Tuesday 28 November 2017

Top Resilient Dorks

Slippery BogleThis is the last article in the series covering "sticky minions" which, as per the title, will be looking at those that are hard to get out of play rather than those that easily come back. Resilient dorks are a rather more loose category than recursive or replacement ones. Indeed there are a couple of dorks here which feel more like they should be on the recursive dorks list, except for the fact they don't have discard/self mill synergy. The tricky thing about this list is that all creatures except Force of Savagery have some degree of resilience. It is all about where you draw the line. High toughness certainly helps as do many other keywords and mechanics. With the other two lists the recursion effect was distinct, defined and similar enough that I could just rate the cards in order of their power and it all worked out nicely. As every dork has some degree of resilience in the cube I cannot just take the most powerful cards. Instead I have set a pretty high bar for what I consider to be the exceptionally resilient dorks and then tossed in a couple of fairly resilient dorks with high power and playability. I have also thrown in a few "anchor" cards so as to give me an opportunity to discuss some specific mechanics.

All the things I considered for this list had to be things that are typically cast the good old fashioned way. A vast number of the good creatures to cheat in are incredibly resilient which stands to reason. With a list already as loose as this one it seemed really silly trying to sensibly include cards like Progenitus and Emrakul in it. They are build around cards while all the cards on this list are things you would play in more normal decks for the most part.

As per the other lists I will give the list ranking for the card and an out of ten rating as I do for my reviews so as to better gauge the value of the card in a wider context.


River BoaMire / River Boa 1.5/10

These little green snakes were some of the most efficient threats in the early days of cube. They were very hard to kill and frequently unblockable with blue and black dominating the format back then. Much has changed since and these don't get a look in now. A 2/1 isn't nearly as relevant of a threat as it was, even one with some evasion. The real killer is how much the regeneration mechanic has suffered over the years. Firstly the cube is now pretty well stocked on cards that will completely bypass regenerate. It does still tax your opponents resources and limit their options which is the strength of resilient dorks but, and this is a pretty big but, you have to have mana up. Tempo is so relevant in the cube now that if you are keeping up a mana to regenerate your Boa you are falling behind. It it like losing the game to a Daze your opponent didn't have. A 2/1 isn't even that big of a deal and so the correct play is just curving out as if you didn't have regenerate which means the Boa's are just super vulnerable to everything! It is only when you start to have spare mana that they become a bit harder to remove and by then a 2/1 should be pretty useless. Despite there being better things on offer now and how much I seem to have laid into these cards they are still pretty high power level and will still win games if they have the wrong basics out, they are just a bit aimless. Their low rating is much more a representation of their undesirability and not so much of their raw power. These older names might not do much now but they still have more scalps and notches than most new cube cards will ever get.

Rainbow Efreet21.

Rainbow Efreet 2/10
Frenetic Efreet 1.5/10

These are more examples of ancient resilient dorks like the Boas. Both were very potent in their time but have not aged all that well. Neither really packs enough punch for the cost. Essentially these flicker away much like Aetherling does and as such they are very hard to kill. Only something like Sudden Shock can reliably take out one of these two. Sadly Rainbow kills pretty slowly and very poorly through any sort of defenses. It also requires twice the mana to protect itself than Aetherling. Frenetic was never really a main win condition, more of an irritation! The real thing that killed these cards was damage no longer stacking. When you could apply damage and then phase out your flier it was much easier to plow through defenses or wear them down while on defense yourself. Without that ability a 1/1 flier will hold off either and that makes these far too much of an investment for what they can do.


Blood Baron of VizkopaStillmoon Cavalier 3/10
Blood Baron of Vizkopa 3.5/10

Here we have two quite different cards that are mostly just an opportunity to discuss protection. Protection from one colour is very hit or miss, it will be super tedious against one deck, perhaps two if you are lucky but it will be blank text the rest of the time. In a drafting cube a single colour protection is not a reason to include a card. They have to be otherwise good and useful cards like Master of Waves. I have no love of colour protection due to how polar it is based on what you are facing and how uninteractive it is. It is not a good thing from a design and theory perspective and doesn't often lead to good games. Sadly the nature, and indeed strength, of resilient dorks is their difficulty to be interacted with. When you have protection from two colours rather than just one however you start to look a lot more interesting in the general case. In a draft situation having protection from two colours rather than one rather flips the probabilities. It means you probably only have one or two opponents where it will not be a big deal and for the rest it will be some level of tedious. This is made more significant when you are hitting the removal colours, black, red and white. While protection from blue and green have value it is certainly less in the case of blue and rather different in the case of green. Protection from green is much more of a combat/evasion ability as the colour has so little removal. Protection from blue is the weakest of the protections with blue having the least targetted spells and creatures. Uncounterable is much better than protection from blue as bounce is one of their main defenses. Protection from black or white are also generally better against blue mages as well as they so often splash removal from those colours to make up for their lack of it.

Stillmoon Cavalier
Stillmoon is convenient filler card but that is no longer something you want in your three slot. The card is a complete beating against anything non-red and super weak against anything red and so despite having the double protection going on it is still a very polar card. This got quite a lot of love for some years after it was printed but I haven't seen this crop up anywhere for a number of years now nor do expect to see it really going forwards. It has gone a bit the way of the Boas! Blood Baron is a rather different kettle of fish. With 4 toughness and lifelink the card is a beating against red decks as well as those relying on black or white removal/dorks. Blood Baron is the inverse of the Stillmoon and it is blue that causes it issues. As a five mana sorcery speed card with no EtB effects blue can just have its wicked way with you. Repeat bounce, tap, or a single Counter will all be very tedious tempo losses for the player with the Baron. It has gone too far the other way from Stillmoon and is just as polar and unappealing for cube use. When facing the non-blue players however the Baron is a bomb.

Auriok Champion19.

Auriok Champion 3/10
Mystic Crusader 2/10
Questing Phelddagrif 2/10

Here we have a few cards with protection from black and red, or at least the ability to get it cheaply. Red is typically a better thing to pair with another protection effect as red has its own unique scaling for removal. Black and white tend to scale up well with a lot of their cheap removal still able to take out bigger and/or more expensive things. Red is scuppered by toughness alone a lot of the time and while the best early game removal it quickly falls off in power. Sticking protection from red on a dork makes it pretty much a non-issue having low toughness. That means cheaper dorks which means the potential to get ahead in a big way as you are doing so earlier. The other big perk of protection from red when compared to the other removal colours is that it protects against all the forms of mass removal the colour has as well what with it being damage based. While the combination of protection for red with something else does seem to offer the best potential in theory the reality of things is that none of the options available really do what you want. The Champion has some combo and synergy applications but is far too small and do nothing to get much done in any sort of normal setting. Phelddagrif is far too gold and fair. The card has won a surprisingly large number of cube games but those days are behind it now. We have proper game ending cards like Aetherling now. Crusader, like the Champion, is just too small and do nothing for his mana cost. Even a mono blue deck will outclass you if you try and pack these old school prot black and red things.

Phyrexian Crusader18.

Phyrexian Crusader 3/10

This little guy is actually the most resilient of all the double protection dorks that are (or have been) cube worthy. Being an infect guy he is super narrow but if he had doublestrike like his white counterpart or even some mashup of black themed key words then this would be a very good card indeed. Much better than the Mirran fool. Sadly Mirran Crusader is much more playable without the narrow infect limitation. Phyrexian Crusader hits the sweet spot of early game red removal protection and some late game removal protection from the pro white. Not only is it just a higher powered body than any of the dorks with pro red and black that I could find but it also happens to have a bit of pseudo pro black due to being black. While I have tried to limit the amount of removal I have in black that doesn't hit other black things it is still the most common kind of restriction in the colour. As such Phyrexian Crusader dodges the red and white spot removal, the red mass removal and near to half of the black spot removal as well. In cube infect decks this is one of the best cards, you run it in the combo version as well as the more midrange affair. If infect were anywhere close to a common archetype I might be inclined to rate this a little higher but I just can't go higher than 3 for a card than only goes in one kind of deck that very few cubes will support!

Lotleth Troll17.

Lotleth Troll 3.5/10

While I poo pooed regenerate as a mechanic for the Boas, even at one mana, this Troll has a few other things going on. Regenerate is not far off like a single protection in cube, it isn't enough to make a card playable on its own, the card needed to be close to or actually good enough already. Certainly the regenerate improves the Troll a lot but I find I exclusively play it when I want a discard outlet. It fills other roles but it is the discard aspect that is the real draw of the card. It is also a big part of why it is on this list but for the +1/+1 counter side of it. The combination of being able to grow at instant speed for no mana cost combined with the regeneration capacity make this pretty awkward to kill. They may have tapped out but if you spend your turn trying to burn it down you may well just make them go all in on it and smack you in the face with a terrifying 5/4 trampling regenerate on turn 3! Being black again also a factor in improving this cards all round robustness. Keeping mana open to preserve a Troll is also a more worthwhile thing to do than with a Boa as it is able to become a more relevant threat on the board. You don't necessarily hurt yourself by investing in the cards preservation as it can dominate a game and quickly unlike the little snakes.

Relentless Dead16.

Relentless Dead 4/10

This is a card I was close to putting in the recursive creatures list as it feels a bit more like them. This card also isn't resilient at all. It is super easy to get out of play. The most enduring thing about this card is its colour, short of Doom Blade effects pretty much every removal effect in cube handles this! In the future when sticky minions with a return to hand from play (rather than from the bin) vibe are viable they will probably merit their own sub category. The recursive effect is rather weaker than regenerate as well as the Relentless Dead go back to your hand and require recasting. Sure, you can bring other zombies back but this is even more mana and mana is the big issue with cards that rely on regenerate effects for their durability. This is one of those cards that makes this list look disjointed! I had to mention it somewhere as it is very much a sticky creature and it is quite good. It gets a lot of support play in tribal decks and devotion decks. It is also just fine enough cheap filler for most heavy black decks. This is good because it is a value, support and utility card that can just be used as a fine dork either on offence or defense. It is probably most alike to Dread Wanderer in this regard. Sadly being a double black card makes it narrower and being a two drop makes it less urgently desired. The inability for this card to recur if you miss one of its on death triggers makes this one of the least reliable recursion effects but the card is still fine, you simply have to play it accordingly and be prepared to use it as you need to use it as opposed to how you most wanted to use it!

