Friday 30 March 2018

Top 10 Cards from 2004

Crucible of WorldsIn 2004 we get a bit of a power spike. A lot of the good cards I associated with Mirrodin are actually from the two small sets of that block; Darksteel and Fifth Dawn. Champions of Kamigawa is the other set from this year and while it is low powered it does have a few core and staple cards to offer. 2004 is the first year since '93 where my top ten list actually includes 10 cards still in my cube! While there are a few cards that are certainly on the fringe of being cut from the drafting cube there are also plenty of cards that could well make a return and so 10 feels like a decent representation for the year.

Another thing I failed to realize (well, remember) about Mirrodin block is that scry wasn't in Mirrodin itself and so we didn't get to see it until 2004. The arrival of scry cards is what pushes this year above all previous since 93 in terms of good cube playables. Scry is probably the best mechanic introduced into the game and making it an evergreen effect is one of the best moves Wizards have ever done. Scry makes everything more consistent and it helps out the whole deck but it is very hard to abuse at all and presents no threat. Although cycling is also a great mechanic that helps to improve consistency it only really helps the cards it is on while scry helps everything and that is why I rate is as the best.

I also thought Mirrodin was the combo year but again, most of the combo support cards come from Darksteel and Fifth Dawn as you can see below in my usual list of other good cards from the year.

Gifts Ungiven
Sensei's Divining Top
Blinkmoth Nexus
Auriok Champion
Auriok Salvagers
Aether Vial
Arcbound Ravager
Arcbound Worker
Azusa, Lost but Seeking
Boseiju, Who Shelters All
Conjurer's Bauble
Cranial Plating
Crucible of Worlds
Darksteel Citadel
Desperate Ritual
Forbidden Orchard
Genesis Chamber
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror BreakerGhostly Prison
Gifts Ungiven
Glimpse of Nature
Heartbeat of Spring
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Krark-Clan Ironworks
Lantern of Insight
Lava Spike
Nezumi Graverobber
Panoptic Mirror
Pentad Prism
Plunge into Darkness
Pulse of the Fields
Rude Awakening
Thought Courier
Time of Need
Time Stop
Trinket Mage
Vedalken Engineer
Vedalken Shackles
Wayfarer's Bauble
Zo-Zu, the Punisher
Yosei, the Morning Star

Engineered Explosives10. Engineered Explosives

A highly versatile and playable little answer card. Great for taking out unusual permanent types and superb at killing off tokens. It is a more cost effective and more generally playable version of Pernicious Deed. While Explosives lacks the raw power and scaling of Deed it is much more about the early game and being one mana cheaper to take out a specific target is a big deal. Being able to take out planeswalkers is really nice too although charging Explosives upto four can be a challenge. Another aspect of Explosives playability is that it is specifically the CMC you blow up not everything upto it as well which means you can afford to play the card in a deck aiming to develop a board. Explosives has its potency a little bit linked to Trinket Mage. You don't need Trinket Mage to play Explosives or have them be good by any means but they are a really good pair, rather like Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull. Being able to tutor up versatile answer cards is a pretty big deal! Sadly I have cut Trinket Mage due to Grey Ogres not being very good and a seemingly continual decline in both the range and the number of other good targets for Trinket Mage. Due to the present low value of Trinket Mage I have only rated the Explosives relatively low on the list. It is more of a stopgap for a problem than something you actively want.

Death Cloud9.   Death Cloud

I think I claimed Upheaval was the last in the powerful effects balanced with symmetry but it isn't, this is! The key difference is that Death Cloud is actually quite a well designed, fair card. It is hard to use oppressively and so I don't consider it one of those bad polar cards like Upheaval and Armageddon. Certainly the Cloud can be oppressive and it will straight up end the game if you get to land a good one but it is not something you can just throw in some mana rocks and have reliably do what you want like Upheaval. Death Cloud is surprisingly versatile and feels kind of like a charm or command style card. Generally the outcome is that you pay some of your resources so as to hit some of your opponents other resources a little harder. Perhaps you get to Wrath them but you have to lose your hand to do so etc. Cloud is one of my all time favourite cards although I am learning that a lot of my favourite cards seem to come from this era (Lava Dart, Chrome Mox, Cabal Therapy etc) and so I think I am just biased as this is the era I was playing the most magic by a long way. I was playing every format that had sanctioned tournament support basically and so I expect the greater exposure and discovery aspect of the cards is a big part of my fondness for them. I would have though the '95 cards were my fond cards as that is when I began magic but it would appear not!

Sword of Fire and Ice8.   Sword of Fire and Ice

I have never been a huge fan of the Sword cycle, they have always felt like unnecessary risk taking. A well aimed removal spell and you are super behind with your big clunky equipment. As creatures have gotten more powerful the return on Swords has become less pronounced and with tempo being increasingly important the risk of Swords is rather increased. There are not many things that will put me in a position where I want to play a Sword. Lack of playables is the most common. Having only weak small dorks because I am black and/or blue is the other more common reasons. Sword is just a problem solving tool rather than a good card in its own right I would say these days. It is a nice rounded card that does direct and core things (cards and damage) and so it is a good fit in any place where equipment is viable. Fire and Ice is not just the most playable but probably also the most powerful of the cycle. While I don't greatly rate the Swords these days and have never much liked them it would be foolish to deny that back when they first came out that they were immensely powerful in a lot of formats. Sword of Fire and Ice was absolutely a fine first pick in cube, powered or otherwise and that likely remained true all the way to Zendikar block kind of era.

Isamaru, Hound of Konda
7.   Isamaru, Hound of Konda

The one mana 2/2 with no drawback was a milestone mark in magic. I remember being very excited to play with such a potent new card. Isamaru has aged pretty well, indeed it likely just got a chunk better with Mox Amber! Isamaru is the oldest pure aggro dork I have in my cube. Power level wise Isamaru is still one of the better one drop beaters on offer however lack of human synergy is presently an issue leading to Isamaru being one of the least valuable one drop white dorks in the cube. Being so vanilla as well Isamaru doesn't engender interesting choices and quirky exotic games. Zurgo, Incited Rabble and the like are all way more interesting cards to play with and they both have similar function and power level.

