Wednesday 28 November 2018

Punisher Rakdos .dec

Risk FactorLargely this deck is inspired by the redundancy brought to us with Risk Factor bringing out total of cards like that to three. Punisher mechanics are usually poor for the obvious reason that you don't want to give choices to your opponents. When you are able to align the theme of the deck with the options in the punisher cards they rather jump up in power. No result is bad pretty much regardless of situation. This list does that nicely and then takes the punishment theme a little further than just cards that directly give an option to the opponent like Risk Factor. It also includes all the classic red effects that do damage if you perform certain actions. This list is therefore nicely all round flavoured in the punishment sense. It is Rakdos too which feels like the guild most likely to be into punishment!

Basically this is just a burn deck as found in modern. Pretty good but pretty linear. With all the draw three effects at the top of the curve it tends to go a little longer than a pure burn list and as such the various ongoing damage sources gain a little value. Cube also goes on a little longer than modern. Here is the Rakdos Punisher list;

25 Spells
Vexing Devil
Vexing Devil
Goblin Guide
Monastery Swiftspear
Soul-Scar Mage

Grim Lavamancer

Lightning Bolt
Chain Lightning
Lava Spike
Shard Volley

Forked Bolt
Rift Bolt
Black Vise

Sword-Point DiplomacyBump in the Night

Harsh Mentor
Eidolon of the Great Revel
Ankh of Mishra

Sovereign's Bite

Risk Factor
Sulfuric Vortex
Rampaging Ferocidon

Sword-Point Diplomacy


15 Lands

7x Basic Mountains (with another 4 across duals and sacland)
BR Duals

Ankh of MishraThat is not actually the exact list I ran. I cut the Black Vise and Ankh of Mishra because I find those cards polar. They lead to poor games either totally winning them or being complete blanks pretty much entirely down to chance and with little options presented. I also couldn't find a Bite! As such I ran three Incinerate effects all of which were obviously fine includes all be it less punisher in feel. Although it might have been a little less powerful this change did make my version rather more consistent. I wasn't in need of any card quality effects which this list looks like it would appreciate a little more. I also wonder a little if the creature count needs bringing back a little what with so little of the burn being able to clear a path for your attackers. Small beaters lose value rapidly if you can't burn away the smaller blockers.
Harsh Mentor

These isn't loads to say about this deck. Burn is a well known archetype and strategy with plenty of literature support. It is pretty easy to assess the power of the different burn cards as well due to how well most of them translate into math. This version of burn does well for both power and flavour. It is probably one of the better directions to take a Rakdos burn deck in with the various new additions. It is not however an archetype you really want to support so heavily in a draft cube. The face only burn cards are too narrow and so a more typical creature heavier RDW style of list is the way to go there. I can see this being a strong way to go in a rotisserie style event where you can select appropriate punisher and hoser cards as the meta commands. Things like Price of Progress and Pyrostatic Pillar can be utterly devastating against the right thing but they can also be underwhelming.

Friday 23 November 2018

Winners and Losers from Guilds of Ravnica

Defiant StrikeSignal Pest and Defiant Strike (also Walking Ballista and Elspeth, Knight-Errant) - winners

So these are all winners due to the mentor mechanic. I put the latter two in brackets as they didn't really need the help, they were total bombs to start with! The former however were more borderline cards that are clearly seeing more action and doing more work than they used to. This bit could literally include all the dorks with low power and evasion, all the dorks that have synergy with +1/+1 counters and all the effects that buff power and/or give evasion. All such things have favourable interactions with mentor and mentor is proving quite a strong mechanic.

Integrity // InterventionIntegrity // Intervention - win

I knew this would be good but it has been even better! Easily the most played card in the set so far finding its way into most red or white decks (yes, that is an "or" not an "and"!) alongside some random duals. I have been more than happy to include City of Brass as one such piece of fixing solely for this lovely split card. To be fair, most of my play with the new cards has been sealed deck and in sealed you have many more random duals to afford such splashes. Combat tricks are very powerful and afford huge tempo swings which is exactly what both red and white aggressive decks want to do. The issue with combat tricks has always been their situational nature which this solves with a nice Lightning Helix Option. The issue with gold cards has always been how narrow they are but with this having hybrid mana you can splash it with no direct risk. It is about as playable as a gold card gets and about as playable as a combat trick gets. Oddly, the thing that makes me love this card more than anything else is the feeling I have when this is in my hand. I just feel safe and confidant. It is like having a Cryptic or Kolaghan's Command in your hand. You just feel covered for what might get thrown at you. It is your ace in hole.

Sunhome StalwartSunholm Stalwart - win

This came as a surprise to me. I only put it in the cube to hasten my understanding of mentor, I had no expectation of this remaining in the cube. After playing with it however I am all over it. It feels like one of the best mentor cards for cube. Obviously it lacks the power of the gold legends but being a mono coloured two drop it is significantly more playable and that counts for a lot in cube. First strike makes this scary to get into combat with, pump, removal and that sort of thing lead to even bigger blowouts that usual. You want your mentor dorks to be able to attack and without fear of death and Stalwart does that very well indeed. He feels better than Boros Challenger which I really didn't expect. In terms of play and power I put him around Precinct Captain. Both bring comparable stats to bear in a comparable time frame with the same bodies. Each is a little better at a few things and with a few things. If I were to only have one of those cards in my cube I would presently be cutting the Captain although I am happy enough making room for both currently.

Midnight ReaperMidnight Reaper - win

Really good but can be a little scary. In the close games you occasionally send this to an early death just so that a mass removal spell isn't actually fatal what with the life loss and card draw not being optional! What makes this card so fantastic is that it is essentially a Phyrexian Rager with an extra power as it's floor. The worst this is is better than a fairly playable card. If Reaper lives for a couple of turns the value he generates is typically game winning. This makes him a high value target but unless you get him with premium exile removal that is going to be a relatively cheap two for one in the Reaper playsers favor. Nice types as well!

Status // Statue - win

Much like Intergrity // Intervention this has seen a bunch of play and been solid. It is not quite so playable nor quite so desirable but none the less it has proven to be well worthy of the cube with all the same sorts of qualities, just to a lesser extent. Status // Statue makes for really hard in game choices I have been finding. For a one shot card this is about as option dense as you get. That being said I have used the cheap mode significantly more than the four mana mode. Both typically win up killing creatures!

