Thursday 31 May 2018

Top 10 Three Drop Green Value Creatures

Shardless Agent
A nice neat little top 10 list with some interesting cards to compare. All ten of these cards are nice solid cube cards. While quite a specific group of cards the fact that they are all the same colour, cost and broad style of card allows for some much more meaningful contrasts to be made. Most lists contain cards that are so different in function or where they are played that claiming one is better than the other has somewhat less value. It is for this exact reason I kept Rogue Refiner and Shardless Agent off this list. Both are allowed as per the title but neither is playable in mono green unlike the others on this list. As such they would mess up the look of the list as I would have to place them far lower on it than their power and relative function would suggest due to their lower playability. Keeping the list restricted allows us to be more objective in our comparisons.
This list of cards represents the core of the midrange green plan and is so good most ramp and aggro decks will also dip into this pool of cards. With the abundance of one mana ramp in green getting you to three mana on turn two a strong three mana play is just the ticket! Cards that give board presence and value are also exactly where you want to be in cube.

Yavimaya Elder10. Yavimaya Elder

Given this dudes age he is holding up very well. In terms of value this guy delivers big. When you get a good chump block or somehow draw removal with your Elder you get a nice juicy four for one. A pair of lands, a card and whatever the 2/1 did. While that is a lot of value it is all very slow and expensive. Five is a lot to pay and even with a chump block thrown into the mix the tempo of it all is very poor. The other big issue for this guy is that he is all rather back loaded. If you need to hit your 4th land drop this turn Elder is of no help unless you happen to have a free way to sacrifice it. There is also the issue of playing into bounce and exile removal when you need to be able to cash it in. Then you are looking at something you can't play until you have five mana and then you need to hold up two mana for so long as you want to keep it in play. Elder was/is a perfect companion for Cabal Therapy as it would let you curve out reliably. While Elder is a fine value card it is generally outclassed by planeswalkers who offer more threat and utility. Planeswalkers are a more reasonable replacement for this as a five drop than other cards on this list as 3 drops.

Den Protector9. Den Protector

Very much the same issues as the Elder, costing five mana overall is a super large investment. Den Protector has many advantages over Eternal Witness, you can play him proactively at 3 with no relevant recursion targets for example. The 3/2 body is substantially more valuable and has lead to a number of wins in combination with some pump effects due to the way the evasion scales. You can even toss out Den Protector as a two drop if you really need to. The card has a lot of different angles and does well with them but it is just a bit on the slow side. What you get is always a little under par for what you pay for. If you need a critical card then paying five to get it back asap is beyond awful. Again, like the Elder, you generally wind up playing planeswalkers over Den Protector due to their overall cost being in the same sort of range. Nissa Vital Force specifically hurt Protector as she offers a recursion effect as well while being a much more reasonable return of power for the mana. It is very much due to the extra costs of Den Protector and Yavimaya Elder are not in my cube presently while the other 8 cards all are. Both are decent cards but both are not decent cards for just three mana.

Ohran Viper8. Ohran Viper

The Viper is a bit different to the other dorks on this list. Most of those come with bonus value right away or don't have to work very hard to get it. Viper needs to survive to attack and then get through to face before it is offering card advantage. This doesn't happen super often, Viper eats a lot of removal and is blocked almost whenever he can be. Fortunately you don't need Viper to draw you cards to be good. You have generally won if you manage to get him in at all, not just because one damage and a card is so back breaking but more because there is a very good chance that if it just happened it will be happening again the next turn too. You were ahead to get him in once and you will be more ahead as a result of doing so. What makes Viper a good card is the combination of its high threat level and its deathtouch. Either you bait an immediate answer for a mere three mana or you get to trade up nicely or you get to win! Viper on the turn two is especially brutal! Even when you can't attack with Viper he will still sit back and threaten to trade with their best attacker which is usually a tempo win at 3 mana. He holds off most cheaper dorks very well too. Against control the Viper is at its best where they have few cheap creatures to block it with, most of which have low power and high toughness thus being awful blockers facing down a deathtouch dork. While a fair card by cube standards in terms of power level it is a uniquely positioned card that winds up seeing more play than any of the other creatures that generate cards when they attack like the classic Ophidians and Shadowmages.Viper is a win more card like those others but Viper is substantially better when behind and actually does relevant work. Shadowmage is just a Lumengrid Warden when not able to attack and that is dire.

Eternal Witness
7. Eternal Witness

Not the powerhouse she once was but still a fine little card. Witness is far less powerful and versatile than Den Protector but she more than makes up for this with convenience and directness. You want your card back right away and for as little mana as possible. You also want the effect as an EtB one rather than a megamorph one as it has substantially more synergies to go with it. Where Witness falls down most is that it is just a 2/1 body and not at a great price. You have to get good value out of the thing you get back for it to be great. Getting a full cards worth of value at the cube power level rate for such things with a 3 mana 2/1 is unlikely at best. Fortunately you are often getting a little bit more than a cards worth of value from the thing you get back and so mostly Witness feels like a pretty clean two for one in most cases. While a great late game card she is still a long way from a good tempo play and has far weaker selection on cards in the early game making her typically very poor early and often useless on curve. Witness is mostly used to secure some redundancy on thinly stretched decks with roughly one answer each for a variety of things or as part of a creature focused combo deck. The best Witnesses tend to get back cheap disruption like Duress, that or a sac land.

Kitchen Finks6. Kitchen Finks

I debated whether or not Finks was applicable for this list, not because he is white but because of the kind of value he offers. The other cards on this list provide actual cards while Finks just comes back again. Kitchen Finks is not far off a 3/2 that draws and plays a Lone Missionary when he dies. Any matchup where Lone Missionary is good then Finks is absolutely fantastic. In a lot of matchups however these are just dorks and are of less value than a card from your deck, even just a basic forest. Finks is mild value or insane value but he is not consistent across matchups. I use him more as a fine all round card that I can hedge with much more than in the role of a value card. Finks is a nice safety play and good board control but it isn't a card you can use to leverage a win with. Finks doesn't pose a real threat in a slower game. It does secure tempo very nicely however and that is a big deal. It lets you milk other cards for value far easier and so while Finks is weaker that the rest of this list for direct value it is likely the best for assisting indirect value.

Courser of Kruphix5. Courser of Kruphix

For the four and a bit years since its release in Born of the Gods this would have spent most of the time at the top of this list. Courser was so good you would play it in aggro decks despite how defensive of a card it it. All the cards above it came in the years after it and most of those before it are quite a lot less powerful. Courser gets you roughly a life and half a card each turn it is in play. Cards like Sylvan Library and sac lands also rather skew those numbers in a positive way for the Courser player. Despite having good stats and a couple of lovely static effects Courser has its issues. The double green in the cost does reduce the playability of the card when compared with some of the single green alternatives. The need of having a land drop open to you the turn you make Courser in order to get value is a shame too. It means you would rather delay making Courser on curve making it weaker three drop than you might like. The other failing of Courser is that it doesn't have much late game. Sure, drawing cards and gaining life should carry you but that is if you have had it in play for some time. As a late game card Courser is typically rather weaker than the others on this list. I still rate Courser very highly but the wealth of alternate three drops open to green now means I lean on Courser a lot less than I used to.

Tireless Tracker4. Tireless Tracker

This card is immensely good and I find it quite the surprise that he is only just clearing the top half of this list. Tireless Tracker will simply win any long game in which it isn't promptly dealt with assuming the two decks are not a total missmatch and are somewhat sensibly built. With all your lands ultimately drawing a card, sometimes two, you have endless gas with a Tracker in play unless you get screwed. Provided you have a couple of lands to get the ball rolling all that extra draw ensures you continue to drop lands and gain access to more clues. If the Tracker isn't dealt with it gets out of control in size and just ends the game through attacking. When it is killed it leaves behind any clues it has produced making it pretty reliable at locking in its value. Being able to pop clues at any time makes combat against a Tracker really awkward as it can simply be grown to the appropriate size to trump the combat. This means it represents being bigger than it is without needing you to over invest mana into it. That is of course the main reason this card sits at a mere fourth on this list. Until you invest five mana into it the card is just a 3/2 for 3 which is not at all good. While not the worst tempo play it is very much a value card and not a tempo one. It is not a tempo card in much the same way that Nantuko Shade is not a tempo card. Just having the ability to be a scary threat or be big as a cheap card doesn't mean you are a good tempo card. Tracker is absolutely a value card. Tempo is all about what you get for you mana and how quickly you get it. Tracker is all about giving you more things to spend mana on, it is just a nice side effect when you get to win the game by attacking with it! Another slight issue with Tracker is that if you make him on turn two or three having already made your land that turn you risk trading it for a Shock or some such without getting any (clues) value at all. Ideally this makes Tracker a card you make behind the curve which in turn means you ideally don't want to think of him as a 3 drop but more of a psuedo CMC+1 drop like Aetherling or Glen Elandra Archamge. It is not quite as extreme as that, forcing a removal with a three mana card in the early game is fine, especially when they then don't have it. That is often all of what Ophran Viper does. It is still a bigger risk than an on curve Courser as removal that hits 2 toughness can be a whole lot cheaper and lower quality than those that will take out the four of Courser. Even so, it comes down more to role, the aggro and tempo decks just want the harder hitting Tracker while the control decks want the higher defenses. All round Tracker is great. It can dominate the board and/or the game in any drawn out situation while still typically doing decent work when only in play for a short time in the earlier stages of the game.

