Thursday 22 January 2015

Balated Commander 2014 Review

I have not thus far reviewed these sort of card releases so have not devised a format for doing so. I have got the cards and have played them a little so this is not a predictive review but I have also not really played much so cannot really speak with much experience. As such the review will be mostly my initial opinions of the new cards and like my set reviews rather than my card reviews.

>5/10 = Maincube
3.5-5/10 = B cube
0.5 - 3.5/10 = C cube

Ob Nixilus of the Black Oath - 7/10

For one versus one play the +2 loyalty ability is not getting that much done for you, broadly the plus loyalty is better than the one point drain life. That said it will be fine against burny decks and will also help you to keep payments up on Bitterblossom and Phyrexian Arena. A planeswalker that can grow quickly is great both for survivability and for using the more powerful minus loyalty effects sooner and more often. Fortunately for Ob he has some serious ones of these that rather compensate for the low impact plus ability. Minus two for a 5/5 flyer is pretty nuts (go home new Sorin...) even with a life cost thrown in. It will go a long way to protecting Ob even with the one loyalty he has left if you demon up right away, and should Ob live you are going to be massively ahead. The ultimate is good but a little pricey, I suspect most of the time you are just going to win by making 5/5s. Against decks that might look to burn you out a safe play might be just to go directly for the ultimate rather than trying for demons but I think like a number of good walkers (Knight-Errant, Xenegos, Mind Sculptor etc) you will be winning more effectively using the non-ultimate abilities. Ob is very much narrower than most planeswalker, essentially he is a 5/5 demon machine however he is also one of the most immediately impactive should you be in a position to make said 5/5 which makes him quite a bit better than he first seems. Black has the weakest planeswalkers overall as well as the smallest selection so despite Ob being a little bit of a one trick pony I expect him to see quite a lot of play.

Ghoul Caller Gisa 3/10

In draft Gisa is one of those answer me or lose cards. In the more constructed formats she becomes rather cumbersome. A 3/4 for 5 is poor and getting no value until the next turn or without something worth sacrificing makes me not want to give this a slot. Sacrifice outlets are useful but on slow and expensive things they lose a lot of their value, even if they are powerful ones. Power wise this would not look out of place in a cube and will win a bunch of games but it doesn't add much and has many better alternatives you could have in its place.

Flesh Carver 7/10

A very powerful little grey ogre indeed that does a lot of what you want from a cube card. It offers utility in being a sac outlet, it has evasion, it can grow in size and most importantly it is tedious to kill without it netting some more value. While not quite as good a tempo card as Voice of Resurgence I think the cards are very comparable in power. Carver has more utility and is easier to play being a convenient mono card with single coloured mana requirements.

Spoils of Blood 3/10 (C cube)

Wrath protection effect or a way of getting a cheap threat in a deck with lots of mass removal. Too situational and too easily dealt with to be any sort of a mainstay in heads up magic.

Wake the Dead 4/10 (C cube)

A cute card that can be engineered to get lots of value with the right sort of dorks such as Myr Battlesphere, Grave Titan, Griselbrand etc however I think a little bit too niche to be a mainstay complement to the usual reanimate cards. Can double up as a a way to Wrath or Fog a bunch of attackers but again, it is situational in doing so.

Necromantic Selection 5.5/10

This rather puts Duneblast to shame, not only is it just one colour it also far less situational. Duneblast really needs you to have a dork to be brutal while this will always Wrath all their things and give you the best dork back. While this is one of the best recovery turn around spells on offer I am very wary of a seven man wrath, especially one that is sorcery, only hits dorks and only destroys them. The six mana wraths are often too slow to save you. Cube is getting slower and higher mana curve so perhaps some seven mana wraths will become viable in which case this will be one of the first in line. Decree of Pain is another reason this might not see play as it is more flexible yet comparably blow out late game.

Overseer of the Damned 5.5/10

This is somewhere between a Grave Titan and a Shriekmaw but sadly costs more than either. At six this would be a cube mainstay, at seven I am not so sure. This card offers a lot of value and tempo and has great reanimate synergies as well as being just about viable to hardcast in a selection of more normal decks. If you get to play it you should stabilize if far behind and do a lot towards winning in a closer game. The problem is of course playing it, a black seven drop will sit in your hand for ages doing little to nothing for you. Black has basically no card quality but it does have some reasonable ramp. If you are confident you can make it consistently or not have it as a wasted resource when you cant then this is a worthy consideration however I think such a situation will be uncommon. Sheoldred is the main competition this card has for a cube slot and the more immediate nature of this makes me prefer it overall.

Malicious Affliction 7.5/10 (A cube)

Doom Blade for BB instead of 1B with a reasonable chance to get a two for one is all good. This is comfortably blacks most powerful removal spell but is hard to find good comparisons for. Arc Trail is one of the only good cheap spells you can frequently use to get a two for one however Arc Trail is very early game, it fails to kill a lot of late game things but has no prerequisite to getting a two for one. Malicious Affliction is kind of the reverse of this, early game it is least easy to engineer a two for one yet its removal power scales much better into the late game  Arc Trail can be godly early but is usually just a bad Shock late game, this in contrast is a reasonable Doom Blade early game and gets better as the game goes on. The one thing to be careful of with Affliction is getting carried away with getting value from it, if you just need to go one for one early then think nothing of doing so and forgoing bonus value. Essentially the only bad thing about this card is that you can get trapped into playing badly with it because it seems like a waste not to get a 2 for 1. Just the presence of it in the cube has change how people play, a little like Wingshards. The effects of walking into it can be devastating. Imagine the situation where you have 2 3/3s and a 1/1, your opponent is on four or even five life and has a 2 power first strike creature in play. Before Malicious Affliction your correct attack was everything as odds on you are getting in some extra free damage with that 1/1 or representing lethal. If they have Malicious Affliction however they are able to block and kill your 1/1 and then shoot down both your 3/3s all while taking no damage. As such you might not be able to risk sending the 1/1 into the battle. I have already had Affliction be really blow out and powerful a couple of times however I suspect as people are more familiar with it that will calm down a lot.

Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury 7.0

A lovely planeswalker that is almost greener than Garruk Wildspeaker in colour pie terms. Freyalise is one of the most rounded, and therefore probably most powerful, of the new commander walkers. Sadly she is facing fierce competition from a dearth of other green five drops including two top quality walkers so perhaps Ob will see more play. Of these other green five drop options Freyalise is the least impactive, she is just making 1/1s while Garruk is on the 3/3s and Nissa the 4/4s. Having Naturalize as her -2 ability makes her more of an answer card than a threat although the fact that she sort of does both does add to her appeal for control decks. Her ultimate is fairly easy to pull off with a cost of six and the ability to grow two each turn. It also scales well with the +2 allowing you to draw a lot of cards although probably not as effectively as Primal Hunter. Given that I have never used Primal Hunter's ultimate it is more like you have 3 abilities on Freyalise and only two on the five mana Garruk although they are slightly more potent. The 1/1s may tap for mana but once you are already at five there is limited use in ramping further outside the most extreme ramp decks. All round you have a sturdy and versatile planeswalker that is a little on the slow side to take control of the game. A few turns against an unconstested Jace is usually just game over while you might just have started to notice Freyalise's effect on the game after a few turns!

Titania, Protector of Argoth 6/10

Another powerful five drop, this time in creature form and looking most like a Thragtusk. If you can make Titania with a sac land or Wasteland in the bin you are going to be getting two 5/3s and a land up. In combination with Zuran Orb, Armageddon, Sylvan Safekeepr, Knight of the Reliquary or just lots of sac lands you are going to be able to produce a terrifying army rapidly. What lets her down is that you need the appropriate synergies to abuse her otherwise you are just making a bad 5/3 for five with no added value. Certainly a card that is powerful enough for the cube but with many other five drops in green and Titania's extra requirements she might not see enough play to hold onto a slot.

Lifeblood Hydra 1/10

The effects rather needed to be when it enters the battlefield, having to have this die makes it unreliable and far too expensive. A Sphinx's Revelation this is not.

Siege Behemoth 3/10

Seven mana for four toughness makes me wary, even with hexproof protection. It is more things like Mizzium Mortars that I am afraid of that getting killed in combat as you should be able to win the game in one hit with this guy. Much like Craterhoof Behemoth, this card is a finisher that gives a lot of reach to rampy green decks. So often such decks will get into a stall where both sides have loads of small guys and a couple of fatties but there are no good attacks. Either afore mentioned Behemoth will end the game in such a situation but I think Craterhoof is the more reliable and dangerous of the two. Having haste makes Craterhoof quicker despite costing a mana more and it offers fatal damage with far less in play. This is a fine card that performs a job fairly well, just not as good as alternatives. It is a terrible threat in its own right as it is so easily blocked and killed which I think therefore rules it out for cube play.

