Saturday 21 July 2018

Top 10 Cards from 2013

Before getting into the article I would just like to say a big thank you to (Action) Dan who has taken the time to proof read and edit this essay. Hopefully that will make for an easier and more pleasant read than usual and that it will be ongoing.

Boros CharmThis year brings only twenty two additions to the cube, so likely a weak year considering it’s a more recent one. With RtR block being so gold-card-centric, it is unfortunate, as it makes the year look less powerful than it is for other formats. Most of the big names are from the Commander 2013 set, with little of note from Gatecrash or Dragon's Maze. Theros and M14 have things to offer but they do pale in comparison to the Commander cards. What does stand out about this year is how many one drop dorks it added to the pool. While none of the truly bomb one drops, 2013 pads out top tier all the way down to the more niche build cards very well. I would be willing to bet that 2013 marks a turning point in cube for when the importance of tempo suddenly started to increase. Much of this will simply be down to finally having enough viable one drops for any given archetype wanting to make proactive tempo-gaining plays. More planeswalkers, both cheaper and higher threat level, continue to join the party, also furthering the value of tempo. While there are some good walkers in 2013, it also stands out as having rather a lot of really awful ones. Here are the cards that still see cube use in some form or other before we get to the top ten;

Experiment OneGrey Merchant of Asphodel
Firedrinker Satyr
Experiment One
Spear of Heliod
Soldier of the Pantheon
Sylvan Caryatid
Lightning Strike
The Temple Cycle
Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Archangel of Thune
Ashen Rider
Assemble the Legion
Far / Away
Banisher Priest
Beck / Call
Bident of Thassa
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Firedrinker SatyrBoon Satyr
Borborygmos Enraged
Boros Charm
Boros Reckoner
Bow of Nylea
Burning Tree Emissary
Cartel Aristocrat
Chained to the Rocks
Chandra Pyromaster
Commune with the Gods
Destructive Revelry
Dimir Charm
Domri Rade
Erebos, God of the Dead
Fanatic of Mogis
Fleecemane Lion
Foundry Street Denizen
Garruk, Caller of Beasts
Master of WavesGhor-Clan Rampager
God's Willing
Gyre Sage
Hammer of Purphoros
Heliod, God of the Sun
Imposing Sovereign
Kalonian Hydra
Legion Loyalist
Master of Waves
Merciless Eviction
Mogis Marauder
Nightvale Specter
Notion Thief
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Polukranos, World Eater
Prognostic Sphinx
Ghor-Clan RampagerRal Zarek
Read the Bones
Ruric That, the Unbowed
Satyr Hedonist
Savage Summoning
Selesnya Charm
Simic Charm
Sin Collector
Spike Jester
Stormbreath Dragon
Swan Song
Wear / Tear
Thassa, God of the Sea
Thespian Stage
Titan's Strength
Tormented Hero
Xenagos, the Reveler
Xathid Necromancer
Whip of Erebos
Voyaging Satyr
Voice of Resurgence

10. Unexpectedly Absent

Unexpectedly AbsentThis shouldn't really be on the list, as Elvish Mystic should be several places above it. Mystic was the last time was saw a one drop ramp effect until this year. That being said, we don't need to give more top-ten time to the 3rd functional reprint of a simple core card. Mana elves are great, but we all know that and I have run out of things to say about them! Unexpectedly Absent is weird, as it is a lot better than people think but it is deeply unpopular, rather like Memory Lapse. Absent is very broad range, instant speed removal, that is cheap and goes one for one. It is a premium disruption tool, but it doesn't feel like removal. It doesn't feel like it deals with the problem, just postpones it. This is part true and part emotional bias. If you are control, then delaying and cheaply going one for one with problems is most of what you want to do. If you are aggressive, then getting something out of the way for a bit should give you that window to close the game. For power level and function, this is under-rated, but perhaps for how much play it gets I have over-rated it on this list.

Cloudfin Raptor9. Cloudfin Raptor

One of blues’ best dorks. One of blues’ only cheap aggressive dorks! The one downside this card has is as a late game top-deck, and even then it is rare not to be able to do some useful things with it, be that looting it away or perhaps equipping the 0/1. Early on in the game this card is nuts - it may not always thunder out of the gates with damage like Goblin Guide or even a generic two-power one drop, but it does tend to out damage such cards pretty well. It is just so much more relevant in the mid- and late-game than most other aggressive one drops. It has nice high toughness (it might just be 3, but that is a lot for a one drop) and so handles well in combat and against soft removal. It might well even grow beyond the target 2/3, at which point the card is highly unfair. You do need a reasonable creature count, but not a wild amount nor even very big ones. Like I say, getting to 2/3 is more than enough to make this card amazing - any more is just gravy. You can do that with ease and in a relevant timescale with less than 12 dorks.

