Monday, 3 April 2017
Amonkhet Initial Review Part I
Dusk // Dawn 3
An interesting card for sure but I suspect too hard to make work to be a cube mainstay. The issue with this card is that you really need both halves to be doing something before it is a good card in your deck. There are many better mass removal spells on offer so any deck looking for those would only consider this if it was also full of small dorks. A white weenie deck would play cheaper more reliable and less restrictive spot removal over this if it was afraid of big dorks I think. Having to build a white weenie deck where you could ensure your dorks had no more than two power would be a real chore.
The aftermath portion of this card is pretty weak. It is a five mana sorcery that does nothing to the board. It is just value and that rules out this for use as much of a combo card. If it put things in play there might be cause to self mill and make an army never bothering with casting the Wrath bit. You are not going to mess about with self mill and discard in a deck full of weenie dorks just for some added value. I like this card a lot but ultimately it seems too under powered and far too fiddly for the cube.
Trueheart Dualist 6
White Zombie! An elegant card in design and flavour. Functionally it is somewhere between a Call of the Herd and a Loyal Cathar. Both those other cards have enjoyed success in the cube. While Trueheart is still a fine card it will really only be filler. The power level is simply not high enough these days. Grizzly Bears and Grey Ogres need to do a lot to be worthy of the cube. Blocking an extra thing as a 2/2 is handy but hardly groundbreaking, most other keywords will do more. The value is nice but it is wildly tempered by what that value is. If it was a cards worth of value it would be great but a free (in cards, not mana) Grey Ogre really isn't what you are looking for most of the time. If you are doing that then you have nothing else left to do and it likely isn't affecting the game result very often at all.
The direct comparison with this and Loyal Cathar it is very close indeed, each with their own perks and flaws. Mostly Dualist is a tiny bit better however there is one key aspect in which it isn't. You only ever pay 2 mana for the Cathar while you have to pay five mana for the Dualist. This makes the Cathar a better tempo play and somewhat more suited to the aggressive deck that are likely to want these sorts of cards as filler. The many perks of Dualist do make it more playable in less aggressive decks. The second body is substantially better, it is bigger, more defensively useful and is also white. The initial body only costs 1W improving its consistency, convenience and all round playability. Dualist also has synergy with discard effects that Cathar does not. You can use Dualist essentially as a a Moments Peace which is pretty cool. The more I think about this card the more I am thinking I would be pretty happy to play this in midrange and control decks in a sort of Wall of Omens / Thraben Inspector / Kitchen Finks kind of role. While it might be a touch less punchy in aggressive lists it is still perfectly good filler. This combined with how much more playable this is outside of the aggressive lists should mean this gets a good chunk more play than Loyal Cathar. Great card design in that this card seems viable for aggressive decks all the way control decks while being able to serve a couple of different functions. Fogs are great but they are usually too situational to merit any serious maindeck inclusion. This being a much more versatile Fog style effect makes it very interesting. Unlike any previous Fog style card in magic.
Archfiend of Ifnir 4
This is quite terrifying! In the right deck this is clearly a nuts card however it is super rare that a five drop, even a stupidly powerful one like this, gets a cube slot if it requires support in the build of your deck. Just a 5/4 flyer for 5 isn't worth it at all. The cycling helps but not nearly enough. With Archfiend the power is all in the ability. If you can make this and then Wrath their team you are all sorts of ahead. That means you want discard outlets and free/cheap cycling cards which is pretty doable in the cube. The discard outlets in my cube are typically not things like Zombie Infestation and Putrid Imp which would both enable the Archfiend to easily Wrath. I certainly don't have Street Wraith in my drafting cube! Relying on cards like Collective Brutality or even Faithless Looting makes this too slow and relying on stuff in play like Liliana of Heir of Falkenrath is limiting and easily disrupted. I will give this a quick trail in the drafting cube but I am pretty certain it won't be worth it. For the formats where you are able to sculpt a more tailored deck however this will be nuts. Better than any Doomwake Giant and in cube you get to play Doomwake Giant with Replenish!
Oracle's Vault 0
Love the card but it is utterly unplayable in cube. It is significantly more unplayable in cube than Aetherworks Marvel. For six mana you get to cycle this card... at best. Then another two turns and four mana later you turn it into a limp Aetherworks Marvel with no cost beyond the tap to power it. You might even be two cards up at this point! So, if you can invest at least 10 mana and three turns into a Concentrate you are rewarded. Seems like a commander card to me.