Nissa, Vastwood Seer3. Nissa, Vastwood Seer

Surprisingly effective and desirable card given that so often it is a Civic Wayfinder. Turns out a lot of the time that is all you really need. A guarantee of making your next land and a bit of board development. Against aggression it is helping and against midrange and control the card is actually pretty threatening. The certain two for one is great. Unlike Courser and Tracker you make this on curve and you get both your body and your card regardless of what happens. Nissa is a far better blocker than either in that sense because you will happily trade it with a 2/1 if you need to. Certainly Courser isn't trading in that situation but it might well be allowing a Shock to take him down or even a combat trick. Sure the Shock is still a 2 for 1 but Courser's lifegain is usually too valuable to give up like that against that kind of aggressive deck. I am not trying to suggest that Nissa is a better card against aggro than Courser, it absolutely isn't! What I am saying is that it is potentially a more suitable curve play and a lower risk one when you do. Sure, you want Courser more but what you really want to do is make Nissa the turn before and follow it with that Courser! Nissa is better in the midrange and control matchups than Courser however. The locked in two for one front end is lovely but it is only made lovely by the threat of the late game back end. Whenever you face the Vastwood Seer you have in your mind that you need to deal with her before the flip. It isn't super pressing but you might just not find the right answer and have to use something awkward. Basically the flipping into a walker adds sufficient value to the 2/2 body that it is something that will draw removal. A lot of 2/2 bodies can simply be ignored but not old Nissa! Nissa gives you value right away, she adds to the board, and she represents a late game threat that needs dealing with and she does all this without ever costing anything above the three mana you pay for her.

Ramunap Excavator2. Ramunap Excavator

Power creep has been very well done on these 3 drop value dorks of late. Not so long ago green was really short of good three drops and played all sorts of off theme junk to fill out the curve. Now it has a wealth of options for whatever your needs. Ramunap Excavator is a weak and situational Courser of Kruphix in a random situation however when you get a bit of synergy the value of Excavator goes through the roof. With the makeup of most cubes these days Excavator is in a pretty good place. There are a number of great types of land that put themselves in the bin for strong effects. There is also plenty of milling and looting and ways to otherwise fill up your graveyard with lands. Excavator may not give you life and may be a toughness less but it concedes no information and in the right deck is substantially more reliable at providing free lands. Loot effects are particularly good with Excavator as unlike Courser it does not improve the quality of your draws by filtering out some of the lands you would otherwise draw. Looting lets you ditch lands to start off the Excavation joy while then also letting you turn excess lands drawn there after into gas. Even better than loots are things like Wastelands which can really dominate a game. Crucible was good enough to build around and Excavator is good enough that you barely even have to bother building around it. It is just a solid value creature that gives more and more value the longer the game goes while threatening to be oppressive in combination with a couple of cards. It is the Ophran Viper that connects every turn or the Courser that never misses. Even if you don't have it your opponent is probably scared of the potential for you to draw that Wastelands and end the game that way. Nice and easy to cast and without the risk of getting Disenchanted too!

1. Jadelight Ranger

Jadelight RangerIt is perhaps a little early days to fully crown this guy the best. The top six on this list are all incredibly close in power and all very good indeed. Their values will also fluctuate plenty across the various decks that might want them. Despite it being rather early to call on the Ranger it is very well supported by the price of the card. The main reason I have it at the top of this list is down to how front loaded the card is. It is a solid value and tempo play that does everything right away and needs no further investments or support. On Average Ranger has a scry, a power and a slightly better land than what Nissa offers up front and that is all together a pretty significant upgrade. It is much closer in value to a Rogue Refiner (assuming you have a good use for energy) and so that is a fantastic deal. Very powerful and doubly less narrow needing just the one colour and no energy support cards. That is not the whole story on why Ranger is so powerful. Ranger also provides a wealth of options which make for a much more versatile card.

On the face of it it might appear as if Ranger has there modes of action, those being two lands, one land and no lands which is true in some respects but it does undermine the potency of Ranger. I would say that the Ranger has 8 distinct modes of action with what you get given and where you choose to put it, and not three as you might suggest just by looking at the outcomes. While you don't have precise control over those options there are still different 8 possibilities of which you do have some control and, most critically, none of which are bad. Typically the worst is the 4/3 but even then it is still well worth it. You still get to scry twice. Indeed, one of the interesting things about Ranger is that you can lock in the 4/3 mode if you want it when your first hit is a non-land just by leaving it on top for round two of the explorations! If you are digging for land and wind up with the 4/3 it also is a lot less bad than it sounds as you have cleared two non-land cards out of the way. Suffice it to say if you need lands and you draw two non lands over the next two turns you are likely losing that one meaning a 4/3 Jadelight has done you a solid. The 2/1 with a pair of lands is the only mode in which you are not given choices and it is not something you are sad about. Getting three cards for one is already worth three mana. People pay life for Painful Truths! While a 2/1 isn't a great amount of power for a card it is still amazing for a 3 mana 3 for 1 to not concede tempo. Jadelight might not seem as exciting the alternatives on this list nor is it something that seems particularly good in any specific situation, matchup or synergy. Jadelight is just all round good and has no real weaknesses in the roles it fulfills. The worst thing about Ranger is probably the double green in the cost which isn't really a biggy. Jadelight is punchy and front loaded enough to work well in the tempo and aggressive decks yet still option dense and value generating enough to be great in the slower decks too. Jadelight is a massive boost to the consistency of green and makes a great cube addition. Ranger feels like a green card, it isn't over powered and yet it is desirable in pretty much any cube draft deck with a green base. Combined with the intrigue and choices I would class Jadelight as a design triumph. All the other explore cards were a big let down but the double exploring Ranger more than makes up for them. That double explore adds a layer of consistency to the mechanic that was lacking in the other cards using it. 

Monday 28 May 2018

Mono Green Zoo .dec

Steel Leaf ChampionOne of the issues with drafting Naya zoo decks in the cube is that you are really only as good as your mana base. I have also recently been going to town on culling gold cards from the cube as they simply do not get picked and played as much as the other cards. As such a lot of the more tempting reasons to go for a Naya zoo deck have gone. Why risk going zoo when you can just safely go red or white aggro instead? Well it turns out you can now very well just do zoo in mono green and have the consistency of the mono decks as well. Back in the day you needed the extra colours to make up for things green lacks and to make up the numbers in creatures of the right tempo and meatyness. Now artifacts and colourless cards can cover green for a dash of spot removal nicely while it fills the ranks of threats all by itself entirely appropriately. The last few years have not only brought us a bunch of new colourless removal options that are somewhat top tier in Walking Ballista and Sky Sovereign Consul Flagship but also just a tonne of really powerful and meaty green dorks. It has gone from Woolly Thoctars to Steel Leaf Champions. I wouldn't call this a deep archetype but it certainly has more than enough things to be picking up for it with several options for most slots and a good number of backups.

Arbor Elf24 Spells

Llanowar Elves
Elvish Mystic
Fyndhorn Elves
Arbor Elf

Oath of Nissa
Adventurous Impulse

Roffelos, Llanowar Emissary
Scavenging Ooze
Walking Ballista
Sylvan Advocate

Tireless Tracker
Jadelight Ranger
Thrashing BrontodonRhonas the Indomitable
Steel Leaf Champion

Thrashing Brotodon
Prowling Serpopard

Polukranos, World Eater
Sarruk, the Hunt Caller
Ripjaw Raptor
Deadbridge Golaith

Nissa, Worldwaker
Verdurous Gearhulk

Ghalta, Primal Hunger

16 Lands

14 Forests
Gaea's Cradle
Treetop Village

Jungle LionThe curve for this deck is a little above what you would expect for a traditional zoo deck but that is due to this having a little bit more ramp than a zoo list. You might have one or two one drop ramp dorks in a Naya zoo list with a couple of removal cards and a couple of threats. This list has little to offer in those latter groups and so packs a little more ramp instead in that all important one slot. This is why I have a bulge in the curve at 3 so as to increase the odds on following a one drop ramp dork with a solid threat. For every Elf I replace with a one mana threat I would want to replace a three mana threat with a two mana one for curve reasons. There is only a single one mana threat I would consider for this list with there not being that many really meaty threats low on the curve. Jungle Lion isn't what this list is about. Red and white decks have the removal to milk value from the small dorks, green ones have to simply outclass everything else and so Experiment One is the only one drop in mono green that can ultimately pack enough punch for what this deck needs.

