Tuesday 13 December 2016

The Top 16 Combat Tricks in Cube

Giant GrowthToday it is combat tricks and we are gong for a top 16 list. Plenty have been used over the years but very few last long in the cube. Generally combat tricks are too narrow to play in most decks. The best ones are those that have other utility beyond being a combat trick. Those are the ones that seem to last the longest at least! Combat tricks are useless when they are bad but can affect some of the most brutal swings in the game when they are good. They make combat more interesting and having cube viable ones therefore makes the game better. With the midrange cube being ever more focused around board presence and creatures the value of good combat tricks has been slowly rising in the cube. Some pure combat tricks that don't have any or much other utility are seeing more play and performing well.


16. Pendlehaven

This isn't a combat trick, or shouldn't be. Combat tricks have to be a secret or they are not a trick, Pendlehaven is just something you can do and as such should be played around. The thing with Pendlehaven is that it is the most forgotten about card in the game. I still make misplays forgetting about man-lands... In my cube it is even worse because of the basic lands I offer people to use. The forests all like quite a lot like Pendlehaven at a glance (they are all different art and all old borders on well loved cards!). The legendary forest has won a lot of games it shouldn't have and deserves the last place honourable mention on this list at least. It is so commonly missed most people are forgiving these days and let people takeback missplays into the tricksy tree.

Bounty of the Hunt15. Bounty of the Hunt

The green Force of Will! Ahem... Rather a heavy card but also incredibly high potential for abuse. A free card is always the most dangerous and hardest to play around. This can also buff three dorks so in perfect conditions you can still get card advantage with Bounty even if you pitch cast it. As it places counters on things the card has a lot of unusual synergies and ways to avoid having to return the counters. Not only can you reset your own persist dorks or power up a Triskellion you can also kill your opponents Phantasmal Image and turn off their undying! In the right deck the card is burtally good but for your average deck the costs for casting for either mode are just way too painful  to consider Bounty. It is a combat trick that is narrower than most and with that already being the main problem for combat tricks this rarely gets run.

Titan's Strength14. Titan's Strength

This has so much promise with the potential to be a Lightning Bolt with a scry, a two for one combat trick or a brutally potent card to scale with something like doublestrike. The reality is that red has so much consistency in burn that it isn't worth taking those kinds of risks when you need each card to count. While this does get some fringe play in more unusual decks the more conventional aggressive red decks don't touch this if they can help it. There are a lot of red cards very close to this in power, Rush of Adrenaline, Brute Force, Borrowed Hostility, Brute Strength and I am sure some others I forget. They all offer something extra but Titan's Strength is the only one that offers something always useful and as such is the most efficiently cost while being broadly the most suitable at any given time.

Vines of Vastwood13. Vines of the Vastwood

This is more of a protection card that doubles up as some pump when you need it. When you are going all in on a big dork or want to play a tempo game but have some key creatures then this is a great tool to go for. As a pure combat trick it is a little expensive but as a supplement to other buffs it is top notch. Recent printings will greatly harm the cube viability of this going forwards  but it was one of the more commonly used cards on this list before Blossoming Defense. An issue with the Vines is that +4/+4 is quite a big boost but you do pay for it fairly heavily and it is generally overkill. People match blockers to attackers fairly closely for efficiency and this generally means +1/+1 turns a chump into a trade and +2/+2 generally reverses the chump! Without any thing else like trample +4/+4 is mostly wasted unless used to go face. However you end up using the stats buff it is not incredibly cost effective.

Invigorate12. Invigorate

A weak pump spell for the mana but one with an interesting pitch cost that is easily abused. The best way to look at Invigorate in isolation is thinking of it as something like a Fiery Impulse, a top rate burn spell that sees no play in cube because you can't use it to go face. Invigorate lets your dorks win fights better than all the other tricks but it only does that effectively which alone is not enough. At going face this is either pathetic or wildly over cost. The saving grace for the card is synergies with life gain triggers. Most notably Kavu Predator which is a complete beating should you get to pitch cast Invigorate while it is in play. With very little redundancy in cube for effects like Kavu Predator and Invigorate that is not something that comes up very often and certainly not worth including in a drafting cube.

Berserk11. Berserk

Nothing says all in like Berserk. You can do some staggeringly quick kills with a Berserk. It is the main reason mono green stompy decks are even hanging around the fringes of playability. Berserk is an incredibly powerful card but it is not so much of a combat trick. It is like calling Hatred a combat trick. You can use Hatred as a combat trick but it is a really weak use of the card. While not quite so awful a use of Berserk with it being only one mana you do want to use it when it kills people, not creatures. You want to use it with other buffs so as to double up on them as well. Berserk and Vines of the Vastwood are a great pairing making your all in play much safer while hitting for 8 more too. When you are using it to turn a chump attack into a trade and perhaps a little spill over damage or a trade into a lot of spill over damage then it is fine but far from good. Mostly this is a finisher like Overrun. It offers more utility than Overrun but does come with rather more risk too! As a combat trick this rarely gets value and as a finisher it is rater situational too and so generally people run another good stand alone threat instead of this or a combat trick that doesn't ensure your dork dies.

