Saturday 28 June 2014

M15 Set Review

I missread a card and so reviewed it wrong here, for the review on the card doing what the texts says go here :-

Spectra Ward - C cube

Dull and way overcost for normal use however might be good in some capacity at some point with all the aura themed juice on the go at present.

Paragon of the Gathering Mists  - C cube

This has been out on the spoiler for a very long time but I feel I may have overlooked this one of the Paragon cycle. For the other colours they seem a bit over cost for just a 2/2 body however with all blue guys being so flimsy and flying being so handy this could see play in some blue weenie decks. I doubt it is worth it but blue global pump cards are rarer and more interesting than the others.

Feast of the Fallen - C cube

This smacks of being way too fiddly to set up consistently as well as being dependant on you having enough guys out each trigger to make that exciting. Potentially very powerful, particularly in a deck with ways to abuse +1/+1 counters but not close to the consistency of power required for main cube use.

Xathrid Slyblade - B cube

Another card I have probably overlooked, not stunningly exciting but hard to deal with, great to equip and potentially very irksome to go near in combat should you lack the removal to deal with him. I lose more games to Geist of Saint Traft because of the hexproof than because of the 4/4 angel so perhaps there is a role for this little Grey Ogre.

Altac Bloodseeker - A/B cube

If this were to go in the cube it would have to take the place of something like a Stormblood Berserker or Lightning Mauler as they are all a bit samey in terms of where you play them while also not having that broad a range of places you can play them. All of these cards are brutal in the right situation however underwhelm a bit too often. For the Bloodseeker to be brutal you want to make it on the same turn you kill one of their dorks, you also want to be able to threaten removal in combat making blocking very hard which could be harder than it seems as often the best play would be just to kill their guy and then attack. If they don't have many dorks this will suck massively, if they do and you have good removal then it should be a kicking.

Hammerhand - C cube

This card does a lot for the mana and given that it is a single mana this card should wind up getting play somewhere. It is very niche but in cube as well as things like modern this will just perform a very specific role better than any other card at some point.

Back to Nature - B cube

Although a reprint I need to remind myself to get one of these. A bit of a hoser but very cheap and powerful and with Theros block out it has way more targets across the meta making it that bit more viable as a main deck card (still not viable I should point out, but getting there).

Invasive Species - C cube

I can't think of a deck that wants to be bouncing its own things enough to run Trained Armadon but it is the sort of useful thing I will likely want if I don't get me one of these. Obviously a bit poo but will have some strength as a support card in the right deck.

Profane Momento - C cube

Low impact and situational, would need good mass removal or milling effects and a strong urge to gain life before this was close to playable but as a one mana artifact that can scale well with synergy it would be negligent to entirely overlook it.

Edit: cards 215-223

Act on Impulse - C cube

Act on Impulse is a kind of red Three Wishes. In blue Three Wishes did not get it done as you can fairly comparably just draw actual cards. In red this is not possible and so there are some situations I might want to run this pseudo-card draw effect. Some cards exists than can give you sufficient information about the top of your deck that this could be good such as Scroll Rack however there probably are not enough of those you would want in a deck that could make this playable unless the deck also highly suited it. By suiting it I mean being able to reliably play three random cards from your deck at the times you would want to play this. Red deck wins can have an average mana cost below one if it likes however you still need to be at turn five to play this, lay and land and cast two one drops from it. As such this will never be well suited to red deck wins style decks. A big fat midrange style deck also can't really dream of playing this and consistently using two of the cards, let alone all three. As such the only places I can see this being of much use are artifact ramp red decks and storm decks without blue. Ultimately resulting in a nice card that won't see much cube play.

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient - C cube

A bit costly and "made safe" for combo use which is the only place this card really could get a shot in. Just for having lots of raw synergy with stuff to be playable a lot more cards like Jitte and Cursed Scroll need to be printed. Quite cube but unlikely to ever see play.

The Chain Veil - C cube

Clearly the most over priced pile of turds but I cannot pass up on unique effects so this will have itself a slot. This should never see play and if it does there is no chance it will be good. Hopefully we will see more of this kind of effect that tinkers with the functionality of planeswalkers.

Hornet's Nest - C cube

Very elegant design but sadly a little pricey and small to make waves in cube. This is fairly good all round at holding back attackers but has its flaws such as doing nothing to an exclusively airborne assault. If you can get damage on this yourself, be it one per turn or just a total massive chunk then it increases in value but still probably not to a cube worthy level. It sadly offers too little reliably and leaves too much control with your opponent.

Scuttling Doom Engine - B cube

Another far cry from the Wurmcoil benchmark however this does have some of its own special utility. Unblockable by weenies is like a super lame trample but is still likely more use than reach, vigilance or deathtouch. Being a 6/6 for 6 colourless and an artifact makes it quite playable in its own right, not good, but not a dead card like your Hornet's Nest can wind up being. The reason you play this card is because you have some kind of engine focused around Recurring Nightmare, Birthing Pod or Goblin Welder that will allow you easily to cheaply bring this guy into play and just as easily sac him off for a six damage hit and likely some other bonus damage. Six damage will kill off most planeswalkers or it will be a fairly significant blow to the face and will represent a threat with no need of attacks. It might well be that scary Sundering Titan card you can't afford to remove as it will wreak you so you are forced into having some awkward game plan involving surviving the fatty for a long period of time and winning around it. Utility filler threat is another potential role I can see this in, not unlike the Genesis Hydra but for the other main kind of ramp deck.

Ensoul Artifact - C cube

The C cube seems harsh for this little card which simply does too much for very little to not end up seeing play in a variety of formats. I can't exactly see where you might want this in the cube at present hence the low position but I am sure its uses will soon come to light and be fairly diverse and effective. This on a Darksteel Citadel seems like a very awkward threat to have to deal with. The only other thing much like this that has seen play is the ability on Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas which had strong synergies with infect but was a little all over the place to find play in any other decks. Perhaps with the added redundancy with both at your disposal some build around options exist.

Edit: cards 207-214

Necromancer's Stockpile - B cube

Compulsion meets Survival of the Fittest with a smattering of Zombie Infestation about it. I like this card a lot but it is clearly way too narrow for main cube consideration. Black has very little in the way of card quality and even less still that you can get going with fairly early in the game which makes the Stockpile stand out. In addition to this it is a discard outlet for dorks which has several applications in black. Sadly it is all a bit too slow and low powered unless you are mainly discarding zombies, and if you are mainly discarding zombies you are likely an agro deck and probably shouldn't be running this. That said, turning all your guys into 2 mana 2/2's that draw you a card seems pretty decent. This will also work well with the vast number of return creature from graveyard to hand effects in black that are usually so uninspiring. I heartily want this to be good and will build many decks based somewhat around this card but ultimately I think we have a B cube card at best here.

Boonweaver Giant - C cube

I am not sure how this compares to Soverigns of Lost Alara for a way to abuse Eldrazi Conscription and as it neither are viable for running in a main cube for being too narrow it doesn't really matter. Should you want to play some sort of fun aura combo deck then you will play both, at all other times you will play neither. Cube is about different and extreme which this provides in abundance, sadly at seven mana this does rather lack power which is the other thing the cube is all about.

Aether Whirlwind - B cube

Part of me sees this as the blue Terminus, another part of me sees this as some sort of Time Ebb dribble. Five mana is not a cheap way to deal with dorks, especially just Azorius Chraming them, but it is very cheap for a one sided instant speed Wrath. For the decks where you most want to be Wrathing I think this is usually better than a Wrath. Something like White Weenie or RG beats where most of the dorks turn sideways each turn the Whirlwind will be about as good as it gets. It will leave your dorks intact and on the board, it will clear away all their attackers regardless of hexproof, indestructible or the various persist, undying, regenerate type effects, it will generate powerful card advantage and a huge tempo swing. It also really slows up and hurts man lands. Normally I am greatly averse to giving my opponent choices however on this occasion I am not so bothered by it. The objective of this card is to halt any tempo, clear the board of threats and generate card advantage, all of which it does regardless of whether they put their dorks top or bottom. Certainly it means they will likely redraw and cast the most obnoxious threat the next turn and perhaps do so again the turn after meaning you still have to ultimately either race or deal with these returning threats. For the decks like RG agro and white weenie I think that dealing with these slow returning threats will be no trouble and the Whirlwind will provide enough tempo and card advantage to be in a great position to win the game. The problem with the Whirlwind is how useless it is when you are playing a matchup where Wrath of God is not so important. Something like a mid-range rock deck which has loads of walls, mana creatures, value cards like Eternal Witness and just the occasional real threat like a Thrugtusk. In this kind of situation you are usually going to hit very few creatures that the Rock player will either not care about at all or that are able to generate more value by being replayed. A lot of the time you will miss half their board as they are not attacking with them. Against a control deck you will only ever go one for one with the card too making it the nut low Repulse. While blue has very little creature removal and even less in the way of mass removal I don't think this card will be overly sought after as blue is so very used to taking on red, white or black to support it in this role. This does make pure mono blue control decks much more viable but there is not much call for such an archetype and so there should not be that much call for this card. Nicely designed and very interesting  but I think a little too niche.

