Sunday 29 July 2018

Commander 2018 Preliminary Reviews Part V

Varina, Lich Queen 5

This is pretty good. It is all the right sorts of things for cube. It has loads of utility, fills loads of roles, offers up and benefits from synergies, has scaling options both for point in the game and for construction. In the latter case you will likely even get value from this the turn you make it (as you can smackdown with a zombie already in play) even if on curve which is otherwise one of the more obvious potential downsides to the card. No one likes to pay four mana and a card to have it cleanly killed after all. The other obvious drawback is narrowness due to being three colour. Grixis and Esper are at least the most commonly seen three colour pairings and by a long old way. While almost everything about this card seems great I am a little worried it is just ultimately a bit fair on the one hand and perhaps even a bit much in places with over draw. In cube you can't go nuts on looting else you will mill yourself to death. Varina does a lot of things, lifegain, token generation, card quality, mana sink, lots of roles you might want your deck to have. The issue is that she is quite a way off being great at any of those roles. There is a long old line of cards that do any of those things much better. There are probably a decent number of dorks that get a couple done that are still more powerful. When you are looking at a 3 colour four drop to do something for you I would feel pretty ripped off if I wasn't getting a premium service! Varina is a little bit Breya and a little bit Scarab God but falls well short of both in power. Both of those are far more resilient to removal for starters.

Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow 3

Certainly a whole lot more powerful than Ninja of the Deep Hours. The extra toughness is great. The loss of power isn't ideal but I prefer the overall size of a 1/3 to a 2/2, especially one you quite want to keep in play. The trigger is nice, it is a high threat effect, not just for the card advantage but also the potential to hit big. If you eat seven in the face from this on turn two you are going to feel like you have lost. You are certainly happy enough to concede information on what you draw for that damage you get to do with the trigger. Sadly, despite how cool this looks I don't see it being any sort of mainstay in cube. Gold makes it narrow and functionally it is a bit clunky and hard to work. You need something to get through and then you need to be able to force through a 1/3. You need to do all this while not getting beaten about the face or controlled as well. Yuriko is super conditional, fairly high risk, fairly easily countered or stopped and in need of specific colours and build support. The card is pretty fun and high power level but it doesn't feel like it is working out all that well for it in a cube setting. I feel like I might just rather have a Shadowmage Infiltrator as an option. I shouldn't overlook the tribal aspect of this card, if we get many more playable ninja, ideally a cheap evasive one, then this starts to look a lot more dangerous. It is already quite interesting with Mutavault alone to empower it!

Entreat the Dead 4

A mirror to the white Angels version. While this obviously requires more setup than Angels it is going to be substantially more powerful when you do fire it off. Most recursion targets worth their salt are going to win the game by themselves. Two will rarely fail and with any more than that you are probably winning with random cube creatures! The minimal ranges I am happy to Entreat the Angels are already starting to seem like overkill for Entreat the Dead. Power is not really the problem however. Entreat the Angels is plenty powerful enough, the issue is reliably casting it which is doable but requires dedication. Entreat the Dead not only requires you to prime your graveyard but it asks that you include top heavy recursion targets that fill up your deck with clunk. Reanimate decks are hard to build and balance, as are miracle decks. Doing both in one shell feels very hard and likely not worth it. Entreat the Dead already feels a bit like overkill! One very positive thing about Entreat the Dead is that the hard cast five and seven mana modes are actually quite acceptable. Angels is pretty awful au naturale while Entreat the Dead is still pretty powerful. You can likely just supplement a Reanimate deck with this card, perhaps in the slot often occupied by Living Death, when you have a smattering of support for it. You can probably get away with a Vampiric/Mystical Tutor and one other decent tool, say Brainstorm, and that would be enough. Given those are all great cards and have lots of overlap I do expect to see this getting run. It is narrower than a lot of recursion spells but its raw power will temp people into building with it and I suspect with reasonably good success. It is probably worth running in a cube supporting Reanimate strategies.

