Thursday 31 January 2019

Simic Pongify .dec

This is a list trying to emulate a quirky modern deck I saw a while back. It was essentially using a combination of evolve and undying cards both empowered by the application of friendly fire from Pongify cards. It could easilly have a 2/2, a 3/3 and a 3/4 flier in play on turn two with just two lands. The deck had some reasonable redundancy as well making these kinds of massive openers not that improbable. While quite cute the deck never had any real impact on modern, it is a very fair Simic aggro deck after all. I didn't expect it to be much of a thing in cube either for those reasons and more. Having only one Young Wolf in your 40 makes the deck a lot less good at the busted openers and generally reduces the value of your Pongify cards. This list needed more one and two drops that do good things when they are destroyed and there isn't that much out there to fill those gaps. Ultimately it is going to wind up taking the deck in a slightly different direction.

Two things pulled me towards this archetype. Firstly it seems like a fantastic home for the new Incongruity // Incubation spell (even thought it doesn't actually support the Pongify synergies directly) which I went on at length about in my initial review as to why I was so excited by it. Secondly, you get to run Pongify and Rapid Hybridization in a deck that has alternate uses for them. As such this is the first viable looking Simic deck I have seen which has some decent cheap removal options. Lack of removal has been the bane of both blue and green aggressive decks and this list might have a solution to that. That is basically the premise of this deck, just a way of playing the removal options Simic has while mitigating the drawbacks of those removal cards. It looked really impressive when I made the first few additions, it would have been a fearsome 15 card highlander list. After that point the list needed something else to be doing as we had run out of the good cards to support the first thing! The obvious thing was Hardened Scales what with our colour pairings and initial selection of creatures. Sadly there is also a bit of negative synergy going on with that marriage of synergies. The counters theme worked and did some powerful things but it probably isn't the only thing you can do with this and might not even be the most powerful. Here was my list;

Young Wolf25 Spells

Rapid Hybridization
Incongruity // Incubation
Hardened Scales

Young Wolf
Experiment One
Pelt Collector
Cloudfin Raptor

Servant of the Scale
Veteran Explorer
Noble Hierarch
Sylvan Safekeeper

Strangleroot Geist
Rhonas the IndomitableHangarback Walker
Walking Ballista
Avatar of the Resolute

Simic Charm
Brindle Shoat

Hadana's Climb
Nissa Voice of Zendikar
Rhonas the Indomitable
Rishkar, Peema Renegade

Verdurous Gearhulk

Green Sun's Zenith

15 Lands

Dryad Arbor
Simic Duals
A manland or two
Basic Forests and Islands
Perhaps even a Field of Ruin

Incubation // IncongruityThe plan is pretty simple, we are an aggro deck. We have mostly dorks with a smattering of utility removal cards and a bit of pump. We just want to curve out and smash face. The deck felt more like a zoo list to play than a red or white aggro deck despite having more comparable curves to the latter. It has some cute interactions on the go resulting from the Pongify package. Sadly I think the list also needs a couple of sac outlets on top of the pair of Pongify. Beast Within is just too pricey to be a powerful play on your own cards. The probelm with supporting just two cards that kill your own things (some of the time) is that much of the support cards are a little weak without the ability to put them in the bin yourself. The counter synergies are nice so you can buff the more useless dorks up but it is not that strong. I had to cut Curse of Predation due to poor synergies with the undying cards for example. Incongruity isn't something you want to aim at your own things with it exiling. Skullclamp does feel like the only really high powered option on offer...

So what are the things we have resulting from the Pongify cards? We have a couple of bounce spells to deal with 3/3s we might give our opponents. These are reasonable all round cards anyway. Repeal is great against tokens and a fine enough utility card. Simic Charm is rather less good at dealing with tokens but it is a highly versatile utility card that is on theme with the entirety of the deck. We then have our undying dorks which are great early targets for our Pongify cards as per the modern lists. We have Rhonas who we can freely destroy without losing any value. This converts our Pongify into a nice flash one mana 3/3 which is decent. This is a trick from standard back in Theros where Thassa used to eat such things in the blue devotion deck. Sadly Thassa, despite being a better card than Rhonas, is unsuited to this deck.

Lastly we have a number of cards that do useful things when they die. We have Bridle Shoat and Veteran Explorer which have relatively little synergy with the rest of the deck. These probably need at least a Skullclamp to empower them to the point of being good inclusions. Veteran Explorer is very unfair against the decks light on basic land but can be a liability against ones with them and that is certainly most limited decks and a lot of constructed ones too. Hangarback Walker and Servant of the Scale also do things on death and they work nicely with the +1/+1 counters theme of the deck too. This list just needs a Skullclamp! Even Mortarpod wouldn't be a bad include. Either that or I need to tone it down on things like the Brindle Shoat.

Brindle Shoat
Jace, Cunning CastawayWhile a very powerful deck it is a bit middle of the road still and therefore doesn't have any especially good matchups while also having some poor ones. It has neither the speed, tempo or reach of a red deck and can be outplayed by them. It doesn't have the depth of dork quality or going wide capacity of the white aggro decks and struggles against them. Against the control decks it is OK but rather vulnerable to the kinds of removal and threat they pack. This is why I have gone a little heavy handed on protection effects as well but it doesn't really solve that problem as well as I would like. The only thing this has a really strong matchup against on the whole is midrange decks. Like I say, the matchups are not awful elsewhere. A high powered on theme aggro deck will always be reasonable and punish any sort of misstep. It is just the sort of deck that has a hard time against a lot of the random things you find in cube! This list has some obnoxious starts it can do and it has some good power, value and reach as the game goes long but it lacks the midgame. It can easily run out of gas from a busted start or falter to minor disruption in key curving turns. I like the deck a lot. It looks good on paper with all the cute synergies and novel cards. It looks good in theory and does great things in a goldfish it just doesn't quite live up to expectation in reality. It is perhaps one really good on theme card off being a good deck. That and of course the Skullclamp! Here are some of the other things I looked at playing. The list is pretty short for me which shows quite how much I was struggling to find good cards for it. A couple more Pongify and a bunch more of the premium one drop threats is what I really need for this to be a competitive brew.

