Sunday 27 December 2015

Top 10 Angels

Serra Angel
This is about as Christmas themed as one can go with a sensible Magic article. I'm not even really sure what the merit of comparing the angels is. Angels is not really a tribe nor a thing you need to fill a slot with. It is not like your deck needs at least one angel so you want to compare the merits of those on offer. In the grand scheme of things this list is about as arbitrary as most of the content here. It is a talking point if nothing else! Merry Christmas one and all.

Exalted Angel10. Exalted Angel

Exhalted Angel no longer sees much play at all but for a long time it was king of the top end. Before Titans and basically every other good top end finsher card in the cube Exalted Angel was the thing. Decent stats with flying, lifelink and the capacity to be attacking on turn four with no ramp at all. The life swing and high toughness made it a nightmare for agro decks and the versatile casting options make it safe to play against more control decks. It was a creature that was control in nature but that could reasonably find itself in more aggressive decks too simply because it was so much more powerful than the alternatives on offer. All the way upto Alara block the power creep still hadn't caught up with Exalted Angel. Battlegrace is the most comparable card to have seen print since.

Then came along another Angel around the era of the titans that instantly ended the career of Exalted Angel in the cube. There are many Angels who have been much more prominent in the past in cube that are not on this list but none quite so powerful and certainly none for as long as Exalted. To name a few of those I felt guilt for leaving off the list we have Karmic Guide, Raya Dawnbringer and Blinding Angel. There are also a few newer angels that have yet to shine their light fully int he cube but may well one day creep into such a list. These include Angel of Serenity, Archangel of Tithes and Dawnbreak Reclaimer.

Platinum Angel9. Platinum Angel

Another angel who is more a thing of the past than it is prominent in the current cube. The effect is powerful and unique and the card is easily cast or put into play given that it is a 7 drop. The stats are also perfectly acceptable to be doing some work outside of the can't lose condition. What has changed is not the power level of the Platinum Angel but the availability and effectiveness of removal. You simply cannot rely on a 4 toughness artifact creature to stay in play against much of anything even if you have trickery to protect it. It used to be the case you could whack the Angel in a Lightning Greaves and that was good games. Basically no decks could find suitable answers to the things in enough time, a lot of decks simply had no answers. Angel still has its place but it is now incredibly niche. I don't see it winning that many in the future but it has enough wins and saves under its belt for now that it gets a spot on the list.

Sigarda, Host of Herons8.  Sigarda, Host of Herons

Now that we are done with the nostalgia angels we can move on to look at the more powerful angels you can still expect to face in the world of cube. Sigarda is one of the hardest to kill cards in the game making old True-Name Nemesis seem rather limp. Sigarda is a rock, lots of stats, lots of control over the board and a whole pile of reliability. She has two fatal weaknesses that greatly limit her cube play. One, she is vulnerable to mass removal which is kind of fine on a three drop but is a lot more uncomfortable on a five drop. You get no value at all from Sigarda when she is wrathed away. The second is that she is Selesnya, an uncommon and narrow colour pairing that is utterly spoiled for choice when it comes for juicy five drops. Sure, a 5/5 flying hexproof is a whole lot of thing on the board but it doesn't do loads of other exciting things. Very powerful but rarely seen despite this. She also feels like she specifically hoses black which is fine for a Selesnya card but a bit more awkward as a merit to base cube performance and inclusion on.

Archangel of Thune7.   Achangel of Thune

This naughty five drop is totally fine on its own, gets decently better with some nice synergies and has insta win combo potential that is reasonably easy to setup in an otherwise midrange deck. For five mana you get a weasly 3/4 lifelink which isn't great. To get the value from the card you need it to stick around a while or setup for doing other useful stuff on the turn that you play her. There are a lot of ways you can gain life without spending mana and you don't need to be giving many +1/+1 counters out for Thune to offer a lot more value than your five mana worth. Even just a couple on herself and the card is looking well worth the mana. In the right situation Archangel of Thune is one of the scariest and most dangerous of the Angels. In a little bit of the same vein as Sigarda, you want a bit more rounded self reliance in your five drops and so Thune is not that much more commonly played than Sigarda. Obviously everyone loves a combo so that Kitchen Finks trickery does get tried a lot.  This means that unless you are specifically abusing Thune you will usually end up playing something like a planeswalker instead because it does a couple of useful things.

Serra Avenger6. Serra Avenger

The cheapest angel on the list and a surprisingly old creature to still be getting a good amount of play. Two mana is just such a massive bargain for a 3/3 flying vigilance that you don't overly mind having to wait till turn four to play it. It means you can do other powerful things as well on the turn you make is such as playing a Counterspell! You can cheat the card out with things like Aethervial but there isn't much need. It is just fine to have it be dead in hand early on it turns out. It is still far far better to have Serra Avenger dead in hand on turn two or three than a four or five drop. Avenger has huge capacity to recover tempo. The body is not huge compared to what is coming out by turn four however it is a very significant body, 3 is enough damage to get things done, 3 enough health to cope with a lot and flying and vigilance combined make the card very effective at any stage of the game in a wide array of situations. I prefer it as a control and midrange card but will fairly happily play it in white weenie decks too. It is powerful enough to draw out three mana spot removal which always feels like a win. There are only a handful of creatures I can think of that frequently get killed inefficiently with more expensive removal and they include some of the biggest names in magic. Dark Confidant, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Mother of Runes, Tarmogofy, Deathrite Shaman. Being in the company of such cards is only a good thing for the Avenger.

Iona, Shield of Emeria5. Iona, Shield of Emeria

Not a fun card and not a card often cast. Some decks instantly lose to Iona, some have a tenuous out that means they play on but generally still lose and some really don't care that much. In reaminate style decks she is a strong contender to include as part of your package because she can afford so many easy wins. At 7/7 she comes in as the hardest angel on the list which is nice but one of the less relevant aspects of the card. It just comes down to the fact that a 9 mana white card is basically never something that you can hard cast in a half good deck. As such she is a little narrow for my liking. A lot of the other powerful non-hardcastable fatties can be tinkered or Sneak Attacked into play usefully. She lacks synergy with enough of the cheaty cards to be super good but that is probably for the best as she is not a lot of fun to play against.

Linvala, Keeper of Silence4.   Linvala, Keeper of Silence

Speaking of cards that are not that fun to play against we have this piece of joy. If you were haoping to have fun with cool creatures, perhaps some ramping mana elves to get you there Lin Vala will ruin the party really hard. Green just hates her. Most decks have a few things she gimps. Presently she is the best answer to an Aetherling in the cube. She is also the best counter to a number of elf decks. The stats are not good for the mana but they do hit the sweet spot at 3/4 with the wonderfully useful flying tag we expect on our angels. Because she is a mid level card with a useful and acceptable body you can pretty much throw her in any old deck and she will be fine. Sometimes you will play her and she will be pretty annoying, other times she will utterly wreak your opponent. Because she is never too bad yet has such a strong positive effect for you enough of the time she is quite a commonly seen card. Certainly one to be aware of and keep in mind. I don't much like it as it is just something that can randomly win you games but that has no real synergy or interaction with your own cards. Regardless of how much I like it the card is very powerful, wins a lot of games and is a great card to fill out your deck with.

3.   Baneslayer Angel
Baneslayer Angel
Exalted Angel mk II. This came, it ruled the board and then it began to fade a little after over a year of being up there with the power. I have literally been passed a Time Walk because they took this instead and it didn't seem awful at the time. It is still a strong card, the go to super body. It wins combat basically. In any creature driven game the impact this card has is immense, it is like when Jitte gets out of hand, you just need to use removal to kill it or you are going to lose. As with so many other cards, the improvement of removal options has made Baneslayer less popular. Just having it killed with something like a Terror puts you quite behind. Expensive cards really want to do something right away in cube. Baneslayer used to reliably stop all attacks then gain you five life a turn either killing planeswalkers or quickly killing your opponent. Now it tends to wind up dead on sight a bit more consistently. It still represents one of the cheapest high impact cards you can use and still gets a lot of play consequently. Previously I have seen lists where it is the principal win condition while now it is just a low end threat that you can afford to have eat removal. I use the card most in control decks but you do see it often in both aggro and midrange just because of those stupid power levels.

Sublime Archangel2. Sublime Archangel

One of the most underrated cube cards more because it sits under the radar and not because people are wrong about it. On paper it looks fine but not exciting. In practice it is one of the most dangerous aggressive four drops going. Most of the time you have some dorks when you play this and almost all of those times it means you can attack with the most suitable of those more effectively than you could have done with all of them. You will get more or as much damage through or force a chump block instead of trades and chump attacks. Obviously this pump scales with things like doublestrike and lifelink leading to some really quite obnoxious starts. I have gone Champion of the Parish into Gather the Townsfolk into Silverblade Paladin on the now 4/4 Champion. The Sublime is somewhat overkill on that kind of draw but you can see quite how out of hand it gets. Hitting for 18 with your one drop on turn four when you have already done 13 to them is pretty filthy. Should they live through this initial impact they then have a 4/3 flier to deal with else it will hit them in the skies and end the game in short order or on the rare occasions there is something like a Baleful Strix in the way you don't want to trade with you can just send your other guys in before Sublime needs to put herself at risk. With only three toughness she is a little vulnerable and a poor blocker. You typically only see Sublime in aggro lists because she is all about the attacking but despite this narrowness she easily sits at the number two spot.

Restoration Angel1.   Restoration Angel

There is little to no risk playing Restoration Angel in your deck. Normally four drops need to do an awful lot or something very specific for you to want to play them. Resto is kind of just a good body to have a round with some occasional utility or trickery. It is having flash that makes it so safe and not the usual clunkyness of a four mana dork. In a control deck you can reasonably cast this on turn four in complete safety. Flying makes the card useful throughout the game and 3/4 is again, the sweet spot on cube stats for combat. Resto blocks, attacks, holds equipment, wins games, kills planeswalkers and generally does all the things you want creatures to do fairly effectively and this is all just being a 3/4 flier with flash. The bonus flicker effect that is thrown in does not need to be used for the card to be good but it adds a lot of value and trickery to the card. In midrange decks where Resto is best the effect typically triggers an enter the battlefield trigger for you again or saves something from spot removal. For agro and control to be getting the same level of value as that you need to be building the deck specifically with Resto in mind. This is not awful but it also isn't required for the card to be playable. While perhaps not the most powerful angel Resto is comfortably the most played and has by far the broadest range of where you want to play it. It has not yet taken down as many games as Exalted or Baneslayer but it is catching both fairly quickly now.

Friday 18 December 2015

Oath of the Gatewatch Review: Part 1.

Wastes - dependant ranking!

