Sunday 27 March 2016

Shadows Over Innistrad: Preliminary Review Part IV

Burn From Within 1

Nice to have a way to deal with indestructibles as well as an exile effect in red but on a Fireball I don't think this will see any play outside of being a Burning Wish target. There are a lot of Fireball cards with more rounded utility as well as higher power level than this.

Engulf the Shore 2

More Wish target style cards. This is only playable in a deck playing all, or all bar one, of its lands as Islands or things that fetch Islands. This makes it too narrow for the main cube but still viable for more niche decks. It is more demanding on having a high Island count than Vedalken Shackles. With this you are only bouncing things there is no card advantage. You really want to hit everything in play with this else it isn't doing its job properly or being better than Evacuation. High Tide is the place I imagine this working best.

Reveal Lands (Port Town, Game Trail, Chocked Estuary, Foreboding Ruins, Fortified Village) 7.5

Wasn't expecting another on colour cycle of lands. These are really elegantly designed and equally well placed in power level. I hope to see the opposing colours for this cycle as soon as possible. There are elements of the shock lands, the quick lands and the check lands in this cycle. I strongly prefer these to the check lands and they are clearly no where near the power of the shocks. It is the quick lands that these sit closest to in power level which is a great place to be for a land. Having mana open on turn on is important to a lot of decks, having lands that come into play untapped are important to all decks. The reveal lands can do both of these things. They also have a reasonable amount of interaction for a land and require sensible deck construction and play to optimise. These lands are pretty skill intense which I like to see. They make correct land sequencing even harder.

Most of the time they will come down untapped early in the game then this will tend towards coming in tapped as the game goes on. Due to the fast nature of many cube games I suspect that quick lands on average will come into play untapped a higher % of the time than these lands do. Despite this these lands will be of comparable value to most decks as those 4th-6th land drops are often so important. Reveal lands give you quite a lot of choice. Often you have a land that comes into play tapped that you will have to use on on of your next 2-4 turns and whichever you do it on it will hurt your curve. It might be best to make your comes into play tapped land on turn 3 and play a 2 drop with it allowing you to have 4 mana for a good 4 drop on turn 4. A quick land is of little help here as it forces you to have 3 mana on turn 3 and on turn 4 rather than the 2/4 split. A reveal land instead of a quick land may give you the option to have your mana when it is most suitable and this is absolutely worth a slight reduction on how often they arrive to play untapped. The reveal lands simply give you more options and continue to do so as the game goes on compared to quick lands. They give you more options than most lands for that matter. Lands with options and lands that can come in untapped to produce two colours of mana on turn one are few and far between.

Call the Bloodline 2.5

Somewhere between a Bitterblossom, a Zombie Infestation and one of any of the myriad of cards that allow you to spend some mana to make a token. You don't play Nip Gwyllion, a card and a mana is not worth a 1/1, especially if you are investing 2 mana and a card upfront as well! This isn't good enough to play in a deck without specific synergies with this card. That said there are two potential homes for this, the specific tribal vampires and the non-specific decks with graveyard themes. The latter exist in several guises in the main cube but none feel like they are desperate for this card. It is interesting and useful but a little slow and underwhelming. Certainly a card that will get a bit of play in the more experimental decks but whether that continues beyond the testing point is any ones guess. Not the sort of card I expect to see in many main cubes.

Ulvanwald Mysteries 0

I like it but it is too slow and situational to be exciting for cube. A deck with that many creatures is either getting plenty of value from the dorks themselves or is a deck relying on tempo. This card is too expensive and slow to compare well on the value front, you might as well just play another card like Yavimaya Elder in its place. As for tempo this card is awful and should never appear in the aggro decks.

Tireless Tracker 6

Now this is more the sort of thing that can be of use in the cube despite sharing a lot of themes with Ulvanwald Mysteries. This seems like an aggressive version of Course of Kruphix. Certainly not up to the same power level as the Courser but a similar sort of card. You have a body that sits there and gains you incremental advantages as the game progresses. Both Tracker and Courser gain you effectively a card when you make a land drop. Courser needs that land to be on top of your deck and you don't see that +1 card until your next draw. Tracker works with any land from any place but needs you to spend two further mana each time to get the card. Courser gives you a little bit of dig so as to find lands if you have none in hand while Tracker has nothing like that which means you are more likely to get value from Courser on any given turn than with Tracker. Courser gives a nice bonus life for each land while Tracker instead gains +1/+1 counters but only alongside the using of the clue reducing the impact of Tracker.