Adventurous Impulse
Another thing that makes this deck good is Adventurous Impulse. Having access to cheap card quality that has a minimal tempo cost is a great way to further increase consistency. While Impulse isn't as powerful as Oath of Nissa it does the trick and provides that key redundancy. It has been a huge help in the various green decks trying to employ some ramp. Traditionally green plays lands, threats and ramp and dies when it doesn't get a decent blend of all three. Most decks only need to get a good balance of land and spells to be in with a shot but green adds that third element in and while it adds a lot of power it does harm the consistency. The increasing amount of good card quality in green is greatly alleviating that issue. This list is indeed somewhere between a green ramp deck and a zoo deck. It wants to ramp once but doesn't need that double jump that the more traditional mono green decks need. That again makes it more consistent and that is what aggro decks want to be. This deck still has bigger creatures than the other cube decks and so there is no real need for that extra ramp. I have thrown in Gaea's Cradle to this list but in practice you don't need it. It is a minor consistency hit for a much bigger payoff in potential burst starts. The same is somewhat true of Roffellos. You don't need his ramp but he will be able to do such brutal things if left unchecked that most players will deal with him instantly if they can. A two mana card that draws a hard answer away from one of your pricier cards is a win so Roffellos feels like a win win card. The actual cost of him is drawing him late where he has little left to power out or up. The other two drops this deck can employ offer way more threat in the late game. That being said, if you have any of the relatively numerous mana sinks then a late Roffellos can still do some scary things for you.

Rhonas the IndomitableAnother strength this deck has is in it's redundancy, it is almost RDW levels of purity with most of the cards being serious threats. Almost any one of the cards from two mana and up can win the game on its own. The card quality cards can find threats and even the mana dorks can be empowered with Rhonas or Creeperhulk. I nearly put in Wildspeaker for that extra Overrun but he is actually quite low tempo for what this deck is doing. There are not so many low impact dorks that you need to have loads of ways to buff them in the late game. Ideally this deck doesn't get to the late game! Ideally it crushes people with a turn four goldfish! Even so, it will and considering it is a worthwhile endeavor. Pendlehaven is likely a better way to add extra spice to the one drop elves!

Ballista is legitimately one of the best cards in the deck, it gives board control, reach, late game and all sorts of tasty jazz, much of which green otherwise lacks. It is the relatively cost efficient way that Ballista handles smaller dorks that is so unusual in a colourless card. Despite the deck being mono green I would argue that Ballista was the most important card in the deck and the biggest reason it is a viable new archetype. Before Ballista these kinsd of green decks would lean on Polukranos and Garruk Relentless for their weenie control. The former is mostly good for being a 4 mana 5/5, not for its costly ability to fight things once in play. While still a great card it is nice not being tied to it as removal more than a threat. Relentless is a good card but like most planeswalkers is not a great tempo play. This deck is aiming to win a bit quicker than the time you need to extract a good amount of value from most walkers. Better removal option available now include Sky Sovereign which is generally quite nice. It is flying and resistant to much removal making it highly appealing. On the downsides though it is a card that needs another card to do anything and it is in the five slot in which green has a disgusting depth of power to choose from. Molten-Tail Masticore is another decent card to afford some more removal and reach. It is a bit more demanding both on resources to sustain and mana to empower but it is still quite a beating. Things like Cursed Scroll simply feel far too slow and low impact for the way this deck is trying to win games. Jitte is likely better than Scroll but if I was going that route I would want far more things like Dungrove Elder, Thrunn, or Bristling Hydra. With the dorks in this list being so meaty it is more of a setback than usual when you eat removal in response to an equip and that is already one of the move devastating things to happen in a tempo battle.

Surrak, the Hunt CallerIf Ballista is the best card then Surrak is the second best. Lots of stats for the mana, haste to things following it and further to that, reliably having haste himself due to the high number of three drops that turn him on. Surrak is what makes the quick kills possible and he is to be feared. The number of haste or pseudo haste dorks green now has access to is another reason this list is viable and reminiscent of zoo. I didn't even feel the need to pack a Vengevine which has historically been one of greens best tempo plays. I didn't feel this list was wall positioned to exploit the recursion and elected for fatter or higher utiltiy four drops. Vengevine is actually small by this lists standard!

Strangleroot Geist not being in my list feels like an error at first glance but it was intentional. While it is a fantastic value aggressive two drop it is always on the small side. It is far easier to hold off freely or cheaply than the rest of the things in this list and that might make it a wasted card. Without removal to empower the smaller dorks you need combat tricks like Mutagenic Growth and Blossoming Defense but these lower your consistency and so I think you are better off just avoiding the smaller stuff. I also didn't run Tarmogoyf simply because this list is very poor at growing it. If your opponent does that for you then great, if it is a reliable 4/5 early ish on then it is going to be the best two drop you can run but if it spends a few turns as a 1/2 then it rather stinks.

Molten-Tail MasticoreOther good and on theme potentials for this list include; Rishkar although I avoided her just because she is only a good tempo play when you have at least one other dork in play. Chamellion Colossus. Leatherback Baloth, a card that is probably just better in this list than the Serpopard! Toughness for the win! You do need to stay away from colourless production if you are running the various GGG cards on offer. Nissa, Vital Force, Kalonian Hydra, Wolfir Silverheart, and even Whisperwood Elemental are all decent options in the deep deep five slot.

Ghalta is quite a silly card. In some respects it is rather win more but in others it is just so impossibly large that it just wins. It is a pretty east turn four play with mana to spare if you curve. Hit you for five with my Rhonas and pass with 23/22 of stats on the board, half of which tramples! Tempting though it was to Run Rhona's Last Stand I think the card is pretty shocking in cube. I just wanted if for the possibility of a turn 3 Ghalta! Probably Ghalta is what you would cut from this list but it is absolutely the best home for Ghalta that you can make in cube and it utterly crushes a lot of things! My inner Timmy is being a Ghalta apologist! Rhonas himself is actually pretty good. He is frequently active, hard to over extend with, empowers the smaller or non-evasive dorks and acts as a great mana dump.

Jadelight Ranger also deserves some credit for this deck's ascent. It is the most front loaded of all the green value three drops. All its value comes when it enters play and it has the highest stats (on average). More importantly it gives you scry and extra lands which is a big help in the aim of curving nicely. Jadelight and Impulse might seem like low impact cards compared to the rest of the list but they are the glue that holds it together (obviously along with Oath). They are the other key cards I would highlight. Surrak is obviously good and that is self evident when you play him. Ballista is obviously good as per its price tag and frequency of appearance in all formats! It is a little harder to fully appreciate the significance of the few easily incorporated card quality effects. They can look like easy cuts or off theme cards but for this list I see them like the rails in which the big green train of immense momentum runs on! 

Sunday 27 May 2018

Battlebond Conclusions and Additions

All in all a nice little set as far as I am concerned. It was a good size for reviewing and it had a nice number of interesting cards. I suspect Battlebond will be even more well received by the EDH community although they will likely come to resent the cost of the lands in years to come! I think the reprints were really well done in this set. There are a good number of high value cards getting brought back to print which is always nice to see as well as some previously unobtainable foils which will please many. I also like how a lot of the bulk and chaff cards in the set that are mainly for the limited aspects of the format are reprints. It doesn't really help anyone having extra versions, either just very similar cards or actual functional reprints when those cards are not playable in any constructed formats. Just save those card names and allow designers to focus on making worthwhile new cards.

To Add

Mindblade Render
Arena Rector
Cheering Fanatic

To Test

Will Kenrith
Najeela, the Blade-Blossom
Arcane Artisan
Arza Oddsmaker

For the Exotic Reserves

Bonus Round
Generous Sponsor
Rushblade Commander
Stadium Vendors
Last One Standing
Sentinel Tower
Together Forever
Archon of Valor's Reach

Battlebond Preliminary Review Part IV

Blaring Captain and Recruiter 0

Nope. Enough with the four mana 2/2s already.

Archon of Valor's Reach 4

Not my sort of card but certainly a potent one. You should be able to lock a lot of people out with good knowledge of their decks and the format. Turn off their mass removal with sorcery, shut off their combo with artifact, or just take out their big top end by choosing planeswalkers. Archon offers a good amount of control over the game regardless of what you are against. It has a nice skill component and it is a decent body for the cost. The high threat level of the body combined with the broad disruption should allow Archon to seal the deal in a lot of games. With all that being said, I'm not even going to bother testing this out I don't think. Generic gold top end is everywhere and it has to be pretty special to get a look in. I have tones of Sigardas, Dromokas and Ajanis that see basically no play. It is even worse being Selesnya what with it being a bland, narrow and uncommon colour pairing. Good though this is, I don't see much room for it.

Najeela, the Blade-Blossom 6

This is a pretty spicy little lady. Najeela sits somewhere between Brimaz and Goblin Rabblemaster in what she does. Power wise it is harder to say, as a stand alone she is less potent and sits somewhere below Hanwier Garrison. When supported by warriors Najeela jumps in power level and is rather better than the rest of those kinds of card. I am pretty much considering the WUBRG ability as a blank. It might come up now and again, either in a bad deck or just in some really lucky Mardu deck that is packing things like City of Brass, Terearion and that sort of thing. It is a tiny buff to the card but will probably just tempt people into bad deck design and actually be a drawback! Anyway, back to the relevant token production, size and cost of the card. Once you get the ball rolling with Najeela it gets out of hand very quickly indeed. Just imagine a goldfish with one drop and two drop warriors into this. You get a double trigger on the turn you make her and five triggers the following attack! Obviously this is about as good as you can do but seven dorks in two turns for 3 mana is pretty silly. It is not even all that hard to attack with warriors, that is what they like to do and there are plenty of decent ones on offer. Adding this to a cube will increase the value of all one and two drop aggressive attacking warriors, especially the red ones. Obviously cards like Zurgo are already good enough, it is more things like Gore-House Chainwalker that might improve enough to be worth reconsidering. While Najeela might have the best scaling of the three mana token makers she is narrower and higher risk than the others and that will detract from her a little and leaves her fairly borderline for my drafting cube. I just forsee too many occasions where she can't attack because they have a 2/4 or a first striker or really any sort of defense and yet she is your only warrior, that or just eating a Disfigure on sight and feeling like a waste of mana!

