Sunday 22 December 2019

Twiddle Storm .dec

Historically there have always been three main camps of storm deck you can do in most formats, certainly the singleton ones. You have ritual storm, you have artifact based storm, and then there are the Heartbeat, High Tide, or Mana Flare variants of storm. Now we seem to have a fourth option open to us. With lands that tap for a lot of mana by themselves we can forgo the need to play a Mana Flare effect and replace high cost cards with big untap effects for low cost ones with minor untapping ability. A Twiddle storm deck sits somewhere between a Heartbeat of Spring list and a Ritual list in that your Twiddles are all somewhat like a Ritual card while you are also untapping land that tap for more than usual as your source of mana generation. I have been impressed with this new option on storm thus far. The caveat to that is I have so few games under my belt with this variant when compared to all the others.

The basic plan is simple enough. Get a Lotus land into play either naturally on turn three if possible or "for free" after a Blood Sun. While the latter is typically a turn slower it is a whole lot more powerful. You get the bonus two mana from not needing to untap the Field or having to sac untapped lands for the Value. You also then get much more value back from cards like Frantic Search and Snap. Once you have your Lotus land in play you aim to tap and untap it generating mana as you do so which you use for dig and draw until you have enough storm to win with. Going off is always a little different and not uncomplicated at all. You can easily throw a game without any help from the opponent but as far as uninteractive combo goes it is about as interesting and fun as it gets. As with many other storm builds at least to some extent this list utilizes the power of big draw 7 effects, mass graveyard reuses, and Gifts Ungiven to set those things up.

Past in FlamesThis build has a lot of strengths over the alternatives in an objective sense. The lower curve compared to Heartbeat decks is much safer and more consistent. Not having to potentially give your opponent a turn with double mana before you can go off is also a big deal too! Compared to the ritual lists the Twiddle version has the big advantage of being all in house and having a greater redundancy. All the playable Rakdos Rituals combined do not come close to outnumbering just the blue options for untapping on or more lands in the same CMC range. Having Rituals in two colours is also pretty awkward when trying to go off.

This was my first real go at the deck and I can think of plenty of ways to tweak it already and yet it was powerful feeling, like top tier powerful. While it rarely goes off before turn four and cannot before turn three it still likely averages a sub four turn clock goldfishing. Consistency is what this list has in spades. There are plenty of cards I would happily play in this list too so it is not thin by any means. This was my first go at the build;

Lotus Vale

25 Spells

Expedition Map
Dreams Grip
Reach Through Mists

Faithless Looting
Sleight of Hand

Peer Through Depths
Psychic Puppetry
Blood SunIdeas Unbound
Hidden Strings

Helm of Awakening
Cloud of Faeries
Merchant Scroll

Eye of Nowhere
Brain Freeze

Vizier of Tumbling Sands
Blood Sun
Aria of Flame
Frantic Search

Gift's Ungiven
Past in Flames
Ideas UnboundFatestitcher

Echo of Eons

15 lands

Lotus Field
Lotus Vale
Tolaria West
Thespian Stage

Scalding Tarn
Volcanic Island
Steam Vents
Shivan Reef

Cascade Bluffs
Spirebluff Canal
4 Islands

Thespian's StageThe mana base was reasonable but even with all the looting I still felt a little land heavy. Next time round I would drop a land and go up a cantrip card, ideally Ponder. The land I would cut would be Thespian Stage. While it is nice to cheat out a second tap for three land the payoffs are few in number and it means you are slowing yourself down a bit to setup. Being a colourless land also cost me in one game. It is just a bit win more for no real need. It is noteworthy that sac lands are dodgy in a deck running Blood Sun. It didn't get me, the risk is a lot lower than with Stage and the upsides far greater but still, I would be wary of playing lots of sac lands.

The arcane package was cute but it wasn't actually all that relevant. When you got it then you went off a bit better but it really didn't seem important. Peer Through Depths is really annoying for not finding your land half of the combo or the things that find them. Eye of Nowhere is also a fairly uninteresting out card and would likely just be better as a Repeal, Cryptic Command or Blink of an Eye. Something with some more utility and ability to be found with Merchant Scroll. I would keep at least three of the arcane cards, probably four, as they are all just decent for what you are trying to do but you really don't need to lean on it heavily as the modern build of this archetype seems to.

FatestitcherBoth Fatestitcher and even the Vizier felt a little luxury. While I certainly wouldn't cut the latter it was not as good as I was expecting. Sure, it is a card and a mana when you are going off which is amazing but it doesn't actually help out in any other way, it is not a target you can find with much, it doesn't get reduced in cost or count towards storm. It felt a bit like it clogged up opening hands and then drew me into lands when going off! Stitcher was great with looting and a dud otherwise. Like a Vizier in that he is pretty free gas when going off but also fails to trigger most of the things that win and fails to do much early. Due to needing more setup Stitcher is the obvious cut of the two.

Aria of Flame was a fine win condition but it could really have been anything, a Sentinel Tower, an Aetherflux Reservior, some other storm spell. None will really compare to Brain Freeze, being cheap, low setup, and a target for Scroll, but you do typically want a backup. Perhaps if permissible a Wish would be the best option as a backup win condition.

Echo of EonsThe rest of the list was all pretty much spot on. I would probably have liked another big draw or value effect which could have been a Yawgmoth's Will, a Time Twister, a Time Spiral, a Wheel of Fortune etc. Echo of Eons was outstanding however and would be my first choice again. Great with Gifts and great with the looting cards.

