Wednesday 10 February 2016

Jeskai Surge

Crush of TentaclesBack to testing out new cards and this time it is a surge themed deck. Likely the last one of this series now as I am starting to repeat myself on the cards. I don't even really know how I would classify this deck, it is a control deck but a very peculiar one. I managed to cram a lot of new cards into it at least! The starting design point for it was simply a  deck in which I can play Linvala, Crush of Tentacles, Fall of the Titans and Reflector Mage as those were the four cards I have seen in action least or not at all yet. Once you have sufficient cards to make the top end surge cards relatively easy to play for their surge cost other prowess and surge style cards just kind of seem pretty good too so I ended up throwing in almost all the on colour new stuff. This is not an example of a good deck at all, the deck might work out fine but that shouldn't suggest that this is a good basis for a control list. It is all a bit fiddly and quirky, just putting in some good meaty staples to this list would be the direction to take it in order to improve it.

Gitaxian Probe

23 Spells

Gitaxian Probe
Burst Lighting

Swords to Plowshares

Fire / Ice
Wall of Omens
Stormchaser Mage
Lightning Helix

Jace, Vyrn's Prodigy
Dimensional Infiltrator

Jori En, Ruin DiverMantis Rider
Reflector Mage
Council's Judgement
Grip of the Roil

Jori En, Ruin Diver

Wrath of God
Ojutai's Command

Venser, the Sojourner
Mystic Confluence

Crush of Tenticles
Linvala, the Preserver

Fall of the Titans

17 Lands
(including 3 colourless sources)

Reflector MageRather than talk about the deck itself much I want to talk about the performance of the new cards. The deck isn't an archetype nor is it a thing I will do again. I will however harvest ideas and synergies from the deck to use in other places. Although most of the new cards performed very well the standout card in the deck was Venser, he owned most of the games and synergised with some of the new things really obnoxiously.

Reflector Mage was Venser's best buddy offering a turn of double bounce and then one per turn there after. This disruption was immense, especially with a 2/3 blocker and +2 loyalty gains. The extra turn of not having that threat about compared to most other bounce effects made Reflector Mage feel a lot like Chittering Rats, really slowing your opponent down and giving them awkward turns. I had Reflector Mage down as good filler rather than a cube staple but I am now revising my opinion. Compared to the easier to cast and more versatile (bouncing your own stuff) Man-O-War I felt like the minor perks of the Mage might not make up for its restrictions. It turns out that the minor perks are actually pretty major ones and therefore Reflector Mage should be here to stay for some time.

Grip of the Roil
Grip of the Roil is rather fighting it out with Send to Sleep for a slot in the cube. While I much prefer Send to Sleep I fear it is losing the fight. Although these cards do a specific thing they are still in the filler role. Pretty much all the best filler cards cycle in some way. You can justify playing them that more much because they cost you so much less to include in your final forty. Send to Sleep will win more games and save more games than Grip of the Roil ever could in the same slot but it will also lose more games when it doesn't do enough to cover the cost of the card. Grip does also have two modes, either a very good creature only Ice or as a safer but weaker Repulse. My objections to Grip were that you are almost always in Repulse mode in the early game when you most want the option on the two mana mode. Even so, Ice is amazing and Repulse is fine. Grip hasn't blown me away but I didn't expect it to. It has always been useful which is the key for filler spells. Playability is the main thing to consider for cube additions and Grip seems to be the most playable tapping card on offer.

Stormchaser MageJori En, Ruin Diver was thrown in this list without much thought, I wanted to see how it got on when I hand't housed him as the main focus card. I was expecting him to be pretty unexciting in the deck, perhaps comparable to a Sea Gate Oracle. I was very wrong! He was arguably better in the more control decks than he has been in the more tempo driven decks. This deck did have quite a lot of cheap and/or cycling cards to fuel Jori En but I suspect he would perform well in almost any control deck based on his performance in this one. He was basically better than any other two or three mana ongoing card draw permanent I can name. Phyrexian Arena, Dark Confidant, Jace Beleren, Shadowmage Infiltrator etc. Confidant is the closest call as he could come down quicker but he draws less, slower and incurring pain, often too much for slower decks. Phyrexian Arena is arguably safer than a 3 toughness dork but again, it is much slower, apparently fewer cards and offers no bonus utility that the 2/3 body gives. Jori was much less of a removal target in this deck than he is in the more tempo decks where he is one of the more expensive things you can do. In this list you can protect him a bit better and threaten more serious creatures and removal targets too. This kind of deck also offers way more options, you have more cards in hand and so that many more ways in which you can activate him. I always got a card back right away with him and I then got at least one draw every turn there after. Nutty good card, much broader in application than I initially imagined. Certainly up there with the best of the gold creatures.