Boon Satyr10. Boon Satyr

The great thing about Boon Satyr is that it is the least bad when you don't have a board. Even the multipurpose Commands typically suck when you don't have dorks. The problem with Boon Satyr is that you have to pay 5 mana for it to be a trick. That is very obvious to your opponent and not that often helpful. Most of the time you just bestow it whenever it is a good time to play it rather than holding it for that golden moment where you also get a good trade with it as well. You flop it down as a 3 mana 4/2 more often than it is really a combat trick. The card is a lot of value when bestowed as you are somewhat Wrath and removal insured. It is even more value when you get to kill a free blocker/attacker with it as well. Solid card but a little clunky to be a big name in cube. Although a little more tricksy and flexible than Verdurous Gearhulk I fear that this is so much less powerful that this probably won't see much more play in the cube in normal decks. Instead this will be the thing of enchantment themed decks.

Atarka's Command9. Atarka's Command

Great card, pretty limp combat trick. Much like Berserk this is used much more as a tool to push through damage and not as a way to get favourable trades on the board. The thing with Atarka's Command is that it is so good that you play it, and it is so versatile that you do occasionally end up using it to get favourable trades. Reach and +1/+1 to your guys is a tough combo to find yourself in a position to abuse. Any card that you would play even if it were not a combat trick but that has that mode of action is a whole lot better than a top quality trick that noone ever plays because it is too narrow a card. This is easily one of the most powerful and played cards on the list but the combat trick nature of the card is only a very small part of it.

Dromoka's Command8. Dromoka's Command

While the creature pump mode on Dromoka's Command is far far weaker than it is on Atarka's Command, or indeed any other card on this list that do that, the fact that the other modes often have a significant impact on combat makes it a pretty brutal card to attack or block into. In the wrong situation you can eat a three for one as well as a savage tempo blow to this. A very strong and dangerous card with a far broader range of utility than Atarka's. Dromoka's Command is two kinds of removal, two kinds of protection and a small but permanent buff. It is rarely dead and freqently just the ticket! The dream situation is when you can use a 2/3 first strike to kill a pair of 3/3s and survive as a 3/4. It is cards like the commands that have made people more concious of combat tricks as they are cards you freqently see. As a result the other tricks are likely a little weaker than before as people may actaully anticipate them!

Briarhorn7. Briarhorn

While offering none of the protection aspects of Boon Satyr the cost balancing of this card is far more suited to purpose. When you need a cheap combat trick it is just that. When you have spare mana you get a free body for your troubles and even in the worst case scenario you still have a playable Hill Giant which is better than a do nothing Giant Growth. Not the most powerful card even when you get the full value but a card with decent low end performance and lot of options. An even distribution in the buff is generally most useful as well so the +3/+3 is a little more suitable on average than +4/+2 is or even that +2/+4 would be, Ideally you want a combat trick to save your guy and kill theirs and more often than not it is a near even amount of power and toughness boost required to do that. Red ones are happier to be heavier on the power as they have smaller dorks that at best can trade up. Higher power boosts also complement burn and first strike that is common in red. Brairhorn does its job well, it is a good card but it isn't something people wanted that much until more recently and even now Brairhorn is still very much on the fair side. He will never be a bomb card even if he occasions some immense swings in the game.

Harm's Way6. Harm's Way

Simple and meek but devastating. As a combat trick this has some good high end potential but is a little harder to pull off than some pure pump cards. Essentially this is +2/+2 when used as a combat trick however that is not always the case (for example when against a 1 power dork). Where this shines is that it can just get a two for one on burn spells where a pump spell will at best save your guy. It is a bit like a Vines of the Vastwood where you can choose either mode rather than having to pay G to kick it for access to the second mode. Getting a two for one in combat with this isn't that uncommon either as you can effectively give one dork +0/+2 and another +2/+0. Great against first strike guys as well and not a card you need to have a dork in play to use. Anything with at least two power and no more than that in health can be somewhat Reciprocated with Harm's Way. The one thing this can't do is apply extra damage to face when your opponent isn't applying any pressure to you are dealing damage to things. Fairly minor drawback and still far far better than a +2/+2 pump effect.

For some reason I have decided not to include Brave the Elements in this list as it really isn't a combat trick in the same way these other cards are. I do rate Brave comparably to Harm's Way although it is narrower in where you want to play it. Brave is much more a tool to make things unblockable or a protection tool against removal than it is a way of turning bad attacks into good ones. It is incredibly rare to have a situation where you can expect to turn a couple of trades into chumps for your opponent. Your dorks have to be very well size matched. Mostly Brave the Elements is a precombat spell like Overrun or a reactive counterspell and to me a combat trick is something that you play in combat.

