Thursday 2 November 2017

Top 10 Fact or Fictions

Fact or FictionSo this is a bit of an odd one that will have a fairly loose definition of what a Fact or Fiction is, otherwise it would be a list of one, I guess I could discuss my art preferences... Basically I am looking for cards that are blue, instant, cost about four mana and are ways to get card advantage and/or perhaps card quality. A part of why I have done this is to examine what it is that so many cards that would fall into this category now see so little play in my main cube. Almost all the cards on this list are good cards, the older ones certainly have had a lot of mileage. It is noteworthy that all these cards (that are eligible) have performed very well in my budget cube - the buck cube. I would credit tempo as being the main reason behind that shift but there is more going on that just that.

Comparative Analysis10. Comparative Analysis

This had a little bit of promise I thought on the spoiler, I had been looking for a three mana instant speed draw two card for a while and hoped this might be it. It really wasn't. While it is better than Inspiration it is not by much. When you want to use raw card draw spells it is because you got a bit of breathing space, either you have nothing else to do or you have nothing to respond to. As such this very rarely had any use for the surge in practice. The decks than can easily trigger the surge are those that care a lot less about instant speed on their card draw. Once I realized that about this card in preliminary testing it saw now further play nor do I expect it to in the future. This was so weak in testing I didn't even bother trying it in the budget cube!

Scour the Laboratory

9. Scour the Laboratory

This is fairly easy to turn on for delirium and then you have a nice little instant speed draw three. This looks like a nice fair instant speed Concentrate and it is much of the time. The thing is even at instant Concentrate is not all that exciting, it is still a huge tempo setback and typically winds up either dead in hand while under pressure or a win more card when not. Sadly it turns out this isn't even as good as all that. One of the key times you want draw to be there for you is when you are out of options, either desperate for lands or answers. You often cannot fire off the desperation Scour as you have not yet made delirium and that makes it far too many concessions for such a fair card. As soon as you think about including things to improve your delirium for this card you should ask yourself about better alternatives to Scour.

Careful Consideration8. Careful Consideration

This is a big old draw four and always four mana and always able to be instant. This even has potentially useful graveyard synergies. Where this falls down is in card advantage terms. You only get a two for one at best and only if you play this in your turn. This is a bit slow for combo decks and it isn't providing card advantage in the way it is needed for the control decks. This saw surprising amounts of play around the time of its printing slowly tailing off to none by RtR block.

7. Gift's Ungiven

Gifts UngivenDespite how good this is in constructed and how well it works with singleton decks the card has pretty much always sucked in cube. Generally the best use for this is finding four lands. That way it is a nice instant speed two for one that helps fill the yard and thin the weaker draws from the deck. The other good use for it is a double Entomb when you only find two things. A few other combo decks can put it to good use such as Past in Flames storm builds. Your run of the mill control or midrange deck however struggles to get value from it. It is rare you will have four cards in your whole deck that do the same thing. If you want a game winning threat you have to empty your library of good draws and put your best two remaining threats in the bin. Specific answers are even harder to get with Gifts. The old double recursion spell and two things you actually want is horrifically slow. The card certainly has a place in cube but as a way of generating value or card selection it is super hard to pull off. Even the decks full of flashback and graveyard where you basically get four things with it are too slow. I recall once getting Faithless Looting, Squee, Chandra's Phoenix and Firebolt in a Forbidden Squee control build. It was loads of value but it is all very slow and fair.

Glimmer of Genius6. Glimmer of Genius

This card offers a whole lot of value. For this rating I have assumed the energy is worthless, I am just considering this a scry 2 draw 2 card. While not many cube decks have want of both energy and a raw card draw spell this certainly jumps up several spaces on this list should it find one to go in! Even so, at just scry 2 draw 2 the card gets a lot done. It sees as many cards as Careful Consideration, it suffers no cost to use it whenever you like and it is always a two for one with gravy. A three for one with drawbacks is a lot worse. People often equate a scry to half a card, I don't much like that comparison as they are very different things with different scaling. The average value of a scry might be around that, I feel like it closer to 0.4 of a card on average but whatever, that is just a different number that is equally unhelpful! What I do know is that a balance of scry and draw tends to be most effective. Either they enhance the effect of the other or they mitigate any poor scaling the other has. When digging for specific things this is better than a draw 3 and when you just want value it is still netting you cards. Very good card indeed. Certainly the closest we have ever seen to a FoF in both function and power level. Steam Augury is not the card you were thinking of...

