Friday 28 September 2018

Glimpse Kobolds .dec

Crookshank KoboldsTime for a funky brew! This deck has been floating around for a while, but this was my first go at building a cube variant of it. The deck has some fairly polar pros and cons. The main con is lack of interactive or even protective capabilities. Resolve a Rampaging Ferocidon against this and it is basically game over, and the same applies for a fairly large number of cards, even if most of them are only hate tools and not the sort of thing you find main. This somewhat has to the be the way you build this deck, as it is an engine combo and suffers for every non-combo card added to the list. The deck makes up for this uninteractive, defenceless position it takes in a couple of ways. Firstly, it has multiple different ways in which it can actually win, meaning if a hate card renders aspects of the deck useless, you are not dead in the water. The second main perk of the deck is speed, potentially finding a win on turn one. Although that is highly unlikely, the chances of a win increase significantly over the next couple of turns. For a cube combo deck, this probably has some of the higher chances of winning on turns two or three. It also has that storm-like quality of being able to try and go off on almost any given turn. This means you can bide your time when not under pressure and win with the best odds at the best moment.

This is the list I would run, if doing this again. It is not yet perfect, but it is a reasonable improvement on my first attempt, which itself was not bad. I will discuss the options and changes after the list.

Glimpse of Nature29 Spells

Crookshank Kobolds
Crimson Kobolds
Kobalds of Kher Keep
Phyrexian Walker
Shield Sphere
Mox Opal
Lotus Petal

Tinder Wall
Wild Cantor
Glimpse of Nature
Mystical Tutor
Ancient Stirrings
Phyrexian WalkerConjurer's Bauble

Beck // Call
Reckless Bushwhacker
Impact Tremors
Genesis Chamber
Land Grant

Phyrexian Altar
Elvish Spirit Guide
Simian Spirit Guide
Lab Maniac

Empty the Warrens
Paradoxical Outcome

Beck // Call11 Lands

Tropical Island
Wooded Foothills
Misty Rainforest
Stomping Ground
Breeding Pool

Spire of Industry
City of Brass
Mana Confluence
Ancient Tomb
Tree of Tales

So the win conditions for this deck are as follows:

1. Create sufficient attacking dorks and then Bushwhacker them up for an alpha strike
2. Make Impact Tremors and then follow it with the production of creatures equal to their life total
3. Draw your deck plus one and have a Laboratory Maniac in play.

Impact TremorsThis last win condition is actually a problem solving tool and replaced an engine revolving around Cloudstone Curio. The issue was simply that if using the Curio to generate unlimited storm or Impact Tremor triggers on a turn in which you played Glimpse, then you would have to have more cards in library than opponents life or the required storm count. This made the Curio pretty weak. It also lowered the demands on free non-artifact creatures. I was initially running Burning Tree Emissary and tried to fit in Priest of Urabrask as well, but found such forms of free creature card to be really hard to use effectively. You want to stockpile dorks in hand and then start playing them out after a Glimpse or Beck. Often, you want to hold off until you can make a two- or three-drop permanent as well, and this all means that you either miss triggers, don't get to use those dorks, or you simply can't go off for another turn. Without leaning on Curio, you can ease up on the weaker creatures and you don't have to worry about decking yourself before you can win! Luckily, Glimpse only works on non-tokens and Beck is a may effect on the drawing. This means you can go nuts with Empty the Warrens and Genesis Chamber, and not have to worry about it. Despite not needing protection against decking, the Lab Maniac does seem like a good alternate win condition, as it has the "win the game" text that bypasses a lot of hate. It is pretty easy to draw everything with this list and when you are in that position, it is not too hard to find three more mana. As an aside, I would presently run Frogmite as the next free creature in this list over the Hidden Herbalist, Priest of Gix, Blood Pet, Skirk Prospector array of cards. Of those, the ones that sac to return mana are better than those that just give it back to you right away. You can preplay those that sac and mitigate the mana cost, thus turning such cards into effective rituals. Just being free is the best and Frogmite is the next most free. 

Paradoxical OutcomeThis list is unusually good at burning through it's deck, as that is the engine and what the deck does. The win conditions are just ways you can focus the power of that engine into productive directions. Glimpse of Nature, Beck, Skullclamp and Paradoxical Outcome are your card-draw tools. Two are just big, one sided draw effects that are unusually efficient with the support in this deck (Glimpse and Outcome). Beck and Skullclamp, however, are far more able to facilitate the drawing of the whole deck. Beck gets the benefit from the token producers, which gets pretty out of hand. Skullclamp does afford a lot of draw, but it also has mana demands on it, which means you typically need to pair it with the Tangleroot or Phyrexian Altar. These mana sources also let you go off out of nowhere and are not solely there to support Clamp. This is also why some of the mana fixing cards are included in the list. Both Manamorphose and Wild Cantor allow you to turn green mana from Tangleroot into whatever you need, or indeed a stray red mana! Tinder Wall also lets you turn green into red, but it is more than good enough in its own right, being the only creature in all of magic that actually generates more mana than it cost immediately. It is the only ritual dork that is mana positive, however used. Tinder Wall is arguably one of the best cards in the deck, due to doing the only two things the deck really cares about in the support cards and doing both pretty well.

ScapegoatParadoxical Outcome seems like it is too good to pass up on. I very nearly played Scapegoat, which has no card draw and puts you a creature down. You could argue a case for both, but it would be hard to make the case for Scapegoat without the Outcome as well. Outcome works like another retrospective Glimpse, due to the card draw side of it. You can use it to get your creatures back in hand to setup a storm turn, or another load of card draw with the other Glimpse/Beck, or you can use it first in a bid to find a Glimpse or Beck. You are almost always better off having Outcome plus one of the other two spells, rather than Glimpse and Beck, due to how they work with the permanents. While probably an overly narrow example, it is very much like using locks on a navigable river. It is much more efficient for those involved to always go in alternate directions! Mystical Tutor is a huge help it getting you these key cards when you need them, but also having the most suitable one for the occasion. Mystical Tutor finds your big card draw effects which in turn find you the other things you might need.