Conclave TribunalConclave Tribunal - win

Not really better that much better than an Oblivion Ring on average however way more flexible and with a nice high ceiling that affords some potent tempo shifting plays. Adds a nice dynamic edge to removal in white that is usually very inflexible and dull. The card is fine and fair but more interesting which is enough to earn it a spot over Ring and company in my books.

Bounty Agent - lose

This is still holding on in the cube but I am not being blown away by it at all and imagine I will do away with it soon. It keeps being way too slow of an answer or way to limp of a threat. Make this on turn two and it will just get killed or easily played around such that it is not relevant as a removal spell. Then you just paid a card and two mana for a Bear with vigilance. A long long way from the cube par. I went off it rather when it came up against a Jitte and horribly lost due to not preceding the
Jitte by a whole two turns... When you fail to be a useful answer against the things you are supposed to answer it is looking good.

Pilfering ImpPilfering Imp - big win

This is one of those surprise cards that has outdone my expectation and already earned itself a long term home in the cube. It is just so versatile and so cheap. Black lacks for one drops and this is a fine one for most kinds of deck. It might be low potency for the cost of a card but it is a bit like Thraben Inspector in that regard. You can cash it in for a cards worth of value when the time suits. Imp gets you on the board for little cost both in cards, potential and mana. It threatens to disrupt and indeed often does! Unlike most other hand disruption cards it is never a dead card as it is at least still Flying Man. Another huge perk to Imp is how much creature recursion there is kicking about. Having such a cheap disruptive tool to get back is amazing. It is far harder to play around than the likes of Ravenous Rats and far more useful as a recursion target than something like a Kitesail Freebooter.

Torch CourierTorch Courier - lose

Still a card that is going to see a load of play but only in constructed decks with a lot of synergy going on. In the drafting cube this is too low powered of a card to be worth playing. There is not enough out there that is willing to pay a card to gain haste. As utility this is too much cost and as threat  it is too low powered.

Maximise Velocity - lose

Almost the exact same things apply to this as they do for Torch Courier. It will be seeing some mild play in constructed as a support card but for drafts it is far too weak and narrow.

Kraul HarpoonerKraul Harpooner - lose

As expected this card just isn't what the people want. If you want beaters there are many better, the same of which is entirely true for removal of fliers. The decks that want one thing don't want the other and so this low powered pseudo-modal card appeals no where despite the reasonably high power.

Arclight Phoenix - lose

Like Torch Courier this is just too narrow. When you don't have much chance of recurring it then it is pretty poor. Ideally you want ways to get it in the bin as well. This asks a lot of deck design and makes it very much on the narrow end of the spectrum. The base stats and abilities are simply not good enough for the cost and that is what you get without the onerous supporting synergies. In tailored decks like Runaway red the Phoenix is obviously fantastic. There are many potent uses for this card but cube limited isn't a likely place for such things to go down at all consistently.

Vraska, Golgari QueenVraska, Golgari Queen - big win

Very impressive walker. Vraska gives loads of good options and feels very like Teferi (the good one) while in play. Both either grow and gain value or pay loyalty to deal with a wide array of problem permanents. Vraska can jump to 6 loyalty off the bat which is pretty huge for a four drop walker, especially a green one that can easily be deployed on turn three. She can also just protect herself, or you, with her removal mode allowing her to retain her versatility across a much broader ranger of board states that you might play her into. Her ultimate is dangerous as well and not all that hard to get to with a safe cheap walker and a +2 ability. Broadly her other abilities are so good that you rarely need the ultimate. The life gain on the +2 further works towards to all round safety Vraska brings. The sacrifice element can also be turned into a perk with cards like Liliana, Heretical Healer. It works very well in the various archetypes for the colour combination. Vraska is a significant pull to black green, not that they needed it.

Haazda MarshalMausoleum Secrets - lose

As expected, this is too narrow and too easily disrupted. As it fails to get lands it isn't even that good of a consistency tool. I would absolutely rather run Discovery // Dispersal in my black decks for improved consistency, it is not even close. Secrets is only going to have a place in the most specific of combo decks a bit like Infernal Tutor.

Haazda Marshal -  lose

Although I have a tonne of support for this little dude he is just too weak. Getting that 1/1 to survive combat is simply too hard on top of having to have at least 2 other dudes also attacking. The average outcome is less value than Hunted Witness which is a pretty poor place to be. You can high roll with Marshal and that will win some games but it is pretty win more. Turns out a vanilla 1/1 in combat is just really really low value. Who knew?

Goblin BanneretGoblin Banneret -  lose

Just too much of a three mana card. This doesn't curve well nor represent much in the way of tempo or threat. Early this is just a 1/1, late it is typically just a delayed and overpriced +1/+1 counter (Battlegrowth). Like Marshal, this needed to be more than a 1/1 in combat. It needed to do more on its own or more without mana investments.

Legion Warboss - big win

No real shock here. Rabblemaster is great, this is basically the same but a little bit better. The real kicker is that Warboss makes Rabblemaster better and vice versa. Having that token production redundancy has been really huge for red and seen to a big uptick in red token based strategies. It turns out not forcing your other goblins to attack has been much more significant of a difference than I though and has made Warboss the red token generator of choice.

Risk FactorRisk Factor - win

This outperformed expectation due to the potential burst in cube. If facing a red player being on anything less than or near 10 life is a pretty scary place to be. So many combinations of cards will just end you on the spot or put you on a one turn clock or something. It is super rare that the four damage can be comfortably eaten and almost never that the next four can as well, lifegain has to be involved for that. Being instant and being something you can pitch to a loot and still expect some useful returns later all work massively in Risk Factors favour. You don't need to be pure aggro to run it, it is hard hitting enough on its own just with the threat of being red that it seems to carry itself. It works very nicely with prowess too.

