Thursday 31 August 2017

Card Spotlight: Fractured Identity

Fractured IdentityThe capsule review is that this card is totally nuts. First pick, off the charts good even in cube. If that is all you need to know then there is no need of reading further. If however you want to know why I shall endeavour to explain. When you have a card with multiple effects going on I like to break it down into components so as to see how good the value is. With this we have something that is pretty close to a Council's Judgement, it may still target but wide range exile removal is still very good. The other half of this card is rather like a Clone. It can only target your opponents stuff and it only makes a token copy and thus more vulnerable to bounce but it will copy any non-land card. So how much are these two things worth? Well the white removal would be a lock in to the cube at 2W mana. The clone is also worth around the 2U mark. The removal is worth a little more in my books by they likely both round to three mana. So, before we even consider the two for one we have six mana's worth of stuff going on. You can add at least a mana for said two for one. Look at Elvish Visionary, a very playable card. A 1/1 is worth 0 mana in cube and draw a card is about 1 mana but combine them and you are happy to pay mana more than the sum of the parts are worth due to that two two for one value. Fractured Identity is thus worth around the seven mana mark and as such is a very under priced card indeed.

Not all cards scale the same with mana cost. Twice the effect is rarely worth twice the mana so while I say this is worth seven mana it would be unplayable at seven mana. Removal options rapidly fall off in value after three mana in cube. The fact that it is so good at five mana  regardless of being under priced still came as quite the surprise. Obviously just looking at this on the spoilers I could tell it was very powerful but at that point it just looked like a five colour gold removal spell. A bit of a Bituminous Blast! I figured it would be too narrow to fit into lots of decks but it turns out this is the kind of card you splash for it is so good.

The first time it was cast in my cube it looked like the game was totally over. The opposing player had a Karn Liberated and a Wurmcoil Engine in play. The Identity player peels it off the top, kills the Karn and then uses their Karn copy token to exile the Wurmcoil. Turning what looked like an unwinnable situation into a win in one card is a pretty big deal. You almost always want to copy the thing you exile so it is no kind of drawback that you can't exile one thing and copy another. It is also a great deal better than Confiscate effects as you don't risk them getting their thing back at a later stage. This is premium removal with build it value and tempo. This card makes Treachery look narrow, risky and low power level. If  you know your opponent has this in their deck so many of your potential plays will just result in you losing should they have Fractured Identity.

I would already be considering this card for a ban if it did not have one relatively pronounced weakness. Against the aggressive deck this is just so expensive you will often die before it is relevant and if not it will still often fail to generate enough of a swing to stabilize. The aggro player will still likely still have to play around it however They may need to intentionally not cast their top end spells and aim to win with a swarm of one and two drops instead. If you are playing midrange or control and this resolves against you expect to lose. I imagine their are few other cards in magic that would afford such a reliable swing in your favour for win percentage increase than Fractured Identity, certainly not many for comparable cost. This is easily one of the best cards for cube to come out of the Commander sets and that is some good and powerful company to keep. It is perhaps not as playable as Toxic Deluge or Baleful Strix but it is certainly up there in the power.

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Top 10 Ways to Cube

I thought I would do something a little different and perhaps more useful than usual. You can play cube in lots of ways and I take full advantage of that fact. Certain styles of cube cater to different occasions. Sometimes speed is a factor and sometimes simplicity is relevant. Most often numbers and preference of players at the time will determine how we play cube. This list includes most of the ways in which I play cube;

10. Eight Man Rochester

For those who don't know how a rochester draft works I will quickly outline it. You have the same starting conditions as a normal draft with 8 players sat in a ring each with 3 boosters of 15. Player 1 opens their pack face up on the table for all to see and picks a card. Then players 2 through 7 each take a card in order and then player 8 will take two cards and the direction of pick reverses with player 7 back to 2 all taking a second card. That is 1 pack done. You then repeat this process starting with player 2 opening their pack and player 1 becoming the wheel. You do this 24 times total until all the packs are drafted. You always move on to the left for the next player to open a pack, there is no change in direction other than the back and forth motion within each individual pack around the table. You either do a knockout event or swiss pairings with three rounds for a quick 3 matches per person or you can do the full round robin for 7 matches each.

So rochester is a very skill intensive format with complete information on what your opponents are up to. Being very high skill level and being significantly slower than most other draft formats makes it a fairly uncommon choice. While it does have a really high skill cap in the draft it is actually a great way to play with beginners. As it is open you are able to help, comment and explain choices as they come up. New drafters can be shown how to draft and will wind up with a decent deck and have a much better experience than they might in other cube settings.

The real reason I think this is fairly uncommon and unpopular is more how it makes people feel than time constraints or difficulty. Not only do you get to see all the cards you want taken away from you, often by people who are not going to use them but you also have to draft under the scrutiny of every body else. I think a number of people simply don't like to have their potential mistakes naked for all to see.

9.   Six Man Team Rochester

This is one of the best ways to do a team event. The format gains more from being a team event than most, if not all, other formats. It is basically the same as the eight man except you do it as a six with team members sitting in alternate spots. You then play up to 9 best of 3 matches (each person in a team play 3 matches, one against each of the opposing team) with the first team to 5 wins being the victor. I generally find it is best to make five boosters of 11 cards each for this event so that the wheel motion remains clean like the eight man. With much more incentive to hate draft and fewer cards (both with two less players and 4 cards less per pack) I highly recommend doing five packs each of 11 cards. This does mean this is one of the longest drafts going with lots of cards to get through one at a time and also lots of debate and arguing over picks! Two things to be wary of for this event are wildly different skill levels or clashing personalities of similar skill levels. In the former case you often get two people making all the choices and four people sat there bored. In the latter case you have two people arguing and four people bored! As you have complete information and it is ultimately a 1v1 fight rather than an all versus all affair the value of targetted hate picks is much much greater. It leads to a much more adversarial draft and that is not to everyone's liking. It is also a somewhat different skill set to most other larger drafts.

8.   Isca Draft

Here is a link to my introductory article on the format although I do have more current points lists;

So far Isca is my least done format but also one of the most enjoyable. It is one of the closest you can get to constructed in the cube yet you also have a huge amount of control over the meta based on how you allocate your points. While Isca is one of the most different ways to cube it is also one of the more awkward. You have to find a points scheme you like or test, maintain and balance your own. You also then have to have a far deeper pool of cards for all the exotic decks and the potential for multiple copies of cards being used. While still a work in progress I really like this way of cubing and how it leads to uncommonly seen cards and archetypes. The experience is very fresh and well worth that extra time investment.

7.   Two Man Winston

Winston draft is a pretty different way of allocating cards. If you want to do a limited format with a drafting aspect and you only have two people this is one of the better of few options. In Winston you have four face down piles starting with a single card each in them and a deck of a face down randomized cube cards. You then take it in turns to pick a pile. The process for which involves the active player looking at the cards in the first (next) pile and either taking them or adding a random face down card from the deck to that pile and looking at the next pile. Each player may look at each pile once per round, if they do not like the fourth pile they may take a random card from the deck instead. You continue play from the next pile each time, so if I look at the first two piles on my first go (adding a card to the first and taking the second) then you would start your turn by looking at the 3rd pile. One of the things that makes Winston hard is that your pick can be one card or a whole bunch of cards. Number of playables is a new factor to evaluate in Winston so it is not just a case of adding up the power and synergy of the cards in a pile. You can either pre-select a number of picks per person or you can have the sudden death mode where by one person simply says "I'm done" after a pick, the other person gets all the remaining piles and both must make their decks with what they have.

Winston is a hard draft format. There is lots of memory at play and it is generally fairly different to the other draft formats. For one, it is not a precise at all. Unlike a normal draft you cannot be focused on an archetype. It is almost like you are drafting a sealed deck pool from which to build your deck rather than building the deck itself. There are lots of subtle things going on too. The more you look through the piles the more information you gain but doing this adds cards to them giving your opponent more options on more and potentially better cards first. You want to pick up powerful cards but letting slide a pile with multiple playable filler cards can be dangerous, particularly if you have no gone for the preset pick limit option. While it is a super hard format it is also a little random. You get fairly janky decks and often one will just roll the other, not because it is better but just because it wound up having a very favourable matchup. Certainly that is part of the skill but so many piles are picked entirely based on the addition of the unknown random card that you will simply not know what your opponents most powerful and dangerous things are.

6.   Two Man Solomon

This is the other draft format that works with two people. You have a deck of randomized cube cards and you take it in turns to "Fact or Fiction" split a pile of 8 cards at each other. The main difference between Solomon draft and actual Fact or Fiction is that the pile not chosen each time goes to the other player. You can do piles of any size but I have found 8 to be a good number. If you do five piles the draft takes longer and you get rather more 4-1 splits against bomb cards than would be ideal. With 8 cards the 7-1 split is substantially rarer. Like Winston you can do a pre selected number of picks each or a sudden death mode. Exactly how you chose to do your sudden death compensation is up to you. I typically just do a free pile of 8 to the person still in.