If I were to do this again I would try and run some green land ramp cards to see how that works out, ideally Growth Spiral and Explore. You go off rather more powerfully with at least two lands in play even if only one of them taps for more than one. Including some land ramp would make winning on turn three far more consistent. Also finding these ramp cards mid going off would be a big assist in a lot of cases. There are a lot of general things you can toss into a deck like this to include most cheap blue cantrips but these are some of the more specific cards I considered for the list;

Noxious Revival
Simian Spirit Guide
Trickster Mage
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer
Nightscape Familiar
Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner
Empowered Autogenerator
Precognition Field
Izzet Boilerworks

Sunday 15 December 2019

Theros: Beyond Death Preliminary Review Part III

Skola Grovedancer 1

Very low powered but does do a fair number of things and is unique in a number of ways. Having a trigger as it does is open to abuse too as much as one can abuse a life point! I can see this being a nice role filling support card in some weird decks but that is all it has hope of doing in cube. The kind of deck that runs Nyx Weaver and Crop Sigil!

Warbriar Blessing 2

This is basically Epic Confrontation reworked. You lose a power on the fight but you gain being an aura and having the toughness boost permanently. Overall I would call that is a win for Blessing but I am well against sorcery speed fight cards. They are risky, and adding risk on to card already a little situational for comfort is unpleasant. This might be cheap but it is still expensive for a sorcery speed fight card in my books. I might play this in a Boggles style deck to power up synergies, and because my hexproof dorks are less liable to getting blown out! Not touching it outside of that sort of setting.

Karametra's Blessing 1

I think probably too narrow even for an enchantment themed aggro deck. You need to have enough auras and enchantment dorks in your deck to give this a reasonable chance of being more than a bad Giant Growth. You also then need to want the buff and protection this offers in that deck, what with this not being an enchantment. Seems high implausible but if it does happen this will be a decent enough card. It is a lot of effect for the mana.

Daybreak Chimera

This is probably pretty good in cube where devotion to white is easy to get in the places you would want a 3/3 flier. Assuming it is no more than one white in the cost and that it is no more than six generic mana then this seems like it has a good shot. At 4W cost I think it will be really really good. With a double white cost it  might still have a chance too but if so a whole lot fairer, mostly a bad take on Serra Avenger. I guess lets wait and see what the cost is! 6WW and we can pretty safely rule it out!

Leonin of the Lost Pride 0.5

Tribal filler at best and probably not. The disruption is too inconvenient and minor to make this an enticing option.

Nylea's Huntmaster 1

Might be used as another Aspect of Hydra effect in some green stompy devotion affair, otherwise too fair and narrow.

Naiad of the Hidden Coves 2

I think the cost of this is too high and the body is too uninteresting. Either this gets easily dealt with or it fails to do all that much as is very low powered. I like it a lot but you can't just run this in some control deck at which point where are you playing it? You really need most of your spells to be instant before this looks like an option and then you kind of also need a generic body or enchantment to be at least on theme.

Setessan Training 1

Draw a card is nice and the overall rate on this is very acceptable. My concern is that it is just a little situational and easily disrupted for general use. If this were not an aura and afforded a counter and a card on EtB then I would be a lot more interested. As it stands I suspect I would only play it in aura or hexproof lists which are already spoiled for choice.

Funeral Rites 2

In decks looking for self mill this is probably too slow. Beyond that it is just not as good as Read the Bones. This is certainly playable and has useful things going on in a direct way so I expect it will wind up at least in EDH.

Irreverrent Revelers 5

This is the most playable maindeck artifact hate dork in red to date. Sadly I am still not sure I want this as the power level is just so low. Three mana is a potent place in red and so weaker 2 cmc options appeal rather more if I were desperate to play a red Viridian Shaman/Zealot type of card. Sure, a 2/2 haste for 3 is better than a 2/1 for 2 or a 2/2 for 3 but it is still so much worse than all the things in cube you can do with three mana that it is still much the same kind of hindrance as the other cards and their low power. The other issue is that it is not proactive if you want it as removal. At least with a Hearth Kami style card you can flop it out and do something with it before you need it as removal. So yeah, this is a good card that likely makes the cut in most cubes. For mine however it is lacking enough targets and a little too much tempo to last I think. A long way off challenging Cratermaker that is for sure.

Underworld Ragehound 2.5

Nice design but I don't hold out too much hope for this. I will give it a test as it does a couple of things quite nicely. Sadly it is just a little unreliable as it is so easily killed. A token on defense does it as do ALL the removal spells. The cost to recur it is also fairly significant. I think any one random buff would make this pretty strong but as it stands it is just a little bit underwhelming. It is value rather than tempo on a card that wants to be more tempo.

Satyr's Cunning 6

This is very interesting despite being fairly low power. Mostly this is interesting because of spells matters cards in red. This works with all the token things and all the prowess things. It even works with looting and self mill style things. The token is about as bad as it can be while remaining relevant. If your cube pushed red (and blue) spells matters themes then this is worth a try despite seeming so fair. Low cost cards that can also work from the bin like Lava Dart are amazing with a lot of the things red has going on from Hazoret to Bomat Courier. Ideally you use this for some bonus value with a spare mana after turn one, ideally an elemental token with Young Pyromancer. Then you get to using it late game from the bin to empower your Porphorus, Firebrand Archer, and Goblin Bombardment cards. I think this has a real chance of making it in my cube and will crop up in an array of themed red aggro builds.

Fruit of Tizerus 1

Too much of a cost on the escape, both in mana and cards, to have any real hope as a finisher style card. Too low effect on the front end to be used in any other capacity. I will run this in one deck I have in mind but this will be a meme card in a meme deck. It just so happens that black has enough direct damage (life loss) cards that you can make a burn style deck! Obviously worse than a red version but still, nice to do things for the novelty.

