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. 

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