Sunday 30 December 2018

Laboratory Maniac .dec

Laboratory ManiacA little while back I  did an article on this list but it was mostly done as a theory exercise. I enjoy being able to look at numbers fairly directly for deck building and only the most linear of decks allow for that such as mill and burn. The turbo drawing Lab Maniac list allows for another of these but I never really took the deck that seriously. I theorised about it and left it at that on the assumption the deck wouldn't be close to viable. The deck is simply too slow to compete with other linear strategies. Now because I was in theory mode I was simply trying to make the numbers as good as possible rather than trying to build the most suitable deck one could. In practice slowing down the clock of the deck and replacing the weaker draw cards with a bit of disruption and stall goes a really really long way. It turns the deck for a sitting duck into a pretty scary list. When you plan involves seeing the whole of your deck in the shortest possible time you can really easily power up the deck with relatively few cards. Most of the disruption cards buy you a turn and most do so without onerous mana costs. This in turn means you have more time to safely get through your deck. Normally just adding a handful of safety cards into an otherwise uniteractive deck would have relatively little effect. It would have a significant effect on making the goldfish slower while not having that pronounced of an effect at making the deck more robust. Because of seeing all the cards so quickly this list suffers little in terms of goldfish but gains a huge amount of safety by contrast. The point being, this rather silly looking deck is actually decently competitive and not just a good excuse to do some math with our favourite card drawing tools. That is the real reason this deck is great, you just get to draw loads of cards and that is something every magic player loves to do! It has some good matchups, is broadly at least competitive and you get to draw so many cards! 

There are a few new cards that work well in the list along with some older cards I overlooked in the first build that help to empower this list over older versions. For reference here is the original article before we get to the new list;

28 Spells
Gitaxian Probe
Mishra's Bauble
Urza's Bauble
Chrome Mox

Thought Scour
Mental Note

Conjorer's Bauble
Visions of Beyond
Sleight of Hand

Mission Briefing
Temporal TrespassStrategic Planning
Auger of Bolas

Arcane Denial
Search for Azcanta

Manipulate Fate

Laboratory Maniac
Champion of Wits

Cryptic Command

Treasure Cruise

Temporal Trespass

12 Lands

Academy Ruins
Myriad Landscape
10 Islands

Urza's BaubleSo this newer list was far from perfect, it was simply more along appropriate lines than the original "optimal by the numbers" build. It manages to have a lower curve by moving away from the five mana Time Walk cards. It also gets to operate quicker with the inclusion of Chrome Mox, a no brainer really with the need of speed and an abundance of card draw and redundancy. The Baubles both offer an unparalleled draw to cost ratio and were an oversight in build one.

The new cards are Search for Azcanta, Mission Briefing and Champion of Wits. The Champion is being run in much the same lines as the Auger of Bolas. Both do an OK job of drawing you through your deck but they do this while also threatening to do blocking and thus buy you a nice bit of time. I considered running things like Alchemist's Apprentice to further this trend. You could equally look to splash black or green for Coiling Oracle or Baleful Strix respectively if you wanted more powerful chumps that draw. I am pretty happy with the quantity used and to stay mono.

Mission BriefingMission Briefing was amazing, easily the best new addition. Just hitting a Thought Scour can represent getting shot of five cards from your deck. The value of recursion jumps a bunch when you are running a few disruptive cards too. This is yet another deck where Mission Briefing is preferable to Snapcaster (although Snappy would still be strong!). I wanted to include Jace, Vryn's Prodigy at first but forcing you to flip means other looters are going to get through more of your library and most of your disruption needs to happen at instant speed making his recursion less good too.

Search for Azcanta was funny, I rarely wanted to flip it. When I was overdone with cards in hand or entirely out of gas I wanted it for mana or refuel respectively however neither of these things happened often at all. The former more so than the latter. Mostly I wanted to just keep milling myself for one each turn in a controlled way. The mill per card isn't all that impressive on Search in an average way as you often have to keep things rather than risking a mill. What makes it so good is the versatility, control and options it brings. The slower you build your list and the more Time Walks you play the better search gets. It is also nice to have cards you can get out of your hand so as to avoid having to discard. There were several games where the first non-land card I played that didn't draw a card instead drew multiple!

Visions of BeyondThe only bad card I ran was Manipulate Fate, it is at least still better than Foresight from my first build though! While it is some unusual card quality and a solid four cards out of the library it lacks synergy with the cards that want to be involved with the graveyard. Despite this being the best Visions of Beyond deck in the cube it is still very unlikely for you to get it to draw three. Exiling cards hurts this small chance a lot. The delve cards are a bit too strong to pass up on despite their poor synergy with Visions. You can use them pretty quickly in this deck while you can't turn on the Visions till you are nearing the end. It is possible to hold off on the delve cards, through choice or otherwise, and this helps with your Visions potential. Broadly you don't need it to be drawing three. Overall Visions has less average power than something like a Ponder but it gives you more range, a different set of choices and exactly the same mill per card and mana at worst! You want a healthy number of one mana cantrip cards and with so much draw redundancy the difference between a Reach Through Mists (basic example of "draw a card for one blue" card ie floor of Visions) and a Preordain is fairly minor. Although such a thing feels impossible I am going to say this deck has enough card quality! Ideally you are using your delve Time Walk late in proceedings anyway so as to maximize your mana gains from it. It is super rare this deck doesn't spend all of its mana in a given turn. The only times it doesn't are when it needs to hold out countermagic or other disruption and that gets played around.

Baral, Chief of ComplianceYou could fit more card disadvantage cards in this list should you wish such as Force of Will. This list is far better able to support such things as I kept all the two for one or better cards like Predict and tossed the things like Careful Study, Frantic Search and Compelling Argument out. With this deck not being so much about purely racing you don't need to throw cards away for the sake of a little extra speed. The more countermagic and cards costing more than one you throw in the more Baral appeals. It doesn't take Baral all that long to pay for himself in every way if you can get some looting done. All told Baral looks like he should get more loots in than Vryn's Prodigy with this list!

As Foretold is something I quite wanted to play to really power out that draw. It would allow for Ancestral Visions to get a slot. A 40 card deck with three Ancestral Recalls sounds rather naughty! Sadly I just forgot about it in building and ended up not doing so. Pretty doddery of me considering I toyed with the idea of Ancestral Visions. It is very nearly playable in this list as a stand alone. You are rarely winning before turn seven and that gives you a good amount of time to play it. You also have some looting and card selection allowing you to not suffer having a dud late.

Grip of the RoilThe other considerations I had were just more good one drop cantrips and cyclers like Serum Visions and Peek and then more disruptive cards. Grip of the Roil, Ice, Send to Sleep and Enervate all appeal for their progression towards your end goal. Exhaustion, Cyclonic Rift and cards like that appeal more for their raw power. This deck can support one or two more cards that don't replace themselves but you can't go overboard on it. It has six (including Search for Azcanta) non-land cards that don't replace themselves and I think seven is totally fine. You can probably get away with eight or even nine when you take in the card advantage and filtering into account.

If cuts had to be made beyond the Manipulate Fate I would look to thin out some generic card quality cards like the Sleight or the Strategic Planning. Champion of Wits could go, it isn't essential and is a little clunky. It will be super rare to recur as well. Quite possibly rarer than drawing three with Visions. You can also tweak the disruption a little based on what you expect to face. The speed bumps and mass tap down effects are great against aggro, the counterspells are better against the slower decks but also hurt your sorcery speed cards. A big part of the split is based on which ones also help protect your own combo. This is why Spellskite is getting in so easily, it is just a good cheap disruptive wall that also offers some of the best Laboratory Maniac protection in the game. Cards like Dive Down however are going a bit deep for that role.

