Thursday, 28 September 2017
Play or Draw?
Play. Simple as that pretty much. I cannot recall the last time I or anyone else chose to draw while cubing. I could go on about why playing is right but I found a much better player doing a much better job of that so if you still feel you need convincing then watch this.
Saturday, 23 September 2017
Top 13 Two for Ones
Two for ones are great. They are a good way to get ahead. Lots of time you will simply see "it is a two for one" as the justification as to why a card is good. Lots of cards are two for ones. Lots of cards are always better than two for ones or, more commonly, give you the chance to get a two for one or better. This list was going to get rather muddy unless I got a bit rigid with the classifications. All the cards here are themselves directly two for ones, they are not more (on their own). They are all cards that can give that two for one there and then rather than having to wait to attack or untap or something. I based this list heavily on power and playability but I also took account of how reliable the two for one actually is a lot more heavily. Courser of Kruphix is better than a lot of the cards on this list however it is not certain to be a 2 for 1 if you don't see a land before it dies. Some more conditional two for ones did make the list but they very much are the cream of the crop. I also considered the value and relevance of the various parts. Things like Satyr Wayfinder and Coiling Oracle are all about the EtB effect. The 1/1 is value but it doesn't really make up a whole cards worth of value. It is good because it is free not because 1/1s are good. They can be made better with synergies and the like but mostly they feel much more like a cycling card with a means to mitigate the tempo setback of such things.
I elected to discount all planeswalkers. Most represent the ability to get a two for one if they can do something worth a card and survive. Edict their guy and still have Liliana of the Veil in play is kind of a two for one. You can't really count your 1 loyalty Lili as a card however if they can just ping it down with some irrelevant dork. On the other side of things you can keep your Lili in play and savage their hand and edict more dorks and end up having her be a six for one or something disgusting. Planeswalkers are all a bit to situational and a bit long game to compare with the cards that make up this list. With the parameters defined lets jump on in!
13. Night's Whisper
Simple, direct, cheap and effective. This is pure card advantage and thus a good benchmark for the 2 for 1. It is as cheaply as you can do it entirely on your own terms. Everything else on this list is a better tempo play than this but mostly that is because they rely on having the appropriate targets to remove from play. Night's Whisper is cheap enough that in can draw you out of mana screw or other troubles early yet it scales very well into the late game. You play it when you need to or when you have spare mana and it is always good (assuming you can afford the minor life cost). You see this in every kind of deck in the cube. Despite never seeming over powered the fact that is has such a great range of places it is played showcases what an impressively well balanced card this is.
12. Nissa, Vastwood Seer
A Grey Ogre and a basic Forest for three mana. This doesn't seem better than the Satyr Wayfinder I excluded from the list for being unworthy of a card. That being said, even discounting the value from the planeswalker once flipped the 2/2 body has a lot more value simply based on the potential to become a threat. It is also not about value for mana but value for card and while a 2G 2/2 is pretty comparably crap to a 1G 1/1 a 2/2 comes a lot closer to being worth a card than a 1/1 does. Nissa is a great stepping stone card. She helps you carry on making lands and doing things without expending valuable gas. If you are under pressure you can just block with her and that is fine, you got some value without conceding too much tempo. If on the other hand you are against a slower deck you got a free land and have a potentially quite dangerous threat in play that the control player has to deal with. Nissa is very low risk and does reasonable work regardless of you being the aggressor or the defender. Nissa, like Night's Whisper is still a good late game card despite her value coming from presumably unwanted lands as she can immediately flip at that point.
11. Thraben Inspector
This little guy crops up everywhere. When he is in every control deck and every aggressive deck in white when they have access to him you know the card is a gem. He just feels like a free inclusion. Although 2W for a 1/2 and a card is a rubbish deal the fact that you can gain so much tempo with the 1/2 for W and cash in for your card at your leisure just makes this totally great. The overall package represents a poor tempo play but the way in which it is split up allows you to gain tempo with it. As it is card neutral you can play it anywhere and it just helps keep things real. Perhaps he is holding off 2/1s or eating burn spells. Perhaps he is carrying equipment or empowered by an anthem. Perhaps he is just a nice disposable way to flip Kytheon. Inspector may not be as good of a tempo play in an aggressive deck as a 2/1 but that isn't how this works. You play this when you don't have that 2 power one drop or just as soon as you have spare mana. That way it ensures you are gaining tempo. Inspector even does things for artifact synergies, I have had 4 damage Galvanic Blasts thanks to this guys help. Nice also for Tangle Wire mitigation whoever controls it. I claimed a 1/1 isn't worth a card yet I am claiming this 1/2 is worth a card. It is specifically because it is a one mana dork that it is good. Lets say it was a 1/2 for 1W with a clue you could sac for 1 it would be substantially worse. Due to the frequency of having a spare single mana combined with the fact that spending 2 to draw a card at instant speed when you start to run out of gas is fairly painless this card feels a whole lot cheaper to use than it is. You rarely notice paying any of the costs making it more akin to a cantrip 1/2 Memnite! Sure, it doesn't get involved in extreme burst openers but other than that the comparison is fairly reasonable. This is the white Gitaxian Probe. The card that never seems very powerful on its own but does a huge amount of work.
10. Stoneforge Mystic
A pretty stupid card. A tutor for powerful cards with a body that works well with said powerful cards. Batterskull breaks this a little bit by being such an oppressive tempo swing on top of a good two for one play. That said Stoneforge would still probably make this list if it was just getting Clamps, Jittes and Swords. The only reason it is so low is that you do need equipment to get, if you just have the one you can draw draw it and wipe the value off this card. While a 1/2 for 2 isn't at all good the fact that it is something you can equip makes it substantially more useful. Being able to force things through is a nice perk as well that further empowers this card. It is minor tempo with Swords but mostly it is just counterspell protection for your equipment. Narrowness holds this back a little, power wise this card is quite extreme.
9. Hymn to Tourach
The other black two for one at two mana. This doesn't cost life but is double black. It doesn't scale as well as Night's Whisper but it offers potent disruption. While this card is super powerful it does have the precondition of your opponent having sufficient cards in hand. Early game this can just win while late game this can do nothing. The latter is rarer than the former but you don't need this to win the game for you for it to be good either. Just getting a cheap two for one and disrupting your opponents game a bit is plenty enough to make this a much feared black card.
8. Bloodbraid Elf
This card is almost starting to feel like an old classic. It is one of the first cards that was both tempo and card advantage at the same time which made it something you played pretty much whenever you can. There are some build restrictions with it and ways to improve its value with your build but it is still a fairly easy card to throw in. It is only countermagic that really blows with it. I like to use the example of hitting a Kird Ape, often the weakest thing you can hit in your deck. A 2/3 and a 3/2 haste for 4 mana isn't a bad deal at all. It is in fact a pretty good deal. It also takes the worst draw out of your deck. Unless you are playing loads of cards that work poorly with Bloodbraid it is a guaranteed 2 for 1 in the way that Night's Whisper is yet it is also a gain in tempo rather than a small tempo cost to play it. Bloodbraid is of course a little narrower in the respect that you always are getting a 3/2 haste as part of your 2 for 1. If you don't want that card very much then its value declines, say in a Gr ramp deck.
7. Dig Through Time
This is the only other card on this list that costs tempo to use if we say that affecting the board in some way is positive tempo and leaving mana untapped having done nothing is tempo neutral. It makes it easier to define things if done like this but I would contest that it is more relevant to think of a tempo neatural turn as being equivalent to the average cube play for that turn. If all the other decks are making 1/1 mana elves or 2/1 beaters then doing either of those things is tempo neutral, making a 2/3 is tempo positive, while doing nothing is very tempo negative. Regardless of that it is fair to say that tapping your lands to draw cards is more of a tempo cost, particularly in blue, than leaving them open. Even if you don't have counter magic good players will not make critical plays into you if they can avoid it. Despite this being negative tempo it is still less of a cost than Night's Whisper being instant speed and not incurring a life loss. Sadly it is also a lot less playable needing good support for the delve aspect. Even with the best of support you are not playing this before turn three. Most decks are lucky to have it online for UU on turn four. Regardless of that, when you play it the effect is exceptional. A whole lot more effect than Night's Whisper and well worth that wait. It feels like playing two Demonic Tutors! Dig Through Time is nice cheap safe card advantage and it is also incredibly potent card quality. Cost aside, this has a more desirable and powerful effect for more types of decks than Treausre Cruise. Cruise can be cheaper and is more proactive but in a reactive or combo deck that selection from 7 cards is worth far more than the extra card in hand.
6. Shardless Agent
This is not exactly more powerful than Bloodbraid Elf, rather it is just more appropriate and playable and consistent. Both are good because both are high tempo two for one plays. Bloodbraid offers more tempo but when you already offer positive tempo and value you would rather have playability over yet more value or tempo. It is a lot easier to play value three drops in cube than it is with four drops. It is also a lot easier to throw a cheap 2/2 into any old list while a pricier 3/2 haste wants a bit more specific of a setting in which to shine. Agent is more consistent with the cascade and will average a higher percentage of its cascade value. It gets 75% (assuming even one and two drop count and no zero mana drops in your list) of the cascade while Bloodbraid is 67% (again assuming even numbers of one, two and three drops). Better or worse is also pretty irrelevant as you are playing either of these cards, or indeed both, if and whenever you can.
