Thursday, 2 June 2016

Winners and Loser from Shadows Over Innistrad Part 1

I find comparing my testing results to my initial thoughts on a card to be highly revealing. It has been an invaluable tool at improving my card evaluation. Shadows Over Innistrad, like most of the last 2 years worth of releases, has been hard to review. Wizards are getting better at making a higher number of interesting cards per set. They are also getting much better at concealing lots of power within cards either by making them situational or with other cleverer means such as the counter synergy on cards like Avacyn. The power creep on creatures seems ongoing as well which simply makes for more viable cube candidates each release. Shadows had so many interesting cards I am still yet to play with nearly half of them at all and only those on this list are ones I have played with enough to feel I can reasonably appraise them for cube use. So far I haven't been wildly off with anything but slighly off with more than I would like. Despite being overly optimisitic about cards and quite generous with my initial ratings to my surprise I feel I underrated more Shadows cards than not.


Topplegiest 6 > 3.5 (cut)

Not too shocking that this one mana 1/1 didn't make the cut when Judge's Familiar also failed to do so. The effect plus the body seem like good value which is somewhat true, the thing is that neither half of the card is worth a card. You need lots of buffs or equips to make your Suntail Hawk do anything useful and when it doesn't you are getting a bum deal. There will certainly be decks where this is fine but for a drafting cube this is going last pick an awful lot of the time! Either you play a real tapper or you play a real threat. There will be occasions this seems like the thing you want on one but they will be far too rare for this to be maincube.

Indulgent AristocratIndulgent Aristocrat 6.5 > 4.5 (cut)

Another one mana 1/1 I got over excited about! Basically, there are no things you want to have so that you can sac them to a one drop. This becomes even more the case when you have to pay 2 mana to do so. With Carrion Feeder the sacs are incidental as you can always do them, with Aristocrat you have to plan to do them and this makes it pretty weak. Either you have to invest far too much to make it relevant or it is a pretty irrelevant one drop. It will certainly still be playable in a selection of different decks but they will tend to be niche things like tribal vampires. If you want a sac outlet but are able to pay mana to do it then you might as well run an actually good card like Flesh Carver.

Asylum Visitor
Asylum Visitor 8.5 > 6.5

Still a great card but a significant amount of the time this is Oreskos Swiftclaw. It is a two drop that can't attack or block with any chaff about at all and live to tell the tale. He has no evasion and so his high power isn't all that useful. The madness aspect of the card has yet to happen and so it seems like a drawback as people force discard outlets into their lists for the "synergy". It does draw cards but seemingly less than Pain Seer thus far in testing (that claim is not backed up by a statistically relevant sample size as yet I should make clear!). A whole lot of card that resists releasing its power or potential more than expected.

Thing in the IceThing in the Ice 6.5 > 6

I actually thought I raved about this card when first seeing it but apparently I only gave it a 6.5 despite comparing it (in some cases) favourably to Jace, Vryn's Prodigy!!! So, why is Thing in the Ice not living upto the hype? Like Asylum Visitor it is a lot of power well concealed and hard to unlock.
Awoken HorrorThe first half of the card is exactly what you want a lot of the time but it is still well under par compared to Wall of Omens or Spellskite. You therefore have to threaten to flip Thing in the Ice for it to be at all interesting. A Sylvan Advocate is still all kinds of fine if you never get to six lands in play for example. What this means is that you have to build with Thing in the Ice in mind when making your deck rather too much for it to be an all round power house. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy can basically be thrown into and list than can cast it and improve that list. Thing in the Ice cannot, it can only go in some archetypes and it will cause those to adapt around it. You might build a deck and have a healthy 14 cards that remove counters from Thing in the Ice which sounds like enough however in practice many spells are not that effective at doing what you need. Things like Wraths don't work, counterspells need targets and so don't give you much control over the flip. Bounce spells are rather wasted when used to flip Thing in the Ice and so on. The best stuff are the cheap things, cards like Ponder in blue and then burn and discard outside of blue. As such Thing in the Ice is far more awkward to use than at first glance. In the right deck it is still about the most power you can find for two mana but in the wrong deck it is a pretty limp speed bump.