As with Winston you are trying to draft a good sealed deck pool rather than an single archetype in Solomon. This means you need to end up with way more cards than the 45 you get from a normal draft. The same is true for Winston. Do not base your pre-pick numbers based on getting 45 or so cards. You want about 80 cards to have decks that start to be cohesive and fun to play in either format. This means you want about 10 picks each in a Solomon draft. As you will average 4 cards per pick when you split and when you opponents splits two people times four cards times ten picks equals eighty!

Solomon has much of the same goings on as Winston in terms of other strengths and weaknesses. It is incredibly hard, probably even harder. You have complete information and have to base all your card evaluations on not just your own pool but also what you think your opponent has. You also have to value cards in composite forms rather than just one for one. The games can also wind up being rather one sided and rather less fun than the draft itself! With so much time put into to doing a draft I find it disappointing to only have one matchup to play with my deck at the end. Especially if it is a stomp either way.

5.   Just Build Some Decks!

I have not been doing this so much lately but it was one of my preferred things to do when there are less than four people. It is one of the main reasons I have decent experience with loads of the exotic, unusual and low tier decks. When you just want to see how some cards work together or how some new mechanics can be abused then just build that deck as if you had done so in some rotisserie style draft and play some games. That way you don't waste loads of time testing things out silly things in formats that are a much bigger time investment.

The most important thing for this format is having the right buddy to do it with. You both need to have creative ideas about things to do in the cube and ideally different thoughts on how to execute them. This is a deck builders format rather than a players format. It is more of a testing ground than anything. The objective is to have good games and learn things. This makes it somewhat less functional for people who mostly like to win.

As there is no draft involved you have to be diplomatic about dividing up the cards. Usually each person has a couple of things they want to try out and invariably there is overlap in the card pool. You then have to work out which things you can try out that have the least overlap, which cards are going to be key for certain decks etc. Then you have to consider how those matchups are going to look and build accordingly. If I am building a mild twist on a well known tier 1 archetype and I am up against some Lab Maniac sillyness then I will tone it done so that the games can be closer. Likewise if I have a super weak deck I might toss in some high power cards to help carry it. I tend to test out all the decks that use niche cards in this format which is generally the combo decks, the tribal decks and those decks based on mechanics like energy or proliferate! The reason I rate this format so highly is how it allows me to understand cards more fully. Exert is a good example, I have the best exert creatures in the cube but I don't have all the best support cards for exert nor all the OK exert cards that become good with those exert support synergies. I get to see how exert works on its own in the cube but I don't get to see the full potential of it and how much the support can raise it unless I build a deck using lots of cards not in the cube. By building the exert themed deck I see how good the good cards can get and can appreciate the range on the exert synergies and thus better judge in the future how much return I will get from including exert cards with various kinds of support.

4.   Team Sealed

Works well for 4 and 6 people. Each team gets a random third or half of the cube. I get an edge if we do halves as I will then know exactly what they have in their pool as it is my cube and I maintain it. As such we tend to do thirds whenever we can. With six people you can do 3 teams of 2 or just two teams of 3. With four it is always two with two. Building two or three decks from a card pool is way more interesting than just making one deck. Team sealed events are also very beginner friendly. Team sealed is one of the quickest ways to cube and is remarkably balanced compared to some other draft modes. You have less control in sealed than you do when drafting in some form and so if you have an itch for something specific sealed is a little less appealing.

3.   Heads-up Double-Decker Sealed

This is just like a four man team sealed except done with two people. It is basically just sealed deck heads up but making more than one deck each. You get a nice set of four games and it is very quick. It is what I do when I just want to play some magic and it is probably the most common way I cube these days. The decks you get in sealed are not that unusual, it is one of the least varied formats. Also having no draft element makes it less skill intensive than the others. I much prefer building and playing against two decks when doing a heads up sealed. Most pools have at least two viable decks and it is unfulfilling to not build and play one of your good options. It is also unfulfilling to go through the building process just to play one match up which could very well be a one sided or dull match up. The building process is a lot more involved and interesting as well when there is some overlap between your two decks. A minor drawback of this setup, the same with the 2x2 man team sealed is that you are playing an even number of games. Some people do not find the 2-2 result a satisfying one and would prefer a format with a more clear winner.

2.   Rotisserie

As far as I am concerned this is a pinnacle of magic. A cube rotisserie is the most enjoyment I get from playing the game. I think it is the most balanced, the most skill intensive, the most diverse and the most powerful of the cube formats. In theory Isca should be the most diverse but I simply haven't done enough of that for it to really count. Just in case some people are unfamiliar with the format I will quickly outline it. You can do a rotisserie with as few as four people but six to eight is best. You randomly order yourselves and set the card pool. I like to allow for any card in all of magic as that greatly increases the diversity. It does however put a strain on having cards or playing with some proxies. I still ban out the power and comparable cards more often than not as it again increases the range of possibilities. Despite that rotisserie is the most fair and balanced way to play with the power and should that be something you love to do in cube then I suggest more rotisseries for you! I only ever dust off the power if doing a rotisserie event. Once permissible cards are known, a pick limit is set, and people have their seats player 1 begins by taking any card they like. Player 2 then takes any remaining card they like and so forth until the final player who takes two cards and the order of picking reverses. The people in the middle again each pick one card of the remaining pool until it reaches the first player who will now pick two cards. The first and last players are considered to be on the wheel and often considered to be the premium seats as they mostly pick in pairs. While this makes life easier and certain combos much safer I am not sure it is that much better if at all. You have more time in between picks and therefore less time to respond to things. Picking bounces between the two wheels until the pick limit is reached. You should always have the last single pick on the player who had first pick. This ensures everyone has the same number. About 50 picks each is plenty and will allow for five card sideboards. A rotisserie draft is a fairly long process, generally a touch slower than a Rochester. While going is fast to begin with it slows down a lot towards the end where the options are basically just as great but all the obvious stuff has gone and lists need fine tuning. Rotisserie draft requires people to have a great depth of card knowledge and archetype understanding. It is not a beginner friendly format unless you are happy helping and advising. I have found doing the draft portion over several weeks online is the best way to go about doing it. It gives loads more time to mull over your options and really get into the draft and deck design. It also leaves way more time to play the games on the day and leads to a more manageable and desirable day of gaming. The anticipation is also that much greater as you have spent so long considering the finer points of your deck. While it is a draft format it is much more like a constructed format in how the decks play and the matchups work out. As such I find it benefits from allowing sideboards. This however only really works if you have access to the niche sideboard cards that you don't ever see in drafting cubes like Tormod's Crypt.

1.   Eight Man Booster Draft

The classic way to draft. It has a great balance of all the things, it is fun, it is relatively quick and not brain hurting levels of hard. You get good decks and good games on the whole too. While the 8 man with 3 packs each of 15 cards passing left right left is the cleanest way to do things I will happily draft with six or seven people. The fewer drafters I have the more I like to reduce pack size and increase pack number. Five packs of 11 is my preferred way to do a six man draft in cube. I have done drafts with 4 and 5 but it stops being as good as alternative formats that low down. I think the huge success of the booster draft is the way it feels like you get to open 32 packs of magic cards! You get that lottery ticket feeling each time. Cracking packs is just a really fun thing to do whether it be for high value foil mythics or for those limited bombs to put in your deck. While booster draft is the go to format with good reason it doesn't mean it is the only format, even if you consistently have a group of 8. Playing other formats now and again greatly increases the longevity of cube. It makes you a better magic player too.

Thursday 17 August 2017

Simic Ramp

As Foretold
I have talked a lot about As Foretold and even a good chunk about Reason / Believe and I have been playing with both a whole bunch. While As Foretold has many applications in cube this kind of deck is one of the most common I find myself using it in. As Foretold is pretty nutty it turns out and isn't nearly as narrow as I expected. This list is probably a tier two deck but it is the kind of deck that loads of people love to play. You make loads of mana and draw loads of cards and get to control the game with countermagic to some extent. The deck is part combo and part control and feels like an old school turbo land archetype. It is a pretty new archetype in cube as it leans quite heavily on recent cards but as said, it does look and function a lot like things that have gone before it. With it using many new cards I have yet to fully refine my builds and don't know exactly the ways to go. Here is my best effort at an example list;

Ancestral Vision

24 Spells

Reason / Believe
Birds of Paradise
Ancestral Vision

Coiling Oracle
Sakura Tribe Elder
Arcane Denial
Wall of Roots
Sylvan Library
Coiling Oracle
As Foretold
Eternal Witness
Nissa, Steward of Elements
Courser of Kruphix
Shardless Agent

Commit / Memory
Oracle of Mul Daya
Jace, TMS or Architect

Mystic Confluence
Time Warp

Avenger of Zendikar

16 Lands

Mystic ConfluenceIn this list the Shardless Agent should probably just be another fatty such as a Simic Sky Swallower or even just a Primeval Titan. It is lame if you hit countermagic and despite having loads of setup you don't want to have to rely on having it. Ancestral Vision is great with As Foretold so you don't need that extra push from Agent. The rest of the deck is based around stalling out so you can abuse ongoing effects from planeswalkers and other ongoing effects while getting up a nice high land count. Provided you are still in the game you will get to a critical mass where you just take over. You can easily setup kills that they cannot play around. Avenger and a Time Walk, Nissa ultimate or lock down with Eternal Witness and the Confluence.