Zndrsplts Judgement 0

Bad Clone plus Unsummon is not an upgrade on any of the Clones out there really.

Bonus Round 4

Well this is yet another storm empowering power house. Cast this, cast Manamorphose, win? Feels like it is about that simple. All you really need to do is start to go off in a Bonus Round and you will be getting there without fizzling. I don't think there is much call for this outside of a combo deck. You can do some nice face damage with this but without Fireblast to back it up it isn't very powerful, Insult feels like it is just better for that kind of deck. Another thing I like most about Bonus Round is that you can now just storm off without any storm cards at all, just go mono red rituals and then Fireball them for 10 twice for the win! You can do it turn one without any power or ramp outside of rituals and in mono red and it isn't that much more demanding on cards than my umpowered mono red turn two kill with Insult and Swiftspear! I am going to have some fun with this!

Arcane Artisan 7

While this is quite slow it is potent enough to run in a generic midrange deck as well as a deck with massive things it is cheating out. This is a card that really needs to be killed, you just can't risk letting this activate if possible. It could be some kind of Grave Titan which is pretty devastating on turn four. It could just be a Man O War which is actually still fantastic when you get to make it with flash and draw a card as well. For a must kill card this is cheap and has reasonable toughness. I don't love this card, I think it is a little polar, but I cannot escape that it is quite good and dangerous. End of turn, put an Emrakul token into play... If nothing else you will just win with the card draw element of this card if your cost reduced flash tokens are not pulling you ahead enough. Just the threat of this putting something scary into play will hold off a lot of attacks. It offers some defense, it offers a lot of threat and it promises card advantage too.

Brightling 5

Nice design in that this card feels very white and has a good power level for this sort of tedious thing. It is a bit like True Name Nemesis but more interactive. With infinite mana the Brightling is likely better than True Name in most cases! Brightling has a significant control leaning with the key words it can gain as well as how mana intense it it. It is a bit Batterskull. It won't directly win many games but it will prevent your opponents ever winning and they won't be able to deal with it. Brightling is a little at odds with itself, it is fairly low impact yet very mana intense. Flop this out on turn three and you have a Trained Armodon. Wait until you can abuse it and you might as well make an Aetherling! The issue with Brightling is not that it is mana intense however, it is that you cannot easily win with it. No evasion and no ability to defeat bigger dorks in combat and live make it a poor threat. It is more of a defensive Aetherling and that isn't what the Dr ordered. You won't be super happy playing this in aggro as you won't have the mana to empower it until it is likely too late. To play this safely it is a four drop and it simply doesn't have the impact, threat or power level of a good cube four drop. While certainly a viable cube card I feel it is a bit aimless and undesirable for any of the defined archetypes.

Azra Oddsmaker 5

This is certainly powerful enough for cube although I suspect I will just end up cutting it shortly after adding it due to being a gold card. As Ophidian dorks go this is pretty strong. It lets you turn anything into an Ophidian and it is a Tormenting Voice rather than a simple draw one which is rather better in most cases. Those where it is not better are when you have no cards to pitch or worse still, when they kill your "Ophidian" after the discard but before combat damage. Other perks this has over other card draw dorks is a decent size, most are 1/3 and this is a 3/3. It also empowers existing dorks and lets you get a draw in right away. Overall I think Ruin Raider is probably safer and more playable but Oddsmaker is absolutely more powerful. For me I suspect this is a card that will be used for synergies, I will play it in warrior decks and in decks with a discard theme.

Thrilling Encore 1

Powerful effect but far too situational. Sure, it is super nice to counter a Wrath effect but it isn't super nice holding up five mana for the option. It seems super weak playing this with your own mass removal, it makes it like 8+ mana two card combo that is only as good as yours and your opponents board. You don't want to play Wraths and dorks in high frequencies so it comes down to what your opponent is upto. That leaves this as a defensive tool and in that light it is painfully overcost. Just play Heroic Intervention to counter Wrath effects, that feels like the right sort of price. Sure, you don't steal their stuff but that is super win more.

Decorated Champion 1

This sort of thing used to be the preserve of tribal decks. With all the power creep in dorks however this dork just looks like he reaches the bar rather than exceeding it even when you max out the synergies. Certainly this is playable in a green warrior build but it isn't any more than filler in such a place and it certainly has no homes outside of a warrior deck.

War's Toll 1

Interesting card and powerful effects but for the cost and disruptive potential this card is not there. It makes combat and casting stuff awkward but it doesn't stop anything. The mana disruption will harm control players wishing to lean on countermagic but loads of cards do this rather better and cheaper than four mana to boot! Much the same thing applies to the combat except that it hoses different sorts of decks. War's Toll is two lots of mild disruption that effect two different sort of decks. It isn't good enough hate to bring in against anything and it isn't rounded and powerful enough to run main. Cool card and strong flavour but not really all that close to good in a heads up format.

Azra Bladeseeker 1

Useful tool to have but not all that easy to theme with or indeed all that powerful. A 3/2 with an EtB loot is fine for three but wishes it was a 2 mana 2/1 instead! Most decks wanting discard outlets don't care much for a generic 3/2. I don't really see where I would want this over a Vaultbreaker given the option on either. Vaultbreaker simply packs more punch and affords more options.

Aurora Champion 1

Another card that is just about enough to be viable in a tribal build with maxed out synergies. It is basically just a conditional Territorial Hammerskull with swapped power and toughness. While making it more vulnerable it does also make it more aggressive which suits that sort of thing. I suspect I will have an array of more exciting tribal cards in the three slot than this however and doubt I will ever play it in a cube setting.

Saturday 26 May 2018

Battlebond Preliminary Review Part III

Inner Demon 0

While impressively powerful for the mana this is let down by being narrow and situational. You land this on your dude and kill some of theirs then it is a pretty huge swing. If you get your dude killed with this on the stack you just lost so hard and that is what makes this unplayable despite the high power. You probably lose if you want to cast this and don't have a dork as well...

Together Forever 3

Fascinating card and impressive design. Elements of this card seem incredibly powerful but it does have a couple of warning lights as well. Basically, without creatures in play this is horrible, ideally two. Then, without mana up this fails to do exciting stuff going forwards. It is situational and conditional but it is still quite appealing! The thing that really makes this interesting is not the ability to buff a couple of dorks and then get them back later, some suspended Raise Dead and a pair of +1/+1 counters is not wildly exciting. What is more exciting is that you can recur any dork with any sort of counter on it. That is any persist card such as Kitchen Finks perpetually, it even works with Walking Ballista and lets you deplete all the charges on it too. I can almost see an affinity midrange deck in white using this with Ravager and Arcbound Worker and just never having anything die! I think that although this is a very cool card it probably does need a build around to get there. You want a high concentration of dorks that you can naturally get back with it and that won't happen in drafts. Still, when all things align this is some immediate tempo and perhaps even some scaling and then it turns into an Evolutionary Leap sort of thing and is able to dominate the long game.

Silvia Brightspear 1
Khorvath Brightflame 0

Silvia is almost there by herself. A Grey Ogre with doublestike is a reasonable starting place and she can draw a card and buff that or other cards. Sadly to do that you need to be playing dragons and ideally a bad red one called Khorvath. The little bit extra that Silvia needed to make her good enough sadly made her too narrow. Khorvath isn't close to good enough as a standalone. He really needs doublestrike to cut it and rather wants to find and buff knights as well. They are clearly well designed cards as despite knowing they are not cube level of competitive I still want to build a Boros knight dragon deck with them in!

Gang Up 3

This is actually interesting just as a stand alone with the assist mechanic as a total blank. While this is poor midrange removal needing 3 mana to take down a 2/1 it is situationally very strong and scales better than most other one mana removal. Basically this is a card that can kill a turn one BoP or Hierarch on turn one and also can kill a Titan in the late game. While that is pretty cute there are precious few high value zero power things you want dead in cube and for the most part Gang Up will be needing more spent on it than the cost of the thing it is killing making it poor removal. Pretty much the same reason why Spell Blast is bad. I like that this is instant, has no target restriction and cause you no extra harm to play. This ticks a lot of boxes for removal, it is just unlikely to be a good tempo play. I think a few years ago this might have been interesting for its lack of target restriction but these days that is more easily found in black. This is therefore probably just too low power for cube even though I do quite like it. It is probably most akin to Tragic Slip, more reliable but also rather weaker.

Chackram Slinger and Retriever 0

Pretty filthy limited cards but far too far up the curve for what they do for cube.

