Friday 7 April 2017

Amonkhet Initial Review Part IV

Scarab Feast 5

This is exactly the sort of graveyard hate that standard needs and that is also generally playable. This is cheap, instant and effective. It is also never dead due to the lovely cheap cycling. The funny thing about this is that graveyard hate is generally a sideboard tool and if you are bringing in a one mana card against something odds are you don't really want to be cycling it. This card is best as a way to cheaply hedge your maindeck against nasty graveyard shenanigans. There are a load of those in cube but the most scary ones tend to be black. This all means you being black and facing someone who has reanimate things on the go will not be a common occurrence. A maindeck hedge card is not worth it very often if it is hedging against low odds things. I think I will test this out just to see if it does get used and if so how effective it is against a random spread of stuff like Snapcaster Mage and Vengevine. My guess is not worth it but it is a nice tool that I would like black to have access to. It doesn't hurt much at all to include cards like this and so if the effect turns out to be worthwhile with any sort of frequency it could well end up remaining in the cube. Renegade Map and Unbridled Growth are still getting loads of love in the cube and are the same sort of thing as Scarab Feast in terms of low impact for low cost.

Insult // Injury 6

While somewhat clunky and protracted like the various other aftermath cards this one seems one of the best thus far. Insult feels like a generally better version of Relentless Assault and a more playable version of Furnace of Rath. It is certainly very cumbersome for a damage card in that it costs three mana and requires you to have damage on the board or stuff you can play from hand, or ideally both. Insult offsets this in a number of ways, firstly there is the mild utility of unpreventable damage, then there is the very high potential scaling (one drop, two drop, Insult + Fireblast seems like a turn three goldfish). Lastly but not at all least is Injury, a free mini Searing Blaze off the back of the thing. It makes the flashback on Firebolt look a little embarrassing in contrast. It is not far off a fair price for an actual spell so for one you can play without it costing you a card to do is a pretty big deal. The only mild drawback with Injury is that sometimes you might need to cast Insult first when you really wanted them the other way round. This card has even better synergy with discard effects than most flashback stuff as it turns it into more of a split card and can even add the draw a card tag to half of it. If you do ever get to six mana the card is pretty blowout as well, a big Searing Blaze plus double damage for the rest of your things that turn is about as big a swing as you can really hope for from a RDW playable card. Red is getting pretty spoiled for choice on the 3 slot these days and tends to just prefer playing cheaper cards if it can. That three mana price tag more than anything else will stop this being a super commonly played card I fear but still well worthy of a cube slot. Discard is ever more a thing red likes to do and the more things that work well with that the better.

Rags // Riches 1

This is both incredibly slow on either half and looks like it won't be very effective either. A -2/-2 all round is a very poor Wrath effect indeed at 4 mana. And for seven mana I am damned if I am being given some plant token...

Cut // Ribbons 1.5

This is more direct than most of these cards but it isn't quite powerful enough. A two mana Flameslash is highly unexciting and a bad face only Fireball that you have to be in black to use. No thanks, I'll stick to Devil's Play if I want X spells I can use from the bin. This card is fine but it isn't good. Keeping the narrow gold stuff to a minimum is healthy for cubes and so this is exactly the sort of thing you shouldn't run.

Mouth // Feed 2

More Call of the Herd style cards! This is quite interesting and pretty playable but it isn't overly powerful. As far as card draw goes you are probably going to just be getting more value out of a Harmonize. When Feed is good you are in a good position, when you just ate a Wrath and need to refuel it is useless. On the other end of things if you are trying to curve out not missing lands drops you cannot easily use Feed to dig for lands as you need to play Mouth first. Even if you do manage this you are unlikely to draw more than two. A three mana 3/3 token isn't that great any more. It is low quality filler. This card may seem to offer some good value but it is too awkward to get at it and it is least available when you most need it. If you want draw play reliable draw, if you want bodies play almost any other green creature in cube and it will be better. If you really want both on the same card than play some kind of Garruk or Tireless Tracker or Den Protector or Ohran Viper or Courser of Kruphix, you know, actual good cards.

