Sunday 3 September 2017

Ixalan Preliminary Review Part III

Ordering of this review is a little borked due to the early spoiling of some cards. This section is covering exclusively those cards that were spoiled early if that helps locate them on a spoiler. Usually I would have the cards ordered chronologically from when they hit the spoilers.

Sorcerer's Spyglass 7

So this is a Pithing Needle with a Peek. Needle is nice and cheap and Peek has nice interactions with it so this seems like a pretty good deal. While 2 is relatively cheap is it a whole lot more than 1 and so this is far clunkier than Needle. I very much doubt this will supplant the card in constructed formats. In cube however that Peek greatly increases the odds of you hitting relevant targets in the much more diverse singletone setting. The extra mana cost is a shame as you can't tool box it with Trinket Mage but with cube being slower than modern, vintage etc I think it will be fine. Needle is quite a specific card often only found in high synergy combo decks and sideboards. I think this Spyglass is a far more reasonable thing to run main deck. It is a good generic answer to a lot of things a lot of different colours struggle with. It shuts down planeswalkers nicely, better than cards like Hero's Downfall generally too. It hits annoying creatures like Mother of Runes and Aetherling. Annoying permanents like Wolf Run, Vedalken Shackles and Jitte. All things lots of archetypes just lose to when they don't have one of few possible answers. Spyglass seems like a good coverall pseudo removal card. While it is a bit of an Oblivion Ring style removal card it is less risky, has wider range of problem solving, it is playable in any colour, it affords more synergies, it incurs less two for ones on yourself and provides bonus information. For cube I think this is a real winner. The additional reliability and information should make it substantially more playable than Needle. It should be a good card to have in drafts and maindeck which is something Needle never really managed.

Vanquisher's Banner 2

Lots of comparable cards to this in Caged Sun, Door of Destiny and arguably cards like Eldrazi Monument, Hall of Triumph and Kindred Discovery. Despite the many options on big things to empower specific things I rather like the Banner. It gives immediate pump making it not a totally dud tempo card and it also ensures you will have ongoing gas. Kindred Discovery is a huge tempo hit and arguably too much gas. Eldrazi monument is the polar opposite of that and is a bit all-in in the other direction. Mostly I prefer cheaper lord effects so I don't see myself resorting to this often if at all but I think it is better placed than the other 4 or more mana cards mentioned here.

Hostage Taker 6

Faceless Butcher meets Gonti, Lord of Luxry! This is a very powerful and brutal card. I am not a huge fan of the design, it seems a little too extreme on its performance range, but there is no denying this card is cube worthy. Worst case scenario this is a Faecless Butcher that also hits artifacts. At the other end of this cards performance you have a 3 for 1 that is far greater value and effect than Sower of Temptation. Once you have cast the card you exile your 2/3 body is not so precious and can be used as you like. Sower often does nothing as you cannot let it die. They cannot kill Hostage Taker and get their guy card back if you have cast it. Ideally then you will use Hostage Taker on something you can cast that turn when you have like six or more mana. This will minimize the window in which your opponent can just remove it and get their card back. It is not such an immediate tempo swing as a Sower of Temptation as you have to cast whatever it is you exile. While the tempo of Sower was nice the issue with the card was unreliability. Most decks can deal with a 2/2 fairly promptly and so the Sower loses a lot of its value. Might as well run the slightly more sturdy Control Magic and forgo the fragile 2/2. While a 2/2 flier is better than a 2/3 you cherish that toughness a whole lot more when you really want your dork to live.

This card feels like it has 3 main ways you play it. Either you run it out as soon as you can on the best thing you can hit and hope it survives so that you can cast the thing yourself the following turn. This mode is how you will have to play against aggressive decks. It will force them to use removal and punish them for not doing so. It isn't great used as such but it is far from bad. The next is when you use Hostage Taker when you have six or seven mana and you just take away a two or three drop that you instantly play. This is safe and reasonable value but not the dream. The dream is to hit something scary like a Wurmcoil Engine with enough mana spare to counter any removal used on it and then cast it next turn yourself. As you can see, to get the most out of this card you need a load of mana and often a couple of turns. It is best when used later and with patience. While value and removal I think this is sufficiently slow to be relatively fair in cube.