Cheering Fanatic 7

Glorius! Really impressive design that is oh so red. Essentially this is a two mana ramp spell in red. You can flop this out and make a four drop on turn three much as you can with a card like Channeler Initiate or Rattleclaw Mystic (assuming they don't kill them!). What makes this so red is that you have to attack to get the perks and you have to concede information. It might not sounds huge but revealing my post combat cast intentions will inform blocking choices and is a drawback of sorts. That being said, you can also pull some next level bluffs and reduce the cost of cards you don't have so as to force inappropriate blocks. I think this is what I love so much about this card, despite the simplicity of it as well as the fair power level, it is still very playable and incredibly deep. I am almost certainly over rating this because I love it so much. For one, it is a terrible card to try and ramp out haste dorks with! It is Battlefield Scavenger levels of power but as a somewhat off colour pie effect it gains a lot of value. Much more than Scavenger. Other things that work well for Cheering Fanatic are that it is a goblin giving it tribal archetypes and synergies to explore. It also doesn't need to survive combat as far as I can tell which is rather important. If they can shut down your ramp with a mere two power blocker then that is pretty sad. I want to call this the red Lotus Cobra as it is a two mana ramp dork that can ramp and attack at the same time. That would be sadly quite unfair on the Cobra which is rather more potent, even if red is more keen to attack!

Ley and Lore Weavers 0

Wow, Lore Weaver is literally worse than Grey Ogre... Even if you find a Ley Weaver I am not sure that is enough to make it all that much better than a 3 mana 2/2! Argothian Elder isn't a terrible card but is isn't one that has seen any cube love nor do I expect it to. Being paired with a truely shocking card isn't the boost it needed to make a cube entry!

Okaun, Eye of Chaos 0
Znftpbt, Eye of Wisdom 0

Comedy cards and quite well designed even if they do seem like they should have been in Unstable. Eye of Wisdom is far too small and pricey to be any sort of serious card advantage tool. Okaun can get very big but without any evasion and with low base stands and high cost, is just not a good threat in any setting. Fun, potentially huge, but not good.

Fumble 6

This is very powerful but it is also rather situational. In my current drafting cube this has like 4 things it can steal total. Mostly that makes it a weak Unsummon. It is probably quite playable as despite low baseline power it is still fine and the upside, even if rare, is very swingy. I don't much like the card as it is so polar but it is playable and it may well wind up in some sideboards even if I never add it to the drafting cube. I don't think it would make for a better experience of the game if I were to add it to the drafting cube.

Khorvath's Fury 0

Wheel of Fortune plus Stormseeker for a couple of mana discount on the total. Seems like a fairly odd pairing of effects. Both are situational and both are pretty narrow. Worse still there doesn't seem to be much in the way of overlap between them. I really don't see where you would want a card like this. It does powerful things but at a fairly high cost and in a sort of haphazard way that likely isn't a great help to whatever it is you are trying to do.

Grothma, All-Devouring 1

I feel like I am understanding this card wrong in some way. I don't thank that matters however, most interpretations of this cards function lead me to believe it is poor. Past about five power without evasion is pretty irrelevant. Grothma is big but he is asking for trouble in every way. You need more than just big to get it done in cube. Grothma eats spot removal all day and is a huge tempo loss when he does, being a high cost card with no bonus value when played. Grothma gets traded with in combat and they probably just drew a new handfull of cards turning a 3 for 1 trade on the board into and 8 for 3 in cards! Even when neither of these things happen they will just chump it and carry on with their business relatively unhindered. Perhaps there is some trick with Grothma to draw loads of cards yourself but it sounds convoluted and bad.

Sentinel Tower 4

I don't normally like cards like this but this one does seem rather good. It seems like it could work as a storm win condition or even some extra reach in a spell heavy aggressive deck (tempo or burn). Being a four drop do nothing I suspect the latter is least likely but there is still some potential there. There are seveal things this has over say a Tendrils in a storm deck. Not only is it just 7 "storm" count to get the fatality, it costs only colourless mana and can be made preemptively. Indeed, you can just flop this out and idle casting a setup cards like Ponder each turn. A free 1,3 or 6 damage a turn divided up fairly easily is a huge amount of control over the board or it can just go face and allow for a win without ever having to go off. There are certainly some things Tendrils has over Tower but all in all I would say that currently Tower is looking like a top tier storm finisher if nothing else. I suspect it will commonly be one of the two finishers typically included in cube storm decks. So pretty much a lock in for a top tier combo deck as well as having some potential outside of that archetype sounds like an interesting and strong card to me. Perhaps I just like it because it lets me just cycle through my deck with cheap blue cantrips and actually achieve something while doing it! No more leaning on Lab Maniac for me!!!

Friday 25 May 2018

Battlebond Preliminary Review Part II

Stolen Strategy 1

This almost feels like a better disruption tool than it is a card advantage engine. Certainly casting other people's cards is very powerful but it is not so powerful that you play this over Vance's Blasting Cannons or Outpost Siege, the latter of which lets you play lands in addition to the bonus utility both cards posses over Stolen Strategy as well as a mana off the cost. Gonti is great against aggro decks because he is some tempo with some value that finds a cheap card that will further recover the early tempo losses aggro decks should enact. Stolen Strategy isn't because finding cheap cards of your opponents isn't going to come close to offsetting the tempo loss of making a five mana do nothing in the first place! For that level of tempo loss you are better off drawing from your own deck. This feels simply too slow and random to perform in heads up games. As soon as you are hitting multiple libraries however the card starts to look a whole lot more impressive and should be quite nuts in EDH.

Krav, the Unredeemed 2
Regna, the Redeemer 1

Regna isn't very good, the body is poor for a six drop and the ability is hard to trigger without heavily building around her. If you do she gets more impressive but is still pretty fair. Building around something only to get to the power level of a stand alone Grave Titan doesn't seem like a winning direction to take. Regna is not so bad that you don't want a free one via a Krav nor so bad that drawing her rather than digging her up for free is not devastating when you do pack both. Krav, rather fortunately for Regna, is really quite interesting. He is an exceptional sac outlet, easily the most powerful of those that need mana to sac. You gain life, you draw cards and you power up on the board. It is cheap, instant speed and can do bulk sacrifices like a proper cult! The kinds of decks that want sac outlets in cube tend to want them on the cheaper side and so despite Krav's potency I don't suspect we will see him rocking it in cube. He is probably narrow enough and hard enough to fit in that if he does get some cube attention it will be without his partner.

Arena Rector 7

My my my. Academy Rector is pretty good and found in many a combo deck. Academy Rector is the white Tinker in that it both tutors for a card and then cheats it into play. The original Rector commonly finds things like Yawgmoth's Bargain, Aluren, Mind Over Matter, Dream Halls, Omniscience, Parallax Tide and Wave, Cadaverous Bloom, Decree of Silence and even Treachery. A lot of powerful cards but all quite narrow both in what they do in a situation and in what kind of deck might want them. Now, cards like Ugin and Nicol Bolas Planeswalker are not quite so narrow. Any deck that can play such a card wants it. Even if all you find is Elspeth, Sun's Champion it is still a very high powered card. These big walkers are not only utility power plays but they are also juat win conditions all by them selves. A lot of the enchantments need other things tailored to utilizing them to work. With Arena Rector you just get her in the bin from play and replace her with a powerhouse card from your deck and win, all very normal and easy to include. Basically I am taking a long winded way of saying that I think this is not only a bit more powerful than Academy Rector but also significantly more playable in a draft cube setting. Arena Rector isn't all roses, there are substantially less walkers than there are enchantments and the walkers, while individually high utility, as a card type pack a far lower range of things you can do than enchantments. A lot of the good enchantment targets would facilitate some instant win which the planeswalkers won't. It will be a big swing but it will allow the game to go on for some time. One other difference between the two Rectors is that Arena doesn't have to exile to go and fetch meaning it can be combined with Liliana, Death's Majesty for double dipping on walkers (assuming you have an appropriate sac outlet). I am thinking this will have some game play like Stoneforge Mystic and some like Ophiomancer which makes it sound pretty amazing. I think it will be less powerful than both of those cards but still pretty strong in draft cube and will be even more potent in constructed decks despite not scaling as well into the realms of combo as Academy Rector.

Jungle Wayfinder 1

This feels like a support card such as Borderland Explorer but support cards typically don't stray into the 3 CMC region. This is a bit fair for a cube three drop, the only time it starts to look good is when you are against people without enough basics in their lists and this miss the pull. I don't see the opportunity for that to be known and this to be a good option at the same time so probably a non starter for cube.

Virtus's Maneuver 1

Raise Dead plus Diabolic Edict for the same total cost. The optimist in me sees Kolaghan's Command, the pessimist sees a game loss. The issue with this card is that you need the edict to be good for it to be good in the early and midgame. Cards like Liliana of the Veil and Doomfall can lean on their other elements to shine while this is dangerously weak when the Edict is taking down some 1/1 token. Edict effects scale fairly poorly past the early game and so three mana is a big ask, on top of that you want the Raise Dead to get value and that is less likely the earlier you are in the game. One redeeming feature of this card is that super late game the extra cost on the Raise Dead is no matter, just getting back your best threat will be worth those 3 mana in a lot of cases. Even so I think this is too unlikely to do good work in the early and mid game where you most need it to and so I don't see it fitting into my drafting cube well at all.

Last One Standing 3

Tragically this is probably pretty good in cube as so many strategies are into swarming these days. A three mana wrath that leaves one thing behind sounds totally fine. Sounds way less painful than skipping my lands untapping! It is basically a dud against creature light decks and so it feels like a sideboard tool more than something you would run main and that, along with being gold, feels like it rules it out for most cube uses.

