Sunday 30 October 2016

Commander 2016 Review (and conclusiosn) Part Two

Akiri, Line-Slinger 2/10

Very narrow in that you have to be playing an artifact themed aggro Boros deck before this is at all interesting. It would at least be really good in standard right now... For cube if you are going artifacts you are better off looking to affinity. In affinity this has no place, hard to cast and no return synergy are exactly what the archetype doesn't want. You consistently need two artifacts in play for Akiri to be worth it and only with three or more does she start to be impressive on the power front. A card with some potential but clearly one without any top tier homes for now and likely ever.

Parting Thoughts 5/10

Hmm. Poor as removal goes and very unreliable as a card draw effect. It is not so poor as removal that it is unplayable, it does kill without prejudice or restriction at least. Although 80% of the time this is just a slow Murder it will also cantrip about 10% of the time and end the game the other 10% of the time. Murder plus draw a card, even at sorcery and for a life cost is good. Murder plus draw two or more cards should be enough to dominate that game. There is a slight chance that actually you cannot afford the life and so despite drawing like 5 cards you still just die from being too low. This has a very odd progression for scaling. A lot of the swingy cards are useless at their low end which is a big turn off. This is a card with a huge swing potential that also has a passable low end performance. The balance for that is simply that you expect the low range outcome far more than the good and broken ones. Counters are pretty common in the cube and so I feel this merits at the very least some testing. I don't love it because it is so random in when it will wildly warp a game but that doesn't stop it from being a cube worthy card, it just means we won't be friends!

Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist 0/10

I prefer the Thermo variety of Alchemist quite significantly. This is a bit of a Jori En style card as well but rather than give you an option to draw in their turn it gives them that option. With pain lands, sac lands, shock lands, phyrexian mana and all the rest I am pretty sure I could draw about as reliably with Ludevic with it on either side of the table. Certainly it is harder and less rewarding for the person facing Ludevic as they have to damage themselves rather than their opponent for the trigger. This is not that significant, the important thing is that this is not far off a symmetrical effect (not to mention pretty low impact and thus hard to abuse like say a Hokori Dustdrinker) on 1/4 for 3 mana. No thanks.

Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis 0/10

So this one probably isn't better than the Nephilim... A 2/8 is just not exciting at all as a body, sure it is hard to kill but so what, it is very little threat to anything. It gives you the option to draw and ramp while it gives your opponent the option on one or other of those things. This wouldn't be enough if it hurt your opponents rather than helping them in heads up. I appreciate this will make you less of a target in multiplayer games but this is laughable in comparison to the rest of the cycles in stand alone power.

Ravos Soultender 3/10

Quite a lot of card for the mana but rather outclassed by Angel of Invention. This has to live to obtain value and needs to have a board to have an impact. On top of this it is gold. Good but a long way from there.

Ishtai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker 0/10

Hahahahaha. Awkward. Whenever an opponent casts a spell put a +1/+1 counter on Ojutai, Dragonspeaker unless it is a Shock in which case put your four mana pile in the bin. Again, a card that has better functionality in multiplayer and more so with the commander mechanic however you seem to be paying far too much of a price on the cards base power level for these multiplayer scaling effects. I wouldn't be that excited for this if it was a base 4/4. It would probably be good enough for drafting cube at that but only just. Alternatively, I'm not sure this would be that exciting if it cost just UW. I guess it is irrelevant me considering its viability with such alterations as it is what it is and that it utterly unplayable in heads up magic.

Faerie Artisans 5/10

Here we have a very interesting card design. There is an element of the Vedalken Shackles about this card. Any guy they make, you get a disposable copy of. In any sort of grindy midrange scenario that is going to be way to much value and inconvenience to plow through. You can only have one copy at a time so there is play around potential where by you make a big thing then a small thing. You can also just build up over time with low impact things and develop a bigger board but this requires them to draw dead and for you to have the right sort of dorks. So many cube dorks have enter the battlefield effects and playing them into this is just not an option. This card needs removing or you need to be ahead enough already that you can finish them off without playing any more creatures. Both of these are relatively easy to do and so this is not a busted card by any means. I fear I am biased towards this card for its cool interaction potential and great design. I want to play with this more than I should be playing with this! Sometimes it will be a 4 mana 2/2 flier which is really really naff. Sometimes it will basically stop them being able to usefully play any dorks and will be not far off a a hard lock in a nicely playable package. My gut is that it will spend too much time on the lower end of the performance spectrum to be a great cube card but I retain some hope!

Manifold Insight 0/10

Ouch, three mana for the worst cycle ever. I thought Murmurs from Beyond was poor. At least this is totally bonkers in any game with 4 or more players.

Goblin Spymaster 0/10

Great card design and great multiplayer fun machine but way to slow, fiddly and weak to be a cube consideration.

Boompile 1/10

I want to like this, it is so nearly the improved Nevinyyral's Disk. So near yet oh so far. Basically if you want this effect and you are paying four mana for it you want there to be no chance of it doing nothing. 50/50 and another shot next turn does not cut it when you absolutely positively need to kill everything in the room. This is exactly the substitute you should not be accepting.

Thrasius, Triton Hero 3/10

Nice utility and reasonable defensive body but too slow and low impact to be generally good. You might play this in a merfolk deck to give you a bit more late game gas and a bit more early game defense but it is hardly a groundbreaking new tool for the tribe. This will certainly win you any late game topdeck wars but those are few and far between. Man lands usually do that job best. This has to be able to win games as a 2 mana 1/3 which isn't happening.

Armory Automation 1/10

Not enough equipment being played for this to be more than a Grey Ogre most of the time. This isn't even that good against opposing equipment, the best use for this is cheaply tooling up itself with your own stuff. That isn't enough power or utility by a long old way. This is low power, very situational and not even that impressive when at its best.

Grip of Phyresis 0/10

Quite a powerful removal spell for an equipment but I am not even sure you would play a removal spell specifically for equipment in your sideboard, even if you had Wishes for it. There are plenty of times this would be a game changing card however it is completely dead weight in all other situations and as such not a thing we can really look to make use of. Powerful but not suitable. The best way to think of this card is taking the idea to the extreme. Would a card that read "play this only if your opponent activated a man-land this turn. Win the game" for like 2 or 3 mana be playable? The answer is no. Any half sensible player is just not going to activate their man land if they suspect you could have such a thing. It might once win you the game against an unsuspecting player but it should really always be a dead card. Even against the oblivious it is still dead the vast majority of the time. You would have to have little respect for your opponents skill and near zero expectation for your decks ability to win the game before you play a card like that.

Runehorn Hellkite 5/10

A six mana 5/5 flier is below par in the cube but it is still fairly fine as a card. You can play it as a top end thing and it will win a lot of the games that the best threat possible would win. Big flying things are timelessly good. It is a fine second mode to have for anything but it does have to be the secondary reason to play this dragon before it can be considered good. That means you are primarily playing this to have access to an uncounterable six mana instant speed Wheel of Fortune. That is too much mana for an aggressive red deck to have much interested but there are many other places I can imagine such a tool being very useful. A Gr ramp deck with Survival of the Fittest would be all over such a card. A big red deck with artifact ramp may well want it as might some kind of reanimate deck containing lots of discard outlets. There are starting to be enough Wheel effects in the cube that you could reasonably consider some kind of red mill strategy based on them. Having an uncounterable one to finish with would be very nice there too. This is a very interesting card that will probably be used more like Squee than a Shivan Dragon. I do have my reservations, Soul of Shandalaar saw no play and is a better on board threat and body and has a more widely applicable "flashback" effect. The difference between them is that the Soul was primarily the body with the re-use from the bin being the secondary perk while Runehorn is the other way around. Wheel of Fortune is a much more potent effect than Searing Blaze and so jumping through some hoops to get it is less of an issue. Quiet narrow but very interesting and useful.

Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder 2/10

Not close really. A 5/4 trample is not worth four mana, let alone for different colours of it. Giving all your stuff cascade is pretty saucy but it isn't enough to makeup for the casting difficulties and unimpressive body on this dork. He is mildly suited to aggressive decks (such as Zoo) because of his body however he again fails to impress more than Bloodbraid Elf. The Elf does the cascade right away and can attack right away itself. The elf gives two different sources of immediate value. Yidris on curve will do nothing if he is killed right away and still be behind on a Bloodbraid should he get to attack and play stuff for a turn. You need two turns of this guy in play for him to really unload a game winning return and for a dork with 4 health and no other survival utility is simply not enough.

Magus of the Will 5.5/10

While this does look rather spicy on paper I was rather burned by Magus of the Wheel. I thought that Magus of the Wheel would be a great tool for loads of different archetypes. I was very wrong, it has seen little play and been underwhelming. The issue is that either you want to Wheel of Fortune, or in this case, Yawgmoth's Will or you want to make a dork to effect the board. A Trained Armodon is a disappointing play when you want a dork and waiting a turn and spending twice the mana when you want the effect generally rules it out as a useful course of action. Very rare are the occasions that the 3/3 does good work and then converts into value later down the line. You need to hold off loads of damage or deal a chunk, say 6, before these cards could be considered better than the original spell. I think Magus of the Will should outperform Magus of the Wheel but that is mostly down to their being very few cards like Will and quite a lot like Wheel. It is also helped by black having some burst mana effects like Dark Ritual. This will be very strong in a powered cube just because Yawgmoth's Will is so busted however in an unpowered cube I suspect this will be cut.