The deck is a little fragile to getting swarmed by aggressive weenies lists. Having a lot of cheap defensive bodies helps you get to your powerful late game but lacking much in the way of spot removal does make a lot of tasks vastly harder to accomplish. You are not quick like many combo style decks and so you cannot just hope to outpace or avoid problem cards. If you can find the space to throw in something like a Walking Ballista it will make your life a lot easier. Even things like Crush of Tentacles can go a really long way in making up for lacking hard removal in your colours.

Nissa, Steward of ElementsWhile the As Foretold is one of the best cards it is not a key one, you can do what it is doing with just ramp effect. You probably have to run some of them anyway as the low end is a little lacking and you don't have great ways to ensure you have the As Foretold to make. If you can make it on turn three or four, two if you are a luck sack, then happy days. It is pretty hard to lose if you are at all stable after making it. It is such an absurd amount of extra mana pretty quickly, especially when you can pair it with potent instants. Cryptic Command is a great card for this deck and should be picked and played if possible. It isn't essential and I didn't want to go overboard on non-essential high pick priority cards. While the BoP is such a card it is very replaceable or even something you can do without. Torrential Gearhulk is a mixed bag in this archetype. It has some great synergy with a lot of what you want to be doing with this deck but it is also lighter on targets that is ideal more often than you expect. It also removes that card from the game which is sadder for this deck than most.

Commit // MemoryNissa is a great finisher card that has decent synergy support and gains. She slots in perfectly to the list but is very hard to use properly. If you chose what to do poorly she will get you little value in the early game. She is also not essential. Either of the five mana Nissa would be totally fine cards for this deck as well and you don't want to go to overboard on same name walkers. More walkers would not be a bad thing in general for this deck. Four mana Garruk's are great as is Tamiyo.

The most key card for this list so far seems to be Commit / Memory. It is exactly what you want to be doing to stall the game on the front end for a fair enough price. Commit has proven to be more valuable than Venser as a disruption and stall tool. It is of course Memory that pushes this archetype super hard. It feels like starting the game with a Time Spiral underneath a Shelldock Isle. At some point you can just get a free full seven refill. The reason it is free is because you do it with the Gearhulk at the end of their turn should you be playing it or you do it when your As Foretold reaches six. Knowing you can go through your whole deck twice is lovely. Knowing you have the ability to throw resources around willy nilly because you have such a reliable and efficient way to restock on gas is a refreshing way to be able to play too. You greatly out power other decks through sheer mana and draw potential however your effective double library means you are not endangering yourself.

Oracle of Mul DayaMystic Confluence is another fantastic card for the deck as it does all the things you want a card to do. It is huge instant speed draw when you are flush with mana yet it is a potent disruption tool when you are tighter and struggling to stabilize. It also has potential for perpetual use under the right conditions as mentioned earlier.

Overall the deck wants a bit of counter magic and a smattering of other disruption. It wants a healthy amount of ramp, draw and library manipulation and it wants a couple of big finishers too. Having loads of card quality effects combined with the draw means you can plow through your deck pretty quickly finding the specific tools you need. It allows you to really abuse the library matters cards like Mul Daya. It is super rare to have every land in your deck in play (sac lands at least in the bin) yet this archetype manages it pretty effectively. That being said I often wind up with Primeval Titan in the list which helps a lot with that!

Reason // BelieveReason / Believe is another perfect fit card for this list and its true power is really well showcased in this kind of deck. The card draw in the deck greatly offsets the initial card disadvantage and the mana production greatly empowers the aftermath option. You frequently have five plus counters on your As Foretold and can just fire it off for a free card. The library manipulation also helps empower Believe, I have had a couple of big hits with it and that is cute but ultimately not that important. In this list just getting the card back is all you really care about. Generally having seven mana to make a huge threat is the easy part! Having played Reason / Believe in this deck a lot now I have come to really appreciate the power of scry 3 over basically all the other one mana card quality spells as a stand alone setup card. It is subtly better than Serum Visions and the like and makes for much stronger follow ups with Coiling Oracle, Shardless Agent, Courser and new Nissa. It can setup a couple of turns as well rather than the one you typically get with other one mana card quality cards. I'm still not 100% sure I can justify Reason / Believe in the cube but it certainly is a stand out in this archetype.

There are a lot of ways to build this deck and lots of redundancy in the colours to help. Green has a lot of ramp, blue has a lot of counters, card draw and quality things and that makes up a significant part of the deck. Beyond that you can choose which synergies you want to run, what kind of problem solving tools you want and what things you want to allow you to win. This is the kind of deck you can just run an Emrakul as your win condition. You can Believe out the 15 mana one or just use it to carry on going through your library until you have enough to hard cast it. In such a deck you would want more looting effects. The Promised End could also be your main win condition and could be reliably hard card pretty quickly too. As this archetype generates a lot of mana you wouldn't need to focus on having super delirium options. Using so many new cards and being such a variable and complicated deck I suspect it will take a while to refine it and work out the best ways of doing it. I also expect that process to be incredibly fun!

Top 13 One Mana White Removal Spells

Swords to Plowshares
White is an odd beast in cube. It is the colour of removal and has pretty much the best tools for dealing with the various card types. Jund colours are a little better and spot removing lands and black has more planeswalker removal but white can do it all and does the other types the best. It has some of the most playable cards that can hit any (non-land) permanent and the most efficient single type and Disenchant flavoured removal. White also has all the best mass removal on the whole as well. White may seem abundant in good removal however that is just because it covers such a broad range. When you are after a specific kind of removal white typically gets quite thin quite quickly. Black has Terror effects for days while white will hit the bottom of the barrel pretty fast.

In this list I am going to take a look at the one mana creature removal options in white. It is somewhat of a follow up to the look I had at black one mana removal. While the top of this list blows the black cards out of the water the average power of these cards is probably below that of the black cards. White's removal is also a bit all over the place. It is a lot more contextually narrow than the more generic black cards. A white removal spell might be good in a control deck but terrible in an aggressive deck. This makes it much harder to appropriately pad out white with good removal options.

DispatchWhite has two archetypes in which it is a main colour, one of which is control and the other aggro. Both deck types want cheap spot removal. Aggressive decks want to be able to clear away blockers so as to freely attack and they want to do it cheaply so that they can continue to mount up the pressure. Control decks want to be able to slow down the game by handling early aggressive plays that might do critical damage prior to mass removal, they want to be able to do multiple things in a turn and they want to be able to snipe out tenacious creatures that might survive a mass removal spell. The first two mostly just require low cost, the latter often requires exile and instant. On the flip side, control decks don't often care about dealing with utility creatures that don't attack as the mass removal will get them and they are typically less urgent threats to deal with. White has good removal options for stopping things when attacking. The main problem for the aggressive decks is dealing with those utility dorks as aggressive decks do not have mass removal to handle them like control does. The removal desired by the aggressive white player puts far more of a premium on things are are not restricted to effecting creatures in combat.

The issue for cubes is that the best card for an archetype is not always the best card for the cube. In modern Terminate is one of the best removal spells and it gets a lot of play, or certainly did before Fatal Push. In cube Terminate is only marginally more effective than a Go for the Throat. It is also less broad in range than Dreadbore. I don't run Terminate in my cube because it isn't offering that much more than the alternatives while being that much narrower. Terminate is better than Go for the Throat but it has well under half the playability. Cube cards have to take into account playability as well as suitability to purpose. Yes, a specific card might be the best option for an archetype but if it isn't playable in anything else it probably isn't going to improve the way your cube drafts and plays by including it. That design philosophy makes it rather awkward adding in cheap removal to white. Either you are using low powered cards that cater to every one or you are using narrow cards.

Gaze of Justice
I ruled out a number of cards like Murderous Cut from my black one drop removal options as it is not a turn one removal card. Much of the value of being one mana is that you can start interacting right away. The need of doing stuff immediately is increasing as power creep continues to push tempo and more cheap answers are needed for the slower decks to stay in the game. There are a bunch of somewhat one mana white removal options that I am also ruling out for this list for their inability to do much on turn one. Dispatch can work on turn one as you only really play it in affinity which is more than capable of metalcraft out of the gates. However you look at it the card is suitably narrow that despite being the best removal spell in the game when you fulfill the conditions you can't include the card in many cubes at all. Next up on the honourable mentions is Soul Snare. A fairly cheap and fairly effective defensive removal card that has some nice synergies from being an enchantment and a permanent. A decent control card but a fairly useless aggressive one. Sadly this has been left off this list because it is a two mana removal spell and not because it is too narrow. Plenty narrower cards to be found high up on this list! Lastly we have Gaze of Justice. Similar looking to Dispatch but a brutal additional cost. Tapping three guys is only something you can do in an aggressive deck and tapping three guys is such a huge loss of tempo it rather defeats the point. Narrow, situational and often counter productive! Also near impossible to use on turn one but bad enough that that isn't the problem for the card.