Looter il-Kor
Skyrider Elf
Jace, Cunning Castaway
Curious Obsession
Siren Stormtamer
Mutagenic Growth
Blossoming Defense

Saturday 26 January 2019

Izzet Drakes .dec

Crackling DrakeThis is my cube variation on the standard deck doing well presently. Or indeed, pre Allegiances. I write this as it is released on Arena and so have no idea how the meta is shaping up. This list translates very well into cube with so many cheap red and blue instants and sorceries you can use to fill up the bin with. In many ways it is just a different slant on the prowess based Izzet tempo decks. You simply invert the balance, in those you try and make a cheap prowess threat and use your instants and sorceries after it to support them, pump them, keep them alive and force them through. In this deck you use your cards to setup and fill your bin while staying alive and then attempt to burst down in one or two hits with your preemtively buffed threats. It isn't threats at the bottom but threats at the top of the curve. Obviously there are pros and cons to both. This list felt impressively powerful but it is typically unsupported in cube draft and is likely much more of a constructed thing anyway. The synergies are too important. You also really need the tools that provide haste else you become very weak to too much disruption. This version of the list is a little pure and setup to goldfish rather than properly play. In reality you are going to want things like Force of Will and Spellskite so as to afford some protection for your drakes. You have some reasonable redundancy in threats but a removal heavy deck is going to destroy you if you run this exact list;

Mental Note27 Spells

Maximize Velocity
Crimson Wisps
Faithless Looting
Lightning Bolt
Chain Lightning

Gitaxian Probe
Visions of Beyond
Mental Note
Stubborn Denial

Serum Visions

Spellheart ChimeraFire / Ice
Arcane Denial
Chart a Course
Strategic Planning
Mission Briefing
Izzet Charm

Enigma Drake
Spellheart Chimera
Flamewake Phoenix
Wee Dragonaughts

Crackling Drake
Arclight Phoenix

13 Lands

Arclight PhoenixYou should also be running a bit more in the way of defensive spells. Sweltering Suns and Pyroclasm are perhaps a little full on as they kill a few of your own things but they would massively improve your matchup against the aggressive decks. Arc Trail or perhaps Fiery Confluence would be a solid compromise on such things. Despite being so similar to the Izzet prowess decks this list is really a lot more of a combo deck in practice. You fill up the bin, flop out an X/3 or X/4 which in turn one or two shots them. If they get stopped you are really going to struggle winning the game. Given the deck is a combo deck I quite wanted Intuition in it for the double Phoenix Faithless Looting combo. You even have Maximize Velocity to find when you inevitably draw one of those other three. The thing is that the Phoenix are very much just backup dorks. They are there to give you a bit of low cost presence, chip down those life totals to make one shotting more like, perhaps just control some planeswalkers. You are rarely winning with your fixed stat dorks. They are too slow of a clock and the deck isn't sufficiently survivable to support that long clock.

Crimson WispsThere are a bunch of other cards I looked at such as more tools to give haste of which there are many like Reckless Charge and Expedite.  They are pretty poor without a Drake to hand however and you have so much draw and dig that going a little lighter on these effects is wise despite them being a potent part of the combo. Saheeli was a cute potential allowing for a Fork like effect on your combo as well as the haste with it. She didn't make the cut as she isn't a spell and she protects herself poorly. Thud and Fling effects also do a bit of that extra combo burst but like the haste spells they do nothing on their own and this lowers consistency. Crash Through is a nice tool to force through damage against a team of flying token blockers. Gelectrode solves that problem as well to some degree but it is rather less reliable at it but does rather more on its own. I looked at Gut Shot and Manamorphose for some bonus free spell action. The latter is likely worth it but the former feels too low impact to be worth a card. We are not an Arclight Phoenix deck and that is what the Gut Shot is best for. Stormchaser Mage was another consideration as a cheaper Wee Dragonaughts style option. The thing is it is pretty minor damage output compared to your other threats and not really a defensive dork. Really Stormchaser Mage is an Izzet tempo card.

Izzet CharmThere is not much more to say about this list. You need the Drakes and the Chimera. You need a high count of cheap instants and sorceries for which the best options are pretty well understood. You have a few options after that as to how aggressive, all in, defensive, etc you want to be. You potentially have some directional or sub-synergy (like my Phoenix package) based choices to make too. The play is option dense but it is surprisingly easy. You know what you are trying to do and your game plan. Your cards provide lots of choices both by being cheap and having lots of them to play but also because they are high option density cards, this usually translates into a complicated deck but as so many of your cards are the same it is quite simple what to do for the most part. You are just efficiently trying to fill up the bin without becoming dead. Then you are trying to make and connect with a massively high powered flier. The deck actually felt more like  a Splinter Twin cmbo deck than it did an Izzet tempo deck. Just find the parts, do the thing and hope that was enough and in time.

Monday 21 January 2019

Hollow One .dec

Hollow OneAs ever with a new deck doing the rounds in modern I like to try and make the cube version. I was a little concerned about a Hollow One build with there being so few cards that work well with the synergies. Playing so much support just for a couple of cards seems like it is destined to fail. It is not even like you have lower power options you can fall back on, there really just are not very many suitable graveyard and discard based threats this deck can run. While this was a mild issue it was far less of one than I had imagined. A big part of that is your ability to burn through so much of your deck so quickly. As such you do fairly reliably get to see most of your threats. While not a tier one deck this list is certainly very competitive and is more than capable of beating anything else. It also has much more in the way of build options than I expected as well. I think you can take this list in at least three directions. With its surprisingly potency and directional depth I feel like one good new card, or perhaps just a couple of OK ones and it could easily become a tier one constructed cube deck.

