Wednesday 31 January 2018

Eldrazi Green

Thought-Knot Seer
I have done a lot of attempts to make the BfZ Eldrazi cards work in cube the way that they did so brutally in constructed. I have done Bant Eldrazi and colourless Eldrazi tron yet both are found lacking. The issue with these decks has been redundancy. You simply don't have enough of the big name cards to carry you. A single Thought Knot Seer doesn't get it done when that is a big part of your payoff. The various iterations of new Eldrazi decks are potent because they can run four of each copies of the big name cards. The resulting cube copycat decks have 50% more of the singleton one off cards such decks might run in constructed and just a third or so of the big name core cards that it wants. Eye of Ugin hits home pretty hard why the deck doesn't work well in cube. Mostly it is a liability as it is a land that doesn't tap for mana as you don't quite have the tribal density of the constructed builds. You might get to make one or two Eldrazi with it but your deck will have enough non-Eldrazi cards in it in cube that for consistency reasons you are better off with a basic Wastes. There is little advantage to making your Seer a turn early if the cost of that is then making your Wurmcoil a turn later. While the good cards are still really good in cube you just don't have enough of them to make the synergy cards that go with them very impressive. You also just don't have enough of them to carry the deck you put them in. Trying to make a deck where your Eldrazi are the only real payoff just isn't quite there. If you could play two or three of all the core cards then the deck wold be good and nuts respectively but not as it is.

Eye of UginAffinity had this problem a tiny bit right when Mirrodin first came out. Without heavily using the power artifacts you simply didn't have enough on theme playables to make a singleton 40 card deck and even when you did you were still rather light on the bomb payoff cards with just one Ravager and one Plating. Time has been kind to affinity since then and it now has plenty of options without any need of using old broken power cards to fill out the ranks. This isn't too surprising as it is just artifacts that synergize with affinity. Eldrazi are not going to get the same kind of inevitable drip feed of new playables over time being a flavour thing rather than a fundamental part of the game. Basically, if I can't get Eldrazi working with what we have now I shouldn't really bother until we revisit an Eldrazi plane.

So, if Eldrazi are not going to work as a main theme I just need to find a theme that already exists that is either light on playables or easy to strip back to make some space in. Ideally that theme will have some good potential overlap with Eldrazi in some way. The first one of these half and half decks I tried was a fairly big success and, as the title suggests, was a green build. I used the shell of a mono green ramp deck and inserted my Eldrazi package into it and the results were good!

Boreal Druid
24 Spells

Ancient Stirrings
Boreal Druid
Search for Tomorrow
Unbridled Growth

Joraga Treespeaker
Wild Growth

Grapple with the Past
Satyr Wayfinder
Mind Stone

Warping Wail
Warping WailWalking Ballista

Matter Reshaper
Ramunap Excavator

Though-Knot Seer
Surrak, Hunt Caller
Garruk, Wildspeaker

Reality Smasher
Ishkana, the Grafwidow
Nissa, Vital Force



Grove of the BurnwillowsEmrakul, the Promised End

16 Lands

Llanowar Wastes
Karplusan Forest
Grove of the Burnwillows
Hashep Oasis

Kessig Wolf Run
Eldrazi Temple

Wooded Foothills
Ash Barrens
Field of Ruin

4 Forests

A few other cards that would work nicely in this list.

Talisman of Impulse
Vessel of Nascency
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
All is Dust
Traverse the Ulvenwald

EndbringerThe core Eldrazi cards are the Matter Reshaper, the Seer, Reality Smasher and the Warping Wail. These are your powerhouse Eldrazi cards and the reason to be supporting colourless mana. World Breaker is nice and has some synergies but isn't exclusive to this kind of build with it not needing the colourless to play it. End Bringer is also nice (particularly to a green mage) but does require that colourless support. Emrakul is another odd one, she has some synergies with the Eldrazi package but only minor ones and while, like Worldbreaker, she is a card you can play independently of the tribe she does still require a lot of delirium style support. Due to her inclusion this list is almost a delirium Eldrazi list. The delirium support cards are all fine inclusions but they ending up taking up a significant amount of space in the deck and making a a number of the build options not really options! Emrakul is the main thing I am undecided about on this build thus far. I like how some of the overlap is neat and how it gives you a solid top end but you might just be solid enough in the middle of the deck not to need such an extreme top end. Certainly my next version of this deck will try and not include her or the delirium package to allow me some compare and contrast testing.

World BreakerThis list is essentially a green deck with a significant colourless splash of five (and a half if you count the activation on World Breaker) cards. The reason it works so well is that these few colourless mana cards complement green fairly well. End Bringer brings some creature disruption, direct damage and card draw to the party. Warping Wail is countermagic and exile quality spot removal and the Seer is highly potent hand disruption. Between these three cards green gains a huge amount of disruption akin to splashing Dimir Charm, Prodigal Sorcerer, Transgress the Mind and Last Breath. Useful effects from all the other colours effects in the pie that green has nothing like itself at all. Matter Reshaper and Reality Smasher are not quite so far away from green things in terms of the colour pie and do not offer quite such tasty non-green things to the list. What they do bring is just some very high powered and well rounded cards. They are often both tempo and value at the same time and that is the hallmark of a good magic card.

Ancient StirringsThere are some nice support cards to go with this list. Ancient Stirrings is outstanding with over 60% of the deck as targets and with a nice range of effects within those targets. Card quality that can find land or action is a good start and Stirrings will find action all along the curve as well as the majority of the disruptive and interactive cards. Boreal Elf is also a nice one to have. It is essentially just an Avacyn's Pilgrim but for colourless. Due to already having the green mana to make the Elf means tapping for just colourless is about as good as you can get and should mean the card outperforms not just other mana elves but also things like Birds of Paradise because of the fixing. Much as green has all the two mana ramp options it could want I went with a Mind Stone in the list. It is a good delirium support card but also is just a good all rounder. The fact that it is fixing as well cycling ramp pushes it well above its usual expected power level. I considered a Talisman for the extra fixing but felt I would rather the ability to cash it in for more value.

The Ramunap Excavator is sitting in the slot usually taken by Courser of Kruphix in these kinds of deck. It just seems like it was a bit too good to miss out on with the many nice utility colourless lands and the various things filling up the graveyard. Without the delirium aspect of the deck and the many self mill cards the Excavator probably doesn't have enough support but it is totally fine to cut. While it fits in nicely it is not supporting anything else and so no deck reworks are required. Without the delirium aspect of the build lots of things could be trimmed or simply replaced with a more flexible option. Things like Unbridled Growth, Satyr Wayfinder and the like are purely support for the Emrakul (and the Ishkanah) and would just be filler cards without the delirium.

WastesThe mana base is one of the things I am happiest about. Eye of Ugin makes a deck like this worse, don't play it. There are a healthy amount of lands that tap for green and colourless but mostly the green will be painful. As such you want a good amount of these but not all of them. Ash Barrens is better than the 4th pain land and I even found myself cycling it for Wastes! Kessig Wolf Run was one of the reasons I chose to build this deck as I rate it as one of the best colourless lands in cube. It is a very good top end win condition but usually comes at a more significant cost to a mana base. In this list the cost of running it is pretty negligible and that is great. Part of the reason I am looking to cut the Emrakul in my next build of this is because I think I can just ride the Wolf Run in those games where I need a super game ending card. Sylvan Scrying and other such things are common in green. With access to Eldrazi Temple they are ramp, Wastelands make them disruption and Wolf Run makes them a threat. With land tutors I think I would be very happy losing the extreme top end and relying on lands to push through that win for me. Primeval Titan into Wolf Run Inkmoth Nexus has been a game plan for many a deck in many a format and that would work in this list better than most. Do not underestimate the value of Wastes either, always run one and two is not a bad way to go. Being able to find them with things like Tribe Elder and Search for Tomorrow is a very big deal.

Reality SmasherTo play with this deck felt like it was part Zoo and part green ramp. Sometimes it would just curve out with brutally all round powerful cards that it would just steamroll through any opposition. Other times it would casually ramp up to huge bomb cards while controlling what was going on. It has most of the strengths of a green ramp deck without any of the weaknesses. I didn't feel like I just needed to scoop if they made a pinger or indeed one of many hard to handle dorks with effects and abilities. I didn't feel weak to counterspells and mass removal. I felt like I had a healthy degree of options and interaction allowing me to properly play magic rather than just playing things out as the deck gives them to me. It wasn't just that this deck was seemingly very powerful that I was so drawn to it, it had far more to do with having a solid rounded feel, reduced weak spots and a greatly increased range and depth of options. The only real downside of it is that it might be a little too reliant on narrow cards to be a good inclusion in a drafting cube. I presently have most of these cards in my drafting cube and have had this kind of deck made a couple of times which is promising. It is far more than most of my "exotic" decks get in the limited formats. This is generic enough in its use of cards to be a viable deck for limited cubing and a powerful enough one for constructed cubing.