Sliver Hive Lord - C cube

Kind of fine as the various Sliver Lords go but likely now over the limit on the number of RGWBU cards you can play in a deck. Not a card you would ever want outside of a slivers tribal deck although it is a bit of a mini Progenitus!

Generator Servant - A cube

Tinder Wall has returned to us in a non-gold form with a useful body and a potential haste perk. Any mana ramp card is interesting and this one seems to tick most of the boxes. It is cheap to play in the first place, it ramps for quite a decent chunk and it is not a dead card assuming you don't want the ramp. On the down side a 2/1 for 2 is about as low powered as you can get in the cube before you become exclusively about the effect. Also the mana ramp is a one off that costs you card advantage and so unlike a mana elf you have to really do something worthwhile with the bonus mana to justify the card cost. Turn four Inferno Titan is the first thing to spring to mind regarding getting sufficient value from the ramp. The haste alone would be nearly enough to justify the loss of the card in the case of Titan but it is an extreme example. Most of the other good red cards to ramp into have anti synergy instead such as Thundermaw or Seige-Gang Commander. I can see this getting more play in RX decks than mono red as red has less exciting targets on the whole to ramp out with haste. I see this getting played somewhat in the role of a Lotus Cobra or an Orcish Lumberjack. Powerful, fun and explosive but a little bit of a coinflip card in terms of how reliably good it will be for you.

Garruk, Apex Predator - A cube

This is an incredibly hard planeswalker to judge mostly becuase of his cost. Obviously his effects are very rounded and very powerful, in this regard he is not unlike Nicol Bolas or Karn Liberated. Both tend to win games unless immediately dealt with but they are also hard to get into play. Karn is widely played as he is so easy to throw into a any old deck with a bit of ramp but Bolas is very rarely played because he is in non rampy colours and has such an intense and diverse colour requirement. Apex Predator is nestled somewhere between Karn and Bolas in his attributes that should determine his playability. Seven is a world less than eight mana but still a much more significant jump over six than any other mana jump prior to then. Typically the BG decks do not bother with curves that high, preferring to peak at five, occasionally six in the Pod/Recurring Nightmare or controlly versions. I am not sure how a BG deck aiming to get to seven mana looks as I have not had much experience with them in cube. It could be heavily ramp focused and look much like the mono green or Gr ramp decks or it could look more like mono black control and be better at slowing the game down. The problem I see with this is that the main disruption you have at your disposal in BG is discard effects and these scale poorly as the game goes on. The longer you try and make the game to facilitate your high curve high power cards the less effective your control cards become. The cube is slowing down over time with far more emphasis being placed on the power of cards rather than their cost or synergy meaning the meta in cube is as good as it has ever been for such a card to shine.

Looking just at Garruk's new abilities rather than how he will fit into archetypes or the meta game and he is incredibly convenient. Two plus loyalty abilities and four total between them all covering a lot of ground in terms of what you want most in games of magic. Making 3/3 death touchers for +1 is never dead and gives you good protection and board presence even if it feels like you could get much the same deal on a planeswalker for two less mana  and one less colour! Killing another planeswalker for +1 is huge, you will likely only every get to use it once per time you make Garruk but that is certainly not the only time it will affect the game. Very few other walkers can come down and snipe off a planeswalker and so once Garruk is down your opponent basically cannot make their own until Garruk is dead, a not so easy task when he is throwing out 3/3 deathtouchers and growing from a healthy 5 starting loyalty each time and periodically eating their best monster. His loyalty is enough that you can likely make him unprotected and take down an obnoxious planeswalker and then still survive the swing back so that he can start to churn out beasts. Essentially I am saying he looks like he is versatile and strong enough to recover very dire situations where few other cards would help you survive and no other cards do so while also offering you a potential threat to end the game with after. The killing of a dork and gaining life seems a little expensive in comaprison to the others however it is well designed as the most common time you will be using this is when you are very near death and likely would be attacked to the face the following turn instead of in the Garruk. By gaining a load of life and taking out their best threat you can stabilize where other walkers would do too little to help. In all Garruk has a complete set of abilities than ensure you can do what you need to recover and take control of the vast majority of game states. His ultimate is fairly dull but should get the job done when you need it too and is a good giggle in multiplayer (not that you would catch me playing multi-player magic but there are some masochists out there...). For the most part I think people will have conceded well before you go ultimate with this Garruk. While I think he is good enough for the cube I doubt it will be a commonly played card at all with the two colours and seven mana thing going on.

Devouring Light – A/B cube

While this is a reprint from Ravnica I had pretty much forgotten about the existence of the card. Back then spot removal was not such a big thing in the cube, nor was the capacity to exile so valuable against such a wide array of threats. Fast forward to now and an instant speed exile spell that is never more than three to cast and can cost zero at the very least raises an eyebrow. After Path and Plow white has real issues with its removal, either is is situational like Last Breath and Reprisal or it is sorcery speed and vulnerable in the case of Journey to Nowhere and pals. There is also a swath of removal which, like Devouring Light, falls into the region of only targetting attackers or blockers. Usually this means it is too unreliable and also inappropriate for agro decks to play. With the cost reduction aspect working best with the more agro decks and the exile sweetener I feel I am going to have to give this a belated chance in the cube. There are just too many Bloodghasts, Strangleroot Giests, Voices of Resurgence, Vengevines and ways to get non recursive monsters out of the graveyard for Path and Plow to cope with!

Heliods Pilgrim – C cube

A cross between a Trinket Mage and a Stoneforge Mystic but an offspring that gets mostly the bad genes. A three mana 1/2 does so little to the state of the board it needs to be doing something else broken or highly important to the deck. While you do get some card advantage it is neither good cards (3 mana 1/2s...) nor that great value. As it seems you cannot get bestow creatures the Pilgrim is looking like it will only see a tiny bit of play, typically in exotic decks.

Dauntless River Marshall – C cube

A nice little card that is cost efficient for the stats and has powerful ability as the game goes longer. Sadly this dork is only suited to one deck type and is therefore far too narrow for main cube consideration.

Avacyn, Guardian Angel – C cube

Certainly no Baneslayer but also no Serra Angel either. I peg this Angel at a just below Archangel of Thune level but similar sorts of card. Both fairly generic mid range all rounders that offer some good value and utility but that both are a little fluffy should you want to maximise all of their abilities. The body on this is good but a touch vulnerable with only 4 toughness. Flying and vigilance make this a decent threat that also controls the board fairly well. Being able to protect your other guys from damage for 1W is a help but more often than not Avacyn will be the thing they are going to be trying to take down and so will not feature. Mother of Runes is leagues better as a card to be protecting your other dorks with. The protecting players aspect just seems far too expensive to be useful very often, certainly there are some decks that simply can't beat you should you get to seven mana with this in play but they are few and far between. If I were playing this card it would mostly be for the body and as such I find five mana a bit too steep for something with just 4 toughness.

Ajani Steadfast - A/B cube

I am glad to finally see a way to increase the loyalty on planeswalkers other than proliferate and Doubling Season which are a bit too niche to be much of a thing. Although not niche, it is also not a very powerful way to gain loyalty and will be far less of a feature of this Ajani than just pumping up your dorks in a variety of brutal ways. I am overall not a huge fan of this planeswalker, he is much like the various other pure white Ajani's in that he really needs you to have dorks in play to be doing anything for you. Steadfast is probably the best all round planeswalker of Goldmane and Caller of the Pride. He is easy to play, has more loyalty (assuming you do something relevant with Goldmane!), works well with having many dorks in play or just one, is able to assist in his own protection while gaining value (due to the vigilance given by the +1) and is overall slightly more powerful in what it does that the other two. Certainly it is not quite as good as Goldmane at powering up an army of tokens while still protecting himself but then Goldmane is very disjointed in design and hard to get much utility from with the lifegain being pretty much a do nothing, like the other Ajani's when you have no dorks in play! Steadfast has a fairly lame ultimate but it could be useful now and again and the other two abilities should end games themselves assuming you are able to make dorks. Mostly I have just compared Ajani to his other pure white versions and while Steadfast seems better, neither of the others have held onto an A cube slot consistently and Steadfast is not all that much better so will likely be having to work hard to stay in the big league.