I assumed this was a spoof for a long while as basically every other new colour of mana postulation has been. This is a very smooth and interesting way of functionally getting a sixth colour in magic but without radically altering the game dynamics and flavour of the game. For cube considerations this card posses far more questions that most. None can properly be answered yet with single digit cards spoiled. I suspect reasonable testing will need to be done once the cards are out as well. Normally with a new card I have the simple choice of adding it to the main cube, sticking it in reserve or completely ignoring it. Wastes has a 4th option which is adding them to the basic land pile for as much general use as required. As a singleton draftable copy in the cube it would have some interesting utility and would be comparable to something like a Darksteel Citadel or perhaps a Dryad Arbor. Even with few to none in terms of playable cards that require colourless to cast (rather than generic) I could imagine running a one of draftable Wastes in the cube. With sufficient quantity of playable stuff that requires colourless mana to cast it would become more important to have unlimited access to Wastes from the communal basics. Being such a significant addition to the game I hope they extend the idea into future blocks rather than limiting it to Oath. From just one set it is highly unlikely that we will be able to have colourless or colourless/X decks as we do mono and two colour decks now. Cube has such a high entry level that few cards from any given set make it in.

As a colour "colourless" is already at an advantage in cube in terms of its mana base. It has cards like Rishadan Port and Mishra's Factory that are directly better than basics. Only Karakas really exists as such for the present colours. Also in terms of pairing colourless cards with coloured ones you have some very juicy dual lands on offer in the form of pain lands and filter lands which effectively tap for three colours of mana, one of which with no drawback at all.

Wastes itself is awful, you obviously want most of your colourless producing lands doing bonus extra things for you which wastes does not. This only applies however in a deck with spells requiring colourless mana to play. I thought Wastes has some decent application in a deck with no need to produce colourless mana with things like Tribal Flames burning for six. Keeping six land alive after playing a Global Ruin etc. Apparently this is not how it will work which is a shame from the point of view of cube. Really all Wastes will offer is an easily tutorable source of colourless mana which is really unlikely to be something anyone wants.

Perhaps I will have a custom cube rule where Wastes is a 6th basic land type and maybe I won't. At least if I elect for the latter route I won't likely have to worry about weather Wastes goes as a singleton into cube or bulk added to the basics as it just won't be played ever.

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim 6/10

This is a card with a lot going on. It is both a good value card and a good utility card. Ayli is a two drop, a gold card, a legend, an enabler and a fine stand alone card. All of these things combined make her rather convoluted to review but before we go through that I can reveal I think this is pretty good and should stick in the cube a good while.

Firstly lets just look at the basic body, a 2/3 deathtouch for 2. Not broken or anything but clearly above the curve. It is fairly durable to removal and is able to survive combat with most one drops and the various value and utility dorks out there (typically 2/2 and 2/1). The deathtouch is great too, it makes it scale a lot better into the late game and will hold off a lot more threats than most 2 drops. It will equally be tedious to block, large enough that you can't just kill it with your chaff and deathtouching so that you don't want to put important things in the way. Attacking for two isn't that aggressive but it isn't insignificant, particularly against planeswalkers. The body suits midrange decks the most. It is a decent tempo card but certainly better defensively. It will do more to recover tempo when you are behind than it will be able to close out a game due to tempo gains when you are ahead. The card is powerful and versatile enough to still be good in aggro decks and perhaps occasionally suitable for creature heavy control decks. The odd combo deck may well want it too!

Legend is normally a disadvantage in cube. The only things that really interact with the legend tag in cube are clone effects and Karakas. The former are easily controlled by yourself and not that significant. Karakas on the other hard is usually played when it is available and is a total beating for a lot of good cards. Things like Visara the Dreadful are just unplayable against a Karakas. Fortunately for Ayli she is white and cheap making the existence of Karakas overall to her advantage. As the white player you have a higher chance of picking up and playing a Karakas than a non white player. This means not only will your stuff not be getting the bounce treatment from your opponent but that you are able to protect your stuff from removal with it. Being cheap means you are happier to recast after a bounce effect so if you do or don't have Karakas Ayli is still pretty safe and solid.

Gold is a disadvantage in most cases. A gold card has to be that bit more powerful than a mono or colourless card to be a consideration as they are inherently less playable and narrower. While Ayli does pack a little more punch that most two drops she isn't necessarily as direct in function. In this regard she reminds me of Lotleth troll and Rashaka Deathdealer. Both fine cards above the curve on power and stuff going on but a little aimless to take up valuable gold slots. Where Ayli is advantaged over these other cards is that Orzhov is somewhat under populated for cube worthy gold cards compared not only to Golgari but most other guilds too. Ayli would likely get a slot even without any direct synergies or archetypes that really want her. Lotleth basically only gets play when you have a strong want for more discard outlets for example. Ayli just being a high power rounded Orzhov two drop is enough at present.

Despite not needing them I think Ayli will find archetypal homes and commonly useful synergies to further secure her slot in the cube. Of the two activated abilites on Ayli the first is hugely relevant and is where most of her utility comes in. The second is marginal and will rarely come into play, look at it as an ultimate on planeswalker. Pretty game winning but almost never happening. Black loves lifegain and lots of things benefit from having a sacrifice outlet to hand. Some cards really really want you to have either life gain or a sac outlet such as Necropotence and Academy Rector however both of those effects are widely useful in a lot of common situations. You are not really generating tempo or card advantage through using the ability meaning there will be plenty of times your card is just being a 2/3 deathtouch for you which is fine. The amount of utility the card will offer on average will be plenty enough to more than offset the games where it is unexceptional.

Although it will have pitiful frequency I do probably need to talk about the final Vindicate / Council's Judgement ability. Certainly very powerful but part of the reason I am so dismissive of it is on top of it not occurring often, when it does occur you should be winning so hard anyway that it is even less likely to ultimately matter. Again, like planewalker ultimates if you have managed to keep your walker alive long enough to gain sufficient loyalty to fire off an ultimate you were already winning that game! Removal is at least a bit more of an out than most planeswalker ultimates and less of a win mechanism. You need a dork, you need Vindicate mana spare and you need 30 or more life to activate it meaning it will not be generating tempo or card advantage either. The exception to that being when you are sacing tokens or things about to die but still, it is a far cry from just paying 3 mana to get a thing gone. Exile is great, instant speed effect is also great, still can't kill a man land but never mind. This will deal with most of the things you are going to lose to, it might well be the case that your only play is to put your army in the bin to gain enough life that you are able to kill off the one thing that is actually going to kill you. Having this effect certainly makes the card better than not having it but it is likely less relevant than the legend tag on the card.

Mina and Denn, Wildborn - 0/10

Not up to the power level needed on a four drop dork for cube but a well designed card that will have a lot of application in block and standard style formats. The ally tag has limited cube use and the RG ability is slow and over cost for what is really not that exciting of an effect. Being able to relay land with useful come into play effects or just to trigger landfall when you are out of spells in nice but again, not exciting when you are paying two mana and your land drop just to get something with trample. A 4/4 trample for 2RG is the bad end of Ghor-Clan Rampager!

Kozilek, the Great Distortion 4/10

Another high powered super top end card that is certainly playable in cube but might not do the right balance of things nor be convenient enough to make the cut. He isn't something that you can cheat in and get much value from nor is it that easy to cheat in compared to better alternatives. Yes, you can use graveyard things to get him back but is it really better than a more direct card? Regardless of the value for mana a card like this is going to be cheated in significantly more than it is cast and the fact that it does not shine in that capacity much at all is a little worrisome for old Kozilek,

Kozilek is a card with several different strings to his bow and therefor somewhat complex to fully analyse. To start with he is a 12/12 for 10 with menace making him very tough to block. He should end the game in a couple of turns but is far easier to stop (ignoring his discard ability for now) than a bunch of much much cheaper cards with comparable or better kill clocks. He has no indestructible nor protection from coloured spells like we are used to on our Eldrazi. He has no hexproof to keep him safe.

Like other Eldrazi Kozilek has a trigger that occurs only when you cast him which is why they are typically significantly less value when you cheat them into play rather than hard casting. Kozilek will draw you between 0 and 7 cards depending on how many you have blown through already. My guess is this will average about 5 in cube which might outperform his older self (older from our perspective at least, presumably in the story line it is his younger self...) but is sufficiently close that the inconsistency of it is likely the more significant factor. All told, drawing a pile of cards is nice but you do also want to be winning the game with your ten drop. Even with the synergy with the discard ability the draw effect in general has a degree of counter synergy with a ten mana threat. If you need to draw cards in a deck like that it is to mana up to so as to cast your threats or purely to find them. The casting of them should be one of the last things you get to. It is certainly not a drawback, sometimes it will make you uncomfortably close to milling yourself or indeed be unplayable because it will actually mill you but odds on those games are lost anyway and are so minor it is not that worth worrying about. My point is mostly that draw five on a card like this is a lot lot less valuable than pretty much any other cheaper card with draw on it.

So let us talk about the ability to turn any card in your hand in to a free counterspell, like a super Distorting Shoal. Very powerful but no where near the reliability you need to be insane. I have had a lot of experience with this kind of effect using Shoal and Brainstorm effects in combination with Counterbalance. Even with a full hand of stuff you typically have only a couple of options on CMC to counter. The curve of a deck needs to be very consistent and carefully built to get the most value out of such things and when you are casting or playing 10 drops your deck is unlikely to have a consistent curve. In the right sort of deck you would be able to effectively lock down the game with this effect for a very long time, and it doesn't need to be long to win with a 12/12. The right sort of deck isn't going to be casting this anywhere near soon enough for it to be useful in winning the game. As such you will get a bit of random disruption from Kozilek, it will make your opponent play weirdly and likely suboptimally for a bit and it will keep your dude alive some of the time but in no way reliably. Certainly not as reliably as a Force of Will of a humble Duress will offer. Indestructible, hexproof and protections might be more reliable and more powerful ways to ensure a fatty lives long enough to win a game but at least Kozilek offers some potential to disrupt other aspects of your opponents game. Perhaps they could win around your 12/12 before it can win the race but you are able to stop that from happening with correct CMC discards..

Finally we need to look at his casting cost. A very interesting mechanic well woven into the existing framework of the game. Specifically colourless mana rather than generic mana needed for two of the ten. For a card this pricey this is pretty irrelevant, there is almost no deck that is hard casting this that will even need to consider having enough colourless. If you can produce ten mana it is almost certain that you will have two or more colourless among them.This excludes green ramp decks who will need to consider this a bit more but when you insta-win with your 8 drops in green I can't see Kozilek appealing there. The mana cost of Kozilek makes it such that the colourless requirement is pretty negligible. This will not be the case with cheaper cards needing colourless. Although negligible it is still a disadvantage when compared with other Kozilek.

My conclusion on this big pile of card is that it likely isn't cube worthy simply because there isn't that much room for super high casting cost cards and compared to the alternatives Kozilek isn't doing powerful enough, reliable enough or useful enough stuff. Very powerful but not well aligned.

Mirror Pool 1/10

Interesting but far too narrow for any regular cube use. There may be a wierd combo deck that has a specific use for it but likely it would be as a backup rather than an integral piece. It also improves the range of Living Wish significantly but all told I don't expect to see this card getting used in my cube. Colourless and coming into play tapped is a weak land. The payoff for this is an expensive and narrow pair of effects that are really only usable in decks that don't want an excess of lands and only when they have reached that point. Not worth.