Burning InquiryThe list has a couple of things going for it that not many other decks do. It is somewhat of a double high roll deck. It is capable of huge tempo swings and massive turns which is what I would normally consider a high roll deck to be in magic. Any deck that has a wide range in what it can do basically. Well, this deck is that for sure but it adds another dimension by using a number of cards that are random in their effect. Very few good magic cards are random and so you don't see that much of it in the game, almost all the RNG comes from the library order and draws. With Hollow One however you go for some extra RNG with a bunch of random cards. It is like you are playing Hearthstone! This RNG element does not however detract from the skill level. The deck is still plenty complicated. It actually asks some awkward questions of you that are not familiar problems in Magic and thus might be harder. This high roll potential allows the deck to win out of nowhere, it can make awesome recoveries and it can really punish people taking risky lines themselves.The deck is also fairly robust against a surprising number of effects due to how it works. A lot of disruptive effects conventionally put things in the graveyard which typically doesn't bother the Hollow One player. Here is the list I ran, after it I will cover the ways to improve it and the directions you can go with it;

Fiery Temper
26 Spells

Faithless Looting
Burning Inquiry
Flameblade Adept
Cabal Therapy
Lava Dart
Maximize Velocity
Bomat Courier

Goblin Lore
Cathartic Reunion
Tormenting Voice
Collective Brutality
Goblin LoreTibalt, the Fiend-Blooded

Flamewake Phoenix
Fiery Temper
Faith of the Devoted
Risk Factor
Squee, Goblin Nabob
Lingering Souls

Arclight Phoenix

Street Wraith
Hollow One

Gurmag Angler
Bedlam Reveler

Bedlam Reveler14 Lands

Canyon Slough
Barren Moor
Forgotten Cave

Blackcleave Cliffs
Bloodstained Mire
Blood Crypt
Graven Cairns
Sulphurous Springs
Dragonskull Summit
City of Brass
Mana Confluence
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Faith of the DevotedA couple of cards stood out as amazing and a few rather under performed. I would look to cut Risk Factor for sure, it was simply too pricey for what it offers. The deck is also too extreme to get consistent returns from it. Either you have done nothing and it is an easy four damage for them to eat or you are close to milling yourself and playing it is dangerous. I would cut Risk Factor regardless of build direction I was going in. It just costs too much for the pace of the deck.

Squee, Goblin NabobThe other probable cuts come as more of a package. Faith of the Devoted is more of a grinding card and was generally a bit slow and steady for what this deck was about. The card is very strong but it is a little bit off theme for this deck. Without it the need of cards like Street Wraith and the cycling lands drops considerably. I still quite like having some cheap cyclers in the deck as they afford trickery and synergy but I think it is a bit overdone and heavy handed in this list. I would much prefer to have more lands entering untapped. This probably means going up in land count or replacing a couple of the cyclers with basics. Squee is another non-essential card although he is one of the most impressive value engines the deck has to offer! The thing is, much as with Risk Factor, you are not really after value as your route to victory. Over the course of the games Squee generated me a lot of value. Card advantage wise it seems like it is just a free include but I suspect the cost of having a do nothing card is much greater than it looks. It takes a very long time for the benefits of repeatedly discarding and recurring a Squee to kick in. I liked Squee a lot, I like value and free cards but I suspect you don't really hurt the deck by not having him. Beyond that I don't think you can really cut that much. If you take out the Arclight Phoenix then you can free up a number of slots like Manamorphose and some of the cheap flashback cards but I don't think that is the best way to go if you are trying to be aggressive. Arclight is probably your best threat given it has both evasion and decent power. For this direction of the deck I would look to embrace the aggressive lean and the Arclight Synergy. As such I think the cards you replace the clunky three drops with are good solid spells and premium one drop prowess dorks. We are talking Swiftspear, Soul-Scar, Lightning Bolt, Dreadbore, Kolghan's Command, that sort of thing. They give you that initial head start and have a really solid base power level.

IchoridThe prowess dudes with Arclight feel like the best version to go aggressive with. Something I plan to try however is going more of an Ichorid route and including more in the way of black support creatures. Stitcher's Supplier, Call to the Netherworld, Ruthless Sniper and perhaps a bit of bolstering from some cheap cycling black creatures. Much as this would be a neat synergy package it is just using a collection of cards that are weaker than Arclight and the prowess dudes. Ichorid is a massive downgrade on Arclight and actually isn't all that much easier to recur. I couldn't find the space to sensibly support both packages either. The other direction I see this deck being able to go in is a slower one making more use of cycling effects and leaning on Archfiend of Ifnir, Faith of the Devoted and Lightning Rift. Such a deck would be midrange to control and despite having a bunch of card overlap it would play very differently and have wildly different matchups. I have also already done a Gruul version of this deck which is very similar to this Rakdos list in style and content.

Tibalt, the Fiend-BloodedSo what was good? Some surprises for sure. Obviously the core of the deck was exactly that. The good discard effects and the key threats all found in the modern builds were essential and made the deck function. The supporting cards that you do not see in the modern decks however performed unusually. Tibalt was the real shocker just because he isn't good and has never been good anywhere before. He was what I wanted to play on turn two every game. I felt in charge when he was down and I felt in trouble when he got dealt with. The +1 feels like draw a card, perhaps a little better what with most of your action doing stuff with or from the graveyard. Double good when reducing the cost your your Hollow One or pumping your Adept! The -4 was just a bit of reach and the ultimate a bit more reach. They are just threatening, they offer some return on growing the Tibalt and it makes your opponent wary. They have to deal with Tibalt as a result, that or they have to have an empty board and hand which seems like a pretty losing line!

Maximize Velocity was the other standout. I just found myself always wanting to find it. The pump (to help with Flamewake recursion), the burst, the controlled discard ability, the two spells in one card on the cheap (for Arclight!), the card empowers basically everything in deck somehow. Further to that it is just one of your most dangerous cards. When you can haste up any of the big ground dorks they are a beating and hard to play around. You can seem like you are doing nothing with an empty board bar a few lands and then just unleash with a pile of cheap fatties you send at face. Huge card for the deck. Don't leave home without. Not playing Anger was a huge oversight. I realized this for my Gruul build and it was exceptional but it did also reduce the value of Maximize Velocity a bit. Still worth playing both I would say.

Maximize VelocityBomat Courier was exceptional in this list. He is a relevant and potent early play that applies some pressure which the list is a little light on. It is mostly that it is a good card to begin with and you somewhat turn the downside of the card into upside based on what this deck is up to. Having a cheap way to discard your hand whenever you like is pretty nice, especially when it comes with a bunch of cards to replace them. It it like your own personal cheap instant Wheel of Fortune. Firestorm is also a bit of a monster. It has that nice instant speed controlled discard feel about it. It even lets you keep some cards in your hand should you wish! Firestorm is one of the cards that has benefited most from the rules change regarding planeswalker targetting. The card literally reads do X damage to X targets now. When you kill a planeswalker, a couple of medium sized dorks and slap them in the face for four for just one mana you feel like you cheated. It is like casting a Bonfire of the Damned, without having to miracle it and without having to pay any mana for X! I got to kill two walkers with it once, utterly bonkers card when you have cards to throw in the bin.

