Sunday 27 December 2015

Top 10 Angels

Serra Angel
This is about as Christmas themed as one can go with a sensible Magic article. I'm not even really sure what the merit of comparing the angels is. Angels is not really a tribe nor a thing you need to fill a slot with. It is not like your deck needs at least one angel so you want to compare the merits of those on offer. In the grand scheme of things this list is about as arbitrary as most of the content here. It is a talking point if nothing else! Merry Christmas one and all.

Exalted Angel10. Exalted Angel

Exhalted Angel no longer sees much play at all but for a long time it was king of the top end. Before Titans and basically every other good top end finsher card in the cube Exalted Angel was the thing. Decent stats with flying, lifelink and the capacity to be attacking on turn four with no ramp at all. The life swing and high toughness made it a nightmare for agro decks and the versatile casting options make it safe to play against more control decks. It was a creature that was control in nature but that could reasonably find itself in more aggressive decks too simply because it was so much more powerful than the alternatives on offer. All the way upto Alara block the power creep still hadn't caught up with Exalted Angel. Battlegrace is the most comparable card to have seen print since.

Then came along another Angel around the era of the titans that instantly ended the career of Exalted Angel in the cube. There are many Angels who have been much more prominent in the past in cube that are not on this list but none quite so powerful and certainly none for as long as Exalted. To name a few of those I felt guilt for leaving off the list we have Karmic Guide, Raya Dawnbringer and Blinding Angel. There are also a few newer angels that have yet to shine their light fully int he cube but may well one day creep into such a list. These include Angel of Serenity, Archangel of Tithes and Dawnbreak Reclaimer.

Platinum Angel9. Platinum Angel

Another angel who is more a thing of the past than it is prominent in the current cube. The effect is powerful and unique and the card is easily cast or put into play given that it is a 7 drop. The stats are also perfectly acceptable to be doing some work outside of the can't lose condition. What has changed is not the power level of the Platinum Angel but the availability and effectiveness of removal. You simply cannot rely on a 4 toughness artifact creature to stay in play against much of anything even if you have trickery to protect it. It used to be the case you could whack the Angel in a Lightning Greaves and that was good games. Basically no decks could find suitable answers to the things in enough time, a lot of decks simply had no answers. Angel still has its place but it is now incredibly niche. I don't see it winning that many in the future but it has enough wins and saves under its belt for now that it gets a spot on the list.

Sigarda, Host of Herons8.  Sigarda, Host of Herons

Now that we are done with the nostalgia angels we can move on to look at the more powerful angels you can still expect to face in the world of cube. Sigarda is one of the hardest to kill cards in the game making old True-Name Nemesis seem rather limp. Sigarda is a rock, lots of stats, lots of control over the board and a whole pile of reliability. She has two fatal weaknesses that greatly limit her cube play. One, she is vulnerable to mass removal which is kind of fine on a three drop but is a lot more uncomfortable on a five drop. You get no value at all from Sigarda when she is wrathed away. The second is that she is Selesnya, an uncommon and narrow colour pairing that is utterly spoiled for choice when it comes for juicy five drops. Sure, a 5/5 flying hexproof is a whole lot of thing on the board but it doesn't do loads of other exciting things. Very powerful but rarely seen despite this. She also feels like she specifically hoses black which is fine for a Selesnya card but a bit more awkward as a merit to base cube performance and inclusion on.

Archangel of Thune7.   Achangel of Thune

This naughty five drop is totally fine on its own, gets decently better with some nice synergies and has insta win combo potential that is reasonably easy to setup in an otherwise midrange deck. For five mana you get a weasly 3/4 lifelink which isn't great. To get the value from the card you need it to stick around a while or setup for doing other useful stuff on the turn that you play her. There are a lot of ways you can gain life without spending mana and you don't need to be giving many +1/+1 counters out for Thune to offer a lot more value than your five mana worth. Even just a couple on herself and the card is looking well worth the mana. In the right situation Archangel of Thune is one of the scariest and most dangerous of the Angels. In a little bit of the same vein as Sigarda, you want a bit more rounded self reliance in your five drops and so Thune is not that much more commonly played than Sigarda. Obviously everyone loves a combo so that Kitchen Finks trickery does get tried a lot.  This means that unless you are specifically abusing Thune you will usually end up playing something like a planeswalker instead because it does a couple of useful things.

Serra Avenger6. Serra Avenger

The cheapest angel on the list and a surprisingly old creature to still be getting a good amount of play. Two mana is just such a massive bargain for a 3/3 flying vigilance that you don't overly mind having to wait till turn four to play it. It means you can do other powerful things as well on the turn you make is such as playing a Counterspell! You can cheat the card out with things like Aethervial but there isn't much need. It is just fine to have it be dead in hand early on it turns out. It is still far far better to have Serra Avenger dead in hand on turn two or three than a four or five drop. Avenger has huge capacity to recover tempo. The body is not huge compared to what is coming out by turn four however it is a very significant body, 3 is enough damage to get things done, 3 enough health to cope with a lot and flying and vigilance combined make the card very effective at any stage of the game in a wide array of situations. I prefer it as a control and midrange card but will fairly happily play it in white weenie decks too. It is powerful enough to draw out three mana spot removal which always feels like a win. There are only a handful of creatures I can think of that frequently get killed inefficiently with more expensive removal and they include some of the biggest names in magic. Dark Confidant, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Mother of Runes, Tarmogofy, Deathrite Shaman. Being in the company of such cards is only a good thing for the Avenger.