5. Gonti, Lord of Luxry
I wanted to rate this higher but it seemed highly unreasonable putting above any of the latter cards in this list. This guy has proven highly potent in cube. He is a very reliable two for one and often both of the two bits of value you get do a lot of work. The 2/3 body holds off a lot and either trades well or eats removal. The card you get is double good quality not just from the searching through 4 cards but also it turns out, due to opponents cards being better against them than yours for the most part. It is brutal disruption to some combo decks. The information asymmetry is not to be underrated either. It is so hard playing when your opponent knows more about your deck and draw than you do. Gonti is not the highest of tempo plays but he isn't the worst. He is a fantastic disruption and value tool and a pretty good all rounder.
4. Snapcaster Mage
So this is the really powerful card I have judged harshly on being an "unreliable" two for one. A free 2 mana 2/1 isn't great, fine, but not good in itself. The good bit is of course recasting your good and appropriate spell. If you don't have one then this is rubbish. The value of this card very much depends on the quantity, quality and suitability of the spells you have drawn and used already. This doesn't make cards better either. Having to pay 1U extra for any card in the cube makes it worse even if you get a free 2/1 with it. It is slightly more value but it is poor tempo. The average cube use of two mana is more than a 2/1 and so in theory adding a Snapcaster to a card reduces it's tempo. I'm not trying to call the card bad, Snapcaster is one of the greats. I am merely trying to showcase areas in which the card isn't strong. The power of Snapcaster is all about the reuse of key spells, about it being cheap enough with super potent cheap spells that you are getting good value without conceding tempo. Most good one and two mana spells gain a lot of tempo when used well and so the mildly below par 2/1 for 2 is more than offset by a Bolt or Path killing off a three or more mana card leaving you with a big tempo swing overall.
3. Baleful Strix
While very much a 1/1 the Strix is entirely worth a card. The flying deathtouch combo means you can't ignore it. It is trading with a relevant creature or it is nibbling away being tedious and annoying. Srix eats a lot of removal and gets offered plenty of favourable trades simply because you have to do what you have to do. There is no really efficient way to get through it without eating a fairly brutal two for one. If you are aggressive you can't afford to sit back and wait for your one good out, you just need to Vindicate it and carry on or send in the team and put your best guy in the bin. Strix is one of those rare cards that is basically so good you are happy playing it in almost every deck that can cast it.
2. Kolaghan's Command
Dubbed the new Cryptic Command by many this card is performing admirably in legacy and modern, with cube being no exception. It is highly disruptive, it is cheap, instant, offers a wealth of options and reliably gets a two for one. If you manage to hit the artifact and shock modes as removal you typically get a large tempo swing as well. The only downer in this card is the colours which are not the most common pairing. This is turn works a little in the cards favour as appropriate lands to splash it can easily be found. It is exactly the sort of great card that is worth a little splash. Utility is worth even more in cube than most other formats .
1. Arc Trail
As creatures and tempo have gotten better in the cube it has become more important to curve out well. This has meant an ever increasing range of targets for this to ruin. Nothing is as game ending for any creature or tempo based deck than having its first two plays dealt with using this one card. God openers like Treespeaker into Lotus Cobra fall totally flat. A significant number of white weenie one drop two drop openers will also completely die to an Arc Trail. It just has such a convenient split of damage for such a low low cost. It is still pretty ruinous in the mid game as well with plenty of cheaper dorks still about and being cast. So often it clears the path for a clean and efficient planeswalker take down. While this ping isn't always killing things and when it is they are not always things you massively care about it is still decent to good. Clearing out a token along with the thing you wanted dead is still a nice bonus. Arc Trail has a nice high floor to go with its silly high ceiling. Hymn is the only other card on this list that can straight up win the game but Hymn is harder to play with, has much worse scaling, is negative tempo rather than positive, and can still lose to the Goblin Guide played before it. Arc Trail wins a lot more games than Hymn to Tourach, and probably most other cards for that matter. It may not be the most reliable of the two for ones, not even always the best value of two for ones, but it is often enough and when it is it does tend to end the game.
Card Spotlight: Solemn Simulacrum
I was actually planning on doing this deck in my current online rotisserie however I got my Kitchen Finks taken before I got to picking it so than plan took a sharp turn! I had also called in some help in the design from a top class deck builder. He greatly helped me refine my affinity list in the last event and I learned a lot in the process so I was keen to tap that well of knowledge again. We only got to a rough outline as it was early in the draft before I had to switch out of the plan. The list below is roughly what we were aiming at. We discussed many of the alternate options as well which I will get to.
Birds of Paradise
Mother of Runes / Spellskite / Sylvan Safekeeper
Melira, Sylvok Outcast
Anafenza , Kin-Tree Spirit
Vizier of Remedies
Recruiter of the Guard
Dimir House Gaurd
Archangel of Thune
So there are three combos in this list, the first is having a sac outlet, a persist dork and one of Merlira, Vizier or Anafenza in play. This gives you infinite EtB triggers which is infinite life and/or damage depending on the persist dude you have. Combo two is simply having Archangel of Thune in play with a Spike Feeder, this is infinite life and infinite +1/+1 counters on all your non-Feeder dorks. This is most useful for Devoted Druid and Walking Ballista which will give infinite mana and infinite damage respectively if for some reason the infinte +1/+1 counters on mere attackers and the infinite life is not enough! Thune also works as another Melira for the Finks combo. The last combo is Specifically the Vizier of Remedies with the Devoted Druid which generates infinite mana. You use this on Walking Ballista for the kill or you use Duskwatch Recruiter to find it with your infinite mana. Most of these combos are three card combos for a certain kill but with so much redundancy and overlap they are a lot more consistent than many of the two card combos possible in cube. A real strength of this deck however is that for the most part it just resembles a midrange Abzan deck. You can just make dorks and then wear and beat them down. Sure, you don't have the same premium dorks as other lists and you have a few awkward cards but given that it is a total backup plan it is substantially better than most other combo decks get. I think this list would give a lot of aggressive red decks a really good fight even if it were never allowed to combo off in any way. Just card for card I think this would do pretty OK.
Quillspike is also an infinite combo with Devoted Druid which we looked at. It only becomes big and can either be killed or blocked pretty easily so despite seeming like a cheap and easy extra combo to throw in this list I don't much rate it. I would rather just have more support cards for the deck. Another potential bonus combo you can throw in is Kikki-Jikki Mirror Breaker to go with the Restoration Angel. While this is solid in 60 card lists I fear that I would draw the uncastable goblin far too often and frequently have little use for it. The 60 card decks have less chance of drawing it and more things like Birthing Pod to fetch it out without having to cast it.
Necrotic Ooze can act as a backup for certain cards in the deck. It can cover for both Quillspine and Devoted Druid in one and combo kill! It also mimics Duskwatch Recruiter and Walking Ballista. With a little more in the way of discard outlets in the list I would be more keen on playing the Ooze and the Kikki Jikki. I think you probably have to scrimp too much on disruption to do so in cube but it certainly has some merit. The Ooze may well just be better than House Guard or Resto Angel. If I were playing Ooze I feel like I would ideally want mountains and Anger to go with my discard effects so as to speed things up a bit. All the Devoted Druid combos need it to have past summoning sickness. If doing it with a four drop that is probably too slow.
Restoration Angel is a bit pricey as protection and the deck doesn't really need good cards or value. You might as well just play Seige Rhino. All the modern lists run a pile of Angels so it must be good right? Either way, this list really wants 3 four drop creatures to ensure Pod is working smoothly. House Guard is a throw away four drop in the pod chain, a clunky tutor for a couple of bits and a sac outlet. Although a super low powered card he ticks a load of boxes and feels like one of the better four drops to fill in the gaps.
Other four drops I looked at were utility dorks like Skinrender and Wickerbough Elder but they just felt like they were going to be way to slow and clunky to serve as good problem solving cards. Master Biomancer was also an option as yet another bit of redundancy for Merlira. Going into yet another colour didn't overly appeal even if it is rather easier than Kikki Jikki!
I would have like more disruption. Presently the list has a couple of hand disruption cards and a Bone Shredder with some of the combo cards also able to do a little bit of damage to dorks. Ideally I would have found room for a Reclamation Sage, an Abrupt Decay and another discard spell, ideally Collective Brutality but Inquisition or Thoughtsieze would also be great. Sadly with so much redundancy and cards that rely on creatures you really don't have much space in the deck. I even considered Living Wish as a potential card that could provide answers and combo redundancy in places. While quite cute it would cost me a real sideboard and likely be even clunkier than running cards like Wickerbough Elder.
There are a wealth of good tutoring options. With the changes from 60 to 40 card decks and to a singleton format your need of tutoring is reduced. Also, going outside of modern gives you access to way way more options. I am using none of the premium black general tutors nor any of the playable but more suspect ones. I am not running the slow Fauna Shaman nor its more rapid counterpart Survival of the Fittest. The latter may be an error but I favour the speed and card nutrality of Eladamri's Call. I am hoping that I generally won't need to tutor several times with any one card bar the Pod. Worldly Tutor is another fine option but I don't think the card loss is worth the minor speed up over Call. Speaking of calls, there is of course Chord of Calling, the modern replacement for Pod. While Chord is ok at finding the cheaper bits of the combos it is a bit unrealistic to have it get your top end parts rapidly. Those are either a job for Pod or something you setup over two turns. Chord would be my next inclusion I think but I would want to change stuff up a little bit adding in delights such as Wall of Roots.
Carrion Feeder is the next best sac outlet to use being the cheapest but for Pod reasons you may want to have a two or three drop option like Nantuko Husk. I am fine with just Seer and the House Guard emergency backup in this list. You only need the sac outlet for one of the three combos and the cards are not generally great stand alone ones. Feeder would be in the SB as a Wish target I suspect if I went down that route. Blood Artist is an alternative kill to the Redcap in the persist combo but as you need the Finks combo for it to be relevant it seems very narrow and rather overkill.