Tuesday 30 January 2018

Grand Prix Tournament Structure

This is an off topic post and has nothing to do with cube so I'll keep it short. I still follow most big events, all the PT level events and any GP I have an interest in the format or people attending. The last couple of GPs I have followed have had several people I was following go on amazing runs winding up X and 2 which is insanely good for a 15 round or more event. That is better than I have ever done in a swiss and I would expect such a result to be a lock in for top 8. Well, in these vast GPs it turns out X-2 only gets about half the people on that record into the top 8 and it is a gross tie breaker affair. Now I think tie breakers are a good system when it is deciding a slot in the top 8. When it is choosing half of it then that sucks. What must really really suck is putting in a blinding performance, going X and 2 over a two day event and still not making top 8 due to events rather outside of your control.

What makes this much worse specifically in limited GPs is that day 1 is a bit of luck fest, day two is the real skill tester. You can just open a great pool and ride that pretty hard for your day one. In day two you have to be good and lucky to get it done. Now, the way tie breakers work is that they penalize early losses. The way GPs work mean that early losses could very easily just be down to a crappy sealed pool. Someone who goes undefeated day two after working their arse off on day one with a weak pool to scrape in X and 2 deserves that top 8 slot far more than someone who went X - 0 with a bomb pool on day one and to then go 4 - 2 in day two. Limited GPs must make a lot of players feel shitty but worse still, they are probably rewarding the wrong players more often than not when it comes to top 8 tie breakers.

I think the GP has outgrown the swiss format. I think a straight up double elimination bracket system as is so often used in esports events would work far better. I am sure there are plenty of other ways of working a big two day event that would not feel like such a let down for players. At the very least I think having points equal to someone in a top 8 of such a big event should count as a top 8 for things like HoF considerations, perhaps they do? That is the case for propoints and invites at least (I think?) which shows that the issue is a known one. This doesn't affect me at all but I do really feel for the people that it does. It seems like quite an easy fix at least.

Thursday 18 January 2018

Cards to Make Cube Better

Recently I have been having some discussion with fellow cube enthusiasts and it turns out that we feel a little under catered for by the good folk at Wizards. We have money we want to spend on Magic cards but not the product worth doing so for. Certainly it is a hard task making all the people who play the many formats of magic happy. I am not a man who knows about marketing, business strategies and all that sort of crap. All I know is what kinds of cards I want to see that would make me excited to get and cube with. I suspect my wish list will be incredibly dull compared to others. I am all about the cheap cards! I want to make things more consistent and more skill based. I want new cards that will see lots of play and change up the pick dynamics and potential archetypes and this can only be done with cheap cards. We need more in the way of core staple cards but this is trickier than it sounds with the cube power level being so high. Luckily there are some things cube is more keen on than other formats and so you can print things that would be a lock in for cube use but not also for modern and legacy. This article will simply be ten of the cards I have designed myself and some discussion about what problems there are in cube and how best to solve them.

So here we have two very simple cards that are basically just other cards with cycling added. Both of these cards solve issues within the cube that are mostly black's problem. Black has lots of powerful cards and effects but most of them suffer from being dead from time to time. Discard effects are useless when opponents are out of cards and black removal tends to have target restrictions which can make them useless in some matchups. Cycling is the perfect solution for cards and effects like these. That being said, it has to be done right. Expunge is not a good card but that is because it is so costly. Creature removal is good at two or less in cube, it has to offer rather more to merit the three mana tag. I don't want to pay more for the same effect on a card just because it has cycling but I am happy to pay the same for a worse effect. Inquisition of Kozilek would suck at two mana regardless of cycling however a worse version at one mana is just the ticket. In the case of my removal card I am taking the base line card as Doom Blade rather than Terror (despite the flavour) because Terror is too weak these days. In cube black has struggled to do its thing very well because so many of its core effects can be dead. As such they have to run fewer of these cards than they would like to do so as to limit their risk exposure. Cards like Doom Fall have been really impressive in cube, not because the card is all that good, simply because it is a discard and removal spell in one which massively lowers the risk on it being dead. It lets you play a discard and removal count closer to what you would like to do without a downside. Both of my low powered cycling options let black do black things without winding up with a hand full of blanks.

The Inquisition iteration is especially valuable as black has so few playable one drop discard effects and those are really what define it in most other high powered formats. Most constructed black decks are at least 10% (including lands!) Thoughtsieze/Inquisition when they can be but cube decks can't get above 5% of those cards. Green has one drop ramp for days, white literally gets a new 2/1 for 1 every set, red has a long old list of playable one mana burn and blue has swathes of card quality and disruption in the one slot. In cube draft black players need to hit all their good one drops to keep up while everyone else has far more to choose from and should always have enough. Black sorely needs more one drops and the cube would appreciate more discard and disruption effects. Only blue and black really have the ability to interact with spells. Without access to one of those two you are at the mercy of what your opponent wishes to do to you which might be Armageddon or something equally revolting. Blue counterspells in cube outnumber black targetted discard effects a good five to one. That puts strain on things and simply isn't great for balance. My cycling Inquisition injects more playable one drop discard effects into the cube without going above the existing power level. It also allows individual decks to play more discard effects due to this one not suffering any diminishing returns.

I have been so impressed with Dissenter's Deliverance I really want to see a lot more of that sort of thing. A red version would be nice, another one to hit enchantments, perhaps a blue Remove Soul iteration with cycling. Cycling is just one of the best mechanics they have ever added to the game, perhaps only behind scry, and we don't see it enough. It is a good thing in general to have but for certain kinds of cards, like these two, and like Shatter, it makes all the difference. Amonkhet gave us a taste of some really good appropriate uses of cycling on fair situational cards and now I am hungry for more!

Another one of my favourite mechanics is investigate and it has only been in the one set unlike cycling things so there is still plenty of design space to explore. Cards are a huge resource in magic. They are one of the most important ones alongside mana and they are of high value. A lot of effects are simply not worth a card regardless of the cost. Sadly you cannot fix this simply by adding "draw a card" to such things as drawing a card is so powerful, it is a major change not a minor one. Gut Shot is often too low damage per card to merit inclusion however Zap is simply too much mana for that kind of effect. This leaves a big gap in potential design. You want to be able to add on 0.2 of a card or something so that you can fairly balance cards in the low mana cost region. Clues are the perfect balancing tool and really help you explore design areas on cheap cards with low value effects without having to tangle with awkward or impossible fractions of things.

I basically want to see loads of cards stripped back using the power of investigate. Either making existing cards more powerful by replacing draw with investigate or by making them cheaper. All we have here is and instant speed Preordain with and extra scry and an Ice for one less mana. Empowering cards with draw effects on them is only part of the magic. You can turn almost any unplayable garbage into a good card with use of investigate. As stated, the best use of that is to make effects that are otherwise too low impact playable at the appropriate cost. Nobody ever thought they wanted Devoted Hero but give that guy a clue and it turns out he is amazing. I basically want to see every iteration of a card design using clues to allow for a one or two mana printing of a card that is otherwise too expensive with "draw a card" and too low power to forgo the card reimburse costs all together. I even quite like the idea of a partial clue where you can sac two of these partial clues, perhaps for no mana cost, in order to draw a card. This would allow for a kind of balance where by you get closer to adding fractions of the value of "draw a card" onto a cheaper card. It would sadly be rather narrow, especially for cube. There would need to be significant printing of good cheap cards with partial clues on them for there to be any real expectations of ever getting value from them. I'm certainly happy with clues and am eager for more. The real genius of the mechanic is how it lets you tap into the finer tunings for card design at the low cost end of things and there is loads of room to expand in that area.

Unsurprisingly another mechanic I am a huge fan of is treasure. I love how it lets you stretch normal limits for cards. It is inherently more dangerous than clues as well as being rather harder to design with. It is very easily abused and the design/testing teams showed good understanding of this in printing only very tame treasure cards. You can however afford a little more scope in design when you are giving them away rather than collecting them for yourself. This card is perhaps a touch on the powerful side and may still even be abused for mana ramp. Exile my 8 mana delve creature, have all the mana on turn three and win in any number of ways. Easy solve, this has to exile a creature you don't control. Bad card design... Any way. The cube needs more premium removal. I have tried many different cheap unrestricted exile removal effects in white and few come out right. Typically they are either totally over powered like Swords to Plowshares or utter garbage like Reciprocate. This comes closer than most and would be a refreshing addition to the vey well worn in suite of white removal presently in cubes. I like how this card is fairly pure. It is one for one removal that hits anything and at a very reasonable rate. It is however always a tempo loss, you are always down two mana when you take something out with this. The issue with removal for the cube is that is has to compete with cards like Council's Judgement and Swords to Plowshares and it is super hard to design cards that do that without having them be oppressive in other formats. Certainly Payoff is a powerful card but it probably doesn't replace Path to Exile in modern and could be printed in a standard set. Removal is not only an area we need to see more power creep in it is also an area that doesn't really suffer when you over do it a bit. An over powered threat is an issue but a removal spell is far less so.

