Saturday, 30 June 2018

Top 10 Cards from 2011

Hornet QueenAnother supremely high powered year that continues in producing some of the best top end cards in the game. There are very few six or more mana cards that see regular cube use that did not come from the 2010 - 2012 era. Much of what was broken about 2011 is not the fatties however but the phyrexian mana mechanic in New Phyrexia. Not only did it bring the ever dangerous cost reduction and free spells with it but it managed to break the colour pie rather as well. While I don't overly care about colour pie and I actively want more top end power level cards so as to keep cube fresh and evolving I don't like to see design cock-ups that ensure such things will be avoided in future. A simple fix of needing the appropriate basic land type in play as they did for the free spells in Masques block would have resolved any colour pie issues and grounded the free spells.

Commander made its debut in 2011 and it is a fantastic product line that I am glad to see continued and expanded. As a cube player it offers much more exciting new cards than the normal sets which have to be heavily restrained so as to protect modern and standard. I would love to see them plug some cube holes with the commander sets a little more and not exclusively cater to the EDH community. There are far too few one drops in the commander product and that is where the holes lie in cube!

This year we also have Mirrodin Besieged, Innistrad and M12 all of which contribute to the cube. Just having a glance at the cards that didn't make the cut and I see things that would be near the top of most of the previous years top 10 lists. This is another year with a 30+ card cube complement and a lot of them are strong as well. In a 540 cube made up of cards from 25 years or Magic you are looking at 27 cards per year as the bar, above that is an above average year and 2011 is certainly that. We have a premium one drop ramp dork, the best combat trick, one of blacks best creature removal spells, whites most powerful one drop beater, some premium top end cards, one drops and even a couple of planeswalkers. Here, as ever, is that extended list of useful cube cards from the year;

Consecrated SphinxMutagenic Growth
Gideon's Lawkeeper
Diregraf Ghoul
Hornet Queen
Avacyn's Pilgrim
Massacre Wurm
Champion Parish
Garruk Relentless
Enemy Check Lands
Go for the Throat
Consecrated Sphinx
Acidic Slime
Accorder Paladin
Aether Adept
Angelic Destiny
Ancient Grudge
Apostle's Blessing
Beast Within
Blade SplicerBirthing Pod
Blade Splicer
Blightsteel Colossus
Bloodgift Demon
Bloodline Keeper
Bump in the Night
Cemetery Reaper
Celestial Purge
Chancellor of the Tangle
Chandra, the Firebrand
Chandra's Phoenix
Deceiver Exarch
Devil's Play
Doomed Traveler
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Elite Vanguard
Fiend Hunter
Avacyn's PilgrimGarruk, Primal Hunter
Geist of Sanit Traft
Gavony Township
Ghost Quarter
Goblin Arsonist
Green Sun's Zenith
Gut Shot
Heartless Summoning
Hero of Bladehold
Hero of Oxid Ridge
Hex Parasite
Ichor Wellspring
Inkmoth Nexus
Intangible Virtue
Jace, Memory Adept
Leonin Relic-Warder
Lead the Stampede
Mayor of Avabruk
Phyrexian MetamorphMerlira, Sylvok Outcast
Mental Misstep
Mikeaus, the Lunarch
Mirran Crusader
Nephalia Drownyard
Noxious Revival
Olivia Voldaren
Past in Flames
Phantasmal Bear
Phantasmal Image
Phyrexian Metalmorph
Phyrexian Obliterator
Phyrexian Revoker
Porcelain Legionnaire
Puresteel Paladin
Rites of Flourishing
Champion of the ParishSheoldred, Whispering One
Shrine of Burning Rage
Signal Pest
Stormblood Berserker
Stormkirk Noble
Sword of War and Peace
Sword of Feast and Famine
Tezzeret's Gambit
Thrun, the Last Troll
Timely Reinforcements
Treasure Mage
Unburial Rites
Vapor Snag
Vault Skirge
Viridian Emissary
Witchbane Orb
Chaos Warp
Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Soul Snare

Batterskull10. Batterskull

I am not a fan of this card. I remember clearly sighing when I saw it on the spoiler knowing fully how tedious it was going to be in cube with Stoneforge and boy was I on the money. Stoneforge was already plenty good enough and Batterskull just made it disgusting. It was the defining two card combo of the unpowered cube. It was the most broken and degenerate thing you could do and it would defeat most aggressive decks pretty comfortably while remaining powerful and effective against the rest of the meta. The best hope for the aggro player was kill the Stoneforge before it flops in the Batterskull and then kill them before they got to five mana! Battskull is also perfectly playable on its own all be it in rather less wide a range of places. If you are a slow deck then a Batterskull is a great stall tool and with enough mana and almost immovable object. Batterskull is either slow and boring or oppressive and it has been that way ever since release. As other cards have improved Batterskull has lost some power but not nearly enough yet! That being said, without Stoneforge I am pretty sure this would not be on this list.

