Thursday 21 July 2016

Top 12 Cards that say "Win the Game"

Door to NothingnessSpoiler alert, no Door to Nothingness will be found on this list. When I say cards that win the game I mean cards that have very good odds on winning the game, the few that exist which actually say win the game are pretty unplayable and not worth it. Typically they do nothing at all most of the time, what you want from a card is one that has great odds of winning the game but that also does something significant when it doesn't win the game. Typically these are just called threats but I want to look at it more from the point of view of raw power. A Tarmogoyf is a good threat but it is a kind of redundant one, it is never going to be the card that has the best odds of winning the game for you outright, on its own or immediately.

Cards like Thundermaw Hellkite are fantastic threats too, and great finishers, but they rarely do the whole job, they rely on other cards having done a lot of prior work. Thundermaw is probably a better un-powered cube card than all the others on this list. It has likely won more games per deck inclusion than any card on this list too. The difference is that Thundermaw is closing out a game, it is strictly speaking finishing the game and is hence a good finisher. It is not however a great starter, you want to take someone from 20 to 0 with just a Thundermaw good luck. You are giving them 3 turns to find a solution or just kill you themselves. The cards on this list should be good at taking down a game from 20-0 rather than just doing the last few hurdles. The cards that most of the time you make them people scoop rather than playing out the short time they have left are the cards that I want on this list. It should then represent some of the highest power cards in all of magic as it is so unconstrained by mana cost.
Emrakul, the Promised End

The idea for this list came from seeing the new Emrakul, the Promised End. It struck me as being one of the best all round cards that could lay claim to having the text "you win the game" on it. It really does an awful lot and I am excited to test it out and see if it lives up to expectation. If so it should sit at the top of this list however it is an incredibly tough card to evaluate so I will need to do some significant testing before I insert the Promised End into this list. Having compared and contrasted the competition for the Promised End in doing this list I should be better prepared to appraise the card. Since starting this list we have an Eldrazi Boar spoiled that also looks set to take a seat in this top ten. Eldritch Moon sounds powerful so far! Most of these cards win the game if not answered pretty sharpish so a lot of it comes down to how easy the card is to include in a deck, how easy it is to cast and what the range of good answers for it are.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger12. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Both Ulamog incarnations are pretty good at ending the game. Sadly they both sit in an awkward spot of being inferior to Emrakul, the Eons Torn yet just about as hard to cast. With the high value on exile effects the indestructible Ulamog is easier to kill than Eons Torn. The main perk of the cards is being able to Wrath yourself without removing your threat. Ceaseless Hunger is slightly better all round for most things. It can be recurred from the graveyard, it costs a tiny bit less and exile 20 from the library is far more game ending than annihilate four. The double exile on cast is also obviously a lot better than the destroy and does much more work than the Infinite Gyre in terms of keeping you alive long enough to attack when you are not Corspe Dancing or Sneak Attacking. While mana cost is not something I am too bothered about in these ratings that of either Ulamog is sufficiently prohibitive of most decks that it is at the very bottom of this list despite being one of the most nominally powerful cards in all of magic.

Upheaval11. Upheaval

One of the cheaper cards on the list and the only one that doesn't actually do anything proactive for you. It is somewhat of an honorary inclusion on this list as it so often feels like Upheaval is unbeatable for you yet the game is 100% yours if they don't have it. Upheaval is like six or so Time Walks against some decks and still a couple against those best suited to recovering from it. While Upheaval cannot win a game on its own you really don't need much follow up take down the game. Sure, you have to build your deck somewhat around being able to usefully play Upheaval but given that it is such a good counter to so many of the things going on in the cube, one of the very best safety buttons in the game, that it remains one of the most feared cards in cube. Especially midrange ones. It is never really the threat used post Upheaval that won the game and that is why Upheaval makes this list. Upheaval into just a bunch of mana production, perhaps a card draw planeswalker too is so utterly game over and that set of stuff is without an actual threat!

10. Griselbrand

One of the best cards in the game, a big threat complete with a fantastic card draw mechanism. At 8 mana and with such heavy black requirements he is rarely cast instead preferring to be cheated into play but with cards like Dark Ritual and Lake of the Dead and 8 mana card is at its second most realistic for being cast in black. Lifelink and flying make this 7/7 body quite the game ender, you need a good removal spell to take him down else he is going to make devastating life swings and give more gas than you could possibly need. The weakness of Griselbrand is that if you are too far behind when you make him you have to wait for him to deal damage before you can risk drawing cards and in this situation you are going to get wreaked by the right removal.