As Foretold 5

This is a very naughty card. I liked Brain in a Jar a lot and this is a whole lot more effective than the old Jar. Jar was incredibly restrictive on your build and as such was simply too narrow for a drafting cube. Even in constructed decks you would only have the one copy of the Jar and so if it was disrupted or just not seen you had a pretty weak deck. As Foretold has many of the same problems as Brain in a Jar but it rather makes up for that with raw power and potential for abuse. They also would work pretty well together and offer some level of redundancy to a design. There are two things about As Foretold that really impress me and give it a chance at being a cube mainstay despite being so narrow. The first is abuse with suspend cards. I am pretty sure you can just flop this out and follow up right away with an Ancestral Visions or Lotus Bloom! The second is that you can use it in your turn and theirs like a Wall of Roots. This means you can cast something on your turn with it, then cast something normally on your turn and then cast something in their turn, say a counterspell! This has great synergy with flash and instant cards, Time Walk effects and card draw. I could see this being a feature in those kinds of infinite turn style decks simply replacing the green component as it would be able to provide such a massive mana boost once going. That however is the real issue with the card right there. It takes a very long time to get going. Most of the time you will not be able to make psuedo-power cards mimicking the likes of Black Lotus with it the turn you make it. On turn four you will be blessed with free one drops! Not the highest impact of cards even if you do have a bunch to play. You will not really be powering out and abusing people with this very often before turn six and that could be a problem. The card is absolutely far too powerful not to have a place in magic and at least one viable cube home. I suspect it will fit well into a couple of old archetypes and perhaps even facilitate one or two new ones. Sadly what I am less convinced of is how viable this will be in a drafting cube. It could well be too hard to build around in a limited setting and not be worth a slot.

Regal Caracal 1

Generic styles of dorks that are directly outclassed by other cards just don't see play. I prefer Cloudgoat Ranger and Angel of Invention pretty significantly to this card which means I will never be playing it in my cube. Now I have said that they are going to make loads of mental cat synergy stuff just so this is viable....

Throne of the God Pharaoh 5.5

This is one of those Ankh of Mishra / Black Vise styles of card. They are generally used as a form of reach and threat diversification in aggressive decks. They haven't made a card like one of those in a very long time, certainly not one cheap or powerful enough for cube consideration. Throne of the God Pharaoh is certainly both cheap and powerful enough for consideration! It is far better designed than those old cards and should reward sensible design rather than punishing bad luck. An early Black Vise or Ankh on the play can easily defeat a slow deck or a bad draw all by them selves or they can be dead weight if drawn late. They are incredibly polar cards and don't lead to good games of magic. Throne is not badly designed. It scales somewhat with board development and so laying it early isn't backbreaking for your opponent but drawing it late is still good for you. While I like this card a great deal I think you have to build a little too much around it for it to be a really good card in drafting cubes. In something like a RDW you are only going to have a few dorks and so the Throne suffers some of the same issues equipment and other buff cards do in that they can be negated by having all your creatures dealt with. The upper potential for this card is substantially greater than most cheap damage cards but obviously it has the potential to do nothing. I think generally I just want a Searing Spear or a Thermo Alchemist over this. Things that do something on their own. While Throne may not be what red mages are looking for to power through that extra damage it might well be the thing for white. Not only does white often lack reach it also lacks burst. You can presume you are in a board stalemate with a white weenie player and then suddenly they drop this and alpha strike you. White weenie players have loads more dorks and loads more token generation then other aggressive decks which will scale nicely with Throne as well. Vigilance is common on white stuff and could be annoying counter synergy with the Throne in white decks. Another issue for Throne is that it is obviously best with lots of cheap small dorks however these are the kinds of dork that don't survive well in combat. Things that don't survive don't get to trigger the Throne repeatedly. You can do cool stuff to mitigate this like vehicles, conspire, and convoke. Perhaps even things like Opposition and using it with mana elves could be a thing. Sounds quirky but too off theme to be a real thing. Super interesting card with a lot of potential.

Manglehorn 6.5

This is a significant step up in power level from a Viridian Shaman, which was itself better than the original monkeys simply because of the elf tag. While those cards have been staples in the past the added value of a 2/2 or 2/1 is a lot less than they used to be. When it comes to removal you would rather have a cheaper instant card like Naturalize a lot of the time. Only Reclamation Sage remains in my cube these days (along with Acidic Slime but that doesn't count as it has a relevant body and a much more potent range of targets too). The Sage is low powered but versatile. Mangelhorn loses some of that versatility for a step up in power. The ongoing lockdown of new artifacts will be really huge in a couple of matchups, mainly those using artifact ramp but also a few relying on artifact creatures as well. This is pretty much a Thalia Heretic Cathar against those decks, just trading one power and first strike for an EtB Shatter. Artifacts are probably still the most broken things you can be doing things with even in an unpowered cube so although this is a little on the narrow side I think it will really help to keep cube metas balanced and the most offensive decks more in check. A solid card that is how hoser cards should be designed. Scarab Feast is also a lovely example of good design on a hoser card so all in all good signs going forwards.

