Monday 30 April 2018

Legendary (Historic?) Boros.dec

Board the WeatherlightSadly legandary in theme rather than power and repute! Perhaps Historic Boros is the appropriate name? So this is my first attempt to abuse the new legendary theme from Dominaria. I am sure I will have more exotic brews to follow but it seems like this is a fine place to start. Boros is pretty simple and this list is a pretty simple one even by those standards! It is just high powered cards in a fairly midrange build. It has early game to be able to get ahead and roll people who do nothing but it isn't lacking in late game punch as with so many of the more all in aggressive decks. I have gone with the more midrange approach as a number of the legend themed cards lend themselves to such things. If we were purely going for aggression then you are just looking at Mox Amber and even then I am not sure there are enough cheap aggressive cards to empower it. I suspect my next build will be an attempt at an Azorius control deck.

Kytheon, Hero of Akros24 Spells

Mox Amber

Zurgo, Bellstriker
Isamru, Hound of Konda
Kytheon, Hero of Akros
Legion's Landing

Path to Exile
Thraben Inspector
Figure of Destiny

Galvanic Blast
Mother of Runes

Board the Weatherlight
Pia NalaarKari Zev, Shyship Raider
Mikeaus, the Lunarch
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit

Kor Skyfisher
Lightning Helix

Pia Nalaar
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
Thalia, Heretic Cathar

Nahiri,  the Harbinger

Urza's Ruinous Blast

16 Lands
Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
Great Furnace

Flagstones of Trokair
Eiganjo Castle
Ancient Den

Battlefield Forge
Sacred Foundry
Inspiring Vantage
Arid Mesa

Rugged Prairie
Needle Spires


Mox AmberSo what is the cost of adding the historic theme to this list? All told fairly minor. It is narrowing but that is the case with any synergy theme you try and run in a list. In terms of power loss this list looks fine, it looks like it has a pretty high average power level of cards that operate suitably well together with a nice range of effects and options. The deck looks like any other midrange Boros deck I have ever seen. They always wind up playing some high powered cheap tempo cards. In the MODO cubes this list would look decidedly aggro but in mine this counts as midrange. Semantics aside this list isn't hurt by a focus on legendary cards. Legendary status has no build restrictions in singleton formats as they do in constructed. Those constructed build restrictions allow R&D to throw in a bit more spice than usual, a bit like a gold card, and so legends tend to have a high average power level. Certainly there are lots of legends in the cube and that is part of why this list looks so conventional.

So it might not cost us much to theme this list but what are the gains for doing so? There are three main areas to look at here, the Mox, the Ruinous Blast and the card quality effects in Board the Weatherlight and the ship itself.

Figure of DestinyLet us look at Mox. Easily the fairest Mox ever made. Outside of combo this is one of the best decks you can do for early activations of Mox Amber. Despite that your odds on useful turn one Mox plays are low. Lets say you get Mox in 20% of your openers which is a little above the reality. For it to be active you need to have one of the three legendary one drop dorks in the list, which we will assume you can cast. Lets call that 50% likely which is again, a significant rounding up on things. Those two events combining is a poor 10% of the time at best and that isn't the end of the story. You need something to play off the back of the Mox for it to do anything. There are about six white one drops you might want to play and a poxy two red cards. At this point it might be more obvious why Figure of Destiny was such a clear addition to the list! All told I think you have a less than 5% chance of making two one drops on turn one with this deck. Mox isn't just about the turn one plays, it is still fantastic if you can make your turn one legend and hold the Mox back to make a surprise three drop on turn two. It is still a big win ramping to a four drop. This doesn't make it better than a land though, you need it to always tap for mana to do that. I am perfectly sure Mox Amber will spend more time inactive in this list than Mox Opal does in affinity lists and that is certainly not a zero amount of time!

Mox Amber adds some strong but rare perks to the list, acts like a land most of the rest of the time but it a literal blank some of the time. I think it is too matchup dependent to say for sure how strong the Mox is in this list. Against controlling decks with more removal it will be far less reliable for sure. While I think the Mox will bring some nice dynamic plays and interesting variance I am not entirely sure the net effect of the Mox will be all that positive. You might literally just want a basic land instead which is a little sad. My lack of confidence in the card is one of the reasons I am running so many lands and in that regard it feels a little bit Mox Diamond and not in a good way.

WeatherlightNext up we have dig cards. Now this list has gone pretty heavily into the realms of the historic with 22 of the 40 cards in the list qualifying. This is easy enough to do with all the exotic artifact and legendary lands on top of the other historic cards. Karakas is a funny one as I banned it a while ago but it feels super unfair losing that extra legendary Plains so I will probably play it but not the bonus ability. A healthy 55% targets means that you should have a high chance of options and a minimal chance of missing on your Weatherlight cards. There is also a good range within the various historic targets. That all being said and done we have still not made Board better than Anticipate let alone Demonic Tutor or Impulse. Weathlight itself just feels like Dragonlord Ojutai. The upper cap on these cards is pretty tame and even when you go all out on synergy you only arrive at a fair card and not a bomb. While bad Impulse isn't exciting as a card it is rather more interesting in Boros which lacks this kind of dig effect. The Weatherlight cards add to this list, probably more than the Mox but what they add is diversity and consistency, they are not adding power.

Urza's Ruinous BlastLastly we have Urza's Ruinous Blast. This is a mighty big spell and is probably the best thing about this list in a cube setting. It is also vastly improved by the cards that dig for historic things giving you greater access to the effect. It is potentially huge tempo and huge value for a nicely affordable price. It only hits five of your own cards and should hit most of your opponents stuff. While it will never kill opposing planeswalkers directly it effectively does. You should have a legendary dork in play and you should wipe out most of their defenses with it enabling you to easily attack opposing walkers to death. Ruinous Blast is a fantastic offensive tool as well as a defensive one. Further to that it is a great get out of jail free card killing awkward things like True-Name Nemesis. In a build like this it feels vastly more consistent and potent than something like Bonfire of the Damned. I expect you to be able to use it in most situations you would want to do so with relative ease. I think the merits of a historic themed deck lie in the hands of Ruinous Blast. If it lives up to expectation this deck should be pretty strong and other historic builds have a good shot. If not then I don't see marginal Mox and bad Impulse being reason enough to theme this way.

Vance's Blasting CannonsAs for the rest of the build there were loads of cards I wanted to add. There are a pile of great legends I couldn't find room for as well as a near endless supply of great non-legendary cards that support the other things in the deck well. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Bruse Tarl, and Captain Lannery Storm are three other strong legends I looked at and wound up not running. Mostly I wanted a Faithless Looting as I feel this list is land heavy and Looting would solve that while adding lots more consistency. Flickerwisp appealed for its synergy with loads of the cards and its ability to crew solo. I looked at Oath of Chandra for a tutorable removal spell. I looked at Sram as a potential source of value but I think he puts too much strain on the synergies you want to support. A better value legend is likely just another planeswalker or even Vance's Blasting Cannons! Boros has access to most of the tier one four mana walkers and it feels like a shame not running more. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar feels like he would be fantastic in this list for his ability to crew right away and his ability to beat down opposing planeswalkers post Ruinous Blast. Torch of Defiance and Knight-Errant are pretty much always good too! I might be able to get away with cutting some of the clunkier two drop legends and running more potent four mana ones. Despite the land heavy slant on this deck and the inclusion of a five drop the four slot is fairly sparse and could easily manage a card or two more. Especially with a bit more cheap filtering with Looting. Pia and Kiran Nalaar would also be a lovely addition in the four slot. Selfless Spirit is another card I really wanted for the list as a way of protecting your legends that are in play.

Even if this list doesn't perform well it will look lovely doing so with such a unique array of lands. There is certainly some fine tuning that could be done to this list but the overall structure can't change too much. If it fails to perform retweaking the build isn't going to save it. Changing it up to a different style of deck with different colour pairings might if the Ruinous Blast wasn't the problem. I'll stick a bit in the comments about the results I get with this thing when I get a chance to play some games with it.