Pious Wayfarer 4

This looks innocuous enough but I think it has a lot of potential. I am not expecting it to perform all that well in most cubes as it lacks the enchantment support. It is however a 1/2 prowess dork for enchantments at worst and a terrifying combat trick machine at best. The ability to pump any dork and the vast array of cheap flash enchants on offer makes this something that can dominate a board in the right kind of deck. White already has a lot of decent enchantment dorks as well as removal and buffs all on enchantments. In the enchantment themed white weenie where at least a third of the deck trigger this then it is one of the best possible one drops. A specific card for sure but certainly not one to overlook.

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Top 8 Mana Sinks

Staff of DominationMana sinks have always been a good thing to have for most archetypes. We have a lot more now at a higher power level than ever before but at the same time they need to be more powerful as the bar for such things has risen too. Games tend to be games for longer and tempo is of greater importance. You tend to find mana sink cards used only out of necessity prior to resources running out and you tend to find most games over before resources run out. Partly this is because of all the various mana sinks getting used a little before the hand is empty all just spreading the game duration out a bit. Mostly it is due to there being much more value generally, much in part due to planeswalkers. More value means more cards to play with meaning your resources run out slower and you need dedicated mana sinks less. Any card with varied or repeatable costs is a mana sink of sorts and with such things being generally good for a number of reasons there are a lot of these cards in cube decks! This amplifies the effect of making the purer or more dedicated mana sinks less valuable.

Wilderness ReclamationWith that being said mana sinks are still great tools to have access too. With the arrival of things like Wilderness Reclamation, Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Fires of Invention a discussion regarding the best mana sink cards seems fairly pertinent. I wish to look at the purer end of the spectrum for these types of cards. This means being both repeatable from turn to turn and it means being able to consume effectively endless mana. An X spell will use all the mana up in one turn but fails to help you out next turn and so fails on the first requirement. You don't need your mana sinks to fulfill these requirements by any means. If that is the only reason you are playing the card then you probably want it to do that job the best and so these things are more important. Mostly however you are just looking to make a rounded deck with the most powerful cards. For those you don't need pure mana sinks and you can just get happily by on some flashback cards, a level up dork, a bit of card draw, some variable cost cards and the odd activated ability on things.

Sensei's Divining TopIdeally a purer mana sink wants to be both useful and reliable as well as ongoing and unrestricted. By useful I mean that the spending of mana does something helpful towards winning the game. You can dump all the mana you like into an equipment or Divining Top for example but it doesn't do all that much! By reliable I simply mean how easily you are able to turn mana into advantage with the card. Some need things in play or other resources or conditions. The fewer of these the better. The Scarab God is a great card and decent mana sink but it does need targets to recur. Pack Rat needs cards in hand to ditch etc. Good cards but less reliable as pure mana sinks You could argue that you needs card in library in order to continue abusing cards that draw but in practice if you have drawn all your cards and have spare mana and cannot win the game that is not the fault of your mana sinks!

A lot of the best mana sinks are found on lands. The new Castle cycle in Throne of Eldraine is a great example of this. These are great because they cost so little to include and as such are the most commonly used form of mana sink in my singleton and cube builds. Mana sink cards are a little polar in that they often do little to nothing but the times that they do get put to use they are game winning. Being able to minimize the cost of including these mana sinks is where you want to be. Most of the commonly used mana sink lands however fail to qualify for this list as they can only sink a certain amount of mana each turn. For this list I will be taking strength of card heavily into account once they have sufficiently qualified on the other metrics. Much like using lands as mana sinks, using cards that are entirely powerful and playable outside their capacity as a mana sink means you are effectively adding in an extra dimension to your deck for free.

Pia Nalaar8.   Pia Nalaar

Hardly a bomb nor really even a card you would consider a mana sink but it does qualify on all the metrics. You can dump as much mana as you have turn after turn into making a really high powered thopter token. You don't need any other cards and it is pretty direct and valuable work. It is not the most efficient mana dump but it is highly versatile and on a card that is a great stand alone in a wide array of lists. Basically any Firebreathing effect is a qualifying attribute and this is one of the best in cube. Inferno Titan might be more powerful but you typically are not in need of mana sinks when you have a rampant Titan! Pia is just a card that does a lot of work early and still puts in the work late where other three drops can become lackluster.

Lavaclaw Reaches

7.   Lavaclaw Reaches

Another Firebreathing card. This is correctly regarded as the worst of the cycle of dual manlands but it is still a fine card. Where this shines is exactly where a mana sink shines, where both players have lands and nothing else and are in a top deck war. Lavaclaw Reaches can close a game really fast and represents a pretty lethal threat. It is still good in all the ways the rest of the cycle are good in that it is fixing and a highly resilient threat you get for nearly free. Yes, it is worse in the early and mid game but it does have one of the highest ceilings.

Recurring Nightmare6.   Recurring Nightmare

For a long time this was the premium card when it came to mana sinks. It was infinite value and loads of utility and it still is all those things. Nightmare has just slipped over the years for all the reasons I stated in the intro as to why mana sinks have had the bar raised. Unless you are cheating out really powerful EtB effects and massive dorks Nightmare is just a mana sink. Paying three mana for the EtB effect of most things in the cube is pretty fair and reasonable. On average you are below the curve on tempo using Recurring Nightmare. It is still more efficient returns than most mana sinks as a mana sink but not more so than playing other stuff. Recurring Nightmare is basically just a mana sink with a bit of utility thrown in. Unlike Pia you do not want to make this on turn three in a midrange deck, it wants to be one of the last things you get to doing. The card has lost a lot of ground to alternatives that are good in their own right prior to their end game potential. Further to that Nightmare is less reliable than many other cards on this list as it needs things in the bin and things in play and as such is a bit more easily disrupted than some alternatives. It might be the most efficient card in returns for sinking (non-infinite) mana on this list but it is one of the worst for initial investment hence being so low.

