Sunday, 23 July 2017

Top 16 Charms

As promised, a list of the best Charms for cube use. I was going to try and ignore the issue gold has on the playability of cards as otherwise very few of the 3 colour Charms would be on this list. Despite being able to ignore the narrow nature of their casting cost I could not escape their archetypal homes. You are only playing Mardu Charm in a Mardu deck and if a Mardu deck doesn't want what the Charm offers then it is a pretty dud card. The result is a list which ignores how playable a card is given its colour requirements but doesn't ignore the context of where you will play it. If you are making a gold cube or are just keen to up your gold cards then you could add most of the ones on this list. This list tries to represent the relevant power level of the Charms. The two and one mana Charms a wildly more playable than the three colour ones but pack far less punch and as such slip down this list rather. Over half the RtR Charms see a reasonable amount of cube play. They are rarely great but they do the job. Most of the three mana Charms, certainly the newer ones, see next to no play but do often shine when they do get a run.

While I only have one Charm left in my drafting cube as a result of my crusade against gold cards I have played with well over half of the Charms ever printed in cube. They frequently still get use in more constructed cube events too. Of the Charms I haven't ever used or seen used in cubes at least half of those could be used. Of the modern legal Charms only six remain unused in cube and only three of the gold ones. Charms are an unusual kind of good. Having spent a long time recently thinking about them they feel a lot like the new Amonkhet cycling dual lands. They are both really useful building tools that can greatly help tie a deck together and make it more consistent. While they make the building process easier and the resulting deck look more powerful when it actually comes to using the card it feels less impressive. Canyon Slough (and company) is the comfortable worst dual land in my cube when you have to lay the thing! That doesn't stop it being a good card. It is just that what makes it good is different to what makes other cards good.

The top 7 on this list are a step above the others. They all offer exactly the tools their appropriately coloured archetypes want and are reasonably well powered. In a cube with a higher tolerance for gold cards I would happily run all of those seven. The three colour Charms in that group are all fairly common combinations and are made a lot more playable consequently. Temur and Mardu Charms are probably powerful enough to make that top 7 group but they are in sufficiently uncommon colours that they don't get the same opportunities to see play and feel much less worth their cube slot.

Sultai Charm16.   Sultai Charm

This card looks great, it is instant removal for loads of things and reasonable card quality. The card is never dead and does a lot of work as a rounded removal spell. While not quite the range of a Maelstrom Pulse it is better than a Putrify which being instant feels like a fairer comparison. The issue with Sultai Charm is that no mode is worth more than 2 mana. Despite being a card with three useful and complementing modes this card is a weak way to do whatever it is you do with it. When in blue play the good things, play the Ultimate Price and then play card quality to find it, not the draw two discard one for three kind. Sultai Charm is a deceptive Charm that appears better than it is. While never bad it has the issue of rarely being much good either.

Mardu Charm15.   Mardu Charm

Great card, in many ways the original Collective Brutality. This is exactly the kind of tool black need to stand up well as a control colour. Four damage to a creature at instant speed is not too far off the curve and generally useful. A Coercion at instant speed is also close enough to the mark. I know Thoughtsieze makes things like this look bad but it is just really good, leaving Mardu Charm in the fair range for that effect. Discard effects get a lot more potent when they have other modes you can use as do they with instant speed. The two 1/1  tokens play is both the always of some use and the narrow high potential option. You kill some attackers for free and wind up with some bonus tokens which is decent. Objectively this a great control card. The problem is this is not only Mardu but that it is also three mana. When you are competing with Vindicate, Kolaghan's Command etc. It is just rare to get a look in. Mardu is the least common three colour pairing and it is often build aggressively.

Dimir Charm14. Dimir Charm

This looked like one of the best when this large cycle was spoiled but in testing it turned out to be much weaker than hoped. This Charm really needed the card quality mode to be a lot better than this is. You can only really use this ability when you are desperate or you already know what is on top so that you can specifically put it in the bin. Two thirds of Taigam's Scheming, even if you can do it to opponents library's isn't generically useful. In theory you can counter things like Vampiric Tutor with it but I am yet to see that happen. I would much rather a Shadow of Doubt in such a situation however... The Envelop and the removal option are both very much one mana cards. Both are rather restrictive. The latter is rarely a positive tempo play unless you disrupt equipping with it or something or hit Oracle of Mul Daya. Envelop is potent, even at two mana, but it is surprisingly low on targets in the cube. There are about 5% sorceries in my cube that cost three or more. You are hardly pulling ahead with this countering Ponders. Ultimately you either blow this on a low value sorcery or creature just to use it or it sits in your hand being useless until you are desperate and use the card quality mode. A decent card when used for and against specific things but as generic filler and utility it is very poor.