Stern Constable

Stern Constable 6 > 4 (cut)

Too few decks can justify discarding cards in an ongoing capacity just to tap stuff. In the right deck this is one of the best one drops on offer but those decks are niche and not supported by many good drafting cubes at all. This will be last pick an awful lot if you try putting it in a midrange cube. Even if you do support madness or graveyard themes white has nothing much else to offer on that front at all and so even then this guy still winds up not getting used much at all. A real shame as this guy had such promise, if only he were another colour!


Anguished UnmakingAnguished Unmaking  8 > 8.5

Not a big change but still, any card I rate at 8+ that retains that rating is a pretty huge win. This is what you want when you have problems. Recently I lost a game to Westvale Abbey when I had Vindicate in hand and mana up to use it. What made it worse was that I was playing the Vindicate over the Anguished Unmaking because I was being a pussy about the life and felt I needed some cheap Stone Rain wins to make up for my weak deck. Suffice it to say I am pretty sold on the Unmaking, the number of times it fully bails you where Vindicate fails your significantly outweigh the number of times that hitting a land is good. The three life difference is negligible compared to the difference not being able to exile something or do it at instant speed is. I think it will be rare the occasions now in which I play Vindicate or any other three mana removal spell over Anguished Unmaking again.

Falkenrath Gorger

Falkenrath Gorger 8 > 8

Kind of hard to give a Savannah Lion more than an 8 but the card has not let down at all, I mean it hardly could, it didn't need to do more than be a R 2/1 to be a highly prized red card. Red was low on playable high quality one drops that are not overly dangerous or situational. RDW is more consistent and more draftable just because this card exists.

Ormendahl, Profane PrinceWestvale Abbey 5.5 > 7

Westvale AbbeyNot a card for every deck by any means but for those than can support it Westvale is the business. Having played with it some I think it is most alike to Kessig Wolf Run. A land that doesn't do that much early on but poses a really serious late game problem. With so many token generators in cube combined with lots of cheap utility dorks it really isn't uncommon for boards to stalemate with enough spare to flip the Abbey. It turns out a 9/7 flying lifelink indestructible is really swingy. Sure, there are some good answers to it, Path, Plow, Wingshards, Anguished Unmaking, bounce, er, running out of answers... Even things like Council's Judgement still mean you get hit once by it. As he is on a land you can't counter him. Basically, even if you do have answers, you don't have many. Whenever there is a good chance you have an answer Westvale Abbey will sit secretly and safely in hand and then surprise 9 your face when you are foolish enough to tap out. In decks that can produce enough chaff dorks to realistically flip Westvale Abbey from turn six I find it to be better than things like Mishra's Factory. Typically these man lands give you a bit of extra umph and power for a tiny trade off in consistency (from having colourless or slower lands). In weenies decks the value of the manland style cards is almost entirely in their ability to evade Wrath effects. The extra bit of damage they can push through is pretty negligible on the whole. If your Factory is getting work done then you are probably just winning with the one and two drop beaters in the deck anyway. Westvale Abbey offers something totally different, a threat of a whole different style to the simpler manlands. It is hugely impactful and requires specific solutions. You may find your opponent doesn't Plow/Path one of your dorks that they really wanted too because if they do they have very low odds on beating Ormendahl. It is one of those cards you need to respect, like a Force Spike or an Armageddon, they do a lot of damage without ever being used or even seen as you have to play around the possiblity of them as the outcome can be so savage. Westvale Abbey isn't a disaster when you don't flip it, it still taps for mana on the turn it comes in. Even the making of dorks has its uses although it is by far the least relevant aspect of the card.

Heir of Falkenrath

Heir of Falkenrath 7 > 7.5

Heir to the NightOne of the cards that has impressed me most from the set is this humble little dork. I always want to play it turn two, it gives me all the options and control over the game. I can flip it and start smacking hard in the air or I can trade with their early drops and slow the pace of the game down. Late game the card is also decent, a three power flier is never dead. Late in the game lands are so much lower value the flipping of Heir is easy. Heir is great when you have zero synergy with the discard, you can turn that cost into a perk in many ways, even just having delve spells makes it less of an early cost. Black lacked versatile cheap dorks and this is the king of the bunch at present. Pack Rat costs too much mana to do much of much, Dark Confidant and Co are all a little dangerous to throw in any old list, most of the rest are BB to play which leaves Heir and Carrier Thrall as the best on offer. Heir is more proactive and far more dangerous than Carrier Thrall, Heir is certainly the aggressive card of choice but it is still a close call at the other end of the spectrum as to which of the two I would want in my deck.