Runaway Steam-KinRunaway Steam-Kin - mild lose

While very powerful the Steam-Kin loses out in cube mostly down to narrowness. Unless you are mono red the Steam-Kin is neither punchy or reliable enough. Being only good in mono red cuts the play significantly from what a 1R card of Steam-Kin's power level should get. The other mild issue for Steam-Kin in cube is that it is even less likely to get a mono red deck with all the synergies that really push it. Steeam-Kin is just a good card in mono red, it is not until you have mono red with access to lots of card draw as well that Steam-Kin gets really nuts. In standard you have multiple copies of Experimental Frenzy and potentially also Risk Factor to really abuse the card but in cube even if you get all the good red draw effects you still only get one of each.

Experimental FrenzyExperimental Frenzy - mild lose

While still a great card I have been less impressed with Frenzy than the hype around the card lead me to expect. It is much like Steam-Kin in that it is just a little bit narrow to be a great drafting cube card. While you can play Frenzy in decks with more colours than just red it is not that exciting of a prospect. Most other colours can offer card advantage and typically in a less restrictive way. Frenzy can only be sensibly run in low curve decks meaning you are only running it in aggro or combo decks, ideally the former as you also want to be fairly redundant while using Frenzy. An aggro only four drop, especially a pure card advantage one, is a dodgy place to be. There are loads of great four drops for aggro decks that are not aggro only cards. There are also plenty of card advantage cards that are playable in a wider array of places. Frenzy would need to be unfair levels of good rather than just the very good it is to make up for all these cube design issues it buts up against.

Doom WhispererDoom Whisperer - mild lose

While a solid card it is very clunky. Doom Whisperer generates no card advantage and is a huge tempo risk against almost any kind of removal. The body is absolutely fantastic and the ability is certainly nice but neither are that easy to bring to task. For the body to do work you need to survive to play it and then also have it survive. Not impossible but not easy either. The surveil requires you to have spare life and has diminishing returns. Optimally you want to spread uses out over multiple draw steps. That however isn't easy what with Whisperer either being a big removal target or simply that he ends games fairly quickly. I have certainly had Whisperer win games for me but in those cases any big evasive threat would have got the job done. The surveil is low importance when you are connecting with the 6/6 and it is no compensation for when you don't. I prefer top end cards that have immediate effects which Doom Whisperer doesn't really do enough of. Just because it is efficiently cost does not make it a big risk for tempo concession.

Goblin CratermakerGoblin Cratermaker - fine

A fine filler card that keeps red versatile. This is never broken, it is never great tempo and isn't really close to Abrade as a removal card as I am sure I claimed in my initial reviews. It is however a more proactive card than Abrade and thus better suited to certain builds. Basically, this hasn't done anything that impressive and is unlikely ever to be an instrumental or key card but it remains a very useful and playable cheap support card. I don't see this getting cut anytime soon even if it is very much on the fair side of power level. You play this when you need dorks, when you need removal, when you need low end, pretty much you are happy to play this most of the time. You are only cutting it when you have a really bonkers deck.

Bounty of Might - lose

Turns out that when looking at six mana card you want ones that stand up all by themselves. This is just very unappealing as an inclusion when building. It is best suited to aggressive decks but those rarely get to six mana. The elfball style aggro decks that do make loads of mana can just afford to run much better things like Craterhoof and Creeperhulk.

Thief of SanityThief of Sanity - mild win

This is so dangerous that people are running it. Each hit is so devastating that it is worth the risk of getting it Shocked. It is sufficiently cheap that the high risk of having it removed is not all that much of a disaster. You are probably a mana or two down as a result. The upside of pretty much winning when you connect more than once is a big draw to it and seems to offset that high risk of having it killed.. Even just forcing your opponent into a line of dealing with your Thief isn't always bad. Clear the path for your Hostage Taker for example.

Mission Briefing - mild win

This is great in the spells matter builds. Those dream situations where your Young Pyromancer lives and you get to Mission Briefing back some card quality spell while getting a pair of 1/1s free is lovely. That was expected but it is also too narrow of a remit to be a cube mainstay alone. Fortunately Briefing is decent in almost any blue deck. Having some extra redundancy on your cards is great and the cost of this is relatively low. It is a long long way off a Snapcaster Mage but it is still a fine and useful card. The general consensus regarding this compared to Snapcaster is that the double blue cost is the bigger of the two downsides! Most commonly used with powerful removal cards like Swords to Plowshares and Toxic Deluge so far.

Chemister's InsightChemister's Insight - lose

This is a nice card. I think it is probably one of the best of the broad group which includes Fact or Fiction, Hieroglyphic Illumination, Deep Analysis also at the top end. The issue is not that these cards are bad, just that the tempo now in cube doesn't really allow for the spending of so much mana purely on card advantage. Planewalkers are just the safer alternative. I have been most impressed with Insight in combination with cost reduction cards. Is has many of the same perks of Deep Analysis but it has far less risks due to instant speed and no life loss meaning it works much better with the things blue is generally trying to do.

Radical Idea - win

While certainly not a great drafting cube card it isn't terrible either. Where I have found this to truly shine is in combo decks and quirky ones doing more unusual things. This has been a cute little way of clearing the 2nd land off the top of my library while under the influence of an Experimental Frenzy. It has been a useful thing to discard/mill as well as to enable further discard. It is especially desirable in the spells matter decks, more than Mission Briefing for sure. Even more so than Chemister's Insight , Radical Idea gets vastly improved when combined with cost reduction effects. The card ranges from passable filler to top rate support tool. Power wise it looks like a fairly unimpressive Think Twice but in practice the jump start provides extra synergies that allow you to push the ceiling of the card far past what Think Twice can hope for. I expect to see a lot more of this in my more exotic decks.   

Tuesday 20 November 2018

A Plug for a Streamer

Basically exactly as the title suggest, this is a link to a stream of my mates. He is in fact "The Phyrexian" from a number of the events I documented and plays cube with me regularly. He mostly streams using the new MtG Arena and has been doing so pretty much full time for a couple of months. Views make him happy so if you are looking to watch people play Magic and speak properly at the same time then go check him out at;

Saturday 17 November 2018

Golgari Dark Depths .dec

Dark DepthsThis is a nicely placed combo deck for cube. It has multiple things working in its favour that push it above and beyond where it feels like it should be. I am reluctant to call this a tier one deck but it probably is after all the cube specific factors are taken into account. So the main thing working in this decks favour is not needing to lean on black tutors to piece the combo together. This means you can use key early picks to take the premium black hand disruption. Heavy black combo decks really struggle to get Vamp and Demonic along with the disruption they need and this can easily ruin them. This is why, despite having all the needed tools for combo, most black decks need to also lean on blue so as to have appropriate disruption to force through and protect the combo. Black is simply not deep enough in cheap quality tutors and discard. This combo however is mostly about lands and perhaps some dorks and so it can entirely lean on green tutor effects for those, many of which outclass the black ones when used just for the types in question. With that in mind you can pickup the premium black disruption early and not miss out on your good tutors.