Obzedat, Ghost Council
Obzedat, Ghost Council 4/10

This dude has an odd form of protection. Essentially it is protection from sorceries however it is immune to most mass removal as well which a card with "protection from sorceries" would not have. Obzedat is also effectively untouchable by their planewalkers further limiting the potential answers to it. With five health, five CMC and black in the cost this card is really hard to remove. You can even use it as a threat without the need to attack so you can also avoid cards like Condemn and Wing Shards should you suspect it. Black and white only have about three or four reliable and effective removal spells that can hit this. Red needs two instant burn spells to take it down plus another to mitigate the drain ensuring it is always a 3 for 1. While Obzedat is far more robust in practice than he may look at first glace he has other issues. Not only is he a gold five drop but he is quite dramatically colour intense. You have to be pretty heavily in both his colours to play him. He is also a bit like a Batterskull you cannot cheat into play with Stoneforge. Obzedat is a very grindy card. He often just sits there draining for two each turn either being held off by the threat of a mass block or just getting chumped each turn with a plant token. Obzedat is a uniquely robust dork and a pleasantly powerful one but he is too narrow to be a prime drafting cube candidate.

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner14.

Kira, Great Glass 4/10

Another card without immense durability but one where that is a significant part of her kit. Kira is just pretty good all round in a number of creature decks. She usually demands a 2 for 1 and a tempo swing to deal with. Her strength is a bit like Mother of Runes, you are forced into dealing with her first else you are going to eat further two for ones. She even has an edge over Mother in that her protection is online as and when you cast her. She can also usefully apply pressure while keeping those shields up. The thing that kept Kira down most in the cube has been a desire to play equipment in a lot of blue creature decks. Kira is a little bit annoying when you want to suit up your dorks. With blue creature decks already being fairly uncommon to see the far more broadly playable equipment won out. I have not had Kira in my drafting cube for quite some time, I wouldn't even really have considered her a mainstay back in the day when all the creatures stank! Kira saw most of her recent action in merfolk lists however Kopala has probably put an end to that. While Kira remains a fine enough stand alone card she is just that bit too fair for cube these days. She is a bit like the red Phoenix cards.


Aethertide WhaleAethertide Whale 4/10

This card held its own in my main cube and is a complete house in my budget cube. A 6/4 flier for six hits hard and blocks well enough. It is not the most exotic of threats but it is pretty good at its job. What makes the Whale so strong is that you get to bounce it for no mana cost. If you do nothing else with the energy, the second time you play it you will have two activations up making it basically untouchable. Killing it the first time requires two removal effects, one of which is instant. Killing a 4 toughness flier isn't the easiest. I don't actually think flying helps it live at all but still, it is hard to get this dead. All you can really do is stall it out or have an endless supply of fliers or one sufficiently big one. In many ways this is like Eternal Dragon use to be. You cannot afford the double digit cost of recurring the Dragon in cube and rely on that as your win condition, it is just too slow and expensive. Six mana to reply a Whale however is much more affordable. Whale is a perfect control top end card as you can use it defensively and more importantly you can tap out to play it with a higher degree of all round safety than other threats. Some you risk having yourself killed and others you risk getting killed and as such have no way to win. Whale is a good middle ground as far as these kinds of threats go.

Thrun, the Last Troll12.

Thrun, the Last Troll 4/10

I think Thrun is one of the more overrated cards in cube. Yes, he is very hard to stop but so what? The dude is just a 4/4. There are one drops with higher threat level. That might look like a joke or an over exaggeration to make a point but it isn't. I mean it. Delver is the standout one but things like Grim Lavamancer and Deathrite also both threaten unstoppable damage. Most threats race Thrun or hold him off. At the very least they force Thrun to stay back. Thrun is only really dangerous against you if you are slow, have a game plan that doesn't involve putting any creatures into play at any point and probably an over reliance on counterspells too! What I will say for the old Troll is that it is one of the very best cards to wear an Armadillo Cloak or equip a Loxodon Warhammer to. You give that body some trample and a touch more power, perhaps some lifelink, and then you have a real card. Racing ceases to be an option, chumping with planeswalker tokens is not an option, ignoring it is not an option. The humble Rancor turns Thrun into a monster! Thrun is a hard counter to an archaic archetype that has long fallen out of viability. A lot of lands do what Thrun does better! In a cube dominated by tempo this four mana 4/4 gains very little from any of its three lines of text. It isn't really worth countering, destroying or targetting! It is inconvenient, perhaps even tedious, but it isn't good. Cards, especially those at four mana, need to do useful and relevant things or they need to be a super scary and effective threat. Without cards to empower Thrun he is bad. With them he is great but then suffers the narrow penalty. Thrun is certainly one of the harder dorks on this list to deal with. If we were looking purely at how robust a card is then it would be higher up. Robustness is only good if it is protecting something worth having and that is the main take away here. I prefer all the other 4/10 cards on this list to Thrun but I have let him have the top stop of the bunch as he is the most resilient of them all.

Carnage Tyrant11.

Carnage Tyrant 5/10

This is a bit of an odd one. It is very good against blue decks with the double protection element of uncounterable and hexproof. It is as hard to kill with spells and effects as Simic Sky Swallower and it is punchier, safer to cast, cheaper and all in a single colour. The only thing you lose is flying but that is a pretty big deal. It is not all that hard to find six powers worth of blockers and wrestle this thing down. It hurts (and is usually game over to a combat trick) but it is doable and that greatly detracts from this cards effectiveness as a threat. It is more like a green Thundermaw Hellkite. It should get in at least one good attack and force an urgent and dramatic response. It is a nice top end threat in a proactive deck but it is not one of a few threats you want in a more combo or reactive deck as per the Sky Swallower. As such Carnage Tyrant doesn't really have a home in cube. Big ramp decks don't want him as it isn't enough of a payoff. Aggressive decks don't want him as he is six mana. Midrange decks want a more reliable threat or a better value card, say, a Titan, for either option... This card is great, it is what Thrun wishes he was. Thrun isn't great because of what he is and does, Tyrant is held back because of where he is on the curve given the places you want to use him in. Sagu Mauler looked a lot better on paper than Swallower but in practice it wasn't close. Tyrant looks even better again but still seems to fail on the suitability front despite having more than enough power for the cost.

Simic Sky Swallower10.

Simic Sky Swallower 5.5/10

This might look a bit like a cheat in card but I have found it is primarily used in a way where it is going to be hard cast. It always surprises me how well this old dork holds up. He still gets a lot of play and still wins a lot of games. Seven mana gold cards are pretty vile things but in green they are rather more palatable. You can splash them without any cost to your deck and they frequently come out on turn five. This is not the hardest card on this list to deal with as most non-targetting effects will get it, the non-red ones at least. Just having shroud isn't great. Sky Swallower has a few key things to go with it that make it great. Being a huge flier means that short of a deathtouch flier or some eldrazi or Griselbrand/Ormendahl shaped demon you cheated into play this card is not falling in combat. I have actually seen this taken out with a 5/5 flier and a combat trick, that was pretty gross and unexpected but it is substantially rarer than these other infrequent events. The other thing that presses the issue rather is how rapidly and reliably this will end a game. It isn't quite so quick in a goldfish compared to something like a Myr Battlesphere but in practice it feels like having a massive one sided Sulfuric Vortex. That damage just gets through. When you only give your opponent two or three turns to find a fairly specific answer your card is automatically that much safer. Killing people quickly has always been the best defense in Magic. Another factor in this cards reliablity is that you are typically very aware of the few potential answers your opponents might have. It is fairly easy to draw out or rule out a Wrath effect as a green player (unless your opponent is specifically aware of your Sky Swallower that is). This is a simple card and while it may not look super exciting when compared to more modern things in that price range it just gets the job done very well.

Fleecemane Lion9.

Fleecemane Lion 5.5/10

I am surprised how much this has fallen off in power so quickly of late. The card is great but ultimately it is just a better Thrun. Having a Watchwolf as this cards front end make it a much more appealing vanilla fatty and a far better tempo play. Once made monstrous it is also the hardest card in the cube to deal with, although again, sadly just a 4/4. In my experience this card mostly just makes games go super long. Gold hurts this but so to does specifically being Selesnya, a colour far from short in high quality cheap dorks for all occasions. Also not a particularly exciting or popular colour pairing. Despite seeming like an all round batty card for power level it is very much a card on the chopping block next time I decide to do some space making exercises on my cube. This plays a little like a relentless dead. You play it out on curve if you have to and that is all fine. Then you play this little dance of them not killing it and you not activating it. Sometimes the game goes on long enough that activations become likely, and even when they are not the threat of them was useufall still a relevant factor in the game. Both Lion and Relentless Dead are early game filler to help with consistency and tempo that can provide a decent edge should the game go long. They are however both cards that concede tempo once you start paying mana on their activations. At 7 mana a 4/4 hexproof indestructible sounds a whole lot less impressive.

Experiment One8.