Avenger of Zendikar9.   Avenger of Zendikar

A fairly unassuming fatty that just has a high game ending potential. Short of a Wrath of God Avenger of Zenikar tends to end games and quickly. Using spot removal on Avenger will certainly slow down the death but having so many tokens left over is usually too much value for those kinds of decks to beat. In any sort of standoff the growing plants quickly become uncontainable. Even when you are quite behind the vast presence on the board it gives is frequently a turnaround play. Hornet Queen gets a bit more love these days as it is more of a pure 7 drop and not the ideally 8 drop that Avenger is. Queen is also far better defensively with deathtouch and the far more important and rare flying in green. Queen is immense on defense but it is no where near the game ending power or speed of Avenger. The plants can be grown rapidly with ease in green, I have passed on the turn I made the avenger with seven 5/6 tokens in play from it. That size and number of tokens not having any trample just doesn't matter at all. Green cards in cube work to a very different curve most of the time due to the almost certain ramp in the deck. Avenger is not as exciting per mana as most of the cards on the list but it comes out way faster earning it a spot on this list.

8.   Aetherling

The slowest card on the list for kill clock and one of the weakest in terms of defensive utility too. It can kill from 20 fairly reliably in 3 attacks and do some blocking duty as well but this all costs quite a bit of extra mana which is where the real sloth comes in. It is really not that great of a threat when you are too far behind in the tempo game. Where Aetherling excels above most other cube cards is in reliabiliy. It is hands down the hardest card to deal with in the cube. Once resolved with some spare blue mana you are likely never get shot of it and are consequently now in a race. For obvious reasons it is one of the most feared cards for the slower decks.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite7.  Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

On the flip side of things to Aetherling we have Elesh Norn, the bane of the quicker decks. Most creature heavy decks just scoop to Elesh Norn. Once in play it usually Wraths their team and even when they have a few survivors they are just inconsequential against a 4/7 vigilance, let alone anything else you might have had. Seven is a lot of toughness to handle and with basically no dorks in play it is even harder to deal with. You need hard removal to beat Elesh Norn, you also need some gas in hand to replay after and you need to not die to the +2/+2 swing from the other side of the table should that be on the cards. Where Elesh falls down is against creature light decks where she isn't often having a significant enough impact when you play her to be all that. Her clock is slow when solo and she is one of the most vulnerable cards on this list being fodder to most hard removal and wrath effects.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon6.   Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

It seems fairly nutty to have Ugin only at sixth on this list as he seems to be the complete package. He has powerful mass removal effect that should solve most problems you are facing and then he can just freely Bolt things while growing. Get him above 10 loyalty, which is pretty easy, and you get a massive influx of all the resources which should further solve any problems you might have. My issue with Ugin is that I don't often find him winning games, I find him recovering a lot of games but it generally isn't the Ugin that then decides it. My main experience of Ugin is that he has to -X when he comes down and usually for at least 4 which leaves him incredibly vulnerable to burn, man lands, haste dorks and so on. Ugin is a good Wrath that typically gets an extra +1 cards worth of value. This starts to sound a little less worth 8 mana. Wraths are great in cube but they are recoverable and so Ugin is not the game ender he wants to be. Certainly if you get to lay him and calm the board with just a +2 then you are going to win if they don't have spot removal for him. Ugin is actually slower than Aetherling to win a game however he causes scoops a lot quicker! He makes games unwinnable much faster than many cards too which is nearly as good as winning the game.

Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker5. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

While much more awkward to cast than Ugin I have found Nicol Bolas to be far more game ending. He is always relevant being able to steal dorks or smash up other permanents. He gains enough loyalty when smashing up non creatures that he can survive some attacks. Despite paying loyalty to steal dorks you are killing the best thing they have and often creating a serious blocker that turn as well. It is the most vulnerable you find a Nicol Bolas but it is rare that he dies in this state. Killing planeswalkers and gaining massive loyalty, stealing dorks that are too powerful or just smashing up lands each turn are all good ways of beating the various archetypes. Bolas arrives, sorts things out, invokes a huge swing in the game and then sets about winning it for you. It is not the quickest win but it is still a strong one whatever you face. Nicol Bolas brings about concessions more than most cards I have found.