The main reason Courser is better is that you get all the goodness without spending mana, in most other ways Tracker does more. Courser is annoying to kill and has decent stats but is not any sort of tempo threat, I only ever consider it a threat when I need to be fighting the particular game from a card advantage perspective. You don't lose games to ten attacks from Courser, you don't even really lose games much because Courser got in several attacks. Tracker on the other hand can easily attack for five on turn 3 (land elf, land Tracker, sac land sac both clues). Generally you are better off making a 4 drop your deck contains than boosting the Tracker but options are nice and we don't always get perfect curve draws. Being able to sac the clues at instant speed is really nice as well as it allows you to have combat tricks for your Tracker. Even if wasting your turn on clues isn't great for you you can still attack Tracker into a 3/5 and have them not block from the fear of it becoming a chump block. All told, Tracker is dangerous to leave in play for too long, is a great thing to have in a flood and it an acceptable 3 drop body even when you have a lovely curve. There are some comparisons with how this card should play to Boon Satyr. An acceptable 3 drop filler card that starts to look really dangerous when you get towards some spare mana. Tracker is much more exciting than Satyr because you can lay him as a 3 drop but still have access to the later game value part of the card should it get to that sage.

Sin Prodder 6

This card seems to have sparked some attention with some fairly polar views on the matter. I find I am in the camp of players who are excited about this card. It is not a total bomb for cube but it is certainly of sufficient power for cube and is an interesting 3 drop option for red mages. In a lot of ways it is similar to Tireless Tracker. A 3 mana 3/2 that can yield ongoing advantages if it isn't dealt with. Sin Proder is not as reliable nor as rounded as the Tracker but it is much more on point and threatening. Menace is what makes this humble 3/2 viable. Without the menace the times when this card isn't killed it would be blocked and just not be enough of a threat to be worth playing. As he is it is very likely that if you make this on curve it will get combat damage to face. The only decks able to get out multiple dorks to block will make the kinds of dork that are really easy to clear out of the way with burn.

This is a purely aggressive card, you don't want to play this in any other kind of deck. If you don't apply pressure to their life total the bonus damage this card does is negligible. Sin Prodder has a kind of inverse Dark Confidant effect, either you get a card or your opponent takes damage equal to its CMC to deny you that card. With Confidant you pay to have cards, with this they pay for you to not have cards. The reason the ability is weak is that they have the choice. There are also other reasons it is weak, 30%+ of your deck is land and so you will just be milling those almost all of the time for no penalty. This is an aggressive card, aggressive decks are cheap, the non land cards often have an average CMC of less than two. Then there will be loads of no brainers, you will reveal a Lightning Bolt and your opponent will have the challenging choice of taking 1 in the face up against 3 in the anything. While I mock this there will be occasions where you need to give them the bolt and hope they don't have a land as well because even the 1 would be fatal. We can safely say then that this card will average around 1 damage a turn even when they deny you everything. That is pretty pathetic. On the flip side of the Lightning Bolt issue there are cards that you will generally always be given, Fireblast for example costs six to deny and only deals 4. A selection of the Phoenix cards are of little benefit to put in the graveyard so you might as well not take the three.  I struggle to call it card quality but there is the fact that having an active Prodder digs deeper into your deck. Just by having some pricier cards or very likely cards to be given that are in your deck, the longer the Prodder lives the greater your chances are of drawing those cards. Sin Prodder doesn't offer realiable card draw at all but it does offer you increased odds on things, an alive Prodder makes it like you have two copies of Fireblast in your deck.

It is not just cards that you can recur easily with Sin Prodder that are of value to fill up your yard with. Just having half your lands thrown in the bin charges up delve and Grim Lavamancer very nicely. This is a 3 power evasive dork for 3 mana that offers very minor graveyard utility alongside being a face only Honden of Infinte Rage. That is enough in red, Boggart Ram Gang probably does more for you overall but costing RRR is pretty full on and so this will be a splashable card that fulfils a lot of the same roles as the Ram Gang. It is not a card you want to go about comparing to Ire Shaman or Dark Confidant, that is not what we have here.

Invocation of Saint Traft 0

Impressively bad for a themed card such as this. It doesn't even give the dork hexproof! Wouldn't be exciting for cube even if it did.

Nahiri's Machinations 0

Powerful but too situational even before taking into account the card is effectively a gold one. Cute design and effects but not for cube.

Thraben Gargoyle 2

I like this much more than I should. It calls out "Trinket Mage" to me. A one mana 2/2 wall isn't great value even when used in the best possible matchup. You will trade for their one drop or their utility drop. Fine but nothing removal wouldn't do better and awful in most other matchups. Six is a lot to transform, it puts it out of contention for inclusion in aggressive decks, even affinity. Six is even more to transform considering you don't gain any toughness when you do. A 4/2 flier will end a game quick or take out a planeswalker but it is about as easy to kill as they come and dies to most other fliers. This is a low powered card with no obvious homes, it shouldn't see play but given that I think it is cute I am sure I will find a way to include it somewhere someday.