So, on to the list of options. Be prepared for some weak cards! So as to compare to the black options I will also give these cards an out of ten rating as well as their rank in the list. There are even some weaker ones I didn't include. Mostly direct downgrades on cards already here.

Kirtar's Desire13. Kirtar's Desire (0/10)

This is a bad Pacifism and Pacifism is pretty bad. In a defensive situation this is better than Pacifism a lot of the time but that doesn't stop it from being a bad effect overall. This is totally unplayable in an aggressive deck as you won't have threshold until the super late game, usually not at all. Pacifism itself is bad because it is fairly easy to remove and does nothing to stop abilities and static effects. Just because you put a Pacifism on a Creeperhulk doesn't mean you are surviving. Other reasons Pacifism effects suck are that you can also still sac off the creature for value, bounce and recast it free from its aura, give it protection such that the aura falls off, or simply kill the Pacifism and have a potentially flash haste version of your guy back. Risky and narrow card. So yes, this card is better than Pacifism in control decks but you still don't want it.

Spirit Link12. Spirit Link (0.5/10)

Back in the day, like the "old school" days way before cube, before even the internet was really a thing, this card was quite a viable way of shutting down a dork. Most dorks were just fairly vanilla beaters. I have seen many a game won with a forest walking Llanowar Elf skipping past a bunch of Spirit Linked Ernham Djinns! The only real removal then was Wrath of God and Swords to Plowshares so the Link was a decent way of stalling things till you found a Wrath. That stopped being a thing pretty quickly as dorks first phased out for super powerful spells, then slowly phased back in, first with lots of utility and EtB effects and more recently with massive amouts of stats, keywords, activated, triggered and static abilities too! Spirit Linking most dorks in the cube is doing little useful at all. It is pretty much a Kirtar's desire in that it will stop something attacking effectively. The sole reason I have rated it higher is that it can be a pretty good answer to some of the red hate bears and pingers. Put it on an Eidolon of the Great Revel and you are happy with things, likely they will have to kill their own guy or play nothing cheap for the rest of the game! Spirit Link also has the dual utility of being able to buff one of your own dorks. Not great but lifegain is a good counter to burn decks. It isn't a good enough sideboard card against red considering the alternatives to be worthwhile there and it isn't good enough against the whole field to ever play main really. All it is is better than Kirtar's Desire!

Searing Light10. Righteous Blow 2.5/10
11. Searing Light 2/10

Righteous BlowBasically these are the same card. Blow is slightly better in control decks and Light slightly better for the aggressive decks. High power low toughness things are generally higher priority to kill as a control player. Blow will kill a Bloodbraid, Thalia Heretic Cathar, Ahn Crop Crasher etc. Light on the other hand tackles defensive dorks like Courser of Kruphix and Wall of Omens more effectively. The damage from Blow is something you can abuse or combine with first strike or normal creature damage respectively as well giving it slightly better ability to take out big things. That said their are more expensive creatures with low power in the cube and the average toughness is higher than the average power. In theory Light should have a higher ceiling and a greater range of targets. On the whole these are not great cards for aggressive decks as you have to incur a block. The real cost for playing these as an aggressive player is higher than one mana, more likely two or three damage that you don't get to do as well. Neither is able to handle a utility creature outside of combat either. Righteous Blow makes Disfigure look really really good and Disfigure makes Shock look pretty impressive and Shock doesn't make the cut in red. These cards would be pretty embarrassing to have to resort to using. They are suitable for doing the desired role but they are incredibly low powered.

Reciprocate9.   Reciprocate 3/10

While this is instant and exile (the holy grail of removal!) and concedes nothing to the opponent it is rather a ball ache to use. Generally it fails it killing everything that isn't attacking. That makes it pretty useless in aggressive decks and inept again at handling utility dorks. Every now and against you get to kill a Chandra or Thermo-Alchemist or other red pingy thing but that isn't very exciting. On top of a deceptively low target range and narrow control only use this card requires you to take a punch. Control players don't like taking punches. The card also scales up impressively badly for a card with no size, colour, or shape restrictions. You want to kill that Blightsteel Colossus? You have to take some damage from it, better not take it all! This is a terrible answer to almost all the fatties bar an Inferno Titan that happens to do some face damage. This card is really quite bad, much worse than it looks. If you are willing to put cards this narrow into your cube you can do a whole lot better in the power and effectiveness.

Chained to the Rocks8.   Chained to the Rocks 4/10

Presently with just lands you can get a maximum of 9 cards that will allow you to play this turn one (seven sac lands, Plateau and Sacred Foundry) in a singleton cube. Realistically it will be more like half that at best. This is less consistent turn one than most of the cards on this list. It is also narrower as you have to be in red or have great fixing for some splashed in duals. After jumping through all those hoops you get a Journey to Nowhere at a one mana reduction! Journey is OK but it is risky and on the clunky side. It has many of the drawbacks of Pacifism and some extra ones too! The mana reduction here doesn't solve the clunkyness of this style of card. Best case scenario this is a one mana exile that hits any target. Worst case scenario it sits dead in hand for a while and then only results in flickering a creature that has a strong EtB effect. If you Chain a Titan to the Rocks and they kill the Chains or the Rocks at the end of turn then you are in trouble! This is a high risk card, it is a very narrow card too. The payoff is decent but in cube I cannot advocate running this over Journey even if you are trying to up the one drop removal options.

Oppressive Rays
7.   Oppressive Rays 5/10

Here we have an unsuspecting winner. This does what so many white cards fail to do in that it shuts down most things that want to remain out of combat. This would even do a good deal to tame a Creeperhulk. They would need 8 mana to pump something else and attack/block with both which would pretty heavily shut things down. More importantly this takes a huge dump on a card like Birds of Paradise or Thermo-Alchemist. In many ways this is the white Paralyze. It is a tiny bit worse in that it is 3 mana to do the thing not 4 but you only need to pay the 4 once if you want to block with your Paralyzed thing and you don't need to pay anything at all if it has an ability you don't need to tap to use. Given that white lacks the ability to hit the utility dorks with so much of its removal I think Oppressive Rays has a lot more value in white than Paralyze does in black. Yes, this has all the same risks as other enchantment and aura based removal in that it isn't very permanent however that is generally less of a concern with the utility creatures. If they get their Llanowar Elf back at instant speed on turn five thanks to a Naturalize you are unlikely to care very much. This is basically an Arrest for the early game and likely much of the midgame too. It works well in control buying time until mass removal and it works well in aggressive decks proactively taking out any creature they like in a very cost effective way. This will be the next white one mana removal spell I will add to my cube if pushed to do so. This is lower risk than most other enchantment based removal while seemingly being very effective for the mana. Yes, this has fairly poor scaling, most people will be happy to pay 3 to smack you with a Titan. White already has good removal for handling the big stuff, it is dealing with the little things that white is most eager to expand on and Oppressive Rays gets that job done well.

Harm's Way6.   Harm's Way 6/10

At first I thought this would have to be in the honourable mention section as it isn't a true removal spell that you can reliably use on turn one. The thing is that this list is full of cards like Reciprocate and Righteous Blow which are just as hard to have active as Harm's Way. Any one mana removal that relies on targetting things in combat can only be used on turn one when on the play if facing off against a hasting one drop like Goblin Guide. On the draw they can at least hit any one drop attacker or two drop with haste. As such Harm's Way is eligible for this list. Harm's Way looks to be a pretty direct upgrade to Righteous Blow. Unless they are attacking with a 1/2 it will kill Shock something and you will take two damage less than if you were using Reciprocate. It also has way more combat trickery and interaction with Burn making it a far better card all round. Provided they have some dorks involved in combat it can be used to take out the non-combat utility dorks as well. This is part removal, part combat trick and part Deflection (for burn spells). It is mildly situational but this is more than made up for by its wide range of utility. While not always as good and reliable as a Shock it does have a higher average range which is not something we can often say about one mana removal cards outside of red.


5.   Condemn 6.5/10

This is fantastic removal but it is narrow. You can't play this sensibly in an aggressive deck, this is for midrange and control players only. Against attackers it is basically just another Swords to Plowshares. Control players care not about conceding life. Bottom of library is basically as good as exile. It gets round persists and on death triggers and will rarely be seen again. Often by the time a Condemned card is seen again it is actually just a bad draw. If you hit their one drop on turn one then your Condemn is probably better than exiling the card. Comdemn is a great answer to vehicles, man lands and other awkward threats that evade mass removal. Due to the way in which white removal is split I am happy with a couple of removal spells that are narrower in my cube provided they have this level of power.