Overall the deck feels like a real archetype that has some game against most things and has strong game against several things. It is a blast to play too. The main take away is mostly that this deck is far better than I thought it would be! A few new toys, a few build refinements and we have gone from a comedy deck to a high tier one. The new cards are not even than powerful, they just add to your potential options and synergy choices. I feel like I have devoted a lot of time to this fringe deck. I think I have done that because this deck feels like it should be a "core" deck what with being so simple and focused as well as mono coloured. It also still feels like an essential deck based on how much the average magic player like to draw cards and how this deck facilitates that more than most.

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Ravnica Allegiance Preliminary Reviews Part II

Tithe Taker 7

This is an upgrade on Martyr of Dust for a body combined with a mild blend of Grand Abolisher and little Thalia. For constructed play this seems like it isn't disruptive or powerful enough to be super impressive but in cube I think this will perform admirably. The more general nature of the disruption makes the card likely to be tedious to play against for a lot of decks rather than being brutal for a few and irrelevant for most. It puts the initiative on your side and reduces your opponent's options which are generally nice things. Like Thalia, it is the fact that the body is desirable on top of having some disruptive effects that will allow this to do so well in cube. If this were just a 2/1 it wouldn't offer enough punch to merit the mild disruption. This is great with both equipment and with anthem effects. Martyr was nearly good enough and Tithe Taker is better on two fairly large accounts. Flying 1/1 tokens are a huge deal in cube. I expect to see more of this than two mana Thalia going forwards.

Imperious Oligarch 3

This is a bit too fair and a bit too narrow for drafting cubes. It is probably even a little bit overkill as yet another support card for constructed decks that want such things. It will see some play but in Orzhov token decks but it is far from an auto include. There are just so many options on such things now and this isn't even cheap or high powered compared to some alternatives. The best place I see this is in a tribal cleric deck where there is less support from general high powered cheaper dorks. This is actually a lot better than a Doomed Traveler as a stand alone card with both halves of the card being relevant enough to matter. That isn't overly relevant as Traveler is a synergy card, you don't ted to play it without support. Doomed will continue to see more play than this in the synergy decks for the cost. Things like Tithe Taker will keep this out of drafting cubes and so all round I expect to see very little of this.

Zegana, Utopian Speaker 3

Well this is certainly very powerful. It has that golden ticket of positive abilities on an otherwise well statted creature. Absolutely this card has power but I don't really see it just because of Simic being such a dodgy colour pairing at the moment. This doesn't do anything specific other cards can't do better. Even more problematically Zegana doesn't cover any areas in which Simic struggle. If we can get a Simic card that gives them proactively powerful strategies or one that handles creatures somehow then we are looking good. Until then cards like this will continue to fall by the wayside in cube. To be honest, even if Simic were great this card is still probably a bit aimless. If I want good stats and card drawing dorks Rogue Refiner is my man. If I want trample I am looking at greedy gods, pump spells with that mode, Brawn, many other things before this, and lastly if I want some bad growing level up dork there are plenty better on offer than this 4/4 that adapts into an 8/8 for a bargain priace of 10 total mana... Power but no home and no purpose.

Bedevil 6.5

Well this is lovely but it is also going to have to fight very hard to get a slot. There is simply a lot of cards in these colours covering this range of effects and abilities. With all the black three mana Hero's Downfall cards, Dreadbore, three mana Daretti, Kolghan's Command, Terminate, Abrade and possibly others I forget or disregard! Bedevil has something on most of these cards but they also have something back on it. Bedevil is hard, instant, unconditional and hits a lovely broad three types of permanent. It is great in that regard. Where it falls down rather is that BBR cost that ties it heavily to black. Really it makes it appeal less than the 1BW removal cards which are that much easier to cast. This will see play and it will be great but I fear it will wind up being a little too narrow for my cube design preferences. I am going to give it every chance to prove itself worthy thought given that I think it would be one of the best removal card in the cube at 1BR to cast. These more reliable but heavier costed removal spells are increasingly popular in cube presently and black is increasingly one of the most played colours. My fixing is excellent as well so all told perhaps I am overly concerned about the cost. It is not like you need to play this on turn three.

Gruul Spellbreaker 6

Very powerful card. Good stats and three positive abilities. This even has options going for it which is a nice rare treat on an aggressive dork. A fantastic card to equip or otherwise buff at sorcery speed. A great card to use for forcing through damage in general with the trample hexproof combo making it a good card in combination with loads of other good cards and strategies. This is about as good as it currently gets for a three drop aggressive zoo style dork but I think that is the only real place that this will shine. Outside of zoo where do you want a midcost aggressive linear dork? It is too much at the top end for an aggressive red deck, it is too low impact for a ramping deck and it offers no value or card advantage making it appeal less to midrange Jund style decks. Perhaps it is just powerful enough that some midrange builds do want it but my gut is not when you can pack cards like Tireless Tracker and Jadelight Ranger instead. So presently this seems like an auto include in Zoo but nothing else. It is also the new best thing to cascade into with Bloodbraid! Wingshards and such used to be one of the best counters to Bloodbraid and Spellbreaker shuts that sort of thing right off in addition to being premium aggressive stats and keywords.

Sphinx's Insight 0

It is time for design and development to take the plunge and make a card like this three mana. This was the perfect card to do it for. It wouldn't have been good enough to make my cube, it wouldn't be more powerful than Light the Stage or Chart a Course or many other legal draw effects. I think it would be fine. This at four mana just looks bad compared to so many raw four mana card draw spells, including at least one that is standard legal. I think Chemister's Insight beats this even if we upped the life all the way to gain four. Perhaps this is intentionally bad for draft reasons and if so that I don't know enough to comment on that. At least that would mean they didn't think it had to be made this low powered.

Emergency Powers 1

So after long consideration I don't think this has a place in cube beyond the super niche. Essentially it is a "one-of" sort of card in that you are not looking for redundancy on the effect often at all. In that light it needs to be the best at something and it just isn't. I think it has some real potential in standard, perhaps even in some wacky modern deck but cube is a little more awkward for this. Basically either Time Spiral or Sphinx's Revelation are better cards at doing what this does for you. Spiral is cheaper, less colours and gives you vastly more flexibility with your mana once finished up. You can even scale it pretty well with swathes of cards and actually generate mana with Spiral which is simply filthy behavior. The only occasion in which Emergency powers outclasses Spiral is when you have only a few manas worth of lands in play and you manage to cast something significant off the back of it such as an Elspeth, Sun's Champion. If you can cheat out casting the Powers early somehow it can set you up but in practice that seems near impossible to build into any half decent looking deck and even when possible it sounds incredibly rare and improbable. That is the addendum mode of the card. There is of course the instant mode which is just a Time Reversal for a couple more mana. That is great as big instant speed draw is what control loves, it is easily worth those two mana on Reversal when you want it in that capacity. Sadly I just don't see how that is ever better than the Revelation as earlier mentioned. You don't draw your opponents cards, you do gain life, you can use it at less than seven mana and you can scale it up with more than seven mana very nicely. Rev is safer and more versatile and frankly more on theme for that kind of thing. Hard to rule out an instant speed draw seven effect with graveyard reshuffle and extra "free" spell casts all involved but this comes fairly close! This will see some play but it will be rare and mostly for fun and experimentation rather than because it is the best thing to do.

