Friday 1 September 2017

Ixalan Preliminary Review Part I

Walk the Plank 5

This is a cheap removal spell with great range. It hits basically every creature in the cube and has no built in drawback. The downsides of this card are sorcery speed and double black cost. At instant or 1B to cast I think this would be one of the better removal cards in black but as it is I think I would generally rather Victim of the Night, a simple Doom Blade or even Devour in Shadow! Walk the Plank is certainly a playable card and may well suit some cube designs. There is however vast redundancy in two mana cards in black that kill creatures and Walk the Plank does not stand out from the crowd enough.

Unclaimed Territory 2

Hard to rate this one. Obviously this is a directly worse Cavern of Souls but so what? In a three or more colour tribal deck you would absolutely play both. The thing is that there are basically no good tribal decks in cube that span loads of colours. Unless you have little to no cards not of the tribe in question these kinds of lands are worse than most of the good dual lands. The potential homes for this card include slivers, elementals and perhaps some highly exotic humans or wizards build. These are not things you can draft in most cubes nor are they even close to tier one decks in the constructed style formats such things can be done more easily in. This card has application but it is very low impact and very narrow. Cavern of Souls remains much more playable as it is sometimes used in combo lists to force through things which this can't help out with.

Old-Growth Dryads 1

Much as I love me a one drop this reverse Rogue Elephant feels off to me. The main reason this sucks is that it scales poorly with itself. On turn one giving away a free land is utterly shocking yet turn one is the very best time to make a 3/3 dork. Path to Exile gets away with this drawback as the removal effect gets better as the game goes on rather than worse. You can Path early if you need to but if you wait it will be better for you and offer less back to your opponent. Waiting on these Dryads seems like a terrible idea. I am sure this will see play somewhere in constructed but for cube this seems like it is far too big of a risk for not nearly enough of a card.

Tishana's Wayfinder 3

This seems like a high roll version of the Civic Wayfinder. Either you can get a non-basic land or you get a 3/3 instead of the 2/2 and a form of scry 1, generally better  than a scry 1 given it is in green and delirium etc are things. The issue to me seems like lack of control. When you want lands you want more than a 3 mana scry to get to them. When you want a 3/3 blocker this will be a meagre 2/2 half the time. Green does have a lot of control and info over the top of its library but having to set this up so as to have it do what you want massively takes away from the convenience of it. Being a filler support card you want it to be hassle free and it isn't. If this was hitting the mode you wanted it to reliably then it is a very good card but as it is I suspect it will be frustrating and under perform. Still, even if not good enough for cube it is a solid card.

Prosperous Pirates 0

Obviously this is not a cube worthy dork or even close to it but it seems like a good opportunity to talk about treasure - the new clues! Lovely mechanic that I am excited to play with. Clues were fantastic and treasure is set to be more interesting. It is a great way to add a lot of diversity to cards without too much worry of over or under powering them. This is effectively a blue 3/4 for 3 mana with some fixing potential and other artifact synergies going on. Certainly it isn't all that as you can't make it without five mana up front but what you get for the mana is a lot. A treasure is worth less than a clue which gives more range on cards you can stick random treasure onto. I look forward to a world of magic where Lotus Petals are common place. I expect Tangle Wire to get worse with Ixalan.

Sleek Schooner 0

Vehicles are getting the equipment treatment and are being printed with a substantially lower power level. This is poop. Don't play it in cubes.

Deadeye Tormenter 0

Terrible card. Play Chittering Rats, or Liliana's Specter instead if you must play something like this.

Bloodcrazed Paladin 1.5

I get burned with morbid cards more than I would like so I am going to assume this is awful. That said you only need two things to die for this to be a good card and it can get pretty out of hand beyond that point. I can envisage lots of situations where this will be a fatal response to a mass removal effect. Black can even empower this with self sac cards and plenty of disposable recursion dorks if needs be too. Although this card does have a near endlessly high ceiling it also has a low low floor of the 1/1. Even at a 2/2 it is pretty crap and those are by far and away the most common sizes for this. This is very narrow. It is also bypassed by bounce and exile and return to library effects which account for a decent amount of cube removal. Perhaps this has some legitimate hedge value in all in aggression decks. Caller of the Claw was the green answer to mass removal and still sees some fringe use now. The Paladin is far weaker than Caller but it is cheaper and in a different colour giving it much more chance to see some play. I don't like cards relying on morbid and I don't like this but I am a touch concerned I am over compensating for my known bias. Perhaps this has a little more potential than I give it credit for. It just feels like a card that sits in your hand being terrible all game until you are forced into throwing it down as a chump blocker. Perhaps you had one turn where it would have been a 4/4 but you were frustratingly tapped out!

Ripjaw Raptor 5.5

Highly interesting card. This is a little hard to call as it is so simple. Either this will be not good enough or it will be a total joke. The less text you have on a card the finer the line between broken and weak becomes. I really like the enrage mechanic. It is elegant, allows a lot of design space and is a new form of soft evasion. I hope they consider it good enough to reuse like a keyword despite its additional wording needs. So, do I think this is a bomb or not quite there? Awkwardly I think this is merely a fine cube card it is just experience doing this that tells me that prediction is unlikely to be accurate. A 2GG 4/5 is decent stats, it is robust and hits hard. It is a well proven statline in Seige Rhino and Erhnam Djinn! No trample is a shame but if they are chumping with small stuff you are likely drawing cards so that is something. No immediate impact or value make me wary of this card. Rhino always had a significant effect on a race while this can just eat a Doom Blade and do very little. Ripjaw Raptor feels a bit middle of the road. It is unreliable as value due to so many non damage based removal options and it is also fairly weak as a threat. It is kind of like a super toned down Consecrated Sphinx. If I am paying four mana for a card I want it to be very good in at least one specific area. It has to be incredibly reliable and over powered like the Rhino to get a shot as an all rounder card at that price range. While I think enrage can be incredibly powerful and can even likely be abused I don't think this card is over powered nor that reliable. I certainly plan to test this out and I hope it is cube worthy. I don't have overly high hopes however.