Next up on my wish list is more interesting one mana ramp. While green probably has enough one drop ramp to sustain it the pool is a bit bland. Wizards don't look like printing any new one mana ramp, even in green, and certainly no better than Llanowar Elf. This means unless they have a big change of heart with regards to their design policy we won't be seeing cards like this printed in standard legal sets ever again. People don't get overly excited for one mana ramp cards and so there is not much call to print stuff like this in the non-standard legal sets like commander and conspiracy. Cube could really use it though, just one every now and again, like every four or five years would be fine! This Ignoble Anarchist is pushing it in terms of power level. It isn't better than the other premium ones but it is in the same league and might well end up seeing legacy play. It is designed for flavour but also for colour balance. Green feels like it has loads of incomplete cycles of mana creatures.

A card such as these Forest Goblins would also be very satisfying to have in a cube for a number of reasons. It would pad out the Avacyn's Pilgrim / Elves of Deepshadow partial cycle. It would offer an interesting alternative to Llanowar Elf without being strictly better or worse. It would offer good redundancy to the Grove of the Burnwillows forced lifegain effect and could be paired up with Punishing Fire and Kavu Predator with better consistency than before. That is one thing that could be done in general to cater better for cube players. Many great cards are not worth getting and using in cubes. Punishing Fire is a fine example of such a card as it simply doesn't have enough support with most cubes being singleton. Redundancy is a huge feature in making archetypes a thing. Red deck wins and white weenie are not the best decks because of their raw power or high numbers of broken cards. It is because they simply have a lot of good redundancy in the low curve of key on-theme cards.

Next up on my wishlist is simply more card quality for all the colours. There is no real reason to restrict it to blue. Blue already has countermagic, raw card draw, bounce, stealing things, cloning things and just far more colour identity than it should have. Card quality makes the game a better game by reducing bad luck. Wizards must agree with this to some extent as they have dipped into giving some colours some kinds of card quality. Red got Faithless Looting and some Tormenting Voice variants and green got a bunch of things that looked really good compared to some of the blue options but lacked the ability to find all card types. This idea of giving colours more thematic card quality as has been done so well in green rather stuck with me. As such I have a bunch of cube power level card quality spells that are intended to be somewhat themed to the colour. This red one for example is an instant Preordain which is very powerful but it has the classic red exile rather than draw and briefly concedes information to offset this. I would say Preordain is the better card still but it is a little bit too close. I am not sure printing something very similar to a banned card in modern is a great way to go but then I don't think Preordain should be banned! I think if combo is considered a problem in a format then better disruption should be printed rather than trying to make such things too inconsistent to compete by hitting the card quality. To my mind things that don't generate resources, act as threats or have any way to gain tempo shouldn't be the problem. That is a general design philosophy rather than one specific to cube. Combo is even less of a problem in cube simply due to singleton lowering consistency.

This is my favourite of the black card quality cards. It it not as well themed as some of the others but it is a lot more interesting. I had very dull scry 3, lose 2 life, draw a card for a black mana at sorcery and that felt black and felt on par for power in cube. It just felt a bit unimaginative! The Old Three Cup Trick however does some really cool things. It is essentially a Sleight of Hand with some upside and some downside. It feels black because it has graveyard interaction and the capacity for your opponent to do some nasty things to you with your own card. Best case scenario this card looks three things deep, finds you something you want and puts two cards in the graveyard ready to be put to use in some other way. Worst case scenario this cycles into the card you didn't need costing you mana, conceding information, and reducing the number of "hits" left in your deck. While I don't normally go for cards with a large range on performance I don't really consider this card to have a wide range nominally, only when compared to Sleight of Hand. The range on this is fine, what makes it really cool is that Fact or Fiction feel of incomplete information and bluff. This is a very interactive card and it adds a whole lot to the game without doing too much. It is entirely fair on power level yet is very playable in a wide array of archetypes. It is a pretty simple card yet has so much to offer the game on many different levels and for both players. It is an all round incredibly skill intensive card and that it what I want to see more of most of all. This makes the game better not only because of the type of card it is but because of the card design itself.

Here we have another example of me trying to emulate strong but fair blue card quality - Looter il-Kor. I like this card for loads of reasons; It feels like a really good power level of card. It feels nicely red. It has some elegant interplay with the mechanics which not only make the card more relevantly option rich, it also mildly increases the ceiling on the card. At worst this is a Merfolk Looter you have to discard before drawing with and that you have to do in your turn before combat. At best however it is a looter that can get in a free point of damage each turn while doing it's thing. Looter il-Kor is the Lava Axe Looter for good reason! While shadow has a lot to do with that this little Goblin will greatly benefit from being in red and having lots of cheap removal and other more dangerous threats applying pressure allowing this to slip on through comparably easily to the il-Kor inspiration for this card. Even if this only gets in for a few damage before it has to hold off attacks that is a pretty big deal in red who will be using damage as their primary win condition in most cases.

Green doesn't need the card quality as much as black, white or red but this was just the best example card I could find with my mechanic wanderlust. I was simply looking for a way to avoid screw and figured a card that turned into a land when you stopped making land was a nice double edged sword. While it does seem like quite an interesting mechanic I don't think it is a great solution to flood and screw. It helps a little with such things but probably not a patch on a simple looter. All my other cards with the wanderlust keyword were threats in some way and as such you were given incentive to keep making lands so as to keep the threat in play. With this you may want to have it trigger simply to shuffle away the top two cards of your deck. There are a lot of top of library synergy cards in cube for which extra support is always welcome. Sylvan Library is perhaps too good and yet Mirri's Guile is rarely played. Much as it is a nice effect to have it is too often not worth the card cost. With Ranger's Correspondence you don't have the capacity to abuse it for cards when you are flush with life as you do with Library but you are not forced into being down a card as you are with Guile. This version of that effect simply falls in the sweet spot between those two cards hopefully making it fair yet very playable.

Lastly we have this beast! Not only is this the most dangerous card of the ones offered here this is one I would want as a cycle as well, every colour needs one of these! Tutoring is considered highly dangerous by the people who make the cards and historically that is accurate. Tutors are good because they empower combos and combos are good because they often bypass convention. Lots of decks in the past have simply had no equipment available to them to counter combos. Either they went faster or they lost and tutors make combos fast. I think this is a bit of an outdated hangup though. It is like those people who always dismantle their car stereo whenever they park. No one wants to steal your crappy car stereo OK? Just leave it there and save us all some time. I don't think combo should be feared the way it is nor should it be countered in the way it is. Printing better answers to combos in all the colours like Dissenter's Deliverance, like Rampaging Ferocidon and Harsh Mentor. That is how you keep combo in check. I want to see tutors being used like the old school rock decks used to do in extended. You would see people Vampiric Tutor for Duress and that was great. We don't get to see Tutors being used in midrange and control decks because they are printed prohibitively weak for such decks. Any way, once you take combo decks out of the equation tutors like these are incredibly fair. Paying a card and a mana is a big deal. In cube however with it being a singleton format having access to more reasonable tutors would be lovely.

So that is the sort of stuff I want. Cards that see lots of play because they help the game rather than because they are rife with power. I appreciate all these cards are all potent cards but I was designing them for cube and not for standard or limited. I tried to ensure none of these would just ruin any of those formats. Rarity can solve a lot of problems you might have in limited already so that is probably fine. Standard would be the main concern but there are ways of bypassing that issue. Most of the things I have designed that I think would benefit the cube are cheap card quality cards and removal. This is a slice of the best of those but I have done far far more over the years and this sample is not all that far off representative of those! In a nutshell then I think we need more cheap cards, more card quality, more removal and more things to challenge some of the staples. I have designed quite a lot more exotic cards with escalate and other modal excitement. Cards generally with a lot more text than a lot of those shown here. While they might be slightly more interesting cards the point was finding stuff the cube needs most and it turns out the cube needs cheap and simple things more than it needs exotic stuff. There is a huge amount of space in the cube for cards like these shown here yet we rarely see a card of this caliber. There are far fewer spaces in the cube for top end threats and gold cards and yet we are offered far more of those kinds of cards than we are those that we actually need.

Thursday 11 January 2018

Devotion Green

Wild GrowthApparently this sort of deck is getting a lot of traction in modern at the moment which I find quite interesting as it has been an increasingly popular direction to go in cube. I added enchantment ramp to the cube a while back and it has helped maintain a bursty ramp style of deck in green that isn't vulnerable to burn and mass removal in the same way as those leaning on Gaea's Cradle and creature ramp. It has also greatly increased the power of Arbor Elf and Garruk Wildspeaker! There are a lot more advantages to using enchantment ramp beyond safety and abuse with untap effects. Those are the main two certainly but you can make use of nice synergies such as Enchantress effects or delirium more easily with so many extra enchantments in your list. That is basically the premise of the deck, enchantment ramp as the core combining with Nykthos to empower delirium and with untap effects to double up on ramp earlier in the game.