Thespian's StageBeing mostly about lands is another perk for cube as there is far less good disruption that hits lands. There is also very little that will exile lands so to fully shut this combo down you have to kill the lands and then use something else to exile the graveyard. That is all a bit much and so most decks will try and find solutions to Marit Lage instead. The next big edge this combo deck has is that it isn't blue which means you will have to fight less. Dimir is always pretty popular as is blue in general. Most combo decks use blue and there is often overlap in the support cards desired so being a combo deck out of blue is a great place to be.

This deck had so much redundancy it felt like playing a constructed deck. I always had my parts and in good time. I won more games than not by just going off a second time after my first go was handled. It is not the quickest deck in terms of potential speed. It can do turn three wins with a god draw but it needs the Mox to do so if using Thespian Stage. I could have thrown in elements like more cheap ramp and burst mana and haste giving effects to try and speed it up but it just didn't feel necessary. Your hand disruption and removal options are solid and your general survivability is good. I would rather consistently threaten lethal on turn four or five in a safe way with a robust deck than have the potential to do quicker kills either at the cost of a slower average clock or just having a bad and flimsy deck.

Vampire Hexmage24 Spells

Mox Diamond

Abundant Growth
Unbridled Growth
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Expedition Map

Inquisition of Kozilek
Fatal Push

Grapple with the Past
Grisley Salvage
Vampire Hexmage
ThoughtseizeInto the North

Collective Brutality
Assassin's Trophy
Satyr Wayfinder
Sylvan Scrying

Life from the Loam

Liliana, the Last Hope
Liliana of the Veil
Eternal Witness
Ramunap Excavator

Pernicious Deed

16 Lands
Into the North
Barren Moor
Tranquil Thicket
Thespian Stage
Dark Depths
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Verdant Catacombs
Overgrown Tomb
Llanowar Wastes

Blossoming Marsh
Temple of Malady
Twilight Mire

2x Snow-covered Forest
2x Snow-covered Swamp

Snow-Covered SwampMy absolute favourite part of this deck was getting to play with Snow-covered lands! On more than one occasion I went Into the North for a basic. I love an excuse to run exotic lands for legitimate reasons no matter how tiny. The list makes great use of the self mill effects open to Golgari. Most find lands or land and creatures so they are already helping dig for your combo however they pair up nicely with some recursive elements in the list to act as even more value and card selection. They ensure that you see a significant portion of your deck is fairly short order. It is not just tutor effects that are empowered for lands but also recursion effects! There is also a mild delirium component in the list. I had initially planned a backup of Emrakul but decided to go pure at the last minute. As such the delirium support is perhaps a little over polished and over the top but it doesn't feel like it detracts from the list as it is. Given how cube games go I would recommend finding space for an alternate win condition like Emrakul, the Promised and or Ishkanah. You might be able to get away wish splashing red for Kessig Wolf Run and some more man-lands. It looks a bit ugly but it scales with your other land support and allows you to trample up the Marit Lage making your primary win condition more effective as well. This change would require a higher land count I am sure. It would also slow the deck down with more lands entering tapped.

Sylvan ScryingNot only did I avoid playing the black tutors but I also avoided Crop Rotation. Turns out when your lands don't all tap for mana and need a bunch of sacrificing you don't want to be blowing up your own lands where possible. You don't need the speed of Rotation and so the card neutral Sylvan Scrying and Expedition Map feel a bit better. In many ways this list is a control deck that just happens to have a combo win it can pull off quickly, a little like Splinter Twin in that regard. I won many games through a combination of hand disruption, spot removal and a planeswalker keeping things safe and in check while I gained value from cycling lands. It didn't really matter how the game was actaully finished, it had been won before that point!

Eternal Witness is a pretty important card as it is the only way you have of getting back non-creature non-land cards which is basically all of your disruption and answers. If you just mill away the answer you need you are going to need to get it back with Witness which isn't ideal but is way better than no option at all. Luckily the deck is able to pack some of the most cost effective disruption and answers in the game so even when you tack on an extra 1GG to the cost it is still viable.

Abundant GrowthThe land enchantments are surprisingly handy allowing you to turn on your Dark Depths as a mana producer. This gives you greater freedom in how you play out your lands which is surprisingly relevant. While they are helpful for general fixing they only shine (one mana cantrip mana rock!) when you pair them with the Dark Depths. Normally I would not be so keen on putting in that much direct support for one card into a deck but given that you should expect to have the Depths in every game and fairly quickly it feels well worth it. Indeed without one of the Growths you are often having to use a tutor that could have found Depths or even Stage to find you a mana source.

I like how this list isn't one that leans on mana dorks what with everything being so cheap. This makes mass removal options more appealing and this can be a pretty big help in clearing the path for your 20/20! I ran Deed for the coverall but Deluge and even Damnation are likely better tempo choices. Or you could go in the other direction for a slower coverall in Ratchet Bomb. Unlikely better than Deed but does give you some room for delirium tinkering if needed. You could run some mana dorks and they would be fine but you are going to need more things to sink mana into and more card draw to make them worth it. There is not loads of suitable stand alone draw for this list, the best sources of value are all focused around the land synergies. Dark Confidant is nice but easily dealt with and a little painful. He makes the mass removal weaker again like the mana dorks. Night's Whisper is the only card draw I was sad not to be able to find room for. Returning to the mana dorks briefly I would much rather play Explore and Exploration style cards as they speed up the combo far more effectively and are less easily disrupted.