Iona, Shield of Emeria5. Iona, Shield of Emeria

Not a fun card and not a card often cast. Some decks instantly lose to Iona, some have a tenuous out that means they play on but generally still lose and some really don't care that much. In reaminate style decks she is a strong contender to include as part of your package because she can afford so many easy wins. At 7/7 she comes in as the hardest angel on the list which is nice but one of the less relevant aspects of the card. It just comes down to the fact that a 9 mana white card is basically never something that you can hard cast in a half good deck. As such she is a little narrow for my liking. A lot of the other powerful non-hardcastable fatties can be tinkered or Sneak Attacked into play usefully. She lacks synergy with enough of the cheaty cards to be super good but that is probably for the best as she is not a lot of fun to play against.

Linvala, Keeper of Silence4.   Linvala, Keeper of Silence

Speaking of cards that are not that fun to play against we have this piece of joy. If you were haoping to have fun with cool creatures, perhaps some ramping mana elves to get you there Lin Vala will ruin the party really hard. Green just hates her. Most decks have a few things she gimps. Presently she is the best answer to an Aetherling in the cube. She is also the best counter to a number of elf decks. The stats are not good for the mana but they do hit the sweet spot at 3/4 with the wonderfully useful flying tag we expect on our angels. Because she is a mid level card with a useful and acceptable body you can pretty much throw her in any old deck and she will be fine. Sometimes you will play her and she will be pretty annoying, other times she will utterly wreak your opponent. Because she is never too bad yet has such a strong positive effect for you enough of the time she is quite a commonly seen card. Certainly one to be aware of and keep in mind. I don't much like it as it is just something that can randomly win you games but that has no real synergy or interaction with your own cards. Regardless of how much I like it the card is very powerful, wins a lot of games and is a great card to fill out your deck with.

3.   Baneslayer Angel
Baneslayer Angel
Exalted Angel mk II. This came, it ruled the board and then it began to fade a little after over a year of being up there with the power. I have literally been passed a Time Walk because they took this instead and it didn't seem awful at the time. It is still a strong card, the go to super body. It wins combat basically. In any creature driven game the impact this card has is immense, it is like when Jitte gets out of hand, you just need to use removal to kill it or you are going to lose. As with so many other cards, the improvement of removal options has made Baneslayer less popular. Just having it killed with something like a Terror puts you quite behind. Expensive cards really want to do something right away in cube. Baneslayer used to reliably stop all attacks then gain you five life a turn either killing planeswalkers or quickly killing your opponent. Now it tends to wind up dead on sight a bit more consistently. It still represents one of the cheapest high impact cards you can use and still gets a lot of play consequently. Previously I have seen lists where it is the principal win condition while now it is just a low end threat that you can afford to have eat removal. I use the card most in control decks but you do see it often in both aggro and midrange just because of those stupid power levels.

Sublime Archangel2. Sublime Archangel

One of the most underrated cube cards more because it sits under the radar and not because people are wrong about it. On paper it looks fine but not exciting. In practice it is one of the most dangerous aggressive four drops going. Most of the time you have some dorks when you play this and almost all of those times it means you can attack with the most suitable of those more effectively than you could have done with all of them. You will get more or as much damage through or force a chump block instead of trades and chump attacks. Obviously this pump scales with things like doublestrike and lifelink leading to some really quite obnoxious starts. I have gone Champion of the Parish into Gather the Townsfolk into Silverblade Paladin on the now 4/4 Champion. The Sublime is somewhat overkill on that kind of draw but you can see quite how out of hand it gets. Hitting for 18 with your one drop on turn four when you have already done 13 to them is pretty filthy. Should they live through this initial impact they then have a 4/3 flier to deal with else it will hit them in the skies and end the game in short order or on the rare occasions there is something like a Baleful Strix in the way you don't want to trade with you can just send your other guys in before Sublime needs to put herself at risk. With only three toughness she is a little vulnerable and a poor blocker. You typically only see Sublime in aggro lists because she is all about the attacking but despite this narrowness she easily sits at the number two spot.

Restoration Angel1.   Restoration Angel

There is little to no risk playing Restoration Angel in your deck. Normally four drops need to do an awful lot or something very specific for you to want to play them. Resto is kind of just a good body to have a round with some occasional utility or trickery. It is having flash that makes it so safe and not the usual clunkyness of a four mana dork. In a control deck you can reasonably cast this on turn four in complete safety. Flying makes the card useful throughout the game and 3/4 is again, the sweet spot on cube stats for combat. Resto blocks, attacks, holds equipment, wins games, kills planeswalkers and generally does all the things you want creatures to do fairly effectively and this is all just being a 3/4 flier with flash. The bonus flicker effect that is thrown in does not need to be used for the card to be good but it adds a lot of value and trickery to the card. In midrange decks where Resto is best the effect typically triggers an enter the battlefield trigger for you again or saves something from spot removal. For agro and control to be getting the same level of value as that you need to be building the deck specifically with Resto in mind. This is not awful but it also isn't required for the card to be playable. While perhaps not the most powerful angel Resto is comfortably the most played and has by far the broadest range of where you want to play it. It has not yet taken down as many games as Exalted or Baneslayer but it is catching both fairly quickly now.