Eternal Witness is a mild luxury card. It is a bit of value and a bit of protection for your combo, mainly against discard. You can go without as you have so many combos and redundancy but it does make me feel safer! Reveillark is another Witness option but it misses too much and is too high on the curve to be worth it in the cube lists. The only other potential cuts you could make in the non 4 CMC slot are Mesmeric Fiend or the Mother of Runes / Skite / Safekeeper slot. These are both decent help towards going off and nice cheap dorks to help out with Pod and such. I think you want a card that stops removal, especially with so much exile removal in cube. I think for the most part that is about the best "disruption" you can pack in this list. It might even be worth running two of those three cards. While Fiend fits quite nicely it is relatively low power. Collective Brutality, Abrupt Decay or Thoughtsieze may just be more potent tools. Other cards in this vein are Sin Collector and Tidehollow Sculler. Lots and lots of options with very minor differences for fine tuning this list. Thinking about it you could potentially cut Anafenza as you have more redundancy in that area than anywhere else.
There are also of course lots of lovely little filler cards you can throw in like Wall of Blossoms and Wall of Roots. These cards have always paired very nicely with Pod and much as I would love to have at least the Bloss in the list I just can't find the space. This list being a Pod list wants a relatively smooth curve of dorks so as to reliably have targets to sac and find. This list was rather heavy on the two slot and so that leaves even less space for luxury and filler cards of that cost. It is why Wickerbough seems more appealing than Qasali Pridemage for example. Recurring Nightmare also fits like a dream into Pod decks as they have a lot of overlap in synergies. While Nightmare is somewhat able to protect your combo and get you a bunch of value it is likely just too off theme and slow to really be worth running.
Collected Company was the card I was most saddened to cut out. I had originally wanted to play the deck because I quite wanted to play with the CoCo. Being quite a niche card it isn't good in drafting cube and needs a tailored deck to work well in. I wanted to enjoy playing some of the rare and powerful card but even here it looks a little out of place. While it hits a lot of the cards in the deck it is missing a lot of the key things too. Just getting a bit of value or tempo, perhaps even both isn't really what this deck is trying to do as a primary plan. I felt like I would rather the one creature I wanted rather than two random cheap ones. Putting half of two different combos into play is almost more of a liability than a help. You can't necessarily use them as normal dorks if you need to keep them alive for the combo. Indeed, just having them out before time might result in them getting removed and significantly slowing you down. CoCo would be powerful in this deck but much like Recurring Nightmare, powerful isn't what you are looking for in combo decks. Suitability to the task at hand is the primary thing we look for in cards.
So that is what I was looking to run and why, with all the various considerations and cuts also covered. It looked nice and solid and arguably one of the better combo options in cube. While it is far from the quickest combo deck in cube I think it more than makes up for it with redundancy and through being very robust. Most combo decks just concede to a couple of aggressive dorks in the first two turns if they are a little bit too slow, this list should have plenty of time in such a situation. I will build and play this as soon as I can given how much time I have already put into the build. As yet however I cannot proffer any insight into how it plays as it is entirely untested. I'll try and leave any findings about things I want and things that under performed as and when I do get to play it in the the comments section.
Thursday, 21 September 2017
Dual Land Quality
I have a huge percentage of my cube as dual lands. I presently pack 105 actual dual lands with another three lands that also help fix totaling over 20% of the cards in my cube. I am very happy with this setup and would recommend adding more dual lands to most cubes I see. This however does not paint the whole picture. Obviously, as with all magic cards, there are better and worse ones. Some dual lands are amazing and some are completely unplayable. The Ice Age depletion lands being perhaps the most extreme example of the latter. It is not a simple case of saying what the right number of dual lands is for any given cube size as the lands wildly differ in quality. If it was all sac lands and original duals then you could have a pretty good shot at getting close to the optimal number of lands in a cube. The issue is the more you add the weaker the next set of additions is. You get diminishing returns for adding more dual lands to the cube and this means that you probably want less dual lands in reality than the theoretically optimal number.
I have recently (over the last couple of years) added a lot of relatively low end dual lands to the cube that share a common weakness. This would be the shadow, battle and Amonkhet cycling dual lands. The common weakness is coming in tapped (you may be thinking we will be looking at allied/enemy colour issues but this isn't what this article is about. we also got enemy man and quick lands in that period which greatly helped balance things). Now in the grand scheme of things these lands are all pretty similar in power level and they all get played a comparable amount. What I noticed most was that the more I added the less all of them got played. This makes a lot of sense, they are the last slot lands you use to fill in gaps or round out a mana base. I also noticed a significant decline in the use of the Temple lands. Previously these had been pretty highly valued but the market was being flooded with lands sharing the same weakness of coming in tapped. There is only so much space you can afford to have slow lands in a deck and I have too many lands in the cube for the amount of places their are in decks for them. While I want to add more lands to the cube I actually think I need to be cutting some of the slower lands. Battle lands feel like the best place to start.
I would group the cube worthy lands into a few distinct groups in terms of power. First you have the sacs, shocks and original duals which are all able to come in untapped at any time and produce mana of any colour or turn one which are the two of the most valued things in a dual land. These lands also have all the juicy synergies going for them as well which is what pushes them above the second group. It contains only pain lands and quick lands. These are super reliable and tend to get the job done. Quick lands are especially good in cube as the early turns are so crucial. Quick lands probably do come in tapped a good chunk more often than check lands however they can help you play one drops and that is far more relevant in cube. The next group contains the filter and check lands. Neither help cast coloured spells on turn one but are both pretty reliable from turn two onwards. The man lands range in their power massively and don't fit into any one group. They are generally the best of the lands that always come in tapped and further help reduce the value of those that also tend to come in tapped. The last group of lands are the dregs of the lands including all the newer offerings in design with shadow, battle, cyclers and Temples. This group would also contain things like bounce lands, Vivid lands and the tri lands if I still had those in my cube. These lands either always come in tapped or tend to too much of the time. Shadow lands can outperform filter and check lands as they can do turn one plays but they are quite demanding on the construction of the rest of your mana base, they get increasingly unreliable as the game goes on, and they are not that reliable to begin with! They are pretty good when good but really bad when bad averaging out at the top of the pile in the bottom group. All this is to say that I think there is plenty more space in my (540ish cards) cube for more dual lands that would fit into groups one through three however there are too many lands in the fourth group. I did a top X land cycles a while back, this is how it would look now excluding the man lands.
2. Original Duals
This over saturation of slow lands became apparent to me when playing a deck the other day. The list is below, it is a very strong tier one Jund list. I was trying out a new card, Kheru Mind-Eater (which was fine at best on this occasion), the rest of the deck however was incredibly streamlined and full of premium cards. What makes this deck so good however it not the cards themselves but the pretty optimal mana base I had supporting it. A different mana base would turn this tier one deck into a total pile. In fact a sufficiently weak mana base and this deck ceases to be viable and you have to do lots of things quite differently.
Inquisition of Kozilek
Birds of Paradise
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Liliana, the Last Hope
Courser of Kruphix
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Now, the exercise I gave myself was building another mana base using cards from my cube but none of those used in the original build and none from cycles I had used three lands from. It was a lot harder than I expected and I expected it to be rough. I initially tried using none of the cycles of lands I used in the first build but it was quickly apparent that was getting me no where. Below is the best I could manage using what was left.
Temple of Malady
In terms of colour production both mana bases are fairly close. Both have 11 green producers, the latter has 9 red and black producers, one and two less than the former list respectively. The lower black count is a bit of an issue with the deck being heavier black than red. Ideally I would add in a Foreboding Ruins or an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. If it were not for the Traverse in the deck the swamp would be an Urborg. For the second mana base to really have the numbers it really needs another land. Going up to 17 land in this list is on the high side and risks running out of gas. I would further want to consider Amonkhet cycling lands as potential additions if I was going to take this mana base to seventeen lands.
The issues are far from over however. With the second mana base there is still loads I would look to change within the spells for it to work out. While colour production of lands is comparable in both mana bases the real difference is in speed of access to that mana. Of the first mana base's 10 or 11 sources of any given colour only one or two cannot produce the required colour on turn one or fail to come in untapped at a later turn. This makes it pretty good at casting one and two drops on cue. The second list has a mere four green sources it can use on turn one and only three for black. It doesn't get wildly better as the game progresses either. The second list should expect about half its lands to come in tapped at best. As such I would expect the first list to output about 9 mana in the first four turns from lands with the second producing only seven.
The first issue with all these tapped lands is the one drops. Both the mana producers and the black discard heavily benefit from being turn one plays. The second list has about a third the chances of playing one of those cards turn one. It is just not wise trying to have such an even split of effects with such poor ability to capitalize on them. If I had the second mana base I would elect to cut either the green or the black down to more of a splash colour like the red. Mostly this would mean shaving off cheaper cards of that colour. I would look to cut most of either the black one drops of the green one drops. I would then look to cut either Liliana or Courser depending on which colour was getting toned down.
There are some specific cards that get much weaker based of the list changes. Deathrite is the most obvious. While it is the most playable one drop in the deck without any sac lands it is a lot less valuable. Perhaps with a some self mill, discard and/or looting it would be fine but as is I think it is probably not worth running (unless you know you need lots of graveyard hate). Next up is Arbor Elf, the card is unplayable in this list with very little fixing potential as well as a really high chance of doing nothing. Ideally this would become an Elves of Deep Shadow but just a Llanowar Elf would still be a whole lot better. Traverse is also a little worse in the second list. Not only can it no longer find red but delirium is also that much harder without sac lands in this deck. A Vampiric Tutor is perhaps a better replacement, especially if you were to cull the green side of this deck rather than the black. A simple Oath of Nissa, Unbridled Growth or Renegade Map might be better alternatives if not.
