Friday 24 August 2018

Paradoxical Outcome .dec

Ive already done an article on a Paradoxical Outcome deck, but it was more of a Scepter Dramatic Reversal deck. It was also just messing around with new cards, rather than modelling a tried and tested competitive constructed deck. It even feels a bit like cheats, as it is running cards that are a bit cheats! Cards that probably should be viewed as power. That deck can be seen here;

Paradoxical OutcomeThe list I have for you today is a focused Outcome deck, and it draws a lot of inspiration from the many different constructed decks using the card across multiple formats. I assumed that it was going to be fairly low tier and just a bit of fun. I even intentionally built it that way, electing not to run a misers backup Brain Freeze as that would be dull and cheesy! Absolutely, if you are playing to win, this deck should have a win condition with storm in it in addition to the Reservoir. What you cut for it is a harder task! Despite my best efforts to downplay the deck and my expectation of it being mediocre, it felt top tier. It felt pretty unfair all told. It killed quickly and consistently, it handled difficult situations really well and it had immense recovery potential. I was dead in the water, just going through the motions waiting to die, and then I won. I had a turn where I didn't really know what to do, I thought I was still "setting up" but then I won. It was obvious that I had no clue what I was doing, as you should always know how you are winning, when you are winning and how likely it is when playing a combo deck. If you don't know those things, you haven't done enough testing! Despite how poorly I understood the deck it just kept winning in spite of me. A sign of a very potent brew. 
Jeweled Amulet 

27 Spells

Lotus Petal
Mox Opal
Chrome Mox
Mox Diamond

Jeweled Amulet
Lion's Eye Diamond
Zuran Orb
Engineered Explosives

Mishra's Bauble
Urza's Bauble
Welding Jar
Inspiring StatuaryEverflowing Chalice

Conjurer's Bauble
Mystical Tutor

Merchant's Scroll

Time Twister
Sai, Master Thopterist
Inspiring Statuary

Frantic Search
Thirst for Knowledge

Aetherflux Reservoir
Aetherflux ReservoirParadoxical Outcome
Commit // Memory


13 Lands

8 Islands
Sarpazzan Skerry
Ancient Tomb
Inventor's Fair
Academy Ruins
Seat of the Synod

So the plan is pretty simple - You use 0 mana artifacts to power up Aetherflux Reservoir, which is your win condition. The Paradoxical Outcome obviously works wonders in this plan, acting as a massive storm generator as well as a huge card draw tool. Inspiring Statuary is a component used in the standard versions, to turn all your artifacts into colourless Mox. Once in play, most of your non-artifact spells effectively cost just U to play. While not a crucial component, I was very impressed with the power it afforded, especially in combination with Frantic Search. While great, Statuary doesn't produce any physical mana and so you can't use it with cards like Prophetic Prism to generate additional blue and so Frantic Search got the nod.

Sai, Master ThopteristSai, Master Thopterist is the new card that has propelled this archetype in standard and I cannot speak highly enough of him in the cube version. He simply does everything. He is an alternate win condition, he is card draw, he is defense, and he is a way of doubling up your artifacts when going off. Sai is the man. Normally, I shirk running a one off luxury dork if I am otherwise dorkless, as it is just giving them action for otherwise dead cards, but it turns out Sai is so potent that just doesn't matter. They kind of have to kill him and so he buys you time and value. It is pretty easy to make a turn two Sai and follow him with three 0 mana artifacts, which is not at all far off an Ishkanah! On turn two! Just killing a 1/4 is hard work at that stage, let alone not dying to the Spectral Procession that came free with it. I can very much see why the deck had a standard resurgence post M19. With just the one copy of Sai and many more 0 mana artifacts to chose from, I didn't run Mox Amber. That one extra mana when you already have Sai is a little win more and too infrequently relevant to be that big of a pull. I felt all twelve of the 0 drops I was running offered me more utility than Amber would. If for some reason you wound up running a card like Baral (don't) as well as Sai. then Amber would jump up in value.