Hushwing Gryff – A/B cube

Much like the Aven Mindsencor in both body and disruptive effect. It does negate your effects too however white has surprisingly few of those so it is not a big deal to build around should you want this in your arsenal. Mindsensor has fewer things that it disrupts however when it does do something brutal like counterspelling the early use of a sacland then it is often game over. The cube is chock full of good enter the battlefield effect creatures and almost every deck uses them so even though it is less powerful than the Aven I think it more cube viable. The body is not very powerful at all but flying is enough to make it worth it. Flash also means that you can ensure you get some value from it by countering the significant part of some card like Eternal Witness, Shreikmaw, Thragtusk, Snapcaster etc etc. It is a bit costly and cute for a dedicated agro deck, it is a bit small and weak for a sturdy midrange deck and so I can see it mainly getting play in a cute GW hatebears or UW agro disruption deck like Mindsensor does. There is some potential for control decks to run it a bit like how they sometimes run Vendilion Clique. Flying flash monsters are a great help in taking out planeswalkers, a thing UW control decks struggle with, and with some added value on them as well they are viable all round solutions.

Return to the Ranks – C cube

Rather situational, clumsy and niche to be a cube mainstay but a very interesting little card that can provide some redundancy for Immortal Servitude or Revileark in some way. I think it is broadly speaking a lot better than the Servitude, it is cheaper and less restrictive.

Soul of Theros – no slot

Not the worst Soul and not the best. The cost of the ability as well as the unexciting vigilance it has lead me to think this will never see cube play.

Spirit Bonds – tentative A cube slot

My friend likened this to Bitterblossom and I find myself agreeing with that more and more. Spirit Bond has far more requirements from your deck design than Bitterblossom due to needing creatures to trigger it. With this inconsistency and the mana cost to trigger it the advantage it offers is slower than Bitterblossom, a card not renown for speed itself... That said the Spirit Bonds has no clock that it places on you and will just generate you a healthy advantage as long as the game carries on. The sac a spirit to gain indestructible till end of turn ability is also far from irrelevant is it gives you some great protection against removal. Board sweepers are a real killer for white weenie decks and being able to save a few of your best guys will win a lot of games. This card has what it takes to see enough play to deserve a top flight cube slot. It is a little narrow, I can't see many places it would crop up outside of white weenie but as white weenie makes up a significant portion of what you can viably do with white in the cube it is OK to be a little narrow.

Warden of the Beyond – no slot

Terrible if not getting the bonus, too unreliably at having the bonus and not exactly jaw droppingly worth having when it is having the bonus. Moving on.

Coral Barrier – C cube

I want this to be good, I love it but I think it just doesn't offer enough to merit playing the card. This may look like a lot of stats for a blue card but compared to something like a Blade Splicer it is found more than wanting. A mono blue opposition deck is where I see this being most viable but probably still not quite there.

Chief Engineer – C cube

An interesting card that could easily feature in a combo deck of some description or just be good rampy filler in a fairly wide array of blue artifact decks packing some creatures. Between this, Grand Architect, Etherium Sculptor and Vedalken Engineer blue has some very powerful artifact based ramp and good redundancy in it as well. Few of those, including the Chief Engineer, are all round powerful and good enough to be a cube mainstay. Despite it being a narrow card it is very much one to keep an eye on. In modern I can fully see convoke being more prevelent in robots than affinity is! Turn one, Memnite, Ornithoptor, Darksteel Citadel, Mox Opal into chief Engineer into tapping all three to drop out a Master of Etherium then mise tapping him to drop a Signal Pest seems good.

Illusory Angel – C cube (still)

Another one of those Commander set cards finding a printing in a base set. Too niche for a mainstay cube slot but a very powerful all round pile of value in a well tailored agro blue deck. The reason this is niche is not because the support cards are not there or are not good enough because they are with Gitaxian Probe, Aether Vial and Chrome Mox all springing to mind. What Illusory Angel lacks is other good cards that want the same kinds of prerequisite so you can double up on your synergies.

Jace, the Living Guildpact – no slot

This Jace I shall hence for be referring to as Jace, the Underachiever. Frankly this is just awful, I would rather have Liliana of the Dark Realms or Tibalt in my deck. At least they do things in some reasonable proportion to their cost. For +1 we get to scry for about one and a half, fine but this is something I can get free on a dual land these days and it doesn't give me any tempo advantage, protection, board presence or card advantage. For a joke cost of -3 I can Disperse, not even Boomerang, ruddy Disperse.... So, this protects Jace a little bit, one time. Odds on the second time you use it you are killing Jace to do so. Best case scenario is that you use the bounce to return a costly planeswalker to hand that had greater loyalty than it began with. The thing is, the worst thing they can then do is just remake their walker and start to do actual stuff with it compared to you with your walker doing basically nothing. This Jace has a good ultimate but it is slow to get there and nets you little advantage prior to that. This Jace also has decent starting loyalty but that is just utterly negated by the fact that for its cost and their respective effects the +1 should be a +2 and the -3 should be a -2. The worst Jace printed by quite some distance.

Edit: It has been put to me that I am being overly harsh on this Jace, while all of the above is true if you ignore the existence of the other Jace's this is not unplayably bad. Sure you are always going to want another Jace but this one's manipulation does scale very well with a lot of blue cards, the bounce is a good utility out and the ultimate is still game winningly powerful. There are places where this is a fine inclusion, all be it with better alternatives, if that were a criteria by which cards qualified for the cube there would be very few cards indeed. I still don't plan on getting one but I would be less incredulous if others were to have this in their cubes.

Military Intelligence – C cube

Another card fairly well summed up by my mate - “feels like if you are attacking with two guys your winning anyway”. This does not account for the fact this card allows for chump attacking where you just throw guys away to trigger a card draw. Cheap and powerful but unreliable and narrow would be my synopsis of the card. Basically my mate is right, you cannot really afford to play optimistic fluff like this in cube these days. I suspect it will get some play just because we all love to draw cards, both white weenie with tokens and black with recursive dorks should be able to design a deck that can trigger this reliably enough to make it good. The problem with forcing the design of your deck such that you can draw more cards is that you lose so much potential power per card overall that you don't compensate for it enough with the extra cards you draw. Sure, you draw three extra cards than you would have with a bog standard most powerful card in slot deck buy turn five but that doesn't help you beat the incoming Inferno Titan when they are all Raise the Alarm and Bloodghast...

Quickling - A cube

While this is not really a two drop it is still a very interesting card. Kor Skyfisher has been a powerful white weenie trickster for many years now in a fairly similar sort of capacity as this dork. Mostly it is a cheap evasive threat that can afford you added value if combined with comes into play triggers. Skyfisher is a little fatter and has a broader range of things to bounce making him fairly abusive with things like Moxen and handy to turn on Land Tax however it is sorcery speed making it very hard to use as protection or as a combat trick. The flash on Quickling will make it a very annoying card and far more played than Skyfisher as a result. Snapcaster Mage and Spellstutter Sprite spring to mind when looking at the Quickling, it is a faerie as well! Not having to return a blue creature will also make this powerful in a fairly wide range of deck types with all colours having strong enter the battlefield effect creatures. While this is far from what you would call overly powerful it is the kind of card that with good play and good deck design you will be able to get a vast amount of mileage.

Void Snare – C cube

Very cheap and to the point but a bit sorcery speed for my liking. Obviously it couldn't hit lands at one mana but increasingly more that is a thing I look for in bounce spells for the cube.

Chasm Skulker – B cube but potential to be a sleeper

Potentially very powerful however I am wary of the cards vulnerability as well as a strong desire to be paired with cards like Brainstorm so as to easily and quickly grow it. There are a lot of cheap ways to power this up as well as some more serious ways to turn it into a giant such as Time Spiral. Really though, you want this in a sort of creature based tempo deck where it is a growing threat that has a bit of built if Sprouting Thrynax. Oddly Wake Thrasher is the card I find most comparable to this in cube and the Skulker has that well beat. Thrasher only sees play in Merfolk tribal decks and not even all of those so it remains to be seen if the Skulker can cut it in the A cube. The existence of Opposition certainly gives strength to its chances.

Master of Predicaments – no slot

Nice design on the card but Air Elemental has to do a lot more than this to be cube worthy.

Soul of Ravnica – C cube (if it is lucky)

Flying is a whole lot more exciting than vigilance, first strike, deathtouch or reach. It is a good chunk better than trample as well making it a long way to playable before we get to the abilities unlike the other Souls. Sadly the abilities on this Soul leave a lot to be desired. Seven mana for starters is a gross amount of mana to pay, you will almost never be able to do that without having to wait a turn after playing it making Consecrated Sphinx greatly superior as a threat that nets you cards as well. Needing to have a selection of coloured permanents in play as well means you will likely average less than two cards at the times you could activate it unless you have grossly warped your deck to include lots of enduring coloured permanents. An overcost, underpowered situational ability, even if it is a card drawing one does not come close to cutting it. All we are really left with is the fact that you can play this from the graveyard, a thing that the might Consecrated Sphinx cannot do! So lets just compare that potential to Deep Analysis and then we can move on...