Next up we come to the two drops. This list has several without any colourless in them. Such cards are super awkward to cast. I would be inclined towards replacing them with looser cost cards. Perhaps cut Abrupt Decay and Dreadbore and replace them with Go for the Throat and Maelstrom Pulse. This is a mana cost increase but I am pretty sure you will waste more than one mana trying to cast the heavy coloured things than the extra one for a Pulse over the course of a bunch of games. Grim Flayer also probably has to go. Weaker delirium is a shame but it is mostly just about him being awkward to curve out with. Sylvan Advocate or Goyf feel like the obvious replacements. Lastly we have both Cobra and Library which suffer from the lack of sac lands. The fixing and ramp from Cobra is still going to be worth it if you are green based, which would mean you were keeping Courser, which in turn would all be enough to merit keeping the Library. If you were black as the main colour however these two might also need to become something else.
Further up the curve is not so much of a problem, they will probably come down a turn slower but the double costs in the four and five slots shouldn't pose too many casting issues. You may want to tweak some depending on the cards you replace the more punished low CMC cards with just for synergy reasons. As for being a turn slower I may look to play a few more defensive cards. My Jund build is very capable of playing an aggressive tempo game if it is given the opportunity. The second mana base does not allow for the same sort of consistency in making decent tempo plays. As such it might be better just trying to go for a more value and control slant to things. Perhaps swapping Chandra for a Garruk, perhaps the Relentless flavour. It might mean throwing in something like a Wall of Blossoms or even a Toxic Deluge or Pernicious Deed. I am getting more and more vague because the more changes one suggests the more potential other things you want to tweak. It all is really just to show than a mana base defines a deck. I could only build the first deck because of what was backing it up. Had I had to base it on the second mana base it would have been a very different looking and functioning deck. You would still call it Jund and it would still be able to play many of the same cards but it would have a vastly different feel. Even with pick of the cards for the second mana base I think I would struggle to make a solid tier two deck.
Wednesday, 20 September 2017
Gadiel M. Szleifer
Gadiel past away recently. I did not know him very well. I don't even know what the M. stands for, but he managed to leave a big impression on me. I have felt his loss keenly and cannot imagine how his close friends and family must be feeling. All I know is that I found it very comforting to read the comments, thoughts and stories of those who also knew him and so I am sharing what small bits I have. Gadiel was a very talented magic player who I met at a couple of tournaments and who I had the pleasure of once playing. He was 15 or 16 at the time and was far too good for his age. You didn't really notice that about him so much as he also seemed far older than he was. A combination of surety in his actions and composure gave him the air of a more experienced player that normally only comes with some age. He stopped playing competitive magic, pursuing other things in life. Had he put all his energies into the game he would have been one of the greats. Not that I am suggesting I think that he should have done that at all. Being good at something is a good reason to do it but from what I understand Gadiel was good at everything!
It feels corny to sat that Gadiel was the kind of person who was a winner even in defeat. However corny it feels accurate. Gadiel not only had the mental acuity to excel at magic he also had an ideal mindset and this was showcased in how he took losses. He was the complete gentleman applying blame in the only useful place - his choices. He didn't take losses out on his opponents. He didn't even seem to resent any good fortune they may had had against him. Instead he was incredibly self critical and would look to what he could do to have avoided the loss. I'm pretty sure every loss made him better and more focused. The opposite of going on tilt. He also had a silly hat... but I'm not sure that had any baring on his success. I am also not one to comment on poor choices of attire.
Monday, 18 September 2017
Ixalan Conclusions and Additions
While Ixalan is not a very powerful set it is a very impressive set. The Disney flavour of the set is a bit silly but I actually don't mind it. I like the way magic goes from dark and sinister art to colourful playful art and I like how the sets keep it well contained. Ixalan fits this well and card design trumps everything else in my books and for that Ixalan scores pretty highly. I love treasure, I just wish it wasn't so heavily priced onto cards so that there was more of it in cube. What I love more are cards like Chart a Course and Field of Ruin. Both of which are incredibly playable yet cheap and relatively simple cards that are pretty fair power wise. A super hard mark to hit. I also love the many ways, mostly on the transforming cards, that time has been used as a resource in magic to allow for incredibly powerful things on very cheap cards. A sort of pleasant middle ground on suspend where you don't get nothing for your initial investment but you do have to wait for your full payoff.
This set has no bombs, no Deathrites, Copters or Emrakuls. Nothing even close. This set also has very few useful one drops which is a shame but not the end of the world given how many cheap and juicy cards it has offered. Black got some much needed love and got more than most other colours for once. More over it got a couple of widely playable cards which will go a long way despite their low power. Red didn't get too much which is also well as it got so much from the last block and was already the best. Blue also did quite well out of this set, perhaps even better than black. Blue starting from a better place than black however will improve less as a result. I am adding nearly 20 cards to the drafting from this set and I expect upwards of five of the testing cards to prove worthy. That is more than most sets add to a cube but the most impressive aspect of that is how low powered the cards I am adding in are on the whole. I don't think any card rated above 7.5/10 and what with drafting cube viable cards now needing 6/10 or so to last in the drafting cube that implies great balancing. Another sign of great design. I hope they can keep this up and get some of the same quality in upcoming sets, ideally on a load of one drops!
I think the most powerful card in the set is Vraska but that is wildly tempered by being six mana and gold. I have rated the cards based on expected play for which loads of far less powerful cards have risen to the top. Field of Ruin and Settle the Wreckage are important cards that are needed in the cube and will slot right in. They will help out slower decks a good deal. Beyond that these cards will not change much fundamentally. I expect the transform legendary enchantments will involve some very nice play and deck building much like the origins flipwalkers. I look forward to playing with them but I don't anticipate new archetypes evolving from them. One last thing I like a lot about this set is how they managed to make the filler style cards so interesting. Lots of cards fulfilling simple roles in decks will actually lead to some great game play and choices thanks to the good design in Ixalan. This is useful and important given that most of the new additions would come under the heading of filler cards.
Quite a lot of stuff for the constructed elements in cube too but I don't expect much of it to be super significant. Vampires and merfolk got a bit better but don't shift hugely in their relative positions against other decks as a result of the new cards. The other Ixalan constructed cards are either generic dull redundancy for stuff or things that are pretty replaceable. Less in the way of new archetype cards or combo enablers it feels but it is so hard to predict those things, perhaps Ixalan will form loads of new combos! Arcane Adaption is the only one I really have an eye on at present.
Main Drafting Cube Additions (best to worst)
Field of Ruin
Search for Azcanta
Chart a Course
Settle the Wreckage
Vraska, Relic Seeker
Jace, Cunning Castaway
Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Stuff to Test (highest potential at top)
Captain Lannery Storm
Huatli, Warrior Poet
Sailor of Means
Vance's Blasting Cannons
Notable things to put by for constructed cube play (no relevant ordering!)
Dire Fleet Hoarder
Bishop of the Bloodstained
Tocatli Honour Gaurd
Storm Fleet Aerialist
Kopala, Warden of Waves
Sunday, 17 September 2017
Ixalan Preliminary Review Part XII
Dire Fleet Ravager 0
This was spoiled ages ago but I held off till now because the image was so poor. This seems like a very odd card to me. It is a card that has an offensive EtB effect and evasion yet it is also a curve topper. If you do no damage (and they take none) before making this you will do seven as an EtB effect with this. Six is probably a more likely amount as most people will do them selves a couple of damage in cube before black decks cast five drops. Either way, six or seven is pretty good. Laquatus's Champion saw some play back in the day! If however you are an aggressive deck and you have done no damage by the time you can cast this surely you have lost? This is much more likely to do 1-4 damage to your opponent in the kinds of decks you can run it. Sounds like bad haste to me. Sounds like a really really bad Grey Merchant of Asphodel. Sure, this is awkward to block and should get a two for one if that is how they deal with it. Red dragons are also hard to block and don't cost you loads of life, indeed they have upsides! Basically this card has a powerful but doubly poorly scaling EtB effect that is insufficiently compensated by its unimpressive body. You don't want the EtB effect at five mana nor does the body do much to help carry it at that price. I wold pay two mana for the EtB effect and I would pay 3 for the body but much over either and they rapidly lose value in cube. Five for the pair seems fairly useless.
Fleet Swallower 0
Awful. In many ways awful. Body is terrible, easy to kill and low stats for the price. The effect is also at odds with a fatty. A 0/12 would likely be better. The effect also has diminishing returns so will often fail to get the job done. In cube this will mill 15, then 7, then 3, then 1 or so. It takes far too long to mill someone out and isn't very impressive or reliable for the speed and mana. It also has shocking scaling with other mill like Dire Fleet Ravager. You need mill to finish what this stupid fish starts but if you play it before the fish attacks you reduce the effect of the fish. This wanted more defensive stats and it wanted to be able to close out a game at the very least. It likely still would't see cube play even with my suggested improvements but it feels like a waste of card and ink as it stands. Nemesis of Reason is better statted, two mana cheaper and mills people to death faster, in cube at least. It is also utter garbage.
Redoubled Volley 1
Hammer of Bogarden gets a reprint of sorts. This is better in two ways and worse in one. It is worse in that you need to get raid to get this back which reduces its control utility. Not that spending five mana to do not very much in your turn is an easily doable thing in control decks but still... This is better than Hammer in that it is less red intense which is pretty significant even if it doesn't seem it. If you have the kind of mana to be using this you are probably more green than red and as such the lower red requirement will be very welcome. Secondly this thing can be recurred multiple times in a turn! If you have 13 mana and raid then you can Bolt two things! Sounds far fetched but in reality if this is a good card in your deck then you obviously have the capacity to get a lot of spare mana. I don't imagine this will see play. It is low power on the front end and super late game on the back end. Cards like Firebolt already represent more late game bonus gas than most red decks need. Hammer hasn't been in cube since one of my first ever culls. This might be a touch better but it isn't enough better.
