Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Shadows Over Innistrad Preliminary Review Part II

Heir of Falkenrath 7

Very fair but very playable too. This is perfect support filler as it costs two mana. If you scaled this card up to a 3 mana card it would start to look a lot worse pretty quickly. Putrid Raptor for example has never been a good cube card even when other creatures were really weak as well. This card gives you a good amount of options, is pretty decent when it is good and never terrible when it is bad. There are three obvious places you might chose to play this. One place is simply an aggressive deck where a versatile two drop like this fits fine.

The next home for this card is in the place of Oona's Prowler, a cheap discard mechanism for a Reanimate deck. Although the Prowler is slightly better as a discard outlet the Heir is so much more useful of a card to have that I think Heir will win out. Usually you only play that kind of card when you are a bit light on the more optimal cards anyway. The final place for this card, and likely the place it will be best even if the deck isn't the most powerful of the three options, is an aggressive deck that also has graveyard synergies in cards like Bloodghast, Vengevine and Flamewake Phoenix to name some of the best. Again, there are slightly better discard outlets for such decks like Wild Mongrel but the Heir is so much of a better card in isolation. It is rare that you have so many cards that you can make a Mongrel hit for three or more per turn, the one big hit is nice but it is fairly obvious and the textbook definition of an all in high risk play. You can get yourself two for oned with Heir but that is always upto you. You can just leave it as a 2/1 and not take that risk. It is part of what makes the card so good, either it is a low impact low risk card or if you deem it necessary you can transform it and get more work done. The ability to not only increase its power but also give it evasion is what really propels it above Wild Mongrel in power level. Flying is great and we know from cards like Delver of Secrets how easily a powerful early flier can dominate a game.

In many ways this is a fixed Delver of Secrets, it has a much more suitable range of power levels, Delver is either dead weight or totally over powered, Heir sits much more evenly around the fair area which ever side of the card you find yourself on. Delver is usually a random beast, you get lucky and you get some free wins, get unlucky and waste a card. Heir has none of this RNG, you are in control of what happens meaning it is a much better designed card. Carrier Thrall is the new filler card for black decks with a mild sacrifice theme and Heir is now much the same but for discard themes instead. A very welcome addition to the cube, especially so given how lacking black is on broadly playable two drops.

Bygone Bishop 6.5

Mentor of the Meek has had a rework and come back looking reasonably playable! While I look at Mentor of the Meek with rose tinted goggles it isn't close to cube worthy and was barely playable when it first came out. You had to be winning pretty hard for it to do much and it wound up being a Grey Ogre most of the time. The Bygone Bishop however has enough extra going for it that I expect it to see ongoing play. Firstly a 2/3 flier is worlds better than a 2/2 for the same cost, literally worlds! Bygone Bishop is a relevant thing to play on turn 3, it will affect your tempo in a good way by being a relevant body.

The mechanisms by which Bygone Bishop and Mentor of the Meek trigger are comparable. Both have situations in which they are better than the other. Mentor works very well with token generators. Mentor also triggers from slightly more things overall that are in the cube than Bishop. On the flip side, the Bishop triggers with better and more powerful cards than those that you can pair with Mentor. Bishop also gets around permission effects as you only need to cast the card in question not resolve it.

Finally we have the mechanism by which you can gain advantage from the trigger in which the Bygone Bishop is again a clear winner. Both draw you a card per guy for some mana investment. Mentor of the Meek costs only one to draw said card however you need to pay it right away which is awful. It means you either have to further hurt your tempo by not curving out or you have to sit there with your Grey Ogre hoping both it and you live to the late game where it might start to help cycle your other weak non-land draws. This is the crux of why Mentor of the Meek is so terrible yet a comparably Grey Ogre like Monastery Mentor has proved itself to be a strong cube card. Bygone Bishop elegantly solves the issue without venturing into the under or over powered! You have to pay two mana to redeem your card however you can do that whenever you like. As soon as you start to run out of gas (having not had to sacrifice any tempo on the way) you can start turning your clues into more gas. Delightful!

There is also this nagging urge I have to talk about the combo potentials of this card. I can't really see it being a reliable thing in cube but you can do some really insane stuff with this. Imagine having a Krark Clan Ironworks and a Bygone Bishop in play! Think of the amount of mana you can generate with Memnite, Ornithopter, Myr Moonvessel etc! I suspect and robots/affinity decks playing enough white will consider throwing this in their lists simply because of how many artifacts it can dump into play to scale well with your other stuff and not at all for the draw effect.