Skarrgan Hellkite5.   Skargan Hellkite

A surprising new card that has been performing well in cube. This isn't any where near the power of a Glorybringer and it lacks the punch of a Thundermaw or Sarkhan the Masterless. What the Hellkite does really wall is provide options and a mana sink. If it is all about the tempo then you can have yourself a Glorybringer without the exert. You will take out walkers or shoot ahead in a race and that is a great option to have even if it is a little below par. Alternatively you can counter up and Fire things for twice the price for as much as you have mana for. That is a lot of control and a lot of reach. Even just using it once a turn and doing nothing else can be pretty effective so in the extreme late game cases where you have silly mana such that you can fire this off two or more times a turn it is reliably game winning. Just a reasonably high power card with a lot of utility.

Urza, Lord High Artificer4.   Urza, Lord High Artificer

The mana sink ability on Urza is a bit quirky. Sometimes it is a lot better than drawing a card but it can also be worse should you hit reactive things that it is not the time for or lands you can't play. On average it is better than drawing a card for 4 mana but it will have an effect on your deck design and could be considered restrictive. You could certainly build a deck with Urza where the ability was worse than drawing a card for 4 mana. Ultimately it is not this ability that will change your build when it comes to Urza it is the Tolarian Academy effect! Unsurprisingly it is also that which is why Urza is so far up this list. It turns out having one of the best mana producing effects in the game is a pretty good thing to pair with a mana sink! Even in my cube with relatively little artifact support Urza has been most impressive. He pretty much just does everything and he does so very well with surprisingly minimal help.

Kessig Wolf Run

3.   Kessig Wolf Run

One of the best finisher cards in the game. It is so hard to deal with a Wolf Run and it turns every dork into a terrifying threat and all extra mana into more pressure. Wolf Run is a low cost inclusion and ensures you have a really scary late game with inevitability and reach in abundance. The only thing keeping this from being higher on the list is that it is somewhat of a gold card and cannot be used much outside of green decks. It is certainly one of the most splashed for cards in my cube alongside Lingering Souls. Primeval Titan and Wolf Run has become a more scary and infamous combo than Stoneforge and Batterskull. It is Urza like in that it is both an abundance of mana and useful things to do with it.

Retrofitter Foundry
2.   Retrofitter Foundry

This unassuming little card is pretty nuts it turns out. It provides massive armies of fatties on the ground or thopters in the sky as you require. It provides ongoing value and the ability to hold up mana to react to everything. It can perpetually fog lifelink effects or a Jitte charging up. It is super tedious to play into with instant speed creatures entering and leaving play negating so much. It is not just that it is a good mana sink but that it is also quite efficient. Just dumping mana into it every turn winds up being a relatively good deal for your returns. Further to that it is all in pretty small increments allowing you to weave in activations alongside other things. Foundry gives you massive amounts of late game action while also offering plenty in the lead up to it as well. Generally best in more reactive decks but if you have things that happen to generate thopters or servos then Foundry is pretty nutty in any build. It has some added value in being a super low cost card than can win the game allowing you to easily resolve it in a control mirror.

Walking Ballista1.   Walking Ballista

One of the cleanest best all round cube cards. I will happily first pick this and I will happily play it in most decks. It is great on turn two and just gets better the longer the game goes. It is pricier per ping than Skargan Hellkite but then pings is what red does. Ballista gives that effect to all the colours and at a very competitive rate when you consider the ability to charge it up over time and twice as efficiently on cast. Ballista is massively option dense. It offers great board control and has a dominating effect on combat. It is probably a little too good given how universally playable it is but at least it was a very easy choice for the number one spot on this list!

Here is a list of some of the cards I considered for this list that didn't quite make it;

Oketra the TrueLeyline of Abundance
Spectral Sailor
Spikeshot Elder
Theater of Horrors
Duskwatch Recruiter
Oketra the True
Arguel's Blood Fast
Ishkana, the Grafwidow
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Knight of the Ebon Legion
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Firedrinker Satyr
Olivia Voldaren

Saturday 30 November 2019

The Value of a Card

I started this exercise in an attempt to demonstrate the difference in value between token and non-token creatures but it failed to really help with that problem as I had hoped. All the exercise really did is further prove to me that the value of a card is entirely based on context. While I cannot easily put a value on a card I can perhaps at least convince you that part of the value of drawing a card has absolutely nothing to do with what that card is or does. I was going to use near blank cards like Darksteel Relic or Spellbook as my example of a blank card but the issue there is that you can have all sorts of uses and synergies for those things and that all rather muddies the waters. Instead I designed this card which is simply a reworking of Ancestral Recall such that it only draws effectively dead cards. It is not quite perfect in that it doesn't trigger actual drawing effects and wouldn't trigger an opposing Consecrated Sphinx. I am sure I could add wording to allow for such things but the card is already on the wordy side. The point is that this card is clearly pretty good and would likely see play in a lot of formats. If all this does is draw you dead cards in hand and yet still seems good then it is clear that cards in hand is a valuable resource, regardless of what they do or do not do themselves. Almost like how life points all do nothing for you barring the last one. Ancestral Illusions doesn't even help with things like Ivory Tower triggers or provide a great pool of unknowns for your opponent as three actually dead cards in hand would do. Mostly what this does is turn your loot effects into draw effects for a bit. It lets you power up your Collective Brutality. It is not even useless when you don't have effects that work with discarding cards from hand as it protects against things like Blightning.

