Sunday 9 April 2017

Amonkhet Initial Review Part V

Liliana, Death's Majesty 5.5

Sadly for this card I think the self mill bonus on the +1 ability will be a drawback in 40 card cube decks a little too often for this to be a really good card. Hitting key cards is painful enough in singleton formats but there is also the very real chance of milling yourself to death. The +1 is her only repeatable value ability so if she is in the last quarter of your deck then she is pretty much a bad Zombify. Control decks will avoid this card pretty hard. She is a bit to slow and expensive and generally off theme for any sort of aggressive deck. Being limited to midrange decks and potentially reanimate decks expecting to get to five mana is a bit of a downer and will reduce her playabiltiy massively. Most good planeswalkers are either auto includes in one archetype or viable in many to which this new Liliana is neither. Otherwise this card would be pretty decent. Going up to six loyalty and making a 2/2 token is pretty reasonable defense. Being able to immediately just reanimate something is pretty powerful too and one of the higher impact things you can do with a planeswalker right away. One of the reasons Dack Fayden is so broken is that Steal Artifact is already pretty swingy in terms of board position so the "free" planeswalker on the back of it is just too much to cope with. Reanimating any of the conventional 6+ mana cube dorks should be more of a swing than your average Steal Artifact so Liliana has that too. Obviously you need a bit of setup if you want to do that right away rather than naturally through casting and then death or Liliana's +1 but that is fine, most reanimate decks don't overly struggle with getting the things in the bin before five mana! Her ultimate is decent as well, you can get to it pretty quickly and safely and it should put you in a pretty good position in to win/not lose. It doesn't win by itself but Liliana's other two abilities should easily be able to in conjunction with the Wrath. Certainly this new Liliana is powerful but she isn't as powerful as she needs to be as a relatively narrow five mana card to lock in a cube place, she will very much need to earn one in testing.

Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons 1

This looks better than it is. Mostly you need her to connect to get the value trigger but if she is connecting then they likely don't have anything to put a counter on. I guess she stops a race quite well but really the kinds of decks that want to be racing will not be at all put out having to stop a 2/2 attacking them while still winning. Hapatra is only good if you have loads and loads of other ways to apply -1/-1 counters. There are not enough in the drafting cube to come close to powering this thing. I do rather like how this works with persist dorks of your own but still, not enough. Play Ophiomancer or any other good card really. This is magical cloud land card. Hard counter their Looter il-Kor six land draw.... Usually a lot of text on a cheap X mana X/X or so dork is a great sign. Here it really doesn't amount to much more than Grizzly Bears.

Soul-Scar Mage 8
Red truly is getting the love this set. A second good one drop, a two mana looter and plenty of other stuff at higher CMC that is cube worthy. This is better than Flameblade Adept but still not quite a Swiftspear. Swiftspear may only be 1.3 or so extra damage output than this on average which may sound little but is actually pretty significant in an aggressive red deck for a one drop. Lightning Bolt is substantially better than Shock and that is a smaller difference! In addition to the damage difference haste is much harder to play around and allows for burst to exploit peoples greed, misplays or just lack or information. It can easily kill planeswalkers too. Haste is a whole lot better than this wither business of Soul-Scar Mage but that doesn't mean this is bad at all. Empowering you burn spells with wither will typically be a bonus, it will add convenience to your timing of them and allow you to stagger them as you need to over time. Generally it won't make a world of difference to the burn spells beyond mild convenience. The number of times it counters persist will likely be comparable to the number of times it is tedious against undying! What really makes the ability shine is how well it works with the various permanents that deal non-combat damage like the various Chandra offerings, Grim Lavamancer, Cursed Scroll and the like. It will empower such cards to be significantly more effective against bigger creatures and will give red a real boost against the meaty midrange decks out there. Indeed this card should significantly increase the power level of those kinds of ongoing ping and shock permanents. We might even see a return of cards like Spikeshot Elder, probably not be you get the point. This is a fine one drop threat that scales nicely with all the things Swiftspear scales with. This is a very good one drop for RDW and Izzet tempo lists easily making the top five desirable red one drops for both archetypes. It is not quite as punchy early as most of the other good ones but it is also one of the better scaling ones into the late game due to the passive effect and how that changes your game. Great card, great design.