Conjurer's BaubleParadoxical Outcome is so much what you want to be casting that I ran a lot of dig and tutor effects for it. I even ran Conjurer's Bauble, to make multiple casts of Outcome that much easier. While Conjurer's Bauble isn't 0 mana, it is worth it for that utility. A big part of what it, and indeed the other two cheaper Baubles do, is give you an option on a cheap cycler early in the game when you are setting up. They can effectively thin your deck and draw you into action or just lands. You do quite want to make your early land drops, and with only 13 of them that isn't the easiest of tasks. The mutipurpose Baubles are a big help with that. Either they empower your combo, or they get you to a place you can start to combo fast. I would have liked more of such things, but made up for a lack of good artifact options with a random-looking singleton Preordain. While the deck might have a very low curve, it is pretty sparse on things to do with one and two mana in the early turns and that is inefficient. If you consistently have spare mana on a turn you expect to have to pass through, then the deck is not optimally built. Chalice was also great for helping with this, in a mana rather than cards way. I would frequently make it for one and use it to kick start going off, and then once going off it would be an extra free artifact. Pentad Prism can also be used in that kind of way. If you can reliably make it with two counters, it would be a worthwhile inclusion in a multicoloured build. I would consider Astral Cornucopia for this mono list instead, if I did it again based on how useful Chalice was. It is quite possibly better than Jeweled Amulet - that kind of effect might well be good enough to play all three (or four with Pentad Prism).

RetractRetract was one of the weaker cards. It did nothing prior to going off and it only does useful things when your going off would fall short. It still feels like you need a backup Outcome, but I am starting to think that it would be better to run a card with some actual utility to it, such as an Upheaval, in its place. I didn't run Upheaval initially, for the same reason I didn't run a Brain Freeze. I have won plenty in the past with Upheaval and it isn't fun, I wanted to test this deck and in doing that, I learned than Retract is weak! Leave // Chance has a little more utility, and is a little less naughty than Upheaval, but obviously it is a whole lot more colours. I am sure there are a number of other alternatives you could look to. Alternatively you could use cards like Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain or Vedalken Archamge to empower your Retract and perhaps, then, also Hurkyl's Recall. I like the sound of this option mostly because Mox Amber starts to appeal, with Jhoira in the deck, and drawing cards is just so much fun!

Zuran OrbMostly the 0 mana artifacts draw cards or make mana, but we also have Zuran Orb for a mild bit of defense and a chance at nudging you over 50 life when not quite making it there. There is the Welding Jar, which lets you play a little more aggressively with your setup of the larger artifacts and protects you against things like Abrade. Lastly in this small utility group, we have Engineered Explosives, which felt the weakest of the three utility 0 drops. This list made it very hard to get to three or higher, and two isn't easy. Zero is usually pretty bad for your things and so this is mostly just a bad way to kill one drops. You can't even Tinker it up and have it do that job, so absolutely Explosives would be the first zero mana artifact to cut or replace. Twelve zero mana artifacts felt about right, given that I was often cycling earlier Baubles. Eleven or even thirteen might be correct, but we are certainly pretty close. The pickings drop off rather after those discussed, but even cutting Explosives leaves us with at least thirteen decent options, due to Cornucopia and Mox Amber. Things such as Fountain of Youth, Lodestone Bauble, and Spell Book don't offer nothing, but they certainly don't add much, either. Gustha's Scepter is the most interesting, as it can protect against hand disruption and can allow you to do Time Twister effects while holding back juice. Although you shouldn't need any of these Darksteel Relics, it does make this archetype much safer to go into in something like a rotisserie. Cards like the Mox will get taken, and while very good, are not as critical as you might think. There is sufficient redundancy in 0 mana artifacts that you can pick up the key cards you might miss out on first and risk the Mox, Lotus Petal and LED.

Commit // MemoryCommit // Memory is a perfect fit for this deck, as it is easy enough to cast. Many combo decks run things like Chain of Vapor to clear out problems for speed reasons, but this list can easily afford the broader Commit. Having a bit of protection against spells and permanents is nice, but the real allure is the reserve Time Twister it comes with. You want at least two draw seven spells in the list (on top of the Outcome), and this is a concise way of doing so. Memory Jar had some appeal for the Tinkerable aspect, but failing to reshuffle or be reduced by Statuary put me off. Time Spiral also has some appeal for how broken it is, but it is probably a bit win more in this kind of setting. Most people tend to ban out Time Twister with the rest of the power, despite how much less good it is, and that makes it a bit harder to run in an unpowered combo deck! A friend did the original build of this deck in Grixis colours, using Ad Nauseam and Wheel of Fortune as the main draw engines. I like both these cards but I also like keeping my colours to a minimum and having access to reshuffle effects. The reshuffle lets you be a little more relaxed on win conditions in construction and your general use of resources in game play.