Battlefield Scavenger 8

Now this is the thing we have been waiting for. It might not be the best of the two mana looter cards but it is good enough and critically it is red. Obviously this is worse than Vryn's Prodigy but it is also just worse than Looter il-Kor and often plain old Merfolk Looter depending on the application. As a discard outlet the Scavenger is pretty weak. It is rummage rather than loots, it generally needs to attack to get the discard which means it has a good chance of being just the one rummage should it get blocked and killed, it also generally will exert itself meaning even with ongoing looting you are only getting to do it every other turn. Compared to Looter il-Kor this is as much damage for half the lootings and without evasion. A real step down yet still really playable just because of where it is. In many ways it is well suited to red as you are willing to trade a little bit of quality so as to have some aggression as well. This can just smack for two which is more than any other two mana looter can do and smacking for two is often what red wants to do. It also seems well suited to red as red already has a selection of nicely playable exert cards. The Scavenger scales very well with said other exert cards and actually becomes quite good looting if you happen to have one on the go. One of the best follow up plays to a Flameblade Adept as well. All round this massively supports everything red wants to do. It is versatile and offers a huge amount of consistency and potential synergy for red. This is one of the highest ratings I have ever given such a low quality card. It really goes to show how suitability to purpose outclasses raw power. If red had all the same looters as blue then this wouldn't even make the cube without a huge number of good exert guys flopping about.

Glorybound Initiate 2

White now has a huge selection of 3/1 dorks for two mana. While generally nice cards you cannot afford to play too many of them as they are riskier than other common stat allocations of cheap dorks. What this offers does not impress me more than a good 5 or so other white 3/1 two drops and that is far more than any cube should support. This is a decent enough card but it won't see play outside of a lifegain deck and even then, probably not. The two sides of this card (an exhaustable 4/4 lifelink for 2 or a 3/1 for 2) don't really complement each other well. It is a bit of an awkward and backwards card in terms of what you want it to do and what it will be able to do. Just play Knight of Meadowgrain over this, it is less vulnerable, much better on defense and has exactly the same life swinging potential. I don't rate the Knight as cube worthy anymore either, you can just get far more useful things on two drops. It is a shame this isn't a little more pushed so that it is viable as I love the dynamic race potential this card offers.

Watchful Naga 1

Too slow and too weak. This will get killed before it attacks a lot and almost all of the rest of the time it will get blocked and killed in its first attack. This is less good than a Phyrexian Rager, don't play it over the many better cards that can do this sort of thing in green.

Curator of Mysteries 6.5

Like Cast Out a card with cycling for one really doesn't have to be that good to be something you will be really happy to include in any deck that can potentially cast and cycle it. There are loads of 4 and 5 mana blue fliers that do weird and wonderful things. The body and effect of this are fine but nothing special compared to so many alternatives. Despite how unexciting a 4/4 flier for 4 is  in cube when you give it cycling it will seem wrong when you are not playing it. Even if you only need a 4/4 flier in 10% of situations it doesn't matter, it is still a pretty good card to have in your list because it can be there when you need it and isn't when you don't. This is very much a filler card. I suspect the amount of times it will be cycled will dwarf the number of times it is cast. One of the best split cards of all time, draw a card for one or be a 4/4 flier. Only a split card that was half basic land would really compete with such consistency and utility (say a Colonnade of some Celestial form). Curator is low power level by cube standard but such immense playability that it should be a mainstay.

Failure // Comply 3

I like the design of this card a lot but ultimately it seems too underpowered for cube. Being a gold card essentially as well really hurts the value of this card. This is mostly a bad Remand or even a bad Unsubstantiate. You can pay a little more and have it be the Reflector Mage of Unsubstantiate but that will only be an option on fairly expensive spells relative to the turn. They will just recast their one mana burn before you can Comply it in your next turn. Comply is quite cute but you need to pair it with information gathering tools and perhaps even discard if you are not using it immediately on the Failure target. It is low value as well. Comply has no card value gains and only gets a tempo gain when you take out their only good or viable play. Overall this card needed to be all rolled into one effect and cost UW to be cube worthy I think. As it stands it is not effective enough nor powerful enough. Pretty close in terms of power and interesting as well. One of the best gold aftermath cards thus far although that is hardly saying much.

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