Endless Obedience – C cube

I think this is just that tiny bit too much mana to be cube viable. Not many decks both want to reanimate things and have lots of dorks in play leading up to that which are the only decks that would ever want this over the various 3 mana or less reanimate cards. Interesting for sure, perhaps good in some way with Bridge from Below and Dread Return but far too narrow for a cube slot.

Indulgent Tormentor – no slot

There are no ways in which this is better than Bloodgift Demon. Giving control of parts of your card to your opponent is very bad.

Necromancer's Assistant – C cube

Not a powerful card at all but sometimes you are building a heaving synergy deck and this is the exact piece of filler you need.

Ulcerate – B cube

I am really struggling with the evaluation of this card which is odd for one so cheap. 3 life is a massive amount to have to pay for a card, especially when so frequently in black life is a resource you want to spend on lots of things. In the kind of roles you would want to play this card for there is little better in the cube. This kills most creatures in the cube and more importantly it kills almost every single one of the cheaper creatures which is the main reason you would be playing it. Certainly direct damage has more utility than -X/-X effects as it goes to the dome at hits planeswalkers however pound for pound Ulcerate is much more effective than Lightning Bolt at killing creatures. It gets around indestructible, regenerate and can combine with combat damage to kill off bigger creatures without going two for one. All this said and done I think I would suck it up and play Disfigure or Tragic Slip to avoid the severe life cost or I would run Contagion or Sickening Shoal and pay cards rather than life so that I could better spend that life later on recouperating the cards.

Cruel Sadist – no slot

Nice design and a versatile little one drop that is just a tiny bit too expensive and slow to be cube worthy.

In Garruk's Wake – no slot

Nine mana! Ouch.. No exile, no instant speed, able to regenerate. Even with Nykthos, Lake of the Dead and whatever ramp you want to throw at it really this is far too expensive for what it does, and more to the point, doesn't do. You want Wraths over four mana to be doing something more than killing all creatures, something a bit different that helps to get around the robust cube threats survivability. Sure, this hits walkers and it doesn't touch your guys but then Bonfire does all that without being prohibitively cost to do anything for the first 8 or so turns. I would play Decree of Pain in preference to this, at least you can cycle it off...

Ob Nixilis, Unshackled – no slot

A very odd card indeed. Some sort of Sengir Vampire meets Aven Mindcensor. With no way to flash it into play easily it might just as well say opponents can't search libraries as the penalty is pretty much death. Having disruption effects like that on a six drop is poor, you want them on two drops so that they can effect the game from as soon as possible. Once you take all that out of the equation you have a really awful Vulturous Zombie, a 4/4 flying trample for six, even with a minor growth ability, is so far from the cube bar that I shouldn't really have wasted the time reviewing it.

Soul of Innistrad – no slot

For my money, the worst of the Soul series. Where I come from a 6/6 deathtouch for six isn't good until it dumps out a couplet of zombies whenever it does anything. Returning dorks from graveyard to hand has never been much to get excited about it magic, you need to get dorks in the bin somehow to get back and then you need to recast them again. All of this means you are being incredibly slow and have probably already lost to someone who is not investing six mana in little more than a Craw Wurm and then five mana to affect the board in no way.

Waste Not – A cube

One of the most interesting cards of M15 thus far. Waste Not is cheap and powerful yet it is unpredictable in what form of power it will offer you and it requires a lot of building around to get it working at all. Free zombies and cards are never bad but free mana needs to be spent and this means having things to spend it on, sounds simple but black is a clunky colour that often doesn't have much it wants to play at any given time. I think ensuring you don't let the mana side of the card go unused will be almost as significant in your deck design as the inclusion and selection of discard spells used to trigger it in the first place. We are real men and so we play mana burn which will further increase the importance of getting that mana spent. Lands are clearly going to be the most commonly discarded cards and so mana will be your most frequent bonus. Effects that allow you to make people discard at instant speed will be sought after to pair with Waste Not. Once you get someone's hand empty very few decks get into a position where you can hit them with sorcery speed discard again and thus render your Waste Not useless for the rest of the game. I think Waste Not is probably powerful enough that you can run it in decks not built directly around it and that are surprisingly light on discard effects. There are a lot of uses, synergies and applications for a card like this, many of which will not be obvious at first.

Burning Anger – C cube

A combo potential card like Splinter Twin, only worse. Only likely to see play in standard and only should a good creature to pair with it show up.

Goblin Rabblemaster – C cube

Too slow and clunky with not enough immediate value or impact to be good enough. In a goblin tribal deck where having haste, +1/+1 for him and his tokens, one off his cost, a wider range of uses for tokens to sacrifice and suddenly he is looking a lot more playable. Even so, there are a lot of good goblins and the three slot is one of the most contested. I certainly wont be rushing out to get one of these for the one time it will get played.

Inferno Fist – C cube

Not a great card, low power, a bit situational and vulnerable etc. However, herioc and enchantress decks are a thing and this is fairly good as a filler aura goes. It is cheap and kind of doubles up as a Seal of Fire which is a thing lacking in enchantment themed decks. I am sure I will build some exotic decks out of mostly C cube cards with a wack enchantment theme where this will be a consideration. I doubt such decks will be a mainstay in the cube for a long while yet but it is always fun to do something very different for which this could help.

Aggressive Mining – A cube

This is the other big card of interest in the set along with Waste Not and I think this is the better of the two as it affords you more control. Any card that costs four mana and means you can be operating with six more cards on your following turn need to be seriously looked at. Necropotence was a complete game changer in Magic and there are many comparisons between that and this. While they cannot be played in the same way due to the nature of their various costs and restrictions they do line up fairly well on analysis. Both cost a mid range mana curve amount, both allow you to trade a resource for cards at a powerful rate and both impose restrictions on what you get to do in a turn. Even if this is only half the card Necropotence is/was it will still have some impact on most formats. Being only a single red to play greatly increases the scope of this card, most likely with green for its ability to get lands into play. This is not a luxury afforded by Necropotence, a card who would love to be able to easily find homes in green and white decks that are flush with life gain. The difficulty is in knowing quite what new decks can be built around this card and which old ones can adapt to take advantage of it. I suspect any deck with Wolf Run and Primeval Titan would be happy to throw this in. I also think a very cheap red burn deck would happily pack this to give it some late game legs. Wheel of Fortune gave too much to your opponent to be frequently played in such a role but this gets the job done a lot better. I am sure we will all bork ourselves and lose to getting locked out of land but then I have done this countless times with Necropotence and that doesn't make it bad (it might make me bad however...). I wonder if Magmaw and/or Crack the Earth will get a bit of play just as ways to get out of the land lock.

Goblin Kaboomist – C cube

A fun little card that is fiddly, slow and not actually all that powerful. I like it mostly as a way to get artifacts into play just to power up other things rather than to use as land mines. Food for a ravager or Goblin Welder, contributing to affinity and metalcraft etc. There are few decks that could make good use of Kaboomist and I doubt he would make the final cut in many of those which is a bit of a shame.

Soul of Shandalar – A cube

For my money, the best of the Soul cycle. A 6/6 first striker for six is not that exciting, or wouldn't be if it wasn't for the cube meta in which almost no other creatures survive or even trade with in combat. All the best threats and big dorks seem to be 6/6s themselves and so Soul of Shandalar is a fairly tedious dork in combat. He is still vastly worse than Inferno Titan due to its greater mana cost to take full advantage of as well as for providing less immediate impact on the game. If you do get to untap with Soul then it will be similarly brutal to what Inferno Titan does to a game, assuming you still have at least five mana available. The reason I like Soul so much is not how it compares to Inferno Titan as a six drop but how it compares to Firebolt as a card I want in my graveyard. Sure, Soul has no one mana cast option with which to get it into the graveyard in the first place so cannot be directly compared to Firebolt as a card. Most colours, including red, are flush with ways to get cards from various places into the graveyard and so I am not too concerned with the task of getting it there. Once Soul is in the bin you have an uncounterable, perma-landfalled, non creature dependant, instant Searing Blaze on offer for the same cost as the flashback on Firebolt. Bargain. It is quite an odd pairing of effects and unlike a lot of cards with split functionality or roles it is fairly dead weight in the early part of the game except that you feel like you have gotten bonus value if you somehow wind up with it in the bin. I can see this working in a lot of different decks fairly well, the test will be whether it is ever preferable to Inferno Titan and if so how much supporting synergy you need to make that the case. If it is the case of just having the odd thing like a Survival of the Fittest and a Faithless Looting in your deck make Soul the better card then it should be an cube mainstay, if you need to be going near all out with some sort of Forbidden Squee style deck to make it good enough then it will be too narrow for the cube.

