Thursday 8 October 2015

Top 5 Boros Cards

Goblin Trenches
So it has taken me far far to long to do this series of best in guild cards. It is basically already time to revisit the earliest ones and redo them due to new releases and meta shifts. The reason for the long hold up was simply that Boros and Izzet really don't have the cards to make comparable lists to the other guilds. Another huge problem I have with Boros is that there are loads of new unplayed-in-cube Boros cards that are far better than a bunch of the older ones that have actually seen some play. Goblin Trenches and Goblin Legionnaire for example saw a lot of love in the early cube and have play counts above Boros Charm and other good new things. This means if I base my list on power alone I will include cards that have never and will never get used in the cube while if I base it on play counts it would be a really useless and wrong looking list. I cannot easily do a combination of the two factors as I normally do as there is no overlap.

Simply put, Boros is weak for its gold cards. It has very few that are cube worthy and also has poor depth and breadth in those cards that sit in reserve. Another issue with Boros cards is that they are fairly linear. The design scope for what lies within the overlap of red and white just isn't greatly exciting. Lots of first strike? Perhaps some doublestrike? Things that redirect damage? Super kill some artifacts? Certainly there are some fine RDW / white weenie style cards but the problem is that the plain red or white cards that are much more playable are also typically more powerful and interesting as well. There are only three Boros cards that have pretty safe slots in the cube and only five that at all merit a slot. As such we have a list of those five cards and another list of cards that have seen some play in the past and sit in the B and C cubes for the rare occasion someone digs one out. Jeskai almost has more viable A cube cards than Boros at present!

Boros Reckoner5. Boros Reckoner

Every now and again I put this guy back in the cube to even up the gold but he is really quite awful. He is usually just a Trained Armadon, sometimes worse! A 3 mana 3/3 has to do more than get a situational damage effect that might result in a two for one. The casting cost isn't all that helpful unless you are after devotion, otherwise it just harms you ability to play colourless lands. Being playable in mono white or red isn't very interesting either, both colours have much more potent three drops to chose from. The only real merit of this card is the quirky combos you can do with it. Sadly they are pretty long winded weak combos compared to what you can do in the cube. It is the fifth most viable cube card Boros has to offer but really it shouldn't be anywhere near a cube list.

Boros Charm4. Boros Charm

This is an actually good card that deserves a cube slot. It is powerful for the cost and does a wide selection of useful things. It is pretty comfortably the most powerful of all ten charms in that cycle in terms of what each ability does. The issue with Charm is that it is a little narrow and a little situational. Obviously having three modes offsets the latter of these problems somewhat but it does all result in a card that doesn't get a much play as its power level merits. If you don't know exactly what you are facing you might simply chose to play a Lightning Strike over the Boros Charm and trade some power for much greater consistency. You pretty much only play charm in very aggressive decks. There is a Kiln Fiend style combo deck in which it has great utility and there may be some others like that but this is not a common archetype at all and does not add much to the playability of the card. In an aggressive deck Boros Charm is a decent finisher and a decent way to counter a mass removal effect. I have lost several games to Charm in both capacities. Doublestrike is rarely more than doing 4 damage but it can be and has some naughty scaling potential. It can be used as an awkward combat trick as well. Boros Charm is also not the worst answer to planeswalkers going. All told Boros Charm is a great card that doesn't see much play because the good archetype you play it in isn't that fun of a deck to play nor is it that much more powerful than sticking mono red or mono white. Especially when you risk getting a bad mana base.

Ajani Vengeant3. Ajani Vengeant

A planeswalker I consider to be highly over rated. That said, he is still a good solid planeswalker. Vengeant has 3 great abilities that make him very capable of defending himself, gaining card advantage and/or tempo and posing as a scary game ending threat that needs dealing with. His only real weakness is that he starts on low loyalty. His +1 is also a little frustrating sometimes as it does nothing against a freshly made untapped dork or one with vigilance. Often I find I am keeping lands locked down with him. That is usually when I feel like I am winning most as a result of the Ajani. The reason he is good is that he does a lot of work in the control match disrupting and posing as a threat while he is still a great tempo play against an aggressive player. Just throwing him down, killing a thing, gaining three life and absorbing an attack is going to be well worth the four mana and a card against loads of decks. In both roles he is decent and in both he provides options. Destroying all their lands is terrifying for the opponent and one of the best ultimates on a planeswalker. It is not fired off very often, mostly because people go to all lengths to stop the ultimate happening but also because he only has a +1 to grow, starts at a measly 3 loyalty and often needs to fire off a couple of -2 effects en route so as to remain alive. More of a control or midrange card than an aggressive one. You can do far more punishing and game ending things for four mana in a Boros aggro deck. There are not many viable Boros (or Naya for that matter) midrange or control decks meaning you tend to only find Vengeant in Jeskai or Mardu decks. In such decks he faces strong competition with loads of juicy four drops and as a result sees a lot less play than his power level deserves.

