Monday 24 August 2015

Cube Movers

I want to do a new series that looks at cards that change in power and playability as the cube meta evolves. The cube meta is a slowly changing thing as relatively few of the new cards from each set make it in. There are also certain benchmarks of power levels regarding the cheaper spells that we are unlikely to ever see improved upon such as Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolt. On top of this I am slower to consciously realise the implications to specific cards or notice that things are no longer seeing much play. A lot of the effects are also quite minor. An example of this is that Scavenging Ooze and Deathrite Shaman have both recently improved in value because of the high number of powerful delve cards that came in Khans of Tarkir block. They were both sufficiently powerful and playable all ready that the change is fairly irrelevant. It is much more useful to be looking at the changes in the marginal cards. I am not going to be cutting Deathrite any time soon so even if he was to be marginally getting worse rather than better it wouldn't affect how I design the cube, it likely wouldn't often effect how I built decks either!

The series will no be restricted to any kinds of cards. If I notice something getting better or worse I will mention it and explain why. I will try and link it to the additions of the sets following it and expect that to be more the case the more the series goes on. There are still plenty of older cards that have become steadily worse over the course of many blocks.

Vampire NighthawkVampire Nighthawk - significant dropper

When released this was the premium in three drop tempo and utility creature. It was an auto include for every black deck. The decline for this card has been gradual but it has been going for sufficiently long now that Nighthawk is on the verge of being cut from the main cube. It has gone from top rate auto include card to a filler dork. The reason for this is simple and comes up a lot. Creatures are getting better. When Nighthawk was first printed the only card that was comparable in value and tempo was Kitchen Finks, now there are an abundance of things that do a lot more for your there mana. True Name, Courser of Kruphix, Rabblemaster, Monastery Mentor, Flesh Carver, Geralf's Messengers, Master of Feasts, Ophiomancer, this list goes on a long time and Nighthawk is very much at the bottom end of it. Black also has better lifegain tools which was a big part of Nighthawks appeal.

Seal of FireSeal of Fire (Removal / Cleansing) - major decline

I used to love a Seal of Fire. I used to rate it as the 4th best one mana burn spell in red below Lightning Bolt, Burst and Chain Lighting and above Firebolt. Now it has been cut and replaced with Forked Bolt and Wild Slash. The same for the other Seals that have seen cube play, almost always an instant or sorcery version of the card is preferred. What has changed are the synergies, with lots of cards having them with instants and sorceries and very few having them for specifically enchantments. Snapcaster Mage, Young Pyromancer, Delver of Secrets are all commonly played top quality cards that do nothing with enchantments and lots with instants and sorceries. That list is not exhaustive either, just the best cards that are responsible for this shift away from Seals. It is because the Seal mechaninc is somewhat minor that you would just rather cards that improved the overall consistency of your deck to them and not because they are themselves any worse. Assuming no instant or sorcery synergies in my deck I would still rather have a Seal of Fire in my deck than a Wild Slash or Forked Bolt but that doesn't happen that often. It just isn't worth including cards in your cube that have negative synergies when you can replace those cards with functionally very similar ones that afford positive synergies. I was hopeful that devotion and the general enchantment themes from Theros block would push the Seals back into the playable realms. Unfortunately Seals are a minor boost to devotion and most devotion cards and themes are somewhat narrow themselves. Enchantress decks are another place Seals shine and another incredibly narrow archetype that is near impossible to support in a drafting cube. As such the Seals now sit in my C cubes with all the other narrow cards you don't really want in booster drafts.

Journey to NowhereJourney to Nowhere - resonable decline

Although it was never a great card it used to be fairly cheap and reliable removal. When you were short on Paths and Swords then this little card would get the job done. Journey suffers a little from the same things that effect the Seals but it has suffered more at the hands of things like Abrupt Decay and Dromoka's Command at one end making it less reliable and from Valorous Stance, Unexpectedly Absent and Council's Judgement at the other making it less appealing. Stance is less risky, has other utility and most importantly it is instant. This more than makes up for it being not as good at the initial removal portion. Journey has gone from being backup decent filler removal to simply not being worth the slot. Inept versus man lands is the death of this card in cube.