Ikra Sidiqui, the Usurper 3/10

A five mana 3/7 menace isn't good at all. It is a slow threat and not a very threatening threat at that. The lifegain is quirky and can mean than Ikra is providing a 10 point life swing a turn on her own. As it is only player damage it is quite a lot worse than lifelink and can be mitigated more easily. Ikra is quite hard to race and quite hard to kill but she doesn't really do all that much except ruin aggressive red decks. Too much of the weighting of this card is locked in the life gain and you don't want to play cards specifically for their ability to gain life. Play a good card like a Thragtusk that has some nice incidental life to offer, quicker and more reliably than this dork I should add as well.

Orzhov Advocist 2/10

Another very quirky card that is quite interesting. While failing the test of being a somewhat symmetrical card on a three mana 1/4 body there are some easy ways to break that synergy. Either they have no dorks and you have quite the mean threat or they do have dorks but need to be able to attack to not be losing that game. If you have things like planeswalkers forcing their hand about how to play then this will be of little help to them. If they can just sit there with some dorks in play this is a pretty bad card. You grow your 1/4 a but while they grow their Vampire Nighthawk or whatever and utterly crush you. A 1/4 for 3 that just got +2/+2 each turn wouldn't be totally broken in cube either, just a good solid lump of dork. It might be considered the white Tarmogoyf but it would be far less impressive a tempo play and far worse off the top than the posterboy vanilla dork. Slith style mechanics are generally a little slow for cube and even a great one like this is rather marred when stuck on a 3 drop. The fact that this can backfire at all is too much for me to be interested in it, the upsides are not high enough to offset even just a 1 in 20 chance of this doing more harm than good.

Curse of Vengeance 0/10

Wow, actually less use than a One with Nothing for heads up play.

Treacherous Terrain 0/10

This is just a highly restrictive Fireball. It can only be for X = 7, it is gold, it is only face and it probably does less than 7 most of the time you play it. I am not sure basic land cycling on Fireball (or Blaze) would make it better than Devil's Play. While that doesn't matter much here it does show me than this isn't even made playable with it.

Curtain Call 4/10

Hmm, this is actually relatively good even with just one opponent. For a mere five mana you can kill any two creatures, big ones, small ones, black ones, artifact ones and so on. Being instant gives this a lot more game although always needing two targets will be a problem now and again. As this is so expensive it is rather the control card and as such you will often find just a single threat facing you. While a five mana removal spell is something that could be stomached for this kind of tempo, interaction and card advantage the few times it will not help as you die to a Colonnade probably rule this out for being playable. That and Wretched Confluence.

Duelist's Heritage 5/10

Quite a dull card but seemingly fairly effective. This is another Silverblade Paladin alike. The thing with Silverblade is that it is somewhat of a Grey Ogre, it is vulnerable to most removal and not something you want to put in harms way. That means even when he has doublestrike himself you often always attack with him as he might die and you will lose your buffs. On the offence Duelist's Heritage is a safer, more fliexible and more reliable Silverblade Paladin. The drawbacks are when it is on its own or on defense. Obviously the Heritage is a do nothing on its own, it makes playing vehicles, Glorious Anthems and equipment all worse while Silverblade has none of those negative synergies. Typically you don't want to be blocking when you are making cards like this but it is still a relevant part of what makes Silverblade good. You get to attack with a serious thing and still have a doublestrike dork back to block thus giving you a massive head start in any race. This is the better card when you are ahead and when things are going well but it is not quite as rounded as the competition and as such I am not overly fussed for adding it to the cube. It is a strong card that fits well in some archetypes but it is surplus to requirement. I do like that you can be tricky and give their things doublestrike when then attack you, not often that will be helpful but there are reasons to do such a thing.

Benefactor's Draught 7/10

This is a very interesting little card made ever so playable by those lovely three words "draw a card".
There are quite a lot of applications for this thing. You can use it as a way to get that extra bit of ramp in a green elf and/or Cradle style of deck. You can use it as a way to apply pressure in an even or behind capacity without giving away card advantage. You can use it as a way to surprise crush someone who thought they were racing you and instead run into a wall of blockers. Lastly you can go all combo with this much like a Dramatic Reversal and stick it on an Isochron Scepter. While you need mana dorks rather than mana rocks to gain your infinite mana this one also draws your deck for you which should be a good thing even if it does ultimately prevent you getting actual infinite mana. This is a lot of potential effect, dangerously so, and a lot of options on a card that is cheap and playable. It is very little risk to play and has perfectly acceptable low end performance being at worst a cycling card. I think it will be quite hard to actually fit this into decks but I just can't see this ever being a bad card, often a game ending one. Just randomly drawing 3 cards by running some elves into walls is huge for 2 mana. This basically can't not be good!

Frenzied Fugue 4/10

A sorcery Word of Seizing with a perpetual rebound instead of the split second. I guess just a Threaten that hits any target with the ongoing rebound is a better description but whatever, we can all read. Threaten effects are a bit too situational for the cube. The ongoing nature of this one generally just makes it more so given the extra cost. The main thing that is interesting about this card is the ability to steal planeswalkers. A well timed theft of a planeswalker is game over. This is a little too awkward and a little too midrange I think to stand out in cube but it is interesting, unique and potentially very powerful. Something like a small meta shift or new archetype in red could be enough for this to shine in cube.

Evolutionary Escalation 2/10

Quite powerful if they don't have creatures but that is not a thing to be relied on. I cannot think of a good reason to put counters on their guys such that you could abuse it, certainly not one that would stand up in cube. You would need an extreme degree of +1/+1 counter synergy as well as dorks that just scale well with it in your deck before you could consider this. Powerful but overly risky and situational.

Ash Barrens 6/10

I am rather drawn to this but I fear it is rather on the subtle side of things. This is very strong for its ability to be a near free inclusion of a shuffle effect, a land thinner, a fixer and a graveyard filler. When you can't skip a beat on tempo this is a fine enough land that comes into play ready for use. When you have some time or spare mana it can be used to generally improve your situaion. The price you pay for this is that sometimes you can't skip a beat on tempo and a colourless mana isn't what you need and you lose. You either need to think of Ash Barrens as a colourless land or a dual land that comes into play tapped (on a turn of your chosing at least). It can be either but it can't be both and as such it is unlike any other land for how you work it into a mana base. For cheaper things and high colour intensity things it is worse as it is more often forced into being slower. If you only have the consistency to play one colourless land in your mana base you are either playing the minor Barrens or something with more impact like a Wastelands or Mutavault. There will be occasions where 1.5 colourless lands is fine and those are the windows where Ash Barrens will really shine. In 40 card decks it will also be a little tight on targets towards the late game in a lot of decks. While not in the same league as Gitaxian Probe the Barrens does fit in a similar group of low impact cards that are near free to play and offer a lot of support to other things. I am hopeful that this will be commonly played like the Probe and add a lot of consistency and options to peoples game and mana bases however I do fear it will just get left out a bunch in favour of other more straight forward and direct lands.

Ancient Excavation 4/10

Too powerfuland useful an effect to not see some play but too narrow and situational to be worth playing in a drafting cube I feel. Four is a lot to pay for a potentially massive Careful Study even at instant speed. Obviously the land cycling goes a long way to helping this be a rounded card that you can play in most discard or graveyard themed decks but you still very much need to have a deck that wants a big mid to late game dump like this and those are likely few and far between. I cannot see this being some thnig you want over Careful Study or Thoughtscour for that matter. Support cards want to be cheap and convenient rather than big and powerful.

Migratory Route 2/10

Being sorcery this is not a good control card and it is a bit too fair in terms of power for most midrange decks. This is really only a synergy card and white blue tokens isn't the best way to go for this kind of thing. Five is generally too much to pay for most things in the sort of archetype you would want this in. When you do pack a five drop you want it to be of game breaking power rather than a nice fair good fit kind of card for the deck. Until you have a Glorious Anthem in play this isn't worth it and that makes it too narrow even with the delightful land cycling. This is a proactive card rather than a control one and so land cycling is hurting your tempo and something you would rather avoid.

Entrapment Maneuver 1/10

Potentially game ending power but you cannot expect to be only attacked by big dorks. Often you will be being beaten up by 1/1s and 2/1s and as such this is pretty awful. Not to mention the times you will not be being beaten up and wish your removal spell would do anything at all. When you hit something with a decent toughness and either use the tokens to clear up their attack or just hit them back some and kill them then sure, great card but I fear this is less than 15% of the time you can even cast this. Four mana removal is dodgy to begin with, make it situation and unreliable and you have to do a lot more than make some 1/1s to recover it. Just play Martial Coup or some generic Terror effect. They may not be quite so exotic but they will let you play magic. Removal is there to stop you dying, threats are there to win the game. Combining your removal with threats is nice but not worth it when it starts to fail at being useful removal or worse still, either.