Bramble Sovereign 3

This is worse than it looks but it isn't terrible. It is in the realms of Thrun, Yeva or Chamellion Colossus levels of good at best. Mostly this is a four mana 4/4 which is asking to get blown out. There after you are getting some value and perhaps some tempo out of it too but it is limiting, you need dorks to cast and the mana left over to copy them. Just copying Llanowar Elves isn't all that, you need to be making better things for this to be worth it and that feels like it needs a few too many things to come together to be a good plan. Just run cards that are good on their own and don't risk huge blowouts to most removal when you are playing four mana cards. This is certainly rather powerful but a little aimless, a little bit polar on the risk and rather win more on top of all that. My main argument against this is that I cannot thing of a pair of three drops I would rather have two of than a single cube five drop. The way scaling works on such things means the five drop is just going to be more powerful so even when you do curve perfectly with Sovereign you are going to be slowing yourself down trading power and options for a bit of value. 

Out of Bounds 1

Assist is sadly near useless in heads up magic, perhaps it has some cheeky interactions where it will be to the opponent's advantage to help out paying for your spell. The only way to make it work for you is during part of a mind control turn and that is not only rare but marginal bonus value to the point of actual irrelevance. What interests me about this card is that it seems like one of the least blue intense ways of hard countering a spell without any preconditions, drawbacks or extra costs. Out of Bounds lets you counter anything with a single blue mana and that is a thing. With a Will Kenrith -2 and a Baral in play this is a one mana hard counter. Probably not going to be a thing but noteworthy.

Stadium Vendors 2

This has combo written all over it. Vendors has four things going for it over Coal Stoker, a card which at first glace seems superior. Vendors is a clean EtB effect and does not need casting to trigger making it more versatile. Vendors adds mana of any colour which facilitates a much wider range of combo followups. Vendors can give mana to opponents, which if you are playing with mana burn and you have a good read of their options means it can not only be part of the combo engine but also the win condition! Minor perks or comedy ones aside, the main reason of the four that this has legs over Coal Stoker is simply that it is a goblin and feels like it plays well with the various cost reduction cards, tutoring and synergies with Food Chain.

Spellseeker 7

Lovely. A fantastic way of following on from Imperial Recruiter and the white one. This is not oppressive being a limited range three mana tutor but it is still strong in a wide array of places. It is another tutor and they are in relatively small supply. If this finds part of your combo then there is a reasonable chance you will consider playing it. Cube combo is sufficiently slow that you might well play this over Mystical Tutor so as to not incur card disadvantage. You might be doing that just for the potential to abuse creature synergies. I can easily see this in a Reanimator deck with Recurring Nightmare and Cabal Therapy wanting extra cheap bodies. In all out speedy combo decks Mystical Tutor is almost certainly the better card and in a control deck Sea Gate Oracle has a good shot of being the better card too. Spellseeker is good because it is playable in both those decks and everything in between which cannot so easily be said for those other cards. This finds 2/3rds of the things you could find with a Mystical Tutor in my cube. Also, when you are tutoring for answers you typically need the cheapest one so as to be able to play it alongside the tutor or at least recover more tempo with extra plays the next turn. As such Spellseeker is a reasonable silver bullet finder. I feel like the card this will be closest to in cube is Snapcaster. Both typically cast on turn three, both 2 for ones with a great spell and a limp body! Snappy is obviously rather superior being bigger and cheaper but Snappy is one of the best cards of all time. Spellseeker is not so far behind that he isn't a nice rounded cube worthy card.

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Battlebond Preliminary Review Part I

Sea of Clouds etc (Bond lands?)

In my cynical old age these mostly seem like a mechanism to sell this product. These are premium lands for two headed giant, commander and any other multiplayer format and they are Coastal Towers in heads up play. They are some of the best lands for the multiplayer formats and some of the weakest when not. Certainly these have no cube applications for me, I do not intend to tarnish the best Magic format by going multiplayer at any point! I am not sure about the direction they are taking Rakdos in either from a flavour perspective. Rakdos does not scream luxury to me but whatever. Much as I might seem to complain this is probably a good thing for me, I like these sets a lot as they have way more exotic and pushed cards that will impact cube. Having really strong lands that all multiplayer people will want should increase the pack opening and reduce the value on the cards I actually want!

Pir, Imaginative Rascal 1
Toothy, Imaginary Friend 0

Both of these cards are just far too limp in stats to merit their up front cost. Pir might offer some redundancy in themed decks but I highly doubt it, you can get 2 mana 2/3s that do more so Pir is pretty lame. The only reason I can see Toothy getting play in cube is because you can tutor it up for free with Pir. Even bad cards are worth having if you can get them into your hand for free. I think the cost of actually drawing Toothy makes it too poor to run even with Pir but still.

Rushblade Commander 3

Warriors already had a bit of theme support and Battlebond looks to be adding to that rather a lot. Rushblade will be a lock in for any tribal warrior deck and might even sneak into the odd deck that just happens to have a high count of warriors.

Rowan Kenrith 0

First off, the partner aspect is pretty tame in cube, no deck wants a pair of 6 mana planeswalkers. That assumes you have access to both in the first place. Not that that should matter as Rowan seems pretty awful. The +2 is narrow and gains no value or tempo. In other words, awful. The -2 is also narrow and leaves Rowan highly vulnerable. It will miss a bunch of their dorks based on size and a bunch more based on being untapped. The emblem is cute but taking a few turns with your do nothing six drop to get a "cute" effect is not how games are won.

Will Kenrith 6

Will is a lot better than his sister, or wife, or whatever relationship they have. Being able to Sorceress Queen a pair of dorks for a turn cycle is pretty impressive protection for Will and even doubles up as a way of comboing off past things like Aethersworn Canonist or attacking past defenses. Handling two threats and going to 6 loyalty makes Will very hard to take down in combat. Will commands direct removal to take out cleanly of which there is not too much on offer. The -2 is fairly extreme as well. A pair of cards is nice and is likely better than the -2 on Architect of Thought as you neither have to reveal what you get nor just get one card a bunch of the time. I typically see Will coming down and going +2 to survive the turn followed by a -2 which should provide a huge swing. Often the cost reduction will be irrelevant as by the time you have untapped with a six drop in play your hand will be near empty and you obviously have a load of mana. That being said, if you do have much to do then it is also fairly nuts. It lasts till your next turn so it can be applied to countermagic, you can very easily flop out a five mana Karn and still have mana up for a Dismiss! The ability is tempting to try out in storm. Will has another cute ultimate but I don't see it getting used very much at all, it doesn't win the game and it is a lot less exciting than drawing cards and reducing mana costs. This is fine, Will seems plenty strong with just the plus and minus two abilities. While Will does seem very potent I am not sure how much love he would get in cube being so far up the curve. Blue is not a fan of tapping out in their turns.

Amazing Comeback 1

Quite powerful but I feel like this needs to be specifically abused in a tailor made deck rather than generically being viable. I am thinking Demonic Pact, Glorious End or Final Fortune sort of thing. If you just play this and wait to die it will be a dead card roughly half the time and that is far too much for any card to be dead. That makes it not a drafting cube card. Putting yourself to one is also savagely risky in cube and so I don't even see this being good in the decks built to use it.

Gorm the Great 0
Virtus the Veiled 0

Virtus is savagely poor. Easy to kill an in cube pretty easy to block as well, even with Gorm! Virtus feels like a better blocker than attacker! Gorm on the other hand is actually fine. He is relatively meaty and has some annoying abilities that combine to help race pretty well. Gorm is still too low impact to really merit cube inclusion and the partner with Virtus doesn't help with that. The free card is nice but again, not worth the risk of drawing it!

Mindblade Render 7.5

This seems exceptional. It would be cube worthy if it was only able to trigger from dealing combat damage itself. The fact that you can go turn one Bloodsoaked Champion (Tormented Hero and Vampire Lacerator also both just got a load better!) and follow it with this and start the drawing right away pushes it into the infrequently trod realms of the very good. The standard for card draw dorks has been a 3 CMC 1/3 for a long while. I am more than happy to trade a key word for a cost reduction. I am even happier to pay a life for cards drawn to allow Render to trigger on my other warriors even if they be few in number. Mindblade Render feels like the best Ophidian printed thus far. It isn't the power level of Dark Confidant but it probably has all the other lesser versions beat (Pain Seer etc) and I have all four of them in cube! Render can be better than Confidant as well when you get those tribal synergies going. Further to that Render is wildly more playable than Confidant which typically needs a proactive shell to house well. Render can just go in any old deck and should work out pretty well. It blocks a 2/1 like a charm and represents a must stop threat for 2 mana to a control build.

Archfiend of Despair 0

I don't really see this being played in any capacity but it is better than it looks. At first glance I ruled this out for having no immediate impact but that isn't entirely accurate. If you swing in then flop this out you essentially double the damage your stuff does and this will turn a lot of unsuspecting attacks into alpha strikes. If you could just have this as a curve topper in a sort of midrange tempo deck then that would be fantastic. As an 8 drop there is no real archetype that attacks in which you could realistically play this.

Soulblade Partners 0

Total limited cards.

Impetuous Protege 0
Proud Mentor 0

More limited cards.

