Thursday 6 April 2017

Amonkhet Initial Review Part III

Exemplar of Strength 5

This is a neatly designed card that has quite the range of things it does. You can make this as a 1/1 that will slowly grow and gain you some life or you can make this as a 4/4 by killing off one of your plant tokens or mana dorks. You  could even live the dream and get all sorts of value with a Grim Poppet, a Quillspike, Carnifex Demon, or a Wickerbough Elder! While cute these silly combos are not really happening and so it comes down to how good the Exemplar is on his own. A two mana 4/4 that gains three life sounds very good on paper but having to survive a turn as a 1/1 and then attack as a 2/2 and then a 3/3 before you get there does rather calm the card down. It is like a Slith card that grows more consistently but has a cap on the growth. Exemplar is certainly better than the cards from the Slith cycle but I don't quite know if it is enough better to make the cube. Exemplar is very good against red decks, a 4/4 is a chore to deal with and three life is spot on. They will need to kill it asap which is somewhat of a win for a two drop in the kinds of role you would play Exemplar in. Against most other decks it is a bit on the low impact side and will quickly be outclassed on the board. You may have to make it as a 4/4 if you don't make it turns two or three as it will stand little chance surviving combat to get past being a 2/2. Just big cheap dorks are not all that exciting in cube, Sylvan Advocate for example gets substantially more play than Tarmogoyf. Goyf is usually bigger to start with than Advocate or Exemplar and ends up way bigger. If Goyf isn't frequently making lists then it doesn't look great for the Exemplar. Being so borderline as to its cube viability if there is enough good -1/-1 counter synergy cards from Amokhet the Exemplar should be a good thing to work with them. Sadly block synergies rarely offer enough to translate them into cube.

Onward // Victory 1

Better than most of the other duo colour aftermath cards but still far too pricey and narrow to be a cube thing.

Scribe of the Mindful 0

Nice effect but on a Grey Ogre... Scrivener seems better than this and that is not a playable card.

The Monument Cycle;

Kefnet 2
Bontu 1
Hazoret 3
Rhonas 5.5
Oketra 1.5

Much as I love a cost reduction card these starting out at three really limits their use. Mostly to midrange as it won't help enough of the dorks in aggro and there won't be enough dorks in control. Sadly midrange decks tend to be two or three colours which makes these mono colour buffer card rather worse still. The cost reduction alone isn't worth 3 mana and a card for any deck and so each of the Monuments is relying heavily on the effect. Bontu's is aswful, even in an aggressive deck that wants lifegain it is still too minor to be exciting. If it was Vault Skirge would be played outside of affinity and it really isn't!

Oketra's effect is nice and looks like it would be great for aggressive white decks but it wouldn't. Three drops in aggressive white decks are near the top of the curve. You will get little to no value from the cost reduction and the token generation will be too slow to be that significant. The more synergy you have with tokens the less creatures you will have and so the less effective the Monument becomes.

Hazoret's effect is lovely and seems like it will also offer a lot of synergy with other cards from this block, a certain Adept springs to mind. The issues here is again much like that for Oketra's, it is just a little too late in the day to get the value you need from a three drop. In the case of Hazoret's in red, a non-threat three drop at that! Perhaps a more midrange red deck will be viable and if so this would be a nice inclusion. For the aggressive decks I don't think you want this even if you do have loads of cards like the Flameblade Adept.

The issue for Kefnet's is that you don't have that many blue creatures in the cube. There isn't really a deck that is just lots of the best blue dorks. This looks quite good but unless you are triggering it every turn it isn't going to be worth it. In a heavy blue deck you have to ask why you are not playing cards like Vedalken Shackles over this. Seems like it is too clunky and unsuitable for the existing meta.