Now, you wouldn't play this card without synergies to go with it. Unless your list is full of Faithless Looting, Vryn's Prodigy and Brainstorm this doesn't seem worth it. Much like how Treasure Cruise stops being worth playing when you slowly and unreliably fill up your graveyard. So what does this tell us? It can be used as a measure for potential scaling in your deck. If Ancestral Illusions is a card you would play in your deck then you can say that your deck scales well with cards. A better way of thinking about this is perhaps to say that it scales well with dead cards as that communicates better how to use it to your advantage. If your deck is good with dead cards this means you can play more situational cards if you want because the cost of having them is less detrimental. The same is true for expensive cards, you can get away with being a little more top heavy as you have ways to make use of those card when you can't simply cast them. Coming at it from the other direction your list will also benefit more from raw draw effects and perhaps less from other value generators than average.

Returning to the original aim of this article, the main thing worse about a token creature when compared to a non-token one of the same shape and size is simply that it ceases to be a card when dealt with. As such it cannot be discarded from hand or delved out of the bin, it is simply no longer a resource you can exploit. I always state that it is bounce and flicker effects that make tokens bad compared to real creatures but this is only really a small part of it. If they are wasting a bounce or flicker on a 1/1 token you are probably OK with that. The value of bounce is in the tempo, not being able to replay the token that got bounced is not the relevant part of the bounce, it is the tempo that was gained and lost by that body not being in play at that time. Bigger and better tokens certainly scale up worse than cards of the same shape and size for this reason but on the small end of the spectrum the not being an actual card is the larger share of why the token is less valuable.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Adventure White .dec

Giant KillerThis is an article with two main points. That white weenie is really good at the moment and that the white adventure creatures are really good. These two facts are linked but not exclusively by any means. This is an article posing as a deck tech but really it is an opportunity to discuss what is going on in white weenie that is making it strong at present. Identifying an archetype as on the rise in power in a meta is handy but understanding why is a much more useful thing. It helps you in the specific context of building, drafting and playing the archetype but it is also a transferable skill that lets you better appreciate other archetypes in other metas. Magic is just such an interwoven web of little nuggets of understanding and appreciation any that you add in to your own will improve your overall game.

White weenie has been around longer than cubing has. It has always been viable in cube and fairly often one of the good decks. Things in metas are somewhat self balancing, especially when doing so against linear strategies like white weenie. The archetype had a spike a while back simply because it hit a really nice spot of good 2/1 dorks for 1 mana and was really consistent. It took very little time however for players to adapt and change the meta such that 2/1s were pretty limp. More 1 power chumps, 1/3 and bigger dorks, ping effects, stuff that hits one drops, even just Pyroclasm type things. Very quickly white was back in check and the real casualties were the bystanders like Lotus Cobra.

Dauntless BodyguardThis spike in power is a bit different. White has certainly gained a lot of redundancy in recent years and rather than just being in one area it is across the board. Good and diverse one drops, removal, finishers, value, and some trickery. I have showcased quite how much decent stuff white has gained recently by making a decent list out of almost entirely cards from Ixalan onward. While it is great getting loads of new strong cube worthy cards that support an archetype unless those cards are better than existing ones it only really serves to increase consistency and not power. Obviously both contribute to win percentages but to really jump up you want an increase in both at once. The advantage in redundancy in all areas is that it isn't so easily countered as it was in the case of the sudden abundance of 2/1 beaters. It also gives white more scope to  build and draft more easily to counter weaknesses and problems.

Force of VirtueThe next big thing really helping white perform is resilience. It is just increasingly hard to deal with all the threats a white player has to offer. Loads of really potent planeswalkers. Creatures that gain or give indestructible, those that do so for protection. Creatures that die into more board presence. Vehicles. Token producing lands and sagas and so on and so on. Wraths and mass removal effects do not do enough to be relied on. It takes a lot of board presence and disruption to really contain a white aggressive player. Card advantage is pseudo-resilience too when your deck is as cheap and direct as white weenie and that is another aspect white is doing well on lately. Increased access to good EtB effects that generate value and more flicker effects are all seeming to make it pretty hard to hold back the tide that is white weenie. There are less one toughness dorks found in these builds, or at least ones that stay that way as well as better ways of protecting them.

Ancestral Blade
Lastly we have a wealth of extra agency in the archetype. I think it is the biggest boost the archetype has had and it is certainly the most fun. It is so nice to have relevant options going on in your game. While no game is ever simple in cube white weenie has historically been one of the simpler choices and has relatively little option density. The most complex thing was typically how you set about your combat steps. Now we just have substantially more option rich cards you can play in this kind of archetype on offer and they have really given it legs. The adventures are certainly a big part of this. They give you options on so many fronts from curving to extension to value etc. These I shall return to but it is not just the adventure dorks making white weenie a much more option dense archetype. We have convoke spells giving you flexibility on mana costs. We have things like Hanged Executioner that has built in utility. Force of Virtue is a wildly option rich card given you can play it most of the time and with several different costs to do so in most cases to. Are you trying to bait out value by countering removal or it being a combat trick? Are you trying to hold it back to avoid card disadvantage? Force of Virtue just by itself is a decent chunk of why white weenie is so good these days. Even seemingly small low key cards like Ancestral Blade are a big boost to the option density of the archetype. The card is a fine early play but it gives a lot of extra legs to your game from there on in. It gives reach, scaling, combat prowess and all for very low cost.