Song of the Dryads 7/10

A cross between Path to Exile and Oblivion Ring, this new Beast Within style card is highly valuable in green. Song of the Dryads might not seem all that great compared to Oblivion Ring, Maelstrom Pulse etc however in green this versatile removal is golden and unlike Beast Within does not provide your opponent with a threat. Sorcery speed and three mana is roughly the going rate for removal that hits most targets so you don't feel that hard done by when playing this. Mostly it is going to be taking out creatures as that is where green is weakest but you will be more than happy to blow it on an equipment or a planeswalker. You can even use it like a Spreading Sea to shut down an annoying non-basic land or on one of your own things as a bad ramp spell. One of the most versatile spells out there, offering rare things to green all at a price that is very reasonable. A subtle card that is very much one of the stand out cards in this set, more so because of what new things it offers rather than its raw power.

Creeperhulk 6/10

Oh look, another powerful green five drop... This one is a reasonable body for the price although not overly exciting and it does not provide any immediate value or any upon death which would usually be the point at which I moved on. Ant Queen is a cool card but just does not compare well to the likes of Thragtusk for value or Wolfir Silverheart for impact. She is a good mana sink but then I think I would usually be running a Jade Mage if I wanted a mana sink of that ilk. Creeperhulk is not so much a mana sink as a way of ending the game, it is a card that can perform the role of Craterhoof Behemoth in a deck that isn't going to be getting to eight mana any time soon. For a small cost you can turn your mana elves into 5/5 tramplers which should punch through most defences pretty effectively. Like Siege Behemoth you need other things to make it good but unlike the Behemoth you have a fine enough threat for the cost without extra support. Even if this is not ending the game right away it is making combat a total nightmare for your opponents. This is easy to play and fairly dangerous, it is not an exciting card but it certainly good enough. A good top and threat for the mana, some combat trickery and stalemate breaking power thrown in and we have a winner.

Wave of Vitriol 2/10

A powerful card that is overly variable in what it is going to be getting done. Some decks will be wreaked by various portions of the cards while most will not suffer that much. Seven is far too much for global destruction spells that are situational or that don't hit the most serious threats - creatures and planeswalkers. Wave of Vitriol is both of these things and shouldn't be seeing any play consequently.

Grave Sifter 3/10

Fat but unexciting body and an effect you neither really want on a six drop nor want as the main aspect of the card. For this to be good you have to have a tribal theme, have a load of your guys killed and then cast this. To have Primeval Titan be good you only have to follow the last step.

Nahiri the Lithomancer 5.5/10

Without equipment in your deck Nahiri is pretty awful. Although she does make an equipment for her ultimate it is very expensive to do so and doesn't have any synergy with either of her other abilities. It is zero to equip already and being a token cannot be in your hand or graveyard. Making a 1/1 each turn is fine and growing two loyalty a go makes her fairly robust but versatility is a big part of planeswalkers and Nahiri basically has none without equipment cards. You may still play this in a deck without equipment but certainly not if you have an Elspeth to choose from instead! Although not too far behind the various Elspeth's in terms of value token making for the loyalty and cost of the walker it is just her lack of other utility that makes her so much less exciting. If you do have several equipment then Nahiri becomes better, I prefer her in such a situation to Elspeth Tirrel (and likely Sun's Champion too but that is because six is a tall order for more beaty creature focused decks). Even with 2 or 3 equipment you will still fairly rarely use the -2 ability or even equip up one of the 1/1s for free very often but the ability to do so broadens her sufficiently to be decent.

Jazal Goldmane 5.5/10

A 4/4 for 4 with first strike is a solid body but not up to the power level for cube play. Throwing in an Overrun effect unsurprisingly makes Jazal a viable cube card. Dorks without any bonus value that require you to invest mana to be reaching their full potential are typically bad. As we have seen in this set, those that can potentially end the game and at least make combat a real nightmare are much more acceptable. Hero of Bladehold is probably the better card overall as it requires no mana investment once made and will net you some value each attack. Jazal is a bit more sturdy in his own right and although Bladehold has a pretty lethal clock Jazal can offer a much quicker kill given the right board conditions. The other major advantage Jazal has over Bladehold is that he is much more likely to survive being involved in an attack. He can even provide his bonus without being involved in combat should you have just cast him and have five mana still spare or for some crazy reason they have a blocker able to take him down post pumping. Not an auto include in cube but also not a card that will ever seem out of place in a cube.

Comeuppance 5/10

I am not quite sure where to place this. As a fog it is quite expensive, as a Wrath it is pretty nutty! I fear this will suffer the same sort of problem as Aetherspouts in that it doesn't deal with all the things you would like it too. On top of this it is white already and therefore not fulfilling a role that is hard to come by in the colour. In a lot of situations this will literally be an instant speed Wrath of God however if it did become a thing people would wise up to it very fast and be able to play around it very easily turning it into an over cost Wing Shards. Most creatures in the cube have power that is equal or greater than their toughness however there are enough that don't follow this rule that will make this annoying. Certainly powerful but a bit too high variance while offering a thing done more reliably by other cards for a main cube slot.

Containment Priest 6/10

Grizly Bears that hose things in white are commonplace. Typically I like the ones that have broad application rather than ones than hose very specific things like this one. Fortunately for Containment Priest it hoses the powerful cheesy spells like Tinker, Oath of Druids, Sneak Attack, Goblin Welder, Reanimate, Recurring Nightmare, Show and Tell, Natural Order and a few others, all of which are tedious to lose to and deserve a bit of hosing. It also has some powerful interactions with effects like Flickerwisp allowing you to build your deck with it in mind rather than just throwing it in hoping it will be good. Containment Priest is not a high power card but it is good enough and has the added bonus of evening things up a bit in the cube by reducing the power of some of the most abusive cards.

Hallowed Spiritkeeper 7.5/10

One of the best cards from the sets offering white another valuable dork that leaves stuff behind when killed. A 3/2 vigilance for 3 is fine, if a little unusual. Getting one or more 1/1 flyers back upon its death is nutty good. As he counts himself and any other creatures you might have in play that die at the same time as him you can happily overextend against Wraths with this guy out. The longer the game goes on the more dangerous it is to kill this guy, two 1/1 fliers is comparably good to a 3/2 vigilance, as soon as you are getting 3 or more you are getting to a stage where your opponent really won't want to kill it. The tokens scale well with Honor the Pure and similar white effects. The only thing "bad" about this card is that he is an avatar and therefore has no tribal synergies... unless you have a spirit deck I guess. I would go so far as to say this is the most annoying of all the wrath protected creatures, even the most all round powerful. Finks, Voice of Resurgence and Strangleroot give it a good run for its money but the ongoign scaling and extra anti Wrath
nature of Hallowed Spiritkeeper give it the edge.

Angel of the Dire Hour 5/10

A powerful card that isn't quite there on several levels. For seven mana I would like more than 4 toughness. It is neither a fantastic removal spell or a great threat and as with Comeuppance it is very easy to play around should you know it is a possibility. Exile is nice, as is the potential to Wrath and hit man lands at instant speed but I don't see it being reliable enough to earn a slot. Elesh Norn seems vastly more potent in this area and white has many other top rate seven drops that are more rounded or proactive than this Angel. That all said and done, this is incredibly swingy. Most people wont see it coming and even when you do you cannot really stop it being worse than a good two for one. Not a card I really like but also really powerful and quite playable in the slowing cube meta.

Teferi, Temporal Archmage 6.5/10

A very powerful utility planeswalker that costs a hefty chunk. Teferi is not really a threat in the way most planeswalkers are, nor can he protect himself very well without other things to support him. He isn't even doing anything that powerful when you make him, unless you are some High Tide/Hearbeat of Spring/artifact ramp deck in which case you have probably just got a bad Turnabout. Having five starting loyalty as well as a lovely +1 goes a little way to helping Teferi live if you have no blockers to untap or Cryptic Commands to untap lands for. A similar sort of walker that was balanced for costing four mana, perhaps even five would be vastly more playable but at six I fear he is a large investment for what he does for you that will make a lot of opening hands look really uncomfortable. I love the ultimate, I wish more things offered this effect however given how hard it is going to be to pull it off, especially compared to a lot of other walkers, it is one of the least powerful and most situational of ultimates going for a heads up format. What I have been finding with Teferi is that he is very powerful in control decks as he lets you have some very big turns.You almost always have to use the -1 ability a couple of times before you stabilize however this lets you do some very extreme things very safely. I had made Teferi, untapped and cast Treachery and then followed that with a Jace, Architect of Thought entirely turning the game around. I had had some huge (sorcery speed) Sphinx's Revelations earlier in the game than usual. I have been able to follow up Terefi on the next turn with Aetherling's and Titans and still have lots of mana left up to for counters and activations. Teferi looks underwhelming however after repeatedly abusing people with him it got dubbed the blue six mana Elspeth! High praise and overly generous but making a good point. It is all about having him in a good and capable deck and being able to power up your mana with him that makes him so strong. The card draw is only really for use once you run out of good things to spend your many mana on. I think a more appropriate tag for Teferi would be as the blue Garruk Wildspeaker. Having written all this I now realize the card that Teferi most feels like when you play him and that it Gilded Lotus rather obscurely! The joy is that unlike most other ramp which has diminishing returns as you run out of things to play, Teferi can switch to card draw mode.