The modern shell of this deck is very similar to most incarnations of green ramp decks in the cube. The modern build has a bit more reliance on tutors and a few less old broken cards it can use. The main difference is that I am not running Burning Tree Emissary in this list, you don't have the consistency in cube to merit wasting a card on a 2/2. The extra burst it provides does not offset the power per card cost in cube.

Oath of NissaIt is not all upside, by using the enchantment ramp over creatures you lose some consistency on your Overrun kills via Garruk and Craterhoof which are your main routes to victory. You also lose some general utility in protecting and threatening planeswalkers. The list I have given below is not super refined or tested, it is an example list showing the various cards and ratios you want to be looking at when doing this sort of thing in cube. It is threat light compared to my more classic versions of ramp green but this list makes up for that with more tutor, dig and recursion effects than I normally run. It can get away with less threats overall using only the premium ones it needs in combination with the dig and tutors. While it is space efficient it is a little rougher when you come up against lots of removal and mill effects. 
Arbor Elf

24 Spells

Arbor Elf
Wild Growth
Utopia Sprawl
Oath of Nissa

Magus of the Candelabra
Joraga Treespeaker
Llanowar Elf
Garruk WildspeakerFyndhorn Elf

Sylvan Library
Fertile Ground
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Eternal Witness
Courser of Kruphix

Garruk Wildspeaker
Eidolon of Blossoms

Nissa, Worldwaker
Nykthos, Shrine to NyxPrimal Command

Primeval Titan

Hornet Queen

Craterhoof Behemoth

Walking Ballista

16 Lands

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Kessig Wolf-Run

Stomping Ground
Wooded Foothills
Raging Ravine

10 Forests

Eidolon of BlossomsI didn't even bother running Cradle in this list. While it is great it comes with two vulnerabilities, doing nothing until you have dorks and doing nothing again when your dorks get killed. Low land hands with Cradle can often need throwing back where you could have kept if it were a forest. This deck doesn't need the Cradle as much as other ramp versions as it has more things that generate multiple mana and is more focused on safety and consistency.

I ran an Eidolon of Blossoms as a source of card advantage. It is basically a direct replacement for Oracle of Mul Daya that you can do in this build. I like most of the things about it but it does make me want Explore effects more. Getting a load of land clogging up your hand that you can't put to use is annoying and with a decent amount of draw and not all that much pulling lands out of the deck I can see that happening from time to time. Perhaps you can run both the 4 mana 2/2s!? If not I would at least like to find some room for Explore.

Traverse the UlvenwaldAnother mini theme you can run that I did not in this list is a delirium one. Traverse the Ulvenwald is a lovely card in this list finding all the things you want it too once you have delrium. Ishkanah is immensely powerful even with no access to black mana and these kinds of deck have sufficient mana production to go all the way up to Emrakul, the Promised End. Having Ishkanah and Emrakul in your list, especially with a tutor for either, greatly reduces the pressure on your Craterhoof Behemoth as the win condition which in turn reduces the pressure on you to maintain a high creature count. As you can see, green ramp is an immensely deep and diverse deck in how you can build it in cube. Even the different directions you can take it have themselves multiple distinct things you can then do.

Walking Ballista feels a bit like a must in this non delirium version of the deck. My experience of using Nykthos is that it tends to be overkill mana. While it may not have the same burst potential as Cradle it does tend to produce rather more mana, both in one go and over the course of a game. As such you want a powerful mana sink and for that none come better than Ballista. With it being such a significant role filler in the deck I ensured all the tutors I played would be able to find it effectively which sadly does rule out a lot of the exotic stuff that is being abused in modern.

Magus of the CandelabraEarthcraft and Magus of the Candelabra are quite full on. Neither do huge amounts without a land that taps for multiple mana, specifically a basic one boosted that way for the former. These are probably things you can cut for more stand alone cards, likely alongside Growing Rites. I mostly wanted to showcase some exotic and unusual cards! I always like it when a deck lets a card shine in cube these cards have multiple things going on here that make them especially well suited to the list.

I didn't bother adding in too many utility dorks which I likely should have. Acidic Slime and Scavenging Ooze are the most appropriate and appear in most modern lists. The lower threat count and high tutor count makes such inclusions pretty sensible. Failing that a little more utility disruption might well be found in planeswalkers such as Freyalise, Karn and Ugin. Not to mention all the Golgari ones! If the exotic cards like Magus then I would be looking to replace them with some disruptive tutor targets or indeed more dig effects.

Below is a list of many more cards ranging from the exotic to the every day, from the limp to the powerful. The main, if not only thing, they have in common is that they are also suitable cards for this kind of deck. There is no huge logic to this list other than it being cards I considered while making the list which I felt either sad or bad about not having included!

Sylvan Scrying
Elvish VisionaryGaea's Cradle
Voyaging Satyr
Elvish Mystic
Abundant/Unbridled Growth
Karametra's Acoloyte
Dragonlord Atarka
Xenagos, God of Revels
Candelabra of Tawnos
Hope Tender
Elvish Visionary
Wall of Blossoms
Vessel of Nascency
Oracle of Mul Daya
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Scavenging Ooze
Acidic Slime
Chord of Calling

Monday 8 January 2018

Rivals of Ixalan: Conclusions and Additions

Despite seeming like a very silly theme for a set when Ixalan first started to be spoiled in the summer I have to say I think the block has been a big flavour win. I like the feel of the sets, I love the things that flip into lands. The art on those new uncommon dual lands is divine, if only they were good! That sentiment sadly permeates throughout the set, particularly RIX - if only it was good... Rivals has to be the least powerful set relative to the cube I have seen in over a decade. It is not just that it is low average power but it is also an incredibly safe set. All the good things are not dangerous or powerful cards, they are just suitable cards. There are a mere six things I am willing to call outright good enough for the cube but most of them are borderline and none of them are bombs. I think the highest rating any card got in the set was a 7/10 and one of those was to a jumped up Savannah Lions! All six of the additions are creatures and they mostly have two power. None of them will really change much in the cube. Some things will have more options, depth and power but so marginally it isn't going to shift things at all.

All the interesting cards in this set are so narrow there is just no chance of them working out well in a drafting cube unless you ruin if by putting in as much support as you can find for these cards. Stuff like Induced Amnesia and Blood Sun can do awesome things but are not cards you can just put into a cube and have them do stuff. They likely both need other do nothing low powered cards to make things happen.

Ixalan block has brought a lot of things for tribal decks, mostly vampires and merfolk as pirates and dinosaurs were not a thing prior to the block. While there are a lot of good cards for the vampires and merfolk they are not doing all that much for the drafting cube either. Tribal themes are hard to include in any sort of draft format without making it narrow, dull or imbalanced and cube is no exception. Tribal decks are great fun and many are pretty powerful but they should sensibly remain the thing of the more constructed formats. Two mana lords for example are great, they are some of the best tribal cards on offer but they are not having any impact on the drafting cube. While I am very welcoming of all the new tribal offerings from this set it is a little bit of a shame that so many good white vampires and green merfolk saw print. In both cases it now feels like you really need to be Mardu and Simic respectively for those tribes now and in some senses that is a restriction. Green is certainly the least appealing colour for a tempo blue deck to pair with as both colours fail at killing creatures. White may be a happy third colour for vampires but three colours does put a lot of strain on a mana base for a tempo deck.

Of the six added cards I would not be at all shocked to see only a few remaining in the drafting cube in a couple of years. They are typically just not that much of an upgrade and are such common sorts of cards I can see many better things coming along and taking their slots. I have two and a half times as many cards to test out than the auto includes. I don't really hold out much hope for any of them bar Jadelight Ranger and Dusk Legion Zealot. All the cards are very much suffering the same troubles as the actual inclusions, they are mostly just dorks that don't change much. Some might be a little bit of fun to try out but as I mentioned several times in the reviews, many cards feel like they are 5 to 10 years overdue. So many things from this set would have done loads of work in older versions of the cube but power creep is to a point where few of these things really hit the bar. Basically as far as cube is concerned this set might as well not exist and things would be pretty much the same. As a cube player I don't expect much from any given set but it would be really nice to get some interesting and exciting cards rather than safe, tried and tested versions of the same thing. The fact that they have printed bad Rampant Growth for a while now is a pretty scary omen. I think they have balance and card design sufficiently well mapped out and understood now that they need to intentionally start pushing the boat out so as to make things generally more interesting. Some braver card design is needed.

I used to think as a cube player there wasn't much call for Wizards to cater for my needs, I wasn't contributing in the way a drafter or constructed player would economically. I have however given some thought to that attitude and can probably in fact make a pretty good case for why it would be well in Wizards interests to consider cube players as well as vintage, modern, EDH, standard, draft, and the rest. Sure, the job is already impossibly hard to perfect but you only need a couple of cards per set to keep us happy and take our money. Hell, you could put it all in the Commander sets and not have to worry about imbalance. I spend more on magic now just as a cube player than I did when I played the game full time both constructed and limited. A lot of that is down to my personal economic positions at those times but still, the point remains, there is money I want to spend on magic as a pure cube player and this set is only going to get at a fraction of that due to how dull and weak it is for cube. Take my money! Make more cube cards! Creep that power more adventurously! At least make more good removal, it is not like that can ever be too oppressive!

