Tuesday 5 August 2014

Top 10 Simic Cards

Simic is a fun guild but tends to have ruther clumsy cards that are hard to place in many archetypes. Overall it is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, of all the guilds containing blue. Simic is probably also superior to Boros and Rakdos in terms of depth and average playable card quality. Here is my top ten Simic cards for cube play:


Plasm Capture
It was a tough call between Plasm Capture and Simic Charm to gain the last spot. Simic Charm seems really good however I am yet to build a deck where I think "I need the things Simic Charm offers". Hexproof is nice but it doesn't protect you from wrath effects which is what Golgari and Boros do so well and find so many slots confirmed as a result. As such Simic Charm does a few unexciting tricky things at a cost that makes the trick not that easy to pull off and consequently it sees basically no play. Compared to Mana Drain the Capture is god awful but then that is no surprise, I deem the Drain to be too overpowered for fun cube play, one of a very select few cards outside the original base set cards that manages to get there (along with Strip Mine and Tolarian Academy). As for the others, a doubling of mana cost would still leave you with absurd cards, UU - Draw 3. 2UU - Have another turn. Sadly doing this to Mana Drain makes it rather unwieldy and obvious. The boost you get from countering a two or three drop and jumping to five or six on your next turn is a much greater swing than countering a four drop and then having 8+ mana for the main reason that you don't have that much useful to spend that kind of mana on very often and if you do it is not as significant as an earlier mana boost. A cost of UUGG is also onerous on a mana base and makes Cryptic Command look really easy to cast by comparison. When someone leaves up 4 mana you should be wary, especially when they have a couple or more cards in hand and so it is very easy to play around. A four mana counterspell is not a very good control card as it is so hard to do anything else on the turn you play it, often the mana you gain is just recovering the tempo loss from having a four mana counter! Having any colour you want from the mana yield is one area it outdoes Mana Drain but it is so insignificant next to being gold and costing twice the total mana. Best in blue green ramp decks and storm decks but far from a cube mainstay, at least it does see play from time to time, if not for nostalgia and fun that it being the best card to play.


Temporal Spring
Temporal Spring is a decent little tempo card. As a three mana sorcery speed removal spell that doesn't permanently kill something it is often overlooked however this is not really the role you should play this card in. Bounce should be cheap and instant so as to get good value from it, hard removal that has a broad range you are happier to pay 3 for and do as a sorcery. Temporal Spring is neither of these things although it does have the broadest range of possible targets. The way in which you should play Temporal Spring is the same as when you want to play Memory Lapse over Counterspell. It falls into the kind of deck that wants to play a low economy game, be that of mana or of cards. One of the most brutal things you can do is to lay an early Spring on a comes into play tapped land. Not only does this really slow down your opponent but it costs them a draw which very punishing early against tempo based decks. Unlike most bounce spells you do not lose any card advantage with Spring. I like to play it in decks with some or any of the following cards; Boomerang, Wastelands, Rishadan Port, Memory Lapse, Remand, Chittering Rats, Misinformation, Plow Under, Sinkhole, Tangle Wire and any other card that would fit in in this list. One drop mana creatures are also nice as a turn two Spring is a whole lot more exciting. I would describe Temporal Spring as a tempo based disruption effect primarily used to slow your opponent down. Do not play it with any expectation of trickery or as removal. You can of course get lucky and fateseal it away from the top of the library however this isn't something you should bother to build into your deck. At its best you want them to draw the card you put back on top, in this way you not only deny them something in play but you also make their next draw sub optimal. A classic case of this is putting a mana elf back on top when recasting it the following turn will hurt tempo more than help it and it will do basically nothing later in the game either. Although not quite it feels about as close to "Destroy a land and your opponent discards a card" as we are likely to see for three mana in these golden situations.


Voidslime gets a job done. Three mana for a hard counter is bearable in the cube where there are precious few hard counters at all, let alone for less than three. Being gold and having no colourless component in the cost is awkward but then Dromar's Charm and Absorb see a lot of cube play and suffer the same or worse. If Dromar's Charm is utility and Absorb is value then Voidslime represents security. Voidslime has gotten better over time with more planeswalkers and their frightening ultimates offering great things to Stifle. You will often catch people out with it as well as they do not expect you to disrupt them with a Stifle effect even if they are expecting countermagic. It is a joy to counter a Wastelands, the feeling of righteous retribution alone is almost worth playing the card. Often you will use it to counter an equip effect and feel really jipped by not getting great value out of the card however when you are a control mage you have to do what you have to do and just having those extra options goes a really long way. If this were any other colour pairing but blue green I suspect it would be the most played of all the 3 mana hard counters in the cube but Simic is an uncommon counter based control option as it is so useless at dealing with creatures.