Grisly SalvageDoomfall is a surprisingly nice catchall card for this kind of deck. The poor mans Collective Brutality. I would consider that to make up for shortfalls in hand disruption. You really need to be able to hit spells and that limits your good options. Other than the discard, which is continually getting better positioned, this list is chock full of redundancy. There is a tonne of solid removal in Golgari that covers you against all permanents. There is also plenty more card quality and self mill if needed from Vessel of Nasceny to Oath of Nissa. Once you have your combo cards it is pretty hard to be cut. This is a rare example of a combo deck you could take to 50 or even 60 card deck size and not have it tank in viability. It would be weaker as with almost all decks but it would not become unplayable, it would not tank like the other combo decks nor even suffer as badly as most aggro decks. Overall the deck is great. It is powerful and consistent and dangerous. It is hard to shut down and it has loads of build options and directions. It is pleasantly open to draft and has all the good feel of a blue combo deck to play.

Sunday 11 November 2018

Oath of Teferi .dec

Oath of TeferiThe list I am showing below is not one of my own but one of a friend who savagely handled me with it. My own first take of an Oath of Teferi list focused more on flicker elements and contained things like Brago and Venser (the walker). His list was focused on the more powerful side of the Oath. It also preformed much more impressively hence the article being on it rather than mine! There are certainly loads of ways to go with this kind of deck as with any vaguely UW control looking deck. There are just so many viable cards these days and so much redundancy in many of the parts that you can make a number of very similar decks using mostly different cards. The most interesting elements of an established overarching archetype like UW control are which synergies you are playing, how deep you are going with them and which overlaps you are choosing to make use of. This list is a gem. It has exactly enough of all the core things a control deck needs while still managing to cram in a bunch of cute cards and synergy overlaps. It is also by far and away the new record holder for planeswalker ultimates going off both nominally and per game, with a solid two and a bit ultimates per match! It manages to stay true to the archetype while doing something new and creative and it managed to do it sufficiently well so as to win all the matches. Those things are hard with any archetype, Azorius control I would say is one of the hardest. Here is his list;

Clockspinning23 Spells

Swords to Plowshares
Ancestral Vision
Elixir of Immortality

Wall of Omens
Azorius Charm
Arcane Denial
Search for Azcanta
Renewed Faith

Gideon of the Trials
Savor the Moment
Oath of Gideon
Oath of GideonAs Fortold

Cryptic Command
Cast Out
Supreme Verdict
Settle the Wreckage

Force of Will
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Oath of Teferi

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

17 Lands

Mage Ring Network
UW dual lands

Teferi, Hero of DominariaOath of Teferi is the main build around card in the deck. It is so powerful you can broadly ignore the flicker effect and only support it with four planeswalkers. It is a five mana do nothing that empowers a mere tenth of the deck! The mere fact that such a card is playable should make a good case for how good it is. It turns out that having two goes on a planeswalker each of your turns is not just twice as good as normal, it is far far better than that. Walkers that do more and grow quicker are hard to keep pace with. They are super hard to keep from going ultimate and they get there very quickly if not attended to. It is so powerful that it is pretty much a combo with any half decent walker. Much of the rest of the deck plays into this empowering of the walkers as well. The rate this had of getting ultimates off demonstrates the effectiveness of that game plan and support.

Clockspinning is a great little addition to this list. It has been performing quite well in the drafting cube of late but this constructed list is one of the best places I have seen it in for effectiveness. It is cute with the As Foretold and Ancestral Visions but it is also another way of ramping planeswalkers towards ultimates. It is actually really hard to play against walkers when they can grow a couple of loyalty without warning at EoT. Clockspinning is generally quite a good card purely in a disruptive capacity, it doesn't take much extra from your side of things to make it worth running. It is a lovely way to deal with Hangarback Walker. It is nice for shrinking opposing walkers. It is frequently a combat trick with so many dorks having some form of size modifying counter on them. It is both a late game mana dump and a cheap early interactive tempo play. All round cheap and versatile card.

Savor the MomentOath of Gideon is one of my favourite inclusions in this deck. It is the perfect little brother to Teferi's Oath. It makes walkers that little bit more dangerous, it helps protect them and it is a cute little flicker target. Savor the Moment is the spiciest of all the inclusions I would say. It is obviously great with planeswalkers but it also not terrible with a pre-flip Search for Azcanta or a Visions. Also lovely in combination with the As Foretold. Basically at worst the Savor is a Clockspinning and an Explore in one and at best it is totally stealing the game with loads of planeswalker abuse and the potential for free As Foretold mana.

The Elixir was a good call I thought. I might have tried to get away with a Mistveil Plains but then I would also need a white token generating planeswalker to go with it. The deck goes through the library rapidly and wins slowly. It has all the answers but it only has most of them once. It isn't overdone with win conditions either. Value isn't what this deck struggles with and so "wasting" a card on bolstering actual weaknesses felt right.

Elixir of ImmortalityThe removal and counter magic suite was spot on. Impressively so. It was well balanced to work with the As Foretold, the curve, the walkers and so forth. It had no gaps and left loads of room for the cool synergy stuff. My friend held a smug grin as he cycled his Cast Out with his Teferi emblem remarking how it was even better removal in the other mode.

The main issue I have with this deck is how hard it is to make room. There are basically no cards I am happy cutting yet loads of cards I want to add in! Most of the cuts you could make would then need replacing with a comparable card. Really they are swaps or tweaks. You could run Mana Leak or Counterspell instead of the Denial. You could run Thraben Inspector instead of the Wall of Omens. You could run Unexpectedly Absent or Council's Judgment instead of the Cast Out. There might be reasons to go for such changes but in this list I really like the balance that has been struck. If you had to make some space I would consider the Renewed Faith. I feel like you could lose a land but it seems like an unnecessary risk. Especially if you are culling cheap cyclers. Losing land probably means trading down Ugin into a Sun's Champion or perhaps a Karn. It also probably just results in the addition of something like an Opt, Remand or even a Signet to somewhat redress the mana balance.

Mage-Ring NetworkSo what cards do I want to add in? Loads obviously but a few with rather more merit than others. I think this list wants a tool for dealing with problem lands. Ideally Field of Ruin but Rishadan Port is great too. With 17 lands and so much draw and selection you can easily support a second colourless land in this list. That is the easy include as it is a clean swap for a land. A basic if staying 17 and the Mage-Ring Network if dropping to 16. The Network is mostly for powering out Ugin and with 16 lands he would be toned down to a cheaper walker and thus remove the utility of the Network.