An alternate way to go with this that allows you to avoid the storm card cheese, is to run a backup plan of Emrakul and Krark-Clan Ironworks. Not amazing but some reasonable overlap with support cards and fulfilling some needed roles. You can improvise out Emrakul pretty quickly too!

Thirst for KnowledgeI liked the inclusion of the blue draw effects of Thirst and Thoughtcast. They could have been cheaper things like Ponder, but several factors lead to me running these instead. Firstly, your deck wants to have a critical mass of stuff, so having more raw cards is more useful, relative to the card quality priority of most other combo decks. Secondly, you have some "spare" time around turn two, in which you can afford to spend a bit more mana on some card draw with your dig. Non-critical blue cards also empower Chrome Mox. Gush would be a good include in the mono list as well, given you can reduce it with the Statuary fairly effectively when you don't want to bounce your Islands. They are also a good way to add some utility to the Tutor effects.

The mana base took me quite a long time to do, mostly because I was unsure how much I was going to need of both lands and blue sources. While it performed well at 13, I would rather it caused me some issue as that would have me in a better position to appraise my choices. When things go wrong, you learn from that and can adjust accordingly. When they go right there is only a chance things are perfect, but there is a bigger chance you just got lucky! I wanted City of Traitors as well as the Ancient Tomb, but I was scared of not having enough blue sources and enough lands I could play in the early game. I suspect I would have gotten away with it, but I would have to swap it for another colourless land. Academy Ruins is rather overkill, when you have two Time Twister effects and a Conjurer's Bauble, but I just kind of default to running it when I have a combo deck with an artifact combo piece. The same is becoming true of Inventor's Fair now, too, assuming I have the metalcraft consistently which, of course, this deck has zero trouble with. The Fair is nice for that extra land, but five mana and a land to tutor up a card is savagely slow. Merchant Scroll for Mystical Tutor for Tinker is pretty limp and still loads quicker! Zhalfirin Void is probably a more effective use of a colourless land in this deck, even if it doesn't feel as on theme or powerful! For that little of a bonus, I would likely just run Islands and maximize consistency. The Skerry was great, coming in tapped is slow but it is a good way to spend one of your setup turns, where you have fewer plays. 

Mox OpalFunctionally, this is just like the artifact-fuelled storm decks, but it feels way cooler and less cheesy. This list has more interesting cards and more directions it can go in. Much of this is because it is newer and less solved. It is also nice to have an engine based combo deck that plays differently. It is a new challenge to dig your mental teeth into, with a whole new range of plays, calculations and nuances. That the deck was great fun came as no surprise. The real shock, sufficiently such that I am reiterating, is that the deck was really, really good even with everything against it. It is potentially the level of good that makes me look a little deeper at things and perhaps consider whether Mox Opal is a little overly powered for the cube now, too. It certainly feels like it should go for modern, although I suspect the $100 price tag ensures there is too much butthurt to risk banning it in reality. Unban of Chrome would be the best way of leveling the playing field in relation to the Opal decks, without the community butthurt.

Friday 17 August 2018

Podless Melira .dec

Vizier of RemediesI have written a couple of articles on this combo, however this is the best and cleanest version I have seen in cube. I cannot take credit for it either, as it is a version of the deck from a friend that I have slightly tidied up. His main breakthrough is losing the Birthing Pod, as the card isn't all that exciting given how slow and clunky it is. Your combo pieces are cheap and all of your fastest kills wildly outpace what a Pod could help accomplish. Losing the Pod makes you able to cut out the thick spread of CMCs in your dorks and have a far better-looking curve. The whole combo being dorks anyway, means you have more than enough tutors at your disposal to not have to lean on Pod. The combos are redundant enough that you are likely to fit it together with just one tutor effect. Part of Pods strength is that it can fish up multiple cards for you, and that shouldn't be something you need in this list. The redundancy in combo pieces you have also means that most of the dorks are combo pieces, and as such, not frequently something you want to sacrifice. I frequently found I was unable to use Pod effectively in my previous versions of the deck when I was running it. All my previous builds have felt like they under-performed, whereas this build seemed to over-perform - it felt pretty hard to beat. Fail to interact with it and it would kill you quickly and consistently. It was hard to play safe against and hard to rush down. It didn't drop a match and it managed all that while also being built wrong! The list given here is the version we came to, after discussing the merits and failing of his build.