To add to the drafting cube

Thrashing Brontodon
Ravenous Chupacabra
Skymarcher Aspirant
Warkite Marauder
Direfleet Poisoner
Direfleet Daredevil

To test out

Paladin of Attonement
Jadelight Ranger
Tilonalli's Summoner
Baffling End
Dusk Legion Zealot
Rekindling Phoenix
Fanatical Firebrand
Azor's Gateway // Sanctum of the Sun
Mastermind's Acquisition
Twilight Prophet
Wayward Swordtooth
Curious Obsession
Oathsworn Vampire
Riverwise Augur
Martyr of Dusk

To get for constructed uses, sideboards, combo and tribal decks etc.
*indicates an actually good card with some homes already

The Immortal Sun
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
Tendershoot Dryad
Gleaming Barrier
Journey to Eternity // Atzal, Cave of Eternity
Elenda, the Dusk Rose
Radiant Destiny*
Seafloor Oracle*
Merfolk Mistbinder*
Daring Buccaneer
Admiral's Order
Legion Lieutenant*
Induced Amnesia
World Shaper*
Pirate's Pillage
Dead Man's Chest
Profane Procession // Tomb of the Dusk Rose
Silent Gravestone
Forerunner of the Coalition
Forerunner of the Legion
Forerunner of the Empire
Forerunner of the Heralds
Deeproot Elite*
Flood of Recollection
Golden Demise
Crafty Cutpurse
Slaughter the Stong
Release to the Wind
Blood Sun
Pitiless Plunderer
Hadana's Climb*
Expel from Orazca
Reckless Rage
Jungleborn Pioneer*
Jade Bearer
Shake the Foundations
Grasping Scoundrel
Mist-Cloaked Herald

Rivals of Ixalan Preliminary Review (Final) Part IX

Stormfleet Swashbucker 1

Scourge Wolf seems like a far better version of this. It is better to begin with and seems quicker and easier to turn on. By the time you reach ascension a 2/2, doublestriking or otherwise, is going to be super low impact unless you also happen to have some equipment to put on it. Not close to enough payoff for a card that is mostly a Grizzly Bear. Perhaps in a tribal deck?...

Pride of Conqueror's 1

Cheap and one of the more likely aggressive cards to have the city's blessing for. The problem is mana shouldn't be the issue when using this kind of card, it should be later in the game. Consistency is more important and so a card like Guardian's Pledge has more value. This isn't a bad card it is just a little too awkward for the kind of effect it has. The balance of cost, effect and consistency are not ideal.

Curious Obsession 4

This seems pretty acceptable all round. The low cost to play this combined with the immediate stats boost means this should be able to avoid immediate blowout removal and get to swing in forcing a chump or a draw. All in all this should get immediate value a lot of the time if played in an appropriate deck. What makes this good is that it is then an ongoing threat they must deal with else they are pretty done. Three cards or chump blocks from this should be most games sealed up and two would be a big win. If blue had more playable cheap dorks and less Illusions that die when you target them among those cards then this might have a shot at the drafting cube. I think in the right deck this is a good amount of tempo and value and commands some respect.

Everdawn Champion 0

This is a bit small and pointless to do much of much. It is no True-Name Nemesis that is for sure! I think Beloved Chaplain probably does more.

Expel from Orazca 3

This is a decent card that sits alongside Into the Roil and other such 1U non-land Boomerang (Disperse) effects. You get the baseline acceptable bounce effect and then some value. This set is full of these safe baseline cards with mechanical or flavour bolt on effects. We have the ascend Infest, the raid Cancel and now we have the ascend Disperse. Expel turns into a Temporal Spring when you have the blessing which is a pretty big deal. It is substantially more powerful than Disperse, I would argue also that it is better than a kicked Into the Roil (cost aside) but that is more up for debate. The kinds of decks that want cards like this typically don't get to 10 permanents very quickly and while the upside is nice it is not the game breaking kind of upside found on Cyclonic Rift and that is the sort of thing you want as an effect that only comes on line later in the day. A bit of extra value and disruption are not really worth the wait. Most of why these kinds of cards are good is because you can use them in a wide array of situations from very early one. That flexibility and tempo is worth the card loss. As such you end up using these cards early more than you use them late. This means that with Expel, you would see a fairly small bonus a fairly small amount of the time and so the card really doesn't average out as that much better than Disperse. Something like a Cyclonic Rift has such a game changing effect that even if it is not commonly used it still has a big impact on the value of the card. Anyway, this is a fine spell but there are not many situations where this is the choice Disperse and it clearly isn't more valuable than the Rift on average. The kind of place I might play this would be something like a Lanterns deck in modern, pretty good there!

Knight of the Stampede 0

Nope. Poor stats, no immediate bonuses or impact. You can do worlds better than this for a four drop ramp card, you can do plenty better at three, and in neither case would you have to limit yourself to ramping into dinos. This just comes far too late and at far too much cost for what it is trying to do. Support cards want to look like Kinjali's Caller and Otepec Huntmaster, not this.

Oathsworn Vampire 4.5

This is a great tribal and themed deck support card. Vampires have sacrifice and discard synergies on the go and this works with both of them. Lifegain is fairly common in vampires and so this should be a pretty easy trigger to get. It is just an overpriced Diregraf Ghoul but any dork that comes back from the bin cheaply and can block is decent. If you are initially discarding this and then exclusively recurring it then it is broadly rather better than Dread Wanderer. Lifegain probably isn't common enough in my drafting cube to support this as much as it would need. It could be done but I don't think this is quite enough payoff to be worth doing that. This is a great card in a few places and that is happy enough.

Reckless Rage 2

To get an instant speed Flame Slash you need to Shock one of your own dorks. That is painful and unreliable and not something you would consider doing unless you had enrage triggers to milk. At that point this card is looking like rather good value. Super narrow but certainly immensely potent when you are able to turn drawback into upside. This is also cute with Threaten effects. The more I think about it the more support applications this seems to have. In some ways it is a red Cabal Therapy kind of thing that lets you fire off your Academy Rector etc.

Relentless Raptor 1

This is solid enough. In the decks you would typically want to play this the drawback isn't going to be a huge one. It is very well designed in that the vigilance can also be a drawback on this card. I would love to have seen this as a mono coloured card costed at 1R or 1W as then it would have been cube worthy. As it is you might find this in a dino deck but that is it. No way this is getting in the cube before Veteran Motorist.

Riverwise Augur 4

Brainstorm on 2/2 legs for four. This is neither great tempo nor great value. This is only a two for one if you consider a 2/2 (in the midgame) to be worth a card. This is only tempo if you consider doing anything to affect the board as tempo. I think doing nothing isn't the baseline you want to work with for evaluating tempo but what you consider the average thing to be done on that turn. Certainly the average turn four in cube is far more tempo than a 2/2 and so I would call this card a mild tempo concession. Where this does start to look really good is as a way to put three new cards in your hand without breaking the bank on mana or crippling yourself on tempo. It is a Sea Gate Oracle that digs a little deeper, has a bit more significance in combat and that can help setup certain library synergies. There are lots of occasions where you make a Jace knowing all he is doing is the one Brainstorm and then eating an attack. Riverwise Augur does that bit of Jace better than Jace does! I think this will see a bit of merfolk play trying to enjoy the combination with Aether Vial. I think this will see some play in decks doing things with the top of their deck like miracles and Erratic Explosion. Beyond that I am not sure that this has a huge role to play in cube. Four mana is just so much to pay for a card with zero threat and no ongoing value potential. I will certainly test this out, never underestimate a draw three card. I have done so too often to my peril! This will probably have more chance in modern where Brainstorm is a much more reliably potent effect (with everyone eligible to play upto 40 sac lands!) and library manipulation from hand is minimal.

See Red 1

Hmm, normally creature enchants are terrible as they let your opponent two for one you easily. In red however getting in two damage is typically worth a card. You want more but it is a passable baseline. I can see this flopping down on a one drop turning it into a 4 powered first strike dork. This not only ensures 2 damage from the See Red but also milks a further 2 damage out of the one drop. Much like the blue enchantment, this pays for itself, all be in it a different kind of currency, on one hit. Given that it is cheap and potent enough to make that one hit happen pretty reliably assuming you have a decent creature count the card feels like it is good. It offers ongoing value and pressure and good tempo. It reliably pays for itself and breaths new life into otherwise useless cards. Despite this praise it is likely still too low powered and narrow for the drafting cube but these cheap creature auras do seem the place with most of the power creep at present. We are due a new updated Rancor level of card soon! I think I will test this out a bit just to see how it feels. Madcap Skills is probably just better than this so I don't know why I am more drawn to this. I never considered testing out the Skills when it was spoiled. Perhaps it is just an indication of how tempo driven things have turned in my cube over the past couple of years.