Stoke the Flames – A cube

Interesting like Endless Obedience is however more acceptable in base cost as well as more all round in purpose. As soon as this costs two mana it is very powerful indeed. At three it is fine and even at full whack it is still doing something you need even if the cost isn't great. Not many viable burn spells deal four damage and so it is a really annoying toughness for red to deal with as it so often 2 for 1s you. Flame Javelin and Char were never exciting options, they were clumsy and very poor damage per mana. Stoke the Flames has none of their mana or life style drawbacks and is vastly more flexible in terms of when and how it is played. Oddly the card I liken it to most is Fireblast. Sure, it is not as consistently able to be played for free but then the standard cost is significantly more affordable while the reduction cost is substantially less detrimental to your board state and other resources. I can see loads of plays where you dump out a hand full of guys, end of turn or while blocking you convoke out the Stoke and then alpha strike for the rest the following turn. Stoke scales well with vigilance dorks and token generators. I doubt control will often play it as they lack the guys to optemize its use however I think both midrange and red deck wins will play it a surprising amount. Mid range just because you get a lot more burn for your card than with most other spells and in red deck wins because you will often enough have the dorks about to make it cost two or less in a way that costs you no damage output loss. I am keen to wrong foot someone by tapping out to make a Siege-Gang Commander onto an empty board then fire off a Stoke the Flames from nowhere to ruin their plans. I think this is the sort of card that is very easy to overlook and underrate but I think it will be one of the most played cube cards from this set. It has all the most important attributes in a burn spell, it is instant and it hits creatures and players. It then has the two perks of being a whopping 4 damage per card out pacing the likes of the mighty Lightning Bolt combined with the potential cost reduction all the way to zero. Yummy.

Hornet Queen – C cube

I have had one of these flitting in and out of my cube since it was first printed but on balance I would say it has deservedly spent a lot more time out than in. If you want tokens then Avenger of Zendikar is your man, if you want to deal with fliers then Cloudthresher and Chancellor of the Tangle are the dorks for you. Hornet Queen is a nice all round powerful card that is just never best in slot.

Phytotitan – no slot

I am not a fan, six mana dorks without trample or some kind of evasions are deeply unreliable as threats. This is slow to recur, easy to kill and offers no particularly exciting synergies. Cube removal is set to be able to deal with awkward things and with all the bounce, graveyard removal, exile and returning to library the Phytotitan is not half as durable or difficult to race as you would like a card of this cost to be.

Reclaimation Sage – A cube

This is clearly the card that will see most cube play from M15. Not the most exciting or even the most powerful, this little elf just does exactly what you want it to. Back in the day (when I had power in my cube) Viridian Shaman and Uktabi Orangutan were complete staples. Almost every deck had multiple good targets for them and they let decks like RG agro and the Rock be competitive with stupidity like Tinker and Mana Vault. Creatures have gotten better and so you cannot now afford to run Grey Ogres when there are not targets which is more often the case now without Sol Rings and Moxen all over the place. Acidic Slime and Wickerbough Elder have taken over in that role in green both for having wider ranges of targets and for being more useful bodies. Although the weakest body of the lot the Reclaimation Sage is not relevantly weaker than Viridian Shaman and can generate a lot more tempo than you can with Slime or Elder. Being able to take out a Jitte or Sword before they get a swing in is obviously great however the value you get by spending turn three rather than turn five dealing with a problem rather than furthering your own game is often overlooked. The opportunity cost of not making the Thragtusk (or other cube five drop) on turn five because you had to make the Acidic Slime is going to be greater than the opportunity cost of making Reclaimation Sage over some other three drop. With Theros littering the cube with all sorts of enchantments it is becoming the case again that the vast majority of decks have Disenchant/Naturalize targets, many of which are irksome creatures. I actually think this card will see more play than Eternal Witness despite being a bit less powerful. Decks with only 40 cards yet that are of the power level and diversity of the cube need certain tools and have to dedicate slots to these tools or they will be cold to a variety of different cards or archetypes. Reclaimation Sage kind of allows you to jam a tool into your deck without it costing a complete slot. The Sage is still a dork and satisfies all those kinds of quota, it is a threat and it is something you can curve with and so although it might be a little lower power than another three drop that does all of those things it is also a naturalize as well. By being able to compress and condense your deck so that your cards overlap on the various roles you need from your tools then you have a lot more space left in your deck to ram full of power. I suspect every mid range upwards green deck will run the Sage if it can, any deck with creature engine cards as well such as Birthing Pod or Recurring Nightmare will also have the Sage very high on the team sheet. It is single green, it kills things, it is an elf, it is fit for the Skullclamp, there is just nothing not to love about this little fella.

Genesis Hydra – A cube (but not a secure or solid slot)

The merging of Green Sun's Zenith and some basic X casting cost hydra of old I cannot be bothered to look up just to reference... I don't love this card but I suspect it is actually fairly good. I don't love it because it is just a bad dork bolted onto a very unpredictable effect. Without spending a lot of mana or having some knowledge of what is on the top of your deck you are risking winding up with the worlds worst 2/2 or 3/3. Should you have a Sylvan Library or some such down then it might be OK to make it as a 1/1 just to get that mana elf into play or something but for the most part this card should cost at least six mana and could still be wiffing for you until about 8 mana spent where your odds are pretty low at not getting value. As such I think the X is misleading and really you have a card that is really quite awful till about seven mana. Primordial Hydra can be made at a wide range of X costs to good effect and is solid as a result. You can build your deck so that a Green Sun's Zenith will be useful the whole way along the curve. All that is why I don't like the card, why I suspect it will be good is that green ramp decks lack card quality and card advantage and are prone to over manaing. Genesis Hydra scales very well with your mana production, sure, it is only a card you want to play from seven mana up but you can often get to fifteen mana no problems at which point your Primeval Titan is looking awful while your Hydra is looking really spicy. When you do just make it for seven it is at least getting you something else of value. It greatly increases your chances of getting the card you really want or need as well. Often you simply need to find your Karn to deal with something or just can only win by finding that Craterhoof Behemoth. The green ramp decks need to play a certain mass of top end to merit ramping there however a lot of the top end cards are just sort of good fat you don't really need, like I say, it is usually a case of find Karn or find Craterhoof. Along comes Genesis Hydra and promises not only to fill the role of being a top end threat but also that it can greatly increase your odds on having what you really wanted. Sure, you have to pay nine and ten respectively to find those cards however I have found myself with the mana and not the right cards more often than I find myself without the mana in green ramp decks. Like I was saying with Reclamation Sage being able to condense and compress the deck I think you can do a similar sort of thing with Hydra therefore making it playable.

Nissa, Worldwaker – A cube

A very awkward planeswalker yet also a rather powerful one. To be able to attack with a 4/4 trampler on the turn you make her she effectively costs six as unlike Koth, she does not do you the kindness of untapping the land. This would probably make her bad if not for the fact that she has a second plus one ability that can free up a whole bunch of mana. Between the two plus abilties you can probably find one to work well for your situation, when you have other stuff to do you can make Nissa, untap lands, grow her loyalty and carry on with your doing of things. When you don't have stuff to do you are probably past the five mana stage or have already got the Nissa in play and so can start to beat down with 4/4 tramplers. Even with two plus loyalty abilities the ultimate is a fair way off with four activations and no loyalty loss needed to get to sufficient loyalty to use it. It is powerful and both poses a serious threat likely to end the game the following turn while also greatly increasing the draw quality you get for the rest of the game should they survive the land onslaught. It is not as robust as some of the emblem ultimates but is none the less fairly decent. I doubt it will be used much as the combination of +1 effects should get it done before, or she will die before then most of the time. The ultimate also gets worse as time goes on in the cube and requires you to have a decent chunk of basics in the deck, the latter is also the case to make use of the untap 4 lands ability which overall makes Nissa rather niche, I suspect only to feature in mono green decks with the likes of Dungrove Elder and Rofellos. Another thing in Nissa's favour is she effectively has two different ways to protect herself, both of which increase her loyalty. Unlike Koth the land you animate does not revert and so while this does have some awkward issues regarding the lands getting killed or just spending time attacking and not allowing you to cast things it also has some serious upsides. Firstly, you don't have to attack and 4/4 blockers are pretty decent and secondly, should you attack the damage will increase rather fast should you continue to animate lands each turn. Assuming you start animating and attacking from the turn you make her, in the turn after your next, again assuming no blocks or removal happened you have gone in for 24 damage total, 40 the following!. It is hard to say which is better out of five mana Garruk and this Nissa without having played it. Garruk is triple green making him almost as exclusive to mostly green decks as Nissa. They both make reasonably fat dorks and grow, they both have a fairly overkill fatty ultimate that should see little use and they both have a middle ability that offers you a pile of resources. Pound for pound I think Nissa is slightly stronger than Garruk but also more awkward than Garruk to a greater degree than it is more powerful. Having to force your mana base in a certain direction to accommodate a few cards is painful, also Garruk offers card draw rather than a mana boost and green has plenty of mana boost yet little good card draw. Overall I think the best thing in favour of Nissa getting lots of play is that there are no other good Nissa planeswalkers yet there are plenty of good Garruks to chose from meaning your second and third planeswalkers are that much more likely to be Nissa than the increasingly awkward alternative Garruks.

