Friday, 25 November 2016
Top 20 Underrated Cards
Ok, this isn't really a top 20, it is just 20 underrated cards. Not having a wide enough view of the cube meta I wouldn't really like to assert relative levels of underratedness! This is just 20 cards I think people don't value as highly as they should. I will likely do another of these in a couple of years as the meta changes, people learn about some of these underdogs, new sleepers are printed and once honoured cards fall by the wayside! It is a relatively interesting list as it is far more subject to opinion being that it is not just my opinion but my opinion of other people's opinions! As such I think it will be one that fluctuates more readily and in unusual ways.
Chancellor of the Tangle
This wouldn't even need to be good and people would still generally underrate it. I see this as a good value Elvish Spirit Guide however most people see it as an awful value Avenger of Zendikar or something. Chancellor of the Tangle is good but it isn't great. Typically it is an odd kind of filler being part ramp and part threat you can use it in ramp decks to give you list greater depth. I am a big fan of the card, being able to throw out two manas worth of stuff on turn one is such a huge leg up, especially when it costs you no card advantage. This doesn't happen often, of the 20% of the time you get an opener with Chancellor you find that you don't have two manas worth of stuff that is better than one mana worth some of the time. At best you are looking at a 10% chance of getting some busted Roffellos openers. This may not sound like it is worth including an underpar seven drop for however in green ramp a seven drop is generally pretty playable. It turns out that a 6/7 reach solves a lot of issues in green and generally trumps everything else in the cube you expect people to cast barring Dragonlord Atarka (which is typically in the deck along with the Chancellor!). A 6/7 reach holds off any aggression and with vigilance too it can wear your opponent down at the same time. A surprisingly good body on a surprisingly good card.
This card is a big part of the reason Butcher of the Hoard never really got a look in despite looking like the business. Falkenrath Aristocrat is one of the best threats in the game put simply. It has four power on an evasive hasting body for just four mana. That is already looking fantastic value. The one toughness at first glance does make the card look dodgy however when you realise you can both pump the card and make it indestructible with zero mana sacrifices the low toughness is pretty irrelevant. It is very hard to remove and very efficient at dealing damage fast. Olivia Voldaren looks a little more powerful on paper but is so slow that Falkenrath tends to outperform it in any kind of deck. Rakdos is not the most common or powerful colour pairing in cube and so Falkenrath rarely gets to shine. When you can play it however it is Thundermaw plus, all that efficient evasive aggression combined with removal protection!
This land offers everything you could want, it is ramp, fixing, card advantage, card quality and a shuffle effect. The only trade off it speed. Myriad Landscape itself comes into play tapped (an effective cost of one sorcery speed mana) and then requires three more mana cost at instant speed to obtain the value from the card. It is also a colourless source itself which makes it a very weak early land but still far outperforming Temple of the False God as an early drop! Any slower one or two colour deck should look to play this land, it is too good to miss out on. A lot of slower decks can't really afford to pack loads of ramp into the deck as they won't have enough gas to get the job done. This is where Myraid Landscape really shines, you pay a minimal initial mana cost and no card cost followed by a fair, instant and at your convenience cost to obtain your ramp. You need at least six targets in one colour or more like 8 if you want to be able to actually reliably fix for two colours with the Landscape. This is why it isn't so good for three or more colour decks in cube. If you are packing 4 of each of three kinds of basic then the mana base for your three colour deck is pretty awful. I like my three colour mana bases to have two or fewer basics, twelve is way off!