Sunday 29 April 2018

Flame of Keld Deck Wins

I thought that The Flame of Keld was one of the more interesting and abusive cards from Dominaria. I knew exactly how I would go about doing said abuse based on my experiences building with Insult / Injury. I figured I would basically just go as full on as possible and strip out basically all the cards without synergy. This list now resembles a combo deck far more than a red aggro deck and that is pretty reasonable. I won a game on turn two. Twenty to zero. I did that and I killed his blocker too! Here is my list, see if you can work out my turn two kill before the reveal at the end!

The Flame of Keld

26 Spells

Lotus Petal
Urza's Bauble
Mishra's Bauble

Monastery Swiftspear
Soul-Scar Mage
Mogg Fanatic
Fanatical Firebrand

Ghitu Lavarunner
Goblin Guide
Bomat Courier

Seal of Fire
Lava Dart
Ghitu LavarunnerMutagenic Growth  
Gut Shot

Faithless Looting
Crash Through
Warlord's Fury
Chain Lightning

Firebrand Archer
The Flame of Keld
Abbot of Keral Keep

Goblin Bombardment

Insult / Injury
Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh


14 Lands

13 Mountains

Barbarian Ring

Warlord's FurySo the theme is pretty simple, have as many damaging cards as possible that you can use to get damage out of without paying mana so as to empower the Insult combo. Further to this have a mentally cheap deck that you can empty your hand with so that Flame of Keld is never too damaging to draw. While big hitters work best with Insult pings are the best to combine with Flame of Keld and that is why you see a lot more in the way of Mogg Fanatic style cards in this list than I have in my Insult deck. 

The Goblin Bombardment was overkill and should be replaced with something better. It is too pricey, does little on its own and doesn't have the required support in dork count. Other potential cuts include Chandra and Abbot simply for being on the slow side and Crash Through and Warlord's Fury. The red cantrips are a bit expensive for what they bring to the list. They were not bad but they felt a little clumsy, you would have a lot of hands you didn't really know how to plan for as half the cards are just do nothing cyclers! Gitaxian Probe is almost certainly superior to any of these cards mentioned for potential cuts. I don't know why I didn't run it to begin with!? 

Fanatical FirebrandIn terms of good replacements for these potential cuts I would strongly consider Simian Spirit Guide. I found those little bits of burst to be most fruitful. It may not trigger prowess as the Lotus Petal does but that is fairly minor. Other that Guide and Probe nothing really jumps out. Obviously I would play Lightning Bolt given the space and option. Beyond that just more one mana threats and burn. More Faithless Looting effects would be amazing but there are none cheap enough in red to really appeal. Bomat Courier is the closest thing to that and a pretty happy inclusion in this list despite not having great synergy with the damaging aspect of the combo finisher cards. I briefly considered Wheel of Fortune as just an extreme last ditch effort kind of card but that is going to be a reasonable consistency hit for something I don't even know if the deck needed.

So how did this list kill on turn two? Turn one Mountain, Swiftspear, Bauble triggering prowess, sac and swing putting them to 18. Turn two Mountain, Lotus Petal and sac it to cast Insult. Gut Shot their one drop out the way and Fireblast them to the face for eight bringing the Swiftspear up to a 5/6. They are on 10 for the 2 damage on turn one and the 8 from the Fireblast. The double damaging 5/6 attacks for lethal. I even had a card left over! The Flame of Keld obviously not involved in the turn two kill and this could all have been done pre-Dominaria. The point is more that without the Flame making emptying your hand I wouldn't be playing things like Lotus Petal and Bauble in the deck which enabled this kill. An interesting take on an age old strategy and a fun deck to play. Presently not as consistent as I might like but I think that can be achieved with some refinements. This list is also not at all far off being broken by a new card or two being printed that suits it well. I already thought Insult was good enough for modern play so those potential new cards might not just break it in cube! 

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Disfigure vs. Fatal Push

Fatal Push
Fatal Push is great, it is pretty comfortably one of the best removal spells in the game, especially in modern. Push has done more for the price of Tarmogoyf than any amount of reprinting has achieved thus far! Despite all this I continually find myself wishing I had a Disfigure instead of the Push when I am playing cube. I put this down to bias initially as one expects Push to outperform Disfigure so you notice the times it does not far more than you notice other things. There are some factors which make Push better in modern than in cube such as more cheap dorks as well as more sac lands for revolt triggers. I knew Fatal Push wouldn't be as good in cube as in modern but I still assumed it would be the best black removal spell in cube. Now I am not even sure it is the best one mana black removal spell in cube! Let us have a logical look at comparing Disfigure to Push and find out how reasonable a claim that Disfigure is the better card might be.

The first port of call for comparison is simply the target range. In my cube Disfigure kills 67.6% of creatures and this goes down to 60% of creatures in the CubeTutor 720 average cube. Fatal Push is obviously rather more complicated to give figures for with its potential range based on having revolt or not. In my cube it kills 54.3% of creatures without revolt and 84.8% with which would represent a 69.5% average if you had revolt exactly half the time. Again we see a decline in the kill potential of the card moving to the CubeTutor 720 average list with a poxy 39% coverage without revolt rising to 75% with. This provides an average of 57% if you again assume the revolt trigger is active for half the time. Interestingly the arbitrary average given for the Fatal Push is within a couple of percent of Disfigure in their coverage for both cubes. In mine Disfigure is near enough two percent worse at killing than the average Push while in the average cube Disfigure is actually more like three percent better.

DisfigureWhat this tells me is that it is pretty reasonable to consider the cards comparable in power level if revolt is roughly a 50/50 affair in cube. There is still rather more too it than that but we are just going to focus on revolt at this stage. Revolt is not quite the on off thing I am making it out to be. Even if you are able to "freely" trigger it with a sac land that is still a restriction that lowers your options. Perhaps you wanted to lay a quick land as it is your last chance to make it before it comes in tapped. Perhaps you have to take an extra two damage from a shock land because of using your sac land this way. Revolt is rarely something you just get for free, you can often find yourself giving up bad trades or taking sub par lines to get it or keep up the option on it. Sac lands and Baubles are the best ways in cube to get revolt but there are only 12 or so of those on offer. They are the best as they cost no cards or mana to obtain. Most other ways cost mana or even cards. Things like Chromatic Star are great but if you are using it for revolt you are then basically playing a two mana removal spell not a one drop. Revolt is significantly harder to get in cube than it is in modern. You need to build your deck with it in mind as well as playing with it in mind and even then I doubt you get to the stage where you have it freely half of the time. At best you have it freely a quarter of the time, cheaply a quarter, in a somewhat costly way a quarter and effectively no access to it at all for the final quarter. I can't think of a great way to numerically represent this but it is part of why Fatal Push is such a well designed card. You have to contextually weigh up the cost of getting revolt in lots of situations. That is the best case and probably the 50% mark is a somewhat fair place to put it for that if we had to allocate it a numerical value (which we do if we are to continue the mathematical comparison!). If however you have a deck not setup for revolt and built with it not in mind then you are looking at a much lower number and a far far weaker Fatal Push. This means in the average case that Fatal Push is of comparable potency to Disfigure only when you have a deck reasonably well able to turn on revolt, otherwise Fatal Push will be the tier below Disfigure in power level purely on the revolt and range aspects.

Adanto VanguardIt is already looking good for the argument that Disfigure is better than Fatal Push in cube if we take my very rough numbers to be at all on the money. That was only considering their initial ranges and the challenges on getting revolt and thus the effect on said ranges. There are some functional aspects to the cards that need considering, the first of which heavily favours Disfigure again. In a combat situation, or indeed with any other source of damage or size reductions Disfigure remains useful in removing things outside of its independent range. I can kill your 4/4 at little to no cost if it tangles with my 2/3 in combat and that sort of thing. Fatal Push does stone cold nothing when it is facing cards outside it's range. You can even use Disfigure as a super limp fog effect if you are desperate to protect life and loyalty counts!