My my, this thing smarts rather. Depletion lands are the nut low but depletion creatures are more interesting and viable. Lands you only get to make one a turn and they are only lands, they only do adding mana. Creatures are threats, just because they might not be a threat next turn doesn't mean they are no longer a threat, you still need to deal with them and play around them. Depletion lands are like half lands, inherently under powered (unless they tapped for 2 mana I guess but Teferi's Isle didn't see much love!). Exert isn't quite the same as depletion however as you have the choice which makes them wildly more dynamic. The offer utility and they will make game planning and the turn cycle far more interesting. I am a big fan of exert in theory.
As for Glorybringer, he sounds like a goblin. He is also pretty insane. He is so good I feel like I must be misunderstanding something. Although not as direct and on message as the mighty Thundermaw Hellkite the Glorybringer is clearly a more powerful card. This gets to Flametongue Kavu when it attacks. It is the Sarkhan Dragonspeaker that gets to do both abilities at once! Either you are just making a mess of someones face with this or you are getting huge value and tempo in an ongoing capacity by making a mess of their board and their face. Exerted or not exerted, if this thing is attacking you then you are losing. Another way to look at this card is that it gets to attack creatures every other attack rather than players and when it does they don't get to fight back! This can even do the ultimate fatal blow of taking out a dork and a planeswalker in one shot. The only thing holding this back from being one of the best midrange cube cards on offer is the fact that red isn't all that into being midrange. Glorybringer could very well change that.
Sixth Sense 2
Keen Sense is back and is slightly worse! No abuse with Sharpshooter for this new kind of Sense. Keen Sense has had a couple of outings in my cube but has never been a good cube card. The added redundancy of Sixth Sense might allow for some more synergic uses of the cards but it is still no where near being worth a main cube slot.
Miasma Mummy 0
This seems like a worse Rotting Rats which is a pretty bad starting place for a card. The rats are an OK support card in very specific synergy focused decks, Miasma Mummy gets better stats than the Rats but loses utility for it which, for a low powered synergy driven support card is a bit of a problem. This is a bad body, a bad discard outlet and a bad disruption tool.
Unwavering Initiate 0
Despite the embalm mechanic being cool you never want a three mana 3/2 vigilance in cube. Hallowed Spiritkeeper may be that but he has some rather more significant things going on. An army of 1/1 fliers is wildly better than another 3/2 vigilance and that is before we consider the difference of 5 mana to get these things! If a vanilla 3/2 vigilance for three is too weak then the five mana version is near worthless. Despite seeming comparable to Trueheart Dualist this card really isn't when it comes to cube. Those small step ups in mana command significantly more return in cube to be viable.
Prowling Serpopard 6
This will be overrated as are most things with the uncounterable clause. Uncounterable in and of itself isn't very exciting at all. It is only good when it comes on something that is particularly important to resolve. Potent removal spells such as Abrupt Decay and Supreme Verdict qualify in this respect, the Verdict particularly as having a 4 mana sorcery stopped is a pretty ruinous blow. Creatures are a lot less exciting to have as uncounterable. For starters only blue decks have countermagic (excluding unplayables like Withering Boon), they don't always have counterspells, when they do it usually isn't more than 3 or 4 and most importantly they are rarely there as an answer to creatures. The draw go decks of old that would just try and counter everything simply don't work any more. This Serpopard would wreck a lot of old school blue based control decks but a current cube deck isn't going to care much about this at all. Blue decks usually have other means to ensure creatures are not going to end them. They might keep them tapped, they might bounce them, they might steal them or they might just make something far bigger! Mostly they will cast a non-blue spell that kills the offending creatures. For me to get at all excited about this this it would have needed regenerate or hexproof or some other survivability tool. Even then it would be pretty narrow in the cube. Thrun, the Last Troll isn't a good card until you put buffs on him. A 4/4 for 4 doesn't do enough most of the time even if you can't answer it directly.