Emissary of Sunrise 0
Good but not cube good.
Shadowed Caravel 0
You need at least two +1/+1 counters on this before it starts to look reasonable. Presently I am looking at very few cube worth cards with explore. I envisage the average explores per cube game post Ixalan being less than 0.1 leaving this vehicle looking like the nut low.
Perilous Voyage 3
Interesting card for sure but fighting stiff competition. The floor of this card is identical to Cyclonic Rift which is fine. The ceiling on this however is not much higher than the floor while that of Rift is lofty. Scry two is a nice chunk of scry but in order to get it you have to make an even or negative tempo play on top of a card disadvantage play. Bouncing cheap things is pretty desperate, it is clunkier things you want to hit and this is just a mediocre bounce spell in those cases. In a deck that just wants to stall the early game and has plenty of ways to recuperate cards later on this could be a good tool. Just use this early and freely and have the scry setup your game plan seems decent. A kind of Remand effect. I don't think this has any real homes in my drafting cube but I can see it being played in some more tailored decks. While this is a good card there are so many options on bounce cards in blue that I don't foresee this climbing to the top of the pile very often at all.
Vance's Blasting Cannons 4
Clearly the weakest of the cycle for cube. While I would have liked to have seen this more suitable for cube as I love the feel of the cycle I am not too gutted red didn't get loads from this set. Amonkhet saw vast improvements to red in cube and it really didn't need the help! So, how bad is this and why? Well mostly it is because it is a four mana do nothing, that is the primary reason this card rings alarm bells. There are some other subtle things going on that don't help it out but mostly why would you play this when you can do someone six in the face and win the game? Outpost Siege is a better card than this pre-flip. It gives you an option on potential damage effects from the get go and the value mode lets you play lands. The Blasting Cannons pre-flip is not only bad in principle as a four mana do nothing but it is also bad in direct comparison to other red four drops. Most of the Chandra cards offer more too. Sure, this is a bit safer than a planeswalker for ongoing value but then we are back with Siege being superior.
So, if you are playing this it is not for the enchantment mode, certainly not exclusively. Fortunately this is fairly easy to flip. With four mana and hopefully a bonus card from this you can probably flip this the following turn. While Spitfire Bastion is a very strong land indeed I am not sure you want to flip it immediately all that often, certainly not when you have played the Blasting Cannons on curve. Having a three mana bolt (technically four mana but you get it with the land) every turn is pretty comparable to getting roughtly 60% of a non-land card each turn. The Bolt is more consistent but your spells should represent more power and tempo. They are both gas you have to spend mana on. If you flip this and don't use it to bolt things it isn't as much value as the enchantment however if you do that too early with only 4 or 5 mana in play and stuff still in hand you will risk falling behind. Basically I think that flipping this will actually be weak to do too soon and may even restrict you in what you can cast. If however you leave it too late it will be super hard to flip, you will have to spend a turn doing little to nothing to save up enough cards. Both sides of this card feel like they are comparably powerful. A mountain is a rubbish payoff for flipping this so you need to be using it to bolt stuff else you were better off leaving it in Cannons mode. Timing your flips correctly will be technically difficult to orchestrate and hard to judge when is the best moment to do so. Getting it right doesn't even have a massive payoff, your card just stays good and relevant. Get it wrong and you might well have paid four mana for a turn five mountain.
This is a slow card but it works far worse in slower decks that want to play lands and want to have reactive instants to control the game. It might be nice gas and reach for aggressive decks if it wasn't such an initial tempo cost. I don't see this getting it done in cube, I can't envisage the archetype or build that wants this over something else. I shall none the less test it out, I think it at least deserves that much attention.
Vineshaper Mystic 0
A 3/5 worth of stats for 3 is OK, especially when you can put upto 2/2 of that on things that can attack right away or scale. The issue with this card is that it needs another merfolk in play. That makes it unreliable, a 3 mana 2/4 isn't good at all. This card being both green and 3 mana means it is not getting near a merfolk deck and that was really its only hope for cube.
Ancient Brontodon 0
Better named than most of the dinosuars. Although all this big vanilla dorks are clearly not close to cube worthy I wonder if I wrote off too much of the top end stuff before seeing the pair of dino cost reducers. Those cards make things like this 9/9 actually castable! Still not good for cube but not as bad as I initially thought in general.
Prying Blade 0
I want to like this , I want to like more of the cheap treasure cards from the set. Feels like a Paradise Mantle mostly has this beat for what it does. This is an unreliable and over cost way of generating mana and a pathetic creature buff. Not really close to cube standard.
Elaborate Firecannon 0
Elaborate indeed, and bad. Very very bad. Colourless Shocks and discard outlets are nice but far better options for either exist than this.
Verdant Rebirth 1
A nice cheap 2 for 1 in green. Sadly you need to have a dork killed for this to get you value. While not inconceivable that you would set this up yourself that sounds super slow and not worth the return. The tempo is weak but then that is the case for most card draw. It has the limitations of a combat trick but none of the tempo perks of one. I don't think green needs this kind of conditional value, cheap though it is.
River Herald's Boon 0
A less restrictive Vineshaper Mystic style card. This is a better reason for merfolk to go green but it is still far too fair to be much of a pull. If you were already UG and wanted a combat trick in your merfolk deck this would be a consideration but Mutagenic Growth would probably still be better and I don't envisage that situation happening anyway.
I guess this is better than Pit Fight against pro red dorks..
Ixalli's Diviner 3
This is even harder to know than with the 2/1 explore dork at the same cost. A 0/3 and a land or a 1/4 and a scry? This has a fair amount of stats and is a pretty decent defensive card. I struggle to see where this card is better than either Wall of Blossoms or Satyr Wayfinder. It can be better than both but when you want one mode and get the other it is pretty lame. While this is a defensive card in both modes it is only really value in one of those and that is more what you want this card to be. Aniok Guide seems like a better version of this even if it has less power. You just want control over what your card does. If explore over performs then this will be the first card I add.
Atzocan Archer 1
Interesting card for green. This is one of the more playable creature removal cards green has on offer mostly due to green not really having such things. Yes, this only a ping for one and it dies it it pings something with four or more power and for three mana that really sucks. A 1/4 reach body on top of the ping makes it more reasonable value although still not great. You really need buff effects that are instant or state based to empower the fight on this archer. I don't see this making a cube appearance but stranger things have happened. Good to see green getting more diverse at least.
Seeker's Squire 6.5
Deal. I'll take it. While this probably isn't as good as the green 2/1 for 1G this will see a whole lot more play. Black doesn't have nearly enough cards like this and they are exactly what it wants to be able to compete in a more midrange meta. A 1/2 plus a land is a decent enough card which a lot of decks would run. While Satyr Wayfinder may scale a little better with specific synergies the extra health on this will be much more relevant in a general sense. In mode two this is a 2/3 and a scry (to the bin) which is fine. While not a two for one it is a solid tempo play that also helps to set you up for upcoming turns. It is the opposite of an all in tempo play and that makes it very playable. Aggro decks can run this and it is either a bit Thraben Inspector or a bit Veteran Motorist / Sylvan Advocate, all of which are happy inclusions. Midrange decks likewise like all those sorts of cards too. This is a filler card but it is more appropriate and powerful than any other generically playable black 2 drop dork. It is the well rounded playability of this card when compared to most of what black has to offer that makes it so strong. Sure, Dark Confidant is way more powerful but not every deck can run it and that is the story for so many black cards.
Heartless Pillage 1
Not great but I can actually see this looking reasonable in the right place. This is one of the better basic treasure generating spells that is less than 4 mana. It is still low powered but if you want the two things this offers and can easily fulfill the raid then perhaps this.
Costly Plunder 2
Directly worse than Perilous Research but then this is in a different colour. This might replace Altar's Reap or join it in the right kind of deck. Narrow and pretty fair but still absolutely playable.
Watertrap Weaver 1
I don't see this replacing existing 3 drop options in merfolk but it is an OK tempo disruption play. Tribal only card and a pretty low powered one at that.
Tempest Caller 1
Another super narrow card. Either you use this to alpha strike with merfolk which doesn't seem overly needed with evasion being easy to pick up for the fish. Alternatively you give this flash somehow at which point it becomes pretty good at stalling for any deck. The former seems overkill and the latter seems like it isn't going to have sufficient support.
Shaper Apprentice 1
Playable two drop filler merfolk.
Sailor of Means 4
I like this card. It is the ramping Sea Gate Oracle. One mana once (and an extra toughness) is far less value and playability than a Sleight of Hand but if you specifically want to be ramping to five this is not a bad way to go. It is not a dud late game like a Talisman nor does it concede much in the way of tempo. A 1/4 blocker holds off a lot. I am not sure this is powerful enough for cube, Sea Gate is pretty fair these days. This does at least do something unique and conceivably desirable though. Most blue big swing cards come in at five so perhaps this just fits in despite being on the low side of things for power. Test worthy sort of card for sure.
Sheltering Light 3
This is another take on God's Willing. It is better against mass removal and a few oter things but worse at forcing through damage or countering exile spot removal. Both are cheap protection or mild combat tricks with a tasty scry. Being reactive cards the scry is less value than on other one mana cards but it is still pretty lovely. Good card but a bit situational for regular cube use.