Next up we have another thing in favour of Disfigure which is surprisingly relevant in cube. There are a couple of indestructible type things which you are able to bypass with reducing toughness to zero. Killing an Adanto Vanguard is a happy thing to do. While there are only a handful of such creatures it is far more significant than it seems. They are typically good cards that you build plans or themes around. I always want to equip my Vanguard and it is usually a super safe line but it might cost me the game from tempo loss if a Disfigure lands in response to the equip.

ShriekmawThe last functional aspect difference between the two cards is finally in favour of Push. Basically it is to do with curving. On turns one and two there are very very few things that a Fatal Push can't target. Every now and again Tasigur flops on turn two but that is about it for my cube. Technically you can get out a turn two Vengevine as well! There are a bunch of things Disfigure cannot kill in those early turns. Part of the merit of cheap removal is that you can use it in the early game. As a turn one or two play Push is the better card in all cases other than Adanto Vanguard, it is turns three onward where Disfigure outpaces it. There are quite a lot of 3CMC dorks with only two toughness and hitting those with one mana removal can be quite a significant tempo swing. There are even a couple of 5CMC dorks with 2 or less toughness that Push can never hit!

Having gone through this comparison logically and comprehensively I am now pretty convinced Disfigure is the better cube card of the two. It is not strictly better as both have their own strengths and limitations. Both are interesting and well designed cards and they are fairly close in power despite my new found confidence in the Disfigure's superiority.

Tuesday 24 April 2018

5 Colour Humans .dec

Mantis Rider
This was yet another one of the decks from the last modern PT that I wished to do a cube build of. I have done plenty of human decks before but not using so many colours, typically just white or WG. A friend did a five colour one prior to the PT and came rather unstuck due to lack of removal. I learned from this lesson and did exactly the same thing in building, electing to simply draw better and not come up against creatures I needed to kill! I think our lists were pretty similar but for whatever reason I had a much better run of things and got to see what the archetype has to offer. The list I ran is below;

25 Spells

Experiment One
Mayor of AvabruckChampion of the Parish
Noble Hierarch
Avacyn's Pilgrim

Aether Vial
Path to Exile

Mayor of Avabruk
Lightning Mauler
Thalia's Lieutenant
Hamlet Captain

Dark Confidant
Kitesail Freebooter
Meddling Mage
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Voltaic Brawler
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Xathrid Necromancer
Mantis Rider
Xathrid Necromancer
Hanwier Garrison
Shardless Agent

Kessig Malcontents
Reflector Mage
Rogue Refiner

Collective Company
Saskia, the Unyielding

15 Lands

Cavern of Souls
Unclaimed Territory
City of Brass
Cavern of SoulsMana Confluence

Reflecting Pool
Ancient Ziggurat
Aether Hub
Horizon Canopy

Tropical Island

Windswept Heath
Verdant Catacombs

Tireless TrackerThis is the list of cards I pulled out to build with but ended up not running for one reason or another;

Dromoka's Command
Selesnya Charm
Harsh Mentor
Kytheon, Hero of Akros
Mother of Runes
Metallic Mimic
Burning Tree Emissary
Kari Zev
Channeler Initiate
Grim Lavamancer
Phantasmal Image
Adaptive Automaton
Deranged Outcast
Shared Triumph
Hidden Herbalists
Hanwier Militia Captain
Gather the Townsfolk
Devout Chaplain
Tireless Tracker
Sigarda, Heron's Grace
Thalia, Heretic Cathar

Kitesail FreebooterSo the deck is basically a zoo deck in form and function however it benefits from a greater disruptive package built into it as well as more powerful synergies between the cards. The cost for this is lower consistency on getting the cards you want, getting the lands you need to support them and a lower individual power level of cards. A zoo deck can usually just win with any single threat left over as they are all so meaty. You are not winning any games with a Freebooter or Lightning Mauler as your only threat. To empower the synergy aspects and reduce the inconsistencies and odds of running out of gas I had a heavy lean on card advantage, value and draw dorks. The deck is already slower than a zoo build and so more draw effects at a slight cost to goldfish speeds felt like the way to go. I was happier running a bit more in the way of ramp effects with more draw effects to empower that side of things as well.

Saskia the UnyieldingThe deck was notably less strong than the modern version relative to their metas. Having fewer copies of the disruptive cards and the fact that both Meddling Mage and Reflector Mage both work substantially less well in singleton formats hurt a big part of what makes the deck good in modern. The best thing about this deck in cube is the Champion of the Parish and Thalia's Lieutenant draws and those are probably best suited to white weenie. The other best thing about this deck is being able to run Saskia, who is a total beating! You don't need to be humans to do that but you do need to be of many colours! A big strength of both this list and the modern one is the ability to run Collective Company which is a grossly potent card. Not many cube decks can do this and have it be good as it demands a high creature count in addition to a very specific curve. This list nails it with 21 targets and plenty of good ones. Company and the card draw dorks felt like they gave this list way more comeback potential than a lot of beatdown decks.

Rogue RefinerThe energy package was cute. It gradually grew from my desire to play Aether Hub which in turn empowered subsequent energy cards. I liked what they brought to the build but I would happily lose the Brawler. Power level wise the card is great but it is quite onerous on the mana base as are all the gold cards without colourless in them. The mana base didn't cause me issue but it was still a demanding part of the deck using a lot of premium cards and eating up all the good lands that provide all the colours. The mana base also provides no added utility, no Wolf Run or manlands which are another thing Zoo has going for it.

While suitably powerful and pleasantly synergic I cannot see the merits of this build over a more classic zoo build. Even if the power level of this deck is able to match that of zoo it is just so much more dependent on specific cards and more demanding on cards in general that it isn't really a great way to go. I can see iterations of this that are fewer colours with more in the way of splash colours that work equally well without being so demanding. There are certainly a lot of options on cards as demonstrated by my list of potential extras.

Thursday 19 April 2018

Top 15 Keywords

Burst LightningThis top list is a little different to normal, mostly due to not being about cards! Obviously this list is not about power as rating the power of key words is meaningless. The cost and way it appears on a card determines the power of that card. This list is looking at the design and rating the keywords on that basis. Mechanisms that lead to better magic and better matches are what I am looking for. As with all things magic that means greater consistency, greater options and avoiding the overly polar. It involves interaction where possible too.

A quick honorable mention to kicker. It was the first of the cost variance modal mechanisms and was a very welcome addition at the time. We now have generally more interesting and exciting alternatives for cost varying on cards but we have the success of kicker to thank for them. I would like to see provoke revisited too, if nothing else I feel that green could really do with some decent provokers!

Glen Elendra Archmage15. Persist

This is quite an old mechanic now. Being one exclusive to creatures and not being an evergreen one most of the persist creatures have become too weak for cube. I have chosen persist although I somewhat consider undying and even things that just leave behind tokens when they leave play or die to all be in the same sort of group. I really like the dynamic of creatures that are harder to get out of play. I like how they tax removal and differentiate the value of different types of removal. Specifically for undying and persist I like the interaction with other plus and minus counters and that what is left in play is a real physical card and actively bad to bounce or flicker compared to tokens. I think that creatures that need killing twice add a great depth to board positions and how you trade off a board. A persist creature can empower cards of your own like a Recurring Nightmare while depowering cards of your opponents like a Wrath of God. They make seemingly obvious choices actually interesting. If you are getting beaten up do you block your 2/1 on their 2/1 or their 3/2? Easy question until that 3/2 is a Kitchen Finks, then you might choose to block the 2/1 and face only 3 power of attackers the following turn rather than the four you would face if you trade with the first part of the Finks.