Elvish Spirit GuideThe free mana cards are all pretty good, you have the card draw to support them and they assist both in the midst of going off and in the setup of doing so. They make you more consistent in getting to the end of a sequence you start and they allow you to start that bit sooner. Lotus Petal and Opal work better with the Outcome and also tend to offer better fixing, but the Spirit Guides have their own perks. On more than one occasion I found it useful to simply cast my Grey Ogre so as to trigger more card draw effects. Being able to have some wiggle room in your ratio of card gain and mana access while going off is surprisingly useful in this deck, despite how poor a Grey Ogre might seem to be.

Ancient Stirrings was originally a Preordain, but I wanted a card that was not in the splash colour. Preordain is really good but it is also mild and fairly all round. Stirrings is great, because it is better at finding lands, easier to cast, and still has good odds and range on the non-land pulls. Faithless Looting was also a strong consideration, as I really wanted it when I was going off so as to turn dud lands accumulating in hand into gas, but when used more as a tool to setup a position for going off, I think it is rather weaker. It doesn't dig as heavily into the deck and it costs you a card, which can really hurt if you don't know your exact plan. These cards are all very much performing the same function, upping your consistency a good amount for a minimal tempo cost. That is great, but there are diminishing returns on them so you don't want to overdo it. This list is sufficiently tight enough that I think one or two such cards (excluding the tutors) is about right.

Phyrexian AltarLand Grant is a potential cut. It offers mild perks and comes with some risks. The risks are low, but the problems they cause might not be so mild and thus might not actually be worth it. Essentially you are just trying to run a deck that is land light, so that when you are going off you reduce the risk of fizzling. It is just a sac land that costs information concession or mana, rather than life. The biggest advantage this has over a sac land in this deck is that it is not as contested.

The main potential cut card is the Conjurer's Bauble. It serves a pretty limited purpose. Its inclusion is a bit of a gut reflex I have when building certain types of combo deck in cube. It mildly ticks a lot of boxes, cheap cycling card, artifact support, mild recursion and all that sort of good stuff. It is a bit of a Chromatic Star sort-of card. The thing is that this deck is a bit too focused to really want mild filler, it wants dedicated support and to be super streamlined, and that is not what Bauble brings to the table. If I am not going to be playing answer cards and problem solvers, I likely shouldn't bother playing recursion. If I need it then it probably means it is too late already. If I was really serious about recursion, I would be playing Snapcaster Mage or Eternal Witness for their interaction with the engine cards in the deck. Likely the better direction to go in for this slot would be going up to two card quality cards or going ham and having a big draw spell, like Time Twister or Wheel of Fortune. That, or just cramming a bit more actual support in like the Frogmite, but cutting a cheap artifact for the Frog in a deck needing him to be free and worrying about him not being so feels pretty bad!

TanglerootAnother interesting way to take this list is to run Earthcraft and some basics, which would then essentially just be a cheaper and more versatile Tangleroot without giving anything extra to your opponent. This probably is a more powerful direction to take the deck in, but it does need a full rework on the mana base (and support for said mana base) which is beyond me at this stage! You can always run more storm cards as win conditions if you like. I like the Warrens due to the synergy overlaps, but Brainfreeze and Tendrils just feel pretty tired and cheesy. They are also probably the best alternate win conditions, but they are not cool, not original and not all that fun for anyone involved.

I looked at Trophy Mage to tutor up my engine artifacts, but if I needed to tutor those things I would just play black tutors and not more Grey Ogres. The deck is not after value cards or cute things, and that is what Trophy Mage is. 

City of Traitors is another good inclusion for the deck. It would make me more inclined towards running Chromatic Star in place of the Bauble, though. I looked at Chief Engineer, but felt he was likely a little on the cute side. You have to get him into play before going off, if he is to have much chance of generating you effective mana while you are going off. While potentially very powerful in the right setting, I suspect the card would be doing too little the rest of the time.

Kobolds of Kher KeepOverall, the deck was surprisingly good. While not one of the top tier combo decks, it was not far off and had some unusual strengths and card requirements, making it a more useful deck than some that are more powerful. While good, the deck does not have much wiggle room for improvement. It is also likely quite vulnerable to sideboard cards, which should probably be expected in the formats you could potentially wind up with this sort of deck. Really, what this deck is best at is being a vessel for playing solitaire magic with. The experience of playing this on your own is not that different from playing against someone else. Just seeing how efficient you can be, how quick you can be, exploring the deck and getting good at using it, can all be done on your own, and probably should be! This deck has all the best qualities for playing on your own, you can throw due to bad choices, and you often have to follow the combo through right the way to the end, you don't just reach a point where you have enough stuff that the win is inevitable. For this list to become a force in cube it needs more cards that support it, while it has enough to compete already it needs to seem like an oppressively good deck before it will tangle well in the cube meta. Affinity, for example, always feels like it is two levels more powerful than anything else, but when the games start to happen and the disruption flies about, and peoples preparation pay off, the mighty affinity list feels fairly average. For the constructed cube events where decks like this are viable, you are super vulnerable to hate cards and so, while this deck is good, it is still a fair way off competitive. Awesome fun, however. It is also just a delight to play with Kobolds. 

Saturday 22 September 2018

Quest for the Holy Relic .dec

Quest for the Holy Relic
There are two ways to go about building combos or synergies in cube - Either you go all in and build your entire deck around that idea, or you strip it back and find the best existing thing with good overlap to pair it with. In constructed, it is almost always best to go all in on your single plan and build around it, but in cube it can often be better to combine things due to the lack of depth and redundancy in the narrower themes. Obviously, we only have one Quest for the Holy Relic to work with and that is our first and main limiting factor. We can load up on tutors to get it, but as a result, we become slower and more vulnerable to disruption. Certainly, if you build around Quest you can fire it off turn two and have some pretty unbeatable starts. Sadly, I think that is unlikely happen often enough to offset the other issues the deck would have. I think you could make it serviceable, but getting a pure Quest deck to tier one sounds impossible. Luckily,there are some conveniently good-looking places where it is fairly easy to insert a concise Quest package of two cards.