I want to play more planeswalkers so as to take advantage of the synergies. Likely the best options are the known potent walkers. Ideally we could fit a four mana walker in meaning Architect of Thought, Mind Sculptor, Ally of Zendikar or Knight-Errant. The Jace options are a bit more on-theme but generally more vulnerable and harder to deploy. Mystic Confluence is the other thing I really want to find some room for. It is one of my favourite things to pair with As Foretold. I like how it provides gas to carry on exploiting your mana advantage while also affording a good degree of control.

I doubt commander players will be at all surprised at how good Oath of Teferi is due to how much use The Chain Veil sees and how much the thing is! Those who have not played commander however will likely be highly surprised at how massively Oath of Teferi dominates a game. Try it out, just add planeswalkers! It seems you can built with it in many ways and is not as narrow as it looks.

Thursday 8 November 2018

Top 10 Cards of 2017

Vraska, Relic Seeker
A big old 55 cube cards from 2017 and a depth of other useful tools from the sets Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation and Ixalan. This large number could be power creep or it could be sloth in testing! I suspect there is an element of both. While the best and the worst cards quickly make themselves apparent in cube testing the better balanced and designed cards typically take a little longer to show their true colours. While I am fairly happy with knowing roughly how good the cards are from 2017 I am less confident in the fine details that I often use to decide ordering in lists. This is absolutely the year I have shuffled round and fiddled with the most in terms of what makes it and in what position. Suffice it to say 2017 was a good year for cube.

As with most of the more recent years I am wanting to do honorable mentions! There being so many cube cards and their design being so good that they are all somewhat comparable for power/playabiltiy rating helps me resist! This year containing a set with cycling brought vast numbers of playable cards to the cube and made for a very pleasant play experience. Decks are far more rounded as a result of 2017. A big part of this was how well the removal was designed allowing for cover of niche things without forcing narrow and potentially dead cards into lists. This list is mostly removal effects and there are more really good ones from 2017 that nearly made the list too. Removal power creep has lagged behind threat power creep for some time. While 2017 certainly didn't catch up with threat  the improved removal is most welcome. Removal is interactive and leads to better games. It is no fun either losing to things you can't deal with or losing because your hand is full of dead narrow cards you played so the other bad thing doesn't happen! It is also much harder to make removal detrimental when compared to the dangers of power creep in threats. While the power of most of the removal from 2017 is just reasonable it is the suitability and playability of most of it that makes this year stand out as a triumph. More power could have been reasonably thrown into the removal effects offered yet swathes of the fairer cards see regular play. Cycling leads to some very clean design possibilities.

I sincerely hope that 2017 gets the design credit it deserves. I fear it might be overlooked for more macroscopic failures in limited and standard (I am not suggesting things were bad, I didn't follow enough to know, I am just aware that 2017 didn't seem to make waves in the way the most cherished sets do). The individual cards demonstrate real craftsmanship. I hope this is what we can expect in terms of design quality going forwards. Commander was a bit extreme in some ways but still mostly a welcome addition to the pool. Here is the list of quality that didn't make the top 10 list from the year;

Kitesail FreebooterArguel's Bloodfast
Adanto Vanguard
Ramunap Excavator
Kari-Zev, Skyship Raider
Gideon of the Trials
Cycling Duals
Sweltering Sun
Dissenter's Deliverence
Chart a Course
Insult // InjuryCommit // Memory
Hazoret the Fervent
Settle the Wreckage
Harsh Mentor
Oketra's Monument
Hostage Taker
Legion's Landing
Kitesail Freebooter
Insult / Injury
Rampaging Ferocidon
Champion of Wits
Adorned Pouncer
Aethersphere Harvester
Settle the WreckageAhn-Crop Crasher
Aethertide Whale
As Fortold
Angel of Sanctions
Anointed Procession
Approach of the Second Sun
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Reason // Believe
Battlefield Scavenger
Bone Picker
Bontu's Last Reckoning
Captain Lannery Storm
Carnage Tyrant
Baral, Chief of ComplianceChampion of Rhonas
Channeler Initiate
Claim // Fame
Combat Celebrant
Crash Through
Crested Sunmare
Cut // Ribbons
Dusk // Dawn
Djeru's Renunciation
Dread Wanderer
Grind // Dust
Farm // Market
Curse of Opulence
Curse of Disturbance
Firebrand Archer
Forsake the Worldly
Gifted Aetherborn
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Glory-Bound Initiate
Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Dust Walker
Hashep Oasis
Heart of Kiran
Curse of OpulenceHeroic Intervention
Hidden Stockpile
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Hollow One
Honored Crop Captain
Hope of Ghirapur
Implement of Ferocity
Inspiring Statuary
Ipnu Rivulet
Jace, Cunning Castaway
Leave // Chance
Liliana, Death's Majesty
Lord of the Accursed
Herald's Horn
Kess, Dissident Mage
Metallic MimicMaulfist Revolutionary
Metallic Mimic
Mirage Mirror
Never // Return
Nissa, Steward of Elements
Territorial Hellkite
The Ur-Dragon
Prowling Serpopard
Ramunap Ruins
Renegade Map
Rhonas, the Indomitable
Ripjaw Raptor
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Rishkar's Expertise
Rogue Refiner
Ruin Raider
Sacred Cat
Samut, Voice of Dissent
Scrap Trawler
Seeker's Squire
Servo Schematic
Shefet Dunes
Siren Stormtamer
Skyship Plunderer
Sorcerer's Spyglass
Spell Swindle
Spire of Industry
Sram, Senior Edificer
Sram's Expertise
Steward of Solidarity
Sunscourge Champion
Supreme Will
Tezeret, the Schemer
Whir of InventionThrone of the God Pharaoh
Tocatli Honor Guard
Trophy Mage
Unbridle Growth
Unclaimed Territory
Vance's Blasting Cannons
Vizier of Remedies
Vizier of Many Faces
Vizier of the Managerie
Vraska, Relic Seeker
Vraska's Contempt
Whir of Invention
Wily Goblin
Winding Constrictor
Yehenni, Undying Partisan
Yehnni's Expertise

Fatal Push10. Fatal Push

While this might be one of the all time premium removal spells in formats like modern and legacy poor Fatal Push is basically just another Disfigure in cube. That is great, don't get me wrong, more playable decent quality one mana removal in black is exactly what was needed. Push itself isn't a bomb but black is doing much better because of it due to how sparse it was on consistent and rounded playables at the low end. Black having few high quality and well rounded one drops get a huge boost whenever a card like this joins the ranks as black lacks depth, not power. They are instantly very playable even if they are not of standout power level. Push is a top tier removal spell but it is better in modern and legacy than cube by a noticeable margin.