Mystic Snake
Mystic Snake is a lot worse of a Counterspell than Plasm Capture as a mana injection tends to be more use than a 2/2. The G / 1 casting cost difference does mean you have to be careful about other colours or colourless land but overall they are both a bit of a pain to cast. The reason that Mystic Snake is so much more played than Plasm Capture is that it is a creature card and thus has loads of synergy with other cards that no other counterspell has. You can create very easy soft locks with cards like Waterfront Bouncer and Crystal Shard in combination with Snake. You can tutor is up with Survival of the Fittest, you can Aether Vial it out for free and without risk of being countered and so on. As we know, four is a lot to keep up and is really rather obvious so you find a lot of the time that you will just counter the first thing that you can with it. Although a 2/2 is nothing to get excited about it does mean you get a 2 for 1 as well as an injection of tempo. Typically the decks that play Snake are more tempo focused and have lots of creature synergy using cards like Opposition all of which improve the value of a 2/2 body. The fact that Duress, Negate, Spell Pierce etc all miss it is also very satisfying!


Simic Sky Swallower
Simic Sky Swallower remains one of those best in slot cards despite actually being fairly underpowered compared to what seven mana affords these days. On paper you would think Sphinx of Jwar Isle was largely more playable being only one colour and costing 6 for a 5/5 rather than 7 for a 6/6. Trample is certainly better than looking at the top of your library most of the time but is much more important for a 6/6 than a 5/5 and with flying already it is no significant loss. They even have the same clock to kill from 20 life. Despite this the Swallower is used as a threat in Simic ramp decks and as a card to cheat into play with Oath, Natural Order, Reanimate and even Show and Tell. Few cards indeed manage such a feat as to be worth cheating out but also castable in the normal manner. Sky Swallower just gets it done, it is very hard to kill and just keeps sending in damage. It is just the right blend of hard to block, quick to kill with and awkward to deal with to be frequently played in a much wider range of decks than almost any other seven drop (with the exception of Karn Liberated presently). It is not an exciting or fun card like Griselbrand or Elesh Norn but then simple and to the point are usually the traits of the best and most played magic cards.


Trygon Predator
Trygon Predator is a royal pain in the arse. Most decks have targets for him to eat up and even those few that don't still don't much like 2/3 fliers. Once made there is usually a mad panic to find a way of dealing with him, if that fails you then start to lose tempo and card advantage as well as being highly restricted in what plays you can make. While you automatically assume he is killing artifacts and enchantments he is just as useful at dealing with planeswalkers. There are precious few 3 mana or less cards that have flying which are cube viable and fewer still that have all round robust bodies. As such you can fairly reliably chunk planeswalkers for two in the mid game with a Predator which stops them from being cast or at least stops them doing much useful. There have been so many games in which I am either throwing down sacrifical planeswalkers to try and stop them eating my other cards or throwing out artifacts and enchantments in the hope that they will be tempted to destroy them rather than attacking my planeswalker. I do find it a little hard to include Predator in lists because I don't know how good he is going to be if I don't know what decks/cards I will be facing. When you know you have important things to kill you play more reliable quicker removal like Nature's Claim because you cannot risk giving them that extra turn of use of just Bolting your Predator before it does anything for you. Even so, whenever I do find room for this little man I am never disappointed. It sure don't look like it can fly but then I guess physics is less relevant where magic is concerned.


Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Edric, Spymaster of Trest is less effective than Trygon Predator and should perhaps be below it in the list. A large part of this is how obviously powerful he is meaning people are more prepared for him and usually stop him doing anything much at all. Edric rather relies on you having a good position in which to use him and a lot of the time is just a win more card. If you already have a couple of attackers getting through then chances are the game is yours. If not you are paying three mana for a 2/2 and feeling sad about it. While he may be wildly inconsistent he is a very cheap way to draw a lot of cards in the right deck and is hard to pass up as a result. He will typically eat the first removal spell your opponent can cast once he hits the board which is not what you want to happen but also not a disaster. Although swarmy token decks and elf decks do work decently with him you are very vulnerable to mass removal. My preferred type of deck for Edric is a tricksy tempo deck, often with Opposition as a finisher, and which has a high concentration of cheap evasive dorks that do other things as well such as Looter il-Kor, Trygon Predator, Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, Blinkmoth Nexus, Strangleroot Geist etc. Edric is a very very powerful card that relies upon support, position, design and planning to realise that power. He is also fairly broad unlike a lot of the more interesting cards for deck design and so while he is not a must have for a cube he is a good way to make things more complex and interesting. You are also hard pressed to to find a cheaper way in which to draw a tonne of cards without costing you some other resource or giving your opponents cards too.


