Thursday 3 January 2019

Ravnica Allegiance Preliminary Reviews Part III

Sphinx of Foresight 6

I like this a lot although I am not sure how well this will pan out in cube based on the limited success and use of Curator of Mysteries. The latter has a lower ceiling but a much higher floor as is the case for most cycling cards. I suspect legacy is where Sphinx of Foresight will shine brightest as free things go a really long way and you can pitch it to Force of Will and shuffle it away with Brainstorms. A free scry 3 on turn one is really quite exceptional. It is an interesting card on an extra level than most as the value of it depends on prior game knowledge. Although to varying degrees in different matchups and metas the value of the scry is always greater when you know what you are facing. You will be scrying blind nearly half the time in a legacy event and so that might curtail the value. The way I play cube means that I generally have a good idea what I am facing and so the scry is going to be very strong indeed! Sadly I am just not convinced that I will consistently be able to make use of the card after that free scry. The body is decent but it isn't great. I think if you are forced into playing it as a 4/4 rather than looting it away that you probably undo a lot of the "free" value you gained from the earlier scry. There will be plenty of high synergy decks that can make use of this but I think in a drafting setting this will be a little below par. Any deck with enough looting or value discard is going to be all over this. It will certainly be worse than Curator of Mysteries in the drafting cube and better in the niche exotic homes for it. Playable but far from bomb like. Normally I am all over these cards that increase consistency at the cost of power but there is something a little off with a generic high CMC dork that makes these cards a little less my thing. I see this doing good work in Survival of the Fittest combo decks, not in your midrange blue draft decks. It averages out to be about half a free scry at the start of each game which is significant. Scry also scales up very well with scry 3 being more than six times better than half a scry. On those games you do reveal it you will be at a significant advantage. There will be plenty of matchups where 0 mana scry 3 is worth the card cost. A nice build tool to have access to and quite an interesting one. I like the design even if it is a little polar.

Speaker's Pet 3

Training Grounds on legs! This is a great card for brewing exotic decks with. It is not incomparable to how Winding Constrictor catapulted Hardened Scales decks upon its release. Redundancy on cheap cards is huge in cube when trying to build in synergies. Having key effects on creatures is especially good for green stuff too as it makes it vastly more tutorable. This card has no chance in the drafting cube, far too narrow in effect and as a gold card too. It has a poor baseline power as well. In decks built with it and around it and things like it in mind it could really impress. I don't expect to be using the tap ability, it is all about the cost reduction abuse potential. I look forward to experimenting myself and I look forward to seeing any other brews people might come up with for the card regardless of format.

Deputy of Detention 7

I think this is enough of an upgrade to Fairgrounds Warden that it merits cube inclusion despite also being gold. It is a bit like the jump from Man-o-War to Reflector Mage. A little extra on a fine cheap card goes a long way. So why is Deputy so much better than Fairgrounds Warden? Especially in a singleton format? Well obviously any target is huge. Most decks have non-land permanents, a lot of the creature light decks that Warden sucks against will have powerful plansewalkers. Deputy hits walkers and will also reset loyalty if he is dealt with. Warden is often made dead by so many creatures having EtB effects and thus winding up with few good targets. Artifacts and enchantments have less in the way of EtB effects and so Deputy will not just be a much broader all round answer card but he will also be a much safer and more reliable one as well. The other thing that makes Deputy a big deal in cube is the strength of tokens. Killing one token is rarely exciting when you had to pay a card and 3 mana to do so and only have a 1/3 to show for it. When you can kill a whole cards worth or more of a token type then you are very happy with your 1/3 for three! Azorius decks, especially midrange ones, have had difficulty handling token decks. Planeswalkers have historically been a bit of a problem for them too although much less so these days. Deputy is a solid playable card in power level and effect but he also happens to cover Azorius decks in two of their main weak spots. This Plague Mare come Detention Sphere should put in a lot of work and see a lot of play. I anticipate it being better than both Reclamation Sage and Spell Queller in cube and both of those cards are very good.