Crush of Tentacles - 6/10

I don't much like this card but sadly I fear it is actually quite potent in the cube environment. Surge is very easy to trigger, often with things that produce mana like Mox and Mana Vault. This means you can expect to be mostly bounced somewhat early on and be facing off against an 8/8 with nout but lands. Crush is somewhere between Upheaval and Cyclonic Rift. Sorcery speed, not affecting lands and being symmetrical are generally not the best bits of Upheaval or Rift however the bonus 8/8 and the fair mana cost go a long way to making up for that. While bouncing all lands is pretty game breaking it is a lot harder to abuse. Control decks rarely play Upheaval as they cannot easily handle bouncing all their own lands and really only the decks chock full of good artifact mana can properly abuse Upheaval. I can see Crush of Tentacles getting a lot of play in control decks where they will not have many non-land permanents. It will be particularly effective against planeswalkers and will be such a huge tempo swing that it will feel a lot like an Upheaval.for the other player while not being uncomfortable to play or include for the control mage. There are also some comparisons with Crush and Martial Coup. Coup is pretty game ending in the right situations but is significantly pricier than Crush and narrower in its range.

Blighted Crossroads 2/10

Lovely card design but almost certainly far too narrow for the cube. Devoid is not a highly populated catagory in the cube and is unlikely to become one.

Sea Gate Ruins 4/10

Another lovely card design that is rather like a balance Library of Alexandria. It is also quite comparable to Desolate Lighthouse, a nice little utility land that was just a bit too slow to be relevant often enough. Draw a card is substantially more powerful than a loot however the subtle bonus clauses on Sea Gate Ruins make it that much more awkward. A lot of decks never really want to exhaust their hands which immediately limits the range of decks that might think about playing this. A further limitation on playability is that this is a colourless land that needs you to have other sources of colourless mana for it to do anything. This means your deck will have to have at least 3 and ideally more like 4 or 5 colourless sources of mana. If these are pain lands, filter lands and talismans then great but if not then you are not going to be able to play things that have high coloured requierments. Searing Blaze, Hymn to Tourach and Cryptic Command should be off the cards and this isn't a trade off worth making most of the time. I like the card a lot and will be pushing where I am playing it. My expectation is that it will only be good in decks that have been too heavily warped to accommodate it so that it isn't worth the pay off. The exception to this will be artifact red where extra card draw will be much appreciated and empty hands, coloureless mana and spare mana are all easy to come by. One good home will not be enough for this card to become a mainstay so here is to hoping it outperforms expectation.

Holdout Settlement 3.5/10

More lovely card design with this Spingleaf Drumland. More convenient than things like City of Brass in the right deck but sadly the verdict is looking like this is too marginal a card for too few decks for consideration. I love the interaction it has with Pair Seer and other inspired cards but again, far too niche an application to merit inclusion of Holdout Settlement. Tapping your own stuff is periodically useful to mitigate the damage done by Control Magic effects but this is bottom of the barrel stuff.

Spire's Needle 7.5/10

Obviously this was always going to be good enough. I had assumed it would be this but a 2/2 not a 2/1 which is all much of a muchness. You don't go putting your man lands in much danger so having a single toughness isn't that big of a drawback. This is most comparable to Raging Ravine, it hits for the same to begin with and costs the same to activate. All told it is probably worse than the Ravine but really not by a lot, much of that will be down to Boros being weak and dull compared to Gruul. Spire's Needle is a better control card than Ravine which is fortunate as a fairly even portion of decks with red and white are control. This is not a card you massively want to be blocking with but if you have to be blocking with one then this is better than a lot of them. Offensively it is fine, a big chunk of damage and some awkwardness to block. Double strike also gives it massive scaling potential but this will rarely come up as it is already costing you five mana to be attacking with your Needle. The most powerful of these interactions is clearly Elspeth who can send this to the sky to smack for 10 all on curve and without extra mana cost when you activate your land. Quite dangerous but a little more situational than a lot of the others. A great cube card and still wildly better than Lavaclaw Reaches!

Crumbling Vestige 2/10

Yet more great land design but this has very little in the way of abuses or synergies all the while being directly worse than cards like Tendo Ice Bridge as a way to fix. The most interesting part of this card is that you can get mana from a Primeval Titan trigger. Likely not worth playing it but at least a glimmer of hope it will see some niche cube play one day.

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet 5.5/10

I'm not a huge fan of this durdle card but in light of no 4cmc planeswalkers for black this is reasonably likely to see play. The card feels a lot like a Huntsmaster of the Fells. A slow four drop value generator. Kalitas is more controllable but also a lot less immediate impact and value. His overall package is fine but not exciting. The aspects of what made me want to include him in the cube are more general to what black lacks and needs. Lifegain is always nice for black and on a widely playable card such as this it will be played because of the lifelink specifically. The second aspect of what I like about this card for cube is that it causes creatures that would die to be exiled instead. Black has some great removal options to get around annoying stuff with -X/-X and edict effects navigating around indestructible, protection and shroud effects. What it lacks are strong options that deal with something like a Vengevine or a Kitchen Finks. Yes, black has Graverobbers and Withered Wretches but these cards are awful except in this one role or graveyard disruption. They ruin your tempo and do nothing in plenty of matchups. Kalitas offers this ability to handle sticky and persistent dorks withough hurting your tempo, value or power levels. The ability to grow Kalitas by saccing zombies or vampires for 2B is pretty limp all round but it in no way detracts from the card and will make it a lot more annoying for your opponent even if you never use it. Indeed it will be at its best when you are not using it! A sac outlet is usually a handy thing but at 3 mana and with creature type restrictions it is not going to be helping you out there much. Mostly it will just be a clunky on the board combat trick or way to jump out of range of lethal damage. It is very rare that you will want to preemptively grow your Kalitas just to have a bigger dork. It might be what you need to do to gain more life or deal with another big threat in play but it will put you at risk of getting blown out with removal.

Body wise Kalitas is weak for his price but actually pretty robust in the environment. A 3/4 body is a pretty good sweet spot that blocks, kills and survives against almost everything costing less mana than it plus all the various utility creatures (most of which also cost less than it but still). Lifelink is obviously a pretty huge perk on the card but alone it wouldn't be close to enough to make a 4 mana 3/4 cube worthy. The power and danger of the card comes in from getting free 2/2s every time something of your opponents dies. Black has lots of cheap and free removal in lots of guises, planeswalkers, spells and creatures. It will be fairly easy to get immediate value from Kalitas and almost certain should he stick around in play for that long. He will hose weenie decks and midrange decks pretty hard while being fairly limp in the control matchup. All told, control is blacks best matchup (disregarding combo) with the others being more problematic which is in Kalitas's favour. He is a legend that is sufficiently cost for Karakas to ruin his day but I am getting to the point of cutting/banning that card from my cube. It is making too many interesting cards like this pretty unplayable.

Sphinx of the Final Word 5/10

This is pretty hard to judge. Basically it is a portal version of Aetherling, easy mode win condition! It is not quite as reliable at ending the game as Aetherling but it does have its merits. It is not vulnerable to Linvala or Pithing Needle like the Aetherling, nor do you have to worry about resolving the thing nor leaving mana up to flicker it out. Essentially they cost the same to lay and the Sphinx has no real upkeep costs. The Sphinx can be stopped in combat by a few things and cannot both attack and block. While overall it just seems inferior to the Aetherling it is such a potent way of closing a game some redundancy might be well appreciated despite it being such a curve topper. The one area Sphinx probably outdoes Aetherling is in the control mirror match. The ability to make all your counterspells final will go a long way to winning you the game. It does a great deal to mitigate the vulnerability of Sphinx to Wrath effects too which are its biggest weakness compared to Aetherling.

Kozilek's Return 5/10

Basically this is a 2R instant Pyroclasm that gets around protection for cube which is reasonably interesting but not overly powerful. There are a lot of 2 and 3 mana options on red cards that do up to 3 damage to creatures. This suits control decks best but ultimately it is very hard to pick between this and Pyroclasm whatever you are playing.

The secondary mechanic is powerful but it is just so unlikely to be happening in cube. There is only room for a couple of Eldrazi in most cubes and they are rarely cast. A free board clear on those occasions should make your imminent win even more likely but it is no reason to be including this card in the cube. Hopefully the basic portion of the card will be enough to be cube worthy so that we might see the other bit in action at least once.

World Breaker 4/10

With my rose tinted goggles on I was all sorts of hopeful for this card. It does a whole lot of stuff, some actually quite useful and the rest sort of generically powerful. Seven is reasonably playable in green and so this doesn't quite fit into the super top end category that it would in the other colours. For your seven mana you get an Acidic Slime on steroids. For just two measly extra mana, an increase of 40%, you get three times the stats, exile instead of destroy, and a very reasonably recursion mechanic. Much like Chancellor of the Tangle this guy is a blocking champion and holds off most things. Deathtouch is certainly better on the 2/2 Slime but when you are a 5/7 deathtouch is a lot less exciting than reach.

Exile effect is the real draw of this card. Basically nothing exiles lands in play in the cube and not enough things exile artifacts and enchantments. Exile is significantly more powerful than destroy generally but in some specific cases it is really important to have. I want to have this card in cube because I want green to be able to exile stuff but I am not sure it is realistic with World Breaker.

The problem is not with the card itself but how and where you would want to use it. Slime is already rather over priced as a disruption card. It is typically used for value, outs and utility rather than disruption which in those sorts of decks you leave to things like Duress. You would want to use World Breaker in the same sort of role but at seven mana and no synergy with Recurring Nightmare you are not going to be getting this involved in time enough to be relevant is most cases. Certainly the card is not unplayable and if it were in a cube it would crop up in decks from time to time and perform fine. Over twenty years of MtG has gone down, the cube is the best of the best and fine isn't getting it done. I want a seven mana card to entice people into playing it regardless of what they are, not just pick it as filler in case of nothing else coming round better.

Chandra, Flamecaller 5.5/10

Another card I want to be good but doubt that it will be. Six is a lot in red, it rules it out for any of the more aggressive red decks. With only RG ramp, UR(x) control and big red being suitable homes for this card it needed to be more like Elspeth Sun's Champion, as in an auto include in the suitable decks, for Chandra Flamecaller to be a cube mainstay. Certainly this is a very powerful card and it has a very broad range of utility. It is vastly better than the last six mana Chandra and a lot more powerful than the five mana Chanda but neither of them get play at all in the cube.

If you could play Chandra Flamecaller in aggressive decks, like if she were scaled back to be a four mana walker but had the same effects on a smaller scale I would be all over her. As a planeswalker for other kinds of decks she is more lacking. A control player wants to be able to advance the board, gain card advantage and protect the walker. Chandra's proactive +1 abaility doesn't advance to board or gain card advantage. It is ultimately a win mechanism but it is not in the same league as making 3 1/1s that stay around.