Sakura-Tribe Elder6.   Sakura-Tribe Elder

The second and last of the Champions cards on this list and a big part of why the other one never shone in constructed at the time! Tribe Elder is a fine all round card. It is a Rampant Growth which is a perfectly acceptable ramp and fixing tool but then it has a far from insignificant repetoire of extra uses. The most basic and common of which is simply denying one attacker damage for a turn. That alone would make Tribe Elder one of the best Rampant Growths on offer. Then you have those times you just leave the Tribe Elder in play and use it for raid, for revolt,  to equip something to etc. Your opponent doesn't know if you are ramping with Elder or keeping it about until it is too late. Simply being able to hold off on making choices about your Seal of Rampant Growth is pretty good. Being a dork that gets lands is nice too and lets you abuse it with a wide selection of recursion cards. Tribe Elder defines green perfectly


Night's Whisper5.  Night's Whisper

One of the only pure draw spells left in cube due to being efficient and cheap enough to actually play. Night's Whisper is the second most efficient stand alone card advantage card in magic after the infamous Ancestral Recall. You don't need to set it up like Chart a Course or Predict or Treasure Cruise or Deep Analysis nor do you have to wait as per Ancestral Visions. Night's Whisper is just a nice cheap little way to pull ahead in value. It is cheap enough that the tempo concession is minimal and it is clean and unfettered sufficiently to be playable in most black decks. Something like a Dark Confidant is a higher risk card in many ways. High risk in that getting it killed results in no extra cards and not getting it killed might result in your taking too much damage. You might well also have to consider your build that much more carefully if using Confidant style things for your draw. I somewhat class Night's Whisper as cheap filler and will often use it to increase my low curve playables in a list.

Condescend4.   Condescend

Power Sink's finest form! The generally useless Mana Short aspect of Power Sink is traded for an epic scry 2. Given that Dissolve is scry 1 and 3 mana and fairly decent you are looking like getting good value out of Condescend in most cases. I have cast it for 0 on a couple of occasions simply for the scry and/or storm count. Even when you have to pay four to stop the thing you are generally pretty happy with the outcome and most casts are for 2 or 3 mana. Most of the time it is more it is no problem as you both are a little flooded. Certainly not a hard counter but harder than most, you feel safer with Condescend in your deck than you do with Mana Leak I would say. Condescend pretty much always gives you the option of spending no mana in a turn and being a hard counter, it is the option to have it be a soft counter on the turns you do do things that helps to make it so great. Mostly it is the scry 2 but still. Scry 2 is more than twice as good as scry 1 and just exactly what you want to be doing as a control player. Condescending a curve play on your turn two is about as good as it gets. Scry two done well that early on in concert with a good tempo 1 for 1 play is a huge leg up and probably the most powerful counterspell possible. Memory Lapse can punish a screwed play or a deck all about the curve and Remand on a curve play always feels great but I think Condescend takes the prize.

Serum Visions3.   Serum Visions

Straight in with another core blue scry 2 effect. We all know how good these kinds of cards are and I am sure I have written at length about them with not much having changed in regard to such cards since then. Most cards that cycle for one mana are good even with limp effects and scry is far from a limp effect! While Visions isn't quite as choice as one mana card quality goes for constructed in cube it is premium. Without the same reliable access to sac lands the scry card quality cards perform better in most cases than things like Ponder and Brainstorm. The difference between Serum Visions and Preordain is negligible in cube too. Both are great, the latter is more immediate quality and is a better late game draw however Visions does offer some better synergy with top of library effects and so it rather balances out. They are hardly that different in power in constructed formats!

Eternal Witness2.   Eternal Witness

I remember reading this on the spoilers and assuming it was a fake or at least a copying error. Both the spoiling process and the internet were a lot less established and polished back in 2004 and spoilers were commonly unreliable, until you saw a real card you didn't trust things like you do now. I didn't trust Witness, it seemed far too good at the time to be something they would print. It was indeed a very good card at the time, it would not be at all unfair to call Eternal Witness the original Snapcaster Mage. It was easily as powerful then in standard and in cube as Snapcaster is now. Witness has become increasingly fair. The tempo is low and the value is only mild as a 2/1 isn't super exciting. Recursion is however super good in most formats and singleton ones cherish it dearly. Being a creature also allows for some nice loops you can setup.

1.   Skullclamp

SkullclampA confirmed whoopsie by the design crew at the time. Something like a last minute change that was supposed to make it worse and ended up making it better (+1/+1 to +1/-1? I think). Clamp is a tempo loss card and as such it has lost value in the new meta where it is more important to have a tempo lead. That is not to say the card is weak, it is far from it. Nor is it slow and clunky. Despite not being a proactive card it is still too good, and it is quite hard for such cards to be all that oppressive. In any sort of even game a Skullclamp will lead to a win as you will just have never ending cards. It is like having a Yawgmoth's Bargain in play except you pay mana rather than life. You have to race a Skullclamp as you cannot out value it. One of the things I like about Clamp is that it is actually quite hard to use properly, to know when to use it to dig, when to use it for protection and when not to use it at all. It is beyond tempting to cash in all your dorks, as the sage wisdom of Mr Chapin advises; "drawing cards is life" and so to Clamp is to live. Sadly "living" in this capacity will oft lead to losing the game of magic, all be it with a very full hand! There is a strong argument for Skullclamp being the most broken card printed since the Urza's block era. It would be very interesting to see what formats with it unbanned in would look like. Certainly it doesn't dominate cube like it used to but cube is not modern etc.

Monday 26 March 2018

Dominaria Initial Review Part IX

Well, looks like I was super wrong about this set being done for interesting cards. Pretty glad to be wrong however as Dominaria was looking a little light on interest from the first 140 cards. Right off the bat with some of the simpler offerings that were not on the rules sheet we have some more promising cards that will certainly be having an impact on many a format.

Saproling Migration 6

A Gather the Townsfolk card in green. While presently not something I imagine many green cube decks wanting I can entirely see cube designs and meta shifts making this a solid cube stample. I can see more constructed decks using this to good effect too, perhaps tribal is going to be a thing! I recently (within the last six months or so) had a Fists of Ironwood played against me so there very much is a demand for this kind of thing. This new token generator is pretty fair but as we have seen, most of these kinds of cards wind up seeing play. The kicker might seem pricey but it is almost certainly better than the fateful hour offering on Gather. Green can find 6 mana more easily than most and 4 tokens is more than double the baseline in value. Yes, four guys is twice as good as two guys but four guys for a card is more than twice as good as two guys for a card. Kind of like how when you flashback Deep Analysis after playing it you it is three times better in that after cast one you are one card up and after cast two you are three cards up. A deceptively good token producer, one of the very best of the two mana options. In most other colours this would be straight in the cube but in green we shall have to wait and see. Even if all the parts are already out there it will take a while for them to come together and most likely we are still waiting on a number of the parts to make this a cube mainstay, and even then, it is only going to be a solid support card like Raise the Alarm is.