Coiling Oracle
Coiling Oracle is a simple cheap card that binds together deck lists really well. You always get cheap card advantage and you sometimes get some ramp out of it as well. It has some pleasant synergy with all sorts of different cards and rarely looks out of place in a deck list. You need to pair it with some library manipulation to reliably use it as a ramp card and unless you are playing a turn one Brainstorm, Ponder or at a stretch Serum Visions you are not going to be able to use it as ramp on turn two when you most want it. This works against it a little in the early game but not a lot as getting board presence, a chance or ramp or at worst another card to use are all good things. In the late game however this slight unpredictability it has in the early game becomes an advantage when compared to cards like Sakura Tribe Elder or Nature's Lore. They will only get you lands and thin your deck while Oracle will be effectively always drawing you a card. Another great thing about Coiling Oracle is that you can ramp with non-basic lands, and not just those with basic lands types but any old land you happen to hit! These will come in untapped as well which makes the Oracle a total bargain when you can put that mana to use right away. Part Explore and part Elvish Visionary it is hard to get that excited about what this card does but that doesn't stop it being very effective in its various roles. For decks that want bodies as well as ramp it is one of the best, unlike mana elves you can Clamp it off or tap it for Opposition without losing the ramp. Wall of Roots is usually better in this regard but it can't attack which reduces the total number of synergies it has and having redundancy in those kind of cards is nice too. Not a card that is in the foreground winning games but a card working hard in the background so you can get to your exciting powerful game winners.


Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Kiora is one of the best gold planeswalkers. She has 3 good abilities, she only costs 4 mana and she has a potent means to protect herself. She has some issues, starting with so few loyalty makes her vulnerable and it makes the -1 ability rarely used. This is also to do with how cheap and powerful the ultimate is, as soon as you look to get some returns from Kiora you think if I just wait a turn I can have all the 9/9s instead of drawing a couple of cards and perhaps ramping a little at a rather irrelevant stage of the game for it. As such the only time I have seen the -1 used is when you are digging for a specific card / answer or you have just made her onto a board she has no hope of surviving. Typically she is weak against decks with burn and decks with multiple small threats. Anything midrange or control without lots of burn struggles a lot more against her. Her low loyalty and cheap (yet very powerful) ultimate make her unlike other planeswalkers which is nice to play with but annoying because of her weakness to burn. Although she would become a duller card I think she would be more rounded if the minus loyalty costs were increased along with a starting loyalty increase, something like 4 to start, -2 to Explore and -8 or 9 to make fatties. Sadly we are past the development stage and so we just have to be mindful of her variable power when building with her. Like Coiling Oracle she never looks out of place in a deck and is sufficiently both powerful and versatile to go in most decks where she is on colour. With so many of the blue and green planeswalkers being Jace or Garruk there is also a lot more love for Kiora.


Shardless AgentShardless Agent is a lovely card that I rate above Bloodbraid Elf, although only just. It is a very cheap tempo and card advantage dork that has a wide range of applications. Agent offers more consistent returns on the cascade and is less restrictive on your construction than Bloodbraid. It is also cheaper so you can put it to use earlier. Another thing in its favour is that it is more generic than Bloodbraid Elf and therefore fits cleanly into a wider range of strategies. Of all the cards that stand out in cube, those creatures that offer both tempo and card advantage simultaneously are a significant proportion. Those that are on the cheaper end of the spectrum are played whenever the opportunity present and as they are viable in aggro and control strategies so that opportunity is often. Shardless Agent is one of the least played of that elite group although it is far from the worst. It is because there are not that many UG archetpyes, many of those combo, and so the Agent is not always suitable. On top of this it makes two or fewer mana counter magic unwise to play which is a fairly big part of many blue strategies. The more redundant your deck, or at least the potential cascade targets, the better Agent will be for you. It will only ever be bad for you if you have miss built your deck in regards the Agent. All in all it is a very cheap two for one that should provide that advantage in a way desirable to your deck rather than things like Trinket Mage or Stoneforge Mystic which require you to includes certain other cards to do their thing and so you build around  them rather than Agent who works with you to do what you are trying to do. Another perk of cascade cards is that they force through the 2 for 1 unlike Eternal Witness and other enter the battlefield effects when facing counter magic. Final point of note is that Agent is an artifact which increases his potential synergies while not being an issue in regards increase susceptibility to removal as you don't overly care about the body once you have cast it. Trading an in play Agent for a Disenchant or similar makes you feel even more ahead.

Lastly we have some honourable mentions for those cards that have been played but seldom or just the once.

Slippery Boggle
Lorescale Coatle
Master Biomancer
Fathom Mage
Urban Evolution
Kiora's Follower
Primespeaker Zegana
Prophet of Kruphix
Simic Charm

The Coatle is looking rather outclassed by Chasm Skulker these days and is likely already enjoying an unknown early retirement. There are plenty of powerful midrange dorks that suffer from lack of archetypes in Simic, there are also some cute smaller dorks with nice effects but that never seem to be enough to make a final 40 list. Simic is one of the guilds that has a flavour that is most removed from what that colour pairing tends to want to be doing in the cube. Those cards that do have overlap in this way tend to be outclassed by the more direct mono colour offering. If you want to ramp then the green options typically outclass the Simic ones, if you want to draw cards or counter spells then it is the mono blue cards that are top of the pick list. Powerful cards but hard to use well and so Simic cards are among the least played gold offering in cube.

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