Life's Legacy – Starting life in the A cube, likely winding up in the B cube

Big potential for cheap card draw in green. Lots of cards have this kind of effect such as Momentous Fall and Greater Good but they cost a lot and are rather unwieldy as a result. Greater Good has seen a decent chunk of cube play as you can build engines around it but it is too niche to be much use in more normal decks. This cheap little card can cycle away something like an Eternal Witness much like Lat-Nam's Legacy works in blue. It can desperation dig by tossing a 1/1 mana elf or it can fully be an extreme Ancestral Recall should you have the luxury of something like a Thragtusk to throw under the bus. It is a touch risky as the sacrifice is part of the cost and the spell is sorcery so against countermagic it might be too much of a liability. The fact that you can use it on weak utility creatures to reasonable effect and thus not really losing anything by losing the body will help when faced with counterspells. With green having such little choice of card draw and this being so direct, convenient and cheap I am sure this will be ridiculous in a selection of situations and matchups. It does savagely suffer from the win more or do nothing dicotomy where by in lots of situations you won't have anything to sac and in lots of other you could just attack with the guy you are sacing and win that way instead. I am certainly keen to play with this and have lots of fun drawing piles of cards on the cheap but if it will be consistent enough or desirable in enough archetypes to be main cube worthy remains to be seen.

Soul of Zendikar – no slot

While Soul of Shandalar has the being a lot better than Firebolt going for it this very much does not have the being better than Call of the Herd. As a dork, Rampaging Baloths are going to be a more fruitful investment. As a thing to have in the bin, aside from Call of the Herd, there are plenty of creatures I would still rather have than this. No trample is a real killer for this Soul and so I think we can fairly well write this fatty off.

Sunblade Elf – B cube

Likely the best of this cycle and while powerful enough for the cube I think it is a bit too narrow. Wild Nacatl is a lot better than this, and Loam Lion is close, much better in the early game when you want the card and much worse in the late game. I think this card will fall into exactly the same category as Flinthoof Boar, a card I always cull from the cube when drafting as only one archetype wants it at all yet always returns to the cube as soon as that archetype is constructed. This will certainly see play, it will be a strong one drop and it will scale into the late game better than most but it is not a card than any archetype will miss much and as said, not a card with many suitable homes.

Yisan the Wandere Bard – no slot

Cool card, Elvish Piper meets Aether Vial, however all rather slow and costly for cube play.

Sliver Hive – C cube

I guess viable in a non slivers deck but certainly not the best utility land I can think of... Should you have a slivers theme in your cube this is a must, an utterly insanely good tribal land. Without slivers this is not a thing you need.

Obelisk of Urd – C cube

Much as I am a big fan of this card I think that Hall of Triumph is just all round more useful and reliable. Six is an awful lot to pay for a card that has no impact on its own, especially in a tribal deck. If you cannot conveniently convoke this out it will be pretty awful and odds on you will have a turn of do nothings in order to get it out. The bonus is huge but I think mostly unnecessary, tribal decks should have sufficient inbuilt synergy within their guys to not need this kind of thing.

Perilous Vault – A cube (just)

The new Oblvion Stone, it costs one more to kill things and doesn't give you the option to save some of your own stuff however it exiles rather than destroys. Normally a mana more to do much the same thing would rule something out however on this case the detonate ability on both costs five so unless we are at stupid mana then the speed at which you can use either is very much the same. Neither are quick cards and in many ways are slower than Nevinyyral's Disk simply for total mana expenditure required. When you have mega mana in super late game or because you are a ramp deck then the Disk becomes much weaker as you can't use it right away. The difference in cost between Vault and Stone at this stage of the game is more negligible than in the early game. When, for normal use the speed of all three cards is much the same then the focus should be more on the benefits of exile compared with those of saving your own stuff. Generally speaking I think the exile wins out, it is more in line with the intended purpose of the card and it is more direct. Increasingly in cube you need to exile threats to properly deal with them. Oblivion Stone is not a high powered cube card but it earns its keep, much more so in draft than the more constructed formats. Overall I think they are much of a muchness and it rather depends on the fine details of your deck and your opponent's as to which is the superior of the two. The cube certainly doesn't have space for both and so I am going to run with the fresh new card for a while and see how we get on.

Soul of New Phyrexia – C cube

Probably the second best soul but really nowhere close to what a Wurmcoil offers. A 6/6 trample artifact for 6 is fine but not good. A five mana way to protect things while in play or in the bin as a one off will win the late game but won't be doing much before then. Unlike Boros/Golgari charms which can utterly wreak someone planning on using mass removal or even just spot removal and combat, the Soul ability is not only 250% of the cost but is also fully visible to your opponent so assuming they are not asleep or terrible they are not going to just walk into a losing play. A playable card with some late game utility but greatly underwhelming compared to other 6 mana threats or ways to protect your stuff.

So, the M15 top ten list looks something like this in my mind at present. Garruk the only late entry and he is far from a lock in to the main cube at present.

  1. Reclamation Sage
  2. Aggressive Mining
  3. Waste Not
  4. Stoke the Flames
  5. Nissa, Worldwaker
  6. Soul of Shandalar
  7. Garruk, Apex Predator
  8. Quickling
  9. Genesis Hydra
  10. Ajani Steadfast

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Kiln Fiend.dec

Kiln FiendMy good friend is on a roll at present, not just in kicking my arse but also in making cool new-to-cube decks. This is one he adapted from a modern idea by Travis Woo. The principle is simple, make something resembling a Kiln Fiend, cast some spells, bypass any blocking and kill them in one hit. I mocked the idea, I thought too few threats, too easy to disrupt and not actually all that quick compared to what you can do with combo in the cube. Obviously, if you mock something in Magic you eat your words soon after as I did on this occasion. Below is his list:

Artful Dodge25 Spells

Assault Strobe
Gitaxian Probe
Gut Shot
Mutagenic Growth

Lava Dart
Lightning Bolt
Reckless Charge
Faithless Looting

Titan's Strength
Boros Charm
Artful Dodge
Delver of Secrets
Goblin Guide

Vapour Snag

Kiln Fiend
Fire / Ice
Apostle's Blessing
Boros Charm

Nivix Cyclops

Force of Will
Mutagenic GrowthFireblast

15 :Lands

Smouldering Spires
Volcanic Island
Sacred Foundry
Steam Vents

Scalding Tarn
Arid Mesa
Cascade Bluffs
Shivan Reef
Sulphur Falls

Temple of Triumph
Temple of Epiphany
3 Mountains

Assault Strobe
Travis Woo went for a grixis list which makes sense in modern where you have a bit more redundancy in things. Tainted Strike is a better "doublestrike" card than Boros Charm in many ways should your kill always come from the combo. To work best with what the cube offers my mate's list is a lot burn heavier than Woo's modern list and as such getting half the job done with the combo is fine as you can finish them off with burn. This is not the case if you combo with poison. Being able to protect your few threats is more important in the cube version and so the indestructible portion of the Boros Charm is very significant. I should note that he had no Azorius dual lands when building this which might have changed his mana base somewhat although it is hard if you want to reliably play the free portions of Fireblast and Lava Dart.

I soon learned that you could not fool around with this deck and you had to play it more than just safe. Leaving them a Nivix Cyclops or Kiln Fiend in play usually meant you were going to die in their turn regardless of your board. This high restriction on how you could afford to play while being safe gave the deck a lot of wiggle room and time in which to assemble a safe combo and kill you with it. The random ongoing damage effects coupled with the threat of burn also forced you into playing it a little less safe against the combo side of the deck and resulted in losses as well. While I don't intuitively like Goblin Guide, Delver of Secrets or even the Guttersnipe (as he is so poo with the doublestrike effects) in this list they may well be the best way to go about winning with it. My preference for decks is trying to do the one this it is doing to the best of its ability and so with that in mind here is the list I then built to test the idea out with.