The -X is the only means of protecting herself that she has and it isn't very effective at dealing with mid and lategame creatures. Chandra can be an overloaded symmetrical Mizzium Mortars if you want but you want her to live ideally and so creatures with 4 toughness are annoying and more than 4 are pretty disasterous.

It is her relatively low starting loyalty that is the issue here. Having to use a minus loyalty ability rather than a plus one for self protection compared to top quality walkers such as Elspeth makes it all very uncomfortable. Even if you do clear their board with -3 Chandra is still dead to a single point of burn or haste dork.

You do at least have the option to just plus her up and start to race. Even if they manage to kill her on the swing back you can gain a significant double digit life swing. Probably not a great use of the card but still, extra uses always add to the potency of cards. There is a situation where everything is correct. The old 5 / 0 split on a Fact or Fiction!

Lastly we come to the personal Windfall plus one for zero loyalty. This is a very powerful effect that is technically at worst draw one. You can easily use it for some discard synergy or you can just ditch a pile of useless stuff and feel like you drew loads of cards. It is very possibly the most powerful non-ultimate draw effect on a planeswalker. It is a little awkward in that you might want to hold a key card in hand and thus can't use the ability as you might want. A very potent effect on its own and a good compliment to the other abilities on the card.

Chandra is a highly versatile planeswalker with what appears to be a set of powerful abilities that cover most angles. A highly aggressive damage outlay, a board clear and a card draw mechanic. The only thing she lacks is mana production but given that she does all of the things in the game that you want to spend mana on it isn't at all a concern! Despite all her perks I am not overly hopeful that the card will compare that well to the playable six mana walkers. This is down to where you might play her, when that is in the game, her low loyalty and limitations that brings to her immediate ability to protect herself.

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar 8/10

One of the more exiting cards in the set because rounded 3 mana planeswalkers are hard to come by. The only three mana planeswalker I don't have in my main cube at the moment is Ajani and that is not for power reasons. He is too conditional and narrow to deserve a slot. Liliana is obviously the best and Ashiok is certainly the next most scary. Control decks greatly fear the Nightmare Weaver but a significant part of that is cube being a singleton 40 card format where exile significantly outperforms things going into the graveyard. There is a good chance Nissa can sit at the Ashiok sort of level, not quite as powerful or scary but a lot more rounded and playable being mono and potentially having synergies with other cards.

Three mana planeswalkers are significantly less powerful than their four mana counterparts and with good reason. It is that much harder to deal with a planeswalker on turn three than it is even a turn later. This combined with an extra activation means it is able to spiral out of control should the walker be too powerful Three mana planeswalkers typically live a lot longer than the more expensive ones. Nissa is the first that independantly and unconditionally advances your board with a plus ability. This makes her really interesting.

Only a 0/1 isn't getting a lot done on its own but there is a lot more to it than that. Firstly it protects the Nissa, not well, but dangerously well for a 3 mana walker that does other useful stuff. If Domri, Ashiok and Liliana can outlive most other planeswalkers I suspect we will see Nissa in play an awful lot of the time! Whenever you don't need a chump you are storing up 0/1s and loyalty. Ignoring Nissa herself accruing 0/1s in a green deck has a lot of synergy. You have Gaea's Cradle, Craterhoof Behemoth and of course Avenger of Zendikar. You have Skullclamp, Recurring Nightmare and just so many more things that I am going to stop there rather than OCD style list them all.

Then we come to the seemingly limp and conditional -2 loyalty to give all our dorks a +1/+1 counter. While power wise it is not the most impressive of planeswalker effects it is on a three mana walker, it can significantly impact the board right away, it has scaling potential, it has synergy with the +1 ability and it has synergy with a wide range of cards like Kitchen Finks. Any ability with this much scope is actually pretty impressive. Neither the +1 or the -2 stand out as fantastic abilities on their own due to their limitations but combined they make a lovely package that is versatile and threatening.

If you fail to apply pressure to her you are going to die. Nissa can create quite a terrifying army in not that long. Killing Nissa however will really stick it to your tempo. Odds on you can't just kill her with what you have on the board. This means you will need to invest in removal on something or dedicate all attacks for more than one turn to take her down. Assuming the 0/1 blocks the biggest thing each time she will absorb a vast amount of damage. I imagine a  Nissa that you take out in two attacks will have absorbed nearly ten damage and that is one of the worst uses for the card. Using removal isn't ideal either as odds on it is a weak target. It could be a 0/1, it could be a meaty wall or it could be some chaffy utility dork that has already gained its value. Mana critters probably already got removed or aren't blocking to save the Nissa! Even if the target it fine for the removal you are to use on it the fact that the Nissa has forced you into making that play is still awkward.

Early game Nissa will either win the game, stall the game long enough for other cards you have to win the game, or worst case if they have the perfect answers generate a little bit of value and tempo for you. Late game Nissa will threaten a lot more immediate impact with the -2  and will still threaten to end the game if not dealt with in a reasonably timely manner. She is more significant early than late but certainly not a dud in the end game. You want your 3 mana planeswalkers early, that is why you are playing them and not more expensive walkers.

Lastly we should talk about the ultimate. On a robust walkers with a safety +1 that is always something you can usefully use, that only costs three mana, starts with 3 loyalty an ultimate that costs 7 loyalty is more viable than most. I fear it may fall into the Xenegos ultimate category in that you can just win quicker and more effectively using the main two abilities. If you have done four loads of +1ing then the -2 should look pretty tasty! There will be occasions where you are just keeping up with the game and having to chump every turn. In those cases the ultimate will be amazing but your opponent will do all they can to keep you off it or kill you first. A massive free Sphinx's Revelation doesn't need too much of an explanation as to why it will help you win or stop you dying. It won't get used that much but still more than a lot of walkers and it will be just the ticket when you do use it.

There is actually a reasonable similarity in overall effect between Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Nissa, Vastwood Seer. Voice is more gradual in its build up but ultimately both come down for three mana, generate a bit of advantage for you and then if still around four or five turns later things start to get out of hand. Both will have applications, decks and matchups where they are more suited but both are also generally all round good.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers 5.5/10

Somehow this card seems humble. It is somewhere between an Eternal Witness and a Flame Tongue Kavu which were both huge names in their day and still hold weight after over a decade of power creep. Despite these accolades I am not blown away by the Dwellers. You get a lot of value and tempo from the card which is the golden ticket for cube cards, see Bloodbraid Elf. I think I just shy away from expensive red cards. You do need a good target for the Dwellers which should be manageable by five mana but does make the card that little bit more awkward and dependent. Most of the time this will just replay a burn spell and as such the average mana cost on cards replayed will be no greater than two. Even then you are getting a free Regrowth and a 2R 4/4 menance which seems to be awesome. Another awkward aspect of this card is that you have to want to cast the spell immediately which makes a lot of options weaker. Your Searing Spear becomes Volcanic Hammer, your countermagic is of no use and so forth. There are some great targets like Kolghan's Command but they are few and far between and mostly non-red.

One of the good things about Eternal Witness is the staggering potential and options it gives. It is just 3 mana and so can come into play much much quicker than Dark-Dwellers. You get any card and you can hold it till you need it. This makes up for it being significantly less tempo and value. A five mana value utility card is not a common thing in cube but most utility dorks are generic 2/2s or worse. This is a very significant 4/4 menace which will need dealing with else it will do a lot of work. There is too much power here for me not to test the card out. My gut is that it just won't make the cut in enough decks but it could turn out to be utterly bonkers powerful. Almost all the cheaper incarnations of this kind of card a cube powerhouses but I don't have that much experience with costly cards doing that sort of stuff. Pound for pound this blows Snapcaster Mage out of the water but that might still not be enough to make up for it being a clunky five drop. Greenwarden of Marusa is likely the most comparable card to this out there and that has been fine but not insane.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Card Spotlight: Flesh Carver

Wrote this a while ago but didn't publish as it seemed a bit long winded for what it was. Either way, I've not done much else so you can have this!

It has been a year in the cube now and the Flesh Carver is starting to establish his position in the cube. I have always been a huge fan of the card but most of the other people I play with have historically seemed to overlook it. It remained one of those cards people would pick up and read when you play it, then seemingly lose interest in what it does disregarding it for whatever reason as a jumped up Grey Ogre.

Flesh Carver
Black creatures are somewhat all over the place. They do a lot of different things, have a wide array of costs and fit best in specific places. It is hard to outright claim a ranking for the black creatures based on how good they are. It is all too circumstantial. Power wise it is hard to argue against things like Geralf's Messengers and Obliterator but they are not really playable outside mono black decks. Dark Confidant is commonly regarded as the best but he is still a card that very much needs to be in the right kind of place to be good. You do not see top end control decks packing Dark Confidant etc.

Tasigur is the other obvious contender for best black creature at present but it is really a Golgari or Dimir card. While Flesh Carver is never going to be the best creature in the deck or the most powerful black creature possible for a given situation he might well be the best on average across all the decks and situations possible. It is very hard for the card not to fit into a place somewhat well. The most comparable card is Kitchen Finks, a card that is comparably powerful as a control card as it is an aggressive one.

Finks offers a lot more tempo than Flesh Carver with better stats and a life injection however it affords less utility once in play. Finks is just stats while Carver performs a variety of tasks beyond being a body. Flesh Carver is a little slow to be a super aggro card and it isn't the most efficient defensive tool making it not the best 3 drop for a control card. Finks is superior in the aggro and control lists. Carver is fine in either as I shall get to but the real strength of Flesh Carver is as a midrange card where it out performs the mighty Finks quite a lot more than Finks outperforms it in aggro or control.

Carver has high efficiency and high utility while being a relatively cheap card. Having high efficiency and utility isn't that hard to find on a magic card but it is very hard to find on a card costing less than four mana. It is also the case that most of the cheaper cards that do offer both are somewhat narrow. Bow of Nylea isn't a great example of this as it isn't what I would call a cheap card. It does however illustrate well how a card can have high utility while still being a narrow card. Something that on face value might seem an oxymoron. Bow of Nylea does a lot of things but you can only play it a slow control decks, specifically ones that need both life gain and library refreshment.

Flash Carver is a dork and is therefore never dead. Being so rounded you are happy with him being filler in any kind of archetype. He gets a little better the more midrange you are and he gets a little better with sacrifice synergies too. What I have found is that Flesh Carver is still a total house in some of the least exciting places for him.

Why is he so good? All the individual things don't look great, I don't play Penumbra Bobcat or Rotlung Reanimator in my cube and have not done so for quite some years now, I don't play Severed Legion and I don't even entertain Voracious Null. A 2/2 isn't getting much work done. It can't even trade with some of the top aggressive one drops, doesn't apply a threatening clock and typically to be worth three mana it has to do something really top rate in addition to the body. Trinket Mage, Shardless Agent, Dualcaster Mage, arguably Eternal Witness and Reclamation Sage as examples of powerful additions that make Grey Ogres playable.. Cards like Manic Vandal, Phyrexian Rager which used to be decent in cube have fallen well out of favour as the "free" body they come with isn't worth the mana. You are just better off running cheaper, more direct and more efficient cards that don't come with a relatively useless 2/2 such as Night's Whisper or Smash to Smithereens.