Oust4.   Oust 7/10

This is quite an oddball removal spell. For white this is about as middle of the road as you can get. As a sorcery it is a bit more restrictive for control decks and conceding three life is a turn off for the aggressive decks. It is also a lot less permanent removal than Condemn, probably even Oppressive Rays and the like. This makes it even weaker against things with EtB effects. With all that in mind this is a one mana one for one removal spell that will hit any target and get it out of play no fuss for a decent chunk of time. This has much steadier scaling than either of the big names Path or Plow. On turn one 3 life is less of a big deal than a free land regardless of whether you are aggro or control. In the late game 3 life is also less of an issue than the six or more life Swords will be giving up to get rid of that Wurmcoil Engine etc. Oust isn't tricksy or clever. It isn't the perfect removal card for any situation really but it gets the job done in most. It handles beaters and utility dorks, big things and small things. It gives you great control over the game and it comes at a very reasonable price indeed. Oust also has a much more brutal effect than most other removal cards when it hits certain things at specific times. A one or two mana ramp creature made on turns one or two respectively is incredibly powerful and represents a huge tempo play in most cases. Two turns down the line those cards will have lost a significant portion of their value. Sometimes redrawing that elf on turn three will represent a worse draw than an average card from the deck. In such cases you have done better than going 1 for 1. Even more brutally you can really punish people who are stuck on lands draws. The very last time I cast Oust I managed to do it to a Tasigur on a player stuck on three lands. Not only did this deny them the land for a turn extra but it gave them an unplayable card back and wasted a big chunk of their delve reserves. Oust is just so cheap, reliable and rounded and white has so few generic options that it almost always sees play somewhere. It is certainly a card that performs a lot better than you would expect just having read it. If it were instant I think it would be comparable to the other best removal cards in all of magic.

Sunlance3.   Sunlance 7.5/10

The white Flameslash is a lot lot worse on paper. It does one less damage and can't hit white things. In practice red struggles with big creatures and white doesn't. White struggles with cheaply and efficiently handling small stuff in play. Flameslash doesn't add that much over other cheap red burn in red nor does it solve the colours problems. Sunlance on the other land sorts out white very nicely indeed. Compared to Oust it has a far lower range of targets. In my cube Sunlance hits and kills about 60% of creatures. About 25% of those it doesn't hit are because they are white and the remaining 15% or so are non-white dorks with 4 or more toughness. This might seem like a low range but in practice Sunlance kills way more things. Firstly you are white meaning there are less other white players are the table. You can probably on average cut that 25% of white things you miss in half, especially if you are an aggressive white player with lots of the cheap white dorks in your poool. Further more, you are using cards like this to empower your early game. The majority of the 15% of dorks too large to kill with Sunlance are late game cards. They probably average about 5 mana. If it were not for 0/4 and 5 walls it might be closer to 6! In the early game you can expect your Sunlance to be killing most things. Mostly down to not giving up 3 life Sunlance is a better aggro card than Oust. The broader target range and better late game scaling make Oust the better control card but both are good enough that you will play either in either if you just need more removal. Sunlance is also better than Oust against creatures with EtB effects. It also turns out there are just a lot of dorks in cube you just want dead. You might Oust that Dearthrite Shaman now but you know you will want to kill it again in two turns time. No non-red removal on Baleful Strix feels good but Oust feels very bad while at least Sunlance feels OK.

Path to Exile2.   Path to Exile 9.5/10

One mana, any target instant speed exile removal. This is like one of those unbeatable top trump cards that just has highest or joint highest stats in every category. My cube also has so many dual lands that this doesn't even give away lands 20% or so of the time it is used in drafts and sealed and even higher percentages in constructed events. Generally this is the premium removal for aggressive decks who don't wish to give up life. Using this too early however is a pretty hefty hill to then climb back up. Path to Exile has the best late game scaling of any spot removal spell and so you want other cheap removal to pair with it so that you might be able to use that over this in the early game. Obviously being one mana still makes this great late game and gives you the option to use on turn one if you need to as well which are all huge perks.

1.   Swords to Plowshares 10/10

Like so many of the best cards in magic this little gem hails from Alpha. Unlike many of those best cards this was one of the fairer and better designed ones that saw reprints for longer and far less in the way of restrictions and bannings. Swords is about as good as a card can be before it becomes oppressive or broken. It has all the qualities of Path to Exile and it has a less significant drawback with steadier scaling. While not always better than Path, or even something simple like an Edict, Swords is by far and away the most playable and effective removal spell on average.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Top 10 Four Drop Dorks

Erhnam DjinnFour drops are positioned very well in terms of their overall balance of power per card and power per mana. On curve a good four drop will be a big deal yet they are still meaty cards you are pretty happy to pull off the top in the late game. Indeed in many aggressive decks the four drop is where your curve ends so you are hoping to hit your four drops late game. Magic is an odd beast in terms of scaling. Different aspects of magic scale in different ways. This is far more obvious when you compare it to a game like Hearthstone where the scaling is more in line. Essentially you have two main resources in both games, cards and mana. Things like life total are a resource but more of a secondary one. Cards in library and graveyards also have some effect on both games and are certainly a kind of resource. For the most part card and mana economy is what makes for a good deck. In Hearthstone the cheaper cards give you more return for your mana than the pricier ones. You can expect a good 4 stats for a mana in a one drop while a four drop will only just be above the 2 stats per mana mark. This is so that as the power per card rises the power per mana decreases to balance things somewhat. Hearthstone is a little different to Magic in that you are guarenteed to make a land drop each turn making the pricier cards more reliable to play. As lands are not assured in magic and they cost you a card the reliability of pricier cards is greatly reduced in magic comparatively. To offset this the power per mana doesn't always decrease as you go up the curve. It very much does in burn but with creatures you tend to find that the power per mana goes up as you go up the curve.

HellriderFour is a super sweet spot as it is roughly where most standard mana bases start to tail off in magic. When you play a deck with roughly 40% lands you have a decent chance of getting to four lands naturally on turn four and a very good chance of seeing four lands before the average game length for your deck is reached. Cutting lands all that much below the 40% mark in cube isn't always viable nor is it always advantageous to do so when you can. As such most decks have the lands to support some four drops and take full advantage of that fact so that they can maximize the power per mana in their list.

Another facet of four drops these days is that they have to compete with planeswalkers. Most of the powerful and well rounded ones start at four mana and so unless the creatures can offer comparable power levels to planeswalkers they are not going to get much of a look in. Creatures simply feel more pushed around the four mana mark and it would make sense that they are.

Overall four drops have a huge impact on the game without being too onerous on your build. Most aggro decks can house a couple without any issue and the midrange and control decks can fairly happily go above 10% of the total list on the four slot. In doing this list I was surprised not only how many top rate super high power cards I would be leaving off the list but also that I don't have in my main cube! Lots of very good four drop cards out there!

Meren of Clan Nel TothA good four drop should be able to do one or more of a number of things. Board presence is a big part of it, it is something planeswalkers are not quite so proficient at and so a big meaty resilient thing on the board can get a lot of work done. Another similar trait is tempo, you want your card to have a large and immediate swing. Threat level is important also. A card that is going to end the game unless it is dealt with in fairly short order, particularly if it can do so without having to attack. Plansewalkers do offer this last aspect but they are typically quite slow to do so and are more of a value win than a tempo one. Another thing you can get from a good four drop dork or a planeswalker is utility. More utility is no bad things where ever you may find it!

Having made this list of traits to be found in good four drops I feel even more awkward about a number of cards left off this list that epitomise many of those things. Hellrider is a supremely impactful card, a rapid and dangerous threat and one that can sit back safely if needed and still offer value. Vengevine is resiliant, with good immediate impact and some nice synergies. Huntsmaster of the Fells is a lot of value and utility while being and ongoing threat. Olivia Voldaren is a card that dominates games and is able to end them in a wide number of ways. Grow huge and beat your face in, control the board with damage and grind out a win or just steal all your stuff and have done with it! All these cards are great cube worthy things that will totally win a lot of games in the right circumstances. It just so happens that there are at least ten other four drop creatures that are even more powerful and suitable for cube goings on.

Before the top ten we have two honourable mentions. Glen Elandra Archamge would be near the top of this list if she was a real four drop rather than a pseuedo-five drop. The other is Meren of Clan Nel Toth, a fairly off-radar commander card. She has been super impressive in cube thus far however she is not always a great curve play nor is she that immediately impactful, in a lot of ways she is like a Recurring Nightmare on legs. Her tempo is mediocre but her value is about as good as it gets.

Pia and Kiran Nalaar10. Pia and Kiran Nalaar

Lots of power, lots of presence and lots of utility. This can push for a win on its own with relative tenacity or it can hold back an assault with much more effectiveness than most cards on this list. Pia and Kiran have some mild synergy potential as well as being a good mana sink, source of removal and reach. The reason they are sat at the bottom of this list is their not suiting red all that well. Red wants tempo and punch. Pia and Kiran Nalaar are somewhat of a slower paced midrange card and as such fails to appeal to the more aggressive lists. She also has to compete with a selection of Chandra's in the four slot who are also typically on the midrange side of things. In any other colour this would be one of the best four drops and see loads of play. They are Siege-Gang Commander light but a little less mana and a little more power for mana has seen them entirely replace the goblins in all but the tribal decks.