Dawn Charm

13. Dawn Charm

This is great in the right kind of deck but there are few of those in cube and none in a drafting cube. Dawn Charm is only good when Fog effects are good for you and Fog effects are only good alongside couple of strategies. It can be OK in combo decks without black or blue (for some mad reason) that want to protect against things like Duress, all be it badly. If you can use it to regenerate something relevant to your combo that also improves it. Generally you just see this as a Fog with some exotic bonus utility.

Izzet Charm12. Izzet Charm

This was a real eye opener in terms of understanding Charm design. I thought this thing would be amazing and it turned out to be unimpressive. Izzet Charm is still very playable but it is rarely a good card. All the effects, while great effects, are one mana things. Blue red is all about efficiency, tempo and streamlining. I want Spell Pierce, one mana burn and card quality effects because they are great at one mana and let me pull ahead. Izzet Charm was so underwhelming in my cube it ultimately only saw play when it was enabling combos as a discard outlet. Izzet Charm has generic effects you want and when you are playing burn, disruption and card quality already you just don't need it. Izzet Charm is never dead and can generally find work for all of its modes with relative ease. The problem is that it has no great swing capacity and no abilities closer to the two mana tag on it. You always get a good one mana spell but a good one mana spell is rarely a good two mana spell (unless it was well above the curve before hand such as Lightning Bolt!). This Charm adds nothing new to a deck nor does it often get great trades due to being that bit over priced.

Evolution Charm11. Evolution Charm

This is a surprisingly good little tool. It is the original Grapple with the Past. Early this finds land and late it gets you action! The comparison somewhat ends there as this can't find you curve plays early nor can it enable graveyard synergies or find non-basic lands. The flying option is cute, it lets you snipe out a pesky attacking flier, go over to take down planeswalkers and even just end the game. While these are all one mana abilities they are on 1G card which is both easy to cast and in a colour with generally good mana production. Evolution Charm also has some blue and black colour pie one drop options. Although not entirely off theme for green having these rarer effects contained in a single colour card is nice. Traverse the Ulvenwald rather did a number on this card  although not a direct upgrade as there is a point at which Regrowth effects outscale Tutor ones. Overall this card is not quite powerful enough without any great supporting synergies. It is a filler tool and one that is a little outclassed these days. Very playable but a little tame.

Temur Charm10. Temur Charm

This card looks weak at first glance and is rather better than that. In the right deck this answers basically everything if it needs to, offers surprisingly good reach and is a generally good tempo card. This is best in a zoo style of deck where it is a pretty reliable removal spell due to the size and number of dorks you have. The can't block mode gives you a pretty good imitation of what a three mana Overrun might achieve and the Mana Leak is just a very rounded piece of disruption. While zoo decks rarely want to leave mana unspent they do have the odd flash creature and they can simply be in such a winning position already that holding a 3 mana Mana Leak is better odds on winning than making some 4 drop threat. Temur zoo is not a common archetype nor does any list pack a high spell count. When this is competing with things like Lightning Bolt it doesn't always make the final list of Termur zoo decks which really is the only place you want it. This is a perfect example of a Charm with some generally useful modes, some very swingy modes, some modes not wildly over priced and a mode which does a rare effect you otherwise are not having access to in a sensible way.

Jeskai Charm9.   Jeskai Charm

Another Charm that at first glance doesn't much excite however in action you gain appreciation for how brutal this card is. None of the modes are actually things you would play as cards on their own, even with reduced cost. Only the burn deck wants face only burn, only weenie decks want global pump and they can do far better than +1/+1 for a turn! The removal option is passable. Oust is in the cube mostly because white lacks spot removal after the big names and it is cheap. Oust is mediocre at one mana so at three it is super limp. I guess a better comparison is Unexpectedly Absent which still isn't considered a great removal spell, merely passable and it hits everything! So what is it that ends up making this a really good card in the right place when its constituent parts seem so weak on their own? Both the face damage and the pump scale very well with alternate options on a card. The removal option is the generally useful one and while it is seemingly weak compared to a lot of removal it is sufficiently effective in the right place. It can be great disruption and a good tempo swing. It will hit any target, it is a one for one, it will not trigger upon death abilities and it isn't too far off the par at that. When you need something gone 3 mana to do so at a 1 for 1 rate isn't a bad deal. Things like Maelstrom Pulse, Hero's Downfall and Vindicate see a lot of play. These broader heavy removal spells are not things you want to have to blow on turn three, you ideally want to hold them to take out a five drop or something. They might seem better than Jeskai Charm as they hit more things than just creatures but the Charm obviously has the other utility to make up for that. If you need it to remove a dork it will do so. When a Vindicate just hits a dork you are not making use of its bonus utility, it is just a sorcery Murder. That is pretty weak sounding but still great when you need it and that is kind of the point with Jeskai Charm. The instant and not going to the graveyard will be advantageous more often than the ability to recast the threat will be an issue.