Gitaxian ProbeGitaxian Probe - significant rise

Basically it is prowess that has caused this rise although both delve and Snapcaster mechanics also benefit from the mighty Probe. Having a free card that triggers your prowess cards is lovely. The information is also huge, hard to put a quantifiable value on it but none the less a very significant boost to the card. Before, this was a nice cheap filler card, now it is something you actively want for a number of archetypes.

Sylvan Library

Sylvan Library - decent rise

A card that has always been good but that has recently jumped in value for several reasons. Firstly there is a lot more scry on offer which greatly increased the card quality aspect of Library. Secondly we have a lot of good newish cards that are affected by what is on the top of your library such as Domri Rade and the mighty Courser of Kruphix. Lastly there is a significant change to the way in which life totals seem to work which has greatly improved the card draw aspect of Library. Aggressive decks are so dangerous most slower decks now pack a reasonable amount of incidental lifegain. This means when you are not against an aggro deck you have a lot more life spare. Threats get the job done fast, there are far more games getting conclusively ended with overkill damage and far less games where you whittle your opponents life total down. This all means when you are playing against non-aggro decks with Library your life buffer is less relevant and you have far more of it than normal. It is noticeable the number of cards people are drawing with Library in midrange and control battles is far greater than it used to be. Divining Top and Ancestral Recall you say? Sounds good.

Karakas - decent climber

Well, Karakas has always been a bit tedious and a bit over powered but it was all a bit minor and with white being a bit dull and so it wasn't that big of a deal. With Tarkir and Origins however we have seen not just a lot of new powerful legends but also cheap ones. Bouncing Tasigur is pretty brutal, Brimaz is good to bounce if he is yours or your opponents. Basically, Karakas is exactly as good as its ever been and that is a bit too good. It is the influx of targets that has afforded it the jump. Easily a card you now play as a colourless land in a non white deck.

Sakura-Tribe ElderSakura Tribe Elder - recent riser

This was a green mainstay when first printed but then they changed the rules on how damage worked and stopped us stacking it in combat. While this change made Magic better it made poor old Snake really quite a lot worse. No longer could you take down the 2/1 and get a land, you had to make your choice. As such green mages tended to prefer quicker or more potent ramp cards to the humble Snake. It is hard to pinpoint when it started to get good again but it certainly now feels like it is back to the power level where it would seem wrong to not be in a cube. The reasons why it is back on form are myriad and subtle but add up to be significant. Bigger better threats make just fogging one of them on top of doing your Rampant Growth is pretty significant, this is especially the case when you have planeswalkers to protect. Often Tribe Elder is saved just to have a 1/1 about if there is no need for the ramp. Saving Tribe Elder did happen back in the day but it was far less common, the thinning of your deck was usually better than having the 1/1. Things like Kessig Wolf Run now makes dorks more valuable. In the way that Seal of Fire has been edged out by instants and sorceries for red and blue, creatures are edging out spells much more in green based decks. There are not quite so many pronounced things as there are for prowess but never the less there are a lot of things you want to have high creature counts for, or just have extra bodies lying around that didn't cost you much. The ability to sacrifice at instant speed is also better than it used to be as you have more information these days. With greens shift towards more dorks the ones that let you do things instantly are extra nice. The last perk of Tribe Elder I am going to mention is how wonderfully it works with a certain Heretical Healer.

Thursday 13 August 2015


I got a request to put my cube on CubeTutor and so I looked into it. I was concerned that it was going to be hard to maintain an up to date list due to the amount I chop and change things. Given the ease and utility of the website however I feel as if I will be able to keep a reasonable accurate list on the site and have put up a current version.

It is called "MTGcube Cube" and my username is "notdavidgrant". The reference is 36623.

Here is a link to the list view of it:

Here is one to the visual:

I have not bothered to put in the correct versions of my cards, I might at some stage but for now I am happy enough with just having the right list up there. For those that care, I try and use the original printing for cards, I like old art and borders. There are a few examples of cards with artwork I don't like where I have used a newer version such as Fyndhorn Elves and Raise the Alarm. I have the odd alternate or promo art for a few things here and there but typically they are just because that was the first copy I got hold of. As such I couldn't give specifics on those without going through everything. I also don't have cash to burn on the pretties so my Lightning Bolt, Birds of Paradise and Wrath of God style staples are FBB 4th edition ones and I have plenty of white border cards too in the dual lands, Wheel of Fortune, Mana Vault etc.