Viscera Seer24 Spells

Vampiric Tutor
Viscera Seer
Carrion Feeder

Sylvan Safekeeper
Avacyn's Pilgrim
Birds of Paradise
Elves of Deep Shadow

Oath of Nissa
Adventurous Impulse

Eladamri's Call
Vizier of Remedies
Melira, Sylvok Outcast
Devoted DruidDuskwatch Recruiter

Walking Ballista
Devoted Druid
Cartel Aristocrat
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit

Kitesail Freebooter

Kitchen Finks
Recruiter of the Guard
Anguished Unmaking

Murderous Redcap

Chord of Calling

16 Lands

Adventurous ImpulseThere are obviously some tweaks you can make. You can go a little deeper on the utility from your dig and tutoring cards, with Eternal Witness, Reclamation Sage, and Boneshredder  / Shriekmaw. However, while making you more robust, you are also making yourself slower. Given that this is a pretty pure and focused combo build, I think it is fine to scrimp on interactive cards. I might well entertain a Living Wish element if I had access to a sideboard. Mostly, however, if something is worth playing because of its EtB effect, you should probably look to playing the cheapest spell option. This I have done, with Duress included prior to Freebooter, however there is a strong argument for Thoughtseize over the pirate. The tutors are not enough of an argument on their own, but I concluded the additional card quality effects were.

You could crowbar in a Spike Feeder and Archangel of Thune, for yet another potential combo. Thune works to enhance the Kitchen Finks combo, thus providing a bit of overlap, but without the Pod I don't rate the eight mana combo containing a five drop nearly so much. This deck performed because it was clean and streamlined and tossing in five drop angels undoes some of that.

More Tutors is also an option. My friend used Worldly Tutor and Summoner's Pact in his build. The latter I dislike, as it only gets half of the combo pieces. I like Worldly a lot, however, it is probably better than the Adventurous Impulse and the Recruiter of the Guard. This deck is not too worried about card disadvantage and can afford to run Worldly along with Vamp, if it wants. I would love to be able to run Traverse the Ulvenwald and cut a land alongside it, but this list is awful at getting delirium. The other advantage Oath/Impulse have over Worldly is that they help a lot with the mana base. Having both does mean you can go to 15 lands pretty comfortably if you want and running Traverse too would absolutely make that correct. 

Eladamri's CallDemonic instead of Eladamri's Call would also help improve mana and let you go to 15, but I like the instant nature of Call a lot more than I thought I would in this list. It is also generally a lot easier to pickup. I find I like to play on the safe side with decks that want to curve out and win, and don't ideally want to go much beyond that stage. Zoo is a classic example and I feel this is in much the same category. If you are playing Demonic for lands, you are so far behind already that you want to just have the lands and piece as little remaining together as possible. That is why I am still running 16 despite easily being able to operate at 15. The deck isn't looking to go long so the risk of flooding is pretty minor, while the risk of just being a little slowed due to too few lands is a real one. That is a good general lesson in cube, two decks with the same curve exactly but one is mid range and the other aggro - I would likely run more lands in the aggro deck because of that aiming to win quick element and how it realigns the various risks. 

It is quite hard to resist playing Collected Company in this deck. In theory, it’s great, as you will get a two for one, some dig and selection with low risk, due to the lovely high number of targets. It certainly hits a lot more of your combo pieces than Summoner's Pact does. There are several issues with Company in this deck, though. One is simply that you don't much care for the card advantage, it’s nice but it isn't important. Secondly Company is just too much of an unknown for how late in the day it is. You probably need to spend turn two tutoring or playing a relevant card, but you won't know which card that is if you are relying on Company to do something relevant for you. By playing Company, you are slowing yourself down for fairly little gain.

