Tuesday 7 November 2017

Top 18 Recursive Dorks

Nether ShadowThis is a follow on to the Decline in Sticky Minions article series. It will compare and contrast all the recursive creatures for cube use. Usually this would include cards cards like Kitchen Finks under the community way of defining things. For the purpose of the series I wanted to break it down a bit further and couldn't think of a better word for this group. Cards like Kitchen Finks are in a group called "replacement" creatures for which the top X list is already out. Despite me having removed a subsection of cards from this group it is still one of the most diverse and certainly the biggest. There are cards that can come back over and over, there are those that only do a thing once, there are those that will do it do it automatically with some condition met and others you just sort of cast again. Some will come back directly to play and others will go to the hand. The main thing linking all these cards together beyond the fact they need killing more than once is that they all have some graveyard synergy. Discard or self mill on these cards will allow for some free extra value.

While I claimed this is the biggest group it is far from an exhaustive list.. Many of the cards are old and have found power creep unkind to them. Many more are incredibly narrow and require heavy support to be worthwhile playing. While I have included a few cards you wouldn't put in a drafting cube for being too narrow I have not included things like Ichorid and Nether Shadow, there are a couple of places in constructed cube formats where you can play those cards but you are essentially building around them and the decks are not even that good. Some newer cards like Anionter Priest will also do some work in cube at some point but again, in dedicated decks. They will not be good in drafting cubes and as I have not built with them yet I don't want to pass comment on them.

I also don't really consider unearth cards to be part of this group.  While they have the being in play twice thing and the graveyard synergies things going on they are not sticky, they don't need killing twice. The unearth is far more like a spell.

As with the last list this will have an asceding rating relating to the position within the group but also an approximate out of 10 scale akin to how I evaluate cards on the reviews so that you can compare it to the cards on the other lists.

Trueheart Duelist18. True-Heart Dualist 1.5/10

This is more of a Fog than it is a sticky minion. Call of Bears is what this is and the more impactful 3/3 iteration has seen no play for a long old time. This generates little threat or value because 2/2s don't do too much. This chump blocks well hence being an OK Fog but basically no decks want that. This is four blocks in two turns for five mana which is better than Squee at two blocks for six. This even absorbs an extra point when being trampled and can deal twice the damage back! You are not playing Squee as a chump however so outperforming a weak cards secondary function is hardly a big win. If your primary function is chumping you better at least be able to block fliers... The body and cost of this recursive dork stop it being a good tempo or a good value play despite trying to appear as if it were both!

Sacred Cat
17. Sacred Cat 3/10

The Doomed Traveler of this group of cards. It has a slightly better front end and a weaker back end. Mostly it is just two bodies on a very cheap card. Overall this is a little weaker than the Traveler with the extra cost usually being a downside and the lack of flying crimping its ceiling. Not really a problem for a premium cheap support card you only play in fairly specific places. You are not as urgent for sac outlets with the Cat as you are with Traveler but they are still nice. You also get to have some synergy with discard outlets as well. You are likely to play both if you are playing either.

Squee, Goblin Nabob16. Squee, Goblin Nabob 3/10

Typically you play Squee to empower cards with a discard cost such as Forbid. You can just use him to turn a deck full of loots into a deck full of draw a card effects as well. Doubly cute as one of few cards for which Gamble is a premium tutor! While this is the role of Squee I have had many a game where I run him out and use him to chump block for a number of turns in a row. Cards like this show why threats without some kind of evasion suck even if you don't see too much of Squee in drafting cubes these days. The reason being is that just including cards to milk value over time leads to inconsistency. Your discard effects are weaker than intended when you don't have Squee and when you don't have the discard Squee is pretty nut low. It is not a card you can just play on curve so that you didn't waste mana. If you did that you absolutely still wasted mana!

Dreg Mangler
15. Dreg Mangler 3.5/10

A nice aggressive card that would still be in the cube if it were not for the narrowing effect being gold has on a draft card. A 3/3 for 3 with haste is good in cube. You don't need to toss anything else on that to make it playable. This has extra gravy and so it is one of the better 3 mana 3 power haste dorks on offer. This is easily the weakest recursion in the list, you have to pay five and you have to have a dork to put it on and you can lose that dork and your bonus value fairly easily to removal or trickery. You don't much care as this is one of the best front end cards out of any of the recursive or replacement creatures. This has fallen off in play mostly due to black green aggro decks being less common to see. Gold cards that only go in one slant of an archetype are already too narrow for a drafting cube.