Even giving a 2/2 fear doesn't greatly improve it. Fear is a long way from flying and 3 mana two power fliers are struggling to perform in cube at present as well. Only the hasting red Phoenix cards are getting much play and they always feel really fair. It is the fact that you can increase the size of the Flesh Carver so as to significantly increase the value of the fear that makes that aspect of the card good. You don't even have to do it either, just the threat of being able to turn into a 4, 6 or 8 powered evasive dorks is huge and will incur removal sooner rather than late. Partial evasion scales better than you might think as you increase the stats. The selection of things able to get in the way was already small compared to that of a normal dork. You may not be any less blockable just from being bigger but you are substantially harder to trade with as well as the obvious being more important to block due to the larger damage output. By being big and evasive you reduce the pool of things that can effectively block you to a tiny fraction of cards. Pretty much you need a black or artifact with deathtouch to take down a determined flesh carver in combat.

So how good is 1B and sac a dork to put two +1/+1 counters on your Carver? In and of itself pretty bad is the answer but that is not at all how it works out. Sacrifice mechanisms always have some inherent power due to their ability to fizzle spells with non targeted perks like Lightning Helix and Electrolyze. You would sac things for no value a lot of the time if able so getting some counters is a fine enough deal. While it is more than no value you are paying a card and at least two mana for a mere +2/+2 on your dork. There are not that many good magic cards for cube that require you to invest further resources into them to improve them. Lotleth Troll is an example of such a card that seems good but in reality isn't all that.

Lotleth Troll is a card that only sees play when you actively want to discard creatures and even then it is only used when the deck is also quite tempo driven. More control or combo decks will prefer to use cards like Faithless Looting or Liliana to discard stuff as they afford much more value than Lotleth Troll for doing so. The main problem with Lotleth Troll is that you can invest a load of cards into making him a really scary threat only to have him Pathed and have your total basket of eggs stamped into an unsightly mess.

Exile and bounce effects still undo any investment made into your Carver but destroying it will not as the token generating effect scales with the power of your Carver. If you grow your Carver to a 6/6 only to get it Wrathed you will be left with a 6/6 token and not a useless 2/2 one. In this regard Flesh Carver is a lot more like Voice of Resurgence than it is Kitchen Finks, the second life of the card can be just as dangerous as the first. The token does not have any evasions which is for the best given how good the card is anyway.

While exile and bounce do in some ways counter Flesh Carver they are rare and premium. Your opponent will feel a lot more ripped off having to use their Swords to Plowshares on your Grey Ogre than you will be about not getting a token from it. You can pump your Flesh Carver at instant speed which gives you all the options and control you need to be able to outplay people and effects with it. If you get Wrathed you can dump all your extra dorks and mana into Carver so as to get a big token. If you fear bounce or exile you hold back on growing your Carver either waiting to respond to mass removal or waiting for your opponent to tap out or offer sufficient information for you to go all in for the kill with it.

Essentially, 1B sac a guy to get 2 +1/+1 counters is only weak at face value. The risk factor is very much mitigated by the scaling you get with the token and the ability to do so in response to things. The sec outlet is useful, the threat of a big evasive thing is scary, the ability to grow your guy to survive combat or removal also a significant perk.

Red decks hate it, they aim burn at it and it grows out of reach wasting the burn. They aim burn at other stuff and they get efficiently consumed in the ever more dangerous Flesh Carver. Even without any shenanigans a red deck is eating a two for one against Flesh Carver almost always. All told red decks do hate a Kitchen Finks more but at least you can kill it and carry one swinging past it after it has like 4 for 1'd you....

Flesh carver does all of these four things; a body with the potential to grow, a replacement body when it dies, evasion, and a sacrifice outlet. Each of them gives the card another angle for use, synergy and exploitation but more importantly each of them scales with each of the other inbuilt effects. It is a rare example of a single card that has multiple avenues of self synergy. The whole is significantly greater than the sum of its parts.

Monday 9 November 2015

Emrakul Desire

Did a draft and ended up with what I thought was going to be a bastardization of two combo decks. I had Emrakul, Show and Tell and some options on other ways to cheat him in as well as a couple of backup dorks like Wurmcoil to fill in for the Emrakul in his absence. I also had part of a storm deck with Mind's Desire and Brain Freeze. Normally the 'don't quite have one combo deck so ram in another combo and hope' strategies are awful. What I found was that the two directions my deck could go in really supported the other aspects well.

Mind's DesireI don't normally force decks but I wanted to do a storm deck of sorts as I haven't had that as an option in my cube for a little while. Midrange is a bit too king of the hill at present and so I thought the reintroduction of combo would sort that out quite well. My first pick was a Wheel of Fortune over something like a Birds of Paradise or Courser of Kruphix. Whichever it was it was a dodgy pick but hey, the cube is for for funsies and I wanted to storm! I then followed that with a Grim Monolith over a Jitte. Less wrong due to having the Wheel already but still a very dubious pick, both from me and the player on my right! From that point I wound up going in a red artifact ramp deck direction. The blue was being hard cut with 2/3 of the table in blue! Half way through I managed to pick up a Time Spiral shortly followed by a Mind's Desire which made me really want to reopen the blue storm account.

Drafting combo means you will have several boosters with no relevant picks which does give you the opportunity to pick up speculative things like Desire and Spiral that you may end up not playing. Apart from the key cards in any given combo deck there is a great deal of overlap in the support cards. Ramp is great, card quality is great and so if you have a reasonable base of those cards you can end up in decks quite different from the one you had in mind at the beginning of the draft.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
25 Spells

Chrome Mox

Chromatic Star
Sensei's Divining Top
Mana Vault

Faithless Looting

Grim Monolith
Helm of Awakening
Tormenting Voice
Brain Freeze

Helm of AwakeningSnapcaster Mage
Goblin Electromancer
Demonic Tutor

Wheel of Fortune
Show and Tell

Thran Dynamo
Ral Zarek
Turn About

Tezzeret the Seeker

Mind's Desire
Time Spiral
Wurmcoil Engine

Emrakul, the Eons Torn
Tormenting Voice
15 Lands

Bad Lands
Bloodstained Mire
Steam Vents
Shivan Reef

Temple of Deceit
Sulphur Falls
Dragon Skull Summit
Ancient Tomb

6 Islands

The deck had two main plans, either get sufficient storm to mill someone to death with Brain Freeze or Show and Tell an early Emrakul into play and win with that. The overlap between the two main plans however gave rise to lots of other quite appealing ways to win. Hitting Emrakul off a Desire is a whole lot better than doing so with Show and Tell as it gives the extra turn and is much more of an immediate win. I won one of my games because the Show and Tell I hit with the Desire let my put an all important land into play! The utility of Emrakul reshuffling your graveyard was huge as well. It gave me all the confidence to blow or discard seemingly key spells early or chew through my library as I knew I could easily get it back. Wheel of Fortune does not take many casts before it is putting both players near decking themselves yet when you are sitting on Emrakul it is a Time Twister for you and still a milling Wheel for them. You can also just win with the -5 on Tezzeret!

TurnaboutWurmcoil was more of a Solemn Simulacrum type card in that I played it as a speed bump. It allowed me to do some interacting and being normal. It forces your opponents into doing things and can simply end the game against aggressive decks without answers. Essentially it buys time and is just filler in the deck. It is nice when your filler can win the odd game but it wasn't something I was relying on. It really wanted to be an Upheaval but I was short on some things and so he got inelegantly rammed into the list. Against the control decks, especially the ones with exile and bounce effects I boarded him out a lot. I boarded out the Show and Tell and the Tormented Voice a bit too in the control matches as they are a little too risky for my liking. Despite this Emrakul never came out!

Although it never happened it is worth noting Ob Nixilus Reignited is in the format now and is a very good answer to an Emrakul that was not cast into play. You may have noticed this deck is very light on answers. I had a Wasteland in the board which came in a lot and a Tangle Wire than never came in. I had a bit of burn and that was it. No discard, no bounce, no counter magic or other removal. I had to be quick, consistent and robust enough just to be able to plow through anything and get a win. If someone makes a Bow of Nylea against me I have no way to remove it and no way to win with mill through it. That last statement isn't strictly true as you could force it though with the Wheel or respond to a Bow use in upkeep with a Freeze. All told, many things can make life really hard.

Ral ZarekMy other board options were light, I had a Memory Jar for extra draw and mill potential, a Magmatic Insight for some more digging and smoothing. I had some red dragons which I never had to resort too. Fortunately the deck was robust enough to get it done and could pull wins out of the hat from seemingly nowhere. Storm as a mechanic really doesn't care much about countermagic so compared to a lot of combo decks you can get away with far less disruption while not worrying about speed in that match-up that much either. I had a Sneak Attack but I figured it did so little on its own I would stick to just the Show and Tell route.

The Electromancer was fairly weak as I didn't really have the right setup for him. He reduced the cost of very few cards in the deck and nearly had as much impact on the games as a 2/2 as he did as a cost reducer. Beyond that and the Wurmcoil I wouldn't change anything else much in the list. It was surprisingly good for a draft deck. The standout cards were the Chromatic Star / Terrarion and the Ral Zarek! The one mana colour fixers did so much work, they could act as cheap of free storm generators, they could act as a card storage bank for using things like Wheel and Time Spiral optimally, and they would allow you to carry on going off in combination with the Dynamo, Monolith and Vault. Tezzeret did a lot of untapping Terrarion, Chromatic Sphere would have been better probably but not exclusively and I didn't see it. Probably would have played all three if I could.

TerrarionRal has never before impressed in cube but in this list he was the total man. A Lightning Bolt is good and is pretty much the disruption in the deck. Mostly however it was about the tap and untap which were both fantastic. Usually it is the case that it is hard to put either to much exciting use and very hard to get both being good at once. A normal good outcome is an extra mana or blocker but the good outcomes in this list were of significantly higher value. Because the ability is a sorcery and has no lasting tap down effect the tap and untap are quite cross purposes. One is aggressive, the other defensive or rampy. You want one before combat and the other after doing stuff post main phase or ideally in their turn! In this list however the tap down was great. It let me fog out mana that could be used as disruption on my combo things while setting up my mana. It even let me snipe out planeswalkers with Electromancer past blockers. Ral would come down quickly and supported Vault and Monolith brilliantly. Because the deck was not that artifact heavy he outperformed the Tezzeret who infrequently had two useful targets to untap. The ability to untap lands to colour fix or creatures to block was very significant. There was games were Wurmcoil or Emrakul would have had to sit back on defense if I didn't have the capacity to untap as I would have died to the swing back.