Student of Warfare14. Level Up

This is another mechanic that is feeling it's age. When Rise first came out I had nearly a third of the level up dorks in the cube and they were some of the best dorks you could get. Now I am down to just two and they are pretty tame and fair. If anything the original level up dork, Figure of Destiny, remains the best despite not being an actual level up dork. The ability to "level up" at instant speed it pretty huge. At the time instant speed level up dorks would have been very over powered but now those cards would all just be inline with current creature power level. None of this is to say why this mechanic is so good which is a pretty simple one. It is all about the consistency backed up by decent option density. A level up creature offers you a typically cheap and low impact card that turns into a serious threat with enough mana dumped into them. They are rarely great returns on the mana but being able to spend it in small increments gives you incredible mana efficiency as well as more options. You get to have a top end threat and a low curve play in the same card. They help you out in floods and in screws and that is huge. Level up creatures help with curves and give you some nice wiggle room in the ratios of your decks components.

Zurgo Bellstriker13. Dash

I was considering having haste on this list as it is one of the few ways you can have generic larger dorks being playable. Creatures without EtB or on death value triggers or at least some serious protection abilities/effects that cost too much are typically total liabilities. I often call it the Jace test and you don't want to fail it at four mana and up. I make a Hill Giant, you make a Jace and bounce my Hill Giant and I have probably just lost. If I am making a Talruum Minotaur not only am I three damage up but you can't make a Jace and bounce the 3/3 as I will just remake it and kill your Jace. Haste is great, it basically makes a spell effect out of any generic beater dork. The thing is haste is very powerful and rather basic. There isn't all that much in the way of exotic plays one can do with haste, the most interesting is not attacking because you need a blocker and then usually feels awful. Haste is sufficiently good of a mechanic that you have to pay for it. Dash affords some of the perks of haste and some more unique to it but it isn't so potent a mechanic at baseline that you need to pay for it as it were. You can add a dash mode to most cards (without EtB effects) and assuming the dash mode isn't itself wildly under cost the card will remain pretty fair. Whether or not to dash is a significant choice. You get more immediate damage with a dash but you are not developing the board to do so. Perhaps you don't want to develop the board as you are playing around a mass removal sorcery and that is great, that is one of the huge strengths of dash, even over haste. Most of the time you do want to develop the board but you also want to pressure as much as you can. You have to balance your potential mana needs on subsequent turns. These relevant options make dash interesting as well as good.

Shriekmaw12. Evoke

In many ways evoke offers the same things as level up but in complete reverse. Like level up, evoke has an impressive rate of cube viable cards with nearly half of all the cards in magic with evoke having seen cube play. Evoke is the same as level up in that they provide consistency through having a top end and a low end mode. A lot of the power of evoke however comes from synergies. Sometimes it is just nice to have a spell effect on a creature, especially when you get to use it at spell level mana costs. Being a creature typically makes it easier to finf and more easily reused. Sometimes what you want is the effect of a dying creature so as to flip your Liliana, Heretical Healer! Other times you just need a dork in the bin. Evoke just winds up having a lot of useful interactions. Evoke cards keep decks dynamic. I would like to see more evoke cards with a nice range of core colour effects on them. Evoke cards do not need to be very high powered to be good cards, neither end needs to be above curve, just playable. The convenience the mechanism affords is worth a cut in power level.

Stoke the Flames11. Convoke

I love a free spell however I also love balance and fair cards and these two things are rather at odds. There are a few mechanics however that do allow for free spells without being far far too good or plain rubbish. Convoke is (one of) the best of those mechanics, it is a very real cost but it is an optional one. It cannot be abused and powered out too early, convoke only offers any sort of discount once you have developed a board making it a nice midgame effect. Sadly the more expensive convoke spells are really only playable in token themed decks and so despite there being a lot of convoke cards on offer fairly few of them are relevant for cube for being too narrow. More in the way of cheaper interactive convoke cards would be lovely. Convoke is relatively low on this list due to how few good and generally playable convoke cards that exist. It is hard to make good cards with the mechanic and so the restricted design space convoke has to work with holds it back. Really you need cards with convoke to be playable at base cost, both in terms of value and physically. A lot of aggressive decks with creatures in them want to stop their curve at 3 or 4 if they can and so a five or six mana convoke card isn't something that can physically be cast in a useful time frame without dorks to power it out. Cards like that are just needlessly dangerous inclusions.

Murderous Cut10. Delve

Delve might seem like a surprise entry on this list as many of the delve cards are oppressively overpowered. Certainly some of the Khans delve cards are on the extreme side but it wouldn't take much tweaking to bring them inline. I like the idea of capping your delve use on a spell but not just with coloured mana. I like the idea of having cheaper cards with calmer effects with delve on them. Treasure Cruise would be more than fair if you couldn't reduce the cost below 2U or if it was just a Thoughcast but replacing the affinity for delve. What I like about delve is two fold. I like how it interacts with graveyard mechanics and poses some interesting choices in the form of sacrifices. Do I want the option on flashing back this Firebolt later on in the game or do I want an extra mana now? I also just like cost reduction effects. I love a dynamic casting cost or mana range as is perhaps clear from this list! Delve is a real resource consumption and it takes some setup to get there. You cannot play too many delve cards nor can you play them in decks not somehow building up a graveyard with some level of speed and consistency and expect them to be good. Delve presents lots of options and has interactions in all sorts of places. It is the considered use requirement in addition to the wealth of choices delve engenders that makes me rate it so highly. I would like to see more of it but typically on cheaper, calmer, less proactive cards. Ancestral Recall is a bit much even if it takes a bit of setup. While it might take roughly as long on average to resolve Ancestral Visions as it does to put seven things in your graveyard the massive difference is that you can prepare a full yard without a Cruise, you cannot claim time served on a suspend card! Delve is a much more playable way of curtailing early use of cards than suspend is and indeed another aspect of design use for the mechanic.

Collective Brutality9.   Escalate

Fundamentally this mechanic was always going to be a winner as it has the prerequisite of being on a modular card. Modular cards; Charms, Confluences and Commands, are some of the best (cube) cards going. They bring much needed flexibility to the format. Escalate is pretty much the best of these kinds of cards as you can get a cheap mode as per Charms or you can invest more heavily and have a more Command like effect. What makes escalate even more interesting is the alternate cost nature of many of the cards. Some use mana and have the feel of an X spell or a level up card not in the form of a permanent! Others use alternate costs and make for even more interesting and dynamic cards. If I was just rating mechanics based on how well cards with that mechanic do in a cube environment then escalate would win hands down. Half the cards with escalate have seen a good amount of cube play since they were released and even more impressively the other half wouldn't be bad cards in cube, they would all see some play and do some valuable work. Sadly a big part of the reason for the impressive showing on escalate cards is that there is only eight of them. It is one of the mechanics that I most want to see further explored.

Ishkanah, Grafwidow8.   Delirium

I am generally a fan of the mechanics that utilize the graveyard for the extra dimensions they bring to the game. I also like the interplay between the various graveyard mechanics and how they tend to have both positive and negative synergies. Self mill effects both empower delirium and delve for example however subsequently delving might remove your delirium. What I like most about delirium and cards like Tarmogoyf and Emrakul, the Promised End is that they make you consider a whole new aspect of deck design. While not the most important element of deck design when playing delirium cards it is still significant to consider your balance of card types and how easily you are able to get them in the bin. That will determine the power level of a fair number of cards you could well be playing in cube. With clever picking and deck building you can empower delirium cards significantly without compromising the rest of the deck. State based effect mechanisms are interesting and afford lots of extra design space. Threshold and ascend are both decent but they are linear and have less involvement than delirium. Both are more direct in deck design and how you are able to get there and that makes them more archetype locked, delirium can be slipped into a lot of builds.