Garruk, Apex Predator4. Garruk, Apex Predator

All told this badboy works out very similarly to Bolas. Instead of stealing guys you kill them and gain life, you still blow up planeswalkers and instead of blowing up lands you make 3/3s so you always have stuff to do. Garruk is a little safer to flop onto the board, comes out sooner and easier and kills a little quicker than Bolas. He isn't quite so immediately swingy nor so rounded at sorting problems but this is way more than offset by his utility and convenience. Planeswalkers with good board control options and high loyalty counts are hard to deal with, much more so than cards like Elesh Norn or Griselbrand. More removal hits dorks than planeswalkers and this is basically why the good big planeswalker sit atop this list generally. Elspeth, Sun's Champion was a strong contender being very close in power to Apex Predator and less narrow being in just one colour. Sun's Champion packs similar punch to most of these top walkers but lacks the versatility in control options to be as reliable a finisher. Part of the planeswalkers being hardier than dorks is a trade off for all of them being far slower to actually finish a game outright rather than obtaining a concession. Sun's Champion kills as quick as Apex Predator even if cast on the same turn but she can't beat anywhere near the number of other cards that Apex Predator can. Creatures can overpower stuff, planeswalkers have to actually beat them.

Entreat the Angels
3. Entreat the Angels

This is one of the best cards at turning a dire situation into one where you are fine and they are dead very soon. Being a miracle means the card needs support, you can hard cast it but it is low value. It is only when you miracle cast this that it is too much for most decks to handle. If you have Divining Top or some other way to set it up such that you can play it at the end of their turn there are very few cards short of a counterspell that will save the situation. Being an X spell it gets better as your mana reserves go up however you can play this as a miracle for any value of X and get a really good deal. Five manas worth of miracle Entreat is usually game over in few turns than all the much pricier cards on this list. It is when you make like seven 4/4 fliers out of nowhere you realize quite how unfair it is. Suddenly they have one out in like a Maelstrom Pulse, Pernicious Deed, Declaration in Stone or Detention Sphere and you have fatal next turn and an armada of blockers they can't squeak any good attacks into. As the miracle support cards are generally highly sought after and fairly few in number the miracles are somewhat kept in check.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn2. Emrakul, the Eons Torn

So when you actually cast Emrakul it is absolutely the best at winning the game as it comes with a free Time Walk. Turns out that scales pretty well with annihilate and a near one shot level of power. The reason we are not atop the list with magics most powerful card is because it is almost never cast. Most of the time Emrakul is in play she has been put there by a Show and Tell, a Sneak Attack, an Oath of Druids and so on. It goes to show quite how powerful Emrakul is, that even when you remove a Time Walk from it you still have one of the best things possible. She is good for a collection of reasons. While she is far from the most robust or hardest to deal with threat she does a pretty good job of disrupting removal. Fifteen is a whole lot of toughness and protection from spells rules out the majority of the cube answers. She has 15 power which itself is usually enough to one shot people. If it doesn't do the trick the annihilator 6 will be brutal disruption, it will stop them doing much of much if they survive and it combines with the flying to be pretty effective evasion. Emrakul makes short work of most people and is pretty hard to stop. This is why even when you don't cast her she still has good odds on winning the game.

Craterhoof Behemoth1. Craterhoof Behemoth

ProgenitusFor now I think Craterhoof is the big name for the I win button. When it comes into play it is almost always the last turn of the game. Spot removal usually isn't enough. You needs Fogs or Counterspells and the former are notcurrently cube mainstays.  Really the way to beat a Craterhoof is controlling the board sufficiently such that they never have more than a couple of dorks alive at once. A preemptive Wrath of God is about as good as you can hope for a non-Fog, non-Counter solution. You do need creature support for the card but this isn't an issue in green. You need only 3 guys in play to represent 21 bonus trample damage from Craterhoof and that isn't so hard to do at all. You can cheat out the Craterhoof or you can just cast it, it is powerful enough to be worth ramping to and isn't that pricey for a green card of such game ending potential.

Craterhoof is also the final nail in the coffin for Progenitus, a card which back in the day would have been one of the top contenders on this list. Mind you, going back far enough and you would find Phantom Nishoba, Akroma and Visara somewhere on the list. Further back in time still and you would have utter dribble but I wasn't cubing when Erhnam Djinn was the best threat in the game. Progenitus real strength was Natural Order, you could easily cheat it into play and short of a Wrath you would be winning two turns later. This was only good if you had some dorks in play to protect from Edict effects and if you are playing Natural Order and dorks you might as well find Craterhoof and win the game regardless of Wraths, right now instead of in two turns time. Craterhoof is also something you can cast affording you more consistency as well! The Eldrazi were the first nail in the coffin for Progenitus being generally easier to get out and offering more utility and power once out. When things change at the top in magic they change quite drastically. Any one, tow or three drop that is near the top of what it does remains in the cube and sees plenty of play even when better cards are printed however the top end just stop seeing play all together.

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