Incubation // Incongruity 6

Bit of a mouthful as names go but lovely little card. This is exactly the sort of thing Simic needs to give it viable archetypes. This is playable while also solving the main issue faced by the guild. This is a three mana, instant speed, unrestricted, exiling creature removal spell. That is amazing however it doesn't come without a drawback. It is pretty much a Beast Within that trades mono colour and any target for the exile clause, which doesn't really sounds like a great trade. Beast Within sees very little play in my cube nor do any of the many other cards in that sort of vein so why I am getting excited about this? Obviously it is all about that Commune with Nature on the other side of this. It is why Cast Out is one of the most played and sought after white removal spells. A card like Beast Within or any other overpriced or significantly laden with drawback removal spell is amazing in the exceptional cases and poor in the more normal. You need to deal with that Inferno Titan right away but you really don't want to play this sort of thing on a Goblin Guide. You lose the games in which you can't remove the Inferno Titan but then you also lose the games in which you have dead cards in hand against the player with the cheap dorks. That is the fundamental issue with Simic, not that they don't have removal but that they don't have removal that is generally playable. Walking Ballista was their best card in that regard... At least now we have this to help out the little Triskellion and at least Incubation // Incongruity is not quite so contested! So yeah, this is jsut good because it has the option to help when you really need it while having a fairly useful, rarely dead, cheap card neutral mode on the other half. Simic decks should be creature heavy and so you should mostly hit and indeed mostly obtain some choice as well. Commune is an OK card in green and it is nice to now have it in blue as well. It is outstanding to have on half of Beast Within! If nothing else this should highly incentivise playing green in merfolk lists. Incubation is also near peak performance in that archetype. It might even be the first mono blue deck to run it! I think probably you just run generic blue card quality in those places but still, always nice to imagine!

Thursday 20 December 2018

Ravnica Allegiance Preliminary Reviews Part I

Light up the Stage 8

Wonderful design on this card. Does it cost 3 or does it cost 1? Is it drawing 2 cards or is it drawing less? Gloriously it is all of the above! We just have to find out where the average lies and how easy it is to improve on that average. The key detail that I missed on this card on first read through that makes this card exceptional rather than just good is that you get two full turns of your own and your opponent's in between in order to play your cards. This means that you can still play reactively. You can still play all lands exiled with it. You can probably play exactly as you would have if you had just drawn both those cards in most cases. I want to call this card the red Thoughtcast but frankly I think that does this thing down. Not all blue decks play artifacts to support Thoughtcast, not by a long shot. Almost every red deck can throw some damage about and usually at little cost. This is like Thoughtcast because it usually costs one but cannot be played effectively early in the game. It is like Thoughtcast because they both "draw" you two. They also both have the capacity to be used for a less efficient cost when your support isn't quite there. Light up the Stage is unlike Thoughtcast because you will find it in most red decks going forwards because the support is naturally in place.

Light up the Stage is the kind of card that is so good it will pull other cards up. I expect to see Mogg Fanatic style cards go up in value. The various pinging planeswalkers too. The ideal case for Light up the Stage is probably making a turn four Chandra and on the following turn doing some face damage with the Chandra and firing off a one mana Light up the Stage with loads of mana and land drops open to receive the value! This is a great card in an aggro red deck where the spectacle trigger is easiest, the low cost is most desirable and the the low average CMC of the deck will ensure best odds on casting all your spells exiled. Despite that I fully expect to see this all over the place. It is still a great midrange card and potentially even control card. The two turns to play your stuff really lets you play this, even at three mana on turn three, in a deck with a higher curve. If you are happy playing any four drop you might exile on the following turn then that would be a fine enough thing to do. I am usually playing a three mana on curve Light up the Stage rather than risk missing land drops in my midrange decks.

It obviously combines very nicely with library manipulation effects. Usually these sorts of things don't see much play with blue cards because blue just has better draw effects. Why play Tormenting Voice when you have access to Chart a Course for example. Light up the Stage is efficient enough that you might well play it in Izzet decks and if so it will adore a Brainstorm! It is still strong with things like Sylvan Library and Divining Top in the slower lists as well. This is not quite so playable and rounded as Faithless Looting but it is that sort of card. Light up the Stage is very powerful but it is nicely contained by its design. It will never be too oppressive despite being cheap, powerful and playable - the holy trinity for cards! Remarkably good design achieving such a feat. If someone tasked me with designing a one mana draw two style of card that was playable and powerful but not oppressively broken I might well have claimed such a challenge was impossible. I droned on about how perfectly designed Field of Ruin was and I think this is a decent jump up from that. I greatly look forward to playing with and building with this gem.

Simic Ascendancy 2

Looks suspect to me. Five mana to Battlegrowth with the surprise removed. That is a terrible tempo play for what looks to be a card that you would play in a deck that cares about tempo. Once you have made your five mana's worth of bad plays you then have access to infinite three mana Battlegrowths which is not even that exciting to be honest. It is fine, it will win the long games and give you a good edge in combat but it isn't powerful for the cost at any point nor particularly fast at providing value. It shouldn't ever really be tempo either. When there is a creature that removes a +1/+1 counter to add 1GU to your mana pool then this will suddenly be good but as it stands I can't think of any obvious or good way to abuse the win the game clause on this card. I don't even really see this in a Hardened Scales deck although short of a one shot combo that seems like the best suited home for this card. Animation Module and Bow of Nylea both feel like they are better versions of this card.

Growth Spiral 6

This is an example of a great card that is simply a little too narrow for cube. It isn't even narrow for effect, simply for being gold. Explore is a great cube card and making it instant is a surprisingly big upgrade. Just repeat the phrase "ramping while being able to hold up countermagic" to yourself and see if you feel a little dirty. This is a deceptively dangerous card! I would love to have this in my draft cube but with so many amazing card to fit in I cannot justify running this. Despite being that much better than Explore it would get a fraction of the play and that is no good for optimizing draft formats. This will however see play in a significant number of constructed Simic decks going forwards. It is just exactly what Simic wants to do, draw cards and make lands! For constructed cube this will be a staple card, for draft it shouldn't really be in the running.

Rakdos Firewheeler 1

This is powerful for sure but it is a little clunky and aimless. It doesn't kill big things and it isn't that relevant of a body once in play. Every 4 mana creature in my drafting cube in black or red is significantly better than this. I simply cannot see a place you would play this, either you are going to want a better 187 dork like Chupacabra or you are going to want a powerful card like Kalitas, Gonti, or Pia and Kiran Nalaar.

The Haunt of High Tower 1

Very powerful, much better than Vulturous Zombie, which did see a bit of cube play back in the day and I understand is still a decent commander card. If this lives to attack it should win most games from that point. Sadly that is a long way off what is needed for a six drop to be good in cube. This has no immediate impact and poor board control. This goes 1 for 1 with too much stuff and is just asking to get blown out or overrun. You shouldn't play top end like this in cube.

Gate Colossus 1

I want to love this but I am not sure it would be good enough for me to run in a Maze's End deck and that is one of the weakest decks I have ever done! I will absolutely try and make yet another Maze's End deck and run this in it but I fear I will continue to lose regardless of the "help" this affords!

Rafter Demon 0

Limited card and not a good one at that.