FirestormFlameblade Adept is probably the best card in the deck. It is what you always want to lead with. The card is terrifying to play against. You never know if it is going to chunk your life total massively or just take a little nibble. It is hard to block and if not dealt with tends to do critical damage unreasonably quickly. It is like a Swiftspear that gets +2/+0 instead of +1/+1 based on the frequency of getting triggers and trades haste for menace. The critical mass of other recursive cards and discard outlets make the deck possible but Flameblade is what makes it really dangerous.

There are loads of potential extras I looked at that would work well in this kind of deck. Mox, both Chrome and Diamond have things to offer. Both are fairly high roll cards as it is and so fit this deck a treat based on that. Diamond is cute as it provides a discard trigger allowing for some really controlled and obnoxious opener potentials. You can attack on turn one with a Flamewake Phoenix and have a Hollow One and Bloodghast in play just off the back of a Faithless Looting. Diamond does however make the low land count of this deck more awkward and Chrome is going to slow you down ultimately with less things to play and less in the bin.

VengevineBasking Rootwalla sounded like a nice free inclusion, especially as I was running Confluence and City of Brass already. Sadly it also felt like it was just too low powered of a card to get excited about. This list is much more tall than wide and a 1/1 that can sometimes become a 3/3 isn't bringing a lot of threat or tempo to the party. Even Bloodghast is a little tame for what this deck is doing. My Gruul version included Vengevine and as such the Rootwalla had a lot more appeal for recursion effects. It is hard supporting both Vengevine and Arclight Phoenix in the same list, especially when also packing random discard, but not impossible. It feels like it is a fairly low cost inclusion and quite a significant return. I was certainly sufficiently impressed with the green cards compared to the black ones that I would like to now try a Jund list running just the premium offerings. The aggressive version of the deck is not only heavily red but also has most of the key cards in house too. You could likely go mono red and only play off colour cards you can cheat out. With a few more premium cards that is possibly worth it but for now that little extra offered by further colours is the way to go. You hurt yourself a lot more by playing sub par cards when you are playing a synergy deck such as this.

Back to this Rakdos version 1 of the deck, there are countless fantastic discard outlets you can run in this deck ranging from nice cheap utility cards like Cryptbreaker to punchier threats like Smuggler's Copter. Things to send you further down the rabbit hole like Flame of Keld or even more extreme all in cards like Smallpox. There are slower more control based options like Liliana of the Veil and more tempo choices like Lava Axe. There is a load of really cute cards like Leave // Chance which I wanted to play but ultimately knew they were not on theme enough for an aggressive deck. The list is too low to the ground and too linear in route to victory to be looking at cute cards. Shadow of the Grave was really hard to cut as I have yet to mess about with it. Sadly, despite being appropriately cheap it just requires too much setup to be worth running in this kind of deck. It and Risk Factor both just fail to be as stand lone reliable or powerful as Wheel of Fortune and I still don't think the deck needs a Wheel with all the other card drawing tools it has.

Flameblade AdeptDespite having all these many great options on potent support cards I was finding I only really wanted more of one kind of thing. More of the threats I already had (and thus couldn't have) and more looting. I wanted all my discard effects to draw me cards and I wanted them to do it reliably without having to have crew and that sort of thing. The discard and draw is just the best way of getting to the threats that I so badly need for the deck to work. The win percentage of this deck hinged a lot on two things, having Flameblade in the first turn or two and having three of your other good threats in the top half of your deck. Both of these things going your way makes this deck comfortably tier one. Wild Guess is an option on more spell looting. I would strongly consider Sarkhan, Fireblood as another looter given how strong Tibalt was. Even Dismissive Pyromancer seemed like it might be a good inclusion. The extra removal wouldn't go amiss there at least. Ongoing looting is lovely but so are cheap spells that replace themselves. The recently spoiled Rix Maadi Reveler looks like a perfect new card to give this deck a boost.

Haunted DeadIt is almost a shame this list appears to be so tight. There are loads of lovely cards I would like to try out in this deck that have little chance to shine elsewhere. I recall my mocking review of Haunted Dead based on how unlikely it would be to find a suitable home for it yet here I am doing an article on a list it could be great in. You could run Azra Oddsmaker in this list and it would be about as good as that card is ever getting. Almost any card with discard effects, cycling or madness offers some viability in this kind of deck. I usually do a list of potential includes when I am preparing for a new build and this deck had a much longer list than most.

I plan to revisit this archetype a lot of the coming months. It is exactly the sort of deck I enjoy playing. Lots of options, lots of choices, lots of casting of things and the ability to see a lot of your deck. That last bit is actually what makes this deck so much better than I was expecting. You consistently see so much of your deck, and quickly, that despite having low threat and synergy density you do get what you need in good time. I did a bit of rudimentary maths and estimated you would see over half your deck by turn six on average. This is impressive not just when compared to blue decks with lots of dig and draw but also when you consider that the blue decks just "see" a lot of their decks. Most of the cards will wind up shuffled into or on the bottom of those blue decks. In this list your cards will all go to the yard via your hand. You get to use most of the cards you see rather than just the ones you cherry pick with your Impulse effects. Burning Inquiry really gets to act a lot like Ancestral Recall in this deck! It is even disruptive, all be it randomly. It turns keeps in to mulligans and it Hymn to Tourachs away key cards! The list I feel this is most comparable to is a Death's Shadow one. Both do powerful things to empower synergies for wildly undercost cards and effects. Both are tempo decks with a lot going on. Both are harder to play than they might look as well. Most importantly both are really fun. Mostly just for my reference, here is the list of cards I considered in the build process of this deck that I didn't play or mention in the article. Some are bad, some are cool;