Purphoros, God of the Forge8.   Purphoros, God of the Forge

This is a *massive* beating. It is one of the most fearsome inevitability cards in the game. You rarely want the body, you infrequently use the ability - all you really need to do for Purphoros to be great is have dorks enter play. Often you want Purph to stay as a non-creature, as that makes him less vulnerable, as so many creature removal spells bypass indestructible! Purph is really nice late game reach - he makes your cheap early plays still relevant draws, not just because of that two damage, but because going at all wide with a global pump effect in play is yet more damage. In a lot of ways, Purph has taken the mantle of Sulfuric Vortex in the more creature focused mid-range-y unpowered cubes we find commonly today. You feel that time pressure and sense of impending doom against a Purph like you once did for Vortex. Purph has better utility and scaling than Vortex and he doesn't apply damage to you either!

Hero's Downfall7.   Hero's Downfall

Not all that exciting or efficient, but suitably to the point to be one of the most played removal spells in cube - most of the threats you need to kill are creatures or planeswalkers and so Downfall has you covered. Unlike a lot of the broader removal, it is mono coloured and instant. While the ability to act as a Disenchant is nice on a lot of the three mana removal cards, it is a long way off being as good as instant speed. The main reason you see and play Vraska's Contempt over cards like Ruinous Path is for that instant speed. Much as this appears to have the same function as Ruinous Path, the reality is that this will deal with vehicles and man lands while the sorcery speed cards will not, and that is pretty huge. This might not be the most cost efficient way of removing things, but it is about as convenient as you can be on all other metrics. Power-wise, I consider this card pretty mediocre by cube standards, but it is just so appropriate that it gets loads of play and performs really well. You just feel safe when you have it. It is a card you just want to have when you are ahead or when you are even but as the control player (which is basically just a different kind of ahead), Downfall gives you choices and it leads to good interactive games. Good card and certainly a good thing that it is over-costed, being so streamlined and so universal.

Elspeth, Sun's Champion6.   Elspeth, Sun's Champion

I used to call this the white Titan. It certainly pisses all over Sun Titan for quality. Elspeth does the job of a big game ending threat very well, whilst also retaining some nice planeswalker-like utility. When I say she does the job of a game ending threat well, I don't just mean that she is good at ending the game (which she is) - I more mean how good she is against her counter-play. Elspeth is good because she lacks weaknesses. Creature removal is useless against her and spot removal still leaves quite a decent chunk of board behind. Short of counter-magic, you are rarely going better than 2 for 1 against Elspeth. The next most important aspect of Elspeth is that she provides a strong defensive position. It is very hard to alpha strike past her and her trio of 1/1 blockers. Equally, it is pretty hard to kill her in combat, you need a very significant board advantage, or at least 5 power worth of evasion dorks, necessarily split up over at least two bodies due to the -3 ability on Elspeth. The ultimate on her is great as well, the +1 will win but slowly, it is more of a defensive board-control ability. The -7 is what wins the game and the threat of it is a significant part of Elspeth's appeal. She *must* be dealt with and ideally fairly quickly.

5.   Young Pyromancer
Young Pyromancer 
This little fellow gets out of hand pretty quickly. He needs killing on sight, else he is going to dominate the direction and outcome of the game. Pyromancer scales very nicely with a lot of what goes on in cubes - cheap cantrips and spells including a bunch of flashback stuff. It is not totally unheard of to make a turn two Pyromancer and untap with two extra 1/1 tokens in play thanks to a Gitaxian Probe and some free counterspell. Then you burn through a few cheap card draw spells and you got a kicked Saproling Migration for free. Pryomancer is only really made fair by the fact that he is usually met with removal, if made on curve, and when he is made too much off curve it is rare to still have a pile of cheap spells to burn through. You don't even need to build all that heavily around Young Pyromancer. One free dude is fine, more is nuts, and even when it is nothing you likely baited your opponent into an inefficient turn or a poor lining up of answers. Pyromancer is sufficiently cheap that it makes for great bait and is rarely an issue when it eats 1 for 1 removal.