Triskaidekaphobia 1

Well this is a very silly card. It feels like if you just throw this down without consideration you can wind up dead pretty easily. You give the last main phase to your opponent each time before it triggers so that they can get off 13 life or put you there. You need cards in play like Zuran Orb or Yawgmoth's Bargain so that you can manipulate your life total at will before this is playable. That pretty much makes it a combo only card and not something you can just throw into a list because it kind of fits with your other stuff. Getting someone to 13 isn't that hard but keeping them there is, especially if you hope to also play a 4 mana enchantment that doesn't do anything. I typically play with mana burn, this is the first card I have seen that really needs you not to play with mana burn to work. Sadly this card is not good or exciting enough to force that issue yet so I'll keep doing what I want and this can sit in a box doing nothing.

Fevered Visions 5

This seems pretty good, it is a proactive Holwing Mine effect that gives you first draw. As such if it is killed you are ahead rather than behind. Dictate of Kruphix was similarly good, it also let you have mana to cast your new cards as well but symmetrical card draw effects are incredibly narrow. While this is symmetrical in the draw the fact that it also can do damage in an asymmetrical way is huge. It lets you play the card in almost any aggressive deck rather than purely combo decks. It has synergy with Remand, Goblin Guide, itself, mana disruption, Arcane Denial, bounce effects it also has synergy with Black Vise. This may be as narrow as Dictate as I can only really see it being optimal in an Izzet tempo deck but at least that is a tier one archetype and not a hard to do niche control deck. This is very powerful but as with any symmetrical or part symmetrical card you need to put a lot of work into the build of your deck to get the most from it and this makes it narrower and more awkward.

Hanwier, Militia Captain 5

I don't much like this guy. He is a Grizzely Bear for much of the early game when your two drops are supposed to have an actual impact. Very few decks get to 4+ creatures, even white weenie only does this when boards are stalemated or they are very token heavy. Lay out four real dorks, even if they are all Savannah Lions and watch as you eat mass removal and subsequently lose. That all said, if you make this, then a Spectral Procession you could very easily win the game with that and nothing else. Hanwier is super narrow, you only play him in token decks. Despite this he is really quite nice in those decks with his many synergies. Easier flipping and larger flipped size with the many tokens and then Hanwier returns the favour by supplying tokens himself to support your Anthem style cards. Probably too narrow for the main cube but probably getting more work done than Precinct Captain in the right decks. Like Precinct Captain, any sort of keyword ability on the initial 2/2 would make this substantially more playable.

Angelic Purge 1

This is a very weak Council's Judgement, it is a pretty weak Oblivion Ring what with it missing planeswalkers. You play 3 mana sorcery speed removal because it hits what you need it to and this doesn't. White is good for non-planeswalker removal options. The only reason this might ever see play is that white up til now has had basically no options to sacrifice permanents. This is an acceptable option, it is low power but it does something useful and isn't wildly over priced.

Avacyn's Judgement 6.5

As burn spells go this is more complicated to rate than most. It is a sorcery speed Twin Bolt or an expensive Forked Bolt or two thirds of an Arc Trail as its primary function. This is under powered for sure but not so much so that it is unplayable. As burn goes it is comparable to Punishing Fire or Magma Jet in power level. The question is whether the madness option is comparable or better than scry 2 or a recursion mechanic. Two damage to any target for two mana is acceptable, the ability to split it makes it more so.

The madness on this card feels a lot like the new Control Magic, it generally increases the cost of the card but also significantly increases the utility as well. An X spell that divides damage as you like typically sets you back RRX or RXX (for X+1 in the latter case) and is sorcery or has target restrictions. An instant XR spell with dividable damage would be the most powerful of all the various Fireball alternatives. Devil's Play has generally been the most powerful but for its one off utility it is actually worse than Fireball. Sadly you cannot rely on madness and so you cannot reliably consider this to be an X spell. If there was a split card Blaze and a two mana sorcery speed shock it would still be one of the best burn spells in the cube as it would be fine early, give you lots of options and scale really well. Avacyn's Judgement is better than my hypothetical card early but due to the lack of reliability on having discard outlets has far less of the scaling potential despite offering a substantially better spell for the mana than Blaze.