Slippery Scoundrel 0

This would be worse than Invisible Stalker if it didn't need the blessing. Given it is the kind of card you would use in a deck that didn't get the blessing all that quickly the card is a no hoper.

Jungleborn Pioneer 4

This is probably just what a fish deck wants. On its own this is very low powered however it takes very little synergy to make this pretty great. Hexproof scales with strength and so on a 1/1 it is near worthless but make that a 2/2 unblockable and it is rather more significant. A simple lord turns this three drop into a rather tasty looking 5/5 of stats. Fish decks want merfolk tokens for loads of reasons but have had few good options to do so until now. This is direct, uncomplicated, immediate and exactly what most fish deck need.

Jade Bearer 2

Sadly this is not another premium one drop for the fishes. This is no use turn one and that is when the one drops are needed. You might play this just for a cheap merfolk in a very aggressive list but it isn't solving one of the issues the deck has. I don't think it has the power level to really compete with the two drops and that is what this card needs to do. The best thing this does is of course, with Aether Vial. This is a really good thing to pop out on turn two when you have a Vial on one and you just cast a two drop fish. If you kill an attacker or counter a removal spell with it you probably just won.

Cacophodon 1

This has combo potential written on it but it also smacks of a convoluted and bad combo. I doubt this ever sees cube play, it certainly isn't good enough as a stand alone card.

Tilonalli's Crown 0.5

This has some lovely versatility in that it can ping things down or buff up your own guys. In the dream it can buff your dude and get an enrage trigger! All nice in theory but all a bit too best case scenario for what is really a quite low powered card.

Shake the Foundations 2.5

The damage output to cost is not great but the card draw side of things feels like it really makes up for that a lot! Instant is lovely too on a card like this. This is too clunky to run main in anything and doesn't seem like a drafting cube card at all but it is a fine enough sideboard tool to have and makes red that bit more dynamic without giving up any colour pie identity.

Reaver Ambush 1

A non devoid Complete Disregard. It never took off and it wasn't for lack of being black so this shouldn't either. Three is just too much to pay for a card that is generally killing things that cost three or less. It is too narrow given how hard it is to gain tempo from it. Instant and exile are nice to have so for specific purposes this might be the card of choice, like in the sideboard of something constructed.

Grasping Scoundrel 3

This is terrible compared to what I would consider a good one drop beater these days but it is still plenty good enough to be playable and still one of blacks better one drop beaters. If this were a vampire or a zombie this thing would be getting some action, as a human he is probably just missing out but still, depressing that a card this limp is still a consideration.

Mist-Cloaked Herald 3

Shockingly Triton Shorestalker is one of the better one drop merfolk on offer and has always impressed me when I use it. I expect exactly the same from this card!

Snubhorn Sentry 0.5

Cool card. A wall early and then some action in the mid to late game. This isn't offensive enough to play in an aggressive deck and it isn't potent enough to go in control or midrange. Perhaps this goes in a dino deck? Seems unlikely but I do still like this card.

Martyr of Dusk 5

This is a nice little support card. It is very mild wrath protection, it is good with token sacrifice archetypes, it is better with Honor the Pure than Loyal Cathar is! It is good with Skullclamp, it is probably just good enough to play in tribal decks. This is a super fair card but it certainly has several homes. It is fringe playable in the cube, great filler and great for fine tuning archetypes and balance but not a high powered card by any means. I suspect this will be fine, I suspect it will see some play but mostly it will not be in the drafting cube. This is a Carrier Thrall in white, probably a less good one and certainly in a colour that needed it less. Thrall sees minimal play and is approaching the cutting block. RIX seems to have printed loads and loads of cards exactly at the point at which they have stopped being cube worthy... Cards that would have been solid auto includes five years ago and best in slot a decade ago. It almost feels like the game is getting too mapped out and balanced which in turn is making it duller. I want as many of the cards in a set to be playable as possible and that has been improving well over time. Sadly it seems like it is at the cost of the bombs and we are seeing less and less interesting cards that change the dynamic of the game.

Blazing Hope 1

Curious little card. This seems pretty bad for cube all told. It really shouldn't have any targets until you are at quite a dangerous life total. This is basically useless against an aggressive red deck as by the time it kills anything you are one burn spell off dead. This is another card that would have been great against Marit Lage, perhaps there are some unbannings in the pipelines? It is decent enough against Death's Shadow too but I think Condemn probably already has that role locked up in modern for white. In a deck like Necropotence or Death's Shadow this could be used more effectively as removal with so much control over life totals but they are not typically white archetypes. I see this as a super narrow sideboard card and probably nothing more. It is narrow and generally unplayable like Dispatch but it doesn't have the obvious homes in which to shine like the Dispatch.

Sunday 7 January 2018

Rivals of Ixalan Preliminary Review Part VIII

Azor's Gateway // Sanctum of the Sun 5

Well well well. When I read this the first time I was so surprised I made some indescribable exclamation noise, the closest I can do for a description is a guffaw. I greatly appreciate the insane raw power this offers. A land that taps for two is usually pretty broken so why not have a land that taps for at least three times that? This is just so much mana it is past the point of useful to have more. It is not ten times better than most other lands because you probably can't spend all the mana it offers on the turn you get it, let alone subsequent turns! This might as well read, flip this to gain five life and have all mana costs of spells and abilities reduced to zero (outside of infinite combo potentials at least). For this to be tempting in a deck you really have to have mana sinks. This only offers mana so unless you can do some special things with a total boat load of it then Sanctum of the Sun is not for you. I somewhat feel like that pushes the card into the realms of narrow. Yes, all decks love mana but this is so much and so slowly that you really need to have built around it to get any real sort of payoff. It isn't great in a ramp deck as it is slow to flip but it wants to play with the sorts of stuff ramp decks have in them so as to make use of the mana. I am looking at this card back to front however as all these flip cards hinge on the front end. If Azor's Gateway is good then five life and just a land is a fantastic payoff already and you don't need to fully abuse the infinite mana to make it worth while.

So, what is Azor's Gateway? It is a two drop looter effect that offers no graveyard synergies. It is a weak support card as such but still a playable card quality effect. Two mana upfront is the standard cost for a looter that can loot once a turn. This requires a mana to do each loot but I think that is fine with it being possible in any colour, something you can do right away, not a rummage, and not on a vulnerable 1/1. If you are in the business for some slow card quality then this is fine. It is mostly better than Treasure Map on the front end and that card has performed well and seen plenty of play. The only time it is worse is when you cannot risk exiling certain cards in your deck. All told, this has a lot of similarities to Treasure Map. Both are quite cheap and very low initial impact that offer some card quality over time and then ultimately flip into some potential payoff. Both can almost immediately upon flipping redeem most, if not all of the mana invested in them on the way to flipping. Map has the bonus of flipping sooner and having the option on taking mana or cards as needed at the time. Gateway is slower and only provides mana and as such needs the extra support. A big difference between this and Map is not that this needs five things and Map needs 3 but that Map is a guaranteed progression each time while Gateway really isn't. I suspect it will not commonly flip on the quickest possible fifth activation. I reckon the average will be closer double that, perhaps 8 or 9 goes before it flips. Late game you mostly want to ditch lands or cheap things. Unless you get some four plus drops exiled with it early game it may well never flip! I find my cube decks on average these days have fairly little top end. Rarely more than eight or more 4 or more CMC cards and often enough none! This would literally be unflippable in some decks, or need the one copy of the alternative cost card like Fireblast or Treasure Cruise to be the final different CMC exiled thing. So this isn't easy to flip nor is it any sort of certain payoff when it does. Despite that it is certainly not a bad thing just to have around looting for you, that may even be better than it flipping in some cases. Despite the insane power this card has I think it is remarkably fair. It isn't easily abused, it just seems all round playable filler with some interesting potential upside! Mostly this is filtering which I can see white being very keen on. Every now and again it is mana mania and that might be helpful! I am not sitting on the fence with my rating of five, I think it is pretty much that good. You can put it in cubes and decks and it will be fine, you can add in some support for it and it will be a little bit better, although still not broken, and so it might not be worth the effort. I suspect a lot of the occasions you might think you want this a Treasure Map will simply be better. It is an impressive design feat getting so much power into a card that is neither broken nor unplayable. It will also give some good stories, the time you flip it when already on like 40 life and get to make a Walking Ballista so big it one shots your opponent from 20 on the spot with shots left in it!

Arch of Orazca 1

This seems fairly weak with six mana being so much to draw a card. The best use for this feels like as something in play to give you the city's blessing when you pop upto 10 permanents in a deck expecting to get there somewhat quickly but not likely to stay there all that long; For this to be worth doing there would need to be good, powerful and synergic ascend card of which there don't seem to be. This wouldn't be much different without the ascend aspect to the card. Not only will you very rarely want to use the ability but you should generally have the blessing before you did anyway. The thing that makes this bad is that for the amount of extra value it provides I would much rather run a basic land and make my colour production better.