Vicious Offering 3

I want this to be good but I don't think it is quite there. Disfigure isn't exactly hot at one mana, at two it is pretty feeble. While -5/-5 for 2 mana is tasty the cost of having and sacing a creature is pretty huge. Basically this is only something you can play in a deck where you actively want to sacrifice things. In such a deck it is pretty good removal but it isn't a very good sac outlet and so you probably don't bother with it. It is not so good and so convenient in such decks that you want to run it like Dispatch in heavy artifact decks. It just goes from being awkward and weak removal to decent removal, you probably still play Fatal Push or Dismember over this in most cases, even in the self sac deck. Great for standard to have some more potent removal though, shame it is only really black that is good at taking down Hazoret there...

Cast Down 6.5

Right, this is the removal we are talking about. It isn't spectacular but it is bang on for good design. It is another interesting twist on Doom Blade and that is a perfectly acceptable card and power level. More interesting and more playable than Terminate if not more effective! What makes Cast Down and other variants of Doom Blade more interesting than Doom Blade itself are being able to hit black creatures. Black has rather too many such cards with that specific downside and so having alternatives with different limitations spreads your risk exposure out nicely. This new offering of black removal hits a good 84% of creatures in my cube which is not Go for the Throat good but none the less sits well with the others in this group. I expect legendary creature counts to rise in cubes as they can be a little more pushed in power level. Cast Down might be one of the best black spot removal spells on offer now but I expect it will keep a little less well than the others. Ultimately 2 mana and instant speed one for one creature kill is just a nice fair interactive way to play magic. You want some number of such cards on offer and this is a nice one to have.

Zhalfirin Void 6

Delightful! This will see play in countless places. Basically any deck without heavy colour requirements or indeed those after specifically colourless will strongly consider this land. The value of a scry for free the turn you make this probably outclasses the value from a colourless man land or a lategame utility land. I suspect Void will achieve more than say a Westvale Abbey on average although this is an awkward comparison as they are so polar opposite in what they are about. While I think this will be one of the more commonly used colourless lands in exotic decks I am not sure if this is going to be worth it in your more conventional decks. Scry obviously increases consistency but then colourless lands instead of duals and basics typically reduces consistency. Anyone remember Nomad Stadium? It offered you life, at the cost of life, and as such was pretty godawful. Void deals in a more valuable commodity but it still feels like it trades like for like and so I am not holding out huge hopes for this in the drafting cube. I think broadly I would choose to play temples over this in most cases. Even in an aggressive deck where you want you lands coming in untapped the fact that this is unlikely to do anything useful on turn one (where you most want your scry) rather lowers its value. Aggressive decks tend to be the most colour intense, often making two one drops on turn two and as such this seems less too much of a risk for such places. I like this a lot and will certainly use it where ever I can but I think it offers too little return for too much risk to be a good limited card. It is a bit Teetering Peaks in that regard. A nice option when you can have it for free but when it costs you a slot in a pack and a pick , or a card in your pool, then the returns are just not worth it. Basically, even if this was playable in drafting cube decks over basic lands and things it probably isn't impactful enough to be worth including.

Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp 3

A legendary Mahamoti Djinn with a mild alternate cast mode. Four mana is quite the steal for a 5/6 flier and having an artifact in play is no real hardship to do. Sadly Djinn is just a big dork and four mana for just a big dork is a little less than ideal. Having an artifact is pretty easy but it does still make Zahid narrow, likely sufficiently narrow that he is not a good drafting cube card. I rather prefer Abyssal Persecutor as it is far easier to be proactive with playing it and the body is significantly better. Persecutor, despite its strength, sees little play these days, not because it is narrow or had to sac off when you need to but because paying four mana at sorcery speed for something that can be undone for one mana with ease and that provides no other value is just asking to get blown out. Zahid, much like Persecutor, fails the Jace test.

Danitha Capashen, Paragon 3

The eternal Grey Ogre issue! This is a very good Grey Ogre but it still dies to basically every removal spell, often half a removal spell and will leave no value behind when this happens. Playable 3 mana 2/2 dorks are things like Pia Nalaar, Shardless Agent, Flesh Carver, Peema etc. They all have some value to leave behind when dealt with and that is what makes them playable. Danitha has a lot of keyword abilities which make her good in combat and scale nicely with buffs but don't do anything to protect against this key weakness of being vulnerable to all removal. I love a cost reduction card but Danitha is a triple fail on that front. She is too fragile to rely on, she is too expensive herself to be that exciting in a cost reduction capacity and critically she is reducing a tiny fraction of the cards in the cube. Card types I should add that suffer diminishing returns if played in abundance. Much as I love the idea of curving Danitha into a Sword and equipping it the following turn I am not going to be putting her in the cube for that unlikely event. Danitha really has to carry on the keywords and they are just not on the right stat line or quite the right balance of things. Aerial Responder sees no play and feels like a superior card all round to Danitha. I might try this in an equipment themed deck but I don't see it being all that great in a not all that great sub-archetype.

Sunday 25 March 2018

Top 10 Cards from 2003

Seat of the SynodThis is by far the ugliest year in the history of magic. Although I have come to like and appreciate the newer aesthetic styles of card design I really didn't like the change at the time. Mirrodin cards looked off, I didn't like a lot of the art, particularly landscapes and humanoids. Onslaught was fairly cartoon looking and quite chunky, it isn't the greatest looking of blocks either but it is at least better looking than Mirrodin. What is worst is the visual contrast between the two. Playing standard at the time just felt gross.

I overrated Mirrodin prior to doing this series, while it has a lot of good combo cards it is now pretty thin on good playable staples for cube. I had thought that Mirrodin would be the crutch that held up 2003 but it turns out I had rather underrated Scourge and so the year is actually fairly powerful all told. Legions is obviously awful. There remains a card or two from the set that is relevant today but it goes down as the worst set of all time for my vote. It felt like it was given out as prize support forever. Terrible to draft, terrible to open, terrible as an investment. Just a very disappointing set all round. "Legions boosters" is a local meme signifying lameness.