Surrak, the Hunt Caller
9. Surrak, the Hunt Caller

A fairly underrated card but a total house. This dude is the most aggressive four drop green has. Contributing over half of the ferocious trigger himself Surrak frequently is a 5/4 haste for 4 which is a faster clock than the mighty Thundermaw Hellkite. Further to this Surrak is subsequently like having a Fire's of Yavimaya in play. The threat of a hasted Verdurous Gearhulk or Primeval Titan is a serious deal, even if you have the 5/4 beat in combat Surrak is still a dangerous threat. Surrak is great in aggressive zoo lists as you might expect but he is also very impressive in green ramp decks. Really good threats are not only threats when attacking themselves but also when they are sat back not getting involved in combat and Surrak manages to do just that.

Falkenrath Aristocrat8. Falkenrath Aristocrat

There is a bit of theme so far in many of these four drops in their ability to mimic a Thundermaw Hellkite. This is a rare example of a card that I typically think outclasses the Hellkite. It still isn't a better card as the gold restrictions really hurt it. The decks you can play it in are worse than the decks you play Thundermaw in so performance wise the Aristocrat isn't quite as good in the appropriate contexts. In isolation the Aristocrat is much more card. It has all the same sorts of aggressive potential as a well costed hasting flyer however it also has a tonne of durability built in making it a good ongoign threat as well as a good burst threat. It can be in the vein of Aetherling or in the Thundermaw camp. When you have resolved a Falkenrath Aristocrat your odds on winning the game increase a lot, more so that a surprising number of other big name cube cards. Indestructible goes a long way to making stuff hard to kill even with lots of exile in cube. Bounce often does good work against indestructible but the relatively low cost and haste make it far less of an issue for the Aristocrat.

Breya, Etherium Shaper7. Breya, Etherium Shaper

Despite very much being a four drop Breya really doesn't feel like it. It is much more the sort of thing I would expect to pay six mana for. Being so hard to cast does make her unlike the other four drops on this list but she does get it done. With Signets and Chromatic trinkets she is actually fairly easy to make on turn three in my cube. That is quite the beating when you can cast a threat normally on turn three that you would otherwise be fairly happy to Tinker up. Breya is the complete package, she is like Pia and Kiran Nalaar but better in almost every capacity. Both cards give a decent amount of board presence with three bodies with both ground and air coverage. Both cards have the ability to use artifacts to do things. Both can push for a win or hold off an assault very well on their own. Breya has 50% more stats, is less mana intense and has a wider range of utility than Pia and Kiran. Her removal option is much more effective and she has the ability to gain life which is huge in some matchups. When you can reasonably expect to cast Breya you play her, she is that good. One of the most splashed for cards presently in my cube behind far less painful splashes like Lingering Souls, Kessig Wolf Run etc.

Sublime Archangel6. Sublime Archangel

One of the premium white weenie finishers. She almost always allows for an immediate and meaningful attack of greater value than the possible attack prior to you making your Archangel. White doesn't really do haste but Sublime is able to mimic that effect. She is then usually able to one shot your opponent herself should they have been foolish enough to leave her in play. Sublime is so good because she is one of only a few creatures that must be answered immediately else the game is usually done yet she also tends to afford some value and tempo even when she is answered. She is somewhere between Surrak, the Hunt Caller and Craterhoof Behemoth. Sublime is plenty good enough to play in other archetypes beyond white weenie style things. In a midrange deck she will still be a boost to an attack immediately and may well help take out a planeswalker or something. After that she is still a very dangerous threat that needs dealing with. Even with just two other dorks, say a wall and a mana elf the Sublime will be able to attack for seven! That outpaces a Thundermaw.

Siege Rhino5. Siege Rhino

Arguably the second best card on this list. In a raw power sense I would have this at number two but in a cube setting where gold is narrow and all round playability counts for a lot this card needs bumping down. It is hardly like Abzan colours lack for quality four drops which is another thing that will hurt this cards value in a cube setting. The way this card plays captures the flavour of the card incredibly well. It is not exciting or clever but it is just incredibly solid and effective. It is so rare to be able to cast a Rhino but instead you play something else. It is just so suitable for all occasions. It is cheap and affords some immediate value. This means if it is answered you don't lose too much. It is also typically a stepping stone card. It is not your early game but it isn't your late game either. In cube it will typically be at higher end of your curve but it will not be your finisher or your reach. It will be the first four drop you make when you get to four mana. It is what will ensure you are ahead enough going into the late game against control and it is what will let you survive into the late game against aggression. A 4/5 is surprisingly fat in cube. It survives a lot of removal options and most fights with other creatures. So often you see a desperation double block to kill a Rhino knowing it is game over to any removal spell or combat trick. Most of the time you don't have it and it is still totally fine, you got 3 life, probably about five damage courtesy of the EtB and the trample, held off some attacks so probably even more effective life and of course got a two for one, probably a mana up in the trade as well! Rhino really changes a race dynamic and will shift it from a losing one to a winning one more than almost any other proactive card for the mana. Rhino is just the perfect balance of things that it does and has for the mana that it really outperforms the expected value of its parts. It looks decent enough on paper for the cost but not nearly as decent as its performance in games.

Gonti, Lord of Luxury4. Gonti, Lord of Luxry

This card is unreal good in cube. Like the Rhino this card wildly outperforms how you might expect it to do based on just reading the card. You really have to play with and against it to appreciate how oppressive it is in so many ways. Gonti's effect is so so so much better than draw a card I am lost for words to express it and have just elected for repetition to get the message across. Comfortably worth draw two on average I would estimate although not being quite so directly comparable I suspect in varying contexts the "cards drawn" worth of the ability is somewhat more or less than two. First off, a 2/3 deathtouch is no slouch. A pain to block, not a breeze to remove and a real pain to attack into. Much of why Acidic Slime is the most played "Naturalize" dork in cube is that a 2/2 deathtouch is that much more useful than a vanilla dork, even a 3/3. Gonti is a mana less and a toughness more with an arguably better all be it entirely different EtB effect. So why is the Gonti effect so much better than drawing a card? Well, it is an Impulse for starters so you get the most suitable of a good selection. Next up it gives you lots of information about what your opponent has in their deck and doesn't have in their hand. Another hugely under value aspect of Gonti is that cards from your opponent's deck are going to be more useful against them than an average card from your deck. If you are up against a control deck then a heavy card, big draw effect or counterspell will be massive. If you are facing an aggro deck then a cheap dork or tempo removal spell will be ideal to slow them down. Lastly (I think) is that you deny information to your opponent. They cannot make a play based on using a Tutor for a specific card as you may have taken that card with Gonti. Once you have been hit by a Gonti it buggers every thing up. Your opponent knows things about you and you don't even know what they are. Utterly savage. Some decks just lose to the random taking of their key card. That is always funny too!

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet3. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Another surprisingly dominant card given his seemingly low initial impact. When you make this guy he is just a 3/4 lifelink. Often he will do nothing else. That is not an impressive stat line for a four drop. Kalitas is a little slower to dominate a game that some other cards on this list but he will do so and must be removed before normal proceedings can be resumed. If facing a Kalitas you cannot afford to let things die meaning no chumping or trading in combat. This makes dealing with a 3/4 harder for one thing but it also makes everything else rather a nightmare. Not only do a stream of free 2/2s represent too much value the fact that they can be sacced to permanently buff Kalitas gets super out of hand. Should you have any disposable zombies or vampires and sufficient mana you can almost always get stuck into combat with your Kalitas. Once that is happening their is no chance of racing. Aggressive decks have lost when Kalitas comes at them. They have usually lost if they can't immediately kill Kalitas. They can't really go wide past him so their assault is reduced to evasion dorks and direct damage only. The exile mechanic is also pretty relevant. It makes a lot of creatures a whole lot weaker and shuts down some synergies and combos. Kalitas is so good in cube as you are happy running him in aggro, midrange or control. For the aggressive decks he allows for better attacks as soon as he hits play while also being a fairly dangerous threat himself. Not quite the Sublime Archangel but down those sorts of lines. In control decks Kalitas is a source of lifegain, value and a potent road block. If you can lay him and then counter removal used on him or respond to it or an attack with your own instant removal so as to generate a bunch of zombies that that is too much of a swing for most aggro decks to recover. Free countermagic and removal work obnoxiously well with Kalitas in control decks. Obviously he is just outstanding in midrange decks both in and against. His effect is rather like a state based Consume the Meek where by all the small stuff (without evasion) is just useless in combat.

Restoration Angel2. Resotration Angel

Turns out a vanilla 3/4 flier for 4 is good enough for cube when you give it flash. It makes it super safe and super playable in a wide array of places. When a card is good enough to play already and then it occasionally kills a 3/3 (or smaller), counters a removal spell, or perhaps generates other unreasonable value like a 3/3 token and five life, perhaps just a clue it is all very unfair. Restoration Angel is easily splashed at a single white mana. The 3/4 statline, while not alone a bargain at 4, is generically good avoiding much of the cheaper removal and handling itself well in combat. Flying makes it relevant at all stages of the game (and obviously much more powerful) and the flash makes it safe and hard to play around. It is one of the best midrange and control creatures and will still see some play in aggressive lists. A simple card but an exceptionally good one.