Another commander card makes the list in Creeperhulk. Commander cards never got to shine in drafts, standard or modern and so they typically sit under people's radar. They are also a bit more tedious to get hold of than many other cube cards meaning they are further unseen cards. Creeperhulk is a two purpose card. On the one hand it is a stand alone 5/5 trample for an affordable five mana. You often find it topping out the curve alongside Thundermaw in RG stompy decks. It is far from the best five drop stand alone threat you can find however it still very much needs dealing with. On the other side of things Creeperhulk is a Craterhoof Behemoth that you can play in a deck that isn't dedicated to ramping. You can't play an 8 drop in a normal deck and have much chance of it doing anything. You can play a five drop. When Creeperhulk hits play suddenly all your other dorks can be 5/5 tramplers too and that is a whole lot of reach. Any stalemate situation Creeperhulk will end things the turn after you make him, in super late game situations or ones where you have gotten them to low life you can activate it right away and finish the game on the spot. A great finisher that doesn't suffer much at all in the way of situational weakness.
Pretty dull as removal goes but I think that is where the misconception lies. If you look at this as spot removal is seems like a situational expensive card. If, like me, you consider this more of a Wrath effect then it looks insane! Three mana plus instant speed and getting through indestructible, yes please! While it is obviously not a Wrath against a massive board full of weenies and tokens it is pretty easy to get a couple of copies of your Wingshards and cripple most of the more common archetypes. It is one of the best answers to man lands in the control arsenal, it is THE hard counter to a Bloodbraid Elf. Indeed it is especially good against all haste dorks which accounts for a large proportion of the good aggressive cube dorks. Because of how you use it Wingshards is exclusively a control card but it is a go to for me. I find it to consistently be a more effective control tool than four mana sorcery speed mass removal (although both is ideal!).
People undervalue card quality in general, they waste their Brainstorms and they often don't play the other stuff. Opt is low value, it is the weakest card quality card in the cube. Preordain is twice as much scry. This is where the misconception with this kind of card lies however. Scry isn't what you are paying most of the cost for, that is tied up in the drawing of a card. It would be very generous to say that the scry accounted for 50% of the cost of a Preordain, I would need a more than a one mana sorcery with scry 4 on it to be at all interested. Anyway, lets say it was 50%, that still means that opt is 75% of the effect of Preordain, an established top end card quality spell. The reason Opt is so valuable is that it is instant, an effect easily worth a 25% decrease in power for this kind of card. You can play Opt anywhere and it will be fine but there are two standout homes for it. Control decks love it because being instant means it often effectively costs you nothing, whenever they don't make much of a play you can freely Opt. You can turn one Opt and still have them play around your Force Spike etc. The other home for Opt is in the prowess deck where a cheap card neutral prowess enabler goes a very long way. The only other one mana card quality spell that is instant is the highly contested Brainstorm, Opt is meek by comparison but nevertheless effective.
So I have actually cut this guy from my cube because he so rarely gets play. This is the fault of Temur rather than Sarkhan himself. The clan is a bit aimless and generally just winds up as a guild two colour pair archetype with a splash. Sarkhan Unbroken is a total house, he is the total package that does everything good that is almost always universally good. Draw cards and add mana, of any colour no less, on a plus loyalty ability is a delight. It is the most raw and pure form of gas. Then there is the nice calm 4/4 flying dragon for a mere two loyalty cost! Defense, tempo and great value. Sarkhan is always good, he is good against all the decks and has the least disasterous bad case scenarios for playing him than most other planeswalkers. Sarkhan is a game winning machine but he is incredibly held back by being pretty unplayable! Should Temur ever get its shit in order then do not forget about this guy.
This was very underrated five plus years ago but with modo cube and EDH and all that jazz the community seem to have accepted the immense power of the Death Cloud. The problem for the card now is that people don't know how to use that power and so still avoid playing with it. It might be better described as underplayed rather than underrated. When you can play it the Cloud brings awesome power offering a pretty good representation of a Mind Twist, an Armageddon, a Wrath of God or a Fireball, often a couple of those things and almost always far worse for your opponent than you. The card is very like Balance, it is far more mana but it gives you way more control over the effect such that it is actually a lot easier to engineer favourable Clouds than it is for Balance. There are several ways to play with the Cloud but all do involve being fairly heavy black. It works well with artifacts, mana producers especially. It does OK with some enchantments, it works well with lots of dorks, no dorks at all or recursive dorks. These things make it a bit better but I find just so long as I can cast the thing I am very happy with its results.