Incorrigible Youths 3

In isolation this isn't close to cube worthy but like all synergy filler cards its actual position will depend on the strength of the other support cards and madness bombs. With enough stuff that you want to play with madness or that acts as a decent discard outlet for madness cards then this quickly improves. I have played quite a bit with Reckless Wurm in the cube. It was always pretty underwhelming and a 4/4 trample is probably a little better than a 4/3 haste given that madness often also equates to flash and flash scales pretty badly with haste. Narrow and even then still only on theme bulking for your madness deck. Narrow cards really need to be bombs not filler cards to get much in the way of cube love.

Geralf's Masterpiece 6

This seems very obnoxious indeed and feels like it needs to be placed in the same sort of group as Baneslayer and Thundermaw. It is a big, cheap flier that has loads of utility and application. Blue has plenty of good creatures, enough hardy ones, lots of fliers and plenty of top end creatures but it really really lacks meat, and this is incredibly meaty. Serendib Efreet used to get quite a bit of play simply because it was the meatiest playable blue thing on offer but creatures don't really count as meaty now unless they can survive a fight with a Siege Rhino. Masterpiece can trade with Grisselbrand, it can swat down a Simic Sky Swallower, Thundermaw or Baneslayer and live to tell the tale. It can even tangle with the Titans and it costs just five mana!

I am somewhat speaking as if it is always a 7/7 which is far from the truth. That very much depends on what kind of deck you are playing it in. In some control lists it would be pretty weak, only ever getting bigger than a 3/3 when the game is already over one way or another. In other styles of control deck this could be very potent but you would have to build being very mindful of the needs of the Masterpiece. Midrange will certainly be able to play it although they should expect it to be a fluctuating dork averaging at a very acceptable 5/5. The aggressive players will obviously stand to have the card in it's biggest average form but being a blue five drop it isn't going to be an auto include, just a nice option.

What I find most exciting about this card is the potential design interactions you can do. In a deck with a heavy discard theme you can pitch this badboy and flash it in for four mana at the end of an opponents turn. As such you are going to be hitting harder than a Thundermaw, at the same speed but for one less mana. In isolation both Baneslayer and of course Thundermaw are better, more reliable and more powerful cards. As your deck starts to fill up with discard outlets, delve cards, flashback cards, madness card etc then Geralf's Masterpiece has a good shot at outperforming the other five drop flying staples in cube.

I don't think this will ever be a total disaster of a card but unless you build and play with it correctly you are probably better off with the more reliable alternatives. I do love a card that requires some skill and attention to milk the full value from, especially when the rewards can be above a Thundermaw's!

Relentless Dead 5.5

This looks a lot better than it is. It is fine but I rank it about as highly as I rank Loyal Cathar. A solid durable two drop body that is heavy on the coloured mana. Menace is better than vigilance although both are a little situational. This is a fairly aggressive dork and so that further helps the menace do work. Relentless Dead also has two possible triggers for when it dies however on balance I think the combination of them is still less powerful than that of Loyal Cathar in the decks you are most likely to want this kind of card. Both abilities need you to have some mana spare when the Relentless Dead dies which means a lot of the time your two drop will be a Grizzly Bears! In constructed where you can run multiples of this card this doesn't hold true as you can combine them and have a limitless supply of cards to discard and dorks to sacrifice. In singleton format however the abilities are that little bit less enticing.

The X ability is fairly weak as most of the time there will be no targets for it. There are not that many targets for it in the main cube and of those that there are I wouldn't say that they were the strongest bunch of cards. In a tribal deck it is a little more interesting but zombies is a clunky tribe with weak dorks that is entirely carried by Patriarchs Bidding. Even that wouldn't be enough if it was not for Grey Merchant of Asphodel these days. It is certainly a cool addition to the card that widens its range even if it doesn't do much to increase the power of the card.