Moment of Craving 0

This is far far from the Lighning Helix equivalent of Disfigure. The main reason being that Helix is a Searing Spear not a Lightning Bolt, Searing Spear is plenty good enough at 2 and so the 3 life is basically free. Disfigure is not playable at two and so this two life is anything but free. Removal is rarely the place you want to tack on a bit of value for a bit more cost. Removal is best when it is cheapest and most efficient and this isn't that.

Mutiny 0

This took me a few reads through to appreciate how awful it is. It looks good because it is cheap and targets lots of your opponents stuff. In practice it is the worlds worst Flame Slash. This can't hit players, it does nothing if they only have one creauture. It almost always kills the 2nd best creature they have. For this to be better than a Flameslash they need a 5 power creature and a 5 toughness creature in play meaning after the Mutiny they will still have a five power creature in play which still sounds bad for you.

Blood Sun 2

This is a lot of tempo loss to shut down utility lands in a draft cube setting. The reason being is that most still have mana abilities and so you are only half dealing with something. Sure, it is probably the thing you wanted to deal with but it feels like red has better ways of dealing with non-basic lands. Lands have better ways of dealing with non-basic lands so... This isn't something you would ever play as a counter to something in your main deck either, it does too little and has too high a cost. Perhaps you could run this blind at two mana but at three it is clogging things up too much.

This card is getting a lot of traction for other reasons beyond the ability to shut off utility lands! Turns out sac lands don't have mana abilities which I always seem to forget. Blood Sun hoses sac lands pretty hard which is a big deal in modern, legacy and vintage but is rather less worthy of a deck slot in cube. Most decks have a sac land or two in cube but it isn't worth running a hoser for one or two cards and if it was you would probably run Stifle or Shadow of Doubt instead and you don't!

The other area this is interesting is in combination with the Ravnica bounce lands and Scorched Ruins / Lotus Vale all of which become quite substantially better under the influence of Blodo Sun! Lands that tap from between 2 and 4 mana on the turn you make them with no drawback what so ever sounds really rather good. Again, I am not sure you can properly abuse this fact in cube but it does seem like it could be a thing in other formats. If you can shut off half your opponents lands and have half your lands being grossly unfair then that is a big win. In cube this is a narrow and fair sideboard option or a part of a silly and unreliable combo deck, neither of which sounds very powerful or important. In other formats however this is a potential game changer and I look forward to seeing how that pans out.

Sun Collared Raptor 1

One of the better cheap dinosaur cards on offer. This is a very solid mana sink with this interesting take on Firebreathing. Raptor plus untapped mana is going to be uncomfortable to block and will force awkward choices. It is a little to low powered without further mana investment and a little too bland to be a good stand alone card but at least it has an underpopulated tribe to fall back on!

Raging Regisaur 1

This would have been a really impressive creature a decade or so ago. Now it looks like it needs haste or something to be much of a consideration. You probably play this as decent quality filler in a cube dino deck. It is probably still a bad zoo deck.

Zacama, Primal Calamity 1

Immense power but at 9 mana in three colours this is too much. We have seven and eight drops in single colours (or none at all!) that are comparably devastating. Much like Sactum of the Sun offers too much mana, this offers too much power! It would still be pretty game winning in most cases with 80% of the power it currently has but it would be a lot more than 20% more playable if you reduced the cost and colour requirements in line with power reductions. There is a sweet spot for these kinds of things and it resides a good chunk below Zacama. Another issue Zacama has is that it commands a specific kind of playing, you can't cheat it out and have it be very impressive, you have to cast it and you have to cast it mostly using lands else it isn't having enough impact right away. This is cool but it seems very unlikely to get any cube attention.

Mastermind's Acquisition 4.5

Oooh. Well this is quite the upgrade to Diabolic Tutor! Slap on a Death Wish option that, while costing a mana more than the original, does do you the courtesy of not eating up half your life! Three mana is usually enough to make a sorcery speed, zero tempo tutor effect weak and see little to no cube play. At four this is a very steep tempo cost but it is a supremely wide tutor and feels a bit too powerful to ignore. Obviously that power depends a lot on how you play Wish effects in your cube and what kind of cube format you are doing. I will certainly be testing this out in the drafting cube but I suspect it will be a little too slow. Outside of that I am sure it will see some fringe use at the very least. Super cool card. Immense amounts of options and potential.

Champion of Dusk 2

Pricey but direct and effective. This is a fine stand alone card but it is too far up the curve to be what you want. This is in fact just a scaled up Dusk Legion Zealot when it is your only vampire. As Deadeye Brawler demonstrated all ready, adding a mana cost just to gain +1/+1 on a creature with other abilities is a really bad deal. In a tribal deck Champion of Dusk packs a lot more punch in terms of drawing power but it is a rather odd kind of payoff for a top end tribal card. Bishop of the Bloodstained ends the game, this prolongs it, and even with a huge pile of new cards that may well not be the best thing. I like this more than Graveborn Muse with the more relevant and useful body, the more immediate and reliable card influx, and the lower risk of having it doing critical damage to you. Muse has not been seeing much love at all recently and so this isn't looking super likely to get cube action. Another one of the many cards that are powerful but just come too far up the curve for their kind of effect.

Pitiless Plunderer 2

This is a bit of a 4 mana 1/4. It is super weak but it does have combo potential written all over it. While Pawn of Ulamog is generally cheaper and better the Plunderer does trigger off tokens and is able to survive better so has safer and broader combo applications. The ability to generate coloured mana helps a lot there too Don't play this unless it is a combo/engine piece.

Twilight Prophet 4.5

This card has 3 modes of action, a 2/4 flier for 4. A 2/4 flier for four that is also a personal Howling Mine. And a 2/4 flier for four with a personal Howling Mine that also drains them for 3 or so each turn! I think there is a reasonable distinction between modes two and three as you need library manipulation to do a hefty hit with any consistency. You certainly can't rely on any damage of lifegain from this card without the manipulation. Either way, you are pretty happy with modes 2 or 3, that is enough power to afford a cube worthy four drop. The quality of this is mostly down to how bad the first mode is and how long you are likely to sit with it in that mode.  A 2/4 flier is great but not at four and not when it has no other immediate impact. This kind of card eats bounce and spot removal and sets you pretty far back. You find a lot of cards like this in the three slot but at four it is a bit too much risk to invest heavily in a relatively low stat dork that doesn't do anything unless it survives a turn. One of the real strengths of this card over Dark Confidant is that it has no build restrictions on it, you can play all the big delve spells and Titans you like without risk of killing yourself! Sadly it costs twice as much to play and probably doesn't do very much for a while. Lack of experience with ascend is also probably making me overlook any build requirements it might impose. This is certainly a card worth testing, four toughness and flying do tick some boxes quite nicely. This will be awkward to kill for red, black and green mages and especially brutal against the red with potential lifegain as well. I think this probably isn't quite cube worthy because ascend is a little less easy to get than I imagine. You have to expect to get it and in fairly reasonable time for this to havea shot and probably not enough decks are upto the task.

Wayward Swordtooth 4

This is probably my favourite use of the ascend mechanic from a design perspective. You pay 2 more for an Exploration but you get a free 5/5 some turns down the line. This will almost certainly see some play as redundancy for Exploration in some of the more focused constructed decks. The real question is if it is good enough to make the cut in the drafting cube. Is this just good enough in its own right? Rhonas wasn't and although he was quicker to turn on and a better body he didn't provide a useful ongoing free effect. As ramp I fear this is too slow and requires both one drop ramp and card draw effects to properly make use of it. As a general card I think it is a bit irrelevant as body by the time it is active and too infrequently useful for its ramp effect. You need this on curve, the lands to go with it and something to play off the back of it all. This will get you to six two turns quicker which could be turn three off the back of an Elf, which is easily enough mana to actually get the blessing or just do something swingy and broken! I like this card and plan to test it but it seems too situational and narrow for the drafting cube. This is just your 2nd or 3rd Exploration in Horn of Greed and other land themed decks. It is an option I will certainly be glad of but it would be nice if this could hold it self up on its own.

Hadana's Climb // Winged Temple of Orazca 4

I think this is the best of the gold flip cards in this set. The land is quite like a Wolf Run and Wolf Run is a fantastic game ending tool. This card offers a good amount of reach to any creature based Simic deck. This is also a fine thing to have going on each turn. It takes at least three turns hitting dorks to be worth three mana but at that point it is good flipped or not. There are also plenty of things with +1/+1 counters on them in cube and so flipping this right away shouldn't be very difficult. While this is nice and powerful Simic aggressive decks are not common and I just don't think this would see nearly enough play to merit a slot even if it is suitable in power terms. I am absolutely going to do some building with this in some Hardened Scales decks and such like. I will also briefly try it in the drafting cube but with the expectation of quickly culling it. Probably after someone forces it just to see and it fails on them super hard. Not necessarily because Climb is weak but because Simic has no creature kill! You can have all the power you like but if there is no suitable deck to house that power then you have no playability and that is what is needed to get into the cube.