Insolent NeonateInsolent Neonate
Pack Rat
Call the Bloodline
Cryptbreaker (Gravecrawler)
Gisa's Bidding
Violent Eruption
Horror of Broken Lands
Grave Upheaval
Ash Barrens
Bloodrage Brawler
ConflagrateGeier Reach Sanitarium
Vile Manifestation
Ichor Slick
Solar Blast
Spark Spray
Stir the Sands
Undead Gladiator
Limits of Solidarity
Monstrous Carabid
Pursue Glory
Razaketh's Rite
Scarab Feast
Viscera Dragger
Wander in Death
Without Weakness
Reckless Charge
Claim // Fame

and some of the green cards you can run;

Borderland Explorer
Basking Rootwalla
Land Grant
Mutagenic Growth
Punishing Fire
Ancient Grudge
Chatter of the Squirrel
Hooting Mandrils
Become Immense
Grapple with the Past
Birds of Paradise
Orcish Lumberjack
Borderlands Explorer
Survival of the Fittest
Fauna Shaman
Llanowar Mentor

Lasly here is my planned list for the next time I run this deck out. It is impressively a five colour red deck! Two of the colours you never need to see the appropriate colour of mana for and the other two are very much splashes so it only really merits a technically five colour claim. I have never before seen, or even considered the possibility of a five colour deck based in red. Despite the many colours it feels far more streamlined than either of my Rakdos or Gruul attempts so far. Focusing so much on the red does make it look rather like the Runaway red build I did the other day but that is another story (which will be included mostly on an upcoming article "Mizzix's Mastery .dec").

Lava Dart

27 Spells

Faithless Looting
Burning Inquiry
Flameblade Adept
Lava Dart / Cabal Therapy

Maximize Velocity
Bomat Courier
Basking Rootwalla

Deathrite Shaman / Insolent Neonate
Gitaxian Probe

Arclight Phoenix

Cathartic Reunion
Tormenting Voice
Wild Guess
Goblin Lore

Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
Land Grant

Flamewake Phoenix
Fiery Temper
Lingering Souls

Arclight Phoenix

Hollow One

Hooting Mandrils

Bedlam Reveler

13 Lands

2x Mountian
Stomping Ground

Blood Crypt
City of Brass
Mana Confluence

Wooded Foothills
Bloodstained Mire
Copperline Gorge
Blackcleave Cliffs

Friday 18 January 2019

Paradox Engine .dec

Paradox EngineAfter the immense fun that was had at the helm of my Magistrate's Scepter deck I thought I should try a more focused and real build using many of the same support cards and synergies but with an actually good build around card as the key of the deck. Paradox Engine is exactly that good build around card. The idea is fairly simple, get some mana rocks or dorks in play and combine them with things that tap to draw cards. With that general setup you can pretty much draw and cast your whole deck in a single turn. The best bit is getting to use the charge counter mana rocks alongside proliferate cards. In this list I get to play proliferate because it is the best tool for the job rather than because I force it because I like it too much! The deck is a bit like a storm deck and can use a load of storm finishers if it wants. Equally it can go for more of the Ironworks style infinite mana win conditions or indeed both! One of the nice things about this deck is that the mana aspect is in play and just sort of does it self for you once setup. Other storm decks typically have to produce mana and cards in an ongoing capacity while they are going off. This list only really needs to find cards once the pieces are in place to go off. This gives you a lot of freedom in build direction and card choice. I have seen versions of this list using Skullclamp and creatures as the significant part of the draw engine. I have seen versions that are heavily blue spells and ones that are mostly artifact. I am going to proffer a fairly middle of the road, yet dedicated version of the archetype.

Below are the core parts of the deck, most of the rest of what you play is just ways to find these cards or redundancy for them. You can do without some of the cards on this list but only because there are weaker alternatives on offer, really you want all of these.

Temple BellMox Opal

Everflowing Chalice
Astral Cornucopia
Walking Ballista

Surge Node

Core Tapper
Mind Stone

Temple Bell
Steady Progress

Trading Post
Tezzeret's Gambit

Paradox Engine

Astral CornucopiaCornucopia and Chalice are your key mana producers. Surge Node, Tapper and the proliferate cards empower them over time and the Paradox Engine both furthers this and benefits from it. Once an untap trigger is producing nine or more mana then Batterskull sends you to infinite mana. It it like the Palinchron of this list. It is better too as it affords more utility and protection and is far more easily tutored for. Batterskull won me a bunch of games just being itself as well as many more as part of the combo. Temple Bell, Engine and Batterskull let you draw your deck with eight mana or more worth of non-land mana production. It also greatly helps you power your way up to that point. Both before and after making your Engine. You only really need a couple of mana from non-land sources with Engine and Bell in play to usually go off and win on the spot. Trading Post is seemingly a non-essential support card but I found it to be such a good support card in several different roles that I can't imagine running it to be wrong in any form of build. It just covers you in like three ways at once and is thus very space efficient.

Once you have your core cards in place it is time to pad it out with support, protection and some redundancy where possible. Below is a list of the various cards I was looking at while trying to build this thing that did not make my final cut. I can't easily say how good or bad most of these will be as I am still fairly new to this archetype. I need to do many more builds going in a variety of directions to really get a feel for things. I am sure a bunch of these cards are worthy of playing over things I played and I am also sure that several viable lists for this general style of deck exist for which a much wider greater pool of cards will become viable than I have listed.

Throne of GethWelding Jar

Aether Spellbomb
Cantrips and card quality (Sleight of Hand etc)
Elixir of Immortality
Sensei's Divining Top
Voltaic Key
Chromatic Star / Terrarion

Throne of Geth
Contagion Clasp
Ichor Wellspring
Vedalken Engineer
Merfolk Looter etc
Voltaic Servant
Ratchet Bomb
Mana Severance
Lux CannonCopy Artifact

Sculpting Steel
Trophy Mage
Laboratory Maniac
Sai, Master Thopterist

Oracle's Vault
Cryptic Command
Padeem, Consul of Innovation
Otherworld Atlas
Lux Cannon

Tezzeret, the Seeker

Urza's Blueprints
Staff of Nin

Saprazzan Skerry

This is my take on the deck. It has some creatures which empower the combo and greatly speed things up if they are not met with removal. They also allow for a bit more defensive and interactive game against aggressive decks. With all the artifact and proliferate synergies on the go Walking Ballista seems like the obvious best win condition as it does so much prior to that point. I also ended up running Hangarback as well for multiple reasons. Sometimes it is a good source of sacrificial artifacts, sometimes it is a nice free spell to untap, sometimes it is a solid defensive blocker and sometimes you make it enormous and beat face with it. It did make me want more sac outlets like Throne of Geth or Sai, Master Thopterist. The Throne route wants a bit more support with artifacts you want to sac off and Sai sends you down a more all round deck that can combo kill or just be aggressive. You would want to add in things like Karn with your Sai and then it starts to look even more like my Magistrate's Scepter deck!