You can play this in any deck that just wants a burn spell and it will be fine, likely there are better options for you but not so much so that you are distraught about playing this. Even if you don't have madness outlets there is plenty enough chance your opponent will provide the opportunity to do so that your card isn't strictly worse than a Twin Bolt. The more of your own discard outlets you have the better this becomes but you shouldn't ever overload on them for the sake of this card, you are only buffing its late game potential which is the less important of the two, even if it is the more powerful for the mana (assuming you are spending four or more on it). One of the things I like most about this card is that you can play a Bloodbraid Elf and an X spell in the same deck without tempting disaster.

The main 2 mana cast option for Judgement is sufficiently useful for this to be cube worthy. Those few times that you do manage to turn your early removal spell into a huge chunk of damage to close out a game will do wonders for the overall performance of the card. Never bad and periodically games ending sounds like a great deal.

Goldnight Castigator 6

This is a very cool card. I have been waiting for the four mana Thundermaw for a while and I am not disappointed with what I am offered here. Four mana for four flying, hasting power with at least four effective toughness to boot is amazing. The card has two drawbacks, one is simple, the other more complex yet they are almost identical in theme. The easy one is that this guy takes double damage from things. Having 9 toughness however means you don't much care about that. You have at least 4.5 toughness in any situation, that is the worst this ability ever is. In many other situations 9 toughness is a whole lot better than four and a half. Toxic Deluge is a horrible removal spell to deal with this, Sickening Shoal likely just can't. Doran, the Siege Tower turns this card into pure terror on wings. You could make turn two Doran (presumably using a Birds of Paradise for your four colour deck) and follow it with this and deliver 14 points of turn three beatings. The second drawback, where you take double damage is a bit more problematic. It makes certain cards and plays of yours quite risky while also being generally quite risky in some matchups. Much as I want to compare this to Thundermaw I can't really. Thundermaw has a perk ontop of being a p/t = CMC flying haste. This has a drawback, it is much more akin to an Abyssal Persecutor and as such will likely require a fair amount of attention to how you build your deck with it. Cards like Sulphuric Vortex and Eidolon of the Great Revel suddenly seem like a pretty bad idea if you are running this as well which is a shame as they are otherwise cards that would go well together. Castigator is an incredibly aggressive card but it also incentivises you to stay safe which is not ideal synergy. You can only play it in aggressive decks and only cast it with impunity against non-aggressive decks. When you have this and face another aggressive player you will have to be very careful with how and when you use this if you are even able to at all.

While I think that the various aggressive red decks are good enough and aggressive enough to be able to safely play this I also think that they will end up having to warp their build around it quite a lot. As with Persecutor, you find you want lots of sacrifice outlets, I think you will end up wanting to play lots of discard effects with this so that when it is too risky you can usefully loot it away or something. On top of that you will have to avoid playing with many things at all that damage you. A strong card but it may prove a little narrow

Howlpack Resurgence 1

Not enough warewolves or wolves for there to be a good tribal deck in the cube. This would likely make the cut in such decks if there were. Glorious Anthem plus trample plus a mild trick from the flash makes this one of the better value global pump effects.

Scourge Wolf 5

This sits around the level of Ash Zealot, a solid high value red two drop that is perfectly viable in cube but probably won't see quite enough play to deserve a slot over something else. Not only will you only play this in mono or very heavy red aggro decks but you might not even play it in them with so many other top quality two drops in red. Another thing that makes this narrower is that you really want some pump effects to go with this so as to make the double strike that much more of a threat. Red decks don't tend to play equipment, it has very few dorks that pump and although there are some top quality pump effects like Titan's Strength and Reckless Charge these tend to be just less useful and consistent than more burn or more dorks. You will also want to consider delirium and being able to get it, ideally by turn 3 which will mean playing things like Seal of Fire which in turn reduces other synergies such as those with Young Pyromancer. From time to time this will seem like it is one of your best two drops and work really well in decks but mostly this is a White Knight against a non-black deck.

Prized Amalgam 4

A lot of very playable creatures enter play from the graveyard in cube. They also tend to wind up in decks with discard outlets. Getting a free 3/3 whenever that happens sounds rather nice, even if it is tapped and happens at the end of turn. With sufficient discard outlets you don't even need to be able to cast this to play it, you could be a red green deck. It is a bit of free value however there is a cost to including it in your deck. He needs a massive amount of support to be playable and while there is enough support for it a Trained Armadon is not powerful or exciting nor game breaking. When you have a card that is only playable with vast support you want it to be a complete game ender like Patriarch's Bidding. It is narrow because of the required support even if that support is decent. It will get play when decks are being constructed but I am not sure I can justify including this when drafting the cube.