Drafing Cube Mainstays

Vial Smasher the Fierce
Benefactor's Draught
Ash Barrren's

Stuff to Test

Grave Upheaval
Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder
Ryhan, Last of the Abzan
Tymna, the Weaver
Breya, Etherium Shaper
Saskia the Unyielding
Parting Thoughts
Fearie Artisans
Runehorn Hellkite
Magus of the Will
Frenzied Fugue

Exotic Stuff for the Reserves

Sylvan Reclamation
Prismatic Geoscope
Atraxa, Preator's Voice
Deepglow Skate
Thrasius, Triton Hero
Ancient Excavation
Crystaline Crawler

A lot of close stuff from this set but not all that much of extreme power. Much of the sets power is tied up in the gold stuff that is generally too hard to work into most draft things. While there is little in the way of cheap things that make new stuff possible there is a load of interesting card design that although I expect to only seen infrequently, will be a lot of fun to play with. Plenty to build around, plenty to put into fun archetypes to do cool and crazy things. Given it is just 56 new cards and many of them have multiplayer mechanics that severely weaken them for heads up play this is still an impressive showing of interesting cube stuff. The good stuff from previous commander sets has been rather oppressive, things like True-Name Nemesis and Baleful Strix are not wildly fun cards in a 1 on 1 yet they are very very powerful. I would much rather have fun cards as we have in commander 2016 than tedious power cards. High power level makes it much easier to know if I am adding it to the cube or not but it doesn't always make the cube better in the sense of more fun.

Saturday 29 October 2016

Commander 2016 Review Part One (The Fall of the Nephilim)

Sublime Exhalation (and all other undaunted cards) 0/10

Undaunted is a mechanic that scales the wrong way for heads up cube play. I will never be involved in any format where this isn't just a six mana Wrath. It is a bit of a shame that no undaunted will ever grace the cube as it is a cool mechanic design wise.

Grave Upheaval 5.5/10

Expensive but very powerful. This is somewhat of a best of both worlds card for Resurrect and Shallow Grave but it does cost what playing both of those cards would cost in total mana spent. While this is a highly convenient recursion spell that can kill out of nowhere, is able to target any graveyard and has no extra costs or restrictions it is still very limited by being 6 mana. You can just cast a lot of bombs when you reach six. Haste on a Grave Titan is a pretty big deal but you are essentially paying a card to do that or at least making your stuff more situational and in need of supporting. The reason I haven't just disregarded this as a super pricey, narrow gold card is that it has basic land cycling making it relevant early in the game. Being able to reliably fix with a card that can also double up as your win condition is pretty handy. Twisted Abomination has had some time in the cube (all be it a long while ago) for all the reasons that this card is decent. Grave Upheaval is pretty much better all round in terms of power and utility. I don't think I want this in my cube but I am sure it would be plenty good enough for most cubes, mine included.

Sylvan Reclamation 4/10

Much like Grave Upheaval this is a pricey gold card that has a powerful yet narrow effect which is hugely offset by basic land cycling convenience. Rather than threat plus fixing this is answers plus fixing. I think this is the sort of thing that will end up as a sideboard tool more often than it will be something you play main deck. When you hit two good things with this you have probably won (goodbye Shackles and Wurmcoil!) but not many decks will have two targets in play at once, let alone good ones. I can't see this being worth a maindeck slot if you are only getting one thing with it most of the time. For green white the value of fixing is much lower than it is for most other colour pairings. Overall this makes this card simply surplus to requirement. It is like a 20 mana card that does 30 damage, it would be far more useful it it were less mana for less damage! Say, 10 for 20... Revoke Existence and Deglamour still seem the way to go for artifact removal that skips the graveyard.

Prismatic Geoscope 4/10

This would be a total bomb if it were not for the fact it comes into play tapped. The real power of Gilded Lotus is that it is generally only a 2 mana investment on the turn you play it. This is almost always costing you five and thus takes ages longer to give a good yield on that investment. While this can theoretically tap for five that is a bit of a pipe dream. Decks that play loads of artifact mana typically have a very light colour contingent and rarely go more than two colours. Those that do rarely have the basic land types of those colours in play. The ability to mix up the colours of mana is nice and does make this a good card to simultaneously fix and ramp. Likely one of the better tools to help you cast Ultimatum's and Nicol Bolas! Powerful but far too many restrictions to make it broadly playable.

Sidar, Kondo of Jamuraa 2/10

Hard to block, hard to kill and a lot of potential reach for weenie decks. While there are plenty of situations this guy would be game winning I don't think he has enough power to stand alone. If I want reach and power I can play Sublime Archangel or Elsepth and have a card that does a lot of work all on its own for the same mana. This lacks any real bite of its own which on a four drop makes it limp.

Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder 6.5

This dude has Titan style effects bolted onto a Hill Giant. Probably best considered as a Titan themed rework of Silverblade Paladin. Provided you have some board when this hits play you will get a huge swing out of it, much more so than with Sublime Archangel or Silverblade Paladin. The addition of lifelink just makes it very low risk (as they cannot hope to race you). While Bruse is a lot weaker on defense than Silverblade Paladin and it's soulmate the lifelink again offsets this. Bruse is a must kill creature that has an effect right away. He is massive on the tempo side of things and although not offering card advantage he is still a card you can expect to get value from most of the time. He is limited mostly by his colour pairing but unlike cards like Nahiri and Ajani he is far better suited to the aggressive framework that is Boros. Lots of power and a well placed card that is only really let down by the narrow range of Boros archetypes. I very well may end up cutting this despite it clearly being better than most mono coloured four drops simply because it won't be something you can play quite as often.

Kraum, Ludevic's Opus 3.5/10

Basically this is a Stormbreath Dragon and all told I prefer protection from white to this thing's effect. Stormbreath isn't even that good or that often played in cube being so massively overshadowed by Thundermaw. This hits quite hard but it is only really on a par with the cube expectation. For a gold card to shine it really needs to be above par. The effect this has is slow to come into effect and your opponent has control over it making it unlikely to do much at all.

Atraxa, Preator's Voice 5/10 (7/10 power and 3/10 playability)

The first of our new Nephilim upgrades. This is an awfully long way above what I require of a four drop in cube. It is nutty good but balancing that power off against its playability based on colour requirement is really hard. I am still not great at knowing which three colour cards are cube worthy. All I know is that very very few of the three colour cards make the cut. They have to be well above the curve in power, they have to be in good, commonly played colour combinations and they have to be so well suited to the archetypes that can play them that it is basically an auto include. Now, there are no four colour archetypes in cube. Occasionally people end up four or more colours but they are always crazy extensions on two or three colour archetypes typically splashing for the odd specific thing.

So, the question is something like"Would you splash blue into your Abzan deck for this? Would you splash black into your Bant deck for Atraxa? How about white in your Sultai deck? And lastly would you splash green into your Esper deck for her? For the first two the answer is quite possibly yes. As for Epser I am a lot less convinced but two out of three potential homes is not a bad start. Sultai decks are done and are generally pretty good but they are themselves typically a two colour archetype in which extend upon with the third colour. As such I don't really see white being the thing, you will likely end up as an Abzan deck archetype witout any disceranble Sultai core. Regardless of what arcehtype they look like, the decks with a base of green can very realistically look to play this. They are midrange archetypes that rely on super high card power levels which Atraxa suits very well.

So what does Atraxa bring to your deck? Breaking it down it is two things, she is a source of ongoing value from the proliferate that has some nice interactions and synergies but requires paying a lot of attention to how you build your deck to get much return from. The more stuff you have with counters on them the better she becomes. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, Verdurous Gearhulk, Umezawa's Jitte, Experiment One, Scaving Ooze and any planeswalker are all examples of good rounded cards you can pair with Atraxa to up her worth. With the right stuff in play you can get enough value right away to be worth four mana but it is pretty situational. Even with a deck focused around it the odds are that you will just give a dork +1/+1 each turn and as such you are not getting near enough value from the proliferate to make Atraxa that much more impressive than Baneslayer Angel or Gisela the Broken Blade.

The second part of Artaxa is her body and keyword abilities that make her very comparable to the previously mentioned mythic white angels. Four mana is always a good deal for her body even when nothing proliferates. She is like a Batterskull in that she is near impossible to race but with the addition of flying she is also a fairly solid threat that should end the game if not dealt with. Deathtouch is the least useful ability, she already kills most stuff in combat and the stuff she wouldn't without deathtouch will generally kill her. If you are playing a card like this you probably don't want to be trading her even if it is for a big flier. The deathtouch is obviously a bonus on the card but it is just worth a lot less on Atraxa than it is on most other cube cards. Clearly something like a Vampire Nighthawk gains way more from it than Atraxa but perhaps more surprisingly it is also worth more on a Wurmcoil Engine than Atraxa too. First strike would have been far more use as it would allow for much safer attacks and blocks with your high value four drop. As she stands you are quite vulnerable to trading her off for low value low impact cards. Trading with a Shock and a 2/1 might be a two for one but it is far from a good trade with a card like this. If Gisela has the same four toughness as Atraxa (and was therefore that much more resiliant to burn) I think Gisela would be a better body. That means you are pretty much paying three extra colours of mana for the proliferate effect.

While Atraxa may be very well rounded because of her high value body she is not that much better than the alternatives given her difficulty in casting. I might quite want her in my three colour midrange deck but am I splashing a fourth colour when I could just throw in some other good flier? Probably not often enough to be worth a drafting cube slot. I don't think that answer changes until you have such good support for the proliferate mechanic that rather than averaging out at a +1/+1 counter a turn it is averaging over a cards worth of value. Say three +1/+1 counters or two loyalty to plainswalkers. I will play with this and build around it as I am a total sucker for proliferate. It will be a total house in those decks but they will not be the sort of thing you can expect to get in a draft. For a drafting cube Atraxa feels far too fair in her always good portion and far too narrow in her value portion to be seeing enough play as a four colour card. I think she might even struggle as a 3 colour card in that setting. Ultimately while you may occasionally splash and include her she is not the reason you are splashing. Perhaps you just have suitable lands to afford a painless splash, or more likely your deck is missing some things and you are covering those gaps as best you can with another colour which enables you to also play Atraxa.

