Tuesday, 1 May 2018
Top 10 Cards from 2005
In 2005 we wrapped up Kamigawa block and dived into Ravnica. Kamigawa was pretty bland and has some oppressive cards which dominated the era which lead to stale constructed formats. I loved the feel of Kamigawa block and I enjoyed the limited aspect of it simply because I played it so very much. When you get to properly understand a format it is more rewarding than usual, even if it objectively isn't great. The limited was very tempo driven and I enjoy that play style and so that was fine by me.
Ravnica on the flip side is regarded as one of the all time great sets. Constructed started to open up with lots of viable decks and the limited was some of the best received by the community. Sadly I don't love excessive gold cards and with Invasion and Ravnica being such a success we were destined to suffer many more gold themed blocks. I really don't know why Rav didn't do it for me, perhaps I was just burned out from too much magic. Perhaps set flavour really has more impact than I realize and that was the turn off. I am a country bumpkin at heart and hate cities. I like my lands to be mostly devoid of humanoids and their interference and so the feel of the set just didn't have the right fantasy allure. Objectively the set was great and did a huge amount for Magic. Loads of good fixing at common rarity made limited all sorts of consisted. Finally treating enemy and allied colour pairings as equals also did a huge amount for the game.
Chord of Calling
Crack the Earth
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
First of Ironwood
Glimpse the Unthinkable
Golgari Grave Troll (and other dredge dorks)
Kami of the Crescent Moon
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
Mikokuro, Center of the Sea
Miren, the Moaning Well
Muddle the Mixture
Shadow of Doubt
10. Life from the Loam
The last slot in this list is a funny one. It could have gone to so many cards that all have a similar level of playability; Sickening Shoal, Shining Shoal, Frenzied Goblin, Faith's Fetters, Devouring Light, Compulsive Research, Kira, Manriki Gusari, Telling Time and Chord of Calling have all enjoyed time in the cube and a lot of play over the years. All these cards are fine and do useful and desirable things at an appropriate power level. They all see rather less play than they used to but they are all still hanging around on the fringes. There are a swathe of other cards from this era too that see some more niche application use like Muddle, Pithing Needle and Glimpse the Unthinkable. Life from the Loam fits in both these groups. It enjoyed a premium position in cube when I still had the cycling lands in and continued to enjoy a locked in slot in a number of constructed theme decks such as Seismic Swans or Lightning Rift decks. Loam can be used as an ongoing source of value and gives green the potential to be the grindiest of all the colours. A uniquely powerful card that can be played in a lot of places and is critical in several as well. It is the unique nature of the card that I feel gets it this last slot on the list as it is not really something you want to run in most draft cubes these days being both slow and on the situational side.
9. Bounce Lands
I love these cards, I think their design is fantastic. They offer good rewards and great synergies but the cost of playing them is significant. Even back in the day when tempo was less extreme the cost of making a bounce land was pretty big. One issue with the bounce land is how much it increases the value of land disruption. Even a humble Boomerang would literally be game over if it hit a bounce land on turns two or three. Getting Plowed Under is bad so having it happen for two mana rather than five is back breaking. At the time I felt I walkways wanted a bounce land in any multicolour deck, sometimes I would run two but it was a touch risky and three is just asking for trouble! It is like the extreme version of running filter lands these days. Bounce lands are sadly just a bit slow for how my cube is setup these days even disregarding those few cards that will punish the user. I could cut Wastelands, Port and Vindicate and the bounce lands still wouldn't really cut it. Back when these were first printed they were literally the fifth best cycle of dual lands with them predating quick, check, filter, scry lands, dual man lands, shadow lands, battle lands, life lands, vivid lands, shard and wedge lands and the bicycling lands. We were not treated to such things often and so any half decent dual was a lock in. The best thing about bounce lands by a huge margin is that they were common. They single handedly made Ravnica a renown draft format. They solved two of magics biggest flaws in one simple and balanced card.
8. Lightning Helix
What a massively overrated Searing Spear! The life matters so infrequently and is only an enticing aspect of the card in control and midrange decks, of which you find few in Boros colours. Helix is certainly well worthy of cube in terms of power level however in terms of suitability and playability it is decidedly lacking. The extra power is meaningless if so few places care about it and the lack of playability is a huge issue when considering inclusions in a draft format. Every narrow card included in your draft format reduces the consistency of it which leads to less good games. Helix might seem like too big a name not to run but take note of how often it is unplayed in a draft and you might well think about giving its slot to a more worthy card. Lightning Helix is as close to an auto include as you can get, there are basically no decks that could reasonably cast Lightning Helix that I could draft in my cube in which I would not play said Helix. That is normally a criteria by which I will permit gold cards into the cube but I think the gains from Helix are so marginal on average that it would be like running Oboro, Palace in the Clouds in the cube. Just taking up space that it doesn't need to be doing.
This little Rampant Growth is better than most for its ability to get all the juicy non-basic lands with the basic land types. Due to their age and lack of relevance in constructed formats people often forget Nature's Lore, and indeed the Three Kingdoms version. Both of these cards can get non-basics as Farseek does and more relevantly they can bring them in untapped. As such Farseek is I think the weakest mana ramp card in my cube (I have not ever felt I needed to go deep enough for actual Rampant Growth although it is a fine card). Alternatively you could say Farseek was the fifth best land ramp card. It isn't an exiting card and it is a very fair one but it is absolutely a strong card. A lot of decks want this kind of effect and Farseek does it as well as it needs to and does have some nice perks about it. Rampant Growth is the acceptable baseline and Farseek sufficiently out does it. It is like Wild Slash compared to Shock or similar.
