Sunday 8 July 2018

Top 10 Cards from 2012

GriselbrandThis year is a big one for cube with depth and power all over the place. It has a massive 31 cards in my drafting cube presently of which none are part of a dual land cycle. It is also the year I strated this blog! These are the sets afforded us in 2012; Commander's Arsenal, Planeschase 2012, Magic 2013, Dark Ascension, Avacyn Restored, and Return to Ravnica. The power of the year is surprisingly well distributed across these sets. I feel the need to give out some honourable mentions her. Due to how many high significance cards this year has some of those got edged out of the top ten list. Both Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Griselbrand are big names in cube and huge names in constructed. Despite both being good in cube they are sufficiently narrow in scope to have not made this list. Griselbrand can only sensibly be played if you are cheating him out and even though most cubes do run such packages it doesn't stop him being narrow. Thalia is more generally playable but tends to be more hit and miss on the disruption, she will randomly be savage against some decks and far worse for your than them against others. Overall she does wind up rather more powerful than your Elvish Archers but without a specific archetypal target and some degree of building around she is not that much better. There are some really huge names beyond these honourable mentions as you can see below in this long list of other cube relevant cards from the year. A lot of these came close to the list, a lot of them closer than Thalia, and most of these 31 cards would be high on lists for other years.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Shardless Agent
Sublime Archangel
Ultimate Price
Tragic Slip
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Supreme Verdict
Searing Spear
Precinct Captain
Pillar of Flame
Mizium Mortars
Krenko's Command
Judge's Familiar
Geralf's Messengers
Gather the Townsfolk
Thought ScourFalkenrath Aristocrat
Abrupt Decay
Abundant Growth
Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Ash Zealot
Augur of Bolas
Azorius Charm
Bonfire of the Damned
Butcher Ghoul
Cavern of Souls
Desolate Lighthouse
Detention Sphere
Devastation Tide
Diregraf Captain
Dreg Mangler
Drogskol Captain
Dryad Militant
Dungeon Geists
Abrupt DecayEntreat the Angels
Golgari Charm
Grisely Salvage
Izzet Charm
Huntsmaster of the Fells
Kessig Malcontents
Krenko, Mob Boss
Lightning Mauler
Lotleth Troll
Loyal Cathar
Master of the Pearl Trident
Mystic Retrieval
Pack Rat
Planar Cleansing
Prey Upon
Rakdos Charm
ThragtuskReforge the Soul
Silverblade Paladin
Selesnya Charm
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Sphinx's Revelation
Strangleroot Giest
Sundering Growth
Temporal Mastery
Wild Guess
Vraska, the Unseen
Wolfir Silverheart
Warpriest of Thune
Worldspine Wurm
Young Wolf
Zealous Conscripts
Yeva, Nature's Herald

Cyclonic Rift10.   Cyclonic Rift

When control decks want to wreck midrange decks Cyclonic Rift is a huge deal. Cyclonic Rift feels incredibly like an instant speed one sided Planar Cleansing. Rift owns the slower midrange decks hard but it is good everywhere. It is some trickery and cheap disruptive interaction for the control games and it is valuable tempo against the aggressive decks. Rift is almost never card advantage, the closest it tends to come is taking out tokens. This is rarely a concern as the way magic has evolved with planeswalkers means that cards like Rift enable your other cards to gain their value. Planeswalkers can generate near endless gas if you can protect them, even just buying them time pays pretty big dividends. Rift is a perfect filler card being useful against all other archetypes and being both an early game play and a late game powerhouse. It does exactly what a slower deck needs late and it comes at barely any cost.

Jace, Architect of Thought9.   Jace, Architect of Thought

Quite an underrated card, by myself included for a long time. I was just so unimpressed with this Jace given the previous version and with the planeswalker rules as they were it made lesser Jace iterations feel even less desirable. The more I have used this card and the more cube has become tempo driven the more respect I have for Architect of Thought. He frequently dominates a game and rarely is a total dud. He is surprisingly close in power to Mind Sculptor in a cube setting, often being the better, safer choice. Cube play has a tendency to go wide. Lots of cards make chaff that fills up the board. There are more good cards than good answers and the decks are not focused enough to quickly wrap up a game like they are in a format like modern. So, when you flop Architect onto a board that is on the wider side rather than the tall side and give it the +1 treatment it becomes immensely hard work to take down Jace in combat. I have seen countless games where Jace absorbs twenty or so damage. When each +1 is reducing the total power you are facing by say four, even if they can still force three damage in (which is rare) you still get 14 damage reduced and tie them up for two full attacks. That is a vast tempo swing for 4 mana. If some handy removal of defensive dorks come to aid the Jace and buy him extra turns slowing the pace of things then the game will start to slip away. The other common situation for Jace to find himself in is with no real chance of survival at which point he fires off the -2 and generates a good amount of value and usually some tempo as well. It will either negate their attack (as their one or two big things will have to smack Jace rather than you) or it will get you an extra card of theirs when they burn it down. Jace is good stall and he is good card draw and he manages to be either or both as required in a lot of situations.