Hazoret's Favor 0

If this also gave trample then perhaps but as it stands it is far too all in for its power. It is a three mana do nothing right away and do nothing on its own and it has a drawback. Pretty damn awful.

Cruel Reality 0

Seven mana sorcery speed card with no immediate impact that gives choices to your opponent. This is so very far from playable in cube. When I am not even slightly interested in the idea of cheating a seven mana permanent out with Show and Tell or Academy Rector you know you have a real loser on your hands.

Approach of the Second Sun 3

This is certainly a bad card but it is a one card win through most situations which is not common at all. Compared with Door to Nothingness this seems pretty good and the Door has seen play. There are ways to make this not cost 14 total to win and there are ways to make this not take seven extra turns to win with just the one copy. You don't even need to make a bad a one track deck to do that sort of thing, just a run of the mill control deck could manage. I'm not sure this is really how you want to try and win, typically it is nice when your win conditions also offer ongoing defenses, disruption or value as well as a way to win the game. I might try a few build with this for a laugh, for something different. I don't expect it to be super powerful when I tailor decks to it so I certainly don't expect this to be worthy of a main cube. That said, I expect it to be pretty competitive.

New Perspectives 1.5

While there are some dangerous things you can do with this it is not practical to cast a six mana do nothing and have a full hand, even if the do nothing is drawing three. While I am sure there are plenty of ways to do nuts things with this once online I suspect they involve too many bad cards to actually have a good deck that can survive to making this. Should you just have a couple of cycle cards in your list rather than a combo than wins off free cycling then this is unplayable. Draw three at sorcery speed for six, move along please. This has far more chance in vintage than in cube but even then it is a long shot.

Angel of Sanctions 6?

This is quite a lot of different things going on at once here so it is a little harder to unravel than most cards. This is a 3/4 flier for five with and Oblivion Ring effect bolted on and then it is that again in a kind of flashback sort of way for only one more mana. I you think a 3/4 flier and an oblivion ring are both roughly three mana effects then this is 12 manas worth of cards for a total of 11 mana with a free Ancestral Recal thrown in to account for the card difference with playing such things individually. This sounds like a good deal but obviously magic doesn't scale in such a linear way as you go up the mana curve. Oblivion Ring may be playable at 3 but at 4 it becomes pretty horrendous, Quarantine Field is not a strong cube card because its baseline is exactly Oblivion Ring for 4. Oblivion Ring for five is terrible garbage so a lot is riding on getting value out of the Ring effect and the 3/4 Angel body at the same time. The Banisher Priest style cards have never performed well in cube either but they are far less relevant bodies than a 3/4 flier and cannot easily get involved in combat due to the potential problems in getting them killed. Angel of Sanctions is less risky in many ways, it can attack more freely, it is hardier to removal and generally you can remake it and re-remove the problem card after they first deal with it. It is also noteworthy that this targets any non-land rather than just creatures which is doubly good. It is both a broader problem solving tool than a Banisher Priest style card but it is also less likely to incur repeat EtB triggers as most of those are on creatures rather than artifacts, planeswalkers or enchantments in the cube!

A lot of dual purpose cards lean heavily to one side or the other, they are a threat with some value or they are a removal spell with a free body etc. The Angel of Sanctions is so evenly split in value as to the removal and the 3/4 body that it is much harder to separate them. This makes it look like a 5 mana sorcery speed removal spell that may not be a very permanent answer and that makes me automatically assume this is bad. When you need to kill that Sulphuric Vortex having to wait two more turns to do so will lose you the game. On the flip side this is a cheap and versatile tempo play and at least a two for one. In some midrange mirror match this card should be pretty brutal. It actually feels like it would be similarly oppressive to a Glen Elandra Archmage in the right sort of matchup. White has a lot of options in the five slot presently. I don't think this is great against aggressive decks and it might be too easily handled by control decks. Even if it is as good as I expect it to be against midrange being a white 5 drop that is only really good against a 25-33% of the field isn't enough to carry it. Angel of Sanctions will need to be good against more than just midrange decks to last in the cube. That or be as broken as Achangel Avacyn which it clearly isn't... This is test worthy for sure but I expect it to not last in the cube. Power wise this feels like at least six but expectations are a little more cautious.