Argentum ArmorThis list is a mashup of three archetypes, which is about as far as you can push the mashups. Even this would serve the individual components a lot better by losing the lifegain elements, I suspect. It might intuitively sound better to have two combos running at 90% rather than three at 70% or whatever, but when those game planes are sufficiently different that they cover a broader portion of the meta effectively, then it is worth it. Each of the different elements of this deck, the Quest, the Monument and the Soul stuff have some pretty strong matchups. The overlap in cards between the three parts is sufficient that the cost of combining them is fairly minimal too. That is not too surprising, given that the best way to build Soul Sisters deck does seem to be with Oketra's Monument. You could just think of this as a mashup of two decks due to that, but it is more semantics at that point.

Here is the list;

Soul's Attendant
Leonin VanguardSoul Warden
Serra Ascendant
Leonin Vanguard

Quest for the Holy Relic
Legion's Landing
Thraben Inspector

Auriok Champion
Suture Priest
Ajani's Pridemate
Wall of Omens

Stoneforge Mystic
Selfless Spirit
Kor Skyfisher
Whitemane Lion
Whitemane Lion
Aviary Mechanic

Militia Bugler
Oketra's Monument
Recruiter of the Guard

Ranger of Eos

Archangel of Thune

Argentum Armor

Return to the Ranks

15 Plains
Windbrisk Heights

Oketra's MonumentThe first game plan is to make Quest, then make five guys and ensure you have one in play, ready to attack. Do that fast enough and you beat most things. It is still a powerful swing at any later point in the game, too. You can improve this aspect of the deck with more creatures, cheaper creatures and ones that are hardier or that protect others.

The second game plan is to make Monument and then churn out an unreasonable number of 1/1s, in addition to doing other things faster than usual as well. Ideally, you just use value creatures to find more dorks to make. Bugler into Recruiter into Inspector, etc. Failing that, you can just repeatedly cast a self bounce dork and make as many 1/1s per turn as you have white mana. Most decks fold to such things eventually.

The last game plan is to gain loads of life with Soul Warden effects and apply that to some payoff. Usually, you don't need the payoff, because this strategy is best when it hard counters aggression or combos through the life gain itself. It is nice to have a few efficient dorks and a few alternate win conditions too, of course. This works well with Monument, as it is producing double dorks thus double the life gain and because it has dorks you can cast repeatedly. It is lovely when you setup such that a white mana produces four life and a 1/1 endlessly!

Soul WardenBeing fairly close to a white weenie deck, you also have the fourth plan of simply beating down with random janky dorks. Soul Sisters is usually pretty good at that with some Anthem effects on the go, but those were mostly the cards culled to fit in the other synergies. As such, this is only really offering the aggressive plan against decks without much in the way of combat creatures. The lack of removal in this list makes it doubly hard to get into combat when the opposition has dorks. It isnt too much of a problem, as you gain so much life it is hard to safely get damage in that actually threatens anything. That to do so would involve attacking with everything and leaving back no blockers ensures you are losing the race to this list.

Being a deck with three sub-themes, there is a whole lot of extra options that are really good for this list and each of which will empower aspects of the list to work better. That ability to balance which sub-themes work best allows for some lovely fine tuning potentials for any given meta, which is a quality I like in a deck.

Banisher PriestWith the dig and tutor effects on offer, I quite wanted to include some utility cards such as Warpriest of Thune, Fiend Hunter, Kor Sanctifiers, Restoration Specialist, Knight of the White Orchid or even just Oreskos Explorer for the easier cast. Much as such things are cute, there isn't enough room. The deck is already dangerously light on removal, and I think I would better off starting with a Council's Judgement or Cast Out than these sort of things.

I went light on interactive spells, as I often do in deck testing, but this kind of build is absolutely the best for getting away with such things. There are very few cards this deck needs to remove. If it faces a card it cannot remove or beat with the plan at hand, you at least have several other plans you can try instead. One is usually able to get there.

Banisher Priest is likely the best creature option for utility overall, as you can find it with both Recruiter and Bugler. It cannot be abused like Fiend Hunter with your Whitemane Lion for the permanent exile, but that is a lot more corner case than ease of tutoring. Much as having a removal option on a dork is a nicely condensed way of making the deck more robust, I don't like the Banisher Priest style of card sufficiently to want to play it without more support. Ideally both Mother of Runes and Dauntless Bodyguard, in addition to the current Selfless Spirit.

Militia BuglerI quite like the idea of lowering the curve in general, as any time you can do that without lowering the effectiveness of the deck you are gaining a great deal. Both Mardu Woe Reaper and Soldier of the Pantheon offer a good amount of early pressure, while also having some synergy with the life gain elements. While adding in these kinds of cards is quite good generally, it isn't as simple as that. It really doesn't take long in this list before you tip the balance and really should be playing anthem effects. Benalish Marshall somewhat supports all three components of the deck, at least compared to Honor the Pure. Ajani Goldmane only supports the two, but he does offer an alternate angle of attack. Mother of Runes should probably be in regardless, as it has at least mild synergy with your various game plans, good synergy with the Quest and such a high baseline power level for such a cheap card.

As for where you might make space in the list for such fancies, you could replace the Legion's Landing which had poor synergy with the Quest and the Bugler. I like what Landing brings to the deck and some of the other synergies it helps, but it is certainly one of the more polar cards. It also wouldn't lower the curve doing that.