5. Fact or Fiction

When this card first saw print it was being played in vintage or as we called it at the time "type 1" which certainly now has more the ring of a disorder... Fact or Fiction was basically the next best draw spell in magic after Ancestral Recall. A legitimate play was Black Lotus, land, sac the Lotus and FoF! Drawing cards has not become any worse in magic and this really was a big name across all formats in its day. Not many cards have improved on this old draw spell either. Arguably only the delve spells and they require support. FoF is a stand alone card and probably still remains the best (non Ancestral) of the unsupported draw spells. The whole point of this list is to look at why this has become so poor in cube despite still being so good. Fact or Fiction is good because you can always get 3 cards if you want, you sometimes get offered four although in those cases it is usually right to be taking the one card! FoF is also good because it goes five cards deep giving you better digging than basically all the competition. FoF also helps fill up the yard which many a strategy is thankful for. Lastly it forces your opponent to make choices based (generally based on incomplete information) which if they get wrong will further put you ahead. FoF is a whole lot more card than most of the rest of the list. We will be returning to why it is so low down on it later.

Think Twice4. Think Twice

Here we have a pretty terrible card in terms of power level. For five mana you get 2 cards. You pay one more than a Glimmer and you get two scry less. Sounds awful, and that is because it is! The strength in Think Twice comes in two places. Cost splitting and graveyard/discard synergies. You never have to have more than 3 mana at any one time to use this. While it is overall worse tempo than a FoF (as well as a worse effect!) the fact that you can more easily and more quickly play this in a way that keeps you safe allows you to get value from it where other cheaper overall cards are simply too risky to use. While not powerful this card is far more playable than the bigger spells. More playable in actual games and thus more easily included in decks. The second perk of Think Twice is when you get it in the bin either from a loot or perhaps by direct mill of some form (say a FoF...). In the former case you essentially turn it into a 2U draw two card. You lose the value of the loot when you do but not the fact that you had that loot well before you payed the 2U to get the card advantage aspect. When you mill it to the bin you get a 0 for 1! Not wildly unlike getting a free clue.

Hieroglyphic Illumination3. Heiroglyphic Illumination

A very similar card to Think Twice that is better in most but not all cases. Illumination is one mana cheaper in either mode, be that drawing one card or two cards. It pays for this by not having the option to do both. It is not wildly dissimilar to the relationship between Fire Bolt and Burst Lighting and most would agree that Burst is the better card all be it only by a tiny amount (and spell speed comes into it a lot there). The only times Think Twice is the better card than Illumination is when you have cost reduction effects, storm or prowess style triggers or a healthy amount of loot, discard and/or self mill. This may sound like a lot of things but given that both cards are quite low powered filler sorts of cards you don't see them all that often and competition between them is far from fierce! You are not going to play Think Twice because you have the support synergies, the card is just too weak. You only play it when you want that kind of card and then you consider which of the cards that fit that role suit your build best. In the general case if you are tight on mana or have loads to do then cycling this for one is hugely easier and more convenient to do than the 1U for Think Twice. The occasions you are going to need value and will have time and mana are also fairly clear fairly quickly. This is why Illumination is the better card than Think Twice excluding specific contexts, it is easy to use properly and a lot more efficient when you do.

Mystic Confluence2. Mystic Confluence

Certainly the priciest option on this list but I feel it qualifies none the less. Confluence has certainly taken up deck slots I would have considered for Fact or Fiction if I didn't have the option. As a draw spell this is far from exciting. A mana more for an instant speed Concentrate. Nothing we didn't already have. Confluence however is the only spell on this list you can play or sit on and not concede tempo. One of each mode still nets you card advantage and will trypically be a big tempo swing in your favour. Drawing 2 and doing one of the other options is also going to be reasonable tempo and potentially even more card advantage. Unlike most utility spells however this is never dead. You can plan to use it to react to something and then if you don't need to you can still use it to pull even further ahead. It wins more like other big card draw spells but it also plays from behind incredibly well and that is what makes this a huge card in cube.