One of the premium threats in the game and the ideal curve topper for white weenie lists. She is plenty dangerous all on her own able to attack for five in the air. Where she shines is when you have a board and are able to not only get value with her right away with a big swing. You can also hold off attacking with the Angel but still apply pressure with other dorks if they have something that can block and trade with her. Sublime is one of the hardest hitting cards cost so reasonably and isn't a high risk card despite being a 4 mana 3 toughness dork as she generally has a strong effect on the game the turn you make her. Much punchier and more dangerous than most planeswalkers.
Glen Elandra Archmage
I have started watching a Magic TV Top 8's, turns out I have been doing their format and here I thought I was being all novel. I mention this because this was on their list of underrated cube cards. They were right, but the thing is they have quite a ridiculous level of reach into the community compared to the likes of me. Just by saying this is underrated likely means it isn't anymore by the wider community. I have not been playing enough cube outside my local group of friends to really be able to comment on exactly how underrated this is now. I have certainly noticed an upturn in the valuation in general of the other cards on their list. I at least have the advantage of it being four years since CFB did theirs and so have many more newer cards to talk about. The older a card is the less chance there is that it will be underrated. Anyway, I think that Glen is still a little underappreciated. Most people know she is good but find it hard to fit her into decks over other things or don't appreciate the ways in which she is crippling for your opponent. Suffice it to say there are a lot of matchups I just feel like I have won when I play her and have blue open.
Speaking of old cards, I still have a good few that people just don't have love for. I have done quite a lot on why this card is so good so will keep this super brief. Very much one of the top tier counterspells. Arcane Denial is one of those cards old enough to predate a lot of the competitive magic scene. It sits in a place where it is just so overshadowed by cards like Force of Will that people don't pay it much attention. It is fair to say that the card disadvantage aspect of it is a bigger problem in non-singleton formats. In cube the drawing one for you is often more relevant than them drawing two.
This is another one that never really had any sort of time in any competitive constructed format as is likely more unknown than underrated. We lovingly call him the Lotus Orc. Making five mana on turn two isn't really something you are supposed to be able to do in unpowered cubes, certainly not coloured mana! Quite a risky card but well worth it if you have a solid mana base and some really good things to burst out for four and five mana. Typically you want these to be planeswalkers as they are that much harder to kill than creatures early in the game. Still, a turn two Thundermaw poses some pretty serious questions that command a rapid reply!
Instant and fairly cheap card quality that does a rather unique thing. The card quality effect is decent, it is like a card neutral double loot. The thing that pushes this to a level above cards like Impulse for me is that you can put things back into your deck and that is something not many cards in magic allow for, certainly not in such a cheap and painless way as this (except of course Brainstorm...). If you want to Oath of Druids, Tinker or cast miracles then this is an important tool. Also still just really good to reshuffle a six drop on turn two.
Last of the golden oldies. I reckon it is basic reading, attention span and comprehension capacity that has this as one of the more underrated cards. I don't mean to be rude, I completely missed this one for far too long. Being so old it is not exactly a clearly written card! I recently did an extensive spotlight on the card so won't say much on it here. It does still seem underplayed and it is very much up there with the top tier tutor effects in cube.
Although done for old stuff we are not yet done with the commander cards. People never play this, it is always left in boards. There is something clearly underwhelming about it. You cast it, people glance at it and are unimpressed. It is not until you are killing them with it a few turns later that they bother to properly read it. I have no idea why it commands so little respect and attention, the thing is pretty terrifying and relentless. It is a powerful stalemate breaker, a solid threat, good value and good utility all rolled into one. It is a fine tempo play and rarely does worse than being a pair of Grey Ogres. The sac outlet aspect is pretty disruptive and allows Felsh Carver, combined with his evasion, to dominate the game. If you let him become even a 4/4 then anything other than bounce or exile seems like a bad answer. A very midrange card but one of the best. Better than Kalitas for my money although quite similar cards in a lot of ways.