Flamewake Phoenix14. Flamewake Phoenix 3.5/10

A 2/2 flying haste for 3 is ok, it has some immediate action and applies some reasonable pressure, particularly to planeswalkers. Red certainly has punchier threats on offer but this is a little more enduring than most of the others. This kind of card is often referred to as the paupers Sulphuric Vortex. You might not take two from this yourself but I think I would happily pay that to prevent lifegain potential in a lot of red decks. While this looks like you can discard it and cheat it out for greatly reduced cost the need to have a four power dork in play makes this super unreliable and slow to the point of being more than fair. It makes it far less good in aggressive red decks as they have few if any four power dorks to resummon this. In the more zoo like decks with more in the way of bigger dorks this is less interesting of a play and generally a bit of a win more card. If those decks have a four power or more dork in play they should be winning most of the time without need of a free 2/2 flier. The fact that this must attack also prevents it being much use in midrange and slower decks as it removes the defensive potential beyond the first turn should you hard cast it post combat.

Vizier of Many Faces
13. Vizier of Many Faces 4/10

This is pretty potent as Clones go. It is a good answer to a hexproof dork or really any massive dork you can't handle in some way. The double dork or single free dork off the back of a discard are both very appealing to blue. The good clones in cube have all been the cheaper ones and they are on the inconsistent side. They are very potent against the big decks and terrible against the small ones. When a card is best against what your colour already excels against and doesn't help you where you are weak as well as being highly situational I hate it. This is a good Clone but it is still a Clone and not one of the cheaper or punchier ones either. I like this more than Control Magic but a lot less than Treachery. I like it more than all the other mono blue four mana or more clones but none of the ones that are three or less.

Chandra's Phoenix12. Chandra's Phoenix 5/10

The better of the Phoenix. This card simply affords you more choices and control over how you put it to use. It is never a great tempo card but it does its job well enough. It can often be used like a Squee generating value from discard but it is also a useful card to play out. Aggressive decks can expect to recur it as they will do damage to face with spells and or walkers. Slower decks will have less opportunity to recur it but being able to block is generally more important in such decks. Snipe out a walker and then hold off Lingering Souls is already worth a card and three mana so getting it back will feel like free value. This card is on the verge of being too fair for cube but does still get run and does still get work done. It is a surprisingly broadly playable card. Other than Pia red does not have many cards you would consider as suitable in midrange decks in the three slot.

Bloodghast11. Bloodghast 5.5/10

This little critter is so convenient you wind up playing him in quite a range of places. Most aggro decks in black will just run him. The card I feel he is most like is Patches the Pirate from Hearthstone! Super low threat level but often enough just free value. Outside of aggro decks the Bloodghast still offers a good amount of support and utility. He is the dream card to pair with Skullclamp. He is a lovely fuel for Recurring Nightmare, Carrion Feeder and Cabal Therapy too. He can be used to protect against your own symmetrical disruption cards too like Smallpox, Braids and Smokestack. Black is a colour full of discard and sacrifice outlets and the little vampire spirit has great synergy with all those things. Not being able to block and having such a limp body makes him one of the least useful creatures to have in play, only doing much in combat on offence when they have nothing or you are going wide. This is important as the card would be oppressively good if it was that much more relevant on the board. Bloodghast is good because he is the lowest cost and highest consistency for your ability to recur him. A sac land can recur him twice in a turn!

Vengevine10. Vengevine 5.5/10

When first released this was a good stand alone dork, a 4/3 haste for 4 was just decent. This has gradually become less and less true. Now Vengevine needs to be paired with some synergies in order for it to be worth playing. Vengevine just doesn't have the impact of the things you can do with a four mana card now in the cube. When you can use it like a Bloodghast however the card is pretty nuts. Discarding the Bloodghast and never having to pay the two mana to get it into play feels like a big win so imagine doing that with a four mana card! Two creatures in one turn is not very hard to do in cube at all. It is not even that hard to do it several times in a game. I have been hit in the face on turn three with a Bloodbraid Elf, a Boggart Ram-Gang, a Lotus Cobra and a Vengevine in a completely unpowered cube. The card used to power out this play was the humble Faithless Looting on turn one. Obviously this is pretty much the best case and a lot of that glory comes from the Bloodbraid Elf. Even so, it is a huge swing when it happens and that is generally up to you. It it not the consistency of making two dorks that limits how busted your Vengevine will be but rather your access to good discard outlets. There has been a "from the bin" style archetype in cube since Zendikar block came and gave us these nice recursive dorks. It is either Jund, Sultai or Golgari and has discard and self mill to empower getting value from the bin. It is OK but a little fragile. With all the support and stuff you don't have much space left for good old disruption and removal to get an interactive game going on. Further to this, by the time you have build up a critical mass of free graveyard goodies and pulled ahead you are starting to look rather depleted on things in your library. You need to win with what you have and you have to do it soon! A fun deck but it really wants multiple copies of Vengevine to perform well in cube as it is the best of the payoff cards. Vengevine is nuts in decks built around it but those decks are generally on the fair side. In good decks the Vengevine typically downgrades to a fair card himself.