Auriok ChampionI could easily see cutting Suture Priest. While having lots of Soul Warden cards is nice, they are seemingly the least important bit of the deck. I tried out Ajani's Welcome, but it was a wasted card as it had just the one synergy it supported. Welcome is only for the dedicated life gain decks. Auriok Champion is great, despite the inability to get a cost reduction, because it is pretty resilient to removal and thus a great thing to slap Argentum Armor on. This difference in overlap makes Champion perfect and Priest a possible cut, despite how similar they are in many other ways.

Other cuts are possible in some of the clunkier support tools. Wall of Omens is great, but it is the opposite of something that applies pressure. It supports Quest less well than most of the other creatures in the list, supports the life gain in a fairly minimal way, the aggro options appallingly and only the Monument actually well. A bit like Landing, it is very polar in how it aids the deck. Despite looking off theme, being a cheap cycle card probably makes it too good to miss, especially in white. It just makes for a smaller deck and thus better chances of having the synergy overlaps you want. Bugler and Recruiter are also clunky and fall into a similar sort of camp. Bugler does best in tempo terms, but has some reliability issues and needs considering in the build,which might make him more effort than he is worth.

Aviary Mechanic
The Aviary Mechanic might also be a touch deep as you want more than two such bounce cards, but you probably don't need the full three. Sadly, I am already running all the sensible dig and tutoring white has to offer and so there is no way to buffer that cut. While it is exactly what you want should you have a Monument in play, it is pretty weak when you don't. Monument is good enough on its own that I think three bounce cards is perhaps too much of a win more situation. Stonecloaker is a better card that you can use, but it is not better with Monument specifically, as it isn't reduced in cost to one mana.

Other cute bounce options are Glinthawk plus Ornithopter, Memnite, Phyrexian Walker and however deep down that hole you care to go. This is used to good effect in constructed, but I think this is too much weight on the Quest completing speed side of the deck and will lead to far too many dud draws. Glinthawk does not have that perpetual self-bounce effect you most desire for the Monument draws, either.

Crested SunmareLeonin Vanguard worked out nicely. It is my first use of the card and I found it pleasing in this build. It does a bit of everything at the right price. A creature trigger, a target for all the dig/tutors, a lifegain trigger, a cheap card, a decent attacker, a good thing to draw with using Skullclamp and all that sort of thing. It just has a solid power level and has no lumpy interactions with the deck as a whole, like Wall of Omens or Legion's Landing. Blade Splicer and Flickerwisp were both considerations for their various synergies with the other bounce and EtB effect cards in the deck, too. Both add reasonable punch and power on their own, but what they offer the various synergies is a bit mild for the weight of these cards.

Some of the best payoff for lifegain in cube is top end. I only managed to find room for Archangel of Thune in the list with Felidar Sovereign and Crested Sunmare relegated to the bench. Sovereign is amazing as it provides an actual I win card that gives you some decent inevitability in the lifegain lines. At six mana, however, it is really hard to build a deck than can cast it in the time frame needed. It leads to some pretty bad draws, which the Argentum Armor is already doing! Sunmare is just a different sort of Archangel, powerful but slow, and onerous on the build.

Emeria, the Sky RuinLastly, we have some of the recursion options. I think I was just being a bit precious in running Return to the Ranks. I felt like I could have certain strategies nullified too easily with some well placed removal. I wanted to be able to get my lifegain cards back against aggressive players, my high value threats like Ascendant back against slower decks and my bounce cards back whenever they became useful! With this deck having so many angles of attack and a reasonable ability to maintain gas, you can probably just forget about dead cards and move on to greener pastures. Return to the Ranks was very powerful, but it mostly sat in my hand collecting dust. I didn't need it and the luxury of it was perhaps not worth the cost of the bad hands and weaker starts. Despite this, I had considered many options in its place! Dusk // Dawn is very powerful and offers extra utility and early game action on Return. It is likely the best replacement, but sadly it is yet another card that has mixed interactions. I would feel happier about running it if it didn’t kill my own things! Proclamation of Rebirth is more a Martyr of Sands affair, and is pretty limited in a dedicated Soul Sisters deck. In this list it would be far too limited. Emeria, the Sky Ruin probably has the least negative impact on a build of the recursion elements! That, or even Mistveil Plains.

Overall, the deck performed well. The Monument side of the deck was the most powerful, but everything contributed. The list was less vulnerable to mass removal or running out of gas than previous iterations of Soul Sister's decks. While the maindeck felt very powerful, I would be fearful of struggling much more with Disenchant/Naturalize effects after side boarding. All your key synergy cards are taken down with such effects and render your deck a very low powered blend of random white dorks! This is where having a slightly better aggressive plan comes in really handy! The namesake of the deck performed well. Technically you could make it turn one and be attacking with Argentum Armour on turn three, but that requires all the one drops. It was much more frequently coming out turn four or five when you lead with the Quest. This wasn't as aggressive and didn't have that lockout of the game potential that killing early land drops has, but it still did huge amounts of work. The Quest and Armour are such a neat little package I expect to be using them again in a wide selection of places, some of which I am sure will perform better than in this list. That being said, this list remains one of the solid obvious homes for Quest for the Holy Relic.

Friday 21 September 2018

Thoughts and Additions from Guilds of Ravnica

Cool set for a gold based one. Very impressed with the high degree of playability many of the gold cards offer, in particular the split cards. Also noteworthy that this set has more than usual on offer for cards that have a chance at shifting the meta. All one drop support cards but they are the workhorses of magic so it is unsurprising they hold the most power to shift a meta given they don't hold much power as cards! I didn't review any of the basic convoke dorks either, few of them are good but there many well now be enough on offer that a convoke deck is cube worthy. If so, expect cards that are less potent looking than Frogmite to get used. I am not suggesting they will come to dominate cube or anything like that, just that they could be playable and I didn't bother covering them.