I thought I had underdone it in terms of adding support cards to the cube for combo but this deck somewhat proved me wrong. It felt like it was going badly but performed exceptionally. Rather than adding more combo support I think I will be focusing on rebalance in the other direction and try and get some anti storm and artifact cards in.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Commander 2015 Review

Kalemne, Deciple of Iroas - 2

This is a powerful dork for sure but it has so many problems with it for cube. The whole experience aspect of this card is drivel in isolation. You will not cast many 5+ cmc dorks period, let alone with this still in play. The best chance you have of this getting bigger is with other cards providing you with experience. Without the experience bit this card is still very powerful. It can hit for six, take out anything with 3 or less toughness without taking a scratch, scales doubly well with equipment and other pump, and holds the line while beating face. I find myself reminded of Hound of Griselbrand, Brimaz and Boros Reckoner. Critically those cards have one or more things Kalemne doesn't which make them all more playable and two of those cards are not in my main cube at present. Four mana is a big cut off point, it is where the planeswalkers and things come in in force. At three mana you can get away with cards that are just powerful dorks for the mana, at four your cards needs to be doing a whole lot more for you than that. The power difference between Brimaz and Kalemne probably isn't enough to justify a 1 mana cost difference but even if it were it still wouldn't be enough given where those two cards lie on the curve. Kalemne is gold making her a lot less playable. Not an issue in constructed but for draft this card is neither exciting nor powerful enough to merit inclusion in the cube. The biggest issue with Kalemne to my mind is that for four mana she brings nothing to the table right away. You get no haste action as you do with most of the top rate agressive 4 drop dorks. You get no immediate actionable effect like Sublime Archangle, Olivia Voldaren or Wolfir Silverheart. You get no value as you do from Solemn Simulacrum or Hound of Grisselbrand. You just get something that dies to almost any removal spell, mass or spot, while gaining no value in the process. Yes, sometimes you will cast it on a fairly empty board and find your opponent lacking answers and end the game swiftly there after. This is something you will do just as well with the top quality aggro three drops, Do that instead of playing this.

Banshee of the Dread Choir - 0

It is a shame myriad does nothing at all in 1 on 1 magic. I like the mechanic but for cube it is a blank and will be for all other cards with it on. I don't do multiplayer magic, one opponent is slow enough thanks all the same. I also like skill to be a significant factor in my games. Call me elitist, don't care. This card, even without the myriad doing anything is surprisingly decent. While not there for cube this will do a tonne of work for those brave souls involved in multiplayer magic.

Fiery Confluence - 8

This is quite the eye opener. I have read it several times to make sure I am not wrong about what it does before I splurge all over it. Although not quite as good Cryptic Command it is damn close. Power wise this is likely better than Cryptic it is just less useful and convenient and instant than the mighty Cryptic. All told this card gets it done and will do a lot of work in diversifying red. I really really love this card. You can wrath creatures or artifacts pretty well with this. You can take out planeswalkers with ease. You can just six someone to the face and give them the old good games. Then you can do a blend of some or all of those things as you need. Cryptic has six possible modes, Fiery Confluence has a whopping ten. Six to the face for four is such a powerful baseline for the card it doesn't really matter if your opponent has no <4 toughness dorks or artifacts in their deck, you still have a great spell. There are so many situations this card will either bail you brilliantly or close the game. That is a good pair of possible outcomes. It is cards like this that will allow red to branch out into more midrange and control decks should it wish.

Kalemne's Captain - 1

A decent big thing with a usefulish ability that is all just a bit to expensive and fair to see any cube play.

Scythclaw - 1.5

I don't really know what to make of this. It is quite cool to cheat about with a Stoneforge Mystic but ultimately it is a lot less potent than a Batterskull all round. Sure, you might hit for ten and then five if you get through. A 1/1 or just +1/+1 and a re-equip to another dork in play for 3 really are not getting it done in value terms or making the lose half their life portion of the card any more exciting or useful. The clock on this card is still quite slow compared to things that cost five mana and the board impact it has is a whole lot less. Interesting and different yes, cube worthy not so much.

Mizirek, Kraul Death Priest - 5.5

I am reminded of Vulturous Zombie. A five mana Golgari flyer you can hard abuse. This is smaller to start with but has a much much more potent effect that is also easier to trigger. This can give value right away and have it remain in effect should it be killed itself. You can easily trigger the effect with your own lands or potentially creatures although both need to be specific cards or have an outlet to sac them to. In the case of creatures you don't overly want to be saccing them off either because it reduces the value of the pumps. Either way, you don't need to have many creature or sac many things before this has done good work and is a scary threat itself. You could sit back on something like a Harrow as a combat trick or way of saving Mizirek, you can pack more edict effects as your removal options and grow your board while shrinking theirs. While I love the power, utility and synergy of this card I am aware it is a gold five mana threat that you need to build around somewhat so that it isn't just a Wind Drake. Certainly this has the power to deserve a cube slot and I will try it out at length. Sadly I fear it will get cut for space reasons leaving broader, if less powerful, cards in the five slots for green, black and golgari.

Kaseto, Orochi Archamge - 3.5

Not even sure this would be an auto include in a tribal snake deck! It is all a big Grey Ogre for my liking. Yes, you can close out games and be annoying as hell in combat but that all costs more mana and isn't gaining you card advantage or sensibly board advantage. The value of a combat trick is lost greatly when it is in play. The fact he can self pump makes him a fine stand alone card and not unlike a lot of the various black Shade cards. Compared to crud like Frozen Shade Kaseto has better starting stats, bonus unblockable, potential assists with other snake dorks and for the minor price of being in two colours and having bulkier increments of pump. Not quite as potent as Rashaka Deathdealer nor as direct as Nantuko Shade but in the same ball park. I guess the reason I think this is not so playable in cube is that it is just a three mana good dork you want to win the game with like Rablemaster, Geist of Saint Traft, Brimaz etc except that you have to spend mana on it. At least Nantuko Shade and Rashaka Deathdealer are two drops and can be used much more aggressively.

Mizzix of the Igmagnus - 1

While this could get silly fun it is mostly just super bad. Let us compare this to the humble Goblin Electromancer, a card with the same stats and much the same effect for two mana not four. I say much the same, obviously Electromancer's effect is just better as you can use it right away without having to gain experience. The value of colourless casting cost reduction diminishes a lot as well. At two mana I might consider playing this over Electromancer in the right deck. Three mana would be pushing it and four is just laughable. It gets a 1 just on the the off chance there are really good ways to gain experience so you can lay this with some already built up. Even then we still just have a pricey vulnerable Electromancer we probably wish was just an enchantment or something.

Daxos, the Retrurned - 1

More of the distinctive wiff of Grey Ogre about this card. The perk for your underrate body is a pricey token generator that requires you to be playing enchantments before it does anything at all and then again before it becomes at all good value for mana. At least the tokens are enchantments? So, just to be clear, before this card is at all good you have to have made it as a Grey Ogre, have it live long enough for you to cast at least one enchantment, then invest increments of 3 mana, prolly six or nine total, alongside casting more enchantments. This should give you say three 3/3's that didn't cost you cards. Basically, Call of the Herd is a whole world better than this and that gets precisely no play anymore.

Illusory Ambusher - 6

I like this card, it is somewhere between an Ice (of Fire fame), Jace's Ingenuity and a Shriekmaw. It isn't reliable removal nor is it cheap. Sometimes it isn't removal at all, then it is a bad fog in both scope and reliability. It should draw you cards most of the time and it will range between 2 and 6 mostly. Assume it draws cards 85% of the times you play it and 2 through 6 are reasonably even in their probabilities (they are not of course, they go down each time in likelihood however you could hit for like 15 so w/e, we will go with it for a very approximate idea). This means you are looking at 3.4 cards per cast on top of the damage prevention or removal. Sadly I would take 3 cards guaranteed over 3.4 with the chance on 0 for my five mana. I would likely take two which makes Mulldrifter look somewhat more appealing. Although a less consistent card than the Muldrifter I think this deserves a cube slot because it can be so utterly over powered and shouldn't ever wind up being totally awful or dead. It has flash and 4 power, you can just kill people with it after all!

Gigantoplasm - 1

This is not the Clone you are looking for. I give it a 1 out of 10 on the off chance there is some kind of neat combo with the effect it has on some particular obscure dork but I doubt it is at all good it if even exists.

Skullwinder - 3.5

This is a tricky one. Obviously cost and body wise it is quite a lot better than Eternal Witness but the effect has a nasty taint of symmetry about it. In a combo deck there is less chance of you caring about them getting a card back but it isn't no chance, it may still be a dead card because of that Force of Will you can't afford to let them have. You can also fire this off so fast as to give your opponent only bad options or even no option on a return. You could also do this with graveyard removal effects, your or even their delve stuff. There are lots of ways this can be better than Witness but I don't think any of them are that reliable nor is the Snake body that much better than the 2/1 that you would risk it. I am sure this still has a place somewhere but it shouldn't be a common one.

Ezuri, Claw of Progress - 2.5

Here we have a jumped up Hill Giant rather than the Grey Ogres we have been seeing so many of. Ezuri needs other dorks, not only to gain experience but also to pump. While Ezuri can have an effect on the game right away it is fairly unlikely. You need to already have experience or get a small dork into play on the same turn while having something else that can attack. Ezuri can be quite powerful in the right deck if he gets going but like Kalemne it does too little right away on a weak body for where he is on the curve. You might not need further mana investments as such but you do need other cards to support him. Not enough card here to excite me even if it were a mono coloured one.

Centaur Vinecrasher - 3

I quite liked this at first look but I have since gone off it rather. It is the aggressive version of Masked Admirers, a card that has never seen any love in the cube. A four mana dork with a two mana conditional recursion effect to hand. Vengevine is zero mana to return to play and is quite a lot more direct and standalone than either Vinecrasher or Admirers hence it being good and these seemingly quite a lot less so. For the two mana conditional return to hand to be an exciting bonus the starting creature has to be itself reasonably exciting and a generic trampler isn't really that. At 4/4 he is fine but not good, at 5/5 he is good but not something you are auto including. You need this to hit 6/6 before it is exciting and that is going to take quite a lot of work. Being aggressive it is important to be good on curve and you will be fairly lucky to have this as a 3/3 by then. All in all, the card doesn't do enough when in play, is a little pricey, rather linear and needs a little too much hand holding to perform at the required level.

Sandstone Oracle - 4.5

While I think this is probably a little too situational to be a main cube card I do rather like it and can see a selection of places this would fit very nicely. The body is fairly useful and the effect can be extreme. Yes it is seven mana which would normally rule out this kind of nonesense if it were a coloured creature but as a colourless artifact this holds far more potential. There are lots of ways to produce a lot of colourless mana, ways to cheapen artifacts or just put them into play all of which mean this card in reality is more comparable to a four or five drop in the right deck. Those decks are the kind of rampy, perhaps combo-y, ones which will dump their hands quickly and with ease and may even have symmetrical draw seven effects so as to ensure a big trigger from your Oracle. I suspect Memory Jar is one of the things this will compete with for spaces in decks. In the wrong deck this is going to be very bad. Slow, low power and unlikely to trigger for many if any cards should you live to play it.