Friday 18 December 2015

Oath of the Gatewatch Review: Part 1.

Wastes - dependant ranking!

I assumed this was a spoof for a long while as basically every other new colour of mana postulation has been. This is a very smooth and interesting way of functionally getting a sixth colour in magic but without radically altering the game dynamics and flavour of the game. For cube considerations this card posses far more questions that most. None can properly be answered yet with single digit cards spoiled. I suspect reasonable testing will need to be done once the cards are out as well. Normally with a new card I have the simple choice of adding it to the main cube, sticking it in reserve or completely ignoring it. Wastes has a 4th option which is adding them to the basic land pile for as much general use as required. As a singleton draftable copy in the cube it would have some interesting utility and would be comparable to something like a Darksteel Citadel or perhaps a Dryad Arbor. Even with few to none in terms of playable cards that require colourless to cast (rather than generic) I could imagine running a one of draftable Wastes in the cube. With sufficient quantity of playable stuff that requires colourless mana to cast it would become more important to have unlimited access to Wastes from the communal basics. Being such a significant addition to the game I hope they extend the idea into future blocks rather than limiting it to Oath. From just one set it is highly unlikely that we will be able to have colourless or colourless/X decks as we do mono and two colour decks now. Cube has such a high entry level that few cards from any given set make it in.

As a colour "colourless" is already at an advantage in cube in terms of its mana base. It has cards like Rishadan Port and Mishra's Factory that are directly better than basics. Only Karakas really exists as such for the present colours. Also in terms of pairing colourless cards with coloured ones you have some very juicy dual lands on offer in the form of pain lands and filter lands which effectively tap for three colours of mana, one of which with no drawback at all.

Wastes itself is awful, you obviously want most of your colourless producing lands doing bonus extra things for you which wastes does not. This only applies however in a deck with spells requiring colourless mana to play. I thought Wastes has some decent application in a deck with no need to produce colourless mana with things like Tribal Flames burning for six. Keeping six land alive after playing a Global Ruin etc. Apparently this is not how it will work which is a shame from the point of view of cube. Really all Wastes will offer is an easily tutorable source of colourless mana which is really unlikely to be something anyone wants.

Perhaps I will have a custom cube rule where Wastes is a 6th basic land type and maybe I won't. At least if I elect for the latter route I won't likely have to worry about weather Wastes goes as a singleton into cube or bulk added to the basics as it just won't be played ever.

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim 6/10

This is a card with a lot going on. It is both a good value card and a good utility card. Ayli is a two drop, a gold card, a legend, an enabler and a fine stand alone card. All of these things combined make her rather convoluted to review but before we go through that I can reveal I think this is pretty good and should stick in the cube a good while.

Firstly lets just look at the basic body, a 2/3 deathtouch for 2. Not broken or anything but clearly above the curve. It is fairly durable to removal and is able to survive combat with most one drops and the various value and utility dorks out there (typically 2/2 and 2/1). The deathtouch is great too, it makes it scale a lot better into the late game and will hold off a lot more threats than most 2 drops. It will equally be tedious to block, large enough that you can't just kill it with your chaff and deathtouching so that you don't want to put important things in the way. Attacking for two isn't that aggressive but it isn't insignificant, particularly against planeswalkers. The body suits midrange decks the most. It is a decent tempo card but certainly better defensively. It will do more to recover tempo when you are behind than it will be able to close out a game due to tempo gains when you are ahead. The card is powerful and versatile enough to still be good in aggro decks and perhaps occasionally suitable for creature heavy control decks. The odd combo deck may well want it too!

Legend is normally a disadvantage in cube. The only things that really interact with the legend tag in cube are clone effects and Karakas. The former are easily controlled by yourself and not that significant. Karakas on the other hard is usually played when it is available and is a total beating for a lot of good cards. Things like Visara the Dreadful are just unplayable against a Karakas. Fortunately for Ayli she is white and cheap making the existence of Karakas overall to her advantage. As the white player you have a higher chance of picking up and playing a Karakas than a non white player. This means not only will your stuff not be getting the bounce treatment from your opponent but that you are able to protect your stuff from removal with it. Being cheap means you are happier to recast after a bounce effect so if you do or don't have Karakas Ayli is still pretty safe and solid.

Gold is a disadvantage in most cases. A gold card has to be that bit more powerful than a mono or colourless card to be a consideration as they are inherently less playable and narrower. While Ayli does pack a little more punch that most two drops she isn't necessarily as direct in function. In this regard she reminds me of Lotleth troll and Rashaka Deathdealer. Both fine cards above the curve on power and stuff going on but a little aimless to take up valuable gold slots. Where Ayli is advantaged over these other cards is that Orzhov is somewhat under populated for cube worthy gold cards compared not only to Golgari but most other guilds too. Ayli would likely get a slot even without any direct synergies or archetypes that really want her. Lotleth basically only gets play when you have a strong want for more discard outlets for example. Ayli just being a high power rounded Orzhov two drop is enough at present.