Inexorable Mass 1

Green is likely one of the weaker colours for obtaining delirium. It is not that they can't play a wide selection of the card types, it just typically wants to play primarily dorks meaning you don't see as many of the non creature cards as quickly. A 3 mana 3/3 isn't a disaster and being able to attack for six spread across two bodies and creating value is all powerful. It is just easily disrupted and unreliable.

Vessel of Cycle (non-red) 1

Mostly these are unplayable. They are nice effects that would be great early except that they cost vast amounts of mana for what they actually do. Splitting it over two turns to use them early means you are skipping doing anything at all on one of those turns. They are convenient and playable but just very under powered. There may be occasions where you really want enchantment synergies and one or more of this cycle seems appropriate. The black one is mildly interesting because of the exile aspect but it is also one of the most painful on the costing. I also quite like the green ones effect, I just wish it were at least one mana less!

The Gitrog Monster 4

Well this beasty is all over the place. Golgari has a lot of fat golden juicy things but it can play them a little more than most. This is cheap and fat and affords some utility. It is certainly very powerful but being a quirky five mana gold card likely means this is not seeing enough play to be in the main cube. No evasion is a pain on a large dork like this and deathtouch is one of the more useless. There are only a handful of dorks in the cube which you can't kill by smacking them for six.

Laying extra land each turn is not much help from turn five. You will not be getting any Oracle of Mul Daya type ramp from this card. Although not of much proactive use the extra land drop from the big frog is very helpful in working with the other aspects of the card and somewhat negating the drawback one. Sacing a land each turn is a significant cost but as you replace each with a new card and can lay multiples you are going to be making about as many land drops but just cylcing through your deck faster. The extra land, the sacing a land and the card drawing from doing so are pretty neutral together and a 6/6 deathtouch for 5 is not worth. What makes this interesting is the synergy is has with sac lands or any other effects that mill, discard or destroy lands. A cycling land and a Life from the Loam plus this guy is a stupid number of extra cards drawn. In the right deck the Gitrog Monster is a Consecrated Sphinx on steriods. It can draw cards right away too which is important given that is the primary reason you would be playing this card. As with most cards these days, it is not the power of this card that lets it down, it is the narrowness of it.

Forgotten Creation 1

Oh look, another Hill Giant. Skulk is OK but not gripping, the Windfall effect each upkeep however is a lot juicier, it makes graveyard themed decks fire on all cylinders. Sadly this effect is slow once you have made the already slow Creation. It is too late to be a good enabler and too low power to be a good threat.

Altered Ego 0

I don't like Clones much and this offers nothing above and beyond Clone that I really want. This doesn't come close to comparing with the good Clone variants that exist and it is gold so no cube for Mr Ego.

Survive the Night 0

Lovely flavour but no, we don't pay 3 mana for this kind of thing in cube.

Humble the Brute 0

So Reprisal is 2 mana, Investigate should be worth about 1, where did my 2 mana go? This Humble Brute has robbed me! Don't play this or it will rob you too.

Stitchwing Skaab 2

Like a mini version of Geralf's Masterpiece. This is only good when you make it for 2 mana and as such only playable in a deck that has plenty of cards to ditch and plenty of ways to ditch them. This is a good card to keep the ball rolling but it doesn't start it off. It also seems like a strategy too narrow for the main cube even with all the juice from this set.

Uninvited Giest 0

Not enough card at either end to justify the cost, just a dork and in that light there are many better.

Season's Past 4

This is mentally powerful but sadly very narrow. It seems to go incredibly well with Brain in a Jar and consequently the decks in which it is viable. There are several reasons this card is useful to a cube player. Firstly, recursion in singleton formats goes a long way, more so that elsewhere in magic. It also scales well with high power cards and explosive formats where lots gets done quickly. Theoretically you can get like a 15 for 1 with this card although that will never happen. What might is getting seven things back which is obviously just game over. Three should be pretty devastating and that should be the minimum you expect to get when you play a card like this. Card advantage wise this is comparable to Sphinx's Revelation, expensive but usually game endingly powerful. Lastly there is the fact that this card prevents self mill, the kinds of decks that expect to have a wide array of casting costs in their bin are pretty much one of two decks, both of which fear the self mill in 40 card decks. Storm, Time Walk style UG decks that draw lots of cards and make lots of mana will be all over this card, they draw so much that they need reshuffle built into the deck. Control decks are the other place where you draw the game out so long that time starts to run out on your library and this kind of recursion tool could be very helpful. Six mana do nothing sorceries are not something many decks can support sadly so despite this being a likely mainstay in some archetypes it doesn't seem viable to run in the main cube.

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