I must also make an appology to who appear to be a thing but one that I can't find that much out about. We obviously share very similar names and both have listings on CubeTutor.

Gr Ramp.dec

Joraga TreespeakerGreen based ramp decks are one of the most common archetypes in cube play. They are easy to draft with lots of redundancy in picks. They offer lots of power and fun while being one of the simpler decks to play. There are lots of crossover with ramp decks and elves decks and while I have featured elf decks and even mono green control sillyness I don't think I have ever done an example of a down the middle top tier ramp deck. Elf decks have some tribal synergies and focus almost all of their mana ramp in elf form. The more control you are along the spectrum the more you trade in creature ramp cards for ones that put lands into play so as to be more resiliant to Wrath effects. Ramp is somewhere in the middle allowing you to play the best of both worlds in ramp effects. It is trying to win through overwhelming power rather than pure speed or any sort of control. You can go very quickly indeed but only when not disrupted.

The worst thing about ramp decks is the lack of control you have over things. If you do not kill people with your initial onslaught of ramped power then you are in for a long game with pretty awful top deck odds. Getting the ratio's right is the hardest thing about the deck, too much top end and you won't cast it and will be mulliganing all the time. Too much ramp and you won't have the threats to take advantage of the mana boost nor will you cope well against too much removal. While the big fat haymakers are lots of fun they are the threats you can afford least of. You are better off having a spread of things that are useful in your deck in other ways while also being decent threats. This list I have here is exactly that, it is quite light at the very top however it has a lot of dangerous cards throughout the deck that will allow you to win fairly comfortably even if you never see/resolve anything costing six or more.

Explore22 Spells

Joraga Treespeaker
Llanowar Elf
Fyndhorn Elf
Elvish Mystic

Lotus Cobra
Sylvan Library
Sakura Tribe Elder

Nature's Lore

Courser of Kruphix
Rofellos, Llanowar EmissaryDen Protector
Yavimaya Elder
Nissa, Vastwood Seer

Oracle of Mul Daya
Garruk Wildspeaker

Nissa, Worldwaker
Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury

Primeval Titan

Chancellor of the Tangle
Dragonlord Atarka

Craterhoof Behemoth

Kessig Wolf Run18 Lands

Raging Ravine
Treetop Village
Kessig Wolf Run
Temple of Abandon

Stomping Ground
Wooded Foothills
Mountain Valley

Flamekin Village
Gruul Turf
Tranquil Thicket
Karplusan Forest

Gaea's Cradel
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

4x Forest

Craterhoof BehemothI think this list is actually a little off by being very slightly too ramp heavy. That is certainly the better side to err on but still, I might cut one of Elvish Mystic, Nature's Lore, Tribe Elder or Roffellos. You will notice this deck only has six forests and so the legendary two drop elf is not the powerhouse he normally is. The trade off for this is that you get all sorts of useful and juicy red lands that give you huge game against control decks. An elf deck needs to play dodge the Wrath and race control decks while this ramp deck can just play sensibly and be fine in the long game. Man lands and Wolf Run are a lot more dangerous a lot more quickly in this deck than in most others because you have so much mana to dump into them. As a side note, Inkmoth Nexus is another luxury land you can run and steal games with but I prefer to be more consistent and forgo the poison. I am not sure what I would add to this list once I had cut the cheap ramp spell. Thragtusk is a good mid level value thing to flop out and gives you a lot more game against the red decks but it is very clunky. Natural Order is another strong contender, it gives you some utility and a lot more burst but is risky against blue mages and the card disadvantage isn't something you want to encourage. Removal options in the form of Ugin or Karn are nice too as they give you a lot more game against  irksome creatures and some planeswalkers. Sadly they take up valuable top end slots and are not the sort of thing you can just swap in for a ramp card. Both Hornet Queen and Avenger of Zendikar offer incredible board presence and a solid threat. They are common in these lists but have been cut from this one in favour of more 4 and 5 drop cards.