Ritual of Rejuvenation 0
Potential filler or SB card for control against burn but I think this is too much like a filler card to be a good SB tool and too bloaty and narrow to be maindeck material. Renewed Faith is more versatile and more easily accommodated. Many other lifegain effects are more powerful at gaining life even if they lack the general playability of this card.
Inspiring Cleric 0
Almost exactly the same problems as the Ritual of Rejuvenation but in creature form. In other words I am playing Baneslayer Angels or Lone Missionary over this.
Thursday, 14 September 2017
Ixalan Preliminary Review Part XI
Raider's Wake 1
Black Honden meets Megrim (or Liliana's Caress for you new kids!). This is actually a reasonable deal even at four mana and with the raid requirement. The issue is not with how good this card is relative to comparable cards but how good the various effects are contextually. Things based on discard have diminishing returns. Very quickly most decks have nothing to discard and you get no value from either half of the card. You can play Megrim Memory Jar decks in cube, they are fun but a bit of a gimmick. This has some hope in such decks although mostly as a terrible Megrim as I don't see such decks fulfilling raid all that often. You cannot play cards like either half of this very often in cube without ways to ensure your opponent has plenty of cards to pitch as they are only good against heavy counterspell decks unsupported.
Lightning-Rig Crew 0
I misread this at first and thought it was any spell not just pirates that untapped this. It would have been a big Thermo-Alchemist and would probably have been ok. As it is it is unplayable garbage.
Ruthless Knave 3
This is a bit slow and durdly but it also does quite a lot. It reminds me most of Flesh Carver which has been a standout cube card. While this is close to Carver it is rather more awkward all over. The +1 attack is far less useful than intimidate, the larger upfront sac cost reduces that aspect of the cards utility, but worst of all this card does nothing if it is simply Shocked on sight. With Carver you are pretty happy to toss it down and trade or run it into removal while this you need to be a bit more sparing with else it is a pretty weak card. Saccing three treasure to draw a card is pretty pricey. It is 3 dorks and 9 mana to draw 2 cards... Knave is not a good source of value, he is a sac outlet and somewhat of a mana battery. If you have some big payoff cards then Knave could really help get you there. In a long grindy midrange game you will also eventually win through bonus cards and mana but this will be pretty rare. Compared to most good value cards this will be pathetically slow to pull you ahead. Tireless Tracker for example will run circles round this. Another big issue I see for this card is the upfront sac cost. It is six mana to lay and use this once meaning you won't often have the sac option open early in the game and if you do it will have cost a lot of tempo. It feels like it takes too long for this to come on line in a useful way and that will be rather too late in the day the the ramp and sac options it mostly brings. Interesting card for sure, it might find a place in some focused decks but ultimately it is just on the low side for power.
Rigging Runner 6.5
This is a good deal better than Skarrgan Pit-Skulk in most cases. It should also be better than War-Name Aspirant however on that case I am not as sure. The thing is that this utterly fails as a one drop. It is a Tundra Wolves or Stone Throwing Devils on turn one. This is like Serra Avenger, a cheap overstatted card that cannot be played on curve. War-Name is at least a two drop. Assuming you can make both with raid on turn two which is better? A 2/2 first strike and a spare mana or a 3/2 with super limp evasion? It is pretty close even if you don't use the spare mana and the potential for that mana in red on turn two is pretty big. This isn't an auto include in aggressive red decks, they will need a sufficiently high creature count as well as generally low curve for this card to really shine. This is a filler card but it is a pretty powerful one. If you reliably have raid on turn two and three and have a deck of mostly one and two drops this card will be top rate. It is not worth comparing to other one drops however as it is not fulfilling the same role. The fact that this is seeming worthy of the cube implies Stormblood Berserker should probably make a return. I think red has become better at getting in attacks early with more better cheap dorks and burn. Rigging Runner has a pretty decent ceiling and a substantially better floor than Berserker. Seems good but not insane.
Sword Point Diplomacy 0
This isn't good although it might look it. The only place you could reasonably play this in cube is an aggressive deck and it turns out black has far better ways to draw cards in an aggressive deck. To be honest, it jsut has far better ways of drawing cards whatever the occasion. So Murmers from Beyond is a card and it is terrible in much the same way this is terrible. Most of the time they will let you have two useless cards and exile the one relevant one. They can exile more if there are more relevant ones. They know what you will get from it as well so they can play around things from it too. Sure, compared to Murmers this will cost them 3 life for the same effect however this is a slow old sorcery and this gives them more options on what to do and this fails to fill up the yard very well. All round I don't like this very much. It is under powered, narrow and incredibly unreliable.
Field of Ruin 7.5
This is great. Finally they have made a fixed Strip Mine after 25 years of trying! This is not over powered like the first couple of iterations nor is it overly polar like the various fairer newer versions. This is exactly what slower decks desperately needed in the cube. Now things like UW control can toss in one of these and not be completely cold to Wolf Run or random manlands. This is actually better than a Wasteland in those kinds of decks. Basically, you run this if you expect to struggle against utility lands or you run it when you have a very solid mana base and want to punish shaky multicoloured builds. In my cube in particular it is pretty common for 3 colour or more decks to have zero or one basic lands. This punishes greed more than it punishes bad lack as Strip Mine and Wasteland do and I am OK with that. It also can't be used until turn three and has a tempo cost to use. If you try and colour screw someone early game you may well hurt yourself in the tempo department more than you hurt their plan. This has some utility as fixing for yourself, if you really need a certain basic you can just blow this and go find it. You can also try and abuse it with cards like Aven Mindcensor and Leonin Arbiter. In cube I find such things a little thin against any sort of limited deck, it is only really combo things that such plans will beat well. It is worth noting that the lands come in untapped which has a couple of ramifications. Firstly, it means if you have follow up plays this effectively only costs two mana to use. Secondly, it means you are potentially giving your opponent and extra mana. Perhaps they are at three untapped lands and by using this on them you let them cast a Fact or Fiction. This card is incredibly well designed like quite a number from this set. It is an incredibly useful effect that loads of archetypes will run, it was a rather needed addition with so few good alternatives on land removal. It has a lot of subtle interactions and should lead to complex choices and cool plays. Despite all of this the card is not all that powerful. Designing fair cards that will see a lot of play is hard so full marks for this.
Kinjalli's Caller 1
Wow, they are really pushing these dinosaurs. Two cheap and potent cost reducers is a pretty big deal. You can make a turn 3 hasting five drop dino with this and the red one, or better yet, three three drop dinos! I still don't think there are quite enough payoff dinos to make even a bottom tier cube list yet but these enablers and support cards help get you a lot of the way there.
Tilonalli's Knight 0
This isn't good enough for a standard dinosaurs list so it certainly has no hope in cube. This is a limited card.
This looks like a lot of value and options for a nice cheap price but I think it is misleading. You need a dork and you need them to have one too. This is a weak combat trick, a super weak pump spell and a poor removal spell. It is only good when you are near the ceiling and that won't happen often enough. I'll take a Borrowed Malevolence over this all day. It can do all the things you want Skulduggery to do and it does them without needing certain conditions. Mostly that is killing their turn one play! It also has the potential for that dream swing two for one. So rarely will this happen that I am not too bothered about that extra cost to escalate. When it does happen it will still be good enough to spend three mana on doing. Skulduggery is too narrow and low impact in the late game are far too conditional in the early game.
Brazen Buccaneers 0
Neither outcome for this exploration results in something you would pay 3R for in cube.
Dire Fleet Hoarder 4
Carrier Thrall is a filler card in my cube at best. It has never been a card I felt like I wanted more of. This newer version seems somewhat less powerful and less useful. Sure, it offers fixing and artifact synergies. The difference between a colourless and any coloured mana however does not feel like it comes close to a 1/1. Creature synergy is somewhat more prevalent than artifact synergies too! Hoarder is just a limp dork that helps you out with some mana while Thrall does pretty much than role as well as a couple more. This is a fine filler card but it doesn't seem needed presently.
Axis of Mortality 0
Funny multiplayer card but pretty poo in most other cases. Seems like a worse counter to aggression than lifegain. Seems like a pretty unreliable counter to infinite life combos or lifegain decks too.
Deathgorge Scavenger 5
This is OK but it isn't good. It certainly isn't the second coming of Scavenging Ooze. This can attack as a 4/3 or it can gain some life all the while exiling potentially relevant stuff, all OK things and some decent flexibility. A couple of things make this on the weak side. First up is inability to remove stuff at instant speed or even in bulk. This just doesn't really disrupt a reanimate deck enough to have much merit as a counter card. Secondly, this just dies to most removal netting you very little value. A lot of the time this will look like Kitchen Finks without the persist. i.e. bad. Sometimes it will look like a big overcost Mardu Woe-Reaper... While you can play three drops that don't immediately do stuff you need them to eventually do more than this. This isn't a dangerous threat. This isn't impressive ongoing value. It is at best very mild graveyard disruption on a mildly efficient dork. A 3/2 lifelink dork with exalted would be better than this overall and such a card doesn't sound very exciting.
Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Planeswalker Legend Rules Change
I was asked to do a bit on this change as to how it affects cube. Ixalan being that much more exciting has taken away most of my magic attentions but more than that I don't really have all that much to say about the legend changes that feels overly relevant or anything other than obvious. I think they are a flavour fail but so what, Jitte on Isamaru is a flavour fail, two kinds of Thalia in play is a flavour fail. I don't play magic for its strict flavour accuracy. It is a world of magic, I have an imagination. It is fine. As far as rules go it makes sense to have planeswalkers working the same way other legends do. It is neater and makes the game more accessible.