Field of Ruin
9.   Field of Ruin

The fixed Strip Mine after many many attempts! This is a good way to keep spell and man lands in check and can even be used to punish greedy mana bases. It has some cute utility as a shuffle effect, potentially on both libraries. It can also fix for you in some cases as well. All round a very interesting card with a spot on power level. You see more of Field than Rishadan Port which is an impressive place to be. The card is wonderfully fair for one that comes with so much depth, playability and options. This would be one of many premium example cards that showcase quite how good of a job the design and development teams did for the cards of this era.

8.   Cast Out
Cast Out
This is probably only this low on the list because it is a little dull. It has been seeing consistent play in a vast array of decks. Basically any white deck. The cost of playing it is minimal and the safety it brings is large. The wider the coverage of your removal the less you need to run and Cast Out has a wide old web. The high cost is almost entirely mitigated with flash and cycling. It doesn't hold you back like most other pricier cards, indeed it can often help get you out of a bind. Impressively Cast Out has taken much of the play that Council's Judgement used to get. Cycling, instant speed and only a single white to play all add up to be more desirable on average than permanent exile without targetting issues at three mana. It is not easy to understand how this outperforms Judgement so obviously in practice as it is so un-intuitively based on how much more powerful Judgement seems on paper. Both are cover all 1 for 1 answer cards at high cost. They are your get out of jail free cards. Where you want to be in a game is not in need of a get out of jail free card. Obviously amazing when you need them but if all is going well then they are fairly inefficient. Cast Out has far better utility in that case not just because of the cycling but also fairly significantly from the flash. It lets you bluff other plays or leave things till the last minute for maximum information or perhaps even a blowout play. It is much easier to get value from killing a low value target with a high mana cost removal card if you can do so at instant speed. All that more than makes up for the lower cost and more certain permanent end of the problem card.

Abrade7.   Abrade

Another fine removal card that has empowered all flavours of red. Abrade did big things in constructed yet is perhaps even better suited to cube. With such a wide array of stuff going on and less focus in archetypes due to singleton the modal nature of Abrade shines bright. It lets you have access to Shatter without need of card filtering tools or the risk of having dead cards. The upside on having outs to artifacts comfortably outweighs the drawback of not being able to burn players or walkers. This comfort barrier increases as your build tends from aggro towards control of course. I was concerned that this would not see play over Searing Spear but it very much does. It is supremely rare that a burn player finds themselves wanting to do three to face and being stuck with Abrade. You can plan for such things in most instances and use the appropriate spell on the appropriate target based on the stage of the game and what you expect to need to kill. Amazing card for midrange and control, great card for aggro and a huge boost to red all round.

Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin
Search for Azcanta

6.   Search for Azcanta

Another card I am a little shocked to see so low on this list. This is a big name in many formats for being a cheap all round card that provides card quality, then mana and finally card advantage. In constructed the card quality and advantage aspects are the main contributors to the value of the card but in cube the mana production value accounts fora significant portion too. All round the card is great design. it provides lots of control over the game through lots of options. It does an appropriate and useful thing at all stages of the game and is surprisingly often positive in both mana and cards. Despite all this the card is pretty fair. In cube it has the tendency to be even more silly as I have on more than one occasion found myself in a position of knowing the order of my whole library! Really powerful if you can remember it and have a tool to manipulate it in some way, say Azcanta, the Sunken Ruins! Being slow is what makes this card so fair, you are looking at a long time before it is worth the card cost, usually it needs to flip. If you are looking for positive return on cards and mana we are talking a really long time, longer than most games! Although not longer than most games involving Search for Azcanta.

Treasure Map5.   Treasure Map

Treasure CoveSearch for Azcanta is more streamlined and powerful card compared to Treasure Map. It has no ongoing costs to use and it has a potentially limitless use. Map by contrast only offers 3 scry and each needs you to pay for it, then once flipped can only draw three extra cards by itself total. The main reason Map sees a lot more play in cube than Search for Azcanta is that it is colourless. Blue is already spoilt for card quality and draw. None of the other colours have access to both of those things, white doesn't have either! Draw and card quality in non-blue colours tends to be limited or conditional or have additional costs or prerequisites. Very few cards just scry and draw cards outside of blue and so Map is a pretty huge stand in. Further to that map offers plenty of good artifact synergies, not only being one itself but turning into three when it flips. Metalcraft in a can! A good way to make your Scion of Urza really pack some punch. What really makes map so good is how dynamic the card is. Very quickly it can provide you returns on all your investments. It can be an Ancestral Recall and/or a Black Lotus. I guess with it being three to six turns to unlock those things it is more of an Ancestral Visions and Lotus Bloom but still all good cards that most decks can put to use well. The advantage Map has over those things are the three scry you get prior to than point and the control you get within the one card. Frequently I have seen map been flipped at end of turn and then used for mana in the following turn to deploy something like an Ugin far quicker than expected, perhaps even just a six drop with enough Treasure remaining for protective countermagic. Treasure Map can have a more rapid and swingy impact than most of the the other flip land cards from the block due to the potential mana influx and that is surprisingly powerful given how slow it seems on paper.