Tentatively I want to call Rhonas's the standout of the cycle. While I might prefer rummaging to this effect I have to concede that this is significantly more appropriate. Green not only has loads of dorks to trigger this but it also has many more expensive dorks than other colours and good archetypes that support playing said expensive dorks. You can realistically expect this to be a pretty good ramp effect in a mono green deck. It will likely generate you more mana than a card like Wood Elves does over the course of a game. Being able to have this out on turn two courtesy of a mana elf is a pretty big deal too. A five drop turn three is pretty serious but two three drops is even more tempo! The cost reduction is the best of the bunch and is pretty reasonable. I wouldn't play it over more rounded or cheaper ramp effects on its own but it happens to come with a pretty good trigger. Giving something +2/+2 and trample is a pretty big deal, your weakest dorks become relevant and your middle dorks become really serious. You can apply a lot of pressure for free. Great planeswalker control and just a fairly scary ongoing beating. A free mini Kessig Wolf Run activation each turn! I am still wary of a thre drop card that does nothing on its own. It is narrow regardless of how powerful it is and so I have rated it very conservatively. Does seem pretty good though!

Channeler Initiate 6.5

Somewhat the opposite kind of thing to a Wall of Roots. This is a two mana walking Birds of Paradise with as much mana producing capabilities as a Gemstone Mine but rather than becoming useless it in fact becomes a relevant 3/4 dork. I like this card a lot. Two drop ramp is pretty good. When it comes with fixing it is even better. Syvlan Caryatid gets a decent amount of play and so should this. If you want pressure more than defense then Initiate is a great tool for the job. It is like a fixed Lotus Cobra, I actually think Initiate would be better if you couldn't get multiple mana from the Cobra on a turn with things like sac lands. Cobra can attack and ramp but it is only ever a 2/1 and as such often does nothing. Initiate will generally not be attacking until it is a 2/3 or 3/4 and will be much more effective at doing so. You don't need all your ramp to be always producing extra mana, in a lot of decks having them become threats after they give you that bit of burst is exactly what you want. This is a great tool for any kind of green deck from aggressive ones all the way through to control ones. Another card this has some similarities too is Gyre Sage. The Sage did see more cube play than it should have probably and did perform reasonably well despite being a little backwards and awkward. The Initiate is the same sort of dual purpose ramp/threat card but it is much better suited to doing what you want from it when you want it. Initiate is more consistent than Gyre Sage and needs no supporting. I expect to see this get more cube play than Sylvan Caryatid making it a highly worthy cube card.

Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun 3

Impressive and powerful little card. If this were mono white it would be a happy addition to the cube. As a gold card I fear it is just too narrow to be worth it. The card is pretty narrow to begin with, it is just a Bear at first unless you have token generation. It is a purely aggressive card too which is not what Azorius is most known for! While most white decks have some token generation in them there are not that many that would consistently enough have them for this to be a powerful effect off the bat. Although it does work with itself it is not until you have embalmed it which is a whopping five mana to do. A five mana 3/3 unblockable isn't super exciting. You are not going to bother discarding this for the value! You need the WU non-token end of this card to be consistently good and it just won't be in all bar the most heavily tailored decks. This isn't good enough to bother building around and so it just becomes not good enough period. Using him to trigger the surge on Crush of Tentacles is the best case scenario for him but when you don't have the Crush he is going to be pretty weak in whatever silly deck that is!

Drake Haven 0

While very easy to repeatedly trigger this in blue it is just too slow and fair for cube. It is at least four mana and two cards before you get your first 2/2 and that is such a huge setup cost that you probably don't recover until drake 3 or 4 gets made. You have to build around this too heavily for my liking so it is very narrow. It is also a risky card as it does nothing on its own. All big alarm triggers for a bad card!

Cast Out 6.5

I hate Oblivion Ring and all removal like it. I don't like Faith's Fetters any better either! The thing I like most about this is that it has cycling so that I can get rid of the damn thing! I suspect that is my bias coming into play. Objectively this is a pretty effective card. It is unrestricted, broad, exile removal at instant speed. It has everything you most want from a removal spell. Utter End never quite cut it in cube and Cast Out may look a little worse however I think Cast Out has a better chance of remaining. Mono coloured and cheap cycling both really help Cast Out for a cube slot. The cycling in particular massively reduces the damage a risky four drop card can do you. Basically all the good, broad removal white has is sorcery speed. Being able to deal with plansewalkers at end of turn will be pretty huge for the slower white decks. The aggressive white decks may even be glad of a cover all removal spell they can play without fear of it clogging up their hand. The instant speed of Cast Out gives you a good chance of gaining a lot of value when compared to things like Oblivion Ring. Not only will it be much more effective disruption and tempo swings but it will also allow you to play it far more safely. You may well not be able to Oblivion Ring something and keep up a counterspell to protect it while with Cast Out you likely could. Fairly boring but pretty effective. It is just such a low cost way to include some insurance in your deck that I can't see this not getting a bunch of play. Just throw it in your deck and expect to cycle it most of the time. That sounds like overall it makes most things better!