The B costed when this dies trigger is rather more interesting as it doesn't require you to have any other cards in the bin or even in your deck. For a mere black mana you can effectively turn anything that would kill this into a bounce effect on it instead. Not wildly unlike having regenerate although for somewhat more than just one black mana. In a lot of ways this makes it like a control/midrange playable Bloodghast. As the Relentless Dead can block the fact that it is hard to permanently remove, and the fact that it can deal its damage in combat and return, unlike Dimensional Infiltrator, really boost the cards defensive utility. Sadly to do all this every turn costs BBB which for any sort of deck is a pretty hefty price just to have a 2/2 blocker. The offensive utility probably isn't quite enough to make the whole package that exciting for midrange or control unless they have some specific desire to recur other zombie cards in their lists. The defensive aspects of the card also do fairly little to improve its value in an aggro deck either. You are just falling behind if you spend your time recurring this in a deck needing tempo. It is a card where different angles are useful in different decks but no one deck seems to be able to utilize all of the aspects at once hence the card seeming more powerful than it will be in practice.

Aberrant Researcher 1

I can't quite rule this out entirely although I probably should. When a vanilla dork isn't quite there it basically never will be in any situation as there is just something better to play. A 4 mana 5/4 flier would be good but not nuts in the cube world, you are still paying four mana for four toughness and getting no immediate value from the huge mana expenditure. This dork isn't quite vanilla, although both sides of the card are just a flying dork the fact that it can flip is an additional aspect to the card. Things like Moonmist can interact with it! Unlikely but still a reason a card is more noteworthy. Researcher also has a little self mill mechanic which could do a little extra work on the side for this card. It is all by the by though as you are just not paying four mana for a 3/2 in cube unless you are a madman intent on not winning.

Declaration in Stone 7

Despite the lovely exile aspect of this card it is by no means in the same league as Path and Plow, not close. They are half the mana and instant, Plow even has a less severe drawback most of the time! This card has an even bigger gap in power level to Swords to Plowshares than Volcanic Hammer has to Lighting Bolt and I don't run the Hammer in cube... To be fair, I used to back when there was not quite the selection of cheap burn and that is exactly why Declaration in Stone will see play. There is not enough good cheap removal out there already. It doesn't matter all that much how poorly this compares to the best removal if it still manages to be within a few cards of that removal in a top X list!

Two mana unrestricted removal is great, exile is great too however sorcery speed it a bit of a problem. This card sits among Journey to Nowhere, Unexpectedly Absent and Valorous Stance for power level in the cube, good but not nutty. Overall it is most comparable to Journey to Nowhere in its effect, in most cases Journey is better however in a few cases Journey will be a disaster while Declaration in Stone will always be pretty safe. I prefer this reliability in a card. Declaration also has some bonus utility in the Maelstrom Pulse effect it offers. While in cube this is generally just a way to kill off some tokens it is always nice to have options on a card. You can even cycle away one of your own dorks if you really really need! The old four mana to two for one yourself not quite upto Arcane Denial levels of self application.

I like the card, it is very fair, it makes use of the excellent investigate mechanic in a cool way and offers quite a lot of utility for what is essentially just a Terror variant. It will see lots of play in much the same way Searing Spear and Incinerate see lots of play. It is an effective tool to do the job you need, it may not be the very best tool going in that capacity but when it is a job that really needs doing we are grateful to have any tools to use at all.

Tamiyo's Journal 0

Seven mana to draw a card in your next upkeep or five mana and three turns wait to get a Demonic Tutor. Barely even an upgrade on the true weakness that is Jayemdae Tome! Much as I really love investigate this card is fathoms from playable anywhere outside the painfully casual.

Shard of Broken Glass 1

Self mill in a recursive manner on the cheap. Sadly you need to have dorks and both the pump and the mill are pretty minor. Self mill is also a littler riskier in cube than in 60 card decks, typically loot effects are the way to go in cube rather than just direct self mill. I can't see me ever playing this over a Mask of Memory and I never ever play that in cube. Despite this I can't catrgorically rule out this cheap unique little equipment.

Avacynian Missionaries 0

Basically just a Hill Giant, it almost has a drawback as presumably you want it to be better than a Hill Giant in in trying to do so you probably make your bad deck worse... If we were talking permanent exile when it transformed then this might see some fringe play. Exile for a bit effects are pretty dangerous in cube and as a result not that good.

Archangel Avacyn 5.5-6

This is a whole lot of card that is going to be quite hard to rate. Obviously it is powerful but is that power allocated usefully about the card and does the end result look like something that fits into cube archetypes? First and foremost this is a flash Serra Angel which is good but not insane. Restoration Angel is far better suited to that role. Next up Avacyn gives your dorks, herself included, indestructible until end of turn. This can make her counter a Wrath effect, a lot of spot removal, or provide for a blowout combat where your whole side survives. These sound very powerful but in all but the last case you need other dorks for it to be relevant and then you are getting the least possible value from the effect. It is like a single target fog, it should never turn a chump into a kill and there are very few trades that it converts into kills when compared with it not having indestructible. A flying flash vigilance dork really lends itself to control decks and reactive decks while the enters the battlefield trigger really lends itself to creature heavy strategies which are typically midrange or aggressive ones. In modo cubes this should be plenty good in an aggro deck but I fear in my lower to the ground cube that this Avacyn isn't going to perform well at all for the aggressive players.