Serum VisionsMy list

26 Spells

Serum Visions
Gitaxian Probe

Vapour Snag
Artful Dodge

Shadow Rift
Titan's Strength
Wee DragonautsReckless Charge
Faithless Looting

Lava Dart
Gut Shot
Assualt Strobe
Mutagenic Growth

Boros Charm
Fire / Ice
Kiln Fiend
Apsotle's Blessing

Double Cleave

Wee Dragonaughts
Apostle's BlessingNivix Cyclopse
Spellheart Chimera


14 Lands

Volcanic Island
Sacred Foundry
Steam Vents

Scalding Tarn
Arid Mesa
Flooded Strand

Cascade Bluffs
Shivan Reef
Sulphur Falls

3 Mountains

OptI was greedier with my land count but less greedy in terms of spell lands. I figured a big part of the spells was the trigger on things like the Kiln Fiend so the value you get out of smouldering spires is minimal compared to laving an untapped land and playing an Artful Dodge or any other pertinent spell. I used a similar sort of logic with the scry lands and cut them in favour of a Serum Visions to go really all out deep in cantripping blue one drops. 14 land really should be plenty in a deck with so very many one drop card draw and filter effects. Both of our lists have a much heavier bias towards red mana despite the split being more even with blue. The main reason is to increase reliability on Fireblast and Lava dart but also it is because you will be using a large number of the blue filter cards prior to going off simply to assemble what you need. As such when you do go off you will be using a greater portion of red mana than blue. The various cards like Ponder are at their very best in this deck as they not only set up your combo but act as part of the combo when you go off as well.

I cut all the dorks that don't have synergy with instants and sorceries as well as all of those that are not abusive with double strike. I wanted to be more pure combo and less red deck wins. This meant I would be less vulnerable to spot removal, discard and other targeted disruption on my key dorks but also that I would have a lower power level of cards. Cutting Goblin Guide and Delver of Secrets for Spellheart Chimera and Wee Dragonauts is a painful thing to do. The burn portion of the deck is also a bit less exciting as the combo is more potent and reliable, you either go off and win or you fail with this list, while my mates was more resilient but not as extreme at going off. This list was easily able to set up hits for over thirty assuming it wasn't too heavily disrupted.

SpellskiteAlthough I greatly like the protection it offers I found Force of Will a bit too cumbersome and unreliable in this deck and favour Spellskite or something like Mizzium Skin to keep my threats alive. Mother of Runes is also a consideration, especially as she also helps negate blocking. The unblockable spell combined with the double strike effect are the two most important things to do when going for the kill and as such I wanted to increase the redundancy of those effects in the deck given that I had removed the backup threats and some burn. Tainted Strike was an option in my less burn heavy deck but I think I would prefer Berserk and going green to doing that. The trample from Berserk is a huge added bonus as it means you don't need to worry so much about parts of your combo, just having enough spells. Green also has some nice protective effects you could run. Given that the deck is already three colours unless I wanted to lose the versatile Boros Charm and have to make up for that as well it seemed wise to go with a red white or blue option. Double Cleave isn't great but it seems to be the next best thing available and on colour.

Shadow Rift As for a backup to Artful Dodge there are many more options, the obvious one being Shadow Rift, a card predating my good friends time playing magic and so one he missed while rifling through the dregs of the cube archives. Shadow is basically unblockable in the cube, you would be unlucky to lose to them having the single Looter il-Kor in play. Having it draw a card over the +1 power of Distortion Strike seems vastly better, especially given the deck seemed to be overkilling more often than not. Other options exist such as Veil of Secrecy but that is a bit eggs in one basket and rather too easy to play around to be worth the cost, even if it is getting two things done at once.

The Wee Dragonaughts are perfectly fine, the evasion is helpful and the deck has enough gas to power out a kill with them even with the weaker proc. Even with loads of protection three threats simply isn't enough. I did not want to go with Gelectrode, Young Pyromancer or Guttersnipe because of their only partial synergy, made worse by my extra redundancy in double strike and unblockable effects. I also felt Blistercoil Weird was going to be too underpowered and so I settled on Spellheart Chimera. He is very easy to have be fairly huge and in combination with the small amount of pump and the double strike cards it should be similarly easy to kill with them as the Dragonauts. Indeed with all the evasion and cantrip there is a good chance that the Nivix Cyclops is the hardest threat to win with.

Nivix Cyclops
Mutagenic Growth and Fire / Ice were in both our lists but were mostly filler, they work well with the deck and offer more than one role but are fairly cuttable should more direct cards become available. Gut Shot and Lava Dart were more in line with the combo and direct as required with also a little bit of versatility themselves however they are incredibly low powered and are also higher on the cutting list than most. Titan's Strength and Reckless Charge however were golden, not only do they power up the combo, they scale extra well with the double strike effects and each have their own extra bonus. Scry is always good in combo and Titan's Strength can be used in the upkeep of the turn you go off to dig for more of what you need. It also does a little bit of toughness so can protect threats as well as power them up. Reckless Charge adds a whole new dimesion to the deck in that you can easily kill on turn four from a position of having only lands in play and thus makes the deck that much more difficult to safely play around.

Although I think my list gives a better demonstration of the combo and is a more pure design I am fairly sure it is just worse than my mates attempt. I think the best version of the deck is most alike to my mates deck but with 14 lands and the inclusion of Dragonaughts and Shadow Rift. As with most cube combo decks, this list will crush you if you don't have a way to disrupt or interact, just making some blockers is not going to get it done. You need to take out their ability to cast many spells, kill their guys consistently and ideally at instant speed, destroy their hand or counter every threat to be able to win and a lot of decks can't do those things well enough. The latter is the most likely against this archetype however the threats are cheap so you can play the long game and force through something just by casting so much. Force of Will was also nice in that regard but I think I would prefer to run black discard or white Abeyance style things to combat countermagic than my own countermagic. All in all a great fun and different deck that has a lot of ways to build and a fairly different set of strengths and weaknesses to the meta.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Top 10 Azorius Cards

Meddling MageBlue is very much the runt when it comes to gold cards which seems reasonable given they trump the mono cards with ease. While all the UX gold cards are a bit less exciting than the non blue gold cards the UW ones are the weakest of the blue options leaving Azorius the underdog of the gold world. I had to really resist the urge to give a slot to Meddling Mage, while it has not been in my cube for a good while now I am very fond of the card and thought it added a lot to cube even if it wasn't optimal. When combo was rife it was a surprisingly good card and remained fairly effective disruption if played well as the meta slowly shifted away from combo. It is still one of the best Azorius cards of all time but loses a bit too much value in the singleton format as well as being a weak body by today's standard of dork.

Grand Arbiter Augustin IV

10. Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
9.   Judge's Familiar
8.   Swans of Brynn Argol
7.   Azorious Charm
6.   Absorb
5.   Venser the Sojorner
4.   Detention Sphere
3.   Sphinx's Revelation
2.   Supreme Verdict
1.   Geist of Saint Traft

Judge's Familiar
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV is a very cool card that I have played in all sorts of decks that I probably shouldn't have. I have had it in the same UW agro deck as Judge's Familiar, I have had it in full on control build and even in a few storm/Heartbeat of Spring style combo decks. The problem with Augustin is that he is also a bit all over the place, it is hard to abuse either of the effects, and while you always get some value out of them it is usually not enough to make up for him being a 4 mana gribbly with pap stats. When you do get sufficient value out of him to make up for that it is because you have built to abuse one aspect and so you would have been better off with a cheaper card that only did one half of the package such as a Helm of Awakening, Medallion, Sphere of Resistance etc. Very playable and will grind out most games for you if he lives long enough, the feel of having him about in a relatively even game is that of drawing an extra card every turn, you just wind up ahead after a while. Overall too narrow and too disjointed to be a cube mainstay but still a powerful, fun and cool card.

Swans of Bryn Argoll
Judges Familiar does not see much play despite being vastly better than Cursecatcher. It only really has one home, the blue white agro disruption deck, and that has so many suitable cards and directions it can go in that familiar is not a mainstay, although few cards are. You really need something to take advantage of a flying body like a few good bits of equipment. Without the capacity to turn it into a threat it just doesn't do enough. A 1/1 has basically no effect on the board even with flying and the disruption catches few things and is beyond easy to play around. While it can go in white weenie decks as they tend to have either equipment or global pump enchantments, it is so ineffective without the support it tends not to be played. You would much rather have a greater than one poweer one drop or one with powerful utility like Mother of Runes or a tapper. That all said you get a lot of different things for your one mana and so I am sure a firmer home will eventually show up for this guy.

