Sunday 1 October 2017

Winners and Losers from Ixalan

Arguel's Blood FastArguel's Blood Fast - big win

Much as I liked this card I was not holding out for it to be great. So far however it has been superb. Two mana is not too much to pay for a do nothing. Plenty of cards like Night's Whisper, Signets, Sylvan Library, etc. are a tempo cost to play and are not too onerous. It is three or more mana do nothings that are super hard to play in cube and even then you can, you just have to build around it heavily. So, once Blood Fast is in play you have a near infinite supply of clues provided you pay two life per crack. That is great. It is very very good against slower decks. You get to spend your mana and you get to do stuff without over extending. I know a good card when after losing to it in game one my opponent taps out to use three mana removal on it on turn three - I had even drawn a card as I had ramped with an elf.

Temple of AclazotzOn the flip side of things the card is still very good against aggro. You get some control over your life so you can fairly easily engineer this to a flip at which point you have extra mana or extra life to play around with as you see fit. Aggro red players only have a couple of turns to close out a game once you flip this on them so long as you have some chump dorks to toss down. The flip turns out to also be fantastic against non-aggressive decks. I have already won from saving an Ishkanah from exile by saccing it for life in response to a Swords to Plowshares and then later being able to recur it. I think what put people off this card is that Greed is bad and this has a worse effect than Greed and it is the same total mana at 3 draws apiece after which Greed becomes more efficient. The thing is Greed is a four mana do nothing, you simply can't hope to play it without it really setting you back. Greed also becomes dead very fast which Blood Fast really doesn't. Extra mana is good, lifegain is great, cards are great and it turns out sac outlets are pretty great too! While not the best card in the set by any means this is certainly the standout so far based on expectation.

Treasure MapTreasure Map - win

In much the same vein as the Blood Fast this was a surprising win. While I am not sure if it is a bigger win it is certainly a much bigger surprise. This is certainly a super slow card but it is fairly easy to play and use without it hurting much in any sort of slower deck. The payoff when you do flip it is so huge and so flexible that it is well worth that initial investment. If you are out of gas then an influx of double draws for three turns goes a long way. Alternatively if you are under pressure that explosion of mana can turn the tide. Enough other things are making treasure that this thing can and has drawn well over three cards in a game. It feels a bit like a super Think Twice. You get to split up your payments so that the cost is far less expensive. At five mana for the flip trigger and land side you would still play this, in some decks it would be better and certainly as a late draw it would be much more relevant. For the most part however being able to split up the five mana into a two and three ones means the mana cost of this card is fairly negligible for a lot more decks. That with being a colourless card I expect this will wind up getting play in some unexpected places. The scry is very relevant too. With a card like Ancestral Visions you have literally spent one mana and one card to do nothing for four turns. Map feels much more like 3 mana and a card but you get to scry so it is helping and it is relevant. Most decks looking to play the longer game will be able to get some good value out of this. What I got most from cards like this that give a mana return late in the game for a tempo cost initially is that they lend themselves to big haymakers. Cards like this actually let you increase your top end. Cut some four and five drops and replace them with a couple of six plus drops and the odd low end card (including this map) and then use cheaper spells and scry to survive and then have a massive swing with an Ugin or something and take control.

Chart a Course
Chart a Course - win

Some awkward interactions with prowess guys is what I most learned about this little gem. Intentionally used precombat for extra prowess damage and Delve Fuel. A huge flavour win using Chart a Course in this way to setup a Treasure Cruise. All very nautical. This is just a good solid card we will be seeing a lot of in a wide array of cubes and archetypes for many years to come.

Jace, Cunning CastawayJace, Cunning Castaway - mild win if that

I was surprised at how many people were pretty cold for new Jace. Most people I spoke to seemed to think it was just a weak card. While this is no bomb it is certainly a decent card. Of all the various three mana planeswalkers printed so far none have been bad. Literally none. Ajani was the worst but mostly due to being narrow. It still saw some play and still does now and again, I have won with it and lost to it plenty. The next worst 3 mana walker is Saheeli Rai and she had a whole archetype form around her! Three mana planeswalkers are just dangerous cards. They come down quick and become the focus of the game even if they are not going to be doing critical damage any time soon. Every turn they live they pull their controller ahead a little more. A three mana walker can be substantially less potent than a four mana one and still be the better card.

Cunning Castaway felt like a comparable power level to Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. Both quite slow and quite low impact but both still effective cards. Nissa is a little better suited to green with green having such a high creature count and a relatively good chance of making a turn two three drop. Although Jace is a touch harder to house I think he does a lot for the cost. His low end was making a 2/2 which would typically trade up due to forcing attacks on Jace. The result was usually trading even on cards and mana but the Jace would also absorb some damage. It had a somewhat Wall of Omens feel when you were behind. If however you were ahead when you make the Jace it is pretty brutal. The ultimate threatens fast and the options to get card quality or some board presence is great. The illusions only die to spell targetting which makes them substantially more robust than Phantasmal Bear. I nearly threw a game when my plan was to kill and illusion with a +1/+1 counter from Rishkar, fortunately I did some reading! It feels like Jace generally pulls you a little bit ahead even when it dies immediately while still having the capacity to dominate a game. You don't play this like a Mind Sculptor, a card that if you stick in play for a couple of turns you should be pretty odds on to win. You play this more like a Rogue Refiner except once in a while it will win the game.