26 Spells
Giver of Runes

Fearie Guidemother
Giant Killer
Legion's Landing
Thraben Inspector

Dauntless Bodyguard
Giver of Runes
Venerable Knight
Skymarcher Aspirant

On Thin Ice

Precinct Captain
Shepherd of the Flock
Winds of Abandon
Ancestral Blade
Hanged Executioner
Tithe Taker
Adanto Vanguard
Charming Prince

Monastery Mentor
Hanged Executioner
Gideon Blackblade
Benalish Marshall

History of Benalia
Ranger-Captain of Eos

Force of Virtue
Serra, the Benevolent
Conclave Tribunal

Venerated Loxodon

14 Lands

Castle Ardenvale
13 Snow-Covered Plains

On Thin IceThis list has only 3 cards predating Ixalan and none of those are exactly bombs. Indeed two of those cards are typically better in other archetypes and are more filler in white weenie (Mentor and Inspector). Modern Horizons is really where the power in this deck is found. We can comfortably replace Path or Plow with On Thin Ice which is a premium tempo removal spell with less downside than the alternatives in an aggressive setting. On average it out performs those other premium creature removal cards in white weenie which is rather eye opening. Then we have the joy of Winds of Abandon. An OK spot removal spell comparable to Declaration in Stone most of the time. While poor as a two drop the card is unreal as a six drop. It has jumped to one of the best mass removal spells in the whole cube. This makes it a highly contested card but when you do get it in white weenie it is amazing because of the extra reach and utility it gives you. It is fit for purpose as a cheap spot removal spell but any game that stalls out it is game ending quality. This is very common against white weenie due to it developing such a strong board while having relatively little reach. That means that even in a 14 land deck you are pretty likely to see six mana in a lot of the games you don't obliterate your opponent in 4-6 turns. Anyone relying on a board stall against white now has to fear the potential of a one sided wrath just clearing the path and ending things in swift order. To beat white weenie now you have to treat it more like a red deck and push for a win at some risk to your own survival but that is much harder against white as their board is that much stronger.

Winds of AbandonModern Horizons brings us Serra who is a fine planeswalker, she has some good tempo returns, some reasonable reach and a cute bit of scaling with your fliers. She is the 3rd best four mana white walker but she is plenty good enough for cube play and this archetype tends to want more walkers than it has access to! Giver of Runes is obviously also excellent. Another Mother and while not quite as potent, plenty strong enough to be a great addition and a much better card to play with and against. Give me good design and play experience over polar high powered cards like Mother every time. Lastly we have Ranger Captain which is a bit of value, a bit of utility, a bit of tempo, and a bit of synergy support. He was good before but the one mana adventure creatures certainly upped his range rather significantly. For cube the Captain is certainly a lot better than the original Ranger of Eos. Modern Horizons contributes six cards to this list alone, there are more you could well use in such a deck from the very powerful set. While everything gained a lot from Modern Horizons I think none more than white weenie. It got more of the good stuff it wants. It got high numbers of relevant cards. It got two of the best creature removal spells and the best Anthem. All very nice.

Tithe TakerOther recent sets have been fairly kind too with convoke and afterlife both meshing well with what the archetype is good with. Venerated Loxodon is a pseudo Anthem effect and it turns out they are really good when on the back of dorks. Benalish Marshall has been a massive addition to the archetype, so much so that I got an Angel of Jubilation for the cube as well and it has also been performing exceptionally well. These cards let you play more dorks and more anthems. They give payoff for having lots of small dorks but they do not punish you by being dead cards in the more challenging situations. Just one of those win win cards that power up your synergies and benefit from them as well.

Both Legion's Landing and Castle Ardenvale add some extra legs to the archetype as well. It is hard to disrupt lands. Pumping out 1/1 dorks at a very expensive rate is not winning many games these days on its own however in conjunction with equipment or Anthems or anything much of that nature such things become far more valuable. Just on the back of a big impressively developed board and a well beaten down life total an extra 1/1 every turn can spell the end fairly quickly too. White weenie now has fairly reliable mana sinks that let it play a slower and safer game if they want to and that is great. It lets you play some more flashy cards in place of low powered support like Savannah Lions and Raise the Alarm. More importantly you can avoid over extending or running out of gas. You can put those 12 lands you drew with Land Tax to some good use!

Castle Ardenvale
So, to the other main point of this article, to express how good adventure cards really are. When we compare the adventures in this list to the standouts from Throne it is clear they are a step down in power level and yet they seem to be performing up there with premium cards like Bonecrusher Giant and Murderous Rider. I think the reason the white ones are doing so well is not that they are all that powerful but much more to do with the way they play out in white weenie. They give the archetype options and situational tools at very little cost. With the archetype having so little of those things prior to adventures it has gained far more from the increased options and new effects than other archetypes. Red decks play plenty of Shock effects, black decks plenty plenty of Hero's Downfall, and blue decks are certainly familiar with a bounce spell. White weenie on the other hand is pretty new to a lot of what it got. Option density has some diminishing returns as well. As such going from low options to a bit more is a lot more valuable than going from plenty to a bit more than that. This is why these white and seemingly low powered adventures in white are standing out some of the best.

Djeru's RenunciationSo much so in fact that I am going to try Ardenvale Tactician in my cube! I dismissed the card as a limited spell at first read. I would have argued hard against it being a better card than Djeru's Renunciation - a similar sspell that did some reasonable work when being tested in the drafting cube. Ultimately Renunciation just isn't card advantage, a threat or an answer and so you wouldn't pick it highly and would only play it when padding out a list. Now, cycling for W is clearly much better than a 2/3 flier for 1WW. Like a lot better. Cast Out is one of whites best general purpose removal spells and a significant part of that is the cycling for W it has. The problem is that cycling is off theme for white weenie, or at least one of the problems. Cycling is tempo negative while a 2/3 flier is tempo positive. Add the cost of W to any card in your white deck and your cards become sub par to unplayable. Also, you don't know what you are getting with your cycling so it isn't really a plan, it is just a thing you do when you don't have anything good to do. Now, the same is true of running out a 2/3 flier in that ideally you want to be doing something better but it is proactive and it is known. Randomly cycling on turn three is rarely going to find you that perfect two drop to play and be mana efficient while tossing out Tactician on three is a far far better use of your turn. So yes, while for the average deck a cycle for one is better than a 2/3 flier for three it is not the case in a tempo deck with creature synergies. There is also of course the fact that you get both the tap down and the 2/3 body with Tactician should you be able to order it correctly in your game while Renunciation only offers the tap or the card. If Tactician makes the cut then maybe I will need to trial out Silverflame Squire too!