Despite not needing them I think Ayli will find archetypal homes and commonly useful synergies to further secure her slot in the cube. Of the two activated abilites on Ayli the first is hugely relevant and is where most of her utility comes in. The second is marginal and will rarely come into play, look at it as an ultimate on planeswalker. Pretty game winning but almost never happening. Black loves lifegain and lots of things benefit from having a sacrifice outlet to hand. Some cards really really want you to have either life gain or a sac outlet such as Necropotence and Academy Rector however both of those effects are widely useful in a lot of common situations. You are not really generating tempo or card advantage through using the ability meaning there will be plenty of times your card is just being a 2/3 deathtouch for you which is fine. The amount of utility the card will offer on average will be plenty enough to more than offset the games where it is unexceptional.

Although it will have pitiful frequency I do probably need to talk about the final Vindicate / Council's Judgement ability. Certainly very powerful but part of the reason I am so dismissive of it is on top of it not occurring often, when it does occur you should be winning so hard anyway that it is even less likely to ultimately matter. Again, like planewalker ultimates if you have managed to keep your walker alive long enough to gain sufficient loyalty to fire off an ultimate you were already winning that game! Removal is at least a bit more of an out than most planeswalker ultimates and less of a win mechanism. You need a dork, you need Vindicate mana spare and you need 30 or more life to activate it meaning it will not be generating tempo or card advantage either. The exception to that being when you are sacing tokens or things about to die but still, it is a far cry from just paying 3 mana to get a thing gone. Exile is great, instant speed effect is also great, still can't kill a man land but never mind. This will deal with most of the things you are going to lose to, it might well be the case that your only play is to put your army in the bin to gain enough life that you are able to kill off the one thing that is actually going to kill you. Having this effect certainly makes the card better than not having it but it is likely less relevant than the legend tag on the card.

Mina and Denn, Wildborn - 0/10

Not up to the power level needed on a four drop dork for cube but a well designed card that will have a lot of application in block and standard style formats. The ally tag has limited cube use and the RG ability is slow and over cost for what is really not that exciting of an effect. Being able to relay land with useful come into play effects or just to trigger landfall when you are out of spells in nice but again, not exciting when you are paying two mana and your land drop just to get something with trample. A 4/4 trample for 2RG is the bad end of Ghor-Clan Rampager!

Kozilek, the Great Distortion 4/10

Another high powered super top end card that is certainly playable in cube but might not do the right balance of things nor be convenient enough to make the cut. He isn't something that you can cheat in and get much value from nor is it that easy to cheat in compared to better alternatives. Yes, you can use graveyard things to get him back but is it really better than a more direct card? Regardless of the value for mana a card like this is going to be cheated in significantly more than it is cast and the fact that it does not shine in that capacity much at all is a little worrisome for old Kozilek,

Kozilek is a card with several different strings to his bow and therefor somewhat complex to fully analyse. To start with he is a 12/12 for 10 with menace making him very tough to block. He should end the game in a couple of turns but is far easier to stop (ignoring his discard ability for now) than a bunch of much much cheaper cards with comparable or better kill clocks. He has no indestructible nor protection from coloured spells like we are used to on our Eldrazi. He has no hexproof to keep him safe.

Like other Eldrazi Kozilek has a trigger that occurs only when you cast him which is why they are typically significantly less value when you cheat them into play rather than hard casting. Kozilek will draw you between 0 and 7 cards depending on how many you have blown through already. My guess is this will average about 5 in cube which might outperform his older self (older from our perspective at least, presumably in the story line it is his younger self...) but is sufficiently close that the inconsistency of it is likely the more significant factor. All told, drawing a pile of cards is nice but you do also want to be winning the game with your ten drop. Even with the synergy with the discard ability the draw effect in general has a degree of counter synergy with a ten mana threat. If you need to draw cards in a deck like that it is to mana up to so as to cast your threats or purely to find them. The casting of them should be one of the last things you get to. It is certainly not a drawback, sometimes it will make you uncomfortably close to milling yourself or indeed be unplayable because it will actually mill you but odds on those games are lost anyway and are so minor it is not that worth worrying about. My point is mostly that draw five on a card like this is a lot lot less valuable than pretty much any other cheaper card with draw on it.

So let us talk about the ability to turn any card in your hand in to a free counterspell, like a super Distorting Shoal. Very powerful but no where near the reliability you need to be insane. I have had a lot of experience with this kind of effect using Shoal and Brainstorm effects in combination with Counterbalance. Even with a full hand of stuff you typically have only a couple of options on CMC to counter. The curve of a deck needs to be very consistent and carefully built to get the most value out of such things and when you are casting or playing 10 drops your deck is unlikely to have a consistent curve. In the right sort of deck you would be able to effectively lock down the game with this effect for a very long time, and it doesn't need to be long to win with a 12/12. The right sort of deck isn't going to be casting this anywhere near soon enough for it to be useful in winning the game. As such you will get a bit of random disruption from Kozilek, it will make your opponent play weirdly and likely suboptimally for a bit and it will keep your dude alive some of the time but in no way reliably. Certainly not as reliably as a Force of Will of a humble Duress will offer. Indestructible, hexproof and protections might be more reliable and more powerful ways to ensure a fatty lives long enough to win a game but at least Kozilek offers some potential to disrupt other aspects of your opponents game. Perhaps they could win around your 12/12 before it can win the race but you are able to stop that from happening with correct CMC discards..