Kefnet the Careful 1.5

This is far too unreliable to be played in any normal sort of deck. Even in decks full of draw and even full refill cards (like Time Spiral) this is just not going to be what you need it to be at all reliably. There is too much in the way of discard effects for one. When a Mind Twist/Thoughtseize is also a removal spell it is rather uncomfortable. You could play this is a super late game win condition come card draw engine. Despite being better card draw than Jayemdae Tome this is still awful card draw. I don't advise that plan. I think you can play better cards that are just threats or just card draw and be a lot happier about it. The later you go the harder it is to have seven cards in hand. In the decks where you might want a 3 mana 5/5 flying indestructible dork (which is all of them really) the inability to play other cards at any sensible rate will be too onerous a cost. There is one small glimmer of hope for this card  to see cube play and that is in a sort of Life from the Loam / Siesmic Swans style deck where the land return ability is quite useful on top of a fairly good chance of a full hand at most stages of the game. I'd probably still rather a Trade Routes and a Solitary Confinement but it is nice to have options.

Watchers of the Dead 0

This is a bad body and a terrible graveyard hoser. Almost all the things you want to use the graveyard for are specific and so this is almost never going to hit the things you need it to. Play almost any other graveyard hate over this.

Trial of Solidarity 1

Not powerful enough as a one off buff and no chance of reliably recurring this with the cartouche mechanic in cube so this seems unplayable despite looking quite interesting.

Cartouche of Ambition 0

Overcost, low impact and wildly too situational and risky.

Trial of Ambition 3.5

Cruel Edict on an enchantment is going to have some uses and will see play in the more creative enchantment themed decks. There is not going to be enough synergy in the main drafting cubes for either cartouche or enchantment interactions for this to do better than Chainer's Edict or Diabolic Edict but I do expect this to see infrequent yet ongoing cube play.

Cartouche of Zeal 1

This is cheap and does quite a lot, arguably more than the white one. I don't anticipate this ever returning a Trial for value and so I'll ignore that aspect of this card for now. This is like a Raging Goblin on top of a Frenzied Goblin trigger. While this might do 3 things for you the odds on all of them aligning to be simultaneously useful is really low. The real issue for this card, as with the other cheap auras, is needing a creature to go with it. Legion Loyalist seems like a better deal than this mostly because it is always at worst a Raging Goblin. Almost all the red creature buff cards fail to compare well to Reckless Charge and this certainly does that!

Trial of Zeal 0

Because Volcanic Hammer is just too good. This is a three mana three damage spell at sorcery speed and that is a very poor deal indeed. Not even enchantment synergy can save this thing.

Cartouche of Strength 0

Most of what you pay for this card is in the fight potion rather than the buff portion. I am not a big fan of fight mechanics in general as they are easily disrupted and unreliable despite that. This being a three mana sorcery just makes it seem like really bad spot removal.

Trial of Strength 0

Call of the Herd seems a lot more reliable if you really want vanilla under statted dorks.

Cartouche of Knowledge 0

Good value but relying on having a dork just makes this too inconvenient, particularly in blue. You can't even use this in desperation on one of their dorks just for the draw. Not unsurprisingly all the Trials and Cartouches seem like a limited mechanic and shouldn't feature in the cube as any sort of theme.