Experiment One 6/10

This card has never really had much opportunity to shine as green doesn't tend to go in for aggressive strategies that curve out from turn one with the aggression. If they did this card would be far better regarded. This is absolutely one of the premium aggressive one drops. It needs far less support than Delver of Secrets or even the prowess cards. If you are playing an aggressive one drop in green you will absolutely have a healthy number of dorks than can evolve this. Getting it to a 3/3 is where you want to be, that is when it is significantly better than your bog standard two power one drop. Not only that but it is when the zero mana regenerate kicks in! This is one of the least resiliant dorks on this list as it has a conditional and limited supply regenerate that wont be active from when this card hits play. It is also pretty small to begin with. The fact that a Lava Dart can usually take this out does rather go in the face of what this list is supposed to be about. My counter to that is that this is a one drop. The bar is a lot lower for one drops given their importance and scarcity (at least in the good ones). Experiment One is pretty much the only one drop that could be described as resilient yet also does enough beyond that to be worth playing. Sorry Slippery Boggle, you need rather too much work to make relevant... Experiment hits hard and it does so quickly. It is super tedious when you can't even clear a one drop with a Day of Judgment or Supreme Verdict. It even tends to out perform the Wild Nacatl in zoo and is your premium one drop. Yes, in constructed zoo it is a lot less close. Games are quicker in modern and each individual card has to work on its own that much more with so much cheap efficient removal and discard floating around in modern. In the clunkier cube a late game Nacatl draw can still be weaker than an Experiment top deck as the board will be cluttered and the game may well go on some time longer. In the early game the Experiment is almost always better. Nacatl is also rather more specific in its required support and can just be awful if you lack the good tools to make him a 3/3 for his first attack. Anyway, Experiment One is really really good. If green had a RDW or white weenie equivalent deck the card would probably have a rating comparable to Monastery Swiftspear, an absolute top tier one drop threat. Without any real homes beyond the zoo archetype however the card is rather stymied and gets a rating that doesn't reflect its in game performance very well.

Hazoret the Fervent
Hazoret the Fervent 6/10

I think anyone who plays standard is well aware of how beastly this is. In cube it is a whole lot easier to have an empty hand when you get to four mana! Indeed, the reason Hazoret gets such a low rating out of ten is nothing to do with its extreme power level. The issue is that aggressive red decks are so brutal now that a four drop has to be stupidly direct to compete. My typical red deck has about 12 one drops, 8 two drops and 4 three drops. The only four+ drops (that you have to pay mana for)  I have played  recently are Territorial Hellkite and Fiery Confluence, both of which deal more damage more reliably right away than Hazoret. Basically, Hazoret gets better the longer the game goes on once you put it into play. It is good right away but increasingly hard to contain. Cube red decks want cards like that at one and two mana, not at the end of their curve. In any sort of grindy game Hazoret is the premium red four drop. Super hard hitting with various avenues of attack and importantly hard to remove. Hazoret is the indestructible version of Simic Sky Swallower. While neither is super safe across the board to removal their decent size and ability to close a game promptly and reliably really tax your opponents time resource thus further reducing their potential pool of answers. So yes, Path to Exile handily and efficiently shuts down a Hazoret much like a Supreme Verdict cleanly shuts up a Sky Swallower. Both however will happily grind your face into the ground when you don't have the right kind of card and that will be more often than not.

Kytheon, Hero of Akros6.

Kytheon 6.5/10

The least resilient dork on this list along with the other one drop. The kicker for Kytheon is that once flipped he can act like a dork and has a good deal of resilience in that form too. While it is not quite as rounded as indestructible it has no mana cost to use which makes it rather better than his dork side! Just in general terms the ability on Kytheon is weak. You are effectively paying 3 mana for a free 2/1 whenever you use it. That isn't great. For three mana you could have a Rogue Refiner, or like, a good card that can win a game. Point is, you are only really using this when you are low on resources relative to mana. It is used to force flip Kytheon a lot too and that is fine but a lot fairer than you think. If Kytheon didn't already do something as a 2/1 then your 4 mana planeswalker is actually pretty awful when compared to what you could have had spending that mana elsewhere. Experiment One doesn't have to pay mana to protect itself and that is what makes that good. What makes Kytheon good is not all that hinged on the indestructible feature. It is that a 2/1 for one is good and Kytheon comes with more gravy than any other already playable card! Gravy that helps with late game scaling and that helps with utility.

The Scarab God5.

The Scarab God 6.5/10

The ability to return to hand rather than go to the bin upon death is not the greatest protection on this list by quite a way. It is certainly less strong than either hexproof or indestructible. The Scarab God is all about the obnoxious power level. It is a decently big body, it has a brutal activated ability and a strong ongoing effect. If you untap with a Scarab God you are in for an easy ride. So many cube dorks turn out to be rather improved when created as 4/4s with the same text. Either you get a discount on some bomb top end card or you turn a nice utility or value dork into a good threat as well. Four mana 4/4 Grave Titan? Sign me up. Four mana 4/4 Mausoleum Wanderer? Yes please! There are just so many text heavy dorks in cube we great EtB and state based effects. With its prevalence in standard at present most are aware of how good this naughty thing is. It is a gold five drop which keeps it narrow but it is just one of those cards with so very much power that you are OK with that.


Aetherling 6.5/10

Probably the hardest of cards to deal with or stop in any meaningful capacity. The only clean, and frankly likely, way to deal with Aetherling is to pluck it from the hand before it is cast or counter it. Once in play Aetherling is basically the most unstoppable card in magic. To kill it once in play you either need more instant removal cards than they have spare blue mana or you need to turn off its abilities with a state based effect such as a Pithing Needle and then kill it conventionally. The only thing keeping Aetherling close to a fair card is how mana hungry it is. Ideally you want to play it as a ten drop. You want a couple of mana spare to flicker it a bit and some more mana for a counterspell just in case! Rarely will you be given that degree of comfort in cube and so often the Aetherling will tentatively come out as a seven drop with just the one life that turn. If they don't have double answers that turn you will likely win. Another aspect that keeps Aetherling fairer is that it is relatively poor defensively compared to many other win conditions. Aetherling has psuedo vigilance (at a cost) and can block most ground things pretty well but it only blocks one thing, it cant stop much in the way of evasion and it has no lifelink or other such defensive aspects. At killing people it is the most reliable threat going. It is like a True Name Nemesis that can have 8 power, vigilance and is also protected against mass removal. The issue is not so much how good Aetherling is at what it does but that you need to be somewhat in control before you play your Aetherling and that is quite hard to do.


Falkenrath AristocratFalkenrath Aristocrat 7/10

The original Hazoret! This thing has evasion and no restriction on being able to attack. He comes down fast and ends the game nice and quick without much fuss. The ability to make indestructible is contingent on your having a dork in play and the ability to grow him is further limited to those dorks being human but neither of these things is hard to do or that uncommon. Sometimes you can just all in and seven them in the air out of nowhere. Other times you just snipe out a planeswalker and have a scary threat left to show for it. Aristocrat is a card I frequently splash as it is exactly what I want out of my top end threats. It is on the narrow side being a card you want to play in a deck with a decent creature count on top of it being gold. I find it very easy to navigate around the limitations of the card. Against a green or blue player I will happily run this out solo as I wont need to make it indestructible. Against other colours it is not hard to engineer lines of play that will give you protection for this card. Most of the other cards on this list incur a tempo cost on the dork for their resilience in that you can get better tempo cards for the mana. It is pretty hard to find a better tempo play than a four mana four power hasting flier. Bloodbraid I hear is good but it is far less reliable tempo and also less reliable damage. When you can not only tax your opponents options hard but you can also continue to apply maximum pressure then you are onto a winner. Cartel Aristocrat has even seen some love with its similar mechanic to this. The card is super annoying when it has sufficient tokens to eat. Being half the power it is a little less worth the life of something else to save and so it is rather more niche in terms of building with it. As a general rule however, manaless activations with alternate costs are a great way to get a good deal on a resilient dork.

Adanto Vanguard2.

Adanto Vanguard 7/10

This new entry has really impressed me. A lot of games have just been dominated by this thing. It is relentless. It is a fantastic thing to equip. A Jitte on a Vanguard is one of the scariest things you can face. In some games it feels like you have an Abyss on just them and in others it feels like you have a two mana True Name nemesis. Any deck that uses empowering effects, be they tribal lords, or in the case of Vanguard, equipment and Anthems, hugely benefits from sticky cheap support dorks with no cost on the recursion/protection. Butcher Ghoul was recently the stand out card in a tribal zombie deck I built. Clearly Adanto Vangaurd puts the Ghoul to shame in power level. Vangaurd is certainly more of an offensive creature but it is less linear than it looks as well. It certainly has more distinct archetypal homes than Elite Vanguard and your other generic one mana 2/1s. Vangaurd is a card you want in any aggressive creature deck but it is also a card you quite want in the Cawblade style decks and other more midrange, tricksy or tempo orientated decks.

True-Name Nemesis
True-Name Nemesis 8/10

I am forever saying this card is overrated and here I am slapping it at the top of this list. While I maintain this card is overrated it isn't by all that much, the card is very strong indeed. It would probably be fine if it were green but as a blue card it is a little tedious! It is a card that makes people give up, a little like Jitte. I see a lot of people lose to it where they didn't necessarily need to. The card can only do so much. It fails to handle a lot of situations and it has very limited recovery and game ending potential. Most other three drops race this better or gain advantage over time in a stand off. It is when both players are fairly even and trying to play a similar sort of game than True-Name is a total beating. If we both have nothing and you make some non-evasive dork in your turn and in my turn I make a True-Name then it will feel a lot like you got time walked. You will have no counter to my play and your options are reduced and I will have loads of options on how to play depending on what you do. Your plansewalkers now all suck while mine are now super safe. True Name is decent in aggro as a robust evasive threat but it does nothing to protect you from mass removal and so isn't all good. As a defensive tool it is nice but it is generally less good than a Baleful Strix. Using True Name defensively is much like having a Beloved Chaplain. Not so great with your own mass removal, not so great against trample or flying and not great in terms of card advantage. Just stall and as such less appealing than Wall of Omens. True-Name is best suited to the tempo and tricksy decks that want high value things but at low cost and in lower numbers. A card that is feared more than it should be, that is frequently used badly, and that is commonly missplayed against. In the right place or at the right time the card is pretty unfair. It is its low risk and low cost that make it a comfortable top for this list. There is a very real cost to including cards like Aetherling in your list while True Name slots in pretty comfortably in any non-combo blue deck.

Sunday 26 November 2017

How Much Disenchant?

