Monday, 11 January 2016

Oath of the Gatewatch Review: Part III

Void Shatter 3

Just another Dissipte, I guess you can't Red Elemental Blast this but otherwise there is nout to chose between them really. Exile is powerful in cube but a 3 mana counter is a little below the bar. As such these cards only see play when there is a specific purpose to do so or you have had a weak draft. They are fine but I don't like including what are essentially sideboard cards in my drafting cube.

Dimensional Infiltrator 6.5

This is a whole lot of card that has many different roles. It is cheap, has a relatively high power level while affording utility as well. It is not the most brutal of tempo plays but it is suitably aggressive to be used in that capacity. Equally I can see it filling enough roles that control and midrange players pick it up simply to have some more high quality useful low drops. Let us try to break down the component aspects of this card that each have a way to be exploited.

Firstly it is a two mana two power evasive creature that can apply pressure. It gives you the option to race if you want it on an evenish board. It is a good deterrent to planeswalkers being played against you. It is also able to just block and trade with a Goblin Guide or something which is what you need a lot of the time.

Then it has flash which lets you hold up mana representing countermagic. Because of its reasonable power you can effectively play it and include some countermagic in more aggressive decks too. Rather than deter planeswalkers you can also do some good work in just removing them if you lay this after they play the walker. Most planeswalkers are played onto fairly delicate boards such that a small unexpected change often results in the death of the planeswalker. Vendilion Clique is a very interesting card because it has two modes in which it can combat planeswalkers. You can either play it before the walker you anticipate and remove the option to play it or you can wait for them to play it and then smack it with a surprise Clique and kill it. Less power means the Infiltrator has slightly less kill potential on planeswalkers but it is still a great new tool for blue to combat walkers with both in aggressive and controlling decks.

Finally we have the activated ability which itself has several applications. For a generic and a colourless mana you get to exile mill your opponent for one and potentially gain the option to bounce your Infiltrator. As such this is both a protection mechanic and a disruption/threatening mechanic. Chump block something and live to do it again next turn or evade all sorts of removal make this pretty pesky. The bounce is not guaranteed, it is a bit like  a fixed Frenetic Efreet. Although it might not work out perfectly it is still a strong disincentive towards aiming removal at the card that can potentially survive. Flash combines with the bounce well too allowing you to be both proactive and defensive with Infiltrator at once if needs be. You can bounce and recast in the same turn allowing you to attack with it right away again or just mimic vigilance in an expensive fashion.

The bounce requires you to exile a land but it is optional so you can chose to leave the Infiltrator in play if you do hit. This makes it fairly cheap to just attack your opponents library. You might be doing this in an attempt to mill them out, it might be to hit a specific card or cards that by exiling you greatly increase your odds of winning. It might just be that you are using it to counter a Vampiric Tutor, make a Brainstorm really hard work, or exploiting a poor Courser of Kruphix.

Although the cost requires colourless mana it is not so onerous on your mana base as most of the other cards that in some way want colourless. The card still has strong uses without it and can still benefit from it turning up later. You are unlikely to play this without some access to colourles but you will never need to overly warp your deck or make it inconsistent to play this which is a significant bonus compared to most new Eldrazi stuff.

This is not an overpowered card at all, it is just incredibly useful and cheap. It actually reminds me a bit of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Obviously not as good but in a similar vein for combined cheapness and utility.

Relief Captain 1

This is too situational, clunky and slow. It is quite a big impact if you are able to fully use its effect but if that is the case you should be winning pretty hard. The body for this dork needed to be more relevant on its own for it to be a cube consideration. Perhaps is some silly +1/+1 counter combo deck this will have a use.

Goblin Free-Runner and Jwar Isle Avenger 0

Both these cards are surprisingly close to the mark. The problem is for simple common cards if you are not quite there then there are a million billion more interesting and powerful options for that thing instead.