Finally we need to look at his casting cost. A very interesting mechanic well woven into the existing framework of the game. Specifically colourless mana rather than generic mana needed for two of the ten. For a card this pricey this is pretty irrelevant, there is almost no deck that is hard casting this that will even need to consider having enough colourless. If you can produce ten mana it is almost certain that you will have two or more colourless among them.This excludes green ramp decks who will need to consider this a bit more but when you insta-win with your 8 drops in green I can't see Kozilek appealing there. The mana cost of Kozilek makes it such that the colourless requirement is pretty negligible. This will not be the case with cheaper cards needing colourless. Although negligible it is still a disadvantage when compared with other Kozilek.

My conclusion on this big pile of card is that it likely isn't cube worthy simply because there isn't that much room for super high casting cost cards and compared to the alternatives Kozilek isn't doing powerful enough, reliable enough or useful enough stuff. Very powerful but not well aligned.

Mirror Pool 1/10

Interesting but far too narrow for any regular cube use. There may be a wierd combo deck that has a specific use for it but likely it would be as a backup rather than an integral piece. It also improves the range of Living Wish significantly but all told I don't expect to see this card getting used in my cube. Colourless and coming into play tapped is a weak land. The payoff for this is an expensive and narrow pair of effects that are really only usable in decks that don't want an excess of lands and only when they have reached that point. Not worth.

Crush of Tentacles - 6/10

I don't much like this card but sadly I fear it is actually quite potent in the cube environment. Surge is very easy to trigger, often with things that produce mana like Mox and Mana Vault. This means you can expect to be mostly bounced somewhat early on and be facing off against an 8/8 with nout but lands. Crush is somewhere between Upheaval and Cyclonic Rift. Sorcery speed, not affecting lands and being symmetrical are generally not the best bits of Upheaval or Rift however the bonus 8/8 and the fair mana cost go a long way to making up for that. While bouncing all lands is pretty game breaking it is a lot harder to abuse. Control decks rarely play Upheaval as they cannot easily handle bouncing all their own lands and really only the decks chock full of good artifact mana can properly abuse Upheaval. I can see Crush of Tentacles getting a lot of play in control decks where they will not have many non-land permanents. It will be particularly effective against planeswalkers and will be such a huge tempo swing that it will feel a lot like an Upheaval.for the other player while not being uncomfortable to play or include for the control mage. There are also some comparisons with Crush and Martial Coup. Coup is pretty game ending in the right situations but is significantly pricier than Crush and narrower in its range.

Blighted Crossroads 2/10

Lovely card design but almost certainly far too narrow for the cube. Devoid is not a highly populated catagory in the cube and is unlikely to become one.

Sea Gate Ruins 4/10

Another lovely card design that is rather like a balance Library of Alexandria. It is also quite comparable to Desolate Lighthouse, a nice little utility land that was just a bit too slow to be relevant often enough. Draw a card is substantially more powerful than a loot however the subtle bonus clauses on Sea Gate Ruins make it that much more awkward. A lot of decks never really want to exhaust their hands which immediately limits the range of decks that might think about playing this. A further limitation on playability is that this is a colourless land that needs you to have other sources of colourless mana for it to do anything. This means your deck will have to have at least 3 and ideally more like 4 or 5 colourless sources of mana. If these are pain lands, filter lands and talismans then great but if not then you are not going to be able to play things that have high coloured requierments. Searing Blaze, Hymn to Tourach and Cryptic Command should be off the cards and this isn't a trade off worth making most of the time. I like the card a lot and will be pushing where I am playing it. My expectation is that it will only be good in decks that have been too heavily warped to accommodate it so that it isn't worth the pay off. The exception to this will be artifact red where extra card draw will be much appreciated and empty hands, coloureless mana and spare mana are all easy to come by. One good home will not be enough for this card to become a mainstay so here is to hoping it outperforms expectation.

Holdout Settlement 3.5/10

More lovely card design with this Spingleaf Drumland. More convenient than things like City of Brass in the right deck but sadly the verdict is looking like this is too marginal a card for too few decks for consideration. I love the interaction it has with Pair Seer and other inspired cards but again, far too niche an application to merit inclusion of Holdout Settlement. Tapping your own stuff is periodically useful to mitigate the damage done by Control Magic effects but this is bottom of the barrel stuff.