The main takeaways of this study don’t really come as a shock:

·         Play lots of tutors and card quality relevant for your combo
·         Play as much good redundancy as you can
·         Focus your deck and keep the curve low

Do these things and you will have a quick, powerful and consistent version of your combo. My failings on this deck arose from too closely following the cards used in the modern builds, without being able to reflect the quantities of those cards so well. Modern decks have four of the good cheap cards and one of the top end ones while mine was one copy all the way up, resulting in the curve of a midrange deck and not a combo one. In cube, this is the general outline of how you should frame a Vizier / Melira deck.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Winners and Losers from 2018 so far

Thrashing BrontodonThis is a list of all of the cards I said I was going to add to the drafting cube and the good performers from the cards I planned to test. As such, there will probably seem to be more winners than losers, due to me not bothering to talk about all the failures from the testing group. The verdict is still out on a few of the newer cards and there are some I have yet to bother picking up, as well. I have managed to form an opinion on a couple of the new Commander cards, but it is too early to say for most of those, despite having them all. Given that I am still testing Verix, Squee, Charge and some others from Dominaria, I do not anticipate I will be fully satisfied with my feelings on newer cards for quite some time yet, in many cases. Some cards are obvious when you play them and others far more subtle, requiring multiple uses and situations to properly get a feel for.

Thrashing Brontodon - big win

Great in basically every kind of deck. Good stats and good utility. Not by any means over-powered, just very suitable.

Ravenous ChupacabraRavenous Chupacabra - big win

Easily the best 187 dork, after Shriekmaw, and often outperforming the evoke elemental too. Unrestricted targetting and killing potential makes this reliable, and that is what you want most of all from cards like this. It is the Terminate 187 dork in a field of Terrors and Last Gasps!

Skymarcher Aspirant - big win

The city's blessing is easy to get - aggressive white decks usually achieve this around turn four or five. As such, this is not only a great turn one play, but is also one of the best one drop threats you can have in the midand late-game.

Warkite Marauder - lose

Not a bad card, just not really supported appropriately. With a meta-shift this could easily become good, but it wasn't getting the play to merit a slot as things currently stand.

Dusk Legion ZealotDusk Legion Zealot - big win

It sickens me that this is so good, just because I resent this being a bad Elvish Visionary so much. Just a 1/2, just some way to make it sometimes better and sometimes worse, but no... Anyway, 1 life isn't a big deal. Having an all-round playable, two drop filler card is. Black lacked those and so this is a big deal for it - Green doesn't lack such things and so to it, Visionary is merely OK. Despite how functionally Zealot is directly worse than Visionary, it turns out to be better in practice. Probably the most played card from Rivals in my cube.

Direfleet Poisoner - big lose

I don't really see why this was as poor as it turned out to be. I think it is relatively low power, combined with lack of suitability. It is either a poor threat or a poor removal spell, and no deck is in the market for those things.

Direfleet Daredevil - win
Dire Fleet Daredevil 
Great card - some value, some disruption. Sometimes better than Snapcaster and not miles behind it, on average. Playable in most red decks and leads to interesting games, due to red players getting access to more exotic cards.

Jadelight Ranger - big win

Value, options and tempo; what more could you want from a three drop? While this lacks the ceiling of the other three drop value dorks in green, Ranger is so well contained and direct with what it does that it is one of the most effective and suitable in many situations.

Twilight ProphetTwilight Prophet - mild win

This is dangerous enough in a few ways that it is holding on in cube. It’s a decent body, a bit like a flying Courser of Kruphix. It isn't great tempo for the mana, but it is still good enough once in play that low stats to cost don't overly hurt it. Then, once in play, the value and direct damage potential both offer passive ongoing dangers. Prophet is a big draw for removal, winning most games it is not dealt with before card drawing commences. It is a slow card, but it is fairly safe while it is winning.

Fanatical Firebrand - fine

I am yet to cut this. It is pretty comparable to Mogg Fanatic! It is filler in a few places and that makes it see enough play to keep around, but it is neither that potent or that exciting.

Unwind - big lose
Just a horrible card. The upside of having three mana after playing it comes nowhere near the drawback of not being able to play this without three to begin with. It doesnt take many times for you to have this and only two mana before you never want to play with it again.

Cast Down - pretty big lose

Legends are good, unreliable removal is bad. When a legend is in play, there is a good chance it is the best threat in play. That is all you really need to know about why Cast Down is inferior to a Doom Blade, even if the statistics don't agree. Doom Blade is also consistent in its unreliability, which Cast Down isn't even gracious enough to offer. Knowing your Doom Blade is going to shaft you allows you to play around itwhereas Cast Down shafts you without warning and as such, you often cant recover. It leads you to playing like you have an out, and then randomly their threat is a legend and you lose. Oops.

The Flame of KeldDivest - lose

Not enough of a lose for me to cut from the cube yet, but so far this is only seeing play to patch up gaps in decks. No deck actively wants this, they just play it when they lack disruption or one drops. Covering two different pitfalls is a big part of why this is still in my cube, but I would love to replace it with an actually good card.