Expediate 3

This strikes me as a combo card and not really ever an aggressive one. Adding R to the cost of most dorks and giving them haste is pretty fair, lots of the dorks you play in aggressive decks have haste already which diminishes the value of this somewhat too. Having a card that requires there to be a creature to use isn't devastatingly situational but it is still something you want to avoid if possible, The potential upsides of this for aggro decks are simply not worth it. It adds little power and comes with some risks. For combo however this is cheap, card neutral and potentially speeds up your combo by a turn. Basically this is Crimson Wisps which has been used in combo decks but not yet in cube decks. Ascendancy combo likes this and I think the Kiln Fiend decks probably do a bit too. Still too narrow for the main cube.

Warping Wail 8

So far the best reason to play colourless mana in your deck. This card is fantastic and gives a lot of game to a lot of decks. This is never dead, offers some great outs that most colours lack and can be played in basically any deck. This is a chunk more rounded and powerful than any of the various 2 mana Guild Charms and likely a lot easier to cast. Sorceries are the big spells that a lot of archetypes are weak too. Death Cloud, Cataclysm, Armageddon, Wildfire, Upheaval and so on are the cards that most wreak any sort of not super quick non blue decks. This is a great answer to those game enders and many many more unpleasant things. The colour balance has been better addressed with this one single card for cube than any thing else I can think of which is  very welcome and a testament to good design. Simply put, this cards existence in the cube will make a lot more decks viable and capable. It will open things up and even things out allowing for much more game! That is pretty much just down to having a non-blue Envelop on a card that in unlikely to sit in hand dead.

Making a 1/1 scion is limp for 2 mana but it does a lot of things for you and is the thing I keep mentioning that ensures the card is never dead. You can ramp with it, you can fog an attacker, you can counter an Edict effect. It can even be used aggressively although likely this will be in combination with equipment or other pump. Rare will be the situations that the addition of a 1/1 to combat does much of much aggressive. Given you already have two good options on this good card the fact that the "weak" option is more like five quite useful and varied options itself adds an awful lot to the card.

Finally we have the removal effect which is nutty good too, certainly more powerful than the Envelop even if it isn't quite as exciting in how it affects the game. This hits anything with 1 or less power OR toughness meaning it hits quite a lot of stuff. Jace, Dark Confidant, Deathrite Shaman, Mother of Runes, Grim Lavamancer, Birds of Paradise and many many more. There are not that many things that it hits where exile is specifically good like Bloodghast but it is still generally a good thing to be doing. It calms devle, is annoying for recursion and can actually be critical in denying a plan if you exile a card like Eternal Witness. It also gets around indestructible and regenerate although I can think of less relevant instances of those in the cube than I can for cards like Gravecrawler!

All told, this card offers a lot of problem solving capability to a lot of colours that otherwise struggle. It is efficient, powerful and one of the more wide reaching charm effect cards in the ways it can be usefully used. I anticipate a lot of this getting used in a lot of very different decks.

Reaver Drone 3

One of the weakest 2 power one drops dorks we have seen for a while. Devoid is no upside on this card in cube, there is infrequently going to be a colourless creature about to stop the life loss. As such this is just a 2/1 Carnophage with no tribal perks. At least we are finally getting to the stage in black where there are surplus one mana aggro dorks to requirement. Only blue left now!

Zendikar Resurgent 2

An interesting one to be sure. Somewhere between Recycle and Mirari's Wake. It is a bit expensive to be good for ramping and a bit creature focused to aid much in combo. While incredibly powerful the parts of the card don't marry well together on a seven drop. Even if you are cheating this in with Academy Rector it seems like it will be somewhat at odds with your deck.

Matter Reshaper 8

Hello Mr Bloodbraid Elf. How do you do? Bloodbraid is the obvious comparison to this card and while the Elf remains slightly more powerful and has some unique perks, the Matter Reshaper also has some perks of its own. Being in the same league as Bloodbraid is a mighty accolade, I expect big things from this card. This does not have haste but for a mana less that is pretty equivalent. The main difference is in the timing and effect of the cascade abilities. Both cards will find a card a card for you and can play up to three manas worth of permanent for free. Broadly this is where Bloodbraid is better, it gets the card right away and require a separate counterspell to deal with it. It is more proactive, more tempo and harder to stop. With Matter Reshaper you don't get the trigger until it dies which might be avoided with exile or bounce or it might just not happen in good enough time to be relevant. Bloodbraid also has better odds on getting value from the cascade, it can't hit lands and won't stop looking till it finds something it can put into play. Both of these facts combined mean that you are much more likely to get more value from the Bloodbraid, it will always draw and play a thing and the thing will on average have a significantly higher converted mana cost than the things Matter Reshaper puts into play.