Spire's Needle 7.5/10

Obviously this was always going to be good enough. I had assumed it would be this but a 2/2 not a 2/1 which is all much of a muchness. You don't go putting your man lands in much danger so having a single toughness isn't that big of a drawback. This is most comparable to Raging Ravine, it hits for the same to begin with and costs the same to activate. All told it is probably worse than the Ravine but really not by a lot, much of that will be down to Boros being weak and dull compared to Gruul. Spire's Needle is a better control card than Ravine which is fortunate as a fairly even portion of decks with red and white are control. This is not a card you massively want to be blocking with but if you have to be blocking with one then this is better than a lot of them. Offensively it is fine, a big chunk of damage and some awkwardness to block. Double strike also gives it massive scaling potential but this will rarely come up as it is already costing you five mana to be attacking with your Needle. The most powerful of these interactions is clearly Elspeth who can send this to the sky to smack for 10 all on curve and without extra mana cost when you activate your land. Quite dangerous but a little more situational than a lot of the others. A great cube card and still wildly better than Lavaclaw Reaches!

Crumbling Vestige 2/10

Yet more great land design but this has very little in the way of abuses or synergies all the while being directly worse than cards like Tendo Ice Bridge as a way to fix. The most interesting part of this card is that you can get mana from a Primeval Titan trigger. Likely not worth playing it but at least a glimmer of hope it will see some niche cube play one day.

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet 5.5/10

I'm not a huge fan of this durdle card but in light of no 4cmc planeswalkers for black this is reasonably likely to see play. The card feels a lot like a Huntsmaster of the Fells. A slow four drop value generator. Kalitas is more controllable but also a lot less immediate impact and value. His overall package is fine but not exciting. The aspects of what made me want to include him in the cube are more general to what black lacks and needs. Lifegain is always nice for black and on a widely playable card such as this it will be played because of the lifelink specifically. The second aspect of what I like about this card for cube is that it causes creatures that would die to be exiled instead. Black has some great removal options to get around annoying stuff with -X/-X and edict effects navigating around indestructible, protection and shroud effects. What it lacks are strong options that deal with something like a Vengevine or a Kitchen Finks. Yes, black has Graverobbers and Withered Wretches but these cards are awful except in this one role or graveyard disruption. They ruin your tempo and do nothing in plenty of matchups. Kalitas offers this ability to handle sticky and persistent dorks withough hurting your tempo, value or power levels. The ability to grow Kalitas by saccing zombies or vampires for 2B is pretty limp all round but it in no way detracts from the card and will make it a lot more annoying for your opponent even if you never use it. Indeed it will be at its best when you are not using it! A sac outlet is usually a handy thing but at 3 mana and with creature type restrictions it is not going to be helping you out there much. Mostly it will just be a clunky on the board combat trick or way to jump out of range of lethal damage. It is very rare that you will want to preemptively grow your Kalitas just to have a bigger dork. It might be what you need to do to gain more life or deal with another big threat in play but it will put you at risk of getting blown out with removal.

Body wise Kalitas is weak for his price but actually pretty robust in the environment. A 3/4 body is a pretty good sweet spot that blocks, kills and survives against almost everything costing less mana than it plus all the various utility creatures (most of which also cost less than it but still). Lifelink is obviously a pretty huge perk on the card but alone it wouldn't be close to enough to make a 4 mana 3/4 cube worthy. The power and danger of the card comes in from getting free 2/2s every time something of your opponents dies. Black has lots of cheap and free removal in lots of guises, planeswalkers, spells and creatures. It will be fairly easy to get immediate value from Kalitas and almost certain should he stick around in play for that long. He will hose weenie decks and midrange decks pretty hard while being fairly limp in the control matchup. All told, control is blacks best matchup (disregarding combo) with the others being more problematic which is in Kalitas's favour. He is a legend that is sufficiently cost for Karakas to ruin his day but I am getting to the point of cutting/banning that card from my cube. It is making too many interesting cards like this pretty unplayable.

Sphinx of the Final Word 5/10

This is pretty hard to judge. Basically it is a portal version of Aetherling, easy mode win condition! It is not quite as reliable at ending the game as Aetherling but it does have its merits. It is not vulnerable to Linvala or Pithing Needle like the Aetherling, nor do you have to worry about resolving the thing nor leaving mana up to flicker it out. Essentially they cost the same to lay and the Sphinx has no real upkeep costs. The Sphinx can be stopped in combat by a few things and cannot both attack and block. While overall it just seems inferior to the Aetherling it is such a potent way of closing a game some redundancy might be well appreciated despite it being such a curve topper. The one area Sphinx probably outdoes Aetherling is in the control mirror match. The ability to make all your counterspells final will go a long way to winning you the game. It does a great deal to mitigate the vulnerability of Sphinx to Wrath effects too which are its biggest weakness compared to Aetherling.

Kozilek's Return 5/10

Basically this is a 2R instant Pyroclasm that gets around protection for cube which is reasonably interesting but not overly powerful. There are a lot of 2 and 3 mana options on red cards that do up to 3 damage to creatures. This suits control decks best but ultimately it is very hard to pick between this and Pyroclasm whatever you are playing.

The secondary mechanic is powerful but it is just so unlikely to be happening in cube. There is only room for a couple of Eldrazi in most cubes and they are rarely cast. A free board clear on those occasions should make your imminent win even more likely but it is no reason to be including this card in the cube. Hopefully the basic portion of the card will be enough to be cube worthy so that we might see the other bit in action at least once.