Ophiomancer4.   Ophiomancer

A somewhat off-radar card that is despicably good. I am happy running this in most decks, as it usually has something good to offer. In midrange and control it is a defensive powerhouse. It is almost always a two for one. You can't just attack into it turn after turn. You have to kill it or stop attacking on the ground. The snakes trigger every upkeep as well, so you can really milk that token generation if you have some useful sac outlet to hand. It is that aspect of Ophiomancer that is so abusive. The card is just a very solid defensive tool, like a really good Blade Splicer. In a token deck however it is simply one of the most efficient ongoing token makers out there. It is not extra mana to generate the tokens and it is no tempo cost to get Ophiomancer into play. Goblin Bombardment gives you a ping every turn which is pretty filthy. You can just sac off the snakes for no gain if you have something like Purphoros in play, which makes pretty short work of people. I have done exactly that curve, Bombardment, Ophiomancer, Purph, and it is easily enough to win any game if they can't kill the Ophiomancer. Either a pretty quick goldfish or a ton of defense and board control as you require.

True-Name Nemesis3.   True-Name Nemesis

An over-rated card for sure, but still an oppressively good one. There are few cards that make people give up hope as much as this fish. They can be wildly ahead and you drop this down and they pretty much scoop. I am convinced that the most powerful thing about this card in cube is people's perception of it. The reason it is worse in cube than in legacy is that in cube if you are playing blue, you are going to reduce the tempo, removal and creature quality of your deck. The game will generally involve those elements on both sides of the table. As such you will be behind on average, as the blue player, which makes it super hard to leverage your untouchable 3/1. You can't attack with it as they, win the race. A lot of blue decks lean on mass removal effects like Wrath of God to combat their inherent lack of tempo, meaty dorks and removal. This isn't great for your True-Names prospects. True-Name holds off vanilla threats quite well, but it fails hard when facing off against things with evasion. I find it fairly easy to navigate a win around a True-Name and I think more people should try this rather than giving up - it is a lot easier than it seems. Just work out your clock and know when the time is right to start chump attacking into it. Know when you need to bait the fish into aggression with a sacrificial walker play. The best True-Name decks are equipment based ones. In control decks he is just a glorified and limited wall. In aggro decks he is held back by the blue elements of your deck. The card is best suited to midrange strategies and has the most to offer equipment in terms of synergy. Once equipped, scooping much more often is the best line of counter-play to the fish on offer to players.

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver2.   Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

My play group has asked me to keep this out of draft and sealed, so while I have not officially banned the card it is not far off in practice as I have not played with it in several months and do not expect my playgroup to welcome this back with open arms any time soon. Simply put, the card is very little fun to play against and grossly more powerful in a 40 card deck size format. Ashiok will win a game on its own just from using the +2, which is pretty wrong. A lot of walkers are only threatening the game with a plus loyalty effect due to their ultimate, not as a result of the power of the plus effect itself. Very, very few have good +2 effects, most are +1 if useful, and all of those are on walkers four or more mana in price. Not Ashiok, though - it gets it all. Six or so activations win a game all by itself. While you may think that most walkers should end the game in 3 or 4 activations, that is perhaps true, but none are quite so quick and safe. Nothing is quite as disheartening as facing a turn three Ashiok on the draw. To cleanly kill that with aggression requires no other plays from the Ashiok player and a solid aggressive curve from yourself. At least Ashiok is one of the most appropriately named walkers there is!

Toxic Deluge1.   Toxic Deluge

Deluge is not just a three mana Wrath. A lot of what is great about the card is exactly that, but it does offer more besides. Now three mana mass removal is not so uncommon, but three mana mass removal that deals with most things is and that is exactly what Deluge does, and it does it without skipping your next untap step! A second huge thing about Deluge is that it is the second playable Wrath in black, making the colour that much more viable as a control support colour. The one thing I actually think is wrong about the card is the cost, it should probably be 1BB rather than 2B as it is just too easy to splash. So what else does this do, beyond being the most efficient consistent mass removal spell in the game? Well it kills indestructible dorks and regenerators, which is always nice. Most other Wrath effects fail on that hurdle, too, and it is more of a perk in cube than it may sound like. The main thing about Deluge is that you have control over the effect and this makes it vastly more playable. It is frequently run in midrange decks and performs very well. It is a bit like Pernicious Deed back in the old Rock decks - if you can pay 2 life and wipe their board while leaving yours intact the game is as good as won and that is what Deluge does to a lot of decks. It is not inflexible (like Infest effects) nor overbearing on mana cost (like Black Sun's Zenith). I think cards like this are a perfect use for Commander sets. This card is a bit too oppressive for standard and would affect modern, but it is all very safe and fair for the eternal formats while greatly enhancing cube.

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