Saturday 1 September 2018

Top 10 Cards from 2015

Monastery MentorI’m finding that the more recent years are increasingly harder to do, as the cards are better designed, there are far more good cards and far less over powered ones. I had to leave out so many things from this list that I would consider staple cube cards. Of the 37 things I currently have in my cube from 2015, there is a lower range than for most years preceding it. Further to this, it is still very much a bell curve distribution, making most of them basically as good as each other. To be able to differentiate between very similar power level cards but incomparable effects takes a long time and is highly sensitive to meta changes. With the frequency of new content released, I can't say Ive ever felt overly confident ranking the median cards in cube and median cards is what we mostly seem to have in 2015. That may sound like a poor year, but it is much more to do with total contribution than individual card power and for that, 2015 is a solid performer. Also good card design (and thus good games) has an inverse relationship with cards being over powered - the best cards for play all lie close to the power curve. While not as heavily influenced by commander as some years, there is still a significantly higher ratio of commander cards hitting the cube and the top ten of cards than the other sets, relative to their set sizes. Other than Commander 2015, the year was comprised of Fate Reforged, Dragons of Tarkir, Magic: Origins and Battle for Zendikar. Here are the cards from those sets which didn't make the top ten,although many of them felt like they should have;

Tasigur, the Golden FangNissa,  Vastwood Seer /
Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh /
Surrak, the Hunt Caller
Liliana, Heretical Healer /
Kytheon, Hero of Akros /
Hangarback Walker
Monastery Mentor
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Battle Lands
Lumbering Falls
Abbot of Keral Keep
Daxos' Torment
Righteous Confluence
Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
Anafenza, Kin Tree Spirit
Archangel of Tithes
Assault Formation
Hangarback WalkerAtarka's Command
Avaricious Dragon
Avatar of the Resolute
Carrier Thrall
Catacomb Sifter
Chief of the Foundry
Collected Company
Collateral Damage
Dark Petition
Demonic Pact
Den Protector
Dragonlord Atarka
Dragonlord Dromoka
Dragonlord Silumgar
Dragonlord Ojutai
Drana, Liberator of Malakir
Dromoka's Command
Drowner of Hope
Dromoka's CommandEvolutionary Leap
Expedition Envoy
Eldrazi Skyspawner
Flamewake Phoenix
Frost Walker
Ghirapur Aether Grid
Gurmag Angler
Hallowed Moonlight
Harbinger of Tides
Hedron Archive
Hidden Dragonslayer
Icefall Regent
Impact Tremors
Inspiring Call
Jaddi Offshoot
Ire Shaman
Jeskai Sage
Jessian Theif
Ob Nixilis ReignitedLightning Berserker
Mage Ring Network
Magmatic Insigt
Molten Vortex
Managorge Hydra
Mardu Woe Reapre
Mardu Strike Leader
Narset Transcendant
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Oblivion Sower
Ojutai's Command
Outpost Seige
Pressure Point
Pyromancer's Goggles
Rally the Ancestors
Ruinous Path
Sarkhan Unbroken
Secure the Wastes
Zurgo BellstrikerSilumgar's Command
Soulfire Grandmaster
Starfield of Nyx
Stratus Dancer
Sultai Emissary
Temporal Trespass
Temur Battlerage
Thopter Engineer
Thunderbreak Regent
Transgress the Mind
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Valorous Stance
Vryn Wingmare
Warden of the First Tree
Wild Slash
Whisperwood Elemental
Whisperer of the Wilds
Yasova Dragonclaw
Zurgo Bellstriker
Zulaport Cutthroat

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar10. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