As for cube specifically the effects are pretty minor. The legend tag is pretty meaningless in a singleton format. Time of Need and Hero's Demise are hardly big names and they are not relevant for the planeswalker changes anyway... The planeswalker rule previously made for some extra choices to be made in building decks and in cube design. You didn't want to over do it on any one kind of walker. That is all gone. Now each walker based on their merits alone! If the best three walkers for your deck are all Jace's you can now ram them all in and not worry about it. It was super rare that you would be in a position where you already had one type of a walker in play and you wanted to make another one of the same type. This is because most cubes kept same type walkers curtailed and people wouldn't typically build with more than two of the same type. It rarely came up and when it did you were well prepared for it. I suspect with the design and build restrictions gone we will start to see a lot more instances of the same walker in play. I say a lot more but in reality it is still a pretty small number. Getting a walker to stick and then getting another into play means you are pretty far ahead in most cases. Those games are mostly already won.
So what actually changes in cube? For one, I don't need to consider the type when considering new walkers for the cube. Nor do I need to consider it for construction. Not a big change, it is just like having something less to consider (say, like removing mana burn...). The more relevant change is how it will affect the value of certain planeswalkers. It used to be the case, especially for walkers of the same type and CMC, that they would lose value for each better planeswalker with the same type. Architect of Thought for example has always lived in the large shadow of Mind Sculptor. As playing both is a little bit of a risk and you are going to play the better one you lump in that risk entirely on the weaker walker. While Architect of Thought is an incredibly potent walker its desirability and pick rate are lower than you would expect for a card of its power and this is because of better Jace's. While these cards will still compete with each other it will not be in such a direct and conflicting way. If you have space for both you can run both and all is well, you don't lose a bit of value by playing both anymore and so you don't take it out of the runt of the litter!
Basically this is just a way of saying that planeswalkers with lots of decent iterations of themselves will become better. Specifically the ones that are still good but reside further down the list. Mind Sculptor gets no better as a result of the changes but all the other Jace's do get better. Some of those that were close to good enough for cube before may just edge over that line. I think the more expensive Garruk's benefit from these changes. I think many of the Liliana iterations gain some value as well. Specifically Heretical Healer who you often want to play alongside Liliana of the Veil but due to lacking control over the flip mechanic often felt rather risky. Nissa is the other walker I think benefits from this change as there are lots of good ones. She may not be that numerous a walker compared to Jace but she five very good ones. Both Garruk and Nissa being green there will not be an influx of both, green has plenty of walkers as it stands and will only have room for one or two returns at most. I might have considered Apex Predator but I think the new Vraska will be taking up his potential cube slot. Gideon is perhaps the only other walker this has that much effect on. While I only have 3 iterations of him (including Kytheon) that I want in cube they are cards I am happy running together. Aggressive white decks being what they are that extra freedom and consistency will go a really long way. Ajani and Chandra have loads of versions but few are good, you rarely find yourself in a position of wanting more than one. I have wanted all the Daretti's before!
Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Ixalan Preliminary Review Part X
Sky Terror 1
Super evasion! This is too narrow as just an efficient beater. Things like Kari Zev and Gust Walker are just going to see a lot more play than this in cube due to casting cost and similar role fulfillment. This is pretty good but not enough above the curve for a gold card. I rather prefer Veteran Motorist to this and I found that to be too narrow overall. Perhaps this has some mild potential due to it's dinosaur tag but that is pretty wishful!
Legion's Landing 6.5
The white offering of the cycle, much like the origins flipwalkers, gets to be the cheapest. It actually has a very Kytheon feel to it all round. Both give one drop dorks and both transform into more value and power once you attack with three things. This is both a pro and a con in cube. It is a pro in that any white aggressive deck will support them well and be a good fit. It is a con in that the card isn't so well suited to anything else other than aggressive decks. Much as I really like this card I have my reservations about it. Firstly the 1/1 lifelink token you get isn't really worth anything. It helps to transform the card and will go very nicely with global pump and equipment but all on its own it is super low value. It isn't even a case of just being a poor tempo play like the green one of the cycle. Neither Landing nor Growing Rites of Itlimoc are good returns for the mana without the transformation however Growing Rites is still at least worth a card. The issue for Landing is that it is neither worth a mana or a card. You have to flip it and/or you have to get value from the 1/1 with other elements in your deck. If you fail you have put yourself behind.
So assuming you do flip Landing into Adanto, the First Fort, how good is that? Pretty good but perhaps not good enough. I don't see this being flipped before turn 3 and probably not on turn 3 very often. As such this is ramping you to five or six which is a lot less useful in white aggressive decks than all the other transform lands and their wider array of potential homes. White decks often finish their curve at four and don't have abundant mana sinks. A free land is nice but it comes too late in the day to be super relevant as mana. Sure it will help a bunch and it will make the few mana sinks white does play a little bit better. Bygone Bishop for example. The point is the land is only "free" when the 1/1 token does good work. If the token is a blank then your Legion's Landing is a bad Search for Tomorrow. You wouldn't play a white Search for Tomorrow in a white weenie deck, it is too off theme. The initial card and tempo cost wouldn't return enough of either to be worth playing.
So if Adanto isn't great as a Plains perhaps it is good as a Kjeldoran Outpost? Perhaps is probably the correct answer. You pay a lot of mana to make 1/1s with this, so much so that you probably have nothing else going on or are in pure grind mode and trying not to over extend into mass removal. Either way it is pretty late game or pretty desperate. You might be able to curtail aggressive red decks with a stream of 1/1 lifelink dorks but most other strategies shouldn't be too worried about it. If you have an Anthem out it is suddenly a lot more interesting. Adanto is nice to have, it is probably comparable to having one of the non-Colonnade white man lands in play. A bit worse on its own and a bit better with some support. Man lands are not great comparisons however as you play those in land slots while you cannot play this in a land slot. The value you get from them is pretty free, at most it costs you a mana as they come in tapped. They don't cost you a card as they are lands. Andanto isn't free as it costs you a card (minus the potentially negligible value of the 1/1 token). I suspect over half the times you transform this into Adanto you won't actually make any tokens with it and it will just be a Plains. Even Outpost represented more of a real land than this does! Utility lands, while infrequently used, are still pretty good as that marginal utility comes at such low cost. Karakas for example is insane because you get a great effect on a Plains! If you could just have Adanto as a land it would be great. The way this land gets into play combined with the kinds of deck that will use it means it is far less valuable than Plains in your deck as a land. While this doesn't actually effect the value of the utility on the land it does mean we are very likely to over value the transformed card, a land with that ability would be so much better. While this is also very much the case for the green one both the blue and black versions benefit a lot from being non lands both in the utility the enchantments bring and the ramp potential they offer.
All this ultimately means you just need to get work done with the 1/1 token for this card to pull its weight. I think it is a good card than can go in any of the many forms of white aggressive lists. While I think it can go in most of them I don't think it is an auto include in any bar a few of the more focused ones such as an Intangible Virtue build. I think in your run of the mill white weenie aggro list this will mostly get played but I don't expect it to significantly out perform Elite Vanguard if it even does that. When it is good it will be very good but when it is bad it will be disappointingly low impact. I think it will be played more on the basis of it just being another one drop rather than its power and effects. Every now and again you will have an aggressive white deck with little to no buff cards and in those decks you will probably need to cut this and find another playable. I think the best way of viewing this card is like a value version (as opposed to a tempo version) of Boros Elite. I am hoping to be able to do some creative building with this sort of card despite its seemingly narrow range of homes. It is also like a Thraben Inspector you can only run in aggressive decks. I like the idea of using these cards in combination with Armageddon effects.
Snapping Sailback 0
This is a pretty brutal limited card but it is just an expensive dork in cube. Even the tribal thing doesn't offer redemption for this.
Spell Swindle 6.5
Well, it might not be Mana Drain but good frankly. that card is oppressively over powered. Plasm Capture was terrible but it was basically uncastable. Plasm Capture would have been a whole lot better at 3UU to cast and Spell Swindle is a whole lot better than Plasm Capture regardless of cost. Treasure may be saved and used only as needed or they can be used to empower artifact synergies! I think treasure is substantially more valuable than one turns worth of that much mana, especially in slower controlling decks. Spell Swindle is enough of a swing that I think it might be good enough in cube. Even if you only hit a 3 drop with this you are untapping with at least 8 mana. That should be enough to safely get ahead. You can Wrath or lay a card and keep up mana for counter magic. Control decks are all about that swing turn where you turn the game on its head. Often it is courtesy of Force of Will which allows you to tap out to play something to dominate or clear the board without leaving yourself vulnerable to their follow up play. While this is much slower than Force of Will it should leave you in a much better position. Force can give you your big swing turn at any point. Lots of games are lost to a turn 3 Ashiok with a Force of Will to counter the counter or the removal. Spell Swindle won't help with that. You have to get to five mana and then counter something of at least medium size. This probably means you don't get your swing turn till turn six or seven but it won't cost you a card and it will give you more flexibility going forwards. Another way in which this compares well to Force of Will is that when you are averaging five mana spells as your targets for it then it is costing you the same amount of total mana as Force of Will. I hear zero mana Counterspells are good? This is a bit like an inverted Pact of Negation and as such sounds like a pretty good fit in control. Treachery is the other big blue swing card that allows for those big turns as is the new Fractured Identity. Swindle feels like it fits in that group of cards surprisingly well.