Stormsurge Kraken 2/10

The only lieutenant card that is playable assuming you never can trigger the bonus. A 5/5 hexproof for 5 is fairly fat and in blue it is quite impressive but not quite playable enough. Prognostic Sphynx gets a lot more done for the mana. Threats that are just threats really need to start having some kind of evasion once they cost five or more mana.

Intellectual Offering 2/10

A powerful card but in heads up play it is limited in its uses, primarily as an untap artifacts effect with Ancestral Recall bolted on for use in storm combo. Niche to say the least.

Well of Ideas 3/10

This offers a silly amount of card draw but it is overkill and being six mana it is also unwieldy. I am sure there will be better tools for the job in almost any situation that this.

Reef Worm 0/10

A silly spell that is overpriced and easily turned into a big waste of time for whoever was silly enough to play it.

Aether Gale 3/10

Potentially a naughty card against midrange decks but against weenie decks or control decks this is going to be doing very little indeed.

Daretti, Scrap Savant 6/10

Powerful and works well with his own abilities however needs a lot of support cards to make him viable. Faithless Looting or just a single loot should you wish for +2 loyalty is all round good and has many applications but the other abilities are blanks without artifacts in your deck. Gaining loyalty is vastly less appealing when you have nothing to spend it on and a 4 mana looter alone therefore does not cut it. There are certain powerful cube archetypes however that Daretti slots perfectly into and others he can be made to work in quite well. He provides support and redundancy for Goblin Welder and Reanimate decks. Trash for Treasure at -2 loyalty is a powerful effect indeed when you have Myr Battlesphere and/or Wurmcoil Engine in your bin. Being able to do it right away and not even lose Daretti makes it not unlike Tinker or Show and Tell, a little slower to cheat things into play but with lots more added value. If your cube has reasonable artifact support then Daretti is a no brainer, if not then he is a do nothing.

Feldon of the Third Path 6.5/10

While Feldon makes artifacts he does not require it of things he makes like Daretti and as such he is much more widely useful and playable. He is much more of a Recurring Nightmare than a Corpse Dance, Sneak Attack or Whip of Erebos. You can just use him in a midrange deck to gain incremental advantages or you can use him as a solid alternate win mechanism in a more combo style of deck along side things such as the afore mentioned Sneak Attack. Goblin Welder and Daretti are very powerful but require you to build your deck around them while Feldon can be good in most decks. Although on paper he looks most alike to a cheaper Whip of Erebos the fact that Feldon does not exile the thing he is effectively returning allows you to use him more easily and for a wider range of things. Just one dork in the bin and you can repeatedly flop in it to play every turn. Feldon would likely have been better if he were not a creature as he is quite vulnerable and liable to die before you can start to abuse him. As his body is weak he is much more of a late game card that requires six mana of investment before you have gotten much done. As you only get one attack with each token you make a lot of the best targets are things with comes into play or when it dies effects, the dream is Inferno Titan but simple plenty of cheaper and more humble cards get a lot of work done for you. A lot of the times he will just bait removal but this is kindof find on a 3 mana card that can easily win the game if not.

Volcanic Offering 5.5/10

A card that works out like Council's Judgement in that it really confuses people with all the extra pointless wording for heads up play. Essentially this is destroy a land and a dork for five mana at instant speed. It has a few limitations in what it can kill but for the most part it will take down the things you want it to. There are some very rare situations where your opponent wants to kill some of their own things such as an errant Abyssal Persecutor which can make this annoying to play. Overall neither of those are much of a drawback and you are left with a good but rather dull removal spell. It is expensive for removal but it is also a very reliable two for one that can be used at instant speed. For any deck attacking mana bases this is interesting as it does what you want as well as what you likely need it to as well. It also has a lot of appeal in control as there are a lot of problem lands control decks struggle to cope with, the high cost is offset by being instant. It compares a little to Prophetic Bolt, Bolt is more versatile but less powerful and harder to play. Volcanic Offering fulfils two separate roles however which Bolt does not and so when you want the ability to kill lands without having to fully dedicate a card to doing so it is a strong candidate.

Incite Rebellion 3/10

Powerful but far too situational, so much so that even against the decks it is good at it will be all to easy to play around or get a read on you trying to set it up. A good Wish target but not a card you can blind maindeck.

Scrap Mastery 6/10

Living Death for artifacts! This gives a whole lot of new options to red decks, especially with Daretti as well. Overall Living Death is a much more powerful and playable card, most of the things you would want to get back with Scrap Mastery you would also be able to get back with Living Death. Scrap Mastery rarely kills much of your opponents stuff either while it typically kills more of your own stuff than Living Death would because you wind up running a bunch of mana and cheap utility non-creature artifacts. The two main perks of Scrap Mastery over Living Death is that you can use it much more safely as a one sided mass recursion effect. If you care more about what you might get back for your opponent than you do Wrathing them then Scrap Mastery is an interesting option. The second perk is that it is red allowing you to fully forgo black cards in your artifact reanimator style deck which adds a great deal of variation and options to the cube. This card is very narrow but also incredibly powerful and has come in a set that is chock full of other top quality red support cards.

Warmonger Hellkite 4/10

Powerful but just not as much so as many other options, nor does it do anything specifically useful, only situationally so. You can get some effective alpha strikes with this or break a stalemate however six mana 5/5s need to do a bit more these days.

Dualcaster Mage 7/10

One of the most exciting cards from the set and thus far fairly comparable to Eternal Witness for potency. Certainly more situational that Eternal Witness but typically more powerful. The body having one more toughness and flash make a pretty significant difference in terms of getting value out of that portion of the card however with both Dualcaster and Witness you are primarily playing it for the effect. Both are fairly weak early, with Witness it is because you have few to no options of cards to recur while with Dualcaster it is a lack of mana preventing you casting it and something to usefully Fork at once. Typically I have found Dualcaster to be of more use early as there are some decent free spells and you can just steal one of your opponents if they happen to cast something useful. I have cast a lot more Ponders in non-blue decks since the release of Dualcaster! They both get better as the game goes on, Witness for increasing options making it more like Demonic Tutor which is good but isn't giving you any scaling. Dualcaster increases in options to a point as you gain mana but it also scales in power with the spells you fork, as soon as you copy 4cmc or more spells you are gaining power as well as some free value. I have found myself playing Dualcaster in Red Deck Wins all the way to UR(x) control. He is very naughty with Fireblast although I have had more luck with Searing Blaze, a card that despite being only two mana feels like you are getting the scaling power bonus of a 4cmc spell! I am also very fond of how you can counterspell a Counterspell with Dualcaster. Other fun tricks include forking delve spells or suspend spells, typically ones that say draw three cards on them as well. A great card that requires skill in building and skill in playing, it creates a lot of fun and unusual situations while remaining a fair cube card.

Masterwork of Ingenuity 4/10

While this is incredibly potent I fear it is just too narrow for the cube. To play this sensibly you would need at least three equipment in your deck and ideally some in your opponents and I simply don't have enough equipment to make that prospect at all common. Equipment typically suffers diminishing returns as well, having two Swords of Fire and Ice is certainly better than one but also certainly not twice as good. I love the synergy with this and Trinket Mage and I love this card but I can't justify giving it a slot. I suspect it will see play in the odd tier two equipment themed deck with Auriok Steelshapers and the like but these will be full of other cards too narrow for the cube like the one previously mentioned.

Unstable Obelisk 4/10

I want this card to be good but it just quite isn't there. Ramp early and late on a fantastic removal out sounds like a pretty perfect match that would make it in a lot of decks. Sadly neither half of the card is at all efficient at what it does. 3 mana for a single colourless ramp is well below par and then a further 7 mana to Vindicate something is pretty extortionate.