Gust Walker7.   Exert

While perhaps a little oppressive in limited due to the way it often forced a race that is something that can easily be solved with sensible design and allocation of the mechanic. What makes exert so interesting is the way it adds another element to combat. Rather than just being a completely linear me, you, me, you, etc. attack rhythm exert creatures are able to alter the flow. Over two turns a creature with exert has four different modes it can attack in on top of the option to not attack which is all other creatures ever get to do. Exert adds a huge degree of option density to the simplest of dorks and thus a good amount of complexity in how both players must plan and consider combat. In much the same sort of way that persist makes the dance of removal and threat more interesting and involved, exert has that effect on the attack step. Exert lets you get an extra effect for an unusual cost and I am a fan of unusual costs. Exert is the closest thing to a loan you can really do in magic, that or echo I guess. You essentially borrow from the next turn to empower the attack this turn. It is like dash except not linked to mana, rather than forcing you to pay more mana to empower your dork exert simply costs you time with access to your dork that you paid mana and a card for.

Stormchaser Mage6.   Prowess

What I like most about prowess is how it brings the hidden information aspect of magic into combat. You need combat tricks or specific circumstances plus instant removal for combat to have any hidden component. So often combat is a logic puzzle that can be solved. In any given format you know what combat tricks people might have, which is usually none, and so combat is a fairly nice safe space. That extra dimension of probability and gaining reads on people is something I like a lot about magic and I like having it in combat and prowess offers this nicely. I don't need to run combat tricks in order that I can represent with my prowess dorks. I love running into a 2/3 blocker with my 1/2 prowess dork and just getting in free damage due to the fear! Prowess turns all your Opts and Impulses into little combat tricks and that really lets you play some magic. I felt like a king yesterday for killing a True Name Nemesis with a Monastery Swiftspear. I ran it in as a 1/2 and unsurprisingly my opponent blocked it, I then fired off both halves of a Lava Dart and lastly a Wild Slash all at my opponents face. The ferocious trigger was activated by my now 4/5 monk meaning that damage was no longer preventable which meant that protection from me no longer prevented damage from my stuff and so the 4/5 easily dispatched the 3/1 fish. Cute play though this was I still lost that game (close though it was) as a three for one is pretty brutal, it turned out I really needed an extra mountain in that game and flashing back the Dart cost me dear. Another nice aspect of prowess is that when you have a decent amount of it you can build around it. You don't need all that much of it before Gut Shot looks really appealing.

Lava Dart5.   Flashback

This is a lovely versatile mechanic that was so successful they have been trying to find a way of mimicking it for creatures ever since. Flashback is typically used to add some super late game value on to otherwise fair early game cards. It can however be used to create unique multicoloured cards or cards where you get a vastly under priced effect should you be able to get the card in the bin first rather than casting it normally. Flashback always ensures you get some value out of discard and self mill effects ranging from mild value on the classical overcost flashbacks to the significant on the cheaper ones. Flashback gives a lot of options to players, it interacts in an intersting way with other graveyard based mechanisms too. Flashback has a lovely way of easing players from the midgame into the late game top deck stage in a nice gradual way. The thing with spells is that you probably want the effect of that spell in your deck if you are playing that spell in the first place and so flashback is pretty much always welcome. No spell is made worse by gaining flashback even when it is savagely over cost. Just so long as one half of the card is close enough to reasonable for the effect you generally have a winner. Not only is flashback versatile in how you can design with it but it is also very much inline with what you want in magic. One of the more numerous mechanics that isn't evergreen yet still able to boast a very significant percentage of those cards as having been used in cube and indeed still useful in cube.

Kari Zev, Skyship Raider4.   Menace

Evasion adds an important dimension to combat. Without it you wind up with a rather dry game and the relatively few stat lines in the game becomes far more evident. There are a lot of forms of evasion but few of those are good. Protection, intimidate, landwalk, and straight up unblockable are uninteractive which is not great for quality games. Flying is better but it is still rather polar and a lot of games still come down to not being able to deal with a flier. Trample is probably the best of the earlier forms of evasions but it is not an exciting mechanic. It has little impact on smaller creatures which are the most common creatures in magic. One a one or two powered dork (that neither grows itself or has an "on damaging opponents" trigger trample is probably the lowest value keyword you can have. There is no real counter play to trample other than having more toughness. Trample is a great mechanic it and benefits the game, all I am saying is that it is limited. Menace on the other hand is super interesting. Wizards know this too as they quickly made it evergreen and are using it more frequently and in ever better ways. It is nice to see when they know they have something right. Menace taxes blockers, it doesn't prevent blocking but it does make it rather more difficult. The inefficiencies menace forces on an opponents blocking options often leads to menace acting as evasion. Usually on the menace creature but if not there then more often on another attacking creature than no benefit at all. Menace is not polar like flying, random like protection or uninteractive like so many. From a design and game play perspective menace is the easy winner of the evasion abilities even if trample and flying are better flavour wins.

Dissenter's Deliverance3.   Cycling

This was the first great new addition to the game mechanically back in Urza's block. Sadly it was overshadowed rather by the horror that was constructed magic at the time. We didn't really get to appreciate the delicate improvements to consistency cycling could offer because everyone was too busy abusing infinite mana and cards. The second time we encountered the ability it was in Onslaught block which was rather a two horse race. The block was poorly designed all round and fairly poorly received. Legions has my vote for worst ever set. The best deck at the time was cycling based and it was very consistent as a result but interesting it was not. We have encountered lots of experimentation with cycling over the years with effects on cycle and typecycling. Amonkhet most recently showcased a lovely array of cycling cards demonstrating some of the best cards yet some of the simplest design. You can have some pretty average power level cards and slap on cycling and a lot of them instantly become great cards. Any narrow effect you often want but will otherwise be dead is a perfect candidate for a cycling card. Equally, at the other end of the spectrum, cards that need to be clunky for what they offer can become vastly more streamlined and playable with a cheeky cycling cost on them. Cycling allows far more different types of card to be playable and that diversifies the game. Cycling on lands is great for countering floods, cycling on cheap cards is great for allowing decks that want to go long the ability to pack in low end. Cheap cycling effects on non-land cards help a huge amount with mana screw. Colourless cycling helps a lot with colour screw and makes for vastly more splashable cards. Cycling on narrow cards makes them not narrow cards. You can do loads with the basic cycling ability and it is never oppressive. It doesn't further the position in any physical way, it is pure card quality at the cost of tempo. Formats with cycling are simply more consistent and lead to better games. The more playable cycling cards the better. Amonkhet proved that you can push out the boat with cycling and it isn't a problem at all. I hope to see more cycling cards of that power level.

Tireless Tracker2.   Investigate

I am a massive fan of clues. One of the awkward issues with magic design is that everything has to be whole numbers to work. You cannot have a third of a card or half a mana, well you can in Unhinged or something but not the point. Cards are one of the most important resources in magic and one of the highest value per unit. Things like loot and scry are nice and do a lot of the same things as actual card draw but ultimately they are still not card advantage and don't quite scratch that itch. Investigate is a fantastic way to provide card advantage in a less valuable manner. As such it allows for greater scope in design and a great way to tone down cards without having to hack chunks off a card. One mana or those lovely three words "Draw a card" make a huge difference to a card. The latter is the difference between playable and a bomb, the former is enough to often have that effect! If a card is too good with a draw a card clause you can keep it interesting by replacing it with investigate. I think part of the reason I am so in love with this mechanic is that I like the cheap cards and those are the ones with the finest line on balance. A one mana card is always going to be a low value card and this makes the card cost too great for a lot of them. You add draw a card onto a nearly playable one drop and you wind up with a three mana card and that is pretty sad. At three, even two mana, a lot of low key effects with draw a card on them are then not worth the tempo cost. A lot of low key effects are caught in this limbo where no fair version of the card is playable. At one mana without replacement it isn't worth the card cost and at more mana it is too expensive for the effect. While a bit of a borderline case with both of these cards being pretty playable I would say that Unsummon and Repulse are a reasonable example of this issue, Twitch and Twiddle would perhaps be a better example. One mana Unsummon or Twiddle with investigate would be great cards, both would still be decent at two and probably more playable than the one or three mana alternatives for the most part. Investigate is the mechanic I most want to see more of. Wizards know most of their good mechanics and have redone them at a reasonable frequency. The only other really great mecahanic that hasn't seen loads of print is escalate and that has a much lower range what with needing to be on modal cards. I want to see escalate explored a bit more, I want to see investigate evergreen and explored fully! I don't think that will happen as it is a bit too clumsy logistically however I think there are some really great cards missing from the game out there to be designed and printed that are made possible by this great mechanic.