Bygone BishopBygone Bishop 6.5 > 7

Not a huge jump on expectation but the card is impressing none the less. Most of what it seems to be coming down to is that three toughness, much like with Sylvan Advocate and Reflector Mage. A 2/3 just gets so much more work done than a 2/2 in a cube setting. Bishop comes down, it has good control on the board and can apply pressure in damage and card advantage simultaneously. The rounded nature of the Bishop is meaning it is getting played not just in white weenie but in most midrange white decks too.

Declaration in StoneDeclaration in Stone 7 > 7.5

So if this were instant it would give Path to Exile a really good run for its money. It would no longer be Path or Plow but Path or Declaration as the choice you were faced with when building. It isn't instant sadly and so it has to sit no higher than 3rd on the removal spell of choice list. The card isn't great, you often have to eat a smack in the face or curve really badly to use it but it still makes you feel really safe having it in hand. It deals with most things and it deals with them well. You can use it on early things without the fear you get from Path to Exile. Two mana is still cheap enough that in the midgame onwards you gain a lot of tempo when using Declaration. The Maelstrom Pulse aspect of the card has not happened as yet and wont frequently at all but never the less adds fairly well to the safety feeling the card offers. Having non-Wrath solutions to cards like Avenger of Zendikar or Entreat the Angels goes a long way in some matchups and will have you saving your Declaration because it is the only card you have than can help. Instant probably does give more value and utility than exile on removal cards however exile is far far rarer to come by on cube worthy cards that Declaration in Stone fetches a real premium. Go for the Throat, Doom Blade, Ultimate Price are all ten a penny cards if instant is what you need. Decks want a mix of removal with some exile and some instant and so Declaration in Stone is one of the most premium removal spells going. Cheap, effective, colour light, splashable and fantastically permanent. Journey to Nowhere is just too much of a liability to see cube play consistently. I have lost games where I had to use it on a comes into play effect dork and then had the Journey destroyed. Let them have clues over those kinds of swing any day!

Thraben InspectorThraben Inspector 7 > 8.5

One of the best cards in the set, certainly one of the best performers so far. Aggro, control and midrange are all packing this dude most of the time they get the option to do so. A body is never dead, it can attack, be made bigger, trade or chump, they can be sacrificed for all sorts of perks. Ones like Inspector with EtBT can be flickered and bounced and so on for bonus value. A 1/2 body isn't the best but it does do work in the early game and is always still a body. For one white mana it is a bargain and the fact that it basically doesn't cost you a card makes it insane value where ever you play it. It is the closest thing to Baleful Strix (as in, a free dork you want in every kind of list) to have ever seen print and it is in just one colour! Investigate is a great mechanic and Inspector is likely the best card with it.

Port TownReveal (Shadow) Lands 7.5 > 8

I was pretty on the money with my review of these but didn't anticipate quite the value of the subtleties at play. These lands are very similar to the Quick Lands from the second Mirrodin block, they come into play tapped a little more but offer more options and flexibility. I thought that Quick lands would still be a little better just going on the numbers and the fact that cube is a quick and cheap format. It turns out that having the choices and flexibility is more valuable overall and much more useful in the slower decks. The reveal lands are seeing more play than the quick lands and will continue to do so. They are perhaps not quite as good in the really aggressive decks as the quick lands but still plenty good enough however they are exceptionally good in midrange and control lists making them that little bit more premium overall. Quick lands force some awkward choices before you want to make them while reveal lands don't seem to.

Tireless TrackerTireless Tracker 6 > 7.5

I initially suggested this was a weaker version of Courser of Kruphix. It certainly is like the Courser but now I am not so sure about the weaker. Two toughness is low but this is only when you make it as an on curve play. Save it till a little later in the game and you can often pack as much toughness as the Courser. It turns out that Tracker does a lot more for you overall than Courser. Yes, Courser is still a far better anti aggro card and a far better three drop in most cases but the later the game goes on the more Tracker destroys Courser in terms of value. Tracker draws extra cards and so can land a lot more punch on the turns you need them. Courser just gets you value from free lands meaning you get a much slower influx of value. Facing a late game Tracker is terrifying, not only does it basically cut out all the dead draws but it is also probably one of the largest dorks on the battlefield. It has that sort of Scavenging Ooze threat where it will eventually just be too big to deal with for a lot of decks. It applies pressure on two fronts like Bygone Bishop being both a card advantage tool and a decent tempo play. A solid midrange card, a great aggro card and one of the best late game scaling three drops in the cube, perhaps the best late game scaling three drop.