Gravecrawler9.   Gravecrawler 5.5/10

A lovely little one drop aggro dork. This is a more rounded version of the Bloodghast. Being a one drop just makes it wildly more reasonable to cast. Gravecrawler is a good thing to do with your turn one while Bloodghast is a weak thing to do with your turn two. You don't need discard to have this be a good tempo play yet it is still good value with any discard you do have. Gravecrawler does still support the other cards Bloodghast supports quite nicely. A mana is still pretty cheap and the ability to do it multiple times makes it a far better late game engine with things like the Carrion Feeder or Skullclamp. The need of another zombie reduced the playability of the card but zombie is a common creature type in black so it is often little to no work housing this. A great aggro card and sometimes a nice support card in the same vein as Bloodghast as well.

Angel of Sanctions9.  Angel of Sanctions 5.5/10

This is a very middle of the road card. It is high powered but not something you actively want in many places. It is a bit value, a bit threat and a bit removal. Anyone remember Decimator Web? No, that is because it is the nut low. It does three different things at once and you pay for it such that it doesn't do any of those one things even close to well. That is somewhat how I feel about this card. Obviously this is much better, all the things it does are more proactively good and relevant and it is a much much higher power level of card. I have played it a bunch and it has been fine. It has always made me feel pretty safe and that is a good sign. I find myself holding it a lot but it is a pretty nice card to be sat on (unless you are mana screwed and are holding a bunch of other top end...). It feels like filler but it is powerful filler which is not something I am all that used to! Of all the times I have played Angel none have been because I actively wanted to, it is always one of those final cards I add to a deck to round it out in some way. The slower and more midrange your cube the better this will be. I quite like my five drops to have more swing potential, higher threat level or to be more direct in their role but much as I don't love this card I cannot fault it on performance thus far.

Adorned Pouncer6. Adorned Pouncer 6/10

Not a gripping card by any means but a fairly good all round cheap aggressive dork. As white typically runs creature buffs this has good synergies within the kinds of places you might want it. Good with equipment and good with Anthems. Also a nice card to offer some comeback potential after a board clear. White's weaknesses are card advantage and, for the aggressive decks at least, vulnerability to board sweepers. Any card that has synergy with your good things and covers your bad things is a good supporting card. The eternalized Pouncer is also quite a serious stand alone threat. While you shouldn't expect to connect with it all that often it will act as a Call to the Grave pretty effectively against most players! The things that keep this card tamer are that it is just a 1/1 making it vulnerable to a lot of cheap removal. Most games don't go long enough for the eternalize to be relevant and so getting your two drop killed with half a Lava Dart will set you back a lot.

Earthshaker Khenra5. Earthshaker Khenra 6.5/10

This is pretty much the red equivalent of Adorned Pouncer. Just a good all round on theme card for any aggressive deck. Khenra has significant immediate impact both from having haste and from potentially allowing other creatures of yours to attack. As such it is absolutely the better of the two at the front end. The difference between five and six mana is pretty huge to an aggressive deck and so the eternalize on Khenra is rather weaker. I have seen it used very few times indeed, mostly because the red deck has just won well before they get to six mana! The comfort it gives in construction knowing you are able to go longer and the threat of it when it is in the bin both contribute a lot to the value of the eternalize. It may not get used enough for it to seem that good but when you factor in the perks it brings even when not being used it is a big part of the card. It would be average at best without it and not see loads of play. As it is the card gets a lot of attention and is a pretty popular two drop dork.

Scrapheap Scrounger4.   Scrapheap Scrounger 6.5/10

This card is pretty tedious to play against. Most of the answers to it either feel wasted on it like a Path or Plow or they simply don't work very well. You don't want to trade with this in combat but it is pretty big for the cost. That makes it hard to hold off or race. The card is very easy to cast and is often splashed into decks with little to nothing in the way of black in them. Instant speed recursion as well as acceptable tempo in terms of mana cost make it a great card to get back. Scrounger effectively has flash more often than not. Scrounger is also an excellent crewman for vehicles being able to do all of those in my cube alone. Being unable to block makes it a card you only really want in aggressive creature decks but his light coloured mana requirements, artifact/discard synergies, and other many perks make him pretty common to see. All of the creatures that recur but fail at blocking got a lot better with vehicles coming along. Scrapheap wasn't around before them but he would have gained the most of the lot if he had been! The three power compared to the two the others combined with being a colourless artifact all work well in his favour when looking for good crewmen.