2003 is a notably deeper year than those preceding it. It has loads of combo support cards courtesy of Mirrodin artifacts and Scourge storm things. It also has some nice tribal cards and some interesting cycling cards. While many of the relevant cards form this year are narrow ones they are at least key narrow cards in their various archetypes. Here is the list of those kinds of cards from the year;

Tendrils of Agony

Temple of the False God
Shrapnel Blast
Seething Song
Aether Spellbomb
Artifact Lands
Auriok Steelshaper
Brain Freeze
Caller of the Claw
Chalice of the Void
Decree of Justice
Decree of Silence
Decree of Annihilation
Lightning GreavesDragon Breath
Disciple of the Vault
Eternal Dragon
Fierce Empath
Gempalm Incinerator
Gilded Light
Goblin Charbelcher
Goblin Warchief
Graveborn Muse
Wirewood SymbioteIsochron Scepter
Lightning Geaves
Mesmeric Orb
Mind's Desire
Mind Slaver
Molten Rain
Myr Enforcer
Myr Retriever
Oblivion Stone
Noxious Ghoul
Pyrite Spellbomb
Pyrostatic Pillar
Sculpting Steel
Second Sunrise
Somber Hoverguard
Spark Spray
Tendrils of Agony
Undead Warcheif
Welding Jar
Wirewood Symbiote
Wirewood Hivemaster
Wrench Mind

Thirst for Knowledge10. Thirst for Knowledge

Just a nice solid card. Everyone loves to draw cards and three for three is a pretty good rate. Pricey enough that you can pack some punch but cheap enough that you can also use it to get setup or bail out of a bad draw. Instant also made for a substantially more playable card than Compulsive Research or other mid level draw effects. Commonly Thirst was used as a discard outlet, it was even used often as just card quality rather than card advantage. The fact that it isn't terrible when you don't have an artifact to ditch is what makes Thirst such a fine card. It makes it a lot less restrictive than it might seem at first glace. Sure, you rarely want to play it without artifacts but you don't need to worry too much about the balance or playing around it. You can just fire of your Thirst and be happy with the outcome. Thirst doesn't get much love these days as mid level and above raw draw spells are rarely used. Thirst itself is still a fine card with little in the way of other cards competing with what it does.

Solemn Simulacrum9.   Solemn Simulacrum

An absolute cube mainstay for so so long. Crum was the premium in value dorks and speed bumps, usually getting a good three for one. Now the ramp comes too late and the value isn't very impressive. A load of one drops can just waltz into Crum without issue. You are lucky to get more than a single chump block out of him which makes him look vastly worse than Sakura Tribe Elder! Crum is certainly still playable but it is just very clunky. I only ever run him now in decks abusing artifact synergies. Crum is still a great card to Weld in and out of play but that doesn't lead to him being a great draft card.

Gilded Lotus8.   Gilded Lotus

An immensely powerful ramp card, so much so that you would frequently Tinker this up over actual threats. In a meta with combo decks and eight drops Lotus is just fantastic. In a cube such as mine the curve is pretty much done at six and so Lotus doesn't provide the most useful of ramp. It is still fine in a control deck where you want a nice big excess of mana. It is particularly nice that you can tap out to make it on five and still have three mana spare after having done so. Sadly with just the odd control deck wanting this super top end ramp card it became far too narrow for me. Lotus was always at its best with burst ramp cards like Grim Monolith such that you could get it out earlier and reap the ongoing mana output nice and efficiently. Things are just a bit too consistent and punishing now to rely on ramping into more five mana ramp for your deck to be firing on all cylinders.

Siege-Gang Commander7.   Siege-Gang Commander

A fantastically powerful card all by itself and propelled quite extensively by further goblin synergies. Siege-Gang Commander was premium top end and retained that title for a very long time. It was the best red five drop until Thundermaw Hellkite and was still the best army in a can card red had until Pia and Kiran Nalaar saw print in origins. Indeed, in some ways Gang is still superior to Mr and Mrs Nalaar. Gang is more damage output in that you can milk 8 out of it directed as you choose in chunks of two at two mana a go. The Nalaars can only dish out 4 damage on their own and it is 50% more expensive to do so. Ultimately fliers and being four mana is what makes the Nalaars more desirable but Gang is still an entirely viable cube card. It is pretty much an auto include in most goblin builds and holds its own pretty well in most other places. Gang is great defensively as well as offensively and represents a good safe investment and a good value for money price. Gang is basically what you want top end to look like. Hornet Queen and Grave Titan are good because they are Gang like! I put Gang on the bench relatively recently due to a variety of dragons being the things you most want at five in red but as red is increasingly potent in midrange settings in cube I am anticipating a potential return of the Gang. It is impressive how powerful Gang was for the time and how well it has held up despite the power creep. Power wise Gang is just OK these days but he is so well rounded and fit for purpose that the fairer levels of power he now has don't much detract from his appeal.

Raise the Alarm6.   Raise the Alarm

This is one of the lowest power cards in my cube. In a lot of ways this is just a Bear with flash and that is really pretty awful compared to what you can do with 2 mana and a card. In another sense Raise the Alarm is two bodies for one card and two mana which is super hard to get any cheaper. Two Memnites may not have the mana cost but they have a heavy card cost. Raise the Alarm is one of those example cards that does a simple thing but it does only that thing and it does it as cheaply as it can be done. Most of those card types see play and Raise is no exception. It is one of the premium support cards for a number of strategies, those being any token, sacrifice, anthem or other go wide kind of affair. I have even seen Raise used as filler in control decks and bonus prowess triggers in those kinds of deck. Raise is a surprisingly versatile card giving a lot of counterplay and utility. Raise is a great example of how a low powered card excels due to scaling and/or option density. I would put Seal of Fire and Opt in the same sort of group as low powered cards with good scaling and option density. Raise the Alarm is one of the last examples of a perfect card in that it has very little text, low power, and seems very simple yet brings so much game to the table. It is a total colour pie hit and feels like a core white card. One of the only cards I chose to run a newer version of with alternate art simply due to how much I dislike how Mirrodin humans look!

Carrion Feeder5.   Carrion Feeder

This is a card that just keeps on giving. It was pretty much the only good thing about zombies at the time. Since then cards like Gravecrawler, Blood Artist, Hardened Scales and many many more have just continued to push this quirky little utility beater. Free sac outlets are just quite useful, sometimes it is fizzling spells, others denying lifegain triggers or Jitte charges. Being able to instantly and freely grow a dork is also pretty handy in combat and against size specific removal. Feeder is awkward to block and awkward to kill and will just become a pretty serious threat over time. Certainly not a premium aggressive one drop and even less offered on the defensive side, more like Grim Lavamancer than most one drops.  Often played in aggro decks but slower and more utility than most other one drop dorks such decks might play. Remarkable in that Feeder is one of the only remaining old bordered cards in my cube that attacks!

Wing Shards4.   Wing Shards

Recently the Shards took a hit from Settle the Wreckage seeing print. Shards is still good but it is no longer uniquely good. Overall I would say that Wreckage is a chunk more powerful in most cases leaving Wing Shards as the reserve choice. Basically these are both just instant speed mass removal spells and that is great. Both are pretty blowout cards all told. Wing Shards is slightly better on curve against haste creatures. When you take out their attack and turns two and three with just one card and one turns worth of cast you are super ahead. Wing Shards is the premium counter to Bloodbraid Elf! It is also the only good storm card in a design sense. Settle is generally a little better because it exiles and it goes as wide as you need it to without needing any setup but just because it is better doesn't mean Wing Shards is a worse card than before Settle existed. You still want at least one of these in a control deck if possible and might well play both in the absence of other Wraths. The demand for Shards is still plenty for it to be a worthy cube inclusion.