Figure of Destiny2. Figure of Destiny

Here we have a great example of a card. It is a fine one drop, it gives you options and it scales into the late game. It has flexible colour and quantity of mana investments and requirements. Unlike Boros Reckoner this is a card you would play in red decks or white decks as well as the pure Boros. It is a card you play on its own merits and not because of potentially silly synergies or to boost your devotion. Figure has taken down a lot of games in his time, some as a mere 2/2, some as a 4/4 and some as a terrifying 8/8. He is narrow in that he is pretty much just an aggressive threat however he is flexible and powerful enough that he remains one of the best cards for those kinds of decks. Level up is a great mechanic in general and Figure lets you level at instant speed for extra convenience and trickery. It was a very close call for Figure not getting the number one slot.

Lightning Helix1. Lightning Helix

While I have never rated this card that highly I cannot deny its power. As the cube meta has moved towards grinding slow games the relevance of the extra value from the Helix has had it shoot up the playability rankings. Two mana for three damage to any target at instant speed is already a plenty good card and versatile enough to go in basically any deck. Throw three free life into the mix and you have equivalent value to an unconditional Searing Blaze, or a Lightning Bolt in mana terms. Life is not the rubbish resource it used to be. All decks find themselves needing to take some care with their life as there are so many powerful things that can end games out of nowhere if you don't. Even the aggressive ones need to take care and as such the Helix has regained a position in my cube that somewhat reflects the performance and power of the card in the wider MtG field. One of the most efficient and reliable cards in the whole game. Mana has also improved and so the difficulty of casting Helix instead of a Searing Spear is less significant.

Here is the list of Boros stragglers that have seen a smattering of play at some stage in the history of my cube. They are not that powerful or incredibly narrow as a general rule and many of them have only really one use they are ever  called upon for. Spitemare for example is only there to be a bad 2nd Reckoner for that particular (weak) combo. Double Cleave is again, more weak redundancy for Kiln Fiend style one shot combo decks. Flamekin Zealot has had its uses in Living Death or Bidding decks where it enables a kill right away. It still has its place in these narrow and rare decks but there are far more options now on ways to instantly end a game upon casting a Living Death or similar.

Flame-Kin ZealotAssemble the Legion
Shattering Blow
Goblin Legionnaire
Goblin Trenches
Boros Swiftblade
Duergar Hedge-Mage
Wear / Tear
Flame-kin Zealot
Aurelia's Warleader
Aurelia's Fury
Double Cleave
Deflecting Palm
Firemane Angel
Iroas, God of Victory
Release (/Catch)
Ride Down
Tajic, Blade of the Legion
Chain to the Rocks?!

Chained to the RocksI mentioned Goblin Trenches and Legionnaire as being pretty good back in the day and they were. Very little compared to Legionnaire in terms of utility or value as an aggressive little beater. Damage could go on the stack of course back then which really helped the card. Ember Hauler is basically the new mono Legionnaire and it sees very little play. A 2/2 for two is not really exciting enough and the mana to use the shock makes it not a very mana efficient card. Trenches suffers a similar fate, two mana to make a pair of 1/1s isn't exactly cheap, especially when you have paid three up front. Trenches used to represent inevitability if you got it down, it was a good way to turn excess land into decent threats and make end of turn armies. Now you have lots more to do with excess lands and better ways to spend your mana in general. Assemble the Legion is a more mana efficient way to make tokens than the Trenches and is the new Boros inevitability enchantment. At five mana it is just way too slow and linear when compared to what you get from most planeswalkers.

Aurelia's Fury saw a tiny bit of play but was just too clunky to be useful in the way you want a spell like that to be. Chain to the Rocks is quite a good removal spell but it isn't good enough to make up for how narrow it is. That is part of the problem with Boros cards in general. It is a vicious cycle where Boros has limited archetypes and so limited interest in varied and quirky cards. Most new Boros things don't get played, they then get cut and Boros stays narrow and unable to support much beyond Boros aggro decks which really are not any notable degree better than staying mono.


  1. I actually really like Chained to the Rocks. Its a really cheap removal spell for Boros aggro without ramping them or giving life. Solid as a 5th Boros card.

    1. You are right, Chained to the Rocks is the 5th best Boros card for cube over the Reckoner. The thing is that Reckoner at least does something different and new while Chained to the Rocks is just a cheaper Journey to Nowhere. The difference in power between Chained and Journey is minimal compared to the difference in playability and so I just can't justify the vulable cube slot. If I were trying to get perfectly even distributions of colour then I would used Chained to the Rocks to solve that. As is, I'll stay without.