Bloodbraid Elf1. Bloodbraid Elf

Such a shame that the top card or so on so many lists is just not really up for debate. This thing doesn't even see vast amounts of play in my cube. Both Gonti and Restoration Angel see more play than this thing but it gets enough to deserve its slot. It can be annoying to build with making several kinds of card useless or limp when cascaded into. Any slightly aggressive deck with red and green will run this but many are not aggressive, although they too still often consider the Elf. The reason Bloodbraid is so unreasonably good is that it is both tempo and value in a powerful and reliable package. It is a straight up two for one, sometimes a little more yet it is also one of the best tempo plays you can make. On average you hit two manas worth of stuff and make it. Rogue Refiner is one mana more (assuming a two mana saving on the card drawn), doesn't have haste and can draw lands yet it is still a good card even in the cube. If a 3/2 haste is nearly worth 3 mana then cascade 3 for one mana and no cards is a total bargain. Given the power of cards in cube as well, a one to three mana card can be obnoxiously powerful. Bloodbraid into Strangleroot Giest is pretty nasty. If your worst hit is a Kird Ape then you still got an amazing deal...

Monday 14 August 2017

Commander 2017 Conclusions and Additions

Commander may be a small release in terms of new cards but as it is a set that bypasses standard and modern it is one of the few places you can expect things to be most unfair. We have had some of the best cards in cube courtesy of the Commander sets and on the whole Commander sets add some of the highest percentages of the new cards to the cube. That all being said it does seem as if there is a decline in the power of the Commander sets in what they offer for cube. Commander 2016 was the poorest contributor to date although much of that was down to how many gold cards were among the new stuff. Commander 2017 has very few obvious cube cards, the least so far at a total of three and only one of those a high powered card with relatively wide application. It does however have a reasonable number of interesting and potentially playable cards that at least merit a little testing. Only a few of the Curses seem like they might add something desirable, new and interesting to the cube. The rest are narrower and more towards the top end. I do not expect many, perhaps even none, of the cards I will trial to last long in the cube. There are some nice generic tribal offerings as well from 2017 which I expect to add a decent amount to the power and range of a lot of the less tribal decks. Nice tools though they are, they are only going to see use in constructed cube goings on like so many of the cards in this release. I would love to see more cards that push the colour pie such as Curse of Opulence from these less design restrained sets. I would also love to see Wizards take the opportunity to print more cube cheap staples that they don't want to make available in modern or standard. The cube could really do with new Birds of Paradise style cards and more black one mana discard. It could do with lots of things I doubt they will ever print in a normal set! They did this to some extent with the 3 mana Wrath card Toxic Deluge. More that would be great.

Go directly to the cube, do not pass go, do not collect £200;

Territorial Hellkite
The Ur-Dragon
Fortunate Few

To trial out;

Curse of Opulence
Curse of Disturbance
Kheru Mind-Eater
Alm's Collector
Stalking Leonin
Heirloom Blade
Bloodforged War Axe
Fractured Identity
Teferi's Protection
Patron of the Vein
Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist
Kess, Dissident Mage

For the cube constructed reserves;

Mirror of the Forebears
Herald's Horn
New Blood
Kindred Discovery

Sunday 13 August 2017

Card Spotlight: Venser, the Sojourner

Venser, the SojournerDespite my crusade against gold card in the cube this relatively weak and narrow planeswalker survived the cull. Ultimately I think he does probably have to go but I have considered him an archetypal staple which is a big part of what kept him in the cube for so long. Mindrange Bant decks love this card so much and I shall get to why. Firstly I want to look at why this is objectively a bad planeswalker.

Firstly it is a five mana gold plansewalker which is a narrow starting point. Next up and most critically the card does pretty much nothing without other things. Venser cannot protect himself or obtain any extra value, on an empty board the best Venser is doing is untapping a land or perhaps getting a scry out of a Temple. I would expect more from most 3 mana walkers! You can't even get value just by having dorks in play, you need specific kinds of dork or situations to make use of the first two abilities. Flickering a dork without an EtB effect is basically just untapping it slowly. Not a thing you wanted to pay five mana and a card to do...

The unblockable is rarely useful more than once! Sometimes you use it to snipe out well protected walkers but this generally leaves Venser vulnerable. The only other time you use it is to alpha strike. So how is it that I still rate this card? What is he doing for Bant midrange lists that is so exciting it is worth having an otherwise terrible card in the cube for?

OverrunOne thing about the midrange Bant archetype is that it has been great at not losing a game but super weak at finishing them. So many games wind up in huge board stalls. While often a fairly creature dense deck most of the dorks are utility and value ones that clog up the board and do their thing but offer very little threat value. The -1 on Venser is often more effective in Bant than the -4 ultimate on Garruk Wildspeaker at ending a game. As an ability you can fire off right away it makes Venser one of very few planeswalkers you have to respect as a dangerous win condition even when he isn't in play. He basically has two ultimates of which one is immediately effective.

Speaking of ultimates Venser's proper one is one of the more powerful ones. Unless you are totally out of gas and draw into lands for a few turns it is pretty hard to lose once you go ultimate with Venser. It is a very effective way of problem solving or winning should you not have managed to develop a board so as to threaten with the -1. Having a +2 to ramp to 8 loyalty with, especially when housed in a highly defensive deck like Bant, makes Venser's proper ultimate one of the easier ones to get to. It actually feels like getting to use both Karn Liberated's minus loyalty abilities all at the same time!

ThragtuskThe +2 in Bant is the business. The majority of your cards benefit from it. Almost every creature in the deck barring the few early game mana dorks will have some perk to being flickered. You can soft lock people with Glen Elandra or an Eternal Witness plus the appropriate spell. Kitchen Finks and Thragtusk are oppressive for aggressive decks to fight through. Even simple cards like Coiling Oracle, Thraben Inspector and Wall of Omens make Venser's +2 great. Yes, it can still do nothing even in the perfect supporting Bant midrange deck. The average effect is probably more like 1.2 cards drawn, half a scry, 2 life, 1/1 worth of stats and throw in an untap! That is a very vert solid ability indeed! Another aspect of the +2 is that it allows you to build a little more with that synergy in mind as you already have cards like Flickerwisp and Restoration Angel that you also want to play. Redundancy in both sides of your synergies greatly improves them. It is a not insignificant part of what makes Bant midrange one of the best colour combinations to do a midrange deck in.

So on paper Venser looks bad and rightly so. In the context of Bant midrange he is not far off the perfect walker. He offers immense value and scaling in the +2 ability, it is almost like a combination of all the good + abilities from all the midrange walkers! As it can do everything you don't need so much in the way of options from more abilities and so Venser is perfectly suited to having effectively two ultimate abilities. He provides the win mechanisms you sorely need in Bant while also being a great value tool and synergy enabler.

I think with recent powerhouses in the five slot for Bant, mostly in white, the archetype will comfortably survive cutting Venser despite how great he is in the deck and despite him feeling like a core card. I think cutting Venser marks the point in cube power creep where it is no longer sufficient to be a unique auto include in a single tier one archetype. Certainly not a five mana gold card! Not that gold should matter too much when it is specifically for a deck in those colours. You might then say way about cards like Sulfuric Vortex? Surely that is only a card that goes in one archetype which is kind of true but only kind of. Yes, you only want it in aggressive red decks but they are a much larger umbrella of possible colour combinations. You can be mono, any of the two colour combos and perhaps even the odd three colour base red deck exists that would want the Vortex. With there being that much more room for three drops in the cube you can also afford slightly narrower cheaper cards. With so few spaces for top end stuff you ideally want those cards to be that much more rounded in where you might use them.

Saturday 12 August 2017

Commander 2017 Initial Review Part IV

Kindred Dominance 0

Perhaps at five this would be good but what tribal deck wants a seven mana card? Necromantic Selection has seen some minor play but it is a far better one sided Wrath as it can take their guys if needs be. The only potential for Kindred Dominance is a deck that happens to have most of its dorks sharing creature types and that has some reasonable chance of having more than one dork in play and most critically wants a seven mana mass removal spell and would otherwise consider Necromantic Selection. Put all these criteria together and you have an stupendously narrow card for cube use. Much more of a control tool than a tribal one too.

Kindred Boon 0

Another shocker. This costs six mana to do anything at all. It requires a deck with a tribal theme and white mana that for some reason wants to play an expensive defensive mana dump. If you are not winning with an Elite Vanguard then an indestructible Elite Vanguard isn't going to make a massive difference. Certainly not a quick difference. Even if you happened to have a slower deck with complete subtype alignment you wouldn't play this. The cube is too diverse, there is too much bounce, evasion, exile and alternate routes to victory that doing so much in making creatures indestructible is a vast over investment. Such effects are good on Boros Charm, Valorous Stance, or Ephemeral Shields! Not on this. Elspeth, Knight-Errant has one of the weaker ultimates out there and it is still a lot better than this! I have lost several games with an indestructible emblem or the option to have had one. Don't play this card.

