Friday 29 May 2015

Top Sixteen Bounce Spells

Bounce spells are plentiful in cube and come in lots of shapes and sized. They are not often heralded as power spells but they are good tempo and disruption tools and the best blue has got in terms of removing permanents. Used well or in the right sort of decks bounce spells are among the most powerful kinds of removal while used poorly you might as well just be playing Healing Salve or something comparably underpowered. That makes them my kind of card, something you can engineer to be above the curve, something that has a broad range of uses and something people are not always vigilant about playing around. Bounce comes in one shot spell form, one shot enter the battlefeild effects on dorks, and ongoing bounce effects on various permanents. I have decided to limit this list to those things that are one shot only as they function much more similarly and fulfil the same kind of broad role.

Cryptic Command1.   Cryptic Command
2.   Cyclonic Rift
3.   Upheaval
4.   Venser, Shaper Savant
5.   Vapor Snag
6.   Boomerang
7.   Riftwing Cloudskate
8.   Capsize
9.   Repulse
10. Into the Roil
11. Eye to Nowhere
12. Aether Adept / Man-o-War
13. Wipe Away
14. Repeal
15. Hoodwink
16. Recoil

Cyclonic RiftObviously Cryptic Command comes in top, it is the most powerful and playable card on the list by a good chunk and likely would remain so even if you always had to chose bounce as one of the options! Tempo, trickery, utility and value. Cryptic Command gets you out of a jam like no other blue card. The bounce is a big part of that, being so broad yet costing you very little because of the bonus effects you can get with it.

Cyclonic Rift is more of a pure bounce spell, basically it just bounces a thing and is highly comparable to a lot of the cards on this list like Boomerang and Into the Roil. There are some issues with the Rift, it doesn't hit lands nor does it hit your own things. Hitting lands can really let you exploit certain situations and is a huge help against man lands. Bouncing your own stuff is horrendous for tempo but none the less is often worth doing in the long games where you rely on a certain threat to win or really need the extra value from an enter the battlefield effect. These are both annoyances that you can live with because of the insane overload ability which turns the card from a humble single target bounce spell into a one sided mass removal spell of doom. Any slow clunky deck using planeswalkers and dorks, say an Abzan deck, gets utterly brutalized by Cyclonic Rift. Early on Rift provides some generic tempo and safety should you need it. Then it becomes one of the best mass removal spells in the game when you hit 7 mana and can be used to steal games you are behind in easily. It might not kill anything beyond tokens but returning everything with a cost is a huge setback that takes several turns to recover. This on top of being instant and one sided make it so easy to put yourself unrecoverably ahead.

UpheavalUpheaval is a bit old school and niche yet it remains one of the most powerful and exploitable cards in all of magic. Upheaval is a lot like Rift but it does more for less. In part this is because it has no cheap mode and in part because it is symmetrical. Rift sees a lot more play because you don't really need to do much to exploit it, you can just throw it in a deck and have it be good. Upheaval you really have to work at so that it doesn't wreak you just as much as your opponent. When you have such a deck then Upheaval is one of the most game ending and unrecoverable things that you can be doing, bouncing everything is a lot more brutal when you have no lands left to play the things again with either! Typically the decks that best exploit Upheaval involve lots of artifact mana sources and some cheap yet potent threat. It may see less play than it used to but it is no weaker and no less scary.                    

Venser, Shaper SavantVenser, Shaper Savant is the poor mans Cryptic Command. His Remand mode is overlooked as a four mana Remand is not often that exciting but it does somewhat give Venser the feel of having nearly as many modes as Cryptic. There is lots of delve and flashback in the cube against which Venser is very potent. Although he costs a lot for bounce he is instant and hits any target which are two of the most important aspects of bounce spells. Overall he is a great utility card and something you often reach for when you have reason to want more bodies in your deck such as equipment. A 2/2 with nothing nice like flying leaves a lot to be desired and so unless you flash him in to get an unusually good block he is relatively low value compared to the mighty Cryptic.

