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.

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