Lastly we come to the transformed Avacyn, a beefier 6/5 but no longer with vigilance. There are lots of situations where a 6/5 trumps a 4/4 vigilance and very few that are the other way around, less when everything else in play just took 3 damage! The body change we can describe as another perk, all be it not the most significant of relative transformations. The colour change is cute but will be mostly irrelevant. It is the 3 damage to all creatures and opponents that is the significant part of the transformation. The free Lava Spike is never going to be bad but short of conveniently taking out planeswalkers it should usually pale in comparison to the 6 power of flying fury in play.

Doing 3 to all other creatures is a mixed blessing, sometimes it will be the perfect Wrath on their guys, sometimes it will do you more damage than them. Her indestructible effect encourages you to play dorks but her flip effect discourages it, certainly those with <4 toughness. In control decks the flip will be a very useful tool however in aggressive and some midrange decks the flip will be something you have to work around quite hard and that ultimately causes you to lose some advantages.

To add further counter synergy to Avacyn the method by which she flips is a total pain. Because of the indestructible effect you give your dorks you can only flip her immediately by sacrificing a creature which is hard to do, especially for white. Once you have used the flash and the surprise value is gone (along with the indestructible) you give almost more control to your opponent over when she flips. You cannot therefor safely play Avacyn onto a board where you have loads of <4 toughness creatures without risking them all dying (+1 other bigger dork) to a Terror effect.

Due to the counter synergy her flipping has with small dorks I think you can only play her in control decks and as such she might well not see enough play to remain in the cube. She is very powerful but too risky in some places and always hard to milk the value out of.

Ravenous Bloodseeker 4

This is actually worse than Aquaamoeba, and it isn't blue nor it it a billion years old. Although a pretty weaksauce dork this is a great madness outlet. Red has a lot of the best madness cards and is a close second to black for its ability to abuse having things in the graveyard. I don't have the cards in the cube that this would support at present but with a little bit of juicy new stuff this could start to look like a worthwhile support card to add into the cube.

Just the Wind 4

I like this a lot but I am not sure it gets there for cube. Bounce is very tight on balance, you can get a hell of a lot in your bounce card for two mana. This is about the worst two mana bounce card going but will still do the job of a bounce spell on a dork for not much mana. Searing Spear is a lot worse than Lightning Bolt but it is still very playable. Compared then to Fiery Temper this looks quite powerful in terms of costing which it is. This is because burn is so much more broadly useful than creature bounce. Also note the lack of Fiery Temper in my cube. I love madness but for this card to be good you need to be packing a lot of madness outlets. There are not enough good madness cards or outlets to make it worth including them for the sake of each other. Because of the competitive costing of Just the Wind you could afford to play it with just a handful of discard outlets that you would otherwise still be playing (Jace anyone? Who doesn't play a Jace!) but in that sort of capacity the card is just way too narrow. I'll stick to my Cyclonic Rift and my Vapor Snag thanks.

Magnifying Glass 1

Love the design of the card but it all a bit slow and fair for it to shine in cube. If you want mana ramp there are better cards and if you have mana ramp you can do drawing in far more effective ways than these slow expensive clues.

Thraben Inspector 7

This meek little cards seems like a house to me. I might be wrong but I can see this working out pretty well in currently several kinds of deck, many of which are strong and common in cube. This is just a body, it is the definition of a chump but it is super super cheap and ultimately will be card neutral. You can play this as a Wall of Omens effect and it compares pretty well. As a tempo play you get 75% of the stats for half the mana. The allocation of those stats is a mixed blessing, it means Inspector will be a one time chump block against a lot of the cards in cube while Wall of Omens can live to block again. On the flip side there are a bunch of guys this trades with and a bunch it outright kills. The offensive side of it is super minor in the decks where you are playing it as a cheap Wall of Omens but it still boosts the value of the card. It might make your Knight Errant play suddenly super effective. Having to still pay two mana to actually redeem the card is a little uncomfortable for control players but it has great synergy with countermagic and other instant reactive stuff. Mostly it means you will need to slightly increase you land count (as in by a fraction not by actual whole lands) or your early card quality/draw effects if you are to directly replace a Wall of Omens with a Thraben Inspector in a balanced list.