Hydroid Krasis 3

Well isn't this a quirky card. Part Sphinx's Revelation and part Mistcutter Hydra! The X is pretty misleading on this card. There are fewer modes than it appears. Ideally you want X = to 4, 6 or even 8. The latter will be rare but reasonably game winning. In cube four will be the most common cast I am fairly confidant. When X is less than 4 the card is simply terrible. It is a Kavu Climber level of card at X = 3, a terrible Solemn Simulacrum at X = 2 and a laughable Flying Man at X = 1. You will really only ever use these modes in emergencies. As a six drop you get a decent all round package with some value and some board presence. Not as big of a swing as you would like for a six drop but far from a bad deal. As an 8 drop you get a top quality threat and loads of value which should end a game but isn't doing so quickly or even that reliably. It certainly isn't winning at Craterhoof speeds! The upwards scaling from the X = 6 point is all nice but also so rare in almost all cases that it doesn't really matter that much or add all that much value to the card. Any deck that has a chance of making more than 8 mana at all quickly and consistently can win in pretty much any manner it likes. With the various values of X all being low powered, improbable or terrible the card looks pretty bad. There are a couple of mildly redeeming qualities on offer that may well see it getting some fringe use. The life and cards are a cast trigger and so Krasis provides a massive uncounterable mana dump for card draw and life gain and that is very strong against control decks. Having a high powered card at a low converted mana cost likely has some application too, for some kind of tutor card I expect. Lastly there is still some inherent value to having a creature with a range of casting costs even if many of them are bad. Playing something bad is still a lot better than doing nothing. Especially if it replaces itself. This is inflexible for an X card but it is still fairly flexible when compared to a card with exactly one mana cost.

Dovin, Grand Arbiter 8

This is the 16th three mana planeswalker. None of them have been bad cards and many have been almost oppressively good. All of the existing 15 have seen fairly extensive use and done plenty of impressive things. Three mana walkers are super dangerous things and well worth taking note of. Dovin looks good by three mana walker standards and so that makes him very interesting indeed. Thopters and other 1/1 flying tokens are fantastic in cube. They give superb board control and reach. Dovin can be almost anywhere where between a slower Spectral Procession and a Bitterblossom, both exceptional cards. He can even throw in the odd super Dig Through Time. Dovin seems dangerous on several fronts. Making 1/1 fliers is great, that would be a solid -1 on most planeswalkers. Being able to do so on a three mana walker sounds scary. The other big scary thing Dovin has going on is his potential to gain vast amounts of loyalty. Ashiok is terrifying because of a mere +2 ability on a three mana walker. Dovin could well get plus four loyalty on curve if he follows up a bunch of one mana dorks or a token generator. In that situation you are going a bit win more but it is mostly just to serve as an example. Dovin is super hard to take out in combat due to both high loyalty gain potential and reasonable self defense options. Dovin is certainly going to be a near impossible card to race. Much as the ultimate is great it is just card advantage. It is good when you need an answer or are otherwise out of gas but for the most part having the threat of Dovin in play and the continued production of 1/1 thopters is going to be the most effective way to win with him. I will rarely ultimate at 7 loyalty and will typically try and wait so that I can keep him alive as well as using the -7. Dovin brings offense and defense. He has scaling potential  and serious game ending potential. He is good against planeswalkers, control, aggro and seemingly most things. He affords decent options and utility and frankly seems like one of the naughtiest cube card we have seen for quite a while. I expect him to be top 5 of the three mana walkers which is powerful company to keep.

Judith, the Scourge Diva 7.5

This is an oddly named card but that doesn't stop it being very powerful. Dame Judith Dench, the Scourge Diva fits perfectly into my current cube design which contains a load of sac outlets like Goblin Bombardment, Blood Artist and company as well as loads of good things to sacrifice! Rakdos is the favoured and most common colour pairing for that kind of deck and so Judith seems to have a pretty easy time ahead of her for getting a cube slot. For starters she is a Veteran Swordsmith for all your dorks. That is just pretty good in most aggressive creature decks. It is especially good outside of white where Anthem effects are rather harder to come by. Judith is also nearly an Outpost Siege in dragon mode. That gives her both reach and board control, quite a lot of those things when you have the right support and board state. Judith is not a card you are looking to curve into as she scales up in power the more developed you are. She is certainly a high value target to kill and not the most resilient of three drops. She does at least appear to ping when she dies herself so some mild value there! Making her on turn three is fine but likely to get her killed and less likely to net huge value from her abilities even if not. She will make combat super awkward as well furthering her reach potential due to people not wanting to kill your things. Any high value low toughness targets will make a lot of your smaller dorks undesirable to kill and thus block or attack into. Kalitas has a bit of that feel about him and it is a potent aspect of him that is often overlooked. It is not a direct reduction of options but a diminishing of their quality which has a similar effect on the game but without being quite so oppressive as many option gating cards.