DisenchantSorry for bad title, couldn't think of a concise way to phrase the aim of this article. I was asked how much in the way of Disenchant effects one should look to run in a cube. Obviously with this being Magic there is rarely a short answer. For starters the question really needs breaking up into four parts. Specifically how much enchantment removal and how much artifact removal, both for powered and unpowered cubes?

Typically you find enchantment counts around the 5-6% mark for both powered and unpowered cubes. Artifacts are typically a higher count and also jump to a higher percentage makeup of cubes when they are powerd. An unpowered cube is typically 8-10% artifacts and a powered cube is going to be about half again on top of that, so a 12-15% artifact makeup. This gives some indication of how many targets there are out there for your Disenchant effects. As Disenchant hits both we can add these percentages together and get a range of 13% to 21% potential targets. This might sound like a healthy number but it is under half the range of targets a Terminate will hit in a cube. Creatures sit nearer the 40% mark in most cubes and I wasn't including man lands, token generators, vehicles or other non-creature cards that will ultimately provide targets for creature only removal.

While useful information it only tells part of the story. Just looking at it like this you could assert that a Disenchant was about half as useful as a Terminate. In  practice there are a number of factors that move you one way or the other away from the % of targets approach, most of which make the Disenchant less than half as good while others push it the other way. It is important to consider the kinds of things you want to hit with your removal. A significant portion of the targets for Disenchant effects are either very low value or not really something you can fully stop with removal. Hitting an Oath of Nissa does next to nothing. You struggle to kill a Sensei's Divining Top with spot removal. You can only force narrower lines of play against things like Black Lotus that have an immediately useful sac ability. If their only target for your Disenchant is some Talisman then your Disenchant is a terrible card on for multiple reasons. You have it and they don't, they have it and by the time you draw it it is no longer relevant etc. At best they make it and you instantly kill it and go even on the trade.

EraseIt is not just the low density of targets that is the issue for Disenchant effects but also the even lower frequency of high value targets. Artifact especially have a pretty low occurrence of things you can and want to hit with spot removal. Mostly it is Vedalken Shackles and Umezawa's Jitte. Those two cards are the main reason I want artifact removal in many archetypes. There are others that it is nice to be able to kill but none that are so hard to beat. When actually looking at the common cards in cube it turned out that enchantments are typically more dangerous and relevant. Despite the lower numbers there are just more enchantments you can usefully deal with using removal and which get you a lot of value from doing so. There are those oppressive enchantments like Opposition and Sulfuric Vortex that are hard to beat when you don't have the removal for them as with Jitte and Shackles in the artifacts camp.  There are also lots of things like Treachery and Cast Out that are great to kill which is not really the case for the artifacts.

These game defining power plays, the Oppositions and Vedalken Shackles, are one of the few things that make Disenchant effects more valuable rather than less. The swing in win percentage is so huge when you are able to answer those key cards that despite all the "you having it and them not or you not while they do" aspects, it is still worth running answers to such cards.

Kolaghan's CommandWith creature removal you are looking for efficiency and that is pretty much it. Obviously there are several things that factor into efficiency but cost is the main one. You know you are going to have relevant targets in the vast majority of cases so you just want your creature removal to be the best it can be at being removal. This is similar to the principle of card draw or burn, you just want the most efficient card because that plan is always a good one. As you move away from these reliable effects that always do good things you find that the inverse quickly becomes the case. Instead of wanting efficiency you want flexibility. Effects like Disenchant and something like lifegain are not always useful and as such you want them as an option or a free tack on effect on an otherwise useful (Lightning Helix, Kolghans' Command etc) card so as to limit inconsistency.

The most efficient Disenchant effects are Erase, Nature's Claim, Oxidize with a deep and broad range of very strong two drop options as well such as Aura Blast. If these cards replaced artifact or enchantment with creature in the text then they would be the best creature removal spells in the game. These are not even that common to see in sideboards and such and this is all just down to being narrow. Doubly narrow in fact. They are super narrow main as they might not even have relevant targets and they are still polar as sideboard cards as you need to draw them as and when your opponent draws the things you want to kill with them.

Forsake the WorldlyIn cube all the good artifact and enchantment removal is on the back of some broader utility card. A card that can destroy artifacts or enchantments as an option on part of the card then it gains a decent amount of value in cube. Abrade, Kolghan's Command, Dromoka's Command, Fiery Confluence, Nahiri. Vraska, Vindicate, Dack Fayden, Unexpectedly Absent etc. are the best forms of cube Disenchants because they are all still great cards when there are no Disenchant targets in play.

I have only three cards that only hit artifacts and enchantments, two of those cycle and so basically do have alternate functionality. They at least are incredibly painless inclusions in a list when you don't face relevant targets. Sundering Growth is the only pure card I have in cube presently and it is a recent re-addition (based on a readers cube list, cheers for that Roland!). It works brilliantly with all the recent high powered token generators (Scarab God, embalm, eternalize, Fractured Identity, etc) and is playable in two colours. These two factors make it seem powerful enough to test out again now.

Reclamation SageIn an unpowered cube the answer to the question how much artifact and enchantment removal to play is that you run is as much as you can that fits the bill of not being a bad card when not able to Disenchant stuff. That excludes things like Reclamation Sage these days as a 3 mana 2/1 is far from useful or good being worth neither the card nor the mana. In an unpowered cube enchantment removal actually feels better too.

In a powered cube not only is there more artifacts floating around but there are more relevant targets. Due to cards like Tolarian Academy and Mishra's Workshop you find more big stuff like Lodestone Golem as well as all the cheaper Mox. I have found it to be pretty safe and effective to pack some more dedicated artifact removal in powered cube. Gorilla Shaman has always been a top notch powered cube tool for example. Even stuff like Hearth Kami and Torch Fiend can be worth it in powered cubes. Being cheap and often on theme is what makes them more suitable extras in the manic powered setting. I would still only have a smattering of such cards however.

Anguished UnmakingIn any kind of cube I have found the most effective Disenchant effects are typically the removal with broad range. Your Maelstrom Pulse, Abrupt Decay, Anguished Unmaking, Council's Judgement, Karn Liberated and so on. These cards are rarely great removal cards, they go 1 for 1 if that and often don't get you a tempo advantage either. What makes them good is that they deal with most of the problems you might face, be that a Baneslayer Angel, a Sword of Fire and Ice or a Moat (well, not Abrupt Decay but you get the point). They are space efficient in your deck as they perform a lot of roles and they make you a lot more consistent. Such cards are far better in cube than in constructed formats where you know what the few problem cards you will need to deal with are and can appropriately select the most suitable removal for the meta. Cube metas are so varied that the clunky slower removal with a nice broad range has a high premium. In a pick order list from best to worst that focused only on removal cards I would have most of these broad removal cards directly following the premium creature removal. Path, Plow, Bolt and Fatal Push are super efficient all round great removal cards and would take the top four slots, Dismember and Arc Trail probably takes the next two but after that it is all about the Pulses, Vindicates and Judgements. Although these are not considered modal cards they might as well be. If you class things like Maelstrom Pulse as a modal card that just has four modes on a type of permanent to destroy, and the same for the cycling Disenchants as they have a draw card mode then basically all the good Disenchants for cube use are modal. After the commonly agreed modal cards like Charms, Confluences and Commands you have the broad range removal and the narrower removal with cycling.

Qasali PridemageThe only cards that have been a strong Disenchant effects in the cube that don't count as much as modal cards are a few dorks. Qasali Pridemage and Acidic Slime being the two best examples. Pridemade is just good tempo as a two drop 2/2 with exalted. I have even seen it used to kill its own stuff so as to instantly sac itself. Slime being one of few cards able to hit lands combined with being a 2/2 deathtouch ensure it is always relevant. While both cards still get a reasonable amount of play they are certainly now towards to lower end of my cube in terms of the play they get. Both are very fair cards. They are a lot better than Reclamation Sage because they are fine cards when they are not being Disenchants and that is the key message here.

When I build a deck I will typically try and have a balance of removal. Say I have four slots or so for dedicated removal spells then I would look to have a couple of cheap creature only cards and a couple of pricier cover all cards. Super top end cards like Karn I tend to think of more as half a removal spell as they come so late they do not always help with the things you need them for. In a fairly aggressive white deck I would love to have Path, Plow, Judgement and then either Unexpectedly Absent or Cast Out rounding out my four slots.

Cast OutThe amount of removal I want in a deck is dictated by two things. The speed of my deck and the depth and quality of my removal. The quicker and more proactive you are the less you will have to worry about things as you will just kill people before they can draw and play the real problem cards. You still want some removal but mostly it will be to gain tempo and so it will be much more focused on creature removal that it cheap and efficient. As you move towards slower decks you will need more removal that is also able to deal with different types of thing. You still need some cheap efficient removal so as to fight the tempo war but you also need broader removal so you don't get caught out by random things. While I might want four removal cards for a given deck I may play more or less depending on what I have. I would rather play the best or most suitable cards for my deck where possible. If I have great removal options and weaker threats then I might as well replace the worst threat with an extra removal card. How much total removal you want is another topic that is unlikely to be small and so we will not venture down that path here.

Dack FaydenSuffice it to say most decks want some removal and most of those decks want a reasonably healthy quantity well over 10% (four cards) of the deck. This means anything other than the most aggressive or streamlined combo will want a couple of Disenchant effects if possible and perhaps more. I never feel bad when I have three ways to deal with an artifact in a cube deck as all the ways I have to do that are great cards when not Shattering (or Stealing in the case of Dack Fayden). The answer to the question of how much Disenchant to run is as much as you can provided it doesn't hurt your consistency or tempo in a significant way. Much as you want as much of the "free" stuff as you can get you rarely want the dedicated options. I would usually rather have no Disenchant effect in my deck at all than run actual Disenchant and risk it being dead.