Dragonlord Atarka
Craterhoof Behemoth is the main card in this deck, it is very often resolve it an win and this can be done through minor disruption quite easily by turn five. It is the reason we do not see Wall of Blossoms or Roots in this list despite being fairly well suited to it. You want you gribbly little dorks to be able to swing in for the win. Garruk has also been a long time centerpiece in this deck doing all the things you want. Untapping two lands is ramp but on another level when you have things like Cradle and Nykthos on the go. He can generate quite an unreasonable amount the turn you make him and represent a lethal threat like Craterhoof on the following turn. Failing these uses he will just slowly generate advantage in the form of 3/3 beasts. Xenagos is a good replacement for Wildspeaker, they do similar sorts of things. Losing the Overrun effect is a shame, and you need to be reliably able to have red by turn 3 but it does make playing other very strong incarnations of Garruk much more appealing.

Dragonlord Atarka is the only red card in the deck and one of only four ways in the deck in which you spend your red mana as red mana. You don't need Atarka but it is very good and it isn't making your deck any less consistent while offering flying and removal and lots of value for mana. Sure, you could play a Hornet Queen, go wild and try and Worldspine Wurm people or even play it a bit safe and opt for a colourless bomb like Wurmcoil, Ugin or Karn. You want four six mana plus threats and Titan and Craterhoof are lock ins. Chancellor doubles up giving some early boost and is a surprisingly good body  but is more cuttable than Atarka.

Nissa, WorldwakerNissa is mostly just a cheap, powerful, and annoying threat but is semi useful as another ramping card. Freyalise is more utility than threat although she can win the game on her own given enough time. I like to cram in a lot of walkers to this kind of deck because they do so much for you. All of them cover you against mass removal this reducing one of your biggest weaknesses. All of them also generate value over time which and card advantage is another weakness of the deck so they cover you there too. Then they are usually threats so can allow you to be more streamlined and they do there own unique things too! I try and avoid overlapping the types of walkers, five mana Garruk is amazing and I will occasionally play both but it is really painful when you get both as this deck is not one full of options.

Between the top end game winners and the cheap ramp spells there are a selection of value cards. Courser, Yavimaya Elder, Den Protector, and Sylvan Library. These fulfil a similar sort of role to the planeswalkers at a point on the mana curve where you don't have options on good planewalkers to do those sort of things. Broadly these cards offer card advantage or quality combined with a bit of board presence. This helps with your ramp lands as well as giving you much better combat dorks than the mana producers should you need them. They are your equivalent cards to Remand, Brainstorm and Fire / Ice that you find in control decks.

Raging RavineThe real power of the deck is in the lands. They do all sorts for you, card quality and advantage, ramping, threats and so forth. You can go far deeper than this list does. You can play things to tutor up lands other than Titan and run Grove of the Burnwillows engine or trade in another forest for the annoying Pendlehaven. You have lots and lots of options but I think this list demonstrates the most powerful ones on offer without damaging the consistency too much. Wastelands and Rishaden Port are not really needed, you out mana people pretty hard all ready and cannot afford to have any more non-green lands. Wolf-Run is the reason to be red, Nykthos is a bit too powerful to turn down but is more cuttable. Flamekin Village is pushing it a little. Cradel and Gruul Turf are pretty awkward turn one as well! This list will give you hands that pretty much lose if you get your cheap ramp dork killed. This list doesn't mulligan brilliantly either. On the flip side this deck will also give you lots of  hands that give you enough mana to have cast anything in your deck by turn three and just stomp all over people with powerful stuff.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Card Spotlight: Satyr Wayfinder

Satyr Wayfinder
It is impressive for a thing to be both an adhesive and filler, certainly in material terms. For a magic card the Satry Wayfinder does the job of both very well. On the face of it Wayfinder is not a powerful card at all. A 1/1 for two that can find you a land. Both Sylvan Ranger and Elvish Mystic have seen a lot of play in the cube in very similar roles to the new boy in town - Satyr Wayfinder. They all have some role similarities to cards like Remand. Good ways to spend your mana early while both staying card neutral and having an effect on the game. They help you keep pace with aggressive decks and fuel you for the longer games. Wall of Blossoms is another similar card however it is much more defensive, any deck wishing to be the aggressor at any point would much rather a 1/1 that can attack and deal damage than a 0/4. Being able to usefully equip your cycling two drop or get it involved in an Overrun attack make the 1/1 guys more played than Wall of Blossoms.

