemancer an anticontrol card which a red deck would probably still use if it were not for the fact black tends to have cheaper and better anti control options.

Blightning is an odd card, a very cheap two for one with a little one off tempo kicker. Although discarding cards and doing direct damage are somewhat at odds with each other it winds up making the card playable in most archetypes. Being able to whack loyalty off planewalkers is the big win for Blightning but even when it is just going to the dome and not affecting the board at all you are able to get in your good value two for one without sacrificing much if anything in the way of tempo.

Rakdos Cackler
Rakdos Cackler is the new Tattermunge Maniac, it is much weaker than most of the other aggressive one drops in the cube however it is so convenient it winds up getting more play than a lot of the others. One drops have a much higher coloured mana requirement than more expensive spells and are therefore that much more inclined towards incurring a colour screw. One drops of this kind are included in your deck because you want to cast them on turn one. Simply by being able to be cast with two sorts of coloured mana make the Devil significantly more consistent than a Goblin Guide or Diregraf Ghoul in a two or more coloured deck. It is also incredibly splashable into a mono black or red deck which further increases the amount it is played. On the agro not being able to block is basically irrelevant and so an easy to play one mana 2/2 with no further drawback is about as good as you can ask for. Later on in the game where a cheap small dork is weak and where an inability to block is far more relevant you at least have the option to make as a 1/1 which may sound awful but is correct surprisingly often and makes the card far far better than a straight 2/2 can't block would be.

Falkenrath AristocratFalkenrath Aristocrat is a bit of a beating with four power, haste and evasion offering a scary clock or a great answer to a planeswalker for fairly low mana investment. Sadly there are not many decks that want this kind of midrange card over the alternatives within the cube. The Aristocrat requires you to have other creatures in play so as to negate the single toughness and be able to really abuse all aspects of the card. Ideally many of these would be humans but this is not essential. Aristocrat is also a much more aggressive monster than it is a defencive one and black red aggressive decks don't overly want lots of four drop dorks.

Rakdos Charm has been the black horse of the guild charm cycle that really outperformed expectations. While not as powerful as Selesnya Charm nor as widely useful as Dimir or Izzet Charms the Rackdos Charm manages to offer a lot of new and highly useful things to Rakdos and gives a lot more reach and potential to the colours as a result. Artifact removal is a wonderful thing to have in a deck but often costs you power to do so, you will downgrade a solid threat into a Torch Fiend or something and although it will outright save you or win for you in a couple of games it will be highly underwhelming in the rest. Rakdos Charm is cheap and instant artifact removal therefore trumping things like Torch Fiend in that role yet in its other, perhaps more situational uses the Rakdos Charm is not nearly as dull as a 2/1 for 2 offering you far more power. Exiling graveyards is narrow but effective against a fair number of cards and provides a much more interactive game with something like a reanimator deck. The final ability is the tricky one that at first glance seems really naff however actually works out to be powerful and versatile. Not only is it often quite a lot of damage to the dome as a finisher it is also a pretty solid answer to the various token generating planeswalkers.

Murderous RedcapMurderous Redcap is a monumentally annoying roadblock. I have seen it go four for one on too many occasions to still think the card is cute. It may pack less removal power and board presence than either Flametongue Kavu or Skinrender however its lingers round being annoying and costing you tempo far longer than the others. As such it is far more of a control card but then again it will work fine for you in your agro deck if you need the cards. Best thing about Recap is abuse with Wolfir Silverheart and cards like Birthing Pod and Recurring Nightmare. He also gets props for being a hybrid making him that much more playable.

Olivia Voldaren is one of those cards that you really struggle to lose with if you get to untap with her in play. She makes any Masticore you care to chose look impressively weak. She is a card with effects and power that you expect to find on expensive legends like Visara, Memnarch, Bosh and Drana however she is only four mana putting her very much into a different category of card. She has no drawbacks at all and is a perfectly reasonable body for the mana cost should you never be able to invest mana into her abilities. All this on a card that is often in play by turn three and will give you vast control over the board. Kill their small things, steal their big things, attack their planeswalkers to death all the while growing into a bigger scarier harder to kill threat.

Olivia VoldarenDespite the ludicrous power of Olivia the top spot has to go to Dreadbore for me. Two mana to kill any creature or planeswalker is about the best you could ask  for in removal, particularly in this meta. Dreadbore will never be dead unless we revert to a combo dominated meta, as it is it is better than Vindicate 95% of the time. I play it in every deck I make that has sufficient quantities of black and red mana. Sure, instant would make it a whole lot better and put any interest left in Terminate to bed but if you really want some instant removal play a Doom Blade or a Lightning Bolt as well, it's not like your ever going to not play the Dreadbore. Cheap, versatile, reliable and effective, all the things we want from our magical spells.

The list of B and C cube Rakdos cards is a little bigger than those included however many have yet to see a single maindeck inclusion. Many of these have only had a single outing as far as I can recall and as you can probably tell a lot of those in very specific combo style decks. Rakdos is impressively shallow...

DreadboreShambling Remains
Avatar of Discord
Pyre Zombie
Spike Jester
Goblin Deathraiders
Sarkhan the Mad
Bituminous Blast
Bladewing the Risen
Blazing Specter
Demigod of Revenge
Igneous Pouncer
Monstrous Carabid
Torrent of Souls
Wreaking Ball
Wort, Boggart Auntie