The Flame of Keld - big lose

A great card still, but not one you can play without entirely building around it. That makes it terrible for drafts. It also isn't so busted good that you want to warp your red aggro deck to build with it. Certainly the card is good, but you can just build a more consistent, redundant, robust, refined and unfettered deck without it.

Dauntless BodyguardGhitu Lavamancer - win

This is getting lots of love. Arguably, reds fourth or fifth best one drop beater (in competition with Zurgo). It is very easy to turn on and not a total disaster of a play prior to then. While not scaling as well with instants and sorceries as the prowess dudes, Lavamancer is less reliant on them to perform.

Dauntless Bodyguard- win

Another fantastic one drop 2/1 in white for the year. This is an OK one drop on turn one and a great one drop on turns two through four. It is exactly the sort of card white needs to compete in a meta with good and abundant mass removal. It is a decently high powered card to begin with, but being so on theme while addressing one of the biggest problems faced by the archetype makes it really strong.

Benalish MarshalWizard's Lightning - big lose

No one wants to pay 3 for a two mana effect, especially when you can get it for 1! The real issue with this is that it is never a one mana card on turn one, which is when being one mana really makes a card immeasurably better than pricier iterations.

Benalish Marshal - fine

Good, solid card that does pretty much what you would expect. It is narrow and relatively far up the curve for the kinds of deck that do want it. With plenty of good aggressive three drop options, Marshall is just a an OK card, despite the immense power it has.

Karn, Scion of UrzaKarn, Scion of Urza - win

A bit too all-round playable not to be good, really. In decks without other artifacts, Karn is mediocre, but it doesn't take much at all for him to be really quite special. If you can make a 4/4 construct when you make Karn, you are in a very good position. A range of passable to exceptional that can be played anywhere is a good place to be.

Shalai, Voice of Plenty - win

I wasn't expecting this one to perform as well as it has been. What I failed to appreciate is how savagely it gates your opponents options. I simply thought if they have a Doom Blade they are killing your 3/4 flier anyway’, and so you don't really care about your other things having hexproof all that much. Well, that turned out to be awful logic. Loads of things want to ping little dorks or destroy planeswalkers, make you discard or sacrifice stuff, and so on and so forth. Shalai forces them to have appropriate removal, and locks them down from doing all that much else disruptive. Solid card and a significant part of why Cast Down is unplayable! Like so many good white cards, this has passable stand-alone stats, in addition to a significant passive disruptive effect.

Adventurous ImpulseAdventurous Impulse - big win

I am a bit embarrassed this was just in the test section and not down as an auto include. Obviously this is great, it is one mana card quality in green! It hits action and lands, which is really the main things you want your card quality to dig for. Impulse has had a huge effect on green, allowing for some vastly more consistent builds of aggro through to ramp. While green had loads of decent selection prior to Impulse, most of it was a bit higher on the curve. Impulse is so cheap it fits into decks pretty seamlessly and doesn't punish your tempo for going that little bit deeper on card quality. One of my favourite new builds Impulse facilitated was an aggressive green Eldrazi deck, using Oath of Nissa and Ancient Stirrings to great effect. So while Impulse is generally just a worse Oath of Nissa, the fact that it affords redundancy and depth in a highly valuable role has catapulted green decks forwards. Mono green zoo lists are somewhat my preference over Naya builds now, and a lot of green combo decks have also jumped in power with that extra cheap digging tool. I recently got destroyed by a very clean Melira/Vizier combo deck, that didn't even bother with Birthing Pod. Just combo cards, a pinch of disruption and card selection cards like this. I lost on turn three far too often for a green, creature based, cube combo deck! So yeah, me not being hyped for this is much like not rating Serum Visions due to there being Preordain - these are very much types of card that improve each other rather than being a replacement.

Mindblade RenderMindblade Render - lose

Not a big lose, as it still feels fine in cube, but it isn't as juicy as I had hoped. It rarely does much by itself and needs support to do work. Render is a filler two drop and sits in the same trough of power that the many other failed Dark Confidant attempts reside in. Mindblade is a bit safer than those X/1s and the 2/2, and it also has a better ceiling. Where it really falls down is when it is part of a board stall. In those cases it is just a Lumengrid Warden, while the others have a better chance of getting card advantage.