Surge Node26 Spells

Mox Opal

Everflowing Chalice
Astral Cornucopia
Walking Ballista
Hangarback Walker

Surge Node
Enclave Cryptologist
Gitaxian Probe

Core Tapper
Renown Weaponsmith
Glint-Nest Crane
Trading PostAzor's Gateway
Prismatic Lens

Temple Bell
Steady Progress
Grand Architect
Trinket Mage

Trading Post
Hedron Archive
Tezzeret's Gambit

Paradox Engine

Whir of Invention

14 Lands

Inventor's Fair
Darksteel Citadel
Seat of the Synod
Academy Ruins
Tolaria West
9 Islands

Enclave CryptologistWith the redundancy and tutors on offer it is pretty easy to find the mana rock elements of the combo but finding the final garnish of Temple Bell is trickier. This is where cards like Trading Post, Enclave Cryptologist and Azor's Gateway come in. These all lets you churn through your deck and all work very nicely indeed when you start to get your untap triggers firing off. You can go deeper on the blue Looters but you are increasingly vulnerable to removal with every one toughness dork you add in. The dorks are also a lot less use when you find them while trying to go off as they lack haste. The spread I have in this list gives a good range of power, effects and risk. Azor's Gateway is a bit dodgy as you neither want to flip it or exile cards! Ideally you just pitch lands to it and all is well in the world.

One way of making your creatures more useful when found part way through trying to go off is Grand Architect. He lets you tap summoning sick things and turns everything into a Renown Weaponsmith. This is especially nice as you have a lot of good artifact finding cards on the back of blue dorks. Architect lets you put those to further use although just blocking with them is also pretty great. Those extra two toughness on Weaponsmith is why he makes it in and Vedalken Engineer does not. Weaponsmith is a far more relevant tempo play able to do some really useful blocking and some decent surviving of removal, even if he can't find any weapons for you...

Renowned WeaponsmithThis list performs well but is a little polar. It has really strong matchups against uninteractive decks and really poor ones against decks with countermagic. It has better game against aggressive decks than most combo decks like it despite being a little slower. This is due to the creature support, the nature of that support and the Batterskull ace in the hole. It is really nice Whirring up on of those to block at instant speed! That ends a lot of aggressive lines and is a lot quicker to be a reality than it sounds. To improve it against countermagic you have Defense Grid, Null Brooch if brave, or simply your own blue countermagic. This makes you slower and weakens your artifact synergies somewhat but it is at least still useful across all matchups.

I really wanted to find room for some disposable artifacts that cycle (or better). Ichor Wellspring would have been lovely. I was finding it uncomfortable when having to sacrifice artifacts. Despite having a good number in the list most of them are things you really want to keep in play. The possible cuts are the low end redundancy cards like Prismatic Lens and Azor's Gateway and the more luxurious spells like Gitaxian Probe, Hangarback Walker and Hedron Archive. Alternatively you could all but cull the blue creatures elements and make some space that way. That might well make the curve rather nicer. This list has painfully few one drops and would really like to be able to at least do some Preordaining on turn one. Obviously in a powered cube you can pack all sorts of mental cards like Sol Ring, Mana Vault, Mishra's Workshop and all that jazz and then you can win right off the bat and not have to worry about your curve! I suspect this deck is very tedious in powered cubes when you get a good amount of the right kind of artifact ramp. That is pretty much the case for a wide array of archetypes in powered cubes though so not that much of an acclaim.

Fieldmist BorderpostI really liked the idea of running Borderposts in this deck. They give you a good thing to do on turn one and empower most of the deck. You get to run a bit less land, you get a higher artifact count, more consistent artifact synergies and you get more back on each Engine trigger. The thing is you have to run mostly basic lands to do this and that means going easy on your utility and artifact lands which seems like a fairly even trade off.

Another weakness this list has is to disruptive permanents. While it handles itself in combat admirably for a combo deck it lacks any sort of way to clear a problem card like Stony Silence. This is not too hard to solve as problems go. There are great options that this list has selection for as well as ways to empower. The issue is more one of space than anything else. Lux Cannon is my favourite of the answer cards as it can be so naughty but it is pure win more. It also fails the Stony Silence test as do a selection of the better general options like Ratchet Bomb and Engineered Explosives. In practice you may need to run something like a Rushing River or Cryptic Command, at least in your board.

Urza's Blueprints
That mostly covers what we have to say on this deck. A very potent archetype, especially considering how many bad looking cards it contains. Not only is this a fairly top tier combo deck with loads of build options but it is also incredibly fun to play. Probably more fun to goldfish than to play in a match, at least in a utilitarian sense (magic not the best spectator sport after all). It is a combo deck that has to do work well into going off rather than one that just assembles a few parts and wins. I find that style of combo deck more rewarding and more interesting. You can have all the things and still punt. While I have seen this kind of thing on paper plenty of places it is not until you actually play with or against it that you fully appreciate it. It looks like a deck that needs a lot of parts, many of which are expensive do nothings. Typically that is a bad start for any sort of combo deck. Somehow this archetype doesn't mind such things and does a great job of winning. It can win on turn three without that many cards, without even needing the Mox or Tinker. Turn one Surge Node into turn two Chalice then using it to further charge the Chalice allows for five mana on turn three for the Engine. Any zero mana spell then nets you another 3 mana and untaps the Node as well. It is surprisingly easy to go off from that point if you have much in your hand. Well worth a build if you haven't felt it in action, especially if you enjoy a good combo deck. Really, if you like magic you like mana and cards and this deck does both of those things abundantly well!