Treasure Map 6.5

Well isn't this the cutest little magic card! I love it and I want it to be good. It is certainly powerful but it is all sorts of slow as well. I was excited about Pyramid of the Pantheon and that is both terrible and comparable to this. Treasure Map does more for less than Pyramid in limp mode and it also does more once you power it up. The only hitch is a not insignificant upfront cost of two mana just to get it into play. This card feels a lot like Ancestral Visions but with an alternate option of having a Black Lotus instead of the Recall. All told it is even better than that, you get to scry three times along the way, you get a free land and you get the option to break up your mana and draw as you see fit. You do have to spend even longer on getting a draw 3 out of this but still. This card is a perfect example of how magic is developing. Time is now a design resource, you can cram near infinite power into a card provided you let it out slowly enough. Treasure Map generates cards and mana at very little investment. This card pays for itself in every respect, all you really need is a little time. Sadly in current cube magic time is a precious resource. Games are frequently won or lost in the first few turns, while the killing blows are not yet done well versed magicians know they are dead several turns in advance a lot of the time. I often find myself in this state by turn three! By turn three this card has done nothing for you and should it be the kind of game where you can be effectively dead on turn three that is an awful card to have. In slow games this card is incredible value but I fear that may make this on the narrow side for cube. It is not even a good late game top deck as you still need to put the turns in, it is not just a case of dumping mana into it as with most slower cards. I like this too much not to try and play it where ever I think I can get away with it! It is like Myriad Landscape, free ramp, value and fixing and as such pretty tough to resist! Five mana upfront paid in 4 small chunks over three or more turns for a Wastes and three Lotus Petals or half price clues and three instances of scry 1, that is a lot of stuff.

Jace, Cunning Castaway 7

Lovely new take on Jace and great to see blue have a somewhat different feel of walker. This is not super powerful for several reasons but I think it is still probably powerful enough to see play in a selection of places. Certainly this is much more of a tempo card than a value one although it is both. The issue I have with this card is the +1, I think it will do nothing most of the time, second most it will be a liability and will be used post combat to avoid decking yourself and least commonly I suspect it will actually be a loot as intended. If you can just plus this Jace and swing and loot and have no fear of your Jace getting hurt on the swingback then you are super ahead and that is great but any planeswalker worth their salt should steal a game in those conditions. It is the weaker cases that you need to look at. Blue dorks are not super hardy nor super common. Odds on you need to -2 just to have a dork. If you do have a dork it probably needs to stay back to help defend the Jace and probably couldn't make a good attack anyway! While you can obviously have dorks in other colours that does rather make the double blue in the cost a more serious issue. A loot is good but a conditional loot on a three drop is looking a whole lot less good. Dack is unconditional and does a double loot! Compared to the other plus loyalty abilities on three mana walkers Cunning Castaway seems to be at the bottom of the pile of those in my cube. The -2 is a big redeemer for the Castaway. It offers solid defence and decent board presence, certainly compared to 0/1 plants and 1/1 defenders. While perhaps not as good as the -2 on Dack or Lilana of the Veil making a Phantasmal Bear is far less situational and does help support the +1. It is the main redeeming feature of this card. You get a 2/2 and a planeswalker for 3 mana which is a good deal even if it is a fairly weak walker. At this point the fact that you can have a loot and a 4 mana walker on the occasions you are ahead is just nice extra gravy.

Having considered this card some more I wonder if the best way to approach it is to invest some time into getting it out of hand. As the +1 is so limp it takes a long time often doing little to charge it up and churn out 2/2s to actually get stuff done. If you can hold off a bit and just go directly to 5 or 6 loyalty with do nothing +1 activations then you can start to take over. Assume you blow every Jace that gets to 5 loyalty and create two copies, assume with 1 you only +1 to get to 5 and with the other you -2 whenever it is at 3 loyaty. In not very long you have a silly number of Jace and 2/2s. I think it is six Jace copies and eleven 2/2s after 10 turns of growing in this way. If you only pop Jace's that reach 6 loyalty then you can have more like fifteen Jace copies and nearly twenty 2/2s in the same time. It is very similar to the ultimate on Liliana the Last Hope except you have to do it yourself! Not a great win mechanism for modo but great elsewhere! Basically this is just to illustrate that the most efficient way to generate loyalty is actually with the -5, it can effectively be a +3 (lose five to use it but gain six from the two new ones with two each and then both of those can immdiately go +1). You can double (or triple if done at six or more) your future capacity to gain loyalty while also gaining loyalty! It is pretty slow to get started but does grow exponentially. Just going +1 and -2 is too slow and too little value to win a game but using the -5 as a way to just go loyalty and 2/2 mad is pretty reasonable. You can see why I think post combat +1 is a thing...

So Jace is ticking the right boxes. It is a 3 mana walker in one colour that has a very strong ability to defend itself and has the capacity to win the game if left alone for too long. The +1 is weak but not useless, I see it mostly as a means to an end with that end being more 2/2s. When it does yield useful loots then Jace will seem really good. I don't mind that teh +1 is poor, I think this card might be a little too strong if it wasn't. I think you can play this in a deck with few to no other small dork and just rely on the -2 to protect it and pick up any of the loots from the +1. I think it is better in decks with small dorks to protect and complement it but not that much better. Blue decks with small dorks are not the most common or powerful cube decks either so it is probably a good job control decks can run this.

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