The Signet cycle has a few merits over Talisman despite being overall weaker cards. All told there is not a huge amount in it meaning the colour pairings decide most about how much any of them see play. Indeed, having the off colour pairings is one of the main things Signets do better than Talisman. Other mild perks include no pain for coloured mana and the potential to double fix at the same time which is particularly good for casting crazy cards like Breya. A Signet does more work in the three and four colour decks than it does in a two colour one. I kind of think of Signets as the check lands to the pain land cycle of Talisman. Signets are the second main reason Rav block was such a huge limited win. Common fixing and nicely spread throughout the packs. I have no idea why the takeaway from Rav was that gold cards are good and not that common fixing is good...
I hadn't realized that a big part of why newer Chromatic Sphere cards draw when the card goes to the yard rather than on the activation trigger is to avoid the issues of having card draw effect tied in to "split second" style mana abilities. I thought it was just a convenient buff allowing you to abuse them with the likes of Goblin Welder, Tinker or any of the other many effects that want to sac off artifacts. As a fixing tool Terrarion is generally far more effective than is ever required of it. You rarely need two colours fixing at once! Chromatic Sphere is more useful as fixing because it can be used right away which is rather more relevant than fixing two colours. Terrarion however is much more useful when you just want an artifact to support things. While I have cut the bonkers combo cards like Tinker and Welder I still have plenty of parental Nalaar cards, Daretti and other effects that want to eat artifacts and being able to do so for zero card cost and a single mana is a nice win. Doubly so when you also increase the consistency of your deck just from what Terrarion does for you. I play these cards as filler, as support, when I have dodgy mana, when I have delirium and delve effects and generally quite a lot. Cards like this should be in all formats. Super fair but also great for the game.
Now we start to get to the spice of the year. Remand is a lovely little card and is continuing to get better. The increase in flashback cards, delve cards and suspend cards all allow Remand to significantly outperform it's design. For normal use it is just a bit of fair stall, everyone has just the same number of cards before and after Remand, just a bit less mana. The Remand player is ahead when they get to waste relevant mana of their opponents. Even if I just Remand a two drop which sounds very equal I am obviously trying to prolong the game as that gives me an edge and so I am ahead with my even Remand. On the flip side of that you are not always ahead even when you Remand something costing more than 2. Say you have 8 mana and it is late game top deck time, even if I remand a four drop you can just instantly remake it and get the initiative as it were. It is a little polar in performance to be considered a great design but it is easily one of the fairest and most balanced good counterspell cards so there is that.
3. Dark Confidant
I am sure this dude isn't lacking in literature on him. Quite absurd levels of power when first printed but now Confidant feels pretty fair. In 2005 and for some time after Confidant was considered the best dork in the game by most players by most measures. While still a great card he is far more inline with the power level of the rest of the playing field in cube. Most removal hits him and some of it super efficiently. The tempo from Confidant is poor and the returns are slow. Mostly these days Confidant represents the removal test like Mother of Runes and a few others. They hit the board and get killed and the game goes on as normal or they are not dealt with and then they dominate the game. For such a card I find Confidant better designed than most. You have to consider build with him, his cost is high enough that you can't just slip him past things like Mother of Runes and steal a game that way and he is suitably easy to kill. There is even the risk factor of him killing you which is absolutely relevant even in decks with well kempt curves. Confidant is one of the better designed high powered and polar cards in the game.
2. Umezawa's Jitte
While this card is now closing in on the realms of fair it rather ruined MtG at the time. Oppressive in all constructed formats, the best limited card you could have, and of course a top pick cube card too. Jitte made things no fun and often still has that effect. When control decks are running Jitte simply to answer the aggressive decks Jitte (different, and worse, legend rulings at the time) you have a problem. Literally every viable deck had 4 Jitte in block constructed back in 2005. I'd like to blame this tedium on 2005 being the year I quit competitive MtG but I suspect that the World of Wartcraft has the lion's share of the blame. Jitte remains a good first pick in (unpowered) cube but that is mostly due to it being colourless and thus nicely open. It is not a windmill slam on power level by any means. Most of why the card is able to still perform resides in creatures like Adanto Vanguard and True Name Nemesis. Without such cards Jitte, like all other reasonably pricey equipment, is a high risk tool. Generally a little over rated but still a strong card.
1. Shock Lands
Although 2005 only brought us 4 of the 10 shock lands I am giving the lot to 2005 and won't feature them in the 2006 list. I have already had pain lands at the top of top 10s twice! Due to the unique way Ravnica block contained various guilds in various sets we knew we were getting the rest of the cycle and so it felt like 2005 is when they hit the scene. Shock lands are pretty perfectly designed "fair" versions of the original duals. It is the synergy with sac lands that ensured the shock lands provide for the majority of mana produced in modern. In terms of actual potency disregarding the basic land types the shock lands are probably just behind pain lands in power, in cube at least where you don't get those draws of all pain lands and end up killing yourself which can happen in constructed when running 4 copies of each pain land. Due to scarcity of premium fixing the shock lands are played as much as a the original duals in cube and as such are among the most played cards in the whole format. I think most of the shock and original duals in good colour pairs, as well as all the sac lands see more play than any non-land cube card and so these really really deserve this number one slot.