Vapor SnagVapour Snag has been jokingly called the blue Path or Plow. Laughable as this comparison seems there are plenty of decks that play the Snag for which it is basically an accurate one. Usually you are wanting to hit dorks with your bounce, certainly it vastly reduces the utility of the card having only creatures as potential targets but it doesn't much affect the power. Paying just one mana to instantly remove a creature from play is nice. Getting a free ping in as well is a lovely kicker. Typically it is the more aggressive decks that play Snag over broader bounce and so that damage is relevant. Likewise, the aggro decks dont much care about taking pain themselves and so you don't lose that much utility on the card as a way of bouncing your own dorks. The most common home for this card is the aggro blue red deck where it compliments burn brilliantly. Burn the little things efficiently and bounce the big things you cannot burn easily. The thing that makes this card slightly more annoying and therefore slightly less played is not that you don't kill the thing you bounce but that so many cube cards have enter the battlefield effects you don't really want to give them again. You want to hit cards like Brimaz, big fat dorks that need to get into combat before they have done much, if you hit these kinds of card there is a good chance you won't see it played again, they will either be dead before they have the time or will have won anyway regardless of the Brimaz they have in hand. Overall Snag is one of the more brutal single target bounce spells but it is more niche than most of the others. Seal of Removal and Unsummon have both had their time in the cube but the Snag won out in the end. Seal was nice for devotion but had terrible synergy with Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage. Unsummon wasn't exciting enough over Snag for the slower decks and was directly worse for the aggro ones. There really doesn't feel like there is room in a cube for more than one creature only one mana bounce spell even in a 720 cards cube hence the other two very comparable cards not even making this list.

Riftwing Cloudskate

Boomerang, the original bounce spell, the counterpart to Counterspell. Two mana, anything in play, not in play, instantly. Simple. Elegant. Wonderful. I was going to do, and still might, a comparison of Counterspell and Boomerang to Vindicate so as to show that either of the blue spells are quite substantially better in the right situation but pay for it by being that much more context dependant. When you have situations where they will not be getting the chance to usefully replay the card in question Boomerang is comically better than Vindicate, one less mana, one less colour, instant speed and not even triggering any "when this dies" effects. I have won a lot of games simply by throwing out a Boomerang on their land as soon as I can. You need to know the matchup or have a good read/Peek style information to sensibly make that kind of call but it is a nice easy win when you get it right. Just another one of those blue cards that used right can give that Time Walk feeling. Although such free wins are nice they are significantly less common than Cyclonic Rift overload is relevant hence it not being higher on the list.
Riftwing Cloudskate is the first of the sorcery speed bounce spells to make the list. It has two casting modes with the suspend which adds to the utility however the sloth and the price sufficiently detract from the utility that I think you wind up with a reasonably below par bounce effect. To offset this you get a 2/2 flier which unlike Venser is a pretty useful body to have floating about, nibbling away at planeswalkers and lifetotals. You play this card mostly for the dork, the bounce is a pleasant perk that is rarely useless and sometimes pretty good. As such this is almost exclusively used in more aggressive decks where you want a body and often (being blue) have a deficit of two drops. Bounce somewhat scales well with more bounce and so Riftwing's bounce aspect is that much more potent when you have more of a bounce theme going on.

Capsize has seen most play as a finisher / out in combo style decks that make lots of mana. It is pretty hard for most decks to beat single Capsize a turn, as many as you like is almost impossible to beat! Capsize hits all targets and does so at instant speed but is either 3 or 6 mana. Like countermagic, 3 mana bounce is substantially harder to use well and less exciting than the two mana options. It feels really hard to get ahead using it. Being able to maintain parity might be all you need and having a card that can keep you a bit safer early on and then go on to lock someone out of the game entirely is nice, it just requires fairly specific decks. Control used to get away with things this slow or mana intensive, now adays you are going to really struggle beating planeswalkers and Titans with your Capsize plan....

RepulseRepulse is a great little filler card that is in a bunch of cubes and has been in and out of mine. It is much more of a draft card than one you would include when you are constructing decks with a cube. It costs three mana and only hits dorks but it replaces itself thus typically costing you less than your opponent. Being instant allows you engineer further advantage with it than just a mana one. Overall a very fair card. Like Vapour Snag it is a little let down by so many cube cards having come into play effects that you don't want to give your opponents back. It is the same kind of annoyance you face when building with cards like Doom Blade that fail to kill black creatures.