Big instants are a lot more playable in the cube now than ever before with Torrential Gearhulk and As Foretold helping to power them out. Indeed, the bigger cards in cube, particularly those blue players may want to play, really want to be instant or have flash. If you try and have your big turn with a Treachery and they have any disruption, often even just killing their own guy, then you are pretty buggered. A good way to showcase the importance of instant speed in blue is to compare Fact or Fiction and Foresee. The latter arguably has a better effect in a lot of cases yet you never see this comparison because the latter is a sorcery. Obviously you can't have sorcery speed countermagic! My point is not that this is good because it is an instant rather, this is good because it is a swingy card that works with what blue is trying to do and has relatively low risk. This card in turn allows you to play those awkward sorcery speed win conditions far quicker and with far less risk. Some control decks use entirely manlands, flash angels or miracles as their finishers but most are forced into running things like Elspeth Sun's Champion and Aetherling. If those are your main win conditions then a Spell Swindle is going to let you win a whole lot quicker. More importantly it is going to turn on those expensive sorcery speed cards for use in a safe way that much sooner.
I have been comparing this to Mystic Confluence but I don't think that is too pertinent. More than anything I actually think that there is room in blue for more expensive flash cards and I think this and Confluence can coexist happily in cube. Confluence is certainly the more versatile card and probably also the more useful and powerful card too. Confluence isn't however a very swingy card. It helps you creep ahead but it rarely breaks the game. The two cards are doing very different things. One of the more common uses I see for Confluence is as a limp Dismiss. I don't often see this being that weak that often. I think if you get to cast Spell Swindle in games you are not too far behind in already it should increase your win percentage by more than most other cards and that is a pretty big deal.
Dowsing Dagger 0
Comedy card! Better than Lotus Vale, worse than Gilded Lotus... pretty obviously I would have thought! In theory you can have this flipped on turn 3 if you have a one drop dork capable of bypassing the plants. A two mana echo EtB tapped Gilded Lotus would be absolutely fantastic, even conceding the pair of plants. This however is super easily disrupted, very inconsistent based on needing dorks and also on that account - incredibly narrow. What deck has evasive one drops and also wants a Gilded Lotus? Sounds like no decks to me. As a piece of equipment this is obviously terrible. It is worse than the unplayable Trusty Machete and it flips and you lose it after one connection with face! You are only playing this for what it flips into and that means this isn't a cube card. A card can be bad or have serious flaws and still see play in cube. A card cannot have zero archetypes that might want what it offers and expect to see any play however. This fails on all three. I still kind of like it too...
Trove of Temptation 0
Erm, what is this for exactly? I love things that put treasure into play but this is far too pricey for just the treasure. This is arguably also a tapper of sorts, I can't think of another reason you want to force people to attack you beyond you wanting to attack them back. Sadly this is only one thing and it is their choice meaning it is a pretty awful tapper. At four mana the treasures needs 4 turns to pay for themselves and fail to do any sort of useful ramping. At two this would have been very enticing and probably grossly over powered. At three it might have merited some testing. At four it seems completely useless.
Vicious Conquistador 3
Pulse Tracker returned with a free bonus toughness! Tracker is a pretty limp card but it has seen play and a small boost on a cheap card goes a very long way. Thornbow Archer saw no play but it is conditional and has a less useful creature type. Tragically for black this is probably in the top ten for aggressive one drop plays. If black somehow gets a consistent and good aggressive archetype then this has a chance of getting into the cube. Presently I think it wouldn't see much play but that is only because of the state of black and the unpowered cube meta. This certainly would be one of the better one drops in a tribal vampire deck and should see play in most vampires lists. For now this can sit on the bench.
Makeshift Munitions 3
This isn't powerful enough or broad enough for use in the drafting cube (yet). It does however have some strong applications as a potential support card. It is a cheap, wide range, ongoing and most importantly a useful sac outlet. If red had half decent treasure production this would gain a lot of value. It turns the fairly awful Wily Golbin into a potential Pyrohelix at least... I can certainly see myself digging this up now and again when doing constructed cube decks. It is only really the artifact side of this that is super valuable as Goblin Bombardment does the other bit significantly better.
Imperial Lancer 0
If you are playing a dinosaur themed deck you don't want your payoffs to be small nor do you want your cheap cards to be non-dinosaurs. I don't imagine dinosaurs in cube having much in the way of pump and so a 1/1 doublestrike is only marginally better than a 2/1. While I don't see this ever having a cube application it could well be a significant player in standard. A good dinosaur themed pump card is what will ensure that.
Charging Monstrosaur 5.5
Again with the limp names. They should have been derived from more extinct languages. If nothing else Monstrosaur sounds tautological. Nomenclature aside, this card seems remarkably good. It is another toned down Thundermaw Hellkite. While those others are typically stat reductions this is an evasion downgrade. Thundermaw pretty much ensures that first hit is getting past any potential blockers and has a good chance of getting through subsequently. This walking version is significantly easier to block and kill. Failing that it is still a lot easier to mitigate the damage it brings. While this is clearly a lower powered card than Glorybringer, even Strombreath Dragon you could argue the same is true of Thundermaw. Pound for pound I think Glorybringer represents the best value for mana and power per card but Thundermaw still sees way more play. That is because Thundermaw is much more on theme for red. You want to push through damage reliably and quickly. The extra evasion and damage on Thundermaw just make it more suitable than the more value orientated five drop dragon alternatives. A lot comes down to stats for this kind of card. All the pro-white and monstrous nonsense just isn't as good as being a little bit bigger when you are mostly a flying haste dork. Even with being a little bit easier to cast this shouldn't be any sort of challenge for Thundermaw. With that said it might well be the next best thing. If you have a Thundermaw shaped hole in your deck this could be a better fit than more powerful and exotic alternatives. I will test this out. I suspect it is a bit too fair and dull for a big card but I wouldn't be shocked if it saw sufficient play to hold onto a cube slot.
River Sneak 2
Probably playable in merfolk lists. Triton Shorestalker is surprisingly good in cube fish and this is rather more relevant. Merfolk isn't overly done with the more disposable two drops, mostly they are lords which are really precious. If you can lead with a card like this and follow it with a lord you are generally better positioned. This in particular is good to follow with a lord as it becomes a 3/3. That is one of the issues with this card, generally you will play 1 merfolk a turn at best. You really do need the lords to make this work but the lords are a core part of the fish deck so that is fine. This is far from great. A 2/1 for 2 may even be better when you are having to block and trade stuff. This is just appropriate potential filler.
Adanto Vanguard 7
Well, isn't this an interesting little card. If this were a human it would be a lock in for my drafting cube. As a vampire it needs to stand out above and beyond cards like Glory Bound Initiate, Gust Walker and Daring Skyjek. While I only have a couple of human synergy cards in the cube they do greatly empower white weenie lists and as such non-human cards are that little less playable. So how good is this exactly? It is a 3/1 attacker and a 1/1 blocker but it has indestructible when relevant. You are playing this in an aggressive white deck. That means you are usually the aggressor. It also means you are not spending your own life on much or hurting yourself much as black and red aggressive decks are so good at. You also have a decent chance of having lifegain tools in the deck. Basically, in most cases you should have more than enough life to make this indestructible as often as you need to. You won't be able to repeatedly chump attack into things with this, you have to represent a trade at worst. You should be able to pay 4 life pretty happily to block and kill a 2/1 attacker or kill and survive a 2/3 blocker. You can probably only use this once or twice against an aggressive red player but that matchup is very much about tempo and so even there this card should prove pretty potent. Sadly a 1/1 blocker is becoming a lot less useful with most and more 2 toughness or more 1 and 2 mana threats floating around. This is not a good card defensively although it does provide some options and reliability. Offensively it feels pretty good however. A 3/1 for two is normally weak because of its low toughness but this rather negates that by being indestructible! Both Skyjek and Glory Bound Initial have ways to bypass their low toughness weakness in combat but they have nothing to protect against burn. Vangaurd may be hardier than those cards however he is easier to block. Against removal heavy decks Vangaurd will be just the ticket but against creature heavy decks the exerting or evasive dorks will get more done, certainly into the late game.
The area in which I see this card excelling most is with equipment. The real problem with equipment these days is the huge tempo blowout you suffer if they have appropriate removal. Indestructible stops most removal and so for any deck using Swords or Jitte Adanto Vangaurd seems like one of your best potential carriers. He is the attacker and the Mother of Runes without summoning sickness all in one. Vanguard also scales nicely with other buffs effects but his real area of expertise is equipment.
A vulnerability most white aggressive decks suffer is to mass removal. Lacking much in the way of card advantage or recursive/persistent threats has always been an issue when playing into potential mass removal. If you over extend you die but if you hold back you might well lose regardless of the mass removal whether they have it or not. White has got some better tools of late in Hallowed Spiritkeeper and Selfless Spirit. Previously it leaned a little hard on the rather ineffective Loyal Cathar! More playable anti mass removal tools are still most welcome, especially when they are decently better than the Loyal Cathar.
Another noteworthy thing about this card is that it is about the point of critical mass where white becomes a relevant consideration for tribal vampires builds. There will be payoffs and now also some depth in white. Silly tribal decks aside I think this card is plenty good enough to see cube play even without a human tagline. I think you will want it whenever you have equipment or whenever you face mass removal and that is more often than not. Even without those things it is a decently powerful card. It presents some interesting choices and should lead to some good games. A two drop that attacks as a 3/1 and can freely and frequently become indestructible is a pretty big deal. The worst thing about this card is that Emrakul, the Promised End will be able to outright kill you 25% of the time you have him. Try and stay away from life totals divisible by 4!
Captivating Crew 0
Nope. Not this. This is a 4/3 for four that gets killed a lot of the time for a couple of mana before it does anything and is too expensive to activate at other times. It is potent enough to cheese out some games where you catch people in awkward situations with it but those games will be the rare ones. Yasova wasn't very impressive in cube and this seems generally worse.
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