Ranging Raptors
Ranging Raptors - rather polar

So far this has been incredibly polar. Against the aggressive red player it was nuts and outperformed Courser of Kruphix. In one game I milked it for four lands! On the other hand against control decks it is little better than a Grey Ogre. If decks have few dorks and don't need to attack to win and don't have damage based removal then the card is pretty awful. That is a lot of decks but not most and given how good it is in other matchups the average is quite possibly still high enough for this to be cube worthy. I don't love polar card and I don't like unreliable cards either so this will have to work extra hard to keep its cube slot but so far so good.

Spell SwindleSpell Swindle - win

Yea, this hits the mark. It is a little on the clunky side but it does seem to easily lead to a win if it hits a relatively big card. Four plus CMC has been the aim so far. After that it is like you have infinite mana! You can just make big plays in total safety. You do need some follow up to this but that is fine, the kinds of deck that pack a five mana (non-pitch cost) counterspell are very rarely in that position. It is almost always mana restrictions that get them. In the slower games they have to play safer and leave up loads of mana and that means expending your hand significantly slower. While this is obviously on the weak side against fast decks you have card quality and filtering for that. The card still isn't dead, it is just slow but the same is very true of things like Mystic Confluence, Cryptic Command and so forth. They may stall a bit more effectively but Spell Swindle lets you take control and win. It is exactly what you want in the midrange and control games and that is enough to carry it.

Seekers' SquireExplore dorks: Merfolk Branchwalker / Seeker's Squire - very mild lose

Fine cards but very much filler. The black will get a lot more play but it isn't strictly better, black just has far less of that kind of thing. These are very much a worse late game top deck than anything that directly draws a card or cycles away. They are also a little unpredictable early. Say you have the black one and they are hitting you with a Goblin Guide. If you are missing lands you very much want to hit a land but if you are flooded you really want a 2/3. If you also had a Wall of Blossoms in that situation you are 100% making it instead as it is reliable and has a higher floor. The black one is still a great and much needed addition to black but the green one may not stand the test of time with green having so much like that already that reliably does its thing. Overall these might be a bit annoying but they are very strong in the early game even when you get the less desired mode. With the early game being so much more relevant than the late game Branchwalker could very easily wind up being a decent chunk better than Elvish Visionary say.

Rigging RunnerRigging Runner - big lose

This is great when it is great but it turns out that isn't all that often. For optimal use this needs to be played with a one drop before it or alongside a one drop with haste both on turn two. If the former is your route then you need to also spend your saved mana else you might as well have just run a two drop of which all are more powerful than a 2/2 first strike. The upside on this is pretty minor and has a very narrow window in which to occur. The downside however results in a pretty shocking card and it occurs far too often. This is actually most like a Burning Tree Emissary in performance, only good when you get use from the mana saving/generated. Rigging Runner is only good in a pretty optimal deck full to the brim of premium one drops. As a backup filler card this is shocking. The risk reward matrix for this thing just comes up looking very unfavourable. The power of a one drop is low, the value is all in the bargain pricing. The conditional one drops lose most of this potential value and result in just being very low powered cards.

Hostage TakerHostage Taker - mild win

This Gonti come Sower of Temptation is pretty interesting. I found I was saving it until very if I could late so that I could immediately cast the hostage thus avoiding a window to have this removed. It is quite a risky card to try and get big rewards from. One game my opponent had to use it on a Torrential Gearhulk and it was very much an all in play. If I didn't have removal I was going to die to the tempo and value of the play however if I did have removal the extra EtB trigger was going to swing it for me. The last couple of cubes I have played have been really silly affairs. Between this, Gonti himself, Fractured Identity and Ashiok a shockingly close to 50% of the recent games in my cube have been won with the opponents cards.

Hostage taker gives options, you can go for a big risk big swing play, you can hold him for a mild yet safe late swing or you can play him on curve for a bit of a tempo buffer. It is this utility that makes him good. Gonti is far safer and well contained and Sower offers much bigger potential swings. Hostage taker isn't more powerful than either but he is much more versatile and can do a reasonable impression of either, occasionally even both! I may wind up cutting this eventually for being a gold card but with Dimir presently having so few cube worthy cards this is pretty safe for now. While his body isn't exciting it is sufficiently hardier than Sower and commands immediate removal while the target is still exiled. Any card that forces immediate removal use is decent even if it is a 4 mana 2/3...