Rix Maadi Reveler 7

This is a great card. Increasingly playable cheap red looting cards are finding their way to print. This might look fairly simple but it actually has a lot going on which in turn allows for play in a number of different places. A 2/2 for 2 with a rummage is fine. It is a good defensive and setup play for a midrange deck and it is a fine thing for an aggro deck to have an option on. It is a bit Thraben Inspector. Just a way of getting on with things and increasing consistency without a tempo loss. The turn two Bear plus rummage is fine across the board, it might even be good if you are discarding things you want in the bin. That is the floor this card has and that is why it is so exciting. From there is has two different ceilings. Obviously it has the 2BR spectacle mode that makes it look like another Bedlam Reveler. A 2/2 for 4 is a lot less good than a 3/4 prowess for 2, especially in two colours but Reveler requires significantly less build support. You can only play Bedlam in a fully tailored deck because you need to expend your hand and fill up the bin with instants and sorceries quickly. Bedlam also has no alternate modes, it is either great or useless. It cannot help set you up like Rix Maadi. Rix Maadi doesn't need to have a great spectacle enabling deck, it doesn't need to contain an abundance of specific card types or even CMC ranges. You can just play it and it will be a fine card at worst. Occasionally it will draw you three cards and win the game. What I really like about Rix Maadi is that it is a stealth gold card. If it was just a rummage Bear then it might not be interesting enough for cube. That in turn would essentially make it a gold card as you would need access to black mana. The thing is you don't need black mana for this to be good. The rummage isn't conditional on you having discarded and so if you are hellbent (empty handed) you just get a Bear than cantrips which is pretty nuts. There is no cube deck that wouldn't run a 2 mana 2/2 that drew a card on entering play. Sure, this is only hellbent and thus only late game but it is enough of a boost on the baseline 2/2 rummage that it makes the card playable without the black. I see this getting a bunch of play in red decks that then toss in a couple of BR duals. It won't matter if they don't see the black mana but it doesn't hurt to add and makes Reveler a little better.

Lavinia, Azorius Renegade 2

Mostly this card seems like it is an anti Force of Will tool! I'm not sure about this legacy and vintage, this looks a bit fair compared to alternative hate-bear options. I guess this is pretty brutal to play on turn one against a vintage player packing all the Mox etc. Certainly for unpowered cube the body simply isn't good enough for the disruption the card brings. It might see some sideboard use but infrequently at best. In a powered cube I still don't think the density of things this hoses allows it to be that good. Feels like it is going to comparable to Meddling Mage. Occasionally very appropriate but mostly just bad due to poor scaling into singleton.

Sunday 16 December 2018

Mono White Control .dec

Endless AtlasMono white control has always been a low tier thing in cube. It hard counters most decks that try and attack for the win and often also hard counter those that try and do damage for the win. Sadly they have always been at the mercy of combo decks, control decks and even a load of midrange decks provided they have the right tools. It is possible to beat the combo decks with a mono white control deck if you can find the right hate cards and a way of getting them into your list without ruining it. Ideally side board but there are some cards you can run main without it hurting too much like Relic of Progenitus. The real issue the white decks used to face was card advantage. White just has basically none and those that it does have are really hard to use in a general sort of way. Often it would go for Land Tax with Scroll Rack but it would have to run Enlightened Tutor to piece that together and then it would have to dodge disruption to that pair while keeping a low land count. This would mean running a deck with lots of mana rocks and it all just turned into a huge mess.

Dawn of HopeNow we finally have some more all round playable sources of card advantage that a white deck can tap into. Obviously most are colourless cards rather than white ones but it does still mean we can make a mono white control deck that isn't quite so cold to the things it doesn't crush. These are Endless Atlas, Treasure Map, new Karn, and Dawn of Hope. Dawn is the only white one and as such it puts the most pressure on your build to actually be a relevant source of value. A couple of pure lifegain cards were included in this list simply to help empower the Dawn. It was really the Endless Atlas that started my desire to tinker with a mono white control list. Atlas is a decent card, if a little narrow, but this is the perfect place for it.

23 Spells

Swords to Plowshares
Fountain of Renewal
Settle the WreckageThraben Inspector

Renewed Faith
Mind Stone
Endless Atlas
Dawn of Hope
Bounty Hunter
Treasure Map

Gideon of the Trials
Blade Splicer
Council's Judgement

Karn, Scion of Urza
Restoration Angel
Cast Out
Wrath of God
Settle the Wreckage
Mistveil Plains
Gideon Jura
Angel of Sanctions

Elspeth Sun's Champion
Austere Command
Sun Titan

Decree of Justice

17 Lands

Field of Ruin
Myriad Landscape
Temple of the False God
Mistveil Plains
Emeria, the Sky Ruin
12 Plains

Mind StoneThe list is mana hungry to say the least. It doesn't even pack that much in the way of ramp cards. Treasure Map is eventually ramp but it takes time and mana to get you there. Mind Stone is basically the only quick one in the list. While I would love to throw more in there is concern of over doing it. Not only are we leaning on a few cards for our card draw we also have basically no card quality effects. All the ramp in this list costs nothing in card terms. Mind Stone can be cashed in, Map does its thing and the other two are both on lands which are something we want anyway. Adding in ramp that costs us cards beyond these will lead to inconsistency even if it does allow for some good high roll draws.

Being mana hungry is actually fine for the mono white control deck as it has about as much time as can be safely had by any deck in cube. It just stalls out the game very effectively with loads of answers, generally defensive leaning cards and lifegain. The constant threat of mass removal forces people to play a bit slower as well. As such we don't need to lean on fast ramp, we can happily make do with a decent land count and the slower more value orientated ramp. Typical elf and artifact ramp decks are more like sprinters while this is a more like a marathon runner ramp deck. It might not get to stupid amounts of mana ever nor does it get to high amounts that fast but it makes the game go on sufficiently long that it probably has access to more mana over the course of the average game than most cube decks (that don't have an infinite mana combo).

Elspeth, Sun's Champion
This deck can outlast basically everything there is in cube. It has solid library recursion with the Mistveil Plains which is super hard to disrupt. You can make uncounterable white permanents with the Decree and you can recur it with Sun Titan if actually destroyed. On top of this lists ability to carry on going in perpetuity it also has a lot of exile removal effects meaning that against another deck that has potential reshuffling mechanics they are going to be running out of threats. All this deck really needs to do is make land drops and survive and it is pretty good at both of those things. As a result of this the deck is probably far too threat heavy for its needs. All the many win conditions have utility, value and defensive aspects in addition to their ability to close a game. As such I am not desperate to cut them but they are some of the more obvious places you could make cuts. Sun's Champion, Sun Titan, Decree and Gideon Jura is a lot of top end. You could probably swap them for Day of Judgement, Unexpectedly Absent, Wall of Omens and that sort of thing and still have a fine old list. Games would be a lot longer but you would be far better at getting to the late game.

Restoration AngelThe only card I really want to cut from this list is Bounty Hunter simply because it is quite a bad card it turns out. Just far too slow to be useful removal and far too low power when not killing things. As for replacements I have already named some of the best. The thing with white control decks is that they are not wildly creative decks. Just play the best cards on offer to get a rounded looking list for both curve and card effects. Play cards that generally stand on their own well, cards that stall the game and provide you with advantages! Play powerful stuff. You can throw in synergies but without the selection of other colours doing so affords less payoff. I have some mild lifegain synergy in this deck but not to the extent of playing any cards that are weak without the support. The same is also true of the synergies for Restoration Angel.