Preordain1.   Scry

It couldn't not be number one the way I ham on about consistency. Scry is a pretty perfect mechanic and it is highly welcome in the evergreen group. Scry is able to be put on any kind of card and can be a one off effect or bolted onto an ability. It is clean and simple. It is near impossible to abuse. It doesn't affect any resource from either player. It just increases consistency and that makes it delightful. I hope to see every set doused in scry cards. Scry makes everything better. Having scry cards in your deck improves the effectiveness of your other cards more so than other mechanics. Scry eases the lines on mana ratios and protects against flood and screw. Scry increases the chances you have the situational cards when you need them and not when you don't. Scry reduces the amount you see top end cards early game while also reducing your chances to see low value early cards in the late game. Scry is also a skill based mechanic. You can hurt yourself if you do it really badly or simply gain little to no value if done poorly. Scry is options dense. Scry for 1 you get 2 options, for 2 and you get five, increasingly so as you go up in scry value. When you combine those options with the things you can do from hand or on the board it continues to scale up dramatically. Many a loss can be traced back to a bad scry in the early game. The great thing about that is when you start to notice it you are well on your way to being a solid player.

Sunday 15 April 2018

Big Ritual (Skred) Red

SkredThe other day a friend and I did some constructed cubing and he came up with this gem. It started out life as a Skred Red deck as found in modern however he adapted it in a unique way that really seemed to work wonders. Essentially he filled out the low end with ritual and looting cards giving him great burst and consistency. Rather than a Skred control deck he had the bottom end of a red storm deck. His top end was all just the premium red stuff. Rather than ritualing out an Empty the Warrens he would just flop a Chandra, Titan or Dragon and it turns out that would usually win. The threat and tempo of the red top end is very high, if played at all before curve it can be pretty devastating. I lost a number of games to this deck to him making six drops on turn three. This list is not exactly what he ran, he had a couple more generic burn spells and one less Commander as well as one rather more embarrassing Skred missing. Turns out I didn't have the namesake card for his deck so he just ran the vastly superior Lightning Bolt!

24 Spells

Pyretic RitualFaithless Looting
Rite of Flame

Desperate Ritual
Pyretic Ritual
Ruby Medallion
Cathartic Reunion

Tormented Voice
Coldsteel Heart

Simian Spirit Guide
Sweltering Suns
Seething Song
Wheel of Fortune
Tormenting Voice
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Koth of the Hammer
Past in Flames
Fiery Confluence

Pia and Kiran Nalaar

Siege Gang Commander

Chandra, Flamecaller
Inferno Titan

16 Lands

14 Snow -Covered Mountains
Ancient Tomb
City of Traitors

Chandra, FlamecallerThere were lots of things I really liked about this deck. The innovative freshness of it primarily but also how different it felt to play. It was quick, it was option dense, it got to use big red top end that many red builds in cube can't make work. It was a deck full of some stark contrasts. Intuitively I don't think to burn resources in rituals to ramp to something interactive that then takes time to return that lost value but in this kind of deck it is a great strategy. It has a lot to do with the general way the red top end threats function. You can typically get a decent amount of initial value in the form of damage to stuff in play from them and so even if they are dealt with you are not behind in tempo. The scaling with ramp is also very impressive. By turn six 3 or 4 damage won't kill a bunch of the things people are making but on turns 3 and 4 that will provide very apt control. And once you have control you can then very easily move on to win, and quickly with a lot of them!

The combination of lots of looting, rituals, Past in Flames and Wheel of Fortune pretty much make up for any card advantage you lose through ramp effects. The abundance of the first two kinds of card really empower the Past in Flames and Wheel of Fortune. Even when the ramped out top end gets answered this deck still has a lot of legs and can recover some pretty big swings. Past in Flames was the thing that tied it all together and made it a brilliant work of art rather than a mess. The deck was a nicely tuned whole rather than a show of individuals. That being said, the Ruby Medallion was more than impressive. I got to fear it on the other side of the table, any sort of turn two, or perish the thought, turn one Medallion just felt like it spelt my doom.

Past in FlamesThis deck is unusually good against the increasingly popular go wide strategies with an abundance of cheap mass removal effects. Again, the many looting and rummage effects in the deck, as well as some nice modular cards, ensure that the deck remains consistent and doesn't suffer dead cards in hand as control red decks in the past have done.

This list uses a very unintuitive blend of  effects. Most of them cause a new problem while solving a different one. Ramp solves speed issues but causes savage card disadvantage etc. All together all the problems are covered, both those inherent to red control decks and those newly caused by the other solution tools. Amazingly this quirky deck is rather lacking in weaknesses. It is a bit too specific to be a thing you would want to support in a drafting cube. While it almost certainly isn't a tier one cube deck by any measure it is absolutely a strong and competitive deck. It might be a good rotisserie option with few contested cards, broad and high power level and hard to read (and thus counter) general direction. I suspect most people would assume something different to this almost regardless of the order you drafted it in! It lets you play red in a really satisfying and involved way while putting loads of hard to use, yet also very fun, red cards to work.

Saturday 14 April 2018

Final Dominaria Additions and Thoughts

Well that all turned out rather unexpectedly. After the first reveal Dominaria looked to be another Rivals of Ixalan for cube offering little to change anything or do anything all that interesting. With the full set out I am prepared to call this a big win. It isn't huge for cube additions with nothing at the top end of the spectrum for power level but we do have some nice interesting things as well as some useful core cards. It was quite interesting reviewing the cards twice in many cases without playing them as it highlighted bias. I easily wrote off loads of cards from the first spoil that I spent longer thinking about when I saw the real card with art. I found that cards I liked the look and feel of I wanted to be good and spent time looking hard to find the way in which they might be good. While I found reviewing cards from just text to be harder I think it removed bias effectively. I also appear to have some kind of normal baseline target of cards I expect to add to cube with is another weird kind of self constructed bias. I seem to want to add about X new cards to the cube and so for sets offering less than X I start to overrate things a bit to mentally bump up the sets power level. Equally really potent sets with more than X to offer I will start to underrate and overlook things, in both Khans and Origins I undervalued a bunch of cards just because the sets were so potent and I was over loaded with good stuff! I wasn't even aware of this bias until this odd set review exposed it to me. While understanding my bias isn't a great help for the reader I am talking about it because the process of understanding ones own bias and how to compensate for it are critical skills in the playing of magic.

Given how stacked cube now is I am totally fine with the level of offerings Dominaria has for it. Especially when in every other way the set seems great. I love the flavour, the art and the design. I have never read up on MtG lore before, I have never read every detail on the flavour text for the whole set before either. Dominaria captured my interests and nostalgia and in that regard I have to rank it as one of the best sets.

The other aspect of Dominaria I love is the quality to be found in the commons and lower rarity cards. For a long while now most cube additions I have made have been mythic or rare. While there is nothing that would be considered powerful by cube standards Dominaria is actually one of the most power crept sets I have seen. It has been done in the right way, the bottom has been brought up closer to the top rather than keeping the bottom fixed and raising the bar. This should make the set a far better drafting experience. Across all the cards and rarities Dominaria has a very high average power level . Below is now a complete list of the cards from Dominaria I plan to get for cube including those from the initially spoiled cards and those from the final spoiling. The new additions to this list are at the top of each section.