Flamekin Village 7/10

You cannot go too far wrong with this handy little land. Teetering Peaks and Smouldering Spires both get a decent amount of play for a one off effect at much the same penalty. They may offer slightly better tempo boosts on that turn however their overall effect is rather slight, sometimes doing nothing, while Flamekin Village is more like a Kessig Wolf Run in that it represents an ongoing threat that forces awkward plays even when it isn't being used for anything other than mana. Coming into play tapped is a drawback and needs to be considered while building, you don't want too many lands doing that in your deck, especially if it is trying to win fast. At least 95% of the time this will be coming into play tapped, there are enough elementals in the cube that you can occasionally expect to get a super good mountain with the Village. Thus far I have found village used in a wide array of decks from combo style reanimator decks, to midrange decks all the way down to red deck wins. Haste is a thing you really want on your guys, it makes them more like spells, gives you tempo and makes you much harder to react to. Many of the effects that give haste to dorks however are too unreliable to use frequently, the investment in making them rather than a threat or drawing them after you have cast most of your threats etc can leave you with dead cards and ultimately cost you games. While very powerful they are like combat tricks, only really playable when the card is also doing something else useful for you. Lightning Greaves is an artifact and protection giving two extra uses, Reckless Charge has graveyard synergy and good potential damage output, Lightning Mauler is threat and gets some stuff done on its own. These were probably the three most played haste givers in the cube but being a land is so much more widely useful than any of those other cards the Village has jumped in as the new favourite.

Arcane Lighthouse 3/10

A very useful effect on a easily playable colourless land. The thing is that there are many better colourless lands that do more useful or more powerful things. There are plenty of ways to be able to cope against hexproof and shroud nor do you need to that often. Well under half of decks have hexproof or shroud minions in them and the urgency you have in dealing with them without resorting to global effects depends on the dork with shroud/hexproof and the game state, in my experience it tends to be less awkward than lifelink or a way of returning to play upon death like persist. Basically if you could put this in your deck and feel you have the need you are almost certainly better off playing more Wrath of God style cards and having a better colourless land like Rishadan Port or Mishra's Factory. Quite a cute Living Wish target as well but despite this looking handy I suspect it will see little to no play.

Myriad Landscape 7/10

For me this is another one of the stand out cards in this set.  It just does everything and it does it while being a perfectly fine land. You get ramp, you get fixing, you get card advantage, you get shuffle, you get card quality, you really do get a lot of good and different things from this card. As a land that ramps it is most comparable to Temple of the False God. City of Traitors and Ancient Tomb are far more bursty but offer far poorer sustained mana gains, they are used early so as to end the game quicker. Temple of the False God and Myriad Landscape are used more in decks that want a continued mana advantage as they expect and want the game to go on longer. Temple of the False God is less of an investment to get going and therefore has better tempo however it offers only the ramp bonus, none of the many others Myriad Landscape also offers. Krosan Verge is a slightly more powerful version of this card but it is entirely restricted to GW(x) decks and is therefore too narrow for cube use. Myriad Landscape works for any mono or two coloured pairing deck, it cannot fix both your colours like Verge but it will at least fix one for you. You need to be playing at least five of one kind of basic land or 4 of two types (perhaps 4 and 3 if you are risky and have some reshuffle effects) to be able to reliably play Myriad Landscape but that is an easy requirement to fulfil. I am pretty much at the point where I will automatically play this in any two or less colour control decks I build.

All in all the commander 2014 sets offered a lot of very interesting and powerful cube cards. There are no totally stupid dull cards like True Name Nemesis but there are an awful lot of cube worthy cards. Compared to any other set, the number of new cards to those that are cube worthy in Commander 2014 is far far greater. For any new and budding cube players, builders and designers I can highly reccommend it as a good investment of product.

Monday 5 January 2015

Fate Reforged Preliminary Review

Yasova Dragon Claw 5.5

A 4/2 trample for 2G is not the worst deal in the world and this quirky human comes with bonus inbuilt Threaten each turn. This is certainly good enough to see cube play however we are very much now in a place where there are so many cube worthy magic cards that a lot comes down to personal preference or the themes in your cube. I will certainly try this card out as it is quite hard to judge on paper alone. It has many qualities and lots of potential however it has a few awkward aspects to counterbalance this. The big one is that you only get 2 toughness for your three mana which can really hurt your tempo when you stand to get no free value as you do with Kitchen Finks or Trinket Mage. A simple Arc Trail will ruin the aggressive turn one Elf into this turn two and that is something to be wary of with cards like this. A little like with Boon Satyr, you can flop this down on turn two or three to smooth your curve but more often you want to make it later when you can use it more fully. When you have six mana you can make Yasova and threaten right away giving helping to ensure you do not get blown out with cheap removal. Another drawback to Yasova is that she is basically gold as you ideally want access to the ability. Certainly it is a flexible and convenient style of gold card but it is still more restrictive than the afore mentioned Boon Satyr. Yasova is aggessive early, has the potential to dominate a late game and offers some decent synergy options. A few years ago Yasova would have have been a lock in for the cube but now, with such fierce competition from other great cards, she will have to earn a main cube slot.

Valorous Stance 7

Not an especially exciting card but a real gem none the less. Comparable removal and combat tricks have been played in the cube and so this offering an option on either makes it a real winner. This is better than a lot of the two mana RtR Charms and it is just one colour! Usually cards like this are a cost such that neither aspect of the card is that powerful compared to cards with less utility, see Izzet Charm for two or Careful Study, Shock and Spell Pierce for one. Valorous Stance compared to Reprisal seems altogether rather more reasonable. Mostly I suspect this will be included for the removal option so as to make your deck more robust however I think you will wind up using both portions of the card fairly frequently. Combat tricks are good, counterspelling removal effects are good and they are all the better when you don't have to dedicate a card to having that option available. All the very best cube effects of this nature all have other uses so as to offset the situational aspect and Valorous Stance does this exceptionally well. It is good enough to be viable in aggro, mid-range and control decks which is not something many cards can boast.

Sandsteppe Mastodon 2

Wolfir Silverheart this is not. While you can flop this out as a 10/10 with no other dorks around it is still just bad compared to alternatives. Seven mana cards should do a whole lot more than this even if this does seem powerful in a nominal sort of way.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon 7.5

Somewhere between a Karn Liberated and a Nicol Bolas Planeswalker. Lots of power for lots of mana but being so versatile and so colourless I suspect this top end planeswalker will see quite a lot of play, certainly more than Nicol Bolas. Lots of starting loyalty with a strong and readily useful +2 ability allow you to safely, efficiently and quickly grow this beast. If things are a bit rougher you have a panic button mode which should leave you with Ugin in play and deal with everything else. Indeed, the minus X ability alone on this should see All is Dust removed to the B cube and getting very little play thereafter. Ugin even has a more useful ultimate than most other walkers. He should be able to close out games with the top two abilities but the ultimate offers far more in the way of outs and power to Ugin. It is fairly easy to get Ugin to 10 or more loyalty and if you are in burn range or need a specific card the -10 can help on both accounts. It gives you a huge influx of resources and will be very hard to beat. All in all there are no downsides to Ugin beyond his immense cost, he is well rounded, offers lots of utility and lots of power. If you think you will get to 8 mana with your deck Ugin is going to be a strong candidate for it. For one more mana you get a lot more power than you do with Karn, for normal decks that one extra mana will be very slow to come by however for any sort of ramp deck the difference will be fairly negligible.

Ethereal Ambush 4

Five mana for a pair of 2/2s, even at instant speed, is not enough for the cube however the potential for those 2/2s to be creatures you can "morph" in rather increases the value of the card. I still think it is a bit slow, expensive and situational to see play but it is none the less an interesting card. There are some silly combos with manifest effects as well such as Phyrexian Dreadnaught (which I assume works) for which blue and green are good colour hosts.

Soul Summons 4

Much less exciting than Ethereal Ambush this cheaper more basic version of the card is likely going to be the go to spell for and manifest synergy simply because it is so cheap. A 2/2 for two is also acceptable enough that even with just some synergy with the card you may play it in a white weenie style deck. Not powerful but doing a specific thing as cheaply as we are likely to see it.

Gurmag Angler 2

This is likely better than Tombstalker now as it can be reduced to one mana and because it is a zombie but Tombstalker has not seen any cube play in quite a few years now. I think this is overall to narrow for the cube however it is exactly the kind of card that will slot perfectly into some synergy/tribal based aggro decks.