World Breaker 4/10

With my rose tinted goggles on I was all sorts of hopeful for this card. It does a whole lot of stuff, some actually quite useful and the rest sort of generically powerful. Seven is reasonably playable in green and so this doesn't quite fit into the super top end category that it would in the other colours. For your seven mana you get an Acidic Slime on steroids. For just two measly extra mana, an increase of 40%, you get three times the stats, exile instead of destroy, and a very reasonably recursion mechanic. Much like Chancellor of the Tangle this guy is a blocking champion and holds off most things. Deathtouch is certainly better on the 2/2 Slime but when you are a 5/7 deathtouch is a lot less exciting than reach.

Exile effect is the real draw of this card. Basically nothing exiles lands in play in the cube and not enough things exile artifacts and enchantments. Exile is significantly more powerful than destroy generally but in some specific cases it is really important to have. I want to have this card in cube because I want green to be able to exile stuff but I am not sure it is realistic with World Breaker.

The problem is not with the card itself but how and where you would want to use it. Slime is already rather over priced as a disruption card. It is typically used for value, outs and utility rather than disruption which in those sorts of decks you leave to things like Duress. You would want to use World Breaker in the same sort of role but at seven mana and no synergy with Recurring Nightmare you are not going to be getting this involved in time enough to be relevant is most cases. Certainly the card is not unplayable and if it were in a cube it would crop up in decks from time to time and perform fine. Over twenty years of MtG has gone down, the cube is the best of the best and fine isn't getting it done. I want a seven mana card to entice people into playing it regardless of what they are, not just pick it as filler in case of nothing else coming round better.

Chandra, Flamecaller 5.5/10

Another card I want to be good but doubt that it will be. Six is a lot in red, it rules it out for any of the more aggressive red decks. With only RG ramp, UR(x) control and big red being suitable homes for this card it needed to be more like Elspeth Sun's Champion, as in an auto include in the suitable decks, for Chandra Flamecaller to be a cube mainstay. Certainly this is a very powerful card and it has a very broad range of utility. It is vastly better than the last six mana Chandra and a lot more powerful than the five mana Chanda but neither of them get play at all in the cube.

If you could play Chandra Flamecaller in aggressive decks, like if she were scaled back to be a four mana walker but had the same effects on a smaller scale I would be all over her. As a planeswalker for other kinds of decks she is more lacking. A control player wants to be able to advance the board, gain card advantage and protect the walker. Chandra's proactive +1 abaility doesn't advance to board or gain card advantage. It is ultimately a win mechanism but it is not in the same league as making 3 1/1s that stay around.

The -X is the only means of protecting herself that she has and it isn't very effective at dealing with mid and lategame creatures. Chandra can be an overloaded symmetrical Mizzium Mortars if you want but you want her to live ideally and so creatures with 4 toughness are annoying and more than 4 are pretty disasterous.

It is her relatively low starting loyalty that is the issue here. Having to use a minus loyalty ability rather than a plus one for self protection compared to top quality walkers such as Elspeth makes it all very uncomfortable. Even if you do clear their board with -3 Chandra is still dead to a single point of burn or haste dork.

You do at least have the option to just plus her up and start to race. Even if they manage to kill her on the swing back you can gain a significant double digit life swing. Probably not a great use of the card but still, extra uses always add to the potency of cards. There is a situation where everything is correct. The old 5 / 0 split on a Fact or Fiction!

Lastly we come to the personal Windfall plus one for zero loyalty. This is a very powerful effect that is technically at worst draw one. You can easily use it for some discard synergy or you can just ditch a pile of useless stuff and feel like you drew loads of cards. It is very possibly the most powerful non-ultimate draw effect on a planeswalker. It is a little awkward in that you might want to hold a key card in hand and thus can't use the ability as you might want. A very potent effect on its own and a good compliment to the other abilities on the card.

Chandra is a highly versatile planeswalker with what appears to be a set of powerful abilities that cover most angles. A highly aggressive damage outlay, a board clear and a card draw mechanic. The only thing she lacks is mana production but given that she does all of the things in the game that you want to spend mana on it isn't at all a concern! Despite all her perks I am not overly hopeful that the card will compare that well to the playable six mana walkers. This is down to where you might play her, when that is in the game, her low loyalty and limitations that brings to her immediate ability to protect herself.

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar 8/10

One of the more exiting cards in the set because rounded 3 mana planeswalkers are hard to come by. The only three mana planeswalker I don't have in my main cube at the moment is Ajani and that is not for power reasons. He is too conditional and narrow to deserve a slot. Liliana is obviously the best and Ashiok is certainly the next most scary. Control decks greatly fear the Nightmare Weaver but a significant part of that is cube being a singleton 40 card format where exile significantly outperforms things going into the graveyard. There is a good chance Nissa can sit at the Ashiok sort of level, not quite as powerful or scary but a lot more rounded and playable being mono and potentially having synergies with other cards.

Three mana planeswalkers are significantly less powerful than their four mana counterparts and with good reason. It is that much harder to deal with a planeswalker on turn three than it is even a turn later. This combined with an extra activation means it is able to spiral out of control should the walker be too powerful Three mana planeswalkers typically live a lot longer than the more expensive ones. Nissa is the first that independantly and unconditionally advances your board with a plus ability. This makes her really interesting.