Cheering Fanatic - big lose

This is just inappropriate for what you want to do. As a 2/2 for 1R, it is a poor body. Needing to attack to ramp means you only want this in an aggro deck, but it is bad at attacking, thus making it bad as a threat and bad at ramping. Further to that, you don't really want two drop ramp in aggressive red decks. If this just tapped for a red, even a colourless it would be great. Aggro decks still wouldn't really want it, but midrange and even control decks would be all over it, due to the greater safety it offers itself (and you!).

IsolateIsolate - big lose

Oops. I got this well wrong for cube. I kind of looked at this in the light of legacy, where decks had four copies of brutal things like Deathrite, Death's Shadow and Delver of Secrets. While those cards are in cube, there is a far lower density of them, what with being a singleton format. There are not only fewer one drops in cube than in legacy and modern, but they are also weaker on average as well. Playing Isolate means you are playing a narrow card that has no chance of getting good value, with a reasonable chance of getting low value. Isolate in your opening hand is great, but it quickly loses strength. It also has far too much risk of just doing nothing for too long. Still a useful sideboard option, but nowhere near the playability or power it needs to work out in a drafting cube.

Dismissive PyromancerDismissive Pyromancer - mild lose

Still a nicely rounded playable and useful card, but certainly not any sort of bomb. It is a bit of a filler card in aggressive decks, while midrange decks love it (but absolutely for the utility rather than the power level.)

Dark-Dweller Oracle - lose

Also still playable in cube, but only just. I certainly over-rated this more than I did with Pyromancer. The main issue with Oracle is that the sacrifice ability is far less effective than it might appear. In principleit ticks all the boxes for being repeatable, instant speed, cheap and offering good returns. In practice, however, it is only any of those things in ideal circumstances. Short of instant and flash spells, nothing you exile is of much use outside of your turn and this is the main issue. You don't get to have much value from the ability in the face of their removal, as they just time it such that Oracle can't take advantage. It is also not all that cheap, as you get one land drop max, before you have to spend extra mana to access the value offered. A useful card, but one I only really want when I have a lot of appropriate synergies.

Runic Armasaur
Runic Armasaur - lose

This just doesn't do very much! I am yet to cut it, but if it continues much longer in its doing of nothing, it isnt going to stay. This is just one of those cards that is far too dependent on what your opponent is up to in order to be a valuable include in a deck. It is not a threat by itself and it gives too much control over its effect on the game to the opponent. While a good card against aggression, it is still probably less good than Carven Caryatid in that situation!

Plague Mare - massive win

This is mostly a win due to my meta and how rampant the go-wide tactics are. Chainwhirler is a known entity and is highly predictable, what with the triple red cost. You are also typically on guard against things like Forked Bolt from red anyway, so that has not been as brutal. In black, this rather more playable three drop has been pure filth. I walked into a six for one with it, the other day. On turn three... I had a lovely elf-heavy ramp deck in sealed and had a particularly bonkers start. Then I put my board in the bin to his Grey Ogre complete with Plague Wind. These stupid mistakes will pass as players catch up to quite how playable this little horsey is. Plague Mare is a little polar in terms of performance, but it is also a necessary evil given the state of my meta. It is essential that midrange decks have some good counter-play options to go-wide strategies and that is exactly what Plague Mare is. You struggle to win without it in some matchups,but it doesn't harm you in the others.

Plague Mare 
Goblin Instigator - win

It hasn't really out-performed expectation, it has merely met it. That being said, I expected it to be the most played card from M19 and thus far that is holding true. Living up to high expectations feels like a win.

Sarkhan, Fireblood - mild win

Just a fair and balanced Dack Fayden. You exchange the swingy -2 for a useful ultimate and that leads to a better card to play with. It is perhaps a little less powerful, but it is comparably playable and less unsatisfying. You don't need any dragons for Fireblood to be good, just looting (rummaging) and an ultimate to work towards make him suitable for a lot of decks. The dragon mana has been used and it is pretty naughty, it is a much fairer "situational" ability than Dack Faydens -2. This is mostly because it is on your build and not your opponents. A well designed card that is a useful addition to red.

Elvish Rejuvenator Elvish Rejuvenator - mild win

This is seeing play and doing work. Unexciting work, of which no odes will be sung, but good, solid work none the less. There are a lot of cards you can use that do this kind of thing and each have their perks. That being said, this is the most interesting and most unfettered of the options, which makes it doubly the best option for drafting cubes. This will rarely excite or impress, but I anticipate seeing a lot more of this card.