Silas Renn, Seeker Adept 1/10

Good luck connecting with this one buddy. You might force a decent trade if you have a scary thing in the bin but then why are you not playing a removal spell? Being an artifact himself is a good bonus making him potentially more playable in some synergy based deck but I still highly doubt it. Even if you could case the card for free this still wouldn't be much more than a Grey Ogre on the board.

Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix 2.5/10

This is like Karametra's Acolyte, a limp four drop that can produce massive amounts of mana. It is infact worse in almost all ways, 1/4 is better than a 2/3 for a utility body you want to tap and use rather than get involved in combat. Being just green and tapping for green also make Karametra's Acolyte more useful and playable. Most of the decks that want loads of mana will naturally obtain a high devotion to green, with Kydele you have to do work each turn in order to have her tap for a significant amount and none of that is retained for her next tap. I guess if you draw seven cards and make that much mana additionally then you should probably be winning there and then but equally you can pair card draw with the Acolyte and be in the same winning position. The only hope I can think for Kydele is in some storm deck which doesn't have any real sources of devotion but that does have a whole bunch of card draw and perhaps even some good ways to untap her too. Kydele into Time Spiral seems like good games. Again though there are some things in the way of this in the form of Oracle of Mul Daya. Oracle also ramps you but does so with lands which are typically what you are abusing to generate massive amounts of mana. Oracle is a much better stand alone card as she also gives ongoing value herself.

Vial Smasher the Fierce 7.5/10

Here we have one of those multiplayer cards where the mechanism scaling is in favour of reduced players and as such we have a bit of a bomb. There are a lot parallels to be drawn with this and Jori En, Ruin Diver. Both cost the same, both are the exact same shape and size and both trigger a value effect when you play your Nth card each turn. Jori En is the 2nd card while Smasher is the 1st. Jori En is card draw and Smasher is face damage. These latter facts make them very different in how you want to use them. Smasher is pretty much a pure aggressive card in many ways not unlike Sulphuric Vortex. Leave it in play and it will kill you very fast regardless of your ability to block. In some ways the trigger on the 1st spell each turn is a drawback as it gives them a window in your turn to kill it before you can get any triggers from it at all. I guess you could Aether Vial it in but that isn't a good synergy pairing...

So basically, you make this and they kill it right away with an instant and all is well with the world. Perhaps they kill it with a sorcery giving you a chance to get in some free damage as well as a reasonable chance of retaining the tempo lead. Or perhaps they can't kill it at all in which case you should have them dead in very short order. I expect this will goldfish kill far far quicker than Goblin Rabblemaster which itself is one of the most dangerous and ruinous cheap threats to leave unchecked. In actual play Vial Smasher will piss all over Rabblemaster for impact with blockers being so irrelevant.

This last part is something I wouldn't be shocked to learn I have had a rules fart over. As I understand it you can Fireblast someone with the pitch cost and do them 6 with Smasher, Stoke the Flames will be 4 extra to the dome regardless of the convoke and Treasure Cruise will be a nice fair 8 to the face. If these kinds of cost reduction synergies do work as I think on Smasher then he is filthy good in cube. Build around him well and you can probably (effectively or actually) win most games with your first trigger.

Primeval Protector 1/10

Perhaps you might want this in some kind of Tooth and Nail nonsense, fairly confidant I don't ever want it though! Much as I love a cost reduction this one is unreliable and unlikely to be very significant most of the time. Untill this is down to around the 5 mana range it is just another one of those cards that sits in your hand while you die to one and two mana cards. A global pump and a 10/10 is nice enough, it should significantly shift the tempo but it isn't nearly as game ending as you need it to be for such a costly and situational card. It isn't really a finisher as it has no evasion so it is just value. Poor.

Charging Cinderhorn 2/10

Four power haste dorks for four are at least interesting. The low toughness on this one is a bit of an issue though. It is easy to kill both in combat and with removal. While I like that you can be getting value out of the card in stalemated boards it is rather slow and symmetrical on that front. It needs to be cheaper or more resiliant as a four drop for the stalemate breaking capacity of the card to be that exciting. Cute but give me a cheaper ongoing damage source (Ankh / Vortex etc) or a terrifying meaty four drop haste dork instead.

Reyhan, Last of the Abzan 5.5/10

All the convoluted names of all the many legendary cards in this set make it feel like Kamigawa block again. This set will have me wasting a lot of time in the future looking up the names of cards. They also all seem to have this weird near rhyming quality that makes you want to sing them or at least say them wrong.

Naming aside we have this Trained Armodon that gives all your dorks modular. On its own it is quite a lot weaker than undying or persist as you are still vulnerable to mass removal however in an interactive midrange game this dork is a total nightmare. He is a bit of pain for spot removal as well as he ideally wants killing last. Awkwardly however should you have multiple dorks with +1/+1 counters on them you cannot use spot removal to clear Reyhan without conceding some value. There are an awful lot of cards that scale very well with Reyhan in these colours. The best of which is likely Carrion Feeder which somewhat becomes an Arcbound Ravager. Even with all the creature tutor and recursion in Golgari I would be reluctant to do too much of a build around deck for Reyhan as a single exile effect ends all your fun and synergy. While you likely will have other +1/+1 counter synergies there are no other ways to make your dorks modular and so that aspect of your design will instantly fold. Again, Carrior Feeder and similar effects can help protect against exile but then you are going to quite a lot of effect for what should be a somewhat free to include bonus. For a generic drafting cube I am pretty sure a simple Dreg Mangler is all round the better card than Reyhan however the potential for Reyhan is obviously a lot higher. Although he is at his best when built around Reyhan is not exactly a bad card when he only works with himself.

Tana, the Bloodsower 0/10

Really? This? Reminds me of Fungusaur, a card that was unplayably bad back when all creatures were terrible. Not quite sure how you are planning to get value from this when you made a 2/2 for 4 mana... You could substantially improve on what you have here and still be a long long way from something you would play in cube.

Tymna, the Weaver 5/10

At least this reminds me of a much more viable card than Fungusaur. This little Grey Ogre feels like another Edric. While Edric is generally better there are a few things going for Tymna over Edric. In cube Tymna is at best one card draw per turn and will cost you a life for the privilege. Edrics cards are free and can be as many as you have guys. The reality is that Edric is very few cards on average. Simic has poor removal and is not that great in its capacity to attack well with cheap dorks. Blue has some evasion but on poor tempo cards and green only has it on massive game ending cards. Black and white however have loads of removal and loads of good weenie dorks that attack well early in the game. One card reliably a turn is a whole load better than a Grey Orge with low odds on return. Lifelink on a 2/2 you don't want to die isn't great but it probably does enough to offset the life cost on the draw. Far from a bomb but a nice rounded little card for the right deck. The ability to drop her on turn three and draw a card right away combined with her ongoing threat of more value and the bonus body result in a fine enough card. I would say this is better than Edric but that is entirely based on her colours. I also think Edric is pretty overrrated in cube. Fine but a little narrow. Both are very low powered when at the low end of their performance spectrum and that is their main problem.

Crytalline Crawler 3/10

This is somewhere between a Solarian and a Pentad Prism. You can have a four mana 5/5 that can offer burst mana, do some fixing, slowly grow or just beat someone's face in. While this does a lot of stuff for not much mana it also seems a bit out of place. I am not sure where you would play this. In an aggressive deck with access to four colours a 5/5 is pretty unexciting for four mana. The fixing might be the best thing there and you shouldn't be fixing with 4 drops... Affinity could be built in such a way to make this interesting but it would be a fairly midrange style of affinity that used more Talisman than normal. While this might fit in such a list it is far from a reason to go towards a midrange direction when you have the most explosive aggressive deck in all of magic as an option.

Breya, the Etherium Shaper 5.5/10? (power 9/10, playability 2/10)

Speaking of reasons to take affinity in a midrange direction we have this immense pile of card. I think this is the most card I have ever seen crammed into a thing before. It makes Seige Rhino look limp in comparison, it makes Seige Gang look pretty limp... It makes a lot of the Titans seem pricey! Four mana for 6/6 worth of stats spread over three bodies. As a starting place that already makes most of the value bodies and one man army cards look pretty weak. Then we give the tokens flying, why not. That only makes them like two or three times as valuable. Breya is like a 2/2 and a mana better than the par for cube worthy one man army cards.

So, lets take the best one man army card in the game and give it built in Umezwa's Jitte utility. In a lot of artifact decks being able to sacrifice them is an advantage. The return you get with Breya for sacrificing artifacts is significantly more powerful than the others commonly used. Ravager is great because it is free and has self synergy and Thopter Foundry gives a fairly good return however both of those are weak cards on their own. Breya is a beast of a card and a top rate sac outlet. If you have four disposable artifacts and you get to untap with Breya you probably win. Although not exactly disposable ones she does provide three all in one go herself (instant metalcraft!). That means you only need one extra to be able to deal 12 face damage with Breya on the turn of her first attack.

Breya has great reach, she in a fantastic defensive card and great board control. She offers a good amount of synergy and is the power level I think you need from a four colour card for it to be cube worthy. Basically, you can't really cast Breya and fail to get loads of value from her. There are no decks in which you could cast her in which she would not be really good. Even in some sort of random combo deck that she helps in no way she is exactly the kind of card that either wins you the game when your combo fails or acts as a double Time Walk while you get your combo in line. Four is something most aggressive decks are happy to go to and so Breya is basically playable anywhere you can exepct to have those colours of mana relatively reliably.