This archetype is pretty fair even with the significant recent improvements it has had. It was low tier before, just a good counter deck but not a good stand alone one. Now it is an OK stand alone deck while remaining a good counter deck. This kind of list will always be weak to instants and sorceries. No amount of Mana Tithe, Abeyance, Lapse of Certainty etc will change that. The deck is too slow to take much advantage of time bought with these cards. None properly stop the things that cripple this kind of deck. An Upheaval, Armageddon or Death Cloud is usually game over. Something like a Mind Twist or even a well placed Duress can be too. So while you can tech against a lot of combo decks you can't really tech against devastating effects. If you are in a format where you can tech against combo decks then odds on a number of lists are going to make sure they include a way to ruin your day and you will be fairly limited in your ability to stop them. I guess that is the advantage of this deck having a bit more punch in the top end than it needs. Ending a game quicker is about the best plan this deck has of dodging a game ending Upheaval! This deck is nice for a change of pace, nice when you just really want to crush a specific beatdown plan, nice when you want to do a white deck that doesn't rely on making lots of small aggressive dorks. It is nice that it is a bit more viable for all those reasons and that is all I really have to say about that.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

The Top 10 Cards of 2018

Integrity // InterventionWe have made it! The 25th and final installment of this yearlong Top 10 series. One thing that is fairly apparent is that the number of cards that get used each year increases. Not just new cards from that year but older cards that work well with new cards too reemerging. Each new card seems to add more, on average to the game, than the last. A fairly obvious trend if you think about it but not something that I had ever really considered prior to doing this series of lists.

The top ten list itself is fairly tame for this year however the number of cards that are performing well in the drafting cube and keeping their slot is huge. The number of cards I have used in specific decks or built around is also extreme. It is pretty much what I always used to request more of - more playable cards. Wizards understand card power a lot better than they used to and are far better at hitting the mark on power level. This means far less broken stuff and far less duds. Just a nice wide array of cards falling in the interesting and potentially playable range. This in turn provides way more longevity from the new stuff with a huge long list of cool new things to try out. Wizards get a lot of stick for a lot of what they do. Purely from a design perspective I am really pleased to see the direction they are going in. I can't speak so much for formats like draft and standard, nor the choices they make regarding play structures, but the individual cards are often such a joy to play with. Games in cube get appreciably better with each new set and it has been that way for the past few years. The cube is at it's most balanced and diverse and it is made up mostly from cards from the last few years. Those two things are very much linked. There are still so many new things I want to try out due to cards released this year.

Jadelight RangerI don' want to quote numbers for cards in the cube as everything is all still so new. Presently this year is the biggest contributor to my drafting cube however not by a massive amount. As the cards get tested, and indeed as new sets are released I expect this number to drop more sharply than others. In another five years any of the last three years could wind up with more than this one. Even so, at that point one of those future years will most likely have the most cards in cube. Presently over a third of the cube is made of cards from 2015 (Khans and Origins) onwards. These are the cards that are generally making a big difference to game quality in the right direction.

As for this top ten specifically I really struggled with the last few slots. There are at least ten comparably strong cards I felt deserved those last couple of slots on this list. The best of those can be found at the top of this extensive list of cards I have so far used in cube decks from 2018. I am sure a fair few more will crop up over time too that I have overlooked. I really couldn't decide for the final slots on the list due to insufficient experience so I just went with my gut. I will try and come back to this in a year or two and revise my opinion on the top ten. Here are those not on the list;

Legion Warboss

Integrity // Intervention
Jadelight Ranger
Legion Warboss
The Eldest Reborn
Duantless Bodyguard
Midnight Reaper
Doom Whisperer
Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
Rekindling Phoenix
Thrashing Brontodon
Direfleet Daredevil
Adventurous Impulse
Fountain of Renewal
Fanatical Firebrand
Dusk-Legion Zealot
The Eldest RebornSkymarcher Aspirant
Sai, Master Thopterist
Adeliz, the Cinder Wind
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
Ajani's Welcome
Arcades, the Strategist
Arch of Orazca
Arclight Phoenix
Artificer's Assistant
Assure // Assemble
Azor's Gateway
Beast Whisperer
Benalish Marshal
Board the Weatherlight
Boros Challenger
Bounty Agent
Bounty of Might
Burglar Rat
Cast Down
Sai, Master ThopteristChamber Sentry
Chemister's Insight
Conclave Tribunal
Connive // Concoct
Crackling Drake
Crash Through
Creeping Chill
Curious Obsession
Dark-Dweller Oracle
Dawn of Hope
Deeproot Elite
Departed Deckhand
Dire Fleet Poisoner
Discovery // Dispersal
Dread Shade
Dream Eater
Electrostatic Field
Dauntless BodyguardElvish Clancaller
Elvish Rejuvenator
Emmara, Soul of the Accord
Etrata, the Silencer
Expansion // Expulsion
Experimental Frenzy
Fall of Thran
Find // Finality
Flower // Flourish
Forerunner of the Empire
Forerunner of the Legion
Fungal Plots
Fungal Infection
Gearsmith Prodigy
Ghlata, Primal Hunger
Ghitu Lavarunner
Gird for Battle
Glowspore Shaman
Sentinel TowerGoblin Banneret
Goblin Cratermaker
Goblin Chainwhirler
Goblin Insitgator
Goblin Motivator
Goblin Trashmaster
Grand Warlord Radha
Graveyard Marshal
Gruesome Menagerie
Haazda Marshal
Hadana's Climb
Healer's Hawk
Herioc Reinforcements
History of Benalia
Hunted Witness
Invert // Invent
Isareth, the Awakener
Jade Bearer
Saheeli's DirectiveJaya Ballard
Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain
Josu Vess, Lich Knight
Journey to Eternity
Jungleborn Pioneer
Knight of Autumn
Kraul Harpooner
Lava Coil
Legion Lieutenant
Leonin Vanguard
Liliana, Untouched by Death
Liliana's Contract
Lyra Dawnbringer
Martyr of Dusk
Marwyn, the Nurturer
Mastermind's Aquisition
Mausoleum Secrets
Maximize Velocity
Nicol Bolas, the RavagerMemorial to Glory
Merfolk Mistbinder
Merfolk Trickster
Militia Bugler
Mission Breifing
Mist-Cloaked Herald
Mox Amber
Murmuring Mystic
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager // the Arisen
Nightmare's Thirst
Nightveil Sprite
Oath of Teferi
Paladin of Atonement
Path of Metttle
Pelt Collector
Pilfering Imp
Pirate's Pillage
Dusk Legion ZealotPrice of Fame
Precognition Feild
Radient Destiny
Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage
Ral, Izzet Viceroy
Remorseful Cleric
Resplendent Angel
Rite of Belzenlock
Risk Factor
Runaway Steam-Kin
Runic Armasaur
Rustwing Falcon
Saproling Migration
Sarkhan, Fireblood
Satyr Enchanter
Seafloor Oracle
Siegehorn Ceratops
Board the WeatherlightSlimefoot, the Stowaway
Song of Freyalise
Snubhorn Sentry
Sovereign's Bite
Sparring Construct
Sporecrown Thallid
Squee, the Immortal
Status // Statue
Stealleaf Champion
Stitcher's Supplier
Sunholm Stalwart
Tajic, Legion's Edge
Tempest Djinn
Tendershoot Dryad
Territorial Allosaurus
Tetzimoc, Primal Death
Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle
The Flame of KeldTezzeret, Artifice Master
The Antiquities War
The Flame of Keld
The Mending of Dominaria
The Mirari Conjecture
Thief of Sanity
Thought Erasure
Thorn Lieutenant
Thousand Year Storm
Thran Temporal Gateway
Torch Courier
Traxos, Scourge of Kroog
Twilight Prophet
Urza's Ruinous Blast
Valiant Knight
Venerated Loxodon
Verix Bladewing
Zhalfirin VoidWarkite Maraduer
Warlord's Fury
Wayward Swordtooth
Wizard's Lightning
Yawgmoth's Vile Offering
Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp
Zhalfirin Void