Dream Pillager - 0.5

I love the idea but the execution is left wanting. I am not sure how this could be balanced better, Consecrated Sphinx power, toughness and costing would seem like a good starting point. Seven mana is way to much to pay for a 4/4 that does nothing unless it hits face. Actually, I think I like a 2RR 0/3 flier with firebreathing and this effect, more like a red Thieving Magpie then but well flavoured. Guess I will stick with boring old Prophetic Flamespeaker for now.

Dawnbreak Reclaimer - 5.75

So a six mana 5/5 flier is not the worst starting point for a card. Then you give it a very very powerful effect but make it symmetrical and abusable and you end up with a card that is very hard to evaluate. You can abuse this by either having only huge things in your bin or by ensuring your opponent has nothing, or at least very low powered things in theirs. Both of these situations should lead to you being well ahead on your six mana investment. Achieve both and you will be very far ahead! I have just spotted the may clause on the recursion which really makes this card pretty good. You don't have to go that heavy at all on working the graveyards because if you don't like the proposed returns you can simply opt not to do it. I like this a lot more than Reya Dawnbringer, a safer more reliable version of this that was so over cost you only ever cheated it into play. This bad boy is totally fine to just be cast and leave it to do its magic. I think I also prefer this to Sun Titan. The bodies are comparable but I think the smaller flier is more dangerous and affords more utility in games. Both trigger once per your turn starting with the turn you make them but there after Reclaimer doesn't need to attack to get the effect and can just sit safely back on d. The thing with Sun Titan is that he often ends up not doing all that much. He is a bit too easy to group block and take down which means you have spent 6 mana to get two 3 mana things back, deal 6 damage to a selection of dorks of your opponents choosing (divided as you choose though!) and perhaps hold off one turns worth of ground based attacks. That sounds good but turns out it just isn't enough stuff and not usefully presented. Decks that make six drop dorks don't have that many 3 or less cmc permanents to recur. You get a Wall back and draw a card, maybe you ramp a land from the bin. Brimaz is a great get back but if your 6/6 vigilance isn't winning it then your 3/4 one isn't adding that much extra to things. Sun Titan is a whole lot of power but it very restricted and contained. Both this and Sun Titan require some work in building around them (and so Elspeth, Sun's Champion will firmly remain the premier white six drop for now) but Reclaimer has so much more scope in the ways you can use and abuse it that I will be trying this out a whole lot and hoping it remains in the main cube. I want to make this and see my opponent squirm at the choice between Grave Titan and Atarka or something equally obnoxious. You can have the Birds back mate.

Ezuri's Pradation - 3.5

Phew, this can do some work. Against decks with lots of medium and small creatures this is simply always going to be game over. Wrath you, make a total army, gg. Against other decks this will do painfully little. You have a Baneslayer in play, my 8 mana spell gives you 5 life and does nothing else. Incredibly powerful but just too situational both for this kind of effect as well as for an 8 mana card.

Awaken the Sky Tyrant - 0.5

Meh. Tokens are too killable and a conditional 4 mana thing isn't getting it done. This needs some serious enchantment synergy to be any sort of consideration.

Seal of the Guildpact - 2

Great design and a powerful card but far far too much mana for a cost reducer. I will stick to my Familiars, Medallions, and Helm of Awakening thanks.

Deadly Tempest - 3

I want a bit more utility on my six mana Wrath than a little bit of incidental damage. If I am Wrathing I am controlling and if I am doing that I don't really care about the so called perk of this card. At five and with the lack of good Wraths in black this might have made it. At six I will find spicier alternatives.

Dread Summons - 0.5

Despite clearly being a lot more powerful in multiplayer formats there is some potential for this card in cube, all be it small. Assuming both players are packing roughly a third creatures you are looking at a fairly poor return on your mana in terms of board development. At five you will get about 2 dorks, at 8 mana you are looking at 4, hardly good token generation. You have a chance to hit perfect and get a decent amount of value but your odds on hitting nothing are going to much greater. The only time I really see this being a consideration is when you want to mill your opponent and yourself. There are other ways to mill everyone that are much more mana efficient however they are dead on their own while this does at least do a useful thing too. Sadly, most of the decks you want to mill your opponent in don't have that many dorks in them themselves...

Verdant Confluence - 4

Not quite as pokey as the red offering but not without its charms. Certainly it is very powerful but I am not sure where I would want it nor where it would be able to shine best. All the options are good and pretty much any of the possible 10 options represents good value for six mana and one card. Sadly my conclusion is that this shouldn't be a main cube card. It is a bit pricey for what you want from these kinds of cards in much the same way that Prophetic Bolt sees almost no play. The effects are a tiny bit awkward and don't have that synergy with each other. Counters are decent, they let you shape the board so your creatures are favourable in combat and gain tempo but as they are sorcery there is no trickery possible nor does it offer any direct card advantage and could lead to disaster if appropriate removal is at hand for your opponent. Lands are getting a lot less useful by six mana and only being able to find basics is a real bummer. It means you cannot do any of the cool stuff you can do with Primeval Titan and it also means a lot of the time you won't have any or enough targets for your Confluence. Finally Regrowth for permanent cards, great but awful tempo and a little bit win more. Regrowth and the like get back anything which can be spells, which are typically what you need to deal with things or get back into a game. Sure, getting three things back will likely win you any game that has gone to top deck but then that is exactly what six drops should do. I will try it because it is power and choices but I fear it is never getting into any list over a powerful creature or planeswalker in that cost area.

Mirror Match - 2.5

Powerful but like the green Wrath attempt, a bit too situational. This might be better than Aetherspouts but that card proved to be inadequate for what you needed it to do and this has all the same limitations. You might luck out and get a whole bunch of entering and leaving play triggers from the guys while taking out all the attackers which is likely going to be of game ending significance. You might equally kill nothing and get nothing in return, just a six mana Fog. Yummy. Also, lest we not forget how easy it is to spot a Cryptic when you are about to attack into one. You just know they have to have something else they super dead, it might not actually be fatal but it would be too much to handle. This would be much the same, oh look, you have six mana up and don't seem too scared about my totally fatal attack. Perhaps I'll go for a two turn clock instead and attack with just these safe dorks? Oh dear, your six mana spell is bad.

Mizzix's Mastery - 6.5

This is all a bit Mind's Desire for my liking. Eight to overload is significantly more than six to desire but you have a four mana option as well as knowing and being able to setup what you will cast with the Mastery as well as not having to have generated any storm. All in all this seems very powerful. There are a lot of decks with a lot of spells that if cast for 3R would be incredibly powerful. Cards like Upheaval, Time Spiral and the previously mentioned Mind's Desire. This is a card I expect to see almost all of its play in the abusive decks that don't like to play fair. In more typical midrange, aggro or control decks it will be harder to setup, have less exciting targets and have less chance on using both modes to good effect. The overload mode needs two things to be good, firstly 8 mana, the hard bit, and secondly some useful cards to recast together from the yard. That could be lots of burn, it could be some specific things that setup a win, it could be lots of Rituals to cast something even more mental, it might just be some boring storm things into a win, you have many directions. The four mana mode is more like a Reanimate effect, ideally you want to set it up by having a big powerful spell you got into the yard without having to cast it. Time Stretch as a good example of something to have Mastery over! I think for the card to really shine you want to play in a deck where you can expect both modes to be of use.

Magus of the Wheel - 7

So, the big problem with Wheel of Fortune was that it is a 3 mana sorcery. It sits in your hand dead until you have basically used everything else, then you cast it and have three less mana to do your new things with. Then you pass to your opponent who gets to do all their new stuff with all their mana. Magus of the Wheel can be safely and reasonably cast on curve. A Trained Armaddon in red isn't the worst in any sort of deck. Then, at any convenient point you can cash in your 3/3 and get seven new spells for two mana. You can do this at the end of their turn so as to save the two mana. All in all a very powerful effect presented in a convenient package that will never be dead and that affords good options. In the more standard midrange, control and aggro this will see considerably more play than Wheel of Fortune did or will. As for combo the direct Wheel is probably still the way to go but both is certainly an option! This card is golden for RDW, it makes Dark Confidant look pretty limp. I cannot think of many games at all where Confidant has drawn seven or more cards. Confidant is a weaker dork that is easier to ping to death, offers a slow influx of cards for a life cost. Magus is reasonably robust for a 3 drop, gives a huge influx of card at the cost of refilling your opponents hand. If I use my hand in RDW and then get seven more cards I feel like I have won, even if I give you seven more too. Great card, great depth for red again. I am looking forward to playing with this. It feels old school powerful but with built in modern safety!

Anya, Merciless Angel - 3

While considering this card I imagined it in combat with a Baneslayer Angel controlled by a player between 5 and 9 life. The outcome of that isn't exclusive to that specific interaction and is the reason I am not a big fan of this card. It is simply way to easy to dodge the big indestructible thing and blow out your opponents plans. When you are playing red and you have someone on 9 or less life you don't think, ooh, I can make a five drop without haste that is good value and hard to kill. You think, I wish I had another two points of burn in hand or on the top of my deck because then it is game over. This is one of those fairly linear expensive threats that is of sufficient power to merit a cube slot but that has no real home and therefor wouldn't see much play at all. In a control deck a 5 mana 7/7 indestructible flier is a lot more interesting but then a control deck is not readily getting their opponents below 10 life and then you have a card worse than Sera Angel...

Great Oak Guardian - 5.5

This seems incredibly powerful and quite versatile. It blocks and kills most things in the cube, it is a mini Overrun on legs, it is a combat trick. It can even be mana ramp in the right deck! You can even just flop it out as a 4/5 threat at the end of your opponents turn. Not great value for mana but might be exactly what you need to be doing. Probably this is only getting play in creature based green ramp decks in which case it might be a little too much on the narrow side. It certainly isn't game over like Craterhoof is. I am a touch wary as it seems to be another six mana utility card and typically you want your more expensive cards including the utility ones to also be of high raw isolated power. This needs support to be powerful but not exactly onerous support, just having guys is the thing. Once you have the support this card seems do offer as much or more as most other cube 6 drops.

Arachnogenesis - 4

Powerful but a little narrow. I think Moment's Peace offers more utility in these kinds of lines. Let's be honest, this is a funky Fog and not a token generator. Too often this would get a single spider and be awful if you were relying on having spiders around. Certainly it has the capacity to utterly wreak token or weenie decks. This card is the anti aggro equivalent of Caller of the Claw. You get Wrathed and Caller and you probably win. You get smacked with a hoard or weenies and tokens, Arachnogenesis is likely as much of a win. I am not sure this holds enough value in the situations it is not so powerful in to get a cube slot sadly. Against midrange and control most of the time it will be dead or really low value and that doesn't cut it. There are not enough archetypes that actively want to Fog that this could find a home in.