This version of Gideon never achieved in cube what he did in standard. He is solid in cube, but nothing to get overly excited about. I find it relatively hard to keep him safe. Due to not wanting to attack with 5/5 Gideon if you are behind on the board, you tend to just churn out 2/2s and as such you never work up a buffer of loyalty. Evasion and direct damage are what deal with planeswalker well in cube and Ally of Zendikar is vulnerable to both. When ahead, the card is a beating - he makes a 2/2 and then starts beating you up with the 2/2 and his unkillable 5/5 self. Either that, or he just makes a permanent and game ending Glorious Anthem. The Anthem utility is OK when you are behind, but it is a fairly long term plan at that point and likely only a good option because your Gideon will slowly die anyway. I rate Ally of Zendikar roughly the same as Garruk Relentless. Certainly Gideon is a little more powerful, with more starting loyalty, but he is less useful to the colour with plenty of other Anthem and creature production options. Relentless is a removal option in green, which is rare, and ups his value if not his actual power. Gideon gets play for his raw power, rather than for any specific role. A big part of what makes Gideon good in cube is that he combines with Knight-Errant to ensure white has high-tempo, top-rate planeswalkers in the four slot. Redundancy and consistency allow for planning, and planning well gives you a big edge.

Shambling Vent9.    Shambling Vent

This is the best of all the enemy colour manlands, however not by anywhere near as big of a spread as for the original five. All the enemy colour manlands are better than Lavaclaw Reaches, but none are better than Raging Ravine. Basically, they all sit fairly closely to Stirring Wildwood in power. Vent is perhaps the least underrated. Fumarole and Needle Spire are potent cards and even Hissing Quagmire does some useful stuff and yet they all seem to be regarded as weak. Obviously, everything seems weak compared to Colonnade and Tar Pit! Despite that large discrepancy, Vent is a great land. It offers the biggest life swing per mana used of all the dual manlands and it does so safely. The life makes you safe and the 3 toughness makes it relatively safe. Low animation cost makes it useful more often and available sooner in the game, if needs be. Pretty much most bad dual lands and bad man lands are useful and playable to some extent. Vent isn't the worst dual land and it is one of the better man lands all together, resulting in a solid old card.

Fiery Confluence8.   Fiery Confluence

This was the first, and remains one of few, red utility cards that is actually good. Fiery confluence is certainly expensive for a utility card, but the various effects it has are so potent that four is a good price. Six to the face is all sorts of better than Lava Axe. It represents an always relevant mode, it affords a lot of reach and it needs to be respected. Due to how clean Fiery Confluence is whenever you are expecting it, your life total somewhat starts at 14. You will avoid going to 6 or less, because it could mean sudden death. Confluence brings that Daze-like quality of having value without ever needing to be an option, perhaps even in the deck! That is also just the Lava Axe mode. Being a Starstorm of X = 1 to 3 is also great. It gives mass removal options to decks not suitable to run a card that is only mass removal, it gives control in mass removal effect allowing you to play creatures and break the symmetry, or simply respond efficiently to the situation. It is only an OK mass removal card, but given that it is on the back of a card that has several other good applications, that is a huge win. Shatter is, of course, a great thing to have as an option with it being amazing when good and dead much of the rest of the time. Two powerful but situational modes and one powerful but always usable mode is the best setup you can have on a three mode card.

7.   Mystic Confluence
Mystic Confluence 
The poor man's Cryptic Command! That, however, does not stop it being a pretty potent spell. At base level, it is Jace's Ingenuity which is an underrated draw card. You generally take the draw three mode when you have nothing to disrupt from your opponent and it reaches the end of their turn. Ideally, you want to bounce a big useless dork like a Wurmcoil, or counter a spell and draw some cards. A big part of what keeps this fair is that Mana Leak is missing a lot of things by the point in the game Mystic Confluence is getting cast. When you have to double Leak something, your end product of Dismiss for five feels less great. Equally, if you are just under loads of pressure and need to bounce three things just to stay alive, you don't really feel like you pulled ahead, just bought yourself some time at the cost of one of your big cards. This certainly got a load more powerful with the printing of Torrential Gearhulk, but it was plenty good enough before. Lots of utility, lots of core effects and a decent baseline all add up to give a strong card. When it is sat in your hand, you not only feel safe, but you also feel like you have a game plan. Cryptic makes you safer, but it doesn't offer you the "I am just going to draw three and that will win me the game" element to be working towards.