So, power level we are off the charts but are we close on playabilty? Where might you be able to house this? It is not unreasonable that Breya seems so much more rounded and powerful than the others given she is non-green and thus that much harder to fix for. I am not sure Grixis Delver style decks would want to splash white for this as they rely a bit more on cheaper things. Jeskai shells are probably more likely to consider a blacks splash. Four colour control has been an archetype (of sorts) ever since my cube has been around. It is what you do in things like sealed deck where you have good mana but not enough playables. You just build a blue X control deck but instead of X being white or black or red it is all of them! It is the Vindicate Fire/Ice deck basically, the kind of stupid shell you build when you are doing a Battle of Wits deck... So between four colour control and tempo/midrange Jeskai decks with a black splash there are some possible homes for this card.

On the more aggressive side you have five colour Zoo which is a pretty good deck but incredibly hard to actually get in any cube format. The lands are so contested you need a meta of mono or at least no green X players to have a chance of getting it. In a good Zoo list (ie one with a perfect mana base!) you could expect to cast Breya consistently on  turn three and she would be good but she still wouldn't be as exciting as a Bloodbraid or Thundermaw simply because they do that much more right away. Haste is a pretty big deal for the top end of cube Zoo lists. Affinity is the other possibility for this. It has access to the colours but would need to focus much more on fixing than usual to be able to cast this reliably enough. It is also rather top end for affinity. Certainly exactly what the deck wants but perhaps too awkward and late in the plan to exactly what the archetype wants. Aether Vial is a good card to use with this and would increase the potential for it in affinity which is already pretty reasonable. Clearly the best of the new Nephilim for power but awkward beyond just her colour requirements in terms of playability. This will get some play and it will do well when it does but it will be far from often. I am sure there are some drafting cubes where this would be worthy of a slot but I not convinced mine is one of those even with all the fixing I pack.

Saskia, the Unyeilding 5/10? (power 9/10, playability 1/10)

This is a little easier to do than Breya as she is much more direct. Basically this is a top rate pure aggressive card with one potential home. Saskia is like a Hellrider gone utterly nuts. It is probably a better comparison to Craterhoof Behemoth. Being what it is however there is only one place you can play this card and that is in a Zoo deck. I actually prefer a blue splash to a black one in Zoo (which I think is optimal when base Naya) but the raw power of this might merit a black splash alone. While Saskia doesn't improve the combat potency of your dorks it means any that connect are doing double damage. Just on her own she hits for 6 and is still a 3/4 blocker if they feel they can race her somehow. If you curve into her at all well with a Zoo deck she will always represent lethal without a fair amount of blocking going on. Saskia is not rounded in the same way that Breya is. Breya is good in most decks and in most situations while Saskia is only really good in Zoo. Saskia just wants to attack and do so with other hard hitting dorks. She is exactly what a Zoo deck wants at the top of its curve and is incredibly powerful in that capacity. I still suspect it will be too infrequent that you can actually sensibly play her that Saskia will also not remain in the drafting cube. My usual criteria for midrange CMC cards in the cube that only have one archetypal home is that they are mainstays. While you would always play Saskia in Zoo if you could I don't think you will be able to enough of the time for her to qualify on those grounds.

There was a short period of time where my failings at reading combined with my foreign language Boros Charm where we thought it gave all your guys doublestrike rather than just the one. It seemed too powerful so we rechecked pretty quick. It was too powerful like that, it made the Zoo deck utterly bonkers. While a silly mistake it has prepared me fairly well to evaluate Saskia. The 3/4 vigilance haste you get with your doubling up the power of your teams attacks is well worth that two extra mana, not to mention the fact you can do it again should the first swing somehow not have been for enough. I reckon this card will have one of the highest win to resolved ratios in the cube. I reckon it will outperform Emrakul, the Promised End on that front too but a lot of that is down to the kind of decks you can house those cards in. It seems reasonable too, Emrakul is somewhat easier to cast for a lot of decks than Saskia... Much like Emrakul both cards can be incredibly undercost for their effect however just like Emrakul you should not really be considering their low CMC as much as the various hoops you have to jump through first to be able to actually play it. Both cards pretty much read "dead weight or win the game". Saskia may win the game more but it is actually far harder to sensibly play and whole pile more narrow.

Cruel Entertainment 0/10

Very cool for multiplayer I guess, no use elsewhere. I guess this is a cheaper way to kill someone with a Necropotence than Mindslaver or Emrakul.

Selfless Squire 6/10

This is either a do nothing that sits in your hand clogging up space or it is a Time Walk on the back of like a 10/10. In cube you can get hit really rather hard in quite short order. Much as I hate situational cards this one does offer one of the biggest swings you could ask for. Selfless Squire wrecks attacks that include first strike and normal strike creatures as you can probably get a good block out of him as well. Making a 6/6 and killing something is probably better than making an 8/8. There will be occasions you have to make this as a 3/3 but in those situations a flash Hill Giant with gain two life is likely better than most of your other cards. For working out safe attacks this card is a pain, if you are facing four untapped mana Cryptic Command, Wing Shards, Restoration Angel, Venser and now this all need to be considered. They can all be ruinous and they are all pretty different in how you play around them. Again, I really don't love this card but I fear it may well out perform Wrath of God in a lot of ways. A potent tool for midrange, control and flash decks to keep an handle on aggressive decks, alpha strikes, surprise attacks and heavy hitters.

Deepglow Skate 3/10

Here we have a one hit Doubling Season for your counters that rides on the back of a 3/3 fish. Doubling Season is a great fun card but it is not a cube playable thing. You cannot hope to tap out for a five mana enchantment that has no effect until you do something else and live to do that something else enough to make good on your plan. This is a bit different as it lets you do the doubling after making your plays which makes it a card you can't always play effectively but that has a significant impact on the turn that you do. Not only do you get to double up on what you have you get a body as well. The body is pretty dull but it means you only have to get 2 or 3 mana worth of value from the effect and it turns out that doubling the loyalty on any planeswalker worth their salt is easily worth that. Going through various four mana walkers you can play and plus on the previous turn I found that most could either ultimate there and then or be in a position to ultimate the following turn with a massive buffer of loyalty. Some are obviously better than others but being able to do a turn five or six ultimate without having to harm your own plays or needing any ramp is rather game breaking. There are plenty of other cards that get you value with Deepglow Skate but it is mostly just the planeswalkers it would be worth playing the card for. I fear the issue with this one is that it is just win more. If you can make most planeswalkers and plus one them without then losing any loyalty on them then you are already winning. Having a card that is worse than a Hill Giant when you are not winning or not in position for it will cost you way more games than it will be needed to win them. I want to have fun doubling up my things but I am sure it isn't the optimum way to build any cube deck. The biggest merit I see from this is the surprise factor. People are rarely worried about the ultimate on a walker the turn after you make it and as such will not even really consider it. Much as this is a trap as far as a cube card goes I will absolutely be revisiting my proliferate theme deck for the big fishy.

Stonehoof Cheiftain 3/10

This is really rather the house. It is a bugger to deal with and makes combat easy mode. This is like the best anti green card ever! White will exile it or return ti to your deck, blue will counter or bounce it, black will make you sacrifice it, perhaps give it -8/-8 or even just get it in the bin before you cast it. Red will have to go through it but then it could be a 2/8 wall against that kind of red and be comparably useful. Being anti green isn't great in cube when on the back of a green card. If you have a selection of things like Sylvan Safekeeper, Spellskite or Blossoming Defense then this gets a lot better. Hexproof and indestructible make for a near impossible to deal with card. For just the indestructible this is too much of a risk to play. You lose so much tempo to the wrong answers by playing it. Compared to the other top end green cards this has very little immediate impact (if you need attackers to be indestructible then you are not ahead nor getting that much farther ahead off that one attack). While this should win a lot of games in some turns after playing it a Craterhoof usually wins it that turn for the same mana. It doesn't matter that this seems like a more powerful ongoing card than Craterhoof if there is no ongoing to compare it to!

Conqueror's Flair 0/10

Cute in Zoo but Zoo doesn't want this at all. A situational generic stats boost isn't great and a situational hoser effect doesn't change that much to help the card. Even if you do curve in some lovely way with a Wooly Thoctar / Sprouting Thrynax / Mantis Rider into a Flail you are just giving your dork +3/+3. It is a lot less tempo or threat than other equipment in that range and significantly less than just another dork. Play a threat or play something that reliably solves the problem you are faced with, don't play this.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Pyromancer's Goggles.dec

Cathartic ReunionSo they print Cathartic Reunion and apparently that is enough for me to want to build a Pyromancer's Goggle's deck! Goggles is an incredibly powerful card but it is far to hard to build around to be a good cube card. None the less, when you get an opportunity to build around a powerful card like this you can make some surprisingly unusual yet viable decks. This list certainly has weaknesses but you could adapt it to cover those to some degree (in some cases at least). Essentially this is a Fork themed deck that uses a selection of the most powerful cards you can Fork and the best tools to do it with. Goggle's is the most powerful of these effects but you need some more than just it to be able to justify all the synergy cards. Here I the list I recently built and played;

Pyromancer's Goggles

24 Spells

Lightning Bolt
Magmatic Insight
Burst Lightning
Galvanic Blast
Spark of Creativity
Pillar of Flame

Izzet Signet
Talisman of Dominance
Talisman of Malice (Indulgence?)
Cathartic Reunion

Prophetic BoltTormented Voice
Fire / Ice
Kolghan's Command
Dualcaster Mage
Wheel of Fortune

Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Chandra, the Firebrand
Daretti, Scrap Savant
Fiery Confluence

Pyromancer's Goggles
Prophetic Bolt

Dualcaster MageDevil's Play

16 Lands

Great Furnace
Seat of the Synod
Vault of Whispers
Inventor's Fair
Myriad Landscape
6 Mountains
Temple of Mystery
Scalding Tarn
Volcanic Island
Steam Vents

Magmatic InsightDualcaster Mage is a one off value/trickery Fork. He is the only creature in this list which somewhat reduces the value of Kolgahn's Command. I wanted to try and fit in Combustible Gearhulk and Goblin Welder to work with Daretti (who was mainly just there to recur a Goggle's) and add a bit more angles of attack for the deck. Having never done something like this before I decided to keep the list as pure as possible for the purposes of testing and learning. Dualcaster is not a great card even in this deck because it is so much mana to Fork any of your own meaty spells with it. When you can use him it is a huge swing but you often have to use your cards before you have the spare mana to double them up as well. Dualcaster is a four drop if you are lucky, for the most part he is the top of this decks mana curve.

