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.

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