In a token or equipment heavy white weenie list this is also a very good one drop. You need the pump effects to make him relevant but he might well be superior to Elite Vanguard in such decks because of the importance of having both the dorks and the pumps while retaining a low curve. Cards that do a thing you need but that also cantrip (even if it is several turns down the line) are archetypal gold dust. In the more middle of the road most powerful cards style white weenie deck this probably doesn't do enough to consider.

Lastly we have the niche applictions of this card. You might play it with Smokestack and Tangle Wire, you might play it with Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating. You might play it as a body in a Cawblade style deck. It is two permanents for 1 mana and it does other things too! Underwhelming as this looks it simply can't be bad!

Thraben Inspector allows you to efficiently spend your mana and get involved in the game without hurting the power or quality of your deck. He is the kind of card that makes a hand full of lands and 3+ CMC cards much more of a keeper. You will almost always just throw him down whenever you find you have a spare white mana and as soon as you find you have two unspent mana thereafter he will return you a card. Spending mana is generically good. as is drawing cards. Bodies also offer a lot of utility. There are only a couple of silly combo mirrors where bodies really might not do much to affect the game. Any pairing of aggro, control and midrange will all find that even a lowly 1/2 adds a decent number of options to any given game state. As soon as this card does anything you quite want it seems like it fits into any deck comfortably.

Soul Swallower 0

Like a bad Kalonian Hydra. You won't have delerium when you have this, if you do this will get Bolted on sight and if not then you probably would have won anyway with any other actually good four drop.

Reaper of Flight Moonsilver 3

Wow, a card that is a directly worse reprint of a five drop from Legends (Fallen Angel for all you greenhorns).... Imagine trying to make a worse Ernham Djinn and see how much play that gets! Obviously I am missing the point which is that this is a white sacrifice outlet. It would actually be pretty interesting without the delirium restriction as white has so much token generation and things like Academy Rector that it wants to kill off. As it is, a 5 drop situational enabler probably won't be getting any play.

Hinterland Logger 2

I made a claim that common cards that are only just not good enough are usually unplayable and this card seems to break that claim. This is too underwhelming for cube, the 2/1 initial body doesn't do enough and either you or your opponent have to be somewhat screwed for this to flip at all soon. You never want to skip an early turn as an aggressive player and this is purely an aggressive card. As this is a transform card however I think there are some niche applications for it somewhere, although almost certainly not tier 1!

Thing in the Ice 6.5

This seems very playable indeed. It is very much a blue Wall of Omens, something the colour really wanted, even if it is white already and has a white Wall! Rather than give you a card this gives you a massive threat on top of an Evacuation just for having it in play a few turns and doing your normal blue sort of stuff. Wall of Omens is tedious to kill and feels like bad value when you do, this however is a must kill. This is potent enough that some of the Izzet prowess decks might even run it. Four spells is really little in the cube, you could reasonably lay this and trigger it on the same turn for less than six mana in cube. If you are doing the spells anyway and it isn't taking that long to do then this is about as much value as you can get for two mana, it makes Jace, Vryns Prodigy look meek!

Elusive Tormentor 3

Interesting design and lots of fun but I think not quite there for cube. I will give this a trial but it just seems like it is going to be too onerous to maintain and not enough of an actual body to get it done in time. You really want to make this with a mana up else it is a 4/4 for 4 that could wind up costing you too much tempo should it be killed/bounced etc. A five mana 4/4 doesn't impact the board impressively at all. It isn't quite as robust as an Aetherling and costs quite a lot more to do its stuff. If you want to get 4 damage in unblocked it costs 4 mana and a card plus any backup protection bits you feel you need. I like the design a lot, it is a good use of mechanics but the overall result doesn't seem like it is for the cube. It is also far too expensive to be a useful discard outlet.

Flameblade Angel 0

Even at 6/6 this would be a little underwhelming compared to Inferno Titan. This is just wildly overpriced and has somewhat of a dribble abbility. A limited bomb of course...

Markov Dreadknight 0

This is a little better than Flameblade Angel at least. I think you need to remove the mana cost from the discard ability on this before it is even a consideration for cube use.

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