Magus of the Balance 2.5

Actual Balance is seeing less and less play in my cube to the point where I am considering cutting it. Literally the only archetype that plays it now is Breya good stuff and only because it has lots of artifact mana and planeswalkers and therefore naturally abuses the synergy. All the other decks damage themselves too much to sensibly run Balance. That or they lean too much on having lots or lands, lots or cards or some dorks to be able to sacrifice them off, or indeed to just have the desired effect when you want a full Wrath. Control decks used to use Balance as a cheap Wrath but now they lean so much on having a bit of creature presence that Balance is no use at clearing the board. So, if a two mana spell isn't good enough what hope does a Grisly Bear with a five mana tap ability to do the same thing have? I reckon I prefer Timestream Navigator to this and that has done nothing of note. It has not been considered for anything in my cube, let alone seen play. The threat of Balance is probably better than Balance but having a high threat level Grisly Bear isn't all that exciting. I deeply dislike this card but I suspect it will still see some play. It does offer redundancy, and even at a turns delay and seven mana the effect is still very powerful. You can build around Balance easily and to great effect and redundancy will encourage that. This will be a really naughty target for Ojutai's Command. Narrow and fair yet still potentially devastating.

Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign 5

Pretty stupidly strong card. It is just slow enough that it isn't a great combo card which is fortunate due to how many good top end Eldrazi cost odd amounts. It is also enough colours that this isn't necessarily an auto include on power levels. This is a solid old midrange or control card that wins games very quickly from a number of angles if it isn't dealt with. It is quite like a Baneslayer in many ways but rather than a huge life swing Yennett offers card value and perhaps mana value. Yennett is easier to attack into than a Baneslayer but only when the Angel is on defense. Once is gets aggressive Baneslayer is only hard to race, you can attack all you like! Vigilance is pretty big on Yennett, it allows you to milk value while also holding up some defenses. I have to say, Yennett would be a lot better in my cube if he did even things. The cards you most want to play for free off the back of it cost 4 or 6. That bit of the card is kindof just gravy, this is pretty good as just a big old Thieving Magpie! Despite having no protective abilities Yennet is pretty tough to take down. The only conditional black removal spell I have that kill her is Go for the Throat and Dismember. Red needs at least two removal cards to bring down her five toughness. Only white is strong at dealing with her and white can be controlled when you are blue and black, even if you are just a midrange deck. I don't love adding gold cards into the cube. I am more willing to do so for cards in colour combos that are frequently played which is the case for Esper at least. It seems as if there are three Esper cards all looking to get a cube slot from Commander 2018, I am not even sure if that makes it harder for them due to competition or better for them with the increased support of the others!

Sower of Discord 1

Cool effect but rather hard to use well on a six drop. The card feels a bit like Sulphuric Vortex in that it is great when you are winning and feels like it locks you into that position. Sadly it is pretty bad when you are losing. It is easy to 1 for 1 with removal and doesn't sit well in the kinds of deck that are generally ahead in life. Seems unlikely to see play but I'll give it a safety 1/10 just for unique effect and a passable body for the cost. If there is a good way to damage yourself then this could have a dodgy combo build!

Aminatou's Augury 1

Eight is a little steep. This is a card you cheat out somehow rather than cast, then it is pretty good. Sadly decks that cheat out eight mana spells struggle enough already with build, this doesn't win on its own and it requires attention to construction in a way that Emrakul, the Promised End does. And that is hard going! Indeed, the best place I can imagine this is a Promised End deck due to overlap they have. Perhaps one with some Aetherworks Marvel goings on too? Sounds ludicrous although quite fun. This card isn't good, the effect is very very powerful but the card really isn't. Pricey on top of hard to build with. Cool enough for me to want to build with it at least.