Dig Through Time1. Dig Through Time

The biggest culprits of Fact or Fictions decline on this list is this naughty little card. While it loses many elements of the FoF such as opponents error, potential to get more than a two for one, filling up the yard rather than needing one to consume, the two key aspects of Dig trump FoF so hard it all seems pretty minor. Dig has a better effect and is has a vastly lower cost. It is like trying to compare Magma Jet to Lightning Bolt! Dig will get you the best two cards from seven rather than the best and like, the joint worst, from a mere five. Typically it does it for half the mana as well. Delve is a real cost but it is very easy to do in cube. The quicker your deck the quicker you fuel the delve and so most decks have it pretty well on line by the time they really want to be casting it. Treasure Cruise gives it a decent degree of redundancy as well. While Cruise didn't feel like it qualified for this list the fact that it can be just one mana makes it very easy to play in the control decks that want to keep up counter magic despite being a turdy sorcery! As the delve spells scale poorly with each other in cube it is not too hard to pick one up in a draft. With a relative abundance of cheap and powerful devle draw floating about in cube the pricier stand alone draw falls off a lot in desirability.

While the delve spells hurt FoF and those alike to it and were arguably the final nail in the coffin it was something else entirely that really ended the reign of FoF and Co.- the planeswalkers. Most of the planeswalkers directly or indirectly gain you card advantage if you want them to. The blue ones tend to have an option to put cards in hand while other colours will generate threats, force discards or remove threats. As card advantage spells take a while for them to confer their advantage on your game you are typically after a longer game. While the card advantage from a FoF will outclass what a four mana walker can do in one go the FoF cannot compete with a walker that stays alive over a number of turns. Both card draw and planeswalkers work well with a plan towards a longer game. Planeswalkers just do it better all round. The longer the game the more draw they are yet they still do good work in the shorter or more tempo driven games with other modes. In the situations where casting a FoF would kill you most planeswalkers will offer some form of protection or stall. All you really give up by replacing your FoF style card with some kind of Jace is the ability to play it at instant speed. For this you get the option on card advantage, stall, and often even a threat.

Jace, Architect of Thought
Jace, Architect of Thought is the card I consider to have been the real killer of not just FoF but really all the other three or more mana card draw cards. It wasn't that is was specifically Architect that did the damage, it was more the case of there being enough good walkers by that point that you could usually pick up the tier two ones without too much difficulty. Architect is such a clean replacement for a FoF being four mana, blue, and of course having one very similar ability. The -2 on Architect is worse than a FoF but it is still very potent. It finds lands, answer or action and can be a two for one right away. It has all the perks of a FoF but is just a little less punchy. Two goes on the -2 however is better than a FoF, it is an average of three cards and six dig compared to 2.5 and 5 respectively. In reality the average cards is probably lower on both accounts as you more often take the smaller piles. Even so, Architect is better pure card draw than FoF if you run him into the ground for cards asap which is one of the best ways to cash in a walker for value.

With cheap delve draw and efficient card quality being what you want as low cost ways of digging through your deck and typically planeswalkers being the heavy hitting cards you use to fill up your hand there is very little room left for cards like FoF in cubes these days. FoF only makes five on this list in which only the top two actually see much play. Treasure Cruise and at least a good four mono blue planeswalkers all would sit above it too if they were eligible for the list. Even dorks like Champion of Wits and Torrential Gearhulk have hurt to value of the tempo-less card advantage. For card draw to be good in cube these days it has to come in some modular offering like the planeswalkers or Mystic Confluence. That or it has to be sufficiently cheap like Chart a Course, Cruise, Dig and arguably the cards where you pay with time rather than mana such as Search for Azcanta and Ancestral Visions. They could now print a "UU - draw two cards" instant and it would be fair in cube. Even the 2U instant draw two I mentioned wanting for a long time at the start of the article wouldn't even be very good now.

Fact or Fiction was perhaps too powerful at the time it was printed and it is too weak now for anything bar some mild standard play if it were to see a reprint. It was mostly the power of the card at the time that made it iconic but the complexity and good design helped a lot too. I would like to see more attempts a recreating it in the way Architect of Thought does so well. I enjoy the FoF split mini game, indeed a whole draft format arose from the card design!

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