Thursday 17 January 2019

Ravnica Allegiance Thoughts and Additions

As ever I seem to be a bit of a fan boy and rather like this set. It has more to offer than most recent sets, if only by a small amount. It is the first review that has made it to fifteen segments! Like most recent sets this offers nothing that seems oppressive or broken and much of the interesting stuff, as with all newer sets, is too niche to be playable in limited cubes. For the more constructed side of things and really for any constructed singleton formats this set has masses to offer. It does also appear to also do better for the drafting cubes than other sets with slightly more cards looking like they have a shot long term than usual. There are a lot of holes plugged and relevant redundancies padded out. Blue got two new one drops which is a huge help for them. I like this focus on "best of one" cards too as far as it helps out cube play. Versatile cards that bring narrower effects into the realms of playable are great for the game. I am expecting to get a lot out of this new set. It is a lot of content relative to the number of cards. I look forward to playing with the new stuff but I am already enjoying the creative process the new cards offer. As ever I will have three lists of cards, the few I think are lock in cards for the drafting cube. Those I will test for suitability in the drafting cube and lastly those that will be useful for singleton constructed purposes that I will store away in my cube reserves! I have not bothered with a top ten list from the set but it likely wound'y be far off the expected mana cost of the lock in cards with the cheapest as the best! Light Up the Stage is the card I am most excited for and it could be the best. Probably the other one mana spectacle cards are going to get more play and would certainly all be in the top five. Dovin is the only other card that jumps out at me for potential potency above and beyond.

The Lock In Cards

Light Up the Stage
Rix Maadi Reveler
Tithe Taker
Dovin, Grand Arbiter
Judith, the Scourge Diva
Depose // Deploy
Drill Bit
Mesmerizing Benthid
Skewer the Critics
Incubation Druid
Deputy of Detention
Consecrate // Consume

The Tester Cards

Gruul Spellbreaker
Incubation // Incongruity
Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
Mass Manipulation
Spawn of Mayhem
Rhythm of the Wild
Titanic Brawl
Silhana Wayfinder
Essence Capture
Unbreakable Formation
Domri, Chaos Bringer
Benthic Biomancer
Thrash // Threat
Angel of Grace
Font of Agonies
Orzhov Enforcer
Priest of Forgotten Gods
Biogenic Ooze
Forbidding Spirit
Footlight Fiend
Collision // Colossus

The Constructed, Narrow, and Exotic Cards

Emergency Powers
Growth Spiral
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade
Emergency Powers
Biomancer's Familiar
Sphinx's of Foresight
Hydriod Krasis
Wilderness Reclamation
Prime Speaker Vannifar
High Alert
Rampage of the Clans
Frilled Mystic
Bankrupt in Blood
Nikya of the Old Ways
Theater of Horrors
Kaya's Wrath
Ministrant of Obligation
Spirit of the Spires
Tomb of the Guildpact
Cavalcade of Calamity
Resolute Watchdog
Lawmage's Binding
Final Payment
Saruli Caretaker
Stony Strength
Open the Gates
Wall of Lost Thoughts
Shimmer of Possibility
Faerie Duelist
Clear the Mind
Impassioned Orator
Arrester's Zeal

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Ravnica Allegiance Preliminary Reviews Part XV

Tin Street Dodger 1

A Raging Goblin you can force through. Seems fairly useless all told. One damage is minimal per turn, having to spend a mana to assure that damage is poor. With more in the way of buff effects or rewards for connecting then this would impress more. In the drafting cube the only thing I can think that works well with this are the Sword of This and That cycle. Hardly an exciting proposition. This fails to do anything close to useful like a Frenzied Goblin does. Frenzied Goblin enhances your other cards while this needs cards to enhance it. It is not just that this is low power and utility but it is demanding on your resources in an ongoing capacity. It starts out not worth it and continues to be not worth it each turn there after as well!

Storm Strike 1

A cheap and useful card with scry. This is curious, as a combat trick it is potent, it should turn a chump or trade into a chump for them. What it is bad at is forcing through damage. A card like Titan's Strength has comparable combat utility but much better face damage potential. I don't see where you would play this but it is not the sort of card you go writing off. One mana scry instants that do anything useful are exciting cards on the whole.

Spear Spewer 1

A cheap and reliable way of triggering spectacle. This is even pretty durable for a one drop. There is also the ability to "abuse" this with untap creature effects. Sadly this is a pretty poor baseline card. A 1/2 unblockable with psuedo vigilance, that can't hurt creatures and does you as much damage as your opponent! We do not presently need spectacle or bloodthirst enough to look at a card like this at all seriously but perhaps one day. Cheap and different cards are always good to keep in mind.

Goblin Gathering 1

Terrible as this is in singleton I can imagine a deck focused enough that this would be playable. Mogg Alarm and Molten Birth have seen some minor play in cube and this has the odd perk over them despite the lower power as a singleton.

Deface 2

Cute card and one to watch if defenders continue to grow in numbers in the cube. Most of those that are there are not ones you want to waste a card on killing. That or they have hexproof... This is a long way off as playable as Abrade but it is on the right sort of tracks. It might be good in some cubes, is probably good in some sideboards and may well one day be good in more than just some cubes.

Dagger Caster 0

Just too low power. You want your Plague Mare cards at three mana not at four. This is not open to scaling or other abuses and gains nothing from adding redundancy to Chainwhirler effects. This is just a no hoper for cube despite looking comparable to a couple of strong cube cards.

Vindictive Vampire 1

Blood Artist decks seldom stretch to Falkenrath Noble for their support and so I suspect the same will be true of this. The extra toughness is probably better than flying on a creature you are playing for the ongoing effect rather than anything else. This is certainly a lot better for the EDH people with it hitting all opponents but in heads up this is just a four drop version of a two mana card. It isn't even Blood Artist good, merely Zulaport Cutthroat good...

Thirsty Shade 1

A one drop, a mana sink, a source of lifegain. This card has a lot of things that it does and that black quite wants. It is even fairly open to being played in decks lighter on black mana unlike most pumpable shade cards. Despite all the cool upsides this card has it is mostly just a one mana 1/1 with low impact effects. What are you going to do, make it a terrifying 2/2 on turn three? Really not getting a lot done without abusive levels of mana. Filler in a black devotion deck perhaps? Three is so much mana to pump and 1/1 is such a small and irrelevant starting point. The value of a one drop is that it is relevant early but this really isn't and so you might as well play other things that actually do what it is your deck needs.