Those are Bloodbraids perks, they are somewhat direct where as the Reshaper's perks are more subtle. Firstly, in relation to the cost of the card, the cascade style trigger has the potential for higher returns. Although not directly the case, if you split the card evens in cost for the two effects you pay 2 for a what can potentially be a 3 drop compared to 1.5 mana for a potential 3 drop. Essentially you have gained more value from the Reshaper than you have from Bloodbraid when they hit the same CMC permanent. Another perk of the Reshaper is that it can find you instants and sorceries that you need or even massive threats that are of much more use at that point in the game than a low CMC card. It is essentially draw a card, occasionally play it. Playing a card maximises the value you get but it might not be what you want at that time.

The value is upon death which decreases the tempo of the card but does work in your favour in certain matchups. It is a card that doesn't overextend you, you can lay it as a somewhat free threat that isn't putting you that far behind if you eat a Wrath. Because it is a 3 power 3 mana card that usually goes 2 for 1 you are very happy playing it in an aggro deck. All told I prefer it to Kitchen Finks, the life is relatively minor in an aggro deck leaving only really a 2/1 body to compete with the effect of Matter Reshaper which is not in the 2/1's favour. Also because it is a body you can play for free without over investing it is a great midrange and control card, again like Kitchen Finks.

The final potential perk of this card is that it offers some ramp capability which even further pushes it as a good control card. In many ways it is a pleasant cross between Solemn Simulacrum and Coiling Oracle, both fantastic speedbump value cards. About a third of the time this will hit lands, late game that is not great but on turn three that is likely the best outcome for the player in the control role or any slower deck.

Having the colourless mana to cast this reliably will be most of what determines whether you play this. If you have enough sources then this is likely going to be in your final list regardless of what you are playing. Bloodbraid Elf is more powerful and it is more well suited to some specific roles however I think I will stick my neck out a bit and call the Matter Reshaper better. It is much more widely playable from both its casting cost and the nature of its effect. Likewise, it is not more powerful than Kitchen Finks when you are against an aggro deck but in one it is better. Overall it is more playable thank Finks too, this time pretty much exclusively due to the mana requirements which will let you play Reshaper without access to green or white mana.

When a card is comparable, situationally better, as well as all round more playable than both Kitchen Finks and Bloodbraid Elf you have one of the top flight dorks on your hands. This card is very much a reason to play colourless mana sources.

Captain's Claws 4

I like these but I am concerned they are a little under powered and a little situational. What I like most about this equipment is where is sits in terms of its various costs compared to the other top quality equipment in the cube. There are a couple of 1 and 1 equips, a 2 and 2 and plenty of 3 and 2, there is nothing in my main cube that is 2 and 1. Expensive enough to be doing something useful but cheap enough that you can fairly freely do what you want without and not get blown out in tempo.

This gives a minor but not irrelevant +1 attack and generates a 1/1 attacker whenever the equipped dork attacks which is the more significant but narrower part of the card. Like Brimaz, in any sort of game where you both have boards the 1/1 bonus dork you get is mostly just getting blocked and killed at no cost. Under these conditions Captain's Claws are under half a Bonesplitter. Also like Brimaz, if you are up against an empty board things get out of hand pretty fast as you ramp up the damage and gain ongoing value.

Power wise this card is not a big name however tokens are a strong theme in a number of ways in cube and so I can see this card fitting quite well into a bunch of decks. It would be nice if this was playable, equipment in the cube is rather static and has been for too long. Some fresh blood is welcome in that area.