Ghor-Clan Rampager5. Ghor-Clan Rampager

This is a big boost in stats as well as trample for not that much mana. As a pump effect the Rampager is good value. Typically it kills something and has a load of spill over damage too. It is a little restrictive in that it only works when you are on the offensive but that is fine as that is how the decks playing it want to use it. Like Boon Satyr and Briarhorn this also has a creature mode which is surprisingly fine. While it is not a great value card in cube terms a 4/4 trample is a solid threat that does a lot of damage and needs to be stopped. It certainly does a whole lot more work than a 4/2 or a 3/3 without trample! This is seeing less play in cube recently much of which I put down to Atarka's Command. While this is the far better combat trick the Command is a much more powerful card overall. Both cards sit in a fairly similar slot (role rather than CMC) in the lists that might play them and as such I think the Command has been pushing the Rampager out a bit.

Blossoming Defense4. Blossoming Defense

So far quite an impressive performance from this little Kaladesh newcomer. This is somewhat of a dual purpose card in that it can counter any targetted things on your dorks as well as offering a stats boost. This means it has value in tempo based creature games like conventional tricks as well as those where your opponent is creature light where other tricks often fall off in potency. Basically this is just a different packaging on Vines of the Vastwood but it turns out it is more convenient overall. A GG cost for a stats boost is just too much to not either hurt your curve or somewhat broadcast. Defense only ever costying a single green and always giving a pump means you have it available when you need it that much more often. The various dual purpose tricks on this list can afford to cost that much more to use as a trick as you are happier holding them. With purely reactive cards you want them open as much as possible to ensure you get to use them well.  This does that perfectly, it offers enough of what you want in the right balance for a very suitable price.

Selesnya Charm3. Selesnya Charm

Like the Commands on this list this Charm is great because it is a good card outside of being a combat trick. The card is never dead, it is a great removal spell and a decent enough combat trick when the situation presents itself. The buff you get isn't great for the mana but it is a very effective buff that generally lets you kill their guy, save yours and do some spill over damage. Alternatively it can just be used as a way to force a load of damage through with a big dork that is being chump blocked. Two mana isn't cheap for +2/+2 and trample but it isn't expensive in general and that makes it very well suited to your combat trick needs! It is a little rarer to get a 2 for 1 with Selesnya Charm than with Dromoka's Command however the Charm is less situational and offers for more potent and important one for ones. It cleanly kills a Wurmcoil while Command helps little against such things.

Restoration Angel2. Restoration Angel

This is rarely a combat trick on the offensive. You need something like a Verdurous Gearhulk in play before you can use the Angel offensively as a trick. On defense however this card is a royal beating. Attacking into any white player with four mana up is a scary prospect. Especially so when they have suspiciously tapped dorks with EtB triggers on them. I have seen this flicker Blade Splicer to make a free 3/3 frist strike dork and then have both freely block and kill two attackers for a disgusting 4 for 1 trade with all the tempo as well a number of times. Resto Angel is just an incredibly good all round card. Her bonus defensive combat utility is just a small part of what she brings to the table. She is the only card on the list (other than Harm's Way which mimics it in most cases very well) that gives no stats boost yet still feels like she can be called a combat trick. She is the control players version of Ghor Clan Rampager but she is rather better overall.

Mutagenic Growth1. Mutagenic Growth

The purest of the combat tricks. This does nothing else fancy at all. It is only ever +2/+2 and it serves basically no other purpose. There are a couple of reasons this stands head and shoulders over the other options. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly is that this is a card you can play easily in any deck at all. It has no real colour restriction. The kinds of deck that want combat tricks are not the kind that care about paying two life. This means you can play it in an Izzet prowess shell and abuse having a free instant card with a relevant effect. Mutagenic Growth is a free combat trick which are super hard to play around and get the most obscene blow out value however there are others. Mutagenic Growth never costs you anything you care about. The card disadvantage from Bounty is too much for most aggressive decks to handle. The life gain from Invigorate is a real turn off for most aggro decks too. Both of those cards are also really awkward to play for their normal cost rather than the alternate one. Growth is generally no problem to toss out for free yet it is still pretty easy to cast it normally and should still have the appropriate tempo swing you desire. There is nothing quite so satisfying as using your Elf or BoP to block a Goblin Guide or Swiftspear and killing it with the Growth. There is a great comfort to know that despite being tapped out you can increase the stat presence on your board by +5/+5 courtesy of a couple of prowess dorks and a Young Pyromancer or something.

The general conclusion is that other than the very best and purest form of combat trick all the other good and viable combat tricks for cube use are dual purpose ones. So long as the card is relatively cheap the potency of the card has very little baring on how powerful the trick is for the mana. Selesnya Charm is half the pump of Ghor Clan Rampager yet a much better card. A small pump generally has the same effect as a large pump and so cost, utility and non-combat trick power are the things that really push cube combat tricks.

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