Town Gossipmonger

Town Gossipmonger 5 > 6

Incited RabbleSo this card has been played in ever single even I have done since adding it to the cube which is only about 10 things ranging from heads up sealed to big drafts. I initially likened it to Boros Elite, a potent one drop that needs a little bit of setup. Boros Elite was fine, it saw some play but really it was just less consistent than generic 2/1s. As your deck got worse, so did Boros Elite. Another issue with Boros Elite is that when you are facing several threats you can kill the others and make Boros Elite pretty irrelevant. Town Gossipmonger is arguably a little slower than Elite for much the same sort of card. The difference is that Town Gossipmonger is an actual relevant threat on its own. You cannot just kill the other things and ignore it. Town Gossipmonger is not high power but it offers enough. It is a one drop, it is versatile and it offers a more dangerous card ultimately than most other one drops out there. Great card design and a welcome addition to the cube even if it is a bit of a fair oddball one.

Skin InvasionSkin Invasion 3 > 5.5

Skin ShedderThis is like a more extreme version of the Town Gossipmonger. It is significantly less useful as a one drop and far fiddlier to flip into a threat. A vanilla 3/4 is also nutty good as threats go despite seeming so dull. It trumps almost everything upto three mana and will likely be your biggest dork in a RDW style list. Town Gossipmonger would be one of the very best one drops if you could make it pre-flipped but Skin Shredder would be the best. I thought that Skin Invasion would just be too narrow and convoluted to go in any deck what so ever but in testing, again much like Gossipmonger, the Skin Invasion keeps getting played. It has had somewhat mixed performances but given it is already outperforming a signifcant portion of the cube for playability I can't justify cutting it. What I can do is try and justify why it is that it is seeing so much play. There are several reasons for this but the main one is simply that despite being the best offensive colour red is one of the more deficient in quality one drop permanents. Even if you are not making them on turn one there is a huge inherent value in having one mana cost cards in an aggressive deck. A lot of the time Skin Invasion is simply being played because he is on theme (as in aggressive in nature) and a one drop. You get a sealed pool with loads of great RDW cards but are a little light on one drops and so you pad out the ranks with cards like this. That argument is only valid if Skin Invasion is superior to the myriad low quality or niche one drop cards you could fill out cubes with. What makes Skin Invasion better than Goblin Arsonist, Frenzied Goblin, Jackal Pup, Tattermunge Maniac and so on? Power is a big part of it, simply put a Goblin Arsonist is never winning a game on its own, it isn't really ever doing anything significant on its own while you are more than happy to "just" be beating with a 3/4! It might not always be a 3/4 but when it is it is pretty relevant. Putting in cards that are mostly pretty do nothing just to fill out your curve properly isn't a good strategy. The next reason is minor but not irrelevant and that is synergy, specifically with prowess effects which are popular in many aggressive red decks. Lastly we have utility, something that is fairly hard to come by in red cards, especially those suitable for pure archetypes such as RDW and again even more so for a one drop. You expect some utility when you pay five for a card like Eldrazi Obligator but at one it can be a lot less powerful and still be very interesting. So what can you do with Skin Invasion that gives it so much utility? Well, you can put it on one of their utility dorks and force it to suicide into your blocks. You can put it on one of their blockers like a Courser of Kruphix and start to slowly attack past it. You can dump it on any old dork and have it be disincentive towards removal and wrath effects. You can put it on something that you can send to the graveyard at instant speed so that you have the ability to generate an instant dork, say to do some surprise blocking with. All somewhat situational but still, a whole lot of potential for a cheap and powerful card. I remain cautious with my ratings but wouldn't be shocked to find I was actually giving it high ratings in a few years time. Equally I wouldn't be too shocked if a couple of better all round reliable one drops got printed for red and this never saw play again!

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