Seed Guardian 4

Penumbra Spider is a bit of a house in cube. I often cut it because it is a bit of a limited all rounder rather than a constructed mainstay. It is fine filler in loads of archetypes but important to none Despite seeming like a Giant Spider fitted out for cube the Penumbra Spider is just good. Very hard to kill, great board control and a great way to bridge the gap between your cheap ramp and your top end threats.  This comes pretty close to Penumbra Spider, the initial body is better to the tune of a power and the token upon death can be enormous. The problem with this card is the can be nature of the token, it might well be a 1/1 which is terrible. The lack of reach on the token is annoying too, it means you probably need 4 dorks in the bin before it is comparable to Penumbra. I want to be able to make this on turn three where I will often have nothing in the bin and that is when the Seed Guardian offers least value. Cetainly playable but I think it is just a little less reliable than the Spider and you likely don't need both in a deck or a cube.

Pulse of Marusa 4

This seems powerful but not really suitable for that much. There is a lot of things going on with this card which give it great depth but I still can't figure out a place you really want it. First and foremost it is a restrictive regrowth that only gets lands and dorks. Lands is useful but rarely primary role, getting a dork back is good but slow and late game. Costing 3 mana is a lot for a Regrowth but this is greatly offset by the 6 life and the instant speed. In plenty of situations you would rather have 6 life than the 2/1 body on Eternal Witness. Being instant makes it a much better control tool as well, perhaps strongest in the Gifts Ungiven style control decks.

This card also has the sneaky capacity to return something in an opponents yard to their hand. This is unlikely to be useful that often however it can be used to disrupt Reanimation effects and the like. As with so many cards from this set, if you put something weak or highly situational on card that is already playable it only ever improves the card overall.

Natural State 4

Fantastic removal that should see a good amount if play in the extreme magic formats like Vintage and Modern. For cube this is a bit too much of a sideboard card. If you are maindecking a naturalize effect it is allready a narrow card in your list. You are far far better off simply playing a more expensive less restrictive version.

Elemental Uprising 3

This is an unusual card that can act as 4 to the dome, a surprise defensive combat trick or a removal spell. What I dislike about the card is that it costs 3 and not the 2 it claims to. Three is a little steep for the kinds of places you might want this sort of card and so I don't think it will be played. Nice versatility and very interesting however. May well deserve some testing despite my doubts.

Spark Mage's Gambit 3

Probably not quite there but really close for a common. This can two for one or it can allow for some alpha strikes past serious blockers. It can never shock a single dork nor can it ever hit players or planeswalkers. The latter is offset in theory by the prevention of blocking but it obviously requires you to have the attackers. This can be exactly what you need and has a lot more game winning potential than a bunch of top rate red aggro cards. It also has some flexibility and utility but I think it lacks the raw power and reliability to deserve a cube slot.

Kazuul;s Toll Collector 1

A fun card but not powerful enough for cube. He isn't awful without synergies but he is far from good. If you do have some equips in play he becomes decent but the frequency of this happening in a deck with some focus on that is just never going to be high enough to bring this dudes power up to where it needs to be for competitive cube use. Certainly there will be some abuses for the Toll Collector but they will be even worse than just playing him in a deck with good cards!

Devour in Flames 1

A lot of damage but not where you want to aim it most of the time. This is not a control card because you don't want to play it early and it is not an aggro one because you can't aim it at face. The only reason I am giving this the time of day is that you can use it so the land bounce is an advantage not a drawback but that also makes it very narrow. Unlikely to get used ever.

Brute Strength 2.5

Another good red pump spell with a bit more bite than Titan's Strength or Brute Force as it is both a combat trick and a way to get damage through blockers. At one mana this would be the best pure combat trick in red but being two there is a lot more to decide on. Pure combat tricks are rarely used in the cube because you cannot risk them being dead so I don't expect this will get much of an outing despite being pretty good.

Reality Hemorrhage 1

Shock is weak, paying an extra mana to Ghostflame it up seems like a poor deal. Pyrite Spellbomb type things seem to have this well beat for effect, you have to really want to get past pro red and maximise your instant count (god know's why, Delver of Secrets???) for this to be much of a consideration. Still, you can't ignore unique cards so here we are discussing jank.