Elvish VisionaryElvish Visionary is the best late game of the three as a card is far better than a land or nothing however you ideally want these kinds of cards early. You are mostly playing them to improve your mana curve after all. As such the ones that get you lands offer you more consistency. Ranger is annoying as it only finds basics and can require you to tweak your mana base, broadly Sakura Tribe Elder is just a better call than Sylvan Ranger when you have enough basics. Why then is Satyr Wayfinder seeing the most play of any of this kind of card now by a significant margin when it is so similar to Sylvan Ranger, the weakest of all those mentioned here?

The answer is subtle and very broad! It is the adding of cards to the graveyard combined with the ability to find non-basic lands and as such in no way alter or impede your mana base. The former is the main reason but the latter is significant. Filler cards want to fit in with your deck as it stands, they want to support the other cards rather than need support themselves. Sylvan Ranger needs a tiny bit of support and as such is kind of weak. It is worth noting that Wayfinder also gives you relevant choices while none of the others do in quite the same way. When you hit more than one land in the four cards you can be faced with quite an interesting choice between utility, tempo and/or fixing. Sylvan Ranger may seem like it reliably offers you some choice but really it doesn't. A basic is a basic and the type should be pretty clear and obvious almost all the time. Wayfinder is not just a card that replaces itself like the others but also a card that can offer some relevant card quality and options. Impulse is used to find lands a lot of the time and doesn't come with a free 1/1!

Sylvan RangerOne thing to note about Wayfinder is that it can miss and therefore fail to replace itself . None of the other cards you might play in this role can (yes, technically superlate game or in a missbuilt deck the ones finding basics can miss, but they shouldn't ever when it is at all relevant) fail in this way. Firstly, your odds on missing are low, when you have around 50% lands in your library your odds of missing are less than 7%. When you drop to a lowly 25% lands in your library you still have around 60% chance to hit. Secondly, if you need lands and you miss with your turn 2 Wayfinder it is still very likely the best play you could have made. Clearing those four non-lands from your library means you are not going to be locked in to a screwing for four turns.

Now, to the real meat of why this badboy is so juicy. To really appreciate the value of dumping 3 or 4 cards into your graveyard I have compiled a list of the good A cube cards that can benefit from it. It is not a short list nor an exhaustive one.

Eternal Witness
Den Protector
Snapcaster Mage
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Faithless Looting
Chandra's Phoenix
Flamewake Phoenix
Bloodsoaked Champion
Lingering Souls
Grim Lavamancer
Hooting Mandrils
Become Immense
Dig Through Time
Treasure Cruise
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Gurmag Angler
Murderous Cut
Life from the Loam
Dreg Mangler
Hellspark Elemental
Shelldock Isle
Recurring Nightmare
Deathrite Shaman
Scavenging Ooze

Grisly Salvage
That was off the top of my head and intentionally didn't name weaker or more marginal cards. The list of mechanics supported by Wayfinder is pretty long; delve, flashback, threshold, unearth, dredge, recover, retrace, scavenge, soulshift! and spell mastery. There are a lot of powerful and commonly played cards and mechanisms on these lists and this is what propels Satyr Wayfinder so far ahead of the competition. Sac land into mana creature turn one followed by sac land into Wayfinder turn two lets you play a Tasigur on turn two! You don't even need the second sac land if you choose not to take a land with the Wayfinder affording you yet more options. It doesn't really matter in what way the Wayfinder supports your other cards, it can be three mana off a delve spell, some ammo for your Lavamancer or just the odd free card or half card when you hit recursive stuff, the fact that you get this extra value on top of your card and your 1/1 for just two mana is an insane amount of value. You really don't need much in the way of cards in your deck that go with Wayfinder's graveyard support before it is really noticeably powerful. Wayfinder is one of the most commonly played green two drops which is testament to how good it is in the present cube meta. Being in the company of Scavenging Ooze, Lotus Cobra and Tarmogoyf is no small feat. It is hard to call the card powerful, it clearly isn't. The power of the Wayfinder is that it makes your other powerful cards more powerful more quickly for a significantly lower total cost to you than the majority of other two drop plays. Magic is much more than just having the most powerful individual cards, it is about how those cards work together and the resulting effectiveness of your deck. The strength and popularity of Wayfinder should demonstrate this pretty well. Yes, cards like Mulch, Grisly Salvage and Gather the Pack offer this graveyard support as well for the same mana cost as Wayfinder and do other better things as well. These cards do see play in decks with heavier graveyard synergies. They perform a specific role better however they fulfil fewer overall roles. Just being a body you can have on the board for two mana is useful in several different ways and keeps the Wayfinder as the best all round two drop support/filler card on offer in green.