With all the nuttyness of Kaladesh and Shadows Over Innistrad for power level we have seen a slow and steady decline in power level of hte subsequent sets. Guilds of Ravnica is looking to reverse that decline and starts things increasing in power again. Certainly not a high powered set but noticeably more so than other releases this year going into standard and modern. While the top end power level is low for new set it has impressively little trash cards. The average power level is decent and lots and lots of things need some testing. I expect most of it to ultimately end up in the exotic reserves but having lots to test is a great sign for a set. Sadly I imagine a lot of the stuff I am adding in with confidence will also wind up in the reserves not long after the cards in testing. Lots of it is gold and none of it is obviously over powered.

This is not the most exciting set in terms of new and different tools to play with. It has plenty of new cards but they are generally similar to tried and tested things. There is not loads I am already eager to build around with. I would say that what this set lacks in creativity it more than makes up for with clean and elegant design.

To Add

Legion Warboss
Status // Statue
Assassin's Trophy
Bounty Agent
Goblin Cratermaker
Mausoleum Secrets
Arclight Phoenix
Midnight Reaper
Vraska, Golgari Queen
Integrity // Intervention
Doom Whisperer
Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
Assure // Assemble
Discovery // Dispersal
Haazda Marshal
Tajic, Legion's Edge
Pelt Collector
Chamber Sentry

To Test with some expectation

Thought Erasure
Coclave Tribunal
Boros Challenger
Murmuering Mystic
Dream Eater
Runaway Steam-Kin
Beast Whisperer
Goblin Banneret
Lazav, the Multifarious
Knight of Autumn
Mamimize Velocity
Thief of Sanity
Etrata, the Silencer
Risk Factor
Electrostatic Field
Dawn of Hope
Experimental Frenzy
Bounty of Might
Torch Courier
Pilfering Imp

To Test with low expectations

Gruesome Managerie
Necrotic Wound
Emmara, Soul of the Accord
Unrealm Lich
Radical Idea
Find // Finality
Response // Resurgence
Sunholm Stalwart
Nullhide Ferox
Nightveil Sprite
Price of Fame
Mission Briefing
Venerated Loxodon
Conclave Cavalier
Connive // Concoct
Gird for Battle
Kraul Harpooner
Portcullis Vine
Barrier of Bones

For the Exotic Reserves 

Impervious Greatwurm
Healer's Hawk
Whisper Agent
March of the Multitudes
Izoni, Thousand-Eyed
Notion Rain
Maximise Altitude
Lava Coil
Erratic Cyclops
Truefire Captain
Invert // Invent
Thoughtbound Phantasm
Glowspore Shaman
Crackling Drake
Hunted Witness
Circuitous Route
Creeping Chill
Disinformation Campaign
Lotleth Giant
Wand of Vertebrae
Thousand-Year Storm
Urban Utopia
Fire Urchin

Guilds of Ravnica Preliminary Review Part XII

Erstwhile Trooper 1

If you want bland vanilla beaters and discard outlets then this has some merit, although not much. Otherwise it is bad. I am never playing this over Lotleth Troll so I would need to have a deck wanting both...

Plaguecrafter 3

Broadly better than Merciless Executioner type cards but still perhaps not great. This is only good when they have one thing out that you want dead and it is only great when you have something small you are happy to sac off. If you kill a walker or relevant dork and get a 3/2 for 3 mana then good times. That will be somewhat rare. Cube is typically more board stall than a lot of other formats with both sides cluttering up meaning low expected value for the Crafter. Using it as discard is poor but not useless and might even be good if it sacrifices something you want dead. This card has some reasonable utility but it is very hard to control and on the narrower side of things. It is fairly infrequent to find a planeswalker in play without other dorks with it and that makes Plaguecrafter less able to do the most exciting thing he does.

Goblin Locksmith 0

This just seems unnecessary. Defenders are not good enough to merit consideration. Just play Frenzied Goblin, or Sparksmith, or Earthshaker Khenra if you want to bypass blockers.

Drowned Secrets 3.5

Mill is very powerful in 40 card decks and this is a very good mill card for formats where all the cheap blue cantrips are found. This looks pretty naughty for a turbo mill deck, like a more potent less easily removed Hedron Crab. Mill is a bit lame to play in cubes and ruins much fun but this is quite a good mill card if you want to go down that route. There are even some corner cases you might play this as self mill but mostly you can get that on cards that do other things too.

Dawn of Hope 5

The quality of this leans rather a lot on the incidental lifegain you have in your cube. The more of it and the more in white then the better this gets. Much as I don't think I have enough to support this currently I think I easily could make it so and will probably try. This is a lovely tool for white providing a great mana sink and not the worst card advantage engine. Courser of Kruphix is great with this, Legion's Landing is pretty sweet too and also in white. Late game this gets fairly out of hand, six mana is pretty much always a card which will lead to more mana and then more dorks and more cards. This is all you really need for your late game gas. While that is great you still need it to perform in the early game as well. There are plenty of good enough late game tools that do useful early game things, most of the flip lands for one. That is why you need some incidental lifegain cards which will allow you to throw a couple of spare midgame mana into more cards. With lifegain on tap Dawn of Hope is like a really good Arguel's Blood Fast which is a fantastic place to be in cube.

Pelt Collector 7

Here we have a twist on Experiment One. Broadly speaking this is better against midrange and aggro while Experiment One is better vs control. Mostly that doesn't matter, this is the sort of thing that improves Experiment One rather than competing with it. Green stompy might have just gotten really good. Hardened Scales decks just got better too. Redundancy in high powered one drops is a big deal and so this card has one of the best chances of inducing a meta shift. Most of the control vs midrange/aggro shift is down to the effects of trample vs regenerate. The mechanism by which they grow seems closer in power level but with Pelt Collector winning out. I doubt that many death triggers will happen for Collector, it certainly won't be double the number of EtB triggers, not by a long shot. Pelt Collector will either die at the same time or before them or outgrow them or just win before either die. I think the when it dies trigger makes it look better than it is but that isn't too much of a problem as the card is easily good enough.