To Add

Cast Down

The Flame of Keld
Dauntless Bodygaurd
Wizard's Lightning
Ghitu Lavamancer
Benalish Marshal

To Test

Saproling Migration
Zhalfirin Void
Board the Weatherlight
Yawgmoth's Vile Offering
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Adventurous Impulse
Rite of Belzenlok
Josu Vess, Lick Knight
Vodalian Arcanist

Lyra, Dawnbringer
Merfolk Trickster
Goblin Chainwhirler
Karn, Scion of Urza
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Tetsuko Umezwa, Fugitive
Squee, the Immortal
Fungal Infection
Demonlord Belzenlok
History of Benalia
Seal Away
Aryel, Knight of Windgrace
Verix Bladewing
Grand Warlord Radha

Exotic Reserves

Memorial Lands
Dread Shade
Orcish Vandal
The Mending of Dominaria
Thran, Temporal Gateway
Swarm of Spores
Fungal Plots
Yavimaya Shepherd
Traxos, Scourge of Kroog

Mox Amber
Damping Sphere
Sparring Construct
Voltaic Servant
Navigator's Compass
Warlord's Fury
Naban, Dean of Iteration
Song of Freyalise
Tempest Djinn
Urza's Ruinous Blast
Jaya Ballard
Precognition Field
Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar
Sporecrown Thallid
Slimefoot the Stowaway
Neru Meha, Master Wizard
Torgaar, Famine Incarnate
Fall of Thran
Healing Grace
Adeliz, the Cinder Wind
Oath of Teferi
Shanna, Sisay's Legacy

Dominaria Initial Review (final) Part XIV

Thran Temporal Gateway 5

While in many ways this looks like a dodgy Elvish Piper I can actually see this being quite potent. This is pretty much the Goryo's Vengence of Sneak Attacks! While no where near as abrupt as Sneak Attack this slower and fairer offering does have things in its favour. Mostly that your stuff stays in play. Ideally you flop out a dork to block with or at the end of their turn thus giving them minimal time to react to whatever massive threat you put in. Most of the best game ender cards are legends and a lot of those that are not are conveniently artifacts. You can even now use this to flop out a Bolas and have that as your win condition. Thran Temporal Gateway puts the things you want to put into play into play! Eight mana is a lot to "cheat" in a thing but you can break it down meaning you never need more than four. It is all colourless so very easy to ramp into, and you get to do it every turn. One of the problems in cube with the cheat in fat stuff decks is that one dork is rarely enough to seal the deal, it usually takes two. The first to stabilize and the second to close as it were. I have lost plenty of games after getting out one fatty despite it putting me well ahead at the time. If they can hang on and somehow deal with it then you are a sitting duck without followup. Gateway not only puts out dorks in a nice safe and poised way but it lets you do it again the following turn for that game ending one two punch. I think any cube with a good amount of top end, which is basically any cube supporting Reanimate and other cheat in combos or just slower cubes, can run this to good effect. It is more God Pharaoh's Gift than other big cheat in cards but it is rather better for cube use.

Swarm of Spores 2

This is not a powerful token generation spell by any means. Green is presently the second least used colour (only ahead of blue) in the various token strategies but it does have many of the tools so it won't take much more for it to jump into the forefront. That said, white loves to go wide and Baral's Expertise hasn't been getting any love and so this is not looking too hopeful. While I still don't see this cutting it in a token based green deck it might due to cards like Sprout Swarm and Scatter the Seeds with their convoke. When a card is ramp as well as core support for your deck it starts to look more appealing. Kind of how Mental Note etc have become over powered support cards in delve decks. The other potential for this card is simply a tribal saproling deck which isn't looking like quite such a joke idea any more!

Fungal Plots 2

This is worse than it looks, you can only play it in saproling decks and in such decks you will not have many creatures. Those you do have you would probably rather recur than exile and so this has quite significantly reduced functionality. What this is is a very poor Skullclamp! While Clamp outdraws this 4 to 1 when fueled with 1/1 saprolings the Plots has no mana requirements, can be done at instant speed and gains life. Fungal Plots has a good amount of utility about it. This is probably good enough to make a tribal saproling deck, even just on the second ability. Nothing else is ever going to want this outside of tribal builds though.

Weight of Memory 0

This feels like the black combined Entomb Demonic thing we got at five mana but made up all blue! This is in fact far worse what with being a sorcery in blue and having weaker effects. Far too expensive for graveyard filler or for draw or for both. You want Mental Note for this kind of support card. Never this.

Kazarov, Singir Pureblood 0

Obviously unplayably bad in cube, comically worse than Olivia Voldaren. Is it this bad just to keep limited a safe space?

Traxos, Scourge of Kroog 4

This seems pretty nutty when you can play it in the right deck. I think my cube probably doesn't have quite enough artifact support for this presently but I could easily force it if I wanted to. Non-affinity artifacts using cards like Lodestone Golem have been strong cube archetypes in the past and this would fit into such decks a treat. I suspect most powered cubes as well as unpowered ones with some combo in them contain enough artifacts to support this thing. It might still be too narrow in where you want a big cheap 7/7 trample but it could reliably be made to attack each turn! So how good is a 7/7 trample for 4 mana? Without the trample it would be bad that is for sure. Even with it Traxos fails the Jace test and dies to a fair amount of removal. He is very powerful but in pure stats which is a hard power to milk in cube. I see this performing best in formats like legacy where you can take advantage of size more effectively. In cube this will be fine to good in the right place but it isn't an exciting card. It is narrow and it lacks any sort of option density or utility, Traxos is Mr Linear.

Yavimaya Shepherd 1.5

The power level is painfully low, lower than Swarm of Spores even and I though that was about as low as you can go and remain a cube playable. Despite the low power this is doing exactly what a tribal saproling deck wants to do and in a tribe highly restricted on playables that might well be enough.

Grow from the Ashes 0

Nice flexible ramp card offering some value and extra ramp. Having the lands come in untapped is nice but on such a slow card to begin with I don't see this ever quite being enough. Kodoma's Reach / Cultivate just feel like they will do what this does most of the time for 2 less mana and they are generally too slow for cube!

Run Amok 0

Nice and punchy for a way to force through damage but I am always just going to play a one mana trick over this with Brute Force, Rouse the Mob, Rush of Adrenaline, Crash Through, Titan's Strength all as strong alternatives.

Deathbloom Thallid 1

Possible a bit higher power than the Yavimaya Shepherd but the off colour nature of this makes it less appealing for the tribal builds.

Vodalian Arcanist 4

Presently I think all the blue decks that want ramp can get it better from artifacts. There is no real need to go and get it from a creature, especially if you are playing mass removal. That being said, a 1/3 blocker is pretty reasonable on turn 2 and so perhaps this can represent a bit like Wall of Roots. It looks a lot less impressive than Curious Homunculus but Arcanist is a way better defensive card. Two toughness more make Arcanist safer and substantially more useful when you make him which is most of the trouble with the Homunculus, so often it is just pinged out the way and causes too much tempo loss. Arcanist shouldn't be a tempo concession. Not only does he have control potential thanks to his healthy statline but he has some minor tribal application due to being two of the most relevant blue creature types. Certainly a card to test. While I think it is a little on the narrow side and a little on the low powered side to made an impact in draft cube I suspect this little card will crop up a bunch in more tailored cube builds.

Artificer's Assistant 2

Some decks just want cheap evasive dorks and in those decks this is quite reasonable. You don't need to have many things that trigger it at all for it to be interesting. It isn't Judge's Familiar good but it isin the power rung just below it. As with all 1/1 fliers for 1, this is only really worth playing if you have ways to buff its power, be that anthems or equipment. I guess a raid / ninjitsu themed deck might be enough but the point is more that this is a narrow card with plenty of alternatives. There will be plenty of times that Hynpotic Siren or something is preferable even when you want those 1/1 fliers. Fine though this is it is easily the sort of card to wind up not seeing any play.