Swans of Bryn Argol are highly unusual and crop up mostly as a way to draw cards rather than as a threat however it ends up winning a reasonable number of games simply by being a fairly big evasive monster that is hard to stop. Most frequently paired with Seismic Assault but it also finds some decent synergy with a wide range of other red cards to offer a really efficient card draw tool. Being a hybrid card also makes it a more diverse combo piece. A narrow card that is hard to abuse yet incredibly powerful. Chain of Plasma, Chain Lightning and some of the Chandra planeswalkers are among the other best abuses for Swans. A combo piece that can double up as a threat or a card draw tool is always going to be an interesting card. As with most such cards, despite being great fun and different it is hard to include and draft them in cube due to needing the synergy support cards.

Azorius Charm
I hate Azorius Charm yet am obliged to give it a place on this list. It is a terrible cycling card and god awful removal compared to what you can get in cube however those are pretty much the two most important things to have early in a control card as it consistently helps you get to the late game. It will never excite, except on the odd occasion the lifelink happens to help you win, but it will do exactly what you need almost all the time, certainly in the dicey early game. It will stem the bleeding against an agro deck and buy you that important tempo or it will cycle away in the slower games affording you more reliable land drops and higher card quality.  It has seen a lot of play since its release and has never been bad. It is a great example of a card that does enough useful things acceptably well that it is playable despite doing those things so poorly compared to what you could have do any one of them. 

Absorb is a bit like Meddling Mage in that time has not been kind to it. It was never an overly powerful card with things like Forbid and even Dissipate getting more done more conveniently for the same cost. Although many more cheap and powerful counter based disruption cards have been printed since Absorb there have been no hard counters printed for less. People still struggle to resist a hard counter with added value. I will say this for Absorb, it is less of a downgrade on Actual Counterspell than Lightning Helix is on a Lightning Bolt. It is doing two things control are very eager to do and unlike the Charm will do them both at once. It is also significantly better than Undermine because of the synergy with life gain and control strategies. Life gain is fairly weak in magic but the value of it changes a lot based on your decks strategies. The longer you want the game to go the more value each point of your life, or more accurately the rate of change of life, has. Counter magic is inherently a control effect and thus paring it with life gain makes it more suitable and rounded in that regard.

Venser, the Sojourner
Venser the Sojourner is very hard to fit in to things, he is a bit pricey for his starting loyalty and has effects that are a bit at odds with each other and tend to require you to build around them to make them at all useful. The unblockable part is a tempo or agro ability while the exile effect is far better suited to control strategies. Both also require you to already have something out on the board to use them effectively on and as a result he seems to be best suited to the mid range decks. Certainly untapping a land is fine but really not worth the mana or card invested in doing so, you need Venser to do more than just that, even with his ultimate potential, to be viable in a deck. Having a very powerful and easily reachable ultimate because of the +2 works more in his favour more than I have thus far found the -1 ability to do, although this could easily be down to me not having found the right kind of tempo deck for him to shine in. Indeed his ultimate is generally one of the more powerful and attainable of all planeswalkers. The best I have seen him be is with lots of persist and comes into play effect creatures, most notably Thragtusk and Glen-Elandra Archmage. He also has good synergy with various mass removal effects as you can save something of yours, even Venser himself, from the effect. Really Venser is a B cube card through being narrow, he is just high on this list as Azoris is shallow and weak.

Detention Sphere
Detention Sphere is Maelstrom Pulse meeting Oblivion Ring and gets the job done. In cube more so than other formats the upside on Detention Sphere is minimal when compared with Oblivion Ring and the newer Banishing Light. Overall I would say that simply being blue adds more than the multiple targets potential does for the card as per the previously mentioned Force of Will, Chrome Mox etc uses. The end result is a slightly more powerful but slightly narrower card than your Oblivion Rings. Perfectly fine in cube but not at all exciting. With the rise of enchantments thanks to Theros block there has been a rise of enchantment removal spells being played and this makes Detention Sphere and company less sound removal than it had been previously enjoying. They also have some bad interactions with certain spells you might want to play yourself such as Upheaval or Akroma's Vengeance. Detention Sphere despite being so unexciting is a big step up from the previous cards in this list and represents the first of the more mainstay Azorius cards.

Sphinx's Revelation
I hate Sphinx's Revalation and refused to put it in the cube for a long time. It is very late game pricey card draw and god awful lifegain. To my mind the mono coloured Stroke of Genius was just superior, the only decks that really wanted it were artifact ramp decks or infinite mana decks both of which usually didn't play white or need the life. This however was not how to analyse the card or its role. Revalation is a different sort of card it turns out, almost best seen as really high quality filler in control decks. Being able to fulfil two rolls at once, both of which highly desirable in control, scaling well into the late game and being instant make it a versatile all rounder not unlike Absorb or Azirious Charm. It is what control decks want, it allows them more choices and allows them to condense the slots in the deck. By having a bit of life gain stuck onto other things you already wanted then you don't need to use a slot on a card purely for its life gaining potential. Sphinx's Revelation is about a bit of incremental advantage in a versatile yet powerful package with the capacity to really blow out both control or agro with huge card or life influxes in the super late game. It is not the end of the world to cycle it for one life and one card if you have things you want to dig for and nothing else to spend the mana on and this is pretty much the worst case scenario. While Stroke was all about being able to get a huge number of cards Revelation is more about filling in the cracks and it does this very well. Stroke is far more a combo card while Revelation is firmly a control card. Although Fact or Fiction is the more powerful draw spell it can be dangerous in a 40 card threat light control deck and is also a spell you can't do anything with before you hit four mana. On top of this it has no tempo gain at all which makes it a big risk against many archetypes. I recently cheesed a mate of mine who was running a burn deck by playing a Sejiri Steppe as one of my lands and it won me a game. Those kinds of matchup are very tight, a lot of cards are basically dead and one life can make all the difference. Even if I could only ever play the Revelation for 1 I would still always prefer it to Fact or Fiction in that match up.

Supreme Verdict
Supreme Verdict is fine, there is little to chose between it and Day of Judgement. Wraths are not all that often countered. Having a bit of blue in the cost will naturally make the card narrower but far less so than with most gold cards simply because of where it is used. The blue also adds utility to the card for Chrome Mox, Force of Will and the like. Indeed, this added aspect of the Wrath is what makes it the most commonly played four mana Wrath and not the uncounterable aspect. So often in magic the supposed drawback of the card becomes its main strength. You can't go too far wrong with a 4 mana Wrath but then you also can't get too excited about this compared to the other 4 mana Wraths. It is to Wrath of God what Arbour Elf is to Llanowar Elf. A bit narrower and less reliable but with the potential to be a bit more useful.

Geist of Saint Traft
Geist of Sant Traft is basically the only Azorius card that is well above the curve. You get a great deal of monster for your mana with the Geist. Should you find yourself without blockers then Geist will end you in short order. He is one of the best things you can equip in the cube not just because he is cheap and hexproof but also because it allows you to get much more use out of the attacking proc. Often Geist will find himself suicided into something that will obviously kill or trade with him so as to snipe down a planeswalker with the evasive angel token. Blue and white are not the best colours at fighting planeswalkers and so having a fairly safe Seal of "kill a planeswalker" you can make is great as well. Geist is well designed and despite his high power in terms of a 3 drop that can smack for 6 a turn with some obvious perks and few downsides he will not always be strong. Most creatures in the cube can kill him in combat and so any deck that has a high creature count will quickly get you to a position where you are just sitting there with Geist doing very little at all. It is not really hard to see why this is the top Azorius card though when all the rest of the top four are pretty much Oblivion Ring, Stroke of Genius and Day of Judgement with a very minor perk bolted on.

Here is a list of the other Azorius cards I have in my various piles of cube cards, many of which I have never actually played. I don't know what it is exactly about Azorius cards but even the more interesting ones I tend to find uninspiring. Also, the more powerful ones tend to be the most tedious such as Terefi's Moat. Another final way to demonstrate the low power of Azorius gold cards compared to other guilds would be to see how long a list of top gold cards I would need to do before I got one and then two blue white cards into. I suspect the former would be around the top 25 mark and the latter might not even get a look in at the top 50!

Court Hussar
Meddling Mage
Azorious Guildmage
Augury Adept
Deputy of Acquittals
Drogskol Captain
Godhead of Awe
Hanna, Ships Navigator
Hindering Light
Ith, High Arcanist
Lyev Skyknight
Render Silent
Sanctum Plowbeast
Sky Hussar
Soverigns of Lost Alara
Lavinia, the Tenth
Sygg, River Guide
Teferi's Moat
Wall of Denial