Jeskai Sage 6

While not an obvious bomb this new incarnation of Survielling Sprite / Alchemist's Apprentice seems like it does the job you want it to better than the others. Blue has very little in the way of cheap creatures making cards like Thassa and Master of Waves much harder to abuse as well as a more general difficulty in creating tempo decks. All the good cheap blue dorks either offer pathetic stats or they are just to low power compared to the other colours dorks. This card being more than a 1/1 actually has a relevant board presence beyond being a chump blocker and the fact that it is not as powerful as a Tarmogoyf is well offset by the replacement card you get when it dies. Alone this card is very average however it does a huge amount of work to make the strong blue three and four drop tempo cards that much better and more viable. Previously Looter-il Kor was about the best thing you could hope to play on turn two in a (non-merfolk) tempo blue deck and for that reason I would expect this to be a mainstay aggro blue card for some time to come. Prowess is at its best in blue decks as well which helps this little critter too.

Soulflayer 6.5

Another better than Tombstalker card but for rather different reasons than Gurmag Angler. Soulflayer has great utility, scaling and abuses that Tombstalker lacked, it is just a 5/5 flier. Soulflayer is cheaper and has the potential to be far far better. Haste, indestructible, hexproof, doublestrike and lifelink are all obnoxious things you can give Soulflayer that can make it far more troublesome than just a 5/5 flier. Trample and flying are also very strong for it and any other ability is a perk. Many of these abilities can be found on widely playable creatures and sometimes several on just one. The humble Vampire Nighthawk alone makes Soulflayer look very good and that is a low end outcome for the card. You can simply throw Soulflayer into a midrangy dork deck where there are some nice abilities for it to pick up and a reasonable chance it is costing 4 or less fairly early in the game. You can also go a bit more focused on the card and include slightly more awkward critters with the right key words and a heavier discard theme. Overall this is a versatile minion that can be nutty and will never be awful while also being a card that rewards skilled deck design.

Whisperwood Elemental 5.5

While a very powerful card there is fierce competition in green on the five slot from both planeswalker and creatures. Whisperwood offers incremental value much like a planeswalker as well as a little bit of security against mass removal effects. Not only does it put things onto the board and offer reasonable tempo but with the manifest mechanic and a half decent creature count you should also be getting decent card advantage as well which is a much more exciting and rare ability in green. The downsides of the card are that it is slow to do that much and is quite a weak body for the mana itself. You can even have it killed before your end step and gain no advantage at all from it. Despite being a creature it does feel like it compares more to the various five mana planeswalkers in green than it does to the other five mana creatures. As with all manifest the Elemental is improved with library manipulation however being an ongoing (hopefully) effect it will scale better with Sylvan Library and such than Soul Summons etc. The verdict is that it is comfortably powerful enough for the cube but may not see enough play to keep a slot due to the potent alternatives. Master of the Wild Hunt is another card similar to this, offering removal instead of card advantage and protection and having a cheaper cost for a smaller body. The difference between and end step trigger and an unkeep one is huge and makes the Whisperwood a far better card in a vacuum. I am tempted to do a direct swap for the two cards as Master sees very little play these days despite greens lack of removal options. It is a little of an awkward swap as the cards are at different pionts on the curve and can be used for completely different reasons.

Outpost Siege 2

Good options to have on a card however both are a bit pricey for what you get in return. It is unlikely you will have a deck that frequently wants to use both sides of the card and for just one of the abilities you have much better alternatives you can use instead. At three mana this would be vastly more appealing, as it is I suspect it will never see cube play.

Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury 3.5

Powerful but not enough better or different that Falkenrath Aristocrat or Thundermaw Hellkite to merit a cube slot. Dash is a useful mechanic but really I would just rather have haste on my dork when the costs are the same as they are with Kolaghan. A powered up version of battlecry is also nice but again, done better by cheaper more streamlined cards like Hero of Oxid Ridge (who isn't even in the cube himself) and Hellrider.

Shemanic Revelation  3.5

I like the card a lot and imagine it will outperform Sphinx's Revaltion in the right decks however it is narrow and is awful when you don't have a board presence. While green is a little light on card draw effects it prefers to have them on the back of planeswalkers or creatures like Regal Force so that they are not so dead when you cannot effectively draw with them. This also has potential use as redundancy for this kind of effect in a more combo style deck but again, such things are narrow and as such this will never have a permanent A cube slot. It is a whole lot better than Collective Unconcious at least!

Flamerush Rider 3

This is quite an awkward card to review as it is very polar. When it is bad it is very very bad and when it is good it is lovely. With a good attacking board position and something like a Flametongue Kavu that has a great enter the battlefield effect to copy you can wreak people with this, the slightly cheaper dash will really help you to set up and surprise people with it as well. Overall I would say this card is a win more card and despite it being quite fun I cannot see it being a cube mainstay or performing at all consistently.

Sage-Eye Avengers 1

This is so far from the power level of the various other blue six drops that it isn't much worth discussing the various merits of this card. It is good, but not good enough, and it does a thing quite well but the thing it does it a bit late in the day for when this Djinn offers it. No evasion, no protection, no card advantage, not that much of a threat, just some very late to the party tempo.

Palace Siege 0

Both halves of this card are grossly over cost for the effect and neither are that exciting on top of that. This is the worst of the Siege cycle of which none are very good.

Temporal Trespass 6

A good card, likely better than Temporal Mastery however not a bomb card by any means. Eight is a lot to delve, unless you are hitting more than six cards the vast majority of the time then this is quite a lot worse than conventional five mana Time Walks. Delve cards scale poorly with each other and for my money I would rather be Digging Through Time and Cruising for Treasure than Trespassing the Temporal if I felt like I would have a full enough yard to use such cards consistently. I do wonder if a critical mass of top rate delve cards is being reached such that Mental Note style cards are becoming viable A cube cards. The low end of this card is unplayably bad and the top end is not that much more exciting than Temporal Manipulation and Time Warp. Compare that to Dig Through Time which is quite acceptable when you cannot delve hard or at all and is so much better than some thing like a Fact or Fiction when cast for just UU. Self exile ensures the card is hard to abuse but I feel like the delve would have done that anyway for cube at least. Triple blue cost also goes a long way to restricting the applications of the card to the point where I think it will only see play in heavy blue tempo decks that have ways to pitch it to other effects or graveyard based combo decks like reanimator.

Jeskai Infiltrator 1

A cute card that is quite fun and can offer a fair amount of value. The issues with this card are poor stats for the mana, that it is very slow to yield advantage, that there are many other good blue three drops and that it has counter synergy with other creatures which are exactly the kind of decks you might play such a dork. Overall this shouldn't be seeing any play.

Soulfire Grandmaster 6.5

It is fairly hard to go wrong with this card although unless you are also a red mage this is little more than a 2/2 lifelinker. Turning all your Lightning Bolts into Lightning Helix is a cute perk and makes this a decent value and tempo play early. Being able to recur your spells gives this Grandmaster some real late game legs. Although dissimilar in effect and ability I suspect this will feel quite a lot like the level up dorks like Kargan Dragon Lord and Figure of Destiny. Get to six mana with this chap and have a Counterspell or an Incinerate in hand and you have a pretty potent engine on the go. I do consider this a gold card but like Yasova, it is far more flexible and convenient than your typical gold cards, it can be Jeskai, Boros or Azorious and it can get to work if you are stitched for any colour other than white. This card is very potent but it is also somewhat niche. I suspect people will play it more often than it should be included in decks and feel it will frequently be out performed by more humble cards like Young Pyromancer.

Archfiend of Depravity 3.5

I like this dork, it does a powerful thing and it is good threat on top of this. Unfortunately it is not quite cube worthy as the thing it does is both too slow and too situational. Not that many decks need more than two dorks in play to be getting the job done and so this will be far less use most of the time than Shriekmaw. Archfiend gives your opponent time and choices both of which lower the vale of the card.

Temur War Shaman 0

Overcost, slow and frankly just a poor imitation of Whisperwood Elemental.

Lightform 5

Not as cheap as Soul Summons but still a low cost card that not only has manifest synergy but also aura and enchantment synergy as well as a much more relevant intermediate facedown dork. Not quite a Vampire Nighthawk but fairly close. Perhaps not quite powerful enough to be a cube mainstay this card has so much going on I think it will fairly find itself neatly slotted into a relatively wide and exotic selection of decks.

Dromoka, the Eternal 4

A fine card but I think I would rather have Ajani or Sigarda, Host of Herons in my Selesnya five slot. This dragon will end the game quick enough if not answered but isn't doing much else for you nor is it as quick as alternatives in its killing of people.

Frontier Siege 1

There are cheaper and better ways to ramp for two and given the distinct lack of green fliers, or the fact that fliers are not good fighters, or even the fact that there are better ways of getting to fight the dragons half of the card is really quite weak. All in all pretty unplayable.