This is more exciting as a 4/3 for 3 than it is for the abilities and a 4/3 for three isn't that exciting. Playable but that is all. Despite all my negativity I still think there is a place for this in cube. I can see myself happily playing this in a couple of archetypes. It is just the sort of efficient meaty body a zoo deck wants. As those matchups are so tempo driven you will almost always draw a one for one or better counterspell with a half decent threat should they have mana up. Just having them unable to Remand for a turn will often be enough to over power them. A small amount of disruption in such an aggressive deck goes a long way. The other home I see for this is as filler in green ramp. Those decks are pretty polar in their power spread making them more vulnerable to counter magic than most. If they have a hand full of ramp and one big threat then they will be pretty cold to a counterspell. Being able to force through a threat by playing it after the Serpopard will sigficantly improve the matchup between green ramp and control. It is like a green Abeyance, rather than a card you get a decent body which is fine. As a cube card this is relatively low powered and relatively narrow. It is the fact that it fits well into more than one tier one archetype combined with a unique suitability for them that earns it a cube slot (for now!). I am pretty sure this will be less played and less good than things like Blade Splicer, Thalia Heretic Cathar and other filler or niche three drops.
The BiCycling Lands 8
Name courtesy of BDM, lets hope that sticks. Here is to hoping these come out as a complete cycle. There are now a number of playable cycles of dual lands that are allied colours only. If I run these, Shadow Lands and Battle Lands in my cube it will distort the balance of things a little. It is a lot easier from a design point of view for a cube when you have a full cycle of lands and include all or none of them. There was a time when there were only allied colour quick lands and man-lands and that made a huge difference. I have tried all sorts of balancing things in the past such as only including the off colour halves of weaker dual land cycles. This didn't help enough as the duals being that much weaker were pretty noticeable and meant that off colour decks still struggled for consistency compared to the allied ones. All the best dual land cycles are at least now complete however there is a very good chance indeed that these are now the best incomplete dual land cycle. These new lands are better than the Temple Cycle which are great lands and comfortably in the top ten dual land cycles themselves.
So lets talk about the functionality of these cards and what it is that makes them so good. The first thing I look at in a dual land is if it can produce mana when they first come into play. Obviously these cannot, they cannot early or late or on some condition, they are just always coming into play tapped. In that regard they are much like the Temples and man lands. They are about the worst dual land you can make on turn on in any given cube. Scry 1 is massive early game and at least with making a man land you have a threat ready to go later in the game. By making these lands you lose a lot of their utility. These lands are at their worst when used in decks reliant on speed to win. When it comes to consistency these lands are second to none and that is their strength.
Mono coloured cycling lands are commonly used in the cube and would be a feature in the drafting cube if there were room for such luxuries. Indeed, with all the synergies for cycling in Amonkhet they may well make a return. The battle lands are really not far off these lands if they didn't have the cyling function. As such these lands would be pretty much cube worthy with just the basic land types or the cycling. Having both makes them pretty nuts and is a little ominous for the battle lands. You can even fetch these up to then cycle them off turning your forest cycle into a real cycle! The value of basic land types are well known for their numerous synergies. They improve your colour consistency more than basic lands or dual lands without basic land types and they improve the value of basically every card that refers to a basic land type from Vedalken Shackles to Kird Ape, from High Tide to Nature's Lore.
Cycling lands (of any flavour) on the other hand insure you against screw and flood. They obviously help in floods as you are able to turn them into another card. They are more subtle in how they help out against screws as it is in the deck building stage where they help. Cycling land let you play a higher land count than the optimal land count without much in the way of repercussions. This in turn will make you safer against low land draws. As such these cycling dual lands offer a lot of the utility that both the Temples and the dual man lands offer. They are fixing and they are better fixing than either with the basic lands types. They are consistency for your draws, all be it in a more removed manner than the scry lands. They are also a late game mana sink and source of action which is the function of the man lands.
I really like these lands. They are super powerful yet also incredibly fair. A land that is always coming in tapped is a huge cost in cube but it is well worth it for here. These are very skill intense. Imagine the hand with a two, three and four drop complete with four lands. Turn one would be a good window to sneak out a comes into play tapped land but then you won't have the easy option to cycle it off later if you draw mostly lands in the first few turns. I greatly look forward to how these new lands will open up build space and pose interesting choices. Any cards which improve the consistency of games are a big win in my book and these lands offer that in spades.