Tuesday, 15 August 2017
Top 10 Four Drop Dorks
Four 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.
Four 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!
A 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.
10. 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.
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.
8. 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.
7. 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.
6. 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.
5. 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.
4. 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!
3. 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.
2. 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.
1. 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...