Bloodsoaked Champion3. Bloodsoaked Champion 6.5/10

Pound for pound this doesn't look better than Scrapheap Scrounger. Champion has more colour intensity and a higher mana cost on the recursion in relation to its stats. Champion gets most of its value from being a one drop and black having so few decent ones. You can play this turn one and get ahead in tempo or you can toss it away late game and get some bonus value. While relatively expensive and limited to being in your turn you can spam it for multiple goes on a Skullclamp or some other sac outlet. Scrounger cannot be spammed as something to sac as you run out of things in the bin to remove. Scrounger is also too big to be great with Clamp. Gravecrawler is better all round than Champion when you have the zombies in your deck and in play but being narrower is usually worse in cube. Champion can trigger his own raid and can chump attack each turn if you like. It is very easy to turn it on with other dorks too. A good all round tempo card and support tool than can be milked as a value engine with a number of different synergies. A good example of where playability trumps raw power for many different kinds of cards in the cube setting.

Dread Wanderer2. Dread Wanderer 7/10

Unusually we seem to be going up in recursion mana cost as we get higher on the list with these one mana black 2/1 dorks. Wanderer is certainly the most onerous to recur, while having a low hand size is relatively easy, paying 3 mana for a tapped 2/1 is really only much good if that mana was not otherwise being used. Wanderer is simply the best of the bodies. The ability for it to block makes it not just an aggro card or an engine card. You can use it in a defensive capacity and therefore in midrange decks. It is a high tempo one drop and a late game value source, all be it fairly low value. It is the closest thing black has to a Thraben Inspector! It is high levels of playability rather than raw power that give this card its high rating. While not so often abused this card is simply used more often!

Champion of Wits1. Champion of Wits 7.5/10

This newcomer isn't a bomb card but it is incredibly well rounded. You can pretty much play it anywhere which is the sign of a great card. It is one of those cards with a huge list of synergies and generically desirable traits. A 2/1 body for 3 is far from a good tempo play but it is a whole lot better than casting a Compulsive Research in terms of tempo. Even if you are not getting beaten up in cube by some aggressive horror you still want to have some board presence to combat planeswalkers. Champion's 2/1 body has proven more useful all round than the 1/3 body of Sea Gate Oracle. While the Oracle is a better defensive card against early aggression a 2/1 is far better all round. It applies more pressure and trades up in combat more effectively. The nature of this card makes it one you are less concerned about having killed by a Lava Dart as well so low toughness isn't a big deal. The front end of Champion is all pretty fair. It is like casting a Snapcaster Mage on a Careful Study! It is nice if it sets up some other synergies but just using it for card quality is still good. Champion is just a good use of three mana in a generic sense. It progresses the board and improves your cards thus advancing your position in the game in several of the more relevant ways. Where it gets rather out of hand is the back end. Champion is rather a beating when you eternalize it. It pushes most games out of reach with a huge influx of cards and a sizable body to go with it. Much of the power of the 3 mana mode comes from the fact that it makes your opponent feel like the game will be lost when you get to seven mana! Most of the things on this list come back the same as they were the first time round. The few others that become empowered second time round do not scale up quite so effectively in terms of power per mana as Champion of Wits does. Further to that those other eternalize cards on this list are pretty linear, they are just efficient beaters front end and bigger beaters of the same sort of flavour at the back end. Champion is more rounded to begin with but evolves into a card that performs additional roles - that being card advantage. Hard to go far wrong with this great early game setup card that turns into a late game finishing move!


  1. good list! I will have to try pouncer and champion of wits, given your glowing endorsement.

    I disagree with you on the dread wanderer ranking, as i think that card is worse than both of the other black one drops. In my experience, costing 3 AND only recurring at sorcery speed does this card in. if this guy could come back EOT he would be a house (a la scrounger). But since you have to recur him on your turn, he tends to get sweepered then snap (or gearhulk/second) sweepered while eating a bunch of your mana. gravecrawler and bloodsoaked also have the sorcery speed drawback, but they don’t cost as much to bring back so the tempo hit is much lower. I’ve also found wanderer’s one card condition can be awkwardly hard to meet at times, and it is a nonbo with all the black suicide card draw effects.

    I agree w you that crawler and bloodsoaked are narrower cards than wanderer, but i think they are more powerful enough that it outweighs the wanderer’s potential versatility.

    1. Thanks and have fun with Champion of Wits!

      I imagine the makeup of cubes has a lot to do with how people find the various 2/1 dorks on this list to perform. Aggro black isn't great in my cube hence my list having the most midrange of the options on top. Anyone who has a good aggro black option in their cube will likely find the reverse is the case. What cube list do you play with? I would be interested to see cubes with strong black aggro options.