The cards that scale really well with Fork are those with additional requirements to cast and those that are burn plus card advantage. In the first camp we have Tormented Voice and its bigger brother Cathartic Reunion. We also have the convenient little Magmatic Insight. It is because of these three cards that the list is so heavy on mana sources. I have 16 lands plus 3 mana rocks as well as a whole bunch of draw and filter. Mostly I want to have spare mana sources so that I can be ditching those the vast majority of occasions. Given you have very little in the way of recursive threats you need to be somewhat careful about how you use your resources. If you throw too many actions cards in the bin and use a bunch of others on creatures you can find you simply don't have enough burn to finish them off. Should you manage to Fork any of those three cards you gain a huge influx of card advantage for very little mana. Tapping out on turn four to make a Goggle's and then using that to Magmatic Insight is one of the best things you can do. It is like getting to play with Ancestral Recall. When you do it with Cathartic Reunion it is like a maximum power Take Inventory. Although I have never cast that card in my life I have had enough Accumulated Knowledge casts for four to know how nutty that is!

ElectrolyzeIf you have a deck full of cheap and powerful cards such as this then getting to use some of the most potent draw effects in the game in concert is about as good as you can hope for. Wheel of Fortune was likely overkill. I did cast it a couple of times and was glad of the refill but the deck really doesn't lack for card draw. The issue is being forced to use all your resources before you are setup and as such not be in a position to abuse your synergies. You are probably better off playing more things that improve your early game than cards like Wheel. Wheel can recover you but it is a big risk card in more than one way, it is far better if you don't need to recover in the first place!

The next batch of cards to be abused are the various two for one burn spells. Land a Fork on a Prophetic Bolt and you are so far ahead it is silly. The good thing about these kinds of card is that they let you interact and do stuff without Fork effects yet without emptying your hand of resources. These are the things you should be using freely rather than trying to hold back to combo with. The cheaper one mana burn spells are much better to try and hold onto as they will be the first cards to come online with the forks. After that it is the discard to draw stuff you want to hold as it is still nice and cheap but has the most extreme scaling. With these you should draw into more stuff you can Fork so it is no problem to have been controlling the board with all your Electrolyse and Prophetic Bolts prior to that.

Fiery ConfluenceThe deck is essentially a control deck but rather than having a mix of spot removal, mass removal and threats like a normal control deck this just has burn for all the roles! Certainly it has a couple of burn spells you can use as sweepers and that is a good way to stay ahead against the aggressive decks. While you can be more efficient with how you chose to use your cards as you have more that do comparable things to chose from at any given time you generally have less efficient cards to work with. Plow, Path, Wrath, Damnation and the like deal with things a lot more reliably that burn does. A deck relying on burn for removal has to really consider what threats it might face, how to apportion removal to them and when it is time to start aiming things face because even though you can remove the thing it will set you back so much in doing so that you will lose anyway if you do.

Devil's Play is your big finisher, it is quite possible for it do do 20-0 in one hit. It means you can afford to send most of your other burn at dorks if that is keeping you at least even in the game. It is doubly good in that you can ditch it early when it is weakest and still get to use it as your finisher. I wanted to include Fireblast as another big finisher because Forking free cards is super easy to do. The problem with Fireblast is that you simply can't use it and not kill yourself until very near the end of the game.

Chandra, the Firebrand
I also wanted to play Divining Top or Scroll Rack so that I had that much more control over my self exile effects. Had I done this I would likely have played more cards like Abbot of Keral Keep. It is a slightly different direction to take a deck like this but didn't have enough overlap with the Fork stuff to merit the bother on a trail run with a new deck. Had I not had the light splash in blue and/or black I think that would have been the way to go.

Old(er) Chandra is pretty much the next best fork on offer after the Goggle's and so was pretty much a lock in. Much as I don't love playing multiple copies of planeswalker in a 40 card deck Torch of Defiance is too powerful to miss out on, especially when you have a rare example of a red deck on the midrange to control end of the spectrum in which she is best suited. Although Chandra Firebrand is a reasonable Fork effect she is far from the Goggle's in terms of build around power. She is just a mild support card in a Goggle's deck. I needed ways to find my Goggle's else this deck is decidedly low power. Fabriacate is viable but painfully slow. Black tutoring is better but it was even more of a light splash. Tinker is very powerful but unreliable with my low artifact count and makes me even more vulnerable to countermagic (if that is possible when already running Cathartic Reunion). I was not about to be playing Gamble and so I went with the new Inventor's Fair. Unlike Fabricate it is not just a dead card if you have your Goggle's. The mana base supported more colourless lands fine and bit of bonus life is very welcome. While far less reliable than Tinker for getting Goggles (what with needing three times the artifacts and over three times the mana, all be it over two turns on the latter account) the Inventor's Fair was far more suited to the slower, tighter style of the deck. It was not a dead card, it was not a risk and it added a bunch of value and utility to the list without harming the mana base (yes, including enough sources of black or blue for Deomic Tutor or Tinker respectively is more onerous on this deck than turning a mountian into a colourless land. Perhaps not necessarily in both speed and consistency but certainly one or the other). The Fair would have been significantly better with even just a couple more main deck artifacts but it still did a bit of tutoring a gained me a couple of not irrelevant life.

Spark of CreativitySpark of Creativity was the silliest card in the deck. I had not yet had a chance to play with it and felt it would suit this kind of deck better than most. Often I needed to kill something but had enough options that I could take a punt with the Spark and not harm myself at all if it missed. Due to good redundancy in my deck the unreliability of the Spark was not too much of a problem. Despite this it still wasn't good. Neither effect is powerful, just fine. Not really having the choice on them makes it pretty terrible. I lucked out once and hit a land when I needed and was glad of it not being just a burn spell then but this just makes me think Forgotten Cave would have been better. Forking it made it better too, it was more consistently able to kill things and gain you some value but still, not a card I am likely to play ever again, certainly not without all the top of deck manipulation you can pack into a cube deck. Basically, unless it is worth it in a miracles deck the card is fairly useless. A real shame as it is so cool design wise. It it close looking to the kind of card red wants but in reality it falls a long way short. Very much the first card you cut from this list.

Overall I was very impressed with the power of this deck. It seemed to utterly crush any aggressive creature strategy, even those using resilliant dorks, fat dorks and two for one dorks. Sadly it is too weak against countermagic and discard to be viable in most settings. I am not entirely sure as yet how you would make it better against these common problem cards. Perhaps it is just a deck you can only wheel out in very rare occasions when you are not facing very much of that sort of thing. As ever with this sort of deck the ability to play a different sort of game with an unusual deck crammed full of unusual cards and synergies is the biggest reason to be doing this. I had lots of fun, managed to go fairly evenly on wins and losses and got to do loads of cool stuff. I have made many experimental decks before and failed to get a look in. When your deck is so weak it loses before it does its thing it is neither fun nor viable. A little like my Aetherworks Marvel deck, this isn't good enough to be tier one but it is easily good enough to get a good game of magic. It might not always win but it will at least do its thing most games. It turns out I like to draw 4 and 6 cards for one and two mana much more than I like making a turn four Eldrazi. It turns out I also quite like double Forking a seven point Fireball (Devil's Play) for 21-0 out of nowhere!

Friday 21 October 2016

Aetherworks Marvel Deck

Aetherworks Marvel
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Kaladesh brought with it many new cards that can be built around and for each I plan to build a dedicated deck and play it in a cube setting at some stage. With any new archetype some planning and testing is required. With cube being causal the testing will come out in the play but I still need to plan the deck to know what I am aiming for when I go to build it. This is my rough draft for the Aetherworks Marvel deck in an unpowered cube. Obviously I will have to do this in a constructed style event as so few of these cards are in the drafting cube.

I love decks like this, not only are they interesting and fresh but they allow you to use incredibly niche cards that otherwise so no play in a cube setting. I doubt this will be a tier one combo deck in any sense of the definition but I also suspect it will be competitive and lots of fun. The version I have below is likely a little too focused on the Marvel. Usually in cube the best way to take combos is to pair them up with other combos that have a significant overlap in their cards, function or support requirements. This frequently seems to be the best way to compensate for lacking redundancy courtesy of the singleton format. Oath of Druids is the obvious combo card I have left out of this deck. I would have to cut a couple of the chaff energy creatures but that would be totally fine. Even though I know it would be better with Oath I will still likely skip that for my first run though. I know if I play it I will exclusively win using Oath and never get to use the new stuff and consequently learn nothing about how that all goes down.