Monastery MentorAdventures in general keep the creature count high and they increase your ability to curve well. They offer good returns when used fully and have an acceptable floor when part used. White is so often about having overlap, bodies to utilize, or attackers at the ready. Being able to make the call and deploy a cheap dork is amazing. Having a better card to play instead is amazing too. Being able to hold off and use all of your adventure is great too. It just never feels bad having adventure cards in hand. They give a sufficient enough boost to your spell count that you can start running prowess trigger effects to some reasonably good effect. Monastery Mentor never really performed in white weenie until now. The decks that would support him well with spells were too often threat light and folded to bad draws and disruption.

Faerie GuidemotherGiant Killer looks the best on paper and is a fine card. The Reprisal isn't used wildly often but it is massive when it is. The body does a lot of work, being a 1/2 make it far more useful in combat than the 1/1 tappers and while the activation is steep it is not a significant detriment to the card. You are trying to hold this and play it late due to how good Chop Down is. Later in the game when tapping is of most significance and when mana is most spare. Laying it early is commonly for attacking and blocking roles. As such the utility and toughness seem to more than offset the extra tapping costs overall when compared to other tappers.

Faerie Guidemother is lovely. She handles planeswalkers so well and is typically a far more useful mid and late game one drop than your generic 2/1 ground pounder. She is great with cards like Precinct Captain forcing through combat damage triggers. She can even be used to turn on Chop Down on a threat with 2 or 3 power! Guidemother is significant late game reach and great early game planeswalker control. A 1/1 flier is also far better past about turn 4 than a 2/1 on the ground.

Shepherd of the Flock
Shepherd of the Flock has probably been my favourite of the three due to how much scope Usher to Safety offers. You can get so much value out of it with reusing EtB effects. You can turn on a Land Tax. You can save something from removal or in combat. I have used it with enchantment exile effects like On Thin Ice to clear out multiple tokens. It is just a great spell you would never play without the fact it is also a reasonably aggressive dork as well. A three powered two drop when you have no two drop is so huge for the archetype and a second go on a History of Benalia or Blade Splicer is potent value late game. Easily the adventure that most outperformed expectation.

So there we have it. A lot of interesting and potent new cards all contributing to the array of reasons white is a strong archetype at the moment. White weenie is a little better at doing what it has always done well but it is a lot better at doing the things it did not much do in the past.

Friday 15 November 2019

Theros: Beyond Death Preliminary Review Part II

Dreamstalker Manticore 1

Pretty low powered and tame but a few novel aspects make it plausible that I might play this in a cube setting, all be it very infrequently.

Furious Rise 1

As far as this kind of effect goes in red it is mostly winning over the alternatives. It exiles in the end step rather than upkeep, it lets you play it whenever and sometimes even after a turn cycle is over. It also just costs 3 rather than the more typical 4 mana. All this is comfortably offset however by the need of having a 4 or more powered dork in play. This does nothing in the worst case and is a little bit win more in all the others. I think this is too risky for the effect it brings and too narrow to find many homes either.

Minion's Return 1

An interesting and versatile tool. This is protection for a dork of yours. It is a black take on a flicker style mechanic for double dipping EtB effects. It is a way of stealing an opponent's creature that is about to die. While somewhat versatile it is both overly situational and rather pricey for my liking. I would only really play a card like this as an enabler and support card meaning I am using it proactively at which point it looks shocking next to Kaya's Ghostform. Minion's Return is interesting and playable but it will be lucky to see much action in my cubing.

Medomai's Prophecy 7.5

I love this card in almost all ways. I love the look, the feel, the design, the power weighting, just everything. Functionally this is somewhere nestled between an Ancestral Vision, a Predict and a Witching Well. All good cards that see a variety of play, in cube and in other strong formats. So, you pay two mana and for that you get a scry 2 right away, you draw two in two turns time assuming you jump through a self set hoop and then you get a little bit of bonus information. The final age of the saga may seem minor but it is relevant information and well worth having. In my cube, I think it is easily valued only a little behind scry 1. It is certainly more information. The hidden buff of the fourth age is that it gives you a nice window in which you can reset your saga with a flicker or sacrifice it for extra value. Obviously a two mana scry 2 draw 2 is amazing. The two turn delay on the draw makes it fairer but the real drawback to this is the second age. You open yourself up to getting played around or massively disrupted. You have to have access to the card and you have to play it meaning you are open to all sorts of hand and library manipulation as well as just broadcasting what you are doing. It does have some really cool applications for bluff on that front. Sometimes the two cards will be worth less than making your opponent think you have a certain card, very rarely but it will be so very cool when it works. Mostly it is just a fairly large drawback in addition to the wait. You probably want to have an idea of what you are playing on age III when you play your Prophecy two turns prior, not always and not as a certainly but having a decent option in hand will be a nice comfort. That will make it a bit awkward but then locking in your following turns play is going to be pretty gross. Holding a card to name and then to play is pretty gross too. For safety reasons it ideally wants to be something cheap and low impact like a Preordain or a Fblthp but these are things you also just want to flop out early or with any spare mana. Holding them back will hurt a bit. The real hurt will come when you have the option to play the named card and draw two or play the optimal line for whatever nastiness your opponent has levied upon you. That or playing this on an empty hand and seeing nothing but lands before you need to chose in age II, basically just a wild guess on your next draw. It is such an ethereal cost relative to most costs and such a unique card that I really just need to play with this a bunch to know better how problematic and how swingy locking yourself into plays will end up being. Even if it is bad the card will still be good, the age II drawback needs to be pretty devastating for this card to actually be bad. If it were just the delay then this card would be pretty top tier and easily see play in formats like modern and vintage.