Wandering Champion 4.5

I am drawn to this card two fold, firstly for the aggressive stats balance on a cheap beater and secondly as a proactive card quality effect. For the latter you need to be in more than just white and without it the card isn't good or exciting enough. As such it is basically yet another gold card like Yasova or Grandmaster. Jeskai is one of the most powerful and diverse three colour combo in the the cube and looting, even if it is the weaker red style discard first, is a powerful effect alone and has a vast array of synergies and things it enables. Sadly the odds on you getting to loot are low, the card is vulnerable itself, is easily blocked, is a fairly high priority to block and the loot is conditional on both having a blue/red permanent and doing damage to a player. Looter il-Kor is the far more consistent card and will remain much more playable but this is a good option to have and might just sneak a cube slot.

Marang River Prowler 4.5

Much as I want to give this a slot in my cube it is not really powerful enough and is on the niche side of things on top of that. Essentially it is a gold card, it needs enablers to make it really good and all told, playing three mana for a 2/1 is pretty sucky. The most comparable card to this is Bloodghast where being unblockable really doesn't make up for a three mana difference in the return cost. Marang River Prowler cannot be abused with sacrifice outlets and is therefore only a persistent threat, a very slow one. I love a free card, I love a recurring card, I love a card I can be happy putting in the bin and I love a card I can tutor up in sneaky ways but all my love cannot change it from being a three mana 2/1 that can't block.

Battle Brawler 4

A decent enough body that would have been quite the powerhouse ten years ago. These days situational dorks that are slightly above the power curve but do nothing else just don't cut it. In very specific decks this might be slightly better than something else but there just isn't room to include marginal luxury cards like that in the cube. Powerful enough, just, but offering nothing new and in no way needed by anything.

Silumgar, the Drifting Death 5.5

I am a little loath to clog up the cube with narrow gold cards however this has some serious things going for it. A 3/7 flying hexproof is incredibly hard to deal with and blocks like a total champion. On the offensive he is slow to kill but very hard to block while being the complete bane of weenie decks. It will likely come down to whether I prefer the more versatile Oona, Queen of Fea or this immovable object as to which has a slot and this will likely alternate somewhat regularly to keep things fresh.

Shaman of the Great Hunt 7

This bad boy is the best of this cycle when you fail to have the other colours available. He is really quite comparable to Hero of Oxid Ridge and Hellrider, both of which he can outperform fairly well without spending any more than 3R on him. He pumps himself and he turns your other dorks into Slith Firewalkers. Being a high priority thing to block you will likely still get some permanent value from him beyond the creature he trades with. The pumping of your other dorks also works well with his ferocious ability which should be averaging you well over one card per use. Four mana for a card is going to win you any late game situation and will be worth taking a midgame tempo hit fairly often when you can get two or more cards from it. The Shaman is dangerous when attacking, he is dangerous when your other dorks are attacking and he is staying safely back and he is even still dangerous when you have no good attacks and you are sitting there in a stalemate. For cube purposes this is the stand out card from this cycle of dorks as it is so good in so many situations. It is not narrow like Grandmaster in the archetypes that support it nor is it weak without using the mana ability like Yasova.

Monastery Mentor 7

I have heard this called the white Rabblemaster which is generous but not unreasonable. The main reason this is not quite the card Rabblemaster is is because you need to activate it with other things, it does not just make an army and kill you totally of its own accord. This makes Monastry Mentor a card you need to build carefully around, too low a spell count and it is not that exciting. White also does not have the most in the way of good cheap spells, enough to make this strong but not enough to totally abuse, for that you will need to step into more Jeskai looking colours. As soon as you can reliably trigger it once per turn you have a card that is quite some distance better than Rabblemaster. You can get quite a big tempo jump by making a bunch of tokens right away unlike the goblin which is limited to one a turn. Monastry Mentor also has a kind of triple effect scaling with non creature spells, he grows, he makes a 1/1 and then he grows all previously made 1/1s. Prowess is an annoying ability that makes combat much more awkward and complicated, having it on one guy is trouble enough but Mentor makes an army of them! In an unpowered cube you can get some stupidly early kills with just the Mentor and a bunch of spells.

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest 5

A potent midrange beater that can get quite obnoxious if you have spells and red or white mana to go with it. Blue is a bit full on three drops, this is a bit gold, a bit situational, a bit vulnerable and a bit of a do nothing should it get killed. As with Monastery Mentor you can get some pretty darn quick goldfish kills using this card but they are a lot more speculative and you stand to get a lot less value from this when you are not killing them. Another one of the cards with enough power for cube but that is too narrow and fiddly to make the cut.

Monastery Seige 3

Likely the best of the Seige cycle but as with all the others I feel like I don't often feel like I would want both of these options in a deck to warrant the expense of the card. In a reanimator deck you want to loot and protect your big things but this is so slow you might as well just cast your things rather than loot them and then play another threat instead of this and just utterly change your deck so that you are not considering bad cards for it any more. So many other things loot better than this does, that is pretty much where this comment should have ended.

Daghatar the Adamant 1

Slow, fiddly and a bit underwhelming. Sure, he is an acceptable body for the mana and some combat trickery. He has some very annoying applications against cards and some great synergy with others however none of that is worth a four mana durdle dork, especially not a gold one.

Torrent Elemental 4

A rare card that adds a bit more interest to the only other card I know that has inbuilt exile protection - Misthollow Griffin. A 3/5 for five is likely better than a 3/3 for three and coming back from exile tapped is probably equally offset by tapping down blockers when it attacks. Alas that this is basically a gold card making it that much harder to build with. Misthollow Griffin has seen no play at all thus far however it predated all the juicy delve cards and was forgotten about. I am not sure it is worth all the trouble discarding cards, then delving them and then getting them back from exile but it reeks of value at each step of the journey and so has a lot of appeal. It is the only real way there is of being able to repeatedly delve cast spells without running out of cards, not that this is much of a thing with Time Walk based Simic combo decks being less common. I think just one cast of Treasure Cruise is quite enough! Essentially this is a very cool card that you can do some really cool stuff with but that isn't powerful or impactive enough to be bothering to include.

Mardu Strike Leader 6

Black is getting a bit like blue these days with too many good three drops to chose from, this Leader being another example of one. A 3/2 for 3 is OK, a free 2/1 each time you attack is decent, you will get value even when chump attacking with it and left unanswered it will close out a game in Rabblemaster like fashion. The dash option also gives the card better utility, curve options and a top deck tempo play. Usually you will want to slap this down for three for mana efficiency however against mass removal the dash option will be more appealing.

Supplant Form 3

A potent card that is simply too expensive for the cube for the kind of effect it offers. The general reason you play bounce effects is for tempo and for versatility. This only hits dorks and costs six which means it fails to offer you early tempo when you need it most and is not a versatile card, not only can you not hit anything non-creature but you really don't want to be aiming this at anything small. This is not just a bounce card however, it is also a bit of a Clone. To my mind the reasons you play Clone effect cards are because you can often get a really good deal paying four or less for something like a Titan which can greatly recover your position in a game you fall behind. With this at six is is unlikely to get you a dork that is that much more converted mana cost than six and against a lot of the time you will be getting dorks that cost less than six. This kind of card falls into the same category as Spelljack, powerful and swingy but just too expensive for the role it performs.

Citadel Siege 4

Although neither the dragons or the khans half of this card is bad and you could well want either effect in the same sort of deck this is still not a cube worthy card. It is quite a clunky card that is not really much of a threat alone. You get far more power and versatility from planeswalkers and creatures that are also actual threats.

Flamewake Phoenix 6

This is unrealistically close in power and effect to Chandra's Phoenix - a card that was a complete mainstay when it was first released and has gradually seen less and less play since then. The issue with the original Chandra's Phoenix is that three is quite a lot of mana to pay for a 2/2, in the more control decks you don't have the mana spare to cast it lots and in aggro decks the damage output and level of threat is just pitiful compared to what you can be doing with three mana that it is left in the sidelines. That all said, haste and flying are two of the best abilities going in magic and a recursive threat that offers synergy as well still has a lot of clout. I am wary that having both in the cube might be a little bit too much however choosing between them is very tricky. As there is some merit in having both for a bit of redundancy in their synergies I suspect it will be either both or neither that I support in my cube. Once you move past the shared discard and recursion synergy these two cards are actually suited to very different decks. Flamewake Phoenix requires you to have ferocious to come back while Chandra's triggers from spell and planeswalker damage. The more creatures you have in your deck the less spells and planeswalkers you will have and vice versa so the better one Phoenix becomes the weaker the other is. Generally I would say that the Chandra's Phoenix is either a control card or burn deck card while Flamewake is better suited to midrange and stompy decks. Flamewake only costs one to return and so can be much better tempo however you cannot return it to hand and so it has no ongoing synergy with discard outlets. I have used Chandra's Phoenix to good effect as a second Squee in a Forbid lock deck which will not be helped much at all by Flamewake. Flamewake is carefully designed so that you cannot use it as a way to continually have a chump blocker up nor can you repeatedly make it for one and abuse it with a sacrifice outlet. So, this is a great little card that offers a great many things all in a neat little package that I fear will see only light play due to having somewhat low immediate impact on a game.