Woodweaver's Puzzleknot24 Spells

Zuran Orb

Attune with the Aether
Mana Vault
Ancient Stirrings

Woodweaver's Puzzleknot
Glassblower's Puzzleknot
Scroll Rack
Aether Theorist

Aether Meltdown
Era of Innovation
Servant of the Conduit

Ancient StirringsHarnessed Lightning


Krark Clan Ironworks
Aetherworks Marvel
Glimmer of Genius

Tezzeret the Seeker

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Darksteel Colossus
Erakul, the Promised End
Emrakul, the Eon's Torn

Greater Gargadon

16 Lands
Aether Hub
Aether Hub
Seat of the Synod
Tree of Tales
Great Furnace

Misty Rainforest
Tropical Island

Botanical Gardens
Flooded Grove
Yavimaya Coast
Breeding Pool

Volcanic Island
Wooded Foothills
Academy Ruins

Krark-Clan IronworksAlthough I skipped on Oath the deck does have Tinker, Channel and win conditions you can make off the back of them. Tinker is mostly a tutor for the Aetherworks and the Channel can ramp you into it... I think the best list for this deck will not only have these cheese options including the Oath but it will likely cut a selection of the weaker energy cards for more artifact ramp and better card quality stuff. Worldly Tutor was in my starting lineup but after adding Gargadon and Colossus for another sac outlet and Tinker respectively I felt I no longer needed that added consistency on the Marvel trigger.

The sac outlets (Zuran Orb, Gargadon and Ironworks) are a backup way to provide an energy influx for your Marvel should you not have managed to get enough from the energy providing cards in the deck. Ironworks somewhat doubles up as another way to hardcast some of the big stuff and is likely good enough to be worth including stuff like Signets, Talisman and Grim Monoliths for. This would further power up Tezzeret who was initially just a second Aetherworks in the deck.

Tezzeret the SeekerI would have loved to squeeze in some looting effect as there is so much stuff you don't want in hand. Being able to dump Eons Torn into the bin and recycle the graveyard is always a nice perk for a combo deck too. Brainstorm and Scroll Rack do a lot of this work but the deck is leaning quite hard on them and some looting would greatly ease that.

The deck has very few answers and problem solving cards. It leans incredibly hard on Harnessed Lightning against something like a Phyrexian Revoker. A well timed Duress is a pretty big deal for this deck too hence the inclusion of Academy Ruins. You can solve most of the problems with your big stuff but only if you can cast it. A rounded and cheap problem solving card likely worth a slot. Shelldock Isle is another great card for this list that like Channel, Tinker and Oath make the deck less of an Aetherworks Marvel deck and more of a pile of cheese.

I am sure I will do a conclusion to this once I get to do it with advice on a list having had some play experience. The cube version certainly looks a lot more powerful and broken than the standard incarnation even if the threats are about as good!

Monday 17 October 2016

Card Spotlight: Gitaxian Probe

Gitaxian ProbeAccording to Leon the knife is the last tool the assassin learns to use. Gitaxian Probe is Magic's knife. You only really get enough value from Gitaxian Probe when you really know what you are doing for it to be good. For such a simple card it has so much going on. Despite being zero tempo impact and low power I rate the card as one of the best in the game. You can literally play it anywhere. Further to this it is rarely actually bad when you do play it in the weakest places for it.

Gitaxian Probe is quite a hard card to pick and prioritise as it is such a low impact card. You have to be pretty sure you have all the tools you need for your deck or will be able to easily get them. It is also really hard to evaluate in terms of what exactly it will do for your deck. Gitaxian Probe has three main things about it that make it good; information, synergy and quality. Within each of these categories there is a myriad of things going on and understanding them helps a great deal in working out the value of your card.

Advantageous ProclamationQuality is the smallest group of the three. Being a card that costs neither a card nor mana when you play it you are effectively able to run a smaller deck. A smaller deck means better odds on hitting specific things you want and better average power level (assuming you correctly replaced the weakest card with the Probe). Now I often find I run 41 card decks in cube, by often I mean a couple of % of the time. Not all decks benefit from size reduction, those with lots of dig that are trying to answer things often struggle to fit all the tools they need in. The decks that do benefit from size reduction are those that are either really redundant or those that are very specific. Basically RDW or combo decks respectively.

Red deck wins wants a Gitaxian Probe because despite being a very redundant deck there is still a reasonably steep power gradient in its playables. Cutting the weakest card affects nothing and adding in a free cycle card means you are 2.5% more likely to see the more powerful cards in your list. The optimal RDW list would be mostly Lightning Bolts and Swiftspears if it could be and playing Probe helps get closer to this.

Lotus Petal
For the combo decks you are trying to find a couple of very specific cards and most of the rest of the deck is filler that is generally less effective than the Probe at getting you to those things. An Impulse will be far better at finding a specific thing you might need but it always costs two mana which means regardless of how much you increase the consistency of your combo with it you will necessarily be hurting the speed of your combo.

There is also some risk associated with relying on cheap card draw spells to thin your deck most notably in mulligan choices. An opening hand with a Gitaxian Probe may only be a keeper if that Probe hits a land which often isn't worth the risk. The risk is low and the damage is generally not severe however it does mean you have to actually benefit from the deck reduction effect if that is all you are playing it for.

The synergy aspect of Gitaxian Probe is the deepest area of the card as it just has so many favourable interactions with things. When a card is so low all round cost you don't need the synergy it offers to be that powerful for it to be of considerable value. One mana cost reduction on a delve spell or a +1/+1 for a turn don't sound super powerful for a single cards effect but that is kind of the point, you aren't paying a card, or often any mana either, it is free making it delightful.

Glasses of UrzaGitaxian Probe has so much synergy with so many of the good cube cards and mechanics that it is often played just on those merits alone. Storm loves it, prowess loves it, delve is a big fan and so on. Then there are just a load of cards that are made better or more reliable or more versatile due to Gitaxian Probe. Cabal Therapy is a whole lot easier to hit! Snapcaster Mage and Abbot of Keral Keep become potentially higher value two drops.

Lastly, we come to the information element of the card, by far and away the most skill intense aspect. How do you use the information you have gained with Probe, what decks best take advantage of having that extra information? While all decks benefit from extra information it is combo and control that take the most away from it. Knowing when you are safe to make big plays is a big deal for both kinds of deck. Knowing what answers you might need or they might have is also significant. Aggressive decks tend to have less options and a more predictable linear strategy and so might well not be able to play around a problem card even if they know about it well in advance. When you have options, even if it just which two drop to make, the value of Probe goes up. This makes Probe better in decks with very low curves. A Zoo deck will get less from it than a white weenie deck because the Zoo deck is much more focused on curving out while teh white weenie is happy making one drops all day!

Another element to Gitaxian Probe's complexity is when you chose to play it. Do you blow it as soon as possible or hold it to milk a little bit of extra prowess damage as well? How often do you pay life regardless of the need of the mana it saves? Perhaps you are able to draw a one mana card or perhaps you just want to bluff a Force Spike. These are all context based things that there is no simple answer to. Simply being aware of these various options will help to make you better at using the card optimally. It is generally best to blow the Probe as soon as possible but certainly not always. Not only will it typically give you more information the earlier you use it but it can also dig you into things that are better to play that turn than the things in your hand. It it not that damaging of a card to misuse but it scales better than most with player skill. If you have the perfect curve then there is more merit to saving it but again this is no cut and dry rule. Certain matchups will have certain things you will want to know about asap while others it won't matter much when they have and an extra prowess trigger is probably the thing. Another noteworthy point is that turns two and three actually tend to yield the most relevant information as you will see a couple of extra cards from their draws. Often enough you potential interactions and options are limited enough on turns one and two that a Probe isn't going to affect that turn and so seeing another card might make it worth holding.
How you chose to play it is a aspect of the card that needs to be considered. Generally against a red aggressive deck you don't want to shock yourself unless you absolutely have to. It is worth avoiding against other aggressive decks but much less urgent. Whenever you are the aggressor or are in a control mirror the life is just going to be irrelevant and so even just bluffing the Force Spike or removal spell is going to be good. You never want to hurt your tempo with the card when tempo is your route to victory.