Into the RoilInto the Roil is very comparable to Boomerang, it is slightly better for normal use but much less good in a heavy bounce strategy. You can build decks with the aim of attacking mana bases and do so with bounce fairly well and Into the Roil has no place in such decks. The reward you get from Roil for not being able to target lands is an easier casting cost of 1U and a kicker for the same cost again to draw you a card and represent Cryptic Command in bounce draw mode. Roil enjoyed A cube position until Rift was printed and has not been played again since. As with creature only one mana bounce, I think two mana non land bounce only really has one slot open to it in a cube and so despite this being a very rounded and nice card I fear we have seen the last of it. In a vacuum this is one of the better bounce spells yet is does nothing better than anything else and so gets rather marked down for it.

Eye of NowhereEye to Nowhere is essentially just a sorcery speed Boomerang. This makes it pretty terrible except when bouncing lands at which point it is basically just as good. When you are going a blue mana denial route this card is one of your better options, if you are doing anything else this shouldn't be anywhere near your deck.

Aether Adept and Man-o-War are essentially the same card. The Adept is slightly better overall  but it is marginal enough that I have ranked them together. Adept is a more useful creature type and has some synergy with things like Voidmage, all B or C cube cards but synergies Man-o-War none the less lacks. Typically you are playing these cards in heavier blue decks and so UU in the cost is more of a help towards devotion than it is a hindrance to casting. Despite being a good tempo cards and fairly well priced the lack lustre 2/2 vanilla body rather lets the card down. On top of this the creature only sorcery speed bounce has far far more limited use than most of the rest of the bounce on this list and as such these cards rarely see play these days. When I first made my cube 10 years ago I think most people would have put the old jellyfish in the top couple of blue creatures!

Wipe Away is another very niche bounce spell. It does all the things you want a bounce spell to do but it charges you the clumsy three mana price. The perk for this overcosting is split second which sounds exciting and nice but in reality has very few actual applications in the cube. The most notable is in being able to "deal" with an Aetherling. It is not just the best blue spell at dealing with an in play Aetherling but it is one of the best period. With a few more such applications the card might eventually earn a permanent cube slot but for now it is far too underwhelming a card that offers little that Boomerang does not.

Wipe Away
Repeal is a rather more swingy bounce card than most. It is downright awful at dealing with Reanimate decks or even just hard cast Titans. It is however the best bounce card going at taking out some kind of token. Unless you know you have a specific good use for the card I would suggest this is actually a bad bounce spell. Sure you get to draw a card which makes it card neutral however you almost always guarantee that you are the one losing out on mana advantage. Mana advantage and broad range are the two main perks of bounce effects and this offers neither. I have lost to affinity creatures while playing with this, I imagine Tasigur would be a common new card for this to fold to pretty hard should you still have it in your cubes. Potentially this is very potent but usually it is the wrong card.

Hoodwink is an oddity as it is the only bounce card on this list that doesn't hit creatures. You play it, like Eye of Nowhere, as a blue mana denial card. As such its easier casting cost and instant speed do not do that much in its favour. After your Boomerang, your Eye to Nowhere and your higher quality 3+ mana bounce and mana denial if you still feel like you need more land disruption then you might dig out this little card. Niche, and far down the list of land bouncers but still more played than many bounce spells.

RecoilRecoil has been called the instant Vindicate which is more generous than equating Vapour Snag to Path to Exile. Discard and bounce have no real synergy with each other until you have exhausted their hand. As such this is usually just a bad Repulse or bad Capsize. Even if you are so heavy on discard that you can have this always be vindicate you would probably still rather other bounce as you will more than likely have spare discard effects. This is also a gold card making it worse too!

Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Waterfront Bouncer and to a lesser extent Tradewind Rider and Crystal Shard are the main examples of ongoing bounce effects used in cube. Jace is the clear best but much of this is down to the great versatility of the card beyond the mere capacity to bounce. Bouncer has fallen off a little in the less combo-y cube but is a nice cheap little card that does a lot of work. It would likely be about 8th on this list (9th if we are putting Jace in as well) but as I said at the start, the ongoing effects are not so directly comparable meaning that rating is more about performance in the cube rather than quality as a bounce card.

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