Tishana, Voice of Thunder 2

A new and improved version of Regal Force. While Regal Force saw a lot of use in cube when it first came out it quickly fell off in value. You wanted top end stuff to win games not draw cards, that was now the job of the mid level cards. Tishana will draw more cards than Force as it is not restricted to green dorks. It will sometimes be bigger too and cannot so easily over draw with the hand size limit removed. Sadly the same is still true for Tishana in that when you are paying seven mana for a dork, or even cheating one out, you want it to threaten to win the game by itself. With no evasion Tishana is not much of a threat. The cube doesn't want what Tishana offers even if she offers it in a good package.

Gishath, Sun's Avatar 0

Much better options on fatties exist. This isn't super hard to remove, it isn't offering loads of value nor does it threaten to end a game quickly or reliably when compared even to Titan cards. It is pretty poor defensively as well. When you look at things like Dragonlord Atarka the limpness of this card become more apparent. Even with loads of great cube worthy dinosaurs I can't see this card getting used effectively.

Admiral Beckett Brass 0

Three pirates... please. This is shockingly narrow. A three colour Hill Giant that only does anything with other pirates? This wouldn't look good in a tribe that had other good cards. No thanks.

Goring Ceratops 0

Seven mana 3/3? Really?

Daring Saboteur 6.5

Interesting card. As a looter it is not as good as Looter il-Kor or even Merfolk Looter. The strength of this card lies not in its capacity to loot but as a relevant tempo play that does other stuff as well. When you make this you may force attackers to stay back either because they want to inhibit your looting potential or because they don't wish to trade with your 2/1. The unblockable ability is expensive but it not only works with the loot ability but also empowers the card to perform other roles. This is a fine card to help snipe down planeswalkers, get in those final few points of damage or ensure a Sword connects with face. It is not great in any one area but it is cheap and useful. Most of the time I envisage this trading as a blocker but that is totally fine. Much rather than than waste my Snapcaster trading with something on turn two. I think this card is both deceptively good and deceptive in what it looks like you want to do with it. I think the power will come from your opponent not being able to play round the options it brings very well. You will not notice the times they elect not to make a walker because you can too easily kill it with an unblockable 2/1. You will not notice the times they savage their own curving out to remove your 2/1 just because they fear what you might do with the loot. Blue doesn't have many proactive early plays and those it does have are pretty focused. I expect to see this used as filler in loads of different decks, it feels a bit like Hier of Falkenrath in playability and utility terms. Not a stand out card but a very useful one to have in a cube pool.

Emperor's Vanguard 0

While this is quite meaty and offers some ongoing value I don't see it in cube. These kinds of mild value cards need to be lower on the curve. By the four mana mark most decks want to be playing really powerful cards, very few expensive value cards remain in my cube. Mighty Mulldrifter is just too slow. The real killer for this card is 3 toughness on a four drop with no immediate impact. Shave off X mana and X/X in stats and you have a viable card. There seems to be a lot of this kind of thing in this set. Nice card quality, value and convenience four and five drops that just wont cut it in cube. I like this explore mechanic but I am yet to see a card obviously good enough with it on. Perhaps I am undervaluing it a little but I think it is more that this set is of a lower power level than the previous bunch. I tend not to undervalue things I like...

Settle the Wreckage 8

Hello there! This is superb for cube. This is comfortably the best Wrath effect in white (that doesn't require setup or synergies). The most direct comparison to what this card does is Wing Shards, a card I highly rate for cube control decks. It sits somewhere between spot removal and mass removal. These cards will not clear out the chaffy utility dorks like mana elves and so they are not a direct replacement for Wraths, more of a complement to them. What they do do on the other hand is deal with man lands, vehicles, haste dorks and other tenacious threats like that that the Wraths will miss. Those are generally the bane of control decks which have limited and restricted spot removal and sorcery speed mass removal. They are much more threatening than a few mana dorks and walls. The control player can afford to leave those other things in play. Indeed, often, due to wraths a midrange player will hold back should they already have a significant board presence in terms of cards just to avoid getting to crushed by mass removal.

