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.

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