Obviously not all colours have access to such things. Black and blue have no way to directly remove artifacts and enchantments and red can only do the former. Typically you cover yourself with hand disruption, countermagic, bounce, and splashes so as to give you some means of handling problems in the more awkward colours when you need to. Hand disruption and in particular bounce effects are a little more valuable in cube than elsewhere due to the way they act as an indirect answer for a Disenchant target. The value of a Disenchant effect is slightly reduced in a deck with a number of the indirect answers for such things.

Sadly there is no clear answer to how much Disenchant you want. It depends on the cube you are playing, the deck you are playing, the colours it is, all the other cards in the deck, the options in your pool, the nominal power of those cards and so on and so forth. The best you can do is understand the factors involved and make a judgement based on your options. You want some if you can but you really don't want to have to pay for it either by having a bad card or a dead card. You want it but you don't always need it, you can just go quicker or solve problems more indirectly. Having it makes life easier but it is all about risk and reward. A splash makes you more inconsistent, replacing Doom Blade with Mortify makes you slower. Weighing up all these little factors is the best way to arrive at the right mix of things for your deck.

Friday 24 November 2017

Tribal Zombies

Noxious Ghoul
I have been doing a lot of tribal lists of late and it has been the black ones that have improved most. Vampires have become viable and zombies seem like they are getting ever stronger. Zombies has always been a thing in cube but it has never been very good. It has some interesting late game but the early plays typically suck meaning it has never been a high  tier deck (low? the good one... the deck has never been good!). Zombies have always leaned on Patriarch's Bidding, it gives them a big swing card/I win button and inevitability. I did a post for a BG Bidding list a while back. It is a little dated now but most of the core elements are there. This is a non-Bidding zombie deck for the first time in my cube. Losing the Bidding feels like losing a lot of power however it means I can also lose a lot of the clunky support cards that go with it like Noxious Ghoul. This means the deck can be much more streamlined and actually get ahead in the early game and not need to rely on one big spell.

Most of the colours now offer something to the zombie archetype, be that some spicy zombies, some good discard outlets, that sort of thing. Unlike vampires however the zombies can easily keep it all in house. Staying mono reduces your options but it greatly increases your consistency and any fighting you might have to do over fixing. Zombies has all the tools it needs in sufficient number to stay mono. The thing it lacks most is a nice deep pool of two drops. The black two mana zombies mostly suck while the white and green two drop zombies are pretty decent. I found some unlikely cards to fill in at the two slot and as such had some good success with a non-bidding mono black zombies list. It is the closest any zombie deck has felt to anything like a tier one deck. It felt like it had the ability to compete in any kind of matchup with basically none of the free wins and auto losses it used to suffer with (yes, not all consider free wins to be a suffering! Still won't be fun for some people and isn't great for loads of other reasons). This new build of zombies felt like it could play a good range of strategies well. It could race well, it could go wide, it could grind out value and go long, it could go big, it could go through, it was just a capable deck. It actually felt like it had depth and power in the way a goblin deck does!

Diregraf Ghoul
24 Spells

Diregraf Ghoul
Dread Wanderer
Grave Crawler

Carrion Feeder

Fatal Push

Relentless Dead
Butcher Ghoul
Sultai Emissary
Blood Scrivener
Diregraf Colossus
Collective Brutality
Arguel's Bloodfast

Lord of the Undead
Cemetery Reaper
Death Baron
Lord of the Accursed

Diregraf Colossus
Curse of Disturbance
Plague Belcher

Undead Warchief

Dark Salvation
Grey Merchant of Asphodel

16 Lands

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
14 Swamps

Butcher GhoulSo what is it about Butcher Ghoul and Sultai Emissary that, despite sucking themselves, stop the deck from sucking so much? This deck is chock full of lords and synergy. The individual card power level is less important when you have all that and so these are pretty much two cards in one. You just have a lot more staying power on the board against removal or aggression which empowers your synergies more quickly. A 2 mana 1/1 isn't exciting but when it holds off their 2/1 or wastes their turn as they are not going to Terminate it and then suddenly grows or taps to draw cards then it is all good. The Ghoul is better as both halves are zombies. The Emissary can find zombies but you have to pay extra mana to flip them and you lose the EtB effect of them as well which greatly reduces the value of a couple of the more top end ones. Both were depressingly good in all the matchups I played them in. Depressing because Young Wolf is barely playable and Ghoul is half as good...

CryptbreakerThe two best cards in the deck are the utility one drops; Carrion Feeder and Cryptbreaker. Both have a surprising amount of effect on the game. Feeder can one shot people with Plague Belcher, it can negate removal effects, it can upgrade the undying style dorks or just grow very out of hand with a Gravecrawler and win on its own. The Cryptbreaker on the other hand provides quick and reliable card draw as well as getting free value with certain from the bin cards or dud draws.

Zombies have never been short of lords but the newest addition is the best of them in a tempo sense. Mostly this is down to having 3 toughness rather than two making it that little bit safer and more able to get involed in combat. More lords is only good when you have lots of good cards to empower them with. This list has all the 3 drop lords (except Zombie Master as he doesn't pump stats and thus doesn't really feel like a lord). There are more in the way of four drop lords but it is all a bit too much at that point. Warchief is just a bit of an Overrun, two lords in one and remains the best of the four drop options for most occasions, even if not using the cost reduction to good effect. A couple of cards, including the Warchief made me want to include more burst mana like Dark Ritual so as to power them out and make better use of things like the cost reduction.

Other new things enhancing zombies effectiveness include the decently powered one drop Dread Wanderer and the lesser known Curse of Disturbance. The latter is really good with the recursive dorks, be that Butcher Ghoul style or Gravecrawler. It just makes it very painless to get a free 2/2 every turn. While not the quickest of cards the Curse does grind people down pretty well and greatly helps empower the lords.

Dark SalvationArguel's Blood Fast was great, as it has been in most places. That being said, a Skullclamp would probably be better. As that point you probably want a Bloodghast to go with it. You don't want too many non-zombie cards in the deck and this eats up a bunch of those slots without providing much disruption. Brutality is hand and creature disruption so is a premium non-zombie card you can run. Liliana is decent at this too but you are not at all short on the three slot. I would prefere targetted hand and dork removal at one or two mana in this list. With a slower Bidding plan Liliana goes up a bit in value, as does the Brutality. Dark Salvation is a bit clunky as removal goes but there are not many good zombies that disrupt beyond Skinrender and so it seems like one of your better removal options.

The rest of the deck somewhat speaks for itself. It is just the highest individual powered zombies left padding out the deck as best it can in the CMC slots available. There are some surprising omissions still which is mostly an indication of the progress made by the tribe. Liliana's Mastery is one such card. It is decent being both a lord effect and a pile of zombie. The problem is it is just a bit too late and expensive. Not for what it does, just in general. Even Grey Merchant is not all that in this list, certainly one of the more cuttable cards. In decks like this five drops want to be devastating or game ending which Mastery is not. Merchant can be but typically is more of a warped Seige Rhino.

Geralf's Messenger
Geralf's Messengers is another big absentee. He is a good stand alone but beyond being a zombie  he isn't really empowering other cards. The three slot is where the zombie power level suddenly jumps and slots being so tight makes the bar for three drops significantly higher. An influx of decently high powered zombies across the curve has certainly helped the tribe out and given it depth and directional options. That change is fairly gradual and probably not enough by it's self to elevate zombies to the status of top tier tribal. The real breakthrough and why the change feels more sudden is simply the cheap sticky zombies. Taking that extreme power hit to fill up the deck with cards in needs in the places it needs them. It may sounds like madness playing Butcher Ghoul because it is a sticky zombie and not Geralf's Messengers but it felt so right when playing it. A turn two Ghoul pretty much always felt like what I wanted to do. Tribal decks are on the rise and it is far more to do with getting more viable one and two drop support cards than it is powerful payoff cards. We had a good number of those already for most of the stronger tribes. With zombie being thematic to black and generally well established in the realms of fantasy as the rank and file of the bad guys I fully anticipate zombies improving at a faster pace than most other tribes going forwards. It has more room to grow into as well.

Plague Belcher
Here are some of the most appealing zombie cards left out of this list. As you can see, the two drops that are considerations are thin!

Risen Executioner
Dregscape Zombie
Gnawing Zombie
Stromgald Crusader
Festering Mummy
Liliana's Mastery
Skullclamp (+Bloodghast)
Geralf's Messengers
Grave Defiler
Graveborn Muse
Nantuko Husk
Dark Ritual
Liliana's Reaver
Vindictive Lich
Custodi Lich
Noxious Ghoul + Patriarch's Bidding + Zombie Infestation and other potential discard outlets/tutors.

Mogis Marauder also feels like he is an honorary zombie in some of the more aggressive lists. He is a surprisingly good push through card. The haste and the intimidate give extra reach and burst which the colour typically lacks. Grey Merchant and Plague Belcher only really get their slots in this list because of the reach they offer.

Unstable Thoughts (Review) Part II

This is the last part of the review for Unstable. Due to the nature of the set I am giving it a lot less attention than other magic releases. Having discussed a couple of the cards with people I have already realized some bad evaluation on my part due to the lower consideration. Better than One is one such card. It is quite abusable but you do have to build around it rather or have a fairly robust and low curve deck. It is far from the all round bomb I thought it was at first. Any way, on with the remaining stuff;

Hot Fix

The ultimate Index! I have actually had theoretical discussions about the cost of this kind of effect in the past. I also like the concept of the time limit on effects, I would like to impose it on some cards like Diving Top! In practice it should be less significant on Hot Fix as you should be able to plan what you are doing before casting it. I highly recommend getting to the point where you know what it in your deck if you are not there already. I would wager all the top tier magic players can tell you 100% of their deck list from memory on the spot be it limited or constructed. I still can and I'm a rusty old fart as my mother would say! You need to be aware of all the cards so you can play to your outs and play the odds on things in an informed way. Anyway, the 10 seconds limit on Hot Fix practically stops you ordering your whole deck, which is a shame as for 6 mana that feels pretty fair. I think you can probably look to get about five cards to the top with this making it somewhat of Lim-Dul's Vault with any inconvenience removed. At six mana that isn't good enough, tutor effects need to be cheap and a tutor effect is all this is. With full ordering potential this might have had some very niche combo potentials such as Goblin Charbelcher but again at the six mana mark I don't really see it. Index for your whole library is something they will likely never print in any playable way. Not only would it be one of the slowest and most tedious cards to play with or against if ever printed but it would also be one of those cards that moves from unplayable garbage to utterly broken without ever being a fair card in between.