3.   Talismans
Talisman of Dominance
Not a lot to say about these. I would like to see the off colour ones! These are just the best of the fair mana rocks on offer. They do a lot of fixing and are a relatively small investment. I found a balance of the choice colour pairings of Talismans and Signets to be the ideal way to run these in cube. All 15 is way too many but just one cycle is rather unsatisfying and wasteful of space. The green ones barely ever see play as green has better tools to ramp. Non-green Signets are better than green fixing Talisman despite Talismans in general being better than Signets. I think I have six or seven total in my cube presently, all non-green. In things like the MODO legacy cube these are actually some of the best things you can pick with their fixing being poor and their being a deficit of things to do productively early on. If you can get your bomb four plus drop out a turn sooner your Talisman will pretty much win you the game. Frequently found in decks to fix, to ramp and just for artifact synergies. Played in combo, control, midrange and even once or twice in an aggro deck back when affinity was lighter on playables and fixing.

Sulfuric Vortex2.   Sulfuric Vortex

No longer the bomb it once was in cube. The clock is pretty slow and the lifegain prevention is not so exclusive. Vortex will win a lot of games but then so will Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh or Insult // Injury and they will do so rather faster. Vortex is more of a control killer these days than the all round beating it used to be. Being an enchantment stretches removal options for control players and acts as insurance against Wrath effects. The slower clock is not such an issue and the lifegain prevention likely hoses their best few counter cards to you. Against a midrange sort of deck however you have to get ahead before Vortex helps and it does nothing to help you get ahead. Vortex is effectively either win more or a self mulligan when facing a good low to the ground midrange deck and that is not ideal in a deck aiming for consistency and redundancy. Vortex used to be the signal card to go into aggro red and a strong first pick card that lead to a lot of wins. Now it isn't even an auto include and the premium one drops in red feel like the signal cards. A fine card for sure that does some things incredibly well but I am finding than Ahn Crop Crasher, Goblin Rabblemaster and Rampaging Ferocidon are outperforming Vortex at present.

1.   Chrome Mox
Chrome Mox
Another one of my favourite cards. I have written fairly extensively on Chrome Mox in a number of different articles and my options on the card have not changed that much. I will say I am finding I play Chrome and Diamond less than I used to and that comes as a surprise given how much tempo has risen of late. I find I prefer to lower my curve rather than use ramp effects (in midrange decks I am talking mostly here) but I am not sure this is right. I love the options Chrome Mox brings to a player and I love how it creates a more varied array of openers. You can go second with a Chrome Mox and effectively become the starting player with a small mana advantage and a small amount of card disadvantage. Likewise you can go super first at the cost of a tiny hand! While a touch on the polar side it is about as balanced and fair as you are going to get for this sort of widely playable mana rules breaking effect. Normally I don't love the polar cards but I think the variance and options are well worth those few times that Chrome Mox is in a god hand and just beasts someone out of the game. That happens far more with Wastelands and other such free win cards than it does with Chrome Mox. Chrome Mox is a great card, it is clean and simple, widely playable yet hard to do right both in deck construction and then in game. It is incredibly skill intense and impressively option dense for a mana source. This is the only card of any value that I ever had a double play set of simply because I put it in so many decks at the time. Despite my 8 Chrome Mox I still had countless Welding Jars also being Mox in other decks I would have built up. I never bought product nor was I an astute trader, I simply did an awful lot of limited around this time and got my Mox that way. It made a very pleasant change from the Invasion era when I had no cards and had to play sub par decks to being someone who could actually lend a deck.

Friday 23 March 2018

Top Ten Cards from 2002

NaturalizeI had somewhat just assumed this year was going to be a weak one, due to Onslaught mostly, but also forgetting how good cycling and flashback are. Two of the best mechanics lead to some pretty lovely cards from the era. I failed to appreciate how good Odyssey block was in terms of the extra dimensions it brought to magic and the design directions following it. Graveyard stuff is interesting and powerful and this year has a lot of great cards to help with such things. Both Torment and Judgement have some juicy offerings and kept the pace with what Odyssey started. Onslaught wasn't as horrid as I recall either. Certainly the Onslaught cards are not deep nor do they have a high average power level but none the less the set offers some staples, some nice effects, some key cards in certain places, including some nice tribal stuff and of course great cycling things.

Due to general creature power creep post Invasion and due to me first building my cube in 2005 I am starting to see cards that were once cube staples. I have not even bothered to list things like Wild Mongrel from last year and Exalted Angel from this one as they simply no longer have any cube relevance. I have for some reason listed some others that have also probably done their last work already in my cube but that were also once big names. Nantuko Shade, Genesis, even Whipcorder was a decent dork! Another noteworthy thing from 2002 is the humble printing of Naturalize. While not that big of a deal in terms of the game it feels like a reasonably big deal in terms of design philosophy. Other than fairly vanilla dorks (Stone Throwing Devils and Tundra Wolves) Naturalize represents a the first colour shifted reprint of a core effect. I am glad that white and green both have Disenchant, it feels right. I think the colour pie is great but as with any artistic guidelines I think some of the best results occur when they are broken. Only for the best reasons should they be broken but I think sticking to them too ridgedly isn't really providing any benefit. Even though Naturalize isn't breaking colour pie it shows the willingness to do adventurous things and I am all for it. Before our top ten on the year here are some of the other delights 2002 has to offer cubers of today;

Burning Wish
Birchlore Ranger
Basking Rootwalla
Cabal Ritual
Cabal Coffers
Chain of Vapour
Chain of Plasma
Chainer's Edict
Circular Logic
Devastating Dreams
Dwarven Blastminer
Enchantress Presence
Fiery Temper
Mirari's WakeGoblin Piledriver
Goblin Sledder
Krosan Reclamation
Lightning Rift
Mirari's Wake
Mesmeric Fiend
Nantuko Husk
Nantuko Shade
Nostalgic Dreams
Putrid Imp
Riptide Laboratory
Sickening Dreams
Skirk Prospector
Sylvan Safekeeper
Tainted Lands
Violent Eruption
Voidmage Prodigy
Weathered Wayfarer
Wirewood Herald

Patriarch's Bidding10. Patriarch's Bidding

Bidding has to be one of the very first cards I ever cut from my cube. It is a decidedly narrow card and has only really ever had a couple of uses. At the time it was pretty exclusively to recur goblins and that has remained the most potent thing you can do with the card. Since then zombies got Grey Merchant of Asphodel and became a very good bidding tribe. Elves then got Shaman of the Pack and became a somewhat viable Bidding tribe and lastly Bloodstained Bishop turned up for the vampires giving quite a lot of scope to Bidding for the win in otherwise strong tribes. Bidding is one of the very best reasons to go tribal. It can be the ultimate value recursion card, an antidote to mass remover, or it can simply be an I win button. While I highly doubt I will ever have Bidding in my drafting cube ever again it feels like it is one of the most significant cards outside of the drafting cube when it comes to considering the context and strength of other cards.

