Monday 24 August 2015
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 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 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 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 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 - 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 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.