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.