Certainly everyone knows this dude is good but I think he is generally considered fair and unexciting and is not played in favour of more exotic planeswalkers a lot as a result. The reason for Garruk being so potent in cube is pretty simple. For the most part he is a two mana investment and not a four mana investment. Yes, you have to hit four mana first but this is quick and easy in green. The problem with walkers is not having four mana but having four mana spare after you create a board in which a planeswalker won't just die. Wildspeaker comes down turn three or four and then typically casts something else that ensures he lives to the following turn. A lot of the time this means you can threaten some serious Overrun plays. Garruk is four manas worth of walker but you only have to invest two making him super duper strong.
Teferi, Temporal Archmage
For exactly the same reason Garruk Wildspeaker is much better than he looks or is perceived Teferi is also rather a beast. Part Gilded Lotus and part Jace this clumsy looking overpriced six drop is actually bonkers. If you resolve Teferi and can untap into casting a Cryptic Command or a Time Warp effect then it is almost impossible to lose from that position. Teferi gives you access to either more gas in the form of cards or more gas in the form of loads of mana. You can play him on curve much much more safely than most planeswalkers because his effective cost is just two mana (normally, it can be a lot less if you have things that tap for more than one). He is harder to include than Garruk as a prerequisite mana of six in blue is a much taller order than four in green. There is also less room in construction for things that cost six regardless of any mana returns they might offer. Too many six drops will ruin your early game consistency.
For some reason this has taken a backseat to Dromoka's Command. I think it was to do with how the two cards performed in standard relative to each other. Dromoka's Command is a fine cube card but Selesnya Charm is a great one. It is one of the best removal cards in the game. Two mana instant speed exile removal is about as good as it gets. Although it has to hit big stuff that is what you want it to hit. Your dorks are generally a lot better than their small ones. When you need to kill a small thing the combat trick aspect of the card generally has you covered. Combat tricks are pretty swingy when the times is right which makes this Charm not just an out but also quite a dangerous threat that needs respecting. On top of all that, if for some reason you don't have use for a combat trick or a top rate removal card you can just throw down a 2/2 flash vigilance knight and get some reasonable value that way. Never dead and potentially very powerful in a couple of ways on a two mana card sounds like a winning mix.
This one is quite hard to build a suitable deck for and so I am not overly surprised it isn't a big cube hit. It is rarely even in cube lists so there is no surprise at all that it isn't played much! For this to work well you want a tempo based blue deck with a relatively high creature count that is supplemented with some useful artifacts. When you have that mix this guys is a Glorious Anthem and a Sol Ring that also makes all your other dorks Sol Rings as well. The dream is making a one drop and two drop blue dork into Grand Architect and then tapping two of the three to make and equip a Jitte to the remaining one and smack them with it! It is great with Vedalken Shackles and Crused Scroll and basically any useful artifact that has a high ongoing mana consumption. Even cards like Molten-Tail Masticore become pretty saucy when you have this guy. Another fantastic pairing for Achitecht is with Master of Waves as you can lose the Master and still keep all the 1/0 tokens courtesy of the Architects buff. The most common place I play this now is in merfolk/fish decks as an honorary lord. He is way better than a Merfolk Sovereign in the Merfolk deck!
Kaya, Ghost Assassin
The power of this one is well hidden. I spent ages thinking about her and wasn't that impressed. Then I starting playing with her and was blown away. I have to remind myself how good she is in play rather than looking at her abilities when it comes to building with her. They don't seem that strong or exciting on paper but in reality Kaya seems to give more control over the game than most planeswalkers. She has a threat style effect, a value effect. both of which appear simple but are highly interesting choices on when to use. Then she has her 0 ability which seems to do everything else. It stops an attacker, it removes a blocker, it can protect your stuff from a Wrath, yours or theirs, you can kill tokens, you can re-trigger etb effects or you can just say "nothing will be killing my Kaya this turn". Truly one of the most versatile walkers on offer.