Camaraderie 0

Yuk. This is poor compared to something like Shamanic Revelation which itself has seen no play. Drawing cards and gaining life are at complete odds with giving your team +1/+1, either kill people with your team or milk it for value, but don't play over priced gold cards and do a half arsed job at both simultaneously. Camaraderie is better than Revelation (that of the Shaman and not of the Sphinx) only if you are exclusively using small dorks and only then if you care about the lifegain. I am pretty sure the only time I have run a card that draws cards equal to my board presence is Regal Force and despite it dwarfing cards like this it still isn't great.

Generous Sentry 1

I will mock this and talk about how +0/+1 isn't close to worth the mana this is over Elvish Visionary (or Wall of Bloss) and then I will end up playing this because I just need another cantrip dork. Sad but very plausible. This card is awful but it apparently isn't unplayable.

Chamber Sentry 6

This is no Walking Ballista but it is still very potent. I doubt you play this in a mono deck where it is pretty much a nut low Mogg Fanatic but with access to more colours it starts to get interesting quickly. I can see this winding up in a lot of places. I can see this being played in two colour decks but then because of this playing random things that add other colours so as to have this potentially hit 3 or 4 counters. Any sort of counter synergy really empowers this too. The hybrid split cards and things like this lead me to believe we are going to much more fluid builds that are rooted in a couple of colours but ultimately have access to some things in far more. This is never very powerful. Even if you have the full range of mana and can make it anything from a 1/1 to a 5/5 while also recurring it the card is only fair. The recursion is so expensive and the rest if card is sufficiently slow that you are only really doing this when you have run out of other stuff going on. A few things turn this fair card into a good one. First is simple, it gives efficient low damage output effects to non-red colours. Red was becoming overly dominant due to having the monopoly on things like Arc Trail and Forked Bolt. Being able to punish people going to town on lots of small dorks is great. It is not that say Azorius (or any other non-red colour pairing) lacks removal, they have some of the best. The issue is that it isn't the most efficient when dealing with small dorks when you also have your own. No dorks, fine, Wraths are great. Only facing some powerful dorks, then you are nicely covered with effective spot removal. Find yourself facing off against loads of little things you could really do with killing and it all goes to pot. In terms of pinging efficiency Sentry is better than Ballista, it is the ability for Ballista to do so much reactively and without mana that really makes it nuts. That and the infinite scaling it has with mana! Both Sentry and Ballista are two mana for 1 damage but to get that efficient rate Ballista has to pay twice as much up front. To get a ping and survive or to get two damage you need four mana upfront for Ballista while you only need two for Sentry. Sentry comes down bigger and quicker than Ballista and that is great. Chamber Sentry is a nicely option dense card. It has cost flexibility and once you are past summoning sickness it has a lot of ongoing options on offer. Not more than Ballista but comparing unfavourably to such potent cards is not a problem! This, if nothing else, will temper the vastly over powered nature of Mother of Runes!

Bountry of Might 5.5

Super Seeds of Strength! While this looks like a bit of a joke card I think it has some serious potential. Six mana for 9 damage is the first thing this card says to me and that is a pretty efficient return. Six is a lot less for green than other colours and so this could be a pretty legitimate finisher. Super Lava Axe! Perhaps even better than Overrun. Overrun needs you to have 3 dorks in play to represent 9 damage so it is narrower but it is also something to react to rather than reactive. You can Bounty once blockers are declared to get all 9 damage past rather than buff pre combat and let your opponent do the best blocking they can do. You can Bounty in response to removal for a potential blowout play or you can use it as a combat trick for again, a presumably blowout play. This looks like it counters mass removal based on creature size, is a one sided Wrath in combat, or it ends the game like a pair of Fireblasts. All the things it does are mentally good. It is very top end and also an aggressive card but I really can see this performing well in green despite this. Very much one for the testing and one I have some expectations of.

Urban Utopia 2

This is just a bad Abundant Growth but Growth is very playable and often very suitable. Enchantress, aura, and Estrid builds enjoy access to cards like this and so this will absolutely see some play. It won't be exciting but it will be appropriate. It think this is a bit too clunky, slow and lacking in power to get much attention in a drafting cube however.

Portcullis Vine 3.5

A reworked Wall of Mulch. Worse in functionality but cheaper and much more suitable in this new age of defenders instead of walls! This will see some play in funky brews but it shouldn't fit in drafting cubes. Too low power and not quite enough support there. The ability to cash itself in for a card almost makes it rounded enough to consider for the cube but there isn't really any builds that want such a card. As it is a one drop I'll probably give it a brief test to make sure though.

Pause for Reflection 0.5

I'm not going to rule out a potentially free spell. The thing about this is that it is a Fog and Fogs are used when you lack dorks for defense. As such, having convoke is rarely going to be a plus on a Fog. This is only better than Fog when you consistently have more than two otherwise useless dorks sitting about untapped. That feels like never in a deck wanting Fogs. Oh, and Fog is far from the best Fog so comparing poorly to Fog is a real bad place to be.

Pack's Favor 0.5

Gather Courage is usually better than this. Gather is far more often free and far easier to conceal. Combat tricks only need to be enough, they are not so rigidly defined by the numbers as burn or draw. With that I mind I think +2/+2 is fairly on the sweet spot, a Giant Growth certainly isn't 50% better in practice. The humble +2/+2 reverses most combat results and counters most size based removal and that is when a combat trick like this is best. Pack's Favor is a bit more punch, it lets you send a bit more upstairs but the added value isn't close to making up for the extra cost. Gather Courage also sees very little love due to Mutagenic Growth just being a more consistently free version.

