Tuesday 14 October 2014

Testing Results from Khans of Tarkir

As ever I miss-evaluated some cards on the spoiler and wish to amend my position on the cards I got most wrong. Slight over excitement or lack of enthusiasm for a card is no big deal but when you completely miss something it is more useful a learning experience. You can ask yourself why you didn't like the card on first sight and as such will be less likely to make the same error again. You tend to find you base a lot on how much you like a card rather than how good it is, you see the bad in designs you are averse to and all the good in the quirky weak cards you are find of. I have been doing set reviews now since Innistrad block and have improved a lot over that time. My first review is really quite off the mark with few of the predicted top cards matching my opinion now. I was so unimpressed with Wolfir Silverheart at the time I didn't even write about it, suffice it to say that felt a little awkward when 32 copies of the card showed up in the next Pro Tour top 8....

Although I am now less likely to miss as many or as significant cards I still miss some each set and more concerning, I am starting to miss-read them too! Rabblemaster last set and from this one Jeskai Ascendancy. Senility on the rise alongside experience means I am probably not far from my peak in terms of review astuteness! That aside, I have played with (and read) a bunch of the new cards and can make some more informed claims about them.

Jeskai Ascendancy - C cube 3.0

Initially I thought the prowess was triggered by non-creature spells and the looting by creatures hence my previous review making so little sense. It is a lot more streamlined as a card with the triggers both working together and as such does have a cube role to play if not a very big one. The combo usage of Jeskai Charm will work in cube but will be overly vulnerable due to the lack of redundancy and so will likely only ever get played to try something new rather than as a serious attempt to win games. In a tokens deck however Jeskai Ascendancy is suddenly very powerful indeed. Cards like Raise the Alarm give you both guys and Ascendancy triggers and there are a healthy quantity of these things available in cube so as to build a deck around it. Sadly being three colours and only being really powerful in a specific archetype still leaves this card lacking what it takes to get a slot in the main cube. Powerful, fun and versatile so worth having a go with but ultimately too narrow in application and requirements.

Monastery Swiftspear - A cube 7.0

Compared to Blistercoil Wierd this card doesn't seem that much more exciting however being a one drop, you don't have to add much before you have a very powerful card. It turns out non-creature is a far easier trigger than instants and sorceries and that haste is preferable to pseudo vigilance for an aggressive dork! Throw in an extra toughness for good measure and you have a very dangerous, robust and rounded one drop. A 2/3 is pretty awkward to block when you are getting beaten up, even as a 1/2 you have to show some respect for the ease at which you can obtain instant prowess triggers even without mana up. In a dedicated deck Swiftspear slightly outdoes Goblin Guide for damage, gives away no card advantage and is harder to kill. In your more average red aggro deck the Swiftspear might get slightly out damaged by Goblin Guide but it is comparable to any other top quality red one drop for damage output (on average) as well as being robust, having no further mana investment or other drawback associated with it. Overall I would say this is the card I got most wrong in my initial review of Khans. I disliked Plated Geopede for basically the same reasons I disliked Swiftspear, both in worst case scenarios are just one power beaters, and favouring consistency in my aggro red decks I formed a gut dislike for the cards despite their upside being incredibly powerful and fairly likely on average to be working.

Treasure Cruise - A cube 6.0

My failure to analyse this correctly was due to being closed minded. When looking at blue card draw I automatically imagine control decks which is an example of a bad assumption to make. Certainly I don't exclusively consider control decks for card draw however when I get such a bad early impression of a card I will then spend less time thinking about other potential uses for it. My criticisms for this card were that the delve cost would be too onerous for decks to do early and without damaging their ability to reuse key spells later in the game. Although I considered quicker and cheaper decks it was mostly in the context of combo where exiling your graveyard is rarely something you want to do. As soon as you have a quick cheap deck that is full of redundancy then Treasure Cruise becomes incredibly powerful. Legacy has provided us with an example of the perfect kind of home for this card and it is an archetype that translates into the cube format very well indeed. Although Treasure Cruise is narrower than a lot of the other card draw spells in the cube it is one of the most powerful when in the right kind of deck. The beauty of the design of the card is that its power scales with the archetype, it will be playable in control decks but likely a bit of an awkward Concentrate. In a blue red aggro burn deck it will be damn near an Ancestral Recall. If you do have it for your control deck you can easily draft with it in mind to make it better by grabbing more sac lands or more cycling cards etc. Although it is narrow in terms of the archetypes it is a staple powerhouse it is still playable in other archetypes and becomes a good skill tester in deck design terms.