Generous Sponsor 5

Intriguing card and no mistake. On an empty board this does nothing and that is probably what kills this card's chances even though boards are rarely empty in my cube these days. This is also a card which can change in power level quite significantly based on the exact translations. If you can combo with with -1/-1 counter removal (or indeed the spicy Contagion/Bounty of the Hunt), wither, or Tetzimoc then this is comfortably powerful enough to consider in a synergy deck. I will absolutely be trying to run this in something or other! In a more general case where you are only getting the trigger from the support of the Sponser itself then the card is still plenty powerful enough but only if you assume a wide range of things on both sides of the board to put counters on. Generous Sponser is fine as a Rishkar being 3/6 of stats for 3 mana, 2/2 of which is able to have haste and scale with other cards key words. Equally Generous Sponser is fine to buff dorks of your opponents and draw you two cards. You are still up a single stat with your 1/4 against their +2/+2 and so on average you have Divination in green with upside and utility. Often the counters you give will not improve the target in a relevant way, Sponsor can likely block any small dork you buff and big ones you likely have another plan for. It is only the middling dorks and evasive ones that are going to be a real problem buffing. I think Sponsor would be top tier if you always had the options on how to work it but I think in practice it will be far to awkward getting it to do what you want without issue. Too often there will not be at least two creatures on both sides of the board for Sponsor to fully shine.

Tuesday 22 May 2018

M19 Preliminary Reviews Part I

I imagine I will have done some Battlebond reviews before the next set of M19 stuff is spoiled and so depending on how the sets are spoiled I may end up reposting this just so there is a version with the rest of the set reviews and not lost in among other sets.

Goblin Instigator 6.5

Great little card that will certainly see a bunch of play. This is what token decks want, it is what goblin decks want and it is playable enough in any aggressive red deck in a cube setting to just run as filler if needed. The only real drawback of this card is that it isn't as good as Mogg War Marshal. Brainstorm being worse than Ancestral Recall doesn't stop Brainstorm being an amazing card... Being worse than something is only a drawback if it actually stops a card seeing play which I imagine will be the reverse of the case for Instigator. Redundancy in the right place increases playability and this is in the right place. This is only a support card and has low power level on its own but it is a fairly premium one for a couple of strong decks so I have given it a pretty high end rating for a support card. A tribal and token staple with other roles all quite likely.

Rustwing Falcon 4

This is a lot of stats and strong key words on a one drop. I haven't done a white skies deck in a long old while so I cannot really comment on the strength of it in the present meta. My guess is that it is a sub par version of other decks simply due to easier disruption and lower consistency. You need to have Anthem effects to empower your evasive one power dorks while more conventional aggro decks function fine without the buffs. This might be one of the best one drops in a white skies deck but I don't think it has enough punch to be worth playing on its own and I don't think white skies is a deck worth running either. I don't want to rule this out entirely as a mere +0/+1 on a cheap and OK card is a pretty massive buff.

Revatilize 5.5

Is this better than Renewed Faith? Perhaps but probably not overall. It really depends on quite a lot given how similar the cards are. The main reason you play Renewed Faith in cube is to have a cycler and Revitalize doesn't physically cycle and so doesn't trigger Astral Slide or Drake Haven etc and is of no use to such themed decks. Sometimes you play Renewed Faith to hedge against burn and aggro decks in which case the Faith is probably better again as it has the option on a 6 life mode or at least is uncounterable for 2 life. On the flip side you don't want Faith in a prowess deck and so there are certainly occasions Revatilize will be preferable. Revitalize is also quite a lot more card just on the numbers  (having 50% more life in the good mode assuming you almost always want the 2 mana mode on Faith) and so may well be strong enough just to run as filler. I don't see it replacing a card like Impulse in a control deck nor being enough lifegain to feel like much of a counter to aggro although it will help there. Likely still better off running Impulse and finding the thing that actually beats the aggro deck than gaining 3 life... Certainly very playable and a card I am very glad to see in print. I would like more free lifegain floating about the place.

Gearsmith Prodigy 6

Always nice to see blue get another cheap tempo card even if it is a narrow one. While this is probably not quite there yet for the drafting cube (with not quite the density of artifacts) you have been able to do strong blue tempo decks supported by artifacts effectively for a long time and they have been improving faster than most other aggro decks due to how few playables they had in the first place! Blue has a number of good one drops that pair well with artifacts and tempo themes, most notably Vedalken Certarch but also the new Artificer's Assistant! Grand Architect is a big reason to play such a deck but he only gets better with good cheap supporting dorks. One of the issues with such decks previously is just a lack of playable cards in the roles you need and so Prodigy is a massive buff to them. Typically these decks run equipment and so the Phantasmal cards are more of a no go which takes away some of the best cheap blue tempo cards. This Prodigy fills the hole left by Bears very nicely indeed. Presently I would say this should be in any non-tribal themed blue aggro build but only because they are weak and need the crutch support of artifacts to work at all. Prodigy might one day make it into the drafting cube with some more support but for now I think it is a touch too narrow.

Uncomfortable Chill 0

A bit pricey for a card with a relatively low impact. Repulse is likely just a better all round stall tool as well as having way more interactive potential.

Goblin Motivator 6

So Bloodlust Inciter was a fine card. The only thing that stopped it really shining in cube is that most of the good red dorks already have haste! Despite this Inciter was still fine in cube and fairly desirable in certain archetypes with fewer haste dorks naturally. Goblin Motivator has all the same merits as Inciter and it has significant additional merit in that it is a goblin! While there are plenty of great ways to give goblins haste the ability to do so with a one drop goblin was previously lacking. Motivator substantially empowers Warren Instigator and even Lackey. Having it in a list also further empowers cards like Sparksmith, Sharpshooter, Krenko etc. Warchief cards are such a high priority removal target than you find your abusive dorks don't have haste as much as you might like. Haste on some of these cards is just too dangerous and so having another must kill goblin on your team and in the one slot is a massive win. I suspect this will be a tribal mainstay in cube and one of the premium go to one drops. It only gets a six for general use but I feel like this is at least an 8 if we are just talking for one of the goblin builds.

Catalyst Elemental 2

Blood Vassal comes to red. Priest of Gix made that transition a while back and it didn't do anything too drastic. Given that Priest felt like a much more potent card than Vassal I don't expect Catalyst Elemental to make that big of a splash. It might get used a bit in some ramping red decks but I have not yet found a home for Grinning Ingus so I really don't expect this to suddenly make new things possible even though it looks like exactly that sort of card. Nice to have this out there at least.

Sunday 20 May 2018

Top 10 Cards from 2009

Acidic Slime
This is a really hard year to do as it has some huge names from back then that have fallen off in power since. 2009 also has some cards that perform less well in cube than in constructed and as a result this list looks a little inverted in places. This was the year that I got back into Magic after a few years off. I didn't get back into the competitive and travelling aspects of the game instead finding I was getting most out of MtG playing cube and just following events. This was the year I converted my play sets of older cards into things I needed for the cube. I was now a casual player and not a serious player on a break! This acceptance of the new Magic me brought with it a redoubled love of the game. I had been the snotty annoying kid, the overly arrogant teen, the jet setting competitive young adult and then I was a casual veteran and it felt great!

The big Magic thing of this year was the return of the core sets but with the twist of now having new cards in them. Obviously to push these base sets a lot of the cards were pushed with power level. Along with a power jump this year showcased some really impressive design with some of the best and most interesting one drops (the hardest CMC to design at well). Zendikar, Conflux, and Alara Reborn are the other sets from this year and while Zendikar has the lions share of the cube worthy cards none of the sets are blanks by any means. There are presently 23 total cards in my drafting cube from this era which is a very strong showing. The few power cards from the small sets in Alara block combined with the great depth of more core cards from Zendikar and the core set add up to an impressive year for cube play. Here are the cube relevant cards from teh year not on the top ten.

DisfigureAjani Goldmane
Brave the Elements
Acidic Slime
Harm's Way
Lotus Cobra
Doom Blade
Elite Vanguard
Elvish Archdruid
Expedition Map
Glory of Warfare
Goblin Bushwhaker
Goblin Chieftain
Grim Discovery
Hedron Crab
Knight of the ReliquaryHellspark Elemental
Honor the Pure
Inkwell Leviathan
Iona, Shield of Emeria
Journey to Nowhere
Knight of the Reliquary
Khalni Gem
Kor Skyfisher
Lapse of Certainty
Maelstrom Pulse
Martial Coup
Master of the Wild Hunt
Merfolk Sovereign
Mind Funeral
Mindbreak Trap
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
Oracle of Mul Daya
Open the Vaults
Parasitic Strix
Nicol Bolas, PlaneswalkerPlated Geopede
Punishing Fire
Qasali Pridemage
Sigil of the Empty Throne
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Spreading Sea
Steppe Lynx
Tukatongue Thallid
Thopter Foundry
Time Sieve
Vampire Hexmage
Vampire Nighthawk
Vampire Lacerator
Vampire Nocturnus
Vines of Vastwood
Volcanic Fallout
Warren Instigator
Zealous Persecution

Bloodbraid Elf10. Bloodbraid Elf

Over rated cube card for sure. A 3/2 haste is OK but hardly a game ending threat. You can have four flying hasted power of indestructible vampire instead for the same cost. Most removal kills Bloodbraid, most dorks trade with it at worst. In a lot of ways Bloodbraid is just a Rogue Refiner. The cluttered nature of cube boards makes the body of Bloodbriad a whole lot less threat than it is in modern and so in cube the Elf is more of a value card than a threat. While the card is still very powerful at that it is hurt by build restrictions and being gold. Bloodbraid feels closer to Abbot of Keral Keep in cube than it does to modern and standard Bloodbraid potency. Another thing that hurts the cards playability in cube is the reasonably large number of cards you don't really want to play with it such as countermagic, combat tricks and other time critical or narrow cards. When Bloodbraid does go above and beyond is when you are already applying tempo pressure. It is a great thing to follow up their making of a planeswalker and nuts when you can hit a three drop tempo card with it such as Ahn-Crop Crasher. Great in stompy zoo lists but hard to include elsewhere without lowering the value of the card and/or restricting your build. The actual best thing you can do with it is hit Ancestral Visions but then you are rather playing a Concentrate on legs and your deck is likely at odds with itself!