Meteor Blast - 3

At first I liked this a lot but then I came to realise it is actually just a really expensive Searing Blaze. For an X spell this has substantially less good scaling or flexibility than most. Four damage for four mana is better than most X burn spells will do but it isn't exactly good. Not being able to do 5 to something is pretty annoying on your expensive spell. It makes it far less likely you are taking out loads of good stuff. The primary target you get might be a 4/4 but odds on the rest of the things you can hit have >4 toughness or are like 1/1 tokens and therefor don't represent good value for mana upon killing. You want to use this with X being at least 2 otherwise it is bad value but then it is getting really overpriced for what it is. At five or six mana this is not even close to reliable enough removal. Perhaps if it were instant.

Aethersnatch - 4

The most reliable of the Desertion / Commandeer style cards but still a six mana Counterspell. These effects can be incredibly swingy but I don't see there being enough room in most decks to afford this kind of thing. Control decks are tight, you need smooth curve, power density and have a minimum threat count all of which Aethersnatch will hurt. The card can single handedly win games and has massive power potential with the big however that it is the kind of card I would only play when I have an awful deck and think I can only win games by luckily stealing them.

Scourge of Nel Toth - 4

Hard to say with with one. Very powerful in the right deck and deeply poor outside of that environment. A 6/6 flyer is a good thing, at seven mana it is not. In order for this to perform well you have to get it into your graveyard and then have small sacrificial dorks to bring it into play for the far more reasonable cost of BB. It is both a dragon and a zombie which give it some minor bonus synergies but mostly you just want discard outlets or perhaps Buried Alive for this bad boy. While I think this will be very strong when in the right deck it is a bit forced. The cube is best served when the majority of the cards can hold their own on their own. Narrow as it is I suspect we are ultimately looking at a B cube card. The support it has is very good, things like Liliana, Bloodghast, Bloodsoaked Champion etc. which goes a long way in helping alleviate the narrow issue. Black is a little aimless as a main colour these days so perhaps pushing it in a direction is what it needs?

Meren of Clan Nel Toth - 7

One of the best cards in the collection and exactly the thing Golgari decks want to populate their four slot. This is an uncondiational Oversold Cemetery on decent legs that triggers the turn you make it. A 4 mana 3/4 isn't great value for mana but it is a good size to be nominally. You outlive most of the cheap removal and dorks as well as the midrange utility creatures. Compare 4 mana 3/4 of Meren to 3 mana 2/1 of Eternal Witness and the quality of the body is more apparent. Yes, Meren only gets creatures but she does it every turn and really needs to die sharpish else the game is going to be over. This is all assuming you never gain any experience from Meren, as stuff starts to get dead she starts to get more obnoxious! Meren is fully cube worthy without any of the experience bits. It is easy to exploit the recursion, easy to power up experience and just makes the card that extra bit more juicy and powerful.

Synthetic Destiny - 1

Overkill really, there are better ways to do this effect and broadly speaking it isn't that good of a combo in cube even with the better cards.

Pathbreaker Ibex - 4

Craterhoof Behemoth's little brother! While the power and usefulness of this dork is pretty high it lacks a critical component compared to Craterhoof. Ibex has to live to attack and can be killed or tapped before you get your alpha strike. With a reliable mechanism to give it haste you have a very potent spell that might well outperform Overrun yet you can still play in decks than couldn't realistically run the 8 drop Behemoth. Very few decks will be able to give this the haste it needs and so I don't see it being too playable.

Corpse Auger - 1.5

Limp body, unpredictable effect with wild scaling that makes it unreliable and even dangerous. It can do nothing, it can kill you. There are certainly places it represents huge power and in which you can easily exploit it however that leaves it rather narrow. If I want to draw cards for life in black I can do so a lot more easily than this thing.

Karlov of the Ghost Council - 3.5

An odd little chap we have here. You need the support for this guy, without life gain he is a do nothing gribbly. With lifegain in abundance you have a two drop that can quickly become huge without any specific further investment on the card itself. The removal ability is weird and shouldn't come up too often. Usually an 8/8 is getting it done for you. There are not many creatures in the cube where you gain tempo from killing them and turning your 8/8 into a 2/2. I suspect the majority of times the effect is used is in response to a removal effect just to get some extra value before you lose your threat. Like Scourge of Nel Toth, this is very powerful in the right deck but it probably too narrow to run in the main cube unless you force it with sufficient support cards.

Daxos' Torment - 5

Yet more incredibly powerful narrow cards! You almost get enough value from one hit with this for it to be worth it. Thundermaw often only needs the 1 hit to close a game. Black also has surprising depth of playable enchantments including the mighty recastable Recurring Nightmare. With enough enchantments this should be an auto include in most decks but I am not sure what that number is and if such a deck would be viable. Broadly speaking two further enchantments after you cast Torment should be enough for it to end the game. You could get away with six or so enchantments to do this but ideally you would want over ten and that seems impractical. Ultimately this is another one of those cards that lets you focus areas of your cube, push the support for them and keep things fresh. Only pack this if you have some enchantment themes on the go and an above average enchantment count in your cube. Daxos' Torment, Karlov of the Ghost Council and Scourge of Nel Toth are all such cards but this does seem like the most viable to run in a standard good cards cube of the three.

Bloodspore Thrynax - 0

Too expensive, slow and onerous in setup costs.

Righteous Confluence - 5.5

Better than the green one, worse than the other three. While knights are always good the life and the enchantment removal are more situational. Knights are also a bit clunky, they are best suited to an aggro deck which usually doesn't want to go past four mana and would rather something like a Cloudgoat Ranger for some evasion. Being sorcery is annoying too as it makes it far less appealing as a control card. Less appealing as it might be that should be where it gets most of its play as it does things that control the game and has the versatility needed in control lists.  One thing I will say for this monster is that 15 life for 5 mana is an insane chunk and will be horrific for red decks to contend with. While it may be fairly good it is boring as all hell. Primal Command used to see a lot of play before Bow of Nylea stole its thunder. Mostly that was for library sustain in the control matches however it proved potent as 7 life far more often. It might offer less utility than Primal Command but it certainly offers much more power.

Thought Vessel - 4

I love the card but in reality it isn't doing enough for you to get played over a colour producing two drop artifact ramp card of which there are many or the humble Mind Stone. Unlimited handsize is rarely relevant and even on the odd occasion it comes into play it is rarely that significant. Great, you get to keep 4 bonus unwanted lands after your Upheaval....

Arjun, the Shifting Flame - 2

Not quite enough monster to go with the cost and the effect for this to be a cube thing. The effect is quite potent, especially in a 40 card deck, you will have great scope to find the things you need while stacking your library. As a two mana combo card this effect would be extreme, on a six drop 5/5 fatty it ins't and reliable or useful as a Consectrated Sphinx.

Mystic Confluence - 8

My my my. We have the big brother of Cryptic Command and it is impressively close in terms of how good it it. Confluence is more powerful but Command is far more versatile. I am also a big fan of the design of Confluence as it can be a high value soft counter or you can lower the value to improve the hardness of your counter. You can Evacuate their team, you can Jace's Ingenuity, Lovely. A lot of the Confluences feel like they are all of a planeswalker at once, you cast it, get 3 activations and it is gone rather than going through the rigmorale  of doing all that over three turns. Being instant is therefore much more like having a Teferi emblem in play for your planeswalker! I see this taking the spot of filler planeswalkers and Fact or Fiction a lot. It is too expensive to really consider a counterspell alone and only a stop gap in terms of removal. It is also one of the better blue answers to storm decks as playable countermagic goes.

Rite of the Raging Storm - 0

Not a cube card but lovely design for a multiplayer one at least.

Thief of Blood - 4

This is Wrath of Planeswalkers on legs. It is a super Vampire Hexmage. Sadly I think it is ultimately and expensive sorcery speed removal spell that is too situational to be playable blind. It is rare to be facing down more than one planeswalker but at even just one walker you are kind of getting a two for one with Thief. Due to the popularity of tokens and how much they are found coming from planeswalkers I think I would generally prefer Aethersnap in my deck and there is presently little call for that card in cube. Thief of Blood is powerful, swingy and does a somewhat exclusive thing but it just doesn't seem that pickable or playable.

Oreskos Explorer - 4

This is a calm version of Knight of the White Orchid. For a 1W cost instead of a WW one you lose the ability to put the plains into play and you lose the first strike. Losing both of those makes this card a little underpowered for cube. It is because the getting of the planes is conditional and generally relies on you going second, getting stitched or being late game to trigger. Explorer is much more powerful in the multiplayer setting and sadly seems a little bland for one on one cube.

Wretched Confluence - 7

Despite the lovely and unexpected instant speed of this Confluence I think I prefer the red one. The red one has more direction and purpose to it while this is just a collection of stuff. The only disruption or really interaction offered by Wretched Confluence is from the Disfigure modes. Unlike Mana Leak on Mystic Confluence which should usually only need on use to counter a spell the Disfigure will often need two or all three options to kill the offending card. Spending five mana to kill something like a Titan is not great and shouldn't be getting you ahead. It will be nice to kill three things with this but odds on if you do you will be mana down. This kills most tokens, almost all one drops and most two drops but at five mana, even if you get a three for one on killing stuff the odds are you have taken a kicking from them already. Disfigure effect is also only relevant to creatures, and so for a versatile expensive spell you don't get that much in the way of broad protection. You cannot go attacking their hand with this card which would be of far more use against control decks. Most of what Wretched Confluence seems to be is a card draw spell as two thirds of the modes draw cards. You either get powerful, known and needed things back from the bin or you dig into your deck of unknowns for a life a go. This pairing of card draw effects makes this a more potent draw tool than Mystic Command but black isn't overly lacking in that area. Wretched does somewhat posses and extra mode over the over Confluences however in that draw one lose one mode is targetable. Of the wins I get with Death Cloud I would say around half are just as a really bad BBBX Fireball that hits us both. I can see this being used as a bad Lightning Bolt in much the same way to close out games. It doesn't even really matter that it is such bad value when you do it because it ends the game, value is of no consequence when the game is over, there is no bonus credit for the in game efficiency of the spells. As such, any card that has a situational win the game clause that is not part of the main function of the card is significantly improved through having that effect regardless of other ways in which the same winning effect could be done cheaper or better with other cards. Confluence is a powerful and safe card but it lacks the versatility of the other Confluences. Despite being instant it still managed to have a slightly clunky black feel about it. A strong card for sure but if I am not sure how often it will win out for deck slots over cards like Ob Nixilus Reignited.

The Top Cards From Commander 2015

1.   Mystic Confluence
2.   Fiery Confluence
3.   Magus of the Wheel
4.   Wretched Confluence
5.   Meren of Clan Nel Toth
6.   Mizzix's Mastery
7.   Illusory Ambusher
8.   Dawnbreak Reclaimer
9.   Great Oak Guardian

The top five are all lock ins for the A cube, the other 4 have a reasonable shot of staying in the A cube. There are a decent bunch of other cards I will try out and quite like but that are ultimately B cube cards or occasional cards through needed to much in the say of support. There are some really lovely cards in this set, some exciting ones that spice up some old school decks that rarely get any new love these days. Some great design, some high power. Compared to last years commander sets I think we will end up with far less cube mainstays from the 2015 but it is about quality not quantity!