Mardu Shadowspear 3.5

Pulse Tracker is back, and this time he has dash! While I briefly ran the original Vampire in the cube when he was first released there was a lot less choice for one drops back then. There are many reasons why this and Pulse Tracker are just worse than a 2/1 for one including weak combat strength against other creatures, poor planeswalker attrition, poor scaling with a bunch of creature keywords like lifelink etc etc. Gone are the days where any dork that costs one and hits for two being thrown in the cube. Dash is not nearly enough to make this card interesting, especially when it is twice the cost of just throwing the card down first.

Brutal Hordechief 4

Very powerful limited style card but all too much of a phaff on what is mostly just a Hill Giant to be worth a cube slot. Giving a sinlge point drain life on all your attackers is nice but barely compensates for the Hill Giant body, you certainly wouldn't be happy playing this without the R/W activated ability available. Certainly it is powerful and should easily win you any stalemate board positions but it does fairly little from behind and very expensive to use.

Whisperer of the Wilds 6

I am a big fan of this new ramp option. I find it quite similar to Joraga Tree Speaker although overall less potent. It is also very similar to Devoted Druid, a card I have not frequently run in my A cube. Devoted Druid has some potential for abuse and can reliably offer two mana on a turn of your choosing however outside of that one turn it is mostly just a bad Llanowar Elf. The reason I prefer Whisperer of the Wilds to Devoted Druid is that it can fairly reliably provide two mana most turns which allows you to pack that much more fat and things to spend mana on. Whisperer is narrower than many of the other ramp critters as you need to have a reasonable count of dorks that provide ferocious before it is worth playing at all however this is the case for most of the decks that would want such a two drop. It is also not an elf meaning you will not be finding this in many tribal decks. At worst this is still very playable even if there are better alternatives but when it is good it offers so much extra power for so little risk, investment or messing around that it is well worth it.

Arcbond 2

Very narrow and a little silly but being cheapish and instant with no upper limit on its output there are some abuses and combos lurking about for this card I am sure. Doubtful that they will make this cube worthy but still one to watch.

Wild Slash  6.5

For me this is one of the stand out cards in the set. There is precious little in the way of good one mana instant speed burn in the cube. After Burst Lightning and Bolt there is nothing much better than Shock on offer, you either have to suck up sorcery speed, or pay more than one mana, or have weak unexciting spells, or overly situational spells. Wild Slash is not exciting, numbers wise it is still just Shock. Wild Slash is reliable and consistent and every now and again it will totally bail you. Most of the time you probably won't have ferocious, most of the times that you do having unpreventable damage will be irrelevant however when it is relevant it will be pretty huge and swingy, and you get this perk for free. Oddly I quite liken it to Boros Charm, a card you are typically playing as something that just reads "do four damage to a player" but then every now and again it makes all your things indestructible and wins the game on the spot. Wild Slash is not quite so swingy nor as frequent in its alternate use coming up useful however it is a far more versatile and broadly playable card to begin with than Boros Charm. Wild Slash makes all damage unpreventable so you can use it in combination with other cards to do much more brutal things. You can get round protection from red or True-Name Nemesis or just get past tedious white lock down enchantments with your creatures for a turn. Unpreventable damage is an effect red can put to great use but historically has had to forgo such things main deck as it cannot afford slots on situational things. Flaring Pain has often been seen in sideboards to allow red to cope with things when it knows it will be facing them but now we have Wild Slash we can happily play main deck and afford us much the same effect while saving sideboard slots and retaining high average card power and redundancy. This is not just a great cube card, I expect to see copies of this cropping up in almost every format, certainly not any where near the extent of Treasure Cruise but still out there none the less.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang 6

This guy kind of has it all, he offers a wide array of synergies, he has some with himself and he is powerful as he is. You can use him aggressively as a cheap fat dork or you can use him defensively and generate card advantage. He makes Gurmag Angler look really quite unplayable by comparison! Four is a fair amount of mana to pay to get one card however you can do it at instant speed meaning you can leave mana up and somewhat negate the high cost when being the control player. The card is also one from your graveyard meaning you can potentially abuse certainly things repeatedly, with library manipulation and delve effects you can have a lot of control over what you will be getting back thus furthering the value of the effect. He has double synergy with discard themed decks as he can be cast that much sooner and then can contribute further to the putting of things into the graveyard. He is basically gold, although still playable as just a black card even if rather bland. Being gold and a bit of a midrange card with further costs I cannot get too excited about him although he is rather cool.

Warden of the First Tree 6.5

Highly comparable to Figure of Destiny in most regards, Warden is slightly better early and has more top end scaling potential however it can never be a mono coloured card. Warden is easier to grow than Figure in general as it is less colour intense, this is most the case when you are Azban but still true if you are only in black or white. While my gut is still to prefer Figure as it is playable in mono coloured decks I am finding more and more that mono decks are less common and less powerful. RtR and now Khans has really upped the value of being in multiple colours and as such Figure is probably less overall playable than Warden in the current environment as it is so hard to include it in a deck that has any non red or white colours in it. Despite these subtle differences Warden is a great little card, it gives you great flexibility and really really helps to smooth out your curve, both by having cheaper plays and more options on how to spend your mana. It is a dangerous threat and all round winner.

Ojutai, Soul of Winter 2

This is fine but not good, for seven mana and a gold card you could do a lot lot better. This can win games and can help you in rough spots but it is very underwhelming for what you pay for it. White and blue do not have many other dragons so you will usually be waiting to get the tap down trigger making this painfully slow. Give me a Timayo every day.

Wildcall 5

Much like Soul Summons but with much better late game scaling for the penalty of a heavier colour requirement. Having +1/+1 counters on manifest cards is extra good as it gives you lots of potential to abuse things, a Kalonian Hydra under a Wildcall, even with just X as 2, is going to be brutal. One of the main reasons to be playing Soul Summons is the prowess and similar style triggers than come with it which are far less useful in green. This card is cool and has some synergy to offer but I am not sure if it is doing enough of anything specific to merit inclusion. I hope I am wrong as I really like everything about this card but I just cannot see where I am playing it.

Reality Shift 6

Curse of the Swine but this time cheaper and more instanterer. Curse of the Swine was a flop because it failed to do what you most need from removal which is gaining tempo. Sorcery speeds and 3 mana minimum is a bad start, leaving behind 2/2's doesn't help much either. Pongify and company deal with some of the problems but make others worse and comes with new ones. Exile is worlds more useful than destroy effects in the cube and a 3/3 is a much nastier threat than a 2/2, more so than the numbers alone suggest. Reality Shift is a lovely medium ground between the two, it gives blue a solid cheap instant exile effect that provides reliable removal as well as good tempo potential. While I initially jumped all over this when I saw it first due to blues impotency in the removal department I do have one concern about this card on more careful reflection. Typically blue deals with tokens easily using bounce however against random manifested cards this is not a viable option. This in turn means that you will typically have to kill the manifest card in combat meaning your opponent has a lot of control over the card which means if it is good a creature they can usually save it to a time it is convenient to turn face up. As such you have a card that is not unlike Chaos Warp, potent removal that comes with a risk of giving them something pretty potent back. At least with Reality Shift you can be confident of safely using it early in the game. Overall I think the card is valuable enough in blue that it will see some play but I suspect more of the time people will just splash black or white for simpler removal.

Write into Being 3

Another card that I love but sadly one that is just too slow for what cube does. There are so many cool things you can do with manifest and that extra bit of card quality built in makes all of those cool things much more likely. Sadly a 3 mana 2/2 is just not bringing home the bacon.