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager // Nicol Bolas, the Arisen - mild win

I have flipped this only twice so far and I can assure you I have forced playing this card at every possible occasion. I have double splashed this, I have drafted badly and I have built badly, all to get my monies worth on this expensive dragon! You don't need to flip Bolas for it to be good, but it certainly does make it seem very good indeed! I feel like despite not flipping Bolas loads, he has still flipped more than I would have expected. Power was never really the issue for Bolas, it was all about playability, and even with my aggressive playing of him taken into account this new Bolas is comfortably getting enough of that. I suspect that will dry up a little as the excitement at the card diminishes, but I think Bolas will survive so long as Grixis remains a premium three colour combo. He is just too powerful without having any flaws to not see play.

Fountain of RenewalFountain of Renewal - big win

I gave this a good review, but I was a little concerned I was over-rating it and now, it would seem as if I underrated it. A big part of why I keep playing this is new Karn and how much he loves supporting artifacts. Turns out, you don't need things to play off Fountain for it to be good. The card is just a good cube card. It is the Thraben Inspector of life gain. You just toss it down when you have a bit of spare mana and you sac it off when you need cards. It costs you very little to run and adds quite a lot to your deck. I have played with it a great deal, and against it a bunch too,  and it is surprisingly disheartening to play against, just a constant reminder the game is slipping away! Fountain has won me several games and it has yet to significantly impair me. Although three is quite a hefty price tag to turn it into a card, it turns out to be less onerous than it looks. Basically, when you are under pressure you tend to want life and so you rarely want to cash in your Fountain. By the time you might want to cash it in, you have used everything else and typically have mana spare. It is only in the slower games that the card is more urgent, and in thosethat three mana is less of an issue. Crowbarring a Wurmcoil Engine or Batterskull into a control deck comprised of Grixis colours just to have lifegain was quite common place, but it was a burden on construction and options. Fountain is a far easier and smoother card to build with and solve that particular problem. The low power of this card is totally offset and more by the convenience and suitability of the card. I have always maintained that good lifegain effects are those that come free on a card, where you would still play a card without that life gain aspect then you have a good life gain card (for example: Scavenging Ooze and Courser of Kruphix). Fountain is the only cube-worthy pure lifegain card and that is because it essentially comes free. 

Rustwing FalconRustwing Falcon - win

Mentally this has performed really well so far. It manages to tick two boxes that no other playable card does, which is being an evasive one drop with more than one toughness. This is not easily picked off with a Lava Dart or Plague Mare. It holds off the many potent 1/1 flying tokens that populate midrange cubes. Obviously, Falcon is only a good card when buffed, but it only takes the mildest of buffs to make it highly relevant. There are loads of good buff cards in cube and many archetypes vying to use them. As such, Rustwing fits into a surprisingly large number of decks and works well in them, too. Rustwing is even good in the planeswalker battles. A single life makes little difference to players, but a loyalty makes massive differences, especially early. Rustwing does surprisingly good work in making your walkers look safer and the ones across the table less valuable. 

Aminatou, the FateshifterAminatou, the Fateshifter - lose

I had hoped this would be playable in a drafting cube, but it just obviously isn't after running it in a single deck. It will still be a useful card for the high synergy build-around decks, but it is too much work getting it good in a limited format. Even if you support this with all the miracles and some other top of deck things in a draft cube, it isn't going to perform well. It too-rarely does anything at all if you make her on curve and that is a problem.

Saheeli, the Gifted - mild win

Hard to kill, like Elspeth, with her five loyalty and a 1/1 dork for four mana. It is some value and some tempo, with good odds on more. The second ability, while wildly different from what an Elspeth might do, is also proving good. Like Karn, Scion of Urza it benefits from being in a deck with a good number of supporting artifacts, but I found I was using it fairly often just for a one mana reduction and I was happy about it. The ultimate is a little annoying, in that it isn't much of a threat without support. If you can copy enough power, then great, but that will be super hard to do. Mostly the ultimate will seem worse than churning out more 1/1 tokens. This means that while Saheeli is versatile and reliable, she is rather less threatening than some of the premiumplaneswalkers. I do ultimately expect I will cull this Saheeli from the drafting cube for her various narrow attributes, but she is presently interesting and powerful enough to hold off that fate.