Pia and Kiran Nalaar6.   Pia and Kiran Nalaar

The new Siege-Gang Commander. The Nalaar parents are better than the classic goblin Commander, in part, because they are cheaper and thus get to impact the game sooner. The flying tokens are also supremely good and make up most of the rest of the reason they are superior. The only real downside is that you have to pay more to sac for two damage. While both have a lot of synergy potential, goblin synergy is focused into solely goblin decks, while artifact synergies are to be found across a broad spectrum of decks. While Gang comes with a potential for 8 damage worth of sacrificed goblins all by itself, compared to the 4 of Pia and Kiran, you are generally able to find plenty of artifacts to sacrifice beyond the thopters. Indeed, you don't really want to sac off the thopters, a 1/1 flyer is surprisingly relevant in cube. Fliers are fantastic and feel generally more relevant than 2/2 (and even 3/3) tokens later on in a stalled game. Fliers tend to stay relevant at all stages of the game. So, we are ideally using the ability on artifacts other than our thopters. This can be clues and treasure tokens, the lesser ground based 1/1 servo tokens that crop up, Talisman and Signets past their best, a Mox (ideally an unimprinted one!) and so forth. As is so often the case, the best things to turn into Shocks are Chromatic Star and Terrarion, as they cost you so little total resources. Pia and Kiran Nalaar improve things like Galvanic Blast all the way to Bushwhackers, while themselves also being improved by Chromatic Star all the way to Wurmcoil Engine. Despite their abundant synergies, the card is outstanding all by itself. It is a complete all rounder offering good offence, good defense, and a tonne of options. It has reach and removal potential. It offers loads of value in the face of spot removal and even some compensation against mass removal, if you have mana up. It is enough of a card to be able to force a Wrath by itself, in a lot of cases. It is a safe thing to curve out into and remains good when ripped late into the game. Although it takes a little more time than with a card like Bloodbraid Elf, you stand to gain both value and tempo with Pia and Kiran Nalaar fighting for you.

Whirler Rogue5.   Whirler Rogue

This is a fantastic dork. Its not just one of the best armies in a can but it is blue, a colour otherwise pretty devoid of cards like this. Rogue has good stats for the mana and goes wide, making it good defense and good value. The extensive evasion offered by Rogue also makes it a great offensive card. The token and artifact elements give it decent synergy, too. Hard to go wrong with this. It stabilizes well against aggression, and handles planeswalkers well while protecting your own. It has the ability to offer immediate effect by forcing something through, and that makes it even better planeswalker control. While Rogue is not more powerful than Pia and Kiran Nalaar, the activiated ability (and only difference bar the cost to the cards) being no mana and instantly useful makes it have greater impact in cube, simply through happening sooner and more often. This, combined with blue having no solid alternatives while red has endless strong three-, four-and five-drop dorks, is why I rate the less powerful of the pair higher on the top ten list. It is simply more desirable, more frequently played and more frequently uses its activated ability. Not only does Whirler Rogue get played a lot more, but it is also cast more per play than Pia and Kiran Nalaar. Blue decks dig to it faster and have less in the way of things they might play instead. Further to that, the card is so good in blue decks that it gets bounced and recast fairly regularly for another round of Thopters.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
4.   Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

This is one of those few cards that is just so powerful it almost transcends mana cost. There are very few situations Ugin doesn't sort out with ease and then go on to win from. I only have two cards in my whole cube that (always) cost more than seven and Ugin is one of them. If you can limp your way to eight mana, then there is a good chance Ugin will turn the game for you. It is lovely to be able to play a card that is both a threat and an answer (a really, really good answer!). Ugin is the mass removal version of Karn Liberated. He is safer, being better at removal, and he is more of a threat because a Bolt every turn races restarting the game! Ugin is such a strong card, I frequently use it as a point of interest when a card is especially good when going up against it, such as Thought-Knot Seer or Nissa, Worldwaker. The tragedy of Ugin in cube is that despite the ease of getting to his ulti, it is actually rarely good to use. The card draw is too much at that point in the game and it is not like you are shy on mana with Ugin already in play and the most expensive thing you can have! I have only seen it be good for the lifegain, which is pretty laughable. Gain seven and risk decking myself, just so this red player doesn't rip a Shock and win! Turns out that with two of the best abilities otherwise found on walkers, it really doesn't matter that the third isn't a winner.