So the burn mode is great even if it is pretty embarrassing compared to Boros Charm. Three mana for 4 damage at instant speed is a tiny bit above par for direct damage (for any target stuff at least). This is either great reach or great planeswalker control. Not hitting creatures is mitigated by the creature removal option nicely and so this has the feel of a meaty burn spell. Lastly the pump! This is what makes the card more focused, the other two abilities would be good in a control deck but the global pump really wants a good board count. Fortunately Jeskai does a pretty good token prowess thing in cube and in such a list this Charm is terrifying. It also has a somewhat Overrun theme. With so many dorks having prowess this is +2/+2. While it may not outright kill people due to lack of evasion the lifelink is such a huge swing that they can't swing back and will just have to wait there to be finished off. Overall this is good reach with or without a board, a combat trick and a Hero's Downfall. It almost has five modes! While a great card it neither draws cards nor costs less than two which is what prowess decks like to play a lot of if they can.

Rakdos Charm8.   Rakdos Charm

This is a super useful card but it tends to find most of its action in sideboards. Rakdos Charm does only narrow things and so is never a card you just play. It is also as good as what you are playing it against. You cannot build a deck in which it is a good card without knowing what you are up against. (unless... Varchild's War-Riders?) What makes Rakdos Charm so useful is how effectively it counters certain niche things. It can be like playing 3 totally different sideboard cards in one. I have seen it used to Tormod's Crypt Reanimator decks, be a Shatter, and be a delicious counter to Spliter Twin combo all in one. The damage mode is actually pretty scary and well worth the 2 mana more often than you think, you don't have to make a billion Deciever Exarchs for it to be good. You can just bring it in against any creature based deck as a heavy late game finisher. No one ever expects it or seems to play round it. When your Shatter can randomly do 8 damage to the affinity player it starts to seem rather more interesting than Smash to Smithereens.

Azorius Charm7.   Azorius Charm

Super low powered but still good enough. Turns out this is just a cycling removal spell for control decks. It is the Censor of creature kill. Either you just throw this down on whatever curve play they have going on to stall the game or you turn it into a card. The third mode is pretty dead in the control decks that play this. Removal contingent on attacking or blocking is not where aggressive decks want to be. This is the perfect padding for control decks, cheap instant disruption tools that scale well into the late game and are never dead. I hesitate to compare this to Remand due to such a difference in power level but the fundamental reason why they are good is much the same. While this has seen a good amount of play it does feel a lot more like a removal spell with cycling that it does a Charm.

Bant Charm6.   Bant Charm

This one used to confuse me. It seemed terrible yet got loads of play. This is because I was trying to take an average of the abilities for which two of the modes are one mana cards. Analysing the card as such you were never getting more than one and a half mana's worth of action. That is obviously missing the point. I rate the removal option at over two mana worth of effect. It is basically unrestricted on target instant speed exile quality removal. In most cases the returning it to the deck will not be relevant. At two mana that would be one of the premium removal cards in cube and be more desirable than Terminate. At three is it clunky but fine. If the removal mode on Jeskai Charm can help carry it then the one on Bant Charm should carry it and it does basically. The ability to randomly counter something is lovely. You can force something through with it or protect against a lot of removal. While certainly not cheap compared to Dispel it is a powerful option to have on a removal spell. The same goes for the Shatter. It is fantastic insurance that will help massively in some cases while being useless a lot of the time. Bant Charm has a very wide scope of interaction. It is great insurance against a wide array of unpleasant things. It does not matter than the Shatter and Dispel are wildly over priced as they save the day when they are useful. Having Bant Charm in hand and the mana to cast it makes you feel pretty safe.