Saturday 1 August 2015

Land Vortex

Magmatic InsightThis is just a take on a Boros burn deck inspired by some of the red cards in MtG Origins. The premise was to have mechanisms that can abuse excess lands and combine them with Land Tax. The list I actually played was much thinner on these synergies and it turned out to not quite be enough. This list has added a couple more awkward cards to it so as to be able to actually reliably use the interactions instead of just flooding and dying. The first incarnation had no Seismic Assault and no Tibalt. Almost every game it got to the stage where I just wanted to draw Molten Vortex, even when I didn't have Tax and Tithe the low curve and relatively high land count ensured I was pretty flush with spare lands. One such effect and little ways to dig for it were not enough. My first list had nothing (except Fireblast, and I guess technically the Abbot as well) costing more than two mana but I have allowed this list to creep a little higher to up the power level a little.

Land TaxThis list is quite thin on burn cards but it does pack the very best quality ones. The idea is that you have more stamina than other burn decks while still packing a similar sort of punch. You spend a little bit more mana on card quality and advantage but are returned this value and more by having only the cream of the burn as possible draws and getting more of those draws. Tibalt is a controversial card but I think the best available option. I would love to splash blue for Looter il-Kor or the new Jace but that would really hurt the Land Tax. Wandering Champion would be nice but seems like it is never triggering! Tormented Voice and the like are viable but really underwhelming. Tibalt may seem bad but if you have Land Tax or are at all flooding he is really impressive card quality in this kind of deck. On top of this he has much more utility than the other discard outlets, is the cheapest on offer, and is actually a threat.

My first list also had Kytheon and a  couple more dorks which I cut for being too cross purpose with the deck rather than not being good. Kytheon is nuts in general, the haste red creatures make him really easy to flip. The thing is you want burn cards more than dorks in this kind of deck. A couple of cheap powerful dorks to get some efficient early damage in is great, much like the modern burn decks run. Beyond that you are going to wind up having too many non-useful late game draws. Typically with these low to the ground decks you want to focus on either direct damage or creatures. You will always have some of both but the synergies will only really be in one of those areas.

Molten Vortex

24 Spells

Land Tax
Magmatic Insight
Molten Vortex

Path to Exile
Lightning Bolt
Chain Lightning
Burst Lightning

Boros CharmGoblin Guide
Figure of Destiny
Monastery Swiftspear
Grim Lavamancer

Faithless Looting
Zurgo, Bellstriker

Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
Lightning Helix
Boros Charm

Searing Blaze
Abbot of Keral Keep
Eidolon of the Great Revel
Abbot of Keral Keep
Seismic Assault
Sulphuric Vortex


16 Land

Arid Mesa
Sacred Foundry
Filter Land

Battlefield Forge
10x Mountain

TitheI wanted to run Gift of Estates but the Tithe is already awkward enough. The deck is primarily red and so you cannot afford many plains in the list at all. You have to be really careful about not pulling out too many of your few plains so as to not limit the effects of the Tithe. This can mean making a turn one Battlefield Forge instead of sacing an Arid Mesa to get a Plateau, followed by using the Mesa to get a basic mountain on turn two.

The deck has lots of card draw and advantage; Tax, Tithe, Abbot, Looting, Tibalt and Insight. This combined with the ability to turn your lands into Shocks in the late game means you can take things a little slower than normal. You can sit back a bit longer aiming burn at dorks. Beyond that this deck plays much like any other burn or red deck wins. Is it better than an agro boros deck, a red deck wins or a pure burn deck? Probably not but neither is it that much worse. It gets to use a lot of fun cards, draw and lot more, make more choices, have more options and have a lot more control over how the game plays out.  These are all good reasons to be playing this kind of thing instead of something well tried and tested.