Aminatou, the Fateshifter
Ancient Stone Idol
Arcane Artisan
Arena Rector
Arixmethes, the Slumbering Isle
Azra Oddsmaker
Bonus Round
Cheering Fanatic
Entreat the DeadCoveted Jewel
Endless Atlas
Entreat the Dead
Estrid, the Masked
Estrid's Invocation
Generous Patron
Genesis Storm
Kestia, the Cultivator
Lord Windgrace
Magus of the Balance
Mindblade Render
Najeela, the Blade-Blossom
Nesting Dragon
Night Incarnate
Octopus Umbra
Reality Scramble
Rushblade Commander
Sage's Reverie
Saheeli, the Gifted
Saheeli's Directive
Sentinel Tower
Together Forever
Turntimber Sower
Tuvasa the Sunlit
Varina, Lich Queen
Will Kenrith
Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign
Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow

Vivien Reid10. Vivien Ried

A little bit of a slow burner in cube as well as in standard. Vivien is great. She is the ideal control walker in a green shell. She provides useful value in her +1 and has a nice range of answers on her -3. The Plummet is huge, the key line of text in what makes Vivien so strong. Green is poor at killing creatures and vulnerable to fliers. You can't play Plummet as it is far too narrow but you want to. Until now there have been no good modular cards with a Plummet effect but Vivien ticks that box wonderfully. Freyalise was the other common control walker for green but 1/1 mana dorks are no much value or reach. Nissa Vital Force is generally a bit more aggressive and slower to gain you value or control. Vivien just hits that sweet spot of doing what you need from that sort of card given the types of places you will play her. She both covers inherent weaknesses while being otherwise well suited. A very fair feeling planeswalker but one that it turns out we quite needed. Green is a bit in the position red used to find itself in. Neither was great at slower games. Mostly because neither had the tools to go long. Then red got great value and utility cards and became a fearsome thing to face in the slower games. Green looks like it can go long with good big cards and plenty of value but due to lack of ability to handle things like spells or creatures means that the longer the games went the greater the chances of just losing to something random are. Vivien does a surprising amount to counter that problem and that is why I have given her this slot on the list over cards that seem more potent or see a bit more play. Legion Warboss is both more powerful and sees more play but it is just the same as Rabblemaster and isn't such an interesting card. Jadelight Ranger sees more play and is more powerful but Jadelight is just another 3 drop value dork, a thing green has so many of I did a top 10 list just for them! It doesn't massively change what the colour can do and so Vivien seems a more noteworthy card.

Vraska, Golgari Queen9.   Vraska, Golgari Queen

I have been really impressed with Vraska in this four mana offering. Her abilities cover a wide range of doing the things you want to be doing. She is safe and suitable. She can protect herself or yourself with either removal or life/loyalty gains. A four mana, six loyalty walker in green is no easy thing to take down. Her ultimate is frightening too. She can even support things like Liliana, Heretical Healer and Journey to Eternity with her sacrifice ability. The cost of sacrificing stuff late game in Golgari when you went the value is minimal too. She draws cards, deals with a lot of problem cards and threatens to close the game too with her easily reachable ultimate. Vraska is a real pull to the colour pairing and has seen some splashing for as well. She is one of few options on four mana planeswalkers in those colours and that greatly ups the demand on her. Vraska is one of the few elite gold planeswalkers that see as much play as the good mono coloured walkers.

Emissary of Grudges8.   Emissary of Grudges

This dude is super naughty. He is basically the big True-Name Nemesis. The red Aetherling if you prefer. Emissary comes into play and is super hard to interact with or get out of play. He also has the perk of ending the game incredibly fast. This would all stand to make him rather oppressive if it were not for being a red six drop and thus not seen as often. Power level wise he is about on par for a cube six drop. There has been much debate as to which is better out of Grudges and Inferno Titan which is a potent place to be! While Grudges may be on point for power I am not a huge fan of the design. Unsurprisingly all the less balanced cards come out of sets like Commander. Emissary simply isn't very interactive or fun to play against. You need to have a Wrath effect or two good removal cards and be ahead enough to eat the Misdirection. Both pretty rare and thus Emissary tends to just end games and on the quick side too. Very good but pretty dull.

Assassin's Trophy7.   Assassin's Trophy

Not a great deal to say about this one. It is just a lovely little removal card. It is what you want from removal. Cheap, broad target range with no target restrictions and instant speed. It has the perfect drawback weighting that makes it interesting and fair too. Without the drawback it would be utterly bonkers and no fun to play against, even if it didn't hit lands. With too much more of a drawback it would probably suck. It is exactly the sort of card you need in cubes. Broad removal that is unlikely to sit dead in hand is a big part of having good interactive games where choices matter. This is seeing way more love than Abrupt Decay in cube although that is actually down to the poor scaling Abrupt Decay has with recent cards like Fatal Push and Vraska, Golgari Queen than it has to do with power differences between Decay and Trophy. All told both cards are similar ballparks for power levels. Trophy is just a little more playable and a little more interesting. Status // Statue is also a lovely new offering in the removal camp this is also both more interesting and more playable than Abrupt Decay. Sadly it is not quite as powerful!

Ravenous Chupacabra6.   Ravenous Chupacabra

Not exciting nor even all that powerful. What makes Chumpcabra the go to 187 dork now in cube is simply reliability. It always kills and it has no target restrictions and as such it does its primary role better than anything else. Skinrender does't always kill, Shriekmaw can't always target and Noxious Gearhulk is in the price bracket of win conditions not answer cards and value. When you have recursion effects or tutor effects or anything like that you want the Chupacabra over alternatives as it is reliable. Sure a 2/2 body is fairly low value but that only represents a small fraction of what the card is about. You are playing this to kill things and it does that fantastically. Skinrender has a 50% better body so at first glance you might think the removal needs to be 50% better on Chupacabra for it to be better. It probably is about that much better but that still makes the cards seem comparable if you equally weight the removal and body components. If you value it more at an 80/20 split which feels more realistic then you get a vastly better deal with Chupacabra. (80% of 3x + 20% of 2x > 20% of 3x + 80% of 2x if you appreciate that sentiment better in a sort of maths phrasing!) Both amount of play and overall performance are notably better than all the alternative removal dorks so you can just go for some play experience with the card and not need to do maths conjecture on the matter! Chupacabra just feels like one of those clean staple cards with one line of text you find in Alpha.

Karn, Scion of Urza5.   Karn, Scion of Urza

Karn has seen a lot of play and has given a wide range of performances. The fairly obvious thing with Karn is that the more artifacts you run the better he is. This means that Karn is really only as good as the support there is for him. With no other artifacts Karn is on the low end of the spectrum for four mana planeswalkers. With a couple he is decent. With any more than that he is utterly unreasonable. I like cards that scale but Karn does so a little too steeply and has too acceptable of a baseline given how high his ceiling is. Arguably one of the most powerful planeswalkers, certainly in terms of ease of play and setup to obtain that near ceiling feel. Karn is certainly potent enough that the count and use of artifacts in my cube has jumped as a result of him. Despite this it is still pretty tough to get a Karn deck with all the good support in a draft where he reaches his ceiling. As such, despite his high ceiling and high floor Karn still seems to perform in a fairly average sort of way in an unpowerd draft cube. With power he has a nice jump but so do many things. Having synergy with cards that are more powerful and stand up on their own is no massive benefit or acclaim. It is the constructed cube decks where Karn really shines. In those he is an interesting and powerful option that improves a lot of decks, especially those with fewer or narrower colours. A big part of what makes Karn a lovely addition to cube is how widely playable he is with his lack of colour ties. This has lead to some interesting uses and a lot more general use.