Temur Charm - A cube 5.0

I have not yet obtained Jeskai or Mardu Charm and while I stand by my claim that Temur Charm is the weakest of the Khans Charm cycle I have been far more impressed with it than anticipated. Initially I wasn't going to give it a slot however other people wanted to play with it and have been consistently killing me with it since. It helps that it is usually found with Savage Nuckleblade, another card that is performing very well in the cube thus far! Temur Charm is a real game ender of a card, the abilities are a little situational and perhaps overpriced however between them they offer a card that does lots of work and is seemingly never dead. Typically it is going in tempo and midrange Temur decks where you cannot afford to play much in the way of situational utility spells however Temur Charm offers a perfect balance of reach and utility to such a deck and does not seem to be harming consistency at all. Based on Temur Charms outstanding performance I suspect all of the new Charms will get full time main cube slots. Far more of the Return to Ravnica Charms became cube mainstays than I originally thought would.

Thursday 9 October 2014

True-Name Nemesis

True-Name NemesisThis card looked dull and over powered so I was in no rush to get one however one has found its way into my hands and so I have felt obliged to put it in the cube and at least try it out. Thus far I have not been too offended by the card. While it is clearly one of the best three drops you can make there are lots of reasons it is not too good for the cube. Goblin Rabblemaster has been outperforming the True-Name Nemesis which I guess speaks more for the quality of Rabblemaster rather than the reasonable power level of True-Name.

The reason I disliked True-Name so much when it was first spoiled is that it seemed far too powerful in a heads up format while offering very little in terms of skill tests. Certainly it is powerful, a 3 power unblockable, near unkillable 3 drop is a fine clock or a pretty serious wall if you need it to be. This is however all it really ever is. Unless you have a merfolk tribal theme in your cube the only synergy you can really get with True-Name is combining him with equipment. True-Name cannot just win games on his own, a single blocker doesn't do much to stop a swarm of weenies or a couple of fatties and alone it's clock gives too much time to your opponent. It doesn't even add much to a race, most other 3 drop tempo dorks offer more damage, quicker damage, or at least added utility. It has been called the blue Sulfuric Vortex and while True-Name is more damage after 3 turns, harder to kill and no self harm involved, the Vortex's ability to prevent life gain is a large part of the strength of the card and entirely missing from True-Name. Vortex is also quicker to apply damage and has good synergy with red cards in general making it a far more purposeful card.

As it is double blue you cannot easily splash it in things like zoo where it would be a potent threat and so for the most part it has found homes in heavier blue decks that cannot apply enough pressure to exploit the aggressive side of the card. When you do some soft of agro creature based deck in UX True-Name is better but leaves you fairly vulnerable to sweepers. Despite being in the category of hard to kill threats it does not offer the same resiliance to sweepers as the more humble persist and undying monsters or the terrifying Voice of Resurgence! By not covering an area of weakness in such decks you rather miss out on getting the full use of its abilities. Spot removal will just hit other things and save a comparable amount of damage and sweepers will still be just as ruinous. When going agro dorks True-Name feels much more like a 3/1 unblockable than a mini Progenitus.

Finally in control True-Name has found a happy role of protecting planeswalkers but it is still arguably less good than a Wall of Omens or Sea Gate Oracle. You still have to tap in your turn to make it and you still kill it with your own sweepers. It can double up as a cheap finisher but even things like the old school Psychatog get it done a lot faster. Both trample and flying make True-Name a fairly useless defender and even for a control deck a 7 turn clock does not really constitute a finisher, most planeswalkers can take the game in that amount of time and will have yielded far more value in the process.

Don't get me wrong, True-Name is still a very powerful and very tedious card. It reminds me of Jitte, fairly easy to outplay it but a slow and painful game over when you can't. Jitte is a higher pick as it is easier to play and offers far more utility. I rate True-Name 5th-10th best blue card in an unpowered cube. Highly powerful but hard to use to its full potential within the cube. The other top blue cards all do a lot of work to increase the power of the other cards in your deck, True-Name does this far less. The best home I have found for True-Name thus far is an UW cawblade style deck using few powerful creatures, Stoneforge and equipment and finished off with control stuff. You never have to overcommit to the board and have sufficient tempo and control to be able to be attacking.