Wretched Confluence3.  Wretched Confluence

It came as a surprise to me that this was the best of the Confluence cycle. I was expecting the Grixis ones to all shine, but I had them in reverse order for how they would perform in cube. Certainly the Fiery is best in constructed, but somehow Wretched is the thing for cube. One thing it has over the others is effectively four modes. You can force your opponent to lose up to three life - it may sound super-corner-case, but it really hasn't been. We are not quite a double figures for killing blows with Wretched Confluence yet, but we are not far off. Throw in the couple that have lead to mill victories and I think Wretched Confluence is in double figures. The three intended options are all really good, as well. Drawing cards is great, obviously, and the efficiency is decent enough. Raise Dead is situational, but often more powerful than drawing a card. Between those two modes, it ensures you have the right kind of value for both the mid- and late-game. Any deck leaning on any kind of creature for synergy or just finishing the game will be greatly reinforced simply by the ability to recur it from Confluence. The removal option is the real champion of this card, though. The other modes are both value and not tempo. Disfigure doesn't sound great, it sounds pretty ripped off when you think that blue got Mana Leak, painless draw and Unsummon which are more rounded abilities with higher CMC! It turns out not to matter, as again, Wretched seems to get double utility. Just as a pure removal spell Wretched Confluence is great, as it feels like a one sided Wrath a lot of the time. It can kill wide or tall and does a really good job of clearing out enough things you care about to swing the tide. Where it gets really filthy is when you get to use it in combat and it is like you get to fire off a couple of Seeds of Strength. All their dorks shrink to just the wrong sizes and you destroy their position with disgusting efficiency.

Kolaghan's Command2.   Kolaghan's Command

A fantastic card, as clearly demonstrated by how commonly it is seen in the both modern and legacy. It is one of the easiest cards to get you a two-for-one. It does so cheaply, it does a good job of said two-for-one often gaining tempo, and it provides a wealth of utility. A perfect blend of situational and general effects all add up to make this an all round winner. You play it in control,as it is such a fantastic example of what you want from a control card, however you play it in midrange and aggro too because the card is just so great. It is not just a card you play 100% of the time (in my non-combo cube) when you are in BR, but it is also a card that pulls you into that colour pairing. I splash for this a lot, as do others. I think it was pretty much Command that put Rakdos on the map and catapulted the associated duals from one of the lowest of the ten pairings to one of the more exciting ones. Never bad and often devastating. Pure filth with creatures that recur it!

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy1.   Jace, Vryn's Prodigy / Jace, Telepath Unbound

If you take equal parts Snapcaster Mage and Search for Azcanta, this happy Jace-like midpoint is where you will end up. Not such assured long term value and quality as Search and not quite the immediacy of Snapcaster, which is why you see a bit less of him in constructed where the extreme ends of the spectrum are typically where you want cards positioned. In cube, however,where you want cards to be that bit more rounded or middle of the road, little Jace excels. There really isn't anything to dislike about the card. A 0/2 looter for 1U is a good baseline and arguably makes him the best tap to loot cards on offer, simply from surviving ping effects. Most decks enjoy the card quality and synergy of looting. Most decks also enjoy getting to recast their spells and having decent planeswalkers in play, which only cost them two mana! Being able to manipulate what card you have after a loot is nice, as well. A Jace that lives past summoning sickness becomes doubly hard to kill, as he can flop to a planeswalker at instant speed a lot of the time. You can also prevent him flipping if you want more loots, or would be unable to protect him, with delve effects and other graveyard manipluation. Lots of trickery, lots of options and lots of power. What is truely great about Jace is that despite all this, he is still pretty well designed. The power he offers comes slowly and so there is no real way to abuse him and plenty of counter play. Jace serves as a perfect example of how you can cram unreasonable amounts of power into a card without it being a problem, or oppressive. A design win, a flavour win and a game play win. Magic done right.

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