I think Gitaxian Probe has the highest rating to pick priority of any card in the cube. By that I mean it is one of the cards I value the most yet one I draft late. Probe also has the dubious honour of being the only card I highly value and regard that has so little impact or power. Having reviewed this article it feels a lot more like an opinion piece than most of my others, even the top X lists! I don't appear to have said much about how to use the card well. This is because the card only gives information, it has no "physical" effect on the game. In order to use it well or have it be useful you need to know how to use every other card. Basically, a complete and full understanding of the game is what you need to maximise the value of Gitaxian Probe. You have probably lost to a turn one Probe from Mr Finkle but little Timmy at the store is likely just shocking himself. The better you get the more you will get from probe. Obviously play it regardless if you have prowess and delve stuff on the go. Once you start to notice yourself altering your lines of play in subtle ways due to the Probe and the information it gives then you are likely ready to start throwing the card into any 40 and seeing how you can work it to your advantage there too.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Rotisserie III Results

Swanker (GWb hate bears) 5 - 1
Me (UW Scepter Counterbalance) 5 - 1
Farlo (UG Stasis) 4 - 2
The Phyrexian (UB Storm) 3 - 3
Action Dan (RG stompy) 3 - 3
Old Fava Beens (UR Prowess) 1 - 5
Sideshow Cob (mono blue) 0 - 6

ME Swanker Farlo Sideshow Cob The Phyrexian Action Dan Old Fava Beens
0 – 2 2 – 1 2 – 0 2 – 0 2 – 0 2 – 1
Swanker 2 – 0
2 – 0 2 – 0 1 – 2 2 – 1 2 – 1
Farlo 1 – 2 0 – 2
2 – 1 2 – 1 2 – 0 2 – 0
Sideshow Cob 0 – 2 0 – 2 1 – 2
0 – 2 1 – 2 0 – 2
The Phyrexian 0 – 2 2 – 1 1 – 2 2 – 0
0 – 2 2 – 0
Action Dan 0 – 2 1 – 2 0 – 2 2 – 1 2 – 0
2 – 1
Old Fava Beens 1 – 2 1 – 2 0 – 2 2 – 0 0 – 2 1 – 2

This was a little bit of a silly one and a lot of that was on me. Being in the last seat on the wheel I was somewhat pushed into taking Path and Plow and looked like I was lining up to be a white weenie player. I didn't fancy this at all in a field full of blue and red decks (Swanker was drafting blue to begin with as well). I made an early switch into blue with the aim of doing exactly the deck I did. Both red and blue decks are pretty bad for white weenie and it isn't the most fun of decks to do in such a large and long event. As such I decided the best way to counter blue was to go blue myself and made the event incredibly polarised. There were maindeck Chokes and that kind of thing! Swanker made a very good early call to get out of the highly contested blue and do something else. Sideshow Cob did not do this and got slowly squeezed out of any good archetypal direction or viable colour pairing.

In hindsight I should probably have gone for a black white Pox deck rather than muscling into blue and warping the event. While it worked out pretty well in my favour no one likes to play endless blue decks. The Stasis deck isn't fun, Counterbalance isn't fun, Scepter Chant isn't fun, Tinker a massive threat isn't fun, countermagic isn't fun, Vedalken Shackles are not fun, Upheaval isn't fun and sitting there doing nothing for 15 minutes while your opponent dicks around casting things and untapping stuff isn't fun either. The games where people seemed to be having the most fun where ones where people both had creatures in play of comparable sizes and numbers.

It wasn't even super fun for the blue players when they were winning as it was all so damn hard! Some of the most complicated decks and cards in magic were being used and it was melting fragile old minds. I will certainly be looking to play a load of nice midrange magic for the next few weeks. I want to lay a land and cast a thing each turn developing a board and interacting with my opponents board. Perhaps I should play some Hearthstone instead.... While this event was well worth doing and rewarding, of the last two big events I had a whole lot more fun losing with my deck with 3/4 lands than I did winning with my blue lockdown deck.

Thursday 13 October 2016

Card Spotlight: Lim-Dul's Vault

Lim-Dûl's VaultI have had this card for forever in my cube reserves. I have had it in the cube plenty and I have played with it plenty but despite this over the last ten plus years of cube this card has never impressed me until now. This is pretty confusing to me as now when I look at the card I see a top end bomb. So, why is it I am suddenly of the opinion this is one of the strongest cards in magic while six months ago I wouldn't have taken much interest in the card. Was I wrong before? Am I over excited now? Nothing much has changed in the cube meta or with other cards that have suddenly specifically made this card more than what it once was. It is all down to me, my bias and my evaluations.

There were several bias failing me for evaluating this card. Some initial ones which I have since shaken off such as it being a gold card and having things that are better at its job already. Basically a long time ago I decided this was a fiddly convoluted gold spell for which better alternatives existed and as such never really revisited it. I have gotten far better at appreciating card quality and evaluating cards over the last five years of doing this blog. The thing is that I need to be thinking about cards and ideally using them to be evaluating them. I haven't with Lim-Dul's Vault and so my old evaluations of the card are the ones I believe. What has happened here is much like a TV program or a song that you liked when you were younger and haven't seen or heard in ages. When you actually do see/hear it again you suddenly realise your tastes have changed and you don't like it any more. With the Vault I thought it was weak and believed that was a valid assessment of the card despite being wildly out of date. There was nothing sudden about the changes in my appreciation for card quality, that was a gradual and steady progression. It is only apparent how significant of a change it is when I come to use a card like this again some years down the line.

Vampiric TutorSimply put, I was blown away by how potent Lim-Dul's Vault is. Just in shock that I could have ignored such a bomb for so long. On paper it does look worse than Vampiric or Demonic Tutor. You have to pay life, you lose card advantage and it is two colours and two mana. That is only part of the story however. While there are loads of two mana tutors that will get you a wide array of things without costing you life or card disadvantage other than Demonic Tutor, (Burning Wish, Eldamri's Call, Merchant's Scroll etc) none of them find any card. Only really black has tutors that find anything and of those there are only a handful that cost less than three. Often they have awkward hoops to jump through as well or just massive risks going on. Just being a two mana Vampiric Tutor is enough to be cube worthy and Lim-Dul's Vault is that.

Lim-Dul's Vault is to Vampiric Tutor what Lightning Helix is to Lightning Bolt. Good enough as a 3 point burn spell to be cube worthy and with some bonus value bolted on. Lim-Dul's Vault is pretty much Vampiric Tutor with Index bolted on. Now, both Index and Healing Salve are not good cards but that is because it is not worth losing a card for the effects. Throw "draw a card" onto either of those weak one mana spells and you have a really good spell. That is basically why Lightning Helix is good, it is a Healing Salve with "draw a card" on it, it just so happens that you always draw and play a Lightning Bolt.

Sage Owl isn't greatly playable because you don't wan't a Flying Man so the fact that you can get that Index plus draw a card feel is less exciting. You need to actively want one part of the card for the free bonus to kick in and be good. Vampiric Tutor is something a lot of people and archetypes want, much much more so than Flying Man. Due to the tutor being a thing you want the affect is that the Index portion of the card gains that free feeling.

IndexAt this point I should probably qualify my overly direct comparison with Vault and Vampiric. The latter is only ever two life. The Vault can be anywhere between zero and six life in cube. Although that range seems big I suspect the average life paid with Vault is lower than with Vampiric. It is only when you have a decent library size left and you need a specific single card and that card is right at the bottom that you might have to pay a bunch of life. If it is that urgent that early, odds on your are going to win or not lose as a result of it. For just two life the Vault offers just shy of four times the dig that Impulse offers for the same mana. It is both a hard tutor if you want or just an incredibly potent card quality effect and this is purely looking at the Vampiric Tutor aspect of the card!

So, how good is Index? More relevantly, how good is it off the back of a Vampiric Tutor? A whole boat load better than a Healing Salve, I can say that for sure. It turns out Index is really juicy it is just not something often found bolted on to a card you actually otherwise want to play. Index with draw a card added on would be one of the best card quality spells in cube. In terms of the options given per card or per mana Index it is one of the largest in all of magic. Five is a lot of cards and should give a decent spread of things, say a big thing, a small thing, some lands and the thing you specifically wanted. Being able to order these as you want adds a surprising amount of value. Index is a thing that actively works with a tutor effect and so both in concert yields an overall better effect.

You can use Vault profitably basically any time you have spare mana. You might ultimately want a six drop for the matchup but using a Vampiric Tutor to do so on turn two seems bad. Vault however can find it, leave it waiting in your deck till you can actually use it and still improve the quality of the turns in between. Alternatively Vault can go find a card you want and hopefully one or two others and then, like Brainstorm, use a shuffle effect to get shot of the unwanted cards.

Dig Through TimeA lot of combo style decks have a good degree of redundancy. A reanimate deck will have ideally at least four of each; recursion effects, good recursion targets, and ways to get those things in the graveyard. Often you are in a situation where you need two different effects and a conventional tutor is little help and will just sit in hand until you draw one of either kind you need first. With Vault you can reasonably expect to find a five card section of your deck that has both the required effects. The ability to be a double tutor is a pretty big deal. Another issue a lot of combo decks have is needing a non-combo card to be able to go off. This could be something like a Duress to bypass conters or it could simply be a land so as to have enough mana. Again, this allows Vault to be a double tutor fairly reliably. It does again, rely on you having some degree of redundancy in your deck. You cannot hope to hit a specific pair of cards with your Vault and should only attempt to do so if you have no other outs. I have found I was using the Vault to find two specific kinds of cards a lot even outside of combo decks. Finding a generic artifact plus an untapped land plus some action was a thing I did while having new Daretti in play. Basically, I think the card quality on top of the tutor effect makes this very playable in almost any kind of deck, not just combo ones.

There are some cool things going on with Vault which warms me to the card as well. If for some reason you have infinite life and your library does not have a number of cards in it that is evenly divisible by five then you can tutor up any five cards from your deck! Not sure why you need five specific cards to win when you already have infinite life but still. Pretty cool. Also, in all the various debates about which are the hardest magic cards to play I can only think that obscurity is what keeps this out of the top slots. In every way imaginable this is the hardest magic card in the whole game. It has far far more choices and options going on. I did a top ten hardest cards list draft a while back and a selection of the top cards included Brainstorm, Gifts Ungiven, Divining Top, Vampiric Tutor and simply put, Lim-Dul's Vault crushes all of those for complexity. It has pretty much all the different difficulties and things going on as all those other cards but rolled into one incredibly cheap card. One could debate long and hard between this and Gifts Ungiven, the commonly viewed most difficult card, as to which is tougher but as of recently I am very much in the Lim-Dul's Vault camp.