Masterful Ninja

This is a fairly well balanced card. It is obviously strong being a zero mana card with plenty of utility but it isn't oppressively good nor likely to become so. It is probably not dissimilar to Bloodghast in power and utility levels although rather different in role. The only thing I don't really like about this is the general tedium and confusion on how this interacts with stuff. Rules are not my thing and this card looks like hard work.


Cute card, took me a while to work out what this does and how it does it! This does some cool things for sure and would add a lot of intrigue into games. For cube this is all a bit slow and mana intense. A good mana sink but not very useful in the early game beyond being a 2/2 for two.


This isn't the cheapest of cards but it seems very strong indeed. Not only is it fairly powerful it is also fairly versatile. This is able to stop an untap phase which is pretty close to a Time Warp in the right situation. Stealing the combat step may allow you to reuse some vigilance dorks while fogging their attack. Just taking away their draw and having one more of your own makes this quite like a Muldrifter. It may not have flying or evoke but denying them a draw while progressing the board and getting an extra draw of your own is a big deal in any topdeck war. Also great to shut down their ability to dig for things they might need. I am not sure what the best things you can do with upkeep or end step steals but I am sure there are some cool things. This has a wide range of potentially powerful effects but the swing potential from the untap steal seems utterly bonkers. If you prevent them casting or attacking with anything and give yourself a bonus 5 mana in their turn to cast a big draw spell or flash threat with then good times!

Animate Library

Pretty silly card but probably not that unreasonable in cube. If libraries are considered to have been in play already and can attack as soon as animated then this card is probably over powered even for cube but if not then this is probably fine. Just a very big dork for blue! The cool thing about this in cube is that it is entirely possible to have libraries getting quite small quite fast and so this will have unique scaling and won't always represent a one hit kill.


I have mixed feelings on this. I like cards that you can just play with. This is not such a card. It is fiddly and un-magicy. It is uninteresting enough that I have not even bothered to see what the abilities are. I suspect the power of the card will be pretty extreme but this is very much the opposite of how I want to do things.

Squirrel Dealer

Assuming everyone likes squirrels then this is a cool card. In green it isn't too good either, just a useful support card. Sadly I suspect, as with many of these "let other people affect your game" people will not do as you want them too. I suspect if I play this card there will be a decided lack of love for the cute little tree rats.

Infinity Elemental

Not oppressively good but none the less quite strong in some roles. Certainly better than Phage! This has fine enough playability as a tool to try and cheat in and one shot people with. It has the added advantage of working with cards like Fling so as to mitigate its lack of evasion. Trample would get a lot done on this too! A cute aspect to this card is that it can kill anyone who has gained infinite life through some loop combo. As a raw 7 drop this seems too weak, with only 5 toughness it is all sorts of vulnerable and slow. You have to pair this with things.

Just Desserts

I had no idea a smidgen was such a specific number, nor that it was irrational! So this is just a Searing Spear? If you copy it six times does it round up to 22 total damage? Searing Spear is a great card so this is fine at just that if you need more two drop 3 damage burn in your cube. It is not a mechanically interesting card, just a decent one.

Five-Finger Discount

I actually quite like this new fundamental alteration of what is allowed in magic, for cube at least where moving cards about the place shouldn't matter at all. The sleeves will be the same as will the real owner owner of the cards. This is not really that far off what Gonti does and so this effect of playing your opponents cards is at least fine. This is a very strong card indeed, not unlike Fractured Identity or Hostage Taker. For six mana you get to effectively Utter End something and get a copy of that card in your hand. It is slow for spot removal but it is huge value and it is effective mono blue spot removal. This may not be as good a tempo play as Confiscate but it is vastly more reliable.

 Blurry Beeble

This is pretty nuts! Looter il-Kor is nuts and this is half the price and able to block things. It also has artifact synergies. If this was 100% unblockable it would be one of the best all round one drops. The mechanism to decide if this does have evasion is not by any means a fair one and so this is an unsuitable cube card as far as I am concerned. Without the evasion ever I would still consider running this in a lot of decks and so that is probably the house rule to run this card with if you want to have access to it but don't want random unfair things deciding games.

Knight of the Kitchen Sink

I mean, if you like True Name Nemesis then you can run this. If you like dull uninterative cards of low cost and high power level... You could throw this in to make white more powerful if you were desperate but you would struggle to argue the case for adding this in to improve the quality of your cube games. The few white bordered cards I have in my cube don't even target this and so it is pretty much another Nemesis. Some cubes my have a bit more in the way of white bordered dorks and removal and not find this to be such a tedious card but still... I guess you can't abuse equipment with this at least.

Common Iguana

Not a great card by any means but one I can see getting used (excluding any augmentation as that is a bit deep for cube). A 1/3 body with an EtB rummage is OK, it has a lot of support potential in a number of archetypes. The body isn't aggressive and so it won't be used as a tempo card and as such is probably a little bit narrow for cube given its power level. Mostly I think cards like Tormenting Voice will take its place but this may make the cut for creature synergy reasons.

Spy Eye

Theiving Magpie hasn't been cube worthy for a long long time now but given how nuts Gonti has proven to be I can see this being quite a substantial upgrade on the old Corvidae. If you want to go down the crazy rabbit hole of anyone's cards anywhere then this is probably up to the task.

Overall the set looks awesome fun. The art is lovely and nicely thematic. I already want the 3x3 contraption sets without the magic boxes, art only, just to have as things I could put on a wall. There are lots of interesting things going on and lots of powerful things. I do want to have a play with a lot of this stuff but I think contained within Unstable is the best way to experience the majority of what I see.

There are plenty of cards from Unstable you could run in cube. Some good filler and support things and a couple of really powerful cards. I don't like the way a lot of the more powerful cards would play in cube for one reason or another so while I am keen to play with a lot of these things I am no longer at all temped to stick any of these things in the cube. The trample burn spell and the last strike zombie remain the two most tempting cards and the burn spell isn't even really cube worthy. I like Clocknapper a lot too. Hopefully some of the designs will be reworked into proper magic cards as there is a lot of really cool ideas in this set.

From a draft perspective there are rather more contraptions than I expected, many of which have a pretty high power level. What I did not see were lots of good ways to assemble contraptions and that could be a point of tension in picking. No point in picking up bomb contraptions if the assemble cards all go really fast. The 1/1 goblin for R seems like the only solid way to assemble but that is only worth doing if your contraptions are all of decent quality with the 1/1 body being somewhat of a blank in limited. The high contraption count is also a concern if this is a conventional 15 card booster packof which 3 each are drafted among eight. In that case you will be thin on playables for your main deck (again, assuming it is a 40 card one, I have not read up on this beyond how the set mechanics work). This set makes me want to go out and draft it more than any set printed since I became a cube only player. I hope others feel the same way!

Thursday 23 November 2017

Rivals of Ixalan Preliminary Review Part I

Ghlatra, Primal Hungerer 1/10

Not very interesting. This will be very hard to cast early and it simply isn't worth cheating into play. Worldspine Wurm and Progenitus and Atarka and many more green dorks are better than Ghlatra when price isn't a factor. Ghlatra as such depends on getting a decent cost reduction to be exciting. When matched up against cards like Wolfir Silverheart and Gearhulk you really need to be looking at a 6-8 mana cost reduction to get to cube power levels. That makes this card narrow, win more, and super unreliable. There are far more situations in cube than other formats where both players have big boards and it is somewhat of a stalemate which are the best occasions for Ghlatra and I still don't see this being good enough often enough. You never want to completely rule out cost reduction cards but this one is quite the stretch to see how it overcomes any of its issues.

Vault of Catlacan 1/10

Well they did as much as they could to ensure this wouldn't be abused. This is a pretty awful card. Remeber the buzz over Growing Rites of Itlimoc? Well this has all the same problems and they are a lot worse. It has extra problems of its own too. Like Itlimoc this is a big upfront cost with a relatively tall order as a flip condition leading to the flipped card being rather win more or superfluous. This is basically a Curse of Opulence, for 2U more to cast. Even Growing Rites isn't that over cost, nor is it in two colours. To get five artifacts with this card alone you need five turns, or creatures with first strike or the capacity to attack again. You also need things that can attack. You should have won if you get to attack five times. Not only do you need artifacts to empower the back end of this card you also need them to get there. If your deck is full of artifacts your are not attacking much or often. What I am trying to say is in the decks that can flip this and might want the back end, the front end is a complete blank. So, is a Tolarian Academy with extreme metalcraft that you have to pay 2UR for and that has effectively got summoning sickness too worth it? Pretty unlikely I would say. You need too many mana sinks for this to be good, not enough decks will support it. Academy was far more about burst which this has none of. This is much more like a super slow and narrow Gilded Lotus. I feel like Pyramid of the Pantheon is better than this and that was a pretty bad card. I haven't even really touched on the likelihood of having extreme metalcraft online. Even the most extreme affinity decks with the highest artifact counts in the cube come out at around 3/4 artifacts. Big artifact decks which would have more use for this kind of thing are rather lower and have been increasingly cutting artifacts for other spells as time goes on. Even in dedicated decks it is neither an assured thing flipping this nor something you can reliably do on curve.