Torch Courier 6

This is pretty good I think. It will absolutely see play all over the place from tribal goblins to certain combo decks. It is very appropriate little utility dork. It does it's thing cheaply, quickly and efficiently. The question is whether or not this is good enough for a drafting cube. My concern there is that the best cards to give haste to are typically quite bad stand alone cards as they are expensive and have a powerful attack or tap ability which accounts for much of their cost and in return makes them vulnerable to removal. As an example lets take Lord of Lineage, this is about as tame of a card as it is generally worth giving haste to. I have not had Lord in my cube for several years now as it dies so easily to so much without returning value. Unless you are going on an alpha strike turn and you just want to upgrade the 1/1 attacker into more damage I don't think that there are that many good things to haste up and that makes Torch Courier just an aggro card in my cube rather than the general support card it could be. Courier is good for early damage and the final push but not so much else. The mentor mechanic probably helps make Courier better. Mother of Runes is certainly the best card I can think of in my cube to offer haste to,  perhaps Wurmcoil Engine. All you really need is this in play and that will afford your Mother effective protection. Perhaps this will be good enough to bring in other haste giving cards like Goblin Motivator alongside cards like Krenko to take advantage of them. It is certainly a direction you could take if you wanted. An interesting card and a promising addition to the total pool of magic cards. As someone who loves to tinker with exotic decks I am very happy to see a card like this. I aim to give it every chance to succeed in my drafting cube.

Fire Urchin 2

I think there are probably iterations of the Kiln Fiend deck I would play this in. It is lower power than many of the three drop options, indeed it is lower power than the most of the one and two drops that see play! The thing is that there are few of those and durability is a big deal. The extra toughness on Urchin combined with its low deployment cost may well see it getting some play. A bit of a dull and low powered card but suitable enough.

Vicious Rumors 0.5

I feel like black has enough one mana generic discard cards that are better than this. The mill is more likely a disadvantage than a plus.`I think you have to have a list that really needs lifegain triggers for this to be interesting. I don't think the cards for such a deck exist yet although Dawn of Hope is a good start.

Pilfering Imp 5.5

I love this! It will also certainly see play in places, much like Torch Courier will. The Imp will also struggle to get a place in the drafting cube and likely much more so than the Courier. Imp is a bad Distress and it is a poor threat and those are all the things it does. It is a low enough cost card with a high enough degree of utility that I have some hopes for it. That and how starved black is for good discard and one drops, especially rounded ones. This is no Kitesail Freebooter, that is disruption and a body not one or the other. It is also a tempo play which Imp rarely achieves. You kind of need something like a Bad Moon or equipment to make the Imp a relevant tempo play. Imp appears like it is poor but it still somehow smacks of a card that will stick around in cube getting play.

Burglar Rat 2

A textually updated Ravenous Rats. Not bad, not exciting. Ravenous Rats have been out of the cube for years and getting some more redundancy isn't bringing them back. They still see very occasional play and so I assume these will too. Broadly these are better but I imagine they will be close enough in my cube that art preference will be more relevant, that or which is found first! Sure, this gets round hexproof players but if you are running a discard deck into an Ivory Mask your Rat triggering is the least of your worries.

Barrier of Bones 3

Not an exciting card nor a powerful one. It might however just work out to be appropriate. If you want self mill, bodies to sacrifice and you feel you need a bit more early defense and setup then this card is a perfect fit. It is a really nice tool to have for deck refining purposes. I can really see me running this in a number of places. It can single handedly setup a Recurring Nightmare. It is one of blacks only general card quality tools as well. This is too low powered and a little too niche for the drafting cube but it is surprisingly close. I will test this fully expecting it to be unplayably low power yet would still not be shocked if it saw action and performed.

Thursday 20 September 2018

Guilds of Ravnica Preliminary Review Part XI

Charnel Troll 0.5

It's a trap! Certainly this is big and mean but it needs a lot of support. There are bigger and meaner beaters that needs support to work and most of those play well with others. Corpse Troll needs support and then eats that support so that it can't support others. Corpse Troll is very all in. It is also powerful but you have to be incredibly careful about what build you are putting him in. Very few, if any lists at all, will be suitable for Corpse Troll and some of those that might appear to be good homes will actually be the worst. Imagine investing five mana and two cards into this so as to have it attack as a 6/6 on turn three or four only to eat a removal spell. Go for the Throat becomes a Time Stretch.

Citywide Bust 0.5

The other Retribution of the Meek. Citywide Bust is likely the better aggressive tool as aggressive decks fear toughness more than power and play power over toughness themselves. That being said, what aggressive deck is going to play 3 mana sorcery speed situational removal? This will frequently not do what you need, far more often than you will get a two for one or better with it. So, even though this is probably more suitable than Retribution it will see as much play, which is none. If I am really going to put Wrath effects in my aggressive decks I am likely going to try and make Dusk // Dawn work as it offers so much more. I have only talked about aggressive lists because no sane person is playing these partial Wrath effect cards in a white control deck when you have actual Wraths at four and things like Wingshards at three. Especially ones that only hit bigger dorks. A partial Wrath for a control deck would hit small stuff if it was good, like Pyroclasm.

Risk Factor 4

I like this a lot! I have always liked Browbeat and this is better. Now in this case like and good are very different things. Very few punisher cards are good and Browbeat wasn't really one of those. It was played but infrequently if I recall. Basically although both 5 damage and 3 cards were amazing returns on your 3 mana it was always a bit of a Meditate. Obviously you didn't skip your next turn but as a burn deck spending a turn to draw 3 instead of doing damage was akin to skipping your turn. Things were often a straight race with far less interaction and so by not doing damage with 3 mana and a card you were giving your opponent the chance to win. Browbeat efficiently did what you didn't want it to in an unhelpful way! Now games are more interactive, you have more stalls, more outs and there is just a lot more going on. I can imagine Browbeat being better than it once was. Risk Factor being better than Browbeat has a real chance at being playable in the current state of play. 4 damage at 3 mana is still an OK return, it is very efficient on cards and not the worst in mana efficiency. Instant is a big deal and jump-start is huge. If you are on 8 life and I have this in my hand it is going to be bad for you! I am getting 3 new cards, perhaps 6. It is just so much that is forces the issue. Discarding this to a Faithless Looting or Tormenting Voice early will be really great as well. That option to convert a dud into 3 new cards or 4 damage at any time will be great. Kind of like having both a Firebolt and a Faithless Looting in the bin and although your opponent gets to pick which one they play the significantly greater power offsets that rather. It means in a lot of cases you will know what you are going to get. The worst thing I have to say about this card is that it is linear, you only play it in face red decks and it only really offers you one way to threaten. When you need a creature or planeswalker to eat the burn you will regret playing Risk Factor. I think it will be this narrowness of purpose combined with relatively high cost compared to the good cards with the same purpose that sees this not performing in cube. This is no Lava Spike! Too powerful not to test but I am not expecting great things. You cannot play this in midrange decks, you always have to have that face damage be relevant and uncomfortable. Much as this looks good I think that unless you are using the discard outlet potential from the Jump-Start on Risk Factor that any list containing it will be able to made more consistent and streamlined without it in them.