Blood Artist8. Blood Artist

An engine card that pretty much defines an archetype all by itself. It is the Disciple of the Vault for creatures and it does a fantastic job of that. Blood Artist lets you win with a creature deck without needing to push through attackers which in turn lets you play a wholly different sort of deck. Power and evasion no longer matter, it is just about churning out dorks quickly and efficiently and having them die. What makes Blood Artist so dangerous compared to the other cards like this is the combination of the lifegain (which Disciple does not offer) and the triggering from all creatures. Any aggressive deck, especially other ones going wide cannot get involved in combat with a Blood Artist in play, they need to kill it first. All decks pretty much play creatures and as such it is likely that it will gain you some more value than Zulaport Cutthroat, and sometimes a lot more value. It feels like we could do with this effect bolted onto an enchantment, probably Cutthroats effect but still, something I would like to see.

Thundermaw Hellkite7.   Thundermaw Hellkite

Until recently this would have been higher on this list. Red has had such an influx of power in the four to six mana region that Hellkite not longer stands out as much from the alternatives as he once did. The card has not gotten any worse but the alternatives has gotten so much better that you just don't mind passing up Thundermaw. Cube these days feels like the format of 1/1 flying tokens to which Hellkite is a supreme counter. Just having Thundermaw near unblockable when you make it is enough to make it a great card, the fact that you also fairly often take out some relevant dorks on the opposing side is pretty filthy. Thundermaw is the original Chainwhirler! There are loads of times that Thundermaw would be great if it was a "scarfice this at end of turn" style creature so being left with that 5/5 dragon is insane value. Well, a lot of the time it isn't because Thundermaw dealt a killing blow but hard to use that to down play anything on the card...

Baleful Strix6.   Baleful Strix

I wanted this higher on the list. It is easily the most played actual gold card by which I mean, not hybrid, not a split card, not a card with flashback costs in another colour. There is a chance that a certain Command is presently the most played gold card but it would be very close and with Strix being twice the age of the Command it absolutely has a lot more play under its belt! There is just no deck that doesn't want this if it can make the mana. It is actually one of the few cards that not only goes in the aggro, the midrange and the control decks but frequently also the combo ones. The artifact tag is a good boost to the card in the combo, and indeed in the aggro as I have often played Strix in affinity. All told the card is a little bit too good but it is generally not proactive, it does have plenty of counters and it is low key enough not to be as oppressive as the other cards that are as far above the power curve as it is. You never feel bad drawing this, having this, or casting this. It doesn't matter if it is turn two or turn ten. Drawing a card and having deathouch make it about as relevant as a 1/1 can be in the late game.

Craterhoof Behemoth
5.   Craterhoof Behemoth

This card puts green on the map. It makes the colour dangerous. It is the final stop for a wide array of green builds. Very few cards have the immediate game ending power of Craterhoof Behemoth. In other colours such a card might be tedious however in green with its limited disruption and removal options I find it most welcome. It somewhat defines the colour, it is a big fatty and it closes out the game with an Overrun effect. It is a reason to play creatures and ramp. Green lacked consistency in winning prior to Behemoth as all its dig effects focus on lands and creatures meaning they fail to find older Overrun cards when you need them. Behemoth is frequently pulled out of the deck when the time is right for him to end the game!

Restoration Angel4.   Restoration Angel

This card looks innocuous at first. Then the more you play with and against it the more you learn to fear and respect it. In a lot of ways it feels like the white Cryptic Command. It is just something that makes acting into four open mana really terrifying. It is sufficiently terrifying that you can legitimately make doing nothing work for you. If you have a couple of reasonable value dorks that you don't want to loose that both die to a 3/4 flying blocker and I suspect or know that you have no way of removing said 3/4 at instant speed or buffing your own dorks I can simply pass with four mana open and most experienced cube players will smell the rat that is Resto Angel and forgo walking their guys into death. Essentially you can buy Fog effects with suspicious unused mana. Resto is plenty good enough as a 3/4 flyer with flash. It offers great planeswalker control and a solid defense or offense as required. When you do get to untap a bonus blocker, counter a spot removal spell or retrigger an EtB effect you pretty much just won the game! It is a huge swing and rife with tempo and value. People learn to play around Resto Angel quicker than most other cards in cube due to these huge potential swings. The best way of understanding her power is that she has a very solid floor and an unreasonably high ceiling. It is hard to go wrong with her! Usually found in midrange and control but still plenty powerful enough to wind up in lots of aggro decks too despite it not being her best role.