Rampaging FerocidonRampaging Ferocidon - win

In a constructed setting where you have the best versions of the aggressive red decks this doesn't look all that exciting. It is slow and expensive compared to what red likes to do. As such I wasn't wetting my pants over this in the review. Vortex and even things like Skullcrack are often better lifegain prevention and as for threats, basically all the red three drops in my cube are better than this. I have a (likely bad) tendency to look at cards in their optimal archetypes more than the more average cases. That was where I stumbled a bit on this card. Obviously it is good but it didn't feel like it was offering better alternatives in those best cases. Well, in sealed and draft this thing is a bomb. It is arguably one of reds best three drops because it does so much all at once. It is fairly robust, it is super hard to block when you are under pressure, it applies more pressure if you are looking to develop your board and it negates all your lifegain outs. Pretty simply, you need to remove this sharpish or it is going to do for you. It is a touch easier to answer than Vortex but given how much disruption it causes it is over twice the threat level of a Vortex. Expect to take four or five from this a turn... Obviously a three toughness dork is quite killable but against red you have blown your removal on that Goblin Guide, Swiftspear, Harsh Mentor and/or Firebrand Archer. You sit there taking beats from cheap dorks holding removal for their three drops then you probably just lose that way instead. It is pretty much for that reason that flipwalker Chandra is so potent in aggressive red decks. Ferocidon is all round very scary to face off regardless of your archetype.

Sailor of MeansSailor of Means - lose

Predictably the power level of this card just isn't quite there. In the ideal case he holds off loads of attacks and ramps you from 3 to 5. In most cases you either have more important things to do on 3 than this or you don't have this. It is very sad to peel this off the top in the late game. I have had this already be the best card in my deck in a specific matchup, the issue was how weak the card was in the other matchups. While it may be a very suitable card it is too polar in when and where you want it for a card with such a low power level. You really need those weaker cards to perform across the board. I am sure I will use this in some applications as a nice synergic support card but I can't really justify this a drafting cube slot.

Kitesail FreebooterKitesail Freebooter - win

While I am sitting pretty at under 50% hit rate for this card I am still not disappointed with it. Often it is the information I need to make a big play in safety. You are rarely expecting a two for one with this. Your value comes in the form of inconvenience and delay on your opponent while getting a useful body and information. A 1/2 flier isn't super relevant but it is better than most utility bodies. It was triggering raid effects, looting with Cunning Castaway, holding off Lingering Souls and even applying additional pressure to planeswalkers and life totals. Both Birds of Paradise and Deathrite Shaman significantly out perform  the conventional 1/1 body of mana elves in cube when just talking about the bodies rather than the tap effects. Kitesail Freebooter has both those advantages of +1 toughness and flying over Ravenous Rats and Mesmeric Fiend cards and it was noticeable over relatively few games. A 1/2 flier is probably over three times as useful as a 1/1. Lovely little tool for black.

Ruin RaiderRuin Raider - win

I was thinking this was just going to be a clunky Dark Confidant and perform poorly. Turns out it is much more like  dangerous version of Rogue Refiner / Phyrexian Rager. I was super happy tossing this down, drawing a card at EoT and then trading with some medium sized dork. If I wasn't under pressure it served as nice two for one removal bait. It is a mild problem getting raid when you are under pressure but easier and less painful than you might think. Plenty of black dorks can't block and recur anyway. Then you have the Kitesail Freebooter who you might as well attack with as you are not trading it off in combat if it has eaten a relevant card. This is certainly a proactive card and so isn't the complete Phyrexian Rager. Stalling with this sans raid on an empty board as a control deck is poor. The thing is you don't really play Dark Confidant and Co. in slower decks these days either and so I can't really call this narrow in any comparative sense. While still not as good as Confidant it is far less fragile and far less of a loss when it is removed. It is much easier to get a two for one or more with Raider than Confidant. Raider is more rounded, it is fine in most matchups while Confidant excels against slower decks when it comes out too early and dodges answers for a bit.

Settle the WreckageSettle the Wreckage - mild lose

This is still cube worthy but it isn't by any means replacing Wrath of God cards. You will just want a balance of mass and spot removal styles. Against aggressive decks this is pretty good but it is something you can play around. If you suspect or know they have it you can extend into it and just hold back an attacker or two. An example of why this is weaker than a Wrath in a more general sense; I had a game with massive board stall that went of for ages. I eventually "broke through" with Ishkanah who I cast a couple of times to amass seven spiders with which I could use my 14 mana over two turns to win the game. Settle the Wreckage did nothing while a Wrath would have ended that plan. He also had a Condemn in his hand. Settle scales badly with other removal restricted to taking out attackers. Most slower decks can limit their losses to Settle or simply kill in other ways. It is very much a Wing Shards kind of card both in power and in function. A nice tool to have and an acceptable level of power for the cube but not a great substitute for a good old Wrath.

Field of RuinField of Ruin - mild win

I had not considered how valuable having a low cost on-tap shuffle option for both libraries would be and it turned out to be a pretty big perk to the card. I had lines of play where shuffling away Commited enemy threat was very relevant. This card not only brings a good degree of security against the scary lands in the cube but it also comes with a wealth of options and interactions which further enhances this brilliantly designed card. Still not a bomb by any means but a lovely tool for all to enjoy!

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