Dromar's Charm5.   Dromar's Charm

The only old (non-modern) Charm to really cut it in cube at all any more. This card heavily leans on the Counterspell mode to carry it with both other modes being 1 mana effects. Mostly this is just used as a way to get another hard counter into a list without making it too counter heavy. It adds some nice options, low value but situationally useful ones at least. The lifegain is narrow but actually very good, it is like having a sideboard card in your main. Five life is basically a two for one vs most RDW lists and frequently outperforms Absorb. Having a free maindeck SB card vs the best deck in the field is nice. The Disfigure mode is the more general other mode. It is low value but it makes up for the limitations of counter magic well. It mops up some of the smaller things that can slip past countermagic. It is also a good way to ensure you don't get caught with a hand full of counters and nothing much to do. It is a counterspell that can be reactive after the fact. This is the best option when you are in Esper, you want another hard counterspell but you already have used up all the good two mana ones. While it is nice to have a role this card is too niche and too fair to deserve any real cube attention but it has aged very well with that three mana hard counter mode. It is also a rare example of a hard counter for a single blue mana.

Boros Charm4.   Boros Charm

Certainly the Charm with the most powerful single mode. Four face damage at two mana is not easy to come by and is one of the most efficient tools at a burn player's disposal. Of the cheap stand alone cards it is one of the highest damage per card things on offer. Shockingly the other two modes are also very competitively priced. Doublestike is basically a 2 mana ability and making everything indestructible feels like it is also 2 mana or a touch over. Any deck that always wants just one of these things will play it if they can. I have seen Kiln Fiend decks splash white just for this! A fairly rare case of wanting two modes of this thing. Unique among Charms simply for having these over powered modes. Only really made at all fair by the fact that it generally doesn't have an always useful mode.

Esper Charm3.   Esper Charm

This is another pretty underrated card. It has 3 useful modes including a narrow one and an always good one. It also has two good modes in terms of return for the mana. Arguably Esper Charm is the only other Charm alongside Boros that has a mode which is above curve. Drawing 2 for 3 mana cards at instant speed is not something you can do in magic without Ancestral Recall. It will cost you life or require you to have disposable artifacts. Council of the Soratami is an unplayable sorcery but at instant speed you can entirely mitigate tempo losses by representing countermagic. It is one of the most stark changes in card value from gaining flash. Discard two is another great effect for scaling with instant speed. You can easily find sorcery speed versions, better ones too, at two mana however adding the instant tag lets you to hit people in their draw step allowing you to wipe out people's turns and reduce capacity for the effect to become low value or dead. Killing an enchantment isn't great at 3 mana or very often useful but it is always nice to have those more unusual removal options. Every now and again your draw spell answers a game ending Opposition or Sulfuric Vortex and you are very smug about it! Mostly this is a versatile two for one. It is the kind of card every control deck wants to have space for.

Abzan Charm2.   Abzan Charm

While Esper Charm is wonderfully clean and a great example of a well rounded and incredibly playable Charm. it is hard to compete with this beast of a Charm. Abzan Charm does very powerful things that you often want. It has a great spread of abilities keeping it always relevant. It also has the good value never dead draw 2 for 3 mana. The life cost makes it feel like a lot worse of a deal but in these colours it seems about the same as the draw on Esper Charm. Then we have the premium removal option of exiling something 3 power or greater. This solves a lot of problems very well and cost effectively. There are a lot of matchups where you are wise to hold this even when you don't have much else going on because it is one of your only effective answers to certain threats. Lastly we have the +1/+1 counters. This can get a two for one on top of a massive tempo swing. It is very much the ability with the high ceiling on the card. Even just going 1 for 1 is a pretty huge swing when you do it with +1/+1 counters. Your dork remains alive and gets much bigger! There is even potential to gain synergy with the counters. Abzan Charm is reliable value, premium removal or a big swinging combat trick. It ticks all the boxes and is a fine example of a Charm.

Selesnya Charm1.   Selesnya Charm

This is the limp version of Abzan Charm. It does the same sorts of thing a little worse. It is much more playable due to being just the two colours and easily as powerful considering it is 50% cheaper to play as well. While the combat trick and removal modes are very comparable the "never dead" mode on Selesnya Charm is significantly weaker. A 2/2 flash vigilance token for GW and a card isn't something you would be playing. Even a 2/3 or 3/2 likely wouldn't see play. It is still fine and does do more work than you might expect but it is not what you want to be doing with the card. You would certainly rather be drawing two if you could! Ideally you want to kill a Wurmcoil Engine or devastate a combat step with the pump. I still find myself playing this over Dromoka's Command an awful lot. The Command can do a bit more each cast and has a larger pool of options but they are generally less impactful and useful than the Charm. Fighting, even with a +1/+1 counter really doesn't compete to a clean exile! The Command does have a higher ceiling but it also has a lower average performance in cube.

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