Faithless Looting3.   Faithless Looting

One of my all time favourite cards and the kind of thing I would love to see more of. Not only is this better than Careful Study but it is red! Study is a bit too narrow and a bit too outclassed by other blue card quality effects and as such winds up exclusively in combo decks and heavy synergy ones. Faithless Looting on the other hand seems to be in most mono red decks and a lot more besides. Due to the staggering of the spell being something you can play as early as you like and then again, when the time suits the card disadvantage of Looting actually feels like card advantage. The latter cast is almost always dumping two duds and so it feels like a free Divination. Faithless Looting digs four cards deep, it fills up the yard, and it is actual draw putting it above most other card quality effects on offer in cube. Synergy aside the consistency Looting offers is really too much to turn down in cube, as soon as you have discard and graveyard synergies enhancing it the card shoots to a premium and could be argued as reds best card. Goblin Guide has all sorts of redundancy these days, usually Swiftspear is the premium red one drop and you have Lavarunners and Soul-Scar Mages backing them up for days. Even Lightning Bolt has some passable redundancy in Chain Lightning, Burst Lightning and Galvanic Blast. If you want playable one mana card quality in red then you have only Looting. Red does now have some fine two drop card quality effects but not of them are as clean, safe and playable as Looting. I really wanted this higher on the list but I cannot really argue for it over the action cards that follow. Looting probably has comparable amounts of play to the one and two slots on this list but they win games all by themselves. Looting only helps other cards to win. Looting aids the power level while the next two cards rather define the power level. I feel the need to literally repeat myself to stress not just the potency of this card but also the whole of 2012! Faithless Looting is the highest value red card in the cube which I rate as the best colour.

Lingering Souls2.  Lingering Souls

This is a mark of shame on my early reviews where I disregarded this card as a gold Call of the Herd, a card that despite its power back in the day, has long since faded into obscurity. I wildly failed to appreciate the power of Lingering Souls. How much threat it presented, how much synergy it affords and how convenient it is. It is incredibly hard to efficiently deal with Lingering Souls and the card works wonders both offensively and defensively. It is lethal with any sort of team buffing card. It holds off a lot of attackers and trades well into most as well. Lingering Souls is a strong reason to splash and is frequently the only card needing black or needing white in a deck. Aggro, midrange and control will all happily run the card as well. There is basically just nothing bad about the card, it is all round good.

1.  Deathrite Shaman
Deathrite Shaman
Deathrite is one of many cards that is better in constructed formats than it is in cube. As with many of those cards access to sac lands is a big part of that. Both Brainstorm and Deathrite really thrive on having them and are quite a lot weaker without them. Comically Deathrite is so immensely powerful that it still manages to top this list even with a more reasonable two or so (in forty at least..) sac lands per deck. Deathrite is so good that he empowers self mill effects in cube which help to make up the shortfall in sac lands. Deathrite is far from the only reason things like Satyr Wayfinder are good but he helps out a lot! Deathrite is a fair way off a Birds of Paradise in cube, he is probably just worse than Arbor Elf for mana production in cube but he more than makes up for it with the other abilities. A 1/2 is nice probably should have just been a 0/1. Being playable for black mana is a total joke. The cost should have been a green and a phyrexian black mana! It essentially breaks the colour pie. At the very least the land exile should have cost a green to use upfront and then give two mana back. What really pushes Deathrite in cube is the utility. Graveyard disruption is hard to come by on otherwise good cards and that makes Deathrite a premium addition. As does being a good one drop while we are on the topic of premium things! Lifegain is a strong bit of utility to have on a card and so is reach. Deathrite is usually annoying and often a real problem to your game plan when facing him across the table. Deathrite is one of the most above the power curve cards to see print since the heady days of alpha and beta! I like the card in a lot of ways but I would prefer it a little toned down. I am happy with it being the best dork ever printed but could remain that way and still be toned down, that is how far above the curve it is.

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