Sultai Emissary 5

Another slight upgrade on a previously close card. I was a fan of Butcher Ghoul when it was first spoiled despite desperately wishing it cost 1! Even back then it was too weak for cube and so this slight upgrade seems like it will similarly be too weak for present cube. The Emissary is a little better with things like Recurring Nightmare and obviously when you hit good things to flip over but in a vacuum is broadly just a 1/1 for 2 than dies into a 2/2, nothing that is getting much done nor representing the worlds best value. Vampiric Tutor offers some nice synergy with this too. I think ultimately I just don't quite know how yet to evaluate manifest as I have not played with it nor fully grasped how it can be used and how it will effect other cards. It may just be good in some colours, it may not be good enough or it might be better than expected. If I am underrating manifest then this is likely good enough and more than just a little better than Butcher Ghoul.

Humble Defector 6

I love it! I am also overrating it a little like I did with Wild Guess and similar because I love to draw cards. There is a lot about this that stops it being too abused or too powerful in a vacuum. Having to tap it to exchange it for cards makes it hard to do much quickly or get bonus value attacking then dumping for cards. Having only one toughness makes it very easy for you to kill once you have traded it in for cards but it also makes its easily disrupted and weak in combat. Restricting it to your turn makes it worse against removal and less use blocking. All that said and done it is still a card that can draw two for two mana or just be a 2 power beater. I like the idea of games where people draw three cards a turn also!

Atarka, World Render 3

Big, fat and killy but pricey and unexciting. The only cube home for this is a dragon themed deck, even Dragonstorm probably doesn't need this kind of sillyness.

Alesha Who Smiles at Death 5.5

A wholly acceptable body for the mana that comes with potent utility and value options. If you get to attack and have black and/or white mana you get to start putting your dead weenies back into action very efficiently indeed. She is fairly vulnerable and is only really good in combat against things of the same cost or less meaning you will likely average less than one activation with Alesha. This is still fine, you will have pulled removal with a cheap card at worst. One trigger, even with a chump attack from Alesha can still get you great value, 2 for 1 or better, some forced through damage or some naughty creature recurred like a Stoneforge Mystic. A bit gold and a bit low initial impact for my liking but powerful enough for sure and reasonably convenient as well.

Mastery of the Unseen 4.5

Expensive and slow but very powerful and full of lots of potential to be part of a themed manifest deck. As a way of putting dorks into play this is not the best option white has nor even that close to it. It has anti-synergy with itself as you are dumping mana into it therefore having less spare to turn your things face up.

Temur Sabertooth 4

I want this to be good but it feels like Cudgel Troll is just better. This has great interaction with manifest and will be a limited bomb but for cube it is too pricey for just a solid midrange beater. Vengevine or Thrun, the Last Troll have much more appeal than this.

Jeskai Barricade 4

A very cute defensive enabler. Great with Wall of Omens, Knight of the White Orchid and Blade Splicer but at heart it is a control card in which it is too narrow to be a mainstay. Great when it is good but awful too often resulting in a card quite a lot worse than Wall of Omens.

Abzan Beastmaster 3

Nearly a green Dark Confidant except that it costs three and is overly situational on the trigger... Three mana 2/1s are sad, especailly ones you need to keep alive. I'll stick to my Ohran Viper for now.

Frost Walker 5.5

Aggro blue two drop! This is weak, would not make the cut in any other colour yet could probably be a 3/1 and still be a consideration simply due to how little blue has available to it in this area. There are relatively few things that target dorks that wouldn't kill this despite the sacrifice clause. Of those effects that wouldn't otherwise kill Frost Walker there are even less that do so in a way that makes you feel ripped off, trading a two drop for a planeswalker activation isn't that bad. So what you get with this is a very offensive dork you can play on turn two pretty happily. If they deal with it you have likely maintained tempo and if not it will do a gross amount of damage. It will greatly help power up blue devotion cards and is a real win for any aggro blue strategy not relying on a tribal theme. Narrow, not the most powerful but sorely needed!

Mardu Woe-Reaper 6.5

A double blow to both Elite Vanguard and the sad sad Savannah Lions. Vanguard will still get a little play in human theme decks but is so low down the pick order of one drops that this will be very rare. So, tried and tested 2/1 for 1 winds up in most aggro decks, this comes with a minor but useful perk. A little bit of disruption against several graveyard focused strategies complete with some bonus life gain. A similar sort of disruption to Dryad Militant but the Mardu Woe-Reaper is quite a bit better other than not being castable for green. Creatures tend to be better targets, life gain is nice and targeted proactive disruption feels better than pre-emptive passive disruption. Soldier of the Pantheon is still the number one white 2/1 for one but this is a comfortable second.

Rally the Ancestors 2

Interesting and powerful but far too narrow for general cube use. The only applications I can see for this in cube are combo ones and those seem like you could probably just do better things and use better cards than Rally the Ancestors.

Renowned Weaponsmith 5

Vedalken Engineer is back and this time he has mystery utility and extra toughness at the small cost of no longer colour fixing. Colour fixing is usually quite a big deal but with artifact restrictions in place it is significantly less important with very few cube artifacts needing coloured mana. Extra toughness is a big deal and goes a long way to protecting himself so as to ramp more reliably as well as protecting you so as to not die! I suspect the mystery utility will not be worthy of main cube inclusion but it cannot make the card worse. Finding a Heart-Piercer Bow is not a thing I want to be doing. This is narrow but very powerful indeed, it is the kind of card that would make me want to add an artifact theme to a deck so as to be able to play effectively.

Mardu Scout 4

Not quite powerful enough these days. Double red to cast is broadly going to be lame too although this card is very nice with Perphorus. Dash gives you some casting flexiblity, a bit of a tempo boost or protection for the card but while it increases the utility of the card somewhat it is always just a 3/1 dork that always costs at least two which leaves it underpowered.

Cloudform 5

Another very interesting manifest card I wish mostly to sit on the fence about. Three mana 2/2s are a bit iffy, flying and hexproof go a good way to improving that but all you have really is a pathetic clock or a planeswalker deterrent. You cannot get it into combat with much beyond spirit tokens and so you have spent a chunk of mana to do not very much. You have to abuse the manifest or the comes into play effect heavily to make this card worth it. Both of those things are very easy to do with blue and so this card has some great potential synergy despite the lack lustre body.

Pressure Point 5.5

Quite a long way from Ice let alone Fire / Ice as a package. That said I often find myself playing Abeyance just as a cheap cycling card that has some disruptive effects to which this is going to be far less situational and often more useful as well. This is a boring card, it is also not that much of a bargain but it is still very playable and strong because of its widely useful effect while being cheap and replacing itself with a new card.

Refocus 1

Not nearly as playable as Pressure Point as it cannot be used as control disruption, at best it is a limp combat trick or a wishful way to abuse good monsters with tap effects. Neither are worth a card, even a cheap self replacing one.

Dark Deal 3

This resembles lots of cards like Wheel of Fortune, Winds of Change, Windfall etc. Being black is quite nice just for the opening up of new options. Not so powerful a draw tool but more effective as disruption while remaining great as a way of filling up your graveyard. A pretty terrible late game top deck and a very narrow card but certainly one that has a place in some obscure decks.

Quarsi High Priest 3

I love a one drop sac outlet. This is a bit on the mana intense side so has no combo applications but does fairly useful things so may see some play in the role of Carrion Feeder in some decks desiring sacrifice synergy.

Break Through the Line 4

An interesting alternative to burn as a finisher style card for weenie decks. This is one of those cards that is a lot better in cube than in other formats. Haste is a nice boost too as it gives the card more utility and in a proactive way, it can be handy when your opponent isn't doing anything! You need creatures for this and so it is a bit of a Lightning Greaves, it is uncomfortable using valuable deck slots on things that do nothing alone. Narrow but potentially very abusive, I like the fact that it makes one and two drops better in a format where 3 and up drop minions are vastly more powerful per mana.

Collateral Damage 3

Shard Volley in a creature cost form, fine in the right deck but way less good than Shard Volley as you won't always have creatures to sac. I rarely find I want that extra damage enough to resort to this kind of drivel however Shard Volley sees a lot of play and sacing creatures can be a good thing!

Sudden Reclamation 6

I am going to go out on a limb here and give this card a big thumbs up. It is green card advantage, it is instant, it pro-actively aids any graveyard synergy you may have, it is recursion and it is cool. Most of the time getting a land back will be a good thing, this card is quite controlly looking and you always want land with control. Raw draw wise Harmonize has this beat but this is very close to it and does quite a lot of other useful things as well. Being restricted to a creature on the other card returned is a little more uncomfortable as control and combo have less of these. I am not sure if ramp decks will want this sort of low impact card over just another high quality threat. I hope this finds a home but I am not exactly sure what that looks like other than some vague UGx control thing.

Hewed Stone Retainers 1

These are fine in an affinity deck but seem deeply weak compared to Myr Enforcer, Etched Champion or really any of the threats they play.