Consuming Sinkhole 1

I do always complain that this is not enough removal that kills off man lands.... Sadly this isn't it. Even with exile and another mode of use this card isn't interesting. It would struggle to be interesting if it were any land not just creature lands which is quite significantly better.

Corpse Churn 3

This is quite a lot more than Raise Dead. The built in graveyard utility not only works with the card itself but also in a reasonably wide array of cube archetype themes. You can fire this off with no targets in the bin if you just need some action. It is instant which makes it less onerous on the mana costs, more of a surprise and generally quite useful. If you are running delve spells it pays for itself mana wise and it becomes card advantage for each flashback or other recursive card you hit with it. It is a little narrow and a bit of a filler card. It reminds me quite a lot of Satyr Wayfinder but lacking the broad range application.

Sky Scrounger 1

Clearly some silly combo here, might even be passable in affinity although these days you would need more than one person trying to get that archetype to need to use cards this weak for it!

Unnatural Endurance 3

Comparable cards exist and while this may only be slightly better than alternatives that is quite a big deal on a 1 drop. This is a combat trick with dual purpose in that it can also just protect against removal. All the good combat tricks are ones with extra modes to offset their situational nature. While this does have the extra mode it is also situational and overall the card is not a high powered spell. Fine but a bit narrow and fair to see much cube play.

Umara Entangler 2

Not a strong card but a potential merfolk two drop filler card. Usually merfolk are not that spell heavy, certainly not the kinds of spell that hugely benefit prowess but still, this does trump an embarassingly large number of the two drop merfolks despite its failings.

Grip of the Roil 5

Basically another Send to Sleep. The inconveniences associated with the surge and spell mastery triggers on both are pretty comparable (rather than Grip just costing 2). Neither wreak the card by any means but if either was just a reliable 2 mana tap effect card it would be the better of the two. Beyond that the choice here is whether you want to tap two things down or just the one but at no card cost. A single tap and a draw is going to be more reliable  and more often useful but it is also a much lower tempo swing. These cards are tempo cards by nature and so Send to Sleep has the greater power potential in its role while Grip is more just filler. Surge is a lot easier to trigger in proactive decks which makse Grip of the Roil more often a 3 mana spell in control than a 2 mana one. As such it is quite comparable to Repulse which is a fine card but generally feels like filler. Overall this is either slightly too inconvenient or slightly too fair or slightly too situational to enjoy life as anything other than filler. You need filler in decks but it is hard to get that excited about it.

Blinding Drone 2

A fine enough tapper, especially for a blue dork but the awkwarness of the colourless mana requirement rather harms this cards chances in the cube. It is the low end low power filler cards you want to be reliable more than anything else. If it isn't reliable why are you playing it as filler? The mild unreliability on Blinding Drone combined with its low power makes it unlikely this will ever see play.

Slip Through Space 2.5

Other stuff out there does what this does, they are niche effects that you use in combo style decks like Kiln Fiend. Some redundancy is useful in such decks but not exactly thrilling. This will not be altering the cube meta in any way what so ever.

Wall of Resurgence 2

I don't much like this but it must be noted that this is quite a lot of card. For three mana you get a tapped 3/3 and a 0/6, for 4 mana you get a hasting 3/3 instead of a tapped one! Obviously if it were that the card would be insane, any sort of midrange or control deck that wanted a wall would always play it. Blade Splicer is good and this is a lot more stuffs for the mana. The issue with this card is the hidden cost which is a land. The 3/3 you get actually says, when this dies sacrifice a land and has a cost of 1 to attack with it. You do not want to put your lands at risk early on in the game when this is most powerful, you never really want to do it until super late in the game as control or midrange which are the only kinds of deck that are at all keen on playing walls.

Searing Light 4

Quite an interesting little removal spell. Broadly Disfigure seems somewhat superior and that was a little bit restrictive to see all that much play over the pricier stuff. Hard to rule out one mana removal though.

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