Only a 0/1 isn't getting a lot done on its own but there is a lot more to it than that. Firstly it protects the Nissa, not well, but dangerously well for a 3 mana walker that does other useful stuff. If Domri, Ashiok and Liliana can outlive most other planeswalkers I suspect we will see Nissa in play an awful lot of the time! Whenever you don't need a chump you are storing up 0/1s and loyalty. Ignoring Nissa herself accruing 0/1s in a green deck has a lot of synergy. You have Gaea's Cradle, Craterhoof Behemoth and of course Avenger of Zendikar. You have Skullclamp, Recurring Nightmare and just so many more things that I am going to stop there rather than OCD style list them all.

Then we come to the seemingly limp and conditional -2 loyalty to give all our dorks a +1/+1 counter. While power wise it is not the most impressive of planeswalker effects it is on a three mana walker, it can significantly impact the board right away, it has scaling potential, it has synergy with the +1 ability and it has synergy with a wide range of cards like Kitchen Finks. Any ability with this much scope is actually pretty impressive. Neither the +1 or the -2 stand out as fantastic abilities on their own due to their limitations but combined they make a lovely package that is versatile and threatening.

If you fail to apply pressure to her you are going to die. Nissa can create quite a terrifying army in not that long. Killing Nissa however will really stick it to your tempo. Odds on you can't just kill her with what you have on the board. This means you will need to invest in removal on something or dedicate all attacks for more than one turn to take her down. Assuming the 0/1 blocks the biggest thing each time she will absorb a vast amount of damage. I imagine a  Nissa that you take out in two attacks will have absorbed nearly ten damage and that is one of the worst uses for the card. Using removal isn't ideal either as odds on it is a weak target. It could be a 0/1, it could be a meaty wall or it could be some chaffy utility dork that has already gained its value. Mana critters probably already got removed or aren't blocking to save the Nissa! Even if the target it fine for the removal you are to use on it the fact that the Nissa has forced you into making that play is still awkward.

Early game Nissa will either win the game, stall the game long enough for other cards you have to win the game, or worst case if they have the perfect answers generate a little bit of value and tempo for you. Late game Nissa will threaten a lot more immediate impact with the -2  and will still threaten to end the game if not dealt with in a reasonably timely manner. She is more significant early than late but certainly not a dud in the end game. You want your 3 mana planeswalkers early, that is why you are playing them and not more expensive walkers.

Lastly we should talk about the ultimate. On a robust walkers with a safety +1 that is always something you can usefully use, that only costs three mana, starts with 3 loyalty an ultimate that costs 7 loyalty is more viable than most. I fear it may fall into the Xenegos ultimate category in that you can just win quicker and more effectively using the main two abilities. If you have done four loads of +1ing then the -2 should look pretty tasty! There will be occasions where you are just keeping up with the game and having to chump every turn. In those cases the ultimate will be amazing but your opponent will do all they can to keep you off it or kill you first. A massive free Sphinx's Revelation doesn't need too much of an explanation as to why it will help you win or stop you dying. It won't get used that much but still more than a lot of walkers and it will be just the ticket when you do use it.

There is actually a reasonable similarity in overall effect between Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Nissa, Vastwood Seer. Voice is more gradual in its build up but ultimately both come down for three mana, generate a bit of advantage for you and then if still around four or five turns later things start to get out of hand. Both will have applications, decks and matchups where they are more suited but both are also generally all round good.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers 5.5/10

Somehow this card seems humble. It is somewhere between an Eternal Witness and a Flame Tongue Kavu which were both huge names in their day and still hold weight after over a decade of power creep. Despite these accolades I am not blown away by the Dwellers. You get a lot of value and tempo from the card which is the golden ticket for cube cards, see Bloodbraid Elf. I think I just shy away from expensive red cards. You do need a good target for the Dwellers which should be manageable by five mana but does make the card that little bit more awkward and dependent. Most of the time this will just replay a burn spell and as such the average mana cost on cards replayed will be no greater than two. Even then you are getting a free Regrowth and a 2R 4/4 menance which seems to be awesome. Another awkward aspect of this card is that you have to want to cast the spell immediately which makes a lot of options weaker. Your Searing Spear becomes Volcanic Hammer, your countermagic is of no use and so forth. There are some great targets like Kolghan's Command but they are few and far between and mostly non-red.

One of the good things about Eternal Witness is the staggering potential and options it gives. It is just 3 mana and so can come into play much much quicker than Dark-Dwellers. You get any card and you can hold it till you need it. This makes up for it being significantly less tempo and value. A five mana value utility card is not a common thing in cube but most utility dorks are generic 2/2s or worse. This is a very significant 4/4 menace which will need dealing with else it will do a lot of work. There is too much power here for me not to test the card out. My gut is that it just won't make the cut in enough decks but it could turn out to be utterly bonkers powerful. Almost all the cheaper incarnations of this kind of card a cube powerhouses but I don't have that much experience with costly cards doing that sort of stuff. Pound for pound this blows Snapcaster Mage out of the water but that might still not be enough to make up for it being a clunky five drop. Greenwarden of Marusa is likely the most comparable card to this out there and that has been fine but not insane.