Light of the Legion 0

Rubbish. It might have quite a lot of power but it is all in places that don't work well on the card, be that for cost or theme reasons.

Beamsplitter Mage 1

Far too narrow for most drafting cubes but some potential in a finely crafted Kiln-Fiend style deck. If you have enough things that buff dorks then this starts to look like good value. Things like Shadow Rift and Slip Through Space are my personal favourites but Titan's Strength and the like should also pack a big punch. Become Immense could be game ending. Needing this and another dorks and good creature buffs makes it all feel a big magic cloud land and a bit win more but there is too much potential for me to disregard the Mage.

Mnemonic Betrayal 1

This is basically Yawmoth's Will for their yard rather than yours. Is that somehow better? No, not at all. Gonti using your opponents cards is better because he allows for the card to be played later. When Will is good it is because you are packing loads of cards open to abuse like Dark Ritual, Black Lotus, perhaps just Petals, whatever it is you have tailored your deck around having Will be nuts. If you just throw Will into a midrange deck you quickly see how bad it is compared to Eternal Witness. You rarely get a two for one with it and you rarely get value what with anything you do having to come after the three mana for nothing in playing the Will. So, Betrayal is just going to be Will when used badly. It is going to get you one very overpriced card most of the time and really blow. Sometimes it will get you a couple of overpriced cards. If you can somehow make a Dimir deck that gets well into double figures of mana then this would be a good addition but with normals levels of mana this will be painfully weak.

Electrostatic Field 4

This is just a bad Thermo-Alchemist. You gain a toughness but you lose damage output. After summoning sickness subsides Alchemist is doing one per turn regardless which Field fails to do. If you do nothing so does your Field. While this is probably too low powered for the drafting cube it is probably still potent enough to be worth running in any deck built to abuse the cards with triggers like these. They have proven to be some of the best red and Izzet aggressive strategies. So much so that this might well actually last in cube, key support cards for strong archetypes can get away with being well below the curve. This might be a weak card, power level wise it shouldn't make the cube but it might well do so due to the meta and if it does it likely has a more pronounced effect on the meta than most other cards manage.

Tajic, Legion's Edge 6.5

Power wise this guy is pretty far pushed. Three different positive things on a card is usually when that card has too much to ignore for cube and this fellow has four things! A 3/2 haste is nearly playable. First strike potential on a high power creature is a win. Mentor on a high powered haste dork means Tajic is more often than not providing four power extra on an attack right away. That is huge. Tajic is an outstanding mentor dork. His damage protection ability is the hardest to gauge of the four but given that Tajic is already pretty tasty before we even get to that I am not overly worried. I think Boros will have a much greater pull to it with new Aurelia and other sauce from the set and that will afford Tajic enough opportunity to see play which is all he needs to perform. Tajic is very much a card where power is not the issue! So anyway, how good do I think the damage protection is? Fairly low impact but not irrelevant I would say. It means Tajic is just the first thing to die to damage based removal which is probably what would happen anyway. If you can Shock an aggressive three drop to death you feel great about it. the ability will be utterly filthy in combination with Mother of Runes against some decks. Unfairly so. It is not just red burn Tajic protects from, there is damage all over the place in small amounts. Plenty on artifacts, some on planeswalkers, some on fight effects, some getting redirected. Most colours do have the ability to deal damage to creatures. It is a significantly worse version of what Shalia, Voice of Plenty does, which is usually just a bit of inconvenience but sometimes game breaking. With Shalia the inconvenience she offers is enough to carry her well into the ranks of playable. If Tajic is even a tenth as good in that area (which is probably a reasonable estimate for what it will be) then it will be a decent boost to the power of the card overall. Tajic is just a very solid, rounded, high power level on theme beater. He will even typically leave some residual value in the form of +1/+1 counters once dead and gone. A lot more card than Ahn-Crop Crasher which itself is a good and playable little beater.

Flower // Flourish 1

This is a bit low power in either mode. Much as I love a one mana find a land card this is a whole lot worse than too many other cards doing that. You have to actively want the top end for this card to appeal. If you want some low end fixing and thinning there are many better alternatives in both green and white sufficient that this shouldn't ever come up on a radar purely for Flower. The only decks that would want Flourish are token decks but at 20% more to cast than Overrun arguably doing under half the work I can't really see that being exciting. As such, you need to have a tokens deck that needs a half land card and a little bit more reach at the top end. This is playable as a piece of fine tuning in one specific archetype. An unfortunate place to be if you want to see a lot of action. Marginal, low powered and narrow cards mostly gather dust.

Experimental Frenzy 5

So this is a red Future Sight that costs one less. It does have a downside but it seems like it has more upside. Red is a far better colour for this effect than blue. This is potentially quite a legitimate card draw tool for some burn lists. With a low enough curve you are only going to be limited by seeing lands too often. That can be mitigated fairly easily with shuffle effects, draw effects and specific cards like Divining Top. You can even pair this with green cards and use extra land drop mechanics to really milk this for value. Nothing sounds more juicy than having this in play and a library full to the brim with Shocks and Bolts! Probably yet another one too narrow for the drafting cube but close enough and cool enough that it is absolutely getting an extended trial period in which to prove itself.