Akroma's Vengeance9.   Akroma's Vengeance

For a good while this was the premium technology in mass removal effects. Wrath of God merely bought you some time against affinity while Vengeance would pretty much seal the deal. It wasn't creatures so much in aggerssive decks that were the problem, it was the equipment they would carry and so Vengeance carried a lot more stopping power than a Wrath. It was even pretty good at shutting down artifact ramp decks. Vengeance enjoyed a pretty premium status as a control card all the way up to the printing of Austere Command and it continued to see play there after as well. Things are all a bit too quick for six mana removal to be all that much of a thing in cube these days. I think the only places you would see this getting used now is due to the cycling and as cyclers go this is one of the weaker ones. Three is a heavy cost making it rarely viable to do early and the effect is not typically something you want to cycle away late. Ideally big cards have low cycling costs while cheap cards have heavier cycling costs. Either way, cycling is one of the all time great mechanics and it improves every card it goes on.

Tranquil Thicket8.   The One Mana Cycling Lands

While I am raving on about the quality of cycling we have this cycle. These are substantially better than the original Urza's block ones as they basically cost half to cycle. Pretty obviously if you don't have enough access to said colour you want to lay your land rather than cycle it and so for the most part these are just half the cost of the various other cycling lands and that makes them pretty all round great cards. Before we had such reasonable access to card quality in colours outside blue, and before tempo got nutty and thus before the cost of EtB tapped lands was onerous, this cycle was a great way to refine mana bases. Now you want to use cards like Urza's Bauble to adjust ratios and have as filler cards but back in the day you could afford these slower but more luxurious offerings. Now we have scry lands (Temples), cycling fetchable duals and other utility lands for days and you rarely see these used. Most commonly found in Life from the Loam decks as a source of recurring card advantage.

Deep Analysis7.   Deep Analysis

A lovely little card draw tool that has a lot more interesting things going on than most other draw spells. There are several modes in which you can play Deep Anal and a lot of choices that come with those modes. Back in the day Deep Anal was good enough that you would happily run it out at four mana for a bad Council of the Soratami. As such the option to discard it was always interesting, it would allow for much more immediate and mana efficient card draw but it would significantly reduce the overall value. All in Deep Anal is a four for one which is pretty serious value, depending on how you consider the value of discarding it, just the flashback half is a two or three for one. Now tempo is far too great for four mana draw spells and so you can only play Deep Analysis if you are reliably able to get it in the bin. This makes it narrow but it doesn't make it all that much worse. Night's Whisper is a great card and so in the right deck Deep Anal is rather better. Three life is a significant cost and it adds further interest to playing and building with the card.

Cabal Therapy6.   Cabal Therapy

It pains me to have this gem so low on the list. If it were more playable in singleton limited then I would have it second or something! Therapy is one of my all time favourite cards. Huge options, massive skill tester and generally all round interesting little spell. One of the flashback greats. Useful as disruption, as a sac outlet, as a thing you can tutor into your bin, as a way to get stuff from your hand into the bin! Therapy is a card I bring in and out of cube and I have found it performs pretty well with the right conditions. I probably try and make it work more than I should in singleton due to my love of the card but I have rarely been unhappy with the cards performance. This top ten is looking like it is going to be one of the biggest years for personal favourites!

Goblin Sharpshooter5.   Goblin Sharpshooter

A savage card in all respects. Sharpshooter is a headache on the rules and will single handedly defeat a lot of decks. The bane of elves. Merfolk don't enjoy the minigun much either! As a Standalone card Sharpshooter is a little bit matchup dependent. In a deck with synergies the card is a combo kill machine. Historically this was things like Skirk Prospector and Sledder to empower untap triggers and Goblin Warchief to get them online quicker and safer. You don't however need to go down the tribal route, any sort of token or weenie deck with any sort of sac outlet will empower Sharpshooter plenty. A huge amount of board control and reach. In many ways it feels like the red Mother of Runes. Pretty high power level, very hard for some decks to beat and pretty much a kill on sight card regardless of what you are playing.

Mental Note4.   Mental Note

This is one of those sleeper cards. Ten years ago it would be pretty suicidal running running this as you could easily mill a key card and lose on the spot. As I have moved away from combo and as decks have become more robust and redundant the danger of self mill in cube has fallen to nearly as little risk as in constructed. With the release of top notch delve cards from Tarkir, the delirium mechanic things, flashback stuff, recursive dorks, and even just an increase in good graveyard recursion effects there is a significant increase to the value of self mill. Milling random cards will give pseudo card quality or card advantage, or it can be a mana saving too. Mental Note is still narrower than things like Serum Visions but it is more powerful in the right kinds of deck and not that much less effective in the wrong kinds of deck. Part Dark Ritual and part Serum Visions Mental Note is a powerhouse of a support card and one of the most potent do nothing cards on offer now.

Lava Dart3.   Lava Dart

Another one of my favourite cards. Turns out I love me an alternate cost flashback card. I like flashback a lot as it is... I might have mentioned that. Lava Dart is a card that has returned to prominence recently. Back in the day it was good because we didn't have enough burn. Then we did and Dart was a bit fiddly and awkward but then along came prowess and Dart jumped back into the spotlight as a premium burn card. Unlike Firebolt the back end of Lava Dart is arguably the better half and so you still get a good half card when you put Dart in the bin. Being instant also helps to make Dart super tricksy and the most option dense red card on offer. This is probably the most interesting simple card on offer, it might well have the greatest (relevant) option density per words of text or even mana cost. I want to liken it to Brainstorm in this regard.

Grim Lavamancer2.   Grim Lavamancer

I hadn't realized quite how many of the dorks around the time of Lavamancer have fallen off. Grim is basically now one of those few old utility creatures that remain in the cube like the green ramp stuff, Mother of Runes, er... Basically, when I made the cube most of the dorks were from the era of Lavamancer. Now that is very much not the case and Grim really stands out being the staunch remainder. He is the 11th oldest creature in my cube presently. Every bit as good as he once was despite the significant power creep in creatures. Just a classic red effect packaged in an appealing way. Grim is cheap but he is not oppressive on tempo. Grim is quite a slow card that shines in the longer more drawn out games. His "mandatory delve two" resource consumption makes him well balanced and interesting. His direct and pure damage based utility makes him appealing in most places and his low mana costs further increase his desirability. I would love to see more cards like this, cheap to play but better later in the game. Cryptbreaker is the only comparable card to come to mind and it only compares in sytle, not in power or playability.