Shalai, Voice of Plenty4.   Shalai, Voice of Plenty

I have been super impressed with Shalai. I was expecting her to not have that much in the way of abilities due to the fact that when you have removal you are going to be using it on the 3/4 flier preferentially over most things anyway. This was an accurate assessment for cards like Doom Blade however it turns out that most of the things Shalai effects are not Doom Blade. They are things like Vampire Hexmage, Walking Ballista, Duress, Lightning Bolt, Edicts, and many more. Shalai does a superb job of protecting your planeswalkers and your smaller creatures. She randomly disrupts a bunch of spells too. The best way of understanding what it is that makes Shalai so good is option density. She drastically reduces what your opponent is able to do. They may well have all the answers but Shalai still typically forces them to be used in a way or sequence that wasn't optimal. When they don't have answers then they really are unable to do all that much. Like Winter Orb reduces your opponents abiltiy to play by crimping their mana Shalai does it just by reducing options. The +1/+1 counter ability has even seen a bunch of use although I attribute this mostly due to Shalai seeing a lot of play because of the rest of her things. The more action a card gets the more likely you are to experience the less relevant aspects of it. Even if a minor perk the +1/+1 counters are still a perk on what is already a great card! Mostly she is played in non-green decks too. A 3/4 flyer is also a great body that puts a good amount of work. Shalai is solid, highly disruptive, potentially to the point of locking people out of the game and fairly safe. Her only real downside is that you tend to go one for one and concede tempo with her when you walk into a good answer. Not many four drops that have this downside last in the cube and that in itself should speak volumes for the quality of Shalai. Part of why she gets away with it is that you can mitigate that one weakness in loads of ways. From hand disruption and countermagic to simply having a board of powerful yet vulnerable things. Shalai seems like she buys enough time and is a relevant enough body that she closes out a lot of games pretty much by herself.

Plague Mare3.   Plague Mare

This little horse is rather extreme in my cube but may well just be average in other cubes. It all depends how low to the ground your cube is and how much you have in the way of support for the token based strategies. I have found that both token strategies and low to the ground cubes to be great and so my cube is heavily tailored to those ends. As such Plague Mare is a pretty hard counter to vast swathes of cards in my cube. It has done some of the filthiest things since joining the cube ranks earlier this year. It is the new Arc Trail. It is a card you can play in midrange or proactive creature based decks without being an act of self harm or even going off theme. It was getting to be a bit the case that decks without sweepers had very little hope against the go wide decks and it was really hurting those midrange decks. A bit of tuning to counter that combined with cards like Plague Mare has decently addressed that issue but it hasn't stopped the Mare from being a power house. It counters or neuters so many top rate cards that you don't need it to kill three 2/1s or mana elves to be worth it. Having to make a 4/3 Angel of Invention because you saw a Plague Mare is really sad. A Siege Gang without any goblin tokens is pretty sad. Having a nice way of cleaning up after popping a Hangarback Walker or Hallowed Spiritkeeper is great too. I have simply never found Plague Mare to be bad. It can win some matchups all by itself but even in the non-aggro games Mare still seems to do great work. A little bit dull looking and also a little bit dull in action but dull doesn't mean it isn't bonkers. It also seems necessary so I am more than happy to have this guy as an options. Even though I seem to always be the one eating the wrong end of this card. I don't play around it enough and get savagely wrecked by it. I literally only just noticed the can't be blocked by white creatures bit as I put the images in before publishing. It has not come up yet despite seeing play in every black deck that can run it since its debut. The reason why is obvious - it killed all the creatures!

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria2.   Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

I don't really need to spend much time on Teferi. His power is well known to players across all format borders. He is just so clean and on point for what you want a control planeswalker to do. He is a stealth five mana walker due to his plus one. It makes him much more like a three mana planeswalker. Control decks want to be in the position to make walkers with disruption to back them up with and that is exactly what Teferi does. As powerful as five drop walkers and as safe as a three mana one. That is really at the crux of why Teferi is so played. He also does exactly what you want in terms of abilities. A gain in loyalty with card draw and one for one removal for almost any target. You get value or control and you get the most direct value and the broadest control. You will usually have at least one useful thing to do with Teferi, often two. His ultimate is a really big threat and empowers the threat of loyalty gain. The removal ability even lets you use Teferi exclusively as your win condition as he will prevent self mill and let you grind out the game. Teferi is the all round control planeswalker that combines decent power with perfection in suitability to task. His synergy with lands like Azcanta or Azorius Chancery is also a little bit naughty. It gives some easy ways to scale up the power on your already top of the range planeswalker.

Retrofitter Foundry1.   Retrofitter Foundry

This was another somewhat slow burner. It took a fair bit of time with this in the cube before we cottoned on to how nuts it is. Some people call it the one mana planeswalker. It has a bit too much need of mana investments for me to like that comparison but I can see where people are coming from. Foundry just does several things incredibly well and efficiently. It is inevitability for one. Endless 1/1 fliers or 4/4 beaters will overcome almost all decks in time. Foundry offers great mana efficiency in that you can easily use all your mana every turn with a little planning. Just tossing those spare one or two mana the way of Foundry adds up over a couple of turns and leads you to being surprisingly ahead. Retrofitter foundry allows you to be incredibly reactive as you can leave up all your mana until the last minute all the time without risk of wasting it. Foundry also has massive amounts of synergy across the whole cube. It turns out a lot of good stand alone cube cards make servos or thopters. Whirler Rogue is already a great card, when you can freely make it 7/7 in stats instead of 4/4 it looks really oppressive. Lastly Foundry acts as a kind of sac outlet which is monumentally frustrating to play against. If you ever try and deal with a token your spell or effect will get fizzled and that token will become another kind of token. If you try and charge a Jitte or use lifelink the Foundry is going to deny you. Foundry has a numerous occasions defeated Wurmcoil Engine. The card is incredibly low cost to run in any deck and adds a lot if dimensions to it. The power level is very high but it isn't completely off the charts. What pushes this card to the very top of this list is playability and convenience. It is just a bit too easy to use and abuse without any real risk or cost. Only the most aggressive (to include most combo) of decks with no synergies to pair with it don't want this card. Any sort of midrange or control deck is more than happy running this. It is like Walking Ballista in that regard. The best thing about having this in your deck is that you will not have to face the card! Foundry is even a fine way to curve out. You can have a 4/4 on turn four for 4 mana total investment on prior turns, leaving you all your turn four mana and most of your turn three mana still to do other things. You even get a bit of utility from your various 1/1 tokens prior to that. The fact that the card is both inevitability and not a bad tempo opener should set some alarm bells ringing. Tempo and value is fundamentally all there is in magic and so when cards do both you have to pay attention. This has trickery and a boat load of option density to add to the mix as well.