Insectile Aberration9.   Delver of Secrets

While we are hot off the bat of talking about the most powerful things you can do in the early turns of an unpowered cube a flipped turn one Delver is well up there. Strong enough to have multiple legacy builds the Delver is simply the most oppressive one mana threat ever produced. It has high power and evasion. There are precious few one drops that can deliver more than two a turn, there are no good ones that can do two reliably with evasion and yet this erroneous blue one drop does it all. Being narrow is all that really keeps it in check in cube and mostly that just makes it a bit polar. You need some library manipulation and a good number of triggers or a total boat load of triggers and even with all that it is hard to get above a 50% flip chance in cube and it is still great. It just has such a drastically positive effect on your win % chances when you get those early flips that it is worth the risk of it sitting about being crap for a while.

Kessig Wolf Run8.   Kessig Wolf Run

Potenncy wise I rate Wolf Run above most, if not all of the dual manlands. It is terrrifying to play against. It statrts to become relevant in the midgame where planeswalkers become hard to protect and combat starts to look a bit awkward. Once you get to the late game the card is oppressive and turns everything into a serious threat. A 0/1 plant token? Guess I'll Lightning Bolt that then... Unless you have land removal you are pretty much forced into racing against a Wolf Run in play. The only reason the card is so low is because it is not fixing like the manlands but quite the opposite. It is competing for one of very few potential slots with cards like Wastelands rather than being something actively desirable over other lands in your list and competing with things more like the Temple cycle as is the case for the dual manlands. They are near free inclusions in your two colour list while Wolf Run is a big investment. Despite the big investment it is well worth it for the reach and inevitability it brings. In much the same way that Batterskull empowered Stoneforge Mystic the Wolf Run makes Primeval Titan incredibly potent.

7.   Scavenging Ooze
Scavenging Ooze
This card has been a mainstay in cube and has not suffered nearly as much as some other beaters of the era due to offering so much utility. Certainly Ooze threatens to get pretty big in a longer game but that isn't what makes the card good. Investing too much mana in growing Ooze leads to blowout with bounce or removal and isn't even that good of a return on your mana. Five mana for a 5/5 and 3 life doesn't sound very impressive even if you can break up the mana cost. Without any evasion Ooze is not a very effective threat. What makes the card such a standout in cube is disruption. I like that there is not much good graveyard hate in the cube and I like that green has the best on offer - Scavenging Ooze. Obviously things like Tormod's Crypt are better purely at that role but that is not what drafting cubes are about. The best graveyard disruption is simply the best graveyard disruption on an otherwise playable card in cube and that is absolutely Ooze. Deathrite is a better card but it is weaker disruption. Withered Wretch is (slightly) better graveyard disruption but an otherwise meagre power level. Ooze hits that sweet spot. Most decks utilize the graveyard to some degree and disrupting that is really powerful. Green having the weakest disruptive capabilities in all other areas seems like it deserves Scavenging Ooze!

Spellskite6.   Spellskite

This card is such a little turd. It is unreal how disruptive it can be. It pretty much commands a proper answer, try and just ignore it at your peril. The most frustrating thing about Spellskite is not how it draws removal away from targets you want to aim at but the rarer but far more savage ability to take a lot of buff effects. Spellskite pretty much blanks cards like Rancor and Blossoming Defense. Spellskite also really hampers planeswalkers ability to protect themselves. Not only do you not want to be tapping down or bouncing a 0/4 when trying to protect walkers in general but you really really don't want to straight up waste an ability like a Chandra ping or an Ugin Bolt. When Spellskite isn't wreaking combos and buffs and wasting peoples removal it is doing a reasonable job of defense as a Wall of Omens. Not many two drops demand a premium removal spell. Skite might not be the most urgent but it is the most demanding! It is also very difficult to kill efficiently which further adds to the tedium.

Gitaxian Probe
5.   Gitaxian Probe

This is one of my favourite spells although it is too powerful and should probably be banned in legacy and probably shouldn't have seen print in this form in the first place. It is not obviously over powered but ultimately it is. It has modal costs, both of which are negligible. It has synergies with so so many mechanisms and other cards that combined with its near non-existent cost means it is scaling up in value more than almost any other card in the game. Probe powers up delve, prowess, delirium, storm and so forth. Probe thins your deck and in a way that doesn't punish. I highly rate both Urza's and Mishra's Bauable, especially the latter and while they might seem more free than Gitaxian Probe they absolutely are not. The delay on the draw hurts late and the reduced information in opening hand is a minor thing too. You might argue that Probe also limits your information in mulligan decisions however I would counter argue that the subsequent information you gain is worth way way more. Probe shows you their whole hand which is pretty instrumental in a lot of games. It lets you form a plan, it lets you play around their stuff while setting up your own nicely. Information is the ultimate weapon in magic. It can be gained cheaper than any other resource in magic and it can can be deadly when used well. This information aspect of Probe makes it also scale with player skill more than most cards as well. It is card I am happy with in most decks and one I actively want in an awful lot.