Flooded Strand1.   Allied Sac Lands

This is rather a no brainer. These are not just number one for 2002 but arguably for all 25 years of magic. Sac lands changed things in magic and it has not looked the same since. Old mana bases got rather better. Brainstorm got rather better. I imagine sleeve wear had some insane uptick. Sac lands have to be the most played cards of all time. They certainly are in cube. They are in most decks that can run them, even decks with no need of the fixing sometimes run them, be it for the thinning, the graveyard filling, or the shuffles. While only an allied cycle it didn't really matter given you can basically fix anything with them in concert with the original duals. This cycle of five covered most of the legacy and vintage players needs for fixing and would go on to do the same with the shock lands in other formats.

Monday 19 March 2018

Top 10 Cards from 2001

Flametongue KavuLooking back on 2001 there are some very big names for early cubes. A lot of the big names in creatures of the day as well as some impressively desirable spells hark from this year. While I am now down to a mere five cards from 2001 left in my drafting cube, 2001 is rather more impressive than that suggests. Many cards find themselves flickering in and out of the cube from this year. Many more are linchpin cards in constructed cube strategies. This was the first year they really started to push gold cards and give them a sufficient boost of power over mono coloured cards and that shows. While most of the gold cards from this era have now been surpassed you can still see the high numbers of them sitting in the reserves and how well they hold up compared to the cards of today. Although the five cards of 2001 doesn't sounds much more impressive than the four cards from 2000 the reality is very different and this year marked a large step up in power from the last. More over it was a step up of power in the right kind of way. It was a move towards Search for Azcanta and a move away from Tolarian Academy and that is a big win.

Mystic SnakePlaneshift didn't bring much to the table, or doesn't anymore now that the creatures have been power crept out of viability. Remember when Flame Tongue Kavu was the best thing you could find in a booster? When it was pretty much the best creature in the game? When it was so good it got an acronym! Apocalypse brings some nice enemy coloured dual cards and Odyssey brings some lovely new mechanically themed cards. Odyssey is when the graveyard started to matter for more than just one archetype, when it become a relevant part of the game and that aspect of magic has continued to grow and improve the game. As ever, before our top ten I have the list of cards that are cube relevant that didn't make the list;

Mystic Snake
Meddling Mage
Sunscape Familiar
EntombNightscape Familiar
Orim's Chant
Overgrown Estate
Moments Peace
Patron Wizard
Phyrexian Rager
Flame Tongue Kavu
Goblin Ringleader
Rites of Initiation
Eladamri's Call
Barbarian Ring
Braids, Cabal Minion
Cavern Harpy
Dromar's Charm
Skeletal Scrying
Shadowmage Infiltrator
Diabolic Intent
Spectral Lynx
Evasive Action
Original Filter Lands
Guided Passage
Tainted Pact
Tarnished Citadel
Temporal Spring
Time Stretch
Gerrard's Verdict
Innocent Blood
Hull Breach
Life / Death
Lord of the Undead
Words of Wisdom
Wild Research
Whirlpool Rider
Zombie Infestation

Phyrexian Arena10. Phyrexian Arena

I kind of wanted to give the 10th spot to Peek, the card certainly has a higher chance of returning to my cube than Arena and another card or so on this list too! Peek is just a nice useful fair little filler card. Phyrexian Arena is also quite a fair card but it is not at all a filler card, you have to build around it and you have to do so quite carefully. It is Necropotence light as far as I am concerned. Card draw for the faint hearted! Certainly Arena has its place and does outperform Necro in plenty of places. For one thing you can expect to cast Arena in decks that are not entirely black. Arena is typically a safer card to use in control and midrange decks. It was a big name back when tempo wasn't so serious. Now Arena is just too slow and painful to easily utilize as a source of card advantage. Cheaper alternatives like Confidant or those that provide utility like Arguel's Blood Fast are the way to go usually.

Pernicious Deed9.   Pernicious Deed

This used to be the premium in mass removal and control technology. I have seen many a blue deck splashing both black and green for Deed in the past. Deed is still a good control tool these days but more so in the control of combo decks than against aggro or control ones. Two things have combined to topple this mighty card of yesteryear. One is as ever the uptick in tempo in the world of magic. The other is the arrival of planeswalkers which Deed cannot destroy. Deed used to offer all the perks of a Wrath of God that you could use at instant speed and that was well worth spending two turns of mana on. Now if you try and spend 7 mana to kill a four drop you are probably going to loose that game. Deed would let you sit there even or slightly behind and effectively time walk your opponent because if they ran anything into the Deed you would blow it up and get bonus value from it and then get to untap and use mana first. Now if you try this trick out you will open up a perfect window for them to flop a planeswalker onto the board and put the Deed player well behind.

Upheaval8.   Upheaval

A lot of decks can't handle having their non-land permanents reset, almost none can recover from a full board reset. Especially when the Upheaval player always "gets to go first" and typically has a bunch of mana pooled. Upheaval basically says, "restart the game, go first, and get a Black Lotus extra free for every couple of turns you hold off past like turn 5 on said Upheaval". A burn heavy red deck that has gotten the Upheaval player to low life might recover, nothing else really has much of a shot. Upheaval is an overly oppressive card that greatly limited design space in older cubes. Simply put a midrange deck couldn't really ever beat it. It isn't like other cards you can't beat either, in a powered cube it is pretty much a first pick card. You are super likely to face someone with it and super unlikely to win. Upheaval is one of the most format shaping cards. Now in fair magic the card is rather too hard to get working. It just takes too long to get to the mana levels you want for it but as soon as you start to couple it with Mana Vault, Grim Monolith and other such cards then it is just stupidly potent. It is one of those Yagmoth's Will level of cards that goes from being first pick power level when it has the right support all the way to basically unplayable in the fair cubes. Upheaval represents one of the last printings of a highly powerful effect that tries to use symmetry to balance it and that feels like it is probably a good thing!