Dissenter's Deliverance 7

Yeah, this is great. Testament to how good cycling is, you just put it on any old average vanilla card and suddenly I love it. Already I think this is my favourite artifact removal spell in the cube (competing with Kolghan's Command). This is cheap and instant when you need it to be and when you don't it is something else for very little cost. I would be super happy playing this blind in almost any green base deck. For one it is cheap enough to cycle than you can primarily use it as a way of thinning your deck. A filler card than ensures you have a higher % of Craterhoof Behemoth in your list! This card will give you a lot of interesting choices, far more so than any other Naturalize style effect in the cube. There is little thought going into how you use a Veridian Shaman and not that much more with the spells. Naturalize just sits in hand waiting to be useful while Deliverance is a relevant card to consider at every stage in the game. How much do you need another card? How much can you afford a mana spare to see one? What is the value of a Shatter in this matchup? Does another card help me more than the option on a Shatter later in the game? Hard questions for sure. One of the very best things about this card is how it will generally improve the interaction of decks and the balance of things. The power level of cube was getting to the stage where you could only play cards like Viridian Shaman if you knew you had relevant targets you would otherwise struggle with. Just having the potential to draw a Grey Ogre in some matchups was devastating enough that you would simply not bother with such things main. There is no risk of having a dead or bad card when playing with Deliverance and so we will have a meta with more maindeck artifact removal and that is a good thing. Magic sucks a bit when you just lose to a Jitte or a Vedalken Shackles that you have no answer to. This is also a really nice tool for green to empower delirium (Emrakul!) effects. I have nothing bad to say about this card, it is all good. It isn't even powerful, it is just fair and consistent and will lead to better more interactive games of magic. This set is full of great cards like this and many of them are just fair cards with a cheap cycling option. If Scarab Feast is a potential consideration then it is pretty obvious that this is a lock in for cube.

Bounty of the Luxa 2

Well this is a card with some forced flavour! Essentially this is four mana for an alternating Phyrexian Arena and Gilded Lotus. It starts out as the Arena making it a very slow do nothing four mana sorcery. Only two turns down the line do you start to gain mana and the ability to regain tempo. This thing sadly just does the things you are already playing the other colour to do. Blue plays green to up their mana potential and green plays blue to ensure it has card to play with all its mana. Bounty of Luxa is just too restrictive in how it returns you cards and mana to be worth it compared to the standalone versions you can be playing from those colours. This card simply isn't powerful enough to offset its drawbacks.

Nimble Blade Kenra 0

This is actually pretty decent but it just isn't enough. When you can get 1/2 prowess dorks for one you need a lot more on your two drop (such as flying and hast) to compare at all well.

Winged Shepherd 0

This is a good way to show where cycling will not help a card. You never ever want a 6 mana 3/3 vigilance flier in your cube deck. That is laughably low power level. That kind of card is only ever winning a game  that any sort of action would have won. If this did a specific role or cost closer to what you would pay for a 3/3 vigilance flier in cube then it would have been interesting. This is still more playable than a lot of junk because one mana to draw a card isn't awful but you are not playing a card just to cycle it very often and there are many more useful ones you would play first. Drifting Meadow?

Champion of Rhonas

This is quite the upgrade to Elvish Piper! For one trigger this is a green mana less and +2/+2 on the body. I think that is enough to make this effect pretty playable. This should be viewed as a powerful ramp dork rather than anything else. You shouldn't just rely on this getting you a big cheap guy. Play this in a ramp style deck or play a Natural Order / Sneak Attack style deck without this thing in it. This is good because it is a relevant enough body to not be a wasted play when it doesn't ramp out anything useful and a powerful enough ramp effect that it needs to be respected. If you make this on curve or sooner with a green ramp deck they will need to kill it if they can because of what it could do rather than what it is going to do. A Hill Giant than has a very high chance of forcing removal and a pretty good chance of freely generating 5-7 mana the following turn is a Hill Giant I am happy to play. This is actually quite like a more balanced Rofellos. A huge potential mana influx but that gives enough of a delay for some responses.  This is fairer as it comes later so less bonkers starts and more potential answers however it is also a good chunk larger of a body making it less one dimensional of a card and a bit tougher to kill. Slightly worse than Oracle of Mul Daya overall but that sort of card I think.

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