Combat Celebrant 5.5

Mighty powerful but with a Dandan statline this card screams liability. This is a one shot effect at best, that is assuming it isn't instantly killed with spot removal. When it comes to combat this is the first thing they will be killing, likely with some 1/1 token. That would be the case just with the stats regardless of the effect. This is about as fast as Relentless Assault and it is far more disruptable. One of the big reasons you don't play Relentless Assault is because it does nothing on its own, I am loath to say that a 4/1 for three mana does something but you get the point. Also, worth noting that the Celebrant doesn't get a second attack unless it has vigilance or gets untapped. Realistically you are only going to be swinging again with a couple of dorks and mostly they will be one or two drops. Lets say they are a pair of 2 power dorks on average then the Celebrant will threaten 8 points of additional damage. That is pretty good for three mana. You are assuming they will trade a low value card for the Celebrant as well so it starts to look more like 4 damage and an Edict. Either of these outcomes is pretty good. Even the outcome where they kill it before it gets to attack isn't the worst. It is only red removal spells that are utterly ruinous against one toughness dorks and in the cube when you are in a colour you have significantly lower numbers of cards in that colour played against you. If this eats a premium non-red spot removal spell then fair enough. I don't much like this card but I think I am convincing myself it is powerful. Red has a lot of more reliable and plenty powerful enough three drop threats to chose from but this does seem to offer some of the highest potential. Speed and quantity of damage is largely what red decks care about and this can offer a vast amount of damage and it does so fairly quickly considering the cost to damage ratio potential. I think this card will perform comparably to Eldrazi Obligator. It will either be a little bit under par or it will single handedly win the game. You take a mild risk on average power level and consistency for a potential huge return and that is a pretty good trade in a bonkers format like cube. This is one of those cards I am a little less sure on, while I think it is a viable but low end cube card it could easily be reds best three mana creature or totally unplayable in cube. It certainly seems less playable outside of cube. Although powerful it may even just be overkill when it actually does work. While not entirely a win more card it does still feel like a luxury rather than something you actually want. Ultimately I think a more contained, more resiliant or more versatile dork would be preferable like Pia Nalaar but worthy of testing regardless.

Gideon of the Trials 7.5

This is a good planeswalker for sure but it is a well contained level of good. This may seem nuts on paper but there is something lacking from Gideon of the Trails that should keep him nicely fair. The thing with most planeswalkers is that they will generally attain you incremental value each turn when stable, be that card draw, token generation or some other advantages. Gideon doesn't do this at all. If they can block a 4/4 then Gideon isn't helping to win the game. His loyalty gains only make him a little harder to kill. Gideon never threatens a game ending ultimate, quite the opposite infact! Offensively Gideon seems like a 3 mana 4/4 indestructible which is certainly a good threat but he isn't nearly as scary as a 4/4 indestructible creature would be as you can just attack him back and kill him that way. Gideon of the Trails is a fairly poor threat only really able to apply pressure on a pretty empty board or when you are so far ahead they cannot afford to swing back at you. Odds on in a big board stalemate where you can attack safely with Gideon he won't be achieving anything.

Where Gideon shines is as a defensive tool. A three mana planeswalker with a strong defensive +1 is just dandy. It is not far off the good Kiora +1 and Gideon is one less colour, one less mana and has an extra starting loyalty! This Gideon is pretty safe against stuff in play. Then we have his ultimate which is what makes him so different to other planeswalkers. With just his first two abilities this Gideon would frequently find himself being ignored as he has ceased to be relevant enough. There is always a point at which aggro decks just start going face regardless of you having viable planeswalkers to attack. Gideon ensures that you have to go through him first. With at least 4 loyalty and a lockdown on your best threat each turn that could be a pretty tall order. Gideon of the Trials is on of the best defensive planeswalkers going regardless of cost. That is a pretty big deal and means you are not so worried about his inability to yield ongoing value or his relatively poor status as a threat.

I think Gideon is good enough that you would play him in aggressive decks despite it being unlikely you will want to use the "ultimate". He is simply quite efficient, quite versatile and a royal bugger in a race situation. The ability to use the +1 on a potential blocker to prevent it killing one of your dorks is handy and allows you to be more aggressive than Kiora does. Control decks are the place I see this being best despite this being pretty broadly playable. The synergy with most mass removal Gideon has is lovely. He will offer immense protection while being reasonable planeswalker control and ultimately a win condition if you need. I also like how the ultimate can very effectively shut down a number of combo decks too. Overall a very powerful planeswalker but I think a lot of people will initially misunderstand how to use him or what he offers and use him poorly.

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