Rivals of Ixalan Preliminary Review Part VII

Golden Demise 3

Another one of many direct, but minor, upgrades to Infest. Usually the scry option is just the best all rounder with the exile version with the highest ceiling, but this, while being rather niche, does have some potent applications that most other mass removal simply fails to offer. I don't see this getting much, if any love, simply due to the way Infest scales poorly into the late game. All it really does is clear out the chaff, all the little tokeny things and the odd small utility dorks. It doesn't really kill any threats. As such, by the time this is nice and one sided it is not so relevant on the game. Not unless you are both playing go wide decks! Infest effects are a bit like Cancel effects. There are loads and loads on offer, all of them are OK if you need but they are never great. The fact that there are so many does rather reduce the play they each get and it was very little to begin with. Despite the low rating I have given this I am going to test it in the cube, it is one of those cards that could be surprising. So sort of tempo control deck with Snapcaster, Lingering Souls, Baleful Strix, Deathrite and the like would really like something like this. Unless you are red dealing with lots of small chaffy dorks is really hard if you don't wish to kill all of your own!

Dire Fleet Neckbreaker 0.5

They really don't like printing payoff cards for pirates. While this has a powerful effect it is way to vulnerable and pricey. Compare this to Undead Warchief, a lord that isn't even all that.... Pirates are sufficiently weak that if you were to build a pirate themed deck you might well have to play this despite how poor it is compared to other lords.

Tomb Robber 1

This looks like it should do something useful but I cannot work out what that might be. Mostly this appears to be a three mana 1/1 with a somewhat random ability requiring a further mana cost. This is never tempo, it is never card advantage. It is just a weird discard outlet Trade Route on legs. Small, expensive legs. This has a bit too much text and things going on for me to want to rule it out but it does just seem bad from all angles.

Thunderherd Migration 0

I must have missed the memo informing that Rampant Growth was now too good?! Madness. Obviously this isn't touching cubes which is just as well because this is also very much a feels bad card. Member when ramp used to look like Llanowar Elf?

Siegehorn Ceratops 0

Grizzly Bear masquerading as something that could do something but wont. In practice no one else is enraging this and it isn't enough payoff to be worth doing it yourself. So yeah, a Bear.

Nezahal, Primal Tide 1

This is a fascinating card. It does a lot of different things. While most akin to a Pearl Lake Ancient it also has elements of Consecrated Spinx and Aetherling to it as well. This is very big, it provides ongoing value, it is very very hard to stop with any kind of removal or indeed countermagic. This does a lot of things you want a top end card to do but it doesn't do the one critical thing which is having the ability to close the game. This has no evasion and no combat utility, this loses to any token generating planeswalker or any deathtouch creature with power. For Nezahal to have much chance at closing out a game you have to force it through with things like mass removal. This doesn't provide enough defensive stopping or stabilizing power nor enough game ending potential which are what you want from a card like this and so giving it basically everything else doesn't feel like it counts for all that much. This does a bit too much a bit too well for me to rule it out entirely but like so many cards from this set, I am not really seeing this one ever making it. Seems like you are probably better off running Mystic Remora!

Trapjaw Tyrant 0.5

Not as dodgy as the vampire 1/1 for 4 but still rather in that camp. This isn't immediately impactful very often, it isn't reliable value or removal nor is it that dangerous of a threat. It is decently powerful but aimless and unreliable and not what you want from a cube five drop. You might play this in a dino deck with enrage enablers and other dino synergies but that is really pushing it.

Crafty Cutpurse 2

This is the Notion Thief of token generation. Sadly the days of the Marit Lage are behind us and this is rarely going to be better than stealing a pair of 1/1 fliers or a 3/3. Whirler Rogue is a decent card and if you also get to take away something from your opponent then you have quite a powerful play. The problem is that it is rather situational. Making tokens is probably comparably rare in cube to drawing bonus cards, they both happen but not with enough regularity to make these sorts of cards reliable. Perhaps if more powerful things like Beast Within and Swan Song are printed this will gain some more applications as you could trigger it yourself but that is so much phaff for such minor value. If it isn't worth Notion Thief plus cards like Words of Wisdom then small tokens are certainly not. Presently it seems like a sideboard card at best, and a janky narrow one at that.

Dire Fleet Poisoner 6

Well this seems to be one of the best pirate payoff cards they have printed and just to rub it in how pointless the tribe is they have made this one playable without any need of other pirates! Turns out a 2/2 for 1B with flash and deathtouch is probably plenty good enough. This card feels surprisingly like a Selesnya Charm, a good one at that. This will kill most attackers, it is a nice surprise EoT dork to threaten planeswalkers, it just has a good chance of doing useful things for a low cost and with a lot of versatility. The EtB ability never has to trigger and this will still be fine which is handy for it in cube, as it rarely will with so few other pirates. Also, mostly you will want to play this in your opponents turn and not your own.

Silverclad Ferocidons 0

More hugely over priced essentially vanilla fatties.

Path of Mettle // Metzali, Tower of Triumph 1.5

Cool card but this isn't doing much work in cube. The ability and flip condition are extremely narrow. You basically have to build around this except it is a card you want in your sideboard rather than main, or certainly in terms of the EtB effect on Path of Mettle. I don't think the land is exciting enough to be jumping through all the hoops to get to without getting some value out of the first side. Perhaps just as a kind of ramp spell but even then it seems like way too much effort and fortune are needed. Perhaps this is actually a control card and relies on things like Chandra Flamecallers +1 ability to trigger rather than just having a good count of creatures that help towards that end. I am sure there are plenty of other cheaper cards that will flip this on their own like Flamecaller. Even so, this feels low impact for the control builds and still far too much effort to be worth the flip.

Dire Fleet Daredevil 7

Certainly one of the best cards from the set but also not nearly as exciting as seems to be the community buzz. This is very much not a Snapcaster Mage. For a very quick guide as to how much better snapcaster mage is than this you should look at all the decks in a meta where Snappy is legal which have blue mana in them and then look at which percentage of those decks actually play the Mage. The point is that not every deck supports Snapcaster as it has too few or unsuitable targets for it. Well, Dire Fleet Daredevil is the same in that respect except you have to chose to play it or not before you have the information about how suitable the relevant deck for it is. This is a bit like a Clone, you rely on your opponent to power it up and so its power level is rather random. This feels very comparable to Abbot of Keral Keep and while the Daredevil is a bit more exciting and has a higher ceiling I think the Abbot is the more rounded card. It feels like Abbot has a higher average power as you can control it, you can manipulate your deck and build with it in mind. Abbot is often an emergency dig for land on turn three when you only have two and it is really quite welcome and helpful in those cases. Daredevil is great when you have access to Inquisition, Path, Bolt, Brainstorm and other such juice on turn three but you have pay for that potential by having an Elvish Archer in your list a lot of the time.

Deadeye Rig-Hauler 0

One of the weaker Man-O-War dorks to date. Another bad example of disappointing card design and over reactions to powerful cards like Reflector Mage.

Slaughter the Strong 2

I rather like the design on this. It is an interesting take on removal and can do some very powerful things for not all that much mana. Sadly I think it it is unlikely to perform all that well on average. You can very easily be beaten up by creatures with total power four or less. Early in the game this answers very little and that is a crux of the issue, early do nothings are weak. It is not until you are facing down 10 or more power that this starts to look potent and by then it will often be too late. The way you need to work this in order to get sufficient value from it is by playing it in combination with good defensive creatures with low power but either high toughness or high usefulness. Thing in the Ice and Wall of Omens spring to mind. That way you can force your opponents to over extend into it and maintain your board and much more value through casting it.

Release to the Wind 2

This is a very odd card indeed. It is like a bounce spell and a flicker effect. It has a lot of utility but I don't think any of it is good enough to be playing this card in its own right. I think you need combo like abuses for this to be good and I have no idea what they might look like using this if they even exist. So you can use this to gain another go on an EtB trigger or an on cast trigger. You can use it to get past a blocker without flash or fog an attacker, save something of your own from removal, reset planeswalker loyalty and so forth. It is a great way to get back things that have been stolen from you. Disruptively it seems worse than bounce but defensively and for personal utility it seems better. I think at two mana this might have been pretty good but at three it seems unlikely.

Arterial Flow 0

Mind Rot with some tribal perks for some greater black intensity. Mind Rot is a long way off good enough for the cube, Blightning isn't even getting a look in these days and Flow wouldn't even be as good as Blightning if it didn't need vampires in play. Damage can be redirected at planewalkers and that gives Blightning some potential to affect the board that this lacks.

Deadeye Brawler 0

Awful. Ohran Viper is hardly a great card and it is directly better than this on 3 accounts. It is not gold. It does not need the city's blessing to perform its primary role. It is a mana less!