The Scarab God4.   The Scarab God

This is one of those cards that is just too powerful to ignore. It takes over a game and is very hard to handle. It is the kind of card that you go out of your way to play and that is the only time you will find gold cards high up on these lists. I savagely underrated this card on review, I simply saw it is an overly fluffy top end gold card that wouldn't see enough play in cube to merit inclusion. The card is so powerful however that I instantly saw my mistake watching it perform on camera in a standard pro tour. It was the first activation and it was on a Torrential Gearhulk and the game went from a close affair to beyond over in that moment. Obviously that was a top end recursion but even so, the power of the card was clear and it has lived up to that in cube. Most decks only have a handful of ways to stop it being a perpetual threat, some have none. Those that do have permanent solutions can still be bodied by the God with the many various other attributes it has. In the slower games waiting till nine mana for an activation alongside the cast can be too much for opponents recover from while being safer against removal. You can also just protect it with a Spellskite or pluck away their removal with Duress or Negate. Do that and then easily win with an activation or two and perhaps even some free scry and lifedrain into the mix! Basically you untap with Scarab God and you probably win and this in turn means some decks will start to throw resources on the fire just to buy time. It is powerful because it is hard to properly kill but it is really really powerful because it wins games regardless of being hard to kill. A hard to kill threat that wins games with ease is a scary card. Sometimes it wins because it is huge and they can't get rid of it, other times it wins because it creates and army. Sometimes it wins by making enough defenses to hold off an all in aggro deck. The fact that some Temur energy decks were splashing for it says it all really. A fourth colour added to a synergy deck for a card with no synergy overlap.

Glorybringer3.   Glorybringer

This is another of those too powerful not to play cards. I remember reviewing this and claiming that despite it clearly being more powerful than Thundermaw that it probably wouldn't see as much play as it was not as an aggressive finisher. Instead it was so powerful that it just warped the meta and made midrange and control red something you really wanted. Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Abrade, Sweltering Sun and Fiery Confluence made midrange and control red viable but Glorybringer is the pull, it is the main card that makes you actively want to go that way being more impactful than Chandra and more playable than Titan. Glorybringer is capable of some of the filthiest swings in the game. When you do something like kill a Restoration Angel with the trigger and attack a planeswalker to death you are getting a three for one that makes Ancestral Recall look like poor mana efficiency. While it is not common to get two big hits it is common place to get two things dead on the first attack and one of them is almost always good and you always get a Glorybringer in play! An exerted in play Glorybringer feels worth nearly all that five mana and so assuming you kill six mana worth of stuff you can still call Glorybringer about five mana more efficient than Recall! Sure, this is ceiling territory we are still talking but worst case scenario you just hit them for four and have an unexerted Glorybringer in play. This either forces removal or an answer that can stand up to four damage. Bearing in mind you are facing a red player and they have at least five mana there is a good chance they can supplement the exert damage with a bit of burn meaning very few answers to Glorybringer come in creature form. Hornet Queen and Baneslayer Angel are about all there is, even the mighty Ishkana is a little bit high risk when facing off against Glorybringer. Glorybringer isn't quite as potent as The Scarab God but it is far quicker acting and a bunch more playable hence being higher up on the list.

Walking Ballista2.   Walking Ballista

Outstanding card, perhaps a little too all round good. It is not the power that is objectionable but the extreme playability this card has. It is good in aggro and great in midrange and control. It also seems to be one of the best combo finisher tools out there. It winds up in affinity decks and Eldrazi decks. It just goes anywhere and is really quite good in all of those places. Late game it is a reliable and safe win condition. It is also the best of mana sinks in those late game situations. Ballista affords vast option density. Make it at almost any point on the curve. At most points there after charging it up for 4 mana is often a good option. Ballista provides removal to many colours that lack it, pretty much all of Bant benefit a lot from Ballista. Even though white can deal with creatures it is not very efficient at taking out the small ones without Wraths. My favourite thing about this card is how it keeps Mother of Runes a bit more in check. Being too playable isn't really a criticism either given that the power level isn't in the oppressive region, it isn't really over the top either, just a healthy high powered card. The criticism would more be in the fact that you see it a lot so it makes things less varied. I don't think that is a problem either as this card is so option dense it brings a lot of play with it and that is what leads to good games. I would tend to weight my preference on quality of game over variety of game. Cube has never felt like it lacked in variety!

Fractured Identity1.   Fractured Identity

This is an oppressively good card in heads up play. Power wise it is top tier but shouldn't count as broken. It is slow and expensive and gold. It shouldn't be any worse than the Scarab God for example but it totally is. The problem with Fractured Identity is that it has comparable polarity to badly designed old cards like Anhk of Mishra or Armageddon. Such cards often win the  game or do nothing. Identity is weak against aggressive decks but it never does nothing and so it is even more all round oppressive due to being highly playable. As soon as it is any sort of midrange or control matchup the whole game becomes about Fractured Identity. It is such a savage answer and swing that it is much like a Wrath of God in a control versus aggro matchup. The aggro player is trying to force a Wrath while having enough to follow it to win the game, or failing that ending the game before a Wrath is online. Who ever has Fractured Identity is the control player in any sort of game without a speed based deck. If I can hold it back for your best target I am going to win, if you can force me to use it on a medium level target then the game can return to a normal affair. If you suspect Fractured Identity you simply cannot cast any sort of big top end card, most notably planeswalkers. This removes most of your sensible low risk options going into the mid and late game when playing against Fractured Identity. The card is far more oppressive to the cube meta than Jitte has ever been. Being a spell that has the entirety of it's effect right away you have to play around it at all times while a Jitte was only a problem once in play. It could be dealt with retroactively at relatively minor incurred cost and so forth. Fractured Identity is significantly better than Treachery or anything like that as it is so much safer. You get to exile their threat meaning it never comes back and it doesn't trigger the on death effects and bypasses indestructible and the like. Your token copy is exactly that - yours! They cannot Brooding Saurion it back or bounce it to their hand. Their card is gone and you have your thing. Even hitting a three drop with Identity is a two for one and a tempo swing. You are up a three mana card and they are down with a six mana swing at the cost of just five. The nine mana swing and three for one feel you get when you get to Fracture Karn Liberated...  Fractured Identity is too powerful of an answer card, it hits almost any target and handles most forms of resilience, it is always at least a two for one and it is generally a tempo swing too. It is never bad and frequently game ending and that all adds up to an oppressive card. Bad design and well worthy of culling from cubes for several good reasons.