This card has a shockingly underpowered front end which is fairly useless at doing what it does for the price you have to pay for it. Curse of Opulence is a fantastic early game play but it is rather less interesting from about turn four onwards. This has a fairly difficult flip condition which isn't overly helped by the front end of the card based on the kinds of deck that might want the back end. It makes it narrow rather more than it reduces the power but it does do both! The back end and the front end have no real overlap in decks that want them. The front end is far too poor to be worth playing and so you exclusively looking at the back end. In the perfect deck with the perfect draw you will make and flip this on turn three and untap with access to about ten mana. That is still pretty good but you can do it with loads of less onerous and fiddly cards. Thran Dynamo and Gilded Lots and a selection of others when combined with the Talisman you would also need to empower the Vault all have much the same kinds of effect. This may make a little bit more mana when the going is good but floor is more important than ceiling. I don't see me using this in cube but much like with the cost reduction cards being hard to fully rule out, cards that can produce huge amounts of mana are also danger cards. Wizards know this which is why they were so careful to ensure these were designed in a safe way. In this case, safe translates to embarrassingly bad.

Tetzimoc, Death Primordial 0/10

Nope! This is pretty awful for a wide array of reasons. It is a bad body, it is just quite big but for the mana that isn't close to cutting it. You want some evasion or something else to make this relevant. Next up, the ability, very weak. If I want to kill the thing you just made this is a seven drop not a six drop. If I want this to be a six drop I have to totally reveal my plan, take a beating from the thing I want dead and pay mana ahead of time. Sounds like that could go wrong in many ways. Best case scenario with this is what exactly? Ripping it off the top when you have 8+ mana and can Wrath with it? Reiver Demon is looking generally better in that sort of area. Massacre Wurm and many others more so.  Setting up anything better than a two for one with this and making it as on curve as you can will be neat impossible. You might get to take out a couple of irrelevant cards that you can afford to let sit about in play for a while but at actually killing relevant cards this fails pretty hard. If you are un the business for top end 187 dorks then Noxious Ghoul is a far better alternative in that direction. Tetzimoc has the illusion of utility but in practice he is an impotent middle ground card that doesn't do any of the things you want it to or that it looks like it might do for you. Cards like Maze of Ith and Darkness could be used to make the ability more effective but that doesn't seem at all worth it.

The Immortal Sun 2/10

Here we have a card. I cannot really do the classic compare and contrast form of analysis to this because there is simply nothing like it in the rest of MtG. Sure, there is pap like Caged Sun, Staff of Nin, or the less pap Mirrari's Wake but these do rather less and are rather narrower. The Immortal Sun does it all. Unlike those other cards you don't really need to put all of the cards effects to use for it to be a good deal. Just double draw and something else is going to get a lot of work done. This card feels more like a planeswalker that fires all its abilities off all the time. Value wise this card is fairly off the charts but that is somewhat meaningless. Scaling up in mana cost is not a linear thing nor even a consistent thing depending on what it is you are scaling up. A six mana card really needs to be more than twice a three mana card. Even so, this is three mana's worth of Glorius Anthem, about four on the personal Howling Mine, call it a stingy three mana on the personal Helm of Awakening and round it off with a one mana Pithing Needle style effect. Toss in a casual draw three for having all those cards in one card and you have at least twelve manas worth of card in your six drop. Sadly that paints a very rosy picture. Helm of Awakening is specifically good early, the later you play it the less relevant it is. On a six drop it could easily be irrelevant and thus worth no mana. The same will typically be true to some extent on most of the effects.

If you do consider all these effects to be worth mana and cards then you instantly lose your draw three to spot removal and likely a swathe of tempo as well. It also seems highly unlikely that all the abilities will be of use. That was often an issue with Wake, it was just a personal Mana Flare, the Anthem side was typically wasted. The double draw will always be good on the Immortal Sun but the other three will be far less consistent. The planeswalker shutdown rather depends on your opponent and you cannot really control that. The cost reduction and the pump have the potential to be strong in some kinds of decks but rarely the same ones and never as strong as the two and three mana streamlined version. I cannot think of any deck that would really put all of this card to work effectively. For optimal use this card is incredibly narrow but given the card has so much raw power you may well not need to use it optimally or even that close to for it to shine. Perhaps it is good enough to merit an actual build around. It is fairly easy to find and power out artifacts in most colours in cube. My gut is that this is too all over the place, too expensive and situational to be all that in cube, especially a drafting one but probably all cube formats. Cards with this level of raw power however do sometimes have a way of forcing a home for themselves somewhere...

Sunday 19 November 2017

Lifegain .dec (Soul Sisters)

Soul Warden
This will be the white weenie version rather than the infinite life combo. It is quite the interesting deck. It is essentially a less powerful white weenie deck that has some free wins. In a meta with some midrange creature decks, an aggressive red deck and combo decks that have a cap on how much damage they can deal with their combo (Charbelcher, Illusions of Grandeur, Sutured Ghoul, Erratic Explosion etc) then this take on a white weenie deck will have a huge edge over a conventional list. While this will goldfish kill slower than your normal white weenie deck it still has all the strengths of the deck. It is super consistent being a proactive mono list and having a relatively low and smooth curve. It will punish decks that get bad starts or some kind of screw. It will get wins by going wide or by going past with evasion. It will get wins with good curve draws or a standout card in the matchup such as Spectral Procession or Mother of Runes. White weenie is somewhat of a free wins deck as it is and so this build really does capitalize on that by significantly increasing the potential for it to get free wins. This makes some good sense what with this being the strongest (and only viable?) of the white weenie options in modern. Sadly the majority of the cards on this list are not good stand alone cards and so this doesn't feel like an archetype you can ever really support in a drafting cube. As a strategy for a rotisserie or other more constructed and open card pool event it seems like a great trick to have in the arsenal.

Despite being a heavy synergy deck with quite a defined set of cards in constructed formats it seems to have translated into singleton well. There is a bit of extra redundancy you can put up with to make up the numbers as well as some relatively on theme conventional gems. As with all first outings I am keeping this simple. There are some really nice options for this list in black and ultimately that is probably the most powerful way to go. Black has some payoff cards for having high life which is ideal. It also has plenty of things you can pay life to do and this Pandora's Box of possibility and potential counter-synergy is a big part of my wanting to try out a mono white list to get a handle on things before experimenting further afield! Here is my proposed list;

Serra Ascendant24 Spells

Serra Ascendant
Soul's Attendant
Soul Warden
Martyr of Sands

Legions Landing
Soldier of the Pantheon
Mardu Woe Reaper
Mother of Runes

Sword to Plowshares

Auriok Champion
Ajani's Pridemate
Lone Missionary
Ajani's PridemateLone Rider

Suture Priest
Serene Steward
Honor the Pure

Proclamation of Rebirth
Spectral Procession

Ajani Goldmane
Faith's Fetters
Ranger of Eos

Archangel of Thune
Crested Sunmare

Felidar Soveriegn
Archangel of Thune
16 Lands

Kabira Cross Roads
Windbrisk Heights
14 Plains

So the core of the deck is the same core as the modern builds, that being -

Serra Ascendant
Soul's Attendant
Soul Warden
Auriok Champion
Ajani's Pridemate
Spectral Procession
Ranger of Eos
Archangel of Thune

Swords to PlowsharesThey also tend to pack four Path to Exile which I have substituted for the more thematic Swords. I like the idea of having a cheap instant lifegain effect for cheeky unexpected triggers! In practice both would be ideal but it is trickier picking up both. Honor the Pure also crops up a lot in the constructed lists although not often as a four of. That usually gets them to 36 spells and 24 lands. In cube those cards only make up a third of the deck and so we need to find rather more playables. Honor is better in modern where turning 1/1s into 2/2 is significant. In cube it will help less as your utility dorks will still not really want to get into combat much.

Ascendant, Archangel and Pridemate are the best payoff cards for lifegain in this kind of deck. I was concerned that this would be the limiting aspect of the deck, not having enough payoff to merit having all the weaker lifegain cards. Several things add up to make this not seem like an issue. Firstly there are a bunch of OK lifegain payoff cards I padded things out a bit with. There are some pretty weak ones as well like Test of Endurance which seemed too deep and bad! Secondly, you have a bit of tutoring and recursion for your Ascendant, which being the cheapest of the lot is generally going to be the biggest player. I would consider Recruiter of the Guard for more tutoring before turning to any of the weaker payoff cards. Lastly, the mere fact you are perpetually gaining life will be enough in itself. You won't always need a payoff for your lifegain in cube for it to win the game. Something like an Izzet tempo list simply won't have enough legs in its whole deck to win a game if you gain a couple of life every turn against it.

Ranger of EosSpectral Procession is not wildly on theme being neither a source of lifegain nor a lifegain payoff card however it has synergy everywhere else. It is a huge payoff card for being mono white with its high stand alone power level. It also has great synergy with the Soul's Attendant style cards offering a lot of triggers in one card and brutal synergy with the Anthem effects.

Ranger of Eos seems pretty important in this list, more so than in the modern version. A source of value and the ability to find a wide selection of relevant cards. He seems so good it makes me want to play Recruiter of the Guard even more but you probably then need to run Aether Vial or something to support it all.

Suture Priest is the 4th sister in this list who isn't good enough for the modern versions. She is quite a lot weaker than the others but I think still worth it given your aim and synergies. Marty of Sands is a bit of an odd one. She was part of a different sort of modern deck than the Soul Sisters setup. While both lists have some overlap the Martyr list is much more of a lockout control deck. It would use Proclamation of Rebirth and Emeria, the Sky Ruin to have ongoing access to the Martyr and then it would use cards like Squadron Hawk to ensure a lot of life was gained each sacrifice. The soul sisters list, both this cube one and the modern ones, have less in the way of hand refill and are more inclined towards developing a board both of which hit the value of Martyr pretty hard. I think she is still worth it overall in my list but she is one of the more cuttable things. I like the ability to get a massive early bump in life to turn on an Ascendant. I like the ability to have an instant lifegain trigger on the board as well. The tutoring and recursion of one drops in this list all help empower Martyr too.