Wednesday 11 April 2018

Dominaria Initial Review Part XIII

Dread Shade 3.5 (but set to go up)

Aww, look at the little Nantuko Shade all grown up! So my first port of call for card analysis is to take the closest thing to said new card, subtract one from the other and see if what is left over sounds like an upgrade on said card. Well, going from Nantuko Shade this looks rather like you pay a whole extra black mana just to get +1/+2 in stats. There are no cards I can think of in cube that get better when you add B to the cost and +1/+2 to the stats. Now given the pretty limp starting position of Nantuko Shade I don't think Dread Shade is off to a good start either. Value wise Dread Shade is absolutely the weaker card however in suitability terms perhaps that isn't so much the case. One of the risky things about Nantuko Shade is that it is very easy to kill it the moment they tap out, it can't do anything in combat without at the very least representing available mana to sink into it. You can indeed fall behind trying to dominate a game with Nantuko Shade. Say I flop a Garruk Wildspeaker and just make an elephant, beast, whatever dork he makes three turns in a row and chump with it. At the end of those 3 turns you are a card up but you had to pay 11 mana to be that way compared to the 4 mana invested in Garruk. Paying 7 mana to get a card up is a terrible return and will lose you a game if your opponent spent their mana at all well in that time. All this is to say that actually the best way to use your Nantuko Shade is often in a trade that you could win.

Dread Shade looks a whole lot more suitable to scale with the ability it has than Shade. It is a lot more relevant in base size and takes a significantly lower mana investment at any given time to put it out of reach of most other dorks. Dread Shade can attack the turn after you make it as at least a 6/6 while Nantuko attacking on turn four with 3 swamps is a mere 5/4 potential. Mana invested in Dread Shade goes a lot further a lot more quickly. Due to its higher base stats it gets relevant quickly and never sits in an overly vulnerable state. In the Garruk Wildspeaker example it is only a total of six mana to have the Dread Shade plow through three 3/3s over as many turns and live to tell the tale. Paying 2 mana more than your opponent to be up a card, and indeed have it in play and have it be a scary threat at that is a great deal. I think Dread Shade is deceptively potent. I think that blocking it will rarely look good, you will need deathtouch and prot black dorks basically to make that happen. Killing it will require hard removal as well, it will be pretty easy to play around burn with Dread Shade. I suspect this will be an auto include in devotion black decks going forwards. It is a powerful card in its own right that not only provides a good amount of devotion but is also a great mana sink. There will be plenty of occassions this guy just has to be blocked because he can one shot people in the high teens on life thanks to Nykthos. Outside of specifically that deck I fear he is presently too narrow for other cube uses. You really want to be mono black for this guy and that is very infrequent in draft. In constructed cube the mono black decks are not top tier and typically are quite themed. Rack decks, Pox decks, zombie decks, vampire decks all don't want Dread Shade at all. Devotion does but unless mono black takes off in draft I think that is the only place we can expect to see the Shade. This gets a mere 3.5 because it is super narrow in the current places that want it. Power wise I think it is impressive and deserving of a much higher rating. 

Final Parting 1

This is both Demonic Tutor and Entomb in one card which will set up loads of combos directly from the obvious Reanimate classic to things like Auriok Salvagers with Lion's Eye Diamond and Sword of the Meek plus Thopter Foundry. While this is great setup it is five mana and that is far too slow and far too big of a tempo hit even if for some reason you could be going off the turn after you had five mana to spare! We need a combo where this can win the turn you use it with little to no other setup or mana needs which seems very wishful. Too powerful for me to want to rule out but it presently has no hope in cube and is pretty unlikely to do so going forwards either.

Orcish Vandal 3

This feels like a narrower version of Grim Lavamancer. I reckon Grim would be a better card as a 1R 1/1 that had no mana cost on the Shock. Grim is just a card that works in almost any deck while Orcish Vandal requires build support. Vandal has the better cost arrangements but the non mana aspects are more demanding. Vandal is worthless without artifacts to sac but he isn't good just because you are playing them, they have to be the right kind of artifacts to make him good and in healthy supply. You want Ichor Wellspring, Servo Schematic, Chromatic Star, treasure, perhaps rounding things off with an excess Great Furnace or a spent Tangle Wire. Most cubes won't support this card suitably but there will absolutely be those that do and in those cubes this will be a pretty nice little card. There will also be those builds where this guy shines, he might even be enough to tempo affinity players into a bit more red. Cards have to be seriously good to make an affinity list, even a cube one, with coloured mana needs and not being an artifact themselves. The fact that this could be a contender for cube affinity is testament to it's potency.

Bloodtallow Candle 0

This is a lot of mana, some might say too much, and they would be on the nose with that assessment. There was a time when colourless removal and easily tutored low CMC artifacts were enough of a draw that you would overlook some over costing. This would need to have half the activation cost to even be a consideration for cube. When you need a card to be 3 mana cheaper... you probably didn't need to write a paragraph explaining why it is bad.

Skittering Surveyor 1.5

This probably has more to offer than Civic Wayfinder with the artifact tag being fairly relevant, especially in support cards. Colourless fixing is nice too. While I have not yet used Pilgrim's Eye in cube I well might one day and this, although probably worse, can be better and may well also just be desirable for some nice redundancy in your support tools.

Untamed Kavu 0

Well this is a lovely depiction of power creep on the classic Bear chassis. This is Kavu Titan updated to account for power creep! Much as this is clearly a powerful and versatile card it is not what I am after in the cube. A 2/2 is pretty tame and doesn't offer a great return on the key words. The trample is only really going to be relevant on the Bear when you slap on equipment or soulbond it with a Silverheart etc. The vigilance offers a little bit of bonus control and options on the unbuffed body but very minor. As a stand alone two drop this is not at all what you want in cube. It might be better than not playing anything and it might get good with the right support but that applies to most cards. As a two drop threat this has nothing on Sylvan Advocate, Strangleroot Geist, Tarmogoyf, Kavu Predator and so on and so forth. Once kicked this is a 5/5 vigilance trample which does a lot of work, both key words increase in value a lot with that size increase. the trample especially. Sadly, while five isn't an unreasonable deal on a 5/5 vigilance trample it isn't close to cube standard, Vorapede is a card and it doesn't get a look in! While both modes on Untamed Kavu can be described as above the curve in power neither mode is really something you want. The option on two (fairly similar) things you don't really want isn't a great option. Instead of a card like this you should be playing cheap threats, powerful top end threats or cheap support cards. This is a great limited card, it could even feature in standard but it isn't a cube card. Not outside of a tribal Kavu deck?!

The Mending of Dominaria 3

I love this card, both flavour and effect. Sadly I don't see this as being playable outside of build around decks. This card does loads and loads but it is a value card or setup card, any tempo this gives is so far down the line you might as well ignore it. For general cube use this is a five mana card with zero tempo boost. Green can get away with five mana do nothings but why would it when it has so many lovely planeswalkers and do something cards it can run. I can perhaps see this in some kind of Splendid Reclamation deck but sadly, despite getting redundancy for it, I have not as yet worked out what the deck wants to be doing and how to do it! I need a Siesmic Assualt for lands in play! Perhaps you can just run this in the place of Bow of Nylea. Ultimately you are only playing either for the go long potential reshuffle aspect and while this isn't as much utility it is way more power and value. Compared to most other sagas which do 2 or 3 things this feels like it does twice that, mill yourself for four, useful in many ways and indeed with The Mending of Dominaria itself! Regrow two creatures, a nice two for one and incredible late game gas. Put all your lands from the bin into play, literally a four mana spell, and you get them untapped for extra immediate abuse. Lastly it puts all your remaining gas back into your deck leaving you with loads of draws worth of safety before getting decked and a nicely increased quality of draw. I am talking myself into this card but even if it could be cube worthy, now is not the time in my cube. Super grindy games happen but very few decks set out to be that way. It is such a difficult game plan to execute with such diverse and potent threats in cube. Those decks that do look to go as long as can be gone are not so frequently green these days. I don't know what the reasoning is for that evolution is, quite possibly just a local meta anomaly with it being out of favour and nothing to do with viability. If green based control makes a return and has a reasonable creature count then this actually does have a main cube shot. I am certainly going to be building with and around this in a few different ways.