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.   

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