Karn Liberated4.   Karn Liberated

Good old Karn! His success in cube is largely down to his lack of colour requirements. As a coloured walker, pretty much regardless of that colour, Karn wouldn't likely see enough action to merit his inclusion in cube. As a colourless walker however he winds up all over the place from blue control decks to green ramp decks. Any deck that aims to get to the point in a game where they can cast Karn should likely be considering him even if most of those end up not running him. Overall Karn is not as powerful as his volume of play and price tag suggest. While certainly very powerful I would expect nothing less from a seven mana card! Compared to other seven drops Karn is reasonably fair and calm, which again, is very reasonable for a colourless card. Any more power and Karn would see too much play in the slower decks. Karn is fantastic design and that is hard to do on a colourless card. He is super slow to dominate most cube games. Most of the time Karn comes down and takes out a single high value offending card, be that an irksome utility land, another walker, some massive dork, perhaps a god. Karn answers most threats and that is great, it is part of his appeal in each colour as he picks up the bits they struggle in. Even white, the colour of removal, typically cannot deal with utility lands and will fold to something like afore mentioned Wolf Run. Armageddon is not the solution to lands most decks want to run! Karn frequently goes one for one with a problem card but this is fine. You get some tempo with that trade and you would otherwise have lost to the card Karn deals with. The next most common outcome for a Karn play is to get a two for one by using the +4 on a card in their hand followed by them using a one for one removal card on him in return. While a 2 for 1 is great it is usually less good than dealing with a relevant card as you pay so much mana for the Karn and wind up with a result you can get from a card like Stupor. The number of games that Karn directly wins all by himself in cube is low. You have to be even at best to give Karn much of a chance of surviving if using him as removal. His ability to hit cards in hand is not all that big of a deal, the decks with big late game hand sizes will have all sorts of outs and counterplay to a seven mana sorcery speed card. All the other decks will have excess lands, dead cards or nothing in hand. The +4 is much more about the loyalty gain and the empowering of the ultimate. That is part of the elegance of his design, all his abilities interlink. Another common way Karn plays out is where he can be attacked for a good amount each turn but not one shot. He comes down, hits the +4 button and passes getting smacked for 6 or 7 and this goes on for a few turns. He might generate a 2 or 3 for one in that time but it is all irrelevant cards. What Karn does do in that time which is of great relevance is that he absorbs around 20 damage and bought you the time you needed to stabilize. They cannot ignore the Karn else he can panic ultimate or just start safely going to town with the -3 ability and so they have to fight a long hard uphill battle despite being well ahead on the board. Karn leads to surprisingly good games as a result of the various ways he plays out which is not something you can say of many seven drops!

3.   Dismember

Not only is this a high powered and versatile removal spell for black but it is a removal spell for anyone able to spend the life on it. It turns out that when you don't have removal you are usually more than happy to blow 20% of your starting life total on getting your hands on some! Dismemeber it kills nearly 95% of cube dorks and needs only a minor assist in combat to take down the biggest things out there. It may not exile but it does handle indestructible effects nicely. Beyond that it ticks basically every box, it is cheap, instant, unrestricted on target. I initially assumed Fatal Push was just better than Dismember but with a good amount of games in the bank I think Dismember is still safe in its spot as the third best creature kill spell in cube.

Liliana of the Veil2.   Liliana of the Veil

We all know how great Liliana is. She is still probably the best modern planeswalker. She is just so dangerous for her cost. Slow decks cannot afford to let her repeatedly +1 or ultimate. The best counter to Liliana is having multiple creatures in play but that is harder to do for the slower decks and leads to blowout plays against other kinds of cards. It is also very hard to get to that position early enough in the game to preempt a Lili. It is also hard to maintain that position throughout the midgame. You want to block efficiently however doing so leaves only your Grave Titan left in play say at which point you pretty much lose to a Lili from hand with a -2 and so you don't block with a token and take extra damage and so on. Obviously that line applies to any Edict but the point is that people don't run many Edict spells in cube because not many are good and those that are fail to be so consistently. I am pretty sure Doomfall is the second best Edict for cube after Lili! Worst case for a Lili play is an Edict with some life gain as they have to attack her. Best case, she dominates the game and this happens more so than with most other walkers. It is not just her threat level that makes her so good but also her versatility. Being able to attack board and hand makes her good in most matchups. She invariably offers some value and poses some form of threat.

Snapcaster Mage

1.   Snapcaster Mage

It is hardest to write about the big names that are every bit in cube as they are in other formats. Everyone knows Snapcaster is the business. There is likely already far more literature on Snappy than anyone needs to read. Most people will have played with and against the card a whole load too and seen the effectiveness of the card first hand. Rather than paint a detailed reasoning as to why the card is so potent it seems more beneficial to instead try and distill the description into a minimalist sketch. So, with that in mind; Snapcaster is a cheap and versatile two for one that scales well into the game. It also offers redundancy on your key spells in any given match up giving you a somewhat post sideboard feel to your build.

No comments:

Post a Comment