Baneslayer Angel9.   Baneslayer Angel

I spent a while torn over this. In 2009 and for many years after Baneslayer was totally first pickable. It was the best threat in the cube and ended more games than any other card. It was impossible to race and impossible to tangle with in combat. It basically felt like a Serra Angel that came with a ready equipped and pre-charged Jitte! Since then however everything has changed in cube and Baneslayer is a pretty risky card. If you pay your 5 mana to flop out the Angel and you eat one of a plethora of removal effects then you probably just lost. It could be a -1 from Jace, the Mind Sculptor, it could be a Ravenous Chupacabra, it could just a be a Doom Blade. Most decks have multiple such cards as there are plenty of three drops that can be pretty game ending if not dealt with and so vast amounts more spot removal are played in cube decks compared to 2009 era. Essentially playing Baneslayer turns a lot of common cards into Time Walk effects and that is a huge risk to take. The only reason Baneslayer is viable despite being a five drop with no real self protection, immediate value or effect is that when it does manage to dodge those game losing removal spells it will tend to wrap things up pretty quickly. Baneslayer is now an all in card, sometimes a hedge card against red and green. It is not the premium top end it used to be. I would love to have had Lotus Cobra, Acidic Slime, Harms Way or Bloodghast taking up the bottom end of this top ten list as those cards are all much more interesting and exciting. Much as I am trying to base things on how cards are now I am finding it hard to escape the gravitas of Bloodbraid and Baneslayer.

Day of Judgment8.   Day of Judgement

Nothing too exotic here, just another Wrath. The loss of hitting regenerators barely ever comes up in cube even though the odd regeneration card still floats about in cube. White having reasonable redundancy in Wrath effects makes it a very reliable control colour to draft. This consistency means people respect what a white deck might do to them with four mana which in turn leads to interesting games. Wrath effects, especially these clean and simple ones, are not particularly interesting cards to play. It is the potential of them that leads to interesting choices and games. The dynamic of extending appropriately to cope with mass removal is a great aspect of magic and Day of Judgement helps with that more than it might seem.

Burst Lightning7.   Burst Lightning

Yet more Shocks making it into the various top ten lists. Burst Lightning is I think the closest to appropriate power level for a one mana instant burn spell they have produced. I have played this over Chain Lightning in more reactive decks (although that is rare). What makes it so good is it's instant speed. So many of the good one drop burn is sorcery and that is a bit of a turn off, both for control and for prowess decks. Certainly it would seem that most Shocks with upside are made sorcery if that upside is actually good as per Firebolt, Forked Bolt and Pillar of Flame. Burst Lightning is the only instant Shock with frequently useful upside. Wild Slash for example has only been more than Shock about as much as Dragon Hunter is more than an Elite Vanguard which is to say about twice ever in my cube. Burst is super playable, ha a healthy power level and great design. For my money, the best designed of any burn spell ever.

Glacial Fortress6.   Allied Check Lands

Well designed dual lands that are very much on the fair side of things yet still highly playable. The slower decks get a lot more out of these lands than the aggressive ones but both still happily play them. Glacial Fortress is perhaps the only check land that tends to be more desirable than the corresponding pain land in cube. While these lands should be interesting to build with due to their pre-requisites the issue is that the better duals satisfy these and so they wind up being a little bit win more. In great mana bases full of sac lands and duals to find with them the check lands are super consistent at coming in untapped from turn two onwards and as such are great and you are happy enough running up to three suchcheck lands in most decks. If however you are leaning rather harder on pain, quick, filter and even Temples for your fixing then check lands are typically your worst duals offering no bonus perks and typically coming in tapped. In a world without shock and original duals check lands would be weaker but much more interesting to build with and consistent in their power level. Battle lands found a way of fixing the issue with polarity but were that much less powerful in general that the design fix isn't as interesting or useful.

Goblin Guide5.   Goblin Guide

Until Tarkir block a few years back I would have had this at least 3rd on this list as it was so much better than all the other one drop beater dorks in the game, specifically the red ones. Now red has a bunch of new one drops many of which are in the same kind of ballpark as Guide and the exclusivity of it has declined. Still a fantastically good card but not such a big signal card. You still always play Guide in your aggressive decks with red mana in them but you are not so sad when you have no Guide to put in. I rate Guide as one of the best designed one drop beaters of all time with the drawback being so interesting. I would love to see more cards with this sort of design. It gives the card mild variance due to differing values and counts of land in different decks. It gives extra information, it gives extra options and more than anything else it is actually a pretty real downside. There are times when I welcome the warm embrace of the Guide's beatdown when he gives me those extra cards. A card that can make both players feel good, isn't oppressively powerful and yet remains top tier is surely a design triumph?!

Spell Pierce4.   Spell Pierce

One of my favourite counterspells in the cube. One mana is fantastically cheap and an extra cost of two is as good as hard in the all important early game in cube. Negate is a great counter that has a solid range in cube and this is the high tempo version. It lets you make really aggressive plays early in the game with great safety. It is one of the best counters in a control vs. control situation as it is a great aid in winning any big turns. Due to how high the fee to cost ratio is (2:1) Pierce stays relevant longer than you expect it to as well. It gets lumped in with cards like Force Spike when it really tangles more with the likes of Mana Leak. All the other one mana soft counters and things like Daze and Censor are super easy to play round if you feel the need. Trying to play around Pierce will be crushing. You probably have to play round it on a few key turns else walking into it is also crushing but you cannot consistently avoid it, the only sensible thing to do is bait out a Pierce with some medium value card ideally in the two to three mana range.

Noble Hierarch3.   Noble Hierarch

One of the best mana dorks ever, probably the best in modern. Fixing for 60% of the colours, ramp on a one drop, able to attack itself or can sit back and ramp while buffing other dorks. I would still rather pick a Birds of Paradise over Hierarch due to how open it is but if I have a Bant midrange deck I absolutely want this little lady in my list over the other one drop dorks. Turns out exalted is a very powerful effect which scales well with lowering cost and utility roles over attacking ones. As such exalted is about as good as it gets on this premium utility one drop! Hierarch would easily still be playable without the exalted and it would still be one of the best of the one drop mana dorks. Hierarch is probably the closest thing out there to a Deathrite Shaman in that it does what you want it to very nicely and then it goes on to do a bunch more useful stuff on top of that!

Path to Exile2.   Path to Exile

Instant speed, one mana, exile effect and no target restriction. On the four qualities of removal this bad boy scores top marks on all possible categories along with only one other card. On average it is the second best removal spell in all of magic and there is a fair old gap between 2nd and 3rd. It is also the best removal spell out there for the more aggressive decks who do not wish to give away free life. The most impressive thing about Path to Exile is that the card is actually pretty fair and well designed. It is hard to take advantage of the low cost in the early game as giving someone a free land is better for them than basically any one drop. There is a reason Sakura Tribe Elder is a two mana card! Path has a drawback that scales really nicely with the progress of the game that keeps it interesting throughout. You can use it early but you want to avoid it. Path also has alternate uses and synergies further adding to the complexity and interest of this first rate card. Pathing your own dorks to ramp and fix is way to go sometimes, a lot more frequently than with Swords to Plowshares too! Thraben Inspector made that a much less painful thing to do more recently. Path is a nice way to turn on a Land Tax, Tithe or Knight of the White Orchid as well. Path to Exile is a flavour and colour win in addition to being a game play win. It is cheap and simple yet still powerful and and interesting. It is really very hard to design a one mana card of this power level without it being oppressive and so even more bonus marks for doing just that.

Scalding Tarn1.   Enemy Sacs

Sac lands being what they are you only really need one of the colours to match provided you have the right original dual or shock land. This means that enemy sacs didn't really change anything beyond bringing more sac lands to the table. It didn't really empower the off colours any more than the other pairings. They could just as easily printed functional copies of the allied sac lands so that you could have ten sac lands in a singleton format and it would have done much the same thing. Enemy sacs is just more sac lands and ultimately that is a good thing for cube. With only five on offer before hand they were stupidly premium, now you can reasonably expect at least one and that in turn increases consistency and smooths out who the recipients of that consistency buff are. Sac lands remain the most played cards in my cube and are up there with the highest pick priority cards as well. No one is ever too sad about first picking a sac land.