Threnody Singer 2

Basically just a rejig of Faerie Duelist. They share the same floor but this affords far more impressive scaling. Singer may be the more potent card of the two but it has a rather less exciting subtype meaning it likely gets less action. Probably not super relevant as this is a little on the fair side anyway.

Alirios, Enraptured 6.5

Well isn't this just one of the most elegant cards. Lovely merging of design and flavour. I think it is also potentially quite good. Blue loves this kind of thing. Whirler Rogue and Mesmerizing Benthid are two of blues best performing creatures in my cube. Aliros is a little bit Blade Splicer and a little bit Kitchen Finks. It is worse tempo than both as it neither offers up two relevant bodies right away nor lifegain. Alirios does however pack an impressive 10 total stats for your three mana, more than either, while also being a stickier sort of card. Alirios has nice synergy with flicker and bounce that you might have. Even untap effects! It will take a lot of resources to fully deal with while costing you very little. That is the essence of why all these kinds of cards do so well in cube. You get to pull ahead on tempo but leave yourself relatively secure to most kinds of removal effect. Aggro decks will get two for one'd by Alirios, well most decks will. That is why it is good! Lots of stats, low cost, and high chance of gaining tempo and/or card advantage. Blue often plays things like Sea Gate Oracle just as a means of stalling getting beaten up. Alirios seems to do that job a bit better. Alirios does struggle to perform in a list with many changelings in it! He is a little slow overall too, like he is good against removal but it still gives a window in which you can get past him.

Phalanx Tactics 1

This has a tiny chance of seeing play in some kind of heroic / Feather the Redeemed list as it targets. Mostly that will be a drawback as it makes it easy to disrupt but still. Charge is a much more mana efficient version of this effect and will be preferred over this in almost all other cases.

Treacherous Blessing 3

Very powerful indeed. A long way better than Painful Truths I would say. I prefer Blessing to Read the Bones too but Blessing probably isn't more generally playable and thus shouldn't be taking away Reads the Bones's cube spot. Still, this is 3 cards for three mana with no upfront life cost. That is a very impressive rate. This then also has some additional perks being an enchantment. Broadly these will all by synergy perks and will not apply much in a general cube setting. You might get some extra value when you eat an overloaded Cycling Rift... What holds this back is that you either need to play it in a deck that doesn't plan on going long or in a deck with ways to easily remove it from play and this makes it too narrow.

Ashiok's Erasure 2

This seems terrifying for constructed where it is a Meddling Mage on a Counterspell! This will crush some decks brutally. Luckily it is a four mana card and so will not be all that easily abused. In cube it is still somewhat viable just because it is an enchantment. Mystic Snake still gets some action when people want to abuse those kinds of thing. Erasure is not a lock card in quite the same way as Snake as you give the cards back if you bounce it. It is however just an enchantment so you can easily be reducing its cost, having it beat as a 4/4, drawing extra cards with it, etc etc. So yes, in cube this will be a very niche, and very small player indeed. In standard however it just seems like it will be meta warping. Certain decks just won't be able to beat this effect and it will force a degree of speed and redundancy into decks. Obviously only if a viable deck than can play this is in the format.

Labyrinth of Skophos 2

The effect is good but at 5 total mana to use it seems rather too slow. Mystifying Maze is certainly worse but it has seen a total of zero play. There are some nuances to how this works compared to alternatives. It is better as an offensive card but again, a tiny improvement on unplayed cards is no real win. It just costs too much to gain the effect. It will hurt you more often and more severely early in the game than it helps you late. Play a basic land. Or, if you must, play a land with a cheap activation cost like Rishadan Port or Mishra's Factory.

Dalakos, Crafter of Wonders 1

Renown Weaponsmith but bigger! For your extra red mana you get +1/+1 stats on your mana dork which isn't a very big win. In an unpowered cube, in an artifact deck, you can do a lot lot better than a 3 mana, gold, summoning sick source of two colourless. Where Dalakos might get some love is in an equipment deck where his passive is really rather impressive. Shuko does a lot for you at negligible cost while Dalakos is in play. Sadly I can't really think of a deck that this sort of thing would fit in. Equipment is much more whites thing. I can see it working out in things like EDH and I can see it getting tried in 40 card singleton lists but I fear it will never do all that well in the latter. Too janky.

The Akroan War 2

Well there is a lot going on here. Is it a Control Magic, is it Disrupt Decorum, or a Solar Blaze? The answer is all three and none of the above! It pretty much does do all three things but the way it does them makes it rather unlike any of them. The Control Magic is right away and similar in that regard, it is also undone if War leaves play making it comparably disruptable to Control Magic. It only lasts for a couple of turns however meaning you are getting one attack in most cases. In that regard it is more like a Threaten. You are also encouraged to not attack with the stolen dork based on how the rest of the card works. The final phase will be hard to use to kill off the stolen creature, it needs to have a tap ability and power greater than or equal to toughness otherwise it will just untap before the third age on the saga and return to the opponent undamaged. Ideally you want to sit back on your attack with it and block the "goaded" creatures of your opponent. Ideally those that have vigilance or that have higher toughness than power, or just those that kill off the creature you stole! So ultimately this card is like a very slow one sided Wrath, except it misses a lot of their creatures too. In the right setting this could be devastating but often it will be fairly minor. It takes so long to act that it is easily played around. It is also pretty situational to begin with. I do like this card. I suspect it is beyond fiddly and not something any cube decks really want but I also plan to test it being unique and interesting.