Stormchaser Mage was the Izzet card I expected to translate best from aggro to control. It did seem to translate across fine but was a little overshadowed by Jori En. A 1/3 dork with just key word abilities isn't likely to ever get that exciting even when it is winning games. The haste certainly gets a lot less use in the control deck although it does make you feel a whole lot safer against planeswalkers with it in hand. It did the sort of things I expected it to, you use cards like this to do whatever the situation commands. A lot of the time this turns out to be blocking. It is a great filler tool for control decks but that is really all it is. The kind of card that is scryed away, thrown under the bus first, pitched to Force of Will and looting effects etc as a significant part of its duties. It is a two drop that is exceptional for the price but that doesn't scale that well into the late game compared to many control options like Soulfire Grandmaster

Fall of the TitansFall of Titans was perhaps the least exciting new card. Two aspects of the card came together in testing to reveal the weakness of the spell. The first is the power to mana ratio. Yes, you can get a lot of action, options and value but just for the numbers it is pretty weak. 3R with the surge to do what you can for RR with Searing Blaze. In terms of clearing out a couple of weenies Arc Trail is equally much more cost effective than Fall of Titan's. The scaling up of Fall is nice but it turns out in practice it is far less exciting. When you need to Fireball down some big angel the extra dead elf or damage to face is pretty insignificant. Fall of Titans gets better as the game goes on and you have more mana for it however the array of targets that are efficient and useful to simultaneously hit with Fall become wildly less common. Late game you either just want a Fireball (Devil's Play) or you want to miracle a Bonfire of the Damned, perhaps an Earthquake. Early game you just wanted Forked Bolt. Fall of the Titans seems like it is a weak imitation of both these kinds of card the whole way up the curve. Fall wasn't bad, it just never felt like it was the card I needed, it never felt powerful. It was like I had to put some work into the card just so that it performed acceptably. It was not so weak that I am instantly going to cut it but it does not have long left to prove its worth in the cube now.

Venser, the Sojourner
I had not yet seen a Crush of Tentacles played in a game although I put it into a list in a team sealed that I did. My team mate drew it a few times and it always looked really good in his hand despite him never actually needing to use it. In this deck I actually got to play it and I remain impressed. It is a lovely middle ground between Cyclonic Rift and Upheaval. These kinds of effects give blue a lot of game in the midrange environment allowing them to reset the tempo, undo a lot of the impact of opposing planeswalkers and simply survive against an army of nasty sticky cube dorks! Surge as a mechaninc actually has a similar feel about it to miracle without any of the lame synergies and silly luckout wins. By this I mean that when miracle was first spoiled I got really excited about all the wrong cards. I thought the cheap miracles would be the best ones and disregarded a lot of the bomb staples like Entreat the Angels and Bonfire of the Damned. Surge affords more returns on the expensive cards and is much more reliable to pull off. Even if you are not using a free card to trigger your surge whatever mana you do spend on it will represent a lot less of the total cost that it will for a cheaper card. If you surge out a Grip of the Roil with a Brainstorm the Brainstorm is a third of the total cost while if you surge out a Crush with a Wall of Omens it is only 2/7ths of the total cost. A seven mana surged Crush is a lot better value than a three mana Grip of the Roil is basically what I am saying. This facet is another reason Fall of  the Titans was a little weaker despite being a big spell. Being an X spell you are almost always hurting the value of the spell when you surge it out, Crush only ever costs five to surge and so when you have the mana you get the same effect whether you surge it out with a Gitaxian Probe or an Ojutai' Command.

Dimensional InfiltratorCrush of Tentacles is brutal in the midrange meta where almost every deck is trying to win through board position. Crush will resent all of what they are up to and give you a significant tempo lead with the 8/8 octopus. It utterly wreaks midrange, is powerful against control and still has some uses against even the most burn heavy red decks. With the prevalence of planeswalkers and tokens in the cube I actually think I prefer effects like Crush and Cyclonic Rift to Wrath effects for control lists. I think you want a bit of both but the more I cube the more I lean towards the bounce, Cyclonic Rift has been doing a lot of work for blue in this regard already but for boardclear mode it is seven mana making it a very late game Wrath effect indeed. Crush can be turn four with a Mox or turn five with a free spell. All the mass removal that hits more than just creatures also costs six which is the more expected cheap price which is a significantly lower cost than seven. All told Crush should see a lot of play and win a lot of games. I expect it to outperform Bonfire of the Damned, perhaps even the mighty Cyclonic Rift too! It also makes me want to put Quicken back in the cube, that would turn it into the very best of six mana wrath effects! You could even take out most manlands with it too (blocking with the 8/8).

Finally we have Dimensional Infiltrator, a card I have played in several decks already and found it to be good across the board. It is actually a lot like the Stormchaser Mage in this list, a bit weaker in combat but better scaling into the late game. As you might expect, I did a bit of trading, a bit of chumping and a bit of damage with this card across the games. I certainly discarded it to Jace at least once as well. It was good, useful filler that I perhaps didn't need because of Stormchaser also being in the list or perhaps because Soulfire Grand Master would likely have been better. The most fun I had was ultimating Venser and repeatedly casting and bouncing the Infiltrator to exile everything my opponent had. I love it when an unexpected synergy between cards arises in the cube such as this. Rare but also super cool.

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