Kaya, Orzhov Usurper 5.5

So soon after we hit 16 three mana planeswalkers we jump to 17 of them! This new Kaya is certainly not on the same level as Dovin but despit being on the lower end of the power spectrum in this group of 17 I fully expect Kaya to do good work in cube. I would say cube is where she is most likely to perform well as a maindeck card. In other formats it is unlikely she will be much more than a sideboard tool. Kaya is hard to get value from and also fairly hard to protect although the latter is less of an issue on three mana walkers. Unless you are able to hit high value one drops with Kaya she is never affording you proper card advantage. This will happen but not consistently enough, even in my cube, for her to be playable based on the -1 ability. Sadly the +1 is unthreatening to most decks. It is annoying for a lot of decks but not annoying to the tune of a card and three mana. The +1 also offers lifegain which is nice against the aggressive decks but then the -1 was pretty good there too. It is also quite nice just to empower black lifecost cards a bit but lots of things offer incidental lifegain now. If you want it you can get it fairly easily and on theme without savaging the power of your list. Life totals and graveyards do matter a lot in cube and in most games to some extent. It is incredibly rare to have a mtachup where neither deck has a single graveyard matters card or recursive effect and also cares little for the opponents life total. Kaya is always going to do several things that are annoying or tedious or unfortunate but she is rarely going to do anything to extreme or swingy short of the ultimate. She isn't nearly as narrow as she appears but she may well just be too low impact to cut it in most cube decks. There is a lot to be said for any three mana walker that can go upto 4 loyalty and that do some useful things. That is part of why the group is so highly powered on average. The ultimate is the unknown here. It is potentially ruinous and has the capability of one shotting people in the latter parts of the game. You can get there relatively quickly with the +1 and you can cheat your way to it with ease as it is nominally quite a low cost. Some Clockspinning or proliferation and surprise ultimates will be a thing! It is an elegant counter to delve spells and might have some application in that role. Delve cards are very powerful after all. So many decks use so much of the graveyard as a resource that I anticipate the average ultimate will do significantly more than the 4-6 you would expect to gain from just what Kaya exiles on her way to five or more loyalty. My guess is that it would be more like double that so in the 8-12 range. That is pretty scary. It is a huge life buffer as well as a savage hit. If it doesn't end the game on the spot it will in many cases effectively do so. Kaya is nicely designed in that she is one of the most threatening three mana walkers as a game ending card but not as a result of laying her on turn three and pulling ahead as is the case with many of the cheaper walkers. She is probably most dangerous if made late and protected for a few turns. I like her design a lot and look forward to playing with her. She isn't outstanding but she is far from useless. She will have many places and opportunity to shine and she might well be good enough for the drafting cube too. She certainly seems like a Kaya, she is deceptively good and she has a wider range of utility than most walkers. She is dangerous but in her own unique way.

Mass Manipulation 5

And I thought the Krasis had limits on the range of X! This is realistically a 6 or 8 mana spell and as such it is incredibly top end. It is not without hope but it is up against stiff competition from the premium top end in cube. Creatures and planeswalkers is all you really want to steal with this kind of thing and so this is ultimately better than Confiscate (and similar) in a couple of ways. It cannot be Disenchanted to be undone and it can involve massive swings in the game when used for taking more than one thing. Taking control of your opponents two best threats will crush control and midrange decks likely more than an Ugin would do. Sadly it is a lot worse against aggressive decks and that is where I fear this card falls down. It is a bit of a fairer version of Fractured Identity. It is a big swinging payoff card that rewards you for surviving to the late game. My gut says this card is too costly but experience is telling me this card does actually have more chance of making waves in the cube than most. Blue is quite good at slowing down a loss significantly but it is a lot worse at swinging a bad position into a good one. That is a big part of why cards like Cyclonic Rift and Crush of Tentacles succeed in cube. Mass Manipulation does offer exactly that sort of swing and might well carve out a cube slot for itself based on that.

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