Serene StewardAjani's Pridemate is the best tempo card in the deck. Following a one drop sister it is the best two drop in the deck. It grows rapidly in this list and can just win a game all by itself Long Tusk Cub style. It was a card I was scared of lacking redundancy for. Serene Steward is a whole lot worse. The mana cost makes her a far less impressive tempo card. Expect utility and value from it rather than tempo.

At the top end we have Crested Sunmare and Felidar Sovereign doing their best to be Archanagles two and three. Sunmare is powerful in this list, you should be able to trigger it the turn you make it and perhaps even deny your opponent the ability to make dorks else incur a total of 15/15 worth of horses coming at them! While powerful it is not a great finisher card being fairly slow and having no evasion. It has less immediate impact than Archangel as well. Mostly the Sunmare will draw out removal but it should leave a 5/5 token behind which is still fine. The Sovereign is a bit more awkward. It has minimal impact and is a six drop. In a 16 land deck with basically no draw in it you are looking at about a 40% chance of having six lands on turn six, a bit over 50% for turn seven. It is a bad body for the mana, it is pretty easy to kill, it is going to come much later than other people's top end and there is a very real chance you have no where near 40 life nor look like getting there even if you do manage to get it to stick on the board. It does say win the game on it and it isn't a dud otherwise. It is useful to have a stalemate breaker and nothing breaks a stalemate quite like a card with actual win the game text on it. I imagine the best the card will be will all be at the hands of Windbrisk Heights.

Ajani GoldmaneAjani Goldmane is a cute addition. This is like the only deck where both the +1 and the -1 are good abilities! Ajani has always been the ultimate Procession follow up play, his issue is being so linear usually. In practice Elspeth or Gideon are probably going to perform better but it seemed wrong not including Ajani in the perfect spot for him! The vigilance is also going to be more relevant than usual as you are often in the business of protecting your life total.

Another cute addition is Faith's Fetters and it is probably just inferior to Cast Out, Council's Judgement or Unexpectedly Absent. I felt like I needed some general purpose removal and as all of it is somewhat clunky I figured I might as well play a clunky card that also has some bonus synergy.

Soldier of the Pantheon and Mardu Woe Reaper are probably necessary evils just to get that one drop count up. They can offer a feeble amount of lifegain but no where close to being good on that basis. You cannot abuse these cards in the way you can with Soul's Attendant or Martyr of Sands and you need the abuse to properly empower the payoffs. These two additions are primarily 2/1's for one. They give you more early plays and help to empower your global buffs. They help you play like a white weenie deck a bit more and they give you some dorks you are happy to use in a disposable manner. The lifegain aspect of these cards probably just falls into the cute category again and mean that you would be better off with Thraben Inspector and Kytheon in those slots. Sacred Cat is another interesting option in the one drop slot going a bit deeper on the support aspect at the cost of being a less potent stand alone card.

Legion's LandingWhile the Cat felt like an option Legions Landing felt like a must. It has all round ideal support element. The 1/1 token is good, it gets you on the board and it gets you gaining life. It triggers your sisters, gets bigger with your global buffs, and gains life as Sacred Cat would do! Then you get to flip it into a land which means you are kind of playing 17 which is super helpful what with all the 5+ CMC cards you are running. Lastly, if it goes that long, a 1/1 lifelink or bigger every turn will really really stall out a game and let you win with Sovereign or going wide.

Proclamation of RebirthProclamation of Rebirth is an odd one. The three mana mode will rarely be optimal in the early or mid game. You only have seven one drops so having three in the bin is going to be somewhat later in the game. Probably when you have already hit six mana. This is another reasons to consider Recruiter of the Gaurd. More things that can pull the one drops out of the deck when so much of the key cards are one drops sounds nice! As a forcast card this is super late game. It is later than Adanto, the First Fort or Felidar Sovereign. I feel like the card is going to get cast least out of all the cards in the deck but sadly I feel it is required. With less redundancy and a general lack of card advantage or protection against sweepers I think the deck is too fragile without it. In constructed the card is primarily used to abuse Martyr of Sands but that isn't how I expect the card to be used in cube. In cube it will be more copies of the soul sisters and Serra Ascendant. While other cards protect better against mass or spot removal specifically the Proclamation is the only card that really helps against both. It does also offer another aspect of inevitability. So much so that I considered Mistveil Plains. If you can perpetually recur threats and restock your library you don't loose the long game to very much. I think at that stage we are looking at more of a Proclamtion Martyr control deck and a cascade of potential changes would ensue. Dusk / Dawn is another potential way to get some more late game gas in this list. It is a bit clunky and awkward but also potentially very powerful even with some imperfect synergies.

Lone RiderThere are cards that could be refined all over the place in this list and I have drawn attention to them. Before doing anything like swapping Ajani for an Elspeth or Woe Reaper for an Inspector or anything like that I would look to simply replace Lone Missionary and Lone Rider. They are just filler cards. Off theme one drops would probably be better because one drops! These were the most powerful two drop dorks I could find that had lifegain aspects to them. Missionary is just a one off shot of life and has a pretty pathetic body. While it is nice having loads of incidental lifegain throughout the deck you are mostly trying to abuse multiple triggers or cards that will have a huge payout. Just gaining four life once is never a huge payout. You probably don't need that little bit of life at the cost of having a weak card. Knight of Meadowgrain is an upgrade in power now that I think of it and a pretty easy substitution and even Knight isn' thrilling  It is still just a dork and a relatively slow and small lifegain potential. Lone Rider is both a source of lifegain and a lifegain payoff card. The issue is much the same however. It is just a dork, either a terrible one or a decent one (that no longer benefits from Honor the Pure). You are not looking to win with these little edges. The payoff with Ascendant is huge while the payoff for Rider is fairly tame. It is good for a two drop but not just good period. Good luck winning with your 4/4 lifelink trample first strike thing once the four mana plus cards start to hit the deck. It is somewhat on theme but on closer inspection not in the most effective of ways.

Selfless SpiritSelfless Spirit is probably too important an insurance policy to not play over one of these weaker two drops. Although it has no life aspect to it it just covers you nicely in the area you are most vulnerable while also being a fine stand alone card. This deck needs to extend onto the board to really push the majority of the lifegain triggers and as such it is going to fold to a well placed Wrath of God. With no hand disruption or countermagic the deck is just a sitting duck. Proclamation is some help at recovering but more would be very welcome indeed. If I were doing this in a rotisserie I would likely draft some anti mass removal sideboard tech like Second Sunrise or just Hallowed Spiritkeeper in addition to running Selfless Spirit main. Even the shockingly slow Emeria starts to appeal more!

Land Tax is something I wanted to run but didn't find the space for. Such sillyness would make me want to run a Kor Skyfisher which would then in turn make me consider Oketra's Monument and another cascade of changes goes down! Path to Exile coming back being the first of those in this case. Should the list show promise and be fun to play I will likely try out all the variants I can imagine.

As ever I have presented a list chock full of the most synergy options so as to showcase the range of the less commonly seen cards. In practice the refined build of this deck is going to have a handful of less exciting but wildly more powerful cube mainstays. While I am fairly sure of which cards I want to cut and the kinds of things they should be instead. I will test out this pushed linear version first. The weaknesses of the deck will be better exposed so I can best assess how to patch them up. The various support cards may also surprise me, I might find Lone Rider is exactly what the deck wants! Testing is essential but I find I learn more in the testing process if I form expectations on cards before doing so. I know what Selfless Spirit does and how it will help so I can use that slot in testing for something like the Lone Rider in one of the only lists it will ever be viable. Not only do I get to see what such a card can do I also get to see how savage the matchup is in the face of mass removal.

Chalice of Life
Challice of Life is perhaps something I should test out as well. It is fairly slow and doesn't have any overlap with the creature aspect of the deck but it is both a lifegain trigger and and a payoff card. This seems like it would be more effective at ending a game than the Soverign and more all round use than Lone Rider. While I want to test it out it is not a card I wish to replace a creature with and so it is a bit harder to find the room for. Honor the Pure is the thing I would cut for it from this test list but that is just for testing reasons. In practice I have no idea what slot this should take or if it even merits one.

Lastly for the alternate options for this list we have the black aspect. There are three fairly big payoff cards in black for lifegain although sadly two of them are five drops. The addition of black to this list makes it very top heavy and that in itself would need some significant adjusting to accommodate. A black version would either be more midrange with better odds of hitting land drops all the way to five perhaps even with some ramp, or it would cut much of the white top end. Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Divinity of Pride are high stand alone power cards and good game ending threats.

Ayli, Eternal PilgrimAyli, the Eternal Pilgrim is the other black lifegain payoff card and is the thing I most want in this list. She is cheap, has a great starting body that controls the board well, offers utility and support with the lifegain ability and then turns into a complete beast should you hit 30 life. I expect the best builds to use Ayli. Once you go down that path, even if you ignore the five drops you still have things like Lingering Souls looking better than Procession, Sorin looking better than Ajani and that kind of thing. Even extort cards have something to offer a list like this. For an archetype that seems fairly narrow this has a lot of options and a fair degree of direction it can go it. It is going to take several goes at it to get it properly honed. At least with a weaker mono white starting point I will know which are the weakest links and therefor less likely to get carried over into alternate builds. Given how much I have talked about what should be changed from my proposed list it seems cruel not to give a proper one. The reason I shy away from doing so is because I don't know for sure, I can guess at what seems good but I will learn more about how to make a good thing by intentionally testing a weaker list. Anyway, this is the expected form of the best build;

24 Spells

Martyr of Sands
Serra Ascendant
Soul's Attendant
Soul Warden
Martyr of Sands

Legions Landing
Kythoen, Hero of Akros
Thraben Inspector
Mother of Runes

Sword to Plowshares

Auriok Champion
Ajani's Pridemate
Ayli, the Eternal Pilgrim
Selfless Spirit

Suture Priest
Suture Priest
Serene Steward

Spectral Procession
Proclamation of Rebirth
Lingering Souls
Recruiter of the Guard

Ajani Goldmane
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Faith's Fetters
Ranger of Eos

Archangel of Thune

16 Lands