Night Incarnate 4.5

This one is confusing me a little. I think the differing modes of use, seeming flexibility and utility are masking the underlying under performer. At first glance this looks great to me. When I start to break it down however it feels like it falls apart. Four mana to -3/-3 the board is decent but you can do rather better. Languish saw almost no play and looked weak when it did. The only thing this has on Languish is single black in the cost. Splashable mass removal is nice but how weak are you willing to go for that? For my conditional mass removal spells I really like them at least to kill creatures with toughness less than or equal to the CMC of the card and this only does less than. So, the evoke mode is useful but it isn't strong enough to carry the card on its own. It has to be part of something else you also want. So, how good is the 3/4 deathtouch body for five? Overly awkward I would say. Mostly because you lack control over the trigger and as such you have to build careful around it. You cannot have a card that if it gets killed it takes out more of your own cards than it does your opponents. Basically Night Incarnate can only be run in creature light decks which are generally control decks. You certainly don't want this in a combo deck. If you want the mass removal you are evoking this so you are only casting it when you don't need to Wrath. Perhaps they only have a couple of small dorks and you are fairly stable. Then it is quite good they lose tempo and value if they kill the Night Incarnate and they are at risk if they try and extend around it. If you can get into that position this is going to buy you all the time you need but I think that if you can lay a five drop while only under mild pressure you are probably winning enough already. Night Incarnate is a limp mass removal card and a fairly low power board stall tool. Much as neither side of the card is good the card is offering a fairly polar effect and the option on just running out a medium sized dork that trades well with other dorks. There are not many cards that are bad however you cast them but simply offer enough of a range of effects to be playable, Supreme Will and Doomfall are the only ones that spring to mind. Night Incarnate could well be one of them. Certainly they are harder to spot and evaluate than other cards. The way modular cards scale is unique and highly contextual. I am not confident calling this card one way or the other. It feels good but looks bad. It is very much one for the testing. Even if it does turn out to be good it will still be narrow due to not wanting many other creatures with it. That in turn means it needs to be really good to last in cube.

Boreas Charger 3

I am a big fan of this card, the art is captivating for one thing. It is a bit Land Tax and a bit Knight of the White Orchid. Being a 2/1 for 3 and having the effect when it leaves play is rather an issue as it will be very slow to impact the game. In the decks that could run this to reasonable effect it is likely going to do little to nothing a lot of the time beyond the what the body does. It might thin the deck slightly but then if that is something you are keen on just pick up more sac lands and Baubles! For this to shine I think you want the kind of deck that is both low to the ground but that also has a lot of mana sinks and late game. White weenie decks will goldfish pretty quick but they can also endure long games and threaten for extended periods. If you build less all in and more robustly the Boreas Charger will serve you well. It will usually have a relevant body despite its small size just down to flying and so will need dealing with. Most slower decks, particularly as the mid game develops will have more land and so Charger is going to be a bit Yavimaya Elder. You can also abuse Charger a bit with flicker effects with it being a leaves play trigger not a dies one. Seems a bit hopeful as flicker decks will less consistently have fewer lands than opponents. Overall this seems like it only goes well into a small subsection of builds and is only OK in power. For a card that hard to optimize I would want much more raw power. I do like this card but I don't hold out massively for its chances. Feels like it would compete with Bygone Bishop and it feels like it only comes out looking better in the face of heavy disruption and control. In general the Bishop does more right away and is more dangerous. Bishop is also one of the less potent white three drop dorks in my cube presently. I'll test this but I think I know where it is ending up sadly.

Primordial Mist 4

I really like this card. I think it is great design and I think it does a great job of building on the manifest mechanic in the right way. There are loads of great mechanics that have lots of design space in them left to explore and the commander sets are a great way of doing that. This one card drastically improves the chances of many other cards for cube (and more importantly I suspect EDH) and that is a good thing. It is also fine without other face down cards supporting it. I hope they continue in this trend of revisiting and supporting cool mechanics. So how good is Mists? A five mana enchantment that makes a 2/2 token every turn is OK but that is it, even with it making them at EoT rather than in upkeep. It would just be bad if you had to wait. You need three 2/2s with this before it is breaking even. A five drop you need in play for three turns to become good value is only something you can run in slow decks and so this is pretty narrow. What makes this interesting is the manifest elements. Manifested cards are way way better than tokens. They are much better against bounce and they do things like fill up your yard. That is a mild boost to Mists. The big boost is the ability to exile them at will and potentially play them. Just being able to exile your dorks is quite useful for fizzling spells and effects. If you happen to be able to play the spells as well then that is super saucy. Primordial Mists is almost like a planeswalker that draws a card or makes a 2/2 due to how you can use your manifest dorks. While that is a relatively tame walker at five mana the fact it cannot be attacked to death and the value of the manifest 2/2s rather than tokens might actually make it pretty strong. Drawing cards and developing the board is most of what you want to do in cube to get a win. This is absolutely another need to test card. I think it is one of those cards right on the cusp. It will be exceptional sometimes, unplayed fairly often and unremarkable the rest of the time.

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