To complicate things however this is not just an instant attackers only Wrath. If this said "Destroy each attacking creature target player controls" it would be a more direct comparison to Wrath. Instead of that however it Path to Exiles each creature. Exile is superb but giving away lands is less good. In my cube especially I would take this over the hypothetical destroy without conceding lands version. Most of the time this will not be too significant of a drawback. For starters a most decks in 3 or more colours have very few basic lands and will be pretty capped on how much value they can get back from this. Decks with big scary stuff will typically have few attackers so that won't hurt too much and those with lots of attackers won't have much top end so giving the RDW player 5 lands won't be too problematic. The deck thinning will be more significant than the mana most of the time. I would say that the giving away of land is less of a drawback on this card than it is on Path to Exile. This card should be a massive help to control and midrange decks. It is mass removal you can play in a creature heavy deck and more importantly it is instant speed mass removal. This is the new playable Terminus you don't need support and setup to do what you want it to do.

Deeproot Champion 3

Another Quirion Dryad which is nice as turbo grow decks have never worked out too well in cube with such little redundancy so far. You have to build around this for it to be that good and I can't see that resulting in anything better than a tier 2 deck. This isn't a big name but I am glad of it being printed.

Tilonalli's Skinshifter 0

Terrible card. It does nothing on its own, is vulnerable when not attacking and is far too much of a win more card. This is only good when you are copying a great card, ideally costing four or more mana.

Vraska's Contempt 5

Other than the cost this is a removal spell that ticks all the boxes. Instant, exile, bonus value, no target restrictions and additional removal options. This is playable but it is far from good. Against quick decks the cost is savage, you will barely ever gain tempo from it and as such it should only prove to be useful when you have already started to stabilize. Against control decks it is a fine enough answer to most threats but only really if used the same turn and at that point this starts to feel like a terrible Dissipate. The slower your cube and the more midrange and control dominate the more valuable this will become. It is a nice get out of jail free card and it might survive in the cube. While much better removal options exist this has a couple of desirable qualities black lacks and they might combine to make this a fit for cube. A bit like how Dreadbore is good in cube while Terminate sees barely any play despite being the better card. Hero's Downfall is very popular in cube but the sorcery awaken version saw basically no play. I think this has a small chance of being the backup Downfall.

Ashes of the Abhorrent 1

This is an odd sideboard card indeed. It has some anti graveyard goings on but when you are competing with cards like Tormod's Crypt you have to be pretty special to get a look in. Gaining a life when a dork dies feels like a totally separate sideboard card. It seems unlikely that both will be that relevant at the same time very often. Way too narrow for a main deck or a drafting pool and not focused enough to be all that as a sideboard card. Perhaps you use this to save some space in the board as a dual purpose thing?

Dreamcaller Siren 1

Without the pirate requirement this would be cube worthy but not great. Double blue and only 3 toughness hold it back somewhat. The EtB effect is hardly insane either, just a bit of tempo. In the right deck this would be fine but a cube worthy pirate tribe is a long way off.

Walker of the Wilds 0

More stealth Hill Giants! This will win most games with infinite mana but other cheaper better cards do that already.

Sunbird's Invocation 0

This is very cool indeed. Cool, but not good. It is a bit like giving all your spells a kind of cascade. A kind of cascade that doesn't always hit. Oneand two drops will often wiff and as those are the bulk of most decks that isn't ideal at all. Even three drops are liable to wiff if you have much over three in the deck. Too unreliable, too expensive and too hard to build around. Lots of fun at least.

Ruin Raider 7

OK, black gets a lot of Dark Confidant attempts and none of them come close. While this is a three drop rather than the usual two drop it has a whole lot more game than others. First and foremost this dude can draw you a card the turn you make him. That means he is not far at all behind Confidant at getting you gas. Much harder to stop as well as they need to happen to have mana up and an appropriate instant removal spell. The 3/2 body is nice, it applies a bit more pressure and has a little more survivability than Confidant but at the extra cost it isn't much of a feature. Both these cards are acceptably sized walking card draw engines. The real drawback on Ruin Raider compared to Confidant is the raid prerequisite. Without it Raider would arguably be a better card. With it you need the right deck and the right conditions for the Raider to perform. This makes him narrower than Confidant but not that much worse. It turns out black is very good at achieving raid with loads of cheap easily reccurrable dorks and loads of things that can't block. The decks that typically want Confidant and his poor imitation possy are the more aggressive ones. Most of the places you want Confidant you will also want this, either or both. Those decks will be among the better decks at getting raid.

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