Galecaster Colossus 4

This is the daddy of all Tradewind Riders! The comparison is more along the lines of Tidespout Tyrant. This is a mana less and a toughness more but it loses flying. Normally that is an issue for top end dorks but the way these function means you don't care at all about evasion, all you want is survivability meaning the Galecaster is the better body. As for effect they do a similar thing but activate it very differently. That means you will never be choosing between these. Tyrant is a combo storm sort of thing that works best in powered cubes. This is potentially something you could look to play in an appropriate midrange or control deck and it would be good against the more midrangy sorts of thing you find in unpowered cubes. It does not have the lock down potential of Tyrant as it can't hit lands but not all that much will be able to kill you if all anyone can do is have lands in play. This can tap itself to bounce right away and should be able to rely on other wizards to empower him. There are a lot of wizards in the cube, lots of good support and utility ones too making it easier to see running this. It seems too narrow to run in a drafting cube unless you have a wizards theme or intentionally low power cube. It does still seem like a potential inclusion in the right deck. You need far far less wizards with this for it to be nuts than you do creatures with Opposition.

Vindictive Lich 2

This seems fairly awful for heads up play. While the components add up to being "worth" four or more mana the packaging of it is really off. A 4/1 stops being good when costed above two mana. The blow out potential from ping is just too great. Yes, this has an on death trigger but so what? If you spend four mana to poorly effect the board you will get punished. Yes, one of the abilities does affect the board but a broadcast edict at four mana is super easy to play around and not all that strong. The options on this card are quite nice but I think I would just rather have a Doomfall than this. There will be some fun games where you make this when they are at 5 or less. You might even get the dream scenario of trading in combat with a decent creature and forcing them to discard two relevant cards or sac a relevant creature. In those rare occasions this card might even look good! Make no mistake though, most of the time this is getting killed with ease for about one mana and a good half the time it won't even get its trigger. Between Oust and Pillar of Flame and Vapor Snag this card really needed to be a leaves play effect to have much hope.

Mairsil, the Pretender 2

Another unplayable card with a cute ability. A four mana three colour 4/4 needs so much extra in that text box to stand a chance that you can tell this fails just from font size and paragraph structure on the card! Best use I can immediately think of is with a Griselbrand, not exactly an ability you need more than once! I am sure there are others but even if that was good it would still be too narrow for the drafting cubes. This card just needs so much hand holding to be anything other than awful such that the high potential rather fails to appeal. I presume you can stack up caged things should you be able to repeatedly cast this, even so. That is silly amounts of setup for what is clearly a terrible combo at best. This is fine if you happen to have a number of Griselbrand quality targets to cage and you are in those colours but don't go expecting that to happen for you anywhere near consistently.

Portal Mage 0

A Grey Ogre with flash that lets you choose between potentially keeping a planeswalker alive at the cost of life or saving some life should you have a planeswalker to take the hit. While this effect could easily be game winning it is far too situational to be worth running it on such a low powered body. This card feels like a bad Briarhorn. The ability is far less useful than a combat trick (although in the same sort of ballpark regarding being big swing situational effects) and a Grey Ogre is a well known turdy shell even compared to a Hill Giant.

Magus of the Mind 1

Well well well. While this can be incredibly powerful I am not sure it is needed. Despite potentially being a whole 5 mana cheaper the turn you use it to go off with than Mind's Desire that isn't the relevant thing in the decks using such effects. Your cards get you to six and so if you ramp into this you will have less gas next turn to fuel it with. If you wait to make it more on curve it is substantially slower than Mind's Desire. Most significantly this is vulnerable and will be killed on sight where possible. Yes, Mind's Desire is one of the most powerful magic cards and yes this can outperform it but cube storm decks are pretty nuts. Mind's Desire is not an auto include in the blue ones, it is nice but it makes your build clunkier and it isn't needed to win by any measure. Time Spiral is typically a much more potent thing to do in storm at six mana. Given that this only really stood a chance as a backup Mind's Desire and basically no decks are going to be after two copies of the card I don't see this having much play time in the cube. Perhaps he will in a more general use way and in such a role I expect him to fully blow. Nice six mana vanilla 4/5...

Taigim, Sidisi's Hand 0

While a mere two colours to contend with this still fails the big fat gold card test yet again on the first stats hurdle. Pay five, get a 3/4. That is most of what this will be getting done in a well refined cube. Yes, if you untap with this it is like having a Grim Flayer combat trigger in your upkeep and a super Grim Lavamancer active. Even together those cards come to three mana and have more combined stats than this on average. This has quite good effects but you pay too much for them and they lose a lot of value on a late card compared to being on a cheaper card. Only mentally good cards in the five mana range can get away with having weak stats and doing nothing right away. Taigim is far from mentally good. Meloku is the only example of a weak stat do nothing five drop dork used in cubes at all often. I think the card stinks now but at least it isn't gold and at least it can do stuff right away when you have more than five mana.

Kess, Dissident Mage 3

There is a subtle wording on this that is actually a huge nerf and makes it probably too weak. You only get the trigger on your turns meaning you are not ever able to use instants in their turns with Kess. This obviously rules out countermagic being all that potent with her. If this was once per round of turns or once each turn then this would be a very spicy card indeed. The perpetual Snacaster Mage. Kess isn't even poorly statted considering some of the other effects and costs we have seen in this release. A 3/4 flier is objectively a good size, it is reasonably resilient, packs a decent punch and generally fairs well in combat. You might get those stats at 3 mana on a gold card with nothing else and at four, even if you can't use the ability right away (no zero mana spells or spare mana) you are not too sad about what you get. Jori En, Ruin Diver is actually a pretty comparable card to this. A 2/3 for 3, even if it had flying would be worse than a 3/4 flier for 4 in terms of value for the dork. Overall price reducing is nice on cards you get value from by playing other spells, you would totally take both as 1 mana 0/1s if you had that option. On balance Jori En gets the rough end of the stick as you really can't make much use of the body meaning it is usually a drawback. A 3/4 flier is very relevant so while you might want the effect more and rather you could get it cheaper the overall package is much more well rounded and useful. Even with an empty yard Kess will get things done. As you can only use cards in your turn you want a bit more proactive stuff. Cheap discard is good as is burn, card quality and draw. Removal is also a perfectly fine way to get value from this. Kess is starting to get needy with her desire for specific kinds of cheap spell, her need of 3 colours and her dislike of countermagic. While she is a perfect fit into Grixis tempo lists a lot of cards are, certainly a lot more than you have space for. That archetype thrives off being cheap and so I suspect that Kess would not often make the final cut. A three colour gold card that isn't even close to an auto include is a no go for drafting. This is too powerful not to draw people's attention in constructed formats and I am sure she will see some play and when she does I expect her to be slightly better than Vizier of the Menagerie and Jori En and other such average cube cards!

Shifting Shadow 2

Well isn't this fun! The abuse for this is playing it with tokens and only huge fat dorks to cheat out. The reason that is a terrible idea is that you need this to stay in play. A token is not a safe place to put this! You can use this to work your way through your opponents creatures hopefully starting with a potent one and then devolving it into something less scary. This also feels like an awful line of play. Sure, you might get to turn their Emrakul into a Wall of Roots but you still had to eat an Emrakul attack. Most things left in play for a turn that are worth killing with a three mana effect are going to do way too much damage in a turn of being left about. Sure, you might be able to kill off all your opponents remaining threats but you have to chump block or eat the attack, if you kill the creature the Shaodw will die off too. You risk so much in taking this line. They might have cards like Thragtusk which are huge value EtB and leaves play effects you trigger for them. I guess you could also just use this in a deck full of EtB and on death triggers that are good. Like a chaotic random Birthing Pod. Sadly for this to net a good return doing such things you need it to stick around for several turns and that probably isn't happening. Needing to protect a random creature and an enchantment is quite a tall order. A very cool card with a surprising array of uses. Sadly none of them seem all that close to being good uses.

Izzet Chemister 2

Slow for sure but not as bad as it looks at first glance. Having haste makes this pretty safe. You drop it when you have four mana, then you use it end of turn, untap with it and either use it more in the same EoT way or sac it there and then. This is 6 mana over two turns to Regroth and Cast an instant or sorcery if only done with one card. That isn't even great on a 6 mana card and so you want the Chemister to stick about for a couple of turns to really get value. If you hit three spells it really doesn't matter if they only total four mana, you got your worth out of the card! All told this is too slow and still too vulnerable to have all that much hope in cube. I will probably try it out simply for being fun and having a high ceiling. Perhaps you can abuse it with discard and huge spells, I mean, you can, but perhaps you can find a way of doing it that isn't bad! I think I am mostly happy firing off a pile of burn spells with this. Playable but ultimately a bad cube card.