Blade Brand 1

This seems like a trap. It is only ever a two for one removal spell when a block is made in which no creatures would die. The collisions of the 2/3 dudes. This is rare and pretty low powered as well. Most of the time you will use this to trade up where a small dork kills a big one. That will be fine but it will be poor tempo and just a 1 for 1. It does at least make cards like Bloodghast rather better. Mostly though you are just better off using cards like Doom Blade to kill the would be blocker and get that damage in. Or just getting those creatures dead without worrying about having your own in play to do so. This has hidden costs and preconditions and it can't even help force through damage. This has all the hallmarks of bad removal.

Wall of Lost Thoughts 3

Self mill is increasingly powerful in cube with so many cards feeding off the graveyard. Further to delve spells we have delirium, undergrowth, the drake style cards, and then all the recursion things ranging from creatures to cards with flashback. Self mill in the right deck is mana, power, utility, dig, action and all manner of good things. This is too low power and too specific to run in a drafting cube but in synergy decks it is quite appealing. It has a reasonable defensive body, a cheap price tag and a big hit of self mill. If you are playing Minister of Inquiries and Hedron Crab for self mill then there is a good chance you will look at this too.

Shimmer of Possibility 3

It always makes me sad when a reasonably fair card we could use more of is printed in a strictly worse form. First we got Anticipate and now we have this. Card quality is great and it always gets played but it isn't oppressive. Impulse certainly isn't. We just don't get enough good cheap cards to pad out the decks nor do we get enough card quality and so what meagre offerings of card quality we do get always gets used. You see the best players winning with it because it gives options and thus the ability to outplay people and so Wizards continue to print weaker card quality spells. One drops I can see why there is some caution but two drops are pretty safe. Shimmer of Possibility is fine, it will see a lot of play in combo decks where it is all about how deep you dig and instant speed is irrelevant. I can't see it getting used beyond that in my cube. What I want to see are cards that are more inline with Impulse in power and have a broader range in power. Say look at two or 3 cards normally but five when you fulfill conditions. Worldly Council type spells please, not this. A missed opportunity to do something really cool with addendum.

Sage's Row Servant 1

We have had aggressive X/1 dorks with scry at two mana outside of blue and one power two drops with scry in blue and none have really made a big impact. The Motorist is gold and so hard to learn much from. The others are low impact defensive cards. You don't want to lose card advantage in defensive decks and low impact cards effectively do that. As such I don't want to rule this out based on previous poor performances of similar looking dorks. This is much more able to be aggressive. Two power is a lot more relevant than one and will help it to trade with something respectable or do meaningful damage. Two power for two mana with two scry in a tempo based deck sounds OK but I fear it still isn't. The 2/1 is just still too limp and low power. It is good if you are just after a body but then you are going to chose a card that replaces itself or does more in some way. I like this but I fear it isn't going to see play.

Faerie Duelist 2

Too low impact to play generally but cheap and useful enough to make the cut in a tribal deck. Faeries lack low drop dorks giving this the gap it needed to get some play.

Clear the Mind 1

This is worse for control than Learn from the Past and worse for most other things than Cranial Archive. This is super narrow and it isn't even all that good. It is pretty dead all the way through the early game until mana stops being tight, then it is just a bad cycler until the late game. If I am scared of decking myself I am running Commit // Memory, Elixir of Immortality or Mistveil Plains a long time before I look at this. Clear the Mind is a do nothing. I guess technically it is graveyard disruption but that is quite a price to pay when compared to Relic of Progenitus or Tormod's Crypt.

Twilight Panther 1

A one drop cat is going to wind up in a tribal cat deck someday. This is a bit gold and not even that powerful when you have the black mana. It isn't getting near anything other than a weak under catered for tribal deck. The spirit tribe certainly isn't entertaining a card like this.

Summary Judgement 1

This is a well made card. It is interesting yet clear and simple at the same time. It would have been too low power to see play at just the 3 damage but adding the addendum for 5 makes it more potent. None of the black Assassinate cards have performed well but they are all sorcery speed. It makes them like bad Reciprocates in most ways. Judgement is instant and that makes it wildly better. White also has way way more tap creature effects it could use to turn this on. The problem I see facing this card, as with so much of the tier two white removal, is that it isn't suitable for both aggressive and defensive decks. It is basically just a weak Condemn at that point. You cannot easily use this to clear a path for attackers and so it is little use to the aggressive players. With that being about half of white decks this might as well be a gold card! As with creatures, removal now either hits the mark or it is pretty unplayable. This is super close to good but isn't quite there and so should probably be rated a 0 and not even the lowly 1 I gave it out of pity!

Justiciar's Portal 1

Another Flicker effect which might assist with some redundancy but I doubt it. The Flicker decks I have seen do well in cube are midrange to control and make use of ongoing Flicker effects like Venser, Brago, and Eldrazi Displacer rather than these one time use cards.

Impassioned Orator 2

This is just a weaker version of Soul Warden / Attendant for both costing more and for only triggering on your own stuff. Despite this the card is still cheap and still affords the redundancy in the right places and so this will see play in the lifegain themed decks, in cube at least. This might even be too poor for modern Soul Sisters. When you are an entirely on-theme two drop and you can't even get a lock in spot in a bad modern deck things are not looking all that impressive for your potency.

Arrester's Zeal 4

This is surprisingly good. It is somewhat of a split card that either offers reach or a combat trick. This makes it about as close to a burn spell as any white pump spell is looking. It however is a bit of a luxury card and it isn't swelling with power. It is a pretty fair card that just so happens to do what white aggressive decks rather need. This can easily be that early tempo surge you need to beat other tempo decks or that late game push that lets you seal the deal against the controlling decks. Sadly that is just one white archetype and it is a luxury card in those being neither a threat nor direct removal. It is a card that would compete for the slot of Jitte, Smuggler's Copter and that kind of thing. I like this a lot and will certainly be testing it but I strongly suspect this elegant little spell isn't brutal enough or playable enough for the cube. You just need to fill your luxury slots in decks with obscenely powerful cards