Reckless Charge7.   Reckless Charge

This is one of the most efficient damage output tools in all of magic. Baseline is Lightning Bolt quality on the 3 damage for a single mana. Then you have an impressively cheap flashback cost allowing you to get another 3 in for a still respectable 3 mana. Then you have potentially infinite scaling with the giving haste to things. Even if this is just a 1 power dork you haste up each time that is still a significant boost to the effectiveness of the card. The average damage for Charge in a game in which it is cast is probably under 6 but mostly because it is sufficiently strong that a lot of games will just be over before you come to cast it the second time round! The games in which it is cast twice are probably closer to the 8 damage mark. Super super effective! Charging up doublestrike dorks gets pretty filthy too! The damage isn't the only great thing about Charge, it gives you relevant options and hidden information. When your opponent isn't playing around the potential for any dork in your deck to have haste then they can be punished. So, with all this in mind, why is Reckless Charge not such a cube mainstay any more these days? Simply put, the combination of being narrow and situational, even if only a little on both. It is only face damage and cannot be turned on enemy creatures like Searing Spear so unless your deck wants Lava Spike it probably doesn't want Reckless Charge all that much. Secondly, you need a dork for it to be useful, one that can connect ideally. This means that even pure face decks can't always run Charge due to lack of dorks. Even in the perfect deck you will still have those instances where you lack a good target and your Charge is dead. You want consistency and Reckless Charge doesn't offer it enough, even despite it's pretty silly power level.

Careful Study6.   Careful Study

Simple and effective. Mostly a combo card these days for it's efficient graveyard filling potential in concert with its significant draw for the mana. Typically Thoughtscour effects are preferable as ways to fuel delve and delirium in cube due to being card neutral. Study is sufficiently cheap and direct however that I really wouldn't be surprised to see it making a return and perhaps ousting a card like Strategic Planning. Back in the day madness was sufficiently strong that Study was used in aggro decks as well as the combo ones. Study was widely played, quite highly picked, and just a great support card for a vast array of decks. What is so great about Careful Study is that is has all this range yet it is a super fair card. It has never once felt over powered or oppressive. It is cheap, it does things and it provides lots of choices. It is the only blue card quality spell (excluding Frantic Search) ever to have seen play in my cube that is card disadvantage and that feels like it says quite a lot. 

5.   Predict

A low key card but a versatile one. The value of Predict is mostly in that it is instant speed. When you are representing countermagic having a Predict to spend mana on if denial isn't needed is a great position to be in. In concert with cards that provide the right information Predict is one of the cheapest card drawing 2 for 1 spells on offer. It is also reasonable graveyard fuel usually putting two cards in the bin rather than one. The brutal Predict is when you not only counterspell their Vampiric Tutor but also guess what they Tutored for and get that extra draw as well! Much better than Shadow of Doubt! Predict is the control player's Chart a Course. The card sees legacy play which is testament to it's potency.   

Vindicate4.   Vindicate

A rather legendary card. This was actually an issue for me at the time as it somewhat priced me out of constructed. Spectral Lynx being the premium two drop dork of the era and sharing guilds with Vindicate meant simply that all the good decks were black and white. You could run Mardu, or Esper or Abzan. You could even run a risky four or more colour greed deck, just so long as it had black and white mana in it. That meant every constructed deck needed 12 rares (those plus Caves of Koilos) and with Vindicate being a good £15 a go and the others not being cheap combined with the fact that no one had spare to lend as they were all running their copies was an issue for cheapskate old me. Vindicate is actually a remarkably fair card with the only unfair thing it does being Stone Rain which will lead to the odd free win. Vindicate isn't really a big deal in cube any more, you would prefer Council's Judgement if you can easily support the double white. Even Anguished Unmaking and Hero's Downfall seems to see more play too. At physically killing things Vindicate is hard to get much of an advantage with. It costs more than the average thing in cube, is a mere destroy and at sorcery speed. With Vindicate you pay for versatility and that is all well and good. Being ahead on the board with Vindicate in hand is one of the best places to be.

3.   Firebolt

Pew pew. Lovely little card, very fair but also the perfect example of why flashback is such a good mechanic. It is not a direct comparison but the flashback adds more value than you lose from going from instant to sorcery. Normally you loose a huge amount of option density with that transition however you also gain loads of option density with the flashback aspect, all be it options in a rather different form. You also gain a small amount of synergy with discard and prowess themed cards. Five mana for two damage is a pretty terrible deal and six mana for four damage is hardly strong. It is all made good by being a free option and that sorcery speed Shock is an OK card to have in your deck. Not far off a perfect card at all from a design point of view. Great power level and a very positive effect on games. Firebolt is not a polar card, quite the opposite. It is simple, elegant, fair and consistent.

Fire // Ice2.   Fire / Ice

I used to consider this one of the most playable and most auto include cards in any Izzet deck. I have played more Fire / Ice with no ability to cast one half of the card more than I have played most other whole cards! Fire / Ice is still a great card that still goes in most decks able to play it but it is loosing that auto include status rather. Fire is great but we have loads of things that do it slightly more efficiently in Arc Trail, Forked Bolt and so forth. It is good tempo when it lands good (two for ones) and just OK tempo when it just takes out one thing. The change in Ice is probably more significant. It used to be a card neutral, positive tempo play even if you were just hitting lands with it. Now it feels like it is tempo neutral as well. It is rare to get much of an advantage using Ice now and overall the card feels like a Chandra's Pyrohelix with cycling, which is still great, but much more of a filler card than it used to be.

Yavimaya Coast
1.   Enemy Pains

I know the other half of the cycle got the number one slot for 1995 but still, pain lands still seem to be the most underrated dual lands in magic. The Modo cube isn't doing much to promote them either choosing to run check lands over them! The thing that makes that worse is that the modo cube is so badly designed in that it has far far far too few one drops that you don't even notice how much weaker check lands are than pain lands. And that is not to say check lands are bad, they are great, it is just pain lands are rather better. Quick lands are a little better in aggro decks and check lands are a little better in control decks however pain lands win out in the middle ground and would have a better average performance than checks or quick lands even if you only looked at aggro and control and ignored the midrange. I am at the stage where I run Mana Confluence and City of Brass in every two colour aggro deck I make and pain lands are much better! Enemy pain lands represented a change of direction in design that greatly improved the game. For some reason it was thought that opposing colours should be nerfed in the consistency department, for flavour reasons I guess? Enemy pain lands are the first printing of enemy colour dual lands (that don't suck all the arse as per the Salt Flats cycle) since the original duals. I guess we do typically have to wait about 6 years still to get our off colour duals after we first see a cycle as most still come out allied colours only. Still, this being the first example and City of Brass being your only alternative in most formats at the time was a real chore and made those six years feel like an eternity. I think price is perhaps one of the main factors in people underrating these when compared to other pricier duals. Usually price is in line with power ergo the pricier duals should cost more. Given how many printings pain lands have had and how little play they see in most constructed formats they are worth very little which perhaps gives them a bad image. No cube should be without a full set of 10 pain lands. Or no cube in which they are legal, I guess pauper cubes have an excuse not to run them... Stupid pauper, ruin my pithy ending.