Friday 7 December 2018

Thopters and Servos .dec

Servo Exhibition
I built this deck expecting it to be a low tier fun affair. It looks a bit like a block deck and pushes a mild synergy with a couple of cards far too far to be all that reasonable of a thing to do. I built this deck for an excuse to play with cards I don't get to play with often enough otherwise. In my head this is a bad halfway point between a Boros aggro list and an affinity list. Refined sensibly this deck feels like it should wind up at one of those places. In practice this deck did a whole lot of winning. It took a bit of unpacking to work out why it outperformed expectation so hard. What I thought was a bit of a comedy deck was easily a tier one deck. Here is exactly what I ran;

25 Spells

Mox Opal

Animation Module
Retrofitter Foundry
Servo SchematicGalvanic Blast
Nerd Ape

Toolcraft Exemplar
Thraben Inspector
Sparring Construct

Servo Exhibition
Hangarback Walker
Servo Schematic
Makeshift Munitions

Walking Ballista
Orcish Vandal
Smuggler's Copter

Thopter Engineer
Master Trinketeer
Thopter EngineerPia Nalaar
Tajic, Legion's Edge

Spear of Heliod

Tshar, Ancestor's Apostle
Sram's Expertise
Pia and Kiran Nalaar
Karn, Scion of Urza

Angel of Invention

15 Lands

Great Furnace
Ancient Den
Blinkmoth Nexus
RW Duals

Sparring ConstructThe best way to appreciate why this deck did so well is to think of it as an aggro deck that also plays like a midrange deck. In the rock paper scissors world of most magic metagames being able to be one of two things makes you favoured! This deck seemed to be able to outpace or out value any opposition as required. As to why the deck gets to play as both aggro and as midrange in the first place however is a little more subtle. It is the combination of being able to support synergies without having to play any individually low powered cards. Yes, there are only two cards that directly empower having servo and thopter tokens in the deck but most of the cards in the list benefit from artifacts. Usually synergy decks have a bunch of weak stand alone cards but this deck is able to easily avoid doing that and is potent enough that you don't have to. When you have a bunch of good stand alone cards that are empowered by synergies they become great. There are a few weaker cards in this list in more of a support role like Sparring Construct and some stand alone do nothings like Animation Module but none are key cards and all have a nice deep pool of alternatives to chose from. Most of which would be stand alone more powerful cards.

Toolcraft ExemplarThe quality of the one drops is a pretty big deal. A 3/2 first strike, a 2/3, and a Flame Javelin all at one mana is pretty unreasonably above the curve. It doesn't take much at all to go from fine to completely nuts on a one mana card. These three cheap cards are filthy powerful and do a great job of stealing the early game. This list has less on the one slot than most other aggressive decks I build but in terms of quality it outclasses most other things.

Another sneaky way this deck edges ahead of other similar lists is having so much utility on the creatures it runs. As such it can afford to be incredibly light on pure disruptive cards that are usually offering no synergy support and are typically reactive. Loads of your creatures are able to do damage to other creatures and players, buff your own and so forth. The deck is full of natural reach and natural late game sources of gas without any effort, it simply gets those things from the cards it wants to play. The synergies mean that those cards are even better at those things than usual.

Tajic, Legion's EdgeI played Tajic but not because he is a good fit in the deck really, I just wanted to test him. Despite having played him in at least five decks I am yet to even draw him which feels unreal. The odds on that must be minute. True to form I didn't draw him in this deck either. The idea was that he would empower Animation Module which was looking a little under supported. Really I think I need to go Steel Overseer, Arcbound Worker and most importantly Arcobound Ravager for the Module to get there. At that point you are looking to trim all of the non-essential non-artifact creatures for their lack of synergy with Overseer and at that point you wind up with a very different deck. A kind of Tempered Steel list with Bomat Courier and Signal Pest replacing your premium tempo one drops which is quite a different affair all together. For better theme reasons I would replace Tajic with something like Bygone Bishop, Aether Chaser or Myrsmith. The Smith is a little scary to introduce into the themed deck however as you open it up to the Myr subtype and have all the dilemmas that come with such things. Suddenly you can't resist that Origin Spellbomb instead of that clearly inferior Cogworker's Puzzleknot! Another good shout for Tajic replacements would simply be a land. This is a mana hungry list and one that does typically want to curve upto four and eventually wants at least five lands in play. 15 is a touch greedy even with the Mox. Speaking of Mox, that is another reason this deck performs so well. When your Boros aggro deck gets to play with power 9 levels of potency at no real cost it obviously gives it a bit of a boost!

Animation ModuleIt is pretty hard to hold off running a Stoneforge Mystic package. Skullclamp is great artifact support and loves a deck full of 1/1 token makers! Cranial Plating is pretty naughty and Jitte is still a fine little card. Undeniably Stoneforge is pretty busted when you can use it with the most busted equipment and would stand to make this deck even better. With so many great options on cards these days I find I enjoy playing new stuff ever more. I would rather lose with Tshar than win with the same old over tuned cards. When I am doing themed decks I would rather go as deep as I can go while still being a viable deck. I thought this would be good enough to function without the support of the tried and tested Stoneforge and that is why it is not here. It is also a good habit to get into if you play much in the way of rotisserie formats. Knowing what contested cards you can do without and what the good uncontested cards are for any kind of deck is a pretty big win. When a card is so potent that it is playable in a significant chunk of all the decks in the meta you are not assured of it, or at least if you are, then you are not getting much of a look in on other cards of that kind of potency. In a rotisserie for this kind of deck grabbing a Stoneforge package would come at the cost of the Mox Opal, the Smuggler's Copter, or worse still, some of your mana base.

Master TrinketeerAs for the cards in the deck the surprise standout was Sram's Expertise. With a couple of global +1/+1 effects on three drops as well as a dude that gives things haste you can have some pretty explosive plays. From having just lands and Trinketeer in play I was able to go expertise into Thopter Engineer and swing in for 11! All the many sac outlets were great, it made me want more things that put token artifacts into play and also more artifacts that draw cards when they die. The deck had so many sac outlets it felt impossible to resolve targetting spells which is super annoying for a bunch of cards. It felt a bit like goblins decks do with their Sledders and Prospectors fizzling everything! Sparring Construct was a bomb as well! He was the on board combat trick that made life even harder for the opponent. Without the sac outlets and the artifact synegies the card would be pretty tame but in this list it worked wonders! Here are the other cards I was considering for the build that I have not already mentioned in the article.

Cataclysmic Gearhulk
Goblin Welder
Shrapnel Blast
Implement of Ferocity
Chromatic Star
Countless Gears Renegade
Board the Weatherlight

Pia NalaarTh other great thing this deck does is attack from every angle. It has direct damage, it has efficient conventional beaters from turn one, it has the ability to go wide and to go tall. It has evasive dorks. It has permanents of every type making all kinds of removal, mass or spot, that much less effective. It can grow the whole team, or send a load of haste dudes your way. It can go all in aggro at you and it is pretty scary or it can sit back and play a control value game and do so very effectively. Thopters really are not to be sniffed at. They are good in all kinds of cube deck and an awful lot of the cards that make them, or indeed other flavours of 1/1 flying token, are top rate cube cards. This deck has the highest density of thopter cards I have ever had in a deck and I think that is a decent enough explanation of why this is a potent build! I have had a draft "Card spotlight: Thopter token" article in draft form for ages. Mostly unpublished because all it really says are that thopters are great! The performance of this deck was at least some testament to that sentiment. I find the two best ways to learn in Magic are losing and the unexpected. This deck brought the latter of those things and as such gave me much to mull over.